“Congratulations, the morning was lovely. It was an honour for us to be here and share it with you,” I said.
“Oh! Thank You!”
“My son was the boy who read the prayer in English.”
“Ah that explains it; my family was really impressed with his English. My sister said that boy must be English!’
“Irish. We`re visiting the school for six months.”
“Ah Ireland, nuestro tierra. When I went there I kissed the ground, like the pope. We feel Irish, it is our country.” Juampi, surrounded by family and friends, laughed aloud.
“Your brother Felipe is very popular in Ireland,” I ventured, “even in Munster where I’m from.”
We moved away but he called us back.
“Now you have to say Felipe could’ve played for Munster, couldn`t he? He had the spirit, the heart of a Munster man, didn’t he?”
“Yeah, he did”
“You made a mistake though. He could have played for Munster, not Leinster. You should have signed him, not O’ Gara.”
“O’ Gara`s a Corkman though!”
“Ah, you’re from Cork!!”
Juampi chuckled out loud and wanted to chat and joke, but we hadn’t time. We had to return to Recoleta. We couldn’t stay, but would have enjoyed his company. He was good craic.
Today, the school held a special mass to celebrate past pupil, Fr. Juampi Contepomi`s, twenty-five years as a priest. For nearly two hours, Juampi captivated, engaged and taught the assembled 540 primary pupils. The students sang, clapped and held hands high in the air showing esteem for the tall, bearded man on the altar.
To finish, staff showed heartwarming photos of Juampi`s life; his childhood, his school years and rugby career. They catalogued his work as a priest and his time with Mother Teresa. It was a beautiful and emotional tribute, bringing many to tears. There was a striking image of him praying in the Andes at the site of the plane crash where twenty nine people died on the Uruguayan rugby tour in 1972. A story so well told in the books `Miracle in the Andes’ and ‘Alive’.
One of our favourite things about Argentina is the people. Juampi is only one of many endearing Argentinians that we have laughed and joked with. In general, they are warm, fun-loving, friendly people who enjoy conversation and are good company. Lunchtime in the school is particularly enjoyable. Our school is huge, like a city in itself, with so many people coming and going to the cafeteria throughout staggered lunch breaks .The food is excellent and staff and students lunch together. Everyone is welcoming. I don’t have a set routine so arrive at varying times and chat with different people, sometimes in Spanish but mostly in English. It’s a great way to get to know people, listen to their stories and learn about their lives and the country.
It’s wonderful to be in a country for a long time and really get to know people and understand the culture. Like Juampi, the Argentinians we meet are enchanted by Ireland and are very curious about Irish history, traditions and customs. They love sport, were delighted this week when Ireland beat Germany in football and are cheering on Ireland in the Rugby World Cup. At least until, we meet the Pumas.
The three of us have made friends here and receive regular invitations. Nan went for coffee yesterday with a parent from school. She had a great time and was joined in the café by her new pal`s mother and best friend. She returned home laden down with pastries she was given as gifts. Knowing that Nan has free time, the mothers in the school have included her in their charitable work. She helps them in the school to distribute recycled clothes to the needy every week. After school today, Darragh walked with nine buddies to a friend’s house to celebrate a birthday. Invitations to a classmate`s house on Friday afternoons seem to be an Argentinian institution and Darragh is having a great time.
We have received multiple warnings about taking care in the city to avoid being robbed. The students in the school tell me hair-raising stories about cell phones being snatched and being chased by thugs .We take care of course but find the city safe and the people-friendly. Strangers at bus stops will help you find your bus and if you`re stopped studying a map, smiling porteños will offer help with directions. There are twelve million people living in this sprawling metropolis and I`m not saying that all of them are friendly, just the ones we`ve met!!