Friday, 27 September 2013
Buckle Up! GapBreak Argentina
PROJECT: Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Madeleine Paradise
Today marks 3 weeks since we arrived, 2 months til we leave, and thus 1 quarter of our time here. If time flies when you're having fun, time is rocketing in Argentina. Buckle up for this blog, it's been a busy 2 weeks.
I write this as I sit in the subte, or subway, home bound from Casa de Rosa - The Pink House, Argentina's Parliament. Our group sit here, amongst the porteños, standing out both visually and aurally. Our English conversations, laced with thick Aussie (or Kiwi!) accents are a sharp contrast to the authentic Español surrounding us. Despite this, our Spanish skills have come leaps and bounds. 7 of us have been continuing Spanish classes, hopeful of coherent communication. Personally, I'm stoked to be starting to understand what Pitbull is singing - as much as humanly possible.
The placement in Argentina offered by Antipodeans is care work; volunteering in various community centres in the slums of Buenos Aires to work with disadvantaged children. Two weeks ago, we had our orientation at our volunteer company, LIFE. LIFE are a non-profit NGO, with the aim of 'improving the children's quality of life in marginalised areas by generating opportunities of a better future in Argentina'. In 2001, Argentina was hit with an economic crisis that rocked their entire society; economically, politically and socially. Many families were forced below the poverty line, and have struggled to overcome this, despite the economic growth of the country in recent years.
LIFE stands for 'Luchamos para una Infancia Feliz y con Esperanza' - striving for a childhood of happiness and hope. These two values echo the rights of children, worldwide, with the UN declaring 'The child's right to rest, leisure and recreational activities'. This is exactly what we do. Volunteers with LIFE provide a welcoming environment for recreational and leisure activities. Whether we are colouring in, solving puzzles, playing football or jumping with the skipping rope, we are having fun with los niños. This fun is a kind of escape for the children; and can often be the highlight of their day. Individually, we are noticing we have emerging favourite community centres; all because of the developing relationships with each centre's respective children. It is heart-warming to realise the children remember us, exclaiming "SEÑORA!" with glee upon our arrival.
Locals are puzzled when we tell them we are working in las villas - the slums. They are even more perplexed to learn we are not paid. However, the smiles on the children's faces is payment enough.
We aim to have a different cultural experience each week, more, if possible. Recently, we went with our In-Country Partner to Art War Night - an exhibition of music and art. The night itself was hosted at one of the many hole-in-the-wall hideaway bars Argentina is renowned for. This was the Argentine Nine's first night out together - it will certainly not be the last. We all also ventured to the iconic town of La Boca. Aussies may recognise it as the town with colourfully painted buildings. Humour me for a moment, por favor, and Google image search "Buenos Aires". You see that? Not only do the buildings of La Boca pop up, but you're prompted to search "Buenos Aires colourful houses"... Told you so. La Boca is rife with colour, culture and cuisine. Lunch with a side of tango show entertainment? Yes please.
Some of us have been exploring during free time; attending events for both locals and visitors. La Bomba de Tiempo, a live drum show held every Monday night in a large hall, was a stand out, the atmosphere here was incredible, and truly must be experienced to understand. We have discovered the stunning El Ateneo bookstore, a majestic old theatre converted to a bookstore 100 years ago. This space is quick becoming one of our favourites to sneak away to and grab a coffee, enjoying the charm of the building. We visited the Recoleta Cemetery in all it's stoic beauty. A few of the girls wandered to the Botanic Gardens to read and found ourselves parked under a gum tree - somehow finding a piece of Australia in buenos Aires. A few of us attended MundoLingo - which can be described as speed dating for multi-linguals - was a gathering of tourists and locals alike, possessing varying degrees of skill in languages other than their own. Given flag stickers of the tongues we speak, we freely mingled in many languages, this proved a good opportunity for us to use Spanish practically, and teach others a thing or two about 'Straya mate.
We enjoy sharing Australian and New Zealand culture with others; forcing people to try Vegemite, convincing our Spanish teacher drop-bears exist and that sharks really aren't that dangerous, clarifying to an American hat Aussies don't use the Euro NOR the Pound as currency - in fact we even have our very own dollar(!) - and even explaining to the clerks at the supermarket where and what exactly "Australia" is.
Most of us are off to Mendoza on Thursday for a long weekend, keen to escape the bustle of the city. We're avidly planning more trips than we can afford (in money and time) to an Estancia, as well as Uruguay, Cordoba, and the much anticipated Iguasu Falls.
We're really settling in here, in the city, and in our hostel. Now with the advantage of basic Spanish, we can converse with other residents and build friendships. Other travellers passing through are also becoming accessories to our 'Damn Fine Argentine Nine'. Some travellers are here for days, others months. No matter how long they are here for, we soak up their presence, milking them of traveling tales and restaurant recommendations. We're finding the beauty of travel isn't just the places we see, but the people (or aliens) we meet. Every child we work with, every fellow traveler, every waiter, hostel manager, teacher, cab driver, or member of our group, has something to offer us as we grow on our journey away from home, diving head first into every opportunity and enjoying every minute of it.
Over and out.