I just got back from the long weekend in Asunción. I didn't have class on Wednesday for a teacher's meeting, Thursday was some sort of Teacher's holiday, and Friday was "Día de los Obreros," which translates into "Day of the Workers" and is basically like Labor Day in the US. I took the Wednesday morning bus from Pilar to Asunción with my 10-year-old brother, Anibal. In Asunción, we went to my host aunt and uncle's house for a while, and afterwords he stayed with them and I went to visit my friend, Abbey, from AFS who lives in Asunción.
She finally got her new host family, and they are a much better fit. There are three teenage sisters and a little brother, plus my friend and her parents, and of course, Blackie, the hyperactive but adorable toy poodle. They live about 10 minutes from downtown Asunción, so we went to see "La Casa de Independencia" where the overthrow of the Spanish colonial government was planned, "La Casa Rosada" which is BEAUTIFUL at night, and a few other monuments and buildings downtown on Thursday afternoon. Thursday night I went to a "quince" for one of Abbey's friends, which is something like a big US "Sweet Sixteen" except it's for the fifteenth birthday instead of the sixteenth, and nearly everybody has a pretty big party, rather than the relatively few in the US. Friday we met up with some other AFSers in the area at Shopping Del Sol, paid about four dollars for some pretty awful waffles, and went to see XMen as a fundraiser for Abbey's school.
Saturday we went to a cousin's wedding in Areguá, which is absolutely beautiful. It's right on a fairly large (compared to other lakes in Paraguay, it's got nothing on Michigan) lake, and is FILLED with art, from painting, to indigenous weaving, to flourescent lawn art. The wedding ceremony is basically the same in here as in the USA. The reception was at a club in San Bernadino. SanBer is AMAZING. The town is cute, and the lake is beautiful. I can't believe AFS didn't take us anywhere other than the bakery, or at least let us explore a little when we were in SanBer for the Adaptation Orientation. The reception itself was nice, and we were lucky with the weather that we could be outside as well.
Today, I basically got up and went back to Pilar. It's a good thing the bus wasn't too crowded, because my Olimpista brother decided to take home a 2-foot-tall ceramic dog-shaped bank painted in Club Olimpia's colors. I'm sure my other Cerrista brother he shares a room with is absolutely thrilled with the new decorations...
Club Olimpia and Cerro Porteño are the two biggest, rival football/soccer teams in Paraguay. It's like a Packer/Bear or a Horlick/Park rivalry. At least a third of the graffitti in Asunción has to be devoted to either supporting one of the clubs, or vandalising graffitti that supported the other club. Olimpia is black and white, Cerro is red and blue. Other than Cerro Porteño and Olimpia, other popular clubs are Rubio Ñu, Guaraní, Libertad, Nacional, Sol de America, and Tacuary.
Asunción is about the size of Milwaukee, but after almost three months in Pilar, it feels big. Pilar has no supermercados, shoppings, or movie theaters, which Asunción is filled with. Other than the crazy traffic (there are how-to manuals about how to use stoplights every few blocks), the thing I notice most about Asunción is the poverty. Some of the parks in the center of the city have become tent cities because there is nowhere else for the people to go. Kids in the street try to wash windshields for the equivalent of 10 cents (500 Gs) and people try to sell fresh fruit and knockoff sunglasses car-to-car. Entire families stand on street corners in their flourescent orange vests selling lottery tickets. The steps of government buildings, churches, and storefronts are covered in cardboard and plastic bags because they're somebody's home. I don't even know if the kids in the street have families or go to school. Some of them can't be older than 6 or 7, and I've seen older kids carrying infants around while they work. Sure, some of them are probably a scam. In general, it very obviously isn't. With this many people with this little, it's no wonder the crime rates are so high in some areas. The parks look like Hoovervilles, and most people seem to have become oblivious to the fact that they are in the middle of such absolute poverty. I don't even know where to begin, but if you know of any organizations that help with this kind of thing, help them out. A little bit goes a long way. A dollar here can buy a meal, five can feed someone for a whole day, and free them up from windshield washing so they can hunt for a piece of metal to make a roof for their cardboard house. This isn't a problem just in Paraguay either, this is all over the world. It might not be as extreme or as obvious, but it's there, and a tiny bit of effort or a tiny bit of money can really help someone out. They'll get more out of it than you'll feel like you're giving. Please, even if the economy isn't doing so great, figure out a way to help someone who has so much less than you can even imagine.