"Hard to believe," isn't really the right phrase. I most assuredly believe I'll be back in my home in Seattle, but it's hard to feel it in your heart when you're in the thick of it. Until you actually walk through your door and the whole years spent in a foreign country fades away like a bad dream. Years. I've been in Paraguay for years now. I remember, back in college, giving my then-girlfriend a lot of shit for her major in "Latin American studies." Why the hell would you study that? I remember teasing another good friend mercilessly for her major in Spanish (though I understood her reasons for wanting to learn the language). Who cares if it's the second most widely spoken language in the world (after Chinese)...why would I ever wish to travel south of the U.S. border?
As I've written before, it is quite possible I will look back on these years as some of the best of my life, because of the free time I have, and the time I have to spend with my children. I have not used it as well as I could have. I could have done more with my children. Or I could have focused more on my writing. Instead, I've half-assed both...but that comes from a lifetime of shoddy self-discipline on my part.
Even so, Paraguay has been good to my family. It has been good for me. I am terrible at adaptation. I am a big-ass whiner and complainer. I have been a crotchety old man, stuck in his ways, for decades. Paraguay has forced me to blow some of that shit up. I'm still a complainer. I'm still stuck in my ways. But I can see that and I know it's a choice, and I can choose to be otherwise. I haven't felt that way since 1997...a long f'ing time ago.
But please don't misunderstand: this country is a shit-hole in O So Many ways. I don't mean to be flip...I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Oh, you can make a lot of money down here if you've got money to invest and it doesn't burden your soul to, you know, exploit human beings. That's not really my bag, though. And I wouldn't recommend it for "missionary work," either. No one down here is really interested in being "saved" (in any sense of the word). In the words of Some Great Street Philosopher: "It is what it is." Oh, I have great hope for change...there are a few people who care about that here; more than a few even. But it is really, really hard to buck inertia...and there are folks actively fighting against progress. They don't want to lose their cash cow.
Have any of my readers seen the movie, Dazed and Confused? Great movie...reminded me very much of my uncles in Montana (and, thus, my very young childhood). There's a line in the film, spoken by a teacher to her students on the last day of school:
"Okay guys, one more thing: this summer when you're being inundated with all this America bicentennial 4th of July brouhaha, don't forget what you're celebrating...that a bunch of slave-owning, aristocratic, white males didn't want to pay their taxes."
And that's certainly true. But here's the thing: slave-owning, aristocratic, white males were the people who had power, wealth, and freedom in their time...the ones who were in a position to make a change, real true change, within (what would become) their country. Such change doesn't come from "grass-roots" organization...the "grass" is too busy worrying about putting food on their table to create an effective revolution. The Magna Carta was forced on the King of England by the nobility, not the peasants. Francisco Madero, the instigator of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, was from an extremely wealthy family. Jose Rodriguez, the true "founding father" of an independent Paraguay was a lawyer and politician, the son of a tobacco farmer, with a substantial education (a doctor of theology, a master of philosophy).
Real change, for good or ill, needs to be a top-down affair...though if you don't have "buy-in" from the proles, it's going to be tough to make it stick. And one of the main problems with Paraguay is that most (not all) of the people in power don't have any interest in creating any real change. They simply don't give a shit. They're more self-absorbed than your average American. And that's really saying something.
But even without the corruption and the exploitation and the ignorance and the contentment of people in power to let the country fucking rot while they vacation in Cancun and Miami...even without all that, it's hard for me to recommend Paraguay. It's too hot. It's got too many bugs. It's got epidemics of dengue and zika (year-round mosquitos coupled with standing water/sewage from broken pipes will do that). It's got poverty...bad poverty. The kind where people have simply adapted to being impoverished for generations and even when they're offered housing and job training, they go back to their hovels which is closer to their panhandling gig and use the free housing as a "weekend house." It's got...
Blah, blah, blah. No one cares. Most Paraguayans don't really care. They don't. It's just the big tranquillo way of life. Sleep on the sidewalk after lunch. Piss on the street when you need to piss. Sit around sharing your mate in the shade of the mango trees growing through the middle of your un-paved street. Who cares? Abortion is illegal and the age of consent is 14, and they've got orphanages filled with orphans, and they celebrate when some primary kid is having an affair with her teacher because she's "trading up" and there's still chipa to eat and half a dozen professional soccer teams to watch and a red meat asado being fired up for friends and family on the weekend...if you can get there without someone smashing into your car on the drive over to their house (a house with electrified, barbed wire running around the wall and shotgun-toting security in the guardhouse on the corner watching for motorcycle-riding purse-snatchers).
This place. Get me back to my sky-high property tax 10% sales tax and $5 lattes and $50 tanks of gas and people bitching and moaning about (what my wife and I now refer to as) "first world problems." At least I know the taxes are going to paved roads and funded services (like police) and efficient bureaucracy. At least I can get a draft beer that doesn't taste like Corona Light. Yeah, I won't be able to afford a housekeeper, but I still have a dishwasher and a kitchen without ants. Yeah, I'll have to do my own laundry, but at least the whites will come out white. Do you like bathing your children in water that's yellow-green? I don't. There's one sewage treatment plant (it's new) in the whole damn country of Paraguay. Yeah, it rains a lot in Seattle...and least there aren't people (and cars and highways) being washed away in floods every time it rains. Oh, my throat and sinuses are aching to be away from the constant hum of air-conditioners, 24 hours a day.
Naked, promiscuous, friendly savages...that seems to have been the main draw for Spaniards to set up permanent shop here, on this part of the Rio (prior to the Jesuits coming in to educate and save souls, that is). At least, I don't really find much other historic reason for the creation of this country. Sure they were cannibals, but they only ate their enemies (and really only the enemies they respected). Now, of course, they have ranches filled with cattle and thousands of acres of soy beans for export. And the friendliest (i.e. lowest) tax rate in the Americas. But even if I was fluent in the local language, these things would not be reason enough to stay here permanently. I'd rather have paved streets and drivers who give the right of way to pedestrians. I like chipa, but I'll settle for a pumpkin scone. Or a bagel with lox. Or a bowl of non-sugared cereal. Or any of a thousand other options. You don't get options here. I went to the grocery store yesterday and there were no beans. No beans. Like, a can of beans. When was the last time there were no beans in your supermarket?
Give me the beans. I need that more than the easy sexual mores.
Ugh. It's 3:30am and I'm still venting. I'm sorry. Everyone's asleep but me, but I've got a busy day tomorrow, so I should TRY to sleep. I had planned on writing about D&D (specifically, the strength stat...don't ask; maybe tomorrow). But I've been drinking wine, and I'm feeling "venty." I know I'm probably being terribly unfair in my criticism here (again)...my son's school, for example, is very, very nice and would be wonderful even if it were somehow picked up and dropped down in the United States (it would be better than most of the public schools in Seattle). There are worse places to live than Paraguay, even if you happen to be poor. Places that are getting bombed on a regular basis, for instance. Places in the midst of civil war. Other places living under oppressive regimes and military dictatorships. I'm sure there are folks around the world that would rather be napping under a mango tree in Paraguay. At least they'd have mangos.
Me, I've got the easy life. This...this Paraguayan experience...will all be ending soon, either in two months or six. And no matter how long it actually takes, I'll be spending a good chunk of the time eating meat, drinking wine, and putzing around on the laptop. Bitching and moaning, probably, as only whiny, privileged people can. Lamenting shit that really doesn't matter, killing time till I can get back home...my real home, the only home I've ever known. A place with ocean and mountains and evergreens.
*sigh* I'm out of wine. Time to call it a night.
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