Thursday, September 10, 2009

Paraguay to South Africa

There are so many things on the line when Paraguay plays Argentina. A return of some pride from lost wars. Some respect from the country where so many Paraguayans go for work. And specifically last night, the chance to go to the World Cup.

The whole city was in red and white shirts, and as we walked toward the stadium in a group, Sasha in a Paraguayan flag cape, the venders lined the streets selling shirts, hats, flags, tickets. As the weather worsened, men thrusted ponchos in our faces. "Diez mil. Diez mil." The two swarms, those selling and those passing toward the stadium, like two currents swirling against each other.

In the stadium, we unknowingly sat in Barrio Bravo (the rough neighborhood). My friend who lives in Asuncion told me the whole group surrounding us were fans of the Olympia team (from the inter-Paraguay league) who lived in the poorer parts of Asuncion.

There was some kind of dynamic I could not figure out, lead by a curly-haired man standing on the railing of the exit below. Before the game started, he was leading cheers. "Argentians eat cats," we shouted, jumping up and down. "Argentinians do other things I can't put on my blog," we shouted. Behind us, a small band of drums beat. Men waved flags of Paraguay, flags of Coca-Cola, one flag with Jim Morrison on it. Why Jim Morrison? "Porque me gusta" (Because I like it) said the man waving it.

The curly-haired man, who I took to calling The Conductor, was yelling until his lips where wet. Dale, dale, (Let's go!) he said, starting the cheers. He raised his eyebrows up to the drums and they beat. Sometimes he would hold a hand up and they'd stop, and we'd continue a cappella at his command.

The Conductor continued on. As he chanted, his head shrugged toward his left shoulder, as if he had a violin clenched there. His mouth opened wide to the side in a 5-day-beard with every word, his eyes squinted shut. His right arm pulsed up and down, flicking his hand out on every beat and bouncing it back as if calling the whole crowd over.

This is all fine and fun, until the game starts. I wanted to watch, but with the waving of a flag in front of me, it's like Coca-cola. Game. Coca-cola. Game. Coca-cola. Game. The hopping up and down to the beats threw shoulders in my face if I didn't jump with them.

If the cheers die, The Conductor furrowed his brow and shook his curls, as if he was trying to get a middle school choir in shape for all-county, and we'll never make it if we kept just staring off into space like that.

For the entire two hours, this man was faced toward us, not even watching the game, waving his arms and yelling commands and cheer prompts. He seemed to be the commander of all these boys around us. Some kind of renagade crew who took it upon themselves to keep the south end of the Asuncion stadium rocking for the entire game without fail. As if the most important thing on the line was showing spirit and yelling obscenities and throwing the bird at the Argentinian side.

"My arms hurt, 'cause that scary guy was next to me, making me clap the whole time," says Tessa, today. "It's really bad."

For those of us facing the game, we saw that Paraguay got a goal, Argentina did not. So in the end, we had something to cheer for.

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