OANSA: Catcalls.

August 22, 2013

Misc 017

During my last month in Paraguay, I ran the other OANSA program, which is held at La Plazita–a small triangle playground area sandwiched between three busy streets.

On one particularly chilly Saturday morning, I sat on a bench with 11-year-old J waiting for the other children to arrive. In the short span of fifteen minutes, nearly every passing truck, car, and motorcycle manned by a male driver had either blatantly checked us out or hollered something explicit.

After two years in the country, this sort of thing had become commonplace for me, even if not comfortable. But the nonchalance with which J laughed off the advances still disarmed me. She started telling me these crazy stories about men, young and old, who drive-by catcall, often times going so far as to double back several times in their vehicles to get a few more looks and comments in while she innocently sits on the swings or kicks around a soccer ball.

One afternoon, she was at the park (she lives only a few small houses away), stationed on the very bench we were seated, and fiddling with a borrowed cell phone. A police truck drove by, caught sight of her, circled back around, and parked. Several officers filed out and sauntered over to her. They attempted to cajole her into sharing her name and giving them her phone number. They told her to call them for a good time or come with them now for an extra special treat. The police force of Paraguay, everybody.

Repulsive.

I hate that these disgusting things happen to 11-year-olds, and I especially hate that children are recounting these events casually as if they were just another day in the life.

So much to pray over these kids.

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My First Ticket.

July 25, 2013

It was four in the morning and dark out. My car was packed with people and parcels and pressed with places to be. Although it had been wonderful having a piece of San Diego in Asuncion for the week, the introvert in me was socially exhausted. I was also running a high fever and a virulent run of the flu was madly brewing.

Several orange cones dotted the paved lanes and a handful of uniformed police were scattered about, waving some vehicles on and directing others to pull over. These makeshift checkpoints occur frequently throughout the city, but so far, simply avoiding eye contact had provided a winning escapist strategy.

Unfortunately, on this occasion, and much to my disbelief, an officer gave me an ominous wave to move right. I pulled off the paved road, and fumbled around for the car registration, still hoping to be taken for the harmless gringa that I am.

No such luck. After reviewing all kinds of cards, documents, licenses, and permisos, and taking her sweet time doing so, the officer informed me that my habilitacion had expired and I was subject to a 250mil fine that had to be paid in the moment.

I attempted to play the “I don’t have enough cash on me right now [which I didn’t], but if you give me the ticket, I’ll pay it at the office later” card. This generally works to scare off the illegitimate extortion attempts, but this only served to have the officer order me out of the car. Uh. She sternly blabbered on about the supposed infraction and pointed me to drive a few feet ahead to pay the multa.

I scooted the car up, and had to hustle my departing American friends for the last bits of Guarani change they had in their pockets in order to amass the required amount. I was still unsure where the ticket was to be paid as the surroundings were largely dark and abandoned.

After some more ado, I was instructed to cross four lanes of traffic to a corner gas station, where a group of officers on motorcycles sat passing a bottle around. No one beckoned me forward to pay anything, so I sat in the car waiting for what seemed an eternity for the original officer to reappear and give further instruction.

Finally, she strolled over and pointed me to cross yet another street where a lone patrol car hosted a queue of other unlucky victims. Oh, the runaround. F alighted from the car to accompany me, for which I was much grateful because the second I emerged, hoards of drunk men, carousing at the petrol station (classy), descended upon me, leering and giving the usual slew of crude remarks. The nearby police officers were unmoved.

So thankful this did not happen while I was by myself.

Eventually, we made it to the clerk’s desk, which was a single female seated in the front passenger seat clutching a bulging cloth bag of paper bills. The legitimacy continues. She cited a sum that was significantly less than the other officer had demanded, so I hoped to quickly pay the smaller fee and make a quick escape.

Clearly, favor was not on my side that morning as the original officer conveniently sauntered over and won a small debate with the other woman about my payment. In the end, I had to fork over the initially stated 250mil with the knowledge that Mrs. Officer was likely going to enjoy a fat steak dinner later that evening. Then we continued the journey to the airport.

My first ever ticket.

The view from the top of a rock hill.

I took the girls on a daytrip to Aregua to see the Cerro Koi rock formations (can we talk about how accomplished I feel successfully driving to all these far out places on my own??). Unlike the last trip when I came with F and S, this time we were officially accompanied by a park ranger as well as a national police officer. They followed us around at a respectful but protective distance as we traipsed around marveling at the honeycomb-like structures and acknowledging decision-making typical of Paraguayan culture.

It seems there was a time where the sandstone rocks were blasted and broken up to use for paving cobblestone streets in the city. Until Paraguay caught on that the rocks were in fact a rarity. Huh. Formed over 4 million years ago as sedimentary layers (the ones in South Africa are igneous rocks that interestingly possess the same pentagonal or hexagonal structure), large mounds of these cylindrical rocks still abound in this informal national park. Well, the ones that are not shattered and scattered all over the ground, that is (and free for the taking if no one is looking).

The ranger noted that the municipality of Aregua was still working on getting trashcans, signs, and guardrails set up through the “enclosure.” And while it was technically dangerous to summit the tallest hill, our personal bodyguards still proceeded to lead us to climb up, promising a rare bird’s eye view of Paraguayan landscape (most of the country is flat). As far as scenery goes, dry brush is not particularly much to behold, but by Paraguay standards, the view that included a body of water–Lake Ypacarai–was exciting enough.

The park ranger had set off to continue leading us on the trail, but I had hoped to get a picture of us girls from the top of the rock hill. I asked the police officer, who was nearest in distance to me, to assist in the photo taking and he nodded but continued to walk away from me. Confused, I repeated my request and pointed back to the spot where the girls were waiting. The police officer called to the park ranger to notify him of the photo opp pause and the ranger came walking back, randomly offering me what seemed a non-sequitur explanation why he and the police officer had accompanied us. As if I didn’t already understand?

Then he walked right past my proffered camera and along with the police officer, got right into position next to the girls to “assist” me in my photo capturing. When I caught on to the misunderstanding that had apparently taken place, the ranger and police officer were already positioned with huge gaping smiles, visibly tickled that these three American girls wanted their picture taken with them. Such an awkward moment during which I had to push full speed ahead. After I snapped a quick picture, I then repeated my request and asked the ranger to take a shot of us three girls. Mr. Police Officer meanwhile took his role mighty seriously and stayed on for another photo opp.

OUT OF CONTROL. But these are certainly the things that keep my blog going…

AWKWARD.Busting UP at what just happened…The path back down…

 

I did not get photos of the chaos that occurred when hot dogs, sodas, and goodie bags were handed out to the wild masses, because I got pulled into a tiny police station to assist with a hot dog assembly line (I can officially add slicing splotchy, undercooked hot dogs in rancid quarters surrounded by women speaking in exclusively Guarani to my list of surreal, otherworldly Paraguay moments). But following are a few snatches of festivities before the ultimate craziness descended in the form of 200 jostling children.

A small plazita in barrio Santa Maria.

Thank you, flying squirrel Juan Carlos.

A slightly clearer group shot before someone peed down the slide.

Squash and slide.

Kids slowly getting in on the “clown” hubbub. (And yes, that’s the police station.)

The clown wasn’t so bad…from this angle.

Loving it.

Playing a statue game.

Clamoring for prizes.

OANSA leaders and Mi Esperanza volunteers.

They are constantly fighting, but today, they were friends.

This face.