10: Usa Tú Coco – Isla Tobatí, Paraguay – The Exploitation and …


To begin this volume of the Contradiction and Exploitation, I would like to respond to a letter I received from one of my faithful readers, who called my last entry, “Para Why” full of “gross inaccuracies”. Well, then I retract just a little. Perhaps the Peace Corps has done some positive things for some people somewhere at sometime. And possibly the Peace Corps directors do not answer to a cabinet member but to good old George W. Bush himself. I don’t know if this is true or not. But I do know that I don’t care. Because no matter to whom they answer, I still stand by all of my comments, which followed because they are my OPINION. My definition of opinion is “A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof.” Inaccurate, to me, would mean “Not accurate; not according to truth; inexact; incorrect; erroneous; as, in inaccurate man, narration, copy, judgment, calculation, etc.” Well now I am lost in syntax but the point is, I take my own opinions to be accurate to me and I don’t really care about other’s inaccurate opinions of my opinions. There, I said it.

What I did find entertaining as I thought along this week, is that the world’s number one colonist for the moment, the great G-dub, may be responsible for the Peace Corp directors, and therefore the programs of thousands of volunteers in scores of countries where US colonization efforts are more than clear. So if his foreign policy as it is applied to the Peace Corps has anything to do with his political agendas, then I even have more questions about what is going on. (Isn’t he also the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. military?) Hmmmm.

To his discredit, George has often summed up his view foreign policy in interesting ways: “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.” – Des Moines, Iowa, August 21st, 2000.

And he once said of the people who live in the country of Greece, “Keep good relations with the Grecians.” – The Economist, June 21, 1999. When I lived in Greece, every Greek and non-Greek alike I had a conversation with agreed that G-dub is a melaka (“wanker” in “Grecian”.)

Moving on from him because he is only a figurehead (that means ‘without a brain’, right?), if you want to take the OPINION of someone who has lived in and travelled across large portions of 5 of the 6 populated continents, then I am under the opinion that US foreign policy – if it is truly physically possible – both sucks and blows. Why, just the other day, as we walked down a sunny street in…Paraguay it happened to be, a man confronted Andy and I and asked where we were from. We said “Canada.” He said, “Good, because if you were from the United States I would slice your throat right here and now.”

This example is hardly rare. On this continent of South America this summer I have seen endless graffiti on the street. “Assassinate Bush!”, “US get out of Iraq!”, “Die Yankees!”, and “Go home Yankees!” seem to be this summer’s favorites. (Unfortunately they aren’t talking about the New York Yankees.) I have been travelling for the most part in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. And I’m pretty sure these aren’t what Bush would call “Rogue Nations”. Maybe just allies held hostile. But you better believe that 90 percent of the populous of Islamic Indonesia, which is somewhere around 200 million, hate us. It seemed to be more like 100 percent when I was there taking polls. Many there believe that Osama is a humanitarian. Anyway, if the US has only 300 million supporters world-wide (most all living in the US) out of 6 billion on the planet, that makes about 5 percent. I will round it up to 10 percent for arguments sake. Can 90 percent of the planet be wrong? We shall see.

So, in conclusion, those are just more of my opinions on things. So I have come up with a simple, easy-to-use list of ideas for people who don’t like or don’t agree with my opinions. Just make your choice from the list below:

Don’t read them. I really couldn’t care less.
Understand that this is a non-professional group of my journal entries, a travelogue for entertainment only.
Go through all my writing with a fine-tooth comb, become angry at me, and cry to me about it.
Kiss my asphalt. That is my rebuttal.

Now that we have gotten through that unpleasant business, Let’s move onto something much more important.

Continuing our stay in the tiny village of Isla Tobatí, Paraguay. With an endless supply of free time and money, a nice house, and a shocked and awe-struck community interested in our every move, the Tres Leones decided to throw another housewarming at Toren’s new compound, this time for the community. If you ever happen to stumble into Isla a few months from now, Toren’s house should be the one with an ostrich strutting around. Even if communication mostly failed because of our lack of knowledge of the language of Guaraní, cooking for the community might prove we are human, do human activities like cook and eat, and possibly help bridge the cultural gap. In light of the housewarming, I finally present to you “How to kill a chicken Paraguayan-style.”

Ask your neighbor/friend Lucio to ride his horse down the dirt road and buy a bag of live chickens.
When he returns, give the bag a little kick to make sure they are fresh and to make yourself feel superior to them. Listen for that cluck.
Grab one bird out of the bag by its feet with your left hand while holding the wings in with your right.
Rest her legs on your bent left knee for support and slide your right hand down to her neck.
With your right hand, slowly rotate her head in no more and no less than three circles.
With your right hand, grip the neck and give a swift pull toward the ground (don’t worry, the head will pop right off if you did step 5).
So as not to be covered in chicken blood and faeces, drop the head and support the bird’s body.
When she is good and calm, tie her feet up to a tree branch with duct tape or rope and let her hang.
Allow the blood to drip out of the neck (+ or – 15 minutes).
Drop the bird in luke-warm water for + or – 20 minutes.
Pluck all feathers including those from the head.
With a sharp knife, remove “el carne más rico” (the best meat), including all internal organs, undeveloped eggs, and the head minus the beak and eyes. Place them in a pile on a plate.
With a sharp knife, remove the rest of the less-rico meat (breast wings, thighs, legs) and put them in a pile on a plate.
Throw both piles into a pot to boil (+ or – 15 minutes)
Add local vegetables and season to taste (+ or – 30 minutes) – Necesita sal!
Enjoy and congratulations! You just started a Paraguayan fiesta (+ or – 6 hours) – Necesita cane liquor!

Think that is disgusting and barbaric? Then don’t eat animals.

Fortunately, the locals saw that we had no idea what we were doing, so a team of five men, who had wandered into Torens’s yard for the get-together, took care of nearly all the food preparation. They argued over the best way to do the cooking but it was generally agreed that Toren, Andy, and I were capable of nothing but drinking boxed wine and speaking broken Spanish. They did allow us to do the chicken killing, however, but only under close adult supervision. Being rookies, chicken blood splattered in all directions, soaking our clothes.

Somehow, cooking the meal took four hours or so, as members of the community continued to arrive, bringing mandioca (yucca root) and smiles. Toren’s former host mom, who seems to be a mother for the entire community, showed up with some others in her family. She acts very matriarchal towards Toren, often telling him to, “Usa tú coco!” (Use your head) when she is of different opinion than him. Finally, we moved a picnic table inside of the small, concrete common space (the house has no furniture) and all 15-ish of us sat down to share the hearty stew, mandioca, conversation, and warmth.

My interpretation of the evening was that all had a good time, but the highlight for them was probably in the evening’s post-dinner gringo entertainment. In what would become a common occurrence over the next few days in Paraguay, the Tres Leones broke out a guitar and belted out a sick acoustic version of George Michael’s “Faith”. The locals were delighted to hear western music, whose rhythm, chords, and song structures are as foreign to them as the Frisbee we tossed around in the yard earlier that day. They asked for more music, so we all took our hand at cover songs, and tried a group jam with my harmonica. They played a few songs for us in their local style as well.

The next morning we felt a successful night had taken place, and, after three days in the community of Isla Tobatí, we were ready to move on. But the locals told us that we had to stay because the next day was the festival of the patron saint of Isla and one of the largest celebrations of the year. The only things we needed to bring were handkerchiefs for the caballeros (horse dudes) and ourselves. Okay?

Around noon that day, Lucio rode by Toren’s house on his horse (who had just finished at the barber’s) and yelled for us to follow him to the festival. I hopped on the horse and we were off the short distance to the center of the village, where 100 or so people were gathered. Women and children were generally situated standing or sitting in plastic chairs in front of the church, while groups of adolescent guys or girls stood, taking straight pulls off of Tres Leones caña, behind a fence near the school across the dirt road from the church. The caballeros of the community, in uniforms, rode their well-manicured horses in circles between the school and church, passing bottles of caña between them. We took a spot with the adolescent males behind the fence and tried to make sense of it all.

It seemed there was to be a tournament among the caballeros, who now hung our handkerchiefs off the side of their decorated animals. The tournament was a contest of speed and accuracy on horses. From a hundred meters down the dirt road, two caballeros would race their horses back toward the center of the village and toward a wooden cross from which hung two small metal rings. The caballero who arrived to the cross first and successfully pull a ring from the cross with a small lance while still travelling full speed, would be the winner. We saw a few practice rounds but the tournament would not start until everyone in the community was good and loaded.

Besides, there were several other games to play first. One was called “run your horse (at an unsafe speed) into another mounted horse in an attempt to scare the caballero or knock him to the ground”. Fueled by alcohol and lack of inhibition, this game quickly got out of hand as a cloud of dust rose from the intersection and horses were slamming their bodies into each other and into wire fences. When that game became too dangerous and a few more bottles were finished by the mounted caballeros and spectators, the next game, “tackle your horse”, began. Extremely unorganized, this game was nothing more than picking up the front legs of your horse and doing anything else in you power in order to pin your horse to the ground on its side. It becomes a team sport if the horse puts up too much resistance.

After a few hours of this, we decided we would take a break from the festival, but a group of young girls accosted us on the way out. Apparently they had heard (from Toren) that Andy and I, “Pueden bailar ‘rap’? (Can you guys rap dance?) Ommm, sure. So, to their astoundment, we gave them a little taste of a beat box and some ‘rap dance’. They told us we had to come to the disco that night. What disco?

At dusk the festivities changed nature at the church. The caballeros dropped off their horses and returned to the intersection. People from other villages began to arrive. Under the lone street light in the village was set up a DJ equipped with a microphone and an enormous speaker. We headed back out with Lucio to the makeshift ‘discothèque’, and after another version of “Faith”, it was time to hit the dirt dance floor. At this early point in the night, 11pm, the dance was still the traditional South American double line shuffle. Fathers danced with their daughters while the young men waited their turn. But the fathers began to do everything in their power to relinquish their daughters to us, the Tres Leones. The dancing and low-key flirting lasted for hours and we actually started believing the 14-year old girls, who were telling us they were 18.

Our dancing became more and more free-form. And the young women couldn’t get enough of our ‘rap’ moves. Some of Andy’s moves actually elicited screams of pleasure from the ladies and he almost caused one girl to faint when he uttered Guaraní phrase “Ro’usé” (I want to eat you) to her. Despite the shock value of our presence, however, the night was all in good fun as we stomped up a dust storm through the dark streets of Isla for a good portion of the night.

It was incredibly difficult to peel ourselves out of bed the next morning. We knew as soon as we awoke that we were headed onto the next stage of our journey. We had to say farewell to Isla Tobatí and the simple and easy life of the past few days. But the Tres Leones had truly affected the village quite enough and surely given the community some interesting things to ponder and talk about for the near future.

So we were ready to move on…after we dealt with a few issues. Showering had been difficult due to icy well water and the nearly freezing Chaco temperatures. Or at least that is my excuse for why we really stunk badly. And we were covered with dirt and chicken blood from head to toe. It was getting smelly in there, so plug up all your nose. We decided to treat it like any other problem. If you ignore the problem, it will inevitably go away, ¿No? ¡No!, it didn’t and the only ones who suffered were the notoriously clean Paraguayans, who certainly visually questioned our ways of hygiene.

The Tres Leones looked and smelled more like 16th century European sailors, as we pulled up our anchor and headed on foot one hour back to San Juan Bautista. Our plan was to head east to the tropical zone where Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil all meet. The weather there might be conducive to showering. If not, the Foz de Iguazu, a massive waterfall complex and national park, could always hose us down.

Two long bus rides later, we arrived in Ciudad del Este, the eastern border of Paraguay, at 1am. Now we had to say a terribly sad goodbye to Toren, the third lion, who we won’t see for years, unless we want to practice our ‘rap dance’ at next year’s patron saint festival in Isla. Our pride was no longer as big. He didn’t have a passport, so we dropped him at the border of Paraguay and Brazil (or did we?). Likewise, Andy and I realized that it was illegal for us to enter Brazil as well because we didn’t have visas. So we decided the best way to solve that problem was to sneak into Brazil anyway, and like our other problems, it would probably just go away. Hmmmm. So we hopped in a cab, not stopping at the border, and cruised into Brazil the best and only way we knew how: Illegally.

We left Toren (or did we?) in a restaurant near the border. He was nursing a beer and a wound left in his hand by a type of Paraguayan insect (the Tobatíans call it Pee-kay) which crawls up from the dirt, into your skin, and leaves a small black egg behind, which grows to a relatively enormous size in about a week. It has to be painfully removed with a pin.

The Paraguayan bug bit me and Andy figuratively and literally. Figuratively, it crawled into our bodies and laid eggs in our heart. The eggs have hatched and now we have nothing but love for the people of the ‘guay. It laid eggs in our brain. They hatched and now we will always have pleasant thoughts of the genuine Guaraní people of the Chaco. Literally, however, we did leave with three souvenirs from Paraguay. Just a few days ago, Andy found two of the large Peekay eggs growing in him while I found only one in me. As a last reminder of Paraguay it was really tough to say goodbye to the little bastards…with a pin…on wine.

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