Tereré on the streets of Filadelfia

Mennonite family in Filadelfia

I flick open the menu at the small wooden-cottage style restaurant and ponder over what to order: Sauerkraut, Goulash or Spätzle?

The silver-haired couple two tables away laugh softly before carrying on their hushed conversation in German.

Outside, by Hotel Austria next to Hindenberg Street, the lamps are laden with beautiful glowing Christmas decorations – the first we have seen in December.

“Did we wake up back in Europe this morning?” I ask Phil, as he orders a ‘Pilsen’ beer from the smiling fair-haired, blue-eyed waiter.

It’s Always Sunny in Filadelfia

We are in Filadelfia, the centre of Paraguay’s Mennonite Fernheim Colony, whose 8,000 inhabitants live contentedly within the country’s semi-arid Gran Chaco region.

Popping into the town’s only supermarket, we pick out some products made with the peanuts harvested and sold through the farming cooperative – peanut turron, peanut-topped biscuits and caramelised (yes, you’ve guessed it) peanuts, along with some fresh local milk.

“Account number or cash?” the woman at the till asks expectantly, referring to the fact many people don’t use money to pay for items, they barter.

Later that day we meet up for lunch and a whistestop tour with local lady Damaris, a fellow couchsurfer.

It is fascinating hearing about life here, especially when she whips out a book packed with black and white photographs documenting the area’s history.

Recently arrived Mennonites set up camp in their new home

She explains: “The Mennonites came from Russia, Germany and present-day Ukraine in groups of hundreds during the 1930s.

“After using up the majority of their money for the journey, life was tough at first.

“The land allocated to them by the Paraguayan government was undeveloped so they had to seek out fresh water and hand-craft mud bricks with which to construct their houses.”

A typhoid outbreak not long after they arrived left 90 dead, she adds.

Span-man (or Germ-ish) signs adorn the town

Piling into Damaris’ small car, we bump along the brown dirt roads as she points out different communities living around town.

There are settlers who don’t form part of the local cooperatives, and several indigenous reserves home to native groups such as the Chulupí.

But despite a certain amount of division in terms of the types of schools or hospitals used by each settlement, a real community atmosphere is tangible too.

Damaris invites us into the peaceful shade of her home to share a ‘tereré‘ – ice-cold herb tea.

Tereré for two

This is a tradition here in Paraguay and you often see people and families walking around carrying their own embroidered leather-bound flask with attached cup and a silver metal straw poking out – it’s the perfect way to cool down in the stiflingly dry, dusty heat.

As she cuts up some juicy sweet melon to eat with our drink, Damaris instructs us in the art of ‘taking tea’, Paraguay-style.

The host will pour cold water into the herb-packed round cup, called a ‘guampa‘, and pass it to the guest on her right.

They will sip it down before handing it back to be refilled for the next person, and the next…all the time accompanied by a good old chinwag, of course.

Only when you’ve drunk enough do you say ‘Gracias’ as you pass the cup back.

Or maybe here that should be a ‘Danke schön’..?

Filadelfia’s community atmosphere is as strong as ever

About travellingtoothbrushes

We are a couple of journalists with restless toothbrushes. Our teeth scrubbers seem unable to leap out of their respective washbags to take up a permanent residency on the bathroom shelf. So, we've decided to let them live the way they want to and take them on a trip around South America...
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