5 Confessions of a Paraguay Peace Corps Volunteer

When I was preparing to leave for Peace Corps, returned volunteers told me that the experience would change me. Of course they were right. Most of the changes I’ve experienced are internal, feelings more than anything else, and can’t be summarized easily in a few words. However, there a some things I now do that are amusing to me. These new habits aren’t particularly profound, but they offer a glimps into my life in Paraguay.

5 Confessions

1) I automatically prepare a 2-liter thermos of ice cold water in the morning regardless of whether or not I have imminent plans of drinking terere. I know I’ll finish the 2 liters by the end of the day one way or another. Before Paraguay, there was nothing I drank every day (other than water of course), not tea and not coffee.

2) If it’s raining in the morning I sleep in, make mate, and decide it’s a “me” day. Only “big” commitments have a chance of breaking that routine. I used to be an “A” type who could not sit without work for even two seconds.

3) I plan the amount of groceries I buy based on how many families I think I’m going to visit that week. No matter what I do, every Paraguayan family I visit will insist on feeding me and giving me food to take home. This country is a land of super-hosts. I’m not a moocher and I don’t like to accept any kind of gift without a clear way to repay it, but Paraguayans have shown me a generosity so profound they’ve eased my “repay” obsession and given me the chance to just enjoy their company.

4) I have so many humorous, invented reasons for why I don’t have a boyfriend and why I don’t want do date whoever is asking me about my relationship status, I don’t remember the real reason for my singleness. In Paraguay, it’s just as common for people to ask me if I have a boyfriend as it is for them to ask me my name (well, almost). I don’t enjoy the prodding so common here in Paraguay, but having to think about what is up with my romantic situation so often has given me the chance to be creative. I do hope I keep the humor when I return to the States, but I won’t miss the prevalence of questions about my love life.

5) I know all the tricks to get out of eating a second piece of meat. Everything from what I finish first on my plate to where I look while eating is calculated for best results. Paraguayans eat a lot of meat and they are aggressively generous with sharing their food. I appreciate my hosts’ invites to eat, but I just can’t consume as much beef and pork as they can. When left on my own, I hardly eat meat of any kind.

Through Another’s Eyes

[Scene]

On the TV news channel a story shows footage of two girls convulsing with only the whites of their eyes showing and moving on the ground like snakes.

Señora 1: “They [the girls] are possessed by demons…they say they where worshiping Satan.”

Señora 2: “They cover a table with a white tablecloth. Then, they put a glass on the table and start to summon the devil.”

Señora 1: “When you ask for things from Satan, for personal gain, you have to promise something in return. You have to make good on your promise.”

Ten-year-old boy: “Grandmother, I asked God for something. I asked him to send you money. Is something bad going to happen?”

The conversation about the devil continues among the señoras. It seems they did not hear the boy’s question. He asks again, becoming agitated.

Señora 2: “Did you ask God?”

Boy: “Yes.”

Señora 1: “God is different. When you ask God for something nothing bad will happen.”

[End Scene]

When the Days Are Numbered

On March 8th I’ll have 30 days left in Paraguay. At that point, I’ll no longer be able to deny the countdown I’ve struggled against by hiding behind weeks and months before departure. The days are numbered like pages. As with a good book, I’m excited to start a new chapter, but sad to move forward because the story is so interesting I could just stay in the middle of it…indefinitely.

March leading to April is a good time in Paraguay. School is up and running again, students pass my house in their uniform skirts, pants, and leather shoes. The weather starts to cool and the citrus are coming in–lemons and fat grapefruit, oranges and mandarins will come later. Catholics begin to prepare their souls for Easter. This year Easter week, called Saint’s Week here, falls in March. I arrived in my community for Saint’s Week two years ago and I will leave Paraguay just after it this year. Saint’s Week is the week of chipa, family, and disturbing TV series about the rise, fall, and rise of Jesus.

During March and April two years ago I was finishing my Peace Corps training and adjusting to my new home in my community–everything was a first. The same months last year, I was glowing with the accomplishments of a volunteer who rocked her first year in site and had stellar prospects for the coming year. This year, I’m saying goodbye and everything is turning into a “last.” It is hard to imagine things that have been fundamental in my life for two years as lasts… My last party in site dancing until dawn. My last soccer game. My last…Why does “last” have an innately depressing ring to it?

The days are numbered and it would be a lie to say that I’m not ready to take the leap to the next thing. When I leave my little house on a Paraguayan hill, I have three weeks of wandering until I land in my next home, which will be in northern Vermont. Vermont will be a launching pad; there I’ll be catapulted into the trajectory of becoming a doctor. I’ve had two thoughtful years in the hot, humid land of Paraguay to meditate on doctor-hood. It is the right road to take next, but the irony of leaving Paraguay to go to Vermont to germinate my new self is not lost. Anything can flourish in Paraguay, but only the hardiest of seeds sprout and produce in Vermont’s stingy sun.

I do not miss places. Place inherently have a mix of favorable and annoying characteristics. And, in most walks of earth, I can adapt and even prosper in the mix of features that makes the place.

I do not miss entire cultures. Cultures are like ecosystems; they have many parts that rely on each other to stay together. Like I find it difficult to appreciate mosquitoes and ants, I find it impossible to accept every aspect of a culture. There are beliefs I adore and there are those I hate. I navigate by focusing on what resonates with me and ignoring the rest to the best of my ability.

I miss people. I feel their absence from my heels to the top of my messy bun. There are lots of people in our world, but there are few individuals who are mostly good. In Spanish we could call those people who tip the balance dramatically to the side of kind, fun, and just “buena anda.” “Buena anda” translates to something like “good way” or “good walk”– maybe the English phrase is “good people.” I’ve struck a fortune and made friends with some buena anda people in Paraguay. And, the readiness I feel to leave the red earth of the Guarani is dulled by the thought of moving far away from the people I love here.

My young Paraguayan friends have Facebook. There is the mail system and the chance that I will return to Paraguay for a visit. Yes, it is undeniable that the tools to “stay in touch” are available. But, having played this game of geography before, I know it is not the tools that are the most important factor to staying connected.

My closest friends and I can pick up where we left off after any amount of time, and no matter how brief our reconnect. And, my Paraguayan friends will be like that, we will carry on when we talk or are together. But, I have learned that as life goes on the time between catch-up sessions with far away friends grows. It lengthens until the relationship is mostly founded on the memories of times when we lived close. I have vivid and profound memories with my friends from this overlooked, South American country. I know what we shared will live on in our metaphorical hearts. But, I still find myself pausing in the way I learned during my years sweating in the Paraguayan humidity and lounging in mango shade.

The days are numbered. I can count them. Soon the count will be zero and I will embark on the road less traveled. I must go. I want to go. But, I don’t want to forget. I don’t want the people I knew here to fade in my life like old photographs. I don’t want the indescribable understanding of life that Paraguay gave me to get lost in a cobweb corner of my mind. Now, as I look to the horizon, I don’t just ask what is to come. There is a more emotional question that plagues me: How will I remember?

The Women of Paraguay

Last week I attended a girls’ leadership camp, the Paraguayan version of the international initiative Girls Leading Our World (GLOW). It was my second year helping plan and attending GLOW. The camp is 3 nights long and brings together 50 girls from across Paraguay to talk about being leaders in their communities.

A fantastic group of young women attended this year’s GLOW and we, the volunteers who helped organize the event, were thrilled to have speakers and support from many Paraguayans. GLOW inspired me to reflect on how Paraguayan women have helped me make sense of Paraguay since I started my service.

My biggest struggle in Peace Corps is navigating Paraguayan gender roles, many of those for women are contrary to who I am and many of those assigned to men make me uncomfortable. I’ve had a plethora of eye-opening experiences with regard to how different people see men and women in Paraguay. But, one positive aspect of the female reality in this hot, little country towers above all else, and that is the strength and cohesiveness of Paraguayan women.

There is a bound among women in Paraguay that I never experienced in the States. When I came to Paraguay it was like returning to kindergarten. I was still an adult with adult thoughts, but I understood Paraguayan culture about as well as a five-year-old understands how to live independently, which is to say I felt lost. The Paraguayan style of teaching is to criticize and instruct through jokes. It is hard to deal with at first, I think most of us like to be taken seriously as humans. Between the jeers and the hiccups during my first months, Paraguayan woman after Paraguayan woman gave me advice.

As a result, I grew as a person. I’ve absorbed a little of the Paraguayan woman’s ability to defend herself. I know how Paraguayan women usually act, even though I don’t always follow the rules because I don’t like most of them. I’ve come to understand that while men in Paraguay are free and powerful, women are not as disempowered as I thought they were at first. And, in fact, I would go as far as to say that many Paraguayan women have a strength that many American women I know lack.

The Paraguayan woman is a nurturer. When she is young she looks after his siblings. She treats her father like a king and her brothers like princes. She cooks and cleans and works to make the men in her life happy, even at times when those men do nothing. But, while I as the outsider often find this sickening, there is a positive side to the Paraguayan female sacrifice. She is proud of her work. She is good at negotiating with the men around her, and leading them to compromises that benefit her too. She is close to the women in her family. By her teens she knows her mother, sisters, female cousins, aunts, and grandmother as well as life-long friends in the States know each in their 80s. She knows the needs of every member of her family. She knows how to barter and form strategies to meet those needs.

By the time a Paraguayan woman becomes a wife, a professional, and/or a mother she is the heart of her family. She is the life force and the glue holding people together. She remembers everyone’s birthdays. She does little things to make children feel loved. She can plan a party like a professional event planner. She never misses a detail. She can plot the path of her children so that one day they will be even greater than she is. She knows the powerful members in her community and she knows how to win their respect. She can not control her husband or her brothers, but she is a master of limiting damage. She looks to her core and her female friends to find the power she needs to get through the worst obstacles. She is beautiful. She laughs and she never forgets the women growing up around her.

Paraguayan women are proud. They may not be able to shut down the catcalls that follow them everywhere they go. They may not be free to do all that they desire. They may be afraid to break the norm. But, they don’t let these things stop them. They know how to deal with a rude, drunk man with eloquence and a smile. They know how to see the essence of a person. They know how to fight and to forgive. They know what it is to fall and to get up again, and they know how to win.

When I think about the girls who attended GLOW it makes me happy. They will one day lead their communities.They will improve the lot of the women who come after them. I believe that they have all they need to be and do whatever they want in their lives, and I am honored they shared a bit of their greatness with me.

Money View

The collective culture of Paraguay lends itself to a different approach to money from that in the individualistic United States. In the US, each person is expected to earn their own money and only spend their money. Many families encourage their children to start working in high school, not exactly to contribute to the family, but more to ensure that those youth can buy or do what they want using their own hard-earned dollars. In the States when one goes out to a bar, he or she should be prepared to buy all their own drinks. Things are different in Paraguay.

Job opportunities are more limited in Paraguay than they are in most places in the US. This is one small reason why fewer youth work in Paraguay. But, more importantly, in Paraguay money earned is not entirely viewed as belonging to the person who earned it. While the earner is free to use part of their wages to buy things they want, they will also be expected to kick-back a large chunk to the family. Youth who have jobs will buy bread and meat for their parents. They’ll buy treats and snacks for their baby cousins. Older siblings who work might buy clothes for their younger siblings who still can’t have a job. Similarly, it is culturally acceptable for youth in middle class families to be financially dependant on their family well into their 20s. Most Paraguayans live with their parents, regardless of their employment status, until they are married.

In Paraguay, if something is bought by one person it is shared…or everyone chips-in to buy the item and they then share it. Beer is a good example. If one were to go to a party with a group of friends in the States, each of those people, who drinks, would have their own beer. In Paraguay, that same group would open one beer. Each person would take a sip and pass it around to the next person. Only outsiders would have their own, personal beer.

Money in the States is often viewed as the property of the individual. Each individual is not obliged or expected to give money to others. Meanwhile, in Paraguay wealth is seen as the result of family cooperation and individual earners are expected to contribute to the family pot.

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Guardian Angel

My life can be divided into periods marked by which woman took me under their wing during that time. No span is without the support of at least one helping hand, and my time in Peace Corps is not an exception. My Paraguayan guide is Herminia. She is 60-something-years-old and I think of her as the guardian of my spirit. Not my spirit in a religious sense, but more as Merriam-Webster defines it, “the force within a person that is believed to give the body life, energy, and power.”

Herminia was once beautiful. She tells stories of her long hair and running away to Brazil when she was young. The traces of beauty remain, but I know her better for ignoring the obsession of perfect appearances most Paraguayan women have. Herminia’s hair is always twisted up in a nice clip. Her legs are bowed in, highlighted by the faded tights she most often wears. Her threadbare shirts are filled with holes. As much as her daughter tries to get her to wear a bra she usually doesn’t, finding them to be nothing but torture. She is clean and her nails show the remnants of paint. Her most defining feature is the lines in her face, which are caught between telling the story of a life filled with laughter and a life of nervous outbreaks.

Herminia did not go to school after second grade. She is the mother of 3, and the main caretaker of one of her grandsons. These days, Herminia lives with her aging mother, so her mother will not be alone. Herminia is 1 of 9, but the only daughter. Herminia cooks the tastiest food over wood and charcoal fires. Sometimes she has all the ingredients for what she intends to make and sometimes not, but her food always turns out yummy. She has a cow whose milk she sells. She is a talker. She talks to all people. She was raised in Asuncion, so her Spanish is as ferocious as her Guarani. She knows the medicinal plants and she believes in God.

Paraguayans are the most welcoming people I have ever met. But, most of my Paraguayan friends and neighbors don’t seek me out. I am part of their lives when I show up at their houses, and I am on a different planet the rest of the time. Herminia is different. She comes looking for me. On those days when I hide in my house, having spent the pervious day there too, she charges across the street. I see her coming with her head high and a determined expression. “Where have you been, my daughter? I thought you were mad at me. Come over and we will make some rich food,” she says.

And I go to her house. We drink terere. We cook. We chat. We watch TV. And, the unexplainable gloom that comes to one unpredictably when she lives abroad is lifted. My energy is restored, and after I leave her house I am once again ready to face the Paraguay that hardly ever looks for me. I cross my threshold on my own, until the gloom returns. And the cycle repeats.

Herminia is the most open-minded Paraguayan I know in my community. I do not believe there is any conversation we can not have, or that there is any position on any topic to which she will not at least listen. I learned how to do the rosary in Spanish, I don’t know it in English, because she taught me. I learned it because it made her so proud that she could teach me. She shares her faith in her Catholic God, even though she does not expect me to believe. She tells me about the people of the community, if they are good or bad. She is a gossip, but I have yet to see her judge of character miss the mark. She tells anyone who asks about me, and most people do, that I am the daughter of the community. She says that all the mothers here are my mothers because I am far from home.

Herminia dances on chairs with liter beer bottles balanced on her head. She is my favorite dance partner. Once, we danced until 2 am, and she made me spend the night, sleeping with her and her grandson in one bed, so I wouldn’t have to walk home. At that time, she lived farther away than she does now. Herminia defends my sobriety as she sips beer she puts in metal cups so people on the street don’t know what she is drinking. She has a sweet tooth. She forgets where she put her glasses, her wallet…her grandson and I keep track of her belongings.

I can go to her house and talk a lot or say hardly a word. I can go read while they watch TV. I go to work, but sometimes Herminia does all the cooking. We move the table from shade patch to shade patch until lunch time. Then, we eat in the living room, plates on our laps, because Herminia’s mother can no longer lift her arms to eat at the table.

When I travel, Herminia watches my house from her yard across the street. She does not know my every move or try to tell me what to do, but she keeps track enough to know everything is going along without trouble. Paraguay knows when I am down. And usually, Paraguay sends in Herminia to bring me up again. I can not think of a better agent of change.

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Anything Goes

Señora: “I hate women’s work. It’s better that you don’t marry.”

Me: “That’s why whoever I do marry and I will split the chores evenly. We will both work and we will both keep house.”

Señora: She looks at me with a pitying expression. “Maybe there are men like that in your country, but not here.”

Me: “Yes, there are. That is why I haven’t married a Paraguayan. If I don’t find a man like that, I won’t marry.”

The señora nods, seemingly satisfied, and goes to check her pot of food, which she is cooking outside over charcoal. She always cooks with charcoal or wood. She has a gas stove, but I guess it is too expensive to use gas.

In Paraguay, the house is the women’s domain and everywhere else belongs to the men. When a woman leaves her home she dresses up, puts on her swagger, and forges into a land where men have all the cards–she has tricks but her male counterparts still have the upper hand.

For me the most surprising and challenging features of Paraguay are the rigidly defined and openly maintained gender roles. When you boil things down, Paraguayan culture and American culture are similar. But, while in much of the US the glass ceiling is the elephant in the room and women “accidently” end up working and doing the lion’s share of the housework and child raising, differences in gender roles are openly talked about and defended in Paraguay.

I’ve watched a brother sit on his ass while his sister washes his clothes by hand. Then, when the sister gives him the clothes, already ironed, to fold, the aunt makes the sister fold them. I’ve seen men sit at the table waiting to be served while their women cook and set the table. I’ve witnessed men sitting and drinking for hours while women clean and cook and deal with the kids.

I’ve seen a woman called a whore because her boyfriend, undenounced to her, filmed them having sex and published a video. (If I am not mistaken, she lost her job because of that). People said it was her fault for not anticipating what the man might do as a man. I’ve heard a 3-year-old boy scolded and teased for touching dolls, painting his nails, and riding a purple bike. His best friend is his 4-year-old girl cousin. The list goes on, but you get the point. That is the home.

Beyond the home, anything goes. In most places in Paraguay, catcalling women in the street is the norm. In my community catcalling is limited, score, but if I walk along the main road every couple vehicles honk at me…and I’m not even blond or ever dressed to impress. It’s normal for old men, married men, men with children, and youth to hit on women ages…well, age isn’t important if he thinks the lady or girl is pretty. Men will pester women in front of anyone and everyone except their girlfriend or wife. Women and men don’t usually mingle at social functions. The vast majority of Paraguayan men my age who show interest in me don’t do so as a friend. They have only one end goal in mind. Of course, these affronts are brushed off as joking. According to many Paraguayans, pointing out women, offering commentary on women, and trying to conquest (the literal translation for the word “woo” or “take to bed” in Spanish) are what men do. It’s not their fault, they are men. It is women’s job to protect themselves.

In Paraguay it is odd to be single, especially at my age. Women are supposed to settle down and have children. Paraguayans like to ask if I have a boyfriend. They like to ask why I don’t. Men often ask me if I have a boyfriend before they know my name. It is normal now. I expect it. I anticipate in before it happens. I have multiple funny responses.

Just because I have a gender role in Paraguay that I do not agree with, does not mean I accept it. However, I can’t crash the whole system. The Peace Corps isn’t about forcing host country culture to change. I’ve settled for small rebellions. I do exercise that isn’t dance. I wear t-shirts and loose athletic shorts. I climb trees and get sweaty. I watch movies with guns and fire and talk about fast cars. I discuss being a professional and working. I own things that are blue and green. These are small details. But, gender roles are mountains made of pebbles. Maybe I can’t move the mountain in my little Paraguayan town, but I can sure send some rocks flying.

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Humanity

I spend hours on the bus in a month, and, perhaps, as many waiting for buses. It’s normal now. I’m not allowed to drive any vehicle or ride a motorcycle (thanks Peace Corps rules). Cars are scarce. I walk a lot, but walking has limits. However, despite the hours of sitting and the crowded rides, I like the bus. The bus is a perfect window into humanity. All kinds of people ride the bus–rich and poor, old and young, educated and uninformed, friendly and grumpy…just about everyone.

On many bus rides in Paraguay I have been reminded that chivalry and kindness are not only part of nostalgia and history. They are alive and well. A good illustration of their perseverance occured on a recent bus ride to the grocery store. It is a half hour trip to relatively urban center.

I was sitting on the bus looking at nothing in particular and thinking about something that has since been forgotten. A passenger stood. Bus stops are not a thing in most of Paraguay; one can get on and off the bus just about anywhere. To get on one flags the bus driver down much like one might a taxi. To get off one pulls a string that sounds a bell up by the driver. The passenger who stood was a particularly petite, young woman. I noticed her because of her slightness and because she was holding a fine, fat baby. Buses in Paraguay jolt and rattle, such that it is almost always necessary to hold on to something at all times or risk toppling over. The unsteady footing is even more likely to fling a child down the bus isle than an adult. The woman carrying the baby in one arm and holding a handrail in the other charged quickly to the back of the bus to pull the string and to get off. As she moved away from her seat a toddler, perhaps three, started to follow her. Toddlers are goners on the bus if someone doesn’t hold their hand. They forget to steady themselves and they move like rag dolls.

My gaze, and those of all the passengers between the open seat and the back door of the bus, moved from the woman to the child about to embark on a rocky road. I worried for a moment, but hardly a moment. A man across from the boy reached out his hand, grabbed the boy’s arm, and steadied him as he teetered along. When the man’s reach was exhausted, a woman took hold of the boy. The boy continued walking, passing onto the guiding hand of a third person. The boy made it upright and not phased to the door and got off after his mother.

Three strangers stepped in to help a child without a word or pause. They were not asked and they were not thanked. If that is not humanity, I do not know what is.

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Building Blocks

There is no such thing as an average day in the Peace Corps. Each day is filled with the mundane of living (cleaning, cooking, waiting…) and spiced with unexpected adventures. My projects and routines change with the seasons. During the school year I taught classes and during the vacations I visited friends and explored new places. This current period stands out because it is comprised of my final months as a volunteer in Paraguay and summer vacation. Despite the disparity in my activities, it is not completely futile to attempt to explain what a day in my life is like. There are two fundamental occupations that fill my time: fostering relationships and growing personally.

Fostering relationships

Peace Corps volunteers have three goals–to help people in their country of service gain new knowledge and skills, to share about American culture, and to learn about the culture of their host country. Those goals are a long-winded way of saying we volunteers are here to share all we know with whoever wants to listen and absorb as much as we can.

Most of the time outside of my house I spend with people in their homes. We sit. We drink terere. We talk. We cook. We eat. We stare into space. During my almost 2 years in Paraguay, I have already spent more hours visiting my dearest Paraguayan friends than I have spent with most of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in the States during my life to date. Those hours of sharing with Paraguayans created the exciting events of my service: going to birthdays, being in a wedding, dancing all night, sharing Christmas dinner, going on road trips, and participating in religious activities like mass and patron saint’s day celebrations.

Even in the classroom, the relationships I developed with my students are what made me successful. By our second year together, my students were comfortable enough to ask questions about sex in my class–a feat in a country where the topic is usually only joked about in formal settings and invokes shame in most other contexts.

In summary, most of my energy in Paraguay is dedicated to visiting. You might ask, is visiting your job? Can visiting be a job? And my answer is a shrug. It’s not a 9-to-5 no matter how you look at it. But, this place is one where who, not what, one knows profiles and opens doors. I could not have taught English or youth development if my community members didn’t know me. They would not have trusted me with their children. I could not have thrived here without spending hours with my foreign friends. I would not have learned who I am. My friendships here gave me a professional and personal identity.

Growing Personally

When I am not sharing time with people, informally at events and in homes or formally as a teacher, my energy is mostly dedicated to either doing personal projects or cleaning my house. I will spare you the details of housekeeping except to say that you should take a moment to imagine a life where the power and water do not always work and there is no trash pick up or dump, vacuum, dishwasher, or laundry machine. I promise, speaking from experience, that such a life is quite different from one with those luxuries. Personal growth is inescapable in the Peace Corps, especially in Paraguay where some hours of most days are too hot to do anything other than think. Amusement falls soundly on my own shoulders. I live alone. I am the only American in my community. To visit the nearest volunteer, though not far away, requires a bus odyssey. I can not spend every waking hour with Paraguayans. I do not have a TV. I can not stream videos. My technology prevents me from watching many videos. I can only read so much. I write. I play the guitar. I think….there is so much time to think about hopes, dreams, and wishes.

Summary

I typical day for me in Paraguay is a spread of eating, cleaning, chatting, writing, thinking, navigating, and enjoying what and who is around me.

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Blurred Lines: Outside or Inside?

Everyone living in Paraguay struggles to stay cool in the almost constant heat. Sometimes there is a breeze. Sometimes it rains. But, with the regularity one should expect from a tropical region, Paraguay swelters in a humid heat. Because of this, the way people live here, in terms of housing, is very different from what I knew in the northeastern United States. Mainly, the lines between the indoors and the outdoors are blurred.

Most families with any wealth live in houses built of bricks and with tile roofs. The bricks are hollow terracotta and about half the size of a cinder block. Families with less money live in wooden houses with thatch or metal roofs. There is no insulation and most people do not have AC or a heating system in their home… fans are a staple.

Many families cook outside using either wood or charcoal fires. Some of these outdoor cooking spaces have a roof, but not always. Smaller houses, perhaps the norm in Paraguay, do not always have a living room or a dining room. Those rooms are not necessary because relaxation takes place outside. Paraguayans use their patios as the main living space. They sit out there to drink terere and to hang out. Some families even eat outside and will move their TV so they can sit in the shade of a tree to watch their favorite show or the soccer game.

The challenge of beating the heat does not only dictate where people spend most of their time but, also, influences how Paraguayans construct their homes. Paraguayan architects and home builders erect houses with doors and windows positioned carefully to create a cross breeze. Homes may have few windows, because the sun coming in is too hot, but the openings in a house maximize air flow. Further, Paraguayans leave all their doors and windows wide open until they go to bed.

I never thought about how much time I spent locked away from fresh air, but since coming to Paraguay it has been hard to ignore how much of my time in the States was passed in buildings. It is rejuvenating to see the sky, feel the wind, and sit among plants.

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015