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Snapshot of Paraguay – The official languages of Paraguay are Spanish and Guarani, both of which are widely spoken and understood throughout the country. Almost 90% of Paraguay’s population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, though other Christian churches are also present. Much of Paraguay’s modern culture reflects the blending of Spanish and Guarani cultures during the period of Spanish immigration. Extended family, including godparents, is important in Ecuadorian culture. Traditional arts such as lace making and embroidery can still be seen today. Paraguay has its own unique musical styles of rock, polka, and guarania. Soccer is Paraguay’s most popular sport, though basketball and volleyball are also somewhat popular. Corn and cassava are used in many dishes in Paraguay, such as sopa paraguaya (a cornbread-like dish also made with lard) and chipa (a bread ball made with cornflour or cassava flour, cheese, and egg). Asado barbecues are popular social events, with beef being one of the more popular meats.
As of 2011, there were 10 stakes, 11 districts, 63 wards, and 86 branches in Paraguay. Most of the stakes and wards are in the Asuncion area, while the branches and districts are in outlying areas and smaller cities. Paraguay has one temple, the Paraguay Asuncion Temple.
The work of the Church is going strong in Paraguay. For a long time, the country was isolated from outside influences and remained predominantly Catholic. Today, the majority are still Catholic, and the Catholic church has a strong influence on their culture, but nowadays there are many other churches taking root in Paraguay. LDS missionaries are generally recognized, and many people are open to the truth.
The Church didn’t start sending missionaries to Paraguay until the 1950s, and membership has grown steadily ever since. Church membership has nearly doubled in the last five years. In all of Paraguay, there are around 84,800 members. Until recently, the country was split into two missions, but now a third mission (that covers both South Paraguay and parts of Argentina) has been formed.
In the past, Paraguay had one of the highest baptism rates in the Church. Now, however, Church leadership is focusing not so much on the number of people baptized, but the number of people converted. The requirements for baptisms have been increased to ensure that people are serious about their dedication to God, and a focus has been put on reactivating and retaining the activity of current Church members.
Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, followed by a three-hour siesta where locals sleep off the hottest part of the day. Many areas have members who will feed you lunch on a regular basis, but you will be on your own for breakfast and dinner.
There is always some kind of fruit in season grown locally, and fresh fruit and vegetables are easy to come by. Just be sure to wash them well before eating.
Barbecuing is both a cooking technique and a social event, and is called asado. Many dishes include carne asada with rice.
Most meals include the following:
- a meat, usually beef or chicken
- a side of either rice, potatoes, or noodles
- rolls, boiled sweet potatoes, or (most commonly) boiled mandioca
- chopped salad with oil and salt
- fruit juice
Sopa paraguaya and chipa are traditional Paraguayan foods. Sopa paraguaya is not in fact soup as the name implies, but is more akin to corn bread. Chipa is a kind of bread (usually ring-shaped) made with egg, cheese, and manioc.
Food is often sold on the streets, and corner shops called despensas are usually found nearby wherever you are. Empanadas are easily-made and easy to find sold on the streets.
The strangest foods you may be fed are pig’s head, mundungo (which comes from cow stomach), and crocodile.
The Paraguay Asuncion mission is a walking mission. To get from one place to another quickly, one uses a bus (“colectivo”). To catch a bus, figure out where it will pass, then when you see it coming, stick out your arm. There are few official bus stops, and the driver will cram on as many people as possible, so there is no guarantee that you will get a seat. Most often, you will be standing.
If you have luggage or heavy items that you can’t easily take on a bus, then taxis are often available near shopping districts. If they don’t have a meter, make sure to be fair with how much you offer to pay, and make sure they don’t try to charge you too much.
The biggest safety concern is petty theft. The bags provided by the mission are specifically chosen because they are easy to remove and are least likely to cause trouble if you are robbed. To avoid having the whole bag taken, you can keep a little bit of spare money in an easily-reached pocket to offer thieves if they threaten you.
When walking, especially at night, avoid poorly-lit areas where there aren’t many people around. Don’t use the same route too often, and try not to let anyone know where you live. The houses in the mission are very secure, but it’s still not wise to leave valuables easily found around your apartment.
Stray dogs can sometimes get too bold and try to bite. For the most part, it’s all bark and you can ignore them. However, if a dog is too aggressive, or if a pack of dogs starts getting riled up, the best way to deter them is to pick up a rock from the street. You don’t even have to throw it, usually–dogs are used to having rocks thrown at them, so if they see you attempting the same, they will scatter.
Be sure to wear mosquito repellent every day, as dengue is a serious concern during the summer months. Getting the illness once just means a few miserable weeks in a hospital bed. But getting it a second time could mean a transfer to a different mission out of concern for your health, because getting dengue a third time could be fatal.
Paraguay is a country rich in wildlife diversity, including parrots, monkeys, and armadillos. Beautiful varieties of flowers grow wild, and fruit trees are plentiful.
Because Paraguay is a land-locked country, the customs of the people are largely unchanged, though there is more foreign influence in the city. Paraguayans have a very easy-going nature. They are social and friendly and always up for a visit. Family is very important to them, and they often live with or close by grandparents and cousins.
You will rarely see a Paraguayan without their guampa. This cup, made out of a cow horn, is filled with herbs and constantly drunk out of throughout the day. In social settings, Paraguayans fill the cup with ice water and pass it around while visiting. Missionaries are not allowed to participate for health reasons.
The people love “Paraguayan Polka” music playing loudly on the streets. Soccer is a national obsession, though hanbol has a high following, too, with men and women playing in leagues together.
Christmas is a major holiday, where the people stay up all night eating traditional foods and setting off fireworks. Instead of Christmas trees, the people make nativity scenes out of brush and branches, colored lights, and ceramic figurines. They don’t give gifts to each other, but three weeks later children may receive gifts from the “Three Wise Men.”
Easter is also celebrated all week long, starting with Palm Sunday. The Thursday before Easter is spent feasting (usually on pork and chipa) with friends to commemorate the Last Supper. Friday and Saturday are more somber days. On Friday, they fast. For once, the streets are quiet, and everyone stays in their homes to watch movies about the Crucifixion. Easter Sunday itself isn’t usually accompanied by any special traditions.
There are many superstitions widely believed by the Paraguayan populace, most of them regarding health. For example, they say that one should never eat hot and cold foods together. They also believe that if you eat watermelon soon after drinking milk, you will get sick and possibly die.
Paraguay has the rare distinction of being a bilingual country. While Spanish is the language most spoken in the cities and in official capacities, Guarani still has a strong influence and is taught in schools. As a consequence, the language is an interesting blend of both.
The official mission language is Spanish, and most of your efforts should go into learning to communicate well in Spanish. However, it doesn’t hurt to pick up a little Guarani, especially since many Elders are sent to more rural areas where Guarani is used more than in the city.
The trick is that those who mainly speak Spanish tend to slip Guarani vocabulary into their speech, but those who mainly speak Guarani usually have Spanish influence, too. Generally, neither language is spoken in its purest form. Focus on Spanish, and the locals and your companions will soon teach you the Guarani words and phrases you’ll need to understand.
Unlike other Spanish-speaking countries, in Paraguay you say “adios” as a passing greeting, similar to “Hey, how’s it going?”, only if you’re not stopping to talk. To actually say goodbye, use “ciao.”
Homes in Paraguay tend to be surrounded by a yard guarded by a fence. To call on someone, you stand at the gate and clap loudly. They will either come out to open the gate for you, or call out “Adelante!” If they let you enter the yard, call out, “Permiso!” as a polite way of acknowledging that you’re only coming in with permission.
Also use “permiso” or “con permiso” when walking through a crowd or between people, or when you have to excuse yourself from a conversation.
When greeting people, no matter if they are strangers or friends, Elders always shake hands with each person in the room. Sisters give besos (a kiss on both cheeks) to the women, but NOT to the men. It’s important to greet everyone the same way and not exclude anyone. For children, a handshake or high-five will do.
You will be taught to always use the usted form when talking with Paraguayans, as that’s the most respectful form of the language. However, if you feel comfortable enough to use a casual form, they don’t use the tu form, but the vos form. Most Spanish classes don’t teach this form, as in some countries it’s considered so casual as to be vulgar (reserved only for pets and the like). Have your companion teach you the vos form to better understand the locals, who almost always speak in that form.
Bring light-weight clothing. Elders will need a suit, but will mostly wear short sleeved shirts. Cotton-blend garments are best, because they dry quickly from the rain and from sweat in the summer months. Sisters should bring simple, light-weight skirts and shirts that look nice but are easy to clean and wrinkle free.
However, you will also need warm layers for the winter months. The humidity makes the cold air bad enough that you will need at least light gloves, thermal garments, and a thick jacket that can fit underneath a light, waterproof rain coat. Scarves and tights for the Sisters are also recommended. Don’t be fooled by the tropical location–the winter months can be brutal.
Since many streets are simple cobblestone, it’s essential to have good, thick-soled walking shoes. Keens, Eccos, and Danskos are good brands. Tall missionaries, especially, should be prepared with good shoes. Those with smaller shoe sizes can find good replacements in the city, but Paraguayans typically don’t have shoes larger than an American size 9.
Rain boots are also useful, as streets tend to flood during rain storms and drainage can be poor. Large puddles can take weeks to evaporate even after the rain has stopped.
You might also want to bring shoe inserts and/or moleskin to support your feet and prevent blisters in case it takes you time to get used to long hours of walking.
Having a good umbrella is a must. While men tend to just suffer through the rain and heat, women commonly use umbrellas to keep dry during rainstorms, and to stay out of the sun in the summer.
Bring a waterproof rain coat light enough to wear during the warm, wet months.
You need to bring your own pillowcases and sheets, but blankets and pillows will be provided you by the mission home. You’ll be given a light blanket to carry with you throughout your whole mission, and during the winter months you’ll be allotted a thick, heavy blanket to be turned in again in the summer.
Basic toiletries can be found easily, but they are usually local brands. For the Sisters, good feminine products are expensive and hard to find in Paraguay, so you might want to bring your own.
Handkerchiefs are nice to have on hand to clean the sweat and dust off of your face on hot days.
Each city tends to have a supermarket, with large shopping complexes the closer you are to Asuncion, but even the rural areas have despensas–small corner shops with basic supplies.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the hottest month of the year is January with an average temperature of 92 degrees Fahrenheit, and the coldest month is July with an average temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The humidity makes the heat and cold much more potent. There is no dry season. In the Fall and Spring, rainstorms can be frequent and intense, and in areas where drainage is poor the streets can remain water-logged for weeks. Mosquitos are a big problem during the rainy season.
Your mail will be sent to the mission home and then forwarded to you through your district leaders. It can take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks for packages to reach you in Paraguay. Mail is usually very reliable, but packages can sometimes be tampered with. To prevent this, some missionaries have their families put religious stickers on the box, so superstitious mail handlers won’t tamper with the package.
Other Things to Know Before You Go
Oftentimes you will be able to send your laundry to be washed by someone in the neighborhood, but be prepared to wash your garments by hand, as many people are not endowed.
The people of Paraguay are wonderful. They lead simple but rich livesand they love to meet new people. When you serve in Paraguay, you learn to live like them, making do with what you have and not concerning yourself with luxuries. Embrace the culture and the people, and I guarantee that you will be sad to leave when the mission is over.
Most importantly, you can do hard things! Sometimes you won’t have the comforts of home that you’re used to, and sometimes things might not go as planned, but the Lord is on your side and you will be amazed by what you can accomplish with His help.
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