Tuesday, October 29, 2013

We took care of the body.

Just in time for halloween one of the strangest and creepiest things I've done to date happened with my host family in Entre Rios. It involved opening a real coffin, dealing with a skeleton, and black trash bags. Believe me, it's just a strange as it sounds!

For the background of the story, we were spending the weekend at my host grandma's casa in Concepcion del Uruguay, Entre Rios. This house has been in the family for a very, very long time and they've had the same neighbors for all of that time also. About 3 months ago the man who lived in the neighboring house passed away. Instead of burying people in the ground like we do it the states, they put the caskets in wall crypts and they also don't embalm the body so you can sometimes smell them decomposing which is disgusting! The man's daughter, who now owns the house lives in the US currently and asked my host family if they could do a big favor.

Because Bob Ross
Like I said, they are buried in wall crypts that must be paid for, like rent, to keep your family member there. The daughter didn't want to have to pay for 2 crypts when she could just combine them into one location so she asked us to go and move her grandmother's body into the same crypt as her dad. I ASSUMED that meant that we would need to move to coffin to a new area, but then we had to stop to pick up black trash bags and I got a little worried...

We went to the cemetery and got some of the employees to open up the mother's crypt. The brought along a shove and a broom which made me even more worried than I originally was. The pulled the coffin out and laid in on the ground then pried it open with the shovel rather ungracefully. With no gloves they reached in and began pulling out the bones and shoving them into a black trash bag. I saw the skull and a foot that hadn't decomposed for some reason. It was a train wreck you couldn't look away from. I should also note that my family was a freaked out as I was this whole time.

After they picked through the decomposed remains of the fabric and wood they decided they had gotten all of the body and wiped their brows (EWWWWW) and knotted up the bag. They then opened the son's crypt and shoved the bag in beside the coffin, thank god they didn't open his!

It was just so disrespectful and gross and weird. That's also why I have no pictures, I didn't want to add to the disrespect we were already doing this woman. Her name was Argentina, which I found kind of funny and she died in 1958. Hopefully she doesn't come back to haunt us.

After that we were all kind of in shock as to what we had just saw and went to visit the grave of my host mom's father and some other relatives. As we were doing this we saw the three men pushing past a cart with the remains of the coffin on it. A piece of the once white but now brown and gross fabric flew off onto the path.

It was the most bizarre experience I've ever had in my whole life. My host family told me that, that is NOT a common thing and it was extremely freaky to them also but at least I have an awesome story now!

It's one of those things that just makes me say, only in Argentina!!

Happy Halloween!!! Celebrate extra hard for me since Argentina is silly and doesn't celebrate the best holiday of the year.


Why begging me to kiss you doesn't work.

One of the biggest things that's put a damper on my time here in Argentina is absolute lack of respect men have for women (generally, there are exceptions). I understood before I came here that guys would act differently than at home. They would be more aggressive and forward. I thought I was okay with that, I mean how bad can it be? They just think I'm really hot right? Well turns out it's significantly more bothersome than I thought it would be. I previously wrote a post about street harassment in Argentina, here. But for the moment I would like to talk about the lack of understanding that no means no.

First, I'll give you my little anecdote that brought on my need to discuss this. While I was having a lovely weekend in Iguazu we met some local guys that seemed really cool. We agreed to go out to a club with them. Luckily they didn't speak a lick of English so we could tell each other if we felt uncomfortable really easily because they couldn't understand.

The night was great for a while we danced in a pretty non-sexual way, compared to dancing in the states. I mean the majority of the time you're a good foot or two away from your partner. At some point during the night the guy I was dancing with tried to kiss me. I pulled away and he apologized, perdon, perdon lo siento! I told him it was okay and continued to dance.

The second time he tried, because if at first you don't succeed try, try again, I told him that I didn't feel comfortable kissing someone in a public place. In retrospect that was a bad choice of words but cut me some slack because I had to explain it another language.

When it came time to walk home is when things got rough. (Note: I in no way whatsoever felt threatened or unsafe, if I had I promise that I would have gotten away!) We had a good 15 minute walk back to the hostel, normally the same distance I walk to school everyday, expect this felt like hours.

As soon as we exited the club the guy attempted to kiss me again which I deflected. He then argued with me the entire walk home about why I wouldn't kiss him. I told me that I didn't feel comfortable making out in the street with a perfect stranger and that in the states that's not how we do it (which could possibly be a lie, but oh well!). I just kept repeating that I was classy and didn't want to kiss a guy I didn't know.

He countered that in Argentine culture that was how you did it and we're in Argentina. He also repeatedly called it a "gift." I'm try to give you a "gift." I hope I don't need to explain to much how disgusting this rhetoric is to a female.

Just because it's a part of your culture in no way justifies forcing yourself on girls. What if I kicked him between the legs and then explained that, that was "just American culture" so he should deal with it? Sexual habits are a personal choice that may be influenced by your culture, but are not dictated by it.

Then we come to the a kiss is a gift comment. So now I'm suppose to rejoice that I have been given the gift of your mouth on my face! As a woman I should feel "lucky" that you are willing to kiss me because it's such a great honor. Thanks, but no thanks.

After we made it back to the hostel, I slammed the door in his face when he said that the reason I didn't want to kiss him was because he was indigenous. (Because yes, I'm racist and that's why I didn't want to accept his wonderful gift to women.) I was disgusted for his behavior ruining a perfectly wonderful evening and found out my friend had been battling a similar situation about not wanting to spend the night at the other guys house.

The most ironic part of all of this is that if he had simply accepted it when I said I didn't want to kiss him time, I probably would have at the end of the night when we were back at the hostel. But the way he completely disrespected my choice to say no just made me disgusted with him. What he didn't seem to realize was that there is an inverse relationship between how many times you ask to kiss me and how likely I am to actually kiss you.

So why is this such a big problem? He just wanted to kiss me right? I shouldn't be overreacting. WRONG!!! This is a perfect example of what rape culture is. The idea that when a girl says no she doesn't really mean it. While I'm not accusing him of being a rapist, the fact that he just couldn't accept no about a kiss can only lead you to believe that he probably wouldn't accept no about sex either.

Assuming that I must want him because I'm a female and we are all just dying for men to offer to make out with us, shows a sharp divide that many men have about perception and reality. They can't seem to perceive no for what it is, a no. Women aren't as complicated as they seem to think. If I wanted to kiss him I would have, simply as that. But when I said I didn't want to he should have dropped it and respected my choice.

If you have to beg anyone to do anything sexual with you then you are perpetrating rape culture and disrespecting our right to choose who we share our body with. So the next time a girl politely declines to kiss you or go back to your room stop asking or she may slap you and go off on a rant about rape culture, which I totally would have if I had the vocabulary to explain it in Spanish.

Moral of the story is that anything but enthusiastic consent means stop trying! Lucky for me, I didn't feel like the situation was threatening and had other people around me. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation and in anyway feel threatened don't be afraid to make a scene or get out. Believe me, I'm not against simply screaming at a dude to go away if he isn't taking a hint. Always worry about your personal safety first!

Have you had a similar experience? How did you choose to handle it? Let me know!


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Iguazu Falls!

One of the biggest attractions in Argentina is the chance to see the waterfalls at Puerta Iguazu, which is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I'll first warn you that pictures in no way can do justice to the spectacular sight that is the waterfalls. It was probably the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. A must see if you ever find yourself in the area.

We had just went under that!
The down side of this trip was that we had to ride a bus for 20(!!!!!) hours to get there, semi coma. It was quite a long ride but definitely worth it. Plus I had my friend Alicia, the only other girl who can talk as much as me, along for the ride!

Alicia and I!

We got there in the early afternoon so we didn't have enough time to do the whole park that the falls are located in that day. Also we were pretty worn out and gross feeling from the bus ride over. So instead we walked around the small town of Puerta Iguazu and got lost. One of the first things we noticed was that people are so much more friendly than what we usually get in Buenos Aires. I imagine it's just a city thing. But while we were trying to decide what beer to get, because they didn't have Quilmes (which if you've ever been to Argentina is shocking because that's ALL we drink), we meet a nice guy named Eduardo that wanted to hang out with us later. We told him we could get drinks at the bar at our hostel later. The best part was he didn't speak a lick of English so we were forced to use Spanish.

A view of the lower trail from the upper!

Some other people we met during our stay was a hilarious older woman from England named Shelia that just thought American's English was weird, a super sweet Australian couple that didn't know any Spanish, and some locals that worked as rangers in the Park.

At the Falls on Saturday, we decided to just go all in and do the all inclusive package. I mean we're only here once and in reality it wasn't actually that expensive ($50 American). It included a 30 minute safari ride through the jungle (you could choose to do this in English but we did it in Spanish because kind of the reason we're here), a boat ride to go underneath the falls on both sides of them, and then a peaceful ride in a raft down river to see the wild life.

The Devil's Throat, it was so big I couldn't get it in one picture!

Going underneath the falls was amazing. There is no view more impressive than that and everyone was screaming like it was a rollercoaster. During the raft ride we got to see an alligator, monkey's, and a tucan, all wild! I've never actually seen animals like that in their natural habit and there's just something about it that makes it so much better than a zoo.

Coati! It will steal your food and has no fear of humans
That evening we were exhausted and a bit sunburned but since it was our last night there were couldn't turn down the offer to go try out a new boliche (club) with the park rangers we met. They also couldn't speak any English at all which lead to some major confusion on my part. One of them Peheun (he's from the Yucatan Peninsula, in Patagonia, so that is not a common Spanish name, it's definitely indigenous) was try to explain his job to me which I didn't quite understand. I thought he said that his friends and him caught jaguars and made them pets. What he was trying to say was that they tagged jaguars with trackers to research where they weren't and help prevent poaching and them getting hit by cars, much better!

No words needed!

Among our little gang was the two rangers, Peheun and Julio, and a lovely Colombian guy and a French guy that works at the hostel. We were quite the eclectic little group. The boliche was super fun, we danced reggatone the whole time. Except when the YMCA came on and I was the only person that knew the right hand motions. It was also interesting that we were the only light skinned people in the whole place. Besides Buenos Aires, people look much more what you would imagine a South American to look like. We definitely drew attention for a bit when we walked in though. It was not a tourist spot and to far from any hostel for travelers to probably just wonder in. It was nice to hear real Spanish music and not all the Rhianna remixes they always play in the clubs in Buenos Aires.

Overall our trip was amazing and exhausting. I now have a bit of a tan, got to talk solely in Spanish for quite a while and saw one of the seven natural wonders of the world!

If you're ever in the area we stayed at the Marco Polo Hostel which I HIGHLY recommend. It was very affordable but made it very easy to meet people and the staff were extremely friendly!


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Weekend at Mar Del Plata

In honor of Cristobal Colon Day this Monday we had long weekend. As much as I would like to go into the irony of it all, especially in South America where many indigenous people are still oppressed I will instead just tell you about my lovely trip!

I've been dying to go to the beach and convinced my friends that, despite the not so warm temperatures we should try to do it anyway. Mar del Plata, meaning Sea of Silver was a lovely beach city. Because we were there in the off season it was pretty quiet and much cleaner than Buenos Aires. While I really enjoyed the city, there isn't much to do besides the beach, especially if it's not summer time.

I had just accidentally soaked my pants.

The temperatures ranged between low 50- 60s most of the weekend only getting hot (72) on the day that we were leaving. But we didn't let that stop us! While Argentines in winter coats watched we got into our bikini's and ran into the freezing (REALLY REALLY FREEZING) ocean. It probably wasn't the brightest idea, but I don't seem to be sick yet!

It's much colder than it looks!

Because of the weather and lack of other activities we spent a lot of time at the hostel, which was really fantastic! The owner was super nice and genuinely helpful. She spoke both English and Spanish and we spent a good couple of hours chatting about politics, economics, and the US with her. She also let us sat past check out time so we could go to the beach one last time before we caught a bus back to Buenos Aires. If you're ever in Mar del Plata I would highly recommend the Hotel Pergamino, it was a great experience.

It was super foggy Sunday.

We cooked all our meals, had some great life chats, and slept on the beach. All in all it was a fantastic lazy weekend!

Alcohol and Rape: Intoxication Doesn't Equal Consent

In light of the massive outrage over the story of Daisy Coleman I thought it would be appropriate to discuss a very serious flaw we have in our logic concerning rape. Daisy is a girl from Maryville, MO that was allegedly raped, dropped on to her front lawn in freezing temperatures, and then harassed to the point of having to move. Her alleged rapist was let off the hook entirely, with no explanation. While this story is most definitely tragic, it's not the first of it's kind. A common factor in this particular case and many others in alcohol and what that means towards your consent.

But let's talk about what the fact that she willing drank alcohol means in terms of her being raped.... NOTHING.

Unfortunately, this may actually be a radical idea, that a female choosing to drink alcohol in no way makes her at fault for her rape. To often we hear the "she was asking for it" or "she shouldn't have been drinking" as ways to justify men's horrific actions against women. During the Stubenville trial the defenders of the men convicted held the fact that the girl chose to get drunk as reason enough for it to be okay to sexual assault her.

Maybe you're having your doubts. You're not sure if it can really be rape if a girl voluntarily put herself in that position. But let's think about the implications of that thought process. Essentially that means that as a female I shouldn't drink alcohol because then I'm putting myself in a position to be raped. I shouldn't wear revealing clothing because I'm asking to be raped. Hell, I shouldn't leave the house because then I put myself in the way of men that may attempt to rape me. While it seems dramatic it's exactly what that ideology applies. We have a word for it and it's called rape culture.

Our society has a major problem of deeming women as the reason behind their sexual assaults. I'm not meaning people that are radical, chauvinist extremist but everyday people who would probably say they consider women as completely equal. Rape culture, the ideologies that help to blame the victims for their assaults, is something so engrained in our society it's nearly sub-conscience.

We instantly try to rationalize a reason for what that girl could have done to protect herself. Why do we never stop and ask why we even need to worry about protecting ourselves?

I won't walk down dark alley's alone or get into a strangers car or accept a drink from someone I don't know, but the problem is that, that isn't enough. Rapists are not psycho's or creepy old men, they're men that you may feel comfortable around. They're boys that you thought were cute. They're someone you know. Over 2/3rd's of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Just let that soak in.

The question shouldn't be what did she do wrong, but rather what is society doing wrong in that so many men can't understand why having sex with an intoxicated or otherwise girl is wrong?

Instead of teaching me how to "protect" myself by essentially limiting my personal freedoms, why aren't we teaching men how to not be the criminal.

I shouldn't have to be afraid to have a drink because someone may take advantage of me. I live in hope of the day where I can drink, dress, and go where I want without living in fear that someone may take that as my consent their sexual advances. While sometimes that seems hopeless, it can only happen if we start the conversation and change our ideology.

So rather than saying "no means no" let's start saying, ONLY YES MEANS YES. Anything less, is not consensual. I don't have to say no for a man to realize that having sex with a highly intoxicated person is wrong, that should be a no brainer.

Honestly, I could go on about this for days but I'll leave it at this. It breaks my heart that I feel so compelled to explain why this is a problem and I look forward to time where it is universally understood.

Most Sincerely,

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pilgrimage to Lujan: First 60km Walk

Many of you are probably completely confused as to why the heck anyone was walking 60km (almost 40 miles) and have no idea what I mean by pilgrimage. So I'll briefly give you the basics of why 2.5 million people intentionally did this to themselves this weekend.

Argentina as you may already know is a predominately Catholic country, the current pope is actually from Buenos Aires (love you Papa Francisco!). Like many other Catholic countries Argentina has a patron saint, Our Lady of Lujan. You may have heard of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the patron of Mexico.  Every year a pilgrimage is made from Buenos Aires to the small city of Lujan in celebration of the fest day of Our Lady of Lujan. The purpose is not to raise money or protest, it's more about spiritual enlightenment and personal sacrifice. 

Our Lady of Lujan

My host parents are both devout Catholics and do the walk every year, though they've never finished the whole thing. When they asked me to go I thought it would be an interesting experience and also a really cool insight into my own personal Catholic faith. But I had no idea how hard it would be. 

Starting at 12PM in the afternoon we began walking from Buenos Aires with thousands of other people. We were organized into groups with our churches and each group carried a statue of St. Lujan. On the cart holding the statues were loud speakers over which they played music, lead prayers, and asked trivia questions during the walk to keep people entertained. 

Just a constant stream of people.

The first few hours weren't too bad. People were gathered on the street cheering for us, traffic was stopped as thousands of people swarmed the streets, and there was an overall sense of excitement in the air. We had 5 "check points" at which we stopped and were given snacks, water, and had the opportunity to rest our feet for about 30 minutes. Unfortunately, these check points were about every 3 hours or so and were about 6-10 miles apart. 

By about 7PM it was starting to wear on me, not only physically, but mentally. My left foot was killing me and I could have sworn I had a blister on the bottom of my foot, but nothing was there. I chalked it up all being in my head and decided to keep going. At every check point you have the option of riding the bus to the end point to meet everyone. 

By 10PM I was dying. My foot was in so much pain I had to bite my lip to keep from crying. I could see that everyone else around me was also not feeling their best so I just smiled and responded bien! each time they asked how I was doing. I didn't want to be a baby. That last hour was the longest of my entire life it felt like. I just kept thinking, just around this bend we'll get to stop. Just go a little further you can make it.

We finally reached the next check point in La Reja at 11PM and had people there to rub out our sore muscles. I had a lovely little boy named Manuel that knew a few words in English. My brain was just to exhausted to even attempt to process Spanish at that point. I was done. There was no way in hell I was going to keep going for another stretch of 3 or 4 hours. I knew I was at my breaking point and I needed to just stop, even though it was embarrassing to see people much older than me continue on. 

Once on the bus, I immediately passed out into a coma and didn't wake till we were in Lujan at 6AM the next morning. Going to mass outside the beautiful Cathedral with hundreds of thousands of other Catholics, limping, and dragging themselves along was amazing. People were just so overwhelmed with the emotions of the moment. That they had made. It was a beautiful thing to see. 

This was packed full of people.

When I got back home I checked out my feet more closely and realized I had a blister larger than a quarter on the sole of my left foot, no wonder it hurt so bad. Also several of my toes were bleeding from chaffing and I still haven't regained full feeling in my left pinky toe (3 days later). I'm glad I stopped when I did, 20 miles was plenty enough for me. 

I get that a lot of people can't understand why this was so important or spiritually enlightening. My friends and classmates definitely didn't. But I think it was the fact that this wasn't a cultural experience for me as much as it was also a religious experience. It was testing yourself and faith along side of 2.5 million other believers. Something I'll probably never get a chance to ever do again. 

While there is no way I would ever do this again I'm glad that I can say that I did. So if you're ever in Buenos Aires around the beginning of October consider checking it out.