Jajeroky- Let’s dance. Not David Bowie style. Polka Paraguaya style.
Oga Ita, Itapua, Paraguay
There’s a beat of three notes that has become the background music to my service. Starting at 5:30 in the morning, I’ll hear the deep bass bum bum bum played on an electronic keyboard, repeated, accompanied by an accordion, a guitar, and most likely four male voices in harmony. Bum bum bum on buses, both city and campo. Bum bum bum during lunch as I eat my mother’s latest concoction of beans and vaka pykue (cow feet). Bum bum bum at birthdays and holidays, played into the wee hours of the morning. The same exact bum bum bum playing from multiple radios in my community on the only available station, a surround sound experience as I walk from one end of my community to the other, not missing a single bum bum bum as I pass each house. Bum bum bum morning, noon, and night, only stopped if the power has temporarily gone out. And even then, bum bum bum from my brother’s cell phone.
This is Paraguayan polka.
On arrival in Paraguay, polka, the favorite musical genre of the Paraguayan campesino, was maddening. It follows you everywhere with that bass and the accordion and the lyrics, which really never vary from three storylines: My chica is beautiful, I’m poor, or my chica is beautiful, but I’m too poor. Listening to the elaborate Guaraní lyrics paired with an accordion is almost like you’re in a dream. It doesn’t seem real. It was funny at first. For maybe a day. But then we realized how deep this musical genre infiltrates our lives. It’s everywhere. All the time. No escape. My biggest counter-action and motto for my first year of service was “Play it louder than the polka,” in which I’d attempt to drown out my brother’s radio, volume at 100, with my very own angry, passive-aggressive music to show that I could overcome the polka and defeat the bum bum bum.
But I couldn’t.
There comes a time in your service when you throw up your hands and admit defeat. You can’t escape. So you do one of two things. You either simply tolerate it, as many volunteers do, or you become a crazy campo volunteer (AKA me) and embrace the polka with open arms. I’ll admit, I’ve turned off my own music before so that I could listen to the polka playing from my host family’s house. I can now distinguish different songs (bands even!) and found that there are many variations to the beautiful chica/impoverished crooner story lines. Bum bum bum is my alarm clock and it lulls me to sleep at night. I get excited when our bus driver Julio plugs his phone in and a nice, deep, rhythmic bum bum bum comes out of the speaker above my head. Hear the polka, embrace the polka, feel the polka.
It’s a ridiculous concept of a musical genre but I think that’s what I love about it. It represents Paraguay so well, with whimsy and an upbeat feeling. It’s a strange ode to the integration of the German population that has made its way to Paraguay over the years. It’s dancing music. It’s work music. It’s purely Paraguayan music. Bum bum bum.
If you want to hear some polka, watch this video. You don’t get the same bum bum bum as you do when it’s blasted from a stereo, but you get the picture. The setting for this video cracks me up and you’ll get to hear Guaraní!
And por favor, I’m still in the process of fundraising for my gardening project! You can donate here. Anything helps! Thank you!