I cannot count how many times I have wondered to myself, “Why on Earth did I ever choose to come here and what the hell am I still doing in Buenos Aires?” Ah, Argentina! Crazy, erratic, and unstable – that is you in a nutshell (… then again, I could easily use those same adjectives to describe myself).
Back when my Argentine permanent residency was approved on November 3rd, 2011, I was beyond thrilled. This was something that I had been working and striving for almost three full years by that point. At that time, I was giving private English classes. I walked into my first class of the day, and gleefully told my student, “Guess what?! I’m a permanent resident here now!” My excitement was suddenly extinguished like a firecracker being doused with water when he simply shrugged and responded, “Bueno, hay cosas peores” (“Well, there are worse things”).
Yes, I acknowledge and know all too well that living here as either a native-born local or an expatriate hailing from elsewhere means being subjected to many of the unpleasantries of daily life. Factors such as crime, inflation, and dog poop all over broken sidewalks do not discriminate (more on all that in a future entry). Yes, I have my fair share of bronca (gripes) with this country. But despite absolutely everything, overall I am honestly contented with the life that I have made for myself here. Though I find myself feeling more like a tourist whenever I return to my hometown in Ohio, with each passing day, I find myself identifying with and feeling more Argentine (God help me).
Argentina has its share of problems (perhaps a bit more in some regards), but there are some perks of living here that I will never take for granted. Among these, my top five reasons why I appreciate life in Argentina are:
1. The healthcare system– Argentina is a country that believes that healthcare is a right for all its citizens. Depending on where you are located in the country, it’s true that the quality of that healthcare can vary greatly, but at least it is an option to avail of. Being from the United States, where the only real healthcare plan is “don’t get sick,” and people are going broke because they get sick or have an accident, this is not something to be taken lightly. I have a very good obra social (private health insurance) through my employer, and have access to a variety of qualified medical professionals without even a co-payment. Needless to say, this was an immense blessing when I was pregnant, as everything from my stretch mark cream and vitamins to all my ultrasounds and the C-section delivery were all covered 100%.
2. The option of free public university education – The best and most reputable universities in this country (especially la Universidad de Buenos Aires) are absolutely free of charge. Once again, coming from the US, where my student debt that totaled over US$70,000 is still being paid off, this is not something to be taken for granted in the least. It’s not to say that they make it a cakewalk for those who attend, far from it. The classes are generally extremely overcrowded and incredibly demanding. The physical infrastructure of some of the buildings is poor (such as a lack of heating in wintertime and crumbling walls) amongst other student complaints. However, if you are intelligent and ambitious enough, you still have the option of making something of yourself. Just because you cannot afford to shell out tens of thousands of dollars a year does not disqualify you from furthering your education. The notion that you can receive a respected university diploma without ultimately drowning in crippling debt is another facet that I find admirable about this country.
3. Emphasis on Family– I have found that, as a whole, Argentines seem to be very family oriented. This can be observed in different ways, one example being the federal law that grants at least 90 days of maternity leave and the Ley de Lactancia (breastfeeding law) for the first full year for new mothers, something that we do not enjoy in the United States (but I strongly believe that we should). There is even a new law that recently took effect that will offer free assistance to those who require fertility treatments who are unable to naturally conceive a child. But all social programs aside, since I’ve become a mother myself, I’ve noticed a general fondness and warmth toward babies and children that is unlike anything I’ve witnessed elsewhere. Strangers will ooh and ahh over my son whenever I take him out, chatting me up about him, but not in a small talk sort of way; they honestly seem to take a genuine interest. Perhaps this is why I get so much unsolicited advice!
4. A greater appreciation of life’s finer, smaller details- Living in a place where there is so much disorder and chaos in everyday life is taxing. But as a result, it makes me more appreciative of the little things in life. It could be getting to work on time without encountering a protest cutting off the road or the subway being on strike yet again. It could be finding a coveted bottle of maple syrup in the Barrio Chino or Jumbo (like a glorious but rare unicorn sighting, especially nowadays). Only someone who has been here long enough truly appreciates the elated feeling like you’ve hit a jackpot at a slot machine when you receive a handful of coins back as change for a purchase (especially since 2009). And for those who think I’m embellishing, I welcome you to live here for a year and then tell me I’m exaggerating!
5. “Je ne sais quoi” – Maybe it’s the Rioplatense accent that distinguishes Castellano from its Español counterpart that I have always found so elegant sounding. Perhaps it is the feeling of tranquility I have when I enjoy a cup of coffee at my favorite, “undiscovered” café that overlooks a scenic plaza in my barrio. It could be all the quirky and memorable people I’ve encountered here since I’ve arrived. Who knows? But there is something that I can’t quite put my finger on that makes me feel proud as I accept and feel accepted in Argentina. I’m home here.
By birth, upbringing, and by legal nationality, yes, I am an American and always will be, and I am proud of this. I will also always have an appreciation and respect for my life in the United States and what it has given me. But I cannot take for granted the country that provided me with economic opportunity, a home, and a beautiful family. In spite of the challenges that I face here, including an occasional nostalgic longing for “the old days,” I honestly can’t imagine myself living anywhere else with anyone else. If I could go back in time and do it all over again, I would. Absolutely no regrets.