b is for…

baño. i know what you’re thinking. every country has bathrooms, mariah. why would you write a blog post about the ones in argentina? well, first things first, travelling the world and scouting out local bathrooms might teach you more than you think. *insert anecdote of my first experience with japanese hole in the ground bathrooms at the ripe age of 13, incredibly exhausted after my first transoceanic flight.* here’s what i love to hate about argentine bathrooms:

1. no toilet paper. bring your own roll, a pack of tissues or yes, i’m going to say it, shake dry. don’t go anywhere expecting them to provide you with papel higiénico. even some nicer reatuarants won’t provide proper cleaning supplies, shall we say.

2. no soap. quickly here you learn to always carry hand sanitizer. or just scrub really hard with the freezing cold water. yeah, bring the hand sanitizer.

3. mens and womens bathrooms all in one. i’ve been in a couple bars/boliches that have one bathroom for everyone. privacy clearly not an issue in this country.

4. bidets. yes, bidets,  like a classy hotel in italy might have. they’re here too. haven’t exactly spent my time figuring how to use it, but its there. the bidets were definitely on the list of things to be careful with that our director shared with us during our first couple days in buenos aires. hense my apprehension.

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a is for…

i’ve decided to try something new. why not go through the alphabet, giving you a little glimpse into a few of my favorite things ARGENTINA, a through z. i don’t know how this is going to turn out.. i’m afraid i might not be able to come up with something for every letter. but here is my best attempt. thanks to emily’s recent blog post and 1450 point deficit for my alphabet game inspiration, i’m just working on my vocabulary skills here people.

so, here goes nothing.

asado. (noun) a large conglomeration of meat. a larger conglomeration of family. asados are typical sunday afternoon (although they do happen every night of the week, if the occasion arises) gathering that brings together whichever kids, grandkids, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, and friends are living close, or sort of close by. in the early afternoon, the meat goes on the grill. and not just the meat. we’re talking each and every part of the animal, be it pig, cow, chicken etc. (morcilla – blood sausage for example) now i haven’t quite exactly figured the perfect asado technique.. and i am sure each and every grill master has their own secret tips and tricks, but one thing i do know is the meat sits and soaks up flavor for HOURS. while the parilla (grill) radiates a wonderful aroma into the neighborhood, LITERALLY, the  rest of the guests uncork a bottle of malbec, and share stories and advice. and this is the point where each and every time i fall in love again with argentina and its rich culture. EVERY sunday families get together. EVERY sunday they share stories. EVERY sunday they invite relatives, friends old and new, and make people like me feel SO welcomed. EVERY sunday they make people like me never want to leave this country.

acequias. (noun). danger. acequias are the source of irrigation for the city of mendoza. they are also the source of water for the car washers along every street in the city and the collectors of a good portion of the city’s trash. dirty, and only sometimes containing water they are a pest, more than anything when trying to get from one place to another. let’s just say i’ve got really good at acequia-jumping to avoid falling into said ‘gringo traps’.

election day.

today is the day. today is that day, according to the first primary election in argentina’s history, that the current president christina fernandez kirchner will be re-elected for another four years in office. i guess we’ll find out later tonight. i know it will be the only thing on the news for the next week or so. although politics is normally a completely taboo topic amongst friends and family here in argentina, lately i’ve heard more and more about the presidential race and dirty politics of this country. the dirt includes: parties driving people to the ballots and then paying them $25 to vote for said party, gifting computers to 17 year olds who would be 18 at the time of elections, going into poor slums and giving members of the villas miserias (as they are referred to here) one shoe, promising to bring the other half of the pair once elections are over. i’m not a history buff and couldn’t properly explain to you some vital information that would help you understand a little more the significance of this election and the meaning of argentine politics as a whole, so take a look at emily’s blog, a friend of mine from the program who does a really great job explaining the mess that is this nation’s political system.

despite all of the dirty politics, insane campaign propaganda, required cut off of said propaganda as of yesterday morning, and the cut off of liquor sales as of 6pm last night (a complete wrapping off with caution tape of the liquore aisle in the grocery store to assure that there is ABSOLUTELY no drinking and voting. ha) i think the thing that is really getting to me is the obligatory vote. yes, i think that voting is an incredibly important part of our civic duty as citizens of a country and believe that everyone, if able, should take part in a country’s elections. i’m just having a hard time grasping how argentina, a country of about 42 million people is capable of organizing and maintaining a non-electronic election (as far as i’m aware) when the sunday afternoon rush of 50 people at the grocery store is too much for them to handle.

foto del día – 10.22.11

SANTIAGO POLICE: authentic authority.

During our short trip to Chile, I couldn’t help but notice the positive presence of the Chilean police for, or the Carabineros. The Chileans are incredibly proud (rightfully so) of their local police force and actually respect their authority. With their incredibly sharp uniforms, their smiles and kind welcomes to us tourists, their well groomed and not to mention beautifully bred canine force, and their incredible mounted force atop impeccable horses, the Carabineros area hard force to disrespect.

MENDOZA POLICE: pathetically present.

What a change from Mendoza. Not that I’ve ever felt incredibly unsafe here, I’ve just never felt like I could approach a police officer to ask for directions, something I feel like you should be able to do with any police authority. Although they drive around at all hours of the day with their lights flashing, I’ve never seen them pull over one car. I’ve never really noticed them around Aristides on the weekends, despite the thousands of people that are celebrating the arrival of the gorgeous weather. One thing they do for sure, however, is stare and turn their heads as I stand at the bus stop clearly not from these parts. And occasionally as I walk home from the grocery store in the dark, they slow down and drive next to me until I reach my door. I never know whether to feel protected or scared for my life. No police on horses here. And the dogs? Stray street dogs who just follow the officers around. Lets just say our canine force is not about to stop any crime.

foto del día – 10.18.11

Festival de Mil Tambores. Valparaiso, Chile. Each year, Valparaiso, Chile serves as home to the Mil Tambores festival. This years weekend of celebration was dedicated to Chilean artistic creative genius, folklorist and popular singer Violeta Parra. For the long weekend we were staying in Viña del Mar, but thanks to the new found Chilean instincts of a friend of mine from DU and her Chilean host mamá, we hopped on a micro and made our way to Cerro Mariposa, one of the many hills of the port city of Valparaiso where the festival was supposedly being held. When we got off the bus at the top of the hill and followed the directions of  a local to where the festival was supposedly taking place, the deserted soccer stadium didn’t have me convinced this celebration was anything special. Thank goodness for the help of Gergana’s host mom we asked for directions from a couple kiosko owners and then jumped in a collectivo (the Chilean version of a taxi, more or less) towards where the festival was actually being held. Heading down the hill and more towards the heart of the city, we began to hear music, and the streets slowly began to fill with life. The collectivo driver dropped us off at the bottom of the hill and directed us to ‘keep walking that way.. follow the sound, and all of the people’. Still not exactly sure what to expect from the festival, we followed the masses of people – some costumed, some partly naked, and others completely there for the show like us, and hoped for the best. We rounded the corner of one of the streets closest to the ocean in  the port city of Valparaiso and I fell in love. The street was FULL of people, full of energy, and full of life. As we walked along this street, alongside thousands of Chilean hippies, basically integrating ourselves into he rhythm of the parade (at one point I literally was wrapped in a boa and was dancing with a group of clowns), we got to hear the songs of the different groups of musicians and the dances of local dance troupes. Chilean passion and liveliness was overflowing onto the street, to say the least. About an hour later, my body having integrated into the rhythm of few dozen costumed groups, musical performers, clowns and most importantly fantastic drum lines, I realized there could be no better name for this festival as Mil Tambores translates literally to ‘A thousand drums’. The costumes, the bright colors, and the wonderful music was the perfect combination and a wonderful glimpe into Chilean culture.

//if you want to find out a little more about the festival, here is the official website http://www.miltambores.cl/inicio/

foto del día – 10.16.11

Spring is in full swing here in Mendoza. Flowers all around are blooming like crazy. The walls of our backyard are completely covered in bright green leaves, the bouganvilla plant in the front yard is getting massive. It just feels more like Spring around here and I’m loving it. Its getting hotter. That I don’t love so much. The desert climate makes it extremely warm during the day but brings the temperature down quite a bit at night still. I’m still learning how to dress properly for my sometimes twelve hour days away from home.

Here’s a little glimpse at how much things have changed here in the past month or so! Same bodega, clearly a different season.

this, too, shall pass.

They warned us plenty of times that when studying abroad, there would be good weeks, and there would be bad weeks, happy days and sad days, frustrating moments and rewarding ones, too. This week was a rough one, without a doubt.

I started this post sitting home alone on a Friday night having ordered pizza (my Spanish skills are to the point where I can have a solid phone conversation and that’s something I’m incredibly proud of) from a restaurant which delivers some of my favorite foods including some delicious papas fritas, some super good empanadas, and my favorite Sunday meal, pollo con chimichurri. After devouring my fair share of the pizza muzzerella, I searched through the online movie database Cuevana and found a movie called ‘The Better Life’, a story of Mexican immigrants in the US, a tear jerker to say the least, just what I wanted. I pulled out all of the stops in order to try and overcome my terrible case of homesickness that’s got me loca this week. How could I be homesick and bumming around in such a beautiful place where I wake up in the mountains, speak Spanish all day long and occasionally sip on wine from local grapes? Here’s why.

After a great weekend in Chile, we got back into Mendoza Monday night around 8:30pm. After a long day of travelling and a near death experience on the edge of curve number 22, I was exhausted and happy to be home. I was happy to be home, but not excited to retell the tales of my weekend. Along with the explanation of the fact that we went to Chile without any real plans and therefore ended up walking around the city of Viña del Mar on Saturday for a few hours looking for a place to stay, apparently came the invitation to Susy for all sorts of critiques of our so called ‘winging it’. ‘I wondered why you didn’t plan out where you were going to stay, what you were going to do, and when you were going to come back before you left for Chile. Especially with the long weekend.’ Okay, yeah, maybe we overlooked the fact that it was a long weekend and it might be a little hard to find a place to stay in the beautiful resort town of Viña with all the Argentines have fled across the border to celebrate Día de la Raza, but also we were a group of 6 intelligent 20ish year old girls and we figured we’d play it by ear so we wouldn’t be so restricted by a schedule. After all, that’s what travelling is all about, improvising. It’s nice to see you too, Susy.

Here’s what I’ve discovered this week. Living in someone else’s house is really emotionally restricting. I can’t cry, I can’t go to Susy and explain to her how I’m feeling. My problems are nothing compared to the emotions I know she is feeling because of the recent death of her novio. I have no one to go to and just vent. And I’ve tried with Susy, but it doesn’t work. She’d rather tell me about the latest gossip within her circle of friends or the most recent drama of Tinelli (the name she gives a scandalous local dance show). She’d rather talk than listen. The fact that emotions are incredibly hard to explain in another language doesn’t make it any less restricting. ‘I just had a really rough day and  don’t feel like sitting and chatting with you and the 5 other sixty-five year old friends that are here for afternoon tea’ just doesn’t sound the same in Spanish. I haven’t figured out how to explain to Susy that the fact that I don’t really want to sit and talk for an hour is nothing personal. It’s just that I’m exhausted and would love a nice little siesta after a long day of class. Because of these obstacles, I just have to keep it all inside. Let’s just say that’s not helping my slight wave of homesickness.

So, in the spirit of Argentine Mother’s Day (3rd Sunday in October) and my realizations after this long week, here’s a shout of to my WONDERFUL Mom! Thanks for always being there to let me cry. Thanks for listening. Thanks for paying attention to me when I have something to tell you, regardless of the fact that half of the stories I tell you, you probably aren’t entirely excited about. Thanks for taking my side (most of the time) when I tell you about something that happened to me. It’s really hard to not get annoyed when every five seconds the person you are trying to tell your stories to has to run off to let the dog in, go to the bathroom, call a friend, or remember to take her antibiotic for her sore throat. So thank you, Mom from the bottom of my heart, for always being there.

Here’s what else I’ve discovered this week. Living with someone who is not your mom is not only emotionally, but also socially restricting. I think I really take for granted the fact that I go to school out of state and live by myself. It’s a whole different world when you live with your family and commute to school. Here’s why I couldn’t live at home during college. After a long day at school this week; a CELU Spanish exam placement test, Spanish class, Improv rehearsal and Improv class, I headed straight from UNCuyo to meet up with a couple girls from Social Control and Violence class to study for our midterm that we had to take Thursday afternoon (My first midterm exam, mind you. An exam that covered almost three months of material on argentine political history, criminal law, current legislation, human rights, the Argentine constitution and all sorts of other related and equally challenging topics). I totally spaced and didn’t send Susy a message letting her know that I was studying and wouldn’t be home until later. When I got home she made it clear that she was not happy not only with the fact that I hadn’t been home all day, was getting home late, and hadn’t sent her a message letting her know my whereabouts. Okay, so maybe I should have sent her a short message letting her know I would be home late. But to be fair, she also never sent me anything to see if I was okay or if I was coming home soon. Like I said, I really take for granted my independence. That afternoon, I had plans to meet up with a friend that night as well and when I suggested to Susy that I just wanted to have something light for dinner before I went out she was appalled, and she didn’t think twice to make it obvious. She didn’t understand the fact that I didn’t need an extensive meal and that an omelet would be perfectly fine. So I sat and waited patiently while she gasped at the fact that all I was going to have for dinner was a ham and cheese omelet and got frustrated when I told her I was heading out to hang out with a friend. I know I’m an old soul, but hanging out with Susy wasn’t on my agenda for Wednesday night and I think I hurt her feelings. Too much to handle this week. Too much.

To top off all of my emotional distress, it just happens that this week I got to deal with the head of the theater department. How in the world could I have done that, you ask? Well, I didn’t think it was possible either. Until I showed up at my Improv class on Wednesday and the first thing the professor says is, ‘Tito, el director, quiere hablar con voz.’ Great, just what I wanted to hear, the director of the theater department wants to talk to me. As I walk up the stairs to his office, I already know what he is going to talk to me about. I made a comment to one of the IFSA program staff who is the tutor for the classes in the facultdad of artes y diseño. BAD IDEA. I told her about my not so great experiences in the class, the fact that the professor not only corrected my use of the improper article (its un corazón, not una corazón… yeah I’ll never forget that one) but also proceeded to say, ‘No entiendo porque me mandan chicos norteamericanos queines no pueden hablar el español.’ (I don’t understand why they keep sending me American students who can´t speak Spanish.) Last time I checked, Claudio, my accidental mistake regarding the proper article of the word heart didn’t invalidate my language skills. But then again, what do I know. Regardless of whether or not corazón is feminine or masculine, I think yours might have gone missing. Seem a little harsh? Eh, no. When I mentioned to him that I didn’t want my acting skills (or lack thereof) or my language difficulties to affect the grade of the other members of my group, he oh so kindly suggested that we come up with a creative way to avoid these problems. What was his suggestion? That I play the dead guy. NOT KIDDING. Needless to say, I’m a little bitter. So after a recap of all that had happened in the class and my frustrations with the professor, who also shows up at least a half an hour late every class, demands that we silence our cell phones, and then interrupts his completely unorganized and unplanned lecture to not only take a phone call but have a full conversation with a friend during class, I walked into Tito’s office prepared to explain my frustrations. Easier said than done. I asked him, trying to sound like I had no idea how he found out about my frustrations, what he wanted to talk to me about. He asked me what had happened in the class and why I was feeling frustrated. I told him a couple of the stories, the one about the misuse of an article and the anti-American sentiment. He insisted, without hesitation that his comments were meant to be lighthearted, jokes I guess you could say. I explained to him that regardless of whether or not those were jokes, the comments didn’t exactly make me want to perform in front of the class. Why don’t you just go back to class, enjoy the rest of the semester and have a better attitude about the class. Talk to your professors; let them know how you feel. I talked to them already and they didn’t mention anything about your difficulties with language, the only thing they mentioned is that you talked to them at the beginning of the class and you are going to be here until the end of the semester so you won’t have any problems getting a grade for the class. Hold on, wait, WHAT? You talked to the professors to get their side of the story before you talked to me. Okay well, thanks a lot. Now I look like an idiot who has been talking behind the backs of my professors. And, yes, I have been. But I really didn’t need for them to find out. Lesson learned, I guess. When I talked to the IFSA staff member, my only true intentions were to advise them not to have any future IFSA students take the course. Not only is the professor not the biggest fan of American students, the class is only worth 3 credits and I’m spending 5 hours in class each week and another 4 hours minimum outside of class rehearsing. All of that and I’m not even guaranteed a Hollywood debut? You’ve got to be kidding me. We do have to present our version of a Latin American short story at a bar, so at least I will be having my Argentine theater debut. Whatever that’s worth.

I apologize for the extremely bitter and pessimistic tone of this post. Please forgive me a have a good laugh. I’m sincerely trying.  Today was better; we had an excursion with our program to a couple of local vineyards. The weather was perfect, the wine was wonderful and the lunch they served us outside amongst the vines under the beautiful Argentine sun was spectacular. I’m so incredibly blessed to be living here and even more blessed to be learning. I’m Learning not only the proper articles for my slowly expanding Spanish vocabulary (corazón is masculine, don’t forget that one!), but I’m also learning a lot about myself. As cheesy as it may sound, I’m learning how to be patient, how to be understanding, how to be humble, and how better to live in a culture that is not my own. And that’s what I’m here for, to STUDY abroad, to LEARN. Regardless of what I’ve actually learned in my classes, I’ve learned a lot. Period. So here’s to the ups and the downs, the good days and the bad days, the happy moments and the sad ones, all for learning’s sake.