Month 1: A water saga — rain, flooding, climate change, pools, rivers, Claypole and a sprinkling of corruption

Argentina: the land of carne, tango, immigrants and the lesser known – flooding! Dios mio! I think we are on the fifth consecutive day of rain. You would think Buenos Aires is the city where gondolas cruise the streets with striped-shirted men handing out roses to passengers, and not Venice. Well anyway, when it rains, it pours and it floods. (At least 12,000 people were evacuated in several provinces in northeastern Argentina because of this flooding!)

It all began the day I moved in to my new apartment. Needless to say, it took me an hour to traverse the streets in a taxi to arrive to my new home. Una locura! My taxi driver told me in English, “Buenos Aires is crazy.” I walked into my new apartment, bags dripping with water, my white t-shirt drenched, making quite the first impression with my roommates. I dropped my bags in my room and spent the rest of the night sitting in the living room, watching TV and hanging out with Natalí, Nadina, Mica and their friend, Flor.

A synopsis:

  • Mica y Natí are both students at a local university here, studying hotelería. They are both from Rosario – a little north of Buenos Aires. They are both 21.
  • Nadina is in her resisdencia for biochemistry. She works at a hospital. She is from Chaco – in the very north of the country. She is 28.
  • I love them.
  • They are so amazingly welcoming and inclusive. We have spent many weekend days hanging out in the apartment, drinking mate, watching hilariously, dramatic reality tv. We went to una fería de comidas my first weekend with them in the Hipodromo, where there are horse races. There were food trucks everywhere and the stadium was lit very beautifully. I went to a boliche (an typical Argentine club/all night dance party) with Nadina y my amiga de Fulbright, Brin. In classic Argentine style, we left when the sun was rising – cumba beats ringing in our ears, eyes made of hearts for the Argentine guapos, and smelling as if we bathed in cigarette ash.

Things noticed:

  • EVERYONE SMOKES. This is something I’ve noticed very commonly in cities, but here it is crazy. It’s like I’m in some 1950’s time warp. No anti-Joe Camel ads here. I have some opinions on this, which basically involve cigarette companies targeting Latino communities, getting them hooked, blah blah blah, you know the gist – classic exploitation. Not to mention the fact that the same groups that are part of climate denial campaigns of today were also the same groups hugely influential in anti-tobacco denial campaigns of the 90’s…but I’ll save that for another day.
  • There is a stereotype that porteños (people from Buenos Aires) think they are better than other provinces and are a little cold and closed off. It’s funny because most of the Argentine’s I have met here are not porteños, but from other parts of the country. They are so inclusive and friendly. To me, this is kind of a sign that the stereotype might not be too far off.😉
  • People aren’t really into introductions here. When you’re meeting someone, names are second in importance to the beso on the cheek – which is nice, but also usually leaves me not knowing anyone’s name by the end of the night…
  • At the grocery store, there is a lane that puts preference on older people who are waiting in line. I realized this when an older woman was behind me in line and the cashier allowed her to pass ahead of me. Very respectful of their elders. Also, can we talk about the lines at the grocery store? Patience, people, patience.
  • Not much recycling here. Sometimes there are bins on the street, but no one picks it up in apartments which is really upsetting and dumb, but that’s why you see a lot of people picking things out of the trash to recycle it. They can get money in exchange for the recycling.
  • There is an obvious race problem here. Almost all the African-Americans I have seen here (very minimal number) are people who sell things on the streets like jewelry, umbrellas, scarves, purses, etc. For some reason, I feel like I have noticed more this time around than two years ago, but there is a clear racial and economic divide regarding race… also most are men.
  • Alejandro, one of the security guards in my apartment building is from Claypole – the area where my research is focused. His family still lives there. Maybe I will talk to them! He chatted with me about this and a multitude of other things, including the fact that he loves Bob Marley and even showed me his Bob Marley tattoo on his chest.

Now onto juicy deets: Continue reading

My arrival, but more importantly Obama’s arrival in Buenos Aires

Friends! Hello!

I have been in Buenos Aires two weeks now and it feels like it’s been months – a lot seems to have already happened. I’ve visited apartments, decided on one, read the newspaper in my favorite café in Buenos Aires (Musseta Café), saw Alabama Shakes on a street in Polermo SoHo (they were here for Lollapoolza), saw a dog with actual dread locks, got an Argentine phone number for my iPhone (everyone has smartphones now!), had a lovely dinner with my host mom, drank mate in the park with some friends, watched the Argenintina v. Chile game with some porteños, ate a lot of bread and cheese (anxiously awaiting April 1 when I can move into my new apartment to cook again!), Obama has come and gone (que drama), the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought on the dictatorship here in Argentina happened, A LOT.

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My host mom, Ana y Mariano with Bianche, the very old dog

Here is a brief synopsis of my impressions so far (‘cause I want to tell you more about the exciting political tensions going on here!):

  • Like I said, EVERYONE has smartphones so I didn’t feel it was necessary to buy a dinky phone to use. I am going to be very careful with this Iphone I have. I have an Argentine number but whatsapp works just as well with my old number.
  • I visited El Ateneo, a beautiful theater-turned-bookstore and my wifi code still worked in my computer! I’m finding that is happening and that gives me a small pleasure. I also had the same waiter I had two years ago (at multiple café’s and it’s so great! They definitely don’t remember me.)
  • The night I saw Alabama Shakes on the street they were going to see a tango show. I know that because one of the band members (I don’t know which one) screamed “to Tango!”
  • I’m staying in Belgrano with Mariano y Jenny, my host brother and his fiancé from before. I went to dinner with Ana, my host mom last Saturday. We had empanadas of course. Poor Bianche the dog is still alive but definitely blind. He’s got to be at least 12 years old now… We went for a walk with him after dinner and halfway through she picked him up and said, “Ok no, this is much easier.” He was walking at a snail’s pace.

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    El Ateneo bookstore❤

  • At a park in Belgrano, a little kid was calling a dog a “wow, wow” and that also made me smile.
  • There are a lot of petitioners on the street or in the Subte stops – reminds me of my time in Philly – Doctors without Borders, Unicef, etc. I don’t know if I didn’t notice this the last time I was here or that I just notice them more now because I can sympathize with them and feel their pain… (petitioning was a huge part of my job in Philly – a totally worthy cause, but also totally grueling.)

Until recently, a lot of my time has been spent looking for apartments and looking at apartments. Now, in the meantime, I have been exploring, taking conversation classes with an Argentine fellow named, Roberto, sitting in cafes reading the newspaper which is inundated with so much political news/drama (another reason why I love Argentina – everyone is so political and they are all super into human rights/protests), sending emails to my water peeps I need to get in touch with, meeting up with friends for dinner and merienda (snack), etc. So that’s all for now. I move into my new place with three other Argentine girls who are my age on April 1. I am VERY excited to be settled. My apartment is in Recoleta, a really nice neighborhood – it’s very close to El Ateneo. It is also convenient to Constitución, the train station I will need to take to get to Claypole every week. I will share more about the apartment situation once I am there!

Anyway, now let me tell you about this political drama I’m referring to!

The drama begins with this: one of the world’s longest-running economic soap operas may end in the next few weeks because Argentina is about to pay back its debts after14 years of lawsuits and animosity between US bondholders and Argentine leaders. This hundred billion dollar debt has kept the country locked out of international financial markets for years and has contributed to the extreme inflation that has become a part of cotidiano life (daily life) here in Argentina. Continue reading

Nano, a robot who eats trash, is born in Argentina; Obama eats his words about trip to Buenos Aires

An Argentine engineer has figured out a way to fashion an old Xbox console into a robot with sensors that can find and eat trash. Nano, the trash-eating robot and a less cuddly relative of Baymax from Big Hero 6, has been built with discarded parts of electronic devices and can open its mouth only when it detects the item thrown away has been programmed for it to eat.

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Nano, the robot getting his fill of some delicious trash.

According to the engineer, Pablo Romanos, the robot has learned to follow orders through signs and gestures, just like a little kid, and is soon to come equipped with speakers and a computer screen, just like the little kids of the future.

The robot will be stationed at schools and the hope is that it will be used to teach kids how to recycle. Robots are officially part of a school day curriculum, folks! The 21st century, man. I’m all for it.

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Adolfo Perez Esquivel:)

On a more sobering note — while trash-eating robots may be the big to-do in the world of environmentalism and recycling awareness, Argentina continues to reel in the wake of the atrocities committed during the devastating dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s. Obama has rescheduled his trip to Buenos Aires following criticism over his arrival to the capital city on March 24, which marks the 40th anniversary of the horrendous 1976 coup that mounted a military dictatorship, backed by the U.S. government.

Numerous human rights groups petitioned for a change in Obama’s itinerary including former Argentine Nobel Prize winner, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who won the prize in 1980 for his defense of human rights during Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship. Esquivel said he welcomed Obama but not on that day.

On March 24, 1976, the military staged a coup overthrowing the government, which resulted in over 30,000 desaparacidos, as they are called in Argentina– individuals who disappeared or were murdered during those horrific seven years.

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Jorge Videla is sworn in as president on March 30, 1976 after the coup

Esquivel, who was our guest lecturer for a day when I studied abroad, was one of the survivors of that era – of the death flights, the tortures, the prisons, and the disappearances. And the U.S. played a significant role in making this regime a success. U.S State Department documents reveal the influence of Henry Kissinger, America’s former secretary of state, who gave his approval to the generals to implement “dirty war” tactics for the sake of civil order. This civil order he referred to was in fact, the use of violent measures against left-wing activists and anyone opposing the government. Of course, U.S. support for military regimes during the 1970’s was not isolated to Argentina alone, but that’s a whole other story…

 

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Ex Esma, one of the main clandestine detention centers during the 1976-1983 dictatorship that killed over 30,000 people

 

The most contentious element of Obama’s trip however, is his proposed visit to the former Navy Mechanics school, which once was a secret detention center, now turned memorial. I visited this place the last time I was there and remember being struck by the unconcealed, urban backdrop at what once used to be a site of torture and death.

Well, now instead of making the trip to Buenos Aires on what would clearly be a less than ideal day, Obama will be traveling to the southern tourist resort of Bariloche, nearly 1,000 miles from Buenos Aires, on March 24 to play golf. He will arrive in Buenos Aires a few days before to meet with the newly elected, President Macri.

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The beautiful town of Bariloche

Macri, according to some, has been accused of choosing the date of Obama’s visit on purpose in order to use the U.S. president as a distraction from what many activists consider to be, his lukewarm pronouncements on human rights. And so it goes…

Well, I will be in Buenos Aires a week from today. I look forward to meeting new people, hearing their stories, comparing different governments, seeing new things and eating my fill of asado and dulce de leche.

Hasta pronto,

Emily “Carlos Gardel and Mafalda beckon” Kennedy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awaiting Argentina

Hello again friends! I am back!

It has now been almost 10 months since I graduated (what a weird thing to say!) Since then, I have done what most millennials do upon graduating: try and figure out what I like, what I don’t like, and what I want to do for the rest of my life. I feel lucky because for me that has meant working in Philadelphia at PennEnvironment as an organizer on a climate change campaign. I learned a rising tides worth of knowledge and made friends that would outlast any climate disaster. But, after that ended in January, I came back to Florida to live with my parents until my departure to Argentina in March. Because of the welcomed new presence of our two kittenish-cats, I have really been left feeling a lot more like a babysitter trying to rope in unruly toddlers than a freeloading, recent postgrad. Alas, I’m glad Finn and Fitz enjoyed watching me parade around the house catching them from eating our electrical cords, gnawing on the plants, sucking on the socks, and berating them for getting stuck in the pantry.

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My fellow climate defenders and bffs, Skyler and Galen

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Finn and Fitz looking surprisingly angelic, despite their devilish personalities

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have decided to revitalize this blog to recount my tales as I head off on my second stay in Buenos Aires, Argentina this time not as a student, but as a full-time researcher. I have graciously been awarded a Fulbright grant to conduct research on a social movement that formed to protest poor water conditions in Claypole, a community an hour outside the city of Buenos Aires. The water in this community is contaminated by sewage, due to the lack of this infrastructure, which has led to water-borne illnesses and health problems. While the community began a movement eight years ago to demand the water company and municipality change this, progress has been slow.

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A small river that runs through the town of Claypole.

This project is a continuation of the research I did for a month during my study abroad experience and I am feeling excited, nervous, is it time to go, do I have to go, ready, not ready, I can speak Spanish, do I speak Spanish, this research will make a change, will this research make a change, motivated, hopeful, expectant, inspired, grateful.

My fear of research is that it often tends to get trapped in the academic vortex where good intentions and good ideas go to die. My huge internal conflict with this assignment is that I hope this research is not just research for research sake. My goal is for this research to escape the disastrous vortex and somehow make it’s way into the hands of policy makers, municipal officials, journalists, who can expose this information and/or make the change necessary. Whatever comes of this project, whether it’s coming up with a comprehensive report of the social movement and the successes and failures, or whether it is working with the community to establish a strategic plan to reach the goal of improving access to clean water or something entirely different – I hope it will be useful.

So that’s that. I leave on March 14 so I have about two and a half weeks left until I leave. Why don’t I give you some news updates on Argentina now.

iu1f7bryObama is visiting Argentina on March 23-24. While the Cuba visit of course, will be the highlight, drawing worldwide attention, the visit to Argentina is also hugely significant. It has been nearly two decades since the last visit by a U.S. president to Argentina. Besides bonding over fútbol and their love of dogs, Obama and the newly elected president, Mauricio Macri will discuss trade and investment, renewable energy and climate change, and citizen security. After learning of Obama’s visit, Ana, my host mom from when I studied abroad, sent me a Facebook message asking me, “Did you get an interview?”

In other news, over 30 indigenous communities from the northern Argentine provinces of Jujuy and Salta said on Tuesday, February 23 they would go to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights after having exhausted all national legal sources to accuse local authorities of exploiting local salt mines for lithium extraction without prior consultation. Similar to fracking, this of course, causes water contamination and potential water scarcity.

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My classmates and I watch the indigenous  workers clean the salt.

This news alert was interesting to me because I visited these communities when I was there studying abroad. We talked to the indigenous that lived and worked on the land and what we learned was that these salt falts, Las Salinas Grandes, have become a place of huge development. Many auto companies and other businesses have come in search of lithium extraction, which has brought up many issues with the rights of these indigenous people. In 1994, a law was implemented to ensure the rights and culture of these people, yet the fight still remains a problem. The indigenous groups took their fight to the country’s supreme court in 2010, but the court denied their request two years later. Similar to fracking again, no reliable study has ever specifically outlined what additional chemicals they use to extract the lithium and local authorities rarely carry out environmental controls. The indigenous are not necessarily opposed to lithium mining, but demand to have their rights protected and to be able to choose the development model, which in my opinion, is not too much to ask.

Of course, there are more news worthy topics, but I think this is long enough. On a sad note, Chris Christie endorsed Trump yesterday. Scary times, scary times…

Until next time,

Emily “17 more days” Kennedy

 

The Final Post (Is it really? Does it have to be? DENIAL)

It has officially been a year. In typical tardy fashion, I am posting about two weeks after my actual one-year mark, but according to all my other posts, timeliness is not really my style. Based on my last entry, I promised a final post recounting my trip to Patagonia, where I visited the world’s only still-growing glacier, El Perito Moreno, explored the Fitz Roy mountain chain in El Chaltain and traveled to “the end of the world,” Ushuaia, the Southernmost point before hitting Antarctica. I did not do that. After my trip, my parents and sister came to visit me in Buenos Aires where they got to meet Ana and explore the streets that I grew to feel so at home in. Then we all flew home and the re-assimilation process began. (I flew to Providence, where I would live for the summer, six days after arriving in Tallahassee.) Needless to say, I was busy. But more than that, I was in denial that it was over. By writing that it was the end, made it final, over, complete — and I could not do it.

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El Perito Moreno — still growing!

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What a walrus!

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Perito Moreno

My trip to the South was beyond incredible. Erin (my media naranja) and I saw the most amazingly amazing views I have seen in my lifetime. We heard the daunting cracks of the glacier (which I thought looked like a mix between pumice stone and meringue). We saw huge barking seals and the archeological grounds of an ancient civilization in Ushuaia. We rode along the Beagle Chanel, the same channel Darwin rode centuries before. We fared a closed hostel where we intended to stay, but were happily surprised to meet some really cool British guys in the one hostel that was open in El Chaltain. We played Shithead (a really fun card game, with a really fun vulgar name.) We ate lamb goulash (El Chaltain is known for its lamb). We walked 13 miles in the Fitz Roy mountain range just to see a glacier that was still less impressive than Perito Moreno, but were greeted at the end of the day-long hike by a beautiful sunset and full moon that rivaled the beauty of our day. At the end of our week-long excursion to the South, Erin and I flew back to Buenos Aires, where we met our families who awaited us there. I took my family to the old Recolleta cemetery and street fair. We went to Fuerza Bruta — a Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil-like performance, which was stunning and incredible. We visited Iguazu Falls, one of the largest and most impressive waterfalls in the world where we rode a boat amidst the falls. They met Molly and Erin and their moms. I took them to my favorite cafes and restaurants. We had dinner with Ana where we talked the World Cup as we watched it on TV in the sports bar and my dad tried to speak Spanish.

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The end of our hike moon

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Vamos Argentina! (during the World Cup)

I can remember everything that happened but it has been a year, and everything is still so fresh in my mind. Argentina left an impression on me and it is not one that will be easily erased. Argentina taught me patience. It taught me to be open to change and to slow down, and accept that I may not get everything I want to get done in a day. It taught me the importance of language and of not being a culture-collector (where we expect something from going abroad) but the importance of being an active participant in cultural exchange (understanding that what we take from abroad is what we make of it and not expecting a certain culture to give us something in return.) It taught me to appreciate time (because days go by quickly, especially in a city, so you need to soak up EVERYTHING, but… ***see previous sentence on change and slowing down.) It taught me to appreciate some aspects of America, but it also taught me to hate some aspects of America. It taught me to be open-minded but also to have a firm stand on what I believe — to not fall for everything. I think if I thought about it enough, this list would keep growing, but for now, I would like to stop. I know I will be back, but for now Argentina holds a dear place in my hear and in my memory.

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Iguazu Falls

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Iguazu con mi familia

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Classic parilla con mi familia

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With Ana!

I am eternally grateful to Ana Laura and Eliana, my beautiful, always happy, loving and just perfect program directors; my host mom, Ana for taking me in as a daughter she never had and making me feel happily at home; the life-long friends I made on my program who shared my passion for human rights and justice, who are my inspiration and who I know will all do amazing work in the years to come; and to all the wonderful Argentines who allowed me to hear their stories and gave me hope for a better future.

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Con Ana y Eli:)

Emily “muchos muchos besitos” Kennedy

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The final days: a project, a rainbow and a Jesus-themed theme park

Hello America, well specifically North America. I am back. I know I have not written in over a month now but that is only because I was trying to soak up my final days in Argentina. So alas, I have a lot to say. I think I left off with how I was beginning the ISP project so I will start with that.

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river in Claypole

My project was on access to water in Claypole, which is part of the outer province of Buenos Aires and is about an hour outside of the city. Given that water seems to have inundated every part of my life (according to the stars my element is water, I’m from Florida, go to school in the Ocean state, work on a campaign at school to eliminate bottled water, and swim competitively on a college team,) water seemed to be a natural fit for my topic of study. Ever since organizing the Think Outside the Bottle campaign at PC and working with a non-profit in Boston called Corporate Accountability International, I have had an interest and passion for water rights and the problems associated with the privatizations of water. While Argentina had many issues with privatizations of many services in the nineties, the water utilities are no longer under private control. I ended up choosing Claypole, because while there are no problems with privatizations, access to clean water still is a huge issue. I learned that there was a group of University of Buenos Aires students called Taller de Aguas, who had worked with the “vecinos” (neighbors) of Claypole since 2008 to try and petition the water company to improve their water infrastructure. From there, I began emailing this group to try and organize a time to meet with them to talk about their work and about the current situation within the community. Continue reading

A story of grafitti, an 1830 house and the world’s biggest dinosaur discovery.

What does a walking tour, four hours of sleep and a painted astronaut all have in common? That was my state of existence last Saturday when I went on a graffiti tour of the city. I will first explain the sleep. So the night before, a few friends and I (including my fellow PC friend, Brian) decided around 3 am that after a long night out that it wasn’t time to go home, rather to stay out and watch the sunrise – so that is exactly what we did. The rest of our night included, a 5 am stop to get choripan (the most delicious bread and sausage combo), a subte ride to Puerto Madero (the port), a chat with a hotel guard, and finally the sunrise over the ecological reserve. Granted, we we were all eaten alive by mosquitoes for the two hours it took until the sun rose (it rose much later than we anticipated – around 7:15), but we all thoroughly enjoyed witnessing a “Lion King”esque sunrise while singing Hakuna Matata. So that is why I had four hours of sleep. The next day I was going on graffiti tour and it was lovely.

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Lion King

Continue reading