when the unexpected happens

Well I can start by saying that the past 10 days have been a whirlwind.  A brief summary would be I got insanely ill starting last Monday night, ended up spending 6 days in two different hospitals in Buenos Aires, was released on Monday and although I was feeling better there was still a question mark of what type of bacterial stomach infection I have and why on top of this I had extremely low anemic blood levels.  So it was either go back to my host families home and find ways to commute the 1.5 hour drive to this hospital to continue on with tests for the next couple months or get on a plane back to Minnesota to continue with my home doctor here.  I am writing this post from my parents’ kitchen in Minnesota.

When I imagined living in Argentina for a year, I imagined it would be hard, I imagined there would be days of loneliness and missing, I imagined there would struggles with the language….but I never imagined the types of medical difficulties that I have encountered this year.  Hard days are one thing, but hard days when you’re sick, no one knows what is wrong with you, you’re in a hospital that is very different than any hospital you’ve ever seen, the doctors are speaking only Spanish and you’re on the other side of the world from your family and people who are very worried about you….now that brings hard to a new level.

As difficult as the past 10 days have been, there were also some beautiful things that I was experiencing throughout it all.  I saw this community of people, people that I have been spending my days with and getting to know for the past 7 months, rise up all around me.  I had phone calls from my host family’s friends and relatives, texts from many of the friends I’ve made and people who I worked with, accompaniment from my pastor Fabby during talks with the doctors, visitors such as my host family, a woman from my congregation, two other YAGM volunteers and pastors of different churches calling to tell me their congregations were praying for me.flowers in my hospital room

Being in isolation at the hospital, since they were unaware if what I had was highly contagious or not they kept me quarantined, really gave me a lot of time to reflect back on the past 7 months and all the people I have come to know, all the things I have learned and all the experiences I have been blessed to have.  On Friday I was sitting in my hospital bed and I received a text from a 26-year-old guy named Marcos who I had been tutoring in English every Wednesday afternoon.  His text said, ‘Hey Andrea how are you feeling?  I wanted to let you know I passed my English exam last week because of you!! Thank you so much for helping me!!’  He takes a separate English class where you have to pass an annual exam to move onto the next level- he dreams to one day be able to quit his house painting job and be an English teacher.  He’s now just a year away.

That text as well as all of the other loving care I received from my host communities the past two weeks has been blowing my mind.  I didn’t know a single one of these people 7 months ago when I arrived here, so terrified, having no idea what to expect for the next year of my life.  And now they were the ones taking care of me and comforting me while I was extremely sick.  I can’t thank them enough.

my going away party

 

On Tuesday night my congregation of San Pablo gave me a very nice going away dinner where I received little gifts and speeches from many of the people I’d come to love.  I had time to go out on a little outing with my host family and make chocolate chip cookies one more time with my youngest host brother Axel before flying out Wednesday night.  On my last night my host family all came into my room and brought me two gifts.  One was a beautiful silver necklace with the tree of life on it- ‘so that I can keep growing into the woman God created me to be.’  The other gift was a copy of their house key on a keychain that said Argentina, ‘because you are forever a part of our family and you, your family, and Brady are welcome back into our house any time for the rest of your lives.’last little outing with my host family

Saying goodbye to these communities and my host family earlier than I ever expected I would have to, was the hardest thing.  These people all touched my life in more ways than they will ever truly know.  It’s been one big unbelievable journey.  Now I sit in my family’s home in Minnesota, waiting for more test results back from my doctors appointment this morning, praying that God has some huge plan in the works that I just don’t know about yet.  I trusted His call to follow my heart down to Argentina and now I need to trust that He’ll just keep leading me toward my next step in life.
Thank you all for following along with my blog.  Having you along side of me through all the ups and downs and amazing moments has been such a blessing.
key to my host family's home

re-defining identity

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“Identity is such a crucial affair that one shouldn’t rush into it.”
-David Quammen, award-winning American science, nature and travel writer

Another session we had on our retreat was about our ‘identities’ and how we describe our identities from our life ‘before/back home’ to our identities ‘now/here’ in our host communities.  We were asked to write a list of  our identities ‘before’ and ‘now’.  My lists really made me think a lot about how I view my identity and how my circumstances seem to be changing how I view myself.  I have found myself wondering if circumstances should change how we describe our identities or if identities should be more of a constant that remain true regardless of our circumstances?
A few of the major differences between my two lists: ‘Before’ a few words I used to identify myself were ‘working professional, college graduate, daughter, friend, outgoing person’, compared to ‘Now’ a few words I use to identify myself are ‘volunteer, foreigner, adoptive daughter, slightly shy, often dependent on others.’
I really don’t have any answers to this question.  I am not sure if we are to be more consistent in our identities or if maybe I should follow the advice of Quammen’s quote above and be patient while they continue to change as we grow and are placed in different life circumstances.  Just something I’m going to continue to think about, especially during the rest of my time here.

U.S. Values

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I just got back from my second YAGM retreat.  Us 5 volunteers took a 22 hour bus ride to meet up with our coordinator in southern Argentina- in a city called Bariloche, we then crossed the Andes into Chile and spent 2 nights there.  It was a great retreat in an absolutely beautiful area filled with mountains, crystal clear lakes, and wildlife.

The purpose of our 3 retreats throughout our year abroad is 1 to renew our visas (every 3 months we have to leave Argentina and re-enter to start over our ’90 day tourist visa’), 2 to spend time together talking about our experiences so far and have sessions on global issues as well as the Lutheran church and 3 to learn more about a specific city/area in Argentina or Uruguay.

One session that really stood out to me from this retreat was on ‘American Values’- the Washington International Center has been introducing thousands of international visitors and immigrates into the U.S. for the past 30 years and they came up with a list of the top 13 values that are deeply ingrained into the majority of U.S. citizens from the day they are born.  The Washington International Center believes that by providing this list to these international visitors/immigrates they can better understand/begin to see why people from the U.S. act the way they do.  It was so interesting to take a closer look at these 13 values- these values are neither positive nor negative, they just ‘are’.  But it was so comforting and eye opening to be able to put a reason behind some of the reasons I often feel frustrated here or don’t understand why people/organizations do things the way they do.  It’s fascinating to me to think that from the second I came into this world I have been taught to look at it in a certain way and the same goes for the people I spend every day with here in Argentina.  The better we can understand where each other are coming from- the faster barriers can be broken down and you can cut down on harsh feeling and be more accepting of differences.

This morning I was able to talk with my host mom about a lot of these values and it was so fun to watch her face and hear her go ‘ohhh so THAT is why you do this or ohhh that makes so much sense why you’re like that, I never understood why you did that before.’  This is just the start of many conversations to be had about topics like this- but it is so amazing to learn about tolerance and the importance of remembering where people come from.

The list (I want to repeat that these values are neither positive nor negative, good or bad…they just ‘are’.  Even as you read them you might find yourself thinking ‘well, yea obviously this is our value because this is ‘right’ or well this is just the truth so that is why we value it’.  But imagine if from the day you were born you were told the opposite of these values, ‘on time is 25 minutes late’, ‘when it rains you stay home’, ‘you’re born into a position in society and that is just where you will stay’.  Try to keep this in mind as you read through them.)

1. Personal Control over the Environment: We don’t believe in fate- we believe man should control nature, not the other way around.  If you don’t challenge this you are often seen as lazy, naive, unwilling to take initiative to make a change.  An example- we don’t accept ‘earthly limitations’, we literally went to the moon when no one else believed this possible.
2. Change: Change is seen as a good/positive thing.  Many cultures believe that change is disruptive, destructive, to be avoided and they value heritage, stability and tradition.  We see change as improvement/a challenge to be better.
3. Time and its Control: People are more concerned with time than developing deep interpersonal relations. Our language is filled with words about time ‘on time’, ‘keep time’.  We believe you can accomplish more if you don’t ‘waste’ time.  It is seen as very rude if you are even 10 minutes late- advising the person that you are running late is necessary.
4. Equality/Egalitarianism: We are all ‘created equal.’  There are no social ranks, class, statuses that excuse you from getting the same treatment.  ‘You’re not better than anyone else because you have more money.’  In many cultures knowing that you should treat those of a higher class with more respect gives them comfort because they know ‘who is who’ and what is expected of their actions toward them.
5. Individualism and Privacy: ‘Every individual is completely unique and special.’  Even if you are part of a group, you’re still different than everyone else.  The word ‘privacy’ does not exist in many languages.  We believe the concept of privacy is positive and healthy, ‘needing alone time.’
6. Self-Help Concept: We believe you can only take credit for what you accomplished all on your own.  Working your way out of a poor situation and climbing the ladder ‘on your own’ is the ideal story- not because you were born into money.  ‘Self-help’, ‘self-esteem’, ‘self-discipline’, ‘self-respect’.  These words don’t even exist in other languages.
7. Competition and Free-Enterprise: We believe competition, in the classroom for example, brings out the best in each individual.  Also believe that a highly competitive economy will bring out the best in it’s people and help us to progress more quickly.
8. Future Orientation: We exert almost all our energy on the future and what ‘brighter things are to come’.  We are goal setters and disregard the fact that ‘fate’ could step in and interrupt our plans.
9. Work/Action Orientation: ‘Don’t just stand there’, ‘Do something!’.  We look at recreational time as planned, well deserved AFTER we have all of our work finished.  Our days are active and if they aren’t- they were a waste.  The first question we often ask a person when we meet them is ‘Where do you work?’.
10. Informality: We are extremely informal compared to other nations.  For example a boss encourages people to call them by their first name rather than ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ Informality is taken as a compliment that they feel comfortable around you- many cultures would view this as an insult.
11. Directness, Openness and Honesty: Many countries take an indirect approach to delivering bad news and negative evaluations.  People from the U.S. ‘don’t want to dance around the truth’ and want there to be honest communication, ‘say it how it is so we can quickly move on and improve’.  If you are indirect you are quickly viewed as ‘dishonest and insincere’ and trust is lost.
12. Practicality and Efficiencies: ‘Will it make money?’, ‘What can I gain from this activity?’ are common questions we ask right away.  The most practical route is often given the highest level of importance.  This plays into how people view careers- often giving higher credit to people with practical careers such as Doctor, Layer, Accountant- and not as much credit to Artists, Philosophers, Anthropologists.
13. Materialism/Acquisitions:  We believe that material objects are direct results of our hard work and that anyone who worked as hard as us could obtain them as well.  We give a higher priority than other cultures do on owning at least one (often more than one) of all life ‘essentials’ as well as keeping those items very up-to-date by upgrading frequently.

**If you would like to read this article and learn more details about what each of these values mean: http://www.uri.edu/mind/VALUES2.pdf

un bautismo

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‘Los padres y padrinos se les encomienda la tarea que mantener encendida la luz de vida en Juan Ignacio, para que viva como hijo de la luz y camine en este mundo perseverando en su fe.’
Translation: ‘ The parents and godparents are entrusted to keep the light of life burning in Juan Ignacio, so that he lives like a son of the Light and walks in this world persevering in his faith.’

Yesterday there was a baptism at my church here, Congregacion San Pablo.  It was the pastor, Fabian’s, first baptism he has performed since becoming officially ordained- so he was very excited.  Our small church congregation was doubled or tripled in size when the family of  little, Juan Ignacio, showed up.  It was such a beautiful thing to watch this baby boy be baptized.

I found myself thinking so much about how amazing the gift of baptism is.  This little 11-month-old boy is so innocent, so full of joy- I think he smiled and laughed the entire service.  He has his entire life ahead of him, he can’t even begin to fathom the things God has in store for his life.  I love that the Lutheran faith believes in baptism as a baby- I think it is a perfect demonstration of how we are born into Christ’s forgiveness and love before we can even ask for it.  I was so encouraged to remember that this is how I started- being baptized before I was even 1-year-old, my parents and godparents there next to me- promising to encourage me to seek out God throughout my journey through life.  And now I find myself here, on a year away from all I know, trying so hard to figure out what it means to rely on God and still being so encouraged by my parents and those from home who are walking through life with me.  Feeling super blessed and really excited for all the amazing things that lie ahead for little Juan :)

5.5 in, 5.5 to go

I have now been gone on my YAGM year for 5.5 months.  I have 5.5 months left in Argentina before I head back to Minnesota.  Here are a few of my current thoughts and emotions…

  • Have I really only been gone for half a year?
  • Wow, how I have already been gone for half a year?
  • I would pay a lot of money for some Mexican or Chinese food right now.
  • This is the longest amount of time I have ever gone without seeing my parents and sisters.
  • I really miss my parents and sisters.
  • It’s crazy how I don’t have one friend my actual age here- my friends’ ages range from 7-years-old to 64-years-old and are all beautiful, amazing friends in their own unique ways.
  • I love the warm weather.  I’m sorry but that -23 degree windchill ya’ll are having…not missing that.
  • Wearing the same clothes over and over sure wears them out fast.
  • It’s crazy how ‘normal’ life here has become for me.  Shows how no matter where you are, life is just living out each day.
  • Spanish is still such a struggle.  Some days are great, others I literally can’t speak/hear a word.
  • I’m so moved by how many people are still following along so closely to my blog, photos and life here- it means so much to me.
  • No matter how much you mentally prepare for something hard (such as this year)- you’ll never be able to fully prepare yourself for the unexpected challenges that will pop up.
  • It is really hard to miss out on family get-togethers, friend reunions, bachelorette parties and weddings.
  • I miss driving.
  • It is amazing how God has revealed Himself to me so far this year.
  • The second I’ve ever started to lose heart here, something has happened to remind me there is a reason I am here.
  • The ‘reason I am here’ is a constant fill in the blank question for me- some days I know exactly why, other days I have zero idea and other days I feel comforted just knowing there is a reason regardless of what it is.
  • I’m constantly in awe of my boyfriend’s support and belief in me this year, regardless of how not fun doing long-distance can be- he doesn’t waiver, it’s unbelievable to me.
  • I don’t know if I can eat one more empanada.
  • It’s unreal how a part of my host family I feel.  How will I ever say bye to them?
  • I find myself craving mate if I haven’t had it in a day or so.
  • It is so nice seeing the other YAGM volunteers once in a while- I can’t wait for our second retreat next week.
  • Thank you God for this unreal, amazing, incredible, life-impacting year I am having.  Even on the hardest days, I have never once regretted doing this and know that will continue to remain true.

Nancy.

Nancy is a woman that I met about 3 months ago now.  She is loosely connected to one of the comedors that I work at.  One day I stopped by her home with another staff member of the comedor to be introduced to her- ever since I have been going back alone each Tuesday afternoon to spend time with her at her home (as well as any other random days that I feel like or have time to stop by).

Nancy lives in a two bedroom home with 3 of her kids (ages 22, 15, 9), the 22 year-old son’s 2 year-old son and her oldest daughter’s 2 year-old little girl (the oldest daughter is 24 and left home about 8 months ago, leaving Nancy with her daughter).  Nancy wanted to volunteer at the comedor so they provide her with milk and snacks to give out to the local neighborhood kids- Monday-Friday at 5:30 any kids can stop by her home to get a snack if they are hungry.  But there hasn’t been a time of day where I have visited Nancy’s house and less than 12 boys have been hanging out there.  Nancy’s house has become the safe house for any local kids to hang out- all of her children’s friends spend their free time there.  They are always playing soccer out front, drinking mate or tereré, playing in their little pool, or just hanging out listening to music.

The group of boys that hang out at Nancy’s house are some of the nicest, most respectful and well behaved kids that I have met so far during my time here…actually that I have met anywhere.  The older ones take such good care of the younger ones (they babysit the younger ones when Nancy or the oldest brother has to work), they all look out for each other and treat one another like a giant family and they all are so nice to me.  Every time I show up to visit Nancy or them, they all greet me with a cheek kiss, sit and talk to me and ask me if I want to play soccer with them.  On Saturday I showed up, specifically to spend the afternoon playing soccer with them and they were SO excited- they all changed into their soccer jerseys of their favorite teams and went to gather more of their friends to make sure we’d have a solid game.

I love the relationship that Nancy and I have formed.  I show up and right away I am offered a chair and mate.  We sit and talk about everything- sometimes paint our nails, sometimes her friends come to visit and she introduces me to them.  She tells me all about how much she misses her parents (they live in Paraguay still- Nancy moved here about 11 years ago), about her 15 year-old son’s dream to become a lawyer, about her oldest daughter who won’t come back for her little girl, about how much she misses her kids when she goes to her job of cleaning houses 3 days a week.

The other day she said to me, ‘Andrea, I usually don’t really like people very quickly- it is hard for me to warm up or feel comfortable with them- but with you, I liked you right away.  I hope you keep coming to visit me.’  With the biggest smile ever, I told her of course I will keep visiting her.  It is a relationship like this that makes everything worth it :)

Quinceanera

The car the birthday girl arrived inThe cakes

This past weekend, some of my good friends here invited me to go with them to their friend’s Quinceanera.  A Quinceanera is a girl’s 15th birthday party- it is where her parents officially present her to their social circle as a woman- basically one giant (over 300 guests), all-night party filled with traditions.  (Even if families do not have the money for these parties- they take out loans and pay them back for years.)

Here is the schedule of my night:

6-9pm: Go over to the girls’ house to get ready with them (they are 15 and 16 year old sisters and their 17 year old cousin)- they do my hair and makeup and lend me a dress and earrings to wear.
10pm: The girls’ dad borrows a car to drop us off at the party.  It is at a giant white mansion- outside is a giant yard filled with tables of hors d’oeurvres and drinks
11:30pm: The birthday girl arrives in a new car with a giant bow on top (not that this car is her gift, they just borrowed it from someone to use for the night)- she walks in on a red carpet to the songs ‘I don’t wanna miss a thing’ by Aerosmith and ‘My heart will go on’ from Titanic.  Her 15 closest friends/family give her roses.  Everyone is crying.
12am: Everyone goes in and sits down at assigned tables.  She enters the room walking down a giant staircase in the back.  We are served potato salad to eat while she goes around and takes a photo with each table.
1am: We watch 2 videos of her.  One filled with photos of her life up until now.  The other filled with photos that look like senior photo model poses.
1:30am: Everyone claps and chants as 20 servers bring in the dinner (asado- lots of meat).
2am: Father- daughter dance.  Then all the men (friends of the dad and her guy friends) come dance with her.
2:45am: The regular dance begins- all types of dancing, reggaeton-cumbia-music from U.S.
3:30am: We watch another video of her friends/family saying happy birthday and how much they love her.  She gives speeches and gifts out to her best friends, boyfriend, cousins and parents.
4am: All the unmarried girls come pull a long string out of a box she is holding- if you pull out one with a plastic ring on it- you’re the next to get married.
4:15am: Dancing resumes
5am: All the tables are passed out giant bags filled with dress up costumes, masks, noise makers.  The bday girl enters down the stairs again wearing a giant headdress.  Everyone runs to the dance floor to dance absolutely crazy (mosh pitting, getting trampled) to fast Brazilian music.
6am: We receive souvenirs of a photo of her and a candle.  The girls’ dad comes back to pick us up- the sun is now up.
6:30am: Arrive back to their home- sleepover time in a room filled with all of us girls- basically sleep the whole day away.

me with the birthday girl

Video clips of her grand entrance and of us on the dance floor