Love, loss, and a kitten called Iggy

One of Iggy's first photos

One of Iggy’s first photos

In the last months, I’ve slowly started to open up like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. In short, I’ve let myself love.

As they say, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but I am left wondering at the ferocity of my emotions and the Iguazu tears that fall at often awkward moments.

Iggy came into my life just last Friday. Iggy (*Ignacia) I worked out couldn’t have been more than 10-14 days old when I found her. She had been abandoned in the Municipal Plaza and I spotted her tiny five-inch frame curled up in a ball on the ground. I asked the groundskeeper about her, and he told me to take her with me, or she would likely die.

There’s nothing scarier than the question and answer: “Is she a girl?”, “Ah, that’s probably why they threw her away.”

Iggy became a metaphor for my life in Paraguay over those days. I cried, marveled at her progress, agonized over whether to feed her more or less. I called the vet and he gave me instructions: 2mls of milk, a tiny bit of egg, and a touch of sugar every few hours for energy, administered through a syringe because her little mouth was still too small for a bottle. I recorded her progress on Instagram, Facebook, on my phone and in a little video. I took her photo with every camera lens I have. I declared my love for her, our relationship was Facebook official, and I organised her forever home, which would be with one of my music students Rosa. The few times she really enjoyed her food were the cutest to watch. As she got her fill, her little eyes closed with bliss, her mouth would open as she suckled, she would start to purr, and her tiny little claws would contentedly knead my skin or her blanket. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

How you can help with just $10

d57622ec-f44b-42cd-a68c-5a69cd67af45For three months, I have been working in Asuncion as a volunteer, and have had the privilege of listening to the stories of people who have been displaced by the floods.
Now, although I am living in Santa Maria in Missions, I have regular contact with the people there and their needs.
Paraguayans are extremely resilient, and have managed to find ways of making the best of an extraordinarily difficult situation. My aim is to do something small to make life a little easier for them, by adding some colour, hope, prayer and practical assistance to these barrios where they live.
We have started a small project called Planting-smiles.org where we are trying to make the temporary housing where they live a place of hope, and we have started by painting a large mural on three walls in Barrio San Miguel. We hope to continue this work, but, more importantly, respond in some way to the very basic human needs of sanitation, food and living costs.
Many of you have asked me for information about how you can donate a small amount to help in Paraguay’s floods. A little goes a long way, so I have developed a site which will accept donations that will go directly to projects on the ground, and to organisations that are directing funds appropriately. The organisation “Tapery” Paraguay is a partnership of Ignatian organisations which has been working in banados Norte and Sur, where the majority of misplaced people come from.

Continue reading

Santa Maria de Fe in words and photos

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I’ve never lived in the countryside. I’ve always lived in cities, whether it be Canberra, Sydney, Phnom Penh, Managua or Asuncion, I’m a city slicker. It’s hard to describe the enormous change, and sense of relief I feel at this time in my life to be living in Santa Maria de Fe (Saint Mary of Faith), Misiones (missions) in rural Paraguay. Santa Maria is a small pueblo of what was once the hub of Jesuit missionary activity in South America during the 16th and 17th century. I am here as a volunteer English and piano teacher (piano lessons are just starting) working for an Institute founded by Margaret Hebblethwaite, a British Theologian and writer who has lived in Paraguay since 2000.

The pueblo runs at a gentle pace, and yet I’m not short of things to do. It’s a place where I can soak up beauty, rest, write, sing. The other day, I simply spent half an hour catching through the lens of my camera butterflies dancing from flower to flower. This morning, it was raindrops glistening on petals after yesterday’s rain storm.

The pueblo is poor, but it is a different type of poverty to the urban slums of Asuncion. The people walk with dignity, with less pressure to live the fast-paced urban life.

This is a place with no supermarket, just family run dispensaries which stock the necessities. The place has no resident parish priest, Fr Oscar SJ instead comes in each Sunday to say mass. There is no hospital, just a small health centre. There are no restaurants, but rather a couple of places where you can buy pizza, or icecream. There is a gym which costs 50mil guaranies a month to attend. Basically, 10 bucks! There is one hotel, again founded by Margaret as an income-generating project for the community. It is built in typical baroque mission style, with white adobe walls, terracotta tiles and the bedspreads and curtains are made of lace, crochet and wool in the traditional style of the people.

In the town plaza live a family of monkeys who I have yet to see on this visit. But, and old photo of them is included below 😉

Basic Ecclesial Communities are strong here, and my “mother” here Demetria is one of the lead animators of these groups. Twice this week she has quoted to me from the bible: “Through our baptism, we are priest, prophet and king”, and she takes her role seriously, attending whatever formation or retreat opportunity is on offer.

I live now in a house with three dogs, a cat, chickens, (which are being fattened up, but in the meantime, they have a happy life) and ducks. We have recently acquired 10 ducklings and Demetria is quite in love with them.

 

 

 

 

Grandma

Nothing like a Catholic digital media conference to remind you that it’s been a while since you’ve blogged. In an attempt to return to normality after one of the most bizarre weeks of my life, I attended a work conference in Sydney yesterday, and I was gently and profoundly challenged.

*Warning: this one will be a bit personal.

It’s been quite a collection of weeks since I last wrote about the floods in Asuncion. Since then, there have been all manner of floods in my life. Floods of tears, crying out to God in prayer and wondering, trying in between rain, storm and sunshine to discover what will be my path; floods of milk and coffee spilling as I recover from jetlag and attempt to walk in straight line in Australia; and most difficult; the floods of tears that come in short, unexpected machine-gun bursts as I think about one of the best women I’ve known, my Grandma Phyllis Doherty who entered eternal rest on 8 August, 2014, just two days before I arrived back in Australia. I tried to get back in time, but she was exhausted, and she needed to go. And we had 32 years of blessed times together. Continue reading

Levels of poverty, levels of hope

Two girls from Caàcupemi. Their school and house is under water

Two girls from Caàcupemi. Their school and house is under water

There are levels of poverty in this world. Indexes from development organisations, the World Bank, Caritas Internationalis and the International Red Cross might give some idea of the statistical reality of the world´s poorest nations.

On a more intimate level, living in a poor country gives an insider view.

Poverty isn’t uniform.

It would be easy to solve world poverty if it were simply a matter of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. The world’s resources theoretically are sufficient to do that.

Continue reading

Long road to solidarity

 

Little girl running towards the barrio

Little girl running towards the barrio

Just two weeks ago, I was moving house to my permanent base here in Asuncion. I’ve rented an apartment with two rooms for $250 a month in Barrio Santissima Trinidad: a short walk from the sisters house and the banados where I work.

This is considered middle-range for Asuncion.

As I gathered a few bits and pieces, The weather was already starting to look ordinary, but work wasn’t yet too busy, so I went around looking for small furniture that I could carry myself.

I coquettishly picked out cushions for my simple little house which didn’t yet have chairs, and searched used furniture stores for the right colours to give rustic missionary feel with a bit of modern artistic flair. (Okay, so that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but I wanted to place to look nice for the penhas (singalongs) I hope to hold here)

…And now, I see how far away I am from real solidarity as the people of the poorest parts of Asuncion construct their temporary dwellings. Continue reading

When it rains

A little Paraguaya with her "Mate" or "Terere"

A little Paraguaya with her “Mate” or “Terere”

For some time now, I’ve been without words. Usually, I have a comment, a joke or a sarcastic or cynical quip for every situation, but at the moment, there is nothing. I am trying to listen, learn and understand, but I find myself feeling pretty useless, unable to come up with a response.

Watel level reaching the houses

Watel level reaching the houses

The two barrios where I work, Ca’acupemi Bañado Norte and Cerrito San Miguel have been slowly but surely flooding as winter begins. Each time it rains, a few more families find themselves without a home. The floods are the worst in fourteen years, and are the reason that the “bañados” are called bañados. (Bañado means bath or bathed and refers to the low lying areas in the northern and southern limits of Asuncion.)

The people have learnt what to do in such situations and build small wooden houses using thin balsa-like wood. They eke out a small patch of land as close as possible to their own community. Usually, this is not more than a couple of hundred metres from their flooded house.  The new house is perhaps four-metres squared, and is designed as a temporary dwelling. One large mattress is often a bed for six people. Carts are piled high with soiled blankets, mattresses, electro-domestics and warm clothing and transported to these makeshift houses, where the people could spend up to three or four months. Those who live in the higher areas often put up a good fight to stop the people building their casitas in otherwise more “attractive” parts of the barrio. The frustration of getting authorisation is just one of the many issues facing countries as corrupt as this. Continue reading

Assumptions in Asuncion

Flowers in the barrio

Flowers in the barrio

Today is exactly one week since I arrived in Asuncion, Paraguay.
This South American Capital’s name is prettier than the city itself, but it has its unique charm.

The name of the city means assumption and refers to Mary’s assumption into heaven. I’ve made many assumptions here in Asuncion (um…obviously not into heaven) but particularly with regard to how the Spanish language should be pronounced or how red wine should be served, my dumb Australian sensibilities don’t usually prove accurate.  Continue reading