I´ve got some pictures up on Facebook.
Incase somebody doesn´t have my page, the username is David Pitt and the email address is uberchester004@gmail.com
Incase somebody doesn´t have Facebook, wow. Use somebody elses.


The Country

When I think of the country, I think of dirty houses, hot dusty weather, flies buzzing around in a shabby corner store, and intense boredom. (This is my prejudice as a kid from the suburbs I guess.) Well, one poor schmuck from Bangkok Thailand wound up out in the country for his exchange-student experience, in backwater town called Ulapes, five hours from my little La Rioja. He's stranded in a house with no internet, a school of 150, and absolutely nothing to do on weekends.
Mention the idea of living in Ulapes to any kid from La Rioja and he will put his fingers to his temples in a gesture of suicide.

Well, I came out to visit this kid for a weekend. Jett is his name, short for Jethaana. I'm writing from Ulapes on my laptop - I'm lucky to have found an electrical outlet. I've been here two days, which is quite enough for me. Jett's host family invited me for much more time, but I told them I had an obligation at the university (Academic obligation? In Argentina? Yeah right!). There is really nothing to do in Ulapes. Tomorrow I'll get on my escape bus for La Rioja, which I suddenly view as a thriving urban metropolis.

While my brief stay in Ulapes confirmed many of my general prejudices about country life (it being hot, dirty, and incredibly boring), I have a newfound appreciation for people who live there. Jett's host parents - Jorge and Mercedes - live the most perfect idyllic country life I can imagine. They are not rich, but they own a comfortably large house and an old (but decent) pickup truck. Jorge is a tall muscular 47-year-old who works most of the day in the grocery market he owns, attached to the house. In the evenings he drives out about three miles in his pickup truck to tend to his small ranch. In his spare time he plays cards with his amigos out on the back porch. Mercedes is his humble country housewife. She teaches math in Ulapes's tiny school. She is a very devout catholic, a loving mother of two, and a pleasant person to sit down with and talk about your day. I never hear her complain, she only gives thanks for what God has given her.

I can hardly describe what a admirable life they live - they are so happy in their rustic lifestyle. Mercedes always explains to me how grateful they are to live in the country, "It's quiet here. We know everybody and everybody knows us, they're all our friends. We leave the doors and windows open because we know no one will steal from us." Jorge explained to me, "It's great. In the city, you have to commute back and forth from work and there's no time to cook, so you eat from a can. No, here we walk home from work in three minutes. And we eat fresh cooked food, with fresh meat and fresh eggs, fresh bread. There's no other way to do it!"

At about 7:00PM last night Jorge was loading crates of scrap meat into his truck. "Gotta slop the pigs." He invited me along to see his ranch. We rode out a few miles in his rusty pickup until we arrived at a large field surrounded by a fence made of wire and tree branches. "This is it." He dumped the old meat into the pigpen with a grunt. This is what struck me: To him, working with his animals didn't seem like a tedious chore. Quite contrary, he seemed to love it. In some way, his work was an affirmation of his strong masculine identity. His work was a man's work. He was a man wielding power and control over his animals, a man bringing food to his family. He seemed proud. Not arrogant, just proud. Content, satisfied. "See the balls on that pig? I'll cut them off later this month. Meat from a pig with balls is always tough. Three years castrated, the pork will be perfect."

Out beyond the fence was a beautiful white horse. "She's old now, almost 13. But oh, she was a beaut when she was younger. Like a woman when she's 25," he kissed his thumb and forefinger like a chef who has just perfected his sauce. "Pure racing breed. She even won a few races in her day. And won't hurt you for anything, she's the most tranquil thing there is." A few other horses came galloping over, Jorge was doling out the fodder. "But it isn't worth it for her to have babies. With this breed, they need attention around the clock. You'd have to prop up the babe every 20 minutes or so to suck the tit, attention like that for months" You could tell without any words that he loved his horses.

Next he invited me into the cow pen. "Don't be afraid, if they're not hungry they won't do anything to you, and I keep them well fed." The troughs were almost empty though, so he called over his farmhand. "Give 'em some more feed." "But I already gave them double today." "It don't matter, if they're hungry give 'em food." So the farmhand he lumbered off to get more fodder. Jorge continued, "See these little ones? They'll make a fine steak. That's a cow for an asado. But those bigger fat ones, no. The meat's tougher and just not as good. I'll grind them up into hamburger or sausage. Nothing goes to waste."

On the ride back to the house he was explaining to me more about meats. He knew his stuff. I guess that's what comes from both raising with the animals and selling the meat as a butcher. As we pulled into the driveway he said "On the weekends my sons like to use the truck. They don't want to bring their girls into the house, they'd be ashamed. So they take 'em out to the field." He gave me a strong look, and something that resembled like a wink. It was as if to say, That's just how you do it in the country.

So while I could never live out here, and while I pity the kid from Thailand, I have to admire the people that do live here. It is hot, dusty, and boring; that stereotype remains. But if I had stereotypes about country folk - redneck, hick, or hillbilly stereotypes - they have been thoroughly dispelled. The people I met are some incredible people. Mercedes, gratefully tending the house and family. Jorge, proudly managing his animals and his shop. And their two sons, taking their girls out to the field in the pickup truck.

Fútbol: a dance with death

If you've ever watched the World Cup or any other soccer tournament, you know how cool soccer is. People jump ten feet in the air in half backflips to slam the ball into the goal, and other cool stuff like that. Playing soccer with kids in Argentina was cool because it was like watching the World Cup, except terrifying because I was actually there on the field.
When I say it was like the World Cup, I mean that these kids knew how to play soccer. I wasn't expecting it. I had called up Chen, an exchange student from China, to ask him if he wanted to do anything that afternoon. He invited me to play soccer with his classmates.
When the game started my jaw dropped. It was like watching Criss Angel. I kept asking myself "how did they do that?" The ball was moving 50mph, but somehow three people could coordinate a series of flawless passes that put the ball in the goal. What?
And the ball was harder than a cinderblock. It actually hurt your foot when you kicked it. This just increased my amazement.

So at any rate, when the game started these kids started playing like the guys on TV. I spent most of my time running to the opposite end of the field in attempt to keep maximum distance from the ball. One reason was that I'm so bad at soccer that if I tried to kick the ball I'd end up helping the other team. The other reason what that I was scared for my life.
And with reason. Within two minutes of the game, the injuries started coming with a vengeance. Soccer is a dance with death.
One kid was pegged in the back in the lull after scoring a goal. He was taken totally unaware and wound up limping the rest of the game. Another kids was pegged in the leg. The hit to the leg hurt me to watch - the impact looked like it could have impaled. I mean, I was envisioning a soccerball-sized cylindrical gap right through his thigh. The victim lifted up his shorts, the ball had scraped away the skin to reveal the bright red flesh underneath. What amazed me was that, after chanting "hijo de puta" a few times, he simply continued playing. Later in the game, he would fall down and hurl all his weight on the same leg. That made him sit out for a few minutes.
I also witnessed some faceplants. It's a simple mechanism: When there are two players and only one soccer ball in the air, one player escapes with the ball, and the other digs his face into the ground. When only one player makes a jump for a flying ball, you can expect a different injury: the backplant. One kid fell to the ground with a nasty thud and had the wind totally knocked out of him. We're not talking about nice soft grass - we're talking about hard, brown, 100% La Rioja Dirt. Yet after a second he got up and continued playing as if nothing had happened.
As fate would have it I took a hit to the face, square on the left cheekbone. The ball (filled with iron instead of air?) Whizzed towards me much faster than a North American could possibly react. And, well, I'd love to have this be the climax of the story, in which I loose consciousness, wake up to be surrounded by the faces of my peers with blood gushing out my nose, have to be carried on the shoulders of the others to my terrified host mother, and then somehow turn the near-fatal injury into a lifechanging experience.
But unfortunately the ball didn't hit me that hard. My face stung pretty bad for a few minutes, and we continued playing as normal. The injuries continued as normal as well. Two other kids (at least) took direct hits to the face, with this ball that could have been used for shot put.
Needless to say, next time I'll ask Chen if we can play basketball.
For so long I was baffled at how young people in La Rioja can do nothing for such a long time. They don't care about school, they don't work or desire to find a job, on Saturdays they're not short on time because of band practice or homework... and they never seek an activity to kill the time. It's like a super-human laziness that I couldn't achieve if I tried. What do they do? What is their passion?
But as soon as they're on a soccer field I realized, they come alive. There is a passion as strong as I've ever seen, if not stronger. When the ball comes towards them, the game is the only thing that exists. A long-dormant force is suddenly unleashed. All their soul becomes dedicated to the soccer ball; all resources - brute force, speed, and intelligence - are focused on two posts and a net. And it's not just one enthusiastic player, but the whole team. There's a whole energy Network between players, and the bond between teammates is profound.
One skinny kid, Franco, was particularly passionate. Every time he came near me he was out of breath, but never stopped sprinting. Injuries meant nothing to him, of course. He was so engaged with the game as to be detatched from the real world. If the sun exploded me might not have noticed. If I have a strange passion for analyzing linguistic patterns or going on obsessional ten-mile runs, Franco has a strange passion for fútbol.
My energy on the soccer field was bit different. To the others, the soccer ball represented a sphere of energy that charged them more and more as it approached. To me, the ball was a small round missile that might detonate if I got too close. My team was fighting to the death for the ball; I was fleeing the ball for my life.

But the point is, now I can understand better the kids that seem to do nothing. It's clear to me. With that much energy invested in the game, once you're off the field what is there?