But “rest” is elusive here in Buenos Aires: Even on Saturdays, there is always a hammer pounding, or the sound of a drill, a saw or a yelling construction worker from one of the invariably nearby towers being built… far below me, the sounds from the streets waft up to my bedroom: the hum of traffic, a radio blaring in the distance, an ambulance siren screaming, horns honking... Buenos Aires is an exciting place, that's for sure, but it doesn't provide much in the way of a lullaby!
No matter... my semi-private refuge gives me some time to digest a few of my first impressions of this incredible place, a place I have spent the past six months or so researching more on a practical level (housing prices, neighbourhood safety, cost of airline tickets, etc.) than a philosophical or cultural one.
The boys and I did read a few books to get a historical and geographical overview, but there really is nothing quite like living here for a while to get a sense of this world: In less than two weeks, I feel myself becoming a part of the mosaic that makes up this "gotta be here to get it" metropolis.
Although we're still getting stopped by helpful passers-by every time we pull out a map, and attracting the advice of other English-speaking visitors on the subte who tell us to keep our backpacks close (they don't know that those generic bags that appear to be so casually slung over our shoulders are actually the virtually indestructible and basically theft-proof "pacsafes" I researched and shelled out good money for months in advance of our journey here!!) , we are becoming more confident and independent as we travel around this cosmopolitan center.
I won't say we blend in; I don't think we ever will, what with a set of little, blond "gemelos" in tow...
But we already get our groceries at a place that is less expensive than the convenient but over-priced Carre-Four Express outside our apartment, we know we prefer the "hilado" shop on Scalabrini Ortiz over the more popular and ubiquitous Freddo chain, and I'm pretty confident that if the boys ever got lost (DON'T WORRY, DADDY -- THEY WON'T!!! ;-P ), they could find their way home on the Subte from pretty much anywhere in the city now (so long as they're not too shy to ask "Donde esta el Subte?" like we've taught them)!
Living a life beyond the "touristy", more short term vacation parts of Buenos Aires, though, means having an awareness of the city's underbelly, too, its many slums and the political and economic struggles both individuals and groups of people here face. Just one example I've noticed is the number of children living in poverty in the city: We've seen them begging on the streets with their parents (or sometimes, not even begging, but just living here on the streets -- the other day, I observed a father sitting on a dirty mattress on the sidewalk, preparing a bottle of milk for his grimy toddler while mom took a nap or was sick on the mattress next to him), and we've seen them in the subways, selling stuff for a peso or two to whomever will buy it.
Anyone with an ounce of compassion cannot simply ignore this very real and ever-present part of our host city. As a parent and an elementary school educator, I am especially moved when I see children living in such conditions. As Alex noted at dinner last night, when we were debriefing the particularly grubby-faced girl with dirty clothes and unwashed hair we had seen on the subway ride home (I had bought a useless cardboard trinket from her... not because I needed or wanted it, but because I was desperate to help in some way, and wasn't sure what else to do. She didn't even smile when I handed her the 2-peso bill as she came around to collect her trinkets back or money from those who were buying.), as Alex commented, "I feel sad for those people."
"Sad, indeed", I think, looking out the window from the comfort of my sick bed. I am looking out, not onto a slum next door to me, but onto a balcony filled with green and growing things, a sunny balcony, that has a door leading into a decently sized living room with heated floors and comfortable furniture. I think of the healthy, well-balanced meal that Tats is preparing in the kitchen, and I listen to the laughter emanating from the room next to me, where Alex and Simon are playing a game together, a game free from the worries of not enough food, clothing or shelter.
What's to be done?
Our primary mission on this trip is not volunteer work, and yet it is an element I do want to incorporate into our lives here. The boys and I have always volunteered in some capacity, and I believe it's our duty -- as people of unearned privilege -- to contribute something, even while "on vacation".
The question, as newcomers and uneducated foreigners, is what?
The view from my window doesn't hold the answer.