Dignitas

La Dignidad - Tapa de la revista para niños
Dignity – cover for the childrens magazine “With Francis by my side”

While I was in Buenos Aires – and I spent two long months there – I found this magazine (see picture) in one of the most well known newspapers in Argentina (Clarin). The name of the magazine is “Con Francisco a mi lado” which translates to “With Francis by my side”.

These magazines were given for free with the Sunday edition of the newspaper and it had as an objective to educate children on the following topics (or “values” as they are called in Argentina): happiness, courage, humbleness, hope, self-esteem, solidarity, effort, diversity, creativity, prudence, friendship, dignity, generosity, family and peace. The bonus? A chance to win a visit to see the Pope in Vatican City.

This collection has the support of Pope Francis and an educational entity called “Scholas Occurrentes” (http://www.scholasoccurrentes.org/about-us/en) founded by Pope Francis himself.

These magazines have the sole purpose to reach every single child in Argentina, help them on their development and give the tools to parents, carers and teachers to answer the differing questions that little ones (and not so little ones!) may have.

The argument the magazine presents is that to be a child in this day and age is not easy and children see the world changing constantly at such a speed that these changes may generate anxiety and insecurity. Not knowing how to face a situation could be disappointing. As children grow up they expect an adult to tell them how to act.

So, Pope Francis comes across in this magazine as a strong adult figure, becoming the wise adult who will give the child a sense of security through a sincere, humane and warm word which certainly will join the words of the parents and carers in the hope of guiding the child through the right path, so to say.

My views are divided. I firmly believe Pope Francis was exactly what the Catholic Church needed – a good shake up from the foundations – and I do believe these magazines are great to help parents to explain what dignity, hope, friendships (amongst other values/topics) are.

But my thought is that these magazines should be aimed to parents/carers directly. And parents/carers should draw a picture about dignity, hope and friendship (and all the other topics/values mentioned in the beginning), and give them to their children. And through those drawings explain to the children what those concepts are.

Is that ever likely to ever happen? Yeah, right…

I can tell you something, my mother never ever told me what “hope” was. I read about “prudence” when I was doing my foundation course and I had to read philosophy as part of the curriculum. “Friendship”? Friendship is my three best friends and a couple more that I had known for more than 15 years and we still get on the phone and talk like if we have had coffee the day before.

My father taught me what “effort” was, making me save my pocket money to buy my first bicycle, for which I am ever so grateful because I learnt once and for all the value of money.

What am I trying to say here? I don’t think for a minute my parents had a book/magazine to tell them what to tell me what those “values” were. They taught me the same way they were taught and I intend to do the same.

In any case, if societies in general (I’m pretty sure there are parents/carers out there who can teach their children values without the help of a magazine) are starting to lose the words or the will to role model these values, I do welcome the magazine.

But target it to the right blank: Parents. And yes, give me any of these values, and I will draw it, any time.

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A free lesson

It is nearly a month that I arrived home and there is this episode that is still very vivid on my mind and I think it will take years to shift, because it was like a tragic comedy of parenthood.

I was at the playground in a sunny afternoon I would say a perfect afternoon not too hot, not too windy, watching my little one explore his surroundings and wondering what was he thinking or imagining in that head of his.

As my son approached me with a stick in one hand and some leaves in the other with his sandals covered in mud, a football came straight our way. It did not touch me or my son but it did scare us because it was unexpected. My son was delighted with this sudden apparition of a ball and as you can imagine I looked immediately for the owner.

Yes, you imagined well, the owner was a young boy of about 8 or 9 years old, in a sleeveless t-shirt, shorts and trainers.

– “I’m sorry” he muttered

-“No worries “I replied.

The boy noticed my son’s interest on the ball, so he kicked the ball towards him, a bit rough so I explained to the boy to do so a bit more gently so my son could play without getting hurt. So he did, and for 5 minutes both of them were enjoying the play. But the sleeveless t-shirt boy soon got bored of it and in a very straight forward way he went to kick his ball away from my little one.

My son saw himself without the ball and without someone to play with and the disappointment in his face was such it broke my heart.  Quite promptly his football came out of the bag underneath the pushchair and I started to play with him and peace was restored until the next twig or leave would distract him (as it normally happens).

Whilst my son was running around I was observing this young boy – the sleeveless t-shirt one – who was somehow trying to play by himself but obviously was quite bored and in complete truth he did not know what to do with himself.

He was kicking the football up, to the sides, towards the bushes, towards the road and … towards a gentleman who was sitting on a bench embedded on his phone screen and typing like there  was no tomorrow who I soon gathered was the father of the sleeveless t-shirt boy.

As the boy carried on kicking the ball towards his father, his father continued to ignore him, to the point that left me wondering why the father brought the child to the playground in the first place. Perhaps he thought he was going to get some time off to do whatever he was doing on the phone whilst the child was in the playground playing.

But the child did not know how to play on his own, and looking around there were no more children his age to play with him and to play with my little one proved somehow boring for him (not for my son!). As a fact, although that afternoon was ideal to be out in the park playing and enjoying the sun, the playground was somehow empty.

So, this boy continued to kick the football towards his father, his father continued to ignore him and occasionally shout at him to leave him alone. The boy continued kicking the ball around until the ball got stuck up high on top of a vine.

– “Dad” I heard him calling “the ball”

– “What have you done now?” “Can’t you see I’m busy?” “Do you really have to be such a nuisance?”

– “It is not my fault. The ball went up there on its own”

– “Nothing happens just like that”

– “Dad, get it down”

– “Why should I?”

– “Dad get it for me”

At this point I could see the father quite angry and his face was red, about to burst. The father tried to get the ball down, and in the end the boy climbed up the vine, shook some branches and the ball finally fell on the ground again.

– “Don’t do it again” Said the father getting back to the bench, with the phone in his hand. “As you cannot play, we are going to get a burger”.

– “But dad” said the sleeveless t-shirt boy “You said you were going to play with me”

-“C’mon, get in the car. We are going to get a burger”.

So the boy got into the car, the father put his phone aside and they drove away. I carried on playing with my son, who was happily getting very dirty with mud.

No need to say the blunt answer from the boy struck me as to how children are very honest when it comes to promises and how we, adults try to deceive them time and again. Perhaps the father did have the intention but something overcame the intention and he had to postpone the play and get on his phone.

But then again, wouldn’t it be better to tell the truth to the child instead to forge expectations?

Oh well, lessons to be learnt.

Merry-go-round

After two years, I returned to Buenos Aires with my little one. The flight was horrendous – direct flight with British Airways – and we landed with sunny weather and 36 degrees, but I can say after a week being here that young sir is adapting slowly but surely to the heat, the food and the new faces around, his appetite increased and I am pretty sure he has grown in height – weight is difficult to measure, for him the scales are a toy and it is ever so funny to step in and out to see the light flash !-  but my arms can tell the difference in weight from a week ago.

His cheeks are rosy and even his mood has changed. He is not that cranky and demanding although today he has been “difficult” but I don’t know why. I blame everything on the sun and the warmth of the summer.

In any case, yesterday we went to the “plaza” which is in most cases in Argentina, a mix between a playground and park. It is important to remark that “plazas” are the heart and soul of every neighbourhood / city / village in Argentina; it is very popular to go during the evening to the “plaza” to gather around, to see what’s going on and to share a moment with friends, or if fancy takes you, to sit down and gaze or read a book.

The “plaza” is surrounded in most cases by the church and cafes, restaurants and ice cream parlours; in some cities what would be the village hall is right across the “plaza” together with the church, the Council hall, the bank and a cafe (cafes are inevitably near a “plaza”).

In such a public space you can find benches scattered around, concrete tables with chess boards made with black and white mosaics, and you do see people sitting down playing chess and drinking mate (mate is a traditional drink in Argentina) and of course playgrounds for children.

Some of these playgrounds have a merry-go-round beside the traditional games and structures for children like swings, see-saws, sand pits and slides. Needless to say a “plaza” with a merry-go-round is extremely popular, particularly during weekends, and if those weekends are sunny and warm, no need to say, they are simply a “must do” activity.

Another important fact is that the “plaza” is – being the heart and soul of every village/city and town – the best place to take the pulse of the socio-economic beat of the population. At the plaza people from different paths of life concur and diverge; it is important to note as well that Argentineans talk *a lot* not only between themselves but with complete strangers and if they could talk to trees who could answer or follow a conversation they definitely would.

And what is it Argentineans that talk about? Normally it would start with the weather and then 5 minutes later they will – trust me, they will – end up talking about politics and how bad the economy is, comparing the current price of potatoes to how the price was two months ago and so on and so forth. If the conversation goes any deeper, they probably will come up with solutions to the economy, how they would do things differently and end up waving goodbye to each other as if they were old friends.

I can tell that it is true the social situation is bad and the economy is even worse; it is absolutely true that the money is worthless and going out to the shops (and it is only for groceries and the absolute necessities) requires skills of an economist and a calculator in the hand. One needs to be a magician in the kitchen to be sure to use every scrap of food and is nowadays a must, turning it into something edible and perhaps nutritious, in order to stretch the money and live day to day.

I experienced this feeling of money falling like sand through my fingers the first few days I was here and of course going out doing the shopping for fruit, veg and dairy. Boy, I went out with a wallet full of money and came back with few coins!. Now I became more “savvy” and I do like everybody else, wait for the daily offers and walk reaching different shops looking for the best price.

Going back to my lovely Sunday afternoon, my son woke up from his afternoon nap and of course, being sunny and warm we decided to go to the “plaza” nearby where I used to go as a child. Needless to say, so many memories came back to my mind! The swings, the see-saws, the sand pit…and the merry-go-round.

My mother was very excited to take her grandson to the merry-go-round, like she did when I was little. My son was delighted with the prospect of getting himself on the merry-go-round, so after buying the ticket off they go, my son sitting in a horse and my mother standing by his side. I do not need to say that both were very excited and my son was in absolute awe to see the world from his horse and me waving like an idiot whilst trying to catch a glimpse of the moment with my camera.

The merry-go-round stopped and my son was craving for more; as soon as I tried to get him away from the horse he climbed up again and looked at me as if to say: “you are not thinking on going back home, are you?”  with a big smile and giggling; so I went to the lady who sold the tickets and queued to buy another ticket. Note, each ticket costs $ 6 per child per round (we are talking something  like 45 pence) and you must buy them there and then, preferably with change.

So, another ticket bought, another turn on the merry-go-round, this time it was my turn to get dizzy and my mother’s turn to try to take a picture. As I stepped down and tried again to take my son away from the merry-go-round (failing again) my mother looked at me and said go on buy another ticket, it is a lovely afternoon after all and we have plenty of time…

There I was queuing up to buy another ticket and observing a mother who was taking her children down from the merry-go-round and you could tell the children were quite unhappy with the situation, and the mother as well. The dialog was more or less like this:

– But mum….

– C’mon darlings now we have to go, it is time to go home, we had a drink, an ice cream and some popcorn…

– But we want another ride on the merry go round…

– Yes mum we do!

– Listen, we had two rides. That’s it. I cannot afford another ride.

– Mum…please…

– No. I’m sorry.

I saw the mother’s distress when she was saying no. When she was saying they had to go. As the dialog with the children extended for another 5 minutes, I heard the mother say to one of her children “I saved all week to bring you to the plaza and I am afraid I cannot save any more. I’m sorry darling” and she stroked her child’s head whilst holding the other child’s hand.

I saw in her eyes the sadness and the frustration of having to say no to her children and quietly walk them away from the merry-go-round. And we are talking about only 45 pence each child, which is in any case almost a pound to pay for both of them to have 3 minutes of fun and laughter.

As I was contemplating the scene a little hand grabbed my shirt asking for something and pointing  to the swings, and my mother all excited taking him and saying he changed his mind and now it was the turn of the swings and both of them started to walk towards them.

As I left the queue to follow them I was still with that scene in my head and I have to say as a mother I felt her pain and her frustration and even now as I write this I struggle to come to terms with this clear result of a socio-economic situation that stains this country and its inhabitants; I can only feel respect for this selfless mother who saves one peso after the other during the week to take her children out to the “plaza” and treat them to a couple of rides on the merry-go-round, ice cream and a soda.

I do hope their children have the same feeling towards her mother in the future.

And….It has been such a long time….

It has been such a long time after the last post.

I just cannot believe how much time has passed, and the most incredible thing is, I don’t feel that much time has gone like water under a bridge.

My little one is now 10 months old, he is crawling and trying to walk in his own very peculiar way; he babbles like there’s no tomorrow from 06:30 in the morning until 20:00 when he goes to sleep.

I laugh when I read my last post, regarding all the hurdles I had to jump in order to get into the airport in Buenos Aires, and that feels like a very distant memory. BTW, you really want to know what happened when we got to passport control and customs?

Well, long story short, we passed passport control pretty straight forward – controls in Argentinian Airports are nothing like the checks in England, trust me on that one – but the inconvenience started when we had to go through bags control and the infamous x ray machine.

I say infamous because the police officers made it like that. I give you the picture: I was leaving my mother behind, with my little one half asleep, juggling hand bag, bag, pram, passports, flight tickets after a quite agitated beginning of the day only to end up in a queue after being told by a lovely girl at the BA desk I was going to go straight through the fast track queue. YEAH RIGHT.

I followed the signs towards the “fast track” only to find out it was a “closed lane”. I even – naively – went to ask if such a queue existed, only to find out that yes, it *did* exist, but oh, not today. They did not have enough passengers with a need for it, and oh, there’s only 2 (yes, two) x ray machines working.

Well, at least I had everything sorted in a way; going through the x ray machine was going to be like a walk in the park.

That is, if I was in another airport.

After waiting for 30 minutes in the queue, finally my turn to go through the x ray machine came. I started to prepare my little one to get out of the pram, put the bags on the tray, removed the milk and food from the backpack neatly separated in transparent bags, and a full explanation in my mind for when the police officer ask about the formula milk in cartons.

But guess what? I did not have to give any explanations. Instead, I had to pass the pram through the x ray machine. To my amazement, I was asked to fold the pram and put it on the x ray machine. Let’s recap here; I was alone, with my 7 months old and two bags. A man – shall I say gentleman? – offered to help me, but guess what? The police said no. I asked the police officer how did he expect me to fold the pram, what should I do, put the bags through the x ray machine, then the baby, then the pram? It felt like the tale of what would you cross first, the chicken the eggs or the fox.

His answer, “It is not my business”. Yep. That was his answer.

So, I left my little one seated on the floor, folded the pram. At this point, my bags, with the passport, the money, flight tickets, computer, phone, camera was on the other side of the x ray machine. And to add insult to injury, the police officer decided to move the queue a bit, letting other passengers go through. Cheers for that.

Pram went through the x ray machine. On the other side of the x ray machine, finally someone – I believe it was a supervisor – came to find out what was going on. She asked if I needed some help, I answered yes, but I was not quite sure if the police officers would allow her to help me. To which she answered that obviously some people there did not know what it was like to be travelling alone with a baby. Before I left the x ray machine I did take my sweet time to check that nothing was missing. Of course, needless to say, under the evil looks of the police officers.

At that point, my little one was starting to get hungry, and I desperately needed a coffee. So we went for a quick look around the free shop whilst looking for a place to sit down and fulfil our needs. And choose between two coffee shops, one more expensive than the other, with a very limited range.

The time to jump on the plane came, the flight was marvellous, the crew ever so caring! I think it was just the right TLC we needed after the ordeal.

Conclusion:

– Argentinian customs are not mother-and-child-travelling-alone friendly when it’s very early in the morning during weekends.
– The coffee shops are outrageously expensive and the choices are limited, again, very early in the morning during weekends.
– There are some charitable souls out there, even when it’s the weekend, and very early in the morning.