Paraguay Blog #5: Fish Soup


January 16, Monday

Moringa Oleifera: Ooooh... Aaaah... (Click the pic to read about its uses.)

Yesterday was “Tour Itauguá” day, so that’s what we did. Neat little town. We hit up a place I’m sure is pretty popular with all us tourist-types since it had such a wide variety of Paraguayan art and souvenirs, but we were a bit put off by some of the prices so we didn’t buy anything. The guy wanted 300 mil Gs ($65) for an item I wanted to buy for my mom, but that seemed a little high. Christie took us to another place a little farther down the road so we could shop  from a friend of hers, a charming 71 year old woman you’d swear was 10 years younger, who was selling the exact same item for $28. Score!

And because she could clearly be trusted more than Señor Gringo-Tax at the first place, I decided to also buy a bag of miracle tea- she swears by it- from her for a measly $2.60. Because really: What price miracles? I’ll let you know how all of our various ailments are faring after we’ve had a chance to take it for a whirl.

We pressed on in our Itauguá jaunt, stopping for ice cream at a place I’d eat all my meals if I lived near there, before landing in a plaza outside a beautiful white cathedral. It was so nice to be able to sit and people-watch for a bit. Some of the people available to watch actually put on quite the show!

Cool. And also Ouch.

There was a group of about 10 or so young people out practicing flips and handstands and the like on a lawn across from us. You’ve never seen so many double jointed, upside down, spinning sideways in mid-air young people in your life outside of a circus. At which you were hallucinating. Perhaps on Moringa Oleifera. I’m sorry we’ll miss whatever they were practicing for; no doubt it will be awesome.

We got home, did… some stuff… probably… Man I was so tired most of the day I really don’t remember how the rest of the evening played out. Was last night the night I joined Camille by the cancha for a little while to watch the kids play volleyball, or was that the night before? All I know is I ended last night early with a Benadryl for my bites and my itchy eyes, and then a luxurious crawl into bed- –

– -interrupted by an update that the groundskeeper here, a 23 year old charmer who likes to “practice his English” with the interns here, had just brought me a bowl of homemade fish soup.

Fish soup.

It’s cream based, and the fish in it are described locally as being like vegetarian piranhas because they look just like piranhas but they feed on plants.

Fish. Soup.

I just about died laughing. I was so glad I’m sharing a room with Camille (15) and Caroline (13) on this trip because it was such a pleasure being able to share the laughter and ridiculousness of Fish. Soup. with two people I knew would find it as giggle-inducing as I did.

I haven’t tried the soup yet (I was already in bed when he brought it by just after 10 pm, and I had other leftovers to work through today), but I’m told this boy is quite the cook and that his soup is delicious. I guess when you have to make a pot every time there’s a new intern you get plenty of practice…

January 17, Tuesday

We hit the road for Asuncion this morning, with a pre-city stop off in Areguá. It didn’t result in any purchases- that had been the plan; it’s the home of a particular shop I’m trying to find- but it was a nice drive regardless with some great views of the lake and lots of colorful roadside stands to get me thinking on what I might want to take home to the fam.

Somehow I got video of Camille's birthday dance, but no photos. So instead, please enjoy this picture of my fried mandioca.

Back on track we stopped at a cambio house at Shopping del Sol, then went to TGIFridays for their lunch special. $6.50 got me a fried mandioca appetizer, a fettucine alfredo entree, one of their “dessert shooter” things, and a guarana. Bring it on, man. I’m ready! Christie told our server it’s Camille’s 15th birthday, so her lunch concluded with an ice cream and brownie dessert.

And a chicken dance. Of which I have video.

Christie apologized for suggesting American food since somehow we keep ending up chowing down on some pretty US-style dishes. My meals have been more conventionally American over the past week than they probably have been over the past 6 months! But prices like that can’t be beat when you’re trying to find a place to feed five people with different tastes, and it’s not the norm for them, so I hopped right on board! You know me: Always ready to make the big sacrifices. Heh. ;)

Next order of business: The Tour…

A Tour Of Ruth’s Childhood As Dictated By A Google Map Of Uncertain Accuracy

Doesn't that face just scream "Native American"? And "Bookclubasaurus"?

Back in the day my family attended a church in Asunción called Centro Familiar de Adoración, so I added that church to my map of must-sees for this here Paraguayan Adventure. There was a “Parade of Nations” event there one night back then, and all the kids were asked to wear a costume for it representing the native population of their home country, or of another country if there were too many of us showing up in traditional Paraguayan garb. That is how I came to be a representative of the native peoples of the US, in my blonde braids and my fringed dress, accented by an enormous American flag and a Guarani necklace we probably bought from a street vendor at the Expo in Loma Pyta.

We drove past CFA‘s new location first, but not intentionally. It just sorta popped up. We passed by it pretty quickly on our way to see the old location- the one my family went to- but the address I got online for that didn’t turn up anything that meant anything to anybody in the car, so we continued on our way.

The next stop on the TORCADBAGMOUA was the house my family lived in when we first moved to Asuncion in July 1990. It was a little tricky finding the right street- the area has gotten so built up- but we did eventually come to it. And sure enough, there was the house. I wouldn’t have recognized it if I hadn’t remembered the house number and seen it written there out front.

360 Aca Caraya, Asunción, PY

I hopped out and snapped a pic from across the street, then walked up to the front gate to see if I could get a pic of the front of the house through the bars. I clapped to see if the current residents were home; maybe I could step inside the gate, too? But there was no answer. I thought about ringing the bell when I heard a noise coming from the patio area outside the kitchen, followed by total silence. Maybe no one was home and something had simply fallen? No matter. I’ll get a pic from between the bars and be on my way. Caroline joined me outside at that point and rang the bell for me anyhow. Doesn’t hurt to try, right? Yeah… right…

The empleada poked her head out of her living quarters to the right of the car port, and put on her “shocked and appalled” face for the duration of her dealings with me.

“Is the lady of the house home?”
“No.”
“My family lived in this house when I was a little girl. Can I take a picture of the front of the house from here outside the gate?”
“No.”
“Not even just from right here? I don’t need to come in. I just want a picture of the front of the house. Just by the door.”
“No.”

Why didn’t I take it right away? I should’ve. I was about to! Before Super Commando Mega-Maid came out. Doggonit.

“Thanks anyway…”

Sometimes memories are clearer than reality. Are they better?

And then I snapped a kind of crooked, blurry one anyhow as I stepped away, because I’m a fat, greedy, war-mongering American and we do shockingly and appallingly evil things like take pictures of houses while standing on public property.

The whole thing made me feel all kinds of sad. For 18 years I’ve wanted to see that house again, to test my memory as much as for anything else. And there I was so close to a place I once felt so at home, so full of life, so wrapped up in adventure, and now it’s serviced by a woman who is afraid to let me take a picture of the outside of it from out on the street. I understand. It’s not her house, she has to answer to the lady of the house about the decisions she makes, and I’m just some stranger with a questionable accent.

It was still sad.

Next up we hit the road for our third house on a tiny street off Sacramento between España and my old school, Asunción Christian Academy. There are only two streets that fit that bill, but I didn’t remember which one. It turned out the first one we tried wasn’t it, and the second one has been incorporated into a gated community with a guard house. Oops. So much for seeing house number three!

212 Mandeyupecua, Loma Pyta, PY

Our final planned stop was my family’s second house, in Loma Pyta, and wouldn’t you know it was right where I thought it’d be and nobody came out and yelled at me when I took a picture of it? I didn’t even get an earful when Camille offered to take a picture of me standing in front of it! But all these near-misses on finding places I couldn’t quite map out, and the cool reception at the first house, kept my eagerness at bay, so I refrained from attempting to ask for anything more of the house’s current residents.

Oh but that street! It was just how I remembered it! Right down to the neighbors’ houses alongside and across the street! There was the “overgrown lot” next door, now pared back some, and the house across the way where the man who lived there watered his flowers every evening after dinner, and the despensa where my friend Liliana lived. It was even still the same shade of pre-Tigo blue.

My “known” map points reached, we set off for Shopping Mariano, a relatively new mall there in Loma Pyta a few kilometers past the Expo center. We wandered around in the air conditioning a bit, looked for sneakers for Camille, and picked up a knee brace for Christie.

The food court. *food court... food court...* Echo! *echo... echo...*

It was a lovely mall- albeit a bit deserted- but somehow it felt… awkward? Maybe I’m just used to pushy shop keepers, but the entire time not one store employee said anything more to me than “Gracias,” and that was only after I said it first– as I was leaving. And I lost count of the number I sent a quick “Hola” to on my way in, only to be met by a quickly averted gaze, followed up by looks of either annoyance, distaste, or distracting apathy. Clearly their paychecks are not commission based…

I couldn’t figure out if their responses were the norm or not since only twice were we in stores with other patrons, (Like I said: Deserted.) and those were department stores so I couldn’t make any direct comparisons. And if their responses to me were not the norm, if they really do talk to shoppers, why the cold shoulder no matter how warm or small my own smile? Is it simply a cultural difference and shop keepers at the malls here simply don’t talk to patrons as a general rule?

Whatever the reason, it was unnerving.

But then why do I remember more conversations between my family and strangers? More greetings? More smiles? Surely the fact that I remember so many so clearly means they really happened, right? So where did they go?

Or maybe it’s me. Maybe a big, blonde, North American adult really is that much less welcome a presence than a round-cheeked, blonde, North American child of ten. I mean heck: I’d rather hang out with 10 year old me…

On our drive back home to Itauguá I decided to grab some video footage of Ruta 9 when we stopped at a traffic light and I realized CFA II, my family’s second church in Paraguay, was right there in my view finder!

Centro Familiar de Adoración II, Loma Pyta, PY

I snapped as many pics as I could before the light changed. What a sight to see! My dad helped build that church, joined at one point by a group of his construction buddies from our old church in Chicago. Even my sibs and I got to lend a hand once or twice in splitting tiles, tamping down rocks and dirt– you know: kid stuff.

When we left Paraguay to move back to the States I think the church still had a dirt floor throughout most of the building, the walls were all exposed brick, and there were no lights in the “bathrooms.” But now? Wow how it has grown! And hopefully not just in the areas of flooring, paint, and stucco. ;)

He is just a poor boy, though his story's seldom told...

So here I sit, blogging at the kitchen table of this amazing family, their amazing dog alternately pacing and resting his head in my lap, fans whirring all around me, children laughing in the dimly lit yard outside, a bowl of fish soup waiting for me in the fridge…

…and I don’t know what to think. I’ve forgotten how. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to think ahead, to plan for tomorrow. I’ve lived so long by myself, for myself, with no changes in sight, that even though I have this vague notion that I could really “rise up,” so to speak, with all this at my back, I find I haven’t the faintest idea how to do so.

Or what that would look like.

Or if I even want to.

Writing on the wall and flashing neon arrows welcome.

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5 comments

  1. Thanks Ruth!! I am loving your trip – reliving each moment with you. Your pictures bring back such wonderful memories. It seems some things are as we remember them after all.
    The boys are fine by the way!

  2. What a trip! I remember watching, “Singing in the Rain” with you in one of those houses!! And a failed attempt of a sleepover…I got homesick! Haha!

  3. We are fat, greedy, war-mongering Americans and we do shockingly and appallingly evil things. But we’re aware of it. Does that make it better? No?

    Still, your dad is American. And he helped build that church. And so did you.

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