When the Wind Comes From the South

My señora friend and I sat behind her house in a shady patch amongst the trees and not so far from the fire where she was cooking beans for lunch. We were sitting there because everywhere else was too hot. It was a suffocating heat that leaves one misted even if she lies down or sits like a statue. We talked about the heat, perhaps the most important topic of conversation except when it’s raining, and drank terere.

“At least there is a strong wind,” she said.

“Yes. That means it’s going to rain for sure, but maybe not because it is coming from the North,” I said. Paraguay has taught me how to feel the rain before it arrives. Life changes when it rains. It is critical to know when a storm is coming.

“That doesn’t matter, the wind can come from whatever direction,” the señora said. She smiled.

“When the wind comes from the South even the girls’ faces are ugly.”

“What?” I asked.

“We say here that when the wind comes from the North girls smile and there are flowers, but when it comes from the South even the girls are ugly. You know that everything unpleasant, the cold and rain, come from the South,” the señora said.

She got up to check on her beans. She was making a dish that when done would have beans, vegetables cut too small to see, noodles, cheese, milk, animal fat to get it started, and potatoes. It was one of the yummiest dishes I have had in Paraguay. While she cooked, I stayed to nurse the terere. I am not from here. The señora knows I can’t handle the fire smoke, it makes me cry and hack.

The thunder started that night. I hurried to fill every empty container with water. I did my dishes right away. The water went out as soon as I was rinsing my laundry. I would have liked to rinse it one more time and fill the basin, but one can’t have everything.

The rain started just before 11 pm. It poured so hard that it was still going at dawn. When the first drops pelted my roof I sprung out of bed. My ceiling leaks in a couple of places. It’s not a huge problem because most of the leaks are over nothing important and I have a cement floor that soaks up the water. I put out pots. The tat-tat-tat of the drips beat like a drum. A new leak started last rain storm, so I had to move one of the chairs I use as a bookshelf. To be safe I put a plastic bag over the fan motor. It was raining so hard the water blew in the peak at the crest of my roof. I slid my bed as far to one side as I could without getting too close to the window that even though closed was letting in a small stream. I was thankful the power didn’t go out. Last storm, I was surprised by the wind and caught by 27 hours without power.

The thunder made our community sound like a war zone. I have never heard thunder or seen lightening as dramatic as Paraguay. I doubt there is a sky more beautiful than Paraguay’s, and though I decided this long before my first Paraguayan lightening show, the electricity in the air confirms my judgement every storm.

The morning after the conversation with the señora and the following storm, I carefully observed the few girls who passed my house in the rain. They looked as they did the day before, however the plants around them were a brighter shade of green. Maybe the North wind didn’t change the girls or bring flowers, but it did highlight the best side of the foliage.

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Time Passes Before We Know It

It’s been a while since I posted and not because there was nothing to write. The days pass slowly, but afternoon seems to fall before the morning begins. I wake up and it is already Friday. Where did the week go? I ask myself. December 8th marked exactly four months until my days in Paraguay end and a new adventure begins. The ghosts of my service past, service present, and service future have come knocking. They’ve taken me on dream walks to see what I accomplished, what I am doing, and what I will achieve. Unlike the ghosts of Christmas, the service ghosts aren’t here to make me repent. They came to remind me that time passes before we know it, and therefore I should live every second to the max.

People from America, land of the brave, often say that, “It’s the journey that counts” or some phrase that means the same thing. They say this and then grow angry that there is a line at the grocery story, show impatience because there is traffic, or become testy when there are no electronics to amuse them. They say it when they put in long hours on the job and then rush around to the bar, the gym, friends’ houses… And at such hectic times, they say another phrase, “Every moment counts.” And they say that phrase when they refuse to sit quietly, with friends or alone and without the simulation of media or a purpose.

Before my two years in Paraguay, I used those phrases just as “they” do. But now, to me, those sayings have a meaning caught between what the land of the brave believes and how I think Paraguay, the land of time, puts those phrases into practice.

The land of time is hazy and hot. Mangos grow in December, when the land of the brave is dreaming of a white Christmas. Paraguay’s infrastructure is speeding towards better days, but for now the water goes out often and the electricity falters when storms come or too many people use their fans. People have motorcycles and the number of families with cars has skyrocketed since I moved here. However, all personal transport beside, the main staple of commuting remains the buses. One can go almost anywhere on a bus in Paraguay, if one is patient. Some places have a bus only sometimes or on some days and bus schedules are at best a suggestion. Business is accomplished over long meetings that begin with the weather, ease into family, and, at long last, mention the job at hand. It is easy for those from the US to fixate on the inefficiencies of Paraguay. We see the millions of lost moments, moments that could have been spent “doing something productive.”

Time passes before we know it, but in the hours and minutes that have ticked away since I landed in Paraguay I have seen another side of time. On those hot afternoons when the mangos hang overhead, school is out for the summer and many people have vacation. Those days are spent following the shade as it moves across the patio. Families and friends sit and watch the bright sunshine sift through the trees and make patterns of light and dark on the red sand. As families and friends watch the sun move, they talk. They talk about the heat, times shared, what absurdities the neighbors are up to, and the next barbeque. They drink terere. They take siesta. Interspersed among the bouts of sitting are the daily chores. Sometimes an adventure to the river or a party breaks up the listlessness.

The thing about these lazy days of summer when nothing happens, is that my Paraguayan friends waited all year for them to arrive. They got up at four to catch the bus at five to go to work at seven, to work, to get home at seven-eight-nine, to clean and cook and tend the animals, to say “hi” to the children, to sleep, and to get up at four to shower…they did that so their children and grandchildren could have nice clothes and cell phones and study something better. The difference between the land of the brave and the land of time is that in Paraguay, one does not work to work. One works because one has a family. As long as the hours may be, it is not the job itself nor one’s own professional standing that give life meaning, but the people who inspired one to leave the shade of the patio and go forth.

In Paraguay most of time is burned during the journey. Traveling is time consuming. Washing clothes by hand is an afternoon. Cooking with charcoal or wood and also the gas or electric oven are skills that one learns over years of practice. Navigating without power and water when the sun beats down and a shower or a fan would be nice is a test. But every moment counts. In Paraguay the moments are counted not by what one did, but by with whom one was.

Time passes before we know it, and dear reader you might be appalled at the number of moments I spent sitting in the shade of mango trees. I was shocked when I first thought of those seconds given to history at no cost. But, what I have come to see is that quiet instants are not a waste. I will never have the endurance of my señoras. They have given the better part of most years to sitting. But, what I have learned from Paraguay is that there is joy in taking time to do nothing. Peace is found in letting one’s mind wander aimlessly. Of course, too much emptiness is terrible, but my land-of-the-brave upbringing would never let me take too much time for pause. The ghosts of my service have let me face my biggest fear as the reality that I will leave Paraguay comes into focus. I fear that once I leave Paraguay I will never again have time to just be. It is a real possibility that I will descend into the ant hill again, but I hope that I can always carry with me the calm I found here, no matter where I end up. Because, happiness is not found in running from place to place worried about the moments. It is found when one stops and smiles at where the journey has plopped her and takes a moment to laugh with the family and friends around her.