Sunday, October 20, 2013

Work and Play in Salta

It is hard to believe that we have been living and working in Salta for 4 weeks and that we have only 2 weeks left to work on our projects. In addition to our work we are getting to know the city of Salta and its environs better, and appreciating more of the qualities of Argentine life.

Sandy’s Work
Sandy is working for the “Subsectretaria de Relaciones con Organizaciones Sociales de Acción Voluntaria de la Gobiernio de la Cuidad de Salta” (Subsecretariat for Relationships with Social Organizations of Voluntary Activities of the Government of the City of Salta) -- a very long name for a small Department in the municipal government of Salta. Local government, indeed all levels of government in Argentina, is reputedly rife with favoritism, nepotism, and corruption and there are certainly stories in the papers and stories passed around in conversation on the topic. “His” department, however, is staffed with dedicated and hard-working people who are working with volunteer organizations and NGOs to improve the life of the most deprived sector of Saltenos.

Children with pots of seeds at comedor
Initially, it looked as if his work would be technical and involve developing a web site to allow the local organizations to learn about and communicate with each other. However, this was soon thrown over in favor of a more practical, and from his point of view more directly satisfying, project.

Around the city, in the poorer barrios, are about 70 small food kitchens (comedores) which provide local children with at least one nourishing meal per day. The food leans heavily towards the standard Argentine carbo-carnivorous diet. Vegetables are in short supply, partly because they are expensive to buy, and partly due to lack of familiarity. So, Master Gardener diploma in hand, he was asked to develop a short course on vegetable gardening, and to create small gardens in two of the comedores, to serve as models for others.
Sandy talking to the mothers.

For the past couple of weeks and for the next two, he has been drawing up lesson plans (in Spanish!), creating visual aids, and buying seeds and tools. So far he has given 2 lessons at one comedor, with Lin’s help, to enthusiastic children and their equally encouraging mothers. The children have planted tomato, pepper and zucchini seeds in little pots and watched them sprout, and have helped to lay out a small raised bed in the back yard, where they have planted more vegetable seeds. A couple of the mothers are particularly interested and are getting a bit more training, so that they will be able to spread the word to the other comedores sometime in the future. Overall it has been very rewarding and fun, though it stretches his Spanish to (and beyond) its limit.

Lin’s Work
Kids playing at ANPUY center
Hugo - one of Lin's pupils

Lin works with disadvantaged kids attending an NGO in the north of the city. They are selected from their schools to attend a daily program that compensates for their poor or dysfunctional family life, with the goal of keeping them in school and raising their grades so that their educational future is more secure and successful. They are given breakfast, help with homework, and sporting or educational games and activities all morning, since school is open only in the afternoons. They depend on city and government funding, as well as on volunteers and sponsors for support. They have their own property, a large schoolroom with a couple of smaller rooms and an office, outdoor restrooms, and a playground with a jungle gym.

Evenings and Weekends
We are trying, along with the other two FSD interns, to take full advantage of Salta and its environs, which have a lot to offer. Once our six weeks with FSD is over we look forward to taking more three-and four-day bus trips to more distant tourist sites in Argentina’s northwest, before we head back to Philly in mid-November.

We were really impressed with the local orchestra, which is reputedly one of the best in Argentina. 50 pesos ($6 US at the unofficial exchange rate) got us front and center tickets for an excellent program of classical music, which was completely different from the advertised program – very enjoyable nevertheless. The highlight was a virtuoso performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto by a Kazakh musician, who followed up with 5 encores with an increasingly Argentine flavor, ending up with tangos and a folk tune that had the audience humming along.
Trio after Albinoni performance

A few days ago, there was a free concert by a chamber trio playing 6 suites by Albinoni – again well played and enthusiastically received.

“Our” Isabel continues to encourage us to go to one of the folk music clubs in the center of town to hear the local traditional music, but the start time for live music is midnight -- a little too late for us oldies.

Last Monday was a public holiday, one of Argentina’s nineteen per year. In a politically correct progression, it used to be the “Day of Discovery”, commemorating Columbus’ arrival in the New World, then it became the “Day of the (Hispanic) Race”, and now it is the “Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity”.

Our cabana in Tilcara hostel

We decided to take advantage of the 3-day weekend to visit Tilcara, a small desert town high in the mountains about 135 miles north of here. (We are still trying to get used to the idea that “north” means “hotter”). After an interesting 5-hour bus trip in a very comfortable air-conditioned double decker, we were dropped off at the side of the road into a scene that was straight out of a western movie – blazing sun, blue skies, dust blowing through the streets of low adobe houses, and organ pipe cactus on dry rocky hillsides in the background. Our hostel, where we were at least 40 years older than most of the guests and the owners, was charming and our accommodation was “upgraded” to a beautiful little cabana, with its own solar heated running water, in the corner of the garden.

Multicolored rocks in Tilcara

Tilcara was fascinating. We thought it was like Santa Fe in New Mexico must have been 50 years ago, with a burgeoning artists’ colony, fascinating Spanish colonial buildings, pre-Columbian archeological sites, a mixture of native languages and cultures, low adobe buildings, and desert mountains on all sides under an intense blue sky. We spent our two and a half days visiting the Pucara – a restored pre-Inca fort on a hill outside of town, the Devil’s Throat – a slightly terrifying gorge reached after a 5 km uphill hike, and various historical and archeological museums. 

Making a bee line for a cactus flower
The town also boasted some excellent restaurants, though we did not partake of the local llama-steak specialties. However, we must admit that we spent quite a lot of time relaxing in the hostel garden, which overlooked the town and had some lovely birds we had never seen before.

Other day trips have involved more hiking, with a bus trip to the Quebrada of San Lorenzo – a gorge about 10 miles out of town, and a longer trip to the Dique of Cabra Corral – a huge man-made lake about 30 miles south. Our trip to the latter was on a local bus through fertile countryside, with tobacco farms, cattle ranches and gauchos on horseback, dressed in wide black sombreros, leather waistcoats and chaps, with elaborately decorated knives in their belts and ropes on their saddles. Sadly the bus whisked us past before we could take any photos.

Musicians in Tilcara playing pan-pipes made from plastic plumbing supplies

Dique de Cabra Corral - huge man-made lake in a very dry area

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