“You can tell the strength of a nation by the women behind its men” -Benjamin Disraeli
“In all of the Americas, the Paraguayan women is the most glorious [and] the Virgin of Caacupe is the mother of their faith” – Pope Francis
Today marks a special holiday for Paraguay, as it is la Día de la Virgen. The day is a celebration of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, as well as a day to commemorate her likeness at the basilica in Caacupe dedicated to her, Tupasy Roga. I had the pleasure of visiting the Basilica earlier in my training experience, but then it was empty except for the few tourists. This week, Paraguayans and pilgrims from all over Latin America have traveled to Tupasy Roga to participate in festivities in Mary’s honor. It’s a huge deal here in Paraguay and I’ve even gotten to watch most of the festivities on TV, as everything is broadcasted live from Caacupe. My fellow new volunteer and good friend Jenn was even dragged along to Caacupe at last minute with little warning, along with a few roast chickens and bottled water for sustenance. The holiday commemorates the woman that almost all Latin Americans dedicate their utmost respect to at all times. She is the mother of their faith and particularly here in Paraguay, she upholds the strength that Paraguayan women have worked so hard to embody from the very beginning.
The last few days have really been focused on a feminine theme as I begin my service. Along with Día de la Virgen, I had the pleasure of tagging along with my host mom to a women’s committee meeting in my community. The meeting started at three, but in typical Paraguayan fashion, everyone showed up at four thirty. The women meet regularly to discuss fundraising efforts and projects to improve the lifestyles of these extremely rural Paraguayans, and I continue to be impressed at how organized they are. Almost every woman in town is a member, who pays a membership fee every year. They’re recognized by the Department as an official organization, they have an official constitution, ledger, secretary, and document stamp. They truly try to be as official as possible, yet for all their credibility, their new topic of choice is to make fun of my pitiful Guaraní and their inability to pronounce my name. This was the conversation that started the meeting:
“Mba’echapa herá? (What’s his name)”
Me: “Che Che rerá Chancé”
“Chancho?” (The word for pig, followed by a ton of laughing)
“Necesitamos cambiarlo” (we have to change it)
Then they went into full on, rapid speed Guaraní with each other, throwing glances at me and laughing in my direction every now and then. And sometimes they’d all look at me, look at each other and say “nontendei”, he doesn’t understand. These moments are my favorite. I sit back and revel in them. Because in a few months, when I can speak Guaraní and have gained their friendship, I’ll make them feel guilty.
It’s all part of the plan.
Despite their poking fun, they asked me if I wanted to work with them and we decided to do a family garden project together, hopefully bringing a full bio intensive garden to each of their houses. They are the spitting image of Paraguayan women, guapa (hardworking) to the very core, yet funny and kind when they need to be. The President of the committee, a no-nonsense woman named Ramona, along with her husband kindly invited me back to every meeting, as well as to visit them for lunch. They’ll make fun of you to your face and then call you back for a good bowl of Vori Vori.
As a last note, I’d like to throw out a theory about the word guapo/a. In other Spanish speaking countries, the word means good looking, but some believe that during the War of the Triple Axis against Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, when Paraguay lost over half of its population, mainly men, that the word changed in Paraguay. Good looking was no longer a worthwhile quality in women, but rather their work ethic and their ability to rebuild the country. The word kept this meaning, and I see it all the time in my neighbors, my host moms, sisters, and the entire women’s committee here in Oga Ita.