Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Entre Rios and Voting

Last weekend I was lucky enough to have my host family offer to take me with them to go to another province of Argentina (provinces are similar to states), Entre Rios, so they could vote and visit family. Though it's only about 3 hours away from the busy city we live in, it was like a whole different world. My host mom's family all lives in or around the city of Concepcion de Uruguay, which is really quite lovely if you get the chance. 

The most striking thing when we first pulled into town was that it felt like a different country completely. The trees were different, the houses were built totally differently, side roads were made just of dirt. Unlike Buenos Aires, which has a very New York vibe to it, this place looked like nothing I had ever seen before. Which quite frankly, is probably why I enjoyed it so much. 

Roque, our dog enjoying the indoor courtyard.

One of the first things anyone from Argentina will tell you about Buenos Aires is that it's not what Argentina is like. It's like the equivalent of going to New York and assuming that, that is what the rest of the US is like. No one place can embody the complete essence of a country, but I believe the rural areas can give you a better idea of the culture. 

I remember being confused when I got here at the hustle in bustle of the city and the lack of siesta time that I had always heard about in Latin culture. Well, turns out that the rest of the country does do that! In Concepcion everything, I mean everything except restaurants closed at about 1pm and didn't open back up until 4pm. Banks close at 1pm and don't open back up till the next day! The pace of life here was much slower and much more what I had been expecting to see in South America. 

The reason we were in Entre Rios was not only so my host parents could vote, but was also because it was my host sister Sofy's 13th birthday! Because of this we had a huge party that lasted the whole day basically and involved all of my host mom's 6 sibling family and cousins and family friends, all speaking in Spanish and trying to feed me more sweets. I swear that I ate my body weight in sugar from all the tartas and macaroons and cake. 

The party was One Direction themed!

While getting to meet everyone was great (I'm the first student they ever took there, so yay me!) but it was also exhausting. My brain was trying so hard to keep up with all the Spanish and when I did understand, by the time I had thought up a response it was past that conversation. Also, it's just really intimidating to try and speak a second language (poorly) to a large group of people. But luckily, they were all very understanding and loved using the 2 or 3 words of English they did know to me. 

On Sunday, we went to vote in the senate primaries because the use the schools for the voting polls, voting always happens on Sunday in Argentina. At first it seemed relatively normal, people lined up in their sections got a paper ballot which they took into an empty classroom to fill out. Then they dropped it into a box. The part that threw me off was when I noticed the large amounts of police and military men around, and the unsettling observation that the military guys were holding what looked like older model machine guns...

Now before you freak out (MOM), I asked my host parents about this pretty scary sight. My host father is pretty high up in the military and let me in on a secret. The guns were fake, they just used them as a scare tactic to keep people in order. In reality, Argentina's army was much too poor to actually afford that. Though I felt relieved, I was still a bit uneasy knowing that they felt the need to scare people with machine guns. 

Political graffiti, basically saying that Hugo Chavez lives in all of Latin American and then it says go Victoria, which is the current president's party. Her and Chavez were tight. I thought this was super interesting. 

As the primary results were announced I discovered something else different about Argentina's fledging democracy (only 40 years old), versus ours. There aren't any real competing parties, at least no significant leaders. Here they have Peronists and Federalists, but each of those parties is divided into at least 6 different subsections which seems to make getting anything down pretty difficult. I'll explain in further detail in a separate post but basically, even though it's a democracy people generally think the government is corrupt. In their defense, they have an awful long history of dictatorships and military rule to back up their concerns. But I'll get more into that later!

Overall, I think that if you visit a country you have to see multiple cities to really get a feel for what that country actually is like. Otherwise, you've only touched the tip of the iceberg!

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