Thursday, July 1, 2010

Watching the Mundial from Paraguay

I used to think the Superbowl was a big deal. That was until I moved to Latin America. The buildup, the commercials, the halftime show, they’re nothing compared to the World Cup, or the Mundial as we call it in Paraguay. During the first game of the World Cup, I was in Ciudad del Este, shopping with a friend. My friend wanted to shop; all I wanted to do was watch the game. No worries. Every shop we visited had a TV showing the game. The stalls on the sides of the streets didn’t have TVs, but they had radios. Everywhere we went, my friend stopped to haggle and I stood still, my eyes affixed to the television screen. I had been infected by Mundial fever.

Mundial fever has only grown since then. The lyrics of the Shakira and K’naan songs are on everyone’s lips. During my weekly visits to friends around town, the conversation inevitably turns to the Mundial. “Did you see the Paraguay game? Did you see the Brazil game yesterday? Increíble. Who’s playing today?” When it’s game time, everyone has their TVs on. If they don’t, they are more than willing to oblige. And oh, the Albirroja (the red and white, Paraguay’s jersey colors). A few weeks ago, my friend made the comment, “I don’t suppose all the Paraguayan flags that are on sale are to commemorate the anniversary of the Chaco War.” “Of course not,” I replied. “Who cares about the anniversary of some long-ago war when it’s football season?” We’re going nuts over Paraguay’s victories. I find myself constantly wearing my Paraguayan jersey. When Paraguay is playing, even school is cancelled.

In a way, my entire two years in Paraguay have been shaped by the Mundial. A few months after I became a volunteer, I attended the Paraguay vs. Peru qualifying match. I went in the red and white. A group of volunteers and I bought up the entire stock of Paraguayan jerseys off of a street stall. I don’t remember much of the actual game other than the screaming, the jumping up and down, and the obscene cheers we yelled at the opposing team. I remember how afterwards the rich and the poor alike, we Americans, absolutely everyone celebrated outside of the Panteón de los Heroes, in front of the famous Lido Bar. We danced for hours to the crazy beat of samba drums because even though the score was only 1-0, Paraguay had won!

A year later, I had gotten hold of the most precious commodity on the market, tickets to the Paraguay vs. Argentina match (Paraguay and Argentina are fierce rivals. I’m also a huge fan of the Argentina football team). I had gone to the ticket office on two separate occasions and had no luck in buying tickets. After calling friends constantly to see who was going to Asunción, I finally got a hold of tickets. Sure, they were probably scalped, but who cares? The day before the match, I was all ready to leave for Asunción, when it started pouring. That meant, of course, that the bus didn’t leave my site. I decided to postpone my trip by a day. The next morning, the day of the match, I tried again. I woke up early to catch the one bus out of site at 6 AM, but it was still raining. That meant that again the bus didn’t run. I decided to wait out the rain. An hour went by, but the wind continued to blow and the rain continued to fall. Another hour passed by, and it was still going. Meanwhile, I was getting more antsy by the moment. I texted my friend angrily, “I have tickets to the biggest game of the season and I’m stuck in my house!” She replied, “Just walk it.”

By 9 AM, the rain had calmed down and I was finally able to leave my house. Barely 10 minutes into my walk, it started pouring. Turning my face upwards, I shook my fist at the overcast sky and screamed “Are you kidding me God?” I made it to the lake, but then I had to await the barge. The boat drivers were scared to leave because of the high winds. Indeed, the trip across was terrifying. The winds swayed the giant metal barge back and forth and soaked us to the bone. I cowered under the shelter of the motorized tug boat running alongside the barge. I arrived at the bus terminal, a ten-kilometer walk from my house (not including the journey across the lake), completely drenched. Thinking that I was only gone to be gone for a quick two-day trip, I had forgotten an extra pair of socks. When I stopped at the nearby supermarket to buy a few pairs of dry socks, they took pity on me and let me use the restroom to change into my only other pair of clean clothes.

After a six-hour-long bus journey, I finally arrived in Asunción. It was already past 5 PM. I barely had enough time to drop off my stuff in my friend’s house and head to the stadium, reaching only 15 minutes before the start of the game. I had traveled on foot and bus, over water and land, through mud and rain, just to see the football game. Mundial fever, once you’re in its grip, there’s no telling what you’ll do for a football game!

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