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Displaced.

Well, I should have seen it coming.

Life in Luján seemed so calm and even comforting.  Returning from vacation with my parents at the beginning of April, I found myself  looking forward to returning to Lujan, as I finally had a routine of sorts and people to call on the weekends.  Although I was living in a slightly ill-equipped apartment in the back of the Habitat office, I was getting along well and even cooking meals for myself on the camp stove I bought expressly bought for this trip and intended to use for… you know, camping.

When I first returned to my room, I found that my things had been moved a little bit and the bathroom had been thoroughly cleaned.  “How nice,” I foolishly thought,” they must have a cleaning service that comes every month or so.”  At an office so cash-strapped that all of its computers are all running pirated copies of Windows, odds of this would fall somewhere between improbable and laughable.    The next day, at work, my boss broke the bad news: I had to move out within a week or the property owner would threaten legal action.

I knew along this was coming, just not so suddenly.  How did I come to be the victim of gross anti-volunteer injustices?  Enter the landlady:

\"La Dueña\"- The landlady The landlady only wants the space to be used as an office even though it’s a house.  Fair enough; it’s her property. Habitat Argentina wants to be able to provide housing for free in lieu of the stipend that most other Habitat international volunteers receive in most other countries.   Fair enough; they’re broke.  Here’s where we run into some problems.

Strike one: This was something both parties should have worked out when they signed the lease, not when the Luján office started to house volunteers there. Their employees of course can rest easy since they have no vested interest in ensuring the welfare of free labor who’s in the country on a tourist visa.

Strike two:  The landlady is completely insane.  She owns several properties on the block; the one where I lived happens to look directly across the lot, into the backyard of the one where she lives, separated by a wall.  That wall apparently isn’t high enough.  I knew in my gut that things weren’t going to turn out well when she called my boss weekly to report that she knew exactly what time I turned the lights off and went to bed every night. I have yet to see this woman in person, but I guess she’s seen me.

Strike three: I’m out.  I moved out last week, and now I’m living in Colegio Nuestra Señora de Lujan de los Hermanos Maristas (Villa Maristas for short), which is a Catholic boarding school and conference center.  In retrospect, titling one of my posts “Catholic by Osmosis?” doesn’t seem so funny anymore.  It’s not so bad though:  I have to walk thirty minutes to work and eat bad cafeteria food for breakfast and dinner, but I got a lot of exercise and don’t have to do dishes.  I’m currently in the hunt for an apartment or something of that sort. While I’ve found some appealing and dirt-cheap alternatives already, this is not Washington, DC, where you can scan the listings on Craigslist, tell lies about yourself at a few open houses, cut a check for the first and last month’s rent, and move in.  Most Argentine landlords want a 2-year lease and a garantía, where you sign over an entire other property as collateral- for an apartment lease.  For most Argies, this will consist of one’s parents’ house, but this is not an option for me While this seems absurd at first blush,  in a country where people still remember the peso devaluation of 2002 (where the government slashed the value of the peso, and thus everyone’s bank accounts, to dig out of a long recession), it sort of makes sense.

In other news: I did some traveling in March, and I should be putting up some of the pictures on Flickr tonight.

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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…

News

I’m going to Argentina in January!   I’ll be living there for six months, working for Habitat for Humanity, learning the Vos form, and eating lots of beef.  More updates (and pictures) soon to follow. 

Keepin’ it real

This week in diplomatic awesomeness:   the king of Spain puts the smackdown on the bratty Hugo Chavez at the Ibero-American summit. Ceremonial monarchy: 1; Socialism: 0.

Translation: “Why don’t you shut up?!” [This part comes at the end; the rest is pretty self-explanatory.]

Wimbledon potpourri

I’ve fallen behind on writing in this busy week, so I’ll have to settle for posting a few links from one of my favorite sports events: Wimbledon.  Anyone who’s been in the same room as me when a match is on TV can attest to how much I like to watch tennis; however, I’ve really fallen behind on keeping up with the pro tour and playing the sport itself despite the abundance of free and municipal courts in Washington.   However, I’ve been looking at some updates from Wimbledon here and there, and honestly, I’m not as disappointed with myself about it anymore.  It looks like the men’s final four here will look exactly as it has for so many Grand Slam tournaments in the past few years:  In the semis, Roger Federer will face Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will face young Frenchman Richard Gasquet.  It’s not exactly earth-shattering to say that Federer will take the final (probably in four sets).  Rafa should put up a good fight, but his stamina and better overall play probably won’t be a match for Federer’s blinding power.  I could go on about why I think this is an unavoidable shame, but I’ll instead stand behind my friend Jason, who has summed it up quite well. 

 In spite of the boredom of the tournament bracket, a lot of interesting and funny things are going on at Wimbledon, as one could expect when scads of press and pampered athletes converge in the summer.  Here are a few headlines that I think should appear in this year’s coverage:

  • American Tennis Is Dead:  The 90’s and early 00’s were such an amazing time to be an American tennis fan.  We had the perennial greatness of Sampras and Agassi and a lot of promising young guns like Taylor Dent, James Blake, Mardy Fish, and of course, Andy Roddick.   Even the older guys like Todd Hamilton had an incredible amount of vitality, doing things like resurrecting a 2-sets-and-change deficits to win the match over the course of a grueling 5 hours (2 years in a row!).  Now, our players have gone from beating huge leads to blowing them, as did Andy Roddick when he was up 6-4, 6-4, 4-2 against Gasquet.  All that America’s last best hope had to do was win eight points, and there could have been someone from our side of the Atlantic in the semis. Sad. 
  • Small Ego Not A French Virtue:   I’ll leave that to this great quote from Richard Gasquet after sending Roddick home:

Roddick had won 18 consecutive tiebreakers before losing the third set. Roddick and Gasquet finished with the same number of unforced errors, 29 apiece, but Gasquet complied a 93-60 edge in winners, including 18 passing shots.

“When I play good with my serve and my backhand I am really dangerous,” the 12th-seeded Frenchman said. 
from espn.com

  • Winning Wimbledon, Looking Good Not Mutually Exclusive:  There is something so very Swiss about the way that Federer nonchalantly wins grand slam after grand slam.  Not only is he still at the top of his game, he’s hardly played any tennis at all this week– rain delays and a fortuitous withdrawal by  fourth-round opponent Tommy Haas have made it so that he’s only played 2 matches in the last seven days.  The real classic is the way that he’s spent all the free time he has on his hands:
  • “Now that I’m through, I think it’s definitely a bit of an advantage,” admitted Federer, who said he spent the previous days practicing, watching movies, playing cards and going to the hairdresser.

    Oh well, I’ll soon have to find something else to watch

    Inaugural

    Well, I can no longer feel above all the 21st-century hacks who fire off their trivial thoughts onto the internet– I’m starting a blog. Why on earth am I doing this, when I could be out doing things other than navel-gaze through a keyboard? Well:

    • I have the attention span of a hummingbird and I need something to keep myself distracted at work.
    • I miss being able to just write creatively for the hell of it, which I haven’t done since high school.
    • I have a lot of opinions on a lot of things, and forcing myself to actually write them down may be a good idea to find out whether they’re coherent or not.
    • My life is interesting and worth writing about… eh, nevermind.

    This venture is inspired by the blogs of my friends, most of whom actually have a focus, such as food or politics. I can’t yet promise you that, but you’ll see a lot of the things that I think about and spend time doing, such as living in DC, cycling, working for the federal government, and of course, linking to articles I didn’t have to write myself. I’m hoping to take an extended trip to another country in the coming months (more on that later), so if all goes well, this should become a travelogue later on. So sit tight, dear reader, and let’s have some fun.