Monthly Archives: June 2010

Paraguayan Asado, also known as We Love Meat

The Paraguayan Asado is a special thing. First off, for my non-southern cone friends, an Asado is basically a cookout, literally an occasion where you grill meat. And lots of it! I was invited to join the WWF Technical Team at an Asado in the Villa Morra neighborhood of Asuncion. (To paint the full picture, Villa Morra is one of the wealthier parts of the city, where cost of living is higher and there are numerous shopping malls and upscale bars and restaurants – it is the same area that I went dancing on Friday night.) We were invited to one of the most beautiful homes, certainly that I’ve seen in South America. It was designed to be open and impressive with beautiful landscaping;  giant palm trees in the front yard and a little pond in the back, (not to mention the beautiful Yellow Lab and Rottweiller waiting to be petted and fed!) There was also a big pool aside an open air, but covered, terrace with a huge grill/oven.

And the food, oh the food! When we first arrived we were greeted with a mini hot plate full of Sopa Paraguaya – which literally translates to Paraguayan Soup, but really has the consistency of corn bread – chorizo, blood sausage, and manioc.

Deliciousness in the form of appetizers

Let’s not forget the vino tinto, which I have been missing among all the beer they drink here! And then came time for the meal. Now I am new to this, so I wasn’t sure if there was another round of salads and primeros platos before the meat, but they just get right down to business. I filled my plate with lettuce, tomato, beats, cauliflowers, white beans, potato salad (vegetables seem to be a rarity here!) more Sopa, and bread, leaving little to no room for the meat!

My Meatless, but delicious, plate!

While I was debating what to do, or when to get some grilled steak, a waitress appeared with a mini grill in hand and saved me the trouble of debate by offering me 3 or 4 different kinds of me. I kindly accepted the Lomo – steak – and it was delicious!!

Now this is what I call delicious meat!

Now for some background information: The occasion was to bring together all benefactors and members of a Paraguayan NGO called A Todo Pulmon – Paraguay Respira, whose goal it is to plant 14,000,000 trees in Paraguay. The primary goal of the organization is to put an end to deforestation, through planting new trees and educating the people who live next to the forest about the importance of the maintaining the land in its natural form and the environmental impact of its destruction. The primary education is focused on the children of the region. You can also see a video about the organization here. Warning: the video is all in Spanish but the visual gives you a pretty clear idea of what he is communicating and there are some nice shots of the forest and the wildlife that lives there; essentially since at least the 1950’s the Atlantic Forest has been continually destroyed and at the time of the recording, only 13% of the original forest still existed in small pockets throughout the region, today it is even less. WWF is a contributor to this organization, as they have similar goals in the region and this, my friends, is what I was brought to Paraguay to help with! (Feel free to ask questions as I am slowly becoming an expert!)

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Paraguay Advances to Quarter-Finals!!

For those of you who aren’t eating, sleeping, and breathing the World Cup, Paraguay advanced to the next level!!! And as the Paraguayans say, “Como sufrimos!” (How we suffered!) The normally 90-minute game against Japan went into overtime – two additional 15-minute halves to resolve the non-scoring game. While it seemed neither team would be able to so much as lift another limb to move forward, and their obvious exhaustion was draining even the fans, the game continue on into a second overtime, a Penalty Kick Showdown. By this point, desperation was high, as were emotions as each team wished their goalie the best of luck with words of inspiration and hugs all around. One shot for Paraguay and he scored! Screams were heard throughout the neighborhood, and quickly evaporated as Japan’s luck seemed to be running equally high. Talk about may the best team win, both teams seemed so evenly matched and so desperate to win. It was all a matter of one Japanese kicker missing the goal, (HOW DO YOU MISS THE GOAL??) And Paraguay triumphed!

We drove out into the street almost immediately after the win to see the entire city erupting on the streets. People were driving around, waving flags, honking horns, singing, screaming, lighting fireworks, and even shooting off a few guns into the air. Video footage of the downtown showed mobs of people singing and chanting “Paraguay! Paraguay! Paraguay!” Given that this is the farthest that Paraguay has ever made it in El Mundial, we are watching history in the making. And this is why I carry a flag:

Vamos Vamos Vamos Paraguay!

Feliz Cumple a Mi!

I walked in to a wonderful surprise at work today, Felicitaciones! (Congratulations), many hugs and kisses, some beautiful presents, and my very own Oso Panda! (Panda Bear) For those of you who were concerned about my spending my birthday alone, have no fear! I feel very loved on this quarter of a century celebration!

My Happy Birthday Panda!

At my desk, smiling in my new scarf!

Feliz Cumple a mi 🙂

Meow in Different Languages

One thing I have learned living here, which I probably once knew, is that I talk to animals in Spanglish. If I see an animal, I might begin our conversation in English asking, “where did you come from?” “do you have a family?” but not wanting to be rude, or for fear that they may not understand my foreign tongue, I will immediately switch to a language more familiar to them, “de donde veniste?” “tenes una familia?,” (respectively.)

I went on a walk this afternoon to better acquaint myself with the downtown and as I was on my way back to the house, I heard a little cry from below, I looked down to see the sweetest little kitten standing on the landing of a store front looking up at me crying to be petted. What could I do? I sat down on the same storefront ledge, and began to pet the little guy. He replied with instant purring and reaching up for me with his paws. I called him a little higher up and he proceeded to rub his head again my armpit to be allowed access onto my lap. I complied. With this little furry ball of dust purring in my lap, I began to panic about really where his family was, and if he had a mom, or if he was alone to battle street life on his own. He was a tough little guy – when 3 dogs walked by us and paused he sat there and growled and hissed, showing them he meant business. He didn’t run, just merely told them to back off.

I started to think of the possibilities, should I wait around and follow him to wherever his home was, should I try to walk away and see where he went, (I tried, he followed me,) should I call Fatima and explain to her that I could not leave a little kitten to fight for his life on the streets of Asuncion and we would need to adopt him? Thankfully, as I was lowered on the ground, (so much for not appearing strange or drawing attention to myself,) petting the kitten about to fall into tears over what to do with him, a man standing in a nearby doorway called to me to ask if I was planning to take the kitten. I walked over and after a few minutes learned that the kitten did in fact live in the building, upstairs with a family and the mother cat. He asked if I wanted to take him, and I explained that I was just so happy he had a home because he was so little and so cute! He agreed that he was very cute and maybe they wouldn’t let the cat roam the street anymore.

This is very common behavior in Asuncion. People have cats, but they are allowed to roam the streets freely, and return home for their meals and to sleep. Collars are not used to identify animals, (though one imagines why.) Only domesticated dogs are [mostly] tagged with collars and generally kept inside the family home, though even they are free to walk the streets as they please and once can’t tell the difference between a dog who is owned and a dog who is a stray.

My host family has been going through a rough time since I arrived, as their beautiful black and white, 8-11 month old cat, named Sorpreso, (formerly Sorpresita,) has not come home for 9 days. The cat was free to roam the streets as he pleased and would return home every day for food, and to curl up on his chair in the kitchen, where his stuffed animal cat currently awaits his return. I feel their anguish and sadness over his absence; as one never knows if he got lost, was taken in by another family, or god forbid, something worse. I hope for his prompt return so this family can be at ease, and perhaps make him a house cat.

Moving and Shaking

It’s quite a beautiful winter Sunday here in Asuncion, the sun is shining and birds are chirping. It just makes you want to put on some sneakers and go outside and run. But wait, Asuncion does not have a “running” culture. I have asked a few coworkers and my host family if people ever run in the city for exercise, “I have seen people run to catch the bus,” was my favorite response so far. There does not seem to be an outdoors activity culture within the city limits. I’m sure out in the country there is more of an outdoorsy feel and more freedom to roam, however, that won’t do me much good on a day-to-day basis.

I have been trying to find a balance between eating fried meat and heavy foods everyday, and not getting the same amount of exercise as I’m used to, (granted while living in NYC I walked about 45 minutes a day to and from work which counted as “exercise”.) I have seen only one gym so far, though I’m told there are many, and it seemed to exist on a street corner – literally, on the sidewalk – with machines out of the ’90s [insert sweaty men here]. Plus with the inability to walk around late at night alone, I think it might just be a better idea to come up with some exercises I can do at home.

Enter workout DVDs. Now one option I have is to order some DVDs from Amazon and ship them down to me for a price-tag of about $50 including shipping and handling fees, (holy cow!) or alternatively I am going to try to download some useful exercise videos to get my heart-rate up. If all else fails, one of my coworkers has told me about a friend of his who teaches Salsa classes – some local Latin flavor to keep my body moving? Maybe!

Sip Sip Pass

One thing I have learned since arriving is that Paraguayans love to party and be with their friends. Last night I was invited out by a few of the chicas from WWF to dance and maybe even sing Karaoke. Sadly, the karaoke place was full so we weren’t able to go, but we did head down to Paseo Carmelitas, which is actually a beautiful part of the city with a ton of bars, restaurants, clubs, and stores for shopping- also to my delight, they have a Freddo! For those of you who don’t know, Freddo is god’s gift to the world, aka Argentine Ice Cream! I was surprised to see such a nice place given the run-down nature of the rest of the city. It was definitely good to just relax and enjoy myself instead of being so stressed out about all that is unsavory about the city. When we arrived, the people who had already been at the bar for a short while had ordered milanesitas, (milanesa is thinly pounded meat that is then breaded and fried, which means the milanesita is this same dish but cut into small pieces to share.) They had also already ordered beer.

I should probably point out here that Paraguayans like to share everything, and beer is no exception. They order a bottle or two for the table, (a 40 oz bottle, give or take) and place it in a bucket of ice in the center of the table. For the earlier part of the night we each had our own glasses, but as the night goes on there is one glass of beer passed among everyone to share, while on the dance floor. Everyone takes their sip and then asks if you’d like some as well. Of course, having a slight cold, (and being American and probably germ-fearful,) I politely declined numerous times though no one could really understand why and replied, no you should just have some it will help make the cold go away, (sounds like a familiar sentiment from home.)

At a certain hour, around 1 in the morning, the bar moves all of their tables to the side and opens up the floor for dancing. This also involves shutting the TVs, blasting the volume of the music, and lowering all of the lights. The music changes from classic American bar tunes, to nonstop Reggaeton for the next 4-5 hours. My cold was keeping me down and by 1:30 I was ready to call it a night, but mis amigas were in for the long haul, so I kept my body moving until about 4, at which point the rest of the party was disappointed we were leaving so early! This is one of the many things I’m sure I will acclimate to, resting up after work to party hard in the night!

Back at the Home Front

I am back home and as promised, here are some photos of my lovely living quarters!

My bed and the bright sunlight

My bathroom (and me)

The Kitchen in Fatima's House