Monday, October 20, 2008

In Search of Carlos & the Humanist Movement

Last week was a busier-than-ever maze of new lessons, continued lessons, new leads, failed leads, and all the up's and down's of our semi-anxious quest to find work. We graduated two weeks ago from TEFL, and we both have some solid, wonderfully engaging classes. Nick is loving his courses at an IT firm on Wednesdays and Mondays, where he is meeting and teaching people from Buenos Aires and other parts of Argentina, learning their personal stories, and helping them to express all of this in English. He has also begun to meet with a journalist on Friday afternoons, so he not only teaches the journalist about English, but gets to learn about the life of a periodista in South America. Pretty cool stuff! And needless to say, right up Nick's alley. :-)

I have been teaching two business-English classes a week, which have been great. Just like in Nick's cases, my students are eager to express complicated thoughts in English, and have been teaching me a lot about their area of expertise: chiefly finance, which means they have been talking to me a lot about the financial crisis, which is so helpful to my annoyingly liberal-arts-geared mind. I have also been continuing to meet with a very sweet woman who takes English to help her in her Human Resources department.

However, we have had some challenges along the way. I ended up being misinformed by an employer as I was told that a teaching school was a half an hour away by bus, when it turned out to be over an hour away, far outside the city limits, and not in the best place to be standing alone waiting for the bus at dusk. However, my contact was understanding when I told her that I could not continue this particular position, and hopefully no bridges were burned. It was a hectic way to learn such a lesson, as it was on a day I had many other classes, and left the house at 7:15 and did not return until 13 hours later. In the end, it was a great lesson to learn to be able to be smarter about where I go when I teach, and to stand up for certain rights without ruining professional relationships...These are all lessons that have to be learned, usually the hard way, and at the end of the day, I think that Nick and I are so lucky to have each other, which helps with all challenges. Well, I should say, he helps me with all of my challenges. :-)

This is all bringing me to my point expressed in the title, I promise...Nick and I decided that volunteering and/or being engaged in organizations outside of our 9-5 job has always been important to us, and was definitely a big part of our life in DC. We had sort of been putting such activities on hold because of our job search, but I think after two weeks we have realized that we are doing all we can, and being anxious about it in the interim is a waste of time when we could be putting our time and energy elsewhere. Therefore, we contacted a man we met here who runs a nonviolence and ecological movement in the city. We met this man in a bar on our second night here, an incident that seemed very much to be a sign. As I said before, we had just arrived in Buenos Aires: we were wide-eyed and a bit nervous about not knowing a soul in such a huge city. We stumbled into a cozy bar where a band was setting up a stage and a crew was working on the sound and lights for the performance. We were the only customers in the bar, and the instructor of the lighting/sound crew approached us and engaged us in conversation. We explained to him that we had arrived the previous day, and that we were to begin an English certification course within two weeks, and were just currently exploring the city. We found out his name was Carlos, and he in return explained to us that he heads a group that meets to discuss and take action to decrease violence. With our broken Spanish, it was hard for the man to convey exactly what his group does, but it sounded quite impressive, and good-natured. He gave us his card before saying goodnight.

It had been a while since we had looked at that card, but two months later, it really began to feel like the right time to contact Carlos. Nick sent him an email on Friday, and he speedily replied by Friday evening, asking us to meet him at his office in the Almagro neighborhood the next afternoon. We whole-heartedly agreed.

Saturday rolled around, a necessary break from the rigor of our past week, and we got up early to greet the day. I had to teach and Nick went to the gym, both of our heads a little heavy from drinking too much wine at a friend's barbeque the night before. We were so tired from the week, but determined to meet Carlos and make contact with someone who could help us get into an extracurricular world we both were craving. We decided to meet in Chinatown after teaching and the gym to do a little shopping for the curry we use up so fast before our meeting with Carlos.

A few hours later, we had bought spicy curry, mustard seeds, and cilantro, and we were pumped. Now we only had to find the 168 bus that would take us from Belgrano to Almagro. Should be no problem, we thought, as there is a bus depot just around the corner from Chinatown. We headed to the bus depot and saw about ten buses, and none of them were the 168. Slightly discouraged, we walked the other way from the bus depot, sure that we would find the 168. Of course, we couldn't. We walked for 20 minutes in the opposite direction as the bus depot, seeing no new numbers, discouragingly. We were sweaty, slightly hung-over, and a little jet-lagged from our crazy week, and the bus system just would not throw us a bone. We tried a last resort of walking towards the next subway stop in the far opposite corner of the neighborhood, about a half an hour walk. We saw dozens of other bus numbers, but the 168 was nowhere to be found. Finally, we called Carlos and told him we were having no luck finding a bus, so he told us to take a bus to the correct subway line and ride the train to his office, which was a block from the station. We did that, and finally, one hour later, we arrived, thirsty as all get-out, bleary-eyed, but so thankful we finally arrived.

Carlos' office was what looked like an old house, with high ceilings, a homey kitchen with a gurgling coffee maker, and two open rooms that ran into one another, but yet provided privacy for the people working. There was a man from Chile working away on a laptop, rocking out to some tunes, and another couple from Chile that came to drop off groceries. Carlos took us into a corner of the room where a desk was seated, and two chairs. We sat down and he spoke to us about the mission of his organization, weaving in and out of Spanish and English. His mission is one that seeks to bring together people of all different nationalities, religious beliefs, and cultures with one common aim to take the violence from our society and to refocus on the humanity within the world. He was one of the kindest people we have met in Buenos Aires, and we were so thankful to establish a connection with someone who runs an organization that perhaps we could be a part of in some small way. About an hour later, we thanked Carlos for his time and promised to stay in touch. In no time at all, we were back at our apartment, more exhausted than ever, and cooking up a feast, which we chased down with Quilmes while watching the Sopranos. A hard week with a perfect ending. :-)

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