The Tribe go to Salta

Or more accurately, La Caldera which is a sweet little Gaucho village about 20 kms north out of Salta city. The Frost household spent six days on holiday, before being joined for our annual conference by the rest of the Latin Link Southern Cone team, plus a couple of hangers on from Peru (it was really lovely to see you guys). It has taken a couple of days to get some photos up here, but we (the royal we, i.e. Martin) have figured it out now. It was a superb time, both on holiday and at the conference. Below is a gallery capturing just a few moments; walking, fishing, birdwatching, lighting fires, sharing a beer, laughing with friends, enjoying the amazing surroundings of the Salta hills, and, probably the highlight for us Frosts, the best afternoon’s horseriding ever. The first task was to go and collect the horses from the middle of the scrub where they live and graze freely, and then we spent three hours trekking up hill, down dale, through a rushing river, and around the most tranquil lake. Truly unforgettable.

This is gallery view, you can see the individual photos in big by clicking on them and following the arrows to go forward and back.

Summer afternoons

I remember being one of those kids who could always find something to do in the summer holiday and never wasted time wishing school would hurry up and start again. Not having a TV gave us a wide set of skills for self entertaining. Now our own kids are pretty similar, even though they do have access to screens. So, in the mornings we have mostly been at the riding school which is a fine location for different activities as well as riding, and in the afternoons we have done a variety of stuff as well as hanging out in the paddling pool when the temperature gets too much.

We went to see “El Robo del Siglo” (the robbery of the century) at the cinema. It’s an Argentinean film based on the true story of a bank robbery in Buenos Aires. It’s a good story, and it was nice to watch a film of a genre different from Hollywood plastic. Danny said “I didn’t understand that film. If they’re adults, and adults know that it is wrong to steal, why would they do it?” Fair question.

We rebuilt the Notre Dame! Last year when we visited Paris, we spent a whole day exploring the Notre Dame and really loved it. So Danny chose a Nanoblock model of the cathedral to build. We made it, and it was on display in his room, until a younger member of the household decided uninvited to take it apart. That was when we realised that we should have kept the instructions. I tried to figure out how it went using internet photographs, but my skills aren’t that sophisticated, so I contacted the manufacturer Kawada in Japan to ask if I could have replacement instructions. They said contact a distributer. So I contacted a distributer and they said they couldn’t do that. So I went back to Kawada and we toed and froed a bit until I said this is the first time I’ve bought a Nanoblock model so maybe you could see this as an opportunity to show me your great customer service. And a couple of days later I got a pdf attachment of the instructions to rebuild the Notre Dame for free and for nothing. So for the record I would like to say that when challenged, Kawada and their distributer Schylling have given us great customer service. And the model is really nice. We finished it yesterday. And I saved the pdf.

Danny the other evening appeared wearing long trousers, and a long sleeved hoodie with the hood pulled over his head, and his spiderman mask. Since it was still 37 degrees outside, I raised an eyebrow at him. And he said “I opened the office door and there was a bug and it tried to sting me, and I was afraid it might still be cross with me, so I’m in disguise.”  

Now I’m busy thinking about Scout camp, to be followed immediately by family holiday, leading into team conference, and I realised school will start pretty much as soon as we get back from all that, so I’m trying to be as prepared as we can be before we go away. The last few days we have been gathering signatures on the medical paperwork. This afternoon Joni went to the dentist. I am still recovering. The whole thing was reminiscent of a Horrid Henry story (Francesca Simon has been one of our favourite authors for many years). In fact we decided we should write a new chapter entitled Horrid Henry goes to the dentist, encorporating the line “Horrid Henry’s mum decided that his father would take him next time…”

A Time to Goof Around

The writer of Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

The same wise guy also says ” Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” (Ecclesiastes 12) He’s right of course, and we’re taking him seriously. We here are in full summer mode, so there is also;

a time to swim
a time to ride
a time to enjoy our pool on the patio, a time to play, a time to eat ice cream, go to the plaza, watch films, stay up late, and a time to goof around.

Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. 10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.

Educational Games

We´re four weeks off the end of the academic year. Finally. Which is still something like ten percent of the teaching days, but the rhythm of Argentina´s academic year means that by this point no-one cares if anyone learns anything or not. I´m fine with that. I´m turning into the opposite of a pushy parent as far as formal education is concerned, returning to my woofty born-in-the-seventies roots of starting from kids’ interests and needs.

Joni is in his last month of primary school. He is looking forward to the summer holidays. I am looking forward to never stepping into that particular establishment ever again. In fairness, Joni has done fine there. But he´s also the kind of kid who would do OK anywhere – no behaviour issues, no academic difficulties, work done, folders up to date, gets on with everybody; a perfect sausage churned out from a sausage factory. Maybe that´s fine, maybe that´s their function, I just have an idea that a good school might offer something more. The thing that particularly draws my attention is that since we changed Danny to a different school, there isn´t a single member of staff willing to meet my eye, let alone talk to me, which has been more than a little uncomfortable for the last two years while Joni has still been there and I have still had to attend parents meetings etc, and heaven forbid that any staff might ask if Danny is still alive or how he´s doing, even though several parents still do. I find it infantile. I have tried to rise above it, but it´s wearing and I´m glad we´re nearly done.

Danny is also looking forward to school being over. Really he´d like to leave altogether, a mere decade or so before time! This year in 3rd grade he still mostly has short days, from 8 till 12, apart from Tuesdays and Thursdays which look more like the English system, from 8, with a lunch break and classes finishing at 2. Next year in 4th grade and above, he will go from 8 till 2 every day. The other day I told him, remember you need to go in for lunch and we´ll collect you at 2, and he said “No way, how many more times am I going to have to do this?” so I reminded him that next year he will have to do it every day. And he cried real tears “When will this torture ever be over…?” He doesn´t really hate school any more since he changed schools, but he´d be happy not to have to do it. And it hasn´t been a great year for him, it hasn´t been a disaster, but last year was his best year ever and this one has been mediocre by comparison. We´re hoping he might get a different teacher next year, he’s in a mixed 3rd-4th grade class this year, and we´re hoping he doesn´t just pass to the 4th grade half of the same class with the same teacher. She a nice enough person, but she’s never got the measure of Danny, and he requires a lot of creative thinking to get the best out of him, which is what his teacher had going for her last year, and this one hasn´t been a relationship made in heaven.

Meanwhile, thinking forward, we´ve finalised Joni’s secondary school place a couple of weeks ago. After lots of chopping and changing, we basically let Joni decide, given that it´s he who will have to put up with it every day. He made a short list of three, the agricultural school, the technical school, and finally he settled on the “proa” (say pro-a) which is a modern experimental style of school being trialled here.  We went along to the introductory meeting and he and we really liked the look of what they are trying to do which is way more funky and creative than anything we´ve seen in Argentina so far, with lots of project work based on student led initiatives.  Apparently the rest of the city thought the same, which may be an indication of the need to modernise the rest of Argentina´s creaking education system, as there were literally four people chasing every place.

In order to wittle the numbers down, they held an obligatory workshop for parents, which I attended, and an obligatory workshop for prospective students so Joni went along. There they split them up into groups and gave them taster sessions in Maths, English and programming. The secretary told me that she was sitting in on Joni’s english class, where the teacher asked a bunch of questions and Joni didn’t put his hand up, so probably the teacher thought he didn’t know anything so she gave him a piece of paper to read, which he did. The secretary said “I saw that teacher’s face…” Then the teacher said “I like your accent, are you studying English?” And Joni said no. Which is true but… evil child!! Finally, they did a names in the bucket draw for all those who had turned up to the two workshops, which while unsophisticated is probably fairer than the UK system at least from when I was last involved, where oversubscribed schools cherry picked middle class families according to the parents´ability to write an essay on the form (do they still do that?)  Anyway we were very fortunate that his name came up. And apparently the English teacher has forgiven him – they met in the corridor after the draw and she congratulated him on getting in and said she was looking forward to seeing him (exacting her revenge?) next year.

So that’s the round up of formal education. On the informal side, on Saturday we put our big paddling pool up on the patio for the summer and the younger element spent the weekend testing it out while it was filling:

Now it needs filtering and chorinating regularly to keep it going till February. And Joni took part in his first horse jumping event:

Proving that school isn’t always the most important place for learning things – heck, who needs quadratic equations if you can save your life in water, and gallop a horse over a pole without falling off?

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