Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Out on the Town

So this past weekend I went out in Coch with my counterpart, Vivian, and a bunch of her friends. All in all, I had a really fun time and it was my first experience in going out with Bolivians instead of in a horde of volunteers. And a night it was indeed (I didn’t get back to the hostel until a little after 5 am when Pat was sound asleep in our room until I started creaking around on the wood floor). Highlights included my indulgence in street meat x 2 (as previously was my pattern in Rochester) and an ice cream bar…not to mention a few beers and random other beverages. And let me tell ya, it was a burger with all the fixings and a hot dog with all the fixings (which around here means corn and sauerkraut along with mayo, ketchup, etc.). We attended a birthday party of one of Vivian’s friends that sure was popular (he must have had a few hundred people at his house) followed by a bit of dancing and drinking at a local bar popular with ex-pats and tourists and then we proceeded to hang out on the Prado (the main strip with all the touristy restaurants and bars) with a few of her friends and their bottle of rum and 2L of Coke. We then returned to the house where the birthday party was to witness the most drunk people sitting around in their stupors and then danced a bit over there. One of the best moments had to be around 4 am when I was dancing with one of Vivian’s friends (of course in Bolivian line style) and was going to put my purse down on a chair and he was like, no no I’ll hold it. And that’s what he proceeded to do…wear my lovely mauve and brown purse over his shoulder while we danced. Who says chivalry is dead?

Come Travel With Me!

So I’ve heard from Kelley about her future visit in October to Bolivia and I know it’s also in the works for Mom and Helen…but here’s a few travel destinations that I’d be up for that are in South America if you come when I have enough days to get away from Bolivia so I can entice more visitors…

Brazil – Ouro Prêto (via Rio)

ColumbiaCartagena (and possibly Bogotá on the way)

Bolivia – Salar de Uyuni (and Potosí on the way to see another volunteer), Tupiza, Lake Titicaca / Isla del Sol / Copacabana (I believe this trip is claimed by my mom)

Peru – Cuzco/Machu Picchu (4 day Inca Trail hike) (most likely claimed by Helen)

ArgentinaBuenos Aires

Let me know what you’re up for so I can start planning…also, I’m always down for just hanging out in my site and Coch and the surrounding area if your main objective is just to spend some quality time with me and my homies in Tarata…

You Know You Need a Lock on Your Bathroom When…

You walk into the bathroom that has supposedly been designated as solely yours to find a strange unknown man peeing in it that neglected to close the door while he was using it. Yes, that happened to me today and I’m putting a lock on the outside of my door tomorrow. My host family occasionally has people over for parties or other gatherings and they recently cooked up a batch of chicha and turned the house into a chicharria (basically place where they serve the fermented alcoholic corn drink) yesterday to serve it up to the local population. This resulted in several tables been set up around the front of the house where the family lives and my bathroom is located as well…and the result is that the visitors (many inebriated) end up using my bathroom and making it all yucky and apparently even when you’re in someone else’s house it isn’t necessary custom around here to shut yourself in there to indicate the next person walking in should knock. So I just happened to wander in as I was running off to English class, to my surprise, with a guy in the middle of the action. Needless to say, I think I gave him a bit of the deer-in-headlights look before I realized I should probably be turning around and walking (correction: running) away. So I’m going to put a lock on my bathroom to avoid this along with the case of the dirty bathroom. Granted, my host family is pretty good about cleaning up after one of these events in my bathroom…but there’s always an icky feeling when you don’t know who used your bathroom and the fact that 1) they don’t supply toilet paper in there, 2) there is no soap to wash your hands either…so the whole place just has a contaminated feeling afterwards. Not to mention that Pat said she saw someone peeing in the shower (while the toilet was unoccupied) during one of those events as well…well wonders never cease. They did say I could put one of those padlocks right on the door frame so that’s what one of my goals is for tomorrow.

In other more pleasant news, after English class today I ended up stopping by Nelly’s house (the 24 year old girl that works at the pharmacy in the hospital here that I danced in San Severino with and is probably my best friend in town) and I hung out with her fam and played cards with her and her little brothers and browsed through her mom’s Avon catalog while enjoying a nice mug of arroz con leche and chatting with her father (half in English because he spent a few years in the U.S.) about all sorts of things. My favorite moment had to be when we were playing cards and it was her little bro Rudy’s turn and their mom, Catalina (who is awesome by the way), was teasing him with an insult “cerebro de pollo.” That means “brain of chicken” which I think is a pretty awesome insult. I’ll have to try using that the next time when I see someone doing something stupid. The insults during the card games reminded me of one of my happy places though. I think everyone has those “happy places” like in Happy Gilmore where you’re like…aww…at that moment in time everything is pretty much perfect. It reminded me of last Chinese New Year’s when I was in Taipei and at my dad’s childhood friends’ house and they were playing mahjong and my favoritest person EVER (Kenny’s mom – haha, you know you love her too Helen) was throwing the insults around in Mandarin like it was nobody’s business. Haha, she’s so charismatic and animated. Love it. I like hearing the slang though since you don’t normally learn it in language classes (other than “shang tu xia xie”…Steph – was that in the lesson where someone ate something bad and then went swimming and had some gastrointestinal distress?)…such as in mahjong…”xia che” can be literally translated as “getting off the car” but in mahjong it means when you’ve given up hope of winning so you just try to block (bloqueo! ah, Bolivia, side story that one time when I first got here I meant to say that you need to wear “bloqueador” or sunscreen but instead I used the word bloqueo which refers to the frequent demonstrations that they put on by blocking the roads in protest) the other people from winning. Then I recall other taunting about being on fire and this and that. Anyways, it was good times…my happy place! No fair, I don’t get to go to Taiwan and experience it again this year…but Helen, definitely if you get the chance to hang out with Dad and the Lu Gang childhood friends as they’re playing mahjong, go for it. And if you’re lucky you’ll get some AYBORTEH too! It’s America’s time. Haha. Sorry, completely irrelevant inside joke. You would laugh too if you say the word “ayborteh” on the back of someone’s jacket.

Speaking of Chinese…unfortunately for me, after hearing about the fact that there was a Chinese woman that lives in Tarata (I wanted to go wander around where she lives and stalk her so maybe if I saw her I could start conversation so I could practice my Mandarin), I started poking around and from what I’ve heard she doesn’t come out of her house…like ever…so I’m at a loss and probably will not just randomly run into her on the street.

And Mom, I need to let you know that I already promised Nelly’s family that you’ll cook them a Chinese meal (what does that mean nowadays anyways…some kind of stir fry with soy sauce?) when you come to visit. They’re waiting for you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bug Update

In other news, I think the recent cold spell (raining everyday in the past week) has slowed down the flies that have been zipping around my house. I’ve pretty much extinguished the population, killing around 20 flies with my special fly-killing piece of cardboard in the past two days. I’m not sure in the U.S. if flies bleed, but they sure do here. I’m still in the bad habit of going around stomping on bugs and leaving them lying around on the floor for a couple of days until I get around to sweeping them up as well.

How Quickly We Forget…

Lots of things. This Saturday I will have been in Bolivia for 4 months exactly and sometimes it surprises me how quickly I just dropped pretty much everything of my former life when I set foot in Bolivia. I realized the other day that I still haven’t asked about my car yet…haven’t checked up on Mommy and Daddy to see if they’ve been taking care of my baby in its first Rochester winter and if they got around to changing the license plates on it (and I totally forgot to leave the address for them to send my CT plates back to the DMV there…I’ll be expecting a nice property tax bill next spring in the mail if that’s the case). Sometimes when I’m getting dressed in the morning I also think about random articles of clothing that are packed away somewhere in my room in Rochester…I left behind at least 90% of my clothing and I wonder when I get back if it will still fit me and if I’ll even want to wear it. I don’t run here at all either…maybe once every two weeks if I get motivated to do it and it doesn’t happen to be raining that day. I always tell myself I really should get back in the habit of exercising…but around here it just doesn’t seem to be a priority for me. I guess running wasn’t all that important to me (I think I did it more so I could eat whatever I wanted without feeling guilty rather than as something that was actually an addiction). Around here my measure of whether or not I need to exercise is if my clothes still fit (and they do, although I could be getting fatter and they would still fit because drip drying clothes allows them to expand enormously). Then there are other things that I know if I were in the U.S. I’d definitely be up to date on such as the current pop and hip hop songs that are overplayed on the radio (Z100 of course) and certain TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty…but around here I’ve almost forgotten about the importance of keeping up-to-date on American pop culture. Anyone want to give me an update? In Bolivia holidays don’t feel like holidays either…I attribute that to the difference in weather. Semi-cold right now but no snow…so that means no Christmas or New Year’s in my mind. Thanksgiving and most of December have passed in a blink of an eye and the fact that it’s less than a week until Christmas has caught me off guard. My counterpart was asking me about what I do in the U.S. for New Year’s…and I was thinking back to last year’s Christmas and New Year’s. I remember for Christmas being at home and getting my plane ticket to Taiwan in a box…and Dad opening up a box of chocolates and looking like a little kid. And then when I was remembering New Year’s, I remembered the amazing awesomeness (but what other people would consider lame-ness) of it…cooking dinner with Steph and Evie in my place…then watching Little Miss Sunshine and someone falling asleep…and waking up in time to turn on the radio (due to lack of television) to hear the countdown…and then at approximately 12:01 am, snuggling into bed with Evie while Steph hunkered down on the couch and then receiving two drunken phone calls…one that I didn’t answer, and one from Burt. And I remember wanting to open the bottle of champagne in the fridge for New Year’s but then I knew Evie and Steph wouldn’t be much help in drinking it so I resisted.

I wonder when I go back to the U.S. if it will be as easy to fall back into the routine of life there as it was to transition into life here. Not that it has been a piece of cake to adjust to Bolivia, but PC definitely lets you adjust in phases and you pretty much get accustomed to things before you realize you are used to them. It’s like how my landlord keeps on telling me they’re going to put in certain improvements on my house…most recently putting an outside light that I can turn on and off from inside my house (kind of like a porch light) and I realize that I’ve just gotten used to bringing my flashlight with me whenever I leave my house after dark or when I’m going to get back after dark. There are things I already think will be noticeably different when I get back to the U.S. These include the expectation to shower daily (or at least every other day), the overwhelming convenience of not having to go outside to get to the bathroom, running water in your house (my current dishwashing apparatus is two plastic bins and 2L Coke bottles filled with water…I got the system down), washer and dryer for laundry (?!), and having a sofa to sit on. I also sometimes get nervous that I’m going to forget certain skills that are important to remember…namely driving a car, the minimal Mandarin that I know, and using Excel (hey, you can’t get a job today without knowing how to use Excel). I would also say that I’m afraid of forgetting how to type and use a computer at the rapid speeds that I’m known for that I developed as a scheduler, but then again, I type enough blog entries to maintain that…as for operating several applications at once on your computer, I’ll definitely need to brush up on that at the end of these two years.

My hair is growing out after 4 months of no haircut and, surprisingly, so far I like it. I haven’t had long hair since high school and I think this is my time to experiment with it. It makes me feel more feminine and although I’ve never been one to be vain or care about appearances too much (I am notorious for buying dressy clothes and high heels but stowing them away in my closet without wearing them once), around here I have enough free time that I enjoy general upkeep of appearances such as painting my nails or plucking my eyebrows. I haven’t gone as far as to wear dressy clothes yet (not that I really brought any with me) but that’s due to the fact that whatever I wear gets dusty or muddy the second I walk outside of my house so “no vale la pena” (it’s not worth it). I might be doing a little bit of clothes shopping while I’m here though since in my chats with my counterpart (who is a very stylish and trendy dresser) she has admitted that she has a tendency to spend all her disposable income on clothes. Plus I’m headed with her to the market where she’s showing me where you can buy makeup and accessories. Oy. Besides my changing physical appearance of longer hair, getting pleasantly plump (or fat and beautiful as Anna calls it), and losing any muscle I thought I may have come to Bolivia with, I sometimes wonder if I’ve changed in any other ways and I just don’t notice it. Every PC volunteer arrives with some crazy idealist notions (at least in their subconscious) about how they’re going to save the world (that’s the helping people part) and more personally find themselves and their path in life and become a better person and I can’t say I’m any different from that. But I don’t think I’ve detected any significant changes in my mentality since I’ve arrived here. Before you arrive in country, you send an “aspiration statement” that answers a few questions to the administration here and I was just reading what I wrote for one of the answers to the questions and thought I’d post it to remind myself of what the heck I was thinking…


E: How you think Peace Corps service will influence your personal and professional aspirations after your service ends.

The honest answer to this question is that I don’t know how it will influence me personally or professionally but I have some hopes for how it will change me. One of my key motivations for joining the Peace Corps is to learn more about myself and discover what my passions are in life, both personally and professionally. Prior to joining the Peace Corps, I worked for 3 years at an investment bank in various roles in operations dealing with energy and credit derivatives. Although I feel like I still have unrealized potential in the financial services industry, I also feel that I am missing out on the other 99.99% of the world and I wanted to explore what else was out there. Keeping that in mind, my goal throughout my service is to remain open to where my heart and mind want to go following my service. Although sometimes I question my reasoning for joining because of the valuable years that I am giving up in building my career within my established network, ultimately, I know my service will open new doors for me and either lead me in a new direction, or make me stronger in my conviction that my previous role is a long-term career path. As for new directions, in an ideal world I would go to graduate school following my service, either for my MBA or international relations, and find a way to reconcile my background in business and my service in the Peace Corps into a new and worthwhile career path in the non-profit or public sectors.

Beyond my professional aspirations, personally, I am excited to realize one of my dreams of learning a language fluently which will allow me opportunities to work internationally, to be a part of an organization that changes people lives for the better, to challenge myself in the many ways that only Peace Corps does, to meet others that are like-minded, to inspire people that I know in the U.S., and of course to make my family, especially my mother, proud of what I am doing for myself and others. I hope to fulfill my desire to become very familiar with a non-American culture because during the time I studied abroad, I did not get to spend much time in any one particular place and have never lived abroad for more than two months in a row during my lifetime. I’d like to learn more about the outdoors and nature and learn about things I would never learn in the U.S. (llamas and Quechua?) and live in a way that I would never live if I didn’t join the Peace Corps.

I know that my time in the Peace Corps will be the most challenging thing that I have encountered so far in my life, both professionally and personally, but I believe I am ready to take on that challenge because the richly unique experience I will gain far outweighs the difficulties I may face. Of all my personal and professional aspirations, my greatest is the hope that the experience will change me for the better, and my greatest fear is that it won’t change me at all.


I like the last sentence of that…because although some of the other rantings of what I’m going to do when all is said and done have fallen by the wayside, I still believe in that sentence that I want this experience to change the person that I am, but my fear (more than the nerves I had before I even set foot in Bolivia) is still that I’m going to finish this and say, now could someone explain to me what that was all for?

Working Hard (on PC goals 2 and 3)

Yeah, those are the goals about the cultural exchange…sharing American culture with your host country and learning about Bolivian culture and sharing it with the Americans (my mode of communication is through this blog). Anyways, Pat and I have been having some busy social schedules lately although we haven’t accomplished too much in work. Yesterday I went into work to chat with my counterpart Vivian (unfortunately we didn’t accomplish the task we had planned on doing but we did some gossiping and planned on when I would go out in the city with her and her friends - *note my counterpart is a 25 year old very stylish fun-loving Bolivian woman)…afterwards I headed over to a children’s birthday party. Nicole was turning 7 years old (she’s one of the grandkids in the family) and Pat and I were invited. Not to mention that this past Monday we also went to a 2 year old’s birthday party (Emilio’s daughter – he’s one of our English students) and Pat’s birthday was on Thursday so I cooked her dinner and baked a cake that we shared with the family at my house and in her English class. Ahhh! Too many birthdays! Then today Pat and I went with Maria (one of our new friends that lives down the street from Pat that actually just came back from the U.S. about a month ago after living and working there for 3 years) to a mass for one of her old colleague’s (when she used to work in the school here in Tarata) father that had passed away last year. Let me tell ya, it is not just a mass, it is a social event. We went to the church here, followed by paying our respects at the cemetery, followed by a social gathering outside of the cemetery (chicha, empanadas, and wine included), and in a grand finale went over to the woman’s house for dinner (massive massive plates of noodles, chicken, chuños, veggies, potatoes, sauce, oh man). But no, the day is not complete without coming back to your own house to attend a matrimonial party…apparently the family I am living with has a good setup for parties so they apparently rented out the place for a matrimonial party complete with thumping band (my tin roof is vibrating from the bass as I type) and numerous guests (some which find it appropriate to pee randomly in the yard that separates my house from the main house where the party is being held). So Pat and I have definitely gotten into the swing of things and filled up our social calendars…graduations, birthday parties galore, and matrimonial parties. Good thing it’s acceptable in Bolivia to bring along random people (aka Pat and I) that clearly don’t look like they belong there. Pat, Maria and I were chatting about the reaction you would get in the U.S. if you brought along a random friend to a mass for your dead father. Haha, probably not so acceptable in the U.S…more like, who are you and why are you here rather than willing acceptance, kisses on the cheeks and offerings of chicha.

I’m quite surprised I don’t weigh 300 lbs yet and my teeth haven’t fallen out yet from my ridiculous sugar consumption. Sometimes you’re like, what…is…going…on. They definitely show that they care around here with food…and we’re not talking celery sticks and wheatgrass juice. The regular birthday party fare includes large slices of cake, served with plastic cups of jello (I’m thinking the ice cream substitute around here), and of course the beverage of choice is Pepsi…always. Then yesterday we followed up the cake and jello by beer combined with Pepsi…and a full dinner of roasted chicken with potatoes, corn on the cob, vegetables and rice. Heavy…pesado…really. I have to laugh sometimes like yesterday because I was making a HUGE effort to finish the food (it was really tasty but there’s only so much a person can eat)…and the funny part is that Pat has a tiny appetite compared to me so when I am having difficulty finishing the food I know she’s pretty much screwed (she should bring her plastic bag to shove leftovers in with her all the time…that’s what you’re supposed to do around here…like put it in a random plastic bag and say, I’m saving it for later). Then today I went for a walk with Nicole while the matrimonial party was going on and ate a popsicle! I can’t remember the last time I ate a popsicle…maybe after a soccer game in my childhood. Weird. Then I chewed a piece of bubble gum (REAL bubble gum) which I haven’t had in forever either. And then…of course I came into the house and was offered a full glass of…guess what…Pepsi…that I chugged down. At UBS I used to like to have a mid-afternoon Coke…but I think Bolivia will drive the love of soda out of me. It is difficult to think of a day that goes by where I don’t drink Pepsi or some other overly sweetened beverage in mass quantities. And forget about diet soda…people just don’t drink that crap around here. I bought a 2 liter of Coke Zero today at the tienda…figured would be nice on those hot days to have in my fridge and was chatting with Doña Sandra (my buddy that owns the store) about if people actually buy the stuff and she told me very infrequently. Actually I personally prefer regular Coke over diet or zero, but in the quantities that I already drink sugared soda in, I figured I might as well watch my svelte figure and throw some zero calorie beverages in there when I can. And as a side note, I drink whole milk here as well. Just don’t make fun of me when I come back to the U.S. a fat cow. Please.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Graduation Ceremony!

I recently attended a graduation ceremony for the alternative school run by a local NGO (kids that are over 18 that have to work so they can’t attend regular high school) with Pat at the invitation of one of our English students that was graduating. The ceremony was quite interesting and enjoyable since we got to observe Bolivian traditions in the process (such as having a parent or sibling escort you up to the stage when you get your name announced…Pat said it was like wedding/graduation ceremony in one, throwing white confetti on everyone’s head in celebration – including stuffing some into peoples’ mouths if you can get it in, and the celebratory toast with wine for the graduates on the stage).

There was some humorous moments of course…one being when one of the students in my English class got an honorary diploma and I wanted to take a picture with her and her daughter (who is also in my English class) and I poked a random guy and asked him if he could take a picture for us and he flat out refused. I just stood there with my mouth hanging open a bit at the outright rejection…then was afraid to ask anyone else lest I would be snubbed twice. But of course there’s always the random celebrity moment to make you feel a bit better about yourself and have some reassurance that not everyone hates you…as Pat and I were leaving, one of the recent graduates (who I didn’t know at all) asked to have his picture taken with me which I of course granted. At least I made someone’s day.

Thoughts on Food…

Pat’s birthday is coming up this week so I decided to consult my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook for a cake recipe that I could whip up and I found myself getting lost in the pages of colorful illustrations while I salivated over certain foods that I no longer eat on a regular basis or have access to. It’s interesting how foods are so closely connected to memories that you have and you can remember certain dishes that you used to eat or make that remind you of a certain time in your life. Some things I haven’t cooked for myself since I’ve been down here such as steak (only at it once in a restaurant), salads with lettuce due to the fear of brainworm (except in reputable restaurants and then it’s not even a real salad…more like large leaves of lettuce as decoration), and then there’s the products that you couldn’t get your hands on even if you wanted to (oddly, mushrooms basically don’t exist down here in any form…except maybe canned and then they’re ridiculously expensive). I think about proscuitto and how I would wrap it around asparagus for a dinner party, cook up filet mignon as an everyday dinner, and purchase broccoli regularly (I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve eaten broccoli since I’ve been here). I sometimes drift into thinking about foods of my childhood and wonder about it…like how my mom used to make orange roughy and would broil it, leaving the oven door open a crack and squeezing lemon juice on it, how we would have “cheap chicken” one of my favorite dishes which was basically boneless leg quarters (a “cheap” cut of meat) with bbq or hoisin sauce baked in the oven, and there was also Monday’s after dance class when we would get KFC and Buckmann’s doughnuts as a treat. This of course not to be overshadowed on the occasional fresh whole lobster that Mom would bring home that we would each make a mess of our plates with (my favorite part being the claws rather than the tail…oh and those puke yellow innards are pretty tasty too…). When I think about these foods of my childhood I realize just how old I am. When did I get to be 25 years old? Time sneaks up on you pretty quickly and surprises you. You try to think in the way that you thought when you were a kid, in high school…assuming that it wasn’t all that long ago, but you have to remind yourself that you graduated more than seven years ago! After high school I think the time flies and you change but the changes aren’t obvious and you don’t recognize them readily. I can’t tell you where I thought I was going to be in seven years the day I graduated high school but it probably wasn’t Bolivia. I never was very good at the “tell me where you think you’ll be in 10 years” game anyways…one year or two years ahead is all my little brain can handle. I think these days stability in your life is underrated. In our parents days I think they would have said something like…10 years after graduating college I hope to be in a steady job, married with a few kids, and a homeowner. I will be taking the kids on trips to Disney World on their summer breaks and spending my free time on my hobbies such as fly fishing and basketweaving. I doubt many graduating college kids aspire to that nowadays…not to say that it’s not what we want, but these days there’s about 1000 things we’re supposed to do before we get to that phase. Everyone (well almost everyone) wants to travel and see the world (and in many cases, live abroad), climb up the corporate ladder (most everyone has either changed companies or jobs 3 years out or at least looked with the serious intention of jumping ship), and enjoy life as a young person living in a big city, such as New York. Is this the correct order of things? I wonder if the people that are well-established now in starting their families and settling down will travel the world and satisfy their need for adventure and freedom later on when they’re retired with an empty nest. Is a better time to join the Peace Corps when you’re retired and have the freedom to really enjoy the experience as a two year vacation from your previous life, without having to worry about what the next step is afterwards or how it will look on your resume if you decide it’s not the thing for you at this point in your life? I’m not the kind of person that looks backwards very frequently, but maybe it’s because it’s kind of scary when you do, I have a bad memory and was just thinking the other day about someone I used to work with (just 3.5 months ago) and couldn’t even remember their last name (was trying desperately to conjure up what their chat id was on MindAlign) and then even things in Bolivia…I haven’t been to the grocery store in about 3 weeks and couldn’t remember what the name of it was. Ai ya! Sometimes I think it might be because I’m not exercising my brain enough down here…but trust me, I read plenty of books and try desperately to remember Spanish words when I’m speaking with people. Ahhh…quick, take the GMAT and GRE before your brain completely fails you!

Life is Good…Current Top 10 Reasons

1. Helen sent me a package of Clif Bars and trail mix that I picked up from the office
2. My fridge broke…but super-PCVL Mike diagnosed the short circuited/burnt out plug and outlet and I went and bought a new plug and rewired and fixed it myself!
3. It’s mango season around here…real mangoes, the big juicy sweet ones with lots of fruit on them and small pits, for 2 bs each
4. Pat’s back from IST conference which means I won’t be lonely!
5. Pat bought a portable DVD player which means we’re going to be buying plenty of bootleg DVDs and entertaining ourselves
6. Barry showed me how to text message to the U.S.!
7. PC library actually is stocked with a bunch of ESL workbooks and other useful material for my English class
8. School’s out around here for the long Christmas/New Year/Carnaval break so it’s time for vacation…woohoo, or at least people will have more time to hang out with me…
9. I picked up some new books to read at the PC volunteer lounge library…trying to reread classics such as A Tale of Two Cities and hoarding anything that says “The New York Times Bestseller” on it
10. Picked up a GMAT study book at the PC library so I’m getting myself in gear to study and take the exam in the next year

Now if I could just start exercising regularly and get motivated to study Spanish…

Friday, December 7, 2007


Halloween, end of pre-service training, Festival de San Severino, my house, and my La Paz trip (and some oldies but goodies that I liked)! Enjoy!

Sorry...lacking on the comments...had to get back into my site for English class so didn't have time...will update later!

Everything in Moderation…

I like lentils. I like them in lentil soup and cooked up with a bit of meat or veggies in a stew to go over rice or pasta. But word to the wise, eat them in moderation. I had an overly large portion of them today for lunch (and they were quite tasty…) and that in combination with about half a bag of dried apricots was probably too much fiber for my stomach to handle. Not only have I been incredibly gassy for the past half day, but even with the gas I still feel so bloated that my stomach is going to explode with random stomach pangs. Trust me, not a pleasant feeling.

Seen in Tarata today: Cholita complete with velvety wrap skirt and woolen legwarmers and flip flops playing soccer against a young boy that was eating an ice cream bar and holding a bag of pipoca (popcorn) in his hand. Well wonders never cease. I think I should start a list of things “Seen in Bolivia” to compliment the email I received from Steph several years ago documenting pictures of “Things Seen Only in China” (yes, that goes beyond my eyelids following “shuang yen pi”)

The Gringo Price: Right or Wrong?

So I’ve been wrestling with the whole idea of the exorbitant prices that gringos or foreigners get charged in any country where they’re visiting as a tourist, sometimes successfully, other times unsuccessfully. I forget what it’s called in marketing when they price the same thing at different points…point pricing? Or something like that when they psychologically analyze the customer and price accordingly. Nobody likes getting ripped off, but is it “right” when the person that you’re giving the extra money to could put it to better use than you could?

I’ve seen several instances of this in my time here in Bolivia so far…from the time the person charged me 8 bs for a papaya that costs 5 bs, to the time that the taxi driver tried to charge Tammy twice the fare for each of us going from Marquina to Quillacollo but she indignantly refused since we knew the fare was only 1 bs, not 2 bs. When you think about it, the whole idea is kind of silly…1 boliviano is equal to $0.13 as of now…when I was in the U.S. did I care if anything cost $0.13 more? I’ve seen other instances where the grievance was a bit more significant though, from when Pat got ripped off on a shoeshine when the little kid wouldn’t stop harassing her (she paid 20 bs…it’s supposed to cost 1 or 2 bs)…although this instance we still laugh about to this day and probably always will. Then I got ripped off on a taxi in La Paz where I paid 7 bs not really thinking about it…then realizing after I got out that it only should have cost 5 bs max. Sure, $0.13 isn’t much, but it adds up when you can take a whole other trufi ride with it or buy some bread or eggs. Especially since we’re living in Bolivia…on a Bolivian salary as a volunteer. And then Pat and my rent…I’m kind of annoyed with the whole situation right now paying 350 bs a month when I’ve heard from several other volunteers that I should be paying 200 bs max, no matter how nice the place is (which my place clearly isn’t that posh with it’s aluminum roof and bug problems…newest enemy is the moth, there were like 20 in my house last night for some reason until I duct taped a gap near the window). The difference in USD is about $15. My rent right now is equivalent to $45/month. Now in the U.S. that’s just a drop in the bucket…I was shelling out big money to live in Stamford in my last place…$15 was just another dinner out on the town in Stamford, not to be cared about and not to be obsessed over. But now $15 is a 5% of my monthly salary. Money I could be saving up for a trip, for food, for something so I don’t have to dip into my U.S. bank account to cover it, after all, I’m supposed to be able to live on my PC stipend.

This topic also comes up in what’s happening in auto dealerships in the U.S. now…some dealers are trying to move towards fixed pricing because they’re finding in research that people (especially women who comprise over 50% of car purchases nowadays and influence much more than that) prefer fixed prices. For example, Scion already does fixed pricing and most of their customers just go in knowing exactly what car with what features they want and how much it’s going to cost. Apparently dealers are hesitant to move to fixed pricing if their competitors are still negotiating prices because fixed prices are higher and can’t compete…but then again the argument is that fixed pricing saves dealerships money because they don’t need to staff so many managers at all times that can approve prices to sell the cars at. And the research shows that although at fixed prices a dealership will currently sell fewer cars, it also shows that the people buying at fixed prices are much more likely to be repeat customers (for services such as oil changes along with future car purchases). People like knowing what they’re going to get and they appreciate knowing that they’re being treated the same as the next person to walk into the door. Fair play is underrated…anyways, I digress.

I hate getting ripped off (it’s part of the anal retentive part of my personality), but I’m struggling with the fact that I also tend to use the utilitarian argument that a dollar here for someone that doesn’t have a backup bank account means a lot more to them than it does to me. Is it fair to be ripping me off just because I feel the impact less and the money helps them more? The utilitarian argument is one of my reasons for being here…as a volunteer I should be able to do more good in this world in my two years than two years spent toiling away and punching buttons as an operations analyst. But if that’s my train of thought, I shouldn’t have a problem with paying a little more for every single thing than a Bolivian that has fewer resources at their disposal right? This brings me back to the philosophy of Peter Singer, crazed minimalist vegan philanthropist philosopher to the extreme, where he basically lives at the lowest level possible to do his part in equalizing the playing field and putting each of his dollars to the best use possible in this world. After reading a few of his books, he makes sense a lot of the time…and that’s the scary part. If you think it makes sense, why aren’t you living like that as well? I guess I’m not ready to sacrifice to that degree…yes, I am materialistic and like my sushi dinners and pillowtop mattresses and sure, I feel guilty, but when will it be enough to act fully on it?

Sometimes it gets me really mad that I am getting ripped off and I’m like, wtf (seriously wtf!) but then the next moment I’ll tell myself to calm down that it’s just part of life and you deal with it and move on. I guess it helps that I don’t hold grudges for a long time and have a short memory…just like my mom who was going to kill me when I ran off to watch WWF in high school (hey man, I had a Joy Dog 3:16 sign! Yeah Stone Cold) and grounded me for life…but then the next day (I believe) I was out and at it again. And maybe I should approach these things with a sense of humor like how I laugh with my mom about how she totally got pressured into buying a ridiculously overpriced vacuum cleaner. And with that I think I just need to give it up and think: 10 years from now I won’t care if I paid $15 more for rent each month when I lived in Bolivia…thankfully I have a tendency to remember the good and forget the bad…forgive and forget, life is way too short to be obsessing about monetary matters when you have a roof to live under, clothes on your back and food to eat…easier said than done of course though. I’m working on it though…

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is like Being Bipolar…

So during my La Paz trip in terms of work I had some definite emotional ups and downs, anything ranging from being super excited and hopeful to being depressed and discouraged and confused. Sonia and I had really high expectations for sales at the fair based on what other people had told us…going to the embassy and especially being before Christmas we thought people would be out buying products for gifts. Unfortunately the most popular products seemed to be little crafts that were Christmas decorations that some of the people were selling. We ended up selling only 2 shawls, 4 scarves and a blanket…whereas we had brought with us 70 shawls and 40 scarves and lugged them around in a suitcase from Cochabamba to La Paz. I have to tell you, it was quite depressing sitting there at the fair after about an hour and a half not having sold one thing at all…and I think for all of the purchases except for the blanket, I guilt-tripped and chatted people up into buying the products by playing the “hi, I’m a PC volunteer” card. The employees there ranged from Foreign Service Officers working in all areas to people working for USAID. One guy that bought a few items from Sonia actually was a volunteer himself in Costa Rica several years ago and then while he was purchasing I used my selling skills (which are actually pretty pathetic if you ask me) to get a couple who were his friends to buy a few things as well. You would have thought after learning to make random small-talk during sorority recruiting and campus recruiting later on that I would be good at selling something…anything. Well I have to say that I still need to work on it. The discouraging thing about the whole fair was the realization that in order for me to help her business be more successful (with sustainability, one of the top goals of our work here in PC), that it is going to be a tough road in these next two years. I think I had my first taste of failure or expectations that weren’t met at the fair. They say that 90% of the projects that you try in the PC fail…and you just have to try and try again, so I guess here’s to keeping on trying. If nothing else the trip was a good experience to bond with Sonia but I just hope she doesn’t hate my guts for making her think she was going to have huge sales at the fair (which I believed myself). The competition for alpaca shawls in La Paz is just ridiculous though and it was a big wake up call that even if you have a good and unique product in terms of quality and design (she probably has some of the best quality that I’ve seen and also does designs that are a lot more colorful that other stuff in the stores we went to) it doesn’t guarantee success or marketability. Besides, every woman in La Paz that you’re trying to sell a shawl to probably has at least 10 of them hanging up in her closet.

After the fair we went and did some “market research” at artisan’s alley…which is this amazing street of shopping for souvenirs…if nothing else, La Paz has amazing shopping…all sorts of knit products, jewelry, accessories, pretty much a shopper’s paradise that’s very affordable as well. Basically this research involved us going into all these stores where I played the foreigner card touching everything and asking about prices of products similar to hers, asking if they were handmade, what they were made of etc…while Sonia tailed me around, gave me some insight into what she thought was handmade or not, and then told me that she thought that the store owners were getting annoyed with me because I kept on touching everything and taking it out and looking at it but not buying anything. Haha, I guess that’s what you gotta do though. The initial idea was to potentially find some markets for her products in some stores…but that went out the window because we realized that the products being sold as souvenirs were all much cheaper (like half the cost of hers) and lower quality…and then the more expensive stuff in stores was all branded (L.A.M. apparently has like 6 or 7 stores within a 3 block radius). It was good to see what was out there and it gave me a little hope…then I convinced Sonia to come to this Middle Eastern restaurant with me (where she tried several types of food for the first time…several which she didn’t like, others which she did)…and we had all sorts of stuff, wrapped grape leaves, hummus, tabouleh, shish kababs…I didn’t notice until she mentioned it to me but I guess in Bolivia they don’t eat a lot of garlic (although they put onions in everything) so a lot of the garlicky flavors were way too strong for her liking. The one success that made me happy is that she did leave 10 shawls and 10 scarves in different designs for a storeowner who is also the sister of one of the women that works in the PC office…so hopefully she’ll have some success with that, if nothing else to lighten her load.

Other research I did by myself when I went to Zona Sur (super ritzy area of La Paz where a lot of the embassies are located…think massive houses behind walls and gates, kind of rich area of California feel with a Greenwich, CT foofy-ness about it) and walked around in a shopping area there. I went armed with a few of her pamphlets and business cards along with samples of her product thinking there might be markets there…but after walking into a few stores where they were clearly established brands in international markets instead of just little boutiques with several different brands being sold…I had that “oh s**t, I’m in way over my head, no way we’re ready to supply these people or compete with them” feeling so I just went in and once again pretended to be interested in the products…going around getting prices of alpaca shawls and went into this store where they make everything out of alpaca ($400 alpaca dress anyone?) that I was thinking if I were on vacation I might actually buy something from here as a treat to myself…then thinking that if I actually was making the money to buy something like that it might also help…oh well. You live and you learn. I’m still hopeful overall when it comes to working with her because I know she has a great product that isn’t like anything I’ve seen yet (although I can see where people could easily copy it) and there are definitely projects that I can work with her on to make her product more marketable.

I guess that’s what it comes down to…I’m an optimist and in this line of work you have to be or else you’d sit around and cry yourself to sleep over your failures or more likely you’d just be going back to the U.S. The glass is half full my friends!

And of course…when you’re feeling down and in La Paz…you can always buy yourself a nice fried chicken dinner and go on a shopping spree (which includes American peanut butter at $5 a jar, the Mariah Carey Christmas CD, and lots of chocolate bars).

The Good, The Bad, and La Paz

So I spent a good 3.5 days in La Paz for both work and play last week. I was really excited to finally get out of Cochabamba since I was one of the few volunteers in my group to not have left the department yet since my site was so close to where we were for two months during training. Even better that I got to go there for work then (and wander around a bit while I was there taking in the tourist attractions so I know what’s worth going to when you guys come and visit!)…overall it was a good trip, but one with lots of ups and downs and realizations about work and then a little of that fun feeling of just being a tourist again.

Sonia (the artisan woman I work with that weaves stuff out of alpaca) and I left on Thursday to catch a bus to La Paz…or so we thought…so we could be at a Christmas fair at the U.S. embassy to sell her products on Friday. So we’re going along on the bus…then about 4 hours into our trip we turn off at a point and she turns to the man sitting next to us and is like…is this bus going to Oruro? Turns out…we got on the wrong bus and were headed to Oruro instead of La Paz. She started freaking out a bit about her luggage since she had like 70 shawls and 40 scarves in there…on a different bus on it’s way to La Paz…but I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. I mean, it could have been a lot worse…Oruro is pretty much in the same direction as La Paz but turns off at this one place (we ended up wasting about 2 hours stopping in Oruro and getting on a different bus to get to La Paz) and I had to text my friend Sarah who’s a volunteer in a town right outside of La Paz. Oruro’s a pretty interesting place…I know now why they say it has a “stark beauty”…it was interesting to finally be in a non-hilly place (they call it the altiplano) where you can see far far into the distance. So once we got to Oruro, bought another ticket from Oruro to La Paz, and hopped on another bus…we were on the right track again. We got to La Paz and wandered around to find some food, taking in the incredible steepness of the hills, the cold, and big city. My first impression of the city was “wow” because it’s this huge sprawling city in a little valley (El Alto, another city where the airport is actually located is above it) and has altogether probably about 2 million people…it’s hillier than San Francisco and then at night reminds me of a big city in Asia like Shanghai or Taipei where there’s night markets, along with a big European city feel as well…definitely a place worth visiting.

I visited a few of the attractions while I was there…including Tiahuanaco, Valle de la Luna, and Chacaltaya with a tour group and had some interesting observations about tourism there. In my tour groups I had people that spoke all different languages and came from all different places (notably I think the Swiss and Germans win out on knowing the most languages)…we had Germans (some that were living in Peru), Australians, Swiss, Bolivians, Fins (Finlandians? Haha, what do you call people from Finland? He was actually living in Cuba though going to school), Brazilians (that were living in Peru), French, and Japanese…and me as the lone American. It seems like La Paz is a really popular place for tourists (the city is swarming with over 100 tour agencies) but very few Americans. Hearing all the languages that these people spoke made me want to learn more languages…after English (of course), Spanish, and Chinese…I’m thinking picking up a little Quechua and Taiwanese might be useful…but then next up would probably be French, Japanese, then German for me. Haha, ambitious goals I say…but it really amazed me how these people were speaking three languages fluently. I just like the way French and German sound…and then Portuguese might not be too difficult to learn…I was speaking with a Brazilian man and he told me that they’re pretty similar…anyways, overall I would recommend Valle de la Luna and Chacaltaya (the highest skiing in the world…but we just went there for the view…which we really couldn’t see because of the fog…and when you go there you can just hike a few hundred meters up to reach the pinnacle at 5300 m…trust me, it would be quite difficult to hike anymore than that at that altitude). I also would recommend La Paz for the yummy food (I found this woman that sells banana bread on the street…amazing, way better than anything I ever baked) and the proliferation of fried chicken restaurants…10x better than KFC (haha, I know a bunch of you out there are fans of the KFC…Evie, Lau…you know who you are). Also, I treated myself to this serious swanky Japanese restaurant on the last night I was there…sashimi dinner complete with (real!) rice, miso soup, a few other appetizers and a nice glass of white wine. Overall the dinner set me back around $12…most expensive meal yet in Bolivia for me, but was well worth it since I was majorly craving some sushi…I’ve been deprived for over 3 months and it was about time to take care of that. The sushi wasn’t bad either…quite fresh although there really wasn’t much of a selection…only trout that I saw on the menu (no salmon, yellowtail, etc.) but I did get a few pieces of octopus as well.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Random Music…

So I finally decided to open up the folder of music that another volunteer transferred to my pen drive…aptly named “Latin Music” for what I had asked for…and I found some oldies but goodies that I feel I need to remind you guys of. Does anyone out there remember Poe? Such classics as “Hello” and “Angry Johnny”…haha, was that like middle school or what? And I hardly believe that Ludacris’ “Shake Your Money Maker” can be classified as Latin music, but hey whatever goes, when I get the urge to practice my dance moves, now I have something to flail my lanky limbs around to. Also, there was a song in this folder called “Las Chicas Quieren Chorizo”…hmm…if you don’t know what that means I’ll leave you to look it up. Whoever’s music this is I am having some serious doubts about their taste…

With that I will leave you with my favorite profound quote from Ludacris: “…took yo momma 9 months to make ya…might as well shake what your momma gave ya…” And isn’t that quite the truth.

My War vs. The Creepy Crawlies

One of the factors that might make me move houses once my two months are up here (when you’re allowed to find other housing if you want) are the bugs. My aluminum/tin creaky crap roof is pretty lame compared to what I’ve seen other people with and it sucks because it’s so loud when it rains, when the wind blows, when random animals run across it (pigeons, cats, etc.)…plus it’s kind of stinky around my house with all the chickens running around free and the pigs next door. I could sacrifice some of my space to have a little nicer place. I guess that’s the problem with not having a hardcore site without electricity and running water…then you want more things that are like what you had in the U.S. and before you know it you’re like, hey, this place is not like 35 1st Street in Stamford…when you should be thankful for the ridiculous amount of space and privacy you have and the reliable running water.

Anyways, back to the bugs…I think the roof might be a place where they’re getting in but I’m not quite sure. All I know is that I’ve identified and classified several groups of them and I live in fear that they’re going to end up in my bed crawling all over me during my sleep. I’ve always been squeamish when it comes to bugs (aka asking people to kill them for me) but I’ve already killed so many bugs here that I can’t count. The fumigation guy did come today (they fumigate your house 3x a year) but I doubt in my case it’ll make that much of a difference.

Flies – at first these were my biggest problem because there were literally like 50 of them at any given time in my house, but once I kept the door closed and not so many got in…but enough where a few would buzz around my head and really annoy me so I started killing them (I probably killed 10 the other day); I’ve designated a special piece of corrugated cardboard that was from the packaging for my bedsheets that is my fly-killing apparatus. My fear with the flies is that they are carrying some kind of horrid disease from the farm animals and then crawling on my dishes and food. I also noticed that some of these flies actually bled when I killed them. Is that possible?
Spiders – I’ve noticed two different types…one that is light brown and a little furry looking with longer legs and bigger sized, then the baby ones that are black and one hopped onto my shirt today to my horror. Spiders always kind of gross me out but just because they can move quickly and get away from me. I use the “Speaking Italian Made Easy” book that the volunteer before me left to kill these.
Pill Bugs – these are the least offensive although the most numerous, I generally just go around stomping on any that I see and then go back and clean them up when I sweep the floor. Kind of gross but I don’t mind them all that much.
Wasps – you already know my first experience with these. I think they have a nest in a tree outside my door that kind of scares me…plus when I throw water from dish washing or whatever else out my door from my wash basin I’m afraid that they’ll attack me. I generally don’t try to kill these unless they’re in my bed obviously. Or somehow managed to get in my house and are buzzing around ominously. Then the most effective method is squashing between “Life of Pi” and “CultureShock! Bolivia” or any other two solid books will probably do.
Cricket/the MSB (massive scary bug) – these are my least favorite (enemy #1) because they appear on the walls and are quite large, definitely more than an inch in length and it puzzles me how they get in. I once again use the “Speaking Italian Made Easy” book to kill them and then hop on the book a few times for good measure. The worst part of these bugs is that they have a surprising amount of slimy guts that end up splattered all over the floor after killing them. This requires me to use cleaning spray to spray down the book and the floor after each killing to scrape up as much of the guts as possible…but no matter how thorough the cleaning is, it always leaves a bug-gut stain on the floor wherever it got splattered. I’ve killed three of these since I’ve been in my house. Grossssss. Wah Mommy.
Miscellaneous others – includes fruit fly types, ants, and itty bitty reddish spiders. Clearly these are not memorable enough to warrant their own categories but are annoying nonetheless and I would prefer to live without them.

So I think that in essence…I’ll either be desensitized to it all in two months where I’ll just accept bug killing as a part of my daily routine like eating breakfast…or I’ll move out. I’m trying not to be scared of the bugs since I don’t really have any other option but I don’t like the idea of bugs popping out at me from random places like bags and whatnot so I try to keep bags that I have zipped up (don’t want any surprises in my bookbag) and I try to shake out clothes before I put them on (apparently the result of that can be bugs shaken out onto your body as what happened with the spider today).

Thanks Mom!

For the magazines (and cute note, I´ll be sure to keep on moving on up!), dried fruit (esp. the dried berry mix) and nuts, and most of all the yummy yummy YUMMY jar of peanut butter!!!! T´was a lovely surprise to get while I was in the city last week!

Festival de San Severino

Another Tarata festival has come and gone…this one is the biggest one of the year in the town, complete with dancing, marching, bands, food and more than enough chicha. I participated in this festival as a dancer in the morenada…requiring me to wear a sparkly skimpy outfit and dance for 5 hours in the cobblestone streets in platform thigh high boots. I had long braids woven into my hair (ew gross, real hair, when I had it in my house I would look over at it and get scared because it would remind me of that horror movie where you watch the video and then the girl with the hair covering her face comes out of the TV…for some reason the name is not coming to me right now) and I felt the pain of someone French braiding my hair that I had not since a dance recital many years ago. Some other interesting things that I observed…although it’s much more acceptable to urinate in public here (especially during festivals…you always have to watch out for the wet spots in the street because during festivals a lot more of those are attributable to people rather than dogs)…I did see an interesting sight: a man peeing on the side of the road against a building…while a young infant was perched on his shoulders. And throughout our dancing through the streets I came across more than a normal amount of women’s sanitary products (pads)…now these pads were just lying in the street along the way and luckily they had not been used for the appropriate purpose as of yet, so I have two theories of what people were using them for. One was as insoles for the ridiculously uncomfortable boots that both men and women had to wear (I haven’t felt that much foot pain ever…near the end I could barely stand much less dance…and that’s coming from a person that has done pointe before)…the other theory is that they were used as shoulder pads because in the morenada the men have to wear these ridiculously heavy outfits made out of this really solid cardboard (by their weight I might even think it was some kind of light plywood). Most of the men had pieces of foam for padding on the shoulders or shawls or towels layered in order to provide some sort of comfort. I guess I will never know though…

I definitely recommend anyone that wants to come visit me to come during this time since I could see the festival being pretty fun…I enjoyed minor celebrity status while we were dancing since I was like 8 feet tall and not Bolivian…got my picture taken several times along the way and of course we were invited to a lot of chicha and beer which of course made dancing more enjoyable. My most amusing moment was probably when we were taking a break and Nelly and the other two girls in my group were talking to this guy that Nelly went to university with (I’m not quite sure if they knew each other or whatever) and then the guy’s (cute but young) friend came up to me. Here’s the gist of the dialogue but of course this was in Spanish:

Guy: How did my friend end up with you guys?Me: Oh, he has beer and we wanted a drink (sarcastically).
Guy: Oh…where are you from, blah blah.
Me: The US, here as a volunteer, etc. etc. Are you from Tarata?
Guy: No, I’m from Cochabamba…just here for the festival. It’s my birthday!
Me: Oh happy birthday, how old are you turning?
Guy: 23…
Me: Oh, you’re a baby! I’m old…25.
Guy: No you’re not.
Me: I have lots of white hairs.
Guy: I have white hairs too.
Me: So what do you do for work?
Guy: I work in business doing budgeting/planning (I didn’t totally get this part…)
Me: Oh, so for the government or for a company or what?
Guy: In the private sector for a company.
Me: What does the company make?
Guy: Sugar.
(And then…I couldn’t resist…)
Me: Oh, you must be very sweet then. (har har, slapping him on the arm)
Guy: Umm…okay. Heh?

At that point I changed the topic back to his birthday just long enough so he could run away. Clearly he did not appreciate my sense of humor. Either that or he was scared. Most likely a combination of the both. Plus I know I need to work on my humor in Spanish…I don’t think people are all that into the puns around here.

I also attended a “dance” which totally reminded me of the one we went to during Tech Week. Conti – this one’s for you, the place was pretty much all high schoolers (high school boys!) I went with Nelly, who’s actually 23, but her brother was also there (who’s probably like 15) with his friends as well. The dancing actually was decently fun, but definitely having a beer helped in the process. If you’ve never been to a Bolivian dance, one thing you should know is that people don’t dance in circles…or in random groups scattered around. Everyone lines up in two lines facing each other…and when those lines get too long then they start another two lines next to it with people facing each other. One of the other girls that was in the morenada was dancing across from me for awhile while Nelly was dancing with one of her friends…and this girl across from me was actually a good dancer…but for some reason when I looked at her all I could think of based on her style of dancing was someone riding a horse. So I attempted not to look at her…but then she kept on invading my personal space and dancing closer and closer to me so I kept on having to move back lest I would be soon riding a horse as well. Giddyup.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Blast from the Past…Gas Scheduling…

I was just cleaning up my desktop and I came across an old gas scheduling spreadsheet that was leftover. I opened it up and when I took a look at it I got an odd chill and thought, man, that was kind of a fun job to have…as much button pushing and Excel work as it was…for a person that thrives on exhibiting my efficiency at mindless tasks, I’d have to say it fit my skill set very well. Looking at all those net outs and book outs and contracts…oh man! I will go as far to say that I kind of miss it…after all, even though there were those days that I was so bored out of my mind…but then there were those exhilarating days when you had so much to do and were down to the last minute before the 12:30 pm deadline that made it exciting to be a scheduler. Who knows, I always said that I’d leave it open and if I come back in two years and I want to schedule gas (is there any demand for bilingual gas schedulers? or does gas scheduling exist in the non-profit realm?)…then by golly, I’ll schedule gas. Of course on the West that is…since high volume and fewer pipes is more my thing. Absence does make the heart grown fonder and I think that you have to not be working in a particular job to appreciate the best parts of it…like how when I left OTC I realized how much I enjoyed the camaraderie of the group (which had fueled my baking insanity). When it comes down to it I’d say that I really did enjoy scheduling considering the circumstances and whatever I said about it earlier was true…that my reasons for leaving had nothing to do with the job, after all I think it was probably the most enjoyable for me job-wise that I had in my three years.

I think it’s really hard in this world to find a career path where you use the technical product knowledge that you already know from past jobs but then build on it to be able to perform your new job successfully…more often than not (at least in banking), it seems like you hop from one company to another performing basically the same job but maybe in a little different context. More realistically, I’ve seen that the “soft skills” are the ones that are really important and it doesn’t matter what product area you’re working in…if you’re a quick learner, analytical and have decent interpersonal skills (along with being semi-competent on the computer), you’ll be fine wherever you go. After all, in most jobs they do teach you everything you need to know on the job. Or you could go down the different path of dropping everything that you knew before in terms of technical knowledge (have I used anything to do with energy or credit derivatives yet? and trust me, nobody has been knocking on my door to learn what I know about gas pipelines) and starting over again. I guess that’s another prerequisite of signing up for the Peace Corps…not only do you have to be okay with showering once a week, but you also have to be okay with feeling incompetent and like a recent college graduate with no work experience from the day you arrive at your PC staging/orientation. In that case I think it’s a good thing I prefer to be the kind of person that knows the least in a group of people that can learn from everyone around him/her rather than being the subject matter expert (not that I would consider myself that in anything but sometimes it seemed like I gave off that vibe at work when people would come to me with the most random questions that were like…umm…how should I know?). Some days I look around me and wish I had a clue what was going on (esp. after someone rambles off something in Spanish to me that I totally didn’t catch and then gives me a look and I can’t tell if it’s because they asked me a question and I’m supposed to answer or if a nod and smile is sufficient)…but other days I just sit back and enjoy the ride. After all, I’m a VOLUNTEER and half the battle is figuring out how to help people and how they want to be helped before you can do anything useful. Patience. Have another cup of coffee (with powdered milk), chill out, and we’ll figure it out mañana…

Anyways, enough of living in the past three years. I’m ready to move on and fake it until I make it around here…no, I am neither an expert on tourism nor small business consulting, but heck, I will give it a shot at keeping my wits about me and using common sense in my approach and will try to learn quickly…

English Class is Therapeutic

I guess what they say is true about English classes as secondary projects being good stress relievers. Earlier today I was ready to throw a computer monitor out a window due to the ridiculously slow internet…and then I ate like 1/3 of a pan of brownies that I made supposedly for Turkey Day potluck dinner tomorrow…and 4 oreos and 4 cremositas (tasty sandwich cookies that are half the price of oreos)…so maybe it’s just PMS. Anyways, I literally sat in the internet café scheming to delete all the games on the computer I was at like Warcraft, etc. downloads…thinking that if I deleted them all then the computer would operate at a normal pace. I did sit at a computer for literally 15 minutes and was not able to pull up a single webpage (email, news, nor facebook!). So after that I decided to give up and pay my 1 boliviano for sitting in front of the useless piece of junk. Alas…I’ll try again another day. But then after that I had English class and although only two students were there…I did manage to spend some quality time with them. The first student is actually a teacher at the place where I teach…and we went over a little English then I spoke to him about the NGO that is where most of the students in the class are students. It’s a pretty neat concept actually…students that have to work during the week so they had to drop out of school but these students are over 18 (not eligible to be enrolled in the local school) so they’re working to get their high school degrees by going to classes Thursday – Saturday. Then the other student that came actually lives in a community close to Tarata and is going to university in Coch and she’s a linguistics major…working on not only her English, but French as well and later will be studying Quechua. I managed to help her a bit with her homework that she had for school as well as teaching her a few words in Chinese at her request…now she knows “ni hao” and “zai jian” along with my name in Chinese. Haha, that’s the second request I’ve had for learning some Chinese here…if I were actually any good at Chinese I would have started a Chinese class by now. So all in all, by the time I left English class I was much calmer and didn’t want to destroy any electronic equipment so I’d say that’s pretty good therapy considering the facts.

Tomorrow is Turkey Day! Pat and I are quite excited about going into the city to get some good grub and stay overnight and watch CABLE TV. Woohoo! It’s kind of like when I would go into the city from Stamford and go over to “assume the position” at Steph’s…as much as you might try to get me to leave the apartment…a quality weekend in my opinion involves plenty of DVR’ed episodes of good shows along with a fair share of Food Network and a little MTV thrown in and of course a late breakfast of bagels with cream cheese. Man oh man, I wish I could see some episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty right now though…

La Cancha…

In español it means field…as in basketball or soccer…but in Cochabamba it also is synonymous with massive open air market to buy anything and everything under the sun. It’s a must-see tourist attraction if you’re here and it puts any other open air market I’ve experienced to shame, including the one in Shanghai (at least during the daytime…at nighttime Shilin in Taipei is better, but maybe that’s because I’m partial to the food there). I’ve bought anything from fruit to furniture to accessories to fabric to cleaning supplies and yes, real hair (for the dance that I’m in I have to wear long fake braids…and when I found out the hair I was buying was real I did have the gag / I want to vomit a bit reflex) there. The experience of being in the Cancha is basically a sensory overload. I’ve been there more times than I can count since being here in Bolivia but each time I go, once I’m in the thick of it, I get completely disoriented and have no idea where I am. When I’m there with other volunteers or by myself, I tend to stay on the edge of things so I can find my way out, but when I’m with someone (aka a Bolivian) that knows where they’re going, I basically run after the person trying not to get my eye poked out by the low hanging tent poles, getting caught behind slow-moving old people carrying ridiculously heavy loads of stuff, and trying not to get too distracted by the tasty food stalls. I couldn’t tell you really where anything is located in there…you’d have to ask a Bolivian for that information, but I do know that the meat section is definitely NOT for the faint of heart. Yes, I know some of you out there had some issues with the little sardines looking at you from my freezer while we were growing up or some get squeamish with whole fish or shrimp where the eyes look at you or a full duck hanging in a window…you can forget about surviving the meat section at the Cancha. They don’t hold anything back there and your nose tells you that. There are plenty of tasty choices though, such as the slices of fresh pineapple (risky), jello or flan served in little plastic cups (risky as well), and my personal favorite is the smorgasborg of bakery delights which are probably safest followed by anything fried. I’d have to say bread here in Bolivia rivals that in Taiwan…I’m partial to the cuñapes (yucca and cheese yumminess), empanadas (when they’re fresh and soft with cheesy goodness and onions on the inside), and humitas (a delectable slightly sweet cornmeal pastry).

Rain, Rain, Go away…in 4 months if we’re lucky…

I believe the rainy season here has officially started. I woke up last night to a thunderstorm…not the thunder or lightning, but the deafening sound of the rain on my tin/alumninum/whatever-metal-it-is roof. It’s virtually impossible to sleep with the sounds of the rain so I’m looking to get myself some earplugs ASAP to deal with it. My front yard has become somewhat of a mud pit already (hopefully they’ll build me a little pathway of rocks and cement to walk on to get to the bathroom and the rest of the world) and when I did venture out today to attempt a meeting at the tourism office I encountered my fair share of massive puddles in the cobblestone streets, avoiding getting splashed on by the cars going by, and splattering mud pretty much everywhere.

There is hope though…first of all I’m planning on hunkering down in my house for the rest of the day until this evening when I have to go to Coch to get my costume for the festival this weekend and trying to get some work done on fixing up a pamphlet in Publisher. Then I did see a man wearing those rubber rain boots that go up to your knees in the street today…so I figure if the gramps I saw wearing them can find them around here, I can as well. Plus I consider myself very lucky that the road from here to Coch is completely paved so if nothing else I will still be able to go into the city during rainy season…I’ve heard numerous horror (or maybe not since you get to be lazy for several months in a row) stories of volunteers during rainy season in campo sites where the roads to their closest city are washed out so they can’t travel at all and just hang out in their site on whatever provisions they have until it dries up and the roads are passable again.

Happy Thanksgiving / Turkey Day / Día de Acción de Gracias to all! I’ll be headed into the city on Thursday for a turkey dindin with some other volunteers and staff; Pat and I are cooking up a casserole (some combo of powdered soup mixes and cheesy rice with any veggies we can find thrown in) and some brownies for the potluck portion of the evening. And on Thursday I will indeed be thankful for some yummy food!

Reflections on Hand-Washing Laundry

After three months of doing my laundry by hand…I’ve come to realize a love-hate relationship with it. The pros are evident…when considering other options in Bolivia, it’s much cheaper than having someone else hand wash it for you and pay them for it (like my sitemate Pat does) or lugging it into the city to take it to a laundromat where you can *gasp* machine wash! I’d say that somewhere along the line I’m going to give in and choose one of those options for washing certain things like sweaters and sweatshirts and jeans, the things that are the biggest pains to wash because they retain so much water when you’re trying to rinse it out. Another merit of hand-washing is the superior effectiveness of spot cleaning compared to machine washing. I’ve found that in all my laundering experience that hand washing undergarments and clothes with stains is much more successful than merely throwing it into the machine for a cycle. There’s also a certain personal satisfaction that you get from hand-washing your clothes…you get a little exercise (I give myself my upper body workout by washing clothes) and you feel like you’re competent.

This being said…there are some clear disadvantages along with the time that it takes to hand-wash. Firstly is the major pain of things like jeans where they’re so hard to wring out and when you put them on the drying line you’re afraid they’re so water-logged and heavy that they’re just going to pull the whole line down. Secondly, for me is the location of where I wash the clothes…using plastic bins and buckets by my house…which also happens to be located in between the chickens and pigs and swarming with flies and wasps of some sort that buzz in my ear because there’s a nest in a tree somewhere close by. Then there is always your two majors fears of what is going to happen to your laundry in the process of washing…the worst things that can happen due to the amount of time that you’ve put into the act. There’s the fear that it’s going to rain while your laundry is out on the line and of course after it rains you just have to do your laundry again because in my belief rain water makes the clothes dirty again. And then there’s the worse one, that in transit from bucket to bucket or while the clothes are drying on the line a gust of wind will come and soon your newly washed clothes will be wet…and in the dirt…even dirtier than before you started washing them and you’ll have to wash them all over again. Of course this one can be remedied by using clothes pins on the line…but then again with the unpredictability of the weather…random gusts of wind can come and when you just assumed it was safe to hang your lightweight little seamless tank top from Gap on the line without a clothespin…*bam*…it’s in the dirt. And you’re washing it again tomorrow.

Getting Over the Guilt…

It’s noon and I still haven’t done much real “work” today. But I’m getting better at not feeling guilty about it! I did go running, take my first hot shower in the past two weeks, and did a massive and difficult load of laundry and did the dishes. Along with a little Excel work for figuring out codes for the alpaca products along with thinking about meeting up with Sonia today and other stuff I have to do in town. Ah yes, well I will be off to do my real work after lunch…it’s quite annoying actually because even though now I have two cell phones…for some reason it keeps on prompting me to make a long distance call when I’m not making a long distance call! Sheesharoni.

In other extremely important news, I did go “shopping” yesterday. Catalina, Nelly’s mom (the 24 year old girl that I’m friends with that invited me to be in their dance), sells Avon so I decided to treat myself after looking at the catalog and I placed a nice little order. I will be receiving exfoliating body wash, citrus body splash, face lotion with SPF 15, and a lovely shade of pink nail polish at the end of this month. As I’ve mentioned before, Bolivia is turning me into more of a girly-girl since the majority of the time I’m pretty gross (aka until this morning I didn’t take a shower for 6 days). Who knows, I’m even considering growing out my hair while I’m here. Maybe miracles do happen.


If there’s one thing you are supposed to learn in the Peace Corps it’s supposed to be patience according to all the stories that I’ve read. So today my dance practice consisted of sitting around for an hour and a half watching the other group dance…while supposedly the rest of the girls that I’m dancing with were in the city getting our costumes. Only later did I realize that there is a part of our group that is dancing tomorrow and for that they need different costumes than the ones that we’re wearing for San Severino (the biggest festival in Tarata that happens next weekend). Then I sat around and listened to them discuss how the other group is going to get their costumes for tomorrow for another half hour. Basically mass confusion (okay just Pat and I, the non-fluent Spanish speakers). I guess the one productive thing I did was teaching a six year old girl, Nayra (which means eyes in Quechua), a few words in English like “my name is” and “lightbulb” among others…along with playing this “let me guess what we’re going to roll on the dice game” as well.

The most amusing part of the night had to be when the little 3 year old boy who has been labeled by Pat as a future bully of the schoolyard was misbehaving. I knew it was time to leave when he started beating me up…first he threw a rock at me…so his dad or some other male figure in his family brought out the belt to “teach him a lesson” which was more like threatening him with a belt. Then the boy took the belt and started hitting me with it (Kim and Helen, this was no fun game of belt in the ear, fyi). Later on he resorted to more brute force without weaponry and started kicking Nayra and me. And this boy is pretty big for a 3 year old and then he decided to tackle me in the legs unexpectedly and I almost fell down and had to hold on to Nayra, a 6 year old, so I wouldn’t fall over. It was definitely time to leave when the 3 year olds are beating you up. Reminds me of when Pat’s dog was stolen by the 4 year old girl. Man. We are not doing too well with the young children here.

Working in Bolivia…

After less than two weeks as a working volunteer, I’ve come to the definite conclusion that things just take longer here. I went into Coch today to get a bunch of stuff done and only accomplished half of what I set out to do (although I did receive a very nice phone call courtesy of UBS from Kelley to hear all the updates on the sh*t that is going down). I did get myself a nice “sin chip” cell phone that I will put into use as soon as I get the man in the store to activate my Entel number and I’ll pass it out to y’all. And I did purchase a nice nonstick pot, casserole dish (so Pat and I can make our side dish for Turkey Day that we’re bringing into the city) and bread pan (banana bread here I come!). I once again overindulged myself on the “Casablanca” breakfast…where you get a ridiculous amount of food for the equivalent of $2.50. 4 pieces of bread with jam and butter, fresh squeezed OJ, café con leche, yogurt with muesli, big mixed fruit bowl and nice fried piece of campo cheese. Man oh man, even I couldn’t finish it all and then I felt like barfing all over myself afterwards…I didn’t have anyone to share the moment with since I was eating breakfast by myself (hey, you gotta treat yourself sometimes) while reading Los Tiempos (Coch’s newspaper).

“Can you step on the battery?” Sometimes the randomness of it all just makes you smile. So I had a meeting with Sonia and her husband Rene and got her some business with one of the sister’s of one of the PC employees who has a store in La Paz…and then accomplished other things like checking out books from the library…woohoo! Although I can already tell they’re not going to be useful since I wanted ESL lesson plans and all I am getting is strategies and fluffiness for teaching ESL. *Sigh* I need that Stand Out! book that I used for Literacy Volunteers! So we were heading home to Tarata in their van and we stopped to get a refresco…we always randomly stop and get soda on the way home from Coch…still trying to figure it out. So after we stopped, the exposed battery for the van in the back of the car near the foot of the backseat apparently needs to be stepped on for the car to start due to some kind of faulty connection…what a fun little trick. Not sure if that’s one of those things you probably don’t want to do if you don’t want to get seriously electrocuted (umm…electric showers here anyone? I’ve heard that every volunteer during their service gets a serious shock at least once). I got to do it once then Sonia took over when we made the other stops…which included the Bolivian randomness (which I love) where we stopped at their field of peach trees on the way home! Tarata is known for their peaches (duraznos) and they have a big festival for them in March…I can’t wait until they’re ripe (around Carnaval in February) because I’m going to definitely overindulge…peach smoothies, peach juice, peach bread (a spin on the banana bread), peach cobbler, peach with yogurt…everything’s going to be peachy keen! Har har. I recommend anyone that is planning on visiting to come during that time to eat some...I’ll hook ya up. Then as we were driving back we saw a game of fubito (not sure how that’s spelled) which is basically indoor yet outdoor soccer…soccer played on a basketball court. What was special about this game was that it was a bunch of women in cholita skirts (these beautiful velvety pleated skirts that make everyone look extremely full-figured until you look at their skinny little chicken legs sticking out from underneath) along with their jerseys for their teams. Ah yes. I will have to try to get a picture of that. Man oh man. And they wear their stockings under them too! Way too cute for words. Anyways, gotta run and get ready for dance practice…and then also hopefully get my cell phone set up. Along with prepping for my English class tomorrow and getting ready to go back into the city tomorrow as well for printing pamphlets, etc. and having other meetings. Who says the whole first year of your service is slow? I definitely have enough stuff to keep me occupied and I actually wish I had time to do my laundry and fix up my house and cook with the 10 lbs of vegetables that are sitting in my fridge! All I could muster up for dinner today was two fried eggs with my leftover fresh guacamole and two brownies. Guacamole and eggs aren’t a bad combo…kind of a like an alternative omelette. I guess as they say around here…those other things will wait until manana…

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Entries from the past few weeks…

Yes, I’ve been blogging on my laptop a bit to keep you informed but I’m not reliably somewhere that I can upload using a USB port every week anymore so I’ve been saving them all up to upload at once and overwhelm you with the sheer quantity of writing that I am capable of. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of emails, especially in mass email lists, with me, you understand. I type quickly, enjoy sharing the sordid details and thoughts of my life, and am skilled at rambling on about randomness…which most people consider annoying and pointless. So here they are for your enjoyment…

Festivals and Productivity

Currently listening to: Snow Patrol…reminds me of cold nighttime runs through the streets of Stamford in the winter

Spanish Words of the Day: imprimir (to print) and comprobar (to check – email!)

So the past few days (since Monday night until Wednesday) have been filled with partying Taratenos…today, November 14th, is Tarata’s anniversary…I believe the 197th from what I picked up from a discussion. That meant that on Monday night there was a parade with masses of people in the square of all the schools and various other organizations. Then on Tuesday more of the same…tons of people and vendors in the plaza…Pat and I took advantage of that and had our fair share of popcorn, hot dogs and fries (these are not your NYC hot dogs…they’re sliced hot dogs on top of fries in a little plastic bowls with mayo on top to be eaten with a toothpick), ice cream and random bags of mini peaches and plums. Too bad I forgot my camera so I have no pictures…but I figure the same thing happens year after year so I can just take some snapshots next year. It’s really interesting how the plaza comes alive when there is a festival or parade though...Tarata definitely is not a tranquilo pueblo when it comes to November, the month of the anniversary and San Severino. Then there were parties until very late where I heard the booming music until 3 am (I was snuggled deep under my covers)…apparently there was dogfighting at our neighbor’s house as well but from what I heard I just thought that was normal barking dogs, another night in Tarata. Wednesday was the military parade with all the soldiers from Coch…interestingly enough, somehow my host family was supposed to be throwing a big party for all the soldiers so basically they were cleaning house and then they had all these tables set up…of course this being Bolivia, once it started to rain the parade was postponed for a few hours and I don’t think all the soldiers were able to show up because there was a paro civico/bloqueo which is basically a protest where people were blockading the transportation into or out of Coch. Eventually the parade did go on (although I didn’t catch any of it…even though it started from within my house)…I was off doing work actually! I had a lovely two hour meeting with Sonia today about all of the logistics for our trip to La Paz as well as learning a bit more about her work and doing a cost analysis. I’m a business consultant! Haha…it was kind of fun to do work actually and we did a bunch of calculations for her costs for weaving her products and other things associated with it. I think I’m going to try to make a basic model in Excel for her to use and when her costs change, such as the price of yarn going up, she can just change one number and get her breakeven point. She makes some really nice stuff though…I was looking at all of it and am definitely going to buy a bunch of stuff for gifts and whatnot. And another of her strengths not only is the quality of her product but also her designs…she actually is really good at putting together color combinations and she was starting this manta (shawl) that was in different shades of blue and gray and I am definitely eager to see how it turns out because I want to buy it! I also got a chance to go to lunch with Pat today and enjoy some home-cooked Bolivian food. We went to her friend Cora’s house who is this little old super cute woman. She was having all these people over for the festival and it turned out to be her childhood friends. It totally reminded me of my dad during Chinese New Year when he gathers with all his friends once a year to chat and dine. All of Cora’s friends live in Coch now but they come back to Tarata each year and have lunch together and hang out on the anniversary of Tarata…and they were talking about things such as so-and-so’s aunt is 97 now and still walks through the streets of Tarata, etc. etc. Sooo cute. Cute old people. Hehehe. Plus I got to try the chicha morado! It was actually pretty tasty…chicha is pretty delicious considering it is an alcoholic drink. It isn’t as fizzy as beer but still has a little fizz but is sweeter and tastier. Well I guess there is a time and place for each drink but I think I will take a liking to chicha during festivals.

In other productive news…I finished re-covering my stools with pinstripe and polka dotted cloth and also baked brownies that I shared with my host family and Sonia’s family. And I have a date for the upcoming holidays! I’ll be in Coch spending Turkey Day with my fellow volunteers (we’re doing a potluck) and then for Navidad I’m going to go back to my host family during training and we’re going to make lasagna and some kind of dessert. Yay, I have family here! Speaking of family…the volunteer that I’m replacing, Patti, is leaving tomorrow with her fiancée, Huber, whose family I am living with. So they’re both moving out and heading off to the good U.S. of A.! Crazy crazy…Huber will be in for a shock in terms of the weather since Patti is from Chicago and I’m sure it’s gonna get pretty cold in just a few weeks but it’s definitely an exciting time for them both and we’re wishing them the best of luck!

I also painted my toenails today. I know, you really care about these details of my life. But I feel so much better when I look down and see my pretty toenails on the ends of my long skinny finger-toes painted with this pearly white polish. Much better than the hot pink nail polish that was like a month old and half chipped off that I had on earlier today. Although my feet still smell a bit but what can you do. I just need to start wearing shoes more instead of sandals which I think will happen ASAP as the rainy season gets into full gear. I also have run for the past two days in the morning which I’m quite proud of. Yes, it was around a dirt field and each day only for 20 minutes but it’s better than nothing…plus I don’t want to run that long because that means I get sweaty and have to take a shower. This is Bolivia…you have to take into consideration things like that. Plus when I tried to take a shower yesterday after I ran the water cut off halfway through when I was still massively soapy and I had to only semi-rinse off with water from the sink. Good thing I’m not too particular about hygiene or else I’d be screwed.

Okay, I’m off to read some old Newsweek mags that Patti gave to me…that’s one perk of PC…every volunteer gets issues of Newsweek every week so we manage to stay slightly informed with current events. I did read today on CNN that the price of crude went over $94 and Matt Damon was named world’s sexiest man by People this year. And there was an earthquake in Chile of 7.7 magnitude. Hey, I’m pretty well informed considering the circumstances.


Although it is rumored that during the first few months of service (which are btw dedicated to the volunteer diagnostic assignment where you’re supposed to be figuring out what you’re going to be working on for the next two years that aligns with both your PC project goals (in my case microenterprise and tourism) and the community needs) volunteers don’t have much to do and spend lots of time catching up on sleep, reading, figuring out the ins and outs of the pueblo that they’re going to be living in for the next two years…I have found in my first week that there is no lack of stuff for me to do. I started my English class on Friday which will require more planning than my Lit Volunteers class in Stamford required…I go to dance practice for the upcoming festival everyday…I worry about my supposedly “advanced low” level of Spanish…and I do a bit of work with Sonia, the artisan woman I am working with, on our upcoming trip to La Paz to the feria. And in my so-called free time I am settling into my cute little house. I’ve gone to several markets in the past week to get home goods…plates, feather duster, toilet brush, nonstick pan, clothespins, a variety of cloth to cover various pieces of furniture, etc. The list goes on. Some of the things I want to accomplish in the next month (or maybe these are more like in the next two year goals) have nothing to do with microenterprise nor tourism though. These include:

* Re-covering a set of 4 stools with cute navy and white fabric (two pinstriped, two mini polka dotted)
* Sorting through all the kitchen tools bequeathed to me by the volunteer I am replacing
* Figuring out what I do with all the vegetables I find in the market that are foreign to me (what the heck do I do with achotche? I can’t even spell it much less cook with it)
* Really cleaning out and mopping out my house (which is a pretty useless task being that it gets dusty within one hour of sweeping)
* Organizing my bookshelf and reading all the material that PC gave to us (note: when we were packing up to move to our sites they gave us a whole separate cardboard box for our books and manuals if that’s any indication of what a daunting task this is going to be)
* Studying a bit of Quechua…I figured out the practical use for this is in the market in Cliza that I went to today to buy food…with Dona Catalina (a lovely woman that is the mother of Nelly who’s the girl I’m friends with and am dancing with in the festival) she seemed to know every person in the market and greeted them by name, in Quechua…while I stood there clueless and nodding, punctuated by a few “Ari”s which means “Yes” in Quechua
* Learning to play basketball…it’s very popular with the ladies around here and I should use my gargantuan height towards some purpose
* Interior decorating…if I’m going to be here for two years I should make this house scream “Joy is here”
* 101 uses for potatoes. I know they’re out there.
* Becoming knowledgeable about the history of Tarata…3 of Bolivia’s presidents were from here, definitely is worthy of appreciation of the cultural and historical significance
* Not forgetting how to speak/write/read English (at an adult level)…the improvement of your Spanish seems to be inversely proportional to the rate at which your English is improving or getting worse
* Peeling fruit/veggies at a rate faster than a snail…clearly my ability has been affected by my lack of practice in early childhood
* Running…one thing that might be a constant thread between my life in the U.S. and Bolivia (okay, appreciation of food is also a given)…albeit it will be done around a dirt field in laps and thus only for half an hour perhaps twice a week if I’m lucky…
* Learning to walk on the cobblestone streets without the fear that I’m going to fall and break an ankle
* Learning how to make chicha (a Bolivian fermented alcoholic corn drink) that I don’t particularly enjoy but is very popular in Coch and especially in Tarata and observing a cock fight in person (two activities which take place in my house! well not in MY house, but on the land with my host family)

In other notes, I cooked dinner for Pat (sitemate) and myself tonight…we tend to eat like how I eat in the U.S…a smorgasborg of randomness. We had sautéed chicken breast with salt and pepper, fresh bread that I bought in the market in Cliza this morning with Danbo cheese from San Javier and mustard, fresh guacamole (seems to be the most popular way to eat veggies during palta (avocado) season) with chips, and some red wine. Followed by some glasses of warm milk with sugar that Huber brought us (are we babies?). Lovely evening of chatting and eating. Other positive news includes that it seems like I have rid myself of my fly problem. I haven’t seen very many in my house lately…maybe they’re all hanging out up at the main house where the family lives (they definitely seemed to be up there yesterday during the despedida parillada (farewell bbq) that they had, attacking the ridiculous amounts of meat that were cooked and eaten) and if that’s the case all I have to say is good riddance to them.