Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Introducing Jose Fassardi

Note to Dale: I’m sorry my blog is “as long as the fucking bible” but you are just going to have to deal with it.

I now officially know where I will live for the next two years of my life. My town is called Jose Fassardi in the department of Guaira. The day of our site assignments my training group sat with our chairs facing the giant map of Paraguay that hangs on the wall in the training center in Guarambare. Our coordinator and assistant director, who have been preparing our sites for the last few months, stood in front of us with a stack of folders with our towns and names on them. They called out our names and placed a piece of tape next to our towns on the big map one by one. It was kind of a nerve racking moment to say the least, we were about to find out where we were going to live for the next two years of our lives. After the chaos of folders exchanging hands, I had time to go through my own folder and read about my town.
From my folder I know Fassardi is 4 hours by bus from Asuncion. It is a smaaaaaal town. 1500 people live in the center and 5500 live in the outside rural areas. I know it has electricity and running water. I know it hasn’t had a Peace Corps volunteer for 15 years. I know its economy is almost entirely agricultural and most people have sugar cane farms. I know the municipality, where I will be working, has only 5 workers including the mayor. I know I will have two counterparts, one is a man and one is a woman. And I know my friend Carrie will be in a town about 30 minutes away, which makes me happy. My friend Lyn is much further which is a big bummer. The folder also tells me more about the potential projects I could be involved in and what problems the mayor thinks the town has. That is pretty much all I know. As far as I can tell my APCD and coordinator really listened to everything I had to say about the kind of site I wanted and I had no reason not to be pleased.
The next day all of our contacts showed up in Saldivar. This was the day we had to meet the person we were supposed to work with for the next two years. Can you say awkward? They all walked through the door and had name tags on with our pictures on it, that is how they knew who belonged with who. That was fun. I will admit my first impression of my contact was not good. He is a tiny guy, very young, with a bad beard and a rat tale. He was screaming “which way to the disco?.” I couldn’t believe this guy was the general secretary of my muni, let alone my contact. I was less than impressed. His name is Luis, although everyone in Fassardi calls him Chici because he is so little. He is 25. We had activities planned for the whole day for the trainees and the contacts to get to know each other and learn about Peace Corps and how to help volunteers adapt to living in their towns etc… It was all still very awkward. Also, Chici spent the night at my house because Peace Corps budget is so low right now they can no longer afford to put up the contacts for the night. I wished they had sent my female contact instead. But he fit right in with all the young guys in my family. He went and hung out most of the night with the guys in the back in the “guy room” and I was left with my mom and little sister as always. So it was ok after all.
The next day we went to the training center in the morning for more Peace Corps training yatta yatta and then we were off to our sites. Carrie and I were planning to travel together since our sites were so close but we were having some issues considering both our contacts considered themselves young Paraguayan “studs” and were planning to take us back in their friends’ cars. Knowing how Paraguayans tend to drive, how young guys tend to drive, and how extremely sketchy it is to get into a car alone with two Paraguayan guys you don’t know…..we had some problems with this to say the least. But we were able to arrange to take the bus together from Asuncion using Peace Corps “rules” as an excuse as always. Those rules can always come in handy.
I stayed for 5 nights in Fassardi. I stayed with the mayor…..and his parents. Yes, the mayor still lives with his parents. He is 27….and girl crazy, therefore he was almost never home. So, I spent a lot of time with his parents, his dad is the ex mayor, and they are very sweet, but old and make a lot of unpleasant noises. It is not normal for the mayor in Paraguay to be so young. I have met a lot of mayors so far in Paraguay, and this is weird. He is a young guy that is always going out and doing god knows what. He comes home late and sleeps till 11 or later. Sounds normal for us but Paraguayans do not sleep late, they get up at the crack of dawn and milk the cow, take the bus two hours to their job, work on the farm, or at least drink mate with the family. On Monday morning when I left he was outside fiddling with his car when he definitely should have been at the muni taking care of business. I only saw him go to the muni once and I never saw him go in his office. Chici is his best friend from childhood and obviously got this job because Paraguay is still so nepotistic. Chici and Eduardi (the mayor) are quite a pair palling around Fassardi looking for chicks, I still can’t believe these guys are running the town, unbelievable.
Eduardi always greets me with a fist bump and asks me questions about the US and how to say things in English. He is smart and curious, two things I have a hard time saying about a lot of Paraguayans. He got out an Encycolpedia (He had one in his house!!!!) to have me point out where on the map of the US I lived. Thursday was Friendship Day in Paraguay. Kind of like Valentines Day but just for friends. To celebrate, Chici and Eduardi took me to their friendship barbeque that night. While we stood around and watched all the meat cook on the ground over the coals for several hours, Eduardi asked me how to say many many things in English. He asked me how to say ‘carne’. Which translates as ‘meat’ but here they refer to carne as just cow meat. So I told him we would call this kind of meat “red meat”. He practiced saying “red meat” a few times to himself. A few hours before the whole crowd sat down to a dinner of meat, mandioca and salty lettuce, Eduardi made a little speech, as all good politicians do, in honor of Friendship day. He said he felt blessed to be in the presence of such good friends on Friendship Day etc… Then he gave a special welcome to me and said he was very happy to have me here and welcomed me to Fassardi, he said it with such grace and it brought tears to my eyes. It was such a wonderful thing for him to do. Then we all sat down to eat. As he began to eat he looked at me and said very slowly and in English, “I likey red meat”. I try not to laugh when people try to speak in English but this was just too funny and I laughed my head off. I knew no one else knew why it was funny and I just wished another English speaker was there at that moment.
When we first got to the party we were sitting around the coal fire, inside, to warm ourselves while listening to the radio and chatting. I wasn’t saying much because they were speaking mostly in Jopara (a mix between Spanish and Guarani). Then I heard my name on the radio. Fassardi has a local radio station that the whole town listens to religiously that one guy runs out of his house, anyone can stop by and say a few words. So Hector, a secretary at the muni, was telling the whole town that Jenna, the new Internataional in town with the Peace Corps, is over at Rita and Oscar’s house for a Friendship Day barbeque. Then he listed off everyone else who was at the house. It took forever because Hector had to make a joke or comment about each of his friends. Then he came back to me and said a few more welcomes to Jenna the International. Only in a small town….
My first day in Fassardi Chici my contact took my around town to all the institutions to introduce me to the people. Fassardi has a muni, a church, a wood factory, an elementary school, two high schools, a health center, a police station, a social pharmacy, a library, a few stores selling the basics, two soccer fields, and that is about it in the centro. It also has 19 rural districts, called companias, each with its own elementary school. The muni is a very interesting place because it seems almost nothing happens there, and this is where I am supposed to work for the next two years. I have visited a handful of munis in Paraguay so far, most of them small, but none of them are like this. It seems its just a bunch of kids playing government. There is only one worker over the age of 30, but she acts like a kid just like the rest of them. The munis in Paraguay are only open in the mornings. They all close at the siesta and are closed until the next day. So if people aren’t doing much in the morning you can’t rationalize that they will get something done later. No, they go home and take a nap later. The first morning we went to the muni and nobody was working, just sitting around and drinking terere. Chici showed me pictures of his friends on his computer. Then the treasurer came in, she is 21, and it looked like she was actually doing some work. Eduardi showed up some time later, gave me a fist bump and then left again. I have no idea what he goes all day. Doesn’t seem very mayorly to me. He doesn’t even wear a suit.
The next day Chici and I showed up at the Muni around lunch time. Everyone was sitting out back drinking terere and cooking a chicken. We sat out behind the muni for 3 hours waiting for the damn chicken to finish cooking over the coal fire and then we ate lunch in the room where the city council members have their meetings. What a muni.
The health center is also a very interesting institution in town. It would be a scary place to go if you ever needed some real health care. The nurses were thrilled to meet me and excited that I might be able to work with them. One nurse, Chici’s aunt (everyone in this town in related, half are related to Chici) showed me around and I was shocked. The urgent care room had two plastic chairs and almost nothing else in it. The vaccine room seemed to be the most important room and the most valuable service they offer. Preventive health care is almost not thought of but so important and the nurses recognize that. The delivery room was very sad, cold and plain. It had one metal table in the middle of the room. All the paint is chipping, the walls are corroding, and the services are basic. On the plus side all services are free and they did have a room for family planning and all contraceptives are free, that is very cool, but not enough people take advantage of it. There are 6 nurses and 2 doctors. But the nurses do all the work, the doctors are only there for consultations and send patients to the district hospital in the capital.
I showed up at the health center again early on Sunday morning because the nurses had invited me to go around town and give vaccines to the people who still were missing their shots but they had canceled it because it had rained the night before. Everything here gets canceled because of bad weather because the dirt roads get washed out. I was really bummed about it but I sat and chatted with two of the nurses and after five minutes they had asked me if I would help them whenever there was a birth. They said usually only one nurse would handle an entire labor and delivery if it was at night (only one nurse on duty at night) or during the day if there were other patients and if they could call me to help they would be really grateful. I said why not. They asked me if I had seen a birth before. I said only a cow birth.
My main mission for this short visit to Fassardi was to find a family to live with when I returned. As of Sunday I still had not found a family. I was explaining this to Clara, one young nurse, and she invited me to live with her. She said she lived with her parents and had a spare room for me. Later that day I stopped by her house and met her mom, an extremely sweet woman who is very excited to have me. I have to say I am going to have a very sweet deal at this house, its definitely a step up from where I am now and quite a bit bigger, which isn’t very hard to do. I am renting two rooms in the front of the house. The two rooms are connected and the front room is sort of an office area. Its not really necessary but the two doors that lead to the outside and the rest of the house are in this room and allow me my privacy. So, I am going to have a lot of space which will be a nice change from what I have now. I haven’t met my new host dad yet. My host mom is going to cook for me too. When I left she said she is very excited to have a new daughter. So I have a new family waiting for me in Fassardi in two weeks.
My week in Fassardi was interesting, entertaining, unbelievable, and somewhat boring. There was a lot of down time and a lot of sitting around time. Paraguayans are masters of sitting and chatting or sitting and not chatting. And in a small town they are kings of the sitting and the chatting and the terere drinking. But, being in a small town means I am going to get to know everyone and they surely will all know how I am. I am the norte, the white girl, the blonde girl, I am one of a kind in this town. They all want to know me and ask me millions upon millions of questions. They want to invite me into their homes and give me terere or cocido (Paraguayan tea) and talk about food. They love to talk about Paraguayan food. I have had the same conversation about food over and over again in many different houses the last two and a half months. I am sure if you came to Fassardi and hopped off the bus in the middle of town and asked the first person, “where is the white girl?” you could find me within 10 minutes. Yep, I think I’m going to like it here.

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