On la dictadura, villas, y estadounidenses

On the dictatorship

I’m becoming increasingly sure that my host dad was, and still is, a supporter of the dictatorship. The last few times we’ve talked about my Argentine history/politics class, he’s brought up the fact that many of the desaparecidos were “terrorists” themselves, that the figure of desaparecidos is more like 10,000, not 30,000, and that there’s “another side to the story.”

This majorly freaks me out. I guess I had assumed that Argentina would be incredibly collectively scarred by the experience, and so thoroughly in shock that — like in Germany following WWII — it would be utterly taboo to express any sort of sympathy for the rulers who had tortured and killed people. But this isn’t Germany; a lot of things make it more complicated. For one, the desaparecidos were targeted because they were political enemies who were sometimes violent, which makes it easier (relatively?) for the former supporters to justify their killings to “maintain the peace.” Then there’s the fact that there’s major disagreement as to how many people were killed, since many of the bodies were never found and records were never kept. For instance, my host father maintains that many of the desaparecidos are currently living in Spain. But here’s the thing: even if the desaparecidos were extremely violent (don’t buy it) and only 10,000 of them were killed (don’t buy it), that still doesn’t justify the fact that at least 10,000 Argentines were kidnapped, tortured, killed, and dumped into the river by their own government. And the fact that there are Argentines who still defend this government (highly concentrated in neighborhoods like Recoleta… obviously) is appalling.

My host dad says all Americans are brainwashed as to what happened, but I can’t imagine that it’s much of a “brainwashing” if the best counterargument they can come up with is that the government still killed thousands of people… oh, but because they were disorderly. Talking to someone like my host dad is like talking to someone from another planet. I just didn’t think this kind of thing existed.

On slums

(Before reading: please don’t freak out about the following paragraphs Mom/Dad/Grandma/rest of family; being unsafe in South America had to happen sometime, and it’ won’t be happening again.)

Ignorance is bliss. Example: I avoided what would have been a sure panic attack at being in what I’ve now heard is one of the most dangerous barrios in Buenos Aires a couple weeks ago due to my complete lack of knowledge about where I was. The fact that I arrived in this area of a city to meet up with a friend to go to a soccer game alone, looking extremely out of place, for the first time ever appearing blatantly lost (as in, literally turning circles in place lost; apparently street signs disappear when you enter a slum) and was not robbed is, as I hear repeatedly, a miracle.

My friend and I were going to the soccer stadium for a game in this neighborhood, but the fact that we arrived four hours early by mistake and had to walk a bit from both of our bus stops meant we did a bit of exploring. I must have subconsciously realized I was going to a less-safe area that morning, and wore my hidden money belt (thanks Mom!). However, this does little to settle the horror of porteños when they hear we were there; apparently most porteños would never even go there, and it’s known for being full of drug traffickers. Charming! My friend and I didn’t know how dangerous the area was, which meant that we were able to observe without being too nervous or preoccupied. Of course, this honeymoon period ended when a man at a kiosko blatantly laughed at us when we asked if there were any cafés nearby and told us not to go in one direction or we would be robbed at gunpoint (incidentally, the same direction as my bus stop… frightening).

Apparently, two things made us look less vulnerable: one was our confidence (/obliviousness to the danger), and the other, essentially our saving grace, was that my friend was wearing a soccer jersey from a poorer neighborhood’s team. Our program coordinator told us that if we had been wearing Boca jerseys (the team my host family supports), we almost surely would have been robbed. Also, it was noon. But anyway, it was actually really interesting to see a completely different area of the city and the types of people that live there; living in Recoleta, one might think that all Argentines look, behave, and interact in certain ways. The poorer areas are completely different ethnically and culturally. So, in conclusion, I will not be making this mistake again, but it turned out to be probably the most tranki way to ever see the scariest villa in Buenos Aires. Success?

On being way too American

Number one thing I have started doing recently that is embarrassingly American of me: hanging out at Starbucks. BUT BEFORE JUDGING ME, listen: I have avoided studying in cafés all semester due to the desire to save me some pesos, and Starbucks is the only café with the golden combo of no waiters, outlets for computers, great Wifi, comfy chairs, stellar people watching, yummy snacks and sometimes free samples, and nice music. I have become exponentially more productive, and it’s wonderful. I started this new thing where I’m trying to plan my work around my social/tourist life instead of the other way around, because I’m down to almost one month to see all the stuff I’ve yet to see here. And it’s working out wonderfully, thanks to my new haunt. Yay productivity!

Second thing: I guess this happened a while ago, but I have completely stopped trying to look porteña in my everyday dress. I gave up around when I realized my new running shoes were exceptionally comfy for long walks around the city, which also happened to coincide with my revelation that my NorthFace backpack — of course worn with the chest strap as well — was much better for my back than my more stylish messenger bag. And then I just decided that there was really no need to pretend anymore. I also realized that it’s kind of dumb to work so hard to blend in when as soon as I start talking or go anywhere with one of my blond program friends (one flies under the radar; two do not), they’ll know I’m foreign anyway. And actually, it’s not horrible for them to discover this, because they’re usually pretty impressed that we actually speak Spanish — and, bonus, with an Argentine accent!

But not quite: On, “I mean, I already have enough American friends…”

My friends and I are super antisocial with other Americans due to our one-track social minds focused entirely on making local friends. I realized this when my friend in my Argentine politics class turned to me one day, pointed to the other Americans in the class who we’d fairly snootily ignored since day 1 (they were speaking English!!) and was like, “Maybe we should just fuck it and be friends with them.” Then I realized that maybe we were fairly abnormal.

Americans in BA are over-the-top friendly because none of them have many friends, so it’s pretty much the easiest thing in the world to make gringo buddies here. But it almost just doesn’t feel like it’d be a really study abroad experience if all my new friends were extranjeros themselves, right? I’m still kind of conflicted on this, since it is true that knowing more Americans = more social events = more opportunities to then meet and talk to locals. But to be honest, I just don’t have the social energy. Which is why we do things like this: picture my two friends at ultimate Frisbee practice; approached by group of American students; Americans invite them to ice cream with them; my friends literally turn their backs and have a mini conference during which the following lines were said: “I mean, I don’t neeeed ice cream…” “Yeah, or more American friends…”; turned back to group of Americans and said, “Yeahhhh, I think we’re just going to stay here.” Extremely awkward.

Other things that may or may not be of interest:

  • The mosquitoes here are quite problematic. The most pressing issue is the fact that my face is now spotted with bug bites, which appear to be enormous red pimples. It is not attractive. And when surrounded by many, many attractive Argentines every day, it is fairly disheartening. I am contemplating putting on bug spray before bed at this point…
  • Looks like buying tickets to see Iguazú is harder than it appears. Know how my friend and I bought tickets to the Brazilian airport? Well, our friends who decided to meet us there mistakenly bought tickets to the airport in Paraguay, meaning that they too had to go buy visas because they couldn’t change their flights. So basically we’re all flying into three different countries and somehow going to try to convene at the waterfall.
  •  So I think I may have complained about techno music at the beginning of my stay here. Turns out, I’m capable of liking any type of music if I hear it enough, because —in a shocking turn of events — I have started to l-o-v-e it. I have even begun to find it — gasp! — danceable. I’m fairly certain I haven’t switched my itunes from my “techYES!” playlist for at least a week. (And by techno I could mean electronic? Little unsure on the distinction there.)
  • This is a super interesting article about Argentina. It kind of summarizes the issues I’m working with in my paper which I’ve almost finished for my class on liberalization (18 pages!). You should all read it. http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/argentina-stuck-periphery-globalized-world
  • The carbo load continues. A perfect example is dinner a few nights ago: spaghetti, with a side of white rice, with a side of… white bread. I know, your mouth is watering. Mine too.
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