Day 5 of the Paraguayan adventure:
Last night our group decided that we were going to go and watch the local football team, "our local football team", "Olympia", play in the first leg of the South America Championship. At first it was proposed to go to TGIFridays, yes, there is a TGIFridays in Asuncion, but we instead opted to talk to a lot of the locals and after asking them where we should go for the "local experience" and it was recommended by many that we go to go to one of the local malls. An hour and a half before the game we set off from the hotel to go to the game, Pierre and myself donning the Olympia jerseys of our favorite players (actually we asked around and found out who other people's favorite players are and just picked those ones since we haven't ever seen a game before) and headed to the mall. We first noticed that something was amiss when we didn't almost die when crossing the street a block from our hotel. Normally, and without any of the exaggeration that my readers will know I occasionally am suspect of, crossing the street here might be the most dangerous thing that happens to me during my two years here. There are no cross walks, there are very few rules being followed by drivers, everyone drives very fast and there are wholes all over the place, in the sidewalk, in the roads, everywhere, just waiting to gobble up unsuspecting walkers. It looks like my streak of being hit by a car in every country I've lived in (+1, Thanks Turkey!) will probably continue here in Paraguay. Anyway, so we get a block from the hotel, look to cross the road and it is virtually empty. We stroll across the road and realize that Paraguayans everywhere have already hunkered down for the night to cheer on their team.
When we got to the mall we found the Paraguayans. All the chairs were taken, people were standing on the stairs, the place was packed. We managed to find a seat sitting on some stairs in the food court where we could see the two enormous screens that were going to show the game. Everyone was wearing Olympia colors, most with jerseys on (except for a guy from school who showed up with the Bolivian national team jersey on, I don't know why, he's Argentinian, but anyway) and anytime during the pregame show the screens showed Olympia everybody clapped and shouted and everytime the screens showed Atlético Mineiro, a Brazilian club, everyone whistled (a bad thing here) and jeered. It was already a great time and the game hadn't even started. By the time the game was about to start the energy was electric.
The game started and I won't go into full reporter detail but let it be known that both teams came out jittery and I was a bit disappointed in South American football after I'd heard such good things for so long. After a while though both clubs settled down and it was a really good game. When Olympia scored in the first half the food court EXPLODED! People went nuts, clapping whistling, chanting, high fiving neighbors, it was amazing! And there were Pierre, the other new teachers and myself, not a minute's worth of cheering for Olympia before tonight, going nuts with the rest of them like we were life long supporters. It was just so easy to get caught up in the energy that we had no choice but to shout and scream and wave our arms like everyone around us. I will point out that at no point last night, either at the mall or later in the streets, did I feel unsafe, there was drinking but few were drunk, the shouting and cheering was intense but never unsafe.
The second half I was on pins and needles, fist tightly clenched as Atlético tried to come back. When Ronaldinho went off everyone at the mall shouted at him, probably using words that it's good I didn't quite understand. Atlético had a really good 10 minutes were Olympia couldn't seem to get a good foot on the ball and I was on the edge of my stair waiting for the doomed equalizer that I felt was coming. It didn't. Olympia held off the numerous attacks and finally started to calm down and start counter attacking. The crowd at the mall felt the shift as Olympia took shot after shot, some barely missing the goal until Olympia had the best counter attack of the night. Atlético was caught pushing defenders forward and Olympia took the ball and pushed forward with massive numbers. One of the players faked the keeper, who dived, and passed to another player in the middle of the box, who was covered by the one remaining defender, and then passed to number 16, Pierre's chosen jersey, WHO COULDN'T HAVE BEEN MORE OPEN IF HE HAD BEEN ON AN EMPTY FIELD IN AN EMPTY STADIUM AND MISSED TO THE LEFT!!!! I found myself holding my head like the diehards, shouting my frustration and blaming Pierre since he was wearing the jersey. But the thing that happened next is why I have chosen Olympia to be my team for the time I'm here (I mean for the rest of my life, I'm diehard now!), after a minute of everyone feeling frustrated about the missed opportunity they sat back in their seats, and started clapping and encouraging their team on. I've never seen that at any sporting event I've been to and I really appreciated it last night. The last play of the game came, we were nearing the end of stoppage time, everyone was happy that Olympia was going to win 1-0, but also feeling a little disappointed that they didn't take advantage of the plethora of opportunities that they had to go up 2-0 or 3-0 when the ref called a foul for Olympia right outside the box and all the sudden the mall was abuzz again. When #7 put in the free kick, right under the crossbar, in the 95th minute everyone, and I mean everyone, lost it. People were shouting, screaming, jumping, laughing, congratulating neighbors, standing on chairs, clapping, singing, Max and his wild rumpus would have been proud. It was amazing. Pierre kept looking at me and saying, "This is a mall man, A MALL." It was incredible.
As we walked outside the celebration was in full swing in the streets. Cars honking, air horns blowing, people hanging out of car windows and sunroofs and off the back of pickups, flags flying everywhere, music blaring, me and my cohorts yelling at the cars and them yelling back at us, high fiving strangers, fireworks going off as we headed off to a local bar to catch up with some other friends.
After hanging out, having a few drinks (water for me thanks) and finding out where the party is going to happen next week if we (I've decided that I've been a fan long enough to start referring to my fellow Olympia fans and myself as, "we".) started walking back to the hotel when we saw that all the cars a few blocks down were stopped because people were holding an enormous Olympia flag across the two lanes of traffic. Obviously (and you know how much I hate that word so I don't use it lightly), we had to investigate. Things we saw at the end of that street... lots of fireworks, people banging drums, toddlers being lifted out of the sunroof of moving cars, lots of screaming and shouting (by us as much as by them), an the results of an accident, no one was hurt but the front bumper was halfway off the car, (the way to fix such a problem was certainly the chosen method of kicking the bumper the rest of the way off and sticking it across the backseat of the car and out the back windows on both sides of the car and then driving off, yelling and honking like nothing had happened) and generally the safest and in no way violent mayhem that I've been a witness to.
We walked back to the hotel and each went to bed, a smile on our face and pride in our heart that our team had performed so admirably.
Other items of note:
- The people I'm going to be working with are amazing. They are young and fun and we all get along very very well.
- After a few very frustrating days of house hunting, Joana and I have found a place. We will be living with another couple and their three dogs in a BEAUTIFUL house with a man-cave and a pool. I'll post pictures and give a better description soon.
- I am loving the fact that the group of new teachers is so active. We all play a lot of sports and already some of us have played basketball while others have found a great park to go running in. I got out of the habit of going out to play sports a bit over the past few years and I'm very excited for both Joana and myself that being active seems to be a way of life here.
- I am experiencing a bit of culture shock here. I haven't figured out what sort of a place I'm living in. Sometimes I relate this place back to Freetown, with water that I can't drink, holes in the sidewalks and highly inflated money (4,500 guaranee to the dollar). Other times it feels more like the States or Portugal, 24 hours of light and water, easy internet access, nice stores and air conditioning everywhere. It's going to take a while to get used to being here and to be fair I have really only been in about a 10 kilometer square section of the city, so we'll see what happens when I get to see the rest of the city/country.
- I'm struggling with the language too. Spanish is close enough to Portuguese and I've learned enough Spanish in my life, that a lot of the times, if people don't speak too fast I can understand what they are saying. I however cannot speak Spanish at the moment, like almost at all. I speak Portuguese in response and sometimes people understand and sometimes they don't. This is a challenge I want to really work on since I don't want to be an expat on the outside but would rather hang out with Paraguayans and experience their culture from the inside.
So that's the news after 4 days of life in a new place. I have been extremely proud of Joana, she is doing so well with her first time living in a new country. We are settling in well and feel like this will be a good place for us to be for the next few years.