Monday, August 3, 2009

One Death is a Tragedy, One Million is a Statistic

Hello again everyone,

I hope this note finds you well. As for me, this last week has been a little hard because I've been missing people back home terribly, but thankfully, with everyone's support, I've been able to get to a place where I'm okay again. I am in a great city after all.

Anyway, let me tell you about my week! On Monday a group of our friends went back to San Telmo, which is a hot spot for tourists. It's like a giant market that takes up 7 blocks or so, and they sell everything from chandeliers to imported jewelry to paintings. In essence, they are things you don't really need. However, I couldn't resist from buying a photo of Las Madres de la Plaza; in this particular one, a mother is holding up a picture of Jorge Lopez, a man who was about to testify against his torturers in the 70's when he disappeared in 2006. Yes, people are still being disappeared. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, look up La Guerra Suica, or The Dirty War.)

I talked to my host mom and her children about it (they're in their 40's) and they have some stark differences in opinion than me. To me, the madres are heroes because despite the military crackdown that eventually tortured and disappeared over 30,000 people in Argentina alone, they continued to protest, demanding to know where their children were. It's a little complicated to explain, but the main reason that the military allowed this group to continue protesting was because they were the essence of motherhood, and in an effort to destroy communism and left-wing politics, they were trying to illustrate that a liberal society would never allow this to happen. Anyway, the madres are still active, and my host mom dislikes them because she thinks they are getting too involved in politics, and that their newest president is not helpful to their cause because she is not only mad at the former dictatorship, but the world.

In addition, Neli's family contends that the only reason I am interested in the "disappeared" is because I was not part of it. This is probably true; for most Argentines, they just want to put the painful past behind them. Despite the military's attempts (in both Argentine and Chile), left-wing politics such as socialism have gained a strong foothold in these countries in the last decade. One thing you have to understand is that in almost of Latin America, the people are not the evil, the government is the evil. And not in the George-bush-doesn't-support-abortion way, but in a way that has caused extreme turmoil between the right and the left and left thousands starving, jobless and homeless. That, and a number of other factors (including the US's funding of arms, education and media), is why militaries have taken over in many countries. In fact, in Honduras right now, some people are welcoming the military to power. My host mom contends that Zelayo (the ousted president) was a dictator, and even though she lived through what happened in the Dirty War, she does not necessarily think a coup is a bad thing.

Argentines are known for their passion for politics, and right now, the political scene has most Argentines (rural and urban) detesting Cristina Kirshner, the current president. Her husband was president before her, but the way Neli explains it to me, she SAYS that she has liberal policies, but she in fact practices conservative policies. Many people think she will be impeached before the next election, and many compare her to Bush, Chavez and Castro. The fact that there are disappearances during her political reign personally strikes me; a lot of the officers of the Dirty War have either been executed or have left the country by now. That means that there are still people in power who do not want the truth to be spoken, and that's more than a little concerning. Anyway, on an uplifting note, the Argentines seem to like Obama, but don't get me wrong, they deeply despised Bush. But then again, who in the world didn't by the end?

I'm sure I'll talk about the Dirty War again at some point; it's really the main reason I came here. Thankfully, my classes are starting to get into full swing. Here's what I'm taking: Political and Social Change, Comprehensive History of Argentina and Latin America, Argentinean and Latin American Economy, and Argentina: the Making of a Country through its Literature. I've never taken an economics class in college, so I hope I'll stay afloat in that one, but the rest are just what I wanted to study. Thankfully, all of them are in English so I won't have to worry about that part.

On Friday some of us went to Parque Centarrio, which was refreshing because there are sparsely any plants or trees in the actual city, and being in nature is a necessity, at least for me. Did you know that humans actually feel happier (I think it has something to do with endorphins) when they're surrounded by nature? Just saying. Anyway, it's still winter here, and thus cold, so we soon wandered over to the Museo de Ciensias Naturales, where they had a dinosaur exhibit with many of the bones found in Tierra del Fuego (the "end of earth") off the south Argentine coast.

It got me to thinking: how do Christians reconcile their beliefs with history? I'm definitely religious but I contend that we don't know everything, and I don't think we have to either. Both scientists and religious people need to learn that, in my opinion. Anyway, they also displayed fossils from ancient fish (some were like 50 feet long!), ancient armadillos, ancient birds, etc. They also had a frog exhibit, I guess because it's the Year of the Frog. Did you know that?

Anyway, speaking of Christianity, Argentina is statistically 94% Roman Catholic, and it was definitely fun trying to explain Paganism to Neli and her children. Wicca is actually big in Brazil, but for the rest of Latin America, some of which have Christianity as their state religion, it definitely hasn't stood a chance. Well, I tried to say that I believed in ancient Gods and Goddesses, like the ones of Greece. They were then convinced that I wanted to go to a Greek Orthodox Church; they really don't seem to understand that Europe was Pagan for 7,000+ years before Christianity arrived. Then I tried to explain it in terms of Native American beliefs; I said that I believed the Earth was divine, and then they told me about the remaining tribes and their worship of Patchamama, who is an ancient local Goddess. I didn't dare go into Witchcraft; there are enough crazy zealots in the US trying to eradicate Witchcraft, or in the way I'm using it, ancient beliefs. Actually, a Mexican (Catholic) on the trip said that he doesn't think the Inquisition was that bad, and that people should stop making such a big deal out of it. He justified it by saying that it wasn't as bad as the Holocaust. I'm lucky I didn't go crazy right there, but seriously, how many people have to die before it becomes worthy of note? 500,000? Two million? I guess the horrors of the Congo don't matter because there weren't as many people killed as the Holocaust; I guess Japan's massacres of Chinese and other Asian cities doesn't matter; I guess the atrocities of Bosnia don't matter either. It goes without saying that there were many, many less people at the time of the Inquisition than there were in the 20th century, but these people were being killed not because they WERE Witches, or people who practiced ancient beliefs like seasonal festivities, spellwork and herbal medicines, but they were mostly CHRISTIAN WOMEN who were accused of being Witches, or people like me. Just today, I saw that the Vatican, about a decade ago, officially released a statement blaming "Neo-Paganism" for the Holocaust, when in fact most Nazis used Christianity to justify their genocide of the Jews! I'm always between outrage and sadness when I read these things, and it's only my activism that allows me to go on in a world where the dominant religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) would eradicate me if they could. I didn't even bother bringing my religious jewelry to Argentina; I knew they would judge me, and judge me harshly.

I guess I should have warned everyone that if you'd read my blog, you'd be reading about my beliefs too!


Yesterday the ISA group traveled to El Tigre, which is part of the Delta, a 21000 square km waterway that flows into the the Rio de la Plata, and then to the Atlantic Ocean.

We had to travel by boat because part of the city doesn't have roads; they use boats to get everywhere. In fact, the Colective (the name for the buses here), is a boat that gives rides back and forth between the city and Buenos Aires daily. Eventually we made it to the Puerto de Frutos, which is like a little city that sells various things like mate cups, handmade bags and purses, and even dogs! I'm really not sure who would go out that far just to buy a dog, or if people routinely think they need to buy one when they're wandering through the port. Anyway, later on in the day, we stopped by a restaurant where we had reserved tables on the second floor, and we ate snacks and drank Submarinos (a type of hot chocolate, but where you put a bar of chocolate in hot milk and stir). It was really cool because it was on the coast of Buenos Aires, and you could see the city from a distance.

Later on that night we all went out to celebrate the birthday of our friend Jessica. She was turning 21, but here the legal age to drink is 18, and that's really only a formality. The funny thing is Jessica actually went to school with my friend Claire from Knox, and we all bonded separately over feminism! To top it all off, we're all going to in Buenos Aires for the semester. Small world, right? Anyway, we went to a sort of international bar called Sugar, but it took nearly half an hour to get in. It was so sad; they actually had a sign on the front door telling people not to dance. So, mostly, we all sat in our own corner on the second floor and drank. (It was at this point we all had our first shots in Buenos Aires, which were really more like double shots. It was awesome.) Remember how I told you that native Argentines stay at the bars until 7 in the morning? Well, I had been awake since 8 that morning, and I finally had to leave at 5am because I was falling asleep on the chairs. I haven't made it quite yet, but I promise you, I will!

Here's a bit of humor to end the post, as told to me (originally in Spanish) by Neli's son.

What do you call a person who knows two languages?
What do you call a person who knows three languages?
What do you call a person who knows four languages?
What do you call a person who only knows one language?

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