Interesting shower - the wires are live!
I woke this morning longing for a good hot shower so that I could also wash my hair - probably because I knew I wouldn't get one.
We set off to go and see our final colony at Lomo Plato, the oldest here. Its the same as Filadelfia - long, straight, open dirt roads with not a lot around. There's a small museum which charts the development of this colony from the 1930's onwards. It includes lots of old black and white photo's arranged chronologically with some scary looking nurses at the hospital - I wouldn't have wanted to be in their care! There's also one of a school with all the children on the steps outside. When I first looked at this my reaction was that it was a swarm of bees flying from a nest.
Back at the hotel we watched a video about the Mennonite colonies. It seems to have been produced as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations and it was quite funny seeing the 1980's fashions - it seemed so trendy then! Canadians were the first to come here, followed by Ukrainian and German settlers. It was a harsh environment to come to and there must have been a powerful community spirit to keep these people going. The Fernheim (Filadelfia) colony approach, and I support that of the other colonies, was that the wellbeing of the colony was more important than that of the individual or individual family. All had, and still have, to provide community support, in effect community service.
As they got used to the environment, they built up the community focusing early on on education. The Mennonites have well maintained private German speaking schools in the centre of town for their children. The Indians are left to state school, less well maintained on the edge of town. Next came hospitals and care for the elderly. They also built the Grand Chaco highway and the bridge spanning the Rio Paraguay just outside of Asunción which vastly improved transport connections to the Chaco colonies.
I sense that now there is a fair amount of wealth in the community. Large scale, industrialised agriculture and production are the keystones to the economy. On the edge of Filadelfia are some very smart, large houses, some with asphalt drives rather than mud - perhaps a local status symbol.
Hours of this whizzed past our bus window
It seems like the original Mennonite values are under pressure from the modern world. While we were waiting for the bus back to Asunción we were talking to a lady who spent the first 10 years of her life in Canada but her parents then moved back to Filadelfia. She confirmed that in the past, the community elders and teachers used to determine which books were read and which films were watched (if any). With TV and the internet, the control is now with the individual. She almost accompanied this with a resigned shrug and when I asked if times were changing with the new generation she despondently confirmed "yes". She also confirmed that we're seeing the Chaco in an unusual state. They've had a lot of rain in the last two weeks which is why its so green. Normally at this time of year it would be dry and barren and in the towns, the dirt roads and everything in town become very dusty.
The whole area seems like its ripe for expansion. New shopping centres are going up, as are new car showrooms and houses. They have an interesting building technique. A frame is built from thin metal rods outlining the doors and windows. They then brick up the gaps in between the rods and fill and gaps (i.e. where the rods are) with concrete.
When it arrived, the bus looked smart from the outside but inside it was dirty, muggy, hot and smelly - a mix of body odour and strong maté tea. Quite unpleasant (for over 5 hours). It was an ejecutivo with reclining seats and was full. The TV and DVD worked and we were treated to a bad Samuel L Jackson film with some guy who does extreme sports - it was a James Bond style plot. The next film, provided by a passenger, was a Jean Claude van Damme action film. The English soundtrack (perhaps mercifully) switched off after about 5 minutes but the Spanish subtitles kept on going. The people on the bus (mainly men) were glued to the TV - seems they have a passion for watching fighting and have no interest in any sort of plot.
The bus dropped us in the centre of Asunción, supposedly at a taxi rank but the only taxi there was grabbed by someone else. This drew an expletive from Stef - we were in a part of town we didn't know, on a quiet street, it was dark and we had no way of getting a taxi. The one that had been taken had called to get us another but Stef was rightly very twitchy until it turned up (in less than 5 minutes).
Back at Las Margaritas we had a very friendly welcome. Town is very busy and there's even more police, military and security guards around. There's a conference of the Mercosur countries (South American version of the EC) and the president of Paraguay is in the hotel across the road tonight.