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.