Friday, May 28, 2010

Feathers, Bus Rides, and Pujato

Well, I am down to the final stretch. Ten days until I turn in my final paper, thirteen until my birthday, and seventeen until I am home. I just had a bit of a panic attack when I realized I only have 10 days to write 20 pages in Spanish! Oh dear! I am currently in Pujato , the small town I stayed in around Easter. I arrived here Wednesday morning from Asunción, Paraguay and I'll head back to Buenos Aires this Saturday.

Well, let´s see, I basically have two weeks worth of B.A. updates since my last email. In that time I finished up with classes, took my final, and spent a lot of time with my friend Elise. Elise, one of my new friends in Buenos Aires, was returning to the U.S. before I get back from we ran all over the city in the time we had left together. Friday night the 9th we we met up at Plaza San Martin with some other friends to watch a free outdoor acrobatics performance. It was amazing. The acrobats slid between multiple-story buildings and dropped white feathers over the crowd watching from below. I was told later that 1.5 tons of white feather were used. There were so many feathers it looked like the end people started throwing feather snow balls! I got completely covered in feathers! The following Wednesday, Elise and I explored a new neighborhood in B.A. The thing that struck me about this neighborhood on the south west side of town was that for once I was free of the sea of multiple story buildings. There were some tall buildings, but on average I could see the sky. It had an oddly small town feel about it that was a nice break. Wednesday, I went over to a pot luck at her house and brought the brownies from a box that have become very popular with her friends. And Thursday I finally made it back over to Elise´s by like 1:30pm to have some banana-chocolate chip pancakes and then go buy silly hats in her eclectic and artsy neighborhood of San Telmo.

So, that gets us to the ever-fun 16 hour bus ride to Asunción. They always play the strangest B and C rated movies on these overnight buses. One of the ones they played was a kung-fu movie that involved a guy trying to rescue his beloved baby elephant from some mobsters. In the morning I was then serenaded by what my friend next to me called the Barry White of Argentina...and that was giving him credit. Anyway, I went to Asunción with a girl from my study abroad program so that I could do research for my paper. My topic is the fight against agrotoxics and the women´s movement in Paraguay that has the strongest voice against them. I got three interviews when I was there and think I have enough material to work with now for my paper...I just need to get going on it! Besides work, I also had the most entertaining bus ride of my life while in Asunción. This past Saturday I went with my friend out to the countryside and I knew when we got on the bus and saw that the driver´s chair was a lawn-chair bolted to the ground that it was going to be a great ride. As I sat at the back of the bus, it was like a watching a show. First came all the people hauling on potato sacks and giant baskets. Then the couple that loaded a washing machine on. I thought I was going to have a wall of stuff built up around me. On top of all that commotion, at every stop multiple vendors got on. They sold everything from fruit to socks to cokes to English workbooks to t.v. antennas. I don´t know how they were able to move for all the people on the bus. Oh, and towards the end of the ride my friend and I realized that everyone in our back section of the bus were either family or friends. They all knew each other and chatted or shared drinks. I think that bus ride is what I will remember Paraguay for. Well, I hope that is what I remember Paraguay and not for the food poisoning it gave me. Sunday night I got my first case of food poisoning and ended up sleeping part of the night on the bathroom floor. I was in bed all day Monday, had to miss an interview and of course was unable to do any work on my paper. Today my stomach finally stopped hurting...but I am still sleeping a lot. I am still feeling a little weak and now have a stuffy nose, but am happy that my stomach has calmed down.

I arrived in Pujato this Wednesday after another very fun bus ride from Asunción. I figured I´d be the only American on the bus, but I ended up sitting a row behind a kid from Portland. Since I got to Pujato all I´ve done is sleep and eat. It´s a terrible thing to have an upset stomach here...even though I explained that I had food poisoning and all my host stay mom is like ¨you should eat, you should eat!¨ She understands, but food is just what they do here. For example, for lunch today there was a thick veggie soup. Great. Then there was a soy milanesa (think country fried steak, but thinner and with soy inside) with tomato and melted cheese on top and a salad. Oh, boy, I was fine with just the soup...but it is impossible to explain the idea of ¨I´m not hungry, but it all looks delicious.¨ So after lunch all I could do was go back to bed and sleep for literally four hours. I have got to find another way to deflect...or get up the energy to go running, which is I think more than my body can take right now.

I guess I´ll try to get one more update out before I head home, but forgive me if you don´t hear from me until I am back state-side. I have a lot of writing, a lot of packing, and a lot of goodbyes to do in these last two weeks.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Pujato, Porte Alegre and Paraguay

First of all, my apologies for the unacceptable lapse in my correspondence. In the last month most of my free time has been taken up by traveling. At the end of March I spent a week in a small farming town in the breadbasket, the province of Santa Fe. I then had two weeks back in Buenos Aires before heading to Porto Alegre, Brazil and then Asuncion, Paraguay.

I. Santa Fe
In the small town of Pujato I felt so welcomed and at home. Everyone is related or friends with everyone else in town...I met so many cousins of so-and-so. I stayed with a family of Italian descent. See photo attached of me and my friend Cata with our homestay mom and dad. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen either drinking mate or eating homemade alfajors, cookies with caramel filling and coated in chocolate. Partly to avoid turning into a roly poly and partly to make room in my tummy so I could eat more, I jogged or biked around town almost everyday, which was a great way to see the town and the people. While in Pujato I got to ride in crop cultivator, watch a cattle auction, and see cheese made at a small dairy. My dad pointed out that I could have done all of those things back in Missouri, but I'm pretty sure that small towns back home don't have dance clubs that are still going strong after day break. I don't know quite how I did it, but I went out with some girls from the town to a dance club until 8:30am and then had breakfast, took a shower, napped, and then went to Easter mass. I hope to go back to Pujato in the next month or so...the homemade alfajors are calling to me!

II. Buenos Aires
Once back in Buenos Aires I had two field study visits to "villas miserias." These villas are poor neighborhoods in Buenos Aires that were built by immigrants when they couldn't find a place to live. These neighborhoods often suffer from a lack of public services and infrastructure. The villas are not shanty towns, as I had imagined, they have buildings that are multiple stories high built out of bricks or concrete and have little corner stores and restaurants. The villas are often seen as an eyesore and nuisance, but they have been a part of the city for over 50 years and continue to exist because the government has been unwilling or unable to deliver the necessary services. It is unbelievable that people are living in these conditions less than 10 blocks from the most expensive restaurants of the whole city in Puerto Madero.

On a lighter note, in the two weeks before Brazil I went to a play done completely in the dark, an independent film festival, and a drum circle performance. The play in the dark was the coolest theatrical experience I've had in at least a year. It was really cool because the actors incorporated sounds and smells that helped the audience imagine scenes from places like Africa to China. At the film festival I watched a Chilean film called "Navidad." It took me about 15 minutes to get used to the accent, but finally I was able to get into it. The film was about three teenagers who end up spending Christmas together and at the same time are trying to figure out who they are. The cinematography was really good even if the plot was a little unimaginative. If you are interested in watching the trailer its The drum circle was a really cool performance of like 20 drummers and was attended by a large portion of the hip 20-somethings in the city.

III. Brazil
So after a week in Porto Alegre, Brazil I've concluded that Portuguese is like a sing-songy french with a few Spanish words thrown in from time to time. I think my idea of Brazil was probably completely based on what I know about Carnival in Rio, so as a result I was taken a back when I didn't see nearly naked women sambaing down the street. Funny how what shocked me most was the fact that Porto Alegre is just a regular city about the size of KC. While in Brazil I had two field visits to groups fighting for land rights in a country with one of the most unequal distributions of land and wealth in the world. One group, the quilobolas are afro-descendants seeking recognition of their right to their traditional lands and the other group the MST, are landless farmers who are pressuring the government to find them a place to live. I was impressed with the community and spirit of the quilombolas and the determination and strength of the MST.

The highlight of my time in Porto Alegre was probably the soccer game between one of Porto Alegre's teams and an Ecuadorian team. From where I was sitting I not only really enjoyed the game, but also watching the die-hard fans in the standing only section jumping in the thousands, waving flags, and singing through the whole game. I am really glad the Brazilian team won, because I don't want to know how the crowd would have reacted to a loss in this game that serves as something of a qualifying round.

At the end of my time in Brazil, my study abroad group went to Iguazu waterfalls. I had already been with Aunt Gloria and Uncle Chris, and I was really glad for that because the most captivating trail was closed this time because the water level was so high.

IV. Paraguay
Although it is true that Paraguay is very poor and has many problems, I was fascinated by the sense that history was being made before my eyes. Because Paraguay was under a dictator from 1954-1989, in many ways the society has just re-started. We had a visit to a museum on the dictatorship that is only a few years old and is still being put together. After seeing some of the cells where people were tortured, a man who had been tortured and then helped discover the files that cataloged these abuses gave as an impromptu talk. I don't think I realized that I was in the presence of an important figure in Paraguay's history until I saw the same man in a photo on the wall at the achieve of the torture files.

Paraguay, like Brazil also suffers from terrible inequality of the distribution of land which has contributed to the villa in Asuncion. It bowled me over to see that the 5km long villa is built up against the back side of the Presidential Palace and Congress. I don't know how government officials care bare to look out the window and see the suffering they are failing to end. Like one of the coordinators of my program said, she didn't understand how people in the villas in Buenos Aires could say they were better off than they were back home until she saw the villa in Asuncion. The villa is built in part on top of a dump and was permeated by the sickening smells of burning putrid meat, trash, and pigs.

I haven't 100% decided, but I think I will be going back to Paraguay to do a case study for my research project. I think I am going to study a social movement called CONAMURI that was formed 10 years ago to fight for the rights of rural women and Indians.

V. The End
Hats off to you if you made it through this e-mail. I promise that the next one won't be quite so long. So yeah, I have a lot of work to do this week as classes end Friday. I have a final next week and then about 3 weeks to investigate and write by 20-40 page research paper...boy, oh boy! The good news is that I have to turn in it before my birthday, so hopefully I'll get to relax and enjoy the big 21 and my last few days in Buenos Aires.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

St. Patricks and Social Movements

I've been taking advantage of whatever free time I have to hang out with friends from Rhodes and Buenos Aires.

Last Wednesday was St. Patrick's Day and also the birthday of a guy on my study abroad program. As a group we decided to go to an Irish pub called the “Shamrock.” Apparently St. Patrick's Day is a relatively new tradition in Buenos Aires...but in the last several years it has really picked up in popularity. I had heard that the Irish pubs in town get packed early, so I was a afraid we weren't going to be able to get in, but the rain must have scared some would-be revelers away. Not long after I arrived at the pub, Will, a guy I had Spanish with at Rhodes found me in the crowd. We caught up and he invited me to an "asado" or barbecue at his apartment that weekend.

Last Thursday I went to a potluck at the apartment of Megan, another friend from Rhodes. Megan's apartment was very international, she had guests from France, England, Germany, and the US. It was really strange to be out numbered by the French while being in Argentina. I retreated to the kitchen with my wine to help make pizzas. Pizzas here are different than the pizzas back home. The crust is more bread-like and the cheese is creamier cheese. They also are known to put on weird toppings like corn, tuna, or potato chips. Megan's birthday is tomorrow so I'm going to go out with her and some friends for dinner at a Thai restaurant.

Friday I went with the program to meet with a mother from the Plaza de Mayo. The "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" is a group of mother who joined together to demand justice for their children who were "disappeared" by the military dictatorship. The Mothers or "Madres" remain an incredibly influential and respected group. The Madres believe that it is there job to do the good deeds in which their children believed. Thus, the Madres continue to work with the poor, homeless, and workers unions.

Friday night my homestay brother who is 26 invited kids from my program over to the apartment and then to go out. My homestay brother invited a friend over which was nice...its always exciting to meet Argentinians. We all bonded over the music we like and then discussed how the social norms in Buenos Aires differ from those back home. I've noticed here that guys and girls run in very different circles. A girl either goes out with her girl friends or is attached at the hip to her boyfriend. Here there don't seem to be friend groups with girls and guys. The Argentinian guy's explanation of why that is sounded like the dubbed version of a Billy Crystal line in "When Harry Met Sally."

Saturday I actually did some homework and then when over to the asado at Will's apartment. It was a fun night, we all ate, talked, went out, and then at 5 am started watching "Braveheart." Now, that last part may have caught you by surprise...the "Braveheart" bit..well, what happened was that Will and his roommates had been quoting it in Scottish accents all night long and since I had never seen it we finally ended up watching it. I am proud to say I made it to the end of the and walked back with a friend of mine to the subway at 8 am to go home and sleep!

Today was a national holiday, so I didn't have classes. I took advantage of that to sleep in and then go to a vegetarian restaurant. After stuffing myself with tofu I went to the Plaza de Mayo to see the marches. On this day 34 years ago the military took over the government and began the period of the worst oppression in Argentina's history. So today is not a holiday in the sense of celebration, but instead is meant as an opportunity to remember the 30,000 young people who were disappeared by the military. The Plaza de Mayo was packed with tons of different political groups, their banners, and their drums. There were the Peronists, the Communists, the Socialists, and tons of other groups I didn't even recognize. There was so much energy in the Plaza and I felt goosebumps when I heard the chant "30,000 present, now and forever!"

Next week the program travels to the interior of the country to stay in a farming town called Rosario. Apparently the town gets really excited when the program comes...last year the group's arrival made the front page of their local newspaper. I am excited to get some different perspective and to go on some bike rides. After our time in Rosario we are supposed to have a little time to travel, and if I can get my act together, I want to go to a city called Cordoba.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Homestay, Classes, and New Friends

It's the end of the first full week of classes. I've settled into my homestay and am starting to get to know the group and kids from B.A.

I met my homestay mom exactly a week ago. My study abroad program had a little welcome event at the school and then we hauled my suitcases to a taxi. My host stay mom is about 65, she is tall and slender with shoulder-length graying blond hair. She has a son, 26, and daughter, 29. Her son lives at home while he finishes his industrial design degree. He works and has a nice girl friend, so I don't see him too much, but we went and got icecream the other day, so that was fun . Her daughter lives in town and is an English teacher in an elementary school. I met her the night of the welcome event and she was exhausted as it was the first week of classes for her.

Last Saturday I met up with a girl who goes to the University of Buenos Aires. I met her in the airport in Kansas City as we were on the same flight to Buenos Aries. Her name is Antonella, and her grandmother is good friends with a teacher from my elementary school. Small world. I went out to her house and met her friends and did my best to understand all the slang terms. In Buenos Aires the night starts very late, so we didn't even go out until 2:30am. I had to have a cup of coffee before we went because I was yawning so much. We went out to what are called "boliches" or dance clubs. The next day Antonella's grandmothers came over and one of them gnocchi, an italian pasta dish. It was delicious. After Antonella and I caught a train back into town and went to the small Chinatown.

In the morning I have a seminar class and in the afternoons a Spanish class. The morning classes on the history and economics of the region have been very interesting. We learned this week about how the increased production of soy in Argentina and other South American countries has been causing both health and economic problems. The Spanish class has been frustrating as it involves a lot of busy work. I've talked to the program director, so hopefully I won't get stuck with that for the rest of the semester.

Today a girl from my group and I went to the MALBA, the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires. I really enjoyed it. It is a manageable size and despite the sort serious name of the museum, the art is all modern or contemporary. I got to see a Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera piece. The muesum is not too far from my school, so I hope to return. I also walked down to the Law School which is very elegant with huge columns. Right next to it is a nice park that has a sculpture of a flower that is really tall and done out of shinny metal.

Tonight the study abroad group is trying to go out. Tomorrow night I am meeting back up with Antonella, the girl from Buenos Aires. Hopefully I'll have had a nap to prepare for the night!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mendoza, Iguazu, and Colonia

A lot has happened since I wrote. In this time Aunt Gloria, Uncle Chris, and I went to the wine country in Mendoza, Iguazu waterfalls, and the small Uruguayan town of Colonia. And now, I am writing to you from the small polo resort just outside of B.A. where my study abroad program is having its orientation. Orientation has been a lot of presentations about expectations and culture-shock, but since I've been here for a while, I'm ready to get on with it. I've met, and mostly know the names of the 11 other people in my program. They seem nice. About half are from small liberal arts schools. They are also mostly from the coasts. To the East...Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Florida. To the West...Washington and California. One girl is from Minnesota, but I am the only person holding down the mid-west...I'll do it proud, I hope! I find out about my host family tomorrow and move in Friday.

So, back to my travel log...two weeks ago today I was getting ready to go to the wine country in Mendoza. Mendoza is in the west of Argentina, very near the Andes. It's dryer climate was a pleasant break from the humidity of Buenos Aires. We went on an all-day wine tour of four wineries. That day we tasted a lot wine, especially Malbec, the dark red wine the region is known for. A part from the wine, a highlight of the tour was realizing that a guy on the tour was a physicist who worked with the atom smasher. The next day went on a tour of the Andes and on top of mountain 4,000 meters above sea-level, I got to put a toe in Chile.

Back in Buenos Aires we went to some crafts fairs, met up with a friend of Laura's, and went to the Evita museum. A week ago right now we were on out way to the water falls in Iguazu. Iguazu is at the north of Argentina, right on the Brazilian border. We took an overnight 17-hour bus to get there and back...and I'm not sure I will ever quite be forgiven for putting my aunt and uncle through. Our first day at the falls it rained all day, but we still took the boat tour that took us right up to the roar and mist of the falls. The next day was gorgeous, we walked the trails and saw tons of butterflies. I had 3 butterflies land on stayed on my hand until I passed it off to another person.

We got back from Iguazu this past Friday and that night we went to a tango show with live music. Saturday we went to Colonia, Uruguay by a high-speed ferry. The town was originally established by the Portuguese in the late 1600s and from the on was fought over by many countries. It has been declared a World Herritage site and has been beautifully restored. Kind of like New Orleans, the town has architectural reminders of its diverse pasti...there are streets paved in the Portuguese way and streets paved in the Spanish way. Aunt Gloria, Uncle Chris and I enjoyed trying "clerico" with out lunch. Clerico is a wine and fruit drink similar to sangria, except that it is made with white wine.

The last two days of Uncle Chris and Aunt Gloria's stay we did just a little more around town. We went to a street called "El Caminito" in the La Boca neighborhood. The street is known for its colorful houses and is usually on the cover of any Buenos Aires guide book. Monday, as Aunt Gloria, Uncle Chris and I were walking back to the apartment, we had to stop because of a motorcade and cops blocking the side walk. I was wondering who it could be when Hillary Clinton, wearing a peacock-blue pant suit, got out of a black Cadillac and walked into her hotel.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I went to the historic San Telmo Fair today. My aunt, uncle, and I explored the booths with antique irons and artisan mates before meeting up with Megan Colnar, a Rhodes graduate and Watson winner.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bievenidos a Buenos Aires

I arrived in Buenos Aires on a Sunday morning to an unabashedly humid summer day. My aunt and uncle and I then got a cab to our apartment which is just a block from the iconic Obelisk on the Ave. 9 de Julio.

We kept a pretty low profile Sunday, we bought bus tickets and went to this Italian place near by for dinner. Today we went to the city center. Walked around the Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada, the pink version of our "White House." Then we walked down to the port area to look at the famous bridge designed by Calatrava: We also toured a ship from the 1900 that is docked on near there. For lunch we went to what a guide book said was the best steak house in town, and while I didn't eat any of the meat...Glori and Chris said it was delicious. Apparently the meat is all brought in from the restaurant's own ranch. Oh, and don't worry, I didn't go hungry! After we walked back to the station and on the way stopped by the Cathedral Municipal. The Cathedral took about 100 years to complete and is the 6th on the same place.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Otra vez mas

I'm a month out from going to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I leave February 13th and won't be back in the states until June 15th. That will be the longest I've ever been away from home and without seeing family. In trying to get ready I don't think I've really realized how hard that will be. I think what has helped is that I am going down with my aunt and uncle. Also, I'm going to be with a group of kids as a part of my study abroad program.

Since I have a little extra time before I start my program I am going up to Chicago and then down to Memphis to visit some folks. On the way back home I'm going to stop in St. Louis and Columbia. I'm mostly packed for that, I hope the bus ride to Chicago is tolerable. I'll just pretend like I'm back in Spain on a bus there. Why is it that mass transit here seems scarier to me than mass transit in a foreign country? I don't see why that should be.