Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

November 27, 2011

South America Public Health VIII

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 10:05 am

Déja vu; déja vu.I wasn’t gonna wait for it to hit me. I went searching for it. My eyes glommed onto everything that had not changed in 40 years., digging thru the New Asunción for memories.

Campesinos flooding into the capital looking for jobs and foreigners seeking cheap retirement in Paraguay have spawned uncontrolled growth of the city. But I found some goodies.

The Panteon de los Héroes still honors past dictators in crumbling plaster, protected by adolescents in military garb wearing serious faces too young to shave.

And right across the street, the Lido Bar, packed with customers both inside and at tables on the sidewalk, offered us batidos de durazno, grilled chicken, but no mandioca (I can’t believe I actually wanted some). They were all out of the tasteless, stringy root. We had to settle for potatoes.

A couple of blocks away I caught a glimpse of a name painted on a building, the paint so faded it nearly matched the sooty plaster of the wall. But it was legible : “Munich.” Maybe it’s closed, I thought, but I’m gonna get a picture anyway. I know some folks back home who might like to see it.

But it wasn’t closed.

Dinner that nite, on the patio of the Munich, did include mandioca. And beer. And stars glittering thru the vines of the overhead arbor. The cathedral bells gonged our time there, in warm and perfumed nite air.

The Hotel Guarani got a visit from us, but not our business. The visit was to its roof, which offered a good, but precarious view. No railing; demolition underway for remodeling. But we looked down upon the Plaza and the flowering tops of trees: orange and yellow blossoms. Down upon the lazy river that winds past the city, no more urgently than in 1972 (or, I imagine, 1872).

The other Plaza – Uruguaya – was littered with crude tents, smoldering fires, and heaps of stuff resembling garbage.

“Indiginas,” we were told. “From the North. “They want land.”

The next day,we walked thru the Plaza, and found just that. Families living a very dirty and marginal life. They had brought the distant campo right into the downtown. I squatted and asked a nursing mother where they were from.

“Alto Paraná.”
“What group? Aché?”

She shook her head: “Guaraní.”

ABC Color, the local newspaper, ran a very short article buried on page 30. They referred to the occupiers only as “Indiginas.”

Deja vu, indeed.

Tiina insisted that we buy some food for her and her family. A good idea. It would probably be very difficult for the woman to take any money I might give her and shop with it. We brought them a picnic of chicken barbecue, a carton of milk, juice, crackers. A good meal for one day, but they need something else. And that’s in the hands of Paraguay’s government. Again. Still.

Home for our two days in Asúncion was the Gran Hotel del Paraguay. Refurbished, but still the sprawling century- old home of Madame Lynch, with its ten foot high doors, tile floors, hardwood trim, and brass beds. The staff behaved as if it were the 1920’s; the food was good; the pool was big and decorated by the breeze with floating leaves and twigs. The diesel belching cacophony beyond was muffled, and the heat defeated, by gardens of flowers and fruits I’ve never seen before, where a macaw and toucan live.

I warned Tiina that, one of the endearing things about Paraguayans was their innocent recurring irony of trying to be classy and up to date, but planting little surprises there to which they were oblivious. Like the modern glass paneled shower stall in the hotel room wherein the shower head was aimed right at the hinged part of the shower door, so that the floor of the bathroom was flooded by the time you stepped out. Or the large script letters painted on the exterior of the downtown icon proudly proclaiming it the “Hotel Guarani Splendor” but with paint peeling in large sheets from the wall just beneath the letters.

The final deja vu, amid the concrete and glass sprawl of the New Asuncion, was the Paraguayans themselves. Self proclaimed historians who laughed at my jokes told in Spanish and who bubbled about the glories of the country’s multiple wars of wholesale slaughter. The geologist who was born in the Chaco (Filidélfia) and discussed at length the need for a quality education for Paraguay’s future generations and also for birth control. And, finally, the cab driver who pulled over from the random traffic after I’d tried to wave down a cab for half an hour.

“The city has grown since I lived and worked here 40 years ago,” I opened.

“Forty years? Mucho tiempo. Where are you from?”

“The E.E.U.U.”

“No me diga. Before I drove a cab, I used to work for North Americans. The Cuerpo de Paz. You know it?”

“Uh-h. yeah. What did you do?”

“Messenger. And driver. From 1985 to 1992.”

“Well, I worked as the Peace Corps doctor in the 70’s, and bought a car from the driver. His name was Francie.”

“Francie?! I know him! He is a friend.”

I felt the warm flow of Deja vu like a swallow of caña, from my heart all the way up to my smile.

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