Friday, October 4, 2013

Living and working in Salta

Lin admiring Simpsons' influences
We are enjoying Salta’s warm spring days and cool nights. Everyone here tells us that Salta has a perfect climate and so far we cannot disagree. We have had no rain, so we mostly walk into town and round the city streets, which keeps us fit and allows us to learn more about the city.  There are lots of street-events in various public squares, with music, craft and food stalls, clowns and costumed characters, usually collecting money for some charity or NGO. There is a lot of individual enterprise, too, with people selling socks or jewelry, fruit from a cart, or woolen hats, gloves, scarves, sweaters and blankets.

Sandy admiring carved convent door
The bus system is extensive and inexpensive. You have to be ready to flag down the bus or the driver will drive right on past. The tickets work a bit like EZ-Pass in Pennsylvania. You wave your prepaid card at a little yellow box when you get on the bus, and a ticket magically appears. A ticket inspector may appear at any moment, too.

Crossing at the intersections involves taking your life in your hands and hoping you can get to the other side before you get hit. Apparently drivers give priority to the right, but the rule is mostly ignored when they approach an intersection, and only occasionally will a driver stop for a pedestrian. Surprisingly we have seen only a few accidents, but many near misses.
Salta's wedding cake cathedral at night

Our Work
With encouragement from the FSD office, we are beginning to put a project together, and rely on Google translation to help us express the ideas in Spanish. We have been reading books FSD recommends and lends us about aid and development in poor countries. 

Sandy is working on a plan for small community gardens at food-kitchens which provide children from poor areas with their only meal of the day. He is also developing a social web site for the more than 500 NGOs in the city, so that they can share information about who they are and what they are doing.
Sandy can walk to the municipal offices where his boss is based, but because of the disruptive upcoming elections he finds it easier to work on his laptop from home. His business meetings usually take place in a café over a breakfast consisting of juice, coffee, seltzer and mini-croissants.

Lin’s work is a long commute, with a twenty-minute walk and a thirty-five minute bus ride. She is helping with underprivileged children at a center which serves as a safe refuge for them to play and study in when they are not in school. The public schools are open for half days only, and many children drop out of school with poor literacy skills. The program helps to keep them in school and some get scholarships to high schools. They may also benefit from a sort of 4-H program and small vegetable garden for learning about nutrition and growing healthy foods. We’ll see what we have time for.

The food in Argentina is largely protein and carbohydrates, though we have seen a wide variety of fruit and vegetables in stores and markets, and salads on restaurant menus. It is strawberry season and there are carts piled high on many corners with the most delicious dark red fruit – 20 pesos (3 dollars) for 2 kilos! Of course, they eat a lot of beef, and pizza is very popular. Salta is famous for its empanadas -- little semicircular pies filled with cheese, corn, chicken or ground beef, which are then grilled and served with a tomato and onion sauce. Argentinians drink a lot of Tang and soda, and all drinks (except the delicious local wines) are loaded with sugar – they even add extra sugar to their soda. They think we are rather weird to drink coffee or tea without sugar. 

Selling mates and bombillas
The local social drink is mate, which is served with great ceremony. The mate (a small wooden cup or gourd) is filled with yerba (the leaves and stems of a bitter herb related to holly) and some sugar. They then add boiling water, which you suck from the bottom of the cup with a metal straw called a bombilla. The same cup and straw are refilled many times and passed around among the guests. The drink is bitter, sweet and stimulating.

Breakfast is a token meal of tea or coffee with toast or crackers. Lunch is a big meal eaten at about 2:00 PM. You are then meant to wait until dinner which is usually eaten after – often well after – 9 PM. However, there is usually a light snack at around 6 PM to tide you over.

Business students promoting their entrepreneurship
We are loving our new home-stay. The family is warm and welcoming. They are well-educated and enjoy talking to us in Spanish, which is helping us to become more fluent. They live in a large house they have been remodeling for the last couple of years. Like most houses in Argentina, it seems to be in a permanent state of construction  Sandy and I share a good sized room, with two single beds, a small table and two chairs. The floors and bathrooms are tiled, and there is a grass area in the back patio. They have two sons, of 19 and 13, living here, though they also have grown-up children in college and elsewhere. Their puppy is an adorable one-year old brown pit-bull who is very strong and friendly.

We have been here only two nights so far, having moved house after a week with a single working mother and her sixteen-year-old son, two dogs, a borrowed cat, and problems with keys, meals, and internet access…a distinctly forgettable experience. Our new host family provides a good Wi-Fi connection, and delicious meals, with fresh fruit and vegetables.

We are going to a classical music concert of the renowned Salta Orchestra in the municipal theater with the other FSD interns on Friday night. It starts at 9:30 PM and we have been warned to expect some audience participation that would be frowned upon in Verizon Hall in Philadelphia. We will probably take a bus ride outside the city over the weekend, as there are parks and canyons to visit not too far away.

This weekend Argentina is holding the first of three elections in the next two months. This one is for the provincial governments, and posters with photos of many more or less trustworthy-looking characters are plastered around the town. Voting is obligatory and citizens may be fined or suffer other sanctions if they do not vote.

Street happenings

More dancing in the street

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