As I hope most of you remembered, last Sunday was Mother’s Day in America. In Paraguay, Mother’s Day is a national holiday that occurs every May 15th. For some reason Paraguay is the only country in the entire world that celebrates it on that date. I have absolutely no idea why Mother’s Day celebrations here on that day, but if I had to guess I would say that it is because Independence Day is May 14th and in order to extend the holiday they make May 15th, Mother’s Day, a national holiday as well. Traditions here are not what they are like in America, in fact I cannot even get anyone to explain what makes the day different than any other day other than stores are mostly closed to give moms a day of rest. I have been living in Paraguay for a little over seven months now breaking my previous record of longest time spent away from home by three months. I live by myself, hand wash my laundry, cook, clean, and try to maintain some level of order in a place where so many things are tricky to get accustomed to. In many ways it is a trial by fire to learn how, on the most basic levels, to take care of myself. That got me thinking about how I miss my own mom who isn’t here to help.
|Mom and Me|
Not having mom around might sound corny for a lot of people, but I have to say that I miss her terribly. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that it was her upbringing and emphasis on broadening my horizons starting at a very young age that gave me the confidence not only to join the Peace Corps, but to adapt to the various challenges that this experience entails. For those of you who don’t know Deborah Schultz she is without a doubt one of the people I admire most in this world. Not only was she able to put herself though her undergraduate studies as a history major becoming the first member of my family to do so, but she continued to further her education by earning not one but 2 masters degrees on full fellowships from 2 very prominent universities. The drive to do something that no one in her family had ever done before laid a crucial foundation for my own education as an undergraduate. She constantly encouraged me to study what I enjoyed, get involved in as many things as I wanted to, and was always there to relish in my successes and consol me in my during my challenges. If it weren’t for her I would have never been able to do what I am doing now, and although I wasn’t home during this past Mother’s Day to make breakfast or take her out to eat you can bet that she was on my mind throughout the day. So considering I wrote this yesterday on Paraguayan Mother’s Day I will contend that this entry was posted only a day late. I love you Mom and I am sure we will talk soon!
As for everything else that is going on I currently feel very busy with everything that is happening. Slowly, and by slowly I mean snail slow, people in the community are starting to become familiar with my presence. I notice more people calling my name out every time I leave the house, and have interacted with several new families thanks to my relationship with their children during my lessons at the school. Presently, I have started working on the garden project that has to date included a class on nutrition and how eating different vegetables benefits our health in different ways, and another concerning organic fertilizer and ecosystems. My goal for this week is to dig seed beds at the school and finally plant the vegetables, but I was informed that this week is exam week, so we will have to see how all that goes. I am feeling cautiously optimistic about the garden. I notice that the teachers take pictures of me doing lessons or when I do any work that is related to the garden. I get the impression that the documentation of my work with the garden is going to be sent to some sort of government entity to justify that the money invested in the school was properly used for the garden program and not for other things, but I have no way of confirming that. The reason I have not felt comfortable about planting the garden yet is mainly because we don’t have a consistent source of water that flow to where the garden is located. In the months leading up to the project I was constantly preaching the need to put the garden where there was a water source. That did not quite happen the way I hoped. What did happen was the purchase of piping that will flow to a faucet inside the fenced off garden area. The problem is that the faucet hasn’t been put in yet meaning the kids will have to carry a bucket of water around a building to the garden in order to water it. Carry a large bucket of water is extremely unpleasant and quite heavy especially if you are a 4th grader. I personally feel that if I were a kid in school and the teacher asked me to carry buckets of water every day multiple times over a 50 meter distance that I would quickly lose interest in the garden pretty quickly. Hopefully, that problem will be resolved sooner rather than later, but I still have to keep reminding myself that patience is always a key when working with the schools.
On an up note Mike and I started the arduous process of planting 2,500 trees along the international highway and at area schools. I talked a bit about this project in previous entries, so to avoid repeating myself the basic forest situation here in Alto Paraná is that there isn’t much left. Principally over the last 50 years legal and illegal logging have removed huge tracts of forest from the Bosque Atlántico del Alto Paraná (BAAPA), which is the unique ecological region where I live. Our idea was simply to plant some native tree species along the main highway to beautify the area, but also to show people the importance of planting trees especially in Alro Paraná. With that in mind last Friday Mike and I ventured out in the pouring rain to the next big town over from O’Leary to load up 1,300 tajy or lapacho as they’re known in Spanish, 500 inga guasu, and 200 guarana a tree that produces a fruit that has twice the caffeine content of coffee beans and is common flavor in sodas around here and energy drinks around the world. It was absolutely pouring rain when we did this, and only stopped momentarily during the time when we offloaded the plants back at the municipality in O’Leary. As luck would have it we were able to enlist the help of about 7 men to unload the truck at the municipality. Things were peachy keen when all of a sudden it started to absolutely pour again sending all of our helpers for cover and leaving rain drenched Mike and I alone to offload the remaining 350 or so trees. Paraguayans hate getting caught in the rain, so it was really frustrating when they stopped helping so close to the finish. Mike and I both looked like we had just gone swimming fully clothed, but It did provide for some good pictures. We were also lucky because the rain made the soil easier to dig in the next day when we actually started planting.
With the trees in O’Leary we were finally able to start the planting project. Using the manpower of 5 fellow Peace Corps volunteers and 4 members of the youth group we were able to plant 137 trees on Saturday, 41 on Monday, and 65 on Tuesday. I also have plans to plant 14 at my school with the kids as an activity for this upcoming Friday. We are still well short of the 2,500 we need to plant that also include another 500 trees we have yet to receive from another tree nursery, but you got to start somewhere. My hands are blistered and my back is sore, but it is all worth it for some of the smiles and thumbs up we receive from people who see us working. One woman in particular made my day yesterday when she came outside not once but twice to talk to us about the project we were doing and what a great idea it was. Her husband initially thought we were drug addicts who sometimes dig holes in front of their house to throw out garbage in, but after a bit of damage control we convinced him that we were merely planting trees and had no intention of burying our garbage there. After that everything was good and the family seemed happy at the prospect of new trees in front of their home. We still have a lot of work to do, and while the municipality can be extremely difficult to work with on a project like this, especially considering they were the ones who wanted the trees in the first place, it is nice to do something that goes towards the greater good. Planting these trees isn’t just something for the individual community of O’Leary to enjoy, but it is also to help Paraguay and the world at large replant some of it forest. Many would argue that 2,500 trees doesn’t mean squat when Brazil has deforested 230,000 sq mi since 1970 (thanks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deforestation_in_Brazil), but to mean it means a lot. It has not been easy to get to this point in the project, and time will tell how successful it is, but you can bet I am going to help plant everyone of those suckers one hole at a time.