It is raining in Buenos Aires when I arrive after a 15 hour bus trip. I decide to take a car to the airport rather than another bus and as I chat to the driver I realise I have absorbed more of my surroundings than I had realised. As we pull up at the airport, the driver jumps out and, unexpectedly, kisses me on both cheeks and wishes me a safe journey home. At this point I realise that there is so much more of Argentina and South America that I want to experience.
So, as my time in Argentina comes to an end it’s time to reflect on the journey. How was it? Did I achieve what I set out to? To quote T S Eliot (the journey of the Magi) “it was (you may say) satisfactory”.
I didn’t come here to do the touristy things – visit beautiful places and spend time in luxurious estancias or hotels instead I wanted to plant myself in a community and help (in a very small way) with some of the projects carried out here.
I haven’t worked as hard as I am used to working. Has my presence here made any notable contribution? – It is doubtful. However hopefully I can help pave the way for other volunteers to step off the beaten track and come here to help. Plus just one smile – Just one hug from any one of the children here (and trust me I have had lots!)for me, makes my visit all worthwhile.
I was told by one Argentinean that the Santiago del Estero region is the ugliest part of Argentina. I don’t see that. In Aῇatuya I see a quiet country town with plenty of pretty green and lots of birds, somewhere I can wander around, be greeted by all manner of strangers and feel safe. I have met some lovely people here and even after such a short period of time I know I am going to miss some of them very much.
Aῇatuya is a community that struggles on several levels. However despite the poverty, regularity of teenage pregnancy, violence, abuse, alcoholism, and incest, most people here are just trying to make a life. My conclusion is that people here in Argentina have the same worries, problems, loves and hopes as people do at home (and indeed people in most countries). Being here as a result has felt quite natural to me.
I won’t miss the relentless heat, the dirt and the loneliness from being on my own. However the kindness of people makes up for most of that. I will definitely miss the quiet and the slow pace of life here and most of all, the children.
As for me – has the trip changed me? Well for starters I realise that so many of the ‘luxuries’ I am so particular about at home really don’t matter – I haven’t missed them at all. I have missed my family and just a touch or a kind word from a stranger when you are alone can make all the difference to your day. I wanted to change my life, to make it simpler and happier and this trip has helped create a bridge from my old life to the new. I have learned to slow down a bit and I am going home very relaxed as a result.
Oh and just to be clear, I won’t pretend that my Spanish is fantastic either – although it has improved a lot. At least I have a whole diploma course to look forward to next year to sort that!
I have one further comment to add. Sometimes you need to push yourself and step out of your comfort zone entirely. We all share this world and we all have a duty to take care of it and of each other. Everyone should from time to time put themselves in others’ shoes and do something for a stranger without expectation of personal gain – you never know what will come from it and it helps bring balance to the world.
So for now, Hasta Luego!
Ps The Jacarandas are in full bloom and are simply beautiful!