Tag Archives: Home Away from Home

Coming Home, or Something Like It

After returning from Paraguay last December, spending a couple of months in NY and then moving to Germany in March – I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to “come home again”. You know the feeling you get; goosebumps thinking about seeing your family and friends, the town you grew up in, your family pets. You anticipate what it will be like to be in the same place as the people you love, to eat mom’s homemade spaghetti and meatballs (or noodle pudding!)

Unfortunately, I still had one month to go before I could really go home again, to NY that is, but I was lucky enough to travel down to Paraguay for work in October, 2011 – for the first time in┬áten months. So in a way, it felt like going home again.

I remember leaving the country last December and being unsure if I wanted to go back. I knew I was leaving behind great people and lasting friendships, but the hardship of my daily life living in a home I didn’t feel welcome, in the poverty of the downtown made it difficult to get by each day. I remember suffering immensely at the homeless animals all over the streets and the indigenous children walking barefoot along Asuncion’s main Avenues, doing tricks or begging for change.

I can say happily that on this return trip I had none of the same emotions as last year. The overt poverty was still there, but I was staying with a great friend, in a town bordering Asuncion, in a lovely home where home cooked meals were prepared daily, if not twice daily – so I wasn’t as exposed as I had been previously. My great friends would drive out to pick me up and take me anywhere I wanted to go, and I was spared the agony of the Paraguayan public transport system (i.e. buses from 1965). I didn’t even feel like the animals were in as bad a condition as I had remembered. I went to work each day with a plan and a goal, and felt confident in my Spanish in a way I never had before.

Mi Beautiful Paraguayan Amigas

That’s not to say I was ignorant to the hardships of life in Asuncion, but I didn’t feel like I was suffering along with them, as I once had. Not that I was ever on the streets begging for food or pennies, but I tend to feel the pain and hurt of others in an overpowering way that sometimes I can’t turn away from. So when I am exposed to an environment where that is the norm, I find it difficult to function. This trip back to Paraguay made it feel like a nice place I’d happily come visit again, rather than being clouded by the dark memories I created there, (alongside some very nice ones.)

Needles to say, it wasn’t exactly “home”, but it definitely felt like a comfortable friend’s home where I was welcomed back with open arms, which was a welcome respite from learning the ropes in my new city.


A Turkey to Remember

This Thanksgiving left me feeling full, satisfied, and loved. I have to say it was one of my most memorable and certainly one of my favorites of the last few years. Celebrating Thanksgiving in a foreign country gives you a sense of pride and patriotism that you don’t necessarily feel otherwise. Other people are listening to you to understand better what is this tradition from your homeland and, of course, who around the world isn’t willing to give thanks for the blessings they’ve been given in their lives?

I started the festivities out with my friends, for whom I am grateful! We went to the apartment of the sister of one girl, and prepared our Thanksgiving feast of 5 or 6 different dips, chips, crackers, and bread. I prepared guacamole, which kicked ass, btw, and we opened up a few bottles of Sidra and had Caipirinhas.

Thanksgiving with Friends

We each went around the table and said what we were grateful for, an emotional time for all (much more feeling and sensitive than the “I am thankful for’s back home”. I was thankful for having met so many amazing people in Paraguay and to my group of friends who welcomed me with open arms and took me under their wing, for without them this would have been a very different and dull experience.

I am lucky to have these girls in my life!

We drank into the wee hours of the morning, or around 1 am, and headed back home with the dust of our happy evening settling behind us.

The next day, THE THANKSGIVING DAY, I woke up early and refreshed to begin my tasks in the kitchen, which included making Grandma and Mom’s famous Noodle Pudding, Amandized Stuffing, and a very cheesy Green Bean Casserole. My friend Menchi came by to help me in the kitchen and we headed out to Lucy’s for a day of stuffing our faces and swimming in the pool.

The whole crew was there, all grateful for an unexpected half day out of the office, and ready to eat the deliciously carved turkey Lucy’s husband prepared, and the 10 side dishes that went along with it, (I might have had a typical Amanda moment in which I was terribly fearful that there would be a lack of sufficient food for everyone!) But I was wrong, of course. There were the three dishes I prepared, a huge salad, a potato salad, sweet corn, guacamole and bean dip, the giant turkey and gravy.

Lucycita y Yo in front of our Thanksgiving feast!

Not to mention the Peach Sidra, Passion Fruit Mousse, and 3 fresh baked pies!

This goes beyond mouth watering.

Needless to say there was PLENTY of food to go around and everyone raved about the dishes they had never tried before, including the turkey (which was imported from Brazil and cost $100 USD for 22 pounds…in other words, ridiculously expensive!) I proudly reported to the table that it was also my first time eating turkey – long story, but I haven’t since at least as long as I’ve been able to verbally protest! I had to get in the holiday groove, which I certainly did!

I gave my usual What is Thanksgiving shpeal – something about the first settlers in the U.S. being treated like king by the indians and saved from starvation and unnecessary hardship and HUGE FEAST to celebrate what we were thankful for. Come to think of it someone at the table asked WHY we celebrate with turkey, to which someone else replied because it was so big there was enough to go around, and I completely missed the opportunity to interject that in fact it was what they ate at the FIRST Thanksgiving which makes it so symbolic. There may have to be another Thanksgiving in Paraguay after all to right the wrong!

We then all went around the table saying what we were thankful for, with me taking the lead (to show them how it’s done, of course.) I told everyone how grateful I was to be in Paraguay, to have met such an amazing and inspiring group of people, and how lucky I was to have been given this opportunity to not only learn conservation, but to live in another country and to truly love the work I do. I thanked them for giving me that experience and said there really were no words to express how amazing it’s all been for me. I then promptly stopped as I realized I was getting quite emotional and choked up, (the first hint of going-away sadnesss?!) The emotion poured over as the next and next and next person also agreed how grateful they were to be part of the WWF family and how amazing a place we are so lucky to work in.

My Paraguayan Family - WWF

The day was a complete and total success. Everyone had a chance to relax, take some time away from the office and spend it in good company. Then the few of us who brought our suits hopped in the pool to cool down, while the others continued with their glasses of Sidra. I have had many moments of happiness here, but this has to have been one of the best. I feel like part of the team here and have become so ingrained in the structure of WWF Paraguay and the way of life here, that it will certainly be difficult to leave.

People ask me everyday, “Will you come back,” and I say with the utmost sincerity, “I definitely will.” There is not a doubt in my mind that I have found a home in Paraguay to which I can always return.