Archives for posts with tag: Córdoba

By Jennifer Abe

IMG_20140825_080353I sit at the kitchen table looking at the tall jacaranda trees lining the street outside the window. On this cold autumn morning in late May, the sky in the Southern Hemisphere in Argentina is midway between gray and blue, and the leaves are starting to turn light green. In another month, the great sprawling branches will be winter bare, following an ancient natural rhythm marking the seasons that we have witnessed from this kitchen window, now for the second time.

Two years in Argentina. This time, when the students leave Córdoba, we—Doug, myself, Adam, and Bennett, our 11-year old boys–will follow them just days later in our own return journey to the United States. A return journey. It is not just winging our way northwards. Argentina is no longer an abstraction, and Córdoba is much more than a dot on a map. This place has become our home.

The Casa de la Mateada program was just an idea when Doug and I first came to Córdoba as faculty co-directors with our four of our children. It was inspired by a fully developed model in El Salvador, a program which originally conceived and developed the four pillars–Community, Accompaniment, Spirituality, and Academics–in striving to form students in a “well-educated solidarity.” We were charged, along with our colleagues, with turning that idea into a reality when we arrived.   Two years later, we have witnessed how our students have experienced those pillars in visceral ways. Learning to respect and love the members of their praxis communities at La Luciérnaga, Barrio Argüello, and Nuestro Hogar III for their resilience, determination, and capacity for love and laughter in the midst of the hard realities of their lives. Washing dinner dishes with the music turned up loud (“dance party” time, they call it). Sitting in shared silence together at retreats or during weekly nights set apart for this contemplative practice. Reflecting out loud and on paper, in class and in journals, in conversations with us, each other, Nestor (their taxi driver), and others. The questions crossed over from the academic realm into the ream of real life in trying to make sense of their experiences in Argentina. Joking around with Martin Maldonado, their irreverent and irreplaceable praxis coordinator and professor of political science. And going out for coffee or ice cream with their beloved Bianca McNeil, a staff member who lives with them and coordinates their community life.

In the simple practice of learning how to pay attention to the little things, to make the effort to notice ordinary moments, students often find that the Casa experience can become quite extraordinary for them. Time moves differently. There is time for conversations, for journaling, for drinking mate, and for playing silly games, for noticing spiders, and the color of leaves falling from trees. Life becomes vivid. Riding the bus to classes and praxis, noticing how seated riders always get up and offer seats to the elderly, to women with children, to those with disabilities, no matter what. Feeling the “kisses that stick” softly brushing your cheek in the Argentine practice of besos for every salutation, whether greeting or goodbye. Feeling your head full and tired from the effort of speaking another language all day, and then suddenly feeling compassion for those whom you never thought about before; those who have to do it all the time in your own country.

Through their time in Argentina, students learn to see themselves as connected to the broader world, especially to those on the margins due to poverty, and in the process, develop a sense of connection to something beyond themselves. Casa is ultimately an experience of learning how to be open to one’s own life in a world that is fragmented, unjust, and also utterly–almost unbearably–beautiful. To experience a life filled with vulnerability, tenderness, and gentle acceptance, as a radical alternative to the powerful social current that so often flows towards seeking certainty over questioning, and individual success over community thriving. Yet these other possibilities are also part of what they take back with them to the United States.

Maybe something of that has happened to us, as well. We are returning to the US changed in many ways of which we are not yet aware.   So it is with a mix of feelings that we return to our former lives, yet not as our former selves. The sweetness of knowing we will have more contact with our beloved family and friends again. The difficulty of leaving our dear friends and colleagues behind. These are the friends with whom we have labored so hard, as well as with such joy and sense of camaraderie these past two years, some of whom our students have never met. So, I will end this reflection with our deepest appreciation, affection, and gratitude to all our friends in Argentina: all those who have befriended us and our children, who have shown us hospitality and kindness when we were still strangers (to our friends at UCC, Colegio Mark Twain, Alla Arriba, CELEC and in our neighborhood). And to our amazing, hard-working, and inspiring program staff in Argentina–Santiago Bunce, Michelle Lally, Diego Fonti, Pablo Giesenow, Marta Risso Patron, Ariel Ingas, Jessica Laulhe, and especially Martin Maldonado and Bianca McNeil, who became like family to us–we hold you in our hearts with gratitude and love. Thank you!

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por Jennifer Abe

IMG_20140825_080353Me siento a la mesa de la cocina, mirando a los grandes jacarandas alineados en la calle afuera la ventana. En esta fría mañana de otoño en mayo, el cielo del hemisferio sur en Argentina tiene colores entre grises y azulados y las hojas están poniéndose más claras. En un mes, las grandes ramas desplegadas van a estar desnudas de invierno, siguiendo el antiguo ritmo natural que marcan las estaciones y del que hemos sido testigos desde esta ventana, ahora por segunda vez.

Han sido dos años en Argentina. Esta vez, cuando los estudiantes se vayan de Córdoba, nosotros—Douglas, mi marido, Adam y Bennett, nuestros chicos de once años y yo—vamos a seguirlos apenas unos días después en nuestro viaje de regreso a EE.UU. Un periplo. Lo que no es simplemente emprender nuestro camino al Norte. Argentina ya no es una abstracción y Córdoba es mucho más que un punto en el mapa. Este lugar se ha convertido en nuestro hogar.

El programa de Casa de la Mateada era solo una idea cuando Douglas y yo llegamos por primera vez a Córdoba como profesores y co-directores con cuatro de nuestros hijos. El programa estaba inspirado en un modelo desarollado en El Salvador, un programa que, originalmente, concibió y desarolló los cuatro pilares–la Comunidad, el Acompañamiento, la Espiritualidad, y los Estudios Academicos–en un esfuerzo para formar estudiantes en una “solidaridad instruida.” Estabamos encargados, junto con nuestros colegas, de transformar esa idea en una realidad. Dos años después, hemos sido testigos de cómo nuestros estudiantes han tenido esa experiencia con estos pilares de maneras concretas. Aprendiendo a respetar y amar a los miembros de las comunidades de praxis en La Luciérnaga, en Barrio Argüello y en Nuestro Hogar III para su fortaleza, determinación y capacidad de amar y alegrarse en el medio de las duras realidades de sus vidas. Lavando los platos con la musica a todo volumen (“dance party” le dicen). Sentándose en un silencio compartido en los retiros o durante las noches dedicadas a esta práctica contemplativa. Reflexionando en voz alta y en papel, en clase y en los diarios, en las conversaciones entre nosotros, entre ellos, con Nestor (el conductor de taxi) y otros. Las preguntas cruzaban desde el ámbito academico al ámbito de la realidad para darle sentido a sus experiencias en Argentina. Bromeando con Martin Maldonado, su ocurrente e irremplazable coordinador de praxis y su profesor de Ciencias Politicas. Y saliendo a tomar café o helado con su querida Bianca McNeil, una miembro del staff, quién vive con ellos y coordina su vida comunitaria.

En la sencilla práctica de aprender cómo prestar atención a las cosas chiquitas, de hacer el esfuerzo para tomar conciencia de los momentos cotidianos, muchas veces los estudiantes descubren que la experiencia de la Casa puede convertirse en algo extraordinario. El tiempo transcurre de un modo diferente. Hay tiempo para las conversaciones, anotar en un diarío, tomar mate, y jugar juegos tontos. Para prestar atención a las arañas y los colores de las hojas que se caen de los árboles. La vida se convierte en una más vívida. Subiendo a los colectivos para ir a las clases y a “praxis,” prestando atención a la manera en que los sentados siempre ofrecen sus asientos a los mayores, a las mujeres con sus hijos, y a los discapacitados. Siempre. Sintiendo el roce de los “besos que se pegan a la mejilla” como parte de la costumbre argentina de besos para cada ocasión, sea saludo o despedida. Sintiendo la cabeza como llena y cansada por el esfuerzo de hablar un lenguaje diferente todo el día y luego, de repente, sintiendo compasión por aquellos en quienes nunca antes habías pensado; por quienes tienen que hacer eso todo el tiempo en tu propio país.

A través el tiempo en Argentina, los estudiantes aprenden a verse a si mismos como conectados a un mundo más grande, especialmente a los que están marginalizados por la pobreza y en ese proceso, desarollan una sensación de la conexión a lo que está más alla de sí mismos. Finalmente, Casa es una experiencia para aprender cómo poder abrir el sí mismo a la propia vida en un mundo que es fragmentado, injusto y también a la vida que es completamente — casi insoportablemente —bella. Para tener una vida llena de la vulnerabilidad, el cariño y la aceptación gentil como una alternativa radical contra la corriente social que muchas veces fluye a buscar la certeza más que el cuestionamiento, el éxito del individuo más que el bienestar comunitario. Esas posibilidades también son parte de las que ellos van a llevar a EE.UU.

Quizás algo de eso nos ha ocurrido a nosotros también.   Estamos volviendo a EE.UU. cambiados en muchos sentidos de los que todavía no tenemos conocimiento. Entonces, es con una mezcla de sentimientos que nos regresamos a nuestras vidas de antes, ya no como éramos. La dulzura de conocer que tendremos más contacto con nuestra querida familia y nuestros amigos de nuevo. La dificultad de dejar a nuestros queridos amigos y colegas aquí. Ellos son los amigos con que hemos trabajado con tanto esfuerzo y también con tanta alegría y sentido de camaradería en los dos años pasados, algunos de los cuales nuestros estudiantes nunca tuvieron la oportunidad de concocer. Entonces, terminaré esta reflexión con nuestro profundo agradecimiento, cariño y gratitud a todos nuestros amigos en Argentina: a todos los que han entablado una amistad con nosotros y nuestros hijos, a los que nos han mostrado hospitalidad y amabilidad cuando todavía eramos extranjeros (a los amigos del UCC, Colegio Mark Twain, Alla Arriba, CELEC y nuestro barrio, el Cerro). Y a nuestros colegas del programa en Argentina, trabajadores asombrosos e inspiradores–a Santiago Bunce, Michelle Lally, Diego Fonti, Pablo Giesenow, Marta Risso Patron, Ariel Ingas, Jessica Laulhe u, especialmente a Martin Maldonado y Bianca McNeil, quienes se convertieron en una familia para nosotros–los guardamos en nuestros corazones con gratitud y cariño. ¡Muchisimas gracias!

IMG_20150522_150647By Aisha Walker

Every Tuesday and Wednesday morning Emily, Eileen and I step up to this gate—a rusted, brown, diamond criss-crossed pattern chain gate—with a four foot high door cut out centrally on the bottom. Just behind this gate, there is a set of French doors, painted blue. On the right hand molding, at the fringe of an arm’s reach, is a door bell, with a handwritten sign in black ink, “Toca Timbre”. Sticking my hand through the biting chained gate, I feel the white plastic give under my finger’s force. A moment later, I hear the jingle of Mariela’s numerous keys on her giraffe guarded key chain, as the secretary hurries from her office to greet us, opening the little door in the giant gate. I allow Emily and Eileen to pass through before I, too, fold my body in half at the waist, hunch my shoulders toward my center and squeeze through this little gate. Standing erect, I give Mariela a quick beso before taking a deep breath. I have arrived at La Luciernaga.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday morning, Emily, Eileen and I walk through the front office of La Luciernaga, past the stacked green and yellow boxes of glossy paper on which the magazines are printed in house. Past the open air office of Mariela and Oscar’s—the founder of La Luciernaga­—closed door before taking a slight right out the back door of the building, down three red tile steps and over a raised cement threshold into the heart of the community. I run my hand along the cement wall with chipped orange-red paint to my right, skimming over the ever-changing posters inviting the young men to history, recovery, success, and presence. I smell Fabuloso, a cleaning product, which alerts me to Paola’s presence somewhere nearby. Just a couple steps further and the room opens up. A vaulted ceiling with square sky lights allows the end of summer heat to reflect off of the chipped, cream colored tables and chairs in two rows that fill the cement floor, illuminating the room. I move my hand away from the wall, continuing farther into the room and into our community.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday morning Emily, Eileen and I open ourselves up to the emotions of others, allowing what is theirs to become ours. It begins by walking into the arms of Tio Julio, our supervisor at La Luci. He hugs me. Not in a quick greeting kind of way, where there is only a light beso and abraso. Julio’s mid-sized frame envelops me, squeezing tight, reminding me that I am safe with him, invited home in his presence. After being released, I continue around the gathered circle of faces that are becoming more familiar every visit— Pablo, Anna, Laura, Paola—exchanging besos and abrasos. The lasting impression of Norma’s—the chef of the comedor—cheeks on both of mine, sharing her Uruguayan culture in her simple greeting. The aroma of mate mingles with the beginning stages of Norma’s cooking as the odor of chopped onions sizzles through the air. Taking a seat at one of the tables, I stare at the artwork that adorns the risers that lead to the second story of the building. The abstract blocks of pinks, yellows, greens, and blues defined by black outlines shift with every movement of my eyes. At the top of the risers, my eyes lock on the second door from the right, Victor’s office. Seeing a flash of movement, I wonder who is in there a moment before I hear Victor’s signature: “JULIO!” Chuckling to myself, I quietly sing the Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk line (“Julio get the stretch”) as Julio takes the stairs to the right of the risers two at a time up to Victor’s door.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hear lighters pop and cigarettes burn, making my eyes water, as canillitas begin to trickle into the community. Some irritable, others buoyantly happy, they greet me all the same. “Como andas?” I ask them of more than how their walk to La Luci was. I ask of their emotional walk, too, as we share besos and abrasos in this place where the collective cares about each individual’s path. After eating a rich lunch of heavy foods that keep the canillitas full for their hours spent selling magazines on the streets of el centro, I make my way from the comedor outside to the grassy area behind the center. The over grown grass is dying as the weather turns from summer to fall. Even so, Angel and Priscilla—Paola’s kids— want to play soccer with a blue, deformed, undersized, plastic ball. I leave my form ingrained into my seventeen years of play at the goal line, allowing myself to be silly, miss the ball, and run aimlessly around this field, while Angel schools me in my sport and Priscilla’s dimples take some of the sadness out of her eyes.

One Wednesday, I walk out to the back lawn space, my hands covered in green paint after making a sign; Gonzalo—a canillita— guides me toward a faucet in front of the bathroom out back where I can clean up before the lunch of milanesas. He
holds the button down the entire time, allowing me to wash the Hulk off of me, into the red bucket below. Once I’ve cleaned myself up, he picks up the plastic bucket, full to the brim with water swirled with the blue and green paint of the day, and pretends to throw it at me. I flinch, clenching my eyes shut, my left leg lifting in a karate move of defense as my arms move to block my face from the spray and a high-pitched squeal escapes from the depth of my girlishness. After I moment, I peek out of the corner of my clenched left eye, to see Gonzalo laughing hysterically, doubled over, grasping his stomach as silent giggles erase the stress from his face. As I relax my stance, he catches his breath enough to chuckle through a reenactment of my fear, describing it in such rapid Castellano that I cannot even keep up. But, I can’t even be upset because the glow on Gonzalo’s face, his pure joy at the lighthearted joke is contagious. Hi smile automatically bringing one to my face, removing some darkness from my heart. Because that is what La Luci has given to me: a tingling sensation that consumes me when laughter, the universal song of love, permeates not only a language barrier, but circumstances, too. La Luci is the place where I have been humbled enough to acknowledge that the collective cares about the individual. Where my emotions are worth being seen and felt by other because every day of our lives are gifts that we share—both the good and the bad—with each other.

IMG_6145Every Tuesday and Wednesday morning Emily, Eileen and I step up to this gate—a rusted, brown, diamond criss-crossed pattern chain gate—with a four foot high door cut centrally on the bottom. Every Tuesday and Wednesday morning I fold my body in half at the waist, hunching my shoulders toward my center and squeeze through this little gate. When I stand up, I share my life, my time, and my emotions within these walls, within the safety of La Luciernaga.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wish I could put a word to it, although doing so would unjustly confine it. “It” being those circumstances of something more than just coincidence, something that God brings to your attention again and again, like He is allowing things to come full circle for us. “It” being those instances that knock the wind out of you, that make you raise an eyebrow to the sky and ask, “Really?” Our “Dios grande,” as Miguel (one of our canellito friends) would say, is a little “chistoso” at times. Between every minute of my joyful time at La Luciérnaga and the stories and moments Fr. Boyle describes in Tattoos on the Heart, I am finding myself feeling blessed with these connections that are both awesome and at times just plain ridiculous.

And this brings to mind the question, why me? This question is on my mind almost as much as the age old “como se dice…?” Why am I allowed to be a part of this experience, which is not only confusing because of the dissonance caused by my economic advantage that allows me to come here, but how was I “lucky” enough that the events in my life lead me to here? Why am I allowed to experience something as beautiful as La Luciérnaga, or the opportunity for growth in spirituality and community?

While all of these questions have been important in helping me reflect on gratitude and grace, I realize that in focusing on my own singularity in this experience at Casa de la Mateada, there is an underlying implication that I had a part to play in this, that by some merit or action of mine I was chosen to be here rather than another. In reality, these subtle, internal insinuations that I am here because of some excellence on my own part not only isolate me from the Other, who does not have access to the advantages I was born with, but it also acts as a shield against the unknown and unexpected. If I believe that I am able to experience beauty because of my own doing, then I will expect the same from the rest of my life–but only if I keep everything under control. I can be happy if I am perfect. And the most important part of “I am perfect” (in this way of thinking) is the “I am.”

This isolating and exhausting train of thought is greatly influenced and reinforced by my college education. While I am entirely grateful for the opportunity for a good college education, it has secured my place in a grid of “I’s” wherein I am fully responsible for my own success, and any privilege I own is earned by my own good doing. And yes, there is great possibility within myself, and yes, I can achieve things. But in this search for my own best inner self, I often forget that my inner self is not man-made. We do not make it, certainly not by ourselves.

Again, I am reminded (“reminded” being used here as a gentler form of “smacked upside the head”) with the depth of God’s love, and the paradoxical power of being small. I am reminded of my place in the community, the Body of Christ, and the blessing of having not only someone, but the One, to care for me, to remember me.

And reflecting on this care and remembrance that I am unabashedly given, not only through God’s love, but through the people around me, isOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA another lesson in how tremendously important it is that we remember others. Gustavo Gutierrez notes that “…the breakthrough of the poor in Latin American society and the Latin American church is in the final analysis a breakthrough of God in our lives.” And this, I am coming to see, is real, not just a metaphor. By experiencing the breakthrough of God in such encounters, like those that happen every week at La Luciérnaga, we experience our own humility and our own reliance on others, and we break into the world of the people ignored. We are reminded of our responsibility to the poor, to ourselves. It is both a result of and point of departure of God’s breakthrough in us.

Sometimes we experience this paradox, this loss of a tightly secluded self and gain of God’s likeness of His Church through the gentle leaching away of our thoughts or those “videos,” in our head, a false reality that is perverse by nature (as no one could create a reality as complex or stunning as God). Sometimes our true nature is exposed by our being buffeted helplessly by events and people roaring by us.

La Luciérnaga is an endless source of this “pummeling” kind of grace for me. I had read Tattoos on the Heart a few times before this semester, but reading it in light of my experiences at La Luci has made it all come to life anew. Today, as our canellito friend told us his real name (we had been using his nickname all this time), Father Boyle’s anecdote about Sniper and the importance of names, and of remembering names, came to life. Our friend “Chancho” suddenly becomes Christian Javier, the name his mother gave him, and Christian Javier is really just a son loved by his mother.

We often talk about traveling at La Luci, so when I read the heartbreak of the homeboy who wrote, “they see me as less,” (Tattoos), I immediately thought of Mariano, my age, who told me that he just wants to travel wherever he’s not seen as the “lo minúsculo.” It would seem like an impossible coincidence that these parallels are forming, but really it is the formation of a bigger picture, one that we know well: that we, as humans, have that “great pull in us to connect,” (Tattoos), that we want to be known, and we want to be remembered.

The first time we went to La Luci, there were students from a colegio visiting as well. That day, we were introduced to the can’t-miss Argentine experience that is Victor’s impossible Castellano. Since then, a few more schools have visited, and each time, miracle upon miracle, I am understanding a bit more. The most insane part of these school visits, however, is my place, my physical place, in them. Unlike the first visit, when we sat with the masses on the steps, peering down at the canellitos from above, now we sit with them on the floor, with the rest of the pueblo Luciérnago. We are introduced as part of the group, sitting with knees all folded so more can cram onto the groaning table that becomes our seat, Darío leaning up against my legs like they’re the back of a chair, Miguel sitting to my side so he can lean over and whisper (I use the word “whisper” generously) snide comments and insults about all the kids in their uniforms (then he goes and sits with them at lunch and chats with them like they’re old friends; he’s only a few years older than them after all).

My position not only in imgres-1the room, but most importantly, my position with the people there, has integrally changed, and with that, I am integrally changed as well. Somehow, I have become a part of this group, somehow I am sitting with them, am presented as a part of them. Somehow, on La Avenida Sarsfield, in Córdoba, Argentina, in this unsuspecting place where all these lives miraculously find a common thread, I have found a home.

Rachel Nease is a student at Gonzaga University in Washington, where she is majoring in biology. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a lot of talk about “living simply” at the beginning of the semester. Some of us were concerned. How can we live simply in this nice house? How can we live simply when a large pile of pan magically appears every Tuesday with our groceries? In his book, Tattoos on the Heart, Greg Boyle said, “Our choice is not to focus on the narrow but to narrow our focus.”

Here are some things that I don’t normally focus on that I have found myself focusing on this semester: steam twirling above a mug of tea, water sounds, clouds slowly moving, the smell of flowers on the walk to the bus, flight patterns of mariposas, birds chirping, clothes swaying on the line. Also, curling up with friends to watch a movie, watching sunsets together, sing-a-longs and sharing stories. I looked up from my reading to encounter a bird fly by and land on a branch perfectly in view. It was a warm, beautiful morning in our quiet backyard. I allowed myself to take a big gulp of the sun’s rays and was filled to the brim with gratitude. “Wow, I thought. I am so grateful I have the time to do this.”

Then, I realized something very important: I don’t have the time to do this. I am still busy here. I want (and need) to go to class, go to praxis, do homework, spend time with friends, pray, call my mom, clean . . .  our “to-do” lists in Argentina are as long as those in the States. This is great news because it means these moments are, potentially, everywhere. I can live simply in a tiny village in the hills of some foreign country. I can live simply in a big city. I can live simply at Casa de la Mateada and at Spring Hill College.

“The gate that leads to life is not about restriction at all.” The simplest life is the one lived in the present moment. The act of just being requires a focus so narrow… it might even exclude the simple living toaster.

Maddie LaForge is a Theology/Psychology Double Major from Spring Hill College in Alabama. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is a pleasure to introduce to you the students from our Fall 2014 (or Spring, if you are looking at things from Argentina) cohort of Casa de la Mateada. They have arrived here from different parts of the United States and from different Jesuit Universities–LMU, Boston College, St. Louis University, Gonzaga University and Spring Hill College–to open themselves to an exciting, challenging (and yes, sometimes bewildering) experience of living, studying, learning, traveling in and being changed by Argentina.

How are they being changed? It is probably too early say. But already these students have distinguished themselves by their readiness to throw themselves into the life of this place, to open themselves to the experience of being here. That takes courage. And a willingness to allow yourself to be vulnerable.

The brief introductions below were written by the students. They interviewed each other and composed brief sketches of their classmates: those characteristic features that have already begun to emerge during the first few weeks of the program. You will enjoy meeting them. And a little later on, you will hear more from them directly.

Helen FarnanOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The mighty Helen hails from Cleveland, Ohio and is currently at Saint Louis University studying Economics (along with International Studies, Spanish and Urban Poverty Studies). She is pure, sweet, and strong. She has the spirit of both a playful child and of a fierce wolf. One time, her parents told her she wouldn’t be able to run a marathon, so she signed up for one and ran it the next week. Helen is badass. In her spare time here at Casa de la Mateada she likes to build benches in the backyard and play soccer with the boys. She is also the master of pranks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAClaire Horrigan

The indescribable Claire Horrigan made the trip all the way from her home of Greenwood Village, Colorado to Córdoba with her giraffe pillow pet, Wilbur (and her sense of adventure) in tow. She is in her third year at Boston College, studying economics with a minor in Faith, Peace, and Justice. Claire loves to run and to be outside; she also loves baking delicious pasteles, painting and making art. In Boston, she likes to volunteer with Saint Francis House, eat cannolis, and generally obsess over the Jesuits. She loves the beautiful architecture and the antiquity of the churches in Córdoba, and is amazed at the welcoming nature of the Argentines. She thinks that the warm and loving culture here and the continual besos are wonderful!

Farah KerawalaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Farah’s adventurous spirit has led her all across the world! From Tajikistan to China to Korea, nothing is too foreign for Farah. And now, Argentina. Farah enjoys listening to music, chatting with her friends, drinking coffee in mom and pop cafés, and taking long walks. One of her major talents and hobbies is photography, which she picked up from her roommate in China who had a camera. She most enjoys capturing nature and candid photos of her friends in their funny moments. In addition to this, Farah also has a passion for languages. She believes that they allow you to communicate and develop deeper relationships with people of other cultures, which would explain why she has chosen Modern Languages as her major!

Maddie LaForgeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Maddie enjoys making chistes. Poquitos chistes. She hails from the land of alligators, jambalaya, and voodoo. Her motto, “¿porque no?” allows her to embark on many great voyages while wearing her trusty chacos. As a theology and psychology double major at Springhill College in sweet home Alabama, all Maddie does is read, read, read, no matter what. Maddie also enjoys long runs, immersing herself in Latin American culture, and eating chocolate. Maddie is a ray of sunshine, even in Casa Sol.

Rachel NeaseOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the one and only Rachel Nease. A true Fort Collins, CO, native, Rachel loves the outdoors, especially the mountains. She is a junior at Gonzaga University, majoring in biology and minoring in Spanish. Rachel loves working with adults with disabilities through GUSR (Gonzaga University Specialized Recreation). When she’s not studying or volunteering, you may find Rachel playing some variation of a string instrument. We at the house are hoping for a concert one of these days . . . In true Rachel-fashion, some of her favorite things about Córdoba so far are the beauty of the Sierras, churches and graffiti. She is looking forward to getting to know the people of Argentina and learning the culture and language.

Abbi SamsonOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Abbi seizes each day with an ambitious, joyous disposition, often expressed through her graceful, energizing dance movements (she is a dancer). This LMU student’s pursuit of knowledge and spiritual growth is ceaseless, propelling her into dynamic conversations and sometimes carrying her across continents. Spanish proficiency has quickly integrated itself among this nature lover’s other tongues (including Swedish, French, English and even. . . cat!). Abbi, a Pennsylvania native, is studying Dance and Theater and looks forward to exploring deeply rooted unconscious patterns within herself this semester.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMonica Smallshaw

This beautiful chica hails from the coast of sunny California, specifically Huntington Beach. She has brought her love for fun in the sun with her and enjoys going for jogs or walking around town. As a self proclaimed people person, she has gotten to know many Argentinians already. Due to her love for staying in motion, she is almost never sitting down, but once in a while she will take a break to read and will read just about anything and everything.

 

20140802-131843.jpgIt is late winter here in Argentina. The trees are still bare, and the nights cold. But already we can feel the weather beginning to turn warmer. The heavy jackets are starting to come off. Movement in the streets is a little livelier. Spring is on the way.

So too is a new cohort of students (they are due to arrive next week). Soon enough we will introduce them to you. But it feels important to us to pause at this turning of the seasons to reflect more personally on where we have been and where we are heading. In truth, it is difficult to speak with certainty about either of these things. We are beginning our second year in Argentina. So much happened this past year– a rich, abundant, joyous, challenging and sometimes bewildering first year of our program. We are still absorbing it.

And the path ahead? We have a rich program planned for our students and we are confident in our ability to guide them through it. But we have also learned from experience that it is impossible to predict what will happen from month to month–from power outages, to labor strikes, to complicated narratives around the Argentine debt crisis–even as we have gained a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the rhythms of everyday life here. So we know that much of what lay ahead is and must remain unknown to us. We are learning to accept more and more the need to simply walk into our days with attention and openness; and to trust that the path ahead will gradually become clear.

It has been a little over a year since we arrived here in Córdoba in the depths of another, much colder winter. How little we knew all that awaited us! But as we disembarked from our plane, together with four of our five children and one seriously-stunned cat, we could feel how momentous this move would be for us. And it has been. The first cohort of students arrived not long after and soon enough we were off, tumbling forward into this grand adventure: orientation, classes, first visit to praxis , community living and the gradual unfolding of all the diverse elements of life here in Argentina: the extraordinary kindness and graciousness of our new Argentine friends, the food, the music, the vibrancy of the city, the physical beauty of the surrounding countryside; also the complex social, economic and political realities that shape everyday life here. All of it.

We have also become more aware of our complicated, ambiguous status as extranjeros. We have come here in part to help our students learn (and to learn ourselves!) what it means to accompany and be accompanied by others, and to do so in a country, culture and language not our own. Any one of those ways of being “Other” might make this task seem not only ambitious, but presumptuous. Yet one of the joys of being part of this program has been witnessing the way our students have responded to this challenge. How generously they have opened themselves to their experience here. How responsive they have been to the challenges and opportunities they were given. How vulnerable they have allowed themselves to become to a place and people that were, at first, almost completely unknown to them.

Not that they have not struggled at times. No one has been unaffected by the recurring waves of uncertainty and disorientation well-known to anyone who has lived abroad. A lot of things just don’t seem to make any sense (the names of things in the farmacia; the ever-changing bus routes; the way dinner-time and bed-time seem almost interchangeable; the free-wheeling life of dogs on the streets). There are unexpected bouts of fatigue and homesickness. An urge to seek refuge in the familiar. Over time these feelings dissipate; but they never go away completely. And this is a big part of the growth and stretching that happens in this kind of experience. You gradually learn to relinquish your own idea of how the world is supposed to work. And accept that another way is possible. It isn’t easy. But its good for you!

That’s a big part of what we have learned this year—being here has been good for us, and for our students. We hope, in time, that the communities who have opened their doors so generously to us, and the colleagues who have been so generous in their work with us, will also be able to say that their experience of us, and the program, has been good, is good. Perhaps they already do. But we are still so new here. Looking back and yet barely beginning.

Along with our students, we are still trying to wrap our minds around all that has transpired this year, how we have been touched and changed by this experience. It is not easy. Maybe it is not even possible. So we share stories, memories of our time together. We do our best to stay in touch, to help each other navigate the different transitions (going home after such a big experience can be challenging), to regard one another with the love and affection we have come to feel for each other during the time we have spent together. That in itself is a gift.

Still, it is not just about us, or even about our students. Casa de la Mateada is about this country, this city, its barrios, the people we are coming to know in the praxis , at the university, in the kioskos and panaderias, on the buses, in the streets. Their well-being has become important to us (as our own well-being has so clearly become important to them, much to our astonishment). And we try to express this in whatever way we can. Mostly by paying attention, by opening ourselves to their lives, and to their realities. Trying to understand what it means to practice accompaniment. Doing what we can to stand together with them. This is a simple thing. But it is not always easy to know how to enact it. We are learning by doing. By feel. By continuing to respond to what unfolds before us.

Often we feel our own helplessness, especially in relation to the larger social, economic and political currents moving through this country. The country is suffering through an acute economic crisis. Nor is there any clear sense of when or whether a way forward will be found. On the ground, prices for food, rent, and services keep going up. Life feels hard, the future uncertain. Of course, life here is not completely defined by these problems. Families gather for Sunday asados; friends meet in the park to drink mate and talk; the distinctive courtesies that mark ordinary daily life here still pertain; and the famous Argentine talent for improvisation is on more or less continuous display. Of course.

Still, day-to-day life here is not easy. Nor is it easy to imagine the way ahead.

For us and for our students, these realities complicate the question of what it means for us to practice solidarity and accompaniment. In many key respects, not least by our U.S. citizenship and our relative social and economic privilege, we are insulated from the difficulties facing ordinary Argentines. We don’t stand altogether on the same ground as they do. Even as we seek to engage with Argentina and to stand with our Argentine friends in relationships characterized by mutuality and reciprocity, we recognize and feel this difference. What does it mean, in light of this, for us to practice solidarity, to stand with others?

This not an easy question to answer. Nor should it be. In fact, it is probably good for us that it remains a live question, and that it continues to inform the daily work of our program. It helps us to proceed with greater openness and humility, to recognize how much we don’t know, how much we still have to learn.

We feel intensely the wonder and gift it has been for us to live in this beautiful, amazing, complex country. Even amidst the challenges and the struggles, we feel this. Nowhere is this clearer than in the small scale of day-to-day human interactions, in the kindling of friendship, in the simple practice of paying attention to one another. Here we catch glimpses of something immensely valuable for all of us: the emerging sense that we do indeed belong to one another.

Krista (new)By Krista Chinchilla.

We gathered around the CASA de la Mateada staff members and I felt dumbfounded as we went through our weekly avisos (check-ins): NPR reports to keep us updated on the news, the schedule for the upcoming week, and food and transportation stipends. “It’s already March?!” I found myself thinking. Time is flying and Argentina has been an incredible teacher. There is so much I’ve already experienced, but there are a few things that really stand out to me when I think about what I yearn to implement into my daily life.

I had always seen service as ‘helping’ another. Now, I can see the type of hierarchy that goes into this mentality; it denotes a kind of superiority and inferiority between me and another person. Accompaniment is one of the pillars of the CASA program, which I hoped would go right along with transforming my definition of (and, more importantly, how I acted out) ‘service.’ I liked the idea of accompanying another more than the ‘helping’ perspective on service, but there was still something that didn’t fully click. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint it, so I ignored it and hoped my time in Argentina would clear things up for me. After all, we’re here to simply be there with people, which didn’t really make much sense to me. What does “being there with others” even mean? It seemed so…useless. But here’s where some really great people come into the picture.

Soon after the end of our orientation, we were introduced to most of the women who work in a jardín (kindergarten) in Nuestro Hogar III, a small city in Córdoba. This jardín is one of our praxis sites; it is a space that also functions as a type of community center for various activities for those who live in Nuestro Hogar III. The women eagerly greeted each member of our cohort with besos (kisses on the cheek). While we are a smaller cohort, we were still about nine people walking into their daily lives. “Tienen hambre? Ya desayunaron?” “Are you hungry? Have you have breakfast yet?” they asked as they prepared mate and sliced some bread. We spent the day charlando (talking) and, yes, simply being there. Without fail, whenever we return, we’re greeted the same way: with eager eyes, excited words, welcoming faces and sometimes some dancing.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEncuentro. It is a word and an idea rich with meaning here in Argentina. To ‘meet’ another, to feel his or her presence, is a beautiful, mysterious thing in any place, any culture. But something all of us have noticed since our arrival here is how seriously (though also playfully) Argentines take their encuentros. Especially the first moments. Whether it is a chance greeting of a friend on the street, or arriving at someone’s home, or meeting someone for the first time,  you feel the extraordinary care and attention that is given to such moments. And not only to the first moment, but to the entire encounter (we often marvel as we walk or drive down the street how much time Argentines seem to spend in cafes, sitting and talking with their friends). 

You feel it first on your cheek, as you kiss and are kissed by the other. And if it is a meeting involving several persons, as often happens with our students, everyone kisses everyone. No exceptions. No matter how many you are. When you arrive and when you part from one another. A social nicety you say? Yes, in part. And, no, it is not always easy to judge how sincere those besos are (an Argentine friend reminded us once–with a smile in her eye as she said it: “just because we kiss you doesn’t mean we like you.” Ok, we have been warned.

Still, the feeling you have most often in such moments is of the simple warmth of the gesture. As you bend forward to give and receive those kisses, time slows down a little. There is no rushing through it. It takes as long as it takes. And, often, you find yourself smiling in the midst of the exchange. It is playful. Sweet. Intimate.

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Bienvenidos to our new students!

It is a pleasure to introduce to you the students participating in Casa de la Mateada for Spring 2014 (well, North American Spring–here we are still in high summer, and soon to be heading into Autumn). We are still getting to know one another, but already we can tell this is going to be a wonderful cohort: they are open, curious, adventuresome, good-humored, and willing to enter fully into all that is unfolding before them here in Córdoba. In the weeks and months to come, you will be hearing more about them, and from them, concerning their life here; their adventures, their struggles, their learning, whatever emerges as significant and meaningful for them. For now, here is a brief introduction to each of our seven new students–based on interviews the students did with one another and also composed by them. Enjoy!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbbey King is a sophomore at Regis University in Denver, Colorado studying Peace and Justice, as well as History. Having lived in Denver for her entire life, she excited to spend time in Córdoba, Argentina this semester. She is particularly drawn to the Praxis experience, as she feels it is an ideal model for service. Abbey loves the outdoors, especially spending her time hiking and enjoying the mountains, but she also loves exploring new cities. One of her goals is to develop fluency in Spanish sarcasm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdrianna Frazier is an English major and Dance minor at Loyola Marymount University. She is the most fun-loving, adorable, and caring young woman you will probably meet. Her favorite subject in high school was mathematics, but somehow she became an English major (probably because she loves reading so much). She is a food enthusiast; her favorites being Mexican food and fruit. A fun fact about Adrianna is that she is a Starbucks Gold member and would drink a Starbucks hot chocolate every morning if she could. Adrianna is most excited about learning Spanish while being in Argentina and getting to spend time at her Praxis site.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMichelle Almanza is a Psychology major and Spanish and Dance double minor at Loyola Marymount University. She loves to eat bread, which is great in the Argentine culture. Michelle enjoys enthusiastically diving into a bowl of chocolate, or really any dessert, but also likes being active, especially doing yoga. She loves to spend time with her three-year-old niece, Dalia (Most people don’t know that Michelle loves spending time with kids). She’s also looking forward to building good relationships while she is in Argentina.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKrista Chinchilla is a Psychology and Theology double major at Loyola Marymount University. Her favorite activity is swimming. Although she is from Guatemala, some may mistake her as British because of her unhealthy obsession with coffee/tea and scones. She also loves frozen yogurt and enjoys cheesy puns. Krista has two younger sisters, whom she loves and cares for very much. She is excited to work and spend time with her Praxis community while in Argentina, and is very much looking forward to continuing to travel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACoco Freling is currently a sophomore Business Marketing and Economics Major at Loyola Marymount University.  Coco is a spontaneous, intelligent and fun-loving hipster cowgirl from Dallas (D-Town) Texas. She has practiced ballet for 17 years and enjoys free styling to hip-hop from her middle school days. An avid traveler, one of Coco’s most memorable moments is snorkeling in the Red Sea. Coco is excited to explore Córdoba and its rich culture. She is intrigued about being in Córdoba during a time of economic upheaval, and plans to learn more about agriculture in Argentina.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASavannah Varela is a sophomore Psychology major at the Loyola Marymount University. Savannah has been to over ten countries, including France, Belgium, England, and Ireland. Needless to say, she is excited to be in Argentina. In addition to immersing herself in the Córdoba culture, Savannah is looking forward to her praxis site, getting to know and learn from the people she will meet there. She hopes to learn Spanish fluently so that she may be sassy in (at least) two different languages. She is secretly a gangster and loves listening to music, especially Wu-Tang. Savannah is a Southern California native and hopes to live there once she graduates from college.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMolly Egilsrud is the senior most member of our cohort, a junior at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. studying Science, Technology, & International Affairs with a concentration in Energy & the Environment. She is a native of St. Louis, Missouri and loves the Cardinals, “the greatest baseball team in the world” (apparently she is also slightly delusional…), red meat, scrapbooking, and Catholic theology. A typical American college student, she likes to “hang out with people” and she is thrilled to be in Argentina so that she can absorb as much language and culture as possible.