What do these three pictures have in common? At first glance, it might seem like a poor attempt on Evelyn’s part to be artsy with her shots. It’s actually the opposite: on three occasions that I tried to take some group photos, my iPhone froze completely and wouldn’t even allow me to shut it off. I was incredibly frustrated, but my friends just shrugged it off and insisted that we could try again later, when my phone was working. I decided to hold onto it and wait until it decided to work in my favor again. What resulted was my phone taking numerous unplanned, candid shots of whatever it happened to be facing.
Maybe it’s not the best illustration, but my friends’ careless reactions and my phone’s unpredictability are an example of a common attitude here. There’s this fascination with the idea of going with the flow, not worrying about why someone hasn’t shown up two hours after you decided to meet, not fretting over a spontaneous change of plan or decision to be silly, and not thinking about the future consequences of a divergence from your normal behavior — “todo fluya“.
“I thought we were getting ice cream after school.”
“Nah, we felt like stopping at the park for a bit to share mate, todo fluya.”
“A friend of a friend asked me to have beer with him, but I’m not sure that I like him like that.”
“Hey, todo fluya, you might have a great time hanging out with him!”
In these summer days when we’re hoping to take full advantage of daylight and the many and varied opportunities presented to us throughout town, this is a good attitude to adopt. There’s never a clear destination in mind except to difrutarse y a ver! (to enjoy yourself and see what happens!). On Monday, that meant stopping in the Plaza San Martín on the way to buy postcards because two men were performing a slapstick improvisation. On Tuesday, tagging along to an event Inglés y mate and spontaneously visiting a friend who bar-tends afterwards. Wednesday, buying snacks at a sidewalk kiosk with friends from my program and then journaling on a park bench for an hour until my bus came. Yesterday, taking an afternoon nap under the hot sun in one of the rings at the Plaza del Bicentenario and having a burger with my friends to celebrate the end of our standardized placement exam.
Because this week has held a lot of significance for me personally. Since Sunday, I’ve been intentional about thinking through my week and developing goals that are attainable and keep me productive but leave a lot of room for spontaneity. I write some short ideas on a sticky note and tuck it into my journal as I leave my house in the morning. Later, when I’m adding a quick entry before class starts and my friends arrive, I read through them and think about how they can be put into action. It might say “buy postcards after school” but turns into “a friend wants to hang out and has heard of this great bookstore, so let’s walk together and enjoy the time until we find this store or a kiosk that sells postcards”. Or “do homework with friends” turns into “actually, we need to buy passport pictures for our visa process, and as long as we’re here, why not have some mate?” The postcards are still bought and the homework still gets done (we hope), but now there’s an added element of going with the flow and simply enjoying time with friends without any sort of agenda in mind. It’s been a great opening-up and waking-up process that’s kept me engaged and honestly feeling much more fulfilled at the end of the day, when I can look back on the day’s activities and discoveries and think, Yeah, today was good.
So, in the spirit of “todo fluya“, just some highlights from a few other days that were good:
Now, if I might change the tone of this blog a little.
Recently, I’ve also been thinking about the way I’ve started integrating myself into this vida cordobesa (life in Córdoba). At the beginning of my Cultural Realities class on Tuesday, we discussed what aspects of a culture are visible — clothing, gestures, personal space or contact, food — and which are more invisible — behavioral norms, religious beliefs, attitudes toward sexuality. Our professor wanted to know what strategies we used to discover these things and attempt to include them into our daily lives.
In the process, I learned something special that I’d like to share with you. This isn’t exactly “todo fluya“, but it was a spontaneous moment that I had with my host mom and wouldn’t trade for anything.
Raquel lives by a very traditional code of conduct for women. When I come downstairs every morning, there is toast and coffee sitting at my place at the table and a Tupperware of lunch wrapped in a plastic bag at the far end of the table. She always includes a meat, a salad, a fruit, and the most amazing chocolate bar filled with dulce de leche. She cleans my room and my laundry every week without fanfare or announcement; one morning, I woke up at six and found her already cooking in the kitchen and sweeping the terrace.
I truly appreciate the way that she takes care of me — almost to the point of spoiling me — and I want her to know that. After every meal, I thank her for the food and try to help her wash my dishes. She always looks so surprised and self-consciously shoos me out of the kitchen.
I relayed this story to my professor, who explained that Raquel works out of love and commitment to my family without expecting anything from us in return. In other words, telling her “thank you” is almost excessive or an insult, because it insinuates that I didn’t expect her to take care of me that day.
I wasn’t sure what to say. Even if I hadn’t been raised in the South, where traditional manners are still in effect, I would want to thank her for everything she does. She never complains about cooking and cleaning for Luis, Belén, and me, she’s the first one awake and the last one asleep, and on a lighter note, my friends at school are completely jealous of the lunches that she prepares for me every day. How could I not tell her thank you, but how could I insult her?
Taking inspiration from my lunches, I put a slightly different plan into effect the next morning. Yesterday was the day of my CELU exam, which will determine if I place into a level of Spanish accepted by the university, so I woke up a half-hour early. Raquel noted that I had finished breakfast earlier than usual (since I usually sleep past my 7:15 alarm…) and we fell into easy conversation as she washed my breakfast dishes. As we talked, I shared with her the anecdote about my friends envying my lunches, and she had the biggest smile on her face and laughed as I demonstrated my friends’ reactions.
When I finished, she merely said, “Well, Evelyn, I just want to make sure that you’re getting the most balanced lunch that I can provide, and since the apples are a lot smaller this week, I thought you might like having something sweet in your lunch.” Then, the part that touched my heart, is that she thanked me for eating all of my lunch and dinner every day. “The fact that you always eat my cooking shows me that you trust me and is the best compliment you could give.” Then she explained a cultural norm here: when one thanks the host for the meal, it’s expected that the host, in turn, thanks the guest for partaking in their offering.
How beautiful is that?
Now that I know that my actions speak louder than my “Gracias“, and that it occasional makes Raquel shy, maybe I won’t say it as often. But I plan to spend more time with Raquel to show her how much I appreciate her and let the feeling abide in my heart during the next four months here. Truly, I have the best host mom ever, and I want her to know how much I love her and everything she does for me.
For everyone reading, un beso, y hasta luego!