What happened “tomorrow”

This follows on from our February newsletter (under newsletters tab at the top of the page if you don’t normally receive it). 

“Tomorrow” (i.e. Friday): Did the usual walk dogs followed by kid to nursery on the back of my bike thing.  Then I went on the benefits office,  Anses, which is an acronym for something only I don’t know what.  A whole raft of child-benefits were introduced in Argentina a year or so ago, one of which is the asignacion universal which as the “universal” suggests is available to every Argentinean child, merely for existing.  Actually the means-testing is still there, albeit in a more subtle form; it is paid to anyone prepared to stay the course of grinding paperwork and hours spent standing in line over several months at the Anses office.  Sadly, this probably also strains out those who aren’t literate or articulate enough to survive the grinder.  Happily, after a mere eight months of regular excursions to Anses, I now have a piece of paper that says from March we will be eligible to collect 174 pesos from the government bank, el Banco de la Nacion Argentina.  Sadly, this will also involve queuing up for two hours in the bank every month, but still, 87 pesos per hour for standing in a queue would be quite a good rate of pay for a worker; in San Francisco a cleaner earns 18 pesos an hour, a teacher 35, and a speech therapist 60. 

From here I continued across town to the special school, where I had a brief chat to the Directora, and a longer meeting with the social worker.  That was a useful time, except that as a result I may need to make a trip to Cordoba to the ministerio de desarrollo social (ministry of social development) in the next few days.  So far I have been unable to have this confirmed, and until I do I’m not going anywhere… I’m a lot less enthusiastic about trips to Cordoba than my husband, and particularly when I know it will involve yet more hours of gathering paper and rubber stamps in the eternal queuing systems of Stalinist government institutions. 

Home via the fruit and veg shop, no paperwork needed.  Brief squint at the emails, some encouraging responses to our newsletter which we’d sent out last night; thank you for those.  Martin disappeared to extract our kid from nursery.  I started cooking lunch (that’s the main meal of the day here), interrupted by a visit from our (mostly) tame itinerant friend; “my friend is short of money for her rent this month so I told her not to worry because I know these people….” Nice try, but no; I’m OK with taking you to the pharmacy and paying for your prescriptions, but I’m not yet ready to become the first port of call for everyone in San Francisco who finds themselves a bit short of money this month.  I do find this whole thing rather tricky; who calls the shots, where should the lines be drawn, what would Jesus do?  (to string several clichés together). 

Afternoon and no commitments for once so Joni got to plan the programme; building Brio train-tracks on the floor, and a couple of hours playing in our plaza over the road.   We love Brio, I picked up a big box of it for a song on ebay when we were in the UK a couple of years ago, and it has given him hours and hours of enjoyment.  These days we are quite sophisticated and my civil engineering skills would be snapped up by Network Rail as we create ever more complicated layouts, complimented with Lego stations, bridges and train-sheds.  Being a sunny-but-not-boiling afternoon Joni found plenty of other kids to play with in the plaza, while I had the usual range of conversations with their mothers /grandmothers;

“Do you know what you’re having yet?”

“It’s another boy”

“Oh… never mind”

It’s not that having a boy is considered to be bad per se, but the superstition is that if you have two children then it ought to be one of each.  Personally I’m delighted, but I’ve given up trying to convince anyone else here that I’m delighted (and I would also have been delighted if it had been a girl too).  And at least this topic makes a change from the usual theme and variations on Speaking English;

“Why are you talking English to your child?”

“Because I’m English”

“But if you can speak Spanish why don’t you just speak that?” 

Even well educated professionals here find it really difficult to get their heads around the idea that English is actually a useful medium including all the necessary features for meaningful communication (and incidentally a significantly larger vocabulary than Spanish!), rather than merely a school subject invented by sadistic teachers to torture pupils.  Thus nearly every conversation that I have around the speaking of English centres on the idea that I must be deliberately choosing to make my life unnecessarily difficult by insisting on English, when sticking to Spanish would clearly be so much easier for me! 

Back inside, brief tussle over whether we are going to wash the mud off Joni’s legs or not; yes because I’m the mummy and we’re going out this evening.  A family who we are getting to know at church have a little boy slightly smaller than Joni, and of late me ‘n the mum have found ourselves running the impromptu crèche for unruly toddlers at the back.  They were throwing some fish on the parrilla (BBQ), so did we want to come round and eat it?  Joni had a good time playing with the kids, we had a good time getting to know the adults a bit better, and the fish turned out great; definitely a friendship worth cultivating.  And that’s another week gone. 

Buenos Aires; Good Air

Tom Tom reckons the trip from San Francisco to Buenos Aires should take six hours.  I’m sure someone somewhere has probably done it in that, but assuming that Tom Tom aren’t actually calculating for you to break the law, they must therefore be working on a base-line assumption that you will do the speed limit all the way, never be held up by a single traffic light, roundabout, traffic jam, road-work, or the Rosario ring-road; that you will never stop to buy fuel, eat, drink or go to the toilet; and that you definitely won’t be travelling with small children.  Needless to say, we did it in nine and a half.  That’s fine; now we know for next time.   Tom Tom Argentina is very much a Beta product in relation to the version we know from the UK, still incorporating glitches such as randomly routing you off the motorway in order to spin you round a roundabout and back onto the motorway a few metres along from where you just left it.  However, it did successfully manage to take us to all our destinations, and it definitely earned its place in the team when it came to the confusing maze that is Buenos Aires; the rest of the team comprising the driver, the passenger poring over a map saying “ignore Tom Tom he doesn’t mean that…”, and the child in the back shouting “more biscuit”. 

Arriving without a concrete plan, or anywhere to stay, meant that we hopped between three different hotels; the Hotel Morón (emphasis on the second syllable if you’re English!) over-priced, badly in need of someone to love it, grudging breakfast grudgingly served by grudging staff, wouldn’t be going there again in a hurry; the Hotel Dos Mundos an old favourite of ours, if you’re ever in Buenos Aires stay here, for the same price as the suburbs, right in the heart of Downtown BA, it has no frills, bells, whistles, nor pretensions about the peeling paint, breakfast isn’t included but there are four cafes (and a Chinese) within metres of the door, and the staff are gruff but willing; and some other hotel whose name I can’t remember in San Nicolas on the way back.  This was probably the nicest; decor, general repair, self-service breakfast included and free car parking.  The main downside was that San Nicolas itself is filled with mosquitos, which probably isn’t entirely the hotel’s fault, and the ceiling fan did keep most of them out of the room at least. 

Amazingly we achieved everything we hoped to in BA, aided in no small part by having the car thus enabling us to side-step those tortuous BA A to B experiences of “bus to train to tube to bus and then walk the last ten blocks”.  We caught up with old friends who we hadn’t seen since Joni was newly born; cue much apologising for our rubbishness at keeping in touch for the last three years.  We sat in the dining room of a genius who is designing a huge range of computer aided gizmos for people with a variety of disabilities, and came away with some ideas to try for a couple of kids at the special school here.  We meandered randomly around an un-sign-posted university campus before stumbling across the department that we were looking for, where the guy was very friendly and helpful although the email correspondence following our meeting appears to have thrown a few new barriers across the path to progress.  We met  the family of someone who Martin is working towards a computer-based project with, where Joni enjoyed discovering the toy-car collection of their resident six-year old.  We took Joni to a plaza, to a park, and to see the boats on the water at Tigre in the Buenos Aires delta.  And we’ve started gathering a list of jobs and activities for our next trip, which will probably be soon after B2F is born, when we’ll plan a visit to the embassy to deal with birth certificates and relevant paperwork. 

Cliff Hanger

I was hoping that today would be the day when we finally wrapped up the Venezuelan Soap Opera (blog entry 05-02).  However, true to the genre, we seem to have left enough cliff-hangers open to provide at least another four episodes.  Since the last instalment of this saga we have had phone calls, texts, more driving around the countryside, and two meetings at the San Francisco family court, and yet as far as I can see we aren’t actually any further forward than we were a week ago, with the added complication that the main protagonist now appears to have gone missing.  Whether this is the result of deliberately false information, merely wrong information, or a police blunder is so far unclear.  The court today decided that the information had been falsified, whereas I’m of the opinion that in a toss up between deliberate evil and police incompetence, the latter is a far more likely scenario at least in this context.  Time will tell.

Meanwhile tomorrow we are off to Buenos Aires for a few days to take care of some jobs and meetings that we have been stacking up on the to-do list.  Martin has bought some new Argentina software for the GPS… yes we’re taking the car.  You have to have been in Buenos Aires to have any idea of how scary a prospect that is, but if it gets too nerve wracking we’ve agreed that it doesn’t count as wimping out if we park up and take a bus.  Hopefully by the time we are back here again on Friday or so, the soap opera might have seen some resolution or at least a step of measurable progress, although I’m not entirely confident that there isn’t another twist or two to come in the tale yet. 

Down by the bay…

… where the water melons grow…

Continuing last time’s theme of cultivating new life (OK, different context), check out this baby water melon peeping coyly from behind the foliage on our patio:

Baby water melon

I was wondering whether water melons would grow in San Francisco mostly because I thought the idea of home-grown water melon sounded exotic, like having a zebra in the back garden or something (Martin reckons I should stick to water melon), so I asked a few folk whether it would work or not.  Half of the people who I asked said yes, and the other half said no.  One of the most bizarre (to us as foreigners at least) cultural taboos in Argentina is that even if you really don’t have the foggiest clue, it is not acceptable to say “I really don’t have the foggiest clue” and you have to come up with an answer, which may or may not have any bearing on reality, and you have to say it in a bright and confident manner so that the person who asked you the question doesn’t realise that actually you don’t have the foggiest clue.  This makes obtaining directions a particularly arduous process. 

Clearly the only way to find out whether water melons would grow in San Francisco was therefore to try it out for myself.  (This is more or less what we do when asking for directions as well; choose the most promising of the available answers and follow it until either we reach our destination, or until we are so completely adrift that we have neither hope of finding our location nor of making it back to where we started asking from, at which point we begin the process of canvassing a new round of opinions).  So anyway, I saved a bunch of seeds and threw them into a likely looking patch of spare flowerbed.  The vines are going well, and hidden underneath are three baby water melons (I’ve found three anyway, who knows what else might be under there; a zebra, couple of lions…).  At the moment they are roughly pear-sized so things could still go either way, but it is starting to look as though the “ayes” might have it. 

Baby Frost 2

If grainy scans of other people’s unborn foetuses leave you cold, then you should probably look away now (or come back next entry).  For those of you who are still with us (hi Mum!) the pictures below show the face of Baby Frost 2 at five and a half months gestation.  Almost definitely male, he weighs 870 grams, all limbs and organs present and correct, and as far as it is possible for the technology to predict, looks like he’s doing just fine. 

Baby Frost 2  Baby Frost 2

Now starts the process of discarding the names in Spanish that we couldn’t possibly inflict on a child in English, e.g. Geronimo (yes that’s really a name here) and Kevin (that too!); discarding the names in English that we couldn’t possibly expect anyone to pronounce or spell in Spanish, e.g. anything with a th as in Matthew, anything with a ph as in Christopher, or anything with a gh as in Vaughan (not that I’d call a child Vaughan in any language anyway, apologies to any Vaughans reading our blog); and then we see if there’s anything we like out of what’s left following the discarding process.  If our last experience is anything to go by, he’ll be half-way down the birth canal before we come to a definite conclusion.

Talking with one of our neighbours today who has four sons, I wondered how I might have any chance of keeping order when I’m about to be so heavily outnumbered by the men in my life.  She said, “easy, you tell them that since you are the princess of the house they will need to run around and wait on you”.  I’m not sure she’s speaking from a position of successful experience, but it’s got to be worth a try.

Local TV

This video was taken by our local TV station for a news item a few days ago. I actually saw it by chance being aired on a dozen TV’s in a shop window in town, so I went to the TV station and asked for a copy. For some reason they decided that I would prefer it without the sound. They’re probably right; it was mostly a couple of local politicians in self-congratulatory mode about the fantastic facility that they have built. Credit where it’s due; it is a jolly nice pool, just don’t mention the changing rooms, which funnily enough neither of them did. It’s a great place to work; spending the mornings in the pool is the only saving grace of the sweaty summer in San Francisco, and I also thoroughly enjoy the folk we work with, both staff and students, and that of course is the most important thing, which money can’t buy and politicians can’t legislate for. I have lamented a couple of times that summer scheme doesn’t run all year round, although in fairness the attraction of an outdoor solar heated pool might wane on those days in June and July after the overnight temperature has dropped to minus three. So we make the most of it while we can, and the video shows us making the most of it, including a few clips of me looking pregnant and working with kiddo from the village.

Venezuelan Soap Opera

Sometimes real life turns out to be more far fetched than a Venezuelan soap opera.  What I perceived would be a simple house-call yesterday has had me embroiled in a still-on-going saga.  Can’t go into details, but yesterday we had allegations of abduction, deceit, love and lust, elopement, driving around the countryside collecting pieces of conflicting storylines, people who apparently know nothing and then suddenly manage to provide a raft of details, two different police departments and the San Francisco family court.  Today’s revelations if anything have contributed another layer of mud to the waters, and I really have no idea how all this is going to play out. 

We were also dealt an unexpected, and unrelated, subplot today in the form of a sick ex-pat a couple of hundred kilometres away, on whose behalf we were trying to make important decisions by remote control, and for whom we had no insurance details.  Why we had no insurance details will form but one part of the follow up after all this is over.  In the meantime Martin was dispatched to deal with the subplot in person.  Here at least everything now appears to be stupendously under control and progressing as hoped, leaving me free to save the day flounder in the shifting mud of the Venezuelan soap opera. 

Quotes purloined

Two great quotes that I have purloined for personal use this week. 

The first is a Franciscan benediction, purloined from the blog of some missionaries working in Haiti:

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships – so that we may live deep within our hearts. May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people – so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace. May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war – so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in the world – so that we can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

And may our discomfort and anger be multiplied seven-fold when we see those half-truths and injustices disguised as strategies and dressed up in corporate jargon and being modelled by our churches and our Christian organisations.  Amen.


And the second is a simple but profound one-liner purloined from the newsletter of some friends working in Bolivia:

“I haven’t the answers but I want to be changed by the questions.”

Lord give us courage, integrity, and chocolate fudge cake as we face the future together.  Amen.