Less than twenty four hours ago, I stepped off of a small plane with two suitcases, two carry-on bags and a boat load of anticipation and excitement. Our program director, José had prepped us for the ‘esliding glass doors’ of the small Mendoza airport, where we were to be ‘birthed like babies’ into the arms of our Mendocino host families. Nothing could prepare me, however for the rollercoaster of emotions that I was about to experience. After making my way through the ‘esliding glass doors’, I was greeted by Sabrina, the secretary at the IFSA office here in Mendoza. She told me, as I did my best to listen intently to each Spanish word she spoke, “You’re host mother’s novio or boyfriend had an accident this morning. She is not able to come and get you. My mom is a good friend of hers and so I will take you to her house.’ We arrived, about a half an hour later, at my new home; gated and heavily locked, yet incredibly cozy. I walk inside to a table of 5. I cannot help but feel conflicted as I remember that these people are gathered not for celebration, but instead to mourn. From the small amount of medical terminology I could understand, Norberto, el novio, had suffered a stroke early in the morning and had not made any monumental progress during the day. As I try my best to keep collected, I sit quietly and listen contently as they tell stories of Norberto and their lives around Mendoza. Throughout the night, family members and friends came by the house to check on Susy (my host mother). For Susy, who has no close family members; no siblings, no children, and no living parents, friends are her life. Despite all of the grief, the importance of relationships for los mendocinos (the people of Mendoza) was incredibly prevalent. Dealing with death is not an easy feat in English and it was quite a struggle to come up with the words to comfort Susy who was about to lose the love of her life; a man, she said, who always cooked delicious food, took her on wonderful trips, and always treated her incredibly well. Before bed, we take out a small book of prayers, and together, we recite Ave Maria. As I sit beneath the covers in my upstairs room, I understand clearly only one thing; WE ARE FAMILY, somos familia.
This morning, just as Susy and I were about to sit down for breakfast; cafe con leche (basically milk with a little bit of coffee) and pan tostada con dulce de leche (basically toast with caramel) she received a call, and was told that Norberto had passed away. As I sat there, hugging her as tight as I could, I couldn’t help but shed tears. Bilingual drops of water for someone I have never met. Here are a couple of things I have come to better understand within the last day.
La vida es tan fragil.//Life is incredibly fragile.
Lo que llevas contigo cuando vas no son cosas, son recuerdos.//When it is our time to go, we bring with us only memories, never things.
Despite all that has happened in the last twenty four hours, Susy has provided me with a phone, cooked me a wonderful dinner, served me dulce de leche (my new favorite food) and cafe con leche for breakfast this morning, and made me feel like I am at home – the most important thing I could have asked for.
It is amazing to me how quickly people are willing to take me under their wing. This afternoon, Sabrina came to the house to pick me up so that I could have lunch with her family. They not only cooked me a wonderful meal (during which I tried to explain American eating habits and failed to find the Spanish words for bagels (for which there IS NO WORD.) and cranberries (arándano)), but made me a part of their family. This afternoon, Sabrina and I went to visit a friend of hers who lives near downtown and has a 3 year old daughter. Again, in her small apartment, I felt like family, playing with the little one, chatting with the girls about their lives, and trying mate, a bitter Argentine tea and an integral part of Argentine culture. I feel so at home here, and despite all that has happened this is going to be the best five months of my life. I’m staying here at Sabrina’s house tonight to give Susy a little bit of space as she grieves, but was again comforted by the fact tha she wanted to see me tomorrow; I’ll be heading back to her house for lunch tomorrow and will spend some time with her and Topito, our dog before I attempt to take the micro (the local bus) to orientation tomorrow night.
Tell your loved ones you love them tonight. And every night; for although we must live for only today, we never know what tomorrow may bring.
Besos. ¡Hasta Pronto!