Friday, February 27, 2009

Proyecto: chugging along

If I haven't already made it clear, my boss is awesome. This week, he put me in contact with 2 Argentines that want to help me with my project. One is an industrial engineer, Santiago, who is interested in helping me build the system. The second is a graphic designer (!!!), Carlos, who is going to help me design and make the instructional pamphlets. These additions are extremely helpful and more than welcome :)

This week, beside meeting with my two new helpers, I have been writing a grant report to apply for funding from FSD and going to the comedor to chat with the ladies. I'm happy with the progress so far even though it is a bit slow.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

el fin de semana tranquilo

This weekend, the other FSD interns decided to trek it to Gualeguaychu for carnival (click for a little taste). I decided to pass on this in order to spend time with my special visitors again in Buenos Aires, go to an Argentine friend's birthday celebration and enjoy a relaxing Sunday at home with my family. Even though I was a bit jealous seeing my friends' fabulous pictures from carnival, I had a great weekend and got a much needed rest day on Sunday.

Besides yummy helado sundaes from Volta on Saturday (byebye diet!), the highlight of the afternoon was catching a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at the Japanese Gardens in Buenos Aires.

During the ceremony, I kept thinking about what the Argentines in the room were thinking because mate culture is so important here. I figured that they must share a real understanding of the Japanese tea ceremony with their own love for mate.

That evening, I returned to La Plata with a friend to go to the birthday party. We arrived around 12pm, which is normal. It was fun meeting all of my friend's friends and a good way to practice my Spanish. I only had one small incident with miscommunication. I was having a conversation with 3 friends about my bike and one guy told me to be careful referring to the regularity of bike thefts. However, I missed the part about robberies and only heard the part about being careful (ugh loud music interfering with my comprehension). So, obviously, I interjected that there is nothing to worry about because I have a helmet. Oh man, the other 3 people started cracking up! Que verguenza!

My friend and I called it a night at 4am and got lots of slack (and lectures about Argentine nightlife lasting until 6 or 7 am) from the other party-goers about how early it was!

Sunday was a glorious rainy day, which I spent talking to my host cousin, a engineering student at the university (who lives with my family during the school year); hanging out with my host family; drinking mate; doing yoga; and reading my book (Acts of Faith, By Philip Caputo. So good!).

Side-note on my host cousin: He is 27 years-old and is in his 8th or 9th year of university (engineering degrees take 5 years). It is surprisingly normal here to take years and years to finish a degree. Probably has something to do with the public education system... It is nice to have a young'un around the house to talk to now that my host sister has gone back to school. Plus, he plays guitar (!) and has agreed to teach me a little.

That night, a FSD friend came over and we made dinner for our host families. Our original intention was to make breakfast burritos for brunch, but that got pushed back to dinner. We didn't change the menu much because we had already bought the ingredients- tomato, pepper and corn salsa, black bean and avocado salsa, and scrambled eggs. We added onions and garlic to everything and it came out delicious. We got lots of props from our family!

Friday, February 20, 2009

El Paso de Vida

I don't know how this happens or why, but getting things done here takes forever! Yesterday, I finally met with Marta, the lady from the comedor, where I will be building one solar water heater. I waited 2 weeks for this meetings. Today, I spent the entire day trying to figure out where to get a tank. I still don't know. Hopefully, I can do that on Monday. Tuesday, I am going back to the comedor to talk to the ladies, observar, figure out the plumbing system, etc. Things that take 3-4 days in the states take weeks here. I already see this as being a big problem in terms of finishing my project...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tango, Salsa, Capoeira

In addition to going to my first Capoeira class last night, I tried Salsa for the first time last Friday. My Columbian friend organized a casual class at her apartment with 7 friends. It was tough and tiring! You need to be continually shaking your hips along with the music. For those of us, who didn't grow up shaking our hips like my Columbian friend, it was completely unnatural and, of course, I looked terribly awkward! But, it was a ton of fun! Fortunately, there was wine and beer involved with the class so looking silly wasn't a concern.

I feel lucky that I have gotten to try so many new things here: tango, salsa, capoeira, what's next?


Last night, a friend invited me along to her Capoeira class. I must admit that I had never heard of Capoeira before. It is a martial arts/dance that originated in Brazil, but most likely has African roots - possibly started by African slaves in Brazil ( Since I had no idea what Capoeira was, my friend sent me this video to spark my interest:
(around the 1-minute mark, 2 guys fight and it's amazing!)

After watching the video, I felt fairly intimidated about going to the class. Luckily, it was pretty low-key. The class was 2 hours long and broken into 2 sections - the first consisted of stretching and practicing (basic steps, kicks, rolls, etc) and the second was on mats with fighting. There were 10 people at a variety of levels (including 2 kids, who were fantastic). Since my friend and I are still at a beginner level, we didn't practice fighting. Along with 2 other newbies, we practiced doing hand-stands to build upper-body strength. Getting to watch the more experienced dancers fight was incredible. The dance is elegant and rhythmic.

There is a big Capoeira scene in Buenos Aires, but, here in La Plata, it is much smaller. We didn't have enough people to do the traditional circle with musicians. The music is an essential part of Capoeira and the dancers move to the beat. The teacher used a stereo for the class.

I had a lot of fun in the class. Plus, my body is aching today - a good indicator of a tough work-out :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I got hit by a bus

Not quite as dramatic as it sounds, but still true.

While biking home last week, a bus making a stop pulled up next me so quickly that my ghetto brakes were of no help. To avoid crashing into the people getting off the bus, I turned instead into the parked car next to me. I got off balance and flew the other way into the stopped bus. Luckily, I wear a helmet (only person in all of Argentina to do so) so I survived without a scratch. It was still scary, though. When I told my boss about what happened, he grabbed my shoulders, looked deeply into my eyes, and pleaded with me to be VERY careful.

Roads in Argentina are notoriously dangerous. There are no stop signs and few stop lights. Enter cross-sections at your own risk! Braking for pedestrians is not a common practice, even when the cross signs are green.

Manteca de Mani

So, I love peanut butter. For those that know me well, that is a bit of an understatement. In fact, I will go so far as to say I am OBSESSED with peanut butter!

I hadn't realized just how much I love PB until after 2 months without it in BA, my boyfriend brought me a couple jars of the all-natural, chunky stuff. I was in heaven! At that point, I requested a couple more jars from my parents before their arrival to BA.

Here, in La Plata, I love to sit down and eat some peanut butter with a banana after a work-out at the gym or doing some yoga. Last week, my host parents had some friends over after work. They were sitting in the backyard enjoying some snacks with their mate when I get home from the gym. I noticed that they had some peanuts out (the kind still in the shell) so I sat down with them to partake in the conversation and enjoy a post-workout protein snack of peanuts. After about 10 minutes of me ravaging the peanuts, there was a nice-sized pile of shells in front of me. I noticed some looks that passed back and forth between my host parents and then my host mom looked at me and said "do you know that those are fattening?"

My jaw almost hit the floor! Here they were chowing down on potato chips, Cheeto-like puffs, cookies, crackers, fried-sticks of some sort and they thought that natural peanuts right from the shell were too fattening! Not to mention, the assortment of pizzas, pastas, and empanadas that they make for dinner.

I responded a bit baffled with a line about post-workout protein needs. By now, they have gotten use to my PB consumption and they find it is a bit humorous. Whenever guests are over (quite frequently, because my host family is very social), my host mom insists that they try it.

Obviously, there is a big lack of nutrition education here. Both of my host parents frequently complain about how they want to lose weight, but we eat dinner after 10pm usually. This Sunday, I am going to make them Sunday brunch (some healthy, thinking breakfast burritos) with another FSD intern and her family. Hopefully, this will start a conversation on healthy-eating and eating habits...

Monday, February 16, 2009


I was in the newspaper, again. My boss is a press-machine! He is doing interviews non-stop for radio and newpapers. I guess that he mentioned that 4 foreigners (2 Columbians, 2 Americans) are interning in his office to a journalist and a story was born. We were interviewed (in Spanish, absolutely terrifying) and photographed Wednesday and the article appeared in one of the La Plata papers Sunday:

(Hint: google a free-online translating service if you wish to read it in English)

Proyecto Update

Last week, I played a bit of a waiting game in the office. I was waiting to speak with the head of the comedor (community center/soup kitchen, where I will be building one SWH). I need some information (amount of water necessary, purpose of water, time of day needed, materials and tools available) from her before I can continue with my design. Hopefully, we will meet tomorrow. In the mean time, last week, I researched different types of systems and compiled a list of questions for Marta (the head of the comedor). This week, I am compiling a list of instructions, which will most likely be modified in the future once I learn more information, and doing more research. Also, I will start my grant report to FSD to request funding for the project.


So, last Monday, I decided to go on a diet. This was going to be my first every “diet.” Normally, all of the sports and natural disposition for healthy food has helped me avoid bad-eating habits and excess weight gain. But, alas, the pizzas, pastas, empanadas, dulce de leche, alfajores, cookies, facturas, and helado (along with some new padding around the waist line) have made me realize that I need to start watching what I eat.

The diet lasted 5 days (see post below on Buenos Aires with helado).

In addition, my office surprised me with a belated-birthday torta (cake) on Friday and it would have been rude to refuse. Maybe I´ll try again later… Or maybe I´ll just eat all of the yummy food that I can while I am here and worry about it when I get home…

La Noche de Sabado

Saturday night, I stayed with my very good friend in Buenos Aires. It was a treat to see her new apartment, which has a very interesting set-up. All of the apartments face the center of the building, which is open to the sky. Entering the apartment, you are standing in a hallway that is open to the center. Off of the hallway, there are 5 rooms (3 bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen). It is a beautiful set-up, but the only draw-back is the difficulty of keeping out cockroaches. Unfortunately, cockroaches are quite common in Buenos Aires (La Plata, too). I have almost gotten used to seeing them, but they still give me the willies.

My friend lives in a neighborhood of BA that I didn´t spend much time in when I lived there. BA is huge! That night, we went to get a drink at a local bar in her neighborhood and it made me realize how little of BA I really experienced. There is so much to do and see, so many neighborhoods to explore, so many milongas to attend, so many restaurants to try. I left BA this weekend with a new appreciation of the city and all of its intricacies, but I was looking forward to returning to my peaceful life in La Plata. I am enjoying the simplicity of my days of working, seeing friends, spending time with my host family, working out at my gym, and doing yoga. I think that the slower pace of life suits me very well.

Buenos Aires

This weekend, I headed to BA (only a 1-hour bus ride) to spend time with some very special visitors. After dropping my bag off at their hotel, we made our way to Recoleta cemetary for the obligatory visit. This was my 4th trip to the cemetary and I must say that it never gets old. How you may ask can a cemetary be exciting? Well, with the endless rows of untouched mausoleums, you are certain to see something new and decrpyted (a bit of an oxymoron). Plus, the feeling of tranquillity and eerieness continues to fascinate me. I think that my visitors enjoyed it, too.

After, we lunched at a wonderful tea shop with yummy salads and sandwiches and fresh-squeezed juices. A treat after eating meat, pizza and pasta non-stop with my Argentine family. For the afternoon, we took a stroll through the botanical gardens (my ol´stomping grounds) and went to the Evita museum, which was my first visit. The museum was in a beautiful, old building in Palermo Chico, trendy sub-neighborhood of Palermo, but I would give it a mediocre rating. The information seemed superficial considering what an important and controversial figure Evita is in Argentine history.

And then on to helado! A must in Buenos Aires! Luckily, we were in the neighborhood of my all-time fav heladaria, Persicco. It being a hot, sticky, summer Saturday (91 degrees F), there was quite a line of people waiting (but oh, so worth it!). When ordering at a heladaria, first you pick your size and pay and then order your flavor. We chose a medium size that comes in a waffle bowl. What we didn´t realize at the time was that you get UNLIMITED toppings with that size! An ice-cream lover´s dream! So, besides the two scoops (chocolate with almonds and mint chip for me), the server piled on more nuts and chocolate chips (white and black), at my request, of course. Heaven! We savored our delicious ice-cream and followed the experience with some yummy cappuccinos that had chocolate flakes on top and came accompanied by 4 pieces of chocolate brownies with walnuts. By that time, we were stuffed! We headed back to the hotel to rest up for our steak dinner 4 hours later.

For that night, I made a reservation at the best parrilla in the city, La Cabrera. Since other people share my opinion of this restaurant, they only accept reservations at 8:30 pm (absurdly early for Argentina). When we arrived, there was already a line of people waiting outside and the restaurant was packed (maybe this had something to do with that silly holiday, V-day, which isn´t "celebrated" here like in the States). We feasted on chorizo, provelta (grilled provelone cheese), two types of steak (skirt and ribeye) and a wonderful bottle of malbec from Mendoza.

The following day was much more tranquil - a slow, luxurious walk through the market in San Telmo, a long, relaxing lunch and then, of course, helado before I left to get my bus back to La Plata.

Over all, a wonderful weekend with 2 wonderful people! And, what a weekend for a foodie! (Thanks for everything, O&O!)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

La Pesadilla de Transporte Publico

UGH! Biggest frustration in all of Argentina is the public transportation system! I had been able to escape the frustrations of using the public buses and the aggravation of searching for the needed monedas (coins) by using my bike, until yesterday! It rained. I was stuck at work without any monedas or tarjeta (card) to ride the bus. Around 6 pm, I decided enough with the waiting for rain to stop and ventured on a journey to find monedas in the rain. Since I left my bike at work, I needed enough monedas for 2 rides ($3.80 in monedas) to return in the morning. I went from kiosco to kiosco asking if they had any, no luck. Finally, one told me that another kiosco, across a plaza, sold tarjetas. So, I trudged over to the other side to find out that he didn't have any because the delivery man never showed up. However, he agreed to exchange a 2-peso note for monedas. Sweet enough to get to work in the morning. I gave up the search and took a cab home. Ugh, Argentina.

For more on the coin shortage:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Sunday, we headed over to birthday Grannie's house to eat the left-overs from the fiesta. After lunch, we sat around listening to my host cousin play guitar with everyone singing along. He even played some English songs (Beatles and Eric Clapton) so I could participate. Listening to him play and all of them sing in Spanish was amazing. Completely enchanting. Maybe I'll take a shot at the guitar in the future...

Warning: Adult Content

Naked women seem to be considered appropriate content for magazine covers and TV shows, because they are everywhere! I am still getting used to this. It is especially uncomfortable when a naked woman shows up on the TV while I am eating dinner with my family - my family doesn't seem to notice.

Fotos: Bahia Blanca

a rarity in the land of beefargentine women love their shoes

La Fiesta! y Mi Cumpleanos!

Friday was the big party for my host grandma. 70! During the day, I chilled in my other host grandma's apartment (where I was staying with my fam). My host dad and mom were running around shopping and cooking for the big night. They sent my host grannie, sister and me a little afternoon snack:
our "light" snack of facturas

Around 9pm, we headed over to the hall for the fiesta, where my host dad had been cooking up a storm.
asado, claro!
The guests started showing up around 10:15pm and we started eating at 10:30pm. It was a feast - wine, salads, chorizo, empanadas, steak, veggies, ice cream and, of course, birthday cake! When the clock struck midnight, my host mom realized that it was officially my birthday so everyone (30 people) sang me "Feliz Cumpleanos" and bestowed me with kisses. Very nice.

The dinner lasted until 3am (both grannies were still up, enjoying themselves immensely), at which point, my host siblings and cousins wanted to take me out to a club. I was a little tired, but, alas, who could turn down such an offer?? So off we went, dancing until 7am. A very Argentine birthday!

El Tren de La Noche y Mi Primero Encuentro con Bahia Blanca

This past weekend, my family invited me along on a trip to Bahia Blanca, my host parents' home city, for the 70th birthday of my host grandma. Most of their family lives there. We traveled by train (not recommended for tourists!). If my gym is on the "ghetto" side, then the train was Ghetto, with a captial G!

The train took about 14 hours from Buenos Aires to Bahia Blanca. Going, we went on a local, so very slow, and somehow, the ride was bumpy. How? I don't know. Coming back, we went on an express and it took 16 hours. The train hit a woman, seriously. She ended up being ok, only a broken ankle, but it added some hours to our journey. Interesting experience!

Thursday, my family took me around to meet the family (taking mate at each stop) and on a city tour (not too much to see, not a recommended tourist stop). The port is the second largest in Argentina, but no beaches, only factories - mostly for petrochemicals.
after the "protest" with biosfera, i felt a bit Erin-Brockovich-esque taking these photos

Then they took me to the nicer neighborhood and I saw some gorgeous houses - the nicest that I have seen in Argentina. They reminded a bit of Westchester...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I joined a gym!

Yep! I joined a gym! It's close to my house, only 10 blocks so I can ride my bicycle there. It is on the "ghetto" side, but they have some machines and weights.

When you join a gym in Argentina, they make you complete a set of exercises to evaluate your current fitness level. So, that's what I did yesterday. Not bad at all.

Side note on greetings: whenever you enter a room and see people for the first time, it is part of Argentine culture to greet with a kiss on the right cheek (yes, men also). Hilariously, people do this at the gym, too! Whenever someone entered the gym, they walked around the two rooms kissing everyone else on the cheek. It didn't matter if a person was dripping in sweat (not too many people were) or on a machine. Gotta love those friendly Argentines!

Mi Proyecto: Calentador Solar de Agua

Yesterday was my first official day of work with Biosfera (minus the "protest"). First thing in the morning, I had a meeting with Horacio, the president and my supervisor, to discuss ideas. I expressed my interest in sustainable technology and told him about my project in India (rain-water harvesting system). He was thrilled! He threw out the idea of making a solar water heater (SWH) for a community center in an area of the city without sufficient services. I actually visited the exact community center that he was speaking about with FSD during orientation (we made bread). In addition, he wants me to make a second SWH on the roof of our building to act as a model for future projects. Furthermore, he wants me to write a pamphlet/manual (in Spanish, of course).

I am ecstatic about the project! It is exactly the kind of project that I wanted. What's more exciting is that I get to organize the project completely by myself. I have never worked completely independently before on a large project so I am excited about the challenge.

4 months, 2 SWHs, 1 Spanish pamphlet, a barrel of enthusiasm - totally doable!

Feria de Plaza Italia y Perritos!

Sunday, I went to the Feria in Plaza Italia with another FSD intern. It is supposedly the best feria in the city so, obviously, we had to check it out pronto.

There were all of the typical stands of mate cups, jewelry, and leather products as well as some live folk music and dancing.

what a sweet couple! they were dancing in their own world

My program director had told me that people sell puppies and kittens at the feria, so my friend and I went on the hunt for puppies! We didn't have to go too far...

line of people selling puppies and kittens
(same thing on the other side of the sidewalk)
i'm in love!what a face!
(sorry, no pictures of kittens, they just don't do it for me)

I was very tempted to play with all of the puppies, but then my friend and I started thinking about where the puppies come from. One lady had a sign saying that her puppy had gotten its shots and vaccinations. Only 1 out of maybe 25! There are no animal shelters in Argentina - they simply do not exist. That leaves two options for the puppies: from a breeder or from the street.

In La Plata, there are
muchissimo stray dogs. You will find a stray dog on almost every street in the city. On my street, there are 3 or 4 stray dogs that I see everyday. One of the dogs seems to live on the street, but I have seen him run into my neighbor's house. Some of the poorer families adopt dogs right off the street without taking them to a vet. Here's a picture of a dog (stray? owned? I don't know) in my neighborhood:

can you see him?

Fotos: La Ciudad

view of plaza moreno and the city center from the cathedralpedestrian walking streetpopular coffee and alfajore (traditional Argentine cookie with dulce de leche) shopmeat aisle at the super marketgraffiti on university of la plata buildingpopular helado place in the city