All creatures: great, small, ugly, mangy and beautiful

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Maria Gloria runs the Santa Maria hotel, an income generation project for the pueblo. This week, we had a storm, and as me and other friends from the pueblo posted photos on Facebook of hail the size of golf balls, she quipped: “maybe God is trying to give us the ice-bucket challenge.”

Between that, and chickens randomly marching in and out of the kitchen, and the circus folk apparently patrolling the streets to buy cats and dogs to feed to their huge tiger, it’s been an unusual week.

Animals are part of the narrative here. Today, there were three different animals on the grill: pig, beef and chicken. Meanwhile, one of the hens has been eating the baby chicks, so Demetria has decided to punish it. “It’s annoying. I’m going to kill it and we’ll eat it tomorrow.”, she said, as she delicately wrapped a bandaid around a little chick’s leg and kissed its head.

This week, we have had a sick dog Keke who needed an operation to remove a tumour the size of a small football. The operation was 150,000mil guaranies which is about $30-40 Australian dollars. Unfortunately, the vet seemed to do a $30-40 job, and the poor little bag of fleas was crying all night after her op. She is sleeping now, but we go to sleep at night nervous that we might find her dead the next morning. Then, the surgery started coming unstitched. The vet returned today after promising for three days that he was “on his way” “enseguida” (next thing). The dog is a bit worse for ware, and we are watching her closely.

It’s hard here, and my friend Niki who came here to volunteer in July would attest to this: people either treat their animals as a member of the family, or take no responsibility at all for them. Usually this is paralleled with their poverty and what they have observed. If they observe harsh treatment of animals, they simply mimic this behaviour. And the opposite is true too. Some families hardly have enough to feed their children, so the animals can be seen, at least in the cities, thin and mangy, eating anything they can find.

I’m a bit more used to the soft treatment of animals. I didn’t grow up on a farm, and have never seen an animal killed. Our animals, two cats Ezekiel and Anastasia turn my parents into contortionists by sleeping on top of the warmest part of the electric blanket. Mum and Dad just have to fit in around them. If my parents were still of child-bearing age, I think we can safely say that is called “natural family planning.”
Meanwhile, here in Paraguay, my friend Cleto tells me “I love cats – barbecued with sauce is best…..”

The animals in my Santa Maria house, are thankfully, well looked after. The cat Mimi has worked out that I’m soft, so she jumps up when I’m cooking or eating for whatever I have….could be pasta, could be a vegemite sandwich….the cat will eat it.

I discovered the other day that a German nun in Asuncion has 12 cats. The people around call it the cat house. Not sure if there is a word in Spanish for crazy-cat lady, but it could apply, but again, she cares for the strays that nobody wants.

And, in keeping with the animal/fauna theme: Today we had a huge green caterpillar join us after lunch and Hector, my brother here decided to try and scare his nephew with it. Leo, four years old decided to take a photo of it instead.

My favourites of course are the butterflies. There is something quite magical about the colours that appear on their wings, and I’ve been finding the butterfly analogy a helpful one for life in general here. I’m more tired than usual because I am constantly functioning in my second and third languages (Spanish and more and more, Guarani). Sometimes I feel like a grumpy caterpillar wanting to wrap myself in a cocoon. Other days, I’m perkier, ready to spread my wings and get stuff done. These are my creative days in general.

It was my first full week of teaching here in the pueblo, so I’ve been getting to know my students, a mixture of teenagers and young adults who are all studying varying levels of English. My English teaching experiences in the past have been somewhat different. Teaching in Cambodian refugee camps; migrant English in Western Sydney and Sudanese Study School at the Auburn Library brought far more basic students. My class 1 here in Santa Maria, the most basic class, ploughed through four pages of exercises on the verb “to be” within 20 minutes last night, so they keep me on my toes. I need to prepare lots of material for five hours teaching a day, and then about an hour of piano teaching on top. It’s great for my Spanish, because I find myself needing to be ready to translate new words everyday. Both the Spanish and Guarani vocab is improving day by day.

And, just getting back to the theme of animals and being treated like them; I’d like to give a particular shout out now to the work of immigration Minister Scott Morrison on the new Cambodia refugee deal. Having worked in Phnom Penh in refugee camps and seen the living conditions for refugees there, I think I’d rather be a Paraguayan animal than try to seek asylum in Australia. This policy is one of the most ill-advised I’ve seen from this Government, and that is an impressive stretch.



1 Comment

  1. Good to read your post, and I’m glad you’ve found a local cat 🙂 How is Mr Rooster going?

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