Hola a todos! Sorry it has been so long since I last updated… nearly two months to the day. Needless to say, a lot has happened since March and I won’t be able to cover it all, but I will try to paint a picture of my vida argentina with the experiences and thoughts that stick out most in my mind.
As I continue to work to understand and see life from the perspective of a different country, to live in the context of another reality, philosophy, sociology, psychology… I find myself reflecting on how I feel about my own country, where I came from. I have been thinking about this especially in the last few weeks as I have been asked many times how I feel about the death of Osama Bin Laden. I feel like I have grown up in an environment/time in which it has been difficult for me to be proud of my country, and this is no exception. I stopped standing for the pledge of allegiance in high school because I disagreed with the inclusion of a “God” and I didn’t feel any particular allegiance to my country with everything that the Bush administration was doing. I have been aware for a long time of the fact that a lot of people in this world hate the United States and I have come to understand that many do so with good reason (mostly due to a horrendous foreign policy which has time and again isolated, exploited, devalued, and in certain instances annihilated other cultures/peoples/lands for our own financial benefit… or for fear of capitalism and democracy being dethroned as the Way Of Life and Way It Should Be).
The United States is full of immigrants (whether we like it or not) and yet we continue to deny the changing face of our national identity, we resist getting to know the people who no longer live hundreds of miles and continents away but just next door. We can only pretend for so long. In the coming decade native Spanish speakers will start to outnumber native English speakers… yet I know of few estadounidenses who speak another language fluently or intend to learn one anytime soon. I know of few estadounidenses whose knowledge of Spanish speaking culture extends past Hola, Adios, tortillas, quesadillas, nachos, Taco Bell, Don Quixote, Dora the Explorer, moustaches and sombreros. I’m pretty sure I would hate U.S. too. As I hear people celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden I can’t help but feel that we don’t have too much to celebrate. I’m afraid that more people in the world hate the United States than did when the towers fell on September 11th and I think that this is something we need to give more thought to.
On my way to the center of the city a few weeks ago, I had a taxi driver who (once he figured out I was from the United States) went on to tell me what he thinks of the “Estados Uñados” (Uñas are fingernails… he was making a clever metaphor, insinuating that the EE.UU is like a giant hand that takes hold and snatches away things from other countries). He told me that although a lot of people like to think that the EE.UU is the best country in the world, he sees from television shows, movies, and the news that we have a lot of problems in our country… high rates of homelessness and unemployment, lack of universal health care, etc. He followed by assuring me that Argentina is a really great place to live and he never wants to live anywhere else. I have had many taxistas tell me that they can’t imagine living anywhere else but Córdoba.
Something that has been underlined again and again in my argentine film and latinamerian literature classes is the contradictions that seem to be inherent in argentine (and latinamerican) history and identity. For example: Juán Peron, one of the most important (if not the most important) political figures in Argentine history was loved by both the left and right of the political sphere..(thousands of people filled plazas and streets when he gave speeches… he had a unique power to inspire and bring together masses of people). My friend Jorge tells me that he knew how to make people happy by promising to give them what they wanted jajaja… A diverse range of political parties were sure that he had their interests in mind.. and today the details of Peron’s political orientation are still up for debate. Peron’s leftist revolutionary followers waited painstakingly for his return to Argentina after he was exiled to Spain for 10 years (and it was forbidden to even mention his name) and in his speech upon arriving in the airport he condemned all of those he had previously supporsted as imbeciles.
Trying to understand Argentinean political history is an intensely complex task.. even (perhaps especially) for those who are native to this country. People say they love to live here…but the cities are full of graffitti that criticizes the government, the police, the school system, etc. My friend Jorge tells me it is practically a sport here to criticize the government and a lot of the film that I have seen and literature I have read is incredibly political. I think in a country that is so full of immigrants.. so full of people from different lands and cultures it is difficult to define a national identity. In it’s history, this country has been absolutely devasted by successive coup d’etats that put in place military governments that made a perfect science of torturing, killing and disposing of the bodies of those who had supposed revoluntiary/socialist/communist/anarchist/anti-goverment thought and activity in such a way that the bodies of approx. 300,000 people have never been found. I can see that after such intense repression/devastation/censorship that people feel the need to speak out every chance they can get. Every year there is a march here to remember those who disappeared in the 70s and 80s that also functions as a platform for tons of political groups, students rights groups, workers rights groups, human rights groups, to yell (literally) their agendas and wave their flags, dance, sing, demonstrate, participate. People here ARE NOT afraid to make their politics/agendas loudly known, whether or not they are popular or in line with the current government. The march ended on one of the major streets in the center of Córdoba where a stage was set up. Every once in a while throughout all the performances and speeches someone would yell into the microphone “300,000 desaparecidos(disappeared)!” and everyone in the crowd would raise their hands and yell back “presente(present)!”… symbolizing that those who have disappeared are still present in that we are remembering them, fighting for them, thinking about them. I found it incredibly poignant/strong. The energy in the air was fierce. People were celebrating their right to speak their mind.
Here are some pictures from the march that a friend of mine took:
Here are people carrying signs with the faces of friends/family that have disappeared, with their name, birth date, and date of disappearance. The banner in front reads “Ni un paso atras (Not one step backwards). Seguimos luchando (We keep fighting). Seguimos caminando (We keep walking).”
People waving banners for various political groups. This sign reads: “a fuerza de realidad y pueblo” (strength of reality and community/village). Pueblo is associated with the common man/woman, the community at large as opposed to the elite/rich few.
Can I just say that it is VERY difficult to write in English now, especially about things I have discussed/learned in class in Spanish because these thoughts come to mind first in Spanish. Writing this is giving me a headache! But I’ll do my best…
So, after being here approx. 3 months, here are some things that I appreciate about Argentine culture:
1) Conception of time: In the United States, I feel like people are constantly and obsessively planning for the future in almost every moment of their lives, whether that means what you are doing tomorrow or what you are planning on studying in college or what kind of job you are looking for or where you are going on vacation this summer. When you get together with friends, you agree on a specific time and a specific place where you will be doing a specific pre-planned activity for a fixed amount of time and if you do not follow through with the plan others get annoyed because you are interfering with their plan for the day. Here I find that people live more in the moment and don’t generally plan so much for the future (maybe because with less efficient public services, it is less feasible). It is not so much what are you GOING to do all the time, but what ARE you doing. When you get together with friends, it is common to agree on a time and place to meet, but leave the activity up in the air, or simply get together to “talk.” The idea is that you’ll do whatever it is you happen to feel like doing at the time that you get together and people generally arrive a least half an hour after the agreed upon time (Once my friend Gaston arrived two hours late for dinner…which is excessive but not unthinkable). When people are late to class, my profe (professor) welcomes them enthusiastically, assuring them that there are still seats available, and when someone gets up early to leave she stops her lecture to say “Chau! Nos vemos” (Bye! See you later). It is assumed that people are doing whatever it is they need to do with their time and that’s that. Needless to say this is drastically different than the United States, where time is money and coming to class late is an intensely uncomfortable experience, arriving 15 minutes late to plans with friends can produce significant conflict, where you need a plan for everything. While of course I recognize that is important/necessary to plan some things, I appreciate the more laid back attitude here and feel that I take more advantage of every moment I am in.
2) Lack of fear to share thoughts/ideas with others, regardless of whether or not they agree with you or are “right.” I see this is in the classroom where there is essentially never silence following a question asked by the professor, but rather various voices eager to share their opinion. If there is a moment of pause, the professor will say: “Sin miedo! Sin verguenza!” (Without fear/Without shame) and students will promptly begin to respond. I can’t count the number of times I have sat in a classroom in the EE.UU in suffocating, uncomfortable silence following a question asked by a professor, everyone too scared/embarrased/apathetic/avoidant to share their opinion, for fear that it will be wrong/stupid/irrelevant/boring (myself included). Here most students seem to be liberated from this reluctance/fear of speaking in the classroom and this seems to me to be a very good thing. My film professor always complains that we (her first class with EE.UU students) don’t talk enough.
3) Dulce de leche, alfajors, and empanadas. Are so delicious. Also, I love the tradition of drinking mate. Generally when friends get together to talk at least one person will bring a mate for everyone to share, filling it up with hot water again and again as it gets passed around to everyone present, regardless of whether or not you know everyone. It is not uncommon to be offered mate by strangers… when I was on the bus to Buenos Aires one of the guides offered me mate simply because I was sitting near him. On Thursday, one of my friends was stopped by someone on campus to ask directions and after giving them directions he offered them a drink of mate (which they accepted). I have heard, however, that this wide sharing of mate (everyone drinks from the same metal straw when mate is shared) can be unsanitary and spread illness/disease but this doesn’t seem to be a major concern.
Things I won’t miss:
1) Mayonnaise. Salt. Lack of flavorful food. Ham and cheese sandwiches that mostly taste like bread/air. Carbonated water in cafes.
2) Disorganized public services. Not uncommon that you will go to one place where you’ve been told you can find something you need and be told that you need to go somewhere else/wait/they don’t actually have what you need. It can be very tedious/frustrating.
3) Public bathrooms that don’t usually have toilet paper.
4) Taxi rides that make me fear for my life. Waiting for the colectivo.
5) Stores that don’t have change for anything except the smallest bills.
Places I have been in Argentina so far:
-Carlos Paz (a quiet town with a river about 45 mins away) ate good spaghetti and sat by the water all day.
-Cosquin (a place in the mountains where they have a rock and roll festival every summer) got rattled around in a crowd at a Calle 13 show. ate a bad hamburger. saw lots of stoned and drunk people. beautiful view of the mountains.
-Alta Gracia (previously a Jesuit community, place where Che lived for part of his life)
-San Rafael, Mendoza (a mountain-y and wine-y province to the northwest of Córdoba – went on a very short trip there with my program and our speaking partners – way too short to get to know Mendoza which is why I will be returning) went white water rafting. hiked. spent far too much time on a bus.
-Salta (the capital – another province to the northwest) – situated in a valley between mountains. beautiful. stayed in a hostel with a bunch of european people. strong indigenous presence still. incredible empanadas. actually eat spicy food. merchandise with llamas on it everywhere. took a bike ride through the rainforest where i saw incredibly clean running water in streams/rivers that is bottled and used to drink with some friends of mine, a man from Denmark, a woman from Sweden, and an Argentine guide. got explained to again why it is that the EE.UU is actually a country with a lot of problems and not the best place to live in the world (by the Denmarkian).
-Buenos Aires. might as well be a country of its own. intense, full of life, colors, voices.
Some things I have done/have been doing here:
– My host mom and I and some of her friends go to a two hour Ashtanga yoga class every Friday. The instructor is this tiny woman named Lluvia (Rain) who is incredibly flexible/strong. It’s interesting to try a different type of yoga and I’ve been enjoying it.
– A few weeks ago I tried a Biodanza (Biodance?) class since my speaking partner Ana had been talking about her class for a while and I could try the first class for free and was really curious what it would be like. Ana describes biodanza as “terápia corporal” which mean body therapy. The night I went there was a group of about 15 women mid 20s through early 70s. We started sitting in a circle where the women discussed how they had felt after the last class/what was going on in their life. The group is facilitated by two women: an older woman named Iris who has cerebral palsy in her hands and a younger woman with dreds and tattoos. Throughout the class, music was played and we were just supposed to move, dance however we felt moved to. We danced together and apart, did a little bit of meditation, held each others hands and hugged each other and at the end we stood in a circle and were supposed to say any words that came to mind to describe the experience we just had. Besides the beginning and the end, there is no speaking during the class. The idea is to strengthen your relationship with yourself and “the other” and to allow yourself to express yourself freely (cry when you feel like it… and a bunch of people did… smile, laugh, etc.) Honestly, if the class had been in English I would probably written it off as really cheesy bullshit and not have been able to take it seriously, but it was just a really relaxing and pleasant experience in Spanish and everyone was so kind. I think I will keep going. Needless to say, it is a pretty wild experience.
-This past week I went to a Buddhist meeting that Ana goes too (she does a lot of interesting things) which was another interesting experience. I showed up at this apartment building and a woman greeted me and gave me directions to the second floor. I got off and stood in the dark hallway for a little while listening to the somewhat disconcerting sound of people chanting in unison a mantra in Japanese, trying to decide if I was really going to do this or not. Finally I decided to go in and entered a room full of little chairs facing a wooden box on the wall which had doors which opened to reveal a piece of parchment with Japanese letters on it. Everyone in the room was sitting facing the wooden box with their hands pressed together by their chins and eyes open, repeating this mantra: Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, so I sat down and did it too. We repeated the mantra for half an hour/45 mins and then spent the rest of the time discussing “itai doschin” which is a philosophy/concept that talks about the connection between all people and our ability to work together for world peace… world peace here not meaning everyone in the world holding hands under a rainbow and singing but each person learning how to be at peace with themselves and kind with others. I can get on board with that. I don’t know if I’ll go again, but it was interesting. It struck me as funny to be in a room full of native Spanish speakers and myself a native English speaker chanting a mantra in Japanese.
– Went to a karaoke bar with some Argentinean friends and got talked into performing a Beatles song with another EE.UU friend for a small group of drunk Argentines. We sang Revolution and were begged to follow by singing Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen or We Are The World by Michael Jackson, which we enthusiastically declined.
– Passed every assignment I have handed in and test I have taken in my classes!
– Unknowingly ate cow liver. It’s pretty good.
– Volunteered at a therapeutic center for special needs kids for a few weeks before I dropped it because I couldn’t come in during any actual workshops, only for end of the day free time where the kids do whatever the hell they want and the staff smoke cigarettes and make sure they don’t hurt themselves/each other. Found that special education here is about 20+ years behind the U.S. (a.k.a.. little to no inclusion and little to no academics, kids are “patients” who have “mental problems”.. or as the director of the center said to me: “son medio locos” = “they are kind of insane/crazy” not “students” with “special needs”). However, the people at the center were wonderful and clearly cared a lot for the kids there.
I am still incredibly happy with my host family here. The kids and I play all the time and they continually tell me they don’t know what they’re going to do without me. It feels really nice to come home to people calling my name and fighting to hug me most days. I have been proposed to and married to the 5 year old more than once, we dance around the kitchen to Shakira, climb trees and swing in the Plaza nearby, eat alfajors, pet the neighbors dog. They call me “Lilita” which my host mom thinks is funny since usually older people add -ita onto the ends of little kids’ names as a term of affection. I really appreciate my host mom – she is very laid back and independent and caring and we have become good friends. I have been working to strike a balance between spending time with my Argentine friends, my EE.UU friends, my host family, spending time in English and Spanish, trying to make sure to always do new things. I think that my Spanish is still improving, although it’s hard to tell sometimes. I get closer and closer to being able to understand absolutely everything and to be able to express myself more and more fluidly.
Next Friday we get 10 days of vacation, so my friends and I are planning on spending half the time in Mendoza (a province to the north west of Córdoba) and half the time in Santiago, Chile. It should be great.. I will be sure to put up pictures on Facebook afterwards. I have a lot more to say but this will have to be it for now. Just two more things:
1) The title of this blog entry is letra (lyrics) to a song by Julieta Venegas, a famous mexican singer that my host family and I went to see in concert last week. It means: “You can’t see it, but I feel there is something in me that is changing.” Feels pretty accurate.
If you’re interested, check out this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzwSt4uL9ac. It has translation in English for all you English speakers out there.
2) Clara wanted to write something for my blog:
auacvdfa2hiiuh8igb nniajoxjbknjoohmbnakxooo4t895vjhhxxjjzjaahrugtunuytuvuhasbuufu:-) hvybhuolmoxjbw98ogejfejioaejfp:}}}:-) ::-)-________ygruyg
Cuidense todos! (Take care of yourself everyone). Hasta pronto!