Tuesday, June 19, 2012

6 months Later: SHTF Life/Normal Life

The wife’s out playing with my youngest son. Spike, our English Bull Terrier, jumps around them like a big-headed white grass hopper. My oldest son came home yesterday with his report card with excellent grades, which is outstanding for a boy that knew English as a second language up until a few months ago.

Life is just perfect, it’s the happiest we’ve ever been, and here I am, looking back to how life has changed for us and trying to capture some of those thoughts and feelings.
When I think about the entire process I remember well that all the preparation for moving, all the stress of worrying of something going wrong at the last minute. That was the worst part. Though close friends and family knew we were leaving, we didn’t tell neighbors and other people about it. Its this kind of mistake that got people hurt before. You mention you’re moving to the girl in the grocery store, she mentions it to someone else, and all of a sudden you get kidnapped for the money you’ve obviously been putting aside to move abroad.
Selling stuff, getting rid of it, giving it away to friends, charity, when you pick your home clean that way its both a stroll down memory lane and a painful experience because we tend t get attached to things. Some are less dear than others but here is where quantity makes the difference. Most normal people can get rid of a few boxes of material possessions without a second thought, but when instead its just a couple boxes that you get to keep and the rest must go, that’s pretty different. Experts say moving like this is the most stressful experience a person can go through, with stress levels in the organism comparable to losing a close family member. While it may be the case physiologically I wouldn’t trade it for losing a loved one, but I know for a fact that it is very hard on you.

Landing in the Antrim International Airport was the beginning of our new life. We might as well have landed in Mars, it was that foreign to us. Its impossible to explain what it feels to live surrounded by poverty, dirty streets, crime and every day general violence, to all of a sudden find yourself surrounded by perfectly clean streets, painted buildings that aren’t falling apart and people that don’t shout with every word.
Its one thing to travel and see these things, its another to make it your own and know you’ll be living there. Its not that different from American or European tourists traveling to South America or poor Asian country. Oh, its lovely, so Grunge Chic. … Right. The difference is that the guy you see over there, he didn’t pay 400 dollars for a used jean in a Beverly hills boutique, he really did pick it out of the trash! For a tourist, poverty in a country he’s visiting doesn’t affect him, but make him live there for a few years under those conditions and see how he likes it. 

One of the things that comes to mind when thinking about those first days was how surprised we where by the variety of products found in supermarkets. As time goes by there’s less and less products in Argentine stores and its getting worse with the importation problems. When you walk into a supermarket in Argentina you have maybe three or four types and brands per product, and that’s it. You don’t have like ten different brands for each product and each brand offering maybe five variations or more.  It was so overwhelming that it made me feel dizzy and disoriented. I told my wife and she said it was making her feel sick too. For the first few weeks we just got in an out quickly, just hurrying to buy what we needed, not being able to handle the overwhelming visual variety. Sounds strange, but that’s what happened.

Other than that it was just pure bliss to finally live safe. We went from not being able to walk in dirty streets or go for a stroll in run down parks that hadn’t been kept in decades to being free to safely walk in some of the most beautifully landscaped gardens and parks in Europe. The contrast in life quality is just staggering. 

It´s when we take into account this second part of our lives that we’re able to put into perspective thanks to the contrast of both and truly see how we had been living, what had become life as a given for us. You don’t see that around here. People often forget to closer their doors and many consider it an inconvenience. It sounds incredible to someone like me but then you walk around the streets and you get it. You don’t see those faces, faces of people that would shot you where you stand for whatever is in your pocket or the clothes you´re wearing. In Argentina you see those faces every single day. They don’t do anything because they are not “working” that day, or because you don’t look like a potential victim, but you see them. Not here. Even small time criminals or little punks, there’s just so few of them. The threat they represent in just small compared to toughened criminals that have killed several people before they hit eighteen and are still walking free as if nothing.
Having lived in such a society all our lives means there’s things we just don’t do, like leave our doors unlocked no matter what, keep an eye on our surroundings, things that have become second nature to us. But we just know and now see it clearer than even, that’s no way of living.

It has become a bit of a joke between my wife and I, I ask her where she’s from and she says she lived here her entire life. “Sure? You never lived in Buenos Aires, had a business in Dock Sud?”. She says “No, not me. I lived here all my life”. While its 90% joking around, its also %10 not wanting to accept how we were once forced to live like. Always worrying, always alert.
When my oldest son said he was already forgetting what things were like in Argentina she said “Good, the less you remember the better”. I’m proud of where I come from and so is my wife, but she would have preferred that he never saw all that poverty, general decay and learning about people getting murdered every single day.

As for me, while I’m very happy as I’ve said many times, there’s also this feeling of well, I cant explain it very well. Its not boring, its not lack of sense but maybe a bit of both. A way in which I could explain it could be the following: You know those fish that live in the deep sea, used to the darkness and high pressure. If you take them to the surface they just die. I’m not saying I’ll die, but maybe that I´m already too much used to living under 2000 psi. Guess I got used to living with that tension. Don’t get me wrong, I like living in a safe place and as much as I like shooting I never want my family or even myself to live with that constant risk, but I admit I got used to it and its hard to be “normal” again. Heck, that was “normal” for me, even though I knew it´s not by other people standards, and its when you experience life in better places like we are doing now that you realize how insane it is to believe for a second that its ok to spend your life like that, just because millions of other people do so as well.
Take care folks,



TV said...



I suggest you find a way to decompress some level of yourself to maintain balance in your new environment.

I wonder if you can find an activity that does that for you and blog your experience finding it/using it.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're going though a little PTSD. Writing these blogs my be therapeutic for you.

Thank you for all your writings, maybe knowing that you are helping many others might also help you.

DougFromOz said...

I only know you and your family from reading your book and the blog, but as soon as you said you'd gone to NI I thought: "Thank god they're out of that hellhole."

Don Williams said...

1) Ferfal, you might look at page 8 of yesterday's Financial Times. At bottom is a review of a book titled "Going South: Why Britain will have a Third World Economy by 2014".

Book was written by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson, both economics editors at newspapers on opposite sides of politics: The leftist Guardian and the right's Mail on Sunday.

You might also take a look around some of Britain's cities -- Manchester, Liverpool, etc. FT's review notes that Britain has over one million young adults under age 24 out of work.

However, p.8 also has a funny letter from Mr Volker Hase of Lugano, Switzerland. A few days ago, Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo warned Germany that if the Euro Titanic does down, it will take the passengers in First Class with it.

Mr Hase notes that 90 percent of the passengers in the Titanic's First Class cabins survived -- and 90 percent of the Third Class passengers below decks died.

Loyalist said...

You should change your blog title from Surviving in Argentina to Thriving in Ireland ;-)

As for those of us living in the U.S. and Europe, seems our financial collapse is just getting started. Good thing I have your book and blog to refer to.

Thanks again for all of your posts and advice and best of luck in your new country.

Anonymous said...

The USA and most of the world is on the way to becoming a hellhole like the one you left, unfortunately.... I already have bars on the windows so I can leave the windows open at night during the hot summer nights. I am AC-free, as will everyone else eventually when the grid fails in the sub-Third world country the USA is on the road to becoming... Every bank has already been robbed around here... Sad to read about our future in your article...

Don Williams said...

Ah, update to my earlier post. I checked and 90 percent of Titanic's First Class passengers did NOT survive -- the Swiss guy who wrote the letter to the FT was wrong.

The survival rates were as follows: First class men 33%, First Class WC (women and children) 97%,
Second Class men 8%, Second Class WC 89%, Third Class men 16%,
Third Class WC 42%, Crew men 22%, Crew WC 87%.

Ref: http://www.med.mcgill.ca/epidemiology/courses/EPIB591/Fall%202010/mid-term%20presentations/Paper6.pdf
See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passengers_of_the_RMS_Titanic

I'm surprised Volker Hase's letter was published -- the Financial Times' factcheckers usually have several questions for me before they publish my letters.

Ryan said...

I am vey glad to hear that you are doing well.

Anonymous said...

Do you worry much that the life you left behind in Argentina, will reappear in Northern Ireland? Do you see any signs of that happening?


Anonymous said...

Good for you and especially your kids that you got to a better place. Even in hard times it will still be a nicer place to live.

h&c said...

glad you didn't go to Spain:

farming in Spain is getting to be
a high-risk occupation.

Don Williams said...

1) From the Washington Post, June 14:
"Britain unveiled extraordinary plans Thursday to inject billions of dollars of cash into its banks to try to protect its financial system from the economic turmoil spreading across the euro zone.

The announcement came the same day that Spain and Italy — two of the continent’s largest economies — saw their borrowing costs soar, with Spain’s reaching record levels.

While Britain uses the pound, not the common currency, and the country’s banks are strong, the rest of the European Union is its largest trading partner. In addition, British officials have become increasingly concerned since the country slipped into recession earlier this year....
...The Bank of England said it would activate a program of emergency loans to give British banks a cushion in case the European financial crisis spills across the borders of the euro zone. In a highly unusual move, the British Treasury is backstopping the measures, which entail significantly more risk than the central bank has historically been willing to take. "

2) Size of the bailout is 140 billion pounds ($217 billion.) To put that in context, the US GDP is about 6.3 times the size of the UK's. So a US emergency aid injection comparable to the UK's would be around $1.4 Trillion. Which suggests the UK elites are ..er..concerned.

3) One problem appears to be that UK businesses don't want to take on the debt of borrowing from the new fund:


I believe the technical term economists have for this is "pushing on a strand of spaghetti".

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for 2-3 years and I think this is one of your best most heartfelt posts yet.

Thank you for sharing you and your families experiences.

Antiacus said...

Thanks for this post Fernando, it is truly fascinating to me to hear about your transition.

I hope you continue to make these kinds of posts and your overall impressions as you adapt to your new life.

I know this is a "survivalist" blog but the experiences you are having now are in my opinion extremely relevant to the entire story you have been telling all this time.

Please keep it up!


Wyvernsridge said...

Hi Fernando. As somebody who fled Argentina way back in 1973 [and has only gone back once in the decades since] I found in your comments echoes of my feelings back when Australia was new to me. But some things never leave you apparently. For example, the thought of going out of the house without ID is still unthinkable.
I have tried to explain to my kids what it was like growing up in BA and they shake their heads in disbelief, as if I was telling lies.

Good luck, and you will know that you have left your fears behind when you can go to sleep even though your front door is left unlocked.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ferfal,

I posted my first comment on your website back in February after I finished reading your book. I can't believe you're now in Ireland!! I wish you and your family nothing but the best. It's hard for me to imagine that your beautiful country of Argentina so much admired throughout Latin American and beyond has become such as lawless place. The scenes you depict seem more fit to Brazilian favelas or slums surrounding Mexico City. I'm intrigued by the transformation of your country and wanted to ask if you could please provide the forum with a chronological timeline of the economic collapse in Argentina. What parts of the city would you tell people not familiar with Buenos Aires to avoid? You said your family had grown used to seeing people with criminal faces who wouldn't think twice about robbing you or more. In what areas of the city would you most likely see this? I read about the Axel Blumberg case and he seemed to have been kidnapped from a well to do neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

I'm glad you and your family managed to survive and are now in a much safer place. Peace.


Anonymous said...

Glad you and your family are ok, Ferfal.

One person's normal is another
person's hell, or can be. It's hard not living on the edge after you've gotten used to it. Balance will come with time and practice in the adjustment of your mindset.

All the best to you. Thank you for continually sharing your wisdom and experience on being a warrior in everyday life. It has changed my own and made me a more aware person.



DirtCrashr said...

As someone who lived as an ex-Pat and grew-up in places outside the normal North American experience, I do indeed know what you're talking about, like sometimes you feel you're still at 2,000-deep.

Some people respond to the lack of tension by making their own, but that usually doesn't end-up well! The decompression takes a while and the fact that you noticed your own happiness is a reflection of that process. It will not hurt you to stay aware...

A. Ruiz said...

I know how you feel about the stores. I shop at Aldi and Trader Joes almost exclusively and they only have 1 brand of each product to keep cost down.

But when I stopped at a normal supermarket, I was struck dead by the variety and the colors. It was almost psychedelic.