Mennonites and Indians in the Chaco II

Lomo Plata hosts many indigena in search for work. They just hang around at factories, dressed in poor, dirty clothes, arriving in truck loads. I am surprised when I see a Mennonite woman being homeless and asking for a rather big donation. Another Menno sells caps on the street, like her Paraguayan co-seller, but with just a bit more swift. However, I see no indigena having a business, however small. Trying to find food, I stroll around in the dark evening, and it feels remarkable safe, even safer than in my own village. The atmosphere of the ’50 is still here.

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Although signs often says ‘no hunting’, the camping store in Lomo Plata sells guns mostly. All over Paraguay, important buildings like banks, but the Cooperativa too, are outfitted with a guard and his boy-toy. Men carry guns, in their cars, on their backs, as if it’s a tereré cooler.

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Filadelfia

Schools are separate and basic regulations such as healthcare are different too. Filadelfia is amazingly rich in appearance, with villa’s and perfectly straight fire-baked brick buildings. In less than a second I can see whether it’s a Mennonite building or not, and not surprisingly this wealth attracts many. The hospitals are Mennonite owned and with support of the government any indigena who seeks help is attended.

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I meet with Marilyn. She hears me coughing at the cooperative Fernheim and invited me over to her house. ‘Everyone seem to have some sort of flu, even the cows are coughing,’ she tells me. Marilyn speaks English and since she is a retired nurse she gives German lessons to Paraguayans, and English to Mennonite children. She has an elderly lady of 75 who wants to learn English so she can understand what her grandchildren are chatting about on their phones. Marilyn decides to bend the English formal lesson to a cozy chat with the three of us.

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I stay for two days, go to their estancia 20 kilometer out of town and hang around in a hammock with a beautiful blue eyed darling. I get there with Marilyn’s husband Gert in his car, and for once I fly over those hard mud tracks. The dust is creeping through the tinniest of slits and we are unable to see where we drive when clouds of sand gets too thick.

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In the evening we sit around the table, eat fresh livers and Gert tells me about his past. How he as a child cycled 50 kilometer to his family, over sandy tracks, without water, and probably on a single speed. The attack by the nasty white collared peccary, pig alike creatures who move in groups, which made him climb the tree to seek safety.

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As with Lomo Plata, I feel very much at ease with the Mennonites in Filadelfia. It is because we are so similar, there are no cultural differences, however this might sound discriminating. I find the indigena men often having a strange approach towards me, as if they want to kiss me, or something which might lead to such an, unwanted, action. Of course, these encounters only happen when I am on the lonesome tracks -not in the supermarket obviously- and they halt me for some small talk. It is true that I often am intrigued by those men, and quite a few do have a fierce burning beauty in their expression. And that is what I look at. I need all my concentration not to stray from the struggle in Spanish, and ask for a photo instead. And I am told that this is exactly the turn-on-factor for the indigena: eye contact. It means as much as ‘I want you!’

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‘If we don’t have an armed guard at the door, they’ll take everything away’

The woman at the museum seems a bit bitter when I ask why there are so many guns among the pacifist Mennonites. I have 100 of other questions but my voice struggle to speak as flu has got a hold of me. Maybe better so… although I don’t mean to be unkind. It is an interesting choice, especially for having had an army without weaponries. Maybe the source of being a pacifist is to choose for the whole, like Buddhists may take up arms when they can prevent worse. Not defending the dharma would be a bigger crime.

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100 more questions. I wrote pages of my diary full about the unbalanced situation, the injustice, poverty, apartheid and subdivisions among the Mennonites themselves. I am glad to see interracial marriages among the Paraguayans and Mennonites…

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Hunting

I have come to learn another aspect of my own prejudice. I have met with hunters, not in this particular post, but in any of the 4 posts I have written about Paraguay. I was not allowed to post pictures neither did the men liked being photographed. My statement that I hate hunters has changed into ‘I hate hunting’, because the men doing so might be sporting a whole different view, yet they can be my friends.

All this killing and butchering is right in your face, yet I now know the people behind the hunting and although I find it a terrible act, I don’t hate the men doing so. Hunting is roughly taking a life while the animal is unaware of its surroundings and the gunmen in it.

Tired. Dusty. Time for a break.

These animals arrive at the spot where I see it all happening, with a stomach full of food. Having grazed, put much effort into surviving in the dry arid surrounding. And then: BAM!

Dead. For food. A chest full of food already, waiting for the man to eat, but he wants something different than cow, so he shoot something else. In a few year the Chaco and its wildlife will be gone.

It’s a shame to take life. Any life. Whether it is for hunting or cattle. It’s a wonderful creature made by nature and now taken without consideration. Yet this might  be the most honest way. You see what you eat, you are a clear watcher of the damage done. It’s more honest than buying bits in plastic wrappings; never seen the animal. Not seen its life, it’s beauty: the cruelty behind your pleasure.

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To be a witness of life being ended by a bullet, to see the tightening of the animal it’s feet and the frozen life in its eyes. A wonder of nature up close finishing. Without thoughts of the animal’s feelings, it’s offspring perhaps waiting for their mom, the animals effort to be where it is when shot. It’s a sad sport. Not a sport at all. It’s a one pointed dishonest and weak war.

And I, I eat the meat with delight. I do pass for certain species but mostly I feel no problem eating them, while I am a vegetarian back home. That is maybe most interesting of my own prejudice and so called ideologies.

Later on I visit the Taguá Proyecto, a Chaco peccary breeding project. This pig-like creature was known only from fossil remains until its remarkable rediscovery in the 1970’s. The project acts as a re-introduction program for this painfully shy and critically endangered species. Herds of friendly collared and the other, nasty white-lipped peccaries are also kept. The latter claps its teeth frantically and when they attack, they do so in groups of hundreds!

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‘What will you do when it start raining?’

Asked Ludwika, and I had no clue. ‘I will see what I’ll do when it starts raining,’ I’d answered. Well, I was stuck. At the peccary farm. Surrounded by hundreds of wild swine’s and a few kind guys. I’d set up camp at their once beautiful, formerly North American owned, house, now starting to lean towards decay. Had a walk with Javier through the dry forest and a good look at the swine’s. When it start raining I seek shelter at the abandoned goat shed, although I am offered a bungalow financed by a Seattle based foundation.

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The next day I give it a chance. I return 15 minutes later, all covered in clay. I ask Iván Khalil to bring me to the tarmac. He does. And so I am saved, because it was simply impossible to push a 50 kilogram heavy bicycle through clay while the wheels are trying to design a beautiful earthenware artwork.

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Then I am finally on the Trans Chaco Highway, the road I avoided, I now praise. But not for long. After Marsical Estigarribia I am warned by a motor biker from Canada -the only other traveler I have seen- how bad the state of the road is: big potholes and often solely a track, transformed to a clay-pool. Trucks are stuck, as I witnessed the day before. They are waiting till their turn-off is dried up, for days on end, cows laden in their double truck-load, standing like sardines.

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And so do I. I wait for the earth to be dried by the sun. In a most strange village; Mariscal Estigarribia. A former defense quarter, still operative but with many official military barracks now as homes for villagers, including a non-active church.

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After two days I give it a try.

There are two kind of people, those who tell me about the road and have been there and those who haven’t. The Chaco arouses people imagination and fears. It makes me an instant heroine who receives compliments and awes. Men watch my legs and check my height, they are simply confused. But it’s really a piece of cake as long as the earth is dry.

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Then it’s another 350 kilometer to the border. I look forward again to wild camping, as I haven’t done that since Mennonite communities. When I fetch water at a factory the men ask me where I’ll sleep the night and at my answer ‘camping’ they reply: ‘It is dangerous here, you know that, right? There are tigers and puma’s.’ I’d forgotten about that! Damn. I ask them whether they’ve actually seen such an animal? They did. And upon remembering the museum with stuffed animals in Filadelfia I know the manned wolf is not too cute either.

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I end up at a lonesome house where two old brothers live together. Cressencio and Julio offer me a shower in their tiny structure in the middle of their wide open yard. I don’t find it necessary to have a shower yet. Though my tent receives a shower, a pee shower from one of the dogs.

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As does the next dog where I end up: at Lilian and her Ecuadorian husband, who made a wild bull out of an empty oil vat. Rising with the sun at their fenced backyard is doing so with a mayhem of sounds I’ve never experienced before. Piglet, pigs, chickens, a million dogs, goats and uncountable birds sing, scream, bark their voice.

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The road start to fall apart, tarmac bonds with my shoes when I walk on it and when I kneel for a photo it sticks to my trousers. And I do walk and kneel a lot, because the road is my playfield.

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Often the tarmac is long gone and big holes the size of a crater enriches the route. Sand blows happily after each truck, some of the drivers offer me water.

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One of the happenings bringing me broad smiles are the huge double helicopters- alike dragon flies, salta monte. As miniature dragons they shoot over me, sometimes doing a bad job at avoiding me.

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Snake trying to cross the road

Very few dwellings are here, the few there are have lonesome men living, waving at me. New estancia’s are built, more and more unspoiled bush is bulldozed. There are trucks with cows and gas running between Bolivia and Paraguay. They all wave at me. The charming bottle tree samuiu sways its wool, fuzz being sucked by the thermal air, as snow in bright blue air.

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The route in frontal view is never changing, it’s a far away mirror, never able to reach it. Yet the sides of the road do change constantly. I love these roads, they work as a super powerful meditation. I am beaming with joy!

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The endlessness, this feeling of nihility; I cannot capture it with my camera, however much I tried. For me, this is unfamiliar; to see this far ahead.

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Those roads remind me of the Sahara, and temperatures reach the same level, wind enforces, and luckily the last day in my back, finally. Thus I am able to make a day of more than 100 kilometer and am avoiding another self-made tasteless pasta meal. I’m happy when I see the second of this mast in the distance. I’m there.

Nice if fresh

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And luck is twice on my side, I wished to stay longer in Paraguay, and I certainly didn’t expect this at the very last kilometers. But I happen to stay another full week. A week of All Exclusive Arrangements.

For additional info, go here and for background information about the Mennonites, go here

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