So another whirlwind of a month has passed. Wow. Well, I will do my best to pick up where I left off, hopefully leaving the interweb with a high-speed overview of my final weeks in Argentina. Ready… Set… Go!
After spending a week in Brazil, half of our 12 person group traveled to Paraguay and half to Uruguay. I was part of the Paraguay group. Our week in the most corrupt country in South America (13th in the world) was breathtaking, mind-blowing, and inspiring. Based in Asunción, we spent our 5 days either siting with professors in roundtable discussions about Paraguayan history, development challenges, social issues, ect., or taking site-specific visits. For me, the most impressionable moments of the tripwere our tour through the Museum of Memory, the Dictatorship and Democracy, our walk through the slum Los Bañados, and our visit to an indigenous community outside Asunción.
The Museum of Memory, the Dictatorship and Democracy has its home in the same compound where the Dirección Nacional de Asuntos Técnicos, better known as ‘la Técnica’, operated a clandestine torture centre starting in 1956, with support from the United States. Along with a detailed historical account of Paraguay’s military dictatorship, the museum displays the instruments used, the names of people disappeared, and a replica jail cell. Next to the torture equipment – tongs, clamps, electrical wires – there was a wall-sized map of Latin America with color coded markers showing every country in which the U.S. has intervened militarily and/or supported a military dictatorship. The map is showed in the movie attached. I don’t think U.S. citizens realize the extent to which our fear of communism translated into the torture, murder and disappearance of hundreds of thousands of innocents south of our border and around the world, not to mention the direct subversion of the democratic ideals our founding fathers enshrined and to which we proudly pledge allegiance.
Our visit to Los Bañados was also incredibly thought-provoking. Located next to a new and upcoming development complex for the wealth, the “neighborhood” gets its water of a small river that flows along side the landfill. Upstream lies an industrial plant that releases toxic waste into their “drinking” water, causing recent and increasing health problems. Most of the residents are migrants from rural farming communities kicked off their land by massive international agricultural companies. The people who live in Los Bañados sneak into the local landfill at night to collect garbage that they then sort and recycle for small change. The city government has gated off the landfill, and threatened to move it. For me, the paradox was striking. The citizens have pressured the government tonot move the landfill, because sorting through the garbage is their only source of income. There are also huge problems with domestic violence and high birth rates. Most families their boast 6-8 children, a result of the culture of machismo that considers the number of kids a representation of the husband’s manliness.
And finally – the indigenous community. The community that we visited is actually one of the groups that have been most successful in retaining and reclaiming their land through the formal pathways of the Paraguayan government. After a tour of their compound (they are currently constructing a new school and health center) we sat down to talk about the challenges and successes that their community has experienced. We needed two translators: one to translate from Spanish to Guarani (an indigenous language that is Paraguay’s second official language) and one to translate from Guarani to the community’s local dialect. As you can see in the attached video, the conversation was held in one circle of us and the male leaders, while outside, the women and children sat and watched. After we asked our questions to them, we asked them if they had any questions for us. After a long silence, one women sitting in the outside ring spoke up.
Translate to Guarani, translate to Spanish: “So now that you have learned about our struggles, what are you going to do for us?”
Silence. None of us knew what to say. Our academic director eventually jumped in to try to cover for us. She valiantly BSed that we were going to learn about their culture and problems and then return to our country and talk about our experience with our friends, creating a network that would be the start of systemic change. Somehow it didn’t feel like enough. Then we passed out the cookies and pop we’d brought to share, and got in our van and drove off. As we were leaving, I glimpsed the indigenous leaders divvying out the extra cookies to the mothers, who used their blouses to carry them back to their homes.
So that was Paraguay.
Back in Buenos Aires, we started working on our ISPs (Independent Study Projects). I researched the recent South American integration organism UNASUR and one of its most active components, the South American Defense Council. Formed in 2008, these two institutions promise to push South America into a new era of coordinated development, if they can overcome obstacles of institutionalization and presidencial instability. Once I get my final comments back, I will post it here, and hopefully translate part of it to English for those who might be interested.
During the month of research, I took two weekend trips – one to Mendoza (wine country), which was beautiful and relaxing, and another to visit one last time the rural family that we stayed with earlier in the program. Both were delightful.
After we finished our ISPs and closed up our semester program, five of us hopped on a plan to Chile and took a week-long celebratory hiking trip through Torres del Paine National Park. The mountains were incredible and the company was lovely. For anyone interested in trompin around in absolutely breathtaking scenery, I highly recommend Torres del Paine.
And, on finishing our hiking trip, I jetted back to Minneapolis for Christmas!!! The city was frosted and full of snow. My 11-day stint in the U.S. of A. was a whirlwind of friend-hugs and family dinners. Packed in there was a 4-day road trip to Iowa to see my Grandma and then on to Colorado for a quick 2.5-day ski in Breckenridge. Then back to the Mini-apple for New Years weekend.
On Monday, Jan. 3, I hopped on a plane to Quito, Ecuador, where I am currently writing this blog post. On Saturday, I will take a bus, a pick up truck, and then a mule to a natural reserve outpost where I will volunteer for a month doing natury stuff. Then I will bus to Buenos Aires, hopefully passing through Peru and Bolivia before arriving in B.A. for orientation at my school (la Universidad Torcuato Di Tella) on March 4th.
BAM!!!! All caught up. The nature reserve outpost won’t have interwebservice, so I will be incommunicado for the next month or so. Therefore, to anyone who reads this, live well and in peace.