The juice of a most delectable mango is running down my chin as I try to type. I think I may be in heaven, actually. Most every night Nuni delivers to me a cold mango brought from the patio refrigerator just for this moment. She comes to the back door, we’re both in our nightgowns by this time and she grins, hands it to me with a smile. We admire it, yellow-orange with blushing pink-red down one side. We giggle, I say “Me Encanta!” y “Muchisimas Gracias,” then we kiss both cheeks, wish each other a goodnight’s sleep and off she goes back to her house just a few yards from my back door. Sometimes I peel the mango carefully and cut it up into a bowl. Other times, I eat it just the way I remember mother eating mangos (she adored them) – peeled, then standing crouched over the sink, enjoying big bites as the juice ran down her front. Mother would love Nuni.
I’m here in San Bernardino, my new site! It is a mouthful to pronounce that name in Spanish so I’m very pleased that San Bernardino is commonly known as “Sanber.” We’re located on the shores of Lake Ypacarai. I remember a night back in Texas as I was preparing for my move to Paraguay, I sat in the living room of my great friends Jana and Pat Millar and listened as Alfredo Colman played on the piano many lilting pieces, demonstrating Paraguayan music for us. Alfredo is a handsome and suave Paraguayan with a smoothness about his countenance and musicality that makes you simply want to stop and gaze, so watching and listening to him as he played was a rich experience to say the least. I was so fortunate that Jana introduced me to Alfredo, who is a colleague of hers at Baylor University. (Jana, besides being muy gorgeoso and such a good friend, has always known how to do just the best things!) He is professor of Musicology/Ethnomusicology there, and from what I hear, captivates his students with his interactive classes. That evening, while he played one great piece after another on Jana’s sleek ebony grand piano, I immediately identified my favorite, “Recuerdos de Ypacarai,” written about Lake Ypacarai, where I am now! My new site is located on the shores of that very lake.
In my walks, I’ve noticed that quite a number of streets have German names. Turns out, the town was founded by German immigrants around the time of my grandmother’s birth in the 1880’s. I’m finding out that this town is full of rich history. As a matter of fact, there are sculptures and statues and memorials at every turn, which teach about the great foundation of San Bernardino.
My contact and host family here are telling me how different Sanber is in December, January and February, our summer season. They say the whole personality of this community changes during those months and goes from tranquil and peaceful to a very happenin’ spot with packed clubs and pubs and special events! It is a holiday resort for many from Asuncion and the streets near the center of town are lined with fabulous vacation homes.
As I walk around, it is clear to me that the town is a well-equipped resort community. It’s built on a hill and a very pretty walkway runs through the center of town, starting from high up on the hill, near the church at the top, and running through the large plaza, down through the restaurants and shops and clubs near the lake. The walkway is enveloped and lined with flower-covered vines, a variety of lush, blooming trees and large potted plants, brick entryways covered in clinging ivy, with pretty lanterns and lights and signs showing the way.
At first I wondered what I would be doing as a Peace Corps Volunteer in such a well-developed community which seems to have everything, but I’m learning as I integrate that this town is much like all other communities where there is a desire to have a shared interchange of ideas that will bring success in needed areas. As I speak with people here, I’m learning that they are ready to organize artistic and cultural fairs that will allow them to demonstrate and exhibit their talents and the rich history found here. Plus, they are excited about working with their youth to learn more about those topics I love – courage, confidence, self-esteem, leadership, goal-setting, planning for your future. We’ve talked about violin/viola lessons and the possibility of forming a string group, and they are all smiles. So, our conversations over the past few days have been a good exchange of ideas and I’m looking forward to more of that in the days and months ahead.
Now, to the living arrangements. My host family and my new home are true gifts! Elisa, my sector director, scouted around and worked her charm to find a wonderful situation. I think about her and just continue to shake my head. She has an innate ability to read people, listen to them, observe them, learn about them, and absorb information, then she comes to some incredible conclusions in that amazing, wise brain of hers. I’ve decided that she, in some ways, knows me better than I know myself regarding this Peace Corps experience. I’m so thankful to her for her hard work in putting together a wonderful plan, placing me in a great site, where we feel I can put my background and experiences to best use. She and the rest of the staff continuously work to keep us undergirded with everything needed to be successful. Everyone who was involved in my site change did a very impressive job. I’m grateful.
Wait’ll you see the photos of this place. I need to run out with my camera and shoot like crazy, but it’s so swelteringly hot, I don’t get many shots before the heat of the sun starts bearing down on me and I have to retreat. But, I’ll describe as best I can! I’m in a charming casita that sits on the property of my host family, with their home and the home of their son. It is a very loving and lovely setting near the center of town, down a cobblestone street not too many blocks from the lake. With lush vegetation, a perfectly groomed yard, and a high, regally-spiked and ornate wrought iron fencing surrounding us, it is quite a pretty setting. My home is painted brightly inside and out in a multitude of colors – turquoise, yellow, lilac and cranberry – like the haciendas we love in Mexico! This is fun!
When I first laid eyes on the matriarch of this property, a perky, smart, hardworking, kind-faced woman named “Nuni” who is a retired professor, I felt like I had known her before. Known her well, at that. And, our relationship has grown so close in this short period of time, you’d be certain we had indeed been friends for many years. I’m grateful for the kindheartedness exhibited by Nuni, her husband, and the rest of their family. All her five children are grown, independent, and have families of their own. They all come over every Sunday and I watch them as they so obviously adore their parents. It is a great scene as three generations spend the whole day visiting around in ever-changing groups, sitting at tables under the arbors, or in the swing, in the pool, on the patio, eating, playing, and simply spending a lovely time together. Nuni was born here in Sanber and my casita was the original home of her parents. We are near the same age and about the same height and build (although we’ve discussed that her shoulders are broader, and I tell her I wish I had them – they make clothes sit so well on the body). Nuni and I have interesting, informative, serious and fun conversations on a daily basis and she is a fabulous cook who proudly describes each item on the extremely healthy and delicious plates of food she puts in front of me. I just keep smiling and smiling, both inside and out.
So, that’s an intro. Of course, you know there is more to come about Sanber!