More than a year ago: I had lessons in cheese making in mind, where I would portray the newly made foodies with elaborate photographs. The harsh Chaco sunlight filtered by the mosquito screen would make for classy pictures, probably more beautiful than the end result.
I would make step by step recipes so that you would read it and be inclined to produce your own cheese, yogurt, dulce de leche and several other postres. All done by Bärbel and me as an assistant. Simply because she’s a better cook, which I acknowledge.
Iparoma her moves were different. I was taken by surprise, the developing friendship between the woman I first avoided, now aborted. Instead I climbed on the back of a motorbike with a man, Geo, driving the Chinese-made vehicle.
Bärbel had left the farm to work at other places but came back to Iparoma. When she arrived, I promptly left with Geo on an unexpected holiday where the goal was to extend my visa. We drove to the Brazilian border, stamped out of Paraguay, went to Brazil and back into Paraguay.
Coming back into the Mennonite colonies I suddenly notice how old-fashioned German everything is. Although most people descend from Russian states and speak a deriving from German, and are born in Paraguay, not many are actual German. The fences may be ultra straight, the dividing peculiar, the correctness and orderliness strict, known mostly to German standards, we are still very much in Paraguay.
On my walks (and bicycle ride) I meet the typical, yet rarely seen, inhabitants of Paraguay.
I feel it is partly my fault that I made it a hard-working, if not plain tiresome job experience for Bärbel. She’d returned to the Chaco to meet up with me in order to work together. We would have the whole farm for the two of us, as Elvira and Andreas would go on a holiday. Now I get my share. I left Bärbel to her own devices and now she is gone, I get to taste the exact same. Together with Geo I run the Iparoma hotel. Elvira and Andreas are on their yearly holiday and it is up to us. Both not overly fond of guests which we view as intruders to our privacy, guests who marge into the kitchen with unnecessary requests, guests which we await into the late dark evening impregnate with buzzing mosquitoes, only to receive a phone-call of cancellation.
I need to keep bathrooms and toilets clean, a difficult job as frogs smear the walls with their glib bodies. The gecko’s leave a trace of feces along their trails, along walls and ceilings. Countless insects roam into lodgings, create heaps of dead gatherings, impossible to clean a room days in advance.
Rain makes the hard packed mud roads impassable. Three eager sources of income come to an end before they ever arrived. Though my sleep being postponed, being responsible for the hotel-farm makes me instantly a harder working, higher responsible and remarkable more producing woman of the house. Running a hotel, preparing lunch for Gerd -the owner of the farm- albeit not wanting to do anything with guests nor a thing related to it, is way more than a 5 hour task.
I quickly discover running a hotel on a 300 hectare farm is anything but romantic. I have no time for cuddling with Emma, the lake is a distant memory of the past, and making fires in front of my house is a time absorbing idling.
Geo and I have to deal with guests from all walks of life. Marilyn might call me and tell me to welcome someone. Of course, also if that is past my 5 hour task. The overseas guests are always great, the Germans straight from Germany and the Mennonites are cold, distant and moody, except when they are young and without much responsibility.
I get better at making cheese, a master in materializing yogurt. I discover that preparing a fresh fish is a whole other task than getting it from the market. With new motivation I whisk together salads with plain weed, bake cakes with a bit of own invention, I lovingly prepare wholesome bread and pluck wild mushrooms, with Gerd as a living test person.
It is as if I am in a food contest to show off my skills for the man opposite the table. My own tummy prosper on the food lacking coleslaw, and absence of raw onions, high amount of vegetables and fast-moving bacterial cultures unknown to me since on this continent.
In fact, my tummy thrives, my constipation is over, my bowels obey. The home-made delicacies I prepare I want to hoard and not share with guests, instead keep it to our little intimate group of farm people, ideally consisting of Gerd, Geo and myself. On some occasions we make friendship with guests but I can ignore them fully too. Geo is more social than me and welcomes hotel guests upon arrival, early morning or late night.
The dwindling times I am able to sit at my very own porch, the house in the distance which is for myself and where no one flocks to, I notice grass grows higher, fencing off the neighbor. Being it a 40 degrees feels normal now. Many men with big machines come to split seeds from grass, a technique that makes a farmer in the Chaco a hard worker, even a farmer without owning a farm. These men making days from sunrise to sunset, realizing how much I whine working 5 days a week for only 5 hours a day (although its plenty more now).
The secret of tasting not a hint of sheep meat lies in the cleanliness of slaughtering a sheep, where the skin of the sheep may never touch the meat. I pity this as I like the taste of sheep in a portion of mutton, gotten over the fact that I once was a dedicated vegetarian. Now liver smooth as fresh cheese slides through my hands, where I am to prepare a main course for 10 people. Into the garden I skirt to pluck ordinary weed ‘vette henne’ (translate to ‘chubby chicken’) and present as a home-made salad; Marilyn and Gerd’s chuckle as this remind them of their parents. Their parental history was not an easy one as they had to start a farm-life in the Chaco with close to nothing, comparable to Americans who started home-steading in the USA.
I prefer sleeping in the tent over the house, especially since the baby tarantulas do not bother me as they are little. As long as the frogs keep sitting quietly, I welcome them with ‘hello, you here too’.
Slowly life takes its natural form, after the holidays Elvira and Andreas spend more time with Alan. Alan on his turn attach lesser to me. I on my turn neglect Emma, but not to the extend that I forget her altogether. In short, where I was adjusting to every new person coming to the farm, I now want to be alone with that new one; Geo.
Anyone in the kitchen disturbs heavily and I don’t want to be with others all the time. If at all, some sort of condition might be attached to me, I simply can not deal with the mess in the kitchen, with the people making too much noise, with the friendships being made and with the disturbance it cause within me. Slowly, I feel I want an own place, not the constant moving from my house rented out to guests to a small wooden trailer next to the main house, causing tremendous lack of privacy. Somehow the 5 hour work task eats up most of my day and I hardly have time to reflect, to build small fires and to embroider.
The parrots chat. The rats gnaw. The deer Mio poops, leaving stinking piles of black candy-alike droppings at my favorite perching spot. The doves walk alongside each other in front of my porch. I sleep on the ground and in my tent next to the house. I feed Emma. I cook.
After being into the interior of Paraguay the mosquitoes of the Chaco bite enthusiastically, the flies landing on my face are just a natural occurrence of being on a cow farm. I stop walking the pastures, but explore unknown lands nevertheless. I move from Saturday workloads to Saturday sabbath and Marilyn understands without words, though Alan speaks out his own mind. Geo is now ‘officially’ my fiance. I am given the Good Book with the words of God, that is, a Bible and start a new track on the spiritual plane. Which is a very welcome offer since I could not find answers nor reasons on the other paths where I sought.
I start to long for the day where I have no social contact whatsoever. Cycling was, it dawns on me, a lot easier a task than to come up with a meal for 10 guests while it is 10 o’clock and must be ready at 12.00. Plus a hyperactive child that doesn’t attend school and is missing out on friendships. Plus a couple that feels (spiritualy) lonely in the Chaco and have been praying for what is now. I simply can whisk all these things together!
The deepening friendship between Elvira and me is precious and lovely, but pulling too. My changeable behavior towards her son is probably confusing him, though I truly like him, yet not on an active 24/7 base. It seems that another, unforeseen, chapter has arrived and that I am leaving the former silence of Iparoma.