Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Day of Love or how I almost lost my little toe

We were sitting in the hard sipping terere when I discovered my pique, right on the edge of my right pinkie toe. I casually said something like "hey I think I have a pique." Immediately everybody was crowded around my foot to have a look. "Yep, sure is" they said and offered to take it out for me. Profesora Gladis said that her 7 year old daughter Marta is an expert and always takes out Grandmas pique. I really didn't feel like I could refuse and besides, what could go wrong? Besides, the chipa guasu was already in the oven.

I started to have second thoughts when Marta pulled a needle off the shelf that obviously wasn't clean. "That thing is going inside my toe, we should..." I am sitting in a little tiny chair with my foot propped up and Marta is going to work like an expert surgeon. It turned out the eggs had been in there for a while and before long she was pulling out little white eggs about the size of the tip of a pen.

Everything was going pretty well, Marta was pulling out the eggs and wiping the puss off with a rag. I was trying to be as calm as possible because there was a little boy about 4 years old that kept asking me questions like "Does it hurt yet?" "Whats wrong with your face?" He kept sticking his face in my gaping wound and saying "guakala!"(gross!)

Just as the kid was getting annoying with his questions I forgot all about him because he was right, it did hurt. I looked down and blood had filled the hole in my toe and Marta was saying that she couldn't get the whole thing out. By this point the sun had gone down enough that her brother Juan had to bring in their little flashlight. I was surrounded by little kids asking me weird questions and digging trenches in my toes with sewing needles.

I really wanted to just leave but it would have been rude and besides, I really cant pass up a chance to eat chipa guasu. Marta is wiping away bloody puss with her rag and all I can think about is eating.

Before long Profesora Gladis came over, took a few stabs herself and declared the job done. We all knew it wasn't but the flesh was too raw and swollen to keep working. I followed them outside into the cool night air, staggering, and enjoyed a plate of delicious chipa guasu

Happy Valentines Day

Food of Paraguay

(Disclaimer: This is not a food list, sorry, that will be another post. I am also mostly speaking for the Paraguayan country side, not large cities like Asuncion where more money and resources are available.

I figure my average meal in site, at my home, costs about $1.50 to $2.00. That doesn't include the cost of transportation (other than basics, I try to bring in slightly higher quality food from the city) but that gives an idea of how my neighbors are eating. Even at prices like that, many poor families here have trouble putting a decent meal - if anything - on the table twice a day. In the States, we can easily spend $30 on a decent non-fast food meal at a restaurant. That's what, 20 meals which would feed somebody for ten days if you forget breakfast (most people here do).

In my community here in Paraguay, people aren't starving like they are in Africa but without being a doctor I can say pretty confidently that we do have major malnutrition problems. There are several reasons for this:

- Lack of tradition -
Paraguay has a very bland culinary tradition. Traditional foods are almost always fried or extremely fatty. Vegetables simply aren't generally considered a necessary part of the diet. Even in cities big enough to have restaurants, almost all of them will serve the same thing. A fast food joint will have burgers and pre-made sandwiches and empanadas and milonaisa (fried breaded meat). A sit-down restaurant will serve the same soup/pasta/fish/meat dishes with little variation as well as all of the fast food options. The only real foreign food that has become popular is pizza.

- Poverty -
Meat or roots like mandioca are more filling than salads. You get more for your money when you have to chose one or the other. Many poor farmers in the country cannot afford to travel to the nearest town where a variety of vegetables would be available.

- Intestinal Parasites -
While not a diet issue, the endemic problem of intestinal worms greatly influences the health of people, especially children, and can exacerbate the effects of malnutrition. Parasites can cause quick fatigue, chronic abdominal pains, chronic diarrhea, and malnutrition. In extreme cases they can even lead to death. More commonly children with parasites may be less likely to pay attention at school or do homework because of lack of energy.

How do we eat our veggies in Paraguay?

Some families will plant a garden, generally consisting of lettuce, green onion, carrots, and tomatoes. A fresh garden salad will be made of a mixture of those vegetables mixed with vegetable oil and salt.

Often a stew or soup will include green onion.

Me? I take my vitamin every day and look forward to the time when I will again have access to the incredible variety of foods that we naturally take for granted in the US.