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Monday, February 08, 2010

The 5th Wheel

this is another blog that accidentally got left out. This is the special holiday edition I wrote for Christmas time and the experience of what it was like to do Christmas Argentinean style. I did this blog Dec. 26

"Angelina.......hay una problem."

"Angelina, we have a problem". These were the last words I wanted to hear as I stood there at the train station 10pm at night in the middle of the outskirts of Buenos Aires with my new friend Romina, whom I barely knew. Come to think of it, these are the last words that I think anyone wants to hear when they are in a foreign country in the middle of nowhere.

This adventure really began when Romina arrived at my door to pick me up to her place in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Immediately I recognized her as being one of the girls from my thursday night church group. We first took the bus to Agaces, that is where the main church is located. There was supposed to be some kind of meeting to discuss missions and outreach but it looks like that somehow fell through. So we decided to continue on our way and head back to her place. It´s a simple bus ride and then a train ride that will take us close to her doorstep. At least it was suppose to be simple.

After we got off the bus and stepped up to the train station, it became clear that something was amiss. She then turned to me and told me that we have a little problem. The train that we were supposed to take is not running tonight so we have to take a different line. Apparently this is normal in Latin America for something to not be working at the last minute. We crammed into an almost full train on a different line and off we went. To make a long story short, from that train we had to take another train and what should have been originally a short 45 min train ride turned into an almost 90 min journey stuffed into a passenger hold full of people. Though it was only 10pm at night, it certainly felt like I was taking the midnight train.

Finally when we finally reached our stop, her father was waiting in the car to pick us up and drive us to her house 5 mins away. Pulling up to her house, I realize that I was about to see another side of Argentine culture that people rarely get to experience. Up until now, I´ve seen the many different ways people live in Argentina. Whether in the city or in the country. I´ve seen wealthy neighbourhoods with buildings that are relatively new and I´ve been in houses that are much older in less ritzy parts of town. Now I would get to not only see but experience a very basic type of a lifestyle that I believe represent the lives majority of Argentineans. As you begin to go to the outskirts of BA, you begin to see many buildings made of brick for walls, concrete or bare floors. The clothes are most often hung outside to dry and in some parts of the house, there are only curtains to seperate the rooms.
The car pulled out and we got out. My accomodations would be somewhat interesting. You see, before in a text message she had told me they have room for me. In North America this often means a spare bedroom. But she explained it that I would be sharing a room with others. The house had two bedrooms, one for the parents and another room with 2 bunkbeds. When she told me that there was room for me, by that she meant that there was an extra bunk available. Altogether in this family there were her mom and dad, she has 3 brothers. Adding herself and me, that would be 7 people staying together in a house that was somewhere between 700-1000 sq ft. But i had no problem with this arrangment at all and am always open to new experiences and adventures.

Her mother greeted me and welcomed me into their home. As well, her 3 dogs (2 of them being puppies) gave me a welcome as well. Then they took some chairs outside and we sat down to have some pizza, coke and a salad. We ended up in a lively discussion along with some laughs as we started to get to know each other. I crawled into one my bunk that night and as I drifted off to sleep, I wondered what the next day would hold for me.

The next day as soon as everyone got up, we all had breakfast together. Like typical Argentineans, breakfast was very simple. A maté or a coffee and maybe some biscuits. Her family seemed delighted to have me as company for their Christmas. Romina explained to me that they will have a dinner on Christmas eve but Christmas day is pretty much a normal day for them to do chores and run errands etc. The whole rest of the day, I spent time playing with the dogs, chatting with Romina, and hanging around the house. One really fun this we did that afternoon is we went to the local neighbourhood to browse around some shops and stores.

When we arrived back, there was a big surprise waiting. Romina's brothers brought in some massive speakers. I think they had just purchased it. It was in that moment that I realized that one thing about Latin Americans is that they like their music LOUD!!!!!!! They hooked up the speakers and blasted music so that the whole neighbourhood could hear. And I could hear other people blasting their music so this appears to be a normal thing in this part of the world.

As night drew, an incredible smell wafted through the entire house. Now, up to this point I had eaten in several restaurants in the city and was quite familiar with an asado (BBQ). But this was going to be such an amazing opportunity to taste meats cooked right there in the family's own grill. The grill is nothing fancy, it's simply a grill that you put meats on top off and then you put hot coals underneath it to smoke the meat. I could see that there were several types of meat being cooked....chicken, steaks, sausages etc.

It must have been around 9pm at night when the family pulled their table out into the front of the house and began to set the table. We would be having an asado feast under the clear night sky. Once the table was set, everybody seated, and prayers were said it was time to begin. There were salads, drinks, and most importantly, the meat from the asado. There is nothing much to be said about the meats except that as usual Argentinean meats are well cooked and taste light and sweet. But there is nothing like good company and laughter at the table that made the food taste twice as good.

When dinner was done, it was time for the party to begin. The boys cranked up the volume on their new speakers and the family and everyone started to have a dance party latin style right there in their front yard. If I haven't told you yet, I will tell you now. Parties in the Latin world always start late and night and go into the early hours of the morning. And this one was no exception. We danced to the beat of the music out there under the open night sky. When it turned 12 midnight, the neighbours all around us ushered in Christmas with fireworks in the sky. There had already been a little bit of fireworks during the meal but as soon as midnight hit, the sky was bombarded by fireworks. Mixed with sound of the music blasting from the speakers at their house as well as from all their neighbour's house, there was only one word to describe it.......LOUD! It was around 2 or 3 am before the party ended and everyone started to settle down to bed.

On Christmas day, everyone woke up around afternoon so instead of having breakfast, we had lunch. We ate some of the remainders of last nights dinner. Then it was time for me to head back into the city. I thanked them and said it was a pleasure. They told me the pleasure was their's and they would love to have me over again. During these last two days, i feel like i have had more imparted into me by the Argentine culture. It amazes me how these people were willing to make room for me in their hearts and in their home.

On the 2nd night, Romina's little brother slept on the bunk on top of me. Then sometime during the night, her other brother gets home and just crawls on top of the first bunk with his little brother and they sleep there together. When I got up on the 2nd morning, everyone in the room was still sleeping except her little brother who was now wide awake. I went outside and sat there and watched as he played with his new toy pistol. Her other older brother had also arrived sometime during the night and had actually ripped off the mattress from the other top bunk and pulled it out into the middle of the bare floor in the livingroom and had slept there.

Romina's younger brother is quite mischief and I sat and watched as he started to rough house with his brother who was half asleep. Words cannot describe what it is like to see interaction between family members who don't care too much about their personal space. And that is what I love about this household. Everyone just shares everything and there is a real sense of community spirit. There is no attitude of " I want MY life MY way. This is my space so....GET OUT!!!!!!!!" The family members interact with each other in such a playful manner that is such a joy to watch.

This family taught me so much about making room for other people. There was no doubt in their minds that there was space for me in their home because even if they didn't have any space, they were going to create space! This is an incredible phenomenon that I keep witnessing in my life over and over again. I have been in alot of situations with people where they had a comfortable amount of space or money or both and when I came into the picture, it was like I was the 5th wheel.......unwanted and unneeded. Then I have met others of you who have so little when it comes to time or space or money in your world, but like this family you created room in your heart and said " We'll make it work!!!!"

It blows me away sometimes that people who I hardly know open the doors of their home or their hearts to me and there are people that I have known for a long time or all my life who give less of a welcome or feel "inconvenienced" when you start to get into their space or need help in times of trouble. For a girl like me who has always been on the outskirts watching happy families together, a simple act of hospitality like this speaks volumes to me and it is something I will never forget. In the same way I will never get some of you out there that in the same way this family made room for me in their home, you made room for me in your heart. And in doing so, you gave me the greatest gift of all this Christmas.........the gift of knowing that I would never again have to be "The 5th Wheel"

Amorous Alpacas

Amorous Alpacas