Cities, Buses and Death

Last week, I traveled ten hours north to a town near the border of Bolivia for a week of photography/videography. I documented the Pisadas Saludables program in several schools and one community kitchen. Within this program, we teach kids about health and also hand out a pair of Toms. Here’s my journal thoughts from that segment of my time here. Cheers!


3.8 Bus Ride from Rivadavia to Tartagal 

Rural Argentine bus rides must be one of a kind. We’ve already stopped to help someone with their burro, took a thirty minute coca break and we have people sitting in all the aisles and on the steps because they ran out of seats. I wonder if they have to pay full fare to sit on the floor.

Oh, we just stopped for a herd of cows. I haven’t touched pavement in almost a month.

Greselda’s son is on the bus! He’s the one who helped her build her cocina.

It’s a full moon tonight and the bush is silver as we amble along through the potholes in this ancient bus.

The longer I stay here, the more I love the pace of life, the relationships with ADRA and the Wichi and the changing perspectives daily. There is so much to learn about these people, Wichi and Criollos both.

Tomorrow I will hopefully finish my phone interview with the State Department. I hadn’t really thought about the application much—I didn’t think I’d even get a call back, so I tried to write it off. But when the Bureau of Populations, Refugees and Migration contacted me, I realized that I really want this internship!

In my opinion, the Wichi are, in a way, a refugee group. They have been internally displaced and shunned in their own land, a situation that continues to be manifested today in racism and extreme poverty.

Okay, so he isn’t Griselda’s son after all. His name is Jacobo and he’s been helping Zach since the beginning. We did finally chat a bit after I gave him my sweater for a pillow.

In Oran, I met up with a young pastor who was commissioned by Bety to keep me company and make sure I bought the right ticket to Tartagal. We had an enjoyable conversation about Argentina, poverty, food and education. He and his wife are coming to Rivadavia next week to do a sermon series.

I’m realizing how naïve I really am. It’s one thing to travel independently in first world tourist areas. It’s another to travel through the most rural, poorest part of a second world country. Add in the young, blond female factor and you’ve got a complicated journey full of gawkers and hawkers.

3.8 Internship! 

1. I got the internship!!! Dream internship: policy department of the Bureau of Populations, Refugees and Migrations.

2. Went to Bolivia today! No big deal—no passport, either. We just walked over, did some shopping and walked back. So awesome.

8.8 Leaving Tartagal

I’m on my own again for the trip back to Rivadavia. Oh! The ladrillero from rivadavia is on the same bus to Oran! Haha These Wichi guys sure travel a lot. I can barely understand his Castellano but it’s nice to have a familiar face. I’m easy to find in a crowd and he saw me from the front of the bus. Small world! He’s the guy that I filmed making bricks. He laughed at me.

Anyway, it’s back to Rivadavia! I really miss that place, even though I loved having my own room and fast internet—and a capuchino this morning! I will miss the Safra family, though. The baby calls me “Ha-Ha” (short for Hanna, one of my many names here) and all three little girls were so fun to play with. I enjoyed talking with the adultos about America, Argentina and poverty.

I’ve got friends in all kinds of places! On this bus home from Oran, the bricklayer and three familiar Wichi faces are here, and I’m sitting next to the missionary who lives around the corner from ADRA (remember the really nice house with the clean yard and the gate?) Turns out they’re from Buenos Aires and have been here for 12 years. They work in prison ministries and radio broadcasting.

These past few days have been good to provide both a little break from Rivadavia and some perspective of everything.

Well, this is interesting. We are stopped by the side of the road by a police check point and this time I got searched! It’s very intimidating to be questioned in Spanish by an armed officer with a gun, looking for drugs. They even asked for my passport, which isn’t here. I guess I should have worn my chaleco from the get go. I figured my foreignness would work like every other time. The guy was a jerk, too, both to me and to the driver.

Now I don’t know what’s happening. We are stopped by the side of the road not 10 metres past the checkpoint (which, by the way, was the gendarmeria, not the police.) They were, of course, looking for coca. Apparently, this bus has been stopped before, or another bus had coke tonight or something. Whatever it is, this is a more thorough search than usual! I just want to be in Rivadavia in my bed.

Ah, apparently they took a passenger’s chicken dinner and she walked back to retrieve it. Yes, folks, we are waiting for a woman to reclaim her chicken dinner from the National Guard.

(note: the chicken dinner turned out to be $180 pesos’ worth of frozen chicken milanesas. Worth walking back for in this economy!)

8.8 What looks to be my future 

I am genuinely excited about the next ten months of my life. I love being with ADRA—I needed a sense of purpose for my work. Here, I have purpose, a clear job and I see clear results, if only in the kids’ faces and in my learning.

So here’s the next ten months—when I get back in September, I get to meet my newest baby cousin!!! She still doesn’t have a name, as far as I know. I am hoping to spend some time with the family there. I also plan to hang out with all my LLU friends. Then I head back up to PUC for my last quarter of college!! I’m planning to be a volunteer EMT and I also hope to shadow or intern in the advancement office to get a feel for fundraising in the real world. I need to find a job, preferably at a restaurant for a better check. If not, I’ll continue with desk work for a quarter. I also need to get REVO off the ground and work on the undergrad research fund. Uh oh.

After Christmas, spent in Tennessee, I’ll head to Washington, DC , to start my internship with the State Department!! I need to find a way to support myself while there, perhaps with EMT or waitressing. I think I’d make a good waitress. I think I’ll be staying with Joey and Mel, my pseudo “big brother” and his wife.

In June, I’ll graduate from college and then from there I don’t know yet! My biggest concern now is money throughout. I am getting some amazing experiences but none of them are paid. And unfortunately I am intolerant to Top Ramen, so scratch that backup plan!

It makes me nervous to use crisp 100 peso notes in the marketplaces. I can feel people taking note—I use banks. I have so much money that I can’t carry it all in a sock or under my mattress. Or so it seems, anyway. The little lady in the market who sold me a pair of underwear—hey, I was desperate!—was very worried about me when she found out I am American and she told me to keep my money in my bra in case somebody cuts me and steals my bag.

10.8 Death and Gardening

It’s been an unusual day. I spent the morning editing and moving photos around (I am down to barely any space left on my computer and both hard drives.) Around 11, I went to the mission school for a celebration for the Dia de los Ninos. The kids were playing games directed by the PE teacher (who, consequently, is the most attractive man in this region. That’s not saying a lot, because there are not many attractive men in this region, but he seems to be the most eligible for the title, or so the girls have decided.) I hung around and took a few photos and chatted with Tricia and Griselda.

At the garden, Ermecinda’s clan had arrived. We spent a while watering the plants. The brocoli and half the espinacas are mostly done, but the arvejas and zanahorias are coming along well.

During a break, the conversation turned to health and doctors. Next week, a gynecologist is coming to do pap smears, so Tricia started to explain the procedure, which led to women’s health, which led to various types of birth control which ended in a sex ed lesson, with Tricia drawing pictures of the female anatomy in the dirt!

On our way back from the garden, bulls almost chased us! (this was not the festive Spain type of bull run, mind you.) Between the garden and the village (the school, the water hose and a couple of main buildings), there is a big field with soccer goal posts at either end. As we started to bike across, a pack of dogs drove a mini herd, two cows, a baby and two bulls, into the field, chasing them in circles closer and closer towards us.

The girls from the garden were at the other side, screaming and running forward towards the trail to town. When Tricia and I turned left, the bulls came closer; we turned right and they were there, too. Finally I stopped by the goalpost. Why, I don’t know, because it wasn’t much bigger than me and I definitely couldn’t climb it! Tricia kept riding and I finally followed, both of us pedaling hard to get out of the field and onto the road. On the other side of the village, we passed the girls, all of us safe and gore-free.

On our way home, we stopped at Norma’s house. This morning, her brother died of alcohol poisoning. He was only 31 years old. I know from my EMT training that alcohol poisoning is not a pretty death…we arrived to a pretty traumatized family.

Tricia, Norma and I spent a lot of time in the room with the body, talking but mostly lost in thought. The family had him wrapped in a blanket and underneath, I could see that his hands were crossed over his chest. He was very small; he hardly stretched the length of the bed. Two candles were lit at either end of the bed on the dirt floor, and today’s wind pushed the curtain door and the tarp walls around.

The family called the hospital but neither a doctor nor the ambulance ever came. This could be because they’re Wichí; it could be because the cause was alcohol and they wrote him off as a drunk. Either way, this injustice is a slap to the face of the Wichí community. I can’t even comprehend the injustice, the kind of deep-seated ignorance that could lead to such inhumanity.  I know that it’s complicated, but this came down to life and death and ended in death.

I also can’t help but wonder if I could have done anything, if they had called me. I am certified in pre-hospital care only, in treating the problem until we arrive at the hospital, and probably I could only have recognized the signs of alcohol poisoning, but I wonder. If they had called, could I have answered? I have no tools or anything here, just a little piece of knowledge. But could we have gotten the hospital to come? Could we have done CPR until we could convince the damn ambulance crew to help?

We returned for the funeral but the casket had not yet arrived, so we headed to the garden for a few hours. Nobody was there the first time we passed, so Tricia showed me the Wichí cemetery. It’s beautiful, just a few wooden crosses under a huge, sweeping oak tree. The wind through the green leaves contrasted with the deep shade, covering all the crosses from the harsh sun. Too many Wichí have died here, for causes that would have been preventable in a different situation: infections, cancer, alcohol poisoning. Six or seven have died just in the eight months that Tricia has been here.



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