I promise I won’t talk about the weather in every post but I find it simply wonderful and fascinating here. Yesterday was over 100 degrees in the fields where we worked….a real ‘scorchah’ as we’d say in Maine. Today, slightly more tolerable. And it’s only Spring. Both days left me looking like I’d showered in my clothes. haha. Actually, today I did hit the shower in my clothes because I was grungier than I remember being in a long time. The red soil on my feet and calves looked as though I’d waded through rusty-water. The shower is also a great place to do laundry, though I have recently determined the water heater’s maximum to be exactly 1 shower and 2 pieces of laundry. And the weekend laundry ritual will likely continue in tandem. So it is. Tomorrow I will buy myself a wide-brimmed sombero because we still have more planting to do on Saturday. Today’s technical training session had us planting mandioca (yucca root, which is served with nearly every meal as a starch), beans, corn, soybeans, watermelon, jety (pronounced jay-TU, guarani for sweet potato), and more. We came home for lunch the past two days (normally during regular class we eat at the training center). Despite the heat, my family made hot stew both days (fight fire with fire?) Yesterday was a traditional paraguayan favorite and my first experience: vori vori, a stew of small hand-rolled cornmeal balls. Today’s lunch was a beef stew of sorts and the best meal I’ve had since getting off the plane. Yummo! My family is seriously overfeeding me but I’m down with that.
Tonight Papa showed me how to prepare and cook mandioca. Peel, wash, cook for an hour, “mas o menos” (more or less). “Mas o menos” has become the preferred phrase of my training group this week. When in doubt, mas o menos, or ‘Close enough.’ From the title of tonight’s post you may be wondering “Is she really going to talk about a pig on a moto?” Yep. It’s true. In my last post I mentioned that paraguayans carry everything and everyone on their motos: babies, groceries, picnic coolers, and today ….we spotted a live pig, hog-tied and lying (comfortably?) on his back. I’m glad I’m not the one trying to hold that critter on a moto! (And no, it was not the driver holding the pig.)The past several days have involved many hours of language training (4-6 hours per day). Initially, this was exhausting. However, with increasing vocabulary and comprehension I now look forward to it and am taking this as a good sign! This week I feel so much more relaxed and settled and it’s showing in every aspect of my days. Tranquilo.From me to you: Tapeapovo (tahp-A-o-PO-vo), guarani for “Make your path as you go”.
Sorry this is a lengthy one but there’s so much coolness to talk about everyday!!
Last night I had the best evening yet with my host family. I told my ‘sister’ that I needed exercise so she took me for a walk in the back 40 where I learned my family owns a large sugar cane plantation and significant acreage in cow pasture (I’ve been here a week and just learned this and that we have about a dozen cows and a bull). Two things: 1) the sugar cane is fed to our cows and also harvested for table sugar for extra income; 2) you can always tell a cow pasture from other pastures by the clumps cows leave behind. In this pasture, the clumps are actually a popular herb Paraguayans use in their matte that I learned about in class. This one is called Malva and used as an anti-inflammatory and expectorant. Also tonight, my host Mom showed me the ‘traditional’ way to grind corn before the electric mills were invented. It looks like a tall mortar and pestle and you pound dried corn kernels to fine powder with what looks like an oversized baseball bat then put it through a sieve to make cornmeal. Very hard work. Pics forthcoming of host Mama gettin’ it done.
Two totally cool observations from the bus today: I noticed for the first time a beautiful mountain range in the distance. I believe it is Argentina as we are impressively close to the border and people from this area go there like people from Maine go to NH to buy groceries and cigarrettes. Stay tuned for more details on that topic another time. As for the other: puppies and piglets hanging loose and tranquilo on the roadside. No one watching over them, they weren’t phased by the bus whizzing by, and the cutest sight ever. I’ve gotten accustomed to seeing horses, cows, goats, and even grown hogs tethered (or not) on roadsides, in ditches, pretty much anywhere the grass grows… or walking down the middle of the road. Piglets, that’s a new one.I realized I haven’t talked much about my family or the environment in Paraguay so here goes. My family is large (Mama had 7 kids who all visit on Sundays) but only 2 of the kids (brother and sister) live at home. Mama rules the home and ensures everyone is taken care of and all is in order. Papa works long hours and takes care of the ‘manly’ things around the house like killing chickens. My sister is 32 and a baker at the family’s roadside bakery in front of the house as well as an accountant in Ascuncion. My brother (don’t worry, Bub, he’ll never replace you) is 25, a college student and event planner for a hotel in Ascuncion. They are a very close, proud, hard-working family and treat me better than I could have imagined. After being a ‘grown up’ for a number of years now, it is a bit strange to be waited on, have someone make my lunch, serve me breakfast and keep me company at the table while I eat, ensure I never go hungry, and show me how to wash me clothes (the traditional way on a washboard sink, by hand)….very sweet actually. More detail on laundry another time when I have less to talk about.As for the environment, the scenery here looks like a combination of Maine and Florida. Very interesting. There are red pines growing beside coconut-bearing palm trees. Spear plants and tropicals next to bushes closely resembling New England species. Semolina and mango trees next to what looks like sumac. All growing in the red soil. Fascinating. PS – the semolina trees bear this totally cool pod that is nothing short of an overgrown, flattened vanilla bean and when they fall to the earth, they are dry and make great noise-makers when shaken. Yeah, the guys in my group discovered this the first day. Go figure. 🙂
One of my fellow ‘aspirantes’ (trainees) and his host mother had a tarantula in their kitchen last night. Apparently his host mama, a tall woman of ample mass, jumped on the arachnid with a serious stomp but the spider was nonplussed and collected itself to continue it’s journey toward her kitchen chair. It was finally suppressed by application of boiling water. I have nothing against spiders as long as we each stay in our own space but I really hope I never find one of these in our house. No tranquilo!
Though my brain is totally fried from 6 hours of Spanish class today (that’s right, 6, six, seis) plus 2 interviews with my assistant country director and field supervisor, I found myself in uplifted spirits, feeling like a switch flipped yesterday and things are settling and coming together. My host family commented on how much my Spanish has improved suddenly in the last two days! WOOHOOOO – something is finally clicking! I think I have not given myself enough credit to acknowledge how much change I’m actually going through right now. At home, I thought I had prepared to the nth degree. I thought I had considered a full spectrum of changes I’d undergo and adjustments I’d need to make. I practiced conversations in my head I thought I might have. Little did I know how UNprepared I would be despite those efforts. They told me this would happen but today they also told me I was right where I should be and that I will be just fine. No matter that I want to ask your name in Spanish and am probably inadvertently asking how many keys you have instead. But it’s nice to see progress. Tranquilo.
Today was a lovely 25 Celsius, which means… it was hot. I write this soon after reading that my real Mom back home is using her furnace nearly every night now. I am not envious of this. Apparently the weather in Paraguay comes in waves. It starts cool and warms a bit each day until it’s oppressive then it rains and cools down again. We’re on a warming trend until Wednesday. Luckily I love the heat and will take oppressive heat over cold any day.
Sundays are a family day in this household. I think somewhere between 17-20 people were here, all immediate family, so we ate lunch in shifts. Not organized shifts; it just happened. And lunch preparation seemed to ‘just happen’ too, without a lot of discussion. Vegetables were peeled, meat prepared, cabbage shredded, tables set, etc almost magically. Everything is very ‘tranquilo’. No one is ever, EVER in a hurry, even when things become urgent, like an uncle nearly running over the dog, but somehow it always works out and comes together ‘just in time’. Not surprisingly, people frequently use the term ‘tranquilo’ with me when I appear to be stressed, whether not understanding the conversation or trying to make something happen. They look at me, lower their hands toward the floor, and say ‘tranquila’ (basically, “Chill out, Chickie!”). Paraguayan culture will be VERY good for me! People came and went all day, mostly came. All were incredibly friendly and tried valiantly to include me in their conversations. Despite myself, I do learn many new words every day and my host sister is determined to help me learn the native tongue, guarani (wah-rah-NEE). While it is a beautiful and intriguing language, with a few exceptions it is nothing like Spanish. For example, is there anything about the word Mba’eichapa (ba-A-shappah) that hints it means ‘hello?’ Or that Ka’a Hee (ka-ah-hay) means ‘peaches’? I didn’t think so either. I have my work cut out for me because I’m learning both languages simultaneously (it’s times like this I wish I had my 22 year old brain back).Ok, I’m off to do homework as my battery is nearly spent. Talk soon!