2. 11. 2006
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Britské listy

ISSN 1213-1792


Jan Čulík


Karel Dolejší


Michal Panoch, Jan Panoch

Grafický návrh:

Štěpán Kotrba

ISSN 1213-1792
deník o všem, o čem se v České republice příliš nemluví
2. 11. 2006

A Letter from Argentina III.

Tongue, or salad?

Even though I had been to Buenos Aires the year before on a two month trip, I was still nervous about coming here now. Because now would be different. Now I would stay for a whole year. Now I would live and study here. Now I went al alone.

For the first few days I stayed in an area called "El Abasto". I checked into this student residence which was a very odd place. It was mainly occupied by young, immature guys, from everywhere in South America, except Argentina. I was blatantly not from around here, even more so since my Spanish wasn't that sharp in my first weeks. So they all kept staring at me...obviously staring, but not speaking. They made me feel weird and even more scared then I already was about going out into the city. I thought that if I already stuck out this much in the residence, it must be a hundred times worse on the streets and I'll get robbed in the first ten seconds! There you are as a little Dutch, with your cute blond hair and big blue eyes and your weird accent and your foreign valuta, ready to get mugged. That is how I felt. That is how I was told to feel about coming to a big city in South America: dangerous and poor. Me; a foreigner, them; barbaric, me; getting robbed of all my belongings, them; taking all my belongings.

Basically it was a big mistake to come here, big mistake, huge! And even though I have never listened to these people and have surely proven them all wrong, in my first few days their words kept echoing in my mind. And I believed them. I was convinced that my first steps out of the building where to be doomed. So I spend one hour planning my purse. What to bring? As least as possible of course, so I won't lose it if I get robbed.

But what if I go out, and leave everything unattended here and they rob me in the residence? I decide to split things up: one bank card comes with me, the other I hide under the mattress. My camera stays; I will be too scared to take pictures in the street anyway. My music I take with me; I won't understand a word of what the people say anyway.

There I go, time to set off. The moment I step out off the door I have to pull back, just in time for a taxi not to crash me. I already start thinking there might be even more dangers out there to consider. I had heard this area wasn't the nicest, not helping my adjustments at the least, and I fully agree. It is very chaotic. A bit dirty and run down. The kind of area that, when you are looking for a place to eat, each place seems like the perfect one to end up with diarrhoea, or even worse, food poisoning.

I'm not hungry now anyway, so I can worry about that later. Now I have to go to the university where all the international students will be introduced to each other. Luckily it is easy to find, since all I have to do is walk straight, for about 20 minutes.

I pass by so many stalls and people selling stuff on the street I find it lively and wonderful and I turn off my music and start listening to the noises. Most of all, I don't feel that alienated after all. I see more blond people too. I laugh to myself, proving the first judgements wrong of the voices in my head. There goes the big lie out of the window of there not being any blonds in South America. Ok, maybe theirs comes out of a box, but at least I don't feel completely stared at.

I keep my street map hidden in my bag, peeking inside to have a glance at it, not willing to hang the big sign that screams "tourist" around my neck. As I sit in the University talking to all the foreign students, exited to get to know one and other, I see a familiar face walk in. He walks up to me and asks: "Don't I know you from Scotland?" "Yes I study there, I remember you" I say. "Ah yes" Gaston smiles, "you are that Dutch girl that studies Spanish in Scotland, which makes no sense at all!"

We both laugh and hope for the best that our Spanish will be sorted out here in the next year, both not feeling like we have learned that much. In the break we head out with a big group to go and have some lunch. Gaston and I sit opposite each other and happily chat away how we have found our first days of being here. "Have you found a place to stay yet?" he goes on asking me. I tell him about the great residence I am in at the moment. Turns out he stays in a hotel really nearby and also hasn't found a place yet.

We decide to look for something together. The waitress is asking me what I would like to eat. Not having had the time to think about it yet, I quickly look at the menu and see `lengua' and order it. After my thoughts about food in strange countries before, I decide to keep it nice and simple, just a little salad. But as she comes back, what I see in front of me, to my horror, is a little plate with a big fat tongue on it dressed in pickles and onions! One look on my face tells her this is not what I had hoped for and she laughs: "Is it `lechuga' you wanted?!" making it obvious I am not the first foreigner to make this mistake.

We all return back to the university, after I ate my salad, ready to hear more of the introduction speech they have prepared for us. For whatever reason remains unknown to me. Probably to `prepare' us and to try to not make us feel worried later. But what they really are doing is scaring the shit out of us; sucking out all our hopes and good intentions, leaving us wanting to return immediately to our own comfy, well-known universities.

They warn us about all the academical problems we might encounter here. How things won't be as organized as back home, how we have to do and find out everything for ourselves here. How they don't have textbooks, so we need to ask to other students if they know in which "fotocopiadora", photocopy place, to get copies of the text they are using.

"Don't bother asking the teachers" they say, "they won't know anything! And anything you need from them you have to hunt them and track them down in order to get it from them, because they will forget." Seems like the expression "mañana, mañana" was invented right here in this room. Not like the motto I live with: `seize the day' or `don't leave for tomorrow what you could have done today'. They seem more of the term `let's leave everything for tomorrow, why do anything at all today'!

About two hundred confused faces leave the university later that afternoon. With a group we decide to go to a pub to shake off the depression that hangs above ours heads. We already start making plans for the weekend all together. Gaston and I smile at each other, ready to start our year. Here we are, making friends already and we agreed to start looking for a house the next day.

Even though I paid a lot for the residence I am in, I can't wait to move out of it and Gaston has stayed too long in a hotel and is missing that `homey' feeling. I feel a great friendship has begun that made us inseparable so I don't want to think about the money but do what will make me happy.

That weekend we start the parties and hook up with many friends. Our just newly bought `empty' mobile phones are filling up with numbers. That first Friday night, as I am talking to a nice English guy called Adam he asks me if I have already met the German girl Silla. He shoots off looking for her, and as soon as we meet we also both know that this is going to be a good friendship. She stays nearby my residence and Gaston's hotel in another student residence.

Since we all can't cook or invite people to our places we hook up everyday to eat together, explore the city, unravel the mysteries of the University and to go out. A week later Gaston and I move into our house. Unfortunately it is only temporary, because it is outrageously expensive. But from this place we have a base where we feel comfortable coming home to, giving us the energy to really look for our house. And a search it turns out to be.

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