Three go off to camp

“We should go camping in Miramar just you, me and Danny” said Joni. “Daddy and the others don’t like camping anyway”. Which is true. So we piled a heap of stuff in the car, including enough bedding for a couple of potentially sub-zero nights, and a packet of marshmellows for good measure, and drove the couple of hours to the shores of the big salt lake known as the Mar Chiquita, literally “little sea”, and our favourite campsite on the edge of the small town of Miramar. It was cold to go in the water, although we did get in up to our ankles at various points, sometimes intentionally. Otherwise we walked, birdwatched, flew kites, clambered on rocks and trees, hired a funky four-wheeled bike with “uber” painted on it (I loved that, would probably be sued for copyright anywhere else in the world), made fires, toasted marshmallows, and generally had a fine few days playing Swallows and Amazons.

Fine spot for a picnic
Dinosaur graveyard of dead trees
Moses parts the Red Sea
Wild watermelons make good pillows, they weren’t ripe enough to eat anyway.
We were treated to the most amazing sunsets over the water
Toasting marshmallows

From one of our regular contacts in the bird observatory, I managed to source and purchase a copy of a newly published book of birds of Cordoba province. There are over 300 species in the Mar Chiquita reserve, and we had some adventurous walks tracking down a small percentage. Here are a few specimens that we managed to photograph.

Tero Real (in Spanish, South American Stilt in English).
Macá Común (white tufted grebe)
Definitely an ibis, possibly bare faced ibis, in which case it would be Cuervillo Cara Pelada.
Cotorra (Monk parakeet) These are ubiquitous and I understand why farmers hate them, but they are so cheeky.
Garza Blanka (Great Egret)
Verdón (Great pampa finch)
Sirirí Pampa (White faced whistling duck)
And of course no trip to Miramar would be complete without the flamigoes. There are three varieties in residence, these are Flamenco Austral (Chilean flamingo).

For anyone who might be wondering why the names aren´t the same in English and Spanish, it´s because they aren´t direct translations. They are simply the different names that the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking worlds use for the same bird.

And now today school has gone back, boohoo, and the routine starts again.

Joining the team

Enough people told Joni that he should be a basketball player, being a head taller than the rest of his class and most of the teachers, that he thought he might give it a try. Basketball is a thing here in San Francisco. It´s probably the second sport after football and there are quite a few clubs around, so he joined one that’s just a few blocks from home and started taking himself to and from training on his bike a couple of times a week. He´s not the most co-ordinated player on the team, but he´s getting better and he’s having a good time. So the next step is to collect the paperwork in order that he can participate in tournaments. Yes, that requires paperwork. In Argentina breathing requires paperwork.

The heaviest chunk of paper was the medical. No worries that the whole country had to do school medicals only just a couple of months ago, which could well be an acknowledgement that the school medical is a waste of the paper it is written on, this much is certainly true. So we made appointments to collect the information and signatures required.

The ECG – yes we really had to do one of those – showed up a minor insufficiency, which automatically pushed us up to a second tier of further tests to investigate how real or significant it might be. The ultrasound was kind of cool as a spectator sport, I never realised how much a heart moves, it is a veritable machine all working in co-ordination. Then we moved into the stress test, where they put him on an exercise bike and increased the resistance while measuring heart function. And finally they stuck a bunch of electrodes and a holter monitor on him which he had to wear for a day and a night.

-I’ll take it off tomorrow morning. Said the doctor.

-In school time? Asked Joni, hopefully.

-Yes. Unless you can be here at seven in the morning. Hang on, where do you go to school? … Oh my house is just two blocks from the Rio Negro… Here I’ll write the address down… Why don’t you call in on your way to school and I won’t be there by then but my husband will take the machine off you.

So we did, and he did. And the whole thing caused me to smile for a couple of days thinking about this funny world, and this quirky country that tries so hard to dot every i and cross every t with its eye-watering bureacracy, and yet, humanity and community still keep finding ways of shining through sometimes in the most unexpected of details.

As for the medical stuff. He has a minor insufficiency which is practically normal in human animals. It doesn’t require any further intervention and he can play in any basketball tournament he likes. Or he will be able to when I’ve finished the rest of the paperwork this week.

Some things that happened

Life happens too fast. While I´m thinking about something I´d like to write about, the next thing is already happening. Here´s a couple of things from the last few days.

Danny had his eighth birthday and around twenty children came to entertain us for the afternoon.

Danny on bouncy castle.
Cake cutting
Rocket cake

That rocket cake nearly killed me, I made a large round that I was going to colour with blue and green icing for the world, only I discovered at ten o clock at night that some unidentified being in our house had done I don’t know what with my food colourings, possibly used them as poster paint, so I only had black, brown and yellow left. I did a night sky with chocolate icing and stuck some stars in it. For the rocket I made two cylindrical cakes in sweetcorn tins, stuck them on top of each other, added an ice cream cone on top, wrapped the whole thing in white fondant and decorated it. Except it collapsed. I probably should have put a metal skewer through to hold it together. And then the dog ate one of the chocolate wings that fell off, so I had to buy more chocolate. In the end I ended up putting the rocket on its side rather than upright.  It worked out fine and the kids enjoyed it.

We bought him this second hand piano which we found online. He´s enjoying picking out a variety of tunes with one finger, starting with Frere Jacques at seven o clock on Saturday morning, according to his brother who didn’t fully appreciate the finer musical points of the wake up call, and yesterday evening he was working on Bonnie Tyler´s I need a hero. His piano teacher´s going to love it.

25 May procession

This was us on Saturday morning. The 25th of May procession is an annual event marked in every town and city up and down the country to commemorate the Revolucion de Mayo, a series of events leading to Argentina’s independence from Spanish rule in 1810. Literally every institution in the city participates in the procession, including the municipal dust carts and cement mixers; they process before the schools, who in turn process before the band, after which follow the clubs, societies and voluntary organisations, led by the Scouts. By virtue of being in full uniform, arriving early and looking tall, Joni was drafted in as last minute substitute to carry one of the district flags – the purple one in the centre of the photo. I like the 25 May procession, it’s a funny mix of formal and informal, lots of protocol, drum bashing and flag waving, and at the same time there’s room for any small Scout or football player to participate and wave at mummy or daddy as they go by.

Martin doing equine therapy

Some of the advanced riders went off for a jumping event, and I found myself in charge of equine therapy in San Francisco for a few days. So Martin wandered in to lend a hand. We had a good time, it reminded us a lot of when we used to work together on my scheme with adults with learning difficulties in England. We were spontaneous and informal in a way that would almost definitely not be allowed in these days of rules and much paperwork. I think that’s kind of sad – ask any of those guys or their families how many regrets they have about the opportunities we created. There are some things that are still good about life in Argentina.

Culchurly Sensitive?

“Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a goddamn toilet seat.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Joni came home from school saying “I told my classmates they look like Smurfs, and they told me I look like Godzilla…” Which is what happens when you do your growing early, while living in a continent of short people.

On fictional characters, we discovered while we were in the UK this time that it isn’t The Done Thing to let one’s children read the original versions of Noddy these days, owing to the Black character Mr Golly. I get that it’s a stereotype, and I get the desire to promote helpful images. Which I guess is why I’m not sure whether removing a character who is a gainfully employed and integrated member of his community and replacing him with, er, well, nothing at all would be seen as progress, especially since the only human-looking characters left in the series are now 100% white. And I’m even less certain how many more black engineers, scientists, PhD holders, lawyers, judges, members of the house of Lords, (should I continue..?) there are in the UK as a result. It does rather look like fiddling with silly details in order to have done something, while carefully avoiding the real issues of racism.

Last weekend I went on a regional Scout leadership training. They split us into patrols and had each patrol represent a country. I think it would be reasonable to say that cultural sensitivity hasn’t yet reached Argentina as a concept, and some of the ultra stereotyped portrayals made even me wince and probably would have had someone arrested had the event occurred in the UK. So, here’s the question. In these circumstances where do I aim my cultural sensitivity? Do we say that here this counts as humour, so to be culturally sensitive is to understand it within that category. Or do we say actually your culture needs to change, on behalf of the other cultures being trashed by your bad jokes about famines and suicide bombers? When does tolerance become tyranny?

And as for teaching our own kids about culture, I asked Joni and Danny the other day if they had heard of Shakespeare. “Oh yes” says Danny. “He’s the one who writes stories about naughty pets… like when Lula (the dog) is being naughty and Daddy says ‘Out damned Spot, out I say...'” I give up.

How lovely on the mountains

How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him
Who brings good news,good news,
Announcing peace proclaiming
News of happiness.
Our God reigns our God reigns!

OK, so it’s been a while. We went to England. We did a lot of things, saw a lot of people. Most of it was fun. Some of it was challenging. And some of it was fun and challenging at the same time. We enjoying meeting up with family and friends, some of whom we’ve known for ever, and others whom we were privileged to get to know for the first time.

The journey back was long but uneventful, thanks for all those prayers. The cheapest route is three times round the world. So we went from London to Sao Paolo. Then from Sao Paolo to Tucuman, that’s in Argentina, a bit north from us. But we didn’t get to stay in Argentina. Because then we were off to Santiago, Chile. And finally back to Cordoba, which is our nearest international airport some 200 kms from home. It did mean that we got to fly over the Andes, twice, which is always a treat, even if it is for the second time in one afternoon.

How lovely on the mountains….

Not quite sure where the announcing peace part fits in, but arriving home in San Francisco was a real mixed bag and we were way too tired to handle it. On the positive front, the house was still standing, and had even undergone a superficial effort at cleaning and tidy up. The rest was a voyage of discovery; mostly us discovering things that had been broken, lost, ill-treated, misused or lent out without permission, and the girls trying to bat away any shred of responsibility via a myriad of lies. And there is probably still more discovering to be done, since the game so far has been for them not to volunteer any information until they are left without any other exit strategy. I did have a light-dawning moment when I found myself thinking “It couldn’t have been any worse if we’d left Joni and Danny in charge… Ah, yes, right…” It’s quite easy to forget that chronological age and ability to function don’t always correspond, especially when they look like adults.

So, we are busy arriving, fire fighting, finding and fixing things, practising principles of restorative justice where possible, and organising kids to start school in a few days with all attendant bureaucracy, somewhat complicated by relentless 40 degree heat and stupid levels of humidity. Fortunately, we are still blessed with our big paddling pool in the patio, and the shady green plaza over the road. Our God reigns after all.

Danny leads the way in mindfulness exercises…

Reading is not walking on the words…

“Reading is not walking on the words; it’s grasping the soul of them.”
Paulo Freire

I got a phone call from Joni’s school to find out whether anyone was coming to collect him.  This was a surprise since Joni has been going to and from school by himself for the last three years without anyone minding.  So I said that Joni normally comes home on his own and indeed that I was a bit surprised that he hadn’t arrived yet;

“But it’s raining…”

But as far as I’ve been advised, the human body doesn’t actually dissolve in water.  And the Chevrolet Corsa has a design feature that puts the air filter as low to the road as possible, and San Francisco city centre floods within a few minutes of any downpour, the combination of which means that the time we would be least likely to use the car is when it’s raining.

This is the school where not a single member of staff has asked whether Danny is even still alive, let alone how he is doing since he moved schools, despite the fact that several parents of his former classmates have asked after him.  So I find the cynical side of me isn’t sure how far school is really concerned about Joni’s well-being, and how far they are just fulfilling some sort of “duty of care”, which ironically often seems to mean more or less the opposite of actually caring.

Meanwhile, at another school across town.  We put up our big paddling pool the other weekend (which is why it has been raining ever since) and Danny spent most of a bank holiday in it, ending up with a pink nose and shoulders as a result.  He went in to school the day after and told his teacher how he got sun-burnt;

“I’m red now, but soon I will turn brown, like him”, pointing to his class-mate.  We love Danny’s school.  It is a warm, friendly establishment, in the middle of an estate with some significant issues; San Francisco police have a satellite specialist domestic violence unit just across the square from the school entrance.  This gives the school an undeserved low reputation, and the score of white skinned, blonde haired pupils currently stands at one, so to him it’s just quite normal that everyone else is browner than he is.  As his teacher said, he wasn’t even being derrogatory, just practical.

Meanwhile at yet another educational establishment some six hours away, I took the first of my university subject exams at the national university of Rio Cuarto last week.  Pedagogy was the subject with the biggest pile of reading so it is good to have it out of the way, leaving four subjects to go.  They said;

“It’s clear that you know what you know, we can see you’ve done the reading, and that you’re able make conceptual links between the material but it would have been good if you had gone into a bit more depth”.  I didn’t tell them that I’d told them everything I know, and that I didn’t have any more depth available to go into.  For the next two subjects I have to present written projects, and then the last two are back to traditional wade through pile of reading followed by exam format.  The staff were very good to me, they reminded me of the teaching staff on my MSc at Manchester, and with similar standpoints on disability politics too.  It’s a shame Rio Cuarto is so far away as I’d have liked to get to know them better, especially since they’re also participating in some relatively sparky stuff with disabled people setting up workers’ cooperatives in the south of the province, which might have been fun to get involved with.   Would it even be possible in oh-so-conservative San Francisco…

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

– Paulo Freire


Bizarre world

My preferred search engine is Duck Duck Go, but I don’t like it when I’m looking for images so sometimes I still have to use Google.  So I was on Google image search looking for clip art for “family”.  It plays a little game of word association across the top of the page…

If you want to further refine your search, you have different options for family, cartoon, cute, mixed race etc., ending in the option “trump”.  I couldn’t figure out what that was doing there, and it didn’t have an icon to give me a clue, so I clicked on it to see, and it took me to pictures of one president (who presumably hasn’t been photographed enough for Google to have an icon in their library).  Then you can play the game again, so on the Google image page featuring Trump and his family, if you slide your gaze to the right, the (presumably negatively) associated options are “black” and “lion”…

Sadly I didn’t have time to play any more, but who knows where this might end.

Meanwhile in our own small, but sometimes equally strange corner…

Joni, expressing a true Argentinean’s confusion at the British habit of putting apple into savoury dishes (pork casserole, nothing the matter with that says the cook): “There I was enjoying a nice meal, when suddenly I came across a fruit salad…”

Danny educating me on trucks that transform into robots:  “Girls don’t like trucks”.  To which I said “But I’m a girl and I like trucks”.  “No,” he asserts confidently, “Girls like pretty things, not cool things…”

The doctor cometh

I went to get my Pap test done like a responsible woman (that´s the Smear if you´re English, Pap in the rest of the world, based on the work of one Greek doctor George Papanicolaou (1883–1962)).

The gynacologist said “How long has your neck been like that?”  So I said “like what?” And she sent me to the endocrynologist.

The endocrynologist said “Enlarged tyroid” and sent me for ultrasounding and a bunch of other tests.

The urine test showed up as having an infection, and I said “oh yes that´s happened before” so they sent me to the urologist.

The urologist sent me for more ultrasounding and a further bunch of tests and diagnosed a prolapsed bladder.  (I didn´t enjoy that second pregnancy).

He said, “it´s a minor op” and sent me for a yet another bunch of pre-op tests.

The cardiologist performed an ECG and said “this isn´t right” and hooked me up to a thing with a lot of wires that I had to wear for 24 hours.

The cardiologist said “You have a minor insufficiency, but it´s practically normal in human beings.  It doesn´t need treatment, come back in a year” and sent me back to the urologist.

Meanwhile, the endocrinologist sent me away for six months.  The bloods show that the tyroid is functioning normally.  There is a big cyst attached to the outside but there don´t appear to be any indicators that it needs operating on.

Yesterday the urologist put my bladder back in its place and attached it with barbed wire (or that´s what it feels like today anyway).

On Saturday and on Sunday they do no work at all, so it was on a Monday morning that the gas man came to call…. Flanders and Swann

The moral of the story:- Beware of the Pap….  It came back just fine by the way.

The computer programmer chronicles

8.10pm, Hazel and Martin are working together in the kitchen.

  • H: I need to go and get Joni in a couple of minutes. (He’s out at Friend’s house a couple of blocks away)
  • M: He should be here by now, I told him to be home by eight.
  • H: He’s probably forgotton, I’ll go and get him.

8.15pm, Hazel puts cake in the oven.

  • H: Right, I’m off to get Joni.

8.17pm, Hazel arrives at Friend’s house.

  • Friend’s Mother: But Joni’s not here, he left like maybe an hour ago and he said he was going home.

8.18pm, Hazel has minor fit, this is the first time Joni has ever not been where he was supposed to be, and he knows that he isn’t allowed to go anywhere else unless he comes home and checks in first.  Friend’s mother also has minor fit, she has no reason to imagine that Joni might have been going anywhere other than home.

8.20pm, Hazel goes home to make sure that Joni isn’t asleep in his bed or anywhere else that we hadn’t thought about, and to figure out who to start calling next.

8.22pm, Joni is found at home, alive and well and in the office playing computer games.

  • H (as relief turns to desire to kill someone):  Joni couldn’t you at least tell someone you were home, I went round to (Friend’s) house looking for you and when you weren’t there I didn’t know where to look for you, and now his mum is all worried about you too.  Next time can you make sure you tell someone that you’re in before you start playing computer games.
  • Joni.  But I did.  I saw Daddy.  I spoke to him and he spoke to me.  I found a cockroach in my room and the girls were both screaming and Daddy came to see what the noise was about.  He definitely knew I was home!

8.25pm, Joni and Martin despatch to Friend’s house to reassure Friend’s mother that everything is OK.  The one-way streets mean it’s five blocks to drive, but three to walk.  I have no idea why they took the car.

8.26 and a half pm, Friend’s mother arrives.  She walked so she missed Joni and Martin who were on their way to her house by car.  Hazel apologises for her inconvenience.  She’s fine, she leaves.

8.30 pm, Joni and Martin return complaining that there wasn’t anyone home at Friend’s house.  Hazel explains that this is because Friend’s parent was in our house.

9.15pm, Everyone’s finished showering and we’re sitting at the table over the evening meal.

  • Joni: Daddy I can’t believe that you didn’t remember that you’d seen me when I came in.
  • M: I know I saw you, but you didn’t tell me you were back. Next time you need to tell me that you’re back so I can tick it off on my mental check-list.

11.15pm,  Joni is going round the house repeating”I know I saw you but you didn’t tell me you were back” and bursting into peals of laughter.

When I next come up for air I’m going to start a survivors’ self-help group for computer programmers’ wives.  In the meantime I’m thinking about swopping some of the males in my life for something less high maintenance.  Possibly a rabbit.

When you go out into the world…

Electronic enemies are no fun.  When I walked away from my computer, the blog entry was three-quarters written.  Yes I should have saved it as draft, but even Microsoft Word manages to hold onto a recovery version for cases of emergency.  So I´m morosely chomping down a pot of dried fruit, and coming to terms with the fact that it matters not one jot whether this is  the fault of the computer or WordPress, since I´m never going to have the enjoyment of taking revenge on either of them.   Tis mine to avenge saith the Lord…

This week with my English students I´ve been doing discussions on giving and receiving advice, using this as a conversation starter;-

“All I really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

― Robert Fulghum

Sometimes life in our house is fluffy and kindergarten.  Othertimes it´s sex, lies and videotape.  Or more likely whatsapp in this day and age.  We can´t write too much about sex, lies and whatsapp in fairness to the youth of the household.  It´s not always easy, we´re writing the script on the hoof.  So are they.

Here, on the other hand, is something of the former.  Really it´s for Granny.  Danny´s new best friend is a little mare called Flor (Spanish for flower) who arrived at the riding school a couple of weeks ago.  We are grateful we live in Argentina, because there´s no way we could afford for him to do this in England.

When he was last out of school the other day I went along to his classroom to see what was keeping him, and found him galloping around the furniture showing his teacher the things he´s learning at riding school.