Norton Ink

Argentina 2002

15 de Julio 2002

It has been a little bit since I have written, but that is because I have settled into a daily routine here in Posadas. Wake up around 9:30ish, coffee (instant but it will do for now, until I get back to espresso-ville), check email, read the headlines on the Seattle Times website (amazingly, not much of import seems to happen and I find that true for all newspapers, even the Spanish ones). Then we usually have lunch, while people rest here I usually go for a walk or write some, practice my vocabulary, laundry or something like that. I also find the tv here is just as boring as back in the States. In the last week, instead of doing this, I have accompanied one of the professors from the Elliot Institute to a few of her private tutoring lessons. Three or four nights a week I go to the Institute to observe. Then it is usually time for dinner, then a little bit of cards or talking, then some private reading and bed around midnight or 1. Repeat. However, on the weekends after dinner we usually go see some live music, or dancing, or both and we all get to bed around 3am.

Still, even with the daily routine, that doesn’t stop my mind from constantly seeing cultural differences, or seeing a scene that I feel like I have to tell everyone about. For instance, the driving here. I haven’t ever been so frickin’ scared in my LIFE, not even on the “Tower of Terror” ride at MGM Studios in Orlando, FL. Out of curiosity, one day I asked Teresa if the people here had to take a class before getting their licenses. She took this to mean that I wanted to drive !!! AAAAAAAhahahaHAHAHahhahaha As BLOODY if. Well no surprise to me, there is no pre-requisite class for first time drivers, nor does such a thing exist, even if you wanted to take such a class. Luckily, you can’t drive until after you turn 18. The reason there aren’t any classes is that there are very few rules to driving around here. Everyone here drives in the imaginary lane. Right in the central district everyone drives about 15-20 miles an hour, with minimum slow-down at intersections, if you can get across the street before that other car hits yours, you’re good! It is NUTS. The first week or so I was cringing all the time, but now, I have adjusted and I can see that everyone here doesn’t have a death wish, it is just a different style of driving. There still isn’t a chance that I want to drive……..well, ok just a small chance.

When I go to the Institute, I usually walk back home on my own, because there aren’t any set times that I finish. However, when it is really late, Teresa comes and gets me. (interesting side note: I tried to ask Teresa for a ride, using a direct translation, and she didn’t understand, it turns out that when you want a ride, or you are going to give a ride to someone you say, “I’m need you to look for me” or “I will look for you.”) Well one night, on a ride home, I noticed a car with a bottle or water on the roof. I thought to myself, “well tomorrow, that person is going to feel awfully silly when they see their water bottle on the car!” We drove past that same car a few days later, it hadn’t moved and it still had the bottle on top. Strange. Finally after about 2 weeks, I said something to Teresa about it. Turns out when you want to sell your car, you leave a bottle on the roof. I felt sooooooooooo dumb and I laughed and laughed. After that I noticed a few cars here and there with bottle on them, one an old bottle of cooking oil, another more water. Just like learning a new word, suddenly you hear it EVERYWHERE. Did it just start getting used so frequently? Nope, you just finally hear it.

After three weeks I can say that I am understanding almost everything that people say, even when they speak fast. The television doesn’t seem to much a blur of noise, either. I am also venturing out more in my speaking. However, sometimes when I am ripping along, I realize I have gringo-ized the whole sentence…..then I have to drop my voice and relax my mouth and kind of speak around the words, drop a few endings.

Today I went shopping for souvenirs. It turned out just like Christmas shopping, for each thing I saw that I thought someone else would like, I saw 5 things that I wanted. The things that I wanted were considerably more expensive, too. In my defense, I didn’t buy anything for myself, today. Also, I do need t o buy another pair of pants because with only 3 pairs of pants I have to do a LOT more laundry than I want. The old college adage doesn’t hold true, as long as there are clean unders you are safe from laundry duty. Of course, I brought a lot more underwear than pants because underwear is lighter to carry.

However, I already know that there is a long coat-style blue sweater, and a really gorgeous amethyst ring that I am going to buy for myself. They also have those really cool Italian-style shoes here or red and black leather (and only something like $10!!!!) so of COURSE, I have to get a pair of those. I am sure that is all that I really have to buy for myself. HEY!!!! Everyone, stop your sniggering! STOP! In the end, if I have to, people will get postcards and photos as gifts. (Another side note: at the farm there is tons of quartz in the ground, so if I find something spectacular and not too heavy, someone might get a nice rock as a gift. Also there are these cool long seed pods on one of the trees here. When they dry out they look kind of like swords, or sticks and when you shake them they sound like a musical instrument. They are SO cool, and I found 2 of them, if I find 2 more, I know what all the nephews will get.)

Surprisingly, postcards turn out to be amazingly expensive, almost .75 each! Difficult to find too. The first set I found were real pictures, then at the Jesuit Ruins they were soooo old that they were yellow, then today I FINALLY found real looking postcards. You practically have to hawk your jewelry for them, though.

There is a lot of great music here, both traditional and modern. I have also found that even the “adults” like a lot of the modern music that their kids listen to. (Note to Steve J, Thalia, the next BIG thing here, I plan on finding a CD, if it isn’t too much I will get one for you as well, if it IS too much, well then I will…….hmmmmm, we won’t speak of that here.) I haven’t looked but if CD’s of U.S. artists are less here than in the States, then I will likely try to get a few of those. I have made some MP3s of some of the music that Teresa and Celso have but I do like to have the actual music in hand.

I said in the last journal that Teresa and Celso have a farm and that we were going to go to it AGES ago, but every time we were going to go, someone felt ill, or it was pouring down rain. We finally got to go last week and it was GREAT! Horses and sheep and peacocks and ducks, they are even going to start growing some grapes to make a house wine. Then, a major portion of their property is hilly forest land. The far border is edged by a little stream. Celso wanted me to see it, so we (Celso, me, and some relatives who were visiting from Cordoba Tomas and Ilmice a bratty little 5 year-old) took a bumpy car ride and then a long walk to get there. Completely gorgeous, it blew me away and I only had a half-roll of film. As we were walking through the forest a helicopter flew overhead about 7 times and it registered that it was the gendarmeries looking for contrabandists (there camp is on that infamous Rio Paraná that I spoke of earlier, the border between Paraguay and Argentina). Ilmice and I were a trifle bored by the snail-like pace of Celso and Tomas as they talked about every tree and shrub in the forest and we started walking ahead of them (with Ilmice making rhymes like “they are slow like pigs, slow like snails” (Ellos son lerdos como cerdos, ellos con lerdos como caracoles) when up ahead I saw 4 men in green with HUGE machine guns, holy HANNAH. Well no big deal, they were just walking down a path on private property for some sort of casual lunch stroll, right? Riiiiiiiiiiight. About ten minutes earlier I had shoved my camera in my jeans pocket, with the straps hanging down and covered it with my sweater. I am sure that didn’t look at ALL suspicious, to men with guns.

As we came even with them, I said, “Hello, good day, how are you?” I guess they took this to mean that I knew Spanish, and the main guy replied, “blah blah blah blah blah (too fast for me to understand)” then, “What are you up to?” At this point I basically lost all ability to speak and simply pointed down the hill towards Celso. Well it turns out that from the helicopter they saw a car all lonely on the edge of forest, near the border, and they suspected smuggling. Luckily, Celso had his ID on him and he took them to his car and they inspected it to make sure we didn’t have anything illegal and then they left. I have to say Celso handled the whole thing with a lot of savour faire (how the heck do you spell that?). As we drove back to the main part of the farm, Tomas and Celso had a good laugh at my expense and I still get the request to tell the story about the gendarmeries and much laughter is had by all. It isn’t my fault I am not used to seeing men with BIG guns just strolling around like it is nothing!

A few days ago, I had an experience that I was hoping to avoid. I hadn't been feeling well the whole day, I had a terrible headache and I was feeling really frustrated with the language and how well (or not well, that is) I was doing. I made the mistake of telling Celso that I had a bad headache and since he is a medical doctor he started asking me all sorts of questions. Half of them I had to ask him to repeat and some I just decided to agree on to make it easier. Celso decided that I had a migraine (which I don't really think I had, it was just a headache, I wasn't disabled or anything) and he was going to give me something to make it go away! ACK! I don't think one should take medicine for things one doesn't have. So I kind of avoided it, and it was time for dinner anyway. We started a conversation about this boy named Ariel, the son of the niece who was visiting from Cordoba. Except that I thought his name was Alejandro, after the father. So I kept asking who this Ariel was. As they explained it to me, I realized my former mistake. No biggie, but Celso kept talking about, and asking me of I understood and I said I did, because I DID understand. Finally he said, "No, you don't understand." It was just the last straw, I started crying while I was trying to explain why I thought this boy was named Alejandro, not Ariel, In English it would have taken about 15 seconds to explain, but conversation took what seemed an eternity. Come to think of it, if it was in English I wouldn't have made the mistake, at all. So I had to leave the table to get myself together. I was just damn tired and damn defensive and I wanted to go to bed and wake up with people who spoke English. I was starting to wonder if this wasn't just a big mistake.

Since I wasn't at my own home and Kevin wasn't there, I didn't have the luxury of having a big fit, and then apologizing later, so I tried to hold it together as much as possible. Boy was that one silent dinner! oops! BUT, now that I have seen a low point, I know I can get through this, and I AM improving. We went to a folkloric event yesterday and as usual beforehand and in between bands some guy comes on the stage and talks about the band coming up FOREVER, well I was able to understand it this time! And, when I would turn away to talk to Cecilia or Teresa, I could tune back in when I wanted and still know what was going on. I do get homesick though, especially at night when I go to bed and can't sleep, but this too, passes AND I have a phone card and a laptop and more and more these people are my family, too. I am going to miss them SO much when I go home. I already know that I want to come back here, and not in some distant year, but soon.

Another thing I said in a past journal entry is that this trip would certainly toughen my stomach up, but I am not finding that to be true. Former roommates can testify that I don’t even have to see, or smell something gross to get dry heaves, just the IDEA of something gross is sufficient. I know it is 95% mental, and I really really WANT to not have this problem. Amazingly enough, just knowing the problem exists isn’t enough of a cure. An autobiography of my life should be titled, “Throwing Up In Every Country In The World."

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them." - Mark Twain (1835-1910)