Sunday, June 8, 2008

Buenos dias Buenos Aires

It's been almost a week since I touched down in Argentina, and I think I'm doing a pretty admirable job of changing hemispheres/continents/weather patterns/food types/people/language/residence. I love Buenos Aires. It is so completely different from Cairo, and I think I'm developing a bad habit of saying, "Oh this is interesting. In Egypt..." Have to work on that. BA is different, but I think it's going to be a fantastic summer. A little run-down of the differences between Cairo and Buenos Aires thus far:

Street names: Since Spanish and English use the same alphabet, there's no transliteration involved. You never find a street that's called one thing at the beginning and something else at the other, i.e. 'Abd El-Hamid' vs 'Abd Al-Hameed'. All hail consistency.

Clothing: I went to school with very wealthy Egyptians, so they dressed pretty differently from the general populous. However here no one wears burkas, hijabs, or galabiyas. The common ensemble includes nice jackets, tight jeans, fluffy sweaters and something leather, probably including boots. The shopping is's going to be a problem.

Food: Argentina has a huge Italian and Spanish influence, so a lot of the food here is pizza, pasta, or steak. The meat is delicious...I've heard the pizza and pasta are as well. I live in an incredibly nice neighborhood, and am lucky enough to be surrounded by health food stores, so I've had no problem finding gluten-free substitutes. I'm still amazed that it's so easy to be gluten-intolerant here, but there you are.

Language: I can understand it! Woo hoo! I understand about 98% of what my teacher says in class, and a lot less on the street, but I'm practicing constantly, so I know I'll get better every day. I'm interning for a non-profit here called Consciencia, and I speak completely in Spanish when I'm at work. It's hard right now and my boss speaks really quickly, but I know it will be a great way to learn. The non-profit mostly focuses on education and promoting civil responsibility to students.

Residence: I'm living in a student residence, just like I did in Cairo, but this one is smaller. It used to be a mansion and has been renovated for student housing. It's beautiful. There is a large kitchen, a great living room, and my room is really spacious (although without windows or bookshelves). Everyone in the house is very nice. Most people will only be here for a month, so it will be interesting to be here for the rotation/turnover at the end of June.

Religion: Islam prohibits the eating of pork. I cannot even tell you how many different forms of ham I've seen here thus far. Islam also frowns upon the consumption of alcohol. Wine and beer are such an accepted part of the culture here that our program actually provided them for us at the welcome dinner earlier this week. I know that shouldn't shock me, especially b/c the drinking age is 18, but I'm just used to living in dry dorms. Viva el vino.

Boys: Argentinian boys are cute. Everyone here seems to be a serial dater, though. I was talking to Sophia, who's one of the program coordinators. She explained to me that it was really normal to constantly be in a relationship. She said most Argentinians would probably have about 20 boyfriends or girlfriends with 2-3 serious ones before getting married. Ah! In Egypt, 'dating' means meeting the family of the man you're going to marry, and you'd better as hell still be a virgin. If you never get married? Tough luck.

That's the rundown for now. Plenty more updates to come.