No Fireworks, Just Fired Up Estudiantes

Listening to: The Paraguayan National Anthem. Lots of brass.

 Óga Ita, Itapúa, Paraguay

In honor of Paraguayan Independence Day, I wish I could tell you the story regarding the country’s separation into its own state 204 years ago. However, every time I’ve been told this piece of Paraguayan history, it has been in Guaraní and I really have no idea what happened. There was fighting. I think someone or many someones jumped into the water at some point. Paul Revere may have made an appearance, who knows? I’m also about 87% sure that it was independence from Spain, but Paraguay tends to throw a wild card at common sense sometimes and for all I know, it could’ve been from Argentina or India or Egypt or the Hopi Indians. But on this day, Paraguay became a country and now 204 years later, here I am.

The day is a big holiday here, just like American Independence Day, but as it falls during the school year, many schools put on big presentations, dances, parades, musical ensembles, maybe a cabaret, whatever it may be for their community. My elementary school put together a retelling of the story (I think) and did some traditional dancing.

HOWEVER. Let me set up the situation. My community is tiny and there are only twelve students at the school, ranging from first grade to sixth. They have one professor and somehow get taught all at the same time. So the students were all trying coordinate with each other, yet there are two six year olds and also a sixth grade girl who has apparently hit puberty and towers above the rest. Some of the second grade boys are wearing sombreros bigger than their whole bodies (these were, in fact, just their mothers’ sun hats). Meanwhile, the crowd has been dissected in typical Paraguayan fashion: Women and babies, sitting together, right in front; young children, not too far away, mainly hitting each other and passing/chugging a liter of pineapple soda like college students would chug Natty Light; the younger guys, not paying attention, gambling and drinking beer and probably discussing the best strategy to get me drunk that evening; the older men, standing back a ways, watching without enthusiasm and passing me beers on behalf of the younger men; and then there’s my community contact Teodoro, not even caring about anything going on and grilling up a huge slab of meat and whistling to himself.

So there’s the scene. The presentation starts. The kids are sitting still, the flag is raised, the music starts, they get into pairs, and my three year old nephew Sebastian, high from the sugar content in the soda, runs up and smacks two boys with an empty bottle. I’m such a proud uncle. Everything goes back to normal after laughter and scolding and screaming and then they’re ready to dance. The music starts again, they begin dancing in pairs, and all of the three, four, and five year olds start running between pairs, smacking everything and everyone they see with their tiny fists. After this diversion, the whole presentation dissolved into an hour and a half of pure chaos. The girls’ hearts weren’t in it anymore and the boys were too distracted and obviously just wanted to go play soccer. More and more beers were consumed behind the womens’ backs and at one point I turned to Iko, one of the fathers, and he gave me a look that said, “If this doesn’t end soon, I’m not sure what I’ll do, but everyone better stand back, watch out, and there will probably be hard alcohol involved”. I’ve been there.

Finally, it ended with more non-students than students “dancing” and even the students were chugging pineapple soda in the middle of dances towards the end. I fear that if it had continued on, beer would have replaced the soda. But afterward there was food and more drinks and discussion and I had a fantastic time seeing a majority of my community all in one place. It was definitely an Independence Day to remember and I’m not sure any Fourth of July celebration I’d been to in America can compare in such a unique way. Maybe next year’s will blow this one away.

Getting these boys to sit still and stand like this took far too long. That's also my host mom's floppy sun hat.

Getting these boys to sit still and stand like this took far too long. That’s also my host mom’s floppy sun hat.

"Come here, you! Let's get this over with!"

“Come here, you! Let’s get this over with!”


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