Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Paraguay for the Uninitiated

“Not all those who wander are lost.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

Beloved by Peace Corps Volunteers and Lord of the Rings devotees alike, these words serve as a mantra for many of us who have not followed the straight and narrow. Interpreted abstractly (I’m not off course, there never was a course to begin with), they help us justify some of the questionable choices made along the way. Examining the quote more literally gets straight to the heart of why so many of us travel.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time on Pinterest has at least heard the suggestion that the adventure lies in the journey, not necessarily the destination. Although the world is full of incredible, miraculous places, often the road there gives us our favorite moments--the tales that stay with us long after we unpack our bags. The opportunity to disorient ourselves and our senses can change us. It can also scare us half to death. Perhaps the greatest trick to travel is staying on the right side of that fine line where the best stories live.

Certain travel guides contain a small section in the front asserting that true travelers should forget about the book they just dropped $20 on and figure a region out for themselves. While I have always found these blurbs a little pretentious, they hold some truth. I love reading a few bits about a location to develop a framework and then letting the place reveal itself once we arrive.

However, in Paraguay--a land full of secret handshakes where indirect communication rules--the journey can wear us out pretty quickly. Sometimes, while wandering through Paraguay--albeit searching for an actual physical destination or navigating social mores--we just get lost.

In an effort to help keep those of you looking to pass a little time in the heart of South America in the fun “What just happened?” phase of the adventure (and out of the “Oh dear god, am I going to die here?” zone) I have assembled a haphazard collection of hints for your stay. Go forth, enjoy, and live out your Pinterest “inspiration” board like a boss.

This face should do the trick negotiating bus
fare and when store clerks who should be able to make change,
won't break your bill.
  1. When you say hello to someone as you pass them on the street, you actually say goodbye. ("Adios!")
  2. Unless you are serving the mate/terere, never touch the bombilla.
  3. The a-okay sign is vulgar here. So is miming revving up a motorcycle.
  4. Mango sap and poison ivy are close cousins. Watch out.
  5. If someone offers you something and you don't want it, you say "Gracias." (Thank you) If you do want it, saying "Yes, thank you" will lead to a lot of confusion.
  6. Never leave your cell phone unsupervised with people you don’t know/trust. It’s very easy and requires no password to move all your phone credit onto another person’s account.
  7. Careful when crossing traffic in the big city. Even if both lanes are stopped, motos will still weave through.
  8. Petty crime is on the rise in Paraguay. Money belts and ankle wallets can give you piece of mind when traveling.
  9. Ask locals and other PCVs how much the long distance bus fare should cost before you get on. Use exact change if possible. If the driver tells you a higher price, a long hard stare and a suggestion of the correct price should do the trick.
  10. Buses are competing for your business. Unless you have experience with the line, when at the terminal wait to buy your ticket until you see the bus arrive. (For example, just because someone tells you their bus is the next bus leaving, that doesn’t make it true.)
  11. Always save your receipts until you get off the bus.
  12. If a dog (or group of dogs) is hassling you, lean down a pretend to pick up a pretend rock. This will make you king of all the dogs and they will run away.
  13. Unplug your computer the second the power goes out. It often surges when it comes back on.
  14. Carry toilet paper/wet wipes.
  15. No paper of any sort goes in the toilet. (If you forget once or twice it’s not the end of the world.)
  16. If you turn on the electricity in your shower before the water, you may get shocked when you turn the water on.
  17. Don’t touch the shower head when the electricity is on. Turn the electricity off if you want to change the setting.
  18. Always wear flip flops in the shower. Squeegee the floor when you are done.
  19. Make friends with your local dispensia. Coke and beer bottles usually require a deposit or a trade. If your dispensia knows you, they may let you take one on credit.
  20. If you are drinking beer in group, don’t expect your own glass. Do NOT wipe the lip off when if gets you.
  21. Men and women rarely sit together during parties.
  22. If you arrive “on-time” for the party, you’ll be early.
  23. You may be called fat and then yelled at for not taking seconds within the same conversation. Try not to read too much into this.
  24. Paraguay is considered an “indirect” culture. For example, you don’t dislike a food, you don’t know how to eat it. (No se como comer.)
  25. Paraguay is home to a handful of food/drink combination myths that many people take very seriously. Beverages are consumed after the meal, snacks before terere, and never concurrently.
  26. Red and blue are highly politicized colors. However, unless you wear them to a parade or a government office, most people won’t make the association.
  27. Even if you are struggling with Spanish, learn a couple Guarani words/phrases. Nothing will endear you to your neighbors faster.
  28. You will stick out. That’s okay. Your language skills might not be great. That’s also okay. Just do your best, expect to get teased, and join in the fun. You’ve got this.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Joanna,

    Thank you very much for sending me a letter from Paraguay for my collection. If you wish, you can see their picture at my blog:

    I send you again my sincere wishes of health, peace and happiness to you, your family and friends. I hope that you can make your work in Paraguay in a pleasant way.

    A hug from Spain

    Emilio Fernandez