Having finally submitted her last exams, Lauren finished her school year and is officially on holiday.
I have to say, Lauren has really worked at her schooling in a dedicated and determined manner, and while there have been at times frustrations, tantrums and tears (mainly me) she has ploughed through the work and got full marks in every subject.
The maths, science, history, geography and ‘civic education’ were all a doddle – a lot of it she already knew, so after a swift review, she moved on. French language was understandably a challenge, focusing as it did this year on grammar, verb conjugation and ever more esoteric comprehension challenges – so we focused much of our time on that. The rest – sport, music, art etc. she did, but we didn’t put too much effort into, doing just what was required to pass the exams. This year was as much about learning outside the classroom as in it, and I think we have done a good job of balancing the two.
I am of course proud of her for her excellent results, obtained from working in hotel lobbies, the back of a campervan, on a cargo ship, on numerous trains or by the beach. Nonetheless, I am far prouder for the attitude she has shown, when many times she would rather have been doing something else but showed far more discipline than I in getting her head down and focusing on school.
Balancing work, school, fun and trip planning in Buenos Aires.
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…..
Chinese new year celebrations in Buenos Aires gave us more insights into Argentina than into China….
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.
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.
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 …
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…
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.
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…..
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 😊
So this blog post has little to do with travel and so much to do with how awesome my daughter is. Sorry.
On trains, on boats, in hotel rooms and friends’ spare rooms, she has buckled down and done her school work, despite the many distractions on offer.
We just got the full set of grades back from the CNED system that Lauren is doing her schooling with. Those of you who have been following know that the first of 8 modules that she has to do throughout the year, covering French, Science, Maths, ‘Discovering the World’, Art, Music and all sorts of odds and sods like ‘civic education’ and ’emotions’ were rather tough on both of us.
We scanned the first set of exams in and sent them off a couple of weeks ago, feeling she had done her best but not sure if that was enough. The standard of French seemed way higher than that expected of her at her previous school and she worked incredibly hard.
She got full marks in Maths. I expected nothing less, she is far ahead of the French curriculum in Maths, as I’ve been teaching her from the British curriculum, and she does maths for fun.
But she also got full marks in everything else.
She didn’t get everything right of course, she’s not perfect 🙂 , but each ‘competency’ is marked and she needs to get above a certain threshold in each to get a top grade. And she did it. In every single subject, even bloody Art which caused more tears and tantrums (sometimes from her, just as often from me) than anything else.
And she did it in exam conditions which I am sure don’t get enforced in some households, but we both wanted to ‘do it right’.
So now we know we can do it. Which is a relief, as we are nearly through the exams for module 2!
She has remained committed and consistent in her schooling (sometimes when I’d be willing to let things slide) and we are finally finding our rhythm. Some days we do nothing, then other days we do whole chunks of the curriculum. The original plan of two hours a day after breakfast doesn’t work when daylight starts at 0900 and ends at 1500.
If she already knows stuff I don’t make her do the endless repetition (this week in ‘civic education’ it was about using calendars, something she has been able to do for a long time, so we jumped the whole section and she did that part of the exam).
Anyway, I am of course super proud of her, and also of myself as there is a lot expected of the ‘tutor’ beyond just making her sit at the books. Its been a challenge but we now know we can do it.