Monthly Archives: September 2010

Traveling Abound

At long last the date has come! Tomorrow in the wee hours of the morning I will board a plane heading for the Bahia state of Brazil. On the other end, I will get to meet up with my boyfriend – after 3 months of separation!! I can’t believe it’s finally here!

We will spend about 5 days on a small island off the shore of Bahia, taking in some sun and generally relaxing, then make our way down to Rio de Janeiro for a few days of exploration. From Rio we board a plan to Buenos Aires where we have a beautiful apartment waiting for us in Palermo SoHo, and I will get to reunite with my Argentine host family, (and pets!), and eat the most delicious food (STEAK) in the world. Then we head over to Iguazu Falls to see the powerful waterfalls, before heading back to Asuncion where I will get to introduce my boyfriend to my friends and coworkers over here.

All in all it will be an incredible 3 weeks and I could not be more excited! I will likely have very limited access to internet so I’m not sure how frequently, if at all, I will be able to post. But if not, a giant recap will follow upon my return. Until next time!

And I'm off!

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Fear for Fear’s Sake in Paraguay

There is something I have been suspecting more and more, the longer I live in Asunción, which is the palpable fear of Asunceños of their own city. I have been trying to determine, since my arrival, if this fear is warranted, or if it is fear for fear’s sake. While I haven’t come to a definite decision on the matter, I have certainly narrowed down the possibilities – and received confirmation from other ex-Pats who now call Paraguay home.

Paraguayans are terrified of their own capital city. They see it as a crazy jungle where you can be robbed and pick-pocketed or killed just for stepping out after dark, taking the bus beyond 7 PM, or wandering past the Government Palace to where the Paraguay River lies. I have been lucky enough in my short time here not to have seen violence or crime – but if you were to go on the stories and emotions of the locals, you might feel that these things happen every single day right in front of your eyes. It is because of this lack of visibility that I believe Asunceños live in horror, fear, and intimidation of their country’s major cities – waiting for the next bad thing to pass, but most being fortunate enough not to have experienced crime or violence targeted at them.

Paraguayan Fear Face

Upon arriving I received a laundry list of things to look out for, things not to do, people not to approach, places to avoid, times of day that are acceptable for various parks, buses, shopping malls, and a very hearty warning against use of any modern technologies outside of the safe quarters of my bedroom, (cameras and phones included.) I lived my first few weeks in terror of leaving my house, and would rush home on the colectivo to make it in time to watch the sun go down (not minding leaving the office by 4:30 everyday to make it in time,) but curious as to how these people can live their lives with so much crime abound. It took a few more weeks for me to feel comfortable leaving the confines of my room past sundown, and even longer to feel comfortable taking the bus at a more appropriate departure time from the office. I eventually began taking walks around the centro, which was likely the most dangerous area to roam abound, and realized that Asuncion is actually just a city with normal levels of crime. Likely not even as high as neighboring major cities of Rio or Buenos Aires.

The more foreigners I met and tested this theory on, the more everyone seemed to be in agreement, that the people of Asuncion were unnecessarily overly-cautious about the danger of their city. While there certainly is crime, and children in the city are more feared than some of the adults, the level of violence and crime is comparatively low to the level of anticipation of said crimes. Why should that be, that people would live their lives in such fear and anticipation of the worst?

Fear Itself.

Here’s a little history on Paraguay to back up their fear, warranted or not. Paraguay is a country that has been tainted by over 60 years of Dictatorship by various “colorful” leaders. Living under a state of siege for as long as most Paraguayans could remember indicated zero crime in the country. The slightest offenses could be reprimanded by torture and so the country lived over 60 years crime-free, of course ignoring the blatantly evident crimes of justice and humanity conducted by the government, (but that’s another story for another day.) Once the dictators fell, most notably Stroessner in 1989, and people were no longer living in complete terror of the Supreme One, crime began to emerge in the city centers. While the levels of crime that Paraguayans began to be exposed to might have been relatively low in comparison to other nations, particularly throughout Latin America, for Paraguayans, it was a thing they had never experienced. Thus developed fear of their fellow countrymen. While crime levels rose, (or according to a Paraguayan account of things, skyrocketed,) people became more and more fearful of the dangers they faced outside of their home, and watched the city unfold like a circus.

I don’t want to say that fear of crime is unwarranted, and certainly as in any major city or country in the world, it happens and sometimes heinously. However, the level of fear and caution that most Paraguayans demonstrate everyday is out of proportion to the happenings of the nation. I, for one, am grateful for the explanation and understanding that Asuncion is just like any other city – and am often told by visitors new to the city that they feel more comfortable and safe here than in, say, Buenos Aires or Lima. Asuncion has become, in my mind, more a place to live and less a place to fear.

Indigenous People in the Cities

So there is quite a strange “phenomenon” in Asunción that has been exacerbated in recent years by the continued destruction of the Atlantic Forest. That is to say, indigenous people who no longer have the land of their ancestors in the forest, (both the Atlantic Forest and the Chaco region,) are forced to move to the cities to look for ways to make money.

You may notice how I have said “ways to make money” as opposed to look for work. This might be a cultural trait of the indigenous, or it might be pure necessity, but the streets and plazas in Asunción are filled with indigenous people washing windshields, selling gum or other foods, watching over parked cars, or just generally begging for money. Women and young children carry babies car to car at traffic lights asking for help. Girls and women of all ages walk the streets at night, and some in the day, selling their bodies for a quick buck.

While not the sole cause, deforestation has definitely contributed to the lack of available land to live off of and the inability to survive in the countryside for these indigenous. Some came to the capital city to protest the loss of their land, while others saw no other option to feed their families but to leave and try their luck in the city.

It is really quite sad when at every traffic light you see young children dancing in front of cars or doing cartwheels, offering to sell you a couple pieces of fruit, or washing your windshield to gain some coins for their family, if that’s where the money truly goes. It’s hard to even call them indigenous when they have turned so far from the direction of their ancestors’ lives to try and survive in this modern and impoverished world.

The Many Forms of Yogurt

So here is a topic you don’t often find yourself discussing around the dinner table, or out for a jog with a friend, YOGURT. What makes yogurt so special, so unique, that it is deserving of it’s very own post? Well, in Paraguay, the only form of yogurt you can buy is bebible, or drinkable.

I still remember in Ellen Degeneres’ Standup from a few years back, Here and Now, where she does a whole segment on Go-Gurt:

“Yes, we’re lazy. Yet we also can’t seem to sit still. So we’ve started making things like GO-GURT. That’s yogurt for people on the go. Let me ask you, was there a big mobility problem with yogurt before? How time-consuming was it, really? [pretending to be on the phone:] “Hello?…Oh, hi, Tom…oh, I’ve been dying to see that movie…Umm, no…I just opened up some yogurt…Yeah, I’m in for the night…No, not even later-it’s the kind with fruit on the bottom. Well, have fun. Thanks anyway.”

So when I first arrived to Paraguay, with fresh memories of deliciously thick Greek strained yogurt, which I was used to eating just about every morning, I almost laughed when every container or bag, (yes, they have milk products in plastic bags here,) read “Bebible”. It couldn’t possibly be true.

Bag o' Gurt!

After a few weeks protest, and avoiding the consumption of yogurt that wasn’t as thick as I wanted it to be, I decided to give it a shot. And thank god I did! It is truly and completely delicious. I don’t know if I can ever switch back to the ‘regular’ stuff after Paraguayan yogurt. Now granted, it doesn’t have that same filling quality on first impression, but it definitely satisfies. Add a little bit of Muesli to the mix and you’ve got yourself a delicious breakfast, or as they do in Spain (and sometimes in my mouth,) a delicious postre, (dessert)!

I’m sorry Ellen, but long live yogurt for people on the go!

Embassies, General Thoughts

So I know my most recent post was regarding a recent visit to the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay. But I also have some frustrations with the Paraguay Embassy in New York. I understand that the U.S. overcharges tourists and foreigners to enter our country. $140 is unaffordable for most people, including Americans themselves. It has been well known for years that Brazil also charges Americans the same $140 to enter their country, as a matter of reciprocity, but I thought Paraguay was beyond that.

When I applied for my visa in June, the options were Single Entry Visa – $45 or Multiple Entry Visa – $65. As I am helping my boyfriend to prepare for his trip down here (1 week to go!) he asked me about the price on the Paraguayan Consulate’s Website, which clearly stated $100. Unable to believe the price could possibly have jumped so high in just 3 months, I called the Consulate in NY only to find out that as a matter of “reciprocity” they raised the price on September 1.  What an outrage!

I was also less-than-pleased to realize that the Brazilian Consulate here in Asunción took matters into their own hands and rather than charging the typical $140 that it costs for a 10 Year Tourist Visa to Brazil, they charged me $175. I could do nothing about it but complain and try to explain that the fee should only cost me $140. They wouldn’t budge. This was on top of the fact that I just got a Brazilian visa 4 years ago, which theoretically should still be active to this day but is not because the person who served me in that Consulate in Buenos Aires in 2006, decided to give me the $100 Visa for 1 week, instead of the 5 years that the law stated at the time.

Why do governments take advantage of the people who wish to visit their country to spend money and foster growth in the local economy by blasting them with these ridiculous charges just as an entrance fee? Thoughts are welcome.

God Bless the U.S. Embassy, and Your Wallet!

I had the unpleasant experience of traveling to the U.S. Embassy here in Asuncion today. I have to admit, the mere size of the place is embarrassing enough. Apparently President Stroessner (The former Paraguayan dictator of 60 years) was chummy with the Americans and kindly gave them a plot of land to host the LARGEST U.S. Embassy in the world! Not to mention that the address is 1776 Avenida Mariscal Lopez. Yes, you read that right. 1776.

So I walk up to the front gate where an armed security guard/military guy greets me, gun in hand and points me towards the “Entrada” (Entrance). Before I have a chance to put my hand on the door I see someone coming at me from the right, walking swifty and pointedly to stand in my way. “Why are you here?” he asked, “I have a question about my passport,” He looks around uneasily, the door opens just a crack where someone inside queries as to my apparently offensive presence at my own nation’s embassy, and with a sigh I am permitted entrance into the security house. They open my picnic basket, (that’s another story,) which was filled with fruit, then my bag and tell me that the basket, my cell phone, and my pen drive will need to stay with them. I’m already annoyed at how I’ve been “greeted” so I question them a little further as to the security of my personal items in their hands, and then huff loudly as I’m told to continue on.

Another armed guard kindly escorts me from the security house to the main building which is about 10 yards away – just in case I decide to make a run for it or declare war on the embassy. I entered the main building and go through another set of glass doors to the “Passports” section of the embassy, take a number, ring a bell, and wait to be called on. I was the only one in the room…the number seemed a little unnecessary.

When asked quizzically about why I was there, I explained that the Brazilian Consulate refused to permit me a tourist visa without adding more pages into my passport book, (I had 2 left and they required a minimum of 3…who knew?) They told me they could help at the small price of $82…EIGHTY TWO DOLLARS!!! I can’t even imagine how they could even come up with such a ridiculous number. They only give you 14 new sheets, (although they phrase it as though they are giving you 28 new “pages”.) And a new passport, (which lacks all previously acquired Visas and documentation,) costs $110 (with $48 pages and 10 extra years.)

Well now it all makes sense, don't it?

The one saving grace was making a new friend in the office, who was also waiting for his new taped-in-place luxury passport pages and who had been living in NYC about 3 blocks from me until he quit his job and decided to travel for the last year and a half. It is only for that that I didn’t mind the 45 minute wait until the tape dried on my documents and I could be ushered out and escorted back to pick up my fruit basket and cellphone.

Then it was off in the colectivo to hopefully never return again!

Finding Tea in a Coffee Drinker’s World

Not sure how many others there are out there who also LOVE tea. I don’t just mean, oh there’s no coffee around, guess I’ll have some tea, or I should be healthier, fill me up with some green leaves. I truly love tea. And that has been a big challenge living in Paraguay, a land of Coffee Drinkers.

First of all, there only exists TEA. Everyone restaurant you go to, if you order, two your options are with or without milk. Occasionally with some Green or Manzanilla (Chamomile) mixed in for extra measure. There aren’t the Chais, the Sleepytime, the Apple Cinnamon, the EARL GREY (my personal favorite) or other variations of blacks, reds, whites.

Cup o' Tea?

Feeling uninspired, (and wishing I could find a TEA shop that sells loose leafs not solely meant to improve my digestion where I could have my pick of flavors, strengths, etc,) I went back to Casa Rica to check out their selection, and mentally crossed my finger’s. Thankfully, all that finger crossing paid off and I managed to find a couple of new varieties; Vanilla Honey Chamomile and Te Taragui (Argentine brand) Earl Grey!! I have fallen for the Earl Grey trap here before so I was not convinced, but once I opened up the burnt orange package and steeped in my boiling water,  my senses were filled with a familiar sensation and I felt at ease. It was delicious and exactly what I had been missing all these months!

I want one of these!

Now don’t get me wrong, I will still accept tea donations from around the world to help keep my satisfaction at a sustainable level, but in a place where everyone only ever drinks coffee, it’s nice to know there are at least a few of us searching for some loose leaves to keep our balance.