Sunday, December 31, 2006

first impressions by Helen

The plane ride was, as I expected, long and horrible. If I slept a total of one of the 11 hours, and in pieces I may add, then I am probably overstating. But then everything went smooth as silk. Quick, efficient, polite and easy. Customs didn´´t (don´´t know why this spanish keyboard does a double apostrophe, but it just does) even look at my bag, just asked me where I was from, then told me in spanish to go thru, and I just stood there looking at him like a deer in the head lights, and so he waved me thru.

When I walk the street it feels just like New York, except that I am one of those foreigners carrying on a conversation in another language.

Our 2 bedroom apt is technically a 2 bedroom. The second bedroom room has this computer set up in. It is approx 8 x 10 with a small closet. No bed. Two bathrooms tho. One with a bidet and a toliet that sits pretty darn high up off the floor - my feet can dangle. The other potty is NOT for fat people - no room. Both of the bedrooms back up to a gorgeous, and very large terrace that wraps around in an L shape from the back of the apt to the front, with a plastic table and 8 chairs. The kitchen is a galley type, small, with a few cabinets, nice marble counter top, and then a living room with a 2.5 foot square 4 seater dining table, a love seat with two end tables and a coffee table and two chairs (like captains dining chairs for a dining room table). Again - reminds me of NY. We are on the 3rd floor so can take the steps. The elevator can squeeze in maybe 3 normal sized people.

Because there are 3 pesos to each 1 dollar, the prices are good for us, but quite expensive for the porteƱos. For example, we just ate a cute ¨diner¨ where we got a ham sandwich for 4.50 pesos. But you don´´t order tap water, you order a beverage. A bottle of water, or coke is also 4.50 pesos. The sandwich was good, but way small by US standards. Just one slice of ham in thin bread. The ice cream cones are what we would consider the kiddie cone. I digress, so a small sandwich and beverage is 9 pesos which is a lot for the locals.

One thing NOT like NY is all the dogs. Lots and lots of dogs - all with their boy parts still in tact and pooping just any old place they please with nobody walking behind them with a poopie scooper. Poop piles all over the street! And they fight and it doesn´´t seem to bother their owners.

The architecture is really interesting and pretty. Feels like what I imagine the french quarter looked like when I look out of my balcony. No screens are on the windows or sliding glass doors because there are no little flitty bugs like in Maryland. There are, however, mosquitos.

I just love how everybody sits outside and just nurses a cup of coffee or glass of wine.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Estamos aqui

It was an uneventful flight--even if it did take 10-and-a-half hours. Once we were here, we breezed through immigration (no one even raised an eyebrow that we were entering the courntry without return tickets). At customs, the man asked where I was from. When I told him ¨Los Estados Unidos" He said, "just put one bag on the belt." They only x-rayed one of my bags! When Helen came, he just waived her through.

My friend from the College, Joanna Gannon (de Bendini) had her sister ( who lives in BA) arrange for a remise (a private car service). Just outside customs, there was a completely pleasant man, Ernesto, holding a sign with my name on it. I told him I needed to make a call. He gave me his cell phone. I was told not to expect this. I had to call Josefina, the niece of Ana from whom we are renting the apartment. Luckily, Josefina speaks English a bit better than I speak Spanish. We arranged to meet at a cafe across from the apartment. Ernesto got us there with no problem.

We met Josefina. She showed us in. And now here we sit. The apartment is small by American standards but has a large courtyard. The "second bedroom" has no bed--just a computer desk. So we are in search of an air matress should any of you come to visit.

All-in-all, this has been flawless. Tomorrow is New Year´s Eve. I am beat. Check in tomorrow.


Kensito y Eleana

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Local News Article

My local paper did an article about my sabbatical. Here is the link

Staff photo by Sam Yu Helen and Ken Kerr of Frederick have many books on Argentina and the Spanish language. They will come in handy as the Kerrs will soon spend six months in Argentina.
And here is the text:
Professor to learn Spanish in ArgentinaPublish Date: 12/12/06
By Clifford G. Cumber News-Post Staff

FREDERICK -- When Ken Kerr was 40, he made a list of things he wanted to do before he died.
He ran the marathon (17 of them, in fact); he got his doctorate (at age 46); he's in the process of writing a book.

He has yet to meet a sitting president, or get elected to political office. He doesn't own a racehorse, and has yet to build a house with his own hands.

Next month, when he turns 50, the Frederick Community College English professor can strike off two of the dozen or so items left on the list.

He will live for an extended time in another country -- he leaves for Argentina in 17 days. And he can say he's fluent in another language -- Spanish.

Mr. Kerr will spend six months on sabbatical from his FCC post with his wife, Helen, in Argentina, totally immersed in the culture and language of Buenos Aires. Mr. Kerr has never left the United States.

He spent 18 months in research and preparation for his time abroad. But the idea had its genesis before that.

"I noticed that we have a growing Latino population at the college, and even if somebody calls the college on the phone and doesn't speak English, there are only about five people on campus who can take the phone call," he said in an interview Monday.

So, Mr. Kerr pitched his idea to FCC. Fund the trip, and he'd use the sabbatical he earned after six years on staff to travel. The faculty will then have one more fluent Spanish speaker. They agreed.

He began looking for a country. Europe would be too cold this time of year, so he turned to South America. With Helen along, a small village with few amenities was out of the question. The place had to have a stable government and a safe city he could afford (he will continue to pay a mortgage on his home while away).

"I found Argentina," he said.

And in Argentina he found Buenos Aires, a city about the size of Chicago, with a cosmopolitan atmosphere, museums, libraries, opera and all the intellectual trappings.

But after a military government in the 1980s, the city has not been popular for tourists. And no tourists means very little accommodation for English speakers.

It was just the kind of total immersion Mr. Kerr was looking for. He found an apartment through the help of a former colleague.

"I have to learn Spanish to get by," he said.

Now he speaks more than enough of the language to get by.

"You could drop me in the middle of a Spanish-speaking country, and I could do more than survive, I could thrive."

But whereas now he can converse, by the time he comes back he hopes to be able to talk about ideas and what people think.

"For my own personal growth and understanding of the world, my challenge is to see what's it like to move to a place where you've never been, where you don't know the language well, you don't know the culture, you don't know the customs, and try and establish a life," he said.

He hopes the experience will change him, alter his world view.

"I hope to be more aware, more thoughtful, a more tolerant person who understands the world a little bit better, that I'm able to see myself and my country as somebody else might see me."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Getting Ready for Christmas

We leave for BsAs four days after Christmas, so the decorating is a bit sparce this year. Last night, Helen and I had our granduaghter, Leah, spend the night. She and Helen made paper-plate angels and we all posed for pictures in silly hats. And we hung the stockings by the chimney with care . . .

We won't see Leah for the 6 months we are in Argentina--or our dog, Jack. I amm a little worried about him. He is 13 and moving pretty slow. Our younger daughter, Katherine, will take care of him while we are away.

Jack is getting in the spirit

We always make Jack wear the reindeer antlers for a picture. You can see how much he loves being part of this tradition.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Why Argentina?

People ask me, “Ken, why are you going to Argentina?”

It’s actually a two-part question. 1) Why are you going? And 2) Argentina? Let’s look at the questions separately.

First, why an I going to South America for six months? I am almost 50 years old and have never been out of the country. I didn’t even have a passport until this summer. I figured it was about time. Also, I teach English at a college. In my line of work, if we are fortunate enough to work for a really good, well-funded college, we can apply for sabbatical. A sabbatical is a chance to do something other than teach for half-a-year, at full pay. The proposal has to indicate how it will benefit both me and the college. In my case, I pointed out that we are having a large increase in our Latino student population, yet few of us can speak Spanish. The College agreed and funded my sabbatical.

Next, is my “list.” I didn't even make my list until I was 40. It was about that age I started feeling mortal. This is the “List of things I want to do before I die.”

Here is the list with current progress noted.
1. Run a marathon (completed in 1997 at age 40; I have since run 17)
2. Get a doctorate (accomplished that at 46)
3. Get a book published (I am possibly close to signing a contract)
4. Become fluent in another language (currently taking classes)
5. Live for an extended period of time in another country (going to Argentina in December 2006)
6. Own a racehorse--hopefully a winning one (maybe I can afford it after my book is published)
7. Build a house, maybe a vacation place, with my own hands
8. Learn to play the tuba or other brass bass.
9. Get elected to a political office.
10. Meet a president, not just a handshake, really meet him or her.
11. Set foot on every continent--no, spend the night and eat a meal at least.

The clever part is that I can accomplish both #4 and #5 with this 6-month trip. I can also chip away at #11.

Question #2: Why Argentina.

I have spent the past 18months preparing for this trip. My wife is coming with me so moving out to some small village in Guatemala is out-of-the-question. I also wanted to go someplace warm and escape the East Coast winter. As I have to continue to pay my US mortgage and other bills, I had limited money. After looking, and looking, and looking . . . I found Buenos Aires.

Argentina has a stable government, a 3:1 exchange rate (so my money can go 3X farther). Buenos Aires is a large city—about the size of Chicago—with beautiful architecture, varied culture, rich history, thoroughbred horseracing, really good beef and wine, and some of the most wonderful people in the world.

So I leave in 43 days.