My Paraguayan story begins as most do, with love. It’s strange that it’s that way. In a place where I hardly speak Spanish. Where they yell at me and put their faces uncomfortably close to mine, like proximity and volume can better help me to understand their words which are too often related to weather, food my state of happiness. Paraguay. It’s a place where the spiders are impressively large, terrifyingly so actually, and yet when I’m on the phone with my mother in the states, she says to me, “all of my children have a habit of exaggerating the size of spiders, it was probably the size of a quarter.” In Paraguay, where the sky turns pure white while it rains and the red dust roads become impossibly gummy and afterwards the electricity and water pressure vanish for days. In Paraguay, where the people don’t sweat and the dogs don’t lick your hand and no one cares about much other than football and mangoes fall from the trees like cannonballs and if you accidentally flush the toilet paper down the toilet you might regret it for weeks and when you hang your clothes on the line they try in fifteen minutes and Coke is the only thing anyone drinks anywhere ever always and forever.
So here I am. In Paraguay. In a place previously familiar to me by no more than the knowledge that migrating birds come here to roost, rest and escape the cold northern months. And with a man on the brain. But what a fellow to be plagued by . . .
His shoulders are somewhat Giraffe like, sloped and wide, tapering into a dark neck, black glossy hair and a face that’s often turned skyward, lost in careful thought about philosophical subjects that leave me panting with apprehension but also, unfortunately, brain cramping. His legs, unlike his thought process,
are awkwardly short in comparison to his (nearly) six foot stature. But don’t get me wrong, despite their lack of length they are still altogether lovely, similar, in my imagination to the stems sported by David Beckham and Lance Armstrong – pre or post cancer.
However, attraction aside, my love story actually begins in the hands of an elderly deaf lady who had fewer teeth than fingers. This is the story to start many others and the one that precedes the rest of my life:
We worked hunchbacked under the brim of our hats and beneath a sun that beat down on us like hatred, sucking the color from our clothes shade by shade. It was perhaps the 23rd of the 810 days I’ll be in Paraguay (this is an estimation, math has never interested or taken pity upon me). The wire that my fingers were busy twisting was part of a small triangular chicken coop that Peace Corps Volunteer, Emily Jaeger, was making for her two adopted hens. Her house is in a town by the name of Ysypo Poroto where I’d been invited to experience a bit of real live Paraguayan volunteerism.
Storm clouds on the horizon rolled across the tops of the palm trees like a handful of dice. Despite the cool wind that bore them mercilessly toward Emily’s shack, I was still sweating like a horse from under the rim of my hat. Cursing my scrawny father for unhinging his sweat gene upon me, I lapped the air openmouthed like a fish and flicked fat drops from my nose, spattering the leaves of Emily’s garden with a salty appetizer.
To escape the storm, we made an early dinner and ate it without the aid of electricity, but instead by candlelight. From Emily’s garden we feasted on carrots, dill, tomatoes, cabbage, peppers and parsley. On top we chopped almonds, drizzled honey, added oil and vinegar and dashed it with salt. The tomatoes were picked free of worms and diced on the bare wood of the kitchen table. The knife made shallow grooves into the tables surface and the candle nearby slowly dripped wax between the cracks in the wood.
“My neighbors mom tells fortunes,” Emily mentioned. It was careless the way she dropped the bit of information in my direction. I responded with enthusiasm and replied that I was interested in paying her to peer into my future. Neither of us could have known the impact it would later have.
So we went and at eight o’clock we arrived. Shy in my nervousness, I shook the hand of the fortune teller and lowered my chin a bit when I smiled. She had an open friendly face and when she signed, she annunciated with vocals that weren’t quite words and just a octave too loud. Her clothes were worn thin by scrubbing them clean and hanging them in the sun day after day, year after year. She wore a skirt that had the faded print of flowers upon it and her t-shirt bore the name of an athletic team. She was tall for a Paraguayan woman and the skin of her face was shiny but not sweaty, the skin of her arms loose but smooth.
I liked her immediately and even more after she teased me with her hands, saying I looked fifteen years old. But small talk isn’t something to be savored when talking to someone who can’t hear and right away, we got down to it.
She flipped over the first card. Her hands moved in jerky motions as she interpreted what she saw in the details of my life. She touched her face and she touched her breast. She didn’t look at me and she didn’t look at her daughter but her daughter nodded and understood. In Guarani her daughter announced a single sentence indifferently. Emily interpreted. Turning to me she said, “A man with dark skin is thinking about you right now.”
The next card had already been turned. More sign language indicated two hands linked at the wrist and a touch upon the breast and hands clasped near her face.
“You will be married in two years.”
The hand motions, the Guarani and the English proceeded in turn.
“You will marry in the United States, not in Paraguay.”
“You will marry the man with Dark Skin.”
“The man with Dark Skin is not a Paraguayan.”
She went on and on, drifting from topic to topic, talking about security risks in the city, my mom in the U.S. and yet she repeated returned to the love I would share with my Dark Skinned Man.
When it was over, I paid her, thanked her and contemplated what she had said. I’m not one to readily believe in unexplainable phenomenon, but I remember being slightly shaken by the words the old woman have woven with her hands.
Slightly unnerved and having a much greater appreciation for the deaf in Paraguay and the efficiency of their homemade sign language, I retreated back to Emily’s house and that night, lying on my foam mattress on Emily’s floor, I listened to the rain pound the roof and drip through the slats of the window, pooling on the floor near my head. I fell into a fitful sleep and my dreams were plagued by shadowed men lurking over me.
Upon returning to the PC training center several days later, I told my dark skinned man all about our future together. He turned his smiling eyes to me and took the little shocker in stride. As he always does. We reveled over the old woman’s words for a time and although we agreed that anything was possible – and anything is impossible – we felt a bit more drawn to one another after that.
Days went by and my dark skinned man found himself on my mind more and more often. One afternoon, I stumbled upon a tiny copy of the I Ching in my purse that I had accidentally brought with me from the states. Not knowing that the book was a form of ancient Chinese divination, my dark skinned man found me reading it after lunch in the shade of a gazebo. Together we began to read and together we attempted to unlock the secrets held within the book. After tossing a handful of coins and counting the lines, we fingered our way to the correct page of my reading.
Imagine the surprise that arose from us, standing shoulder to shoulder, reading side by side, line by line, when our eyes simultaneously crossed the sentence “The perseverance of a Dark Man brings good fortune.” I made a choking sound. The man in his dark skin beside me chuckled softly under his breath. We read on: “The Dark Man is one who knows the path of relationships and is not deterred by interruptions in the relationship.”
That was five months ago when we stood in the shade and analyzed the words that laid the rest of our lives before us. ‘Interruptions in the relationship’ is quite the understatement. I’ve since been robbed, bitten by a dog, barfed on, walked a mile in a rainstorm, tricked into going on dates against my will, and had my house ransacked – all within a week. And yet he’s still there, in my ear on the phone when the footsteps of a stranger are scraping across the cement outside my door in the middle of the night. When I’m suffering from painful diarrhea in our hotel room. When I accidentally throw up on my wall and it’s still stained and stinking after I scrub it twice with laundry soap. The Dark Man’s perseverance has never faltered, never quavered, never slipped. So somehow, while the Paraguayans yell at me, while the dogs bite me, while the mosquitoes bite me more, while my roof leaks rain onto my bed, while diarrhea plagues me, and while the summer bleeds into fall, I find myself, for the first time in my life, falling in the love with a Dark Skinned Man that a fortune teller painted into my life with words she said with her hands.