Wednesday, August 29, 2012

If you lived here, you'd already be home


After a year and a half in Paraguay the themes I want to write about begin to repeat themselves: Asunción, buses, the beauty of the land, the ugliness of the buildings, the kindness of the people and then general lonliness.

I am in Asunción again tonight, after a week of travelling in the department of San Pedro, which I perivously called home. It was just lovely to see my voluneer friends and to be in the north again, though I did not have permission to visit my former site. Once you go north from Santani you enter something like the Wild West. Santa Rosa is a boom town, expanding far faster than any services or municipal organization can keep up. The little towns of the countryside are tranquility itself, where the rumbling affairs of the capital or the outside world barely register. Then San Pedro de Ycuamandiyyu (uh-kwa-man-di-ju) which is the great corrupted outpost of civilization grown out of a region so long isloated and neglected.

Obi-Wan Kenobi's words about Mos Eisley echo in my ears when I walk down those old San Pedro streets "you will not find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy"

I do love it though.

It was so lovely to visit my friends Hannah and Leah, who live in and 21km from the town of San Pedro respectively. They are both technically Environmental Education volunteers but actually are involved in all sorts of projects beyond just environmental education. Leah's main focus is gardening (which is environmental, sure, but is really more of a priority for health and economic reasons) and has lately overseen a large project to build, stock and manage chicken coops  with families in her community. The vast majority of chickens in PY (of which there are a lot) just wander around wherever they like, which is nice and all, but they get sick or killed or stolen and you can't control what they are eating. Like the gardens, this is really a nutrition and economic project. She's also working the the tiny elementary and high school in her site teaching English, Computer skills, gardening, art, and probably all sorts of other great stuff.
My dad, Marissa, and Hannah in San Pedro. I don't have any picutres of  Leah :(
Hannah is one of the most guapa (the opposite of lazy) people I have ever known. Whenever I talk to her I always hear about cualquer other project shes been working on that I didn't even know about. She's been working with the municipality to flouridate the water and to build a new dump which won't leak into the ground water. She also teaches English classes at the elemenary school, high school, university, and for adults. Her greatest project, and perhaps her great white whale, has been a community center. She's been growing this around her home which is a big ancient family house on maybe an acre of land. She provides toys, love, encouragement and a rare positive role model to the street kids that frequently come to visit her. With the Agriculture students at the university and her neighbors she built a huge community garden on the property and has plans for sewing and cooking classes. This is the sort of sprawling project that I stay well away from, and which I think would sink a lesser volunteer. If there is anyone in Peace Corps Paraguay who could pull it all off it would be Hannah. Check out her website if you'd like to learn more.

I stayed with both Hannah and Leah and we spent a lot of time together the three of us. It felt so good to be out there. I'm so Paraguayan now in plenty of ways that I don't even think about and San Pedro feels as close to home as anywhere I've been in a year and a half. The best of all was simply to have fun! To laugh whole heartedly, with other people! With friends! What glory! I really felt the weight of the last months lifting from my shoulders; I was reminded that I am not a gloomy, solitary person by nature. I hope never again to go so long without spending time with good friends. It poisons one to do so.

And then endless hours in the bus, the buses, from the most janky wood-floored and barely operable campo buses to double-decked glistening space shuttles with AC and flat screen TVs. The buses are of course serviced by all manner of vendors, providing nearly endless opportunities for impulse buys. I kept a running tally of the vendors that boarded during the course of my first long bus ride from Natalio to Coronel Oviedo last Saturday:
Chipa (it's a thing): 5
milanesa (country fried steak): 5
Soda: 3
candy/gum: 1
roasted meat: 1
lottery: 1
pills (all sorts): 1
pirated movies and music: 2
fruit salad: 1
and a proper salesman who pitched a teeth-whitening cream to us, though his voice didn't carry well and I doubt much of the bus could hear him. I had bought a bunch of bananas before leaving, and was able to show some rare self control and refrain from buying food.

It was a pleasure to return to this crazy city again after a week in San Pedro and almost 3 months without visiting. I stand by what I wrote before about the defiant but charming urbanism which thrives beneath all the chaos, clouds of exhaust, slums, and upper class distractions. I love the connection to the land I see both in Natalio and San Pedro, but to see regular people living the city life, working, studying, shopping, eating, drinking, cultivating themselves and having fun, uplifts me. Something approaching interesting cuisine, quality in art and music, organizations beyond the family level. Cities are linguistically and as far as I'm concerned actually the root of the meaning of civilization. I would not say that the good people of San Pedro are not civilized, but just that civilzation in that area is sustained by the distant connection to Asunción.

And here I am again. I am the only guest at the Arandu hostel, which makes it the most luxurious lodging per dollar spent I have ever enjoyed. I have the run of the entire building, which is a former mansion in an old part of town that has been lovingly restored and converted into its current encarnation. It is also a block from the beautiful Chuch of the Encarnation.
And the weather is turning. I was sure that winter had one more week of cold weather left, though as August passed I began to question myself. Today a cold, powerful wind is coming in from the South. It is shrieking outside my window as I write. Rain is predicted the next few days and the lows may be in the 40s Sunday through Tuesday. I'll get a chance to use up the rest of my firewood, and wear my funny ear flap old man hat one more time.

It's been a good trip. I'm even getting to miss Natalio a little bit.

No comments:

Post a Comment