The heat has broken, shattered while we slept and in a tremendous fashion by a storm that was as fierce as it was brief. Still, the land and the fields surrounding my new home outside Guarambare bear the scars of heavy clouds passing in the night and yet, my family and the rest of our Paraguayan friends remain ever-so tranquilo.
Yesterday began as rather run-of-the-mill day of Peace Corps language and agricultural training in preparation for our two-year stint in the field. We finished class around 5, hitting up a small and only occasionally operational internet cafe in Guarambare before attempting to catch the last bus out of town to our homes in Santo Domingo. As we waited for the bus, our small group of 5 or so quickly grew to around 40 people, all trying to hitch the last ride for the evening. When the bus approached, it was already rather full but, in typical developing country fashion, we managed to pack the rickety bus to capacity, fitting every one of those waiting in the cramped and peculiarly smelly seats and aisles. Lesson one of developing naitons: no bus, taxi or car is ever ‘full’. I had no need to hold onto anything; my feet didn’t even touch the ground. I was suspended in a mass of people undulating to and fro with the less-than-smooth oscillations of the bus. Occasionally, the cool relief of a breeze meandering its way through the crowd would reach my face. Otherwise, it was being packed into a can, surrounded by the stale and sweet smell of sweat and work.
Half-way through the trip, a friend looked at me with eyes that said one thing: he was claustrophobic and was clearly going to be very sick, very soon. We shoved our way to the front of the bus and pulled the chord in an attempt to get off at the next stop, still a ways from our house. But, as we rolled to a stop, the bus-driver either did not see or did not care, pausing only for enough time to let me disembark but leaving my friends behind. The bus sped off and I found myself standing alone in the middle of rural and unknown Paraguay. Awesome. I started walking in a direction that I vaguely remembered as being the direction of home but the sun had already started to set and I was way less than sure about my bearings. By the time I reached Santo Domingo I was drenched in sweat, severely dehydrated but laughing out loud to myself just as well. What a beautiful night to get lost in the Paraguayan jungle especially considering I had just beaten the oncoming storm. I showered and sat for diner with the family while we drank terere and watched the Paraguay versus Peru world cup qualifying match. This itself would have been enough to constitute an adventurous night.
I awoke at around one in the morning to the sounds of chaos. Animals going off one-after-the-other, people outside scrambling and yelling and all the while a continuous chorus of wind and water and lightning and thunder. I left my room to find host my family huddled under the small awning in the front of the house as the rain came down like a sheet in front of our faces. Already several trees had fallen, the uuva’s (a small bush that bears delicious fruit) had been disinterred and strewn in shreds across the yard. The television antenna had also been downed by a wind that seemed quite pointed and quite strong. My host father mumbled something about his peppers being ruined and retired to the house to wait and hopefully sleep out the storm.
The next morning brought some relief as the violent clouds receded on the horizon, surrendering the sky to a gentle morning sun. And yet, the damage had been done. Twenty rows of peppers had been tossed around in the night, leaving the entire crop in shambles. The net used for covering the peppers with shade had collapsed. The zapallos, zapallitos, tomatoes, mandioc, pesto and orange trees seemed to be alright, but it was the peppers that represent the biggest cash crop for my host family. This storm had certainly made a point.
My family is lucky in the sense that my host father is a seasoned farmer and therefore, had the foresight to diversify his crops according to price, ease of maintenance and seasonality. The large-scale loss of the peppers is not crippling to my family, for there are other crops to rely on, however, none of them are currently ready for harvest. The peppers, being the best cash crop but also the crop of highest maintenance needs in the Paraguayan climate, provided a huge source of income for the family at several tens of dollars a week. Now with that loss, it seems it may be time to start over and begin replanting. For a poor farmer with limited financial capital, that prospect is daunting but certainly not available for unnecessary preponderance; this afternoon, my host father was already back in the field fixing the netting, salvaging the peppers and setting the ground for the next round. The realities and the necessities surrounding farming change drastically when the food you grow represents not only your nutrition intake, but also the entirety of your livelihood and well-being. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
The storm has since passed and all will return to normal in due time. The perpetually ‘tranquilo’ Paraguayan outlook will surely iron out any lasting damage as it cradles the simple lifestyles of these beautiful people. One should never idealize the situation of poverty or the challenges it presents to countless real people across the globe, but it does seem, and I have seen this over and over, that the less you have, the happier you are. Peppers or no peppers, we will talk and smile and laugh over diner tonight. So it goes.
From the other side of the storm,