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Ever since my plane landed back in the States life has been, unsurprisingly, different. And by different, I mean boring. I have made a moderate effort to keep things interesting by taking up hobbies I always promised I’d get around to (learning to knit and play guitar) and doing random touristy things here in Atlanta. The recent warm weather put me in a slightly better mood, but school has really had it in for me this semester. I went in fired up to be productive, efficient, and organized about everything school related, especially since I don’t have a job right now, and it all went to hell in a hand bag by the second week of school and has continuously gone downhill from there.

I have no motivation to do the readings, write the papers, stay on top of email, keep my finances organized and up-to-date, you get the picture. You name it and I have neglected it. And most noticeably is this blog. I’m not suffering from any lack of inspiration–there’s plenty of that going on, just a lot of doubt and uncertainty about my ability to recognize my dreams and see them through to fruition.

No doubt my looming graduation date (December 2009) is doing nothing to help matters. I no longer have any idea of what I want to do with my life. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. I have lots of ideas, but none of them are “mainstream” (and thus, my family thinks I’m crazy). I recently took the first step towards moving to Israel next year, and that involved emailing the seminary program I want to attend about the program, admissions requirements, and how much it costs. Given that parents will not be supporting me financially once I graduate means I either need to get a job and save up the money I’ll need for the entire year I’ll be in the program (possibly a little less) or I need to create a somewhat passive form of income. Passive meaning not having to physically show up somewhere to have a little money deposited into my bank account once or a few times a month. Those options are few and far between, but short of a .com startup, it leaves me with selling photography or getting paid to write/edit. I would love to set up an Etsy shop and sell photography prints, but I currently only have a handful of worthy prints and (as mentioned above) a lack of belief in myself and my abilities. All Internet options require lots of time, effort, and dedication–not to mention marketing–before you ever really start to see money, much less the kind I’ll need to live off and pay the tuition for the program for a year.

However, I took the first step towards making one of these dreams come true, so expect a surprise in the next few days (possibly a couple of weeks depending on how much time I have).

“Take the first step, and your mind will mobilize all its forces to your aid. But the first essential is that you begin. Once the battle is startled, all that is within and without you will come to your assistance.” — Robert Collier

Wishful Thinking

Nothing hurts worse than a deep regret and wish that you had done things differently. That you had made more effort, found the time somewhere before they were gone.

Make the time. Make the effort. Do it before they’re gone and the person, the stories, and the memories all fade away.

“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” — Harriet Beecher Stowe

“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.” — Henry David Thoreau

Be the Change

In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last… err, Monday, I decided to go ahead and make some progress on my goals for this year. I’ve set three in motion, but one in particular that I want to talk about tonight. In the following excerpt from President Obama’s speech about putting change in motion he asks us to give a little time for our country and fellow Americans:

“But I also know this: that however well government does its job; however hard we work to make good plans and policies and restore a sense of responsibility to Washington, our problems cannot be solved by government alone – or even mostly by government. It’s going to take all of us, putting our shoulder to the wheel, doing our part to remake this nation.

That’s why we’ve called on the American people to come together and devote their time and effort to work in their communities today. And that’s why we chose this particular day, when we honor a man who lived his life as a servant to his fellow citizens – and whose greatness can be measured not just in his own extraordinary contributions, but in how he inspired others to contribute.

So today, I am asking you to roll up your sleeves and join in the work of remaking this nation. I pledge to you that government will do its part to open up more opportunities for citizens to participate. And in return, I ask you to play your part – to not just pitch in today, but to make an ongoing commitment that lasts far beyond one day, or even one presidency.”

I signed the Declaration of Service to volunteer 50 hours of my time annually to my community. I attended two orientations at 2 hours each for a total of 4 completed hours so far this year. I will be teaching English to immigrants on Tuesday evenings through a local non-profit organization. I’m looking forward to meeting all my students on Tuesday and the opportunity to make some Spanish-speaking friends. It’s also a huge bonus that it allows me to get experience teaching English as a foreign language since I’m getting the TEFL certificate as part of my university studies.

Just to get you started there are several databases online you can search through to find a volunteer opportunity in your community:

USA Service
Do Something
Network for Good

I hope that you all will help me to help our president bring change to the White House. Also, care to share some of your goals you plan on accomplishing this year?

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi

No End in Sight

This blog is not dead, nor have I died, but life sure has been crazy since I left Buenos Aires. Today marks exactly one month that I have been back in the States and while I’m enjoying being back and living a full life, my heart aches to be back in South America or just traveling around every day. It’s an exhausting life but the also most fulfilling I’ve found.

I intended to make a post before the new year between being homeless in Atlanta for two days, moving into my apartment on the 1st, and school starting back up on the 5th, seeing everyone, and falling back into the folds of life in America I haven’t had very much free time. I have lots to tell you all about, including several posts about my final adventures in Argentina, as well as ones from Uruguay that never got put up. I thought for a while about what kind of content I would put on here once I was back living in the States because I don’t want to resort to rambling about my daily life, however amusing or uninteresting it may be at times. I did make a promise to myself before I left Argentina, though, that I would figure out whatever it was that made life so exciting for me there and incorporate it into my life here. That answer meant living more like a tourist: visiting museums, checking out special attractions, visiting theatres and cool restaurants, and the list just goes on. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that living like a tourist just means more of simply living. That could also be reversed to living simply. I intend to do both.

Since that New Year’s post never gotten written I figure I’ll give a basic outline of my “resolutions,” which are really just goals which I can measure based on the calendar year. I vowed to visit more cultural sights in Atlanta and do things that people visit Atlanta to do. Here is my list for the year and I will add it to the sidebar shortly so you all can keep track of my progress over the year:

– check out the Fernbank Museum
– visit the High
– learn to play guitar
– take a cooking class
– run a half-marathon
– go to the Bremen Jewish Museum
– see the Cyclorama
– ride Marta buses
– visit one place in the U.S. I have never been
– get an international driver’s license (with motorcycle class)
– read one book for pleasure every month
– volunteer at least once a month

Also, in order to keep things interesting on the travel front, I have one major trip in the works for this summer out of the country, several smaller trips I plan to take over the course of the year hiking, camping, and backpacking, as well as plans to visit New Orleans again along with one other U.S. city I have never been. Here’s an added catch: I decided it would be fun to incorporate Greyhound and Amtrak into my upcoming adventures, so I’m sure I’ll have stories to tell.

With that, I need to get some reading done before class, but know that I have many exciting posts coming soon!

Mi Buenos Aires querido

Over the course of my study abroad many friends and family members have asked if I am homesick. It was difficult for me to come up with an answer to this question initially and now I think I’ve finally figured it out. As with many things in life there is no simple black and white answer. Have I been homesick? Well, what is a home anyway? Webster defines it as the place where one lives permanently. What if you’re like me? You consider yourself a nomad, or someone who is constantly moving from place to place. Well, Webster offers another option: a place where something flourishes, is most typically found, or from which it originates. Except I run into yet another dilemma: all three of those places are different. I originate from Birmingham, Alabama, for the past two years in the States the place I could most typically be found was Atlanta, Georgia, but that place is now Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the place where I flourish? I believe that I flourish in many places, if not everywhere I am. Of course I miss my family and my friends, certain routines or habits, and favorite restaurants, but do I miss the United States?

Over the many long bus rides or trips to cross borders people inevitably have their passports in hand at some time or another and it seems to be the norm that everyone wants to trade passports to see what other countries’ passports look like. After receiving mine back I spent a few moments in quiet reflection flipping through the pages and the answer finally occurred to me: I believe that I miss a United States of America that no longer exists. Or if it does exist, it exists for few and is no longer true of the entire country. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of seeing a U.S. passport, know that of all the passports I’ve flipped through, ours is the most elaborate, the most artistic, and the most inspiring. Within the pages there are background photos of the Liberty Bell, the Declaration of Independence, the Mayflower (or some other initial colonizing ship), a bald eagle, buffalo grazing on grass in front of snow-capped mountains, a steamboat cruising down a river, a farmer clad in blue jean overalls plowing the ground using a hand-held wooden plow pulled by oxen with wheat in the foreground and a homestead in the background, wild West cowboys herding cattle on horseback with mountains in the background, a coal-burning, black-iron train, a black bear with a fish dangling from its mouth, an Indian totem pole, among others.

Accompanying these various images are quotations across the top of the pages under which entry and exit visas are stamped. The quotations range from excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, to things said by various presidents like George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt and revolutionaries like Martin Luther King, Jr. My favorites are these:

“Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

“For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say “Farewell.” Is a new world coming? We welcome it –and we will bend it to the hopes of man.” — Lyndon B. Johnson

“We send thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are glad they are still here and we hope it will always be so.” — Excerpt from the Thanksgiving Address, Mohawk version

Despite the election of Barack Obama in November and the renewing spirit of America, I still feel like America is missing her original spark, her original charm. The good old homestead is fading into the background and I feel that I have a nostalgia for a country and a time that I never knew. Perhaps I lived a little too vicariously through Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book series Little House on the Prairie growing up.

But now, as this incredibly exciting, life-changing chapter in my life comes to an end it is, as most endings are, bittersweet. I did not, as most people do, fall in love with this city at first glance or in a matter of a few days. I was enthralled with it for the first few weeks and then after that my feelings vacillated between love and dislike. This is unusual for me because usually I fall in love with cities immediately. New York City? Check. Washington D.C.? Check. Savannah? New Orleans? Atlanta? Check. Check. Check. But Buenos Aires and I? We had to grow into our relationship and as my time narrows down to a close I realize all the things I love about this city and that I will miss dearly when I’m gone.

Maté. Parques. People playing guitars in the parks while drinking mate. San Telmo. Submarinos. Children. The inability of anyone to drive in a traffic lane. Palermo. Cuisine. Architecture. Girls playing hopskotch. Little girl outside the fruteria. Cafe culture. Mis amigos. Being surrounded by Castellano (Spanish). My host family. One word: medialunas. The kindness of people here. Public transit. Subte línea A. Colectivos (I´m joking, sort of). …This list could go on forever.

Also, as I have travelled around the country on weekends and during the last few weeks I have been able to see the larger picture of Argentine culture and life. From the pampas, to the Andes, to Tierra del Fuego, I have to admit that the rest of the country won over my heart before the city did. For me the phrase cannot simply be, ‘Mi Buenos Aires querido,’ but rather, ‘Mi Argentina querida.’ This country and its people will forever hold a very dear place in my heart, having been my home for five months. I do not know when I will be back, but I do know that it will be hard to stay away for long.

As I write this I’m not quite ready for this to be over. It’s difficult knowing that the next time I’m here the experience will be something completely different. I will not be 20 years old, meeting Argentines on a college campus, and have the sole responsibility of passing my classes. Hopefully I will still live life with arms wide open and be able to make new friends as easily as I do now, but we all know that experiencing something when you’re 20 is very different from the same experience when you’re 25 or 30. And I guess, as is always the case, time moves too fast and endings never happen when you’re ready for them. But here’s to goodbyes and the next chapter of my life with the many more exciting adventures it is sure to hold!

On Culture Shock

One of the things I think every girl dreads about traveling, going abroad, or simply moving to a new area is having to find a new hairstylist. For the first year after I moved to Atlanta I insisted of waiting until I could make a trip back to Birmingham to let anyone touch my hair. There were occasional times when I’d let my mom trim my hair on the back porch because it seemed silly to pay someone to do that. When I knew I was coming to Buenos Aires–I won’t lie–I fretted about what I was going to do. Going almost 6 months without a haircut isn’t an option for me because I have curly hair that splits easily, whether I fry it by blowing it out and straightening it or not. My mom would love to know that majority of the time that I’ve been down here I have worn my hair curly and even started to like it, but even being extra nice to my hair and making an effort not to straighten it as much couldn’t save me from the fact that I was going to have to get a haircut down here and I could either buy a pair of scissors and trust a friend to do it, or I could brave going to a salon and letting them trim it. I even went so far as to schedule my last hair appointment in the States as close to my departure date as possible to prolong the amount of time I would have to find somewhere suitable here in Buenos Aires.

I’m trying to be less high-maintenance, and I don’t even think of myself as much maintenance in the first place. I mean, I can go camping for three nights and subsequently go without a shower for that entire duration and not be bothered in the least. Sure, when all is said and done I want a shower just as much as the next person when it’s over, but I’m not one to complain about something like that. I do, however, complain about the lack of toilet paper in almost all bathrooms in South America (there is intentionally no toilet paper. It is not a matter of running out or not being able to adequately stock a bathroom, it just, plain and simple isn’t there.). But then, there are people like my sister (hi, Nettie!) who need a shower after driving from Birmingham to Atlanta before she will consider going out to eat. In fact, I distinctly remember my other sister. Sage, balking at her and telling her to take a “bird bath” if need be, but to get real.

But here’s the thing: Argentines don’t have the most “normal” hairstyles one has ever seen. In fact, you might say their entire definition fashion and sense of style has gone the way of the 80’s in North America and Europe. Picture neon skinny jeans, cut up tee-shirts with neon screen printed images, piercings, multi-colored hair, and specifically, hair that has been razored and cut from so many angles you aren’t really sure if it was intentional or just a really bad botch job. And then there’s the guys’ hairstyles which can almost always be summed up in one phrase: business in the front–party in the back. Whoever coined that phrase deserves a high-five because it’s so much fun to say. But it’s true, guys here have mohawks, they have fauxhawks, they have dreads, they have shaven heads with a pony tail of dreads coming out of the back of their head, they have rattails, they have one single dreaded rattail, they have multiple rattails starting from several different places on their head–are you getting the picture? It’s quite unsettling when you first see it. You’ll be walking down the street with your girlfriends completely checking out this gorgeous guy in a business suit and after he has passed and you turn around for one more glance and there it is: three lone dreads gathered up in a pony tail in the back despite the rest of his head being shaven or of a “traditional” style.

So you’re starting to understand my apprehension about getting my hair cut here. It was all I could do to get over the fear that I could very well walk out with a shoulder-length bob and various different lengths of hair all over my head. In fact, I think the only reason I was able to muster up the nerve is because Liz and I had been on one of our all-day lunches in Palermo and were looking for somewhere to get a pedicure. We were told about this place and as we walk in to inquire only the most beautiful of boys is standing on the other side of the door to answer our questions. No, they don’t offer pedicures, so we turn away to continue our search, but not before Liz–who had just gotten her haircut several days before–remarked, “You know, I can get my hair cut again,” and we let out little laughs as we walked away.

A couple weeks later I was in the same area, having just eaten at one of our favorite little Indian restaurants, Krishna, and decided that it was now or never because my hair was starting to look pretty shaggy. I walked back to the salon and went inside to find out how much risking the worst hair cut of my life was going to cost me. I think it was something like a very reasonable $40 Argentine pesos which is less than $15 USD. But what really sold me was the fact that possibly the most gorgeous guy in the world was going to cut my hair (and he was straight!) and his name was Juan Pablo (only the most common name here in Argentina) nonetheless. We chatted in a mix of Spanish and English and I insisted more than once that I wanted just “un poquitito” cut off and nothing crazy. Just snip, snip, and I’d be happy. After he shampooed my hair I sat in the chair with my stomach in a knot. As I watched him cut my hair he did many things differently from my stylist in Atlanta. Besides cutting my hair parted down the middle after I mentioned several times that I always wear my hair parted down the side he swore he wouldn’t make any difference, “Yeah, not the way people here wear their hair it wouldn’t!” I kept thinking. And then, and then, he took a razer to the front pieces of my hair and tapered them. I have curly hair, and word to all stylists out there: you do not let a razor come near curly hair! Period! Especially not to taper the front pieces of it! Razor = frizz. However, I let it go. Hair grows back, I reminded myself. A few minutes later the torture was over. Nothing was done how I’m used to it: I wasn’t pampered, the cut took all of 8 minutes, and I was left to walk out with a wet hair. What more did I expect for AR$40?

But I walked out of the salon happy that afternoon. My hair dried a lot curlier than normal and I have yet to straighten it since I got it cut, partially out of fear for seeing what it looks like straight and mostly out of laziness and not having the energy to fight the humidity that is Buenos Aires in the spring and summer. And now, less than a week before I have to leave this part of my life behind me, I have grown accustomed to the hairstyles here–even fond of them. Since I’m not sure I’ll ever have the nerve to dread my whole head and then shave all my hair off when I’m done with the phase, I have been toying with the idea of creating my own lone dread lock in the back on the underside of my hair as a tribute to how much this experience has changed me and cutting it off when I’m ready for the next part of my life to begin.