The Morning Commute

This is part 1 in a series of short expository pieces where I aim to colorfully describe a few important aspects of the Paraguayan experience.

It’s morning. Probably around 7. To me, that still feels like very early morning, but to everyone else, it’s just time to go. As I pile into the family car, along with the other 4 family members, I am greeted by sights and sounds of a city already awake and running. The dusty construction company across the street already has its neglected and rusting gates open and its equally sorry-looking truck being loaded to its maximum under a load that seems ridiculous for such a meager vehicle. The common workers with tattered and greased jumpsuits are already lifting sandbags barehanded, the pale sand contrasting with the brown smudge skin color of exposed forearms. Their “almacen” or warehouse breathes and exhales stale air.

A good representation of PY mornings, minus all the people.

A good representation of PY mornings, minus all the people.

“Always in the way.” JC mutters as he struggles to back his old Nissan 4×4 out of his drive and avoid bumping into the sputtering truck. Hand on the back of the front passenger seat, foot slowly depressing the break, he turns to face front and switches gears into forward drive. We are off down the cobblestone street without a traffic-lane care in the world.

We pass by a small park on the left where children will be playing football (soccer) later in the day when school gets out. At the moment, it sits idle with only a few scraggly dogs romping around inside to give it any character at all. It’s easy to keep track of how many different streets you cross, as invariably each will have its own special height, texture and quantity of potholes. Keeping its roads company, the walls set beyond the sidewalks complement them in their own unique South American flair. Which is to say that they rarely follow any sort of pattern or theme, and are usually plastered liberally with advertisements, and adorned with barbed wire if connected to a house.

Up and down sidestreets we go, having no problem navigating the lawless streets withouts signs. The right of way, although, seems to be in contention. Obviously, a car has the right of way over pedestrians, but when it comes between two cars, which one yields to the other? The world may never know.

Once we finally make it to the children’s school and drop them off in a way that would make even the most tight-leashed  soccer moms pleased (complete with security guard, children are dropped off out in front of the school and escorted in), we turn and then its more of the same… poor people in hand-me-down pastel jerseys and wam-up pants from the United States 90’s stand on street corners selling their vegetables, fruits, and most importantly, chipas.

After the wife gets dropped off, I’m next in line. JC drives me again through shady streets and finally into town where I am to take the bus. The bus stop is oddly positioned on a sunken sidewalk outside a building which holds both the national Communist party and a school for the deaf. How ironic. (“Can’t hear? Well no problem, go join the Communists, they don’t have anything worthwhile to listen to anyways!”)

As many buses pass, spewing smog and pollution, finally I see Linea 23 coming down the hill. Compared to the other buses, this one is new. Taking a decisive breath, I step up to the curb, straight-backed and raise my hand high and outward, indicating my desire to board. A few seconds later, the bus comes to a roll next to me. When I say a roll, I mean a roll. The buses here do not stop, except for the elderly and the very young. I take a spatial estimate and step up onto the lowest step as the engine churns and the brakes hiss. I grasp the railing on the door and pull myself up the last 2 steps, taking care to see that my briefcase makes it in with me. I see the stoic driver in his decaying seat with his Virgin Mary peer down and I hand him the 2100 Guaranies necessary to board. This value is worth about 45 cents in American Dollars. He takes it with his grubby hand, drops it in his cloth bag and hands me a ticket printed on receipt paper that has no more than my number, the route, and a small stamp. I awkwardly move towards the interior of the bus, passing through the rotating arm that tracks entries and exits and find a hard plastic seat on the left side of the bus. Briefcase in lap, I look out the window as the bus shifts side to side and powers its way down the road.

Soon enough it’s my turn to get off at my street. If I continue, the bus will turn onto another street and Lord knows where that goes. So I step up, pull the string that then rings a bell to alert the driver that I want to get off. He stops (whenever he feels like it), and on average, I’d say I more or less come within 100 feet of my desired stop each time. Then, on foot, I cross the street and head up Brasilia. The same image of the morning hustle and bustle greets me. Old women are outside their shops sweeping their piece of sidewalk. A card table is set up with some herbs and a newspaper, and a wrinkly old man in old frumpy black rimmed glasses sits contentedly drinking his tereré. I keep walking past one of my favorite restaurants as the clock hits 7:35. Just another street and I take a right down a short sideroad and then a left through a decrepit park to reach my office. I open the creaking gate and approach the door. I knock and am promptly greeted by César. The work day has begun.

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