Monday, October 10, 2011

Asuncion: One place, Two worlds.

The New World's first train station.
As I mentioned last week I spent an afternoon in Asuncion by myself. Walking alone, I felt greater liberty to snap some photos and slip into tourist mode. I looked at the city with fresh eyes, but I'm not sure how best to describe what I saw.

Asuncion is a city of stark contrast. As the Americas' first city, it's incredibly historic, but with few historical landmarks. It was home to the first train station in the Americas, but not a single working track remains. Perhaps most striking is the juxtopostion of wealth and abject poverty.

I've lived in cities where in order to see economic disparity, you merely have to cross the street. In Asuncion, you just turn your head in either direction. All afternoon I found myself standing in one place, taking pictures of either side of me. On one side, symbols of Paraguay's growing potential. On the other, squalor. Tent Cities next to banks and fancy hotels. Urban ruins with evidence of squatters next to political monuments. Beautiful architecture crumbling under weight of age and disrepair.

Iron work & decoration is common.
But it usually looks like this.

One side of where I ate lunch.

The other.

City Park.
The view from the park.

Presidential Palace
The Neighbors

I promise that each pair of photos were taken in the same place.

I live amongst and in what most Americans would call poverty. I know that's what I called my living conditions the first few days.  Even now as I grow accustomed to my surroundings, during summer the water sometimes becomes contaminated, and I consider dirt roads to be normal. However, I no longer view my home as humble, nor the average Paraguayan as impoverished. While my idea of what is necessary to live is changing, what I came across in Asuncion is not a matter of simply "growing accustomed to."

But why am I so surprised by this? I knew that Paraguay was a poor country. I've been to the country-side and seen similar conditions. So why is the poverty in Asuncion so jarring?

I suspect my shock comes from America's incredible ability to hide their poor. Any major city with a tourist destination or even a down town has been scrubbed and polished to hide any trace of a less than ideal consumer bourgeois society. Time square, once the Gomorrah of the twentieth century, is practically sponsored by Disney now. Still, I should know better.  

This is where I normally would sum up the post with some sort of reflection to put this all in context, but not today. There is no context. There is no summation. When considering these images, I have no desire to come to conclusions nor explanations. Any attempt would detract from the humanity of it all. I mean really, what could I possibly say that would be wise or insightful when presented with these realities?