Friday, June 26, 2009


Today was a good day in Asunción, Paraguay. After three months of running around and collecting all that we needed, Cat and I turned in all of our documents to the Paraguayan Immigration Office and they were accepted! That's right, we were not given a new list of requirements to fulfill, we were not turned away for whatever reason, we were not told to come back tomorrow. Instead, we handed in our paperwork and immigration kept it.

Of course it couldn't be quite that easy. When we first arrived and asked to speak to the man--i.e. the director--who we were told to ask for the day before (when we were told to come back today), the guard told us he wasn't there. Instead, he told us to talk to a different guy in a different part of the building. We found the other guy who, at first, handed us the same list of document requirements that we received three months ago when we started this grand adventure. We quickly informed him that we had all of the necessary documents. Whatever we said must have triggered something because he immediately called someone and talked for a few minutes.

When he hung up he told us to follow him. Any guesses as to whose office we went to see? That's right, the first person we asked for when arriving, the director. Apparently, we needed a letter from him stating that our FBI fingerprints were in transit from the US Embassy and to go ahead and process our visa request. (The whole fingerprint ordeal is another story.)

Letter in hand, we returned to the same place we were only a few minutes before (the first office we went to today) to present our documents. Of course. Why have it any other way?

Everything seemed to be going smoothly as the worker flipped through all of my documents until the very end. He told me that I was lacking my financial guarantee. I quickly showed him my letter from Rotary stating that I was to receive money for my year abroad. He reviewed the letter and then asked who I can only assume was his superior if the letter would be sufficient to satisfy my financial guarantee. After discussing the letter for a few minutes, the supervisor said that I would need to show an ATM receipt. As bad luck would have it, I don't carry them around with me. However, since I keep all of my ATM receipts, I was left with one alternative: go home and get one to prove my financial solvency. And, I only had 20 minutes to do so or be forced to return tomorrow and start the whole visa presentation process over again.

I told Cat to start her visa application while I run home and grab a few receipts. I literally ran down the street, grabbed a cab, ran up the stairs to my apartment, rifled through my receipts, found three that would work, ran back down the stairs, ran down the street, grabbed a cab, and made it back to the immigration office with two minutes to spare. Mission accomplished. Or, mission accomplished?

I had to then have the ATM receipts copied and notarized. Thankfully, there was an escribiana (notary) across the street. I completed that and handed them in. Finally! The worker signed off on my documents, handed me a bill, and put my documents aside.

Next, Catherine. While I was looking for old receipts the worker went through all of Cat's documents and found that she was lacking nothing. However, for whatever reason two notarized copies of my passport was needed to go accompany Cat's paperwork. I crossed the street once again and got two copies of my passport. Once I handed them in, the worker signed off on Cat's documents, handed her a bill, and put her documents aside.

We were given temporary 90 day visas. These will hold us over until our temporary resident visas are ready. When I asked if the immigration office would call us, the woman said it would be better if we called the office. For some reason that did not surprise us. She also said that the visas will be ready in about 15 days. Based on everything I know from obtaining all I need for this visa--from the health certificate to the police record to the tourist visa authentication to everything else--15 days is an optimistic estimate. I'm guessing the visas will be ready in 30-50 days. Guess all I need to do now is wait.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rotary Banner Exchange

On Wednesday, the 17th, I participated in a banner exchange at my host Rotary Club in Asunción. I presented to the president of the club a banner from my sponsor club, Austin-Oak Hill, and he gave me a banner from his club, Asunción-Catedral.

The banner exchange is an important part of Rotary International. It is a personal gesture of friendship between two clubs. It also fosters relationships between them. With rotary clubs all over the world, the real and symbolic gesture behind the banner exchange keeps clubs connected.

(Alescandro Riline, president of Rotary Club Asunción-Catedral.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dining Out after 10:00 pm

In the States, Cat and I would normally eat dinner anywhere between 8:00 and 9:00. Among our family and friends that was pretty late. (For example, Cat's sister eats dinner around 5:00). We were always considered the late eaters. People couldn't understand how we could wait so long before dinner. For us it was simple. It was the dinner pattern we chose and it worked well.

In Paraguay, however, eating at 8:00 or 9:00 is considered early. From our experience, people do not eat dinner until 10:00 or so. In fact, some restaurants do not even open until 8:00. Needless to say, Cat and I had to adjust our dining times. We find that if we go to a restaurant before 9:00 we have our choice of tables. However, if we wait and go to dinner at 11:00 we must wait for a seat to open up. It's incredible. The tables are packed, the atmosphere is vibrant, and the patrons are coming in from all directions for a bite to eat.

We have adjusted well and now we do not eat dinner until 9:00 at the earliest. Normally, we eat after nine, mostly closer to 10:00. We have even gone to 8:00 movies and have gone to dinner afterwards. When dining out that late, we have never had a problem finding an open restaurant to accommodate us. Finding an open table, however, has proven a bit more elusive.

Little story about dining out.
After around two months here, Cat and I went to a local mall to look around and take in the local shopping scene. After walking around and checking out the stores, we decided to go to 7:00. We found a restaurant that looked quite nice so we decided to stop in. Unbeknownst to us, the restaurant was not actually open yet. We were about to leave when one of the workers came up to us and asked if we wanted to eat there. When we asked him if the restaurant was closed, he replied that it was but he could open it up if we wanted. We took him up on his offer and suddenly found ourselves exclusive diners in that fine establishment. At one point we saw a cook come out and give us quite a perplexed look. Obviously, the guy who invited us in forgot to tell the cooks that they had patrons. We were very glad that we decided to stay because the food was excellent and we were treated to a great set of Bossa N' Marley and Bossa N' Roses.
Below is one of our favorite restaurants, Indigo, at two different times of the night. The difference is plain to see.

(Indigo at 9:00, still kind of dead)

(Indigo at 10:00, bright and lively)

Friday, June 12, 2009

GREASE: It's the One that I Want

Yesterday, I started helping out on a production of everyone's favorite set-in-1959-at-Rydell-High-School musical 'Grease.' It is being performed in English by students of the Centro Cultural Paraguayo Americano (CCPA). The actors range in age from 13 to 17 or so. The director is in college and has done a few shows before at the CCPA, most notably a rendition of 'Phantom of the Opera.' Needless to say, it is a young production. Even the dance choreographer cannot be more than 21.

What I did not know before I volunteered to assist in any way I could (i.e. sight unseen) is that along with 'Phantom', 'Grease' will be performed using playback. This is a seldom used technique where all of the songs are not performed by the actors, but instead the professionally recorded cd is played on loud speakers. This allows actors who cannot quite hit those high notes to not have to quite hit those high notes. Hence, playback is very beneficial for that obvious reason. It also allows for a production that could not have happened otherwise. However, playback presents a very obvious drawback: it completely disconnects the the show from itself. In other words, during the songs the actors onstage cease being their characters and instead become glorified lip-syncing, karaoke performing puppets. While this might not come across as the most dire thing in the world, it has the potential to completely devastate an otherwise decent show. Playback is always a last resort, and one that should be approached with extreme caution. A general rule of thumb, especially in musical theatre, is if the talent ain't there, don't do it.

Having said all that, I must be fair and say that the director in fact did not choose 'Grease.' A colleague of his basically told him that he was going to do 'Grease' and that was that. Guess I should have mentioned that little tidbit before.

As I was saying, I am now helping out on the production. After watching my first rehearsal I have to say that this show has a looong way to go before its July 22 opening. Granted, I am not expecting Lawrence Olivier spouting Hamlet. To be honest, I am not sure what I expect. It is difficult to judge after one rehearsal. I will say this, however. Everyone seems to be having a lot of fun and really enjoying the material. After all, it's 'Grease.' If you cannot have fun with Danny, Sandy, Greased Lightning, the T-Birds and Pink Ladies then you cannot have any fun at all.

Was 1959 really like this:
"Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee. Lousy with virginity. Won't go to bed til I'm legally wed. Oh look. It's Sandra Dee."

Monday, June 8, 2009

World Cup Qualifying

(my beautiful wife gearing up for the game. you cannot see him in the picture, but the kid who sat next to her--11 at the most--introduced us to a whole new vocabulary. we never knew such words existed in English or Spanish.)

Paraguay hosted Chile last night in a World Cup qualifying match in the national soccer stadium. (Yes, it is the same stadium that shut down a few months ago after part of a support section broke. But, all better now...) Cat and I sat at just about midfield, 16 rows up. Incidentally, we were in the same section of the stadium that broke. Putting that little bit of unpleasant information aside, the seats were great. We had an incredible view of the entire field and of all the action. And by "all the action," I am referring to both the action on the field as well as in the stands after the referee's no-call or, conversely, foul call against Paraguay.

The atmosphere was unbelievable. 35,000 plus cheering fans packed the stands. The most boisterous, vehement fans occupied the end zones. They chanted and cheered the entire game. That's over 90 minutes of non-stop drumming, singing, cheering, and jeering. When you add in the 30 minutes of pre-game and post-game cheering, the end zones rocked non-stop for over two hours. It was quite a display of energy and devotion.
(crazy end zone fans!)

To keep the suspense at a minimum, Paraguay lost 2-0. Chile scored a goal in each half despite Paraguay carrying the play for most of the game. Now I am not making excuses but due to an accumulation of yellow cards, Paraguay was without some of its best players. Had Paraguay won, however, it would have qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Thankfully, Paraguay has five more chances to capture that victory: two away games and three home games. And one of those home games is against Argentina. Oh the gods are kind.

(yes, that kid in the background is wearing a mask because apparently swine flu has made it down here.)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Top Ten Most Useful Spanish Verbs

After living here for a few months, I have come up with a list of ten verbs that I think are very important for everyone to know when speaking Spanish. These verbs are used all the time for their literal meanings as well as numerous idiomatic expressions. If you master these verbs then you will be able to get along pretty darn well in any Spanish speaking country. In no particular order, here they are:
  1. Ser (to be)
  2. Estar (to be)
  3. Hacer (to do, to make)
  4. Querer (to want, to love)
  5. Dar (to give)
  6. Decir (to say, to tell)
  7. Tener (to have)
  8. Haber (to have)
  9. Poder (to be able to)
  10. Ir (to go)
As you probably noted, some verbs mean the same thing: tener & haber and ser & estar. The trick is knowing when to use each verb. Once you figure that out, you are well on your way to speaking Spanish like a pro. At least, you will be well on your way to using these ten verbs like a pro.