Sunday, August 16, 2009

Back to Bolivia and Life in the Campo

Almost a year after our sudden evacuation from Bolivia, I returned to visit my highland home in July with Dan, a fellow Paraguayan PCV. Beginning with a 23-hour bus ride from Asuncion to Santa Cruz (we whiled away the hours reading, sleeping and watching a showing of "The Jackal" in Spanish), we spent three weeks making our way northwest by bus. We spent a few days in my ex-site Sopachuy, of course, and I explained to many of my old pals what I couldn't in the two hours I had on September 11, 2008 to pack my things and bounce: That Peace Corps had been evacuated from Bolivia, I had been living for the past 10 months in Paraguay, and yes, it is very hot there. We were furnished beds and blankets at the Cooperativa San Jose Obrero, ate meals with my friend Valentina and made a bonfire with my old buddies Jorge and Marcelino. I had been nervous about visiting Sopachuy again, because of the sudden way things went down last year, but I found my pueblo and its people as inviting and generous as ever. The beekeeping group, unfortunately, is in rather dire straits because of the departure of its leadership, myself and the Association's president and best beekeeper, Don Valerio, who left to work in Argentina. The group, whose development spanned the service of 3 volunteers over almost 4 years, was relatively strong during my time there, and the goal during my two years had been to leave the group in a state of self-sufficiency (not in need of a PCV's services for training, organization and marketing). In 4 1/2 months, I did not get this done. But the hives are still there in the apiary, the bees are working as diligently as ever, and despite the group's setbacks I still feel that more good than harm was done by Peace Corps in Sopachuy. So that's enough, I guess. I left Sopachuy promising I'd be back again after I finish my service next April. (! Can you believe that?)

It was all tourism from there: We visited the gorgeous Salaar Uyuni, a 12,000 square kilometer salt flat, a seemingly endless white desert, so bright that you must wear sunglasses during the day so as not to scorch your eyes. Then we bussed up to La Paz, hiked through the Takesi Trail (part of the pre-Colombian Inca Trail which curves fearlessly through the Andes), and visited the famous Lake Titicaca. By the end of the three weeks we had spanned the diagonal length of Bolivia, which is the size of Texas and California combined. We left tired, content and with our spirits filled by that beautiful place. (Dan also left with giardia, in retrospect we probably ought not to have drunk that river water when we were camping, but no pain, no gain...)

Now it's back to Paraguay, and back to work. The youth group I'm working with will hopefully soon receive classes in carpentry and ironworking from the Nacional Professional Promotion Service; our modest beekeeping association continues to press ahead; and with my host brother Fernando and an agricultural engineer from the Ministry we are currently planning a series of workshops on sustainable agriculture: In Paraguay that means not burning your fields, when possible not using chemicals, applying natural pesticides, diversification, contour planting, and green manures. When my folks visited in June they helped Don Valerio and me to plant about 1/4 hectare of black oats (for coverage) and lupino (for nitrogen), and when the weather heats up we'll plant another green manure called mucuna. The basic idea: you plant beneficial crops (legumes which add nitrogen to the soil, fast-growing grasses for soil coverage to prevent erosion and maintain moisture and add organic matter) to naturally and permanently improve the quality of your soil, rather than the common practice of heavy tillage, burning, monoculture and purchasing lots of expensive chemicals which must be applied year after year. We are planning the workshops for the end of October, and my personal goal is an audience of 15-20 farmers and as much local leadership as possible. Since I am neither an agricultural engineer nor Paraguayan, my words will have less impact than a local farmer's: I just want to set up the workshops and when the time comes, step aside and let the Paraguayans take over. I'll let you know how it works!

And the pictures?????

Soon, I promise, I brought my camera with me to town but stupidly left the USB card reader in site.

Enjoy the last heat of August and best of luck to all in the back-to-school craziness. And GO ROCKS!

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