The following is a journal from our travels to Peru, with entries from Lauryn Parker (age 11), and  Lauryns mom (age undisclosed).

Friday March 30th 2:45 a.m.

It was a rough start to our trip and a little hard waking up.  Our driver showed up with a car to small for all of our luggage so they had to send for a bigger car.  We were very late for the flight and ended up running to the gate, but in the end we got on the flight on time. Once we got close to Peru, the view from our window was incredible.

After a 4 hour and 40 minute flight we arrived in Lima.  We met our guide and went straight to the Museo de Oro (Museum of Gold).  The ride to the museum was interesting and sad.  We were told that there is 20% unemployment in Peru so we saw so lots of poverty. There were people on the highway selling anything they could to survive, anything you could imagine, food, hair accessories, flowers, phone chargers, anything!  We were surrounded by shanty towns and it made us feel very thankful for our blessings.

On our way to the museum we drove by the American Embassy and the America School, Franklin D. Roosevelt, they were very nice.  Once we arrived to the museum we were surrounded by gold Incan artifacts.  The artifacts were found throughout Peru and were beautiful and so sophisticated considering they were made so many years ago.  Gold was very important to the Incan culture. The gold was used for beautiful  headdresses, earrings, and nose rings. When the Incan kings spoke to their people, they would wear large nose rings to cover their expressions.  Say for example a king was nervous and laughed at everything the nose earring would cover his expression and make him appear more royal.

Also in the museum were real Incan mummies (we were not allowed to take pictures of that). They used cocoa leaves to preserve their bodies and wrapped them in cloth made from llama.   Interesting fact, the Incans believed in a theory called the life after death, reincarnation. When the great tribe leaders died, they were wrapped and buried in the fetal position so they could easily come back to life.  These lords also brought everything they owned, including their servants and wives with them to the grave.  Sadly, the poor wives and servants were buried alive with him as they believed they would have all their belongings in their next life.

We also learned that life in the Inca world included human sacrifice of mostly women and babies and sometimes men who failed during a battle.  But we learned later from our Peruvian guide that most modern day Peruvians believe the Incans did not practice human sacrifice, interesting debate.

We then bought Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the souvenir shop because we cannot buy those in Argentina, Lyndsey and I were very happy.

There are 9 million people in Lima so it was very crowded getting through the city.  We went to dinner at a place our tour guide suggested. Mom loves ceviche so she made us all try it. It is fished cooked in lemon juice, the acid from the lemon juice is what cooks the fish, it was ok but mom loves it. We then had salad with quail eggs and lomo (beef) cooked with papa fritas(french fries) and arroz (rice) y tomatos, atun(Tuna) con ensalada (salad), y tacu(traditional Peruvian dish).  Trust me it was good.

After that we took a cab to the coast line and had Dunkin Doughnuts since there are no doughnuts in Argentina.  We saw lots of alpaca and llama things as there are lots of them in Peru.  The shops on the cliff overlooked the beautiful ocean,  it was so clean, they pay a lot of people who would not have jobs otherwise to clean the streets, so it is much cleaner than Argentina.  Across the water we saw a lit up cross on a mountain.

Nice weather here in Lima Peru, it never rains, and I am not just exaggerating, when it rains it drizzles it’s not even rain, it’s just from the humidity and  breeze from the ocean. When it starts to get hot the wind from oceans makes a nice breeze so it is never too hot. I like Lima, Peru.

Saturday March 31st 9:00 a.m.

We slept in a little and then met our guide in the lobby of our hotel and set out for a tour of historic Lima.  We continued to notice how clean the streets were in comparison to the Latin American city we live in, and we spent the day taking in the local city culture.

Our first stop was the San Martin plaza.

San Martin freed Argentina, Peru, and Chile from Spain. I learned about him in my Spanish Social Studies class because he is originally from Argentina.  He was an Argentine general and the prime leader of South America’s fight for independence from Spain.  We have seen monuments of him in Peru, Chile and of course Argentina.   In the heart of the plaza is San Francisco church.

My mom’s guide book said to visit the catacombs in this church and our guide had it on the schedule as well.  So we went to visit the catacombs of San Francisco.  Do you know what catacombs mean?  We did not!  Catacombs are passageways under a church for religious practices and a burial place. We were shocked to see 70,000 buried bones underneath the church, we did not really think we would see actual bones, and they assured us they were not pretend.

We were very eager to leave the catacombs. But it was interesting to know that back when people were buried in the catacombs, everyone was buried there no matter, how much or how little money you had.

We went to one more Incan artifact museum before heading to our hotel for a break.  The museum had beautiful artifacts and we learned a few facts before our flight to The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.  The Incas originated as a tribe in 1200 B.C. in the Cuzco area of southeastern Peru. However, in 1438 A.D., under the command of Pachacutec, the Inca people defeated the neighboring Andean tribes and laid the foundation of the Inca Empire.  The Peruvians love Pachuacutec, he is very important to their culture.

The Incas did not know the art of reading or writing. They passed on their knowledge orally. They kept records by means of a quipu which was a series of long, knotted strings.  Mom wanted to buy something like this to hang in our house for a souvenir but never found anything.

After our trip to the museum we went to visit the Lima coast line.  It was very beautiful, but way to cold for swimming as this location of the pacific ocean has a water current coming from the Arctic Ocean.  We saw lots of surfers with the huge waves, but they had on wet suits to protect them from hypothermia.

Its important to mention that on this night we worked hard to find a restaurant that would be showing the OSU game.  We were in luck as there was an American sports bar that served mediocre American food but the game was on and there were lots of US military people there as well.  We had fun, but were sorry to see the buckeyes lose.

Sunday April 1st 7:00 a.m.

We met in the lobby at 7:00 a.m. and made our way back to the airport where we would be flying to Cusco.  Cusco was the capital of Tahuantinsuyu or the Incan Empire and where our journey would begin.  The plane ride was very quick and as we came out of the clouds we saw the most beautiful mountains we have ever seen.  Very high peaks with lush green grass and granite surrounded at the top by clouds, the mountains are so high they touched the sky.  We were met by our guide and we set out to tour the Sacred Valley before going to our hotel in the Valley, we would be coming back to Cusco later.  The Sacred Valley of the Incas or Urubamba Valley as we also heard it called, is a valley close to the capital of Cusco and below the ancient sacred city of Machu Picchu and contains many archaeological remains and villages, to many for us to see them all.  For the Inca’s it was and still is an agricultural gold mine.  Perfect climate for growing anything and as we learned on our trip up to Machu Picchu, they fully utilized all the different levels of altitude for growing different varieties of agriculture.

So Our first stop was a Llama-Alpaca farm that had all the different species.  Alpaca’s are what is used for textiles as it is so soft and strong.  We met two alpaca species including, Huacaya (wah-KI’-ya) and Suri (“surrey”).  They are so soft and fluffy, you just want to hug them.  Our guide gave us special grass to feed to them and they were attacking us, they were so sweet.  Dad stuck his hand into the side of one of the llamas fur and the fur covered his hand all the way to his wrist it was so thick.

The entire way to the farm everywhere we looked we saw authentic indigenous Peruvian people, wearing colorful ponchos carrying their babies and supplies on their backs.  From their incan ancestors they believe in hard work and honesty.  They are very skilled and use the land for everything they need.  At the Alpaca/Llama farm we found women weaving amazingly beautiful rugs and tapestries from Alpaca,  they use no pattern, just the knowledge passed on from their ancestors.  We learned how they weave the thread from alpaca fur the finest wool, not the llama.  More amazing was how they colored they thread from plants, insects, and flowers to create magical colors.  It is unbelievable how they can create such beautiful patterns and creations completely from nature and nothing to guide them but history.

We were amazed to see how the Incans were so smart and how they lived there life from strategies past on from generation to generation. The Incan philosophies were so genius, that many of them are stilled used today. Seeing people make the blankets and the scarf’s made me think that there life was simple but they had great resources in ways that I could never imagine, making paint out of insects,  building terraces out of these not so strong rocks for perfect farming and they are still in place today and just living completely in the mountains with no grocery stores, or shopping malls, and they are happy, living this life.

Before going to the hotel we made one more stop at a rescue center for animals.  This organization had rescued llamas and pumas that were being displayed at nightclubs and were addicted to drugs when they rescued them.  They are working to get the animals back into nature but if they cannot survive on their own, the rescue farm will continue to care for them.  They also had a condor, it was so huge and amazing.  it is the American eagle of south America and at risk of extinction as well.  They are huge beautiful birds but are not seen much in more in the wild of the Sacred Valley. At the rescue site they were currently caring for four birds.  We were very lucky when they decided to feed the birds during our visit.  The caretakers put the food behind us and to get to the food, they had to fly over our heads.  It was amazing, we all covered our head as the birds flew over us theyappeared to be coming straight at us, but they were really only interested in the raw meat behind us.

After an early flight and day of site seeing, we stumbled to our hotel.  Mostly what we saw throughout our tour were makeshift homes, and crumbling buildings, so we were not sure what we would encounter as we headed down a long and very bumpy dirt road.  We were definitely not disappointed; two huge wooden doors greeted us, and inside was a beautiful resort.  The lobby had huge stain-glass windows and you needed a golf cart and a map to find your way around.  It was originally a wealthy family’s enstancia (ranch) that has now been converted into the Arwana Resort.  We had a wonderful dinner and then went straight to bed as they next morning we were to be up by 400 a.m. to begin our trek to Machu Picchu.

Monday April 2nd 4:00 a.m.

No one was moving very easily at 4:00 a.m. but we forced ourselves out of bed as we still had a 45 minute drive to the train that would take us to Aguas Calientes, the base of Machu Picchu.  After a hurried breakfast we once again met our guide and were excited about the adventure ahead, but were still exhausted from early mornings and restless nights.  We arrived at the train and thank goodness for our guide as he handled every detail, he literally just pointed us in the right direction.  We found our seats on the train and it took off shortly after.  They move the trains out quickly as they are bringing thousands of people to and from Agua Calientes.

The trip to Agua Calientes was breathtaking, the river was bursting with water and we were told way to difficult for rafting, you could see the rocks and the water currents would not show anyone any mercy.  The landscape quickly changed from green and rocky, to slightly more lush and tropical.  A few hours beyond Machu Picchu and you will find yourself in Amazon territory complete with all deadly snakes you would expect to find in the Amazon,  The Incan’s knew exactly where to live safely and securely while having the best climates and altitudes for their sophisticated farming.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOzT9lJJoH8

Once the train stopped, we did not waste any time making our way quickly through the town of Aguas Calientes to our bus stop that would take us to the top of Machu Picchu.  As it was 6:30 a.m. in the morning, the town was quite and there were no lines.  Later in the afternoon when we saw the huge crowds of people, we realized how smart our guide was to have us take the earliest train.  As we made our way up the winding road, we busied ourselves with conversation so we would not be tempted to look down.  Buses make their way up and down a one lane dirt road.  Looking our out window literally caused us to scream, we were so close to the edge.  When we had to pass another bus, we all held our breath and prayed.  Finally we were at the top and we were very thankful.

As its the rainy season, we greeted Machu Picchu with heavy clouds to the extent we could not see anything in front of us.   We made our way through the gates, and we had to show our passport with the stamp of our entry into the country and our entry ticket purchased months in advance, as they limit the number of visits into the site.  Groggy and tired we started our climb, immediately we were instructed to walk up a steep hill that took my breath away half way up.  At the top we were gasping for air and searching for our guide, the clouds were heavy and we could not see much.  We were looking towards the mountain in the front of Machu Picchu when we noticed the clouds were shifting, all of sudden you heard gasps from the crowd, as the clouds had shifted, and right there in front of us in all its glory was Machu Picchu, it was all we anticipated and more.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFIO-FGTLGM

Built around 1400 AD, and often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas” it was so brilliant.  Although some restoration has been done, it was so amazing how intact the site is after so many years.  They design it so intelligently that rockslides and time could not destroy what they created.  It is hard to explain the detail that went into each structure and how magnificently each rock fit together to the point you could not even slip a credit through the stacked stone, it was so perfectly designed.  No machines or modern technology, but they managed perfectly engineered structures.  Some say the Incas’ art is lost, and many scientists have tried to explain how the stones were transported, cut, fitted, and lifted, but they only have theories, no real answers.

Of course equally amazing is their use of irrigation, the Incas were great masters of water systems  These systems were primarily used for the irrigation of the agricultural terraces and for bringing fresh drinking water from fountains and clear mountain streams to the Inca cities.  The aqueducts have been providing water during drought for centuries and they are still being utilized today.

There are many ceremonial temples and sites at Machu Picchu. The Temple of the Sun was used to honor and celebrate Inti, the Sun, an important Incan deity (God). When the sun of the winter solstice enters through the central window, it falls directly on the large ceremonial stone. Can you imagine, building these perfect structures so the sun shines through at just the right time of year, And most significantly the sun dial correlating with the equinox to tell them exactly when to plant and prepare for the rainy season, mind boggling.

When we could not take another step we decided to call it day and headed back down the winding road holding our breath until we safely arrived at the bottom.  We decided to have a little snack at a local restaurant and listen to the amazing Peruvian Incan music.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJbZTKg2n60  in regards to the attached you tube video, I misspoke when I indicated Hiram Bingham (credited with finding Machu Pichhu) was from Harvard, he is from Yale.

As the affects of altitude where getting to me, I had a healthy cup of cocoa tea.  Cocoa is very prevalent in Peru, primarily as a effective tool against altitude sickness.  Other medical uses of cocoa are as a stimulant to overcome fatigue, hunger, and thirst.  We also learned it was often used as an anesthetic to alleviate the pain of headache and sores before stronger anesthetics were available.

We stopped into the markets for a little shopping before literally hobbling into our oasis, that was the Inka Tera.

I could have stayed there for a week.  Somehow our travel agent managed an upgrade, sadly we were only there for one short night.  The girls enjoyed their hot tub, while Doug toured the property and I crashed and did not move an inch for hours.  Dinner was equally impressive and we all went to bed very early as the plan was to be up at the Machu Picchu site again the next morning at 7:00a.m. and in line to start the Wayna Picchu climb. Some of us would make it on time for an experience of a lifetime, while others would find ourselves in line at the breakfast buffet.

To be continued……………………………….

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As if parenting a pre-teen and teen was not already challenging enough, try raising a teenager in Latin America, where wine is consumed more than water and the youth enjoy unlimited freedom.  My American style parenting has proven to be quite the contrast with this international community’s “hands off” parenting mentality.  You would think I would lock my kids up and never let them out. However,  the more I observe this parenting style, the more I believe “they might” be on to something.

Being in an international school we are exposed to many different cultures and methods of parenting.  Very few of my girls friends are Americans, so I am in constant observation of parenting techniques outside of my home country.  I never thought of myself as  a true “Helicopter Mom”, however in comparison to my international parent peers, I would defiantly classify as a “hoverer”.

Wikipedia  defines a “Helicopter Mom” as “an early 21st-century term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions”.

I however, think what really defines a helicopter mom is the word “interference”.  The true Helicopter Mom is a micro manager of their child’s life and truly believes it is their duty to assist their child at any indication of distress. Always running to the rescue and doing everything in their power to prevent their child from failing or heaven forbid making mistakes.

A slightly different parenting perspective, are the parents I observe in my community everyday, who rarely see cause to interfere, on anything.  For example,  the middle school recently added a new addition with beautiful new classrooms and outdoor patios.  However two months into the school year the 8th graders, (my child), still did not have lockers.  I understood they had a huge influx of students, and it is difficult to get imported products in Argentina, but  two months was too long for this parent!  I organized an 8th grade moms lunch early in the school year to rally the troops, get some support  and discuss the many issues like this affecting our children.  As much as my 8th grade moms “appreciate” my due diligence and the way I bring us all together each month, they did not view this as a huge priority.  They viewed managing without lockers as just another life hurdle their kids need to work through on their own.

Knowing these families well, I know they are not dead beat parents who are unconcerned, they are just the opposite, they are very aware of events in their kids’ lives but rarely if ever do they interfere.   Unless there is danger involved, or something is seriously interfering with their academics, they let their kids have the freedom to figure it out on their own.  They don’t care so much about, “what will people think” as what will their kids gain from making their own decisions and occasionally making mistakes. The result in my opinion is extremely self reliant and mature kids.   They develop confidence from being empowered to make their own decisions and learn early on there are good consequences and bad consequences associated with their actions.

My perspective has always been more involvement in my child’s live equals more love, I have always preferred to catch my children before they fall, and helping them along every step of the way, that’s my job right?  I would never let my child actually complete a school project on her own without my help, after all their project in some way represents our family.  She has to have a great project that shows how much her parents love and support her.   At the Lincoln school,  it is quite the opposite, how embarrassed was I when we first arrived and I assisted Lauryn with her “All About Me” poster.  With scrapbook gear in hand “we” created quite a display, and quite the display we were.  The hallway was covered with posters clearly done by students themselves and there was Lauryn’s, decked out with perfect scrapbook circles and borders.  I thought about sneaking into the school to take it down, but it was an early lesson for me, that kids are encouraged to 100% of their own work without interference!

Lincoln school is down right insistent that all parents engage in the “Back off Parenting “ approach .  For example, we are instructed very clearly that students with questions in regards to homework are to first contact a peer with any homework related questions. If that does not resolve the issue they are to move on to all the online available resources on the school website.  If that still does not produce an answer then and only then can they ask parents for hints, not answers!  The desired result is kids who are developing problem solving skills on their own without parent assistance.  The school frowns heavily on bringing  your child their forgotten homework, or soccer cleats, as that is the child’s responsibility, not the parents.  Letting forgotten cleats sit on the floor all day while I could have easily brought them to the school is so painful.  But the theory is, the child will never learn personal responsibility if we keep doing everything for them, they need to own their own problems and find solutions.

The very first school soccer game I attended in Argentina for my girls, I thought we had the wrong time as there were hardly any parents present.  All of the kids were out on the field ready to go, but I could only see a few parents.  The parents who did come to watch were not lined up with their chairs on the sideline ready to tell their kids exactly what to do and what they are doing wrong,  these parents were standing away from the field engaged in conversation and not even looking at the field.   I remember thinking how horrible, as I then began instructing my child to do something I thought she could be doing better!

I have come a long way in my soccer hovering.  I am still the parent though half listening to the mother trying to have a conversation with me and half watching the game.  I cannot overcome my occasional urge to yell from the sideline and I am not alone, literally all the American parents are screaming as our international peers look at us with distain.  The non-American parents that do show up to the game,  do not see this game as a defining moment in her child’s life, they rarely know the score and could care less if their child missed the perfect goal shot or let one by them on defense. It is their child’s game to play and they do not interfere.  As a result these kids are free to play the game listening only to their coach and their instincts.  Occasionally they make mistakes along the way, but they are figuring it out on their own with no one screaming from the sidelines the entire game to the point where there is so much pressure the kids are afraid to move.

After many years of sitting on the sidelines piling on the pressure, I recently had an opportunity to truly understand what this feels like for my girls.  I wouldn’t exactly say I was voted athlete of the year in my younger years, but for the last two years, I have found myself completely dedicated and in love with tennis and am working with a coach who appreciates my dedication and would like to see me finish in the top three of my league.  I have enjoyed the attention and working towards an athletic goal, however lately, I have noticed something affecting my games, nerves!  As a student of Sergio, he has certain “expectations”  of his students.  We know that Sergio relates how we perform during a match as a direct reflection on his coaching ability.  I was joking with my tennis friends this week that it has become not to uncommon for Sergio to scold me for missing an easy shot, or making me show up for additional practices to work on elements of my swing, and mandating warm up criteria before my matches.  In addition he knows my opponents each week and has taken to scouting them and pointing out their weaknesses to me during our practices.

This is supposed to be a casual league, however, after losing a big match last week, I found myself on Google translator an hour before my lessons, desperately trying to articulate to Sergio how I managed to let the match get away from me.   I noticed with all this “attention”, I am spending the first few games simply calming my nerves and trying to regain my focus.   I love tennis so much I could play every day all day, but under these pressure circumstances, I have been secretly hoping for rain as the pressure is too much for me!  Sergio is always at the tennis club so he always manages to catch a portion of my match.  Usually the portion where I am playing badly.  If I happen to look over, I will look usually find him watching me with arms crossed and a serious expression motioning me to focus.  Unfortunately, this does nothing for me but make me lose focus and become more nervous.  I am pretty sure this is exact stance I have used a time or two on the sidelines of my girls soccer game.  You can bet I make it a point now to always be smiling with thumbs up on the sideline even if that is not how I am feeling.  I think my girls are wired like me, we can perform much better, and enjoy the game so much more when the pressure is not piled on.  Seeing my girls play soccer here in this environment has been a true eye opener.  They are having a blast, sure they are making plenty of mistakes and I want to scream at the top of my lungs!  But it’s just not the way it’s done here.  As a result my kids come off the field happy and feeling good about themselves, not discouraged because they were yelled at the whole game.

So my theme from Argentina continues, “Balance, Balance, Balance”  and as I have discovered from the help of my international friends,  parenting is not excluded from this theme.    Of course I am occasionally the parent that gets a condescending looks from the middle school secretary when I am dropping of important homework or a forgotten uniform.  I still  make lots of suggestions for school projects,  and of course I still dish out more advice than my kids would like and establish boundaries to shelter my girls from making mistakes.  However, I am also taking a few pages from my international peers playbook.  I am not ready for 3:00 a.m. curfews for my 13 year old, but I am “trying” to be sensitive to more realistic expectations, and occasionally allowing my girls more freedom to make mistakes and most of all providing more encouragement for the girls to resolve their own issues and become their own advocates, without mom’s interference…….let’s see how long it last!

June has arrived and while the states are gearing up for summer, we are entering the winter months in Argentina.  The leaves have almost all fallen from the trees, we can no longer leave the house without a coat, and I simply can’t stop myself from thinking about Halloween costumes and American football!  In a few days when we land in the states, my brain will be back in sync with my ingrained American lifestyle and I will not have to remind myself continually throughout the day that although the weather is fall, it is indeed June!

This is just one of the many examples of my life in the twilight zone.  We have been so blessed to have the opportunity to come to Argentina!  But no matter how much I enjoy our time here and have become accustomed to the uniqueness of Argentina, I have days where I can’t escape the feeling that I am living in an altered universe.  These are days that have me shaking my head and wondering how did I get here.  Like when all the ATM and gas stations are out of service or the highways are not operational as a union has decided to strike and prohibit any travel.  Or when you are getting ready to travel and you find yourself praying on your hands and knees that the airlines will not be striking and the access to the airport will not be blocked.  I always seem to forget when I have a scheduled appointment in Argentina that I have very slim odds it will actually occur. Most of the time I show up only to find my appointment has not and no one has even considered the idea of a courtesy call to cancel.  Combine that with food shortages, power and water outages, people looking at you like you have three heads, and I am pretty sure I have landed in a perpetual episode of the twilight zone.

The Argentines have a term they use often as it very much defines their culture.  The word is “Tranquilo”.  The origin of course is tranquil and the translation is “relax”.  You hear it and see it often, and my feeling is they have adopted this as an excuse to deal with all the things out of their control.  No gas today, “tranquilo”,  just relax because there is nothing we can do about it. So when they do not show up to work or appointments as they have no gas, it is accepted because the whole culture has adopted this philosophy of “tranquilo”.  As Americans, we have adopted the exact opposite approach.  If there is an obstacle in our way, we will find another alternative.  That is because we have multiple options and resources at our discretion, unfortunately the Argentine culture does not.  They wait for their government to tell them what will and will not be available to them and when they don’t like it, their only solution is to strike!  They are so limited in their ability to improve their situation, they cannot strive to find an alternative solution, they just deal with the cards they have been dealt and throw a fit when it does not go their way.

Such an amazing country with incredible weather, truly gorgeous people, and so much beautiful geography to explore, for the average visitor Argentina is a very desirable location.  A few weeks ago all the buzz was Bono from U2 was hanging out in San Isidro where we live.  He was seen going to some of our local restaurants, ice cream shops, and to the guy who cuts my hair.  As I am wondering why, I realize Argentina does have a lot to offer for a guy like Bono. He can experience all that is great about this famous city, get treated like the rock star that he is and leave.  Who wouldn’t love Argentina under those circumstances.   I have always looked at Argentina very critically because I have to live and raise my kids here, and I do not suppose that will ever change as long as I am living here.  So I will continue to psycho analyze the culture till the day I leave.

For example, about once a week I go to an estacionamiento (parking lot) in San Isidro. It’s the same guy every time, and I am pretty sure he is not a fan of Americans.  Each week I park exactly how I am instructed and it is never good enough.  As he is complaining and waiving his hands, I can pick up the appropriate words telling me I need to park better and I smile and move the car a quarter of an inch to his liking.  I encounter situations like this daily and it has lead me to another of my character analysis of Argentines. They create drama when there need be none!  I see this in every single tennis match when I am paired with an Argentine and in their animated hand gestures when they are describing a simple story. They have so much pent up anger from the lack of control in their life they expel it on everyone they encounter.  This week when I ventured into the parking lot, I was not feeling well.  I was also taking Tug for the second time to the groomer as the first time…. guess what…. they were not there at the time they told me to come.  So I park and my parking attendant friend comes walking over motioning me to move my car to a position where I would have to climb through the sun roof to get out.  So like a true Argentine I utilized my best hand gestures and said with much animation and voice inflection, “Nooo, esta bien!” (No, it is ok!) and with that Tug and I turned on our heels and strutted away. I guess that’s what I needed to do because he also walked away and did not even give me eye contact when I came back to pay. How sad I had to dish the drama back out to get respect.  When did fighting with the parking attendant become a normal part of my life, when I entered the twilight zone of course?

I keep being told over and over by my friends who have gone back to their home country, I will miss this craziness. I simply can’t imagine missing that I have to repeatedly ask the grocery cashier to give me the correct change, or going to get my hair done and coming out five hours later, and the strange looks I get when I am trying to communicate the simplest request in my very broken Spanish, but they promise me I will.

So as we are on countdown to return to the states for winter break, I have mixed emotions when I think about our return to Buenos Aires in August.  The girls are thrilled to be coming back to the school they have come to love and Doug enjoys the work he is doing here and still has much to do in Argentina.  In our initial conversations about life in Argentina, we discussed a two year plan that would have had us potentially returning home in June of 2011.  Well here we are and were not leaving.  As I have said before, I know god had a plan for our family when he sent us to Argentina, and I recognize and honor his will that our time here is not complete. So I have been doing a lot of thought and prayer to prepare myself for another season of the TZ.

Our final time here will include lots of travel, tennis, language learning, and more valuable life perspective I am sure.  And while the girls are taking off with their language studies, I admittedly have averted my studies for the last six months and have found this requires more discipline from me than anything I have ever encountered!  Lo Siento, por no me gusta estudiar castallano, la pronunciacion es dificil.

As we prepare to head back to the states for our third six week break, we know from experience we need to try to extra hard to relax, enjoy, and appreciate our precious time at home.  The last two breaks the girls and I found it can be challenging converting from one culture to another and going back and forth has proven to be a bit draining with much to accomplish in a small amount of time.   But despite the craziness we also recognize how blessed we are, and this experience has forever changed us for the better.

It is very hard for me when we go back to the states not to start every single conversation with, “do you know how lucky you are to be an American…do you?”  So I will offer up my lecture now.  For anyone having traveled in Latin America before, you have no doubt seen a glimpse of unimaginable poverty beyond anything you have witnessed in the states.  Our family is literally rendered speechless each and every time we happen to pass by a villa (slum).  I am thankful my kids have an opportunity to witness and understand the level of poverty that exists in our world.  It is important to me that they understand how truly blessed they are and the responsibility they have as Christians to help others in need.  I have a friend, Fiona, who is doing incredible work in the Villas (vesha’s) through her organization “Todos Juntos”.  She is working with physicians to provide dental care to children who would otherwise have no access to this care.  You can’t imagine the effort this requires as entering the villas can be quite dangerous for many reasons.  Please take a minute to watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pus5iZUqf0o that explains the work Fiona and her organization are doing.  They recently received sponsorship from Colgate- Argentina so they are finally getting plenty of toothbrush and toothpaste supplies, but I am also asking you to please considering donating very small toys which are given to the children after their procedure.  I am also collecting money that can be utilized to purchase composite for tooth restoration.  My goal is to allocate a suitcase of USA supplies for the “Todos Juntos” organization when we return to Argentina at the end of July.  If you know a dentist in excess supply of composite, please point them in my direction.

I also wanted to share this heartwarming video of the volunteers handing out winter clothes, as you can see in the video some of the residents do not even have shoes.  The reaction of the elderly women brings tears to my eyes every time, how happy she is to have one pair of worn out used shoes.  There are no subtitles in this one but Fiona is basically asking the kids their ages, how many children are in their family, where their parents are, and of course why are they not in school.  As you will see they really have no answers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELlv9S23i34

Finally, when I am having one of my, “it’s so hard to live in Argentina” days, I like to click on this video to snap me back into reality. How blessed we are.    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktKMYkHh4Gw

Looking forward to seeing everyone stateside!

One of the best things about our time in Argentina is the perspective and lessons we have learned during our time away from North America.  Being put into a new world where nothing is familiar, gave our family cause for a lot of personal reflection over the past year. So before we left Argentina for Christmas break, I gave everyone a piece of paper and asked them to write down what Argentina has taught them over the past year and I included their responses below. But as I was looking over my personal list today with our second return visit to the states almost compete, I find I am a little disappointed.

I am disappointed that some of my valuable lessons are not translating so well into my American lifestyle……why?  When I am in Argentina it all makes so much sense, everything is so clear. I can see so vividly the overwhelming benefits to my family of a slower pace, more tranquillo (relaxed) way of live.  What is it about our American culture that has us running crazy, constantly striving for perfection while squeezing the life out of every minute of the day? And why do I so easily fall back into this routine?

Argentines do not sweat the small stuff and achieving performance excellence is easily forgotten when it is time for afternoon coffee.  This very Argentine characteristic trait that drives me insane has me now questioning if they have it right.

Why are we pushing ourselves and our kids till it hurts while they are kicking back enjoying their days and each other just the way they are, and  shrugging their shoulders at perfection. The Argentine society often leaves so many with so little, but they look so content playing soccer in the dirt with no shoes and a worn out ball. They are not striving for perfection and scholarships; they are just living day to day, finding joy in the little things.

Of course it is our drive for perfection that makes our country the most powerful on earth. It is why people are dying trying to cross our borders everyday and why they would give up a kidney for a US passport.  There is nowhere else in the world I would rather live and I love our country and our ambition, but for our family somewhere between the two cultures is a balanced lifestyle I would like to capture.  So although I am disappointed I have not yet incorporated my ideal balance, I am thankful for the perspective and knowing where I hope to be someday!

Happy New Year!


2010 Parker Family Argentina Lessons!

Lyndsey

  1. Be thankful for what you have
  2. Meeting people from different countries and cultures is cool, you can learn a lot from other cultures
  3. Appreciate your country
  4. Learning a  language is tougher than I thought
  5. You have to be careful Living in a in a big city

Lauryn

  1. Always be careful
  2. Be educational, be smarter, you don’t want to live on the street and not have a job.
  3. Play soccer for fun
  4. Give money to people who have less
  5. Be with god
  6. Eat empanadas, Milenesa’s and meat
  7. I am better at math
  8. Argentina is not like anywhere else
  9. Learning to play the piano and a new language is fun
  10. Enjoy Life!

Dad

  1. Family first
  2. You have to  be very creative in Argentina if you want to get anything done
  3. There are good people everywhere you go
  4. Having less “stuff” in your life is more!
  5. Thank goodness god is in control
  6. Government control over business is not a good thing

Kelly

  1. No matter how hard you might try or how badly you want to be in control, you are not
  2. Give kids lots of play time and less structure, it enables them to find out about themselves and the world
  3. Besides family, God, and Tuggy, the thing I value most in the world is my US Passport
  4. Balance, Balance, Balance!
  5. Kids are not perfect, take a deep breath before the competition and celebrate the positives.  Let them have fun and enjoy their youth
  6. I am better at tennis than cooking
  7. No matter how terrifying it might be taking risk is a good thing
  8. Listen more talk less
  9. Lock your doors
  10. So many people have so little, give more
  11. No matter what the Argentines say eating red meat three times a day with a glass of Malbec is a not always the best dietary choice

I think we appreciated this vacation so much as it almost didn’t happen.  The Buenos Aires city airport, Aeroparque, is the airport for all domestic flights and it is currently under construction, as they “planned” to extend the runway.  They decided to move all domestic flights to Ezeiza, the BA International Airport, and it has been entertaining to watch the transition.  The politics and internal fighting is humorous from a distance, however the day prior to our trip, I was not laughing.  LAN Airlines – our airline to Iguazu – decided they could not go on under such stressful conditions at their temporary location, so in the tradition of Argentine conflict resolution, a strike was born.  Some of our friends who were scheduled to go to Iguazu on Wednesday never made it.  Their flights were canceled due to the strike and they could not reschedule without missing school.  Somewhere in the wee hours of Thursday morning and after a little payola under the table to the unions, LAN airlines determined they were able to endure the hardship once more and resume operations.   However, in addition to this strike, Lyndsey was doubled over in pain on Wednesday evening after skating, she came up from a sit spin and was wincing with pain barely able to walk.  We were on the phone with the doctor at midnight, who by the way, was going to come to our home at 5:00 am to check on Lyndsey as we were leaving at 6:00am.  Can you imagine, these are the differences we love.  We feared she had torn something, but after filling her with Tylenol and finally getting her to sleep, we woke her at 4:00 am and she was very happy to be pain free. We phoned our doctor, threw our bags in the remise and headed to the airport hoping for the best.

What I love about Argentina is absolutely every single day is an episode of the Amazing Race!  Everything is a mystery and nothing is ever easy.  So we get to the airport not even knowing if our flight will actually even take off, and we see across the way two other X-pat families who we know are on the same flight, we soon realize we have all been dropped off at the wrong terminal as evidentially a major change was made and no one bothered to provide any signage or communication…shocking !  Immediately my competitive race instincts kick in and The Amazing Race begins, I must be the first to figure out the right terminal.   We all eventually figure it out and end up in the same terminal. But of course when we get there our ticket says one gate, the flight board says another, and the “agents” are telling us a completely different one.  What’s most amazing, this does not even phase me, this is my life in Argentina.    I get a major pat down from security, and after a while a man comes in yelling Iguazu and we follow the herd.  With no notification or explanation, the flight finally takes off one hour after it was scheduled.  We are just so relieved it actually took off and we are on our way, we are all smiles.  We have all learned during our time here to keep our expectations low and hope for the best.  What a terrible way for a society to live, I prefer to keep my expectations high, but this can only be done in a country as free as ours, God Bless America.

We had a few minutes to relax on the plane then we are off looking for our next clue to continue the race.

There is one lucky hotel inside the national park and it does not disappoint.  From the minute you walk up to the door you are one with the falls.

We had an  incredible boat ride that took us right up to bottom of the falls.  We all recognized this would never be an option in the US.  Not even if there were lawyers and notarized waivers involved.  This is one of the things we love about Argentina.  It was hard to get the full impact as there are around 250 falls in the entire national park, but I managed to capture a few perspectives.

I have to admit, I was missing our strict codes and regulations during our zipline and water repel adventure.  We managed to get a few photos but no video. We drove about 40 minutes deep into the jungle and ended up at our destination.  There were 12 of us in the group and within a few minutes of getting off the bus, I somehow was the first of all of us to go screaming into the trees. There was never any “here’s how this is going to work”, “here is what you are going to do”, “you need to sign this waiver before you go up”. It was climb this “ladder” that sways as you are climbing 50 feet to the top of the tree line, where this Spanish speaking dude will hook you up and push you off the tiny platform where we need all 4 of you to stand and not fall off . The plan on the ground was I would go first and wait for Lauryn at the end so I could help her.  I did not know we zipped from on tree location to the next and had to climb an even flimsier ladder at each platform!  After the first zip I saw what they wanted us to climb and I was reaching for every Spanish word I knew to say, “no way in hell I am I letting my daughters climb that on their own”, in which he told me in perfect English “move”.  I was yelling and praying to Lauryn through the trees to hold on tight and be careful.  Once again the Parker family makes a great impression, I imagine they are still talking about me! When I got to the bottom and removed my gear, I looked up to see Lauryn zipping at the highest possible speed yelling yahoo!!!!!!!!!  I learned quickly after my initial push how to make my zip line go slower and I used that technique often. Lauryn hit the guy at the last station at full impact and she was begging to do it again.  I said maybe we can find one in the states that is a little more regulated.  I never got to see Lyndsey take off but Doug says she was quite brave and she was all smiles on her way to the finish.   The adventure went on to the waterfall repel.   Once again we were fuzzy on the details, and as we all came to the realization that we would be repelling backwards down the face of the falls , our reactions were mixed, but we all did it!

On our way to the airport, our driver surprised us by suggesting he take us to the Triple Border, which is the  junction of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, where the Iguazu and the Parana rivers converge.  I am not usually in agreement with foreign taxi drivers suggesting that we take an alternative route, but in this case we were glad he did.   It was very cool!

We can’t wait until our next adventure, thank you for letting us share our journey.

I started blogging primarily as a method to communicate with family and friends and to document for the girls our time and experiences on planet Argentina.   But as I have also mentioned before, writing is therapeutic to me.  Just taking the time to put what I am feeling into words, settles my mind and acts as a de-stressor.  I have had less of a desire to write since arriving back to Argentina, which in my case is a good thing.  However, after this long week, I am feeling the need to write and share a sad event that affected our community.  I have felt useless all week wishing there was something I could do, so perhaps sharing this story will provide some awareness and prevention.

I will share first for my journal a little information on our transition back into the land of Argentino’s.  Our return voyage from Denver was filled with one delayed flight after another, but somehow we managed to arrive in Buenos Aires just a few hours later than scheduled.  I did not even mind the chaos this trip as there was no sobbing cries from Lyndsey’s seat begging me to let her off the plane.  This time I looked over at her seat and she already had her headphones on and was complaining about the movie selection.   With no time to spare after we landed, Lyndsey went straight from the airport to the school to participate in a Buddy Orientation as she was asked to serve as a buddy for a new student arriving at the school.  This was a good sign of things to come! When we did finally arrive “home” we were greeted by Margarita and Tug, and we were are feeling good to be back in Argentina.  Our remise(taxi driver) had to work so hard at the airport to get the luggage in the van, he literally gave up on me when we arrived at home, he dropped all 13 pieces of luggage on the curb and I could hear the tires squeal as he sped away.  Margarita was by my side and what normally would have taken a few days to unpack, with Margarita’s leadership took a few hours.

You see the morning we were leaving Denver I was at Wal-Mart at 5:00 a.m., desperately buying anything I could squeeze into any open space in our luggage.   My, “We survived just fine without it – we do need all that stuff”, attitude, had succumbed to my anxiety and I was clearing entire shelves into my shopping cart.  Needless to say our 13 pieces of luggage were at max weight and we had our work cut out for us.

From the moment we arrived back in BA the difference from last semester to this one has been night and day.  The benefits of our time in Argentina are starting to become clear.   The international lifestyle is agreeing with Lyndsey as she is reaching new heights in independence and is a sweet, smart, extremely mature young lady.  Doug and I are really taking pride in watching her blossom.   Lauryn is thriving and gaining more confidence each week.  She continues to be a very sweet girl with a heart of gold; I pray she never loses that.   Her Castellano (Argentine Spanish) pronunciation is muy bonita! I am proud of myself as I am reading Spanish very well, but I struggle tremendously with pronunciation in terms of speaking and understanding.   Lyndsey is getting the complicated sentence structure down and is really coming along, but has not mastered the pronunciation.  Doug has no time for any Spanish during his busy day and his office is of course English speaking, so he just continues to speak to everyone in English, hoping they will understand him.   So the only family member  to have mastered the Argentine pronunciation is Lauryn.  In our defense her age has a lot to do with that.  Doug, Lyndsey and I have missed that window in our developing brains to easily learn a language.  So our little Spanish sponge is handy tool to have around.  She helps me with my Spanish homework; she translates for me at the stores.  When Lauryn is around Margarita takes the easy route and talks directly to Lauryn, Whatever!

Both girls are playing soccer with the school and Lyndsey is blowing us away with her effort and was asked last week to practice with the older team’s squad.  Lauryn is also playing soccer with the Argentine girls club, Club Andes.  I plan to write an entire blog on this experience.  She is gaining much from her time at the club and the experience with the unbelievably skilled and not always so friendly Argentine girls. The two older retired gentlemen who run the program once played for the Argentine National team.  It does not get any better than this.  What an experience!  They do not speak a word of English so Lauryn has to focus not only on her footskills but her Spanish skills as well.

Both girls just returned from huge trips.  Lyndsey went with the 7th and 8th grade honor choir to El Calfate http://www.elcalafate.gov.ar/, and Lauryn participated in a school swim meet in Mar Del Plata http://www.turismomardelplata.gov.ar/.  I am thankful to god everyday for the experiences he is providing to our children.  This was a big step for me to let them go.  I think the Argentines are helping me strike a parenting balance.  Parenting for Argentines is unlike any common methods we are accustomed to in the states.  Kids are given lots of freedom and the more affluent children are raised exclusively by nannies.   Parents are more hands off and helicopter parenting is as foreign to them as recycling.   But seeing how self sufficient these kids are has helped me realize, I have to protect but also prepare the girls.  My helicopter parenting will not allow them to develop the skills they need to make it on their own someday.  So I let them fly a little in hopes I am preparing them and me for the day they need to make it own their own.

I have been riding high since my return to Argentina.  My days are filled with fun instead of chores, I have amazing friendships and my kids are loving their school and thriving in this environment.  Yet life/God has a way of humbling us and this week I was brought quickly back to reality and once again reminded “we are not in control”.

One of the best parts of this experience is living amongst an ex-pat community.  Sometimes I jokingly refer to us as the Amish.  Of course that usually requires a bit of explanation to my non American friends.   Like the Amish our lives have slowed down from our fast pace American lifestyle.  We are separated from the rest of our society/culture so we tend to hold on tight to one another.  The community and friendships make up for all the comforts we left behind. Whatever hurdles are thrown our way, we know we have a community to back us up.  We are each other’s family.

So it was not surprising to see the overwhelming support for one of our community members in need.  Lilly and her family had just arrived in BA in July on assignment with the US Embassy.  I had not yet had the opportunity to meet this new family nor did many people in our community, but that did not stop any of us from getting on our knees in prayer and doing whatever we could to provide encouragement and support during their agonizing ordeal.   Lilly, the oldest of four children in her family, had just started kindergartner and was barely getting settled into her new life in Argentina when she was stricken with a severe E.coli infection.  Lilly was in an induced coma for 12 days as doctors tried to rid her body of toxins that entered her blood stream and was shutting down her organs.  Lilly was taken off life support last week as the infection called HUS claimed her precious life.  This disease is contracted by ingesting food tainted with E.coli.   The impact on our community is nothing but complete shock and sadness.  So many people who had never even met this family provided support in any way possible, we were organized and ready to support them through what we were told would be a very long recovery, we were not expecting this outcome and we are not dealing with it very well.   Bottom line to our community and my preaching to you today, stay away from minced meat as we refer to it here, or ground beef as it is called in the states.  If you must get ground beef have it ground from a select piece of meat.  Statistics are flying via email through our community that indicates there are just as many cases of HUS in the US.   Cook your meat and eggs thoroughly, and wash all your vegetables before you eat them.  Take a minute to read this link  http://www.safetables.org/index.cfm

Unfortunately no one seems to have any words this week that make us feel better and after all my talk about “therapeutic writing”, I can’t find any either.

Keep the prayers coming, we miss you.

There the girls and I sat in the United lounge waiting for our boarding call to the United States and not for one minute did we take that moment for granted.  How many times during our first few months in Argentina did we long for this day? Sitting here now in my Colorado home I feel so far from that day, the culture we experienced, and our friends in South America; it almost feels like a dream. Possibly the delusional side effects of World Cup fever.

I found myself watching “Castaway” a few days before leaving Argentina.  Remember the movie with Tom Hanks where his plane went down and he survived for several years on an island?  After he was rescued there was a party in his honor and he walked up and just looked at the pile of crab legs that prior to that moment he had struggled so hard to get for his survival.  That some ironic feeling is how we felt the moment we walked through immigrations and landed in duty free.  Right before our eyes was Victoria Secret. I thought Lyndsey would pass out from the sight of “Pink”.  As we entered the United lounge we were welcomed with perfect American English speaking hostesses and across the room were touristy Americans talking way to loud and way too much.  Music to our ears, we were half way home!

Prior to leaving BA we had a busy week of concerts, parties and to our surprise talent shows.  Doug and I watched the girls participate  in the Lincoln school talent show and were so proud.  The American International School really promotes creative expression and thinking.  There are so many different backgrounds and cultures no one fits into a cookie cutter mold, so my theory is kids have more freedom to just be themselves.  As is customary in the expatriate community we also witnessed sad, sad goodbyes.  No matter how many times we go through this, I will never get better at saying goodbye, I cry like a baby every time.  We said goodbye to some amazing people who we were blessed to have in our lives if only for six months.  The Lincoln school had a great quote from Dr. Suess at the middle school assembly “ Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”  This really resonated with Lyndsey, I think she gets it that even though it hurts to say goodbye, she appreciates having had a brief time with these very cool international friends.  Although I agree with the quote, I know I will always be doing more crying than smiling when it is time to say goodbye.

With every move I believe it takes six months to get in the groove.  So just when we were getting very comfortable with our new friends, we had to say goodbye.   Interesting to me that we could be so invested after only six months, but that is life in an expatriate community. These friends are your family, your support and you rely on them exclusively.  In all 40 Lincoln families left our community, with just as many scheduled to join us next semester. It is a revolving door and I have been told over and over, “get us to it”.  Like learning a foreign language, some things are just easier when you have learned them from an early age.  For families who have moved their entire lives it is natural for them to keep moving and saying goodbye, for me who never left my hometown until the age of 30, it is torture.   Doug spent a lot of his childhood moving, so moving for him is natural.   For my girls, I believe it will be natural as well.  Lyndsey told me the other day she would like to be a teacher in an American School abroad someday.  They are now considered “Third Cultural Kids”, kids who have lived in a culture outside of their own.  Amazing and sad to me how many women I have met who have no one culture to identify with; their passport may be to Germany, but they have not lived there since they were a very young child.    They speak mulitple languages and have lived in multiple counties so they identify with no home culture. This will never be me, I am American and I will not be gone long.  I am however a forever changed American.  Perhaps one that is even more appreciative of her country, more respectful of “legal” immigrants, a little less loud, a little more patient, and hopefully way more relaxed.  As a cultural we are a little uptight, Argentina taught me this in the first week.

So we entered the country by Lyndsey running off the plane doing a dance through the terminal.  Once again, we made our presence known.  The security crew no doubt recognized us from our last trip through the airport with our 19 pieces of luggage and we have probably been added to the no fly list.  To have everything you love and that is so familiar to you gone from your life took its toll on the girls and I throughout our first six months in Argentina.  So getting off that plane and walking into the Denver airport will go down as one of our all time greatest moments.

Since being home we are doing what Americans do best “Consume, Consume, Consume” We have shopped, lunched, and shopped some more.   We have visited with family and friends, and the girls really got back into the swing of sports and skating with their old friends only to have to leave it all again.  It is proving to be very difficult to have a life in two worlds and it is heartbreaking for me to watch Lauryn leave her Colorado soccer team and Lyndsey leave her skating.  Although it will be extremely difficult to leave again what we love so much, I have a feeling that our time in Argentina is not yet complete.  We still have more to learn and more adventures to experience.  God has something to tell us and I am trying to talk less and listen more for a change. We plan to do much more traveling this next semester and I personally have very high hopes of moving past 3.0 in tennis with Sergio as my instructor.  Lauryn has showed a great interest in tennis, however I think she just likes playing on the clay courts, either way I love that she loves it as much as me.   Both girls will be working hard in soccer but Lyndsey will be working extra hard to make the team that travels to Brazil.   She played last semester, but prior to that not since 4th grade and competition is tough.  Most of all I am anxious to get the girls back to learning Spanish.

So we begin our countdown to Argentina culture re-entry, and it is becoming clear that dragging Lyndsey to the airport to board the plane to Argentina will no doubt be yet again tortuous, but I leave feeling we have a purpose and that makes all the difference.

As always we greatly appreciate your continued prayers.

Much love, The Parkers