Curing, Caramelos, and Caring
23.) To the Pharmacy We Go,
2.) Caramelos de Cambio,
16.) Todo Bien
A cold? A virus? Bronchitis? Allergies? Bug Bites? Skin infection? Fever?
In US culture, when the nasty feeling of sickness hits, most people run to the doctor, for that required prescription, or to the over the counter medicine aisle at a local pharmacy.In Argentina you have to bravely head to the pharmacy, wait in line, and specifically ask for (sometimes guess) what it is that you need. No browsing through Target’s colorful aisles of chewy vitamins!
While I can very cheaply go to the doctor and get a prescription here, most of the time it is the pharmacist that doles out my medicine based on the description of my ailment. Describing the ailment in a different language is the challenge! On the days you are feeling timid, the greatest challenge is doing it in front of the ten other people who are waiting in line behind you.
Taylor has come to the house with fever (fiebre) pills instead of fiber (fibra) and I have gone back multiple times to try something new after researching the drug that I actually made it home with and realizing that it was not for my intended use. This may sound scary to you, but we always do our research, go to the doctor, and stick to our home remedies when we can!
I share this aspect of life here as a success, because I feel as though Taylor and I are both at a place where we can confidently go to the pharmacy and get whatever it is we may need (without having to research too much vocabulary ahead of time, or hiding in shame as we describe our ailments). I also share it as a success, because I value this part of Argentina. It is so wonderful to have cheap access to health care and medicine. There is no worry of people turning cold-medicine into Meth or being denied necessary prescriptions due to a lack of insurance. Sure, there are problems with the system, but all systems have their flaws.
Medicine, food,and many other things are pretty affordable here. However, when it comes to physically paying for things, I have found a system flaw. This system flaw, be it annoying at times, is often quite comical.
The last time I went to the pharmacy to buy Taylor some Ibuprofen to break his fever, I payed my 12.50 bill (only around $2) with 14 pesos. What did I get instead of my 1.50 pesos change? Two aspirin! The cashier cut the two little aspirin out of a packet that was sitting in a basket full of different little medicines and goodies. It was as if I had won a bunch of stars for being good in my first-grade classroom and now was the best day of the month: Prize day! My prize for buying Ibuprofen, Aspirin of course!!
The idea of prizes for change makes more sense once you realize that coins and small bills are hard to come by here. Yet, most places demand exact change of you, or look at you in disgust whenever you hand over a big bill for a small purchase. At first, Taylor and I were so confused by this and struggled due to the fact that I am only paid in large bills. It was a big enough switch for us to start only paying in cash and never using a card, but having to scrounge up exact change for our purchases has made us much more conscious about the exact amount of money we will spend before we leave the house.
Here is a list of some of the fun things we have won, instead of our change:
- Caramelos (These taffy-like candies are the most common gift. This is why the idea of getting prizes for change is often called, “caramelos de cambio”.)
- Mandarin oranges
- Band-aids (How ironic? “Let’s just patch up the fact that we don’t have appropriate change by offering you some band-aids!”)
- Cough drops
- Breath mints
As you can see, It is always a mystery as to what you may get instead of change. I have an urge to one day attempt to make a purchase using band-aids, aspirin, and candy. Sadly, I don’t think it would work.
The cashier at the store which you will buy your medicine, and also your prize, may ask you this question as you approach the register, ” Todo bien?”
To which you should reply, ” Todo bien.”
“Everything good?”, “Everything’s good.”
I used to respond to this question with an overly energetic “Sí !” until I found our that this was just a typical Argentine greeting. It didn’t take me long to learn how to respond, but it did take me a while though to develop a personal appreciation for this greeting.
It is similar to the English, Q: “How’s it going? A: “Good” in its superficial, “Let’s not truly say how we feel” sense; however, to my foreign ears the saying is always welcome. Every time someone asks if everything is good for me, I feel like they are checking up on me.
I also feel like they are reminding me of something that I should never forget: the truth from a saying frequently heard in the Methodist church. The pastor says ” God is good.” To which the congregation replies, “God is good all the time.” and all together the church says, ” All the time God is good.” When I respond “Todo bien” I remember that God is always good even the hardest of my circumstances.
During our first month here when our climbing instructor used to see that Taylor and I were struggling with Spanish, the actual act of climbing, or just a little separated from the group, he would always grin and ask us this. Now matter the frustration I was going through, I quickly snapped out of it because deep down I knew that everything really was good.
I also enjoy watching Argentines check up on each other with this phrase. The sharing, the caring, and level of involvement in friendship and family life are some of my favorite aspects of the culture.
The true asking of “Todo bien” is something I want to take back to the States. I want to invest more in those around me. I want to not be timid to ever ask if everything is okay, and expect to not always hear that things are. I want to be there to say that “God is good all the time” to my friends while reminding myself ” That all the time God is good.”
Well, That is attempt number one of my series. I don’t know if you got much out of it. But I will tell you this: One day you may be sick standing in line at the pharmacy waiting to get your medicine and a little prize. Even if you are frustrated or confused I suggest just smiling and reminding yourself that everything is good. In fact, it is even great.