Monthly Archives: July 2010

Thank you for being a friend!

Yesterday (July 30th) was “D铆a de la Amistad” (Friendship Day) here in Paraguay. And people really celebrate! When I walked in the office yesterday there were signs hanging up wishing everyone a great day, and everyone greeted me with big hugs and kisses and many thanks and congratulations for being a friend. It’s very sweet, actually!! Then, to start things off right, in the office we chose our Amigo Invisible (Invisible Friend) on Thursday afternoon, this is a game played much like the Secret Santa of the U.S. where everyone picks a name in secret, and no one knows who you have. Then you buy a gift you think they will like and have a big exchange with everyone. At the exchange, you have to try and describe the person’s personality and everyone else in the room guesses who it is. My Invisible Friend Fatima, who of course was not in the office yesterday to receive her gift 馃槮 (I bought her one of those zen Japanese sand gardens with the mini rake that I always find so addicting! Can’t believe they had it in Paraguay!) Francisco had me, who he described very eloquently as “People always say dog is man’s best friend. Well I am grateful to Negra for bringing a new friend to our office,” (or something equally sweet and funny!) And I love my little kids’ Panda backpack he got me!

We also decided to have a big Asado (BBQ) yesterday, with everyone pitching in 20,000 Gs (Guaran铆s – think 4,785 Gs = 1 USD.) Freshly grilled steak, chorizo, potato salad, rice, and bean salad. Mmmmmmm It was so delicious! (and there were plenty of leftovers for Negra when we were done!) Laura also made us a Mousse de Dulce de Leche cake which kicked ass! After my second piece my boss once again commented, “Amanda, we’re going to have to roll you out of Paraguay at this rate!” (Maybe I should get back on that gym hunt? hint hint!)

After work we went to the Paraguayan Congress on the Environment being held at the same location as our Press Release the other day, (coincidence? I think not!) 2 of our colleagues were speaking; Fatima is who a very well known biologist and conservationist in Paraguay, (she is the Director of Conservation at WWF, after all,) and Menchi Garay, who is a Forestry Engineer for WWF, (you should see the maps that her and Sonia make at the office, identifying each piece of land within the Oriental Region – the East side of the country – and identifying how much forest exists throughout the entire region, piece-by-piece. Future post to come showing you this insane and amazing technique!)

Afterwards it was time to rest, a.k.a. Amanda, please don’t fall asleep on the dance floor again, and head out to Pirata, a big club in downtown Asunci贸n right near the Casa de Lopez and Manzana that I described for you all on my SUPER TOUR of Asunci贸n, around 11:30 PM. There we danced until about 5 AM and ate a huge amount of food, photos of Lomito to follow! It was the best D铆a de la Amistad that I’ve ever had (ignore non-existence in America here!) Thank you to all my friends, in Paraguay and back home, for being so great to me over the years!! I love you all!


Religion has a time and place…when I’m not there!

Religion is a funny thing here in Paraguay. For those of you who know me, you know that I am not a religious person by any means. Our family has always had a Christmas Tree next to our Menorah, usually with some type of angel or Star of David on top. Our tree could be decorated with snowman, angels, cats, dreidels,聽name plates, Yankee memorabilia etc. We have really always had a non-denominational celebration of holidays, delicious food, family, and, of course, snow.

Feels just like home!

While I respect that other people have religion, and choose to follow it to whatever degree they may, I can’t say I always understand it, or really want to be a part of it. One thing about most of the Latin American countries I’ve been to is that religion is usually very prevalent. Okay, I think Argentina was the exception, given the very high Jewish population located in Buenos Aires, and perhaps the “European” feel of the city – I don’t remember ever feeling religion’s constant presence. But I do feel it here. It’s not in a bad way, there aren’t missionaries waiting on every block, (at least not in the city, I can’t speak for the countryside as much as I’ve been told the Jesuit missions are beautiful, so they must be out there!) but everyone has their religion, their colleagues and associates all know their affiliation, and even some of their facebook or messenger statuses reflect their passionate devotion.

I guess it’s just one of the many differences between living in New York City and Asunci贸n. Back home, discussing religion is taboo, along with politics and your weight. If my boss goes to church every sunday or synagogue every Friday, I don’t know about it and certainly won’t ask. I can’t quite tell how closely some follow the bible here, but there are definitely those who are born-again, and who I am very likely the first Jew they have met or closely interacted with, (much like in college when my beloved friend told me I was the first Jew she met, except for one girl in grade school who smelled bad…damn those smelly Jews giving us a bad rep!)

As long as I can look past the heartfelt invitations to attend mass in honor of someone’s birthday, or hidden-message e-mail sign offs about further spreading the word of God, I think I’ll make it through just fine!

Also, to leave you all with a funny and telling story as told by la jefa; her family came across some Hasidic Jews in Paraguay, (picture curly hair, big hats, long skirts,) and her son asked, “What are they?” to which she replied, “Those are Jews.” “What does that mean?” he asked, “They don’t believe that Jesus is our savior,” to which her son replied innocently, “Should I go tell them?”

There is some truth in this!

WWF Paraguay Saving Water

WWF has been all over the news this week here in Paraguay. We launched a campaign on Tuesday to protect the Guarani Aquifer, which supplies the country with its fresh water. At the risk of oversimplifying, the purpose of the campaign is to educate locals that even though it appears there is an endless supply of water in the country, there isn’t. The contamination of the country’s rivers and lakes, and the continued destruction of the Atlantic Forest is causing worry among environmentalists that the supply will soon run out.

We worked closely with Coca Cola to launch the campaign, (called Opa which means “It’s finished” in Guarani,) which consisted of a TV Spot, Radio Ads (of which I cannot understand a word!) a website, and print pieces. There is still some work to be completed on the site – as there is a lot of content we have not yet put up – but overall the launch was a success. The TV Spot features a little girl who is asking the simple question of why she can’t find water to give her plant. We follow her journey through the degraded forest searching for water and receive a powerful message. You can view the spot below.

The day of the launch itself was pretty exciting. The whole office went to the Hotel Excelsior in downtown Asuncion for the press conference announcing the release. There were tons of reporters, videographers, and聽photographers, (myself included – on behalf of WWF!) I had never been to a large press conference before, so it was great to see how that works in real life. Of course there was also food and some very tasty desserts, which I can’t even describe because I have no idea what they are, something like a bon bon covered in either sprinkles, almonds, or coconut.

Laura and I in our Panda Gear waiting for the press to arrive!

Almost the whole WWF Crew in front of the Campaign Banner

WWF is doing some pretty amazing work down here to raise awareness and spark interest in the environment. The media is also, thankfully, doing their part to spread these messages far and wide!

Recycling in Paraguay

So here in Paraguay they try with recycling…err, somewhat. At the office we have two different trash bins. One is for trash that can be composted, (orange peels, pasta, tea, apple cores, etc) and one is for non-compostable goods, (styrofoam take out dishes, plastic, etc.) We separate this out because we care. Unfortunately, all of the trash leaves the office in the same bag…regardless of the time we take to separate it out. Whether this is a fault of the country and it’s lack of appropriate resources, or this is the lack of knowledge of the women who clean the office who don’t realize the difference, I don’t know. I’m not sure where the ignorance lies, but I do know that I was quite impressed at the Expo to see TIGO, (a huge telephone company here in Paraguay,) had bins in front of their storefront labeled “Plastic” “Glass” “Metals” “Paper” It was the first of its kind that I had seen in Paraguay, so of course I took a photo.

So pretty and color coordinated, but does anyone know what they mean?

Despite these color-coded bins screaming out for recyclable goods, on closer inspection we discovered plastic in the paper bin, and even more disturbing was the woman cleaning the grounds putting whatever trash she found on the grounds within whichever bin was empty. I went over to her and suggested, “This bin is only for Plastic,” to which she looked admonished and a bit confused, as I guess one would if this were either a new concept or if you were unable to read what was written on the bin…still unsure of the culprit here.

I guess it is slow going for a country where so few are conscious of the environmental repercussions of their actions. While walking near the horses at the Expo, I watched a kid throw his bottle on the ground and continue walking. I yelled to him, “Why did you do that? Pick up the bottle and put it in the trash.” He looked at me, probably more surprised than anything, and said, “Oh, okay,” to which he threw the bottle into the trash receptacle a mere 5 feet away from his initial dump. It just displayed a complete lack of caring and awareness of the true problems of dumping garbage wherever you want.

To further intensify this problem, in my first days here I was told about the system of “recycling” in Asunci贸n. There are “Trash People” who are quite literally people who live in the trash. Apparently the dump for the city and surrounding towns lives at the bottom of a hill, along with this group of people. It is their job to separate out the trash and the recycling that enters their dump. Whether they actually do this, or where the recycled goods go, I have no clue, but it is well known that this “system” exists. In the past, the government has tried to implement better systems of recycling where each person can take responsibility for their own garbage and recycling, and the trash people have protested since they would be left without work. I think this is a particularly biased way to look at the situation, as I am sure there are many Asunce帽os (as people from Asunci贸n are called,) who do hope for a better and more conscious future, however the overwhelming evidence lies in the lack of organized recycling to raise social responsibility and raise people’s awareness of caring for their homes, cities, and planet.

I am lucky to work in an office focused on preservation of the plant and her natural resources. For the launch of this water campaign we just had, Laura pointed out that the pamphlets should be printed on recycled paper, since we have no idea if the paper will actually be recycled once it leaves our hands so we can at least ensure that we are not producing additional waste, (unfortunately the agency did not follow through on this request.) Also, Laura has recently been looking into companies that exist in Asunci贸n who would be able to help us eliminate, (or at the very least lessen,) our garbage output. Little steps like these might help spread the word a little further out from WWF on the benefits of “reducing, reusing, and recycling”…one can hope!

Best Empanadas in Asuncion

It must be said that Paraguayans love to eat lots of food inside of food, as I like to describe it. Lomo inside Pan Arabe (Arab style bread) Empanadas are rolled up pieces of dough filled with choclo (corn), carne (meat and usually includes egg and olive), jamon y queso (ham and cheese), 4 queso (self-explanatory amazingness), palmito (hearts of palm and cheese), pollo (chicken), and notably missing is verduras (vegetables)! Then there is the various forms of bread filled with cheese or meat or pork – I don’t even know what the formal name for this would be, but I do know they love it!

It must be said that the great thing about being in an office of people who love to eat as much as I do, (we get along REALLY well during mealtimes!) is that I am learning the best of the best in terms of food in Asuncion. We have the most delicious desserts, whether home made by Laura or Carmen, or from the bakery around the corner – usually little cakes and bite sized sweets filled with dulce de leche or creams of one kind or another. And we have eaten the most amazing empanadas I have ever had. I know I like to put a lot of emphasis on things that I enjoy, but really – I have never had quatro quesos quite like this before. The culprit: Don Vito’s

Thank you for being delicious, Don Vito!

Also, a popular dessert found both here in Paraguay and in Argentina is the Alfajor, (as I mentioned in an earlier post here.) The Alfajor is dulce de leche filled, chocolate covered heaven in every bite. As though there would need to be any improvement on this perfect cookie/dessert, the adventurous, (and in my opinion amazing,) food scientists at Nabisco have come up with the perfect blend of deliciousness and latin flare – I present to you the Alfajor Oreo!!

2 Layers of Cream, 3 Layers of Cookie, Covered in Chocolate.......mmmm

I don’t think there will ever be a day as long as I’m here where I complain of hunger…especially not with such novelties available at any supermarket!

La Gran Expo in Paraguay

What a busy few days it’s been down here in Asuncion! The last two weeks there has been this big what I would call fair, just outside Asuncion –聽La Exposici贸n. Really, the Expo has to do with farming and livestock, but it’s also an opportunity for any business or organization to showcase their work and their cause. It is like a mini-city at the Expo, with hundreds of stores set up for buying Artisan Crafts and Jewelry, recharging your Saldo (phone credits), eating Empanadas and Lomitos (amazing sandwich filled with chicken, beef, lettuce, tomato, egg, sauce of some kind, and I’m sure other things as well. Top that with a layer of mayo and mustard per bite and it’s HEAVEN.) You also have the opportunity to see some of the most well-cared for beautiful livestock. Cows that weigh in at a minimum of 1000 lbs, that are just HUGE. They did, unfortunately, look terribly sad to be tied to a short rope and lined up next to about 5 other cows per row, but supposedly there are rules about how long each cow can be on display (about 5 days) before they have to be retired from show. They also had some award winning show horses that were simply beautiful.

That is one HUGE Paraguayan Cow!!

What else could you find at the Expo this past Friday night? THE OSO PANDA!! A few women from the office, Fatima (biologist) and Sonia (forestry expert), were asked to give a presentation on the work of WWF in the Atlantic Forest. We showed up armed with Panda pins, car decals, t-shirts, and of course the Panda costume!

Amanda Panda with her Panda

Our Panda of honor was Laura – and thank god it was her, because I couldn’t imagine being stuck in a Panda costume with hundreds of kids and adults alike running over full speed for a chance to take a photo with me! People loved the Panda. They didn’t even know what it was for and they loved it. Little kids came running over, arms open, and threw their little bodies into Laura’s legs. There were looks of excitement and joy, and a few of anger or terror, but overall it was joy. Women were quick to pass their babies along to the strange adult dressed up as a bear, who’s head was so big and line of vision was limited. I eventually had to ask mothers not to hand over their babies for their own safety (poor Laura could hardly see the infants being thrust her direction!)

Overall, a great representation of the WWF and conservation! Here is a brief compilation of some of the photos of the Panda’s admirers.

Who doesn't love a Panda with a pansa?

Eating with Your Hands

I’ve come to learn that Americans are very finger-food oriented. Hamburgers, fries, pizza, buffalo wings, mozzarella sticks, sandwiches, etc. (Wow that’s a healthy list of foods!) The day I see one of my friends take out a fork and knife to eat their chicken fingers, I will likely point and laugh. Parguayans, on the other hand, LOVE silverware! It doesn’t matter what the food is, you will likely see them trying to figure out a way to cut the food to avoid having to use their hands.

Take for instance the following “finger” foods, (in my book, of course,) that Paraguayans use silverware to eat;聽pizza,聽empanadas, quesadillas, rolls (yes, I promise you, fork and knife to eat a roll),聽pasta (I kid.) even ice cream when served in a cone also comes on a plate with a spoon! I am not sure if this fastidious way of eating comes from a desire to keep their hands clean, or what, but I do know that I caught myself rolling up a “fajita” the other night at a Mexican restaurant and chowing down, while my two dinner companions had fork and knife in hand. I can just imagine what it would be like to eat a cupcake with a Paraguayan!

And everyday I learn more and more how and why stereotypes of Americans are perpetuated abroad!

Example of Amanda eating Burger with Hands