Wednesday, July 15, 2009

All things Political/Legal

So after numerous people have told me to be careful down here and have asked me whether I feel unsafe with regard to the "political situation," I thought it would be interesting to post about some of the realities and intricacies of politics down here in Argentina.

Probably about my second week here, I was sitting in CEDHA's office when I started to hear the beat of drums. I didn't think any more of it until I realized that the sound was getting a lot closer, and was now accompanied by chanting voices, fireworks, and honking cars. I went over to the window that looks out onto the main street in Cordoba and I saw a group of about 200 people walking down the middle of the street setting off fireworks (without the lights) and someone with a bullhorn yelling. I asked my co-worker Joni what was going on, and he said that some union group was protesting. I asked him whether they were allowed to just walk through they streets like that, unplanned, stop traffic and set off powerful fireworks without permission. He look at me like I was crazy, laughed, and said "Kate, this is Argentina." Ever since then, there have been no less than about 3 protests a week, and the cars have to just sit there while the protesters slowly pass by. (On a side note, the same thing happened at the main intersection of Córdoba when one of the cities beloved soccer teams dropped down a division. The police were even redirecting traffic so that the fans could show their team support!) Still, from what I have seen, these are very peaceful protests, and they always relate to the Argentine government.

I also got the unique opportunity to witness elections here in Argentina. According to the Argentine constitution, elections are to take place on October 28. Apparently, however, with all the current discontent surrounding President Cristina Kirchner, elections were changed to June 28. I was talking with some of the Argentine law-student interns at CEDHA and I asked them how such a flagrant violation of the Constitution was being allowed--or rather, sanctioned--by the government. Their response: "well, it's either change the elections or risk an outbreak of violence in Buenos Aires." That was definitely a wake-up call to the fact that I am living in a third-world country that was under the rule of a military dictator until about 30 years ago. At the time, I still had no clue what the elections were actually for. With all the intense campaigining and bashing of Kirchner going on, I just assumed that the elections were presidential. I actually learned, however, that they were just for the new Senators and Representatives, but they were such a big deal because people really felt like new political blood needed to be added to the mix to dilute Kirchner's ability to make decisions. The whole campaign and actual election process were fascinating: There are no less than 4 major parties in Argentina, and each had it's own (often several) candidates (women included!! yay!). Almost every Argentine person you talk to hates all of the candidates, but hates one candidate just a little bit less than the others. ALSO, the Argentine constitution makes voting mandatory for every citizen (I believe over the age of 18), unless you are living more than 450 kilometers from your home. Those people who don't vote often come home to find a nice little multa (fine) waiting for them. How crazy is that!! No "Rock the Vote" campains necessary down here...

The Police:

A lot of people talk about the corruption of the police force here. While it is a bit shady that you can become a police officer in 3 months, and that you get paid while doing so (talk about not working for the love of the job), it definitely does make me feel safer to see police on nearly every corner down here. Although, after seeing a police officer repeatedly shove up against a brick wall a suspicious-looking man who was jogging with a duffel bag in his hand, I did get the feeling that police brutality complaints are not so well-established as in the U.S. Nevertheless, I have never ONCE felt unsafe here in Argentina, though I continue to always be aware of my surroundings and walk with friends when I can (that's for you, Mom!).

Law School:

Law down here, as in pretty much every other country in the world, is actually a six year undergraduate degree. Can you guys imagine studying law for six years? Good lord!! The students here are pretty serious about their studies. After meeting people in Spain who had been studying their 5-year law degree for about 8 or 9 years, I couldn't believe it when nearly every person I met here was 23 or 24 and finishing his degree! (Then again, "Hi, I'm ___, I'm 23 and I'll be your lawyer" is also a bit frightening").

Well, I hope you guys find some of these observations as interesting as I have! Look for my post about my trip to the north of Spain and an update regarding my work within the next few days!


Monday, July 6, 2009

The Yanqui's Latest Adventures

For those of you who’ve been dying for more information, I am going to put up a monster of a post.

Let’s see: the last time I wrote I was heading out the door to Buenos Aires. Luckily my friend Martín (pronounced in the Cordoban accent as Maaaaarteen) came with my to the bus station, because without him, I probably would have missed my bus. Apparently, they were announcing over the loudspeaker at the bus station that everyone who was supposed to be traveling with the company with which I had bought a ticket was supposed to get on another company’s bus. About two minutes before the bus was supposed to leave, Martín actually listened to the announcement, ran up to the driver, and then told me I was supposed to be on that bus. So then, por los pelos, I was on my way to Buenos Aires in a Coche Suite bus, which I highly recommend to anyone traveling by bus in Argentina. For about 10 bucks more, you get hot food service and a seat that fully reclines 180 degrees, meaning I actually slept about eight hours on a moving bus!

When I arrived in Buenos Aires on Friday morning at about 8:30 AM, my friend Enrique was waiting for me at the bus station. It has to be interesting for anyone arriving in Buenos Aires for the first time by bus because the back of the station is right next to a really poor, makeshift little village. But then when you leave the station and begin to walk, you see beautiful buildings and lots of green (parks, trees, etc.). We walked to my hostel, which was in the posh neighborhood called La Recoleta,” (Evita is buried in this neighborhood) dropped off my stuff, and began exploring the city. We took the Subte (the subway) to the Obelisco (a big, Washington Monument-like statue) and then walked the length of calle Florida, which is a purely pedestrian street with tons of shops and restaurants. Then we walked along the river in Puerto Madero, which is full of new red brick buildings and even a Hooters restaurant!! Our plan was to eat at a restaurant called “Siga la Vaca,” which is basically an all-you-can-eat steak buffet for the equivalent of about 13 dollars (oh, by the way, Argentine beef is INSANE), but at 1:30 PM the wait was already super long.

Instead, we walked into the San Telmo neighborhood and ate at a restaurant there. Afterwards, we stopped by this museum where each floor shows what life was like in Buenos Aires at different points in history, but in the end we didn’t go in because it was really expensive. Then we took the bus to Enrique’s house, and that night a bunch of his friends came over and we hung out in the bar he and his brother built behind their house. At about 2 AM we all headed out to do some dancing, and by 4:30 AM (very early for a Friday night in Argentina) I was in my bed ready to get a good night’s sleep.

The rest of the weekend flew by. On Sunday, Enrique and I went to a neighborhood in Buenos Aires called “El Caminito.” It’s the principal tourist area in Buenos Aires because it is full of colorful wood houses and tango dancers in the street. I bought an awesome painting depicting the houses using real wood pieces for the equivalent of about $27 and I can’t wait to hang it up in my room when I get back. I also bought a necklace with a beautiful pink Argentine gemstone called “Rodocrosite” but I will just pretend it was given to me by a foxy Argentine man hehe. That night I treated myself to a fancy dinner of salmon ravioli with shrimp cream sauce, and two glasses of Chardonnay, all for less than $20, and I felt very Sex-in-the-City while doing so. Then I went out with Enrique and his friends to one of the largest dance clubs in Buenos Aires, but the combination of cigarette smoke, expensive drinks, and inability to move meant that I left after about two hours.

Even though I had an awesome time in Buenos Aires, I was definitely ready to head back to Córdoba Monday night. The coolest thing was that when I was on the bus, I felt like I was going “home.” Córdoba really is an awesome city in which to live because even though it’s the second-largest city in Argentina, it has a “small town” feel to it. Plus, the neighborhood where I live, Nueva Córdoba, is full of students, so there is a really cool vibe.

Since my trip to Buenos Aires I have stayed in Córdoba and had tons of fun. Last week I actually moved out of where I was living and in with some friends I met here and it’s great because I no longer have to eat alone and now have people with whom to watch movies and the like. I would have to say that my #1 favorite thing about Córdoba is the people. Everyone is so incredibly friendly, and I have already made friends whom I feel like I have known forever. One of my friends is actually going to come to William and Mary for a weekend in August because she’s going to be in Virginia visiting her Uncle, so I’m super pumped for that! I also love the tradition of drinking “mate” because it’s a chance to relax and spend time with your friends in a simple way that is rarely done in the U.S.

In honor of the 4th of July, some friends and I threw an American party at Martín’s house on Saturday (even though I’m the only American here). We had hot dogs, red and blue lights, and, of course, BEER PONG. Unfortunately, the spirit of beer pong didn’t take hold as much as I was hoping, but I did create a few fanatics. After the party we, or course, went out dancing. En fin, I went to bed at 7:30 AM. Needless to say, I had a very chilled-out (aka unproductive) Sunday, but it was definitely worth it.

A lot of people have been asking me about my job. First of all, I have to say that the people who work at CEDHA are some of the most incredible people I have ever met. They are so friendly, and are always interested in how I’m doing here and making sure I’m having a good time. Even though work got off to a bit of a slow start, I am now involved in two really cool projects as a member of the Corporations and Human Rights group. The project that I am working on with other people deals with developing a tool to measure corporate impact on Human Rights. The second project I’m working on is one that I basically created myself, and about which my supervisor very excited. I have been spending most of my time researching something called the Alien Tort Claims Act, which is an old U.S. statute that gives federal district courts original jurisdiction over claims of violations of the law of nations occurring outside of the U.S. Essentially, this means that people from outside the U.S. have a chance of suing a corporation in a U.S. court for violations of human rights that have occurred at the hands of that corporation outside the U.S. There are a lot of interesting things happening in the courts right now over the meaning and application of this statute, so it’s a really exciting project. Plus, it allows me to take work on something that is useful for Argentine (and all Latin American) NGOs, while also becoming familiar with a U.S law.

Thursday is the Argentine Independence Day, so I am taking a long weekend and going with a friend to the North of Argentina, which I’ve heard is absolutely gorgeous. Plus, I am super excited because I’ve been told that the best empanadas are found in Salta, the city where we’ll be staying!! I’ll make sure to post pictures as soon as I get back, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. I hope all of you are doing well and that you’re enjoying Argentina with me.

Take care,


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Some Pics from Buenos Aires

Most of these are already on Facebook, but for my family members who aren't on Facebook, here are some pictures from my recent trip to Buenos Aires, where my friend Enrique was my wonderful tourguide. Enjoy!

This building reminded me of New York

The Pink House (the central site of the Government but the President doesn't live there)

A famous immigrant neighborhood known as El Caminito; full of colorful buildings and tango dancers!

A typical Porteño (Buenos-Airean) danceclub.

Me in front of the Obelisco in downtown Bs As.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Sweet Beginning to a Sweet Weekend

Sorry in advance for the brevity of this overnight colectivo (bus) leaves in an hour and a half and I still need to finish packing!! Luckily my job is such that I can do most of the work on my own anytime, anyplace (anyplace that has internet, that is), so I can easily make up the hours I'm going to miss tomorrow. Plus, Monday is a National feriado (holiday) here, so my trip to the land of Good Airs got unexpectedly extended! It might sound terrible, the thought of taking an overnight bus, but actually, the long-distance buses here are fantastic. The seats are comfy and big, and there's usually a movie. Plus, as I really want to be sure that I will arrive rested, I splurged and bought a seat on a Coche Suite, where the seats actually recline to flat and you get a hot meal. Who knows, I might even go for a white wine to make sure my eyes are nice and closed by around 11:30.

I knew it was going to be a great weekend when I finally came up with a great, topic-and-time appropriate subject for my summer work project. Unlike most legal internships, mine has given me a lot of latitude in choosing where to place my focus this summer. At first, it was a little frustrating because not only do I not have much experience with human rights or environmental law, I was afraid I would have to work primarily with Spanish documents. Don't get me wrong, I LOVEEEEEE speaking Spanish, but reading in Spanish is a whole other ballgame. There are so many words used in print that I've never heard in conversation, so I'm constatly heading to (the best site translation site EVER) to look up complex vocab. Anyway, I think I have a great idea, but I'll tell you about it when I have more concretely figured out the main topic (my thesis if you will) and when I'm not running to catch a bus.

And so now back to my title. Today, as I was leaving work, I saw a new churros stand set up on the corner. At first I didn't really think twice about it; I've eaten churros plenty of times in Spain, but then something made me do a double-take: it turns out, these were churros filled with dulce de leche (which, if you've never had, btw, is like caramel, but 1000000 times better). Originally I ordered just one, but the guy warned me "you're really going to regret getting just one," so I got two. MADRE MARIA DE DIOSSSS these things are amazing. If that stand is now a permanent fixture, I'm coming back fat. Period. I don't care. Won't stop.

Anyway, I must be off. I'm really looking forward to telling you all more about my work, and, obviously, my trip to Buenos Aires.

Un abrazo fuerteeee a todos,


Thursday, June 4, 2009

I'm back in Argentina!!

I've returned to Argentina, where I'll be working in Cordoba for the next 10 weeks at the Center for Human Rights and the Environment (CEDHA).

I arrived in Cordoba last Friday, after a long, somewhat stressful journey. My flight from Chicago to Miami was delayed for two hours, and I really started thinking I was going to miss my overnight flight from Miami to Santiago, Chile. In the end, I just had time to use the restroom and buy a bottle of water before they began boarding the plane. Initially, I was worried that while I myself would arrive in Santiago, my luggage would not. An airport worker assured me, however, that the luggage moves from plane to plane faster than the people. Luckily, he was right!

My flight from Miami to Cordoba was extremely pleasant. The food was decent and I watched the movie Yes Man, which ended up being really funny. Also, because there were so few people, I actually got to lay across three seats and get about five hours of sleep. We arrived in Santiago, Chile, and I somehow made myself stay awake for three hours so as not to miss the final leg of my journey to Cordoba. My plans to sleep on the short flight to Cordoba were thwarted by the fact that we had to fill out this detailed health form. Then, when we arrived in Cordoba, each person had to stop in front of a camera/scanner type machine and open his/her mouth. I don’t know exactly what was going on, but I’m guessing it was some kind of body temperature assessor. Argentina seems to be taking all precautions to prevent an outbreak of Swine Flu!

I stayed at a hostel in Cordoba from Friday to Monday morning. Even though I had been in touch with several people regarding the ad I posted on a Cordoba housing website, I wanted to actually visit some apartments before deciding where to live. The hostel was pretty empty, so even though I only paid for a dorm room, I basically had a private room. I was exhausted on Friday night, so I pretty much just got dinner, and went to bed. When I woke up (around noon) on Saturday, I got the feeling I always get when I’m alone in another country: panicky loneliness. Instead of letting this feeling take over, I immediately went online and went to For those of you who don’t know, this is one of the absolute BEST pages for travelers. Essentially, it is a site where people who love to travel offer to meet up with or host travelers in their cities, with the hopes that the same will be offered to them when they travel. I had joined the “Cordoba” group, and I saw that there was an event planned for that night: one of the Cordoba ambassadors for Couchsurfing was having a pre-party at his house that night, after which people would all go to this big party featuring a popular local band. I saw that tons of people were signed up to go, including people from the U.S., France, Germany, and Brazil, so I decided to sign up too. Even though I was a little nervous about showing up where I knew no one, I had the greatest time and met tons of new people, including people actually living in Cordoba. I ended up leaving with some of my new friends at around 6 in the morning, and the party was only just getting started! Outside of the party there was a vendor selling something known as “choripan,” which is basically two chorizo links (kind of like bratwursts) between two pieces of toasted bread, i.e. a very fancy hotdog. It was delicious! For anyone who is traveling, especially traveling alone, I recommend joining the Couchsurfing group of the city where you will be living and going to an activity. It’s a fantastic way to meet new people.

On Monday morning I moved into my new “home.” I’m living in a neighborhood called “Nueva Cordoba,” which is where most of the city’s students live. Cordoba is the premier “University City” in Argentina, and students come here from all over the country. My neighborhood is filled with bars and restaurants, so it has a really cool vibe. Fortunately (maybe I’ll get in shape) and unfortunately (I have to wake up earlier) it’s about a half-hour walk from my apartment to my work. Also, the fact that Winter is just beginning here makes it a bit of a chilly walk in the mornings. But the fact that the city does not have a map with the bus routes (I’m serious, I have asked EVERYONE, and they all answer as though this is the most normal thing in the world), and that the line is always about 150 people long has dissuaded me from talking the bus. Really though, the walk is quite pleasant, especially in the afternoon when the sun is shining. My apartment is really nice. It takes up the whole 11th floor. In one part lives a young couple with their baby (who, coincidentally, is one day older than my niece), we share the kitchen, and I basically have my own apartment in the other part. Because I moved in Monday morning, and started work the same day, we haven’t really gotten a chance to spend much time together, but I think we might all take a trip to a local town this weekend.

My first day at CEDHA was pretty informal. “Informal” is actually a great way to describe CEDHA itself. There is no dress code, and because the office is so small, different people are always coming and going and working at different desks. It took me until Wednesday to finally meet everyone in the office, and they are all sooooooo incredibly nice, friendly, and helpful. I still haven’t gotten too deep in any assignments yet. Mostly I have been hearing and reading about projects on which the various groups are working, and I should be getting my work plan for the rest of my time here tomorrow. The best part about the job so far is that I can tell I’m really going to look forward to coming here every day and seeing everyone.. Plus, the fact that when you enter and when you leave, everyone gives you a beso (kiss) on your cheek makes you feel pretty special. J

Hopefully by next week I’ll have more substantive things to say about the work, but I hope you have enjoyed hearing a little about the city and my life here!

Hasta la proxima!

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Years Eve a la Argentina

Hi everyone! Sorry I haven't been able to post for awhile. I was having too much fun at the beach :).

Anyway, on the evening of the 31st my friend Marcelo picked me up around 10 to go spend New Years with his family. Marcelo had told me that there would be around 30 people at his house, and I didn't believe him until I went into his backyard and saw an incredibly long table set up. He took me around and introduced me to his family. Everyone in his family was incredibly nice and immediately friendly, and there was actually another American girl there who had been living with his uncle's family as an exchange student so that was cool.

Before dinner we were all standing around in the yard talking and people were asking me tons of questions about where I was from, what I studied, what I thought about Argentina, etc. They also had me try Fernet with Coke, which is apparently the most popular drink in Cordoba. Mom, I'm sure you've heard of Fernet because it came over originally from Italy. It's really hard to say exactly what it is, but I guess it's most similar to Jaegermeister (hence the mixing with coke before drinking). It's definitely something to get used to, but, of course, I told everyone that I loved it :).

We sat down to a traditional Argentine asado (barbeque) around 11:30 PM and everything was delicious. Then, around halfway through the meal, someone started counting down and I realized that 2009 was only 10 seconds away. We all finished the countdown, and then everyone started toasting their glasses, hugging, and kissing. Moments later, the fireworks started, and all of us went out into the streets to check it out. Marcelo's family had a bunch of their own and people were setting them off everywhere. There definitely are not the same safety regulations regarding fireworks in Argentina as there are in the states!

After around a half-hour in the street, we all headed inside to finish eating. After the meal people were sitting around talking, playing foosball, etc., and all the sudden I heard Marcelo, and then the rest of his family, begin to chant "fondo, fondo, fondo," (basically meaning "to the bottom") and they handed me a big vase full of Fernet and Coca-cola, from which I then had to drink. Later on, when I saw the number of people who took their turns after me, I was happy that I had been the first.

Overall, it was a fantastic night. Everyone was dancing, laughing, joking, and just having a great time. Everyone was just so nice to me, and Marcelo's grandmother even told me that she considers me her granddaughter. It was truly a unique and awesome experience to be able to celebrate New Years in another country with such a large family full of love and laughter.

Hope everyone had a fanstastic night with family or friends. I miss you all.


Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ouch!! (Day 3 in Cordoba)

So on Monday night my friend Marcelo took me to a restaurant that served "asado," a traditional kind of Argentine food. I assumed it was just going to be a big piece of steak, but the waiter actually brought us several different kinds of beef (and I think some organs, as there was something white on my plate). I actually tried morcilla, and if you don't know what they use to make that, trust me, you don't want to. And if you do, well, look it up :).

Tuesday morning I got up pretty early to catch the bus to Villa Carlos Paz. I think it was the oldest, most rickety bus I have ever ridden in, and I'm extremely surprised it didn't fall apart on the way there. I thought I was going to be swimming in the lake all day, but apparently the lake is only for water sports. I had to catch a local bus to head to the "playas del oro." Really, there were just stretches of grass and some wet sand alongside a river, but it was really pretty. I found a nice, low-key grassy area and stretched out there. The sun was extremely hot so I covered myself in SPF 30 sunscreen but i still managed to get very burned in some parts of my body. I will NEVER buy spray sunscreen again, it is the worst!!

I was feeling kind of lonely as everyone around me was there with family and friends. I was also feeling kind of hungry so I went to get lunch. I asked the waiter for a menu and sat down, and this guy sitting at a table next to me started speaking to me in heavily-accented English. He was from Buenos Aires, his name was Damian, and was vacactioning in Carlos Paz with his friend. They invited me to eat lunch with them and then I went with them to another part of the river where there was sort of a dam/waterfall type thing that people sit on. We had fun in the water for a little while, and then settled ourselves on some dry rocks in the middle of the river and I had my first "mate" experience. At first I was a little nervous, because I thought the tea herbs were supposed to dissolve into the water but they just kind of float and flavor the water. They say most people don't like it the first time they try it but I actually did (probaby because we also added sugar). We left the river around 6 and the guys walked with me to my bus stop. I was really lucky in meeting them because now I know people when I go to Buenos Aires on Monday.

When I got back to Cordoba I rested for a bit, showered, and then headed out in search of Aloe and dinner. After successfully finding both, I went back to my hostel, where I stayed in for the rest of the night reading and relaxing.

This morning I went to the Plaza San Martin to exchange money again, and this time there were no lines in any of the banks or anything. Weird!! Then I stopped in a cafe and tried dulce de leche for the first time. I thought it was a drink or something, but it's actually a kind of spread that you put on toast and, of course, it's delicious. On the way back I went into a grocery store and bought a bottle of champagne to bring to Marcelo's family's house tonight. Apparently much of his extended family is also going to be there, and he warned me that his uncle might speak to me VERY loudly, and VERY slowly, just like people do in the movies with foreigners haha. After dinner, we will head out for a night of dancing with his brothers, sister, cousins, and friends.

I might not get a chance to write again until I arrive in Mar del Plata on Friday. If that's the case, I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful evening and I will see you in 2009!