Friday, September 11, 2009

When It's Finally Your Turn . . .

Buenos Aires really is as exciting as they say it is. The city is a glorious mix between Europe and Latin America; two parts of the world I have greatly enjoyed. One can hear an Italian-like cadence in the Spanish spoken here; two languages which I find extremely pleasing to the ear. I can’t dance and have zero musical inclinations, but if I had an ounce of talent I would dedicate it to tango and its accompanying music. Tango is the most sensual sequence of movements I have ever seen; literally, it makes me want to put on a dress and heels, grab a handsome young man from his street corner stance and let the music take us away. . . right . . . but those are the kinds of thoughts a tango show will produce in your head.

Granted, only a week has passed since I arrived, but I don’t think this is just the “honeymoon phase” that characterizes every foreign sojourn. Every “barrio” or neighborhood has something different to offer. San Telmo is the old historical district where the hippies, artists of all types, bohemians and antique-collectors huddle and also where the famous Sunday market takes up seven blocks squared (street performers included). Palermo is the very hip, middle-class, creative in its own way, gastronomically diverse neighborhood with big parks and ubiquitous boutiques. The center of the city is its pulse; every subway line ends up here, major crosswalks accommodate hundreds of pedestrians at a time (most in their business attire and briefcases), the stock market and financial industry rule most of the city blocks and wind whips around tall buildings. Puerto Madero is the port area where fancy lofts and sky-high apartment buildings are being constructed everywhere, but where one can also go to escape the pace of city life (and all the cars) – in this barrio is a large ecological reserve where Buenos Aires’ runners go and hot dog stands line the park-like walkways.

The café culture here is wonderful – these people love to sit down for coffee, tea, a croissant, a chat, a business meeting, a date; almost any occasion qualifies. As my friend Kiki and I have decided, a period of two hours without a café break is good reason to stop. Small cafés are everywhere in this city and they are never empty during business hours. Having a bad day? Eh, just have a coffee and pastry and everything will be better.

To top it all off, I have a home in this city for the next eight months. I am living in an apartment in the heart of the city with a French girl, a Colombian guy, and an Argentine guy. Let me state that in Jessi terms: I live in a house representing four different countries and four different views on global issues and politics. It doesn’t get any better than that, or wait, yes it does. I also have access to a roof top terrace. Big room, double bed (this means you can visit), high ceilings, metro station one block away . . . all of this for $370/month. Yes, indeed, it is a good time to live in Buenos Aires.

Most importantly, though, is work. My purpose here is to gain experience in international development in order to get in to DC grad schools as well as spend a little more time among the people at the heart of global poverty before spending three years in classrooms and lost in theories. Tuesday, I start work with a small non-profit called Fundación Metáfora that works on the outskirts of the city where people live very marginally. If they have a source of income, it comes from the big international corporations who have built factories in the area. The foundation works in areas similar to that which Rainbow Network (the nonprofit for which I worked in Nicaragua) does: microloans, health care, education, and workshops that educate the local population on topics such as women’s rights, self-confidence, technical training and literacy. The foundation also works to bridge the gap between the profit-driven world and the social world, the market and humanity.

What my role will be I have yet to discover. This week is just an orientation of sorts – meet the people, get to know the area, see the work being done to counteract the poor living standard, etc., before I decide how or if I can contribute to the organization. It sounds promising, but as I have well learned by now, life always gets a vote and nothing is ever certain.

I am speaking Spanish every day, I have my long-desired big city life, I have diversity all around me, I have a place to run, and I think I may have work. Yeah, I am pretty damn happy with it all. It was a long road to get here.

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