Thursday, September 10, 2009

I did cry for you, Argentina!

Since leaving Argentina a month ago, life has been a whirlwind. I spent a week with my brother and father in Mexico. Afterwards I went to Denver where I spent time with my mom and stepdad for the first time in 9 months. I think that is the longest I have gone without being with my family. I spent the days picking raspberries, going to fresh springs, taking walks and being fed delicious meals. My friends from Denver are all on amazing paths that are allowing them to nourish their passions and indulge in their dreams. It’s comforting to be around people that have known you your whole life. I am very lucky to have them.

Upon coming back to Cambridge, I have been immediately swept back into life here. Between unpacking boxes, choosing classes and catching up with friends, the first week has flown by. In this time, I have reflected on all I learned while in Argentina and how the experience has shaped my goals for the next year and beyond.

Professionally, I learned that I would be able to survive the working world in Latin America. I know this a huge generalization, but having never worked in the region before, it was validating to feel competent and supported. I also realized that my view of social justice is quite broad and while I very clearly identify as a feminist and someone who believes in the equality of women, I want to work on issues that address the whole community---be they young people, women or any member of a community who is marginalized. I also know that I need to be part of a large organization. I love being around people and so I either need many people around me, or I need to be deeply connected to a community. I work well in teams and enjoy receiving feedback in my work. I can be very motivated to do things on my own, but I especially enjoy when I can work in a collective manner.

Socially, it was an amazing summer. The friends I made will be in my life forever. I was lucky enough to meet people who have diverse interests and talents, and a curiosity about the world. Several of us traveled from the south of the country all the way to the north and in between, we ate delicious food at oui oui, danced at Museum and Hype until six in the morning, had “culture night”, enjoyed sunset parties with mate, walked the streets of San Telmo, mastered the game of dudo, hosted potlucks and generally had one of the most wonderful times of my life. The friends I made will be in my life forever.

I probably won’t continue this blog since my “adventures in argentina” have come to an end, but I want to especially thank Nancy Klavans and the Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP) at the Harvard Kennedy School for this experience. Without their support, I would have never had this opportunity. The opportunity to travel somewhere so far away and work with not one, but two organizations on issues that are important to the world and close to my heart, while also meeting some of the most impressive, creative and fun people I have ever known. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Finishing work

Yesterday was my official last day at my internship. I turned in my final documents, said goodbye to my co-workers and closed that chapter of my experience. This has been a very insightful summer for me, I have learned about where I can foresee my future leading me, and what I need at an organization to feel fulfilled. I had a very interesting experience with ACIJ (the legal organization) when I was asked by the villas (slums) team to work with them on personal narrative, core values and how to work in a collective model. This request stemmed from a presentation I did for the whole organization about 2 weeks ago.

I spoke with the project coordinator briefly about their goals and we planned to meet the following day at her house with the team and on of the directors of ACIJ. Since starting school again, I hadn’t really done much work in communities (a few surveys in the villas in Argentina, a little work with Kellogg). Because this academic year was so quantitatively focused (from my non-quant perspective), I had many doubts about my skill set and where I can work in the world. I was not called upon often to work in communities and help organizations with visioning, strategic planning and using collective leadership. I had not been using these skills and was nervous to call upon them again.

Luciana had invited us to her house to meet and when we had all arrived, we agreed on a time commitment and went over our goals for our time together. In addition to those mentioned above, the team wanted to hear about community organizing because they are doing a lot more organizing in the communities. I had asked them ahead of time to prepare a 2-minute personal narrative, thinking about why they were called to do this work, when they could be working as lawyers in a private firm. They each told there story (going way over 2 minutes, as any Argentine would) and we worked on identifying which aspects of the narrative stuck with people or caused us to feel a connection with them. It was interesting with the Director because it was very easy for him to talk about the organization and choosing to found it because he had been given so many opportunities, but he resisted actually finding a personal grounding to his work. I pushed him to identify a person, or an experience that gave him this drive and eventually, a story came out that clearly demonstrated where his interest in social justice derived. The themes of all the personal narratives were movement, freedom and a search that occurred in all their different backgrounds. These themes caused us to begin a conversation about the interconnection between freedom and responsibility and fate vs. destiny. To sit and have these conversations, while drinking mate, was very meaningful for me because I felt like my ability to facilitate this space crossed cultural and geographic boundaries. As someone who is planning on working and living outside my own community (however I might define that), it was an important realization to have.

Next, we worked on identifying group values and interestingly enough, everyone on the team (except the director) chose happiness as a value they wanted to embody and promote in their work. To have 4 people choose the same value from a list of over 20 demonstrated how in line they all are with the goals of the group. On the other hand, we spoke with the director about the pressure this puts on the organization to provide said “happiness” to its employees. It was very interesting and inspiring to see how much they all care about their work and that their happiness is interconnected to the work they do. Additionally, it was inspirational to see how much they want to increase the happiness of others---now to figure out how to do that!

Leaving Luciana’s house that night, I was really grateful to the team for letting me be part of the process and also to feel like I had something to offer to the group. It has been a long time (or feels that way) since I felt like I had some concrete ways in which to help. I was also very grateful for having taken Marshall Ganz’ Organizing class in the spring, because it gave me the language to speak about the work. I used many of his terms and was able to articulate some “best practices” and how to connect your personal story to the work you choose to do. That day was a highlight of my time in Argentina and gave me the opportunity to connect my past work experience, my academic work at Kennedy and my present reality.

And then I went north!

I am returning from spending the last 6 days traveling up to the north of Argentina (the Salta and Jujuy provinces), where we rented a car and drove through many dramatic landscapes. Because this area of the country is closer to Bolivia, you notice a clear influence and it felt much more “Latin American” than Buenos Aires. There is an energy in the street, people eat at the outdoor vendors, and stores and restaurants are always closed for the siesta hours. The landscape is mainly dry, filled with cacti and very dusty, but the colors of the mountains are stunning—there is a Hill of Seven Colors and it truly lives up to its name. The houses are built out of adobe and it appears that the people continue to sustain themselves using artisan crafts and through tourism. In the southern part of the north (confusing, I know), the main industry is wine and there are vineyeards, both large and small throughout the region. They specialize in a type of wine called “patero” which is made once a year when they bring in many people to stomp the grapes.

We drove on dirt roads most of the time and went through a part known as the “camino de los artesanos” (road of the artisans). The people here weave using enormous looms and they specialize in bright red ponchos with black trim. A claim to fame is that the last Pope wore one of the ponchos at an event. You stop along the road and people invite you into their workshops, where you can see their wares and watch them do the actual weaving. The first people we saw were a sweet old, couple who were very happy to chat and share about their work. On one hand, it felt contrived to me for us to be enter their space when we all know the real point is to sell a shawl or blanket, but on the other hand, it is probably very nice for them to have people come through and they get to actually keep the profits of their labor without using middlemen. Those situations are always hard for me to read.

We drove the salt flats and took many pictures, playing with the lack of depth perception. As a salt lover, I enjoyed tasting the salt and being surrounded by it. The roads in the north took us up mountains, twisting and turning, oftentimes around blind corners and close to the rocks. One road in particular was amusing because it was a one lane highway (I mean one lane in total!) and it took us around mountains and because it was dark, we couldn’t see anything, but we could sense that we were surrounded by a jungle. Every once in awhile, we would have to stop because the lane was blocked by loose cows and horses. It is unclear whether these animals had owners and were wild or if they were simply let loose to graze. It was incredible to come across these beautiful horses in pitch-black night and just wait to let them cross. On this road, there would occasionally appear a line painted in the middle, indicating that it was two lanes, however the road did not widen in any way. We deduced that there must have been some policy around certain kilometers being two lanes, so they simply added the line, took some clever pictures and voila! Two lane highways! However, since the space itself did not increase, it was simply amusing and not very useful.

Coming back to the city, I now have one week before I leave Buenos Aires. I find myself sad to leave the city. It has been an incredible experience filled with huge life lessons.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Getting in trouble with the park rangers...

To avoid falling too far behind in my blogging duties, I am going to put this up before my Patagonia trip is over. My friend, Nathan, and I set off from Buenos Aires on Tuesday afternoon. We had decided to fly down to El Calafate to visit the glaciers and then take buses up to where we hoped to find whales and penguins (I have now been informed that there will be no penguins. Too bad!) El Calafate is a small town, no street lights and one grocery store, but it is filled with hostels and tour guides that will take you to the glaciers.

We set off with a tour company to the glaciers the next day and since it was so early, we got to see the sun rise over the mountains and lakes that surrounded us. It was quite spectacular and I will post pictures very soon. The glacier I was going to see is called Perrito Moreno, in honor of the guy who “discovered” it. It is 60 meters high and more than 30 kilometers long. This glacier is considered stable because it is building up new ice at the same rate that it loses ice. First, we took a boat ride so that you could come very close to the glacier. It was an iridescent blue color and the cracks created formations that were absolutely beautiful. We were impressed with that and then we were taken up to the balconies where you can see the majority of the glacier and how far it stretches up into the mountain range. It was not super cold and from up there, you could hear the ice “calving” and breaking off into pieces. It was almost like hearing thunder and the acoustics were impressive.

After sitting on the balconies and taking pictures of every view that we could, Nathan and I decided to sneak off the path and go down to where we could actually touch the edge of the ice. We scurried down, assuming that we weren’t supposed to be doing it, but doing it anyway since we hadn’t seen any signs. We walked past the red rocks that surround the area and approached the edge. Up close, the blue of the ice is stunning and when you press your hand against the ice, you can feel the power it contains from being attached to the rest of the glacier. It was surreal to be so close. I licked the ice and it tasted a little rocky, but also pretty delicious since you knew it was such an impressive feat to be so close. As we were preparing to make our way back up to the tourist section, we heard a voice yelling to us to get “afuera”. We had been caught! The park ranger obviously chastised us for going off the path and then made me delete all my pictures!! This was in return for not fining us and confiscating the camera, so I guess I came out a winner, but it was painful to delete the pictures. He did it because then all of you would have seen the pictures, been jealous, decided to come down here and then it would have been out of control. So, while I understand his reasoning, it hurt. It took awhile for me to get over it, but I am doing better now.

So, that was my glacier story.

Today we took a 3 hour bus trip to El Chaltèn, a one street town that sits at the base o the Fi9tz Roy mountain range. The Cerro Fitz Roy is 3441 meters high and is a steep rock formation. We hiked for 2 hours up to a lake where you can see the mountains and imagine what it would be like to scale Fitz Roy. We were lucky enough to get a nice day where the sun shone on us, the sky was clear enough to see the rocks and the wind was not too strong. Sitting up there, I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to go on these trips. I imagined being an explorer back in the day and what it must have taken to set off without knowing what you would find. It was wonderful to do some hiking and run through the forests with trees that look pre-historic with their spindly, grey arms. After some warm, pumpkin soup at the local restaurant, we headed back to El Calefate and now I am waiting to catch a 3am bus to Puerto Madryn to visit the dolphins. It has truly been an amazing trip already, and I am not even half-way through. I have less than 3 weeks left in Argentina and it is crazy to think that my reality will once again change so drastically. This has been such a full experience.

Next time I will post up pictures of the journey and share some thoughts about my most meaningful days at work. And now, off to the bus!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harvard club, a la Buenos Aires

All images are courtesy of Danny Alexander, photographer extraordinaire!
(and I forgot to mention that I eat about 2 kilos of mandarinas a day. I am in heaven!)

With my first tango class under my belt, a trip to the pampas and a new apartment in San Telmo, I am beginning to feel like a real Argentine! I find myself surprisingly happy to be here. It is amazing to have weekends free to wander the city, sit in cafes and not be constantly worrying about the next paper we have to write. I guess this is what it will be like when I enter the “real world” again? I got a glimpse of what reality will be like after graduating from Harvard when I attended a Harvard Club de Argentina luncheon last week. I had received the invitation through a roundabout way, after meeting someone at the office of a professor I was interviewing and then finding out that the person who invited me was married to a woman with whom I had been corresponding before I got here. I think I would need to draw some sort of diagram for you to truly understand the connections, but suffice to say that we all finally connected and I met the alumni of Argentina.

I walked into a beautiful old building that had carved wood ceilings and marble floors. Men in suits were milling around as waiters offered you wine and tiny foods. I, of course, was not wearing a suit and stood there awkwardly for a few moments. After paying my 80 pesos (more than I have paid for any meal since arriving in Argentina), I was immediately introduced to an undergraduate from Harvard who was also from Mexico and helping to organize the intern program for under-grads. I won’t spend too much time on him, but suffice to say, I have yet to meet someone so pretentious and arrogant. After a meal of steak and salad (or rather just salad), a prestigious publishing magnate spoke about his experiences as a journalist, the recent election and the relationship between politics and journalism. It was interesting to be in a room where there were more than 50 men and only 5 women (two of whom work in some capacity for Harvard). The only nugget of wisdom I garnered was the idea that to have “free press”, a country needs to be highly economically developed and financially secure. I am not sure if that is true, but it would be interesting to hear what people think.

After giving out my card to several people and networking it up, I escaped to the streets where I wandered up 9 de Julio, nine lanes wide, the Avenida thought to be the widest street in the world. I was quickly surrounded by people as I walked the streets and it felt comfortable to be in this huge city.

Today I ran in the reserve which is close to my new house and was created when the Costanera Sur landfill was abandoned in 1984, seeds in the silt took root and resulted in an area that is now home to many birds, reptiles and small mammals. It borders el Rio de la Plata whose waves lap the shore and create a lovely environment for a run. It reminded me of learning that the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea was a spectacular natural zone because of the lack of human contact for the past fifty years. They only know this from satellite pictures that show the abundance of biodiversity. And if tensions between the two Korea`s continue, the DMZ will certainly be an interesting experiment to watch.

Last week I ran to Recoleta Cemetery which is the resting place to all the elite of Buenos Aires, as well as, Evita Peron. The cemetery is very similar to those I saw in Europe with it’s narrow lanes and intricate mausoleums. As I left, there was a funeral procession beginning. People wearing fur coats and large wool scarves hugged each other and were filled with solemn silence. It reminded me of being in Morocco and witnessing a funeral procession as I sat in a restaurant. It was incredible in that the people all sang together and as the process went down the street, everyone from the shops and restaurants stopped what they were doing and joined in the chanting. It was an unforgettable experience. How lucky I have been to travel the world and witness the differences between societies and how life and death will always bring us together.

There is still so much to share, but I need to begin making lasagna for a dinner we are hosting. I will try to write more this week to bring you all up to date, but I wanted to end with a list of interesting things I have noted since arriving in Argentina. There are not as many as when I was in Oman or Japan, but I did my best.

• Dog walkers: this is mainly in Palermo, where you will see people walking over 12 dogs at one time, an incredible site and these people are really talented at not getting tangled up.

• There is one tree that holds about 30 parrots in one of the Palermo parks. I don’t know why, but it was an interesting thing to come across.

• Antique keys: they still use the old keys and while it is very quaint, they are super heavy!

• People are very polite in lining up for the bus. Something I have never seen in Mexico or anywhere outside Asia.

• Dulce de leche: I just want to dedicate a little love to this amazing caramel textured amazingness. It makes me happy everyday that I get ice cream of this flavor!

• Matè: People here really do drink matè all the time and after seeing how late every stays at clubs, I think this is the only way work gets done in this country.

I hope all is well with all of you and you are enjoying your summers. Next time I will write about last weekend at the estancia with the cows and whether I am considering leaving Kennedy School to become a professional tango dancer. Anything is possible! Miss you all!

Monday, June 29, 2009

not one---but TWO internships!

As promised, I am going to write a little about my work and all that I have been involved with over the last few weeks. I came to work with la Fundacíon Mujeres en Igualdad, an organization that works on issues of transparency, anti-corruption and gender-based violence. A claim to fame: they were the first NGO in Argentina to have a website!

My project with M.E.I. is to write a comparative report on gender violence and equality laws throughout Latin America and come up with implementation recommendations for Argentina. In March of this year, Argentina passed a law against gender-based violence. This is an important distinction from domestic violence laws because it broadens the definition and includes the workplace and the public sphere. While many countries in Latin America have very progressive laws, the implementation is rarely scaled up because of a lack of monetary resources.

Argentina has a history of strong women’s rights work, being the first country to pass a quota law mandating that 30% of all candidates must be female and must be serious, electable candidates. This has resulted in much greater participation by women and it is clearly visible throughout the country. We had elections here yesterday and it was impressive to see the quantity and quality of female candidates.

However there is still a strong machista culture that pervades throughout society, particularly in the media. With this new law, there is hope that women will better understand their rights and the incidences of violence against women will be reduced.

In 1999 M.E.I. brought a lawsuit against the largest ice cream chain in Buenos Aires, Freddo. In this case, they alleged that Freddo discriminated against women by refusing to hire them in their shops. This was the first case brought on grounds of equality following the new constitution of 1994. They were successful in the case and Freddo was ordered to hire women or face a daily fine. And the lawyers who brought the case to court….well, that brings me to the second organization with whom I am working!

La Asociación Civil para la Igualdad y Justicia (ACIJ) has a mission to contribute to the improvement and strengthening of Argentina institutions, promote the respect of fundamental rights and work to defend the most vulnerable groups in society. My roommate in Cambridge, Marissa, was working with them this summer and I heard they needed some additional help in their Program Development and Fundraising department, so I offered to come in a few days a week. They were the lawyers that brought the case with M.E.I against Freddo, so it was an easy transition to work with both organizations.

With ACIJ, I have been working closely with a woman named Gillian who is a Stanford alum and who has been in Latin America the last few years. We are working on evaluating their fundraising strategy and find new streams of funding. It is difficult for Argentina to compete for funding in Latin America because it is viewed as a country that is fairly well off in comparison to Guatemala, Bolivia or Mexico. My work with Kellogg Foundation is helping me evaluate their work and help them position themselves with foundations and other funders. It has also been really interesting to look at all these different funders and see where they working and how I might be able to collaborate in the future.

In addition, I have spent two days with ACIJ working in the villas (slums) of Buenos Aires. In one, we were doing data collection around the transportation in the villas and how the children get to school. There is a paucity of schools in these neighborhoods and children often have to travel very far to attend schools. Many public services are denied in these communities and after being in Buenos Aires, it’s quite fuerte. Many of these kids are going to end up illiterate and then what kind of chances will they have. I think I am beginning to understand that interventions need to occur at a really young age to have the greatest likelihood of success. It made me realize the importance of the work my mother has done her life with small children. The parents only seem to try up to a point and then they too give up---and the system certainly does nothing to help the process. They almost make it harder at times.

I spent another day collecting data in another community around the cleanliness of their water and the connection to health risks. They are not connected to the city water and so get their water from wells. However, these wells are greatly contaminated by the tanneries and other industry in the area. The people are drinking water that is highly dangerous and can increase your risk of cancer, miscarriages, and other life-threatening illnesses. Even within this community, there is a big distinction between those that can buy water and those that just drink the tap water without even thinking of the consequences. But how do you tell a community that the water they are using is contaminated with the feces of animals?

Marissa is currently working on this case that will be brought against the government that will challenge the court to provide these citizens with a right to clean water. It has been very interesting to learn with her and to actually speak to the people affected by this issue. It is these simple services that we take for granted in other countries that must be greatly defended in others.

Because the election was yesterday, I spent a lot of time in the last few weeks attending panels and debates between the candidates. It got to the point where I knew them by name and everything. I went to one around women’s issues and it was impressive to have the room completely filled. It was standing room only! I attended another debate that was held in a villa (right near Retiro) and it was outside without any microphones and primarily people from Peru and Bolivia.

I feel very lucky to have had all these varied experiences and there are still many more to come! Every day I am learning more about myself and where I can envision my future.

On the social front, I have a close group of friends from the states and Canada and a few porteños. We go dancing a lot, host dinner parties and enjoy laughing together. I am moving to a new apartment on Wednesday and will be moving in with a girl from Canada who also works at ACIJ and attends law school. We are moving to the San Telmo neighborhood that is best known for its narrow cobble-stoned streets and tango bars. It will be nice to explore a new place, but I will miss my neighborhood in Palermo with its tree-lined avenues and enormous parks.

I hope you are all doing well. I miss getting good hugs from my friends and family and can’t wait to see you all!