Sometimes I’m reminded of Argentina.
Occasionally and not frequently enough, memories of the time I spent there surface. A story, a photograph, or a couch-host emerging briefly from the online social jungle, remind me that I did spend 110 days in South America. These are trivial reminders though, like one is reminded of a childhood toy. Yes I was there, but who am I now because of it? Have I not been changed?
Some people thought going to Argentina was for selfish means. After all, why would anyone spend all that time and money just travelling? I assured them, this trip would be for personal growth, whatever that means. When I returned I found myself wondering if they were right; maybe the trip hadn’t affected me like I thought it would. I didn’t come back well rounded, worldly or wiser. I didn’t even learn a new language. Maybe all that time and money was just for the accumulation of photographs, memories and lost income: selfish means.
But here in North Olmstead Ohio, as Middle American and far away from Argentina as one can get, I noticed a minor character change. I rejoiced. There! There you are, Argentina! At last, the effect of days upon days of sitting in coffee shops reading, the endless cross-country bus rides, the hours and hours of sipping Maté with kind linguistic strangers, and the wonderful perpetual feeling that nothing will ever get done have surfaced.
I almost forgot how I embraced the unhurried Argentine life back in February. I remember now,thinking who was I to rail against such a passive beast with my all-American productivity? Perpetual efficiency was useless there. I learned quickly that time tables, busyness and worrying would reward me with a consistent feeling of frustration in Argentine society.
Unfortunately, fire feeds fire and back in the good old Estados Unidos I felt the itch of this industrial, hand-held, mobile, on-the-go, work driven country. We are a culture that believes idle time to be a form of laziness, not leisure. I fell right back into pace. I worried that the lessons of Argentina were lost on me.
Then I spent a week with my Grandmother. She lives alone in Olmstead Falls, Ohio. With my current unemployed state I decided that to be a good time for a visit. She’s limited in mobility and capability but manages to live alone with the help of her son and a maid. “I can’t imagine why you’d want to spend a week with an old lady” she warned me “but I’ll be here.”
Before Argentina, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine it either. I would have been bored, anxious and worried about everything I was missing out on back home. There are boys to chase, beers to drink, mountains to hike and all sorts of good times to keep up on back home but none of that seems to matter now. I am here, in this moment, content with reading a book side by side, spending two hours after lunch talking and having coffee in the afternoon. The realization: I had been living with my grandmother for the past week in peace from my other life. In this moment I recognized Argentina.
So finally, my travels in Argentina show. This is what the Argentines taught me to do: to spend extended time with someone who cannot live the go-go-go life. The experience doesn’t add up in any sense of capitalistic economics, but for me, acquiring the maturity to spend a quiet week with my grandmother is worth the lost income of 110 days. And for that, Argentina, I Thank You.