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- Visiting South America
A Spaniard On The Bus To Paraguay: The Most Despicable Man I Ever Met
I’m not really sure why I’m writing this hub. Probably few people will read it. It’s just something I need to share and get off my chest. It’s about the most despicable man I ever met. I was living as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay around 1998. It was near the end of my tour of service. I had a lot of unused vacation time, so I decided to give my self a nice vacation. I flew to Cuzco, Peru and saw Machu Picchu, which was amazing and then traveled south east through Bolivia back towards Paraguay. Bolivia was a really interesting country and the vacation was great, but that is another hub.
I was on my way back and boarded the bus in La Paz bound for Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. As a big white boy, I stuck out like a sore thumb among all the South Americans. As I was getting on the bus, a man came up to me and started speaking English. As I rarely had such an opportunity, I relished the chance to talk in my native language. His English was very good and we sat down together on the bus and started chatting. I would soon regret my decision. I don’t remember his name. He was a thin, short, unattractive man. He had almost no neck and thinning blond hair. He was maybe in his 40’s, but probably looked older than he was. I remember him wearing a maroon shirt. He was originally from Spain and had been living in Bolivia for many years. He was some kind of business man, though not a very successful one it seemed. The conversation quickly turned into an ugly gripe session. He had nothing good to say about the country or the people. “They’re a bunch of thieves….They can’t be trusted…They’ll rob you blind.” He tried to include me in his group. “You understand what it’s like….They’re not like you and me.” I don’t really remember what I said. I’m not an aggressive or argumentative person. I just nodded saying, “Hmm..That’s too bad.” Not really knowing how to respond. He seemed to hate living there and blamed everyone else for his failures. I don’t think he had any friends. Even if I tried to highlight some positive thing or share my experience, he would always pull the conversation back to his negative view. But that wasn’t the worst of it. He wasn’t going to Asuncion, but was stopping somewhere in the Chaco Boreal, the arid, sandy desert-like northern region of Paraguay. His plan was to meet with an Indian tribe and barter a deal to buy the Chief’s teenage daughter for his wife, perhaps in the belief that that might make him happy. I felt very sorry for the poor young girl. It made me feel dirty just being around this guy. I wanted to take a shower. I eventually excused myself and took a different seat in the back of the bus. But it’s difficult to avoid someone on a bus for twelve hours. He found me once or twice to “chat” more. Even at that time I thought this is the most miserable, degraded person I’ve ever met. Eventually, he got off at his stop and we parted ways. I never saw him again or know what happened to him.
I would think about him time and again over the years. He stood out in my mind as the most despicable, negative person I ever met. And I was assured at how different I was.
However, in recent years, I think differently. I’ve been living in Japan for nearly a decade and now and I think I understand him better. It’s hard living in a foreign country, even now. I know what it’s like to feel like a failure and nothing seems to go right. I know what it’s like to feel isolated without any friends. I’m a stranger in a strange land. You can read about the different stages of adaptation to living in a new culture. There may be a different number of stages with different names depending on who you read, but the last stage is adaptation or acculturation, where you now feel part of two cultures. But I think it may be possible to digress. Now sometimes I think I met this man for a reason. I think God put him on my path as a warning, a warning that wouldn’t become apparent for many years later, a warning that I could become just like him, though not in the same way necessarily. I have felt this potential in myself. I can understand it’s easy to be consumed by anger or grief and blame the world for your failures. It makes me think of all things Star Wars episode III. It’ so like me to relate all of my life experiences to the movies. In episode III we see the final transformation of Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader. I remember when I saw the movie I felt it was unrealistic that someone could change so abrupty and suddenly; one minute he’s a Jedi knight and the next he’s slaughtering children. But now I see that changing completely is not so unrealistic because the change had already happened. He basically already was Darth Vader on the inside. The change had occurred over several years. His Jedi persona was just a façade, he was just going through the motions.
As far as blaming the world, the same thing goes for an international marriage as well. It’s easy to play the blame game and fall into the trap of “that’s her culture”. It’s an ongoing struggle. As for myself, I have no idea if what I believe in is my culture or my personality. I can’t tell the difference. I remember one of the great lessons that I thought I learned as a volunteer was that I wasn’t afraid to start something new because I wasn’t afraid to fail. But actually, it’s easy to start something new. It’s easy to be a novice at something because you don’t have to take any responsibility. It’s continuing something for a long time that is hard. It’s difficult to continue the same job or career for many years in spite of failures, to see something through to the end. The same could be said for being a husband or father.
I can see now it was wrong to judge the Spaniard so harshly. Life can have a way of wearing you down and it is possible to change into a different person and blame others if you’re not careful. He may not have started out the same way when he first came to Bolivia. I wonder where he is today and if he’s any happier. Probably not. Perhaps I should offer him a little more gratitude for being a kind of teacher to me.