I’m sitting on the floor in the airport in Sao Paulo, my various affects scattered in vagabond crescent around my crossed legs, with computer plugged into the wall, reflecting on the past 48 hours.

August 15, 2008, yesterday, marked the end of 62 years of singe-party rule in Paraguay. Having seized power in the late 1950s and maintained it through decades of dictatorship, chronyism, clientalism, and false reform, the Colorado party was, until yesterday, the world’s longest standing single-party power.

I went to downtown to watch the inauguration. Though the photos and videos I took can’t even begin to convey the power of this event, they are, as always, a start.


I was too far away from the stage to get a good photo, but Chavez, Morales, Lula, Kirchner, etc, are all up there (not necessarily in this shot).

Oh, hi Lugo!

One block outside of the central plaza…just in case. hundreds and hundreds of soldiers.

Si! Juro!

And just as a matter of side interest, this was the cover of one of the national newspapers this morning. Apparently Lugo and Chavez have become fast friends (for those of you who can’t read Spanish, Chavez is dancing, not being shot at).

Ordinarily airports make gourmet marinades for sentimentalists such as myself, but right now I am too exhausted, and my mind is in a different place. Paraguay will always have a special place in my heart. I am excited to be going home, but very sad to be gone. I can’t imagine a better way to leave her, though.

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but today was a <big day> for Paraguay.

I was there, in the center, with Chavez, Morales, Lula, Kirchner, Lugo, a hundred politicians, and thousands of Paraguayans who are ready for a change.

I’ve often claimed on this blog that something has been too powerful for words, but I have always attempted at least a meager description. This time I won’t even try.

I leave this country tomorrow. I’ve got an 8 hour layover in Sao Paulo, where I should have enough internet to upload my pictures and videos of the rally. I will let them do the talking.

Prologue: I leave Paraguay this coming Saturday, which is a very daunting thought. I finished my major project this past Friday, which was a huge relief, and so in this next week I am basically just wrapping up my other, small projects and saying goodbyes. There is a strange sense about what it means to be leaving this place. I have learned so much here. So much. Volumes. It’s really incredible – I didn’t realize that three.5 months could be so full of new thoughts and understanding. There has been a sort of crystallization as well. I am by no means at a personal equilibrium, but as far as academics and intellectualism go, Paraguay has been sort of a coming-of-age story. I am excited to be back in Durham, but not looking forward to leaving. There is a lot to leave behind here, and I do sincerely hope I’ll be back sometime. With that said and my work mostly done, I figured I would take some time to chronicle my weekend as a tourist here.

Act 1: Moments of Zen

My housemate Sarita correctly identified these wild, incomprehensibly surreal moments as one of the things she will miss the most about Paraguay – or at least the Paraguayan experience. There are these hilarious quirks that make every day an adventure. To hear the sound of one-hand clapping in time with a pulsing beat of reggeaton is to know what it is to be Paraguayan. Three recent such moments:

  • Every weekend there is an “indigenous market” downtown, when craftspeople all come into the city and peddle stunningly identical wares off of blankets and tables lined up along one of the central Plazas. I was at one table looking at hand-carved wooden salad forks with the visages of different native animals carved into their handles (hey mom and dad, guess what I bought you!). I was handed one set which had a bird on the top, but you could clearly tell from the wood and the paint that the beak had broken off in transit somewhere. I pointed this out to the woman. “No,” she told me, “that is a special Paraguayan bird. They don’t have beaks.”
  • The other day I ran past a guy who was wearing a Hanson (remember mmbop?) t-shirt.
  • There is an unexplained, and in fact inexplicable statue of something that appears to be a werewolf downtown in Plaza de Heroes. It has the head of a bear-like creature, the body of a Spartan, and the tail of a rat. I was with my friend Noe, who is a biologist in Paraguay studying small mammals, and he didn’t have a clue what it was – maybe something mythological. In any case, it seemed out of place next to the memorial commemorating the lost soldiers of the Chaco War.

Act two: Long overdue photos of scenic downtown Asuncion

Sorry some of these are so overexposed. I think because it was Saturday, and nobody leaves the house, the usual blanket of diesel smog wasn’t there to filter out the sunlight.

Here is a neat little statue in front of a building that I believe is the Parliament house (yes, it is pink).

Here is the Presidential Office. There is a vaguely attractive but sort of stern looking guy standing in front of it.

As with every country that has suffered under there rule of a dictator, Paraguay has many “Desaparecidos” – those who disappeared, never to be heard from again.

This is actually really cool. This statue is in Plaza de los Desaparecidos. If you look closely, you’ll see parts of what appear to be a person crushed into the concrete. After the dictatorship fell, they took a huge statue of Stroessner, smashed it up, put the pieces into that concrete block, and put it on display. I tried to find a picture of the original statue for reference, but google images let me down.

Oh why hello there Argentina! What are you doing all the way over on the other side of that river?

For those of you who appreciate irony and contrast (which should be, I assume, all of you who are still reading), on the left you can see the back of the Presidential Office. On the right, you can (just barely) see the top of a flavela – a slum. I’m not talking about run-down public housing. I mean scrap plywood stapled together with corrugated, rusted-out tin roofing — that kind of slum. It is literally in the back yard of the presidential office.

That beautiful Asuncion Skyline…

oh hay sup. assorted interns, friends and associates:

Chaco hotel, cafe literario, peaceful street, good times.

deserted bus on the ride home

This picture just really needs a home. That is really a bull’s horn. And that is really my house mate. And she is really about to charge.

Act 3: Don Quixote de la Mancha

Last night a couple of interns and I went to see a ballet rendition of Don Quixote. I gotta say, although I took personal offense to their portrayal of Don Q as a sort of hapless drunkard, it was a really great show. The scenery was beautiful, the dancers were incredible, and the music was very well done. Hmm…maybe this doesn’t have to be an act unto itself. I don’t really have more to say about it.

I suppose we could extend it by adding a Scene 2:

Joseph Stiglitz – former world bank chief economist, nobel laureate, and all-around baller – is coming to Asuncion for a couple of days to advise the incoming government. He is giving an open event on Thursday, which will be incredible to see.

So I guess that’s all for now. I’ve only got a week back in Durham before heading off again to Spain, and I know in advance that I won’t have enough time to see everybody I want to see, or do everything I am hoping to do, but I also don’t plan on rushing any of it. These last couple of days in Asucion are going to be incredible, culminating in Lugo’s inauguration the day before I leave. The week in Durham is going to be frenetic, scattered, and blurry.

To take the conversation in a slightly more serious direction —

The other night I was talking to my friend Rodri again – an event which always precipitates plenty of blogging material, appropriate or not – and the conversation took a fascinating turn (as with Rodri they are wont to do).

Rodri is 20, and many of his female friends from high school have kids and/or have been pregnant. I guess it isn’t all that surprising given that Paraguay is a developing country, and these girls are 20 years old, but these are hardly the poorest of the poor, they are all still in school, and none of these were planned pregnancies.

So I asked Rodri about birth control in Paraguay. I had seen that you can buy condoms in the grocery store just like in the US, and he told me that you can go into any pharmacy and buy birth control pills without a prescription. It is really no problem at all to get birth control of most kinds in Paraguay, he told me.

This in stark contrast with my time in Nicaragua, where the most popular form of birth control I ever saw in a pharmacy was a necklace of beads (like a rosary – get it?) composed of two different colors. Each bead corresponded to a day in a woman’s cycle, and black bead corresponded to “low risk” days while white beads corresponded to “high risk” days. You move a little rubber band along from bead-to-bead each day.

“If birth control is so easy to get here, why don’t they use it?” I asked Rodri.

“That’s the problem,” he responded. “Because it’s so easy to get, they don’t really take it seriously.”

huh.

This is an argument I’ve heard before in other manifestations, but never with regards to birth control. I have no idea whether or not he is correct, but either way, it is an important point and an intriguing possibility to consider.

At this point I could ask for your thoughts in the comments section, risking embarrassment when nobody responds. Yea, i think i will. Come on people, the hit-counter doesn’t lie. I know you’re out there.

Also, I’m becoming nervous at the apparent absence of my fellow travelers as evidenced by this extended period without any new posts. Team…if you’re out there, holla at a schola

I don’t want to politicize this blog, I just wanted to relate this little tale briefly, because it was a major event in the course of my travels.

My roommate and I went down to a field near our house to play some pickup soccer. We got there to find a bunch of guys in their late 20s and early 30s playing a very impressive match. They let us join in with the usual jeers and everybody had a good time.

We were taking a (much needed) break between 10 minute halves, sitting around on the sidelines just chatting, when they asked us where we were from. “Estadounidenses, somos.” I responded – we’re Americans.

“Estados Unidos?” they repeated, reasonably shocked (they don’t get many American visitors…the entry visa process is a real pain). There was a microsecond pause as they coordinated telepathically, launching into the same joke simultaneously.

“OOoohhh Meeester Bush! No me tires. Boom! No me mates! jajajaja cuidado las bombas! jajaja no me golpes! BOOM! jajaja”

As if you need a translation:

“Oh Mister Bush! Don’t shoot me (some put hands in the air, others mime holding a machine gun)! Boom! Don’t kill me! hahah lol! watch out for the bombs, guys! haha don’t blow me up! BOOM! (mime being blown apart from the chest) hahaha! lolz!”

It was no big deal to them. It really was just a joke to them. They still let us play, they treated us the same as they had before, and invited us to play again with them next time.
But to be honest, the whole exchange made me sick to my stomach. It wasn’t their fault – they were just purveyors of the cultural humor with which everybody else has been too polite to entertain.

This needs to end.

  • It’s just a game. Really.
  • Celebrate every goal, but don’t keep score.
  • Do not, under any circumstance, spit on the field.
  • While you may live the rest of your life glued to your cellphone, you will leave it on the sidelines. If Claudia Schiffer is calling, you will let it ring.
  • If a player is of lighter persuasion than others, it is permissible to call him “blanca,” “crema,” or “gringa” (taking care to use only the feminine permutation).
  • If a player is perhaps not as rail-thin as the others, it is permissible to call him “gorda” (taking care to use only the feminine permutation).
  • It is advisable to take a header early on in the game, even if it seems unnecessary, so as to eliminate “timida” from the catalog of nicknames.
  • If a player botches a play, he may be heckled once. If a player whiffs the ball, he may be heckled until he lies in his grave.
  • Check your Catholic sensibilities at the gate. Within 10 minutes there will be no saint, apostle, or prophet left un-cursed.
  • Useful vocabulary:
    • dela (short for adelante) – forward
    • tra (short for detras) – backwards
    • yera (complete bastardization of izquierda) – left
    • recho (short for derecho) – right
    • boray (guarani word) – unprintable
    • japirona (guarani word) – unprintable
    • puta (madre, hijo de, a la gran, or all by itself) – unprintable
    • pinche – unprintable
    • chinga – unprintable
    • carajo – unprintable
    • hora – time’s up, we’ve got to go home
  • If you see something sharp on the field, stop and pick it up – even in the middle of a play.
  • Boca are gods.
  • If somebody falls down, stop the play and help them up. If there is an accidental handball, play on. Just because you can belt it down the field in one kick doesn’t mean you do. Play in the spirit of the game, not by letter of the law – it’s just more fun that way.
  • Never fight. It was probably an accident.
  • Laugh when you score. Laugh when they score. Laugh when you fall. Laugh when they fall. Laugh when a ball goes through somebody’s legs, even if they are your own. Shake hands frequently.
    • It’s just a game. Really.

Andrew Kindman