It is almost three months that I am in Cordoba, Argentina, for my 6 months EVS on the topic of community mediation.
The first thing I did once arrived? Lie down in a field at night to see the stars.
I am upside down, after the entire winter and autumn in Italy, I am restarting it againg: leaves are falling down and days are getting shorter…and while it seems that my world is going on, I am coming back, to a new perspective. Actually this has something funny: the world here is the same, we think to be in a place in the middle of nowhere where everybody needs your heroic intervention…whereas once you get here you discover that there are several silent heroes who do an incredible work everyday. Cordoba is a city of almost two millions inhabitants, which cannot be compared to the other two realities we are used to think about while referring to South America: nor it is a capital city as Lima, Buenos Aires, Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Bogota or Quito. Neither it is a latin american favela.
Cordoba has a central core, where most work, economy, history, politics and culture related activities take place, and kilometres of barrios completely different one from the other: in ten minutes of taxi drive you can move from the neighbourhood with hollywood-style villas to tiny houses where people move around on horse-drawn carts. Cordoba has a huge lighthouse but the sea is more than 800 km far away! Rich in terms of contradictions, it is a city fighting everyday to build an internal identity that could demonstrate its authenticity and uniqueness in a world used to distinguish South America into two macro categories: huge caotic city or country affected by extreme poverty.
It’s an upside down world and I’ll explain you why: we are in South America and life is as expensive as Italy, which makes the life of a volunteer an ongoing “desafio”. Taxis make you think you are in New York, then you look out of the window and come back to reality: tiny houses resembling Thai peripheries, electricity cables everywhere and stray dogs – the city’s undisputed rulers -walking around the streets apparently knowing better than me where to go. People wait the bus in line and this is something inconcivable if I recall the European cities I lived in. All other things go “despacito”: people walk around as they do not really have a place to get, you can find fresh bread in the “panaderia” only after 10 am and top up the mobile or the bus card becomes a huge challenge requiring hours of researches…I’d bet a person from Milan here would die! Despite this slowness, the fact that thieveries are very common and that each house has at least three maindoors and a magnetic key to enter, I can notice more attention and care for the other person and his/her times. If there is a thing that somobody from Cordoba knows how to do it to wait and respect the other’s time. A simple example? Drinking Mate, but this topic deserves its own space.
I imagined the land of “Tango” and instead here Tango is something elderly people dance in the squares on Sunday afternoon, like walzer during our Fish Festival…and if you are lucky or a tourist, you can get a test run…young people are divided among Cumbia or Quartetto always danced with a Fernet and Coca, a drink that its country of origin has completety neglected and that I usually relate to elderly retired people drinking it after coffee.
I am upside down because seasons passing by remind me about this, as music in the streets, pizza cook on the embers and “muzzarella” a cheese with a taste I still didn’t manage to get. I am in the Third World and I understood it only after having heard people talking about Italia as part of the First World. And this makes me smile if I think about the 7 years spent in Rome…how can I explain that differences are not so big to justify two worlds of distance?
I am upside down, though I perfectly breath, blood is not going to the head…from this perspective I feel more normal than I thought, I feel more home than expected. People greet you kissing, no matter your name or story, they hold you, kiss you, hug you. Music flows all over and you do not feel upside down anymore. You get an identity again. Argentina, despite the lack of liberty during its dark times, it now seems to give back a space to be oneself and leave something to the others. Everyday marches and protests take place for every kind of reason and in my simple opinion I interpret this as: “Do you have an idea? Do you believe in it? Do not be afraid and fight for it” (this doesn’t mean you are right, but listening and demanding respect seems to me as a step forward).
As volunteer I do not feel as an arm acting for somebody, without responsibility; everyday I feel more aware of myself and of my capacities. I re-discover myself as a thinking mind who is here to give something different, not for a coincidence, and when this process starts you cannot stop it.
I do not know if it is the land of opportunities from an economical point of view, I do not know if I can think about a future here, of putting my roots, but this place gives me the opportunity to think about it, this experience is giving me the opportunity to believe in my own mind, to stop feeling as as something is always missing to start my way. It makes me think I can desire something better for me…and when this desire settles, you cannot take it over but only follow it. And this means living upside down, I regret not to have started before.
Chiara is the Italian volunteer hosted by OAJNU in Cordoba, Argentina.