More than a year ago: I am together with Geo, whom I met on a Paraguayan farm far north (and who has become my husband). Working and traveling together is one thing, now we will find out whether we match in a whole different surrounding.
Leaving the farm is leaving the Chaco, the moist heat, hordes of mosquitoes, and a farm full of people.
Leaving the farm is letting go of a 5 hour task 5 days a week which had become heavy of responsibility as people had become friends. Friends with more sociability skills than me. Evening meals at 9 o’clock with tag-along’s, abandoned Indian children, from Filadelfia meant too much noise, too much disturbance. Too much too’s.
Leaving the farm is saying goodbye to my former perfect positioned little house, rented out too often to paying guests, which I was not. Leaving means finding a balance to reset after 5 years of cycling. Leaving means I hop on the back of a motorbike and with only one little Ortlieb front panniers I set off together with Geo to the interior of Paraguay.
For the time being there won’t be camp fires, no nature to awake in and no absence of electricity. Moving on the back of a motorbike has me going from bare rooms of a few dollars in no-nonsense named places like ‘Kilometer 166’ to the capital Asunción. An old mansion host us, the grumbling of an air condition unit disturbs, as does the ongoing of heavy trucks driving past.
Where we were not able to have our teeth fixed in Lomo Plata, due to hobby dentist Douglas whose only specialty was to outfit customers with crowns, although his main occupancy is live stock, as his waiting-room with two chairs and a table indicates.
‘Ah! Your teeth look really bad! Oh! In fact, it is terrible!’ says Douglas while he doesn’t use instruments, solely blue gloved hands. Hands of a veterinary specialized in cows. He charge me nothing.
We need to seek the help of his private dentist. He’s seated in Asunción, a German high-class dentist.
Blanca, who works for the German high-class dentist, understands her job different and after her comment ‘your teeth look very good’, she takes an hour where she attires me quickly and painlessly with a few new looking teeth, thanks to a white paste hardened to the gums (something which has the tendency to remove itself quickly too). Gums pulling backward, due to lack of vitamins, a most common occurrence in the Chaco, Douglas had told us.
Another nervous happening is shopping in the shopping-mall. Being surprised by the high prices, I drop everything I had chosen in 3 difficult hours. To start all over again the next morning, if I do not want to walk continuously in my stained, ripped, cutt-off-leg-parts-due-to-heat-leggings. We also apply for a permanent residency, Paraguay being the easiest country on earth to obtain this. While starting the procedure I think I am not ready to settle yet and we abort the application before starting to pay fees.
We exchange the city for a lofty green environment, a so-called highlight of Paraguay, as nature is abundant and hills present. Needless to say, everything is still, and always, FENCED. The natural abundance can only be accessed by entry fees, climbing fences, and ignoring prohibido signs. In between all of this people live their, mostly self-sustainable, life in simple wooden structures surrounded by sugarcane, manioc and a few piglet, or stone mansions and cut lawns for the Germans.
The lavish green natural surroundings are indeed soothing; temperatures are cooler and mosquitoes largely gone. Villarica and Independencia are German colonies. Few are Mennonite, others retired persons living a low-cost life. Most Germans are born here, coming forth from a generation settled for farming in the early ‘40’s.
One of the benefits of Paraguay are the lesser laws and when one wants, one can build his wife a castle. Hideous Napoleonic monsters of houses are erected, complete with white marked drive lanes and German lettering, topped off with a Chinese dragon. Not a few of those houses, though lesser abundant, can be rented for as little as $200 a month, some even go down to $80 a month.
The German run Tilinski hotel is nice, think away the noises produced by her, besides perfect mannered, sons, hobbyists car-race drivers. The sounds of ongoing cleaning, sweeping and raking the grass, if it is not cut by a handheld string-trimmer are not overly soothing either. The barking dog, distressed mowing of cows being gathered and transported is something I notice too. The silence of nature at Iparoma is exchanged for social quietness, though earplugs are needed in restaurants, a strong threshold of the cyclist high on solitude.
The cyclist haven’t done any exercise for 4 months by now, and this feels weird. I start jogging but don’t like this. I’m not sporty at all, actually.
I sit on the back of a motorbike, get off as tired as I would be on a bicycle, my ears buzzing from the sound of the motor.
What I like about Paraguay is that life is normal. No exuberance, no weirdness, no trying to stretch boundaries. People in the countryside live a certain self-sustainable life where sitting and watching this daily ongoing is a recurring happening. Life in German colonies is almost as tempered and quiet as life in Mennonite colonies higher up in the Chaco. The ‘German’ people move through life with seemingly more sense for commerce and energy, though the sense for family bond is as strong as that of the Paraguayans. There is no discomfort between the two nations.
Paraguayan women may be dressed without much feeling for femininity, it hardly ever gets shocking. Guys can be macho, they have manners nevertheless. There is the occasional misfit, mental astray or failed transsexual which points at a society not all that ‘developed’. Overall Paraguay has held, and probably will continue to do so, it awareness of common sense. The Germans in Paraguay seem to clasp together normality, sense for community and care in the utmost normal proportion: women look like women without overdoing, mental weaker are not cast out, farmers work and create work, their smartness making way for products not to be found anywhere else in Paraguay. Think of cheese, ricotta, granola, grains to bake bread, and a perfectly mozzarella (done by Geo’s friend Marcus).
Note: I have left my camera mostly indoors as I wanted to be freed of being my own slave of producing shots and ‘intruding’ in people’s life.
Paraguayans like to sit on comfortless plastic or wooden chairs in front of their house, watching the patterns in the cloudy sky, moderate ongoing traffic and casual determination of dogs on a mission. Quite a few do this without téréré herbal tea accompanying them, no mobile phone, no partner, no child. They sit, being tired or perhaps not, of every days tasks, which enables them to live a basic life with no needs more than everything called unnecessary.
A friend of Geo moved to where we are. Every saturday, Sabbath, we visit the German couple who took the daring jump to leave everything behind, to cut all ropes and end a thriving business for a total Sabbath year and further life in Paraguay. I mostly listen. To stories of what they have left behind, about things they have seen on television, happenings they have experienced in Germany, things which sound utterly scaring and frightening to my ears. In fact, it is a ‘big shit’ there in Germany, to use Marcus wife Iris’ her words.
For me, the world, is without evident discrimination, without fear and without an obvious downward-going spiral. For me there is no competition, I am not a player in economic growth. Ignorant? Perhaps.
Many of the local Paraguayans are living in nature, a lush growth unable to break through if not handling a sharp machete or shovel. The inhabitants of this hilly jungle-alike bush do not seem to have much longing for economic growth nor personal betterment. They live, look happy, produce offspring and all is well. They might enjoy a team of piglet running through their yard, watching the guy selling ice-cream from his motorbike and owners walking behind their cows to guide them back home.
Colonia Indepedencia and the far surroundings have attracted Germans, Swiss and Austrians long before the 1920’s, when the masses arrived. They begun growing grapes, worked hard, made wine and established richness. Nowadays many of these people run the everyday business of despensas, little roadside shops, sausage factories, sugarcane, meat cattle, bakeries and chicken farms.
Today Germans still come, wanting to escape the strict regulated school system of Germany. In Paraguay children are allowed to skip as much school as they or their parents desire and home scholing, forbidden in Germany, is fine in Paraguay. Germans come to escape the demanding work environment, the weird political developments, the social changes such as the rise of Islam, or the overflow of real and so-called refugees. People want to live more sustainable, away from the high prized but low quality supermarket foodies. They are happy to try living a more simple life and to enjoy life over loads of work.
Without a 5 hour workload on a 300 hectare farm and without the daily tasks life on a bicycle requires, I realize life is very easy for me, perhaps as good as most Paraguayans experience it. The people hardly seem angry, anxious, moody or battling with life’s expectancy. People smile, greet and help one another. They soak life in, without sporting laziness. They can sit the bigger part of the day, to attend to Facebook, to take care for a customer, to drink téréré, or to embroider.
When we try to get me placed into a course for embroidery, we fail 5 times. ‘Come back next week, then there is someone who can talk to you,’ followed by ‘the lady in charge is on holiday,’ to ‘the lady in charge, who was on holiday, is sick now,’ ends in ‘I will teach you,’ and so it happen maestra Emilia is teaching me the techniques of ao po’i. The practice of beautifying hand-woven cotton, without patterns and a lot of counting.
To my teacher Emilia Segova: muchos gracias por aprenderme y tomarse el tiempo para hacer esto. Now I need to practise more in cheese making.
And then, off we are, again. Back to the farm Iparoma with a detour.
Are you curious to my embroidery? It’s different, natural and original.