Being back in Latin America brings with it feelings of nostalgia. Having lived in Mexico, the culture, smells, sense of community, way of life and rhythm seep into your spirit. It’s something that all the Latin countries have, even though the culture and food is different in each nation, the atmosphere is similar. At first the disorganization, dirt, rubble and poverty is a shock but after a while, these things don’t seem to matter as the culture starts to rub off on you.
Here in the countryside of Paraguay there is no begging or lean-to shelters. The Paraguayans say the shanties by the river in Asunción are just people who don’t want to work. The government gives them city water and electricity and they make just enough to get by. Outside of the capital you see none of this.
Our second trip took us to Villarrica – a small town a few hours outside of Asunción. The training was in the afternoon so we stayed there since driving the roads at night is not advised. The old hotel had nice new marble floors in the lobby and hallway, but the rooms had not got their upgrade yet 🙂
They reminded me of the rooms we stayed at in Cuba in 1976 – I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. Actually with lots of hot water and a heater (it’s cold at night, it is their fall/winter) we were just fine. It’s when you do without things that you appreciate what you have. The simple things like toilet paper, heat (or air conditioning), hot water and wi-fi are so appreciated when they are present and functioning! I think this is one of the reasons we are to fast, it keeps things in perspective and it fosters gratefulness in us.
A couple more hours down the road a training was scheduled in Caazará and from there a 7 hour drive to Encarnación. It was here we decided to take a shortcut. On the map it was a red line instead of a thicker blue line. We asked a few people and they all said it’s fine, since there had been no rain recently. This should have given us a hint! This short cut would shave 3-4 hours off our trip, so off we went. It was a red dirt road, not too bad at first and with a car ahead of us, we forged on.
The dirt road turned into red mud holes and ruts, only one lane which made it really complicated when an occasional car came the other way. There were bridges that looked like they were falling apart and to keep them functioning long 2×8’s were laid down just wide enough for the tires to drive on. That was a little intense! We were in the middle of nowhere. No houses to be seen, but lots of cattle, the big type with horns and humps. They of course made their way on to the road and we had to navigate them as well.
One area we went through there were acres and acres of eucalyptus trees and then other sections of them cut down and piled up in neat rows. Where do the people live? How do they navigate these roads, especially when it rains? After about an hour we see a bus stop! That made us all laugh.
A couple of hours later (that felt like 5) we came onto a paved road – wow – what a smooth ride! We sure ‘appreciated’ that pavement 🙂 On to Encarnación which is on the border of Argentina. This is the second largest city of Paraguay and the boutique hotel we stayed in was lovely. We ate at their restaurant and had the most accommodating and friendly waiter, who had also been the bell boy 🙂 A real treat.
The following day the training wasn’t until 2:00 so we took advantage and went to see the ruins of the Jesuit Missions. The buildings were impressive, huge rocks fit precisely together, carved decorations and much bigger than I expected.
To think that all this could be built in 60 years by only 2 Jesuits at any one time overseeing the work and one architect supervising the construction of the buildings. 30 Missions were built over 150 years, beginning in 1609.
The Jesuits built churches, common areas and homes for the Guarani.
They taught them to read and write both Spanish and Latin, raised animals and planted gardens. The Guarani Indians loved them and flourished under their leadership growing into 4,000 in one Mission alone.
In 1767 the Jesuits were persecuted and the Missions destroyed by the Spanish who wanted to enslave the Guarani Indians.
The ruins were declared a World Heritage in 1993. A movie we saw years ago shows this conflict between the Jesuits and the Spanish called ‘The Mission’ with Robert DeNiro.
In the afternoon Mike did a training with a government group, then in the evening a training in a smaller town about 40 min. outside of Encarnación with three businessmen who are dedicated to making a difference.
These men were trained by Mike 3 months ago and have been doing the round tables themselves. They are involved in their communities and are passionate about improving the lives of the people in their sphere of influence. They were very organized, even put out flyers and contacted all the schools in the area. They were punctual and totally engaged. Here are two of these enthusiastic men – you can see it on their faces.
We were expecting a hundred or so and 400+ showed up! They were seated on the floor and lined up against the wall, some stood for the entire 2.5 hours. Many more were turned away. This area is called United Colonies because there are 3 small towns all close together with a combined population of 45,000 people. This turnout was impressive considering the small population of each of these towns. We were welcomed, thanked for our time, valued for the work we are doing and celebrated! What a refreshing time it was, there is hope, Better is Possible.
Many say it is the government that needs an adjustment in the area of values, but as the private sector works hard to change and brings change to those around them, in time this grass-roots movement will ultimately change the government, especially when enough young people catch the vision and start being the change. Transformation begins with me and when people are committed to change themselves first, society will change as well. Our goal is 700,000 people involved in Round Tables – the tipping point for Paraguay, a country of only 7,000,000 people.
Next day we headed back to Asunción, it was great to be back in our little apartment, our home away from home.