Thursday, December 29, 2011

Felices Fiestas!

I hope everyone had a great holiday and are prepping for some major New Years action. I´ve been in the south of Paraguay with some friends taking a bit of a staycation for the past week. It was a great little trip filled with food and fun and friends! (You can tell I´m feeling peppy with that much aliteration.)

Right now I´m in a hostel in Asuncion on my way home to Campo 9. My computer is still dead and potentially falling into the black whole of ´enseguida´. Nonetheless I have hope and am currently praying to Steve Jobs that it may come back to me soon.

Again happy holidays and an awesome new year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The 5 greatest things I've bought in Super Campo 9

This is a post I wrote a while ago, but upon further reflection decided it wasn't particularly insightful, nor very funny. However, seeing as I have a few moments on an English computer and haven't posted in several weeks, I figure I'll post what I got. If anything is demonstrates how important the little things are, and how I find humor in some pretty urbane shit
 
According to stats I just made up, my town has the most super markets per capita than any other in Paraguay. The national average 0.23. I HAVE FOUR! Hell, there's even a chance that's true.

Not only do we have four supermarkets, we have the single greatest supermarket of all time. SUPER CAMPO 9.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Problem with Being Awesome

I created a lot of expectations on a recent blog post, talking about how I was "Gone Awesoming" for a while. I was supposed to come back triumphantly with lively blog posts telling of adventure and travel. Since I set my self up for failure, this is where I follow through. No pictures, no little stories, no nuthin'.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Six ways I've changed in the past six months.

Today marks six months in Paraguay. I wanted to celebrate with a little reflection. I've changed in many ways, yet certainly still feel true to myself. However, here are six things that weren't so before I left for the Heart of America.

The good life.



Friday, November 18, 2011

Gone Awesome-ing, be back later

If war in 90% boredom, 10% pure adrenalin, then Peace Corps is 70% boredom, 30% the craziest shit that's ever happened to you.

With that in mind, I bring you the 70%.
Probably listening to Lady Gaga.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More Adventures in Vegetarianism: Baked Eggplant Chips

My most recent veggie creation, baked eggplant chips!




Normally I frown upon anything that has the word 'baked', where the word 'fried' is supposed be. Generally speaking this switcheroo happens when some near anorexic "health guru" is trying to pretend that "they taste the same if not better than french fries!" No they don't, and neither do these. My eggplant chips aren't gonna replace a good potato chip, but they are yummy independent of any comparison.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This Is What They Mean by Cultural Context

Anyone who has ever lived alone will tell you that it has it's perks. Not only do you not have to deal with others, but others don't have to deal with you. Your little chamber of solitude shelters you and your quirks from judgment. You can have that out loud conversation with your cat, or eat Doritos for breakfast. Who's gonna say anything? But sometimes our little worlds are exposed.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pot Sticker Post: FOR THE WIN!

May Bourdain smite me as I say this: I like vegetables! In fact, I love them so much I've stopped eating meat. Please don't look at me that way. I know what you're thinking. "Oh, the horror she's become a VEGETARIAN!"

Well, not really. Meat is expensive here, and I don't think it tastes good. Furthermore, Paraguay and I have different definitions of "butchering." While I won't refuse meat, I don't purchase it myself. So rest assured, I won't be feeding you tempe or vegan-aise next time we meet. I still love to eat God's good creatures. 

It really is a shame that vegetarians are soul-less, terrible people. You would think that people who sustain themselves, in fact, define themselves by vegetables would treat them better. I've been looking on vegetarian food blogs and I'm finding that most any recipe that begins with "vegetarian" is horrifying. This is all without mentioning their fetish-esque relationship with tofu. It's all very sad.

So what's a girl to do? As with all things in Peace Corps, make it up as I go along. So here is my first "vegetarian" recipe.

Vegetarian Pot Stickers! 

They were awesome. 

By "vegetarian" I mean converting something that traditionally has meat, to a meatless version without hating myself for eating it. I want to concede that there are a whole plethora of dishes that don't need meat nor even consider it and are still scrumptiliuptious. It's just when people start trying to pretend substitutions are or taste like meat, that's when things go wrong. Like Hindenburg wrong.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

YOGURT REDUX: FROM SCRATCH

I did a post on straining yogurt a week ago.  While a huge improvement over the semen-esque sludge they try to pass for yogurt here, there were some drawbacks: Natural flavor was unavailable, high sugar content, low yield, and higher than necessary price. The solution, make yogurt from scratch.

Working with dairy frightens me a bit. Milk is temperamental, and if it scalds, generally there is no saving it. Yogurt, however, was pretty simple. I'm gonna give all the credit to Micheal Ruhlman, who had a great post on yogurt making, that guided me through the process. I couldn't do it step by step, but he gave enough reason behind the process so that I could improvise. I'm essentially reblogging his post, but translated for a less than ideal kitchen.

Monday, November 7, 2011

GARDEN! Ok, not yet but almost.

This isn't the most exciting post, except it is for me. I just planted seeds!

Seeds, I tell you!

Who knew seeds were pink? I think they might lose me my "organic" status.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

HERE COMES JOHNNY! My New Canine Bud.

Meet Johnny.
What you looking at?


Isn't he just a big blob of cute! No?

Ok, try this picture.

JUST KIDDING!


SO CUTE! I love that his tongue is never in his mouth, ever.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Making Edible, Not Drinkable Yogurt in Paraguay

As Peace Corps volunteers we agreed to work "under conditions of hardship." Usually this conjures up ideas of no electricity, pulling water up from a well or a stream, and cooking over fire. Yeah, none of that really applies to me. My condition of hardship?

Drinkable Yogurt.

Maybe I'm a yogurt snob, but I like me some full-fat, super-creamy, carve-able yogurt. In Paraguay they like yogurt that can be drank from a sippy cup. I hate it. I could explore the ways I hate it but I won't waste your time. I'm just glad there's a solution.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Return On Investment: My first "Peace Corps Moment"

I don't talk to much about my work here on my blog. I think it's difficult to properly illustrate the minutia that makes up what I call my job. Activities like "sitting" can be counted towards total work hours. Often times volunteers will start to teach classes or "charlas" just to stop from going insane. It may not be sustainable and who know how effectively you are reaching your goals, but God damn it feels good to have to prepare for something. It has that feeling of old school American productivity. You can write it in your planner!

My class? A thrice weekly Women's exercise class.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cows Seem to Frighten You: A tale of Peace Corps Heroism


This video has made the rounds of Peace Corps for a while now. I don't know if I put this on Facebook, but it's been a big hit amongst volunteers for it's resounding truthiness. Almost every day there is a line that is all too applicable.

Today's reference: Cow's seem to frighten you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

PCP CRIBS: My Paraguayan Home

About every Peace Corps blog post starts with the sentence "Sorry I haven't posted in a while, but here's what I've been up to." They then precede to write a several thousand word paragraph using minimal punctuation and many references to their host country language.

I'm not a particularly gifted writer, nor have I ever had a good relationship with grammar, but I am shooting for some level of readability here. So if I ever throw up an atrocious post that tries to explain everything I have done in the past month in some pseudo stream of conscientiousness format, please inform me. I'll stop blogging that day and probably kill myself.

That being said, sorry I haven't posted in a while. Here's what I've been up to. ;-)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A day in the City Part 3: Asuncion Street Art

I know you've seen this one, but I still like it.
I've uploaded some photos of Asuncion to Facebook. This is from the same day with the hamburger incident and other realizations. While walking around the city, I enjoyed taking photos of the public art. Ranging from traditional public works, to more graffiti style street art there is a tradition of art for the masses here in Paraguay.

The new genre of "Street art" is still fledgling in Asuncion, but noticeable. Personally, I am drawn to street art that has little agenda other than to bring joy to a otherwise dreary city. However most street art has a slightly more political take on things. This stencil is satirizing the Cedula, the national ID card issued to every resident of Paraguay, by combining it with the word "Cerdo," the Spanish word for pig or pork and generally considered an insult. (Explaining jokes, puns, or a play on words in another language robs all eloquence there may of been and makes whoever is explaining it sound like an asshole. Don't you think?)





The tale of the Americas
Do you see the layers of different colors?
I love this series. They are commissioned public works, but powerful nonetheless. At first glance they look like they are paintings, but upon closer inspection you'll see that they have so much more dimension than an average mural.  I think this is made with dyed cement, put together like a flat sculpture rather than a painting. There were about 5 different murals in a plaza near the waterfront.
It's so much more tactile than a mural.
The man himself, kinda.



This is my favorite statue in Paraguay, to date. It is in the Plaza de los Desparecidos, or Plaza of the missing. The plaza is dedicated to those who disappeared during the era of the Strossner dictatorship. This statue is the crushed remnants of a former statue of Strossner himself. General Strossner was the last in a long history of dictators in Paraguay, whose reign ended in 1989. As you can imagine this era is still affecting Paraguay today. 



I don't know much about art. What's good art, what's bad art, what's not technically art. However, public art is so much better than something hidden away in a gallery or a museum. It's part of our neighborhoods, and our morning commutes. There is no pretense. Well, maybe less pretense anyways. I don't have to be quiet when appreciating street art, nor do I ever feel intimidated if I "don't get it." With street art, if you don't like it, at least it can become a good directional marker.

Three blocks and take a left at the statue with the hands sticking out of it. If you pass the stick figure dude crying on his knees you've gone too far.

What's not to love?

I took pictures of a few other pieces, So here are the rest. ENJOY!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Home is Where You Hang Your Mosquito Net.

I'm sorry, I don't have pictures today, but for the non facebook crowd I wanted to let you know I've moved. I'm living in a semi-independent room in the house of a Senora a couple blocks away from where I was living. I have my own entrance, but am sharing a bathroom and fridge in the main section of the house. On the upside, I bought a stove and now am cooking my own meals. Also, no kids live here so the average decibel level is generally lower at any given moment. This all sumounts to a higher total happiness quotient.

I want to say that I adore the the family I was living with. They were more than generous and the kids are awesome. It was just time for me to move on.

Right now I'm in the process of turning an empty room into a home. I've been finding discarded items on the side of road, mostly fruit crates, and am in the process of fixing them up to be my dresser, or kitchen counter. I'll post photos once all the handy work is done. It's shaping up to be very Peace Corps Chic.

POW: No screen on my window leading to full out Mosquito vs. Taylor war.
WOW: MY OWN PLACE!
CHOW: Cabbage and carrot salad with Lime chili dressing topped with a fried egg and cup of instant coffee.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Asuncion: One place, Two worlds.

The New World's first train station.
As I mentioned last week I spent an afternoon in Asuncion by myself. Walking alone, I felt greater liberty to snap some photos and slip into tourist mode. I looked at the city with fresh eyes, but I'm not sure how best to describe what I saw.

Asuncion is a city of stark contrast. As the Americas' first city, it's incredibly historic, but with few historical landmarks. It was home to the first train station in the Americas, but not a single working track remains. Perhaps most striking is the juxtopostion of wealth and abject poverty.

I've lived in cities where in order to see economic disparity, you merely have to cross the street. In Asuncion, you just turn your head in either direction. All afternoon I found myself standing in one place, taking pictures of either side of me. On one side, symbols of Paraguay's growing potential. On the other, squalor. Tent Cities next to banks and fancy hotels. Urban ruins with evidence of squatters next to political monuments. Beautiful architecture crumbling under weight of age and disrepair.


Iron work & decoration is common.
But it usually looks like this.
 








One side of where I ate lunch.
 

 
The other.

City Park.
The view from the park.


Presidential Palace
The Neighbors















I promise that each pair of photos were taken in the same place.

I live amongst and in what most Americans would call poverty. I know that's what I called my living conditions the first few days.  Even now as I grow accustomed to my surroundings, during summer the water sometimes becomes contaminated, and I consider dirt roads to be normal. However, I no longer view my home as humble, nor the average Paraguayan as impoverished. While my idea of what is necessary to live is changing, what I came across in Asuncion is not a matter of simply "growing accustomed to."

But why am I so surprised by this? I knew that Paraguay was a poor country. I've been to the country-side and seen similar conditions. So why is the poverty in Asuncion so jarring?

I suspect my shock comes from America's incredible ability to hide their poor. Any major city with a tourist destination or even a down town has been scrubbed and polished to hide any trace of a less than ideal consumer bourgeois society. Time square, once the Gomorrah of the twentieth century, is practically sponsored by Disney now. Still, I should know better.  

This is where I normally would sum up the post with some sort of reflection to put this all in context, but not today. There is no context. There is no summation. When considering these images, I have no desire to come to conclusions nor explanations. Any attempt would detract from the humanity of it all. I mean really, what could I possibly say that would be wise or insightful when presented with these realities?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Awesome is a Lifestyle



When I am a corporate muckety muck, this will be the framed inspirational poster I hang in the coffee lounge.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It Wouldn't Be a Travel Blog Without a Post on Street Food.

Street Art in Asuncion.
I was in Asuncion for about 24 hours this weekend. I was running a couple errands but I found myself free on sunday afternoon. I walked around and as I got hungry I indulged in the culinary epic-ness of, and world traveler badge of honor, the a street side food stand.

As all savvy travelers know, street food is where it’s at. Every stand is someone’s grandma working the wok, or some guy who is a master at what he does, but chooses not to pursue culinary greatness for the humble pride of his truck stand. At least it will be something so bizarre that it’s strangely delicious. I’ve read a million blog posts touting the superiority of street food, and how eating it makes you a better person. It shows that you actually care about the people whose home you’re invading. Rather than using their foreignness to make you feel better about your own vapid life. If memory serves me correct, somewhere it mentioned that eating street food proves you have a soul and guarantees you access to heaven. I had solid advice and I was gonna take it.

Plaza Uruguaya where I ate my lunch. Yes, that's a tent city.
I wander upon a plaza in downtown Asuncion and decide to get me a hamburger at the cart on the corner. It sets me back 5,000 Gs, which is a little over a dollar. It‘s sunday, so there’s not a lot open anyways. This is my best bet. Surprised to see the grill man actually grab a not pre-cooked patty land on the grill and a fresh egg cracked to top it off, this looks like the makings of a good street food experience. The burger is topped off with the usual and wrapped up to go for me. A coke to accompany and I was set.

Famished, I open my little package and shovel the burger into my face. As the pangs of hunger begin to wear off, I suddenly realize that something is very off. The patty is rubbery and certainly not juicy, but it’s not dry either. It’s watery? While I start to think about what I am actually tasting, I take a look at my patty. Cooked beef is not this color. Raw beef is not this color. This is not beef. This did not come from one of God’s creatures. If there was any meat, it was just enough to bind together the rehydrated soy stuff known as “carne de soja,” essentially dried out soy paste that some people like to pretend tastes just like meat. Usually these people are called vegetarians and have no soul. On this unfortunate occasion it’s my amigo with the stand trying to increase his profit margins because Paraguayans don’t tolerate price increases.
That's not meat.

Honestly, I should have known better. Meat is expensive here and 5,000 Gs is cheap no matter how little overhead you’re woking with. But let’s be realistic here blogosphere, cheap food is often cheap for a reason. That maybe someone’s grandma working the wok, but she’s also a business women, and apparently with grandchildren to feed.

All in all, it wasn’t that bad. Ok, it was that bad. It was awful, but there was lettuce and tomato, not to mention the egg, a standard on Paraguayan burgers. This burger sucked but the cheese didn’t smell like cow, and that’s a first in months. Plus, I can pretend this affront to God and all things holy was healthy. I didn’t stuff myself with a hamburger. I ate a veggie burger!

But the friendly blogger people told me food stands always had great hidden gems. That was how a true traveler was supposed to sustain themselves. What am I to do now? I know, the truth is hard to accept.

I am not saying to avoid street food. Food carts are awesome. They do have hidden gems, and unexpected awesomeness. However, the newly minted street food travel snob needs to back the fuck off. I know you’re all Anthony Bourdain disciples as well, but I’ve read too many articles and blog posts that scoff at the idea of restaurants, claiming street food is the only way to know a people and it’s culture and just as good as anything in a restaurant. We’ll get back to that part about “knowing a people and their culture” in another post,  but in regards to street food, sometimes it sucks. It’s cheap. It’s fast. What do you expect? You never know what you’re gonna get, but that's all part of the adventure. Maybe that’s what makes the good stuff that much better.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Rain Rain go away... or I might become a danger to myself or others.



September Showers bring October Flowers?
Generally speaking, I don’t like rain. I’m not one of those people who wistfully sighs, “Oh, I love the rain!” because they think it makes them sound deep or interesting, or whatever.  I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve had my fill.

In the most developed of countries rain can kill almost any plan. Day at the beach? Nope. Picnic? Sorry. Anything involving being outside and not hating your life? Try again tomorrow. It’s no different in Paraguay. Well, it is different. It’s worse. Imagine all the days that rain limited your activity, or made you change your plans, and add dirt roads.

Muddy roads suck. Yes, that's a cow in the background
So, I don’t do much here when it rains. The normally wonderful slow pace of life comes to a grinding halt at the first drop of precipitation. I don’t blame Paraguay for this tradition. Most people don’t have cars, and motos fling mud everywhere. There is no way to get anywhere without being covered in mud and soaked to the bone. I know this, because I once defiantly went out in the rain  in order to make a meeting, I knew would be canceled, simply to prove a point. What that point was, I have no idea.

To be fair, there isn’t really such a thing as a drizzle here. When it rains, I consider that God may actually exist, because someone is clearly mad up there. This is not helped any by the reverberation of my tin roof with every drop that makes contact. It’s like the cast of STOMP is practicing up there. (Wow, STOMP. That’s an old reference.)

By now you’ve all come to the conclusion that it rained today, spurring this rant. Since all activity was canceled or un-imaginable, I spent most of the day in my room. However, I’m learning to pass the time and not lose my mind. I slept in to 8:00 am (super late for me now), studied Guarani a bit, read a Paraguayan newspaper, and watched a couple movies. Honestly, it could have been worse. One day it rained and I found myself down the internet rabbit hole researching Hydro-fracing for more time than I would like to admit. For all my lamenting, I’m sure upon my return to the states, I’ll be very sad each morning I wake up to the sound of rain and realize that yes Taylor, you still have to go to work today.
The rain may not be fun, but I still get to live here. That's pretty awesome.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fingers crossed!

I might have my very own place in about 10 days. This is provided the owners don't change their mind, up the price, or something goes horrifically wrong.  It's small, dark, and probably over priced but it has it's own bathroom, tile floor and will be mine! So fingers crossed.


This might call for some sort of sacrifice to the apartment gods. Hmmm, anyone got a goat? Small child would work too.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rock Bottom? Or a New Level of Awesome!

Boxed wine and Chili. Lunch of Champions.
Drinking boxed wine laced with sprite and ice out of a reused yogurt container. Congratulations, you are one step closer to hitting rock bottom.


POW: Getting the stink eye from a stray cow in the yard all day.
WOW: House sitting for my site mate and taking care of her dog.
CHOW: Vegetarian Chili and Iced Wine. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

I'm Submiting This For a VMA

So in Paraguay, life is like almost anywhere else in the world. Some days are good. Some days are not so good. And every once in a while a simple afternoon turns into an awesome video dance party.

As I've told you, the kids love Photo Booth. Well, we discovered the video setting the other day.


video 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Happy Birthday to ME!: A tale of first world problems.

It’s my birthday and many of you have been asking if I have any plans or am doing anything special to celebrate. I can only respond that yes, I am. I am living in Paraguay. This is how I’ve planned to celebrate for a while now.
Birthday present to myself. Now if I could only find Jack Daniels.

I do not believe in New Years resolutions. I firmly believe that if you want to change your life you can start any day of the year. I even remember coming to this realization in my 6th grade Language Arts class with Mrs. Tipps.  Assigned to write down our New Year’s resolutions, it became so clear to my 11 year old self that life need not wait for January. I then turned in a blank page. I swear that I was only half trying to get out of the assignment. Mrs. Tipps then made me write why I felt this way in leu of my resolutions. Stupid, quality teachers, but I digress.

So for the past 15 years I have practiced this belief and defiantly never made resolutions with the exception of this past year. December 31st 2010, I was at a swanky party where the music cranked and booze flowed freely. Everyone was dressed in their NYE finest, and I was wearing a polyester tie. I wasn’t a guest. I was the waiter.  Instead of being surrounded by friends reveling in my youth, I was failing to keep up with orders at the bar and the re-fires of the stuffed mushrooms. What had gone wrong in my life? I, with a University degree in a double major no less, was scraping plates of people I considered intellectually inferior and no one cared. My boss didn’t care how smart I was, so long as I didn’t break any glasses. My co workers didn’t care where I came from so long as I could carry my share of plates. There was no great tragedy here. I wasn’t going through hard times. I was going through normal life. So I found myself at the humbling realization that the world owed me nothing, and that both happiness and success was in fact made, and not found. The highlight of the night was stealing a bottle of champagne with my compatriots and making a midnight toast. Shortly after I looked at my friend and said, “Next year’s gonna be different.”

The next morning I knew what I needed to do. I called my brother and declared that by the time I turn 26, I WILL be living in a Latin American country. Being an expat has been a dream of mine for years, but I always found reasons to stay stateside. It wasn’t going to be like that this time. The commitment was made.

I know that Oliver would let me off the hook, never mentioning my declaration had I failed, if he even remembered, but I wasn’t going to let myself of the hook. Had I celebrated my 26th in Dallas, no matter how great the event, I would have had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Unable to ignore the fact that I had once again made “the safe choice.” There were certainly other cross roads in my journey to Paraguay, but I look back at that night as the turning point.

So here I am at my deadline, and hell, I made it! A  resolution that may appear brash, or made in a moment of depression was exactly what I needed. I am where I need and want to be. I don’t regret taking my sweet time to achieve this dream either. I don’t believe in destiny, but I do not know if I would have been strong enough to get here nor stay here if it had not been for my past experiences. So rather than dwell on the fact that I am now closer to thirty than twenty, I celebrate and give thanks. I am so lucky to even have the option to follow my dreams. I am most thankful for my family, friends and mentors who have all been incredibly supportive. I would not have accomplished anything without you all.

So I am going back into the business of not making resolutions. It feels good to be batting a thousand, and I still believe 100% that you can change your life any day of the week. Let’s just hope I never again need a gig at Maggiano’s to remind me of that.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

You Can't Walk Any Further

If Peace Corps told me today, that I was now only allowed to take one vacation my entire two years of service, I would have no doubt as to where.

Patagonia.

Patagonia Time Lapse Video from Adam Colton on Vimeo.

Perhaps you can see why.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

POW WOW CHOW!

So I learned a game from my Fellow PCV called POW! WOW! CHOW! Its allows share you day quickly with others in a way that's slightly reminiscent of a fight scene from the 1960's Batman series featuring Adam West.

  
POW is something not so good, like a punch in the face from Adam West.
WOW is something AWESOME!
CHOW is something you ate. Good or Bad.

So here goes mine for today:

POW: Still haven't found my own house.
WOW: Exercise class on Monday was awesome, and have a second class today.
CHOW: Soup Stew thing with pork and corn. Again.

I'm gonna try to put this up on a regular basis. I invite you to put your POW WOW CHOW in the comments. Let's see how it goes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Week's Worth of Nervous Break Downs

While I know you all want to hear about all my awesome, fun, delightful, and pleasant adventures, sometimes the dice just don't land that way. I don't know if anyone mentioned this, but Peace Corps can be hard, even difficult. This is not for the reasons you think. Sure I yelled at my shower out loud the other day, but that was merely a symptom of a week's worth of suckitude. It's not that much went wrong this week. It's that nothing went right.

Last weekend was so incredible! I went rock climbing, and ate awesome food. Basically two of the top three things I love in this world. Then back in site, I wake up with a serious case of the Monday's that lasted all week.  It rained this week, so I didn't do much. I really miss living alone, and the one place available right now has a dirt floor and no windows. The city hall office wants to work with me, but I'm not sure on what. And this week's food has been, well, greasy. The acne on my face should be a good indication of how much fried food I've consumed. My host family is so concerned about my face, they keep asking what bit me or if I'm having an allergic reaction. NO, IT'S A ZIT!
Acne, not bug bites. Now stop pointing them out!

This is all with out mentioning the cultural mine field I found myself in when I admitted to having lived in Boy's-Town during my time in Chicago. Paraguay has a predominately Catholic culture, and you can imagine how homosexuals are received here. It's tricky to not insult my gracious hosts opinions while at the same time showing my support for the LBGT community. FYI: Boy's-Town is what it sounds like. A predominately gay neighborhood in Chicago. SOOO much fun. Great Brunch. Halsted's! WHAT?!

A little cultural aside on the topic of diversity in general: America is by no means a bastion of cultural acceptance and equality. I don't want to address this topic with any level of depth, but there is one thing I have noticed. In general, Americans seem more used to diversity. We are accustomed to walking down the street and seeing multiple walks of life. Even the most redneck Texan (to use my favorite stereotype) probably knows a few words in Spanish and drinks Mexican beer. We are comfortable with difference, even differences we don't like. I'm learning this level of comfort is not universal, and it gets me in a little bit of trouble here. Nonetheless, it is becoming a secret point of pride for me. Perhaps that's all false and I'm romanticizing America. Either way, I'm speaking to my experience.

So there it is. A day in the life. It's not glamorous, nor exciting. I don't know why I'm always surprised at how normal life is everywhere. Some days are boring; people can be frustrating; and I don't do well living with others. This week will be better, and if it's not, we'll shoot for the one after that. American optimism comes in handy, even for this hardened cynic. 

PS: Next time I go climbing I'll take pictures. It's way easier to tell that story with the visual. Plus the area is go gorgeous, I could never do it justice with just my words.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Phun with Photobooth


Anyone who has a mac knows that Photo booth is everyone's favorite program. It is especially popular amongst Paraguayan children. I took some photos with Carlitos, Marley, and Monsey a while ago. Also Ginsey and I went crazy with it one day.  Nonetheless here are some of the pics. Phun with photos!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Highlights Magazine....In real life!

I just put another round of photos on facebook. This album is of my house and some the the other residents. (Link is at the bottom) But why don't we take some time to get to know my new family before you go all stalker on them?


I essentially live in a game of hidden pictures. It looks beautiful and idilic, but then you begin to look closer and you see things that are just a little off.




 
Yeah, and that’s not the only bicycle in a tree either.









  I live with 10-ish other people depending if it’s the weekend or not. Five of whom are kids ranging from 4 to 14. We’re kinda like the Vontraps, but with less singing.

Meet Carlitos. (7)

He’s pretty high on the awesome scale. Carlos likes jumping out of trees, climbing barbed wire fences, and discussing the finer points of Machete use during a Zombie attack. (Go for the head, and if you make sure your machete is sharp enough you can get up to three zombies with one swing.)

Then we have Erica. (11)

Erica is quite, but once she starts to open up, she too climbs the ranks of awesome pretty quickly. She loves music, and plays the guitar. She generally spends her time getting the younger ones out or into trouble, depending.



 Let’s meet Marley. (9)


Marley is goofy. She likes to make funny faces, and tell dirty jokes. (They start them young here in Paraguay.)  Marley is really bright, and has aspirations to be a hairdresser. In general, girls aren’t encouraged to have life goals here. Honestly, I don’t know if boys are either. There’s a big push to get married and start making babies, even though it usually happens the other way around. So I commend Marley, and let her do funky things with my hair whenever she pleases. I’ll try to get ya’ll get some pics of her masterpieces.

Last, but certainly not least is Maria Ana. AKA Monsey.(4)


I once heard a comic describe children as “just like drunk midgets.”  If the above photo doesn't confirm this analogy lets review some of Monsey's other habits.

She never has her shoes on the correct feet. Nor does she like to walk in straight lines, unless the most direct path to where she is going involves crawling over furniture or people. She has a freakish ability to puff out her stomach to something that looks like a scene in alien. It's weird. We all agree, so she'll chase her brother Carlitos around the yard with her impossibly huge belly.  This is all with out even mentioning her ability to power down food. It makes no sense that something so small could consume so much. I have personally witnessed her take down over half a chicken, cabbage salad, and a couple pieces of mandioca. She really is very cute. Too cute. And unfortunately for all of us, she knows it. 

Well that’s most the kids. I’ll write another blog about the adults. They’re awesome too, but mildly less ridiculous.


Here's the  Link to the rest of the photos. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

And At The Top There Is Summitt

I know this is a few days late. Let's just say I'm acclimatizing to hora Paraguaya.

A few days ago I found out with the rest of the world about the diagnosis of Tennessee basketball coach, Pat Summitt, with early onset dementia. There are a million things that can be said: Tragic, Sad, Unfair, ect. I don't care to comment on her illness, nor my personal sadness of knowing that the era of Pat Summitt will end sooner than expected. I just want to take the time to talk about what a complete bad ass she is.

I remember as a small girl who loved basketball watching Tennessee play in the final four. I then thought I was going to go to Tennessee and play basketball. My Dad had taught we the fight song, and in fact he had a hat that would play Rocky Top when you pressed a button on the brim. A few years later I realized I wasn't very good at basketball and that dream ended. Nonetheless, I still have great affinity for Tennessee Basketball. I love that women's basketball at Tennessee is the marquee sport. I think it's safe to say it's perhaps the only women's marquee sport in the NCAA. That huge achievement is 100% attributable to Pat Summitt.

For those of less interested in college sports, Pat Summitt is the single winning-est coach in college basketball history. Not in women's basketball history, in NCAA basketball history. Men's or Women's programs. She's never had a losing season.

Pat Summitt's success can be summed up in her innumerable accolades, but all that misses a crucial element of her bad-assery. The woman has swagger. Leading the Lady Vols to 8 national championships in various brightly colored pant suits, she proves that women in male dominated fields don't need a boost, nor a handicap. There are no excuses. There are no short cuts. She doesn't pad her non-conference schedule, and her girls graduate. All of them graduate. She doesn't stop at being "good for a girl." She's just damned good. The Best.

So I want to say thanks to Pat Summitt. Thanks for showing me that excellence is achievable, and that girls are no exception to that. You are awesome.

Me? Bad Ass? Yeah, I know.




Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Only in Paraguay...

A text conversation between me and My buddy Richard:

Me: The kids are fighting overhte Mate dulce. Apparently no one is drinking fast enough. You think I could just get them each their own cup?

Richard: Their own cups? DO YOU HATE PARAGUAY?!!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Today's Adventure in Eating

Wanna know how to freak out an American in Paraguay?
Feed them a dish of unidentifiable cow innards with rice.

Wanna know how to freak out a Paraguayan?
 Put Siracha on unidentifiable cow innards with rice.




Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The long and the snort of it.

There are few loves in this world that are pure and true. When you find one you have to hold on to it. I, myself, have found such a love. No, I'm not referring to my darling novio, Zack, but rather a love I discovered much earlier in life. PORK

My love for pig products started with a humble ham sandwich and has grown to a rich mature love, embracing many facets of pigginess. Notables have included Pork Chops at Las Brisas, and the Italian Hoagie, and the pinnacle of pork products, Jamon Serrano.


I, like most young people in love, thought never a moment would come that I would think twice about my commitment. But alas, as with all lasting relationships there are struggles and low times. Today, I stared it straight in the snout.

This evening my host family dined on pig face, and I was given the honor of receiving the snout.  When first recieving this plate of what is essentially pig fat, I was not so alarmed. I love Pig fat! It smelled great, I assumed there was meat involved, somewhere. I was so very wrong.

I did not notice the nostril right away. I just was confused as to where on a pig is quite so cylindrical. Nonetheless, I cut off a piece and it was fatty and slimy, and worst of all it still has some hair on the skin. This was not succulent, sweet pork that I had known. It was rough. I turn the piece around looking for any spec of actual meat to carve out, and this hunk of fat's true origin reveals itself to me.

I was able to carve out enough meat to make a suitable dinner, and all together it wasn't that bad. I still love pork and all things piggy. But I guess nobody is perfect. This is just another chapter in a long love affair.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Photo Palooza!

So I did a big photo drop on Facebook and wanted to share the link to my non-facebook readers. You know who you are. (Oliver.)

Most of these were taken at the end of training, and a couple before I left. If any of you were having doubts as to whether or not Peace Corps is a serious agency, I'm sorry but this might re-enforce those doubts. I promise we do more than have people dress in drag, and play with machetes.


http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.778077519312.2261147.6101501&l=d21be222ab&type=1

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I AM IN SITE!!! and can't do anything

This will not be an interesting post. Just wanted to let everyone know I'm in my new home. I'll be living with a family for a while before I hopefully move into my own house.

There would be more enthusiasm and detail about arrival to site and my 5 days in Asuncion except for the fact I'm really sick right now, like mouth breather type sick. I haven't smelt anything for about 48 hours. I actually got permission to show up to site a day late because yesterday I was in no condition to do anything. If you need convincing look at his photo.
Like my awkward thumbs up. Very Paraguayan.

Pathetic, right? And tha'ts me feeling better!

My new "Host mom" Ema has been really kind. She's made me mate with special jujos to help me get better. (jujos = medicinal herbs.) I don't attest to effectiveness of natural medicine, but when a mother of a many insists on giving you jujos, you take them. *important update! They made me take a spoonful of carpincho fat. I googled it. Carpincho = worlds largest rodent. Now that was just unnecessary.*

Ok, time to sign off. The light of the computer feels like it's burning a whole into my brain.

I promise a big fancy post about the swear in ceremony and my night out in Asuncion. Much fun was had, and much fun was shared. Can we say awesome!?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The end of the beginning...


Peace Corps Paraguay G36 Training from brittany boroian on Vimeo.


So I swore in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer yesterday.  It's a little surreal. A lot of my buddies have been very caught up in the "Official-ness." Many times people would turn to each other and say something along the lines of, "OMG! We're VOLUNTEERS."  People were really into the word, because until now we were just trainees.  These terms become very important. This is after all government work.

I am almost embarrassed to be less enthusiastic about my official transition. I can relate to my peers joy over the semantics of it, but really I could care less what you call me, so long as I can start keeping my own schedule.

I don't want to be completely blase about this, but my dream wasn't to be a Peace Corps volunteer so much as to live and work abroad and to do work that improves the lives of others. I am over joyed to be given the opportunity to do that. I'm absolutely passionate about the journey I'm going to embark on, but it really hasn't started. I cannot wait for all the stories to come, and the challenges to be had. For me, that's when it'll be official.

The past two months have been crazy! to show you all some of it, above is a video my friend Brittany made. It's a photo montage of our training. I hope you all enjoy. The video is definitely more fun than the training itself.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I swear to God, good food could lead to world peace. A case study:

Meet Ginsey. Besides being awesome and wicked smart, she shares my love for cooking. As all good cooks, she learned to cook from her mom, who in her case is from India, Meaning, Ginsey makes bomb Indian food.

Now, I know nothing about Indian food. I didn’t even think I liked Indian food, but Ginsey assured me that I did. (We’re becoming close friends. You know, the kind that make those sorts of decisions for each other.) So with a generous donation via care package from Mama and Papa Ginsey, her and I decide to plan a dinner for all our friends.

A dinner we originally thought would be for about 10 people quickly grew to 25, since our host families wanted in on this too. I think they just thought it odd that we could actually take care of something ourselves. We were pretty helpless when we got here and it’s been an uphill battle changing their minds since. I assumed the roll of sous chef, or as Gordy would say, Kitchen Bitch. I de-boned a gazillion chickens; peeled and chopped a quadrillion cucumbers; and all was well until I diced enough onions to make something big look small. (I couldn’t think of a good analogy. Recommendations are welcomed.) This was all done with one of the world’s dullest knives. I’m not sure if it’s some sort of law in Paraguay but I have yet to find a knife that isn’t approaching PlaySkool levels of dullness.

Ginsey took care of the real cooking. Although, I don’t totally recognize what she did as cooking. It was more like alchemy. She claims to start with a recipe but from there she conducts magic over her cauldron like a witches brew. Adding some of this, adding some of that, constantly tasting, and patiently getting through the phase where it doesn’t taste so good. Ok, maybe not patiently, she freaked out pretty hard during the “scary part.” Apparently that’s part of the process. Momentary melt downs aside, it was very impressive to watch her work. With each taste she knew exactly what element needed to added or balanced out, and she whittled her way to exactly what she wanted, not totally sure what she had done.

So with 2 huge pots of Chicken Tika, and enough rice to feed a good part of China, we sat down with our friends and family to break bread. Ginsey and I were nervous if people would like it, but quickly all worries were put aside. As the food was passed around the table, a silence came over the group. You know food is good when all you can hear is forks. Cue awesome night.

We stuffed our faces. We drank decent booze. We spoke three languages, and we told dirty jokes in all of them. There are few more loved traditions in Paraguay than telling inappropriate jokes, and making fun of people similarly. At one point the joke was that we were eating Tembo’i, which sounds remarkably close to tembi’u. (Tembi’u means Food in Guarani. Tembo’i means Small Penis. It’s a easy mistake to make and one that gets taken advantage of.) This joke went on for a long time, and was being lead by the women in attendance. These four middle aged women had every American in ear shot falling out of their chairs with laughter and blushing with embarrassment. I was literally hiding my face and covering my ears un able to take the discomfort anymore. Thus making it all the funnier.

I would like to take moment to commend our Paraguayan friends for trying Ginsey’s food. All of them were eager to try something new, even though spice and spices are not popular here. They enjoyed it as much as the rest of us, especially the non-hot version we made them. Throughout the night people would regularly get up and refill their plates until there was talk of taking turns licking the serving bowls. Ginsey and I looked at each other with pride and decided this was a really good decision. Four hours of cooking suddenly felt like nothing. It was incredible to look around the table and see what fantastic friends we had made.

In a lot of way we had just begin to hit our stride here in Ita. These first months while in training have been trying. The struggles were many and diverse, but the people I have met here have been nothing short of remarkable. Our group has become like a family, and to think I won’t see them every day starting next week is, well, sad. Not to mention, how much we appreciate our host families. They can only be described as generous and hospitable. Let’s add crazy to that too.

Saturday night was one of those perfect nights where that magical blend of good food and good people came together to make something meaningful and memorable. It’s hard to underestimate how much culture affects us, but there are some universals in this world. Sharing food as a way of sharing part of yourself is one of them. (I’m such a poor man’s Anthony Bourdain. Like a really poor man.)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Apparently Saint John the Baptist was a pyro.




As you look at the picture above you might ask yourself, “Why Taylor, is that a flaming bull skull you’re carrying?” Well yes faithful blog reader, it is indeed.

Welcome to the Festival of San Juan.

I am not sure how the course of events in my life lead me to having the opportunity to chase children with a flaming bull skull, but I can only thank the fates for allowing it.

San Juan is a festival that is held through out late June and early July. Various schools and organizations throw San Juan parties. It’s a time to celebrate traditional Paraguayan culture. There are games, traditional dance, and lots of food. While this goes on for about a month the actual San Juan day is the 24th of June. On this day, San Juan protects those who have faith, and to prove it, they use fire. Lots of fire.

The whole party surrounds a giant bon fire in the middle of a field. Things begin innocently enough by setting some soccer balls on fire for kids to play with. From there, they burn an effigy of Judas, who strangely enough often resembles one political leader or another. We then take a break to climb a 20 plus foot greased pole to retrieve candy and about 25 dollars located at the top. First one to successfully hump their way up to the top gets the prizes. If you are asking yourself if that safe, stop. San Juan protects us, so we do not need safety precautions. So while free climbing a slippery tree trunk is all well and fun, it’s time to get back to fire.

Enter flaming bull skull.

I wasn’t paying much attention, seeing as I was trying to fight off 30 kids to be able to kick a flaming soccer ball, when all of a sudden my friend pushes me. I look up and a foot away from my face is the heifer from hell. I have never ran so fast in my life. When I finally shake him, I return to find all my friends and their host families dying of laughter. Apparently, I was set up.

Now San Juan is a family holiday, so clearly the flaming bull skull is handed over to the kids at this point. The little ones take turns chasing each other. And by “take turns” I mean one kid gets to chase until another kid pulls him to the ground to take over. Seeing as I was clearly bigger than the creatures, I decided I needed in on this action. I commandeered the demon beauvine from an 8 year old, and began my mission. I am telling you: You have not lived until you have chased your friends and small children with a flaming bull skull. But as with all good things it had to come to an end. I too was taken over by kids who grabbed on to the frame and flung me to the ground.

While it would be easy to assume that chasing people with fiery carcasses is the climax of San Juan, you are underestimating the faith of the Paraguayan people.

At this point in the night the bonfire is dying down. A small fire on a heap of red hot coals is all that’s left. You might be able to guess where I’m going with this. We all surround the fire, and a man older than time spreads out the coals with a wooden stoke to create a nice even layer. The priest enters the circle to given a benediction over the coals, and asks San Juan to protect us. Then Grandfather Time takes off his shoes, and rolls up his pants. After a quick prayer and a deep breath, he proceeds stroll across the coals like it’s sunday afternoon. He doesn’t appear to have felt anything. To prove it, he turns around and does it again.

To the cynics, feel free to hypothesize all you want about how he did it. All I know is what I saw, and I saw a man walk across fire. It was truly incredible.

The rest of the night, music is played and children run wild until the coals are no longer warm enough to stand next to. I don’t know if I’ve ever had so much fun. And no, I will never attempt to walk across the coals.