A catch-up update on my Argentina adventure

I haven’t been able to post much online due to the terrible internet connection in rural Argentina. Here’s what I’m up to:

I’m spending six weeks volunteering with ADRA Argentina in northwestern Argentina, working as a photographer/videographer to document various projects, including children’s programs, community garden projects and construction. I’m halfway through already, but there is more than enough work to do in the next three weeks! I have learned so much and I’m going to learn more, I know. 

As part of an effort to describe the last three weeks, I’m just going to copy-paste parts of my journal. Enjoy!



17.7 We arrived in Rivadavia at 9 this morning and it’s been nonstop since then. We unloaded all of the cajas and maletas and walked down to the casa de los voluntarios. Yo conoci a Tricia y Lorena, y todo el grupo ya esta cercano. Por la mañana, limpiamos la casa (el frigorifico, llavar la vajilla, preparar las comidas.) Era una mañana domestica pero buena. [Aunque no soy buena “filmmaker,” yo se como limpiar y cuidar.] Por la tarde, después de comer sándwiches, fuimos a la huerta. Es mucho mas grande que yo pense y habian muchas plantas y verduras. Yo tome unas fotos de eso pero la mayoria fueron de los ninos, seguramente. Cuando camine al campo con una chiquita a cada mano, en el sol, yo sabia que por eso estoy aquí para mis vacaciones del verano. Donde mas tu puedas tomar fotos y jugar con ninos indigenos y testificar a un proyecto realmente  efectivo? 



18.7 One of the best things about traveling is that it makes you look at your own culture from the outside. Especially your own language.


19.7 The group is clearly getting comfortable with each other: I’m sitting at the comedor table with Zac and Ema, who are both trying to sing the falsetto parts of “Thriller” while we work and Facebook. We’ve been drinking mate and eating manis all evening. 


The schedule so far this week has been to wake up around 8 or 9, eat breakfast, then head out to the kids or la huerta until noonish. Then we come back and cook, hang out and nap until 3 or 4, when we go back out until 6 or 7. Then the evenings are meetings, food (sometimes) and computers—facebook, informes and picture editing. We have been making food from scratch—lomo salteado, milanesas de pollo and pizza al horno. It’s fun to help out, but I don’t know how to cook enough to contribute my own meal yet. I’m trying to make myself useful by washing the dishes and helping with everything as much as possible.

 I am watching constantly for things that I can be good at and contribute. Martin is here because he has an expert knowledge in alimientos and how to make these gardens and cocinas work best; Ema is here because he has tons of experience with kids and that’s his biggest passion in the world; Lorena is here because she wants to be a social worker and because she’s 100% dedicated to service and compassionate; Tricia is here because she has a master’s in Social Work and a Spanish degree; Zac is here because this whole project was his idea. Why am I here? I’m here because I have a tiny little piece of knowledge about some cameras and stuff, but I don’t feel like I can really do anything useful!

There was a short conversation this evening about the culture here and what to do about choosing two families for the cocinas familiares. I really enjoyed that conversation; It was interesting to problem solve and brainstorm how to find the women who can communicate best and build relationships between them and their companeras to share the kitchens. 


20.7 I’m up at 7:30 am this morning to hopefully go running with Zac and Martin. I haven’t run in weeks, so I’m pretty scared that I’m going to embarrass myself. However, I miss running and I am thrilled to find people to run with! I thought I would be left with no running option until school.

I woke up to my alarm today but the thing that kept me awake was the rooster band outside! Instead of taking turns, the roosters here seem to pick a note and stick to it, competing for volume. That’s been going on since 7:15! You can hear the ones close to the house first, then the ones across town, probably all the way to the huerta.

This is a good hour to take photos—the sun isn’t quite up yet…what I really want is some shots of the village at sunrise. We went running after all! It was relaxing—running through the desert just after sunrise, an easy temperature, with a guy from ADRA and a guy from INTA, listening to Argentina wake up. 

I really miss my friends today. Today is the Day of Friends in Argentina and I think that subconsciously that made me miss my friends more today. 

22.7.12 Yesterday was my kind of weekend day—we all woke up around 12:30, ate “breakfast”, watched a futbol tournament (the biggest event of the year in Rivadavia), went to the river at dusk (mate and music on the river) and ended the day with X-Men and homemade pizza.

Today I’m not sure exactly what the plan is, but I need to wash clothes and organize my stuff. I think we’re going to play with the nenes at 4:30 pm. I know that we hand wash the clothes here, so I’m curious to see how that will work out. I am down to my second to last pair of underwear! 

Since I sleep in the kitchen (on the most comfortable cot I’ve ever had the privilege of sleeping on–seriously!), I wake up whenever the first person wakes up—or when Luka rings the doorbell at 8 am. I like it this way, though, because I don’t wake up rushed or late. I think the combination between enough sleep (6-8 hours every night so far) and an easy schedule is helping. The running will help, too.

23.7.12 This morning I learned how to make mud bricks (that is, I filmed the whole process.) The two guys are covered in mud and they slap the mud into wooden frames, which they then flip over and carefully dump the bricks onto the ground to bake in the sun.

24.7.12  I finally made a cup of coffee!! I had to use a tea strainer, so there were plenty of grinds at the end, but it was just like a pour over and it tasted (and smelled) amazing! It’s the small things in life J

I spent the morning at the taller, watching Tyncho work on the ovens for the family kitchens. He’s making two ovens out of the two halves of an old oil barrel. It’s amazing to watch their innovation—nails out of scrap metal, racks out of metal rods drilled into the sides of the barrel, the door made out of the barrel itself. They cured them in the fire then started drilling all the little bits in. These ovens are going to take the place of the traditional cooking fires in houses, which are hazardous for both the family air quality and the kids, as well as less efficient. 

Tonight was fulfilling—kids, videos, brick laying, a very uncomfortable bike ride on the handlebars of Zach’s bike, mate and music.

I went to Griselda’s house to film the construction of her cocina. She is VERY shy, so much so that I thought that she didn’t even speak Castellano. She has 21 grandkids running around.

26.7.12  This morning has been all cocina building—I am a bricklayer now! I laid three rows of bricks, anyway. J It’s fun to play in the barro.

I got some good photos and videos this afternoon/evening. However, I have been feeling horrible today—stomach aching and nauseous and dizzy. Zach was nice about it, though, and rescued me from the kids. I love those little nenes so much, but they’re a pain to work with when you’re in pain. I had at least four kids pushing me, shouting “saca fotos!” the whole time.

We (and when I say we, I mean the work crew and their token photographer) finished the first cocina this afternoon! It is beautiful—it has that rustic, homemade look (handmade bricks, handmade mortar, scrap metal oven, hand poured cement stovetops!) and I think the group felt pretty accomplished when it was finished; they were there for two full days, building it from scratch.

Tyncho just left. My mate teacher has left me! He got one cocina done and started the other, though. Good work! He also taught me how to lay bricks and make mate. I’ll miss our conversations—he has been like a big brother these two weeks.

The girls and I went “a shopping” to get me some pants…I didn’t realize that the fun hippie pants were only around for that one night. I ended up with some of the sweatpant/leggings things with buttons. Lorena asked me if I’ve ever considered modeling…come again?! Haha! I felt flattered, though.  

It’s fascinating how much we tie our identity to our material possessions. My parents boxed up my bedroom in their house this week. It’s important to me to be able to go through those boxes of memories…do we keep mementos for memory’s sake or to somehow validate ourselves? Here in Argentina, I don’t need much (I’ve worn the same three or four shirts these past two weeks.) Looking at the community, it’s a different level of possessions and personal belongings, yet it’s still there. The women wear an assortment of handmade jewelry, the kids value their one pair of shoes, and the boys who borrowed Ema’s packing tape baseball carefully take care of it. Would we be the same people without our possessions? My computer is the best example of this for me: I think I attach my whole life to this laptop. Without it, I wouldn’t have my journals, my pictures, my music, all the things that tell me who I am. Back in America, I think that’s the concept behind everyone’s obsession with their cellphones.

29.7.12 Yesterday we bathed with the hose; our bathroom is broken. The caca water took over the shower and forced us to have a shower party in the back patio—three girls and one guy, freezing cold and hosed down.

Today, we held a feria for the community members who work in the garden. For every hour that they work in the huerta comunitaria, each woman earns credit, which she can then use to “buy” things at the feria: bolsas of cereales, arroz, turron, platos, y ropa para todos los edades. We spent the morning (after 11 am!) cleaning our sala area and organizing all the goods, with the help of Enrique, David and Luka. For the afternoon, Ileana and Keren helped out, too. A steady line of families trickled in through the front door, kids in tow. Many of these women put in substantial hours in the garden, which earns them enough credit to buy clothes for their babies, cereales and a few dishes to add to their collections.

I was ashamed when I saw the donated clothes we were to sell to these families. I recognized many of the brands as American, and some were good quality, but many of the clothes had stains and marks, some mold, and all were either well worn or almost useless. I will place partial blame on the long journey these pieces surely traveled to arrive here, but part of the blame rests on us, too, does it not? I remember many clothes drives in which I could have given better clothes instead of the bottom of the closet. I’m not even thinking of the best clothes—just ones that don’t have bleach spots, mottled coloring and pit stains!

On Friday, we gave all the kids who attended Ema’s meetings a pair of Toms (thank you, Toms!) A note on that: I was curious to see the Argentine side of Toms. I myself own two pairs but I knew that the pairs that kids receive aren’t the same shoes (different quality.) But the shoes that we gave the kids, though not the American Toms, were the same sort of shoes you would buy in a store here. They’re not high quality, and wear out eventually, but they don’t cut corners as much as I thought. These alpagatas are the same that all the adults and I myself wear every day. They’re flimsy but do the job to protect our feet from this omnipresent dust. Now that I’ve seen it firsthand, I still respect Toms for its work and its presence here in Argentina.



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