Saturday, August 11, 2007

Reflections (Helen)

We have been home now for 2.5 months and I think I finally have some perspective on our time in Argentina. I think about BA in a sort of mental split screen. One side has a long list of positives - people, places, and things that I miss and would like to import here to the US. The other side is a sort of PTSD based entirely on my (and Ken's) inability to communicate for such an extended period of time. I felt like Blanche Dubois always "dependant on the kindness of strangers" to get through the day. And honestly, the Portenos were incredibly helpful and kind. But as more time went by, the helplessness and dependancy didn't resolve, it only became that much more of a burden. So, the negative side of the list is short but profound. I will use my experience in BA, here in the US, with our many immigrants. While I always had sympathy for their plight, I now have empathy as well.

As for the good stuff.....

I miss the relaxed, "easy" life style in BA. I know how crazy that could sound, because, honestly if there is a harder way to do something the Portenos will find it. I was always amazed at how people took 10 steps to do something that could be done in 2. Just going to the Post Office could take 3 hours. So, I can't really put my finger on it - life is just less complicated, easier somehow. Life in the US is more frenetic. We do everything as quickly and efficiently as possible. We take 2 weeks of vacation a year and fly through our destination on a mission to do as much as possible in as short a time as possible. The only things we don't do faster in the US are talk and drive.

I miss the restaurant life in BA. The cafes. Eating in a restaurant here can make me a nervous wreck now. There is even a commercial for a restaurant that is comparing their relaxed atmosphere to the average restaurant by showing the waitress asking the patron (muy rapido) - "do you want dessert? Ok, I"ll have it ready for you in the car." My first week back I went out to lunch with a friend and I swear that waitress asked us every 3-4 minutes if she could get us something. I had almost a full plate of food in front of me and she asked me if I was ready for dessert. I said, "I'm not even half finished with my lunch" and she very politely asked me if I wanted a box! I just smiled and said no, but on the inside I was saying "NO, I DO NOT WANT A BOX! STOP STALKING ME. GET THE F--- AWAY FROM ME". Of course, the upside to all this is that Ken and I are rediscovering privately owned restaurants and staying away from the corporate chains.

I miss the upside of how the Argentine gov't still doesn't regulate your every move. Por exemplo, the farmacia. I liked not needing a prescription for everything. On the otherhand, the selection of drugs in BA was poor.

I miss public transportation - even during rush hour when I just simply could not believe that the bus driver was going to stop and let one more person on that bus. I do not however, miss the noise and pollution of the bus.

Before Argentina I was angry at my gov't. I was angry at all the things we don't do better. Now, even tho I am still angry at the Bush Administration, I am also proud of how resiliently we will return to a better administration. I do not have to bribe policemen to keep my car from being impounded. I am not afraid my economy will collapse. I am not afraid of a military takeover (altho I think Bush was trying for that).

I miss the ex-pat personality. They are sterotypically an adventurous, open, friendly, confident, wanderlust, interesting group that were available in group-form at a moments notice.

I miss the flow of BA. The streets would fill up and then empty out everyday at the same time. It would draw me out of the apartment and into the flow of their well-oiled community-think machine.

I could continue to list the many things I miss, and then their flip side that I do not miss, but that is because with all good comes a little bad, and with all bad comes a little good.

People always ask me "Was Argentina fun?" No. It was hard. It was interesting. It changed me. I miss it. I don't miss it. I have enormous gratitude towards those people who made my visit good. I will always feel a certain melancholy when thinking of my time there. I had fun moments. I could go on.......


Cherie Magnus, an expat Californian who lives and teaches tango in Buenos Aires. said...

A very wise post, Helen. Thank you for your observations.
I totally agree with you but from the perspective that I probably will live here until the end, and, no, it's so not easy. When people ask me how I like living in Buenos Aires, I have to say, It's hard.
There are things I love, but I don't dare make lists of what I like and what I don't. I try to stay positive.
But it's not easy.

Jos said...


Enjoyed reading this post. Both times that I visited Argentina, I never made it to Buenos Aires. I stayed in Mendoza and to this day, miss it very much.

Are you considering going back?

Tina said...

Beautiful post. I'm glad I checked back to your blog and saw that you're still writing a little bit. I understand completely.

Rick Kappra said...

Hey guys, I just found your blog and love it! I am here for two years without fall (I have a one year split sabbatical both in the fall semester), so I have two springs (and unfortunately, the tail ends of two winters) for the next two years. anyway, I just read this post and it was very helpful for me to get some perspective, now while I am still here and feeling a little stressed out by the experience, the crowds, the pollution, the fast pace. Wise indeed. Gracias.

Chas said...

Wow, Helen, I just re-read in your last post that (at the time) you weren't afraid your economy would collapse. How bout now?