“You didn’t understand anything we just said, did you?” Diego said to me in Castellano as I sat at the small kitchen table along with nine other Argentines. I looked out the window to an illuminating moon and branches of a lemon tree stretching towards the glass pane. For the past hour and a half I had witnessed a frenzy of friendly chatter, food (various homemade pizzas, peanuts, coke and fernet, flan, dulce de leche, and mandarin cake), laughter, and hand movements sweeping across the table in a melodic tempo as I sat back in silence. Are they speaking Spanish or Italian? I asked myself. Of course, I knew they were speaking their own dialect of Castellano; the cadence of their conversation was beautiful. I had arrived in Buenos Aires the day before and was invited to have dinner with the family of Flor, a lovely friend of Hannah Craig (Antioch student!) that she met in Ecuador last year. I sat there with a smile on my face and a laugh bubbling from my mouth as a I said, “Pues, cuando hablan muy rápidamente, no puedo entender nada…”. I hadn’t understood nearly a thing they said, only the change in voice, laughter, and facial expressions occurring throughout the entire meal. Despite this fact, I didn’t feel alone; these people welcomed me into their home, into their lives, into their culture. For the remaining two hours of the night, Flor’s family spoke with me (slower, might I add) about their culture, barbecue from the United States, and Donald Trump as we sipped mate before returning home at four in the morning. Argentines tend to dine late. This was the beginning of what, so far, has been a beautiful, exciting, difficult, uncomfortable, and delicious experience in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Now, I’ve been here for over a month and have learned more than I could have ever anticipated in the past 34 days. I am volunteering, studying, practicing my Castellano speaking skills, and soaking up the richness that exists in the art and the culture of this place. Like any large city, Buenos Aires proudly cradles it’s own unique qualities; for me, new foods, new languages, new accents, new architectures, new social queues, and new faces surround me everyday. Although this adventure of navigating a foreign language is, at times, frustrating and isolating, I’ve experienced some of the most genuine feelings here—ones that feel important to my progression as a student and as an individual seeking better ways of living for myself and others. Feeling like the other, feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable, and feeling like you can’t always communicate fully encourages you to understand and appreciate place and people in a different way. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about home, relationships, boundaries and borders, communication (physical, intellectual, social, verbal, sexual) and how important these themes are to all aspects of our lives. In contrast to these impromptu feelings of being out of place in a new country, the simplicity of prideful and happy moments: making friends, having successful conversations, traveling through the city, realizes itself into gems on the map. They stud the streets and the places that you visit and bring meaning, feeling, and memory to experience and place. It’s always interesting and powerful to me that, with time, a place you don’t think of as home can start to feel like one, no matter where you are.
I’ve found comfort in Buenos Aires through people; through the porteños from which I am renting a room and who have become a new sort of family to me, through Flor and her jovial family members, through the women and students with whom I work at Fundación Hampatu, through Hannah Craig and Max Pak (familiar faces from Antioch and adventure buddies here in Buenos Aires), through the individuals I’m meeting everyday that are excited by our new relationship. These connections encourage me to keep moving, creating, studying, speaking, and learning; finding similarities with individuals, both simple and complex, ground you in a place and give you the to confidence to exist in exciting ways.
As part of my experience in the city, I am volunteering for Fundación Hampatu, an organization that offers classes in the areas of the arts, ecology, spirituality, and evolution. You can check out their website here: http://www.fundacionhampatu.org/. At the foundation, I have been immersed in the organization by attending courses at Escuela AmareSer as well as assisting with communication and social media projects. AmareSer offers free shoe, underwear, and bag-making, hairstyling, and professional makeup courses for individuals seeking access to new education and resource opportunities. During my first weeks working at Fundación Hampatu, I attended many of these classes to learn about the organization, talk with the students, and understand the community that already exists in this place. I was even lucky enough to serve as a model in some of the hairstyling and makeup classes; I’ve never been so pampered at work! The first week was quite overwhelming; meeting a new place as well as around 60 new individuals who are all speaking to you in accents from countries throughout South America can be quite daunting at times. But with time, my experience at the foundation has only improved. Since then, I have developed a more routine schedule, attending Personal Development classes Wednesday, Thursday, and Fridays as well as assisting in the office during down-times. I have started to build myself a place at the organization as a learner and contributor and am excited to assist with an end of the year art exposition and theater production. I have had a lot of time to observe this organization and understand how deeply it affects individual lives; it helps to build community, opportunity, creativity, and moral here in Buenos Aires. This work is very important for me to experience in light of my interest in public creative spaces that promote art, community, and connection.
In my spare time, I have been exploring different neighborhoods in the city, seeking out street art murals (which are of great abundance here and act as political and social posters of the city: http://graffitimundo.com/), attending many independent theatre productions with Hannah, making friends, cooking and tasting delicious food, and developing my artistic interests and thoughts. I am excited to start taking two classes at La Universidad Nacional de Las Artes—one called Performance: del objeto al cuerpo, del cuerpo al sonido (Performance: Object to body, body to sound) as well as a watercolor painting and drawing class that both start in the next few weeks. Simply existing in this culture that is laden with artistic expression and casual conversation has slowed the tempo of my life in a surprisingly important and beneficial way. Despite the obstacles of living in a different country, I feel the benefits of living within a different lifestyle as well—I have time to think, time to feel, time to converse, time to learn, time to understand, time to practice, time to connect. It seems like I’m always learning, always observing. A couple nights ago, I sat out on the rooftop terrace of my temporary home (it’s becoming spring here). Looking out over the houses of Buenos Aires pushed together by the city blocks and listening to my house-brother, Lucas, play the guitar, I was able to feel myself in a place, in a physical location that is related to me in ways and that is not in others. I took a last sip of yerba mate before passing the ornate cup to him to be filled with piping-hot water and passed to the next friend. He smiled and nodded as he began to sing a line from a song that he wrote himself, “las estrellas son mi mansión” (the stars are my mansion). By now, the melody of this song is ingrained in my head from hearing it around the house; I sang along silently. I was at perfect peace with myself and my surroundings. Moments like these remind me of the importance of being, of sharing, of taking time to find yourself in a place and orienting yourself in relation to others. For me, this co-op is about connection, about communication, about understanding spaces that allow individuals to live, to exist, to create, to improve, and to be.