Lujan: Catholic by Osmosis?

Thanks to my near-total lack of posts, my tiny readership is probably starting to wonder what the hell I’ve been up to for the past two(!) months. Here’s a quick outline:I arrived in Buenos Aires the morning of January 15th to start my six-month volunteer position with Habitat for Humanity of Argentina. While I could have put off the start of “work” for a few weeks to schlep around the country a bit, I felt so overwhelmed by the notion of being dropped into a completely new country by myself that I decided to go forgo this so I could start to meet people and feel centered. Bad idea. I reported to the national office, which lies in a suburb of Buenos Aires to start orientation and training. After about 48 hours of “capacitación,” which mostly consisted of going through educational activities geared to the intellectual level of 5th graders, I was already longing to get out. Luckily, after the first week, I got to escape for some real on-the-job training: Global Village. Global Village is a program that Habitat runs where groups of volunteers can stay for a week or two in another country and work on a construction site, sight-see, and learn a little bit about the local culture. This is is a group of Global Village regulars from Indiana who came along to build. I learned a lot about farming during my time with them.I was to spend a week and a half with the group, first as a trainee, then as a “House Leader,” a position that basically involves accompanying the group full-time and being the middleman between the volunteers and Habitat for anything that should arise. My experiences with the group ranged from the great and fulfilling (spending all day outdoors and getting my hands dirty, finally) to the comically bad (explaining to a group of Indiana farm folk that in Argentina, men greet each other with a kiss on the cheek).After that, I spent another fairly uneventful week in the national office, took a quick vacation to the beach (where it was cloudy 75% of the time), and finaly moved to Luján, the city I’m calling home for the next four months. Luján is a city of about 85,000 people and home to one of the regional offices of Habitat Argentina. I’ll write a bit more about my comical living situation here in the near future, but the most important thing to know about Luján is that it’s known as the “The Capital of Faith” here in Argentina. This is because it’s home to the country’s largest basilica, a monstrous set of granite stalagmites that can be seen from miles away in the flat pampas. What’s even more striking about the Basilica is the way that it figures into the country’s Catholic faith.   For most of the year, the millions of tourists/pilgrims who come to Lujan treat the pilgrimage a bit like a Sunday football game:  they show up for the main event (mass at the cathedral) but spend most of their time having cookouts and hanging out at the plaza in front of the basilica, where there are several dozen stands that sell exactly the same catholic knick-knacks.  It’s quite a sight to behold, and you can smell the charcoal smoke and the burning beef for miles.

Basilica Nuestra Señora de Lujan
For the rest of the week, Lujan is a fairly tranquil midsize town, just like many others in the province.  It has a university (Universidad Nacional de Lujan), a couple of pedestrian plazas that are good for relaxing and people-watching, lots of bars and restaurants, a few nightclubs that fill up with university students on Friday and Saturday nights- and lots of ice cream shops.  Not a bad place to call home for a little while.  Though I don’t think I like it as much as I’ll like Mendoza, where I’m headed this weekend. More on that soon…

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