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!