Monday, April 30, 2012

The rain and the mud.

One of the cultural dissonances we experience here is our attitude towards the rain and the mud which it spawns. I think our national attitudes towards these common phenomena, which are of almost no concern at all to us in the States, show us something about how our level of development affects our daily lives.
When it rains, it pours.
Paraguay's weather is like that of the mid-west in that it is far from the coast and prone to thundersorms. They can arrive with great fanfare and speed but move on just as quickly. When a really big rainy system moves in the sky just opens up with water in a way that almost never happens in the Pacific Nothwest. Back home the rain is drudgery, here it is exciting, not least because it means no one has to go to school (more on that later). Folks don't go out much in the rain. I have many times been scolded for going out in the rain, even with an umbrella. As a Seattleite I've got some pride about my comfort with moisture.
"But you'll will catch a cold!", they say. These is not a valid concern in the States. If it were, the Northwest would be laid low eight months out of the year. One doesn't worry about getting sick in the brief period of exposure between leaving the heated house and getting into the heated car (even if you have to wait 5 minutes for it to heat up). In December 2010 when I was ringing bells for the Salvation Army I would be completely bundled up, as I had to stand outside all day, but I would see people get out on thier car and come into the store in a T-Shirt with the temperature in the 30's.
In Paraguay most people don't have a car, they have motorcycles, and thier houses are generally not heated. The lack of even basic fireplaces causes me great distress. I hate being in a cold house. It could also be hazardous to my health if I come in wet from the rain.
The mud which follows the rain has some supernatural quality to it. It has powers that render analogy with my past North-American mud experience irrelvant and even absurd. Mud affects people's daily lives in Paraguay in a way that is inconcievable to those raised in the USA. After it rains the chief consequenceit is that the land of this country is transformed into a red-purple oozing chaos which takes days to subside.
The color of this clay-soil is what you first notice. Red-orange in the North and purple-black in the South, the coloration is attractive but it is potent, it stains. Clothes, walls, hands, feet, toe-nails in Paraguay are all highly susceptible to its dye. Last August I was told I had "pretty feet". They were white from being in socks all winter, but before long I was wearing flipflops everyday and my toes and soles of my feet were orange, not to mention cracked and dry, just like everybody else. There is no school on rainy days. Volunteers like to joke that it is because Paraguayans melt in the rain, but the truth is that kids usually wear white shirts as part of thier school uniform but which will be near impossible for thier poor mothers to clean and then dry if the kids are allowed even go down the street in them.
This speaks to the another aspect the of mud here, its omnipresence.  Most streets are not paved. Towns will have cobble-stone streets (some rural highways are also cobble-stoned) which are a bumpy pain in the ass most days, but thier value is seen after it rains when they are compared to the impenetrable slurry of the dirt roads. Cobble-stone roads are not a legacy of colonial Paraguay; the government continues to stone more roads, because anything is better than the molten nightmare of the dirt road after it rains.
Volunteers that live several kilometers down a dirt road will get either trapped in site after it rains or will be unable to return for days until the roads harden again. Walking just a few feet across dirt will layer the soles of your shoes in the stuff, which is amazingly difficult to quitar. In the States you would expect that one would want shoes with traction, some good waffle-stompers, when it is wet outside, but here, to the extent that it even makes any difference in the face of such a mightily sticky substance, you want a shoe with a flat sole to give the mud as little as possible to attach itself to. Otherwise you will be carrying half a kilo of the stuff with you wherever you go including into your house.
special red dirt in Nueva Germania which is better than sand on dry days, worse on rainy days
So, you stay inside when it rains. I have been doing a lot of that lately, and have also become well aquainted with where the roof of my new house leaks. Fortunately, and for reasons I do not understand but which must be related to said rain, I have more water coming to my house lately and am now able to take a proper shower, provided I wait until about 10pm to do so.

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