It’s late in the afternoon and I’m getting ready to make an exquisite dinner of veggie rice stir fry. My across-the-street neighbor, Ovidio, appears outside my front window and give a few claps, as is the custom since doorbells don’t exist here. I step outside to greet him.
“Come, you did a bad thing,” he says. “Your dog. It’s very bad.” Say what? I follow, and my heart starts pounding harder and faster. My dog Yuyo ('Yuyo is a Guarani word that means 'remedy') is at my other neighbors’ house right now, but I’m fearful that he may have been hit by a truck just like my previous one.
We walk across the dirt road and arrive at young Ovidio’s house. We sit down and he begins to talk sullenly yet rapidly to me in Guarani. I understand about 60% of his words, but the gist is very clear. He is angry at my dog Yuyo, who he accuses of killing not one, but two of his ducks. He brings me a dead duck that he just found, throws it on the ground in front of me and explains the evidence.
Three days ago his mother-in-law saw from up the road a dog attack a duck and was certain, from 100 meters away, that it was el perro americano (the American dog) doing the deed. That was the first duck murder. Today, another one of his flock of ducks was found dead. As a result of his alleged guilt in the first attack, Yuyo is the prime suspect in both killings. “So it looks like we are going to be eating some fried duck tonight,” he says sarcastically.
After hearing the accusation, I am in denial. I feel like a parent after a call from school about their teenager who was caught in the act of some serious misbehavior:
My kid? Sarah? No, no, you must be mistaken. Sarah would never plagiarize. She’s a good kid.
I know, Mrs. Johnson, this is probably difficult for you to accept. The thing is, if you google “Birds of south America” in Spanish, the third link from the top is verbatim the report that your daughter turned in. She didn’t even bother to change the font. She will be receiving a zero and will be reported to honor board. I’m sorry.
That’s not possible. Let me talk to Sarah. This is clearly a misunderstanding.
I still felt that the evidence was a bit sketchy and attempted to do a quick cross examination. So you didn’t actually see my dog kill the duck today? Is your mother-in-law sure of what she saw? How good is her vision from 100 meters? I understand you are upset, but are you sure you aren’t jumping to a conclusion here? etc. Unfortunately I don’t think my Guarani came off as articulate as Perry Mason, because Ovidio was still sure that Yuyo was the guilty party, and his grim face was angrily staring through me.
When you are responsible for the death of a chicken, duck, or other farm animal here, it is customary to pay the owner its cash value. Guilty dog or innocent, I was not about to start a feud with my neighbor. I went back to my house and grabbed the 50,000 Guaranies that the ducks were worth. I came back and handed him the cash, saying again how sorry I was. I also brought Yuyo over, let him approach the dead duck as if he could eat it, and then gave him a disciplinary smack and yelled at him. I figured this would satisfy Ovidio and prevent the behavior in the future, if indeed it were true.
Ovidio, though, still looked as angry as he was when he came to my house. So I said, “Well, he won’t be eating any more ducks, that’s for sure. Is there anything else you want me to do?”
Raising his head slowly, speaking deliberately, he looked me in the eyes and said, “If my dog had killed a duck, I am going to kill the dog.” The clear inference was that I should kill Yuyo.
I diverge from the story for a moment to explain a cultural difference about dogs here. Dogs in rural Paraguay are not “man’s best friend” as they are in the U.S. With few exceptions, dogs don’t do tricks, don’t have collars, aren’t on leashes, don’t have food bowls and are not fed dog food. They roam around different houses looking for table scraps, howl all night (especially when there is a female dog ‘in heat’), camp outside and bark at anything and everything that walks by. One thing they don’t do is kill chickens or ducks.
When I first arrived to here, I didn’t understand why dogs don't hunt chickens all the time. The dogs are starving. You can see the bones of their ribcages. Why don’t they just hunt down one of the 70 defenseless chickens digging for worms in the dirt between the orange trees and satisfy their hunger?
My host-dad Antolin answered my question easily. Laughing, he said, “Oh those dogs don’t kill any chickens. If I find out a dog killed a chicken, we get rid of that dog immediately. It’s done.” Get rid of, of course, means kill. It might sound harsh, but when you are poor and your ducks and chickens are one of your main sources of income, every time one of them dies it is the same as someone taking cash out of your pocket. If a dog develops a taste for live chicken or duck meat, natural selection does not look at him favorably in San Blas.
Back to the action. I am trying to process the fact that my neighbor wants me to kill my dog, who is literally my best friend. Yuyo goes on runs with me, sleeps in my house, and goes swimming in the river with me on hot days. He is the second dog I have raised here after the first one got hit by a truck. I try to explain. “I know this might be difficult for you to understand, but Yuyo is more than just a dog to me, he’s my friend. I’m not going to kill him.” As my lips complete this sentence, I realize how crazy it probably sounds in Spanish to Ovidio that I’m going to let a dog get away with murder.
At that precise moment my grey-haired neighbor Esteban rolls up, unaware of the tense moment Ovidio and I are having. Esteban is clearly in a good mood and enjoying his Sunday afternoon, as the flask in his right hand is almost empty. He asks if we want to join him in his Sunday Funday, then notices the somber, serious mood we are both in. Ovidio quickly fills him in on the situation. Perro americano. Mother-law. Dead ducks.
Esteban processes what Ovidio is saying, then says my favorite Guarani phrase of all time: Ijapueterei.
Literally translated, ijapu means ‘he/she/it is lying.’ The eterei on the end adds emphasis. Instead of a regular lie, it’s a big, fat lie. Add tavy on to that to make ijapuetereitavy if what someone just said was the most outrageous fabrication you’ve ever heard.
“Ijapueterei,” Esteban says emphatically. “That’s a lie. The dog didn’t kill the duck. I saw that duck get run over by a guy on a motorcycle earlier today.”
Esteban picks up the dead duck by its feet to examine it. Sure enough, it has a big, obvious tire tread mark on its back. Ovidio turns to me with an extremely guilty look and gives me back half of the money. I feel like I have just lived through a Perry Mason episode where it seems obvious that the killer is the defendant until the very last surprise witness. Thank god for wandering late Sunday afternoon drunks. I hand Ovidio back some of the money and decide this is a situation for gesture of truce that both of our cultures understand. “I think this calls for a beer.”