Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Trip to Ca'acupe

This past Sunday I participated in the Catholic pilgramage to Ca'acupe, which is the capital of my department (or state)... Many people walk to the church in Ca'acupe to request a favor of the Virgin of Ca'acupe or to thank the Virgin for a good year. Fortunately I don't live THAT far from Ca'acupe...If you were to go along the main road it would've taken about 10-13 hours to walk there, but we went with a group that has gone every year for 15 years, and they new a lot of shortcuts, and we walked through Paraguayan countryside and it took about 6 hours, but only about 5 hours of that we were actually walking. It was actually really fun, but that was two days ago and I'm still really sore. We left at 6pm because it was too hot to walk during the afternoon, got there just in time for the midnight mass...but there were sooo many people we couldn't even get close to the church..they say that 3 million people made it to caacupe that weekend, and that's a lot considering there are about 6 million in all of paraguay haha... I have friends that live on the other side of the country and walked for three days straight, sleeping in churches along the way.. It's a really interesting experience because everyone helps you along your way, giving you food and water and even a place to sleep if you want... but we brought our own food and didn't need to sleep anywhere, but people did give us water and ice, which was nice.. and there were doctors and nurses checking people's health along the way and even giving massages hahah! Once it got dark, I almost fell a billion times because we were walking on dirt roads with lots of rocks, but i never actually hit the ground..thankfully, we also had a doctor close by, so if something did go wrong, we would be well taken care of haha... But we went in a group of people mostly my age, one couple that are some of my best friends in altos, one p.e. teacher and his girlfriend, Laara (the volunteer that lives in Loma, close to Altos) and my friend Cecilia, the secretary from the municipality) and me.

Sonia and Hugo before the sun went down... we took the back way, so we didn't see many people, unlike the paved road, which was so packed with people you had to walk slow and all traffic was shut down..

The half way mark, a church in Atyra...These are the girls that we went with.. Luz, Sonia, me, Cecilia, and Laara (another volunteer)

We were so tired that we were feeling kind of loopy...

One kilometer from our religious destination, naturally we stopped to share a beer... notice the one cup being passed around the circle, this is how all drinks are drunk here in the PY.
Ca'acupe was a weird mix of vendors and sleepers at 12am when we arrived...
We had a little "trencito" so we wouldn't loose eachother...

And finally we see the Basilica in Caacupe, but there is no way we are seeing the Virgin of Ca'acupe with all these people!!

Right now, it's over 100 degrees F and I'm sitting in my kitchen, drinking terere and wearing spandex, I've become so Paraguayan haha. (Spandex are all the rage here).

Yesterday was a national holiday (for the Virgin of Ca'acupe) so I took the opportunity to take my first dip in my host family's pool...and it was very nice.. Even though I have lots of time on my hands, sometimes it seems like the day goes by so fast just taking care of my house and cooking.. It takes a lot of time to sweep everyday, because of all the dust, doing laundry but mostly COOKING..takes SOO much time.. I sometimes don't want to eat haha.. so I feel like I spend a lot of my day cleaning andcooking...but overall, it's worth it.. I love my little house..
If you are wondering.."Julie, why aren't you talking about your work that you are doing in Altos?" It's because it's quite depressing, and I tend to just skip over that kind of stuff when I write my blog.. I went to the municipality this morning but I am completely lost when it comes to any possible projects.. Everything I try just kind of flops (like the activities I planned for world AIDS day and for the day against domestic violence) and so today I retired myself to my home, and some index cards to learn some Guarani... Mainly, my "work" so far is just researching what I can do to work...but once I have something concrete, that actually turns out to be a project, you won't be able to get me to shut up about it!!

That's all the updates for now.. I hope I caught you up a bit on my life.. MUCH LOVE!! Julie

Election Night --jacked from Laara

A Historic Night
I wasn’t sure where I would go on election night, but I knew for sure I’d be in Asuncion and thought my friends and I could find a place at the Embassy with a TV so we could watch as results came in. The Peace Corps librarian – and “knower of all things,” Marianne told me about a party that the Paraguayan American Cultural Center (CCPA) together with the Embassy was hosting. Peace Corps Volunteers were invited along with Embassy staff and staff and students (the CCPA teaches English among other things) of the CCPA. I left for Asuncion very early, leaving my house at 6am and after meeting Julie in Altos, we hopped on a bus and got our trip under way. Later, in Asuncion, our friends Karen and Courtney also met up with us. We treated ourselves to a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant (very expensive but oh so worth it!) and then walked to the CCPA which, as luck would have it was close to both our hotel and the restaurant we dined at. We were among the first people to arrive and we ushered in through the VIP entrance (which we noticed most people were using, but still). Our names weren’t on any list but we were assured if we showed our Peace Corps id’s we’d get in without a problem – and so we did.

There were three big projection screens up – one was connected to a laptop and was showing the BBC’s election home page, which displayed a map of the country and as the night wore on was colored in either red or blue depending on which candidate won the electoral votes from that state. The other two screens had live feeds from CNN International (in Spanish) and the BBC. My friends and I mingled about for a bit and cursed ourselves for eating so much at the restaurant as waiters walked around with delicious looking little appetizers. There were also waiters circulating with glasses of soda and wine (and we of course availed ourselves of the wine). There were as many – if not more Paraguayans, there as Americans and so the air was filled with Spanish and English (as well as a bit of Spanglish). We decided that what we really wanted was to just know what was happening so we parked ourselves in front of the screen showing CNN. What we discovered was that we wanted to know what was happening but we preferred to do so in English, so we moved over toward the BBC screen. We stayed there throughout the rest of the evening. One of the local Paraguayan television stations had a reporter at the party and my friends and I found ourselves on television periodically throughout the evening. I didn’t realize they had captured us until my mayor’s wife (the mayor from my home town of Loma Grande) texted me to say she had just seen me on TV!

There were also photographers around and the following day my friends and I saw a photograph of us all in one of the local papers!A few interesting things (aside from news of the results) happened throughout the evening. We met and spoke with the US Ambassador to Paraguay and later she spoke briefly to the crowd at the party. We also saw the Vice President of Paraguay at the party (and in fact, he was standing right next to us while the Ambassador spoke). A group of Paraguayan students who take English classes at the CCPA also gave a presentation. They sang the Star Spangled Banner for us and it was very very sweet. They did a great job with a not-very-easy-to-sing song and it really touched the Americans at the party especially, I think.As the results started coming in my friends and I were on the edge of our seats. The four of us all represented so-called battleground states: Karen is from Ohio (OH – IO), Courtney and Julie are from Virginia and of course, I am from Florida. As Florida and Virginia were too close to call for most of the evening we concentrated our efforts on Ohio and helped Karen celebrate when the final tally came in. I’m sure we amused most of those around us as we high-fived one another and held our breath as each new result came in and the numbers shifted. We explained to our fellow party guests all about where we were from, and what was meant by a battleground state. We explained (as well as we could) about the Electoral College and spoke to people about how we had all voted (absentee ballot). Another amusing thing was the fact that each of us had our cell phones in hand and were constantly texting groups of our friends with results. Not many of our friends were able to come in and of those, most have no access to television or radio. In a normal day I probably send out about 5 or 6 texts. In the course of a few hours I probably sent out about 20 or 30!

Karen and Julie, exhausted decided to go back to the hotel and watch from the television in the lobby. I didn’t want to move until the results were known. Unfortunately, the CCPA wasn’t counting on either the contest going on so long or that anyone would want to stay until the bitter end and as such began taking screens down and turning sound off around 12:45. So, Courtney and I also headed back to the hotel. We changed into our jammies, grabbed blankets from our bed and headed down to the lobby to continue our watch. We didn’t have to wait very long. Within 30 minutes of coming down, Obama’s numbers climbed to over 270 and so sealed his fate as our next President. We were able to hear McCain’s comments as he congratulated Obama but of course, it was all translated into Spanish. We were eager to hear Obama’s comments also, but by now it was closing in on 2am (we are two hours ahead of the East Coast of the US) and we were exhausted. We also realized that we’d prefer to see Obama’s words as he said them and not through the voice of a translator so we went to bed with dreams of change in our heads.The next morning we all sat in the lobby (where there are also a few computers connected to the internet for guests) trying to find friends and family that were on-line so we could chat with them and the few of us that had laptops were scouring for updates and news of reactions. I found Obama’s speech on you tube and began the long process of downloading it (the internet connections are slow so it took about an hour to get the 20-ish minute speech to download completely) and then we all gathered around my laptop and listened to Obama’s comments.

I’m not sure how the others felt, but it was important to me to feel connected to this process. We all voted via absentee ballot, but that was, for most of us, weeks ago. I really wanted to see and feel my vote the way I would if I had been there to cast it in person. I also wanted to feel the energy, anxiousness, and excitement of the evening. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay, it was great to share the evening with my new host-country friends. That was something I hadn’t thought about and wasn’t counting on when I thought about the evening. During election night and the following day I got to speak to a ton of Paraguayans about the US, about our government, the campaign process, the electoral college about the candidates – just a varied number of topics. One of Peace Corps’s goals is intercultural exchange and I was happy and proud to be fulfilling one of those goals. Election night was memorable, but not just because of who was elected but because of how I spent it and who I spent it with.

I just wanted to share that the next day our picture was on page 7 of ABC Color, the biggest newspaper in Paraguay...which was kind of cool :)


Hello lovely family and friends,

I just wanted to let you know about a campaign called rideforthetrees.com, led by a former Peace Corps volunteer from Paraguay, named Sam Hagler. He's is taking an amazing trip, more than 10,000 miles on bicycle, from Paraguay to the United States, over the course of one year. He leaves from his former site, in Itapua, in January 2009 and hopes to make it to Arizona by January 2010. Right now, he is just visiting volunteers in Paraguay and preparing for his trip and I had the pleasure of hosting him one night here in Altos! He's got all the gear he needs to basically live on his bike, it's pretty impressive! And the goal is to raise awareness about deforestation and funds for the San Rafael Reserve in Itapua, Paraguay. Just thought it might interest some of you out there, his website has a map of trip plan, so check it out!

"La Yvy ndaha'ei nane mba'e. Jaiporunte nande membykueragui"
"The Earth does not belong to us. We are borrowing it from our children."


I missed you all on thanksgiving... but I did have a very enjoyable time in Encarnacion with about 100 other volunteers, in the southern part of Paraguay...We made turkey,stuffing, cranberry sauce, and everything EXCEPT greenbean casserole bc you can't find greenbeans here :( but nonetheless it did feel somewhat like a thanksgiving dinner, complete with a murder mystery twist hahaha and we even had a talent show.. there are some taleneted volunteers here in Paraguay!... I didn't do anything i just sat back and enjoyed the show..

While we were down in that part of the country we went to see the Jesuit Ruins, which were pretty cool. They are basically little town ruins with a big church from when the Jesuits came in and tried to convert the indigenous people living in Paraguay.. But after the Spaniards thought the Jesuit church was gaining too much independent power, the towns were abandoned and the indigenous people went back to living in the forests...then the towns were rediscovered when the first Mestizo settlers came and they took all the stones and anything of value to use to build their houses and what not and left the town in ruins...

Here are some pics!

Some volunteers playing cards at Hotel Tirol, Encarnacion... My room was in the building in the background. They had three pools and this pool was reserved specifically for volunteers!

This is the view from the resort

Here are some of the Jesuit Ruins..

We climbed to the top of one of buildings next to the church ruins and got a good view of where the "indigenous" lived in the town (behind me).

Here is a shout out to VT... in front of the Church ruins... Courtney and I both graduated from tech in 2007. WHoA! ...and yes, I am that white despite living in 100 degree heat.. .hahah, I try to stay in the shade.