Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chile versus Argentina, day two: gender equality

Not to keep ragging on Chile but all these studies keep coming out and I'm too intrigued to keep them to myself.

The latest one claims that Chile is one of the worst Latin American countries for gender equality, placing 64th out of the 134th countries surveyed. Here are some highlights from the article.

The study analyzed economic opportunities, education, political power and health care for women and ranked Ecuador 23rd, Argentina 24th, Peru 44th, Colombia 56th and Uruguay 57th – all considerably better than Chile.

“(Chilean society) continues to believe that the woman’s principle role is to be a mother,” said Mariana Fagalde, a psychologist from the Universidad Diego Portales.

Analysts say this kind of mentality leads women to eschew demanding jobs because of domestic responsibilities.

Chilean marriage law provides another gender barrier – it requires women to get their husband’s permission before applying for a credit loan.

Domestic violence also continues to be a serious concern and Chile was one of the last countries in the world to legalize divorce in 2005.

Ok, wait; women need their husband's permission to apply for a loan? Really?? Ours was an ill-fated relationship from the beginning, Chile.

Ironically, Chile has a fairly popular female president. . .

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Social Capital: My affinity for Argentina and dislike for Chile explained

A recent study placed Chile 3rd out of all Latin American countries (behind Costa Rica and Uruguay) for quality of life. However, it placed DEAD LAST in one very notable category: Social Capital. According to the study:

“Less than a quarter of Chileans trust other people and most believe that their friends aren’t that important, positioning Chile in the last place (in Latin America),” said William Inboden, Vice President for the Prosperidad del Instituto Legatum (IL). “This shows extremely low levels of social fabric within the nuclear family and amongst close friends.”

Hello! If they don't even like and trust each other, how did I ever expect them to like and trust me? The article goes on to say:

“It is common for countries on the road to development, and with high levels of governance, to have low levels of social capital.” said the IL report. “Once good governance has been achieved, it is perceived that it is not necessary to rely on others and on social networks. This doesn’t occur in communities with lower levels of governance, where the community is vital to survive. Nor does this occur in developed countries where the social capital is the base of prosperity.”

Gonzalo Tapia, a sociologist of University of Diego Portales, said the finding helps explain the character of many Chileans, who often shut themselves away with their families and distrust those around them.

The whole thing was quite fascinating and I can honestly say it gave me a sense of relief and justificiation at finally having a tangible explanation for the mysterious shut-out I experienced during my five months in Chile, which, as you may recall, caused me no shortage of loneliness and depression, two sensations to which I do not easily succumb.

Argentina may have regressed from first to third world status (for so many possible combinations of reasons it's not even worth getting into here), but at least people here like each other.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Things I love about Buenos Aires

I've been here for two weeks and I'm sure I'm leaving out a million other things I adore but, in no particular order, here are the ones I'm thinking about right now:
  • Hustle and bustle. Any time of day, any day of the week, any type of weather, the streets are packed with people. There is always something to do here and people are busy doing it.
  • Sparkling water. Six large, reusable, old-school seltzer bottles are delivered straight to my door once a week for about $3 (not the delivery fee - that's the total cost).
  • Delivery in general. You can get anything delivered here! Literally anything. It's amazing.
  • Yerba Mate. It's not the taste of yerba that I love (which, in an unexpected twist on typical Yanqui tastebuds, I do) as much as the culture and ceremony that surrounds it. Mate is meant to be shared. It is a community event in which a group of people share ONE mate (cup) and ONE bombilla (filtering straw), continually filling and passing, filling and passing, changing the yerba leaves once it is lavado (washed, aka weak) and filling and passing it around some more. It always feels like an honor to be included in such a uniting tradition.
  • Empanadas. If I don't eat one a day I feel as though something is wrong in life.
  • Beef. I don't like to eat beef in the U.S. for several reasons that I won't get into. Here, those reasons melt away like the juicy cuts of lomo in my mouth.
  • Leather. As a result of the large cattle industry, the leather goods here are out of this world. I'm all for using all parts of an animal so if I eat beef I might as well enjoy leather!
  • Wine. While I'm on the stereotypical Argentinean goods topic, it has to be said: the wine is fantastic. Malbec, te adoro.
  • Jasmine. It grows everywhere here.
  • Little Horse. The neighborhood where I live is called "Caballito" which translates to "Little Horse." To me it is a representative middle to upper-middle class neighborhood blessedly void of tourists. I feel safe here, and what's more, since it's so unlikely that I would be living in this neighborhood people don't even bother to notice me. I also just found out that the statue of El Cid one block from our apartment is the exact center of the city. Rad.
  • Mixed-use buildings. Almost every building's first floor is a retail store of some kind, which means that in any neighborhood you can walk to anything you could possibly need. Within 2 blocks of my apartment are at least 1 (and often 2 or more) of the following: bank; grocery store; restaurants and cafes; bakery; butcher; salon; laundry services (they do the wash for you!); bar; gym; pharmacy; gas station; car wash; clothing retail; shoe retail; cobbler; tailor; and most importantly, several empanaderias.
  • Argentineans. My thirst to meet and talk to as many varying representatives of this country as possible is seemingly unquenchable. I consider it a project in amateur anthropology. Maybe it's just because it's all foreign to me but, unlike in the U.S. where I might get bored if I feel like I already know how the conversation will end, I love finding out what people have to say here, and how they say it. Life in a second language can be frustrating but it's also totally fascinating.
  • Sol. My life here would be completely different were it not for my friend and roommate, "Sunshine" (and her family). A mi querida amiga: que haría sin vos??

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A question for my readers

Whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, people from other countries know (or think they know) a lot about the U.S. It's impossible to say I'm estadounidense or yanqui without people showing some sort of reaction or having a series of mostly predictable questions or dissertations about the U.S. I've become accustomed to it and don't consider it good or bad (though it is sometimes annoying). I try to be the best ambassador I can for the U.S.

Meanwhile, last Thursday night I was out on the town with Claudio, my dear friend and old neighbor. We had just left the cinema and were walking home when he asked me a very interesting question to which I did not have a good answer. The question was: what do we, as Americans, think of Argentina or Argentineans?

This stopped me in my tracks for a moment as I realized that I am more Americancentric than I ever knew; the truth was, I had never thought about it. So before I could answer him, I had to think about why I had never thought about it. The simplest answer was because I can't think of a single Argentinean I've ever met in the U.S. It's not a normal travel destination for a culture that prefers to go back to its Italian or Spanish roots on vacation, or for those who can't afford to make a long trip stay local to the country or at least the continent.

I replied that we don't meet many Argentineans so our inclination is probably to romanticize it as a country of gauchos and tango, and Buenos Aires itself as a chic and historic city filled with good-looking people.

"But how would you react if you did meet one of us?" he insisted. "Would you think our customs were weird, or the way we dressed, or...?"

I told him that in general I think we are very gracious to tourists and would probably express interest in Argentina and provide any information or help they were asking for and then some. I told him that Argentina's fashion and customs aren't so different or weird and that in the U.S. anything goes anyway, and that it probably would not be an issue.

But then I realized that I have totally cloudy judgment on the issue since I live here and am acquainted with what's normal.

So I open the question to you, dear readers: What do you think of Argentina? That is, when you hear "Argentina" what comes to mind? Have you ever met an Argentinean tourist? If so, how did they seem and how did you react? If not, how do you think you'd react upon meeting one in your native streets?

Comments, commence! Remember, you can post anonymously without having to create an account.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Week One in Buenos Aires

Well, I have been here for just over a week and this is what I have to relate so far.

First, I forgot to mention in my last post the eerie and ethereal highlight of the overnight flight: a lightning storm at 35,000 feet. The captain came over the loudspeaker to tell us to buckle up, but he steered clear of the clouds beautifully and we didn't feel a bump. I was so grateful to be on the right (er, left) side to catch sight of the most incredible clouds I have ever seen. They were huge, curvaceous towers that extended as far down as I could see and ended about 200 feet above the plane in a huge dome. There were about 5 of them and each had its own individual lightning show going on inside. I craned my neck as long as I could to watch for the flashes in an otherwise pitch black night.

Ok, on to Buenos Aires. I wish I could say I've done more interesting things since being here but the truth is, life is pretty normal. I have so much time and I've done all the touristy things already so I've mostly been laying low, getting my bearings of where I live, eating empanadas and pasta and parrillada (aka meat), sleeping and working. Sol and her mom Lydia and I had a fantastic lunch last Saturday and then cruised the fashionable shopping district called Palermo. That night I hung out with my friend Renée (who I met in Chile oh-so-long ago and is now living in Buenos Aires), her roommates, and their friends. On Monday I caught up with my old neighbor and friend Claudio and will see some more old friends tomorrow for a birthday party. I'm busy trying to make new friends too, so stay tuned! So far it consists of a fluent-in-Spanish-and-Portuguese fellow Yanqui who lives 10 blocks from me and loves the same things I do, but I'm also busy meeting locals. Hopefully this weekend I'll go dancing so I can regale you with an absurd "I was out until 7 am" story for the next blog.

Last Sunday, a famous Argentinean folk singer named Mercedes Sosa died. I went to a gringo bar to watch the Seahawks get pummelled and then walked to my old apartment building to visit Claudio, which happens to be right by Palacio de Congreso. Thousands upon thousands of people were lined up for blocks to get into the congress building to look at Sosa's remains. It seemed strange to me that she should be on display by the state but Argentineans take the death of famous people very, very seriously. I was unable to take the normal bus home and went in subway (which involves a much longer walk but I love the underground) instead, where I turned on the TV and was able to see her laid out without waiting in line for 6 hours.

On to where I'm staying: the apartment is HUGE, which by American standards is normal-to-big. Sol completely remodeled the whole place when she moved in (her dad owns it) and it's all in very good taste, not to mention comfortable. There is a hammock in our living room for heaven's sake. Did I mention she cooks for me and supplies me with endless cups of mate during the day? (We both work from home.) I won't tell you what I pay in rent because it will make you cry.

Sol and I each have our own large bedroom and share the third bedroom as the office/dining room. It's been really easy to work from here and it doesn't feel odd at all to communicate with coworkers from such a distance since we all use IM anyway, even if we're 5 feet from each other. I'm excited to get started on my next Apex venture which is producing an Art Appreciation electives course. I've also drafted a budget for my time here which includes paying off my credit cards and student loans in full by April - hopefully I can stick to it!

A few things I forgot but was quickly reminded of upon return:

  • It's impossible to find sheets with a thread count above 180
  • The thunder and lightning storms are intense and awesome
  • Spending pesos is easier than spending dollars
  • I love instant coffee and am not ashamed to admit it
  • My Spanish is better than I remember it being but it's still frustrating when I don't know the word for something or forget a grammatical construction
  • My teddy bear is the single most comforting thing I brought with me

I promise a more visually pleasing blog next time and will commit to taking some pictures soon. Also, I plan to work up the courage to take my video camera out of the apartment sooner rather than later.

Next time I blog I hope to have exciting updates on a few side projects/hobbies I'm trying to pursue here.

Until then, if you're so inclined I'd appreciate any comments you might have. I love hearing from readers! (Note that it's very easy to post an anonymous comment without needing to create a blogger or google account.)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Unnecessarily detailed account of an uneventful journey

Wednesday morning was less than relaxing as I hurried to the bank to get cash, the store to buy TSA-allowed luggage locks for the contraband and other expensive items I had wrapped in sweaters and hidden in the depths of my giant suitcase, tried to get a ridiculous parental control program off my new PC laptop, and generally was unpleasant to both my mother and older sister who bore it gracefully without making me feel even more guilty about spending our last hours together in a blur. (At one point my mom even offered to make waffles and I said no thanks; wtf was wrong with me?? Wishing I had those waffles right about now. Anne did make a giant batch of Chex Mix of which I took a gallon-sized container and only just finished it today.)

I got through checking in OK after transferring 3.5 pounds from the giant suitcase to the reasonably sized suitcase and then looking at the airline woman with desperation when it still registered 51.5 pounds. She let it slide. She also let me pass with my baritone ukulele, bulging laptop bag, and an oversized purse. Apparently United does not count musical instruments as one of your two carry-ons which I thought was pretty awesome.

I'm not sure how I got this so wrong but I had somehow figured that my flight to DC was 6 hours and then from DC to Buenos Aires was 8. Um, no. My DC flight was a piddling 4.5 hours and then after I had to run (ok, walk briskly) from one gate to the next to make my connector, I actually let out a pained "no!" when the flight attendant announced that our flight would last 10 hours and 10 minutes. Can I just say that I never feel resentful of rich people until I'm walking through first and business class on my way to my crappy little coach seat? They did feed us dinner and then breakfast, and they did supply a surprisingly long and cushy pillow and a good-sized blanket, but the in-flight entertainment left a lot to be desired - I didn't watch a single thing - and the seats did not recline quite as much as they might have. Luckily I had some unisom which did not help me sleep uninterrupted but did at least help me fall back asleep every 15 minutes or so, and in general kept me in a dazed stupor so that when I looked at my watch in horror at 3 am and realized there were still 6 hours left and I just couldn't last that long, somehow the next time I looked at my watch it was 6 am and life didn't seem so bad (though my feet were hilariously swollen; I wish I had taken a picture).

If you read my last post you know I was nervous about getting through immigration (since I want to stay for 8 months and have no return ticket) and customs (since I had several thousand dollars' worth of new electronics and random horse hoofing tools, don't ask). I said exactly two words during the whole process. First I went through immigration: he asked me, "tourista?" to which I said, "si." Then he looked at and stamped my passport with the standard 90 day visa and said, "bienvenida" (welcome) to which I said, "gracias."

I got my luggage without any real trouble except for sheer volume which required careful maneuvering of a rickety cart. I was sweating both from lugging each bag up on to the conveyor belt for immigration to peer at via x-ray as well as in anticipation of their "why do you have so many electronics?"question. Also, I just seem to be sweaty and gross after any long flight. Anyway, the immigration guy didn't look at me; didn't ask to see my passport; didn't ask to see the customs form I had painstakingly filled out; didn't ask to see inside a single one of my bags. The whole thing took less than 3 minutes, 2.5 of which was me loading and then unloading bags. Lesson learned: I played customs roulette and got lucky.

Sol picked me up from the airport and took me straight to our apartment which is huge and lovely and I will go into more detail with pictures later. After a long nap I unpacked in an hour, went shopping for new bedding which I always do in any new place to feel at home, and then slept another 12 hours. Since then I've done very little of note but I promise to blog about life here in Capital (pronounced cap-eeeh-tahl) in another blog since this one is already long.