Kara Strohm
Kara Strohm
Argentina, 2022
Hi I’m Kara! Since graduating from Belmont in 2020, I’ve been working as a nurse here in Nashville. I’m thrilled to finally invite you along as I spend the next 5 months in Buenos Aires, Argentina working with Venir Al Mundo, a doula association aiding high-risk individuals through their pregnancies, births, and postpartum journeys. ¡Vamos! Read More About Kara →

Chapter 2, Kind Of

Welcome back (talking to myself, mostly)!

I am writing this from the comfort of a new home—the place I will be staying for the remainder of my time in bsas. This home is the birthplace of Venir Al Mundo, the non-profit doula association I am working with. My host mother, Ana, is the founder of the association, and keeps busy throughout the week with a variety of jobs: hosting weekly group therapy sessions for new mothers, teaching doula classes, meeting with expecting mothers as doula clients, and being a mom to her two daughters, Delfi (22) and Serena (20). I have lived only a week under this roof and I already feel fully welcomed as a member of this all-female cast (even Amy, their 11-year-old golden retriever, supports the theme). The house itself serves the feminine motif as nearly all of the art portrays breastfeeding, utero, or birth, and a mural filled with scenes of motherhood covers the entirety of the outer fence, making it incredibly easy for me to spot home. My host family speaks exclusively in Spanish, which gave me a lot of anxiety prior to moving in. I anticipated many awkward blank stares, much frustration from both parties, and a b-line plunge into homesickness. This was, of course, me preparing for the worst (see blog #1 for a run down of how I am trying to ~not~ do that during this trip) and I was, of course, thoroughly wrong. These three women have patiently taken turns finding ways to explain topics to me when I am lost in conversation, they have played grocery store cashier to me memorizing numbers and money exchanges, they have fed me an abundance of new foods (they’re all somehow also vegetarians?), shared their space with me, and acclimated me to the ins and outs of culture here. I have spent many evenings walking or biking with Ana through the neighborhood or to the river, sometimes in conversation (mostly me listening and replying “claro,” which translates roughly to “cool,”) but most of the time in shared silence. The four (well, five) of us eat dinner together at roughly 10pm each night and discuss our day’s whereabouts or current events. There is a lot of laughing, sometimes I don’t even understand what at, but I feel connected to their warmth, nevertheless.

However, I’d be lying if I made it out to seem like a breeze. Constantly stretching and molding the language muscles in my brain has left me very exhausted most days. My social battery runs low by the end of dinner and it’s hard not to feel like a burden asking people to repeat themselves or speak slower. Almost a month in and I am more aware than ever of how much I don’t know, which my friends and family continue to remind me is just a natural part of the process. Ah, the growing pains. As of last Friday, I have officially finished my classes at the Spanish school, but I am of course not even close to finished with studying and practicing. My empathy only deepens for the patients I saw and will continue to see in the States confronted by a language barrier. While I want to be very careful not to compare my experience to theirs aside from communication challenges, I already have a much greater understanding of the daily struggle to navigate a new place in a new language. Buying groceries (specifically the privilege of being able to hear and comprehend numbers), navigating public transportation (or lack there of), asking for help, doing your laundry, getting medical care (!!!), expressing your opinions/beliefs/feelings, sharing an earnest laugh, understanding what is safe or unsafe, knowing who or what to trust. My patience for this population grows with every interaction/conversation/transaction I have here. I am doing my best to trust the process, and to quote my high school Spanish teacher, “poco a poco, se va lejos.”

For some exciting news, my official first shift at the hospital is this upcoming Tuesday! My schedule will include Tuesday and Thursday hospital shifts accompanied by a seasoned doula, Wednesday home group therapy sessions for new moms led by Ana, Thursday evening doula trainings, and Fridays I will focus on Spanish lessons. Throughout the next few months, Ana has invited me to participate in a variety of activities and furthering education opportunities including workshops on lactation and placental medicine. On July 15th, I will join her and several other doulas as we participate in something called a Temazcal. The word translates roughly to “house of heat” and the ritual dates back to pre-Hispanic Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica. Essentially, we will be altogether in an ancient sauna while la Temazcalera, a woman singing and playing a drum, leads us into a meditation on birth/utero/womanhood/the body. I feel grateful to be invited to participate in such an intimate part of traditional northern-Argentinian culture.

This past week, I helped Ana lead her Wednesday night new-mom group therapy session. This meeting only included two moms and their stunning 5 month olds, but we were not short on topics to discuss. From breastfeeding, to stages of development, to taking care of sick babies, to challenges navigating relationships…I really enjoyed watching Ana guide discussion and provide a safe space for these women and their babies to play and eat and share. Plus getting to hold the tiny squishy babes gave me the boost of serotonin I didn’t know I needed.

This next segment is examples of my worlds colliding over the past two weeks:

  1. My mom’s friend of a friend lives in a province outside of Buenos Aires and has invited me to a “4th of July” BBQ this Sunday where a mix of Porteños (people from Argentina) and “Yankees” (the term many people here use for “Americans”) will eat corn on the cob and play bags in 45 degree weather. Lol.
  2. As I wrote previously, one of my Spanish teachers loves indie music and last week he invited me to a concert of one of his friend’s bands (plugging now: Al Club Audiovisual). The show reminded me of seeing my own friends’ bands play in Nashville, and during their cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “When You Sleep,” I closed my eyes and imagined I was at The Basement East doing just that.
  3. Ana shared with me one of her absolute favorite movies on birth work, titled, “Historia del Nacimiento” aka “Birth Story,” which is a documentary following the life and work of Ina May Gaskin, an American midwife and activist, who in the 1980s founded The Farm, a community based in Summertown, Tennessee (just over an hour outside of Nashville), devoted to de-institutionalizing birth. The documentary is profound and inspiring, and even if you are not in the work of birth, you were at one point born or perhaps you at one point gave birth or were witness to someone giving birth and I think it is worth the watch!
  4. I am heartbroken watching from afar as the laws on abortion change drastically in our country. My own experiences working with women at the Public Health Department have shaped my views on this topic and I am, like many many others, left feeling scared and angry and confused and disheartened. I learned originally from some friends here, and later more from this NPR article written by Joe Hernandez, “the shade associated with the reproductive rights movement can be traced back nearly two decades, to Argentina, where a growing number of activists were pushing for the government to legalize abortion…the green handkerchiefs protesters adopted were a reference to the white scarves used by women whose children were ‘disappeared’ by the country’s military dictatorship in the late 1970s and early 1980s.” Now, when you see a green handkerchief used in marches across the U.S., you know they have history!

And at long last, a few of the sentences I wrote in the past two weeks (there’s a pretty obvious theme):

June 20: I tried mate* today,,,,,,and I loved it,,,,super bitter but with a medialuna at 5pm it is Chef’s! Kiss!

*a very popular tea everyone drinks here—at 4pm any day of the week you will see people carrying around a large thermos of hot water, loose leaf mate, and their special mug with a filtered straw (pictured below)

June 26: There are kioskos around every corner that sell golocinas (cookies) and I think I’m becoming a golosa (a person that can’t get a grip on their golocinas cravings).

June 30: I have gone through half of a jar of peanut butter in 4 days, it has become my comfort food and my sustenance, I even told Serena today that it is “la luz de mi vida.”

That catches us up to speed—Below are some photos from the past two weeks for your viewing pleasure 🙂

Ciao, angels.

Kara

 

A Year In The Life

Hello to my faithful followers!

I arrived in BsAs nearly a week ago and am currently living in el capital (downtown) with my first host, Cecilia, a 74-year-old guardian angel, as well as another Connecting Worlds intern. This week has felt something like a year. It started with what was supposed to be a 15 hour travel day turned 30 hours due to less than ideal fog conditions in bsas resulting in a rerouted flight to Uruguay. From Montevideo, our collective American Airlines ensemble hopped on a bus up the coastline, sprinted onto a ferry (quite literally, I ran after any person that I recognized from the flight) and finished the trek crossing the Rio de la Plata onto Argentinian soil. When I finally made it to the apartment, I was greeted by Ceci and a plate of fresh spinach empanadas (pictured below).


Ceci and I spent the following day sorting out various nitty gritty details—I purchased a new SIM card, exchanged my USD for Argentine pesos, activated my Subte card (for riding public transportation), got my bearings in the neighborhood, and bought groceries (apples, hummus, a loaf of bread, almond milk, and, drum roll, a big bag of yogurt). Argentina, along with many other South and Central American countries, exist on a completely different schedule than we do in the states. Breakfast is at 10am, lunch no earlier than 3pm, followed by a siesta or tea time (aka mate or coffee and crackers) between 6-8pm, and finally dinner around 10pm. It is not uncommon to reserve a dinner table for midnight especially on the weekends, and boliches (discos) typically don’t open their doors until 2am. Bsas is a culture of nightlife, though I have found myself in bed asleep by 11pm most evenings. It’s also winter here on the other side of the equator and everyone is ~Bundled Up~. Having grown up outside of Chicago, I would have guessed it to be below zero based on the amount of parkas and mittens I pass on the street, nevertheless our lowest temperature has been a hefty 45 degrees, which I have thoroughly enjoyed in contrast to the terrifying 110 degree weather in Nashville currently.

I have spent the first week commuting to a local Spanish school in the neighborhood of Palermo (which I have been told is the East Nashville equivalent in Buenos Aires). Outside of class, the school hosts group activities such as asados (barbecues), fútbol games (which I did participate in despite my raging disinterest in sports) ((and honestly, I loved it)), and this coming Thursday we’ll participate in an empanada cooking class

Last Saturday was the first training session for new doulas at the association. While I am still navigating the language barrier (especially the Argentinian accent—double l’s and y’s are pronounced “sh”), the other doulas at the meeting were incredibly welcoming and we spent the morning around a kitchen table sharing mate and various homemade treats. On Sunday, I met up with Ana, the woman who will be my second, and primary, host here. She began the doula association 10 years ago and currently runs lactation and postpartum classes out of her home in Vicente Lopez, a suburb just outside of downtown BsAs. We spent the afternoon roaming around a weekend street market and found creative ways to communicate via google translate when my Spanish skills fell short. I am frequently confronted by the growing pains of learning and living in a new language. I have become incredibly aware of the role body language plays in communication and am frequently challenged to set aside my self doubt and engage in opportunities to speak and practice.

This coming week contains a double holiday, aka every grade school student’s favorite sentence: Four Day Weekend. On Saturday, I plan on attending the show of a local “noise pop” band recommended by one of my teachers, and on Sunday I will pack up my suitcase once more and move up north to Ana’s home. Next Tuesday will be my final formal Spanish lesson before I am thrown to the wolves (but instead of wolves they’re just really patient, caring hosts and their families), and Thursday I will begin in the hospital shadowing an established doula. Poco a poco se va lejos!

Without further adieu, a few sentences from my Sentence A Day series:

June 6: I may not know nearly enough Spanish, but when everyone starts collectively cheering on a ferry during an intercom announcement, I know that it’s time to text my driver we’re close to arrival.

June 7: Yogurt comes in a bag here and I spent the majority of my day thinking about that.

June 9: My Spanish teacher loves Mitski and that gives me hope for making friends here.

June 13: I played soccer with a 102 degree fever and afterwards someone told me, earnestly, that I was really good,,,,,,so fever dream? or have I missed my true potential??

Until next time, nos vemos.

Ciao,

Kara <3

I would like to now give a shout out to Juju, I loved dog sitting for you four years ago, be in touch.

Cue “Here Comes Goodbye” by our lord and savior, Rascal Flatts

Welcome to this tiny corner of the internet where I will feverishly write blog posts every other Sunday for the next 5 months, thanks for bopping your head in!

If you have been a part of my life the past two years, in any proximity, you know that a core personality trait of mine has been “hopefully, someday, maybe going to Argentina.” Well, we are T-12 days from departure and I am just as shocked as you that we made it here. I was talking with my therapist this week about my goals for the upcoming months and have compiled a list to share with you (and for me to reference):

  1. Inviting in the discomfort and loneliness associated with moving to a new country while still learning the language, meanwhile being careful not to pay too much attention to the voice in my head trying to prepare me for the worst (i.e. “What if I can’t make deep connections because I am still learning the language,” “What if I always feel insecure about conversing, so I shy away from opportunities to practice and meet new people,” etc, etc). While these anxieties are not unfamiliar to me, especially prior to undergoing big life changes, my goal is to trust in the process that so many have undergone before me (and in much more challenging circumstances), and to continue to find balance between not taking myself too seriously and having confidence in my efforts and abilities,
  2. Writing a sentence a day. This is something I have done on/off throughout summer breaks in college and find it a helpful tool not only for remembering the events of my daily life, but also for checking in with myself consistently without the pressure of filling an entire blank page. I will be sharing a few of these in each blog post, so hold onto your hats,
  3. Inching towards conversational Spanish fluency (this one felt obvious but will motivate me to study and speak and listen),
  4. Gaining and sharing knowledge of empathetic birth support with the other doulas at the association. Forming friendships with the women I work alongside and getting hands-on experience providing labor and lactation support.

 

I have much to do between now and June 5th, including finishing up my vaccines, 3 more full shifts at the Health Department, a pre-orientation meeting with my organization’s point of contact in B.A., packing up my belongings and moving them out of my house, an intimate “going away temporarily” party, and a 5 day trip to Scotland with my boyfriend’s family…woof! I grow more excited as I converse via Whatsapp with the women I will be living and working with, and plan to bring them a small gift representative of Nashville–lmk if you have any insight into something that could fit into my suitcase and is reflective of this city. A pedal tavern keychain? A “Team Bride” tee? Will a cowgirl hat come across earnestly? Sounds off in the comments below!

 

I would like to say a quick thank you to the people who have helped me plan this project and encouraged me to take the plunge after 2 years of global uncertainty–if you’re reading this, or if you’re not, I love you, thank you. S/o to everyone who has put me into contact with their friends or family members in B.A., I’m so grateful to have people to look forward to meeting and to call if (when) I need a hand. Also s/o to my MPHD team, thank you for your overwhelming support in this season, ¡te veré en octubre! Finally, thank you to Thandi, Shauna, and the Lumos Committee for trusting me with this project and allowing me to take this opportunity long after its original timeline.

 

Ok I’m dropping the mic, will pick it back up from the other side of the hemisphere in a few weeks!

 

Xoxo,

Much love,

Kara

 

Pictured below is me in the required scrub color for the doula association! (the Crocs are a personal choice ;))