Aveiro, 7.5.08 - So after being here for a number of weeks, certain folks are definitely starting to work my nerves. A few days ago we had the first big fight between two people in the group (not the larger group, but our RED group of 6), but luckily they've actually managed to smooth things over and get along.
Yesterday we went to the American Embassy for the July 4th picnic, which was a lot of fun. In the morning we went to the Mercado de Abasto, where farmers come to sell produce. We learned primarily about the section in which farming coops are able to sell their produce wholesale to individuals and supermarkets. Some of the buyers set up produce stands in another area across the street and sell it by the kilo for, in some cases, double the price. Crazy, but what can you do when folks are just trying to make a living in a Third World country. Sorry if that wasn't politically correct but oh well. I am living in a Third World country - who would have thought. But anyway, I digress.
After Abasto we went to INCOOP, which is the main body in charge of regulating all coops in the country. It's located in an 8-story building in Asunción with beautiful views of the city. We were initially met by Inginiero Angel Caballero, who kinda looked like a telenovela star. He kept checking himself out in the mirror throughout his schpiel. Hilarious. He is in charge of overseeing new initiatives they have. In one current initiative, bigger coops are working with smaller coops to help them improve their technologies, methods, etc. to improve their overall situation. After he talked with for awhile the president of INCOOP came in, Ingeniero Doctor Antonio Ortiz, who looked like a mini Tony Soprano. Yes, that's what I said - Mini Jimmy Gandolfini. So he talked more about coops in the country, and then Ing. Angel took us on a full tour of each department. My favorite part was when we went to Mini Jimmy's office, which was easily the size of the people's two bedrooms I stayed with in Valenzuela, and bigger than many other houses I've seen in Paraguay. It was one big room with a conference table, two leather couches, a coffee table, a big screen tv (by PY standards - looked like a 30") with a stereo whose speakers were hooked up to the tv for surround sound action., his huge desk and a computer. He also had his own bathroom and what I think may have been a shower in another room, but the door was closed so I didn't dare check. He gave us copies of a little book with all laws related to coops and INCOOP's annual report. An assistant of his even brought us little cups and saucers with espresso and later glasses of water. Talk about big time! Before we left he showed us pictures of his trip to Boston last year, which I believe was sponsored by the US DOD. He spent quite a bit of time with some soldiers, one of whom had been in Iraq and another one who was apparently from Puetro Rico. He was like (in Spanish), "he spoke perfect Spanish", and I thought, um yeah he is Puerto Rican so that's not a shocker, Mini Jimmy. But he was a cool little guy overall. One thing that we all noticed was that the secretaries were all young, attractive females; deductive reasoning led us to conclude that this was among the job qualification criteria.
So after that we piled back into the van and headed to the Embassy. The grounds are pretty lush - it looks like a tropical garden for real. They even have animals on the grounds - I saw two sheep and two peacocks - interesting indeed. The picnic was a lot of fun - they had hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, baked beans, and other goodies. There were lots of embassy folks, PC affiliates and their families. We pretty much hung out, drank beer and people-watched. The world being as small as it is, of course I would've run into a dude named Shawn that went to Stanford with my friend Abeo, even her same year (sorry Abeo, I didn't ask what his last name was). He works in the Office of Public Affairs at the Embassy. I also bought myself a Peace Corps shirt that says "Cuerpo de Paz Paraguay"on the front, and then on the back it has a picture of a popular brand of mate and the words "We don't smoke our weed we drink it" on the back. Truly priceless - I'll drink to that (as Maceo would say)!