The taxi drivers in Buenos Aires are renowned for talking. I don’t take taxis often but when I do, I really enjoy talking to the drivers. Usually they are men aged between 45 and 65 years old, working 12 hour days to get by, and strongly opinionated about the inner workings and politics of his country. Each one usually has a slightly different take on matters, drawing from their own experience and upbringing, and offering a different perspective. The other day before coming to Australia, due to stupid mistake that I made saving the wrong flight itinerary in my email, I spent some time in several taxis and thus, got to have a good old chat with the drivers.
The most common theme that I have encountered in my time here has been how bad the current government is doing and the impact that it has had on this country. With my small snippet of experience working within a lower class community of Argentina I am often in agreement with them. I have seen many a family living off a benefit and witnessed little action from a government to educate or implant programs to allow the families to make sensible decisions for themselves. So many bandaids on the wounds and nothing focussing on preventing the wound in the first place. Any form of family planning, sex, health and nutrition education seem to be absent. The drivers also talk of how the government encourages the people not to think but to vote in accordance with where any benefits are coming from.
Then I met Carlos. Carlos fits the mold of your standard taxi driver in Buenos Aires, 61 years old, been a taxi driver for 30 years and working long hours just to get by. Oh, and he can talk! One thing that is quite difficult for me to take is the talking with the hands thing? Especially when driving on the freeway. I think it comes from the many Italian immigrants that have influenced Argentinian culture. They talk with expression and animated gestures which means there is only one hand on the wheel, sometimes none, wild gestures with limbs flying everywhere and all too often they turn around to face you in the back seat when eyes should clearly be on the road and not on you. There is always the thought in your head that, it’s ok, he knows what he is doing, he’s been doing this for years, but maybe that is something we tell ourselves so that we aren’t so scared, especially when it seems that his car needs two lanes for him to engage in a conversation.
Anyway, Carlos, I loved his perspective. As he says, like other taxi drivers will also admit, that things here in Argentina are a whole lot better “now” than they have been here in the past! Let’s compare “now” to the years in between 75 and 83 where 30,000 people died or disappeared. Or 2001 where over 50 percent of the population were unemployed. Compared to those times, “today” things are rosy! But Carlos went a little further back. He talked of The Roman Empire that eventually fell and the time it took for it to occur. His point is this, “things take time”, and he is right, they do. It is really hard to step away from pessimism, especially when the government and police force are rampant with corruption and the stories you hear are of the police controlling the drugs on the streets that are effecting millions of lives, thirty percent inflation per year (honestly that still worries me), twelve year olds with kids, the list goes on, but if we look back in time, after the bad times, there were good times, and things usually got better, but very slowly.
The last dictatorship in Argentina finished in 83. This is the longest period in history that this country has been democratically ruled. The government provides subsides for organisations to support the people. Mums are receiving money to feed their kids. This place has a long way to go but, it could be worse. So maybe we are working towards a change in 10, 20, 50, 100 years. (With climate change I’m not sure what life will be like in 100 years but that is another topic altogether!) My friend Carlos may have a point, he’s seen bad times, he has lived through the tough times, and now he is not thriving, but his circumstances are better than they were. The fact is that for someone like Carlos his life is better today than it has been in the past, so optimistically speaking from his perspective things may be very slowly looking up!
There are always two sides to the coin. It is difficult to make an informed decision about how things will be in Argentina in the future when I have only been there for half a year. I guess I’ll just have to take a few more taxis and listen to a few more stories. What I do know is this. There are some kids out there that need healthy food, creative activity and guidance in making good decisions for themselves in the future. So I suppose that’s what we can help out with today.