Posts Tagged With: Semana Santa

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

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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A Half Marathon and a Marriage Proposal

April 10, 2014

“Think about one of your best days ever…How can you organize your life to repeat that day as often as possible?” – adapted from Strengths Finder 2.0, Tom Rath

In March, myself and three fellow volunteer girlfriends took a much-needed vacation to Mendoza, Argentina and its world-famous wine country. There, after months of early morning trainings through summer heat, three of us ran a half-marathon and the fourth did the 10k on the most beautiful course I’ve ever run, overlooking olive groves and vineyards with the majestic, snow-covered Andes Mountains in the backdrop. While the first six miles were all uphill starting at 3000’ above sea level, I hardly noticed as I was busy taking in the view (well, I might have noticed that I could barely breathe for the first 4 miles but that worked itself out and the all-downhill return was FAST). The start and finish line was in the center of a vineyard and we enjoyed wine at the finish line. Ever had Trapiche wine? Yup, we ran by that vineyard on the way too. Too fun! While I’ve done a few half-marathons in the past, for the others this was their first race ever. We finished proud and happy for each other.

Finish line fun with friends. Andes Mountains in the background. Mendoza, Argentina

Finish line fun with friends. Andes Mountains in the background. Mendoza, Argentina

Early in the week we organized ourselves and divvied up tasks based on our strengths which resulted in one of us being Logistics Coordinator (map-reader extraordinaire and get-us-where-we-need-to-go expert), Financial Planner (who handled the group money), Communication Specialist (she with the best language skills asked questions of the locals when necessary and translated for the rest of us), and me as Health and Wellness guru (daily yoga sessions at the hostel, psychotherapist, nutrition adviser, etc). Not only was it fun but it really did make the week easier having to focus on one thing and being able to rely on the others for the parts they did best too. The rest of vacation had us visiting wineries and doing wine tastings, doing olive oil factory tours, and bussing through the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Andes to the border of Chile. It was there we visited Mt. Aconcagua, the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas at nearly 21,000’. We cooked all of our own meals, including a baked chicken (lovingly named Patrick since it was St. Patty’s Day) with roasted veggies, local wine, and homemade apple pie shared with new friends met at the hostel. If you’ve never been to Mendoza I highly recommend it!

Mt. Aconcagua in Mendoza, Argentina. At nearly 21,000 feet high it is the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas. This photo was taken at 7,000 feet from 41km away.

Mt. Aconcagua in Mendoza, Argentina. At nearly 21,000 feet high it is the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas. This photo was taken at 7,000 feet from 41km away.

Unlike the quote at the beginning of today’s post, what follows was not my best day nor do I want to repeat it. But of course we know we can’t possibly appreciate the good stuff unless we have some weird stuff to contrast with it. Soooooo, on a recent return from Asuncion shortly after my lovely vacation my bus hit a cow in the road. Now, I’ve been here 19 months and cannot believe this has not happened before now with the roads besieged mile after mile with wandering cattle but it was just a matter of time. Nonetheless, terrible. The driver tried his best what with all the brakes and swerving sharply but after the thud and what sounded like crumpling plastic bottles I raced to the window to see the downed cow leap from her side to her feet in a single movement. However, it’s doubtful she lasted more than a few minutes and the whole incident left me shaking for miles. This only added to the strange day I’d been having since the overly-friendly male passenger beside me started with small talk early in the ride. At Hour 1 ½ he was negotiating for a kiss and by Hour 3 he was promising his undying love, marriage, and the privilege of a life bearing his children here in Paraguay. The only thing I was interested in was finishing Book 3 of The Hunger Games. Priorities, people! I wasn’t laughing then but I am now. Only in Paraguay.

This week I feel like life is returning to normal, which hasn’t really felt normal in several weeks. It’s good to get back to work, and visit and reconnect with my neighbors. Recent lunches with neighbors produced invitations for more visits next week, which is Semana Santa (Easter week) and for which celebrations and family time are sacred, equaled only by the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Extended families will return from the big city for 4 days; houses will burst at the seams with guests; traditional chipa will be made, eaten, and given like gifts; food will be consumed in excess; love and laughter will be shared freely. Stay tuned for lots of fun stories from what is sure to be a great week.

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