This Christmas was arguably one of the more memorable Christmas celebrations I have had to date. For the first time since I arrived in O'Leary it was overcast with potential for rain, naturally it didn't, but all the same I was excited at the potential for a rain to cool everything down. Needless to say Christmas and Christmas Eve was a time to relax and spend time with the family. Iris, my host mom, had her mother and Sister come stay for a few days, so the house was full of people 8 in total. In Paraguay the actual celebration of Christmas is done at midnight on Christmas day, and the celebration takes place during Christmas Eve night. The evening was spent enjoying a few adult beverages, a big asado (BBQ) consisting of both pork, sausage, and beef along with a healthy amount of mandioca all in all a pretty standard feast. When the clock struck midnight on Christmas day everyone embraced and said "feliz Navidad" to each individual member of the family then it was time for gift giving. I thought it would be a good idea to load up on gifts for the entire family and ended up giving them all candy bars for starters followed by a deck of Spanish style playing cards to Julio, my host Dad, as incentive to teach me truco, a popular card game in Paraguay, a bunch of fireworks for Mathias (age 10), a plastic truck for the 3 year old Damian, a deck of regular playing cards for Nazareth (12), and a candle complete with lighter for Iris. In return I was given this rather form fitting set of boxers that say blackjack on them complete with a Chinese style dragon on one of the legs. I later found out that boxers are normally expensive and that it was a very generous gift, so with that being said I am thrilled by my pair of Christmas underwear without a doubt the nicest pair I have ever received for Christmas.
So that was my Christmas experience complete, good food, tons of fireworks, and good cheer all around. The days since have been a lot of the same activities, chilling in my hammock, eating a diet consisting of exclusively carbohydrates, and wondering around the community. However, after spending two weeks in site I have started to notice a number of interesting characteristics of the community, and have started meeting a number of really cool people. Since I have arrived I have been trying to ask about gardens, their maintenance, whether people have them, and what types of things grow then. The day after Christmas was the first day I realized that my family had a garden. When I asked them about it their response was more along the lines of a "duh we have a garden." After that exchange of blatantly obvious comments I inquired if it would be at all possible for me to start my own mini garden in a vacant part of their 10x30ft garden. Much to my joy the answer was yes, but conditional upon the next time it rains to make it easier to work with the soil. Naturally it has still not rained, and has not rained since I arrived 2 weeks ago, but at least I have started asking the right kinds of questions while marveling in the irony of the lack of vegetables in my diet while a garden complete with vegetables exists in the backyard of the house I live in.
I then started asking if gardens were common in the community? My response from most of the people I have talked to is no, but the people I talk too all have gardens, so I must be missing where the people who don't have gardens are wither that or I am just super lucky with whom I talk too. Something interesting that has come up as a result of my inquiry. First, why would you maintain a garden if you could just as easily run down to the supermarcado and buy vegetables? That seems like a fairly obvious realization that I didn't come up with independently, but makes perfect sense. Just because someone grows corn, mandioca, wheat, yerba mate, or other commonly used crops for auto-consumption doesn't mean they want to grow everything. It takes time and patience to garden and if your day is jammed packed with tasks like caring for animals, watching after children, hand washing laundry, and cooking where is the time to maintain a garden? Just because you are a farmer doesn't mean you grow everything. That is what it is like in a lot of cases in the United States and it is like that in Paraguay as well.
Drinking terere is a daily activity in Paraguay. People put in all kinds of medicinal herbs to help with whatever ails them. Growing a yerba mate plant, the primary component of terere, is not hard, yet it is still not a common practice for families to grow their own plants for the simple fact that it is a process to take the leaves and produce the end product. It is the same reason smokers don't grow their own tobacco who had the time to go through the whole process from start to finish? I think my whole point is just because a culture has a lot of agriculture doesn't mean that they grow everything or have time too. Not sure why that sounds so profound to me now, but it is. I think looking forward it will be interesting to see why certain people grow certain things and why they don't grow others. I'll have to wait and see as time goes by, but so will everyone who is reading this blog. Happy New Years to everyone look for another update at the start of 2012.