At seven AM on that brisk chilly Friday morning, the group, fully awake and alive for a new day exploring Paraguay, created an unspoken agreement to make sure we would all get to bed earlier that upcoming night than we had the night before.
Somehow, after sleeping in for as long as absolutely possible in a poor attempt to gain a few precious moments of sleep I managed to ready myself and score some delicious remnants of the ever-coveted dulce de leche breakfast spread with the twenty minutes I had now. I may not have brushed my hair, but I had my morning dulce deliciousness, so yeah, i was pretty ready for a good day.
It took us two hours to get to the dam we were to first visit. The energy that initially outwardly buzzed over us dissipated as our bus chairs began to recline and headphones were locked into the welcoming homes our ears provided- whatever sleep was absent from the night before was hoped to be gained on this bus trip.
It really was a nice nap, awakened only a few times by the bumpy cobble roads and the squeals of those with more (a lot more for seven am) energy than I. Oh and also there was this one time when a women selling Chipa rested her basket on my head to make a sale and yeah that woke me up to.
When we got off the bus there was the expected mass confusion we’ve grown accustomed to over where we were and where the nearest bathroom was but after a lot of Spanglish we deduced that we were at a museum. So that was cool. The museum was full of giant dead animals which represented the species of animals affected by the construction of the hydroelectric plant. They explained how a refuge was established in order to preserve them. i had the joy of introducing a few Paraguayans to the English word taxidermy, but more importantly, to the well-known American classic ‘Phsyco’ complete with an in depth story summary- all in all a pretty successful culture transfer.
Soon after we watched a movie about the Yacyreta dam. The video was interesting, we learned about the creation: the sciences behind engineering something that large, the successes it brings to the people and a little about how they try to maintain the ecosystem they disrupted with the construction of it. (Fun little fact, we had the option of watching the film in English, Spanish or Korean. How often they get requests for that dam movie to be played in Korean I do wonder.)
Anyway. Leaving for the dam the second time we were accompanied by a clear speaking loud voiced tour guide- not sure if it was her distinct consonants and vowels that did me in or the wonderful way she seemed to pause every few words but it took only a few sentences to know I would never be able to live without her Spanish, it’s melody soothing and entirely comprehendible.
The dam was large, loud and colorless. Emphasis on loud. Standing inside you heard only the constant rhythm of the dam hard at work and your own thoughts praying that it stayed that way (we were inside a dam I don’t know about you but I was nervous.)
Exiting from the interior, I had forgotten how brisk and sunless the day had grown to be; I zipped my light windbreaker to my throat and pulling up my hood rested against a wall overlooking a side of the river. Leaning over the thick edge, you could see groups of fish swimming near the bottom wall. Watching them, crowded and contesting the current, they struggled against entry into the dam’s fish elevator in an ironic contrast with how the people of Encarnaction seemed to protest the construction of the same dam. The typically passive population of Paraguay said little as their streets flooded and houses submerged; buildings decorated by their age and a population laced with history became entirely displaced as an unstoppable water flow drowned out an entire society- yes, people had warning and yes they were somewhat reimbursed with new water-free houses but a house is hardly a home and if you know of an architect who has the ability to reconstruct a way of life, than you know a person who doesn’t exist. This wasn’t mentioned in the dam video.
Lunch was in a really cool building with really cool food. It had everything from old records and eggs to snakes and currencies hanging on its walls and the milanesa was cold to the touch. So moving on.
After another short nap we shuffled off the bus to find ourselves at a planetarium, a branch of the Jesuit Towns of Paraguay. The guides were passionate with their work and told us stories about native guarani folklore, how they interpreted the stars and how this affected the lives they lived.
During a lunar or solar eclipse, the native people would worry, thinking a tiger had swallowed all of their light. In their fear they would throw rocks and arrows to the sky in attempts to kill the tiger and make him spit back up the light. mmk yes it may sound a bit absurd but as our mentor Sally so kindly pointed out, it must have worked every time because the light always happened to return; though not all of the Guarani people would always return with it. During the darkness, some would go insane with fear and kill themselves out of the uncertainty. What a fear like that must feel like, I cannot comprehend.
A short walk brought us to our last stop, a church. Part of the Mission of San Cosme. Tall and wide the inside as well as out was beautiful, the detailing in the stone and wooden statues immaculate and well maintained. It took me until I noticed the paintings and statues and carvings of the seemingly endless Jesus’s to pick out why the church was different from what I had seen before (age/origin details aside). Sunken cheeks and sorrowful eyes were accompanied by a starved body, his ribs poked from their cage and blood dripped from carefully crafted wounds to create a disconsolate body and a defeated image- a striking contrast from the almost glowing images of Jesus I had always seen.
Aaaand then we got back on the bus.
The rest of our night was spent with our host families. My sister and I met up with others in the group to eat at a restaurant called Mako’s. People please Mako’s is more than heaven in a restaurant, it’s simply perfect. The dinner is good, but what pushes this place over the edge is that after the meal, one has the option of entering the other half of the restaurant where the walls are lined with the creamiest soft serve this American has ever experienced. Yeah yum.
A little recap:
These last few weeks have been pretty sick. Though cliche, the ‘We’ve become such a family’ statement couldn’t be more true. A frenzied enthusiasm connects us our experiences here in Paraguay grow. This enthusiasm, thick with enigmas but concurrent with an affirmation of anticipation creates a current that varies uniquely to each of us individually but comes together to offer a mellow of continuity and reassurance. With this growing connection in mind it becomes easier to lay our worries and nerves aside and abide instead in our excitements and curiosities. And so though it will be hard to leave our new home, arguably, it will be even harder to leave our new family.
Adios for now!