Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Have Carried You, and Now I Return


This will be my last blog post. It was 5 months ago today that I landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and now that I've returned to the United States, a little BsAs lives on in me.

Well, I suppose I should first talk about my arrival back to the US. After learning that I'd have to change airports in New York, it was pretty much smooth sailing and it was when I first landed that I was confused as to why the signs were in English and the people were talking it as well. In fact, when I asked people questions, I couldn't help responding "si," or "gracias." It had become automatic for me! When Michael and I were in downtown Chicago the other day, I thought it looked exactly like Winona. I know you'd say that was impossible, but I think it marks my cultural confusion.

One thing I must say is that right now, I do not exactly have a home. When people in Argentina asked where I was from, I said Minnesota, but that now I live in Chicago. However, that's too simple. I was born and raised in Minnesota, that's true, but I've spent less than a few months there for the last few years, and during the academic year I live in Galesburg, Illinois and I actually live in Wilmette now, which is a suburb near Chicago. When I got to the US, it was even more confusing, because I was living in Wilmette but I mostly lived in Galesburg, but I had just lived 4 1/2 months in Argentina, so it just all became a mess. WHAT I MEAN TO SAY IS... my roots are not planted anywhere. My possessions are completely split between three (formerly 4) places and if that's taught me anything, it's that I don't need much to live on. However, on an emotional level, I've come to realize that I want to start a community somewhere. One of the problems with living in BsAs was that everyone knew I was going to leave, so it was hard for them to emotionally attach to me without knowing they'd have to say goodbye, and I couldn't explicitly get involved in local groups because I was still trying to figure out the area. I really miss that sense of community, and I'm hoping that when I graduate, I can start establishing it wherever I am.

Coming back to a place that you're familiar with, and that hasn't really changed at all, is perhaps the most disorienting thing of all. You think it can't possibly be Chicago because if it was, it would have changed like you had changed. Even things in Michael's house are exactly where I left them... jaja I can't imagine what it would be like if I had first gone back to Winona.

While I was away, I also became painfully aware of something: even though we have at our disposal the technology to stay connected with people far more advanced than even a few decades ago, we are farther from each other than we've ever been. Think about it: when you see someone on MSN, you don't have to IM them, or even if they message you, you don't have to respond. In person, neither of those things would happen. I think people take for granted physical intimacy, even just a hug, and perhaps that's what I missed most. Words over the internet are almost never as powerful as they are in person either; you miss the tone, the inflections, the body movements, etc... I think this is another reason I want to establish a community for myself.

I can tell that I'm so much more confident in myself already. Petitioning for Planned Parenthood made it possible for me to approach almost anyone, but now I feel comfortable doing that in two languages. I also feel emotionally independent and stable. For me, that's a milestone in my life. I was raised with emotionally abusive parents (through which my siblings helped me enormously), and I've dealt with depression and anxiety since elementary school. I also had many bullies at school that the administration failed to protect me against, even after I came forward after years suffering through it. I can't explain everything here that I had to endure, how it affected my life, or how I overcame it, but suffice to say that I'm in a better place than I was before I left. Every year of my life, I become happier; and as someone who was finally given help in high school, at a point when I no longer knew what "happiness" felt like, I think I can count this as an accomplishment.

As I tried to explain to Michael, in the last month I found something that no one can take away from me: inner peace, if you can even give it a label. Don't get me wrong, I experienced some of the most profound loneliness of my life living in Argentina, and it wasn't the extreme sadness of my childhood but the knowledge that it was very difficult to fit into the culture. And it's funny, I kept waiting for the "life-changing experience" to kick in and transform my life, but that's just not how it works. It was in-between my moments of loneliness that I learned what I truly needed, and I think I narrowed it down to these three basic things: activism, nature and friends. All my life I have taken on the "underdog" role, as Michael pointed out recently, just because it's my personality. Because of this, I also know it will be impossible for me not to be politically active. I care too much about the world and its people to be silent and still! As for nature, I never realized how big a part it played on me until I didn't have it anymore. And of course, growing up in a nature sanctuary (as I have now realized Winona to be), I always took it for granted. But just seeing flowers and trees, and all that they symbolize, and laying in grass are things that I'll never see the same again. The last one, friends, may seem obvious, but it's true: I need people around me who care about me to survive. Internet connections are not enough! Thankfully I have a few people in my life now who are always looking out for my best interests. :)

Another realization is that there are at least 2 things you cannot explain: going away to college and studying abroad. Even if a college sends you every piece of literature they have, you visit the campus, you talk to students, you learn about the classes and clubs, everything, one can still not explain the freedom that accompanies it, or the new challenges that one will face. With studying abroad, even if the person is someone you've been close to for years, who has similar interests, who's going on the same program as you, still after all these things no one is able to explain what changes you will encounter by studying abroad. I'm sure it's different in each part of the world, but one thing I think all study abroad students have in common is that you have to either sink or swim; you can't half-ass anything anymore. You either put yourself out there or you flounder. When you succeed, especially in a place that doesn't speak your native language, it makes you realize you can handle even the most difficult situations in life.

I realized more times than I can count is that it was futile to take pictures to try to capture the moment. This is true of beauty, of course, when often nature causes an effect in human beings that only art can seek to imitate. But often there were times when the sheer overwhelming effect of being in that place was impossible to convey; for me, these places included the concentration camps and the marches along the streets of BsAs. I'm not going to say it was fortunate to lose my camera (because twice in a year is harsh), but suffice to say I wouldn't likely have taken pictures anyway.

Speaking of "losing" my camera, getting robbed taught me to be much more cautious than I ever was before. I know my upbringing in a small town is a major reason for my trust in other people, and subsequently living in a small college community where people often leave wallets lying on their desks without hesitation didn't help either. I never felt unsafe in Chicago, and I still do not, but for the future it will hopefully prevent this kind of crime from occurring again.

Something that I did not mention in my blog posts was the switch between host moms. Neli and I had come to be uncomfortable with each other, and I couldn't handle her telling me I had stayed up too late, or that I was bad for being on the computer, or nitpicking about one more thing in her house. I have never responded well to authority and though less than my parents, her approach to me caused me to rebel. Well, I moved in with another lady, Beatriz, who had had many students before me (I was Neli's first), and things improved immensely. She treated me like an equal, and if I spent a Saturday in my room or if I spent it out and didn't return until the late morning, she never chided me, and this made all the difference.

I meant for this blog post to be a lot longer and for it to come out a lot sooner, and I still have a list of topics that I want to write about, but I think there are some things you can keep inside you without losing them. That may have seemed impossible to me as I was growing up, being a writer who wrote for survival. But, I know I won't forget the memories that I created in Argentina--not only in my mind and body, but in my heart and soul as well.

Blessings to all.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Little Gestures

Hola chiquitos,

Well, I meant to publish an original blog a few weeks ago, but since that never happened, here's the recap of my last few days in Bs As. (Sorry for the mixes of the tenses.)

The first thing I should probably talk about was my Iguazu trip. The park, split between Argentina and Brasil, boasts the biggest waterfalls in the world, and even when I was consulting with a fellow creative writer, we were just at a loss of words to explain their glory. You can look at some pictures but they don't do the place justice. Iguazu is the Guarani word for "big water." Legend has it that a god planned to marry a beautiful aborigine named Naipí, who fled with her mortal lover Tarobá in a canoe. In rage, the god sliced the river creating the waterfalls, condemning the lovers to an eternal fall. It was designated a World Heritage Site but unfortunately thanks to deforestation, less than 6% of the original top soil remains. Let me start at the beginning.

We all met at Universidad de Belgrano and took a 14-hour bus ride to first see some ruins of the first Jesuit settlers in the region in the 15th century. It was where they "educated" local Guarani children, and though I have some problems in general with that, it was neat to see how much they built on their complex in such a short time. Next we traveled to an estancia (like a ranch) where we relaxed for most of the day. They had a mate tea plantation, and I found out it had been in their family for 3 generations. Some people swam in the pool and others lay in the hammocks. When it was time to eat, I had some of the BEST meat I have ever had in my life. And this is saying something, because I don't even eat beef in the US and I can't get enough of it here. But literally it was one of those times where every bite you were just amazed at how good it was. We also got to eat hand-picked bananas and guava. :) That night we arrived at St. George Hotel, and I again had some of the best food I've ever had: French Chocolate Mousse, which there is just never enough of in the world, and American Apple Pie, which I had been craving for a while.

Well, the next day we traveled to the actual Iguazu Park and while it was already POURING that day, we had no idea how bad it would get. First we traveled to a small museum explaining how the natives used to live among nature in this region and what kind of animals could be found there. On our trip, we saw a toucan, some small lizards (there was even one crawling on the wall in the hotel restaurant!) and a HUGE lizard (with the whole tongue action), a multitude of butterflies, a vulture and some other strange-looking birds, and coatis. There were also apparently jaguars and alligators there too but we didn't see them. Well, we managed to get to the "Devil's Throat," but not after holding onto the railings for our lives and being pelted with rain that felt like hail. The wind was so strong that they shut down the park, but the trains had stopped working and most of the trails were flooded so we were stranded for a while. Seriously we were all on survival mode. :D

We were supposed to go to a local Guarani village but ISA decided we should go back to the park to see more waterfalls. It was kind of sad because I wanted to ask them about Pachamama, who is a Mother Earth Goddess. Well, the next day was much better weather and we saw waterfalls that looked like falling dulce de leche. :) My favorite were the Two Sister waterfalls. There was also a place where you could go almost directly beneath a waterfall and though you couldn't see much when you got there because the water was so strong, it was definitely an experience. We went back by plane that night, but overall I thought it was a good weekend.

After a first failed attempt, I managed to find the Parque de la Memoria, which is a sort of art center dedicated to the disappeared. It's all outside, and it was first proposed less than a decade ago so it hasn't been finished, but there were over 400 art submissions and only a few have been accepted. The structures I got to see were really fascinating. You can see some of them here. One of the proposed art pieces is a sort of transparent sculpture that would stand on the Rio de la Plata - since so many were disappeared in this river, many felt it was important to have the park near it. The sculpture would be of a 14-year-old boy named Pablo Míguez who was disappeared, most likely for his political beliefs, but still so young that the thought itself is appalling. (However, the average age of the disappeared was 21 or 22.) It would signify how his body "disappeared" but remains reflected on the surface when one looks hard enough. Another art sculpture, one with three houses connected to each other in strange ways, seems very simple but would mean much to those who had experienced being sequestered in silence and darkness for so long. It has open doors and open roofs where colored light filters through. Another sculpture is actually several sticks posted near each other, but when one walks around, you can see it makes the face of a man and many other people. The artist dedicated it to his disappeared father but he wanted everyone to be able to see their loved ones in it. Another fairly simple one is three human-like structures that are hallowed out; they represent a man, woman, and a woman who is pregnant. They are bare in the middle to represent the lack of found bodies. Perhaps the most impressive structure is the connecting walls with the names and ages of the disappeared in Argentina. Of course, it reminded me of the Wall of Memory in Chile, but this one differed in that it identified that people had been disappearing before the dictatorship, but once it finally took over, thousands were disappeared. They have about 9,000 names, but there are 30,000 places to represent the rest that are missing.

Let's see... over the weekend I partied some more. jaja On Thursday, Nea, Jordan and all our Argentine friends went to a bar called Rusty Nail (yes, it's actually called that) and then to a boliche nearby. My dance partner was actually a gay Colombian all night and he said I danced better than most Latinas! So that was a great compliment. jaja Saturday was obviously Halloween, and even though they sell costumes and decorations and stuff, traditions like trick-or-treating aren't celebrated. Well, some of our Argentine friends (Rocio, Rafael, Cristian, Ingrid, and Juan Carlos) threw a costume party anyway, and Nea and I went dressed up as masqueraders, and it was a lot of fun. I'm so glad that I've found a group to party with! I truly feel like I've made more Argentine friends than anyone else I know, and it's certainly not because my Spanish is good. Far from it, I think it really has to do with being outgoing and sympatica. Even though I've perhaps fit in more than the 100 other Americans that I know of, I realized also that the people who live here already have lives of their own, and it's hard to stop it on account of a foreigner that they've just met. I think it's kind of counterintuitive to think you can come to a country that doesn't speak your language and automatically fit in with people you've never known before--I think if I had a year here, I might be able to forge serious relations. As it is, it is only at the end of these months that I have managed to get into the Argentine's hearts.

The other day my friend Sol, the one from the last march I went to, invited me to a rally against prostitution in Argentina. It's quite a big problem here and the government is implicit in its functions. (Apparently I have walked by brothels and not even known it!) A new friend, Ani, explained to me that the police often take homeless people off the streets and force them into prostitution. That is why, when there was a group gathered in front of the Congress building and a government representative appeared, they all booed and hissed at him! In fact, they started chanting this song about "basura" (garbage) with no restraint, and I almost felt bad for him! Of course, I don't know the situation that well, and some others explained that even though he SAID he was standing in solidarity with them, his party's actions spoke louder than his words and they wouldn't believe his lies. First, though, I went to the Psicologia building of the Universidad de Buenos Aires (the campus is one of the hugest I've ever seen - it spreads out across the entire city) where I managed to find two friends I had met last time, Marcos and Alex! Apparently it's a really big hangout for UBA students, and I'm pretty sure students occupy it a lot when they want to protest, which means no class...! I really wish I had gotten to go to UBA; it seems like they take their studies a lot more seriously and there are A LOT more politically-minded students there. UB has nothing of the sort...

Well, I got there and watched a video about how Argentines are still protesting for the right to have legal abortions. Almost no Latin American countries allow the procedure, mostly because they're Catholic, but to me I cannot imagine living in a country where something as fundamental to my reproductive rights would be denied. I feel like that speaks volumes about how women's persons are treated, and though I might never have an abortion, I would feel insecure as to what other rights as a woman may be taken away at any moment. Well, after that, I handed out some fliers about the upcoming rally (I sort of felt like I was working for Planned Parenthood again), and then Alex, Ani and I joined the other people outside the Congress building. In a different sense of the term, many women have been "disappeared" in Argentina, meaning that they were forced into prostitution and then killed without ever having shown a trace of where they had gone. Domestic violence is also a HUGE problem in Argentina, so people were speaking out against that as well. As always, there were lots of socialistas. :)

This may seem rather small, but I finally bought a purse to replace my other one that had been stone. For me, it was one of the final steps to regaining my sense of security again - plus, it's really cute! ^_^

I have finals all this week but mostly I haven't even studied for them because I've studied this period of time so much that I don't sweat it at all. Is it strange that I'm actually looking forward to going back to Knox and taking hard classes?

Another detention center I went to was called Olimpo because of its connections to the Olympics; the Athletic Club was a few blocks away and was also used to hold prisoners. One of the most surprising things about the former concentration camps is learning just how close they were to communities; houses on this street were literally a few feet away. Well, at this one, I was shown all the books that were banned during the dictatorship; in total, there were over 1,000. They included obvious things like Lenin's works but also children's books. For example, one storybook illustrated a person struggling to carry their workload by themselves, and when a partner helped them, everything ended happily. This was seen as subversive and anyone who owned these books were subject to being disappeared. They also bizarrely included mathematics and science books because they were modern and university students were among the top targets. Many musical artists were banned, even North American ones such as the Rolling Stones and John Lennon. Hundreds of movies were also banned. I don't know if it's hard for you to imagine, but for me I cannot think of my government telling me what I can and cannot learn about. Information during this period became very sacred and books were guarded like precious jewels. It was seen as one way to protest the government's atrocities. Well, they also showed me outside where the prisoners were held in the garage (Garaje). Only a few hundred were able to be held at a time, but eventually most were "transferred" to ESMA or boarded on a death flight. I don't want to say these captors were more sympathetic, but they sometimes allowed the prisoners to take showers and look out the windows to see sunlight and hear normal sounds of the world like children getting out of school. Don't get me wrong though, they were all systematically tortured and many were forced to do slave labor like the cooking and carpentry of the place. In fact, when they captured leftist doctors, they forced them to save those who were dying from torture. However, there were some happy stories that came out of the place, like stories of solidarity. For example, the "subversives" would have code names for the guards like M-30,000 (Mataron, "they killed," 30,000 for how many suspected were disappeared) and call each other by their real names instead of the letter-number names the guards would give them to give them back some of their human identity. They would also knock on the cell bars, two meaning "How are you?" and three meaning "Good night" for example. I imagine these gestures meant everything in the world to them.

The last concentration camp I went to was on the street Virrey Cevallos, and this was the least remodeled of them all. Let me be specific: when it was operating, the place was actually three different apartments, but when the human rights tribunals started to arrive, they changed the structures so much that the walls had come down between the 3. Only a few people were kept in these apartments, and for the ones who have survived and come forward, they only know what a few of the rooms are. They know, of course, where the torture chambers were (now it looks like a regular living room), where the cells were, where the bathrooms were (one former detenido remembered feeling the tiles of the shower and so could identify it that way), and where the captors held official meetings of the state. The guide told me that the center is now trying to gather local information from the neighbors about what was passed down by families, and try to recreate what may have happened there from that. In fact, the day I left they were having an open forum with the community to try to decide how they wanted to go about its construction. She invited me to come, and even told me one of the former prisoners would be there (but probably wouldn't be talking about his experiences), but unfortunately I had to fly back that day.

On Friday Juan Carlos and I went to a futbol match between Argentino Jrs. (one of the many Bs As teams) and Rosario. It was so fun! I totally understand why people love futbol so much now. It's much more than just the sport; it's a surge of adrenaline and a sense of community. Kids are taught from very young the chants and motions of their teams, and on either side you could see streamers, signs, colored umbrellas, etc. When the teams come out, people throw confetti into the air and set off colored smoke (team colors of course). When a team scores a goal, people start jumping and yelling, and it's just so infectious that you want to join in. The games always last about 2 hours, and if there is a tie like with what happened at our match, there is no overtime and no team wins. The visiting team is always allowed to leave first out of courtesy, and because it's supposed to discourage fights between the fans. I'm really going to try to watch more futbol now, and I'll for sure be rooting most for Argentina, and Chile too, at Mundial this year!

That last weekend was also Rocio's birthday so went out to Rusty Nail again and I saw Alejandro (the gay Colombian guy) again and also wished him a happy birthday. It was 15 pesos at the door and then all you could eat pizza and drinks, but really, since there were so many people, you could only get a few drinks in the end. So, we (Rocio, Juan Carlos, Rafael, and I) went to Alto Palermo and had a relaxing night. The next day Rocio had a party at her apartment and in addition to those people, I got to see Cristian off and meet her brother. (Nea and Jordan were traveling in Uruguay.) We drank beer and champagne, and still honestly I don't know what happened, but it must have been a bad mix because I got seriously wasted and by the time we made it to the boliche Niceto, I had barely made it in the door before I had to go out again and puke on the curb. :( It was really painful and I wondered why/how that had to happen to me on the last night. Well, at least my friends took care of me, though I didn't get back to my apartment until 3 in the afternoon the next day with almost nothing packed and the bus leaving for the airport at 6. I made it but it goes without saying that it was difficult...

Well, I stocked up on alfajores, dulce de leche, and mate, though I really wish I could bring back some of their beef. I ate dulce de leche ice cream and as much of their meat as I could on the last few days, so hopefully I'll remember those tastes forever... I was really sad when I had to get on the bus to go and cried out that I didn't want to leave. I don't think any of the Americans understood because they had not made Argentine friends. The hardest part was thinking that I'd never see them again, and I know my experience would have been totally different had Rocio and the others not let me into their social group. In fact, I know it would have been worse. I'm very grateful to them and hope I expressed that enough to them at the end. Well, before I get too philosophical (I'm leaving that for the next blog post), I'll end it here.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When You Love Foreign Words...

Hola a todos,

Como andas? Todo bien?

Let me start off with something I did yesterday. I visited Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada, or ESMA. It was a former navy complex that was turned into a concentration camp during the military dictatorship of the 70's and 80's. About 5,000 people "passed through" there, meaning that they were tortured and then usually disappeared in death flights in which the army had told the prisoners that they were going to rehabilitation camps and that they needed a vaccine for a disease that was rampant in the South, but instead it was a tranquilizer so that once they woke up, they realized they were on a plane in the middle of the Atlantic and about to be pushed out. Why did they want them awake? Apparently the logic at the time was that live bodies sink faster. Some of the most disgusting things were that literally 15 feet there was a high school in which kids went to school every day while their neighbors were being tortured. Some of the soldiers also lived on the other side of the torture chambers, and ate and slept without even giving a second thought to the screams of the tortured. To keep the prisoners from talking to each other, they kept them all in the attic (obviously not all 5,000 at the same time) in wooden caskets where they often didn't even let them go to the bathroom. A lot of them were forced to perform slave labor like manual labor but also forging documents of the recently disappeared so the soldiers could use fake identities. Often, the soldiers would make the detainees call their families and say things like, if you hand over the deed to our house, they'll let me go. Well, many families did this, but they didn't let anyone go. The military came to have its own real estate agency because of how much they acquired. In fact, apparently one of the jokes that the survivors (about 200 of them, released into the population so that people would know what was going on, in order to enhance state terrorism) is that ESMA came to have one of the biggest Marxist libraries in the country. Once human rights groups started to come in to the country (the US was never one of them because they had supported the military coup), many of the buildings were altered so that survivors would be disoriented and not remember the layout (although they were hooded most of the time, sometimes they were allowed to see). They moved staircases and caved in ceilings. To this day, the military will not reveal secrets about what happened during that horrific time period, even though they "formerly apologized." Who were the disappeared you might ask?

Blue-collar workers 30.2 %
Students 21.0 %
White-collar workers 17.9 %
Professionals 10.7 %
Teachers 5.7 %
Self-employed and others 5.0 %
Housewives 3.8 %
Military conscripts and members of the security forces 2.5 %
Journalists 1.6 %
Actors, performers, etc. 1.3 %
Nuns, priests, etc 0.3 %

It was usually, but not always, left-wing activists such as socialistas, communistas, etc. Since many students and blue-collar workers were in these movements, they were the most targeted. So, me being an ego-feminist Pagan university student socialist, I would have been disappeared. I often think about it...

I had an interesting discussion about torture. (Don't worry, I won't go into grotesque details.) But basically, I was explaining to my ESMA guide that for Americans, torture is an abstract concept and almost funny; we glorify it in movies and we can watch it because it's something that will never happen to us. If you showed it in Argentina or Chile, I can guarantee you that many would be re-traumatized. So, my opinion is that by adding human elements, such as describing torture in details, it will help people to feel compassion for those who are actually interrogated in such terrible methods, such as those in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq are now. However, she argued that explaining torture would put a limit on what we call it, ("THIS is torture, THAT is not"), or that since there can be no explanation of the excruciation caused by this, on physical, emotional and mental levels, there's no use trying to articulate it. I doubt many of you have thought about this before, but what's your opinion?

I want to take back something I said in my last blog. I said that it was silly for los Argentinos to like classic rock because they wouldn't understand the words; it's the same thing my poetry professor said: people can cry from the sound of a violin without any words. In that same respect, people can listen to foreign music and still thoroughly enjoy it. I know as for me, I have a ton of j-pop and I'll be frank that I don't understand most of it; I've also come to really like a Chilean band called Kudai, and even though I can look up the lyrics and understand it, I don't always and I still just like the sound. The type of dance music that's popular here is called raggaetone (not related to reggae), and all the songs have the same kind of beat, just like American dance songs do (you might not notice it if you've never listened to foreign dance music). If you want to hear what it sounds like, this is a popular song right now, from the same singer of Gasolina, Daddy Yankee (from Puerto Rico). I still don't like classic rock, but I understand why they might. :)

Since I've sorely been missing nature here (seriously, I will never take trees and grass for granted again), I attempted to go to Buenos Aires's ecological reserve but I ended up finding a grassy hill to read on instead, so I stayed there until (of course) an Argentine approached me, asking what the time was (of course, even though he also had a cell phone like the Chilean guy). Random side tangent: the guys here are so forward that sometimes I feel like American men are shy and awkward in comparison. I CANNOT EVEN TELL YOU how many times guys have tried to kiss me; it's impossible to try to even count anymore. If they know you speak English, they'll say what they know (which usually amounts to "baby" or "hello"). It seems like girls and guys aren't really friends here; they're just "together," and they also don't understand the concept of "I have a boyfriend in another country." I've gotten pretty good at ignoring their advances but in this case, I was feeling lonely anyway (PERFECT target right?) and he offered to sit with me. He actually ended up showing me the ecological reserve which was nice, but there were a million people there. I suppose, what can you do in the middle of a city? He also bought me lunch, so you know, whatever works. :) jaja

Over the former weekend Kirby and I went to the Barrio Chino (Chinese neighborhood) and since he had never tried pocky, I forced him to eat some (I got "male pocky" for him jaja). I also bought some pearl milk tea, which was a real treat to me (adding milk to tea is just never the same). I bought this really pretty pink and orange scarf and we ate at a Chinese restaurant. They had a ton of little shops with typical "Asian" things and though I didn't buy many things (I'd already gotten a lot in Japan!) it was nice to see them. I hope I get to visit there a few more times before I leave.

This last weekend was Nea's birthday so we partied... a lot. Thankfully we don't have classes on Fridays here, so we went out on Thursday to an area called Las Canitas which has a bunch of bars. Before, we celebrated at Nea's host mom's house by drinking wine and eating dulce de leche cake (omg sooo good), and then we ended up drinking two glasses of champagne and seven shots (each) between two bars, one at which we kept asking what the bartender he recommended us. It was a good thing we had Jordan to take care of us, though I still ended up getting lost on the way home so I had to take a taxi after all. The next night, we went to a dance club called Caix and because it was Nea's birthday, she and a list of friends could get in right away (some people wait up to 3 hours!). It was so much fun! They played a lot of reggaetone and if anything good has come out of my ipod being stolen, it's that I've been listening to Argentine radio a lot more so I actually recognize the tunes! (Even the cheapest cell phones here are FM-enabled). I really can't say how much I drank considering Nea and her three Argentine friends just kept giving us drinks. jaja One of the best things though was watching the sun rise over el Rio de la Plata; it was so beautiful! I'm proud to say I didn't get home until 7:30!

The next day Nea, her Argentine friend Joaquin and I went to La Plata (let me tell you it was difficult getting up in the morning after like 4 hours of sleep...) to see this futbol game (between Argentine city teams). Well, it was about an hour away, but by the time we got there we were about 1/2 hour late and for some reason Joaquin's "side" wouldn't let him in, and for security reasons, the two teams cannot sit next to each other. Seriously, the violence is so extreme that they have police SQUADRONS come in for the games; I saw crowd control ones, regular police, and security guards that numbered over 40 (and that was only outside!). It was really sad but we eventually found a cafe that was showing the game so we at least got to see it that way... but I could hear all the fans chanting their team's songs and I really wished I could have been in there. I'm going to try really hard to see a futbol game before I go because it's such a cultural experience. Also, in happier news, the national Argentine team qualified for Mundial (finally)!

Oh and after hearing about it on the radio, Stella and I inquired as to whether there was another march starting at the Congress building, and, lo and behold, there was! I talked with some girls who are part of el Universidad de Buenos Aires's student workers' rights group; they actually have a faction within it just devoted to women's rights. When I asked a girl named Sol if she considered herself a feminist, she said no because she thinks that the issue should be fought for by both men and women, not just women. I found that pretty interesting. She also said that people had been striking twice a day every day against Kraft for almost 60 days. I find that amazing; even though just 30 years ago the state would have disappeared these people, their automatic reaction against worker injustice is to protest. I kind of wish it was like that in the US; there you need a permit, and to notify authorities, and then sometimes they still arrest you, so it's like what's the point? The people are so energetic too; there's something about protesting for a cause you believe in that brings an ecstasy like no other. People were dancing in the streets, singing club songs, lighting firecrackers, etc. Even though Knox is really politically active, unlike a lot of colleges, we're just so small and in the middle of nowhere that it would kind of be pointless to protest on campus. Who would be there to watch us? Anyway, to learn more about the situation against Kraft Foods, go here.

Well, I think that's all for now. Chau chicos!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Real World

Hey everyone,

So I've been kind of dreading to write this post partly because there's so much to report on and partly because I have to put down in writing a lot of unfortunate things that have happened lately.

Well, I realized I forgot to tell you about the Celtic Festival that I attended before I left for Chile. It was literally a few blocks from my house, and there were bagpipe players and vendors selling Celtic-oriented things. I bought some Welsh cakes and chocolate imported from Scotland, and technically I also bought one of the traditional Irish rings, but like with all my other rings, I managed to lose that within the night. So I don't know if I can even count that as a purchase. Anyway, the real treat were the performances. There was everything from "classical" Irish music, dancing and one band even incorporated these elements with rock music. It was a lot of fun and I was really happy that I attended.

So, next thing... well, a group of ISA students traveled to Colonia, Uruguay, which is what you would guess, a colonial but touristy town. We traveled by ferry, which by all means seemed to me like the cruise ship I had been on while traveling to the Caribbean, but the only strange thing is that there were seats in the middle of rooms. I was so tired that I napped on the way there (about 3 hours) but I took advantage of the great sunset and moon rising shots on the way back to Buenos Aires. It was a nice and relaxing day, and I got to hang out on the beach by the Atlantic Ocean.

I forgot to mention this march that I went to. It was really one of the most amazing things I've done in Buenos Aires. Well, my friend Nea had gotten word from one of her teachers that there would be a march for the legalization of abortion in Argentina, and of course, we being feminists, decided we'd go and show our support. Well, after being confused as to where it was for a while, we realized that it started at the Congress building and ended at the Plaza de Mayo, which is where we were. It's a good walk so by the time we got there we managed to see the signs that pointed out that they were protesting Kraft (the American company). Literally, everyone started moving en masse so we didn't really have a way of getting out. We decided we'd try to ask what the march was for, and the first people we found seemed ambivalent about the whole thing, but thankfully we found the Socialists soon, and of course us being the Socialistas we are, we asked them! It appears that in Argentina, Kraft has been paying them horrible wages and has also made them work in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. You might be thinking that they just own macaroni, but you'd be wrong. They own quite a few different brands and they're exploiting workers in other countries to produce their products. Well, after the Socialistas decided to pack up and leave the Plaza (there were hundreds of people!), I was invited to go back to their headquarters. I was truly surprised that the government wasn't watching them because of its past human rights abuses; but I was assured that they were not. How then, is it possible that the United States, supposedly the most democratic and progressive country in the world, is wiretapping its own citizens and harassing people for their political beliefs? (I later found out that usually organizations don't even ask for permits to march on the streets in Argentina; it's just assumed that they'll do it and no one can stop them. However, if you don't know, in the US, even after you've gotten a permit to march in the streets sometimes, they still arrest you.) I think in the US you can be either a democrat or a republican, and you will probably be hated by the other side for it, but you will not be persecuted like you would be if you were a communist or another type of radical. My new friends kept asking me how it was possible that not even an inkling of socialism or the idea of "worker's rights" had no place in the US; some simply see Obama as the lesser of two evils because he is not progressive enough. (Personally, I kind of have a political crush on Obama.) I said that it takes time and they asked, "When then, will America be ready?" It's a question I don't have the answer to at all.

So I guess I'll get to bad thing #1 now. I had been planning to go to El Calafate (in the far south of Argentina) for over a month, but after some complications with the airlines and coming to the harsh realization that I wouldn't have enough money to do ANYTHING ELSE if I took this trip, I canceled my plane tickets. I had been looking forward to it since before I had gotten here; there are glaciers that you can walk on and other spectacular nature shots. But, while I regret that I couldn't go, it was probably the right choice in the long run. This was on top of the fact that I got another awful cold here...

I've been trying to keep busy with other things. For example, I went to the Museo de Evita (think: Don't Cry For Me Argentina), which was really interesting because I've learned about her through a historical perspective. Some people really hate her and others think she's a saint (really, they asked the pope to canonize her). To give a very, very brief summary: essentially, she grew up in a very poor family whose father had a "legitimate" family miles away, so she never really saw him. She dreamed of being an actress from early on, and when she was a teenager an agent offered her a role in Buenos Aires, and with permission from her mother, she went. She landed some gigs, but nothing too big. After several years, she started seeing Colonel Peron, and perhaps this was the most significant event of her life. Without getting into the details, he was very popular among the masses of workers because of his socialist policies, and when he was forced into exile by the military, the masses came together to protest and they were forced to return him, where soon after he became president. Though Peron was worshiped, Evita became like the Holy Mother to many people; she personally founded her own charity organization that saw to thousands of peoples' needs. People asked for anything from dentures to houses, and she delivered them with donations from workers' unions. Many people in the upper classes hated her because she had a "bad background," but to the poor who had never had anything in their lives, she was an idol. In fact, and this is another story in itself, when she died, so many flowers were used that Argentina had to import flowers from several other countries. Can you imagine? What happened after her death became almost mythical, but I won't get into it here. :)

I also went to the local zoo, and it was fun, but mostly I felt out of place among all the kids. ^_^' They had many different animals, but I've been to so many zoos all over the US that they kind of lose their charm after a while. I did enjoy the fact that many of their animals just ran loose (they would go sunbathe by the buffalo or the polar bear, but would shy away when people tried to pet them). My favorite animal was what looked like a mini capybara, but I later saw the capybaras, so it couldn't have been them... oh, speaking of capybaras, I saw a goose bite one on the nose! I felt sorry for it. I also saw a male monkey trying to have sex with a female and she slapped him in the face. Oh animal relations.

I've also been reading in the Botanical Gardens of Buenos Aires lately; it's very relaxing there and is one of the very few places where you can look all directions and see trees instead of buildings. They're nowhere near as big as say, the Botanical Gardens of Chicago, but their spring season is just starting here, so I'm sure it'll only grow more pretty by the day. They have a huge population of cats there; animal control doesn't really seem to exist.

My friend Kirby, his two Colombian friends and I also went to a dance club in Palermo called Kika. The cover charge and drinks weren't too badly priced, but I just couldn't get over the fact that they continually played American classic rock. Besides country, that is the one genre I despise the most. Honestly, most of them probably don't even know the words, so why do they cling to it? I definitely don't dance like they did in the 70's (nor would I want to) and I had to be happy with things like Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls" (which is apparently modern). Ah, well, it was still fun. This is in contrast, however, to the club called CroBar that Nea, Jordon and I went to. We got there too early (at 1), so we had to wait a few hours before people started arriving. But once it got started, it was a lot of fun! They played a lot of good remixes of modern American music, and no matter what anyone says, I like dancing to it. Unfortunately, Argentine (and Latin American guys in general) don't understand the concept of solely dancing, and 3 guys tried to kiss me. Sigh. I think I'm exotic to them because I'm an American. However, the cover charge was ridiculous, at least for Argentina (about $20 USD with no drink coupons) and I had to pay another 80 pesos for two glass of vodka and speed (an energy drink). We're not allowed to have alcohol in our host family's houses so obviously so we spend a lot of money ordering drinks at bars or clubs.

Well, I think I've put this off long enough so... for those of you who don't know yet, I was robbed. And to be completely honest, it was one of the most traumatizing experiences of my life. I was always warned to keep my eyes open and be aware of my surroundings, and I did this without a fault. In fact, if I had been alone, I don't know if it would have happened, because I am usually just so alert. The case was that I was with Nea, and we decided spontaneously to go to this one music concert, but once we found out it was canceled, we wandered around trying to find a bar. There are so many things we SHOULD have done, but the fact is that we didn't, and there's no use saying that now. This was right after I had canceled my El Calafate trip, and I just wanted to take my mind off it, so I was acting rather carelessly by speaking English in the streets in a neighborhood I wasn't familiar with, and I wasn't completely aware of the people around me. It was about 11:30pm (remember, the nightlife doesn't start until 3am here) and it just happened to be in that spot of the city that there were no police around. Though there were quite a few people, no one helped. What actually happened is this: Nea and I were walking down the street, just laughing and talking, and I did see the guy (in his 20's) out of the corner of my eye, but what happened was so fast that I was literally in shock. Even though I was holding on to my purse like I had been told to, he somehow managed to pull down so hard on the strap that it broke and left bruises on my arm in the process. If he had tried to grab it from me, maybe I would have had a chance. But that purse was made out of leather, and how was I to know it could break so easily? Well, I was so stunned right after it happened that I just stood there for a second, and then I started running! I always promised myself I would fight back, and I think the adrenaline just told me to do anything I could. Well, after a few blocks, I realized I wasn't going to catch him, and no one had stopped him in the meantime. In fact, Nea and I think he may be one of the guys we passed where we had instinctively started speaking Spanish because they seemed so creepy. The total damage: purse ($100), ipod ($200), camera ($150), keys ($45), Belgrano and Knox IDs ($30), state license ($20), two wallets, one of which was from Japan ($30), bus money ($10), Argentine pesos ($60), powder ($15), and a compact mirror ($15). Now, I put these things in USD amount, but the fact is that as much money as I spent on all these things, I now have to spend more to replace them. What's hurt me the most are the camera and the ipod, the camera because I lost my camera in Japan last year (which was also traumatizing) and it had my Uruguay pictures on it, and my ipod because it has years of music that I'd been saving and that I could find nowhere else, and which I do not have on my computer because of space issues. It's been almost a week since it happened, but I'm still scared to walk around, and I've pretty much refused to leave Belgrano at night (my neighborhood, which is known for being upper-class and quite safe). I still have this awful feeling that someone is about to grab my bag from me again, especially when I see men. But, little by little, I think I am becoming comfortable with the real world again...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Santiago del Chile

Hello everyone,

I have sort of a special blog this time because it´ll only be about my trip to Chile. Here we go!

Santiago del Chile is about 20 hours by bus away from Buenos Aires, but thankfully in Latin America they have several options besides just a regular coach bus. Many companies offer classes called ´semi-cama´ or ´cama suite´ which basically means that your chair will bend almost 90 degrees so that you can sleep. They played lots of good movies (The Departed, Knowing, etc.) and we even played bus Bingo. The food wasn´t that great, but you know, at least it was better than most airline food.

Anyway, I traveled alone because my friend Stella was supposed to come with me but she got really sick. I ended up sitting next to this guy in his 40´s who had traveled to every continent in the world (except Antartica), and had lived in Canada, the US, and many Latin American countries for several years. His hometown was Santiago however. Of course, me being me, I had to ask him what he thought about Pinochet (the Chilean dictatorship who disappeared political prisoners, usually a no-no topic). It was interesting because he remarked that his family hated Allende (the Socialist president who was overthrown) because he had taken away their land that had been in their family for generations. Now, you have to understand something. Only the politically elite had land in their families for generations, and many poor people, especially the indigenous, were left with nothing. I knew immediately that he had come from an upper-class family because Allende had sought to re-distribute land more evenly among the people, and took the large reserves away from the wealthy. It´s not like in the US where people went West and settled wherever they wanted. In Latin America, the friends of the first dictators/presidents received huge parcels of land that they then exploited the Natives and later Africans to work for them as slaves. I had always thought that these families would be such evil people for hoarding the land in such a way, and yet the guy I was sitting next to was really a sincere and intelligent man. I suppose in the immediate circumstances, all he could see was that the president had suddenly taken away his land, but it was an important lesson for me to remember not to demonize people.

Anyway, after customs and all of that great stuff, we traveled through the Andes and it was one of the most spectactular sights I´ve ever seen. I tried to take a lot of pictures out the bus window, but really even my best ones couldn´t capture the massive aspect of the mountains, or catch the colors that seemed to glow from its edges. It was a feast for the eyes on the way back too.

I finally arrived to the hostel, called Don Santiago, and lo and behold, my friend Jessica from ISA was laying in the bottom bunk! It was funny because we had even been talking about hostels when we saw each other at customs. Well, her group of friends decided they wanted to see a trance concert that night put on by this American DJ called Dead Mou5. This, was of course, after they ordered coke (not my friend), (also apparently coke is really cheap in Chile), and got wasted. We got to the concert and it was interesting; my clothes were definitely sharking independently of my body by the speakers. But I think some of the other people I was with also did ecstasy and really I just wanted to go home because it was a long journey. The bad thing was that the concert venue was on the totally opposite side of Santiago. Still, Pato, one of the hostel directors, called a radio taxi for me.

The older man who picked me up was so nice! I asked him if he liked Michele Bachelet (the Chilean president) and he said that politics had been so long in her family that it had gotten corrupt. I can´t say for sure whether that´s true or not, but we did talk some more about politics, and by the time we got to the hostel, the tab was nearly 50,000 Chilean pesos (550 pesos is 1 dollar)! However, the man just made me pay 6,000 and said to have fun, be safe and protect my money. I was so touched!

Well, the next thing that happened started off really badly but turned into something good. Pato had told me these two Australian ladies who had been staying at the hostel would open the door for me when I rang the doorbell, but after 10 minutes of trying, there was definitely no answer (I found out later they were wearing earplugs). I asked one teenage couple walking by where a public phone was, and the guy offered me his cell phone instead! I thought that was a really nice gesture. Unfortunately, the number I had gotten was from this German girl and she wrote the numbers so strangely that we weren´t able to figure them out. So, after wandering around for a little bit to try to find a phone, I came back to the porch of the hostel and sat down and started crying. It was cold, I was hungry and tired, and I was wondering what I was doing in a country where my phone didn´t work, where I didn´t speak the language that well, and where I didn´t have friends I could rely on to save me at a moment´s notice. Well, as this one more person walked by me, this guy asked for the time and as I was getting my cell phone out, he noticed I was crying and asked if something had happened with my boyfriend. (lol) I said no, so he asked to sit down and I explained the situation to him. He was so nice! Mauricio (his name) told me he liked American rap so we listened to some artists like Nas and Dre. He couldn´t understand the lyrics, which I was kind of glad for (because they were soo bad), but he said he liked the beat. (It sounds kind of like me because a large part of my music is in Japanese!) But he really cheered me up and asked if I wanted to go to one of the street festivals nearby. It was Independence Weekend in Chile so everyone was partying. At first I was a little weary but I knew guys in Latin America were rather forward like that and also very protective (he kept saying it was dangerous at night). We first went to a cafe where he bought some beer, and I swear that no matter how much I may try, I will never like beer. But we talked about politics (like usual), and I found out his family was in the military! So his family had been working with Pinochet when he disappeared many of their fellow citizens. I was rather shocked but he said that while good and bad things had happened, it was now in the past.

Eventually we went into the streets where we talked with other Chileans (I´m convinced they´re much nicer than Argentines), and I was given another beer, to my dismay. But when others found out I was a foreigner, they personally asked me if I was okay with Mauricio, and I said yes, but that I understood what they were saying. Later I found out that the park we were in used to be a place where Communists gathered before the dictatorship. Now that people are more open-minded again, some of these radicals still live in the area. Eventually we walked home, and even though I had been very frustrated that I had not been able to get into the hostel, I was very glad by the end of the night that I had not.

The next day I traveled by subway to a local cementary because they held a monument to the disappeared. Well, at least I thought the first cementary I went into was the right one because it had several gardens, all these complexes, elaborate statues and tombs, etc. but I found out that it was actually the one next door. When I finally got there, there was this HUGE stone wall with many of the names of the disappeared and the date that they had disappeared. It was overwhelming. There was a sort of crevice underneath the monument where there were rocks and a little stream where you could place your flowers so they would live longer. I noticed that almost all of them were red, and at first I thought it was to symbolize blood, but I found out it was to symbolize Communism, because many, but by no means all of them had been radicals and red had been their party color. On the sides of the stone wall there were these sort of white long rectangular walls where family members had dedicated little boxes to their loved ones (there were never any bodies). Some of them were so heartbreaking! People had brought cut-out construction paper hearts saying, (translated) "I miss you Papa." There was one who was only 10 years old, and another who had been disappeared as late as 2001!! I bought my own flower, a sort of orange-red rose, and placed it among the rest as my own tribute to them, and I couldn´t help but cry. So many of them had done nothing to deserve torture and death in such a heinous way.

Since it was Independence Weekend, many families had come to put fresh flowers on tombs and I even got caught up with a funeral procession at one point. However, eventually I found what I was also looking for: Salvador Allende´s grave. I noticed it had not been built until 1990, when mostly the military dictatorship had subsided. There is a lot of controvery as to whether Allende killed himself while the military was taking over in el Palacio de la Moneda (like the White House), or he was killed by the bombs or the soliders. Either way, he wasn´t buried for another 30 years. In that sense, his body was not at rest like many of his fellow Socialists for many years.

In the afternoon, Steven, Kristina and Miles had arrived (Kirby mised the bus), and Pato invited us all out to this huge festival to celebrate independence. The closest thing I can liken it to is a state fair, with food, games, and carnival rides, but they also had dance halls where traditional Chilean music was played. It was so fun! We hung out with several Brits and of course some Chileans. We made it an early night (4 in the morning).

Miles and I traveled to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso the next day. It was soo beautiful! They´re like little seaside cities (being next to the Pacific), and in many ways I could compare it to Hawaii. We went on a tour with some Argentines, Brazilians, and Americans, and we ate great seafood and hung out by the beach. We even got to see some sealions nearby! I´m really glad I got to see the place, even if for only a day.

That night Pato, Anna (the German girl), and I went out to the same street festival I had been to before and just hung out and talked. Pato told me something really interesting involving Mexico. You know how horribly we treat Mexicans at the border by letting them starve and go thirsty, or deport them to the border where they have no way of getting back to their hometowns? Well, apparently, the Mexicans are even worse to the Central Americans like the Nicaraguans, Hondurans, etc. As the oppressed often do, they tried to keep the even more oppressed from getting the little that they had. Many Central Americans were born knowing they had to go North, or they would spend the rest of their lives starving. However, to even cross the border to Mexico, they had to pay excessive sums to the Mexicans, the "officials" often raping the girls to be able to gain passage. It´s a sad story that´s not often told, and either situation is horrible.

The next day, we explored downtown Santiago and saw el Palacio de la Moneda, el Plaza del Armas, la Casa del Gobierno, etc. The architecture was beautiful! I haven´t seen anything in Buenos Aires to compare it to. Plus, the streets were clean (there wasn´t shit on the ground!!) and there was actually grass! It was amazing to see that in a city again. Miles and I went to el Museo de los Belles Artes and while it was relatively small, they had some pretty good art. We later parted ways because I wanted to go see el Estadio Nacional where thousands of people had been disappeared (of course!). As another of the hostel directors put it, Chileans used it for playing futbol, holding festivals, killing people... In fact, when I got there, I found out there wasn´t a monument inside like I had been told, but another independence festival was going on outside of it. I decided to go in anyway and stumbled upon this competition where couples performed the traditional Chilean dance to win prizes. After eating some delicious meat and churros, I went to this sort of race track where two horse riders (some were actually women!) had to chase a cow around 3 times in a circle in a small area, and then when the gate was opened, force it to go along the side of the wall where it had to hit a certain line to count for a point. After that was done, they had to bring it along the same wall into another open gate. Needless to say, it was harder than it sounds! Many cows sat down, ran through the middle of the ring, or even tried to jump over the walls! It was interesting, and after buying some jewelry made by local vendors, I left to go back to the hostel. I wondered how those who had been tortured but managed to escape the National Stadium felt about going to festivals right outside of it. What kind of horrible memories would that bring back? Would the pain be too unbearable? Is it impossible to associate a place of such agony as a place of happiness eventually?

One last thing--we got real breakfasts in Chile. Kiwi, oranges, bananas, toast, eggs, tea and coffee. Not just toast like our host families usually give us. I was really sad to leave Chile because of its natural and preserved beauty, and I was also sad to leave a country where I´d never seen such generosity in a people. Alas, here I am in Buenos Aires again, with about a month and a week to go.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Becoming a Porteña

Hello again,

These past few weeks have seemed to be more about fitting into the Argentine culture rather than hanging out with American friends. But I think I'm just only starting to realize what that means.

I left off talking about Noche Internacional and I want to continue with the international students' night at a place that one of our directors recommended. It was actually on the rooftop of a hostel, which I thought was a really cool idea, but unfortunately they really couldn't play the music loudly because of their neighbors. Anyway, I met a girl from Espana, a resident porteno (what the people of Buenos Aires call themselves, sort of like a "port person"), and a guy from Columbia who said he was a Socialist but disliked both his government and FARC (a guerilla group). Unfortunately, the US has decided to set up 7 military bases in Columbia so they can reach all Latin American countries easily; this makes me really upset considering our history in breeding chaos that has led to thousands of deaths through military violence. Plus, undoubtedly, all the guerillas are going to die. My political science teacher said that the president allowed this to happen so President Obama could more easily pass health care reform; if they had said no, it would have looked bad for him. Bizarre right?

The infamous futbol game between Argentina and Brasil (note the spelling) happened last Saturday, and a few of my classmates went to see the actual game in Rosario, but the tickets were almost $200 USD. Instead, a group of us went to a bar in Recoleta where they were playing it on a projector. I don't know how this happened, but we managed to pick the bar that had far more Brasilian support than Argentine! Then again, even though Argentina is a VERY good team in Latin America, Brasil has won the World Cup several times in the last few years. People are really crazy and as soon as someone scores a goal, everyone instantaneously throws back their chairs, stands up and starts screaming! One guy even took off his shirt and started running through the bar! Needless to say, there was a lot of alcohol involved. Unfortunately, Argentina lost 1-3 to Brasil, but it wasn't seen as that shameful since they're a world-renowned team.

Mostly, I've just been trying to stay ahead in classes (though finding the motivation to do homework has been extremely difficult), and finding my way around the city. Today, I took a random bus and wanted to see if I could find my way back home (of course, I decided this half-way through when I realized I wasn't going to the park I had intended). I ended up at a plaza where there were several musical groups playing, including a Native American one that was composed of two men dressed up in their full traditional regalia and using native instruments, many of which seemed to mimic nature's sounds like the wind or the call of a bird, and it was absolutely beautiful! It's too bad I didn't have enough money to buy one of their CD's! Though, really, it all got me thinking... Here are these indigenous men, keeping alive ancient traditions that the Europeans sought to eradicate for hundreds of years, now using these rituals to entertain the same Europeans who conquered their tribes, playing in a city of cement which was originally land that belonged to them. It always comes back to the same question, "What if they had never come...?"

I shall now continue my list of random observances!

1) The colectivos (buses) here are rather strange. Instead of making a loop like they do in most places, they have assigned routes that have a beginning and end, but not an in-between. Does that make sense? You also have to tell the bus driver where you're going so he can assign the correct fare (though it's really only a few centavos different). You cannot buy bus passes, though recently there's been rumors of a rechargeable card.

2) Almost every clothing store her has "Liquuidacion!!!" written on the front. Well, to us of course, that means the store is closing. However, that's not the same here, or every store in Buenos Aires would be closing tomorrow. ^_^' Rather, it just means that there's a sale, and they often have crazy percentages like 40% and 50% off, but those discounts seem to stay up all season as well.

3) Did you know that Argentina has the second highest rate of bulimia and anorexia in the world? It's true. Of course, Japan is the first. I can't prove this, but I think in Argentina it has something to do with the fact that naked women are EVERYWHERE. Really, the billboards outside stores display near-naked or totally nude women who of course are airbrushed, skinny as hell, and are so pretty that it makes an average woman wonder how she can ever compete. It's more obvious to me than ever that we live in a patriarchal society; since heterosexual orientation is the majority, and there are about an equal amount of women and men (leaning towards more women), it is ridiculous to think that straight women, or even gay men, in fact many lesbians, would like the outright exploitation of women's body in this manner. In the curbside magazine stands, they have women with unrealistically huge breasts on the front covers right next to the children's books. I can't say for sure this contributes to the lack of self-confidence that leads to eating disorders, but I'm sure it doesn't help.

4) The value of the dollar here is ridiculous. You might say that the American dollar is doing badly right now, and while that's true, it's also true that it's still much better than many currencies in the world. The conversion rate is 3.8 pesos for 1 dollar. So, even though I eat most cafe meals for about $5 or less, it's not really that inexpensive to Argentines; it's just that I'm bringing "superior" currency. Before you get a big head, just remember that our power has come from subjugating countries like Argentina.

5) The presence of Coca-Cola here is overwhelming. And I'm not talking about the drink - I mean the company. I used to think that the reason it was so powerful was because it was well-liked around the world; that's definitely not the case. Coca-Cola has built many factories around the world with incentives to local communities that it would benefit them, and maybe it has - but at what cost? Just think about how much they must make the local owners pay to have their establishment there (maybe over half?). Does that really create a hard-working business ethic? So much is owned by them here - chairs, tables, even entire restaurants. It's impossible to say which companies they have supported over others for their own interests. To mention nothing of the fact that they used Jewish slave labor in Nazi Germany during WW2 to operate their factories, or their flagrant disregard of the environment around the world, in South America Coca-Cola has gone even further. This is from a New York-based committee that included city officials, who after investing the incident, found that:

To date, there have been a total of 179 major human rights violations of Coca-Cola's workers, including nine murders. Family members of union activists have been abducted and tortured. Union members have been fired for attending union meetings. The company has pressured workers to resign their union membership and contractual rights, and fired workers who refused to do so.

Most troubling to the delegation were the persistent allegations that paramilitary violence against workers was done with the knowledge of and likely under the direction of company managers. The physical access that paramilitaries have had to Coca-Cola bottling plants is impossible without company knowledge and/or tacit approval....

I didn't know about this at the time, but I'm pretty proud of the US for standing up to one of its own major corporations in spite of the fact that the US has supported military dictatorships for years. Since foreign corporations have an infamous history of exploiting workers in other countries by paying them next to nothing and making them work under hazardous conditions, the union members likely went on strike to fix that. Apparently Coca-Cola wouldn't hear any of it though.

To see an entire list of its violations, see Wikipedia.

Five of my friends and I are traveling to Santiago, Chile next week so I'm really excited. I'll make sure to tell you about it when I get back! Hasta luego!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The World's Presence


Sorry for sort of slacking lately. I'll try my best to remember everything that's happened in the past 2 weeks...

I finally went to see the Madres de la Plaza (before they left this time!) and it was an amazing experience. I originally had written questions to ask them, but it turned out that talking to and trying to understand them was the easiest way to go. One Madre said she had been marching for 33 years. Can you imagine that, 33 years?? What have you done at least once a week for 33 years? (For those my age, we have to tag on an extra 10 years to try to understand even that!) Their courage is amazing to me, and one Madre in particular told me there was still much hurt and sadness in those who had their children disappeared. I suppose the pain of losing a child is hard enough, but to know that it happened to thousands, and that they were probably tortured for no good reason, and then your objections were suppressed, only to never have a proper saying goodbye ceremony, is just tragic. I bought a t-shirt and a book of poems written by those who had been tortured but escaped. It's definitely going to gauge my hold on Spanish! The best part was probably marching with them. There are two groups of Madres now: the ones that simply want to remember and raise awareness about the disappeared, and those who fight for political reform. Currently, they are fighting for agrarian reform (which is basically trying to re-distribute land among the poor). People come to see them every Thursday so they often join in with the march too. Surprisingly enough, the Madre told me she likes Cristina Kirshner, which is rather shocking considering just the other day she compared the "loss of soccer goals" (back story: Argentine TV stations couldn't come to an agreement on airing futbol matches, which is of course a huge deal, but then La Presidenta decided to use $600 million dollars worth of taxpayers' money to show them anyway) and "the disappeared." The fact that she compared soccer and the disappeared is appalling, considering she lived through that time period, and um, she's the president of Argentina!

Anyway, a few friends and I also went to MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires) and it was a great art museum. They hold a lot of modern art, but it was actually the kind that makes you think, unlike the black paintings at Knox that are supposed to make you realize there was once a masterpiece underneath, but you can't, because you never saw them in the first place. They had a few Frido Kalho paintings as well as some of Andy Worhol's works. There was this crazy bench that sort of "melted" on its left side to become vine-like and that crawled up through the walls to the second floor! It was really neat.

After one of my classes last week, I decided to do some exploring and found this indoor mall. Well, right at the end of it, there was an anime shop and as I stepped into it, I told myself not to get too excited. But then I couldn't control myself as they had TONS of Sailor Moon stuff, plus nearly all of the mangas I've read! I picked up Card Captor Sakura, Chobits, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Rurouni Kenshin, Tsubasa, and even Paradise Kiss buttons! And I bought some Sailor Moon mugs too. ^_^ I was in heaven (or Summerland if you're Wiccan, or the equivalent)!

Yesterday, a few ISA friends and Nea (from Knox!) went to an Irish Pub. It was really good getting to catch up with someone who totally understood my world; talking about drama (which you can't have Knox without!), classes, Senate, sororities, etc. Plus, the whole menu was in English (to be authentic) and they had some funny drink names, like Orgasm, Blowjob, and even Shit on the Grass! I had an Irish Flag and a Soho. :)

Tonight was definitely one of the funnest times I've had while in Buenos Aires. The Universidad de Belgrano hosted an International Night where all of the foreign students came together to represent their countries. Mostly, this meant hosting a stand where you had a few foods and lots of alcohol. (America was represented by PB&J, apple pies, jello shots and even a beer bong!) The Germans had meatballs, the French had bread and cheese, etc. But really, they ALL had alcohol. Even Japan was pouring sake in addition to making onigiri. Afterward, they had a dance party where they played international music, and 2 of my friends performed tango, and 2 other friends performed swing. They were awesome and I thought they represented the US well! There were also some Americans that performed line dancing, and I was actually impressed. It was really fun.

Other than that, I've mostly been keeping busy with classes and hanging out (usually at cafes) with my friends. Next I shall conclude with my "thoughts" section. :)

My friend Stella and I were talking about what it means to carry your country's baggage. (She has a particularly wearisome burden because she is from Germany.) Like it or not, we all carry that baggage. As Americans, we have hefty weights on our shoulders. Not only are we accountable for the genocide of thousands of Native Americans, but we are also guilty of creating strife in places we had no right to (this includes Algiers, Vietnam, the Koreas, Japan, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Nicaragua, and probably many more places that I'm not personally aware of). We've colonized islands (one of which we still own), created military dictatorships, contributed to low-wage factories across the world, been a prime component of pollution and the destruction of nature, eliminated political systems that were not favorable to us, among many other travesties. In the US, I often find myself railing against our country (and myself in essence) because of these atrocities. I suppose, in a way, that it lets me distance myself from it, and then protect myself by saying, hey, look, I'm not a, b, and c. But does that really fix things?

The best way, in my opinion, to "alleviate" feelings of shame or guilt over these incidents is to do something about it. (Whether you "think" you contribute to our historical racism, or to Native American poverty, or other systems of oppression is really irrelevant; it has nothing to do with your ancestors either. YOU NOW benefit from the land our founding fathers took, from the religious discrimination they embedded into their idea of government, etc.) I for one have been active in the feminist and Pagan movements for many years now, and it's helped me to come to grips with the fact that my country has been dominated by patriarchy and patriarchal religion for centuries, but I have also realized that I can also raise awareness to change that. I COULD be doing more, and I've been openly criticized for not including racial minorities in my clubs, but I think by me just being a Socialist feminist Pagan environmentalist, I'm contributing a lot more than most people who just go about their daily lives without thinking about anyone else.

And what about the good things that the US has provided? It's often easy to lose track of them while you're a jaded college student rebelling against the "system." Even if it was at the expense of the rest of the world, we've developed the fields of technology and medicine like no other. Without both of those things, I might not be alive to write this, and I definitely wouldn't have a computer to write it on! In addition, we have in many ways paved the road for feminist and gay rights movements and for socially-elected, Constitution-based governments. We've contributed billions of dollars in foreign aid and even perhaps had one of the first and leading movements in environmentalism. In terms of the arts, we've contributed to the fields of dance, literature, music, etc. We boast some of the best athletes in the world. Even though there is a radical right-wing movement trying to sabotage women's right to choose (even through death, as it were!), we have firmly never looked back since Roe vs. Wade. The US might not be perfect, and there may be some who spoil it for the rest of us, but at least among my friends, I've very proud to call myself an American in their presence, and in the world's.

That's all for now, have a great day!