Dejé una pieza de mi corazón en Argentina

There is a Welsh word that doesn’t really have an English (or Spanish) translation- hiraeth, which describes a type of homesickness for a home that is not quite yours, a longing for a time or setting that will never come again. Being back in New Jersey is comfortable and I am happy to be back with my family, but there is still a small part of me that is mentally still in Argentina.  I cried in the airport when my flight began boarding. I looked out the window one last time at Argentina and thought about everything I have been through since my arrival in July. The person who got off the plane from Atlanta was completely different from the version of myself that left- now I am much stronger, self-assured, thoughtful individual. I cried not because I don’t think I will ever see Argentina again, but because this amazing experience and catalyzing event in my life will never be recreated. I cried not because I was sad to leave, but because I am incredibly grateful for such an incredible semester. I will always feel indebted and connected to this beautiful country that challenged and formed my conception of who I am as a person. It was here that I fell in love with myself.

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It’s hard to answer the question “how was Argentina?” during small talk with family friends or relatives because my time there is so hard to describe in a few words. I went through such a range of emotions and had so many experiences that I still haven’t even processed- the same way that I needed to adjust to being in Argentina during the first few weeks, I need to adjust back to being in the US. On one hand, I want to talk for hours and hours about everything I saw, the people I met, where I travelled, everything I learned. On the other, I don’t know where to begin or how to put the words together to sufficiently describe it all. Some of these memories I selfishly want to keep to for me, and me alone.

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I’m excited to come back to William and Mary after being away all semester- I transferred to the College last year, and spent my first year on campus feeling like an outsider, not quite yet integrated into the campus. Ironically enough, studying abroad made me feel more a part of the William and Mary community than I did my first year on campus. The friendships I made with some of the other William and Mary students are some of my most treasured relationships, a group of friends intimately linked from the shared growth we all went through in La Plata. It’s amazing to think I didn’t know any of them before coming to La Plata- now I wear ¼ of an Argentine peso around my neck, shared with three other friends I can’t imagine life at William and Mary without.

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Now, I need to find the best way to integrate the new perspective I gained in Argentina into my life in the United States- as a William and Mary student, and as a US citizen. It will be difficult and frustrating at times (I’ve already had my share of tough moments in my three full days at home), but I’ve risen to challenges a lot scarier before.

Academic Life in La Plata

I’m standing on the top of a hill in Chubut, a province in southern Argentina. The land I am looking out upon is sacred Mapuche burial grounds, and our guide is explaining the cultural importance and significance to us. For what seems like the 1000th time since beginning my semester abroad in La Plata, I take a moment to think about my place in this world, which feels simultaneously bigger and smaller each day. Before coming to Argentina, I did not know the name of the Mapuche tribe or anything about the current day politics of indigenous people here. As part of a field trip with the Commission, we came with the professor of our Indigenous Communities class to study in person the land and the experience of the cultures we have been learning about. Once again, I find myself making observations outside of the classroom that support everything I have been learning, which makes my academic life feel more well-rounded.

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Life in Argentina overlaps with my education in a manner that I don’t experience the same way in Williamsburg. Between field trips, living in a homestay, and other travels through Argentina and South America, academic life in La Plata is hard to summarize with just a description of my classes with the Commission and UNLP.  While our intensive Spanish class over the first few weeks in La Plata was helpful, my improvement mainly came from speaking everyday with friends, my host mom, and professors. With the Commission, aside from the two courses previously mentioned we also have taken an Argentine history course and a class focusing on youth culture in Argentina. These courses, for me, served as only one more useful tool- the music we discuss in our youth culture class is the music I hear in restaurants and in parties with my host family, and most of the class is explanations for things we see and experience. Chapadmalal, which I discussed in the previous post, was a very enriching experience in terms of seeing youth culture of Argentina.

Our history class, as well, was enriched with real life experience- we took several trips to Buenos Aires as well as a trip to Mar del Plata to see old clandestine detention centers that have been converted into memorials for human rights. These trips were some of the most eye opening and difficult memories during my time in Argentina. It was hard for me, as someone from the United States, to come see these torture centers and hear the terrible stories of what passionate young students (just like everyone in our La Plata group) went through. I never have questioned my patriotism more than in these visits, when I see the pain that the dictatorship that was supported by my country inflicted on so many people. Being able to see these places in person added more impact to the lessons.

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On top of all of these experiences with the commission, UNLP classes are a whole experience of their own. I took classes in two of the schools (facultades)- humanities (humanidades) and journalism (periodismo) and enjoyed both for different reasons. My class in humanities focused on territory and human rights in development- I have never thought of the concept of “territory” before, and the proximity to Buenos Aires and all the developing areas in between the Capital and La Plata is something I plan on investigating further. This class was small- there were 10 students, 4 of which were from William and Mary, and 2 of which were German. Talking about global development in a group with 3 different continents represented was an amazing experience I have never had before and may never have again. My writing class in the journalism school was also really rewarding, for the reason that I specifically chose the section to be the only student from William and Mary. Taking a class on my own forced me to branch out and make friends, and making that network for myself really enhanced my time in La Plata.

Now that classes are over and I only have final essays, it’s nice to look back and reflect on everything I have learned over the semester. I think the topics of my final papers represent what my academic life has been over the past few months- each topic has been inspired by something I have seen or experienced during my time living in La Plata, and wanted to learn more about. I would say that my academic life has never been more inspired by my everyday life, and this contributes to a much more rewarding academic experience.

 

Chapadmalal 2017!

Last weekend, we traveled to Chapadmalal, a small town on the beach a few miles south of Mar del Plata, for the final exhibition of high school students’ work for Jóvenes y la Memoria, a pedagogical program developed by La Comisión por la Memoria focused on human rights. For 20 days during the month of November, students from all over Argentina come to Chapadmalal to dance, make art, and showcase projects they have made over the course of the entire academic year that focus on current and past issues affecting their everyday lives. Topics may vary- some focus on racism, transphobia, gender based violence, or the legacy of the last dictatorship.  Not one project is the same- both the medium and the topics could vary. When we went, I saw dances, collages, interviews, and plays that all conveyed topics the students were passionate about.

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It was impactful to see so many young people come and share what they most would like to speak out about in their lives.  La Comisión por la Memoria is handing a megaphone to voices who normally are talked over or invalidated. Especially given the history of Argentina, in which the last dictatorship targeted young people who spoke out- the majority of those who were taken and killed were university students. Those who come to Chapa are doing what their predecessors could not. In a time where Argentina is still discussing the forced disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, an activist who was beaten, killed, and hidden for 78 days by armed forces in August, events like Chapadmalal have never been so important. Instead of scaring other activists silent, the disappearance of Maldonado only validates the necessity for organizations like La Comisión.

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Sitting in the audience watching project after project, I began to reflect on my own experience in high school, when I first began to pay attention to social justice. The adults in my life spit the word “feminist” out at me like it was a dirty word. My history teacher listened to my opinions about class and race in the United States and merely said “You’re young. You will learn to know better.”  I was a smart, passionate, ambitious 17 year old girl being told that what I thought was invalid merely because I was young. I was too young to be taken seriously, apparently, but old enough to pay attention when state legislators discussed cutting pensions, knowing that would affect my family’s well being. I was too young to be taken seriously, but old enough to know that cuts to women’s access to birth control would affect me. I was too young to be taken seriously, and at times I felt powerless.  I could have benefited from an experience like Chapa when I was in high school. One thing I have learned about the US since coming to Argentina is that we have a culture in which we don’t talk enough. It is taboo to bring up topics like institutional racism and violence, poverty, inequality. It is much, much easier for these things to be glossed over, especially in schools. I was inspired and envious of the environment for young people created in Chapadmalal. Worldwide, it seems to me that the nature of politics and the direction of progress seems to be shifting. I have never felt more uncertain about the future, but in hearing the voices of this younger generation, for the first time in a while, I have something to be optimistic about.

 

For further reading about the work of Jóvenes y la Memoria and the Comisión, visit http://jovenesymemoria.comisionporlamemoria.net/

Life in La Plata as told by food:

Last night at dinner, I was asked what I miss the most about home. First I thought of the obvious answers- my family, my friends, maybe my dog. But the answer I didn’t say remained in my mind and lingered on my lips for the rest of the evening. My thoughts kept returning to the love of mine that I will never forget- an everything bagel with cream cheese, toasted. Possibly even served with fried egg or bacon… a big breakfast, something that will always remind me of Sunday mornings with my family in New Jersey.

The reality is, food is a large part of our experience in a place. Meals bring people together and sitting down for dinner is one of the best ways to perform honest cultural exchange. Thus, the first and best introduction to Argentina I can give comes in the form of my favorite foods, outlined. ¡Buen provecho!

1A) Dulce de leche- Number one on the list and number one in my heart. Breakfast isn’t really consumed on a daily basis in Argentina. That being said, the days where I have time to sit with my coffee and tostadas (small portions of sliced and toasted bread) with dulce de leche are always good ones. I didn’t really like it at first, but with time I began to crave it. Translated directly into English, dulce de leche means “sweet milk” and is made by heating up milk and sugar. It’s a rich topping that goes with just about anything, and especially makes up for the absence of peanut butter in Argentina. I am embarrassed to admit this, but for the sake of having a completely truthful blog I will share that I probably eat a pint of dulce de leche a week. Insider tip: it’s delicious in hot coffee. Get creative with it!

1B) Alfajores- Layers of cookie covered in chocolate with dulce de leche sandwiched in the middle is something I crave several times a day. Sold on the streets of La Plata for sometimes as little as three for 10 pesos (less than one USD), it is easy in Argentina to pick one up for a little sugar rush before class starts, or something to satisfy a dessert craving after an early (10 pm) dinner. Alfajores are delicious at any time of day, really. I’ve had them for breakfast before and will do it again. I’m not really a fan of white chocolate alone, but white chocolate alfajores are white gold. If you have as sweet tooth, like me, Argentina will be a double edged sword for your sugar intake. On the one hand, anything dulce de leche is delicious. However, something sugary after dinner doesn’t really happen. If you mention that you want a sweet after the last meal, be prepared for questioning looks. It’s much more common to share something tasty over midday coffee, which, for me, is even better because it serves as a great way to slow down and take a break in the early evenings, something I rarely ever do back in the US.

Paradise is located in this jar of alfajores:

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2) Mate- A staple in most of my university classes and at my internship, mate is generally a social drink that is passed around between colleagues or friends. If someone asks you if you take the mate amargo, say yes to impress them. Amargo (bitter) means no sugar, which, due to the bitter taste of mate, is something to brag about- kind of similar to people who drink their coffee black. My awake and fully functioning presence in my early morning classes is entirely made possible by mate. My favorite part about drinking mate is that it adds to the atmosphere of discussion during my classes. For example, in the humanities department I am taking a discussion course about organizations and human rights in international development. It is a complicated topic, and definitely one that is best taught through conversation rather than just lecture. The class is small, only about 10 people, and we often form a circle with the professor to analyze the material. The mate makes its way around the circle and even the professor partakes. I like this environment because for me, the sharing of mate makes the setting even more intimate and friendly. This class is once a week and four hours long, so the caffeine* from the mate is more than necessary.

*You will hear the term “mateína” during your time here. In the vocabulary of an Argentine, mateína, noun, is a chemical (but the description borders on supernatural) aspect of mate that boosts energy, hydrates and heals your ailments.

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3) Empanada- I tried a bacon and plum empanada on a whim a week ago, and have been thinking about it ever since. There’s something about the way the sweet and strong flavor of the plum gets to know the bacon and cheese in the empanada that makes the perfect complement. Empanadas of any kind are one of my favorite dinners in Argentina. In my travels I have learned that empanadas are all different in varying regions of South America- the ones in Chile are huge (and contain sea food which is delicious), the ones in Colombia are deep fried, the ones in Mendoza (northern Argentina) are deceptively small. The typical empanada that we would be served in La Plata or Buenos Aires for lunch or dinner are medium sized (a meal of empanadas usually consists of two or three in a serving… though you could eat 6 or 7 before you even realize what just happened). Ham and cheese, beef, or chicken are the most common but caprese, plum and bacon, or even pineapple (!!!) are fun to try.

4) Salsa Golf / Golf Sauce- The ingredients of this condiment are literally just mayonnaise and ketchup. Golf sauce is exactly the kind of mixture I would make in Sadler with ketchup packets and mayonnaise, but now it is all in the same container! A theme across many types of Argentine dishes is the presence of mayo- it is in everything. Mayonnaise here can go on vegetables, rice, chicken fingers, and more. I personally am in my element here, because I have always put mayo on my fries or cheeseburgers, and been shamed for it in the US. However, my relationship with the delicious condiment has been tested many times during the past two months I have been here.  It creeps up on you. I was told once that I had a salad waiting for me in the fridge for lunch, but found waiting for me a bowl filled with peas and carrots mixed with mayonnaise. I am not complaining, I just needed to adjust my definition of “salad”. After a few bites I really found myself liking it. Writing about it now makes me crave some “salad”.

Edit: I have just been told that apparently Golf Sauce isn’t just an Argentine thing, but I had never heard of it. No matter what you are used to, however, I’m sure you will still need time to adjust to the subtle (and the not so subtle) hints of mayonnaise in all your meals.

5) Medialunas- Back in the US, my preferred way to do homework on the weekends is finding a cozy spot in a coffee shop and doing work with a latte in hand. This isn’t common in Argentina and the honest truth is that this represents something bigger- coming to La Plata is a shock to the senses. Basic things are different here, and what should seemingly be effortless sometimes isn’t. From my perspective, going to a café to do work should be the easiest thing in the world. It’s frustrating to be somewhere and not understand something as simple as where to study, or what to do in a café. Sometimes this can really be hard. The feeling of being an outsider is a part of coming here and a natural aspect of transitioning somewhere new. My best advice is to not let this prevent you from trying, and to always remember to have a good sense of humor. You’ll figure it out, I did! I learned here that medialunas (croissants) are delicious. If you go to a café you can usually get a special of a couple medialunas and a cup of coffee with milk. The medialunas are flaky and usually served warm and can be sweet or salty, depending on how you feel. It’s a perfect breakfast or light snack to enjoy during a quick break with friends.

6) Asado- Less of a food than an event, asado was my first, and best, introduction to Argentina. When I arrived to my house for the first time, the grill was already going and the whole house smelled like deliciously well done red meat (see what I mean about a good introduction?). What followed was a seemingly infinite amount of various forms of beef, pork, and sausage. The large platter of meat in this photo was refilled at least three times, for four people:

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When the meat is laid down at the table in front of everyone, it’s typical for the guest to clap for the cook. This reaction is fitting because the perfect meat in Argentina truly is a form of art. While sometimes red meat for the majority of dinners (and usually lunch) can be tiring, I have to also admit that the quality of the steak is delicious. I will definitely be going vegetarian once I come back home to the US due to the sheer amount of red meat I have been eating on a weekly basis this semester.

I absolutely miss American cheeseburgers (it pains me to even write about them) but the steak is something that deserves all the hype. My surely sky high levels of cholesterol are unquestionably worth it.

 

7) Choripán completo- A choripán is aptly named for its contents- chorizo (chori) and bread (pan). With chimichurri sauce, it’s a salty and delicious lunch or dinner sandwich, an Argentine staple. Choripán completo takes it to the next level- it adds fresh tomato, lettuce, fried egg, and cheese. It will ruin all other choripán for you, so be warned. I would be lying if I told you that I don’t go running in the bosque (the local recreational park in my neighborhood) to be in proximity to the sandwich of sandwiches- the completo is sold in a small restaurant on the water in the park, close to the Natural History Museum. An ideal Sunday of mine is spent lounging outside in the bosque, drinking mate and people-watching as families and university students work out, go to the museums, or rent paddle boats on the pond. A completo for lunch is the cherry on top to fully take advantage of everything the bosque has to offer. Sundays in La Plata are often the best day of the week because lazy Sundays actually exist. Everything is closed (except for the occasional café) and it’s a day to sleep late, eat a late lunch, and legitimately do something to recharge yourself. Treat yourself day is a weekly thing, and I’m there for it.

8) Milanesa- Every day, my host mom leaves a Tupperware with my lunch out on the counter for me to put in my backpack to take with me to class or my internship or wherever I may be going. The days that my Tupperware are filled with milanesa are always good days. It’s kind of like a big, flat chicken nugget. Milanesa is actually an Italian dish brought over by the Italian immigrants to Argentina, but it is now Argentine all the same. In restaurants, if you order milanesa completo you get two fried eggs and French fries on the side (basically anything in Argentina that comes “completo” is a perfect meal). Milanesa passes the test of a delicious food because it tastes good at any temperature- you can heat it up in the microwave or you can eat it cold- my preferred way to eat it is in a sandwich, on fresh bread with lettuce and tomato. I recommend the chicken but beef is equally as tasty. Please do not make the mistake I made and tell your host mom that chicken milanesa will taste good with honey mustard because even if you think you are right at the time you will definitely be met with a confused look. The honest truth is that trying to Americanize Argentine foods, regardless of the small similarities it may have to what you are used to, will not have the effect you think it will. Relax and enjoy what is served to you as it comes!