October 10th, 2011

The Pepper Crop Takes a Pounding

Mario-peace-corps-blog-80by Mario Machado

The heat has broken, shattered while we slept and in a tremendous fashion by a storm that was as fierce as it was brief. The fields surrounding my new home outside Guarambare bear the scars of heavy clouds passing in the night—and yet, the Paraguayan family I am living with and the rest of our Paraguayan friends remain ever so tranquilo.

I awoke at around one in the morning to the sounds of chaos: animals going off one after the other, people outside scrambling and yelling, and all the while a continuous chorus of wind and water and lightning and thunder. I left my room to find my host family huddled under the small awning in the front of the house as rain came down like a sheet in front of our faces. Already several trees had fallen. The uuvas (a small bush that bears delicious fruit) had been uprooted and strewn in shreds across the yard. The television antenna had also been downed by a wind that seemed quite pointed and strong. My host father mumbled something about his peppers being ruined and retired to the house to wait and hopefully sleep out the storm.

The next morning brought some relief as the violent clouds receded on the horizon, surrendering the sky to a gentle morning sun. But the damage had been done. Twenty rows of peppers had been tossed around in the night, leaving the crop in shambles. The net used shelter and shade the peppers had collapsed. The zapallos, zapallitos, tomatoes, mandioc, pesto, and orange trees seemed to be all right, but it was the peppers that represent the biggest cash crop for my host family. This storm had certainly made a point.

mario-peppers

The pepper field after the storm ripped away the shade cloth, toppled some of the support stakes, and snapped the peppers’ brittle stems.

My family is lucky in the sense that my host father is a seasoned farmer and therefore had the foresight to diversify his crops according to price, ease of maintenance, and seasonality. The large-scale loss of the peppers is not crippling to my family, for there are other crops to rely on—however, none of them are currently ready for harvest. The peppers, being the best cash crop but also the crop of highest maintenance needs in the Paraguayan climate, provided a huge source of income for the family at several tens of dollars a week. With that income lost, it’s time to start over and begin replanting. For a poor farmer with limited financial capital, that prospect is daunting but certainly not cause for lengthy deliberation; this afternoon, my host father was already back in the field fixing the netting, salvaging the peppers, and setting the ground for the next round. The realities of farming change drastically when the food you grow represents not only your nourishment but also your livelihood. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

mario-pepper-wide

click the picture to enlarge.

The storm has passed and all will return to normal in due time. The perpetually “tranquilo” Paraguayan outlook will surely iron out any lasting damage as it cradles the simple lifestyles of these beautiful people. One should never idealize the situation of poverty or the challenges it presents to countless real people across the globe, but it does seem—and I have seen this over and over—that the less you have, the happier you are. Peppers or no peppers, we will talk and smile and laugh over dinner tonight. So it goes.

From the other side of the storm,
Mario


Mario Machado is currently studying in Asunción, Paraguay, prior to serving for two years as an agricultural educator with the Peace Corps. The Allentown, Pennsylvania, native and 2011 Penn State graduate spent the summer of 2011 volunteering at the Rodale Institute and the Organic Gardening test garden.

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Comments

    Thanks for the update. Had a chance to speak with E on Friday. Sounds as though you are all having the adventure of a lifetime. Continue to stay well and update your blog. Best regards- R.

    Mario, great to hear about your adventures! You paint a vivid picture and I look forward to reading more about your experiences. Good luck with the peppers.

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