We’ve been in Buenos Aires for over a week. Though there have been days with no set agenda, we have kept ourselves busy. The city streets near our apartment have grown familiar and with that comes the feeling of belonging to a place. I have even spotted the building custodian around the neighborhood. Again, there is a pleasure in knowing someone, even if it’s just the person you call when the stove isn’t working.
As I get more comfortable here, more sure of where to go and what to say, I am also discovering things that are less comfortable, or perhaps less digestible. While we are staying in a relatively upscale neighborhood, there is a sense of scarcity even here. Like the rest of the world, the economic situation has people on edge. The banks have strict regulations on how much money people can withdraw in a day, about US$250 and sometimes less. There are times of the day or towards the end of the week when it is impossible to withdraw any money at all, the ATMs are empty.
In addition, there is a shortage of small bills. At the grocery store, the cashier will often give more money in return rather than give the correct amount of coinage. Also, at many restaurants, if you try to pay for a bill with AR$100 (equivalent to US$25), they will often not have change. That’s what happened to us at dinner last night.
|When I don't feel comfortable carrying |
a camera, I sometimes sketch.
This shortage of money has a visible effect on the poorest of the Argentine population. While sitting at cafes, restaurants, or even at the park, it is very likely that you will be approached by children and adults who are trying to pedal everything from pens to socks. Most people simply lay the items on your table or lap and move on to the next table, returning in a few minutes to either collect the items or your money.
The most troublesome instance occurred last night while Marisa and I were out for dinner with an American friend. Around 11 PM, a young girl who was definitely no more than ten years old approached our table. She swaggered over carrying herself like some one twice her age. Speaking at lightning speed, and breaking off to bite a piece of her blood sausage sandwich, she leaned onto the table and asked us for money. We said we didn’t have any and offered her a piece of pizza. “Eso no me gusta,” she tossed back, as a piece of blood sausage dropped onto the table. She began picking up our bottles of water and peering in to see if there was any left. I offered her my half full bottle. She took it and proceeded to chug without pausing for a breath. When she had drunk the last drop, she looked down the neck of the bottle. Satisfied that there was none left, she moved on to the next table where she made off with a bottle of Coca Cola.
We too went on our way. We walked the dark streets quickly, aware of the possible dangers. But it is not just danger that feels unsettling, it is the constant presence of hardened children and weary adults hustling for a few pesos.