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...