Since returning home to Utah last month, we have been overwhelmed with those comforts that now surround us once again: peanut butter, ranch dressing, fruit smoothies, reliable customer service, and coupons. At the same time, we profoundly miss Argentina...its lifestyle...its traditions...its people.
We arrived to Mendoza in Feb 2008 with professional and personal goals. However, we were soon plagued with challenges first underestimated before leaving the United States. Overwhelming at times, such trials were alleviated with the help and support of true friends...who were mere acquaintances to begin with. This is something I admire of the Argentine culture - we're in this together, so let us help one another. While some of our professional goals were not met, we did exceed our expectations regarding those eternal memories soon to be formed with friends and family members.
Now back home, we have been asked several questions regarding our international experience. Yes, it was hard. Yes, we loved it. Yes, it was difficult to leave. Yes, we would recommend it to others!
We have been asked about our furniture in Mendoza - what did you do with it all? Having purchased new appliances, electronics, tables, dishes, and mattresses in 2008, we simply did what we felt was right - we gave it all away to loved ones without thinking twice. The more you give, the more you receive...in order to continue giving.
Tania and I were fortunate to serve in the youth programs of our local LDS congregation. Between the two of us, we hiked the Andean foothills, baked oatmeal cookies, taught football (not soccer), explored the zoo, made scrapbook cards, and taught classes...all among the young men and women of Godoy Cruz, Mendoza. As a counselor in the bishopric, I later continued such efforts while also learning and meeting the needs of older members. No matter the economic differences or challenges among us, we each deserve a chance - or multiple chances - to develop our talents and become self-reliant...often with the assistance and encouragement of others.
As we prepared to depart from Mendoza that warm Tuesday afternoon in May, Tania and I stood in the airport terminal with our 8 oversized suitcases, 1 stroller, 1 kennel, 1 child, 1 dog, and 2 heavy hearts. However, there beside us were several members of our congregation - the same ones who sang "God Be With You Till We Meet Again" just two days prior in our church services. Warm embraces, encouraging smiles, and streaming tears defined those last few moments...and then we were gone.
When times get tough, some of us can pack up our bags and go somewhere else. Others are required to face and overcome such tough times. When new ideas and ambitions enter our hearts, some of us can embark on new adventures. Others are required to dream...and nothing more. This happens worldwide. Throughout our lives, I hope we all can provide opportunities to those that dream...and to those in drastic need.
Above and beyond the mouth-watering steak, I feel the greatest aspect of our trip was time with friends and family. It was an honor to celebrate holidays and birthday dinners together at last...despite the blazing sun on Christmas morning! Tania and I - plus Dallin - share a profound love and respect for those individuals that looked out for us in Argentina. I especially feel a great deal of admiration towards Tania's parents...two humble Chileans that have embraced me since 2002. Gracias a todos ustedes.
So, what other things do we miss about Argentina? To begin, here are a few photos of our arrival at the first hotel in Feb 2008...followed with bits and pieces of our lives abroad:
We miss Sol y Luna: Dallin's pre-school where he attended each morning three blocks from home. Tania took him each morning...I picked him up at noon. His teachers were wonderful and the 2008 graduation show was spectacular!! The theater even had hired paparazzi to take pictures of all the costumes!
We miss Beltrán y Tucumán: The corner address of our new apartment in Bombal Sur of Godoy Cruz. We had everything right within our reach - baker, butcher, barber, etc. We even had our own vegetable stand, pizza parlor, and bootleg video store right next door. We will forever miss the repeated phrase of "la esquina de Beltrán y Tucumán" each time we climbed inside a taxi.
We miss colectivo 8-104: We did not have a car. And when taxis were too expensive, we took the green and yellow bus that stopped right in front of our apartment...the 8-104. The bus took us from home, to the main plaza, to the bus terminal, and back. Several different drivers had this route, and each one decorated the inside of their bus with colors of Boca, colors of River, decals of Jesus, or disco mirrors. We miss the teenagers blasting their cumbia music for all to hear...while the grandmothers held their groceries tight until their stop.
We miss Carrefour: Our local market was just four blocks down the road. We walked there at least three times a week (protests pending) to purchase drinkable yogurt, powdered milk, Nestum (infant cereal), fideos, salsa, and of course...Baggio Pronto (the greatest fruit juice created by man). The manager knew Dallin...the cashiers knew Tania...and the butcher knew us all :)
We miss las plazas: The central squares that united all neighborhoods, towns, and downtown districts. Each plaza carried a unique characteristic: flowing fountains, or towering statues, or soaring palm trees, or elegant lamp posts, or handicraft markets. From up-and-coming breakdancers to jewelry-wielding hippies, each plaza offered unique insight into local culture.
We miss...that last picture: Without a care in the world, couples tossed themselves on the ground...or on benches...or on the sidewalk...just to express their everlasting love...or fulfill a burning desire in the moment. We call this PDA (public display of affection) here in Utah...and it's not as common.
We miss our obispado: Our loving bishopric devoted to the congregation of Godoy Cruz Centro. While smiling and laughing at times...we also knew when to be stern :)
We miss mate: The national steaming drink of hot water and herbs that accompanied each social gathering...even in the boiling summer months. Beyond the drink itself, we miss the moments and memories it created.
We miss el cielo: The blue Argentine sky that often turned into a brilliant horizon of billowing clouds of purples and oranges. We have yet to see such patterns here in the United States...but we were privileged with such views from our apartment's terrace.
Dallin misses las novias: Those wonderful girls that cared for Dallin throughout our trip...especially Mili (his first love).
We miss el invierno: The cool winter months of Mendoza. Dry leaves covered the ground, white snow covered the mountains, and little Dallin was wearing his coat.
We miss el verano: The hot summer months of Mendoza...when clothing was optional...for Dallin.
We miss las protestas: In a way, protests are comforting. They remind you that you're not the only one having a hard time! I admire the courage and resilience that such protesters demonstrated on a weekly basis. However, some protests were just poor excuses to cause chaos...while most protests ended with few results. Aside from the awful traffic jams and bus detours, we applaud those that protested in the name of security, basic rights, and teacher compensation.
We miss road trips: While we do have a car here in Utah, we enjoyed the road trips across Argentina on bus. We reserved our favorite seats - arriba, adelante - and admired the views, the weather, and the fellow passengers. We miss the maleteros asking for spare change. We miss the movie selection...from the mid-1980s. We miss the food...sometimes. We miss jumping off at each stop to explore each bus terminal for 5 minutes. We miss the famous rule of "No Solid Waste in the Restroom". What we don't miss? The passengers who ignored that rule.
We miss the construction workers - not the construction: While the thunderous noises of jackhammers and drills woke us up each morning...and each siesta...we must acknowledge the solid work ethic of the construction workers next door. These men worked long hours for minimal pay...all to return home and care for their wives and children.
We miss los caballos: The sound of horses trotting down our street...as anxious drivers honked their horns from behind. At least three times a day, these kids would gather all the cardboard boxes outside our apartment building...then move along to the next neighborhood.
We miss the greatest steak and ice-cream on earth: Period. From fine restaurants to backyard gatherings...from aged grills to firm box springs...these people know how to barbecue!!! As for the ice-cream...we recommend the White Chocolate and Dulce de Leche Granizado.
We miss the bidet: Enough said.
Our time in Mendoza taught us to place more value on experiences and relationships rather than material items or possessions. We learned that "home" is wherever we are as a family - no matter the neighborhood, the nation, or the continent. We learned to live with little...rather than live in abundance. We love our son. He impressed us. Dallin lived every moment to the fullest - greeting each stranger along the way - without ever realizing he was on an "international" trip. We love our dog. No matter the challenges ahead, she was there to lick your feet - and face - at the end of the day. In 2007, we had some choices to make. We could have purchased a home. We could have pursued a career. Instead, we purchased plane tickets and pursued a dream. We fulfilled a goal that we always had in mind...to return to Argentina once more. We did it. We loved it. And we're sure to to do it again.
Above all else: Gracias a Diego, Gabriela, Carla, Jair, Milagros, Lucho, Betina, Laura, Javier, Cindy, Gabriel, Sara, Ronald, Karen, Leandro, José, Carla, Augustín, Araceli, Aldin, Alondra, y todos los miembros del Barrio Godoy Cruz Centro. Nos enseñaron un montón sobre la vida...y por eso les queremos tanto.