A day in the life of a Peace Corps Trainee in Paraguay is (so I hear) one of the most intense periods of one's volunteer service. Challenging and jammed packed of new information, I can't disagree! Here's a taster to outline it a bit for ya:
My stopwatch goes off, it's 6:30am- time to wakeup. I reluctantly roll out of my twin bed and into the cool, musty air that lingers in my bedroom on this cold winter morning. I step into my flip-flops, the house shoes/slippers of all Paraguayan homes, and head over to my rompero to pick out my clothes for the day. Having decided on jeans and a nice top, I grab my bag of toiletries to take a shower. It's a bit icy out this morning and the bathroom lined with cool white tile is no comfort against the chill. Luckily after utilizing the toilet (don't throw paper in there it'll clog up the whole system!), I have the privilege of jumping into a warm, electric shower (yes- wires and all... no- it's really not as dangerous as one might think). The lights dim a bit as the voltage to run this thing is a bit of a drain on our power supply, the weaker the water pressure the warmer the water. It trickles, but I want it hot. When I'm done I squeegy the floor, just like when I'd clean my car's windshield. Attempting to keep the tile clean and free of the red dirt that is omnipresent in my life, I manage to pull on my clothes. Returning my shower bag to my room, I then head to the living room/dining room for breakfast with my little "sister" and host "mom." We sit down to a lovely meal of coqidos (small crunchy bread sticks)/bread and butter with cocido or cafe. We have our leisurely morning conversation: Amaniciste bien? Si, amanici bien. I'm in a rush (as usual) to get out the door, and I fumble with my keys in the process of locking up. Classes start today at 7:45am.
The Peace Corps Centro-i is just around the block, and I arrive to find half of my training group already comfortable on the steps of our training center. Playing soccer or marbles with the neighborhood boys, spirits are high as we break out the morning mate. We pass the matero around and compare yuyos. Soon after we are ushered into our classrooms for language training. The class starts off with a conversation in Spanish to get us thinking and talking of our lives in Paraguay. We joke about our weekend adventures, last nights dinner, or some really embarrassing cultural misunderstanding we managed that morning. Soon enough, we begin our Guarani lessons. Today Mba'eichapa, tomorrow Che cherera (insert your name here). The linguistics are riveting- verb conjugations are prefixes, question marks are suffixes, and that's only the beginning. What I would give to have known this stuff when I was studying language back in university! By 11:30am, I am exhausted. My mind hurts, all the words swimming around up there are starting to collide.
I head back home for lunch, a guiso with chicken, rice, and an almost spaghetti sauce. Oh yes, some mandi'o too, that good old yucca root and a Paraguayan staple, on the side. We chat, drink terere, and generally veg for an hour. Sometimes I even play hide and seek with little "brother" and "sister." At 1:00pm, it's time to head back for afternoon classes.
Afternoons are reserved for technical sessions, typically led by our fearless trainers from the USA. Our whole group is around for the session and we start off with a game to burn some calories from our solid lunch. Today is a bit special as we have a trainee guided session on the Paraguayan school system and a visit to a local elementary. We've had trainings on making our own huerta (garden), developing charlas (community talks/workshops), and even the standard health & safety. We play some form of word game to learn the escuela vocabulary, and then we are off to investigate the hierarchy and core aims of the country's system. Some lasting points: teachers are all required to go through the same university program for licensing- there is currently a surplus of teachers, school days last 5 hours, grades 1-9 are compulsory and funded by the government, subjects focused upon heavily include math and communication. By the end of the charla it is clear that there is a gap between objectives and outcome. Our school visits confirm this perception, yet surprise with the simultaneous implementation of strict discipline and lax pedagogy. I jump to contrast the system with that of the States, but I know I have a lot more to learn from Paraguay before I can even begin to pass judgment. I've only been in the classroom an hour, I cannot be too quick to develop conclusions.
It's 5pm and we are finishing up training for the day. I grab my backpack and head home, back around the block just before the sun goes down. The sunset is and outstanding mix of orange and purple. I unlock my door, put down my books and sit with my host family to watch TV and play cards. I've taught my "sister" Go Fish and it's our new favorite game. I'm surprised she was able to pick it up, as my ability to explain the purpose and rules was quite limited that first week in country. Tonight we chat about upcoming events on my schedule, such as dance class on Fridays at the local dance school- I'm learning folklorico and the traditional bottle dance. I have a trip this weekend, class in an neighboring city tomorrow, and my own charla to plan on educacion civica for next week. I read, and my family helps me with my Spanish/Guarani homework. We have a dinner of fideos (pasta) and meat. More bread and then freshly squeezed grapefruit juice for dessert. My host "mom" breaks out the radio and we start a small dance party, a sampling of regaton and the inspector gadget theme song (no clue why, but the kids are loving it here). Then it's off to bed; I curl into my sheets and sleeping bag to write my nightly journal entry. I'm so tired I am having a hard time getting my thoughts on paper. I think to myself, "I should have done more today, what happened to all that time? Boy am I ever tired."
I shuffle across the room to turn out the light, and I drift to sleep. My alarm is set to wake me for yet another day.