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The International Writers Magazine: Buenos Aires

Slowly Being Born
E. Marin Smith

I’m pretty sure the day I arrived in Buenos Aires was the hottest day of the year on the Rio de le Plata, which made the whole day seem like a dream one has while in a fever. 

 I remember the humid little room I was given with white walls and a small closet, and the slight breeze I created as I went to and from my suitcase, hanging clothes on the depressed looking wire hangers that made any amount of clothing look minimalistic and somber.  I remember when the older woman who owned the apartment asked me my first direct Spanish question, something that sounded to me like, “Toos shah-face ten es?” and how all I could do was stare at her with what I would later come to call my “cara de tonta”, or “Dumbface.” (I could have sworn at the time that she was asking me something about Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela that was causing all the ruckus up north.  I had expected politics to come up during my stay in South America, but certainly not this early.  It was a few days later that I realized she was asking me whether or not I had my keys.  My Spanish skills were obviously in need of improvement).
Along with the heat, I arrived in South America with a slew of baggage in tow, literally and metaphorically speaking of course. I was evading my allegedly-still-in-love ex-boyfriend and in need of some new faces, far away from cow-town Texas where I attended college.  I’ve discovered that travel can be the best kind of escapism, especially when ex-boyfriends are involved, not to mention cow-towns.  I arrived with a vague set of goals, one of which was to leave with a grasp of the Spanish language, the rest ranging from traveling to Patagonia, which I had heard was beautiful, to seeing a real live llama, learning to Tango, and ultimately to contemplate what in the world I was doing with myself at the age of twenty one. 
Five months later, I find myself sitting across my Argentine friend Marcos at a restaurant in Palermo looking back on what it was like when I first arrived on that hot summer day.  I remember feeling during those first few weeks as though a state of confusion was pretty much perpetual.  The question was not whether I was confused or not—confusion itself was a given—it was what level of confused that was the variable.  My confusion oscillated among the levels of total, moderate (which seemed to be most of the time, like I was sailing gently on a sea of Spanish vocabulary words I should have studied harder at my university), or slight, like an itch, as if everything was ok but just slightly…warped.  Thanks to the learning curve, my Spanish dictionary, lots of mistakes, and a certain amount natural human adaptability, my head feels clearer now that I’ve been in Buenos Aires for five months, and I realize that Marcos is right when he says that this experience has “grown me up.”
“You have a calm demeanor now,” he says with his barely audible accent, “you know more about who you are.”
He certainly doesn’t mean growing up in that boring, I’m-stuck-in-this-cubicle, time-to-take-the-kids-to-soccer-practice kind of way.  That’s not what I mean when I agree with him, either. We’re referring to the ability to take care of myself, make decisions, travel alone confidently, buy my own plane tickets, food, hostel stays, and soap (I am constantly forgetting to bring soap when I travel, it's practically a tradition now to buy soap upon my arrival to a new place.  As soon as I finally decide to take a shower, that is).  Growing up means not being afraid to do things because I want to do them, taking some chances, going after things that I want with assertiveness, introducing myself, making some mistakes, and telling people what I feel and what I mean.  It means knowing how to listen to the stories of those around you, knowing how to trust yourself and how to trust others, knowing that the virtues and the habits that you practice now will ultimately be your fate.  It has nothing to do with cubicles and very little to do with soccer practice, unless you count almost getting killed at an Argentine football match.  Most of all, the growing up that we mean does not have to do with becoming boring—it has to do with becoming more alive.
As far as being twenty-one and what the heck I’m doing, I can see that Buenos Aires has provided the tangible elements of an intangible process.  Through all the cobblestone streets and delicious bottles of wine, from the first moment I saw the white walls of my bedroom to my first experience through the chaotic, sultry bowels of the subways system, I’ve not only successfully evaded both my ex-boyfriend and a few months in cow-town, but have learned what it means to know myself and to know a place.  Argentina…the word sounds like a friend now, sounds like here, like home, and like me.  It sounds like all that’s happened to me here, all I’ve learned, all that’s come together and fallen apart, and all that I’ll be leaving soon but also taking with me. 
I know that traveling changes you because of the visions it leaves in your mind.  I can never forget what it feels like to walk the streets of Buenos Aires, thick with street Tango dancers, American tourists, and hippies selling scarves made of llama fur.  I will always have the memory of the first time I saw the Andes Mountains, fixed like distant resting giants outside the window of a bus.  I’ll always tell of the South American rain storms that would wake me in the night during the summer months, of the first time I understood a joke told in Spanish, or about the time we had to stop the car to let the herd of llamas cross the desert road.  How can you forget a place in which you’ve lived, a place in which you’ve created what you now are? 

That’s really what traveling is; its creation, likely slowly being born.  It’s the creation of movement, creation of relationships, the gradual birth of yourself and who you are in the world.  Buenos Aires has grown me up, my friend Marcos is right.  But the best part is that when I leave it, the process will continue. And I know this: from my twenty first year onward, I want to know many more places as I’ve known this one, through all the heat, confusion, escapism, language barriers and all the rest, and to continue the process of being born until the day that I die.

© Marin Smith December 2008

Marin gained her degree from Texas A&M University in English and Spanish, and has lived various places but mostly Wyoming since then.  Her tendency to not stay in one place for very long has given her many rich experiences.

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