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Blog 6 - Yesterday I went to Paraguay
There are a few things I could write about this week. There was my wonderful day out with Nerio and meeting lots of new people around the town, including people who spoke English! (I crave the English language at the moment!!). Or there was my flu like illness, where Ana Paula tried to kill me by giving me two, instead of one, extra strength tablets. I was out cold for about 12 hours!!! Or my over emotional reaction to seeing the lights dance from the Christmas show! I am such a wuss! But I think this blog should be about my trip to Paraguay yesterday as it brought out many thoughts and a few new experiences.
I had an idea of what to expect in Paraguay as I had been there 12 years ago. Brazilians go there to shop. It is the third largest shopping nation in the world. But this time I was crossing a different part of the border and much can change in 12 years!
Ana Paula, Ana Luisa and I set off late, which is normal in the Rocha household. We were travelling via Nova Munde (New World), the town where Eduardo works as a member of the police. Our journey was to be about an hour and a half along the familiar death trap roads. As usual there were millions of trucks on this single lane highway and plenty of potholes. But the view is refreshing of the huge farms, nestled among the rolling hills and the small dusty towns that could reveal many frontier secrets and a hard life, living in this still expanding part of Brazil.
The first big surprise happened about 20 minutes into the journey. Now normally I am pretty good on knowing what animal comes from what part of the world. However you could have knocked me over with a feather, when the Emu decided to cross the road right in front of our car. It was huge. It seemed even bigger when it flapped its useless wings. I reacted with a typical ‘wow’ of a foreigner unused to seeing such animals in the wild. I would have taken a photo with my I pad, but this was currently being used by Ana Luisa to listen to music. You don’t want to disturb AL when she is quiet and happy, so in an all too brief moment we were past the Emu. This encounter is now added to the one with the Toucan and the Owls. For a man who has always disliked birds I am slowly changing my mind?
We travelled on along the dusty roads, overtaking when Ana Paula wanted to scare me to death and through places named Itakarai and El Dorado. You feel like you are at the end of the world. Soon it will stop and you will just fall off! Then you arrive at the bizarrely named Nova Munde. Dusty, sleepy, chaotic in its appearance, I really felt this was it, the last stop on earth. Bishop Auckland seemed so beautiful in my memory. How I longed for a short blast of winter and a view of the Castle. But instead I was outside the police station waiting for Eduardo. Eduardo wanted to show me around and introduce me. This I was happy to do as I was curious to see inside a Brazilian police Station! Many introductions and not an English speaker in sight! Eduardo then took me through a looked door where one man was waiting. A prisoner it seemed? We were then taken through another locked door to be greeted by the jail. A small outside space and a small inside space appeared in front of me, behind bars. I couldn’t take it in. It was like a scene from a channel 4 documentary! Lots of men, mainly late teens, early twenties, crowded in a small place. They were smoking, playing cards and generally passing the endless hours in front of them. Once again I did not have my Ipad, it was left in the car! I was a little speechless, but this scene represented for me the despair and sadness of a remote frontier town. I asked what crimes most of them where there for? ‘Drugs’ came the answer. I wanted to talk to the prisoners but this was a ridiculous notion because of my extremely limited Portuguese and the sudden situation I found myself in. We left in all too brief a time. Did I really just see what I thought I had seen?
On to the Paraguayan border, which we crossed without any need for my passport. We didn’t even have to leave the car. You are then faced with the huge Billboards advertising ‘Shopping China’ and all the latest fast food outlets and designer labels. It is basically tasteless. But then this border town does not exist to win a ‘Britain in Bloom’ competition, it is here to make money and serve a consumer need. It is as simple as that. Soon I was eating my first fast food since I arrived in South America. But this was outdone with the arrival of the ‘Quakers’. No not Darlington Football club, but the descendants of Germans who came to Paraguay to farm the land. They dress very simply and plainly. The men in checked shirts and denim overalls. The women in a plain blue dress, with a hat. Apparently they do not mix with other communities. Their clothes make them stand out a mile. They have done very well for themselves in Paraguay and still speak their native German tongue. A community from times gone by, who escaped religious persecution to start again. They have a strong desire to hold on to their heritage and not use modern day tools such as electricity. Yet here they were in a fast food outlet in the middle of shop-till-you-drop world! Perhaps there are some elements of this modern life that are just too difficult to resist? Or too useful?
We wandered round one of the huge ‘Metro Centre’ style Malls. It was empty. It was almost like it just existed for us? We moved on to ‘Shopping China.’ This was not empty of people and included a section of imported foods. I searched in vain in the Heinz section for baked beans! Please let there be some? No, everything but. Oh how I miss beans on toast! There was every designer label from ‘Gucci’ to ‘Nike.’ I would have swapped it all for a tin of beans! The simple pleasures of life! After investing in a new pair of trainers for the gym and a new pair of flip flops for the beach, we returned wearily to the car to begin the journey home back along passed the billboards and endless shopping malls. But there was one more surprise waiting for me. It was a brief moment. A moment I wasn’t expecting. Perhaps another moment out of a documentary? A moment I did have my Ipad in my hand for.
As you approach the border you see the children selling biscuits or chocolate! I’m not sure what they were offering? What I was sure of is that they were children. They were aged somewhere between 6 and 12, most of them. They beg you to buy something from them. They go to each car window in turn to plea for your money. A stark reminder that not all children have the luxury of school or an education. I took photos. I did this because I had to send the reminder to England of how different our lives are. These were not children wondering what they would receive for Christmas. These were children trying to get by, make a living, survive. It was a brief encounter. Like the jail and the Emu and the Quakers, it happened far too quickly for me to process my thoughts or comprehend. The photo of the girl at the car window? She was just one of many who appeared at that window. No, I didn’t buy anything. The children on the other side of the window don’t need my few pennies. They need an education. They need an opportunity. They need a change in government policy. They need hope.
So yesterday I went to Paraguay.
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