Paraguayan “Gypsies”

There are a lot of peculiarities here. I’ve gotten used to it. Living in a totally different part of the world that shares very little with what I’ve always known has forced me to get used to it very quickly. I used to ask questions like, “…but don’t know know that’s dangerous?‘ or “…isn’t there a better way to do that?“, etc… Now I only observe and file away the observations about differences in my head.

We left the house around 8am to tackle our paperwork and official documentation for the ?nth and definitely not final time. My father-in-law and husband were in the front talking and I was in the back, staring out the window, just taking in my new surroundings which were rushing past as we bumped and hopped along the unevenly paved road. This morning’s peculiarity was row after row of plywood and plastic and whatever-is-laying-around single room houses, if you could hall them houses. Right as I was about to ask my husband about them, he interrupted his conversation with his father, turned around and said to me, “Remember those houses. There’s something I want to tell you about them.” A few minutes later he told me that those houses weren’t even there just 3 days ago! In less than a week, whole new settlements have risen up from the ground and taken over whole city blocks, public spaces and public parks.

I had to know more. Questions exploded in my mind and started pouring out of my mouth. Who were they? Why were they living in these temporary houses? Did their kids go to school? What kind of jobs did they have? Were those their horses grazing in the parks? Were they allowed to be there and if not, then why weren’t they forced to move? Were they considered dangerous by the community, were they outcasts? (I realize now as I’m writing this that so many of my questions seem to be stigmatizing their situation and come from a place of being new to the culture and way of life here…)

Later I sat down with my father-in-law, who is incredibly knowledgable of Paraguay’s history, community, culture and how it’s changed over the years. He’s well traveled and is able to provide an insider’s perspective of the culture because he is Paraguayan, but also able to offer an objective observer’s view after having seen so much of the world and working with people and organizations from around the globe.

These people we saw settling in these open/public spaces & parks usually live by the river which is only 2 km away from these new settlements. Because of the current El Niño, the river is unpredictable and the water is rising, causing their river homes to be unsafe. So naturally they must relocate, except there is no place for them to go. Much like European gypsies that move from one place to another, never being tied down to a piece of land, these “river folk”  move when and where they feel they need to. Sometimes they get permission to occupy a parcel of land, other times they just do. Now they’re moved to the middle of the city onto the only open grassy places they can find-the parks and public spaces that function as over-sized medians for the roadways.

Loading up their homes, which now consist of various sizes of government-provided plywood boards, tin, wire, plastic, and other scrap material, full-sized furniture, and the occasional oven,  onto horse-drawn trailers and rickety truck beds, they’ve started reassembling their “new” homes, which occasionally boasted a satellite dish or window air-conditioning-unit. From what I saw, reconstruction seemed to be a community effort. Neighbors were helping each other unload and put up their homes while those not in the river community either walked by not being bothered to pay attention or stoping to gawk and they uprising of these new settlements.

The people in these communities occupy several “settlements” and do the work of the street: they’re the ones who operate the emaciated horse-drawn trash trailers, try to clean your windshield for you at stoplights, sell gum, trinkets, fruit or other items on the street corners and their children are often the ones selling items on the city streets and asking you for a few coins to get by.

One of the more “permanent” settlements


The new settlements going up in the parks/medians

The garbage horses grazing in the public park

Men from the river community reconstructing their homes from various materials

Many homes were in various stages of construction

 I’d like to visit these new communities and ask them for their perspective, what life is like for them, and just spend some time amongst them. This topic really interests me, so expect some more posts about it.


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