Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay.
Alec was both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at http://peacecorps.mtu.edu/ .
November 25, 1998 Training
"The main training center is located the town of Aregua, approcximately 28 kilometres to the east of the capital, Asuncion. There are five training sites in total, the other four are project specific and are located within 6 kilometers of Aregua. The other projects include Beekeeping, Environmental Education, and Agricultural Extension. The Agroforestry center is located in the pueblo of Kokue Guazu(Big Field in Guarani), the pueblo where all of the Peace Corps Agroforestry aspirantes live with paraguayan host families. The apirantes in Kokue Guazu live with families whose incomes come from a variety of different sources which reflects the proximaty to the capital and population density. The family I live with are primarily farmers working their own land that their father bequeathed and divided amongst eight sons. The mother of the household travels to Clorinda, Argentina two to three times per week to take advantage of the prices of the Argentinian market. It seems there are local cooperatives which could bring the produce to market but the majority of the people say that the prices are lower in the capital of a Paraguay and that the heads of the coopertives charge too much interest to make it cost effective. As far as training is concerned the new and pertanent information comes in the form of site specific information(locally utilized agroforestry species, NGO's, history, current political and economic situation, etc). The cultural information has been collected on my own accord by living with my family ..."
"My first day with my host family was a little awkward as I realized I spoke Spanish like a stroke victim. Not to say that I am now fluent but to say that the language therapy is going well. The ice was broken this first day by a few horrendous versions of the two songs I know on the banjo which were followed by a barrage of compliments and phrases like, "Lindo, Lindo, la musica de Los Estados Unidos es muy lindo". My sister studying music in Boston would probably drop dead to hear that the combined works and styles of all the music and musicians in the United States has been reduced to my crappy version of "My Little Birdie", out of tune. This performance was followed by a breakdance session with the boys of the household who have moves Vanilla Ice would trade his hair for. I kept my own with the worm and back spin move but was out of my league for sure.
Alec with the banjo, Kristen (with the fiddle) is also a Michigan Tech Master's International student.
"Although there hasn't been much dancing or banjo playing there has been many more terrere drinking sessions with the family, getting to know them and their culture. For example, my Paraguayan father and I were chatting about how we thought the lighting the previous night had burnt the motor on the fan in my room. With quickness and a smile he showed me how exactly the problem could be remedied. With broom in hand, he gave the fan a good whack...and said, "anda bien, no?". Thus my fan was fixed if only for a few revolutions or until the next good whack.
"My paraguayan father is somewhat of a jokester so when
he woke me up at five the other morning to run around in the rain
I naturally thought he was kidding. But within minutes I was out
in the rain having my first ducha de lluvia(Rain Shower).
I have set a precedent with joking around so whenever I return
home after a fun filled day of peace corps training there is some
new joke waiting."
"I have recieved my site assignment as an agroforetry Extension Volunteeer in Natalio 25 in the district of Natalio, Department of Itapua. It sounds as if I will be the fourth and final volunteer in this community , focusing on strengthening an existing small scale farming organization. We have now completed the ninth week of training and all the future volunteers have their site placement and have returned from a week long visit to their sites. My site is called Natalio 25 which means it is twenty five miles from the Rio Parana which is also the border between Paraguay and Argentina. I will be the fourth and most likely the last Volunteer in this site with the previous volunteers being Agroforesters and one Environmental Educator. I am approximately three hours from the border city of Encarnation with the Departmento Itapua. My site visit has revealed to me that there will not be a shortage of work to be done. There is interest in almost every aspect of agroforestry including green manure's, soil conservation techniques, etc. The challenge, deduced from my first visit to Natalio 25, seems to lie in the organization of new committee's and facilitating cooperation with preexisting ones who are officially recognized by the government and are reluctant to work with new people and organizations. The people in Natalio 25 are fortunate to have several resources at their disposal for learning and gathering information. Besides a strong Peace Corps presence, the development organization, HELVETAS, has been working in the area for several years. In addition an organization called CETEC(Centro de educacion, capacitacion y tecnologia campesina) approximately 45 minutes from Natalio 25. The Direccion de Extension Agraria(DEAG) under the Ministerio de Agricultura Y Ganaderia is 15 kilometers down the road. Presently there is a World Bank Project called Microcuenca which has provided funding for preservation and conservation of the local watershed. This includes soil conservation techniques which can be constructed on small farmers fields to help prevent erosion. The DEAG agent for Natalio 25 is the person in charge of implementation of microcuenca objectives. Thus far, as per the people of Natalio 25 all they have received is a fancy World Bank Microcuenca Project sign."
Farm fields around Natalio 25.
Early April 1999
Upon arrival in my site aside from getting to know people and
luring the former volunteer's cat into sticking around when I
was present in the house, I have done some work with my neighbors.
It being summer, a nonoptimal time to plant trees, I have experimented
with a few neighbors with summer gardens. Before leaving for my
new site, Kristen Rahn (another Peace Corps Masters International
candidate) gave me some summer variety vegetables to try and plant.
The idea of summer gardens isn't a common one, and as the summer
wore on I realized why. The heat and strength of the sun during
the months starting in December through Mach are stifling. The
majority of the plants didn't germinate in my neighbor's gardens
as the majority did in mine. This is most likely due to the fact
that I was able to spend more time watering and making sure the
freshly germinated vegetables had adequate shade. I don't have
fields of madioca or corn to worry about. The summer sun didn't
deter my neighbor from planting 20 Cedro Australia seedlings with
out much care to the exposed root, method of proper planting,
etc. Even so we have had a 65% take of the seedlings, a testament
to the hardiness of this plant.
As fall is around the corner and winter after that I have begun to try to promote winter variety green manures which coincides with learning about the what, when, where, and how's' of instituting these plants into the local agricultural system. I have been trying to promote Aceven (Lolium multiflorum - Rye grass), Avena negra (Avena strigosa - Black oats), Nabo forrajero (Raphanus sativus), and a mixture of Nabo forrajero and Aceven primarily because they are somewhat familiar and accessible. The method of planting as apparent to me at the moment is to follow up the harvest of cotton and soy with winter green manures to provide, mulch, erosion control, care from the sun, etc. I have also sown some Eucalyptus grandis and distribute this seed to farmers already aware of the sowing process for this small seeded plant. In addition we, my neighbors and I, are preparing seed beds for the planting of the Parraiso gigante (Melia azerdarach). The main reasons these trees have been chosen is that their seed is on hand, it is the season to sow, they are fast growers, and are desired by my neighbors. There are also plans to prepare a small nursery with two of my neighbors for outplanting I the spring for a silvopastoral agroforestry system, and possibly a forest enrichment plan. I am going to try to encourage planting native trees, which I can foresee success if we target species which have high timber value and are fairly easily propagated.
Every day is a survey of local resources whether it be in the form of conversation over morning mate (tea - like drink using the leaves of Ilex paraguayensis), a walk through the chacras (fields), or game of volleyball over beers. There are many expressed needs from the community, the small ones I am starting to investigate and address. For example, there is always the concern about the lack of money right before the harvest of soy, cotton, and toon. These previous three crops are the primary cash crops in my site, with sugarcane (absent in my site), soybeans, corn, cotton representing the major agribusiness in Paraguay (Hamilton and Bliss). Their harvest time is in or around the same time (March and April). This means that almost 10 months have gone by with an absence of a sizeable harvest to produce profit.
Alec eating sugar cane.
Notes about Deparmento Itapua:
The Guarani people inhabited the area of Itapua in the early 16th Century with the arrival of the Spanish and Jesuit priests to the area in the mid-1500s. They intermarried and today the population is 95% mestizo with first language being Guarani. The population of the department of Itapua in 1995 was 490,969, with an increase from 374,788 in 1990 as shown by La Direccion General de Estadistica, Encuestas z Censos : de la Secretaria Tcnica de Planificacion de la presidencia de la Republica (Delvalle, 199?) The population statistics for the colony of Natalio also show an approximated decline from 20,256 in 1990, 21,879 in 1995, and 21,264 in 2000. In almost all of the colonies of Itapua it is noted that an approximated decline in population of Itapua most likely is attributed to the emigration of people looking for work in the cities of Ciudad del Este, Encarnacion, but primarily Buenos Aires.
A path near Alec's house.
I have adopted the motto a poco a poco = which is little by little, in my attempts to get things done. My efforts are going to be an accumulation of work done, not dissimilar to a snow pile pushed together by a snow plow on a sub zero U.P. night where you hope you don't knock down your neighbors mailbox in an attempt to clear his driveway or if you are the ambitious type, to build a snow sculpture . . .we will see what my sculpture becomes . . . a snowman? . . . Atlas? . . . Vamos a ver.
I plan to follow up the Post Cosecha demonstration that took place with quite a good turn out (around 20 farmers) with providing more information and reminders of the importance of grain storage. The majority of the people saw the importance of improved grain storage or already knew, and the price is lower than previously thought, the barrier to adoption at the moment seems to be the absence of money from the upcoming soy and cotton harvest.
One of the families, with whom I have become friends with, as have almost all of the other volunteers who have worked in or around Natalio 25, is approaching a textbook agroforestry/sustainable system. Agroforestry buzzwords like erosion barriers, crop diversification, green manures, etc. may be used in reference to their chacra. The head of the household, Valentine Zarsa, is particularly interesting because he started experimenting without the help of outside development group intervention. It was in the reverse order of information decimation and subsequent implementation, the Valentine Zarsa began his improved land management techniques. It was after people interested informing small landholders about better land management practices notice or heard about his parcel that he was validated.
This quarter falls in winter with the majority of the farmers having just harvested a or their only cash crop. The majority of the farmers I am working with rely on a single cash crop or a small variety whose harvest time falls at the same time of the year. These include Tung(Aleurites Fordii), Soybeans(Glycine max), Yerba mate(Ilex paraguyensis), and cotton, plants whose primary role in the farming system is to bring in capital with little other on farm use such as fodder or human consumption. In 1981 Paraguay produced 12,000tons, China 80,000tons, and Argentina 10,000tons of Tung seed which produces fruit in three years and has a economic life of 30 years with mature trees producing between 2-3tons of seed per heactare per year(Rehm) The exception to this lies in minor cash crops like peanuts, corn, and varying types of beans which are sold if the amount harvested exceeds the expected family use for the upcoming year.
After much running around trying to pin down a convienient time to plant the winter green manures provided by Peace Corps with my closest neighbor Nico, the seeds are in the ground. These include Aceven, Avena Negra, and Nabo forrajero. The idea is to compare the coverage with respect to each individual type of green manure and communal harvest of seed at the end of the flowering cycle. This should fall in or around the end of winter just in time for planting soybeans. We hope to see a reduced presence of weeds as another benefit and or reason for planting winter green manures. In several conversaations with Nico he has repeatedly mentioned the idea that the cover of a winter green manure will help to supress weed growth with the new soybean crop which translates to less hoeing, less work maintaining the soy. I forsee that Nico will benefit from presence of these green manures but I do not believe that other farmers I am working with will voluntarily harvest from Nicos field even with the knowledge that he encourages this. I plan to harvest and distribute to those who want the seed but I also see sustainability problems with this method of seed dispersal, as I will be leaving in a year and a half. The farmers closest to my site are accustomed to asking the volunteer(there has been a six year volunteer presence prior to my arrival with a total of four volunteers not including me) to bring seeds for gardens, green manures, etc. One neighbor replied when I asked how will he get seeds after I leave, "I will ask the next volunteer". He was quite surprised when I told him I would be the last volunteer in this site.
I have made friends with a professor at a local school(he teaches both high school and elementary school) and has been receptive to tree ideas I have thrown his way. In their curriclulum there exists an agriculture and livestock component not unlike what U.S. school systems would call shop class. He is interested in my help and educating while producing and managing a small nursery which would be used to improve the school grounds. The options and opportunities of working with the school are many and varied and may be a way to introduce working in groups which has not happened among the farmers with whom I have been working. I plan to invite this teacher to another Peace Corps Workshop on Community Analysis and Small Project Development which will take place in September.
I also plan to mark and construct contour erosion barriers(Curvas
de Nivel) as it is easier to mark the lines with the absence of
a crop and soy harvest presents a good opportunity to mark and
construct the barriers.
I have one of the nicer houses here in Paraguay which I think is due to its location along a little river and refugia of trees.
Inside Alec's house.
The design of my house maximizes space with a loft and a bañadera(bathing shed) attached to the house. The shinning feature of my house is the outhouse. Most Peace Corps promoted latrines are of the lothsa persuation which allows one to squat not sit. Mine is a sanded seat, sit down, read a magazine variety crapper.
I am taking advantage of all the soybeans in my site by augmenting my coffee fix with homemade café de soja(soybean coffee) made by yours truly. I have tried my hand at almost every form of work around her from picking cotton, gathering up fallen tung seeds(the size of baseballs and are used to make high grade machine oil). 50kg bag =7,000 Guaranies=$2.45. For a 40lb bag of seeds. I now understand the meaning of the term "at gate price". For example, the price this year for soy per kilogram was 330Guaranies=11cents per kilogram. If you go to any Almacen(country general store which usual has soap, pop, Caña(sugar cane liquor), beer, flour, and your assorted strange items like a gross of pink plastic shoes for 3 year old girls) anywhere in Paraguay other than here in the Department of Itapua, the soy capital of Paraguay, it is like ly you will pay 1000 Guaranies=28cents per bag. I dont know the price of soybeans in the states but from comments made by local soy growers here in Natalio I am assuming the price is set in some far away place they pronounce here as (chii-kaa-ho...Chicago). Promoting self sufficiency and seguring stability in your personal farming system is a admirable if you are or can manage outside the cash economy. But when external outlay of cash cannot be avoided for such products as improved seed(substandard seed not accepted in the market), education, etc the small producer limits his ability to compete by the vary nature of being small and diversified. For example, if Don Valentine has allotted his 7.9 hectares totally to soybeans in an attempt to be competitive with surrounding farmers whose amount of land far exceeds his own he is working in the direction to make the production of soy more profitable per hectare. The assumed cost to hire a thressher is thus greater utilized with each additional hectare of soy he puts into production. For him to have 1-2 ha of soy doesnt jusdtify paying for the maintainence , cost of harvest, and lost opportunity cost for home food production because the harvest price on this small area under production cannot cover the overhead costs. To reach a sustainable level in his environment, Don Valentine needs a cash crop that will produce capital with little area under cultivation, his remaining hecatares can be devoted to on farm consumption and production.
Don Valentine (center) with Alec (right).
Courtney and Matt (fellow Peace Corps Volunteers) with Alec on the roof of a house in Encarnacion.
Plans for the next quarter (August 20-November20 app.)
In preparation for the upcoming spring planting season, the harvest of abono verde(green manure) seeds sowed this winter will take place. Summer abonos will also be sowed with interested farmers. Spring is also the best time to prepare tree nurseries after the winter vegetables have produced.
I am also very interested in exploring what cooperative work options exist with the local agricultural school(CECTEC). I have a few ideas about interviews with my farmers which would be part of my data collection but which could be used two fold in a radio show at CECTEC.
I have been in contact with a Japanese export company which specializes in sesame seeds and Kiri( ? ) These two crop choices represent diversification alternatives but I need to fully grasp the marketability of the two along with excitement for the tree over a crop change by my neighbors.
Nico Ramirez and Alfredo Rainz have been preparing a small nursery which contains Eucaliptus grandis and Melia Azerdach (Paraiso Gigante) in an attempt to both sell some seedlings and reforest my neighbors lots. I have been involved in a bit of beekeeping work which mostly involves my watching from afar as I am definitely the novice when it comes to apiculture in Natalio 25. One of the observable results of a relatively permanent presence of aid organizations in this community is a raised level of understanding in working with bees. One farmer may have even found himself a job in a laboratory in Encarnation due to his knowledge of bees(He has over thirty hives and is able to extract other bee byproducts other than honey in quantities large enough to be of interest to buyers of bee byproducts). I have also been in contact with a local cooperaitve that is inteested in working with me and they run a fairly large vivero at which I maybe able to procure trees for the school in Natalio 23 and 26.
Yesterday found me working along side my favorite farmer, Don Valentine the hardest working, most ecologically aware, and welcoming farmer in Natalio 25. I wasn't planning on working with Valentine, that is to say we didn't have an appointment to work but nonetheless I spent the entire day helping him build a cuaseway? to avert rain runoff away from a pathway for his oxen. Such is my method of working here in Paraguay...walk around until you bump into something. I wrote up an article for a Peace Corps publication that comes out monthly which is mainly a collection of happenings and thoughts off our brethren(No need to worry, the use of this word is merely for effect). In the article I described my approach to accomplishing tasks in rural Paraguay with a North American mind set. The idea to write the article and some of its contents came directly from an UTNE Reader. It was from the article called "Beyond Machevelli, the source of real power by James A. Autry and Stephen Mitchell. The gist of my approach was tied into the section that follows..."In dealing with leadership and the realities of power, how does the master act? Many of us know from sports or dance what it is like to be in the zone, caught up in the current energy where the right action happens effortlessly, by itself. This is what the Tao Te Ching calls the "not doing" or "non action": the purest form and most effective form of action. The central lesson here is that we let go of control, let go of even the desire to control. When the ego steps out of the way, the Tao steps in, intelligent beyond our dreams."...
I go on to say that I am not sure that I buy into completely letting go of control and maybe all responsibilities(I wouldn't make a good Buddhist), but a more free form open minded approach or fuzzy logic as I called it, might work better...it has for me. Back to Don Valentine. After lunch we both took a quick little nap in the field to get rested up for more work in the afternoon. Did I mention that Valentine is 65 and puts me to shame with his strength and endurance for hard labor. And that is what working a field with a hoe or machete is...it is hard labor. Amidst the working we chatted about the interconnectedness of the environment, the moral obligations of neighbors to each other(here people rely on each other more than in the states most apparently due to the lack of capital and resources), the need for the youth to work in the direction of progress for themselves and their communities, and his exploits as a cowboy in the Chaco. The Chaco is the least inhabited part of Paraguay with oppressive heat and very little rain.
Back to Don Valentine. After lunch one day we both took a quick little nap in the field to get rested up for more work in the afternoon. Did I mention that Valentine is 65 and puts me to shame with his strength and endurance for hard labor. And that is what working a field with a hoe or machete is...it is hard labor. Amidst the working we chatted about the interconnectedness of the enironment, the moral obligations of nieghbors to each other(here people rely on each other more than in the states most apparently due to the lack of capital and resources), the need for the youth to work in the direction of progress for themselves and their communities, and his exploits as a cowboy in the Chaco. The Chaco is the least inhabited part of Paraguay with oppressive heat and very little rain. "I am old already(65 years young) and my body aches...I have worked my entire life and I see what things are important, and in what direction I should be working. I wish I was young again with strenth and I could create what I know see is beneficial to me, my family, and my neighbors. It is the youth that must work for progress, to make things better. The environment is ours. I want to say that this is my land and I can do whatever I want with it, but what I do here has consequences for my neighbor and our world." (This conversation came about in response to our observation of a neighbor burning his fields and the smoke that was drifting our way). "You see this parcel here....I burned it and that was a mistake. I only burn in spots where I can't get rid of the weeds any other way, and when I do, I do it with care. In that field(the one burning), how many seedlings have been killed? How many trees?" -Don Valentin Zara
17 January 2000
If asked what I thought about Peace Corps I would have to say that one must first separate Peace Corps and the country within which you work. I fully enjoy Paraguay, the people, the different cultures within the country and my life in rural Paraguay. Peace Corps provides excellent support for the volunteers but the fact remains that to do a good job one must realize that the effort lays on the shoulders of the individual. Personally, I enjoy making all my decisions regarding my job even though it may be a bit unclear what exactly is expected of me from Peace Corps. I am the only one who understands the realities of my site and rightly so I make all the decisions. I personally excel with the first two goals of Peace Corps, learning and sharing cultures, which I feel is under emphasized by the administration. Some volunteers are able to show physical examples of their work or successful large projects which justify Peace Corps presence and the value of the Volunteer. In my case I haven't achieved any large successes other than making a mountain of friends, but I highly value this part of my job as a Volunteer.
After my close of service I would like to travel to Brazil to find work and to learn some Portuguese. I would also like to learn to surf well and plan to start on the northern coast of Brazil. Depending on work and money I would like to end up in Chile or Argentina in May or June to get a job at a ski resort. I would like to spend the South American winter season teaching snowboarding. The season is over around October and as of right now I think I will travel up through Bolivia and Peru, eventually ending up in Michigan for the beginning of the Winter Semester(Jan 2002).
Mid March 2000
This summer has proved to be the most difficult stretch I have endured since touching down in Paraguay a year and five months ago at the Asuncion airport. I couldn't point to one single factor that made this past summer a rough one but rather many. The first and most apparent reason being the heat. Of course, I endured this heat last summer but everything was fresh and exciting and I was up for the adversity damn it! Now I am all too familiar with what the heat means, what work I can expect to get done and that doesn't involve too much movement in the heat. The upswing is that we are nearing the end of summer, with cool southerly Antarctic winds teasing those of us who have a passion for cold noses and the ability to see ones breath. Another factor contributing to a difficult summer may be that I am envisioning the rest of my service, my eventual departure from my new home, and analyzing the reality of goals I have set and my ability to complete them. I do realize when I look back at journals or notebooks or scrap paper reminders that I have done quite a bit since moving to Paraguay. Another volunteer once told me "...write down the things you do each day...and on those rainy days or lazy days look back and remind yourself of all that you have done...". You can give yourself a pat on the back even on those days you only left your hammock to shit, shave....wait no shave...and shower...wait no shower either it is winter and it is too damn nippy.
In the previous three months, the majority of my energy has been directed at dealing with the heat. The maintenance of crops(weeding, spraying insecticide, etc) during the summer is the primary farm activity, with high temperatures effecting the amount of work done per day. In the upcoming weeks we will see the harvest of soy beans and cotton and with that an income once again. The majority of the time will be spent concentrating on the harvest. Cotton is also being harvested, an activity which occupies most of the free time of every able body in my community....mine excluded when possible. Cotton picking could possibly be my least favorite farm activity. One of my friends joked at the beginning of the cotton season that he was planning on planting cotton for the picudo(bole weevil) implying that they will reap more benefit than he will from this crop. I told him about a statue I heard exists in some southern town in Arkansas which was erected after the bole weevil ruined the cotton industry for the region.. The statue is a bole weevil with a farmer raised above his head, a conquered farmer. Those who have harvested all the cotton that has bloomed on their land and are waiting for the next bloom often work for neighbors who have more cotton than workers.
While reading The Anthropological Lens: Harsh Light, Soft Focus, by J.L. Peacock, I found some parallels to his explanations of anthropological methods and life in the field that were strikingly similar to my own experience. He writes... "What is killing about fieldwork is the combination of external and psychological demands. In a remote and physically trying situation, one must cope with problems of interpersonal communication and personal definition that few of us encounter in the comfortable environs of our own society." This idea has been something I have had to deal with each day whether I am explaining, once again, my job to members of the community or just trying to decide personally what my role is in the community or how I may better define that role as I become more aware of the needs and realities of the community.
In his essay, Wealth Poverty and Sustainable Development, David Barkin suggests that solutions for poverty for the increasing number of rural poor and environmental problems should be less market dependent, solutions which work within a system that is not fully integrated into the global marketplace. He argues that official development theory stresses market led structural changes and this will not bring closer the disparity between rich and poor. Instead he proposes a system or approach that recognizes limits to capital and natural resources, one that specifically focuses on rural development to alleviate poverty and increase sustainability. In trying to analyze my community with regards to Barkins' approach I foresee major changes. First of all the current system draw parallels to Barkins' approach and my community.
But the questions that need to be asked are ones like what options do we possess? What will replace the income generating crops, meager at best, that are already in place? Are alternate markets available, can they be reached if not? In which direction should we shift and to what degree?
25 July 2000
The beginning of winter has seen my neighbors and I outplanting some of the trees from our nursery. The reality of our nursery is that we have more trees than my neighbors want to plant. I assume that one of the reasons we have maximized out the number of trees wanted to be planted by the farmers with whom I have been working is one, the previous volunteers have worked with these families and have planted trees previously. I have been and am present looking for other families that would be interested in planting. In addition to tree planting I have been harvesting green manure seeds of Carnavalia, Crotilaria, and Macuna, which have been planted with neighbors or with families that previously had these plants.
I am still working towards bringing a teacher to administer a course on Basic Electricity through a federally sponsored agency. The process is extremely slow and bureaucratic and I realize that we may never see this project to fruition.
The previous months have been busy with the harvest of tung, cotton, yerba, and soybeans. I have concentrated more these months on being a resident of Natalio 25, which translates into the majority of my time being spent visiting families and getting to know them better rather than fulfilling Peace Corps project plan milestones or masters projects. It is possible that in a traditional Masters program this might be perceived as an indication of waning interest, or lessening the priority of ones project, the fact is this is not the case. The reality is that the Masters International Student has time on their side. But this time can at times be very overwhelming. Either in the sense that you cannot see the eventual closure to your project or that no pressure exists to motivate one to continually work towards this ephemeral closure. However, the upswing of this time is a better understanding of the people and land around me and a strangely sharper focus. Of course a priority is given to ones role as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but here lies an advantage and disadvantage. The advantage being a preexisting, if sometimes vague, set of project goals which I have found have aided in my understanding of local culture, farming systems, etc.. A definite disadvantage is the inability to devote all you time to your masters project which is the nature of the beast in the masters international program. I am constantly oscillating between being a Masters Student and a Peace Corps Volunteer. At times these roles overlap and now near the end of my service I realize it is more dependent on the project I have chosen.
I have graduated from helping my neighbor work his bees, to owning my very own hive and managing it with his help.
The day started off great. It was 7:30am and it wasn't past 90 degrees yet. I thought to myself, this is the perfect moment to visit a neighbor friend who lives a good bike ride away and I could set out before it gets too hot. About halfway to my friends house I notice my next door neighbors son is coming from the opposite direction. The strange thing is that he is weaving back and forth across the road on his bike. "I see what he's up to", I think to myself. I think he is playing chicken. This particular neighbor is quite the jokester and our ritual conversation upon seeing each other each morning is to inquire about the health and happiness of each of our respective girlfriends. Mine, the ugliest pig they own and his the other neighbors new cow. He usually gets the better of me, with his greater depth of knowledge of the Guarani language, using me as the butt of the joke in group settings. I thought.."I'll show him this time". As he approached he was yelling something I didn't understand ad I was immovable, I steered straight for him. Well, as soon as we are about to crash he veers right and bails off his bike, screaming on the way down. Triumphant!!!! I have beat my 14 year old nemesis. I am laughing and basking in my glory when I hear a scream that is louder and more piercing than my neighbors. It turns out my neighbor has just bought a 40 kilo pig to butcher and sell at the market. As you may guess he was not a happy camper, nor the pig. My best bet was retreat and I chuckled under my breath as I pedaled the rest of the way to my friend's house.
16 September 2000
It is a bit overwhelming to consider that this report marks one of the final field reports and coincides with almost two years in Paraguay, almost to the day. The final three months of Peace Corps service have arrived and with them a need to tie up loose ends, finalize projects , and spend quality time with friends made along the way. My work for the previous three months(June, July, August - Winter), has been dominated by preparation for the upcoming summer season. Typical on farm work in the beginning of the winter months involves the end of the harvest of Yerba Mate, Tung, and what remains of the cotton crop. These three crops represent three out of four of the most important cash crops in the region. When the harvests are complete there is time to pay off debts, plan for the upcoming season with actual crop maintenance time spent in the fields at a year long low. For the agroforestry volunteer this time is ideal for the promotion of tree planting, the harvest of green manure seeds, and work in general that cannot be tackled in other parts of the year due to a larger work load.
A few neighbors and I have taken advantage of the winter months to out plant Paraiso gigante trees from a shared nursery. The amount of trees produced by our nursery well exceeded the individual farmers demand, so searching for interested farmers was needed. Last month the closest volunteer to my site, a Cooperatives volunteer, teamed up to give a talk about the importance of winter season green manure with a local committee in his site. We are also going to follow this talk up with a tree planting and species selection presentation. I am continuing to work with a few neighbors with bee keeping but winter months yield the least amount of honey and hive maintenance is also minimal. I learned an important lessen while trying to bring a teacher from a trade school in the capital. The lessen seems to be that local problems are more easily remedied by local solutions. My attempt to bringing a teacher from the capital was motivated by the general local employment need. The assumption was that a teacher from a certified National Trade school would give a course on basic electricity leading to students who would posses certificates of completion, thus lending credence to their skill when searching for jobs. The local need for increased awareness of the workings of electricity was recognized by the community at local meetings but the reality of the teacher ever arriving from a nationally funded institution and from such a distance was not recognized. In retrospect, a quicker and more realistic goal may have been to identify teachers from the nearest town who were willing to teach.
I started chatting with a woman whose family business has the
sole contract in Paraguay for a bole weevil pheromone insecticide
system. It was interesting to hear about her dealings with the
Ministry of Agriculture and to finally understand how the system
works. My neighbors use the "mata picudo" tube but do
not understand how it functions and receive no information from
the agents from the ministry who distribute them. She mentioned
she is facing a bit of resistance from large chemical companies
as it seems her product reduces the number of times insecticide
is needed to be sprayed. She was also interested to hear how farmers
actually used her product and their level of comprehension regarding
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