An old lady broke the silence, in a hasty version of Portuñol, “you want to buy this?” And I was immediately advised to hold my bags tight, for this was Paraguay.

Either they exaggerated, or they must have lost the plot along the way. My whole time in Brazil was nothing short of “you should go to Paraguay!“s, as it seemed to be the place where South Americans converged at that time of the year. Christmas, after all.

So the time did finally come, when Iguazu Falls-themed pictures had exhausted our cameras’ batteries, and while our feet were still wet from the Brazilian city’s humidity, it was on an ordinary morning we decided to head to the world beyond the horizon. The horizon, of course, being a bridge which apparently served as the border between Foz D’Iguaçú city (Brazil) and Ciudad del Este (Paraguay). To my surprise, the hour of the truth approached, as did our car to the police man, and after a few questions and conversational nods, he let us proceed with our improvised itinerary.

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We were officially under the local authority of Paraguay’s second largest city. My first impression was a let down from all the anticipation that had accumulated over the past weeks, with people showing me all the latest gadgets they had so happily purchased, at a discount too, it seemed. I’m not a gadget person myself, but the idea of “everything cheaper across the border” did sound like a good excuse to stock up on those souvenirs. So I held my bags tight, with a sad realization that the media does not always exaggerate the poverty one can see in South American countries.

I almost caught myself thinking how similar my view looked as compared to Africa, the under-the-bridge entrepreneurship with children selling hand-made crafts, and the improvised clothing stores that functioned so long as it didn’t rain. Walking around and interacting with those who were desperate to sell something, and convert that income into means of simple survival, was an eye-opening experience that served to remind me that poverty is universal, and it affects everyone in the same way. An undesired, yet warm, sense of familiarity came over me. The sight of children contemplating their reflections on the accumulated water forever fossilized as a memory of Paraguay.

The belief that our sometimes turbid realities don’t always distort our inner potential.