Monday, July 20, 2009

Technical Excursion to Villa Rica (Rich Town)

The RED group went to Villa Rica, Spanish for Rich Town, for Friday and part of Saturday. We all piled in the van early on Friday morning and set out on a 3-hour road trip. I brought along my portable IPod speakers so I dedicated songs to people and took requests. We even had a brief Michael Jackson tribute by playing a few of his most famous songs. It’s amazing how many people asked me about Michael Jackson’s death. If you think Paraguay is disconnected from the rest of the world...think again.

We went to a small savings and loan cooperative when we arrived. It was great to see a volunteer success story since we had been hearing pretty much failure stories from all the volunteers we had been talking with. Brennan has managed to reduce the cooperative’s default rate pretty significantly and has created some amazing spreadsheets to organize and achieve more efficiency within the operations of the cooperative. He has managed to make his work sustainable by training the one employee the cooperative has on how to create and maintain everything he created in Excel. After the visit we went to Brennan’s house for lunch. Brennan lives in Paradise. His house is one of 4 houses in a compound. There is beautiful landscaping, a giant pool, and just beauty all around him. We ate lunch and then headed for ice cream in the city center. On the way to get ice cream, we stopped by to see these Carpinchos, the world’s largest rodent. They were like giant guinea pigs or hamsters. I had to try to touch one of them. So I went in ever so slowly. I was actually really scared because I didn’t know if it might snap around and attack me when I got to close or touched it. But I managed to gather up enough courage and petted it. I thought it would be soft, but its hair was actually quite coarse. The ice cream was pretty amazing, since we don’t get treats like that too often.

After the ice cream excursion, we were driven to the houses we would stay at for the night. When we arrived, Brennan basically walked me into a house, introduced me and told the old man and woman in the living room I would be staying with them tonight, and then told me I would have a good time, and left. Haha. We exchanged a few words, and then the old man showed me to my room. He told me to sit down, and we began talking. It was kind of awkward at first, and I struggled to keep coming up with questions to ask. We talked for a bit, and then went to the kitchen to get some dinner. We ate and conversed, and then returned to the living room where we watched telenovelas. Then he took me to another room, which had a bigger TV, brought in some chairs, and we sat there watching TV. Something that struck me while we were watching TV was the hesitance to channel surf. We watched the first thing that came on for a while and then he finally changed the channel once. I have noticed this elsewhere as well. Paraguayans don’t channel surf like we do. We rapidly navigate through the channels to find something of interests, surf during commercials, and even watch a few different things at once. This contrasts quite sharply with the TV-watching behavior of Paraguayans.

After some time, one of his daughters showed up and rescued me by taking me to a volleyball game. We went to this giant gym, owned and operated by the municipality, where we watched a few games, including one the daughter played in. While watching the games, we drank Caña and coke and had general conversation. Volleyball is slightly different in Paraguay too. Each team has six players on the court. They play to 25 points, and then switch sides and play to 25 again. If the team that won the first round doesn’t win the second round, they play another round to 15 to decide the winner. I was watching them play, and was shocked when one of the players kicked the ball. This is one of the major differences between American style and Paraguayan style volleyball.

After the volleyball games, we walked back to the house, where we sat around drinking more Caña and coke and watching telenovelas and movies. Around 1:00 AM, I went to bed.

The next day we had to meet at Brennan’s coop at 8:00 AM. We waited on Adam and Mike for a while and then decided to go get them. As we starting pulling off, we saw them walking up the street through the back window. We told Jonathan, our trainer and driver, to keep going to make them think we left them. He did and we circled the block and came up behind them. It was really hilarious.

We went downtown and had about 20 minutes to wonder around the market. Carlos and I went searching for some breakfast. We go inside the market to this place where these ladies make fresh food for you. I tried explaining to them I wanted to just get two fried eggs to go, while Carlos explained he wanted something to go. After some horrible Spanish on the part of Carlos, a woman walked up with soup in a bag. We looked at each other and laughed. Then they tried to sell him some meat. Flies were landing on it, it looked like it had been sitting there a while and didn’t look nearly as appeasing as this other meat a few feet away. I told Carlos I wouldn’t by that meat, and once he had a chance to process it, he decided to just give up on the whole thing, but didn’t know how to disengage with the women. I was like, “Dude, just say Gracias, and walk away.” He ended up doing something of that sort, and we headed back to the van.

We went to an A poi cooperative and talked to the volunteer who is currently working there. Apo is the traditional style of making clothes in Paraguay. A poi is rooted in Paraguay’s history. One of the previous dictators closed Paraguay’s borders to imports, so the people had to make clothes from materials they had available. They sew very basic designs on the front of the shirts; usually they are two stripes running vertically down the shirt. Making A poi became part of the culture, so the tradition survived even after the borders opened back up. Then we piled back in the van to head back to Paso de Oro. On our way back, we stopped off at an American-style diner. I ate two delicious hamburgers. Paraguayans like to put a fried egg on top of their hamburger patty, and usually eat them with a knife and fork. I went with one of the two cultural traditions....the egg, and now I’m a big fan of fried egg hamburgers.

After we arrived back in Paso de Oro, I went with my family to my sister, Nilda’s, birthday party in Ipane. It had rained on her birthday, which was right after Dia de San Juan, so the party was postponed until this day. We sat around drinking beer and screaming to each other over really loud American classic rock. The kids played games in the front of the house, while the adults sat around and talked. We mostly talked, or rather argued, about soccer. There are two main fútbol clubs in Paraguay, Olympia and Cerro. At this point, Olympia has won 3 international championships and Cerro has none. Olympia also has 10 more National championships than Cerro. Olympia and Cerro recently played each other, and I let the outcome of the game determine which club I would be a fan of. Olympia won, so I’m now an Olympista, and therefore on the winning side of the statistics. Cerro is doing well this year and is positioned well to win the championship, so Augusto, my brother, and I were catching some crap from the Cerro fans, mostly Eladio, my brother-in-law. But since Olympia has won 9 more national championships, beat Cerro this year, and has 3 international championships, we were handing it to them. So we were using logical argument to make our case of how Olympia is a better club, and they resorted to just screaming out Cerro! Cerro! Cerro! Haha.

We all sat around a long table and ate the birthday dinner. After that, we talked some more over loud American music. Then we all piled in Hector’s truck and began the long bumpy ride back to Paso de Oro. On the way, we went through downtown Ipane, which was having a major festival. There were thousands of people everywhere, carnival rides, and a crazy long line for a dance outside the municipality.

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