Argentina – Doing the business end

After what seemed like an eternity, I heard David breathe deeply and ask, he thought helpfully, “What do you think is the problem”.  I had no answer.  The only thing I could suggest was emailing James in Bradford to ask his advice.  This we did, with the three hour difference it was just after lunch.  Fortunately, I had asked him to be ready on Monday in case something like this was to happen so I hoped he was actually near a terminal and read his email in a short time, unlike the period before I went on the trip.

 After sending the email, there was little else I could do on the computers, so David and I went off to a couple of other meetings he had set up.  When we returned in the afternoon, Andre had received a response from James, with another attached program.  With an apology, he said he had given me a slightly older version of the program…….  Andre and I tried to follow his instructions and after two or three goes, we managed to change the format of his South American image and we got it into the NOM.  Once there, Andre was impressed with some of its capabilities, an achievement as Andre was one of these guys who because he works with computers so much that most of his emotions had become suppressed.

 My relief was difficult to hide. I still had reservations about the whole software side, but at least I had achieved what I had travelled for twenty-four hours for.  David and I spent the rest of the week at several meetings.  I cannot remember many of the meetings now; it included a grace meeting to the funding agency for the trip, the group who with the British Council, had organised the exchange visits.  I met several eminent scientists, who seemed to split into the haves and have-nots.  Those who had channelled into International funding agencies were on the academic equivalent of the gravy train.  Those who had not yet reached there struggled to maintain their existence in the country.  Although outwardly first world, with the institutions, culture and mannerisms of anything Europe had to offer, inside the cracks were wide and many lived close to the poverty level, academics and government workers included.

 One afternoon, David took me to the Laboratorio de Ecología de Insectos, the unit he had set up to specifically look at the use of satellite imagery in insect habitat and ecology.  His two students, Mariano and Raquel came along ( I could never pronounce her name right; I am sure she told me to call her Rachel, like the English, but others called her Raquel as in Welch and one or two pronounced it in a throat clearing manner that left nothing to the imagination).  Raquel had a young baby that she dragged everywhere, being unable to afford a babysitter while trying to do her degree.  David tolerated this very well, but it was clear that there were times when he wished she could keep her train of concentration long enough to make progress with her degree, instead of having to react to the baby’s needs all the time.

 The unit was in an agricultural centre about ten miles to the east of Cordoba.  The journey was interesting for me as it headed the other way from Sunday’s excursion.  The east of the city fell quickly into the flat Pampas, and after some industrial areas, the wide dual carriageway that began the long trip back to Buenos Aires fell to more open land.  On the very outskirts of the city, a large concrete gate, the “Gateway to Cordoba” dominated the scene and we headed to the north down some dusty roads, skirting a shanty town.  I had been impressed by how clean and tidy much of the centre of Cordoba was and the moderate level of houses around.  But now I was seeing where the poor of Cordoba eked out a living, and it was much more like the Barrios of Colombia or the shanties of Africa.  As David explained, the urban underclass in Argentina was a relatively new phenomena, and, as in Africa, had to squat on whatever land was available.  In Cordoba, like in so many third world cities, this was at the edges of these rapidly expanding cities. This was another reminder that however western Cordoba looked, it was more akin to the third world cities I knew.  In western cities, the urban poor are quite often located near the city centre, or are relocated to estates from the centre to the edge.  Here they were still arriving from the country (like in the British Industrial Revolution at the end of the 18th Century) and were forced to stop at the city limits.

 The agricultural university where David kept his unit was deep in the rich Pampas farmland beyond the city.  Open planned, a number of shabby concrete buildings were widely spaced in a neat parkland of young trees and carefully mown grass.  David’s unit was located at the far end of one block.  The hot spring sun belted through the glass windows, similar to the ones I knew from my old school days in Liverpool with the thin glass and white painted metal surrounds.  At the top of one window an ancient air conditioning unit perched precariously.  David turned it on but it vibrated so violently that we could not hear each other speak.  David fiddled for a while with some shards of wood he found in an outer room and tried to wedge the unit more firmly in its casing, but it had little effect on the noise.  In the end he left it for a few minutes to cool the room then switched it off.


Laboratorio de Ecología de Insectos

 After some fumbling by Raquel and her baby, the two students presented to me their work.  I was sat in one of those desk seats, my arms resting on the flip table, in the centre of the room.  David sat to one side, slightly behind me, and I felt as if I was a theatre producer holding auditions.  Raquel spoke of her project first, and did not convince me that she understood it well.  I could feel David behind me shift uncomfortably when she occasionally faltered, as if he had been through it so many times before.

 When she finished, Marianno raised himself and nervously started to speak.  Marianno was a lovely guy, small and compact.  He gave the impression he was in much awe of most other people he met, but a second consideration revealed that he was just attentive.  In his own right he was a meticulous thinker, and David knew he was something special.  I grew to like Marianno enormously during that week and was very pleased when he and his wife moved to Chatham a couple of years later.  She was very nervous when she arrived in England because her English was not strong, and she was left in the house to a certain extent.  But she found a couple of jobs in town and attended classes and the last time I saw them she was bubbling with confidence.  Marianno worked at NRI for a couple of years and produced some impressive research papers.

 Marianno talked about his project that was trying to see whether an incidence of a mosquito borne disease was directly proportional to the vegetation greenness as seen from satellite imagery.  It was a very good talk that I found little to comment on when he had finished.

At the Agricultural Institute

At the Agricultural Institute


One thought on “Argentina – Doing the business end

  1. Argentina – Doing the business end – String Knife and Paper

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