Monday, February 13, 2012


When I envisioned my life as a Peace Corps Trainee/Volunteer or when I read the manuals and stories I always imagined that getting to know a family and community would be awkward but I can’t believe I did not consider how much more intensely difficult it would be for me with such weak Spanish skills.  I moved into my host family’s house on Friday night and am extremely fortunate  that they are very patient, especially my host mother who often has to repeat questions and directions to me multiple times before I am able to answer back with a weak “entiendo”.   All Peace Corps trainees and volunteers encounter challenges with learning or mastering their host countries’ languages so I do not feel that I am in an unfair situation (I know how fortunate I am for this amazing opportunity).  However, I am more keenly aware of my language struggles because so many of the other trainees in my group seem to be fluent, proficient or nearly proficient in Spanish and many will be placed in the advanced language class which begins by studying Guarani, the indigenous language of Paraguay. 

I came here to integrate into a new culture, learn from them and hopefully accomplish meaningful development work for the health of the Paraguayan people and none of this can happen if I don’t commit myself fully to learning the language.  And that is exactly what I plan to do.  I spent most of yesterday with my host mother and her extended family trying to communicate in broken Spanish and sometimes succeeding which in itself is a success.  I have only been in the country for a few days and have not even started formal language classes yet, so there is no need for me to become despondent.  But God am I nervous. 

There are many reasons for me to be grateful and happy.  We have been blessed with beautiful weather, full of sunshine and breezes.  Although it is hot during the day, the main room at the training center has air conditioning, my room at my host family’s house has a fan and it is quite comfortable in the shade, especially in the evenings.  In addition to my host mother, I have a host father and three sisters although one is a dancer and is away from home for the next week. Many cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents live in the neighboring houses and they stop by throughout the day so I am getting to know the whole family.  The oldest sister, who is fifteen, is also helping me with my Spanish.  On Saturday, I taught her English words while she taught me Spanish ones.  My youngest sister is seven and is very sweet but I think she is a little disappointed that I can’t communicate with her better.  However, she did appreciate what a great playmate I was at the park last night- playing on a jungle gym and ‘hide and go seek’ requires very few words.  In addition to my kind host family, the other trainees are wonderful.  Just talking with them about our host family and training experiences reminds me that I am not alone.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Staging and Arrival in Paraguay

Today is my first day in country as Peace Corps Paraguay Trainee.

I had avoided creating a blog until this time because of my self-critical nature in regards to my writing and because of my belief that what I would have to say couldn't possibly be that interesting (yesterday I saw a I saw a goat...).  However, after speaking to several other volunteers with blogs, I realized that I should not be self-conscious to write because I am not attempting to sell the next New York Times #1 but rather share my life with those back home whom I care about and can't talk to on a regular basis anymore.

On Tuesday, I said goodbye to my family at the Philadelphia International Airport and flew to Miami for Staging.  I ran into two volunteers on the shuttle to the hotel.  Each new trainee I met seemed just as open and eager as the last.  The tone of the night was distinctly friendly with each person genuinely interested in getting to know each other.  It had been a long time since I was in a situation of meeting a group of new people in which they didn't expect something of one another but seemed to just enjoy the meeting.

We had staging the next day, full of ice breakers and group activities and seeming all too much like a company's team-building retreat.  The information was useful and gave us an opportunity to get to know each other and the Peace Corps policies better.  At 6:30 we left for probably the longest (time-wise) journey of my life. All twenty-eight of us loaded onto a bus with 80+ pounds of luggage each.  We weaved through what felt like eighteen gates of the Miami Airport.  We took a nine hour red-eye where the food was fine and my sleep was a good as can be expected in almost no personal space.  Following this, there was a four-hour layover in Buenos Aires where I drank very good cafe con leche and learned some new card games.  The least enjoyable part of this layover had to be changing and trying to make myself look less homeless in the airport bathroom.

Next, we took a fairly small plane to AsunciĆ³n where the flight crew was courteous but the turbulence was enough to warrant some Tylenol and Pepto Bismal. After another two hours, we disembarked and met our Country Director and other Peace Corps Paraguay staff in a much more muggy but not unbearable Paraguay.  We went over logistics and rearranged our bags and crammed ourselves and our carry-on luggage onto a passenger bus made for 30 people on a good day.  Traveling through the streets outside of AsunciĆ³n to the retreat center was one of the most exciting parts of the journey.  We started a game awarding points for being the first to spot roaming cows, chickens, horses, mopeds and funny store signs.  It was on this part of the trip that the reality that I would be living in this country for the next two years finally hit me.  To say that I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.  It is not just the dramatic change in living conditions and culture that I will face, but by the current onslaught of new experiences, sights sounds and especially introductions and interpersonal relationships that I am currently living.  I am both excited and scared at the same time.  I know that this entire experience will be worth it in the end but right now I will try to ease my anxiety by enjoying each moment focusing on one day at a time.