Today in Buenos Aires, life happens as it normally would. It’s not a day to celebrate independence, to burst firecrackers, or sport a patriotic scarf. It’s simply another day to earn bread, go to school, ride the subte, etc. etc. This fact became very apparent upon waking up when a) I had multiple texts and snapchats from friends back home exclaiming “happy 4th!” while b) the weather here was gloomy and overcast, and I heard a dissatisfied man yelling something in the street, and c) we turned on the news and -instead of seeing reports about parades and decorated towns- we watched a recap of last night’s destructive subway riots.
What’s the most incredulous is that this brief brief BRIEF recap below is all that I could find reported in the media of the riots: “Eighteen people have been arrested following a strike by railway workers in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires on Wednesday. Shops were attacked and stalls burned around one of the city’s main train stations, amid anger over train lines being brought to a standstill. Local media reported the strike was called by train drivers who were not paid their annual bonus, however government sources claimed the strike was in protest at security cameras being installed in their cabs.”
Meanwhile, on the news here, we watch as porteños throw furniture to fuel the fires, axes are taken to police cars, and bomberos are harassed by the locals as they try to put out 11-foot fires.
Anyways, for me this day started out like the other 4 have so far in my apartment. My roommates and I woke up, showered, got dress and headed out the door to take the subte to class. The ride is about 20 minutes, but feels like an eternity because a lot of time you’re squeezed like sardines into the subway’s doors. It makes me claustrophobic and I have to constantly remind myself to breathe so I won’t freak out.
However, our ride today was different than the others. My roommate (Tania, from Mexico) and I were riding the subway, occasionally talking, when a woman looked at Tania through glassy eyes, and asked, “why are you here?” Tania looked at me for help, wondering what exactly this woman meant. Finally, after not receiving an answer from Tania, the woman turned to me and asked the same question: “why are you here?” I told her I didn’t know what to answer to her question. The rest of the conversation followed like so (the anonymous woman’s dialogue in italics)
“You are so lucky, you come from the United States, so why would you come here?”
we paused then slowly responded, “We’re here to study, to learn more about the country.”
“I lived in the U.S. for 2 years to work, before they sent me back here. You are so lucky you get to go back. Why would you leave? Why are you here?”
pause……”We know we are lucky to be able to travel, and that is why we came here.”
*laughs* “Where are you from in the United States”
*laughs again* “It’s so bad here, and it’s getting worse. Why would you choose to come here?”
“No country is perfect, every country has it’s problems. The U.S. does.”
“Why would you come here? It’s so bad. I want to leave. I don’t understand…why would you come here…?”
As more people got off the train, we started to move away from the woman, since both Tania and I were practically speechless. We didn’t know what to answer, or what she wanted to hear. It was an eerie experience –looking into her glassy eyes, on the verge of tears, and trying to understand her message. But, with last night’s riots, who knows how her life is being affected here in Buenos Aires. It was a very sobering experience, and when Sarah (our third roommate) asked us what the lady had been asking us, we could only shrug and couldn’t even talk for a good ten minutes.
After class when we got back to our apartment, we realized it was the 4th of July from some facebook posts. And it made us think, we are lucky to be so fortunate as to travel and experience different cities/countries/economies/societies, but then, at the end of it all, go back to California.
So happy fourth of July. May you be safe today and happy always, regardless of where life’s journey takes you