This morning at 10:30am, we gathering in the lobby of El Hotel Chaco, equipped with maps and ready for a walking tour of downtown Asuncion.
Our fist stop was a central “park” plaza, which was framed on one side by the national Cathedral of Asuncion (whose prayer kneels I mistook for foot-rests, embarrassingly enough) and on an adjacent side by the edge of a slum barrio (como las favelas de Brazil) of tiny shacks vulgarly constructed with mis-matched pieces of sheet metal. As we leaned on the ledge of the park and gazed down upon the barrio, we saw children scampering around in clothes hardly thick enough to justify the cool cloudy day, chilly winds; and chickens, roosters, pigs, dogs, cats roaming aimlessly.
I drew in a sharp breathe and wondered how such merciless living conditions could exist in the seemingly reassuring gaze of the Paraguayan Legislative Building (equate to the US Capital) and the Presidential Palace (equate to the White House), which were both situated on the far side of the park– a mere 50-100 feet from the edges of the slum barrio.
Perhaps reassuring presences don’t amount to reassuring realities.
The rest of the tour passed quickly– a walk along the waterfront of El Rio Paraguay (which also happened to be the backyard of both the Presidential Palace and the slum barrio) and a browsing through a museum illustrating the history of Paraguay and Asuncion. Before long, we arrived at a traditional restaurant for lunch, and I sat there, enjoying my empanada de choclo and papas fritas.