Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ore Gentekuera

Hello, patient blog readers! Matthew is reporting today's installment where I'd like to introduce you to some of the people (gentekuera, in Guarani) that make up our community and life here in Paraguay. After the description of each person, I will try to convey our favorite moment (thus far) with them. Due to some sort of security issues, I am unable to give you their entire names here, so I will use initials or nicknames instead. If it helps you, you can imagine a big black CIA-style line through the rest of their names.

Mrs. C: One of the first people we met from our community back in April 2011. C is over 60 years old, has shoulders like a linebacker and a thicker mustache than I could ever grow. This tough lady has provided for herself her whole life. She currently lives alone and maintains a beautiful garden area in her yard, a vegetable patch, a swath of land that she farms, and more geese, ducks, chickens, cats, dogs, pigs, cows and horses than anyone could ever hope to count. She continues to live in the wooden plank house her grandfather built over 100 years ago. Even on a social call, it is difficult to keep her from tidying, cleaning, or otherwise working around the house. She only stops working long enough to watch two hours of soap operas (telenovelas) each evening. Whenever we surprise her with a gift of cookies or cake, she always, always finds something to gift us in return, even if it is the last of the food in her fridge. She has a daughter who is a teacher at the local elementary school and two grandchildren (9 and 8) that attend school in the neighboring town but visit almost every afternoon during the school year. Mrs. C is one of our closest neighbors, both physically and emotionally. She always seems to know when we are awake or asleep, washing laundry or working in the garden. Favorite memory: There are many, but it's gotta be when we initially met Mrs. C, she gave us a big bear hug and her first words to us were “Hello! You are going to be my children!”

Toad (8), Snack (7), and Monkey (2): If you have been on my Facebook page, you have definitely seen a picture or twelve of these spirited sisters. Each have distinct personalities, but all three love to run around, laugh, swim/splash through the nearby creek, eat, learn to speak English, get dirty and, above all, climb things (including us).

Toad was probably the first person in the community we formed a bond with (by the three of us dancing around with ribbons in her yard at night). She is tremendously funny, incredibly clever, and a hard-worker to boot. When my parents visited, my Mom was shocked at Toad's beauty. She claims it doesn't come through in the goofy Facebook pictures. Don't tell anybody, but Toad is Tegan's favorite Paraguayan. Favorite memory: This one is a 2-in-1 memory; Toad came over one day while we were cleaning our room. She proceeded to root around in our dirty clothes bag, removing all the clothes and even pausing to smell my dirty underwear (the face she made after that is favorite memory #1). After she emptied the bag, she crawled into it, zipped it up, and pronounced “I am dirty clothes!”

Snack is the most introverted sister (aside: this does not mean much. Just last week she invited me into the bathroom to have a conversation with her while she went number two.). She is super smart, loves to read, and is the most fluent in Spanish of the sisters. She is really cute in a dorky way. At times, she reminds me of myself (except for being smart and cute). Favorite memory: Recently, she and her sisters were at our house. Snack wanted an ice cube so she called for me to come in the kitchen. I was busy and said that I'd be there in a minute. She then said, “Mateo, if you don't come here, I am going to whisk you!” I turned around and there she was, trying to hide her smile while waving our kitchen whisk at me in an intimidating manner.

Monkey is single-handedly the dirtiest child I have ever encountered. Her face is always smeared with a mixture of candy residue, snot, dirt, and drool. Her hair usually looks like she was electrocuted and then placed in a wind tunnel. It often appears to be a tornado of hair, twigs, and leaves. Monkey's favorite toy is any knife that she can get her hand on. Her favorite pastime is to be picked up, flipped upside down, and held/bounced/swung around in that way for as long as you can manage it. Needless to say, this wild child is one of our favorites. When we arrived, she was not yet two, and was a roller coaster of emotions: the highest highs and the lowest lows. These days, she has mellowed considerably and is equally happy washing utensils or sweeping the floor as she is being swung around upside down. Favorite memory: Monkey came to visit us one day during her Pato (“Duck”) Phase. She would point to absolutely any type bird and shout “Pato!”. Parrots flying by? “Pato!”. Chickens out in the field? “Pato!” The hummingbird on Tegan's shirt? “Pato!” We were holding hands as I was walking her home and we were counting “patos” as we went. Monkey paused, dropped her pants, and pooped right in the middle of the field. She then pulled up her pants, grabbed my hand, and went right back to counting “patos”. I like to tell people that's when we became family.

Mrs. S.: Is in her sixties, five feet in height and about as wide as she is tall. She has had 13 children, including Toad, Snack, and Monkey's mom. This lady is the definition of tough love. It took me a long time to warm up to her, as she spends most of the day yelling at any/all of the children and animals in her general vicinity. This behavior, along with a considerable language barrier, blinded me to how fiercely she loves her family. She has readily accepted Tegan and I into this already large family. Whenever we greet her, she usually grabs us in a big hug that ends up smashing us into her ample bosom. Favorite memory #1 (couldn't single one out): Early on during Toad's birthday celebration, we taught her how to say “happy birthday to you” in English. Later that night, we sang to her in three languages and then all enjoyed some cake. While eating the cake and sitting around the fire, Mrs. S barked out some instructions/advice/commands (we had no idea as it was in rapid-fire Guarani) to Toad. Toad paused, turned to her grandmother and shouted back “happy birthday to you!” in perfect English. Mrs. S looked bewildered for a few seconds, then tipped back her head and howled with laughter at these strange words coming out of her granddaughter's mouth. Favorite memory #2: When we were making chipa (dense bread product eaten during celebrations) into animal figurines for a children's celebration, Tegan made something that looked like a mix of a snowman and Buddha. Everyone wanted to know what that particular creature was. Tegan explained that is was a silhouette of Mrs. S while sitting. Mrs. S proceeded to laugh until she cried.

Mrs. L: If there is one reason why I am still in Paraguay, it is probably the generosity and warmth of Mrs. L and her family. If you recall our ancient blog posts of 8 months ago, you may remember that I had a tough transition period when we arrived in our community. It was at this point when Mrs. L offered us a room in her house. By providing us access to a calm environment, her wonderful family, and delicious food, she was just what the doctor ordered for two bewildered Nortes. Tegan has always said that someone should make a movie of Mrs. L's life so I will give you a brief outline of that yet-to-be-made film. Mrs. L is not yet 40, but has raised four children (two adult children live in Asunción; her son is in the army and her daughter is in college, and two kids live a home; a 15 year old girl and 6 year old boy). She maintains multiple tracts of farm land, while cultivating the largest vegetable garden we have seen. She can make crème brulee over a fire without burning it. She can slaughter and butcher a pig by herself. She brings all the water for cooking, drinking and bathing in from the well, as she has no running water. And she does all of this without her partner, who has fled the country after being accused of murder (depending on who you ask, he is either innocent or the other guy had it coming). She has told us numerous stories of her flaunting of “traditional” Paraguayan customs. She refused to marry her longtime partner as she thinks marriage diminishes a woman's power. She arrived at a soccer game on horseback and whipped a younger woman who was threatening to steal her partner. She also loves to laugh and is one of the few Paraguayans who can understand and employ sarcasm (I am not too proud to credit three months of living with us for her sarcastic talents).Favorite memory: Mrs. L's kids love to play Hide & Seek. One day we played with them. It is hard for us to find places to hide in her immaculately clean house. Tegan found a spot where she put her back to the wall and opened a door of a closet so it would shield her from view. Well, the kids never found her, but when Mrs. L went to go put away some freshly laundered clothes, she closed the door to the closet, turned to leave the room, and came face to face with a grinning Tegan. Mrs. L screamed with surprise and collapsed laughing and crying into Tegan's arms.

A: Mrs. L's 6 year old son continues to amaze me with his intelligence. He speaks Spanish well, despite it not being taught in his Kindergarten class or speaking it at home with any frequency (my guess is he learned it from TV). He is a bit on the short side but will steadfastly refuse any help recover things outside his reach. Instead, he prefers to build or re-engineer any number of tools to help himself. He seems to be made of stone; he is not fat yet weighs a ton and is very strong, He routinely tries to lift me off the ground; he will probably be able to before we leave. He also enjoys challenging us to arm wrestling. He is very ticklish and has a giggle that can light up a room. He has a If you have seen a small Paraguayan boy with a bowl cut on my Facebook page, that is him. Don't tell anybody, but he is my favorite Paraguayan. Favorite Memory: While we lived with his family, A and I would often be engaged in a wrestling and/or tickling competition after dinner and before bed. Whenever I bested him, he would shout “Let me go! Let me go!” and when I did, he would pounce right back on me. One night, he used his “Let me go!” routine but I did not comply. After squirming around trying to free himself, he finally shouted “Mateo, let me go because I am going to fart!” The speed at which I jumped from the bed is still a source of amusement for his family.

So that's it for now. Other things you should know are: we had the first rain in 40 days this week. Yay! Also, next week we will be hosting a married couple that just arrived in Paraguay this month. It seems like just yesterday we went out into the field to visit a volunteer, but that was nearly a year ago. Where does the time go? We will try to instill in them a sense of pride and honor that comes with working with Paraguayans, and also try and teach them to enjoy the mixture of pig lard, corn meal, and stinky cheese, in all it's myriad forms.

We will be back soon with more news from the campo. Until then, besitos.
Matt & Tegan

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happy 2012!


Oh yes, them.

The Carter Langes are still alive in Paraguay! We are attempting to resuscitate the blog for 2012. Here it goes:

Backing up to 2011, in December we convened a group of women community members who were interested in making homemade soap. We held the first meeting to plan who would bring what ingredients, when and where it would take place, etc. The next week 10 women got together and made soap! It was great to some community members that otherwise may not cross paths working, laughing, and learning together.

Also in December, we spent two weeks seemingly doing nothing but celebrating birthdays and holidays in our community. Almost every day we were invited to a family's home for a big gathering, lots of wine, and of course, more food than we could possibly eat. However, we missed the Paraguayan celebration of Christmas and New Year's (watermelon and fireworks; sounds like the 4th of July) to return to good old Oregon!

Over three weeks we were ecstatic to see and catch up with family members and friends. We got to tell some of our favorite stories face-to-face and even taught a little Guarani to the people of North America. We were interviewed for the local paper and got a full-page writeup complete with color photos. We also enjoyed numerous delicious, comforting meals, Pacific Northwest wine and beer, and went three entire weeks without eating manioc. It was a lovely vacation.

In January, we returned to South America in the middle of Summer. While we were gone, Paraguay had suffered the hottest day in its recorded history, and was in the middle of what would be 19 days without rain (it usually rains about once a week in Paraguay). Needless to say, it was hot. We also learned that when your house is made of brick and concrete, although the sun has gone down, it does not stop the aforementioned bricks from radiating heat through the night. It was so hot that the supposed “cold” water in our shower came out hot, as the ground was hot enough to heat the pipes underneath.

While we were re-acclimating ourselves to heat, Guarani, and manioc, we learned good news: our group of women soap makers had met every week while were gone and had become a regular soap-making factory! This is a sustainable developer's dream scenario: a grassroots project that is carried on by the people of the community and is sustainable economically (the ingredients' costs are low and split between the group members), politically (it is not dependent on a certain politician or party in power), and environmentally (nearly all of the ingredients are available locally). Most importantly, it is self-perpetuating; meaning they are not dependent on Tegan and I to organize, resolve conflicts, etc. We are also proud that the group includes a cross-section of families and mini-communities in the area without being dominated by any one of them.

This week, we have enjoyed a refreshing change in the weather (temperature in the high 80s instead of high 90s) and finally have energy to do more than just sit in the shade, sweat, and complain about the heat. We have taken advantage of the weather to run around with our kid-friends, cook, do laundry, and finally buy chairs that weren't outlawed by the Nuremberg trials. We look forward to the start or a new school year this February, not only as that will signal a downturn in the daily temperature, but that we will be able to involve ourselves once again in the group of parents, teachers, and students that make up an active school community. Until then, we hope the best for you and yours, and thanks for being patient with our infrequent blog posts!