In the coming month, I’m going to try to post something I’m grateful for in Paraguay every week. I’ve been so negative about my service and the country as a whole lately and my shit attitude doesn’t help anyone, especially me. It only makes sense to start with the woman who always cheers me up on the bleakest of days.
“Do you want mate?” Abuela asks me while thrusting the guampa into my hand. It’s a little too hot outside to drink mate, I think, but I sip the familiar mix of yerba, rosemary and siempre vive flowers through her fancy silver bombilla that my sister and I bought her for her birthday this past year.
“It’s better for you than terere,” she says matter-of-factly. This is my favorite thing about her. She makes ridiculous comments like this with such conviction, but not the conviction of someone who’s trying to convince you of truth, but that of someone who doesn’t realize that there could possibly be any inaccuracy in her statement.
“Why is that?” I asked her, hoping to hide my cringe as I burned my tongue…again. Will I ever learn?
“Well my Abuelo and Abuela, they always ate lunch at eleven, and then at noon, they started drinking mate,” she replied.
“That doesn’t answer the question…” my host mom says, rolling her eyes and laughing at her mother.
But Abuela doesn’t give a single shit. She goes on sipping her mid-afternoon mate that’s better-for-you-than-terere even though it’s the same thing just with hot water instead of cold. She is the epitome of contentment.
My Abuela is my favorite member of my host family. She is arhel (difficult, bull-headed, sometimes downright bitchy), she never wears a bra, she loves pizza, she thinks Dengue was invented by the U.S. government, and she loves to fish. She is a woman of very simple pleasures, but when it comes to treating herself, she loves Johnnie Walker Red.
Abuela was the first person in my community to stop treating me like I was special. Which might sound like a weird reason to have so much affection toward her, but trust me, not being special is great. Well before any other member of my community, she made me wash dishes after lunch, she showed up on my porch unannounced asking to borrow something, she gave up on finding me a boyfriend. She made it clear I was one of her own. If I ever leave overnight, or on vacation, she is the first person to greet me upon return like I’ve just returned from war.
Once I thought a cow ate my favorite wool socks from the clothesline, but then I saw them on her feet the next day.
“My socks are dirty,” she said. “I’ll give them back I promise.”
The next day they were washed and return to my clothesline.
In the wake of one of the darker months of my service, Abuela has continued to be a sassy, free-boobin’, pizza lovin’ light in my life. She reminds me that even if work is falling apart and I feel under utilized in my community, I am still loved and I still have a reason to be here. She is the first person I think of when I souvenir shop on vacation and the only person in the family who can out-drink my host dad.
My host mom leaves for Asuncion to visit a doctor. My siblings and I are on our own for dinner, which always means homemade pizza and life chats. I pull a pepperoni and olive masterpiece from the oven and laugh as my sister, brother and I tell stories we wouldn’t dare tell in front of my host mom.
“DO I SMELL PIZZA?” Abuela, who has been asleep for an hour, shouts from her room.
The kitchen is silent as Abuela enters, ready for second dinner.
“Oh, is this sex talk pizza?” she asks, cutting herself a large piece.
We all muffle giggles.
“Well,” she sighs, “What do you wanna know?”