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
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
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
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…
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 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
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
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?
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
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.
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
Sorry...lacking on the comments...had to get back into my site for English class so didn't have time...will update later!
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”)
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…
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).
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
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.
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).
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?
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?
(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
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…
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
* 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.