American University Athletes left a little of themselves in Tercera Linea, Paraguay

May 2019

“I have been reminded that it’s ok to be nervous and to look at the unknown and uncomfortable from a positive perspective.  The unknown isn’t a bad thing – you just have to embrace it.” – Erin

Source: American University Athletics website

Day One – Luci, Women’s Swimming & Diving

We started the day bright and early in Bender at 7:30 a.m. we FINALLY arrived in Asunción lively and alert at 2:30 am. We were meet with Anthony and Sammy. Anthony is the Courts for Kids representative who will be guiding us through this trip. Sammy is a Peace Corps Volunteer in whose community we will be building the court. We were finally able to leave the airport by 4:30 a.m., piling very sleepily into a bus which took us to a residential estate.  All was well, except for the ice-cold showers. I fell asleep exhausted but so excited to be in a new and different place and looking forward to the adventures to come!

The area in which we have been staying has always been referred to as a ‘community’ not a town or village, etc.  The notion that community is who these people are is apparent in everything they do.” – Lucia

Day Two – Lily, Women’s Swimming & Diving

The second day started with going to bed as the sun came up. After a satisfying four-hour nap, we all piled back into the large bus ready for a four-hour drive to the community we will be staying in for the rest of the trip, Tercera Linea. On the drive, we were able to experience the city life, terrain, and wildlife of Paraguay. We drove over both paved and rocky roads; we saw many small stores, agricultural farms, and cows. The ride went by quickly as many of us were trying to catch up on lost sleep. We arrived at Tercera Linea at about 4 o’clock and were immediately greeted by a large portion of the community. On the bus Sammy taught us how to say, “How are you?” in Guarani, the language most commonly spoken in this part of Paraguay. We were then treated to a very special performance of music and dancing by the women of the community. Here in Paraguay, it becomes dark at 5 o’clock, so once we could not see anymore we headed back to the school in which we are staying in. We are very excited to be here and for what is to come. I am especially interested in learning more about the food here, and want to experience all that I can. 

The community’s countless acts of generosity and genuine selflessness will stick with me as I head home, and I will do my best to try to emulate it my own life.” – Spencer

Day Three – Swezen, Men’s Soccer

An array of alarms went off once it turned 6am and a few of us jogged to a nearby soccer field and completed some runs. Once we got back to the school, we found the rest of the group being served breakfast: mbjueja, cocido, and reviro. Mbjueja is a Paraguayan omlette pancake that tastes like doughy, gooey goodness. Cocido is a drink consisting of water, local herbs, and coal. Yes, coal.  Lastly, reviro are fried dough balls that we put inside our cocido. After breakfast the team walked to the construction site where, after a few minutes of confusion and standing around, we got to work. Before long we had a steady rhythm going, and a lot of the local young boys even joined us! For lunch we ate vori vori (a delicious baked yucca flour balls and meat soup), yucca root, and seasoned salad. Right after lunch, we played a quick game of soccer among ourselves and the kids. I hope to make just as much progress as we did today and continue to learn more about Paraguayan food and culture.

“A difficult part about going home will be becoming yet again submerged in the technology culture of the U.S. This trip has shown me how refreshing it is to be away from all of that and truly enjoy other’s company.” – Kaitlyn

Day Four – Samm and Tiffany

We woke up to the chickens next door around 5:30 a.m. and headed to breakfast for some Palenta (Guaranies cheesy grits). The team headed down to the courts to get our day started – our goal was to get more than halfway done (spoiler alert, we did!). Our day didn’t start off as planned after one of our three wheelbarrows broke, so we had to change strategies moving forward. To say the least it was a blessing in disguise because the day was more fun and the work was more efficient. The locals were also really proud of us, they even asked us to take a picture with them! We were done for the day and all couldn’t wait to get in the shower unless you had the energy to stay and play fútbol with the locals.

“The contractor said that it was really awesome to have girls there showing the local girls that they can work hard and be strong like the boys.  Knowing these girls can see themselves doing more and we’re the reason is an amazing feeling.” – Cate

Day Five – Tony and Prince, Wrestling

Once we arrived at the court, we hit the ground running fast and finished the fourth panel of the court before lunch. Then we ran into our first real road bump of the trip. As we were refueled and ready to go back to work, we came to the realization that the electricity for the concrete mixer stopped functioning. This made our already “too long” break longer. We had to wait for a backup generator. Once it arrived, we caught our second wind and got the job done.  As we were finishing, the entire community began to show up to the site and many of the schoolkids were pitching in. Upon completion, we were ecstatic, greeting community members, taking pictures, and lifting each other up- literally!

Day Six – Vela , Volleyball and Matt, Men’s Soccer

We had a day of education, competition, and fun… we are definitely forging some character through competition out here in Paraguay. The day kicked off with some local kids screaming into our bedrooms to wake us up. Once 9 o’clock rolled around we headed to the school courtyard to help our Peace Corp volunteer, Sami, teach her English class to some of the kids. The English class here is on Saturday and is not mandatory, so it was inspiring to see all the kids show up to learn. The class started with some simple greetings and then we progressed to games like Simon Says, Over the Mountain, and Soldiers in my Camp.

After we finished the delicious meal and some great conversation, we once again regrouped to learn from one of the “Abuelas” about how to make chipa. Matt and Spencer enjoyed getting our hands dirty and making the chipa with extra love as Vela cracked eggs into the bowl and the “Abeula” added more ingredients. After we finished making the chipa itself, we all learned to knead the dough and then rolled it into shapes.  We tossed those puppies into a traditional fired up brick oven out back and let those babies bake until they were golden.

Once 3 o’clock struck, we all headed down to the field next to this pretty amazing and well-built basketball court. We played World Cup style with all the children by pairing up and picking a country to represent as our “equipo”. Later we all headed to the brand-new court to shoot some hoops. We played a game of knockout and taught the locals to shoot some hoops.

Things are starting to wind down and we are doing our best to continue to soak up their culture and all this beautiful country has to offer before we head back to the States. We are excited to go with the flow and finish up this trip.

Day Seven – Kaitlyn , Cross Country/Track and Caroline, Field Hockey

Care started my morning with Erin and we walked to the soccer field to run some 30/30 courtesy of Coach Steve back at AU! Next up was another traditional Paraguayan breakfast thanks to the señoras! We ate fried chicken, Paraguayan tortillas and bread with butter AND caramel sauce. Caramel for breakfast may not sound good but trust us it is, we will need to bring this back to the U.S.

After breakfast, some of us headed to mass. It was incredible to experience the sense of community in the church.  It was also just as great to be so welcomed – they even brought us to the front of the church during the service to thank us (when really we wanted to thank them).

For our next challenge, we headed out to an official soccer game with the local club. We played two games, the men lost the first one… but don’t worry the women made AU proud by winning 3-1. After two great games, we all headed over to a local store to eat some delicious ice cream!

We can’t believe that tomorrow is our last day here (sigh) but we have made some great memories while here! Finishing the court was almost as rewarding as watching all of our new friends play basketball on it for the first time! We will surely miss the friendships we made here but look forward to hearing from them about the court and how they grew up with it. 

Day Eight (May 20) – Abraham and Elijah, Wrestling

Our last day in the community began similar to the previous mornings. We were woken by the children rushing to school at 6:00 a.m., ate a delicious breakfast and began to prepare our farewell notes for the senoras, children, our Courts for Kids representative and Peace Corp volunteer.

After lunch, we took a walk through farmland to a nearby river. An hour later, the group decided to head back and play pique and volleyball at a local’s house. After playing volleyball, we had a long walk back to the school to prepare for the Inauguration ceremony. We were celebrated and thanked by the community, which was followed by many pictures with the community members. Then, we danced for several hours until everyone dispersed, and it was time for bed.

Day Nine (May 21) – Lucia , Women’s Track & Field and Francisco, Men’s Soccer

Today after one last breakfast at the school we said goodbye to the Tercera Linea community. It felt incredibly strange that we had only arrived eight days earlier, for it truly felt like as if we had become part of the community. Lucia did not escape the goodbyes without some tears, especially after a group of young ladies I had befriended asked when I was coming back to visit (*sobs*). I will never forget how moving it was to have all of our new friends stop their school or work day to wish us luck and thank us for our work. The friendships we built were genuine even in the short amount of time we spent with the community. We stopped the bus briefly to take one last photo at the court with our newly gifted Paraguayan flag. An older man, Don Toribio, who had provided us with snacks all week came to say one last goodbye.  As we admired the court space we had worked so hard for, we all slowly realized that we had not only created a court in where kids can play all kinds of sports, but we had also created a vital community space in where people would be able to congregate on a regular basis. Realizing this gave us all a sense of purpose and joy in knowing that we had created a special place, for a special set of people. Everyone expressed their last thoughts on the experience and what we would tell people back home when they asked about our trip. Gratefulness and fulfillment filled the room as almost every individual added upon the open reflection that Spencer led. Cisco mentioned how this trip had reinforced what he has always suspected about the power of travel in dispelling misunderstanding and otherness. Expanding on the idea that people innately strive for a sense of community, they thus are kind and genuine towards one another just as they are welcoming to new members of a community. I (Lucia) wholeheartedly agree with this notion and it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Anthony the CFK Rep mentioned that the community will forever view Americans as hardworking, intelligent, kind people because of the amount of heart and care we devoted to our work here in Paraguay. Equally, this trip emphasized my optimistic hope that beneath the language, culture, geographical, and historical barriers – people are people. The people of Tercera Linea welcomed us into their homes and their lives with no sense of hesitation, they worked alongside us as we worked to build the court, and on our last evening together there was no sense of Paraguay v. American. Rather, if you looked across the dance floor on the last night, you would see each American dancing with a Paraguayan (some more graciously than others, of course). We traveled to Paraguay on a mission to build a multi-sport court, and not only did we succeed in that goal, but we also built a community space that will be used for generations to come. As we begin our travel back to the states, all 20 of us leave a little bit of ourselves in Tercera Linea, as much as we now carry a bit of Tercera Linea within us as well.