Ponderings on Argentina

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A cultural sidenote on grocery shopping August 28, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 3:15 pm

So Monday Tina and I volunteered to cook the meal for our servant team dinner that night. We went shopping Monday afternoon, our recipes for bourbon chicken and fried rice in hand. Shopping was so much fun in Argentina, which is weird because I absolutely hate it in the States! We went to a carneceria to buy the chicken breast, garlic, and pepper. I loved just talking to the locals in the shops–they always are amused to see two gringas frolick in and try to remember the names for all the food we need.

It was such an adventure, trying to find Spanish equivalents to all our American food needs. Do you know that they don’t sell brown sugar, molasse, or many spice here? Definitely different. Also, they don’t have any huge grocery stores–just a lot of small ones that specialize in different things. For example, the carneceria sells meat, and then if you want bread you go to a panaderia.

And for those of you wondering (Dad), if i completely crisped the meal to obliteration like I am known to, I didn’t and it turned out amazing.


Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 2:18 pm

A few days ago, Jeremiah gave us a more complete tour or Buenos Aires, and we went to the Plaza de Mayo. For those of you who don’t know, I wrote my senior thesis this spring on the Catholic church’s role in the Dirty War, and how that affected the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Don’t worry, I’ll decode.

In 1976, Argentina’s deomcratically elected president was overturned in a military coup because of the economic dive the country had been taking in the last 20 years. The military thought they could run the country better, so they took over with an iron fist. To help the country “recover”‘ economically, the military thought it prudent to dispose of anyone who threatened their views or dominance in the country. They set up a series of cladestine concentration camps and began to kidnap, torture, and kill anyone who  opposed them. They began only taking prominent political leaders, but it quickly spiraled out of control and they began taking any men, women, and school children–even babies–that they viewed as dissidents. And they used the term dissedent VERY loosely. The horrors that took place in these concentration camps rivaled the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, and over the period of the next 10 years, approximately 30,000 people “‘disappeared.'”

Many people were frozen into innaction by fear. If they stood up to the government and tried to procure justice, they would surely be next to disappear. However, there was a group of people that had lost too much to stay quiet. A group of mothers whose children had been disappeared banded together to form the group called Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo–the Mothers of the Plaza of Mayo. They called themselves this name because every Thursday they would gather in the Plaza de Mayo–the huge Plaza in the center of downton Buenos Aires that housed all of the important political buildings, including Argentina’s Casa Rosada (the White House) and peacefully, yet forcefully demand the return of their children.  30 years later, they still meet to this day to protest the injutice.

So, after studying and reading about this for months, you can imagine how excited I was to actually go to the Plaza de Mayo, walk over the bricks, be in the place that the Mothers had cried out for justice in for so long. It was very surreal.

First we came up to the Casa Rosada–their White House, which is actually pink, and then we saw the Plaza de Mayo, which is decorated with all of their symbolism. The Mothers wear white headscarves with the names of their disappeared children embroidered in them, and the bricks that make up the plaza have murals of these white headscarves all over, decorating the ground. There are anti-terrorism messages spray-painted all over the ground, as well.

Seeing the plaza was a very spiritual moment. Finally, I was able to walk around and see the same things the Mothers did while they protested in honor of their disappeared children. The formidable Casa Rosada loomed closeby, the group of policemen leaned against the white obilisque, and all the while these brave Mothers marched around the Plaza.

After a while the Mothers got an office that they based themselves from, and this office has tranformed into a bookstore, cafe, and a musuem of sorts. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the plaza, so we went there to look around. I walked through in a sort of awe. Awe that the horrors I wrote about are, in fact, true, and awe at the Mother’s extreme bravery and determination for justice. They are truly inspiring.


8/21 August 22, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 3:43 pm

Today we got to see a lot of Buenos Aires! Jeremiah led us on a tour. We got on a bus at La Boca, and took it through the streets that are too dangerous to walk through. There is a little slum there that showcases devestating poverty. We drove by the little slum, and then–suddenly–we entered into the richest part of town, where homes run in the millions.

We got off the bus at El Retiro, which is a train station and bus stop where we are going to be going about 3 times a week to hang out with the homeless street children. While Jeremiah was showing us around, we ran into one of his homeless friends. She was small and was selling newspapers she had found in a sweet, sing-song voice. We introduced ourselves, kissing her on the cheek as is the custom here. I am sad to say it was a little weird. Here we are, in the middle of this bustling train station, kissing a homeless lady on the cheek that everyone is ignoring or avoiding.

I guess it is weird because, for years, I was the one avoiding the homeless. Not all the time, I went downtown with my mom and worked in a soup kitchen and helped inner-city children with reading, but basically if I was going about my daily life and I ran into a homeless person I would ignore them. Why is that? For years society had been telling me that they were dangerous people, that they could mug me or rob me. Society said that those people were nothing more than a litany of bad choices–drugs, sex, alcohol, and that it was best to not come near that. I didn´t know how to respond to someone who had nothing, sitting on the side of the street on a cardboard box, when I had so much. The only response I had was guilt. So I did what everyone else did, walk around them. Sometimes I gave money, but never in a meaningful way.

Everytime we ignore and avoid the homeless, we take our scissors and cut out all of the passaes of Scripture relating to the homeless or poor. ¨Whatever you do the the least of these, you do unto me.¨ Snip, snip.

What if we stopped picking and choosing which passages of Scripture we wanted to lsiten to and started acting like God actually means what He says in the Bible? Proverbs 21:21 ¨If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.¨

Going to Toronto this summer with Access was my first experience of really seeking out the homeless. I realized that Toronto, as is Word Made Flesh, is not a 10 step program. It´s more about allowing a little of the Kingdom to break into this world by giving people back their dignity–the one thing we rob from them everytime we walk by and ignore them. They are sons daughters of God, and image-bearers of Christ, and they deserve to be treated as such, just like we do.

I´m hoping and praying that God will change my heart so that I won´t feel weird walking up to a homeless lady and greeting her with a kiss on the cheek. Instead, i hope to be joyful. One of my favorite songs is ¨hosannah¨ from Hillsong United. This song has a line that addresses God and is quickly becoming the theme of Argentina, as it was the theme of Toronto for me. The line is becoming my prayer and hope. It states simply, ¨Break my heart for what breaks yours, everything I am for your Kingdom come.¨ These simple words carry with them a great power and an attitude shift, the potential for change.


WOW! They DO that here?

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 3:25 pm

Last night my host family didn´t eat dinner until 10:45! And taht is actually normal for most families.

So then, you may be asking, when do the little kids go to bed? Do they eat earlier? No. They go to bed about midnight. During nice nights we have seen them out playing at parks as late as 11, and Jenn says they are often out there until about midnight. The schools start early too, around 8:30. Jennifer was telling us that every morning the parents have to practically drag their children out of bed because the kids are so tired, and they don´t ever have enough time to eat breakfast because the kids don´t get up early enough, so the schools serve the children breakfast. The schools serve the children as many cookies as they want and Coca-Cola. What a nice little sugar rush to start the morning! Jenn says that whenever Jordan (her son) has kids over to play in the afternoon they will randomly fall asleep because they are so tired from being up late. Coming from the US, where all children are in bed by 7 or 8, this is so weird to me!


On Mate and the Tango

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 3:20 pm

Today we met at Jennifer and Jeremiah´s house (the WMF servant team leaders for Argentina), and the Jenn led us on a tour around La Boca, which is the colorful neighborhood they live in. There are stands everywhere of people trying to sell random gadgets and touristy things, many different restaurants with people practically forcing papers in your hands advertising the restuarants, and live music and tango dancing! The whole plaza was really colorful and alive.

Quite honestly, i´m not in love with the tango yet. I think I´m too used to salsa with its fast moving dips, spins, and lifts that I learned this summer. From what I saw of the tango, they just kind of strut around the stage together and occasionally flick their legs around. However, we were in a very touristy place, so I´m assuming the dancers were amateurs meant to impress people more by their showy costumes than their actual dancing skill. So, with all that being said, I am witholding judgements on the tango until i have more exposure to it. I really want to fall in love with it, but so far I haven´t been to impressed. Maybe I´ve been watching too much ¨So You Think You Can Dance.¨ They haven´t quite made it on the hot tomale train yet.

One of the unique things about Argentina that I am in love with is the mate. Yerba mate is a plant indigenous to Argentina that is kind of like a tea leaf that tastes very earthy. It comes in a loose leaf form that you pack into a little gourd cup, almost until it fills the cup, and then you add steaming water, and, if you are a gringo, sugar. You drink the mate through a bombilla, which is a metal straw with a bulbous end with a filter on it that keeps you from drinking in the leaves.

Mate is such huge part of the social culture here. If someone offers you mate, it is kind of like offering you an invitation into their social circle. We´ve been getting crash-courses on mate ettiquette from Jeremiah and Jenn, and here is what I have found:

  • There is a ¨mate moderator.¨ This is usually the host. They make the mate and then proceed to pass it around to the guests.
  • When someone hands you the mate you drink the entire glass, not just a few sips
  • Don´t play around with the straw, because everyone drinks from the same straw. While drinking from the same straw is considered community-building, playing with the straw in your hands is considered gross.
  • Don´t take forever drinking the mate when it is your turn, even if it is boiling hot. People will get impatient!
  • When you return the mate after drinking it, dont say gracias unless you are done drinking mate for the entire afternoon. Saying thanks is your way of saying, I am officially done.
  • DO plan on spending lots of time with people and having good conversations when the mate comes out. It is a very social thing!

Anyway, those are my random thoughts on tango and mate, two things that Argentina proudly claims. I can´t wait to bring some mate back to the US and have you all try it!


A little fooseball action

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 3:04 pm

Today I almost shared a little more solidarity with the homeless than I would have liked to. Let me explain!

I was eating an amazing dinner of rice, eggs, tuna, and eggplant with our entire host family (Pablo, Alejandra, Ana, and Juan), filled with lots of laughing and good conversation, as well as an occasional heated political ¨discussion¨. After dinner Pablo (the father) looks at Juan and turns his hands at the wrist simaltaneously. To those of you uneducated in the game of fooseball, this is the universal gesture that means one thing: let´s play.

Well, needless to say, I got really excited and asked if I could watch, and Pablo informed me that Margi (my roomate who is from Portland) and I were going to play!

Juan and I got on one side of the table, and Margi and Pablo took the other side. I got into my fooseball stance.

I won´t give a play-by-play, but let´s just say that Pablo´s eyes widened in horror with each glorious point Juan and I scored. Eventually, they lowered their standard from winning to just scoring one point on us.

With each goal I made I thought, ¨hm…I should let up a little bit–maybe let one or two goals slip in, or at least swing and miss a few times.¨ But then my instinctual competitive nature, thanks to my father, always got the better of me. At one point I looked over at Juan and joked that we were going to be kicked out of the house and sleeping on the streets that night. The gleam in Pablo´s eye made me wonder if I wasn´t too far off from the truth. ç

Margi and Pablo left after a game, and then Juan and I played one-on-one for a while. After an intense series of games, I went to my room to go to bed and thankfully realized that all of my things were in my room and that my bed was not on the front stoop. What a relief : ).

Juan and I have a plan. Next time all his friends come over we are going to invite them to play, and I´m going to act like I have no clue what fooseball is or what I´m doing. Then we will dominate : ). Can´t wait!


First impressions! August 20, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 6:56 pm

Hola amigos!

Ahora estoy en Argentina! That basically means, I made it! My trip went surprisingly well. The only mishap was me waiting for over an hour for my baggage at the Dallas airport, when, in fact, it didnt even stop in Dallas–it flew straight to Argentina!

At Dallas I met up with the three other lovely ladies who are on my servant team: Margi (the girl im rooming with), Tina, and Megan. They are all so much fun and really sweet. We have really only spent 2 and a half days together, but I feel like i have known them much longer. We are going to have an amazing time!

The plane ride was about 10 hours, and I sat next to an Argentinean guy who had been a coach in the Olympics for four years in sailing. We chatted a lot during the trip, which was fun.

Jennifer, Jeremiah, and their three kids met us at the airport. Jennifer and Jeremiah are the directors for our servant team in Argentina, and we have already been to their house multiple times to hang out. Last night they had a party for us with fracturas (a kind of doughnut), coffee, and of couse yerba mate.

The city is really cool–it looks a lot like a mixture of Spain and Tegucigalpa! There are stray dogs everywhere, like Teguc, and the driving is insane, like Teguc  again. The bus drivers seriously drive the buses like Nascars or something! To make this worse, all of the stoplights are a little different. WHen a stoplight is red, it changes to yellow, and then to green. The yellow says essentially, get ready because the light will be changing to green soon. Well, all the drivers interpret the yellow as saying, go ahead and start driving because it will be green anyway. Yesterday, in fact, the bus I was on was already half way through the intersection while the light was still green! The lanes here are also only a suggestion, as are turn signals. People drift in and out of lanes as frequently as they decide to stay in them. Because of all of these factors, we as pedestrians have learned to cross ourselves and say a quick pray before actually crossing the streets! It is quite an adventure!

I have already been so inspired in my three days of being here. At the party last night I met different couples from Word Made Flesh who are married, have families, and have traveled all over the world working for the poor. For some reason I have always considered those things incompatable, so it is so neat and encouraging to see those things.

Another thing I have discovered is the luxury of simplicity. Cutting down on my possessions and electronics and such has brought about a real sense of freedom! I really look forward to see if I continue to feel the freedom, or if i start to become frustrated.

Im sorry if this blog feels scrambled–already so much has happened that it is difficult to put everything into words! I do hope this has give you at least a little better image of what is going on right now.

This week is a lot of rest, orientation, and learning our way around the city. I believe next week we start meeting with the street children.

Please leave your thoughts and comments here. I love and miss you all!

hasta luego,