Let’s Start with Hope

Banado Sur, Asuncion, Paraguay

Tonight, I sit up late listening to a thunderstorm rage outside. It sounds like it is right overhead making sleeping difficult at best. I began writing this post partly out of guilt for having gone so long without posting. Things have actually begun, but I have left y’all in the dark for two weeks. Part of my procrastination has come out of the fact that I’m not sure how to tell the story. I could tell of the condition within the Banado, about how people live by scavenging out the dump, how the streets and streams flow with mud and trash, but that would sound more of a sob story. There is more hope, life, and vibrancy than the physical surroundings would suggest. I could tell of the family that I live, about how I’m a grown man sharing room with another twenty something and sleeping on a bunk bed with my mosquito net, but that wouldn’t capture the kindness and love that I have experienced within that family. I live with the Mendozas. Their eldest son, Junior, works for our in-country partner, Mil Solidarios. He is also my roommate. Last Sunday, they took me fishing, and out of sure dump luck, and moments after almosttangling my reel, I caught the largest fish of the day. This was probably the first time that I had been fishing in 12 years, but it was a beautiful day out on the water in a boat that had clearly been in the family for a while. I could even tell of the organization that I work with and the struggle to form into interview guides the ideas and questions that we have set for ourselves, but even I do not want to hear the scholarly details even though it’s technically my job here. No, I have thought through and even outline posts on all of these topics, but none of them really capture what is going on here.

Rather, last week, I attended the re-opening of a library in the Banado. The library had originally been constructed as part of a community gathering space, but had fallen into disrepair and was about to be eliminated. A women’s collective had organized to save the library and bring it back to life as a resource to the community. When Cat and I got there, we got busily bossed around carrying tables and chairs, hanging things from the ceiling, arranging refreshments for the grand re-opening, and try not to get dirt on the now pristinely mopped floor. There were three or four members of the women’s group along with a couple kids (including one who really liked the idea of taking pictures with my camera). We seemed to be setting out quite a bit of food and chairs. We hauled in a microphone and speaker, so I got curious as to how many people that they expected to attend. The answer that I got was 50. I doubted it. It sounded ambitious to me. However, when the appointed hour rolled around, we had to set out more chairs. It looked like every member of the women’s collective was there along with a contingent of community leaders and a large pack of teenagers. Pa’i Olivia, the Jesuit Priest who is the founder of Mil Solidarios, spoke and blessed the library. There were speakers from the women’s collective and a development organization working on women’s microfinance. Then, everyone poured in filling the library and eating the good in an instant. The teenagers hung around in the shelves looking at the books. The happiness and excitement hung in the air. It felt like a good thing had just happened here.

This is really the first impression that I wanted to impart about the Banado. Yes, things are hard here. People are poor and struggling to get by. At times, the conditions can be shocking, yet there are homegrown organizations like Mil Solidarios, the women’s collective, and others that are trying to make the Banado into something more. There are weekly meetings that plan protests and action as the Banado my get torn down and replaced with an industrial park. When talking about this, Junior said that the concern is that they we told “fuera,” which literally means “away.” However, it is the same language one would use with a dog. The Banado is barely a recognized part of the city, so they live in a tenuous position. Despite all of this, there are people trying to do something different for their own community. There will be plenty of time and space for me to fill in this story, but I wanted to start with hope.