Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Finale

I was thinking about pretending I was still in Argentina so that I could continue to post on my blog, but alas, the cat's out of the bag. It's just that as I'm going about my day, so many things pop into my head that I've forgotten to mention, little bits of trivia, conclusions I've come to, etc...

Anyway, I am, indeed, back in L.A. I've spent the whole day sleeping, and now it's 5 a.m. and I've had to reset my computer, because the time was set to the Buenos Aires clock. I am in a state of disbelief. I keep thinking about something I'd like to do this week, a restaurant I'd heard about, some area of town to explore - and then realize that I can't actually do it.

I realized that there was something important that I failed to mention thus far in the blog: the matter of poverty. There was a New York Times article recently that discussed the widening gap between the rich and the poor in Argentina, and indeed, it's true. The middle class is evaporating:

...“In the past, Argentina really was more like Europe than the rest of Latin America,” said Bernardo Kosacoff, the Argentine representative of the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Parents had the perception that their children would live better than they did, because workers had well-paying jobs in the formal sector, their own houses and access to good education. But now the process of social ascent is much more complicated.”

Statistics clearly make that point. In the mid-1970s, the most affluent 10 percent of Argentina’s population had an income 12 times that of the poorest 10 percent. By the mid-1990s, that figure had grown to 18 times the income of the poor, and by 2002, the peak of the crisis, the income of the richest segment was 43 times that of the poorest. The situation has improved only slightly since then.

The economic crisis, which built through the 1990s, peaked when the government froze bank accounts and declared its largest foreign debt default ever. The peso’s value collapsed, millions of Argentines lost part or all of their savings and the economy contracted by more than 11 percent the next year.

Despite the recovery, barely 5 percent of Argentine families are now saving money, according to a study conducted in April by the Market Foundation, a research group. That compares with nearly 30 percent at the end of the 1990s. At the crisis’s peak, nearly 60 percent of Argentines had incomes below the poverty line...."

As a traveler, the thing that really startles you is the children. No matter what time of day or neighborhood, there will be children begging in the street. Okay, you think, it's really sad, but many countries are like this. But try to imagine it in a city like New York, or Paris, because that's what Buenos Aires is like in many other ways. It's 3 am, and you're walking out of bar in the East Village, and there is a cluster of 7 year olds asking you for money. Or better yet: it's a sunny Saturday afternoon, you're shopping in Soho, and there are several, very skinny, undernourished children sleeping on the street outside of Anna Sui. It's quite startling. Argentina is like a third world country in a first world country's clothing. At every traffic light, there will be a pre-teenage boy with a some soap and a cloth offering to clean your windshield - people just wave them off, because it's such a natural occurence. Most of the time they don't even ask, they just start squirting away, in hopes that you'll feel guilty and give them a few cents.

I've spoken with a lot of people who had thriving businesses and then lost everything during the economic crisis. The only thing many people had left were their houses or apartments, which at that point weren't worth that much. Still, the price of an apartment in Buenos Aires is about a third of it would have been a few years ago. A friend of mine, Pedro, had a cable company, with 123 employees working for him. In 2001, he lost everything - the company, his savings. Everything but his apartment. He told me he went into a terrible depression and had no idea what direction to take with his life. At that point, his mother was living in New York, so he decided to join her there, not knowing a lick of English. "Mozhan," he said, with a quiet sigh and a long pause, "that was a very difficult year."

Alright, I'm NOT going to end my blog on this note, guys, don't worry. I've left Argentina with a very distinct feeling that I will be back there, and not just once or twice more. I really feel a great kinship with that city, and I could totally imagine living there. The only thing that would worry me is the little matter of gender relations, but hey, every city's got to have it's problems!!! Also, everywhere in the world, ladies have to deal with men ogling them on the street, but in Argentina it's taken to a whole new level. Again, I've never been anywhere else in Latin America, so I can only speak of Argentina, but instead of the regular "Oooh, baby you're so fine, " or "Hey baby, where you going? Give me a smile!," it's more like, "Hey baby, I'm gonna fuck you so hard and you don't know how much you're gonna like it!" Charming, right? It took me a week or so to understand what exactly the men were saying to me, but once I did, I was a bit taken aback.

In any case, the day I left, a few friends dropped by my place to say goodbye, and of course, Argentinian style, stayed all afternoon. They brought wine and ice cream, and as I padded around my apartment packing up last minute items, they sat out on the balcony, with the sun shining on them, eating, drinking and talking, and it gave me a very good feeling. I don't know exactly why it is that in one month in Argentina I met more people than in the whole time I've been in L.A. Partly it's that I had nothing to do when I was Buenos Aires BUT meet people, no responbilities, no job, etc. But partly, it's because they're slightly more accessible, I think, than the people here. You will meet someone one day, and before you know it, you're on a boat with him and five of his closest friends. Of course, he will be three hours late to pick you up, but that's another story. Americans, among others, are protective of their privacy and their "space." I didn't see so much of that there. There's nothing wrong with privacy or space, and my lord, with an Iranian family, I've definitely grown up very attached to my privacy (as it is consistently being violated), but mostly, I really adore their sense of community.

2 comments:

ampfofu said...

Hi. I love your blog. I am also a huge fan of Argentina. I get the same feeling when I leave Argentina. I have a message board for people who like to travel or for people living in Argentina and I would like to invite you to check it out and hopefully become part of our community. The website is www.argentinahotlist.com

Melissa said...

I just found your blog today, but I really like it. You should make blog about your favorite things in Argentina - restaurants, markets, sites, etc. That would be fun and very nice to reflect on such a good time.

By the way check out this new travel site I found, baraaza.com. I think you will like it.

Melissa