Posts Tagged With: neighbors

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!!!!

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Bimbo Truck and Marriage Proposal #9

The truth is, your perception is your reality… that means you literally create your own reality.
August 8, 2014

 

I had begrudgingly gone to the pueblo earlier this week to buy a handful of fence staples (grampitas) so my community could finish their solar food dryer project. I say begrudgingly because going to the pueblo (largest nearby town that has everything we need) is usually a 6 hour ordeal if I take the bus (2 hours of which are walking) so it’s no small part of my day, especially for such a tiny errand. But I wanted this project DONE — and DONE this week.

When going home from the pueblo, I’ve learned to wait at the gas station instead of the bus terminal because often I can find friends, family and neighbors from my neighboring town heading home in their cars or trucks and they are always happy to give me a ride. On this day, while watching a man herd an errant, very pregnant cow home through the town park on his motorcycle, Ña Patrocinia, who lives across the street from me, joined me at my waiting station. She owns a despensa (convenience store often run from a room in the home) and knows everyone, especially the distributors. So when her friend Jorge came along in the Bimbo truck, she flagged him down and he gave us a ride.

 

Bimbo Bakeries delivery truck. Ours was more the 'off road' version for PY.

Bimbo Bakeries delivery truck. Ours was the ‘off road’ version for PY. Bimbo (pronounced beem-boh) is a brand of commercial breads and pastries popular in Latin America and among Latino communities in the US.

She is the curious and gregarious type and soon they were off in buoyant, rapid-fire conversation as we jostled our way down the bumpy dirt road. As I tried to follow along,  eventually oh-so-handsome Jorge turned his attention to me and said,

“What country are you from?”

Me (jokingly): “The United States.  Do I not look Paraguayan?”

Him (snickering): “Noooooo. You are much too white. Are you a Peace Corps Volunteer?”

Me: “Yes. Good guess.”

Him: “How long have you been here?”

Me: “Almost 2 years.”

Him: “When do you leave?”

Me: “December.”

Him (with a grin): “Have you considered staying in Paraguay after December?”

Me (mischievous eyes a-twinkling): “No and, I’m sorry, but I can’t marry you.”

At this my señora friend practically aspirated with laughter and delight. “SIN VERGUENZA, WENDY!!!!!” (you have no shame!) but she was LOVING every minute of it.

Him (amused by my boldness and satisfied that I understood his intentions, he’s ready to play the game): “But why? I’m famous here in Paraguay you know and could give you a good life. And we’d have beautiful children together. I think you should stay.”

The truck filled with voluminous laughter and the conversation continued until we got to our stop.

Ña Patrocinia and I got out, gave a thanks and started the hour-long walk home where she replayed every part of the Bimbo interaction for her own entertainment and asking me if I realized I’d just turned down an opportunity for a husband. With her despensa being the hot spot for “local news exchange” (known in PY as ‘chisme’), I’m sure it won’t take long for that story to travel around my community. I’ll give it about 2 hours.

Early in my service I was a bit indignant over these exchanges with Paraguayan men but have since learned that life is much more fun and fulfilling when you choose the lighter perspective. Laugh, play, be merry and don’t take it personally. As an individual whose personality has historically defaulted to ‘serious’, this is one of my biggest growth edges garnered from my service and I’m so grateful. Paraguayans’ sense of levity has rubbed off on me (they ARE the happiest people in the world, you know). Life is SO MUCH BETTER in the light and NEVER dull in PY!

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

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Friendship on Every Doorstep

“Rain or blessings may pour down from the heavens, but if you only hold up a thimble, a thimbleful is all you receive.” –  Ramakrishna

August 5, 2014

The day started with 2 goals: to pay my water bill and to deliver a handful of passion fruits. It never ceases to amaze me how such simple things can blossom your whole day into brilliant joy.

I made my way the half-mile or so to the señora’s house to pay my water bill (the equivalent of about U.S. $4/month). It seems every plant is flowering right now and the air was perfumed with a bouquet I wish I could attach to share with you like those old scratch-and-sniff stickers from the 80s! It makes walking around town a blissful, sensory delight! I passed the señora on her way to the school where she cooks lunch for kids who don’t get food at home. After exchanging greetings, she nodded me toward her house saying that her daughters were home and could take my payment. In their twenties, I LOVE these two women: friendly, cheerful, gracious, easy to talk with…we talked for a good while about everything while their toddlers ate mandarins and shooed away chickens. As I prepared to leave, I inquired about the pig carcass hanging from the patio roof. They said it would be BBQd the next day in honor of their mother’s birthday. I was officially invited to lunch and gladly accepted! (pork BBQ – one of my favorites!)

My next stop was across town to visit a señora whose son had helped me fix my passion fruit arbor in the garden a while ago. As a thank you, I’d promised to share some fruit when the time came. Laden with a bag of uncommonly large deliciousness I arrived, unannounced, at her gate (one of the things I LOVE about Paraguay – you can visit unannounced, there’s almost always someone at home and they are happy to have your company!) She was doing laundry, squatting in front of her washbasin made from a tire turned inside-out, hand-scrubbing her husband’s tighty whities and jeans. She hugged me hello like I was a long-lost daughter, pulled up a chair for me next to the tighty-whitey wash station and proceeded to catch me up on all her news. I shrieked in disbelief upon learning she still had running water! A bad lightning storm killed the motor on our town’s water tank and we’ve been without clean drinking water for a week. While every family has a dug well on the property, few families have maintained them after the town installed running water over a year ago. My own well, from lack of use, is full of rusty-brown, debris-laden water and leftovers from a giant, bloated dead frog. To bathe, I’ve been filtering, boiling and chlorinating water over the past week.

My filtration system from the dirty well. (Right) untreated well water, (Center) filtering through a chamois towel, (Left) boiled and chlorinated.

My filtration system from the dirty well. (Right) untreated well water, (Center) filtering through a chamois towel, (Left) boiled and chlorinated.

Seven days ago, I borrowed four liters of drinking water from a neighbor who had a bit extra to spare in the beginning and this had lasted me five days, supplemented with homemade orange juice and kombucha. To conserve, I’d avoided cooking any food that required water (pancakes anyone?), salting foods or doing anything that induced sweating in an effort to stay hydrated. I was on the brink of desperation for a new source of drinking water as my supply dwindled and rumors said the motor wouldn’t be fixed for 2-3 more days, so when this señora offered to send me home with two liters of fresh water – she was an instant hero! I was ecstatic! Not only water, but I had a full load of lettuce, carrots, Persian lemons AND four liters of water! Add to that, the husband’s hilarious sense of humor, constantly jibing about my non-existent husband, the señora repeating every funny thing I’d said each time a new family member returned home, watching the youngest son skin a pigeon, being invited to lunch for the best meal I’d had in a week, and a time of incredible bonding and laughing over several hours, I thought the day couldn’t get any better. I was wrong.

I hurried home in time to meet up with two señoras with whom I’d arranged to help build their solar food dryers in the afternoon. They are sisters in their 50s, both with a sense of humor and general light-heartedness about life (are you seeing a theme yet? Paraguayans. Laughter. Love.)  We spent the afternoon laughing, joking, working, and ultimately celebrating their achievements. What a great feeling to see the pride and sense of accomplishment on their faces!

Senora showing off her completed solar food dryer

Senora showing off her completed solar food dryer

I returned home (2 classrooms down the hall in my ‘schoolhouse’– haha) to find the Peace Corps “Blog It Home” contest had begun. In case you missed this announcement: I’m honored that my blog was selected as 1 of 20 finalists from over 350 entries around the world. If you’ve enjoyed reading my work and learning about Paraguay, I’d be grateful for your support and your vote as the public helps decide the ultimate winners now through August 10. Click here to learn how or go straight to the voting site here!

Stay tuned for more amazing adventures from Paraguay. Thanks for reading.

Jajotopata! (until next time)

UPDATE – running water came back this morning a day ahead of schedule!!! I had a celebratory discussion with the teachers on my front porch who laughed how I’d be able to bathe again. Ummm, yeah. Having water again IS exciting and a hot shower…even better!…but was it THAT obvious I needed a bath? – Always laughing in Paraguay…

 

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A New Perspective

“Acknowledge someone’s gifts as if that person were your brother or sister, have compassion for their struggles, see them as connected to the same fabric as you instead of a separate entity that is somehow a threat.” – Padhia Avocado

June 28, 2014

I got the idea for this blog after reading an online story by Chelsea Fagan called “American habits that seem insane after you’ve lived abroad”: http://thoughtcatalog.com/chelsea-fagan/2014/06/6-american-habits-that-seem-insane-after-youve-lived-abroad/

After living in PY for nearly two years, I can relate to these sentiments and wanted to add a few of my own. For you North Americans who have never lived anywhere but the USA, consider that we have some opportunities here for personal growth. Of course I’m generalizing for both cultures and I realize not all of these are easy to cut and paste from one culture to another on their own but it’s worth giving them consideration and perhaps a try…

1. Acknowledging people when you walk by them.
It’s an instant feel-good. In PY, it is rare to walk past someone, whether a neighbor or complete stranger, and not have them greet you in some manner. As a reserved Maine Yankee, this took some getting used to but now I really love it. Paraguayans are often stone-faced when not engaged in conversation but the moment you smile at them or offer a greeting their faces light up. I made their day. They made mine. We’re good. It’s magical and gives you energy to throw into the rest of the day. Smiles are contagious no matter what language you speak.

 

2. Neighbors
How many of us really know our neighbors? Care about them? Or even speak to them? Of course in the US we proudly live very different, independent lives, ones where we do not necessarily NEED our neighbors to survive (except perhaps in the case of the Ice Storm of ’98 but that’s another story) but in this lack of needing and knowing we create isolation and often a sense of apathy to those around us. We’re so busy with our own important lives that we have no time to care for or share the successes and struggles of our fellow human beings. Can we do more to bring our community together, to celebrate our collective humanness, to start knowing each other?

 

3. Living life in balance.
Work, children, entertainment, volunteering, exercise, friends, extended family. We have this idea that the more we work, the busier our schedules, the ‘cooler’ we are. We call it ‘driven’ or ‘motivated’ or ‘achievement’. Other cultures just think we’re crazy because we’re too busy to actually enjoy our success and have no time for…family. Because here in PY, family is EVERYTHING. On Sundays, life of the workweek stops, the extended family congregates and spends the whole day together, simply enjoying each others’ company, sharing meals and their preparation, talking about the prior week’s tales, sharing plans for the upcoming week, celebrating successes, sharing the burdens, recalling stories from childhood or silly things that the Norte said.. And Paraguayans know the importance of resting and relaxing even on a work day. They start the day with a relaxing hot maté and the rest of the day is interspersed with regular occurrences of their famous terere (yerba mate) breaks, where sitting, sharing and talking in a circle of friends, family or co-workers are part of the tradition. They are not afraid to ask for help for the smallest to the biggest projects or tasks and easily accept it. We could give ourselves a break by doing a better job of this in the US, eh? Put your stubborn pride aside and let someone give you the gift of assistance. It makes the giver feel good and the receiver gets a hand. Win-win.

 

4. It is good to work for your food.
Meal prep is an important, and often time-consuming, part of each day. “Fast food” is an empanada. Otherwise, a senora will spend hours preparing lunch which will be savored at the table together with the family. Preparing a single meal usually means building a fire on the ground from scratch using firewood gathered days prior, plucking corn kernels from the cobs by hand, grinding kernels into corn meal with a hand-cranked grinder (this alone is a workout!), making cornmeal into corn bread in a cave-like oven- also fired by wood-  plus preparing a soup with vegetables and meat bones or a chicken which would have also been killed and dressed that morning in her spare time. The family would have worked months in the field to grow the corn and mandioca for the meal, sugar cane and different varieties of corn for the horse who pulls the wagon full of the harvested cane and brought home… and a flock of chickens and the cows which are milked by hand every morning. Thus, meal times are to be savored for each one is the fruit of months of labor.

 

5. Forgive and Forget
In my community, people quickly forgive and forget the transgressions of others, especially neighbors. In a community as small as this (35 families), they need each other for survival. Fighting and holding grudges would put them all at risk. You need my well when yours goes dry every summer, I need your help killing a cow to feed my family. So they’ve learned to pretend it never happened and I’ve done the same when offended by someone as well. It’s beautiful. We can all just relax and move forward and life is so much better. I’ve discovered tremendous beauty in this. Being on the receiving end of forgiveness is such a gift. Whether unknowingly displaying a cultural faux paz or use of an inappropriate word that I thought had a different meaning and then being filled with fear or guilt of offending my neighbors, I am greeted with a “Tranquiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiilo, Wendia!” that puts me at ease. They have no use for holding grudges, shaming or embarrassing the other party (making them “pay” so to speak), or making me feel awkward for my slip-ups (except that they LOVE to talk about them with each other in a lovingly joking way). The fact that they look past my mis-steps and shortcomings by lovingly poking fun at me makes me feel all the more supported and loved. And not just with me but with each other. They fight one afternoon and they’re laughing with each other a few days later. I’ve learned that this is something I want to bring home with me and make a regular practice in my life in the US; I’d love to see more of it and less of “it’ll teach her a lesson”. Can we do this together, please?

 

6. Taking care of family
I’m talking extended family. Chelsea points out in her article how North Americans are so eager to get away from family. In Latin America, extended families live together gladly, comfortably sharing small spaces and resources, a family of eight sipping from the same glass of water or sharing beds: from newborns to great grandparents they all care for each other without a complaint, passing on traditions and wisdom learned over the years. And when all the kids are grown, at least one family member stays at home to care for aging parents or a widowed mother, usually a younger son or married daughter. Unlike the US where there’s a stigma for young adults living at home, here it’s an honor to care for one’s elders. No woman, especially an older woman, would be left to live alone in PY’s campo.  This includes extended family too. Here in my community I have several examples: a younger male cousin caring for older female cousin, a 50-something nephew caring for an 83 year old aunt and her ‘adopted’ son of 33 years, two single men – one 26, the other 48 –  caring for their mothers and one single woman of 50 who lives alone but between two sisters with large families who act as her own children, growing food and helping her with chores.

 

7. The need for speed
North Americans are addicted to a fast-paced life. Some would argue there’s no alternative in this age of full family schedules, work demands, and a spectrum of irresistible recreational activities at one’s disposal. When you bring that hectic energy to a culture like Latin America it stresses out the locals! They don’t understand what the rush and urgency is. If I need to go to the despensa for eggs but the senora is eating lunch, it might take 30 minutes to be waited on while she finishes but she also is likely to offer me a plate of my own while I’m there. Or someone says they’ll be over “en seguida” which might be a couple of minutes, 4 hours, tomorrow or never. Tranquilo. Or your 10am bus doesn’t arrive for 45 minutes or 2 hours or at all– that’s normal so don’t get your knickers in a bunch (ok, perhaps there’s room for a middle-ground here). Or you go for a ‘quick visit’ to see a family until you realize…there is no such thing as a quick visit. Relationships are important. ENJOY the connection whilst there. If you have a specific mission in mind you must first socialize and only then get down to business. Anything less is rude. I think we would prosper a lot from practicing a little patience and building more breathing room into our lives.

 

8. Less is more
Paraguayans are among the poorest of the world, yet consistently rank among the happiest people in the world (see my News and History page for examples). They work hard, rest hard, love fiercely. They don’t stress over things out of their control and laugh about everything.

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We can learn a lot from Paraguayans.

 

More ‘stuff’ does not produce happiness. Quite the opposite, I would argue. Can we do better with what we already have (reuse/recycle?) Can we just stop with the excess? Can we stop robbing the world – and taking more than our share- of its resources for our frivolous and soon forgotten pleasures (and subsequent garbage heaps)? Can we stop raping the environment today to preserve it for a better tomorrow (do you really want to live and breathe in an environment the equivalent of a toilet in 40 years? Do you want that for your kids and grandkids?) Spend one week considering every purchase you make: Is it necessary for your happiness? Is there a better alternative? Could you live without it? Have you ever asked yourself what REALLY makes you happy over the long term? Is your ‘stuff’ a mask to cover a lack of fulfillment? Does that really work for you? Would foregoing a purchase and trying on forgiveness work just as well?

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What if we took better care of ourselves, each other, and the environment we live in? What if we got back to knowing our neighbors, dropping in on friends, lingering regularly over meals like our lives depended on it (um, yeah, cuz they do), laughing regularly, sharing hugs and I Love Yous freely, forgiving instead of begrudging (including ourselves!), offering love instead of envy, lifting others up instead of tromping them down. Wow. What a world that would be.

Stepping off my soapbox now. Let’s hear your thoughts.
 

 

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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