Thursday, August 4, 2011

Country Brat

Even though I come from a state capitol, my IPSP experience is definitely in the "Small-town-girl-goes-to-big-city" category. I've always said I want to live in D.C. or New York because it's so intellectually and culturally stimulating. The truth is, though I do enjoy living big here in Buenos Aires, the transition doesn't come without it's hardships.

That's where "brat" comes from as the crown of this post. I have had this guilty feeling sometimes because my sense of space has been wildly disrupted here - even more so than when I was living in Spain. Guilt because I feel like such a Yanki (general term for North American) needing more space than I have here. I get frazzled easily by crowds and avoid public transportation at rush hour because it's too difficult for me to navigate the sea of fellow travelers (See "6pm Subte Ride" post) . But then I realized, it's not just Buenos's NY, D.C., and Madrid, too. And it's not because I'm American, it's because I'm a country girl.

I was reminded of that this weekend when I went to visit La Rural - the livestock fair in Buenos Aires. It reminded me so much of home - "home" being all of the places that I spent time in during my formative years. Here's a quick tour through my childhood:
The big pavilions showcasing animals at La Rural were reminiscent of the Arkansas State Fair livestock yard (Spencer, ya with me?). When I first entered the grounds, I was met with the fantastic and familiar stench of animal urine and hay. You think I'm being sarcastic, but I say give me animal ammonia over exhaust fumes any day (too much? sorry.)

 Memory #2: Playing the moo game which entailed screaming "MOO" as loud as possible toward the cow pastures on a long car ride. You scored points based on how many cows turn to look. I've played in AR and TN, but could also be a fun game in TX.


My fondest memories are of horseback riding at Camp Monterey. I did it every summer for eight years, and being at the barn was like being in heaven. I was happy whether I was mucking stalls or cantering along the back trails. I just wanted to be near the horses.

And these baskets reminded me of something I'd actually long forgotten...wandering the cotton fields behind my cousins' house in England, Arkansas. Besides rice, cotton is one of the major agricultural products in our beloved state.

Needless to say, La Rural gave me a big dose of nostalgia for my country upbringing. And it made me appreciate being able to truly have experienced both sides of the spectrum - country livin' and city slickin'. By no means, however, have I lived the extremes.

This is where the importance of my organization, Fundacion Cruzada Argentina, comes in. I know I've thrown out this statistic before, but it surprises me every time I say it: 90% of Argentina's population lives in urban cities. La Nacion, one of the national daily readers here, put out in an article that within just a few years, that stat could rise to 95%. It's crowded in the cities, but the jovenes (younguns) keep going urban for the lack of opportunities they have out by the countryside.

Cruzada Argentina finances what they call 'productive projects' in secondary schools, so students get the chance to move beyond the books and learn a practical skill and the business theory behind commercializing that skill. I'm just beginning to realize during my search for possible network organizations how unique the niche is that they are filling. They are not only educational, but promote smaller-scale entrepreneurship like microfinance institutions. Their project activities and community outreach come together to have an impact in the area of rural development, with an emphasis in sustainable living practices. Furthermore, their goals include motivating and transforming students' attitudes to be more proactive, work-oriented. In short, it not only gives the studetns a chance to establish a productive career without having to move to urbania, but enables them to have a positive impact on their home communities, too.

In reflecting on my country "spoiledness," I've come to think a lot about what it would mean for a true rural dweller to leave the peace and beauty of the Argentine countryside behind and try to adjust to the bustling city. Some have the dream to do so (like me!), and for them I don't discount that it may be a good choice. But that's the key - it should be a choice and not a necessity.

I can't explain to you the vast difference in sense of space and time between large cities like Buenos Aires and more rural areas. It's as easy for a country dweller to feel lost in a sea of people as it would be a city-slicker who couldn't find his way out of the corn fields. The crowds and exhaust fumes can be just as choking as the smell of cow dung and hay dust. And the milky way and stardust against the jet-black sky at night can be just as breathtaking as the sunset reflected in the skycrapers at dusk in Puerto Madero. Each has its charm, each has its animosity, but both can induce a great amount of culture shock to a stranger.

Call it an epiphany, but I've just recently realized that working for a rural development organization in one of the world's biggest cities is the apex of my life's experience in so many ways. Now I feel like I can empathize (even if only minutely), which even further heightens my sense of solidarity with FCAs mission and work. I am so glad that they've hosted me this summer and can only hope that the project I'm about to present to them will be half as valuable as this experience has been for me. I may be corny, and I may be country, but at least I know the difference between chic, in-style footwear and field shoes...and wear both quite proudly!!


Tracy said...

I've always said Little Rock is a big city with a very small town feel. It's good to be able to enjoy both.....I love to visit really big cities and really rural areas but I kind of like this middle ground I live on.

uccella said...

Hullo hullo--I stumbled across your blog this morning and have been thorougly enjoying it. I hail from The Natural State as well, and have been calling Madrid home for the past year. While I love the opportunities the city brings, it does become agobiante at times with so many people, advertisements, and traffic. I miss retreating into the quietness of a residence where the rooftop of the nearest house cannot even be glimpsed.

I found it interesting that 90% (or more) of Argentina's population lives in urban areas. Wow! Think of all the kiddos missing out on the moo game...


Cassandra (, I dunno why wordpress isn't letting me sign in!)

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