Friday, April 10, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
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
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
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.
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
Friday, March 20, 2009
Within the next few days I felt like I was right at home. The people here in this city are more than welcoming and kind- they are something that I want to model and be a part of. For example, every time we greet one another here in Argentina, both people give each other hugs and kiss one another on the cheek- guys with other guys, old and young. The best part is that no one is weirded out about it. It is just a form of greeting. The fellowship is amazing (not to mention that the food is too!). We eat dinner starting between 10-11. Dinner consists of an appetizer that is always enough for a meal. Then about 3 helpings of the actual meal. Then dessert, then more dessert. After visiting for about another hour, dinner ends. Then we usually go to bed between 4-6 am (after experiencing the nightlife). One night we went to a karaoke bar and sung “I Will Survive” in English. It wasn’t pretty, but we gave it our all!
We have seen the important industries that provide many people with careers. We visited all occupations relating to the fishing industry including rope factories, tuna and anchovie canning companies, and ship yard workers. We even got to spend a professional day with a person who is in the same career as us. I went to visit one of the local private schools, and I got to talk to a young man who plays on the Argentina National Volleyball Team here. His name is Juan. The school system is very different than in the United States, but Juan and I had very much in common. It was an amazing feeling to be able to express my passion for something and share it with another person (who I didn’t even know). So far, I could not have asked for a better experience and I hope that the rest of this trip continues to make me feel this way.
Writing from the hotel lobby, waiting for a ride to lunch with the team.
Spent the morning at the "Poder Judicial" (courthouse), visiting with two judges and about five lawyers. They find the US system very strange. We have juries (at times), they do not. Our judges in towns of this size are not specialized according to the type of case (civil, commercial, family, criminal) as they are here. We make widespread use of mediation in civil and family cases. They have it only in Buenos Aires, where it is "mandatory." They have continuous involvement by court officials in the progress of a case. There is no such thing as pre-trial discovery outside court supervision. The witnesses appear before court officials and give their testimony, which is summarized by court officials, transcribed into documents for the court file. This is studied by court lawyers who recommend a disposition of the case, which is ultimately decided by t he trial judge. Very seldom is there live testimony before a judge in what we would call a trial.
There are very long delays in the disposition of civil cases. Much longer than in the US. Civil cases drag on for years, 4-10 years is not uncommon, according to the lawyers. It appears to be the same in criminal. (In another city I witnessed the trial of a young man who had committed robbery of some soccer shoes from the owner, including some violent beating. The offense was committed May 5, 2006, almost 3 years ago! The penalty would be handed down within 3 days by the "jusgado" or trial judge. In more serious cases the trial would be before a 3-judge "tribunal.")
There is much dissatisfaction with the justice system, especially in criminal matters. The people express disdain for the police and the courts. I think this would be improved if the judges spoke publicly about their work more often. There is a tradition here that judges do not discuss court procedures publicly, for fear (they say) that the judges will become "contaminated" or influenced by the public. The result is that the people only know about the work of their courts through the newspapers and other media. As usual, there are no stories about hard-working public offials; only inflammatory reports of seemingly outrageous court decisions.
Going now to lunch with the team and club members.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Argentina from what I have seen so far is a land of complex feelings and diverse mentalities. Nothing is black and white here. The political ideals change depending on where and with whom you talk to, as it would in any country. While visiting Mar de Plata I found many people in favor of the current president Kirchner. In the country, most were very opposed to her due to her harsh anti-agrarian policies. But aside from the politics of it all, Argentina is interesting because of its people and the cultural mindset they have. It is one of tranquility. It is one of familiar surroundings and family gatherings.
It is one of contemplation of the next meal and the next time they will have yerba mate with a friend. True for many there are challenges that arise, and we have seen that the problems the people face vary in intensity depending on where they live and what they do. But what I have observed so far is that for the most part the people here are welcoming, warm and always looking to feed you lots and lots of meat.
This is one of my favorite pics on this trip so far, (well this and the one of CiCi drooling on herself in the car as she sleeps,...just kidding CiCi). This man stood ourside his little cabin and just stared out onto the lake for about an hour. Why was he there? What was he doing alone? What was he thinking? Impossible to tell, but I....was...envious. Americans are so rushed! Not only do we not stop to smell the roses, but our problem is we want to try and figure out how much we can earn from cutting them and selling them.
Not so in Argentina.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Sunday, February 1, 2009
We feel honored to be the representatives from our Rotary district who'll travel to Argentina's Rotary District 4920 this Spring. We'll spend a month traveling throughout that region of Argentina (south of Buenos Aires), visiting Rotary Clubs, giving our slide presentation, seeing the sights, and especially staying in host family homes.
Here's a short history. The District's GSE Committee selected me for Team Leader on September 6, 2008. With me added to the committee, it proceeded to select the rest of the team on October 18. Once the team formed, we started preparations immediately. In addition to on-line work, getting passports, insurance, and other documents, and doing as much language study as time allowed, we've met for day-long training sessions on November 15, December 13, January 24, and January 31. Our last scheduled session (we think) is February 22.
Past team leaders from our district, headed by Kenne Turner (5910's Team Leader to Brazil), gave generously of their time to prepare us for this "trip of a lifetime." Kenne has been a tireless mentor, meeting with us during every training session, taking great photos for our various needs, and generally guiding us through the preparation. Dr. Susan Andrew, Team Leader to France in 2008, has been a marvelous help in so many areas, especially with our Powerpoint presentation. Prof. Jack Skaggs, Team Leader to England, gave us a helpful lecture on the history of Rotary and its ongoing work. Judge Don Taylor, Team Leader to Canada, gave us valuable training about how and what to pack.
But the training wasn't limited to our own district. We've benefited a lot from the information and tips given by the team from District 6990 in southeast Florida, headed by Team Leader Joe Roth, that traveled to the same District 4920 in Argentina in the Spring of 2008. We will follow the same tracks they laid down Our thanks to Joe and his team for that invaluable help. We hope to "pay it forward" by helping future teams.
To say we're excited about this adventure would be an understatement. That spirit of excitement and anticipation has helped us overcome the challenges of preparation.
Dividing up the tasks, we've planned and purchased our blazers and other uniform clothing. We've designed and bought badges, thank you notes, business cards, team brochures, and business cards. We've found photos to include in our slide presentation, which is nearly done, and we're hastily gathering up gifts for club presidents and host families. We're writing our individual presentation scripts, hoping to do a credible job delivering them in Argentine Spanish. We're working on what to do about cell phone communications to and from the US, and a host of other details. We're about five weeks away from leaving!
Meanwhile, we get frequent e-mail and photos from Argentina, courtesy of Maria Pardo, Team Leader of the group coming to Texas from District 4920 after we return to Texas, and Ana Spivak, with District 4920's GSE Committee. Argentine team's stay in Texas is being coordinated by our in-bound district chair, Mary Matteson. I look forward to hosting Maria in my home when her team travels to Bryan/College Station in April.
No more time for this today. Have other GSE work to do. Then a golf game and Superbowl this afternoon!