Rural Argentina, mate in the park, and the “Infinite Experience”

Our last few days have been extremely busy, as we’re (tearfully) preparing for the end of the program, but every day has been wonderful.

Last Wednesday through Saturday, we did our rural stay in the town of 9 de Julio, about five hours away from Buenos Aires by bus. We were told that driving the last 20 kilometers of the trip would be oIMG_5803n a dirt road down which our large tour bus wouldn’t be able to fit, so when got to that point, we all traipsed off the bus with our backpacks and looked around for the two smaller buses we would take to the ranch. Turns out, our ride was a huge bus on the other side of the road that was so old, I thought it was a piece of art. It was full of dust, stinkbugs, and curtains you could tie up on the windows. When the driver turned on the ignition, the bus roared to life with a nonstop flow of black smoke coming from the exhaust pipe.

We got to the ranch on Wednesday afternoon, just before it started raining for 36 hours straight. The food they served us every day was amazing and there was always enough for everyone (something we haven’t experienced yet on this trip), but the only food that was literally never-ending was bread. IMG_5806At breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner, there were baskets and baskets of bread that the wonderful women who worked there kept refilling. Especially during the rainstorm, I have no clue how the bread flow never stopped.

We stayed in a few rooms with bunk beds with somewhat questionable-looking sheets, as many of our short-term stays have had throughout this semester. (For anyone traveling: I highly recommend purchasing a sleep sack. I wish I could say I had one on this trip. It’s just a long stretchy sack that you sleep in, just so you have that layer around you if the bed itself is questionable. I will definitely make that investment before traveling internationally again. That investment can also be sewing a sheet together, so I’m definitely spending some time with the sewing machine when I get home.

On Thursday, it poured all day, so we had a really relaxing, cozy day in the ranch, mostly eating, working on assignments, talking, and eating. And eating more bread. There was a really nice porch, a big open room connected to the dining areas, and a fireplace which we meant to light but sadly never did. It was a lot colder there than in Buenos Aires, and we were all prepared this time (for me, prepareIMG_5802d with the fleece shirt that I didn’t have in New Orleans and didn’t think to bring to Ha Long Bay, our two coldest places on the trip). It really felt like fall there, which made me even happier to be in ominous weather with endless tea and card games and music and good friends. During dinner, the song Uptown Funk started playing from someone’s playlist, and soon we were all dancing, and even Carolina, our country coordinator, got really into it. We continued to have a huge dance party, including a popular song and dance we learned in South Africa.

It finally stopped raining by Friday morning, so we all headed out to La Niña, the tiny town of 595 people about two kilometers away. We had a site visit to the Centro de Salud (health center), where they focus on prevention, but send patients to the hospital if there’s a serious injury/condition. We IMG_5248also went to the general store in the town, where, naturally, most people bought water (the water at the ranch was very hard/thick), alfajores, and wine (when in Argentina…). In the afternoon, we had a guest lecture about crop production in Argentina. Agustin, the lecturer, talked a little bit about climate change, so I asked if there was any conversation or research in Argentina about it being related to animal agriculture. I don’t think Agustin understood my question at first, but once he, our country coordinator, and the Ricardo (the ranch head) did, they all started getting very defensive (Ricardo even put down his cup of mate to address the question…that’s when you know it’s real). I said that I was curious because animal agriculture is the number one cause of climate change in the United States, and they basically shot that down and asked if I was sure that was true. This was really frustrating, because even though I know people are defensive as food habits are very important to culture and tradition, they shouldn’t be questioning if I know what I’m talking about even if makes them uncomfortable. So, in conclusion, no, it doesn’t seem like there’s any conversation in Argentina about the relationship between animal agriculture and climate change. Although, the other day in Buenos Aires, I did see a big group of young people holding up signs promoting veganism – it DOES exist in a city that consumes so much meat!

After dinner, we all went out to stargaze. I didn’t think anything could compare to the stars in Bushbuckridge, and while the sky didn’t seem as vast here, the stars were so bright. At first, there were just four of us outside, sitting on a bench, discussing the vastness of the universe and how insignificant and ignorant we feel compared to everything out there. Talking about stars and the universe will always make me feel so tiny. Then, the rest of our group came out with Ricardo, who showed us the constellation of the Southern Cross, which is basically the equivalent of the North Star but in the southern hemisphere. From the cross, he pointed out the southern axis of the earth, which is crazy to think about since we were looking up at the bottom point of the earth. Much later, five of us were lying on the ground wrapped in our one small blanket, freezing our butts off, when we saw a huge (and my first!) shooting star. It was an amazing moment, and I’ll never forget this night.

On Saturday morning, we took a short IMG_5262trip to a nearby lagoon. We rode on the back of a tractor, like a hay ride without the hay, and even the ranch dog, Pedro, came with us. The lagoon was really big and really shallow (although I think it’s so big because of all of the rain on Thursday, which turned nearby fields into lakes).

I mentioned in my first post in Argentina that I was getting tired of traveling and getting more excited for home, which still is true, but the rural visit lessened that. I’m too sad to think about leaving our group next week. Living all together for the first time since Johannesburg, in such a relaxed, cozy environment, made me appreciate the beauty of our group and our dynamic so much. It’s not that I haven’t until now, but it made me realize just how much I’ll miss everyone. After seeing the same 33 people almost every day for almost four months, being without all of them will be so strange. But since I still have time left, I won’t write any type of sentimental post now. (Jk the sentimental post comes in a few paragraphs.)

Speaking of being sentimental, Sunday was our last free day in Buenos Aires. With Lebanese take-out in tow, Sophie, Mariam, Steph and I went to Plaza Francia, a park with a big outdoor craft market every weekend, and sat down on the beautiful lawn for the afternoon. At this point, I’d been there about five or six times, which has been somewhat unintentional. But we realized that in every country, there has been one place that we enjoy so much that we visit multiple times, and Plaza Francia is that place for us in Argentina. The four of us started off this trip together on the roof of a café the first weekend in Vietnam, when we bonded and have been really close ever since. We IMG_5852always like to explore together, but usually run into other people too. We ended up seeing about ten of our friends at the market, who all joined us and we just hung out there for a few hours. We’d all planned on drinking mate there for the first time by ourselves, so when there were only four of us left (Sophie, Mariam, Emily and I), we fetched some yerba mate (the dry leaves) at a nearby kiosco and prepared it as best as we could in the mate cup that my host mom gave me. Last weekend, someone showed us exactly how to set it up (it’s more complicated than you would think), and I think we succeeded. Sophie had her host dog there, and he’s lived in Argentina a while now, and I think we got his approval. Mate is pretty bitter, but the longer it steeps, the better it gets. We talked about all sorts of things throughout the afternoon, about going home, the program, our experiences, and all sorts of things we’ve done this semester that gave me alllll the feels.

On Monday night, I went to an incredible percussion concert called La Bomba del Tiempo. It was a group of sixteen musicians on an outdoor stage, playing all sorts of different percussion instruments. The conductor changed every few songs, but it wasn’t a separate conductor, it was one of the musicians, so they’d all swap out. The musicians alIMG_5288so moved around the stage and switched instruments throughout the 2-hour performance – it was AMAZING! What was even more incredible was that the entire concert was improvisation. The musicians looked like they were having a blast the entire show, which is definitely what made it so much fun for my friends and me in the front row! We had a great time, and afterward wandered through the streets to the “fiesta after” (great Spanglish, Argentina), but people were dancing and drumming all through the streets in that neighborhood.

On Tuesday afternoon, our program director arrived in Argentina from the U.S. and attended our last intellectual synthesis, which we do at the end of every country. It’s a session in which we come up with relevant topics to discuss that we’ve encountered in that country and throughout the semester, and a student leads each one in an informal discussion. We had five time slots with three sessions in each, and you choose whichever one you want to attend and discuss for 20 minutes. Here are the names/topics of a few of them: Reverse Culture Shock, Different Perceptions of Beauty, Collectivism, Full Immersion, Food, Political Violence, Rural vs. Urban, What Health Means, and Rupture and Recovery. So as you can see, they’re all very different but very relevant. The session about reverse culture shock is definitely what I’ve been thinking about a lot – I know it will be strange coming home after being in so many different environments over the past 4 months, but the good thing is, Argentina has been easing me back into a society that is similar to my own. If the program ended in South Africa or Vietnam, it would be a much more extreme shift coming home from there. It definitely will be weird to hear and read English words all the time, to not get stared at, and many other things, but what I’m most nervous about is not having 33 other people with whom to share my experiences whenever I want/need to. While I’m so excited to go home and be with my family and friends and cats and spend time in my backyard, I’m extremely sad to leave this group. We’ve all been through so many different experiences together, and I honestly think the hardest thing to get used to back in the U.S. will be seeing/hearing/experiencing something that reminds me of my time abroad and not having someone right next to me who can relate to it.

Today, Wednesday, was our last day of school for the semester! We had our last case study presentations most of the day, so those were a relief to finish. My group (Environment & Health) continued our topic of community spaces, specifically the polluted river, green spaces, and bike rental programs/lanes in Argentina, and we related it to overall quality of life. This was also a comparative presentation, so we connected the common findings and themes from each country to draw some conclusions about what we’ve learned. We concluded that while the government does address certain environmental problems by creating more green spaces and lakes, putting in bike lanes, paving new roads, etc., they cannot be relied upon to guarantee quality of life of Argentina residents because of various factors, particularly that the government often doesn’t address human rights needs first. For example, in South Africa, the government spent a lot of money paving new roads in Bushbuckridge and chose not to focus their efforts on making sure that people have access to clean water (which they still don’t). In Argentina, the government has spent resources making the green spaces in downtown Buenos Aires look nice and pretty, but they don’t maintain the spaces in the poorer areas, and furthermore, the people living in “villas” (basically human settlements outside the city) don’t even have access to clean water or reliable electricity. So the government shouldn’t waste their time or resources starting to maintain the green spaces in the poorer areacabas and act like they’re doing something great if there are people who don’t even have access to basic human necessities. All in all, I really enjoyed my case study experience this semester, and I think having a different specific topic in each country actually helped me draw more parallels among them all.

Last bit about case study: during one of our site visits, we visited a government organization called Centro de Información y Formación Ambiental (Center of Information and Environmental Training/Research) that focuses on the Riachuelo, the really polluted river about which I talked in one of my last posts. During our visit, a photographer took pictures of us attending a presentation, visiting the the research labs, and walking along the river itself. This is something that has happened continually throughout the semester…wherever we are, there are cameras documenting our visit. Anyway, they put a whole page about us on their website, so check it out if you want to see the photoshoot for which we were unknowingly models.

After school today, a few of us went to the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires), an art museum with a new exhibit called “Experiencia Infinativa” (Infinite Experience), which was mind-blowing. I haven’t been to an art museum in a long time, probably because I’m always so overwhelmed by how much there is to see, but the MALBA only had two floors, just enough to stay for a few hours and see everything, but not too much to be very overwhelmed. The first floor wasn’t the temporary exhibit, but I really enjoyed it beIMG_5929cause it had so many different types of art: abstract, landscape, portrait, print, and more. But the Infinite Experience exhibit…wow. I’ve never been to anything like it, probably because it was a LIVE ACTION exhibit. The first room had buckets of paint in the middle and had two men painting the walls, so I first thought that I was in the wrong room that was under construction. Nope – turns out those two guys WERE the live installation and part of the exhibit. They were painting the walls white over and over again. The second room was dim with a projector shining on the wall, and new words would come up every 30 seconds or so (in Spanish). This was when I noticed there was a woman typing at a computer in the corner. Turns out, the sentences were about US in the room watching the screen!

I was with a few other friends in the room. The screen said:

“My finger points at what you should look at, says a girl tall and blonde.” My friend Emily, extremely tall and blonde, was standing there telling us to watch the screen because she’s been to the exhibit before. We all started smiling and laughing once we realized it was about us, and the screen said, “They smile. They are like a big family of women.” It was hilarious.

There were six different rooms/live action pieces in this exhibit, but I won’t go into them all now to save you reading time. But I will say that it was probably the coolest art exhibit I’ve ever seen. And I got into the museum for free because it’s free for students on Wednesdays…and I only have thirteen pesos left in my wallet, which can barely buy me anything in this city, much less a museum entrance.

Tonight is my last night in Buenos Aires, and I just ate my last dinner with Marta, the host mom of IMG_5857the century. I’m definitely going to cry tomorrow morning when we leave for the last time. No doubt about that, but I’m going to get her Skype information at breakfast so we can stay in touch. Marta is so popular and is on the phone/skype literally all the time, so I feel like whenever I sign on to skype (which is rare and only if I have a meeting), she’s going to request to videochat me because she’s always online to begin with. I think there will be some funny skypes in the future for us. While I loved my other homestays, I definitely feel most connected to Marta. She also makes delicious food, which has been a huge plus.

Tomorrow (Thursday), we leave for our retreat until Sunday, when we’ll drive straight back to the airport to head home. We’ll be staying about 2 hours outside of Buenos Aires in a church or seminary or something (throwback to the seminary in Johannesburg – we’re used to living in religious buildings at this point), and there are going to be a lotttt of tears. They already started last weekend at our rural stay and have made appearances throughout the week, so I’m sure this weekend will be very emotional. The next time I post, I’ll either be home or on my way there, having just completed the most challenging, exciting, and amazing experience of my life. All that comes before then is a lot of smiles, tears, and memories.

P.S. Wanna know what living in Vietnam for a month was like? My homestay partner there, Mariam, has been making a video of every country (which I’m also doing on my own), and she finally was able to upload her amazing Vietnam video to youtube – check it out! ¡Hasta pronto!

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Buenos Aires, part II: “I don’t look touristy”, I say as I whip out my 2’x3′ map.

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Rose Garden

I’ve gotten to see so much of Buenos Aires since I’ve been here, so I’m going to try and cover the most interesting places I’ve visited / experiences I’ve had thus far, since I can’t possibly cover everything. Our group just got back from a 3-day rural stay, which I’ll post about in a few days so I don’t overwhelm you with so much in one post. Tonight marks the 10-day countdown until I come home…so I’m feeling ALL the feelz right now. Sad and excited and overwhelmed and bittersweet. But I’m trying to put those off until next week.

During our first full week in Argentina, that Tuesday was our Neighborhood Day because there was a general strike (un paro), meaning that all public transportation was cancelled for 24 hours. Apparently these happen pretty frequently and they’re very well-organized – there were signs advertising IMG_5526it and it was on our schedule at least a few weeks before it happened. The streets were no longer half busses and half cars, only cars and taxis. The never-ending beeping and loud accelerating/decelerating screeches halted for the day. Our neighborhood day was planned specifically during the strike since most of us can’t come to school without public transportation, so we all stayed in our respective neighborhoods, explored, and asked people about what was going on. We were warned about talking to people about politics here – it seems that people are either very open about it or very closed off, without anything in between. From what I’ve gathered, people are striking to tell the government that they want higher salaries. I still know little about Argentine politics, but what I have heard fromIMG_5523 people here is that the government is corrupt, and money is now the motivating factor over the benefit of the people.

I met up with the two other homestay pairs who live in Belgrano, and we walked all around the neighborhood for most of the afternoon. I love living in Belgrano. It’s definitely a more upscale part of town, but still very residential and very commercial. There are tons of restaurants, clothing stores, fruit & vegetable markets, supermarkets, and kioscos. It’s also full of all different types of trees – my block is especially full of sycamore trees (me encanta!), and a few blocks over, you’ll find palm trees.

That same night, we had guests for dinner, my host mom’s son Eduardo and his wife Ines. They both speak English, their daughter goes to Stanford, and Ines has 4 cousins who live in the U.S., so they both have been several times and now actually visit twice a year. It was really interesting to hear their perceptions of the U.S – they both really want to speak English when they’re there, but they mentioned not liking Miami because they want to see “real Americans”. Maddy and I both tried to explain that they are just as American (American meaning from the United States, in this case) as we are, but they still insisted that going more to the center of the country would expose them to real Americans. They’re both very kind, smart people, but this is something that definitely isn’t politically correct enough to talk about in the U.S. But I’ve realized on this trip that being PC is definitely not a thing almost anywhere else, and not as much in other countries (definitely not in South Africa).

We’ve been learning a lot in our classes/site visits/guest lectures/experiences here, as usual. Our lectures have covered Argentina’s history and healthcare system, and we have visited a variety of health clinics around the city, including just outside in the provinces (still in the enormous province that is Buenos Aires, but outside the city lines). I did notice that the people who live outside the city lines do look like stereotypical Hispanic people, while the majority of people who live in Buenos Aires do not. Buenos Aires looks like it could be any European city – it’s called the “Paris of the South”. Though I said I thought the city was diverse in my previous post, I don’t think it is anymore. It’s definitely an outlier from the rest of the country. We’ve also visited a cooperative for adults struggling with unemployment and an early childhood education center, among others.

Unlike the United States and Vietnam, everyone in Argentina has access to free primary health care. But unlike the U.S., the Argentine health care system is very divided in that most of the doctors are specialists and there’s a lack of general practitioners and people in family medicine. Because of this, the clinics are often extremely crowded and it’s very difficult to get an appointment because people arrange to meet with specialists instead of a general doctor, so they end up seeing at least a few specialists before receiving the appropriate treatment. Aside from the public system, there are various private hospitals/insurance companies that fall into the “Obras Sociales” system, in which people are covered through their IMG_5217jobs.

My case study group is focusing on community spaces in Argentina and how that affects overall quality of life, and we also have to compare this across all four countries. We visited the edge of the city to see Riachuelo, the extremely polluted river that is the dividing line between the city and the provinces. While we were at the Centro de Información y Formación Ambiental (a government organization), we saw some of their biological labs that study various factors regarding the river, such as the water itself and plants to see which ones absorb the toxins most, for more effective cleaning.

AIMG_5507t the beginning of each country, we always receive a packet of information about transportation, homestays, etc., and a city map. I use my map of BA every day (definitely don’t look like a tourist when I whip that 2’x3′ thing out on the street), so it’s very frayed at this point, but I’m happy to say that I’ve been in almost all areas of the city! Here are some of the places I’ve visited in the past few weeks:

  • Cemetery in Recoleta – this is the oldest public cemetery in Buenos Aires, where many famous Argentine politicians, historians, religious figures, and the like are buried, including Eva (Evita) Perón. It’s absolutely enormous and gorgeous and awesome.
  • El Ateneo – once a theater in 1912, this building was converted into a cinema in the late 1920s, and is now a bookstore. When you walk into the building it looks like a typical bookstore, then you IMG_5688walk into the theater part – for my Philly people, it looks like a smaller version of the Academy of Music. The stage is now a café, the private boxes on the sides of the stage now have tables and chairs for quiet reading, and you can explore all 3 floors.
  • San Telmo – this area of the city has an antique fair every Sunday featuring all sorts of items that look like knick knacks that lived in my grandma’s house for the almost 50 years she lived there. We’re talking jars, shelves, tiny pianos, and all things “grandma trendy”.
  • La Boca – it’s a small section of the city on the Southern side, considered the most colorful area of Buenos Aires. It’s a very small neighborhood of shops and restaurants right near the Rio Chuelo (the polluted river). Apparently, the houses were painted with leftover paint from
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    La Boca

    ships.

  • ESMA (Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos) – while currently a military academy, but it was used in the 1970s as a clandestine detention center for those who were captured by the government. Essentially, the government started snatching people from their houses during the dictatorship if there was any indication that they were in any way “left” or possibly against the government or military. During this regime, 30,000 people disappeared (today they are called “los desaparecidos”); they were tortured and/or killed by the state because of political ideologies, and their bodies disappeared. Today, there’s an effort to reunite children with their real parents, because there were so many babies/young children taken away from their parents by the regime to live with people who supported the government.
  • Café Tortoni – built in 1858, it’s the oldest café in South America! It was super classy so obviously we talked about very adult things, mostly our favorite YouTube videos and SNL skits.
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La Boca

Passover / Easter weekend – My friend Sophie and I really wanted to attend a Passover seder, so with the help of a friend from my synagogue a home (thanks Harold!), we went to a smaller seder at the home of one of his former students. It was pretty small and the only thing that made it related to Passover at all was that there was matzah (very little of it, I must say, and it was circular…never seen that before). But I’m not too religious to begin with, so I didn’t care at all – we had a lot of fun. And as they do in Buenos Aires, dinner didn’t start until 10pm, which, depending on how seriously you take your seders, could also be true in the U.S., even if the seder itself started at 6. Thankfully, my family at home doesn’t take our seders that seriously. We get a good hour of davening in before finishing off with a bunch of songs from Broadway musicals with Passover-related lyrics, and then we dig into fabulous food. One of my personal favorites of our songs: “Do you hear the doorbell ring? It is a little after 10. It can only be Elijah come to take a sip again. He is feeling pretty fine, but in his head a screw is loose, so perhaps instead of wine we’ll give him juuuuuuice”.

On Saturday night, Sophie and I, along with our other IHP Jews Allie, Sarah, and Ben, went to another seder, which is run by an organization that arranges events for students studying abroad in BA. Here’s a brief timeline of the night’s events:

  • 7pm: Arrive at synagogue (service with both locals and extranjeros/people from abroad). Immediately locate other Jewish students from the U.S. without even trying. Walk into gender-divided service, pick up prayer books, open to a random page and pretend to know what’s going on (no transliteration!) but don’t actually sing anything. Mostly talk to American girls next to us.
  • 9:30pm: Start seder.
  • 10pm: Start the four questions.
  • 10:30pm: Girl from NYC is asked to describe the 10 plagues and describes them in hilariously Jewish/New York/New Jersey manner (try to read this phonetically to pick up the accent: “so then theya was lice, and they wa so itchy so like it was hahrrible! And then theya was dahkness, and this was pre-electricity days, so again it was just tehrible! Oh and the boils wa just so painful!”
  • 11:30pm: Finally start eating.
  • 1:30am: Leave seder.

Also, a few days before Passover, Sophie, Mariam and I walked to a shop that Sophie heard sold matzah. As soon as we were in a few blocks of it, we saw men in the traditional Jewish hats and we cried, “We’re home!!!” It was the first time we had seen other Jews all semester. Suddenly I was seeing those hats and sidecurls everywhere…we were in the homeland of Jews in Buenos Aires.

On Sunday night (Easter), Marta had a bunch of her family over for dinner. There were about 12 of us there, so I thought Maddy and I would be bombarded with questions, but they actually didn’t talk to us too much, even though a bunch of them speak English. Everyone was really friendly, but actually it was a nice break. We talked a lot with a guy around our age who just started at the University of Buenos Aires and wanted to practice his English, which was fun. Marta had cooked the whole dinner herself (and we didn’t even know she was making it – she’s so fast), and I think it’s worthwhile to mention exactly what dinner was:

  • 2 types of tortas (basically empanadas in pie form): meat and veggie
  • 2 types of little sandwich things, mostly bread: meat and veggie
  • 2 baskets of cut up bread

Common theme here: EVERYTHING is bread. PEOPLE EAT BREAD LITERALLY ALL THE TIME. It’s never missing. I don’t think gluten-free exists in Buenos Aires. However, I think visiting Buenos Aires could cause someone to go gluten-free for a while simply because of how much bread they eat all the time.

One evening, I went to something called Mate Club de Conversación with some IHP friends, which is hosted at a café and you talk with people you don’t know in both English and Spanish. They IMG_5713switch off the language every 15 minutes, and you talk with new people and drink mate for an hour and a half. It was a lot of fun, good Spanish practice, and really interesting to get to meet people of all ages, from different countries around the world and also a lot of people from Buenos Aires. The mate club hosts this twice each week, so I’m really sad I didn’t discover it earlier, but it was a great experience and I’m going to try to go for one last time next week!

Last weekend, Maddy was out for dinner so Marta and I had dinner together by ourselves, and it was an amazing dinner date that got me nervous to leave her apartment in a little under 2 weeks (from then). Marta is the most amazing host grandma I could have asked for. She’s just so animated and interested and engaged, even though my Spanish level is probably equivalent to an 8 year-old in Argentina. After cleaning up dinner, Marta said to me, “Te voy extrañar!” (I’m going to miss you) and my heart melted. As a very sentimental person, I already know I’m going to bawl when I leave her. The good thing is, I know I’m coming back to Argentina in the future, so I will absolutely visit and maybe even stay with her…I joked about it but she seemed to take it well!

Health issues/interesting facts in Argentina (in brief):

  • From class / site visits / guest lectures:
    • 92% of Argentina’s population lives in an urban area, and 30% of the population lives in the province of Buenos Aires.
    • Immigration – most used to be from Italy and Spain, but now it’s mostly from other countries in Latin America, and more people are spreading to rural areas rather than Buenos Aires. We got to talk to 2 people who immigrated here: Luz came from Peru for the free health care and to start a better life for herself and her son. She lives in a “villa”, basically a human settlement, outside of BA, where there is very little access to basic services like water, gas, or electricity. Sergio came from Chile for the free education and healthcare.
    • Soybeans are the main crop of Argentina, with China being their primary export (yet I can’t find soymilk anywhere here).IMG_5624
    • Abortion is illegal, there are very few medical exceptions, and botched abortions are the #1 cause of maternal mortality in Argentina
    • There are a ridiculous number of psychologists/psychotherapists – in Buenos Aires alone, there is 1 psychologist for every 90 residents.
    • The population is getting much older – by 2020, it’s expected that ¼ of the population of Latin America will be elderly.
  • From my observations:
    • People don’t sleep at all – they go to bed very late because they eat so late, when they go out they stay out most of the night, and people still get up for work at 9.
    • People don’t eat much, but if they do, it’s bread and mate and cigarettes (some people disagree with my view that people don’t eat much, but it’s what I have seen)
    • Smoking is huge (European influence)

Quote of the week from a passerby’s t-shirt: “A broken crayon still colors”.

Besos!

El último lugar…..Buenos Aires, Argentina

¡HOLA! ¡Estoy en Buenos Aires, Argentinaaaaa! And I am LOVING it. I couldn’t be happier here – I still can’t believe I have such little time left – while I’m so excited to explore Buenos Aires, I’m also pretty exhausted from traveling and being constantly “on”. Our schedule is always crazy, but especially being on Argentine hours makes it even harder to adjust. I don’t want to rush through our time in Argentina, but I also am looking forward to more stability when I return to the U.S. in a few weeks. But more on that later – I’m SOba excited to make the best of this country and end the program with a bang. It took us a mere 40.5 hours on 3 planes to get here from Cape Town, which is only 2.5 hours shorter than our trip across the world to Vietnam. So that makes sense. Also, tidbit about Dubai airport: it’s not as great as I thought it would be (at least my terminal wasn’t). Also, the falafel was pretty bad. Airline ratings based on 2 most important qualities:

  • Frequency of snacks: Singapore Airlines (you have to go to the back and ask for snacks and they’ll reveal a wide spread, including fruit, chocolate, and oats n honey bars. Yaaaaas).
  • Movie selection: Emirates (literally the best possible movies. Disney. New releases. “Film Club” aka all the best movies, new-ish and old”). I watched Tangled, Finding Nemo, Pay It Forward, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Monsters Inc., and Mrs. Doubtfire. It was fantastic.

A piece of sad news about our last group flight: I left my journal on the last plane. I only started a handwritten journal in South Africa, so I would be more upset about it if it included the whole semester, but I’m still sad. I’m going to try and buy a new one here since the crafts are so unique. IMG_5416 Onto Buenos Aires (BA) – just like my first post from Vietnam, I’m going to talk about general things I’ve noticed in BA before what I’m doing here because there is SO much to talk about. I’m now only 1 hour ahead of the East Coast, so I can finally text/call people at normal hours now, when we’re both awake and doing similar things. There are a lot of things I’m getting used to here that are really different home, but this country is also the most similar to home, which is really exciting and different from the rest of this trip. For one, this city reminds me so much of parts of both Philly and New York City. I haven’t spent much time in NYC, but so many streets in BA remind me of the Upper West Side, and there’s a street that I saw the other day that looks like Times Square. For the most part, BA is organized into a grid, at least in the individual neighborhoods, which make it extremely easy to navigate. We all have maps (but obviously we don’t look like tourists!!), and the city blocks (“cuadras” en español) are pretty short, so walking 10-20 blocks won’t take very long. There are a lot of streets of cobblestone, which IMG_5450remind me a lot of Philly, so exploring a new city that reminds me of home is really nice. The best part about being here so far is being able to speak Spanish! I’ve taken it for 5 semesters, since my first semester of college, but I’ve never been heavily immersed in a Spanish-speaking country, except for my vacation to Costa Rica over winter break. But that was mostly asking for coffee for my mom and making classic Norr/Metz family requests at dinner (please replace _______ with more vegetables). But Argentine Spanish is very different from other Spanish in South America – for the most part, the two biggest differences are using “vos” in the “tú” form, and the accent, which makes “ll” or “y” sound like “sh”. So the word llamo sounds like “shamo”. Very different, but I’m getting used to it! One thing I don’t think I’ll ever get used to, though, is how late things start here. People eat dinner at 9-10pm at night, and don’t go out until 2 or 3am. I’ve only been out one night since I’ve gotten here, and I didn’t get home until 5am, which is when the club just starts getting good. 12:30am in Buenos Aires is like 9pm in the U.S. – people are walking their dogs, still sitting at dinner, and kids are running around. I’ve mentioned before that I want to live in South America for at least 1 year at some point, probably Buenos Aires, but I don’t think I could ever get used to that.

Things I CAN get used to:

  • Walking wherever I want and not getting stared at – this city is so diverse to begin with, in that no one looks like one particular race/ethnicity/religion etc, and there are already a lot of foreigners, so I’m loving not getting stared at when I walk down the street, hop on the subway, or go to a club. Once I start talking, however, everyone knows I’m not from here.
  • Taking public transportation – we didn’t get to do much of this in Vietnam or South Africa, since we mostly relied on cabs in Vietnam and we used private buses in Bushbuckridge and cabs in Cape Town, so being here is quite a change. To get to school, we take the subway (el subte) IMG_5432or the bus (el collectivo). The subways are very well-organized and look just like the T in Boston – even during rush hour, when they are absolutely PACKED like pickles and you can’t move or breathe, they still run on time. I only took a bus once during rush hour, and I will never do it again – I was on it for almost 2 hours because of traffic. But the subways only run until 9pm or so, so I take busses after that, even in the wee hours of the morning (they run all night). Since the hours are so strange here, people are out in the streets walking their dogs (SO MANY DOGS – I’ll touch on that later) and hanging with their friends all night long, so I’ve never been alone on an empty street. Petty crime is the biggest crime in Buenos Aires, so everyone holds their bags in front of them (backpacks included), especially on public transportation. Regardless, I’ve never felt unsafe here since there are always so many people around, but it’s still important to be aware all the time. While the busses can be confusing (yesterday, I got on 3 wrong busses before I got on the right one – I wasn’t on the wrong number, but they told me I was on the wrong side of the street, though my map told me otherwise).

Things to which I’m still adjusting (starting in Cape Town):

  • Having running water – washing my hands, brushing my teeth, showering, and using a toilet still seem new to me. After having almost no running water for 3 weeks in Bushbuckridge, I’m still not used to drinking the tap water here,
  • Reliable internet access – my homestay has internet, and our classroom does too. This is still soooo weird. It’s also relatively easy to find at cafes and restaurants around the city, so it’s not hard to message someone throughout the day. Unfortunately, I feel like I’m overcompensating for the almost 6 weeks I had without/very little access to internet (rural stay in Vietnam, 1 week in Johannesburg, 3 weeks in Bushbuckridge, and 1 week in Cape Town. It’s not like I’m hanging out at home with my computer when I should be out, but I definitely am using it more often than I should.

Homestay – I absolutely LOVE my homestay! My host mom’s name is Marta, and technically she could be my grandmother because she’s 82 years old! I never would’ve guessed she’s that old, because she’s really active and able and seems to be pretty busy. I live in Belgrano, which is an area in the northern part of BA, and it’s definitely more upscale than some other areas. We live in an apartment which is such a grandmother apartment – I don’t know if it’s the old teacups, the furniture, or the bric-a-brac figurines on the tables, but it reminds me so much of my grandmothers. It’s pretty spacious, with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a small patio, a kitchen with a small laundry room, a dining room, and a living room, and it’s so nice to have the space to move around and spread out. Marta has lived here for about 50 years, and raised both of her sons here (my homestay partner, Maddy, and I live in one of their old rooms). Marta used to be a teacher, and now I’m not sure what she does (I’ll talk to her more about that), but she likes to swim and walk (just like my family!) and is TOO CUTE. She has two sons, one of whom lives nearby in BA and one in Spain, and the daughter of the son in BA goes to Stanford. I met her on skype the other night (Marta skypes with people ALL the time, and the phone also never stops ringing – she’s super popular). She’s been to the U.S. multipleIMG_5523 times, and her son and daughter-in-law (Eduardo and Ines, whose daughter goes to Stanford) go there twice a year. On our first night, Marta took us for a walk around the neighborhood (I knew I liked her immediately when she suggested a walk). Our neighborhood is full of restaurants, clothing stores, and food stores, especially for fruits and vegetables. I love running and walking in the neighborhood because I always find new parks and areas that I haven’t explored, though I have gotten lost a few times. We’re about 4 blocks from the subway stop, and there are bus stops all down the street, so it’s not hard to get places. Marta is super accommodating when it comes to food. Everyone told me that Buenos Aires would be the hardest place to be vegan, and while they do eat a lot of meat here, it’s not that difficult for me. Especially because there are a lot of vegetarian restaurants, and I can finally FINALLY eat any food I want (aka all fruits and vegetables, raw or cooked). Marta loves to cook, and she has been making all of these delicious vegetables dishes. The only thing I have to complain about is that she puts salt on salad…not into it. Marta speaks some English (her children and grandchildren are pretty fluent), but we speak only Spanish in the house and it’s AWESOME. That’s exactly what I wanted in my homestay experience, and while it can be hard, I’m learning so much every day.

Important things I’ve noticed in BA / things that are impossible NOT to notice in BA:

  • Empanadas – these are absolutely everywhere. People eat them for lunch, snacks, dinner, and there are so many different kinds. Sadly, most of them aren’t vegan, but I had the chance to go to an amazing outdoor market two days in IMG_5587a row (it’s only two days per month, so I got lucky) where they had tons of vegan options, like lentil and quinoa burgers, seitan, and empanadas with “carne vegetal”, so I got my empanadas! These empanadas were also the size of my face. Very worth it.
  • Pay-by-weight / buffets – for those of us with less money to spend (i.e. us with our tiny lunch stipends), these buffet places are great places to go to lunch, and they’re everywhere. I prefer them over restaurants because they have so many vegan options and are significantly cheaper. My friends and I have actually been going to a vegetarian one near our school, where I had tofu for the first time since Vietnam! They also serve tons of raw vegetables, stir fry, cold salads (lentils, tabouli, cous cous), so it’s basically heaven for me.
  • Dulce de leche – it’s everywhere. This caramely confection is an ice cream flavor, cake icing, and sometimes even in empanadas.
  • Kioscos (kiosks) are essentially corner/convenience stores, and there are approximately 4 on every corner. They’re probably every other store walking down the street. Most of the items that they sell are drinks (sometimes alcohol), gum, snacks, and tons of alfejores.
  • Alfejores – these are the beignets of New Orleans, the Chaco Pies of Vietnam, and the Fat Cakes of South Africa. They’re chocolate desserts filled with dulce de leche, and people IMG_5644eat them all the time. You can get fancier ones at bakeries or commercial ones at kioscos, but they. are. everywhere.
  • Dogs – not only do people walk their dogs at all hours of the night, but they walk MANY dogs; I’ve seen up to 10 dogs being walked at once! Thus, because there are so many dogs, there is so much dog poop. Not only do I have to be aware of my surroundings because of pickpocketers, but also I have to be looking down to make sure I don’t step in anything. I already made that mistake on the first day, and I’m not letting it happen again.
  • Mate is a type of tea that people drink all day every day. You steep the leaves in hot water in a special mate cup, typically a hollowed out gourd. The metal straw is called a bombilla (pronounced “bombisha” with the Argentine accent). The way people talk about mate, it’s like marijuana in the U.S. People drink mate in the park with their friends and pass it around in a circle. It probably doesn’t help that the leaves also look like marijuana – if I walked down the street with it in the U.S., I would definitely get some strange looks. I actually haven’t done mate here yet (I can’t say it without it sounding like a drug!), but I’ve had it at home a few times with my friend Julia who studied abroad here a year ago. Mate is super bitter, but it could definitely grow on me. Hopefully the next time I post I will have had it!
  • Tango – there are tango clubs, lessons, and dancing everywhere! We all had the awesome chance to take a lesson last week, and I have to say, it’s really hard. I respect Jordin so much more now after spending 2 hours taking little steps around a circle.
  • Platform shoes – little girls, teenagers, young adults, and older women are ALL wearing shoes with platforms, aka a few inches of extra material to make them taller (not necessarily heels). I’m talking platform sneakers, platform flip flops, platform boots, and platform birkenstocks. And more. While people here are generally pretty attractive and fashionable, this is one fashion statement I’m definitely not into. There is NO way that can be comfortable.
  • Fashion – people here generally look pretty nice, but at the same time, they look comfortable. People watching here is PRIME – people are beautiful, look really diverse, and wear the funniest clothing. Most popular are shirts with the most ridiculous slogans in English:
    • “Everything that glitters is not gold”
    • “You are just a little out of my limit”
    • “I want to start today over”
    • “New York loves me”
    • “This is not a reality show”
    • “Shopping is my cardio”
    • “All you need is love. Or a dog.”
    • And, my all time favorite, “I eat glitter for breakfast” (like WHAT IS THIS???  Are you Ke$ha?)IMG_5392

I have so much more to say, but I’m going to put that in the next post to save you some reading time tonight. I’ll start talking about what we’re actually doing here in addition to all the new things I’m experiencing in Buenos Aires. ¡Hasta luego!