By Sr Amelia Bublo SSpS
I first set foot on Paraguayan soil on July 26, 1986, the feast of Sts Joachim and Anne. Next day I was invited to the blessing of a new Benedictine monastery in Misiones, a four-hour drive from Asunción, the capital. Despite my jet lag I left at 3:30 am with the other sisters. I couldn’t argue with them, as the only Spanish I knew was “Si” and “No.”
Nine bishops from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay itself concelebrated Mass on this grand occasion. I didn’t understand a word but followed the advice given to new missionaries everywhere, “Observe and keep silent.” Shortly after that I went to another town, nine hours away. We were attending the wake of a student who’d had a tragic death. There was no electricity there so the people used candles or petromax and kerosene lamps.
The house was very quiet despite the large crowd. The candles around the coffin lit up the whole room. After the Rosary I stayed in a corner with a young girl who worked in our house. Plates with candles, cookies and barquillos were passed around. The first and second time I excused myself with, “Gracias, estoy satisfecha tovadia,” “Thank you, I’m full.” My companion whispered to me, “Sister, it’s our custom to accept whatever is offered.” The third time I took a barquillo, as I thought. To my surprise, it tasted bitter and smelled of tobacco! I turned to the girl and asked her, “What kind ofbarquillo is this?” She smelled it and declared, “Sister, it’s a cigar!” We had to escape to the backyard to have a good laugh at my mistake!
This was but one of many instances where my limited knowledge of the culture and language led me to other such embarrassing but funny situations. It’s all part of being a missionary.