Cast your vote!

14 Jul

The Espacio Cultural La Estación is having a photo contest to celebrate our upcoming Open Station event– which will be the third and last event managed by the current team of Cultural Conductors.

We’re doing the prep work to pass the baton off to another group of youth who will continue the work at the train station.  I’m also doing the prep work to leave Paraguay at the end of the month!  This has me both excited to see my family, friends and catch the end of United States Summer, and simultaneously panicked and sad about leaving Paraguay.  So much to do, so little time!  We’ll see if it all gets done, but either way I’ll be on a bus to Brazil at the end of the month to travel and see friends, a plane to Panama to meet up with my brother, and finally a plane to Chicago near the end of August.

The first round of voting on the contest we’re doing on Facebook by “likes.” Take a second to flip through the photos to see what Paraguay looks like and to help boost the self-esteem of participants! :) Additionally, we’re not regulating one vote per category, so you can go liking crazy.  Go ahead and like every single one in the album. :)

Best photo of the train station in Paraguari category:

Best general photo of Paraguari (the entire state, not just my city):

Hope you enjoy them and I hope you vote!

Hasta pronto!


Community Effort

21 Jun

The Conductores Culturales held their second Estación Abierta (Open Station) at the train station in Paraguari on Saturday, June 8th.  It was a great success, drawing over 150 visitors and lots of national press!


A musical group from Asuncion, 28 Dias!, found out what the youth were doing and contacted us to play a show and to pay for all of the sound equipment for the event!  My amazing designer friend Amy helped a ton with the promotion, designing great flyers that found their way to a reporter in Asuncion from the national newspaper La Nación.  La Nación sent a journalist and photographer to cover the story of the first live chess game ever played in Paraguay!

ajedrez vivo

As one would expect, the showdown was between a nine year old and a mime.  Nine year old triumphant.


Big thanks are in order for Stephanie for facilitating the whole chess game, but most importantly for teaching Juan (the nine year old) how to play chess; Vicky for all of her help painting and prepping; and all of the other volunteers and staff who came out to support the event that day!


Lots of continued gratitude to all of the people who supported 30 Days of Trains! and donated to the Peace Corps Partnership Grant.  Your dollars have helped fund the training and stipends of the youth leaders, allowing them to put on community events and complete projects like designing and creating all of the live chess pieces (Designed by Conductor Cultural Nestor Melgarejo).  They’ve also funded the purchase of chairs, a bathroom door, paint and bookshelves!

At a meeting the other day my youth were lamenting the fact that people all over the world and in other parts of the country, especially Asuncion, have gotten really excited about their project, but they feel like they’re not getting as much support from their own communities, neighbors and families.

While what they are doing is new, and therefore not entirely understood or accepted by Paraguari, I assured them that they were laying a foundation for the future and slowly, but surely more people would start supporting and showing up to their events.

I knocked on wood when they weren’t looking.

But, when I reflect on what they’ve already accomplished since they finished their training on March 24, 2013, it’s incredible!  Soon we’re going to be looking for local funding for another edition of the project, so we made an infographic to illustrate lots of our successes so far (with the help of the new Peace Corps trainee Miriam, thank you!)


Lovely accomplishments infographic designed by my friend Amy.

Lovely accomplishments infographic designed by my friend Amy.



Achievements of the Cultural Conductors since March 2013-
8 young people received 25 hours of training, 3 community fairs called Open Stations bringing more than 400 visitors and collaboration with 12 community groups, the donation of more than 150 books (and other things) from Darien Book Aid, Paraguay Reads and a high school in Deleware. Stories published in 3 national Paraguayan newspapers about the project. The first game of live chess in Paraguay played. The creation of a Facebook page that now has 344 followers, reaching 4936 with our single most popular post and 7982 unique page visits during the month of June. One youth theater club.  The creation of the historic tour of the train station and collaboration with 4 Peace Corps volunteers.

For a rookie’s attempt it’s not half bad.  I hope that they continue to find support for the project from their community long after I’m gone.

For more pictures from the second Estación Abierta:

Read about us in the news:


So I guess this is See ya later

29 May

Have you heard the news?  My sister is going to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon.  She leaves tomorrow!



You’re about to embark on, without a doubt, one of the hardest journeys of your life.

It won’t be hard in the ways you expect, or even the ways that I could hypothesize it will be hard for you.  I do imagine all of the things I give you a hard time about (your punctuality, organization, spreadsheets, etc.–> aka employable skills in the U.S.) will be difficult for you to hold to lower standards or temporarily let go of, but it won’t be the hardest thing.  Taking bucket baths while small children creep around to look at your blindingly pale body won’t be fun, but that won’t be the hardest thing, either.  Repeating a word 14 times in a row to someone who still registers not a single ounce of understanding, or sitting for hours in silence with people, or alone, or getting a flat tire in literally the middle of nowhere on a 108 degree day will not be fun, but it won’t be the hardest thing, either.

I wish I could tell you how it will be hard, give you a pep talk of exactly what to expect and what to do when you’re feeling a certain way or facing a certain obstacle.  Unfortunately, all I can tell you with certainty is that it will be worth it.  And also to pay close attention to the “Roller Coaster of Emotions” session that Peace Corps will give you :)

In the moments that you can no longer remember why you went through the 92 step application process, remember that you are shaking the dust— actively choosing to look at things (our country, the world, yourself) from a different angle, as uncomfortable as that often is.

And for the times when inspirational quotes will not work, some practical advice:

1. Find Hobbies (I expect you to be a pro at harmonica by the time you are back)
2. Set goals for yourself that do not depend on anyone else to be completed
3. Smile at everyone you can
4. Enjoy the beauty of being outside and being able to eat things right off of the tree
5. Soak in the freedom of not being constantly connected to technology and other material things
6. Work on yourself and chart the journey– journals, conversations, etc.
7. Carry a small notebook around to jot down new vocabulary words in the moment and review them every night before you go to bed

Care, I am so proud of you!

I’m so happy for you and your adventure and I’ll be even happier when you come back and move in with me.  Until then, Monkey Monkey Fish Bicycle. :)

Overheard during a Peace Corps service

8 May

I’ve spent the last few days digging through all of my things to figure out which ones need to come home with me.  I’m heading home for a short bit now and I’m attempting to bring all of the important things in order to lighten my load in August.

I like to jot down quotes that I think are interesting or funny and the following ones I found scribbled into open spaces of the agenda I used last year during PC:

“When the capitalism of you all comes crashing down it will all come back to this [motions to field of cows].  We’ll remember that work needs to be done with our hands and our heart.” -Argentine film maker

“Do you guys struggle with this?  I can’t get them to call me when the cows are giving birth…I even give my host brother money for his phone every week and he still doesn’t call.” -Herre

“It’s very easy to write articles and to critique, but I want to see you in the dance.” -Minister of Education

“Victimization gives us the power to have no power.” -Teleton speaker

“If we do not find ourselves to be part of the problem it would be impossible for us to find ourselves as part of the solution.” -Sebastian Acha, politician

“So, that’s the question. Do we walk off the edge of the cliff just to know how it feels to hit rock bottom?  …Yeah…yeah, I think we do, it builds character.” -Groupmate

“Never going to give it up,
Nor will I stop fighting,
We are going to change– the world!

Paraguay is my passion,
and for that reason,
We are going to build hope.” -Some song lyrics I re-wrote to Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up for a national youth leadership camp…I swear it rhymes in Spanish.

Start where you are,
Do what you can,
With what you have.
-Quote that was translated for leadership camp

Open Station

26 Apr

The Cultural Conductors are chugging right along and they held their first major event on my birthday: Estación Abierta.


Thanks to all of the people who donated to my Peace Corps partnership grant, my fellow Peace Corps volunteers who came to help out, community groups who collaborated, and the hardwork of the Conductors, the event was a major success.


We had 150 people move through the train station during the event with 106 people present at one time during our peak hour.  We had musical acts, mimes, a live Zumba demonstration, my Vamos Chicas Vamos girls presented their Rainbow Fish play, rock painting, handicrafts for sale, a bounce house, photo displays, a frisbee workshop and more!



People who missed our first edition are already pleading that we do it again.  So we said, okay, we’ll do it again on June 8th.



Check out the rest of our photos and give the Espacio Cultural La Estacion’s Facebook page a “Like” here:

Seeds to Trees

19 Apr

Sometimes, you wake up in the morning and you’re pretty sure that the whole world’s going to hell in a handbasket.

I’m sorry, did I say you?  I meant me.

For me it comes after news like Boston– instances of violence that play tiny parts in a larger culture of violence that go largely unchecked, if not perpetuated, by lawmakers and lobbyists who also export our particular brand of violence all over the world.  Hate, violence, fear, insecurity…byproducts of deeply entrenched systems of oppression.

And maybe if it were just invisible hands pulling strings on our marionette bodies it would be forgivable or at the very least possible of being overlooked.

But soon enough you start realizing that life’s complicated not only through the television screen, but also in the power dynamics, politics, bureaucracy and bullshit of every day interactions between people.  The injustices that we condemn in international and statewide policies we seem quick to turn around and replicate on a microcosm scale with our neighbors, acquaintances, coworkers, friends and family.  Neighborhood kids create caste systems, teachers pick favorites, men do disproportionately lower amounts of housework and child rearing compared to women, etc.

And maybe once we realize that our marionette stage was built for some people to have more power than others, for some to succeed and for some to fail, we could accept it and find reprieve in the song and dance.

But soon enough we’d start realizing that our own synapses betray us.  Even our best attempts to forget about the politics, institutions, neighbors, and acquaintances result in us believing what our puppeteers have told us about ourselves.

And feeling the weight that these issues are not just big dark clouds in the sky, or the words we exchange with other humans, but rather things that have seeped under our skin and into our brains and have socialized us to actively maintain these oppressive systems?

Well, that’s enough to just make you curl up in your bed and call it a day.  Which is what I did for awhile.

And then I got a phone call reminder to come to my grandma and grandpa choir practice (I’m the youngest one by 30 years, but have as many as 53 years separating me from other members).

When I walked in they started a sparkling rendition of Happy Birthday and showered me with fake scented flowers, duck shaped salt and pepper shakers, and an embroidered towel.  We ate cake and drank hot chocolate and watched a video from a performance of theirs from over a year ago.  They chalked up the extreme pitchiness to the poor quality of the sound system and nodded their heads.

“Well, we weren’t so bad.”

They applauded, sang and laughed together.  Inevitably, they complained. (Paraguayans obviously don’t have the market cornered on complaining, I think it’s human nature, but they do say that They complain so as not to lose the custom/tradition)

And then one woman kept complaining and listed all of the things she had done that day: “and then I woke up at 6 am to prepare the mate, and then I swept the whole house, and then I cleaned the bathroom, and will you believe they haven’t even picked up the trash in weeks? And then I made lunch for my grandson, and he is seriously getting so fat and lazy, and then I washed all of the laundry by hand…”

Her list seemed to be getting too extensive and the others tried to interrupt her to remind her to thank god for being able to be so hard working and mobile at her age.

She raised her voice, seemingly not listening.  “And then I started preparing all of the meat for dinner, all by myself I tell you.  And I had to figure out who was going to take care of my granddaughter while my daughter went to her classes, because she’s just so lazy she doesn’t want to go anywhere…

And that is why I’m happy to be alive and to be here,” she concluded.

Her crowd didn’t miss a beat: “And that is why we’re happy to be alive and happy to be here celebrating, Happy Birthday Molly!” the group responded in unison.

Wait a minute, that was a left turn out of nowhwere.  It seems like they know something I don’t.

One man leaned over: “This is what you have to look forward to in 50 years.”

Honestly, I’m not sure what it all means.  If anyone has some answers they’d like to share I’m all ears.  For now, I think it might have something to do with this:

If we wish to rebuild our cities, we must first rebuild our neighborhoods. And to do that, we must understand that the quality of life is more important than the standard of living. To sit on the front steps–whether it’s a veranda in a small town or a concrete stoop in a big city–and to talk to our neighborhoods is infinitely more important than to huddle on the living-room lounger and watch a make-believe world in not-quite living color.

And I hardly need to tell you that in the 19- or 24-inch view of the world, cleanliness has long since eclipsed godliness. Soon we’ll all smell, look, and actually be laboratory clean, as sterile on the inside as on the out. The perfect consumer, surrounded by the latest appliances. The perfect audience, with a ringside seat to almost any event in the world, without smell, without taste, without feel–alone and unhappy in the vast wasteland of our living rooms. I think that what we actually need, of course, is a little more dirt on the seat of our pants as we sit on the front stoop and talk to our neighbors once again, enjoying the type of summer day where the smell of garlic travels slightly faster than the speed of sound.

Work on ourselves, work with our neighbors, work on the world?

I certainly don’t have any answers, but I am glad that I crawled back out of my bed today…and I suppose that’s a start.

Making a Splash in the Deep End

26 Mar

I had the Conductores Culturales training this last weekend and it went great!

My friends and fellow Peace Corps volunteers Amy and Steph really have been a major help on this project– sitting through a full day of interviews and then a whole weekend training.

Lots of lovely people helped make it happen, though:  My boss Elisa helped truck stuff around and then gave the opening words on leadership; one of the professors at the train station drove all of the meals and snacks to the location of the training a few kilometers outside of the city; the team from Costanera Viva, a public spaces initiative, came to present; an AIESECer I know from Asuncion supported the activities; a parent of one of the new Conductors, and train commission member, and my Paraguayan uncle gave people rides home; the outdoor adventure location EcoReserva Mbatovi donated site visits for all of the Conductors; the training location, a space maintained by the army base, was donated; my friend Veronica, and former PC volunteer, sent me her old computer which allowed me to plan all of the training sessions; and many of the dollars that you beautiful readers donated also went to the training and will continue to support the work of the Cultural Conductors!

It truly was a collaboration and I will be forever grateful that so many moving parts managed to fit together gracefully.

At the beginning of the training all of the Conductors did a self-assessment of their metaphorical behavior in the pool of life– were they testers, waders, or plungers?

Getting ready to take the leap

Getting ready to take the leap

Many in the group self-identified as waders with a few testers in the mix (the ones who stick their toe in to test things out, but mainly just observe the behavior of other people before making moves).

I told them that lastimosamente we didn’t have time for any of the three and I had to just throw them all into the deepest end of the pool knowing that they couldn’t swim– But, that I was jumping in after them and we’d all learn how to swim together.

We all agreed that no one looks cute while they’re flailing around the deep end so our best bet was to take a deep breath and just relax…and I think it worked out well.

More than a few admitted that they didn’t know what to expect when they got to the training on Friday, but were thinking something along the lines of, “Who are these people and what did I get myself into?”

They said by Sunday they felt like family and were extremely excited to move forward on planning their first event– Estacion Abierta (Open Station), which will conveniently be held on my birthday in April!

Making it look easy

Making it look easy

Stay tuned for more stories about the Conductors. Follow this link to see more photos from the training event:


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