12 September 2012

Nice work if you can get it.

Note, 12 September 2012: I wrote most of this last summer in Buenos Aires.  I don't know why I never posted it -- probably too busy buying groceries, if the essay itself is to be believed -- but I dug it up and dusted it off today and find it kind of relevant to Current Me.  They're ideas that are on my brain again of late, at least.
I cooked myself mashed potatoes and gravy tonight.  Here, the dish we call "mashed potatoes" in America is described as "potato pureĆ©" -- an equally misleading title for what was in fact a packet of flakes of dubious origin, dumped into a pot of water and stirred.  The gravy was prepared using the same method, prepared from a packet of salty brown dust I brought from the United States because Argentines (inexplicably, given their affinity for meat) don't really believe in gravy.

Say what you will about the sophistication of either my culinary skill or taste.  This much I'll say: the meal was easy.  And that is an enormous relief in a place where lately I've come to the disappointing realization that everything is hard for me.

It's hard to cook.  My supposedly fully furnished apartment contains about 3 dishes, and it is my goal to use these, along with the oven big enough to fit my whole fist inside, to make food that won't kill me or the loved ones I want to make it for.  There are measurement unit discrepancies and ingredient discontinuities to be overcome, but those are secondary to the real obstacle to any kind of culinary endeavor: grease.  There is a certain level of tenacious stickiness reserved uniquely in the world, I believe, for Argentine kitchens.  A layer of grease graces the stove, the tile walls, the pots and pans and most of the dishes, fiercely and immutably resistant to scrubbings with dish soap, yellow side of sponge, green side of sponge, and steel wool.  I've tried them all.

My woes extend beyond the unctuous walls of my kitchen.  All day long I try to get work done on my tiny computer, which defiantly chooses only the most unnecessary moments in which to run smoothly, and otherwise executes commands with all the supercharged velocity of chilled molasses.  Of course this problem is independent of my computer's position on the globe, but here in Argentina I don't have access to the lighting-fast alternatives on my university's campus, like I'm used to.  Buying a new machine is out of the question: thanks to protectionist import tariffs, consumer electronics routinely sell at about double the going rate in the U.S.

Also, truth be told, I'm lazy.  This is nothing new either.  But for some reason I have so much trouble focusing here.  I'm supposed to be performing an evaluation of this gas installation program at the NGO where I'm volunteering.  But I realize that I don't have a very solid notion of what I'm doing and I get overwhelmed and don't know where to begin; I make interminable lists of what I still need to learn in order to get started, a cowardly exercise that leaves me stressed with nothing to show for it.

I wake up most mornings with snot, lots of snot, and I evacuate it from my nostrils (Spanish: fosos nasales = "nasal trenches".  Gorgeous.) frequently throughout the day only to have more of it continue its unflagging exodus from whatever inner region of my body seems bent on filling the whole world with the fruits of its manufacture.  I don't want to go to the doctor, because it takes time (and phone bill -- I pay Arg$2, about 65 US cents, a minute) and I'm enrolled in this online course so I'll be able to graduate in December, which of course consumes way more time than I expected.  All this complicates my ability to just explore this fascinating big terrifying repulsive elegant melancholy gorgeous incomprehensible anthill I live in, which is what I really want to do but it's hard.

I wash my undies by hand in the sink because I always forget to take clothes to the laundromat before I run out.  Always.

The banks charge me Arg$20 every time I withdraw money.

The light in my room burned out.  It's not the bulb; I changed it.

I know this looks like unabashed whining, and in fact that's exactly what it is.  But I'm also observing.  I've never had occasion to do this before -- move far away, on my own, even if only for the summer -- and it's different than I expected.  It's got the romance and challenge of carving a completely fresh life from the raw materials of a new continent, like I anticipated.  It's just that some of the challenges are things like dry-cleaning, and having a fridge approximately the size of a cinderblock.

It occurs to me that I may be experiencing in a small way the frustrations of all immigrants -- the minuscule shavings of value taken off over a wide range of activities, by unfamiliarity and relocation, that diminish one's sense of abundance.  Maybe that's what it means to live in a fallen world: it's less that the world has fallen than that we have fallen into it.  Displacement is uncomfortable.  Is this how Adam felt, expelled into the lone and dreary world?  "What, you mean I have to WATER the plants now??"

Adam's dislocation was, well, probably more significant than my privileged brush with life in a place one tiptoe closer to real need than what I'm accustomed to.  But even he seems to have ended up just fine.  Clearly the million tiny or large shocks that compose migration are things people learn how to deal with.  They stay in new places, settle in, have abundant babies who have abundant lives.  I'll adapt.  I mean, my immigrant ancestors did, so I don't even have to trace my DNA all the way to Adam to find that trait.  But I think Adam's story holds the key to the whole project, which is that of course it wasn't just Adam's story: it was also Eve's.  They each had a meet help, a soul mate (Spanish: media naranja = "half orange".  Gorgeous.) with whom to share the frustration and heartache that come with adapting to a life suddenly turned on its head.  And with whom to share the exorbitant and sweet satisfaction when they finally started, together, to figure it out.

11 September 2012

On this day.

Just this: that stories are holy and powerful, that my country is beautiful and incomprehensible, and that God is good.  I'll even say, today as every day, God is Great.  I'll sing it.