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.
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.