Thursday, June 28, 2012

Exploring Cordoba Capital, Argentina


Taking photos near Plaza Colon


It’s been a week and a half since we moved from the rambunctious life in New York City to the more tranquil and beautiful province of Cordoba. In that time, we’ve been exploring our neighborhood a piece at a time. Fortunately, our parents have been invaluable guides on our journey.

Checking the local supermarkets was our first step. The markets are of the same standards as those in the United States. One of the markets, Hyper Libertad is equivalent to a Walmart (Cordoba has two but I still haven’t  gone to one as of this post). It has an electronics, DVD, music, toy, exercise, hardware, furniture, cyber, clothing, and food department.
There are at least two DVD rental stores in the nearby area as well as various restaurants which offer pizza, pasta, steak, chicken and pastries. You can buy just about anything here. If there is one thing you will never do in Argentina is starve. Food is very affordable. There are also several coffee shops (similar to a cafĂ© in Europe), most of which offer wi-fi.

Tipping in Argentina isn't as common as it is in the United States. Around here you can give your local barber or taxi driver $2 Argentinian Pesos (equivalent to a few U.S. cents) and you’ll find that the locals are quite grateful. Unfortunately, you have to watch out for beggars. They're everywhere. Sometimes they'll hold a door open as you get out of a cab or you hail a taxi, and you find yourself having to pay them a few cents or a peso just to get rid of them. 
I went to a local haircuttery place near my home the other day, and got my haircut for $12 Pesos (Equivalent to $3 US Dollars + $2 pesos in tip). It might not seem like a big deal, but I did it on my own and it can be very intimidating to do anything in Argentina when you’ve been living as an American for 30 years. I truly have a deeper appreciation for foreigners since I’ve moved to Argentina. 
Interior shot of the 4 level mall called Patio Olmos
A few days ago, my mother took us to the mall near Nueva Cordoba called Patio Olmos. It used to be a school, but was later donated and turned into a shopping center. It has four levels. Aside from clothing and shoe stores, Patio Olmos has a movie theater called Hoyt, which offers the latest American film releases. You can either watch them in 3D or regular 2D. You can even watch the movie in English with Spanish subtitles, or dubbed in Spanish. 

On the third level is where the food court is and … WAIT FOR IT! A McDonald’s and a Burger King!!!! Call me an idiot but when I saw those two at the food court I felt a little homesick and at the same time a little relieved. McD’s and Burger King were two of my favorite fast food joints in the States. Seeing them brought me back to a scene in a movie I once saw called “Not Without My Daughter”, where Sally Fields is trying to escape from Iran with her daughter, and at the end of the movie she sees an American flag from the U.S. Embassy and smiles. I know. I’m a sentimental fool. Then again, I only left the U.S. a week and a half ago. Of course I’m going to feel nostalgic. Now back to the mall. On the fourth level is a bowling alley and several arcades and children’s area.


Not too far from the mall is a vast shopping area which spans several blocks. It is breathtaking to see and I’m not sure I can describe it all in one entry. So I’ll save the full description for a future post. All I can say is that it’s the equivalent of Union Square and Manhattan in NYC. There are several stores, clothing, books, restaurants, plazas and a big crowd of people.

El Centro
El Centro near Plaza San Martin
Plaza San Martin
Argentinean Flag in Plaza San Martin
Tour Bus stops by Plaza San Martin
Nueva Cordoba - Outside of Patio Olmos Shopping Center
It costs less than 30 pesos to get Patio Olmos or Nueva Cordoba and another 30 pesos to get back in Taxi fare (That’s the total equivalent of $10 U.S. dollars round trip).
After we got home, my spouse and I decided to order a pizza, but then we realized that neither of us had a cell phone service, or phone line installed yet. So we walked over to the nearest pizzeria and ordered a large mozzarella pizza (known as muzzarella here), with a large order of fries. It cost us $38 pesos ($6.50 U.S. Dollars). My spouse didn’t like the pizza because of the olives they put on top of it and the overpowering cheesy smell, but I thought it was okay. The fries were hot and crunchy too. 

It might not seem like much but I think we’ve taken a lot of steps in the right direction. We've ventured out and explored Cordoba. The currency, customs and language are still a bit of a challenge, but I think we're going to be alright. 

Meeting My Long Lost Argentine Relatives

(I'm the one on the far right)
I haven’t even made it halfway through my first week in Argentina and my mother has informed me that three of my cousins have planned a family dinner. The first thought that crossed my mind was ... OH CRAP!

The only two people I vividly remember before I left Argentina are my maternal grandmother and my uncle Luis. She died about 12 years ago from natural causes. He died in a tragic bus accident at the age of 40. I had no memory of any other family members. Now this entire family wanted to meet me as if I was their version of a celebrity but I was very nervous about the upcoming reunion.

My family and I kept to ourselves when I was growing up in Florida. We didn’t really have a group of friends come over and our families were too far away. I learned to accept this anti-social way of life as normal. Even after I moved out on my own I had a hard time socializing with new people. Now I’m back in the country of my birth after a 35 year absence. Thirteen people are anxious to meet with me and all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole.

First impressions can be fatal if one says the wrong thing and I have the bad habit of really stepping in it. Logic and verbal communication doesn’t always work well with me.

Saturday night came. My cousin Chuly was the first person I met. However, we had stayed in touch by e-mail in the months before my big move to Argentina. I was also introduced to her son, who’s adorable. Then my cousin Sandy and her husband arrived with their son. Finally, my cousin Hugh and his wife arrived with their teenage kids. They were delightful people. Within moments, I felt like I’d known them for years.


 I had some trouble explaining things at first because I think in English first. Then I have to translate it into Spanish. Unfortunately, Argentinean Spanish is a little different than the Spanish I heard growing up in Florida from Cubans and Puerto-Ricans. Argentineans Spanish is a mixture of Spanish with Italian dialect. So when I spoke I could tell there was some confusion but they understood me for the most part.

What I loved the most about my family is that they were very welcoming to my spouse. Right before we ate we got a standing ovation at the dinner table. It felt great!


In the United States I often felt like an outsider. Sure I had friends whom I considered dear to me. Some I even considered family, but I haven’t had the best experiences with those who claimed to be my friend and then stabbed me in the back. What’s more, I don’t have any children (but I’d like to someday either through a surrogate or adoption). So I felt like I was the lone survivor of my family line. But after this family reunion my life no longer feels empty and seeing the next generation of children from my cousins felt great. It made me feel like I was connected to this heritage and these people and I finally stopped feeling alone. 

Ways Eating Habits Differ In Argentina Versus the U.S.



My family has a saying, “You’ll never starve in Argentina”. With so many supermarkets, meat markets and bakeries, I don’t doubt it. The thing I love the most about Argentinean food is the flavor. Everything has such a naturally delicious taste, whether it’s beef, chicken, pork, a banana, apple, grapefruit, cheese, or ice cream.

One thing that sticks out is the fact that products have a longer expiration time than in the United States. A great example is the milk. In the states the milk will last you about two weeks at best. In Argentina the milk lasts for months. You can also cook chicken or meat here, and if well refrigerated, will stay preserved, delicious an edible for a week or perhaps a bit more.
For the average Argentinean household, breakfast consists of tea, Mate, or coffee, and is accompanied with pastries. The most popular is “la media luna”, aka croissant. Lunch is usually a heavier meal than in the United States. The only exception to this is if you’re a student or have a really hectic schedule. Then you’ll find yourself sampling fast food restaurants. Tea time is around 5pm. Then dinner is served anywhere from 8 to 10pm. It’s usually a lighter meal, though not always, and this varies among provinces. By U.S. standards this might seem like an extremely unhealthy way to eat but Argentineans are in relatively good health and they are long lived. My maternal and paternal grandparents for example lived to their mid and late 80’s. My father, who turns 70 this year, looks like he’s in his late 50s, and my mother, who is in her mid 60s, looks like she’s in her mid 50s. I can only hope that by immersing myself in the food and lifestyle of Argentinean life, I will be granted a long healthy life as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How To Survive The Culture Shock in Argentina

The whole experience of moving to Argentina, both on the plane and after I arrived was a huge culture shock. So I’ve added some tips that will hopefully make your travelling, and living experience a little smoother if you move here or simply choose to visit.

Let's start with some tips to make travelling to Argentina easier while avoiding the cultural shock.
 
On the plane
If you’ve never been on an airplane before you need to know that when the plane descends, your ears will pop and hurt like hell. I have no way around this, but I do recommend that you try pinching your nostrils and blowing your nose. This will alleviate some of the discomfort.
At the airport
Stay calm, collected and friendly. Nervousness is seen as a sign that you have something to hide, even if you don't.  
Don’t be a jerk! Just because it's a different culture doesn’t mean that you are any better than they are. Argentineans are quite accommodating and friendly, but don’t be rude or they will respond in kind.
Bilingual Airport Staff
The staff at Argentinean Airlines do speak English, albeit broken. All announcements on the plane are made in Spanish (Argentinean Castillian) and English.
TIP: Have all your documentation ready.
Do I Need A Visa To Enter Argentina?
YOU DO NOT NEED A VISA IF YOU ARE A U.S. CITIZEN. YOU WILL BE GRANTED THREE MONTHS. Once you are here you can request an additional 3 month extension a week before your original VISA expires but you will not be granted a 3rd VISA. You only get 2 VISAS (known in Argentina as PROROGAS) per entry. If your VISA expires you will not be deported. However, when you decide to leave the country you will be charged a fee.
Booking Your Tickets With Airfare.com 
I recommend www.airfare.com. Don't read the horrible reviews people have written on their site. I read them after I bought the tickets and it terrified me, but I had no issues at all. They are the cheapest travel agents you can buy your tickets from.
After you purchase your tickets online, they will provide you with an e-mail with an electronic confirmation number from airfare.com. This will not help you at Argentinean Airlines.
Contact airfare.com by e-mail shortly after receiving your e-mail confirmation of the transaction and request a reservation number for Argentinean Airlines. They will provide it for you quickly. 
Three days before your flight I recommend you call Argentinean Airlines and give them your reservation number.
You will not be able to do an online check-in but when you call you will be able to reserve your seat number.
If you are traveling with someone, you will definitely want to make sure you are sitting next to them. If you don't do this you run the risk that the airline will assign you separate seats.
What to Avoid Doing In Argentina
Don’t do the "Okay" hand gesture. It’s like telling someone to go F*ck themselves or sticking your middle finger at them.

They do understand what the middle finger stands for. In fact, the gesture is used quite often. They've likely learned it from watching American films and television or meeting expats from the States. Avoid making that gesture too. It's tacky.

Avoid talking about the dispute with the Falkland Islands (aka Islas Malvinas). This is a very touchy subject for Argentineans. If you happen to speak about the islands, refer to them as Las Malvinas. My advice is to avoid the subject completely.
Here's What You Should Know And Expect
Electronics
Electronic items such as Televisions, Playstations, X-Box, cellphones, tablets and computers are highly expensive
Blu-Ray and DVDs and Piracy in Argentina
Blu-Ray and DVDs are difficult, but not impossible to find. You just have to go on a scavenger hunt in your province to locate authentic movies and TV series sets. Stores like Musimundo and bookstores like Yenny are your best option. Again, keep an eye out for bootlegs if you buy dvds from a local store owner, as they will not work at all on your U.S. DVD player.
Games and Game Consoles
Most Playstation 2 and Nintendo wii games sold or for rent in Argentina are bootlegs. They will work only with the systems here in Argentina. Trust me. I tried buying a Playstation 2 game that I thought was super cheap. When I opened the box it looked like a blank DVD rewritable you buy at a computer store. I stuck the game in anyway and tried it on my Playstation 2 console (which is from the States) and it wouldn't play. The next day, I took it back and it played fine on the Argentinean console. I was informed that this is because the Argentinean game consoles here have been reconfigured to accept bootleg.
Bootleg/Piracy
Aside from DVD movies and popular video games, computer software here is mostly pirated. A lot of government agencies use Windows programs that are bootleg. Even some of the pre-loaded software on computers and laptops are bootleg. I know this because I learned it the hard way when I bought a laptop from an alleged reputable store.
U.S. Restaurants, Fast Food Joints and Coffee Shops in Argentina

Burger King and McDonalds can be found in Argentina

You won't find Taco Bell, IHOP, Chili's, Bennigans, or Denny's.

You will find Wendy's and KFC in Buenos Aires though.
There are two Starbucks in Cordoba, and I assume, other provinces must have them as well.
There are TGIF restaurants in the capital of Buenos Aires, but no other provinces as of this post.

Films Released In Movie Theaters

Movies that premiere in the United States will usually premiere in Argentina in standard and 3D format within four weeks. You can watch them in English with Castillian subtitles or dubbed in Castillian.
Toys
There are no Toys R’Us stores anywhere in Argentina. The toy stores here have limited items and they are usually really expensive. An action figure can be 200 pesos which is about 42 U.S. dollars or more.
Walmart
There are Walmarts in Argentina, but their DVD, music and toy section are a joke.
Brand Name U.S. Products
You will find brand names at the supermarket like Coca Cola, Sprite, Pepsi, Lay’s Potato Chips, Hellmann’s Mayo, but there are plenty of brands that are unique to Argentina or Mercosur.
Mercosur
Mercosur is the equivalent of the United Nations here in South America. It’s still in it’s infancy but the goal is to unite all the countries in South America in the same way that European countries are united, with the exception the U.K of course.
Item Costs
Don’t be startled by the high prices. 50 pesos in Argentina is not like 50 U.S. dollars. The average person spends about 400 pesos in groceries a week which is the equivalent of 83 U.S. dollars.
Native Customs
Friends and strangers will greet you by kissing you on the cheeks regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. Men also tend to hug women when they meet them and when they say goodbye, even if they've only met you for the first time. Although this might seem an odd way of greeting, I advise that you try not to pull away or appear squeamish as this might be viewed as an act of insult. 
You might strike up a conversation with a neighbor on the street and they might surprisingly invite you in for coffee, tea, a drink, or a meal. Some Argentineans even share their Mate (a form of tea that's quite popular here) with others. If you turn their offer away it may deemed as disrespectful.
Fitting In
Argentineans wear the same style of clothing and footwear as people in the United States. So you're not likely to stand out unless you dress up like Clint Eastwood in an old Western movie.
Argentinean's Physical Appearance
Physically, Argentinean skin tone varies from white to tan. The same can be said about eye color and hair. There are people with green, blue and brown eyes. There are natural blondes, redheads, brown hair, and black hair Argentineans. This variety of ethnic features is due to the European origins that populated this country.
Multi-Cultural Races in Argentina
Argentina consists of people from Europe, the Middle East, and of course, Aboriginals. In recent years, there has been a small migration of Oriental, Peruvian and Bolivian people. Similar to Australia, black people make less than 1 percent of the population in Argentina. Argentineans can sometimes refer to people by their origins rather than by their names. Here is a list of ethnic references you might here.
Tano refers to someone of Italian descent
Gallego refers to someone of Spanish descent (as in Spain, not Latin America)
Yankee refers to someone from North American
Judio refers to someone from Israel or of the Jewish faith
Turco means Turk and refers to someone of Middle Eastern descent. It is also used to identify Armenians, despite the fact that Armenians suffered greatly at the hands of the Turks during the Armenian holocaust.
Indio refers to someone from India. It is also used to refer to certain people from Central and South America but it's usually meant in a derogatory way.
Negro refers to someone of dark or black skin.
Seasons
Spring starts in September. Then Summer begins in December and lasts until March. Fall begins in April, followed by winter in May that lasts until the end of August.
Terms Argentineans NEVER Use
Oye - used to catch someone's attention. Argentineans use the term "Che", which means "hey!".
Andale - meaning to hurry up is commonly heard in Mexico, but never Argentina
Orale - meaning to hurry up or get on with it is also commonly heard in Mexico
Arriba! Arriba! - Speedy Gonzalez used this term, which I assume implies to hurry up or go. This is a Mexican term. Don't say this unless you're Speedy Gonzalez visiting Argentina! Arriba means "up". The only thing you'll get Argentineans to do if you shout this is to get them to look up at the sky or the ceiling.
An Average Work Day and the Siesta 
Most businesses open in the morning for about 3 or 4 hours. Then they shut down for the "siesta", which can last anywhere from 1pm to 6pm. Then businesses resume from 6pm until about 9pm. This varies by business and province. Banks and supermarkets do not take a siesta. In some provinces, business remain open for a few short hours in the morning or remain completely closed on Sunday.
The Argentinean Work Ethic
Argentineans are very laid back. This doesn't mean that they aren't hard workers. They simply don't stress out as much about schedules or time crunches or deadlines. If you call for a plumber or take your car to a mechanic, don't expect things to get done fast. I wouldn't recommend asking them to hurry it up or rush over to your house to fix something either. They will get there when they get there. It's just the way things work which makes for a mostly stress free lifestyle. The best advice I can give is that you get onboard as well. It will save you a lot of stress too.  
Food
Barbecue is the norm in Argentina, but don't expect burgers and hot dogs on their grill. Argentineans enjoy barbecues that consist of a variety of steaks, sausages, kidneys, cow brains, and entrails. An Argentinean will eat all types of meat (cow, goat, horse, duck, rabbit, chicken).
Pastries are also very popular. You’ll find an assortment of them. Many include fillings of Argentina’s favorite spread, called Dulce De Leche.
Empanadas (meat pies) come in two styles. The empanada criolla consists of ground beef, olives and eggs. The Arabian empanada (Empanada Arabe) is triangular shaped and consists of seasoned ground beef in the center.

Pizza. Prepare yourself. Most Large pizzas ordered in Argentina are the equivalent of a medium sized pizza in the United States. I usually have to order two to satisfy myself and my spouse and they don't have pepperoni here.
Sandwiches de Miga (Crumb Sandwiches) are thin cut ham and cheese sandwiched by equally thin pieces of bread with the crusts cut off. The bread usually has mayo which helps keep the sandwich moist. There are other varieties of this sandwich. Some include veggie style and egg salad. Ordering the ham version is usually more expensive. Most people order Panceta which is a cheap version of the ham for this sandwich.
Pasta is second only to beef in Argentina. Lasagna, gnocchi, ravioli, cannelloni, a wide variety of spaghettis are also commonly consumed at restaurants and Argentinean homes.

Well, that's all I could think of for now. As soon as I learn more, I'll post it in a future entry. Until then, try to keep all these things in mind and you'll have a much smoother transition.

From New York to Argentina: Our Plane Traveling Experience

On Saturday June 16th, I boarded an American Airline flight to Miami with my spouse. We left NYC from LaGuardia at 8:00pm and were in Miami by 11:00pm. We had to wait for our Argentinean flight overnight.

TIPS: The best place to buy your tickets is through http://www.airfare.com/. Don’t believe the horrible things you read about this company. They were great and extremely affordable. Most of the negative comments about this company are probably posted by their competitors.

TIPS: When boarding American Airlines you will be charged 25 dollars for your first luggage and 35 dollars for your second luggage. Your first and second luggage cannot weigh more than 50 pounds each. If you go over that you will be charged an additional 150 dollars overweight charge. In addition, you can bring a carry-on bag and a purse, or murse (man purse), and a jacket at no charge.

On Sunday Morning, June 17th, we checked in our luggage at Argentinian Airlines. KEEP IN MIND, if you arrive late at night. You will not be able to check your bags until 5:15 in the morning.
TIPS: If you are a Naturalized American Citizen who was born in Argentina you don't need to show proof of a return ticket. If you are an American Citizen and you are married to an Argentinian Citizen who is accompanying you, you will be allowed to enter the country. However, they will ask you for proof of return but they WILL NOT deny you entry to the country. Just let them know that you are visiting your spouse/husband/wife's family and you intend to be there for about 30 days or so and they will note it on the computer. If you are a United States Citizen and you are travelling alone and have every intention of staying, I strongly recommend you consider getting a return ticket. It does not necessarily have to be a return ticket back to the U.S. You can buy yourself a ticket from the U.S. to Argentina. Then buy yourself a separate ticket going from Argentina to Uruguay. This will be sufficient for Argentinean immigration to let you through.
9 Hours later I landed in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. I presented myself to an immigration representative there. If you are NOT an Argentinian citizen you will have to pay a penalty fee of 150 U.S. Dollars to enter the country. Since my spouse was born in the U.S. he had to pay the fee. After that ordeal was over we grabbed our luggage and sat in the waiting area. 
TIP: The airport in Buenos Aires has wireless internet connection at no charge. Your cell phones will automatically start linking with the network in Argentina. WARNING: Cell phone use will bring an international data charge every time you use your phone. Also, I don't recommend you travel outside of the airport. This can be dangerous if you don't know anyone in Argentina. Stay put until it’s time to board your flight. Our destination was Cordoba. Keep in mind that you cannot check your baggage until an hour before your flight to your next destination. It can be nerve wracking because there's only an hour for you to check your luggage before your flight leaves, but don't get discourage. You will be fine and on time for the flight to your final destination. There aren't that many people travelling between provinces, mainly foreigners.
The next morning, Monday June 18th, we checked our luggage in. The people at the Buenos Aires airport are a little more thorough. Be careful about bringing too much electronics. Argentina has a limit of no more than 300 dollars in electronics per passenger. Anything higher may result in you getting charged taxes, like one lady who brought four X-Boxes in her luggage with the obvious intent to sell. I brought my blu-ray player and my DVDs for personal use. If you bring a lot of DVDs be warned that when your bags are x-rayed they will ask you what they are. Stay calm. Stay friendly and most importantly ... be HONEST. They let me through without any incident.
TIP: If you bring medications with you there is no way in hell that you will be able to get through customs without being questioned about them. So here is what you do. Go to your doctor before your trip and ask them to write a letter explaining the reason you need your medication. This will satisfy the Argentinean authorities at the checkpoint.

After we were cleared, my spouse and I walked over to the waiting area. Then we took a shuttle bus to a smaller plane.  
TIP: Once you travel from Buenos Aires to Cordoba or any other province in Argentina, this will be considered a domestic flight. So the plane you will board will not say Aerolineas Argentina. It will say AUSTRAL which is a branch of Argentinean Airlines. So if your connecting flight ticket says FLIGHT AR 2900 and the monitors in the waiting area say that your flight is AU 2900, DON'T PANIC! It's the same thing!

The flight from Buenos Aires to Argentina was only suppose to take an hour but it in fact took a little longer because of the plane's flight check.
TIP: Don't take a photo of the plane. I realize that you want to preserve the memory but security will see it as a threat and you will be warned once. Try it again and you may find yourself in custody.
After the plane landed in Argentina we grabbed our bags. Don't worry. At this point they know you've gone through all the immigration and security checkpoints. You're done. You made it. Relax.
We were welcomed with open arms by my parents who were extremely thrilled to see us. We were all glad that this ordeal was finally over and that we were safely at our destination.
Now the tough part is going to be assimilating to a completely different society.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Moving Abroad: What To Bring With You

The hardest thing I've come across in preparation for this move has been deciding what to take and what to leave behind. When personal effects are the only link to your treasured past, how do you let go of the objects that define you?
Action figures, books, family photos, my childhood teeth that my mom preserved in a Tic-Tac case, mementos of road trips taken across the east coast, computer programs, DVD movies. Oh did I mention a mountain full of clothes?
We started with over forty boxes of different shapes and sizes. We went through every item to see what we thought we really needed. Junk, junk, junk, junk .... gross! What is that nasty green goo coming out of that box? After several weeks, we were able to condense the boxes down to twenty two. Now we needed to figure out how to send all this sh_stuff from New York to Argentina.

We found a couple of potential places on the internet. Everyone had a different price. If you send your boxes by freight, the shipping charges are outrageous. Twenty two boxes on their own cost over two thousand dollars. Some quotes suggested seven thousand dollars. We would certainly understand the high cost if we were shipping tables, couches, big screen TVs or a car but that wasn't the case. Some of the shipping companies warned us that the actual weight of the boxes wasn't as important as the volumetric weight. What is the volumetric weight? It's basically a (b.s. shipping term) calculated weight based on how much space your box will take on the freight ship or cargo hold of a plane. So even if you have a bunch of plush toys on a huge box weighing no more than twenty pounds, the actual volumetric weight of the box may be 117 pounds. Make no mistake about it. They will charge you according to the volumetric weight even if you stuff your boxes with feathers. My advice is that you fill every space in your box with as much of your things as possible. Any empty space is just a waste of your own money.
We finally found a reputable and affordable shipping company called XS Baggage. You can find them at http://xsbaggage.com/. Their rates were the cheapest. Not $2,500 dollars or $5,000 dollars or $7,000 dollars. The shipping rate went down to about $1,500. It's still over our budget but a lot closer to our target of $1,000 dollars. So now came the tough part.
We had no choice but to go through our things and pick the most important pieces of our past and throw away the rest. I was able to condense my things from two and a half boxes down to one. I think the hardest thing for me was having to scan my family pictures (which weighed too much) and then shred the original photographs. A part of me felt like I had betrayed my past by doing this but what else could I do?
I had to leave a lot of my things behind and that was rough but not as rough as having to watch my partner (who still had eight boxes) go through his things and decide what he had to leave behind. In many ways I felt as if my life really began when I met him so most of my personal effects are just that, reflections of the past ten and a half years. My partner had a lifetime in those boxes. Some of those items represented deceased family members or memories of a happier time. Watching him choose what not to bring was physically painful to me.

I'm not sure if any of you can understand this but I've jumped through hoops for him. I taught him how to drive. I showed him how to be independent. I helped him get his first job and open up a bank account. I went to bat for him when our boss unjustly terminated him and almost got myself fired in the process. I fought for his name and honor when some members of his own blood turned their backs on him because he made a choice to better his future. I gladly took the hit for anything that anyone threw at him. I moved to New York to ensure that he could pursue his dream of attending college at The New School (an opportunity that had been denied to him years before I met him). I was there for him when he went through his Cancer scare. I'd die for him and I wouldn't even hesitate. But this was something I was powerless to protect him from.

I couldn't choose what to take and what to keep for him. It tore me apart but I silently chose to step back and let him make his own choices. He got through it despite a couple of rough moments. He condensed his boxes down to two and he managed to come out of this with a smile.
Now we have a total of three boxes which total a weight of 170 lbs. Did we reach our goal of not spending more than a thousand to ship these boxes? I have no freaking clue. The online quote calculator at XS Baggage suggests that we've gone over by twenty nine dollars. I just hope there are no hidden fees but you know there will be. There always are.

We are exactly one week away from the big move to Argentina. We can only hope that everything goes smoothly.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why I Decided to Leave The United States

I’ve been moving from place to place since I was a baby. It first happened when my folks relocated from San Juan, my birth province, to Mendoza. A few years later we moved to Cordoba, my mother’s home province. A year after that, we moved all the way to the United States. One week after we’d landed at Miami International Airport, we packed our bags and headed for Franklin Tennessee, where we stayed for about a year before heading back down to Florida. I spent most of my childhood living in Miami, but every year we bounced around from one house to another, from South Dade to North Dade to Hialeah. By the time I was 21, we had moved to Orlando, which is in Central Florida. Eventually, my parents chose to return to Argentina to live out their retirement. I, of course, had fallen in love with my future spouse and had chosen to stay behind. Not long after that, everything started to change.

Financially things were rough. I couldn’t make ends meet. Then tragedy struck and I lost two people who were very dear to me. No. They weren’t my parents, but they were the next best thing. This forced me to make yet another change. So I moved to New York City, the Bronx to be precise.

I had high hopes that my writing career would pick up. After all, New York is where dreams come true, or so they say. Mine certainly didn’t. The cost of living was high. I’d gotten laid off from two jobs in the four years I was there. Temping wasn’t bringing in the money I needed to pay my rent or my bills. My spouse and I had to move in with his family to avoid ending up homeless.

I knew we couldn’t live with his family forever but I couldn’t see any way of getting back on my feet again. I was left with only one option. Think of it as a wild card, but it was definitely not a card I wanted to use. But what choice did I have?

My family owns several properties in Argentina. My mother was kind enough to offer me my own home. How could I refuse that? Duh! I couldn’t. My spouse was more than willing to move to Argentina. “The house will be ours and no one can kick us out,” he said. He had a point. There was no other choice, but the thought of leaving the United States terrified me.

I left Argentina when I was five years old and I never went back. The United States is my home. I swore an oath to this country when I became a U.S. Citizen. I’ve gone to school here, worked here, made friends here, made enemies here, fell in love here … got married here. This is all I know. I think, I speak, I write, I dream, and I breathe in English. I’m as American as apple pie. Turning my back on the U.S. in order to survive might seem like an easy choice, but I promise you that it’s not.

How will I adapt to laws, customs and food that are alien to me? I don't know, but on June 17th, 2012, I will say goodbye to the United States, quite likely forever, to take on a brand new adventure in Argentina. But first, I need to get ready for the big move, and this is where my journey really begins.