As the days go on, the more I learn, the more I realize. This weekend, I learned about the perception of Americans abroad, specifically in Paraguay. Or maybe I should rephrase that thought to my perceptions of Americans in Paraguay. I went for a walk around the Centro early on Saturday and finally found the Tourist Bureau that sells postcards, (it only took what – 1.5 months?) Unfortunately, I will have to figure out the post office next – as it is the only place that sells the stamps that you need to send anything. After accomplishing that goal, I headed over to the famous Confitería Bolsi (Estrella 399) – thank you to Sonia for showing me this staple – for a merienda (snack) and to hang out and people watch from the sidewalk café. As I walked over to an open table I overheard a familiar sound, English. I ordered my Caprese Salad, (I just had to know what “Fresh Mozzarella” tasted like in Paraguay…it’s almost like a spreadable, creamy cheese, but it was still very good and very reminiscent of my favorite classic!) and freshly juiced Peach juice. Once I ordered I turned to my dining neighbors, (my first Americans in Paraguay!) and asked if they were members of the Peace Corps. Yes, they were.
All four of them are placed in different sites around Paraguay, one in particular in the Alto Paraná, (as in BAAPA – Alto Paraná Atlantic Forest, where WWF focuses its work.) We chitchatted for a little, the usual American-in-a-foreign-country banter, how are you liking it, where are you from, what were you doing before, etc. They told me that all the Peace Corps volunteers were in town for a conference of some sort that was being held. They were grateful to see each other, I’m sure, and to speak freely in English – rather than in broken Guaraní and Spanish. They also invited me to come out tonight to Rockero (San Manuel Dominguez casi Estados Unidos) – a bar that happens to be literally around the corner from where I live – for some fundraising event for a cultural NGO based in Paraguay. A chance to meet other American volunteers in Paraguay, literally in my backyard? How could I say no?
I headed over to the bar around 10:30 and was greeted by friendly smiling English-speaking Americans. I spoke with the guy at the door for a bit and learned that he actually represented the Cultural NGO and informed me that this live-band fundraiser was the money they used for the entire year to support the NGO. At 15,000 Gs (about $4 USD) it is really quite expensive for Paraguay, where only the clubs charge a 10k cover on special occasions. He also told me that at the bar were a number of different people from the Peace Corps, from some Japanese-Paraguayan association, one or two other American-based volunteer groups, some couch surfers, and some pure-blooded Paraguayans.
I walked into live music, (all in Spanish, por lo menos,) and very obviously non-Paraguayans. For starters, if looks and language were not enough of a hint that these people were from outside, almost everyone was walking around with their own personal 40 of beer. As you may recall from earlier posts, Paraguayans are all about sharing the love. They share EVERYTHING, and a 40 certainly isn’t a thing to tackle on your own. Much less out of the bottle! It was even strange for me to see people drinking straight from the bottle, who knew that I would even notice? And not to mention the sheer quantity of beer that lives in that bottle.
I finally ran into my new amigo from earlier in the day, the one who volunteers in Alto Paraná, and we chatted happily for a while. At that point his friend, and fellow volunteer, walked over and enthusiastically blurted, “I am so drunk!!” Upon seeing that I was standing there, he began to apologize for how inappropriate it was. I didn’t mind. It’s all part of the show, really. The longer I stayed, the more swaying I saw and more notably the complete and total lack of dancing. That’s one of the many things I’ve come to love about living here, in every bar there is always the opportunity to dance! Maybe it’s just me, or the company I keep, but I always take full advantage. Gone are the days of standing in circles talking and watching people loll around.
I did have the chance to speak with a lot of the volunteers, and very proudly told them I was a volunteer for the WORLD WILDLIFE FUND, (I mean really, how amazing is that?!) I have to say I cannot be happier that I am working for an organization who’s goal it is, plain and simple, is to save the world. My ultimate personal goal, of course, will be to pursue a further career in Environmentalism or Conservation (or Animal Rescue!) But what I got overwhelmingly from the people I met was the desire to build on their resume, and to return home to go back to business school, or to make some money to settle down with a family back home at some point, or to have the good job prospects that only volunteering for 2+ years in a 3rd world country living in a mud hut can afford. It’s not to say these are not noble things, they definitely are, but I would just imagine that the type of person who gives up their live for 2 years to help others would have a different…vision…for their future.
I always have mixed impressions of Americans when I travel. Of course, I am American, and always will be, and am grateful for our liberties and modern amenities that quite often you can only find in the U.S., (but which also have drastic environmental consequences that 3rd world countries can’t even imagine for lack of existence.) But I sometimes can’t help but cringe when I see the imprints that American tourists leave on the rest of the world. As one volunteer mentioned to me, “It frustrates me the impression people have of America. I love my country and I wish other people could understand it better,” this seems like a reasonable argument, and I don’t want to be the one to say he is wrong, until this, “my Grandpa fought in World War II, and people around the world seem to forget that the U.S. saved them in that war. It was only 40 years ago, and they’ve already forgotten.” Well my friend, you had me at “I love my country,” but now you’ve stepped into the naïve, overly self-important American zone. It’s this attitude of being better than everyone that makes me aggravated, but I guess that’s just colorful Americans for you. All I can say is it’s amazing they can help people in need, and here’s to hoping they don’t force their “values” on them too!