04 de Julio 02
On the anniversary of the day of my country’s independence, I sit in Posadas and contemplate what it is for me to be a citizen of the United States. At this time, for me, it means that it is pretty easy to enter any country in the world without a visa, as long as I don’t plan on staying more than 90 days. It means that I can go to a bank and exchange traveller’s checks . The people in Argentina right now can’t even take money out of their bank accounts, they can use their debit cards to withdraw something called “LECOP” which looks like money, and in many places is accepted as money for exchange of goods and services, but you can’t deposit it and it isn’t really money at all.
It also means that anyone I meet asks me about the United States and how the job market is, and what kind of money do we make and they wonder how difficult the language is to learn. I can’t even begin to tell them about the money that we make in the U.S.A. because the numbers would sound so gross in comparison to what people make here. Yet, they don’t understand that everything in the U.S.A. also costs proportionately more and that most families live paycheck to paycheck.
Most surprisingly, I find that people here in South America have great respect for the United States (or if they don’t, they aren’t telling meF. It makes me wonder, because I know some of the things that the United States has done to Latin America, in the name of our democracy, and I am not proud.
Sometimes I wonder if being a citizen of the United States means that our most important job is to complain. Then I talk to the people here, and they have almost no hope for their future and it makes me wonder if this is a quintessential difference between “Us” and “Them.” Even when things aren’t going as we hope, we say, “Well, it is just a cycle, we’ll be on the upswing soon, just ride it out.”
Argentina was riding the high wave of a good economy not very long ago and the signs of it are still there, almost every home has a computer, a car, decent clothes, cable television. Yet, if the computer breaks, there isn’t any money to replace it. There isn’t even enough money to fix it, even if you have a friend who is good with computers, because parts are expensive. Printer cartridges are ridiculously overpriced and so everyone here prays their printer won’t run out of ink.
When I tell people that before coming here I had two jobs, they get wide eyed in wonder, “Wow you are SO lucky to have 2 jobs.” I try to explain that both of those jobs, didn’t even equal one real full-time job. If I had to support a family on my wages, it wouldn’t be possible. Just say the word “Microsoft” and it is as if a deity has entered the room, all problems are over. In the end, we have a lot more to be thankful for and a lot less to complain about (please don’t remind me about the poor grammar of ending a sentence in that way). So Happy Fourth of July, how lucky we are to live in a place where a big problem is where to find the “best” cup of coffee in the world.
Posadas, Argentina is up in the top north-east corner of Argentina, close to both Brazil and Paraguay. Between these countries there is a spectacular waterfall called Iguazu Falls, and we are going up to visit it in late July. It is a decent sized city, about 200,000 people live here. Right now it is winter and that means it is humid and about 70ish during the day and probably 50, or a little less, in the evening. All the dirt around here is loaded with iron and it is VERY red. Because it is an area with a lot of heat, there is also a lot of dust, and there are some roads, outside of the central area that aren’t paved. This contrives to make it look like a rundown, semi-dirty city. However, I have found that not to be true.
Posadas is in a region called “Misiones” because there were Jesuit Missions here, way back when. This is a region very influenced by Italians and the food is spectacular. Ravioli, gnocchi, baguette, blue cheese, pâté and the ever present carne. However, we eat lots of chicken, pork and fish as well. Most of the people here are very well educated, it is the people of indigenous descent that have fewer recourses (how familiar is THAT little phrase?). Yet, I find these people to have a lot of ingenuity, selling chipa (a local style of bread), newspapers and window cleaning at every corner and every light.
Still, you could take all that away and I would still say this is one of the most wonderful places I have visited because of the people. Everyone here is SO open and friendly. I love the style of greeting, the double-cheek kiss, because it creates a relationship and also shows feeling. Which basically leaves the handshake in the dust. I live with Teresa and Celso Fia and their19 year-old grandson Matías, just on the edge of the central area. They have a cute little brick house with a small backyard. In this city they have 2 daughters, Cecilia (with her husband Sergio and their 3 daughters, Antonella, Selene, and Tania) and Elisa (with her husband Leo, and their 3 kids Sophia, Nico and Rosaria). Many a night we have gone over to one of their houses or they have come here. They are ALL, extremely open and friendly. Every night I wish that I could pack them up with me when I leave, Especially Teresa, she is very special to me, we have discussions about everything at dinner and she is just a sweet, wonderful lady (who is the most amazing cook, ever).
I have started volunteering at an English Language Institute. All the professors there are from Argentina and they LOVE having a native English speaker come in and talk to the kids (and adults) so that they can hear the rhythms and cadence and just basically ask any question they desire. I started on Tuesday and so far I have been back every day! I already have new email addresses and people asking for my home address so they can write when I get back to the States. And the professors!!!! A few of them are also private tutors or also work at other institutes and they all want me to come and visit with their other students! In the evenings it is practically all in English. So I have started reading the online newspapers at www.lanacion.com, www.nacion.com, and www.laopinion.com. Mostly headlines Apparently, there is a mention of me in the local newspaper today (according to one of the prof’s last night) so I will have to look for that.
So Happy Independence Day, I hope it is a wonderful day of fun and family. Remember, you are lucky.
"Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called 'Ego'." - Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)