Sunday, December 03, 2006

In the Land of the Where-Cows*

Pombero Update: Last week, after hearing all of the myth talk and seeing the genuine belief in the eyes of my educated, intelligent neighbors, I decided I wanted proof. I asked one of the other trainee's host sisters, Lily, if I could see the Pombero one day. She said that there was one spot where they were known to go, so she told me to come by their house after dinner that night.

I came over, in good spirits, ready to dispell any sort of black- magic-voodoo that was thrown my way. "Donde?" I asked. She pointed me to one spot next to her house where there was a line of bushes. "Vamos!" I insisted.

As we walked, her three year old sister Monce tagged along. I did everything I could to scare them both. I picked Monce up, placed her in the bushes and shouted "Un regalo (gift) para los pomberos!" She ran back, with her eyes wide and fingers in her whining mouth, but still in good humor.

We stopped and listened, but there was not a sound. It was as if the shrubs and trees were holding their breath. I, however, took the liberty of puncturing this tranquility with a well-placed whistle. It went on and on and until both Lily and Monce pushed me and told me stop.

After a while, Lily picked up a stone and told me that if a Pombero was nearby, there would be a sound like th-- As she was about to throw the stone, the sound of another thrown stone whisked through the bushes towards us from our left. I stopped laughing. My whistling ended. I partly walked, partly ran back to the house with the two and haven't made any Pombero jokes since.

San Miguel: Before going out to all of our sites, the Trainees and I first needed to meet our Community Contacts. In order to make this an enjoyable first meeting, a little conference was held at a pseudo-resort. There was ice-breaking, team-building, map-drawing, expectaction-listing, and a slew of other activities to get us more acquainted with our Contacts for the next two years.

Mine didn't make it. Being so far off of paved roads, a rainy day prevented any buses from entering or leaving my site. I spent the mini-conference with the other trainees and contacts and still had a great time.

The next day, I was dropped off on Ruta 2, and given directions on how to arrive at my site. I travelled for about 3 hours in my first bus and 4 in my second. While riding in my second bus over a bumpy dirt road, however, there was a little commotion in the seats behind me. The bus driver had to stop, and reverse about 100 meters. His ticket-taking partner ran out behind the bus, and returned with one of the windows that had fallen off.

I spent the night in a hotel and the next morning walking to San Miguel with fellow volunteer Danny. As we walked, I asked about 272 questions and he had answers for all of them. He pointed out that as we neared the River Parana, the soil changed making it less hospitable for normal crops, therefore it was all fruit trees.

That's right. I will be living in one of the largest fruit producing communities in Paraguay. Not only that but my house (which the community has already arranged for me) is only about 800 meters from the Rio Parana, which divides Paraguay and Argentina. The winding road that works its way through the community is incredible in every direction.

Danny and I eventually met up with my contact, Carlos Ruiz Diaz. Upon first meeting him I knew we'd get along. His sense of humor follows the same rule as any good book, film, or piece of music: Tension and Release.

For example: You'll be talking with him and he'll casually slide something into conversation ("Or you could always sleep out here on the Patio...") and let the tension build a little in the air as you try to decide whether he's joking or not. Just as you're about to say something in response, his eyebrows shoot up, his eyes open so wide you can nearly see behind them, he exposes both sets of teeth while his punching bag bounces in the back of his mouth and he lets out a roar of laughter. It's as if he can hardly contain the hilarity that's forcing itself out of his body. It's like his face explodes. Quite the release.

After holas were exchanged we got right to it. Being so close to Argentina, Spanish was spoken very easily and I was able to keep up with all that he was saying (jokes and otherwise). They showed me where I would eventually be living, where the wood was that I could use to build bee hives, where his indoor, warm water showers were that I could use whenever I want, etc, etc.

Later his 14-year old son Hector showed me their land, able to point out any tree, tell me its name, when it blooms and what medicinal purposes it has. All the while talking about Paraguayan history, currency exchange from Guaranis to Pesos to Dollars, local politics, andhow to translate anything into Guarani. A fountain of knowledge that made my head spin.

That afternoon, Hector wanted to show me the River. We walked for about 20 minutes and found 4 other teenagers. We ate bananas right from the tree as we made our way down a path into the woods. I tried to steady myself on the gradual decline but after a while, it changed from a walk to a jog to an uncontrollable run through the greenery. I would use trees and manmade steps to right myself at times, but the rest was spent running full speed.

We eventually made it to the bottom and encountered a wooden row boat. One of the boys got some oars and we rowed out to a nearby sand beach. Swimming and chicken fights all occurred in the river that divided Paraguay and Argentina. It was incredible.

On and on and on. I could keep going but I won't. There was just so much that happened in those first two and a half days that bonded me with the community. I was presented to the school, I spoke at the Agriculture committe meeting (and I've been told that they're now interested in bees), spoke with a group of other men after they played Piki volley, (which is volleyball without the use of one's hands), visited the one man in town with bees, swam in another river, played pool, and really just tried to take it in.

I really lucked out with my site. Someone (San Miguel?) or Something (A falling Mango?) has worked its magic to place me in such an amazing location.

Before leaving my site, Carlos told me that I would have a nickname waiting for me when I came back. The men in the community had been studying my moves, and thought it was time I had a "Sobre Nombre." It's a tradition for everyone in the community to be named something, for example, "mono" (monkey) or "buffalo" (hawk, I think). I suggested something fierce like "Leon" or "Tigre" or "Tiburon" (shark), but he looked at me straight faced and said, "No, algo mas feo" (Something uglier). Wait a second.......Face explosion.

Pictures (I didn't bring my camera to San Miguel, so here are some old ones)
1) The all-too-real Pombero
2) A group picture from Thanksgiving.
3) A picture from my presentation on Dental Hygiene, from way back when. A good laugh.

*In Guarani, "Moo" with an accent, means "Donde" or "Where." Therefore, when their cows make their natural noise, they are asking "Where?" in the same way that our owls ask "Who?" This joke was of course not lost on Hector.


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