Tuesday, August 24, 2010

First adventures of my Argentine life

in the past week I have...
  • sanded, painted, and assembled wooden signs for a wedding
  • danced with an indigenous Guaraní woman in an airport terminal
  • made super fresh orange, papaya, mango, peach and banana juice
  • learned that there is actually such a thing as banana juice
  • paid my respects to the heros of Paraguay
  • participated in a Catholic parade celebrating the virgin Maria
  • watched little kids play in-house soccer at the stadium nearby
  • ..where I saw a 5 yr old do a bicycle kick.
  • picked the first fresh papaya of the season from the tree in our backyard
  • got my butt kicked in air hockey by my 10 yr old brother (twice)
  • learned to dance like a Gringa-Latina
  • crossed the Argentina-Paraguay boarder without getting deported!!!
  • ate fresh river fish caught by my host dad
  • watched FRIENDS in Spanish! (the voice that dubbed for Pheobe was surprisingly low.. and the voice that dubbed for Ross surprisingly high. it made it that much better:))
  • learned I most likely won't be going to high school this year, but rather a school similar to a University in Formosa
  • improved my Spanish a little more each day
  • made empanadas, gnocchi, chipa and bread from scratch
  • befriended a group of elderly birdwatchers from Iowa and two competitive figure skaters from San Francisco
  • visited an elementary school in Formosa
  • worn shorts everyday. tomorrow the weather is supposed to be 33 degrees Celsius (which is 90 degrees Fahrenheit). I still don't believe them when they say this is "winter".
  • while on a run, met aerial trapeze artists who then put on a private performance for me
..and that's just been since I wrote last! I cannot thank my family back home, here in Formosa, and Rotary enough for the opportunities they have already given me. This year is going to be a blast :)

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Since this blog is titled 'La vida Mia', I think it's only appropriate that I start out my stay here with a little bit about my new life.

First- my city: Formosa, Argentina. Argentina has 23 provinces equivalent to our states, and the city I am living in is the Capital of the province of Formosa. It is situated in the very north of Argentina, separated from Paraguay only by the natural border of the lovely Rio Paraguay. Apparently it has a population around 200,000- but it definitely doesn't feel that big, not even to a small-town-Minnesotan girl like myself. The center of the city has parks and plazas, an awesome center lined with cafes, little shopping stores, and street vendors selling unique bracelets and bowls. Palm trees line the medians and walking paths where children still dressed in their uniforms gather. At night the city really comes to life; cars and mottos weave through the streets, the rhythm of Spanish music echoes from every direction and out in the harbor you can see the lights of boats mirrored in the river. Oh, and as far as the weather goes down here- if you scroll down to the very bottom you can get a daily weather update.

Second- the people. Three words- I. Love. Argentineans! In my short stay here I've come to realize that being introduced to people down here is comparable to watching dogs get to know each other at a dog park. Now with that I don't mean that we go around sniffing peoples' butts all day- but that you meet someone once and you treat them as if you have been friends for life. Every introduction is followed by a kiss on both cheeks with hardly any exception. Last night I had my first Rotary meeting and was quickly told that there are 21 members of that Rotary club, meaning I had just made 21 friends in which I could call upon if ever I need anything. This is a very welcoming, open culture, and while I'm still living in a city and will still always need to be careful who I talk to/where I go at night/etc, it feels great being apart of a club that will protect me and include me in such a way.

Finally- that brings me to my family, the Cejas. Made up of my host dad, Vito, host mom, Graciela, and host sisters Gabi (24) and Milagros (18). I'm still picking up the quirks and unique personalities of each person but they again can be summed up in the paragraph above- welcoming, loving, and fun. They all like to laugh and to tease each other and myself, they take siesta time seriously, and they love to eat. (Which, by the way, the food here is delicious. All of it is so filling, and everyone is sure that I'm never eating enough but I have yet to try something that I have really detested.)

Milagros is leaving the 21st for her Rotary year in Germany, along with another boy named Leandro Caballero- whose family is going to host me after 4 months with the Cejas. Apparently the Caballeros are hosting another boy from Waterloo, IA first and then we are going to swap. I've met Leandro's family twice now and they seem incredibly nice, plus he has a younger brother who is 10 and seems like a party. I'm a little fuzzy on why but apparently we are going to try take 2 at getting me into Asuncion, Paraguay on Friday to explore a bit before dropping off Milagros and Leandro on Saturday... so cross your fingers for me, and if you don't hear from me here for a while, I'm probably just camping out in some abandoned airport terminal again ;).

Till then, chao- and enjoy some pictures of my first few days in Formosa!

these pretty trees, called Lapacho, are all over Formosa
(for a Before picture, click here and scroll down)
an amazing restaurant overlooking the river
Estadio Poldeportivo Cincuentenario- a fairly new sports arena that attracts people from all over Argentina and Paraguay for important basketball games. Apparently there are basketball and volleyball games that will be played there later this month
the place I like to sit and look at...
...the colorful clothes line in my backyard...
...which is underneath a papaya tree.
The view of Formosa at night from a tower nearby
My first and second host families! (the three to the right are the Cejas)
Shylah- one of the their two puppies
my street
my host sister, Milagros and I about to eat yacaré!!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

So, they keep things interesting in Paraguay too?

For all you Rotary students out there- I challenge you to break this record: From the time I left my house to the time I arrived at my new one, I had traveled on 3 planes, 2 busses, a tram, and 2 cars, had over 5 flight delays, almost got deported from a country, spent the night in an empty airport terminal, and had a total travel time of 43.5 hrs. Haha, just writing that I can't help but laugh- now that I'm here I know these past two days will make a good story some day.
Like I had said last, Celia, one of the very nice Rotarians that took me in, had gotten us tickets to Asuncion and we had planned on getting to Formosa by car from there. Turns out luck was on our side a little last night- our flight was almost the only one that was only delayed, not canceled. Everything went smoothly, we filled out our forms for immigration and made it though the line perfectly.... But I didn't get to go any further than that. When preparing to come down to Argentina, I was told that I would have a Tourist Visa- and that every 90 days I would go to another country to renew my visa in Argentina. Back home, we had discussed how part of my Rotary club here is in Paraguay, how my host parents own a home across the boarder and how in just over a week my host sister is going to Germany via the Asuncion airport- so I knew I would be traveling back and forth over the boarder. But I guess that isn't exactly how it works. So, instead I found myself being led upstairs to an abandoned terminal where I was to stay the night until the first flight back to Buenos Aires in the morning.
Here is where my gratitude to Rotary International cannot be expressed enough. When I became stuck, the 3 Rotarians I had just met 6 hours before fought for me like
I was their daughter. In the hour or two that I was sitting upstairs, that group of 3
Rotarians quickly grew to a group of 8 or more from the area who also worked every string they could to get me out. I explained myself and my situation to the immigration worker, his superiors, and even a few men who worked the night shift in the airport but without the work of the group of Rotarians I have NO doubt in my mind I would be sitting in the Buenos Aires airport right now. But, at 3:30 in the morning, the kind lady that had stayed with me throughout the night told me that it was time to go. Thinking she meant to my plane, I packed up my backpack and went back through the immigration desk to the same man that had stopped me before. This time, however, he stamped my passport and told me that I had a one-time-5-hr transit visa and that I would be able to leave with this couple to get to Formosa. I'm very fuzzy on the details- but I guess they know someone who is connected through Rotary and who knows someone who is the head-visa-person in Paraguay, who then called the airport and told them to let me go. In a wave of shock and relief unlike any other I've ever experienced-
I found myself staring up at the beautiful stars glowing in the jet-black sky of the southern-hemisphere as we drove through open country roads on my way to Formosa.
I woke up this morning to a huge bucket of meat in the kitchen, spanish music blasting through the walls, and a giant smile on my face. And now here I am, in my room in my new casa with a family that has been so welcoming and nice to me. I just had lunch with my first and second host families, and love them both :)
Without further ado- I am going to go enjoy Argentina, if you don't mind. I am going to get used to this new life for a while and write in a week or so. To everyone headed off to college- have an AMAZING time this year! To all those exchange students leaving in the next week or so- SUERTE y AMOR a Uds.!

Friday, August 13, 2010

And here I thought flying would be the boring part...

This is already getting lengthy and I don’t want to bore you with detail after detail of my travel- so I’ll sum up highlights and you can read into detail if you like.

1) My grandma is great friends with the aunt of the man I sat next to on my first flight

2) Friday the 13th proved to be unlucky for many Argentine travelers: The computer system crashed in Buenos Aires and getting to Formosa suddenly became a big, chaotic adventure.

3) I am now traveling with 3 older Argentinian Rotarians who are on their way to Formosa as well!

My flight down to Dallas was smooth and easy- I sat next to this really nice police officer from New Mexico and found out that growing up, he spent weeks of his summers in Northfield, and that his Aunt is one of my grandma’s best friends and someone I served at the golf club this summer often: Dot Swanson! We talked about Northfield (he was devastated to hear Tiny’s had just closed. his father worked there growing up and they still have a clock in their kitchen in New Mexico that was given to them from there) and even found out that one of his wife’s best friends is Cindy Broderius from Hector, MN!! It is things like this that just comfort me and show how connected this world really is.

After a long flight from Dallas, I arrived in BUENOS AIRES!! I had a whole row to stretch out across, and was served dinner, breakfast and beverages the whole way- which was really nice. Despite the nice conditions though, I was FAR to excited and only caught a little bit of sleep. Instead, I just looked out my window and watched the sunset, the stars, and finally the sunrise over beautiful Buenos Aires:) I couldn’t have asked for better timing, it was stunning. I made it through customs, to my bus, and through the city- which I can already tell I want to explore that city much more- to the other airport!

… And that’s where it got interesting. When I walked through the doors of the Aerolinas Argentinas airport- it was chaos. There were people standing in lines to get into lines to get checked in, and none of those lines were moving. I had no idea where to go but made a good guess and got into one of these many lines- there I talked to a nice lady who told me the computer system crashed and that they were not able to check anyone in, that flights were getting delayed or canceled, and that she hadn’t seen a line budge in a half hour. She was very nice and let me borrow her phone so I could call my host family (which was the first time I had spoken to them out loud) and let them know I would be delayed. About five minutes after hanging up, the intercom came on and told us that it was back up and running, everyone cheered and the line finally moved!

I checked in, paid for my extra luggage, and went to go check out the delay-damage to the surprise that my flight WAS on time! I didn’t realize how much I take cell phones for granted until that moment when I was standing there needing to let my host family know and didn’t have one. After trying to use the pay phone or track down another cell phone I could borrow I finally found a little telephone-service store that only cost me about a quarter to make the call. Ten minutes later, my flight to Formosa read “demorado” or delayed for one hour. Expecting that it could change to a later time I decided I would wait 15/20 minutes to call my family again. I just people-watched then, happy to soak up all the Spanish and Argentine culture that I could. After about 10 minutes had passed I looked back up on the monitor and to my horror it said that the flight to Formosa had “DESPEGADO” or had took off in bright green letters, 20 minutes before the original time had posted. I then scrambled, went to the counter of a little café and asked where the Information booth was… to find out there was none. I ran back downstairs, through the chaotic lines again and found a man in uniform that looked like he could help. Almost in tears, I explained my situation and he took me to the front of a line started typing away on the computer. He then picked up the phone, made a very angry phone call in Spanish so fast I couldn’t even begin to comprehend, hung up, gave me his deepest apologies and explained that it was a mistake- that the flight to Mendoza, Argentina had took off and Formosa was still delayed till 1:30. AY! I can’t express how relieved I am that I know enough Spanish to communicate down here- I can’t imagine if this had happened in Thai or Swedish! Everyone was very friendly and always willing to help me or at least lead me in the right direction, and I appreciate the hospitality already. While waiting, a man approached me and saw that I was a Rotary student! He explained that he is a former President of the Worldwide Rotary International club and that he is headed to Formosa as well!! Not only was that amazing news to hear, but he was with a group of Rotarians who were coming up to celebrate the 60th year of Formosa’s club! Who knew I was headed towards a big fiesta?!

While talking, I watched as the monitor changed the status from 13:30 to 13:40 and finally it told me to contact an agent, who told us it was delayed till 2:40 and finally over the intercom they canceled the flight all together. So the Rotarians took me under their wing and have been so fantastic as I’ve gotten my bags back, and Celia (who reminds me of Chrysanne) has completely taken charge and got us tickets to Asuncion, Paraguay for tonight where we will spend the night and be picked up in the morning by a Rotarian from Formosa. If that didn’t work, we would have had to take a bus or drive in their car. I’ve seen maybe 4 or 5 mini vans in all of Buenos Aires, so I am trying to picture me, 3 other Rotarians, and the two carts of luggage fitting in one of those little cars on the way to Formosa haha. Lets be glad Celia is so great. So Mom and Dad- don't worry, I'm in good hands. I keep being reassured that this is not how it usually is here by Luis, so while he is blaming Friday the 13th, I think this whole adventure is just a sign that this year will be anything but uneventful.

At one point, every flight on the monitor read either delayed orcanceled- I have never seen anything like it haha.

Clockwise from the left: Edoardo, Celia, and her husband Luis. When I wrote this I had no idea what a big deal Luis is. He was telling me that in the year and a half that he was Rotary International Worldwide President he traveled to 69 different countries, met with the Pope twice, Mother Teresa five times, over 52 presidents and kings, etc. I'm glad I had 9 hours in the airport with him to hear a few of his amazing stories:)

Take Off

Day 1- departure day, august 12, 2010.

This is so surreal.

I was sitting there at MSP gate E16 after having said goodbye to my family,friends, and family friends. The picture I’m sure you all have is of me bawling my eyes out and running though a montage of amazing memories of people I’m leaving behind…. Iwouldn’t have expected anything more from me. But the most shocking part is that despite all the thousands of emotions I felt right then, I was not emotional. Like I said, shocking: I was not crying after having said this last, and most monumental, goodbye. Instead, I am filled with a sense of hope and potential. Never before have I had such a clean slate- and never before have I had so much uncertainty about what lies ahead either... I am not even sure if I have been pronouncing my host family’s last name correctly. But the thing is, that is so incredibly exciting! Its not that I’m not sad to leave- I am, and anyone that has hugged me goodbye in the past week can give a testimony to that fact, but it is the same simple reason that those goodbyes were so hard that this departure is almost easy: you are all amazing. I have the best friends I could ever even dream of, an incredible family, and the support of many back home. Argentina is not going to change that. In fact, I know that those days when this exchange is so hard I can turn to any of them for advice, imaginary hugs, or just a good laugh. And then I can get up, shake it off, and go discover something about myself, my background, and/or the amazing culture of Argentina.

So thank you to everyone for letting me sit here dry-eyed and happy. Without you, I don’t know how I’d do this. In fact… I don’t know if I would, and that isn’t a thought I want to have.