Monthly Archives: August 2010

Running in Paraguay, or Asunción Running Experiment, Continued

Yesterday I completed a full 2.98 miles (I think that counts as 3!) in my Asunción Running Experiment, as it will be called from now on. I was pretty impressed with myself, as I only needed a three-minute break in the middle of the run, to catch my breath and restore my energy for the trip back.

Thanks to I can see exactly how far I went (and back!)

Now just to be sure we aren’t over-congratulating ourselves here, I think what I am doing more closely resembles a “light jog”. However, it’s more light jogging than I’ve ever done in my life – so therefore we will continue with the “running” theme!

I was also particularly happy with yesterday’s run as the temperature has suddenly spiked in Asunción, (about the same time as the hazy, gray, smog settled in.) I attempted a run on Saturday, and fought panting and wheezing to hit 25 minutes before I physically could not battle the 95 degree heat and my soon-to-be spasmodic legs.

With plenty of water and many a banana, we shall continue this experiment to see how far I get before the heat takes me down.

Upwards and onwards.


What it’s like to be 87 in Paraguay

I live with a family here in Asunción. That family consists of Fatima, the most well-known biologist in Paraguay (and likely South America,) who is a resident of WWF, and her 87-year old mother.

Fatima pretty much works all the time and is rarely around the home, but for Sunday Family Lunch, and occasionally for a short period of time in the evenings. This means that her mother, let’s call her Abuela to make things easier, is home alone most of the time. Oh wait, except that I am home with her.

Image thanks to Creations by Artisans with Disabilities at Craftworks

Hello, Abuela!

Abuela started to leave her impressions on me from early on. She is 87. She loves to travel and most recently returned home from a trip to Israel. She has a very active social calendar, meeting friends at Confiterias (bakeries), going to church, and sitting outside on the front sidewalk with all her friends in the neighborhood, (usually about 4-5 other women from the olden days.) She exercises multiple times a week, taking half hour walks around the neighborhood, usually with her friends and neighbors. And every Saturday morning she cooks a huge meal for her family, myself included.

This is not a woman who is “old” or frail in any way. She still has the same zip I would imagine she had 10 years ago. Only maybe a little more set in her ways than she might have previously been.

Living with Abuela has been a true learning experience, partially in learning how to cook with a gas oven and stove, but primarily in patience. I am beginning to understand what it means to live with other people, as for three years I had my very own studio apartment in NYC. And I am learning what it means to hold back annoyance and frustration.

Abuela does not like when someone cooks “too much” as it wastes gas, which was recently in short supply in Paraguay, (you can read about that here), uses two different lights within the kitchen at the same time, doesn’t unplug the washing machine after using it, accidentally leaves their air conditioning unit on when out at a play, and lastly, when she doesn’t trust that you will know how to properly lock up the house when going out for a while.

Yes, living in this house has taught me many things. I am grateful to have my own casita (little house), but I must admit that entering the Abuela zone at mealtimes is an experience all it’s own, where I will likely hear about the wrong-doings of the day over a cup of yogurt, or a hot stove.

Water at Your Door…

Today I went with Lucy, the boss of all bosses for WWF Paraguay, (she’s amazing!) to this Coca-Cola event we were invited to in Arroyos y Esteros (Streams and Estuaries). It’s a little country town about 2 hours outside of Asuncion. I had actually just been about a week and a half ago for a weekend trip with some of my new friends and was eaten alive by little Polvorinos – which are insects that bite a little piece of your skin off and inject little bits of poison into the cut which leaves a pointy bump in it’s place, unless you do what I did and squeeze the poison out before it has a chance to settle…in which case you just have scars and itchy legs for a week or so. I digress…

Anyway, I packed up my camera bag: money – check, phone – check, small portable canon camera – not this time. Lucy picked me up at about 7:15 this morning and we met up with a big group of Coca-Cola peeps, other NGO leaders and representatives, and a large number of press in the parking lot of Shopping del Sol to get on the bus that will drive us all to the town. After the 2 hour drive, the latter half hour consisting of uneven, bumpy dirt roads, we pulled into the “parking lot” of a little school in the town for the initial press briefing about the project and a quick viewing of a documentary (that left me wanting to see so much more!)

The project, we learned, was to build a well large enough to supply the town’s 97 families with clean water directly to. their. homes. I can’t tell you how huge it was for them! The adults in each family had to haul water from a stream that was a very long distance from their homes, and there was always a struggle to maintain enough clean water for drinking and bathing and any number of other regular uses of water. It was quite amazing to be there for the grand opening of their new well and to see the tears in the eyes of the mothers who were so grateful to have water near their homes.

I have to say for all that Coca-Cola is, and all that I may think of it on a personal level, at least in Paraguay they have truly been putting in every effort to help the social situations and environmental problems that people in this country face. They have so much money and it’s great to see them actually putting it to good use and truly affecting lives of people who need it.

I also think I should mention here that I had my first fumble as a ‘professional’ photographer today. When we arrived at the school I asked Lucy and a few members of Coca-Cola to pose for a photo, and tried to snap the shot, only to realize my battery was dead. And, if you can remember from earlier in my post, I had decided – inexplicably – to leave my little Canon home since I didn’t think I’d be using it. I can’t believe that probably for the first time in 5 years I decided to leave my little camera behind also happened to be the FIRST day I have ever had a dead battery in my beautiful Canon Rebel. Lessons learned – charge battery, carry charger, ALWAYS bring back up camera! For this, I am sorry you have no photos of today’s event – but I’ll see what goods my iPhone delivered 🙂

What does a Paraguayan Look Like?

So the funny thing about Paraguay, is there is no real typical “Paraguayan look”. People here are literally from a complete mix of descendants, primarily Guarani, Spanish, German and some Japanese thrown in for good measure. For those of you who don’t know, Paraguay was a hotspot for German Nazi’s fleeing from Germany both during and before WWII. When I say fleeing, that is exactly what I mean, and not escaping. While some may have come here for asylum, (like Josef Mengele – the infamously psychotic Nazi doctor,) others arrived to begin their “ethnically pure” colonies. But as we have forgiven the Germans, we can move forward in history and assume that people do not always believe as their ancestors did.

At any rate, throughout many epochs in Paraguayan history, the intermingling of races and ethnicities was mandated by law, thus eliminating any pure bloodlines or direct traces to Spanish descendants and giving the Paraguayan a mixed and meddled look. Even when in the campo I was surprised to see little blonde hair blue eyed or red-headed children mixed among the more “native” looking children at the same impoverished schools, leading the same ‘down-on-their-luck’ lives.

What does this mean for the overall Paraguayan, in terms of attractiveness? The women here are definitely mixed, though some most certainly are beautiful. I wouldn’t say there are as many knock outs as in, say, Argentina, but beauty among the ladies does exist. Another rare trait of a Paraguayan woman, strangely, is the complete and total lack of breasts. I mean literally, it has been commented to me, and is noticeable without comment, that women here are flat-chested – regardless of age, weight, size, heritage. What makes that so funny is that you know every woman you see in this country who has big boobs, (of which there are quite a few,) had them surgically placed there!

Now for the men. I cannot be as forgiving with them, apologies in advance. I have yet to see a really attractive Paraguayan man. Someone to make you turn your head and watch them walk past. I don’t know if this is from blood mixing, or years of drinking terere, or what, but Paraguayan men are nothing worth looking at! I am still waiting for that moment in the street when I can say, (and I certainly will for having not seen it in so long,) “WOW – he’s hot!” I might just have to wait for my trip to well-known neighboring countries where the men are certainly prized possessions, Brazil and Argentina – or of course for when my boyfriend arrives – to use this exclamation!

A Night at the Teatro

Last night I accompanied my friend Laura and her boyfriend to the Municipal Theater to see the internationally known play, “Closer”.  Some of you might remember the movie from 2004 starring Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Jude Law, and Clive Owen, which is a twisted love story about two couples who’s lives become inseparably intertwined and the hurtful things love makes people do. While many friends really disliked the movie, for one reason or another I loved it. The music, the casting, the story, the betrayals – Hollywood at its finest!

Very Tiny Movie Poster

I was excited to see the play here in Asuncion. Nicolas García, who played the character “Larry” was simply phenomenal in the role. Every scene he played he was undeniably Larry, who is a sex-crazed, egotistical doctor who may or may not have been a drunk. Perfect casting for that role. The role of Dan was also very well cast with an incredibly good looking Hernan Melgarejo. While his acting was not quite on par with Larry, he was still enjoyable to watch. As for the women, I really liked the woman who played Anna, Belén Fúster, however she was a little bit more stiff in her role than necessary. And lastly the part of Alice, played by Gabriela Cubilla, was very well acted – but unfortunately I did not enjoy watching her act! I think in comparison to the Natalie Portman role from the movie, Gaby just couldn’t compare, (really, who can?)

The play was overall very well done on the stage of the Teatro Municipal. I was surprised as how easily they were able to tell this twisted love story with so few props and settings, but I guess that’s good play writing for you! I do, however, feel like some key emotional or tragic elements were missing. I couldn’t relate to the overwhelming sadness of Alice or Dan, in their various moments, but I might be able to blame some of that on the language barrier. Also, I have to say, the play, (at least in writing,) was exactly equal to the movie. I don’t know if that credits the movie or the original playwright, Patrick Marber (pretty sure the play or book came first) but there was certainly no variation in this tale, and very little Paraguayization.

Overall an enjoyable experience and I will definitely try to go to the theater more before my time is up here!

Thank you Google Images for this great shot of the Teatro Municipal

Amanda’s Banana Apple Zucchini Carrot Bread Extravaganza!

I had the sudden urge to bake today. Not sure why, especially since I have been complaining to my office mates that we’ve been eating too much postre (dessert) lately. I think we have dessert after lunch about 2 or 3 times a week! And we already had cookies on Monday, (my treat) Strawberry Mousse on Wednesday, and then Ice Cream today! I’m not complaining, because I LOVE sweets…but I fear my waistline would have to disagree!

Hungry Hungry Hippo, anyone?

Anyway, I was debating between the awesome chocolate brownies I made for my American Dinner, compliments of my sister and the baking blogs she follows, (remember?) and perhaps experimenting with chocolate chip cookies, when I remembered the 2 bananas I had leftover that I knew I wouldn’t eat since they were already too ripe for my liking, BANANA BREAD!

So I looked up some recipes, realized I probably didn’t have enough bananas, even though Sadie (Fatima’s mom) was nice enough to give me one of her bananas…and so I rummaged through the fridge for some extras. Thus, I invented Banana, Carrot, Zucchini, Apple Bread! Here’s how it’s done:

  • 2 cups flour (.5 litre)
  • 8 Tablespoons Butter (or in my case, however much butter I had in the kitchen – can also be substituted for Apple Sauce)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (or approximately .25 litre)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Medium Bananas (not those 10 inchers they sell in the U.S.!)
  • 2 Medium Carrots
  • 1 Medium/Large Zucchini
  • 1/2 Apple
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Preheat over to 350 degrees, or in my case preheat on high for a few minutes (gas oven) until warm and then once you begin baking lower temperature to medium-low flame.

In large bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl mix together melted butter and vanilla, then blend in sugar. Stir in the eggs and the Banana, Apple, Zucchini, Carrot Puree until well blended. Then stir the Fruit/Veg mixture in with the flour and stir until moist. Pour batter into prepared bread or cake dish.

Bake in pre-heated oven about 55-65 minutes, until a toothpick or fork come out clean! Let cool. ENJOY!

More like a Fruit and Veg Cake than "Bread"

A Trip to the Peluqueria

I’ve been to hairdressers all over the world, and only on rare occasions am I impressed with their skill, or thrilled with the results. I remember distinctly living in Spain and my host mom was a hairdresser. She offered to cut my hair for me, in the house! How could I refuse?  After a half hour of sitting in front of a mirror with a look of horror across my face, I had more layers than I’d ever thought possible on one head of a hair, and had to try my hardest to keep the wet, hot tears from streaming down my face in her presence. It was at this pinnacle point in my hair’s life that I decided I would grow my hair…until forever.

pretty accurate

Then there were the hairdressers in NYC. I experimented a bit around the city – paying both $40 for a cut and on one desperate occasion over $100. It didn’t seem to matter…no one had the skills I wanted, and everyone seemed to take my hair into their own hands, literally, choosing to ignore the things I wanted to be done to it.

And here begins my story. My last haircut was in May for my friend’s wedding and I was given increasing amounts of layers, which is pretty much awful for my curly wavy hair in the intense summer humidity. Needless to say, I was in no rush to relive the experience since arriving in Asunción. But every dog has its day and I accompanied a friend to one of the fancy salons on Mariscal Lopez, ROMMY. I have passed by this place numerous times and it is definitely a fancy, chic, up-scale salon, so I was excited that this was the place my friend was taking me.

We arrived and told her hairdresser that we were there for a cut. It was then that the disparities between what I’m used to and the Paraguayan way started to come out. First of all, there are no appointments, it seems. Anyone can walk into a salon at whatever point of time and expect to receive attention. I suppose if they are busy you will have to wait a little while, but this doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Then they ask you if you want your hair washed before the cut. I’ve never had it done any other way, and quite frankly can’t imagine receiving a good cut with dry hair, so I opted in.  The washing was…well…strange. The guy who was washing my hair started in with the shampoo and gave me a full head massage. Ordinarily I’d be thrilled with a head massage, except for the shampoo part of it. He ran his hands down my neck and on my forehead…which left me feeling more soapy and uncomfortable that relaxed.

After the washing, I was brought over to the hairdresser and asked to wait, as she was cutting my friend’s hair at the moment. When it was my turn I explained that I only wanted to cut off the dead ends, nothing more.  As explained earlier, I don’t like having my hair cut from un-trusted sources, (hence, why I take friend’s opinions very highly.) I sat and watched her comb through my hair, lift up a large piece and…CHOP! I could feel my gag reflex kicking into action as I said, “THAT LOOKS LIKE TOO MUCH HAIR!” I was reassured that it wasn’t (even though I had just witnessed about 3 inches falling to the ground,) and that I should relax and it would be fine. She continued to cut deep layers into my long locks and I continued to hold back the emotions that were swelling in my chest, protesting with whimpers, sighs and the occasional, “I still think you are cutting too much.”

accurate depiction.

What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t get up and leave – my hair was half cut. I couldn’t ask her to please reattach the hairs she had already chopped. She clearly had a “vision” of what she thought was best for MY hair, and was determined to make me see it. This has to be one of my biggest pet peeves – hairdressers that think they know more about your hair than you do, in my case, after 25 of living with it. Especially when you explain what you want and they still choose to take their own route!

Anyway, I asked for a blow out, a “brushing”, as they call it here and left with big bouncy curls and a mildly startled outlook on life. I have yet to see the repercussions of my newly layered hair, but I can assure you that you will know the results soon enough…once the humidity and 100 degree heat hits Asunción. It’s only a matter of time.

Curly Tame Locks... For Now!