The absence of squirrels here is disconcerting. I know they’re here somewhere - secretly amassing just out of sight, strategically lurking in congregation and preparing to pounce from the deepest corners of Paraguay when the most opportune moment presents itself. Seriously, no squirrels? What other possible explanation can there be?
I’ve definitely witnessed some cool animals and foreign flora since I’ve been here. The nighttime silhouettes of tall coconut trees towering over the landscape are amazing. Bright green birds are ubiquitous, Narnia-sized toads are commonplace, and unidentifiable lizards scurry across your path without first looking both ways. A rogue cow joins a soccer game and nobody misses a beat. I’ve already shared a bedroom with some creepier-end-of-the-spectrum spiders and at least two scorpions.
And still, the absence of squirrels has to be the single most exotic thing that Paraguay has revealed thus far.
After six weeks in country, I’m almost positive that it tops the list of things I cannot wrap my head around. More so than the concept of adding charcoal straight into the pot of brewing mate. More so than the train of thought which leads one to believe that a cold shower after a hot meal is perilous. More so than the sight of a family of four (literally with infant in arms) rapidly cruising across jagged cobblestone on a tiny motorcycle.
Yes, more so than any of this, I cannot believe that I have gone a month and a half without seeing a single squirrel. It’s completely unnerving. What at first seems like such an insignificant contrast from everyday life back home slowly reveals itself to be troublingly obvious. Constantly apparent. Like a tiny, single acorn stockpiled in the nest of my subconscious, each squirrel-less moment is a subtle reminder that I’m out of my element, passing over foreign soil in a foreign land.
Clearly, the larger, more noticeable differences can be just as unnerving and considerably more overwhelming– language barriers, cultural etiquette, technological disconnect. But these discomforts are to be expected and are all things that I had both anticipated and braced myself for. It’s the smaller changes, the ones that catch you by surprise while your attention is diverted towards the biggies, that will sometimes awaken you the most to the fact that you’re so far from any place you consider familiar.
I was mentally prepared to learn Guarani, drink terere and live without Internet. These concepts are far from shocking. But to know that this park or these woods are not home to a single squirrel? That one’s gonna take some time.