2016-08-25

10 Things I Learnt during my Time in Argentina

Written by Johanna Grassl
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1)    Try to see as many details as posible

When I arrived in Buenos Aires to work as a volunteer at a radio station, what I had in mind were some histories people had told me, some anecdotes and details. I wanted to find out everything about Argentina, its people, its history and its culture. And that is how you begin. Everytime you are walking in the streets, you see a little bit more and you understand a little bit more. And you begin to review or complete what you had been thinking. If you open your eyes, you will not just get to know the facts about the past of the country or its recent politics, but rather will you start to feel Argetnina – the mentality of the people, or shall I say their mentalities, as you will also quit some stereotypes and discover that everyone is just special, but people connected in some parts. One of the best things for me was that at the radio station, they always valued my perspective on the topics we talked about, so that we could discuss a lot and get to know each other’s ideas.

2)    Be open-minded and doors will throw open to you

Clear a space for everything you get a chance to try – because in Argentina, you learn by doing. Some weeks ago, I had neither ever been on a radio show nor done something about web design, and by now, both already are almost amongst the most normal things for me. Of course, I still make a lot of language mistakes, and it takes me a lot of time to edit the homepage which I created for a laundry cooperative, but it keeps getting easier and never before, I had spent a time which was so funny, intense and filled with experiences. If you just keep trying your best, things can work out somehow even if you do not have any professional skills on them. It counts more to find creative solutions and things will suddenly work out more easily than you had ever imagined.

3)    Culture belongs to everybody

I was impressed that in Argentina most cultural events are freely accesibe or very cheap, like the cinema for example, especially in institutions of the state. And Buenos Aires offers an incredible variety of concerts, art projects, literature presentations and theatre shows, for example, all over the place and every day. Everybody can go and participate, which in most places around the world is not a matter of course, but the only thing which is really fair: Its culture is an important part of every country, and the country should belong to everyone.

4)    Courage for what matters to you

Maybe it is for the reason of high access to culture that Argentina is a very politizised country, even amongst those with less approach to education. Argentinians organize themselves a lot to do demonstrations which are always quite peaceful and invest unrestingle to defend their rights. For me, it was impressive to get to know the story of the indigenious who have been living in protest camps for months. I really felt a lot of respect and inspiration seeing people who fight so hard for justice and equality.

5)    Not all those who wander are lost

I do not really know why this quote of the British writer J.R.R. Tolkien appeared so many times in my head when I was walking around the streets of Buenos Aires. On the one hand, possibly, that is because I got to know some social aspects about Argentina which are unsolved, but according to my collegue at the radio station and to what I always saw people doing here, is that you always need to go on constructing, creating, going on even if it is just small steps. Whenever you do not see any option that things will improve a lot soon, the most important thing is that you begin somewhere and continuing on a way, knowing that there will occurr difficulties, but also solutions. I had the opportunity to visit a housing project – a block of some apartments in the neighborhood of La Boca. The flats seemed nice to me, they were modern and heated, so good places to live. And then, I was told the history about the building and the problems they had during the construction. It took ten years of hard work and plenty of obstacles, so that many families already had lost their hope and energy by the time it was finally ready. But those who had not given up in the end could realize the dream of having their own good place to raise their children. Getting to know this “vivienda”, was one of the most emotional experiences for me in Argentina. On the other hand, a lot of times, I found myself a lot of times in the state of being on the way during my time in Buenos Aires and travelling around Argentina. And the most remarkable experiences I made always happened when I allowed myself to get a little lost walking towards whatever just caught my attention sponanousely. In especially those situations, I met many people and a lot of times then, I suddenly felt very as amongst friends and had the sensation that I was beginning to be part of something.

6)    Time is money, but are you even sure money must always be saved?

When arriving in Argentina, I thought that all of what we are saying when stereotyping about South America, regarding time and punctuality, was just prejudice, but I soon noticed that the tendencies are really given just as a cultural topic. I became aware that I am from a country where indeed, most of the times, plans work out structuredly. For all my life, I had been taught that time is money and you better count and save both. Here, and that is my impression althought I had not believed it, mostly things takes more time and you spend a lot of time waiting or talking instead of being “productive” or “effective”. In the beginning, for me it was difficult to get used to this, but by now, I see it as one of the biggest presents or advantages that Argentina offered to me: I started to take me the time I needed to do things, creating more space for what mattered to me and paying more attention to it, maybe reflecting once again or just being very into it instead of already caring about what will happen next. The price is that sometimes, you will only accomplish half of the things you had planned, but you will have a good time.

7)    Importance becomes relative with a change of perspective

Therefore, I had some time of travelling and discovering. One of the most faszinating moments was when I was standing in front of the Iguazú Falls. Time just stopped and I could have stayed there forever just watching the water fall down. I felt very small facing the dimension of the cascades. In generell, within a lot of moments when I watched daily life scenes of Buenos Aires, a city which is vibrant and - eventhough it does not know a lot of hurry - never stands still because of all the people in the streets, everyone on his own way,  sometimes I became aware that there is so much more in the world and everytime I felt less important, but also more like a part of something big and meaningful. So, if you sometimes try to see the issues you are worried about from another distance, right in relation to everything else, if you use to practice that change of perspective once in a while, things will sometimes soon turn out to be less important. 

8)    We have more in common than we might think

As volunteering in the radio station, I had a column, called “Mientras tanto en otro continente”, which means “Meanwhile at another continent”, in which I presented cultural and social  topics concerning Europe. And a lot of times, when talking about these aspects I presented in our programme, we noticed that although we are from various parts of the world, and after all the differences that may exist, the problems and ideas we have about life are often similar. So, we discussed the Euro crisis with Greece in its centre and we found out that its consequences for the “normal” people – as far as “normal” exists at all – are the same as in Argentina after the financial crisis of 2002. I had the opportunity to introduce one of my favorite movies, which is called “The Wave” and which is about the topic of German nacionalsocialistic past, and I was told that there are a lot of cinema productions in Argentina, too, touching the previous dictatorship. After that, we talked about those for whome our societies still have no space sometimes, although we now have established the values of equality and democracy. Related to this, we also talked about the situation of indigenious people in Latin America, about immigration in Europe and here, we discussed the difficulties which pensionists are confronted with in the aging society in Europe. We discovered that there a more parallelisms between all of us and our societies than maybe imagined, as we have all in commun that we dream of a life of sufficiency, happiness and peace, with more tolerance and empathy towards each other which Herbert Grönemeyer, a German singer who I also introduced in my column, sees as the first condition for a better world.

9)    Welcome changes of plans

As I explained before, the meaning of time in general is special here, and what happens a lot in Argentina is that plans change. Sometimes, buses do not depart on time, or they stop working in the middle of the way. Banking machines do not always work in the rural zones, or you meet someone incidentally who proposes something which is much better than what you originally had been wanting to do. So do not worry or get angry about changes, but rather stay open and flexible and allow life to just happen the way it is, including everything which will come up and make it more intense.

10) Be maybe cautious, but never afraid

 

When I arrived in Argentina, having heard so much about the country in Europe which seems to see itself sometimes as an island of security, I did not know well what to be afraid of. For example, I had no idea if it would be dangerous to walk around in the streets alone at night or how people would treat me when noticing that I am a foreigner and whom I could trust. Sometimes, I got into situations in which I first did not know how to act. But after all, I learnt that the majority of people generally want only the best for you and even tries to help you a lot more than you would expect anyone to. And if you do not risk to trust sometimes, you will miss a lot of occacions which are the beginning of great friendships. Of course, it is important to be careful, especially in some neighbourhoods, but if you walk with a little bit of attention and keep watching what is going on around you, you will be safe. So, a bit of caution might be helpful, but with too much fear which limits you, you will loose out on a lot opportunities life offers to you.

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