Sunday, December 6, 2009
I am on my own! Six months, more or less, of living with families and I have finally moved out on my own. I have my own house in barrio San Antonio located 2 km from the centre of town. I was determined to move out and find a house so I made house hunting a number one priority. I told everyone I ran into that I was looking for a house and talked about it constantly. I could not go about house hunting any “normal” way I knew about. There are no classified ads, bulletin boards, or craigslist with empty houses for rent in Fassardi. Almost every evening for three weeks I walked around town and talked to people about the housing “market” in Fassardi and followed any leads I was given. I would hear about a vacant house over yonder and I would go track it down and then track down the owner only to find the owner lived in Buenos Aires and would come back to stay in the house for Semana Santa, or wanted to sell the house and not rent, or the house was already rented to someone else, or they didn’t want to rent to me, or they used the house for storage, or they just weren’t used to the idea of renting to a foreigner like me, or their sister came and stayed in the house from time to time, or the most common problem was the house had no bathroom. I had come to the conclusion that I was going to have to build a bathroom onto any house I rented. The entire house searching process was getting very frustrating when one afternoon I got a phone call from Toti, a kid in the youth group who lives out in barrio San Antonio. He told me the owners of a vacant house near him were visiting and wanted to rent their house to me. The house is huge, has running water, electricity, and a bathroom. And the owners wanted to rent to me. That was all I needed to know. We set a rent price, 250,000 guaranies a month, about $50 a month, and made a date to sign a contract and move in the next week. After all that hard work I found a house in 15 minutes.
I have lived in this house for awhile now and I love it. I love living on my own, having alone time, having my own schedule, eating when I want and what I want (not my host dad’s salted fried eggs for dinner every night) and being as messy as I want. However, living in and taking care of a Paraguayan-constructed home has its unique quirks. My house is huge and I have a big yard and it’s a lot of work for one person. Luckily, I have a lot of free time to take care of it. My house has two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, bathroom, and a giant dinning room/garage/party area, I still haven’t figured it out yet. Half the house has tiled floors and half cement floors. All the walls are made of wood and some are poorly constructed with lots of large visible holes and cracks, which makes it easy for the wind, leaves, dust, and bugs to enter through. And there are lots of bugs! I am an assassin in my own home. I kill bugs all day all night. When I asked the PC medical officer how to control bug infestations in my house, her medical advice was to not kill the spiders…they will help you kill the bugs. In other words, there is nothing you can do.
Not only do I get lots of unidentifiable bugs, lot of other critters of the animal kingdom invade my home such as fuzzy caterpillars, frogs, toads, butterflies, wasps, and ants. I leave the frogs alone because they also are apart of my anti-bug defense team. Yep, its just me, the frogs, and the spiders together against the rest of the Paraguayan militia of insects.
This house was occupied by a family for many years until the father died of a sudden heart attack (apparently in the bathroom) and the family moved to a neighboring town. It has been abandoned for the last two years and has been sitting and decomposing in the process, although many aspects of the families past life have been left in tact and I feel like I am living in a Paraguayan home with a Paraguayan family. You can take the Paraguayans out of the house but you cant take the Paraguayaness out of the house. The inside of my house is painted bright aqua, the color of every fourth house in the country. Also, the walls are covered with decorations typical of many Paraguayan homes. When Paraguayans get their hands on a picture or a poster of a baby, flowers, a landscape, Jesus etc… it will go up on the wall in any haphazard manner and never come down. If the picture/poster comes covered in plastic it will stay on the cherished treasure to protect it forever. In my house I have several identical plastic covered pictures of elephants, plastic covered landscapes and flowered paintings, lots of Jesus pictures, religious posters and inspirational quotes and the Last Super, three identical pictures of silverware and a plate placed side by side, a plastic Santa draped in fake roses (he is my favorite), a very large picture of a praying baby, and many outdated calendars. I think every Paraguayan home has several outdated calendars hanging around the house. It’s a mystery to me. During training I was in one woman’s kitchen and she had so many calendars on every wall of her kitchen. We asked her why she had so many calendars and she said so wherever you look you will always know the date.
Another fantastic feature of my house is my yard. I have a huge yard and some great fruit trees. I have two peach trees, orange trees, a mandarin tree, guava, and… the king of my front yard who stands the tallest and grandest above all the other fruit trees is the most gorgeous mango tree you have ever laid your eyes on! The mangos are almost ready and should be ripe in just a few days. Behind my house is a whole orchard of mango trees that the patriarch of this house used to sell during mango season. I will never be lacking a mango in Paraguay. I also have red grapes growing in my back yard. There are so many grapes I wont know what to do with them when they are ripe. The grapes shade my entire back patio and it is so pleasant to sit out back on a hot day. The grape arbor is one of the best places in the house. I also have an outside sink under the grapes where I do my laundry. On a hot day, I can do my laundry in the shade, listen to music and scrub my clothes while my neighbors’ chickens run around my yard and their cows stare at me from the pasture just a few feet away. Its can be very relaxing on a hot day and often I look forward to it. It gives me something to do when everyone else is hiding from the heat.
I can’t forget to mention my neighbors. Absolutely the best thing about my new house is my next door neighbors. I share a yard, garden, water, and my new life with my neighbors. They are my new Paraguayan family. Although I have only been here a short while this family has taken me in as one of their own and I already feel closer to them then either of my previous host families. I was just looking for a house to live in and I found the best family in Paraguay as a result. I think they worry a lot about me being a young girl living by myself in this big house and so they are constantly coming over to my house to see what I am up to. But I am equally over at their house sitting on their porch drinking terere and hanging out with them. I eat meals with them, go to family events and parties. I feel very much apart of the family. They have three teenagers, Liz, Gustavo and Nati. Nati is 14 and has quickly become my best friend. I spend the most time with her than anyone else in Fassardi. We garden together, go on walks, cook, and are planning a community project to clean up the barrio’s soccer field. I share my life with this family. They come and go as they please in my house and I walk in and out of their house as freely as I wish. Neighbors in Paraguay are family, and they are more family than my neighbors.
Last night was Nati’s ninth grade graduation ceremony. Graduation invitations are very exclusive because each graduate must rent the exact number of chairs they need for their family at the ceremony. The cost to rent a chair of course is cheap but it is expensive for Paraguayans to ever spend more than is needed. Nati had been talking about the graduation for weeks. She is the best student in her class and was excited about making her speech. She invited me to come to the graduation and sit with her family. Last night was the first time I truly felt apart of a family here in Paraguay. I didn’t feel like I was just the American tagging along. I felt like I was just one of the family. I was even given chores to help prepare like everyone else. Normally I am always treated like the special guest and they want me to sit like a princess, be served, gawked at, and nothing more. It was a great feeling to be included.
So not only did I gain a house and my freedom but a whole new family. This house is my own personal Paraguayan sanctuary. It can be dirty and hot at times and it’s a lot of work too but it can also feel perfect and feel just like home. And the best part is its all mine.