Jen Papillo

Arrived in Paraguay. on 4 October 2001.

Jen 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 .

10 October 2001

holas chicos!

i am in paraguay, and happy. unfortunately my spanish [is weak (ed note, in case small children might read this web page an expletive has been deleted)], i'm about 3 years old right now. my family here es muy bien, and i have made friends, its just hard to communicate.

i'm super busy with classes. of course training is tough so far, and going to get harder, but its only for 11 weeks.

15 October 2001, about 8:30 a.m.

right now i´m at the universidad nacional in san lorenzo, about an hour by bus from my home. i´m on assignment, but right now i´m passing time at a student internet cafe waiting until the person i need to talk to gets in. i have to go to the servicio forestal nacional and as someone about viveros (nurseries) and their affiliation with the national parks. should be interesting since all i can say right now is "servicio forestal nacional". but i´ll get by, i can usually understand more than i can communicate, but i stress the word usually. other than that things are good. my stomach is starting to become distressed at the fact that the water is not as filtered as at home, but its behaving itself. all of us either were, are, or are getting sick, either colds or stomach problems. but that´s just how things go! oh, and i have a load of bites on my arms and feet, but they don´t itch nearly as bad as u.p. mosquitos and blackflies!!

Terere during training.

supposedly my spanish is going to improve greatly, i can only hope, because my english is deteriorating drastically, and i have become dependant on sign language. everyday has its ups and downs, and i think its starting to hit me where i am. the first week things are so new and just sinking in, and now random thoughts keep going through my head, like..."2 years?!, i´m going to have a successful garden?, i have to talk to people exclusively in guarani?, i may not have oreos again?". so it is hard, but i am happy.

Learning soil prep for nurseries.

28 Oct 2001 14:47:33 -0500

i just this second heard that there is snow in the u.p.! [Editors note: on October 25, 2001 there was ten inches of fresh snow at the Ford Center in Alberta - snowboards and snowballs were in use.] as for here, it literally is hot as hell, and its not even summer yet! and i'm getting this weird arm and foot tan since we're supposed to only wear pants or long-ish skirts during makes for a very uncomfortable, bitchy, and smelly trainee!

Sunset in Paraguay. (Taken during training.)

as for my latest adventure, i spent saturday-wednesday on visit to a current volunteer's site in the chaco. for those of you who aren't familiar with it (like me 6 months ago!) or may be too uninterested to look at a map, it is the western part of paraguay and extends into bolivia and argentina. basically, it is a flat (one percent slope) dry (except for this weekend), sparsely inhabited expanse that eastern paraguayans are basically scared of. yes it has jacares, or small crocs, thorny vegetation, and is usually very dry.

well anyway, i got the 4:45 am bus to the terminal in asuncion on saturday and the 6am bus to the transchaco highway. eight hours later, and light rains later, we arrived at our unpaved road and changed busses. 5 minutes into that ride and during the beginning of more rain we had our first encounter with chaco mud and the guys got out and pushed. this part of the trip was supposed to take 2 hours, it took about 20. we should have turned back and stayed in town at the very beginning, but for some reason we pushed on. what we encountered was major downpours, thunder and lightning, and winds that ended up tearing off over one hundred roofs and putting quite a few people in the hospial. it was a "tormenta", and boy was it ever! at about 7pm we pulled into a small mennonite town called, get this...lolita. i thought that was cute. anyway, mennonites pretty much close up shop on saturday evenings and sundays, so saturday night we slept in the bus.... by the way, by this time, it was me, the volunteer i was visiting, and another pct headed for a site, along with a few locals, including the most annoying snorer in the world. so the next morning we woke around 6am and of course the bus wouldn't start, but after some tinkering we were on the road, which was pretty torn up. and yes, i did help push the bus. we finally arrived at the road where we were supposed to catch the milk delivery truck the evening before, but since it was by now 9am, there was no transportation. the other pct was basically at his site he was visiting, so we dropped him off, drank some mate, and then began our 12k walk to amy's site (my volunteer), in flipflops, in the 12 noon paraguayan sun. luckiliy there was a breeze, and we did get a ride...1/4k from her house, of course. so my 11 hour journey became a 30 hour pilgrimage to the driest part of the country that just happened to have the worst storm in years that very weekend! but the rest of the visit was nice...tranquilo! the stars at night were amazing, there isn't running water or electricity, which is pretty nice, there aren't alot of people, but its damn hot! this isn't necessarily where i'll be going for my site, but there is a spot open and they want a woman, but i don't know...i did like it however.

"We defend the small farm becasuse smallness tends to to be a prerequisite for diversity, and diversity, in turn, a prerequisite of thrift and care in the use of the world. In general, small farms tend to be diverse in economy, which is to say complex in structure; whereas the larger the farm, the more likely it is to specialize in one or two crops, to have no animals, and to depend on chemicals, purchased supplies and credit. In agriculture, as in nature and culture, the more complex the system or structure (within obvious biological and human limits), the more sound and durable it is likely to be."

--- Wendell Berry, The Gift of the Good Land, 1981.

Late December

i had my future site visit about a week and a half ago. it was really beautiful! its near a park with boundaries in question--a really sticky situation for families that live right next to the park since the group that owns it is trying to make formal boundaries. but, aside from all the politics for a moment, i have a great view of the tallest mountains in paraguay (kind of like the porkies in the u.p.) which in the morning can be really surreal. the mist hangs over the mountains and it actually looks like what i imagined the south american forests to look like. i am a second volunteer, so i already have a little house (its purple!) AND i have electricity. i get my water from my neighbors well and of course my facilities consist of a hole in the ground. which doesn{t bother me, but may bother the parasite that i am convinced is living inside me. i still speak no spanish. i speak even less guarani.

19 March 2002

The saga of living in the campo continues...


i finally got paid today. this sounds like it should be an easy thing to do. it is not. i changed my location to get paid from asuncion to villarrica, which is very close to my house. i did this not only because it was recommended by peace corps, but because i had the hopes of making my life a little easier by reducing my need to go to asuncion every month.

asuncion is fun sometimes, but it is also hot, smelly, and there{s always a lot of people at the office so its hard to get things done. its good to see my friends, but they do not always go in at the same time as i do, and i have quite a few american friends close by me that i can see more often if i need to. hence the change of location for the money thing. immediately after changing it at the beginning of february, i asked around the office to see where exactly i had to go to get paid. guess one knew. and i mean no one. not the office staff, not other volunteers, NOBODY. so i have spent the last month and a half on pins and needles trying to figure out where i can go, finally resulting in having another volunteer use her cellphone to call the office and make them call the place and give me directions. you cannot simply ask a paraguayan where something is located.
in all efforts to be helpful to the lost foreigner they will reassuringly give you directions...whatever directions they can think of. i have spent hours wandering around villarrica, backtracking, looking for the office of the ministerio that was 2 blocks from where i was looking, for this very reason.

so...found the bank. they did not have the money. but instead of getting frustrated and leaving, i made them call asuncion, and then I talked to the secretary at peace corps who wanted me to borrow money from my friends and come into asuncion today because they lost my name from the computer and therefore didn{t put the funds in my account. ummm, NOPE. i just plain said NO. so they went and deposited cash and i had my sueldo in about an hour...GO ME!

having a pocket full of money and extremely hairy legs, i tried to find the boutique my friend had told me about; my friend with a bad sense of direction. i ended up in the back room of a hair 'salon' that looked more like the place i should be buying crack. i ended up with two women mercilessly ripping at my fat american legs that i{m sure took longer to wax than your average paraguayan toothpick. but you know felt good.
the ripping actually was a deepdown relief, a good scratching for my millions of bugbites, and the human contact wasn{t bad either. i even got a little calf massage as they were soothing my irritated skin. now i know its kind of ironic, being a poor peace corps volunteer and getting, in the most loose interpretation of the word, pampered, but 'all my friends are doing it'. its also a bitch to try and shave while taking a bucket bath. enough rationalizing...i had a bad week, ok?

its been unseasonably hot and everyone is irritable, waiting for the winds to change and for it to get a little cooler. if you can translate from celsius to farenheit (which i can{t because i{m from the united states and, well, we just don{t do that), its been between 37 and on occasion 45. hot.

luckily, i have a vacation coming up, that is of course if i can navigate myself to uruguay. i am working on some small projects, gardens, animal vaccinations, ooh and i just took loads of pictures of my comite slaughtering 2 of their fattened pigs, check my web page in the coming months. other than that, my boss came out for my site presentation (where she formally presents me to the community)...10 people came, it POURED rain, and we ended up sitting in my neighbor's teeny bedroom to keep from getting soaked. all in all, it was an event. my puppy (ella) is growing fast and she{s such a welcome relief sometimes. i{m still happy, but i think a little homesickness is finally setting in. i{ll keep everyone posted on my uruguayan adventures, if and when i get there and back. hope everyone is well, in just a few short weeks i will be the ripe old age of 27! one more occasion to ponder life and wonder 'WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?'.

well, i{ve got to go now and shave my legs.

9 April 2002 (parts of Jen's Quarterly Report).

I am currently living in the community of San Antonio, Departamento Guaira, in the Eastern Region. It is about four hours by bus from Asuncion to Villarrica, the closest city to me. It is another two hours from Villarrica to my site, but the distance is not very far. There's just a lot of dirt roads. Germans are prolific in this area and this sometimes is a source of animosity among Paraguayans. Most of the Germans are wealthy land owners, and the nearby town of Melgarejo (one hour by bus) is not only the site of the Municipalidad, but also and extensive German community. They are a source of resources in Melgarejo, making trips to Villarrica for supplies almost unnecessary. Siegmar Shops runs the Agroveterinaria "Kemby" (phone 0548530) and carries a variety of animal balanceados, vacunas, seeds for huertas as well as abonos verdes, and has a computer with internet that he has offered the use of.
Melgarejo also has a good hardware store, a variety/grocery store called Almacen 50 (German-style k-mart), and a direct bus connection to Asuncion, not to mention the best early-morning chipa I have yet to find.
My community is, from what I can tell, in the buffer zone of a "paper" park, Reserva Manejada Ybytyrusu (ybyty=mountain; rusu=grandecito; in English this might read "medium-sized mountains"). An Asuncion based NGO, AlterVida, has been attempting for about ten years to establish park limits, which would enable them to receive funding for projects within the mountains. There are thousands of families living in the ceros, practicing all kinds of outrageously precarious farming systems, and AlterVida has lots of proposed projects to teach soil conservation, contour planting, use of green manure; i.e. work similar to PCVs.

Site-Description II-Physical
According to Beets (ch 6.6, pg 416-427) my site is characteristic of "Smallholder Farming with Plantation Crops". The following (pg 420) is a good description of my site, as well as much of the Eastern Region of Paraguay.
"Where a central processing factory is necessary, it is common to have different types of producers clustered around them as follows:
1. A factory estate run by professional managers and hired labor
2. Large-scale farmers or planters operating private, large and medium size farms, mainly producing the crop in question
3. Smallholders producing the crop as their main or only cash crop"

The dominant cash crops in the area are cana dulce (sugar cane), algodon (cotton) and yerba mate (Ilex paraguayensis). Everyone, including the smallest landholder, grows at least one, if not all three of these crops and sells them to either a local buyer or local fabrica (factory). There are also large estancias owned by Germans that employ numerous local citizens.
Main subsistence crops include mandioca (cassava), maize, beans and peanuts. Almost every household has a family garden, though often the only vegetables grown are garlic, chives, tomatoes and peppers. The government hands out seed packets (or rather the volunteer goes to Villarrica and gets them) that include ten types of vegetables, mostly greens.
This part of Paraguay is known for the Cerros Ybytyrusu, previously mentioned. From what I am told, they are remnant volcanoes, although I have yet to procure a geology book describing the area. The formations I have seen along some riverbeds seem to be indicators of previous volcanic activity, including riverbanks and beds composed of swirling rock, often pockmarked with perfect beer-bottle-holding indentations. About three hours away are smaller rolling hills that have hexagonical rock formations indicating a distinct lava-cooling pattern. The soils, from what I have read in Beets (pg 203), are either oxisols (highly weathered, leached) or Mollisols, which he says are extensive in Paraguay. Unfortunately, I don't know what a Mollisol is.
In terms of climate, many people say the past climate was much more distinct, with definite wet and dry seasons. Now the climate is more indiscriminate and many locals will tell you its because of the rapidly declining forests. Although sometimes when they say this I get the feeling they are simply regurgitating facts they have either been told or overheard and the immediate implications and environmental concepts may not really be understood. Paraguay has an amazing planting season and roughly year round crops and vegetables can be planted. They do respect the frost, or helada, however, and in hushed tones will tell you what is susceptible and what trees are not growing well because of last year's frost damage. It does not seem that the farmers in my area do anything as a means of frost protection. There are also no community viveros (tree nurseries) for them to have experimented with. I myself know little in the way of preventing frost damage, but as I have an experimental nursery/garden (i.e. 2 seedbeds) am anxious to see what the reactions of different plants are.

Recent Work
I am the second volunteer in my site. However, many of the people in Colonia Independencia have either worked with or heard of PCVs. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, I rarely need to explain who I am and the fact that no, I do not work for the CIA or DEA. Also, many people are at least familiar with the terms I use, even if they do not completely understand the concepts. On the other hand, I am constantly comparing myself to past volunteers and their accomplishments.

Jen's House.

My house is situated on the land of Ale and Lula Canete (37, 34) and their son, Freddi (13). Actually, I practically live with them, sharing a well, dinners, a garden and most importantly, friendship. I spend most of my time with Lula, who has taught me how to work in the fields, cook, clean and peel mandioca like a professional. Both her and Ale have helped me improve my Spanish and I feel completely secure sounding like an idiot in front of them while trying to pronounce new words. They, as well as the rest of the community, are anxious for me to learn guarani. I am constantly explaining that when I came here I didn't even speak Spanish. The concept of learning a language seems hard for them to understand, especially when two of my volunteer friends visit who speak excellent Spanish.
My work so far has been getting to know the community and the surrounding area. I have visited three other volunteers that are fairly close, and those visits have helped me see how small my area is in terms of news travel. What I mean to say is, even with a lack of telephones, everyone knows everyone else, including the names of the strange white women wandering through the fields.

The Garden

I have also planted a few gardens with my neighbors, most of which died because of the unusual hot spell and lack of watering on their part. This is partly my fault for not making follow up visits immediately after planting. The previous volunteer started a men's committee and got a grant from PC to subsidize a pig fattening project. Upon entering the community I was automatically a part of the comittee and expected to attend weekly meetings. I went a few times regularly, panic-stricken each time (what if they want me to talk?). then I gradually stopped going, only attending occasionally. The main reason for this is that they speak in guarani and I have no idea what is going on. I have made it clear that I am still here to help them with whatever they need, and now that I know them a bit better I feel more comfortable at the meetings. Also, they are functioning well on their own, which I think was the idea from the beginning.
There has been interest in forming a women's comittee and I'm all for it. I'm just not sure exactly how to go about it. For them to be recognized by the government there's a lot of red tape to cut through which I'm researching. It's also time to plant abono verde for the winter so we are getting ready to experiment with that a bit, as well as marking out curvas de nivel to plant. I think my main problem right now is project initiation. I know people want to do things but I don't know what. I also don't know how to separate their felt needs (running water) from problems at hand that I can deal with. How do I tell them they need to conserve their soil when they really want an income-generating project? It's easy to read about methods of PRA in books but much more difficult to implement.

Another view of the garden.

Excerpts from Jen's June 2002 report.

Once again, I am struggling with identifying concrete things I have done in the past few months. I think it's still too early to divide my work into distinct work areas; I am still getting to know the community and trying to define my place here. Most of the communities in this area, with the exception of the remote sites in the cerros, are too familiar with Cuerpo de Paz, and everyone has their own idea of the role of the volunteer. Old volunteers are often legendary and many community members enjoy telling stories of all the good deeds the old volunteers did, from bringing free seeds or money from Peace Corps, to procuring second-hand clothing from the states. Finding sustainable activities to get involved in is proving quite difficult. Often times I just lose interest in the activities people suggest because they have to future, or they've been done in the past and stopped as soon as an old volunteer leaves. I understand this is part of the challenge of our work, but if I had to redefine my job description it would read "cake-baker".

On the brighter side, the weather has turned chilly and rainy which is an envigorating change from the stifling heat. I spend lots of time by the fire with neighbors drinking mate, or snuggled in my sleeping bag. There's not much to do when it rains. I am beginning to speak guarani, but fall back on spanish quite often. I love where I am living, am gradually making more friends, and generally feel comfortable interacting with Paraguayans in almost any situation. In other words, I feel at home here and really am enjoying my life.

Possibly most exciting, however, is Paraguay's involvement in the World Cup, the most latest joy being a victory over Slovenia on Wednesday. This game I watched from the street in an electronics shop in Villarrica. The roars of victory and cries of "Par-A-Guay" combined with the non-stop fireworks going off were enough to make a patriot out of the palest norte. It was amazing.

I have helped plant a few trees, harvested some sugar cane with my birthday-present-machete, expanded my garden and planted lots of seeds that were then washed away by torrential rains, learned how to be a vet for my dog, and even went to a high-school promotional fiesta and danced all night with my neighbors. I'm really working on enjoying my life right now and trying not to be so stressed. And it's working little by little.

Radio Show

I am also a DJ. The town next to me, Santa Cecilia, has a radio station. The closest volunteer to me suggested we ask to have a radio show. So far we've had one show and it went well. The show, of course, has an environmental theme, but rather than just repeating what our jobs are and talking about abonos verdes, cobertura, planting trees, etc., we are trying to explaine more in depth the reasons why we promote these concepts. The first show focused on the water and air cycles. We used a manual developed by Diego (James) Leslie, part-time environmental sector coordinator, and another third year PCV who works with AlterVida. They have come up with a cirriculum about the Bosque Atlantico Interior (BAI) with the hopes of having PCVs incorporate it into their work. I really like the structure and simplicity of the manual and hope to use it in conjunction with the radio show and community projects to help my Guairenas realize how special and unique their part of Paraguay is.

Lula and Ale' take a break during sugar cane harvest.

Ale' takes a smoke break in the field.

April 2002, Jen's birthday party.

More birthday party.

Horsing around in the river.

Jen's feet after walking home on a country road from a fiesta.

Jen and her fat dog take a stroll in the hills.

Alyssia (age 5) with Jen's dog.

Beans, kumanda yvyra'i, (little bean in guarani) - pigeon pea, a great agroforestry tree.

3 August 2002

we got a raise, we now make $140 a month. even with tough times i have managed to save over $100 from my monthly pay, and probably had more before the guarani went up to 6.500 or so. everyone tells me i'm rich here, more so strangers than people who know me now, and i am i guess. i feel so bad for this little country, one new volunteer hates it because he says they have no culture. i guess when you're stuck in the middle of stupid old brazil and argentina you just learn to be subtle. i still love it here.

17 December 2004.

View from a hilltop at the Ashland Nature Center, Delaware.

Jen's page on Moringa oleifera.

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most recent update: 17 December 2004.