Welcome to Filadelfia or Meet the Mennonites
Creepy. This word best describes Filadelfia, a small small town in the north of Paraguay, right next to the Bolivian border. I get off the bus and step into a breathtaking heat of 37 degrees (at 9 PM!!) and the first thing I see is two tall blond people with blue eyes walking by. Weird. They speak in German. Unusual. A car stops, two women get off, they speak German. Rare. I walk into the next hotel to make a phone call, all the signs are in Spanish and German. Freaky. The woman at the front desk addresses me in German. I am creeped out. What happened? Where am I? I thought I was in the middle of nowhere in Paraguay and not back home in Germany. As history goes, during the 1920s a big group of Mennonites migrated from Germany to the new world and some of them settled down in the north of Paraguay. So Filadelfia has become a little German oasis in the wasteland of the Chaco region. For anybody else, it might be fascinating or interesting to see how this little town is totally under German command. They only make out about 33% of the population (the rest being indigenous people and Paraguayans) but they control the city. They run the city’s “cooperativa”, a self-run civic union which runs like a city hall. People pay taxes, the cooperativa makes sure everything in town runs smoothly. In 2006 Filadelfia officially became a town and a formal process of municipalization was initiated, meaning, it became as bureaucratic as any city. However, the Germans took care of that, too. As soon as they realized that their cooperativa would get competition, they made sure their people ran for city council. So now the German control both, the private business and the city affairs. Creepy. The Mennonites in Filadelfia are of the more liberal kind (not like the Amish – who formed as a splinter group from the Mennonites in the Sates, although most people who are called Amish are actually Mennonites). They have cars and TVs, use cell phones and drink beer. Although, in the only supermarket in town, you cannot buy alcohol. Of course, there is another small (German-run) store where you can get everything from wine to Whiskey if you are willing to pay the high prices. The indigenous population seems to be willing to do it – you can find them in hordes along the main road, drunk and passed out, after 6 PM every day. All of this was explained (and later experienced) to us by our German Mennonite couchsurfing host, Damaris. Damaris, whose age we haven’t figured out (bestimates range from 30-50) and who works as a social worker for the city (Quote: “It’s important to help the indigenous people, they have a long history of domestic violence, teenage pregnancy and alcohol abuse.” Quote 2: “We don’t mingle too much with the indios. You know, it’s difficult if you cannot interact on the same intellectual level”).
I was thrilled to be able to talk in German again, find any German product I might have missed in the supermarket and even listen to some people speak Plattdeutsch (a dialect from the north of Germany). Also, listening to a conversation the lady from the tourism office had, organizing a tour for 40 people from A to Z was a skill I certainly did not expect to encounter in Paraguay. However, I also remembered how annoying German schedules can be (if something closes at 11.30 am and you get there at 11.31 you will be thrown out), and how rude (Germans call it direct) my people can be. I was literally barked at, in German, of course, to put my purse in a locker before entering the supermarket. I have to admit though, 2 days in Filadelfia was about as much as I could take: hot + humid + too many Mennonite Germans = CREEPY!