Archive for the ‘Study Abroad in Argentina’ Category


Thavy: Estancia

November 16, 2010

About 2 weeks ago I went on a class field trip to an Estancia in San Antonio de Areco, about an hour outside of Buenos Aires. This was the second field trip to an Estancia. The first estancia was amazing. We had an asado, which consisted of a large cookout with a different types of meats and wine. The food just keep coming. There was a point where I felt so sick because I ate too much food. The problem was that the food was too delicious for me to stop. The first Estancia consisted mainly of eating and exploring the estancia.

The second Estancia was just as fun. Though it would had been more fun if it had not been raining. When we arrived at the estancia, we were given wine, sodas, and empanadas (amazingly delicious). We couldn’t do much on the estancia because of the rain, so most of us sat around inside. Although there was not much to do, we were given an opportunity to go horseback riding. I had so much fun horseback riding in the rain, even though it was for a short period of time. We spent the rest of the day sitting next to a fire place and eating lunch. It was a lot of fun.


Thavy: Death of a Stranger

November 12, 2010

On October 27, former president of Argentina Nestor Kirchner died. That day was also census day, a day where everything is shut down so people are able to take the census. That day the country was filled with sadness and pride. The very next day, I was told not to go to the area where Nestor’s body was because it was suppose to be dangerous, but I went anyways. Upon arrival I saw hundreds of people sprawled out in Plaza de Mayo, in front of Casa Rosada. There was a wave of sadness but yet people were chanting and cheering with so much pride. It took awhile for me to process what was going on, but it was an amazing feeling. Everywhere I looked there were people crying, cheering, and many were holding signs that displayed who they were and the place they were from. Many were holding the Argentine flag and others with banners with Nestor’s name on it.

Argentinians are very passionate in what they love. If they feel like they are not being treated right, they would gather together and strike. This happens on a daily basis. I truly admire this part of their culture.  This was the feeling that was rapidly spreading through the crowds. The expression on each of their faces showed their passion for the country. This would have to be one of my most memorable moments in Argentina.


Thavy: Spring break

October 24, 2010

So I went on Spring Break about two weeks ago and it was amazing for the first half of it. I traveled to Salta and Mendoza. I traveled with two friend and our first stop was Salta. Upon arrival I was amazed by how beautiful the landscape was. I sat on the bus in awe and keep looking at the mountains as if they were going to disappear if I turned away. We stayed in a nice hostel in Salta and met a lot of people who were backpacking around South America. Speaking to these travelers made me realize how much I would love to do that. I would be able to experience the different cultures, see sights and improve my language skills.

Salta: The city is interesting and much smaller than Buenos Aires. It also has more natives that live in the city or the surrounding cities. Many of the locals earn money by sewing clothes and selling their hand made products. Are they making much money selling these products? Does most of their daily lives consist of selling these products in order for them to support their families? These questions and many more ran through my head as I saw markets with many locals selling their items. It’s interesting to see the contrast from people living in Buenos Aires and in smaller cities.

In Salta we went on a tour that brought us to the Salt Flats and other cities in the surrounding areas. This tour was amazing. Our guide brought us through the Andes and brought us to high altitudes of about 13,500 feet. When we arrived at the Salt Flats, all I was able to see was a white ground that was filled with crazy patterns on the ground. It was truly an amazing place. The salt gave the illusion of a distant lake and it was the first time I had seen a mirage.

The Next stop was Mendoza. I would have to say I was kind of disappointed with Mendoza after hearing many great things about the place. There was not much to do in the city except for a large park. I went on the wine and bike tour and found that we were biking on streets with cars flying passed us. It was quite dangerous, but overall the time spent in  Mendoza, the most fun I had was spent on the wine and bike tour.


Thavy: 3 weeks in Buenos Aires

September 10, 2010

I’m going on my third week and it have been amazing. Buenos Aires is a city that runs on espresso and never sleeps. People are always on the move and not even cars are able to stop them here. They are dodging cars like crazy. They cross streets as if they were playing frogger. Running right in front of cars and buses. This was a large adjustment for me. I kept thinking that I might just one day get hit by a crazy taxi driver. People in this city also drive as if there was an emergency; as if someone was in need of help and that they need to be there to rescue them. As crazy as the driving is, I find it very thrilling.

My first week was exciting. I got off the plane and met the other people in the program. We were loaded on to a bus and brought to where we were going to spend the next 3 and half months. Many of the people were staying with host families and a few of us chose to stay in the apartments. After arriving at the apartment, me and my roommates attempted to navigate the city. We tried to find the the school. We were given directions by one of the people working in the program, but managed to get a little lost. We eventually found it. The next day classes started. The classes were interesting, but I felt really confused in my Spanish 1 class. It was being taught in Spanish, and I just wish the book they provided had the definition of terms in English. I spent the rest of the week absorbing the city and exploring as much of it as I could.

The second week was very interesting. I had already gotten kind of used to the streets and finding my way around the city (with a map). This week kind of sucked because it rained a lot and the temperature was 50 or lower. It eventually got nicer by the end of the week.

On to my third week and so far I’m really enjoying Buenos Aires. One of my favorite part about Buenos Aires is the Subte. Every ride is different. My roommate saw a dog waiting for the Subte and as it was arriving, ran to make sure it was the first one on. That’s was really awesome. That’s one thing I want to see before I leave. A dog able to know when and where to get off of the Subte. My goal this whole trip is to find one of those dogs and follow it to see where exactly it’s are going.


Meredith: No such thing as stupid questions

July 26, 2010

I have arrived safely in Buenos Aires. I love my host mom/grandma/woman. That was so not kosher to write all of that. I think I’m going to call her an abuela because once an abuela you are also a madre y una mujer. I’m so smart!

Anyway, so right now my time consists of sitting through many orientation activities, which is fine because the program director is HILARIOUS and super nice. All the employees of IFSA-BUTLER are wonderful.

A lot of the orientation is full of information to scare us from going out late at night alone, or from entering danger zones of the city, etc. But some of it is downright hilarious. See the following questions that students asked and the director read out to us (strangely enough, they may seem stupid at first, but all questions are legitimate!)

1. How can we communicate?
2. How much time should I spend in the shower
3. Is it okay to eat in the city?
4. How do cell phones function here?
5. How can we contact each other?

I died laughing on the inside. Some were actually great questions though. Here are the sarcastic answers the director gave (S), and then some real advice (R). This was all in spanish, BTW. I am doing you a favor and translating.

1. S:By speaking to each other? R: any way you want.
2. S: um…what? R: This is a good question but you don’t have to worry about how much time you spend in the shower. It is not more expensive for the home stay families if you spend a long time in the shower, but you should ask just to be polite.
3. S: No R: Of course! Ha, just don’t eat food made on the streets or sold on the streets.
4. S: Very well. R: Just like in the U.S.
5. S: You have no need to contact each other R: You have no need to contact each other.

For the last questions, the answer is the same. That is hilarious because it is so true. We shouldn’t spend time with only “los americanos” down here. We need to branch out. I’ve learned this, and also that I should not be afraid to ask any questions. Not even how much time I should spend in the shower.


Meredith: Volunteering can be problematic

June 8, 2010

Humans like to be altruistic, or at least I think so. Being altruistic, truly altruistic, is another story.

We like to think we are making a difference, doing some good, impacting the lives of others. Yet we don’t want to put in the time or effort to actually achieve this, we just want to feel like we’ve achieved something good without straining ourselves or going too much out of our way.

I know that this trip isn’t about volunteering, but there is a “volunteer” component included. There has been some controversy over it in the past because apparently students complained that there was not enough of a volunteer component but then when students went to volunteer at places where they would play with street-children, that wasn’t exactly what they were looking for so they stopped doing that. Some even gave the excuse that their fingernails were getting too dirty.

Our group is only here for three weeks, so there’s a limited amount we can do to “volunteer”—and organizations know this. We don’t do poverty tours, we aren’t going to go in the shanty towns and make a spectacle of their lives, take pictures, and go back to our comfortable lives and forget. Yet we can’t go to other places either, because it would be much more of struggle and a waste of time to show us the ropes of the place. We would only be there for a short time and wouldn’t be able to do that much anyway. Sometimes it’s better to give money.

Today a couple of us got in a tiny heated debate about our volunteer experience yesterday. One of the organizations that let us come in and help out for the day was one that runs an after school program for street children, helping them with their homework, offering them snacks, and most of all company and affection. We went in, helped them with their homework, played with them, and learned about their conditions.

I was helping out this boy Mauricio with his homework. He totally gave me the cold shoulder and told me to talk to the hand. He called over other professors and was saying “ella no sabe nada, quiero otro profesor” (she doesn’t know anything, I want another professor). This was just one experience there, but it was what I remembered most the next morning when, on my walk to school, I told my friend Sara that my career as a teacher started and ended yesterday.

If you know me at all, that’s how I speak a lot of the times. Hyperbolic. Dramatic. I wasn’t serious, and now that I look deeper at yesterday, I can understand more. It was amazing to go to the place and see how they were helping these children, but even doing that made it feel like we were making them a spectacle, peering through a looking glass at a far away scene that we could easily be removed from. And we were. Night rolls around, eight o’ clock comes, and the day is over. We leave, and I will probably never see those kids again.

One girl said it was worth it, that she was glad we went even if it was one day because she knows the extent of their need and will leave stuff for them, extra clothes, shoes she won’t wear, maybe a towel. I agree, maybe. I’m not sure though. I was glad to see that there were volunteers there. That these kids had somewhere to go. But that’s it. I think what disturbed me most about Mauricio not wanting me to help him was the fact that it hit too close to home to my uneasiness. We did exactly what we should not do: go in for a day and leave. These kids don’t need that, they need constant companionship, someone steady. Sometimes no volunteering is better than volunteering if it will be like that, only because if I do good, I want to mean it. I don’t want to do more harm than good.


Meredith: So many faces

June 6, 2010

I visited CELS (center for legal and social studies) recently, one of the foremost human rights NGOs in not only Latin America, but also the world. One thing that sticks out in my mind is the controversy over numbers. I think that only about 9,000 to 15,000 disappeared have actually been documented, but when people talk about the dirty war in Argentina, you talk about the 30,000 disappeared. What I realized at CELS today was that regardless of the number, it’s still a huge amount of people to be stripped of the right to life, denied the right to live, breath, dream, hope, act, love.

30,000 is a symbolic number. It’s massive, gaping, obtuse, just like pain that never ceases. It’s easy to imagine, too, that 30,000 is not just an exaggeration. I often feel this way when I look at pictures of the faces of all those who have been disappeared.

I should set the record straight that these photos are not from the Memory Park. These are images of the tent of the Madres de la plaza de mayo at the bicentennial celebration. For further reading, please see “The Art and Politics of Memory


Meredith: The lettered city, alive and well

June 3, 2010

“El que no está en el gobierno no existe y el que no existe no habla.”
“He who is not in the government doesn’t exist, and he who doesn’t exist does not speak”

–From “La virgen de los sicarios,” by Fernando Vallejo

Since the time of Spanish imperialism, the “written word” has been intricately tied to power and freedom in Latin America. In his ground-breaking novel, The Lettered City, Ángel Rama identifies this relationship and discusses how it produced endless conflict between the “letrados” (educated elite) and the illiterate masses. According to Rama, “The principle explanation for the ascendancy of the letrados lay in their ability to manipulate writing in largely illiterate societies.” The educated urban elite imposed written laws on the masses, creating an almost mystical relationship in which the written word had the power to shape reality. Peoples’ actions were allowed or disallowed according to law, and actions outside the law were ignored, punished, or eliminated. Thus, the letrados oppressed the masses: “Within each visible city stood another, figurative one, that controlled and directed it.” This “less tangible lettered city” utilized “the order of signs, and the high priority of its function lent it a sacred aspect, freeing it from subordination to ordinary circumstances …This was the cultural dimension of the colonial power structure.”

As Rama has noted,

“Because [graffiti] is written on the wall, because it is frequently anonymous, because its spelling is habitually faulty, and because the kind of message it transmits, graffiti attests to an authorship outside the lettered city.”

This idea is thoroughly explained in The Lettered City, using examples from colonial times. Reading about this in a class, in a book, without a physical context and landscape to connect with, can make this seem something far away, irrelevant. Yet everyday, when I walk around the city of Buenos Aires, I see the struggle over the lettered city come alive. I see those who have no voice, or rather, no medium through which to make their voices heard, re-appropriating the spaces of the city.

the streets are ours

insecurity is the police

get out, Bush

we said, never again

ideas cannot disappear

without condemning punk rock!

so that everyone can speak



Meredith: It could have been me

May 31, 2010

One thing I’ve noticed with studying human rights and looking at other societies where these human rights violations, civil wars, state terrorism, etc. occur, is the mentality that this would not, could not, happen to me. Maybe it’s a form of coping, or a way to be able to analyze these issues without being overwhelmed by emotion, but people seem to put up a psychological wall, a form of distance, a safe abstraction from the sadness and terror.

Something I can’t ignore anymore is this: it could have been me. It would have been me. I can’t say this for sure, but if I had been alive in Argentina in the 70s, I would have, probably could have, been disappeared.

I am a leftist. I am liberal. I would have been young, idealistic. I can imagine that I would have been involved in politics, or at least in social justice initiatives like working in camps for children from the slums, las ciudades ocultas. Or, I could have been like those five or six students killed that weren’t even involved in politics, only protesting against raised bus fares. I’m Jewish. My name could have been in the address book of a friend, an acquaintance, or someone I knew that had been disappeared. I could have said the wrong thing, worn the wrong shirt. I might have looked suspicious. I might have asked too many questions.

Or, I could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Meredith: ESMA and “disappearances”

May 29, 2010

How to begin this post? I have no idea. How do you start to describe a visit to what has been called the Auschwitz of Argentina? A place where 5,000 people were tortured and out of that 5,000, only 200 survived. Do the math.

ESMA, La Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada, is the Navy Mechanics School. During the military dictatorship, it was one of the largest clandestine torture centers. When you read about ESMA on the internet, the main picture you see is this but it’s important to know that this was not where prisoners, the so-called subversives, were kept. Rather, they were kept in a more sinister location—the officers house. If you leave the main building, and continue on, you will reach a former control tower that restricted access to the Officers’ House. A chain was connected to the control tower, a tangible barrier representing the cruelty behind what felt like a point of no return. Many of the survivor testimonies attest to going over a bump shortly before being dragged out of a car and into ESMA.

This does not mean that what was happening in the officers’ house was secret. As the guide explained, 40-60% of all naval cadets dealt with and/or oversaw the prisoners there. By restricting access and creating the need for “special clearance” to reach the officers’ house, a pact of silence centered around connivance and complicity was created. Everyone was involved, everyone dirtied their hands. To speak out would be to implicate everyone and this alone has created the incentive to never divulge what happened at ESMA. You can see this pact is strong and still in place today: all of the information known about ESMA comes from survivor testimonies.

This is about ESMA, and it is about so much more, as all productions are. In some ways, the dirty war was a performance, a mixture of visibility and invisibility, appearance and disappearance. The system of “disapperances” devised by the military junta was used to spread terror, to paralyze, to silence, to cause the atomization of society. The Argentine military was innovative in their methods. Some disappearances happened in the dead of night. Some happened on a desolate street. Below is an excerpt from the testimony of Alicia Partnoy, a desaparecida and author of La Escuelita (The Little School),

“On January 12, 1977, I was in my house with my daughter Ruth (who was about a year and a half at the time) when I heard the insistent ring of the door bell. It was the middle of the day. I walked the thirty metrs down the hallway that separated my room from the front door. When I arrived, someone was banging forcefully on the door. I asked, who is it? And they responded: The Military; meanwhile, they continued to knock. In that moment, I remembered the thousands of murders, disappearances, and tortures that the military had been doing for at least over a year. Only then I tried to run and escape from the hallway, jumping over the back wall. Then they stopped me near one of the neighbors walls. My daughter, who had followed me through the hallway to the door, began to cry. I could not see her nor did I know what they had down with her until five months after. I didn’t even know if a bullet had killed her. Five soldiers forcefully put me in the truck. Besides my daughter’s claims, I only remember the hateful look from the operation leader. There were at least three military vehicles in the block, forcing the neighbors to remain inside. The delegation continued to the place where my husband worked, about fifteen blocks from our home. There, they detained him, taking us both…”

Read the rest of this entry ?

%d bloggers like this: