Tons of things to talk about! :)
Wow. It’s crazy to think that two whole months ago I was struggling through orientation and desperate to get out and enjoy life in Buenos Aires, to start classes, meet people, get into a routine and just overall feel like I knew what I was doing.
My friends, I believe I have made it there. And it feels fabuloso! I think one of the best ways to convey this to you is to go over what I do in a typical week. J If I put something in bold that means I’ll go into more detail about it after my schedule outline.
Monday: I wake up bright and early to go over to the Facultad de Agronomia and volunteer with an organization called Pecohue. After that, I’m free to go home and take a nap (believe me, I always need it!) and generally just enjoy not having anywhere to be, so I sometimes use that to do homework or try to upload the vlog I still haven’t gotten to work yet. Haha.
Tuesday: I wake up early again and head over to UBA CS (Universidad de Buenos Aires, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales) for my Criminal Organizations class until about 1 PM, and then I go home to make lunch and nap (again, haha) and since I usually have homework due the next day that I’ve been putting off I’ll work on that. At night I go to the Centro Cultural de Rojas for my Tango lessons. Then I go home, eat dinner and go to bed.
Wednesday: Depending on whether or not I finished the homework due that day, I may or may not wake up early. Wednesday is when the cleaning lady, Julia, comes. I eat breakfast and get ready for class, and for the afternoon I’m at the IFSA office for my Castellano class. After, I go home and do homework, eat dinner, veg out until bed.
Thursday: I wake up early to go to UBA FyL (Filosofia y Letras) for my Lit class, and after I again go home to make/eat lunch and nap, and it’s free time until dinner and bed.
Friday: I have no official structured anything to do this day. J So I tend to use it to make myself something really awesome for lunch, or clean my room, or work on some other things. But what I like about Fridays is that my host mom is gone for most of the afternoon and all night and so I get the house to myself which is really nice because I can play my music loud, dance all around the place, and other things people like to do when they have the place to themselves.
Saturday and Sunday: More days with no official things planned. But I do have friends and I manage to make plans or if not I go to the mall and shop around or see a movie or something.
Ok, I know it sounds like I have a lot of free time, which I do. But there are always tons of things that come up that I fill those time voids with. Also, part of the program fee goes toward the tons of activities that IFSA puts together, there have been so many really cool things, like Tango lessons, soccer games with Argentinos, plays, operas, kayaking, etc.
Now let’s get into some detail about the things I do during the week:
Pecohue: Part of the IFSA staff is a volunteer coordinator who connects interested students with organizations who use volunteers like us. There are a lot of organizations to choose from and chances are you’ll find something that fits what you’re interested in, and if not you always have the option of seeking out something yourself (but for safety purposes, you must get it approved by IFSA).
Back home, I work as a Spanish tutor for minority high school students, and I love love love that job. I miss it a lot, so when the volunteer coordinator mentioned a program that utilizes volunteer tutors for economically disadvantaged high school students I knew immediately that that’s what I wanted to do! We e-mailed the organization with my information and let them know I was very interested in becoming a tutor. SADLY, they never emailed back. I met with the volunteer coordinator who told me that they had changed their own volunteer coordinator and that they had never answered her back in general. So we sat down to discuss some other options that might appeal to me.
Buenos Aires is a very large city and nature can be hard to come by, the UBA Facultad de Agronomia is a HUGE plot of land that’s devoted to plants, and is home to Pecohue. Pecohue is an organization that aims to rehabilitate young people who have various backgrounds into a working environment, things such as working as a team, having a person in authority over you, keeping to a set schedule, etc. They have a chunk of land that they utilize to cultivate food that they sell and then use the money to pay the participants. The people of Pecohue are made up of participants (those who the program is working to help), counselors, students from the Agronomy facultad, and volunteers like me. When the coordinator was describing it to me, she really emphasized that a lot of the participants were about 15-20 years old and that they came from backgrounds like recovering from addictions, being recently released from jail, and other things in that sense. This is what really appealed to me so I went ahead and signed up.
The entire Pecohue team is such a fantastic group of people! They are so welcoming and kind, it immediately felt like a part of the family. The only thing that surprised me was that the majority of the participants are not really recovering from addiction, recently released from jail, etc, but actually persons with special needs. I personally do not have any kind of background in working with people with special needs, so I’ve felt awkward at times. It’s definitely exposing me to new things, but like I said, the entire team is really nice and supportive that even when I’ve found myself having an awkward moment they all help me out.
The jobs I have been doing at Pecohue have mainly been weeding, but I don’t mind at all. It’s relaxing, doesn’t require a lot of thinking, and is a good atmosphere for conversation, which is a great way to practice Spanish. After they finish for the day, they all sit in a circle together and discuss what was accomplished and what needs to be done the next day. During this discussion, they eat snacks and drink mate.
My first time having mate was with the Pecohue group and I loved it! Well, not the taste. It’s an acquired taste, very bitter; actually, it tastes like grass. But what it represents is wonderful. Mate is a kind of tea that looks like chopped up grass, which they pack into a special serving cup. One person has a canister of hot water that they pour into the cup and they pass it to someone who drinks it out of a special straw that has a sifting mesh at the end of it. That person drinks it until all the water is gone, and passes it back to the water person, who pours in more water and it gets passed to the next person, who also drinks until the water is gone and passes it back and so this happens until everyone’s had a turn and all the water is gone. While I’m not a fan of the taste, it definitely brings about a sense of community. Passing around the mate is a gesture that connotes friendship and trust. It’s great!
Criminal Organizations Class: This class is my most interesting by far. The tricky part though, is that there are two lecturers who switch of every week and don’t seem to communicate with each other. Like, last week, the guy didn’t show up, so after an hour everyone left, I’m not complaining though, haha. This week we watched American Gangster and have to write a report on it. Me gusta. J
Another tricky thing about this class is that they leave a lot of readings at the photocopy center. There’s like 3 of them in the building. So you have to go to one, wait in line, ask for the class and when they tell you they don’t have it, you have to climb up the stair to the next one and repeat and until you find the reading.
Also, I guess it’s ok for people to smoke inside of the building. I was waiting in said line, and the girl is front of me was just smoking away like it was nothing, and upon further inspection, the floor had quite a few cigarette butts littered all over. As a non-smoker, it’s a bit obnoxious.
Tango Lessons: My tango lessons are great! But I’m really bad at it haha. I take my lessons at one of the many cultural centers in Buenos Aires and the instructor is this really fantastic and really tiny lady who dances really well. The other people in my class are really fun and nice and non-judgmental, which helps since I really struggle and lumber through class. I’m getting better, but I’m still not at a level where I would wow everyone at a legit Tango place. In fact, when I was at one, no one even asked me to dance. I would’ve said no anyways, because watching the people who were dancing was really intimidating, they just glided across the floor all sexy and fluid. I definitely do NOT look like that when I’m dancing tango. But before I leave in July I aim to be competent enough to not be an utter embarrassment to myself and others at such a tango establishment. J
Julia: Every Wednesday, Julia comes to clean the apartment. Yes, we have a cleaning lady. This is something kind of unheard of where I’m from. Cleaning ladies are typically something that we only imagine in the homes of the upper class. But here I am, in a middle class home, and have a cleaning lady who comes once a week to change my sheets, take out my garbage, wash dishes, etc. I thought about it and realized it’s not so much a part of privilege and laziness, but giving work to someone else. I also take my laundry to a Lavadero (a laundry man), which started off really awkward because those are my clothes… my personal belongings, and I was expected to pay some random guy to wash them for me. But it’s really convenient because he’s literally right next door to my building and so far I haven’t had any issues. He (and some woman, I’m not sure if that’s his wife, sister, some random lady) separate, wash, dry, fold and spray a perfume on the clothes and charge by how many loads it was. It can take a day or so, so I have learned to not wait until I had absolutely no clothes left to take them down, and I can see through the window when I walk by so I can see my blue hamper and if it’s still full of my dirty clothes or if it’s empty or if it’s filled with the plastic bags that mean my clothes are done. I even walked by once when I saw my clothes all over the folding table, which was really embarrassing because I saw some underwear just out there for any of his customers to see. But other than that I don’t mind it, and I’ve gotten over the whole, this is awkward thing, well for the most part anyways.
IFSA Office: The IFSA Office is located in the centro, which is a really lively part of the city, so it’s great to have a reason to head down there once a week. This office is also where I go to check if I got any mail, and also a great place to go if you want to use some free Wi-Fi, or just do some homework. Just don’t try to speak English, because the staff is all over and will yell at you if you’re not using Castellano.
UBA FyL: People have told me that this is the most disorganized facultad that UBA has, and I find that it lives up to the reputation. Two weeks ago, when I showed up late for class (classes always start late anyways) the classroom was empty. Not just in the sense that no one was there, but there were no desks in a room that is usually filled with them. I walked around the building and took in the sights. There were desks all over the hallways, outside in the courtyard, outside in the streets, and professors were holding their classes in various sections of these areas. There were also a lot of desks stacked up recklessly to block stairways. I walked around trying to find my class to no avail, and soon decided to give up and go home. Later that night I received an email saying they had moved class to a bar and that it was a toma (a kind of strike) run by students to “take” the facultad and hold classes in the open. I guess this happens a lot. It’s definitely different from what I’m used to back home at UW-Madison, but it’s really great to see another way of running things.
My host mom: Oh goodness, I have so much I can say about my host mom. She’s this tiny lady who is uses her home to host her patients because she’s a psychoanalyst. Yup, the kind that are real big on Freud. She’s really friendly, and when she’s talking she gets really excited and starts yelling and stands up and waves her hands around. It was really cute at first. She very anti-Cristina (the president here) and vehemently yells about how much she hates her and is waiting for her to die or for someone to kill her. Almost everything we talk about she can turn around into a long-winded scream session about how much she hates the president and what the president does.
She eats dinner with me just about every night, and engages me in conversation. I’ve heard some horror stories about some food the other host families serve, but my food is always great and usually something different every night. I appreciate that a lot. She’s never had a Mexican-American like me as a host student before and so when I make Mexican food for lunch she’s always surprised by what I manage to find, whip up and eat. I’ve made tacos, quesadillas, pico de gallo, horchata, and some other stuff and she for the most part she’s enjoyed the taste when I offer her some. As long as it isn’t spicy. That’s my main lament about the cuisine here, there’s no kick! I live off spicy food back home, and am a firm believer that almost everything can be improved with the addition of hot sauce or jalapeños, but Argentinos can’t handle spice to save their life.
My family had sent me a huge birthday box full of goodies and one thing was a box of pre-made mole. Mole is a Mexican sauce made from chipotle peppers and chocolate that you can put on a lot of things, but I mainly just eat it with chicken. I was super excited when I saw it and made some chicken right away. I don’t find mole to be the least bit spicy, so I thought it would be safe to offer some to my host mom. I gave her a tiny bite, and she had a two second delay. Then she ran off, literally ran away, screaming “ES HORRIBLE! ES HORRIBLE! TENGO QUE TOMAR ALGO! ES HORRIBLE!” (“It’s horrible! It’s horrible! I need to drink something! It’s horrible!”) It was actually pretty amusing.
For the most part she’s a very friendly woman, but when we disagree on something, she starts her yelling and hand waving and it really irks me. Other than that, I’m happy here, if I weren’t though, I would be able to switch into a new host family whenever I decide, so that’s another great part about this program, but it’s definitely a give-and-take and pro-vs-con kind of mentality.
The Mall: About 10 blocks away from me is a really big mall called Abasto Shopping (“Shopping” is the word they use to refer to a mall, not “centro comercial”). It has about 4 floors of stores, a movie theater, a children’s museum, a giant Chuck-E-Cheese style arcade and a food court.
Interesting things about the food-court, they have a Kosher McDonald’s, and when people are done eating they don’t throw away their trays. They just leave it on the table for the employees to clean up, which is really odd to me, who is used to being in malls where people are expected to clean up after themselves.
I’ve already seen about 4 movies at the Abasto movie theater, 3 of which were American movies in English with Spanish subtitles, which is an interesting experience in itself. I don’t typically read the subtitles and so there have been instances when the words are on the screen before they come out in the audio and so the audience laughs at the joke and then I laugh a few seconds later once it’s actually been said. When I went to see “Ted”, yup, the movie about a guy and his teddy bear, there was a flashback to 2005 (or some year around there) and the characters were at a club listening to “Kiss Kiss” by Chris Brown. The guy says “Chris Brown can do no wrong!” (a reference to the scandal a few years ago when he hit his then girlfriend Rihanna) and I was the ONLY person who laughed. They didn’t get it, probably because that scandal never made it over into the tabloids here (which is also really interesting because I don’t ever really see tabloids), and so I laughed alone.
Thanks so much for reading all of this! I’ll try to keep shorter blogs more frequently from now on, so be sure to check back soon!