After an arduous session of sitting and waiting in airports and planes throughout Latin America, we finally arrived in Asuncion. It felt surreal to actually see the months of planning and anticipation come to fruition. However, our arrival was quite anti-climatic; no cheers could be heard amidst the sea of heavy eyes and yawning faces. We recovered our luggage and headed to the vans, getting one step closer to a long awaited night of sound sleep.
As the van approached the hotel in downtown Asuncion, I realized just how far away from home I really was. Foreign billboards lined the poorly paved roads, dilapidated buildings stood next to brand new luxury apartments, and the occasional stray dog roamed the streets. I could see a glimpse of the differences in class. Whatever grand image I had of Paraguay soon faded.
For all of its shortcomings, a common thread seemed to exist throughout the city: a strong sense of national pride. Huge signs that read “200 Bicentenario” were hung in storefronts and throughout the streets in honor of Paraguay’s 200 years of independence.
Although I was only in the country for a few minutes, I felt immersed in a culture with a complex history that is still being shaped today. At 3:00 a.m. a sleepy Asuncion had a story to tell and I ultimately knew that it was my responsibility to listen – really listen.