Lydia and Gregorio met at Radio Shack.It doesn't start off sounding like the most exotic meeting for a pair of lovers. But the Radio Shack was in Paraguay - in Asunción, the capital city - 10 hours from Chaco, the country village where Lydia worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer.Lydia started out as Lydia LaBelle. Now she's Lydia LaBelle de Rios, which means Lydia LaBelle of Gregorio Rios. The two were married in a botanical garden in Asunción in December 2004. The wedding and a fancy reception cost them only $300.After a backpacking honeymoon through the northern part of South America, the two flew to Colorado. They lived in Fort Collins for seven months while Lydia finished her masters degree in natural resources management. With six months of language lessons under his belt, Gregorio dove into the working world in the United States. He found management opportunities with KFC. A promotion eventually brought the newlyweds to Rifle, where they bought a charming little yellow house within walking distance of downtown."I learned many words about chicken," Gregorio said of his experience at KFC. "I learned 'legs' and 'wings' and 'breasts.' It was funny."He said there were enough people who spoke Spanish at KFC that he didn't get much practice with his English.He's since found a position with Rent-A-Center, where he's working in sales - his passion - and practicing his English.Lydia was working at the Community Center in Glenwood Springs, but found that she didn't get to use her Spanish as much as she wanted."We also really wanted to get to know our community here," Lydia said.
She found a job at Wells Fargo Bank, where she can work on her Spanish. She said she also feels like she's gotten to know the whole town. "It's different," Gregorio said. "Every day is different. With the language and the culture, it's different."Lydia and Gregorio both laugh at the language gaffes of their past. "He always used to say, 'I love you me too,' because in Spanish they say, 'Te amo yo tambien' for 'I love you, too,'" Lydia said. "He'd look at me and say, 'I love you me too,' and I had to laugh."Gregorio laughed at Lydia's misuse of a popular phrase and her profuse use of profanity."I learned it in my village," Lydia said as an excuse.When they first met, not only did Gregorio not speak English, but Lydia didn't speak Spanish. "I lived in a community with no running water, no television, no way to communicate with the outside world," Lydia said. "I needed a good radio."That's what took her into the big city mall. There were only a few people at Radio Shack she could communicate with.Gregorio spoke Guaraní, the native language of Paraguay. That's what Lydia learned to speak in her small village, and that's what she spoke at the Radio Shack.
"They would laugh at me," Lydia said. "They all thought I was this hippy American chick, or some of them thought I was German, I guess - blond hair and blue eyes - and I was speaking Guaraní."Gregorio grew up speaking both Guaraní and Spanish, though Guaraní has just started to become a school subject in the last 10-15 years. Alfredo Stroessner, a Paraguayan dictator who took over the country in 1954, forced the people to speak Spanish.Today, fewer people in Paraguay speak Guaraní than Spanish, though most people speak both languages.Aside from the language barrier, the two had a couple of other cultural hurdles to jump."She got off the bus and she was dressed - she was like a hippy - and I said, 'You can change,'" Gregorio said."And I said, 'You can change,'" Lydia said."I told her I don't like girls like her. She can be a little sexy, dress a little ..." Gregorio said."And I told him I didn't like guys like him - in his tie - he didn't have to be so stuffy," Lydia said. "But obviously we liked each other."Gregorio proposed after just four months."I thought, 'Are you crazy?,'" Lydia said. "We're so structured here. You know, you have to do the year and you have to live together. You don't just get married."
"In my country, if you want something, you just do it," Gregorio said.Shortly after they started dating, Lydia had a few extra days in the city. She went to Gregorio's house, where he'd made a delicious dinner."I asked him, 'What do you want with me?'" Lydia said."And I told her, 'I want to marry you,'" Gregorio said. "I said it like a joke. But she started to cry.""I was bawling and bawling," Lydia said. "I was just at that point in my life. I thought, 'You don't mean that. You don't even know me.' And I was an emotional wreck anyway, going through all the stuff you go through living in another place, where you can't express yourself."But she said that was when she let her guard down and fell in love.There were a lot of financial advantages to moving to the United States. Lydia said they would have had to save for years to pay for a trip back to America to see her family. But they're going to Paraguay this June for two weeks. There are also a lot of other opportunities that made Lydia want to come home."It's not just the money - why we came to the U.S.," Gregorio said. "It was the love, crazy love."Contact Amanda Holt Miller: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org