The Online Job Hunt

Job postings on the internet were scarce and it is strange to see http://buenosaires.craigslist.com postings, usually an informal way for people to connect cheaply, adapted to fit the US tourist/expat market abroad.

For example, under the FOR SALE catagory:

Are you a female that wants to become an american citizen. If you are this is your chance. Is it worth 5000 to become an american citizen. If it is Email me

The housing market is little different, the standard advertisements for apartments are at a weekly rate and about five times what is paid by Argentineans.

The jobs were almost all for e-commuting webdesign jobs. Argentineans are well educated, have access to technology and will work for cheap. Freelance outsourcing is the rule here. One job stuck out a bit more than the others. It was for a project manager with web design experience. I responded and it turned out to be a freelance curriculum development company based in Buenos Aires. Why are they in Argentina? I quote their website: “And the significant cost savings made possible by our Buenos Aires production facilities makes our solutions affordable.”

I got an interview and I waver over how much to ask for. I have calculated my expenses at $800 a month. This gives me leeway. If I were living as a porteño I would only be spending about $400 but it would be difficult to find housing that cheaply without a guarantia and also I want to get out and do more things than the average person who grew up here would want to do.

The interview goes great. The owner, Mark, was very helpful and offered to assist in the apartment hunt whether or not I got the job. Getting an apartment in the city is a little difficult since Buenos Aires has a fairly archaic system of rental laws. For this, the landlords demand a “guarantia”, which is essentially a guarantee from a friend of the renters who owns land, guaranteeing that rent will be paid or their property will be forfeit. This is partly due to archaic rent laws which state that once in an apartment it is near impossible to remove a bad tenant who refuses to pay. It is also partly due to a feudal class system of excluding those who lack land (or a friend who does) from living in the city. There are apparently ways for foreigners to get around this, all of which involve paying a bit more.

He said he was not getting many applicants. He had advertised on craigslist and got replies from people in the USA asking to be flown out. He thought not.

Half the interview questions were about why I was in Argentina. This I found difficult to answer. To be assured I wasn’t going to say I just wanted a job cause it suited me. So I said that I had traveled here specifically for that, which was more or less true. Why Buenos Aires? I like it here. Bad answer. I should have said: “cause I’ve always wanted to let my dog shit on the sidewalk.”
The best I could come up with was “when I return to the states and live in San Francisco I don’t know what I’ll say at the interview there.” Then I countered by asking why it was an important question and he told me he didn’t want travelers. And I assured him by telling him that I was not a traveler and I was here to work. It was a lie but it was nice to get all that out in the open. I doubt he was totally convinced but I didn’t care. I fit the job profile better than anyone else he’s looking for: I’m young, eager, cheap, smart, and have experience in everything the job asks for. If I didn’t get it, he’d have made a hiring mistake.

The next day I checked my email even though they told me they’d be calling back only next week. I somehow hoped the next interviewee would not show and they’d just give me the job by default. That seems to be how I get most of my jobs. But I’m good on an interview and I enjoy talking to people.

Over the next few days I became worried about staying too long in Buenos Aires and things not working out. People would ask me what I was doing and what my plans were. Every time that I answered that I was going to live here I would build up my failure if things did not work out. I almost decided to leave the city so I wouldn’t have to worry about hearing back from the job.

In the meantime the freelance jobs I had applied for were not responding. The only one I heard from was a person wanting a web design project done in Flash. I have no experience in Flash but I want to learn. I realized that I didn’t even have my laptop. There was no way at all that I could learn how to use this complicated software using internet kiosks.

The Buenos Aires Job Hunt

Anna, who is also toying with the idea of living here, got great job listings from the French Embassy and everyone I talked to suggested the American Embassy would be an excellent resource. Armed with an up to date resume I marched off to find out for myself. When I went I was surprised American Embassy in Buenos Aires is attended almost entirely by people who do not speak English and not US citizens. After being told various things ranging from the Embassy was not open that day to being misdirected in various lines I finally found myself in a room containing people lounging around in chairs and waiting for something to happen. I took a number and waited with them. After half an hour of no one being called I asked them if there was anyone attending the window. “Oh yes,” they said, “You just go up and ring the bell.” I went up and rang the bell which was marked in Spanish “Ring for Immediate Attention” and I was served at once. It turns out that the only service they offer is providing the address of the American Chamber of Commerce website. This being done the lady promptly bid me a good day and disappeared, presumably until someone else rang the bill.

The American Chamber of Commerce is in on the 10th floor of a large building next to the courthouse. There were a large number of people and press gathered outside. I asked the doorman what was up and it turned out to be a protest against the sentencing of a boy accused of a serious crime. The crowd was friends and family who insisted on his innocence. My Spanish is poor and as a result I perceive the world through the eyes of a child. Because I get confused between words like “judge”, “court case”, “courthouse” and “sentencing proceedings” I must be content with overly simplified explanations: “There is a bad boy but we are not sure if he is bad. So now we are seeing and these people like him.”

My Spanish has improved by leaps and bounds. It is not consistently good or bad but rather fluctuates depending on my energy level, my level of comfort, the context of the conversation and who I am talking to. The most important factor seems to be comfortability with the conversation. If I am not comfortable then I simply cannot speak in Spanish.

The nice girl at the American Chamber of Commerce referred me to the website but agreed to take my resume and hand it on to interested parties. “The website is good though,” she confidently assured me, “companies log in and do a search of your qualifications and if you have skills that match what they’re looking for then they call you. You will be probably be looking for a job in…” She scanned my resume for a minute or two and then said, less confidently, “Oh I’m sure you’ll find something…”

Acclimatizing

The next day I decided to treat my hosts, Juan and Malena, to a dish from California. Because California cuisine is really a mixture of food from all the cultures that live there it’s hard to find things to single out as uniquely Californian. I decided on California rolls (vegetarian sushi that replaces fish with avocado) because tortillas for burritos are not available and, as I found out in Lima, I do not have a good tortilla recipe.

I did, however, need seaweed to wrap the sushi and for that I had to go to Chinatown. The materials were easily found if not expensive, actually about twice the price in the USA. But the notable part of the journey was when I saw an English teaching school with a girl outside handing out flyers for it. I asked her if she knew if they were hiring new teachers and she said I would have to inquire within but if I wanted to teach her friend, who was working next door, I was welcome to.

I went inside and asked how much I would be making were I to work for them: 8 pesos ($2.40) an hour and they couldn’t guarantee any amount of hours per week. Not a good job though I told them I’d call them when I had a resume for them. As I left the flyer-girl’s friend came out to convince me to take her on as a student and I said I’d call her as well. She would pay 8 pesos an hour for two hours a week. I returned home that day with sushi materials (which cost about 40 pesos all told) and one potential client.

As in Japan and the USA sushi is a delicacy and Juan had never tasted it before. He loved it and everyone was pleased. Afterwards, to compliment the dish I got my first sample of real matte etiquette.

Besides cheap, plentiful and organic wine, the official drink here is yerba matte. It is drunk in a traditional wooden cup with a metal straw. More ritual than thirstquencher, you cannot buy it in restaurants because it is a personal thing to be enjoyed at home. Despite this it is completely ubiquitous. You see people in the park, at the news stand, walking to work with their thermos and cup of matte. Police officers drink it on the street, sipping at their cups over the half hour period it takes to finish their thermos of hot water. Matte has lots of caffeine and helps with digestion. I have always dreamed of a city where slightly bitter herbal tea is considered the drink of choice.

MATE IS DRUNK IN OFFICE SITUATIONS

MATE IS DRUNK IN OFFICE SITUATIONS

Juan taught me how to make a wall with the leaves so that you could keep the same flavor for 20 cups in a row and how to pass the cup with the straw facing the recipient to signify friendship.

Arrival

The city of Buenos Aires is large. It has 12 million people. A lot of people say it is very like a European city. Perhaps this is because almost no Argentines have Argentine grandparents. The vast majority have grandparents from Europe who came over during the early 20th Century because of the wars. Also they were encouraged to come by Argentine immigration policy. Once the Indians had “gone away” the Argentines had an immense country to fill and no people with which to do it. In the same way as the USA settled “The West” they gave free land to anybody who wanted it and wasn’t Indian.

Most of the new immigrants came from Spain and Italy and, as a result of this their food is fairly European: their pastas, pizzas, and ice-cream rival those of their mother countries. The city certainly has a kind of cosmopolitan European feeling. It has lovely old buildings, a bustling yet tidy city center, and a fascist past. People also might say Buenos Aires is like Paris because the sidewalks are littered with dog poop. If you step in dog poop in Paris, they will tell you it is good luck. If you step in dog poop in Argentina they will growl under their breath something nasty about “living in a third world country.” The Argentines carry a heavy load, having previously tasted the first world only to have it snatched away by international loan sharks (read: IMF, the World Bank, USA, etc.).

I arrived in Buenos Aires and immediately went to stay with fellow traveler Anna, with whom I had traveled from Salta to Cafayate. She had some French friends in the city who were working on an architectural project together. Apparrently they don’t get on. Partly because one of the girls is cheating on her boyfriend back in France who is also the best friend of the other girl. Anna tells me there are more issues like this. It’s remarkable how people stay in relationships in which they get no joy: always arguing and never at peace. They become enmeshed in each others lives like ivy and slowly strangle each other. They are unhappy but sedentary, too scared to leave the safe stagnation of each other’s company. Happily the day I arrived they left for France to report on their architectural findings and left the apartment to the travelers while. Anna and I got to use it as a base to explore the city.

Buenos Aires is filled with parks, which are sometimes neat and tidy, and McDonalds. McDonalds are everywhere where there is a demand for 40 cent dulce de leche ice cream. Here McDonalds are different. They are much much nicer. People here have apparently figured out that you don’t get a lot of real food for your money at McDonalds and so McDonalds is now pretty nice looking. Every location has a second story with a balcony to overlook the city streets. Also they are made with shiny wood and brass, not yellow and red plastic from the 1960s. They are the kind of McDonalds where they waiter takes your tray as soon as you finish your last freedom fry.

EVERY PARK SEEMS TO HAVE ITS OWN MERRY-GO-ROUND

EVERY PARK SEEMS TO HAVE ITS OWN MERRY-GO-ROUND

We wandered the streets and hung out in the parks San Telmo, a historical neighborhood famous for it’s tango bordellos. I bought a small travel guitar at the Antigua Casa Nunez, which is well known store in the city for good, reasonably priced guitars that are all made in house. Some days it was sunny and others it was warm and nice.

Anna soon returned to Paris and I began calling SERVAS hosts for places to stay. You’re supposed to call days or weeks before to let them know you’re coming. Technically I had done this but no one had answered their phones. I think that this is a gray area in SERVAS culture. Anyways, I called about 20 people. Calling 20 people you do not know in a language you hardly speak and politely asking them if you can sleep on their couch can be frightening. Eventually, I got hold of an incredibly friendly girl who had traveled with SERVAS in the USA and Canada. She said I could stay with her but she was going out to a music show and we would have to meet there.

The show was a band of a standup bass, 2 guitars, a ukulele, a flute, two drummers and a lady on the bandoneon. It was at that show that I discovered Buenos Aires has ton of cultural events. Free cultural events. All large cities have “The Arts”. But Buenos Aires is passionate about them: they have hundreds of theatres, art galleries, dance venues and music shows, including an incredibly beautiful opera house. The city also has the rare egalitarian idea that fine art should be accessible to all levels of society. For instance two days ago I saw an opera in one of the finest opera houses in the world for a dollar. Every weekend there are free concerts in the city’s many parks.

After the show and a late dinner it was about 12:30am. They returned to the apartment to drop off me, my backpack and my newly bought guitar and, the night being young (about 1:30am), they left to go dancing.

Due to a recent economic collapse the dollar goes a long way here. Quality of life is much higher in Buenos Aires than in any of the countries I had visited so far and, if my faulty memory can be trusted at all, the USA as well.

Over dinner I had mentioned to my new SERVAS hosts that I was considering staying awhile in Buenos Aires. By the morning sleep had solidified these words into an immediate plan to set up roots and get a job and an apartment.

Uyuni Blues II

After the necropolis:

The night was cold and the extra sleeping bag was absolutely necessary and sufficient. Would have been fine with what I came with but all my warm clothes are gone in anticipation of the lowlands. No one could sleep well. No salt today but lots of lagoons. Multicolored ones rocks shaped like trees, kind of like Utah. It was a day filled with driving interspersed with 10 minute stops to see a rock or a lagoon, then another 10 minute stop. We ended in a place (hostal) where everyone else did. Or rather 6 other groups did. 36 tourists doing the same thing as you are for, perhaps, probably, a different price. Everyone in my car had paid different prices for the same thing. The girls had paid $60 each (less than I did) and the Germans had paid $85 but that included return to Potosi. $65 was average for the cheap outfits.

Often the commodity itself is the expense. I was once told that VCRs that people do not trust $20 VCRs, they believe they will simply break and instead choosing the $40 or $50 models even though they are the same brand and probably the same components. They simply believe that a good VCR should cost a certain price and a cheaper product will almost certainly be lower quality.

Ours had problems typical of the cheaper outfits: our car’s starter and/or sparkplugs were dirty and/or broken. The salt is hell on the cars and they need heavy and constant maintenance. Many did not work, ours no exception. We pushed it to get started every time. Stephan and I did. One time we were stopped at a particularly boring group of rocks which were one the tour and it was freezing. It was always freezing but sometimes the wind was intolerable. Extreme conditions would be putting it lightly. I sat to write but our guide came and wanted to talk. He wanted to know where I was from and all that. “Very cold, huh?” was his favorite expression. I asked what his favorite part of his job was. “The tips.” He said. “Like your salary or the tips,” I asked. “The tips” he replied again.

It certainly takes the cork out of seeing beautiful things when you realize your guide doesn’t think they’re so beautiful. If it paid as much as tourism he’d stripmine the natural wonders in a heartbeat. There it was again: how does one understand how to give a good tour having never been on one and never having had the desire to go on one.

We saw many beautiful and amazing things. All the rock is igneous pillar lava. We saw a half squirrel / half bunny called a vinculla (?). We saw tons of flamingos. There was either salt / ice / borax / lye / or, were told, sulfuric acid in the water. The flamingos cared for naught except chilling out and running away from us, it seemed. I don’t think any fish live in these toxic waters but perhaps they looked for worms. Our guide told us that there were times when the lagoons were frozen over and there were no flamingos. They just disappeared for 2 months a year.

At the end of warm car vs. freezing outside we arrived at our hostal at 4:00 or so. Early. We played UNO (with German rules and ordinary cards). So the games were less interesting. We were playing with cards that had mixed drink recipes and pictures of the drinks on them. One of the Irish girls claimed to have the “greatest rule of all time”. It turned out to be that if the drink contained rum we would have to drink rum and if the drink contained whisky you had to drink whiskey. “With your permission of course” she added as an afterthought (she had not brought anything to drink). The game promptly ended when she added that you could only play hearts that were royals. Boring. With power comes responsibility.

People wandered around until dinner was served at 7:30. Lunch was veggie hamburger with salad and pasta. Dinner was spaghetti which BARELY passed for bolognaise. Lovely. We were freezing but sated. I offered to read Tarot cards for people from the deck of Coca Cola playing cards we had been playing UNO with. The 3 Irish girls were enthusiastic, giggly and skeptical.

They all asked similar questions about what would happen in the future about where they would live, their friendships, etc. These were all questions that had little to do with the future itself but rather things they had extreme control over. There is a big difference between “Will John and I be dating in a year?” (a question over which you have complete control) and “Will John still be in London when I return?” (which is a real question about the future, not just about things that are defined by your own actions). It turned out that, perhaps because of their shuffling (or lack thereof), the cards were almost identical for all three girls. Their questions were not entirely innocent either because they related to each other. For instance, will the 3 of us still be friends in a year will probably get a nasty answer 50% of the time. All this stirred the pot but by the time it got around to Stephan and Anna, who actually believed in Tarot cards, the three girls were more or less believers. Amid the hoots and hollers from the girls I turned over the cards. Stephan was more tuned into it than the girls and was easier to read. The reading seemed to indicate that he had just finished work on something and beginning something new. This new thing might fail due to naysayers. His lack of any reaction, positive or negative, told volumes. At this point Anna might have felt pressured into a reading and I believe she was. But it was out of my control now and the girls wanted to see what the cards had in store for her. It was becoming hard to concentrate but I felt in tune with the cards though not really aware of what I was saying. I had also built up enough courage not to hedge bets but to rather say things categorically. I told what the cards told: “Your biggest challenge is pragmatic: making sense of your money and finances … you have recently chosen a spiritual path, a path of exploration, in the future there will be victimization by you or others.” I looked up and she was crying in a very reserved way. “You’ll have to excuse me,” she said, “It’s just a little close to the truth.” Everyone was a little shocked though I’m not sure what else we had expected.

Neither Stephan nor Anna revealed their questions afterwards so their secrets were safe but I assume that they were similar in that they related to things which they secretly knew they must address but were asking about because they wanted reassurance before they stepped out to do it. Not finding guaranteed providence was hard for them. I felt guilty for hurting them and I tried to explain that I had only said what the cards had told me.

I read by candlelight for some time. I got to the part where Harry discovers about the philosopher’s stone.

The night was freezing and we were woken at 5:15 to start the car by pushing. We quickly realized we needed more folks. The magic number arrived at was 6 and 4 more men (tour guides) were rousted from their warm beds to help. They were none too happy but they did it. We pushed the car a good 20 feet before we discovered it was too cold for the engine to turn over and we would have to wait till the magical time of 6am. What they expected to happen at 6am I was not sure but the sun did not begin to rise until 6:15 or 6:30 so it was none too much warmer. We ended up using the rubber ties on top of the truck combined with my hammock ties to tow the 4X4. I was sure that they would break as the security lines were made only of rubber tires. They didn’t and with the tow and 3 people pushing, the car started and I returned to hot coffee and cookies and dulce de leche.

I used the “flush” toilets (bring your own flush) and we left late again to see the sites. Its funny how there can even be a late when you’re on vacation but somehow that happens when you’re working with other people’s agendas. For me, I don’t really have a time schedule. I will stay in a location for as long as it suits me or for as short as suites me. It is a marvel how easily we become the will slaves to the priorities of others, our betters, our leaders.

Unfortunately we needed to drop off the Irish girls at a bus stop near the Chilean border, which was really a small mining town named San Pedro. The girls needed to connect with San Pedro de Atacama. I had chosen to return to Uyuni because it’s cheaper to take the train from there ($5) to Argentina than the much shorter ride from San Pedro de Atacama ($35). San Pedro is expensive because… well… because it’s expensive. People often can’t provide good reasons for things being expensive. Things are just more expensive in Chile. They especially like to say it when there are outside Chilean companies coming into their country. I believe that the hateful trains to Machu Pichu are Chilean.

We visited a few things in rapid succession but the only thing we really cared about after 3 days in freezing cold and no showers was the hot springs. In such freezing weather the hot springs were a godsend. After these we visited a lake of copper. When the wind came fast the copper in the lagoon oxidized and became a brilliant green. I THOUGHT we had a strong wind but apparently the lake disagreed and there was a large red copper stripe shooting through the green. Then we dropped off the girls and returned to the thermal baths where we relaxed in the lovely water for almost an hour while Candy prepared lunch. Or rather, Stephan and I did and Anna wrapped her coat a bit tighter in her coat and dangled her feet in the water. It was absolutely lovely but I think it did us in. I think that it was at this point we bit off more than we could chew. Or perhaps sometimes it is in the moment of relaxation after stress (in this case stress on our bodies from sitting still for long periods, constant temperature change, dust and salt flying at our bodies in high wind) that we broke down. It also could have been the lunch…

The lunch was rice with “tuna” and salad. The others didn’t know the danger but I could recognize an old foe when I saw it. I immediately rooted through the trash bag to find the can. As I suspected, the can did not say tuna, only “fish.” If they did not specify the type then they did not also specify the parts used, though the can’s contents were replete with eyes, mashed bones and scales.

Perhaps in my tiredness and hunger I somehow doubted that it was this material that had caused Marco’s Disease in Machu Pichu (I have since heard from Marco and he is safely home in Sao Paulo). But, along with everyone else, even after examining the cans, thinking through the consequences I chose to get back on that wretched nag that threw me into the ditch and ride it, come what may.

And…

Nothing happened to me!

Stephan, however, became violently ill within minutes with many of the same symptoms Marco exhibited before drifting into oblivion. The severe diarrhea hit almost immediately. When we stopped to pay a visit to yet another lagoon he took the opportunity to first stumble and then crawl into the wind whipped desert and throw up in an attempt to expel the sardines. It sounds callous but I’m glad I got a picture because it really looked as if he one of those left to die in the desert with no food or water. This was as close to the middle of nowhere as you could wish for.

He was sick and became progressively worse. It got to the point where, when we were descending hills Valerio would ask if we needed a bathroom stop so we could restart the car if necessary. Valerio too was exhausted. Completely exhausted. He had been driving 10 hours or more every day since we had left. He also had the additional job of restarting the car, fixing the wretched Landrover and a million other tasks. Most of the fourth day he spent swerving on and off the safe track among rocks which we called, for simplicity, the road.

I had been coughing up a lung from being sick BEFORE I came here and the trip had not improved much. Both the Candy and Abel were also sick and we were all probably cross-infecting each other. Anna was feeling perfect, great – couldn’t be better. Except for her the tour was an infirmary on wheels.

Valerio tried his best to commiserate with Stephan’s illness. “It is probably the altitude,” he said, ignoring that Stephan had been at altitude over a month, “Many tourists have problems with the altitude when they first get here.” Then he added, “I’ve also been sick because of the altitude. Before I drove these tours I worked in a sulfer mine inside a volcano. On the first day it was so hard that I fainted. I understand how he must feel.”

By the time we arrived where we were to rest (3pm or so) Stephan couldn’t hold down pills and Anna was just beginning to criticize his self pity. Valerio went straight to bed and began writing and brainstorming ways to get medicine inside Stephan. Candy and Abel disappeared into the kitchen, presumably to cook dinner.

RESTING

This blog is not dead. Ony resting. It’ll probably wake up on Friday, October 21 (at which point i will have both a laptop and a camera).

thanks for reading,
nathan

2nd day

Came in early by mistake. Maybe my clock is wrong at home.
Got my rhapsody subscription but boss doesn-t like headphones. No headphones

Tired at end

Actual yom kippur

Designed the 6 degrees thing.

I suspect that this is an unhealthy environment. Took a break to read. I talked to aviva on chat. She liked the conversation and saved it. I was saying I thought I was being unhealthy, sought out unhealthy relationships especially with women who need help. She wants to help me. Says I help her.