So you bust your butt for about three months in preparation to become a volunteer. You would think that they swearing-in process would be monumental, right? The event didn’t live up to the hype. Fortunately, the events before and after swearing-in were sufficient.
The week before swearing-in is the infamous talent show. It’s a free for all, open for no-talent, true talent, and anything in between. The education group decided to create a mixture; the guys mocked our health charlas and created a rap about sevo’i and ghiardia. I, along with my chicas, choreographed a backup dance. I must admit that I am very proud of our efforts. The lyrics were actually GOOD and the choreography was fun and energetic. (During our first rehearsal I wore the Michael Jackson’s Thriller T-Shirt my brother gave me, which helped me channel the late King of Pop.) We presented at the talent show amidst cheers and applause. Then we won :o) It might seem silly, but it was one of the best moments that I’ve had in training because everyone worked together and had a great time in the process.
Later that week we packed all our crap and heading into Asuncion for the official ceremony.
I swore in as an official volunteer on April 30. The ceremony was at the U.S. Embassy, which reminds me more of a botanical garden than an office building. The grounds are impeccably maintained with tropical foliage, and even a little waterfall.
The ceremony itself wasn’t groundbreaking, and after three months of emotionally draining training I expected more of a catharsis. But alas. The ambassador gave a speech—which, based on the amount of “ums” and its painfully apparent lack of organization, was improvised—followed by a volunteer’s speech. Then we ate cake. After that we all sort of looked at each other and tried to figure what we should do as official volunteers.
I’ve got to be honest. Most of us made some really bad decisions as official volunteers. Yes, swear-in weekend is all about partying it up in the big city before venturing out to our prospective sites. Unfortunately, that tradition comes with a price. The price is having a bunch of drunken, loud, horny volunteers storming the city like we own it. There was more than one occasion when I was really ashamed of our behavior, and I questioned why such behavior is tolerated by the Powers That Be of the Peace Corps (and yes, they know exactly what’s going on). Fortunately, I did find my niche throughout the weekend. I got to spend time with people that I didn’t often see during training.
Being who I am, one of the highlights of the swear-in weekend was the food. Most of my friends ate cheap so they could spend money on beer. Not being much of a beer drinker, I took advantage of every night to eat at a great restaurant and selecting exactly what I wanted. It was marvelous. The food itself wasn’t “exotic” but it was good. The best dishes were from a Mexican restaurant (Hacienda de las Palomas) and Korean (I’m clueless of the name, because the sign was written in Korean, but it is on Avenida Peru near Mercado 4).
In Georgia, my siblings and I ate Mexican or Tex-Mex at least twice a week. Having gone without for three months is unfathomable. I nearly cried with joy when my friends and I approached the restaurant. We walked into the quintessential setting of warm hues and faux antique finishes. I welcomed the familiar aromas and salivated as I scanned the menu. I wanted everything–but first, a Tequila Sunrise. There was so much laughter and picture taking, it was like prom-night dinner. I ordered shrimp fajitas (because I hadn’t had shrimp in three months, which is also unfathomable) and savored every drop. There wasn’t cheese, which threw me off, but I easy ordered some along with some tasty guacamole.
In Georgia, we also had Japanese at least once a week. My friends weren’t down for Japanese food (claiming that there could be no good sushi in a landlocked country) so the closest I could get was Korean. I had never eaten Korean food before, and was really excited when my friend proposed going to the ever-shady Mercado 4 and trying out a restaurant. The free appetizers were a meal in themselves, and I was glad to try traditional favorites like kimchi. There was also spicy calamari and a vegetable soup with tofu. We were rolled out of the restaurant.
Other personal highlights include dancing until 5am, more than my fair share of coffee at a sidewalk café, and growing closer to my fellow volunteers in the process. Regardless of some of our behavior, I know that G-32 will have some kick-butt volunteers and I’m excited about the work that we will do here.
FIRST DAYS AT SITE
We can’t do great things if we can’t get to our freakin’ sites. For some of us, just getting to our new homes on Tuesday was a pain. Some roads flooded, trapping volunteers between Asuncion and unknown towns on the way to their sites. Others had buses that only left twice a day to take them to sites hours away—don’t be late or you’re stuck waiting 24 hours or more for your next ride.
For me, I arrived without much of a problem, only to find that I didn’t have place to stay. The teacher who was going to rent her house to rented it out to someone else at the last minute. And by last minute I mean she didn’t even tell me until I called her that morning. Anyway, the current volunteer in my site was able to find a place for me to stay and everything worked out. Likely for the best. I slept in a community center for the first two nights (NOT glamorous) before moving in with the family next door. Now I am sleeping in an old store (also NOT glamorous, but this is the Peace Corps). The plus side, which outweighs all, is that I am staying with an amazingly awesome family.
Wednesday, the current volunteer and I went to the neighboring pueblo of Santani (San Estanislao). It’s pretty perfect. There is a great grocery store that has a few American favorites, a mini Mercado 4 that is infinitely less shady but just as inexpensive, and a café with wi-fi. I think I’m set. This is the Peace Corps but I never claimed to be campo material.
Tomorrow I’m going to drag myself out of my comfort zone and head to the schools. I plan to start simple, working only with preschool and kindergarten for 4 hours, 3 days a week. I also want to pull kids out the classes that are really behind and work with them one on one in the area of writing/reading. The great thing about it all is that I can work at my own pace as long as I communicate my plans well to the teachers. As I grow more comfortable with my language abilities, I can increase my hours and work with more grades.
Prayers are welcomed. Wish me luck. Positive vibes are needed. Whatever your sense of peace, send it my way :o)