August 13, 2010
There are all sorts of unspoken rules of what's cool and what's not here, as there are at home. The problem is that I DON'T KNOW THE ONES FOR HERE, and as always, there's no book on this. There is trial and error, there is that look someone gives you that means you did something wrong, there is the laughter that comes when you've slipped up somehow. But usually these things happen AFTER the fact.
Well, today I knew I was stepping on shaky ground ahead of time. The yard is a sacred place in Paraguay, as most living takes place outside. Some folks only use the house for sleeping, and some don't even sleep inside, but use the one-room house for storage or rainy/cold nights. This means that every morning and evening, the Latina ladies sweep their dirt yards cleaner than the inside of my house (Did I mention that grass is pretty rare?) To say the least, we are the nastiest yard in the neighborhood. I try to keep it raked and cleaned up, but they've got this thing down to an art form, and this white girl can't keep up.
So today, in a moment of FUERZA!, I decided to make our yard look like my neighbors' yards. Peer pressure, you could say. We raked and raked and raked, collected the fallen mango branches, piled up the little pieces of trash that fly inside our fence (litter is always thrown in the street rather than a trashcan), and prepared to burn. Burning leaves is pretty common here, but I've heard many a woman fuss about another woman burning at the wrong time and smoking up the whole world. I haven't figured out quite yet what this magical time is to burn, but they tell me it has to do with reading the weather signs. Best I can figure, it's best to burn when rain is coming, when it's not meal time, and when some little fairy comes and says, "NOW!"
Well, it was cloudy today and they were calling for rain (I hear it pouring outside now). So I waited until the time smack in between lunch and dinner, and struck a match. I knew the whole time that there were no less than 4 or 5 women in various houses complaining about how rude I am to burn at such an inconvenient time, as I've heard them do so about other women. And for sure, my leaves made an incredible amount of smoke. We cleaned up trash and kept raking, piling up the fire pile, when over walked a little girl from a few houses down. "My mom said to tell you this isn't the time to burn. You should put it out now or it will be flying everywhere. It's dangerous." Who am I to argue with experience? We started pouring sand and water on my lovely fire, putting it out just as a fierce windstorm blew in, followed by the rains. How do these people know these things? Alas, we'll clean the yard another day. (Can you hear my children cheering?)