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“Do you know of any Spanish teachers, and potentially a family to live with here in Salta?” I asked the hostel manager.
I was in luck. He had a friend who would give me one-on-one Spanish lessons. Also, his aunt had an empty room and might rent it to me.
Spanish Lessons and Homestay
The first day I arrived, my house mom asked me for all my laundry and washed it for me. Either I really stink, or she is being really nice, I thought. Luckily, it ended up being the later. She ended up doing my laundry every day. I felt so spoiled, the last time that was my reality was when I was about 13 years old.
The language barrier was a constant source of amusement for us. None of the family members spoke English, which meant I was fully immersed in Spanish. The only problem was that my Spanish level was that of a toddler. I couldn’t roll my R’s, so my house brother got a kick out of asking me to say “perro” (dog), as the way I said it sounded like “pecho” (breast). My house brother and sister seemed to understand my sloppy, limited Spanish a little better than the adults. When we still had trouble understanding, we continued our conversation with Google Translator. I helped my house brother with his English homework, and sometimes he wanted to learn more English. At first, my house sister said she didn’t want to learn English, as she didn’t like how it sounded. She preferred French. But later, she started practicing her English with me as well.
Fainting at Catholic Mass
I went to several Catholic processions and two very different Catholic masses. The first mass I went to was with my house mom and sister, in a traditional Catholic church. This church was a lot larger and more beautiful than I was used to back home. While I didn’t understand most of it, it was a pleasant experience. The second mass was with my house aunt, uncle, and brother. It was at a more modern church with lots of singing and dancing. I liked it because there were hand motions that went along with the lyrics… It helped me understand the Spanish better.
After we sang, the priest took out a large monstrance which looked like a golden mirror, and represented Jesus. He spent the next several hours walking around the church, members reaching out to touch the monstrance with their hands or a photograph of a loved one. Six or seven churchgoers “fainted” as the priest walked by. Luckily, none of them bumped their head on their way down. They layed on the floor, possibly having been touched by something spiritual.
That weekend, I had my own chance to “faint” at the sacred Virgin Mary hill in Salta. After waiting for four hours in the cold, we were escorted to stand in the sacred area. Church volunteers stood behind us and we were allowed to fall back (they would catch us). I was too cold to lay on the ground like that, but my house mom and aunt did. I have never been the kind of person that has spiritual experiences within a church environment.
Home-Cooked Family Meals Every Day
We ended up having delicious home-cooked lunches (with the immediate family) every day. They were so good, and again I felt so spoiled. Everything was homemade and took hours of preparation by my house mom, aunt, and grandma. Each of them seemed to have their own specialties. Large Italian dishes like homemade pasta and lasagna. Steak, eggs and french fries. Breaded steak (milanesa). Soup. Dessert. I probably gained five or ten pounds during my month there.
Sure, we do a good job with big family meals like this in the United States. But everyone is working or too busy to eat with the family… So we usually only have these kind of meals on special holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas. But I was getting these delicious meals every day in Argentina.
At lunch time, my house sister would come home from school and play Lady Gaga’s “Judas” on repeat. I realized that teenagers around the world probably listen to a lot of the same pop music. I asked her to play something else, but she thought it was funny and would play “Judas” even more. The uncle’s niece and mom visited from Buenos Aires one week. The niece became my travel partner around Salta, and could speak English. She translated a lot of conversations between me and the family, which was great but made things more difficult after she left.
A Deeper Travel Experience
It was tough to leave, but eventually I decided to continue my journey north to Bolivia. My house mom took me shopping and insisted on buying me a scarf, because of the cold weather in Bolivia. Everywhere we went, she would brag about me to strangers, calling me her “adopted nephew.” When we got home, my house aunt gave me her llama vest to stay warm as well. Yes, I was very spoiled.
Having left Salta, I can’t help but feel that a part of me is still there, living with my second family, taking Spanish lessons, eating delicious home-cooked lunches every day. Maybe in a parallel universe, this is true. And thinking of this makes me happy.
Part of the South of the Border Series
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