cuentos de la cubana; aventuras en argentina.

Please forgive me for my lack of recent updates; I’ve been having a hard time figuring out how to share all of my cultural experiences with people who are thousands of miles away. I’ve also been incredibly busy and trying to soak up every bit of culture while it is right at my fingertips. I’ve accumulated a bunch of anecdotes of life here in Argentina and tried my best, to little avail I feel, to share them with you all here. Please, if nothing else just LAUGH. With me or at me, just laugh.

¿Sos colombiana? ¿Sos brasilera? ¿Sos mexicana? ¿Sos venezolana? ¿Sos puertorriqueña? ¿Sos cubana? I know my Spanish is progressing, although I am nowhere near perfectly fluent, because this is a relatively accurate account of the series of questions I get when I first meet someone. I am often told that I speak with some sort of rhythm; as if my words are dancing out of my mouth, something the Cuban’s as well as other Central American’s tend to do. When I finally give in and tell these new acquaintances that I am from the United States, questions usually follow along the lines of ‘Do you have Latino parents or relatives?’… ‘No? Well then where did you learn your Spanish?’… ‘Where did you get your Central American accent?’ Most are shocked when I explain that I have studied Spanish for about seven years and have learned a majority of what I know in an academic setting. With each and every colloquialism that I pick up, I’m getting closer to tricking people into thinking I’m Argentine.

NO ONE voted for the president, but somehow she got elected. I am living in Argentina during a pivotal time in their political history. On August 14th they held a set of obligatory primary elections (fines supposedly imposed for those who don’t vote). 2011 is the first year they have held these national primary elections which, according to the majority of Argentine’s who I have spoken to reveal how the actual elections will turn out. In order to avoid a runoff election in October, the winning candidate, most likely Christina, will have to hold at least 45 percent of the vote or 40 percent of the vote and 10 points lead over the closest contender. With Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner holding about fifty percent of the primary votes of the country this country will likely see another term with a woman in office; a somewhat unpopular woman, as far as everyone I’ve talked to is concerned. The likelihood of any of the other hundreds of political parties coming even close to 30 percent of the nations support would be almost impossible. My host mom made a comment the other day about Christina being in office to the effect of ‘I don’t know how she won because NO ONE voted for her’. It’s been really hard for me to grasp this concept; the fact that someone who received no votes can be elected. Somehow, in this country it has managed to happen. One thing is for sure, it had nothing to do with intoxicated voters; see below.

Don’t drink and vote. The first ever primary elections took place a couple of weeks ago, Sunday August 14th. From around 8pm on Saturday night until late Sunday night, stores are not allowed to sell alcohol. This happened again in the capital of Mendoza province, Ciudad de Mendoza, where I live this past Sunday as they held separate elections for the mayor of the city (even the locals don’t know why they have two different voting days). I had no idea that these mayoral elections were taking place and was confused when the beer display at the front of the store was wrapped in caution tape. It almost seems to me that they monitor drinking and voting here in Argentina more than they do drinking and driving – I saw a man drinking out of a liter of Quilmes at a stop sign as I was walking home one night last week.

There are no lines at stores in the United States, right? As we jumped behind four or five carts in line at the grocery store one day last week, my host mom asked me a question that caught me incredibly off guard. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself when she asked me, as to confirm something she had heard before or seen on TV or in the movies, oh so seriously if we had to wait in lines at stores in the United States. I had to try to explain to her that yes, indeed we too have to wait in lines, and yes, sometimes they are long, and no they do not just have unlimited cash registers to open up to avoid said lines.

Getting a job in the United States is based solely on what you know, not on who you know, right? I don’t know who brought this rumor to Argentina but I once found myself chuckling as my host mom and a couple of her friends tried to explain to me how important connections and contacts are as far as getting a job in Argentina is concerned. After they explained all of the politics of the job market, they asked me ever so seriously, “Pero no es así allá, en los Estados Unidos, ¿no?” Luckily I had prepared myself because I knew it was coming, “It’s not like that in the United States, is it? I tried to let them down as easily as I could and I explained that yes, it truly is, and I am afraid it always will be “Who you know, not what you know”.

Take a number and take a seat. And bring a book, a LONG one. I had to ‘run’ to the bank the other day to pay some fees in order to get my student visa. I needed to run some other errands downtown and my host mom was headed there too so we hopped on the bus together and after taking passport pictures, I headed to the bank. Thinking I could just hop in line and pay the 30 peso fee, I told her I would meet her back at her bank as soon as I was finished. I walked up to the counter to ask one of the bank staff if I could pay these taxes here at the bank. When he responded enthusiastically, “Si, los puede pagar acá” (Yes, you can pay them here), I for some reason thought that ‘acá’ was referring to this counter I was standing at. I thought I could pay these taxes right then and there. I thought, wow that was easy, I can’t believe I didn’t have to wait behind ANYONE in line. Little did I know his ‘acá was actually referring to the bank in general. He chuckled a little and then told me to grab a number and take a seat. As I looked at the waiting area which resembled an airport gate three minutes before boarding, I doubted that all of the people were waiting for the tellers just as I was. Then I looked at the number I had just pulled; it read 274. I held my breath and crossed my fingers then looked up at the panel on the wall at the front of the bank; it read 105. Optimistically hoping that there was an error with the panel or that they had to insert a new roll of numbers and we would magically skip to 200, I took a seat. After about 30 minutes, good people watching and a few good chuckles to myself, I quietly rose from my seat and RAN out the front doors of the Banco Nacional Argentina.

Don’t quit your day job. I’m taking an Improvisation class in the theater department at la Universidad Nacional de Cuyo. There are no words to describe this class and the fact that I’m clearly a misfit; except for maybe HYSTERICAL. Each week we have to present trabajos prácticos or short skits that we put on for the class. My argentine theater debut was a short skit that was to combine multiple artistic ‘languages’ as they are called; music, dance, theater, painting, etc. Our group decided to do a mixture of song and dance; through song and dance we identified each person’s individual interests and then came together at the end with a song and a short verse of poetry that united us all. Let’s just say I’m no actress, I’m no singer, and I’m no dancer. And although I’m having fun, my cheeks definitely got red when the professor said to our group, “Si hemos aprendido algo hoy, hemos aprendido que hay algunas personas quienes no actúan bien, otras quienes no cantan bien, y otras quienes no bailan bien. Lo que tenemos que hacer es improvisar con lo que tenemos y elegir y distribuir roles que nos sirve mejor”. [Translation: If we’ve learned anything today, we have learned that some people can’t act, some people can’t sing, and some people can’t dance. What we have to do is improvise with what we have and learn to choose roles for the members of our group that fit each person’s talents best.] Don’t expect to see my face on the big screen or to see me to be walking the red carpet ANYTIME soon.

Horoscopes tell all. Since I’ve been here in Argentina, I’ve been asked countless times what sign I am. I’m an Aires. Which means, according to my astrology savvy Argentine friends means ‘tengo mucho carácter’ which basically means I’m a lot to handle. As if I didn’t know that already. I can’t tell the number of times people have told me who I get along best with, who my astro-spirit clashes with and how I am as a person in different areas of my life. I wish I could fully believe everything they tell me, but for some reason I’m not fully convinced – probably the fact that I’m an Aires. It is interesting and slightly comical to see how people make assumptions and truly believe they can understand the ins and outs of the universe based simply on astrology.

I doubt many of you made it to the end of this extremely long and excessively divergent (you can blame my Aires spirit for that) post. However, if you did (bless your heart), before you go on with your day, take a second to find a joke in language other than your first. Send that puppy through Google translator and have a good laugh. As I have found, there is nothing more rewarding than laughing in a foreign language.

foto del día – 8.26.11

The Chilenos are in town, and they brought their chilean slang. Five students from DU, including one of my best friends, Kristin (pictured above) are here in Argentina this weekend. Because of the nationwide shutdown that occurred on Wednesday and Thursday as a result of the national riots for better public education, the IFSA students studying in Valparaiso were given a five day weekend. So, instead of sitting on their couches and watching countless hours of trashy US television online, they decided to make the what turned out to be eleven hour bus ride across the Andes. Yesterday, they got to spend some time walking around the city, checking out local restaurants and a chocolate factory. Today, they are headed to Portreillos to hike and do the zip-line tour that I did a couple weeks ago. Tomorrow they have a bodega tour planned that includes a couple local vineyards and an olive oil farm. A few of us who live here in Mendoza are going along for the ride!

It’s so nice to have visitors in South America and see familiar faces! When Kristin and I sat down in our freshman seminar class about Popular Poetry two years ago, I never would have thought we would meet up in South America. But, here we are, speaking Spanish, eating empanadas and laughing over a wonderful glass of Argentine vino.

foto del día – 8.13.11

Thanks to the Arrayanes Instituto de Alta Gastronomia, I’m now officially trained (certificate available upon request) in preparing a few of Argentina’s most popular dishes. The menu, all prepared by myself and the other IFSA students, went as follows:

Appetizer: traditional Mendocianan empanadas filled with beef, hard boiled egg, and one black olive each and rolled to (im)perfection.

Main Course: Bife de Chorizo con chimichurri y papas al horno (Beef with chimichurri sause and baked french fries)

Dessert: Flan con Dulce de Leche

–A few of my classmates and I, waiting outside impatiently for our food to finish cooking inside the insitute!

please forgive me, i’m converting.

Dear gods of type-A-anity and all of my fellow type-A followers,

Please forgive me; I’m converting. Why, you ask, would anyone give up order, reason, and planning for disorganization and chaos? SANITY. It’s nearly impossible to live a type-A life in a predominately type-B country. As I sit  here at one of my new favorite cafes (recommended by my host mom) and try to create a color coded excel spreadsheet of my schedule for the entire semester (I blame my accounting brain for this), the Argentine’s are busy living perfectly successful lives sans aforementioned carefully calculated spreadsheets and to-do lists. So as I realize I’m missing out, I’m slowly (very very slowly) converting to what I like to call type-B-anity. Who knows… by December, I may be a fully fledged type-B. BEWARE.

Sometimes I wonder how a country can function with so little planning and a great lack of internal organization. Although I haven’t quite exactly figured out how, one thing I have figured out is somehow, it just does. As I try to explain to my host mom how much I have to learn when it comes to living my life so haphazardly all she can do is laugh and mutter, “María, somos un país MUY desordenado. Pero por lo menos, funciona.” (Mariah, we are a VERY disorganized country but, for the most part we get by just fine.)

There are a couple parts of my new life where this lack of order has been incredibly prevalent and also somewhat trying. First off, figuring out my classes has been a struggle, to say the least.

Reason #1.The US education system allows most students to take classes in multiple disciplines from different colleges within one University and allows students to choose professors and a schedule they like. Argentine students on the other hand decide long before they even attend university what they will study. After choosing a carrera (similar to a major), they are given a strict set of classes that they must pass in order to receive their degree. Each semester, students in each carrera take a number of classes; all together, in the same building with the same professor. Their schedule works because they all take these same classes; hopping from one materia or class within the same college is NO problem at all. You should see their faces when I try to explain the fact that I’m taking classes in the theater department (Improvisation – stay tuned for HYTERICAL accounts from this class), the school of social work, and the school of language and philosophy. As American students with a very different system of credits and various requirements, integrating into this system automatically creates problems.

Reason #2. I have to find classes that will actually transfer back to the University of Denver.

Reason #3. Because I am taking classes in various carreras, I have to find classes that don’t overlap. This has proven to be one of the most difficult feats. WHY?

a. At any moment professors have and take full advantage of their right to change the time and location of his or her class.

b. Although all of the facultades or colleges fall under the umbrella of the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, each college functions completely independently – each with its own politics and personality.

c. The only place to actually find class schedules is inside of each individual facultad, usually posted on a wall on the second or third floor on some arbitrary wall or bulletin board.

–I’ve made it through the week and have figured out a schedule that works, more or less..I don’t start class until 1pm at the earliest but I also don’t finish with class until 7 or 8 at night, 9pm on Mondays. I’ve had some great encounters with local students; they say they can pick out exchange students immediately (the fact that I arrive 20 minutes early to each class may have something to do with it) and have been great at  helping me integrate into their facultades. I’ve also had a good laugh about the fotocopiadora (copy center) which produces thousands and thousands of (illegal) sets of copyrighted academic material each day. Students here don’t buy books, instead, at the beginning – or at least within the first month- of each semester each professor creates a folder of all of the required reading material and bring it to the fotocopiadora. From this master set, each student requests a copy and pays almost nothing for material that would normally put them out thousands of pesos. I can’t do anything but laugh and hop in line to get my very own copy.–

When else did my type-A personality kick my butt? This past weekend was especially type-B-esque. A few of us from IFSA had planned to go to Potrerillos, a small mountain town with hiking and beautiful hiking and a crystal clear lake. A few of us tried to go Saturday but unfortunately didn’t get spots on the bus. So Sunday, we tried again; set our alarms for the break of dawn and made our way to the bus station by 7:00am to secure a spot on the bus that was set to leave at 8:25am. After a brisk morning speed walk to the bus station about 35 minutes from my house, we were able to purchase out tickets ($AR 8.70 a piece. I’ll let you Google that conversion!) for the 1.5 hour ride to Potrerillos. The catch? We couldn’t purchase return ticks. The man behind the counter insisted we could just purchase tickets with the driver on our way back, when the bus was headed back from Potrerillos at 4:30 that afternoon. The fact that this bus has somewhat of a set schedule was a miracle as I should have been extremely thankful but the fact that one girl in our group has been sold a return ticket that morning made me somewhat skeptical. We made it to platform 48 just in time. Our bus, schedules to leave at 8:25am was pulling out of the terminal at 8:05, ahead of schedule. After an absolutely wonderful day in the mountains, we headed to the bus stop around 3:45 to ensure that we didn’t miss the 4:30 bus (the next one wasn’t going to leave until 6:00pm). As promised, I was able to purchase my ticket and secure one of the last seats on an over-crowded bus back to Mendoza.

“La vida pasa mientras hacemos planes.” (“Life happens while we are making plans.”) I couldn’t have stumbled upon a better quote as I try to make what has proven to be a difficult cultural adjustment. In Argentina life happens – without notice, without careful planning, and sometimes without reason. And although I’ve never been comfortable living like this before, I’m learning (slowly) to fly by the seat of my pants and to live on the edge. I’m becoming a born-again TYPE-B.