Lately, I have been meeting people who are heading to Buenos Aires, or who have recently arrived in Buenos Aires who ask me for advice. I’ve been back in the U.S. for 4 or 5 months after living there so I’ve definitely had some time to think about what I wish I would have known before I left.
I’m not sure how I became so well-adjusted to a city I originally didn’t like at all. It can feel so scary and overwhelming to move to an area of 14 million people who speak a different language than you, but after being there for 6 months, I knew enough people that I would generally run into someone I knew, no matter which bars I went to at night. I conquered a completely baffling system of buses enough that I didn’t need to look up directions about 70 percent of the time. I developed a lasting love for fernet, and mate, and staying out late like the porteños do, and I picked up a great (or snobby, as one Argentine from Córdoba I met the other day told me) Buenos Aires accent.
A lot of my love for Buenos Aires is due help I got: Lovely locals like my friend Valentina who adopted our study abroad group of yanquis and helped us navigate an insane, confusing city when our school’s program completely failed us. Random new friends and friends of friends who invited me to asados so I could experience something really important to Argentina’s culture. I also worked at a news publication, making it necessary for me to jump into the culture here and always know what’s going on.
In hopes of helping everyone love Buenos Aires as much as I do, I am going to publish pseudo-guide here with the basics of starting to live in Buenos Aires. Porteño and expat friends, feel free to comment on this post with your thoughts. I’ll keep changing it when I think of more things.
Before I left for Buenos Aires I asked my editor at the Argentina Independent if he had any suggestions of books so I could learn more before I arrived. I’m just going to copy and paste what he said directly:
One suggestion for books is 'The Argentina Reader', which has essays and a different sort of historical overview than the books below. It goes into indigenous issues, society, culture and is told through speeches, poetry and essays, by different notable types and historians from over the years, rather than being written as a straight book.
Another option is a more standard academic history book than The Argentina Reader. ‘A history of Argentina in the 20th Century’ by Luis Alberto Romero, which is a pretty straight history book. It’s a little dry, but very comprehensive - if it is too much (a whole book!) definitely read from Perón onwards, as he is so influential still, you won’t really understand anything about politics without knowing about him (although the early bits about the Radicals is interesting too, I found). After Perón the book goes through the turbulent 60s and 70s, the dictatorship, then the Alfonsín and Menem years.
As this book does not make it to the crisis, and you really should try to get your head around that, a good book (which really is more interesting than it sounds, and you don’t have to be an economics buff to work your way through it) - 'And the money came rolling in (and out)' by Paul Blustein. It’s a really good breakdown of what happened back in 2001/2 and also why it happened, and as you’ll all be here for the anniversary of the crisis, we will most certainly be doing something on it.
If the Madres of Plaza de Mayo interest you, a great book is 'Revolutionizing Motherhood: The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo' by Marguerite Guzman Bouvard. It goes into the dictatorship in a great amount of depth, and also analyses the social movement of the madres since the return of democracy, how they have become more polemic over the years, and the impunity that was present during the Menem years for the people who committed the worst atrocities.
Another book which is just generally a necessity, although most of you Latin American buffs will probably have read it, is 'Open Veins of Latin America' by Eduardo Galleano. It’s pretty heavy stuff and I would read it in English unless you’re feeling fairly bilingual already. It’s a bit of a cliche, and was made famous last year after Chavez gave it to Obama, but if you want to understand the frustration most people on this continent feel and have a chance of empathy in interviews, it really is an excellent background read. And particularly relevant now as lots of bicentenary issues that are being raised at present point to a sort of, ok, 200 years, but how far haven’t we come in that time, as well as how much has been achieved.
He also suggested some documentary films:
La República Perdida (I and II)
Part I: early 1900’s to 1976
Part II: military dictatorship and return to democracy (the film is from the 80’s)
(Can’t find links with subtitles)
Memoria del Saqueo, by Pino Solanas
- Explains the economic policies of the 90’s and the 2001 crisis
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rH6_i8zuffs (subtitled but in 12 parts, alas)
The Take, by… Naomi Klein’s husband!
- Shows the 2001 crisis and the social movements and recuperated factories that came from it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEzXln5kbuw
- South of the Border, by Oliver Stone
- Gives an overview of the current Latin American political processes and shows how they are misrepresented in the US media.
- (Can’t find link, but it may be not so hard to find abroad as it’s a US movie…?)
War on Democracy, by John Pilger
- History of US intervention in Latin America. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3739500579629840148
The Revolution will not be Televised
About the 2002 coup against Chávez in Venezuela and the role of the media and the opposition.
Where to Live
You can search for apartments on CompartoDepto or CraigsList. CompartoDepto in general has more ads from locals and Latin American students, and Craigslist has more expats and English-speakers. A furnished apartment in a shared house should cost you around US$400-500 a month (or around $1600-2500 pesos). Buenos Aires is comprised of 15 different barrios, but most young people and expats opt for places in Palermo or San Telmo. Other neighborhoods are nice, too, but I love living in Palermo because I rarely have to take the bus, as almost everywhere I want to go to is there. If you want to look into other neighborhoods, or see a really cool house on Craigslist but don’t recognize the name of the area, I encourage you to check out this guide to neighborhoods in Gringo In Buenos Aires.
Getting Around the City
You can use the online city map to find how to get from one address to another using public transport. You can buy a Guia T from most newspaper stands (around $10) which is useful for getting around the city when you aren’t connected to internet. Make sure you check that the Guía says “2013” on the front, sometimes they try to scam tourists and sell them old ones. Here is a very useful article on how to ride the buses here and how to use the Guía T.
To get around the city using buses and subways (subtes) you need to buy a Sube card which you can get at many Kioscos or subway stations. They cost about $15 and then you put money on them and swipe them. Often places that will charge your sube card have this sign in the window:
Subte fare: $2.50 (flat fare)
Bus fare: $1.50 (up to 3km), $1.60 (3-6km) or $1.70 (6km+) depending on the distance with SUBE. If you don’t have a SUBE, it costs twice as much, and you need to pay with coins using a machine on the bus.
The subways are pretty limited so expect to use buses a lot.
Only take taxis that say “Radio Taxi” on them. Taxi drivers are notorious for ripping people off and you are slightly less likely to be ripped off in a Radio Taxi. On a similar note, they will often try to take a long route or drive in circles if you’re foreign. Say: “¿Porqué estás dando vueltas?” (Why are you going around in circles?) and they’ll stop usually.
Remember that you don’t tip taxi drivers in Buenos Aires.
Argentina has a kind of weird money situation. You can read up on it here, but basically the government artificially pegs the peso to the dollar so there is the “official rate,” which is currently about US$1 to $5.33 and the black market or “blue dollar” rate which is currently US$1 to $8.50 but changes constantly. A few weeks ago it was at $10 so anyone who used an ATM to get money at the official rate was getting half of what they could. It’s frustrating for expats but probably even more frustrating for Argentinians, so don’t complain.
How do you get the black market rate? You sell your dollars illegally. Places to sell your dollars change constantly and I’m not going to post them here. For that, you need to ask fellow expats or ask local friends if they would like to buy your dollars. Sometimes if people hear you are American they will ask you if you want to sell your dollars. Everyone wants them, so it’s pretty easy to sell them, just be careful. In general, if you are coming to Argentina, bring as many dollars as you possibly can and your life will be a lot easier.
If you didn’t bring dollars and/or want to get money in a legal way, use Xoom. You can read more about it here, but it is essentially a money transfer service that uses a rate closer to the Blue Dollar. It’s completely legal and safe, just make an account on their website, send yourself money from your own bank account, and go pick it up at one of their locations. Bring your passport and be prepared to answer a few questions about why you’re in Argentina in Spanish.
Regardless of which way you choose to get money, just don’t go to an ATM because the official rate will rob you.
Buenos Aires has a pretty grueling weekend schedule, so prepare yourself. A typical night of going out works like this: You start previa or pregaming around 11 or midnight. Then you head to the club (called boliches here) around 3 a.m. Getting to a club before 2 a.m. is both fairly uncool and also a bad idea because nobody will be there. It’s fairly normal to stay out until 6 or 7 am, or in some cases go to an after party at 8 or 9 in the morning.
If you are wondering where to go out, check the schedules at Wipe magazine for a more alternative scene, or Vuenos Airez under the “fiesta” tab for what’s happening in boliches, etc. I also put every Facebook page I’ve liked since I got here into this list and you can follow it for updates on what’s going on. Also, you know, make Argentinean friends who actually know what they’re doing and let them adopt you/invite you to things. There’s something happening every night of the week here and you will probably end up either going out a lot or suffering from crippling FOMO.
Almost every neighborhood has a cool outdoor market in it on weekends. My favorites were in Recoleta (in Plaza Francia near the cemetery), San Telmo (this is the biggest and best— don’t eat before you go because the best street food ever is here), and Palermo (small but good).
Cultural Centers are my absolute favorite part of Buenos Aires and if you live here they are great resources for a variety of things: Classes, workshops, movie nights, bands, good food, etc.
Here’s a rough list of some different Cultural Centers:
Centro Cultural Ricardo Rojas: One of the best ways to improve your Spanish is to enroll in a class or workshop. Rojas has a huge variety of classes: Whether you want to learn videogame design, an indigenous language, or painting, Rojas has you covered. They even offer a class that just involves going to different galleries with a group of people. It’s a great way to meet friends and learn Spanish and I’d highly recommend taking one!
Casa Presa: So far away, but worth the trip! They have classes, films, music, and weird experimental art. They also serve incredible homemade food.
Vuela el Pez: Restaurant/bar/music venue with classes and other things as well.
El Quetzal: This place has an adorable open-air restaurant and bar. They frequently show movies and have concerts and I think sometimes they offer classes. Also once I was eating brunch there and the DJ Avicii started filming a music video around us, so that’s something, I guess.
"There are two books in America: one for the poor and one for the rich. The poor person does a crime, and gets 40 years. A rich person gets a slap on the wrist for the same crime. They say that the poor person doesn’t want to work and the poor person just wants a handout. Well I picked cotton until I was thirteen, left Alabama and got my education in the streets of New York. I drove a long distance truck all my life and never once drew welfare, never once took food stamps either. I sent four kids to college. But they say all poor people do is sit around with a quart of beer. Look in this bag next to me. I’ve got three things in this bag next to me: a Red Bull, a Pepsi, and Draino, because my drain is clogged. But you see, even if I do everything right, I still have to play by the poor book.”
"Diana también representa las miles de mujeres asesinadas, el paso doloroso de los años y los expedientes de investigación archivados. Diana nos empuja a darnos cuenta de que nos hemos olvidado de pedir justicia, de darles su lugar en la memoria histórica de la ciudad a tantas mujeres asesinadas. La historia de Diana no nació en agosto, se gestó hace más de veinte años, y bien o mal, legal o ilegalmente, representa muchísimas cosas que van más allá de lo evidente, es por todo lo anterior que me atrevo a decir que, aunque sea simbólicamente, Diana sí existe."
—Debate over Kant in Russia ends in a shooting
I suffered a minor bout of rage-blindness when I read Jack Shafer’s post about journalism’s “Marquee brothers” just one week after Bryan Goldberg bragged about the millions he scored to found a website for women. In Shafer’s telling, there is a “brotherhood” of powerful men in media who…
An important read on women and the “sexist perpetual-motion machine” of the media world.
This recap of my trip to Belize is extremely belated for several reasons. For one, I’ve been getting adjusted to being back in the U.S. after being gone for six months, and it’s a lot to deal with. Repatriating is hard, especially in recent weeks, and I’m starting to realize my relationship with the U.S. works out a lot better long distance.
On the more tactical side of things, I wanted to make sure I could publish certain photos before I did so, due to privacy issues, etc. But, we recently got access to official trip photos so I feel like I can now publish mine.
As I’ve said before, LEAP is a non-profit organization comprised of volunteer plastic surgeons, eye surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and support staff that volunteer their time and resources to travel around the world and bring medical care to areas that otherwise would not have access. The organization has completed trips in Haiti, India, China, Ecuador, and many other countries. The trip I participated in went to Belize.
The first day involved screening hundreds of people for surgery. This is what the waiting room looked like:
The screening involved processing a chaotic group of over 400 people who had walked, driven and taken buses hundreds of miles to be there. We formed different lines for different kinds of surgeries and the doctors decided which patients could be helped and scheduled surgeries for the next two days.
One thing that really struck me, and was probably even more noticeable to the American doctors who do this all the time in the U.S., was how patient and nice everyone was. In the U.S., patients get agitated if a doctor is 20 minutes late to an appointment. Here, people waited hours for a small chance to be scheduled in for surgery. One patient was turned away after taking a bus five hours to be there, and then waiting eight hours to be seen. He responded by smiling and saying “I appreciate all your help and I hope you doctors can go home and get some rest. You’ve been working so hard today.” I was stunned by the amount of gratitude people showed.
The second day basically involved back-to-back procedures from 7 am to 11 pm. Between the two operating rooms (one for hand and foot surgeries and the other for facial surgeries) that was more than 20 surgeries and a marathon of staying on foot for the doctors. Luckily, the local Rotary Club kept an endless supply of amazing food for doctors and volunteers to eat when they had time.
I was stationed in the recovery room, which means my job included assisting patients as they woke up, filling out charts, taking out IVs, bandaging them up and sending them to the room from which they would later be discharged. I also had what I feel is the most rewarding part of the job: Bringing relatives of the patients from the waiting room back to recovery to see the patient, safe and sound after surgery. Since many of these surgeries were reconstructive, some parents would come back to see their loved one with reconstructed face, or a hand that worked for the first time in his or her life.
Another one of my jobs was translating. Because Belize was formerly a British colony, almost everyone speaks English. Some immigrants from other Central American countries who live in Belize speak Spanish better than English, but most people speak at least a little bit of English. The exception being the Mennonite population.
Approximately 3.6 percent of Belize’s population is German Mennonite. They emigrated from Germany in the 1950s and still speak only German amongst themselves, and Spanish with others. Therefore, the majority of the Spanish translating I did was for blonde-haired, blue-eyed, German-speaking Mennonites. It was unexpected, to say the least.
The second day of surgery was the same as the first, although we got out much earlier. Since LEAP had gone to Belize a couple weeks before, the amount of surgeries we had to do was a little smaller than usual. Over the course of the two days, LEAP performed 44 successful surgeries.
In our unheard-of free time on the last day, we took a boat trip to Mayan ruins.
More than anything, this trip made me wonder why I never considered going into medicine instead of journalism. I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie: I love being in the newsroom when a story breaks, and I actually really love the stressful deadlines of working at a newspaper. Medicine is kind of like journalism in that it has stressful deadlines, but different in that if you don’t meet them, rather than a story not getting filed, someone could die.
The stakes are higher, but the variety of life you see in a hospital on a daily basis is incredible. One day I watched an emergency C-section. As in, I saw a brand new human life violently yanked out of someone’s belly. Less than five minutes later saw someone die in another wing of the hospital, a chorus of sobs from the family in the hallway immediately following. The ups and downs of working in a hospital were exciting and scary, and I am so glad I got to experience them. The people we helped taught me so much about gratitude, and I sincerely hope I can work with LEAP again in the future.
After six indescribable months in Buenos Aires, more than 30 hours of travel (involving much crappy airport food and sleeping in weird places), I have arrived in Belize. I did a really bad job of blogging in Buenos Aires so this is my earnest attempt to document my trip here.
Six months away from the US, five currencies in my wallet.
I am here with my dad and my brother as part of LEAP organization volunteer medical trip. My dad will be doing as much free reconstructive surgery as he can for the next few days, mostly for babies with cleft lips and other birth defects. As for me, my job description basically includes playing with kids and translating Spanish, so it will be a short but great trip.
Photo from LEAP’s last trip to Belize from their website.
I was picked up at the airport by someone involved with LEAP and then we drove an hour north to Orange Walk, where I’m staying. The drive was through jungle-like wetlands filled with colorful houses and people selling mangos on the side of the road. After six months in a huge city, it’s nice to be somewhere a little more tranquilo.
House from drive to the airport. “Welcome to nice local food.”
The official language in Belize is English, but more commonly people speak a Creole-like dialect. There is also a decent amount of Spanish, especially in the North where we are. Many of the signs here are in English and Spanish. The Spanish is extremely different from Argentina (obviously, because Argentina has the weirdest Spanish) so I’m getting used to the dialect, accent, and speed of talking.
I had heard that English, Creole, and Spanish are all spoken here, but I didn’t realize that they meant at the same time. Last night I went to dinner with the local Rotary Club, which is organizing the trip, and they fluidly moved from English to Creole to Spanish as they planned dinners and activities for the LEAP trip. Sentences like “Compramos twenty-four manzanas, right?” were common. It was fascinating and very hard to keep up with.
Also I ate empanadas for dinner because I CAN’T QUIT ARGENTINA
Today I am going to the hospital to help families get checked in and do some translating. My dad and brother get in around 4 p.m. today and I think there is a big dinner tonight. I will post more photos as I go.
Jungly view from my hotel
Also, when I get back to Iowa, I will have a month of nothing to do and will finally, retrospectively, write some posts about Argentina. Until then, you’ll be seeing a lot of baby and jungle pics on here.