It’s sad to say my time in Argentina is coming to an end. This next week (5 days) is going to go by too quickly for me to process. As we’ve gone through the course I’ve thought we have focused more on the “film” than on the culture. But in this last week of classes, excursions and interacting with my host family, I have realized that there is no end to the culture I have experienced while in this country.
This Wednesday we had our last day trip. This time we went out to a ranch in the countryside to experience a cultural workshop full of horseback riding, cooking lessons, folk dancing and games. Even though we got off to a rough start on the ranch (several of my classmates either fell off, were rolled over by a horse, or hit in the face with branches), the experience was amazing. Not that I was feeling very homesick, but being able to just pet a horse reminded me so much of home. Seeing the Argentine country without buildings towering over me was refreshing. There was little sign of human presence out there except for one thing, the trash covering the river bed. This summer Argentina experienced major rain storms, and flooding trash has been carried downstream to the country. Seeing this otherwise untouched piece of land covered in trash was heartbreaking. This doesn’t just happen in Argentina, it happens all over the world, and it’s one thing that we have keep in mind when we think about throwing a gum wrapper on the ground. After we got back from the horse ride, all in one piece, we learned how to make Argentine Criollo empanadas. It was my dad’s birthday this week, so I am excited to get back to the States and make them for him. They seem easier than I originally thought, and I even got to help my host family make them that same night. We then learned a traditional folk dance, and let’s just say I am definitely better at the tango, which I still am not good at. We played bochas, which the Argentines say is a folk game, but I’m pretty sure the Italians brought it over as bocce with their initial immigration. After that full day of culture we were all pretty ready to go to bed or at least siesta, but we had a tango class. It was refreshing for me to actually understand the dance and be semi-decent at it.
Later in the week my family had their last asado with us, and I was both excited and sad at the same time. I knew the grill was going to be full of meat, but I was thoroughly surprised when there was no room left on the parilla to put more meat. Few vegetables in sight, I was ready to sit with the entire extended family and eat what Luly made us. You really haven’t eaten meat until you’ve had an asado and eaten meat right off the bone and off the grill. There was shouting and people everywhere. Even though there were many jokes and a lot of laughter, it was hard to imagine that this time next week I will probably be eating a steak with my real family back in New Jersey. After saying chau to some of the family members that I probably would not see next week, I realized how great it was to be in Argentina for the last month. I do wish I had more time, but I am so thankful for the opportunity Washington and Lee has provided me.
To end the week, two of my classmates and I traveled to our families’ cabin in a small town near Carlos Paz. We went to the river to pescar and nadar. I wish I had brought my bathing suit, because after the initial cold shock accompanied by the spring-fed river, the water felt amazing. The views from the river were breathtaking, and we got to have a nice sit-down conversation with our host family about their history. Luly walked with us along the river and sat with us at a breathtaking swimming hole. This river held so much history for the family. None of the stones were new to him, the river and waterfalls held stories and were in the process of making new ones. We saw the place where he and his wife, Dora, shared their first kiss and where their children would play every summer. Not only were they sharing this beautiful place with us, but they were sharing personal stories.
I will miss Argentina. I will miss the people. I will miss the food. I will miss my classmates. I will miss the view of the sunrise I get from my bedroom, but most of all I will miss the culture. Argentines are some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. I will miss my host family, nuclear and extended. Their stories and their accommodation are what made this trip truly fulfilling. Saying goodbye will be hard, but what will be harder to comprehend is that my time in Argentina is over. For now. Chau and besos Argentina, and thank you for all you’ve given me.
This week was full of class, travel, and more culture than I ever thought could be packed into a week of classes. Even though I came into this class knowing a decent amount about the history of Argentina, the activities were extremely enlightening, highlighting the cultural aspects behind the historical facts that I already knew. This week our class traveled to the clandestine torture prison, La Perla, just outside of Córdoba, and then traveled to Buenos Aires for a long weekend. Both of these trips were amazing and I know will be unforgettable.
It is well known that during La Guerra Sucia and the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983, the Argentine government detained thousands of people deemed as “subversios” to the state. During their time of arrest the subversios were imprisoned in many clandestine torture centers around the country. The subversivos included college students and anyone who was thought to be against the military dictatorships, including pregnant women. In addition to detaining these people, the government made anywhere from 9,000 to 30,000 of them seemingly disappear. Up until this day, bodies of los desaparecidos are being found in places like La Perla.
This somber visit was a profound experience which I don’t think any member of our class will forget. A visit to La Perla starts with a drive through a barren, brown landscape into a campus of brick buildings with a watch tower atop the largest one. In an opening lecture we were taken through the timeline of the torture center before and after the military dictatorship. One of the most heart-wrenching moments came after the lecture in an unexpected part of our visit. As we explored the campus we met a woman whose brother was detained in La Perla and became a desaparecido. Now a resident of Australia, she came with other family members to remember her brother. Her stories and tears were amazing to hear, and it showed our class the deeper effects of what happened during La Guerra Sucia. So many people around the world are faced with the fact that their relatives will never be seen alive again, and their bodies will probably never be found. Let’s just say that the stories told at La Perla will always hold a special place in my heart.
Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina and the center of government and protest in the nation. Our first stop on the tour of the city was The Plaza de Mayo, made famous by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who march around the Plaza every Thursday to protest the 30,000 desaparecidos and the loss of their grandchildren, who were given to other families to raise as their own. The plaza is traced with graffiti tags — not affiliated with individuals like we usually see in the U.S., but rather with political movements and figures. It is rare to see graffiti in Argentina that is simply a tag; for the most part there is a political statement behind it. As Mother’s Day was just yesterday, it was hard to think about the mothers and grandmothers that march there every Thursday, missing the thanks and praise from some or all of their children.
In addition to visiting the famous sites of the Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada, we spent time in museums and learning about the historical figures of Buenos Aires, like Eva Peron. Although a fairly controversial figure in Argentine politics and history, “Evita” won the hearts of many Argentines throughout her husband’s time in office until her death in 1952. As we walked through her former home, we learned about the forces the drove her political ideals, her experiences before she became famous, and the mourning the country went through in the days after her death. The anniversary of her birthday was just the day before we arrived in Buenos Aires. The museum was decorated in flowers from the people who still revere her. In addition, we visited her gravesite in what was one of the most gorgeous cemeteries I have ever seen. Her site and many others were adorned with flowers, and the mausoleums had altars dedicated to the dead in the family. The labyrinth-like cemetery didn’t have the eerie characteristics I would usually associate with a cemetery, but rather beauty and grandeur that surrounded the mausoleums of hundreds of families.
Although the likes of Eva Peron and the Dirty War are controversial throughout Argentine history, it is impossible to say that both haven’t become a distinct part of what makes Argentina, Argentina. Before leaving for Córdoba my mom made me watch the movie “Evita” with her. One of the first movies we watched for class here was “La Historia Oficial,” about the cries of The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. In addition to what I am learning in a more formal sense, I am also learning that it is impossible to ignore history. History cannot be erased, and rather than erase it, it is important to learn from it. I know this week seemed a little depre, but these are important things that have shaped my time on this trip. Hopefully next Sunday I’ll have something a little more feliz to share!
After a full day of airports and planes, I was finally in Córdoba, Argentina. As soon as I got out of customs, I was met by not just the welcoming faces of my host mom and dad, but also their daughter and their parents. Within five seconds of getting into the family van with two other students in my class who are living with the parents, we were told that this first week was going to be one of the longest, but also most fun of our lives. My host mom, Coty, had told me that we were going to have a ton of family parties this week, and boy did I underestimate her. Not only did I have to start thinking and doing daily tasks while speaking another language, but we also had to interact with native Spanish speakers and sound somewhat coherent while doing so. If this week could be summed up in a couple of words it would be: “¿Cómo se dice..?” or “How do you say…?”
One of my classmates jokes that he wants to have steak for every meal while we’re here. Although a doctor wouldn’t recommend doing that, he wouldn’t have a hard time at all, considering the country’s leading exports include agricultural products like cows. After a late lunch and a siesta, my family and I walked two and a half blocks to my host dad’s parents’ house for my first asado, or barbeque. I am not kidding when I say that there was no extra space on the panilla (outdoor grill) for vegetables because there was a mixture of steaks, ribs, and sausages covering it. Being in this family would be difficult as a vegetarian, but it would also be difficult as an introvert. When you’re surrounded by multiple families, with multiple children, it could be easy to fall under the shadows of their big personalities; the only way to make yourself part of the family is to be willing to try new things and meet new people.
Professor Pinto-Bailey was not kidding when she told us to bring comfortable sneakers on this trip. Everyone walks everywhere. We walk everywhere, including our two-and-a-half hour walking tour of the city. The architecture in Córdoba is a mixture of Modern, Jesuit, Gothic and Colonial styles. Everything is gorgeous, but in my opinion, the cathedral, formally named La Parroquia Sagrado Corazón de Jesús or more well known as Los Capuchinos, is the most beautiful. The cathedral was built in 1934, and its Neogothic architecture is surrounded by the modern buildings in the rest of Paseo del Buen Pastor. But the best part of this church is what seems to be a missing tower on the left side of the building. We learned from our tour guide that it was actually an architectural wonder, and the first artificial wonder in Córdoba.
Argentines run on a completely different schedule than Americans. Although classes still start at nine in the morning, many Argentines in Córdoba need to start their day two hours earlier just to traverse the colectivo, or bus system. Two classmates and I have a forty minute bus ride and fifteen minutes of walking before making it to class. But first we have to get on the right bus. On the second day of classes, my classmates and I didn’t realize we had gotten on the wrong bus, but in reality it was one of the best experiences and tests of our Spanish-speaking skills so far. We ended up at the end of the bus line and an hour late to class after we spoke with several drivers at the terminal about how we should get back to the city center. After our multiple hours of public buses, we were starving, but our next meal wasn’t until the 1 o’clock lunch. After this we have a merienda, or snack, around 5 o’clock, and then dinner somewhere between 9 and 11 o’clock. Let’s just say it has been an adjustment for our circadian rhythms. Over the next three weeks this schedule will certainly lead to long days, late nights and a ton of memories.