I woke up today and began my weekend-morning routine. I grabbed my happily blabbering daughter from her crib, poured a steaming mug of coffee and sat on the balcony to listen to the birds. And Alanna's desperate attempts to converse with the neighborhood dogs. It struck me that I only have a few more days to enjoy this – after four years, we leave Paraguay for good in just three weeks.
This sparked a reflection on the lack of blog-posts I’ve written about Paraguay. My occasional writings mostly reflect the travelling we’ve done outside of Asuncion and rarely explore our daily experiences here. Over the next few weeks, as we prepare for our exit, I’ll be posting several pieces about things I’ll miss about Paraguayan life, about things I won't miss and memorable episodes from the last four years. Hopefully these bittersweet musings will help me recall interesting experiences and will prove interesting reading for Alanna in the years to come. Thanks for reading.
Every time I depart the Silvio Pettirossi International Airport in Asuncion, I am confronted, haunted even, by a rich mystery: why is a lonely biohazard container sitting on the edge of the tarmac?
This vibrantly yellow container screams, by design, to “keep me away from people!” Yet, the hulk of neon metal has inhabited the fringes of the airport for at least four years: I noticed it the first time we departed from the ASU airport in 2014! I don’t have a whole lot of concrete information to share about this enigmatic container. I’ve Google-searched it, talked to students whose parents’ own hangers and even asked a ticket agent, all to no avail. The best I can offer is to share some of the questions I have regarding this mysterious hunk of corrugated metal:
That’s about all!
At this time of year, when I leave the air conditioning of my apartment, step into the relentless Paraguayan summer heat and look down at my shirt 3.2 seconds later to find it soaked with sweat, my mind quickly wanders to fantasies of Canadian winter. Now, after a recent day hike, those fantasies will take me directly to the frosted treetops and ice-walls of Johnston Canyon.
To escape our daughter and truly experience the Rockies during winter, Dani and I dumped our daughter with her wonderful grandparents and headed to Banff National Park. It had recently snowed, and our total lack of mountain-experience was clear even before we realized it ourselves: we drove the Corolla instead of taking the Tacoma with four-wheel drive to “save on gas”. Rookie mistake!
After taking the exit to the canyon, Dani and I became increasingly concerned at the state of the unplowed roads. We saw no other vehicles, but we decided that the ruts in the snow were adequate to press ahead. There was no point in turning around after driving for almost two hours to get here. As we plunged further down the unplowed backroad that led to the Johnston Canyon trailhead, we changed our minds. I searched for a place where I could turn around without getting stuck in powder that was about a foot-deep outside of the safety of our road-ruts. No such option presented itself.
As we noticed that we had no cell-service, our tension mounted. As our wheels slid and spun with every slight turn, I had increasingly morbid nightmares of slowly freezing to death on the side of the road while waiting vainly for aid. Hyperbole of course…
However, as we finally turned into the trailhead parking, we both breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Maybe this would be worth it after all!
Our apocalyptic visions of a vehicular disaster quickly faded as we suited up and hiked into a scene that felt straight out of a winter-postcard.
The fresh snowfall that made our drive into the canyon so difficult made the trek itself magical. The snow-frosted the trees and blanketed the path. The muted silence of winter reigned as we struggled and panted through knee-deep snow towards the waterfall. Johnston Canyon is one of the busiest attractions in the Canadian Rockies but, on the trek in at least, we had the trail to ourselves. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors during the Canadian winter, but I’ve never seen winter quite so picturesque!
I’ll let a few photos speak for themselves rather than pattering on vainly in a futile attempt to describe the indescribable, but, suffice it to say that, when I stand sweating uncontrollably in the Paraguayan heat, I’ll be dreaming of the snowy wonderland that is Johnston Canyon.
The (very) few of you who regularly take time to read my paltry blog-offerings will, by now, have noticed a theme: I enjoy street-art. You’ve seen me write about it in Malaysia, Nova Scotia and elsewhere…but here it goes again. A familiar story paired with familiar musings and familiar photographs. Only this time, I’m in Bogota, Colombia!
I spent a weekend in Bogota for a work-conference with a colleague. It was a busy couple of days and, regrettably, I didn’t have time to spend endless hours exploring the city. However, with a free Sunday morning before catching our flight back to Asuncion, we decided to pursue a graffiti tour in the historic Candelaria district of Bogota.
After meeting our loosely organized tour in the late-morning, my colleague Erin, a dozen random people and I waddled behind our guide, Jay, like a group of obedient ducklings. As we wandered the side streets of Candelaria in search of the best graffiti-pieces, Jay, an active member of the street art community himself, regaled us with anecdotes about the history and personalities of the Colombian street-art scene. From the police-murder of Felipe Becerra, a sixteen-year-old graffiti artist in 2011, to Justin Beiber’s spray-paint escapades, the stories I heard were engaging, horrifying and intriguing all at once.
Omnipresent in the street-art of Bogota (and pretty much everywhere else) is the communication of important messages and ideas. By viewing the graffiti and listening to Jay, I absorbed a ton of insight into the political and social problems that plague Colombia. Painted reminders of Colombia’s relentless violence were ubiquitous on the technicolour walls and hotly contested economic issues, such as gold-mining and GMO foods, were clear visual motifs peppered throughout the tour. I suppose this is one of the reasons that I enjoy street art is because it is stimulating not only to my sense of beauty but also to my (highly limited) background knowledge. I can learn about a city from its graffiti in ways that stuffy art galleries can’t compete with. And learn I did I Bogota!
I don’t want to include very photo I took or explain every piece step by step because, well, that would be brutally boring. But I’ve included a montage some of my favorites below.
I was raised in Eastern Canada, where faint flashes on the horizon and distant rumbling counted as “thunder and lightning.” The excited chatter that ensued in elementary school on those rare occasions is, in retrospect, cute. I almost laugh at how excited I could become at the sight of a few silent streaks of lightning out at sea.
The earliest “real” thunderstorms I can recall were in Alabama on our regular summer vacations to visit family. I remember standing barefoot on the concrete pad outside Grandma’s laundry room as a child, sheltered under the awning of the roof and peering at the yard obscured by a sheeting curtain of rain that poured from the gutters. The rain was so thick you could barely see the other end of the yard. You could feel the thunder reverberate in your stomach! For a Canadian kid used to quiet snowfall and foggy rain, these deluges seemed Biblical in their intensity. They were invigorating and exciting like no snowstorm or rain-shower back home in Nova Scotia could ever compete with!
I loved thunderstorms when I lived in Bangladesh for two years as well. I would regularly stand by our back window watching as lightning, appearing in faint colors of blue, yellow and green due to the heavy air-pollution, struck buildings and trees off in the distance. I’d often use the din of thunder and rain to cover up my amateur guitar playing and vocal accompaniment. Once, a thunderstorm hit our neighborhood so hard that there was a literal waterfall running down the apartment building’s stairs from the roof. Even though our apartment risked flooding from above, a situation that felt so paradoxical, I still had an eager smile plastered across my face for the whole episode!
Now, in Paraguay, thunderstorm-season is beginning anew, and I realize how much I’ve missed the random, lightning-filled deluges that characterize this corner of the world. As I write this, I’m sitting on our balcony. The thermometer reads 36 degrees and the wind has been mounting all day. A tangible energy dominates. The air is electric. Every inch of my body seems to tingle. When I breathe the humid, earthy taste of Paraguay, my mouth salivates. Birds flap their wings as they return to their nests, calling one another in a manner that seems to communicate urgency. The street-dogs below are barking. The odd person or car that bustles past is clearly hoping to avoid being caught in the downpour and ankle-deep floods that could ensue. The tension mounts…
I spend thirty minutes feeding my blue-eyed baby girl blended chicken and butternut squash. She doesn’t want to eat. I discover that, if I jiggle my belly enthusiastically or contort my face until it hurts, she will approve the meal and agree to take a single bite. Dance. Clown. Repeat. Dance. Clown. Repeat.
End of Intermission:
Back to thunderstorms! Lightning is flashing through the clouds now and the temperature has dropped at least ten degrees. The air is fresh and cool in comparison to the heavy, swamp-butt humidity that dominated all day. Now, as I sit tucked into the nook of my balcony that splatters the least rain on my laptop, I watch the storm unfold. The rain sheets past the streetlight below looking like shimmering silver tinsel on a Christmas tree. The trees bend and whip frantically in the wind. The smell of rain fills my nostrils as bright flashes of light illuminate a leaden sky and thunder cracks all around our apartment building, assaulting me from different angles. I feel alive!
I think that electric feeling of life is one of the reasons I exhibit a childlike excitement when each thunderstorm rolls in. The intensity and energy of each storm reminds me that life isn’t all dishes, diapers and paperwork-drudgery. It is filled with wonders too. Thunderstorms are my occasional reminder to marvel and wonder at some of the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of Paraguay.
Danielle, I think, secretly enjoys my rush to the designated spot on the balcony with the signs of an impending squall. My thunderstorm giddiness is largely hidden in public. Most of you (I now directly address the very few people who read this) will never see that side of me. But rest assured, whenever a storm rolls in accompanied by rain, lightening, wind and thunder, the bare-foot boy who was entranced by those Alabama-downpours emerges. I hope he will never go away.