“It’s always the right time to be happy.” – WW
October 1, 2014
During my first 10 weeks in Paraguay I stayed with the wonderful Gomez Silguiera family. They coached me with my infantile language skills, fed me, taught me to milk their cow, included me in their weekly Sunday family lunch with all seven grown children and mounds of food, and my first weekend there, brought me along to my host mother’s sister’s wedding. The bride was 81 and her new husband was 82.
I’ve been back to visit only a handful of times since moving to my community because the 10 hour journey makes more frequent visits difficult. However, I am always welcomed like royalty and quickly settle into making myself comfortable, no longer a guest, just another member of the family.
Over the weekend, I returned to attend my host sister’s wedding, held on the two year anniversary that I landed in Paraguay (and the same weekend that her aunt married two years earlier!) It was a grand and lavish affair of 200 guests, created solely by the family: my event-organizer-brother did all the decorations; the bride owns a bakery and she and staff made the cake and the hundreds of cupcakes and other sweets; her sisters made her dress; the entire extended family pitched in making giant trays of various salads, beans, mandioca and more (I counted 20 pans of sopa paraguaya -corn bread- and I’m sure there were more that had already been loaded into the truck). We danced until 3am and, after about 3 hours of sleep, the gang was starting a new day by sharing morning máte. I have no idea how many people actually stayed at the house but emergence of ever more people rounding the corner into the kitchen seemed endless but joyful.
Finally came the time to catch my bus home. For the road, Mama tucked some sopa paraguaya into my hand and I embraced her. That’s when the realization hit that this would likely be our last hug. Ever. The last time I will see this loving woman who opened her heart and her home to me and treated me like her own flesh-and-blood daughter. Who worried over me when I was sick. Who learned I love watermelon and made sure there were always two in the house at all times. Who made my favorite breakfast everyday as if it was the highlight of her day. Who attended my Swear-In ceremony and cried happy-sad tears when it was time to move away to my new community. Who poured through my photo albums as if it was the greatest honor to know my family. Her soft belly absorbed the shudders that my tears brought. I held her and tried to brand the moment into memory. I couldn’t speak. When we finally separated she knew too and spoke for me. “If this is the last time I see you before you return to your country, please know that my home is your home. You will always be welcomed here. Please stay in touch.” We hugged again and I really let loose with the tears. The others nearby took their turn afterward: my host dad, an elderly aunt from Buenos Aires that I’d known for about 15 hours and with whom I’d shared a mattress the night before but nonetheless told me how she adored me, a brother, cousins. This family knows how to make people feel loved.
With a mere seven weeks remaining before my service ends, time is flying and there will be many more goodbyes. As I start down this path of closure I can’t help but reflect and appreciate all that these last two years have brought me. My heart is swelling with gratitude. It hasn’t always been easy but, damn, it sure has been worth it!
Photos by Luis Ramon and Pedro Gomez Silgueira