Evan Fritsch
Evan Fritsch
Argentina 2016
VIEW FINAL REPORT
I am traveling to Buenos Aires, Argentina to serve with the organization Detrás de Todos. I will be serving underprivileged children in one of Buenos Aires' largest slums by leading after-school workshops in music, academics, sports, and theater. Read More About Evan →

Final Thoughts

WOW. As this trip comes to an end, I’m left with so many thoughts. I’ll try to outline them for you below, and even though it might be a bit choppy, it’s the best I can do.

Service – Working in the Villa 31 was amazing. I learned so much, and was able to make meaningful contributions working with Detrás de Todos. Working with children not only taught me to have more patience and grace, but it also showed me how much potential lies within each child. Many of the highlights of the trip came from seeing a child finally succeed after many attempts and failures.  Life in the villa is intriguing, and walking through the muddied streets each day was a thought-provoking experience that had me thinking a lot about life and happenstance. Interacting with children, parents, grandparents, store owners, volunteers, and animals in the villa  taught me a lot, and there is a good mix of beautiful and ugly aspects of life there. There was a lot of stuff that was challenging to see, and realizing the obstacles many of these children and families face was a sobering experience. One of the experiences I remember the most was speaking with a child who was bullied because he couldn’t read, and even his family had told him he would never be able to. I was able to talk to him for about 30 minutes one day and encourage him, and seeing his change in perspective was an incredible experience. Sometimes it’s the everyday interactions and encouragements that impact us the most.

Traveling to and from the villa each day (almost an hour commute between train and subway) forced me to learn public transportation and get around in the city by my own. Now I wish Nashville had some public transport!

I also got to do service in a villa in southern Buenos Aires with the church I was a part of. It was a different type of service that allowed me to bond a little bit more with children who were older than the lower-schoolers from Villa 31. We did more activities such as playing soccer and it was great building relationships with the kids and learning how growing up in the villa has shaped them.

People – The people and culture of Argentina continue to impact me. The hospitality is incredible, and like last time (in 2012) I was treated with kindness by almost everyone I interacted with. Spending time with my Argentine family led to many thought-provoking conversations and gave me opportunities to see things from a fresh perspective. I will certainly miss the warm greetings and customs that the Argentines do so well.

Mindset – More than anything, this trip to Argentina has made me realize just how young I am. It has inspired me to take advantage of my youth and has shown me just how little there is separating me from what would otherwise be considered “crazy” ambitions. I am eager to maintain this mindset going back to Nashville, and am now considering studying internationally after my graduation from Belmont.

I am incredibly grateful to Lumos for the opportunity to serve in Argentina this summer. My experiences are worth more than can be expressed in this blog and I definitely know that this trip has impacted my future in a big way. It has changed my outlook on life and I can’t wait to go on more trips in the future that will teach me more about the world and help me leave my mark on it. Thank you Lumos! It’s been the experience of a lifetime.

Hasta luego,

Evan

I Found God In The Devil’s Throat

“I found God in the Devil’s throat” – the first description I heard of la garganta del diablo, which is easily the most impressive feature of Brasil and Argentina’s Iguazú falls. A section of the falls that is over three times the height of Niagara Falls, and when Eleanor Rosevelt saw it she reportedly exclaimed “poor Niagara!” The comment I heard about “finding God in the Devil’s throat” was surprisingly accurate, as being in front of the falls just leaves you breathless at times. Before we get to that though, I’ll show you some pictures/video of trips to the Brazilian/Argentine sides of the falls. Pictures really don’t do it justice, but it’s the best I can do.

Brazilian Side:

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Argentine Side:

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La Garganta del Diablo (Argentine Side):

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Again, the photos don’t do it justice, but I hope you can get a little idea of what it was like!

Evan

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Week Off/Papá/Iguazú Falls/Tourism

Last week Detrás de Todos was on break for winter vacations, so I had a bit of free time. My dad, being the awesome man that he his, came to visit me for the week! It was an incredible experience, and even though my dad speaks no Spanish, he was able to get along incredibly well with my the Laghis, my family here in Argentina. Accompanied by Gastón and Tomás (my Argentine brothers) my dad and I were able to do a ton, including traveling to 3 countries in 4 days. Here’s a brief recap of what we did, so you can see some of the touristy stuff Argentina has to offer. It was a great opportunity to travel around, since I am usually working and don’t have tons of time to be a tourist.

Here’s him arriving at the airport!

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We spent the first day/night in Lomas de Zamora, where the Laghis live. We made an asado, which is a traditional Argentine bbq. It was a great time spent with the family, and my dad got to learn how to work the parrilla, the type of grill used to prepare the asado. In the typical Argentine hospitality fashion, the Laghis also prepared a cake and signs to welcome my dad to Argentina.

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The asado. Coals are heated on the left, then dragged over to under the food on the right. We had a wide variety of different Argentine meats!

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My American dad, my Argentine dad, and my friend Gastón:

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Days 2/3: We spent Saturday and Sunday in capital, which is basically the main part of the Buenos Aires city. We went to various boroughs in the city, many of which differ drastically. First up was the Casa Rosada, or the “pink house” equivalent of our White House.

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After the Casa Rosada we went to La Boca and El Caminito. La Boca is a port-town historically, which explains all the colors. After the metal frames of people’s houses began to rust from the salt air, locals would take leftover paint from the shipyards and paint their houses with whatever they found. An interesting culture for sure! Tango is also very popular in La Boca.

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A dog dressed up in Boca Juniors gear, the football team from this area:

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After La Boca, we headed to Puerto Madero, one of the most upscale parts of the city (re cheto, ponele).  Located by the city’s Yacht Club, Puerto Madero is super clean and looks very European.

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After Puerto Madero, we headed back to the Casa Rosada, where we were able to see the traditional flag lowering that occurs every evening.

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We then walked to dinner, and on the way there we passed by the Obelisco, which marks the spot where the Argentine flag was hoisted for the first time in Buenos Aires in 1812.

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And here’s a slightly more professional photo:

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On Monday/Tuesday, we went to Iguazú Falls, which is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World (and largest waterfall system in the world). I’ll save that for a separate post. Here’s a teaser:DSCF0265

On Thursday we visited Colonia del Sacramento, a colonial city in Uruguay. It’s only a a 1-hour boat ride away from Buenos Aires, so we got to visit as a day trip. Here’s a picture of all of us, then two of the coastline:

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The vegetation is pretty tropical, which is impressive especially considering it’s winter down here. During the summer Colonia is a very popular tourist destination. Here’s a picture of the lighthouse:DSCF0391

We took a walk down to the beach, which was beautiful. There was also a random dog and a guy riding his horse.

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Here’s another one of the colonial area, and a sign outside a restaurant the reads: “Beers colder than your ex’s heart!”

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And finally, the sunset. These photos aren’t edited:

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Gastón and I dramatically filling up a mate for the next round...told you we’re obsessed!

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On Friday we went to El Tigre, a region about 2 hours north of Buenos Aires and located at a river delta:

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And a national art museum:

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My friend Gastón and my dad:

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That’s a lot of pictures for now, I’ll have to upload the Iguazú ones later. It was an awesome week with my dad and one I’ll never forget!

Bonus photos:

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My dad with Ale and Laura before he left:

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All About Yerba Mate!!!

It’s a rainy day in Argentina and I’m sitting down in the living room, sipping away slowly at a mate and typing this blog entry. “What is mate?” you ask. I’m so glad you asked! (OK, maybe you didn’t, but I love mate so much so I’m going to tell you anyways. Yes, this is definitely deserving of a blog post.)

Mate, short for yerba mate, is a traditional South American drink that is incredibly popular in Argentina, Uruguay, and surrounding countries. People here drink it all the time, and it’s commonplace in most households and workplaces. I had some last time I was in Argentina, but didn’t become a superfan until this current trip. I’m going to share some of what mate is all about, and maybe I’ll convince you to start drinking it!

Yerba refers to the leaves of the yerba mate plant, which begins as a shrub, then turns into a tree before its leaves are harvested. When harvested, the leaves are crumpled up, roasted, and ground into small pieces that resemble dry, chopped up blades of grass. It is then packaged into bags that look like this:

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Mate refers to the gourd or container that yerba is drank from.  Mates come in various shapes, sizes, and designs, but usually they are round and made from wood, gourd, leather, or metal. Attached is a photo of the mate I am currently drinking from.

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“Cool picture! But what’s the silver thing sticking out of your mate?” Great question. That silver thing is called a bombilla, Spanish for “straw.” It’s what you use to drink the yerba, and it has a multiple-part filter system that ensures you don’t end up with any leaves in your mouth while drinking. Here’s a short video showing how it works:

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One of the reasons yerba mate is so cool is because of its many health benefits. For starters, yerba has a caffeine content in between that of tea and coffee, but the way the caffeine impacts your body is much different. Without getting into too much of the science, the caffeine in yerba is mixed with two other chemicals that allow the caffeine to work its magic without you feeling a caffeine spike/crash. Additionally, it contains various vitamins and minerals that increase alertness, digestion, lipid metabolism (you heard right), insulin resistance, and more. It’s a super drink that’s non-addictive, and works wonders on your overall attitude and body!

Another neat aspect of mate is the communal aspect associated with it. Once the mate is prepared (which is done by filling the empty mate gourd with yerba, tilting it at an angle, pouring hot water in, and then inserting the bombilla), people take turns drinking the mate dry and then refilling it with water, thus re-soaking the yerba and giving the next person something to drink from. It is a great way to bring people together, and I’ve had some great conversations with random people I didn’t know simply because I was nearby and offered a sip of mate.

Last week I realized something pretty funny about mate: the culture of mate seems very similar to pot culture! For starters, it’s a green plant, comes from the earth, is “non-addictive” (if not physically, then mentally!), and is consumed in a communal aspect. In order to consume it you need special equipment, such as the mate, the bombilla, a thermos for hot water, container for the yerba, spoon to discard the used mate, and a bag to carry everything in. Additionally, people invest a lot of time/money in the consumption of weed/mate! My friend Gastón and I have invested in bombillas with different types of filters, mates of various materials, different types of yerba (recently just copped a few bags from Uruguay), and different things to mix into the yerba for flavor (such as leaves from a menthol plant growing in the backyard). Obviously these are just some trivial comparisons, but I thought they were funny enough to mention :)

Anyways, that’s it for now...my thermos just ran out of water and it’s time to replace the yerba in my mate. Hope you enjoyed learning some about mate, and maybe we can share one when I’m back in the States!

Evan

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What’s New

¡Hola!

I’ve been waiting a while to post this blog, mainly because I haven’t had any idea of what to write about. That’s not to say stuff’s not happening, because it is! Volunteering in the Villa 31 is great, and everything is going smoothly. Unfortunately, however, “everything is going smoothly” doesn’t typically make for an interesting blog post, so I had to wait for something more. This past weekend gave me some extra food for thought, and I figured I’d share it with you here.

Saturday was an awesome day. We spent the entire day in the villa, from about 10am-7pm. It was a particularly interesting day because after lunch I got to go walk through some new parts of the villa. It was an incredible experience! The most fascinating thing for me was how much of a city it truly is. Granted, in reality it’s a shanty town, but the scale of it is enormous. Estimates of people living there range from 50,000-180,000. There is such a large range for various reasons, most of which have to do with the fact that the villa is technically illegal (but so big that the government can’t do anything about it) and there aren’t many good methods of taking a census. As we were walking through the villa, a fellow volunteer was explaining to me how the villa has it’s own quasi-government and how in order to build anything you have to get a permit first. Given the scale at which the villa is growing (VERY fast) this doesn’t seem too difficult, but that’s just me. As we walked through the villa we passed different kioscos (little convenience stores), food vendors, volleyball courts, etc. The villa is very much alive, and at times just appears to be a dystopian image of the wealthy Retiro that’s across the train tracks.

The reason we were passing through the villa was to go find the kids who had expressed interest in the afternoon music workshop. As we were passing through, various children would recognize us and come up to say hi. One girl I had worked with earlier in the week came up to give me a hug and tell me that her mom loved the birthday card I helped her draw. It’s been cool building relationships with children in the villa, and sometimes with their parents as well.

The music workshop is one of my favorites. In it we give the kids examples of various rhyme schemes for lyrics (free verse is an option as well, we aren’t TOTALLY destroying creativity) and then let them write their own lyrics. We take what they write and turn it into a song, and some are actually pretty good. One of the biggest hits from the past few weeks has been a song called “Había Una Vez” (There Was a Time) about a dragon that goes exploring in the woods with his friends. Unfortunately the author, as in many sophomore slump cases, felt too much pressure to write the follow-up and has since retired from songwriting. He continues to display his artistic talent, however, in the painting workshops we put on every Wednesday.

 

Here’s a picture from one of the theatre workshops we did. A friend of mine took the picture and sent it to me later:

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“Había una vez, un dragón que fue, al bosque con amigos...”

I’ll spare you the rest of the song. Sorry for the delay in posting this, I’ll try to be more prompt with the next!

 

Evan

Week 3/Mendoza

In the midst of my third week in Argentina! Work has been solid, and I’m really enjoying the children. They now call me “profe” which is short for professor. Yesterday I did a lot of math with one of the students, and over the course of the afternoon she made a lot of progress. I’ve found that one of the biggest forms of encouragement is simply telling the children that they can do something, because they are so often told the opposite (even by their classmates who are more advanced than them). For example, the girl from yesterday started off struggling with 2 digit addition problems, but by the end of the day she was doing three-digit problems with ease! It’s neat to see how they progress. This weekend we’re going to be leading some music/theatre workshops, and I’m really looking forward to those! I’d like to upload some photos of Villa 31 and the Detrás de Todos kids for you to see, but it’s not really a place I can take a camera... Maybe sometime by the end of the trip.

One thing I’ve really enjoyed is the diverse backgrounds of people working with Detrás de Todos. Obviously there are people from Buenos Aires/Argentina, but I also work with people from Holland, Brazil, Spain, Chile, and France (for some reason there are a lot of French women). It’s neat because none of us speak each other’s native tongue, but we are all able to communicate in our second language. I’m also happy because when I get asked where I’m from, America/UK is not people’s first guess...yesterday I got Uruguay and Brazil, and before I’ve gotten France. So I take that to mean progress!

Last weekend was a feriado, which is basically a government-implemented holiday used to incentivize people to spend more. It was last Friday/this Monday, so we had a 4-day weekend. I took advantage of the break to travel to Mendoza, a province of Argentina that is almost directly west of Buenos Aires and right at the base of the Andes mountains. It is a region famous for its wine, and is currently the 8th-largest wine producing region in the world. I was able to see the city of Mendoza and travel to a few bodegas, or vineyards. On top of that, I was able to go on a hike up Cerro Arco, which is not quite a mountain but definitely not just a hill. Pretty simple trail but still took about 1.5 hours to reach the top! Here are some of the better pictures from the weekend:

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^A view of the vineyard and the Andes mountains in the background. Chile is on the other side. It’s winter so the grapevines are barren.

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^Mendoza is located in a desert. In the second bodega I went to (Corazon del Sol), they had a natural stream running down from the Andes and through the vineyard.

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^Me cheesin it

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^View from Cerro Arco

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^View of Mendoza from Cerro Arco

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^Me cheesin it x2

That’s enough pictures for now. Last night was the Argentina/USA Copa America game, in which the US got pummeled. Spirits are high here in Argentina as the national team prepares for the championship game this Sunday. It’d be a lot of fun if they win so I’m hoping for the best!

That’s about it for now. Thanks for reading and more updates to follow!

Evan

First Week Down

My first week in Buenos Aires has come and gone! It was great to reconnect with old friends and ease into everything. That being said, it’s definitely been a hectic past week! Last weekend we lost “luz trifásica” in the house, which basically means there was no power to carry water up into the house for drinking or bathing. Luckily the Laghis have an old apartment 1.5 blocks away that we were able to use for showers, but it was still pretty inconvenient. On Monday I travelled into the city with Alejandro, the father of my Argentine family. I learned how to use the public transportation systems in Buenos Aires, specifically the train and subway systems. I got lunch in San Telmo (barrio of BA) with Eléna, one of the Detrás de Todos volunteer coordinators. A native Frenchwoman, she is trilingual and has degrees from universities in France, England, and Madrid. We talked about my volunteer schedule with DDT and I received a crash course on what to expect for the first day.

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^Map of the Buenos Aires subway system

On Tuesday I began serving with DDT in Villa 31. To get to the villa I first take a train from Lomas de Zamora to “Constitución,” one of the three major train stations used to enter/exit the city. From there I take the subway to Retiro (another barrio of BA, like Lomas and San Telmo – also serves as the second large train station) where I meet DDT volunteers at a pharmacy next door. From there we take a bus into the villa, commuting in with many of the villa’s residents. We cross train tracks and enter into the villa, where DDT’s community space is located. Working with the children is great, and so far I’ve been able to help out most with the academic support workshops. Looking forward to doing more with music, theatre, and art workshops this coming week!

The second half of the week was slightly more hectic – On Wednesday I got sick from drinking milk in the Villa; I had to miss work on Thursday because I was so sick. All better now though! On Friday we lost internet, leading me to assume that each weekend we will lose some type of power....

I also received this cellphone so that I can make calls to local Argentine numbers. My family joked around  and said that it is from the “época de las cavernas” (ice age) – they’re totally right

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^Me pretending my cellphone is cool

Yesterday was my Argentine brother Tomas’ birthday, so we had a big celebration for that. Went to a nearby Presbyterian church this morning, and starting to get more involved in the community there. Other than that, I’m just trying not to get too fat – there’s too much good food and I learned my lesson last time...

Since my first week is over, things will soon begin to pick up with my work at Villa 31. I look forward to spending more time there and getting to know the children better. It’s been a great experience so far and I can’t wait to get more involved! I also hope to have some better pictures to share with you. Until then,

Evan

Preparing to Leave!

Well, my flight is fast approaching and I couldn’t be any more excited to be heading to Argentine this summer! Seeing old friends will be refreshing, and I can’t wait to serve the Argentine community while I’m there. I will be serving in Villa 31, the most infamous slum in Buenos Aires. An estimated 35,000 people live here, most of whom are illegal immigrants working in Retiro. Retiro is a district/borough of Buenos Aires, and it is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. There is literally one pair of train tracks that separates the haves from the have-nots, so it creates an interesting dynamic. Here are pictures of the two different communities:

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I will be volunteering with an organization called Detrás de Todos. DDT is a local organization that works to bring the Villa 31 community together and empower its inhabitants to break the cycle of poverty. I will be working as a workshop assistant, so I’ll be leading after-school workshops for children in lower-school. These workshops have focuses in art, theatre, sports, academics, and music. I will finalize my schedule once I arrive but as of now it looks like I’ll be working afternoon and evening on weekdays, and possibly Saturdays as well.

The family I’m staying with is the Laghi family, and they are one of the families I lived with last time I was in Argentina. We formed a great relationship on my last trip and consider each other family. The Laghis live in Lomas de Zamora, which is another district of Buenos Aires. I’ll be commuting to work each day by taking the train from Lomas to Retiro.

Well that’s about it for now, but I look forward to keeping you informed on my travels! I’m very excited for the opportunity to serve in new capacities and impact an area that desperately needs help. Extremely grateful for this opportunity (kudos to Lumos Student Travel Award :)) and can’t wait to make the most of it!