Beryl’s latest letter tells of her neighbours in Asunción taking pot shots at her cats with a shotgun (punishable by a jail sentence), and spreading broken glass bottles on her boundary wall. Temperatures vary in the Chaco from 34° one week to the mid-twenties the following week. Local resident Miguel was working for an unqualified electrician, fell 5 m. from a concrete post, which then fell on him and killed him.
The Ministry of Health needs to sort out the ambulance service, as well as training specialised paramedics. The Mennonite ambulances can provide this service, but most of the other transport is transport only. As usual, rain is desperately needed. All the Indian communities and a good many of the ranches and other places are out of water, so the emergency services are already taking in tankers to fill up all storage cisterns. At the house and at the clinic Beryl has sufficient, but levels for the animals are low, with very little for the horses and cattle to eat. The alligators are on the move, looking for water and food.
No doubt Rhett would have allowed all the ranch workers to stop work and watch the Paraguayan football matches (perhaps others) and we thank him for being a most generous employer. The workers even have their own health service, provided by Beryl. In return Rhett requires “No alcohol on the ranch and no firearms”. Some of the workers cannot manage without their tipple and so return home for the weekend.
The Chaco covers about 60% of Paraguay and as one travels north, its nature changes. Leaving Asunción on the Trans-Chaco Highway, the Lower Chaco begins almost immediately. Here it is beautifully green at present, but about one third of the way to Bolivia the Middle Chaco takes over. This is just around the right turning to Brazil, at Pozo Colorado. Here there is less foliage and the landscape becomes one of scrub and indeterminate bushes. About 85 km. beyond Pozo Colorado one finds Beryl’s house and clinic. It’s still not halfway to Bolivia, and it will be another 200km. or so before the High Chaco makes its mark. This isn’t mountainous “high”, for until then the land rises at 1cm. per kilometer. In the High Chaco one can use the term “desolate”. We are reminded of the fine balance upon which life, especially human life, exists. Here one finds warnings such as one would find in Death Valley- walk for 20 minutes from your car without a head-covering, and your life will be in great peril. Take rations for several days, plenty of water, your mobile phone (you might just get a signal) and motor spares, as well as extra fuel.
Matters at the clinic have changed little, except that the Health Promoters in the communities are taking responsibility for the more routine work. This leaves Beryl more time to do specialised things and the laboratory work. Other tasks include cervical smears and other screening for cancer. Where necessary, Beryl will help patients to get to Asunción – e.g. for biopsies. “My health needs get sorted out in Asunción at the Baptist Hospital” was the nonchalant reply she gave to my optimistic question about who looked after Beryl. She does admit to deteriorating hearing on the right side, together with a noise like a car air-conditioner.
Beryl regularly sends names of individuals for prayer, but one name stands out, as it is someone whose future fortunes could be bound up with Beryl’s. Jeremiah has been working at the ranch for more than two years and is about 19 years old. By the age of 10 he had lost both his parents, one through a road traffic accident and one through renal failure. He has been of great use to Beryl, not only taking responsibility for the physically demanding work, but also being an animal sitter for her.
He is a proud owner of a small motorcycle, which he pays for (Beryl pays it, out of his wages) by installments. Thus he could be useful one day, as a driver, relieving Beryl to concentrate on her own issues en route. Furthermore, she can support him. He has two older brothers, one in an institution for treatment for inhaling harmful substances, and the other in prison. There are three other younger children. He went at first to one grandmother, a Christian who took him to church. All six were reunited when Jeremiah joined his other grandmother, living at the time in a typical shack in Ramoncito, in the Chaco.
One of the grandmother’s neighbours asked if Jeremiah would help out at his bosses’ ranch and that, says Beryl, is how he came to be in the Chaco and through a lost lamb, came to Rhett’s ranch looking for it. At the time of Beryl’s last message (9th July) she was heading back to the ranch with all speed so that Jeremiah could go in the opposite direction, for a big youth outreach in Ramoncito, taking his brothers and sisters along. Jeremiah is a young man who faces great pressures. The “macho” image is very common. Drink and “noxious substances” are readily available and very much a part of the limited social life of the young men of Paraguay.
He needs our prayers, as much as do the elderly and infirm of the Chaco. In the hands of countless Jeremiahs lies the future of a country which is Third World in a number of ways, where corruption and dishonesty are a way of life.