Friday, April 10, 2009

Meeting he Team from Argentinat

It has been a real pleasure meeting the GSE team from Argentina. I was at The Woodlands Rotary luncheon and took photos that are part of my blog posting.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Descanso...March 24

We have been to several cities since Tandil: Sierras Bajas, Olavarria, and now Bolivar. Although these are our resting days, I have enjoyed this city very much. The families we are staying with in Bolivar are great. Melissa and I are staying with Miguel, Alba and their daughter Paola. The family lives above their jewelry shop that they own. Miguel repairs jewelry, Paola designs bracelets, and Alba directs the sales. While in Bolivar, we saw a rugby game- very popular here. We also went to an amazing volleyball facility that was built not only for the local team (that is very good I might add) but for all members of the city to use. The facility was impressive: an on-site hotel, swimming pool, sand volleyball court, weight room, locker room and 2 courts. The local team was playing in another city when we arrived, so we did not get to meet them. The locals really enjoy the game, though, considering volleyball is not as popular a sport in Argentina as futbol (soccer). I think the quality time with our families is improving as we become more familiar with the language. We eat every meal together with our families at the table; and every meal lasts several hours. Not 30 minutes. And guess what else…no cell phones, texting. Just wholesome conversation, good laughs, “ching, ching” (it’s what we call having the toast here), and excellent food! Our last night in Bolivar, all of our group and our host families went out to a pizza place. The pizza was the biggest I have ever seen. It was muy delicioso!


In America, the standard procedure for greeting someone is a brief handshake accompanied by fleeting eye contact. Sometimes, if we are greeting someone close to us or someone we have not seen in a while, we brave the uncomfortable territory of close proximity and actually move in for a hug. Usually this is a measly side hug or perhaps a short full frontal hug, but it is rare to experience an enveloping, consuming bear hug from another American. We are terrified of affection. We even have a derogatory term for it. PDA. A public display of affection is a formidable offense. Appalling. Disgusting. “Get a room!” we shout.

In Argentina, these words are never uttered. (Or perhaps I just couldn’t understand them since they were in Spanish!)

The standard greeting in Argentina is a simultaneous hug and kiss on the cheek. That’s right, besos! And gender does not change this. Men kiss men. Women kiss women. Besos a todos (kisses to all)! Furthermore, they carry out this greeting every time they say hello or goodbye to ANYONE! When they get home from work, every member of the family is greeted this way. When they meet up with friends, every amigo is greeted this way. When they walk into a panaderia (bakery), the store clerks are greeted this way!

Furthermore, it is a common sight to see two people embracing. Men put their arms around other men. Teenage children embrace their mothers. Lovers swap spit. On the street, at the dinner table, on a park bench. Wherever.

And no one gawks or looks disgusted.

Argentines are just very affectionate and loving people. They realize that love should be expressed in a tangible way. Not just in flowery words scribbled inside a flimsy and overpriced Hallmark card, but in a true physical manner. Besos a todos!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Catty-whompus March 18

We stayed in Tandil after leaving the ranch in Maria Ignacia. I am staying with a host family- Osmar, Monica and their daughter, Dama. Very, very nice family. Dama can speak English, and she is just wonderful. We went to a city- Rauche- the next day. Visited with teachers from Rauche at an art museum. We discussed many similiarities and differences in our school systems. Melissa and I tried to explain the TAKS test to them. I found it interesting that one teacher told me she had read the book, “Freedom Writers”…I show that movie in my class during the semester to show that although we are all different, we still have many things in common. Went to see a recycling plant, a science lab, and a nursing home after lunch.
The next 3 days we stayed in Tandil. Melissa and I went horseback riding with Dama and a member of her church, Gabriel, in the evening. It was beautiful. You could see every star in the sky. My horse’s name was CiCi. Who would have thunk it?! The whole ride was so peaceful and amazing. Afterwards we sat around a toasty fire and listened to Gabriel sing and play guitar. He did wonderful! It seemed so surreal just relaxing and listening to the soothing music.
Melissa and I went to visit a private school in town. This school was so nice. 200 students in all grade levels 1st through 12th. The students study English everyday. We got to visit with the students and answer questions that they had for us. Learning that teachers here in Argentina work 2 or 3 other jobs to make enough money to live has probably been the most influential aspect of this trip for me so far.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Work to Live!"

In Argentina a job is a job. It is a place you go for the sole purpose of providing for your family. That is not to say that people do not take pride in their work or that they are not passionate about their work, because, indeed, they are. But what is different about the people of Argentina is that their jobs do not consume their lives. Although they may consume a lot of their time, Argentines refuse to let their work incapacitate them.

Instead, they pour their passion into their relationships. Their families and friends are of utmost importance. They value long conversations over three course meals or witty banter over a cup of mate, the official drink of Argentina. A lot of time is spent (not wasted) communicating with friends and family.

For example, for lunch most people (both adults and school age children) leave their jobs or schools and go home to a house with a table large enough for the entire family. And they actually eat at it! Hard to believe, I know, but the entire family sits at the same table without iPods, cell phones, or television, and they consume a hearty meal accompanied by face to face conversation! And they do this todo los dias. Every day. A meal. At a table. Preposterous, I know.

Furthermore, many families even have a special room or house just for these family gatherings. It is called a “quincho” and contains a built in grill on which to cook “asado” or barbeque. The quincho is used for the bigger family gatherings that most families hold on Sundays where they barbeque and eat several courses of meat and some kind of dessert. These gatherings usually last all day with no one cutting out early to get tasks completed before the work week begins.

Mate, the herbal drink unique to Argentina, is another example of how the people here cherish their relationships. Mate is a social drink; it is meant to be shared. The mate mug is filled with several scoops of “yerba mate” and hot water, and then is passed around a circle of friends, each person sipping from the same metal straw. It is a tea-like beverage with a stronger, more herbal flavor. Argentines consume mate quite frequently, some every day or multiple times a day. It is an obsession similar to that of the Starbuck’s phenomenon. Except it is less fattening and much more fun since it is shared with friends!

These are just a few examples of how the value of relationships is carried out in their everyday lives; however, there are countless more. Immediately upon observation, it is clear that the Argentines believe that time spent with family and friends is most precious. In fact, I have heard more than one Argentine refute the statement “time is money” when it was suggested by an American. Unlike Americans who view socializing in the workplace or leaving work early to go home to their families as a waste of time or a missed opportunity to earn that cash, Argentines believe time is valuable, but not in a monetary sense. Time should be spent in the best and most enjoyable way possible, a philosophy we could all benefit from adopting.

Me encanta Argentina!

Argentina is a country far too complex and great to be summed up in a silly little blog written by the likes of me. However, I will try. Because what I have learned from this country deserves to be shared.

Overall, I find Argentina to be a living paradox. The country’s economic situation seems to be worse than that of the U.S. People work long hours at multiple jobs to provide for their families. Workers go on strikes frequently. (We have witnessed numerous strikes and protests since we have been here).The government and legal system is somewhat corrupt. However, despite this, the attitudes of the people remain blissfully optimistic. And it is not due to ignorance as the old adage “ignorance is bliss” suggests, and as it is in America. Optimism is simply their mentality. I have a few theories as to why the Argentines are the way they are, but the lifestyle of the Argentines is so complex that I have chosen to break up my observations into smaller topics. It may take me awhile to complete these because I am still analyzing the country and the people as we continue our travels. Please remember that these are simply my humble observations and analyses, and they cannot act as a generalization for all the people of Argentina, nor should they be taken too seriously since my time here in Argentina is short, and I am not one to be taken seriously anyway!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

La Realidad

I think I got it. This might be the real thing. Tandil, Argentina. Not well known from outside the USA. Better that way. The day began with me going to the main university here in Tandil (UNICEN) only knowing that I would be meeting with a professor from the International Relations department. Fernando took me to meet some of his grad students who work with him at the Centro de Estudios Interdisciplinarios en Problemas Internationales y Locales. This quickly turned into a international discourse of politics, sociology, government, development and other international topics. It became quickly became clear to me that these were some brilliant minds at work. There we were drinking mate, and dicussing latin american politics. Well I didnt think it could get any better until Sr. Fernando, invited me to the local futbol match for that evening. Santa Marina vs. CiPolleti. Ive been to Brazilian matches before, as well as Spanish futbol matches. But this match, was something different. Watching the 3000 people cheer thier team on, Fernando later told me that "futbol here in latin america is about passion. The team has it. The crowd has it. They may not be the best team in the world, but their passion makes them the best team for thier supporters, and thats what matters" Passion. The smoke, the cursing, the yelling, the protesting when they ran out of chorizo, the continous singing. Wow. The fouls were harsh, the crowd's words were harsher. Even though the match was a tie, the energy never ended.

Afterwards I was taken to a place I will never forget. It was if I had stepped into the the inner sanctum of one type of argentine life. La Realidad, is a loft style restaraunt whose owners had remodeld to make it thier own. A unique menu, bossa nova in the back ground, and eclectic(yes jodie i used it) art work makes this place feel like you are somewhere unlike anywere else. The conversation we had was amazing. The food was incredible. A chicken rissotto, with a side of bread was all i needed to go with the 3 bottles of wine. The conversation went well into the morning with all being satisfied. My thrist was satisifed. I was told that the place had just opened in December, and that the owners had only recently returned after cooking in some hotels in europe. I was thrilled to finally feel like I was getting a taste of how some argentinans live. Places like these are not a dime a dozen. They do not grow on street corners, they are not the pocket tourism that so many people believe is worth something. En La Realidad I felt at home. The food, the company, the music, and the ambiance was a bit of Argentina that I could at that moment call my own.

After such a great evening, how could it get any better right? Well today I had a little bit more. After a long morning of museos, meetings, and more, I was able to get some time alone amongst the town center in Tandil. Looking far and wide for postcards but to no avail, I finally came upon a few bookstores which I furiously began scouring, for good reads. Happening upon a couple books(not to be mentioned because they are gifts to Significant Other) I needed a place to read, have a cafe, and wait for a call. Perhaps by chance or perhaps not. I found myself on the same street as La Realidad. Going upstairs I met with the cook/owner and a local artist who decorates the place. I proceeded to take photos, and will be sharing this blog with you sir Tuculet. If anyone reads this and has the opportunity to vist Sarmiento 743. I highly reccomend you do so. Moving on; I went to a little courtyard that caught my eye, and there began drinking my cafe con leche, reading a few books, and people watched as time went on. The people in the little courtyard were local vendors, who drank mate and smoke Camels while they waited for customers. They knew everyone who walked by, and anyone who walked in. Just to able to sit there and perhaps blend in a little was comforting. The anonomity was most welcome.
En fin, what can I say but I will miss Tandil. The people, the food, the local pleasantries. Its ironic that I must return to reality, after having such an amazing experience en La Realidad.

For more pictures of La Realidad and others that accompany this travel blog.. click here