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.
I am sad.
As I entered my car one afternoon, I heard a fleshy thud. In the corner of my eye, I saw what I thought was a leafy branch tumble to the ground behind me, joining the overripe mangoes that littered the driveway. Then it moved. After writhing and flopping in eerie silence for a few seconds, the green pile stopped moving and lay still. My curiosity piqued, I left my car and walked to the fallen object.
It was a parakeet, fully intact without obvious wounds or injuries. I was struck by how shockingly beautiful and unblemished the parakeet appeared. It was also very dead.
For reasons that still bewilder me, a powerful wave of emotion swept over me. I was overcome by sadness and anger. I struggled to contain tears.
Maybe it was how the bird seemed perfectly framed amongst the fallen mangoes, like a tropical Renaissance painting. Maybe I was guilty that my five-story apartment building was the likely cause of the bird’s death. Maybe I was suffering a rare male version of PMS. I don’t really know!
But to me, the flawless body lying dead at my feet seemed a metaphor for everything wrong with the world. Sometimes, it feels that everything innocent and pure on earth is pillaged and destroyed Coral reefs are bleached due to careless water pollution. Children are raped by their relatives. Animals are driven to extinction by human greed. Young soldiers are forced to fight in foreign wars they do not support. An overwhelming list of the world’s ills felt encapsulated by the emerald corpse in my driveway.
At that moment, I was inspired to write poetry. I envisioned crafting language so intricate, so precise that it would communicate how I truly felt. I would write something with the power to make others mourn for the parakeet. And the world it had left behind.
I then deposited the dead bird in the trash bin unceremoniously. And wrote a blog post instead.
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.