Paraguay’s Neglected are my Neighbors

(The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps. All quotes are either in Spanish or are my translations.)

▷ Click here for a better view of the photos 

I was feeling a little weak today and decided to walk-splore instead of run. Just a kilometer or so from my little abode, on the same hillside, the infrastructure stops. The cobblestone roads turn into rutted trails and the condition of houses decrease just as quickly. As I descended down a little bank to cross a deteriorating footbridge above stagnant water colored with waste and plastic wrappers, a naked boy, about six or seven, headed toward me.

"¿Estás bien?” I asked to ensure the awkward encounter was ‘normal.’

“Sí,” he responded as he passed, covering his penis, so as not to offend.

But as the little thing bent his head down to put his barefoot in a dirt hold below me, I saw a circular bald patch of skin on the top of his head. This boy had ringworm of the scalp, a contagious fungal infection cause by unhygienic conditions that will continue to grow if left untreated.

I glanced back at the home he was headed for and it all made sense.

About four blocks away I hit an asphalted road and stopped as a silver Mercedes Benz passed by.

Steps to Wring the Worm

The sun had already set when I walked up my steps, but my neighbor’s light was on and I wanted her reaction. I recounted my sighting and she mentioned that the public hospital offers tiña treatment, free of charge.

They call ringworm “tiña” here, certainly an adaptation of the medical term tinea capitis.

So the next morning, I pedaled up the hill to San Estanislao’s public hospital to learn about the process.

“You need to bring the child here in the morning. Before 6:00 would be best,” suggested the nurse stationed in the tiny patient evaluation office.

Apparently, the line of the afflicted grows quickly and even early arrivals wait for hours. I had heard about understaffing issues at the public hospital on morning radio chats, so it wasn’t a surprise.

The nurse directed me to where the child would need to go; down the hall and to another registration office to wait his turn.

I walked down to inquire about the second step, and after explaining what I saw to Doctor Genia, I inquired whether a three-plus hour doctor wait would be worth it, if the symptoms almost distinctly point to tiña.

She told me that I could bring the child in that evening around 7 o'clock, and gave me her phone number to confirm.

Now, I just needed to find the child and talk with his folks.

Retracing the Trail

Despite the proximity of my first sighting of the little boy on the bridge, I wound through overgrown trails to get there as I explored the San Blas barrio, just one neighborhood north of my community of Mongelos. So, finding the little blue house again became another adventure.

I passed by children fishing in a stagnant puddle with sticks and string, who told me there were indeed fish to be caught. I don’t doubt it; first of all that there were fish, and secondly, that they’ll be frying them in a pan instead of putting them in a glass bowl. On a recent oversold bus trip to Asunción - standing room only - the driver stopped on the side of the road and bought a plastic bag full fish from a group catching them under a highway overpass. I digress.

As I pedaled up a rutted dirt hill, I approached two women were surveying a vast empty hillside of land. They said they worked for a real estate company and were trying to sell off parcels to future home builders. Mind you, there were neither divisions of land established, nor electrical lines, streets, or water; just uneven grassland.

I asked if the company would be laying pipe for running water for the buyers, since many of the homes on the other side of the trail were using well-water. They said yes, but they’ll have to pay. We continued to chat and I explain my quest.

“There’s another little girl right up there playing under the tree who’s losing her hair too,” they directed me to their leafy fort.

I pedaled up and greeted the three little eight/nine year-old girls, but encountered a communication dilemma. They spoke Guaraní and very little Spanish and said that their parents only spoke Guaraní. So, my inquiry about tiña treatment would have to be answered here, instead of trying to chat with their folks who sat in the tilted wooden home on the bank above the fort. In a very precise Spanish, augmented with gestures, I asked the patchy headed child if she had medicine.

“Sí,” she responded nodding her head, meaning that I was understood.

I continued on my way to find the monk-cut boy, documenting a few of the abodes as I rode.

Carrying my bike over the tall grass that tickled my knees on either side of the trail, I came upon a familiar little house just over knoll from the boy’s blue house and the deteriorating footbridge.

I was there.

I approached the house around 11 o’clock and was delighted to find the little boy, his brother and his parents at home, and with the ability to communicate in Spanish.

Both of their children were infected with tiña, they told me, as were her brother’s kids. But they had medicine and the problem was improving, they added.

I smiled at the sweet little boy, suggested that he avoid playing in the dirty water and wished him luck. He smiled back with such an innocence and simplicity that had yet to fade with age.

It’s a sentiment that reminds us what has faded within ourselves and connects us to the desire to provide in some kind of unfeasible attempt at maintaining innocence.

But despite the impossible, I think I’ll appease myself and bring him a special anti-fungal shampoo tomorrow.