Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rain, Germans, Interviews

1/15/12 (Sunday)
Today is bright and shining. The world is refreshed and green after two days of rain Wednesday and Thursday. It hadn't rained much in a month. The weather was miserably hot and dry and the air was thick and smoky from people burning vegetation (in their fields, or even just unused land, folks seem to be inclined to set fires). All the plants, even the weeds were shriveled and crunchy. The heat, the smoky air and the orange light all gave me the impression that the Earth was falling into the sun.
The rain brought a temporary reprieve from the heat and has cleaned the air. The big white clouds which migrate across the sky this time of year and the blue sky appear crisp and clear again. The stars and Milky Way blazed overhead last night.
Friday and Saturday I went do to the river near my house (not the one where everyone comes to celebrate for New Years) with my new friends, two German student documentarians, to swim and drink beer. It was gloriously blue and green down there, and the water was still low despite the rain, which allowed us to cross to the other side on Saturday. Friday evening we had talked to an old German expatriate named Uli who has lived in town for 17 years. He is one of two born-and-raised-in-Germany Germans who live here, and he seems to have lead quite a life. In addition to his wife and two daughters here he has children in Germany and Norway by different mothers. Before moving here he lived in the jungle of French Guiana and was involved in various escapades to finance himself. He now lives quietly in town just two blocks from my house and works as an electrician.
Anyhow, he said how he enjoys crossing the river and following the trail a short ways along the other side to where the river bends back and meets the path again, and jumping in and floating down the meanders until arriving back at the starting place. Stepan, Andreas and I decided to give this a shot. It seemed a bit foolish right as we were about to jump in, but it worked out. Next time I will bring an innertube.
Tangent: in spanish the words for inner tube, camera, and chamber of congress are all the same! Camara. Aren’t languages funny?
In the evening the clouds were the most fantastic that I have seen in my time here. Summer clouds here are consistently impressive, but that night was superb. The last remnants of the storm were passsing northwards and scattered thunderheads were still exhausting their strength. One passed us close by to the East. We could see the rain falling, shimmering in the sideways sunlight, not far away, and then the ground and trees misting where it fell.
Later a bigger storm appeared to the South East. It was immense and multilayered, orange, pink, grey and black, all lit occasionally by its distant flashes of lighting. Rayos, relampagos. The scale of it was what was really so impressive, great towers and banks and valleys all put into relief by that subtle sideways light. We came back up to my house for the last few beers and watched from the porch as the storm caught up with us and poured down on my noisy tile roof. 

Andreas and Stepan are here for another week and are working on a film about the descendants of the German colonists that live here. They don't speak spanish (but do speak english) so I've been helping them with a few interviews with folks that don't speak German. I've hardly ever interviewed anyone, and never for a video documentary, so I can't say the interviews we did are going to be terribly helpful for them. The trick is to get the subject talking under their own momentum, so that they are just telling their stories. This you can put in the background while you show footage of the town or of people going about their lives.
I probably benefitted more than my German friends from the interviews. They gave me a setting to be candid and ask questions that I would not otherwise feel comfortable raising. We spoke with my host family, especially Ramon who's great grandfather was a German settler, and also with my neighbor Claudia to get an impression of non-German Paraguay.
The interview with Claudia affected me powerfully. She has lived a hard life. She is very grown up and has two daughters, but I was amazed to learn she is just 22 years old. Her family moved here two years ago from an area to the South called Chore. They moved because the river was flooding their home and destroying their crops. I expect this was a result of the deforestation that has taken place all around here especially in the last 20 years. She got pregnant and dropped out of school at 16, but the father was a jerk. She then went to work in Asunción for a family, cleaning house and washing clothes. She is articulate in Spanish and sure of herself, which is not exactly common among poor women here. She is adamant that she won´t let men use and abuse her as they did when she was younger, and does her best to shelter her daughters and her young sister. She lives with her mother, sister, daughters, stepfather (who is a borracho, drunkard) and possibly other young men and women that I cannot quite place but who seem to always be at that two room house. She plans on going to Argentina or Chile to look for work as soon as her documents are in order.
I hope Stepan and Andreas are able to incorporate something from that interview into their film, but I am thankful for the opportunity to have been the interviewer regardless. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Felices Fiestas

Fiesta in English is translated as party, but that is not quite right for the Paraguayan usage of it. What I would call a party is instead refered to as a brindis (toast), asado (Barbeque), or a meridenda (snack). A house party of any number of people for a birthday or holiday is just a toast then. A daytime party is an asado. And a meridenda is a minor daytime party, like some kind of celebration during school.
A proper fiesta is only a very large gathering, which is generally something between a school dance and a rave. These happen at the municipal tinglado which is just two blocks from my house and occur on holidays or just every couple months. Hundreds of young people turn out to dance from 11pm or so until well into the madrugada (the early morning hours, one of my favorite spanish words which sounds like dragging or drugging). They drink cans of beer, which are thrown onto the dance floor and gradually pile up and are kicked around. A vast wall of speakers is erected at one end of the tinglado (like a outdoor multipurpose area with an arched metal roof, which vibrates with the bass beats) which mercifully faces the opposite direction from my neighborhood. Even so the music can be heard in the entire town, and I believe I have seen my lights pulse to the beat by the drain on the power grid.

So, there was one of these for New Years, and I intended to go because I hadn't been to one in my town yet (we went to one during our first month of training in Guarambare) and because this is the most festive time of year. In (the United States of) America christmas and New Years are winter holidays, and Christmas especially is a family holiday. American New Years is about partying, but even so the party climaxes at midnight, and people tend to head home by 1 or 2 am or so. Paraguayan Christmas and New Years is a summer holiday and is the greatest, roudiest celebration in a culture that enjoys many. Family time is very important, but I love that here debauchery and family time are not kept so distinct and polarly opposed as back home.

Here the New Years party does not even begin until nearly 1am. The time before that is spent with the family or resting up I imagine, because after midnight the fiesta begins, and does not cease until after dawn, if it can even be said to cease at all. I have been told that at dawn the party moves to the river Aguaraymi which runs under the highway just outside my town and has several balnearios (swimming areas with volleyball courts, music, beer, etc). I gave up on partying after I showed up at the tinglago at 12:20am and there was still almost nobody there. I had been travelling, sleeping in my hammock in Aregua and Quiindy and on the host family's couch in Guarambare, and looked forward to a night in my bed.The pounding music all night did not even bother me.

In the afternoon of New Year's Day I finally ventured down to the river. I encountered hundreds of people in and about the shallow water. Folks came from all over our part of the department (administrative region) from San Pedro de Ycuamandiyu to Santa Rosa. They were having a lot of fun.

I ended up at the fancy balneario, owned, supposedly, by a former PC volunteer who married a Paraguayo. I met a group of sullen men of roughly my own age that I know. We never have much to talk about, but they accept me at least. Some people to stand around with and watch Piki-volley, which is volley ball played with soccer contact rules, i.e. feet, head and chest are okay, but no hands. It is incredible to watch. Even so after a while of this I got bored and went to the dance floor. There I enjoyed myself very much, as I have not had many chances to dance in a long while, and I can count on my blue eyes to win me more dance partners than I would other wise get. I left my terere thermos near the volley ball court and I was not too surprised to find it had disappeared when I came back later.

I finally returned home around 9pm after six hours down at the river tired and happy. I am told that the partying has continued, and that huge crowds continue to come to our river.

 I guess it is just that time of year.