Land of Plenty and Unemployment

I went for a walk in the evening the other day. My walk took me along the main road and down to a river that was swollen beyonds its banks with rain. We’ve had a wet year and the rainy season is beginning. All along the flood banks men and women were fishing with their bamboo poles. Here fishing most often involves a string tied to a piece of bamboo, no reel, no bells and whistles. There are two primary kinds of fish, super bony and bony. The average fish is about the size of my hand.

Most people weren’t fishing just because they think it’s fun. As dusk was falling, two men on a dirt bike passed me, they were laden with silver, hand-sized fish. People here eat fish and even the small ones. One day the mother of the family I’m closest to was telling me about a woman in the community who has eight children. That’s a lot of mouths to feed with only the father working, and in Paraguay there are few jobs that pay enough to easily support a family of ten. I asked how the woman fed all her children.

“Well, they fish…” the woman I was talking to said.

Paraguay is fertile and has a climate designed for growing things. Fruit of all kinds, except apples and berries, is all over–bananas, all the citrus, papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, mangos, and the list goes on and on. There are several kinds of fruit in season at all times, and bananas are always available. With a little effort one can grow vegetables year-round and harvest most crops more than once every twelve months. In addition to fruits and vegetable, animals are part of most Paraguayan families’ lives. People who don’t live in cities can raise chickens and pigs on their plots, and even if they don’t own grazing land they can graze cows on public land and land that isn’t in use.

With some effort starving can be avoided in Paraguay even if money is tight. Further, the temperature is moderate. Unlike Vermont where winter exposure is deadly, in Paraguay, a roof to protect from the rain is enough to survive. Simple, rustic living spaces where families depend on their own crops to eat may not be a dream, but are realistic ways to live in Paraguay.

The point is that Paraguayan climate and geography are friendly toward life. People who are creative and willing to work can survive on almost no money. But, as hospitable as the earth and rivers are in Paraguay, job opportunities are limited. It is not uncommon for one person in a family of many to work, even if several people in that family are working age. The common example of a father supporting his wife, adult children before they marry, and his young children is traditional but not what most families would choose. It is a reality here because jobs are scarce and opportunities for professional employment lag far behind the number of people who are educated and trained.

As I watched the sun set over the river and bordering marshland, I thought about the juxtaposition of existence in Paraguay. I like to think Paraguayan society is moving toward providing its people as many career options as the land of the Guarani offers food choices to the hungry. I believe it is. The students I worked with want more than just a roof and bananas with fish. They want to travel and have cars and cell phones. Paraguay must change to provide what its future leaders demand or it will lose them.

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