Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Argentina Trip Recap

Just a few months overdue... :) 

But December's work trip to Argentina truly was absolutely lovely. I hadn't been back to the country for FIFTEEN years but siempre tenia ganas para volver (although I had such desire to return). We're eye balling Argentina as a country to take students, so in reality I was sent with a colleague to investigate options for a cultural immersion trip for our graduate students. 

The first three days in country I flew to visit with my prior host families and friends. Truly this was the best idea as I was able to brush up on my Spanish and rebuild some missing vocabulary (although I'm still missing much!), visit and love on some of my favorite people after so many years away, and re-immerse in the culture while learning about the current sociopolitical climate. There were elections about a week prior to our arrival and since Argentina has had tumultuous governance over the last several decades, it's always a good idea to know what's currently going on with politics....

Here's a little back story: When I was 18 I lived in Argentina as an exchange student for a year. I lived with three families (two of which I'm still in touch with and still consider to be my own brothers and sisters). I also attended high school for 3ish months, traveled across most the country for 2ish months (with other exchange students mainly), and then rotated through study programs in a junior college for 3ish additional months. All of my host dads were doctors, I had a total of 15 host siblings, and I'm still in touch with a handful of friends from my schooling also (most of which are also involved in the medical, education, or social justice fields). My first host family was also involved in the beef market, which at the time Argentina was the largest exporter of beef...and I was a vegetarian. Talk about opportunities to learn! :) The total experience was life changing and I still feel like Argentina is a second home for me.

Here's actual a fun picture my host mom sent me from back in the day: :)

So without further ado, here's the nuts and bolts of the trip....and some of my favorite things about the country :)

Here's a picture of my dear host mom pouring the water for afternoon mate:
Mate is such a tradition in the country and can be drunk throughout the day. The loose leaf version is the traditional format, drunk out of cured gourd, and sipped through the communal straw (which also strains the tea leaves). When you go to the grocery store, replace our US coffee selection with rows of mate options (for cheap) and you have the same thing....

This is (half?) of the second host family I stayed with 15 years ago. I was really close to most of the 6 siblings in this family and my host mom. I was only able to connect with two of the siblings in this picture and my brother in Buenos Aires was phenomenal with meeting up and arranging various contacts throughout my time in country. My "baby" sister in this picture (next to me in the photo) hosted us in her home and made dinner....so sweet AND great to spend an evening with them!

So let me let you in on a little secret, Argentina food is heavy sugar, meat, and carb laden. This has only become even more apparent over the last decade and a half that I've been away. I was incredibly fortunate that my last host mom is super mindful of fruits and veggies, as every meals is choke full of them. Truthfully once the work part of the trip started, there were days of NO veggies...or the usual shredded lettuce and a slice of tomato as the only options.....It also seemed that the amount of sugar and overall carbs has increased drastically....which I'm sure comes as no surprise that they also are struggling with very high rates of chronic disease. (It also might just be that now that I'm so nutrition and health focused, I just notice it more now....)

However, this is my FAVORITE Argentine sweet: alfajores. Imagine two short bread cookies with dulce de leche/caramel slathered thickly in between and all rolled in coconut. AMAZING! My grandma in my third host family made this for me because she knew how much I love them. 

And this is a picture of my host dad BBQing or making an asado in their backyard. The very traditional method are actual sides of cow that are cooked on stakes around a fire by the guachos (traditional cowboys) and you can see it here.

A photo op with my third host family: One host sister is getting her PhD in Germany (and already bought tickets to fly home for this coming December's trip) but everyone else still lives in the home town or came home so we could all be together:

On this trip I really developed a love and appreciation for Buenos Aires. This is the famous Bosque (Forest) block in the city, where my brother and I sat and chatted about life dreams and trip needs. The city truly has put in a lot of time and effort to "green" and clean up. I feel like it's pretty easy to get around on foot, the taxis and public transport are reasonable, and it's truly much more modern and prettier than it was 15 years ago. I spent about 48 hours in BA split between two different stops and was able to check out a couple of the different touristy things. Definitely much more of a modern European with a South American twist (and weather).

On the work trip part, we spent a day checking out Iguazu Falls which we know students would love. This is located on the border of Brazil and Argentina and is truly incredible to see. Both my colleague and I had visited before but this way we were able to orient to the logistical needs of bringing students while also exploring other nearby options.

Breakfast in Argentina usually is just the coffee and the media lunas (crossiants) but as we were desperate for healthy protein and veggies...we had Spanish omelets also made with some fruit juice thrown in. This also was the first meal I ate after getting completely knocked out the day before. I'm rarely sick when I travel (knock on wood) but the afternoon/evening before with a pounding headache, shakes, and eventually losing all fluid/food externally :) That's just how it goes though and luckily it was over by noon the next day :)

I don't want to share too much about some of the work parts of the trip (as I try to keep a lot of work stuff off the blog), but here are a few pictures of the some of the stuff we were investigating and working on collaborating: Rural health clinic, traditional herbs, mate production, medical care & public health options 

We also went to Cordoba, which is the second largest city in Argentina and reminds me a lot of what Buenos Aires used to be... Here we were checking out a separate collaboration. As an institution we're investigating partnering with a variety of already established organization and one organization has a sub-contract here. We came to check out what that option looks like and how it works in one of the other host countries. So we spent three days exploring a variety of social work options and hospitals and also engaging in cultural courses offered to students. 

This particular photo is of the Cathedral in Plaza San Martin...right before those amazing clouds soaked the city (and us :)): 

And right next to the Cathedral is part of this building: Where "subversives" (aka those with more socialized or "left" ideals) were held, tortured, and killed during the Dirty War. Historical accounts include stories of individuals going into church/confession and being led out the side door into this other building, but people were also rounded up directly out of their homes and streets. This period of Argentine history is one that was rare to have talked about when I was here 15 years ago (it was still too recent and it seemed there was still much fear regarding discussion on it), but now it is more openly discussed and there are several museums (like the one below) to make these places accessible, to stimulate dialouge, and to offer memorials to those lost in such a period of human rights violations. 

Back in Buenos Aires, I had approximately 24 hrs to re-investigate the historic cemetery, do a walking touring of many of the governmental and historical buildings, go on a date to a closed brewery opening (the micro brewery scene is just getting started here), and engage in another collaborative work meeting with a holistic healing center.

Since it was Thursday, I was also able to see the madres de los desaparecidos (Mothers & Grandmother's of the Disappeared) protest in front of the Casa Rosada (the "white house") where they have been protesting once a week in the decades since the end of the Dirty War. They still want answers and to raise awareness...and there is another piece to this whole story. Many of the women who were taken were also pregnant or became pregnant. It is estimated that 400 babies were taken and placed in "adoptive" homes. Part of the protest these days is to continue to pressure the government to continue to search for these babies (now 40 yos or so) and disclose additional information. (The newly elected president was not in favor of allocated energy and resources to continue the search....)

And there you have it, 13ish days in a country that I adore. Four days for play, nine days for work. Multiple work contacts arranged, amazing views explored, culture enjoyed, heart wrenching history engaged with, incredible sweets and drinks enjoyed, and an amazing amount of people interacted with. Altogether it was pretty incredible to be back in this lovely country. It's currently projected that I'll take a handful of students down in December of this year to explore the culture/history of Buenos Aires and deeper engage with many of the indigenous, rural, and more traditional health issues of the north, while also enjoying a day or two in beautiful nature settings. Keeping my fingers crossed it all continues to come together as hoped and planned!


  1. I have never heard of mate - sounds very interesting! I love hearing about the customs of other countries. I am glad you had a great trip and were able to do some fun things in addition to working and that is great that you will likely be back later this year!!

  2. Sounds like a really wonderful trip! That is so cool you spent time in Argentina as an exchange student before too. I wish I had done some sort of exchange trip when I was in University!