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Pombero, Creature of the Paraguayan Night

Jane Troxell

Pombero is a mischievous imp of the night who roams the Paraguayan countryside. His presence explains all the inexplicable things that happen here. The strange noises, the disappearance of things. If the wind makes a woman's skirt blow up or a child trips and falls, someone invariably blames Pombero. We learned about all of Paraguay's many mythical creatures during training, but Pombero is probably the funniest. One Volunteer even went as this nasty little man to last year's Halloween party.

I live alone here, but for all kinds of reasons (community integration, safety, wanting to share time with a Paraguayan family), my house is a few feet away from that of my best friend here, Señora Zunilda. It is unusual for anyone in Paraguay to live alone; campesino (country folk) families consist of 5 to 15 children. Zuni herself has 60 nieces and nephews and she is only 34, two years younger than I am. I only have one!

And a woman living alone is especially unheard of in Paraguay. Zuni thinks it is pretty funny. One night during a visit, she asked me if Pombero had ever visited me. She wiggled her eyebrows, indicating that I was just fooling myself if I thought Pombero didn't know my name. Heck, Pombero didn't scare me. I will walk under a ladder just to prove how lucky I am. "Mavapa Pombero?" I asked Zuni in Guarani, the indigenous language of Paraguay. "Pombero who? Never heard of him," I smiled back.

An hour later, Zuni and I were in our respective homes. She was probably sleeping while I was wide-awake, listening to every little sound in the campo (country) night. Nothing could explain the night's restlessness. I heard bugs overhead, howls and screeches outside, and the general pounding of oxen feet. Was someone outside my door? I thought I heard voices. I cursed Zuni for cursing me and knew Pombero had finally arrived.

That night, I dreamed that a ferocious dog (another of Paraguay's abominable legends, "Tejujagua") jumped through my large front window. It was so real. I know I closed that window, I thought in dreamland, but there his mouth was closing around my head. I stayed perfectly still - paralyzed and sweated through the terror. The monster then moved to my leg, and I held him at bay by pushing on his head while he slowly pressed his teeth into my shin. It was one of those dreams where you yell and nothing comes out. I woke up silently screaming Zuni's name for help.

Pombero was just waiting for Zuni to invite him, apparently. She was pretty amused when I told her what happened. The only cure, as everyone knows, is to place tobacco leaves and something sweet in the window at night. By morning, Pombero is fat, happy, and smoking - and pleased that you took his power seriously. I didn't have any tobacco leaves (the Pombero antidote comes from the time when every farmer grew his own cigarettes), but Marlboros arrived in Paraguay a few years ago and are sold at the despensas (corner stores). I don't smoke, but I invested in a pack and made some cookies.

Pombero never came back, luckily, but for some reason Zuni's husband Don Luciano suddenly took up smoking Marlboros. I'm just happy that Pombero visited and not Kurupi. According to legend, Kurupi's breath has been known to knock down trees. Think I'll stick with Pombero.

Jane Troxell (Paraguay)

Jane Troxell worked with small enterprises while in Paraguay. Her story first appeared on Peace Corps' Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools Web site.

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