It’s two in the afternoon on my street, Ayacucho. Just a few hours ago, the sidewalks here were filled with Argentines walking to work, waiting for busses, browsing newspaper stands, and enjoying lively lunch dates on outdoor patios. As smell of the nearby La Celeste Panederia wafted sugary smells of media lunas downwind, people filtered in and out of local businesses attending to their daily business, and one could hardly imagine how a place so lively could ever stop moving.
But then, the clock struck one. Shopkeepers flipped their signs to ‘CERRADO’. Busses went from claustrophobic to almost eerily spacious and the woman who runs the newspaper stand gathered her lawn chair, stretched, and abruptly left. It was time for siesta.
Before I came here, my only lasting impression of the concept of “siesta” was the popular yet always nameless cartoon character wearing a poncho, sleeping under the shade of his own sombrero with a train of “ZZZzzz…” spilling out from his mouth. I never considered it as an integral part of a culture, and I surely never thought I’d be taking part in it myself. After all (and I think I speak for most Americans when I say this), my most productive hours are always the hours between one and four back home. Everything from Target runs to coffee dates to workout routines has always filled these busy hours until my tank is left completely empty and all I want to do is eat and sleep.
So, what did I do about this “siesta dilemma” when I first got here? In the spirit of any American immersed in the cultures of a new country, I tried to fight it. When class would end and the city fell silent, I would crank my music and go for a run in the hot South American sun. I would search every street for an open market to get my shopping done, and complain endlessly when I had no luck. But trying to get all of my “To-Do’s” done while everyone else relaxed and had maté took a toll, and I think I have begun the process of surrendering to the silence of the siesta (try saying that five times fast).
In America, full on boycotts could occur if Target were to close for the afternoon so it’s employees could go home and be with their families for a few hours. But here, it is widely agreed upon that these hours when the day is at its “peak” should be spent not stressing about schedules and errands but rather taken advantage and savored. It seems that here, the definition of how muchone is able to accomplish is measured less in the quantitative and more in the qualitative. Unlike what I have know my whole life, Argentines seem to relish in the belief that anything that is really worthwhile in this life is ultimately useless, and I’m beginning to agree.
Though I am by no means fast asleep for four hours every afternoon, the siesta has taught me a little bit about the benefits of exploring alternative ways of looking at time. I have found much more satisfaction in doing seemingly useless things, like messing around on the guitar or losing myself in a cheesy Nora Roberts novel than I ever have doing “important” tasks like making appointments and running errands. Other than being the only possible way for me to stay awake for the midnight dinner time, the siesta is teaching me little by little how to let go of the gnawing stress inside of me to always be doing something. So don’t take it personally when I don’t text you back, I’m just so busy doing nothing!
Carson is a junior Journalism major at LMU and is originally from Golden, Colorado. She is a member of Cohort 9 in the Spring of 2018.