So, as often happens when I get into a series of books, I start to make comparisons between my life situation and that of the fantasy world I’ve entered between the hardback covers. Recently, I’ve been reading the J.R. Tolkien “Lord of the Rings” and the “Hobbit” series; and it’s got me thinking about the similarities between life in Hobbiton and life here in Paraguay.
Lets start on home lifestyle. While Paraguayan’s don’t live burrowed into the ground in wee holes with little round doors, they do kinda burrow into their neighborhoods and identify strongly with their family and heritage closely connected to the lands that have been handed down generation after generation. Along the same lines, Hobbits, like my Paraguayan neighbors rarely if ever enjoy a good “adventure.” I know of only two people in my city that have even been out of the country- and we only live 4 hours form the Argentinean border! In fact, those that do travel or venture to take the path unpaved often are seen as “outsiders” and (as Tolkien may say) “queer.” All that taken into account, Paraguayans are very hospitable. For example, if you ever want a free meal or just to sit around and chat- this is the place to be. Whenever I show up for terere around 10-11am, I am sure to be offered a seat at the table for lunch whether or not there was food sufficient enough to go around. Finally, Hobbits always try to keep the conversation polite, “at your service” they say. Here in the heart of South America the answer is always “YES.” Will you come to my birthday party? Can you be at the meeting at 3pm? Do you like this crazy spicy food I’ve just prepared? “Yes” they say, even when in all of those cases they are really thinking “Ummm… no… you crazy outsider.”
On a perhaps more rico front, it’s easy to draw links between Hobbit’s and indeed Paraguayan’s love for food and everything about it. This is an agricultural society and the people love to work the land. Not for sale, but just to eat. The number of meals one may have in a day is not too different either. I used to think that Paraguayan’s ate very little, but truth is they just eat often. For example, the other day on my way south with a group of Paraguayan friends we actually stopped for what one could call “second breakfast.” Yep- we pulled over on a grassy hill for a wee nibble- chicken sandwiches, cocido, and all. With food of course comes the love of Hobbits’ so-called “pipe-weed.” Now, here in Paraguay, we don’t smoke any sort of weed (ok, look at the world-class black market and you’ve caught me lying) but we do drink lots of a kind of weed we call yerba mate. Indeed, I am referring to Paraguayan’s daily routine of mate in the morning and terere throughout the day. Yes, isn’t it lovely to sit back like a Hobbit/Paraguayan and sip that tasty beverage. Refreshing and relaxing- if only there were colored smoke rings it’d be perfect!
Finally, being all about peace and tranquility here in the Peace Corps- Paraguay is very much like Hobbiton in its tranquilo lifestyle. Hobbits, it is said, at no time had been warlike, and here too we like to be happy, always “bien.” And, as Gandalf comments- even if everything else in the world is dark it’s good to know there’s always a place to come back to where life is still just that simple.
Disclaimer: In case in someone’s view I’ve offended either the world of the Middl-Earth or my home here in Paraguay, none of this is meant to offend- only to explain some of the fineries of my experience in a way that perhaps those that are not with me can understand.