Don't cry for me Argentina: A memoir

  Photo by Sheldon Slinkard
Photo by Sheldon Slinkard

Argentina was a whole new world to my seventeen year old self. I had never been to a place where I would be considered a minority and that intrigued me. When traveling people of live a life of luxury and become the tourists that most natives can't stand. I didn't want to be another annoyance; I wanted to be a local. So, it all started about six years ago when my mom's best friend told her she wanted to take me to Argentina. I had expressed (about two years prior) that I wanted to be a Spanish professor and that my studies in Spanish had just begun.

By this point in my life I was limited to Spanish three knowledge which boasted only basic past tense and the occasional "por" vs "para" discussions. I had a strong foundation, being taught by the best, in my opinion. Well, reluctantly, my mother accepted the offer and I began my travel preparations. Having only been outside the United States once before on a cruise ship, mind you, I was excited and overjoyed. My passport application was processed in record time, and my Argentine accent was perfected, or at least in my teenaged mind. I'm sure the local hispanic family in our neighborhood enjoyed my inability to hold a conversation past my book's vocabulary, but they were patient and understanding.

Now, my inexperience at the time led to a slight miscalculation on my part. If you know about Argentina, it's in the Southern hemisphere, so when it is Summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it's counterpart boasts cooler temperatures. Little did I know that winter temperatures range widely among the various provinces. I started my journey in the Capital, Buenos Aires. Here winter was real, snow, cool temperature, the need for hot beverage and perhaps a coat. After a week of high living, we decided it was time to get down to business and explore the country.

In an overnight bus ride and after sixteen hours of travel, three bathroom breaks, and nine iTunes playlists later, we arrived in Famailla, de San Miguel de Tucuman. This community relied on sugar cane and the local English school to maintain revenue. One of the strongest forms of commerce was the annual Empanada Festival. Famailla is famous for being the home of the Argentine empanada and they are very comfortable telling you this. "Nuestra empanada es original y tiene una sabrosa perfecta." as they would say, daily....Daily..... Well, anyway, back to winter. So, Tucuman is more northern than Buenos Aires, and that means, it's closer to the equator, and thus, it is a lot hotter. Forget those 5 jackets I brought, and the pants I bought prior to departure in the airport, 80 degrees farenheit was a kind average to say the least.

Now, I want to say here, despite my foolish pursuit to pack for winter, I loved Famailla. It was eye opening and it forced me to speak Spanish, which apparently was muddy to some and "perfecto!" to others. I was also told near the beginning of my trip that I spoke "Como un mexicano" Which means "Like a mexican" I guess ethnocentrism isn't uniquely United States American. This brings us to an interesting point, Argentine people do not speak "Espanol." Nay, Nay friends, they speak "Castellano". Yup, good ole' Castilian spanish, the language of the elite, or so I was enculturated to believe. I was not allowed to say, "Hola de donde eres?" Nope, I was to say, "Hola, de donde sos vos?" Not only was the vosotros form used, it was mixed and mingled with strange rules never addressed in my Spanish education. There were terms I could have swore were made up, but it worked and to be honest, it was fun.

Alongside the difference in dialect, Argentina had a habit, nay, a ritual that happened each day at 5p.m.......Mate. Yes, Mate, the bitter herb that resembles something illegal and is sold by even sketchier venders with the dried weed and a bottle of hot water. Fill it up, take a hit, and pass it around. Mate did not discriminate. Thirsty? have a sip. Now, Mate is not an illegal substance, but as a 17 year old seeing this ritualistic sip, pass, sip, pass movement and little plastic baggies being whipped from the pockets of kids and adults alike on the streets made me wonder before taking my first bitter sip. (I'm now addicted and I'm pretty sure I make up 20% of all revenue received by the yerba corporations.)

I remember Argentina for things I never realized while I was there. I was changed, I grew up in Argentina. Travel opens our eyes to see others for what you are not, and for you to see who you are. The old adage, "don't judge a book by it's cover" is meant to entice people to look further before passing judgement. Travel opens the book and shoves the pages into your face. Seems a bit intense, but isn't that what experience truly is? Change is positive and negative, it is the culmination of pain and freedom. Travel is leaving home, and finding a new one. It is saying goodbye and hello simultaneously.

Have a great day, ~Sheldon

sheldonslinkard.com for video updates and a look at my current projects. 

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reader 10/07/14 - 09:12 pm
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Great story Sheldon

As a 17 year old my Mother sent me on a trip to the "Holy Land" in January of 1973. We traveled by plane to Nicosia, Cyprus and then by bus to catch a ship at Famagusta bay. From there we cruised Erdemli where we caught a bus which took us way up into the mountains. We saw the ruins of Crusader castles and a lot of military stations which we were told not to photograph or be subject to immediate execution. On the long trip, of course, there were not a lot of the types of cities, etc. I was used to in the U.S. However once up in the mountains, we came upon a gas station. Thank goodness because we all needed to go to the bathroom. Five men and 10 women lined up at the proper doors. I was the last man (ha 17) at the line to the men's room. I entered the wretched smelling 'bathroom' which was a cement room with a small square hole in the floor with a rope hanging over it. Holding my nose and other appropriate appendages I was able to pee without vomiting, and hurried to the door. The moment I stepped out of the 'men's room', the ladies (always lined up at bathrooms) said hey that's the last guy, lets use the men's room. I immediately put up my hand and said I didn't think any of these ladies would want to use the facility as it was rather disgusting. Upon saying that one of the ladies said "It can't be any worse than the ladies room, its just a hole in the floor!"

I realized then my naivety would be a casualty of the trip. There were many more things I learned on that trip. BTW did you know camels get up on their hind legs first? I didn't until I took my first ride on one which ended seconds later as I rolled over his head, down the hill as the camel hissed and slobbered at me. Now I know.

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