Family At Last
Surprisingly, after an almost 12-hour direct flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Sao Paulo and 10 hours of a layover in the Admiral's Club in Guarulhos, I am not as tired as I expected to be and take the 15-minute walk from Terminal 3 (where my American flight arrived) to Terminal 2 (where my next flight departs from) with a spring on my step. I prepare myself for a change of environment and service for I am taking a flight in a Brazilian airline, Gol, which up to now I have not had the best experience with.
I walk, I take an elevator, I walk, take another elevator and arrive at an almost deserted gate. Soon to change into a very loud, yet still not crowded gate. There's a sports team made up of really rambunctious teenagers that will be boarding my flight. Aren't I lucky? Guess that they aren't tired either, in spite of the fact that it's almost midnight.
I've prided myself in traveling with a very small carry-on bag until now, but when I get on the plane the overhead compartment is so very small that not even an approved carry-on size bag will fit. I have to send it to cargo. The plane is small and uncomfortable, but it's only an hour and half flight so I really don't care.
I make friends with a Paraguayan girl that sits next to me and is talking on the phone in Portuguese to a friend in Mexico before we depart. Borders blend into each other when traveling.
I arrive almost 24 hours since I left LA, right on time, at a wee-hour in Asunción, Paraguay. The airport, Silvio Pettirossi, previously named after one of the longest running dictators in the 20th century, Alfredo Stroessner, remains small but is so incredibly changed from the time when you would land and have to walk from the runway to an arriving/departing terminal where you were instantly accosted by peddlers. I am grateful, for it is raining quite heavily and that walk would not have been pleasant.
A hug from a cousin that has been kind enough to pick me up at this ungodly hour and we are off to his home. After non-stop catch-up talk we arrive. I, instantly exhausted, sleep for most of the morning. First uninterrupted sleep I've had in a while (the one I had on the plane non-withstanding).
I've arrived on Good Friday, unplanned exactly 6 years from when I last said what I was sure was going to be my final goodbye to my native land. I wasn't planning to visit again. Paraguay is a staunchly Catholic country and observes many traditions of Holy Week. One, unique to it is to bake chipa - a sort of cheese bread made with manioc (yucca) flour.
This is the "before" look: This is the "after" look: (of course not the same batch).
It is baked in a traditional tatakuá -brick oven- in all sort of shapes. I've missed that ritual, but the chipas are there for me to have. Memories seeping in through the armor I clothed myself with on this journey.
There's activity all over the house. Fish is going to be our meal (no meat-eating on Good Friday). My cousin is cooking and is an excellent cook. He will turn the dorado (mahi-mahi) and surubí (catfish) into a wonderful meal. I get more hugs and kisses than I thought ever possible in such a short space of time. So this is what family felt like.
I am offered a fresh cranberry juice (I don't think I've seen a fresh picked cranberry until now) or a sweet lime juice (limón sutil in Spanish, and a much sweeter version of a regular lime). I choose the latter, loving the freshness of it all.
Before I allow emotions to take over, I take my glass and go outside to the wet patio and paws of the still young, pure bred German Shepard --who is doing a happy dance-- and his buddy, a very mixed mutt alpha female.
My tough memory-protective armor is rendered useless as I praise some orchids growing on the gazebo and the lady that works at the house informs me it's from one of my mother's 50 plus orchids. She gives me a tour of the garden and shows me more plants.
I recall the love and ease my mom had for and with her roses as well as orchids.
I come back, with a knot in my throat, to see that they have already set the table. It's a big one, for neighbors and family are sure to come, mostly unannounced, and partake. Plates will be cleaned and replaced and conversations will continue in the living room as well as around it through the afternoon. I am introduced to all and have to get used to the fact that hellos come paired with two kisses, one on each cheek, whether you know the person or not. For some in the Northern continent, it is an invasion of space. For me it is a conduit to a feeling of belonging.
As the night arrives I give up on trying not to be affected by memories and go to bed with a cocido, a tea made of burnt yerba mate and sugar, that someone has prepared for me, and some leftover chipa.
Hasn't taken much time for me to feel at home. My tummy is as full as is my heart.