This week was a rude awakening—or maybe it was more like a sweaty, sticky, how-could-I-ever-forget sort of shock that brought me back to the reality of summertime in Paraguay. With temperatures consistently over 100°F, the world seemed to stop. Once-productive workdays have, in a span of two weeks, become endless afternoon hours spent sitting under mango trees, sipping slowly at tepid tereré (for any ice to be had melts faster than it can cool), mumbling little nothings in Guaraní with my neighbors. The only thing punctuating this monotony is the animated reference to our collective, obvious reality, the oppressive million-tons of atmosphere and sun weighing down upon people and animals alike. “Hakuiterei, chera’a” (It’s really, really hot out, my friend).
I have been a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay for over a year now (14 months) and have run the gauntlet of all four seasons. I use the word “seasons” loosely: Each year can more accurately be separated into incredibly hot summers followed by cold, wet winters with an awkward and unpredictable few months on either end. Still, it’s funny how easy it is to forget the burning intensity that comes with a noonday sun in the Southern Hemisphere. When you spend the winter months in front of a space heater, sipping maté, looking for every excuse not to shower in frigid water and a wind chill around freezing, one’s perspective gets a little confused.
In the States, life proceeds normally from season to season. Some people salt their driveways and put different tires on their car for winter, or prep their lawn mowers and clean the air conditioner filter for summer, but to a large extent, the pace of life remains the same. There is always talk of the “dog days of summer,” but Paraguay’s peak summer months make those look like a vacation. The reality here in the heart of South America is that it simply gets too hot, too dangerous to do anything. Farmers wake up at first light and get into their fields for a few hours, but by 9:30 they turn in for the day. Working any later is not smart and Paraguayans know it.
The pulse of life in my community is strictly set to the weather. This is most evident when a big storm rolls up and whole families huddle together under their thatch roofs to watch the rain. But it goes beyond that: Each farmer knows exactly when to plant what, what winds are favorable for what crops, the cycles of the moon, the number of possible mornings with frost in winter, the prospects of good rains. I guess that when you live so directly off of the land, when your livelihood and well-being are intimately tied to the natural world around you, the need to be keenly aware is inevitable.
Farmers and gardeners in the States must evoke this to a certain extent, but it is also very different. A typical U.S. farmer relies on crops for income; successful harvests translate into financial stability in the following year. For my Paraguayan compañeros, this can also be true, but on an even more fundamental level of subsistence. Successful crops mean a steady flow of calories into the bellies of the farmer’s family. Failures spell disaster for household nutrition, livestock, and prospects for saving seed to plant the following year. For that reason, it seems as if life in the Paraguayan countryside moves in lockstep with even the slightest changes in the weather.
And so as I sit and sweat, as I will be doing for the indefinite future, I am trying to appreciate the days for what they are: a break after a long season of sowing and clearing land, a chance to rest, relax, be with family and friends, read, write, and catch up on community gossip. At times like these, you really learn to understand the value of a good shade tree in your front lawn. —Mario Machado