Cuentos del Colectivo

Monday March 8, 2021

Mba’e tekopio, che ra’akuéra??

It is a pleasure to be able to give back to Paraguay as a member of the board of Friends of Paraguay. I lived for nearly 4 years in Paraguay: in the boondocks of Paraguarí, the bustle of Asunción, and the laidback vibes of Encarnación, and while there, I learned about friendship, work life balance, and above all, the wonders of public transportation. So many memorable moments occurred while waiting for, riding on, and desperately trying to get off the bus that it is hard to talk about my time Paraguay without mentioning the scores of colectivos I rode while there.

On the first colectivo I rode, I got so flustered trying to leave the bus that I accidentally left my cellphone in my seat as I left. Whenever I needed to go to Asunción, I set my alarm for 3:00am so that I could walk the 5km to get to the bus stop before 4:15am. In the early morning haze, ankles dusted or caked with tierra colorada, I would order cocido and El Gordo chipa in Carapegua and watch the gentle sunrise backlight the mbocaja on the hills. I remember countless conversations with fellow bus riders about the weather, the recycled orchestra in Asunción, what they were growing in their gardens, how my name was the same as the werewolf in Crepúsculo (Twilight). I remember the bouncy beat of Paraguayan polka on the radio interspersed with unexpected American classics, my favorite being Girls Just Want to Have Fun.

In my final months in Paraguay, about 6.5 hours into a 7-hour bus ride, a man was getting into a protracted discussion with the bus driver with no end in sight. I was sitting at the bus not paying much attention when I heard “Rene’ekuaa ingles, ajepa? Ejuna!” (You speak English right? Please come!). As it turns out, the man was an Israeli tourist who wanted to see one of Paraguay’s beautiful national parks, and hopped on a bus ride to see it without a plan to get back (this was the last bus of the day, and there were no hostels in this neck of the woods). After a difficult discussion (he only spoke a little more English than he did Spanish, which was minimal), we were able to explain to him his situation and get him on the bus back to Encarnación. There may be a deeper lesson in that, but I took away from my life on a Paraguayan bus the license to muddle through, help others when you can, and not take things so seriously. And most importantly, never turn down some hot, fresh chipa!


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