Living With a Family Family
My host family in Chapod was for sure a family, but that experience was so incredibly different because of the farm, the poverty, their indigenous status, the fleas, and everything, that it’s really impossible to compare it to Santiago. However, I’ve been in Buenos Aires for the past two weeks with yet another host family, and they actually feel like a family. It’s wonderful.
My host mom is forty four, a lawyer, a mother of two, and divorced (or separated, divorce is complicated down here). She is a mother. She made me take a nap when I didn’t really sleep on election night, and she lets me know when she doesn’t think I ate enough dinner. She argued with my host brother the other night because he hadn’t studied enough but he wanted to go to a party. Every evening she makes sure I know how to get to where I need to go the next morning.
I have two host brothers, but only one lives here. Ramiro, the older one, is seventeen and recently moved in with his dad. He is the president of the student body at his school, and what his mom calls a “Trotskista” in his communist ideas. He moved because his dad doesn’t mind when he stays out all night at protests, but his mom cared where he was (at least according to her). He plays the flute. I am fascinated by Ramiro but only really got to experience him once, on the first night I was here. I say experience him and not talk to him because he did all the talking, and at a brakeneck pace. Sitting at dinner with the family, I had to devote every ounce of my energy to comprehending his rant about the upcoming strikes at his school, and therefore could not actively participate in the conversation. I wish I could’ve hung out with him more. He’s really interested in politics and is actually the reason the family started having exchange students. I think we could’ve been friends.
Mariano is fifteen and does live here. He’s a pianist and is much less inclined to talk than his brother. He constantly has friends over and constantly plays Imperium, a computer game, with all of them gathered around, however he seldom speaks. I’ve gotten a bit more out of him a few times one on one, but he seems to be fine with sitting back and letting someone else do the talking if someone else (generally his mom, or his friend Ramiro, a different Ramiro than the brother, something that confused me greatly the first day) is willing to do it.
The first twenty four hours here were uncomfortable just as the first twenty four hours living in anyone else’s house for the first time tend to be. I thought they’d be easy because I’ve done this twice, but I still had to figure out the way this family works, there were still things I didn’t understand, and I still felt awkward. Beyond that though, I’ve sincerely enjoyed this family’s company. I’ve had great conversations with my host mom about Argentine politics, the education system, environmentalism, religion in Argentina, the dictatorship, traveling, Latin American literature, and much much more. I’ve made various attempts to connect with Mariano and I think they’ve generally worked, but I’m not sure. Two weeks isn’t really enough time to turn a fifteen year old boy who doesn’t like to talk into your best friend, but sometimes we smile in understanding at something his mom doesn’t get, and he started practicing piano when I’m in the house.
Another really cool thing about this family and about living here, is that both sons go to a music magnet school. It’s a public school that does a normal secondary education in the morning, and all music in the afternoon. You have to apply to get in but only your musical skills are tested, and you graduate after one extra year with a degree to teach music. There are only 200 students! Buenos Aires has similar schools for dance, ceramics, and art. Not only did I get to ask my host family all kinds of questions about this school and get primary source real person responses, but the first week I was here the school was striking because of a lack of resources from the government (a large problem common to all public schools here including the free public universities), and Ramiro was organizing the student part of the demonstrations! Every day I was going to class and learning about the Argentine education system, and then each evening I could discuss what’s actually going on in practice in the live of my host family members. Talk about experiential learning.
I feel just as connected to Lina and Mariano as I do to Andrea and Juan (of Santiago) if not more, and I’ve only lived with them for two weeks. I leave tomorrow, but I sincerely hope to keep in touch with them, and if the come to the U.S. one day (which is more probable than with any of my other host families thus far) all the better.