August 6, 2012
I'm ashamed to say that my phone has this sweet lady listed that way, as Mrs. Weedeater. It all started when a little grandpa man showed up at our gate a few days after we'd moved in. He stood about 4 feet tall, and the giant weedeater slung over his shoulder seemed about 6 feet long. He said he'd been the grass-cutter for the previous tenant, told us his price, and said he'd stop by once a week or so to see if we needed his services.
By the time he came by the next week, we'd calculated that it was much less expensive to pay him for a year of weedeating than to buy a lawnmower ourselves. Manual labor is pretty cheap here, and imported equipment is not. So, yeah, please, cut our grass, Sir.
Since it's winter, we figured we'd not need him for another month, at least. But he showed up like clockwork the next week, ringing the bell at our gate. I went out to let him know how happy we were with the job, and that the grass hasn't grown any yet, all the while pointing and waving my arms around like Vanna White.
Finally, he said, "I am walking around to all my clients to see if they'd like to participate in a fundraiser, because my wife just found out she has cancer. We have to make the trip to Buenos Aires in a week for her treatment." Now, in that statement, there is fodder for a slew of other blog posts, but let's sum it up....
Most people here do not have health insurance (mostly just us foreigners and the wealthy Paraguayans) because public socialized medicine is "free." I say free, but somehow major surgeries, many medicines, and specialized treatment have price tags, although it's still MUCH cheaper than what you'd pay elsewhere. But the Paraguayan people know that--well, how can I say this?--you get what you pay for.
So when they are faced with a serious health crisis, many bypass their own system and do what they need to do in order to obtain care from neighboring Argentina. This doesn't just happen in the city of Encarnacion, but all over Paraguay. If I understand correctly, Argentina provided inexpensive treatment to everyone, but this has changed, especially since Paraguay is being punished by the other countries of Mercosur for the recent political upheaval.
Now, a person seeking care must fill out the paperwork to become legal in Argentina. I don't know if this is citizenship or residency or what, but I've heard of all sorts of ways people have found to work this out, from forging papers to changing birth records to using a family member who does live there as an anchor. Either way, they leave Paraguay for important care, if they can raise the funds for a bus ticket.
Back to Mr. Weedeater, who really does have a real name, but after asking him the fourth time to repeat it, I gave up and pretended I understood. I asked him if I could visit with his wife, after I bought a few of the fundraiser tickets (They're selling alfajor pies.) He was very excited about the visit and gave me directions.
The next day, I called Mrs. Weedeater, avoided trying to say her last name, and we dropped by for a visit. True to Paraguayan form, we arrived to find them all dressed up and ready to receive us. "No, please, keep your seat! You should be resting!" They're so hospitable here.