Halfway There…

Banado Sur, Asuncion, Paraguay

It occurred to me about a week ago that I passed the halfway point in this summer’s adventure. At this point, I am six and half weeks out with four and a half weeks to go. I could probably give it to you in days and hours if you pressed me. Thus, it seems to be as good a time as any to take shock of what I’ve accomplished so far.

In terms of researching a potential intervention, the team has made a lot of headway. I have interviewed 27 teenaged boys. Cat has interviewed 15 teenaged girls, and Alexis has met with five or six mothers out of the women’s cooperative that runs the library. Between those and meeting with clergy and other key stakeholders both within the Banado and in the health/development infrastructure outside the Banado, we have conducted close to 60 interviews – not bad, given that we’ve been doing them for less than a month. It’s not even just that we have done a lot of interviews. Some of them are actually informing what the intervention could look like. For reasons of confidentiality/not wanting to jump the gun before we more thoroughly analyze the transcripts, I can’t give a whole lot of detail now, but the interviews are painting a picture of what this community needs and possible sites that could facilitate an intervention. All in all, the project itself is moving and relatively on track, for once.

One of the things that I always find remarkable about this kind of investigation is what people will tell you if you just give them a space to talk. We have seen laughter and crying, faith stories, and deeply personal experiences. One of our interviews ended with a closing prayer. In another, we had to stop halfway through so that someone could take publicity photos. In yet another, a youth walk out halfway through the introduction. You just never know what you are going to get, yet for some reason, the community and key stakeholders seem willing to talk to us. So, who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?

Despite the progress, life for me this summer is a story of hard swings. It is not exactly a straight up Tale of Two Cities “best of times, worst of times,” but there are definitely some striking contrasts. Some mornings, I wake up. It’s relatively warm outside. The hot water is working, and I enjoy my calm breakfast of whole milk coffee. Other mornings, I wake up in my bunk wondering why I feel claustrophobic only to realize that the duct tape securing my mosquito net to the ceiling has failed, and I am essentially a giant mosquito target wrapped nicely in a net.  I really hope that Dengue season as officially passed. Sometimes, I have interviews where a Pastor, Priest, or (even more remarkably) a teenage boy will talk for close to an hour. Other times, I’m end up interviewing someone slightly below my ideal age range, and the interview itself lasts eleven minutes. On the language front, there are times where I have huge successes like conducting my own interview in Spanish only having to get bailed out by one of our local assistants at the very end. Yet, every time I can’t understand a basic idea that someone is trying to express to me, I am reminded how far I have still to go.

Speaking of contrasts, the other thing that is stark is the division between rich and poor. This gets expressed, to a certain extent, by the difference between the top of the hill and the bottom of the hill. As I’ve probably said before, the Banado, where I live and where we are trying to get an intervention going, is at the base of the hill in the flood plain of the river. At the top of the hill, everything looks basically like the rest of Asuncion. There are a couple nicer neighborhoods close by, a Catholic university, and even a picture perfect German bar/restaurant/inn about a five minute bus ride away. In the Banado, we are pushing our luck if we stay out past 6:00pm. At the top of the hill, the gym and the grocery store are both open until at least 9pm and crowded at all hours. In the family that I stay with, I’ve hardly ever seen the youngest child leave the house in the evenings, but only a mile and a half away is a roller rink where I saw a birthday party starting at 7:00pm. We, as Americans choosing to live in the Banado, have the privilege to take a slight risk and go out to dinner or do our shopping up at the top of the hill. We have the resources, but even for the families that we live with, that is not always an option for them.

If you are looking for something slightly more light-hearted than the general top of the post, check out the link to my Flikr site on the side bar of the page. I have posted a whole bunch of photos from my weekend getaway to Argentina to see the Igauzu Waterfall. Thanks as ever of your thoughts, prayers, and comments.