I'm not a good enough writer (or thinker or feeler) to properly capture the experience of my Carnaval in Paraguay, but I hope that these pictures may convey the general feeling. There is no carnaval celebration in the north where I lived last year, so this is my first carnaval in South America. It's not like anything I've ever seen or heard or felt before.
I've been performing with the Batucada samba drum group in my town which has been a really cool and totally new experience. It's composed of about 25 youths, aging from about 12-22 years old. The core members organized themselves five years ago, started practising with buckets and whatever they could find, held fundraisers, bought drums, and have grown and improved year after year. We've performed in five corsos now (carnaval parades), twice in Natalio the weekend before last, once in Capitan Meza last Friday night, and twice in Yatytay, last friday and then again last night.
The towns in this part of Itapua rotate hosting carnaval weekends with parades and all the neighboring towns send performance groups of dancers and drummers (mostly dancers) to perform and compete for prizes in whichever town is hosting that weekend. This weekend both Capitan Meza and Yatytay were hosting, so we played at both Friday night. On the second night of the corsos (theoretically Saturday, but delayed to Sunday both weekends because of rain) prizes are awarded to the best groups; our group won first prize both times. The prize was almost $200 for the Natalio carnaval, which I think will just go to drum purchase and maintenance. We got invited to a carnaval in the middle-of-nowhere town of Itapua Poty in two weeks which will have a top prize of $400.
I love playing with the group, it is quite challenging and fun and the combined effect of so many drums is exhilarating The performance is challenging as well, but I have now twice been surprised when we've won top place, despite my many errors and perceived general dis-coordination.
What's hard about participating in the group is passing the many hours waiting to perform. The group is mostly composed of teenage boys, and they can be just as obnoxious and rude and stupid as teenage boys can be anywhere. I feel very comfortable with most of the other players, but there are a couple of clowns who love to taunt me.
"Norteamericano, Hello Norteamericano! Goodmorning! One, two, three, Hello Baby!"
I'm working at being better at joking around, but these guys are really awful. I remember kids just like them when I was in High School. I'm not going to fight them, I can't verbally jab at them with my accented and awkward Spanish. I try and maintain some quiet dignity, but doesn't feel very effective. Some things never change I suppose.
We got back last night at 3:30 am. It is really incredible how wholeheartedly these conservative small towns go in for a party. The most popular thing for spectators to do is buy aerosol cans of spray foam and mercilessly spray each other. I don't think I've ever seen anyone wearing safety goggles in Paraguay except for the in bleachers at Carnaval. Beer is for sale of course, proceeds go to help fund the prizes for performers. The carnaval in Yatytay was sponsored by the volunteer firefighters, they were using the ambulance (flashing lights, but no siren) to deliver ice to the beer stand last night.
Fortunately I have no major commitments today. Last Monday I had a 7am meeting with the mayor, after getting home around 2:40 am. And it's a rainy day so I'm hanging out around the house and drinking coffee. I just made a lentil stew for lunch.