On Sunday an old friend came over for lunch. She was one of my first friends here in Argentina. I met her before I moved here. We have been friends for almost 16 years. A long time for any friendship. I met her in the milonga one Monday night at Lo de Celia. She and I sat at the same table. She had come with another friend. In those days the organizers would frequently ask if it was OK to seat a "foreigner" at their table. Most women said no. They preferred I sit somewhere else, like another province.
It was embarrassing to go with the organizer from table to table until someone finally said yes. On this night, it was the table where my soon to be new friend was sitting. She was curious about me. She had seen me before in the milongas. She spoke no English, and I spoke bad Spanish. We had a conversation. She was a widow. One of her kids lived in Europe, the other in Chile. She was alone.
Over the years our friendship grew stronger. I learned to speak better Spanish. She learned more about the world. She had never been outside of Argentina, not even to visit her kids. She was afraid to fly in an airplane. Sadly, her kids hardly came to visit it her. In many ways she adopted me as a daughter, although the difference in our ages was not that great.
Her life is not a happy one. She has become very bitter with time. She feels abandoned. Most of the times we see each other, she does nothing but complain. I can almost see why her kids come infrequently. Once I brought her an OXO dishwashing brush she had admired in my kitchen. Instead of thanking me, she complained about how there was nothing like it in Argentina. She continued complaining although she had one in her hand.
It is not easy to be kind to someone like this. There is a reason she is alone. I tell my friend Sam, if I ever get like her to shoot me. He tells me not to worry. He will. She is a kind person, albeit difficult. I know, if I ever needed anything or anyone, cantankerous or not, she would be there.
I make lunch for us. I know she values my doing this. I have listened to her complain non-stop for almost two hours. Everyone, and everything in her life is a problem. Them, not her. Finally I stop her. She knows that I am the president of my building committee. A job nobody wants, but someone has to do. The system here for apartment buildings is a disaster. The property owners hire a management company. Whether they manage or not is debatable. There are Supers who work for the property owners but have a very strong union. Most of the management companies steal from the building fund, and the Supers try to do as little work as possible. This happens because the building committee doesn't do their job overseeing the administration, or the administration pays them not too. Welcome to Argentina.
In my building most of the neighbors are nice. There are a few that hate me, because I am foreign. They never miss an opportunity to mock my accent, tell me how to behave, or what other egregious comment they can make either personally or written.
I show my friend an email that I had to write to shut up one of the self appointed martinets in what I call "La Banda de Los Amigos". A group of neighbors nobody likes. In one sense she was proud of my written Spanish. She was however horrified by the conduct of this neighbor. I showed her his other emails where he mocked my Spanish and told me to learn how to speak better.
"How old is he?" my friend asks. I tell her, mas o menos. "His last name is Italian, I sincerely doubt his grandparents learned to speak Spanish." She insists I make a complaint against him for discrimination. I tell her I am not going to do that, just yet. Maybe in the future, maybe not.
She asks if all my neighbors are like this. I tell her no. I have some wonderful friendships with some of my neighbors. Most of my neighbors are happy I am in charge of the building committee. Unfortunately Argentines like to yell a lot, but confrontation is not a part of their social makeup.
"Debo," asks my friend. "Are you happier here than in the USA?" I respond, "I like my life here. I have a good life." "But are you happier?" she asks. I tell her, "I can be happy anywhere, here, in the USA, Chile, Australia. But maybe I would not like to live there as much as I like living here. Here I have a nice lifestyle. I have friends, I like my work."
She looks at me. "I guess this is because as a person you are happy." I tell her, "Yes, exactly, it doesn't matter where you live, or what you have. You have to be happy as a person." This sinks in. "Debo," she says, "I never thought that I would have a foreigner as a good friend. Life, brings us surprises." She reaches across the table to squeeze my hand.