10 September 2013

my city



it's amazing how quickly you can become familiar with a place, but also how your perception is just the one small sliver of the place that becomes your whole world. i can't believe that everything here was once wholly foreign. it's hard to reconcile my recollections of my first impressions with the normality of it all now. córdoba today seems nothing like it did the first days. i now know my way around, how to navigate from place to place in the areas i visit most frequently. but i'm often reminded that those are just a few areas of the city: the neighborhood i live in, the downtown area where we explore and go out, and the few pockets where our field work locations are. other parts of "córdoba capital" are a mystery to me, and probably will remain that way: as with any city, you have to be cautious and prepared before stepping off a bus in an unfamiliar part of town. actually, here you have to be knowledgeable before you step on the bus, since there are no bus maps or schedules or routes posted anywhere - you just have to somehow know. that makes it hard to travel off the beaten path.



work has been tough and exhausting, sometimes relentless and sometimes stressful and occasionally rewarding - i'll get there! i'm busy all the time, always at least thinking ahead to the next visit to the teen girls' prison while also going to as many other organizations and events as i can. i wrote about a few of my work activities a couple weeks ago, and i've returned to some of those as well as started new projects. in my main placement, the correctional facility for teen girls, we've worked on their cv's and discussed how to prepare for a job interview. my partner and i have also started to become friends with the girls: joking and eating croissants and watching telenovelas together on some visits. we even sometimes visit the prison just to cheer them on during gym class and see their art projects.

as a passerby, you'd never know this is a prison.

last week, some other volunteers and i had the privilege of attending a session at the court, observing a morning of witness testimony in a lengthy ongoing trial of war crimes connected to argentina's military dictatorship in the mid-'70s and the 30,000 people who disappeared, many tortured and killed. the witnesses were a brother and sister in their 50s who each described the night in november 1975 when police barged into their home and abducted their father, then the subsequent effects on the family and the trauma of identifying their father's remains in 2005. it was chilling and emotional and incredible to listen to their stories. there were several dozen people also watching, mostly family members of victims who carried red flowers in honor of their disappeared friends and relatives.

the giant flag at the main colonial plaza.

some girls from work and i also went to a workshop on human trafficking put on by an organization that focuses on public education on and prevention of human trade and trafficking. the free, two-hour crash course offered information about types of human trafficking, incidences in argentina, and how to protect yourself and your family. the information was fascinating and the public interest was encouraging - dozens of people show up every week, from grandmothers to young men to teen girls who look like their mothers sent them. in the future, the other volunteers and i will be working more with this organization and attending more workshops.



we spent this weekend in córdoba, a lovely break from the fast pace of the workweek and the hectic travel of last weekend. we got to see downtown by night and day and to make an effort to be tourists in a city that feels like ours now, but that we still barely know. actually, we can almost pass for locals as we walk down the street - though that makes it even more disconcerting when we say one word in english and all of a sudden everyone turns to stare.

this seems to be very common: only one half of an old building is renovated and painted when they decide to use it.

a shopping mall that doubles as a convenient meeting place.


everyone in argentina knows how to dance.

it was a weekend of shopping, or at least market-browsing and self-restraint; we are on a budget. and we have many more weeks to buy things.


on saturday, we went in the late afternoon/evening to the weekly feria artesanal paseo de las artes, where we experienced the rasta subculture of córdoba we hadn't yet seen: people with heads full of dreads selling us crystal-and-resin "vibe converters" (the smaller personal size is not recommended, since it has a radius of only two to five meters) and necklaces with pendants of laminated marijuana leaves.

nice.






  


yep, they're real.

political messages abound on this row of stands, including messages about artists' and workers' rights and encouraging customers to support local independent craftspeople.


then, of course, there were the alfajores: those not-too-sweet, soft-but-thick sandwich cookies stuffed with fruit or dulce de leche, sold at the market by plump, smiley old ladies sitting behind stands full of traditional sweets. we couldn't help but stop twice to buy different alfajores as we circled the massive market - it was at least nine square blocks or so. i tried pear and alcayota, a local fruit kind of like a watermelon, but stringy and clear. maddy got peach and the classic chocolate-covered dulce de leche. we took pictures with all of them - we're tourists, after all.



i've found it impossible to be vegan in argentina, and i'm not sure if i'm happy or sad about that.

there was some really amazing craftsmanship on display, too. after talking to the artist for a long time and poring over his selection, maddy and i decided to each buy "monedas caladas." it is an impressively creative and unique idea: the artist buys vintage coins from all over the world, then carefully carves out the tiny minted images to make gorgeous round pendants. there were american bison, hong kong flowers, chilean political heroes, new zealand animals, and myanmar chinthe (the lion-like pagoda guardians). in the end, maddy and i decided on two distinct argentinian designs: hers a coin with the image of the national football stadium, commemorating the 1978 world cup hosted and won by this country; mine a 10-peso piece featuring the sun the figures prominently on the argentinian flag and many of its coins. it felt like a splurge for what we've spent on souvenirs so far, but it was worth it.


the walk out of the market was through a part of the center city full of murals and political graffiti about a range of topics: anti-gmo, pro-sex ed, pro-feeding the hungry, usually involving che guevara's face in some way.


oh sup ernesto "che."




on sunday we walked through the massive book fair in long white tents tents in the centrally-located plaza san martín. it was set up as a book expo with stands for different independent bookstores highlighting various genres of spanish-language literature (and plenty of not-so-masterful written works). i didn't buy anything, but i did promise myself to get back into reading spanish literature, no matter how intimidating it seems. there's so much i want to read, from garcía lorca to garcía marquez.


  

maddy discovers spanish harry potter.

a stand dedicated to remembering the disappeared.

a timeline of the main newspaper.

my pal pope francis.

one direction shares space with papa francisco i.

outside: plaza san martín.

soccer-team-themed hair wraps.

otherwise, we've been hanging out with the other volunteers and spending time with our amazing hosts.

 

we've eaten too much ice cream: there's a chain called grido helado that's got shops on every corner and sells delicious ice cream for tantalizingly cheap, waffle cone and all.




we've visited a local pet shop every day just to watch the puppies, because they're so cute and a little pathetic and totally irresistible even if we can't play with them.


we've done yoga once or twice and taken a few siestas; both of those activities left us surprisingly energized.
  


and spring has suddenly sprung, with the highs this week topping 105 degrees fahrenheit, the heat casting a purplish haze over the entire city.


it's a great time to be in córdoba, and we're making the most of it.

x, m

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