Saturday, July 19, 2008

Milk and cheese and bananas and chickens

Hi all! We're in Asuncion on our first night out in the big city.
We find out our site placements next Friday at 3 p.m. (why not just in the morning? Isn't that cruel?) We keep speculating who is going to get which site. After we find out, we're going the next day to check out the situation. I'm going to be arriving on my own to live there in two and a half weeks. That's crazy.
Sorry all this is long, but as the quote goes: "If I had more time I would have written you a shorter letter."

July 10 - Peace Corps Heaven

All I knew today was that we were going to visit an urban farm. We took a side street away from the fuming traffic and pulled up at a gate to a house hidden by tropical trees and guarded by two brown spotted hounds.
We were greeted by a man named Fernando, who took us to sit in chairs on the patio under the near constant shade of his property.
His family’s farm started when the area was all grasslands and spots of forest. His father believed in trying to make farming as natural and as closed process as possible.
To that end they have a biodigestor, which turns pig poo into cooking gas. He showed us bunny cages and told us what a great stew they make with white wine and rosemary. He showed us huge worm farms, speeding up the compost process.
He also had a pipe running through his compost heap, and he showed us how, as he poured water into one end, it came out warm on the other. They’re going to try to set up a shower to run off it.
He took us out to his “chacra” or field, which is small but effecient. He had corn and something called hibiscus which didn’t look at all like the hibiscus I know. He had healthy strawberry crops and told us to help ourselves. And, yes, I know how annoying it is when people go abroad then brag about how much better the fruit and veggies are. But oh it was so true.
In the field Fernando talked about how his crops were a little more expensive, but why wouldn’t it be worth it to not put poison in your body. He talked just like some of my friends back home. He said some people in town, who came in with the urban flood, don’t like that there’s a farm nearby. But they don’t seem to mind the factories.
After we marveled at their pigs and cows and innovative farming techniques, our hosts took us out front, where an amazing spread waited, assembled by the other family members. On a checkered tablecloth sat plates of Paraguayan cheese and quail eggs soaked in vinegar and pepper. There was jam made from guavas and strawberries and the fruit of the hibiscus. There was strawberry milk from their fields and cows. There was homemade chipa cheese bread and homemade cake and homemade yogurt.
Needless to say we tore it up, mmm-ing and aahing and feeding each other the things the other just had to try.
On the way out we gave Fernando a ride and he told us about brewing his own beer. And we drove on and a Spanish cover of “Under Pressure” played and the sun fell behind the silhouettes of palm trees.

I love piggies

Feast your eyes on my feast

July 11 - Today had its challenges

I could use a vacation from some things. I wish maybe, for one day, that the roosters’ screams wouldn’t enter my dreams at 5 a.m. every morning and wake me up. I wish my shoulder didn’t feel dislocated as I lay on my side on a two-inch thick mattress. I wish there wasn’t always a fly in my room. Just one, but always, buzzing laps around my head.
Today we went to make cheese with the ladies we’ve been hanging out with for several sessions now. Remember the bluntness I told you about? It was back with a vengence. One woman was asking about a death in the family, down to how I found out and how I reacted when I found out. Thanks, didn’t want to relive that.
We made cheese using a cow’s stomach. I’ve had the opportunity to see culinary teams in action and I know about the sanitation standards of the U.S. I miss those.
The woman who was helping us was making a point as she spoke, and to punctuate that point, she kept putting her finger on the soft cheese, the way one’s boss does on his desk. Her finger left a little bowl every time it left. The problem was, there was a curve of black underneath, where her nail met her finger. And everytime she pushed it into the cheese, I wondered if it was soft enough to really mold in there and touch whatever remnants lay underneath her nails.
I had a headache today and could not find my Spanish, so Sasha did much of the talking. But they asked me about two things: How much my watch was and how much my camera was. Then one woman asked me to give her my watch, several times. From what I can tell this is not a normal Paraguayan thing, but people do ask you how much things cost here. If you give someone a present, it might be the first thing they ask.
Also, I’m tired of being the Rubia. I have a name.
And I miss feeling like an adult. Today I was cutting my bread, struggling for a second, and my sister took it from me and cut it for me. My dad here told me he’d teach me how to cut vegetables.
You want to learn, you ask for help, but the second people overlap your existing knowledge, you get defensive.
Oh, and I’m sick of how hard learning Spanish is. Your spanish teachers try to explain words to you in Spanish, the dictionary says it’s something else, your family says they don’t use that word here. It makes me crazy. Tonight Matt told me that for a month and a half now, I’ve been telling my family the equivalent of: “I’m going to I am going to bed.” And yet no one has bothered to correct me. The only way I know I’m saying something wrong is the blank look on people’s faces at times.
Paraguayans are at the same time very direct yet not direct at all.
Phew, ok, feeling better.

July 13 - I love English

I got what I needed, a good old dose of American buddies. We all hung out on Saturday night. We grab some beers from the store, where I give my money to the guys so no one sees the rubia buying beer. We go to the Tim’s house and his dad puts on techno music and we sit on the porch. We fit in as many laughs and as much beer as we can until we have to head back to be home by 10.
We found out this week that due to “budget cuts,” that ugly term that I’d hope I’d left in the U.S., our last week of training has been canceled. That means that we’re swearing in on August 6, and we only have two more weeks actually in this town, in this house.
This means that I’ve kind of given up on pleasing people here. If I want to hang out with my buddies, I’m going to do it. If I want to go out, I will. I miss my freedom.

July 18 - Land of Milk and Honey and Bananas

We started the week of Long Field Practice on the barge to Tembiapora, crossing the land to a hillside of lanky palms, banana trees and cows. It hadn’t rained in two weeks, and the trucks hauling bananas kicked up red clouds that had coated the banana trees near the road.
We were visiting a guy named Kyle, whose two years are just about up. The people around his town call out to him as he walks down the road, saying his name like someone with a Mexican accent says “killer.”
He took us on his radio program to introduce us to the town. When he got to me, he asked me if I liked pakova. Our trainer put his head in his hands, laughing. I thought this was because I froze, not knowing the Guarani word. But he was really just laughing at the use of “banana,” which of course has a double (and naughty) meaning.
Kyle might forget that not all of us are as awesome as he is with the Guarani.
We toured the banana fields and visited a beekeeper who sold us a 2-liter bottle of banana flower honey. Paraguayans love to joke around, and besides telling Kyle to tell me he’s single (in front of his wife), he was telling all the guys how honey increases your stamina.
At Kyle’s cabin, we ate sandwiches of fresh bananas, peanut butter and honey on bread we bought fresh out of the basket of an albino Paraguayan boy’s bike.
Matt and I stayed in the same house due to some last-minute changes. It had a store in the front, a sewing room, and outdoor kitchen and a latrine that smelled of generations of Paraguayan beef shits. I planned my day around not having to go in there more than once or twice, opting instead for the open air of the hole behind Kyle’s house if I could hold it.
One night I went for it. A black horse scared the crap out of my on the way there. Five steps away I took a deep breath, entered, then shoved the door closed, which unfortunately forced my held breath out. I did my thing then tried to open the door. Nothing. Yank. Yank. Oh god it smells in here. But the bottom was stuck.
Matt had been just beyond the open door of the house, 50 feet away, chatting with our host dad. So I wound my battery-less flashlight, poked it through the opening above the door, and tried to Morse Code him to peek out the window so I didn’t have to yell. Click click. Nothing.
With three houses within 50 feet of the latrine, I knew this was going to cause a scene, but whatever.
Matteo. Matteo! MATTEO!!!
Finally he and our host dad came out and released me from my stinky confines.
From then on, above a dozen people over the course of the next day explained and acted out that you have to lift the door to open it.

The barge to Tembiapora

Matteo, yo & Eric

Naners are heavy

Anything you can do I can do...unless I don't feel like it

This is where we swam

Sunset on the way back from the swim

Eric Kills a Chicken
Ever since we arrive, my friend Eric has been bragging that he wants to kill an animal. I’ve been telling him he’ll be traumatized.
He got the chance on our trip, when his host mom told him he could kill a chicken. We were over there grinding and sifting corn, when all of a sudden he asked me to video something for him. We went in the outdoor kitchen, where there’s a pot of water steaming over a fire and his host mom holding a chicken by the legs.
There’s commotion: Flapping of wings, an unsure assasin, three languages of asking and explaining. Get the broom.
Eric is supposed to put the broom over the chicken’s neck and pull up on its legs to break it, but not too hard, says Kyle.
He steps on either side and pulls. Stretch and snap. The chicken’s head is on the ground, two noodles flowing out of it’s neck, and it’s body is in Eric’s hands, flapping.
We’re screaming, blood is squirting out of the carcass, spraying our clothes.
The senora of the house grabs the chicken and takes it to where its blood can spill on the cement and a nearby stack of unhusked corn. On the floor, the chicken’s mouth opens and closes. Five feet away, the organs that wound have produced the squaks are inside its flapping body. It was a magician’s trick, an assistant cut in half, yet tap dancing with her feet and smiling with her severed head.
Eric, who had been so excited, slowly picked feathers off his hands.
We calmed down after the senora put the chicken in a bucket to contain its last tremors. The senor of the house brought out the chicken head and positioned it like the top of a totem pole on the fence.
The chicken was then boiled, and Matteo and the senora plucked its feathers and let them drop into a cardboard box, where a cat had wandered in, licking. The senora cut the chicken open as it hung from it’s tied leg, its head watching from above. She identified the organs for us. We saw the eggs inside being made, hanging like a bunch of grapes, each at a different stage of growth. The biggest, a soft orange group, was handed to me to admire, and I was told that was good eatin’.
We folded open the stomach and dumped out the chicken feed inside. She whacked her knife at the joints and produced drumsticks. Eric had a reservations about how many chickens had to be killed for one night of chicken wings. The senora hacked the toenails off the chicken feet, which from the underside look eerily like fingers.
Our meal was placed in the oven, and we sat under banana trees to drink terere and chat in the English/Spanish/Guarani way of mixed company here.
The senora brought us out pieces of sopa paraguaya served on pieces of banana leaf.
We were called in for the meal, each person served a plate of noodles with a piece of chicken sticking out. Matteo’s bowl had the biggest unlaid egg in it, and we all soon found we had our own little surprise lurking in the soup. Our teacher had a smaller non-egg and what looked to me like the neck. Eric had the heart. I scooped in to my liquid and brought up the liver in my spoon.
I looked up and noticed that I had a unique view from my seat. Across from me was the senora, and over her head and through the doorway I had a direct view of the chicken’s head as I tried a bite of its liver, then hid the rest of its organ under its bones, which I had gnawed clean with my teeth.

Chicken head, body, feathers

Chicken egg preview


Watch the video if you dare. It's quite graphic and not for chicken lovers.

1 comment:

Lynx_Mother said...

Thank you for showing this, actually. An important part of being connected with the earth is being familiar with the things you share it with, including the things you eat. Refusing to do this, only shopping at the supermarket with prepackaged premade goods, is a lazy barbaric apathetic way to live... If you took no part or pride in growing it, had no respect for it, then you're not really owning up to your part in being one with Mother Earth...