“Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground”- Theodore Roosevelt
Óga Ita, Paraguay
Imagine you’re me. It’s hot. So blazing hot. And humid. Never forget the humidity. You’re walking along the road, minding your own business, when all of a sudden you hear your name. Someone is calling your name! Or at least some weird variation of your name… It’s your friend Javier and he’s calling you over to terere with him and his family. You rejoice! What could be better than ice cold terere and some nice conversation?! So you meander over, shuffling your Chaco/Keen/flip-flop clad feet along the way, kicking up some red dust. You sit down. You’re having a grand ole time for the first five minutes, but then it happens. And it always happens. Without a doubt, someone will say it.
CHANCE. WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FEET?!
Back to first person. I look down. I see what they mean. It’s quite a sight. Beyond the weird tan lines of strange American sandals, my feet are extremely dirty. They’re probably never going to be clean until I step down on American soil again. I scrub, with a rough brush meant for heavy duty laundry every night in the shower. Not the slightest improvement. But it doesn’t stop there! They’re not taking about the dirt. Look past the dirt and you’ll see an assortment of ailments, mainly bumps and scabs. My house has become a hotspot for flies, mosquitoes, spiders, and gnats, all teeming around my leg-ankle-foot region, searching for that sweet, new, fresh American blood. I feel bad for them, so I let them have it. I don’t need it all. I’m a charitable guy.
But again, there’s more to my feet than bumps and dirt. I tromp around in the dirt and grass and weeds all day. I get burrs and seeds stuck in my leg hair. Pollen clings to me like I’m made of duct tape. So I itch. And boy do I itch. It feels so good, oh so heavenly. Ooooh yeah there’s nothing better than digging in deep when you’ve found the right spot and scratching away. Bliss. Until I look down at the layers of flesh I just scraped away, revealing a slightly bloody mess. Which, in turn, attracts more bugs, who crawl all over, making me itch more and giving me infections. So then I’ve got big inflamed scabs on my feet and ankles too. Pretty noticeable. But no worries. I have a big black box with the Peace Corps logo on it that has all sorts of medical goodies locked inside like a school nurse’s treasure trove. I throw some neosporin on there and a big bandage and walk I out into the world.
These are the wounds I think that Paraguayans have an issue with. Or maybe a combination of the dirt on top of the bandages on top of the scabs all surrounded by more bites with a swarm of small black flies preying on my open flesh. They fuss. They offer remedies, plants, creams to help. The conversation about the state of my feet really dominates most house visits. I really have no problem with it. So what if I’ve got a few scars, showing pale under my darkly tanned feet. Peace Corps battle wounds. All in the name of peace. At least no one sees the blisters, callouses, and cracks on the bottoms. That’s for my viewing pleasure only.