Rooster surge, operation shock and awe

All right, let’s get real here.  I have been happier.  Life is wonderful, but it’s tough.  We now have running water which is great, but I don´t want you getting any grand ideas about what this means.  Sure I love it and life is a little easier, but its not like POOF all my problems are solved.  Now instead of spending two hours doing laundry, by hand, I spend an hour and a half.  Bathing now takes half an hour as a opposed to 45 minutes.  The running water is fantastic and has had a huge impact on the lives of the women here, but for me- not so much.  I do now use a separate bucket for bathing.  I used to wash my clothes, my dishes, and bathe, all out of the same bucket.  Hey, no Judging.  It’s how we roll. 

Nothing has changed with the roosters.  I still can’t stand em.  I got so fed up with one in particular I went across the street and bought a slingshot.  Believe me, this is not something I normally would do, I was just having a bad day.  My little brother Gustavo’s attention was immediately sparked when he saw me returning with a slingshot in hand and look of determination on my face.  So i put him to work showing me where to find some good ammo.  He led me to the back of the neighbors yard where we found these little coco nuts that fall from the palm trees.  I’m all set, I have my slingshot and a pocket full of nuts, so i go out on the prowl.  It isn´t long before I spot my antagonist over by the garden.  I take aim and shoot off about 7 unsuccessful shots before he realizes whats up and runs away.  I chase him down only to miss again and again.  He’s out of range by this point and I’m so frustrated that I retreat to my house unsatisfied.  Just before I go inside my house to eat my consolatory reeses peanut butter cup, that I had been saving for a special occasion, my neighbor’s rooster starts to crow about 10 yards away.  Bad timing buddy.  Without thinking I quickly take aim and fire off a rocket of a shot.  I nail him, and i mean nail him.  I hit him so hard he’s propelled off the ground a good foot before keeling over with his feet in the air.  My heart is racing, I’m ecstatic and terrified at the same time.  I’m amazed by the unbelievable shot that i just pulled off, it was like hitting a home-run in T-ball.  But I´m so worried that I might have just killed my Tia’s rooster.  Her only rooster.  How was I going to explain this one.  I inch closer to the rooster praying that he’s not dead.  He’s just laying there with his eyes wide open, but there are signs of life, i see breathing.  After what felt like forever, but was probably only about a minute or two, he got up and kind of hobbled and then fell over again.  Then miraculously he waddled away.  Thank God.  Nothing wounded but his pride.  It’s about time someone took him down a peg or two.


Freedom in bike form

I have been liberated and my freedom comes in the form of a bicycle.  Not only have I won back some of my independence but I´m also the envy of every 10 year old in a 5 mile radius.  It´s just great, I can make it to the schools now in 10-15 minutes opposed to the 30 min walk I´m used to.  Also it´s always an adventure riding around.  Flying down hills, dodging holes and cows, turns out cows like to use roads too.  You never know what you´re going to get.  There´s horses, ox carts, motorcycles, pigs, dogs sleeping in the middle of the road, and the occasional drunk man. 

I think I´m finally getting used to life here.  The first indication of this was last week when I discovered that my family and I have been bathing out of the same bucket the cow drinks from.  At first It didn´t even phase me.  It barely registered in my mind until I mentioned it to a friend and they responded, naturally, with a ´that´s kind of gross.´  I now have my own bucket.

I´m getting used to everything but, yup that´s right you guessed it, the roosters.  It´s a big joke now with my family.  They love to ask me what I want to eat for dinner and answer for me ´gallo,´ (rooster).  They get a kick out of it and I don´t blame them.  Take the other day for instance when I was washing my clothes in a truck tire that has been converted into a tub.  I thought I was the only one around when one of the roosters started crowing about 2 yards away, right in front of me.  I view this as a direct frontal noise assault.  I retaliate by picking up the nearest object, usually a small orange, but anything will do.  If I´m quick enough I can nail it, but now that they´re on to me it´s much tougher.  If they see me looking at them and pick something up, they start moving.  I usually just have to settle for a close miss and them running for their lives.  Turns out I had a couple of spectators that day and frankly I didn´t care.  I mean, the rooster started it.

An average day here is a roller-coaster of ups & downs.  Sometimes it´s day to day but mostly its hour to hour.  This is best described in bullet points: 

  • how great, I get to spend the beginning of my day drinking matte and studying Spanish= good
  • Why is my alarm clock always a rooster, barking dogs or reggatone music blasting at my house= not good
  • Awesome! I have a bike, I´m freeeeeeee= fun 
  • It´s over a 20k ride one way, on hilly dirt roads to the nearest town= not fun 
  • This is fruit heaven, and it´s so beautiful and serene here= wonderful
  • It´s so damn cold, somebody shut that kid up, I´m about 1 second away from taking my machete to that rooster= last Tuesday

Whether my day was good or bad, or a bunch of both, I typically end it in the same way.  Cuddled up with my 5 and 7 year old host brothers on a hard bed over dirt floors in a wooden shack with a straw roof that leaks when it rains.  Watching The Simpsons in Spanish on a tiny black and white TV with a line through it.  And believe it or not, I couldn´t be happier.

From everything to nothing and vice versa

Ok, this is nuts.  I have certainly been leading a charmed life.  After 3 months, all the places i´ve visited here and all the things i´ve been doing, it wasn´t apparent to me until last night around 8:45 pm.  It´s about 40 degrees out and i have to go to the bathroom and by bathroom I mean outside to the hole in the wooden boards over the bigger hole.  I grab my headlamp and some TP and with an optimistic attitude I navigate my way outside the house, through a path in the backyard to the ´latrine.´ So I start to go about my business my headlamp illuminating the whole awkward situation.  All of a sudden i hear someone coming out of the house and i can see the legs of someone in my host family walking about 20 meters away through holes in the garbage bag that serves as the door to the ´latrine.´  Not wanting to be seen I shut my headlamp off, plunging everything into darkness.  As I´m contemplating my situation I hear a ruckus right behind me and short growling noise.  I drop my TP while fumbling to turn on my light and see right in front of me at eye level two big black eyes glowing iridescently and a snarling mouth full of sharp teeth.  Almost falling backwards i instinctively make a kissing noise, which is the first line of defense against Paraguayan dogs(if they don´t respond to this you pretend to pick something up and throw it at them, if they don´t react you actually have to throw something at them and if this doesn´t work…..  you´re screwed).  He takes one step back but i can tell he knows that i can´t do him much harm in the position I´m in.  I´m really at a lose as to what to do when he starts barking at me.  The barking ends up being a good thing.  The legs outside the house realize what´s going on, start yelling at the dog and he thankfully ends up retreating.  Whewww, not fun. 

 I´ve discovered that living in the campo calls for a lot of innovation.  It´s not as fun as it sounds.  My first week I couldn´t manage to finish my laundry without dropping one item that i just washed into the dirt.  I always get instantly dirty after a bucket bath.  I still can´t get used to the giant bugs that sometimes like to crawl on me while i´m sleeping.  It´s funny to me, I´ve always thought of myself as being pretty resourceful, but here, lets face it at times I´m a downright train wreck.

And theeeee chickens.  I never knew what disgusting foul creatures they are.  They will eat anything, and I mean anything.  I don´t know which I dislike more…. the chickens that are always trying to get into my room and jump on my bed or the rooster that crows all hours of the night.  I remember sympathizing with a neighbor in CT that couldn´t have chickens because of some town ordinance.  What was I thinking?  My lord how things have changed.  My outlook has certainly been altered.  I´ve even heard myself saying things now like, ¨wow, that volunteer is so spoiled! they have running water AND a modern bathroom,¨  ¨Nothing would make me happier right now than a shower, I don´t even need hot water, just a shower,¨ and ´I only have a 45 minute walk to the bus route, it´s nothing.´

3rd street

The long awaited day has arrived.  I´ve visited my site where I´ll be living for the next two years.  Yup, that´s the name of my town, 3rd street.  A little further up, around the bend is another little town called 4th st. which is considered part of my site as well.  We have about 70 houses with around 400 residents.  We´re in the vicinity of San Jose do Los Arroyos, the biggest town around, in the department of Caaguazu.  I´m only an hour and a half from the capital city Asuncion. 

There´s 3 schools and 2 churches.  Running water is on its way, should be up and running in a couple of months.   

My primary project will be starting a modern bathroom commission.  This will be a huge undertaking because the cost, as you can imagine, is enormous. I´ll be doing a lot of work in the schools.  Teaching basic health material, dental, parasites, HIV/AIDS, family planning, and nutrition.  I will also be working with the women´s group, helping them to start a small business selling detergente and soap, and teaching nutrition and cooking classes. 

Secondary projects will include starting gardens at the schools, teaching english, and planting a ton of trees. The trees will be a follow up project to the previous volunteer. He built 38 brick ovens and raised funds for 50 more to be built. They have most of the materials, just shy a few bricks. I will be working hard trying to get the rest of the brick ovens built and planting all the trees that go along with it, 10 per oven.

I´m looking forward to getting started. There´s a lot to be done. My first month I plan on visiting the municipality and the gobernation to meet the mayor and other local/departmental officials. Not to mention visiting the houses of everyone in my site, sitting down and trying to get to know all of them. It´s going to be a busy next few months.

Email from Em – Site Visit

Our family received an email from Em today – sharing an excerpt here to keep everyone updated.  Enjoy-

Wow what a week.  My site visit went really well, at first glance, I really love my community.   All the people are nice, hard working and organzied.  The little town is in such a beautiful spot.  I think it´s going to be great. I spent a lot of time getting to know people.  and i visited 2 of the 3 schools, met all the teachers and went into all of the classrooms to introduce myself.  Theres a little house that i´ll probably live in after a few months.  its the house that the previous volunteer built.  It´s tiny with a lofted bed.  and a empty room next door that will be the bathroom.  I may live there in exchange for building a modern bathroom, depending on the cost.  It´s in the center of town with a teacher and police officer next door, and a little store across the street.  there´s a family that lives a few meters away with 5 young children.  I´ve never been much of a kid person, but these kids are great and we´ve really taken to eachother.  Gustavo the 7 year old follows me around all the time, it´s hilarious.  And Dios Nil the 5 year old is sooooo cute, I love em.

I have a busy week this week and then next friday we sign in.  we get four nights in the city before we have to be in our sites on Tuesday.  —


I have had a few misunderstands here, believe it or not. When i first arrived I thought that ´que lastima´ meant how great/awesome! So when my host dad told me he built his house and he´s been married for 35 years, I naturally responded with ´que lastima´. Turns out it does not mean how great, it actually translates to ´what a shame´ Oops. I could of used your help on that one Bret! I don´t guess on words or phrases anymore… I also had the words for ´before´and áfter´mixed up so you can imagine that made for some interesting conversation. Now, thankfully, i can tell when i say something and it doesn´t hit the mark.

Sometimes i wonder how my host parents could understand anything i was saying. considering the state of my language. Some nights i hear them laughing i things Ive said. Their favorite is my “no es guapo” comment. My mom and i were passing the time riding on the bus talking about good looking people. Appearances make up a large portion of the conversation around here. So we happen to role by this very large man with no shirt standing on the side of the road doing nothing more than scratching his belly and watching traffic go by. Considering the topic of conversation, naturally I point and say ´no es guapo.´ She loved it. they still make me repeat it from time to time for a good laugh. Guapo has a double meaning down here, it means hard working as well as good looking, so i guess my comment said it all….

I don´t know when i´ll get a chance to hit up the Internet cafe next. I have a busy two weeks coming up. Next week is semana santa, holy week, a big deal around here. Then i have in field practice for a whole week following. Can´t wait to catch up with ya´ll later!

fiebre amarillo

Yeah the yellow fever craze was a little nuts.  The first i saw of the crazyness was while i was riding on the bus.  As I passed by a town square full of people, I thought to myself wow, great party.  Turns out, people were waiting for their yellow fever vaccine.  Not too many people have been diagnosed or have died, but the public fear is unbelievable.  It´s suprising, I´m sure twice as many people died riding on motos that week.  The media scared the heck out of everyone, really for no good reason.  Hmmm sounds familiar….   Everything is calm now, back to being ´tranquillo´the favorite catch phrase around here. 

I´m in guarambaree today, writing this on my lunch break.  I have to get back soon for a health seminar.  Then i´m heading to the supermarket to buy some ingredients for the cake im going to make for my host papi´s bday fiesta on Saturday.  It´s going to be great, the party i mean, we´ll see about the cake.  I can´t believe I´m having issues writing/speaking my own language.  Before i came here i could speak 1 language, now i can´t speak 3.


Hi! Thanks for all your comments! I loved reading them. I don’t have much internet access these days. This is the third opportunity I’ve had to check email and stuff. Hotmail didn’t work 2 out of the 3 times, so communication is a bit of a adventure. So much has been going on its hard to know where to start. Right now I’m in Peace Corps office in Asuncion. I stopped by on my way back from a four day trip to Concepcion. I was visiting a current volunteer out in the boonies to get a taste of what life will be like for the next 2 years. It was crazy. She lives in a little house about 20 yards from the family who owns the property. There are farm animals everywhere. Huge brama cows, I think they’re called, hang out in the front yard, pigs run around with a purpose, and of course chickens everywhere. It’s a zoo. I got to milk one of the giant cows which was awesome. The family got such a kick out of it, glad I could provide a few laughs. The volunteer I stayed with took showed me around the town which didn’t take too long. All the people were very nice, or seemed it. I couldn’t exactly understand what they were saying. I did pick up on a few words here and there. Guarani is tough and when they speak fast it’s impossible to understand what’s going on. I need more practice.

Email to the Hendersons..

Hey everyone — since we haven’t heard from Em in a while I thought I would share excerpts from an email she wrote back on Feb 13 to our family.

“Hi! I´m ecstatic. Im checking my email for the first time. I live out in the country at least an hour’s bus ride to any Internet cafe. There´s no time after class so it limits my access. Right now im on a lunch break from class in Guarambare whyich is a city so yeahhhh internet. Everything is so awesome. I had no idea it was going to be this great.

My parents are awesome. They are so sweet and have so much patience. They love having me around too. I hear them at night laughing for hours about things ive said, mostly accidentally said, it´s great. We are comfortable with each other and spend the evenings sitting on the porch and drinking matte, the local herbal drink. I just love my 4 year old neighbor Tatee who only speaks guarani. She and i talk a little and play around. My family has a dog who is super pregnant, going to burst any day now. Shes tiny so the pups will fit in my hand, I can´t wait. I really feel I have the best family, the best house, the best room. Its so great, I wake up each morning excited about my day. even though i have to wake up really early. 6 30!! NBD though. The weather is great, perfect actually. Not hot at all, which everyone says is strange.

I´m picking up a lot of Spanish from everyday interactions. But it´s guarani that i study everyday in class. its such a crazy and difficult language. It sounds just like Sioux from Dances with Wolves! It’s nuts.

Cant wait to talk to ya soon!”

Bienvenidos a Paraguay

I made it!  72 hours in country.  We flew in around 5pm on Thursday and headed to a retreat center just outside Guarambre.  It took a little over an hour´s bus ride to get there and that´s when things got real.  We´ll just say its a tad different then other places I´ve visited.   At the retreat center we got used to roughing it a little bit with hard mattresses and cold showers.  I could care less, I was just happy to have my feet on the ground.  Surprisingly there was cold drinking water from an outside tap that was safe to drink.  The next morning my two roommates and I woke up at 7:40, 5 minutes before we were supposed to head out because our watches were wrong.  We lost an hour coming from Bueños Aires and were oblivious.  Not the best day to start off on the wrong foot but we powered through and were shortly on our way to the training center in Guambare.  Another interesting car ride and we were there.  We stepped out of our vans to quite a horrid smell.  Sort of like burning baby diapers.   Thanks to the local sugar cane factory.  The RHS(Rural Health and Sanitation) volunteers, we were soon to find out, are the lucky ones.  We live in satillite communities which are far enough away from the main training center to escape the smell.  After a very full day we were all anxious to head out and meet our host families.  After a 10 min drive we pull off the main paved road onto a cobblestone road.  Then after a few kilometers(wow its three days in and i´m already using kilometers) we pull onto a dirt road.  15 more minutes and down a smaller dirt road, we pull in between some chickens and cows (no joke) and we were there!  Our families greeted us with applause and we were parred off one by one.  My madre said que lindo when she saw me which was really sweet.  Which meant she was happy to have “the pretty one.”  Ha!  I just have a madre and padre no siblings, which i really don´t mind.  There´s always kids hanging around outside.  I have to wrap this up my companeros (neighbors) are waiting for me.  I have so much more to write about my first night.  It was amazing!  I´m doing great and cant wait to add more soon.  I miss everyone and can´t wait to talk to you soon. 

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