Archive for November, 2010


Small victories. Sharon told me that Christmas isn’t going to come this year if I can’t think of something that God’s teaching me each and every day of advent. Because I don’t really like Christmas, I was going to try to hold out and not learn anything until then but I slipped today. I realized today that I’m learning to enjoy small things …a lot. Not to enjoy things like kittens and my wife and things that are actually, physically small and adorable, although I do enjoy those things quite a bit (anyone wanna buy a cat that’s not small and cute anymore?). I’m learning to enjoy people being too loud to allow me to sleep. I’m learning to enjoy buying tape. I’m learning to enjoy making someone laugh.

Since I arrived here, I’ve felt a bit like someone who just awoke to discover that they were completely paralyzed. As Sharon noted in her last post, things are very different here. It’s been partially a language barrier, of course, and a feeling of being disconnected but it’s also been a mentality issue. People here just don’t think I’m funny. And I know you guys don’t think I’m funny either, but they don’t even pretend very often here. I’m so used to arriving in a new place and I may not have friends but I always can find people to laugh with. And I’m always the crazy one one. “Tyler! You didn’t come back till 3am! You need to take it easy, man!” Also not the case here.

So anyway, my wife went to the beach with her internship this weekend which gave me some time to do all the hardcore physically exhausting work and play that I normally feel bad for asking her to do with me. So after a whole day of stretching on my bed and 56 consecutive yawns without an actual word leaving my mouth, I rolled over. That was nice. I thought I might try it again later when I had regained my strength. For now though, I would need to sleep. The day had come and gone and night is for sleeping. Suddenly and without warning (de pronto), crazy loud music erupted from 4 blocks away. Not bad music at all, but very very loud. I tried putting a pillow on top of my head and closing the door to the balcony but I swear the doors down here are made of paper. You can hear someone turn on the faucet across the street through these doors and they were not gonna stop this noise…not in the slightest. The thing was, it really wasn’t that bad. I had some coke (the cola, mom), I had some Fernet Branca*, the night was cool and there was a breaze. I didn’t do anything spectacular like go out and dance at whatever wild party was happening a few blocks away. I think I mostly checked e-mail and read up on the changes that are coming to WoW (why are they ruining my favorite video game), but when the music stopped it was almost six in the morning and I had had a great night. I was a little tipsy, the music –it turned- out had been really good, and as a cool breeze blew across the balcony where I was sitting looking over the city, I found myself wishing that they’d play one more song. I didn’t really need sleep that badly.

Morning always comes. Getting up for school today was rough. When I got to the subway stop where I catch the train to class, I realized that I forgot my thermos. Maybe not that important to you the reader but I promise that the wrath I would have called down upon the world were I to have gone through a day without my thermos would have quickly changed your mind, and so I returned home. There was on old lady at the door to the apartments. I wondered whose it was. This old lady had obviously been delivered here. Should I just assume that it was mine? Best to continue on. Wouldn’t want to take somebody else’s old lady.

~Very quick Spanish from behind me~


~She points to the door~

I realized that she didn’t have keys. This may not be my old lady but perhaps it would be okay if I borrowed it for a bit. I let her in to the apartment building, expecting the usual awkward attempts at speech that are always thwarted by my inability to comprehend or respond.

At the elevator: “¿Qual piso?”


We begin our ascent and then it happens. She asks me if I’m studying. Wait! I understood what she asked! I tell her yes and she asks what. I say Spanish and she asks if it’s just Spanish. I say yes and look embarrassed. We’re at her floor but she just opens the door so that nobody can call the elevator and we keep talking. When she finds out I’m from the states she tells me that her son works in Miami doing photography. This is going great! I’m feeling comfortable so I go for a small joke…I know I shouldn’t but I do anyway.

“Oh! Creo que lo conozco” (Oh! I think i know him!)

Yes I know. It’s not that funny. She laughed though and we talked a bit longer before I had to head out for school once again.

On the way home from school I stopped at a ferretaria (surprisingly not a store for purchasing ferrets but a hardware store. Go figure). The cord for Sharons laptop is breaking and I needed some electrical tape. Pretty boring stuff ensued. I asked if she had tape, and was presented two options of types of electrical tape. I was quoted a price, and I paid. We told each other thank you and goodbye. I left. Three blocks later I caught myself flipping the roll of tape like a coin humming a song I was apparently making up, and with a big dopier-than-hell straight out of the 1950s grin on my face. And do you know why? Small victories. I bought tape today. I made someone laugh today. I couldn’t sleep so I was forced to listen to a city, to look at it, to feel it until I could see that it was beautiful. Small victories.

Take care, loved ones and hopefully I’ll nab some more time to post in the near future.


*Fernet Branca: There is a whole genre of liquors originating from Italy that were originally marketed as medicine. Almost every village had their own type at one point. It seems this particular one was brought here with the Italian immigrants but I can’t say that I’m sure of that. In any event, this is one of the preferred hard alcohols of Buenos Aires and is usually consumed mixed with coca cola. It, like all of its kind, is disgusting, tasting akin to rubbing alcohol used to clean out an ashtray. But disgusting in a good way. Like how on road trips I have the urge to eat deep-fried macaroni bites from jack in the box. It’s THAT kind of disgusting.




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At Iguazύ Falls


Me, after 18 or so hours on a bus: “I think we must be close to home…”

…Honk! Honk! Honk! Loud traffic noises persist; I glance out the window and see a sea of cars.

Tyler: “Yep, it sounds like we’re back in the city!”


When Tyler and I lived in Seattle, he didn’t like it very much.  Whenever we left to go backpacking or camping, or just to spend a weekend away, we would come back and he would say “These trips away just remind me of how much I don’t like the city.”  I would chide him for being so negative, but yesterday this was brought to me in a new light.  We just returned from a lovely long weekend from an amazing place, Iguazύ Falls. It’s a place of national parks and natural wonders, up in the far northwest corner where a little finger of Argentine land borders Brazil and Paraguay, and where wide rivers suddenly plummet into dozens of jaw-dropping waterfalls.  Pictures from the trip and more comments can be found here and here.  It was truly amazing and I feel blessed to have gone.  But it reminded me of something that’s been simmering in the back of my mind for several weeks now, something that I’ve tried to give time to develop, and yet still remains, more or less, the same, and the shocking juxtaposition of nature’s beauty and the city’s chaos put it into perspective.

This place, Buenos Aires, is, undoubtedly, unlike any other city, that I, or Tyler, have ever been to.  And not to brag, but we’ve gotten around.  It’s an enigma; I try to compare it other cities, to compartmentalize it in my typical individualistic, American, postmodern way. San Telmo is like Paris, Avenida Corrientes like Mexico City, maybe this neighborhood is more like Spain, this one like Madison Park or Madrona in Seattle, Galerias Pacificos and Avenida Florida are like Les Halles…but it’s all in vain.  Not only are there too many cars, too many people, and too much noise for this city to truly be the “Paris” of Latin America, the vibe is completely different.  The rhythm of the city is unfamiliar and mysterious.  We’re still trying to “figure out” the people – are they generally nice, open, gregarious, or reserved, snobbish, and closed?  Do they like Americans and other foreigners, or are we a nuisance?   So far, all we’ve determined is that porteños – those who were born in Buenos Aires proper, in the Capital Federal – are proud of their status.  And that they really do eat more desserts than any people I’ve ever known – we’ve had dulce de leche if not twice, at least once a day, each day, since we’ve been here.   Our experiences have been a mix of seemingly rude, slow servers at cafes and restaurants, pushy salesman, courteous bus drivers, and our amazing host-mom, Julia.  Some parts of the city are simply adorable, peaceful and chic; others have a hip, urban feel; others poor; others run-down, reminiscent of a by-gone age of glory; others feel downright ritzy; it’s truly a patchwork maze, meant to be accepted as-is.

While this presents an enticing challenge, in summary, I do not love it here.   While I tried not to have expectations, it is not as I had subconsciously imagined it.  I am not enchanted or in love with this place. However, I don’t dislike it either. It’s fascinating, there are many things I like, many things that are interesting, unique, challenging, and that present ample opportunities to learn and grow, but there is something off-kilter about it all that does not agree with me.  Maybe it’s because I do not want to pick up their ridiculous, though beautiful, accent (I’ve been doing it anyway, to fit in and be better understood. I’m hoping I can drop it the second we cross the border). Or because their fashion, aside from outstanding leather handbags, purses, boots, and shoes, is not that great (are genie-pants and camel-toe shoes happening in the US?). Maybe it’s because I haven’t “figured it out yet” or made friends with locals, or even many friends at all.  It just feels like yet another place, another stop along the road, another place of things to see, food to try, of shops and restaurants and bars, people passing through…all…meaningless.  I don’t feel a sense of community. I think a key thing to this feeling is that I am not helping or involved with anything here (unless you count my internship, which today consists of writing this blog).   It is difficult to get involved because we’re outsiders, not only that, we’re still learning the language, the history, and the culture, and it can take a lifetime learning these things before you can really make significant contributions and feel connected and like you belong to a community.  I was just achieving this in Seattle when we left, and it seems impossible to achieve here.  It is a nice place, it has charm, it has great qualities, but it’s like it doesn’t “fit.”  I want to love it here; I try to love it, if I’m truly honest, it’s all façade.

People who have gone to B.A. and loved it, people that played a large part in getting me excited to go and take the plunge, always spoke of a unique energy here; a vibe; a pulse unlike any other.  “You have to go! It’s unlike any other place in the world!”  It is unlike any other place in the world, but in my experience, the pulse is quite weak.  What many people see as quaint European charm just makes me ache for Paris.  Sure, there is some amazing architecture, sure, they eat croissants and call them medialunas and there are some gems among them, and there are some good cafes, but it’s like a faded copy; the original is just better.  Sure, there is a bit of that Latin American energy that I love, but it’s also watered down and bland, like the food.  It’s an interesting mix but I guess I want it all one way or nothing, the same way I want to either travel or settle down; the in-between doesn’t often sit well with me. What I love about Latin American isn’t present enough here, and what reminds me of Europe or France just makes me realize how much it misses the mark.  The people here joke about how Argentines have an identity crisis – they spent so much time trying to be like Europe, forgetting that they’re in Latin America, that they emerged from a dictatorship not knowing what defines them.  They are confused and they haven’t found an answer yet, and I think this is what hurts them; what makes me feel like something is lacking.

And, if food is a way into a man, or women’s, heart, well, maybe this is why I don’t love it here.  The food is bland, I mean, they don’t even use black pepper (Chris Wheeler would love it, as would Moira Carpenter – hello!), bland.  The pastries are mostly dry and un-flavorful, unless you go to one place we’ve found courtesy of our program.  The “pizza” lacks both real mozzarella and a tomato sauce that consists of something more than literally canned tomatoes (where is the garlic? The oregano? The basil, for god’s sake the basil!), not to mention the crust is never…well…right – neither thin nor doughy, with maybe a few exceptions of some overpriced restaurants and one catering company.  Sure, I like empanadas; we went to a parilla and I found out I like both chorizo (more like polish sausage than the spicy kind we’re used to in the US), morcilla (blood sausage), and of course, the steaks are great.  The wines are also great, though the best ones have been hard to find and pricey.  And I’m sure we can find amazing, creative, fresh, unique, and flavorful food in fancy restaurants for a fancy price. The ice cream is good, the cafes are nice, but these are almost all things I can get in any number of places and that aren’t unique, in my opinion, to Buenos Aires.

I don’t mean to sound completely negative, I am merely trying to put together thoughts and feelings about this place.  Maybe the things that disagree with me are due to personal qualities I should work on changing or developing; or perhaps I am self-centered, whining and complaining too much, making it too difficult to be happy and content, and these are lessons God is teaching me now. I look forward to learning them. I also want to distinguish that these thoughts or about the city of Buenos Aires; I think the country of Argentina will be quite different.  I am enjoying my time here.  Though it can be at times, bittersweet, for example, I love the weather and the sunshine, but I also miss the fall, and the snow the PNW just got that seems to have put everyone in the holiday spirit, which I only feel the slightest hint of here. I enjoy getting to know the people around me, going to museums, exploring the city, listening to music on the subway, (both on my iPod and the buskers); I enjoy the cultural idioms, I love the language, I enjoy getting to know the art, the music, the films, the politics, and history; oftentimes I feel as if I’m wandering about, delighted by the smallest things here. I enjoy the experience of my internship; that I have so much free time with Tyler, that I have time to read, to exercise (though I haven’t taken advantage of that much!), and to just think and write.  It’s a beautiful place and it’s a beautiful time of year here.  I enjoy that I’m learning to understand how Tyler felt living in Seattle and I think it’s creating some healthy compassion for me.  I’m thankful to have free time to think about things I need to work on in my relationship with Christ; to ponder God’s plan for my life, to hope and dream about how the experiences I’m having now might be used in the future.  I look for the positive things each day and try to enjoy each moment to its fullest. But, people keep asking if I like it here or what it’s like, and I feel they deserved an appropriate, thorough, response.  🙂

Salud and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!  We miss you all dearly and think of you often!  And we welcome your thoughts and comments, and prayers!


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Quick November Update

Somehow, almost three weeks have passed sans a single entry!  It’s certainly not for lack of interesting things we’ve been seeing and doing and thinking about, but a serious lack of motivation and limited computer resources between my internship and Tyler’s Spanish studies.

What’s new:

Here is a link to photos from a few weeks ago when we went to the Recoleta Cemetery, where all the famous Argentine are laid to rest.  Tyler went on a tour with his Spanish class and later took me back to share what he could remember/understand.  It’s a beautiful place with lots of cats and really cool-looking sepulchers, many from Italian designs. There was also a brewery nearby that we went to (of course) and later that week we went to a show called Fuerza Bruta, which is an amazing and unique sort of post-modern interactive art/theater experience.

Here is a link to photos from this past week when I went to the MALBA (Argentine Museum of Modern Art), when Tyler and I went to Tigre for a day, a town just outside of Buenos Aires on the river delta, pictures from last Saturday when almost all the museums and cultural centers in the city were open to 3 a.m., free, and had special events going on – we went to a few near our house: an astronomy place and the Museum of Natural History. Finally, there are also pictures from a field trip with Tyler’s Spanish class went on yesterday that I tagged along with, of Plaza Congreso and the Palacio Barolo, which was designed by an Italian architect to be a sort of mausoleum to Dante. Comments on the photos will, of course, give more details and humorous comments.

Other than our occasional sightseeing and getting to know the city, our daily routine goes something like this:

9 a.m.: Sharon gets up, gets ready

9:30 a.m.: Sharon drags Tyler out of bed for breakfast, which usually consists of instant coffee, some sort of pastry, usually slathered with dulce de leche, dried out toasts, crackers, and a variety of cookies.

10:30 a.m.: Sharon leaves for her internship in San Nicholas, in the center of downtown

10:30 – 12:30 p.m.: Tyler does whatever Tyler does before he leaves for class…showers? cleans the room? plays guitar? Spanish homework? Only Tyler knows.

1-4 p.m.: Tyler’s in Spanish class, Sharon’s still interning…

4:30 p.m.: We usually get home, around the same time.

4:30 – 8 p.m.: Various thrilling things might take place: maybe we’ll buy cheap vegetables down the street or go to the grocery store, maybe I’ll buy ice cream from the grumpy lady next door, maybe we’ll go to happy hour at Antares and eat delicious fries and beers, maybe Sharon will pass out while Tyler does flashcards and plays WoW…

8 – 9 p.m.: Dinner, usually something frozen that’s been re-heated, with a fresh salad to appease me.  Sometimes, we’ll have a treat of choripan or empanadas, or morcilla (blood sausage)…

9 p.m. – ?:  If we were cool, we’d go out and party, but usually, I read books while Tyler studies, or we watch movies; Tyler is acquiring a growing library of Spanish movies with painstakingly acquired Spanish subtitles…

And, repeat Monday-Thursday for Sharon, who has Friday’s off, where I generally nothing productive, and Monday-Friday for Tyler. Weekends are  a gamble.

So far my internship is very up and down; some days are good, some not so good, I have a character of a boss but overall it’s an interesting experience.  The organization does very cool work to educate young people and get them involved and active in democracy, and they have offices all over the country, so the work is interesting.  I’ve most tagged along to a few events (presentation by students on service-learning projects, press conference about a youth summit coming up, seminar on mother-infant nutrition), researched people and organizations at the events, and worked on a bit of program coordination for an event coming up next weekend.  It’s been interesting seeing how an office is run here and getting to know the other interns. But more on that later.

Final bit of news: today we’re off to Iguazú to see the infamous waterfalls (“Paradise Falls” in the movie UP, also seen in the latest Indiana Jones flick), so we should have more pictures and stories to tell when we get back on Tuesday.

Chau for now,

Sharon and Tyler

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