Churches Schools and Horses

Trip Start Feb 07, 2006
Trip End Aug 07, 2006

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Flag of Paraguay  ,
Sunday, February 12, 2006

Make sure to check out Andrea's Travel Blog for more stories and photos of our trip!

Day 3 - Church day

I have to admit that I'm not a very big church-goer but when we were asked to attend the Sunday service, we were awfully curious and happily accepted the invite.

The small church in Fabiola's community was where the clean water well had been installed two months before we'd arrived. The church was central to the 60 houses in the neighborhood.

It was a modest white washed building with mostly hand-made decorations. A rough looking stray dog sniffed for food under the benches as the locals chased him away. Cows grazed on the lawn.

To call the community to the service, a church bell was normally rung, but because it was too small, they now used a cast iron piece of rough metal hanging from a tree as their bell.

"Si, Si" the nun dressed in plain clothes said pointing to the chunk of metal and the rod used to ring it.

They wanted me to ring the bell. So I did, perhaps a bit too hard as I saw bits of paint tearing off with each hit.

"Clang! Clang!"

Everyone laughed and a few more locals showed up for mass.

Not many people attended, roughly 10 in total, and mostly kids. The service was given by a young 16 year old girl.

There was also a 7:30am mass which we'd missed and assumed that most people must have gone that one so that they could start working in the fields as early as possible to avoid the heat.

Schools out for summer

It was still the Paraguayan summer and school was out. Anna, our Plan guide took us to 5 communities to check out their local facilities and schools.

Plan always put a heavy emphasis on children and specifically, their schools.

"To make a lasting change, we focus on the children" I remember Chuck saying when he'd briefed us as we arrived the week before.

We spent the day visiting local schools which consisted mostly of small buildings with 2 classes per building and a small washroom.

Plan had helped put in clean drinking water and clean washrooms to these schools.

I have to admit taking these things for granted back home but without a basic healthy learning environment, I could imagine that it would be very difficult to make any change at all.

The washrooms we saw, surrounded by poverty, were the cleanest and nicest ones we'd seen in Paraguay to date.

Most of the schools where in bad condition, broken windows, deteriorating chalkboards, some chalkboards were more wall than chalkboard.

One school kept an old classroom available for burning fires on a piece of old sheet metal where kids, many of whom didn't have shoes, could huddle around on cold days at school in the winter.

After touring the schools, we had a very good appreciation for schools back home and had a greater understanding of just how hard it would be to improve living conditions without proper learning facilities for the future generations.

Agua Frio, a Paraguayan Water World

Down a very long potholed red-mud road which could only be navigated at a speed of 10km per hour and after stopping to see several local schools to witness the good work which Plan had been doing, we visited a tiny piece of heaven secluded in the Paraguayan Jungle.

It was a beautiful waterfall which had been cleaned up and made to host outings for the local communities. Complete with benches, a fire pit for cooking pigs and other animals and covered areas. Anna explained that the local community ( 180 kids to be exact ) helped build the site to give the local schools a place to go for a field trip.

One recurring theme which we heard of time and time again was that all local projects, whether funded by the government, NGOs or Plan, were always carried out by the community. This helped to build local skills and to get the community involved. With a goal of making the communities self sufficient, this worked well.

Once we'd cooled down in the water and it was time for lunch, we headed back to Fabiola's to eat chicken with the family which we bought from "Super Pollo" aka "Super Chicken", a small food stall in the city.

We also picked up a local treat, Thedede. In Paraguay, locals drink a cold tea from leather bound cups. The cups are filled with herbs and water is poured in. A long metal perforated straw with a tip resembling a spoon is then shoved into the grassy mush and the cool tea is sucked up in one long draw.

It's a refreshing treat in the sticky 35+ Celsius heat.

Thedede is a communal drink. Typically a person will have a tea filled cup and straw in one hand and a large thermos of cold water under their other arm. The glass is filled with cool water and passed to one person who sucks it back and returns the glass quickly. The glass is then refilled and passed to another.

I'd already taken up the offer for Thedede from several locals but with Andrea's weak stomach we thought it would be best for her to wait to try our own from bottled water.

After a few hours of playing with the kids and eating fresh Guava from Fabiola's garden, we headed home to rest.

King of the castle, well, the hotel at least.

We arrived back at our hotel in the afternoon to find our hotel closed. Apparently almost all stores in Paraguay shutdown on Sunday, which, isn't all that strange considering that it is a day of rest.

What was strange was that all hotels also closed!

This explained an odd conversation we had in the morning with the hotel desk clerk which we oddly interpreted as them asking us if they could sleep in our rooms until we returned. A strange request indeed.

Even more bizarre is that we actually accepted their request.

It turns out that they were asking us what time we'd be back as all of the guests had already checked out.

We were the only ones left and the hotel was closing for the day!

When we returned the hotel clerk was patiently waiting for us outside with the key. She was keen to close the hotel and go home and hardly wanted to stick around and tend to us for the day so, she handed us... get this, the hotel key!

No, not our room key, but the key to the entire hotel!

Yes, we were now alone in the hotel, all staff was gone and we had the place to ourselves.

Being nice little Canadians, we went to our rooms, destroyed a newly formed ant colony-cum-infestation which had sprung up in our room and didn't take advantage of our newly found hotel privileges.

"Mucho Cavallo!"

Anna picked us up at 6pm with Fabiola and her family dressed in their Sunday best. We were off to see more Cavallos, horses. This time it wasn't a race but a fair where 50 horses and their owners dressed up in their rodeo cowboy gear and pranced around a dirt fenced stampede showing off their speed and finesse while bathed in the setting sun.

Several hundred people gather around the fences and listened to the band belt out catchy horn-filled tunes.

Talk about a photographers dream! Thank god we'd just cleared off our camera's memory cards. I took 200 pictures alone during the 2 hour show. Fabiola's familia showed us around as we snapped away.

Being a small tightly-knit community we met the teachers and friends of our sponsored child's family and pointlessly attempted to resist their endless hospitality.

"El cavallo!" a man with a big smile wearing a cowboy hat said while pointing to his horse.

I had no choice but to say "Si" as they quickly shoved me up on the horse and slapped a cowboy hat on my head.

Never having seriously ridden a horse, I held on for about 5 minutes before jumping off in fear that the horse was headed into the arena where I'd have to fend for my life riding along 50 other horsemen.

Walking through the crowd, holding Fabiola and her sister by the hand, we were then quickly ushered onto the stage where a band and an MC where wailing away in front of the horsemen, surrounded by several hundred locals.

Not speaking Spanish very well, I feared what would happen next but we were never ones to refuse an offer. The MC spoke to the crowd about us and our sponsorship of Fabiola's family and then waved with his hand for us to come over to his side.

"Ohh god... " I thought as we climbed up the stairs nervous with anticipation.

Sure enough, the MC pulled us close and a flurry of Spanish words spewing much to fast from his mouth flew in my direction, followed by a microphone being tilted towards me and an awkward silence filling the air while they waited for me to say something.

So, I said one of the only things I knew:

"Um poco Espagnol!" or "I only know a little Spanish!"

Unphased, he took the mic back and went on to speak to the mostly drunken crowd.

He continued for a bit and got me to say "Si" ( "Yes" ) a few times into the mic for the crowd.

A little embarrassed and wanting to get off the stage badly we attempted to leave as the MC signaled that we should stay and take photos... and take we did. We stayed on the stage for at least 1 hour as all of the horses and their masters danced around to music in front of us, spinning and running to the point of almost flipping off of the horses!

It was an especially memorable experience. As the sun set we stayed-put and enjoyed the view from the stage down onto the show.

After the awards where given away for the best riders, we quietly exited the stay, thanked the MC and headed home.

Un... for... get... able...
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kimberish on

Great Photos
Great photos from the rodeo! What a wonderful story too! And I love your knew photo at the top of the catalog - the photo with Fabiola and the chicks at her cheek. Great choice! Keep on having fun!

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