Eso es Argentina

So I think i might be falling in love with Argentina. It's taken me some time to get settled and accustomed to everything here, but after two months, I think I can safely say that I love this amazing dysfunctional, inefficient, socially dynamic country. I've begun to really appreciate the beauty which Argentina offers...that which is completely different from anything I've ever been exposed to in developing countries.

After two months, I've realized that what I love about this country is the raw history which is so present on every corner. During my first trip to Buenos Aires, just several weeks after arriving in Argentina, our taxista pointed out the bullet holes in a passing building...fresh from the recent revolution. And there's the graffiti...everywhere graffiti...but it's not like that of the bling-bling gangsters in the states...there appears to be much deeper meaning behind each spray...each demanding the recognition of someone's human rights or supporting a politician. And there are the stories...I've long been a believer that everyone has a story, but I've never quite known such stories of rich context. Just several weeks after I arrived here, my boss and I were walking to a retaurant where we could discuss my time here over lunch...when we came to a certain street, he calmly told me that, on that one street, 95 of his high school classmates were disappeared in the dirty war of the 1970's...including himself. Luckily, he was released after just two months. And the other day, when walking from the clinic, he pointed out a tree up the street..."see that tree?" he asked me..."I once spent the night in it...i was walking along this street, and I saw military trucks ahead searching for people...so I sat in the tree all night. They never found me, but I saw them all underneath me searching..." He then nonchalantly pointed out that the plaza down the road was where "they" took his girlfriend at the time...I can't help but wonder how many other stories there are like Jorge's here in La Plata, as it was one of the cities hit hardest by this military dictatorship. And of course there are the stories of others affected by such atrocities...one of our patients is a child (now fullgrown) of disappeared parents-- his is a story of emotional/mental problems, drug use, and HIV. These stories are all around me...I can feel them. OHH...and the cartineros fascinate me daily! These men who maneauver their horse-drawn carts through the streets, often with family and small children in toe, looking for any piece of recycle-able materials they might be able to add to the cart and sell for a minimal amount of income. If I could have one hour with them, what would they tell me? Have there always been cartoneros, or are they a recent creation of the economic crisis at the turn of the century? One can't help but ponder their place in this world...why are we born into the worlds which we are, especially those with no hope of ever escaping?

BUT I also see the beauty in the connection that these people have to their history...it's often been said that, in order to know where you're going, you have to know where you've come from. Seeing this knowledge of a past, this connection, is incredible...these people appear to know where they are going...or at least where they would like to go...

Apart, Argentina is also a geographically diverse and beautiful country...filled with warm people and good wine. A few weekends ago, Jill and I went to Mendoza...heart of the wine country, for the long weekend...and it was unbelievable. I can now say that I have both been sledding and horseback riding in the Andes. I've never been to the west in the states, but I imigine it to be similar...and talk about fresh air...even when atop a crazy horse named Pampa...one who I insist is going through menopause because she was loca! It was nice to get away from the traffick sin stop signs/signals of La Plata and enjoy nature at its best...including some of the best wine that it can produce!

As I hit my half-way mark here, I'm contemplating what I've done in my short time here, and what remains to be done in my duration...on one side, I feel like I have years left, and then I also feel like I don't have nearly enough time left to do what needs to be done. I've had frustrations, sure...but I've also had amazing victories...even if they're seemingly insignificant conversations/connections with the trainers at my gym or the people who work at the computer lab around the corner from my house. Eso es Argentina, I keep reminding myself...this is Argentina...in all of its dysfunctional beauty...


A Través de Nuestros Ojos / Through Our Eyes

As an intern with FSD, I have been given the opportunity to write a grant for the funds necessary to implement a project of my choosing at the clinic in which I am working...the following describes the project for which I recently wrote AND won my grant...I will be implementing this project throughout the duration of my time here in La Plata.

If a picture is indeed worth a-thousand words, the city of La Plata is in for one hell of a story. Argentina is a country of rich history, and with a past wriddled with political instability and military dictatorship, a generation of disappeared people, and the more recent economic crisis of 2001, its people have something to say. The patients who walk through the discrete, frosted glass door of the Centro de Referencia de VIH/SIDA, where I have been working for 7 weeks now, have an exceptional story...the socio-cultural forces weighing down on them have manifested themselves in a betrayal that runs much deeper than corrput political ideology; theirs is a betrayal of their own blood cells. For many, HIV is one more obstacle which thwarts their abiity to survive in a developing country. In the midst of poverty, unemployment, and malnourishment, these incredible people attempt to live with HIV...but are they truly living? The government provides the resources for their sustinance...throwing them further and further into a dark pit filled with excuses, complaicance, and lack of responsibility...but simple sustinance doesn't provide a life.

Over the past 7 weeks I have seen first-hand not only the fear of discrimination for a positive HIV status, but also the reality of this fear. It's everywhere. I see it in the patients' eyes when they describe that they have recently been fired simply because their boss suspected that there was infection nearby...sometimes in the partner of the employee. I hear it in the interviews that I am holding with patients to better know their needs...they speak of the fear that they live with, for if anyone found out that they were positive, they would be treated poorly. Sometimes their own family members-- flesh and blood-- don't even know. And I feel it too. I feel it in the air when I tell someone where I work. When the letters even leave my lips-- HIV-- I see the confused look come across their faces...the palpable level of discomfort is incredible. Do I have HIV, they ask. Could they really be talking to someone with HIV? What if they catch it through the air that we're sharing? For this reason I no longer give a general answer when one asks what I'm doing here...I now tell them exactly which clinic I am working in. The conversation around the illness ravaging their city has to start somewhere...why not with an American boy who's leaving in 3 months?

In an effort to affect this lack of understanding, while also empowering the patients, I have written a grant to implement A Través de Nuestros Ojos: a Photovoice pilot program for the patients at La Salita. Based on the Photovoice Method (which I urge each of you to read about- www.photovoice.com/org) this project will allow patients to explore what living with HIV/AIDS in La Plata means to them through photography. I will be giving approximately 5-8 patients cameras and asking them to explore this construct over a one-week period, after which we will reflect on their experiences and discuss photos which they choose to share. Through this phase, it is hoped that the patients will truly uncover both positive and negative aspects of their lives as HIV-positive persons. For many, they lack the tools to see themselves as the subject, rather than an object, in their lives...and I hope that this project will aid in the development of the tools to do such as they view their world from a fresh perspective given by the small lens of a camera. The second part of the project will serve to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among the general population of La Plata through a public exposition in the premier cultural center of the city- El Pasaje Dardo Rocha. During the week of 23-28 September, the participating patients' photography (of which they elect to show) will be on exhibition for the general public.

Although we live in a world saturated with visual images, the true meaning of photos is often lost...the subject all too easily becomes an object in a world far from the one which we know. I hope that this project reunites both the photographer and the viewer with the reality of HIV which surrounds them in La Plata, regardless of infection status.