It’s now been two weeks since I touched down in Buenos Aires, and way past time for this first posting!

I arrived early on a Monday morning, in a full plane of dreary-eyed travelers with crooked-backs slinging bags on backs as we disembarked the plane, each of us vested in our new Argentinean state-mandated facemasks. After more than 7 hours of riding together in the air-tight, sealed, locked cabin, we were asked to put on facemasks as a health precaution in Argentina’s effort to prevent new arrivals from contributing to the spread of the H1N1 virus. Handing in 4-page health forms (no recent fever, aches, or pains) I received a stern nod, continued on along the corridor and was free to remove the mask. Odd, I thought.

After collecting my bags (first sigh), I was relieved to see an older man standing amongst the crowd just outside customs holding a sign that read “Althea – Casa de Ana”.  An early morning fog and mist covered the outskirts of Buenos Aires, but soon we were weaving through crowded streets of cars, collectivos (busses), pedestrians with their dogs, commuters, school children, and the like, on our way to Ana’s house, where I stayed the first week in Buenos Aires thanks to a reference from one of my mother’s colleagues.

View of the patio outside my room at Casa de Ana

View of the patio outside my room at Casa de Ana

One of the best and most fun things about traveling and especially living abroad, is learning something new everyday. In fact, especially that first week, I learned at least “un monton” (a mountain’s worth) each day.  New words, routes, foods, accents, and customs, were enough to make my head spin. Patience, tolerance, celebrating and accepting difference, diplomacy, humility, humor, knowing how to have fun, how to laugh at yourself, and how to put one’s self out there, are just a few ways I’ve enjoyed (and sometimes endured) these learning processes as they happen.

Dog walker pauses to talk and smokes a cigarette

Dog walker pauses to talk and smokes a cigarette

In addition to getting oriented to the city, finding a place to live, and the other activities that formed the bulk of my first week in BA, the week was also filled with numerous misunderstandings, mostly due to linguistic difficulties. I consider myself to be highly conversational in Spanish. Whenever I meet someone for the first time and they ask me where I’m from they say in a surprised tone, “oh, but you speak Spanish very well!”  Nevertheless, I definitely fall short of fluent, and I’ve quickly learned that Argentina is a country filled with slang and other terms used only within the country’s borders. This has led to an array of miscommunications and misunderstandings, most of which are easily brushed off and clarified using more basic or generic language.  With a week of many “malentendidos” under my belt, I was accustomed to them, “this is what traveling is all about”, and slowly growing frustrated by their persistent presence.

I’ll share one story that I’ve told just about every person I know here in BA, because it’s funny, and because I tend to take myself too seriously. After waking early to wash, dry, straighten my hair, I hopped out of the shower, plugged in the dryer, and blew the fuse on the only converter I brought with me. Boo #1. I put in some gel and called it a day. As I left the house that morning, I received a stern scolding from Ana for not eating breakfast. “Sometimes I eat breakfast, sometimes I don’t” I tried to explain. She did not approve. Her daughter was sympathetic. I left to catch the subway, grabbing a seat on the Linea D, and pulling out a book for the 25 minute ride. As I sat reading, a woman approached me and, I thought, asked me for a spare moneda.  Without looking up, I just shook my head “no”.  As it turns out, the woman was not asking for money, she was pregnant, and asking if she could have my seat! The middle-aged woman next to me started yelling, “how could you not give your seat, can’t you see she’s pregnant!” and as soon as I realized what had happened, I apologized profusely for not understanding what she had asked and immediately gave her my seat. The middle-aged woman continued muttering in disgust. (I should note that there is a fervent custom here of offering your seat to anyone who appears to need it, especially pregnant and elderly, so this was no minor taboo.)

Modern Buenos Aires Subte Station

Modern Buenos Aires Subte Station

Shortly thereafter, the D-line broke down. I can’t always understand the conductor’s English on DC’s metro let alone the Argentine Spanish spouting instructions. I waited to see what would happen. Some passengers got off and left the station in a huff, others stayed on quite obviously perturbed. I switched cars and waited some more.

Old Version of the Subte Cars in Buenos Aires

Old Version of the Subte Cars in Buenos Aires

Another view of an old subte car in Buenos Aires

Another view of an old subte car in Buenos Aires

About 15 minutes later the subway doors closed again and the cars lurched forward. When I reached my stop, I happened to exit somewhere that I hadn’t before and got lost on my way to APP office, a mere three blocks from the subway stop. I stopped to ask for directions in the stiff morning air. A gracious woman pointed me the right direction and I continued walking, all the while with wet, poofy hair.

Sometimes when you want to cry you just have to laugh at yourself.

I walked into the office and greeted the doorman, “Buenos Dias Buenos Aires!”

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