Wednesday, May 25, 2011

There's something about Argentina..

So somehow, I went from writing five blog entries before I even got to Argentina- to trying to sum up five months in one final blog at the end of my exchange. Now normally, I'm not one to point fingers, and if there’s one thing my papa’s taught me, it’s to know “when to take responsibility for my actions”... but I SWEAR this time, it really isn’t my fault for being such a negligent blogger! I know I would have done a much better job at updating this if Argentina hadn’t been so dang awesome all the time. But now here I am: with months to update, so much to say, and not a clue where to begin. 

So let’s break it down.

My host mom and sister took off on their own summer trip to Brazil a few days after I returned from mine, and I found myself back with my first host parents Vito and Graciela in the middle of February. From my first step in their door, I felt completely at home again. It was funny how quickly I found myself falling back into old routines and habits, and realized then more than ever how much the two of them really do feel like family to me. Between Vito's stories, Graciela's cooking, and the added entertainment of living with the German exchange student, Philipp- there was never a dull moment. The weekdays went by quickly and the weekends even faster, as we spent most of them going to the Cejas' summer getaway home in Pirebubuy, Paraguay. Blame it on my Minnesota blood or just my cabin fever, but I have no other way to describe those weekends than to tell you to imagine what a weekend out at the lake would be like if the cabin was in the middle of a jungle, if a passport was necessary to get there, and if there were fresh picked mangos as afternoon snacks instead of Mr. Freezies and cabin toast. (So okay, it's a stretch- but cabin fever is cabin fever.)

My time with the Cejas family once again came to a close, and I found myself packing my bags and moving on to stay with the next family- this time a family from Minnesota! Ruby Manoles' parents, Tim and Chrysanne, came down to Argentina to visit her, and invited myself and Andy Ward (one of the exchange students from Arizona) to Resistencia to hang out with them for their stay, too! The week was hilarious, and I had a blast hopping around and getting to know the city just two hours south of Formosa. 

Once back in Formosa, I packed and unpacked my bags for the last time until June and settled back in with the Riveros. School across the country started again in the beginning of March, and the over three-month-long summer vacation came to an end..... for everyone else! Since I was already 18 years old when I arrived, however, I was put in the final year of colegio last year and graduated in November. So I instead of going back to school with my sister and the rest of Formosa, I got to continue the [very rough life of] fiestas, siestas and soaking up the sun! 

Jim’s parents and sister came to Formosa mid-March, so I pulled the “I’ll help translate!” card to tag along to all the tasty asados our friends and families offered up throughout the week. They also generously invited Philipp and me out to Iguazu Falls with them for a couple days, so we hopped on the colectivo to Puerto Iguazu- and fifteen hours later were at the base of the world’s longest waterfalls. I’m not sure if it was the fact that we had two absolutely gorgeous days or the fact that we came after the rainy season and there was twice as much water cascading down upon us, but I was even more taken aback by them then than I was when I first went half a year earlier. Plus, I was in good company :)

All of my activities started up the week after the Noras headed back to the States. I began helping out in Carmen Caballero (my would have been second mom)’s classrooms teaching English to 50+ eleven yr olds every Monday and Tuesday. I began taking classes to become a “Profesional Pastelera”, or Professional Pastry Chef, every Wednesday, followed by catering classes every Friday. And every Thursday, I weave baskets with Indigenous women at the local arts center (no, that’s no joke). As random as it is, I absolutely love my schedule and, although it’s made the weeks fly by even faster, I know that I’ve enjoyed every minute.

As it turns out, I was sent to the capital city in Arg that shares a birthday weekend with me! When followed by Easter a week later, April turned out to be a month of celebrations.

It all started the night of Thursday the 7th, as friends and I went to town to celebrate Formosa's cumple with fireworks at midnight, a plaza filled with craft tents and music playing from the grandstand. Since my friend’s brother-in-law is the drummer of a folklore band, we stayed until the very end, singing and dancing Chamamé and Samba.

Friday night, I was invited to an asado to celebrate my Spanish teacher Maya’s sister Ana’s birthday (here in Arg., that really isn’t as distant as it sounds). Their families, Jim, Philipp, Vito and Graciela, and the families of my classmates all sat around eating empanadas, sopa paraguaya, and all my favorite Argentinean snacks. It wasn’t until midnight, when the music was shut off and replaced by the sound of trumpets and maracas, that Ana told me that her birthday isn’t until July- and that they had thrown the whole party (and hired a Mariachi band) just for me. I have no way of describing the rest of the night without being cheesy or cliché. All I know is that I will forever have the memory of standing there under the stars, surrounded by my friends and families, with a big sombrero on my head and Maya’s five year old daughter wrapping her arms around my waist as tight as she could, as I was serenaded birthday wishes in Spanish.

My family threw yet another birthday celebration for my friends and me Saturday night, combining all of my favorite Argentinean things: family, friends, asado, karaoke, and boliches. To top it all off, I was able to skype my family from back home and celebrate a bit with them as well. I’ve had a lot of amazing birthdays in my life, but something tells me this one might always stand out a little bit from the rest :)

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, was a very different experience for me. To begin with, I’m living in a Roman Catholic country. This meant that Thursday through Sunday there was no school or work at all, but unlike the rest of Argentina’s long weekends, this one was quiet. There wasn’t cumbia music blasting from backyards or dancing or even going out. It was far less commercialized, without any Easter Bunnies or baskets, jellybeans or dyed eggs. Instead, my highlights from the weekend include a thunderstorm that took out the entire town’s power and ended in a surprisingly beautiful candlelight asado at Lucas’ house with his family, a last supper meal of Yacaré al Wok (stir fried crocodile), and even attending Easter mass in the Catedral (even though it was three hours long).

I suppose it was silly of me to say that April was a month of celebrations, because really- EVERY month here Argentineans find plenty of reasons to celebrate. They start off May with Day of the Worker (which, just like Day of the Student or Day of the Teacher- means not working or studying at all). Quickly after came Philipp’s birthday, and later that week my own dad’s 55th (not sure if you wanted that number in print or not papa.. but too late now!) I was able to skype him on his big day, and skype a few other friends and family the next few days- but since the first weekend in May, this has been one of the very first times I’ve been on a computer at all. I shut down my skype, facebook (with the exception of talking to Argentineans) and email, and have been living incommunicado with everyone from back home since. This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a little hiatus throughout my year, but my motive has always been the same: to cut out anything and everything that distracts me from living entirely in the moment in Argentina. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

With the days and weeks before my departure date burning away quickly, now more than ever I have just tried to soak up as much Argentina as possible. I have no doubt in my mind that this year will stand out as one of the most incredible in my life- many thanks to the places I’ve traveled and once in a lifetime experiences I’ve had. But truth is, I think it will be the little things, the everyday moments, which I will cherish and miss the most. It’ll be moments of sipping mate with my host mom, or with friends down by the river late at night. It’ll be staying up until eight in the morning talking about boys with my little sister. It’ll be asados with 30 some people- all family- and realizing I was invited because this year, they consider me part of that, too. It’ll be siestas, lawn chairs in the middle of the sidewalk, and store hours that read “8-11:30 y 5-9:30” that remind me to slow down, relax, and take time for the things and people that are truly important. It’ll be hearing men selling “CHIPA! CHIPA CALIENTE!” from three blocks away. It’ll be walking downtown or going out with Jim and Philipp and being completely sure I was sent to Formosa with two of the most fun exchange students I could ask for. It’ll be moments of realizing we’ve gone ten days without eggs or flour, but being sent on an emergency grocery run because we are almost out of yerba mate (and moments of having a full aisle and a half of brands to choose from once I get to the corner kiosko). It’ll be ringing the doorbell at the Cejas’ home and being greeted with huge hugs and kisses from Ali, Graciela and Vito, and always feeling like I’ve just arrived home. It’ll be nights of driving around with Lucas, Patricio and Celeste listening to the same CD over and over again. It’ll be waking up to the sound of my neighbor’s parrot squeaking “Hoooola! Hola! Hooola!” It’ll be the assurance that I can run as far as a I want, because I know Formosa so well I know I wont get lost. It’ll moments of staying up until 4 talking in the hotel lobby with Jim, because going to bed at 11 with everyone else wasn’t possible after a summer in Argentina. It'll be getting in (and winning) a cumbia/reggeaton dance off. It’ll be picking tropical flowers from branches hanging over the sidewalk on my way into town. It’ll be the goose bumps I got at 75 degrees after months of upper 90’s. It’ll be days of sitting outside talking about life with the kiosk lady, Venny, across the street. It’ll be moments of forgetting words in English, and realizing that Spanish came more easily. It’ll be the moments that I just stepped back, laughed, and realized that "Yep. This is actually my life.” More than anything, it’ll be having so many moments and memories that I’ll never be able to sum up what ‘it was’ about Argentina, but knowing that bottom line, I have been more happy living here in Formosa (the little, industrial border city in the middle of South America) than I ever imagined I could be. And it’ll be knowing that no matter where I travel to or where I end up, that it’ll be one more place that I will call home.