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.

NI UNA MENOS from http://nohuboderecho.blogspot.com.ar/2015/11/ni-una-menos.html



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



Thinking a jigsaw

At the moment I am thinking a jigsaw out of a few things that seem to have been put across my path.

One piece is Jeremiah 29, and in particular what it means to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile”:

Thus says the Lord of hosts
to all the exiles
whom I have sent into exile:

Build houses and live in them.
Plant gardens
and eat their produce…
Seek the welfare of the city
where I have sent you
into exile,
and pray to the Lord
on its behalf,
for in its welfare,
you will find your welfare

For I know the plans
I have for you,
says the Lord,
plans for welfare
and not for evil,
to give you a future
and a hope.

Then you will call upon me
and come and pray to me,
and I will hear you.
You will seek me and find me;
when you seek me
with all your heart,
I will be found by you,
says the Lord.

(Jeremiah 29:4-7, 11-12)


Pieces two and three are accept, and hospitality.  Two words which modern usage has tamed into inconsequential fluff compared to the weight of their original meanings:

Accept: late Middle English: from Latin acceptare, frequentative of accipere ‘take something to oneself’, from ad- ‘to’ + capere ‘take’.

Hospitality: from Latin, hostis, which means stranger, enemy. From that, we get hospitem, Latin for guest or host. From these roots, English gets hospital, host, hostel, hotel, hospitality. Hospitals were originally inns for the reception of travellers.   To be hospitable means to offer shelter to a stranger.


And one more, because all good jigsaws have a few odd shaped pieces: the Benedictine vow of stability.

Benedictine vow of stability: (from http://www.mississippiabbey.org/Vows)

We vow to remain all our life with our local community. We live together, pray together, work together, relax together. We give up the temptation to move from place to place in search of an ideal situation. Ultimately there is no escape from oneself, and the idea that things would be better someplace else is usually an illusion. And when interpersonal conflicts arise, we have a great incentive to work things out and restore peace. This means learning the practices of love: acknowledging one’s own offensive behaviour, giving up one’s preferences, forgiving.

Comment from blog at http://www.geraldschlabach.net/the-vow-of-stability/ “Benedict’s rule requires a “vow of stability” — the uniquely Benedictine commitment to live in a particular monastic community for life. At first, this may seem to apply least of all amid other ways of life. Yet precisely because it contrasts so sharply with the fragility of most commitments in our hypermodern society, the Benedictine vow of stability may speak more directly to our age and churches than anything else in the Rule… It is no use rediscovering any of our church’s roots, nor discerning innovative ways to be faithful to our church’s calling, if we won’t slow down, stay longer even if we can’t stay put indefinitely, and take something like a vow of stability. Slow down — because postmodernism may really be hypermodernism. Stay longer — because there is no way to discern God’s will together without commitment to sit long together in the first place.”


Now make a jigsaw… this is my currently-being-worked-on version..  I am thinking about God’s calling; being called to go, and being called to stay.  It seems to me that the Biblical principle is that in general we are called to go, unless we are being specifically called to stay.  At this moment I think we are being specifically called to stay.  Not because we have a great or prestigious ministry; we don’t.  But the evidence seems to indicate that God wants us here in commitment and stability.  Which gives us a long-term challenge to seek the welfare of the city where we have been called, and I think one way we do that is through modelling acceptance and hospitality.  Not acceptance and hospitality in the gooey 21st century sense of “I put up with my neighbours, and invite my friends to dinner”, but in a real sense of stepping aside to make room to include the stranger, in this city where we sometimes find ourselves excluded as foreign aliens.  And this, I think is the parable that we are being called to act at the moment, on one hand to point to a God who accepts and transforms each of us from stranger to brother, and on the other hand as a challenge to the Christian community to rediscover the virtues of acceptance and hospitality in our relationships with each other and the neighbourhoods we belong to.

What if God was one of us?…  Just a stranger on the bus. Tryin’ to make his way home?                     Joan Osbourne.

Lazy Sunday


We are in lazy Sunday mode!  Danny is watching Mike the Knight re-runs for the zillionth time.  Joni is getting annoyed with his mecano on the kitchen table.  Teen and Baby are away for the weekend.  Martin preached this morning and awarded himself the rest of the day off.  I have organised Sunday school for this evening and some Scout stuff for the week ahead and am working my way down a pot of coffee.

I’m currently reading Radical Hospitality by a couple of United Statesian Benedictines.  It threatened to be brilliant.  Then when I started it, it wasn’t what I was expecting.  Then I realised that actually it is brilliant, just not what I was expecting!  It’s short, and it doesn’t have any technical language, but you can’t read it quickly, so I’m using it as a kind of devotional.  Try these for a couple of examples of quotable quotes…

“Hospitality has become safe and cosy, even productive, rather than revolutionary, risky, and world-rattling… The missing virtue of our era has been turned into a social grace that neither disturbs nor transforms”

“What is dangerous to the child is not dangerous to an adult.  You drive a car now.  You live away from home.  You use knives to chop vegetables.  You drink a Scotch and water.  Why do we remain locked up in our fear of strangers?”

“The stranger helps us locate our favourite lies.  The stranger helps us see the absurd in our culture and ourselves.  The stranger opens our eyes”

“Gratitude is the leading edge of joy.  It happens when the big reality hits you.  You have no more right to be loved than anyone else.  Your children have no more right to health and security than the children in Bosnia.  It is all a gift.  Every single molecule, every smile, every taste of sunshine is a gift.”


And now it’s time to get ready for church.  There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.

Less is more

I’m not a natural minimalist as anyone who has ever seen my desk would testify.  Actually not many people have ever seen my desk, it’s not currently possible to see my desk, that’s the point.

But Martin did a miraculous job on the garage a few weeks ago, and now I’m motivated to do something similar with the toy cupboard.  I’m sure my kids probably have far less stuff than their average European counterpart, but I am fast coming to the conclusion that it would be better to have a few toys that are loved and played with, than a whole heap of stuff crammed in that rarely gets touched.

So, I tipped it all out into the garage, then we called in the carpenter to add some shelves and now I am gradually sifting everything into keep, donate to Scout jumble sale, donate to baby’s nursery, and chuck.

Then we probably need to do something with the books.  And the office…

Suitcase and guitar in hand

“I’m sitting in railway station got a ticket for my destination mm-mm…”

(Simon and Garfunkel; Homeward Bound)

Actually it’s a bus station (for the literary and musical pedants) to be strictly accurate.  In Rio Cuarto, six hours by bus from home.  We go in for imaginative names in Cordoba Province.  The most important river in Cordoba is Rio Primero (First River) and the city that strings along its southern bank is also named Rio Primero.  The second most important river is Rio Segundo, and the city that strings along its bank is also named Rio Segundo.   So Rio Cuarto…. took me by surprise.  I was idly staring out of the window when we crossed the bridge and found myself thinking “oh that’s nice, they have a river…” Doh.   In my defence I did have to crawl out of my bed at four in the morning in order to catch the bus.

The secretary at the entrance to the surprisingly-large-for-a-small-city university campus (think Warwick) might have been short of a few hours’ sleep too.  She started trying to explain where I should go, realised that she had lost both of us, dug out a map, realised she couldn’t pinpoint her own office on the map, handed me the map and said “good luck” as she pointed me out of the door.  I thought this inauspicious introduction might not bode so well for an establishment purporting to work with intelligent people.  However, once I had tracked down the Academic Secretary, courtesy of the map, some signposts and a helpful passer-by, I found him more than helpful.  He now has photocopies of the whole heap of every document that might be relevant to making any progress with my academic qualifications in Argentina.  And I have been collecting papers for a few years now; that was one heavy rucksack.  They will be considered by a committee, and he thinks I should get a basic general response on a possibly/not level within a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile I am still waiting for a decision from Buenos Aires on whether they might be willing to give me a secondary school certificate.  That was a whole other story last week.  I was about to write that the secretary at the gate this morning would maybe find herself at home there, but I’m wrong; they would have her for breakfast.  Having been made to wait for four hours, then put through a grinder and spat out the other end, including one staff member complaining that it was so long after my appointment time(!), I was told I should hear in three days.  That was a week last Friday.  Fortunately I have kept in good contact with the friend I made in the education ministry in Cordoba, and he says he will intervene if too many more days go by.

The municipal nursery where Baby goes in the mornings have been on strike (along with most other municipal services) for the last two weeks, so getting anything done at home has been a challenge, but I have just had a message saying that they are back to normal as of tomorrow morning.  Hooray.  And starting yesterday we have put up a new colourful family job rota with everyone on it (apart from Baby) which we are hoping will increase the level of participation and decrease the level of whining at being asked to participate.  It got off to a fine start yesterday with both Joni and Teen tidying and cleaning their rooms –the first time in months that we have seen all her floor at once.   So I am waiting with hopeful anticipation to see whether there are more good surprises when I get home today…

Home where my thought’s escaping,
Home where my music’s playing,
Home where my loves are waiting (probably not very) silently for me…

The week after the camp before

I left Danny’s coat on the bathroom shelf and had got as far as trying to hang the toilet roll in his wardrobe before realising that I have finally lost the plot.  Something to do with two consecutive weekend Scout camps sandwiching a busy week in the middle.

The first camp was for the patrol leaders from the three groups in our district, which was very good for my kids whose lack of self esteem means that they struggle to integrate outside their own neighbourhood.  And the following weekend we took seven of our own group by bike to Monte Redondo about fifteen kilometres away from here.

monte redondo

Following global trends, all our kids are overweight – where the rich do sports and have access to a decent diet, poor kids have neither, and it would be pushing a limit to describe some of their bent and brake-less contraptions as “bicycles”.  All seven have significant issues in their own lives, disability, economic disadvantage, family situations, and several are subjected to judicial orders as victims of abuse.  It was a fairly relaxed programme, they explored the woods, and cooked on fires, including demonstrating that it is possible to boil water in the plastic coke bottle without it melting, but be careful when you take the lid off!  Maybe should have written a risk assessment for that bit.  Or not mention it at all.  Ho hum…

Luckily this week isn’t proving to be too heavy so far, although I am going to Buenos Aires on the night bus on Thursday because I have an appointment in the Ministry of silly walks Education on Friday now I have finally (hopefully) managed to collect enough pieces of paper to prove that I did complete secondary school a million years ago in my country of origin.  At the moment I am thinking about the whole bureaucratic paper chasing thing in terms of an acted parable.  So far I think we have been called to act three parables, the first when the ex-prisoner and wife stayed with us for a year, the second in fostering Teen and then her Baby, and now this would be another.  Except that I think I kind of understand the first two, but I haven’t yet figured out what this one would be about.