Volunteer

Thank you, United States. Thank you for welcoming me back with open arms holding up a tray of cheap cocktails in one hand and a hotel key shaped like an American Express card in the other. You move me with your all-you-can-eat seafood buffet and your plastic enhanced enhancements. Take my gratuity, what would be considered gratuitous in Argentina, and smile with straight, white teeth and pretend like my generosity is appreciated, though it is slim. I read your judgment on my scantness, and I want to tell you that I have been unemployed for two months, but I don't.

I am going to miss your fresh squeezed juices, your rainbow of fruits fresh off the farm, and your blue and white flag that waves its pride all over the place. And your helado. Man, I will miss your helado.
I will miss your people, your friendly, generous people that helped me when I was lost, when I didn't know the word for something, and when I asked ridiculous questions.
I don't know how any other nightlife I encounter will ever compare to your thumping beats that wake up the sun.

I am officially a lone traveler. Even though I came to Argentina by myself, I quickly joined forces with my trusty sidekick Zoe. It was inevitable, considering we live together, work together, and endured some family drama together. And it has been great, I was and am so lucky that Zoe turned out to be such a great gal and friend.
But Tuesday I went to the bus station on my own, purchased my roundtrip ticket to Iguazu, and loaded up early afternoon. Solita, as my traveling neighbor called me; little girl all alone.

An older woman walks by, she sludges by in her purple loafers, bracing her body onto a younger woman's arm. The younger woman is not young, but she wears pink tennis shoes and she has a barrette in place that keeps the flyaway hairs from getting out of hand. She is at least a foot taller than the older woman, and she wears a maroon skirt, even though it is breezy. I offer to vacate my bench just in case I inadvertently took their spot in this schoolyard filled with varying senior citizens, but they refuse, silently, with a shake of the head and a tranquil smile.

There are the obvious things, like my friends and my family and my city. And my honeys!! Man, I miss those dogs.
But then there are the other things, the things that tend to hit me quite suddenly, with no obvious preamble.
For instance, tortilla chips. I can make the guacamole, but I can't serve it with tortilla chips. I found some salted water crackers from the local panaderia that sufficed, but of course it was not the same.
Dried fruit without sulfur. I know it comes across as snobbish, but I can't help it.

I come to the park where the old people sit.
I come to the park to sit with the old people.
The viejos.
There is a home nearby so at all hours of the day I encounter gentlemen and gentle ladies being pushed through the trees or sitting in wheelchairs next to the benches where the caretakers sit.
I come to the park to read my book and also to show off my electronic book to the old lady who listens to her iPod. I forgot my iPod one day and she looked as if she wanted to offer me a bud, the left one while she kept the right one, but she didn't.

LOST is the name of the Thursday night hiphop party at Arraoz Bar in Palermo. The bar opens at 12:30, but for the first two hours, there is no communal dancing, just breakdancing bandits that take the floor two at a time. The club is essentially one giant concrete room, bordered by bars and balconies. People such as myself and my three friends loiter near the bar or straddle the enormous speakers or crowd the short steps going down to the floor.

Last Saturday night, Zoe and I took the new volunteer Michael out on the town. We were all dressed to go hit the night scene in Palermo, walking to the bus stop near our house, when we passed an elderly gentleman coming out of an apartment building. He was slightly taller than average (which is still small), had a wispy covering of grey hair over his shiny pate, and his slacks were tight and pulled high. His shirt was a toss up between pink and coral, and it had a stiff collar to help corral his wayward neck.

Is both easy and hard. The reactions are the same whether I am in the U.S. or in Argentina. I am a vegetarian. Soy una vegetariana. The eyes squint a little, as if to probe the seriousness of my proclamation. The nose crinkles a little, feeling out my odor, maybe it's different, not bad, just different. The open mouth asks, "En serio? En Argentina?"

This is how you do it on a sunny Friday in Buenos Aires:
Grab two nectarines on your way to work. Enjoy the sweet summer juiciness in the middle of February. Consider moving every few months to follow the seasonal fruit that you love so much.
At the train station, buy a Peruvian savory pancake straight off the barbecue and in an accidentally demanding voice, ask the street vendor where he has been these past few weeks. (Turns out the guy sets up shop early and leaves when the dough is all gone, usually an hour before we arrive)
Smile and eat the whole thing.

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