I heard someone on a podcast say “each one of us experiences and understands time differently.” I think I experience time differently here.
Argentinians are practiced at waiting. There is a “20 items or less” line at the grocery store closest to my apartment. And yet, no matter what time of day I go, I usually end up waiting upwards of 40 minutes to check out. At first, I experienced an ugly impatience—an incredulous “how can people live like this?” But over time, I have begun to experience time differently. I realize there is nowhere else I have to be besides in this line, holding my twenty items or less, standing behind the two knee-high children begging for two pieces of cashier line candy.
I started keeping a list of all the customs, norms, and habits here which “keep time” differently than the way I “tell time” in the US. Even those verbs interest me. We “keep,” “tell,” check,” “save,” “waste,” “spend,” and “pass” time.
In the United States, I see my day through the gray, semi-transparent lines of my Google calendar. Half hours and hours. My internal clock is not so much trained to daybreak and sunset but to the 60 minute mark. I sit with a friend at a coffee shop and conversation begins to lag..I check my watch…yep, we’ve been here for 52 minutes…time to go!
Here, A friend drops by my house and asks if I want some mates. He stays for 2 and a half hours and mind you we run out of gossip in the first 15. Initially, I squirmed through these visits. What do I do when conversation lags? How do I remain interesting for 2 hours? How will I get anything done? Now, in the middle of May, I have nearly adjusted my internal clock. The hour ticks are no longer how I keep time.
There is another way that Argentines practice waiting. On April 2, the town of Rio Grande memorializes the Malvinas War (or the Falklands)—a war in which they endured great loss. On April 1st, nearly the entire city goes out to the shoreline at 9pm and waits there (in the 40 degree rainy, windy, night). Waiting is an act of remembering—the mothers waiting for the boats to come back with their boys. Standing vigil is something Argentinian children enter the world and inherit.
I have been thinking about the tragedies of our shared history in the US. What are the unspoken, often cleaned-up parts of my history that I need to start standing vigil to? On March 24, Argentina dedicates the day to reflecting on the horrors of the last dictatorship. It was a day of saying, “this was us.” What if instead of spending Black History Month celebrating the past achievements, we begin to hold vigils on the anniversaries of lynchings and burned black churches?
One of my favorite times is the time called “sobremesa.” It’s the after-you’ve-eaten-before-you’ve-gotten-up-from-the-table time of dinner. It can extend for hours. Waiters do not collect your plates here until after you have left the restaurant. I was once with a group of friends and we were waiting for one more girl to join us. Someone got a text and announced, “she won’t be here for a while, she is still in sobremesa.” Sobremesa is a time that you can be in.
The time I experience here is changing the questions I ask. I am molting out of “What did I do today?” and growing into “Who was I with today?”
Piling in with Deborah's family for a train ride through the National Park.
Digging in to tacos during our girls night at my apartment.
A shot of the trail from my backpacking trip to Chalten.
Teaching about the Power of Language in the context of marginalized communities with my little wrapped up right wrist.
The most recent feature of "Humanos del IPES" (think Humans of New York). If you want to follow along with this project -- we have a facebook and instagram! https://www.facebook.com/HumanosDelIPES/
Home is in North Carolina. But, I take seriously Wendell Berry's imperative, "Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction."