106 Degrees

Asuncion is hot.  Really, really hot.  Yesterday, when Rose and I had the brilliant idea of designing a multi-stop outing in the city, it was 106 and humid.  Had I carried a handkerchief to manage the sweat on my face (like 90% of the people we saw) it would have been soaked through in about three minutes.  Did I mention I think I’m going to like it here?

We’ve been in Paraguay for a week now and I’ve finally gotten the chance to sit down and collect some of my first thoughts and impressions.  Besides the oppressive heat, the first week also introduced me to a laid back culture, a city with glaring disparities in income and prosperity, and an entire population of men, women, and children who are so addicted to the local tea (called terere and very similar to yerba mate) that they carry jugs of water and a cup for the tea literally everywhere they go.

Being able to speak Spanish (albeit less well than I had hoped) has made the transition to life here surprisingly easy.  The house has decent air conditioning, the grocery stores have plenty of familiar food, the people wear shorts and sandals, and even the bus system is relatively easy to navigate (bus rides, however, have a life all their own and will definitely get their own post at some point).  There are plenty of small cafes, restaurants, and bars.  But part of the comfort that I can find in these things comes from the fact that I have access to them in the first place–that my US dollars allow me the freedom to buy what I want at the grocery store, to buy plenty of cold beer on a hot night, to try the restaurants, etc.  It’s clear that much of the city’s population can’t do the same.  Most intersections in town have a sizable group of street kids who clean windshields, juggle, or simply beg for money.  Downtown, there’s a park about the size of Union Square in New York that’s filled with makeshift tents for homeless families.  And there aren’t any more Mercedes dealerships once you leave Asuncion.  Outside the capital, the poverty can’t hide behind the facade created by the city’s upper and middle class, and our one trip out of town this week made it clear that the country has a long way to go in improving quality of life for many of its citizens.  I’m hoping my work with Kiva will allow me to explore this issue even more.

Otherwise, I’m looking forward to learning about Asuncion, exploring Paraguay’s national parks, and maybe even trying to revive my long dormant ability to be a mediocre/terrible soccer player.  I’ve already been invited to play with the guys who work at Fundacion Paraguaya and I don’t really have a good excuse not to show up this Wednesday.  The results may be ugly.  I’ll be sure to report back.

Other things I’ve noticed that I hope to write more about over time:

– Grocery store culture and the fantastically brilliant grocery baskets they use here.  I’m not telling what they are.  Suspense folks, serious suspense;

– City bus culture and the guys who sit at the front of the bus and serve as personal tea caddy to the driver;

– Themed tea jugs;

– Whether or not the sushi place down the street is any good (already learned that the Mexican place is terrible).

Ok, more soon, and here are a few of the pictures I’ve taken so far:

The neighborhood in the early evening.

The neighborhood in the early evening.

The Fundacion Paraguaya house where we're living.

The Fundacion Paraguaya house where we're living.

Japanese cultural center and language school

Japanese cultural center and language school

Local city bus

Local city bus

~ by nickcain on February 22, 2009.

One Response to “106 Degrees”

  1. “jugs of water and a cup” sooooooo does not do this facet of paraguayan culture justice!

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