Thursday, July 26, 2012

In which I meet some Paraguay Peace Corps volunteers

I changed to the hostel where the Paraguay Peace Corps volunteers stay and met several volunteers there. Marcia worked in a small town where she lived in half of an old schoolhouse and shared a latrine with 50 other people. There was no electricity or running water. A volunteer in the Health Education program told me she did far more than teach hygiene. “I’m not a doctor,” she said, “but I play one in the Peace Corps.” A nurse volunteer told me she did everything medically necessary except dental work and abortions.

Les was a beekeeper. In his late thirties, he had that rugged outdoor look complete with mustache and a muscled, hairy chest over which lay a handmade leather vest. He was busy sewing on a pair of moccasins that he was making from buckskin that he’d tanned himself. I asked about beekeeping.

“In Paraguay, they’re crazy for honey. But labeling laws don’t exist, so you’re never sure what you’re getting. I’ve formed an association of women in my region and I’m teaching them about beekeeping and marketing. We’ve standardized the hives and developed a marketing plan. I designed a label for the bottles and make the ladies sterilize the bottles before they fill them with honey. I have a few customers here in Asunción. They know my honey is good and every time I come here, they beg me for as many bottles as they can get. We can’t meet demand.”

He stopped to bite off a thread, then continued. “I finish with Peace Corps in a few months, but I’m going to stay here. I calculate that we can gross fifteen to twenty thousand dollars next year selling honey and queens. I’ll spend part of the year here, then go to Alaska in the summers.

“I like it here,” he said. “I don’t care if I’m not in the States.” Then he grabbed the remote for the big-screen TV and changed to ESPN.

Drew’s giardia
My friend Drew had been a volunteer in Paraguay and had contacted giardia, an intestinal disease that gives you horrible gas that smells like sulfur and uncontrollable diarrhea. He told me the story.

“I’d had giardia for a while and was at the point where I couldn’t distinguish between farting and crapping. Either way, I couldn’t help it.”

“I was in Asunción for a meeting with my boss, the head of the Paraguayan Forest Service. Instead of my usual volunteer clothes, I was wearing my suit. We were sitting in the Forest Service office. They had those plastic chairs, thank God.”

“All of a sudden, I felt something. ‘Don Pedro,’ I said. ‘Do you have any toilet paper?’”

“Don Pedro looked at me funny and said, ‘Drew, you know we don’t have the money for toilet paper here at the Forest Service. We’ve always just had old newspapers.’”

“I said, ‘Well, that’s too bad, because I just shit in my pants.’ And I got up and left and walked the three blocks back to my pensión, my suit soaked with diarrhea. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life. To this day, they tell that story at the Forest Service.”