Last Tuesday, I went with Valentina and her dad and brother to a soccer game. I have watched soccer on TV here, but it did not prepare me at all for going to a game in person. It was amazing and very different from any other professional sporting event I have ever been to! People take their fútbol very seriously here. My first glimpse of the field was impeded by a police officer with a machine gun in full riot gear. I asked Valentina what would happen if you wore a shirt supporting the opposing team to a game. She gave me a horrified look and jokingly, but not too jokingly, said, “You wouldn’t make it out alive.” When we got to our seats, I saw that two large sections of the stadium, behind the goals, were standing room only sections. They were packed with people, almost exclusively young men.
All of a sudden, a whole group of people flooded one of these sections carrying “Boca” (the name of the team) flags, accompanied by a drum section. The flag bearers spread out through the crowd to the front of the section, and the drum section set up camp in the back. We were sitting in the part of the stadium where there were assigned seats, but I had a great view of the standing sections. There were large bars spaced out periodically along the steps which appeared to be there so people could lean against them if they got tired of standing. What actually happened was that people would stand on top of the bars and loop ropes around the bars a few rows back so they could hang off the ropes and be higher up to see the field. They stayed like this, balancing on top of the bars, the entire game. Then the drum section started up and everyone started singing. The entire stadium seemed to know the song and everyone sang at the top of their lungs. The song was accompanied by an arm motion that can best be described as trying to flick something off your hand using only one arm or trying to move your sleeve up your arm so you can peek at your watch. Eventually most of the stadium stopped singing, but the core section of those surrounding the drummer kept singing. And get this: they didn’t stop singing for the entire game!!! They were several hundred of the most enthusiastic people I have ever seen. Frequently, especially when something exciting happened, the whole stadium would join in. There were some songs in which the arm motion was accompanied by jumping up and down. It was awesome to see an entire stadium of people jumping up and down and singing completely in unison. There were so many songs that it seemed as if they never repeated a song, although I know that’s not possible.
When the players ran out onto the field, everyone threw paper and confetti into the air–it seemed to appear out of nowhere–and sang even louder. The starting whistle blew and the game began. About five minutes in, while I was still soaking in the whole scene, Boca scored a goal! I would honestly say that the level of exaltation, celebration, excitement, and joy in the moments that followed was equal to, if not greater than, right when the Giants won the World Series. It was total chaos. Everyone was jumping up and down, screaming, and hugging everyone around them. It was so exhilarating, I couldn’t help but get caught up in it. I had never heard of Boca before this trip and had no vested interest in the outcome of the game, and yet it felt like I had been waiting for that moment my whole life. The joy was contagious and immediate.
After several minutes, things finally settled down and the game resumed. Within minutes the ref made a bad call and the entire stadium was filled with whistles (the equivalent of boos), and the mood had completely shifted.
I was lucky enough to be able to experience a second Boca goal the level of excitement definitely matched that of the first goal. More singing. When the other team scored a goal, everyone pretended nothing had happened and kept up with the singing. Unfortunately, Boca lost, so I did not get to see what the reaction would have been if they won. But it didn’t matter to me personally very much, and I was so glad to have had the opportunity to go to a game. I don’t think I will ever forget that experience!
Last Sunday, Valentina and I went with her mother, Norma, to vote in the primary elections for Congress. The way voting works is a little different here. There are about a dozen different parties, instead of two main parties. When you go to vote, you are given an envelope and you go into a booth with different flyers for each candidate and party. You then put the slips that correspond to the people you want to vote for in the envelope and seal it. You don’t write anything. There are a lot of very complicated election rules that I was not able to follow completely. In addition, the day of the election was kind of like a holiday. For example, the soccer game that week was moved to a Tuesday, instead of being on a Sunday as it generally is.
The driving here is very different than in the Bay Area. Most streets are one-lane, one-way streets and the intersections of these streets are almost always uncontrolled intersections. However, this does not mean everyone stops and waits to make sure there are no cars coming. I have not been able to figure out how it is determined who has the right of way. As far as I can tell, both cars just drive straight through the intersection and hope that they don’t end up in the same place at the same time. Also, there are almost never any sidewalks, so as a pedestrian you just have to be very careful and make sure there are no cars coming as far as you can see. On big, multi-lane streets, there are no distinct lanes until you get to the stoplight. Everyone just goes where they want and then somehow when they get to the stoplight they are sorted into the correct number of lanes. It is really rather incredible that I haven’t witnessed any accidents yet. The driving age here is eighteen, I believe, which is plenty young. I have my license in California, but I cannot imagine driving here in a million years.
I have really been enjoying my classes at Belgrano. I would have to say that my favorite class is Math, because it is in English and I am able to follow what is happening. Also, I am faring better than I had expected in Chemistry, which is taught in Spanish. Luckily most science-y words sound pretty similar in English and Spanish. Biology is in English, but I have not taken Biology yet at Athenian and so I never have any idea what is going on.
One thing that I have found difficult that I had not anticipated is never fully understanding what is going on. I never realized how much I rely on overhearing other people’s conversations and gleaning information about what happened, what is going to happen, where we are going, and just the mundane details of the lives of those around me. If I am not paying absolute attention to someone’s conversation, I never catch the gist of it the way I might casually overhear something in English. This leads to me living in a state of confusion much of the time. For example, one day I was sitting in a classroom, waiting for class to start, and there were several girls sitting nearby talking in rapid-fire Spanish. Everyone seemed to be chatting happily, when all of a sudden one of the girls started crying. One of her friends comforted her, then a few seconds later she stopped crying and business proceeded as usual. I still have no idea what she was crying about or even what the general topic of the conversation was. I have had some very surreal and confusing experiences, but I have learned to just go with the flow.
Valentina has a very large, very close extended family here in Buenos Aires. In the three weeks I have been here, we have all, or almost all, gotten together on three separate occasions: a wedding and two different birthdays. This is a different experience for me, as I have no extended family living in or near the Bay Area. Everyone in her family, both immediate and extended, has been so welcoming, hospitable, and kind to me. I have really enjoyed getting to know her relatives and experiencing what it is like to have a large family living nearby.
One custom that still takes me by surprise is that people in Argentina greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. It doesn’t matter if you are strangers or old friends, everyone gets a kiss on the cheek. I can never imagine doing that in the U.S., and every time someone leans in for a kiss on the cheek I am still a little taken aback.
I am here for five more days before I fly home. This weekend all of the girls in Valentina’s grade are going on a “retiro,” or retreat, to some undisclosed location. We are not supposed to know anything ahead of time (something I have had some experience with), but I am looking forward to it.