Monday, January 26, 2009

Favorite Children's Games

After an interesting experience in Córdoba, I arrived in Santa Fe, Argentina yesterday (Sunday 1/25) and really love the feel of the city. This morning I went and spoke with an organization called CILSA ( that operates four different types of programs here in Santa Fe. They have a few activities that I can help out with including a birthday party this Thursday or Friday for the children in their recreation program. I will share a bit more about the organization after I work with them, but for now I need some suggestions.

CILSA asked if I could organize some type of game for the children to play. There are 30-35 kids, so the game has to include all of them. The children are between 3 and 13. If you have any suggestions, send me an e-mail ( or and explain how to play. A friend of mine in Atlanta (thanks Magen!) suggested Red Rover. I LOVE that game! I have to come up with some kind of rhyme in Spanish to replace, "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Jaime right over".

Thanks for the suggestions!

I've added a Myspace page, mainly for posting pictures. Making montages takes too much time. If you aren't familiar with Myspace, all you have to do is click on the picture on the main page to go to the Photo Gallery.


Friday, January 9, 2009

The Top Twelve Traveler Tidbits To Titillate and Tips To Tackle The Town Too - Buenos Aires

I had the opportunity to work with two organizations this week - Plan Techos and Voluntario Global. I have pictures and some video to share, but while I'm working on getting those up, I figure I would share some tips, observations and my favorite things about Buenos Aires. Here they are in no particular order:

The Top Twelve Traveler Tidbits To Titillate and Tips To Tackle The Town Too - Buenos Aires (I got a little carried away with the alliteration)

1. People from Buenos Aires (called porteños) in general are very kind, patient, and willing to walk you through the conversation in Spanish. Even if they know enough English to communicate with you, they will take the time to decipher your broken speech, correct you, and let you practice speaking el castellano. In fact, many are shy about speaking English, so they appreciate you trying to speak in Spanish.

I have had many spontaneous 10, 20 even 30 minute conversations in the street with porteños that began with me asking something simple. "What street is this?" "How much do these kiwis cost?" "Do you sell kiddie pools here? (pileta pelopincho)" "What kind of juice do you have?" "Do you know where I could buy a bandana?" (Always followed by a snicker - apparently bandanas and one of the words I was using to describe them 'pañuelo' or a handkerchief is something that is de moda or in fashion for women. Maybe I should just get a haircut...) After people hear me speak in Spanish they want to know where I'm from, and the conversation ensues.

My buddy PJ and I had a long conversation in front of a café with an old couple who lived next door to the place. The woman was 95 years old and her husband was 87. The conversation lasted at least 30 minutes, mainly because the old lady was bordering on senility. She told us at least 6 times that she lived next door to the café - and that she loved to swim. They were amazingly friendly people and in surprisingly good health (apart from the senility thing). I think I am going to start swimming.

2. The kiss greeting applies to guys too. A kiss to the cheek is standard for men, women, and children alike and is not limited to good friends. In San Miguel, a town I visited outside of the capital but still in the province of Buenos Aires, they do a kiss on each cheek. It can catch you off guard if you are not expecting it. I've been smooched more here in the last 2 weeks than I have in 23 years of growing up in the States.

3. Punctuality is inappropriate. Arriving on time can be inconvenient, even irritating, to Argentines unless it is a business meeting. Never show up early - it's rude. In fact, 30 to 45 minutes late is considered proper etiquette. As it was explained to me, the subte (metro) often closes with no explanation, bus routes have to change routes due to protests, and many other unpredictable incidents impede public transport. Over time, people just came to expect tardiness, and it became ingrained in the culture.

4. Buy a Guia "T" when you get here, then forget about using it for the first week - it's too complicated. The Guia "T" enumerates all the bus lines in Buenos Aires, details what streets they use on their routes, and provides maps divided into blocks that list what buses pass through each section. Since there are over 150 bus lines in Buenos Aires (owned by different companies), the Guia "T" is a very useful tool for figuring out your way around the city. The problem is that it is extremely comprehensive and requires some knowledge of the city to make sense. The subte (again, the metro) does not reach many parts of the city, so taking the bus (called a colectivo) is the most practical means of transportation. It is also cheap, though it recently went up from 90 cents (centavos) to 1.25 pesos. 1.25 peso is still only about $0.36 US.

5. Drivers are crazy. Cars have to compete with the colectivos, which drive like they are the only vehicles on the road, and all drivers pull out in front other vehicles if there is any space at all. Many intersections have no stop signs or stop lights, so cars approach assuming they can pass freely. They only slow down if they see another car coming. In city driving where buildings obstruct the driver's view until the last second, this makes for especially nerve-racking car rides. To make it even worse, stop signs are completely ignored in the intersections where they happen to be placed. I have stood at the corner of many intersections where collisions have been avoided by mere inches. Surprisingly I have yet witness one. I heard (merely hearsay, so don't quote me on this) that 30 people a day die in car accidents. In a city of 13 million, I actually would expect more considering the standard for driving.

6. Coins (monedas) are very useful here. The colectivos only accept coins, and since they are the most common form of transportation coins are essential for the day-to-day around-town tasks. When you buy something at a store or kiosk people always ask if you have the change so they don't have to give up their coins. At Coto, the supermarket down the street from me, cashiers ask if the coin change from the transaction can be donated. For example, if the total of the transaction is 3.33 pesos and you hand over 5 pesos, the cashier will ask if you want to donate 67 cents so only 1 peso is owed to you. I typically use my biggest bills for my purchases so I can break them up and stockpile my coins for transportation.

7. Pasta, empanadas, and carne. If you don't like any of these, you're out of luck in Buenos Aires. The city has a huge Italian influence, hence the prevalence of delicious pizza and pasta. Also, Argentina is world renowned for its beef, and you can't walk 2 blocks in the capital without passing a parrilla with an astonishing assortment of different cuts of meat. Being a vegetarian seems nearly impossible, though I have met 2 or 3 since arriving here.

I heard that Argentina has the highest rate of heart disease of any country, and I am starting to understand why after 2 weeks of nothing but pizza, empanadas, and huge hunks of grilled beef cut from every part of the animal, sausages, and all sorts other grilled bovine entrails (sorry, this must be torture for my vegetarian friends). I'm not much of a meat person myself, but it's hard not to love it when you're here.

A giant plate of sizzling Argentinian beef called a parrillada

Turn 6 guys loose on a parrillada...

...and the carne carnage is unstoppable.

My favorite part about it is that the entire plate of beef costs 90 pesos - about $26 US - split 6 ways. Unbelievable!

8. A volatile economy has shaped spending habits. A few Argentines have told to me that people in Argentina tend to spend money when they have it. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Argentina's economy experienced a severe crisis that caused people to rush to the banks, withdraw large sums of money, convert it into dollars and invest it outside of the country. The flight of capital (which exacerbated the already dire macroeconomic conditions) prompted the government to freeze bank withdrawals. In addition, the fixed 1-to-1 peso-dollar parity was abandoned causing the peso to float freely, consequentially losing nearly 80% of its value by the time it finally stabilized at around 4 pesos per dollar. In other words, a large number of Argentines were unable to access their own money and were told that their money was now worth less than a fourth of what it was before. The crisis hit the middle working class hardest. Poor people don't have enough money to have a bank account, and rich people can afford to lose a large chunk of money and still live comfortably. The middle class nearly vanished. Another Spanish word I just learned is la brecha, which means the gap between rich and poor. Apparently the crisis substantially increased this gap.

Even now that the economy is more or less on the mend, annual inflation is at 40%. As one Argentine explained to me, the economy is like a game to them. It's up, it's down, it's back up - with volatility like this, it's no wonder people here spend their money when they have it. If I lived here, made my money in pesos, and stored my money in a peso-denominated bank account, I would not let it sit there for long. Next year it may be worth half of what it is now. I would spend it on meat, wine and vacation - and that is about as Argentine as it gets.

Practically the entire city is on vacation right now. Signs like this one abound.
Closed for vacations
from December 24th 2008 until February 2nd 2009

Over a month of vacation!

9. Mate is a social drink. It is basically a bitter tea that everyone is fanatical about here. Everywhere I go, people hand me a little gourd with a metal straw filled with mate leaves and piping hot water. I don't love the taste of mate, but I thoroughly enjoy the social manner in which it is consumed. It is not something that people typically drink alone here. Instead, it is meant to be shared with friends and acquaintances. When drinking mate, finish the cup, then hand it back to the person who poured it for you. It will come back around - probably more than a few times. If you don't want anymore you say gracias when you hand it back.

10. The Tango is difficult to learn. Take private lessons at first. You can check out this guy Benny's experience learning Tango. I don't have any video of me trying to learn because private lessons are well beyond the budget. I did take a photo with a Tango dancer at the San Telmo market last Sunday though -
That is probably as far as I will get with the Tango.

11. It's perfectly acceptable to stare. It's almost impossible not to...

12. If you hear a beep when boarding the metro, the doors are closing with or without an Aussie in the way. Unfortunately my buddy Alex from the land down under had to demonstrate that for us. They close pretty forcefully, though not enough to maim you - just enough to give you a good scare. Board quickly.

There you have it; 12 tips and interesting tidbits about Buenos Aires. Hopefully it either proves useful for you or provides some entertainment. I'm off to Córdoba tonight on a 9-hour overnight bus. Overnight buses are a good way to save on lodging and take advantage of all the daylight you can. My first semi-cama (semi-bed) experience commences at 11:00 pm. See you in the morning.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Jorge Luis Borges - escritor muy famoso

For the literature buffs out there (and my former Spanish professors), I found out the other day that the RoadHouse where I'm currently staying is literally right next door to a house where Jorge Luis Borges lived for 5 years. The Wikipedia link will give you the basics if you are interested.

The plaque says:
Jorge Luis Borges
Lived in this house from 1938 until 1943.
Here he wrote The Circular Ruins (I think):
"No one saw him disembark
in the magnificent night..."

That same plaque is to the left of the green door in the picture,
and the entrance to RoadHouse is the brown door on the right.
That's pretty cool...I mean, maybe I'm a bit of a nerd,
but que bárbaro!

P.S. Bárbaro is slang for 'cool' or 'sweet'

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Exploring and First Impressions...and Cochinos

Before arriving, I fully expected to experience some degree of culture shock. After all, I'm between 5,000 and 6,000 miles from home on the opposite side of the earth; surely the culture is drastically different. To my surprise (and disappointment actually), Buenos Aires is not that different from many big, modern, westernized cities elsewhere in the world. I'm not saying I wanted to experience extreme culture shock, nor am I saying that Buenos Aires is not an authentic South American city with a unique culture. I just didn't expect to walk down Avenida Córdoba or Avenida Santa Fe and see skate shops full of Billabong apparel, designer clothing shops, Reese Witherspoon in makeup advertisements, posters in every part of the city promoting Keanu Reeves in his latest movie "El día que la Tierra se detuvo", pharmacies on every corner just like in the states (Farmacity is the most prevalent company), and 15 McDonald's and Burger King restaurants.

Speaking of avenues, Buenos Aires is home to the widest avenue in the world: la avenida 9 de Julio (named after Argentina's Independence day). It has 12 lanes of traffic, and can take a few minutes to cross on foot due to pedestrian crossing lights at the intersections. Below is a picture I took during my walking tour. Sections of the avenue were closed down due to the Dakar Rally that passed through on January 2nd. Notice that you can only count about 6 lanes in the picture!

I suppose it's best that I'm not overwhelmed with culture shock and can make a gradual transition into South American life. In any case, it's essential to get out and explore the locale in order to experience the culture, and I did just that on my second day here. The best, cheapest way to see a city is certainly by walking, so I took an 8-hour self-guided walking tour of the city (in other words I repeatedly got lost and had to backtrack and look at my map). Pictures of my adventure are in the montage that I posted a few days ago. The only expenses I incurred during the tour were band-aids (curitas) and Argentina's famous sirloin (bife de chorizo not to be confused with sausage which is simply chorizo). After about 7 hours of walking I was so famished, I stepped into a parrilla in the San Telmo neighborhood called La Vieja Rotissería and got an order of bife de chorizo to go (para llevar) and didn't think to check my bag for any type of silverware or even napkins. I ran to the nearest plaza to stuff my face, opened the bag, and realized that the only thing in it was a huge hunk of grilled meat wrapped in paper. Discarding any sense of civilized manners, I grabbed the hunk of meat with my hand and voraciously devoured it in a matter of minutes. Satiated and feeling a bit barbaric, I picked myself up off the steps across from the plaza Eva Peron and finished out my walking tour with an exhausted ride on the metro (called el subte, which is short for subterráneo) back to the Palermo neighborhood.

It is quite difficult to concentrate at the moment. Right now I'm sitting next to a six year boy that is burping continuously. I think it's my fault too. He burped after drinking some juice, and I asked him if he felt better. He giggled because I knew the word for "burp", then proceeded to burp for the next 5 minutes straight. "Vas a explotar" I told him - "You're going to explode". It didn't phase him. I had to distract him with music to make him forget he was trying to annoy me by burping in my face...incessantly. Led Zepplin to the rescue. The kid is adorable, but don't say "cochino".

My favorite part of Buenos Aires life so far is no doubt the kind, hilarious porteños (people from Buenos Aires). I'll elaborate on that tomorrow, but for now the cochinos are getting to me.

Hasta mañana!

Things Fall Together (sorry Chinua Achebe)

After nearly a week here in Buenos Aires, I am beginning to feel much more comfortable with the city and my Spanish, as well as feeling more optimistic about beginning my trip here. Naturally, I was uncertain about how the project was going to work leading up to my arrival here, and even for the first couple of days, but things seem to be falling in place about as good as they could. One of the principal reasons for this optimism is the help I'm getting from an organization called Road2Argentina. R2A arranges immersion programs in Buenos Aires - "Whether you want to learn Spanish, volunteer in Argentina, participate in an international internship, complete a semester in Buenos Aires, take a TEFL course or teach ESL" they arrange the details. They also offer short courses for those interested in tango, yoga, photography, wine tasting (which I haven't done, but Argentina is world renowned for their wines), cooking and theater. Basically, whatever you fancy, they can help you make it happen. For those seeking a structured experience abroad, R2A offers an authentic yet comfortable option. They also have a residence house (called the Road House), which is where I'm staying. I love the feel of it - as they say here "muy buena onda" - because there are students here from all over the U.S. and a few from Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. Not only do you get educated about the Argentine culture, but you get to hear the perspectives of other people from all over.

I was put in contact with R2A through an alum of UNC Wilmington (my alma mater) who worked for them after graduation. Thanks Stevi! The director of R2A, Sebastián (Sebas) Cadenas, and I just had a meeting with a local organization called Responde. I am especially excited to work with them because they deal with community development in the towns bordering Buenos Aires that are on the verge of disappearing. Many of these towns, that were once thriving, no longer receive train service because not enough people were using the train to merit continuing service, and they don't have ample opportunities to convince young people to stay, such as universities in which to study or jobs to provide a sufficient standard of living. Therefore, the youth leave for big commercial centers and the economies of these towns essentially stagnate and fall apart. I would imagine that this is what has happened (and will continue to happen) in towns in the U.S. where automobile factories are closing. Responde works to rejuvenate these areas and create opportunities through social and economic developmental projects. Responde works with small towns all over Argentina near big cities such as Buenos Aires, Mendoza, and Córdoba.

My education was in international business, but my main interest lies in economic development and micro credit enterprises. Responde seeks to address the plight of these towns with a full range of solutions including microcredit and other forms of economic development, investment in human capital (i.e. training courses for the people, libraries, access to the internet, etc...), facilitating the use of local resources in a sustainable way, and providing volunteers to help run these programs. It is this kind of grassroots, holistic approach to community development that is needed to ensure that the development is sustainable and in the best interest of the people of the region. Their volunteer program is in its early stages of development, so I think it would be awesome to be a sort of trailblazer. We'll see if this works out.

Sebas also set up two other opportunities for next week here in Buenos Aires. His help has been invaluable, and the hospitality that R2A as a whole has shown in just the last three days has made a world of difference here at the beginning of the adventure. As I said before, things are working out about as well as they could. I've done some work in the office for them, and in return they are helping set up some of these opportunities in Argentina. I also get to stay at the Road House with WiFi access, comfortable accommodations, and the good vibe (again, la buena onda) of the residence house. Below are a few pictures of working in the office.


Sebastián, Director of Road2Argentina - Muy buena onda!

Agustín, Program Coordinator - También muy buena onda! He shares his mate with us all day (Mate is a type of tea that is meant to be shared amongst friends rather than consumed by oneself)

Trabajando en la oficina: Me, Sebas, Page, Kate, Agu. I like the shared working space.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Buenos Aires Picture Show

I have spent the last couple of days exploring Buenos Aires, getting used to being nearly 6,000 miles from home, and figuring out sleeping arrangments. Everything is working out about as good as it could. Apparently everyone goes on vacation right now, and when I arrived on New Year's Day, practically the entire city was shut down. Most shops and markets were closed, but fortunately public transport was still running. This also means that many organizations are unreachable, so I've been keeping busy by practicing my Spanish (usually referred to as castellano here - Español is heard more as a nationality than the language) and learning as much as I can from locals and other travelers about traveling through different parts of Latin America.

I have a lot to write about, but for now I can only share some photos that I've taken since I arrived along with some music from a local group. As I explain in the montage, the group is called aqualactica and they are based here in Buenos Aires. Hearing them play live is mesmerizing!

The slideshow is about 8 minutes long. It was really late when I made this, so that is why I look dirty and tired at the beginning of the video . Don't worry, I have a comfortable bed to sleep in and access to a shower...I just haven't used it recently. Enjoy!

Buenos Aires Picture Show from Twenty Twelves on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Well, I don't have time to say much, but I'm here. The flight was excellent with an entire row to myself. I actually slept about 7 out of the approximately 11 hour flight. I rang in the New Year over the Caribbean, and made it through customs with no hassle.

I'll give a more thorough update when I have more time. Till then, Happy New Year. The adventure has begun.

Where I Am and Where I've Been