April 28, 2011

Although this year is only, well, a third over, I still keep finding myself looking back and reminiscing on the past. The only problem is that I only vaguely remember the details, and even what I´ve got recorded is murky, like trying to feel ocean waves through a polaroid.

It´s been a busy day of presenting and chatting. In the morning I´d hoped to be able to go to a planning meeting for an Urban Forest project with the Paraguayan society of landscape architects(!)in the old center of AsunciĆ³n at 8am, but it just so happened that I was also supposed to be an hour and a half away presenting at 8:30. There is hardly ever something I have to be on time for in this country, so of course the one day I can´t be late to a presentation something interesting comes up. In any case, after getting to the training center and everything, making my presentations and trying to be real about it, i come and get in touch with the group´s president and met her later in the afternoon. We worked a few things out about the project, I color in a map to figure out where we´re going to be canvasing the blocks and IDing trees, and take off. Pretty good meeting, no drama, opportunity is in the air r r.

I´ll be a bit honest about my extension with Senatur - it almost feels like an excuse to get to work on design projects with people and then justify it as creating touristic products, like I have some kind of secret ulterior motive even though Im following just what I laid out in my project plan. Maybe im just surprised that I´m actually doing what I´ve wanted to get myself into all this time. It´s gratifying.

What is annoying me a little are people who question my motives for still being in Paraguay. Yes, I would like to be making more money for god´s sake. Yes, things about Paraguay drive me nutso (like those horrid ATM lines) but things in the states also rubbed me the wrong way, like how I was always broke. At least here, even if im not making a ton each month in real cash i can spend, I´m still getting $350 put away every month that i get in one nice, tax free cheque once im all done. That´s not too shabby, given that my idea this point of a lot of cash for a monthly paycheck is about $300usd. This of course is with no car, no luxury vacations, and no clothes buying. Just good food and good times.

I really can´t say that I´m in need, I don´t feel poor. But by US standards im making peanuts. Is it so wrong that I dont care? Id rather be doing what I want to do and be paid equitably than do something I hate 2/3 of my waking life and get paid like a king. That money would turn sour really quick. I wish more people could experience the liberation from... well just buying stuff, buying as therapy, buying themselves illusions of happiness. There is more out there, and while things may not be perfect for me in Paraguay, i´m glad to be finding out what´s really important while i´m here.


April 6, 2011

revisiting the volunteering experience

Unbeknownst to me, an entire year has passed since I was last mulling over the ethics of candy bar purchases in the states, and looking forward to another full year here in Paraguay. Little did I know at the time, that one year would merge into two and I would find myself smack in the middle of territory few have chosen to cross into: a fourth year as a Peace Corps volunteer.

I suppose I could go back and recount what happened in 2010... lets see if I can sum it up in one paragraph.

I worked for an environmental NGO that focused on reforestation projects and environmental education, but aside from growing vast numbers of trees had little experience in either said focus. This led me to believe, and propose, and work through a year of project management, 16 different projects and a few thousand trees distributed. At the tail end, I helped design a plaza for a school for the blind with two other NGOs and inched closer to finishing an environmental education manual. Paraguay, again, was the most attractive option for work. Also, it has become more of my home than I readily admit, so I made it my business to extend my service as a volunteer once again, but this time into the field of tourism development, with the general goal of getting a few real design projects underway.

Nutshell. No drama, cut and dry. Life was not like this paragraph (aka short and pithy) but condensing a years worth of living in a meaningful way is as hard as trying to figure out which culture I presently belong to. So I´m just not going to go there for the time being, and jump right into the present.

As I sit in front of my computer screen, working away on price lists and construction documents, I see that I´m getting what I set myself up for this year: time consuming, eyelid drooping, callus-on-my-wrist from too much AutoCAD and 3dsMAX, design work. No joke, its rewarding in non-monetary ways, thank god, seeing people get closer to realizing their image of an improved environment or better public space, but man. I am tired. This 24/7 volunteer lifestyle is...well, its not easy i know that much. I still want to do so much that I push myself too hard, even with culturally appropriate siestas and breaks. As in everything, balance is essential. I´m hoping to find some pretty soon, just need to finish these construction docs first...


January 18, 2010

Although typing a post while im here in the US seems a little contrary to the content of this blog up till now, I feel like i should put down for posterity how strange it is being back here.

Week1: I was trying really hard to not speak spanish to people but it didnt always work. Random words like "verdad" or "y" kept popping out of my mouth. Everything seemed strange: the size of cars, the voices on TV, parking lots, snack foods, the way people talked about things that they felt mattered in the context of their lives. Even the decor of restaurants or a chair i might have been sitting in made me feel like id been dropped into some kind of weird dream land. People complained about little things, threw away perfectly good food, sat in front of the football game. Constantly on display for groups of moderately curious people and relatives who asked things like "so how's Paraguay? Is it nice there?" I was freaking out.

Week2: Things seemed more normal, but driving in a car everywhere was getting progressively stranger. Seems like the only people walking the street were the homeless guys lining up in front of the church across the street for food at dinnertime. Parking lots still seemed horribly strange, huge wastelands of asphalt with stunted trees. I wont lie, i like being able to stand in front of a heater for long periods of time and to have everything at the push of a button. But everything seemed to not shine so much, to be a little less real, more effort than substance. Again, I am at a loss to explain what this really means.

Week3: More normal feeling these days, driving in a car feels normal again. Visited the desert which screwed with my head a bit, in that people will voluntarily go out of their way to visit a place where no one naturally would ever find themselves. I bought food in a supermarket for the first time, and was scared by the vegetable washer/sprayers above the produce. All the apples were very shiny, the bananas looked like plastic. I just touched things, not really knowing what to choose. I bought a key chain compass that i thought was very overpriced at 6 dollars, seeing that i could buy a really good meal at a restaurant in PY for that much. I find myself comparing everything in my head, not wanting to spend anything if i can help it. I wonder if this tendency will go away, or if its a good thing that i think twice before buying a candy bar?

more to come..

November 6, 2009

Back again, its quite hot and muggy here. The kind of heat you cant escape from even with a fan - the humidity kills. Anywho, i finnaly ran the fourth and last design workshop for the highschool project here. We had about 35 people which was a huge turnout, much more than i was expecting to have to deal with.

I had the parents and students form groups and go over the second design proposal package and answer yes or no questions as to whether they liked certain aspects of each design. In contrast to the last time where making comments was optional, people had to be direct with what they wanted in order to give me a clear direction for the design to come. It really came down to ordering the drawings correctly and getting them to respond to specific, written prompts connected to the drawings. Telling people that they have the option to express their opinions doesnt work here, it has to almost be made obligatory, otherwise no one says anything, or they just copy everyone elses ideas. Thus, the yes or no questions such as "do you like the idea of having benches here?" and so forth.

Were hoping to package this thing up and use it as a tool to keep people in the ministry of education up to date on whats going on. At this point tho, it seems that their assistance isnt going to be super necessary next year at least considering that we heard today that a local NGO is going to build another classroom in the coming year. Yay!

Preliminary work continues on the planning for the design of the Instituto Libre; I
really need to square away the objectives of the owner before starting to fire off stuff he isnt into. I believe i heard him talking about gardens and how landscapes have to potential to help people culture themselves..

Im hoping to come back to CalPoly during my january home leave and maybe do a presentation or two in the landscape arch department. Not sure how that might fit in with what theyve got goin on over there these days, but theres no harm in asking.

Uff, this heat really is draining. The rest´ll have to wait till later.

October 2, 2009

Welllll, here I am in Caacupe again killing time until a bus can take me back home. So whats the news..

Ive been cleared by Peace Corps Washington for a third year of service, and will start to cycle that up in a very short while. Im still trying to define exactly what im going to be accomplishing, as making headway within the gobernacions office of environment has been a challenge. The secretary of environment in this department doesnt seem to bee super interested in helping me realize something that i can hold in my hand, but is perfectly content chatting me up about various enviro topics. This is nice, but ive had two years of circular conversations now (to generalize) and im interested in things more or less moving in some kinda of direction. Teaching people about how to use and value their natural resources has to happen better here, and it can. Its just going to be a question of finding the right people to work through. I also met the director of SEAM (secretaria del medio ambiente) at the country level, and he talked so fast in so may directions that before I could get something out to add to the discussion hed jumped to another topic. Least i got his card.

Working with some of the students at the Universidad Nacional should start to be fruitful relativly soon as im begining to help a group of them with some design work. Ive got nothing to loose really, in fact i have a whole lot more to gain by making good connections with these people. I met the uncle of one of the students yesterday while we were at his house talking about a redesign of the grounds and he offered me a free house to stay in for my next year in Caacupe if i wanted it. Just like that, perfect.

Design work on the colegio is goin kinda slow, or actually its presently not going. Mostly for lack of time on my part, and the lack of desire to push my days into the evening with material preparation on top of what ive already got floating around on my desk.

Socially things are going really well, as ive been having a great time seeing one of the teachers outside of school for lunches and trips and such. Shes great - its made things seem even brighter than they already do.

As i type this i cant help but feel physically really really tired. Two days of waking up at 430 to ride in a bus for two hours on a cobblestone road has been draining, and im gonna be doing it again tomorrow and the next day too. I almost just want to move to caacupe already and start to develop my work here. I love the campo dont get me wrong, but its just time for a change. Im sick of being so isolated, sick of the students and teachers sticking themselves in my buisness, and pretty much over getting shorted by profesionals because as of yet my spanish isnt perfect. Of course once i move i dont expect it to be perfect, but the context will be completly different the poeple different and hopefully more rich. After all, i can still visit the campo for fiestas, i just wont have to deal with the daily anoyances of living within that world.

I dont want to make this a bitch fest, because i feel happier now that I have for my whole time here. I just need a nap. now off to that busssss

September 8, 2009

here in asuncion gettin ready to go to my close of service conference, which means two days in a super nice hotel with free food and a break from teachin. Sounds good to me!

August 30, 2009

high time for an update id say. After more than two months of finagling and tweaking my way through projects and into some interesting work, id say im quite content with the way just about everything is progressing. Well, that is to say everything that Im really invested in. As a recap:

I ran my third design workshop using the site planning work and survey information collected in the first and second round. Activities included linkage diagrams for major site elements (soccer pitch, entrance, classrooms, etc) and their supporting elements. People ended up agreeing on a pallate of things that needed to be included for each major elements (for example: shade, water access, seating, etc for soccer area) and diagramed it out. Then using a packet of proposals i drew out for each of the areas, the groups came to concensus on their favorite drawing and modified it to fit their interests. We then voted collectivly as a whole workshop for which proposals to go ahead with. This has left me with a pretty clear direction for my final proposal drawings which i hope to have completed by december. My work contacts are already getting some milage out of the drawings, having shown them to people at the ministry of education to get funding. Seems to have worked. Guess those five years at Poly did teach me something? haha.

The school now has electricity hooked up, all the desks and furniture, and a promise from a local NGO to build the next classroom in the following year. I hope they follow our proposal! Regardless, being where i am now its a load off my mind, thats for sure.

On a lighter note, im still beating my head against the apathy of certain teachers at the highschool, and have honestly given up on changing their points of view. Im just focusing on what i can do with the students at this point. The seniors will be presenting their investigations on natural resource use and conservation this Wendsday to prep us for community projects to finish out the year.

The school tree nursery now has about 400 seedlings in bags growing and ready to be transplanted at the end of the year. At least helping them run the project and providing the tech knowlege has produced some tangible results. And the frost didnt kill the trees, which is always nice.

Leadership traning and workshops at the other highschool are going well, with the students set to interview the community at large this week with a form we created at the last teacher meeting. I bet about half of them do it, haha, we shall see.

Biggest news for me by far is that ive made a formal work proposal to an NGO that runs reforestation projects here in Paraguay for the comming year. All signs look good from Peace Corps and the NGO that ill get the go ahead, so Im super stoked. Itd mean another full year working on developing their environmental educaiton program, working with highschools across the southern half of the country to implement arborization projects and the like. And i get to live in a town. And have running water every day, and buses that run without fail at all times of the day. Id like that. As part of the program ill get to come home for a month on quasi-paid leave and then return for my year of service. Thanks taxpayers.

With the end of my second year fast approaching, i find myself sitting sometimes and considering where Ive come to after all this time spent fumbling along. I wish somethings had been different, but on the whole ive accoplished most of what id originally set out to do. I think. I certainly dont care so much anymore about whether what ive done and am doing would be considered succesful by other people, just so long as I feel satisfied with the effort i put into it.

Take last week for example. There was an impromptu teacher assembly and the director asked me to run something with the students for about an hour and a half. Luckily id done some leadership stuff and and an activity with the other colegio in the morning so I repeaterd it, the major difference being the 45 or so 15 to 19 year olds with no teacher supervision (except me) as opposed to the 25 in the morning with two teachers assisting. So i ran my stuff, and the activity bombed. Everyone gave up and just stoped doing what they were supposed to be doing and started yelling at each other. The topic was about conflict resolution and compromise, but none of that actually happened, so instead of talking about how well the activity went we just talked about why it failed and what was missing. So still a success, kinda, even though it really didnt work out like it was supposed to.

And so its getting dark and ive got a half hour bike ride back home so Id better get on with it. Till next time!