I woke up this morning to what might possibly be the most hellish sound on the planet: that of a pig being slaughtered. The death of a pig is of no more or less consequence than that of any other animal, but the drama of hearing a pig scream and squeal its last living breath away does way heavy on the heart. Pigs don’t die quietly, that is for sure. At least I know that I won’t be eating any more pork when I get home to the states. This is life in the country though--your food is growing and/or walking around one day, eating scraps from the table and rummaging through your garden, and is then being served up for diner the next. It is quite a strange experience to see an animal living, breathing and alive in the morning and then to be eating the same animal’s meat for breakfast on the same day. Sometimes it is easy to remove yourself from the equation, but a wake up call at six in the morning in the form of a weeping and wailing pig does help to keep it all in perspective.
I have been living in Paraguay for almost 6 months now and so many things have become almost second nature. I no longer question things that I think I would have questioned when I first arrived. This perhaps has something to do with me becoming more ‘integrated’ into this culture, but I don’t want to give myself too much credit. I think that most of this is due to the fact that it would be too exhausting to continue trying to rationalize this foreign culture around me on a daily basis. Instead, one must simply accept things as they are, not because he/she is necessarily internalizing them or adopting them, but because a single person lacks the energy to challenge everything in any particular situation.
One way I find this to be most concretely manifested is with my regards to food. For example, food safety/sanitation is almost an unheard of concept in this country. Refrigeration is too expensive for many people to afford. For the few that do own a fridge, they would be lucky to get a balmy, luck-warm out of the unit--something that would still be unacceptable for the food standards of the US.
People cook with reused oil, with pots and pans that are blackened with years of use over an open-fire, unwashed utensils,and cutting boards that are warped and molded. The food is left out all day, vegetables become soggy and wrinkled, meat is strung up to dry in the open--easy prey for flies and the like--cheese placed freely on the table to ‘age’ (as the Paraguayans claim) or ‘mold’ as others might say. Still, despite all of this, I have yet to get sick in this country (knock on wood). After months of eating this food, my body has either acclimated to the myriad of ‘bugs’ that I have been ingesting, or I otherwise arrived in this country with a much stronger immune system then I originally expected.
It is hard to say what comes first, the mental or the physical tolerance of a new place and a new culture, but either way, the act of acceptance is something special. Brief doses of a new culture only serve to provide the traveler with a sense of novelty, never forcing one to delve any deeper than surface level. On the other hand, the experience of living in a place for an extended period of time helps to cut back on the idealism and instills instead a dose of realism. It is through this type of living that one can really begin to understand something or some-place new. One must eat the food, no matter what sanitation standards it may seem to violate. One must learn the language, no matter how useless it may seem in any other context (Guarani certainly applies to this category--it is spoken no where else in the world but Paraguay). One must dress the dress, walk the walk, and do as their new countrymen do. One must reach the point where they are no longer living among foreigners but among friends and neighbors. I am still in the long process of seeking the latter.
From my neighborhood,