Che- Me/My. Roga- House. ‘i- diminutive, to say something is small/tiny. My little house.
My Paraguayan Style Studio Shack with Outdoor Spaces. Listed at $40/month.
Óga Ita, Itapúa, Paraguay
It’s a slow morning. In the schools, exams have started in preparation for winter break and my services as environmental educator aren’t really needed until the new semester. We haven’t started planting Yerba yet because it’s too dry and hasn’t rained for awhile. We’re waiting for a downpour. So I can breathe for a second. I can sit on my patio with a cup of coffee, wrapped up in my thick red sweater, and just look out at the grazing pasture that surrounds my little house. I hear polka on the radio from my family’s house and can see the flicker of light from the fire in the kitchen. I smell neglected apepu/naranja hai/sour oranges, decaying on my lawn, fallen from the tree in front of my house, and ignored because of their bitter taste. Guinea fowl screech, chicks chirp from the kitchen, Moritz yowls, a cow bellows, the neighbor’s dog barks, Sebastian cries from somewhere around the property, probably because Rolando tackled him. It’s 7 AM on a chilly winter morning and I go back inside to make Mbeju for breakfast.
Many volunteers in Paraguay do their mandatory stay with a host family at the beginning of their service and then move into their own homes. Some find existing houses or apartments, some build their own. For me, in such a small community, there was only one option and I continue to love where I live almost a year and a half after moving in.
My house is a small 12′ x 12′ shack, situated just off to the side of my host family’s house. It’s up against a small parcel of forest and borders the grazing pasture that keeps our five cows busy during the day. The distance between my house and that of the Baez family is perfect. I have privacy and can choose to have days without interaction, if I want to, but it’s close enough that I can hear my name being called to come fetch a plate of food. Generally I interact with my host family on a daily basis and I’ve now become so integrated as Chance Baez that I kind of waltz in and out of the house and property whenever I want. I borrow things from the kitchen, take ice from the freezer, eggs from the chicken house if my mom doesn’t need them, and steal the occasional chipa from its ever-present bowl above the oven. I can come for breakfast or lunch any day of the week, for terere or mate. I’ve helped my family dig for mandioca as my post-run workout, I’ve shucked corn with them, kneaded chipa dough with them, celebrated holidays with them, shared my culinary endeavors, like banana bread and zucchini cake with them, loaned the occasional pepper or onion to them, and have called them my family since Day 1. I am proud to called Ña Benita “Mamá” and my heart sings when I hear my brothers call me hermanito. I do not regret continuing to live with a host family and am so thankful for their presence in my life.
My actual house is what I’ve described as “a wooden tent”. Small. Breezy. Haphazardly thrown together five years ago. Perfect for one volunteer, one campo cat, and 8000 spiders. It’s one room with a covered dirt patio in front. Orange trees surround it on all sides and I’ve made my garden right up against the house and patio for easy access. I have an outdoor shower that Lalo and I built when I first moved in and a small, recently installed, modern bathroom with an outdoor sink to do my dishes and laundry. Inside, I have a bed, refrigerator, gas oven, small table, and a collection of fruit crates that house books, clothes, technical manuals, dishes, dry goods, medical supplies, and even stranger items, like my collection of cow horns, a manta ray egg sac from Uruguay, a dead bothrops jararacussu in a jar as part of the volunteer snake kit, jars of dried eucalyptus, rosemary, anise, dillseed, burrito, and siemprevive. Below a large physical map of Paraguay hangs my banjo, passed down from another volunteer. Beside my map of Important Birding Areas of Paraguay hangs my weirdly expanding collection of backpacks. My yoga mat seems to always be on the cement floor, less for yoga, more for working on charlas and lesson planning while I sprawl on the ground. One window opens to my patio and another looks out over my garden with a perfect view of the sunsets over my neighbor’s parcel of forest. Nails act as hooks for my hammer, machete, huge straw hat, hammock, duct tape, and the hand-made broom given to me by my neighbor Teodoro. A Carapegua style woven blanket covers my bed, situated under my mosquito net. On my table I always have my planner, journal, folders dedicated to teaching, Yerba, and gardening, my Spanish dictionary, and my running list of Guaraní verbs, as well as a bowl of bagels or a loaf of bread. My fridge holds the strangest variety of objects. Staples like vinegar, mayo, veggies, and eggs are there, but also oddities like a jar of spicy bean paste with a label all in Chinese, Camembert cheese acquired from a Swiss cheese maker by my friend Ruby, an unlabeled jar of homemade dulce de leche, freshly boiled cow’s milk, a handful of wild cilantro that I found yesterday, fresh ginger root, wasabi paste, a bottle of homemade BBQ sauce, a plate of boiled mandioca, a frozen box of Thin Mints, and an abundance of green manure and garden vegetable seeds. Some of these things have their place in a campo fridge. Some most definitely do not.
I live in 144 square feet. Call me part of the tiny house movement, but you most certainly will not find solar panels on my roof. My electricity comes from the illegally rigged connection (Don’t tell anyone) to the street power lines that connect to Paraguay’s 100% hydroelectric power source. My water bill is $3 a month. My rent is $40. Today Lalo told me his plans to eventually put another two rooms onto my house and I honestly couldn’t imagine what I’d do with that much space. 144′ is all I need and I still have extra space! When it gets hot, I plug in a fan and drink terere. When it’s cold, I put on extra layers and drink mate. The only cleaning it really requires is a daily sweep and a weekly spider check in all the corners. Living is simple.
It’s a chilly evening and I put on an extra pair of wool socks. I can hear the news on the radio from my family’s house and a beautiful Paraguayan harp ballad from the radio at the neighbor’s house. Crickets are chirping and the stars are already coming out at 6 PM. I smell smoke from my mothers kitchen and hear Elvin rattling on inside while he watches her fry tortillas. Evenings are so tranquilo. I light incense, feed Moritz, clean up my house a bit. I sit on the patio with mate or plan lessons, drawing up large presentation papers while sitting on my yoga mat. I heat water to bucket bathe in order to actually get clean. I cook up eggs or pasta or probably Mbeju and listen to podcasts or music. At some point, it all goes quiet except for the crickets and the occasional screech of a burrowing owl. My family goes to bed and I take in the quiet of the campo before going to bed myself.