Last time, you might recall that I was a little bitter about Argentinean Independence Day. But we all learn from traveling and Justin Timberlake might have to sing, “Cry me a river.” Andy would probably tell me to call the waaambulance. It’s true and evident that I have been on a whine tour recently. I’ve also been to a Chilean heavy metal show, so excuse my political anger in this volume, please.
The Tres Leones (Travis, Andy, and Toren) hopped off a bus three hours or so southeast of the capital Asuncion, Paraguay in a small town of a few thousand called San Juan Bautista. It is the capital of the Misiones Province if you care. We strolled slowly into town as the sun set, much like a pride of lions might arrive searching for new hunting grounds. From the shadows of porches, many daughters whispered to many mothers, “Muy Duros!” (How tough they are!). Andy and I were happy to have Toren with us and not to be just a Pairagays anymore. None, including us, knew what our next step would be, but invading the village of Isla Tobatï¿½ 45 minutes walk away, where Toren is volunteering, sounded like an interesting idea at least.
We found one of the three hostels in town, packed away our belongings, and ate a ginormous steak and mandioca (yucca root) dinner for a dollar and fifty cents. Despite the foreign atmosphere, the Paraguayan fog had started to lift. It is a simple culture it seemed, and I intended to get to the roots of their reality in the short time we had. Toren’s reality was a little different, I discovered, when I played Santa Claus and unloaded all the junk I had been lugging around South America for 6 weeks: CDs, duct tape, a frisbee, a sleeping bag, ATM cards, and finally, a little pamphlet the Peace Corps had sent to him before he left the States, entitled: Your Assignment: Paraguay. A long, hearty laugh was had by all when he thanked me for bringing his assignment because, for the last eight months, he had no idea what he was supposed to be doing (as if it matters). Beautiful. Just an ex-patriot living off of Uncle Sucker. But I had several more questions about this alleged core of peace.
A subdivision of the United States Department of Defense, and therefore, military, the Peace Corps has been in operation for let’s say 40 years now. The definition the United States uses for ‘defense’ is paradoxical to me. ‘Invade and destroy other faraway lands in the interest of homeland security?’ That sounds like an excuse for offense. The best defense is not a good offense. And it offends me when the US defends its offensive posture by masking it behind a veil of non-descript, meaningless banter such as: Axis of Evil, weapons of mass destruction, evil regime, War on Terror, or pick your CNN catch-phrase of the day.
More topically, the Department of Defense, including the Peace Corps, is just a misnomer for the act of colonization. A slow misdirection of society by the US, leading to the cultural, then inevitably, financial subservience of a populous and government of a country. Do I sound bitter? Good. Here is my solace: In effect, the Peace Corps is meaningless and worthless. Not one volunteer is properly trained to colonize. The endless bureaucracy surrounding the programs creates enough red tape to tape back together the Kyoto Treaty.
To US citizens: You should be proud your tax dollars are being spent on such projects as ‘Spread the Eucalyptus.’ That program is, introduce to an area a foreign species, which will outcompete all native species and become counterproductive to its original objective while effectively eliminating most biological diversity. Being nearly unburnable in local stoves, the wood will not fulfill the needs of the community but will surely limit the amount of burnable wood that can grow in the suitable habitat now occupied by the eucalyptus. Rocket science. Hello? Excuse me, I’m not done. Sustainable development: Now there is a winning concept. This idea must have been created by some wealthy yuppie ‘philanthropist’ who doesn’t understand the laws of physics. Our definition of development inevitably entails production of goods, which requires a continual supply of resources. Is this concept realistically sustainable. Damn no. For the short term, lives could be improved (whatever that means), but when every household in China has a washing machine, the dried-up riverbeds will run deep with concern for sustainability. Population increases not included, there is nothing sustainable about development. In the end, as I digress from this confusing argument, one catch phrase will hold true for all the volunteers of colonization worldwide: ‘Estoy aqui para apoyar la comunidad.‘ (I’m here to support the community).
As Toren’s case goes, I was at first sad to see him lend his good name to the US armed forces. But when I brought forth those concerns over a bottle of whine in the plaza of the small town of San Juan Bautista that evening, he really validated the fact that he is not a robot and not working for the man. He is there to apoyar himself and you are paying for it so he would like to thank you. He lives on a compound in Paraguay, much like a colonist would, plays guitar, and generally impresses the local females.
These answers, this lifestyle truly interested me, and Andy and I were fortunate enough to be invited to Toren’s reality the next morning as he heroically and proverbially showed his hand to the community. If the statement “muy duros” was used to describe our entrance into San Juan Bautistuta, a town which actually has asphalt, then the gaping mouths of the Isla Tobatï¿½ans couldn’t utter the proper phrase in Guaranï¿½ to describe the spectacle they witnessed as the Tres Leones – three large, blonde men with backpacks – meandered into their small reality and village. Colonists.
Isla Tobatï¿½ is a one-hour walk on dirt roads from San Juan. No buses connect the farming community with the small town. It’s quite a lovely stroll across the palm-ridden chaco for three lions with endless amounts of free time. The locals say “Baishapa” to mean ‘how are you?’, followed by a courteous thumbs-up to let you know they are doing just fine. Walking past the school and church and the only street light in town to the village center, we could see Toren’s manor. It is a small, three-room, white concrete structure with dual water tanks above. He has a green, neatly trimmed lawn, a fence with a gate, an outhouse, and a well. His several acre property includes a well cared-for garden of green onions, tomatoes, and spicy peppers. The rest of the estate is filled with various palms and an immense, 106 tree citrus grove within which we passed many an hour tasting the countless varieties of sweet fruit. In fact, that’s all we did besides listen to and play music and toss the frisbee.
This was Toren’s first day in his new home and we decided to break it in proper. After visiting his former host family and feeding cow’s milk to their chanchitos (piglets), we borrowed the necessary equipment from the community in order to cook a healthy, large meal. We had procured pasta and some vegetables in San Juan that morning, so, after collecting kindling and wood from his property, we lit a fire and heated our stew over an open fire. It was outstanding and simple. Eat, sleep, drink, talk. We used green onions and peppers from his garden. Incidentally, the peppers made for a very emotional meal; we were all in tears by the end of his housewarming dinner. The sun went down and the moon came up. And it gets cold in the chaco. So we bundled up in all our warm clothes, hats, and gloves, and took a night’s rest on the donated mattresses over the concrete floor in Toren’s small home in Isla Tobatï¿½, south-central Paraguay.