Earlier this week my parents and I went to the chaco, a place which can vaguely be considered as the countryside of Paraguay. It's about a three-hour drive to my parents' ranch. However, only an hour of this drive is on paved roads. The other two are on this dirt road, swerving through cows and trying to avoid mud puddles that the truck could get stuck in. The other members of my family don't find this very appealing, but I had a smile on my face the whole way. Getting out of the city and into the country is one of my favorite things, and I got to have that rubbed in my face for almost two hours :)

After the potencially dangerous drive through other people's plots of land, we finnally arrived to the Perez-Ramierez ranch. Before we had left, my mom had told me 'don't expect lots' about their house in the Chaco, but once again, my family surprized me. There I was, expecting some random hut in the middle of nowhere, but the random hut was actually a small cottage, bigger than my friend Emerson's entire house. When we got inside the walls were covered in pelts from the carnivors who had unsucessfully tried to hunt their cattle.

The next day I walked outside expecting to explore a little, but what I found was a saddled horse, waiting for me. I then spent the whole day riding and getting my farmer's tan back. I also helped the gauchos (cowboys, in a sense) do a cattle run, and once again I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of cows overtaking me, but it was still fun :). Once we got the cows in, we met my dad and then had to give them a shot (and when I say them, I mean about 500 calves.) I wanted to help so my dad set me up at the beginning of the chute, and had me poke the calves with a stick when then needed to go in. It probably wasn't a real job, but I still had tons of fun doing it.

So basically, I got to do what I do best for two days. I didn't want to leave, but (as I found out when we got back into cell phone reception) my friends didn't want me to go. But do I really ever listen? I don't think so. Once Jorge finishes his exams we'll be back. Yay!

(Me and my hot Belgian friends, Charlotte, Pauline, and Sarah)

So lately nothing very exciting has been going on here in Paraguay...

I've been spending my weekdays in school 'learning' (this translates into me doing absolutely nothing all day...) and my weekends hanging out with my AFS friends. Contrary to many of the opinions of my close friends and family back home, I'm quite shy, and have yet to form strong bonds of friendship with my school friends. Because of this, I've got the choice of hanging out with my AFS buds all the time or spending time with myself, and the former is much more appealing. =)

After school each wednesday my AFS friends and I get together at the local mall called Shopping Mariscal Lopez. These friends are from around the world; Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, Chile, Peru, Turkey and of course, America. Even though this is a weekly tradition for us, I'm still amazed that I can have friends from such far away places. That's the beauty of AFS though, I guess.

However, this may be cool, but I've been told by many to get a move on with making school friends (ie: Jorge, my mom(s), and my school friends, jaja) but I find myself surprizingly shy when it comes to starting up a conversation in a foreign language. My spanish is improving slowly - VERY slowly - so when my school ends later this week I'm going to start spanish classes. This may sound corny, taking a spanish class in a spanish-speaking country, but I don't care. If I cared what most people think of me I wouldn't be where I am today.

Which is just the thing, if I'm not worried about my self-image very much, why am I shy? Do the opinions of these Paraguayans that I probably won't ever see again really matter? They may not, but accepting stupidity and looking stupid is something that I've gotten used to. If I'm so worried about 'looking' like something, how will I learn?
(Oh, and I thought you guys would want a look at the cutest AFS logo ever!!)

Cultural Differences

(From the top right: Emerson, Sam, Zan, and me.)
Having your life turned upside-down is part of the package deal for almost every AFS student. We pay however much money to leave our homeland for a year, and jump head-first into the real world. This is awesome, in my opinion. I get to experience first-hand the amazing culture of Paraguay, and how it differs from my life back home, in the U.S.

Some of the differences between AsunciĆ³n and my hometown, Burlington, are obvious. Burlington is a small town of 10,000 people, while AsunciĆ³n is the capital of Paraguay, houseing over a million. But there are smaller, more defined differences than this.

For example, there's no speed limit here. Drivers are welcome to go any speed they wish, or rather any speed they wish to drive over the frequent speed bumps. These can be quite a surprize when the driver isn't paying much attention. I've cracked my skull on the ceiling of the car many, many times when my host brother is driving.
Another driving difference is the lack of respect for the pedestrians. If you cross the road, it's your job to make it to the other side unscathed. If you're in the way, you'll get hit. It's as simple as that.

A more serious difference is social class. This is especially prominent in my case, since my family seems to have lots of money. However, it is common to see a maid, or a housekeeper working in a middle-class home. In my case, we have a driver, a night-guard, a cook, and several maids at our disposal. My family is very reliant on these people; on sunday, when the help is off, we are basically helpless. Nobody (except for me) knows how to cook, and we always order in, or go out for meals. But the social class goes beyond unskilled upper classmen. If they are cleaning, or cooking, or whatever their job is, the help is expected to not mingle with their employers, and to leave them alone. This has been the hardest on me - for most of the time that I've been here, when I'm bored, I've gone down to the kitchens to hang out with Lucy, our cook. She's a very nice lady, and I enjoy spending time with her. Only recently did I discover that I shouldn't be spending time with her, as it is not my place to do so. It may sound rude, but it's just different, not bad, or anything.
It took me a bitto realize that this is just how things go in Paraguay. Sweet, right?