(My internet is way too slow to upload any pictures for the blog today… so, sorry about that)
Well, my frustrations with the slow teaching schedule and an overabundance of free time led me to start volunteering a couple of mornings each week. Someone at the Fulbright commission put me in contact with an Argentine Fulbrighter (who’s leaving for the U.S. in July for his Master’s) who has been volunteering in las villas for years now. Villas are the slums surrounding, or sometimes inside of, major cities in Argentina… especially Buenos Aires (think: Favelas in Brazil). In the last 10 years, the number of people living in the villas of Buenos Aires has skyrocketed (it was 163,000 in 2010), especially in villa 31 and villas 21-24, where I’m going now. I take a bus Tuesday and Wednesday mornings across the city to Barracas. I’m not totally clear on the exact makeup of the area but it seems like many of the families/households have been here for years and years, more than a generation, and the kids come from families who immigrated from Paraguay. As sketchy as this sounds going out there or as worried (or, actually, apathetic) as most people here seem to be about these villas, I’ve felt totally fine. I meet with a number of volunteers from this organization (it’s a Christian NGO, Caacupé) right where the bus drops us off and we all walk in together. We spend most (or all) of our time inside a building that’s some kind of church/cafeteria/school combo.
The awkward part? Standing silently while everyone prays and crosses themselves over their food or in the church before classes. Even if I wanted to fake along, I have no idea what they’re saying.
I work with an education program that helps out during mealtimes, with homework, and other activities for kids from 9-12 before they go to school in the afternoon. When we first get there, we help pass out hot milk or tea to the kids and pieces of bread for breakfast (that’s it). Then there are announcements and the kids separate according to age (1st - 3rd graders and 4th - 7th graders) and gender for the older kids. So far I’ve helped out with the older girls during homework time and with the youngest kids during some kind of arts and crafts activity.
When I was introduced to the older class, they tried to guess where I was from. They were told I spoke English… "ESPANA!" they guessed. Nope. Some of them had no idea where the U.S. was or that we spoke English. One girl asked me if I knew Justin Bieber. I told her that I didn’t, and that he was actually from Canada. Once she found out that was an entirely different country she didn’t care so much where I was from.
If I had any doubt that my time in Buenos Aires would be challenging, just picture this. I’m helping 11, 12, and 13 year old girls with their math homework, I haven’t done math in 5 years, I’m reading upside down, AND I’m doing this for the first time in Spanish. Do you know how to say the math operations in Spanish? I didn’t until Tuesday. I kind of fumbled around with a lot of different verbs and vocab until I stumbled upon the ones that made sense for them. I can now talk about adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, squares, the order of operations, etc. in Spanish… and hopefully these girls can kind of do it too (teaching about ‘borrowing’ in subtraction was a particular challenge).
The little ones… So cute, way too energetic. There were 2 assistants (including me) helping out the ‘profesor’ (who I’m not sure is much more qualified than I am) deal with 30 screaming children in a room that echoes way too much. One girl told me, “parecés extraña cuando hablás” (you sound funny when you talk). Thanks, sweetheart.
One hour commute each way and only 3 hours with these kids saps quite a lot of energy out of me… but at least I’m somewhat useful now.
THIS CITY WASN’T BUILT FOR RAIN
Monday night it seemed like all of Buenos Aires was subjected to the wrath of the underworld. A nice dinner and evening stroll were ruined when a few drops here and there turned into a MASSIVE DOWNPOUR when I was 4 blocks from home. My apartment is on a major avenue… which was completely flooded/submerged in water within seconds. Roommate arrived moments after I did, equally sopping wet. And the next day? The sun came out and everything dried like it never happened.
BUENOS AIRES PAUSES
The city was quiet today for a ‘paro general’ (what they call a strike). I remember these strikes from last time I was here… this one is nationwide, and everybody ‘works’ from home and there’s no subway, no buses, nada. Most shops and some restaurants close too. So where did I go? Back to the movies, since BAFICI is still going strong.
Today I saw Mujeres con pelotas (the official translation is something like, The Story of Women with Balls, which I love). It’s an Argentine documentary about the terrible culture women face who want to play soccer, the paradox of a country who “breathes soccer” but shames female players. The directors juxtaposed interviews with girls who said things like, “yeah, they call me futbol slut” and “I have to do all the chores before I can go play; my brothers can go whenever they want” and [mostly] men who supported this idea that women not only shouldn’t, but physically can’t play soccer. A sports journalist cited how genetic differences make men’s and women’s soccer as different as a professional sport and a kids’ game. A man on the street said “Thank God I’ve never been to a girls’ soccer game”. A mother said that she wished her children would play with dolls instead of soccer balls. Others said girls should just stick with [field] hockey - the most common female sport here - since it’s less violent and aggressive (then they showed a clip of a girl getting smashed in the face with a field hockey stick). They shared the stories of women who are opening girl’s futbol schools and starting club teams despite a severe lack of funding and access to facilities. They showed a group of girls playing on a dirt field in villa 31, and how the boys refused to stop running through their game and stealing the ball as they tried to practice. They talked a lot about how women’s soccer is never, ever televised here so there’s no way to break through this barrier. They talked about the abundance of opportunities for boys to start playing soccer at the age of 7, and how girls try for years and often can’t find a way or are too ashamed to play until their 20s (hence why they’re often seen as poor players here). The film was funny in a disgusting sort of way, and I kept scoffing and grunting throughout the whole film whenever something re-machista was said (but so did everyone else in the audience).
Side note: I met a girl volunteering who’s from Salta (northwestern province of Argentina) and she plays with a bunch of girls every Sunday. We exchanged numbers, and I’m definitely hoping to crash that party. I’ve never been anything special when it comes to soccer, but at least no one ever made fun of or shamed me for wanting to play. Grrrr.