Hey friends, fam and devoted readers of Vaughan’s Voice. I realize it’s been quite a while since my last blog post so I figure it’s about time to update you on all the things that have happened over the last 3 months, or at least give you a few of the highlights.
First of all, I can’t believe it’s now almost been a year since I arrived in Paraguay. Time has flown by much faster than expected and my time here has been marked by many changes. I’ve seen a lot of animals grow up (seriously a ton of little puppies that were newborns when I arrived at site and are now little giants, not too mention all the fast growing chickens, ducks, pigs and such.)
There have been a lot of changes here over the last few months. In my community my friend and ally the “Doctor Cubano” has left town after receiving a higher position in a nearby community. A new “Doctora” has since replaced him. The Peace Corps country director of several years here in Paraguay also has left to pursue a position state-side and a new country director has arrived. But probably the biggest news out of Paraguay of all, though I’m not sure how much state-side coverage it garnered, is that Paraguay’s former president Fernando Lugo was recently ousted from office in a controversial impeachment trial. There’s plenty of news stories out there with more details if you’re interested but the important thing is that for me and my Paraguayan friends and family life goes on like always and very little has actually changed at all.
AJAC: The Association of Young Environmentalists of Capilla Cue
Our environmental youth club that I helped start with two youth in my community is going strong. A few youth and I recently represented the group at a walk for the environment in the nearby city of Paraguari. We are also continuing to gather 2 liter soda bottles and inorganic trash to fill them and make “eco-bricks” that can be used in the construction of benches, walls and even buildings. We’re starting small though. Our hope is to collect enough bottles stuffed with trash to make a small wall next to the local health post. That’s still going to use over 200 bottles though so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the kids in the school will help us make some.
So, I’m now living in my own place and I feel really lucky to be where I am. It’s a nice place with running water, electricity and it even has a hot shower! Quite a while ago I finished painting my room and I’ve decorated the walls with all the cards you all have sent. The singing cards are quite popular with visitors, especially the Christmas pug card that farts Jingle Bells! Thanks MomJ And on windy days often times the cards start randomly opening and singing on their own. I’m also finally getting started planting in my garden. It’s taken much longer than I thought but I’ve finally finished the bamboo fence to hopefully evade the destructive forces of my neighbor’s chickens.
An ongoing culinary adventure
My own home has also given me the place to finally try and learn how to cook… from scratch. You see, for most things, you can’t just buy pre-made mixes or frozen foods that you just have to heat up. You have to make it all from scratch. My most recent success was making my homemade version of Outback Steakhouse’s Awesome Blossom. I swear it tasted just like the real thing! Or, it could be that I’ve just forgotten how the real thing tastes. I also found a pretty good diabetic friendly (or so they say) banana bread recipe that I’ve shared with quite a few neighbors. It uses less sugar, only a little oil instead of butter or margarine and no salt. The bread alone is not likely to drastically change the diets of people in my community and help them reverse diabetes and high blood pressure, two major health problems here, but it’s a small step. And Peace Corps is all about those small steps.
Of course not all of my culinary adventures have been successful. I’m still trying to figure out how to cook dried pulses (beans, split peas and lentils) So far they always end up burnt or still hard. Cooking from scratch isn’t easy and it certainly takes time which is why I never turn down an invite to eat with another family which, thankfully, happens quite frequently.
Lately I’ve been eating some quite bizarre foods and sometimes not always realizing it. One day I visited a local family who have a lot of interesting agricultural projects going on in their house. They have a pond of tilapia, honey bees, a walnut tree, loofahs, and so much more and I always enjoy visiting. This day they invited me to stay for lunch. I said sounds good and then they said BUT… we’re eating DUCK. Or at least that’s what I thought I heard. They asked me if I have ever eaten DUCK before and I said only once but it was rico. Then when it came time for lunch they brought out the bowl and I soon realized we wouldn’t be eating an DUCK for lunch because all that I could see if my bowl was some rice topped with what appeared to be cow’s feet. OH, they had said pata “feet” and I had misheard pato “duck.” Well, I was too embarrassed at this point to explain that this was my first time eating cow’s feet and so proceeded to eat what was in front of me. It actually didn’t taste bad at all it was just quite gelatinous. Believe it or not on my last stop by the house they invited me to lunch but once again said but we’re having cow’s feet again. That time round I had actually eaten it before.
Those of you who’ve been reading my blog might remember my previous experience with mondongo “cow’s intestines” in my training community. Well, I also recently gave that another try when I was told “it’s all in the preparation” so I tried it this time grilled and stuffed with veggies, ground beef and a ton of spices and salt. I will say that I ate quite a bit and it wasn’t too bad at all. And I’ve also recently tried two more traditional meals, cow’s tongue and fried cow’s fat. The last one is supposed to be really good for your health. Just kidding!
Learning SOOOO much
As a first time volunteer in my community if I had to describe my Peace Corps experience I think “highly effective study abroad trip” would do it some justice. I swear in the 7+ months I’ve been in my community. My “light-reading” choices have mostly been focused on organic gardening and agricultural topics and while my own garden at my home is taking a lot of time I have been reaping what I sowed some months ago in the Puesto de Salud (namely tomatoes, green onions and parsley but now the peppers are starting to fruit too and we just planted some radishes the other week.)
I’ve also been getting a lot of hands-on learning out in the fields. I helped harvesting peas and plant corn with one local farmer. I can’t believe it took this long for me to actually plant corn after growing up in corn capitol USA.
My Unofficial PO Box
So, those of you who write to me more often than others know by now that I recently aquired a new unofficial PO Box in the city closest to me, Paraguari, just a 30 min bus ride away. So, you can now feel free to send any postcards, letters or packaged that you would like to my new address. Or you can keep on sending it to the old address to. It’s just that the old address tends to be slower and I have to go into the Capitol to receive it. And yes, I realize the new address looks a little funny and it does have the same name “Paraguari” for the 3rd and 4th lines but I swear that’s the address.
Matt Vaughan, PCV
Cuerpo de Paz
162 Chaco Boreal c/Mcal. López
Asunción 1580, Paraguay
Thanks Mom, Dad, Tom, Claire, Molly, Charlie, Aunt Margaret and Uncle Matt for all the letters, postcards and packages! They always make my day.
And, if anyone is wanting to send anything a few things that would always be appreciated are chocolate covered raisins, tootsie rolls, marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate of any kind, (anyone seeing a SMORES theme here?), duct tape and children’s books in Spanish (like The Giving Tree, The Lorax, environmentally themed books ie: with animals and such for kids or books in Spanish like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings)
Paraguari: my new muni
So, Paraguari, the capitol city of the Department of Paraguari is only about 15K or a 30 min bus ride away from my community. My community is officially in the Department of Cordillera and our municipalidad or city center is Piribebuy, also just 15K from our community, but lately I’ve been spending more time in Paraguari as it has a much better super market, postal service and a restaurant with ample electrical sockets where I can sit down and take advantage of their wifi.
Emigdio y Emigdia
So lately I’ve been spending a lot of time with this new family. The husband and wife, Emigdio and Emigdia, not only share the same name, save one letter, but also the same birthday and were both born here in Capilla Cue. I guess it was meant to be.
I first visited them to make Guacamole back when the avocados were in season. They have two large avocado trees by there house so we took full advantage of the fresh, organic supply until the very last fruits fell off the tree. Now we have to wait until next May to make some more! I also shared my banana bread recipe with Emigdia and she has since made it several times as they also have a ton of banana plants (at least 3 different varieties) in their fields. The father, Emigdio, is a small scale farmer and so I also got the chance to go with him out into the field and harvest some peas and later plant some corn. Favi, their younger son is also in our environmental youth group so I hang out with them quite a bit, especially when they invite me over to share meals:) Though I’m not living with them it certainly does feel like they are my new host family. I often head over to their house at the end of the day, help Favi feed the cows and round them up into their pen for the night. Then we share mate or terere, a ton of laughs and always plenty of food.
One night I heard from Favi that his mom was going to be making pancakes for dinner. I was quite intrigued as I hadn’t had any pancakes yet in Paraguay, except those that I had made in my own home. After we finished rounding up their cattle and giving them food we headed into the kitchen to drink mate and check out the pancakes. When Emigdia asked her son to go and pick some lettuce from the garden I was a little confused out how she was going to prepare these Paraguayan pancakes… Then she started chopping up hard boiled eggs and tomatoes and I grew even more intrigued… Once the pancakes were fried to perfection she covered the top of one with mayo, then the lettuce, tomatoes and eggs and then topped with another pancake with mayo. She then sliced it up like a quesadilla… and it was surprisingly DELICIOUS. In-fact it tasted just like a BLT but minus the B. I suppose you could call it a PLT:)
I celebrated the 4th of July BBQ with some other volunteers and Americans at the US Embassy in the Capitol and I ate WAY too much dessert. I also finished 3rd place in egg toss and waited forEVER for one of those cartoon face drawings but eventually gave up…. Too many kids waiting.
And a bunch of the volunteers in my group got together for a celebration in the capitol of Christmas in Jul, secret santa and all. We even had a guest appearance by a Pirate!
Also, apologies for not posting more photos on here. It takes FOREVER to upload them but I have found that it’s much faster to upload to facebook so feel free to check out more recent pics on there.