by Mario Machado—
Last week, the long-awaited news was finally released to our group of anxious Peace Corps trainees. On Wednesday, we were assigned our future sites, the places in which we will be living and working for the next 2 years. Over the weekend, 34 trainees dispersed across Paraguay for our first encounters with communities that range in character from dense, semi-urban barrios to remote farming villages. My site is one of the latter.
The road to Guido Almada is not short and is certainly not easy. The initial bus ride from Asunción goes east for about 150 kilometers to Coronel Oviedo before turning north for another 50 kilometers to the small city of Carajao. The intersection with the 30-kilometer dirt road that leads to Cleto Romero (and, eventually, Guido Almada) is unmarked and almost undistinguishable, unless you know what you are looking for. Once in Carajao, one must hitch a ride on the once-daily bus, a taxi passing by chance, or one of the ubiquitous ox-drawn carts that regularly make the excursion to market. The dirt road quickly becomes mud at even the thought of rain and is utterly impassable for days following the stronger storms.
I arrived in Guido Almada last weekend with a packet of information on potential projects, community contacts, and a general orientation to the region. Quickly, however, and as I have come to expect in this country, all plans and preconceptions were soon obsolete as the conditions on the ground curiously toppled along in a rhythm all their own. The family with which I was to live for my first several months in site suffered a terrible loss the night of my arrival: The matriarch of the family, suddenly sick, passed away shortly after dark. In such isolated areas with the conditions of life being as harsh as they typically are, sickness and death seem to take on a much different and almost routine character.
The community itself, despite its geographic isolation, is surprisingly well connected and organized. Guido Almada and the surrounding communities have a strong history of resisting oppression and fighting for rights as a result of Paraguay’s 35-year Stroessner dictatorship, which ended in 1989. The farmers’ committees have established a strong leadership and actively express a desire to diversify to more sustainable methods. While agriculture provides a large part of family subsistence in Guido Almada, the community members are extremely interested in converting to organic farming methods (in both home gardens and possibly in some larger agricultural plots). My job over the next 2 years—along with teaching English classes, helping in the schools, and providing any and every amount of technical assistance that I can—will be to help promote and instill organic farming methods in the community.
This desire to convert to organic techniques is far from the norm here in Paraguay, where many people survive on what they can manage to grow and trade for. The fact that I have found myself in such a situation, with a community that sees the benefits and need for sustainability so clearly, is truly amazing. I am just beginning to realize how big my task will be in the next 2 years. I am also realizing what a lucky accident it was that found me working in the Rodale Institute’s organic vegetable gardens last summer. Who could have known how these things would work out? Thanks to all my friends at the Rodale farm and office; I really owe you a big one.
On the edge of my Paraguayan seat,