Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Yesterday I was once again blessed with the opportunity to get to know another woman’s story. It has been a while that I have been wanting to write this blog, but I didn’t have the time, got caught up with work, and forgot about the wonderful feeling I get when one of the artisan’s shares their story with me, until yesterday. What I’ve been wanting to write about lately is the amazing opportunity I get to communicate with my friends, artisans, strangers, etc., over maté or tereré. To refresh your memories mate/terere is tea where the tea leaves are put in a cup called a wampa, then there’s a metal straw called a bombilla, and last there’s a thermos where the server either pours cold or hot water in the wampa and you drink from it. You can be in a group of 5 people and each person drinks from the same cup. I know that in our culture that doesn’t seem too hygienic, but it is a beautiful experience.

I decided to make my blog a journal entry of mine where one day I was feeling very inspired. I feel like it describes my feelings perfectly. My disclaimer is that it’s a little sentimental, but my honest feelings.  I really haven’t been able to write anything else that comes close to what I feel.

March 30th Wednesday
Today I began to write my newest blog (see how long I’ve been wanting to write about this). It’s about the spirituality of mate/terere. The most beautiful moments have been over mate/terere. Whether I was resolving an issue, laughing, conversing, sad, or giving advice, it has all been through this act of sharing. Lately being with the people and only the people, being a friend to them, a person whom they can confide in, gives me so much energy and happiness. I’ve been feeling more spiritual, more present, not worrying so much about material things, friends, and relationships. I haven’t been getting caught up in the pettiness of before. I’ve been on this “thirst” as Mother Teresa would say, for spirituality that I started reading her book. I want to quote some things from her book: “I cannot help them, because I do not have anything, but I go to bring them joy.” Then there’s the following, “The Sister’s are to cling to perfect poverty-poverty of the cross-nothing but God…love should be the word, the fire, that will make them live the life to its full. If the nuns are very poor, they will be free to love only God-to serve him only-to be only his.” I’ve been stripped away from a lot of things I’m use to, and I think its like Ashley said, that it’s more about being put in total isolation. At the same time living on the stipend and making much more simple choices has led me to change significantly. I’ve grown so much. I’ve learned to be a person for others, to be present, and know what it is like to fully give myself to my job and the people. I learned today that conversation could be a prayer—that’s where I find my spirituality. I love the people and I wish I could always be with them. As I interpret what I write and analyze the quote of MT, especially the passage about clinging to God and being only his, I realize I see God in the people, the people are God. It is through them that I find peace. Where I am now is beautiful and I am very thankful for that experience. If I find God, I hope it is at this time. How I have grown and where I am today is completely different to where I was last year.
“ Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love…the smaller the thing, the greater must be our love.” 

Monday, January 31, 2011

5 Months South of the Equator

Sorry we haven’t checked in a while, but the Paraguayan community is still around. Ashley and I are doing well, but practically melting in this HEAT!

We finished the work year in December and the “Obra Social” where we work closed down for a couple of weeks, and recently we just opened again. Ashley and I are super excited to start work because with the new work year, we now have the opportunity to create our own programs. We are going to begin teaching English, sports, and start a choir.

As we start this 2011 on the right foot, we have also reflected a great deal on the “new year” we began in September. For me personally the conversation Ashley and I had was really funny, because we realized that although we believed we did not feel vulnerable and lonely, like everything Julie told us we were going to feel during international orientation, we experienced all of those feelings! Looking back now, Ashley and I are in much better place and I know we are going to continue growing from this experience.

Throughout my time here in Paraguay I understand how important community is for the volunteer`s experience. Ashley and I are each other`s biggest support when we encounter problems--whether they are with friends/family back home, cultural, language barriers, job etc. From the beginning we have always been open with each other and we constantly express and reflect on the problems we are facing and what we can do to solve these issues. Because we have done that from the very beginning, it has helped us to trust and feel comfortable around each other. When you hit rock bottom in a foreign country, with limited access to your friends and family, it is great to know that the other person living with you in your house is a good friend that completely understands you. It makes the experience a lot more beautiful!

By the way, I forgot to mention that we have a new community member—Nala Mala Martinez, our new puppy the Sisters rescued from the streets. Nala is also very supportive and loves us unconditionally!

Beyond the community within our homes, there is also a much larger community that we have gotten to know. In the neighborhood we live in, everyone knows each other as well as the different problems that each family faces. Unfortunately, there is a family in our neighborhood that struggles with numerous problems and the most affected are the children. It’s difficult to see what the children in this family go through and wanting to help, but knowing that you can only do so much. However, the community has stepped in to do whatever they can to help this family. They see them struggle and together they help take care of their kids by giving them clothes or food and even giving them guidance. It’s not just one family that helps, but all the families in their neighborhood look out for them.

As the community looks out for each other, they also look out for Ashley and I. We tend to go to their homes and sit under a mango tree while drinking tereré (cold maté) for hours, laughing, playing the guitar-singing, and talking. The conversations we have with the community members are really helpful for our wellbeing. When we are struggling with a certain issue they will always listen to us. They will also advise us about what to do or not to do, what is safe or what is not, and give us insight into the culture so that we can take care of ourselves.

The best part about bonding with the community besides the great advice they give us is COOKING! During vacation we spent a couple nights cooking at a friend’s house. Everyone chipped in with different ingredients and we cooked dinner at night and it was a great way to bond with them. There are also these 3 sisters that we have become very close to and last night we finished a cooking lesson with them. We cooked for hours in our very hot kitchen, but it was so much fun as we learned how to make a new Paraguayan dish and showed them pictures of our families and friends.

There have been many challenges we have faced, but what makes the experience amazing and beautiful are the moments where Ashley and I support each other, or when we witness the community coming together to help the families in the neighborhood, or even the simple moments we have while cooking with our new friends. There is something truly beautiful about being somewhere completely unknown, yet, being able to have people in your life that are caring and supportive. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

27 Days South of the Equator

This blog is a long one since I haven’t been able to write in 3 weeks. Anyways Thursday completes one month that Ashley and I have been here!!

The Sisters decided they want us to learn the economic, social, political etc. about the country as well as the different programs they have. They also said that once we feel comfortable in the country and know the different programs the site has to offer, we would then choose, and officially begin to work.

Ashley and I have been doing a little bit of everything in the past couple of weeks. There was one day when we went to a rural community called Potrero. Potrero is pretty far and to get there you have to go in a pick up truck over dirt paths, that I couldn’t even tell were “roads,” and a field of palm trees and tomato crops. It was pretty awesome! Once we were there we had a group psychology session. The people who are from these rural communities mainly speak Guarani so it was difficult to understand the session, but the psychologist tried to explain to us as best they could. Basically the group session was about couple’s relationships. The women discussed how through the Alcoholics Anonymous groups the Sister of the Good Shepherd (GSV) host, their husbands have been drinking less. The women or even some of the husbands that were there expressed how happy they were about how their relationships were improving with their spouse since they began attending the meetings.

A couple of weeks ago I spent the past couple of days translating a report for the Sister’s of GSV. They have a partnership with a sponsor-a-child program with Canada. It was a little intimidating because the last thing I wanted to do was to phrase something in a way that would make the organization in Canada question the program here in Paraguay. Ashley had the chance to work one morning in the “Escuela de Taller.” The school is made up of girls 11 and up who come from a bad home situation or who are homeless. Once at the school, they receive breakfast and lunch before going to school, at one. In the morning they learn trades like cooking, manicures, hairdressing etc. as a small skill they can use to make money. For example, the girls cook breakfast every morning and they sell what they make to everyone in the offices where the other people at the site work.

Last Friday we were able to visit a women’s penitentiary in Asuncion called the Good Shepherd. It is a state owned prison, but also ran by the sisters. We went there to celebrate the patron saint of the prison. After the mass they held, they had a small procession around the jail while carrying around the saint. Ashley and I also participated. These women were really happy to see the group of people who came to participate in the celebration. I didn’t know it was allowed, but some of the women are even raising their children in this jail. Looking back at my experience there, I realize that it wasn’t like the jails we have in the US. The women, or at least some of them were able to walk around. Most of the women have been imprisoned for stealing or prostitution. Looking at them you could see they were burned or cut up. It was an interesting experience, because it was one I never had. I would like to go back and just get to know the women or hear their stories, but that’s easier said than done.

Right now I believe what I want to do in terms of work is to sit down with the girls from the Escuela de Taller and discuss different topics such as love, relationships, school, and self-esteem. After speaking with the psychologist that work with the girls, we decided that I will be running these meeting with the girls once a week for the rest of the year. When I’m not meeting with the girls I will be going with the psychologists to different communities to participate with the group meetings they have with the women of the community.

Our co-workers/new friends were assigned to also be our tour guides and show us around and they DEFINTELY have been doing that. The red political party in Paraguay is supposed to be the party “del pueblo” or the people. Three Saturdays ago was their anniversary, but the festivities began Friday evening. Ashley and I were very lucky to find out that our “tour guides” are also part of the red party. We spent the night sharing beer (the same way they share maté) and dancing to Paraguayan folkloric music at the red party center. The next day we went to their festival where they played traditional red party songs and had people dance, sing, and play songs. After that part of the festival, there was what I like to call an “after-festival”. Everyone got up and started dancing cumbia and “polka”-which is their folkloric dance.

This weekend was probably my favorite so far. My friend from work David is the theatre teacher. So one day as we began to talk about art, literature, politics, etc. over maté we decided that we needed to take a trip. This weekend after I hopped on his dirt bike (since that’s what everyone here drives), he showed me around. He took me to the lake I had mentioned before when I went to San Bernandino. This lake is I believed called Ypacarai, which is Guarania for man who cried a lot. To make a long legend short, one day this man cried so much that his tears ended up becoming the huge lake. The entire trip was absolutely beautiful! We took a scenic road that was bright green with vegetation and also bursting with bright colors with flowers that are beginning to bloom. I felt like I was in The Motorcycle Diaries. We arrived to a city called Aregua, known for the large water jugs that are made there. The roads were cobblestone and had huge colonial style houses with roses growing everywhere. To our surprise we found a small art gallery! I was so excited to see Paraguayan art and it was beautiful! I might be able to show pictures. Then down the street was The Cultural House of Aregua. Inside you could find more pottery, art, really old post cards, hear old Argentine tango and tons and tons of classic novels!

So far we found a scorpion in my room, in the bathroom, and at work. The irony in all of this is, is that everyone swears there aren’t a lot of scorpions. Ashley and I definitely disagree. Also last week we saw a crocodile when we went out. Of course since Ashley is the next Steve Irwin, she decides that she wants to call the crocodile over!! Thank goodness Good Shepherd Volunteers gave us insurance!

Last, but not least, yesterday was a really tough day for me. I think the honeymoon bliss is beginning to fade. I absolutely love it here, but I think nostalgia and the questioning of my sense purpose is also starting to grow. Ashley and I spoke about how we were feeling and we felt better. Yet, we decided that if we stole one the stray puppies on the street from it’s mom and kept it, we would feel so much happier. The best part in all of this was that while we were having this discussion, one of the sisters came up to us and told us they had taken one of the puppies and that it’s going to live with us now on the property! She told Ashley and I that we can name the dog. We volunteered to wash it and take it to the vet. In the end Ashley and I have something else to look forward to and make us happy! The puppy is now part of the GSV community! =)

Monday, September 6, 2010

¿De que pais son ustedes?

First I would like to make clear that spell cheack is more like spell check en Español therefore I apologize for my spelling errors.

It´s been a long and intense past couple of days since we arrived. Ashley, the other volunteer, and I have been constantly busy that I don´t think we´ve had time to even think about home. I´m trying to think about what Ashley and I did Thursday, our first day,  but we can´t even figure that out. On Friday we went on a small retreat with the other people that work at the Sisters of the Good Shepherd site where we´re staying. We went to this city called Cultimo-a summer city, where all the people from Asuncion go when it gets hot since there´s a huge lake there. We went and it was absolutely beautfiul! Since it´s spring here the flowes are begining to bloom and the house we saw in Cultimo look like the ones I´ve seen in the Mediterranean.

The retreat we went on was great because it allowed us to bond with the other people that we´ll be working with. I swear ever since we got on the plane in NY, all we´ve been doing is laughing! So many funny things have happened, but I have not laughed as much like we did on the retreat. The other people on the retreat began to teach us Guarani-the indegenous language here that EVERYONE speaks. I began to speak some words and I ended up saying something vulgar,which then made everyone laugh. Drinking maté is pretty cool too. Basically there´s this one cup with a bombilla, something that looks like a big metal straw. You warm up your water, put in a thermo, put tea leaves in the wooden cup, and sip. The tea you drink is meant to share with everyone. You drink, then pass the wooden cup around. It´s a really nice experience where you sit down, relax, share your maté, and talk with people. Most importantly before I forget I must say that everyone we have met has been extremely loving and hospitable! We´ve barely been eating at our house since the community memebers are constantly inviting us to go to their homes or go out and do things with them. Whenever I mention something about missing home, they always respond, ¨We will give you so much love and comfort you won´t miss home.¨ With this this type of TLC I don´t think I want to come home! Just kidding! One of the first questions people constantly ask us is if we´re vegitartians. It´s extrememely funny. I guess some of the past volunteers were vegitarians and Paraguayans love thier steak and so do I! =)

There´s so much to learn and do. Right now I´m really trying to learn Guarani. It´s important to know the language because when Paraguay was under the dictatorship, people weren´t allowed to speak it. Now it´s national pride to be able to speak Guarani and people just love you the much more when you do. I´ve also been learning about their politics which is complicated, but little by little I´ll learn.

This week we´re visiting the different sites the sisters have and I guess we´ll be working soon. Today is the first day Ashely and I feel overwhelmed. When in doubt drink some wine! Ciao!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Next Chapter

I recently graduated from college and in this next chapter of my life I decided to dedicate it to a year of voluntary service where I will be living with a community in Paraguay. There are various reasons why I have chosen to do service for the next year, but the most important reason is because I am absolutely grateful for everything I have and I want to give back to people who are less fortunate. 

Last year when I went to Nicaragua for a month, I was confronted with the reality of poverty that developing countries face. I saw children that were supposed to be in school, running around all day without shoes, begging people for money. Then I thought about my childhood and how I dreaded getting up for school everyday and how I would run around all day with my Barbie sneakers making mud pies and playing tag. Why was I blessed with a normal childhood and a wonderful education rather than being one of those kids begging people for money? There were also the people I worked with that struggled daily with access to medicine, money, education, etc. After engaging in conversation with them and learning about their lives, I realized there have been numerous little things that  I have taken for granted like clean water (seriously i took for granted our clean water!), education, healthcare, food, my car, and this list could just go on and on. It is very easy to get caught up with life, but if we take a second to step back and look at the bigger picture, we will be able to realize how blessed we are with our lives.

 I'm really excited about this next year, but in the back of my head I know there are many challenges to come besides homesickness and ailment. I do hope, however, that even if I can make a change in the lives of a couple people, the small victory will be a step closer to creating social justice. Although I have questioned it too, I hope that those of you who wondered why I have decided to go away for a year to a country we know little about, away from my family and friends, and without the luxuries of my everyday life, finally understand my passion for dedicating this path I have chosen for this next chapter of my life. Thanks for your support and love you all! See you next year!