10 Days in Patagonia (not really at the end of the world…)

Amid the flurry of complaints from all my adoring readers (Mom, Dad, … maybe that’s it), I will end this “blackout” and post about my 10-day vacation “at the end of the world”. As usually happens with me, I’m getting far too lazy to blog about my life, but I suppose a vacation deserves an excuse.

Emily (aka, BFF) came to Argentina to visit me at the end of July. We spent one night in Buenos Aires before departing south. We flew from Buenos Aires to Bariloche. This is my Google map attempt at showing you our route.

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BARILOCHE

We landed in Bariloche on a Sunday night and stayed until Wednesday morning. This part of the country is known as something like the land of ‘siete lagos’, or 7 lakes. There are some pretty big ones. Here is the glorious view from our hostel:

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It is winter, so it’s not warm, but it wasn’t frigid either. Probably in the mid-40s during the day, and then it would drop at night. Bariloche is supposedly the best ski location in Argentina, but it’s also a very expensive, touristy location so we spent our money elsewhere.

Our first full day we took a 5-6 hour bike ride (26ish km, if I remember correctly) called the “circuito chico” where we had beautiful weather and I panted my way up and down some not so insignificant hills. This was our lunch spot.

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Here’s Emily with her bike

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I was sufficiently sore following that day but it was worth it. 

ESQUEL: 

Our 3rd day (I believe) we took a 5 hour bus ride south to a smaller, less touristy town called Esquel. The town itself isn’t that spectacular but it’s a good jumping-off point for a number of activities in the area. Our first day we hiked a mountainous hill in front of our hostel, and the hostel’s dog (Inca) accompanied/guided us.

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The next day we were told that the ski conditions weren’t very good so we should go to Parque Nacional Los Alerces instead. It was on our list of things to do, so we went ahead and did that. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great and we also didn’t really realize that exploring an enormous national park was impossible without a car. The rental car agency didn’t have any automatic cars (and we’re too American to have learned how to drive stick-shift), so we paid for very expensive taxis to take us there and pick us up at the end of the day. That being said, we got in a couple of nice hikes, but only managed to tackle a tiny fraction of the park. Then it started raining and and the visitors’ office was closed so we waited outside for 1+ hour for our cab, in very foul moods. Here’s from an earlier part of the day, preparing basically the same lunch we ate everyday during our trip.

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The next day we paid to change our bus tickets because ski conditions were finally good(ish). We took a 20 minute taxi ride to La Hoya Ski Resort, supposedly nearly as good as skiing in Bariloche but cheaper. As a first-time skier, I didn’t really care about what slopes were open or how difficult they are, because I spent all my time on the badass bunny slope. Emily, a much more seasoned skier, was more limited in her slope options as Esquel has received much less snow this winter than the norm. After getting fitted for pants/shoes/helmet and paying for my beginners’ lesson, we went our separate ways. I took a two hour lesson with instructor Abril, a 20 year old college student home for winter vacation, and only one other student. I don’t remember his name, but he was a very tall/large probably high school-aged kid with little coordination and natural athletic ability. Needless to say, my crawling pace and less-than-graceful turns looked star quality. Unfortunately, two hours later when I went to do the whole “bunny” slope (we’d spent the lesson on the bottom half) with Emily, I wasn’t as prepared as I had thought to handle the real speed with which you’re supposed to ski. Emily was patient with me and helped me up after I wiped out a few times (who’s counting?) and by the end I was able to do the whole slope at my preferred crawling pace without falling. I wasn’t about to whip out my camera while holding onto my poles for dear life, so here’s a picture of us on the ski lift.

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The next day we took the hated bus ride south to El Calafate (where we were taking another bus afterward back to El Chaltén). It’s the easiest, most economical way to get to El Calafate but it took us about 25 hours from Esquel. We were fairly cranky and smelly by the time we arrived (at least I was). 

Side note: the worst part is that this bus company — and others in Argentina — think that it’s okay to show crappy and violent movies that everyone is forced to watch AND listen to. They don’t give you the option of ‘plugging in your earphones’, no, they just blast it over the bus speakers. We must have watched 8 movies. And I watched about 7 more than I wanted to.

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Once we got to El Calafate we jumped on another 3 hour bus to El Chaltén, where the real cold was. The pipes in our hostel were frozen from the previous night (supposedly the coldest of the season and in the whole country, an allegedly -21ºC or -5ºF… could be worse) but we eventually were able to shower and use our toilet (phew). 

EL CHALTEN

El Chaltén is a charming small town nestled in a valley and known as the trekking capital of Argentina. In the summer months, a few thousands people live there. But in the winter (ie, when we went), less than 1,000 people live there and most hostels, restaurants, stores, etc. are closed. So the town was a bit ghost-like but I would still say it was my favorite of the places we visited.

Our first trekking day we went as far as we could to see Mt. Fitz Roy, a very famous and supposedly beautiful mountain that we couldn’t see because clouds are constantly surrounding it. Oh well. Instead of posting my shitty picture of that, here was our first viewpoint, Río de las Vueltas. 

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In total, our hike lasted about 4-5 hours amid fresh snow, ranging from a few inches to a few feet at times. We met a Catholic priest from Sicily and hiked part of the way with him because, why not?

Here’s a photo of the town after we finished our hike.

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We trekked again the following day - a bit easier - but again my photos aren’t so spectacular because, surprise!, the mountain we hiked to see was covered in clouds.

For our last destination, we took the 3-hour bus back down to El Calafate. Our flight was leaving from there the next day, and we had one more big item to cross off on our list: El Glaciar Perito Moreno. According to Wikipedia, it is one of only 3 glaciers in Patagonia that’s growing (did you know there are people called ‘glaciologists’?). We knew that it was a massive glacier located about 1.5 - 2 hours from the town of El Calafate and everyone says it’s spectacular. It certainly was, but unfortunately my photos won’t do it justice. 

It’s massive, and racing towards the land at an astonishing speed of… 1 centimeter per year. I wish it hadn’t been so cloudy so you could see that it seemed to glow blue. Every once in a while we would hear a loud CRACK and expect to see a giant mound of ice breaking off. Instead the tiniest (or what we thought were tiny) pieces would break off and fall into the water. 

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After 10 days, we flew back to Buenos Aires, where the country is experiencing an unusually warm winter (ie, temperatures in the 60’s instead of the 50’s ºF). 

In total, not including airfare, I spent about the equivalent of USD$700 on the whole trip (lodging, food, excursions, bus travel). Not too shabby.

MUNDIAL. CHIQUITOS. COMIDA.

Yes, the World Cup has begun. Of the nearly 48 games played thus far, I’ve probably seen about 42 of them. Seriously. They fill in some of my free afternoons quite nicely. Things aren’t too crazy here yet, futbol-wise… but we’re only in the first round. Argentina is going on (after 2 less than quality games) so we’ll have to see. During each Argentina game, however, the city does basically shut down. Nobody works (who doesn’t absolutely have to), there are no taxis, shops close, etc… The first Argentina game (vs. Bosnia) a friend from soccer invited me to her friend’s house. It was the ideal set-up. Lots of food, drink, and… A PROJECTOR with surround sound. Certainly beats the tiny monitor we have in our apartment. 

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My Fulbright teaching job is going…well, it’s going. Still hopping around to different schools every week (some in very, very far places). The other day I showed up to a school that I’d never been to, and the teacher who had communicated with me stayed home sick (but didn’t let me know). Turns out that instead of 50 students attending my ‘chat’, they brought in 120 STUDENTS. IT WAS A NIGHTMARE. I had to scream for them to hear me in the back and they weren’t even paying attention in the front. I was not a happy camper.

I did visit a school in Parque Avellaneda a couple of weeks ago. Soooo far awayyyy.. and in order to get there for a 7:45 am class I had to leave at 6:15 am. It doesn’t get light out here until basically 8, therefore I don’t believe in working before 8. Anyway, after a class I gave one day they had a school-wide assembly for a speaker who turned out to be Che [Guevara]’s younger brother. I stayed for the beginning because… well, because, but then I left because I was starving and the talk was less than interesting. He’s the guy in the middle with the giant mustache. 

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My volunteer work in Villa 21 is more satisfying as I see the same kids every week and some of them are starting to looove me. The older girls… not so much. But the second half of the morning (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) I work with the “chiquitos” (ages 6-9) and I work with the ‘red’ group (we had to separate the kids because otherwise it was utter chaos. Not that it’s not still chaos). The kids in my group were basically the first kids to actually learn my name and care that I had one. But, because Kimby is a little strange for them, one day they started calling me… Kiwi. And the other volunteer in our group, Margherita, they started calling… Mandarina. So we’re basically fruit teachers. And I love it. They gave me an endearing name and I’m gonna run with it. My group is full of characters, and sometime in the future I’ll accompany this with photos of each one, but right now if I took out my camera or phone in the middle of a lesson they would go absolutely [more] insane. But, more or less, there’s:

  • Rodrigo - I think he’s 7. He has a cool wheely backpack designed/shaped like the car from the movie ‘Cars’. I think he’s the one who named me Kiwi. He has way too much energy and likes to jump around and fight with the boys during recess, and almost always comes to class crying or in pain because someone kicked someone, yada yada yada. He’s actually not supposed to be in our group (he’s a little too young) but he wouldn’t have it any other way. After we volunteer most days he and his brother walk with us (we go towards the bus stop, they live nearby) and he holds my hand. Oh yeah, sometimes he eats his eraser and pencil while we work together. Then he denies it.
  • Andrés - Rodrigo’s older brother, he’s probably 8. He gets just as physical as Rodrigo, and is bigger, so that’s not a good combination. He greets and kisses me everyday and today I caught him winking at me while they were eating breakfast. He’s told all the older boys to call me Kiwi.
  • Isa - Isa is very sweet and normally jumps on me when I first get into the class and makes me carry her to her desk. She’s also super intelligent — she knows the answer to everything. However, only if you are working one-on-one with her, otherwise she gets very.. very distracted. She’ll sit there with a blank sheet of paper until you ask her the question aloud, even though she knows how to read. Sometimes she fights with the boys.
  • Hugo - Looks like a bulldog. And is always angry. And it’s hard not to laugh because his face is so hilariously adorable when it’s scrunched up. Today he was wearing an Angry Birds shirt and it was almost too much for me to handle. He’s really good at math, but is only really willing to work for about 20 minutes and then he likes to play with some Pokemon-ish cards. Everything makes him mad. 
  • Nicole - The sweetest girl you’ve ever seen that does her work obediently when 40 other kids are screaming and running around. She doesn’t always know the answer but she works so hard that she eventually gets it. Everyone was jumping off the walls at the end of the day today and I just looked over at her… and she was practicing her cursive. I gave her a big hug and told her that she was the best-behaved kid in the whole class. Because sometimes I’m distracted by the loud, disruptive ones when really I should be praising her.
  • Sometimes Carlos and Kiara also come, but not very often. Carlos is sweet but a little lost, and Kiara likes to copy Nicole and Isa before even trying to do her work. C’est la vie.

Apparently Argentina is on the brink of default. Again. Something about vulture funds and the Supreme Court in the U.S. shooting down the Argentine government. Uufff. 

Bonus photos:

One of my roommates and Inca/Sarna/Sandra showing Argentine pride (with a hat I may have purchased for her):

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Food. I continue my hunt for amazing [AFFORDABLE] food in Buenos Aires. The first is a super cheap, Middle Eastern restaurant called Sarkis. I went with 5 other people and we ordered a TON of delicious food and each paid (with tip) less than AR$100. Wow. Unfortunately the wait to get into the restaurant was 90 minutes. Give or take.

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This second is a real Italian pizza place. Have I already discussed the situation with pizza here? Yes, yes, everyone is Italian, blah blah blah, but that doesn’t mean the pizza is good. It’s weirdly thick (but not deep dish), it has too much cheese, and not enough sauce. And it’s kind of cardboard-y. Therefore, you need to find these gourmet restaurants, like Siamo Nel Forno. Beer, two pizzas, and tiramisou. We were happy.

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STILL ALIVE & IN BsAs.

Warning: This is long. But there are a lot of pictures.

Whelp… Just got back from a soccer game where we lost 15-3. I can’t say that’s unusual for us (last week we lost 14-2), but in our defense, we had two girls play today for the first time… ever… and the other team had two girls that shouldn’t be allowed to play in our league. But as we always say after each game when we lose (we did win one time, by the way), “nos divertimos!" (we had fun!). 

As you can tell, I’ve been entirely too lazy to update my blog. Not that I don’t have time or anything, don’t get me wrong. But, in MY defense, only my dad and Emily bugged me… so yeah. In the last month the only major update is that I moved (last weekend). I’m in the same neighborhood but about 10 blocks from my last location. I’m living with 2 Argentine guys and a girl on exchange from Finland. So far it’s buena onda (loosely translates to “good vibe/cool”). My room is cheaper and bigger than in my last apartment (where I couldn’t have my door and closet open at the same time), and my bed is slightly bigger (a size that I don’t think exists in the U.S… larger than a twin but smaller than a double). I have my own bathroom, technically, because I live in what used to be servants’ quarters in the olden, aristocratic days. These service bathrooms are pretty weird though because they have a toilet, a sink and a shower faucet, but no tub or shower stall. So you just shower over the toilet… Needless to say I shower in the main bathroom that the others share. We have a great balcony and, let’s see, what else am I missing… OH RIGHT. A DAWG. DOGGIE. PERRITA. 

Her name is technically Inca — my roommates rescued her from a subway station called “Los Inca” I think — or at least that’s what it says on her collar. When they first rescued her she was really dirty and mangy. “Mangy” in Spanish translates to “sarna”. Unfortunately for this sweet pup, they’ve been calling her Sarna ever since. Since I can’t bear to yell that at her (or especially at the park, how weird that would sound), I call her Sandra. It’s close enough and she answers to that, too. 3 names. Also, she understands Spanish, a bit of French, a bit of Finnish, and now I’m teaching her English. ALSO to play with a frisbee. Right now she’s clueless so I’m just trying to get her familiar with it (I may or may not feed her in the frisbee sometime). Here are some obligatory photos of my favorite new roommate:

"Sandra checks her e-mail"

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"Sandra sunbathes"

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"Sandra hogs my bed"

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"Sandra and Kimby go to the park"

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"Sandra’s favorite chair"

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Here’s a picture of my past roommates (the one on the left just left this week to start her MBA) when we went to eat deeelicccioussss Korean food (with an authentic Korean, who recently moved to Buenos Aires).

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YUUUUMMMMMM.

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Hmmm… this was a month ago or so, I think, when I hung out with some girls from my soccer team and their 75 million cousins. They’re all from Salta (northwest province near Bolivia). It was a great time but unfortunately I didn’t know a single one of the local, folkloric songs from Salta that they sang over and over.

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Errmmm… A couple of weeks ago the city of Buenos Aires had the Fulbright assistants record some passages at a studio for their annual language exams. Nothing interesting but I liked the studio and Kermit. 

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A couple of weekends ago I went out with a girl from a class I spoke to and her friends, one of whom was playing at an entirely Beatles-themed cafe. His group was okay but then followed this one (note: “The Beagles”) which was basically a perfect Argentine version of the Beatles. That was fun.

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In terms of my job, also known as the reason I’m here, it definitely could be better. There’s a massive lack of communication between the city, who brought and paid for us, and the schools that are actually supposed to be making use of us as a ‘valuable resource’. I’ve entirely given up on weekly conversation clubs at the teacher training college where I’m based, because I refuse to be stood up anymore by students who, yes I know are busy, but tell me they’re so excited to come and then never show up. To fill my schedule, my director sends me to random secondary schools, other teacher training colleges, and night classes for adults to give charlas, or chats. Basically I go and present on… my life… and American culture, however I can best suit it to the age and language level of the group. So far the adult classes take the cake, where adorable 75 year old men and women don’t really understand me but think I’m equally adorable. The fact that they are still trying to learn another language at their age is pretty inspiring. And it’s also pretty cool that the city offers these classes free for them. The last adult class I helped out with gave me flowers and a cake ! That will definitely win me over every time.

This is Lili, she was oh-so-happy to have me:

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I’ve also been helping out a fair bit with a teacher training college for early childhood educators. This week I did Part I of a ‘CV & Cover Letter Workshop” for students. We basically spent 2 hours trying to figure out how to make babysitting sound formal and important in English. I think it helped, though. 

FRIDAY. WAS. A HORRIBLE DAY. Most of the teachers that request an assistant’s visit to their school are fabulous and really appreciate us as native speakers. There is one, however, who was quite skimpy in her e-mails to me when I asked her what her students are like, what interests them (“culture” is not an answer), what are they working on, and what do they understand. Finally I threw a pretty interactive and entertaining presentation together for 1st and 2nd level English high school students about cities, sports, and food (the pictures made the presentation). She never actually told me how many students there would be, and the form she filled out said 40. Bueno. I went Friday morning, bright and early. I got there at 7:50 to make sure the projector was set up, etc., and found out that said teacher was ‘sick’ that day and wouldn’t be coming in (thanks for the e-mail). Some random guy was in charge of escorting me to the auditorium where they have the projector. And then they began filing in students. Not 40 students, no. Not 80 students. 120 STUDENTS FILLED THIS ‘AUDITORIUM’ (AKA BIG CLASSROOM). THEY WERE 13 AND 14 YEARS OLD AND WOULD NOT SHUT UP. I literally had to scream for them to hear me, and my lovely interactive presentation became a shouting match for them. That was a nightmare. And once I cool down I’ll be writing a passive aggressive email to said teacher. 

Anyway, there are some people that get it. One teacher who requested an assistant took me out for coffee because she felt that e-mail wouldn’t be sufficient to help me understand what her students need. Fabulous, I’m in love with her. She’s also only 24 so hopefully she can be my new best friend. Another teacher at my home institution, who teaches U.S. History, invited me and the other assistants to her home last night for dinner. We ate empanadas, cheese, crackers, drank beer, and actually had a great time. Her two kids were pretty adorable, too. I left her house at about 1:30 in the morning, went back to the apartment to get one of my roommates, and we went to another roommate’s friend’s birthday party alllllll the way in the furthest edge of the city. Luckily it was a lot of fun but that kind of travel is rough. I went to bed at 7 am…

I’m trying to do new things that are a good use of my time here. I found someone that is equally willing to spend plata ($$) on food, and we’ve basically decided to do dinner weekly or biweekly. There are just so many restaurants in the city and I already have a massive list building of a million places I want to go. This week we went to Paraje Arevalo, in the neighborhood of Palermo Hollywood. A food blog online raved about the place so we made a reservation and went. Enter Argentina’s FUCKING INFLATION PROBLEM.

The blog, written not too long ago, said the meal would be about AR$160 pesos. That sounded good to me. We didn’t know how much the restaurant had adjusted their prices since then. We did a tasting menu, where you pay a set price for 6, 8, or 10 dishes. The 6 dish menu was 330 pesos (about 30 dollars). OUCH. Between the two of us we JUST scraped by with the cash we had on is. We ordered two 6-dish menus, and they were nice and gave one of us an 8-dish menu. It was deeeeeeeelish. I died. So amazing. Totally worth all of those pesos, although I really can’t do THAT every week (or ever again). I wish I had taken a picture of the menu, because I don’t remember what everything was called but it was something like:

1. Little egg shells with some kind of cream of something inside

2. Beets with something… 

3. One poached egg with fried calamari, one breaded and fried with something (below)

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4. Salmon with vegetables of some kind

5. Green beans, cauliflower, and some other vegetable in some cream sauce

6. This tasty beaf dish with mashed taters 

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7. Chocolate mousse with something

8. Coffee ice cream covered with hot coffee

^^Clearly I didn’t do that menu justice. My bad. BUT IT WAS AMAZING. And then I waited 30 minutes for a bus and got 4 hours of sleep before teaching that disastrous class but totally worth it.

Oh, right. So eating good food is step 1 of my do-new-things pact. I also (and I’ll skip the horrid story of how the city’s transportation entirely failed me yesterday and I arrived 90 minutes late and actually ended up missing the first class) signed up for an Intro to Painting class. THAT’S RIGHT. Can I paint? Absolutely not. Will I try anyway and make terrible pictures? Heck yes. 

Basically the city has these different ‘cultural centers’ in various neighborhoods that offer classes and workshops - some for free, some for cheap. They usually include dance, acting, music, photography, visual arts, literature, etc. This intro to painting class goes for 3 months, and costs 230 pesos each month… which is basically 5 bucks a class. I can swing that. It’s every Saturday afternoon alllllllll the way in Villa Urquiza. The only direct way to get there is the ‘B’ subway line. Guess what’s closed every Saturday indefinitely? The ‘B’ subway line. They’re installing air-conditioning in the trains. Just in time for winter… OH WELLLL. I WILL MAKE SURE TO LEAVE AMPLE TIME TO TAKE THE TWO OR THREE BUSES NECESSARY TO GET THERE ON TIME NEXT WEEK. The people at the cultural center were super nice though. They said it didn’t matter that I missed the class, and one of the women that I was from Brazil. How sweet.

Okay. Those are all of the thoughts in my head at this moment. I swear the next post will be shorter and take place in less than a month. Chau Chau.

I’m too lazy to write a whole post about Córdoba. In summary: the weather wasn’t always ideal and the city isn’t the most exciting place in Argentina, but we still had a good time.

My couchsurfing host, Chipi, in Córdoba. It took me a while to figure out how to open the door to let him in the house so we just played through the bars for a while… Note: this is after he tried to lick and chew his way through.


Post on my trip to come tomorrow[ish].

23 years old and long division is still hard.

Yesterday morning I woke up slapping myself. And scratching myself. Why? Because Mr. Mosquito decided to have a slumber party, uninvited. I tried to sleep under my blankets but it was too hot, so I got up at 4am and sprayed myself with OFF. Went back to bed, but I couldn’t fall asleep because I was so paranoid and kept imagining buzzing in my ear. I still haven’t killed him but now I sit on my bed every once in a while with the lights on and just stare at the walls. It’s on, Mr. Mosquito.

My time has mostly been filled with visiting a random batch of classes. Luckily students tend to think I’m awesome (not a huge surprise I guess) but last Friday I did visit a 4th year secondary class (basically high school juniors equivalent) and they were so rowdy I wanted to strangle them. I also talked to this class about crime, the death penalty, and drugs… even though they were immensely interested, I still couldn’t get them to CALM DOWN. One student did raise his hand and summarized:

"So your country kills people and doesn’t have free healthcare." In summary yes.

Last Wednesday night I sat in on a phonetics class… what an experience. Academic institutions in Argentina are just starting to shift away from the idea that RP (“Received Pronunciation”, ie the Queen’s English) is the only way to speak English. Another American ETA, a girl from Northern England, and I went to this class… man did we throw off that teacher. That teacher who studied pronunciation in one specific way like her life depended on it. She had everyone go around the room and read certain phrases, passages, and words, occasionally pausing to direct them to repeat the word with a “full rise” or “low rise” (I only understood about 15% of what went on in that class). Whenever the other American and British girl and I read something aloud, the teacher just gave us a funny look and the rest of the class would laugh because this poor teacher just had no idea what to do with us. Imagine, a girl from England who pronounces “run” as “roon”. What a disaster! And Patrick and I, saying “carrr” instead of “cah”. The teacher had asked me to prepare something to read for the class, so I read Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” (WHAT UP). I had to read it 3 times, and they all noted every single word that I pronounced “differently” (ie… wrong). So we essentially spent 3 hours as this class’s monkeys, being prodded and poked to say words over and over and over. 

I finally found a group of girls to play soccer with! I volunteer with two of them, and I went this past Sunday for the first time. Most of these girls have only been playing for a couple of months (as is common of many girls in Argentina, not having the opportunity to play when they’re younger) so it was interesting! Still fun. And I’m definitely nothing special, so I at least looked like I knew what I was doing. At halftime we were winning 2-1! And then we lost 8-3. HAHA YES, THAT’S RIGHT, THEY SCORED 7 GOALS ON US IN THE SECOND HALF. Better luck next time! The walk to the cancha (field, or “pitch”) was quite a sketchy one, along a littered highway and under a bridge where homeless people sleep, but it eventually brought us out right along the river. If the river weren’t brown and gross looking, it would have been quite beautiful:

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Can’t see the river? It’s what looks like pavement in the background. Oh, the great Riachuelo! Fun fact: 3rd most polluted river in the world. HAH.

A small chunk of my time each week revolves around my volunteer work with Caacupé in villa 21 (look back a couple of posts if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Good news: no students have asked me if I’m pregnant (re: look back a couple of posts if you don’t know what I’m talking about)! 

Sometimes I worry that I’m doing more damage than good. Not only because it took me 2 weeks to learn what the kiddos meant when they shouted “PLASTICOLA” (a brand of glue here) or “LIQUIIII” (white out), and not just because sometimes my accent is so weird for them that they just giggle instead of listen to me, but because I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. One girl had to write about ‘physical changes’ for her science class and I’m fairly sure I made up what I was telling her. Another girl yesterday needed help with her math homework… division. You know how, in the U.S., when doing long division we write numbers this way?
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Well here they use what I’m guessing is European long division, like this:

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IT WAS CONFUSING. Not only was I doing this in another language and reading her work upside down, but I was completely confused as to what goes into where and where you write what. Now that I look at this it looks really simple and I sound stupid, but I SWEAR it was hard. I unfortunately made her redo her work (even though it was right) because I was convinced at the time that she had written it backwards. Stupid Teacher Kimby (actually, they call us all ‘seño! seño!’ for señor or señorita).

Last week while feeding the kids lunch, a small orange kitten climbed through the window and sought out some food. A little girl, no more than 3 years old and far too shy to speak, who must have belonged to someone working there, immediately went after the cat. She pulled its tail, picked it up and tossed it around, kicked it, etc. I looked on, shocked and tried my best to intervene, but she was giggling and having a ball. Finally she gave me the cat as a present, and I thought, I will save you orange cat! She put him in my arms and he purred like a lion. That cat was loving it. Alright, then.

Today the weather was terrible and it was raining so a lot of kids didn’t come this morning (I don’t know). We had such a small group that everything was pretty tranquilo and the little ones (ie, chiquitos) got to have fun with painting. I took advantage of the calm environment to snap a few pics for my adoring fans.

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I don’t remember this girl’s name but she’s very sweet. I particularly like her unique rendition of “The Little Mermaid”. in this feminist version, Prince Eric is the one to make the sacrifice to be with his beloved Ariel, and he becomes a merman. Go mermaids!

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This is Rodrigo. He’s hilarious and he knows it. While I could have sworn he painted a lion, he claims it’s Bob Esponja (Spongebob). 

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This is Margarita (one of the volunteers) and Jazmín, one of my favorite girls. She always asks me to play hand-clapping games with her. She usually forgets the rules and I have no idea what’s going on. She also pretends to be my cat and crawls between my legs and goes, “meow meow”. Her birthday is this week and she told me that yesterday as a present she got to be the “ama de casa” (basically, head of the house) and cook a pizza. That is so not what I like to do on my birthday. Anyway, here they just got tired of using paintbrushes, because why not? Hands are just as good… I guess.

Anywayyy, I need to wrap this up because I’m leaving in like 5 minutes to go to the bus station because we have [another] 4 day weekend and I’m meeting a fellow Fulbrighter in Córdoba! YAHOOOOOOOO. 

Chau chauuu

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Some of my most devoted and dedicated fans here may be thinking, wow, you haven’t posted in two weeks! You must be so busy! But, oh, how you’d be wrong.

Last weekend I came down with a monster of a head-cold and spent a few days as a giant ball of mucus, according to my friend. I did put myself together a bit last Saturday night to go to a show called Fuerza Bruta. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but my assumption was that this show (which started in Argentina and has toured internationally) was something like Cirque de Soleil. I guess… kind of. Take Cirque de Soleil, add some grunge, and make the audience stand and be surrounded by each act. That’s Fuerza Bruta. I can’t really explain what it was… but during one part, they lowered a giant plastic-enclosed area to just over the audience’s head, like so:

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Then filled it with water and threw in a bunch of girls in their underwear to splash and swim around.

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They also flew down from the ceiling and carried audience members away with them… but now I’m just giving away too many details.

During the week I went to a few classes and continued with my volunteering. Besides the fact that four 12-year old girls thought I was pregnant and wouldn’t stop asking me and now I’ll throw away that shirt and burn it, everything went well. 

Thursday and Friday were holidays here for Easter, so a lot of people went out of town and I can’t say I had the most lively weekend. On Thursday, though, one of my roommates invited me to a tour about the Jewish people in Buenos Aires, given by her rabbi friend, Ernesto. After 4.5 hours, I had to leave for another meeting but Ernesto had only crawled through the city’s history enough to arrive at 1900, so I’m left on the edge of my seat! Really, though, we talked about the 1500s and 1600s when crypto-Jews from Portugal came to South America and helped smuggle silver through the port of Buenos Aires. According to Ernesto, they were key to the city’s development. Ernest called them both “contrabandistas judías” and “piratas judías”. THAT’S RIGHT, PIRATAS! Does anyone else smell Pirates of the Caribbean 5: Jews take over Buenos Aires ?

As the city enters into its autumn weather (ie, low 60s) and I struggle to ignore all of my friends’ facebook statuses and instagram pictures depicting beautiful spring weather in the U.S., I try to take advantage of the pockets of perfect weather that appear every few days. Where the temperature peaks around 70 and the sun is shining, ohh it’s glorious. That’s when I take my book and go to - where else? - the dog park (or the plaza with a giant hill where everyone just happens to bring their dogs). On Saturday I got lucky and not only did this handsome fellow sniff me, he plopped down right next to me and we had a grand old time. 

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Yesterday I was feeling particularly domestic (actually, I was just hungry and am getting bored of eating the same things) so I made buñuelos de espinaca (spinach fritters). Pretty tasty if I do say so myself, and my roommates gobbled them up like Halloween candy. I’ll admit that they look kind of nasty and this photo doesn’t do them justice at all:

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Good news is that this week my schedule is quite full, mostly with lots of visits to secondary classes. Today I visited a 4th year class (16 or 17 years old) and 1st year class (13 year olds). The 4th year class was great and speaks fantastic English. The teacher asked me to speak to them about ‘crime’ in the U.S. What’s that you say, I can’t just repeat what I see on Law & Order? I did some research thank you very much and taught them all about the glorious death penalty, juvenile delinquency, and drugs. They were particularly disturbed that we execute people and excited that we have legalized recreational marijuana in some parts of the country now. 

Side note: Argentina (and especially Buenos Aires) is experiencing a wave of ‘vigilante’ crime and violence. Police officers are notoriously known here for being corrupt (and disturbingly underpaid) and unhelpful. Both the teacher and the students were in agreement that they wouldn’t expect an ambulance or police officer to come quickly during an emergency and that no one answers when they call 911. Eek.

Sounds like a job for… Batman.

3.5 weeks later, I’m kind of useful

(My internet is way too slow to upload any pictures for the blog today… so, sorry about that)

VILLA 21

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.

Teaching? Not so much. Let’s go to the movies!

So, classes finally begin tomorrow. But the first few weeks will be slow due to students changing classes, city-wide strikes (this Thursday), and Easter. I’ve met with a couple of professors to discuss how I can help with their classes, and no one seems to need us (the ETAs) very much yet. So what am I doing with my time now? Going to the movies.

BAFICI (Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente) is an international independent film festival in the city for a little under 2 weeks, showing (I think) more than 400 films. Tickets for each movie are only 26 pesos, and if you ask for the student price, it’s 20 pesos. So… $2 per movie? Done. I’ve bought tickets to see six movies. So I’m essentially seeing six movies for the price of one in the U.S.

On Wednesday evening, my roommate and I rushed out to Almagro after our respective workout class/run to see the festival’s opening event: The Congress (starring Robin Wright/Jon Hamm/etc.), for free, in an amphitheater at Parque Centenario. Well, free doesn’t mean all can see it. We got there about 20 minutes late, and apparently BAFICI is the one thing in this city that you have to be on time for. The theater was full so we just walked around a little bit and then got pizza and beer (well earned after our workouts). I did see this handsome bookworm on our way out of the park:

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The movies are being shown in a number of locations all over the city but, lucky for me, most of the ones I bought tickets for/wanted to see are being shown at the Village Cines in Recoleta… 15 minutes from my apartment. Here is my not-so-artsy foto of the multi-story banner inside the movie theater:

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On Friday night a friend and I saw El color que cayó del cielo, an Argentine film/documentary tracking the whereabouts of supposedly ‘lost’ meteorites that fell in Northwestern Argentina. It was…interesting.

Yesterday, I went by myself to see Geographie Humainea fascinating French documentary that takes place in the Gare Du Nord, a train station in Paris. The team interviews passengers, passersby, and employees in the train station to find out where they’re from, where they’re going, how they identify (ethnically, nationally). For anyone interested in demography, immigration, and/or France as a destination country, I definitely recommend it. People interviewed in the film hailed from the Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, the DRC, Mauritius, the UK, Belgium, Cuba, the U.S., India, Vietnam, and more.

Over the next week, I have tickets to see:

The True Story of Palestine (Israeli film)

Algunas Chicas (Argentine)

Mujeres con Pelotas (Argentine)

Al fin del Mundo (Argentine)

So… maybe I’ll start doing something soon that’s relevant to why I’m actually here? Maybe…

When I grow up…

…I wanna be Claudia.

Claudia is my referente (mentor) at Lenguas Vivas, the tertiary institute where I’ll be an English language assistant. I met her on Friday and then, trying to be as “proactive” as possible, e-mailed her immediately afterward saying that I was eager to get started on whatever, whenever. So we arranged for a chat yesterday.

This woman is a force of nature with a delightful British accent (and perfect English). She’s adamant about integrating more American English into the program, and gets visibly angry when she tells me that the Phonology teachers only want the assistant from the UK to help (because Americans talk real ugly). She casually inserts into our conversation that she used to visit Los Angeles every summer with her husband before he died young. Oh and she doesn’t drink mate anymore because she had cancer. Apparently a type of fungus can grow in mate that’s bad for those who are prone to tumor growth…

I don’t know how old Claudia is, but let’s just say 50 or so. She has her PhD and is currently the Regencia (or manager of some kind) of the school, in addition to a million other roles with the government and as a teacher educator worldwide. In the month before I got here, she e-mailed me from Mexico, Colombia, and at the last minute rejected an invitation to speak at a conference for educators in Brazil. She just accepted an invitation to speak at a conference in Porto, Portugal next month. She told me this traveling is exhausted. At least they don’t send her back and forth to Southeast Asia all the time anymore! Ha ha… ha?