Simeon Burges Alonso, age 38 (1)
Catalina Guerrero de Burges, 28 (2)
Liz Maria Cristina Burges Guerrero, 8 (3)
Alfredo RamOn, 5 (4)
Edgar Alcides, 7 (5)
Aldo Damian, 7 months (6)
5 guinea hens
1 calf 1 dog
1 bull 2 cats
The department of Paraguari. It takes six hours by a wood-burning steam locomotive to travel the 100 kilometers between the capital and the village of Caballero. Then one hour on foot or half an hour on horseback through fields of cassava separated by small stands of trees, on a road washed out by frequent torrential rains, before one finally reaches the Burges home, where the days and nights are punctuated by the cries of a baby demanding his bottle.
6:00. Simeon walks out of the . family bedroom and across the breezeway to the kitchen to light the wood stove. As if on cue, the ducks, guinea hens, chickens, pigs, cats, and dog leave the yard and clamor at the kitchen door. Once the fire is going, Simeon pushes past the animals with a load of sugarcane in his arms. They are in a frenzy until the cane is chopped and placed at their feet.
Simeon and his family live on ten acres of land owned by his father. He and two of his seven brothers work the land and share the produce. Each family has a small garden for their personal use. Simeon worries about what will happen to them when his aging father dies. Will the land be divided among all seven brothers? If so, he will no longer have enough land to feed his wife, Catalina, and his children. His sole source of money comes from chopping wood, which he has time to do only in winter. Simeon might be forced to work in the city, as he has done several times already. By working on construction sites, he managed to buy the materials to build his sixty-square meter house.
Baby Aldo slung on her hip, Catalina enters the kitchen to make mate, an herbal tea. She shares the mate, steeping in a cup made from a dried gourd, with her husband. Their children are on holiday, and there is nothing to prevent them from staying in bed. But the aroma of their special mate with milk simmering on the stove brings forth three little faces from the comers of the bed. A neighbor walking past the house with his team of oxen is the Signal for Simeon to saddle his horse and join his brothers in the cassava fields.
7:30. Eight-year-old Liz sweeps the courtyard clean after the animals and levels the sand in front of the terrace. Liz already takes her role as a woman seriously. She can almost take care of the house and practices when her mother is out. She watches the baby while issuing orders and reprimands to her brothers. Her mother has gone to milk the cow at her in-laws’ farm. The elderly couple moved to the village to be closer to the medical clinic, and two of their sons live on the farm alone. Catalina stops by to supervise their breakfast. “Two Single men don’t know how to look after a house,” she says.
After the calf has drunk his fill, Catalina has just enough milk for the baby to drink that day. She takes her time coming home from the fields, gazing proudly at her home in the distance. “My house is beautiful,” she says. Having an attractive home is highly valued in Paraguay, and families that can afford it paint or whitewash their houses every year.
9:00. In the bright midmorning sun Catalina scrubs the wash near the well while her daughter rinses the clothes and hangs them out to dry in the sun. Baby Aldo is asleep, and little Alfredo has been assigned the task of keeping the pigs out of the kitchen. The child is delighted by this responsibility and makes a game of it, using his stick to allow the chickens through so they can lay their eggs in the nest in the comer of the room. Edgar has gone to spend the day at his grandmother Guerrero’s house. He makes many stops along the way. Each house belongs to an aunt, uncle, or cousin.
11:00. Aldo wakes up crying, and even capable Liz can’t subdue his persistent whining. Catalina comes to the rescue with a song and a hug and the promise of lunch. At least it’s easier for Catalina now that she has a new stove. Last year there was only a hole in the ground. Thanks to a loan from the Ministry of Agriculture, a number of families in the area were able to buy stoves. Catalina attended free cooking classes in the village. Now she takes more pleasure in preparing meals. She would be even happier if the kitchen was more comfortable. It still has a dirt floor and the half walls are unsquared lumber. The south-facing wall is made of cane, but Catalina loves the sunlight it lets in. A new wall would cost 7,000 pesos.
Simeon comes home from the fields. Alfredo runs to greet him and grabs the horse’s reins to lead him to the shade. The horse is the boy’s best friend. Alfredo then accompanies his father to a cousin’s house. Catalina doesn’t wait for them. She has her lunch with Liz: rice with cooked beef and herbs, served with manioc instead of bread.
1:15. Back at last, Simeon and Alfredo wait for Catalina to serve them at the table; she has kept their food warm. The animals are alert, waiting for a few scraps, and the unbearable squalling of the guinea hens drowns out the men’s talk. Using a long pole, Liz knocks a grapefruit off the tree for dessert.
After lunch, Simeon saddles the horse for Catalina. She is taking Aldo to the village for his vaccination. The rhythm of the ride will send the future horseman off to sleep immediately. After seeing them off, Simeon tends the garden. The herbs, onions, and salad greens are ready for picking. In a few months, there will be carrots, cabbages, and tomatoes too. Traditionally these vegetables were not part of the Paraguay diet, but the government is attempting to stress their nutritional value, and Simeon has taken the time to learn how to grow them.
4:30. Catalina returns home and finds her children freshly washed and playing marbles in the yard. Alfredo is reunited with his pet. He unharnesses it and brings it some coconut leaves. Now Simeon can leave to drink terrere (mate with cold water) with the men. Before darkness falls Catalina goes into her kitchen. Even now the fire from the stove barely lights the dim room. “It will be much more pleasant next year when we have electricity: she says. There is already electricity in the village of Caballero, but the homeowners on the rural roads have not yet organized themselves to pay for the connection.
6:00. When Simeon returns home, the children lower their voices and look for quieter games. Simeon does not like crying and arguments and demands that his house be well ordered and clean. Catalina accepts this machismo authority. “My husband is not like the others,” she says. “He is gentle with me and the children.” Simeon differs from other men in Paraguay who are used to having several women at the same time. (The 1870 War of the Triple Alliance, in which four-fifths of the male population were killed, and the 1932 Chaco War have resulted in a considerable disparity between the male and female population.) Simeon lights the acetylene lamp and washes himself while the children eat an omelet and black-bean salad. Then the little ones give up their places to their parents, who linger at the table to chat.
9:00. Catalina puts a thermos of hot milk and some clean diapers next to the bed for the baby during the night. In the next bed, the children sleep huddled together like puppies. Simeon peers down into Aldo’s crib. For the moment, the baby’s still form and the quiet breathing of his other children satisfy Simeon’s need for orderliness. The whole family rests for a few hours until a hungry Aldo awakens them all