As an intern for Subir al Sur (Uplift the South), I work with my team to connect international volunteers with community projects in vulnerable areas in Argentina. I work mainly in the office creating intercultural workshops & new community projects, as well as helping coordinate volunteer activities. Since I am mainly in the office I have not had the pleasure to visit the project sites and see the real life impact of my work. However, this Thursday I was able to venture outside of the city limits of Buenos Aires and visit two of the project locations.
Alongside two of my coworkers, we set out at noon. We took the H line on the Subte (metro) until the last southbound stop, then we walked ten blocks to catch the 31 colectivo (bus) where we then rode for another hour. The colectivo dropped us off in a small rural town. This town was drastically different to the Argentina I had come to know within Buenos Aires. It was much smaller of course, but it was also impacted by the declining economy. It was clear to me that there was a substantial financial strain on this little ranch town.
Both of the jardin comunitario (Community Garden [not an actual garden]) that we decided to visit that day are project locations where we send our volunteers. A jardin comunitario is kind of like the Argentina version of ‘headstart’ but it’s for low-income children ages 2-5 who’s parents mainly work on the street selling things. When we arrived we were greeted by a shocked worker. Although the workers at the jardines (garden) knew we were coming to visit they were shocked to actually see us that day. The director told “¿Que hacen aca? ¡Hay paro de colectivo, no van a poder regresar!” (‘What are you doing over here? There is a bus strike today, you won’t be able to return to the city!’). After seeing our shocked faces she jokingly added. “Pues aqui se quedan a dormir.” (Well y’all will have to spend the night here) we laughed but inside I was a little freaked out.
Despite this new piece of information, we continued with our visit. Something I have learned about Porteños (Argentines who live in Buenos Aires) is that they are very ‘go with the flow’ type of people. This, I believe, is one of the most powerful lessons they are imparting unto me. The power goes out? Ah, it happens, no biggie. Protestors shut down the major streets blocking you from arriving to work on time? No worries. The Colectivo goes on strike? Guess we’ll walk. My coworker, a real blooded porteño, did actually suggest we walk back into the city limits claiming “No esta tan llegos!” (‘it’s not that far!’). My other coworker and I shared a silent look of bewilderment.
As the day progressed we received updates about if/when the strike would end and the meaning behind the strike. As a community organizer myself I’m accustomed to causing a little mayhem in the name of justice, so despite that this was an inconvenience for me and worried me a lot, I stood in solidarity with their strike.
We were informed that the bus drivers were striking to bring awareness to the lack of safety and rising danger for bus drivers and people in the city in general. Carlos Sánchez, a bus driver, who was about to turn 43, had five children and a grandson, was driving the line 514 two blocks away from finishing his day of work when a stray bullet pierced the windshield of his car and impacted his face. The criminals who fired had been attempting to steal a motorcycle, meters away from where he was driving by. His murder sparked this one-day strike.
I was very intrigued by the strike because long before arriving in Buenos Aires I had heard about the famous sympathy strikes that the subte & colectivos do together. Many friends had jokingly warned me to check the news every morning to see if they were on strike. My in-country director had even told me on my first day in Buenos Aires that if the colectivo or subte went on strike work was typically canceled. But hearing all of this was way different than living it. I always assumed if/when there was a strike by Buenos Aires’ mass transportation I would be at home thinking “Wonderful, a day off!” or at least somewhere in the city but as fate would have it I was stranded in a little rural town far outside the city.
My coworkers and I contemplated many different methods to get home aside from the previously propositioned option of walking. It is well known that taxi drivers almost never join the subte & collectivos in their strikes so the possibility of taking a taxi was open. However, this brought about a new problem. Taxis could only be paid in cash. Since I hadn’t planned to be stranded, I only brought enough pesos (currency) to buy lunch. Collectively we had maybe 600 pesos which is approximately $37.50 USD. Unfortunately, due to how far outside of the city we were that would not be enough money to get us there. Plus there was also the issue of finding a taxi somewhere in this rural town. Out of options, our last choice was to continue our day and hope the strike would be over soon.
After finishing our visit at the first jardin comunitario we walked to the other jardin. This jardin was a bit different. It still catered to low-income children ages 2 to 5 but this jardin, unlike the other jardin, specifically took in children who have been rescued from abusive homes. Despite the worry over how to get home, I was able to focus and learn so much from the women about the important work they do. We spent hours talking about the birth of so many jardines and somehow ended the conversation talking the accessibility of quality education in the US all while sipping on the ever famous Mate, an Argentine drink. After spending many hours charlando (chatting) we decided to try our luck and see if the strike was over. Lucky for us, it was! We were able to get home safely and laugh off our previous worries.
Upon getting home and recounting the entire adventure to my housemates we shared a laugh. We talked about how the strike affected some of us but not others and not it affected each of us differently. For example, my housemate Andrea said that the subte workers were on strike too but they kept running the metro they just didn’t charge anyone to ride it. I thought this was a very creative method of resistance.
All in all, it was truly an adventure. I so am grateful that my first experience with the strike happened while I was with my coworkers. I remember telling myself before coming that getting lost would be the best way to find myself and that day it truly was.
By Kimberly Jessica Ramirez Gonzalez