I gave up the idea of staying in Asunción for the day. I had planned to spend Friday night there after my meeting at headquarters, with the idea of attending a great conference on Saturday. But, I decided to return home, missing that fine event which included the chance to meet Paraguay’s President Horacio Cartes at the AJE Congreso with my friend Marie. A very scratchy throat, hot forehead and aching body convinced me to get on back to my site.
Let me slip in here some information that I’ve been meaning to give you. Paraguay Emprende, one of my sector’s national initiatives, has made very effective inroads with the youth of this country. I’m impressed with what is being accomplished by Paraguay Emprende and proud to be involved. Our volunteers teach a valuable course in site, entitled Construye Tus Suenos or Build Your Dreams. I will begin my 10-week class this June 3rd with my Paraguayan co-teacher, Miguel Zárate (“Chito”) a successful engineer whose firm is based in Asunción. I am so flattered and pleased that he is willing to come to San Bernardino each week to teach this class with me! The curriculum is very meaty, requiring quite a bit of discipline and determination to complete. Each student identifies the components of their own business, its personal pertinence and their own skills and capabilities, then develops a detailed business plan which can be presented at our annual competition where participants can win startup funds. They also receive year-round mentoring and consultation in addition to online training. I will write more to you as the class progresses.
AJE, our Paraguayan partner organization is the perfect match for Paraguay Emprende. Look at how their components compliment ours and ours, theirs. For young entrepreneurs here in Paraguay, they provide resources to gain startup funding and information regarding grants, loans, conventions and training courses. They also provide legal, financial, tax and even labor to help support the creation or strengthening of a young business. The youth participate in seminars, fairs both regionally and nationally and are put in contact with technicians and mentors to help development their dream.
Yesterday’s AJE Congreso pulled together top speakers and roundtable discussions for young entrepreneurs, and we and our students were invited to attend. Judging from the photos and reviews, it was a great success. I plan to attend the future events. Chito, my teaching partner, can participate by leading roundtable discussions and our students can take advantage of the training and networking these events provide.
Now, back to my story. I had attended a meeting in Asunción on Friday, then stayed at my favorite hostel, Los Alpes. Seven of us volunteers were in an attic room, the hostel part of the very nice hotel, situated up the narrow iron spiral staircase where there are twin beds scattered throughout the room and one bathroom shared by all. Saturday morning before dawn, my friend Jeanetta and I got up for the great breakfast provided, then we walked a block to the place to catch a bus to Terminal de Omnibus de Asunción, our bus terminal, to return to site.
You should see how we navigate through traffic as we get ourselves to the bus stop. Cars speed up when they see you crossing the street, just like they seem to do everywhere in the world, so I scurry after Jeanetta, laughing out loud at the crazy risky moments I sometimes find myself in. Mammoth buses filled with workers barrel down the street with black puffs of smoke clouding the air behind them and I turn my head to avoid the blast. Heavy backpack strapped over my shoulders, I run at a forward slant to balance the weight. Flip flops may hinder my dart across the street, but when I see an opening in traffic, I go for it! Happily, the next bus appearing is the one for us, and it’s only a ten minute ride up Republica de Argentina to the terminal.
Once there, I head downstairs and Jeanetta up, going to the areas that would take us each to our respective site, she to Jose Fassardi and me to San Bernardino. I speak to say good morning to the dark-skinned, barefoot, aproned women, admiring their wares spread out over blankets along with walkway – brightly painted seed bracelets and necklaces, happy yellow, red, blue and green woven shoulder bags. I walk further through the terminal, arriving at the boarding area, where I find myself smiling at the familiar row of wildly painted old buses that carry people throughout Paraguay. They’re so cute with personality, you’d think that any moment they might burst into song and dance. But my smile wavers as I see that my Altos/San Bernardino bus is not yet in its waiting area. So I make myself comfortable, slipping the heavy backpack off and pulling out my current reading material, The News from Paraguay, a novel by Lily Tuck written about a time in Paraguay set only a few decades before my grandmother’s birth in 1886. Somehow, placing the date in my mind based on the date of Allie Chambers Kinard’s birth gives me a better feel for the age in which the story took place.
The sun had started shining so brightly so I could see only the outline of a man coming towards me. As he got closer, I saw that it was my favorite Altos/SanBer bus driver, José, a happy man in his late 30’s, whose speech would indicate that he has a hearing problem. José is the one who sounds his bus horn so many times en route that I see it as his musical instrument, communicating a joyful greeting, alert, or question as he barrels up to each crowd of potential passengers along our route.
He walks towards me, his body blocking the sun’s rays from my eyes, grins and looks at my mouth as we say Buenos Dias and shake hands. Donde está el colectivo, I ask, and he points to the far parking area, telling me he’ll pull up momentito, and will be ready for boarding. Before long, I see that he indeed has pulled into space #36 and has opened the doors.
Grasping the handles and pulling up with both arms to manage the weight of my backpack, I board the bus and swing around into the first set of seats, getting comfortable, backpack in the extra seat, slouching down and propping my feet on the front rail. We make our way through the morning traffic of Asunción. After we pass through several small suburbs of the city, a young woman and child board and I move my pack so they can be seated. Once they were there beside me, the stench of vomit is so strong that I wait only a few seconds before giving her a smile and slipping by her with my pack to move farther back into the bus and give her both seats.
But, other than that move, the trip was uneventful. Let me tell you, though, about the surprising experience I had several weeks ago on the same bus! José and I were merrily rolling down the road towards SanBer in his sparsely filled bus when a perfumed and well-coiffed elderly woman boarded and situated herself in the first row of seats, laying her gold folded clutch handbag in the vacant seat next to her, adjusting her pale blue sweater and smoothing her skirt as she tucked her feet, crossing her ankles neatly. She looked like a pretty little Paraguayan bird, her pale orange gray hair perfectly in place like soft, layered feathers. We smiled at each other and in a few moments she asked if I were going to SanBer and I nodded yes. We talked a while as I leaned forward from my seat behind, so she could hear me. After several stops, a woman boarded and turned to sit in the vacant seat next to my new friend, expecting her to remove her clutch handbag to free the seat. But my friend didn’t budge and it became clear she wouldn’t cooperate. The woman sat down anyway, moving the bag for her. The next thing that happened had everyone agog, grinning and murmuring to each other in big-eyed surprise. My pretty, demur-seeming lady became transformed into an angry bird, smacking this woman over her arms and head, slapping at her with both hands and telling her Get up, get up! Go sit somewhere else! But the woman wouldn’t move and shouted that she’d paid for her ticket. The hitting didn’t stop, it just slowed down and became intermittent. Angry bird would stare straight ahead for a while, then give the woman another swat and a spittage of chirping furiosity. Feathers so ruffled and agitated. All the while, the other woman seemed amused and would simply ignore her, holding her hand up to guard herself as we continued down the road. Eventually, they each disembarked and we all had a good laugh as heads turned and compared notes with each other.
So here I am once again on José’s bus, enjoying the healing warmth of the sunshine beaming through the window and onto my shoulder as I return to my site. The bus picks up speed as we head down the highway, music and honking horn making for a happy ride, as we stop and start our way down Ruta 2, gaining new passengers and depositing others to their destination. I pull my stretch headband into place to hold my hair back, keeping it from whipping my face as the wind blows through the open windows of the bus, and giggle a little to myself as I think about the sometimes quirky entertainment life can provide. I’m ready to get home to SanBer, to sip the warming, healing, natural remedios Nuni will provide for my maté, using the bombillo and guampa given to me by the youth group, Grupo Juvenil Yataity, formed while living in my previous site. I’ll prop up on pillows, covered by blankets, with Michi snuggling by my side. It’s getting colder in Paraguay! I will write again soon. I have more blog posts to share with you as I wind my way through days spent in this oh-so-interesting and enchanting country.