Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Paraguayan Airport Experience

Going to the airport in Paraguay is likes something I’ve never experienced before. Well, really, it starts before the actual trip to the airport. I have never said goodbye to so many people, so many time before. The last two weeks have been filled with “Despedidas” (Going Away Parties) from dinners, to BBQs, to dancing, to trips to the movies. Every time we would go out, it was in honor of my departure from Paraguay. Then came the “real” goodbyes yesterday and today. When I saw good friends and we hugged and even shed a few tears, but it was never good-bye – it was always, well I’ll see you again tomorrow! I’ll see you here or there, I’ll come to your house, to the airport, to this restaurant, etc. Never a real good-bye.

Two weeks ago I said good-bye to everyone at least 2 or 3 times, between a last visit to the office to say good-bye to my colleagues, to a lunch with friends, to passing the afternoon and preparing suitcases with another. The day was dragging, my flight wasn’t until 6 PM and I had the entire day to worry about finishing my suitcases, cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming the room, making it to the office or to the restaurant on time. As someone who is a well-seasoned traveler, but who still has unreasonable amounts of stress relating to travel and arriving on time and having overweight suitcases, an evening flight in a country with endless good byes is an entirely new experience!

At first I was almost annoyed that everyone would “see me at the airport”. I didn’t understand why they felt the need to drag things out any further. We had already said our goodbyes, my head was already drained, my mind was already swirling. I wanted to just board the plane and close my eyes for a long restful sleep. But 3 o’clock rolled around and my coworker came to pick me up from my house, where I was waiting with my friend Nati and the Señora of the house, Sadie. It was then I realized I was grateful for the company.

Had I been in a taxi, the tears would have been rolling, and the sadness impenetrable. But as it were, I could check in my bags and have something to look forward to – seeing my closest friends arrive each in their own time with big smiles and big hugs and words of love to spare. Each new person to arrive (there were 5 in total) brought a new smile to my face and a new feeling of happiness. I now understand this Paraguayan tradition, which I learned today – what it means to feel truly loved by those close to you.

We sat around the airport café for about an hour until it was time for me to board, and even then there were more gifts given, hugs and kisses, and photos taken. I was too anxious to cry but my eyes began to water as I let them each know how much they meant to me. It wasn’t until I finally walked away to approach security that an overwhelming feeling of sadness and loss swept over me and the tears began to flow. I looked back to my friends, to my family in Paraguay, and put on a brave smile between tears and waved goodbye. That is when the realization sunk in. That I was truly leaving. That these amazing people who have entered my life would forever remain a part of this incredible episode of my life and while I will carry them with me to the future, our time together – the nights spent dancing or gossiping or comforting each other – are temporarily out of reach. It only further enforces the need to stay in contact with these amazing people that I now call family.

And as with all of my friendships these last few years, I realize that you never lose friends – that dynamics of relationships may change, but that the feelings of closeness and love don’t go away simply from the distance between you. For this I am grateful. I am lucky to have friends in so many places in the world that I still feel so connected to.

Bye Bye for Now!

Homeward Bound

I am midflight between Paraguay and my first destination, Sao Paolo, and am only beginning to grasp the finality of my departure from a once hated, but soon beloved country. A place where I began my journey a mere six months earlier, unsure of what to expect, sad to leave home and yet thrilled to be on a new adventure. What lay ahead? Would I make friends? Would my Spanish be sufficient? Would this country feel like home to me?

Six months down the road my Paraguayan journey comes to an end and I can’t help but look back and smile that it happened…and watch the tears slowly fall now that it’s over. I’m not sure if words can accurately convey the breadth of sentiments I have experienced these last months; from anger and sadness, to excitement and happiness, to love and endless friendship. I cannot believe that it happened. I cannot believe that it is over.

I started on this journey knowing a change was necessary. Knowing that my passion lay in protecting animals and their environments, knowing that conservation was more than just a fleeting passion and that volunteering with WWF was the type of “Dream Come True” that very rarely occurs in one’s life, and even then to only a select few. What I got out of the experience was something so much more. Something indescribable. What I got out of the experience was self-discovery.

I am on my plane now. Heading back to a place I have missed terribly, but have been afraid to re-enter, for fear that once there my passions may stop stirring. That I may become complacent. That the incredible feelings of the last half a year might be forced into a dormant place in my heart and I am worried that my promises to return to visit the ones I love may not have their opportunity to occur or that my inspiration to write may be suppressed. While I know it my heart that I will be back and that I must continue on this journey of self-discovery, the question of what’s to come next is still yet to be answered.

 

Consumerism the Wright Way

Do you think the Wright brothers would have known what would come of their most precious invention – flight? They made it 45 seconds across a horse racing track in France to start what would be come the monstrosity that is air travel today. Would they have guessed that airport traffic would be disastrous, or that people would be content to spend hours at an airport awaiting their departing so long as Duty Free shops are readily available.

The real kicker, however, is the ability to be a full-blown consumer while thousands of feet in the air. The most spectacular thing to ever occur in the lives of Wilbur and Orville Wright has become an opportunity to watch movies, a favorite TV program, buy some last minute Christmas gifts such as a bracelet, perfume, or even an automatic pet feeder, or perhaps write a blog post (like yours truly.)

It makes me laugh to realize I am very much a part of this society of frequent travelers, and while I have never taken advantage of the discounted and Duty Free offers available to me mid-flight, I certainly take advantage of the free TV and glass of wine!

 

Help Sell Your Doctor’s Getup!

Here is a post from about two weeks ago that never made it to posting while I was still down in Paraguay…Today was an interesting day. I took a trip out to Luque, a town close to the airport, about 1 hour on the colectivo from downtown Asuncion. Luque is known for  their jewelry and thermos factories, (for those of you Mate or Terere drinkers who need the most fashionable thermos to accompany you everywhere!) I have been looking for little gifts to bring back with me and thought that some typical Paraguayan Filigrana would be a nice addition to my collection.

Orchid in Filigrana

The day was a success for many reasons. I was able to figure out how to get to Luque and get around the city without a problem, I got to eat Don Vito’s for lunch (they are famous in Paraguay for their delicious empanadas, but today I had a milanesa sandwich!) and even ate ice cream. I also got to check a number of things off my list!

On my way back from Luque, I took the local bus – well they are all local, but this one took a lot more turns into local streets than the bus I took entering the city. The ride was long, and the bus was packed, and a measure for ignoring all the people I felt sorry for standing above me sweating and miserable, I kept my eyes glued out the window. While paying close attention to the happenings in the world, I noticed two advertisements that instantly made me smile.

First, I saw a beauty salon. An average place with a “creative” name “Belleza Exotica” (Exotic Beauty). Now what does that call to mind from a North American point of view, you might think of some beautiful Brazilian women with long wild locks and deeply tanned skin, or even of some Southeast Asian beauty, again with the long crazy hair and a wild look in her eyes. Well here in Paraguay, apparently “Exotic” means blonde, beautiful, curly locks…more specifically the blonde, beautiful, curly locks of Mena Suvari (before she shaved her head, of course). Oh, the irony!

Wild and Exotic!!

Still laughing to myself about the random and bizarre use of this celebrity’s profile, I read a store front sign that read “Equipment for your Hospital” with a nice large image of IZZY STEPHENS, errr Katherine Heigel.

This image provokes professionalism in work uniform.

Now if American-made celebrities don’t give you a sense of confidence in your products, I don’t know what will…and I wonder who’s getting paid the rights to use those photos?

Mid-Afternoon Slowdown

So I finally understand what the “siesta” is all about. It is Paraguay. Late spring. Not yet summer, but still upwards of 95 degrees (but feels like 104, according to weather.com) Unless you are bathing in your A/C you are HOT. Or I guess unless you are properly acclimated, (as most or many Paraguayans are.) I did just watch a colleague slave over a hot grill outside at our office today and marveled at how adept he was at standing the heat with so much of it already surrounding us.

I feel ya

Anyway, I thought naps were for babies (and college students) and that siesta didn’t really exist. However, after having a few hot afternoons knock the life out of me, I finally get it. Usually, though, it is better to let the laziness swarm when at home in your bed…and not, as happened to me today, on the bus heading home from work!

It was an ordinary afternoon, hot as hell with the sun blaring down, when I boarded the 30 towards Mariscal Lopez Shopping Mall. I opened my book, as is my custom, as a warm body took the seat next to me. We weren’t moving fast enough to let enough air pass through to cool down, and so the window to my right was merely a temptation, rather than useful. We hurdled through the streets, stopping at various jolts throughout our path. We took turns too fast, but didn’t really make it anywhere fast, mainly due to rush hour, but also due to the fact there are no assigned bus stops and so drivers stop whenever someone hails them – a perfectly Paraguayan trait.

I attempted to look at my book several times, but then decided there was no way I could get my head into the game, even if I pretended I was reading, (I couldn’t even pretend really, the heat was getting to my head.) So I closed my eyes to avoid looking at the people slowly filling up the tiny, already stifling bus.

Once my eyes were shut, it was hard to open them. I rested my head against the window to my right and slowly drifted into something between sleep and wakefulness, when you feel your head bobbing and keep pulling it back up, but you can’t quick control the downward motion from happening again no matter how hard you try to concentrate on it. And then, suddenly, I was out.

I woke up about 20 or 30 minutes later, still on the bus, (had not passed my stop yet, thankfully!) and snapped to. It was as though that little power nap was enough to sustain me for the rest of the afternoon. Now I know a siesta lasts a little bit longer (as it should and would have if I had not been on a bus at the time!) but I can officially ay I have found my appreciation for midday naps and siestas.

While I do not recommend sleeping on sketchy public transportation in third world semi-tropical countries, I must say that it can also be quite refreshing and if you find yourself itching for a nap, wherever you might be (reasonably safe, of course) rock on and close your eyes.

Cucuracha


The only image of a cockroach that doesn't make me gag...

A cucaracha, unlike a cucuruchu (an ice cream cone), is disgusting and has long antennae and some strange looking round tail of sorts…and I am currently the proud pet-parent of one! I sat on the toilet for a nice, pleasant pee when I thought I saw something black-ish. Couldn’t be…I ignored it. then I felt something on my thigh and quickly brushed it off to notice IT WAS A COCKROACH!!! I JUMPED UP FROM THE TOILET AND IT STAYED ON THE BOWL, CHILLING, WAITING ME OUT! AGHHHHHHHH! So I decided the best route would be to a) never use the toilet again and b) open the window, shut the door, and pray.

Unfortunately, however, the Cucuracha, sensing my fear, decided to follow me into the great outdoors on wings (IT CAN FLY!!) and glided with ease into my room where I began to beat it with a piece of paper (not the most effective method, I might add.) He climbed up the doorway as I periodically smacked his head with my pitiful sheet of paper and knocked him back to the ground. Ground zero. He then began to run, with my encouraging stomping behind him, towards the staircase where he dove headfirst down…well perhaps one step in…and he is now just patiently waiting for me to fall asleep until he can come rest on my thigh once again.
How did I get to be so lucky, to invite such a wide array of beings to share my living quarters with me? Why do they always know how to get in, and never know how to exit? I may just never sleep again…sigh.

Good Friends

If I can continue to use my blog for self-reflection, which you all must enjoy if you are still reading? (wink wink) I must say that I have always been pretty lucky in the friends department. I’ve never had a shortage of truly wonderful people in my life. I don’t know if I just attract good people, or happen to find them wherever I go, but I do know that once I find them, I CLING for dear life and never let go.

These friendships have also taught me how universal humanity and kindness are. Sarcasm flows freely border to border, loving people, kind words, smiles, hugs, laughter…no matter where you go in the world, or even from one state to another back home, you can find someone to call a best friend. Someone to share a joke with, or even a sideways glance when something strange happens.

I am so happy I have found such a strong, eclectic, and unique group of people that I get to call my friends. From all over the U.S., and all over the world really, there are people I can count on to help me out, or to talk, or to have the answers to my questions.

Thank you to my friends for being you.

Amistad.