|By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, August 20, 2003 - 8:01 am: Edit Post|
A subdivision of the United States Department of Defense, and therefore, military, the Peace Corps has been in operation for let's say 40 years now
A subdivision of the United States Department of Defense, and therefore, military, the Peace Corps has been in operation for let's say 40 years now
The Exploitation and Contradiction of South America
Volume 5: Para Why?
By Tyson Volkmann
Last time, you might recall that I was a little bitter about Argentinean Independence Day. But we all learn from traveling and Justin Timberlake might have to sing, "Cry me a river." Andy would probably tell me to call the waaambulance. It's true and evident that I have been on a whine tour recently. I've also been to a Chilean heavy metal show, so excuse my political anger in this volume, please.
The Tres Leones (Tyson, Andy, and Toren) hopped off a bus three hours or so southeast of the capital Asuncion, Paraguay in a small town of a few thousand called San Juan Bautista. It is the capital of the Misiones Province if you care. We strolled slowly into town as the sun set, much like a pride of lions might arrive searching for new hunting grounds. From the shadows of porches, many daughters whispered to many mothers, "Muy Duros!" (How tough they are!). Andy and I were happy to have Toren with us and not to be just a Pairagays anymore. None, including us, knew what our next step would be, but invading the village of Isla Tobatí 45 minutes walk away, where Toren is volunteering, sounded like an interesting idea at least.
We found one of the three hostels in town, packed away our belongings, and ate a ginormous steak and mandioca (yucca root) dinner for a dollar and fifty cents. Despite the foreign atmosphere, the Paraguayan fog had started to lift. It is a simple culture it seemed, and I intended to get to the roots of their reality in the short time we had. Toren's reality was a little different, I discovered, when I played Santa Claus and unloaded all the junk I had been lugging around South America for 6 weeks: CDs, duct tape, a frisbee, a sleeping bag, ATM cards, and finally, a little pamphlet the Peace Corps had sent to him before he left the States, entitled: Your Assignment: Paraguay. A long, hearty laugh was had by all when he thanked me for bringing his assignment because, for the last eight months, he had no idea what he was supposed to be doing (as if it matters). Beautiful. Just an ex-patriot living off of Uncle Sucker. But I had several more questions about this alleged core of peace.
A subdivision of the United States Department of Defense, and therefore, military, the Peace Corps has been in operation for let's say 40 years now. The definition the United States uses for 'defense' is paradoxical to me. 'Invade and destroy other faraway lands in the interest of homeland security?' That sounds like an excuse for offense. The best defense is not a good offense. And it offends me when the US defends its offensive posture by masking it behind a veil of non-descript, meaningless banter such as: Axis of Evil, weapons of mass destruction, evil regime, War on Terror, or pick your CNN catch-phrase of the day.
More topically, the Department of Defense, including the Peace Corps, is just a misnomer for the act of colonization. A slow misdirection of society by the US, leading to the cultural, then inevitably, financial subservience of a populous and government of a country. Do I sound bitter? Good. Here is my solace: In effect, the Peace Corps is meaningless and worthless. Not one volunteer is properly trained to colonize. The endless bureaucracy surrounding the programs creates enough red tape to tape back together the Kyoto Treaty.
To US citizens: You should be proud your tax dollars are being spent on such projects as 'Spread the Eucalyptus.' That program is, introduce to an area a foreign species, which will outcompete all native species and become counterproductive to its original objective while effectively eliminating most biological diversity. Being nearly unburnable in local stoves, the wood will not fulfill the needs of the community but will surely limit the amount of burnable wood that can grow in the suitable habitat now occupied by the eucalyptus. Rocket science. Hello? Excuse me, I'm not done. Sustainable development: Now there is a winning concept. This idea must have been created by some wealthy yuppie 'philanthropist' who doesn't understand the laws of physics. Our definition of development inevitably entails production of goods, which requires a continual supply of resources. Is this concept realistically sustainable. Damn no. For the short term, lives could be improved (whatever that means), but when every household in China has a washing machine, the dried-up riverbeds will run deep with concern for sustainability. Population increases not included, there is nothing sustainable about development. In the end, as I digress from this confusing argument, one catch phrase will hold true for all the volunteers of colonization worldwide: 'Estoy aqui para apoyar la comunidad.' (I'm here to support the community).
As Toren's case goes, I was at first sad to see him lend his good name to the US armed forces. But when I brought forth those concerns over a bottle of whine in the plaza of the small town of San Juan Bautista that evening, he really validated the fact that he is not a robot and not working for the man. He is there to apoyar himself and you are paying for it so he would like to thank you. He lives on a compound in Paraguay, much like a colonist would, plays guitar, and generally impresses the local females.
These answers, this lifestyle truly interested me, and Andy and I were fortunate enough to be invited to Toren's reality the next morning as he heroically and proverbially showed his hand to the community. If the statement "muy duros" was used to describe our entrance into San Juan Bautistuta, a town which actually has asphalt, then the gaping mouths of the Isla Tobatíans couldn't utter the proper phrase in Guaraní to describe the spectacle they witnessed as the Tres Leones - three large, blonde men with backpacks - meandered into their small reality and village. Colonists.
Isla Tobatí is a one-hour walk on dirt roads from San Juan. No buses connect the farming community with the small town. It's quite a lovely stroll across the palm-ridden chaco for three lions with endless amounts of free time. The locals say "Baishapa" to mean 'how are you?', followed by a courteous thumbs-up to let you know they are doing just fine. Walking past the school and church and the only street light in town to the village center, we could see Toren's manor. It is a small, three-room, white concrete structure with dual water tanks above. He has a green, neatly trimmed lawn, a fence with a gate, an outhouse, and a well. His several acre property includes a well cared-for garden of green onions, tomatoes, and spicy peppers. The rest of the estate is filled with various palms and an immense, 106 tree citrus grove within which we passed many an hour tasting the countless varieties of sweet fruit. In fact, that's all we did besides listen to and play music and toss the frisbee.
This was Toren's first day in his new home and we decided to break it in proper. After visiting his former host family and feeding cow's milk to their chanchitos (piglets), we borrowed the necessary equipment from the community in order to cook a healthy, large meal. We had procured pasta and some vegetables in San Juan that morning, so, after collecting kindling and wood from his property, we lit a fire and heated our stew over an open fire. It was outstanding and simple. Eat, sleep, drink, talk. We used green onions and peppers from his garden. Incidentally, the peppers made for a very emotional meal; we were all in tears by the end of his housewarming dinner. The sun went down and the moon came up. And it gets cold in the chaco. So we bundled up in all our warm clothes, hats, and gloves, and took a night's rest on the donated mattresses over the concrete floor in Toren's small home in Isla Tobatí, south-central Paraguay.
To begin this volume of the Contradiction and Exploitation, I would like to respond to a letter I received from one of my faithful readers, who called my last entry, "Para Why" full of "gross inaccuracies". Well, then I retract just a little. Perhaps the Peace Corps has done some positive things for some people somewhere at sometime. And possibly the Peace Corps directors do not answer to a cabinet member but to good old George W. Bush himself. I don't know if this is true or not. But I do know that I don't care. Because no matter to whom they answer, I still stand by all of my comments, which followed because they are my OPINION. My definition of opinion is "A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof." Inaccurate, to me, would mean "Not accurate; not according to truth; inexact; incorrect; erroneous; as, in inaccurate man, narration, copy, judgment, calculation, etc." Well now I am lost in syntax but the point is, I take my own opinions to be accurate to me and I don't really care about other's inaccurate opinions of my opinions. There, I said it.
What I did find entertaining as I thought along this week, is that the world's number one colonist for the moment, the great G-dub, may be responsible for the Peace Corp directors, and therefore the programs of thousands of volunteers in scores of countries where US colonization efforts are more than clear. So if his foreign policy as it is applied to the Peace Corps has anything to do with his political agendas, then I even have more questions about what is going on. (Isn't he also the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. military?) Hmmmm.
To his discredit, George has often summed up his view foreign policy in interesting ways: "We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile." - Des Moines, Iowa, August 21st, 2000.
And he once said of the people who live in the country of Greece, "Keep good relations with the Grecians." - The Economist, June 21, 1999. When I lived in Greece, every Greek and non-Greek alike I had a conversation with agreed that G-dub is a melaka ("wanker" in "Grecian".)
Moving on from him because he is only a figurehead (that means 'without a brain', right?), if you want to take the OPINION of someone who has lived in and travelled across large portions of 5 of the 6 populated continents, then I am under the opinion that US foreign policy - if it is truly physically possible - both sucks and blows. Why, just the other day, as we walked down a sunny street in...Paraguay it happened to be, a man confronted Andy and I and asked where we were from. We said "Canada." He said, "Good, because if you were from the United States I would slice your throat right here and now."
This example is hardly rare. On this continent of South America this summer I have seen endless graffiti on the street. "Assassinate Bush!", "US get out of Iraq!", "Die Yankees!", and "Go home Yankees!" seem to be this summer's favorites. (Unfortunately they aren't talking about the New York Yankees.) I have been travelling for the most part in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. And I'm pretty sure these aren't what Bush would call "Rogue Nations". Maybe just allies held hostile. But you better believe that 90 percent of the populous of Islamic Indonesia, which is somewhere around 200 million, hate us. It seemed to be more like 100 percent when I was there taking polls. Many there believe that Osama is a humanitarian. Anyway, if the US has only 300 million supporters world-wide (most all living in the US) out of 6 billion on the planet, that makes about 5 percent. I will round it up to 10 percent for arguments sake. Can 90 percent of the planet be wrong? We shall see.
So, in conclusion, those are just more of my opinions on things. So I have come up with a simple, easy-to-use list of ideas for people who don't like or don't agree with my opinions. Just make your choice from the list below:
1. Don't read them. I really couldn't care less.
2. Understand that this is a non-professional group of my journal entries, a travelogue for entertainment only.
3. Go through all my writing with a fine-tooth comb, become angry at me, and cry to me about it.
4. Kiss my asphalt. That is my rebuttal.
Now that we have gotten through that unpleasant business, Let's move onto something much more important.
Continuing our stay in the tiny village of Isla Tobatí, Paraguay. With an endless supply of free time and money, a nice house, and a shocked and awe-struck community interested in our every move, the Tres Leones decided to throw another housewarming at Toren's new compound, this time for the community. If you ever happen to stumble into Isla a few months from now, Toren's house should be the one with an ostrich strutting around. Even if communication mostly failed because of our lack of knowledge of the language of Guaraní, cooking for the community might prove we are human, do human activities like cook and eat, and possibly help bridge the cultural gap. In light of the housewarming, I finally present to you "How to kill a chicken Paraguayan-style."
1. Ask your neighbor/friend Lucio to ride his horse down the dirt road and buy a bag of live chickens.
2. When he returns, give the bag a little kick to make sure they are fresh and to make yourself feel superior to them. Listen for that cluck.
3. Grab one bird out of the bag by its feet with your left hand while holding the wings in with your right.
4. Rest her legs on your bent left knee for support and slide your right hand down to her neck.
5. With your right hand, slowly rotate her head in no more and no less than three circles.
6. With your right hand, grip the neck and give a swift pull toward the ground (don't worry, the head will pop right off if you did step 5).
7. So as not to be covered in chicken blood and faeces, drop the head and support the bird's body.
8. When she is good and calm, tie her feet up to a tree branch with duct tape or rope and let her hang.
9. Allow the blood to drip out of the neck (+ or - 15 minutes).
10. Drop the bird in luke-warm water for + or - 20 minutes.
11. Pluck all feathers including those from the head.
12. With a sharp knife, remove "el carne más rico" (the best meat), including all internal organs, undeveloped eggs, and the head minus the beak and eyes. Place them in a pile on a plate.
13. With a sharp knife, remove the rest of the less-rico meat (breast wings, thighs, legs) and put them in a pile on a plate.
14. Throw both piles into a pot to boil (+ or - 15 minutes)
15. Add local vegetables and season to taste (+ or - 30 minutes) - Necesita sal!
16. Enjoy and congratulations! You just started a Paraguayan fiesta (+ or - 6 hours) - Necesita cane liquor!
Think that is disgusting and barbaric? Then don't eat animals.
Fortunately, the locals saw that we had no idea what we were doing, so a team of five men, who had wandered into Torens's yard for the get-together, took care of nearly all the food preparation. They argued over the best way to do the cooking but it was generally agreed that Toren, Andy, and I were capable of nothing but drinking boxed wine and speaking broken Spanish. They did allow us to do the chicken killing, however, but only under close adult supervision. Being rookies, chicken blood splattered in all directions, soaking our clothes.
Somehow, cooking the meal took four hours or so, as members of the community continued to arrive, bringing mandioca (yucca root) and smiles. Toren's former host mom, who seems to be a mother for the entire community, showed up with some others in her family. She acts very matriarchal towards Toren, often telling him to, "Usa tú coco!" (Use your head) when she is of different opinion than him. Finally, we moved a picnic table inside of the small, concrete common space (the house has no furniture) and all 15-ish of us sat down to share the hearty stew, mandioca, conversation, and warmth.
My interpretation of the evening was that all had a good time, but the highlight for them was probably in the evening's post-dinner gringo entertainment. In what would become a common occurrence over the next few days in Paraguay, the Tres Leones broke out a guitar and belted out a sick acoustic version of George Michael's "Faith". The locals were delighted to hear western music, whose rhythm, chords, and song structures are as foreign to them as the Frisbee we tossed around in the yard earlier that day. They asked for more music, so we all took our hand at cover songs, and tried a group jam with my harmonica. They played a few songs for us in their local style as well.
The next morning we felt a successful night had taken place, and, after three days in the community of Isla Tobatí, we were ready to move on. But the locals told us that we had to stay because the next day was the festival of the patron saint of Isla and one of the largest celebrations of the year. The only things we needed to bring were handkerchiefs for the caballeros (horse dudes) and ourselves. Okay?
Around noon that day, Lucio rode by Toren's house on his horse (who had just finished at the barber's) and yelled for us to follow him to the festival. I hopped on the horse and we were off the short distance to the center of the village, where 100 or so people were gathered. Women and children were generally situated standing or sitting in plastic chairs in front of the church, while groups of adolescent guys or girls stood, taking straight pulls off of Tres Leones caña, behind a fence near the school across the dirt road from the church. The caballeros of the community, in uniforms, rode their well-manicured horses in circles between the school and church, passing bottles of caña between them. We took a spot with the adolescent males behind the fence and tried to make sense of it all.
It seemed there was to be a tournament among the caballeros, who now hung our handkerchiefs off the side of their decorated animals. The tournament was a contest of speed and accuracy on horses. From a hundred meters down the dirt road, two caballeros would race their horses back toward the center of the village and toward a wooden cross from which hung two small metal rings. The caballero who arrived to the cross first and successfully pull a ring from the cross with a small lance while still travelling full speed, would be the winner. We saw a few practice rounds but the tournament would not start until everyone in the community was good and loaded.
Besides, there were several other games to play first. One was called "run your horse (at an unsafe speed) into another mounted horse in an attempt to scare the caballero or knock him to the ground". Fueled by alcohol and lack of inhibition, this game quickly got out of hand as a cloud of dust rose from the intersection and horses were slamming their bodies into each other and into wire fences. When that game became too dangerous and a few more bottles were finished by the mounted caballeros and spectators, the next game, "tackle your horse", began. Extremely unorganized, this game was nothing more than picking up the front legs of your horse and doing anything else in you power in order to pin your horse to the ground on its side. It becomes a team sport if the horse puts up too much resistance.
After a few hours of this, we decided we would take a break from the festival, but a group of young girls accosted us on the way out. Apparently they had heard (from Toren) that Andy and I, "Pueden bailar 'rap'? (Can you guys rap dance?) Ommm, sure. So, to their astoundment, we gave them a little taste of a beat box and some 'rap dance'. They told us we had to come to the disco that night. What disco?
At dusk the festivities changed nature at the church. The caballeros dropped off their horses and returned to the intersection. People from other villages began to arrive. Under the lone street light in the village was set up a DJ equipped with a microphone and an enormous speaker. We headed back out with Lucio to the makeshift 'discothèque', and after another version of "Faith", it was time to hit the dirt dance floor. At this early point in the night, 11pm, the dance was still the traditional South American double line shuffle. Fathers danced with their daughters while the young men waited their turn. But the fathers began to do everything in their power to relinquish their daughters to us, the Tres Leones. The dancing and low-key flirting lasted for hours and we actually started believing the 14-year old girls, who were telling us they were 18.
Our dancing became more and more free-form. And the young women couldn't get enough of our 'rap' moves. Some of Andy's moves actually elicited screams of pleasure from the ladies and he almost caused one girl to faint when he uttered Guaraní phrase "Ro'usé" (I want to eat you) to her. Despite the shock value of our presence, however, the night was all in good fun as we stomped up a dust storm through the dark streets of Isla for a good portion of the night.
It was incredibly difficult to peel ourselves out of bed the next morning. We knew as soon as we awoke that we were headed onto the next stage of our journey. We had to say farewell to Isla Tobatí and the simple and easy life of the past few days. But the Tres Leones had truly affected the village quite enough and surely given the community some interesting things to ponder and talk about for the near future.
So we were ready to move on...after we dealt with a few issues. Showering had been difficult due to icy well water and the nearly freezing Chaco temperatures. Or at least that is my excuse for why we really stunk badly. And we were covered with dirt and chicken blood from head to toe. It was getting smelly in there, so plug up all your nose. We decided to treat it like any other problem. If you ignore the problem, it will inevitably go away, ¿No? ¡No!, it didn't and the only ones who suffered were the notoriously clean Paraguayans, who certainly visually questioned our ways of hygiene.
The Tres Leones looked and smelled more like 16th century European sailors, as we pulled up our anchor and headed on foot one hour back to San Juan Bautista. Our plan was to head east to the tropical zone where Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil all meet. The weather there might be conducive to showering. If not, the Foz de Iguazu, a massive waterfall complex and national park, could always hose us down.
Two long bus rides later, we arrived in Ciudad del Este, the eastern border of Paraguay, at 1am. Now we had to say a terribly sad goodbye to Toren, the third lion, who we won't see for years, unless we want to practice our 'rap dance' at next year's patron saint festival in Isla. Our pride was no longer as big. He didn't have a passport, so we dropped him at the border of Paraguay and Brazil (or did we?). Likewise, Andy and I realized that it was illegal for us to enter Brazil as well because we didn't have visas. So we decided the best way to solve that problem was to sneak into Brazil anyway, and like our other problems, it would probably just go away. Hmmmm. So we hopped in a cab, not stopping at the border, and cruised into Brazil the best and only way we knew how: Illegally.
We left Toren (or did we?) in a restaurant near the border. He was nursing a beer and a wound left in his hand by a type of Paraguayan insect (the Tobatíans call it Pee-kay) which crawls up from the dirt, into your skin, and leaves a small black egg behind, which grows to a relatively enormous size in about a week. It has to be painfully removed with a pin.
The Paraguayan bug bit me and Andy figuratively and literally. Figuratively, it crawled into our bodies and laid eggs in our heart. The eggs have hatched and now we have nothing but love for the people of the 'guay. It laid eggs in our brain. They hatched and now we will always have pleasant thoughts of the genuine Guaraní people of the Chaco. Literally, however, we did leave with three souvenirs from Paraguay. Just a few days ago, Andy found two of the large Peekay eggs growing in him while I found only one in me. As a last reminder of Paraguay it was really tough to say goodbye to the little bastards...with a pin...on wine.
Writing a travelogue has been great. Sitting here in an oasis amongst what have to be some of the largest sand dunes in the world, I get to choose what gets read, what I think is important, and what spin I feel like putting on it. It must be exactly like being a travel guidebook writer. Uh, except I don't get paid, and you have to stumble upon my work to find it. Yeah, and I fund all this traveling myself. And I don't get all the perks from hotels and restaurants. But I don't have any obligation, which may be why I left Paraguay over a month ago and haven't written anything new.
Point is, I'm not going to talk much about a natural phenomenon that straddles Brazil and Argentina, the Foz de Iguazu. It's the second most-visited tourist attraction in South America but should easily be the first, in my opinion. Shhhhh, don't tell anyone. Maybe its remote location prevents the arrival of the large crowds that Peru and Machu Picchu attract. The powerful forces of erosion, over millions of years, of course, have turned this area into miles of tropical waterfalls, which cascade millions of gallons at a time, over the edge of the earth, hundreds of feet into pools below. That is my weak, one sentence explanation for this feat of nature that can only be done justice by your physical presence. Getting there is up to you.
Continuing from last time then. Crossing out of Paraguay and back into Argentina from Brazil was a snap. It was almost like the Brazilians didn't even know Andy and I were there. Now, all we had to do to enjoy Argentina was to put our minds to the setting: Europe. That, wash our clothes (twice), realize we were relatively poorer than the Argentineans, enjoy the first world food while drinking their safe tap water, and...that's it! Traveling became much more simple and comfortable, if not more boring. Another day, another plaza, another cathedral.
Of course, Argentina has an amazing history too. In the 1800's, after independence and the end of Spanish tariffs on trade, Genoan immigrants moved into the port area of Boca, near Buenos Aires, to capitalize on the tin trade. This created an Italian immigrant boomtown, which thrived for years until a new, more accessible port opened. Boca now remains a depressed district, but rich in color and history, the corrugated tin siding of the houses painted bright like the spirits of the hard-working men of the port. This was where the tango was born. My understanding of this seductive dance is that it tells a story where a man falls in love with the wrong girl: a prostitute. His spirit is shattered when he cannot stay with her. (Maybe he has to go out to sea or she is not willing to give up her profession). A heartbreaking tale whose roots easily make sense in the context of this historic culture. (We all know women and seamen don't mix.)
Culturally we felt like we had been in Buenos Aires before. "The Paris of the south" was a refreshing break but not really what we were looking for. My hasty generalization would be: If Italy and Spain took a trip to South America together, and, after a night of passionate European love-making, Spain became pregnant with Italy's kid, and the kid was born much larger than the size of both their parents combined, then you would have Argentina. We couldn't afford to spend much more money in Argentina, so we headed west for Chile, which happened to be twice as expensive. On the way across the flat open plains of the Pampas, where the legend of the great Gaucho still thrives, Andy and I conversed about the financial situation of Argentina. The conversation didn't last long.
Andy: "I would definitely come down here and live for a year. I hope their economy stays bad."
We both looked at each other and broke out laughing. We had no idea how much these millions of people had suffered in the last few years as their economy collapsed and their peso had devalued to almost a third of its worth in a matter of weeks. But as Andy put it, "Imagine going to buy your favorite burrito that used to cost six dollars one day and the next day it was fifteen dollars." Sometimes in life, only a burrito can put things into perspective. But the reason we were laughing was that we both at once realized the error in his earlier statement. Selfishly thinking about our personal financial welfare, which is quite healthy, we disregarded the well being of 13 million port dwellers in the Buenos Aires vicinity, who had their bank accounts frozen as their money evaporated.
Wait, why were we laughing? Oh yeah, see it's all part of the exploitation. If Argentina wasn't such a cheap place to travel, we may not have even been there at all. Now rationalization: As the country has financially nose-dived from a first-world-like economy to a more third-world economy, tourism has definitely increased. And this will help the economy bounce back, right? So we were actually in Argentina to SAVE it, not to exploit the poor. Did you see how I did that? See that there? Without rationalization, there can't be proper exploitation and contradiction. And without privilege, none of this could exist for us. We speak English. We speak Spanish. Our money is worth more than almost anybody's. And we have more money than almost everybody else. If you put us in a bracket of wealth, we would most certainly be in the top 20% of the wealthy in the USA. (Debt counts as wealth, right?) And just having an income in the USA puts you in the top 5% financially in the entire world. So we are in the top one percent wealthiest in the universe. And to finish the discussion of our ominous privilege, we each carry a passport that reads:
"The Secretary of State of The United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance, and in case of need, to give all lawful aid and protection."
Strong words from a strong country. And every one of the fifty or so countries I have crossed into has heeded those words for fear of losing their oil fields. Where was I? The point is, we have great privilege and it is our duty to understand it while hopefully using it to spread positive messages as we travel. It has been and will always be difficult to completely empathize with people who are not as fortunate, as we blaze through their country with a pocketful of their currency and no understanding of their culture. But we try to. That is why we are here.
As we crossed the Pampas at around 3am our bus broke down (duh!). It was dead silent and freezing. The bus had lost power for some reason and those who were intelligent enough to have NOT left all their blankets, sleeping bags, and most of the warm clothes in Paraguay, (everyone except Andy and myself), slept soundly. And although I didn't recognize any of them, the stars were amazing out here in the wild, open plain. And the moon was upside down. This was as far south as I had ever been; as close as any continent gets to Antarctica. But before we were attacked by penguins or gauchos, the bus revved up and we were on our way again.
The bus stopped in Mendoza, the wine-growing region of Argentina. At this point we weren't eager to pay ten dollars to visit a winery to sample one glass of wine. In fact, we were ready for something even less cultural than that. I had personally done eight straight weeks of intense traveling through the Andes and Chaco learning more than I could ever hope to retain and, language permitting, understanding quite a bit of culture. It was Chilean time. We crossed the border over the Andes near the highest peak in South America (Aconcagua, 7000m) and zoomed down into fabulous(ly polluted) Santiago. The next days were spent skiing, walking around viewing mountain and city-scapes, relaxing, generally learning nothing except how much seafood we could stuff ourselves with, and drooling over the sexy, stylish women of Santiago.
For the hundredth time in my life, I had a recurring revelation. Sitting on a bench in Santiago, I just watched the people pass. They were all very happy and looked to be living simply. Nothing they did was affected by anything I did. Their culture was absolutely independent and unique. This can be said of places almost anywhere in the world, fortunately. Thriving, brilliant, and self-sufficient, even sometimes ignorant of outside influence. It is the way it should be. The more time passes, the more times I see somebody walking down the street in another country with a Marilyn Manson t-shirt or some other cultural influence from the west. The more satellites that broadcast MTV, the smaller the world gets. But it is still possible to see remnants of the way it was. As the world becomes homogenized there is nothing better than to sit back and appreciate shreds of culture which are still so profound, even if so simple.
As far as Chilean culture is concerned, we did make it to a heavy metal concert. The curly, black hair, which reached down to the waist of ALL of the Chilean men, looked to be the style of circa 1989, or at least that is the year they started growing it. Our hair was about three feet too short and the wrong color, and we didn't have nearly as much black leather as was required by the dress code, but when the songs got going and the heads got to banging, it was difficult to know whose mullet was whose as we all swam in a sea of Aquanet as the waves of wavy hair crested and broke to the intense rhythm of the band.
And such was the recipe for a few simple days in Santiago until I had to bid farewell to my travel buddy, Andy, who was there with me the whole time exploiting and contradicting while questioning the exploitation and contradiction.
Look for the final installment of the Contradiction, coming soon "Be careful what you ask for 'cuz you just might get it".
|By Ian Guffy (71-214-209-22.desm.qwest.net - 126.96.36.199) on Saturday, December 30, 2006 - 11:39 pm: Edit Post|
The Peace Corps is not part of the U.S. Department of Defense, but rather an independent federal agency.