Thursday, February 21


A few weeks ago I went camping in a town called Gualeguaychu, about 3 hours from Buenos Aires.

The camp site was interesting, as it had a bar, grocery store, and movie theater. In the end, it was more like squatting in a very noisy park than anything else. But the group that I was with was fun, and we were about 30 all together.

The point of going was to see the annual carnival, which is a scaled down version of Rio de Janeiro's. The costumes were pretty, but it was a bit repetitive, with a few dancers coming through the center of a stadium, then a colorful float, and repeat. It went on for about four hours, but I had had enough after one.

Perhaps one of the most memorable parts of the trip was seeing how poor the town was compared to Buenos Aires. It's sad, since parts of the country never recovered from the economic crisis a few years ago. The roads are run down, there are stray dogs on many street corners, and there really isn't much to do at all outside of the Carnival. I was walking around downtown with a few other people from the group (from Ireland, Romania, and Norway) yet we couldn't even find a pub. We had to go for drinks in a pizzeria.

Back in Buenos Aires I've had quite a few job interviews over the last few weeks, and am now working part time for four schools, though my classes don't start until Monday. The hiring season for teachers here is the opposite of Canada, as both coincide with the end of their respective summers.


I read an article on the website of the C.B.C. recently that talked about a man who was denied jobs for the federal government because he could not pass security clearance. The reason was that he had spent several years in China, a country that does not exchange information freely with Canada, thus preventing them from verifying his background during those years.

There is of course a very good chance that this could be very relevant to me, as I've been wandering around quite a bit these last few years. I started looking around on various government websites, until I finally found the department which is responsible for issuing security clearance. It's none other than the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, our very own equivalent of the C.I.A. Unfortunately, their website didn't list any email addresses, only regular, long-distance telephone numbers. Apparently emails are too risky, but phone lines are completely secure.

I called the national headquarters in Ottawa, and was surprised by someone answering with a simple 'Hello?'. No automated menu, no 'Thank you for calling the C.S.I.S., how may I direct your call?', just a surly sounding lady on the other end, sounding generally annoyed.

After I confirmed that this was indeed Canada's main intelligence agency, I politely explained my situation, that I was worried about being black listed by the Federal Government for living in another, unfriendly nation. I'm not too worried about Argentina, but if I ever end up teaching in the United Arab Emirates, for instance, I may have some problems. So I asked for a list of countries to be avoided. Her response was that she didn't think such a list existed.

So, I asked the obvious question... How is it fair to discriminate against people who have lived in certain countries if you don't tell them which countries to avoid going to before hand? She answered that the best way was just to go where I want, and when I come back to Canada, to apply for a federal job. If I get rejected, I'll know that I should have avoided one of the countries that I went to.

That last bit is absolutely true. This was her advice.

I honestly had no idea how to respond. She represents the agency which is responsible for keeping one of the wealthiest countries in the world safe from foreign threats.

I (and the rest of the country) can only hope that no one else in the agency is so completely out of it, or our country would be in a lot of trouble. Until recently we didn't have many enemies, but now there are actually people out there who would be quite thrilled to attack us, mostly because of our military presence in Afghanistan.

After my trying to explain the sheer idiocy of what she said, in terms varying from fairly to not so polite, she told me, in a very condescending way, that she was very busy, and was going to hang up. I yelled a bit more, asking if I was really wrong to want to know which countries to avoid, but eventually gave up when it became clear that it was about as useful as yelling at a brick wall.

After that rather mind boggling experience, I switched gears and decided to call one of the regional offices in Halifax. This receptionist was very polite, and transfered me to someone who apparently knew a bit more about the subject. He didn't give me much more information, but at least sounded like he wanted to help. He sounded a bit nervous. In the end, it seems that if you spend a significant amount of time outside of first world countries, you are likely to have problems getting certain jobs with the government. The good news is that less than five percent of such jobs require high security clearance. Still, it was clear that he was afraid of saying too much. I don't know why general information on the subject would be so sensitive. The Canadian government is routinely ranked one of the most transparent in the world. Granted, we have fallen a few places in the last two years, but it's disturbing that citizens are kept in the dark about something that could directly effect them later on.


Kosovo recently declared its independence. This was really a very difficult situation. The state was stuck in statutory limbo, mostly because of the way that the international community handled things during the conflict of 1999. Every nation with a separatist movement was quite disturbed by a region being able to proclaim independence without prior consent by either the U.N or the country it is breaking away from. China and Russia in particular see deep domestic parallels here. What Serbia did in Kosovo several years ago is what China may do in Taiwan, Tibet or Xinjiang, and what Russia is doing in Chechnya. Even Spain has raised deep objections about the situation.

It really makes Canada's policy towards Quebec shine. There aren't many things that I can say I'm exceptionally proud of in Canada (I'm not very patriotic in general), but this is certainly one. Canada has shown the world that when a population is unhappy being part of a country, the country shouldn't have the right to hold them prisoner. The fact that we've offered not one, but two referendums on the separatist's terms, and will possibly have a third in the future, is absolutely astounding to many people of the world.

I'd like to close by bringing up the huge pink elephant in the corner that the media has thus far managed to completely ignore - the similarities between Kosovo and Palestine.

Both are Muslim, although Palestine is of a _much_ more conservative brand. Both have minorities that practice (or for Kosovo, practiced) terrorism on innocent people, though Palestinians like to blow themselves up while they're at it. Kosovars did more of a hit and run approach. Both were brutally oppressed by the ethnic majority of the ruling nation after they were provoked by said violent minorities. About the only differences are that, for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, the West has consistently sided with Israel, but against Serbia. Kosovo has always been part of Serbia (which doesn't mean that it shouldn't have the right to separate if it chooses), yet Palestine was conquered by Israel a bit over 40 years ago. What the Serbs did in Kosovo was completely wrong, as was what they did in Bosnia and Croatia, but they had never attacked Western interests outside of their own borders. So why the double standard? As far as I can see, both wars are completely horrible, and should never have happened in the first place. Yet other countries insist on taking sides, and the techniques that they have used have only made the situations more complicated.

Terrorism should be condemned on all sides. Any time innocent people are killed, the perpetrators should be tried. The K.L.A. (Kosovo's version of Hamas) never was. Many of the Serbs were rightfully prosecuted for their roles in the conflict.

If we want peace in the region, we have to start acting as mediators, and not taking sides. Be it in Kosovo or Palestine. In the end, it's in everyone's best interest.

Monday, February 4


I'm beginning to get settled here in Buenos Aires.

My original plan was to take a trip down to the southern areas of the country and into Chile before coming back to the capital city in March to look for work. Now, I find that I'm getting comfortable here. I'd prefer to spend February getting to know the city before I start working when the school year starts next month. Plus, I've been getting a steady stream of interviews, so I should be able to find a better job if I spend the next couple of weeks searching.

Here are a few of my impressions of the city so far...

Everything is very European. The city reminds me of Spain or the south of France. The sidewalk to the architecture, the weather, the layout of the shops and kiosks, the charges for phone services, the look of payphones, and even the amount of dog crap on the sidewalks is all similar to the Mediterranean.

Argentines are some of the most beautiful people in the world. People here are very well proportioned. Unfortunately, this comes with a heavy price. Anorexia is very common here, to the point where it's considered almost normal for people to have eating disorders. Friends and family get a bit worried, but it doesn't generate anywhere near the concern that it would in North America. Also, plastic surgery is _very_ accepted. Breast surgery tops the list, but having a nose job or having your lips done are very common for the women here. The bar is much lower for men. It's important to stay in reasonable shape, and to keep your hair neat, but beyond that there aren't so many expectations.

Also, soft core porn is present pretty much everywhere. There are about 3 kiosks per block, and all have prominent displays of such magazines. This obviously contributes to the obsession with body image.

The people here are very nice. I've already made many friends, mostly through Internet sites like or The best part of all of this is that all of the people that I've met are locals, which has done wonders for my Spanish.

My living situation has also been great for my language skills. I've been living with Maria Teresa, the mother-in-law of Sofia, a friend of mine who immigrated to Montreal last year. Also in the house are Maria Teresa's daughter Laura, and Laura's cat. The cat (I don't know it's name, as it's always referred to as El Gato, which is Spanish for, well, cat.) was found on the street as a kitten, almost dead from starvation. As a consequence, it's still extremely skinny, and it's eyes didn't form properly, being very sunken in it's head. It also has no killer instinct at all, only eating dry cat food, with no interest whatsoever in meat. Still, it's very friendly. If it only had enough sense to not get under people's feet (and hence get stepped on), it's life might be a bit less painful.

The area where I live is in the suburbs, quieter (and cleaner) than the main city. It's called Martinez, a wealthier neighborhood. Plus, the train to get into the city center takes about 30 minutes, less than the time it takes people who live in the residential neighborhoods of Buenos Aires proper.

Everything here is very cheap. For instance, the bus costs between 25 to 50 cents, depending on where you're going. My haircut cost 3 dollars, and clothing that I bought was also much less than in Canada. A pair of jeans costs between 15 and 25 dollars. Of course, you can always find trendier (and more expensive) styles, most of which are clustered in neighborhoods populated by Americans. In fact, the hip clothing costs more than in North America, with specialty shops charging upwards of 150 bucks for pants that are pre-torn.

Salaries are proportional. Most people working average jobs make between three and four dollars an hour. Languages being in higher demand, I should be able to pull in between five and seven.

Although the beer here is a bit bland, the wine is excellent, and again very cheap. There are many Wineries, and if you're feeling classy, you can pick up an excellent bottle for less than 15 dollars.

One more comment about the pollution here. There's definitely a problem with smog, as there are no emission limits or laws to keep the exhaust from cars relatively clean. Still, it's to be expected. What's a bit sad is how polluted the harbour is. It literally stinks. It's a shame, because it should be quite beautiful. But it's full of sludge, tires, bottles, and many other things that are more difficult to identify. I tried to take a walk along the waterfront, but the stench overpowered me, and I had to hop on the first bus that came by. I sometimes wonder what the governments were thinking (bribes?) when they allowed this to happen. It's destroyed what should have been one of the nicest parts of the city.