Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Delicious, yet not quite right

June 28: Mate Dulce?

My buddy Matt had one of those experiences that's just pure PC. His family took him out in the fields to collect cocos, which are marble-size coconuts. They cracked them open with a hammer, mashed them with a pestol and mortar, put them in a mate (MAH-te) cup. Then they gathered around a charcoal stove and put a kettle of milk and sugar on. They poured that over the cocos and drank.

I happened to visit at the perfect moment. My sister came from the house to peek in just as I was exclaiming "He terei!" (delicious in Guarani)

When I went back home my family said we were having mate dulce the next day. I didn't get to go into the woods and get the cocos, they just made it for me. No experience, but still delicious.

Mate dulce is our new drug.

But I wanted they experience. So the next time I they said we were going to have it, I said I wanted to go with them to get the cocos. "Vamos."

We walked in the back yard, where the chicken and cows roam around our drying laundry. My sister started looking around on the ground. I looked to the sky and asked, "Where are the trees?"

My sister laughed. Then, I thought I must have been misunderstanding, she explained that the cows ate the cocos, then they collected them. From their poop.

"Las vacas comieron?" I asked, "Entonces..." I haven't learned the word for "to poo," so I just put my hand on my butt and then jetted it out. "Si," she said, laughing.

Alright. Let's play, can you find the coco...

See it? Got it? Ok, one more try...

They´re the brown balls kind of hanging out near the poop mounds.

Appetizing, isn't it?

So then we put the poop cocos in a box. We took them to a rock and broke them with a hammer, then put the inner meat back in the same box. Then, without any kind of surgical-style hand scrub down that one might hope for, we prepared the mate dulce. Only something about it this time wasn't so sweet.

UPDATE...There is some Spanish debate about whether the cows poop out the cocos or vomit them up. I don´t know which explaination would make me feel better, but I´ll probe further into this issue.

June 29: On Not Being Indiana Jones

There’s a pleasure when you see new things. You see someone carrying a basket on their head and you say, “Yes, I’m in a new place. I have traveled far and now I’m here seeing things I wouldn’t see at home.”

Like the way people here eat fruit, splitting the peel in a curly-que until the grapefruit is a white ball, then scalping off the top and squeezing all the juice to the top and into their mouths.

I’m in South America.

Vendors board buses and speak in auctioneer’s Guarani, hocking socks, candy, medicine, porn. Out the window I see an ox cart shuffle in with city traffic, a wooden box with two mudflaps, both adorned with huge gleaming Mercedes decals.

This is why we leave home.

Since I’m here, in the Peace Corps, my Paraguayan madre makes the most delicious, exotic cafe con leche in the world. I am in South America, after all.

“Is it the instant stuff?” asked one of my fellow trainees. “That’s all we’ve had in my house.”

Instant? Instant? This stuff is so good, there’s no way it could be anything less that an ancient Paraguayan legend. I assume the beans are harvested from plants that grow through the cracks in the ruins of ancient monuments to the gods of deliciousness, brought through the forest by donkey and sold to those who only know how to negotiate in Guarani.

On cold mornings it’s waiting for me on the table on our patio. I cup my hands around its holy vessel, a mug covered in hearts and a big “Te Quiero.”

Then one morning I am there, in the kitchen, as my madre pours warmed milk into my mug, digs a mound of sugar and drops it in, then heaps pre-ground beans out of a bottle that says Nescafe. She stirs and hands it to me.

I look down into it as it spins like brown water flushing. Oh.

Ok, so they have instant coffee. They also have a stereo bigger than the one I had in college, sweet motorcycles, floor fans, and cell phones that go off during meetings. But I wanted loin clothes, exotic facial pierces, a canoe ride deep into the forest of a secret land.

But the Peace Corps, nor the Paraguayans, are here to act out the fantasy adventure movie I had planned. I may never even get to spit a blow dart into the neck of an enemy tribesman.

We want the exotic, the strange, something to write home about. But in the grand, ever humbling theme of This Is Not About Me, I have to remember that people still need help. And every time something is not the way I had planned it, for my own Indiana Jones Adventure, it reminds me of the reasons I had, or should have had, to come.

That's also part of the pleasure, the normalcy of it. You can travel until the water in the toilet spins the other way, and still no one wants to change the toilet paper roll.

Now enjoy these pictures of day old piggies, born across the street from my house. Day old should be hyphenated, but I can´t find the hyphen. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Paulette, I'm really enjoying your blogs. Indiana Jones, huh? Maybe not but you're still much more exotic than anything I've experienced. Looking forward to more news and knowing that you're safe. --Rhonda (next door to where your mom used to live before there was John :-)

Jeri Jones said...

Paulette, I am loving your blog! Cute little piggies, you are certainly close to nature in S. America. Love the poop pics, only you would think to send this out to the world. Do you still drink the coco? I suppose you just adapt to what is and enjoy the whole experience. Keep having fun, keep your wonderful sense of humor and keep writing so I can read your Indiana Jones diaries from my air conditioned house on my bed in the living room. I love you, Jeri. P.S. It doesnt appear your package will get there for your birthday, it will be shipped from, and takes a looooong time. Happy birthday, hope you get cake.