Saturday, February 28, 2009

Carnaval Yataity

I woke up yesterday morning and about my third thought was: Tonight night I will put on a gold sequined bra with huge crystals right in the middle of each cup and shake it down the main road of my little Paraguayan town.

What do you have for lunch on a day like that, when recently your neighbor walked by your front window, and, upon seeing you cooking lunch, simply said, “No hay que comer mucho. Un poquito no mas.” (You shouldn’t eat too much. Just a little bit.)?

Timmy Charley arrived and we got ice cream to calm my nerves. Then cookies.

Other select friends came (chosen for their ability to laugh with me, not at me) and my outfit was finally last-minute ready, in all it´s glory. The seamstress had put gold sequins on every white surface, with two huge flat-backed crystals right where I would wish they wouldn't be. She had cut out the back straps in to two straps, or more like back fat traps.

The seamstress had told me to bring her a bra to decorate: un pushup, she said. This bra wasn’t very pushup, and in a last-minute act of desperation to compete with the other hotties I was dancing with, I sewed one sock, ankle socks no mas, into each cup of the bra.


I went to get ready later than planned, and had time to drink some beers with the buddies that came. I got nervous about it getting so late and started to do my makeup in the only mirror available.

When it was time to go I went to a house that was filled with what looked like 25 girls trying to get ready for the prom, speaking in stressed Spanish. I set my bag in between all the others. We were trying to find someone to do my makeup, my hair.

The makeup lady from the capital was selling fake eyelashes, crazy huge black ones I wore the time I was a transvestite for Halloween, for 20 mil. Again, I needed all the help I could get. Doing my makeup, she attached them with glue to my eyelids. It felt heavy to blink, and it was like the whole world had a low, black ceiling. Someone braided my hair, then it was time for glitter. Three girls, all in their own outfit of gold, each grabbed glitter from a bag and proceeded to rub me down until I shined. I have one friend who keeps asking me if the people of my town have made me their queen. This scene, my little attendants, made me think about that.

About then, my friend Sergio came and put some glue on a crystal back and pushed it into the center of my forehead. I looked in his hand and, before I could figure out how to say, “Is that superglue?”, it sure did start to burn like superglue.

I looked at myself in the mirror and looked like a drawing of someone else.

I put on my bandaids in all the places I’ve learned they need to go, following the blisters from practices, then my heels. We waited at the end of the road. Ahead I saw bleachers on the sides, a stage, bright lights that had been put up that week shining down on the painted-white pavement, and painted bottles strung on the street and glowing from inside. Our main road looked like a runway stage.

We waited and waited, little bouts of practice at times. I could not rotate, as I had on my 6-foot headdress, nor could I usually walk straight, but sideways like a feathered crab.

The younger girls kept grabbing my baton, a gold stick with a ball on top and two feathers, and saying, “You’ve got to dance like this.” They’d put their palms on the top of it and bend their knees, swaying their hips, until they were practically droppin’ it like it was hot. I wondered whether they had access to American music videos.

I grabbed my pole, I mean baton, away and say I’m not going to dance like that. I avoided the use of the word “stripper”, which in spanish is “estripper.”

Timmy Charley bein a goof

TC approaching beautiful strangers

Little dancer waiting

And then it was time. One second you’re a normal person, then next second your jangling your sequins for paying viewers.

They kind of wave you up, like you’re in line to go down the big slide at the waterpark, and you want them going ahead of you, and you think with fear that you’re next to next, then next.

But you just start dancing, as I did. I looked down to make sure everything was alright, that my socks weren’t showing. But I knew I had to look up, so I did, at the stars that were unmoved. With the thought of the absurdity of it all I eventually brought myself to smile, instead of having a look that said: Sorry, I don’t usually dress like this and I´m personally responsible for the behavior that lead to giggling in some wrong areas.

The history of Carnaval comes from the freeing of the slaves in Brazil, they tell me. It’s kind of a celebration. So I thought: celebrate. dance. be free. This is it.

Something is happening like that: You’re in the Peace Corps and your dancing in South America, in Carnaval, and you know that the rest of life is not going to be like this. It’s a moment so huge that you want to gulp it down, but the seconds still pass the same.

So I only remember little things, like when the band split on either side of the main area, the road painted white and covered with stomped beetles. The drums were coming strong in both ears, like I was walking between two living speakers. On my left was the big stage, six people sat facing us like beauty pageant judges. And over the loud speaker in between the pounding beat I kept hearing “La Americana Pauli! Dale Pauli!”

My friends screaming for me, Timmy Charley spraying foam up in the air from a bottle in each hand and jumping up and down and yelling my name over and over.

The band

All along the sidelines I could see people I knew: my old host parents, shop owners, and they were smiling and waving.

After each run we walked around the long way, on the wrong side of the two-wire fence that the men were using as a urinal, eyes straight.

On the second run I was called back to dance with the King of Carnaval. He too started to drop it like it was hot, and so did I, but without my pole.

By the third run the beers were drunk and the crowd was crazy. People kept waving us over to take pictures for them, asking for kisses on the sweaty cheek. Men would be giving me a thorough eyescan and telling me “Que linda,” and I remembered how much women are sex objects in this country. Of course, I want it all, both ways. I can put on my socks and sequins and heels, but still expect to be treated like a lady.

From the sides came the foam. Some girls got it worse than others, looking like they just went for a ride on Wonka’s Bubble Machine, but still smiling and dancing.

Brennan asked me on our radio show if I´m going to do it again next year, and I said I don't know. I guess will see if they come knocking at my door.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Asuncion in Photos

Yes, here are the fruits of my day in Asuncion with nothing to do. Someone nearly died to get you these photos. That someone was me, which you could only understand if you´ve ever tried uploading 37 photos from a third-world country.

These aren’t the best photos. I took them hastily, as it’s best not to dawdle with expensive electronics in plain site, lest the glint off your American goods catches the eye of a big-city ladron (thief). But enjoy.


This are the hands of the guy checking me into the hotel. Love is in English, obviously, and pora is Guaraní meaning well or good.

Mural near Plaza Uruguaya

This is the inside of the front wall of the Peace Corps office. The outside is very low-key, no neon sign saying PEACE CORPS! Securities actually pretty tight.

This is what you see when you walk through the front gate. In this main building is our director, the coordinators, etc.

This is the area where we t-ray and hang out. You can see my clothes drying on a chair to the left. At the PC office there's a lounge, the library, and you can even take a shower, which I resorted to on my last trip, though it felt creepy.

Vendors selling fruit to cars. You'll see people holding all kinds of stuff up, maps, shirts, combs, hats

Palm trees that remind me of the beach

All the rich people have these beautiful, ugly gates


A child washing the window of an SUV. Right before I took the picture she was shaking her finger at him. There are always kids juggling, doing flips, washing windows or just begging for money. This woman drove off without giving the kid anything.

A sculpture in front of what I hear is a country club. I put my camera through the bars of the fence to take the photo.

A park I'd never noticed before

An ad on a bus stop for Tigo's wireless internet device. Paraguay is plastered with Tigo ads.

Fantasy world of ads reigns high over Paraguay

Church next to the cemetery

Pool toys and pools

A supermarket. Also, notice on top of the street sign, there are little ads on top of them.

The IPA tent outside of the mall. Instituto Paraguayo de Artesania supports arts and crafts of Paraguay.

Silver work. Guampas and jewelry


A cup made out of a cow's foot. Maybe that's its head mounted to the wood frame behind it.

Paraguay t-shirts


Ñanduti earrings, rocked out by many a volunteer

Shoes made with Ao Poí

Halfway through my walk I remembered that Tuesday is Agroshopping Day! It's like the farmer's market, in the parking area below the mall. I scored some walnuts and dried shiitake mushrooms.

These people were selling gyoza, sushi and other Asian goodies

Various squash. Can anyone tell me what that kind on the left is? I bought one and lived off it for a week and a half, just guessing how to cook it.

All the medicines here have graphic drawings on the front of the packages.

Quail eggs. My señora friend said these are all protein, and the men like to eat them for stamina. This conversation embarrassed me.

Meat sticks!

Your local pigs´feet provider

The mall, called Shopping Villamora. This is where we go to the movies, to the food court, to exercise our atrophied muscles of good ol' fashioned American consumerism.

The food court in the even bigger, chuchier mall, Shopping Mariscal, behind the other mall. I refused to eat at this place, because they make their employees wear rooster hats, until I tried their fries.

McDonalds. Why must you follow me everywhere? Why are your chicken nuggets the same shape here in Paraguay?

Looking down on Freddo, a yummy ice cream chain

Look's familiar, doesn't it?

Well I hope you enjoyed our little tour. This is the capital, don´t forget, where all the money is. I could take other photos of the campo that would make you think I was in Africa. Just goes to show how big the gap is.