Tag Archives: family

Motherland

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What does it mean to be something?

I have always proudly proclaimed that I am Ukrainian. And I know that to be true.

Yet, when people would question further, I would have to admit that no, I didn’t speak the language (besides the essentials: namely, food items and “I want to eat”). I don’t know the dances. I wasn’t born in the country. Furthermore, I had never been to the country.

What does it mean to be Ukrainian? And how could I say and know it so fervently to be true when all evidence pointed to the seeming vacuity of such a claim?

Perhaps like so many things, part of identity is habit and familiarity. The people most consistently in my life were Ukrainian, and thus so I identified. They spoke the language, cooked the foods, knew the history, preached in the church. While I personally could not do so myself, I embraced our collective history as part of my own personal story. (Even as I was writing those words, I absentmindedly got up to throw some perogies on to boil as a midday snack.)

Despite the fact that we spoke zero Ukrainian, my cousins & siblings & I carried the Ukrainian Church Christmas program for many a year, completely confusing the few actual Ukrainian-speaking kids there (Note the super Slavic camel? None other than your favourite blogger!)

Perhaps desire plays a role. I could not speak Ukrainian fluently, but I so wanted to learn and would pore over my aunt’s old буквар, insisting she and my mom quiz me by singing “Head and Shoulders” in Ukrainian. I would painstakingly sound out those Cyrillic puzzles that would unlock Christmas lyrics, so that I could join my aunts and uncles in carolling. I spent many evenings with my mom at the kitchen table, repeating the litany of our family’s devastation and reconnection throughout years of war, making notes on aunties’ and cousins’ names and origins until they were woven into my own meandering quilt of memories.

Or perhaps identity is in our blood, our genes, our soul. Because despite being born in Canada, speaking English as my first language, and not being allowed to dance growing up, the moment our train rolled onto Ukrainian soil and I saw the green hills of my motherland, I felt a connection that surpassed all evidence to the contrary. I was home.

After a few days exploring Lviv (where my mom completely took over as tour guide and wowed both me and every Ukrainian we met with her beautiful, fluent language skills!), we made the 3 hour drive to Lanchyn, the hometown village of my mom’s father. As the road rolled beneath us, my throat ached with suppressed tears, a joyful ache I couldn’t begin to put into words. All those campfire quizzes with my mom and aunt; all those Christmas Eves standing on my icy front porch, taking my youngest-child-responsibility seriously and searching for the first star to appear; all those Ukrainian Baptist conferences in middle-of-nowhere Saskatchewan, trying with all my might to discern just one or two phrases from the flowing conversation – I was finally here in the place where it had all started, the soil I had always longed to know.

And as we pulled into the Lanchyn post office parking lot and my mom’s cousin Mariya leaped out of her car, tears already streaming down her face as she called “Сестра, cестра!” (my sister!) and embraced my mom… That solidified what my heart already knew, that these people were family, not strangers, and that I had a place here despite having never been here before.

This feeling was affirmed when we arrived back at their beautiful home and found that Mariya had made a side of perogies to go with the meal, because she had seen on Facebook how much I loved them.

We spent 2 days with cousin Mariya and her family, spontaneously spending the night with no luggage on hand. We met her son who built an incredible house for his family on my Gido’s property. We walked to my Gido’s old school which has been renovated into a community town hall. And we did what I have always dreamed of doing, since hearing my Gido’s poems about his homeland read at his funeral: we walked to his beloved river Pruit and waded in its sandy shores, looking at the very mountains that my Gido thought of and longed for every day he was away from them. In that warm water, with the same warm sun that has touched my hair in Canada beating down on me in Ukraine, another piece of my story – and soul – was complete.

After only one visit to this rich (in history, in complexity, in contradictions) land, I cannot even pretend to lay claim to an understanding of it. But it’s yet another thread, this one pulsing with rich gold and blue, woven into my story…

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Travelling up the Carpathian Mountains on the Bukovel panoramic gondola

Land of seeming incongruities. Traditional singers protesting for #FreeSentsov at the Shevchenko monument next to a mobile tattooist

Treasures of Lviv: “Пузата Хата” buffet (home to the most mind-blowingly incredible dill cream pie), “Second-Hand” thrift stores, and traditional delicacies (hot dogs or Ruffle chips, anyone?)

красивий Лев, Львів

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This Adventure Made Possible By…

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Anna Maria Esposita for finding us on the side of the road in Salerno, putting up with our feeble attempts at Italian, and magically making our luggage appear out of nowhere.  Maya, for introducing us to AirBnB in the first place…our travels will never be the same.  Our barista in Vietri Sul Mare (thank you for the doughnuts, we hope you made it to Australia!), and our wildly flirtatious maitre d’ (that wine was impressively strong!).  Fernando, for the ride to the Tiber (we’re sorry if we gave the impression that we wanted to boat back to Rome).  Pope Francis for instilling humanity into our visit to the Vatican.  University of Manitoba College of Medicine for changing the direction of our lives while sitting in a Roman burlap tent!  Jamie Pierce, for pointing us in the direction of Cinque Terre in the first place.  Kaya and Aeden for being the best roommates we could have asked for, and Sarah, Alicia, and Stacey for getting lost with us in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  And for the calamari cones.  Genius.  The Lemon Man, for delicious homemade wine with a side of really disgusting jokes, and the Pizza Man for abusing/believing in your employees (either way, you made a pizza in record time, well done!).  Pak Kashmir Doner Kebab for starting a 3-month-long love affair with kebab…and for not judging us when we came back twice in one day.  The Sprachcaffe receptionist for helping two confused travelers find a place to sleep in a language school.  Pietro for being a (very charming) walking encyclopedia of Florentine espionage.  All’antico Vinaio for your legendary sandwiches and free wine refills (no, seriously, it’s for real!).  The lovely couple who shared coffee with us on the train to Venice.  Archie & sons…your front hall will forever evoke in us a sense of oriental mystery.  The kiosco girl (and all of Vienna, for that matter) for your patience as we realized we knew literally NO Deutsch (“Card!…48?”).  The Musikverien Usher for engaging us in a Viennese musical intrigue and, therefore, much better seats!  Our Bulgarian/Brazillian (Bulgrillian?) cellist hostel roommate.  We tried to find you on iTunes but alas we were…so far…but…so close.  The Heinrich and Kress families for welcoming us so generously into your homes (and travel snacks that nearly broke the bus tables!).  Artur & Irina, we feel like we have a real home in Germany thanks to you.  Robert, Christian, and Erwin, we hope we can jam and play Dutch Blitz again one day!  Johannes for an unexpected evening of German tango (we’ll bring our dancing shoes next time).  Julia & your roommate for making us feel so at home in Köln.  Viel Glück to both of you in your new jobs!  Oma for always talking about your home country and inspiring us to retrace your Sunday walks down the Rhine.  Maybe one day we can go back with you!  Linda, dankjewel for your bikes, your lovely attic, and taking a chance on us as your first AirBnBers!  Edwin and Farah, for taking the time to hang out with us even with your wedding being a week away.  Once a WOOFer, always a WOOFer (ps come to Manitoba, we’ll take you to the snake pits!)  The stars, for aligning so perfectly as to allow us to have a lovely lunch with Dorien.  The Alma Dixons for getting us to and from Europe in the first place (Mom, your axiom of ‘would you rather have stuff or memories?’ has successfully stuck with me into adulthood) and for showing us all the places you always talk about.  The Farnham Dixons for a lovely afternoon and some authentically British fish’n’chips (sans mushy peas, thank-you!).  Wendy for taking this whole motley crew into your home and showing us around Glastonbury. Elly for introducing us to your family (I cannot imagine a more adorable kid to blow bubbles with than your granddaughter) and an evening of reminiscing about icebergs and penguins.  Pete & Patricia for the most incredible Welsh hospitality, and for driving us all over the country at all hours of the night.  Mark Hanford for keeping us simultaneously amused and not dead as we threw ourselves off cliffs into the sea (still waiting for those carpets!).  The disembodied Welsh couple whose voices helped us find our way out of the mist and back to the path somewhere on Mount Snowdon.  Jack Johnson, for being you, and for entirely coincidentally being in Paris at the same time as us.  Andréanne, for showing us around your beautiful new Swiss home.  Irene and Martin for sharing so many things with us: your inspiring work and outlook on life and faith, the truly breathtaking landscapes, and yes, the little bears :P.  Andreas and Simone, also for sharing so many things with us (like mother like son, eh?): your friends, your family, your food, your car, your bike…. That night with the giant map (and the many road trips that ensued) is still a memory that we talk about regularly!  Aric and Gabriel, for being as excited about the high-ropes garden as we were and never judging us on our (lack of) Swiss German. Joël for sharing your beautiful pays et famille. Yannick for the best duck I’ve ever tasted, and Hélène for showing us the work you’re doing to help new immigrants become self-sufficient in Toulouse.  Ron, Nicole, Aimée, Sean (and yes, Cougar) for making us recognize the name Carcassonne, even if we’ll never pronounce it properly.  Les Cabys des Taillades (et oui, de Paris aussi!) for sharing your passion for history, many hours of games (we now have our own Möllky set!), French puns, and more wine and cheese than any North American could comprehend.  Mami Caby, for a beautiful afternoon in St. Jean du Gard, and the silk scarf that’s currently on display in our living room.  Isaac and Sylvia of JUCUM Barcelona for the generous hospitality, the 2AM tour of your majestic city, and showing us what we truly believe is the best beach in Europe.  Hind, Nour, and Adam for helping us finish off the bag of snails and confirming everything we’d heard about the welcoming nature of Moroccans.  Nour, of Sahara Desert Crew, for an unforgettable few days of sights and culture unlike anything else we’ve ever seen (also, your mad photography skills. ‘Nuff said.).  Cafe Restaurant Nora, for providing a literal oasis in the desert (Nothing tastes as good as Berber pizza and Berber whiskey at +50C!) The Samnoun family for taking us in when our hostel was suddenly infested with bedbugs, and Bousha for introducing us to the madness of the Medina (and many, many friends ;)…)

And of course, contributions from VIEWERS LIKE YOU!

Wandering Canadians adopted by German family

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There may not be a formal border crossing anymore (God bless the EU), but it’s impossible not to notice the world changing as you pass from Italy into the Germanic world (first Austria, then Germany itself). Pizzerias are rapidly replaced by metzgerei (butcher shops), portion sizes increase threefold (a very welcome change!), and the feeble linguistic assistance provided by French and Spanish disappears completely.

Yet a mere week in Germany has made us feel more at home here than three weeks in Italy. And much of that has to do with these folks:

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Two years ago, meine Oma (hereafter referred to as Erna) travelled to Germany to reconnect with the many relatives that, for many decades, were living on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Though we knew nobody in Germany personally, Erna’s stories prompted us to send her an email a few months back, asking about these German connections.

She put us in touch with her cousin’s daughter, Irina, who lives with her husband and three sons in Nuremburg, a city rich with history both medieval and modern. We exchanged a few emails and received a very generous invitation to spend a long weekend with them. The only note of apprehension was found at the end of the last email: “I don’t speak any English. I’ve been using a translation program this whole time”.

With three hours left til our arrival, therefore, Sara and I cozied around the iPad on the train and frantically tried to learn as much Deutsch as we could. We got through lessons 1-8 of 85, and got really good at talking about the weather, when suddenly we were in Nuremburg.

We were overcome once again by what we’ve come to call ‘blind date jitters,’ but we were comforted by our Argentine experiences. Family is family, and language barriers are nothing compared to sincere smiles and non-verbal appreciation of good food.

We stepped off the train, disoriented as usual upon entering a new country, only to be immediately greeted by a very friendly couple, who turned out to be Irina and her husband Artur. They walked us to their Volkswagen van and drove us to their beautiful home in the nearby town of Burgfarrnbach, serendipitously speaking in perfectly understandable English (I guess their definition of ‘no English’ was a little less literal than our definition of ‘no Deutsch’).

For the next few days, we no longer felt like backpackers, but like family. We exchanged family histories since our ancestors had parted ways in the interwar years (Artur was born in Uzbekistan, and both of them grew up speaking Russian before finally being allowed back into Germany in the early ’90s!), ate every German delicacy imaginable (Attention mennonite family back home: they put mincemeat in their rollküchen, and it’s AWESOME!), and met more wonderful relatives. The rest of them did not speak as much English, but between their Russian, Sara’s Ukrainian, and sampling of many local brews, we were able to communicate just fine.

Family dinners cooked by Oma need no translation!

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Another lovely family lunch, this time with Irina’s brother, sister-in-law, and their two kids.

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They also took it upon themselves to acquaint us with the historical significance of the area. Nuremburg is known worldwide as the site of the Nuremburg trials, in which Hitler’s inner circle was tried and convicted. What we didn’t know was that this site was chosen because Nuremburg had been the capital of Hitler’s rise to power before the war. Holding the trials here in this city, therefore, was not only a final slap in the face to the Nazi regime, but also a form of healing for Nuremburgers seeking to move on.

Originally a landing pad for zeppelins, this massive square became the site of Hitler’s rallies, immortalized in black & white videos of goose-stepping soldiers. Today the power of evil has been replaced with something more wholesome: skateboarders and a hockey arena.

Hitler's podium

Posted at the former rally grounds, this image dramatically captures fascism’s failure.

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Courtroom 600, in which many Nazi leaders were tried and convicted.

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The concept of trying world leaders for crimes of global scale was born at Nuremburg, and now continues here in The Hague, Netherlands, at the International Peace Palace. Though we’ve jumped forward a few days now in our travels, this picture belongs here with the theme of ‘power paying tribute to justice’, as Chief Attorney Robert Jackson put it at the Nuremburg trials.

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And finally, to lighten the mood, an earlier bit of history from when people were slightly less destructive and a lot more ridiculous:

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The medieval town of Rotenburg, one of our day trips with the Heinrich family, showcases a piece of their history in their central clock tower. Every day at noon, these mannequins remind us of the legendary mayor of this German town, who agreed to humiliate himself by drinking three liters of French wine in exchange for his town NOT being burned down by the French army. On a potentially related note, this region of Germany now has a booming local wine industry. Way to take one for the team, buddy.

Heinrich & Kress family, vielen dank for an incredible long weekend. You made us feel so at home. Our apartment is pretty small, but we’ll fit all of you in if you ever have a chance to come to Winnipeg! And ps. There are lots of eichhörnchen in Winnipeg too!! 😉

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Granjas #5 – 5 1/2: Just your average, everyday WWOOF farm (yeah, right!)

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Finally back home in Argentina, we arrived at what was supposed to be our fifth farm after several email exchanges and one very successful confirmation phone call with the host (using telephones in this country is like doing a rubiks cube blindfolded, so trust me, this was a significant accomplishment!) However, when we arrived, we were greeted by a girl only a little older than ourselves who looked at us as if we’d just arrived from another planet. Apparently, her compañero (our supposed host) had left to who-knows-where for a week without telling her that two Canadians were coming to stay (so much for all that great communication, sigh), and she had two baby girls to take care of as well. She was friendly, but it was pretty clear she was in no state to have visitors (she said this directly, but the fact that she and her children were all running around in various states of undress implied it as well). It was late, so we set up our tent in the middle of a bush, waited out a mad thunderstorm, and took off the next morning.

Fortunately we had contacted another farm in the Mendoza area as well, so we sent them an SOS email and they replied (quite miraculously!!!), that same day, welcoming us with open arms. And so we hopped a bus that would take us to Tunuyan, Mendoza and found our new home at the end of a dirt road lined with beautiful weeping willows. We approached with well-warranted apprehension, but as soon as we entered we were shocked by the one thing we absolutely never expected…

It was… normal.

No high sabbath folk dancing, no anarchist protests, no army of other WWOOFers descending on our tent. Not that these are BAD things…it was just a very pleasant surprise to be greeted by a goofy dad, a brusque but sweet mom, and four high school/college age kids who are happy to share their lives with us but still fight about things like chores and who used whose bike last and messed with the gears.

In other words, a really normal family farm.

¡Bienvenidos a La Stalla!
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Bathroom facilities (nothing like a frigid shower outside to wake you up!)
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And so, we have spent two weeks tilling soil, building structures for various viney-type plants to crawl up, watching sheep get antibiotic injections, spreading manure, clearing brush (it was originally called “weeding pea plants,” but see pictures below to see why this description is more accurate), and feeding baby bunnies, who are adorable, even though we all know they’re only going to be eaten. All the while we listen to the hilarious antics of the dad, Luis, who has an elaborate story going in his head about this mennonite from Canada who lives in a colony wearing a little black hat and making cheese all day along with his vampire wife (something about Sara’s job testing blood in a laboratory was the inspiration behind this). It’s very entertaining.

The field: before clearing
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The field: after clearing
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Caña construction with our French WWOOFer friends
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Lunch with the fam and fellow WWOOFers in La Stalla’s galleria
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Laura’s incredible pizza al horno (aka clay oven pizza)
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A brief tour of the animals we got to know:

We thought we’d seen all the baby animals Argentina had to offer…until the pig surprised us by giving birth while we were weeding!
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Momma pig trying to sleep (I’m sure all you mothers out there can sympathize…)
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Baby bunnies (aka dinner – but let’s not think of that!!)
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Chicho: The sheep who thought he was a puppy
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Fido & Mimi decide to make Josh into a dog-person
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This farm and family are so entertaining, in fact, that we actually decided to stay for an extra week, which means that, after six months, we will finally be in the right place at the right time for one of Argentina’s many festivals.

And good timing too: Vendimia, Mendoza’s wine festival, is one of the country’s biggest and best. According to the family, there are apparently parades all weekend in which the festival beauty queens, elected from each region of Argentina, ride on elaborate floats wearing prom dresses and tossing everything from wine bottles to watermelons out to all the cheering people lining the streets.

But more to come on that later, assuming we haven’t been knocked out by flying watermelons…

We wish you a ¡Feliz Navidad!

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It’s so hard to believe that it’s Christmas time, and that at home, there is snow and Christmas carols and family gatherings happening. We will be spending our Christmas in Lago Puelo, Chubut (Patagonia), living on an organic strawberry farm in a tent village with seven other WWOOFers: 3 from the USA, 3 from France and 1 from Holland.

Tomorrow night, our host family is cooking us an asado and each WWOOFer is making a dish from their home country. Josh and I are attempting honey-glazed ham and peanut-butter cookies (filled with dulce de leche!) However, Argentina doesn’t have peanut butter, so we will try to make do with Thai peanut paste. Wish us luck!

As amazing and fun as it is to travel around this beautiful world, there is really no place quite like home at Christmas, so please know that we are thinking of and missing you all!!

Since we knew it’d be +30C here in Argentina at Christmas (which it is!), we captured a bit of Southern snow to share with all of you at Christmas. Click here! 🙂

(or copy and paste the following in your browser:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7tdgWoR21w&feature=youtube_gdata_player )

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

much love from,
Sara & Josh

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Wandering Canadians adopted by Argentine families: Part 2

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Well, Sara has already updated you all on our first family experience in Argentina, complete with cooking haps and mishaps and musical fun, so now it’s time for our second family adoption. On Sunday after church, we drove to Veronica, a small town about two hours away (complete with a thermos of hot water for mate, which, of course, makes any trip seem shorter. ¡Gracias, David!). There, we stayed with Pedro y Luci, more cousins of Sara’s aunt. Their beautiful, tranquil farm was a shocking (but very lovely) change from the crowds and noise of the city, but their hospitality was just as welcoming, generous, and full of food!

Upon arrival we spent most of the evening with our dear Lanus friends who had driven us there, getting a tour of the farm (complete with cows, bats, and a eucalyptus forest!) and concluding with a stargazing session (the constellations are completely different here, of course!) in the bottom of an empty swimming pool.

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The following days were spent jumping between amazing dinners and Spanish lessons inside (Pedro is an excellent teacher, with his dictionary and encyclopedia on hand at all times, and Luci is an amazing cook) and chatting with cows, hens, Brunic/Perrito the dog, and eating from the lemon, orange, and avocado trees outside.

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Among other things, we learned how to pick avocados (Pedro y Luci seem to be the principal suppliers of this local treasure for the entire town)…

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…and to tell the difference between oranges and orange lemons (there really isn’t one, until you bite into them)…

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Finally, we spent a very lovely day with aunt Esther’s aunt and uncle (if you’re having trouble following all these familial connections, don’t worry, they’re all just very wonderful people) Rosa y Sergio. They filled us up with family history, argentine stories, delicious homemade wine, and another unbelievable asado, this time cooked in the living room fireplace!

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Oh dear, this is getting mighty long. Many more stories to share, but you’ll have to wait for now. And ¡muchísimas gracias a Pedro, Lucí, Rosa, y Sergio por su hospitalidad tan generosa, y por un tiempo muy refrescante y disfrutable!

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Wandering Canadians adopted by Argentine family: Part 1

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After two lovely days of wandering BA on our own, we braved Argentina’s telecabinas and finally got ahold of Cecilia, my aunt Esther’s cousin’s daughter (international travel is all about the ridiculously complicated connections!). Cecilia brought us home with her to Lanús, a barrio of Gran Buenos Aires (GBA).

Quick explanation: The city of Buenos Aires (BA) is located in the province of Buenos Aires (Bs.As.) and is utterly massive! The city centre (most often referred to as BA) is where most of the famous sites are located and is where most porteños (residents of BA) work, but most people live in the surrounding neighbourhoods (GBA).

Immediately, we were adopted by Lidia and Emilio, my aunt’s cousins, and their children: Raquel, Cecilia, David and Daniel. When we ended up having a 2-hour jam sesh on our very first night there, Josh and I knew we would feel right at home!

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This amazing family filled our days with delicious food, guided tours of the city, long discussions of politics and faith (in Spanish!) over copious servings of mate, and (much to Josh’s delight) asado lessons!

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It was Cecilia’s birthday the week we were there, and she decided to have a party with an “international” theme, preparing dishes from all the places she’s visited. She asked us if we could prepare a special dish from Canada. Josh and I put our heads together, trying to think of an authentically Canadian dish, whose recipe we could remember offhand and whose ingredients were readily available: RICE KRISPIE CAKE was the obvious choice!

However, it turns out Argentina has never heard of marshmallows, so the family was very intrigued to try this exotic and obviously very elaborate Canadian dish. Raquel made a special trip to the one store in the city where they had seen marshmallows sold… and brought home crazy, twisted pink marshmallows that smelt like coconut and vanilla. The end result? A neon-pink cake that was almost devoured before we could get it into the pan! 🙂

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Cecilia also asked us to teach the little kids from church a song in English, so Josh and I led them in a rousing rendition of “Peace Like a River” (and we knew we for sure in Argentina when one of the moms explained to her son, “Si, River, ¡como River Plate!”), and eventually got all the adults singing along too! All the people from their church felt like family: we had such a hard time saying goodbye and were only able to leave them by promising to return in April.

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¡Muchísimas gracias¡ a nuestra nueva familia y todos de nuestros nuevos amigos. 🙂