Argentina — 19 January 2012

by

Vivi Rathbon

 

Two years went by in an instant. An airplane landed in Buenos Aires. I closed my eyes and inhaled. I opened my eyes and exhaled, and it is two years later.

Moving (and staying) in Buenos Aires was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done in my life, as trite and cliche as that sounds. I’m convinced that outsiders peering into my life get a glimpse of glamor, and seem to have the impression that I’m enjoying a carefree unending “study abroad” party existence in a cheap country. I hear it in the skeptical tones of conversational questions: ‘What are you doing down there?’

I don’t know how to really explain my BA existence, although this blog has been an attempt at that. I don’t hesitate to correct the outsiders conception of expatriated life as a moveable feast. It hasn’t been so rose colored.

I have been sick, as in need-to-go-to-the-hospital-sick for unending and inexplicable afflictions that took a year to fully recover from. I have been poor, as in have-to-call-home-begging-for-a-money-order-beg-my-landlord-to take pity-on-me-accept-the-rent-late  poor. I’ve been too cold and too hot, and devoured by vicious mosquitoes. I’ve been desperately lonely, longing for familiar faces in a wild and foreign city. I’ve been scared, I’ve been malnourished, I’ve been depressed. I’ve had the lowest self esteem and poor body image, not helped by Argentines calling me “Gordita”. I’ve been sexually harassed, I’ve been groped on the subway. I’ve been robbed in the street, I’ve been cheated on. I’ve been underpaid as an English teacher. I’ve been lost, and confused, and made countless embarrassing mistakes in Spanish and fallen down in public more times than I care to admit. That is enough trauma to land a girl in intense psychotherapy.

I’ve suffered, and I wouldn’t go back and change a minute of it. These past two years have been worth every little pain and discomfort. I’ll tell you why.

I’ve danced tango with charming tangueros to beautiful songs by Gardel in crowded milongas. I’ve galloped on horseback across the flat campo in San Antonio del Areco. I’ve shared kobe beef with antarctic scuba divers, laughing and lingering over Malbec until the restaurant closed. I’ve practiced the art of the chamuyo, I’ve played ping-pong with pick up artists, suffered painful crushes on crush-worthy men, and dated the most handsome of Argentines. I’ve developed a strong affection for Woody Allen films.

I taught English to fascinating professionals – engineers, economists, media directors. I’ve bonded with fellow expats and relished the support from the international community. I’ve soaked in hot springs in Mendoza and I’ve pet a baby tiger and ridden an elephant. I’ve skied with my parents in the heart of the Andes, where we watched fuchsia sunsets over a snowy mountain lake. I crossed the border from Argentina to Chile in a river raft. I’ve been inspired to write poems and hotel reviews, blog posts, recipes and short stories. I’ve witnessed breathtaking electric storms.

I’ve learned how to bake a cake from scratch. I’ve bribed a police officer and charmed the border patrol. I climbed Machu Picchu with my grandparents, and walked the entire length of the Copacabana beach with my brother and sister. I’ve had my share of medialunas and cafe cortados in charming street facing cafes, and indulged in enough ice cream to secure my place as a veritable connoisseur. I found the perfect leather jacket, and I’ve eaten a whole cow’s worth of delicious steak. I learned the proper way to serve mate, prepare a fernet, and pour wine.

I’ve made fantastic friends from all over the world. I’ve been visited by my entire family and my two best friends, and kindred spirits from college. I picked up some lunfardo and basic salsa steps. I learned more about plumbing than I ever wanted and 9 times out of 10 I can fix a toilet. I’ve laughed uncontrollably at my students English mistakes and felt the karma for my own mistakes in Spanish. I’ve pushed myself far outside my comfort zone and bought an Argentine swimsuit which reveals far more of my derrière than I was ever willing to show previously. I learned to navigate a large city, and the more I discovered, the more I grew to love it.

Two years ago, I landed in Buenos Aires – a scared twenty three year old in a pink shirt. Two years later, a twenty-five year old in a pink dress, I celebrated my gutsy decision and gave thanks for my incredible friends, my supportive family, and two wonderful years.

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(2) Readers Comments

  1. I ‘m always intrigued by people who decide to move to Buenos Aires, so this is a very interesting memoir. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. I forgot to mention that the writer’s voice is powerful. The story is touching and beautiful.

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