Wednesday, June 4, 2008

La Oscuridad

I am slowly learning what it means to live outside. You might think, “Oh, winter in Paraguay. How bad could that be?” There´s a definite difference between 50 degrees in the U.S. and living your life at 50 degrees. In the U.S. we spend a few minutes outside and then return to our 70 degree houses. But when you spend your life at 50, even less than 40 degrees (which it has been), it´s awful. It´s like a raw cold that gnaws at your bones and which you can never shake. It’s so cold inside that we, the newly arrived American volunteers, find ourselves yearning to be outside all of the time, even though it’s winter! Like a cat taking a nap, we find our own rays of sunshine to bathe in and provide us with some warmth. And like a cat, I find myself purring with pleasure at this little piece of happiness I have found.

We think of life lived in developing countries as one lived in the dark, both literally and with all the accompanying connotations. It is one lived without electricity, but also removed from modernity, backwards. Living in this place, where I have to walk past the chickens and pigs in the dark to use the toilet, I can understand those sentiments. I brush my teeth outside in the freezing cold and in the dark, and I shower in those same conditions. Even much of my life inside takes place in the dark. My host father likes “la oscuridad,” as he was raised in houses with little light. The kitchen doesn’t have a light, so my host mom cooks with the light streaming in through the window (from the light outside the house) and we eat dinner in the dark. My family lives its life in the dark and the cold, but they are not backwards.

During meals, I get to enjoy the fresh tomatoes, bananas, mandarin oranges, grapefruit, and mandioca grown by my father, and drink homemade juice (vegetables and fruits which put our genetically-modified ones to shame). The milk comes fresh from his cows. Before this starts to seem like an essay of homage to the simple life, I want to say that my family is not backwards in the way in which they have welcomes me in their home and their lives. They share with me their small home; I am the only one with my own room. My host mother has been specially cooking vegetarian food for me. In the evenings, I drink mate with my family (which I never liked while I was in Argentina but now am quickly becoming a fan of…probably because it is hot and warms me up) and we share our cultures and languages. The other day we shared photos: our stories, our histories. The way my family has welcomed me is overwhelming, and far exceeds the hospitality I have received in “more developed” parts of the world. I have begun to say that Paraguay is a country that has “open arms.” My family might literally live in the dark, but the hospitality with which they have received me is illuminating.

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