Stories of Culture Shock on the Paraguayan Transportation System

A. One morning Shin and I took an unfamiliar bus to Marangatu. We were told any bus except Line 49 went to Marangatu. But the one we took took us to school another way so we nearly missed our exit. Luckily, Shin recognized two red liquor stores right across the street from each other and that’s how we jumped out on time.

B. I finished teaching one day and got on an unfamiliar bus. Normally, the bus goes through some rural areas so I wasn’t worried. But after about 20 minutes, the riders kept getting off one by one until I was the only one left. I would have been fine, but the driver kept looking at me through the mirror. I started to feel afraid for my safety. Finally the bus stopped where there were only a few houses and a huge gasoline factory. He smiled at me in the mirror.

Then he told me this was the end of his route. I started walking towards the back exit, thinking I would have to walk or run towards civilization when the bus lurched back around towards the way we came. He told me which bus to take to get to the police station near our house. It turned out I was very close to home!

Being a female in heels, in a remote part of a foreign country, I was really, really, terrified. But I misjudged him by his occupation (bus drivers have a reputation for corruption here), and his appearance. May God forgive me.

C. Another day after teaching at Marangatu I tried to hitch the right bus this time, not some random one like the day before. I waited on the side of the street as usual when I saw my bus come along. So I waved it down. It zoomed right past me! This is not unusual. If you flag them down late, or if there’s some obstruction on the path, or the bus is full, or any number of reasons, the bus may keep going. So I tried again and waited another 10 minutes.

Another came by. But this one the driver wagged his finger, “no” at me. Wow. I started to wonder, maybe the bus driver from entry B told his friends to boycot Asians. But I was determined to get on Bus 15! So I tried a third time, and this time the driver stopped for me.

I didn’t want to take it personally but I felt miffed! I told Shin when I finally got home and he told me the same thing happened to him! Then he explained that he observed an older lady cross the street and walk about a hundred yards away on a street corner. It turns out to be a sort of unofficial bus stop. Again, I jumped to the wrong conclusion and took things personally instead of accepting the culture.

D. On Friday of the first week I was late getting up and leaving the house. I hit traffic time. In Paraguay, when people say traffic hour, it means the buses are so full that the last man is hanging out the door, holding onto the bars for dear life.

I skipped the first bus and took the next one and it got so full and I was stuck in the middle. There were so many people and they already occupied the handrails above the seat. So I was reaching up and grabbing the top rail until my arm fell asleep. Then I saw my exit approaching and I was in a panic that I might not get out on time. So I started saying “Permiso! Permiso” urgently until people started moving for me and luckily I got out.

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