Today I had the unique privilege of hearing four languages in less than four hours. It was English, then Spanish, then Portuguese, and finally, I heard for the first time a few words of Guaraní, an indigenous language spoken in Paraguay. It was a little much to take in all at once.
We flew north out of Buenos Aires for the short trip to Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. As I got off the plane, the humidity and heat settled calmly over my body. The evening heat was the fading effect of an extremely hot day (the daytime temperature hit 100°F for the first time in a few months—and this is still springtime in Paraguay). The group of Peace Corps volunteers-in-training loaded onto buses to take us across the city to a small conference center to spend the night. The sun was setting and the smog was smoldering over the poorly labeled streets with a combined effect similar to having a foggy lens being pulled over my eyes.
Drivers seemed oblivious to road signs—they drove against the traffic on one-way streets, across medians, and fearlessly into traffic merge points, hoping that the opposing drivers wouldn’t call their bluff. Compact little coupes and rusty old sedans jousted for position with oversized and unbelievably overcrowded Mercedes buses, while motorcyclists and mopeds weaved in and out at will. A policeman was parked on one corner with his lights flashing but made no efforts to intervene; his presence, if actually intended as a deterrent, was in reality little more than a gesture of authority. This was motorized anarchy.
As streetlights cycled through their colorful displays, it soon became obvious that these too were arbitrary in meaning. Not only was I in a country where I did not know the language, I now realized I did not even know how to interpret the road signs. As the bus sat waiting at a green light, several people started to shuffle past the bus: a few in military uniforms, kids trying to throw themselves on windshields and clean them for a few pesos, a few joggers. And then, an old woman walked past. Propped up on her hip and dangling over her shoulder was a small boy. He was emaciated—atrophied legs, swollen joints, a head that lolled aimlessly from side to side in concert with the bump-bump-bump of her hips—resembling someone suffering form some sort of muscular dystrophy. She carried him, seemingly with no particular destination, walking slowly along the median between two maddening sides of opposing traffic. She was unfazed, he was expressionless, and that’s just what it was. The light turned red and we drove on. Both were quickly swallowed by the smog.
We drove through streets of a city unlike any I have seen before. Asunción’s colonial architecture is underscored with an overwhelming feeling of passing time, as if each building is unusually prone to gravity and is slowly being pulled underneath the earth. There is nothing new here. No new cars, no new houses, no new sidewalks. Even the trees seem burdened with time. Shrubs hold precariously to a very dusty, iron-rich and blood-red soil that seems liable to blow away if one but breathes too heavily. Garbage itself constitutes its own unique feature in the cityscape. There are no large buildings, no skyscrapers. The few vestiges of American consumerism remain isolated and contained in small islands, each erupting upward with four or five billboards stacked together like sardines. The soccer fields display their true colors as the grass has been kicked away leaving behind only a large patch of red earth flanked by white-stained-red goal posts.
Asunción is a city with a flavor, and not in the figurative sense (although it does also have plenty of cultural flavor as well), but in a very literal sense. Farmers just outside the city spent the day burning off brush from their fields, presumably to make room for new crops and to recycle nutrients to the soil. The entire city smelled of burnt rubber. The flavor of Asunción today was ash. Tomorrow it may well be flowers and lavender, but today the air tasted like a city of coals.
We arrived in our compound, were warned not to stray outside the gates, and spent the evening eating and relaxing from several days of travel. Showers were a welcomed treat. Tomorrow we move in with host families. Seeing as I might not get a good 8 hours in a while, I shut my eyes and rolled over, sleeping soundly with the knowledge that the guards at the gate, armed with a shotgun apiece, should take care of any troubles we might have.
In way over my head,
by Marygrace Taylor—
When I was a kid, fall meant apple picking. On a crisp, sunny weekend afternoon, my family (along with what seemed like every other family in a 20-mile radius) would pile into the car and drive out to Johnson’s Farm in Medford, New Jersey. As soon as the car was parked in the dirt lot, my siblings and I would run straight to the winding line of families waiting to hop on the next hay ride that went out to the apple orchard, leaving our parents behind to take care of buying the tickets. Once it was finally our turn, we’d ride the straw-filled truck to the rows of apple trees and fill our baskets with as many as we could carry. And when we got back to the farm, the best part of all awaited us: hot apple cider and fresh apple cider donuts.
To this day, it doesn’t totally feel like fall until I’ve gone apple picking. But I live in Austin now, and central Texas isn’t exactly known for its apple orchards (or autumn weather. The temperature still hasn’t dropped below 90 here!) So I took matters into my own hands and brought the flavors of fall into my kitchen with this yummy spiced applesauce, which KIWI published in our latest edition of KIWI Cooks, our sustainable cooking e-newsletter. It tastes just like apple pie filling—but is healthy enough to enjoy swirled into your family’s morning oatmeal, dolloped onto pancakes, or eaten on its own as an afternoon snack. Try it!
The warm cinnamon and ginger in this kid-pleasing applesauce are enhanced by Ginger Gold apples, a green variety with a slightly spicy flavor. If Ginger Golds aren’t available, any variety of yellow or green apple, such as Golden Delicious, will work; their firm flesh and tart skin are ideal for cooking.
Active time: 10 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
• 3 pounds Ginger Gold apples, peeled, cored, and diced
• ½ cup water
• ¼ cup brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon ground ginger
• Juice of ½ lemon
• Pinch salt
1. In a large stockpot, add the apples, water, sugar, spices, lemon, and salt. Cover and bring to a boil.
2. Once the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples have completely softened.
3. Use a wooden spoon or potato masher to mash the apples into a sauce (mash less if you like your applesauce on the chunky side, mash more if you like your applesauce smoother). Serve warm, or transfer to a glass container and refrigerate for up to a week.
Per serving: calories 160, fat 0 g, protein 0 g, dietary fiber 6 g, carbohydrates 45 g
My name is Mario Machado. I am a recent Penn State graduate who has just left for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps. I will be working with local communities in rural Paraguay, implementing sustainable agricultural and subsistence systems. For the next 27 months I will be blogging at OrganicGardening.com with information about my experience, my work, and my impressions of the rich fabric that is Paraguayan life and culture. It should be an adventure—one that will certainly change my life. Any questions or comments are greatly appreciated, and I will try my best to post and respond in a timely fashion (internet connection, weather conditions, and state of malarial delirium permitting). And so, without further ado, welcome to Paraguay!
Well…not exactly. I have not reached the heart of South America yet. Instead, I will be sitting in a hotel room in Miami, Florida, for the next two days. There will be an orientation for Peace Corps volunteers all day Thursday. Then it’s a midnight flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina, a brief layover, and then on to Asunción, capital city of Paraguay.
At this point, I have definitely realized that I am already over my head. When I first arrived in Miami, I heard a man say to his friend, “In Miami, if you don’t speak Spanish, forget about it,” and he is not mistaken. It seems that all I have heard since I de-planed is rapid-fire Spanish—even from a Bangladeshi cabbie and an African doorman. Tomorrow I will buy a Spanish-English dictionary, which should serve me well until I get to my village in Paraguay, where they won’t speak much Spanish at all, but instead Guaraní (a language I have no familiarity with).
Things are already shaping up to be quite interesting and I haven’t even left the continental United States yet. I am one day in and already revisiting everything that I have stuffed into two large duffle bags, convinced that I have forgotten something vital (such as a Spanish-English dictionary). I can take some comfort in the fact that, at least for the moment, I have a nice view of a golf course and a beautiful lake (although, its peculiar shape seems an indication that it too is man-made) and a soft bed to sleep on. For the next two years, it’s going to be a sleeping bag, a yoga mat, and a shower every so often. After long days in the field, I get to fetch my water from a well and experiment with my “drop-toilet” technique (I won’t go into details but I am sure you catch my drift). Here goes nothing.
Until next time,