Bring on the Ark

It’s been raining for what feels like forever, but maybe is only three days or so, so far with more predicted for the week ahead.  There’s washing drying everywhere, the roof’s developed a new leak in the office just over where Martin’s computer normally sits, and the car has died a hopefully temporary but possibly expensive death. This was maybe not the best day to find out that Corsa engines suck their air in from the small amount of usually-air-now-filled-with-water-space between the undercarriage and the road.  Whoever thought that was a good plan Mr Corsa?

Dwelling on more cheerful moments, it was Joni’s third birthday the other day, with all the sending a cake to nursery and usual three year old birthday gubbins.  On his orders At his request I did him a train, loosely based on Henry who’s one of his current favourites.  I’m not sure the likeness was immediately apparent, but hopefully being long and green were good enough clues.  He received lots of good presents, both from the UK and here, and he seems to have been happy with his day… he asked if he could have another birthday yesterday anyway! 

Joni and presents Joni and presents

Train cake and Joni Train cake

You say tomato, I say tomato

Most of the time the cultures of Argentina and the UK dovetail quite nicely, heck we even share our sense of ironic humour, something which is completely beyond our friends in the northern hemisphere despite our (allegedly) shared roots. However, like dropping a magnet into a dish of iron filings, it is sometimes something quite small which causes our normally harmonious cultures to polarise completely, and serves to demonstate that we actually are on the other side of the world. Tomato-tomato… or in this case, rain.
The heavens open, the good Argentinean mother gathers up her brood, bundles them indoors, and adds three more layers of clothing “por las dudas” (just in case). The careless British mother says, “Hey look Joni, it’s raining, shall we go and splash in some puddles? … How about we swap your trousers and trainers for some shorts and sandels so it doesn’t matter if you get them wet…?” The good Argentinean mother brews tea and biscuits for her brood, now carefully arranged in front of the TV, while the careless British mother is at this moment outside and up to her ankles in muddy water, holding her son’s hand, and studiously ignoring the looks and occasional comments of the neighbours.

I’ve learnt that to answer “it’s fine, he’s never been ill yet” doesn’t actually lead to the neighbours realising that there is a link between allowing your child to develop some defenses, and therefore not getting sick, and the normal response is a whithering look, communicating “well you’ve been lucky then haven’t you….” One of my many questions about Argentina is from where was born the belief that the human body has no natural ability either to protect, or to heal itself; hence the cotton-wool treatment of kids so they don’t get sick, and then the rush to pump them full of chemicals at the sound of the first sneeze.

So, after all that, I was deeply grateful to the grandmotherly figure who smiled indulgently at us as Joni splashed past, and said “he’s healthy isn’t he!” I would have hugged her, but as I was soaked she might not have appreciated it.

Ministry of Silly Walks

We may never quite get as far as liking it, but one of the things we are learning to get used to in Argentina is that your plans for the day may be changed completely at very short notice, hence following a late-night phone conversation on Thursday, I ended up spending Friday doing paperwork in the ministry of silly walks in Cordoba.

The ministry is an absolutely vast government establishment housed in a warren of interlinked buildings, filled with public employees standing around talking to each other, filing their nails, texting on their mobile phones, and generally doing anything other than serving the public.  Civil service posts here are usually political appointments, and anyone who has helped the successful candidate on the campaign trail will be expecting their reward in a government ministry somewhere.  In fact the person at the moment heading up Cordoba’s social services is apparently an architect, so I’m guessing that her other qualification is probably “right-hand campaigner of…” (or possibly “wife of” / “sister of”).  Maybe I’m doing the woman a disservice, but in any case we digress. 

Fortunately I was in the fair and capables of one of the saner social workers here, so she guided me around from department to department, and introduced me to the people who she thought I should make friends with.  In Spanish this is a cuña, literally meaning “wedge”, your cuña is the inside person who can make things happen on your behalf. 

We had two lots of tramites to do (paperwork, often pointless).  The first one was to register me as being qualified to do some recognisable occupation according to the government database.  Hence after lugging a mountain of everything I have ever studied in England, plus its translation into Spanish, plus the certificates to say that each of the translations is recognised by the college of translators as a fair representation, around three different offices, I am now officially registered as an accompañante terapeutica.  This means “therapeutic companion”, which I guess would be something like a PA to a disabled person (glorified care-worker).  In UK terms that probably means I’m at NVQ level 2 (do they still exist?) and while it’s obviously quite a way down from my MSc qualification, it feels like a real achievement that I’m officially recognised as able to do something after the last goodness knows how long of fruitless door battering. 

The second set of tramites was to persuade the Province of Cordoba to take me on as an employee and pay me to do more or less what I’m already doing on behalf of the special school in San Francisco.  The outcome of that decision we won’t know for a couple of months at least, although apparently if successful then they will backdate it to today, which still wouldn’t be a fortune; care-work money at a couple of hours a day, but it’s better than a poke in the eye, and actually the most important thing here isn’t the money, it’s about “being a Roman to the Romans” in the culture of San Francisco. 

One of the things I have experienced in San Francisco is that being white may be a novel and interesting talking point, but doesn’t automatically open any doors in the way that it seems to in other parts of the country where people may have had fewer opportunities for formal education, such as the indigenous communities for example.  My perception is that permission to speak in San Francisco is granted in accordance with the systems which already exist, which means that one needs to be qualified in something, and on the payroll of somewhere, and in fact that perception was neatly confirmed for me by the social worker on Friday, who, when we had finally distributed all our papers to their appropriate departments said “the most important thing about putting you on the payroll is that it will give you the right to an opinion”.  So now I’m hopefully on route to becoming a Roman, and despite all the traipsing round the ministry of silly walks, I still managed to catch up with Martin and Joni in time for homemade pizza in the home of our friends Sergio and Carolina. 

Working / Not working

Today I went to work; to the hamlet of Luis Sauce to bring kid and his mum back to school in San Francisco, and then, leaving the taxi company to drop them off later, I went on to the village of Quebracho Herrado to see a bunch of kids who don’t want to do their homework, and bunch of adults who are queuing up for it… education is definitely wasted on the young. 

Yesterday having been to Quebracho to meet the social worker in the morning, I didn’t have any commitments in the afternoon, so I had a cook-in.  Thirty-two bread rolls, a bread pudding with some old stuff, some coconut pyramids, and two batches of pepitas.  This is a common form of biscuit here, with a blob of jam in the middle:


Opinion has that that mine are better than the bought version, which is a nice compliment, but adds to the growing list of things that I’m trying to find time to produce “in-house”.  This little lot had better last more than two minutes or I’ll be throwing my toys (it’s my ball and if I can’t be Gary Lineker I’m taking it home…)  And all that’s without counting the sausage casserole I made for lunch (there’s something wonderfully self-satisfying about thinking “darn, didn’t have time to go to the veg shop… oh well, I can always pull something out of the garden…”), and the pan of popcorn I rustled up with Joni (popped with Joni) while waiting for the bread pudding to absorb the milk. 

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s more tiring to go to work or to stay at home… I guess variety is the spice of life, and we are certainly privileged with plenty of that. 



Courtesy of Asbo Jesus as ever.  Actually this one’s been up a few days, but I keep coming back and reading it again, it also links in pretty well with this post and this quote from Facing the Mountain (great people, well deserve a double hyperlink!);

I guess what I’m really coming to in this is the question posed by Casper in the book Jim & Casper Go To Church (a great read!). Casper an atheist posed the question after a church visit “Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?”. As I’ve been thinking on this I’ve come to realise that so much of what Christians think of as church and normal Christian behaviour is actually a long way from what Jesus told us to do.

So true in so many ways. 

The Good Life

I was watching myself run the errands the other morning and thinking, you know to the casual observer this stuff might seem totally weird or even exotic, and yet to us it’s normal life as we know it…

Spring has arrived here in San Francisco.  How do I know?  Well, for starters, last week the temperature was eight degrees in the middle of the day, dropping to three at bedtime.  This week, our car thermometer was registering thirty four and a half by the afternoon.  Our house is littered with cast-off layers of clothing which we can’t imagine ourselves ever wearing again.  Sleep is periodically disturbed by the drone of passing mosquitoes bringing with them the dual certainties that putting the light on is a waste of time since you’ll never find the thing, and in the morning you’ll have a new selection of bites.  And the hens have started laying again.  We don’t have hens (yet; I have threatened a couple of times), but my family from the hamlet have a selection which freely roam the smallholding, so I received a sack of eggs as a present this week.  Far more than we could possibly get through even if we did start living on omelettes, so I parcelled most of them up, and my first errand of the day was to cycle around the city and deliver egg-packets to a few folk. 

My second errand was to go to the cleaning shop.  These are little places, often a garage or front room in someone’s house, lined with sturdy shelves, upon which sit a selection of barrels.  You bring your own bottles, and your friendly cleaning-shop-keeper sticks a funnel in the top and refills your coke bottle with bleach, fabric softener or toilet cleaner to suit your needs.  Hence the lurid yellow is floor cleaner, and the lurid pink is washing up liquid;

Cleaning fluids in drink bottles

My first reaction to this system was predictably European public information campaign on the dangers of putting brightly coloured poison into fizzy drink containers.  Ironically, it’s now I have a kid that I find I’ve softened my stance.  Why?  Because even if my cleaning fluids were in boringly opaque brown bottles labelled poison in seven European languages including Braille, personally I would still keep them well out of his reach and teach him not to eat or drink anything he finds lying around without asking permission first. 

So the only real difference I can see is that the cleaning shops provide employment for local people, and save a mountain of plastic from being made into landfill.  Actually it makes me wonder a bit whether we Europeans haven’t abdicated responsibility for bringing our own kids up by trying to make it everyone else’s problem to keep them safe, but anyway, moving swiftly on before the hate-mail arrives.  So then there was just time to do some faffing around on the internet trying to prepare some stuff for Scouts, before collecting Joni, inventing a quick lunch out of leftover chicken, chick-peas, rice and chips… add a couple of onions, and give thanks to the folk who gave us curry powder to bring back with us, it covers a multitude of sins leftovers.  And next thing we knew we were off out to the hamlet bringing kiddo and his mum back to San Francisco with us (no eggs today!)  As for those hens, at the moment we’re watching The Good Life on DVD, so if I threatened Martin with buying a pig, he might even decide that he’s got off lightly if I showed up with a few hens instead. 

Veggie Tales

Many years ago when I was young, free and single and living in my flat in Baldock, our hair-brained local council, trying to encourage recycling, offered all house-holders in our area a plastic garden composter.  Then, a few weeks later, they came round and delivered everyone a brown plastic wheelie bin, so that the council could take away our green waste i.e. the stuff that we were already putting in the composter… see what I mean?  (And today, the same council who had so much money to throw around that they could duplicate their recycling schemes, still doesn’t manage to include cardboard or plastics in their doorstep recycling collection, but we digress).  Loony councils apart, that compost bin was a simple and effective piece of kit, and since composting isn’t a very culturally Argentinean thing to do, I’m unlikely to find anything similar around here, so I made one, out of an old plastic drum, the like of which litter many builders yards in Argentina.  Clean it up a bit, attack with junior hacksaw, and voila! 


The top is at the bottom, so the worms and insects can do their stuff.  The bottom, now at the top, has been mostly cut across to make a lid, still attached at one side.  Compost is extracted through the flap at the bottom.  It has an added bonus that the dogs can no longer eat the compost heap, I’ve given up trying to explain to them that they’re not supposed to be vegetarians.

The garden’s doing really well at the moment, partly because the weather’s been cold so the weeds aren’t yet rampant.  I have four vegetable beds, like these… 

DSC_0009   DSC_0012

which between them are home to peas, radishes, lemons, parsley, laurel, oregano, mint, lavender, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and beetroot.  I have one bed which is currently empty, which I tried a little stubble-burning trick on yesterday;


which seems to have worked quite well, apart from the bit where I scorched the wall, so that is now ready for some summer planting; tomatoes, peppers, not forgetting those chillies.

I’m not a great grower of flowers, mostly because they’re not (usually) edible, but I put these in under the kumquat bush;


and they’re doing really well, so I’m about to put a few more in around the orange tree. 

Chugging along

One thing and another meant it’s taken a while to persuade the juggernaut into motion post-UK trip, but most of the things we´re involved in seem now to be moving in the right sort of direction. 

I’ve reconnected with my little mate from the village who seems to be doing just fine, and together with school we´re working with mum to enable her to leave him at school without her for a couple of hours while I take her off to visit one of her siblings in the city.  We had the first go at that on Monday and it seemed to work out OK, so hopefully we´re good for a repeat again this week. 

The special school are still working on their idea to pay me for a few hours a week, except they haven’t any money (minor hitch), so they´re trying to persuade the provincial government ministry of something-or-another to take me on as an “auxiliary”.  The social worker seems to be fairly optimistic that we can pull this off, and she seems to be fairly sane (for a social worker anyway!) so I´m cautiously hopeful, although involving the government ministry of silly walks obviously adds another twenty-six layers of paperwork and bureaucracy (obviously). 

Homework support classes restarted in Quebracho Herrado, although the weather has been foul, so mostly no-one came.  Now they’re venturing out of the woodwork again, and actually a few child-free days meant that I was able to give some time to a couple of the adults who are doing their secondary certificates at night school.  This is a good government scheme designed to enable people who didn’t finish school to go back as mature students and follow a general curriculum geared to adults.  I was slightly concerned by the comment that “the English teacher says we don’t need to know the pronunciation because she’s only going to give us written tests…” but then I was hearted by “…but I want to learn the pronunciation otherwise it’s not any use to me…”  Just one of many examples of students who have a better grasp than their teachers regarding the purpose of education. 

We had a plan with a local English institute to start an advanced-level conversation group for high level students and language teachers.  For the moment this is on hold, as apparently the people were intimidated by the idea that we might expose their weaknesses, which I kind of thought was the point somehow… Personally I find myself wanting to ask “really guys, do you want to learn English, or is it just a game?”  Luckily Martin has a different take on things, so he’s going along to the institute in the capacity of unpaid assistant to work on building relationships and hopefully demonstrate that real live English people aren’t any more scary than real live anyone else… although in Martin´s case…?

The even-higher-than-usual level of disorganisation at Scouts caused me to throw my woggle out for a few days, but I think we´re making progress again now.  At the moment I’m trying to work towards the idea of planning a week ahead, so that by this Saturdays meeting we know what we’re doing next Saturday and therefore can send messages home with the kids with whatever they need to bring or do by the next week.  In England this would be so obvious that I wouldn’t even have to suggest it.  Here it’s a whole new concept, but I’m sure it’s got to be possible… surely…??

Meanwhile, I no longer have the house to myself, and one grubby, tired, bad-tempered went-to-bed-late-last-night-and-then-spent-this-afternoon-playing-in-the-mud-with-the-scouts child, needs attention and a bath.  But apparently there’s a bottle of wine breathing gently for his soon-to-be off-duty parents.  Cheers everyone.