10 Weeks in Buenos Aires

“To be or not to be… that is the question.”  I didn’t even know that this was a Shakespearean quote until I was learning the verb “to be” in Spanish. The reference we were using had used that quote and had gone on to give various examples of the use of the verb “to be” in the Spanish forms of “ser” and “estar”. By the way as I write this piece, I would like to send out a special thank you note to our Spanish teacher while we were in Argentina. Sussy is her name (she is also Santi’s mum) and what was so great about this woman was that she always went out of her way to make us feel at home and every single one of those three times a week we went to her house to have the lesson, there wasn’t a day we ever missed a cup of tea and sometimes we even stayed for dinner. Not forgetting the most important thing she did for us – Vision and I –teaching us Spanish. The first few days were a bit difficult to get by seeing as the only Spanish I knew was Hola! And why does the language even have those weird upside down question marks and exclamation marks at the beginning of sentences? I still have no answer to this question. Sussy said it’s just how the language is. Anyway, 10 weeks later, I can speak quite a bit of Spanish and I can even understand more or less what people are talking about but y’all have to speak a little slower, ey?! I promised her I will go back to Argentina with mi marido (Spanish for: my husband) and I intend to keep that promise. So, dear future husband, we already have one destination to travel to!!
Dear reader, all this began around the time we had exams last semester (in March 2015). I had but one dream, to go abroad and have a great time.Honestly, this was plan B. Plan A was to go to Asia but that didn’t pan out and my heart was in pieces when I got the news that I wasn’t going. Anyway, I think that might have been the best thing that happened, although these were not my exact thoughts at the time. This is where I concur with Lavinia who once had as a status on her WhatsApp profile that we live our lives forwards but we understand them backwards. This, my friend, to mean that it is only now that I can appreciate the fact that Plan A didn’t work because otherwise I would never have had some of the best ten weeks of my life.
The journey to Argentina was one filled with challenges of its own. The visa, accommodation stories, my travel companion being left behind leaving me to travel alone. For this last event, it was especially hard for Vision who had to delay her trip by three days. You imagine yourself going to the airport at 5 am for a flight at 8.30 am only to be told (that same morning without even a prior hint that something such as this could come up) that you were allocated a cargo seat and you can consequently not travel at the expected time. And then… it was a public holiday on Monday and the airline offices would understandably be closed on that day. It was crazy but I am glad that she weathered the storm and managed to come eventually.
It was a time of growth in my life. Let’s talk about how I wasn’t much of a reader and how I managed to get myself to finish 3 books. These seemed like too many for me because I just wasn’t disciplined in this area. Previously, I had been reading for a very long time, without much success, the book, “Americanah” (thank you Jolene for letting me have that book for like 4 months, you’re the best). I read only 10 or so pages every day. I wasn’t passionate about it.
This changed and I wanted to be one of those people that read things other than Critical Thinking, Economics & Accounting. So, as I was in this beautiful place, I decided to change this situation. I began to read everyday after dinner. I made small goals, like reading 50 pages every night. Sometimes I carried the book with me for the bus ride. I basically made use of this ‘free time’. Let me tell you, good people, there won’t ever be time labelled as ‘free time’, you have to learn to multi-task. And you don’t have to be doing all these crazy things together. It can just be as simple as reading while waiting to meet someone, or reading a few pages while listening to music. Put down the phones a moment, you’ll learn so much that you miss while you are so absorbed looking at your screens. That WhatsApp message can be replied later. Anyway, so I read 3 books and I can say that this was a remarkable achievement for me- who never reads. I got to learn many new things, a lot more vocabulary (this is one of thebest ways you get to improve your English by the way). I would like to thank Santi who pushed me and challenged me to read more, not forgetting the good books he recommended; one of which I speak of shortly.
I managed to learn a few things about life itself from the classic Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. A brief overview is in order. This is the story of a young girl who grows up in an environment full of misery, hopelessness and hatred. Her own family despises her and does not value who she is. She is embattled and eventually leaves the house and goes on to boarding school. Here, she is thought of as strange by the other girls who shun her and condemn her to eternal solitude. This being the case, one of the girls is the exception and decides to befriend and be there for her, no matter the opinions of the rest of their colleagues. This girl eventually dies and leaves Jane at her bed side. Jane eventually grows up to be an industrious, tenacious and brilliant young woman who is later employed to be a teacher at the same school. She leaves and becomes a tutor at a young girl’s house where she meets the love of her life. Their story is filled with trials and great pleasures. They lose touch after she runs away and leaves him with the fear that the man would be married to another lady. If only there had been communication, she would have learnt that this manwas not to be married to the other girl and it was a romance destined to fail even before it could begin. She eventually returns to Mr. Rochester who is now blind and without an arm. This is not a barrier to the love they once shared and they get together again and got married.
From this story, I learnt that not only do we have the responsibility to continuously develop our character but we must have the courage to fight for what we hold dear. We have to believe in our power to make others happy although we shouldn’t be disheartened that some people fail to realise the good we do for them seeing as the reward for this need not come from other humanbeings but it eventually does come from God.In life, you have to hold on to those things you truly cherish. Storms and periods of anxiety happen a lot in this life and we have to be careful not to lose sight of what is truly important.
Let’s talk about the Argentine cuisine and how everything has tonnes and tonnes of sugar in it. I will tell you about dulce de lechewhich is a caramel filled spread (think of one million eclairs sweets all melted together) that they use for pastries, for toast and even just for eating straight from the can. You choose. The best use for me though, was in cake. I didn’t like it much the first few days. I thought it was too sugary (Vision disagreed, of course. She has a sweet tooth that one!)but we fell in love and I have never looked back. It’s really good and it’s even better that you can make it at home. It is a long and tedious process though; you need to boil milk and sugar together in a boiling pan or sufuria, if you may and you know it is ready when the whole mixture turns brown. Typically, it ought to take 6 hours and this is really for the patient at heart. The Argentines also love meat so I guess Kenyans have that in common. The only thing is that their nyamachomaisn’t as well done as ours but you get used to eating it with the water and bits of bloodied parts.Chorizos were one of my favourite things as well. They are small, spicy sausages (about half the size of our normal sausages) and they can be fried or roasted. They are eaten with a special kind of bread called choripan which is like hotdog bread, just really tiny ones. They were really good. The cuisine here was manageable and I eventually began to really enjoy it. Santi, Sussy and her daughter Catalina were also really happy to try some food from Kenya that we made them while we were there.
Something else that was really impressive about this country is their transport system. First, they have the Subewhich is a card where the passenger loads up some money (around 50 pesos per week for regular bus users) and this card is used whenever the passenger gets on to the bus. There is a machine right next to the driver who also doubles up as a fare collector. You only just tell him where you are going and place your card on the machine which deducts the necessary fees. This is very effective as you don’t have to go around looking for the conductor to give you back your change as it typically happens in Kenya. The buses themselves have specifically designated seats for the old people, pregnant women and there are also sections for disabled people. This ensures that anyone and everyone can use the buses. Oh, and those people who have retired only pay one peso for the bus ride no matter where they are going. The normal rate is between 3-4 pesos. The Subte (subway) is also quite popular there. It is preferred because it is faster and although a bit more expensive than the buses, it is still very popular. I think we can borrow some of these good things from Argentina. We can save time, money and other resources. And most of all, we are going to be happier, not so angry every time a matatu/bus conductor disappears with your money.
Well, that’s just a tiny snap shot of the time I spent in Argentina.

Doris Matu (21)