Typical Day—Is There Such a Thing?
- South America, Paraguay
- Personal Essay
It's cold today and raining. I am cooking with rainwater culled from the bucket I stuck out in the front yard. Pasta and beans, a flour tortilla. Simple stuff. Some cocido tea with powdered milk and a touch of honey that my friend Señora Benicia cultivates down the road.
When it rains, it is even harder to get water. Usually, I would take the 10-minute walk down to the arroyo—stream—and pull water out of the spring, just as all my female neighbors do. Only the women carry water here—in heavy buckets balanced on their heads. They tried to teach me how to pull off this amazing feat, but I can only get the bucket to my shoulder. Being a farm woman in Paraguay is physically taxing, and you'd think they'd all look like the Incredible Hulk, but they don't. I admire the campesinas—local farm women—for their fortitude and only wish I could be so incredible. When I first got here, everyone commented on how fine and smooth my hands were. Funny, no one's been saying it lately.
Today, rain has made the hilly path to the spring impassable, which means I won't be bathing tonight. Thank goodness I got enough water yesterday to drink today. I have to boil all my water in order to avoid giardia, an intestinal irritant if ever there was one. I don't know how my Paraguayan neighbors avoid it. They are used to it, they say, but the kids get sick a lot. I started organizing a community-based water project, but the Paraguayan government says it has already run out of funds for digging new wells this year, and the farmers don't have the money to do it on their own. Maybe next year. We did buy a bag of cement and constructed a crude barrier so that at least the cows won't get into our drinking water.
Over half of the Paraguayan population lives in "unlivable" conditions, according to statistics. And there are communities with worse water problems than ours. My closest Peace Corps neighbor, Greg, lives about half an hour away by foot. His community was pulling drinking water out of the stream where they bathed and washed clothes. But because of the droughts and the terrain, the wells had dried up, and women were walking half a mile uphill with huge buckets on their heads to supply water to their homes.
Greg is the third Peace Corps Volunteer at his site. A previous Volunteer started a running-water project four years ago, and because of the poverty and the slow pace of life, Greg's community just got water this month. By coincidence, I was there when they turned on the motorized pump and water came out for the first time. It was a Peace Corps Moment. People literally came running to fill up their buckets with clean drinking water. I smiled, thinking, "So that's why they call it a 'running' water project." Greg says the piping will go in next, and soon the women of his community will be able to get water from a faucet in their front yards.
In the United States, if it rained, you'd grumble, pull out your umbrella, and be on your way. In the Paraguayan campo—countryside—rain changes everything. Farmers take the opportunity to sleep.
The meetings of women's and youth groups that I normally lead will be canceled, and I won't get fed at a neighbor's house. I will be guarding every drop of water I have, and won't eat much because I don't have enough water to cook. I'll read and write and think about how different my life has become.