With 7 months to travel, 4 countries to cross and 1 backpack to carry, IVHQ volunteer Megan Glavin shares Part 1 of her 4-Part volunteering journey. Read about Megan's impressions of volunteering in South America, and we'll keep you posted with her onward travels to with Peru, Sri Lanka and Thailand over the coming months!
When I came to Argentina, I carried with me a 60L backpack and a carry-on bag, each stuffed with shoes, clothes, and manila envelopes of photocopied documents and identification cards. But when I board the plane at the end of my stay, I am taking with a little frog, diligently formed for me from modeling clay with the wrinkled hands of Betty, one of the abuelitas; a beautiful friendship bracelet gifted from a fellow volunteer, with whom I shared endless laughs and stories, if not time; and another manila envelope, but this one full of colorful drawings and paper cranes from both seniors and children alike at the elderly and child-care projects, valuable recipes for empanadas and cookies and other favorite Argentinian dishes from my housemates, and a myriad of old tickets documenting my bus trips, gondola rides, museum visits, and so much more. This is only the tangible.
Intangibly, I take with me a beautifully complex web of memories, emotions, and connections unlike any I have ever known. I fell in love with Argentina because I love walking the streets to the tune of local musicians, passing ice cream shops and fruit vendors on every corner. These streets are lined with good food, the smoke from asados and aroma of red wines spilling out of restaurants, drawing you inside. On the sidewalks in front, local artisans set up blankets displaying their work, even more concentrated within the numerous plazas.
The plazas are works of art all on their own, with their gallant statues and ornate fountains, surrounded on all sides by detailed architecture. So many laidback afternoons in Argentina were spent in such plazas, watching children kick around a soccer ball, while their parents sat nearby drinking mate, a prominent part of the culture here and a favorite traditional beverage. The atmosphere in all of South America is very relaxed, and the people share the same easygoing vibes. Everyone is so incredibly welcoming, and it took hardly any time before I felt as though I had a place here. That I, an obvious foreigner, belonged.
I have my place at the elderly home, where I am greeted every morning with “hola, mi amor¨ by the smiling faces of the abuelitos, with whom I color and pass around mate and listen as they share their lives with me. And at the community development placement, amongst the women I work alongside to prepare the bread and tea, which is then given to the children, who pull my arm and ask me to play with them. And of course, I have my place at the volunteer house. My Villa Allende home, made so special by José's boisterous greetings and impromptu dancing, Ariel's easygoing yet hardworking attitude, and Emiliano's genuine compassion and overwhelming kindness. I take my place among so many other volunteers, with whom I have built invaluable connections. We all come from different latitudes and longitudes, and we experience everything from entirely unique perspectives, but we share the experiences, and I wouldn't want to do so with anyone else.
I came to this country alone, and yet, in this country I am never alone. I am here with the colorful houses crowding the dusty streets and the lazy dogs basking in the sun and a thousand unforgettable smiles. I am here, in Argentina, with open eyes, an open mind, and an open heart. Because Argentina is more than a collection of letters on some map - it is the people and the music and the customs, and it is what you make it.