Two and a half thousand years progress

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”  said Socrates approximately two and a half thousand years ago.  Which was roughly the same time (give or take a few years for inexactitude) that the writer of Ecclesiastes exclaimed that there is nothing new under the sun.

“In a society where busyness is worn as a badge of honour…”  There´s a big electrical storm on outside otherwise I might have gone for a run instead…

“When you signal you’re busy, you’re basically telling others that you are high status and important, not because what you wear is expensive, but [because] you are extremely desired and in high demand,” says Silvia Bellezza, co-author of a Harvard Business School study that argues that an overworked lifestyle, rather than a leisurely lifestyle, has become an aspirational status symbol.”

These quotes come from a couple of BBC articles that I´m finding thought provoking…

Is there an upside to having no social life

Busy: Badge of honour or a big lie?

It´s interesting that humans have moved on from the early consumerist myth that we were aiming to make life easier, and embraced a new-old myth that we need to free up more time in order to fill it with more stuff.   As mission partners, charity workers, voluntary sector employees, we also feel an added pressure to justify our existence against supporters´ donations, which traditionally most of us do through reporting lists of things achieved or at least projects in progress.  But even that is a bit of an excuse really.  I think I probably use being busy doing some things as a way of avoiding thinking about other things, people, God, that I find more difficult.  And now I´m really hoping it stops thundering and lightning soon so I can go for a run or I might actually have to do the admin that I´m putting off.



And then it was October

I didn’t write anything for so long that there was too much to write and I didn’t have time to write it so then it got left a bit longer and there was even more to write… repeat to fade.  So this is the heavily editted version.

We went to England, it was a busy time.  We saw a lot of people and we didn’t see a lot of other people, so if you’re in the first group it was lovely to see you, and if you’re in the second group, we’ll prioritise some different places next time.  All the kids had good experiences, including Teen, for whom the whole thing was a massive adventure, and we really enjoyed going on holiday to Devon with the rest of the family.

Key events since then, Joni had his tenth birthday.  He’s tall enough to be thirteen, and it feels like he was only born yesterday.  His cake challenge for me this year was to make a “fidget spinner” so I thought wouldn’t it be great if it actually spun…

I checked out buying a lazy susan but they cost more than I wanted to pay.  So I took a large round ice-cream tub, emptied a bag of marbles into the bottom, put a slightly smaller round ice-cream tub in on top, and hey presto, a Heath Robinson ball-bearing race.  Add a large wooden board, I thought I would have to tape that down but when I tested it, the weight of the cake kept everythng in place anyway.  The kids loved it.  I was still congratulating myself two days later.

Danny learnt to ride his bike without stabilizers…  

“I’m amazing” he squeaked as he flashed past for the umpteenth time.  Lack of engagement with the education system appears not to have dented his self esteem.  Now we’re working on the idea of brakes as a better means of stopping than wearing through the toes of our shoes.

Meanwhile, on formal education.  School continue to present lists of complaints and continue to offer zero suggestions regarding solutions.  The music therapist continues to save my sanity, and through another contact we are hoping to meet informally with the head of another school who may be able to give us a clearer picture of what we really are and aren’t allowed to do, including whether Danny might be better off in a different school or whether it really would just be more of the same.

Tomorrow Joni and I are at a joint activity for the four cub packs in the city.  Today I’ve just finished translating a technical manual which helps to pay the bills.  Next on the list is to make pizza to have with a film this evening, when Martin gets back with the flour.  And now I’ve just remembered that I forgot to buy onions.  Quick trip out while the dough’s rising.



A different perspective

If you read this like Danny talks, then it absolutely does say Charlie and the Chocolate factory.  But I didn’t figure it out either until he read it to me.

On Monday he disappointed not to be able to go out with Martin, so I explained that Daddy was going to the prison and little boys aren’t allowed.  “Oh, are they going to put him in a cage?” He wasn’t remotely bothered, just curious.

On Wednesday he popped into the kitchen to see what I was doing.  “That smells good, who’s in the oven?”

Yesterday he wasn’t sure we should make a plan to go to Cadbury World with his cousins.  Unpacking his thought processes revealed that he was scared we might abandon him for some sort of Wonka-esque experiment.  “But I don’t want to be chewed into a blueberry…”

Today I realised that this time next week we will be required to be doing something in a church in the UK and we haven’t organised it yet, because it feels like it’s forever away because we’re still in Argentina, and we haven’t yet done a great deal towards organising that part yet.  Fortunately, praise the Lord and the prayer warriors, Teen and Baby have passports.  So we need to get out heads around leaving here and thinking about the next couple of weeks.  I’m feeling slightly daunted by the schedule, and as one of our – soon to be “ex” or possibly chewed into a blueberry if she doesn’t behave herself – friends helpfully pointed out, “you’re not even young anymore”.  Hmpf.  Friday 4th August is reserved for playing at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in Cadbury World if anyone wants to come and be Willy Wonka or share a picnic.


Blessings and Challenges

Currently listening and reflecting on this…

I went to Cordoba to take my Spanish exam, I think it went well but I won’t know till July.  I did a bunch of other stuff in Cordoba, mostly shopping for kids’ needs, and stayed a night by myself in a hotel.  Last time that happened I was six months pregnant with Joni, so almost exactly ten years ago.

Weekend involved visit from mission colleague, thank you P, was nice to see you in more relaxed circumstances.  Unfortately we did also manage two trips to A and E.  Saturday evening one member of the household broke another’s finger.   4.30 Sunday morning two of them crashed a motorbike.   Fortunately no-one badly hurt and it appears that there might not be any comeback neither from the owner of the motorbike nor the car they hit, so they got off lightly.  Hopefully the memory of the now healing scrapes and bruises might serve as a longer-term reminder.

Yet another pointless meeting re Danny at school on Tuesday.  The education system really sucks.  Fortunately he doesn’t care.

Martin bought an iron.  I enjoyed watching him explain it to the kids… “This thing is called an iron, it gets hot…”  never seen one of those in action in their lives so far.  Then they got to watch Martin doing the ironing, so now they know it’s a job for a real man.  I see no reason whatsoever to intervene.  Our future daughters in law are going to be so grateful.

Sweet little moment today when Teen announced that she is going to try to become cleaner and tidier and more ordered, so that then she might be a good example to help the other young lady currently staying here, who could definitely use some positive role models regarding keeping one’s person and stuff in a clean and roughly ordered condition.

Danny and Baby are currently chasing each other around the house brandishing pirate swords.  Danny has just paused briefly in order to remind me that “A person’s a person no matter how small….” (Dr. Seuss – Horton hears a Who).

Meanwhile, the schedule for this coming weekend doesn’t look too bad, and I think I’ve had more than my quota of hospital trips for a while.  And right now I need to go cook some fish and hopefully time lunch to co-incide somewhere between the owner of the broken finger arriving home from his check-up, and Joni coming in from school.

Keep calm and say “Yo ho me hearties”.

Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.
Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

We entertained twenty eight young pirates at home for Danny’s sixth birthday.

I  was highly chuffed with myself with how the cake turned out.

Luckily it didn’t rain despite threatening, so most of the pirates spent the afternoon outside.  I also set up activities around the house – train tracks to build, lego, colouring, puppets and the like, so they entertained themselves in an approximately organised fashion, apart from a few incidents of bombarding each other with lemons off the tree.  After all, one can’t expect pirates to be too civilised.

The pirates went home.  We cleared up, bathed everyone, and congratulated ourselves on a day well seized.

At ten thirty at night, ex-prisoner friend turned up.  We were sort of expecting him, but anything can happen.  This time the anything that happened was that he had two of his children in tow, and despite Martin having spoken to both him and his wife on several occasions throughout the day, neither of them imagined that we might have preferred to have been given that small piece of information in advance.  I was very tired.  I was probably less than gracious.  I pointed out that there are already eight of us in the house this week, and if all eight brought along “only two more” without checking first, we might be struggling to fit the twenty four of us round the table.

Today we have posted them back to Cordoba.  Tomorrow we need to have a slightly less stressed conversation regarding boundaries and channels of communication.

Well who knew?

Danny spent a couple of days carrying around a stick around as his pirate sword.  He took it to music therapy, and went in, explaining to Gustavo, music therapist, that it was his sword.  Then they were playing together on the piano, and Danny started using the stick as a baton to conduct while Gustavo played.  So Gustavo asked him whether it was a sword or a conductor’s baton.  At which, Gustavo says, Danny looked at him like he was bonkers and said “it’s a stick…!”  No flies on my kids.

It’s fascinating some of the ground we cover when I am taking English conversation classes.  This week I discovered that in the state school system here for every teacher covering a class there are seven teachers being paid a salary.  Which is why they aren’t better paid because the country couldn’t afford it.  So why don’t we just stop paying a few of the other six inactive staff for every post?  Because there is a constitutional clause making it almost impossible to get rid of any public sector employee no matter what they did or didn’t do.  Apparently in the last twenty five years in San Francisco two people have been successfully sacked from the municipal payroll, and both of those were for murder, so for anything less, forget it.

Meanwhile, on another tab I am waiting for a page to load, headed “datos personales”.  This is the next step in the painful process of registering myself as a potential employee in said education system.  So far I still don’t have a recognisable degree, but with my now recognised secondary certificate there are apparently jobs I could apply for if I can get myself onto the list.  Two trips by bus to Cordoba, a lot of walking, a fair amount of arguing, and a few emails in between finally won me a registration number written in thick black felt tip pen and handed to me with a “Don’t lose that”.  Now I need to upload the same, along with my other personal details to the centralised educational employment pages.  I have been doing this on and off for the last two days, with varying levels of frustration.  I suspect the server of not being entirely up to the task.  The idea of having a centralised employment system was something that I thought might be interesting, maybe even more efficient than having to apply seperately for every job as in my passport country.  This may still be true.  Somewhere else.  Here, the form is indeed centralised.  But on the first line of your form you have to specify which schools you would like to work in, up to a maximum of three.  So your first task is to guess which three schools out of the forty or so in your local area, might have a vacancy between now and the end of 2018, that you would be a. interested in and b. eligible to apply for.  Which might seem rather to defeat the point of having a centralised system.

  • Me to Joni: Didn’t I ask you to go through your drawers and give me all the clothes that don’t fit you? (i.e. pretty much everything he owns) so we can see what we need to buy you (i.e. a whole new wardrobe)
  • He: Yes, but I haven’t been bored enough yet.



Little things…

…please little minds, and a set of six brightly coloured food boxes with “poo” embossed on the lids was enough to do it for me.

School has been happening on a regular basis for the last couple of weeks. It appears that even the teachers are finally bored with perennial  industrial action.  Every couple of days the news publishes another date for the next strike, but the number of staff adhering to them appears to be dwindling to none, at least in the state schools in our neck of the woods., for which we are highly grateful.

The timetable on the other hand is taking some getting used to.  Back in the dark ages, we used to go to school at the same time every day, and come home at the same time every day, and know that every other school in the country was starting and finishing along with us, give or take half an hour here or there.  Here things are more complicated.

Baby goes to the municipal nursery, that’s from eight till twelve.  Danny is in first grade of the local primary school.  That’s also from eight till twelve.  Luckily they’re close together and the nursery is fairly tolerant about times for working parents, so I dump Baby off the bike at one, and carry on with Danny to the other.  Joni is in forth grade primary, that’s usually from eight till two unless otherwise informed.  Teen is in forth year secondary.  She starts at twelve thirty on Monday and Thursday, and one fifteen the rest of the week unless otherwise informed, usually finishing at six thirty or thereabouts, but on Wednesday she also has p.e. from seven thirty till eight thirty in the morning.

Factor in to this that the main cooked meal in Argentina is at midday, because food in the evening doesn’t normally happen until nine o’ clock or later.  The nursery feed Baby which is handy, but school doesn’t provide food, so Danny needs feeding when he comes home, Teen needs hers before she goes in, but Joni will come back ravenous for his an hour after Teen started school.  Add in everyone’s homework and yes they all get homework most days (apart from Baby who spends the homework hour pulling things off the table and pushing chairs around).  Scatter through the week a bunch of extracurricular activities, and all of a sudden we have a recipe for chaos, or at least we can start to understand why my sense of humour has descended to the level where bottom jokes are about as sophisticated as I can muster.



March brings breezes loud and shrill

The Garden Year

January brings the snow,
Makes our feet and fingers glow.

February brings the rain,
Thaws the frozen lake again.

March brings breezes, loud and shrill,
To stir the dancing daffodil…

Which doesn’t quite work here in the Southern Hemisphere.  Here, February brought Scout summer camp, where we took the 11-15 age group a kilometre away from running water and electricity and challenged them to get on with it.  Are people even still alloowed to do things like that in the UK?  It was lots of fun, and looked like this…

Then we figured to finish the summer holiday with a few days out as a family.  We couldn’t get accommodation anywhere in our favourite destination of Miramar, and then at the last minute the car died, limiting us to somewhere easily available by bus and preferrably without having to lug camping gear.  So we ended up in Arroyito, which is a bit like going on holiday to Bedford or something.  But it has a nice wide shallow river, some good plazas, a better selection of eateries than San Francisco, an old non-functional steam train for the kids to climb over, and we found a sweet little hotel, with a very inviting swimming pool, run by a sweet little elderly Spaniard, and all in all we had a nice relaxing few days.

The first of March was supposed to bring the start of the school year, but according to custom, we begin the year with a series of teachers’ strikes.  The dispute will probably drag on for a while yet, but tomorrow we should finally have all four children in their appropriate educational establishments on full timetables at least for a day or two until the next set of strkes is announced.




The long dark tea-time of the school holidays.

It’s been so long since I went to our website that I couldn’t remember how to log in.  Last year finished in a blur of heat and activity, and now we are in the long dark tea-time of the school summer holidays which is just a different blur of heat and activity – fewer peaks than the end of term stuff, but demanding on a more ongoing basis.   I am reminded of being 15 and the JW’s asked my mother if she ever longed for peace, and she replied, probably slightly manically “yes, every day in the school holidays”.  There were four of us kids at home too.

Joni and Teen have become each other’s chosen partner in crime for projects and activities, which is mostly great, apart from the daily outbreaks of warfare which require frequent and creative refereeing.  On the bright side, today she has blitzed her room which we have been prodding her about for months.  She paid Joni to help her.  So now we can actually install the shelves that she needs in order to be able to organise her stuff.  Joni is pleased with himself that he has learnt to make toast – something of an artform here, involves a wire contraption on the gas stove top and careful supervision in order not to set the house on fire.   Danny has learnt to make his own squash/cordial, and has also enjoyed making popcorn with me a couple of times.  Baby is busy making a creative mess of the house having discovered the freedom of crawling: we removed the computer out of Teen’s room, initially as a punishment but it turned out to be a positive move for both of them so it’s staying in the dining room.   And everyone including parents is mortally grateful for our big paddling pool – 5000 litres of it – on the patio, it has been about the only hospitable place to be in the heat of the last few weeks.

Next week the boys and I are off on Scout summer camp to the hills so now I am busy with paperwork, resources, paperwork, fixing tents, paperwork, organising food, oh and did I mention paperwork?  Bureaucracy is something I never get used to here, and this camp has been the worst.  In addition to the usual truckload of Scout paperwork, we have also been given another two sets of forms and photocopies required by the province of Cordoba, and yet another heap as a free gift from the nation in order to travel with  unaccompanied minors.  Apparently this is all related to the issue of human trafficking.  Personally I would like someone to point me to any example of how all this paper has led to a single person being saved from trafficking.  How many bureaucrats does it take to change a light bulb?  Answer: Two.  One to reassure the public that everything possible is being done, and the other to screw the lightbulb into the water faucet.   The bus company informed us yesterday that they are sending a 60 seater bus for the same price as the 45 seater which we had ordered but isn’t available.  So we have fifteen spare seats for the paperwork to occupy.  The camp site is a new one to me, it looks like it has plenty of potential, and I am happy with the programme that we have put together, so hopefully we have the ingredients in place for a fun week with the kids.  Martin is looking forward to week of relative peace.  As relative as it gets with Baby demolishing the house around him.


Not one less

Femicide (and now I’m finding it interesting that femicide apparently isn’t recognised by the Microsoft Office spell checker as being a valid word…) has become a topic of national debate over the last year or so, following a few high profile examples, including a particularly horrific one a few yards from our door which caused the national press to camp outside for a couple of days.

The education system caught on, and a national date was set for every school to run a workshop for pupils and parents on equality and gender violence.  So I went to school with Joni for the morning.  It was an illuminating experience.  We heard that “as a result of economic necessity, unfortunately women have had to go out to work…”.  Then we were told that “since women have had to go to work, then men should help in the house…” (the house remaining the domain of the female while the male helps her out a bit if he is a good boy).   And finally we discovered that “men can do women’s jobs, and women can do men’s jobs” (without wondering if it is, or ever was, Ok to think of them in terms of “men’s” and “women’s” jobs.).  So all in all, we experienced a session whose purpose was apparently to tackle inequality, without actually identifying, much less questioning, any of the stereotypes underlying that inequality.  I guess it was a start.

This is an poem that drew my attention on social media a few weeks ago as part of the anti-femicide campaign.  “Ni una menos” means “Not one less” and I’m putting it up in full so I can find it again when I need it.  Unfortunately it didn’t make it as far as the school workshop, but it is an interesting reflection on culture, and does challenge some of the stereotypes which make us wince – e.g. the one about how the female children in the family are often made to clear up after the males, or how the female workers in an office get to make the coffee and sweep up after males on the same grade.  Poems work better in their original language and this one uses national dialect to add to the difficulties, but you can get an idea if you run it through a translator.




Itatí Schvartzman

La amiga que sueña un marido que la mantenga
el pibe que escribe el reggaetton de moda
la madre que educa machitos y princesas
el jefe que escupe: es que está en día femenino
la compañera que te dice: así no vas a conseguir novio
la boluda que aclara: soy femenina, no feminista
la mamá que la viste sólo de rosa, porque es nena
el papá que compra muñecas y cocinitas
y lavarropas a la nena
y pelotas y aviones y juegos de química al varón
el novio que te revisa el teléfono y el facebook
la mina que dice de otra mina que parece una puta con esa ropa
la mamá que sueña un príncipe azul para yerno
el papá que paga por sexo con nenas de la edad de su hija
el novio que no coge con la novia por respeto
y sale de putas después de acompañarla a casa
los compañeros profesionales que en vez de escucharte
lo que tenés para decir en la reunión,
te piden que sirvas el café o hagas el mate
la marca de detergente que sólo te habla a vos, mujer
el médico que te hace cesárea sin necesidad
o el que te hace la episiotomía de rutina
la enfermera que te grita: bancátela, bien que te gustó hacerlo
o la que te ata a la camilla para parir
el marido que te prohíbe trabajar
o el que te esconde los documentos y la plata
o el que te controla los ingresos y egresos
la caricatura política diaria
el chiste de mierda, las propagandas,
Tinelli, la novela turca, los concursos de belleza
el que te obliga a hacer algo en la cama
que no deseás, el que se fija sólo en su placer
el que te dice: ahora no me podés dejar así
el que te humilla, el que te adjetiva, el que te menosprecia
el que te caga a trompadas
el que te aisla, te controla, te cela, te sigue
el que me dijo el primer piropo grosero
a los doce años, el que me tocó contra mi voluntad
en el boliche de moda, en todos los boliches de moda
el compañero que te manda a barrer el piso del local del partido
el compañero que no cuestiona sus privilegios
el que recibe un cheque más gordo sólo por tener pene
y se calla y se lo guarda en el bolsillo
el pelotudo que pregunta y el día del varón, eh?
la mamá que obliga a la nena a levantar
los platos sucios de sus hermanos varones
la pelotuda que rápido vuelve a aclarar
pero mirá que yo soy femenina, no feminista
la que se burla de que no me pinto
la que se burla de que vos no te depilás
la que se burla de que no calzás tacones
la que se ríe de que compro libros y no carteras
el compañero que me mira las tetas

Todos unidos frente al televisor
preguntándose cómo puede ser
que asesinaron a otra mina

Ita, 25 de noviembre 2015