By: Laura Gravina
Whenever I find myself in a new country, for the first couple of months it’s either all black or white. Different shades of color only begin to appear after some time, depending on the complexity of the reality surrounding me and Argentina appears to have countless.
Argentina is a country that stretches out on a very large piece of Earth, going from deserts to glaciers, where you can see condors flying through the skies as penguins hanging around on an island, where people’s faces show all tones of skins and eye colors. It’s hard to describe Argentina with a single image, or the feeling you get first arriving. As a guy told me in Rosario: “Argentina does not have a face, ’cause we all come from different places”. It’s actually impossible not to see the heritage left by European migrants here and also because of this, my first impact whit Buenos Aires has not been as traumatic as I expected it to be. As I was walking in La Boca, between its colorful houses and narrow streets, I almost feel at home in Genoa.
It’s nice to smell pizza and pasta at every corner, and the Argentinian habit of gesturing with their hands really helped me as my Spanish still needed a lot of practice. Of course in Italy you don’t see people dancing tango in the streets, but that’s the beauty of a place that can combine different cultures and that can turn them into a new special one.
Buenos Aires is a city where you can see big contrast everyday, with not so many grey shades in between. By going to the centre it’s easy to see entire families living on the streets, just around the corner of a McDonald or a big building full of offices. Right next to the richest neighborhoods and their skyscrapers, also the villas constructions are getting higher and higher as the number of poor people is increasing. Poor and rich, old and new are constantly contrapposed in Buenos Aires, where society is changing so fast that does not have the time to adjust. I have learned that the concept of time is really different here. The big distances make running late very normal, you learn to value the time spent traveling and it’s really easy to start a conversation with the person sitting in line next to you. But no matter how late you are, there is always time for a mate. You also have to learn how to jump in and off from the buses, as most of the times they don’t stop, they simply slow down.
Buenos Aires never stops, it never sleeps. And it offers you endless choices of entertainment and cultural activities. Sometimes the city can get really chaotic and stressful – un gran quilombo – but you can always rely on someone helping you and giving you directions. Argentinian people are really friendly and open, always willing to give you a smile and to share whatever they have because here everything is shared. Argentinian also have a big heart and a lot of courage. The strength of the Women of Plaza de Mayo is simply unbelievable, and the willing to change things and fight for their rights is inspiring. The first week of December has been really tough in Buenos Aires, and really intense for the people living here. Big demonstrations affected the whole city for a couple of days, with hundreds of people marching in the streets and protesting against the latest social reforms.
This experience has been marked so far by many first times. Not only this is my first time in Argentina, but it’s also my first time in South America. It’s my first time spending Christmas during the summer time (which is pretty awesome) and for the first time I surfed in the Ocean. But most important of all, this is my first volunteering experience abroad. It’s a totally new way of discovering a culture and a new country, as you feel much more engaged with the society and a part of it, not just a visitor. I am working in the office of Fundacion Ses, a social organization for the development of young people and their rights.
The area I’m working with involves practices of social and solidarity economy, a field that was completely new to me until a couple of months ago and that is getting always more interesting. In November Fundacion Ses organized a three days camping called “Jovenexs por otra economia”, which brought together young people from different parts of the country to think about how to build a new kind of economy. I had the chance to meet a lot of young entrepreneurs and listen to their stories. It’s been a great experience watching so many people coming together, putting time and energy trying to build something new based on the values of cooperation and solidarity, while taking distances from the logic of capitalism and competition. Experiences like this, though small, are actually changing lives and improving the economic conditions of many people, and I felt really lucky to be a part of it.
After almost three months I feel more confident, more aware of my surrounding and Buenos Aires is definitely starting to feel like home. Now I’m looking forward to keep on learning and exploring the country, and as summer vacations are approaching I am going to spend the next month traveling. The road is long, from Salta to Ushuaia, but I already know I’m going to be in great company and that I will have many stories to share on my return to Buenos Aires.