About a month ago I was contacted by a documentary producer who had found our blog. He asked me if Nick and I would want to be part of a filmed expat discussion regarding how we North Americans have observed the after-shocks of the 2001 pesos crisis during our time in Argentina. The documentary is being produced by Current TV, a Los Angeles-based crew that is investigating the many faces of the current economic crisis in the United States. The reporters decided that a good segment of the documentary could include reflections from Argentines and North Americans living in Argentina, all who perhaps could provide insight into how to personally cope with economic instability.
Of course Nick and I immediately agreed to be a part of the discussion. What a great learning opportunity for us!! Last night was the big night, so we convinced Jenny to come along as well, and the three of us headed to La Olla, a lovely and trendy jazz bar in Palermo, where the camera was set to roll. There we met the film crew, two incredibly nice and sharply intelligent women from California, and the other ex-pats, who were from all walks of life. There was a fiction novelist from Chicago (who has an amazing blog called Water and Soul), a marketing consultant who has lived here for 3 years with her Argentine boyfriend, and a freelance/translator recent graduate from UNC (go Matt Todd!!)...And then there was RUSS.
Russ is a 25-year-old going on 100, if you measure age by life experiences. Keen to speak only when having something poignant to say and always delivering with a dead-pan irony, Russ casually informed us of such things as his fascination with Gary Glitter and his fear over the status of his chaotic Chilean youth hostel protected by a juvenile delinquent night-watchman under house arrest. Russ also announced to the table that he purposely ordered smoked salmon because the crew was paying, and really, smoked salmon is a luxury that he just can not justify splurging on when he is footing the bill. (He proceeded to point at Nick, Jenny, and me, and accuse us of "blowing our opportunity by ordering french fries.") Russ was pretty great.
Sometime in-between Russ's stories, the cameras started rolling, and along with them, some questions and responses that were though-provoking and reflective...The questions made both Nick and I realize that we have been here for nearly half a year, and with that time, our lives and our relationship have changed drastically through not always easy and fun situations, but situations that nonetheless we are endlessly grateful for.
For example, one of the questions was something Nick and I have reflected upon often: How has living in Argentina, a crisis-weathered country with a cash-culture and little access to credit, changed your spending habits?
In Washington, DC, Nick and I had a combined income of about $5,500/month, and we did a pretty good job of spending almost all of it. Not an outrageous sin, as we were living in seperate apartments and each spent about $900/month on rent. Nonetheless, for the months of October, November, and December, we were living on a combined income of at-most 3000 pesos/mo (more-or-less $1,000). Obviously, that would sink us below the poverty line in the US, but due to the cost of living in Argentina, it is possible here. Possible, not easy. In October and November, we were paying 1650 pesos a month for rent, so that right there gobbled up over half of our income. We moved in December and began to pay 900 pesos, which greatly helped. But still, we sweated with every item we dropped into our grocery cart and somewhat humiliatingly turned down countless invitations to restaurants, including on New Year's Eve, explaining to our friends that we were not being anti-social, but were just a little strapped for cash. At times such financial adjustments caused our stress level to soar as we had already been tested by security fears in our San Telmo apartment, changing and disappearing class schedules, and the simple struggles of making our way through the cultural and language barriers of life here.
However, these lessons of frugality are invaluable to our lives, and we will always hold them dear. Thankfully, our income is much better now--we do not sweat with our grocery purchases, and we can go grab some delicious and cheap Peruvian food without breaking the bank. Moreover we are so fortunate to be working for something that we love and believe in (Enchanting Challenge!). But we are extremely grateful for the lessons we have been taught because we have learned truly and deeply how to not be so wasteful, how, as the old saying goes, to live more simply so that others can simply live. Most importantly, we have learned how to be grateful for the things we should be...Although with more income in the future, I am sure we will relax more and stop washing our clothing in the bathtub, or begin covering our pillows with pillow cases instead of old t-shirts, or God-forbid, get a toilet that actually flushes without dumping a bucket of water in it, but we won't forget these months, and we will always try not to deviate too far from the frugality and simplicity it has taught us.
It was with these reflections and realizations in mind that the filming wrapped up, we said our good-byes to hopefully new-found friends, and Jenny, Nick, and I made our way deeper into Palermo to find a watering hole. We settled on a Brazilian bar, loud with chatter, bright with color, and decorated with glasses of Caipirinha, which of course we had to order. We stayed there until 2 am, chatting, sipping on Caipirinhas, Brahmas, and nibbling on rice and beans. It was the best.