Sunday, November 23, 2008

We live in Paradise

There may be other people that think they live in Paradise, but I'm pretty sure we do. Paraguay is semitropical and has an amazingly long growing season.

We throw out seeds and they produce fruit plants. We're surrounded by fruit--bananas of three varieties, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, avocados (they are fruit, right?), lemons of two or three kinds, grapefruits, tangerines, so many guava trees it makes me think I should be marketing them, as well as the raspberries that we've planted and that quickly got out of control so that we had to move them to a bigger space. We have some young loquat trees that haven't born fruit yet, and I've recently planted a pecan, a macadamia nut, a fig tree, a cherry tree, and a pome- granate.

We planted some seeds my father-in-law brought us from Bolivia. In Bolivia they call the two fruits ocoró and achachairú, and one of them grows wild here and is known as pakuri. They took months to germinate and not all of them did, but eventually they should bear some nice fruit. We also have a tamarind that will provide some nice juice and maybe sauces some day. And then there's all the native stuff that grows in the forest that's edible--inga and espuma rosa and yvapurû and yvapovõ and who knows what else.

The flowers have been especially beautiful this year--perhaps because of all the rain this spring. I've never seen so many flowers on the timbo trees (Enterolobium contortisiliquum) (that's a timbo behind our house above) and the inga (Inga uruguensis); and the jacarandas (Jacaranda mimosifolia) and yellow lapacho (Tabebuia pulcherrima) have been stunning. I never even noticed the sapirangy (Tabernae- montana australis) flower before, and this year they were all covered with beautiful white blooms.

There's one downside to Paradise--it comes at a price. Bugs. Of course, for an entomologist it would still be Paradise. And I often wish I knew more about them. I recently read that there are 540 species of ants in Paraguay, and I'm always finding new and bizarre bugs around the house (like the rhinoceros beetle above). Unfortunately--and this is the downside--a reasonable share of them bite and so you have to deal with those. Then there are the ones that lay their eggs on you and the ones that burrow into your kids' feet.

But please don't get me wrong. We live in Paradise.

Friday, July 25, 2008

AMSLA Paraguay 2008

We've been planning for over a year for the AMSLA congress. AMSLA is Agencia Misionera de Santidad Latino Americana, or the Latin American Holiness Mission Agency. The churches WGM works with in Latin America have united to form a mission sending agency. Every two years we all meet together to celebrate and promote missions and to encourage and get to know each other. This year it was Paraguay's turn to host the convention.

So last Thursday believers from Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, and the United States, as well as Paraguayans, gathered in Asuncion for three days of getting excited about what God is doing. It really was exciting, too. Each country had an opportunity to share and we all worshipped together, mostly in Spanish but also with a few additions in Bolivian Quechua, Peruvian Quechua, and Guarani. The traditional songs and dress were impressive and even more exciting were the stories of God's grace in each of the countries represented.

On Sunday we had a special commissioning service for two couples who are being sent as missionaries—a Honduran couple to central Asia and a Bolivian couple to the southern United States—and for the new Executive Director of AMSLA, Jorge Pacheco, a Honduran. It was thrilling to see these families being sent into the harvest field from the Latin American church.

I was especially pleased with how the Paraguay team, led by Pastor Rafael Flores, put together and executed the conference. There was barely a hitch. It was really beautiful to see, especially since we've never done anything near that big before! A real milestone in the history of the Iglesia Evangélica Mundial in Paraguay!

Friday, June 13, 2008

All That Way?

A man from Escobar came to buy a pig from Norma the other day. Vonni and Greg, my Guarani students, were at Norma's house so the man asked where they were from. Norma replied that they had come from Africa.

"Eh!" He replied, "and what did they come here for?"

"Well, I'm not exactly sure I could explain it all to you," said Norma, "but I think they've come to tell people that Jesus lives."

"Eh!" Said the man again, "they've come all the way from Africa for that? I've been baptized and I don't even talk about Jesus to the man who lives next door to me! I'm ashamed."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Foreigners Don't Learn Guarani!

"We were talking with some people who were visiting our neighbor Norma. They kept trying to talk to us in Spanish, and Norma had to tell them, 'They don't understand Spanish. Speak to them in Guarani!' We suddenly realized that Paraguayans are going to expect us to talk to them in Spanish, and we're going to have to convince them to speak Guarani with us."

In fact, I had told my students on several different occasions that it's unusual for outsiders in Paraguay to learn Guarani. But there's a difference, isn't there, from being told something and experiencing it for yourself.

Guarani is uniquely Paraguayan, and Paraguayans identify with it as theirs in a way they don't do with Spanish. But it's also considered a non-prestige language and it's unusual everywhere for people to voluntarily learn a language that's less prestigious when a more prestigious one is available.

Consider, for example, Latinos in the U.S. They are expected to learn English because in the U.S. that is the more prestigious language. It's far less common for an English speaker in the U.S. to accommodate to them by speaking Spanish.

Rural Paraguayans are generally much more comfortable with and competent in Guarani, although they may feel that they ought to speak Spanish. They feel this even more strongly when they're speaking to foreigners, instinctively assuming that the foreigner will expect this.

But Guarani is the language of relationship. "Igústo nendive, porque ikatu roñe'ê nendive guaraníme," said a friend of mine; "I feel good with you, because we can talk to you in Guarani."

By learning Guarani, my students send a strong message to rural Paraguayans: your world, your culture, your identity are important to me. I don't expect you to accommodate to me. I'll make an effort, I'll even look foolish, in order to have a relationship with you in your world, in your context. I'll identify with you so that I can be your friend.

Many here expect that their country, their values will be scorned by outsiders. Some consider themselves to be residents of a backwards country. Their relationship with Guarani reflects that--they think outsiders won't value it and will consider it a primitive language. An outsider who learns Guarani surprises Paraguayans by being interested in ore ñe'ê; our language. Instinctively the Paraguayan feels, "if he's interested in my language, perhaps he's interested in me."

So my students struggle through and feel ignorant some days and perplex people because they don't do what they're expected to. And on the way, they get into their neighbors' hearts, and their neighbors get into theirs.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Message from the Hill

As I sit at my desk I'm looking south at the plain where the Pirity winds to join the Tebicuary River. Twenty miles away the Acahay Hill rises from the valley. Most of what I see is dry and beginning to get brown, but the clouds moving in slowly from the west suggest that rain might not be far away.

The community of Mbocayaty is celebrating Easter weekend--Pascua. Family members who had gone to work in the city have returned home to be with the extended family. Mother makes chipa from home-ground manioc flour. Sopa paraguaya, with corn and onions and fat from the pig that was butcherred this morning, baked in the wood-fired tatacuá, comes out smelling of childhood. Visits to the cool chorro, where the water comes cascading over the rocks into the pool under the trees, with its sandy beach. Ice-cold tereré passed around from father to son to brother. Precious days in the "valle" of their childhood, but too short. The same economics that forced them to Asunción to find work will see them back on the bus tomorrow afternoon to clock in early on Monday morning at the grocery stores, laundries, and bottle factories that pay them a living wage.

But for now, this rural community and thousands like it across Paraguay are temporarily full of their children and grandchildren. The urbanization of a nation that still has its roots largely in the country is reversed for one long weekend.

Tomorrow families and communities will once more be fragmented. Social networks, tentatively reestablished for three or four days, will be retorn and the city life will resume. Young rural men with no grandmothers to scold them into conformity will live as they wish in the permissive city and reap the consequences with no comfort of home. Young women will struggle to keep dreams alive among the pressures of insecurity, inequality, and loneliness.

They'll continue to send money home, but most will be spent as higher wages accompany higher costs. And gradually the ties with the valle will grow weaker until one year they don't return and abuelita will mourn in gently lilting Guarani, "ndouvéima che memby, che nieto kuéra. Opytapáma Paraguaýre. Che añónte apyta." My children, my grandchildren no longer come. They all stay in Asunción. I alone remain.