Wednesday, 3 July 2013

You Can Dance If You Want To... You Can Leave Your Plastic Penis Behind

It has been many a days since I've last updated thee about the monkeys or "going ons" at the base, so i'll fill you in.

Two weeks ago, six of us set off to Asuncion (the capital) to present our projects to Robert Owen, a retired, but world renowned mammal specialist who now runs an English program under the CCPA. Before getting on the bus to Asuncion, Annie and I were waiting outside the bus when a man stopped beside us with a little cooler on wheels and started packing a polystyrene cup with ice cream. Annie and I, who obviously looked out of place, stared at the ice cream and thought, "Well it sure has been awhile hasn't it" and we asked the man if we can also have some. He gave us that exact cup he was filling up beside us for a dollar and merrily went on his way. It then occurred to me that no one around the man had asked him for ice cream and him packing a cup full of ice cream beside these dirty and homeless looking foreigners was a surefire strategy to sell ice-cream. The clever old man car-salesmanned us without even saying a word.

To be honest,  I really don't mind and I'm glad  my buck went into the local economy, but the ice cream absolutely sucked. It tasted like medicine with the texture of sand, and after passing it around the group and pawning it off to those who haven't had an unforgiving taste yet, the cup of "clever rouse" flavored ice cream found its home in a garbage bag.
After presenting in front of Robert Owen and his English classes for the 2 nights we were in Asuncion we rewarded ourselves with some much longed-for grub. When staying at a field site like the one we are at in Laguna Blanca, there is maybe about 7 meals that rotate throughout the months. Now I'm not complaining, but let's just say the 2 day presentation/food vacation was greatly appreciated.

Upon our return I was quite excited to go and monkey hunt as well as do my vegetative sampling, but "winter was coming". For the next 8 days it was frigid and rainy, so most activity was immobilized. Reading books in a cozy nest in front of a space heater suited me quite nicely for a few days until the power went out. For 3 days there was no electricity, no heat, no hot water, no escape from the cold damp environment.
 On the bright side, we went out on 1 monkey hunt and found 3 howler monkeys in our forest that have not been seen in the area for 15 years. With forest destruction constantly on the rise, one of our theories suggests that these guys could have possibly moved in as a result of their own forest being disturbed. If this proves true, it could be quite interesting studying the dynamics of a primate refugee camp.


Back to the 8 day winter. We ended up making a fire on our porch and drinking hot mulled wine while watching Game of Thrones through the flames, which I would vote as one of the very best ways to see and hear "Hodor!".

A few nights later, it was San Juan day, which is St. John's day and also the shortest day of the year. This holiday festival... confuses me to say the least. When asking what sorts of things they do during this celebration, we were told that someone gets naked, covers their body with mud and crawls on all 4 to mimic a pig and tries to get unsuspecting victims pants dirty by brushing up against them. Doesn't sound too bad right?

Oh and they also make stuffed manikins or effigies that are supposed to represent the Jews that condemned Jesus to death;  and they set them on fire...

So let me give you all a quick post World War 2 history lesson of Paraguay. After World War 2 lots of Nazis that were wanted for war crimes found their way over to South America and many of them including the torturous Dr. Mengele found home in Paraguay. Why? Because there were already some communities of German Mennonites (Awmish) established in the region from 1887.

So this begs the question, does the celebration of burning Jewish effigies have anything to do with a history of housing Nazis? Perhaps.

Luckily I think it was too wet for them to burn Jewish effigies at the festival so I didn't witness that odd custom, but I was definitely confused by some of the other events.
Boys dancing in masks with each other, some of them wearing fake penises (I believe the plural is dildae) . And the symbolism behind this? The locals just say "Its Tradition".

So the guy on the right has a fake penis that he's using to manipulate the other gentleman's skirt.

After the odd dancing and a brief dance competition the MC of the festival was talking to our group and asked if anybody played guitar and wanted to play on stage. In a slightly inebriated state I accepted the  challenge/opportunity and went up on stage. I ended up playing Sublime's "What I got", which i thought sounded OK. At the end of my song I looked around and saw about 100 blank stares; only my 5 gringo comrades were clapping. I thought  that this was quite odd and maybe they just didn't like the music, which is alright. So I convinced the MC guy to play one of his Spanish folk songs as I held the microphone up for him. He finished a pretty damn good performance and again, no clapping or reaction whatsoever.



As odd as it all was, I don't question this confusing night anymore, I think after the explanation of burning Jewish effigies and Strap-on Salsa dancing, I can safely say "hey, its tradition". 

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