With the first steps of settling in to our new nation behind us (vehicle, housing, beginning of residency paperwork), our focus turns to the pressing task at hand: language and cultural acquisition. We began our language classwork this week, although our true language learning routine should start to formalize next week. Our cultural acquisition work begins in earnest next week (beyond the culture that we've been soaking up like sponges during the past month since being dropped into the deep end). We received a taste of that process today, with our first trip to the market.
This wasn't a trip to just any market, either, but rather a first initiation into the famous (in Paraguay, at least) "Mercado Cuatro." It's a veritable rabbits' warren of stalls, with walkways covered by a funky mixture of tarps, scraps of tin, scavenged wood, and pretty much anything at hand. The market feels loosely organized by product, with purveyors of the finest black market Nike knockoffs shoulder to shoulder with their shoe-selling brethren, all in a row. The next turn might take you to toiletry items: stall after stall of them. Each new corner leads to a new row of stalls, with everything from shoes to clothing to produce to live animals to watches. Everything has a price, and every price is negotiable. As it's almost impossible to describe with words, I've included quite a few pictures. Enjoy a quick taste of Mercado Cuatro here in Asuncion!
The outside walls of the market face the street. Even without the warren of stalls hidden behind the outside walls it would be quite an experience!
We followed our fearless leader (Tom Stout, our director) as he located a gap in the wall of stalls and plunged in!
Stalls selling beauty, health, and sundry items surprised us. The prices were as cheap as you'd expect, although I have my doubts about the quality control.
The clothing and shoe stalls filled quite a long stretch of the market. The variety impressed us, but given the sheer quantity of high-end name brands I would expect a fairly large percentage of black market or copycat items.
The dairy/cheese sellers welcomed us to the food portion of the market. The cheese and meat sellers anchored the outer edges of the food market, with produce located in the center. It smelled perhaps a bit more like a dairy barn than expected, but only in spots.
If it once moved, you could likely find it on a hook and ready for sale in the meat market. The selection of chorizo (sausage) impressed me, and would be worth a try on a return trip. As for the meat . . . who needs refrigeration, anyway!
The produce selection was truly spectacular! The vegetables were large, healthy looking and everywhere to be had for extraordinarily reasonable prices. Fruit also made an appearance, but I expect it to ramp up as winter comes to a close and the summer months approach.
Sam's Club has nothing on this guy when it comes to wholesaling dry goods! The prices were by the kilo (I believe), and the exchange rate is roughly 5,500 Guaranies to $1.00 USD, making this dried rice less than $1/2.2 pounds. If my memory serves me, you could also purchase bulk dog food from this particular gentleman (which struck me as a real opportunity to learn some Spanish the hard way).
What self-respecting market doesn't sell a couple of chickens (and rats, and parakeets, and monkeys, and . . .)
The overall meat, cheese and produce market eventually gave way to more open sky as we popped out from the maze of stalls. This open air fruit market was a breath of fresh air (both literally and figuratively), and impressed me given the off season timing of our visit.
Finally, just before we made our way back to daylight, our director spotted this kind man grilling his hand-made chorizo and pork loins. We pulled up a stool at his counter and sampled one of the sausages. No surprise that they tasted amazing! As is tradition here, he served them to us with a side of cooked mandioca (cassava root), which I have come to really love alongside cooked beef.
All in all, this trip reinforced two lessons learned thus far: (a) we are certainly not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy, and (b) the people of Paraguay continuously bowl me over with their patience, grace, kindness, generosity of spirit, and hard-working drive. What a blessing to be called to ministry among such a people as this!
Until next time . . .