Tuesday, April 23, 2013

An International Visit Like No Other

Every once and a while, I have a sudden realization of just how incredibly lucky I am.  Most of the time I go through the motions of daily life with a generally positive attitude but without fully appreciating my blessings, or perhaps even complaining or moaning about something I feel is wrong or missing.  But occasionally God sends me a sign that reminds me of how much I have to be thankful for.

My family’s visit during holy week was an example of such a sign.  Their fleeting but meaningful presence in my host communities that week reminded me both of how blessed I am to have my family and how blessed I am to be here in Buenos Aires surrounded by all the amazing people I have met.  My family affirmed how great they are in the gushing way they talked about my facilitators, friends, and the acogidos at El Arca.  Although they were only able to stay for a week, my family left a lasting impression on my host communities, and my host communities on them.  They exchanged thoughtful gifts as reminders of this brief yet heartfelt encounter, and now the people at El Arca and Santo Sacramento often ask me to “mandar saludos” (send greetings) to my family, while my family asks me to “say hi” to the people here. 

I had the unique opportunity to share my daily life as a YAGM with my family at a level that far surpasses what readers of my blog can ever understand.  No matter how descriptive or thorough my blog-writing is, I think my family can attest that there is no parallel to actually seeing, hearing and experiencing Santo Sacramento, El Arca and the city of Buenos Aires.  My mom says that for her, one of the coolest benefits of visiting me is that now when I talk to her on skype about a certain person, activity or place, she knows exactly what I mean and can picture it vividly. 

Mere hours after arriving early Sunday morning, March 24th, my family attended the Santo Sacramento Palm Sunday service.  They didn’t understand much, but they were warmly welcomed by the congregation and got to hold beautiful olive branches.  Despite the language barrier, Mom did a great job singing along to the hymns, at least melody-wise. 

After the service they got to meet the Santo Sacramento youth, who peppered them with questions about their lives in the U.S.  After lunch, when the weekly “futbol” (soccer) game commenced, my Dad and David were invited to join.  Futbol isn’t really David’s things, so he didn’t last long, but my Dad played long and hard, which I found miraculous considering he had just been on an overnight international flight.  At one point, a bunch of the kids started shouting “tu padre hizo cuatro goles!  Hizo cuato goles” (Your Dad made four goals!!  Four goals!!)  Very quickly, my Dad seemed to have won the hearts of the Santo Sacramento boys.  

Here he is in action:

Hernan, Mauro, my Dad, Abigail and Lucas

Hernan, Ivan, my Dad, Celene and Martin

My Dad also won the heart of Eire, Cristina’s granddaughter, who is the sweetest little 5 year old girl in the world.  Eire was a wonderful hostess.  She brought out a little picnic blanket and a basket of toys to share with my Dad on the front lawn.  Eire motioned to me and whispered in my ear “I need to tell you something.  Tell your Dad that I’m going to teach him words in Spanish.  I need you to tell him because he doesn’t understand me.”  Eire says the darndest things!  She seriously brightens my life here so much with her charming, homemade gifts (drawings and ingenious folded-paper creations), her promises that we will be friends forever, and her precious hugs. 

Here’s photo evidence of Eire and Dad’s tete a tete.  

During the week we tried to visit as many points of interest in the capital as time and energy allowed, which involved getting to know the Buenos Aires public transportation system rather more intimately than my family ever wanted.  We spent a lot of time on crowded buses, subtes (subways) and trains, after which my parents understood why I don’t go into the city more often.  I hope, though, that seeing the city was worth the hassle for them!

We visited the cathedral, the Plaza de Mayo, the obelisk, the Recoleta cemetery, the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (MALBA), and the Carlos Thays botanical garden in Palermo.  And on Thursday, Sebastian (a member of the congregation) graciously offered to take us to Tigre in his car.

Here are some photos from our sight-seeing:

David strikes a pose at the Plaza de Mayo (That's the Casa Rosada in the background)

David and I stand outside my house upon arriving.  My family was pampered to 5-star accommodations at the Wilke Home for Señoritas!!

Father and son bond over Quilmes, Argentine beer at Guido's Bar in Palermo

Mom gets her Starbucks fix

At the MALBA 

An aerial shot at the MALBA

The Carlos Thays Botanical Garden in Palermo

Botanical Garden 

Botanical Garden

Avenida del Libertador in Palermo at night, wandering around looking for the 130 bus stop!

Dad wandering pensively through the beautiful and historic Recoleta Cemetery, where Eva Perón is buried

El Teatro Colon, Where the Opera Takes Place

El Obelisco on the Avenida 9 de Julio

David and Sebastian on a Catamaran in Tigre

And los hermanos!

My family's first Argentine asado at a restaurant in Tigre

On Tuesday, we visited El Arca, where my family got to finally meet some of the “famous” people I have talked so much about on my blog.  The El Arca acogidos had eagerly anticipated my family’s arrival for several weeks, especially Maxi and Osvaldo.  Even before meeting them, Osvaldo said that my parents and brother were “amigos mios!” (his friends) and he told me that my Dad would kill him for being smooth with my Mom (Osvaldo likes all women, and he’s always joking about how some husband or boyfriend is going to kill him).

We started out in the taller, where we were greeted by Maxi, Osvaldo, Noelia, Yanet, Sabrina, Dani, Julio, Barbi, Belén and a volunteer named Sandra (not to be confused with the resident Sandra).  Noelia, Maxi and Dani explained the activities that take place in the workshop, Sabrina taught my mom how to assemble sopapas, and Noelia (inevitably) sang “Celebra La Vida” by Axel to my family.  When Noelia learned that my whole family sings, she asked us to sing for her.  My mom and I pulled out an operatic duet we had sung together several years ago, my brother sang “Beati Quorum Via” from his choral repertoire, and later, at lunch, my Dad sang “Old Man River.” 

Barbi (the administrator of the taller), as any good Argentine host/ess should, offered my family their first mate.  The peculiar flavor of yerba mate has not yet grown on them, but there’s still hope for converting them!  

We joined everyone for lunch at the home, where my family was able to meet Kaitlyn, Rosi and Patricia and share what has become a joyful part of my daily routine: the community-building midday meal.  Here we are:

At the end of the meal, my Mom presented the gifts she had brought for the home: a peeler (for vegetables) that you can slip on your finger like a ring (perfect for Osval!), a dish towel with a map of Minnesota on it, large clothespins in the shape of birds (perfect for Marcos!) and a bag of chocolates (a special request from Maxi).  The El Arca home goes through dish towels at an astounding rate, so that Minnesota dish towel is being put to good use.  It’s a nice reminder of my family’s visit. 

My family took home some sweet reminders of their visit too.  Maxi gave my Dad one of the leather El Arca key-chains he crafts and sells, my housemate Maria (the sweet lady who spoils me to death) gave them a wooden box in the shape of a turtle from Concepción, Chile (her origin), and my housemate Emilia gave them a mate that says “Buenos Aires.”  There are probably more gifts that I am forgetting.  The point is, my host communities were really generous, welcoming and hospitable, and now they remember my family fondly, often asking me how they are doing or commenting on how agreeable they are or how wonderful it was to meet them.  All things considered, reflecting on the experience fills me with a satisfying feeling of warmth and fuzziness.  As for my family, ask them yourselves, but I have an inkling it’s an experience they’ll never forget.  


  1. Wow, Lisa! This is spectacular! I am so happy for you to have your family come visit, especially to visit the place that you live and meet all the wonderful friends you've made. I should also let you know I think that your family is so amazing--from everything I've read and from all my interactions with your family members, everyone has such an open, fun-loving spirit. I think my family might be very shy in a new culture, but hearing how everyone sang and played soccer, that sort of friendliness and openness is truly a gift. I really appreciate knowing you and your family! Best wishes to you, your family, and those at El Arca!

  2. Jamie thank you so much you are so sweet! I really like your family too! They might be shy, but they are really great and I really admire how close you are to each other. You must be getting excited to see them again- when do you return to MN?

  3. Lisa, thank you for sharing all these wonderful photos and descriptions of your family's visit. I was talking with tu padre about the visit, and it was clearly an important occasion for them to be able to see what your time in Argentina has really involved (and of course to see you in person as well). Gracias! Bruce

  4. It looks like your family´s visit was a wonderful balance of everything! I´m so glad they got to come and spend quality time with you.