Combining Work, School and Trip Planning in Buenos Aires

Balancing work, school, fun and trip planning in Buenos Aires.

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Lauren with her dance teachers and other students at Reina Reech Dance Studios. 

I know I’ve been a bit silent in the last couple of weeks, and in part that’s because  I haven’t had that much to say, and in part because I’ve actually been really busy. Lauren has been focussing on her schoolwork, and was absolutely delighted to receive her next set of books (Thanks Denise!!). While she works her way through french grammar, Roman invasions of Gaul, and electrical currents, I am focussing on customs reform, international trade and local economic development in Africa.

When it all gets too much, we retire to our local cafe (selected after much market research across a broad range of criteria including quality of coffee, selection of ‘good things’, friendliness of staff, strength of wifi…) and pass a pleasant hour or so with our kindles. Lauren is currently obsessed with the David Walliams books.

Lauren has been attending a local dance school three days a week, and we are both working our way through the Spanish duolingo app. We are both very good at saying different people are eating apples or not eating apples in Spanish by now. Not sure how useful that is, but its a start. In the meantime, my portunhol has served me well.

Of course, after a couple of weeks we started getting itchy feet again, and I’ve been putting in the hours in the evenings planning the next stage of our trip.

This will be a road trip from the Patagonian ice fields of the deep south, up through Argentina and Chile to the desert and salt pans of the north. It’s not an easy thing to plan, especially as no one is used to a single mother and child (and some frankly think I’m mad) – I thought I’d got it all sorted and had reserved a campervan when we found out that in Argentina children must travel in the back seat until they are ten (this rule exists in most countries but normally has an exception for vehicles like campervans if they only have front seats).  Even though we will be mainly in Chile, parts of the route will pass through Argentina, and my notorious obsession with actually following the rules means I’ve had to settle for hiring a car with a roof top tent, so that Lauren can be strapped in the back. She’s delighted, but I’m just thinking about those below-freezing patagonian nights and needing a wee at 2am…..

It will definitely be an adventure….

 

 

Chinese New Year in Buenos Aires.

Chinese new year celebrations in Buenos Aires gave us more insights into Argentina than into China….

Chinese teen pop group on stage at the celebrations in Buenos Aires
Chinese teen pop group on stage at the celebrations in Buenos Aires

Last weekend was Chinese New Year, and a big celebration was to be held in one of the parks about 40 minutes’ walk from our place. We decided to go along and check it out. I thought it might be an opportunity to expose Lauren to some Chinese culture.

It was a strange event.

First of all, we struggled to see any Chinese people. I get the impression there were wild celebrations happening somewhere else, and this was just an excuse for the locals to enjoy the sunshine and the city to gain some inclusivity brownie points.

I felt like grabbing one of the very few Chinese people I saw and asking where’s the real party at?

The place was heaving with portenos who’d brought rugs and even camping chairs as well as picnics and flasks of mate and of course their dogs. On stage when we arrived were two very non-chinese-looking singers, singing in Spanish…. Admittedly under a trio of red Chinese lanterns…

We fought our way through the crowds to some of the stalls – I fancied some Chinese food and Lauren was excited to taste something new – but when we could get close enough to see the handwritten menus, they were all empanadas or other local dishes. Much as I love empanadas, I’d been fantasizing about noodles, stir fries and spring rolls. Maybe even something picante.

Finally, the singers on stage were replaced by what was breathlessly introduced as Buenos Aires’s only Chinese teen-pop dance group …. a bunch of young teens dressed up as naughty schoolgirls going through a frankly bizarre pop routine to pounding chinese pop. Let’s be kind and say the performance might have benefitted from a little extra rehearsal time.

In the meantime, we tracked down something genuinely Chinese – a kung fu demo – although all those participating were local. It was quite fun, although I wasn’t quite comfortable with how close the swirling swords and pikes came to Lauren’s face.… health and safety approved this was not.

Buenos Aires Kung Fu demonstration
Those pikes and swords weren’t real but they still came awfully close …

We also found some Argentinian acupuncturists, one of whom explained pressure points and acupuncture to Lauren, who seemed blown away by the fact that mummy had done something as alternative and weird (her word) as acupuncture when going through IVF to conceive her.

We were just about to leave when a dancing dragon took to the stage, and as we stopped to watch I spotted a stand we hadn’t seen before, on the other side, which was selling fortune cookies, next door to a place frying up genuinely greasy Chinese food. Success! Something actually Chinese. We stocked up on cookies and oily balls of fried vegetables in various shapes, and happily munched on them as we finally made our escape from the crowds and wandered through the parks and quiet streets back to our apartment.

Fortune cookie at chinese new year, buenos aires
Lauren’s first fortune cookie…

All in all, I’m glad we went – but I think we learned more about Argentina than about China.

That’s OK, maybe we will just have to include China on our future itinerary  …

Buenos Aires!

buenos aires first impressions

 

I feel a bit of a fraud writing a blog post about Buenos Aires, as we basically arrived after a 22-hour bus journey, jumped in a taxi and have spent the last few days hardly stirring out of our barrio.

I have some remote work to do (trying to get my head around Mozambican customs reform again after 6 months is a stretch …) and Lauren has a whole new set of exams to prepare for. She is currently making up sentences that use French expressions such as raconter des salades and donner sa langue au chat. Top marks for anyone who can post what they mean in the comments without googling.

We’ve been lucky that the sweltering 40 degree heat and high humidity that all the Portenos were complaining about broke the day before we arrived, and we were greeted with mid-20s temperatures and a cool breeze.

First impressions? This place is huge, and built on an enormous scale.  Wide avenues, sweeping parks full of monuments, enormous roundabouts.  You can definitely see why its called the “Paris of Latin America” – lots of beautiful architecture and wrought iron balconies, all gleaming magnificently in the glorious sunshine. Then you come across something quirky like a lavishly painted mural or a weirdly gynecological sculpture, or a waiter is friendly in a café, and you remember you are not in Paris after all…

A beautifully painted house in Buenos Aires.
One of the many beautifully painted houses in our neighbourhood.
Sculpture, Buenos Aires Museum of Fine Art
Is it just me?

 

Our area is a little less glitzy than the swish Palermo, where we had to venture yesterday to pick up my new debit card, or the chic designerdom of Recoleta. But we love it. It was a good choice for a month of stability. A mixture of residential and commercial, we are only a few blocks from a very busy shopping street, but our actual block is sleepy and quiet, with a great verduraria (vegetables, finally!!!), a bakery and two vets.

Speaking of vets, there seems to be one of almost every street, which is not surprising given the number of pampered dogs we have seen in the city. From tiny little pooches who travel in designer doggy handbags, to great big hounds who plod along carrying their own leads in their mouths, this is definitely a city of dog lovers.

Unfortunately, most owners don’t seem to love the city as much as their dogs, and Lauren has invented the ‘dog poo dance’ as she skips down the pavement avoiding the offerings left by our canine neighbours.

Dog poo dance....
Dog poo dance….

So far we’ve done absolutely no sightseeing. Our days have been pleasantly filled with work, chores and cooking. We get up early and work side by side for the morning – stopping at intervals for cups of tea (me) or cereal (Lauren) and to work on our survey of local cafes. Lauren wants a ‘local café’ but of course, before choosing which one to grace with our regular custom, a certain amount of market research is required…..

Researching local cafes in Argentina
Hard at work researching the local options. …

In the afternoons we shop, cook, and explore the different local streets.

If it sounds idyllic, it pretty much is – although there are the usual frustrations of not knowing what we are doing in a big city. We tried for four days in a row to identify where to get a Sube card – like an oyster card in London, a prepay card you tap to enter buses, metro, local trains etc. Everyone we spoke to and all the online resources said to buy these at ‘any local kiosk’. Yeah, right. Our efforts have been met with closed for the holidays, back in a week to we don’t have them today but definitely tomorrow (they didn’t), to we don’t sell them but they don’t check on the train anyway so just get on….

Anyway, for now we are loving the normality of an apartment, decent internet and a kitchen, and some breathing space to make our plans for Patagonia and beyond 😊

Goodbye to Mozambique

Despedidas

Lauren's despedida cake
Lauren’s despedida cake

Despedida is a Portuguese word meaning farewell or goodbye. It’s generally used as shorthand for a farewell party. Between us, we had 5 (!) despedidas, as well as many personal goodbyes to the people who have made up our lives in Maputo. Lauren left before me, to spend a month in Portugal with my parents while I remained behind to sell furniture, finish my final work contract and generally ensure a smooth exit from Mozambique.

Lauren’s despedida started off on the last day of school with a special goodbye to her teachers and classmates at the French school where she has been incredibly happy.

School children at Maputo French School

Then in the afternoon, her party was held in the park at the end of our road, and we had an awesome cake, giant jenga and darts, and lots and lots of kids and adults. Her very first nursery teacher came, as well as her adored form teacher from the French school and a lot of close friends who have always been there for me during the ups and downs of being a single working mum in Maputo. It was a lot of fun, until people started to leave and it hit hard that this was the last time she would see many of her friends, schoolmates and teachers. Particularly sad was her goodbye to our nanny and housekeeper, who has been with us since she was born, and who has helped me raise her to be the wonderful, kind and mature child she is today. Another big goodbye was to Lauren’s cat Luke, who is being fostered by a kind friend until we are settled.

 

Once Lauren was happily settled in Portugal, I had a series of wonderful but also sad despedidas, with former colleagues from the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Irish Embassy where I worked as an economist for four years, with a bunch of other economists with whom I have shared the many frustrations and crises of recent years, and then a final despedida on my very last night with friends, sundowners under the massive fig tree by the beach at the fabulous Southern Sun in Maputo.

 

It was a great way to close this chapter in our lives, and I am sure we will see many of our friends again in the future.

Choosing Our Own Path

Why we chose the name of our blog.

We chose choosing our own path as the name of our blog after a few attempts to reflect the idea that we want to do our own thing, both with the trip and more broadly with life.

The sani pass in lesotho
One of our more interesting choices of path recently – the Sani pass in Lesotho…

Eventually Lauren’s excellent first suggestion of ‘mummy-and-daughter-round-the-world-travels-doing-it-our-own-way.com’ got shortened to ‘choosing our own path’ because that’s exactly what I intend for us.

My life has so far hardly been conventional – my family moved from the UK to rural Portugal (and it was *properly* rural back in 1989!) when I was 13, and I finished my schooling there before an attempt at conventionality (Economics degree followed by working in London as a Management Consultant) for a few years. An unexpected redundancy paid off my student debt when I was 26 and focused my mind on whether I really wanted to be part of the London rat race for the next 40 years. Nope.

I signed up for VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) and was posted to Mozambique, mainly because I spoke Portuguese already. This started a 15-year love-hate relationship with the country. Over that time I worked at grass roots level and policy level, for NGOs, private sector firms, the Mozambican government, and international donors.

Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique
Stunningly Beautiful Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique

I chose to have Lauren on my own because frankly, my choices of potential father material were always deeply flawed. A perhaps unconventional option, but one I believe paid off. We are incredibly close and she is just amazing.

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The most important thing in my life.

Lauren has grown up surrounded by extreme poverty, and deeply aware of my desire to contribute to development for the less privileged. But she has also been protected by living in a lovely Maputo bubble of international schools, nannies and drivers. Many of her friends have swimming pools and huge houses. But even our small apartment was in a high-end area, right next to the president’s palace (which unfortunately came with the added ‘benefit’ of regular attempts at foreign national anthems by the military band when the president received visiting foreign dignitaries).

I want Lauren to grow up knowing she is incredibly lucky to have a family that loves her, enough funds to never worry about food, housing or school, and protection by a generally benign state by holding a British passport. I hope she will benefit hugely from this years’ trip, and it will help to forge in her the ability and determination to choose her own path in years to come.