Saturday, July 1, 2017

Spotlight: Melisa Arias - A Local's Refreshing Insight

I've spent the last 5 years exploring and sharing some of the wonders and cultural differences in Argentina, but I feel that there are times when you have to step aside and allow another voice to come through.

So without further to do, here is an interview I conducted with the beautiful Argentine local, Melisa Arias.
1) Hi, Melisa. Why don't you start by telling us a little bit about yourself.

My name’s Melisa Alexandra Arias. I’m 31 years old. I’m an EN-SP translator and I work at a university in the graduate’s department.

2) Are you from Cordoba, or from another province?


I’m from Cordoba, yes.

3) On a scale of 1 through 10, how safe do you consider Cordoba as far as the crime rate's concerned?


Ufff, tough question. I would say 8. It depends on the part of the city you live in and on how exposed/vulnerable you are in that specific moment.

4) Do you feel that women are seen as equals in Argentina or is there a lot of gender discrimination in the workplace and society in general? If yes, have you ever experienced it?


Women will never be seen as equals unless the chauvinist paradigm changes for good around the entire world. Regarding Argentina, specifically, women are treated as employees, not as women employees. So, if they get paid low it’s because our economy is ruined, not because they are discriminated against.


Personally, I haven’t experienced any kind of discrimination or harassment in my workplace. What I do hate are catcalls, but I know that no matter how much mankind evolves those little pains in the ass will prevail.

5) Unfortunately, not every country in the world offers women the rights they deserve. In cases of domestic abuse or sexual assault, do you think Argentina provides women with the help that they need to protect themselves and overcome a traumatic situation like domestic abuse or sexual assault? (for example, like women’s shelters or free counseling)


To be honest, I’m not that well informed about this topic to answer the question properly. All I can say is that women in Argentina have been marching a lot lately. They want the motto “Ni una menos” (Not one woman less) to stick in people’s minds as a declaration of war against men who abuse and kill women, and the politicians and judges who turn their backs to these facts.

6) What made you decide to learn English?


Ha! I didn’t get the chance to decide. Actually, my mom decided for me when I was 12 years old. She sent my sister and I to this private institute to learn the language because she knew back then that it would be a great investment in our futures. And she was right! As soon as I started learning English I loved it. It was the best thing my mom did for me.



7) Where did you learn English and would you recommend the school to others?


The private institute is called IICANA (Parque Capital franchise). It doesn’t go by that name anymore, now it’s called World Link, but the owner is the same guy and I totally recommend it.



8) Do you feel foreigners in general are welcomed in Argentina or do you think some people are resistant to the idea of massive immigration from other countries?


It always depends on where they come from. Like it or not, Argentinians are quite racists when it comes to welcoming immigrants from Bolivia or Peru, but we gladly open our arms to people from the States, England or Australia, for example.

9) You're a very friendly, open-minded person when it comes to members of the LGBT community. Do you feel that in general, Argentinians are accepting or at least tolerant of members of the LGBT community?


Well, that’s a generational question. People my age have been part of the change, so they already understand that members of the LGBT community are just people with different sexual orientations. But older people have a really hard time accepting that fact and don’t conceive the idea that such “deviations” can come from a normal person. It’s very sad to hear them talking like that.

10) Finally, if a job opportunity presented itself, but required you to move abroad to an English speaking country, would you consider leaving Argentina, or would you prefer to stay close to your family and friends?


I would leave, yes. It would be hard, of course, ‘cause I’m not the kind of person who likes to take risks, but if the offer is good enough I don’t see why not.


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Melisa, thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this interview. Your insight will undoubtedly answer quite a few questions from people looking to visit or migrate to Argentina in the near future.

Monday, June 19, 2017

5 Years Later: Looking Back In Order To Move Forward



Wow! Can you believe it? It's been five years since my husband and I said goodbye to our friends, our family, and our lives in New York, and moved to Cordoba, Argentina. It's amazing how much time has passed!


Those of you who have followed my blog over the years know that adjusting to life abroad hasn't been easy for us, and if you don't know what I'm talking about... STOP! Click on the link below and start reading from the beginning. You have a lot of catching up to do.

Living in Argentina versus the States is as different as night and day and many of our fellow expats would probably agree. The amount of money you have, the province you choose, your expectations of life can all make a huge difference in how you live in the southern hemisphere. It's why I can't stress enough how important it is to do lots of research, ask lots of questions from other expats, and then decide if this is the right fit for you.

Seasons In Reverse 

Winter is from June to August. Spring is from September to November. Summer is from December to February, and fall is from March to the end of May. The weather conditions are the exact opposite of what we're used to, and this makes celebrating holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas a bit more interesting. Imagine cooking elaborate meals intended for the winter time, in late spring or early Summer in Argentina? The whole house turns into one giant oven.
I can't even wear my Christmas sweater, but that's okay because it made me look fat.

Exploring The Unknown

We've only had the fortune of exploring three provinces so far, San Juan, Buenos Aires, and of course, Cordoba, our host province.
Buenos Aires 2013
Read a little more about our adventures in B.A. here: https://goo.gl/H4U23b
Villa General Belgrano 2017
Read a little more about our adventures in Villa General Belgrano here: https://goo.gl/iSfJSE
San Juan 2014
Read a little more about our adventures in San Juan here: https://goo.gl/p9qkwd
Cordoba 2012


Carlos Paz
Read a little more about our adventures in Carlos Paz here: https://goo.gl/EnYQPP

Read a little more about the international food festival in Altagracia here:  https://goo.gl/SvMPae


We're looking forward to doing a little more traveling over the next few years, time and money permitting of course.


Power Rangers And Zombies, Oh My!

I've experienced a lot of cool and unusual things over the last five years. We met Jason Faunt, the red Time Force Power Ranger at a convention in Cordoba in 2013.
That same year, Cordoba looked like a scene from the Walking Dead for the annual zombie walk.
Life After Theft
We struggled to get our lives back together after a home invasion late last year. Sure, most of the material possessions were easily replaced with more updated versions of what we originally had, but the sense of security we felt at home before was taken from us, and we haven't been able to get it back.

The Economy... What A Mess

This isn't much of a shocker, but the economy has continued to decline. Things have gotten more expensive. Utility bills continue to rise and many people are pissed as hell, but from what I've gathered from the "Asociacion Defensa del Consumidor" or The Consumer Defense Association, which I gather is somewhat similar to the Better Business Bureau in the States, the people that get shafted with the highest utility bills are those that own businesses. Some get electric bills as high as $10,000 Argentine pesos a month. The individual below is just one example of what some folks are struggling with.
Translation: Hello, I received a light bill for $3000. It's just me and my young son. I couldn't have consumed that much electricity. I called the electric company and they told me that the bill has a 70% increase in consumption of electricity and that I should pay in two installments. I feel cheated. Is there anything I can do?
Translation: $4300 for electricity in Bermejo... what should I do? They're crazy

I remember when I only paid 180 Argentine pesos for the same phone and internet service I have now. Five years later, it's over 800 pesos. But I do consider myself fortunate as many of the locals have had to contend with utility bills that in some cases go well into the thousands.

Things at the supermarket are more expensive. I used to spend 150 to 200 pesos on groceries a week for just the two of us. Today, it's more like 600 to 800 pesos.


The value of the Argentine peso has continued to fall, but the decline appears to have leveled off for the moment.


On December 31st, 2012, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was: 4.90
On December 31st, 2013, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was: 6.51
On July 29th, 2014, the cost of one US dollar in Argentine pesos was: 8.19
On December 24th, 2015, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was: 12.97
On June 19th, 2016, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was: 13.89

On June 13th, 2017, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos is 15.90.

Some are predicting that you'll need $20 Argentine pesos to get to a single dollar by the time the next (non-presidential) election swings by this coming November 2017, but that's more of a rumor than an actual fact.


A year ago, the Argentine peso was worth .07 cents. It's worth .06 in 2017.



Customs

There were rumors that door to door services would be available, meaning Argentina would allow importing and exporting to flow like beer at a frat house. I'm not entirely sure if that's the case because a lot of people I know are still forced to pay insane amounts of money at customs to get their things. One guy requested a debit card and it was held at customs! DVDs and Blu-Rays are only limited to some of the newest movie releases, so for those of us who were really dying to get Supernatural season 12 on DVD, we're S.O.L.


Food From Home
There are certainly a few welcomed items that we didn't see when we first arrived five years ago like Swedish Fish and Sour Patch candies. Sure, there were cheap imitations sold at some of the local candy stores, but nothing beats the real name brand.
We have yet to see an actual Ruffle's Potato Chips bag. Other brands have tried, but failed to replicate the taste. So for the time being we have this acceptable substitute.
The closest thing we had to ice  tea was called Fuze Tea, but we're guessing it wasn't very popular in Cordoba, so the stores stopped carrying it. We did find a bottle when we went on our third trip to Buenos Aires last year, and I'm still kicking myself for not buying it. Then we went to Disco, which is another big chain supermarket down here, and found Lipton's Ice Tea, so I was very happy.


Native American Freedom Fighters, Corporate Conspiracies And More
I'm more than halfway done with the four-part Hunter's Vendetta book series. To those of who have already purchased my book and have provided me with positive feedback, thank you from the bottom of my heart. For those of you who haven't purchased my novels, what are you waiting for? HAHA! No, seriously! Writing while living abroad is a challenge, especially when it comes to promoting my work, which is why I count on you guys to read my work, talk about it, and share it with others.

So here's the link to the first novel "Hunter's Vendetta: Silent Kill", which you can purchase on Amazon by clicking on this link.

THE FIRST BOOK IN THE HUNTER'S VENDETTA SERIES When Alex Westcrow left his tribe, and his lover, Kayden Hayes, he unknowingly left behind a dark family secret as well. Years later, his homecoming is marred by tragedy. Now he’s the target of a silent killer, and the key to staying alive rests in deciphering terrifying visions that foreshadow his death and those of everyone he holds dear. 

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The sequel to "Silent Kill" is called "Hunter's Vendetta: Shockwave" and can currently be purchased through this link

THE SECOND BOOK IN THE HUNTER'S VENDETTA SERIES:  An extremist faction made up of exiled natives from the Taulsekan tribe will go to any lengths to protect their culture from the white man, but a dark secret from their past threatens to put an end to their cause. Meanwhile, Alex Westcrow begins to uncover the truth behind an evil conspiracy, and the only way to keep his friends alive may be to leave them behind. Before it's all over, someone he knows and trusts will turn on him. 

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While you're busy reading the first two novels, I'll be busy working on part 3.

What Lies Ahead
I'm sorry I haven't updated the blog with any posts recently, but it's been a rough couple of months. I'd like to start spotlighting locals and maybe a few expats. There will definitely be another post soon, so check back often. Until then, stay safe, respect, and do no harm.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Visiting The German Themed Town Of Villa General Belgrano

So I know I said I wouldn't be traveling for a while, but life is unpredictable... and so am I. So a few days ago, a good friend of mine invited me to go to Villa General Belgrano, a heavily themed German town two hours away on bus from Cordoba Capital, where I live. I'm told that the reason for the German influence is due to a heavy concentration of immigrants that sought refuge in Argentina after the Nazi regime crumbled in 1945.
The scenery heading towards this small mountain village of 6,260 inhabitants was amazing.
We got to the bus terminal in Villa General Belgrano at around 12:30 and we were starving. So after getting a map at the tourist center, we started heading into town.
It wasn't long before we started noticing the German style architecture  of some of  the buildings, as well as the German flags displayed in front of businesses.
The street signs were carved out of wood and honestly, it was easy to forget that we were still in Argentina, until we saw that the words on the signs were in Castilian.
We kept looking at the menus in every restaurant we saw as we explored this beautiful village. Most restaurants had the same items on their menu like a variety of German sausages, as well as sauerkraut, black beer, and items that were more atypical for Argentina like pizza, empanadas, and milanesa (breaded steak). On average the price range of the meals were between 130 and 170 Argentine pesos ($8.05 and $11 USD).

Of course, there wasn't a single gift shop that was devoid of beer mugs made of wood, metal, plastic, ceramic, or glass and they all had a German Crest on them, usually the familiar symbol of an eagle. 
 

Old Munich... I swear that the old gentleman was in the wrong place at the wrong time when I took this photo, but it wasn't intentional.

After window shopping through the various shops and exploring the village, my friend reminded me that it was two in the afternoon and that the restaurants would likely close by 3 p.m. for the siesta. So we wound up choosing Tante Leny and ordered the special along with an appetizer and of course, black beer. 
Now I'll admit, I'm not a big drinker. I'm not even a light drinker. If I drink any type of alcoholic beverage more than three times a month, it's too much. So I really didn't know the difference between conventional beer and black beer. But after tasting it, I realized that black beer is a lot smoother and I enjoyed it.
The special was this huge sausage along with a smaller sausage on the side, and mash potatoes, but unlike any I'd ever tasted before. It was actually pretty good, but I don't know if they mixed it with sauerkraut or something else, and I actually got a bit buzzed from the beer so I forgot to ask. The whole lunch cost about 400 Argentine pesos ($25.86 USD) and that included the drinks.
Afterwards we headed for the Torre Mirador, or the Watchtower. It cost 20 Argentine pesos ($1.29) per person in order to climb 94 steps up a narrow, winding stairwell to the very top.
I'm not sure if it's the fact that I'm only a few months away from turning 40 or what, but I was pretty winded by the time we were all the way up. Fortunately, my 20-year-old friend was too, so I didn't feel that bad about my lack of stamina.
When we got there we accidentally interrupted a couple that was looking for some alone time, if you know what I mean. 
So after they left, I took some photos from the Watchtower, but as impressive as the view was, we ended up seeing a lot more rooftops than anything. So after five minutes, we headed back down the dizzying stairs.
You can tell that Oktoberfest must be awesome here. Aside from celebrating big during the "Fiesta Nacional de las Cerveza" (The National Beer Festival), they also party during the "Fiesta del Chocolate Alpino" (The Chocolate Alpines Festival) too.
After we caught our breath from climbing up and down the steps of the Watchtower, we headed for Castillo Romano, which is this amazing museum with remnants of the past.
The outside looked a bit like a village from olden times full of farming equipment and carriages to tend to the garden around the castle. 
The inside had an impressive collection of artifacts, some of which dated as far back as the 1890s. 
The tour guide claimed that men were afraid of this one because it reminded them of their mother-in-law.

There were three marionettes too, but that giant puppet was by far the creepiest, and it moved too, but with the help of the museum's tour guide, who turned a lever that gave it life.
We also got to see a variety of old telephones, video cameras, and audio instruments from the 20s all the way up to the 80s, and in the process, we learned about their history as well. It turns out that the predecessors to our modern day MP3 players were invented in Germany (again, according to the museum's tour guide. I don't know if this is true or not. Please don't kill me).
There was also a wall full of weapons ranging from swords to firearms and they were pretty old too judging from their appearance.
You could also find toys and books that were practically antiques.
The tour guide told us that this wasn't used for cooking. It was used to wash men and women's undergarments in boiling water during a time where diseases ran rampant in Germany.

The cost to enjoy this little trip to the past was $70 Argentine pesos ($4.53 USD) per person and it was worth every penny.

Well now that looks interesting ;-)

After leaving the museum, we walked around the village for a bit before heading back to the bus terminal. There were certainly other things we could have possibly seen and done, especially if you love nature, but admittedly, seeing a bunch of trees and standing in front of a waterfall really isn't my thing, and it wasn't my friend's either. So, since we were satisfied with our trip, we said goodbye to Villa General Belgrano and headed home.
Now one thing I'd like to point out is that in comparison to Cordoba Capital, Villa General Belgrano had a heavier police presence, which I actually prefer because it deters crime. The village was also very focused on recycling. There were receptacles practically everywhere for regular trash and recyclables. 
The only downer would be that it became a ghost town after 3 p.m. and there were no McDonald's or Burger King around. So would I come back for a visit? Absolutely! Would I live here? Probably not.