Sasõ– Independence, Ára- Day
Happy Fourth of July!
Potrerito, Pacheco, Paraguari, Paraguay
Dear Readers, I can see it now. You’re grocery shopping for the Fourth. You’ve got your BBQ staples in your cart, meandering along the aisles. You’ve picked up finger foods and a veggie platter and a carton of eggs to be deviled. Beer. Soda. Boxes of jello. Sugar cookies frosted red, white, and blue. Watermelon. Strawberries. With a full cart, you’re missing only one thing. The main dish. You find yourself at the back of the store, facing a glass case, white wall, a hair-netted employee, and an important decision: chicken, ribs, steak, burgers, brats? You choose. It’s weighed. It’s wrapped. It’s added to the smorgasbord in your cart. You pay. You head home to have a wonderful Independence Day BBQ with friends and family.
My posts seem to revolve more and more around pork somehow. And fortunately enough, my Fourth of July festivities were filled with the delicious Kure ro’o. I had two Independance Day celebrations: one with fellow volunteers who also happen to be some of my best friends, and another with Chara and her host siblings, in what we’ll refer to as “cultural exchange”. They are equally as entertaining.
Story 1: Pork
With nine volunteers converging at Jenn’s site to partake in Fourth of July festivities, we decided to uphold the age old tradition of “murder for sustenance”. Grocery shopping mainly consisted of finding a pig big enough and at the right price and naming him Avery. While you chose between chicken and beef, we were laying a squealing pig onto a board and holding its feet. While you decided between rib-eyes or a whole rack of ribs, we were shaving a now-dead Avery with boiling water and spoons in the dark. While you decided if the kids would prefer hamburgers or hot dogs or both, we were watching Ña Valentina saw down the middle of the pig and let all of the organs fall into a bowl. And while you were idling in the beer aisle, choosing between Bud Light and Coors, we were putting Avery’s cute little head in the oven for dinner. Sorry to all of you PETA supporters and vegetarians…
So Avery is dead. Ña Valentina helped us butcher him and really did most of the work after Donovan kind of sort of botched the job of killing Avery (again PETA supporters, is my blog even worth your time?) and as a thanks, we regretfully gave her the feet, ears, and organs, as well as a huge plate of asado the next day. It may seem like a dark deed to kill a pig, but with good company, it’s bearable. I love this group of volunteers, who always seem to fill a room with laughter. We put both of Avery’s halves in the fridge for the next day and his head in the oven with French fries and BBQ sauce. I’ve gone into detail about asado before so I won’t do so again, but I will stress that this may have been my favorite Independance Day celebration I’ve ever had. There’s more to it than just meat. Jenn’s site, Potrerito, sits on the edge of a large wetland that extends into Lago Ypoa National Park. She and I got up early with Alyssa and Hannah to tromp through the swamp in search of birds. Our birding excursion took us knee deep in mud with a pair of curious cows right on our tail. In my haste to find a way out of the mud, clambering through barbed wire fences, mimosa branches scratching at my arms and hands, water getting into my socks, and Hannah trying to get away from the most perplexed of our two new friends, we kind of forgot to look for birds. Whoops? Muddy and scratched up, we returned back to the house to a morning of mate, bananagrams, and mbeju, a delicious mandioca flour and cheese pancake and Ñande Ru‘s gift to mankind. We all put our boots on to brave the mud and headed out again for more swamp adventures. We saw toucans and howler monkeys, got good and muddy and found ourselves looking up into the branches of the Tajy Guazu. The Tajy Guazu is a gigantic Lapacho (Tajy in Guaraní and the national tree of Paraguay) and it had previously been recorded as one of the largest trees in Paraguay. The gnarly, twisted branches are a perfect spot for nests and you can hear parakeet screeches from above. It’s a beautiful tree. Old and gnarled. Rough and calloused. We measured it and fulfilled our status as tree-huggers, peering up into the branches one more time as we tromped back into the woods, headed to the house to slather a pig in lime juice and cumin.
Story 2: Opivo (naked)
On the actual Fourth, I headed to Chara’s in the afternoon so that I could catch the early morning bus to go pick up gardening supplies for my project. That morning we had come up with the brilliant idea of doing a mini BBQ celebration: Chicken and French fries, chocolate cake, maybe some low-grade Paraguayan fireworks from the despensa. We sat on the porch drinking ice cold terere perfect for the sunny afternoon. It was poised to be a tranquilo afternoon, but Chara’s host brother Juancito always has other ideas. He’s the four year old with the biggest personality I’ve ever seen. This is the child who pretends to be a drunk Indio on a regular basis. This is the kid that likes to call me Chancho instead of Chance. This is the kid who runs screaming, barefoot through the yard towing an empty caña bottle on a string behind him. And I this day, the Fourth of July, he decided to put on a show for us as we sat on Chara’s patio, escaping from the house, completely naked and dancing up a storm on the dirt patio. As we laughed, it only fueled the fire and he was taking quick steps, hands high above his head, swing every object he could find, from sticks and flip-flops to an old hubcap and a rope above his head. Between fits of laughter at his nude exposee, Chara would yell, “Careful! Papa is coming!” And Juancito would freeze, looking every which way with a worried expression on his face before realizing that it was a lie and returning to his strange naked jig. He was soon covered in dirt and dust and we laughed even harder when Chara’s host mom found him and dragged him inside.
We began the cultural exchange by telling the kids about “America’s birthday” as we waited for it to get dark. As the sun set, I turned on Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful” and each of us got to light a firework (50 cents each at the despensa) and watch the crackles and shimmers above Chara’s house. She and I feasted on fries and chicken slathered in barbecue sauce and passed bites of my home-made chocolate cake until we couldn’t eat anymore. The real cultural exchange, though, was probably her family getting to hear our American soundtrack of Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith and our fits of laughter as we toasted to America and Paraguay and regaled each other with stories from the last year and a half.&
An Independance Day has never been so Paraguayan, but I love the Americans that I get to share this experience with. It’s a beautiful thing to be a Peace Corps volunteer, with one foot in America and the other in Paraguay. I get to serve my country by serving the people of Paraguay, with huge pride to be a part of both cultures. So as always, God bless the USA and thank you for providing me this opportunity, this adventure, this life-changing two year terere circle.