I left Asuncion and headed to Encarnacion with the intention of spending no more than 3 days and then moving on. That was the plan but of course when travelling plans change all the time. Two weeks on and I’m still here.
Paraguay certainly isn´t the tourist hot-spot and has no world wonders to marvel over. Many back-packers are happy to give it a miss especially those that have only a few weeks or months to travel. I´ve been questioned by many locals about why I decided to come and for me it is very simple, I wanted to cross the border and see for myself what this country has to over and I’m so happy that I did. Many locals stare at me as I walk on by or catch the bus and I get it, I´m a ringo, I stand out and on the whole most of these people just want to talk. Most are intrigued to find out where I´m from and what I´m doing here in Encarnacion. Some pick up on the fact that I´m Indian and want to know more about the culture, food and dress. All in all, thankfully so far, it has been a pleasant experience.
As always, with travelling, you meet people, on the bus, in the hostel or randomly in the streets. These people then know more people. We had a bbq in the hostel, two weeks ago and discussed how I had volunteered in Brazil and I was then told how there are similar opportunities here. I thought I was done with volunteering, having volunteered 10 weeks in Brazil, I hadn´t even stopped to consider the possibility of volunteering again somewhere in South America. So, as we continued talking, I got introduced to another girl (Sofi) who volunteers with local organisations and could take me to a children’s home. No harm in having a look, so off we went and of course, I loved it and there it was sold. So, I agreed to stay longer and give this children’s home a shot.
Sharing a milkshake with Sofi
It wasn´t just the children’s home that convinced me to stay. It was more the friends that I met and spent time with that made me want to stay. I met Sofi´s family, who are nothing but warm and welcoming. Her mother spoke away at me in Spanish and all I could do was sit there and say si. I also met Sofi´s cousin and before I knew it we were headed for a road trip and it was nothing but amazing. I met Sofi´s good friend, Ivan who offered to let me stay at his apartment. It´s sometimes all to overwhelming, how kind people are here, how open and understanding they are. It amazes me and leaves me wanting to do more for them.
Ivan in Bella Vista
Sandra, the lady I volunteer with at the Children´s Home, is nothing but amazing and crazy. She is Brazilian and has the life and sole of a 30 year old. She is always laughing or making you laugh whilst working away on her arts and crafts. Her energy is contagious and inclusive. She too offered to let me stay at her apartment even though she knows very little about me. It was very kind of her and I agreed to have coffee at her place. During which time, I had the opportunity of meeting her pet turtle! Yes a pet turtle and how amazing he/she is, following you around and so fearless – love it! The turtle is lucky enough to have both a dog and a cat for company the only thing missing i guess is a fish tank!
Another reason to prolong my stay in Paraguay was so I could help build houses with Techo in Asuncion. Having never built a house, I was very excited and was looking forward to such an opportunity. Yet, at the same time that very weekend there was a concert just across the bridge in Posados (Argentina) and then a pub crawl the next day. So, the question was to build houses or not. It´s hardly a problem and ultimately it was a question of do I want to help make the world a better place or do I want to have some fun. It wasn´t easy to decide but in the end I went and had fun. After all, we are only young once and I like to think that I will have the opportunity to help build houses elsewhere.
When travelling, the biggest or hardest decision is working out how long to stay put in a city or country. I have had this dilemma many a times over the last year and I like to think that I´ve made the right call in most cases. Whilst initially I was all for moving from one place to another, I have slowed down and learnt to fully appreciate what a town has to offer and if, along the way, I make friends then all the more reason to stay. The way I see it is we are all in this rush to see everything, tick off all the hot-spots, have these amazing experiences but we don´t always take out the time to live in the moment, to take the local bus, if it´s not in the lonely planet guide then for some it´s not worth doing. But here´s the thing these guides are so very limited, they don´t tell you about all the non-touristic spots or the ordinary places to visit. So, as a back-packer, it´s down to us to seek them out and explore places that are not listed.
Part of this comes down to what is deemed ´normal´ and acceptable. It is a given that if you go back-packing then you will have some guide and for most they have the lonely planet. I´ll put my hands up, I have a copy for South America and there were times that I deemed it to be the holy bible. It´s all too scary to travel without a guide or to get lost. But along my travels, I have met people, who are travelling solo, country to country, no guide and determined to get lost. I can´t say I´m that brave yet but I really admire these people. Let´s give normal a rest and embrace a little craziness. It´s normal to hate your job, to moan, be competitive, be loud and jealous, in some cases such behaviour is encouraged. Why not quit our shitty job, stop moaning, work with others, listen more, be content more and go chase our dreams? Let´s work hard not to fit in, let´s just focus on being the best we can be regardless of what this entails and who disapproves.
It´s hard to be fully yourself when you´re judged or ridiculed or not accepted. It´s hard to get over that and move on. For me it was hard to stand still in one place and watch the world go by. How often are we encouraged to take a moment, to be still and soak in everything around us? Not often enough. For many of us, we are too busy, running to work, rushing to get coffee, worried about the rent and the cycle continues. Everyone is busy, over-worked, wanting to make more money so it must be right. The idea of being relaxed, working average hours and not chasing money is a alien concept for some. For me, it´s just what I want, I hate being in a hurry or being rushed, I want to work but enjoy living and most importantly I never want to chase money. Sure we all need money, I wouldn´t be here if I didn´t have money but do I go out of my way to chase it? Do I strive on making as much money as possible? No, not at all, money is not the centre of my universe, people are.
I have priceless experiences, memories and no matter how much money I make, no amount of money can buy these experiences. It´s like my mum used to always joke, you can´t eat money, you can´t laugh with money and you can´t rely on money to solve all your problems. Sure money is the answer to many problems and I see the difference money could make here in the community but these people have something that some people in the west left behind a long time ago, this determination to make the most of everything they have, to enjoy every little moment, to be there for one another and not onfacebook or what app´s. It´s funny how developed we have become with all these gadgets and super fast technology. Along the way though, we left behind the simple things, the small things but the most important things. Here it´s not about uploading every other picture on facebook or checking into a coffee shop, rather it´s about having a cold beer along the side walk, having family bbqs and enjoying left overs the next day.
I´m thankful to my parents, they raised us well, intentionally or not, knowingly or not but they did good. From my dad, I learnt the importance of principles and sticking by them and from my mum, making the most of every little thing we have. Sure, given we are a working class family, money was given the central most importance but other things like family, happiness and sanity also matter. I don´t think my parents realise how much of an inspiration they are to me, how much their life, their stories encouraged me to do more, be more in my life. My parents had it tough for many years when they first moved to England but thankfully they had some family and friends to help. It was because of these people that they made it. So in the same way if I can help someone here then why not?
For me, growing up, it wasn´t the lack of money that got me, it was lack of justice. It was the lack of help available for people who needed it the most. It is the injustice in this world that continues to make my blood boil, that results in sleepless nights and tears. I never deemed my family as less well off or less important but society did and some still do. I do not care for the opinion of such people but my parents do and they find it hard. For me, I see myself as blessed, blessed to have been raised with such values and blessed to have seen my parents make the impossible happen. Yes, we all have set-backs and they have had many but they kept going, to this day they carry on and it amazes me. My dad´s saying to me growing up ´if she/he can do it then I can do better´. He wouldn´t have it any other way. He along with my mum, encouraged both me and my two sisters to go make things happen in this world, to never accept a ´no´ and to continue trying until the very end. My parents are believers, fighters, strong, traditional, kind, caring, loving, funny and above all reliable. It breaks their heart that I´m still out here and not home but as long as I´m happy, my mum says she´s happy even if she is not.
That´s the crazy thing about love, about being a parent, all the sacrifice’s you endure and all the heartaches. It´s hard and I don´t know how she does it but I´m grateful. I appreciate her listening to me living my dreams, experiencing everything I want to and exploring cities she has never heard of. It takes a great amount of strength letting someone you love go, my mum is a remarkable woman and I like to think someday I too will have her strength. My parents aren´t perfect, we have had many differences and we have had many a struggles but I know this much, if it wasn´t for them, if it wasn´t for them raising me and teaching me to fight to make things happen, I wouldn´t be here. I will always be grateful for what they did and continue to do for me. They truly raised me up so I can stand on mountains.