Argentina in a nutshell

As previously mentioned, I just went for a vacation in Argentina with 3 friends.  We originally began planning in September of last year, when I was employed full time with plenty of banked vacation time and the ability to save at a reasonable pace.  We found a non-stop round trip from NYC to Buenos Aires for $530 – how could I say no?  Even though at the time I didn’t have the money saved, I took the leap.  Argentina was a place that wasn’t on my radar for vacation spots, so I felt I had to take the opportunity.

Between September and late March, I lost my PTO, got laid off, got a new job that seemed promising but didn’t turn out as financially profitable as I thought, and went through some overall pretty high life stress.  The timing was poor.  My friends supported me and gave me time to pay back the tickets, I cashed in an old small retirement account and went for it.  

Was it worth it?  Sure – with some hesitations.  I learned the lesson that I will never ever schedule a vacation without having the money available for the ticket and extra money saved.  That was silly.  Yet from all around me, I got the confirmation that yes, go for it, take the leap, you’ll never have this opportunity again.  So yes, for those reasons, definitely worth it!  Beautiful country, and getting to see another part of the world, not being fluent in the language, being out of my comfort zone, always, always worth it.  

I was in a weird head space on the trip.  Super stressed out about work.  As seen in my last post, last minute opportunities for job change.  Then I’ve just struggled with wondering if I’m slipping a bit back into depression.  Minnesota had a long, cold, HARD winter, and that certainly didn’t help.  So I didn’t go in the best mindset.  

That said, I liked Argentina, but I didn’t fall in love.  I’ve known a couple of people who went before, including one of my friends on the trip.  While there, the 3 people I was with loved it.  I liked it.  But I wasn’t fully present.  And I was sick right before the trip, and then got a horrible, lingering head and chest cold over the final weekend there.  It was tough.  On two of the days they went out exploring, I stayed home.  The pace was hard for me, I was worn out.  Before all that though, I want to get into my perceptions:

Buenos Aires is a HUGE, gorgeous, old, magnificent city.  We stayed in a highrise apartment that had a breathtaking view of the expanse.  It was glorious.  

But it’s dirty.  The beautiful old historic buildings were spray painted.  Picking up dog shit is not a value, so walking down the streets you have to keep an eye out for poop and overall garbage.  

My favorite places we saw:  San Telmo and the Recoleta Cemetery.  San Telmo is an old part of town, and they shut down several blocks of this one cobblestone street every Sunday for an open air market.  There are souvenirs and a variety of wonderful handmade crafts and artworks, antiques, and food.  Sometimes bands play on the corners, there are performance artists interspersed, and if you stay til the end, there is a tango demonstration and open dance in the square.  Really beautiful and fun, inspiring!  

Recoleta Cemetery is probably best known as the resting place of Eva Peron.  It, too, is very old, filled with mausoleums and statues.  I got some really beautiful photos there.  However, there was lots of juxtaposition there as well.  Some were beautiful and maintained, some had been vandalized.  The cemetery is raising money to try and maintain it.  I guess a big part of my conflicting feelings about Buenos Aires is that I love old architecture and historical things, but much of it seemed to be undervalued and not well kept.  Which could be for any number of legitimate reasons, including a struggling economy.  It was just sad to me.  The other thing about the Cemetery was the cultural difference.  It was so interesting.  In Minnesota at least, we don’t do a lot of mausoleums.  And if we do, they are typically solid stone and things are hidden away with maybe a little flower holder visible.  In Recoleta, it was lots of marble and glass. You could see coffins and shrines inside of the mausoleums.  It creeped me out a lot at first.  And then you would have the vandalized ones and you could literally reach in and touch a coffin.  I am very interested in death rituals.  My mom used to take me to cemeteries as a kid to just look at the old stones and statues.  I enjoyed it.  So this was very different and fascinating.  I loved it!  

The people of Buenos Aires were kind and helpful.  My Spanish is so-so.  Very good for someone who has only taken 2 short community ed classes.  I had 8 years of French, which gave me a leg up.  Still, you can go there without Spanish and probably be ok.  Many people there spoke a little English at least, and with restaurants, shopping, and tourism, there was almost always someone who spoke English.  Still, it was fun to go and try to use my Spanish.  During times when I went out on my own, it was a little nerve racking but I managed.  All of us tried to use our Spanish as much as possible and I would love to continue it.  

I could count the number of people I saw of African descent on two hands, and the majority were in San Telmo.  I was surprised to see how “White” everyone looked there.  Though there were a variety of skin tones and features, the influence of Spain was evident in the phenotype of the majority of the people.  With that, I expected some racism or staring or exoticism or double takes or something.  But nothing.  There were virtually no microaggressions.   A delightful absence.  However, I’m not exactly sure how I appeared to the people.  I’ve been asked by Mexicans a number of times if I’m from Brazil.  Though I don’t feel as racially ambiguous as many Biracial people, I know that when my hair is up you can’t see my tight curls which often signal my Black ancestry.  My skin was darker than most Argentinians, but maybe they thought I was just from another South American country.  The four of us had an interesting conversation about race.  I’m Biracial, one friend is Multiracial (1/4 Jamaican mixed with White, doesn’t look Black but you also know he’s not White), and then 2 White people.  With 3 of us coming from Minnesota, we had a lively discussion about the contrast.  Which gave me a lot of food for thought, but that’s for another post.  

It was a wonderful trip, and I probably would’ve experienced it differently if I were in a different frame of mind.  It was beautiful and there is so much to do and see!  I do recommend it, it’s a pretty great travel destination.  Myself, I have other places I want to see more before I would consider going there again of my own volition.  I’m thankful for the experience, and it’s always nice to get away, get back to myself, hit the reset button, remember what’s important in my life and move forward.  

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Waiting for Mundane

It’s been a pretty wild few months with work.  Which is a challenge because at the beginning of each of the last 2 years, all I wanted to do was settle into my work so that I could focus on the areas of my life outside of work.  

So almost exactly 5 months ago, I was laid off.  It shocked me so deeply even though in retrospect I really should’ve seen it coming.  Because it felt like such a blow, even with the promise that we would most likely be hired back soon, I went immediately into job search survival mode and had 2 decent offers within a week.  My old agency didn’t communicate with us for a week and a half, which left me a lot of time to think.  So when they offered my my job back with a salary almost restored back to pre-cut levels… I did a very difficult thing and said no.  I took one of the other offers and have been there since.  

My current job is called ARMHS work – Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services.  My clients are SPMI (Severe and Persistent Mental Illness), typically receiving government assistance and having a shit ton of people involved in their care plan, and I go to their homes or meet them in the community for our sessions.  The purpose of ARMHS is to restore lost function to people whose mental illness symptoms have caused a significant impairment in multiple areas of functioning (accessing supportive services, social, interpersonal, gaining and maintaining home and finances, self-care, transportation, etc.).  This is the typical work of a person in my area who has graduated with a Masters degree and is still logging the required hours for licensure.  It can pay somewhere between crap and shit, much of your paperwork time is unpaid, and you’re driving all over the city.  At first I thought it would be a great financial move because the hourly rate was much higher than my pay cut rate at the old agency.  However, if clients cancel or don’t show up, you don’t get paid.  And my gas budget has about quadrupled from where I was previously.  So it can be hit and miss, and as with any work with people – it takes time to build your solid client base.  

Things have been plugging along for the past few months.  If I want to keep up my own self-care and go to the gym and eat right, it’s a process to prepare to get out the door in the morning.  I pack my work clothes, a portable breakfast, lunch, and snacks, map out my routes, bring up any forms I may need, and try to hustle out the door somewhere between 6:30 and 7am.  It’s exactly as stressful as it sounds.

Another thing about having a Masters but not yet being licensed is that you have to be supervised by a licensed professional approved by your licensing board.  Since I graduated, I have been lucky enough to have a board approved supervisor at each of my jobs.  Last month, my supervisor gave notice and the replacement is not a board approved supervisor for me.  New expense:  $240-400/mo.  With how exhausting it is to drive all over the city and surrounding suburbs for a living, coupled with the hustle it takes to keep your client load up, added to increased expenses in a budget that was already strained following depleting my savings over the past year to survive on a pay cut only to be laid off… I recently realized this job just wasn’t gonna work out.  And I’m exhausted.  

So.  It’s job search time again.  

My plan was to come on this vacation and when I return go into high intensity job search mode.  However, some interesting opportunities have come up.  I’ve been talking with my friends about them and the contrast is just odd.  For the past couple of months I’ve felt so trapped and like I have to accept this crappy place in my career for the next 9 months or so until I’m licensed.  But realizing that it’s only 9 months away has helped me to begin to dream and wake up and look forward.  I just need to get through this time, and then things will break wide open for me in terms of the variety of positions I’ll be eligible for, along with a significant increase in pay.  Halleloo!  So in looking toward the future and figuring out where I want to go after this first hurdle of licensure is reached, I have a couple of options to consider even before I search for something new to tide me over.  

At my current company, they’re trying to build their mental health program, which is only a year old.  The new supervisor is actually really great, I like her and respect her, and she is showing me that she sees and values me and my work.  She would like to add a location for outpatient therapy, and in trying to keep me, she wants me to be the first therapist to start seeing clients there.  Once licensed, she wants me to become the Clinical Director for that location and help it to grow, get it off the ground.  However, this option, even the outpatient therapy position, has no firm start date (estimated 4 months out) and I would need to continue doing ARMHS work and transition into therapy as clients build.  This is a long term plan.  

The second interesting option has to do with my old agency, which was swallowed up by the meganonprofit, and rebirthed as a new culturally specific agency.  When all employees were laid off, not many accepted their positions back when offered.  The mental health team especially took a huge hit.  I have been in touch with several old coworkers and have regularly asked for updates on how things are going and whether things have stabilized.  Recently, people have reached out asking what I would need to come back and encouraging me to apply.  Just before I left on my trip, I got a call gauging my interest on coming back and working part time in school-based therapy, part time outpatient.  I said I was definitely interested and would like to have an interview when I returned from vacation.  The opportunity to do therapy immediately while being full time and salaried after these past 5 months is looking better and better.  But I also want to know about the opportunity for growth once I’m licensed.  I’m hearing that there are good options at the new agency and with the meganonprofit, but it all remains to be seen. 

The 2 options are definitely interesting, and I can still do some other general job searching.  It forces me to look at my priorities for today and my path for the future.  I’m thinking about how to present myself confidently and being clear about my strengths, talents, and goals.  I need to learn about and practice negotiating salary.  And I need to have my focus clearly on myself and my needs – I have never been very assertive in interviews and negotiations, and often get caught up in what and who I’m leaving behind.  In addition, I can’t ignore that I still have hard feelings with the old agency about the way things went down, and I have no idea whether I should trust what’s being promised at my current company…  

But I’m excited for the opportunity in this next decision to put myself first and get the best deal I can.  It doesn’t have to be a permanent or even long-term choice, just the best choice for me right now in this point in my life.  Change is coming.  I have to accept that and understand that now is not my time to relax into the mundane, stable work life of my dreams.  I’ve got to push a little further.  Plus, who am I kidding, mundane is not my calling!