Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Today!: was the 2nd International Congress of the Guaraní Language, in my very own town of Natalio.
This was an unexpected thing. It was sort of like a college symposium crossed with your standard Municipal acto cultural (traditional music and dance performances) and a boring MinstryofEducationandCulture workshop on top.
Speakers came in from Missiones, Argentina and Sao Paolo, Brazil to talk about the language. So it was kind of a big deal, but only kind of.

Teachers from the local schools performed a couple traditional dances in between lecturers.

I certainly didn´t understand a lot of what was going on. My Guaraní skills probably peaked last summer in Nueva Germania, or possibly while I was still living with the Alonso family the winter before. Since moving to Natalio I spend less time with families and neighbors and most of the people I do know are perfectly comfortable speaking Spanish to one another, a diferencia que el norte. There still is plenty of Guaraní going around, but I have really not felt the need to continue studying it, as enriching as I´m sure that would be. I´ve been making some efforts to hold my ground at least, and practice saying what I still remember. Seeing 7 Cajas (which I really meant to write a post about) and visiting Ana´s site last month partially inspired me to start working on my Guaraní again, but even so the general trend has been atrophy of my never great Guaraní skills.

So, it was somewhat embarrassing to conduct a short interview today with a videographer who was documenting the event. It ended up being mostly in English, but some of it was in Guaraní. I´m really bad at figuring out what people are saying when they ask me things in Guaraní, which is not so good for interviews, or most conversations really.

I also met a group of teachers from Posadas, Argentina, which is just across the river from Encarnación, the captial of my department. I talked with them during the lunch break. It was such a thrill to meet people that weren´t Paraguayans or Peace Corps volunteers! I can see Argentina from almost anywhere in town, it´s just 10km away, and I listen to Argentine Public Radio, but I´ve never been over there (except for 8 hours to see Iguazu Falls with dad) and I´m consumed with curiosity about our mysterious neighbors. From Paraguay, Argentina seems so rich and functional and developed, but not so intrinsically foreign as Brazil. They speak Spanish, albeit with a funny accent, and thier history is tightly bound up with the history of Paraguay. The histories of Itapua and Missiones are particularly close, both being initially settled (by Europeans) as part of the Jesuit region of the Paraná.

I´ve been working for some time on a geo-historical animation of the colonization and foundation of Paraguay. It´s not done yet (I´m up to about 1700) but I will certainly post it on the blog when it is. I am very happy with the work. It is all really part of an effort on my part to understand how Paraguay came to be the way it is.

The Guaraní legacy is one of the most interesting and fundamental features of Paraguay. If I look at a map of Brazil, there are places in the far North-East that I can translate from Guaraní. They covered a huge area, but Paraguay is the only part of their former lands where the language survives and flourishes. There are Gauraní speakers in northern Argentina, and some in Brazil. I imagine there are also some in Uruguay and perhaps Bolivia.

I have been very curious about the similarities and differences between my side of the river and the other. The provinces of Corrientes and Missiones share with Paraguay the legacy of the Guaraní, of the Jesuit missions, of Spanish colonial government and then of Latin American independence. Corrientes and Buenos Aires are just two of the cities founded by colonists from Asunción.
How did all the land south of the river end up on such a different course?
How much of the similarity remains?

I have been meaning to visit the other side of the river for months, and perhaps now that the school year is drawing to a close I´ll make it happen. I need to request permission 10 days ahead of time, and have itinerary information including phone numbers for each place I will stay (my Peace Corps phone won´t work). At the very least I will travel through Argentina and Uruguay before returning to the states. I would very much like to check out Urugauy. I´ve been imagining it as kind of like Paraguay, green, tranquil, mate-sipping, but with functioning government institutions... and beaches.

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