Today was Censo Argentina 2010. Census day. Unlike the U.S. where we drag out the census compilation over months, Argentines shut down their entire country for 12 hours and mandate that people stay home until they have been counted by the censistas. I was no exception.
In a way, I live in a sort of bubble here in Buenos Aires, oblivious to the bigger world around me. Being a foreigner without competent languages skills puts you into survival mode. I focus on my day-to-day activities: Go to school. Maintain my business. Dance tango.
I am not completely unaware, but my tactic is to watch and learn, rather than inquire. I find that asking questions only leads to frustration when the answer does not turn out to be "sí" or "no." My brain turns to dulce de leche when I have no clue what people are saying to me. Slight obliviousness, I find, is a much easier state of being.
Luckily, Spanish teacher Fernanda keeps her students well informed and warned us yesterday to go grocery shopping as there would be nothing open today. Nada. No cafés, no supermercados. Everyone will be at home waiting to be counted, she explained.
Sure enough, all was quiet on the streets of Buenos Aires this morning and at about 10 o'clock, the censista buzzed my door. The questions were in Spanish; I understood little. Luckily, I have a sweet, non-English-speaking portera (sort of like a superintendent) in my building that accompanied the censista to my apartment and answered most of the questions for me. Number of bedrooms and bathrooms? Are there utilities? The usual census stuff, I think. I answered regarding my date of birth, where I was from and that I used a cell phone and computer. And that was that.
At about 8 o'clock tonight, a swirl of activity began on the streets outside. It was like rush hour only worse. The porteños must be antsy from being cooped up all day. I decided to take a little walk myself and see if my favorite heladeria was open. It was not, but I observed an enormous mass of people walking toward Plaza de Mayo which I live only a few blocks away from.
Must be protesters peeved about the way the census was handled, I thought. But they seemed a little more subdued than the usual Argentine protests I've witnessed. Lots of people had their kids with them, and there was no banging of drums, chanting or clanking of pots and pans. Maybe it's just an after-census celebration? I wandered around a bit to get a feel for it. Calm. A few banners and signs I couldn't read other than the name "Kirchner" which I know to be the president.
Realizing that I still needed to satisfy my sweet tooth, I ventured for the only open café I could find. It was crammed with people, but I found a tight spot at the bar, ordered a banana licuado and glued my eyes to the television which was fixed on the news.
Suddenly, I realized where I was. "Murio Nestor Kirchner," the TV headlines read. Holy cow, the president's husband is dead (I think)! Is it possible I've been wandering around a vigil for the former president (and first-husband), Nestor Kirchner, completely oblivious?
I finished my licuado which somehow ended up being peach instead of banana, but still delicious. (Note to self, work on your Spanish enunciation.) I went home, turned on the TV, and poked around on the internet. Yep. Kirchner died of a heart attack this morning.
Hard to say how this will impact the country as he still had his hand in politics via his wife, the current president, and he himself was expected to run for president again in the next election. Some view him as the savior of the Argentine economy after it crashed in 2001ish. Others see him as the puppet master of his wife's presidency. This already shaky country may get a little bit more unsteady after this turn of events.
My own state of obliviousness has also been shaken a bit. Time to pay more attention to the world around me, I guess. Time to be brave and start asking some questions. My first one, a yes or no question. Did Kirchner get counted in the census? Just curious.