Growing up

If I said I was putting my baby in a cage for safekeeping, I would have social services pounding on my door faster than I could say “politically correct”.  But pad the top, chuck in a few soft toys and call it a play-pen, and everything’s just fine.  Semantics is a strange beast. 

Danny in play pen  Danny in play pen

The reason for the cage uh play pen, is essentially that where Joni’s most trying feature as a baby was that he couldn’t self entertain, Danny’s most trying feature is that he can and does.  Places where he has been found to date include stuck behind the computer trolley, escaping down the front garden path, under the car in the garage, and shut in the bathroom.  He adores Joni, but he drives him crazy trying to join in everything that his clever big brother does.  And then the duet of screaming drives me crazy too, hence the play pen (it’s for me to hide in really).  And since he can’t walk yet there’s almost definitely worse to come. 

Meanwhile Daddy and Joni are very proud of their homework tonight.  It’s the second piece since starting school (Joni that is, Daddy doesn’t remember how many bits of homework he ever had since he never did it anyway).  This time it was make a paper aeroplane and write your name on it so I’m thinking that nuclear physics might still be a while off, but he’s pretty good at joining dots to spell Jonathan.  Levels of chaos meant that it was nearly put off till tomorrow morning, except that Joni cried because we hadn’t done it.  When he’s 14 we can remind him about the time he cried out of keenness to do his homework. 

And on a totally un-related note, our car has now been recovered three times by tow truck in the last two years including twice in the last six months (one of which was yesterday, grrrrrr), not to mention various occasions that the garage round the corner has had to come and pick it up to replace starter motors and fuel pumps.  It has now won itself the accolade of being officially the least reliable car that I have ever owned.  This is quite impressive because it is also the newest and the most expensive.  And I have owned some real heaps as anyone who ever saw that Metro would testify.  In fact this one is still only six years old; I have never owned a car that was younger than 10.  But of course this one was made in Argentina.  At the moment there’s a big hoo-ha going on because President Cristina Kirchner is seriously restricting the flow of foreign goods into the country, which is particularly affecting car and bike parts, and electronic goods.  The hoo-ha isn’t because stuff isn’t available locally, but because locally made products are of such poor quality that even far eastern trash is generally preferable.  Hey guys, since it appears that we’re all in agreement on this, might I make a suggestion….??

Goofy commented on Mickey’s photo

Hi Hazel

Here’s some activity you may have missed on Facebook. 

Goofy commented on Mickey’s photo. 

Popeye commented on Olive’s status. 

See notifications?

Dear Facebook. 

Thanks for the heads up.  I know my life isn’t the most fascinating in the world, but it hasn’t yet sunk to the point where I could describe viewing someone else’s snapshots as an “activity”, so I don’t consider that I have “missed” anything for not being there.  And as for the notifications, if the photo-commenting “activity” that I have “missed” is the highlight of everything that has happened since I last went in, then thanks but I’ll skip trawling through the rest. 

Love and kisses

I really really don’t get Facebook.  And I find the fact that I don’t get it kind of frustrating, but at the same time I’m not sure I want to get it in case I turn into the sort of person who could define commenting on other people’s pictures  as an activity.  And the more I see about cyber bullying, and trolling, and all the other nasty stuff that people do to each other on Facebook, and the more I read about how Facebook hides behind the language of “free speech” in order to justify doing as little as possible about even the illegal abuse and obscenity that goes on in its back yard, the more it causes me to recall that Facebook was originally called “Facemash” and its original purpose was to objectify and denigrate.  The human condition is able to find plenty of ways of twisting even good stuff for evil, so when something was intended for evil in the first place then maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at how difficult it is to reclaim it for anything else.  But maybe that’s just me doing sour grapes about stuff I don’t understand.

So what’s news out in the rest of the world?  Well the big news here is that the Priest in charge at the Catholic institution where I’m working has resigned from the priesthood in order to get married.  If you want to read about it in English, then this is the only non-Spanish link I have found.  It has caused quite a stir locally, with a lot of negative publicity, but not because the poor guy has done anything illegal, or even immoral.  They didn’t even elope; he went through the proper channels and hung up his hassock, but it is seen as a betrayal to the church and to his “vocation”.   No-one’s asking my opinion funnily enough, but for what it’s worth I think it’s time the Catholic church in general had a rethink on the commitments they require of their ministers, and in this instance I am personally very much going to miss having the guy around.  He has a humility which I find sadly uncommon amongst the not-Catholic clergy in Argentina.  Walk into the school looking for the priest in charge, and when you eventually spot him, he will probably be disguised in a check shirt and jeans pushing a wheelbarrow, or with his feet sticking out from beneath the undercarriage of the Renault that he’s fixing (yet again).  So I thought I’d try and track him down and give him my blessing to go in peace to love and serve the Lord in his new life.  Only tracking him down is proving a bit tricky since he is predictably keeping a low profile, and I’m struggling to imagine who might both be able to furnish me with his contact details, but not lynch me if they knew why I wanted them.  Which is why I was on Facebook trying to find him, only he appears not to have a page.  He probably has more sense. 

Me Argentino

This is a scan of the cover of the text-book that I was recently using to study language and literature for my secondary school exams. 

argentina cartoon

That it was even considered appropriate material for the front of a book designed for mass use by Argentinean teenagers says quite a lot about national self perception.  Talking with a friend the other day Martin suggested that refusing to allow British cruise ships to dock in Argentinean ports, apart from cutting off ones nose to spite ones face, might not exactly enhance Argentina’s standing in the international community, to which the response was “That doesn’t matter, we’re already a global joke…” 

Which is interesting.  Consider the following: The country of Argentina is only 200 years old, a mere blink on the time scale of many other nation states.  Of those 200 years, most of the first 60 were characterised by civil war.  Thereafter, most of the 20th century was characterised by military coups and fascist dictatorships.  In fact 1989 was a landmark in Argentina’s history when one democratically elected president, Alfonsin, handed over peacefully to another democratically elected president, Carlos Menem.  All of which makes it all the more impressive that merely a couple of decades on, Argentina has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and standards of living have risen exponentially even in the few years that we have been here.  Yes, the corruption makes us weep, and the bureaucracy makes our eyes water, but global joke Argentina certainly is not.  So I have yet to understand from where the negative perception originates, why depression appears to be a national sport, and even worse, why it could possibly be a good idea to instil this gloomy self-image into the developing psyches of the nations school-children. 

Revving up

Time spent cranking into gear isn’t my favourite part of the academic year; too much up in the air, too many extra things to do; several of which wouldn’t be necessary but for the tiniest bit of joined up thinking and having basic information available.  So far we have made three attempts to ascertain Joni’s blood group.  So far we have failed to be in the right place at the right time.  So far we have discovered that there is only one place in the city where it is possible to find out ones blood group, and we even know where it is, having been there twice, and now we have the (hopefully?) correct information about which half-hour slot they do blood group testing in each day, it might even be 4th time lucky.  The one thing I really haven’t figured out is why school need this information at all. 

Joni is in the afternoon school shift (school being half days here) which isn’t what we would have chosen but we’re going to need to make it work for this year at least.  When he was at nursery in the mornings I used to do all the boring jobs in the mornings, and so when I was with him later I was available to him largely on his terms.  Now any admin type chore that needs to be done in the mornings (because that’s when government offices, banks etc. are open) will have to be done with two bored children in tow.  And there have been a lot of admin chores of late.  Hopefully it won’t be so bad as the year gears up, but the kids will agree with me that this one has been a trying week. 

On the positive side, given that school actually is only for three hours a day, we figured that we could well incorporate a couple of out of school activities in order to get him out of our hair for that bit longer broaden his curriculum.  I’m thinking that this is the year for swimming lessons given that he loves water and we’re quite often in or near it between Scout activities and family camping.  And then he himself out of the blue has decided that he wants to learn to dance.  Goodness knows which stork brought him; I was so rubbish that my dance teacher wrote L and R in blue biro on my shoes for the few short months of our relationship, and I can’t exactly imagine his Dad as the Sugar Plum Fairy either.  Maybe this is the Latino side of his dual nationality.  Anyway, we’re still at the signing up stage, but hopefully we’ll have both of these new activities assimilated into our developing routine within the next week or so. 

As for the rest of life, I went to the village for the first time today.  Scouts starts next week.  Special school activities would have started yesterday but it was raining so that’s next week now.  The Instituto Londres (Martin’s English teaching) is at the signing up stage, and prison Bible Studies should spring into action soon.  We also have a tentative plan to start an open Bible-study / prayer group in our house, at the behest of the lady who runs the grocery store across the plaza from us.  Now we just need to find a time when everyone can make it. 

School’s in School’s out.

Up until December the last we heard on schooling for Joni was that there were no spaces available anywhere in San Francisco.  And then everyone went on holiday for two months.  And came back again.  And there were still no spaces available anywhere in San Francisco.  The news from the inspectorate was a grand silence.  Ditto the various schools where we’d put Joni on the waiting lists.  We became accustomed to the idea that he was probably going to nursery for another year, which the director of the nursery was fine with, reassured me that they would happily cover the pre-school curriculum with him so he didn’t miss out.  I had an internal debate with myself as to what I would do if one of the sink schools offered him a place at this stage; would it be better to accept a place in order to have him “in the system”, or would he actually be better off at nursery anyway? 

Except that the school which phoned at the last minute turned out to be one of the ones on our original preferred shortlist.  No debate needed, and the next few days spent spinning around San Francisco doing paperwork and gathering kit.  The week started with a bank holiday followed by a teachers’ strike; two key features of a normal academic year.  But finally here he is at his new school in his new uniform;


It is supposed to be a smock, but having opted for the “he’ll grow into it” size, it looks more like a dress.  Luckily he loves it anyway.   The director informed us that she jumped the waiting list in order to offer us a place.  We will probably never know whether that was at the behest of the Inspectora “get these parents out of my hair…” or for some other undefined reason.  On balance I think it is probably mostly good that we don’t understand the half of the wheeling and dealing which goes on behind closed doors, and on this occasion we are more than grateful that it has gone in our favour.

Meanwhile I on the other hand finished my secondary school exams this morning.  Exams are graded from one to ten, of which six is a pass.  I scored a nine in language and literature, a ten in geography, another ten in citizenship, and an eight in history.  So I am now officially a fully fledged teenager, qualified to go to university, or to listen to loud music and stay in bed till lunchtime (Wotever…). 

Without wishing to detract from my own or anyone else’s achievements, I was surprised at the standard of the exams.  While I didn’t expect that they would be up to A-level (given that secondary school here is six years rather than seven), I did think that they might resemble an extended GCSE, whereas actually the written papers most closely reminded me of the kind of tests I would have invented for my bottom set year 10’s.  In Argentina this is your entrance to university, whereas in the UK a bottom set year 10 is mostly going nowhere, particularly in the current economic climate.  I guess we are back to philosophy of education; is it better to aspire to mediocrity for all, or to push the few to achieve excellence, and then use the extra tax they generate to fund think-tanks to figure out what to do about the disaffected underclass?  Although actually I don’t think dumbing down to mediocrity contributes very much to reaching the disaffected underclass; in my language exam the other week there were something like 120 students signed up for it, of whom 80 showed (all teenagers except me and one other foreign adult), and of those 80 half a dozen of us passed, of whom I scored the highest mark.  I suspect that disaffection is caused by a cocktail of social factors and that therefore you can design education to be as easy as you like and probably still not make a great deal of difference in terms of reaching lost youth.

Wotever… For me at least the next steps now are hopefully mostly bureaucratic.  Apparently it will take a couple of months or so to extract my secondary school certificate from the bowels of the Province of Cordoba’s education department, and then hopefully I can hand everything over to the Ministry of whatever it was in Buenos Aires who I am sure will be more than happy to tell me about whatever hoops are next in the obstacle course.