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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fruit Trees, Argentine Relations, and Soccer

          I haven’t had the chance recently to write a super long blog update, so this will be my attempt to discuss a few things that I have wanted to write about for a long time. The topics will probably seem really random, but that is sort of how my days go anyway so I figure that maintaining the blog in that fashion is not only okay but also necessary. Over the last couple of months since the unforgiving summer sun gave way to the less aggressive fall sun there have been copious amounts of fruit on the trees. Growing up in a fairy large city like Cincinnati didn’t mean it was impossible to have fruit trees around the neighborhood, but I personally never experienced having the seasonal joy of abundant fruiting occur all around me. The house I moved into has 5 mandarin orange trees and one regular orange tree that are fully fruiting. They not only provide me with the necessary vitamin C necessary for fighting off scurvy, but also they provide a lovely backdrop to what otherwise might be seen as a rundown hovel that is in fact my home. Particularly during those demanding weeks when my house didn’t have consistent running water or power I past many afternoons basking in the sun while sitting on my small wooden desk chair that I borrowed from the school eating oranges. I’m sure my neighbors thought I was crazy, but the fact that I am an American living in their community is enough for them to probably think I am mad without the added orange quirk. What amazes me more than the bountiful amount of fruit that surrounds my everyday life is how generous people have been giving it to me.
To date someone has given me 3 bushels of bananas, 16 palmelos (grapefruits more or less), 20 oranges, 2 different sacks of Paraguayan mangos, 15 lemons and 6 avocados just for visiting their house. Granted that much of the fruit would go to waste if not given away seeing the abundance on each tree, but the fact that it is always offered as a common courtesy is easily one of the favorite customs I have experienced to date. It seems like giving someone fruit if they go out of their way to spend time with you is expected, and I have tried my best to reciprocate whenever someone comes to my house. I think my current level of fruit intake well exceeds the health departments recommended daily serving amount, and that is not something I am complaining about.
My recent ability to get copious amounts of fruit has enhanced the quantity of people I know in the community greatly. The process of getting to know people has been sort of slow at times, but I have managed to meet a number of people, especially of late, mainly because of my work at the school. I would hardly call myself a full-fledged teacher especially considering I have no formal teaching experience or training, but in the minds of the students I am essentially one of the professors. I think that being around the school in that capacity, attending the parents commission meetings, and now living close to the school has made me a much more familiar face with the students who then tell their parents about me which subsequently leads to interactions outside at the kids homes with their families. Slowly but surely I am starting to feel like I have a better sense of the types of families who live in my community and the sorts of backgrounds they have. In short, my barrio (neighborhood) is what I would consider a working middle class community with people who speak a good smattering of Guaraní and Spanish. The clay content in the soil makes the environment ideal for brick making, and there are subsequently dozens of brick making operations in the area. There are scores of teachers, many little stores, and plenty of vehicle repair shops along the main road that runs along where I live. Of course there is plenty of agriculture especially the further out in the countryside one goes, but for the most part people don’t depend exclusively on their fields for their livelihoods, a much more common theme in more rural communities. A good example of the types of people who live around me is my community contact and former host Dad Julio.
Julio is 45-years-old and is the area director of 7 schools outside the center of town. His responsibilities are mainly focused at the largest K-12 school in the area, but he is also in charge of recourse allocation to the other area schools. Now how much time and effort that takes is still a mystery to me, but essentially that means he is a pretty busy guy. Like many Paraguayans, Julio lived and worked in Argentina for a few years in his 20s before he came back to Paraguay to get his teaching certification, which he has been doing ever since. It is really interesting talking to Julio about his time in Argentina mainly because it is such a common thing for Paraguayans to do for a period of time.
According to Wikipedia, there are roughly 325,000 Paraguayans, born in Paraguay, who currently live in Argentina and another 2 million people who are considered Paraguayan Argentine. Considering that the approximate population of Paraguay is about 6.45 million the fact that 325,000 leave to work in Argentina and another 2 million are considered ethnically Paraguayan shows how even though the 2 countries share many geographical features, Argentina, provides many more economic opportunities for Paraguayans than Paraguay itself. In some ways the comparison is a lot like the number of Mexican immigrants in the United States with the key difference being that Paraguay and Argentina have an open boarder agreement encouraging the crossing of the 2 boarders for economic gain while quite the opposite is the case between the United States and Mexico. Argentina is Paraguay’s largest trade partner by far sending roughly 33% of its exports to Argentina. On the other hand Paraguay is only Argentina’s 14th largest exporter with 0.8% of its exports going Paraguay. I think it is really interesting because it demonstrates the relative size Paraguay in relation to the whole world. The fact that Paraguay quite literally sends a significant percentage of it workforce and exports to Argentina while only needing to import a small percentage of Argentine goods show both how big Argentina is and how Paraguay, in many respects, is able to produce much more than it is needs to consume. Argentina is closer to the top of the developing countries while Paraguay is closer to the bottom with regards to what some people would call middle-income economies. That economic gap also shows the differences in consumption between the 2 countries and the striking differences in living standards as well. While here I have met dozens of people who have either themselves worked in Argentina, known a family member, or had a friend spend significant time there. However, the amazing thing to me is that almost all the Paraguayans who leave for Argentina come back to Paraguay because it “más tranquillo.” We don’t often see Mexican immigrants return to Mexico in the United States, but in Paraguay it is the norm to do that, which I find fascinating.

The last thing I wanted write about is soccer, which is long overdue in my opinion. I don’t think it would shock anyone to say that Paraguay loves soccer. Its World Cup team lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Spain in 2010, and has qualified for the World Cup previously in 1986, 1998, 2002, and 2006. FIFA’s south American headquarters is located 5-minutes away from the international airport close to Asuncion, and the country boasts 2 Copa America Championships in 1953 and 1979 a pretty remarkable feat for a country that is surrounded by traditional powerhouses Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Within this context Paraguay also has a thriving domestic league that is made up of 12 teams the most famous being Olimpia who have won 39 league championships most recently this past year and 3 Copa Libertadores, which is the most prestigious club tournament in South America. Their bitter rival is Cerro Porteño winners of 28 domestic league titles, but no Copa Libertadores essentially making Olimpia the equivalent of the Yankees, which is an apt analogy when considering their colors are also black and white. One of the questions I get asked in a fairly regular basis is “que club sos” (what club are you) now given the fact the Cerro and Olimpia have both doubled the amount of domestic league titles than any other team in the league, it is no surprise that almost every Paraguayan is either an Olimpista or a Cerista. It you say you are one or the other in front of the wrong group of people lets just say it can make you visit with said group of people slightly uncomfortable. Whenever either team is playing there are dozens of people surrounding TVs in town and always gunshots and fireworks after victories. In O’Leary, a small fight was started during the last game of the season when Olimpia won and Cerro lost making Olimpia champion. People get really intense about their team, and given the fanaticism I made the personal decision to be a fan of one of the more mediocre clubs called Guaraní. Now when I am asked what club I am I respond Guarani and always get a casual laugh then the conversation moves forward without any grief.
That is pretty much it for now, but look forward to a video update in my next entry that will give an in depth tour of my home.

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