I’ve been writing quite a bit lately. It’s comforting and strengthening both, after a series of heavy work weeks. Writing to you, sharing my thoughts about random topics that seem to push forth, are a real pleasure and they help me to transition into another period of my service here. I’ve just passed the one-year anniversary mark, and I’m assessing where I’ve been and where I’m going. While doing so, I have marveled recently at my great living environment, my new family here in SanBer, and the support system I’ve gained. So, let me tell you a little about it.
I want to describe something to you that may come as a surprise. You have probably noticed in my various posts on Facebook and in this blog, that my housing situation in the Peace Corps is fairly atypical. After experiencing security risks at my original site, Peace Corps headquarters staff moved me to a new community and in finding that, it was important to them that they locate safe housing for me as well. They found that secure spot and it’s truly lovely.
At first, with this great little home and pretty setting, I felt that perhaps I was going to miss out on the transforming experience, the experience we normally expect in Peace Corps housing. Are you like me and your first thought for a Peace Corps volunteer would be a simple hut, perhaps even dirt floors, an outhouse? That’s what I expected when I arrived in Paraguay and I was looking forward to the challenge and the potential for growth such an environment might bring. However, I’m learning that the challenges for me come in other forms. And, the nice living arrangement suits me just fine, providing comfort and convenience that frees me and supports me to work on my projects to fullest advantage.
I am fortunate to be living in a spacious and colorful casita on the property of some really special people. It’s a little like a compound — a typical arrangement here, where several houses are built on a property owned by a family, with homes placed to share a common yard or patio. Grown children with their families will live within the compound, close to their parents, and the grandparents assist in raising the grandchildren.
Nunila, the matriarch and retired teacher, with her husband Don Zárate (who owns a hardware store here) live in the big house, facing all the beauty of the property, the courtyard and garden. My house faces a quaint cobblestone street located just beyond our tall, speared black wrought iron fencing that surrounds the property. Old, elaborate iron french doors off my breakfast room open to a glorious outlay of lush green grass, a private thatch-roofed quincho complete with wicker rocker, and an intricately landscaped yard shared with the rest of the family. This casita is the original home once owned by Nunila’s grandparents, passed down to her parents, and now owned by their son, Rodrigo. Another son, José, lives in a smaller casita across the pool from me with patio and outdoor kitchen in between. His little son, Juanjo comes to visit every other weekend and a nanny is employed to help out.
Nuni loves her garden and tends to it daily. Throughout the grounds of this property are areas of beauty which have been designed by Nuni along with her gardener. They give great attention to the orchids, which are her favorite. There are amazing methods for starting an orchid plant in a tree. Clippings are gathered together and tied intricately by long, pliable twigs to hold together the plant, attaching it to the tree, allowing it to take hold and root into the tree. I plan to dedicate a blogpost specifically to this process, to allow Nuni to explain and demonstrate with photos the steps she takes towards planting her tree orchids. It’s a beautiful process, allowing you to place the orchids to adorn a tree in just the right places. I believe that here in Paraguay, orchids typically find there way onto trees, picking out their own location, because I see them everywhere, but this process I see Nuni using, allows you to place them strategically, if you want, much like the Peace Corps did with me. And, I’ve taken root quite well!
Throughout the yard there are rows of large blooming Santa Rita shrubs and groups of stately tall palm trees. At the base of each palm tree grouping is a bed of flowers lined with rock, encircling round like a colorful collar. No stone is left unturned, if you know what I mean.
Did I mention the swimming pool? Yes, that’s right. How lucky can a girl get? I live in a tropical climate where the heat can absolutely do you in, rendering you useless by midday. The oasis of fresh cool water is located in the middle of the backyard. It’s a sparkling clean pool that stays maintained year-round. The sun is harsh here and it is best to wait ’til later in the day, to avoid baking, so in the hot months, we meet to swim at around 7pm when Don Zárate comes home from work. It’s a good time to visit. It has been too cold for me to swim recently but the days are getting warmer. Hopefully, I’ll begin swimming in Sept or Oct. It’ll begin to be hot in those months, then will become swelteringly hot in November, December and January.
Every Sunday the family has an asado, or barbecue outside in the outdoor kitchen/dining area. All the Zárate grown children and their offspring converge on the house, their vehicles lining the street. They come forth with food and wine and stories. Everyone receives kisses on both cheeks, so the hellos take quite a bit longer here than they do in the states. Sometimes I forget it’s going to be a two-cheeker and I quit after the first kiss, only to be pulled to the other side awkwardly as we try to rectify my faux paux.
We sit and visit for hours as the children scatter themselves throughout the property to play. The men gather around the grill to discuss the family farm. Most all the family members are professionals but they tend to the family property together and have consultations among each other about the goings on with the roosters, cows and goats. The women are either busy in the kitchen or they’re busy with the children, all the while discussing what women discuss: everything.
When it’s time to eat, everyone gathers at the long table and we stand in prayer. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear one lone voice among the sea of spanish, saying the Lord’s Prayer in english. That’s me, of course. After the meal, we’ve occasionally gotten out our musical instruments and had a jam session! José plays guitar, Pa’i plays tambourine and sticks, Rodrigo, wearing his straw fedora and sunglasses, plays another percussion instrument, a rainstick and I play along on the violin. A cousin, a local doctor, comes by sometimes and plays the accordion with a cigarette in mouth. It’s my impression the cigarette is for effect only. I hope to get some pix so I can show you our great group of super cool music makers.
Back to the main reason I’m here writing — Nuni’s flowers. Here are some photos. Thank goodness for photography. It would be impossible to describe to you, for example, the way the sunlight filters through the pink, almost translucent petal of a rose, casting a buttery yellow glow to the edges, lining it in gold, or how a tree branch becomes so full of delicate little orchids that they appear to be dripping with the weight of oh so many blossoms.
Nuni knows she’s famous now that I’ve shared photos of her flowers for all the world to see. This really pleases her and we walk arm in arm around the property on Sundays as she points out the best ones, making sure I don’t miss those that are strutting their stuff that particular week. There will be many more photos next month. She tells me that the whole backyard is transformed in September with colors blossoming so assertively, flowers fluttering forth, making grand statements in every corner of the property. When the time comes, I’ll get up early to take some photos in the morning light, for you to see Nuni’s Garden, September in Paraguay!