The Plot Thins

Paraguayan politics is back in the news again, with the death of presidential candidate Lino Oviedo yesterday in a helicopter crash.

For a little background on Lino, check out this post on the shell game that often seems to be Paraguayan presidential politics. 

With Lugo ousted last June, his successor Franco unable to run in the upcoming election, and Lino now deceased, April’s election will come down to Cartes versus Alegre – red versus blue, Colorado versus Liberal. The current outlook is that Cartes – football-club-owning, banking, tobacco, soda and juice mogul – will prevail, even given his less than stellar reputation as what many might call a criminal and others might call a prerequisite to participate in this field.

That is of course unless the investigation takes an interesting turn. 


Good Good Water

I recently revisited a community I first went to on March 22nd. The only reason I happen to know I was there on March 22nd is because I later found out that happens to be World Water Day.

Like anyone else, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice (or even once) about that day’s moniker had I not been in a, how shall we say, uniquely ironic situation that day.

Several times on the drive, my boss and I found ourselves saying how we felt like we were in a different country. That’s how remote the settings were. I had a Paraguayan telling me it felt remote and removed. We were driving about as far off the beaten path as I’ve been in Eastern Paraguay – and by now I’ve been a few places. It’s definitely not the farthest away in hours or in kilometers, but in that other so hard to quantify measurement – feeling. Sometimes you just plain feel far from everything else. Most of the time it’s because it’s true. (Or because you’re lost).

The “road” (I use the term loosely) we were on cuts through the campo alongside the Parque Nacional Ybycui – the  borders of which seemed rather ambiguous, at least as far as the scenery was concerned. We were carrying with us, in the bed of the Hilux, a 200- liter blue plastic water barrel. For those of you reading in Liberia, Myanmar and  the United States that about 52 gallons. Like an oil drum. Only plastic. And filled with water.

On a side note. Water weighs 1 kilogram per liter. That’s convenient isn’t it. Or 8.35 pounds per gallon. Either way, there were 200 kilos worth of water standing up back behind our headrests.

The volunteer we were headed to visit had no water. When volunteers talk to each other and say they have no water, it means their community or their house doesn’t have running water. Some places do, some don’t. If you “don’t have water” you have a well. And bucket. And a pulley. Problem solved.

This particular fellow though, really didn’t have any water. His well dried up. Such an interesting expression. More like the land around his well dried up.

It hadn’t rained beyond a spit in certain parts of the country since before Christmas, almost four months earlier. The drought resulted in the nation’s soy exports falling by 60 percent this year according to one newspaper – a remarkable statistic given that it is the top export and the way this country earns its GDP. A very small handful of people lost several ocean freighters full of money, but the effects of the sequia reached well beyond crop production and began to hit families – ones with nothing invested in soy or anything else beyond the small plots of land they live on – directly.  Beyond personal consumption crops failing, wells in higher elevations began to dry up. Drinking water was carried from luckier, or lower-laying neighbors, or from the occasional meager and less-than-clean spring in the woods. Gardens, and with with them the source of any vegetables, shriveled in the sun. Laundry lines hung empty.

Turning on the faucet is something we take for granted, just like so many other things. Volunteers in Paraguay are spoiled you could say because lots of us have running water in our communities. Paraguay is a lucky spot in the world when it comes to h20 (I’ll resist the temptation to talk about the aquifer, again). In the Peace Corps you don’t expect to have running water – well let me rephrase, you shouldn’t expect to have running water. So you use a well. I won’t belittle it, using a well everyday for all your water needs (and they add up) isn’t easy or particularly fun. But you get used to it. You learn some of its benefits (always chilly drinking water that doesn’t rely on a pump to power it) and eventually you do the same thing as the rest of us: take for granted that it’s out there. Then one day, it’s not.

780 million people in the world lack access to clean drinking water. That’s two and half times the population of the United States. That’s one out of every nine people on the planet. Diarrhea – not heart attacks, not car crashes – is the leading cause of death in the world, mostly due to dehydration and lack of proper sanitation that relays on water. It claims the lives of 3.4 million people each year. That’s the population of Los Angeles. Drought has claimed more lives in the last century than any other natural disaster.

That was the alarming statistics section of this post. I’m not trying to say that the dried up well of a volunteer in Paraguay is causing kids to die of thirst. That wouldn’t be true. Or that the drought earlier this year caused any deaths. I don’t know if that’s true. I do know that it took me trying to unload a 440 pound barrel of water from the back of a pick truck four hours from nowhere, to begin to not take what comes out of the faucet for granted. Not sharing that seems like a disservice to those with buckets in their hands.

A few weeks after our delivery the rain returned and so did water in the well. As of this morning that volunteer’s well had again dried up.

Keep on working

I’m not sure if any of you noticed or had the chance to look at it, but a few months ago I added the “PROJECTS” tab to the top of the blog. The idea behind this new section of the blog is something I probably should have been working on from the start of my time working here in my community but various things have stood in the way of that happening until now. Better late than never though, right? Click on the tab above to check it out.



Welcome to the camp…

If you’ve made it this far, most of you know why you’re here. For those who haven’t been filled in – I’m moving to South America to serve  in the United States Peace Corps.  Paraguay actually. Yeah, that’s pretty much what ran through my head at first too.

As you can imagine, Paraguay is not on the telecommunication forefront – which is where this blog comes into play. Keeping in touch is hard enough even when most of us are just a phone call away – and while I’ll still be just a call away, the phone itself may be a little out reach. So, we’ll meet up here – my aim being to write regularly and download to the web I can. I’m new to the blogging world so bear with me as I figure it all out. My goals for this site, as always are big, but I think it’s best for me (and you) not to expect too much too soon. As much as I want this to be a way to stay in touch with you all, I think we’d all be disappointed to see it fall into being some sort of log of my daily events: “today I walked 10 miles to town; on Wednesday I ate monkey brain soup; next week I’m going to the city…” While that’s all well and good, I think we can do better. (But, no worries for those who want the day to day – I’m sure we can work something out).

I can’t promise to keep it interesting, light or funny, but I can promise to keep it as real as the world I’m headed into. Your input (and your patience with mine) will only make it more interesting, so go ahead and add that book mark and shoot the link to anyone I’ve forgot or who might be interested in checking out a window with a different view. I’ve got just about a month before I’m outta here – which should be just about enough time for you guys to find Paraguay on a map and read a few Wikipedia articles. There’s a few adventures planned for the meantime so keep in touch.