Thursday, August 03, 2006

Nature or Nurture?

This week is going by very quickly for Guillermo and me; it has been a particularly uplifting week for Guillermo since he has received some wonderful and morale-boosting personal endorsement from a respected source.
Guillermo's practice here has been yielding precarious results so far. Firstly, it is still in its infancy; secondly, he decided from the very beginning that he is going to cultivate clients through providing an exceptional service rather than charging ridiculously low prices. He is confident that the quality of his service is more than a cut above what is currently available in this city; his existing clients unanimously agree and with the stunning results he has been obtaining for them, they do now appreciate what lies in the price difference.
However, there are still many enquirers who simply cannot think beyond the peso sign; Guillermo receives numerous calls everyday in which conversations with interested potential clients are abruptly stopped as soon as they hear his not so unreasonable fee. While it felt intuitively wrong, he began to question himself if he should, indeed, lower his fair charge to gain the solely price-conscious market.
Maybe it was serendipity; this week a well respected figure in academia in the US, with a solid understanding of recent academic developments internationally and a network of colleagues in many countries, rang up to see "how we kids are doing in BA". The two of them spoke at length about Guillermo's specialised field within cognitive behavioural science.
At the end of their conversation, this respected scholar expressed his surprise and admiration for Guillermo who has chosen to dedicate his expertise and service to his country where the market for his line of work is still limited and the fees are very low. This mentor went on to reassure him that experts in this field, especially with his impressive resume, are in high demand and scarce supply across the US, Europe, some parts of Asia and Australia should he ever change his mind about BA.
While it is most encouraging news that Guillermo could be considered hot property in a developed economy; it is, at the same time, exasperating to recognise that his abilities are more appreciated and valued outside of his homeland. We can only take bitter and reluctant comfort in that most porteños simply cannot afford to engage his skills; which really is no comfort at all.
I worry whether those who can afford to seek his advice would make the business feasible in the long term, however, he is the only one who can decide the direction of his career. For the time being, we do our best to enjoy our experience here.
The most rewarding part of the past year, for me, has been getting to understand the environment which nurtured my husband. The positives and the negatives of this society which made him the person he is today.
Guillermo is one who believes each person is partly responsible for the society and if each one in the society realises and fulfils his/her share of responsibility, it would change for the better. He pays tax on every cent he earns, has never littered the streets of this city, nor has he ever called anyone by a derogatory term with the excuse that it was endearing or that such terms hold different meanings here.
I recall watching the World Cup match of Argentina vs. Mexico with him at his good friend's apartment. There was one person, a friend of his friend, who screamed racial abuses at the Mexican players. I didn't comment on this person's disgraceful behaviour at all, during or after our visit.
To be honest, I have grown a little numbed. I know it is common behaviour in this culture; although, consensus among the majority does not make it right. A half African friend living here tells me she finds it unacceptable but her protests are simply met with shameless brush-offs that it is no big deal or that no harm is intended. I am also aware that a handful of my porteño acquaintances, all of them highly educated professionals, are absolute gutter-mouths when they speak in Spanish.
Post match, it was Guillermo who mentioned his disgust for the crudeness exhibited during the otherwise pleasant afternoon. He told me he grew up with this sort of behaviour around him in his middle-class, private school upbringing. It was, and lamentably still is, considered normal and acceptable.
When he was growing up, he was criticised by others that he wasn't passionate about life or he was too formal because he didn't swear or join in some loutish behaviour or another which are all part of the culture here. My guess is that these people will never understand his integrity and his positivism on improving the society are signs of his passion for life and love for his country.
What I'm grateful for, however, is that he has grown up in a culture where people do not rely on alcohol to be sociable or happy. The lack of alcohol in his bloodstream doesn't stop him being funny and warm. Dinner party conversations with him and his close friends are some of the most interesting I have ever participated in. This is also a far less materialistic society where conversations do not always revolve around one's worldly possessions or latest acquisitions.
While I still cannot quite reconcile the stark contrasts between him and a typical porteño, it fills me with hope and faith that in whatever environment, there are always some wise and strong ones who dare to be different among the flock.
Guillermo loves carrot cake. I made it once for a Sunday afternoon tea at the abuelos'; some of his relatives declined it altogether saying carrot in a cake was just like eating salad. Some tried but since it was not as sweet as what they were accustomed to, they thought I didn't add any sugar to prove a point. Needless to say, I never made it for them again. Their loss really since it is the very same that's served at the exclusive Connaught Hotel in London which is known for its good food.
This cake is served without cream cheese icing and it has a moist but lighter texture than most carrot cakes.

200g wholemeal flour
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
225g carrots to get about 200g grated carrot
1 large orange, juice and zest
250g soft dark brown sugar
150ml sunflower oil
2 medium eggs
110g sultanas
50g desiccated coconut
50g chopped walnuts
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
For the cake, grease and line a 1kg loaf tin or a 23cm cake tin. Preheat oven to 150C. Sieve flour, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda together. Mix 175g sugar and oil with a mixer until smooth, then add orange zest.
Beat in eggs, one at a time. Then fold in carrot, sultanas, coconut and walnuts. Scoop the mixture into the prepared tin and bake on a heavy baking sheet for 1 hour and 20-25min.
While the cake is baking, warm the juice of half an orange, the remaining sugar and the lemon juice to make a syrup.
When the cake is cooked, loosen it from the tin. Poke holes all over the top and pour syrup into the holes. Leave the cake to cool and absorb all the syrup. Turn out from the tin and remove the baking parchment.

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