It’s been quite a while and so much has happened!
For staging, I met up with 49 other invitees in Miami, FL. It was a bit overwhelming, especially since no one really knew what was going on between checking in, an orientation that wasn’t really an orientation, and a not so clear dinner schedule. Things lightened up a bit in the evening: after a lot of paper signing and vaccinations (H1N1–ick) a lot of invitees strolled to a nearby Cuban restaurant. For most of us, it was the first opportunity to have full fledged conversations and get to know the others in our group. Everyone was in a pretty good disposition and we shared stories about our different regions of the country.
The next morning was a blur. There was a lot of information thrown at us at once, along with some icebreakers and other games dabbled in the mix. By the time we packed an overnight bag (luggage customarily arrived late, we were told) and made it to the airport, everyone was ready for dinner and a nice long rest on the plane. We broke off into groups to enjoy our last meal in America—at the airport—and settled on some overpriced American favorites like chicken fingers, quesadillas, and our favorite “adult” beverages that we might not get in beer-ridden Paraguay.
Let me emphasize the sadness of the first two meals. During these times, all 49 of us were together and we began forming friendships. We valued these times and clung to each other much more than normal strangers would. And after over 11 hours of flying and layover time, most of us started to feel like a small family.
Then they split us up.
Welcome to the Peace Corps.
The 49 of us were split into three groups according to our projects. This was a bit shocking for some, especially since we happened to befriend the very people we would rarely see thereafter. We had to start from scratch again. We went through introductions again, awkward moments again, trying to find our niches again…This was the first time that I really realized the amount of flexibility PC requires.
This set off something in me that I hadn’t expected. I felt very hesitant to really get to know anyone because I knew that in 3 months I be ripped from them and expected to make new friends in a new community in a new country…but of course, you can’t thrive for three months in a new environment without friends. So what’s a girl to do? I suppose I did what everyone else did and just adjusted. Come what may, I’ve made so great new accomplices :o)
The same day that we landed we we met our temporary host families and moved in. This could’ve been awkward, but my fabulous host mom, Graciella, made me feel very welcomed. She switched between Spanish (Castellano) and Guarani, the local language, in order to help me communicate with the rest of the family. At this point, everything was still a bit crazy and I desperately await the opportunity to feel settled.
Orientation didn’t help. It was a mess of information, spiral notebooks, handouts, skits, team building activities, more information. Wait, what happened? In the midst of it all, we shared stories about our new homes. Let’s start with the basics: most everyone had electricity in some capacity. Running water and indoor plumbing are both harder to find among the RHS invitees, though most of us in EEE and UYD have that, too. The food is high in starch, proteins, and calories (just about everything is fried) so most of us were having vegetable withdrawals by day three.
I felt special because my host mother is very understanding of my vegetarian diet. Salad and a variety of veggies balance out my meals, along with fresh fruit and plenty of chilled water. Now, none of this is bought at a grocery store, mind you. Some of it is dug straight out of the back yard. Anyhow, its fresh. Even the starches taste good because Graciella is a fabulous cook.
Everything else hasn’t been such a breeze. I share my bathroom with gnats, spiders, cobwebs and frogs the size of baseballs. The humidity keeps my body and hair from ever feeling completely dry. The heat is…freakin’ hot. Nothing creative to say about that. Every day at meal time is like a picnic: select your food fast and chow it down before the flies carry it all away! And while were talking about the animal kingdom, I pass about 10 cows, 6 pigs, 30 chickens, a goat or two, and a minimum of 6 stray dogs on my way to class every day.
Oddly, none of that concerns me much. I did sign up for the Peace Corps, you know, and none of this is really “extreme.” Just different. Make friends with the giant frogs and cows, cover your food and you’ll be just fine :o)
We were split into language classes according to our previous experience. I was a bit disappointed to be placed in the lowest level Spanish class. I soon realized that it wasn’t that bad; most kids in the upper level courses had spent months abroad, if not years. No way that my independent study could compare to immersion. Anyway, we started our language classes in the morning and our technical classes in the evening and I sort of developed a normal, human schedule. In language class, things that I thought I had forgotten resurfaced, and nuances that were a stinging enigma were bought to light. I LOVE my language class. The professor is hilarious, the perfect match for my two riotous compadres, Stefanie and Sam. We could probably learn more if we laughed less. Or not :o)
That brings me to current day. Yay! PCV site visits this weekend. I hope to keep you updated.