It’s been a while.

The title is a bit of an understatement. It’s been over a month since my last post, but I think I have a pretty decent excuse. Here is roughly what the past month has been on my schedule:

March 24-28th: Paraguay

April 1-2nd: Lollapalooza Argentina

April 7-11th: Brazil

April 16-20th: Iguazu Falls, Argentina & Brazil

Then add in the fact that I leave for Uruguay on Wednesday, and that I’ve just begun prepping for my huge research project, and that about gets it up to present day. All in all, I think it’s due time that I look back on what has undoubtedly been a formative month. I think I’ll go through each of the 4 weeks in this past month, and talk about them briefly.

Paraguay:

The trip to Paraguay feels like it was ages ago, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t stuck with me. Paraguay, to me, feels like a forgotten country. The one country that is almost always overlooked when people talk about South America. I have to admit I’ve been guilty of that as well. I knew next to nothing about the country before arriving in Asuncion. We had a powerful few days there though, highlighted by three visits. One was to a museum commemorating the victims of the military dictatorship. One was to a community of a marginalized indigenous group. And the other was to a Bañado, or slum. It was not a light trip, by any means. The visit to the Bañado is the one that has weighed on me most heavily, but not for the most obvious reasons. On the one hand, the conditions that these people live in every day are beyond heartbreaking. It would be one thing for me to describe it to you, and another to sense it entirely. Suffice it to say, it was like nothing I had ever witnessed before. But it has stuck with me for other reasons too. Our visit there started with a long chat with members of an organization that worked to improve conditions in the Bañado, especially for young women. After that, we were given a tour of the entire area. For about half an hour, we walked through the villa, and hardly spoke a word. This aspect of the visit is what I had trouble with. While I am glad I saw the Bañado, as I had never seen anything like that, it felt a bit exploitive and wrong for twenty predominately white and relatively well-off kids from the United States to walk by these people’s homes. After we got back to the organizations main office, a woman from the area asked one of my friends if the experience was like “going to a zoo.” While it obviously was a bit more than just that, there is some truth to what she asked. We went to this place, saw what was going on, felt bad about it, but then got to leave. We witnessed the everyday reality of these Paraguayan people, from a completely outside perspective. And I still struggle with how I feel about that.

Lollapalooza:

Onto a much lighter topic. Lolla was an absolute blast. This was my first true music festival experience, and I had an awesome time. No major reflection in this section.

Brazil:

The next major trip was to Porto Alegre, Brazil. Though it is the 4th biggest city, Porto Alegre is often forgotten next to Rio and Sao Paolo. With the exception of my trip to Mexico at age 2, this was my first time being in a country where I didn’t have at least an intermediate understanding of the language. It was really an odd experience. Portuguese is interesting too. When I tried reading it, most of the time I could get a very, very general understanding of what it said. That’s referring to menus and powerpoint slides, not anything substantial. But understanding it when it was spoken is an entirely different story. Spelling wise, it’s not that different from Spanish. Pronunciation is an entirely different beast. 

But not being able to speak the language forced me to figure out other ways to communicate. I did a lot of the more typical “point and nod” moves and the “hope that they speak Spanish.” The former proved more successful than the latter. 

Iguazu:

Now to the most recent week. For our Easter break, I went with five friends up to Puerto Iguazu, home to Iguazu Falls. This was my first non-program trip, so it was exciting to get off our own and explore the country a bit. The six of us took a 20 hour bus up to the falls. Thankfully, the seats folded down and were comfortable, so I actually got a decent amount of sleep. It was still 20 hours though. That said, it was completely worth it. We stayed at Poramba Hostel, which was a great little spot three blocks from the bus station. We met people from all over the world, including the UK, India, the US and other Argentines (obviously). 

The falls themselves were absolutely incredible. They’re something that words and pictures cannot really capture. You just have to see them for yourself. We explored both the Argentine and Brazilian sides of the falls, and they were both absolutely stunning and awe-inspiring. If there’s one place that I would recommend to anyone, it’s Iguazu. Most truly singular and unique place I’ve ever been. 

 

So that’s my month in retrospect. I’ve been so fortunate to travel so much, but after the trip to Uruguay, I will be looking forward to a little more time in BA. 

A quick story.

This happened about a week and a half ago, and I’m not sure why I haven’t posted it yet. 

A few friends and I went to Chinatown, or “Barrio Chino” as it’s called here. We got some food to-go from a buffet place and sat down in a park to eat it. We hung out there for a bit, then walked around. We went to an outdoor market, then went to a museum in the house of the early 20th century Argentine ambassador to France, Enrique Larreta. After that we went our separate ways, and I started heading home. All of this happened in the span of about three-four hours.

As I was about to enter my apartment building, I reached into my pockets and could not find my keys. Panic starts to set in. I go through my backpack, flinging my notebooks out, hoping that I randomly hid them somewhere in there. No luck. My mind goes back to our orientation, when our program coordinator Nuria said, “don’t lose your keys, if you do you might have to replace them for your whole building, and it can be very expensive.” There are nineteen floors in my building. At least four rooms on each floor. You can do the math.

I call my host mom. They are not on my desk.

Shit.

I decide to retrace my steps. I had very little hope. I go to a convenience store that I bought a water from. They hadn’t found any keys. Next I went to the museum. They had just closed, but the very sweet older woman working the door let me in. I searched all the rooms, and walked around the outdoor garden. No luck. 

SHIT.

I go back to the park. Walk around. Nothing. I go back to where we had been sitting. I look through the grass. Pretty much lost any hope I had at this point.

Then, as I’m looking down, about to start my walk home, I hear, “did you lose some keys?”

“WOOOOOW!” was more or less the next thing that came out of my mouth, followed shortly by incessant thanking of the woman. This was at least two hours after I had been in that park. 

 

What’s the moral of this story? I’m not sure if there is one. I had a very, very lucky day, and there’s no way I will ever again be so cavalier about where I keep my keys (secured deep in my backpack from now on). But I also realized yet again just how caring and helpful people are, regardless of where you go in the world. Sure there are some not so great people, and some that might wish you harm. But most people are just living their lives, day to day, same as anyone else. Maybe that woman had lost her keys one time, saw mine in the park and thought, “I should hold on to these. Whoever lost them might come back.” We all make little decisions everyday that inevitably affect people we will never meet. If that woman had just left them there, who knows what would have happened? So much of our lives are dependent on chance and the decisions others make, and if you constantly worry about every little thing that every other person does, you’ll inevitably give yourself an aneurism and anxiety. The fact of the matter is, sometimes you just have to “depend on the kindness of strangers.” 

Removal, Tragedy & Openness

Politics and Religion. The two biggest taboo conversation topics in the United States. In Argentina, they are fair game. People openly discuss their views with anyone. And there’s never animosity afterwards. They will disagree, certainly. But they respect each other’s views, and most importantly, they respect each other’s right to have them. Over the past couple of days, I think I’ve gotten some insight into why our cultures treat these topics so differently.

IMG_0350On Monday we went to La Memoria de los Desaparecidos. Here’s the wikipedia entry on The Dirty War and los Desaparecidos. Basically, during the military dictatorship from 1976-1983, roughly 30,000 people were abducted, tortured, and most of them, ultimately killed. They were taken regardless of age, sex, occupation, and social class. Los Desaparecidos, as you can probably imagine, were against the dictatorship. It is undoubtedly one of the most horrific tragedies in history, and certainly of the last fifty years, made even more tragic by the fact that so many people probably know nothing about it.

Today, my professor explained how he doesn’t think there is a true translation for “Desaparecidos.” Yes, we have the words “disappeared” or “missing,” but these lack the emotion and historical connection that are so palpable with the word Desparecidos.

But back to La Memoria. It was haunting. We were there on a warm, sunny day, and the park is green and beautiful. But that serenity was underlined by the harsh reality of where we were, right next to the Rio de la Plata, where so many of los Desaparecidos were dropped. As we walked along the walls that listed the names and ages, it’s indescribable what it’s like to see people younger than you and those around your age. I think the youngest I saw was eleven. (Quick aside- only about 1/3 of los Desaparecidos have been officially recorded. Our guide told us that more names are added every year, as more is uncovered.) As we left to return to our school, this place weighed heavily on us. It’s something so powerful and so heartbreaking, and yet, it is also something that I felt removed from. The tragedy of the situation is impossible to overlook, but it’s also something I don’t think I can really understand because I didn’t live it, and I don’t continue to live in its aftermath.

For so long, the Argentine people had to be so cautious about what they said and whom they said it to. So many of those who spoke up were quickly stifled. It makes sense, then, that people would be so open about their views. Because now they can be. I don’t think I can ever truly understand this as someone not from here. It’s just like the word Desaparecidos. I can know that it means a lot to them to be able to speak their mind freely without concern of persecution. But I can never understand what it means to have lived through such a time where they couldn’t.

 

 

Purposeful Lost-ness

If you’ve been reading this so far (mom, dad, maybe my sisters, two people who typed in this URL by mistake), you know I’ve pretty much just been recounting my activities. And that’s cool, but that’s definitely not all I want to write about. So this is going to mix it up a bit I suppose.

I’ve been very fortunate to travel a decent amount in my life. I’ve had a lot of “best days” when I’ve been in these new places. Skiing at Snowbird, the day trip to Cordoba, Spain, Robbie biting through his lip while doing the worm at a bar in The Bahamas. But the best day I’ve ever had traveling is one that at first glance wouldn’t stand out that much. When I was 18 I visited Cork, Ireland when my cousins Kristen & Kate were studying abroad there. On the second or third day that I was there, both of them had classes all day. My two options were to sit in Kate’s apartment until we were all meeting up later or to get out and go explore. I chose the latter. 

Image

At this point I had seen very little of Cork, so I really didn’t know where to begin. So I just decided my plan would be:

1. Walk to an intersection

2. Look to see which way seems the most interesting.

3. Go that way

4. Repeat

Image

You can say I got lost. But really, how could I not in a place that I don’t know at all, with no destination? The word “lost” has such a negative connotation. I realized when I was wandering around Cork that there’s something so freeing about just walking around with no itinerary, no plan, and no idea of what it is you’re seeing. For some people the big guided bus tours are the way they like to get to know a city. For me, that doesn’t go deep enough at all. You remain a stranger. You see the big attractions but you miss the hidden gems that make a place what it is. Mind you, this wasn’t a completely original realization. Plenty of people have done or said this type of thing before. But for me, it was a sort of eureka moment, and I’ve carried it with me here.

Image

The other day I had my first “purposefully lost” experience down here. I had spent two hours reading about Argentine’s economic history (in Spanish, by the way), and I had to do something else. I decided to leave the cafe and just walk around for a while.

 I was just exploring in Belgrano, my neighborhood here, but I realized that there was so much of it I hadn’t seen. And there’s still a lot I haven’t seen. And, I discovered what is now undoubtedly one of my favorite spots in the city. I found this park with an absolutely massive Gazebo in it. When I walked by, there were Tango lessons going on. Also in this park were these stone tables with chess boards painted on top of them.

Image

 

It reminded me of New York, even though I don’t know if I’ve ever actually seen one of those tables there. There was a big hill with weaving brick and cobblestone paths, leading to a statue and to a massive tree with thick branches that touched down to the ground. 

 

 

Buenos Aires is a city full of parks, and as far as they go, this one probably wouldn’t end up in a Lonely Planet book or a guided tour. But being there, with people who were just walking their dogs after work or catching up with a friend or taking a tango lesson in a gazebo, made me feel like I knew this city much more than I had before. You can go to a place and see the things you “have” to see while you’re there. But I think you miss a lot if you don’t experience the little things that make the city what it is. 

Image

 

Boliches & Urban Art

It’s hard to believe I haven’t even passed the one-week mark in BA, because these past 6 days have been so filled with stuff going on it feels like I’ve been here a month. We experienced our first taste of Argentine nightlife this past weekend. It’s insane just how late everything starts. On Friday we got to a bar at about 11:45 and hardly anyone else was there. On Saturday we were more cognizant of this and staggered our evening out a bit more. I used the buses (or colectivos) to meet up with everyone, and it was a much preferable experience than my previous Subte experience, as I actually had some room to breathe. A bunch of us met at a little convenience store/bar right across from the Jardines Botanicos de Buenos Aires. We hung out there for a while, then went to a few different bars, including one with a pretty awesome rooftop patio.

We then had our first Boliche experience. These are what make Argentine nightlife so well known, and after just a few moments there, it was pretty obvious why. Balloons and confetti rained down from the ceiling. One girl in our group caught an inflatable sword. People don’t seem to get tired here either. We ended up cabbing back around 5, and each one of us was so exhausted. It was convenient though, because half of us live in Belgrano and the other half live in Palermo, so cabbing back was no problem.

Yesterday (03/02/14) might have been my favorite day yet. We went to the PUMA Urban Art Festival at the Centro Cultura Recoleta. It was right next to the Cementerio de la Recoleta, which was a breathtaking place. We decided to walk around the cemetery a bit before heading over to the festival. One member of our group said, as we strolled through the cemetery, “You can learn a lot about a culture from the way they bury their dead.” The tombs of these former generals and political leaders are ornate to an extreme. It’s really fascinating. 

 

Image

 

From there, we went and moved out towards the art festival. We walked by some little tents with a lot of different things for sale, from art to clothing to pipes and everything in between. We then split up, half of grabbing lunch from this little cart/trailer thing, and the other half going to a little restaurant in the complex. I was in the former group, and I got a Choripan that had a fried egg and grilled vegetables on it. It was delicious, but I think I would probably have a heart attack by 25 if I eat too many more of those. We sat on this grassy hill outside of the arts complex and watched an older guy playing guitar and singing. One thing I loved was that in between each of his songs, his wife brought up mate for him to drink. The mate culture is really cool here, and I am excited to finally try some this week.

Eventually we made our way in to the festival. A lot of the art was inspired by movies and television, and so much of it was beautiful and fascinating. We watched a few of the bands play for a while. It was a pretty awesome day. I’m going to do another post of pictures from the festival.

I would be remiss if I didn’t repeat how awesome my host family is. They have done so much to make sure I’m comfortable here, and are so great. I’ve really enjoyed conversing with my host mother. One thing I’ve noticed, and absolutely love, about Argentine culture is how open everyone is about their views and opinions (I guess it’s time to do a little cultural analysis). It’s so different than in the US too. Here, people are open because they care, and while there are certainly disagreements, there is a great deal of respect on both sides in any conversation. People don’t take offense to differing views, and it’s really refreshing how politically aware everyone is. I’m not even going to begin to try and discuss the opinions on the current government. Many, many people (including my host mom) are incredibly unhappy with Kristina’s government. I’ve heard a bit about it, but I’m excited to learn more during my time here. Now, I get to enjoy two days of reading to prepare for my first day of classes on Wednesday.

 

 Brian

Mis Primeros Días

What a few days.

Since I got here on Tuesday morning, I’ve had a pretty packed schedule. My flight landed in EZE airport at 4:40 in the morning, and I wasn’t getting picked up until 10:30, so I had a lot of time to kill. Thankfully, two kids from my program were on my flight, so we just hung out in an airport cafe for like five hours.

Once we all got there and met up with our program coordinators, we headed off to our hotel. We then got to see where we would be taking our classes. It’s at a sort of rentable university space called IDES (Instituto de Desarrollo Economico y Social). The first two days were orientation packed, but it was great to get to know everyone. With just about 20 kids, we’re a pretty small program, but I really enjoy that about it actually.

Anyway, today (02/27/14) was a pretty big day. We got our first taste of the Subway (or as it’s called here, the SUBTE), and it was quite an experience. It is incredibly cramped and hot, more so than any other metro system I’ve ever experienced. That said, the lines are very intuitive, and it wasn’t hard to figure out. We were split into small groups and my group went to el Centro of BA. A lot of the area was very nice, but it was very commercialized as well. It reminded us of a less flashy Times Square, but much prettier. We didn’t stay there for long, as we found a restaurant a few streets away.

Centro-Buenos-Aires-El-obelisco

We also had our first experience with the blue dollar. A few of us converted our US dollars for Argentine pesos. It’s funny, while it’s technically a “black market” the entire process felt pretty legitimate.

The biggest thing to happen today was meeting our host families. We first read something about them just 30 minutes before meeting them, so needless to say, we were all pretty nervous. My nerves could not have been less necessary. I am living with Laura and her two sons, Tomas & Matias. Laura picked me up from IDES and she could not have been nicer. I am her 13th student and 1st male. She was so willing to explain things to me and really seems to care a lot about making my experience as great as possible. They live in the Belgrano barrio, and I am fortunate that 6 or 7 other students from my program live very close by. I could go on and on about how great my host family seems to be, but I’ve already dragged this on long enough.

Brian

And here we go.

Well, friends, so it begins. I have been living in a weird limbo for the past few months waiting for this. While it has been great to have an extended vacation and “live the dream” as I’ve been calling it (being at college without taking classes), I am so happy to finally be going.

It’s still so weird to me though. I’m leaving my house in nine hours, yet as I sit on my couch writing this out, the idea that I’ll be out of the country this time tomorrow is surreal. I’ve kind of always been that way about things like this. I certainly get very excited, but it never seems to hit me until I’m there. Maybe it’s because I really don’t know what to expect. I mean, I know I’ll be in Buenos Aires. I know I’m going to have to speak (a lot) of Spanish. I know I’m living with an Argentinian family. And that’s about all I know. That probably should freak me out more than it does…

Anyway, that’s all for now. I hope you’ll enjoy my blog if you follow it. I can’t promise great writing or anything, but I can promise a direct look at what I’m doing while I’m doing it.

See ya when I see ya USA,

Brian