By Luke Liddy
Before I arrived here in Buenos Aires, everyone was always asking me what my expectations were and what I am most excited about with my trip. Honestly, I had no expectations, and I had very little understanding about what it was going to be like. Some of the other volunteers living in the VG House have told me that they did a lot of research before they came, reading books and surfing the web to gain insight on the experience that was to come, which is a completely valid venture, but just isn’t really my style. I have traveled before, with many preliminary expectations and impressions about the places I’ve been, some being met beyond my wildest dreams, and others falling short completely. So this time, before I embarked on my trip I decided I would keep my mind completely clear of expectations, and let the experience unfold as I step one foot in front of the other.
My first experience in Argentina was absolutely hilarious. While going through customs a woman got her duty-free bag stuck in the scanner’s conveyor belt, packed completely to the brim with goods she had just bought. The unknowing customs officer kept shoving bags into the scanner to keep the line moving, so all of the woman’s things were being completely destroyed by the immense suitcases piling up as she struggled to pull her bag free. As a result, the first glimpse of Argentine culture that I got to experience was one of absolute rage, a woman screaming the foulest words imaginable in the Spanish dictionary in her furious Argentine accent, while the customs officer insults her back and denies her entrance into the country. For me that was kind of an eye opener, that I wasn’t here on some tropical vacation in Hawaii where all the resort workers have bright and smiley faces greeting me hello. I was in the city, and no one, especially not the customs officers, was there to hold my hand on this journey.
In the last 3 years I have lived in 4 different cities, Buenos Aires being the one that caught me off guard the most. I didn’t expect such development, especially after living in Panama, where the bus system was graffiti painted school buses, where street names don’t exist, and where traffic signals have absolutely no significance. Buenos Aires reminds me a lot of Brooklyn, New York, with grey buildings very close together, flocks of pigeons eating on the sidewalks, and being able to feel the rumble of the subway beneath your feet. Another aspect that surprised me, along with most newcomers to Argentina I’m sure, is of course their Spanish dialect. I knew it was different, but I wasn’t sure how different. When someone is speaking rapidly it sounds like they are singing in Italian, replacing their y’s and ll’s with sh’s. Their tone is a lot lighter too, almost as if every sentence is a question, whereas in the Central American dialect their pronunciation is a lot more defined, with a heavier emphasis on certain vowels and words.
The final aspect, which I had absolutely no idea beforehand, was the work that me, and the other volunteers do. I enjoy the luxury of being able to sleep most of the day, getting up and riding the subway for 5 minutes and being at the doorstep of my heated office where I work to try and enrich the communication and marketing of Voluntario Global through the internet and to the public. Other volunteers however, such as those who I had the pleasure of experiencing their job first hand, get up early in the morning and travel sometimes hours by train to small, impoverished towns, to teach at schools or take care of kindergarten children. I got to actually see the work that all the volunteers are actually doing, and how our combined efforts in many different projects, however small they may be, sum up to a large scale change and the betterment of the world of tomorrow.