When I first arrived in Guido Almada, my host family had experienced a death on the evening of my arrival. The older couple with whom I was to live for my first 3 months in the community with was suddenly cleaved when Don Zaccarias lost his wife of more than 50 years. I moved into a household consisting of Don Zaccarias and his daughter and her family, who had moved from Guarambare to help with the transition.
There were two dogs in the household—Tony, the Don’s dog, and Lobo, who had belonged to his wife. It was quickly evident that Lobo (the name means “wolf” in Spanish) was grieving along with the rest of the family. He was quiet and dejected, passing his days moping around the house as if he were a person who had lost his way home.
After I moved into my own house, a small brick building next door (less than 20 feet from Don Zaccarias’s house, in fact), a relationship began to build between Lobo and me. Within a month, Lobo began to follow me to the bus stop in the morning when I was heading into the city. More than once he had to be turned away sadly by the bus driver at the door. When I visited neighbors, he would follow me at a distance and wait for me at the gate, making sure not to enter so as to avoid upsetting neighboring dogs. This past weekend, when I went for a 10-kilometer hike into barely penetrable marsh, trudging through knee-deep mud, wading through water to my chest, and even swimming some parts, Lobo followed me the entire way, braving the cold and the obstacles despite his clear and vocalized protests at points.
Every morning now, I wake up to find him curled up under the table on my patio, nestled in a little depression where the concrete has broken away and only dust remains. We drink our coffee together and he gets a sausage or two from my breakfast. He waits at my house when I am gone to the city or to teach a class and his tail is always wagging on my return. In the evenings, we listen to music, drink wine, and smoke a cigar together…or at least I do those things while he lies under my hammock. At night, he is the vigilant, if not comically undersized, guardian of my house.
Make no mistake: Lobo is the mangiest, dirtiest dog I have ever met. His fur is matted and dreadlocked and falling out in places. He smells pretty bad, although this usually goes away after a big storm (this is the best Paraguay can do for giving dogs a bath). Still, I cannot deny that in him, I have found a best friend, an unquestionably and unwaveringly loyal companion. He asks nothing more from me than food scraps, a scratch on the belly, and friendship. Lobo is just another way, another immensely special and irreplaceable way, that this strange foreign country is beginning to feel much more like home. —Mario Machado