Ja’u- We eat, Kure-pig/pork, Mbichy- grilled/asado
Let’s have a BBQ!
Oga Ita, Itapua, Paraguay
“Oima!” Ceferi shouts. It’s ready! A bowl of blackened meat fresh off the parilla is placed on the table, next to a large platter of boiled mandioca and another bowl of rice salad. Everyone converges on the table, appetites ready, fingers waggling over the bowl of meat, hesitating before choosing the prime piece. This is not a country for germaphobia. Paraguay is for sharing. BBQ’d pork in one hand, mandioca in the other, sometimes both in one so as to manage the spoon that’s being passed around the circle for the salad. Greasy hands, reused plates, passed around spoons, shared cans of beer, not to mention a wealth of passed around terere/mate. There’s only two degrees of bacteria between me and every man/woman/child within Paraguayan borders. But that’s out of mind. This is an asado. I can taste the lime juice and cumin that Ceferi used as a marinade. I can smell the orange, still burning amongst the coals, perfuming the air and the meat. I rip into the well-done piece of meat with no knowledge of what part of the pig it came from. Meat is meat. In this land, there’s head, feet, blood, organs, fat, and meat. Maybe the ribs are special, but otherwise, meat is meat.
In the Southern Cone (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay), asado is more than a BBQ. It’s culture. It’s practically religion. In Paraguay, pork is common fare and easy to obtain. Juicy chicken legs with crispy skin are also a favorite, as well as chorizo sausage, plump and fatty and sizzling. If a pig was killed that day, morcilla makes an appearance, my favorite (truthfully), crispy on the outside, soft coagulated blood and herbs on the inside. Mandioca is always present, sopa paraguaya as well, as something for the other hand to latch onto and to nibble on every other bite.
In most areas, asado brings the family together every Sunday. But in places like Oga Ita, where meat is scarce and money is even scarcer, it’s reserved for special occasions. Today was two: Fathers Day and the Oga Ita Football Club had won a big game yesterday. The prize was 20 kilos of fresh pork, hence the big asado. Immediately after arriving, I was greeted by everyone telling me “Happy Fathers Day!” slightly jokingly, but also realizing that it was entirely possible for this 24 year old gringo to have children somewhere. “Neira” I just replied. Not yet. Asado is special here. It’s reserved for days of relaxation. For conversation. For volley and eating and sitting in the sun drinking cold Polar and just letting the labor of the week wash away. Work is not brought up. No one asks me about my gardening or Yerba projects and I don’t ask about field work. It’s for joking and laughing and ripping into a piece of pork. It’s for listening to polka and laughing at failed spikes and feeding the gristle and bones to the dogs, who have been attentive and ready ever since the charcoal was laid out on the ground and the parillas were set up. It’s for cake on extra special occasions and sitting in homemade Adirondack chairs with a three year old on one knee and a five year old on the other. Asado is the smell and taste and sizzle of meat. It’s a celebration. And I’m always happy to celebrate with those in my community.
All seven of my host brothers are fathers. My “host father” died ten years ago, but I’ve never felt lacking for a male figure in my life here. They’ve been brothers and fathers and friends, teaching me more than I could ever teach them. And I always have my dad back home, Andy Wilcox with his big mustache and his even bigger support for me during this weird and amazing journey. This day was for all of them, all of the fathers in my life. So I raise my chunk of pork, grease dripping down my wrist, and say “Feliz Día! Ja’u asado!”