Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Almost exactly as I remember it...

November 21st, 2009

I recently went home...

Where’s home you may ask. Well they say home is where the heart is, and I left my heart back in Paso de Oro. It was right where I left it 3 months ago, and I picked it up and dusted it off when Fabiola came running towards me as I stepped off the rattling bus and onto the dusty, dirt road in front of my home.

John Howard Payne beautifully captured the essence of what I have been feeling and coined the phrase when he wrote the song, “Home Sweet Home” in 1822 as part of the opera, "Clari, the Maid of Milan.”

“Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there 's no place like home;
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there,
Which sought through the world is ne'er met with elsewhere.
An exile from home splendour dazzles in vain,
Oh give me my lowly thatched cottage again;
The birds singing gayly, that came at my call,
Give me them, and that peace of mind dearer than all.”

Over three months ago I promised I would come back for a visit if Paso de Oro made it to the final. After a long, successful season, and several disputes, rematches, and postponings later they finally made it to the final series, the first game of which was played on Saturday, November 21st, 2009 in Ipane. The date actually perfectly corresponded with my 3 month In Service Training I had to come in for by Tuesday anyway. The second game would be played the following Saturday, November 28th, 2009. Unfortunately I won’t be able to see this game, as I’ll be in Encarnación celebrating Thanksgiving with a ton of volunteers.

It was hot...really hot. Mary and Fabiola have a little kiddie pool in front of the house, to which I relented and agreed to enter after much begging and pleading. We cooled off and played with each other. I was a vicious shark trying to capture and eat the unsuspecting prey (Mary, Fabiola, and Jacqueline). Fabiola really got a kick out that. Most of time though I just stood outside the pool squirting them with water by positioning my thumb just right in the end of a garden hose.

The time came for us all to get ready to go to the cancha. I was pretty much dried off and was very dirty. I was also really hot. A cold shower was calling my name. Cold showers here in the summer are amazing. You don’t even want to think about a hot shower. In the winter, a cold shower (sometimes necessary when the power goes out) is torture, but in the summer it’s lovely. I made it to the shower, turned on the water...


“Ok, maybe the water’s just turned off or something. A quick shout to my sister, whose now living in my old room because she has separated from her husband, supposedly because of rumors that she cheated on him, should cure the problem. She and my Dad worked on it but to no avail. The running water is out and the backup tank above the house has emptied.

These are the small inconveniences of life in the third world...Frequent, unexplainable power and water outages. If I turned on the sink ever so often I could get a few trickles so I got the bulk of the main dirt off and considered it bastante (enough) and headed to put my clothes on. Just as I had done that, the running water came back on. Haha. “And isn’t it ironic. Don’t you think? A little too ironic. And yeah I really do think...”

So I unclothed, jumped back in the cold shower, which was refreshing, and rushed to be ready before Hector.

I finished getting ready as Hector pulled his truck up to the front of the house. We all piled in the back of the truck and headed off to Ipane, a nearby town where the match was being held. It felt so comfortable being back in the back of that truck with my family and friends. I remember the day when it felt odd and awkward. Those days are long gone...I’m completely integrated and comfortable now, and I actually feel like part of the family.

The match was a long defensive battle until towards the end of the game when the opposing team snuck one past our goalkeeper. It was very upsetting to say the least. To make matters worst in the final minutes they scored again ensuring our defeat.

Despite the loss I had a good time just being back at the cancha with my family. I split my time evenly among all the different clicks within the family who were sitting close to each other but not all together.

Nothing has changed...well nothing at the cancha at least.

My sister Mirian still yelled at the players and referees in guaraní in between gossipping and commentating to her friends. “Did you hear that such and such walked down the street the other day with such and such? Oh David has the ball. He needs pass it. FUERZA DAVID! (David gets fouled but it doesn’t get called)…Son of a Blaaaaaaaank referee.” My sister-in-law still yelled out obscenities and rushed over behind the goalkeeper during pivotal moments and got all heated. “Hey you bald referee! Go jerk off on a cactus!” Fabiola still pestered my sister for every snack available at the cancha including donuts, ice cream, soda, and popcorn, and Mary still observed the game patiently and silently.

After the game we all rushed back to Hector’s truck and quickly got out of town, probably for fear of fights and other forms of game associated violence, which are pretty frequent.

Of course my mom and sister made empanadas that night and a crowd of people gathered at my house to watch soccer on TV and socialize. The empanadas weren’t as great this time because they were made with prepackaged flour tortillas instead of made from scratch mandioca tortillas. Apparently, there is a big shortage of mandioca, which is ridiculous considering it is the most important food in Paraguay. I mean my Dad even said once that without mandioca, it’s really not a meal.

That night was also the Quinceañera of Carlos’, one of my fellow volunteers, host sister. My family was invited. I took a nap because it had been a long day and I knew it would be a long night. I told Paulo to come get me at 11:30 PM so we could head out. I set my alarm on my phone and dozed off for a nap in preparation for the long night ahead. I woke up at 1:00 AM. The alarm never went off. Must have been set for 11:00 AM. By the time I showered, my Sister and Mom had already gone and returned from the party. The music was still going so I went regardless. At the very least I could hang out with Carlos for a bit. I got there around 2:00 AM and the party was still hopping.

It’s the funniest thing to watch Paraguayans dancing sometimes. They dance in no particular uniform way but they do form a uniform straight line rather than just one big blob of dancers like we do in the states. Maybe it’s logical. Maybe it prevents bump-ins and the like. Carlos, Arelio, my sister-in-law, and my two nieces danced like it was 1999 until about 4 AM, when we heard Paraguay’s infamous party’s over song. It’s a specific Paraguayan polka song that they always play last. I say it’s cool they have a song to signify the end of the party. Mary says the Paraguayans are too dumb to know when to go home so that’s why they have to have a recognized last song. Haha. She said it...not me.

The next night I received a call from Liz, a fellow volunteer who had also arrived early, saying I should come to the cancha. It was great fun catching up with Liz and dancing with everyone until David’s brother (David is Liz’s Paraguayan boyfriend who she’s absolutely smitten with), got into a fight in which a bottle was broken on his face. After a few pretty rough blows, David and his other brothers managed to rescue him from the fight, but just seconds later someone starting shooting. They fired off a few rounds. I looked at Paulo and said, “Vamos rapido” (Let’s go quickly). I just so happened to be with the group that the gunmen wanted to shoot out so I was trying to get out of dodge as quickly as possible. Paulo and I got out really quickly and were briskly walking down the sandy, dark path to the sound of more gunfire. That should be enough to end a party right? Well I guess Mary might have been right. Paraguayans might be too dumb to know when to go home after all, because Paulo and I didn’t get a quarter mile from the cancha when we heard the DJ try to hype up the crowd and started playing music again. Gunfire won’t clear the party but the Paraguayan polka song will. Que bárbaro!

I was home for a total of six days. Much was the same as I remembered it the last time, and I imagine it will be for some time. My Mom has said she wants to die in that house. “Si Dios quiere” (God willing). The family carried on with the same routines and rituals. Mom still made empanadas Saturday and Sunday night. Dad still drank terere under the shade tree in the mid-morning and late afternoon. Hector still drank caña late into the night on the benches near the work shed. But there were some fairly major changes that had happened in the 3 months since I left.

My Sister, who was living in Ipane with her boyfriend of 14 years with whom she has a child, had very recently separated and moved all her stuff back home and into my old room. Of course I didn’t mind. She is the real daughter after all. She brought some lindo stuff with her...a new refrigerator, which she keeps stocked better than my Mom does, automatic washing machine, Playstation 2, a broken down computer, a nice bed and an armoire. Darwen, my nephew, is sharing the room and bed with his mother, which I bet makes for a better, more intimate mother-son relationship.

They take naps together, watch movies together, play games together, etc... She’s getting to spend so much quality time with him.

Also we have, or should I say had, a new pet monkey. The monkey was found hanging out in some nearby trees. My sister-in-law snagged it with a t-shirt after luring it in with chipa, the very traditional bread-like Paraguayan food. While I was there the monkey escaped. My Dad tried for an hour or so to lure the monkey back in but to no avail this time. You see monkeys are smart and this one had learned its lesson. While I was there, they didn’t recapture it so it’s likely we no longer have the pet monkey.

Paulo had a brand new smile and a fresh summer haircut. Education and adoption of good dental hygiene is severely lacking in Paraguay. Paulo’s teeth were really jacked up when I left but since then his Dad had payed for him to get them fixed. His 12-year-old Sister, Jacqueline, also has really jacked up teeth but refuses to go to the dentist because she’s scared. Almost all her teeth have blacked out spots on them. It’s a pity. Her sister Jesika has great teeth and says Jacqueline’s teeth are the result of not brushing frequently and eating a lot of sweets. I told her family to drag her to the Dentists even if she were kicking, screaming and crying and force her to have them fixed. She would thank them later.

Hector now has fully functional air condition in his room, which he proudly showed off to Carlos and I. That’s a real luxury especially if you consider their living conditions. You may remember pictures of my house, and think that’s not so bad. Though in the same family and just a few hundred yards away, Hector and his family are living in true poverty. He wheeled and dealed a bit and managed to pick up a broken down, yet salvageable American brand old-school window air unit for cheap. My brother fixed and installed it for him. He says the incremental monthly costs aren’t much. He works really hard in the heat all day and deserves a good night’s sleep in the comfort of air conditioning. I’m super happy for him.

Mirian has separated yet again from her husband, Eladio. Their relationship is somewhat like some High School relationships. It’s on and off...breakup, makeup. Right now they’re off and broke up. Eladio has moved back to his Mother’s house at Kilometer 22, which isn’t too far away. Fabiola, 5 years old, doesn’t really care and asked Mary why she cries so much over her father that doesn’t cry over her but instead makes her cry. There’s a thought provoking question posed by a 5 year old. The pattern is something like this. Come back home. All is good for a little bit but inevitably he gets into a fight with Mirian, usually while drunk. Says hurtful things. Everyone minus Fabiola and Eladio cries. Eladio runs back home to his Mom. Stay there a bit. Come back home. Repeat process.

Mirian now has a job selling clothes in Asunción in a store owned by someone in Eladio’s family. She says she likes working but the days are long and her feet hurt from standing up all day without any breaks. I think deep inside though, the feeling of independence and pride from earning money for her family probably trumps the sore feet so she keeps standing, both literally and figuratively.

Mirian working in the city means laundry duty is left to my Mom. Nilda helps when she can but also works selling jewelry. Since she allows people to pay in small monthly installments she spends a lot of time making house visits to collect. You should see her little notepad with chicken scratch she uses to keep track of customer accounts. It’s pathetic but it’s a system that works well for her and which the customers somehow trust. Mom still prefers to wash most the clothes by hand, I guess stuck in her traditional ways, claiming that the automatic washer doesn’t get the clothes as clean.

Augusto is working harder and longer hours. It’s beginning to get hot, which means demand for air condition installations and repairs is way up. He leaves the house around 5:30 and often doesn’t get back until midnight or sometimes later. He finally has his moto back and he also has a work truck to drive.

Jacqueline was forced to quit her English lessons because her Dad didn’t have the money to keep sending her. But she’s been assured she can resume sometime next year.

Other highlights from the week include:
  • Playing soccer penalty kicks with Mary, Darwen, and Jacquelin
  • Watching a Michael Jackson movie with Darwen
  • Going on a long jog with Jesika (I recently found out she spells it that way)
  • Hanging out with the family in Hector’s work shed
  • Chasing the chickens and ducks around with a broom trying to get them back inside the fenced in area after Mary left the gate open when she was showing me piles of eggs

Although a lot has changed within the family, they are all still the loving, fun people I remember them to be. We picked up right where we left off, and it was a great week.