Posts Tagged With: guei

Meet My Community – Celso Benitez, A Story of Humble Intelligence and Kindness

April 20, 2014

 

Celso

Celso picking oranges from backyard trees for his nieces’ afternoon snack. While still green, they are sweet! And thorny!

Celso is one of my favorite people in the community. An honest, super hard-working man he exudes respect and kindness. Despite having no more than a sixth grade education he is immensely intelligent and one of the more open-minded, progressive farmers with whom I work. I don’t visit Celso as often as I’d like since it’s socially taboo for single men and women to visit each other and guaranteed to generate gossip but I’d like to think at this point I’ve generated enough professionalism and credibility to override these taboos. However, when I do visit we always have a great time. While he speaks almost entirely guarani and I understand only a fraction of the words he uses, somehow I usually know what he means. It’s sorta magical that way, like “I can’t translate your words but I understand your point.” We can talk the whole afternoon like this and I’m completely transported to another world. He’s incredibly patient with my language and never shows impatience with my requests to repeat his sentences until I understand, as he is eager to help with my learning and knows it doesn’t happen in a day.

 

I was invited to his 52nd birthday party in early April, a party consisting of his dad and one male neighbor friend. It was an honor to be included. As opposed to how we generally do it in the U.S., in Paraguay, the birthday person puts on the party, does all the cooking, preparations, and clean up. Attendees simply come, eat and enjoy. So Celso made spaghetti with chicken, which he killed that morning and boy it was the best ‘tallarin con pollo’ I’ve ever had here. In my community, it is not common to share gifts but I brought supplies for him to make his own kombucha, since he had tried mine in the past and loved it.

 

Celso has seven siblings and a 15-year old daughter named Lucía who recently moved from the next town to Buenos Aires (BA) with her mother. I originally thought it was a vacation trip and on this day learned it’s a permanent move, breaking his heart as he doesn’t know when he’ll see her again. He is devastated with the idea of having his daughter so far away even though he knows it’s in her best interest. As is so common here in the campo, many of the young people move away to Asuncion or BA because there are no opportunities for work other than subsistence farming. He knows she is intelligent and will do well but he cannot join her. He will remain in this house where he has lived since birth. Though she did totally make his day by texting him a birthday message. He lives across from his cousin, Felicita, her grandson, and her sister Flora. Together, they share the work of living. The men work the fields, the women prepare and preserve food, and they all share the profits when crops are sold. This type of working together is common, and often essential, to survival in rural PY.

 

Celso driving the guei (ox and cart) laden with belongings from the latest visit of extended family - Easter week. This is the way they move quantities of materials here!

From far left: Celso, daughter, his dad, young cousin, older cousin (senora), her grandson, other cousin (sister of first senora)

 

Celso has a huge garden of his own, the extras from which he sells to small despensas (stores) in the next town. He has tried every new technique we volunteers have introduced to the community including a biodigester (which produces methane cooking fuel), regular and worm composting, using green manures to improve his soil and thus increase yields from his garden and crops, and will soon be the recipient of a solar food dryer to preserve fruit and vegetables in season. In the past he grew castor beans and sold them nearby until the buyer closed the market. Castor beans produce castor oil, which has a long list of uses worldwide including health and beauty care, industrial products, and is where the name for Castor Oil motor oil originated. Before my community received electricity in 1986, people used to burn the castor beans like lamp oil. Simply spear beans with a piece of wire and light with a match. I’ve been looking into how to make a small oil press to make use of this local resource and generate new income in the community but some of the by-products are highly toxic (as in this is where ricin originates!) So that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon but we’ll keep looking. The process needs to be sustainable to receive any type of consideration. If any of you readers have experience with this crop, its markets, or the oil pressing product I’d love to hear from you!

 

I was invited back for lunch on Holy Thursday this Easter week (called semana santa in PY) to join his family visiting from Asuncion and other parts of PY. It was so nice to be included as an extension of the family and practice my guarani all day! His sister-in-law prepared chipa, a Paraguayan tradition for semana santa and Celso fired up the tatakua, an outdoor cave-like oven used for cooking chipa and breads. However, the project was abandoned when a sudden thunderstorm arrived pouring buckets of water. I’d gotten a funny feeling that I should go about 10 minutes before the storm arrived but was assured I was better off to wait it out. After waiting 90 minutes with no end in sight, I headed home through torrential downpour, thunder and lightning, crossing a quarter-mile of pasture with water to my ankles, and wading through a road-turned-river for over a mile. At times I was up to my knees in water, other times I was a-slip-slidin’ through slippery mud. It was one of those times you can’t think about the situation, you just have to get through it. My mental commentary was something like this: where do all the tarantulas and snakes go when the rain floods their underground tunnels? Are they hiding in the same high ground clumps of grass I’m stepping on? Will I step on one only to have it catch a ride on my sandal or bite me? Wendy, don’t think about that til it happens. How much poop is in this mud anyway? And what else? Don’t go there…whatever it is will wash off. Will I get struck by lightning before I get home? Def not – the light poles are taller than you. This is going to make a great blog post…We need a title. I can’t believe I forgot to put out the rain buckets in my house…it’ll be raining inside too! Those 3 guys staring from the doorway must think I’m crazy but I’m scheduled to visit that family tomorrow and we’ll have a good laugh about it! Actually now that I’ve committed to being wet, this is kinda fun!) And of course, I laughed…a couple days later. The craziest adventures are always as worth it in the end as the warm fuzzy memories I make with the families.

Celso driving the guei (ox and cart) laden with belongings from the latest visit of extended family - Easter week. This is the way they move quantities of materials here!

Celso driving the guei (ox and cart) laden with belongings from the latest visit of extended family – Easter week. This is the way they move quantities of materials here!

 

 

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Where Has The Time Gone?

8-11-13

“Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told: ‘I’m with you kid. Let’s go.'” – Maya Angelou

It was supposed to be a simple two-week respite from blogging back in February while I prepared to *finally* move from my host family (who I adored, but…) into my own house. Obviously, that turned into a six month hiatus as life got busy and Facebook posts became the ‘easier and quicker’ method to share the latest news of my Peace Corps adventures (oh, did I tell you? I now have internet at my house. Daily. And running water. And a hot shower. Daily. OMG). A lot has happened during this time, which I’ll try to summarize now and make a better effort to regain my regularly scheduled posts here.

In mid-March I moved into my own ‘house’, my ‘schoolhouse’ as I call it, because it is literally a classroom in an old school, residing on the same grounds as the new school. This has worked out beautifully; it is the nicest casa in the community and of course all my neighbors, especially the kids, were dying for a look inside. I am exquisitely happy in my classroom, the kids have been respectful (even inviting me to their daily voleiball games during recess), and I make fantastic use of the giant chalkboard that covers one of walls for my infamous list-making fetish, drawings, reminders, and even tallies while I do my 30-day ab and squat challenges – the only form of exercise I can get during what is currently winter of cool-to-freezing temps and sometimes rainy conditions. (Wow- that was quite the sentence!) As soon as I’d settled into my new space, I began work on my garden. The school Director, Profesor Victor, who is also my contact, gave me a space adjacent to the school garden. It was cow pasture when I started and five weeks later began to resemble a garden, complete with bamboo fence that I helped cut and build with assistance from about a dozen locals. The bamboo was delivered via oxcart from the far end of town. Unfortunately two weeks later, one of the oxen (called ‘guei’ …sounds like whey) swallowed a whole grapefruit and died. I never knew cattle love grapefruit.

Also this autumn (springtime in North America), some fellow volunteers came to visit my site to produce a documentary on biodigesters because, at the time, I had half of all biodigesters in the country right in my community. That same week I participated in a biodigester Train the Trainer workshop to learn to teach Paraguayans how to install biodigesters. Cool! I think I might want one when I come home. These biodigesters are 20 foot plastic tubes that lie in a trench and to which you add manure daily. In three weeks, this starts producing a daily delivery of amazing liquid compost for the garden and methane which the locals use for cooking… all using FREE materials!

In May, my cousin and a friend came to visit. Unfortunately, it rained…no, poured… the first three days. And it was cold. Instead of visiting locals and seeing sites around my community, this offered a great indoor bonding experience and many experiments in cooking that, after they inventoried my ‘pantry’ shelves, defied all bets we would go hungry before we ever got out of Dodge. It’s amazing what you can do with cornflour, mandioca, sweet potato leaves, beans and eggs. Ultimately, the rain broke and my cousin and I were able to play in my beehive; her first, but not last, foray into beekeeping.

Throughout this time I’ve made a couple of attempts to host beekeeping workshops but, for various reasons, including three days of rain, they keep getting postponed. As does the yogurt-making sessions I promise to my neighbors who seem very interested but are impossible to pin to a date and time. Such is Paraguay.

Most recently, I returned to Maine for a quick one-week vacation. I did not plan to visit the states until my service was over, however, Maine summer weather beckoned me after freezing my tail off in PY for a week, and all the other beautiful things of Maine including my daughter’s 25th birthday celebration, reuniting with family, swimming in the lake, tango dancing in an oceanside gazebo with friends, toes in the sand at the ocean and shared meals or walks with old friends. It was also the easiest vacation of my life in terms of packing since I was going home to my ‘stuff’. I had only the necessities: toothbrush, passport, tango shoes, a book, camera, tiny travel pillow, sunflower seeds for snacking, calendar of plans for the week, and a gift for my daughter. This was a liberating travel experience! Oh, and if you’ve never heard an American belle speak Portuguese with a deep southern twang over the airplane intercom, you just haven’t lived. I came back with a better perspective and appreciation for both cultures. What do I miss about the states? Besides the obvious answer of family and tango dancing (if you don’t know this about me, well then, you just don’t know me! I’m a tango addict), natural BBQ chips, feta cheese, fresh Maine air, seeing people exercise and trying to stay healthy, generosity and kindness of Mainers, being able to show my money at the cash register (or technology of any kind in public) with little risk of being robbed afterward, walking alone at night, full bodied complex conversations – in English-, dressing up all fancy for special occasions. What don’t I miss? The never-ending busyness, schedules going full tilt, attitudes of entitlement and rudeness, impatience, excess, and incessant marketing for stuff we don’t actually need.

After living in a culture which has the 144th worst GDP in the world but ties for first as the happiest people across the globe, I think there’s a lot to learn from the people of Paraguay. While Paraguay has its shortcomings in serving its people, a short visit with locals will undoubtedly convince you that wealth and stuff does not necessarily bring happiness. I live among very poor people who, despite the barriers they face and the limitations of their country’s systems, laugh and joke, skip and play, sing and show content in their everyday work more than any group of people I’ve ever met. They are resourceful, creative, and make the best of what they have. Want to play volleyball but don’t have a net? No problem, just balance a stick over the top of two chairs. Got a big rock and a plank? These kids will readily make their own teeter totter with such awesome materials. Or just play for hours in a pile of sand. And their generosity is second to none. A neighbor hears that I’m out of cheese and brings me the last of what she has. Another neighbor offers me unlimited access to her grapefruit tree. Others bring me popcorn grown in their field or eggs from their chickens even though they may have barely enough for their own needs.

So I’m sure I’ve forgotten some significant details but I’ll close here and save a little storytelling for next time. Feel free to leave comments, ask questions, or list things you’d like to know more about!

Until next time….jajotopata amigos!

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