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the right to choose in argentina

Monday, September 28, 2009

photo: 'i abort, you abort, we are all silent'

today is the day for women's right to abortion in latin america and the caribbean. abortion is still illegal here in argentina. that's just crazy. i feel like it was a luxury back in canada to not have to engage in this debate, to not feel that a woman's right to choose needed me to defend it.

but here abortion is punishable by law (keep your laws off my body!). so i need to brush up on the statistics, the laws and the relevant local arguments and learn how to hold my own on this debate.
According to Health Ministry estimates, between 450,000 and 500,000 clandestine abortions are practiced every year in this country of 37 million, and the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses reports that 37 percent of pregnancies end in abortion, while 15 percent of the total involve girls under 20 years of age.

Although safe clandestine abortion services are available to those who can afford the high cost, poor women must resort to unsafe abortions practiced in unsanitary conditions. A little over one-quarter (27 percent) of maternal deaths are the result of complications from unsafe abortions, the main cause of maternal mortality and the second cause of death among women of child-bearing age. 
from here.
there is an active movement here to change things. they say:

sexual education so we can choose 
birth control so we can avoid abortions
legal, safe and free abortions so we won't die
Educación sexual para decidir - Anticonceptivos para no abortar - Aborto legal, seguro y gratuito para no morir

but there is such a long way to go. the church is very powerful here, and despite groups like catholic women for the right to decide, the church will remain a very powerful obstacle to the freedom to choose. very few, and mainly marginalized, politicians speak out about the issue.

safe abortion campaign
doctors and judges aren't helping either. there have been a number of disturbing, high-profile cases in recent years (i can only find links in spanish) in which doctors and hospitals have denied access to abortions for girls and women who met the very limited criteria for a legal abortion: when a woman's health is in danger or when a mentally disabled woman becomes pregnant after being raped. these girls and women then went to the courts, as their pregnancies advanced, to try to win their right to an abortion. the cases all had different outcomes, but the attention they attracted has lent some momentum to the debate.

there is a big march in buenos aires today. if i were there i would go - we would all go, the monster, the  monkey, f. and me - and i would ask some friendly-looking fellow marchers how i could get involved. but here i am in macondo. i googled and googled trying to find some signs of life of a women's movement here. i would march, i would help put up signs, design flyers, paint banners, sit through long meetings... but we are light years away from buenos aires. my partner actually had to intervene so that a member of his community health project wouldn't give an 'anti-abortion' talk (complete with images of bloody, 8-month-old fetuses) at the local high school. so never mind giving a 'reproductive health' talk, for now.

it's a topic for another post, but i want to find a good little space to join, to get active. the struggle for our right to choose is something i would join for sure.

(a book i'd like to read:  el aborto en debate. aportes para una discusión pendiente. the author, mariana carbajal, is a kick-ass feminist journalist whose articles (in spanish) in Página/12 are always worth a read.)

a good hug

Thursday, September 24, 2009

hurray for an unexpected moment of understanding, a spontaneous hug, and the feeling that i am amongst friends.

after a few bad days of not feeling great about things, i got treated to a good cry with a friend who i never expected to understand me as well as she so perfectly did. what a difference it makes. and how i miss my dearest friends back home...

pilgrims and hot tubs

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

photo: clarin
i have to admit that i find the idea of my teenage kids tripping out on hallucinogenic drugs, having naked hot tub parties and/or having (protected and consensual) sex to be much more appealing than the idea of them participating in a local catholic youth pilgrimage. can we mom? please? pleeeeease? even crazier: the idea that they might do some of the former while participating in the latter makes it easier to take. it seems...i don't know... healthier.

maybe it's only fairly easy to say all this because they are just 1 and 3.5 years old, or because i just haven't been here long enough. i'm pretty sure it sets me apart from most other parents around here.

if i were so inclined, i could participate in at least 2 major pilgrimages a year. as it turns out, my little neck of the woods is on a serious pilgrimage route to one of latin america's most beloved virgins.

in july, entire families and communities deck themselves out in their best gaucho gear, cram more people into rickety, horse-led wagons than i could possibly have imagined, and set out for a day- & night-long trek to pay their respects, ask for a favour, or follow through on a promise they'd made to their virgin. it is also, i can only assume, a major social happening - not to be missed.

this year it was officially cancelled because of the swine flu madness that consumed us all for a while, so there was only about 10% of the usual pilgrim traffic. i can't imagine what 100% would look like, in the hundreds of thousands.

we grabbed the video camera for f.'s job and filmed the carriages, the sudden mini-villages of tents and market stalls, the men and women and kids in full-on, head-to-toe, gaucho gear. it was very picturesque. (it was kind of hard to get my head around this authentic display of folklore not coming from an indigenous community, or an immigrant community, or a day of historical dress-up to commemorate something - this was the local, contemporary community, doing what they do, dressing how they dress).

it was very different from last saturday's student pilgrimage. high school and university students, sneakers and water bottles (actually, many carried coke), couples, groups of friends. some carrying big crosses, most carrying nothing but probably their cell phones. lots and lots and lots of kids. TENS OF THOUSANDS. (that might not sound like a lot, but this is a small place...)

at first, as we passed them all at a snail's pace in our car, my thoughts and questions about it all were as anthropological as they had been when observing the first pilgrimage. i took it all in as an outsider - do they do this every year? are they very religious or is it more of a social thing? what will they do when they get there? do they drink? do they really believe??

then, as we watched a little more closely, we started playing find-the-ones-with-the-really-bad-blisters. oooh, look at him, there's no way he'll make it! wow, did you see her? ouch! we talked about long hikes we've taken, which had always been with a backpack and climbing a mountain or through a forest.

then i turned to f. and asked him - if we stay here, will the monster or the monkey want to do this one day? his first response was to burst out laughing. it really was very funny. but really, it is so totally possible. and it's not the worst thing that could happen. as f. pointed out, it's not exactly sunday mass or catholic youth groups - of which he was once an enthusiastic member. as far as church activities go, a long walk isn't so bad. but then again, he didn't have naked hot tub parties growing up, either.

in all seriousness, i know i can deal with the occasional pilgrimage. and it's not even about religion at all. what it boils down to is the fact that they are growing up in a different place than i did. waaaay different.

and while i think the beach and the frogs and the sandy streets are wonderful for their childhood, i am not at all sure that this small, conservative little place is a place where they can thrive as teenagers. argentina? yes, i think so. but macondo?


Monday, September 21, 2009

it is just so incredibly beautiful and colourful here right now! i wish i could find the battery recharger for my camera to try to get some better shots.

yesterday at my friends' place i finally saw some carpinchos! a whole family of 'em. not as sexy as the howler monkey or some of the other critters around here (and i still haven't written about the BIRDS), but still, pretty cool.

too bad about the sandflies...


Thursday, September 17, 2009

the monster went fishing for the first time this weekend. real fishing – as in a real boat, in the real water, with a real fishing rod and real bait – as opposed to the many, many, oh so many times he has fished from our staircase, in a boat on the beach, with a stick in the sandbox, and so on and so on.

jacareImage via Wikipedia
and he caught a very real piranha! several, in fact. and if f. wasn’t exaggerating – which of course he would never ever do, since it would deprive him of his very favourite thing to tease me about – they were big ones, and they were literally jumping out of the water, begging to be fished.

this all happened in our friends’ pond, where they SWIM all summer long. !!! 'no pasa nada... as long as you keep moving, they won’t bother you.' yeah, i guess their mom/mother-in-law was just being too lazy last summer when she LOST A BIT OF HER FINGERTIP. that’s, like, equivalent to 2 joints or so of the monkey’s index finger.

not to mention that all of this takes place under the watchful eyes of the pond’s many yacarés, the local ALLIGATOR. so what if they don’t bite???

if i end up swimming in the pond this summer, as my friends are convinced i will, then it will be proof that it gets really, really, really hot here.

expat or immigrant?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

in a post a while back i referred to myself as an expat mama. and it got me thinking about the word 'expat'.

until i had applied the term to myself, i had always had the vague image of an expat as some youngish retired person from an english-speaking country, living in some interesting corner of the third world for some or all of the year, getting together with other expats in local cafés to write postcards, read the english-language paper or chat over a high-priced beer. they might get along fairly well in the local language, or they might speak only a few words, with a cringe-worthy accent. they might very well be progressive, or not, interested in local politics, or not, but they were not vulnerable to the social realities of their host region. at least nothing that an emergency airlift from their home country couldn't resolve in case of a coup, tsunami or some other such disaster.

of course this doesn't describe me, nor many self-identified expats - it was just the quick mental picture the word called up for me. but when we lived in canada, f. was not an expat - he was an immigrant. there was no 'expat argentinian community.'

offhand: to me, expat seems to imply choice, privilege and something like non-integration. immigrant seems to imply discrimination and struggle, and while not the yucky 'assimilation', at least integration. putting your lot in with your new society. it's way more nuanced than that, and changes with time and place and individual circumstances. it's a political and politicized term, and its meaning is probably radically different depending on the country, social class, country of origin and blah blah blah. but it is decidedly NOT expat.

then, of course, i googled. i found this and this and this. socio-economic position and intention to stay seem to matter. this sounds vaguely right, but far from comprehensive:
In its broadest sense, an expatriate is any person living in a different country from where he is a citizen. ... The differentiation found in common usage usually comes down to socio-economic factors, so skilled professionals working in another country are described as expatriates, whereas a manual labourer who has moved to another country to earn more money might be labelled an 'immigrant'. There is no set definition and usage does vary depending on context and individual preferences and prejudices.
i think there's something else, too. being an immigrant implies that you are either of the undocumented type, with few legal rights and protections and limited opportunities, or you have legal papers and therefore passed through a lengthy, expensive, exclusive, filtering process. being an expat makes no reference at all to either process or to legal status. the expat and his or her dollars are unquestionably welcome, legal or not.

okay, i can only go on for so long without being specific about what country and what nationality i'm talking about. each place has its meanings - it's not the same to have blonde hair in japan as it is here in argentina. and historical periods have their meanings too - the argentinian immigrant a hundred years ago was likely to have come from germany or spain or italy or france, today s/he likely comes from peru or paraguay or bolivia. with all the cultural baggage, economic implications and racism tied up in all of these things.

so let me be clear. i am a white, blonde, educated canadian. unlike many, i did all the legal somersaults required of me to officially be allowed to live and work and study here: get married to an argentinian, pay hundreds of dollars in translations and official stamps and certified mail, undergo numerous medical exams, fill out infinite forms, stand in infinite lines... (english really needs a good word for all this, like the indispensable trámite in spanish).

but at the time, many locals were surprised - some were even outraged - that i should have to go through this whole process. it's one thing for the immigrants to have to do such a thing - the peruvians, bolivians, paraguayans - but quite another for 'someone like me' (because i'm blonde? because i speak english? because i'm from canada? because they like me? because they're racist?).

so, this is me:
  • socio-economic position: privileged, though somewhat precarious
  • intention to stay: yes, probably, almost definitely, i think
  • legal status: permanent resident
  • integration: yes and no - i speak english to my kids, i want them to celebrate hallowe'en, i'm a vegetarian; i also speak almost perfect spanish, all my friends are locals, my kids eat morcilla (blood sausage) and other unmentionably meaty argentinian delights.
  • but here's the clincher: mom to 2 argentinian kids.
yeah, they were born in canada, and true, they're currently here 'illegally' on overstayed visas, but eventually they'll get their paperwork, and more to the point, they will be growing up here. this place is their context - the cultural setting in which we will struggle to instill in them our values and ideals. the political setting in which they will become political beings. and their day-to-day world where hopefully they will manage to avoid drunk-driving friends and a preference for mullet-style hairdos (or whatever the equally atrocious style is when they're teenagers - i still can't believe that mullets are so cool here...).

this makes me feel - like i believe immigrants do and expats do not - that my fate is inextricably linked to this place. it means that things like public schools, health care policy, communications laws, gay marriage and adoption rights and access to safe and legal abortions really really matter to me. even without kids, but more so with them, i want a political leg to stand on. it is important to position myself so that i can join or support the struggles i feel strongly about. i did not come here to lose my voice.

it's true that there is choice and privilege in me writing these words, in choosing to call myself an immigrant. i guess that plucks me up and plonks me down right in the middle of the expat crowd. and yes, i do occasionally browse expat sites for info on car seats and translation jobs. and yes, i would jump at the chance to join an english-language playgroup for my little monster. whatever.

am i creating a tension that doesn't exist between the two terms? how do self-identified expats here, especially those with kids, feel about it all? not those here for a year of tango, spanish immersion and yummy wine. those who live here - what makes them expats and not immigrants? what are the nuances?

as for me, i find it is comforting to realize that i'm an immigrant mama. it makes it feel a little easier, a little more legitimate, to quench my self-doubting 'what-right-do-i-have-to-say-anything-change-anything-disagree-with-anything-since-i'm-just-an-outsider-from-the-first-world-who-has-no-right-to-'impose'-my-ways' concerns. to be less intimidated. it also ties me to lots of people and communities i know well back in canada. it's not uncharted territory. even if i sometimes feel like a total freak.

some wonderful things about visiting the inlaws

Saturday, September 12, 2009

i love buenos aires. it's a beautiful, fascinating city, overflowing with great film, dance, theatre, music, funky craft fairs and plazas. there is high-quality, abundant children's theatre, and you can get the best puppets i have ever seen in almost any plaza, direct from the self-taught puppet-makers. it has stunning architecture and design; the best cafés, streets and people for people-watching; and it's bursting with gut-wrenching, mind-blowing, ideology-transforming history and activism. it is full of all those stark contradictions of child labour and glitzy shopping malls; street kids, slums and high fashion.

but this time, i didn't 'do' buenos aires in this way. it was just a plain old visit to the inlaws, in the suburbs, way too painful and hellish a train-ride away from the hip and hopping core. still, it is not macondo. it was a mini family vacation, including a 1000km road trip each way, which the kids dealt with pretty well.

by far the best part was our visit to the top specialist in children's growth, who put to rest our worries about the monster's littleness. yay!! it also had its difficult moments, which i'm still trying to figure out and will probably write about here eventually (including a total crying breakdown mess over the monkey's birthday cake). i might be a little more depressed than i thought...

in any case, i also found pleasure in little things, including enjoying time with my kids. and:
  • hot water
  • water pressure
  • doting extended family for the kids, sometimes meaning several hours in a row of not even seeing the kids - they're perfectly happy without me. can you believe that??
  • sweaty, dirty, hilarious cousin play, ending in shared baths, bruises, overtired kids and sleepovers
  • buying the paper around the corner in the morning (can't get it until the afternoon out here in macondo)
  • cable tv (lovely to trash out now and then, and great for following the current political mess about a new, so-very-important communications law here)
  • ice cream delivery! why doesn't this exist everywhere?
  • vegetarian empanada options - yum
  • patched and falling-apart sheets and towels (i love the old-timeness and the eco-qualities of having these same items for a lifetime, though the i-desire-comfort part of me isn't so thrilled about it. i have only love though for the fridge still in use from the 1960s. so eco and so retro...)
  • kids playing with wood and iron toys - carts, trucks, bikes, animals - made by my brother-in-law

i take it back

Thursday, September 3, 2009

...at least most of it. last week i wrote this post about not enjoying time with my kids. sure, there are inklings of all of it. but i was feeling down, guilty about my parenting, and in a self-deprecating kind of mood. now, feeling a little less down and with abundant extended family to take the strain off for a week, i realize i do enjoy spending time with my kids, very very much. not all the time, but plenty.
an important aside: i've heard this a million times before and it must seem obvious, but i only feel like i get it right now - the extended family thing...

not only is it fun and lovely, and great for the kids to have those relationships and all that, but it concretely reduces or does away with the madness and constant, exhausting logistical juggling of trying to change a toddler diaper (the monkey's a toddler now!) while supervising a preschool bath, trying to cut and paste with a preschooler while preventing the toddler from eating magazine scraps, trying to nurse a toddler to sleep while reading a preschooler a bedtime story, trying to run the preschooler to the bathroom for 'kaka' while nursing, etc etc etc. it's as simple as 'hey, mother/brother/sister/father-in-law, could you watch x for a minute while i do this with y?'

f. is around a lot and so i don't have to deal with solo madness as much as many mamas and papas i know. i don't know how they do it.
okay - so why did i feel like i didn't enjoy spending time with my kids?
  • i wasn't enjoying removing the monkey from the stairs, garbage can or oven every 30 to 45 seconds or so. not at all. and i wasn't enjoying the endearing tone the monster likes to use when he's grumpy or hungry or tired or feels like it.
  • i was spending too much time on the internet, or trying to spend too much time, but getting interrupted by removing the monkey from the stairs, garbage can or oven every 30 to 45 seconds or so. the too-much-time-on-the-internet topic is for another post, but is part of what i do i guess when i'm feeling kind of down.
  • i get overwhelmed sometimes by the physicalness of it all. the monkey pretty much beats me up while he nurses, and often when i change him. (and he's strong!) the monster has 2 charming habits: climbing/bouncing on me while i nurse, and grabbing/mounting his little brother from behind. aside from the ouches, i hate saying (and hearing myself say) 'no' all the time. yet i haven't been able to find a way around it. metaphorically speaking, i try to make my lap big enough for both (advice i read somewhere on having a second child, but can't remember where), but physically speaking i'm taking a beating.
ever since i wrote that other post, i've been thinking about it lots (and feeling terrible about it) and observing how much i do enjoy my wonderful little boys. i am not always as present as i would like to be, along with a lot of other faults, and i definitely enjoy them a lot more when i remember to. so i've been reminding myself a lot. i think i feel a list of things i enjoy about them coming on soon.
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