Throw me a line

Hello everyone!

How are you? I haven’t written in AGES. Wow. Well, because it’s been so long there is no way I can begin to tell you all that’s happened or for that matter, even summarize it. So this time, I’m just going to tell you the story of a girl (who cried a river and drowned the whole world… ha just kidding) the story of a girl with a love- hate relationship for a country bridled by bureaucracy, inefficiency and really just lots of long lines but also full of generous, kind, helpful, passionate people.

Okkkk, let’s begin. Spoiler alert: I’m the girl. And I will tell you that this project I have undertaken has turned out to be quite the wild goose chase. I can’t say I have a lot of experience with writing lengthy stories like the one I am working on, so I do admit that my annoyance is probably, most definitely part of the daily plight of a journalist, however I can tell you that I do know an inefficient system when I see one and here in Buenos Aires, the city is chock full of them – but most specifically, the one pertaining to water. (I could go on and on about other ones, such as the inexplicably long lines in the grocery store, the lines at the bank, the laundry lines that are always right next to the kitchen – meaning your clothing that you are hanging to dry will undoubtedly smell like whatever you or your roommate were cooking the night before, etc, I could go on. Ironically, lines are involved in all – huhuh the true sign of a semi-functioning system…) Continue reading

The durable, creative, generous Argentine

 

Hello friends,

It has been SO long. I know I have really been off of my blog game. This blog is going to be a little different because I am going to leave out the news related updates (since I have been writing those mostly in my work with The Bubble, but you can find my stories here.) I wanted to tell you some things I have been thinking to describe the essence of the Argentine spirit — which has really been a compilation of my experience two years ago and what I have learned this time.

Argentine’s are durable people. They are adaptable and they are creative. They are accustomed to instability. Inconsistency is part of their daily lives and this has made them tough and passionate.

To understand this about the Argentine culture, you must first know that many Argentine’s are immigrants. In the late 19th century and early 20th century many Europeans from Italy, Spain, Germany, Ireland, Greece and more traveled to Argentina during Argentina’s economic boom. Argentina’s agricultural products were in high demand and the country was accepting immigrants at a growing rate to help with the growing economy. These immigrants had to adapt to a foreign culture, learn a new language, and start a new life for themselves in a land thousands of miles from their home. Ok, I know this doesn’t sound far off from what we consider the “American experience” to be. But hey, they’re American too (just from the South) so that’s something we have in common! Continue reading

No more rain, no more boliches, still protests

Hello friends,

I hope all is well.

Now that it’s May (HOW?) I can officially tell you that April 2016 will find its place in the history books for being the rainiest month in Buenos Aires since 1915. That’s right, a whole century. This has of course, caused it’s own set of problems. The Argentine Red Cross estimates that around 30,000 people have been affected by flooding. Water levels in the flooded town of Villa Paranacito have risen so much that the best way for residents to commute is by boat. As I said before, a new Venice…

Floodwaters have reached grazing grounds, drowning livestock in the leading meat producing country. They have also left large parts of the country’s soy crop affected by fungi and disease, forcing producers to sell at a discount. Argentina is the world’s top exporter of soymeal livestock feed and it is the No. 3 supplier of raw soybeans, so the El Niño-influenced rainstorms have posed quite the challenge.

Much of this soy is exported in Rosario, the main export port in the country and the third largest city, behind Buenos Aires and Cordoba. Two of my roommates are from this lovely city and I visited two weeks ago with my old study abroad program.

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Beautiful Rosario from the top of La Bandera monument

Rosario is a more tranquilo version of Buenos Aires. It is four hours from Buenos Aires by microbus and overlooks the Río Parána (another very dirty river.) Ana y Julieta, my study abroad coordinators from 2014, were so amazing to include me. I didn’t pay a single dollar. I met them at the airport, where the group was coming back from the North, and I took the micro with them to Rosario. I had two friends from PC who are studying abroad on this program right now so it was great fun to hang out with them all week. I stayed with them in the hostel and went to their charlas.

A synopsis of the charlas (a true testament to why I LOVE this study abroad program – just wait and see): Continue reading

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