I had a dream last weekend about one of the greatest monstrosities ever to happen to breakfast cereal. A few years ago, the manufactures of Trix cereal determined it would be cheaper to produce Trix in an identical shape rather than maintain their authentic and magical form that resembles “fruit.” It went from a bowl of seemingly wonderful fresh produce to mere balls of sweetened puffed corn. I haven’t purchased a box since.
That was until a miracle occurred at Disco, one of the major grocers in Argentina. I experienced my first bout of homesickness and wasn’t sure what remedy to try, but I figured food was a good place to start. I wandered for a bit and it wasn’t long before I felt I might have made a mistake in my attempt to seek relief in a foreign market. Where are the processed foods overloaded with corn syrup?! Where is my favorite comfort food, Entenmann’s donuts?! Enough dulce de leche, where is the peanut butter?! I nearly left empty-handed when I stumbled upon the cereal isle when I finally found my savior: Trix cereal with fake fruit shapes in their entirety. (I kid you not this was exactly what happened in my dream, too.) I just applied for my citizenship.
Other food highlights (or pitfalls) of the week:
Aside from food, this was our first “regular week.” Tuesday was the first time I visited my praxis site, albeit with the rest of the Casa program, but Thursday was normal. The typical praxis day is as follows: walk ten minutes to the bus stop. Take the N4 or N11 to Barrio Argüello, about a 15-minute ride, and arrive around 9am. From 9:30 to 11, the hermanas host the first of two tutoring sessions for kids in the neighborhood. From 11 to noon-ish, we chat and drink mate with the hermanas, Leticia and Maria. They make us lunch and we eat till around 2pm or so. Between 2 and 4pm will vary based on what’s planned, but Thursday consisted of Kayleigh, Lorena, and I (the Barrio Argüello crew) exploring the neighborhood. From 4:30 to 5:30ish, a second support group arrives, after which we leave. (Side note: it’s going to be a few days before I can take pictures of the kids. I don’t know what an iPhone will mean to them.)
Both groups of kids are around ten years old, and, of course, speak no English. The hermanas don’t either, but they don’t really have a great desire to learn; the kids do. (The first question every girl asks is how to say her name in English. The guys just want to know if I have a girlfriend.) So far, my morning favorites are Martína and Sophía. They tolerate the language barrier nicely and love to teach me words. On the first day, Martína walked around, pointed to things, and told me what they were in Spanish. It was a blast. Even though it reaffirmed my struggle with Spanish, the kids encourage me to learn and speak, regardless of my nonsensical sentences. Given that the sessions are in fact meant to be of academic aid to the students, the afternoon provided a second chance spread some of my knowledge from the US. The kids were working on Roman numerals, but despite my enrollment in four years of Latin class, I had no idea how to help my buddy Augustine. But I did know how to get Luis to help us, and in a short time we all knew how to write large numbers in a system unfamiliar to English and Spanish speakers alike. Maybe I can’t talk here, but I still know how to put to things together to serve a need.
On Saturday, it was a school on the South side of Córdoba that “needed service.” We went to celebrate the end of La Mes de Solidaridad, the Month of Solidarity, with hundreds of other volunteers. We helped totally refurbish a school, with the specific task of repainting a classroom. I found it to be a meditative experience itself. In my mind, this was the first direct service I participated in here in Argentina. We all had a great time and it was nice to get outside of our neighborhood. The constant maté breaks weren’t bad either.
After a much needed nap, we headed downtown for dinner and a previa with some friends we me earlier in the semester. We left Hector’s apartment at around 1am, which was unfortunately late enough to require an entry fee to the boliche (about $8). I finally danced with some Argentines (or whatever you want to call the attempt I made to move rhythmically to music)! Places close in Córdoba around 5am and if you want any chance at catching a cab home, it’s a must to leave a little early. Cue pancho (see hotdog pic above). A group of us made it about three blocks in a cab before a brief interlude when we slammed into another car. We were all fine, but it was an interesting situation to navigate abroad. We were greeted at home by the program director, Santi, who wanted to ensure that we were physically okay. For precautionary measures, he took Amanda to the hospital as she hit her head on the side of the door. Let it be known that I bruised my finger.
On a different and more serious note, Martín’s class on Friday offered some intriguing insight into our experience abroad beyond reckless driving (though it is truly crazy here). Here are some random facts about Argentina:
1) Argentina is the world’s 8th largest country in landmass (the top three are Russia, Canada, and the US).
2) About 16 million people live in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, which is almost half of the entire country’s population. Córdoba, the second largest city, is about 3 million.
3) College is not a privilege in Argentina. Any and every citizen can attend a public institution free of charge. It’s common for college students to live at home while in school as well.
To Martín, the goal of the Casa program is to “melt” stereotypes from both US and Argentine perspectives. He noted Argentines often think the US as similar to what they see in our movies and TV shows. (Also, Mormons. They are apparently the only people from the US that make a deliberate effort to have a presence in the country.) He’s gathered that people from the US view Argentines as hot-blooded, full of machismo, but at the same time laid-back and lazy. In order to change these stereotypes, there’s much to do, but it starts in the classroom and praxis sites. Martín emphasized how unique this process will be given our circumstances, though. Normally, in an academic setting, one teaches and learns in this way: start with the material’s history, apply theories/methodologies, and finally analyze case studies according to the rest of the content. But for us, we’ll do it in the reverse order. The praxis sites act as our case studies. The classroom serves as a place to reflect, debrief, and interpret our experiences in actuality rather than exclusively in a hypothetical, academic world. Talk about immersion…
Yet again, the best part of my immersion experience this week was with food. Kayleigh and I went on a “friend-date” Sunday to a nice parrilla (Argentine steakhouse) just outside our neighborhood. We wanted to do some homework after dinner so we went at about 8pm. The restaurant wasn’t even open yet. If we were in the States, we essentially just walked into a dinner restaurant at 4pm. We spoke the chef who told us that we could hang out for an hour while the coals heated up. We weren’t in any rush (what homework?) and enjoyed our gracious chef/host, Ricardo, so we stuck around. He explained the menu, showed us the kitchen and took us to the mini boliche (nightclub) in the back. We had an outstanding time, mainly because it was one of the first times I felt forced to speak Spanish. Kayleigh and I are definitely the worst of the group at Spanish, so when we’re out and about, other students talk and get us around. We can understand it fairly well and can speak when necessary, but the parrilla really offered us the first time to be in control. It wasn’t quite on par with the “parrilla libre,” but it was pretty damn good.