Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cajeta is not just a flavor of candy in Mexico...

When I arrived in Buenos Aires, I was greeted by my ¨host¨ family who welcomed me with open arms. I was immediately brought into their home, where the mother continuously feeds me, asks me about my day and helps me every step of the way. It has been wonderful to be with a family and be taken care of, rather than being in a hostel without any support network. I am able to understand most of their Spanish, although some words are different, such as, cajeta. In Mexico, cajeta is a caramel candy made from goats’ milk, but after I talked about it with my family, my ¨mother¨ pulled me aside and explained that in Argentina, cajeta is a word often used to describe a woman’s reproductive organs. My first slip-up in Argentina!

I spent one day finding my way to the office of Mujeres en Igualdad (MEI), which lies in the outskirts of the city. Situated in a large house, the office is filled with light and open space to facilitate communication and dialogue between those working. In the back is a courtyard filled with trees and flowers. Aesthetically, it is quite beautiful and clearly demonstrates that Monique, the Executive Director, used to be a painter. While the project I will be working on has not been clearly defined, everyone was very warm and welcoming.

I then spent the next day visiting apartments and trying to find a home. I eventually stumbled across an apartment in Palermo that is owned by an actress. She wants to travel and thus rent out her home in the meantime. She seems slightly disorganized, but loved that I was a Sagittarius, that I had studied theatre and that I was in Buenos Aires to work with a non-profit. I am sure it will all turn out well, but there is always a risk when trying to find a place to live in a strange city.

As a dual citizen of Mexico and the US, I had been told that I didn´t need a visa to get into Paraguay, but because I arrived in Argentina and got my US passport stamped I had some trouble getting in to Paraguay. After talking to the ¨jefe¨, he was willing to let me through, but he would not stamp either of my passports.

And then I was off to Paraguay to attend the conference on Access to Information. This ¨encuentro¨ brought together women from Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. This area, known as ¨la triple frontera¨ is one of the poorer regions in Argentina. There is a lot of movement between the three countries and they seem to share more similarities than differences. The conference was very different from what I have gone to in the US, but it was fascinating to hear the women speak about what they work on in their communities, to share mate with them at all hours of the day and sing karaoke with them in the evenings. I didn´t participate too much, and instead found myself observing, having small conversations with people at mealtimes, and taking the time to think about what I could contribute over the next two months.

During the last session of the weekend, we talked about reproductive health and education and I shared about my experiences with Fenix and the power of peer education. They all found it useful to think of it as a tool to engage their young people, develop leadership and increase sexuality education.

On Sunday evening, we all exchanged email addresses and said goodbye and I began a 6 hour bus ride to Iguazu falls. So a not to make this entry too long, I will save my reflections for the falls until later this week. Suffice to say, this experience has already been incredible, causing me to both question and affirm various beliefs I hold. Having this time to reflect where I come from and where I want to go will surely help guide me over the next year at HKS and in looking for my place in the world.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Venturing forth--from Cambridge to Buenos Aires!

I find myself sitting in the Miami airport, waiting for my flight to Buenos Aires and a little bewildered by all that lies ahead of me. I have never been given an opportunity like this before—to go somewhere, learn about the culture, choose a policy topic of interest and learn all that I can. Having spent the last four days finishing finals and papers and moving from one apartment to another, I am in a surprisingly calm space right now. I have no idea what will happen to me in the next few days, but I am very excited. I’ve been running around so much, that I haven’t had time to worry about what is coming next or how much my universe will completely change over the next 10 weeks.

I am grateful to the Nancy Klavans Fellowship (NGK) for providing the funding to make this experience possible. The NGK fellowship provides support for students to work with a women peace builder and to enhance the academic skills we have gained while at HKS. Additionally, the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) has provided immense support and guidance these last few weeks as I have focused my work and chosen an organization. As a Cultural Bridge Fellow, I am surrounded by nine other Fellows who will be around the world working on pressing issues and applying the skills we have learned at HKS to a real world setting.

This summer I will be working with la Fundacion Mujeres en Igualdad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The vision of M.E.I is to end discrimination against women, by promoting their participation and empowerment in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres. While at M.E.I. I will be looking at the how public policy affects the intersection between political participation and gender equity.

I don’t know where I will be living yet, but I have some family friends with whom I will stay for the first week until I get my bearings and find a place. As a vegetarian, I am a little nervous about coming to a part of the world that is known for its meat. My “host mother” is already worried about what she will feed me. I guess I will have to subsist on dulce de leche gelato! It shouldn’t be too bad.

Once I arrive in Buenos Aires, I will only be there for two days and then I am off to a conference in Paraguay. Then I will take a few days to see IguaƧu Falls and head back early next week. The topic of the conference is “Access to Information and Reproductive Health. It is exciting to know that I will immediately be going into the field and meeting women from Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina who are working on issues of gender equity and civic participation.

They are calling my flight---so I’m off! Stay tuned for weekly updates!