Friday, November 13, 2009

The Official Slogan of Paraguay: "Come back tomorrow. It'll be ready then."

Back in May, I wrote about the official uniform of Paraguay. To refresh your memory--or if you didn't read that post--it basically consists of a Paraguayan national soccer team jersey, baggy shorts, toe wedge sandals, and a guampa (basically, a large water bottle used to refill cups of tea).

Recently I figured out the official slogan of Paraguay: "Come back tomorrow. It'll be ready then." It seems as if no matter what you need or want, be it a signature on a document, artwork, laundry, an answer to a question, or anything else you simply cannot get it on the day that you were originally promised. In other words, if you are told to return on Tuesday to get whatever it is that you need and then you do return on Tuesday, you will be met with the seven words mentioned above. And just because you are told that "it" will be ready tomorrow doesn't mean that it is so, which brings me to the translation of Paraguay's official slogan.

"Come back tomorrow. It'll be ready then." really means "It's not ready and who knows when it will be so come back at a later, undetermined time and hopefully it will be ready then." This could mean the following day or, more likely, the following weeks sometime. In Paraguay, it's all a guessing game.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Visa Paradise

Will wonders never cease? It's finally for real officially official. This past Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at approximately 11:45 am, Catherine and I received our temporary resident visas. When the woman handed me our two visas it was a wonderful, almost surreal moment since I had been to immigration at least a half a dozen times and walked away empty handed. But not on this fateful day. On this day the planets and stars aligned just right, the gods smiled down on us, the sun shone brightly, the clouds parted, and I walked out of the immigration office for the last time.

Now we can legally stay in Paraguay until October, 2010. It feels good to be on the up and up and finally have our visas in hand even though we return to the states in a mere eight weeks. We did, however, come close to our prediction that our visas would be handed to us as we were boarding the plane. Hey, what's a nine month delay when it comes to government paperwork?

My visa.

Catherine's Visa.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's cliché I know, but: Fame! I'm Gonna Live Forever.

Since Grease I have been working on Fame at the Stael Ruffinelli de Ortiz English Language School. This time instead of merely being the assistant director and pseudo language coach, I will play the part of Mr. Myers, the acting teacher. But enough about me. Back to the students.

Even though the students in both shows are approximately the same age, they differ greatly in attitude, work ethic, and discipline. The Fame students come to rehearsal on time and prepared to work. It is such a welcome change from having to wait for 45 minutes to over an hour for the Grease students to arrive. And rehearsals are focused, solid, and productive. What a difference.

Do not get me wrong, Grease was a great show. The students did an excellent job and they really came together in the end. By the final performance they were comfortable with their characters, the audience, and each other. Yes, it was the last performance; however, there is an old addage in the theatre that I'll paraphrase here. It says that every show has a ton of dress rehearsals and closing night. This is exactly what happened with the cast of Grease.

Fame goes up in just over four weeks and I believe it will be a spectacular show. Everyone has been working incredibly hard singing, dancing, acting, memorizing lines, speaking in a foreign language and putting in more hours in rehearsal than most people put in at part-time jobs. Having said that, there is still a lot of work to be done before those curtains rise and "I'm gonna live forever" sounds throughout the theatre.

Now, maybe to balance out the superstitions of the theatre, I should say that the show will be a disaster. But where's the fun in that? Granted, I have been put into an extensive dance number where I will be jumping and spinning, picking up other dancers and putting them on my shouldes, twirling and galavanting all around the stage, but I still don't forsee a disaster. Wishful thinking? Not with two years of ballet and a Movement for Actors class in grad school that was really a cover for Intense Modern Dance 101.

Giving some instructions to the actors.

Working on lines and blocking with "Serena."

Echar This!

Is it me or does Spanish need more words?

Echar: A Partial List

to throw; to toss; (water, wine) to pour (out); (culinary) to put in, add; (teeth) to cut; (discourse) to give; (employment: despedir) to fire, sack; (leaves) to sprout; (letters) to post; (smoke) to emit, give out; (reprimand) to deal out; (story) to make up; to put on; ~ a correr/llorar to break into a run/burst into tears; ~ a reír to burst out laughing; ~se to lie down; ~ abajo (government) to overthrow; (building) to demolish; ~ la culpa a to lay the blame on; ~ de menos to miss; ~se atrás to throw oneself back(wards); to go back on what one has said; ~se una siestecita to have a nap

Yes, I know there are a lot of words in English that can mean a lot of different things too (just think of everyone's two favorite four-letter words). But the last time I checked, English had the most words of any language, somewhere between 750,000 and 1,000,000 words.

Paraguayan Left Turn

Some intersections are quite busy in Asunción. They are so busy, in fact, that left turns become an exercise in right turns--three right turns, in fact. Instead of making a simple left turn onto the desired street, you must pass the street, turn right on the next available street, a right next on the following street, and finally another right onto the street you originally wanted to turn left on. Once you are finally on the street you wanted, you get to once again pass the intersection that you visited only moments ago. Fun! With rush-hour traffic a never ending stream of lights, horns, pedestrians, colectivos (buses), motorcycles, street vendors, and exhaust, what's one quick circle around the block? Unless that block turns into 12 and adds 30 minutes onto an already exhausting commute.

For those Michiganders who read this, you will probably notice that a Paraguayan left bears a slight resemblance to a 'Michigan left.' For those of you who happened to miss those wonderful creations of traffic engineering the last time you visited the only two peninsula state in the union, Michigan lefts are those wacky left turns that require a right turn followed by a U-turn, usually with a traffic light thrown in between. Here goes: Instead of turning left to continue your journey you must turn right and then immediately get into the far left lane so as to be prepared for the next step. Merging into the far lane after turning right is sometimes easy and sometimes virtually impossible, depending on traffic, the number of lanes you must successfully navigate, and how far down the U-turn is. Once you are in the far lane you drive to the designated U-turn spot and either wait for a) the traffic light to turn green, b) oncoming traffic to dissipate, or c) both before completing the U-turn. Once option a, b, or c presents itself you may then turn onto the street you couldn't originally turn left on. What could be easier? Oh, I know. Turning left.

A street sign indicating that to turn left onto Avda. Perú, you must make a Paraguayan left (i.e. pass Peru and make three rights only to emerge back onto Avda. Perú)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Look Both Ways Before Crossing The Street

Mom's age-old advice about making sure no cars are coming before you cross the street rings especially true in Asunción. This is a city where the car--not the pedestrian--has the right of way. Be it a major, four-lane road or a single lane one-way street, it is wise to check both directions before taking that fateful first step off the sidewalk and into the street. Sometimes you even need to check the sidewalk for that random motorcycle who feels like using your designated walkway as a personal lane to skip the traffic. More on this later.

The major roads are pretty easy. Everyone knows to look both ways and proceed with caution. Most people will wait for an intersection before daring to leave the safety of the sidewalk; however, since there is no jay walking law here you may occasionally find that brave soul who throws caution to the wind and crosses in the middle of the street. My wife and I have been known to do this as well, especially on a hot day and the other side of the street beckons us with its shade. Keep in mind that when you do cross, be it at an intersection or the middle of the street, to keep an eye out for two things: motorcycles moving up between the lanes and that overzealous driver who speeds past everyone in the oncoming traffic's lane to make the green light.

Somewhat trickier are the smaller roads (two lanes or fewer) since they might be two-ways or one-ways. The signs marking these streets' directions are generally small and difficult to find, if they exist at all. This makes knowing which way to look especially tricky. Furthermore, since these smaller roads tend to be found mostly in residential areas (downtown being the big exception), people frequently cross them whenever and wherever they please. The best way to know which direction the traffic flows on these streets is to memorize it. You could look at which way the parked cars face, but that can be misleading since cars will park whichever way suits their fancy at the time. (Those of you who live in Texas know what I'm taking about.) Another seemingly smart thing to do is see which way the cars are heading and deducing from there where to look before crossing. But again, I urge you to exercise caution when doing this. Cars are known to ignore the signs--and sometimes other cars traveling in the opposite direction--to go down a one-way street so they do not have to travel around the block. It can be quite surprising to see a car whiz past you going in the wrong direction down a street that you know is a one-way.

As you may have noticed, motorcycles have no problem driving between lanes to get farther ahead. They also have one other trick they employ when they just don't want to use the streets. They drive on the sidewalk. That's right, if traffic is bad or the road just doesn't hold that magical appeal anymore the motorcyclist will opt for the sidewalk. And you better watch out. It doesn't matter if you were there first or even the trivial fact that sidewalks are made for walking, if Mr. Motorcycle wants to drive down it you are the one who's moving. To avoid this, maybe you should cross the street...

Looking both ways before crossing the street is not only sage advice passed on from mother to child; in Asunción it's a survival technique.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Paraguay's Two Seasons: HOT and Not Quite As Hot

As today's high hit 94 wonderful degrees, I realized that Spring has officially hit Paraguay. Even though the new season doesn't officially start until next Tuesday (Sept. 22), the oppressing heat has returned to remind everyone that even more oppressive summer heat is just around the corner. And in that brief description are Paraguay's two seasons: HOT and Not Quite As Hot.

The summer months--December, January, and February--are unbearably hot. Temperatures average at least mid 90s during the day (with most days above 100) and, at the lowest, mid 80s at night. Humidity never breaks, not even for a day and not even when it rains. When it does rain, outside feels like a steam bath. March and April offer no respite from the heat. Days might dip into the low 90s but the nights are still just as hot. May is the first month where the glimmer of cooler weather starts to emerge. But by 'cooler weather' I mean temps in the 80s. I guess cool is a relative term. Winter, described below, ushers in Paraguay's second season. Once those all too short three months are over, it's back to the season of HOT. Thanks, September, for reminding us that Paraguay hasn't forgotten how to turn the streets of Asunción into an oven.

I must admit that Cat and I enjoyed a nice three month reprieve: June, July, and August. Aside from a few cold nights where the mercury registered the low 40s, the temperature still averaged in the 70s during the day and 50s at night. Coming from constant triple digit highs and lows in the mid 80s, highs in the 70s were incredible. And we felt nice and cool.

Unfortunately, Cat and I won't see those nice, cool temps until December when we return to the States and Northern Hemisphere winter. Texas will be going through its own version of Not Quite As Hot and Cat and I will take full advantage of it. Plus, we'll have air conditioning everywhere we go, be it in a house, a car, a store, a restaurant, everywhere! Oh, the possibilities are endless.