26 December, 2007

Food for Thought

"Some people seem to think that compassion is just a passive emotional response instead of rational stimulus to action. To experience genuine compassion is to develop a feeling of closeness to others combined with a sense of responsibility for their welfare."-Dalai Lama

17 December, 2007


Well, it's done, I am now OFFICIALLY a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay! After 3 months of intensive training in everything from crop rotation and organic fertilizers to building latrines (and nearly 10 years of anticipation), I've finally taken the oath to commit to two years of service. It all went down Friday morning at the U.S. Embassy, where me and 40 of newest friends repeated the oath administered by the U.S. Ambassador himself. This was of course followed by some of the best cake I have ever had in my entire life! So now is when the REAL work begins! I head out to my site tomorrow and am both excited and scared to death. For the first three months I am required by Peace Corps to live with different families in order to better integrate into my community. Thus said, communication may be a little touch and go. But in general, I will be able to keep in touch pretty well since I am about 7km outside of a good-sized ciudad for Py.

I also have a little bit of a change in my address if you'd like to send some goodness this way, the following is my new box!
Erin Hogeboom
Cuerpo de Paz #80
162 Chaco Boreal /c Mcal. Lopez
Asuncion 1580
Paraguay, South America

Thank you again for all of your support and encouragement! I know that there is no way I would be able to be here doing what I am doing with out the emotional support and stability each of you provide me with! Thank you so much for all you do! It means the world to me!

Most Sincerely,
Erin Michelle Hogeboom

18 November, 2007

An exciting time...

I got back from my Long Field Practice on Friday and am finally getting a chance to write about it! It was AWESOME! I stayed with an aguelo and aguela (grandma and grandpa) and just had the best time with them! They were so sweet and the Blanca (the grandma) even cried when we left- and I cried too! It was adorable and I definitely plan on going back to visit!! I got to help with the cows, milking, etc. One time they just stuck a mug under the cow, filled it up and handed it to me and my friend Lauren. We just looked at each other and were like, "Well, who wants to go first?" I also got a chance to visit a farmer and see his fields and the house that he grew up in that is more than 100 years old (as well as all these cool artifacts inside it, it was like stepping straight into Paraguays past!). This is such a beautiful country and I´m finding that more and more as I get the chance to travel around. It is Spring time here so it´s lovely! Sometimes it´s a little hot and other times we have CRAZY storms. Last week while we were gone they had hail so big in Provenir that it tore through roofs and ruined a bunch of crops; unfortunately, the people here don´t have insurance or the kind of financial ability to handle hits like that so we´ll see what happens! We could use your kind thoughts!
I could also use your thoughts for the coming week, it´s going to be wild! Tuesday we are giving our presentation for Dia de Practica and are summarizing the natural pesticide project we have been working on with a local farmer. Then on Wednesday we are taking a day trip to some locations of our choice (guitar shop- that´s where I want to go!) because in the afternoon we receive our PERMANENT SITES! I´m super excited and nervous at the same time! We´ll be traveling there solo next week to check them out too so I will DEFINITELY have a report after that! Then Thursday we are having Thanksgiving at our training spot. I´m really sad I´m not going to be home for that but we have some fun stuff planned (like a pick up game of American football! I´m so excited, I can finally not look like a crazy woman like I do trying to play soccer!) Anyways, there´s a lot coming up and it´s all really exciting but it´s going to go really fast too- before we know it we´ll be swearing in and I´ll be officially starting my service! I hope all is well on the home front and I want you to know that I miss you all very, very, very much! I will be thinking of you ALL on Thanksgiving and I want you to know how EXTREMELY grateful I am to have you in my life!

10 November, 2007

I love my life...

Yesterday morning I was awoken by what sounded like the sky being ripped open. The rain was coming down and I could hear a cool wind whipping around outside. Because I had left my window open, there was a cat just sitting there on the inside window sill! It looked at me and then did that slow blink kind of thing and then we just watched the weather together, it was nice. We´ve been having some crazy weather here where it will be really hot and then go into a downpour with intense lightening and thunder- it´s actually really neat!

I haven´t gotten a chance yet to report on the amazing experience that was my tech. excursion. Our entire croppie group, who I have to say is AWESOME, traveled out to visit Joel- a current volunteer. The whole trip was a great adventure! The drive out was amazing because we got to see totally different Paraguayan scenery than where we are located now. Joel´s site, La Comena, is in a very hilly, heavily forrested area that gave us some great sights! We got to practice making A frames and work alongside a local farmer making curves de nievel for abonos verdes on his hillsides. I´m learning so much here it´s unbelievable.
I´m having other great opportunities. For example, on this excursion we got the chance to visit the infamous Salto Crystal which is basically the largest waterfall I have ever seen. It was beautiful! I´ll get up pictures as soon as possible, but this thing was anywhere from 75-100 ft. high! We climbed down this drop with boulders and vines that was literally verticle. Once we reached the bottom we had to wade, upstream a river to the source where we all went swimming, it was great! I couldn´t help but think to myself, "I am in a waterfall in the middle of South America, how cool is this!" The great thing was we could all appreciate it together too, as a group. Including the getting lost in the middle of a sugar cane plantation, which made the experience all the more enjoyable. We´re so gile! (that´s for you croppies!)

Next week is our Long Field Practice where we will be gone for a week helping a current volunteer with some project they are doing in their site. We´ll be helping a volunteer named Caleb with gardens, but it´s really a chance for us to practice our Guarani and just getting out there. I´m looking forward to it but am also a little nervous, just because the week after that we get our site assigments (yikes!). But Thanksgiving is coming up too so that´s also something to look forward to. We´ll be having an activity at our training center and I think we´re even going to be playing some American football! But alas, no turkeys, chickens will have to suffice!

I miss you all greatly and I hope everything is going amazing! Sending my love from Paraguay! Heartstrings!!!!!!!!

(Might I say, as I write this there is a marching band parading down the street with little old men playing trumpets -that´s for you M.J.- and kids in traditional dress, I love my life!)

28 October, 2007

Small Update

Today is a good day! I´ve come into Ita, the small town close to home, to buy some oranges and check email. I absolutely love getting your emails and messages so keep them coming (if you have the time). Now that I am understanding the training schedule, it is a bit easier to check email and blog on a regular basis. This is nice because I feel like even just a little contact with home helps me stay focused on my job here. Which is currently "mastering" the Guarani language, something that becomes more interesting every day. Last week I made a blunder, calling a man´s wife his food... hmm... Anyways, it is entertaining and I´m feeling less and less like a 5 year old so I guess that is a good sign!
Yesterday, I got to go out and harvest tomatoes with one of the farmers we are working with. We´re going to promote organic pesticides with him so it was really nice to get to see the field first hand. Other little accomplishments this week: I started building the garden at home for my family. I still need to build a fence for it because we just had a litter of piglets and they kind of ruined my tablon, but I´ll probably start planting sometime next week. Also, I made baked soy empanadas with my host mom this past Friday. They were amazing and I really hope I can plant the idea of using soy instead of meat, just because it´s much healthier and cheaper here!
Things to look forward to: Next week we are learning how to make even more soy receipts, straight from the bean itself! And next Saturday we have our tech. excursion where the "Cropies" split into two and visit a current site to help out with an ongoing project. It should be pretty cool and I´m looking forward to it!
I hope you all are doing well and loving life!!!!!!!!!! Best wishes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To those in Southern California:
I just found out about the new "bout" of fires in Southern California. It was actually on Paraguayan news. I just want to say that my heart goes out to those individuals that are dealing with this all over again, and my Paraguayan family feels the same. Our thoughts are with you!

MY Biopoem

Erin Michelle Hogeboom

Imaginative, Empathetic, Quirky
Daughter of Kurt Hogeboom and Carol Bouchard, two amazing human beings
Sister to a beautiful extended family
Friend to courageous, selfless individuals
Who likes symphonies, sitting alone on the beach and mint fro-yo with heath
Who needs both reason and unabashful emotion
Who sees how short life can be
Who listens insatiably
Who loves good company, good coffee and a good movie
Who fears to be forgotten
Who shares an appreciation for music, art and philosophy
Who dreams of a day without suffering
Who wants the world for others


24 October, 2007


So, we are doing these poems in training and I thought it was pretty cool. If you´d like to take the time to fill it out in a response that would be great, I´d love to read them!! I´ll make sure to post mine as soon as it is perfected! It may be harder than you think!


3 adjectives that describe you
Son/Daughter of
Brother/Sister of
Friend of/to
Who likes
Who needs
Who sees
Who listens
Who loves
Who fears
Who shares
Who dreams
Who wants


21 October, 2007


Mbaeichapa! Greetings from Paraguay everyone! My apologies for taking so long to update this but it´s very difficult to find the words to describe the experience I am having. And what an experience it is! A lot has happened in the past three weeks! Let´s see, thinking back...
I arrived in Paraguay the 27th of Septmeber after a 10 hour layover in Buenos Aires. This may seem like a long time but in the company of such great and interesting people the time flew by. The people I am referring to are G25, my fellow "PCV´s in training." They come from all over the country, Hawaii to New York, and each one of them has a backgound as unique as the qualities they bring to the group. We´re all divided up into sub-groups: environmental education, agroforestry, beekeeping and crop extension (that´s me!) It´s only been a short time but these people are really beginning to feel a little like family here in Paraguay. We´re all going through different but similar experiences, which causes pretty instantaneous bonds.
On top of that, I also have a Paraguayan family! (which I´ll tell you about in just a second, I´m getting ahead of myself here).

So, flying in over Paraguay was amazing. It´s a beautiful, lush country in the Amazon basin navagated by rich, red dirt roads. These get pretty intensly muddy when it rains and most buses stop running. Luckily when we flew in it was clear skies, save for the smokey effect from all the fires that had been happening. At the airport we were greeted by Peace Corps and CHP training staff, they all clapped as we exited the airport, it was great! The night was cool and the drive to our "retreat center" was super exciting, it finally hit me that this was going to be my new home. I can recall it now, a caravan of packed passanger vans, weaving through the busy streets lined with vendors, windows down and fresh night air mixing with the beat on the radio... classic!So from there we were taken to the "center," which turned out to be a Fanciscan monestary. I couldn´t think of a better way to start our service.

By the next day I was ready to get settled in and meet the people that would be my host family for the next three months. All crop extensionists live in Porvenir, a small compañia about an hour from Asunciòn, the capital. My family consists of five sisters: Belen (8), Beatriz (8), Leti (12), Jessica (14), and Luz (19), one brother: Alexis (6), an "uncle" and of course a Mama y Papa. My "family" here is really great and it´s interesting getting to know each of them a little more each day. When I´m walking with the kids they like to hold hands and it´s super cute! I love it! In some ways though, being in this family here makes me miss mine even more. I begin to wonder what everyone is doing at home and really wish I could be sharing more of this with them... in time I think that will be more possible.

Anyways... let me tell you about terere here! It is not just a drink, it is a lifestyle. Terere is basically cold tea that we drink out of a guampa while sitting in a circle. It´s a great way to cool down when it gets hot, which it does, and just enjoy each others company. That´s something that has taken a lot of getting used to. As an American I feel like I´m always go-go-go, and these Paraguayans really have perfected the art of living in the moment and taking time to enjoy life. It´s a good lesson I´m sure I´ll come more comfortable with over time as well. They call it "tranquilo," I think that pretty much sums it up!

With that said, I´ve aslo kept pretty busy while I´ve been here, with training and all. In tech. class we have planted a field and a garden, constructed numerous bamboo structures (with a machete might I add!), worked with abonos verdes and now are starting up some chicken raising, yee haw... More importantly, back to machetes ;) they´re pretty cool and we get to use them a lot! Last weekend we had our current PCV visit and I got to chop down a tree with a machete! Save for chopping down a tree, it was a very rewarding experience! I stayed with a girl named Hannah and it was great! She didn´t have any electricity and we had to get our water from a well. She even built her entire house herself, along with her really cool bamboo hamock which she has so graciously turned over to me since it´s the end of her service. It makes me realize how simultaneously fast and slow this service is going to be. Overall it was really nice to get a break from the rigors of training and get a sneak peak at what service can actually be like.

Training is six days a week, usually language (guarani) in the morning and tech. in the afternoon. We also work a lot on integrating into our communities and the different avenues to community development, which is our underlying goal. But between this, tech. and language (which is proving to be sufficiently difficult) I keep pretty busy and am in bed by like 9 every night. Next week I plan to start structuring my mornings a little more, running with a fellow volunteer a couple days a week and helping milk the cow on my off days. Generally it´s good that I keep busy because it helps me from thinking how much I miss home.

Most of my time here is really enjoyable, and I am loving the fact that I can dedicate all of my efforts to serivce (even though I am getting a lot out of it too). But just like any big change, it has it´s ups and downs. Sometimes I find myself wondering what I would be doing if I were back home in the states, how different life would be. Being here also makes me realize how much I love the people I left at home. I miss so many of you terribly and wish more than anything I could be sharing more of this experience with you. It´s also made me realize how utterly indispensible you all are and how I pretty much could not do this with out all of your support. I want you to know that I don´t feel like I´m here alone, because I have a little bit of all of you with me (which is really the only thing that is going to help me through those tough and lonely times- of which I´m sure they´ll be plenty). I can not thank you enough for being the wonderful, loving, fabulous people that you are and I want you to know how honored I am to have you in my life! A lot of the time when I´m lonely here I just pull out my picture album and stare at all of your smiling faces (while listening to some of my country, of course) and it just brings me right back up! So I hope that all of you are staying healthy and happy, and please know that you are always on my mind!

Well, I feel like I have been sufficiently long-winded and sappy, maybe this would be a good time to wrap this up. (I really enjoy writing this though because it makes me feel a little closer to all of you at home!) I miss you all and wish you all the best!

OH, and if you´d like to write (which would be really, really great) the address is: Erin Hogeboom, PCT Cuerpo de Paz, CHP 162 Chaco Boreal Mcal. Lopez, Asuncion 1508, Paraguay, South America. Thanks in advance for your continued love and support! Until next time, jajotopatà!

26 September, 2007

Leaving today

Hello everyone,
Just wanted to let you know that today is the day. I will be flying from Miami to Buenos Aires, Argentina at 8:30pm tonight, arriving at Asuncion, Paraguay at approximately 5:00pm tomorrow (September 27th). I'm scared, excited, overwhelmed and about 20 other feelings right now, but the group I'm with is AMAZING and I think we're all going to be able to really pull each other through! I miss everyone back at home so much already, but I can't wait for this excellent adventure to begin (although, it kind of already has). Thank you for all of your support, and next time I'll be writing, it will be from Paraguay!

Adios! E

17 September, 2007

Mental Preparation

It’s 12:30am. I’m sitting in a dark room lit only by the familiar glow of the computer. My travel itinerary lies partially distinguishable in front of me. It has finally hit me that I am leaving in less than a week. (This would be the time to put… “for the journey of a lifetime,” but I just can’t bring myself to write that.) Right now more than anything, I need to say just how dreadfully scared I am of this “life experience” that is going to take me miles and miles away from my friends, family -old and new- and the familiar. So this will be my first Peace Corps post, for all of you interested in following my travels into the heart of South America.

I know these are just pre-departure jitters, and that when all is said and done, I’ll get on that plane. But it helps putting my reservations into words, because then they are just words and not debilitating feelings that seem to cut me off at the knees. I can’t help but think of everything I will miss, how this Erin will become somewhat of an apparition in people’s minds, even the minds of my loved ones. And of course I know I will be making new and exciting memories, growing and changing as a person. But realizing that becomes difficult for someone who is about to leave the life they know and love, a life they’ve become comfortable in, for an existence they hardly can imagine.

And now there’s something I need to say before I end this and head back to bed. I want all of the people who have supported me this far to know how much I truly appreciate your encouragement. There is no way I could have gotten this far with out you! And just knowing that you’ll be there for me emotionally once I’m in-country makes transitioning that much easier!

I vow to write as often as possible.
I promise to stay brief (I know you are all busy people)
And I will try my absolute to make all of you proud. I know I’m not just representing myself out there, I’m standing in for you too, and I pledge to do my best!

Cheers to all of you! Here I come, Paraguay!

About Paraguay

(Interesting fact: Paraguay is one of the only states to have a double-sided flag, the emblem differing from the front to back!)

Facts about Republic of Paraguay
Paraguay is South America's 'empty quarter,' a country little known even to its neighbors. For much of its history it has distanced itself from the Latin American mainstream, and for a substantial period of this century was South America's most notorious and durable police state. PJ O'Rourke summed it up bluntly when he wrote 'Paraguay is nowhere and famous for nothing,' and then, on a short visit to cover elections, promptly fell in love with the place. You might do the same since Paraguay has taken steps to overcome its political, economic and geographic isolation and now welcomes visitors. The country has a relaxed riverside capital, impressive Jesuit missions, several national parks and the vast, arid Chaco - one of South America's great wilderness areas.

Location: Central South America, northeast of Argentina
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than California
Land boundaries: 3,995 km border countries: Argentina 1,880 km, Bolivia 750 km, Brazil 1,365 Climate: subtropical to temperate; substantial rainfall in the eastern portions, becoming semiarid in the far west
Terrain: grassy plains and wooded hills east of Rio Paraguay; Gran Chaco region west of Rio Paraguay mostly low, marshy plain near the river, and dry forest and thorny scrub elsewhere
Population: 6,669,086 (July 2007 est.)
Landlocked Paraguay has a market economy marked by a large informal sector. This sector features both reexport of imported consumer goods to neighboring countries, as well as the activities of thousands of microenterprises and urban street vendors. Because of the importance of the informal sector, accurate economic measures are difficult to obtain. A large percentage of the population derives its living from agricultural activity, often on a subsistence basis. On a per capita basis, real income has stagnated at 1980 levels. Most observers attribute Paraguay's poor economic performance to political uncertainty, corruption, lack of progress on structural reform, substantial internal and external debt, and deficient infrastructure. Aided by a firmer exchange rate and perhaps a greater confidence in the economic policy of the DUARTE FRUTOS administration, the economy rebounded between 2003 and 2006, posting modest growth each year.
The original inhabitants of eastern Paraguay were the semi-nomadic Guaraní. Several hunter-gatherer groups, known as Guaycurú, populated the Chaco. In 1524, Alejo García became the first European to cross Paraguay, with the aid of Guaraní guides. Three years later, Sebastián Cabot sailed up the Río Paraguay but founded no settlements. This was left to Pedro de Mendoza, whose expedition settled at Asunción after fleeing Buenos Aires. The colony flourished, becoming the nucleus of Spanish settlement in southeastern South America and sparking an era of intriguing socialization. The native Indian population gradually absorbed the Spaniards, who in turn adopted Guaraní food, language and customs. Over time, a Spanish-Guaraní society emerged, with Spaniards dominating politically, and the mestizo offspring adopting Spanish cultural values.
Colonization also meant that Jesuit missionaries were sent to civilize the Indians. This they did with alacrity and skill. The Indians were induced to leave their lands and settle in reducciones, theocratic communes, where they helped build churches, grew deft at masonry, sculpture and painting, and sometimes gained a classical education along the way. After the expulsion of the missionaries in 1767, the settlements quietly withered as the Indians skedaddled or were employed by different masters.
Paraguay declared independence in 1811 - which Spain did not oppose - and within a few years it was under the thumb of the xenophobic José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, also known as 'El Supremo.' He sealed the country's borders, promoted a policy of self-sufficiency (even forcing the Spanish upper class to intermarry with the mestizo) and expropriated the properties of landowners, merchants and the Church. He died in 1840 and his remains were later disinterred and flung into a river. Francia's successor, Carlos Antonio López, ended Paraguay's isolation and began modernization. Unfortunately, he also spawned a megalomaniacal son who set about destroying the country by starting the catastrophic War of the Triple Alliance (1864-70) against Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. When the smoke had settled, Paraguay had lost over 150,000 sq km (58,500 sq mi) of territory and almost a quarter of its population, including López junior.
After the war, Paraguay's agricultural sector was resuscitated by a new wave of European and Argentine immigrants, but political instability continued. At the turn of the century, cross-border tensions arose after Bolivia occupied disputed parts of the Chaco. The prospect of vast deposits of oil in the region (which proved non-existent) catapulted the two countries into war in 1932. The Bolivian army was pushed out of most of the Chaco and a subsequent treaty awarded Paraguay three-quarters of the territory.
Paraguayan politics became even more turbulent following the Chaco War, until a brief civil war brought the Colorado Party to power in 1949. A military coup in 1954 saw General Alfredo Stroessner installed as president. A vainglorious man with a firebrand temper, Stroessner employed torture, murder, political purges and bogus elections to remain in power for the next 35 years. The inimical dictator was overthrown in 1989 and was replaced by another brasshat, General Andrés Rodríguez. Despite considerable scepticism about his intentions - Rodríguez was Stroessner's former right-hand man - the country's perennial state of emergency was cancelled, censorship was eliminated, opposition parties were legalized and political prisoners released.
Paraguay enjoyed increasing political stability until the 1993 election of Juan Carlos Wasmosy, a free-market zealot and former member of Stroessner's faction, whose presidency inspired a disturbing number of nationwide strikes. Wasmosy himself came under scrutiny for shady business dealings associated with Paraguay's massive hydroelectric projects.
In May 1998, the Colorado Party reconfirmed its staying power with the election of President Raul Cubas, an electrical engineer who assumed the party's candidacy after former army General Lino Oviedo, their original nominee, was imprisoned mid-campaign on charges of rebelling against Wasmosy in 1996. Just when things again began to look rosy, Cubas too came under fire, accused of abusing his powers by freeing Oviedo from prison despite Supreme Court orders to keep him there. When Vice President Luis Argaña was gunned down by assassins in March 1999, popular sentiment linked Cubas and Oviedo to the murder and Cubas was forced to resign from office. Luis Gonzalez Macchi, who had been president of the Senate, was sworn in, while Cubas and Oviedo sought asylum in neighboring countries.
Paraguayan music is something of a curiosity - despite the fact that the majority of the population still speaks the native tongue, the music is European in origin, with little or no traces of Black, Brazilian or Argentinian influences. The guitar and harp are popular instruments and songs are usually slow and lachrymose. Dances, such as the polka and bottle dance (so-called because performers swing around with a jar on their head) are, however, much livelier. Agustín Barrios (1885-1944), one of Latin America's most revered composers for the guitar, often performed his music in full Guaraní costume, promoting himself as the Paganini of the guitar from the Paraguayan jungles.
Roman Catholicism is officially the country's religion, but the influence of the church is less pronounced than in many other Latin American countries. Other religious groups include fundamentalist Mennonites and the controversial New Tribes Mission, an evangelical group which operated with the collusion of Stroessner's dictatorship.
Meat dishes as well as tropical and subtropical foodstuffs play an important role in the Paraguayan diet. Grains, particularly maize, and manioc (cassava) are incorporated into almost all meals. Try tucking into locro, a maize stew, mazamorra, corn mush, mbaipy so-ó, a hot maize pudding with meat chunks, and sooyo sopy, a thick soup made of ground meat and served with rice or noodles. Desserts include mbaipy he-é, a delicious mix of corn, milk and molasses. Tea or mate is consumed in vast quantities while mosto (sugar-cane juice) and caña (cane alcohol) are also frequently imbibed.
Paraguay is a landlocked country surrounded by Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. The country is divided into two unequal portions by the Río Paraguay, the third largest river in the western hemisphere. To the west of the river is the Chaco, a largely infertile and sparsely populated tract of land that makes up nearly 60% of the country's area. To the east, where almost all the population is concentrated, is a well-watered, elevated plateau of grasslands, with patches of subtropical forest stretching all the way to the Río Paraná on the Brazilian and Argentinian borders.
Wildlife is diverse and includes a number of birds such as the parrot and parakeet, wood stork, hyacinth macaw and the once-thought-to-be-extinct Chacoan peccary, plus large reptiles such as caiman, anaconda and the boa constrictor. However, due to the dense human population of rural eastern Paraguay, mammals such as the giant anteater, maned wolf, Brazilian tapir and jaguar are fast disappearing.
The climate in eastern Paraguay is humid, with rainfall evenly distributed throughout the year. Temperatures are almost universally hot in summer (January to March), averaging 35°C (95°F), but can drop as low as 5°C (41°F) in winter (July to September). Frosts at this time are not uncommon, but there is little or no snowfall. Temperatures are higher in the Chaco and the rainfall is more erratic.