I wonder if W.H. Smith would stock these items


This is a picture from a local Stationers window. On the Right you can see a calculator. In the centre, standing up is a can of pepper spray. To the left is a taser gun. All around are various trinkets including a car, fan, cash till etc.

Thankfully, in the main, San Francisco is peaceful and I do not feel the need to carry any protection. There are areas I would not go, especially at night but then, I hesitated to go to Hatfield Town Centre in the evenings. One of my Lodgers was robbed three times there.

However, it is an interesting reflection on what is socially acceptable here compared to the U.K.

Household Organisation

For some reason my kid seems to think I don’t do enough tidying up (maybe because I don’t?) so he set to and reorganised his own bedroom. 

He piled most of his bedding into the bottom of the wardrobe, which wasn’t a bad plan since summer seems to be here to stay and the nights are becoming pretty warm of late. 

Then he emptied the contents of his chest of drawers and the clothes and shoes from his wardrobe into a big heap at one end of the bed. 

Then I’m guessing he stirred it all around a bit. 

And finally he fell asleep on top of his handiwork:-


Question is, did he think this was a better system, or is he just threatening me with what he might do if I don’t keep the house in order? 

High Tech Low Tech

At the moment I’m trying to bring together the ingredients for a high-tech communication system for a kid who desperately needs one.  First component, we have accepted an offer of a working laptop from the UK, so we need someone who’s coming this way to bring it for us.  We can’t post or FEDEX it because even if it doesn’t get stolen on route (and sadly that appears to be on the increase here of late if our experience can be generalised), it will almost certainly be impounded in customs in Buenos Aires who (again from our experience) are likely to charge us 50% of what they think it’s worth in addition to "storage" costs meaning that we might as well have bought a new one here.  Hence it needs to travel accompanied as someone’s hand baggage.  Second component, I’ve located here in Buenos Aires a guy who has been innovating in the area of adapted technology and alternative communications for the last twenty years or so.  He designed the first virtual keyboard in Argentina back in 1986 in fact.  I’ve heard good testimony from someone who’s met him, and looking at his website I definitely need to fix up a trip soon.  A few years ago I would have relished a jaunt to Buenos Aires, now I think heck, nine hours each way on the bus, not to mention having to get round the city… cost… time… family… commitments; maybe I’ve become old and boring. 

So anyway, when I’ve managed to figure out how to bring together UK laptop, Argentinean virtual keyboard with a scanning feature, and a couple of foot-operated switches, I think we might have the basis of an absolutely fantastic communication system for my prime target, and then it will “just” be a case of teaching her to use it, although if she’s as bright as I suspect she is, that will probably be the easy part.  Till then, I’ve gathered some magnetic letters, and our favourite household-appliance repair man has cut me a magnetic whiteboard from the side of a dead washing machine.   I need to tape the sharp edges of same, and then we will have the basis of a low-tech communication aid.  I’m also thinking if I stick some magnetic strips to the back of some of the pictures that I’ve already been using then it might be a useful resource for some of the other kids in the group too.  Meanwhile in our garage at the moment there’s a whole pile of cut-to-size carton pieces which I’m hoping will form the basis of an approximately CAPS-esque wheelchair insert for another kid just as soon as I’ve paper-maché-ed it all together.  Sublime; ridiculous; but which is which? 

Ambulance Service

Late this morning, I’m just leaving the special school on my bike, about to go home and do a few things prior to our kid coming home from nursery in his usual whirlwind of energy and chaos, when the phone rings.  It’s “my” family from the hamlet; my mate kiddo has split his head open, they think it’ll need stitching, any chance that I might be able to come and collect them?  Give me ten minutes to get home and swop the bike for the car and I’ll be on my way.  So that took care of the next little while.  I broke the speed limit pretty well all the way there not knowing what I was going to find, but on arrival it quickly became clear that he was fine; good wide cut to the back of the head, stitches definitely required, but nothing very serious. 

Even with my Jenson Button impression, it was still an hour between me leaving my house and us arriving at the hospital.  Then we had to wait for another hour despite there only being one person ahead of us, who was seen within five minutes of our arrival.  I suspect most (all?) of the medical staff went on their lunch break at that point.  Service to the public isn’t always a strong feature of “public services” here in Argentina, but I’ve written about that before.  This gave me plenty of time to observe the cleaning staff, two women who were “mopping” the floor, (read “sloshing water”) around, rather than under, the chairs, tables, trolley beds etc.  Apart from making me wonder when (if?)those areas are ever cleaned, the best bit was the psychological warfare; they were working in parallel corridors, each of which leads to one of the only two exits in the A&E, and both were equally determined that the public should not walk down “their” corridor during the cleaning process, despite various members of the public wishing to exit the building.  I guess that little bit of sport is probably the only interesting part of their day so maybe we shouldn’t begrudge it to them. 

Then we were attended to and the offending head dutifully sewn up.  I really hoped that we wouldn’t be kept in for “observations” re head injury, since it was clear to anyone who knows kiddo that he was just fine, but of course the doctors don’t know what “normal” looks like for him.  Fortunately they agreed with my assessment, so once the blood was cleaned up we were released on our way, and he’s now safely home sporting a chef’s hat affair made out of a roll of wide bandage (I can’t imagine he’s tolerating that by now, but he still had it on when I dropped him off). 

Why am I telling this story (apart from the fact that it took up half the day)?  Because it really made me think about how isolated these guys are.  They only live half an hour from a large, middle class town, in the wealthiest province in Argentina, but that still makes it an hour to the hospital by the time someone comes out to get them.  Today we were fortunate that it hasn’t rained for a couple of weeks; if it had rained yesterday, the last three kilometres to their house would only be accessible by truck.  This was also a minor injury; if it had been time-critical, we would have been playing a game of real-life roulette.  And for every kiddo and his family, there must be thousands like them in Argentina, particularly in those provinces which don’t have anything like the infrastructure that we enjoy(?) here in Cordoba.  For these people, social and cultural constructs of life and death must take on a whole new meaning.  And finally my boggled mind is trying to get itself around the idea that if Argentina is something like the fortieth most developed country in the world (according to the UN 2009), that leaves  another two hundred countries whose populations live a reality of which I understand absolutely nothing. 

Role Models?

image Calvin:     BU-URRP!
Mum:       Good heavens, Calvin! What do we say after that?
Calvin:     "Must be a barge coming through!"
Mum:       WHAT do you say?!
Calvin:     "That sure tasted better going down than coming up!"
Mum:       Three strikes and you’re history, kiddo.
Calvin:     Excuse me.


Dad:     What do you say Joni?

Joni:      “Mine, it’s mine”.

Dad:       What do you say Joni?

Joni:     "Here, put it on here!" (points to the table in front of him)

Dad:       WHAT do you say?!

Joni:     Thank you Daddy

First do no admin

I spent last weekend on Scout camp in Devoto, one of the first villages out of here.  It was hot and exhausting, but good fortune smiled upon me and some of the things I normally fill my life with have been cancelled or postponed for this week.  Thus I formulated a grand plan to catch up with a whole lot of admin which I normally never get round to.  I’m happy to report that so far I’ve found a whole lot of other things to do and have mostly managed to avoid the admin. 

This morning I took a rucksack into the repair place to be fixed.  I spent a little while hunting for my other rucksack to decant my stuff into, but having not found it, I grabbed a shopping bag and made do with that instead.  When I arrived at the repair place, the lady said, “oh I wondered if you’d forgotten the rucksack you left here a couple of months ago….”  Explains why I couldn’t find it at home then.  Happy reunion, claimed one rucksack, left the lady with the other one, bought some new insoles for my favourite oldest trainers; should be good for another few months before they actually drop apart I reckon. 

I’m working towards a little project to make a wheelchair insert using appropriate paper-based technology for one of the kids at the special school.  I’d done a bit of thinking about APT before we ever came to Argentina, but when we arrived, I thought that APT was probably just a bit too “third world” for the needs of folk here.  So I didn’t think about it any more and the book sat on my shelf.  However, the special school here manages to be a convincing model of a third-world enclave in a first world city.  If anything this is even worse than being a third-world institution in a third-world context, because I have a whole bunch of demotivated staff who sit around and talk amongst themselves, and when asked why they don’t do x, y or z, move into bemoaning the lack of resources.  They’ve been trained from a bunch of text-books written by people in contexts where resources are never completely absent.  In general I find Argentina lacks creativity, and this is one environment where it really shows.  So, I have a little task, not only to create something at no cost, but also to model the possibility of creating something at no cost.  And I have a prime candidate; sweet little girl slopped into the most appalling wheelchair ever, who desperately needs an insert made to fit her.  My plan for Wednesday was to measure her, but she didn’t show up at school, so hopefully that’s tomorrow. 

I’ve put my cards on the table now as far as the special school is concerned, which I hadn’t quite planned to do at this stage, but circumstances intervened.  The fact is, there is a real lack of educational activity, particularly at the primary end, where the staff quite often spend the afternoons talking among themselves while the kids crawl around the floor.  I had thought if that’s the way it is I need to bide my time and take my opportunities when they arise.  However, the last couple of weeks there has been a supply teacher in, who has worked in other institutions here, and is completely horrified by all the things that I just thought were part of Argentina.  Hence, she’s trying to introduce some changes, and I’ve taken some opportunities to support her.  Which means that if only from purely selfish motives, I’m hoping that between us we can actually achieve something that is recognised as “good” by the rest of the staff, otherwise I’m going to be sat out on a little twig on my own when my partner in crime’s supply period comes to an end.

image  This is a chimango, smallish, brownish bird of prey, pretty common around here.  Joni and I saw one being mobbed by a couple of lapwings one time, and I explained that that would be because the lapwings had a nest and they wouldn’t want the chimango to eat their babies.  This made a big impression on him; for ages every time we saw one, he was say in respectful tones, “chimangos eat babies.“  I was tempted to let him think that I might feed him to a chimango if he doesn’t behave, but in the end conscience prevailed and I had a go at a better explanation.  Hence today when we saw one, he told me “Chimango eats baby birds; sparrows hatch baby pigs in the eggs.“ That’s right Joni, sort of… Chimango with overtones of the three little pigs, intertwined with the sparrows which are once again nesting in our roller blinds; I had to rescue a fluffy chick today which had managed to get itself stuck in the gap between the blind and the dining room wall. 

Yesterday afternoon I was out in the village of Quebracho with the kids at my little homework project.  As well as helping with whatever they’re doing at school, I have a selection of vaguely educational activities in my cupboard which they can choose from when they’re done, thus I have introduced them to jigsaw puzzles, colouring books, dot to dots, etc.  mostly gathered from charity shops when we’ve been back in the UK.  I decided a couple of weeks ago that my next plan would be to see what they made of a game, so yesterday I took along a Ludo set.  Some stereotypes make me want to smack the speaker around the head and tell them they haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.  The one about “They’re poor but they’re happy” would be a good case in point.  And yet, seeing those little kids looking like Christmas had come because I’d put a board game on the table… I’m not sure I’d go as far as “they’re poor but they’re happy”, but there’s definitely something about how over-pampering kids sucks out their ability to enjoy small things.  These ones played it and played it till I finally had to throw them out and lock up because I was supposed to be somewhere else.  I’m thinking for my next move I need to track down some dominoes and a “Connect 4” in time for the Christmas holidays. 

Prayer and chocolate

Someone must have been praying after last week’s blog entry because by the time I arrived home from paying my police fine, my Halloween talk had pretty much resolved itself.  Many thanks, whoever you were.  I went in character as an Irish villager from two and a half thousand years ago, who had dressed up as a witch in preparation for Samhuin, complete with pitchfork, vegetable lantern etc.  Points for historical accuracy probably not many, but it reduced fifty raucous kids to silence as soon as I walked in.  And instead of giving them the lecture about how dressing up in a binbag is a one way ticket to the occult, I got the Irish woman to tell her story, majoring on how different life would have been for a people who had to deal with three hundred gods who they didn’t know whether they were good or bad, hence the dressing up to hide from the evil spirits, compared to we, the fortunate, who don’t have to do all that stuff because we have one God and we know we can count on his love.   It seemed to work OK, I wasn’t sure how the leaders would react given that I was miles from my original remit, but their first response was to invite me back to do another one for Christmas, so I think that’s probably a thumbs up.  Like I say, thanks to whoever was praying! 

Sunday school this week and my group had a tedious little study to do on “what do I need to live well”, somewhat enlivened by the lad who wrote “A hundred kilos of chocolate, a new bike, kindness, and to be good to others”, which probably covers most bases, and at least it meant that one kid out of the ten scored for honesty.  He’s one of my “naughty boys” so he probably has less to lose by telling the truth.  I do struggle with the fact that we teach children (or maybe we teach Christians in general, thinking of some of the Bible studies I’ve sat through) that it’s fine to tell lies as long as we’ve got the right answer.  A different kid a few months ago answered the question “what would you do if another child hit you in the playground” with “I would pray for them”… this being the boy who was dragged home by the police for fighting on a street corner.  But we all know that “beat them up” won’t be the right answer, so we say “Jesus” and teacher gives us a star.  I think there has to be a better way of doing this.