OANSA: Family Day 2.0

May 17, 2012

Setting up at Primero de Marzo.

Aside from a severely poor education system, domestic instability and broken family units are my other bets as to why Paraguay persists in its developmental stagnancy. Honestly, when the country’s general philosophy seemingly lies in what I have termed the “hump and dump,” it never bodes well for progress. I know it’s probably not kosher to make these types of wide-sweeping claims for a country the size of California. But considering the fact that this is reality for nearly every single one of the kids and teenagers I work with, we will start here for context.

It seems that Paraguayan men have full liberty to sleep around as they please and it is socially acceptable continuing doing so regardless of where their seeds fall and if those seeds end up blooming. Sometimes if they father a child (or two or three or four or more) with a woman, they may choose to cohabit with her. They will refer to each other as husband and wife though more often than not, they are not legally married. This appears to be the common civil state of the majority of Paraguayans.

During the course of the “marriage,” wandering eyes and roving male parts often lead the man away to sow his oats elsewhere—usually a place where he will choose to take up new residence, carelessly abandoning a stockpile of children at home. This process may repeat several times. Eventually, when the man approaches old age, he returns to his “wife” and demands that she take care of him until the end (you know, because she has so many resources herself…). She consents.

This hump and dump phenomenon then replicates in tenfold as the hoard of children who grew up with these family dynamics proceed to emulate what they have seen and know. It’s only normal for them. Sons grow up to be like their fathers and daughters like their mothers. It is a sad cycle that fosters abuse, emotional deficiency, poverty (mothers with no jobs who have to care for nine children while a non-present father pops in occasionally for the sole purpose of taking the family’s money and food?), and all other the terrible repercussions of broken family dynamics.

All this said, Mi Esperanza attempted to pull off an event aimed specifically at getting parents to spend some positive time with their children. I had my doubts, but miracle of miracles, we had not only parents of non-OANSA children show up, but fathers, and ones who participated in the games with their kids at that.

Now try to grasp the magnitude of seeing fathers running relays hand-in-hand with their sons and daughters and exchanging excited hugs over victorious outcomes.

May this be just the start of a much-needed conversation for the sake of families and the future in Paraguay.

Mothers and daughters jumping rope together.

OANSA Primero de Marzo in a picture.

Hula hooping pro.

Futbol ahoy.

Pleased about the turnout.

Estella and Katherina.

Teresa and Tara. Love this so much.

Johana and Valentina.

Where Caleb gets it from.

Non-OANSA family!

Adopted father and son combo.

Cesar and his mom!

So so awesome.

Equipo amarillo.

Equipo rojo.

The yogurt game. Bahaha.

Good sports. Muahaha.

A race to inflate until the balloon explodes.

Tara is a champ at this game.

Simply for your viewing pleasure.


Walking back from the grocery store this morning, I passed an entire family collectively digging through a mound of trash bags. A family that included a toddler, who was eating old spaghetti straight from the dump pile. I gave them what bread I had, which they ate with one hand while continuing to scavenge with the other.

Some background on the Baez Family here.

This kid is cuuute (never mind the picture, he looks freaking scary there), and for the most part, he is a sweetheart. He can be pretty rascally sometimes, but he always comes over to shake my hand and greet me by name on Sundays at church. He has kind, green eyes, and amidst a sea of sisters and desolate poverty, has grown up with a painfully dismal childhood (see previous entry). Word on the street is that his father is dead, which Juan Carlos himself offers as a fact like it ain’t no thing. And his mother, well, I have a slew of harsh blog entries reserved for her.

In any case, the following is a testimony Celia shared at prayer meeting tonight. Celia is a grandmotherly leader figure at Mi Esperanza who tells me every week how radiant I look (even though it’s probably just the sheen of sweat and face oil) and who also takes Juan Carlos under her wing from time to time.

“Sometimes I offer to take Ño Ño [Juan Carlos’ nickname] to my house for lunch, so last Sunday, he came back with me after service. As we were walking, he said to me, ‘Celia, I am so happy today. Yesterday, my mom showed up and bought me a new pair of shoes for my first communion [side commentary: first time I’ve heard that she’s thrown any sort of money at these kids, ugh].’ I noticed that the shoes were in pretty bad shape, though they looked more like cardboard slabs than footwear in the first place.

‘It rained yesterday and they got ruined when I had to walk home.’

I promised him we could try to glue them back together when we got home.

‘My aunt also gave me 45,000 Guaranis. [This is equivalent to about 10 USD, and to further put into perspective how much money it is for this family, his sister Joana works nine hours a day and makes just 26,000 Guaranis for a day of manual labor.] But I put it all in the offering today.’ he said.

‘Why did you do that? You should have bought a pair of good tennis shoes with that money. Your aunt is going to be upset when she finds out you just put it all in the offering.’

‘Celia,’ he replied patiently, ‘God says that if we give freely to him, He will return it to us fourfold.’

I couldn’t believe this nine-year-old was giving me a lesson on faith. When we finally arrived at my house, I got a call from my daughter inviting me to her house for lunch. I brought Juan Carlos with me, who asked if it would be okay for him to go barefoot. He was happy as a clam when I said of course.

Months ago when I got the idea to take Juan Carlos home with me for lunch once in awhile, people in our church advised me against it. They told me he was maleducado, violent, rude, dangerous. The poor child has grown up without parents!

And you know what, he behaved like a perfect gentleman. He played so well with my grandson, who is about his age, and when it was time to eat, he went around serving everyone and making sure everyone had gotten food before he put anything on his own plate. He also asked me where the mandioca [yucca/manioc] was, went to the kitchen, cut it up without being asked, and then served it to everyone like he had been raised to do so his entire life.

After lunch, my daughter, without being told anything about shoes, brought a pair of basketball sneakers to me and said, ‘We got these for [Celia’s grandson] but he won’t wear them because he doesn’t like the color. Do you think Juan Carlos would like them?’

They cost about 200,000 Guaranis, a little over four times the 45,000 Guaranis Ño Ño put in the offering bag. My daughter gave him the shoes along with a t-shirt and short set when it was time to go.

As I drove him home, he said, ‘See, Celia? I told you God provides.'”

La Familia Baez: Vanessa

October 21, 2011

J and I were smack dab in the middle of a 20-minute intensely charismatic Pentecostal revival prayer…or something. I was less praying and more nervously gawking at all the jerking and shaking and muttering of tongues going around. Not going to lie, for someone who grew up in a very conservative Chinese church, it was a little disconcerting.

In any case, amidst the chaos, J got a text message from Joana Baez to please call immediately. As it turns out, Vanessa, the fourth youngest child of the Baez clan at 12-years-old, was suffering from possible appendicitis. The two oldest, Joana and Jessica, had already had surgeries to remove their appendixes, so we had reason to fear the same situation for Vane.

We rushed over to the house, packed Joana and a sobbing Vanessa into the car, and drove off to the nearest emergency room at a public hospital. “Healthcare” is free in this country, but for those who wish to receive any sort of real care, they can choose to purchase their own insurance and pay to go to better hospitals. Obviously, this was not an option here, so off we went to the hospital for the poor. Which was more a sorry excuse for a building than a place for medical treatment.

The above photo shows the original state of B’s bedroom in Boston on move-in day. I was horrified. Imagine that times five spread in FOUR different places in the preliminary examination room and hallway. The walls and ceiling were practically covered in black growth. It also smelled like rotting feces, and the bathroom had no sink. Right outside the building was a ditch filled with trash and dirty water; prime breeding grounds for dengue mosquitoes was my first thought. Welcome to free healthcare in Paraguay.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a busy night and Vane was taken in right away. An hour later, it was determined she did not have appendicitis, so a blood test was taken and she was given a few painful shots in the butt (pain killers, I think? I wasn’t sure…). When the blood test came out clean, they decided it might be a UTI or a kidney infection, so a urine sample was ordered. We were told we could come back the next day for results or if we wished to wait an hour, we might be able to have the tests read then. We waited.

In the meantime, we moved to a bench outside, where the doctor was yukking it up with his crew, smoking, and having a grand old time. It was so bizarre. I went across the street to buy empanadas and juice boxes at a tiny stand as the girls hadn’t eaten dinner, and when I returned, I watched a swarm of giant cockroaches scuttle out of the waiting room. Deeelightful.

Eventually a print-out of the urine test was handed to us and Joana took it to the doctor, who was still hanging outside. In between draining his cigarette and gossiping with his buddies, he managed to inform us that the test had come out clean so we would need to return the next day for an x-ray. And like that we were discharged. No continuing care instructions, no further paperwork, no pain meds.

Ah, life in a developing country.

P.S. Vanessa felt completely fine this morning and after consulting with another doctor, it was determined she didn’t need an x-ray and is free to continue on her merry way. Praise God that prayer works even in the face of the most aggressive affronts of mold and poverty.