Thursday, November 27, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude

Thanksgiving has snuck up on me again this year and the truth is, I miss pumpkin flavored everything, turkey and eggnog. But since the holiday is about more than just all that, I'll start by saying thanks for the 86,400 seconds of life that I was gifted on this planet today. Since I could very easily spend every minute of the rest of my life listing people, moments and ideas for which to be grateful, below I list just a few that are ringing strong today.

I am thankful for…
  • Waking up every morning and being able to breathe, think, enjoy and love
  • Each and every one of the fascinating human beings that have wandered their way into my world, my heart and my soul
  • The rebels and risk takers that are pure proof that fear is just an illusion and life is meant to be lived as one pleases
  • My beautiful Argentina, which is still teaching me first hand the power of empathy, compassion and deep, resilient human bonds
  • The friends and romances that continue to teach me that love is everything  
  • My fellow Capoeira practitioners that have instilled in me a profound desire to play, dance and stay free. Always and everywhere.
  • The wild adventures and unpredictable challenges that spring up on me each and every day in this city of fury. Even after more than two years of living here in Buenos Aires, the chaos that everyday life presents is absolutely inexplicable.
  • The passion that continues burning deep in my soul to explore, connect, share and love
  • Teachers that are working to open their students’ hearts and minds
  • Artists and musicians who remind us to never stop listening to our inner child
  • Those who are willing to do backflips over language and cultural barriers in order to form deep and genuine connections
  • Each and every experience that pushes me to a new level of self-reflection and self-improvement
  • The vastness of this planet and all of its amazing creatures
  • The subtle words and actions from loved ones and strangers that push my mind to open to an entire new level of thinking and understanding and my heart to a new level of feeling

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Start-Ups and Trying to Stay True

It has been months since I have put any effort at all into this blog. It is a shame since writing is my passion, expression is my intention and communication helps to resolve all of our human struggles.

As much as I write about staying true to oneself, it is easy to get lost in new worlds and push the natural and soulful ones aside for a time period. Sometimes we do this without even realizing it. So here I am, a year and a half after my move across the equator and I somehow landed myself in a serious full-time job. I guess I was asking the Universe for this, subconsciously of course.

"A serious full-time job"

I had a full time job during my first year here, but there was no future in it, it was a mere learning experience and way to survive financially. Then I wanted a challenge. I wanted to spend my time doing something that would test my Spanish skills, communicating skills, negotiating skills, team working abilities and so much more. Well hell if the Universe didn't drop me right into the fast-paced, goal-oriented, non-stop Start Up named Nearpod- an Educational Technology platform with ambitions larger than life itself and never one second spent without working towards the goal. Although that goal for me is something vague, distant and too materialistic to really care about.

In college I studied languages, literature and education. My current position demands all of that plus project management skills. So, I really couldn't ask for a more appropriate position as it is perfectly in accordance with what I was seeking.

Here I am five months into the job and already with a ton of learning experiences to show for it. I can truly say, I had NO IDEA I was capable of some of the things I am now making happen. That is the beauty of working with a start-up company and definitely something that every daring adventurer should explore at some point in life.

Yet, my heart yearns 

for the arts, writing, music, dance, sports, painting and the list goes on and on. What is a gal to do, what is a gal to do? Buenos Aires is not a city of opportunities right now due to the intensity of the economic crisis. If you have a job, you are thankful. If you make enough money to not live with your parents, you are lucky. If you make enough to be able to travel a bit during your vacation time, you are living like a king. If you can buy a car (not a new car, just any car really) you are an absolute baller. Unfortunately, this is the reality of my beautiful Argentina right now.

Since I plan to continue living here, I am still thankful for the job I have. The co-founders are proving to be great mentors (with respect to the more logical side of life). Also, it has shown me that even with a group of 30 employees each with his own communication skills and lack thereof, spread out over three cities in the world it is still possible to all play well with each other. Impressive, Nearpod, impressive.

With all of that said, my free time is spent practicing Capoeira and other sports that constitute playtime for my body and relaxation for my mind. Training until 10pm almost every night unfortunately leaves me very little time for my other passions such as writing. So... changes will soon be made as life is too short to not furiously throw ourselves into the worlds we love. A ghetto-fabuolous and possibly homeless man in Philadelphia once showered me in wisdom with just one sentence and his beautiful words still ring in my mind from time to time:

"Guuuuurl, ain't nobody got time fo' that shit" 

The words stuck... and the truth is:  ain't nobody got time for shit that don't make them happy ;) 

On with the happiness! The quest for more free time has officially commenced and the world is still looking bright and beautiful even with winter rapidly approaching.


photo credit

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Capoeira: The Art of Freedom

As a gal wandering with bare feet and an open heart across this lovely planet, my purpose is to meet others who are also on the quest for freedom and to truly express my sense of personal liberty. People search in different places, each in their own unique way. Some spend their lives feeling marginalized for desiring to be free, considering that the common folk love to live in cages! Thankfully, my wandering ways landed me in Argentina and a lust for even more freedom brought me to a class of Capoeira.

Mestre Marcos Gytauna & Mestre Orelha
They are kicking... is it a fight? There are instruments... is it a dance? Everyone is smiling and clapping... is it a game? Ah-ha, that's the beauty of Capoeira ;) I'll let Dias Gomes, a Brazilian playwright, describe it:
“Capoeira is a fight for dancers. It is a dance for gladiators. It is a duel between pals. It is a game, a dance, a struggle, a perfect mixture of strength and rhythm, poetry and agility. The only one where music and singing command the movements. The submission of force to rhythm. Of violence to melody. Sublimation of antagonisms.
In Capoeira the opponents are not enemies, they are comrades. They don’t fight, they pretend to fight. In a very ingenuous way they try to give an artistic view of combat. Above the spirit of competition there is a sense of beauty.
The Capoeira player is an artist and an athlete, a player and a poet.”


The history (significantly summed up): 

Capoeira was developed by the African and Creole slaves that were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. Slave rebellions were rare due to lack of weapons, and Capoeira was developed by the bold ones who craved the sweet taste of freedom. It arose as a hope of survival for an escaped slave, completely unequipped, in this hostile, unknown land and against the armed colonial agents. During their enslaved days, they disguised it as a dance in order to avoid punishment or execution for learning how to fight and defend themselves, which was forbidden to those who were legally defined as property. The art's trickery and cleverness were able to be hidden in its playfulness. With music and rhythmic moves, they raised no suspicion of escape attempts.

Capoeira's meaning today

Each person that practices the art has a different answer to the question "What does Capoeira mean to you?" Some will say, that it represents happiness, communication, energy, gratitude or community. For me, it expresses pure FREEDOM.

Freedom from the constraints of current human life which have us depending on solely our feet to walk (many Capoeira moves involve being on both hands rather than feet, or using the hand as the anchor to the ground while throwing a kick). Freedom from the rules of gravity that make us believe we aren't meant to do back flips. Freedom from the language and cultural barriers. Social and economic status, race, gender, age and language are put aside once a capoeirista enters the Roda (the circle formed around the two players).

In Capoeira, you need to use cleverness and deceit to trick your opponent, sneak in kicks and also to avoid their attacks. This little bit of malice that each of us has inside is able to be expressed and cleared out of our systems in the form of a good-hearted game. Aggression and competitiveness are used in a positive, product way.

What has always attracted me to learning new languages and traveling to unknown lands is my general interest in human life and the ability to connect with others. Not only through words, but now through body movements, play and music am I able to communicate and express myself. Beautiful! A few months in, and I'm falling more in love with Capoeira every day.

Check out some videos:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Living magically requires change

We all reach points in life where everything feels stagnant. Maybe there isn't anything particularly wrong or terrible, nothing that you can put your finger on exactly. Life just feels bland. Empty. Solved.

If nothing is tickling my soul, scaring me, opening my mind, challenging me or making me doubt myself, then I'm not happy. It's simple really. Stagnation and contentment rob life of its magic. When a person wishes to live magically and suck every drip of enlightenment and passion from the core of his or her being, change is necessary. 

My 23rd birthday was in September and it had a lot of expectations to live up to. My 20th birthday I was returning to the US from a summer spent in El Salvador where my entire perception of humanity was turned upside down. My 21st birthday, I was finding out I had a brain tumor and needed emergency surgery. By my 22nd birthday I had sold all of my belongings and was waking up on a Californian beach with nothing but a back pack, a sleeping bag, some apples, my best friend and dreams of my South American future.

"To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly."
-Henri Bergson

My 23rd birthday was nice on the surface: a cake with candles at work, a collaborative party with plenty of great people, a lovely dinner with the boyfriend and Skype conversations with family and friends abroad. Yet, I spent the two weeks following my birthday crying and feeling alone and unhappy. Why? I felt stagnant. It was a rather uneventful month surrounding my birthday. 

I had conquered the goal of finding stability and routine in a hectic and foreign world, which is what every scared human soul seeks... and it made me miserable. I started feeling very detached from my true self.

Then suddenly, it hit me. What I was missing on my birthday wasn't an adventurous road trip or a dramatic surgery. I was missing CHANGE, in general. Change comes in countless forms, some sparkly and beautiful, others prickly and ugly. Yet, change is what gives meaning to life and pushes us out of those ever so dangerous comfort zones we invent.


A few weeks after my birthday I moved to a new apartment in a new neighborhood of Buenos Aires (Almagro) and all my senses are awake again! Things feel new, inspiring and interesting. Oh, I also quit the job with which I had become so comfortable. When the time is right, the opportunity or necessity to change always presents itself, and invites us to take that step towards magic. We'll see where the new job and brilliant changes lead. Until then, enjoy some interesting quotes on change:

Only under extreme pressure can we change into that which it is in our most profound nature to become.
-Salman Rushdie

All great changes are preceded by chaos. 
-Deepak Chopra

Continuity gives us roots; change gives us branches, letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights. 
-Pauline R. Kezer
The man who looks for security, even in the mind, is like a man who would chop off his limbs in order to have artificial ones which will give him no pain or trouble.  
-Henry Miller

Our only security is our ability to change.  
-John Lilly

Everything comes to pass, nothing comes to stay. 
-Matthew Flickstein

He who rejects change is the architect of decay.  The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.  
-Harold Wilson


Monday, September 16, 2013

What a shitty economy is teaching me about life

It's mid-afternoon during the fourth month of my first year of high school. I'm 15 years old, have an under the table job at a local hot dog shop as US law requires a person to be at least 16 years of age to work legally. This whole breaking the silly laws thing is not a new concept. Yet with this income, I still couldn't afford to buy clothes anywhere but at Kmart. For those who aren't familiar with Kmart, imagine a store full of capitalism's lowest form of mass production. It is home to poor quality, non flattering, sometimes stained or marked clothing and home goods designed to break. I did buy a decent bike tire pump there once, though. The stores only began disappearing as Walmart began taking over... enough said.

Anyway, that day in school I suddenly realized that I was one of the "poor" kids. Not just poor in terms of money, but also in terms of quality education, morals and understanding of the society that existed outside the dysfunctional class. With USA having its education systems mainly funded by property taxes, lower income neighborhoods receive lower quality education. But hey, in university I finally saw a PowerPoint presentation for the first time ;) 

Sheep no more

What I still hadn't been aware of at that point was that everyone else viewed me as one of the morally and monetarily poor kids. Then I met Mellissa Chen. A Chinese-American who did whatever the hell she wanted, whenever the hell she wanted and didn't think twice before doing it. She approached me in the cafeteria and said "Aren't you in my Science class that I'm supposed to be in right now?"

Who would have guessed that skipping class at the same time as this girl would have helped lead me down such a bright path in life. I had no idea how thankful I'd be in the future for having met that little crazy Asian!

Within a month of being friends, Mellissa had gifted me a ton of new clothes, gave me a few new and improved morals, a clearer understanding of the society I was living in and also the confidence to follow my own path and leave all the other sheep behind. 

"Brittany, no one here will ever want to get to know who you truly are if you look the way that you do... Poor and pissed off." Painful, but true! Thanks to Mellissa I learned how to maneuver my way through US society without dropping back into the shadows, but also how to never identify with mainstream culture.

Argentina Economy US Dollar
Eight years later, I greet Mellissa as she lands in Buenos Aires to visit me! We spend the week talking about anything and everything: life, China, boys, the economy, the past, the future and the present.

In general, understanding economics is complicated. It's even more difficult when you grew up in a country where the economy has always been stable. Then there's living in Argentina. Black market for US dollars, money laundering, extreme inflation and counterfeit peso production are all too familiar topics (in my mind, in my job, in conversations with anyone, in the newspapers, on TV, etc).

I won't get into musings on Argentina's economy, but what I will say is that I have confirmed my original thoughts: Money isn't real. 

It is all just part of the game of Life. Why do I not have a date planned to come back to visit the USA? Well, money isn't easy to save here due to the extreme and unprecedented rise in cost of EVERYTHING. Even if it were possible to save a bit, the Argentine pesos are not doing so great on a world standard. Considering my job pays me in pesos, traveling outside of the country is a ridiculous thought for now. Along with the thought of buying a new pair of jeans or taking a Yoga class. Even with a decent-paying full time job, I saved up all this month in order to buy myself a blender and a pair of flats. Ouch!

Needless to say, majority of the friends I have made here have headed for the hills, running off to economically promising lands. Yet, the more unstable the Argentine economy seems to get, the more thankful I am for having thought to move here. It allows me to truly look for happiness in time spent with friends and also gives me the time to enjoy more simple things in life that do not cost any money. Separating myself from a materialistic lifestyle over the last few years has started me on this path to true happiness and inner peace.

Dancing is free, laughing is free, love is free and great wine is cheap.

Yet, debt is the slavery of the free. Unfortunately US student loans are an everyday reminder that I eventually will need to find a way to make a bit more money, preferably in US dollars. Time to think, create and make them green bills so I can continue living in peace in lovely Argentina ;)
“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”
― Rumi
Argentina Economy US Dollar

Friday, August 23, 2013

Guest Post: a more objective view of Buenos Aires from the eyes of Rosalia

I have to admit that I love romance. I write a lot about my love for Argentina and the beauty and passion I find in my everyday life here. Then I get emails from friends back in my home country asking, "You're so happy there! How is your life? Do you drink margaritas by the ocean and dance salsa all day?" Welllllll, not quite.

Unfortunately to many US citizens anything below the country's border is assumed to be either a dirty, underdeveloped barbaric country or a Caribbean paradise born for tourism. It's hard to objectively explain what living in Buenos Aires as a foreigner is all about, as I tend to prefer to write about and express how I feel about living here.

A good friend of mine originally from Florida, USA is leaving Buenos Aires this month. Her reflections on the way out of this urban jungle really struck me as clear and understandable and I wanted to share them:

Rosalia Lloréns 

What's great about Buenos Aires, Argentina from the eyes of a Yanki

There's something about the pace of life here that is rather intoxicating. Perhaps having made the move directly from the hectic, frenzied, go-go-go streets of Manhattan, it strikes me as all the more drastic. While I will admit to under-my-breath (and on one occasion, out-loud) cursing the people who don't walk to the left on escalators, the neighbours who stop to chat in the very middle of the already treacherous loose tile and pothole-laden sidewalk, the giggling high school girls who walk four abreast, it's incredibly relaxing to linger over a long-finished cup of coffee in a café without an anxious waiter hovering over you, preemptively offering the check in order to turn the table. (Restaurant staff are paid more and the tip percentage is lower here, so sitting down to eat or drink is a much more relaxed affair.)

 A few weeks ago, I had to laugh when in a mixed-nationality group of 10 or so people walking from a tango class to a milonga we stopped at a red light, looked back, and realized the group was divided in two, with the foreigners being a full block and a half ahead of the Argentines, whose pace of walking is markedly slower. I don't have to feel stressed out over being 5 minutes late to work, or 10 minutes late to meet a friend for dinner. The traffic is so bad, the strikes and protests blocking the streets so frequent, and the subway so unreliable that it's nearly impossible to be on time, even given your very best effort. I'm a little concerned over how this relaxed attitude towards time will translate when I get back to the States - I've never been a particularly punctual person anyway, so I'm worried that will be even more exaggerated now. Let me ask forgiveness in advance: If I show up late to see any of you, chalk it up to reverse culture shock, please.

 The people are just a little warmer, friendlier, open. One of the habits I love here is that when someone walks into a room where someone else is eating, they always say "Buen provecho" (I guess we would say bon appetit - see, we don't even have a way to express that in English!). It's a small pleasantry, like saying "bless you" when someone sneezes but it just strikes me as lovely. They also greet each other and say goodbye on elevators: "Hola, buen día" ....1....2....3....4....5....6....7...8...ding! "Chau, suerte." I love the custom of kissing on the cheek to say hello - it just feels like it immediately opens a channel of communication, even and especially between strangers, instead of just walking up to someone and standing in front of them, saying hi. I know we have the handshake and the hug, but they have all of the above, and we certainly don't use those every time we greet each other. Another thing that took getting used to after 3 years spent mostly ignoring people in New York is that when people perform music on the subway, everyone claps. Even if they don't give money, they clap. There's just this raw humanity to it all, this beautiful acknowledgement of the fact that there is another human being occupying your same space and breathing your same air.

Then there is, of course, one of my two greatest local loves: the Spanish language. For the second most widely spoken language in the world, it's a bit...narrow...of me to assign it as a characteristic I like of Buenos Aires, but the lilts and sounds of the rioplatense Spanish are so sweet to my ear. I've started finding little caprices of the language that I really enjoy - for example while in English we say "I dreamed about..." in Spanish it's "I dreamed with..." Much more romantic, don't you think? As if you and the whole cast of characters in your dream are equal contributors. Or the clever evasion of personal responsibility - wouldn't you much prefer not having to say "I dropped it" when you could say something that roughly translates as "It fell itself from me"

aaand the not so great:

I don't understand the ins and outs of all the economic events and changes that go on down here, but basically, it's bad and getting worse. What I understand well are the symptoms that I can see for myself: Inflation continues to be a problem. When I arrived a year ago, I paid 4.50 pesos for a liter of milk; today I paid 8.50. The big chain supermarkets are under a mandatory 2 month price freeze on some 200 products, but from what I gather this only delays the increase in price and does nothing to stop it from happening. 

Expats are leaving in droves, selling properties (the real estate market is run on USD, and as access to those becomes rarer and more difficult, due to new laws in an unsuccessful attempt by the current Kirchner administration to make Argentines less dependent on stable dollars and more reliant on the fickle Argentinian peso, the market is on the decline); international companies are leaving, taking production and jobs with them. The U.S. is also putting pressure on Argentina to pay its outstanding debt.

There are two exchange rates - the official and the blue, which is basically like the black market for dollars, and the gap between them is widening. About 2 months ago it hit an all-time high of double the official rate; it's since gone back down, but the average is still on the upswing. The government has been internationally censured for lying about inflation data. One of my students told me about something called the "Big Mac Index" which I had never heard of before. It measures the purchasing power parity between two currencies by comparing the price of Big Macs in those 2 countries. Apparently, McDonalds is under orders from the government to keep the price of specifically *just* the Big Mac down, in order to line up with the false inflation data.

If there's one anecdote that sums up the Argentine government/infrastructure/bureaucracy and frankly, the general slightly off-color Argentine way of doing things, it is "Big Mac Index". This is one of the main reasons I'm having to leave -- it's nearly impossible for someone who has student loans to pay in US dollars, to live on pesos. Unfortunately, I'm borderline broke all the time, I can't buy dollars or send money home, it's impossible and impractical to save, as the peso loses its value.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Saying goodbye to ingredients of my melting pot

Something I couldn't be more thankful for in life is having girlfriends to confide in, to rely on, to complain to about boys, to learn from and of course to share one too many bottles of wine with. Within the last year I said several sad goodbyes to incredible female friends in the Northern Hemisphere as they watched me run full force towards the life of my dreams.

Almost nine months into my Argentinian life I am proud to say I have found myself surrounded by many interesting and unique friends. Russia, Venezuela, Argentina, England and even USA have all dropped some of their most precious gems right into the palm of my hand and as each day goes by they work their way even deeper into my heart. Although I have only known them for a very small amount of time, the more I learn about each, the more attached I become.

And now, I'm finally not the one saying "good bye". Instead, I am watching several friends move away from Buenos Aires and take off to new cities, launching themselves into the next stages of their own lives. Things change, friends leave and life doesn't stop for anybody. 
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ―Lao Tzu
leaving buenos aires argentina

Some people move our souls to dance, whisper pieces of wisdom in our ear and unconsciously soothe our insecurities and doubts about this complex and confusing journey we call life. One thing we have taught each other is that "reality" is not to be trusted, as "reality" is a perception that changes from country to country and from person to person

These friends come from different social classes, political parties, continents each possessing different priorities, dreams, beliefs, mother tongues and morals. Yet, our souls are all from elsewhere, not from the country in which we were born, nor from the countries in which we have lived and will live. The souls of nomads can't be defined by just one place, and that is the hardest part of having friends that know they are free. 

They know that they are free to be in love, and move across the Earth following their heart. They have realized that they are free to search for better business opportunities in other places or that they need to move in order to pursue certain passions. Realistically, the fact that they know that they are free is what we had in common in the first place.

At the end of the day, being a lover of the world is the only way to peacefully survive in it. Lovers of the world rarely stay in just one place, but thankfully they do usually tend to leave a piece of themselves behind in the hearts of the people they have met. This month is full of several sad goodbyes but also genuine wishes for their bright and limitless futures. Mil besos, chicas. 

leaving buenos aires argentina