Helping shape the comparative aspect of IHP are our rural visits in each country, where we explore the management and maintenance of health in a vastly different context. Reluctantly, we were yanked from the comforts of civilization and packed on a sleepy 6 hour bus ride to 9 de Julio where we spent four nights on a soy farm experiencing “rural” in every sense of the word. This ranch business was far more comfortable than any of us expected (minus the overabundance of mosquitoes we thought we had escaped leaving India). Dinner our first night (we got the whole place to ourselves) was the first positive sign: bottomless dishes of colorful fresh vegetables, gnocchi, fruit, coffee and tea.
An astronomer and friend of Roberto the farm owner set up a few giant telescopes in the fields and we all marveled at the craters on the moon, the landscape of the southern hemisphere stars, and a disappearing satellite. Awesome. I beat the heat in the morning and ran what seemed like unquantifiable miles down this long dirt path. Alone time is essentially nonexistent on IHP, so this part of my morning running through corn and soy fields was became a highlight of my days on the ranch.
Our first lecture at l’estancia was by a local NGO called Stop Spraying who provides legal counseling, runs social awareness campaigns and education programs in response to the impact of uncontrolled pesticide use on soy farms (soy= 60% of Argentina’s agriculture sector and 80% of its production is exported). Monsanto has a 10 year monopoly over genetically-engineered soy, which grows only under a particular pesticide that in Argentina has destroyed biodiversity, the presence of butterflies, birds and trees and has rendered the land infertile. When the pesticide contaminated the area’s soil, water, air and food, the community joined forces in protest but rates of asthma, cancer and premature births continue to grow as little policy change is implemented. Imagine this: in Argentina, it’s easier to grow organic and find biodiversity in the city than in the countryside. Next up was Dr. Raul Montenegro– a Nobel Laureate biologist, ecologist, activist and professor whose first main point was establishing that he “is very primitive” and “really nothing special,” despite all the degrees and titles. My favorite part of his presentation? His accent (turning “used” into “you said” and “touched” into “too shed”) and his statement (I quote): “Universities don’t teach you how a woman scorpion buries her mate’s penis, eats it, then kill him, right?” This was some sort of metaphor for the death of society, if I recall. Absurd! He proceeded to show two short films, one in Spanish, the other in German with Spanish subtitles depicting indigenous South American communities smiling and playing joyfully until big machines enter their untouched rural village and flip their worlds upside-down by destroying their environment and sustenance. In these communities, the forest is the pharmacy and tree bark tea is used as contraception. But the glaring misrepresentation of these communities enraged us all and prompted a long discussion days later on corruption, misaligned incentives, accountability and representation through film.That night, we all headed into the town of La Nina for empanadas, beer and dancing with the locals. Entertaining and sweaty, to say the least. On day three, representatives from the Ministry of Health paid l’estancia a visit! We heard from the district’s director of sanitation, a family and sexual violence worker, and the epidemiology director about the failure of top-down approaches to local level health behavior change, the naturalization of gender, empowerment of women, and the unreliability of statistics. Hearing from the municipality-level secretary of health was also interesting, and her lecture further emphasized the unfortunate dispersion and general lack of resources in rural areas.To provide another perspective to the evil of Monsanta and the use of pesticides we learned of the day before, we visited an even more rural (I really cannot express to you all how rural “rural” means here) farm– also a host to WWOOFers! We had witnessed the effects of profit/export-focused business; now, we got to speak with a tightly knit family of farmers who provided for themselves and their neighbors– sans dangerous chemicals. Between chatting with the farm owner, workers and volunteers, we chased chickens, drank mate, played with dogs the size of Leah, and watched the sunset.On our way back to el campo we stopped in the Mapucha community to meet with a healer. A former mechanic who also worked in the dairy industry for 25 years, Carolina emphatically translated the words of this 80 year-old grandfatherly man as he shared with us his inherited talent for healing without medicine. People from neighborhood communities flock to see him at no cost. It was an interesting contrast to hear this Mapucha man insist that he “is very special” after listening to Dr. Montenegro preach about his alleged insignificance.
Our last day on the ranch was relaxing and productive, including a heated academic synthesis session with Carolina about the validity of some aspects of our guest lectures, and the themes we saw emerging after a few days there.
A few locals came to the ranch after dinner to play music and sing for our last night! But alas, time to leave the campo and spend one last day in Buenos Aires– rollerblading, spending time with my mom Maria, and enjoying my last tastes of dulce de leche and Malbec.
I’m going to miss Buenos Aires big time. I thought I wasn’t a city girl yet managed to fall in love with life here. One Argentinean author, Jorge Luis Borges, summed up the contemporary Argentinean personality conflict by stating that an individual from Argentina is “an Italian who speaks Spanish, indulges in French fashion, and perceives him or herself to be English.” What a fantastic combo, right?
Alas, it’s time to head back to the continent I started this year-long journey on. This time I’ll conquer the south…