By Sami Mardam-Bey, MD
For my international trip, I had the opportunity to travel south of the equator for the first time in my
life to the Garrahan Pediatrics Hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Buenos Aires is the largest city in Argentina and the 2nd largest metro area in South American (behind Sãu Paulo, Brazil) with a population of 13 million. Approximately 3 million of these people live within the city limits, with another 10 million in the surrounding areas. Residents of the city are referred to as porteños, a nod to the city’s busy seaport. The city was founded in the 16th century by Spanish explorers, and formally declared independence from Spain in 1816. The 19th century saw a large influx of European immigrants, predominantly from Italy and Spain, giving the city a very European feel. The city is most well-known for its steak and tango.
I took several years of Spanish in college, but unfortunately do not have the opportunity to practice much in St Louis. I arrived in Buenos Aires (BsAs) on a warm Sunday in January ready to hone my skills. While “Spanish” is the predominant language of the country, there are several unique features that make the porteño dialect unique, and therefore a bit difficult to understand. The first is the use of vos in place of tú, and its alternate verb conjugation, in the 2nd person singular. Second, the ll and y sounds are pronounced not like the y in “yellow” but rather like the s in “measure” (I actually found this the most disorienting). Finally, owing to the large population of Italian migrants, the prosody of their speech sounds more like Italian than Central American Spanish. This made daily communication much more difficult than I anticipated.
After my 2 weeks at the Garrahan Hospital, my wife was able to make the trip down to join up with me. After a few days of sightseeing in the city, we traveled south to Patagonia. We arrived at the Torres del Paine National Park after a 3-hour flight to southern Argentina and an 8-hour car trip over to Chile (including a 3 hour stop at immigrations at the boarder). We spend 4 days at a hotel near the park, hiking and doing other excursions during the day, exploring the plains, glaciers, and granite massif. I can honestly say this was the most visually stunning place I have ever been.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to spend time with a fantastic group of pediatric orthopaedic surgeons doing excellent work in Buenos Aires. The team was extremely welcoming, and I made some great friends that I hope to keep in touch with through the rest of my career.