International Women's Day at La Boca Community Center

By Rosie Gold and Karina Krichau

Last Friday we decided to go and visit the women working in the community center in La Boca to discover more about what they do and who they are. The center consists of many different parts including el comedor – a food bank where meals are prepared 6 days a week to feed around 100 people, the workshop where clothes are made to sell onto companies and government organisations and then there are several projects such as apoyo escolar where kids are offered help and support after school and the computer cluster where people can come have basic lessons in IT. We arrived in los pibes to a completely relaxed and friendly atmosphere, everyone seemed happy to see us and more

than happy to answer our questions. We were really keen to get to know how the community center works and delve into some back-stories of the women there (it being national women’s day and all). We were given a little tour of the center then were able to explore the food bank (el comedor) and speak to a nice woman called Elizabeth, who originally is from Salta but now lives in La Boca. She works as a “ama de casa” and has been part of the community center from the beginning. Before, the community center was a motor factory but together with others she helped to clean and organize it and now works in the food bank. Besides the huge amount of work there is to do everyday, she also has 6 children and a husband to take care of.  El comedor gets small amounts of money from the UN and the government, to buy food and the food is divided according to how much each person works. That means that the people who work in the kitchen and the textile workshop don’t have a fixed salary but they get 450 pesos from the government to buy the food. They come here to work, and are given meals to take back to their homes and eat with their family.

At the back of the community center is a textile workshop, which was set up as a cooperative by the people who work there. We wanted to talk to some of the women who work here in the textile department, and we met a lovely 60-year-old woman called Margarita. She’s one of the “old ladies” as she’s worked there for 8 years, 12 hours a day. She has 6 grown up children and a bunch of nieces and nephews, she calls herself “cabeza de la familia” because she’s responsible for everyone in her huge family. It was really interesting and humbling to hear these women’s stories and get to know their lives and work. After that we went to see a presentation by Catherine, one of the volunteers from VG, in the housing cooperative. Johan accompanied us, even though it was just a few blocks, as it is a bit dangerous to walk there on your own when you look like “gringas”. The housing cooperative is a project that has been one its way for 4 years now, building flats for 33 families. They hope to finish in one year but it all depends on the government and the prices that keep increasing. Well, here Catherine held her presentation on housing projects, something she has experience with back in Belgium, where she has been working as a social worker and then in the last year done volunteer work with homeless people. She’s here to try and work in one of the recovered factories when her Spanish is up to scratch. On the whole this was a really interesting and pretty humbling experience, the people here are so down to earth and friendly,we met many examples of strong the type of strong, hard working women that are celebrated on Dia de las Mujeres.

Tales from Jujuy - Part III

There was a pretty rainbow around the sun. Alright, now it's time to walk back. In the ensuing trek back, which was actually pretty long, I finished my water and started to feel pretty darn exhausted and light headed. Almost there, but there's water, so I drank me some. The risk of heat-exhaustion and dehydration, trumping the possibility of getting sick in a day. So keep walking in the now blazing sun, see the ranch hand with a friend and ask if I can pass. “Si, chow fuerte” he replies, through a creek and to my camp site, yay, food and potable water, I think as I sit me down for a well deserved rest. But the sun is hot, and I have gotten sick of my food and I just want to get back. The only problem is you have to walk at least to that road over there and hope you can hitchhike. So with that plan, I walk and walk and walk, surprised that I can still walk. And now there is a storm, two to be exact, one ahead and one behind. Well hopefully the clouds will blot out the sun a bit and I can sleep.

Well, after laying in my wind swept tent for awhile, I figure, in the wonderful logic of one who is exhausted, that I should just keep walking. So I walk, the storm in front of me having gone far enough away and if I keep walking that one behind me won't catch up. Then there is a lake with Flamingos and ducks, huh that's something I was not particularly expecting, but I had seen the lake from the mountain and figured I was getting close Just keep on walk, through the desert, which had stopped becoming pretty and has become a place that needs to be escaped. Up and down some valleys and then, yes, oh my god, I can see the power lines of the road, way far away over there, although it could just be a mirage. But another half hour and I am nearly there, just one more river to cross. Hello birdies, I made it to the road, took off my pack and determined to never put it on again. I think I started singing, half-happy and half-delirious. Now I just need a car to come. Which one did, eventually, and drove me back to La Quiaca in about ten to fifteen minutes, a trek that would have taken me three to four hours and inexorably exhausted me. I thanked them profusely, and walked the final few blocks back to the comedor.

Fortunately, Anita was there and gave me warm food and a warm shower and then sent me to sleep for about fourteen hours. How exciting. So looking back, it was kinda really stupid. I had had enough food and water but had not counted on how exhausted I would be and how inescapable the sun is out in the desert. But, there were houses around and worst case scenario I could have asked for help. Ah well, now I know not to wander around in an unfamiliar desert by myself. Still, I can still walk out the door and say that I made it to the top of the mountain. Alright, done for now, it certainly is a long post. Hope life is good in whatever country you happen to be in. Tally-hoo.

Tales from Jujuy - Part II

Now the night was fairly cold, but I was glad for it to be morning to commence my hike to the top. To some extent, I was nervous about whether or not I could do it and just wanted to get on with. So I grabbed me a jug of water, packed up my stuff, hid it, and set out. It was still fairly early, a pretty shortly I realized that it was going to be a good difficult hike. It was steep and the air was thin and the clouds a bit above me, hid the top of the mountain from me. So I had to guess to some extent, and started climbing, taking my time and stopping lots. It was rather rocky and cacti-filled.

There were even a few streams who started in the mountains and came down to the valley below. Keep climbing, keep climbing. By now I was in the clouds, but occasionally they would part to give me a grand view. Plus thar be llamas. And then the clouds part again, and I must be near the top. Yay,  had been climbing for about an hour and a half and was getting pretty darn tired. But when I got near the “top,” there was another one, but it's okay, it's just a bit higher. Keep climbing, and a few more breaks later and you're there, woo, you made it, it was hard but, but, but, there's another top, just a little bit taller. Okay, you tell yourself, just a little bit more, just a little bit taller, then you are done.

I set off again, envying the llamas who make it look so easy. Fine, forget the pain, and climb the rocks. There, down, not going any farther, until I looked over and there was one more, the last one, just a little bit higher. “Nooo!!!!!” I don't care, I've come far enough and I just can't make it... Wait a few seconds, stand up just to make sure it's taller. “God Dammit,” grab my water bottle and, hey look, weird rabbitty chinchilla-like things, cool. Just a little bit more, Michael and then, you are there. And then I was there, and I could see everything. The entire valley on both sides of the ridge and there was a lake, sweet. I sat me down on the top, where there was a rock pile and a concrete slab, man I was not the only one to make it up here. Pulled out my journal and wrote me some notes, including. Dear Self, Good Job!

Tales from Jujuy - Part I

Dear Reader, As I am writing this, I realize this is a tale of stupidity and error and stubborness, enjoy. Writter: But first, scene: I am sitting at the table taking some juice in my jean, which I never really ever take off anymore, and a t-shirt. It is a nice, sunny, and hot Saturday afternoon and outside a trash fire is roaring, things are being hammered, and horns are being honked, signaling the approach of hand draw ice cream carts. The thing about here is, it is either really cold or really hot, no in between, which will shortly factor into our little yarn o' a tail. On the radio, Jesus, como siempre. But second, history: So before coming out here to La Quica, I had decided to spend a night or two backpacking en “el Campo.” After I had been here a few days, it had become evident where this adventure was going to lead me. If you walk out the door and walk a few steps and look west north westish, you will see a mountain. It a rather pretty mountain, parts are red and green from clay and shrubbery and parts be the white of salt.

So I had my destination and on Wednesday before last weekend or something like that, I asked the Pastors here if I could spend the weekend camping out there. At first they were pretty nervous and warned me about perros bravos and sun and all that, but they were okay with, as long I was careful. So I started getting my things ready, first off water, lot's o' water. I had to assume that I would be able to find any water out there, it being the desert and all that. Some where in there, it came up that people had seen cities of gold and spirits and demons while out in the Campo. It was said that if you went into said city of gold, that you would be found later, either dead or loco. Now it was started to get interesting. So I got me plenty of water, about five liters worth, which can become pretty heavy after carrying for awhile. Oh well, I figured that it would be much easier coming back with less weight. Second off, food, which consisted of fruit, bread and cheese, and a rather salty soup.

Everything was pretty much set by Thursday night and I threw on the pack and walked a bit to see how it felt. All good, nice and comfy. I felt pretty good and come Friday morning I was walking out the door with a smile on my face. It was kinda cloudy and drizzling a times, but that meant it was nice and cool and, if it ever got to be too much rain, I could just pop up my tent and chill out. Which I did at one point and wrote the following journal entry: February Fourth, It's Friday, Dear Noah, Happy Friday, see you eventually. Anyways, so here I am in my tent somewhere in the arid tundra of Argentina except it's not very arid right now, seeing as how I am in my tent waiting for the rain to stop, or rather, it has stopped here, but I am waiting for it to look less horribly ominous in the direction I am going. So I am gonna write and chill out, given that it's not even eleven probably. S, It's really quiet out here and the rain is really nice, because, even if there is a little bit, all the flowers celebrate by opening up and smelling beautifully. So that's really nice and it also mean that I would be able to fill up on water if I needed to.

I am about an hour outside of La Quiaca with the vague goal of trying to climb that mountain over there, hopefully, by the time you are reading this, I will have accomplished said goal. And be able to write about the lovely view and sleeping in the clouds. That'd be cool. Now the rain be starting again, but fortunately I got all today, all tomorrow and Sunday Morning to just be out and about. To be continued rather shortly. After that, I kept me on walking and man it was pretty. The whole landscape just rolls and rolls and you come across chasms about ten or fifteen feet chasms cut by short lived but powerful streams. Fortunately, you can just jump across them and keep going up, the see the scenery, the down again to cross more ephemeral streams and sometimes a river, which may or may not have some muddy water running through it. Walking, walking, walking, goodbye La Quica, stop for lunch, and keep walking. Pass a few ranches with sheep or some such thing and then you see some black specks on the horizon. As you get closer, you realize they be Llamas, cool, llamas. Some of the even have little flowers on their fur or on their ears, how cute. By now, the mountain is getting close and I am getting a wee bit tired.

I pick a place to camp and when I get there, I am ready to set up camp and stop for the night. Unfortunately, when I get to set spot, I realize that I am rather close to a house, drats. Well, there were not much of another place to go, so I set up my tent and wondered if any one would see me or mind me chilling out here. Sure enough, after an hour of trying to siesta, I hear two claps and walk out to meet a Guacho. I asked him if I could spend the night here and then climb the the mountain in the morning. He said yes, or at least I think so, and walked away. But the adorably cute little dog that had come with him did not follow and promptly lied lied down in the shadow of my tent. I tried to sleep me some more, but by now the sun was in fun blast so that did not happen. So I pet the dog, and with time, it started to chew on most everything, my clothes, my backpack, my hat. It even started biting my toes and nose and jumped up and bit my cheek with it's teeny tiny but rather sharp teeth. Well this was unexpected. I was being terrorized by the cutest little thing I had ever seen.

Either way, I wrote in my journal as the dog alternatively chewed my tent, chewed my feet, and slept. Of in the distance, I could see colorful mountains and rainbow shrouded storms. Plus there were plenty of birds chirping around me. All and all, it was really pretty and I felt good. I ate, climbed me a mountain to see the sun set, which was pretty hard and gave me a sense of what I had in store. The thin air and steepness meant I had to take lots of breaks, but I made it all the same, which encouraged me that it could do. Now up there, it was truly beautiful, and of course I had to shout “wooo” and was gratified by a faint echo that rolled along the ridge. So it was a pretty good day, and felt great to get into my nice warm tent and escape the wind that had come from nowhere. Yeah, sleepy time, but now it's Mate Time, To be continued at a latter junction...

Discovering a different side of Buenos Aires

El Ateneo bookstore Located in the heart of Buenos Aires is the most magnificent bookstore. El Ateneo is widely viewed as one of the most splendid books shops around the world. The UK paper The Guardian certainly seems to think so, and has listed it as number two in their top ten best book stores from around the world. It is easy to see why and is a book lover’s paradise. Originally opened as a theatre in 1919 and then converted to a cinema in the 1920’s, El Ateneo has retained its former splendour, with grand painted ceilings, original balconies and ornate carvings still intact. Even the red velvet stage curtains remain as part of the decoration. Visitors are able to take books and sit in chairs around the theatre or sit in the theatre boxes, which are still intact. If visitors get peckish or thirsty, there is a café situated where the stage used to be, often with live music being played.

The Museo Evita The Museo Evita is easy to miss as it is not in the most touristy part of Buenos Aires.  The museum is in a house that Evita used as a shelter for homeless families.  From the moment you step inside you get a feel of the history.  The first room you go into has a video of her funeral playing.  When it finishes the message ‘Come and see my life’ flashes up on the screen.  The museum laid out chronologically, guides you through her life and takes you all around the house.  It is full of her outfits, belongings as well as newspaper cuttings and photos which all make the museum feel more personal.  From someone who is not a big ‘museum’ person, I loved the Museo Evita.  You learn so much about a woman who is such a big part of Argentina’s history and culture – it is well worth a visit.  And it has a lovely cafe too.  Enjoy.
Mataderos Mataderos is a market well worth making the effort to go to.  It not the most easily accessible but buy a ‘guia t’ and master the bus system and you will get there no problem.  Either that or it’s about 40 pesos in a taxi if you’re feeling extravagant!  The market is full of live folk music, regional food and gaucho shows.  The gaucho skills are amazing – you can watch the traditional ‘sortija’ competition that is best seen than described.  There are of course the traditional stalls selling a huge selection of silver, handmade leather, wood and wool.  I bought a leather satchel bag there for 70 pesos and everyone always asks me where I got it from.  I would highly recommend going if you have any present buying responsibilities as it is cheap, good quality and different to your standard markets.
The People's University of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo The People's University of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo is a private higher education university in Buenos Aires, which has been created by the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.  In 1999 and after 23 years of struggle and conflict, the Madres de Plaza Mayo decided to use their experience and knowledge to create a University. The Madres’ wanted to teach the people of Argentina how to stand up for themselves and fight in what they believe in, so that no one would suffer the loss they had entailed after the Dirty War. The People’s University aims to encourage and stimulate critical and political thinking amongst its students. Through applying theory and practice in subjects such as Social Work, Advocacy and Human Rights, the University is involved in a range of social and political practices. In addition to teaching subjects, the University is also involved in many social movements and seminars, and also has its own radio programme: the Mother’s Voice.
The Desaparecidos Dotted around the calles of Buenos Aires are thousands of subtle monuments to the Desaparecidos; people who disapeared during the dirty war of the 70s in Argentina, they vary from the colourfull paving slabs found throughout San Telmo, to the more sombre concrete blocks with brass plaques found in barrios such as San cristobal and Boedo. Not funded by the state they were usually paid for by the friends and families of the dissapeared. They are easy to miss if you arent looking for them, but these subtle reminders of a darker the past are there for those who want to look for them and add to the sense of history that pervades these streets.
The Mate Mate is a part of Argentina’s culture that is inescapable and rightly so.  At first it may seem bizarre, people sitting in groups in parks or offices drinking what looks like grass (yerba) and water out of a round cup like thing (gourd) through a straw (bombilla).  However once you try it and decide how best you like it – with sugar (dulce) or without (armargo), you too will succumb to its powers.  In Argentina everyone drinks mate and the sharing of mate is a social tradition that has been around for decades.  In the summer the popular way to drink mate is with ice and orange juice – known as tereré it is a more refreshing version of the traditional mate but just as addictive.  If you have not tried mate yet go and buy the necessary cheap equipment and see what all the fuss is about.
CineClubsCinema has been an integral part of Argentine History, the advent of CineClubs as an alternative to the larger comercial cinemas is not a new one, but it offers an alternative night out if you're tired of the same old bars and club scenes, or simply want to see some interesting independant cinema, these small CineClubs are set in residential areas, and unless you know where you are going, you would probably just walk stright past, and unless you have a reservation you probably can't get in anyway. Talking to people is the best way to find yourself invited to come, but here is a link to point you in the direction of one of the better known ones. Enjoy

Closed Door Restaurants A trend that has been rapidly increasing on the Buenos Aires restaurant scene is closed-door restaurants, also known as restaurant a puertas or simply puertas cerradas. These restaurants aren’t really restaurants, but rather dinners served by talented chefs who invite a select few guests into their private homes for an intimate dining experience. The cuisine is at the discretion of the chef, and usually entails a pre-set menu combining a creative mixture of dishes and flavours. At a closed door restaurant you will usually share a table with others, providing an opportunity to mix with local Argentineans and people from around the world. Though closed door restaurants are underground, their secret is out and can be scouted out without too much trouble on the internet.

Chronicles of Michael in Jujuy

By Michael  Curcio If you are reading this you have been, are, will be, or are thinking about being a volunteer for Voluntario Global. First off, Good choice. Second off, Hiya. Imma having a pretty good time here, although right now I am recovering from my somewhat misadventurous trip to the top of a mountain. Let's just say that walking for hours on end in a desert will make you a wee bit tired and throw you for a loop. Either way, it was an adventure.

My time here has been really cool; the normal day entails: 9:00- Get up, nothing like the five thirty of Costa Rica, things here are a wee bit more tranquilo. So I get up and drink me some Yerba Mate, an Argentinian staple, with some bread, which I have gotten pretty used to and miss when I go a day with out it. 10ish to whenever I am done- Prepare for English class, run around asking questions like how do you say, “If I were to have been there at some point then maybe I would have become a superhero,” in Spanish. Also got some time to play with Pichu, the incredibly cute 1 year and seven month old baby here, who is crying right now. But when he's not crying for some reason or any other, he's sooooo cute.

I guess at around 12, other kids arrive, so we draw on the chalk board or help make lunch or set the table or something like that. At around one and a thirty we eat lunch, which is always incredibly good and consists of a soup followed by meat and rice and eggs and whatever other tasty food there be around. From two to three- We clean up, which entails washing dishes, sweeping and mopping, and moving tables. Then, I get ready for English class, woo English, which by the way makes no sense.

3 until 6 or 8: Different English classes, from an intermediate class, where I vainly attempted to teach the conditional, to the basics. I also get to talk with una professora who is studying to teach English in High School. One of the things she is studying is intonation, you know the thing that makes Shakespeare, Shakespeare, and you never really think about. But she has packets and packets that vaguely attempt to put a structure to when to stress words and when to not. But I'm not really sure it is something you can study, because it's so embedded into the language and varies so much from person to person. Either way, we read Shakespeare and just talk, in English!!! This can be a nice relief from an otherwise completely Spanish world. Plus I get to write silly stories and dialogues that don't make much of any sense, but that don't really matter.

Teaching English is quite hard and has made me realize how persnickety of a language it is, for example what does persnickety even mean? I don't know, did I even spell it right? After English class, or during breaks, we drink some more Yerba Mate and maybe I read a bit. On Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, we got church. This is usually a rather fun affair filled with music and singing and tons of really nice people saying “Dios te Bendiga” or “God bless you.” Plus there are a good number of other teenagers who play music and teach me new words as I try to translate English songs. Afterwards, sometimes we have warm corn mush or rice with milk, which, surprisingly, is called “Arroz con leche” and not some ridiculously hard to pronounce, unintelligible word.

After church, we sometimes go play, “La Mancha.” If you's it then you gots to tag other peeps. Then you link arms and try to run and catch other people, until there is a giant line of people chasing after whoever is left. Whenever everyone collapses from exhaustion (at about 3,400 meters or 10,000 feet, the air is pretty thin here and running, or hiking up a mountain, tires you out pretty quickly). We all go home; I may eat some dinner and go to sleep. Good day. So, if you are looking for something even more different from living and volunteering in Buenos Aires, then come out to the campo. They people here are great and it really is beautiful.

The trials of learning Spanish in Buenos Aires

After working for five years in London, I decided to come to Buenos Aires to experience a new culture and to help use what I had learnt from my job for a local organisation. I am currently working for Voluntario Global in their PR and Marketing team. Argentina has always appealed to me as a country to go to due to the extreme diversity of the culture and country. The one problem I have though is that I am not in any way fluent at Spanish. My Spanish is more the level of polite tourist, so that you can ask for things in Spanish such as directions, ordering food in a restaurant or buying food in a supermarket. None of these particularly useful for my placement! I felt that in order to make the most out of my time here it was important to at least attempt to learn the language.

Voluntario Global is affiliated with a few Spanish schools in Buenos Aires, and helped me enrol in one very close to the Volunteers House. Prior to enrolling you have to take an exam so that they can determine what class to put you in.

Each week is specifically dedicated to a certain tense or aspect of grammar such as learning the Gerund or Subjuntivo.

The first day of lessons was a bit daunting as I have not had to sit in a classroom for nearly 7 years! However, the teachers were very kind and welcoming, although right from the start everything has to be said in Spanish. We were in classes ranging from 2 to 7 and had 2 hours of grammar each day, which is then followed by 2 hours specifically dedicated to speaking and listening Spanish.

In the oral part of the lesson they try and make the context interesting and relevant by choosing subjects such as Argentinean culture to talk about. This was great as you were able to learn more about the country through discussing it, as well as picking up tips from the teacher. My passion is cinema, and the teacher told me lots of cool tips and things to do in the city relating to film. Often we would go off on a tangent and talk about other things though for the duration of the lesson.  You are put in classes with people from all around the world, so it is interesting to hear about different aspects of their culture. One girl I was in class with was from Brazil, and we had a very interesting discussion about the Favelas in Rio de Janerio and what the Government is trying to do to stop drug and arms crime there. At the end of my time at the school I received a certificate indicating what level I had achieved. Although I am still far from fluent, I feel that the lesson helped me gain confidence in formulating more complex sentences in Spanish. It was also a great way to meet people who are also staying Buenos Aires for a while.

Christmas on the other side of the world.

By Olivia Puddicombe. This year was my first Christmas away from home.  It was also the first Christmas I spent in the southern hemisphere and it was definitely different!  I had been living in Argentina for three months when December arrived and therefore should have been used to the fact that every day the weather was getting warmer.  However it felt strange when opening each new door of the advent calendar my mum sent me, to be doing so in 30 degrees plus temperatures.  I genuinely forgot that Christmas was fast approaching as I was not used to associating summertime with Christmas.  I missed the snow, the cold, our traditional Christmas foods and songs. In Buenos Aires Christmas is a lot less noticeable in comparison with London.  There were of course decorations but with it being summer the glittering lights were not as obvious and the general level of decoration was lower.  It almost seemed like Christmas was not such an important event here.  In England as it is so cold and dark during December we spend the whole month looking forward to and getting ready for Christmas as though our lives depend on it.  In Buenos Aires Christmas seemed to suddenly be here, without a song and dance having been made about it and I was probably the most excited person about it.  I cannot decide whether I like or dislike this! I spent Christmas at my friend’s house.  Christmas Eve was spent sunbathing by the pool!  That evening we had a big family supper.  At midnight ‘Father Christmas’ came to hand out presents to the little ones which resulted in very happy children and some great photos!  Then we exchanged presents.  There is a long standing family tradition of playing a game which is pretty much like Secret Santa apart from that it is extremely competitive in that each person has to guess who bought them their present!  It was strange to do presents on Christmas Eve.  I have grown up waking up on Christmas Day to find a stocking with presents from ‘Father Christmas’ waiting at the end of your bed and then exchanging family presents later in the day.  However in Argentina Christmas Day is merely the day most people spend recovering from Christmas Eve – the equivalent of our Boxing Day!  I spent Christmas Day back by the pool!  Some more family came round for a big asado and that was the extent of the day’s activities.  All in all it was the most relaxed and stress-free Christmas that I had ever experienced!!  Whilst I missed the traditional Christmas supper it was nice not having the stress that accompanies it!!  Speaking to my parents on Christmas Day whilst wandering around the garden in nearly 40 degrees heat, I felt a world away from them, with them talking to me snuggled up under multiple blankets by the fire watching Christmas films!  Which do I prefer... It is hard to say but I am definitely up for another Christmas spent by a pool!

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