Everyone who I talked to about Asuncion said one thing about it: It’s hot.
That’s why when I dodged the various shysters and little shoe-shine boys and out to a taxi, and felt how truly cold it was, I was surprised. The driver took me into the capital in a cold rain that froze up on his windshield. He flicked the windshield wipers ineffectively. The dull blades skirted against the frozen glass doing no good. I know I couldn’t see from the backseat. But I was too busy keeping warm as he had the window fully open to defrost the windshield.
They tell me there are only a couple of days a year like this in Paraguay and it is the heart of winter here. Still the people don’t seem prepared for it. They look almost shocked at how cold it is here. They don’t have the clothes or the temperament. The rain, combined with the drab buildings and gray clouds, make it a pretty depressing landscape. The poverty is sad as well.
There are a lot street kids and lots of people insistently selling fruit, newspapers and assorted useless items I can’t imagine anyone wanting. They come up to the car with that determined look in their eyes trying to sear into your conscious the need for you to buy the tissues or neon Styrofoam baseball cap they are selling.
The buildings have tall walls around them, some with barbed wire and others, those who I guess can’t afford barbed wire, have shards of broken glass embedded in the concrete to discourage thieves to climb them. There are giant potholes filled with the rain that has been coming down. In the taxis that I cruise through the ugly town in, we slam down into the potholes with little regard for our safety, or the health of the car. I fall back and forth against the door as the driver barrels through stop signs and flashes his brights to clear the way. That’s the style of driving here: A dare.
But as with most poor countries, the people have been really nice. Why is it that the poorer the country the nicer the people are? When I think about the nicest people I’ve met traveling, I’d have to say it was in Zimbabwe. Considering the least friendly, a few come to mind, like Monaco, Luxembourg, New York. You’d think it would be the other way, that people with money would have less to worry about and be more easy-going, and that the poor would be bitter and rapacious.
Hurtling towards death yesterday I talked with the cab driver in my broken Spanish as I clung on to the door (as flimsy as cardboard). He told me he wishes Strossner, the Dictator who ruled the military regime, was still in power.
I was heading towards Ultima Hora, a champion of the Paraguayan free press, and he wondered aloud what good the liberty of the press has done for him. He said there was more security under the dictator. He’s been a cab driver for 36 years and it’s harder than ever to feed his family. I’ve heard the same argument in Eastern Europe. Most people care little about things like free speech and grandiose speeches about their personal liberties when they can’t feed their family.