Thursday, July 30, 2009

Happy Friendship Day

Today, July 30, is Friendship Day in Paraguay. It is just like Valentine's Day, except it occurs in July and it is more geared towards friends. Friendship Day is as important and as seriously celebrated as Valentine's Day is in the States; however, you do not need a significant other to feel special on this particular day. Anyone and everyone participates.

This is not to say that Valentine's Day is not celebrated in Paraguay. It is. However, it is solely for couples so those without someone special in their lives must sit on the sidelines and watch as couples partake in all the traditions and mores of February 14.

When two guy friends see each other, they say 'felicidades' (congratulations) and exchange a hearty handshake. When a guy and a girl or two girls see each other, they too say 'felicidades,' followed by a kiss on each cheek and a big hug. Close, and even not so close, friends then exchange gifts. They range from small toys to candy to stuffed animals to the traditional flowers and chocolate. Today is a day of togetherness and happiness, celebrated by all.


School's Back in Session

This past Monday (July 27), after an extended winter break, school reopened for all students. Officials felt it was safe to allow everyone to return to their respective locales of learning, deeming the swine flu scare over. Despite the okay from the government that schools are once again safe, the schools seem to be about half full. Either people are still on vacation or they don't quiet agree with their elected officials.

It was a nice, quiet, pleasant three weeks. There were no constant screams and yells from recess or horns from parents' cars during after school pick up. Thankfully, because the students are not back in full force yet this week is acting like a buffered transition back into the near constant noise that fills up the day. Ah, kids...youth is wasted on the young!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Swine Flu Closes Schools

The swine flu (a.k.a. H1N1) has made its way to South America. Actually, it arrived about a month ago but it didn't really make much of an impact until it all but shut down Buenos Aires (B.A.) three weeks ago. News reports showed vacant B.A. streets and shuttered up storefronts. It was as if the Argentine capital was deserted. Tourism virtually stopped and stores and restaurants closed.

The flu outbreak coincided with Asunción's schools' two week winter break. Vacation, as students and teachers lovingly call it, started on Monday, July 6 and was originally scheduled to end on Friday, July 17. However, because of fears that the flu could spread quickly among students--especially young ones--the government decided to extend winter break another week. This fear was not unfounded since the week before winter break several schools closed early after over half of their students got the flu. In one particularly bad case, one school reported a 90% sick rate among its students.

This coming Monday, July 27 is supposed to be the first day of school after the extended winter break; however, another problem has presented itself. Public school teachers have gone on strike, demanding more pay and better working conditions. This strike has threatened to extend the already extended winter break at least another week. Paraguay's education minister has been frantically trying to resolve the strike before Monday. Unfortunately, it doesn't look good.

What originally was supposed to be a two week breather in the middle of the school year has turned into a mini summer vacation of three or, more likely, four weeks. While I am sure that students welcome an extra two weeks of no school, the fallout of such a long-lasting break will surely affect the school year. Namely, what will happen at the end of the year? Will the school year still end on its regularly scheduled day? Will it be extended an extra week or two to make up for the lost time over break? And if the school year is extended, will the teachers get paid for that extra time? Additionally, an extended school year puts summer travel plans in jeopardy, especially for those who leave immediately after school lets out (which is surprisingly common). Everything is up in the air right now. It will be interesting to see what happens over the coming weeks and months. One thing I do know; the Minister of Education's job is not one I envy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Potable Water

I cannot believe I have not mentioned this before. Contrary to popular belief, not all tap water south of the border comes packed with its own version of Montezuma's revenge. Granted, in a majority of countries it is still advisable to steer clear of tap water in any of its forms. Hence, why bottled water quickly becomes everyone's friend.

However, Paraguay (along with Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile) has its fair share of safe, drinkable tap water. It is considered safe to drink the tap water in Asunción (the capital) and Ciudad del Este (second largest city). Once you venture outside the cities, though, the water is no longer treated and thus becomes unsafe to drink.

I found out quite by accident that Asunción's drinking water is safe. After a few weeks, I noticed that my house mother filled up the water pitchers directly from the sink and put them in the fridge. She did not boil the water, put in iodine tablets, or otherwise filter the water in any way. Since I had already been drinking copious amounts of water without getting sick I reasoned that it must be safe. My Frodor's South America travel guide and various websites confirmed it.

Safe, drinkable tap water makes everything--from cooking to washing fruits and vegetables to enjoying a refreshing glass of water--easier. It's great not having to worry if the ice in a drink at a restaurant is safe or if lettuce was washed in dirty water.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Paraguay Visa Requirements, Part I

Obtaining a tourist visa for Paraguay is relatively easy. First, decide whether a single or multiple entry visa is the right choice. Second, send to the Paraguayan Consulate your passport and visa application. Third, wait for your visa to come in the mail. It shouldn’t take longer than three or four weeks to arrive. Pretty simple. I think my visa arrived about two weeks after I sent in my application.

If you plan on staying for longer than 90 days—which is what a tourist visa allows— you will need a one-year temporary resident visa. A 10-year permanent resident visa is available too, but I am going to stick with the visa that I am still attempting to procure. As you will see, the necessary documentation for the longer term visa grows by leaps and bounds. (As always, contact the Paraguayan Embassy to get the latest immigration information.)

The following is from a form I received at the Paraguayan Immigration Office. Keep in mind that everything is in Spanish and no one speaks English. Also be prepared to spend a lot of time—months—collecting all of the necessary forms, signatures, and stamps. And once you submit your forms, be prepared to wait some more to finally receive your visa.

The first four requirements (and number 12) are to be obtained in the country of origin and the next seven are to be obtained in Paraguay.

Visa Requirements

  1. 1. Document of Identity: Passport or ID license.
  2. 2. Birth Certificate.*
  3. 3. Marriage Certificate, Certificate of Divorce, or other documentation to show civil status.*
  4. 4. Local police record (from 14 years of age) from your country of origin or from where you lived for the last five years. For people from Argentina and Brazil it should be a Federal Police record.*
  5. 5. Background Certificate, obtained from the Department of Information from the National Police. (Boggiani and R.I. 2 Ytororo)
  6. 6. FBI Criminal Background Check. (Cnel. Garcia N 468 near Tte. Rodi)
  7. 7. Health Certificate, obtained from the Ministry of Health, evaluating the mental and physical health and making sure there are no infectious diseases. (Brazil and Manuel Domínguez)
  8. 8. Certificate of Life and Residence, obtained from the Judicial Police.
  9. 9. Your entry stamp, this is the stamp you received in your passport upon entry into the country.
  10. 10. Tourist Visa, from the countries that require it (verify by the Ministry of Foreign Relations). (14 de May and Palma)
  11. 11. Two pictures of fotocarnet size (2.5cm x 2.5cm).

Additional Requirements for a Temporary Residence Visa

  1. 12. A high school diploma or greater, authenticated by the Ministry of Education and Culture.*
  2. 13. An employment contract mentioning your salary, certified in front of a public notary in Asuncion.*
  3. 14. Statement of financial guarantee in the case that you are a student or unemployed.

Additional Requirements

  • · All documents from the country of origin or foreign residence (except the identification document) must be authenticated by the Paraguayan Consulate in the foreign country and legalized by the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Asuncion.
  • · All of the documents presented must include the originals and two photocopies authenticated by a public notary in Asuncion.
  • · All documents that are in a foreign language (except Portuguese) must be translated into Spanish by a public translator in Asuncion.
  • · These requirements are subject to change.
In a subsequent post I will do my best to explain what to expect when trying to get all of the required documents. The list may look easy but there are a lot of things no on there that are good to know before you venture out into the great Asunción.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Spanish's Dreaded Four Horsemen

Below are the four parts of the Spanish language that non-native speakers struggle with the most. Compared to these vocabulary, aural and written comprehension, reflexive verbs, commands, masculine vs. feminine, and even rolling the 'r' are easy to master. Why can't Spanish be cool like English?
  1. Por vs. Para (very basically, for vs. for)
  2. Preterite vs. Imperfect (the two past tenses)
  3. The Subjunctive (too difficult to explain fully: basically it deals with expressing doubt)
  4. Ser vs. Estar (the verbs to be vs. to be)
I guess if these four parts of Spanish were easy, the language wouldn't be as much fun. Besides, if it were easy then everyone would be speaking it (less the continent and a half as well as a European country, among other parts of the world).

Friday, July 3, 2009

Tidbits about Paraguay

Here are a few fun facts about Paraguay.
  • It is the only South American country with two official languages: Spanish and Guarani (a native language).
  • The damn at Itaipú holds the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world. Almost all of Paraguay's power comes from it.
  • It is the only flag in the world with a different front and back (i.e. the coats of arms are different).
  • Asados (barbecues) are a regular weekend occurrence.
  • It is one of only two landlocked South American Countries (Bolivia is the other).
  • Tereré (a drink) is a national pastime.
  • First country in South America to have a railroad.
  • Ranked as the cheapest city to live in (150 out of 150).
  • Before the Triple Alliance War (1864-1870), Paraguay was the most economically advanced and richest country in South America. Now it is the second poorest.
  • In the desert regions (the Chaco), some telephone numbers only have 3 or 4 digits.
  • The full name of the capital city, Asunción, is La Muy Noble y Leal Ciudad de Nuestra Señora Santa María de la Asunción (The Very Noble and Loyal City of Our Lady Saint Maria of Assumption).
  • The headquarters of the CONMEBOL (the South American Soccer Confederation), one of FIFA's sub-governing bodies, is in Luque, which is just outside the capital Asunción.