A quick forward before I begin:
I continuously find myself coming up short for the best way to describe Paraguay to my friends and family. I, myself am still very much a student. That being said, if you really want to learn about Paraguay in a fantastically descriptive manner, you can find over two years worth of compelling stories and fascinating view points in a wide variety of subjects in Mario’s blog – http://littlehupo.blogspot.com/. They are amazingly insightful pieces that push you to think outside of your comfort zone. All I can say is that I couldn’t be any more proud of my friend to take himself to such limits for the sake of a good cause. So for this blog, I would like to dedicate this little piece to Mario. Without him, I would have never had the opportunity to have such amazing in depth experiences with Paraguay and her people.
After yet another episode of being temporarily stranded with no access to money (newly replaced credit card was being held hostage in Peru’s Customs Border) and being totally alone (until my dearest friend of Peru, Claudio, came to help!), I at last, opened the final exiting doors of Asuncion’s International Airport. Here, I was warmly greeted with open arms and a rib squeezing bear hug from one of my best and oldest friends in the world. When we last spoke, I was clueless and credit card-less. And with no connection with him for over the past two days, it was a miracle he was still there waiting for me.
Mario was finishing his last and final weeks with his term with the Peace Corps. I was given the amazing opportunity to come visit him and help finish some of his last and final projects at his site before we traveled off together to Argentina and Chile. He seemed glad to see me, but even happier to not have to tell any bad news to my parents.
We jumped into a cab and worked our way over the next few days out of the capitol of Asuncion and into the countryside. Once we reached the campo, my hometown suburbia-raised amigo showed me the beauties of the simple, hardworking, humbling, honest, and refreshing Paraguayan lifestyle. For the past 2 years and 3 months, he had the privilege to work, educate, and of course learn a few things for himself amongst the locals. It was truly a beautiful change from our fast-paced American lifestyle from which we were raised. Yet as idealistic and charming the campesino life appeared to me, Mario learned and shared many stories of the hardships of the farming life, and the frightening dangers that can change fates and futures in almost an instant.
We spent the next few weeks, living and working around Mario’s site. Much of the time was spent visiting neighbors and spending time with all of the beautiful families that treated him like he was their own son. Mario was able to assist some of his neighbors by creating worm composts and anaerobic biodigesters, a fairly simple yet brilliant contraption that turns livestock manure into fuel for cooking. I was constantly floored, amazed, and humbled by the work my friend had accomplished.
I was also graciously able to help tie up some of his last few school projects. We worked a fair amount with the school, organizing the new library (fund-raised and built by Mario) and making an Eco-brick bench with the local students. We also hung photos around the school that were taken by some of his students in an photography class he created.
Each morning in the campo was absolutely refreshing. The days rapidly turned to hot and exhausting so for Mario and his neighbors, work was done as early as possible. Afternoons were spent drinking the refreshing beverage of ter’re and the nights were always spent in good company.
As Mario’s term drew near the end, it was time for him to say good-bye to all of the families to whom with he grew so close. And what better way to do it than with a Despidida, a good-bye party. If you’re really going to do it right, then you have to prepare a traditional Paraguayan dish. So, we helped prepare Mario’s feast meal of A’kon’guay’u’vu’gu (roughly translated to ‘cow’s head under the ground’). This was a process I never ever saw coming.
***(Heads up! These next few photos and descriptions are not for the vegetarians out there.)***
The preparation of the traditional dish was quite the arduous task. First, the cow head must be cleaned (with a garden hose of course) and stuffed from all corners with a finely diced onions, peppers, garlic and spice medley.
From there, the cow’s mouth was sewn shut with wire to catch all of the flavors and stuffing….yuuuummmmmm.
We proceeded to wrap the head in foil, making sure to stuff it with all of the caught juices and mixture again. Afterwards, it was placed in a refrigerator to marinate overnight. In the morning, we started to chop a specific tree that Mario’s neighbor had said would make the best type of coals for this type of cooking. Wood was split and a hole big enough to bury the head was made just outside of Mario’s front porch.
The next day, Mario’s neighbor returned and prepared a fire until there was a nice bed of coals. We watched him place the cow’s head inside of the fire-pit proceeded by a support beam and a sheet of metal to cover the hole. Dirt was used to seal the rims of pockets of escaping heat. The well seasoned cow head, then sat in the Paraguayan version of a Dutch oven.
Hours later, we pulled the dish out of the ground. And almost instantaneously, everyone’s mouths began to water. The anticipation of lunch had been perfectly prepared. The wires were cut and the foil was stripped, unsheathing the mighty cow head, ready to feed the pueblo. And then, we feasted…
Everyone crowded around the table and dug in with their forks and fingers, savoring the surprisingly delectable meat. In less than 20 minutes, another neighbor brought a machete over to crack open the skull to dig into the good stuff: the cow brains.
Once the skull was picked clean and after some Polka dancing, Mario thanked all of his neighbors for their hospitality during his stay. Everyone seemed more than elated to have Mario be a part of his community, and it was very apparent that he would be missed by some of his closest neighbors.
The impacts Mario had made on this village to some may seem small however, they were blatantly apparent to me. The connections he had created for the following Peace Corps member are irreplaceable and the community will only continue to grow. From his work, his neighbors have the ability to make progress for a more sustainable future while using all of their resources to their fullest potential.
His services to Paraguay and the rest of the world may seem insignificant, but I for sure know that he has created an everlasting impact on people’s lives. I could only hope that my friend’s life choices may continue to inspire others in a positive light. No matter how big or small the action, we can create a greater quality of living for all, maybe even ourselves.