Before I came to Buenos Aires, a part of my role as an ESL teacher was to aid immigrants and other non-native English speakers in acclimating to life in the United States. After all, living abroad in a country, no matter what the circumstances, is never easy. Throw in a totally new language, and seemingly mundane things become highly formidable.
How could I have known that now, many years later, I would presently find myself in their shoes, attempting to make sense of what my life has become by living in a country that is not my own.
I’ve been living in Argentina for nearly six years. In six long years, a lot has happened. This is not the same country that it was at the start of 2009, and I am not the same person as I was in 2009. In the time that I have been here after leaving South Korea (in loosely chronological order), I was able to find an apartment, secure a decent job, fall in love, get married, and have a child.
But the story doesn’t end here.
In the course of the same six years that I have been here, I have experienced what was once a country that I felt a profound connection to and warmth for turn into what feels like a sinking ship. For those who are not terribly familiar with what is going on down here, here are a few of the highlights of what has happened since my arrival in 2009:
I’ve never been a particularly materialistic person, but since coming to live here, there has been a strict ban on imported goods – electronics, foreign foods, decent clothes and shoes that don’t fall apart, replacement parts for appliances, toys, and anything not locally produced. There is no place to buy it, nor can I have it sent, either (long story… thanks, Guillermo Moreno!).
Not that I could really buy much here, even if I wanted to. In the time that I have been here, I have experienced firsthand the effects of more than thirty percent of inflation every single year. Certain personal and financial sacrifices are inevitable, they simply have to be made. Now with a child to provide for, I’m really feeling the pinch more than ever.
In the time that I have been here, the peso has plummeted to the point where it has no value whatsoever outside of Argentina’s borders, yet it became illegal to buy foreign currency.
More concerning, I have also witnessed my once relatively calm barrio of Nuñez attract more and more homeless people from the surrounding ghettoes, including children, who pick through trash and routinely ask for handouts. As a human being, it breaks my heart, and as a mother, it scares the hell out of me. Just last week, a block from my house, a local sewing goods store was held up in an armed robbery. The week before that, I saw a group of people rubber-necking at the crime scene of a break in at an apartment building around the corner. As time goes by, things are progressively getting worse and this place is going to the dogs.
Now, I’m sure you might be wondering, Violet, if you are so darn miserable in Argentina, why don’t you just up and leave? Stop the kvetching already! If only it were that simple…
It was my choice to come here, but it’s not entirely my choice to stay.
My husband is Argentine. Like many locals, my husband has extended family down here with whom he is very close, but unlike many locals, he will never, ever leave them, no matter what the circumstances – economic collapse, coup d’etat, or whatever else – that this country might have in store. I knew this going into our relationship, and have to respect that. Moreover, now we have a child which inevitably complicates things. Before his birth, we agreed that family was of utmost importance and that it was better to raise him in a place like Buenos Aires where he had as much family as possible, rather than having family members who were scattered throughout the country, like mine is in the United States.
The point is, like it or lump it, Argentina is where I am now and Argentina is where I will remain for the foreseeable future. I can’t go back and change the past, nor would (or should) I. Some days are fine here, don’t misunderstand me, though many are considerably harder. It’’s not to say that Argentina is all bad. It *does* have its redeeming qualities as well. But having a love-hate relationship with the country is something that is simply unavoidable once you’ve been here past a certain point.
In my heart, I still do have love for this country… considering all the opportunities that it has given me, how couldn’t I? But just like in a romantic relationship, sometimes love just isn’t enough. A person needs substance, stability, and a sense of balance – qualities that are not exactly associated with life in Argentina. Live and learn.