Posts Tagged With: meet my community

Meet My Community: Ña Ester and Family

“All you need is love. ” – The Beatles

August 9, 2014

I’m excited to share with you the story of Ña Ester and her family. This 47-year old woman has been a loving supporter of my service from the moment we met. She’s been patient and forgiving with my language shortcomings, always has a smile for me, invites me to new meetings she thinks I might find interesting, is encouraging and open-minded when I want to introduce new concepts, calls or sends messages every birthday and all holidays, and is always sending me home from my visits with plenty to eat. She’s a strong, take-no-shit woman, rare in my community, and such a great model for the others. Most women here are submissive to the men except in matters of child rearing, cooking, and activities related to cooking like how much of each crop to plant. In other families, the man rules the house. In hers, she wears the pants and they are loud.

Ña Ester had a birthday this week and invited me to the house to partake in the feast of BBQd pork, sopa bread and cold rice salad. All of her four children were present, ages 14 to 29. Three of them live in Asuncion and generally only make the trip to the campo (countryside, where we are) 2-3 times per year for the holidays so this was a big deal. I referenced this family’s invitation and hanging pig carcass in an earlier blog this week called Friendship on Every Doorstep where the daughters and I had some great conversations. This is a beautiful, loving family whose care, love, and ease with each other is palpable as they move through the house doing the work of the day, braiding nieces’ hair, taking turns watching the toddlers, preparing food, setting the table, catching up on stories.

 

Recently, after she finished building her family’s solar food dryer with me (which allows them to use the sun to make dried fruits, veggies, and meats), super guapa (means ‘hardworking’) Ña Ester shared her bread recipe with me, which I encourage you to try. Find it In The Kitchen.

 

Na Ester (background) and her sister Na Olga and Olga's daughter Sofia making solar food dryers. Materials supplied by a grant.

Na Ester (background) and her sister Na Olga and Olga’s daughter Sofia making solar food dryers. Materials supplied by a grant.

Her oldest daughter, Rumi, works from home sewing uniforms for Paraguay’s military personnel; the other, Maria, is a stay-at-home Mom. The oldest son, Jorge, is an electrician (who was installing wiring in the new addition before lunch on this day), and the youngest son, Gerardo, is a go-getter-blossoming-leader like his mom who participates in my Kids’ Club, excels in English, is skilled in practical matters of living beyond his 14 years and who I see “taking names” every afternoon on the soccer field. The husband, Elvio, is a character who LOVES the camera and can be seen returning their cattle from grazing near the river late each morning. Whether walking barefoot or riding his bike, he always looks for me at my house and gives a big smile and friendly wave hello. At any event where he and my camera are both present, he’s happy to sit for a photo.

 

I’m grateful to have this warm family in my community and to call them my friends. They have worked hard to make me feel welcome in this tiny town and are part of what has made my service so satisfying here. Gracias a todos!

 

The family of Ña Ester y Don Alvio with grown kids home for the semana santa holiday, one of the most joyous weeks of the year for Paraguayan families.

The family of Ña Ester y Don Alvio with grown kids home for the semana santa holiday, one of the most joyous weeks of the year for Paraguayan families.

 

PS- If you haven’t yet voted in the Peace Corps’ Blog It Home contest – YOU HAVE ONLY UNTIL TOMORROW!! Click here and “LIKE” my photo to place your vote. Thank you for reading and voting!!!!

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Meet My Community – Ña Celia, Mother of 12

June 19, 2014

 

I first met Ña Celia in November 2012 during training on what was called “Future Site visit”, my brief, initial visit to meet the community a few weeks before I was to actually move here. The current volunteer introduced me to neighbors and the projects he had worked on and one afternoon we went to Ña Celia’s house for a rezo. It was the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death. That day I also learned she’d lost her home and everything she owned to a prairie fire just months before losing her husband. Despite these tragedies and me being a complete stranger, she welcomed me with outspread arms and a radiant smile as if she’d waited her whole life to meet me. With the top of her head coming to just my chin, I leaned down to exchange the traditional double-cheek greeting kiss and was offered a seat on the rustic bench made of a single plank between two tree stumps alongside other neighbors. After the service as we began taking our leave, she urged me back to visit once I moved and got settled in.

 

One day while waiting together at the bus stop I asked about her husband. They’d been married 35 years and she spoke so fondly of him. I asked if she missed him and she nodded with a wistful, longing smile. But when I asked if she planned to remarry, her eyes flew open with a mischievous twinkle and firmly answered with a chuckle, “Oh No! I loved my husband and we had a good relationship but I’m enjoying my freedom! Husbands are a lot of work!” I roared with laughter.

 

Like most Paraguayans this gentle woman in her mid-50s is light-hearted and friendly, seemingly unphased by anything. I guess after bearing 12 children (ages 14-39) and being blessed with 18 grandchildren you’ve seen it all and no longer sweat the small stuff. When I heard that her entire family was coming to visit for semana santa in April I made a plan for a group photo of her with all of her children. Printed photos are so rare here that I thought it would be a lovely surprise at the end of my service to give to her. I went to visit the Friday of semana santa, which is like a day of rest here. On this day, Paraguayans eat nothing but chipa, which would have been made on Wednesday or Thursday. I arrived to another warm, heart-felt greeting, and was introduced to all those present and available, which unfortunately was not the whole clan. When we finally settled down for a cool drink she began naming and describing all of her family: children, their spouses, grandchildren, in order of age. I commented how she had enough family to make her very own pueblo right here. “Pueblito!” she shrieked with laughter and tears stinging her eyes, nearly falling out of her chair from the hilarity of the idea. It’s now July and I continue to hear her tell the story of her pueblito. Here are some photos we managed of the day, her little house on the edge of the prairie, full of love and family.

 

Ña Celia with several of her 12 children and 18 grandchildren!

Ña Celia with several of her 12 children and 18 grandchildren!

Daughter showing off their pet parrot, known as Loro, which traveled on a motorcycle to join the family for semana santa.

Daughter showing off their pet parrot, known as Loro, which traveled on a motorcycle to join the family for semana santa.

Semana santa - Na Celia 010

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Meet My Community – The Story of Ismael, A Man of Many Abilities

May 22, 2014

Ismael with his handmade sheepskin fleece saddle and equipment. Photo courtesy Emily Rosenblatt. Check out her beautiful work at http://www.emilyrosenblattphotos.com/

Ismael with his handmade sheepskin fleece saddle and equipment. Photo courtesy Emily Rosenblatt. Check out her beautiful work at http://www.emilyrosenblattphotos.com/

 

Doñ Ismael was one of the first neighbors I met upon arriving in my little compañia in November 2012. His broad, warm smile and bright, twinkly eyes made him immediately endearing and his upbeat, cheerful tranquilo nature is contagious. In greetings, he is never anything less than ‘fantastic’. At 52 years old, he never married or had children but takes care of his 83 year old Aunt Ramulda who is almost deaf and blind. Aunt Ramulda never had children either but raised as her own her sister’s son, Eduardo, now in his 30s, who has lived with them for five years and helps around the farm.

 

Aunt Ramulda, Ismael, and Eduardo

Aunt Ramulda, Ismael, and Eduardo having terere

 

Ismael is the town barber, braids lassos using hides from his own cattle and makes saddles from sheepskin, has given me lasso-throwing lessons, grows the most beautiful roses in town, helps neighbors butcher their animals, and is a masterful guitarista and patient teacher. In an earlier post I mentioned that I had started guitar lessons with him earlier this year but other priorities forced that onto the backburner for now. Maybe this winter…we’ll see. As a thank you for the lessons I gave him some honey and a bottle of homemade kombucha which he loved. I adore visiting this neighbor as he is supremely patient with my language foibles (and doesn’t make fun of me!) and really wants to help me learn, understands the challenges of being away from my own family/learning a new language/being in a different culture, and is a great example of how not to take ourselves or life too seriously.

 

My neighbor, Ismael, teaching me to throw a lasso. So fun!

My neighbor, Ismael, teaching me to throw a lasso. So fun!

 

This cowboy’s daily routine includes rising at 2:30am to make fried tortillas for breakfast which he brings with him to eat in the saddle when he drives the cattle onto the prairie for grazing by 3am. He brings the cattle back again in late morning in time to prepare lunch for everyone, followed by siesta. Afterward, he works in the garden or field and, in late afternoon, he herds cattle for his cousins from the soccer field into their holding pens on their various farms for safekeeping during the night.

 

During semana santa Ismael invited me to dine with him and his nieces after an afternoon of making puchero, which is a soup made from neck meat of a cow. What I didn’t realize until I walked up to the house was that the cow providing the neck meat was killed just minutes before my arrival and the neighborhood men were just beginning to remove the skin. They offered to let me help and normally I would have jumped at the chance but was not dressed for the occasion. It turns out I wasn’t dressed for any part of this day except eating and supervising the preparation of innerds: cleaning intestines to make blood sausage, cleaning the stomach, cutting fat and meat parts, sawing bone. In less than an hour, huge chunks of cow were hanging above my head from every rafter of the patio, the neighborhood dogs were crazy with blood lust and representatives from nearly every family in the community were arriving to purchase fresh beef. In 3 hours, the cow was killed, every part was gone and not a single piece went to waste. An argument nearly broke out between two señoras vying for the head, four feet and lower legs which they love to cook with beans. Even the skin is saved to make various leather goods including lassos, ropes, whips and others. When the work was done we all sat down to fill hungry bellies and the half dozen neighborhood men who helped went home with several kilos of meat in payment for their efforts.

 

Whenever I’m having an off day I visit Ismael because I’m guaranteed to feel better after all those smiles, laughter, the occasional shared meal of homemade chicken or beef, and singing with the guitar. Grateful for neighbors like this!

 

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Matchmaker in the ‘Hood

“The lives we lead have everything to do with the questions we ask ourselves.” – Lori Deschene

April 21, 2014

 

I invited myself to have mate with a favorite family early one morning, which then turned into an invitation to breakfast. The husband is a real jokester and has always teased me about not having a boyfriend (novio) but with time running out, he has made it his sole mission -with increasing urgency- to see that I obtain a novio or husband sometime between now and December, preferably sooner than later so he can enjoy the fruits of his efforts. To help in my ‘decision-making’ he listed every available man within a 5k radius. When he heard I’m going to the Fiesta Hape next month, he was practically giddy over the opportunities I’d have at my disposal and dismayed at my lack of interest. His wife, who has become an accomplice in the matter, tried to sweeten the deal by offering use of their home for the wedding fiesta. They even want my family to move here so I don’t have to go home. We always have a good laugh over this game and it was a great start to the day. I’ve learned the days are always better when shared with friends and laughter.

 

Laughing ourselves silly with 'fish faces' while making chipa during semana santa.

Laughing ourselves silly with ‘fish faces’ while making chipa during semana santa.

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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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Meet My Community – The Espínola-Romero family, Angels by My Side

November 11, 2013

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” – Albert Pike

Recently, I was invited to make chorizo with the Espínola-Romero family (in PY and perhaps much of Latin America the husband’s name is written first followed by the wife’s maiden name; many women keep their own family name but the kids will have both; it is important to acknowledge your family). Chorizo is a type of very popular sausage here in PY and can be bought commercially or made at home. Sadly, the family needed to slaughter one of their two breeding sows because they ran out of crops due to two consecutive years of summer drought and could no longer afford to feed them both. This adult pig was thin from lack of food and didn’t provide much meat so the family got only a few cuts to BBQ and a large kettle’s worth for sausage. Day 1 consisted of chopping the meat into very small pieces and adding garlic, lime juice and salt then cleaning the intestines. Day 2 had us filling the intestines with the mix from Day 1, tying off the ends and hanging to cure for a couple days outside. I will never look at an intestine or a sausage the same way again but it was fun and tasty.

The family's only son dressing a freshly killed pig.

The family’s only son dressing a freshly killed pig.

This family hosted me in their home during my first three months living in this community. Already bursting with four kids still at home it seemed to me such an imposition. But Tranquilo! They gave me my own room and the four sisters moved into a room partially shared by their parents, Victor (46) and Isabel (43). In the campo, it is extremely common for an entire family to share a bedroom. I have seen five or six beds in a room. Privacy and space is not needed or valued. The girls Irma (17), Irene (goes by Rocio, 14), Hilda (11), and Ingrid (6) shared two beds among them. The family was enormously generous and patient during my stay (and beyond), helping me with language, inviting me to meetings, helping me find my way with bus schedules, meeting the community, keeping me safe, teaching me to cook local foods, etc. Victor is the most educated person in the community with degrees in Education Administration and Ministry (most people in my community have no more than a 6th grade education). He is the town pastor, Director of our elementary school, well-respected community leader and my contact, my Go-To for most questions, developing work plans, or general help (Ex: **Where will I live? Where can I have a garden? The shower is dripping and I can’t fix it…Who do I call? I had a big misunderstanding with a teacher and I think I hurt her feelings…Can you help me explain to her? What time does the bus come on Sundays? Is this person safe to visit? Will you teach me to plant yerba? When is the next committee meeting and who do I talk with to see if I can give a workshop for them that day? Can you teach me to kill a chicken? Where do I buy paint/wire/glass/popcorn/laundry soap/get my mail/? Is there a carpenter nearby? Who sells cheese and milk in the community? I’m catching a wild hive of bees tomorrow…where do I put them???**…. You can see this is no easy job for him!!!). Quiet, tranquilo, wise and forever forgiving of my language and faux pas he is the number one reason I function at the level I do here. PS – He let me put my bees on his property, even though it sometimes meant they followed me back to the house after harvesting their honey and we had to close all the windows and doors to keep them out! Haha.

Isabel with five of her six daughters.

Isabel with five of her six daughters.

The couple has seven children (only one son) and the three oldest work in Asuncion and study auto repair, administration and physical therapy. I owe the kids of the family A LOT for, at times, they were able to understand my VERY BASIC language skills (6 weeks of guarani when I arrived– eeek) when no one else could and would then translate for me. This is also one of the reasons they frequently accompanied me on my early introductory visits to local families when I first arrived. At home, the oldest, Irma, is graduating high school in December and plans to study allergy medicine. She is sad to finish school and head into summer vacation, partly because her chores at home are far more laborious than her schoolwork. While all the family has a fantastic sense of humor, she really keeps it going and doesn’t take too much to heart. She is also her mother’s right hand, doing much of the household chores of cooking and laundry for six people, which take hours every day. She and her sister, Rocio, help with the care and butchering of animals and Rocio’s role is to clean the house and yard every day. When I asked Rocio where she wanted to live after high school, in the campo or move to the city, she just stared at me blankly as if this question had never occurred to her, nor did it seem to even warrant discussion. She noncommittally gave me an answer of “I dunno. I’ll probably live right here.” Paraguayans are known for living in the moment and there’s a lot to be said for that. But I also wanted to get her thinking about her future, perhaps doing something more with her intelligence and expanding her world view than settling for a (mediocre) high school education. Art and writing are her favorite subjects and with school coming to a close later this month, she’s facing 10 final exams. Her younger sister, Hilda, is a sweet, smart mousy little thing, efficient, helpful, and an occasional tutor for me. She also was a natural yogi when I taught on their front lawn.

Hilda practicing her best "Tree" pose on the soccer field beneath a stellar rainbow.

Hilda practicing her best “Tree” pose on the soccer field beneath a stellar rainbow.

She and her youngest sister, Ingrid, don’t have many responsibilities around the house yet, other than to be generally helpful. If their Dad or guests need terere on the patio, it’s the girls’ job to prepare it. Sometimes they help herd the animals to the house in late afternoon. Ingrid is perhaps the most competitive of all her siblings, never wanting to be left out or out done and as such she is incredibly gifted in her intelligence, cunning, and athletic ability. She knows how to wrap people around her little finger with the right expression and those huge, adorable brown eyes.

Future Site visit 11-20-12 045

See what I Mean?

Isabel is one of nine siblings, two of whom live next door. She visits her deceased parents at the cemetery early every Monday morning with her sisters and is the president of the agriculture committee. She oversees the household, spends every morning on domestic duties with her children as well as manages an enormous garden and several acres of crops for the family and animals. Mid-day she milks two cows and makes cheese on days when she has accumulated enough. An excellent mother, her children are among the best mannered in the entire town. She exacts a loving discipline that demands respect, immediate action to her requests (the proper response when your name is called is “Yes, Ma’am?”), NO WHINING, NO BACKTALK, NO dilly-dallying with chores, NO half-assed work. Her children emanate excellent manners, intelligence, humor, a willingness to be helpful at all times, and to lead. Yes, they are all leaders.

Isabel cutting up a pig for an asado (BBQ) to celebrate my arrival in the community.

Isabel cutting up a pig for an asado (BBQ) to celebrate my arrival in the community.

This humble, loving family has seen me through my best and worst. They’ve sacrificed space, time, patience and so much more to see me through. (It’s not easy inviting a stranger to your town and working with all their shortcomings!) They cultivated within me a vague sense of humor and tranquilo attitude toward the daily happenings in campo life. I owe them so much but most of all, my sanity and undying gratitude.

The family (back row, L to R):  Victor, Isabel, Rocio, Hilda, Irma. (front row L to R): an uncle, Ingrid, favorite aunt

The family (back row, L to R): Victor, Isabel, Rocio, Hilda, Irma. (front row L to R): an uncle, Ingrid, favorite aunt

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Meet My Community – The Benitez-Esquivel Family

October 29, 2013

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

Writing is a funny thing. Some days my stories tumble out of me and spill onto my keyboard effortlessly, as if pre-made. Other times, I struggle to make a story interesting and have the ideas flow from one to another. This month I have struggled. But from that came a new idea I’m going to try: starting today some of my blog posts will feature a new family from my community so you can have a more intimate glimpse of Paraguayan life and the individuals with whom I interact regularly. Leave me a comment how you like the new feature or if there are other aspects of family life you’d like to hear about. Here we go…

The Benitez-Esquivel Family

As a Peace Corps volunteer working in agriculture, I am expected to have a ‘demo plot’, a small tract of land to experiment with crops and green manures (called Abonos Verdes in Spanish) and by which to showcase alternative growing and fertilizing techniques for Paraguayans. Green manures are plants that enrich the soil and sometimes also have secondary benefits like producing food for humans or animals, providing seed for sale, being good for bees, etc. My plot of land is owned by Luciano Benitez (56) and Eligia Esquivel (‘Ellie’, 38; note – it is very common for older men to marry much younger women) and is surrounded by their own field (about 10 hectares or 25 acres), which they work daily. Like most in my community, they are subsistence farmers, meaning they exist primarily by growing most of their own food and do not have regular ‘jobs’ or income. Any income they generate may come from the occasional sale of firewood, cheese, or excess mandioca if they have it. This family is poor but fairly progressive in their interest to try new things. Their livelihood depends on the weather, hard work, and their expertise in knowing their land and crops.

I frequently see one or both of them while working my own land and sometimes they are accompanied by some of their children: Vicente (16), Lucia (11), or Luz Maria (6). In the summer, Luciano often arrives at the field at 5am and works until 10am before the heat of the day. His wife wakes about 5am to prepare and enjoy her mate then brings a breakfast of deep fried tortillas and mandioca at 8am. Sometimes she stays and works with him for a time, other times she returns home to start preparing lunch. Every other morning she also charges her biodigester with a bucket of fresh cow manure and water. A biodigester is a long plastic tube about two feet in diameter that sits in a hollow in the ground and decomposes organic matter (in PY this is usually cow or pig manure). The methane gas produced by the biodigester provides several hours of free fuel for some of her cooking needs. Both husband and wife are incredibly guapo (normally guapo means handsome in Spanish but in PY it means ‘hardworking’) and generous beyond measure. Luciano is respectful, patient in answering my questions and interested in teaching me what he knows. Ellie and I frequently exchange recipes and are brainstorming project ideas for the Women’s Club I hope to start soon. After lunch and a mid-day siesta to avoid the heat of the day, he will return to the field for most of the afternoon. Many times they bring the horse and cart when harvesting larger amounts of sugar cane, mandioca or corn.

Vicente, 16,  returning to the farm with the horse and cart full of mandioca and sugar cane.

Vicente, 16, returning to the farm with the horse and cart full of mandioca and sugar cane.

Ellie is also an avid terere drinker, stopping to refresh with this popular Paraguayan tea (also used for medicinal purposes with the right herbs) several times throughout the day. In late afternoon, Ellie goes to their other field (also known as a kokue) to harvest sugar cane to feed the cows at night. She brought me with her the other day for my first-ever sugar cane harvesting experience. I was inappropriately dressed for mosquito and snake habitat in a skirt and flip flops, thinking we were just going to visit on her patio. This can be back-breaking work as each stalk of cane must be cut with a machete, then tied and put in a wheelbarrow and carted 1/4 mile back home; some of the canes are 12′ tall! However, back at the house she taught me to make ‘mosto’, a sugar-water-juice made from crushing sugar cane in a grinder. At the end of my visit she sent me packing with an armload of peaches, eggs, and a bottle of mosto.

Bottle of mosto, a sugar-water drink made from crushed sugar cane. VERY sweet!

Bottle of mosto, a sugar-water drink made from crushed sugar cane. VERY sweet!

Luciano and Ellie were married and moved to our town in 1996 where Luciano’s family has lived since the town originally formed in the mid-1800s. She is one of nine children (with two sets of twins, including herself). He is one of six. His sisters live next door and his mom and youngest brother are across the street (note- it is customary and honorable for at least one grown child to live at home and take care of the mother; often it’s an unmarried son but sometimes a married daughter and her husband will be the caregivers; a man is needed to grow crops for food and animals). Two years later they built their own place and started a family. When not in high school in the next pueblo, Vicente helps his father in the fields or with the animals. Both girls attend primary school here in my compania during the afternoon session (school here consists only of half-days, either 7-11am or 1-5pm).

The family recently invited me to lunch for Lucia’s 11th birthday and asked me to come early so I could learn how to make tallarine con pollo (spaghetti with chicken). I arrived around 9am with a container of my mandio chyryry for them to try and a pile of carrots for the spaghetti sauce. Ellie had just killed two chickens for the occasion and cut them up while I prepared vegetables.

Eligia cutting up fresh chicken for her daughter's birthday lunch

Eligia cutting up fresh chicken for her daughter’s birthday lunch

These were cooked over an open fire on the ground in the ‘kitchen’, which is just a wooden shed. She also made delicious sopa paraguaya (like cornbread) in her new electric oven located in the bedroom. And, yes, all of this took over four hours. Birthdays are not a grand celebration here unless it is a girl’s quincinera, or 15th birthday…then it’s like a wedding. This day, there was no cake and only one gift brought by two visiting relatives. This is normal. All through the morning I observed piglets running between the patio and backyard, a day-old foal sticking close to its mother’s side, kids sulking when asked to help, birds flitting amongst the fruit trees beside the house, chickens greedily scooping up scraps of vegetables during lunch preparations and dogs dutily watching for anyone or anything that didn’t belong. When Ellie was busy working the fire in the shed, the youngest pulled out her guarani schoolbook and read to me (this was excellent practice for me too!) While this family speaks primarily guarani (and super fast!), they do understand Spanish and will sometimes use a Spanish word to explain for me when I don’t understand. Each time I visit, I can see my language improve and, in turn, the family becomes more comfortable in my presence (you can’t imagine the awkwardness that happens when you try and fail repeatedly to have conversation and can’t understand each other). Luciano keeps it light by ALWAYS asking for an update on my relationship status and, because the answer is always ‘no, I do not have a boyfriend’, he questions why and pleads for me to get myself a man. While many Paraguayans don’t understand how a woman can be happy without a man in her life, since deciding to ‘go with’ the joking instead of being defensive or avoiding the topic, it makes for good conversation and lots of joking around. I’m grateful for this family and their willingness to share their land, their lives and their sense of humor with me.

Benitez-Esquivel family (L to R): Carlos (farm hand), Luciano, Louisa (Luciano's sister), Wendia (guests are always seated at the head of the table), Clara (niece), Luz Maria, Lucia- birthday girl, and Eligia (she looks unhappy but really wasn't; in fact she looks like this in her wedding photos too, which we had a good laugh over)

Benitez-Esquivel family (L to R): Carlos (farm hand), Luciano, Louisa (Luciano’s sister), Wendia (guests are always seated at the head of the table), Clara (niece), Luz Maria, Lucia- birthday girl, and Eligia (she looks unhappy but really wasn’t; in fact she looks like this in her wedding photos too, which we had a good laugh over)

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