After a breakfast of coffee and medialunas (little croissants the Argentines eat every day), we headed out with Lili to do some souvenir shopping downtown. Lili was going to class to become a Notary, but she said she hadn’t missed one class all term and she’s allowed three misses, so she played hooky to take us shopping! We found some beautiful jewelry, leather goods and other gifts for friends and family. After we were done shopping for gifts, we wanted to buy some pillows for Osvaldo’s homes because what they were sleeping on for a pillow was atrocious. They must have used them for decades and they were so flat and smelly that they were probably making these people sick. So we went pillow shopping…and pillows are not cheap! But we finally found some that were decently priced, 40 pesos a pillow, and bought 16 of them, 8 for each home. They were a huge step up from what they were using now, that’s for sure. So after dropping almost $175 on pillows, we hurried back to the hotel to finish packing up. On our way through the city, there was a huge protest going on in the streets by the factory workers. They were chanting and marching with big signs that basically said, pay us more because we can’t afford the basic necessities that we are making in the factories! It was quite a racket, but really interesting to see. Protests are practically daily occurrences in that country, so it was cool to actually witness one.
After we packed up everything at the hotel (much less than what we came with obviously), we went to Los Boulevares to drop the pillows at Ariel’s house because unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to bring them to San Martin ourselves. Ariel is going to bring them over to Osvaldo on Tuesday when he’s there and then will bring the remaining pillows along with the other supplies and clothes up to Soto when he goes there. We stopped by Cesar and Lili’s house to say a promised farewell to them and Lili’s mother, and then they finally packed us in a taxi for our final cab ride to the airport. Once there, we had a last couple of Argentine snacks before boarding the plane and saying hasta luego to the town that we step foot in barely a week earlier.
It was a short trip, but a lot got done, and successfully. Unfortunately, there is never time for everything, but we were able to get working with two more homes and provide an updated bathroom and more comfortable, clean beds for the people who lived there. But there is always much more to do, which is why I really hope people start realizing that they can truly make a difference and have a hand in improving the lives of these elders. Any skill or interest you have and want to bring to enlighten this amazing group of people, please contact me asap to discuss how we can make it happen. Remember, Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” So now is the time to act on it and make it a reality. Please be in touch and thank you for following our week-long adventure.
Sincerely and with much thanks,
Unfortunately, we only had a few hours to spend at Osvaldo’s home with the elders and fixing up the rooms as much as we could. Liliana and Cesar were expecting us for lunch at 1:30pm so we had to get going. If we had more time, it would’ve been great to paint the bedrooms and add a little color to the place…as well as putting up pictures or other things. The walls were completely bare and in dire need of a cleaning and painting. The outside was also screaming for a power wash, but hopefully there will be volunteers in the future that will be willing to do this work for them. So after many hugs, kisses and goodbyes, we left San Martin, with Ruben, Osvaldo, and one of the other men waving at us from outside the gate until we rounded the corner in the taxi. Unfortunately we weren’t able to make the 4 hour trip to Soto, but the good news is that Ariel will be going up there in the next few weeks with Osvaldo to take pictures, meet the elders, take a survey of the place and their needs, and gather the information we need. It really sounds like we’re going two have two distinct, great places for volunteers of all kinds to go and help.
After a lunch of matambre (Argentine pot roast) with Liliana, Cesar, Candelaria and Lili’s mom, we ran back to the hotel to change before going over to Augusto’s, the lawyer’s, house for dinner. He had invited us over to meet his family and was planning on making another huge asado, but we were asado-ed out, and so said pizza would be fine! It was such a sweet offer and I’m so glad we went. Augusto’s wife, Julie, is a psycologist and works in a geriatric home. She was very interested in Los Abuelitos and really wanted to talk about how she could get involved. It was great to have the opportunity to sit down with her and discuss what she knows so well and has years of experience in: working with the elders. Psychology is just as important as any physical healthcare and I’m really hoping with her involvement now, we can also encourage psychologist and psychiatrist volunteers to go down and work with the elders, as well as psychology students who can be overseen and taught by Julie. I really hope that she can follow through with this, because I know she’d be a great asset to the organization.
We made it an “early” night (10:30) and then went back to the hotel since we were meeting Liliana downtown for breakfast at 8:30 on Friday morning, our final day in Cordoba! With tummies full of yummy pizza and delicious Malbec, we said gracias and buenas noches!
Today was delivery day!!! After waiting all week to bring all the donations we had schleped to Argentina, we finally were able to bring them to the people they were intended for, the elders. Ariel had decided to take the day off from work and so met us at the hotel at 9:30 am. We still needed to pick up a couple last minute things that we weren’t able to find last night because we had to be back for the meeting. So we headed next store to the shopping center, and got two shower curtains (they had no curtains in addition to no toilet seats at Osvaldo’s homes), two shower rods to hang the curtains (one at San Martin in Cordoba and another for the home in Soto), and a cooking pot for San Martin. After we collected these final items, and still bummed we couldn’t find backless shower chairs anywhere, we headed back to the hotel to load up two taxis FULL, in the trunk and the car, of all the donations we brought from the States and the stuff we bought the day before. We squished ourselves in along with the bags, and headed on over for the half hour drive to the San Martin de Porres home in Villa Rivera Indarte in the overloaded taxi like sardines. When we arrived, Ruben, the adorable little man that was taken in by Osvaldo and raised as his own, was waiting for us at the gate, and the others were sitting out on the front patio in the sun. One of the first things I noticed is that all the elders, and Ruben, were wearing the same clothes they had on on Tuesday when we went over there the first time. This completely broke my heart. Osvaldo had told us that each person has a bath twice a week (!!!), but I didn’t inquire about the clothes. The good news is that we brought them a whole bunch of new stuff that they will be able to wear and enjoy comfortably. We had gone into the adjoining part of the house where they are slowly fixing the place to make more room for more beds and a bathroom as workers can volunteer their time, and they had bags of old clothes. But when I looked closer, I noticed they were all ragged and old and smelled of dank mold, so I’m really really glad we were able to bring them new stuff, and clothes of much better quality than they could buy there even if they had the money. We were separating all the donations we brought, when I took out a Columbia jacket someone had given, and Ariel’s eyes got so wide and he said that that brand is sooo expensive and good that no one in Argentina wears it. And if we’ve worn it and don’t have use for it anymore, we don’t think twice about giving it away. It really warmed my heart that we were able to provide such necessities, while at the same time being able to include some “luxury” quality items as well
So as we were separating things out for both the San Martin home and the Soto home, my dad went to work improving the bathroom with the things we had bought. He installed the toilet seat, put up the shower rod and hung the curtain, placed the foldable toilet chair over the toilet, and then put a bath rug down that was donated…I almost cried…it looked like a brand new bathroom and one that these people would have never dreamed of, and it was only a matter of a shower curtain, toilet seat and mobile toilet chair to really make these people’s lives easier and more comfortable.
Meanwhile, I put Eason to work stripping the beds of these overused, gross blankets and sheets that were all holey and smelled like they had been used and worn down for years and years. We remade ALL the beds with new, crisp donated sheets, comforters that these people have never dreamed of seeing, and pillow cases that weren’t almost see-through because of how long they’d been used. After we were done, I brought each elder in to feel and sit on their new beds, complete with bottom and top sheets, a comforter and a fleece blanket…I knew they would sleep good tonight and for the nights to come. The best part is that there were several extra pillow cases and sheets, so they could be switched out or could be taken to Soto. Must go now, my internet is almost out!
Today we had another late start but had a very productive afternoon. After grabbing a delicious lomito, again, we met up with Ariel to go on our mission of buying needed things for the elders at Osvaldo’s home, San Martin. First we went to an orthopedic store at one end of the city that also had a pharmacy attached to it. We bought rubbing alcohol, a bunch of syringes, gauze, medical gloves, and other first aid stuff for the geriatric home that only came out to 119 pesos which was about $30. So cheap. Then, we spent about an hour trying to find both a mobile toilet chair and shower bench. We found a toilet chair that was a floor model, metal and stable, for about 250 pesos which is about $68, which was also pretty cheap. They had other models and types of the mobile toilet chairs, but none of the others were well made and were pretty flimsy. We then went to another store on the other side of the city to continue to look for the shower chairs because the only one they had at the first store was with a back. It would be much easier to use a backless chair, more like a bench or a stool, in the shower. That way, the caregivers can easily wash their front and back sides without problems. Well, the next place didn’t have any backless shower chairs either, but they did have another mobile toilet chair like we found at the first place. This one was brand new and still wrapped up, and was 430 pesos, or $113, which is still a good price for this equipment. We got two because one was for San Martin de Porres house and the other is for the other geriatric home Osvaldo works with in Villa de Soto, about 3-4 hours away. They have all the same needs so as we are getting things for these people, we are doubling it to have one in each home. We didn’t get to visit the home yet, but Ariel is going to go with Osvaldo in a few weeks, check it out, bring more donations up there, and take lots of pictures for us! Ok, so we found the second toilet chair, but still no luck with the shower stool. We then went to a local Ferreteria, or hardware shop, to get toilet seats….could you believe these people were using the bathroom without toilet seats? They just sat on the bare porcelain AND it was super low to the ground. So with both the toilet chair and the toilet seats, we could make it easier and more comfortable for those who need extra support to get up and down from the toilet, and also sit comfortably. It is much more hygienic this way as well. So, because the seats are plastic and will break sooner or later, we got two for each home, for a total of four. They we like 23 pesos a seat, which is like $6 each.
After three hours of shopping we had to come back to the hotel to get ready for the meeting with the people who are a part of organizing Los Abuelitos as a non-profit in Argentina. Ariel’s friend who is also a lawyer, Augusto, was the first to show up and he was such a kind man. He had researched what the process was to incorporate in the country of Argentina, and because I’m a foreigner, it has to be set up by a board of people from here, and preferably in Cordoba. He gave us all the details and it’s very similar to the way the process goes in the States. Then, Cesar, Liliana and Daniel from the Asamblea finally showed up, and they were all in agreement that they wanted to be on the board and work together to make this a distinct organization here. So it will be like Los Abuelitos (that which I formed in the States), and Los Abuelitos Argentina, that is like a subsidiary of ours here in Argentina. We will oversee everything and work together to bring volunteers and donations to the people in Argentina, but they have their own board and own responsibilities to be self-sufficient as an entity here. I have faith in all of them and am very excited for them to begin on the paperwork and getting established. Once that’s done, many more doors will open, they’ll be able to start soliciting and advertising, and most importantly, they’ll be able to start going around to local universities, community service groups and programs to get them involved. That way, the locals are working together to improve their own community, and that’s the aim of the big picture here.
So all in all, it was a successful day, and we needed to hunker down early because Thursday we need to get up at 8am to prepare everything to bring to Osvaldo…and make a last run to the store to get shower curtains and rods and a much-needed cooking pot for San Martin!
Today was a full full day. Osvaldo, the administrator of the elderly home San Martin de Porres, is only in Cordoba at that home on Tuesdays and Thursdays because he spends Mondays and Wednesdays at the other home he runs in Villa de Soto which is a 3-4 hour drive away. Osvaldo is an incredible man…jolly, happy, and completely devoted to the people he helps. He is a man of the church, and runs the homes through the church, completely reliant on donations. Donations for rent, for electricity, for food, etc. He has been working in this sense for decades, and has saved a lot of people’s lives because of it. He’s rescued people who were homeless, living in barns like animals, alcoholics, etc. who he brought into the home and taught them what true love and self-responsibility is. I have been looking forward to meeting him for several months now, since Ariel told me about him and the work he does back in December. Well, because Ariel worked until 3pm, we had the afternoon to see a bit of Cordoba since we hadn’t got a chance to yet. We went downtown and walked around a bit, and then I took my dad and Eason to the old clandestine building near the main Plaza San Martin in the middle of Cordoba, that was used as a secret holding place for the “prisoners” during the Process. The Process was going on from the mid seventies into the early eighties when the military government kidnapped people who were involved in teaching about and working in jobs that exposed the atrocities that were happening at that time. This included lawyers, teachers, students, and anyone else who realized that the way the military was running the government was wrong and started to spread the idea of socialism. 30,000 people disappeared during that era, and were taken out to places in the surrounding mountains and forests and killed, their bodies never to be found. While there, we met an amazing man who had been kidnapped and spent 8 1/2 years imprisoned by that government. He was so lucky to have survived, and to this day he works at the building, known as D2. The building is run as a museum and reminder to all of what happened…how many Argentines were kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed because of their opposition to the military government. It is run mostly by survivors of the era and children of people who disappeared. It was very intense, but also very valuable to learn about since it was a huge part of the nation’s history.
I got the contact information for the man who spoke with us, Juan Carlos, and told him about our efforts with Los Abuelitos. I told him that we aimed to bring volunteers here to work with the elders, and he offered to give talks to the volunteers who come here and teach them about this period. It is very important to me that the people who come to volunteer are obviously interested in the country, culture, and history of the place they are volunteering…in this case, Argentina. So it would be great if we could integrate that presentation by Juan Carlos into the volunteer program through Los Abuelitos. The tour guide, Ruben, from Sunday also offered to provide tours and informational sessions to our volunteers in order to help them learn more about the city and country. The more various contacts we have, the better and more well-rounded the experience will be for the volunteers here in Cordoba.
At 4:00 we met up with Ariel and hoped on the colectivo, the bus, to the barrio Villa Rivera Indarte where Osvaldo’s home is. After the hour bus ride from the downtown area, we finally arrived, walked down a dirt road, and came to the cute little house set back among trees. An adorable man named Ruben (not the tour guide!), greeted us in the yard, who has down-syndrome and was taken in by Osvaldo and his family when he was 20, abandoned by his mother and his brother, and after his father died. He had no one, and so went to live in one of those places that was set up in a barn for people: elders, homeless, alcoholics, etc., that need a place to live but don’t have money (and tons of it per month) to pay for a private home or rehabilitation center. Osvaldo found him there, and raised him as his own, surrounded by his own children. Anyways, we had a seat in his kitchen, passed around the mate’, and began a conversation which lasted about 2 hours. He wanted to know exactly what our mission was, how we intended to help, and what we expected of him and our relationship. He was incredibly organized, and was on the same exact page in terms of the volunteers and rules about how things would run. He’s been hosting volunteers from another local organization that hosts international students, and so already has a great deal of experience with volunteers, which is great for us. After our little, long chat, we finally got to see the house and meet the people who lived there.
Apparently, there usually are 10-12 people living in the house, but at this time there are only seven because some have passed away over the last several months. This place is just as run down, if not more, than San Jorge, and the elders are just as cute and wanting of attention and help. They were so welcoming and happy to see us there, and I just wanted to take them all in my arms, cuddle them, and tell them everything was going to be okay. At the same time, I could tell that they were as well taken care of as possible by Osvaldo.
The rooms were extremely lacking and terrible. There were spiders running around on all the walls in the bedrooms, the blankets had many holes and were old and fading, and the bathroom was even worse. The toilet didn’t even have a seat! No handles or equipment to help bathing and going to the bathroom easier, and no shower curtain either. The bed frames are rusted and the pillow cases were plastic bags. I could not wait to start working on this home. And it was cold in there too! Thursday we are going back and bringing all the blankets, clothes, bath goods, etc, and I can’t wait to see the faces on them! They are going to get new sheets, comforters, pillow cases, clothes, and so forth and they really truly deserve it.
After our lovely time at San Martin, we rushed back to Ariel’s home where his family was waiting for us to make dinner. They went out and got a bunch of meat, all different kinds and cuts, to make a proper Argentina asado, or parrilla, for us. There was SO MUCH MEAT. And with it salad, bread, cheese, chicken with vegetable salad, and lots and lots of wine! And some Grido (the best) ice cream for dessert and a fernet and coke to finish off the evening! The dinner was incredible, and what was even more incredible was spending the evening with Ariel, his son, his brother, his parents and his sister-in-law and niece and nephew. It was a classic example of how united families should be, instead of abandoning their parents to be found in a barn by Osvaldo. It was fantastico.
April 28th, 2010 at 7:56 pm by Jennifer Levy
After the late night on Sunday, we slept in a little bit later than I had wanted on Monday and by the time we finally got up and out it was around noon-time. We went over to the Asamblea in the barrio, Los Boulevares, which is outside the downtown area. The Asamblea is the community clinic that I originally went to work with when I first came to Cordoba, and who connected me with the local church, and there a woman got me in touch with Geriatrico San Jorge. When we arrived, Liliana and Josepha were sitting down to their lunch and said they’d waited a long time for us to show up. It was a beautiful day in Cordoba, and very chill and quiet around the barrio. It was lunch/siesta time so no one was in the clinic besides Lili and Josepha. They decided they wanted to make us some homemade empanadas and we had no objections to that! Another woman who worked at the clinic, Rosa, showed up and with her brought a bunch of clothes that had been donated. Because the Asamblea is a community-run clinic and offers medical services to the people who can’t afford it, they provide those services for very cheap. Because of that, they rely on a “goodwill”-type of operation to raise some money to help them with paying the rent, utilities, etc. So people donate clothes, and they have a room set up for people to browse and buy things. So we separated the clothes, Eason helped Josepha get the oven (it’s wood-burning and they need to collect kindling) going, and the others were making the empanadas. Some patients started to show up for opthamology appointments and check-ups, and for the dentist. Ariel, our coordinator here, finally showed up and we went to his house, then to the house of some of the other neighbors to discuss Los Abuelitos and how we wanted to integrate the community in our efforts.
Because everything here takes 2 hours longer than it should (it’s called latino time), we spent much longer at each place than we had expected, didn’t eat dinner until 10:30 that evening, and got to bed finally at 1:30. Because things move slower here, we aren’t able to get as much done each day like we hope to, and that’s been frustrating for me because I try to be as efficient as possible. But that’s the culture, and we’ve embraced, and we know that the things that need to get done, will.
April 28th, 2010 at 8:24 am by Jennifer Levy
So it feels like we’ve been here for weeks! And it’s only been a few days…..The gathering at the Asamblea was soooo fun on saturday night….Every time someone else walked in, my heart leaped. I have missed these people so incredibly much, and it was so great to have them all together again with me. And my dad fit right in…he’s really making an incredible effort to speak the little spanish that he can, and he’s doing great. I’m so very impressed. Even though he couldn’t really understand them and they no ZERO english, everyone still got to know each other and my dad said he felt like he’d known these people forever. It was such a great thing. Eason is a man of few words and doesn’t know much spanish either, so he’s been the observer and taking it all in. It’s definitely been a great experience for him and a real one too. A lot of time when people travel to other countries, they only see the tourist spots and not much else. But Eason and my dad are getting the true Cordobese experience and I think that’s the best one you could ever have.
Sunday we went on a tour outside the city to Belgrano which is in the mountains and it’s basically a little Germany in the province of Cordoba. We had insisted that Ariel and his 11 year old son Arian come with us as a gift for everything they’ve done to help us, and I’m so glad we finally convinced them to do so. We visited a beer factory, strolled a bit, ate a delicious lomo completo, which is a sandwich with beef, lettuce, tomato, ham and cheese and grilled…a common lunch item here and soo delicious. And finally we went to a local park, sat on the grass and drank mate’. Mate’ is very typical of Argentina and is only drank in Argentina, Paraguay and parts of Uruguay. It is a tea that you put in a gourd-ish type cup, pour hot water over it with a little bit sugar and sip through a metal straw called a bombilla and then when you’re done, you fill it with hot water again, pass it to the next person in the group and let them drink it. I thought it was the weirdest thing when i first saw it, but it’s their way of socializing…having coffee together..etc. I LOVE it…so delicious, but it’s definitely something to get used to……after we had mate’, we went to Alta Gracia which is where Che Guevara, the revolutionary, lived for many years. They made a museum out of his old house and it was really cool to see it and everything about his life from beginning to end. The is the one that the movie “The Motorcycle Diaries” is about. Anyways, after spending some time there, we finally made our way back to Cordoba after a lovely day in the mountains and areas outside of the city with our fantastic tour guide Ruben.
We got home around 7 at night, rested at the hotel for a bit, and then finally went out to get dinner at a typical Argentina restaurant. We had delicious empanadas…criolla, Arabe, jamon y queso and manteca. We spent about 2 hours there, and when we were leaving around 11:30pm, live music was just starting and the restaurant was even more packed then when we got there, and it was a sunday night near almost midnight! That’s how they do it here though. Dinner doesn’t start until 9-10pm and they stay up late. It was a great experience and super delicious!