Remember that time I wrote about moving to Paraguay and craft the ill-fitting comparison of my life to Eat, Pray, Love? Probably not unless you’re my one true die-hard-blog-reading-fan (Hi Auntie Susie!). Mostly I was super proud of somehow landing my life in 3 countries that started with the letter P: People’s Republic of China, Pakistan and Paraguay. Neil and I immediately resolved so seek out the other ‘P’ countries as future employers but unfortunately haven’t had any luck with Panama, Portugal, Poland or Papa New Guinea. Maybe later.
Way back when, I fated Paraguay to be my ‘love’ as China was my ‘eat’ and Pakistan was my ‘pray’. I wrote “I don’t mean meeting the man of my dreams; Check! Already got him…but living a life more full of love in every way. I realize such things aren’t determined by destination but they certainly can be helped by it.” The funny thing is, Paraguay has lived up to its love label. The obvious being the birth of Juniper and the heard strings she pulls, but it’s more than that; Paraguay itself somehow helped me cultivate a life more love filled.
Unfortunately, I have written almost nothing about Paraguay in the almost two years I’ve lived here. I wrote about finding our first Paraguayan home, our (failed) road trip through Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, Peru, pregnancy and the addition of baby Juniper. But from reading my blog, you would know little about Paraguay…and with good reason. It’s forgotten and overlooked, even by me. Poor Paraguay! It’s the middle child of South America; tucked in the continent’s centre, folded between more interesting places, hidden in it’s heart. And I get why. Paraguay doesn’t have the sights, the tourism infrastructure, the adventure or the coastline that other South American countries tout. It’s sleepy, it’s small, it’s slow. But it does have something, and (heaven help me) I’m going to try to explain that something.
One of the first Spanish words I became versed in was ‘tranquilo’ – literal translation: tranquil, calm, chill. Things don’t happen fast here, (if at all) but when they do, people take the time to greet each other properly, to inquire about families, to share some icy cold tea, to kiss both cheeks. Paraguay, especially when compared to North America, has not joined the rat race. The roads are bumpy (many more rock than road), the customer service lethargic, the people are incredibly social. You can’t do anything quickly, you can’t go anywhere fast – except on Sundays, but nothing is open then anyways so where are you going to go? What are you going to do? Nada. This quiet, slow, social country is the perfect place to grow some lovin’ …. or some boredom, which is a common complaint of the expat community here. There’s just not a lot going on. I remember my first venture into the historical downtown core of Asuncion: my exact words, “how cool this place must be when stores are open and people are out and about”. I was imagining Buenos Aires, but Asuncion is no Buenos Aires and the hip, artsy social scene I was imagining does not exist (in any substantial form) here.
Around 4 months post-partum, I went to my first Ashtanga yoga class since the beginning of my pregnancy. After my 100th chatarunga my arms felt like wet noodles and my legs like rubber bands. The yoga instructor was hard on me: “more strength Julia”, “no excuses Julia”, “tighter Julia”…you get the picture. But when I was done, she walked up to where I sat cross-legged on my mat, (cross-eyed with exhaustion) cupped my chin and kissed my forehead. Then proclaimed “You did it! Welcome back!” This is the same instructor who greets all her students by name and with a two-cheek kiss every class. Every class. In North America would a yoga teacher ever offer a congratulatory kiss to one of her students? No, of course not. It would probably end up in some weird lawsuit. But here, that can be normal. And it lifted me from a place of exhaustion to a place of elation and accomplishment.
And then there was the whole ‘being pregnant-having a baby’ thing. Paraguayans LOVE pregnant mamas and babies; the amount of warmth and consideration people show Juniper simply astounds me. One of my students painted Juniper as a young girl, reading at the roots of a Juniper tree. She worked on it for 1 month in her painting class and it is literally, a work of art.
Paraguayan’s attitudes towards children make this a pretty easy place to have a young baby. No one gives you the stink eye if your baby makes a big fuss in a public place – actually usually they try to help in some way. A couple weeks ago, while out for lunch, our waitress took and played with Juniper for a solid 15 minutes so we could eat our meal hands-free. Juni on hip, she went back and forth into the kitchen, still bringing orders and carrying out bowls of food. And, I have never had to worry about the ‘taboo’ of breastfeeding in public here. In fact, a friend once told me that while trying to figure out a bus route home, a local lady came to help him, breast out swinging side to side – she just couldn’t be bothered to tuck it away before offering her assistance. People really don’t care about my boobs here, it’s not some politically charged topic, I’m not making a statement by breastfeeding, I am simply feeding my baby.
I’m writing this outside right now, sitting in my backyard inhaling the wafting waves of charcoal and family conversation from my neighbors. This is the asado; Paraguay’s crown love jewel. Every Sunday families come together in a mandatory gathering centered around BBQ’d beef. The streets are empty but if you walk through a neighbourhood you will hear chatter and laughter; you will smell smoke and steak. Can you imagine spending almost every Sunday with your entire extended family? It’s one of the few things that Neil and I want to take home with us from Paraguay – the idea of stopping and slowing every weekend to relax with each other, cook leisurely and eat with enthusiasm. To me, almost all good things in life can be boiled down to good food and good people. Paraguay nailed this idea.
None of this is to say that Paraguay doesn’t have it’s faults, it definitely does. There is plenty of corruption, the driving is ass-backwards and I really don’t understand who decided to build houses that ALWAYS leak and roads that ALWAYS flood in a country that experiences regular, torrential rainfall. But, we’re talking big picture here and big picture, Paraguay and the people here have been very good to us.
It’s our final Sunday in Paraguay (Neil’s first father’s day!) and we’re celebrating with a walk through our favorite park, and with what else but a small family asado.
Tranquilo, my friends.