The yellow, crumbly and still slightly warm chipa* was handed forwarded. “Gracias”, I said and after a few seconds of mentally scrambling for the right word, “Aguijay” (spelled phonetically). Instantly I could tell by the tenor of his voice that the old man’s heart was gladdened and in my mind, I could see his darkened face lighting up. He thought he had made a rare find. A American that speaks his native language, Guarini. He was in for a minor letdown.
I was on a transfer that turned long. It started off being a normal transfer for Caesarean surgery at a hospital a hour away to the west of Camp 9. John, my replacement, was along as part of his training. Everything went fine and we had already left the hospital, heading for the clinic. It was Thursday night and I was looking forward to a evening of relaxing with the staff, enjoying the last couple of times that I have with them. 10 kilometers out, the clinic called Rhonda, the midwife that went along, and wondered if the hospital didn’t call her. Apparently, after we left, they had decided that they didn’t have enough staff to take care of the patient. We’ve had some struggles with this hospital before in accepting some of our patients. Mostly, their issue is that they don’t want to be responsible in the case of something going wrong. Granted, all of our transfers are transfers because of some medical issue that we can’t resolve here at Luz y Esperanza. And this patient was said to be early, 28-29 weeks, although her eco (sonogram) said otherwise. Amongst ourselves, this particular hospital is notorious for coming up with cover stories that attempt to hide their unwillingness to take care of patients. Such is the sad state of the healthcare system here in Paraguay. Saying all that, the hospital was pushing the patient back on our hands. The only other option we had was going another hour and a half further west. After discussing our options, Rhonda and John jumped on a bus headed east to Camp 9 and I went on with the patient and her family. We stopped in Caacupe which is a small town that is the site of the Cathedral of the Virgen of Caacupe, one of Catholicism’s most holy sites in South America. Here the grandpa of the patient, the dad of her mom, climbed aboard and it was this gentleman whose heart I had gladdened by a strategic use of my extremely limited Guarini.
I was driving and although not fatigued, I tend to fall into a zone when I’m travelling for hours. Any conversation is welcomed and I had unwittingly primed this Paraguayan’s pump. He was through and through proud of his country and language. He said that although I can speak Spanish well, Guarini is much harder. This point he stressed for about 2 minutes. There are few Paraguayans who can spell Guarini correctly. I forgot to ask him how he did in Guarini grammar in school. He even, with pride in his voice, told me how that Argentina is asking for people to come over and teach Guarini to their people. This I took with 3 grains of salt. But from his perch in the middle of the van, he kept up a stream of conversation so thick and fast that it was hard for me to put a word in. Not that I really wanted to. I had long ago learned that speaking Guarini to a Paraguayan is the fastest way to get them to open up to me. Although his Spanish was clear and his manner harmless, I couldn’t stop from laughing inwardly at him. He was slightly hard of hearing, typical of older men, and I almost got the impression after he found out I couldn’t talk Guarini, that I couldn’t find my way around and needed a guide. This I did find amusing as in my presence, most of the conversations he carried on with others was in Spanish, which I could understand with virtually perfect clarity. And even after we got to the hospital and his 23 year old granddaughter was being admitted, he wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to run off on them. I reassured him that I wouldn’t be leaving them that night until they were admitted to some hospital somewhere. When it was all said and done with, I left them at the hospital in Itagua with the status of a angel amongst that family. Well, maybe not quite.
But what hit me on the drive back was that even with all the changes of plans and having to suddenly work more than I had planned was the peace that was there through it all. That confirmation was something that I had been unconsciously looking for. At that time, I wasn’t supposed to be at home with my family or in a bible school somewhere. I was supposed to be there, that night, in that driver’s seat, eating a chipa and making conversation with a family that was facing some uncertainties. And when that realization hit, all I could do was thank God.
* chipa. a round doughnut like bread made from cornmeal, cheese, and almidon, which is starch that is extracted from mandioca, a potato like plant extremely common here in Paraguay. Mandioca is also known as yucca.