Thursday, March 18, 2010

Finding a home...

My lifestyle has never been one attached to a certain land, place, dwelling or person. I don’t have roots gripping tight into the physical land. Though I’ve lived in the same city and neighborhood for most of my life, I was never super attached to any one house, or community. I don’t even particularly care for the neighborhood I lived in—most of my free time was spent working, playing, and building communities elsewhere.

I have waterlily tendencies, growing roots in freshwater, and thriving on infinitely changing situations. Although I love my family and friends, the concept of home sickness and intense missing only occurs to me while in love. Change is a constantly soothing rhythm for me; new friends, new challenges, new language.

But with all of my nomadic tendencies, one of the most important things is creating my own HOME and space in each place that I go. In Buenos Aires I wanted to live ALONE, in my own apartment, decorate it all by myself, and create the energy in my OWN place. At 22, I figured it was about time. That was until I sat down to quantify how much my independence would COST in Buenos Aires. As an American, my one bedroom apartment for myself could cost well over $600/US month--and that’s just a box with a kitchen sink.

So after I threw out my image of my being a well-adjusted, independent, young adult, I started the hunt again.

I called around and found the cheapest place to crash during my search for hogar. I settled in a neighborhood down here called Constitution in a hostel called “Hotel America”, where the amenities had little to do with American standards. I was unfazed; I had a bed and a shower, and a safe place to keep my equipment for a while—or so I thought.

One night after meeting up with my friend Erika, I took the bus home super late. Upon arriving en casa I received a frantic e-mail message from my friend.

“Diane, I hope you got home ok. Call me when you get there!!!! You’re leaving that hostel tomorrow!!!!”

I had been warned already that the neighborhood wasn't the most desirable, (everyone gave me the slight gasp and furrowed brow when I would mention the name), but I wasn’t personally too concerned. First of all, as per usual, those who commented on the dangers of my barrio weren't usually very familiar with it, and surely hadn't lived there. Anyways, beside all of the tiny Italian looking girls in this country, I don’t look like the easiest target to eff with.

Actually, Erika's reaction had surprised me because she and her boyfriend also live in a neighborhood that people presume to be “dangerous”. When I called her, she explained her preoccupation. I understood that it was a poor neighborhood, next to the train tracks and all that ish, but as her boyfriend explained to me in the nicest possible way…

All of the putas del barrio were Dominican women. Read: You’re in the red-light district, and you lightin up like Rudolph.

I’ve definitely been the victim of the widespread prejudices of many (especially older) Porteño men who think that all black women are 1.) Loose 2.) Sexual goddesses or 3.) Prostitutes.

Walking home from school, my arms full of notebooks, I’ve had grown men grab me by the arm and whisper in my ear, "I'll pay you whatever you want. Anything you want." My response is always a series of ill-formed puteas...though my grandma later advised me later that I should have seen just how high he would go only so I had a good assessment of my “street value”. (Now y'all understand why I’m crazy right, it’s gotta be genetic!)

More disgustingly, after I threw a polite head nod at an old-as-dirt fellow outside of the post office, he proceeded to follow me and ask me if I was taking him with me. When I contorted my face and spat out a “Que?” he flippantly responded with a gummy-wet air kiss and started advancing towards me with open arms.

So the thought that specifically in my neighborhood, my skin was a signifier that said “I am for sale and I can be treated like the sex object that I am” presented me with a serious ideological conflict.

If I move out immediately, am I running away from the same diaspora that I’m attempting to commune with??

To encourage my decision making, Eri graciously offered up her house with her fiancée. Needless to say, I decided to ponder my ideological shortcomings in free housing with an awesome friend.

The area that Erika and Uli live in also would commonly illicit crumpled faces from those Porteños from the city. It’s outside of the capital federal city limits and parts of it are known to be “very dangerous”. But as she tried to assuage my contradictory feelings she assured me that my job and my life were two separate things…and I should try to keep them separate. Hell, I didn't even know what my research would turn out to be.

The temporary housing was awesome. We would cook, sing, jam out (Uli is also a musician), and Erika, who is an Afro-Argentine scholar and mentor to me, would challenge me to our classic political and academic discussions. Laptops on lap, we would work on project proposals and explore our future goals and dreams.

During the day we would run around to Afro-Diaspora meetings and I would relentlessly search for apartments. I met filmmakers, and teachers, and families who rented out rooms, houses full of foreigners...houses that had curfews, houses that had tiny kitchens, houses with no windows. I lived with an awesome Columbian for a week, had to desperately crash at a friends house for a night, and was a bit stranded for a point in time.

Finding a house, like most things should be all about instinct. You can’t ever predict whether your roommates will be axe murderers, or snorers, loud talkers, or horrible cooks—you just got to try to absorb as much of the feeling as the house as you can.

One night I decided to go out with a girl that I had seen on a house sharing forumn months before arriving in Argentina to see “que onda”. I had forgotten about her departamento until she sent me a facebook message. She was very forward, and very excitable, telling my ass to come over immediately so we could hang out in her apartment and so that i could take pictures of her and be the singer in her band.

I gave it a shot, and the place was just as beautiful as it was in the pictures. The kitchen is all windows, a patio in the back with a parilla, brightly colored walls, and huge closets. We drank some beers, hung out, and I tentatively understood half of the conversation that was going on. The girl, Emi, and all of her friends are from outside of Buenos Aires from a place called Tucuman. Their slang is quite different from the rest of Buenos Aires, so as the night went on we ended up entering into discussions of linguistics.

I have to admit that I wasn’t quite sure about the living situation after the first half of the night. The girls seemed awesome but I wasn’t that fond of a few of her friends and I had some image in my head of them always being around and poisoning my energy.

But alas, the vibe got better when we arrived at her friends house, her lifelong friend, and stand in uncle figure. Not only did he make us perfect caipirinhas and gin & tonics, but he also let me know that he was a music producer and a chef in training. The deal sealing moment came at the end of the night when we ordered an entire chicken, French fries, and salad from a Peruvian place, and downed it all—hot sauce included!

I didn’t realize how important the politics of food was to me until I started to live in this country. Not only do they not each rice or beans like the rest of the world BUT generally the food options consist of empanadas, pizza, or pasta. To marinate is to harm the meat, and using steak sauce or hot sauce is an insult to the cook. In general, people just aren’t very warm or open to trying things outside of their vocabulary.

Porteños, people from Buenos Aires, will tell you that their food….women….futbol…are the best in the world. Of course, there ain’t nothing wrong with a bit of patriotic pride, but it often comes with the refusal to consider or understand anything outside of their borders.

So yes, I do admit it: like the fat girl that I am at heart, food was the deciding factor in choosing my roommates!! Their affinity for “ethnic” and spicy foods like Carlitos peruvian cuisine, was an indicator of their ability to find the goodness OUTSIDE of Argentina.

So, while I’m in Argentina I have my home, I have my little family. A family that accepts me for the american football loving, couscous eating, yoga doing, yanqui imperialist that I am.

I’m sure more adventures will be to come, but for now here are a few pictures of the house...

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