My father lived with Mr. Z the better portion of my Sophomore year. The flat my father and I had been renting from the school was needed by some Bible workers at the beginning of the second semester. I moved in with some friends and Mr. Z lent my dad one of his two spare rooms in the flat he shared with his extensive library of books, CDs, DVDs, and eclectic collection of treasures and trinkets gathered from his travels around the globe. On the weekends, I would come stay in the third spare room. Mr. Z wasn't around much on the weekends as he was usually off attending a play or opera, but every once in awhile he would keep my dad and I company, sharing with us mini-history lessons on his Latin-American background or a brew of mate (prnounced MAH-tay) -- a highly traditional Argentinian tea -- of which I managed a few brave sips, but my dad could not even bear the smell of. I rather enjoyed it, in all honesty. Over our steaming teacups Mr. Z reminisced and explained of the social aspect surrounding the sharing of mate between Argentinians. I highly regard anything that brings people together to bond and enjoy the simple pleasure of human company, and I could easily picture myself seated in a circle of amigos sipping mate and sharing tales of the past and present, smiling and laughing in the peaceful evening light of an Argentinian sunset.
The eclectic collection of furniture scattered about Mr. Z's flat served as much-needed surface space on which to store the wonderfully wide array of "colorful clutter" he had accumulated over the years. Glass and wooden figurines, china dolls, small handwoven flags and tapestries, books, urns of all shapes and sizes, and various other trinkets and souvenirs lined the windowsills, walls, and just about every inch of available table space in the flat. A few colorful handwoven throw rugs adorned the hardwood floors. About his dining room table was usually spread some work-in-progress art piece (on top being a teacher, multilinguist, history buff, musician and singer, Mr. Z was a sculptor). In short, he had a lot of stuff for a single man. But all these little things made up a part of the big picture of who he was and where he had come from. Outside of school Mr. Z was not the talkative type. There will always be things my dad and I still wonder about; had he ever been married? Did he have any children? Did he still keep in contact with old connections in South America? There were days when he could be downright introverted, so we avoided prying with queries he would no doubt find intrusive. It wasn't uncommon for me to not see him over an entire weekend, or for him to pass on and off the premises without so much as a word of greeting let alone a smile in our direction. His personal belongings told me much more about him than he ever did himself.
Despite his reclusive nature, Mr. Z had his moments. There were times when he could be utterly hysterical. When the three of us started laughing, we usually didn't stop until we were thoroughly out of breath and our sides began to ache. The majority of the collection of memories I have of these times is pleasant. I have not kept in contact with Mr. Z since leaving Hawaiian Mission Academy, sadly, though I learned just the other day that my dad exchanges conversation -- rather stilted conversation, albeit -- with him over Facebook from time to time. I sometimes wonder how he is doing and if he looks back on his memories of my dad and I as fondly as I do -- or simply saw us as an inconvenience. Hopefully my dad's money, labor and company were up to par for his tediously high standards [apprehensive chuckle].
Ever since then, I have associated the country of Argentina with dear old Mr. Z. It was he who first introduced me to a very small taste of the country. Before then, my exposure to Latin-American culture had been limited to the short time I had lived in the Dominican Republic with my parents, and my friendship with a little old Colombian lady from my church who stood no higher than 4'7" and spoke with a strong accent. Her favorite foods were definitely rice and beans and she always made the best salsa with tomatoes from her garden.
I have always harbored an interest for Latin-American culture and language, but my opportunities to be exposed to it have been limited, so a further love for them has never been nurtured. In reality, this is a poor excuse, however, as a lack of exposure has never kept me from extensively immersing myself in the various other world cultures I have harbored interest for over the years, via online research, literature, film, art, and correspondence with foreign pen-pals. If I really wanted to, I could have continued studying Spanish after high school, practiced it with my co-worker, Hérme (little old Colombian lady from my church) and even my half-sister, Sarah, if I had been willing to put forth the effort. Sarah is ten years my senior, married, and has a little girl. She currently lives in Canada, where she was born, but she has spent a fair amount of time in Peru as a nurse missionary. She speaks Spanish almost fluently, and I'm sure she would have no qualms to practicing with me over Skype if I really wanted.
My parents spent their honeymoon in Mexico, my dad has expressed interest in moving there before (though I presume it was merely one of his passing phases) and we have been sponsoring children in Mexico and the D.R. through ICC (International Children's Care) for years.
But, other than the above, I have had little connection with Latin-American culture in the past. It is likely that this can be at least partly attributed to the fact that an obsession with European languages and culture-- French and Italian in particular -- has dominated my interest up until recently, when I went through a phase of wanting to "get in touch" with the other half of my racial heritage, my mother's Asian side . . . But, that's a story I'll save for a later post.
Since then, my interests have finally veered away from European history, language, food, art and music, and now branch out towards Persian, Oriental and southwestern Pacific cultures. Sadly, this means I sort of gave up studying French, which I wasn't getting very far with anyways. I decided my line of work is going to require that I first become an expert in the English language before I try making room in my head for any others, no matter how interesting they may be. However, Spanish has always come naturally and easiest for me (as it should for most people whose first language is English), and I have been debating over the past year whether I should pursue further study and practice of it before I completely lose everything I learned in high school. My mother has advised that I do so on multiple occasions, so I know she would be fully supportive, as would my sister. All that is left is to decide whether it is going to be a practical and worthwhile use of my time and money. This may seem like a silly question to some, and I myself believe that learning any second language (at least one that is still currently in active use) is never a waste of time; besides the fact that you can use it if you ever plan to visit or move to the country of its origin, it enables you to better gain an understanding of the history and background of a different culture. It opens up your mind to new perspectives of thinking and a greater appreciation for other world cultures. However, when one is tight on funds and time, it is not a decision or commitment to be jumped into lightly. Being a practical person and someone who likes to think and plan ahead (maybe even too far sometimes) I have asked myself whether I ever plan to reside in a country where the second language I would like to learn is spoken. Originally, I planned on settling down in France one day; donning my beret, finding myself a docile tabby and living out the rest of my days as a writer/editor in a quaint neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris. Hey, I like baguettes and expensive wine, okay? There are worse obsessions to be had. Of course, going through with this wild plan required that I rigorously study French 'til it oozed from my pores and I could speak it fluently enough to haggle for leeks and French bread in an open air market. It would also require saving up a good amount of money. Immigrating to most European countries is no small or cheap venture.
France was not the only extravagantly thought-out plan. Oh, no. Before that there was "WWOOFing in Ireland." And before that it was "Immigrating to Scotland." And before that there was "Franchising in New Zealand." Reaching even farther back into my memory I can recall plans that came very close to completion that involved Colorado, Virginia on multiple occasions, New York and New England, and even Brazil. And through it all there's always been the fall-back plan of "Just Run Back Across the Border to Canada," and take up residency in Montreal or Quebec (A.K.A. "Pseudo France"). I have family all over CA and still hold my CA citizenship (I have a dual-citizenship; American and Canadian) so it wouldn't be difficult. Then, there's always the "Move Back to Australia or Hawaii" plan, which would also be just as easy. I have family in Australia and friends I consider family on Oahu and the Big Island, who would love to see me again and whom I know I would love to see.
I think it's obvious I have a problem; too many options. It's fantastic. But it's also rather overwhelming at times. When your thirst for adventure is as big as mine, and the world-unexplored even bigger, oftentimes you don't even know where to start.
And then, this morning I grabbed the lobby TV remote to switch the channel from "Porous Robert Quadrilateral Trousers" -- er, that ridiculousness my juvenile co-workers indulge in and know more commonly by the name of "Spongebob Squarepants" -- to some other type of hopefully slightly less-distracting media gibberish. Some random news channel was the first thing that popped up with headlines in big white capital block letters broadcasting something about the current financial crisis in . . . Argentina.
I can't really beat around the bush. If you're thinking, "Let me guess, it sparked another crazy idea, and now she's been obsessed with researching the possibility of immigrating to South America all morning . . ." then you hit the nail on the head. It's brilliant. Remarkable. Absolutely ingenious. For a number of reasons, which only grew in number as I began my research.
So far, simply from the few hours or so I spent clicking around expat and immigration sites, these are the reasons I've come up with that have me convinced a run-off-to-South-America-next plan is in order:
1) I like Spanish. I would enjoy getting back into studying it, and I know it would be the easiest second language for me to learn. After that, I could always learn French as well-- when time and money permit. French would also be easier to learn after I have mastered English and Spanish. Another plus.
2) I've always wanted to go to South America, to visit at the very least. It is one continent I have never been to yet, which obviously, automatically means I MUST GO at some point. So, I have already established that it is imperative and inevitable that I will end up there one day.
3) Latin-American culture is incredibly rich and vibrant. From the widely varying regionally authentic foods to the dance and art and music . . . I have already established that it has attracted me in the past and been an interest of mine. Though I may not have nurtured and developed this interest as much as I could have -- had I not been so infatuated by the charm and romance of France and my French heritage -- I have a feeling it wouldn't take me long to fall head-over-heels in love with this culture were I to immerse myself in it. Yes, yes. I fully believe that I could be happy submersed in a Spanish-speaking country for an extended period of time, amongst Tango dancers and gauchos, under a sun that shines consistently all year as opposed to two weeks out of the year. [cough] Alaska [cough]. You'd have to be blooming daft to not find all that attractive.
4) This should alone be a selling point for anyone: Life in Argentina is CHEAP. Like, holy mackerel. Okay, CHEAP for Americans or Europeans. Don't take my word for it, check out these numbers. It definitely takes the cake by far for being cheaper than any place I've ever looked into moving to down the road, without sacrificing a relatively high quality of life. I currently pay $450 on rent alone where I live. I share a small two-bedroom flat with two other people and we split the rent three ways. That doesn't include the $400 I pay for groceries per month. I got extremely lucky though with my current living situation, luckier than I have been i the past. I have friends who easily pay $500-$700 a month on rent alone for a single room in someone's house. On top of that you have to add your grocery budget, internet, cable and cell phone bills, snow removal, heating, electricity, gas, etc. Living costs in Valdez are among some of the highest in the state . . . and living costs in Alaska are among some of the highest in the country.
5) I could live in suburbia. I could live downtown the heart of the capitol, Buenos Aires. I could settle down in a sleepy village on the rural outskirts of Mendoza . . . Options are wide open. A land rich in diverse opportunity, Argentina boasts plenty of space, fresh air, room to move and breath, relatively little pollution, a moderate population (which is mostly concentrated in the large cities), and a wonderfully varied geographical landscape. I love forests. But I also love grassy fields and plains, rivers, lakes, mountains . . . However, a vibrant, bustling urban environment also thrills and delights me. Yeah, I gotta have it all. Variety is truly the spice of life. Lack thereof is stagnant and stifling. City life might be fun again for awhile, especially with the new experiences to be had in a foreign country, as wild and even stressful as these adventures may be at times. But having the open country at my doorstep would keep me from ever feeling trapped. I could settle in Mendoza or Buenos Aires for awhile and eventually end up in some quaint town in Bariloche, "The Switzerland of Argentina." Regardless, I like to leave my options wide open, and Argentina offers just the kind of wide array of opportunities for different lifestyles that I look for in any prospective destinations.
5.5) All the above applies also to the climate in Argentina, another major factor in the equation for me. Climate varies greatly depending on the region; anywhere from hot and arid to mild and temperate, or even sub-Antarctic cold in the farthest tip around Patagonia's glacial regions. I wouldn't have to give up the snow and cooler weather, but I would very much enjoy the beach. In fact, seeing as I've had enough snow this past winter -- and past 8 winters -- I probably wouldn't be found anywhere near it. My days would definitely be spent basking in areas with warmer climates. Once again, regardless of what I do, the options will be there.
6) I was very interested to discover through my research that Argentina's culture and language is strongly influenced by that of Italy's (I'll avoid digressing into a long spiel on why this is, though the history is every bit as fascinating to me). Italian might as well be the unofficial second language. "Most Argentinians are primarily of European descent, which separates them from other Latin American countries where European and Indian cultures are more mixed," explains an article on Kwintessential, The Translation Company. This article gives a more in-depth look at the history and development of Argentina and the Italian influence. Today, most Argentinians speak a special version of Spanish they have dubbed Castellano, which combines Italian words, phrases and expressions with standard Spanish. I found all of this quite fascinating, as I know my love for European culture and language is not about to diminish any time soon. Besides the influences on language, Italian culture especially permeates the local cuisine -- it just keeps getting better! I discovered that authentic Italian food is often served in restaurants and cafes even more commonly than traditional Argentinian dishes, especially in the larger urban areas such as Buenos Aires. Italian food is the traditional food of Argentina, or at least a good portion of it. Apparently about 97% of the population is descended from European immigrants -- mainly Italian, German, French and Irish -- who came overseas in the 19th and 20th centuries. French culture also has left its mark on Argentina's art, science, architecture and society. Buenos Aires, Argentina's capitol, is often referred to as the "Paris of the South". As you can imagine, all this was music to my ears and only further inclines me to believe I would feel right "at home" in Argentina, or at least as much as I'll ever feel "at home" anywhere on this globe. The more I learned as I continued my research, the stronger grew the feeling in me that somehow this was where I was meant to be all along, or at least that I am destined to end up in Argentina at some point along my travels.
7) The Argentina's immigration process is relatively easy, certainly a good deal easier than any other country I've previously considered a prospective destination for my inevitable eventual relocation. I won't go into the details. You get the main point. Less hassle with paperwork, time and money is always a major plus. The tight restrictive immigration policies of most European countries has always been my major deterrent. There are so many loops you have to jump through to be eligible for visas and it often costs a pretty penny. Argentina would be akin to a "little Europe" for me, as far as I'm concerned. It has its own unique culture and people, yes. But it cannot be separated from it's predominantly European roots and history. However, getting across Argentina's borders as opposed to the European countries in my previous plans easily comes out on top.
8) There is a righteous abundance of things to do, and more specifically, things that I personally enjoy. Mountain climbing, hiking, horseback riding, hang-gliding and parasailing are among a few of the opportunities presented by the more rural areas of Argentina. Because the country is so large, one can rest assured that new scenery will greet their eyes upon every adventure they embark upon. And when traversing the urban landscape of Buenas Aires, Mendoza and Bariloche, equal opportunities are to be found around every corner. Independently-owned cafes, coffee shops and bookstores line every street of downtown and many even through the more sprawling residential areas of the cities. The food, literature, music and dance scenes have been thriving for hundreds of years and continue to do so as Argentina remains one of the most bustling tourist destinations on the planet.
10) Last but definitely not least: Sun.
Allow me to repeat for emphasis: I NEED SOME SUN.
Sure . . . go ahead and laugh at me for my new-found and rather sudden infatuation. Up until now I have been known for my endless "phases" that come and go and never grow into anything most people would deem worth the amount of time and money I put into them.
In all seriousness though, I once saw this jump-around behavior as an embarrassing character flaw of mine. However, as time goes by and I learn from my experiences, and hopefully mature in my way of thinking, I have slowly given up on viewing it in this negative light. Why? Because I don't believe it is a flaw. I have many, but this is not one of them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a thirst for knowledge and an unquenchable curiosity for new things, which is the blessing and curse that has been bestowed upon me and mine to deal with as I would. I can choose to see it as an inconvenience or weakness, or I can understand how it makes up a large part of who I am and will always influence my life decisions. If it truly is as big a part of me as it seems to be now, and continues on throughout my life, I may never settle down in one spot. I may continue my globe-hopping late into the twilight of my days in a ceaseless search for new experiences. If it is a restless side of me that will eventually be subdued as I grow older, there's nothing wrong with that either. What I have come to realize though, regardless of how I change over time, is that my passing phases of near-obsessions with certain hobbies, countries or cultures has indeed yielded results, whether these phases/plans ever came to full fruition or simply faded away. They have left my brain stocked with a marvelous wealth of information on countless fascinating subjects. I find that I quite often refer to this information to supplement topics of conversation or my writing. And even on a subconscious level, it influences my views on many aspects of life on a daily basis. Though many of the interests that culminated in the attainment of this knowledge have died away (often simply due to a lack of time or resources to further them), the information remains with me and will forever stay a part of me. Every single one of these passing "phases" has played a part in shaping who I am today, and will continue to play a part in influencing my decisions in the future.
In "discovering" Argentina I have discovered, uncovered and awakened parts of me, interests of mine that I simply may never have been previously aware of. I learn more about myself from the world around me every day. New horizons are around ever corner.
Note: If you recall, I mentioned that the headlines on the news when I changed the channel on the tele were broadcasting the "current financial crisis in Argentina". I read up on this subject during my research. Interestingly enough, it appears that though this is having a negative effect on locals, many foreigners living in Argentina or staying temporarily for school, business or holidays are reaping substantial benefits from the crisis. This article on The Guardian describes the situation.