Friday, September 28, 2007

Reason #563 Why I Love My Host Family: Taxidermy

Strange but true stories…Lisa, I’m sure you would appreciate this. So last night after dinner I was sitting around chatting with my host parents as usual and after the Tourism Fair yesterday (basically us standing around in a booth with informational posters that we had created). Most popular question during the Tourism Fair from Bolivians that I got was “How do I join the Peace Corps?” which I explained by saying umm…well it’s an American organization of volunteers that just work in Bolivia. Other interesting comments included a guy that told me that Bolivians and Chinese people look alike (at first I thought he said Bolivians like Chinese people and I was like, oh yeah, Evo was in the paper for saying he dreamed for Bolivia to have the same economic growth/prosperity as China…yeah. Lost in Translation) and then we also got this guy that looked like a monk asking us if we taught morals or what we were teaching. Um yeah. But some of the trainees did get interviewed by the local television! And I got to have a real cup of coffee yesterday morning so that was exciting as well.

Anyways, back to taxidermy. So it turns out that I think there is a 90% chance that I’m going to be headed to Tarata, a little colonial town outside of Coch by about an hour, the place we went for Tech Weekend. I’ll be working on tourism and with artesania along with probably teaching some English and hopefully working on a pilot program with Save the Children where I get to teach computer courses (yay computers!). My future boss Daniel (who is also responsible for site placement) came over to me yesterday and was like, how’s it going…and then was like it’ll be good if you go over to the Tarata booth to talk to Vivian (the woman who’s going to be my counterpart) and get to know her and he pretty much only says things like that when he’s pretty sure about who’s going where. Although I’d like to go somewhere else in Bolivia to see it, I can definitely see the benefits of being close to Coch and the site. I kind of wanted to go to Santa Cruz because more than 50% of the volunteers are there (tropical area and very social for volunteers) but I guess the weather is more bearable near Coch. Also, I already know Coch so it’s nice and it’s pretty accessible to my site for anyone that wants to come visit me…in Santa Cruz the closest site is about 4 hours away from the city. Tarata is about an hour from Coch so I can come in on the weekends pretty easily to get groceries or whatever. Tarata is nice because it has a lot of history and it’s easy for tourists to get there so it has a lot of tourist potential. Also, I’ll be living with the family of a Bolivian guy who got engaged to the volunteer that I’m replacing and the guy is moving to the US with the girl when she’s done with her service in November when I arrive (yes, kind of weird that that’s the housing arrangement) so at least they’ll get the idea of what Peace Corps is and it’ll be fairly easy to assimilate in the community. Also, I will have a site mate that’s an older woman in Integrated Ed that just arrived to the site around 2 months ago so I’ll have another gringo to talk to in the community and hopefully work on some projects with.

Ok, really, about the taxidermy. So we were talking about the weather in Santa Cruz and then my family was talking about how there are huge bugs there because I mentioned a volunteer that was helping out with training that had a site in Santa Cruz and he showed us pics of the tarantulas that he saw there and he had snakes in his house. Ew. Anyways, so my host dad busts out this huge grasshopper thing in plastic to show me, and then he gets this head of this lizard filled with cement (only the head because he told me that the other part broke off because it used to be mounted on the wall but one day it just fell down and all that’s left now is the head)…and if that isn’t enough…then he gets this Styrofoam tray…that has all these beetles, scorpions, etc. pinned on it and brings it out to show me! Apparently they found those when they were digging up the foundation for their house…but the dad’s brother is also into taxidermy…haha, Lisa, I told my family I have a friend that has a dad that likes to hunt and then keeps a fridge full of animals. Tee hee. So that’s just one more random reason to love my host family…they’re into the randomness too. Ah yes…I need to learn some more animal vocabulary. The family did talk about A Bug’s Life though and what we do have in common is that we both enjoyed the movie. That’s all I got for now! Talk to you later!

P.S. Thanks Mom for the cookbook!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fancy Pick Up Lines en Español

Just a quick note about what we learned in Spanish class today, very amusing. We were doing a cultural lesson about appropriate and inappropriate habits in Bolivia and the US and the majority of the time was spent discussing piropos (which in English translates to a catcall/pickup line)…Sarah and I were given a whole sheet of them by our new teacher, Vicky…and I think the point was to make sure we knew we were being insulted if someone yells this at us (or actually complemented on our unbelievable beauty). Our teacher also gave us some male-bashing jokes in Spanish which I found pretty amusing such as:

“Como es una pila mejor que un hombre?” “Porque una pila tiene un lado positivo!” Har har…basically for those non-Spanish speakers, how is a battery better than a man? Because it has a positive side!

“Que se parece una microonda y un hombre?” “Ambos se calenta en 15 segundas!” (How are a microwave and a man similar? They both heat up in 15 seconds…)

Clearly this isn’t what you would think we are learning in Spanish class in the Peace Corps, but it works and keeps us awake. I had the impression that Bolivian culture was a bit more reserved than the US but then I keep on getting surprised at the progressiveness of things that I see…such as the fact that my host mom is working on making a suit for the oldest host brother that’s 18 and away at college…and she’s a ridiculously talented seamstress…and I come home and see my host dad sitting there at the sewing machine plugging away and helping out. Wonders never cease.

As for the piropos that I enjoyed…here’s a few choice morsels (remember these are supposed to be guys saying these to girls, but I asked my teacher if I could change these around a bit and use them to pick up some guys):

“Que curvas y yo sin frenos!” (What curves and I’m without breaks! Gotta love the car analogy)
Profesora Vicky’s Favorito: “Si el amor fuera como la marihuana, ya hubiera muerto por sobre dosis” (If love were like marijuana, I would be dead from an overdose)

Sarah’s Favorito: “Si tu cuerpo fuera carcel y tus brazos cadenas, que bonita seria cumplir mi condena” (If your body was a jail and your arms chains, how lovely it would be to complete my sentence)

Y Mi Favorito (I’m planning on using this one on a guy so if you know anyone worthy of it please let me know): “Mamacita, tus padres deben ser pasteleros, para haber hecho una delicia como tu” (Honey, your parents should be pastry chefs to have made a delight like you…of course I’d change that to Papacito)

Ah yes, nothing like translating some cheesy pickup lines into Spanish, I shared the “mirror in your pocket, I can see myself in your pants” line and thankfully our teacher wasn’t horrified at the prospect of it…after all, I think she gave us a few that were a bit racier than that.

Reflections on a Month in Bolivia

So it has been over a month since I arrived in this wonderfully unique country we call Bolivia that’s smack dab in the middle of South America and they say that Peace Corps changes you in the 2+ years that you’re living in a different country but I figured it was time to evaluate things that I’ve seen in the past few weeks (or month!) and how I’ve changed since I’ve been down here. First of all, there’s the obvious:
* my Spanish is MUCH better (we’ll see exactly how much when I get the results from my last entrevista back on Wednesday)
*I’ve learned a lot about Bolivia in terms of the culture although I have a long way to go
*I’ve made some friends and learned about them while sharing a bit of myself with them
*I have a much better idea of what Peace Corps is about, what a big family this is that you didn’t know existed before you left, and I realize that each person’s experience is solely their own and what matters is if you accomplish what you wanted to when you accepted the invitation to serve as a Volunteer
Other things that might not be so obvious…
*I thought I was tough and low maintenance before I came here but in this group I am one of the wimpier people and although I might be higher maintenance in terms of enjoying the finer things in life (like food!) I can confess shamelessly to the fact that I haven’t done any body hair removal since I left the US and I don’t really give a crap (I think eventually I’ll be able to braid it and tie the ends together with little pom poms like the cholitas do to their hair)
*I miss sushi! And drinking orange juice every morning, drinking tea without sugar, and washing my clothes in the washing machine and putting them in the dryer with the dryer sheet so they have that fresh smelling loveliness
*I’ve alternated between wearing just 4 different pairs of pants this past month and only done laundry once so I’m getting pretty good wear out of my pants between washings…anyways, what’s the point of washing them if they’re going to get dirty again?
*Speaking of filthy-ness, we might have though sweating in Shanghai was bad and not taking a shower until night…but I have accomplished a whole new level while I’ve been here…but I’m used to it and as long as I don’t get any diseases due to sub-par hygiene we’ll be okay (averaging one cold shower every 5 days)
*I always hated cooking without all the correct implements (I made lasagna on what would be classified as a cookie sheet in the US) and was a control freak in the kitchen when baking…but after a few experiments with my host family and adjusting recipes to Bolivian-style...I’m getting the hang of it and can probably say cooking with my host mom is one of my fave up on my list is any Chinese recipes I can get my hands on (something chicken and soy sauce related probably or like beef/pepper stir-fry and then apple cobbler!)
*Germs don’t scare me as much
*It’s okay to not be in good physical shape when there are more important things to worry about, running at high altitude sucks anyways…the verb is called “trotar” to trot…I don’t run, I trot. It’s even slower than what I call the “Stamford Shuffle” on my previous 4 mi loop
*Dealing with the semi-competitive process of site selection (so far) where some people get exactly what they want and others don’t can kind of suck, but you have to trust that it will all work out in the end
*The other people in your training class are your best friends until you go to your site so play nice with others!
*Peace Corps is a job just like any other, my greatest fear is not being able to succeed in my role and having it be my first big failure in life
*You’re not going to save the world or find a husband, but you can make jokes about it and cross your fingers
*I have a growing impatience with things from home as my patience increases for all first-they-were-super-annoying-but-I-guess-this-is-Bolivia things such as trufi rides; patience for American things is inversely proportional to patience for Bolivian things
*Being outgoing and extroverted is a big plus in the Peace Corps (sucks to be me!)
*Breathe…take it one day at a time
*And oldie but a goodie…go for the gold! Take advantage of opportunities that present themselves and do one thing every day that scares you (or 10 of them if necessary)
*I am just not an emotional person…try as I might, it better be something really shocking to evoke any kind of reaction out of me
*I don’t like talking just to fill the silence…but I like listening (to chisme! (aka gossip))
Maritza, Sarah and my Spanish teacher for the first 4 weeks, is one of the coolest people I have met here and she loves us and is having us over to make dinner before training ends! And she understands that Sarah and I consider fantasizing about food one of our favorite pasttimes in class!
*Yum = Fresh papaya, peach and banana juices
*Dogs…didn’t really like them in the US, don’t really like them here
*Bolivia makes you think…about garbage disposal (which they don’t have here in our host community) and sewage (which they only partially have I think); it’s okay to brush your teeth on the lawn, in front of your house and even next to a grocery store as Kasia did and then spit wherever you please
*If you’re in the mercado and you don’t know the price that something should be…you’re going to get ripped off. Por ejemplo, the other day I bought a massively sized papaya in the market which turned out to be very delicious and my host mom made it into a papaya and milk juice which was amazing as well…but I paid 8 bs (or 1 USD) for it when it should have been more like 5 bs. Apparently the last volunteer that stayed in this house, Anna, used the line, “Soy una gringita pero mi sueldo es Boliviana!” in her bargaining process…I’m a gringo but I have a Bolivian salary, not really sure how well that works though.
*And one last one…emails, packages, snail mail, comments on my blog from people in the US make me happy and make me feel lucky to be me and I cannot wait until people starting coming down here to visit me!

Time Out in Coch!!!

So this past week we got to have dinner at one of the staff members’ houses on Thursday night as part of a “city visit” which originated several years ago when PC trainees would ask the staff members or trainers…”do you have electricity/running water/a refrigerator/etc. in your house?” thinking that all of Bolivia was the same as the community in which our host families are for training. And of course the answers to these questions were yes, which made all the trainees wonder what their houses looked like and what middle-class or upper class homes in the city of Cochabamba looked like. I was super psyched when we found out we (me and 3 other aspirantes Tammy, Bill, Alex) were going to be going to Bill’s house (the training coordinator who also happens to be from Buffalo, NY and is a big fan of the Bills…har har, Bill is a Bill’s fan) and then Armando’s (one of the MED project trainers) family would be joining us as well. Since Armando was responsible for the ridiculously good parillada (bbq!) that we enjoyed on tech weekend we expected great things for dinner. And we were not disappointed! We had this amazing Mexican food (quesadillas, enchiladas, tacos) with pico de gallo (that we helped make!) and then on the way home on the PC bus we got to see the other ridiculously nice houses (from the outside) that the other trainees had dinner at from the APCD to some of the language teachers.

This past weekend we followed up by having some more time in Coch…it was one of the trainee’s birthday (Mike) so we all decided to stay in a hostel in the city so we could go out to dinner and then out to a discoteca. We ended up going to La Estancia for dinner (which if anyone comes to visit me and I’m in Coch I will take you there!) which was this amaaaazing steak restaurant with this really good salad bar to boot. I had this awesome steak, two full plates of salad and a peach juice (one of the best things about Bolivia is the fresh juices) for 50 bs or around $6.50. Definitely will be hitting up that restaurant again when there’s a special occasion. It’s also next to a Chinese restaurant that one of the language teachers recommended to me so I have reason to head back to that area! After dinner we all went back to the hostel and had a few drinks and then headed out to the bar and discoteca. It was a good time…we ended up at a discoteca complete with fog machine and strobe lights along with these little ladders and platforms you could climb up to dance on…what more can you ask for?

Other memorable moments of the weekend were the fact that I took my first hot shower (oh alright, lukewarm) since the first week that I was here when we were staying in the hotel for the retreat before we moved in with our families and getting to just chill out with people (while we weren’t at class!) and having cable TV at the hostel! We got our share of trashy TV that we were missing by watching a few episodes of the Ex-Factor, the ridiculous show where they put ex-es together for a weekend to see what happens. Quite amusing, quite satisfying, yet quite a horrendous representation of American pop culture. No wonder some people have certain perceptions of Americans… Also, Lindsay and I got to have lunch with Emily (another CMU grad, “Rochesterian” and former MED volunteer in Bolivia…are we twins?) and her Bolivian boyfriend. It’s always nice to hear about different volunteers’ experiences and see how things have changed in the past three years with the organization and what we know so far about the community that we’re staying in.

Anyways, for this coming week I have a ton of stuff to do…we start our tech week late this week where we have a day at the tourism fair so we have several projects we’re working on for the tourism fair and a business simulation that we’re putting together for high school students for tech week! Eeek! We haven’t been very productive lately so we’re going to have to get our act together to get everything done since it’s a pain getting together in groups since most of us live so far from each other and we don’t have access to internet to do some research on our projects. Such is life though, I’m actually looking forward to having some more time-consuming work to do that relates to what we’ll actually be doing as volunteers since at this point we’ve had lots of lectures but limited hands-on training.

In other news, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish a very happy birthday to Conti (sending you a virtual toilet plunger at Grand), Channing (hope everything is going well…haha, I don’t know if you’re even reading this), and Pri Pri (I’m sending you a virtual scorpion and set of pijamas that will most definitely be useful for going out on the town to buy a bottle of wine)!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

“Hey! Do you realize we’re in Bolivia?”…”¡Hay huevos en la calle!”

So this past weekend was quite gringo-filled…it was Tech Weekend which meant we didn’t have language class on Friday morning and we all hopped in the PC bus (which we call Moby Dick for its size and appearance) and took a little road trip with the training staff to some of the surrounding communities that are sites of some of the volunteers. We stopped at La Angostura for lunch (the first fish that I’ve eaten since we’ve been here!) and then continued on to Tarata which is this little colonial town that is the current site for one of the volunteers working in tourism training guides, teaching English and doing some business consulting with a one-woman weaving operation. We went on a tour with the guides that she had trained and I attempted to follow along with what was happening although I didn’t really retain anything being that I have a difficult enough time in English remembering historical facts but overall it was a good experience to see what a potential site is like (it’s one of the ones that someone in our group is going to go to and replace Patti, the volunteer that is there right now). Tarata is famous for being the once capital of Bolivia because three different presidents were born there, including one that was kind of nuts apparently and made the capital there while he was in office. After that we stayed in this little hotel where we occupied all the rooms and had a parrillada which was this AWESOME bbq that the training staff arranged for us…ridiculously tasty meat cooked in this massive roast along with caesar salad(!) and these yummerific brownies that our two 2nd year volunteer tech training helpers had made.

The next morning after breakfast we headed to Arani to do our activity with a group of tejadoras (weavers) that another volunteer, Karen, works with. They were sooo cute! They knit all these things out of alpaca…super warm, light, soft, durable, you name it…and also pricey. Sweaters that they export to the US sell for around $200…but here we can buy them for around $50 since there’s no shipping cost involved…birthday or Christmas gifts perhaps? We did a game where we divided them into groups and had them make bracelets while we planted “distractors” such as Howard feeding one of the women soda to demonstrate the importance of fulfilling orders on time, an issue that this particular group had problems with in the past. The best part was definitely the dinamica (or icebreaker) that they used to divide the women into groups…each person got a little slip of paper with an animal on it…chancho, vaca, perro, gato, oveja…and then everyone had to close their eyes and make the noise of the animal and through listening find the other people in their group. 30 people stumbling around a room with their eyes closed making animal noises…and half of them traditional Bolivian women anywhere from early 20s to my grandma’s age snorting like pigs and moo-ing like cows…pretty much priceless. It was great to see the actual work of some of the volunteers in their sites and it gave all of us a taste of what’s to come!

Then Saturday night we had our first night out in Coch…one of the 3rd year volunteers who’s just finishing up his service as the PCV Leader for micro-enterprise volunteers had a bbq at his house and then we went out to a bar afterwards for some dancing. Interesting highlights of the night were definitely the prediction game we had…of who would get together with who…via anonymous ballot and announced in a circle (and one of the predictions did come true that night!), the would-be liability in the US of having an actual fire pole in the bar that went from the 2nd level to the 1st level where people could just slide down (you wouldn’t think that is a smart idea in a place where they’re serving alcohol) or climb up in the case of one of the current volunteers, and the adventure getting back to our little village from Coch where the trip usually takes around 1.5 hours in trufi. 6 of us hopped in a taxi and had agreed upon 50 bs for the trip back to our community but then halfway there the taxi driver stopped and tried to rip us off by saying we needed to take two taxis since we had more than 4 people…we decided not to take that crap and ended up taking a trufi and then a taxi. The taxi ride was quite amusing though…at one point No Doubt came on the radio and we all started belting out Don’t Speak with 6 of us plus the driver stuffed into the taxi…I think the driver was quite amused by us and Tyler had the comment “hey, do you realize we’re in Bolivia?” and it’s funny how you’re like ah…we actually are in Bolivia…and the amusing randomness of the situation that people had to be there to understand. Like when we were in Tarata and on the tour…we had just finished up visiting a festival that was happening at a church in the town and were walking on the road when all of a sudden Daniel, our future boss/APCD, was like, oh look it’s Chuckie! So scary…there was a van driving by and in the passenger seat someone was holding this Chuckie doll (as in Child’s Play) up in the window and you couldn’t see the passenger behind it so it looked like Chuckie was just sitting there in the window staring at us…only in Bolivia man. It’s like how only in China I would be held hostage in a KFC by a man selling us bootleg DVDs when the police came to try to bust him. Ah yes. Another Bolivia moment…Monday night I was in my house with the fam and there was a trufi that had its lights shining in front of our house for awhile so my mom went out to investigate. Lo and behold…huevos en la calle! (Eggs in the street!) My mom ran back in the house to get my sister to come help…basically our neighbor across the street has chickens that they use for egg production and they had like literally at least 1000 eggs in those crates that hold 3 dozen and they were all in the street! Some broken some not…apparently they had put them in the back of a taxi/trufi to bring them to the market to sell or to the little tiendas in the neighborhood to sell…and the back door wasn’t closed right and when they hit the bump in our rocky unpaved road…the door came open and all the eggs fell out in the middle of the street! Definitely que pena…but it was one of those, oh man, you have to laugh a little moments too…at least 10 people out there sifting through a bunch of broken eggs finding ones that weren’t and then putting them in the crates…all while there is this mad windstorm outside (it gets sooo windy at night here) with dust blowing everywhere and then other people scooping up the “scrambled” eggs from the potholes in the street and putting them in containers so they wouldn’t go to waste! One kid was like, look I got a whole yolk! Ah yes…our boxer Randall will be eating eggs for quite awhile for dinner…

Monday afternoon we got…*drumroll please*…a book with information about all of the sites! It makes it a lot more real once we see detailed job descriptions (which will definitely evolve during our two years here) with other info of how long it takes to get to the regional office for each site, how far away it is from a major city or if it’s campo-campo…which means in the middle of nowhere and you better get tough. But I have a lot of faith in the APCD (Associate PC Director) for our project area who is in charge of placing us in the sites…he seems to be a pretty good judge of how tough or wimpy you really are and what you’re looking for so I think he has me pegged as a non-hardcore person (correct)…and we’re still working together on figuring out what kind of job I want to do. Right now I’m looking at a few sites that I’m interested that are spread out all around the country…one is in Tarija (southernmost department/state that is right on the border of Argentina…that means good steak and wine!), two are in Santa Cruz department (hot, tropical, fun/social for PC volunteers), and one we went to for Tech Weekend (Tarata) which seemed decent and is pretty close to Coch. We’ll see though…it’s a big puzzle to get all of us placed in sites that we’re happy with and in general I want to believe what Daniel says…if you’re going to be a good volunteer you’ll be a good volunteer anywhere. And I guess on the flipside…if you suck and hate it…you’re going to suck and hate it anywhere you go. I just hope I get to do something with computers…some of the sites have semi-technical components…like possibilities of working with setting up computer centers or creating computer curriculum for schools or even one of the sites working with tourism has people using Excel to analyze tourist data. I heart Excel! Haha…I’d have to say that’s one of the few skills I’m fairly confident with after three years of plugging away in front of a computer so hopefully I’ll get to use it!

In other semi-American news, I made pizza with my host mom tonight! When I was in Arani over the weekend I bought this massive pan (bread) that turned out to be ridiculously duro (hard)…I was at a loss of what to do with it, was thinking about turning it into croutons or bruschetta or something but then I figured it was the size of a pizza crust so I would try to turn it into pizza. I bought some mozzarella, sauce and salami (yeah yeah, they were out of pepperoni) and baked it up…with my host mom’s recommendation of adding some of the soup broth she had made to outer crust to soften it up and putting some butter on it before the toppings (duh! everything is better with butter!) It turned out decently and the family said it was rico (yummy!) but I’m just glad I found a use for the rock-hard frisbee size bread I bought. Next up for this weekend is making lasagna with them (at special request of my host mom).

We have an exciting rest of the week planned, going to the training center as usual on Wednesday for classes (followed up by dinner in Coch), Thursday or Friday we have our language interviews, Thursday we get to have dinner in Coch in groups at one of the staff member’s houses so we can see non-campo life (yeehaw!) and then this Saturday night we’re all planning on staying in Coch overnight at a hostel so we can go out and partaaay! (since usually we have curfew at midnight) Keep on posting comments! They make me feel loved! And I’ll keep ya guys updated…till later, adios!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

¡Muchas Gracias a Mare Mare!

Quick entry before I run out of the internet cafe...will post more tomorrow in an entry when I can upload with my flash drive (supposedly the computers here are blocked...what kind of crap is that?) Anyways, I wanted to say thank you to Mary for her kind package letter that I got today! She knew all the most important things to get me updated on...dailybunny, Miss America pageant, and of course religious quote of the day to make the package religious articles! Haha...thanks for making me smile today my yayforbunnies and yayforfood bunny loving friend! I have heard rumors of other packages arriving soon so I´m keeping a lookout for them! Hope all is well in the US!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Brownies y Técitos

Ah food…que lujo! I ate a brownie today…one of the guys in the agri-business group baked brownies from scratch today and was selling them for 2 bs so I decided to splurge and treat myself to one (although I probably could have eaten like…10 of them). It was quite delicious! The agri-business trainees also made banana bread another time to sell to us and that was also quite tasty. I think I am missing my daily sweets and accessibility to the pantry at work…Barry! Where is that slice of cake we are supposed to be sharing? Speaking of people in Stamford…I’d like to use this opportunity to wish Danimal a happy belated birthday (sorry, missed it last week when I wasn’t around the computer when Facebook was supposed to give me a notification!)…hopefully you had a good one (haha, are you even reading this? Barry – tell him to read this) and that there were baked goods involved (although no personalized cookies this year). I’m in the process of coming up with other foods to make con mi familia…my host mom said she wants to learn to make lasagna so I think I’ll do that…and then I was thinking of doing more breakfast foods since they’re easy (and I like them)…like french toast…and then more pancakes with other fillings, like apple cinnamon pancakes or banana pancakes…when my host mom asked me what you can put in them, I just told her to use her imagination! After all, with pancakes the sky is the limit…although…if there were strawberries around here I could always do the classic strawberries and whipped cream. Pamela’s anyone?? Ahhh…I need to stop talking about food, I’m driving myself up a wall with these food cravings. Even though the food in my house is pretty good (my host mom is probably the best cook out of any of them) I’m glad it’s Wednesday tomorrow when we go to the training center and then go out in the city afterwards for dinner. The past two weeks I’ve had pizza for dinner on Wednesdays in a restaurant and they weren’t half bad but I’m thinking it might be time for something different. Maybe like…a massive pile of pastries or something like that. A whole freaking pan of brownies sounds like a good idea right about now. I do enjoy the little “tecitos” that my host mom gives me though…it’s the random cup of tea in the late afternoon/early evening to tide me over before dinner always served along with a little chat about anything from education to sewing to pets…apparently when I get out to my site I will be having tons of te-citos and café-citos which are when people invite you in to have a cup of tea or coffee and you just sit and chat and get to know them while hanging out. Think of it as the Bolivian equivalent to a trip to Starbucks (which they don’t have here BTW)…but they do have Subway (in Santa Cruz I think!)

Eeek. Today we realized in Spanish class that we basically have one week to make our one last push to improve our Spanish prior to our second language interview where they basically gauge what level you’re at. Apparently I need to show “domination” of the past, present and future tenses during my interview along with being pretty fluent to achieve an advanced level so I’m going to try really hard this next week to practice as much as I can. Why am I writing a blog entry en ingles en la computadora then? No tengo una idea! I attempted to learn a phrase today in Spanish that was the equivalent of “jia1 you2” in Chinese…like go team! Or something of the sort…kind of like what I’m using to psych myself up for this last week’s push in learning Spanish. I didn’t even know how to describe it in English though, is there an equivalent for that? Like…let’s go! Keep it up! Or the literal translation…add gas? Haha…this colloquial phrase translation is not going very well. I do enjoy my Spanish dictionary a lot that I bought before I left though…we’ve had many a good laugh in class about the kinds of words that it has in there, many of which I don’t even know the meaning in English…such as the translation of “ghetto blaster” (apparently has something to do with a big boom box?)

I did have a lovely conversation with my Spanish teacher today about natural gas before lunch though…the teachers come to our host community for classes and they eat lunch at our houses (alternating houses each week) and I was trying to pick up some business vocab so I was talking to her about my limited knowledge of the natural gas industry and we read an article in the newspaper about some investment in natural gas production. Now I know how to say trader (comerciante) and risk management (gestion de riesgas) in Spanish…if that’s not an accomplishment I don’t know what is.

If I’m rambling…it’s clearly because I have nothing important to report. No llama dancing in these past few days, I’ve hung up my llama shoes…with tech weekend coming up where we actually get to put our skills to use...we’re going to be working with an artisan group (a group of women weavers) to do an activity where we demonstrate the importance of order fulfillment (aka getting your product to your customer in the US on time) and I volunteered to help lead the “conclusion” portion which basically involves public speaking…in Spanish. What. Am. I. Doing. Oh man…who’s the person that got a C in Oral Communications in college??? But…I have to say that I am glad I’m forcing myself to do this because it makes me research pertinent vocabulary prior to our trip this weekend so I only semi-look like a fool (you would think it would be the people that are more advanced in Spanish that volunteer for things like this) and there’s no time like the present to actually do that whole “do one thing everyday that scares you” thing. After all, the next two years are going to be public speaking in Spanish and giving charlas (mini-speeches) so I’d better start now if I want to be halfway decent by the time the next two years are over.

In other news, I’ve started running here. It’s HARD. It’s bad enough in the US when I shuffle around the streets of Stamford…but here you can definitely tell that there’s less air to be had and my normal 10 min per mile pace has slowed down to…give or take 15 min per mile. Lindsay and I are adopting a Tuesday/Thursday schedule to head out to the cancha (soccer field) and running laps around it for half an hour since the roads are a bit too rocky to be prancing/shuffling along. I don’t understand how people can adjust to playing sports that require endurance and sprinting…like basketball and soccer…I get winded even walking the 15 min to and from tech class! I guess the only solution is to keep on going and your body gets adjusted to it though…and I heard that if you head to somewhere at a lower altitude then you feel like you can run forever so I’m just looking forward to that when that time comes.

And shamelessly – if anyone wants to send me anything…I’d really like some magazines (old news or business weeklies…Business Week, US News, Time…you get the idea)…I am feeling a bit out of touch with the current news in the US and a nice weekly magazine would summarize the stuff that I don’t catch when I make it to the internet café…address was posted in earlier entry before I left…it would be much appreciated and I would send you…special llama products? Oh alright, maybe just a nice snail mail letter, in return. Heh heh…and Mom – if you’re still reading, can you send me that Better Homes & Gardens cookbook when you get the chance? It’s the one with the red and white checked cover…much easier to adjust recipes that you find in there rather than taking the hour trip to look stuff up on the internet when I need it.

Ok, off to study the imperfect tense in Spanish. Adios!

P.S. Send me your snail mail addresses people if you want a special treat! It costs me like 1 USD to send a letter but I’m working on making my rounds! To!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Piñas y Panqueques

One of the latest discoveries for me has been the dirt-cheap price of fruit around here. To my amazement my friend Sarah bought a pineapple (a HUGE one! not those measly ones you find in the supermercado in the US) for only 3 bs! That’s the equivalent of around...38 cents in the US? Ridiculo! Haha…even though pineapples aren’t my fave, I think I’m going to start purchasing some to share with my family since we don’t really eat that much fruit. The only pain is lugging it around with you on the bus. Other prices of fruit are 1 bs (around 15 cents) for 6 small bananas and 4 large tangerines (or mandarinas as they call them aqui) for 1 bs. At first I was a little scared of the fruit because of what they told us about what gets us sick…and the fact that I think my prior digestive issues were due to watermelon that I ate…but now I’ve eaten apples, bananas, pineapple and tangerines with no issues so far (crossing my fingers on the tangerines I ate this morning) so I’m feeling like I’m going to be getting my fair share of fruit in Bolivia as long as I’m not lazy about purchasing/washing it. In other news, palta (avocado) season is coming up around here so I’m looking forward to making some fresh guacamole in Spanish class. It’s great how we get to decide what we want to do in our language classes…not just grammar exercises from books…but one day we went to the supermarket in Coch and then Sarah and I cooked fajitas and chocolate chip cookies on Thursday with our teacher for class.

Last night we had our first dance por la llamerada! Yes, I say our first dance because not only did we perform it twice…but we are performing again today (Saturday) since festivals around here last more than one day. I was definitely amused by the whole spectacle…we were all dressed up in our costumes and dancing with these legitimate group of Bolivian dancers that were leading us…and the way we were doing some of these steps…let’s just say I equate them with looking at the person that is across from you, then scampering awkwardly and doing a spin move in the air of 1.5 vueltas (or turns) and then kind of kicking your feet up doing heck knows what. Total embarrassment. It’s alright though, I think the people there appreciated that we were trying no matter how uncoordinated we were. I definitely had a few collisions with the people around me during the dance along with dropping the little stuffed llama that we were holding in our one hand and getting my little knit string/handkerchief that we twirl around all tangled up with the person dancing next to me. I (think) I’m posting a pic here of me with my host family (minus Wilbur, the son that went off to school in Oruro) and me and my friend Kasia doing our “alternative” dance pose…we had created a separate dance that involved the wave and random squatting (aka the latrine dance) in case we forgot the actual dance moves and needed to keep on moving. Luckily we didn’t have to bust those moves out because I’m not sure if everyone would have been able to handle our eccentric dance moves…I’m going to go out on a limb and say that those moves are not part of any traditional Bolivian dance.

This morning I made panqueques (pancakes!) with chocolate and bananas for the family. I think they were a little much for my family because no one managed to finish their two pancakes except me (being the porker that I am)…lately I’ve had this ravenous appetite that leads me to believe that I may be harboring a tapeworm that is larger than the one that I had in the US in my stomach. I’ve always been a fatty when it comes to craving foods and eating when I’m not hungry but here I’ll sneak into my room after meals and have candy and crackers or trail mix or whatever processed foods I stash in my suitcase because they taste delicious. My meals here in general are pretty healthy though…my host mom is a really good cook (she cooks for her work for some of the teachers at the local school and she used to cook for a pension for like 90 people a day, which is not really a restaurant but maybe something more like somewhere boarders might go and get food) and I get a lot of variety in my meals. Most people around here get lots of potatoes but I don’t get very many at all…I’ve had a few french fries and a boiled potato now and again but mostly I get rice and noodles with a variety of toppings. Some of my faves have been the fried egg, fried banana or plantain slices, beets, and I even had a curry-type dish the other day that was made with pumpkin! Food, glorious food! I think that’s one of the things I didn’t think I was going to miss at all and that I did a lot at first…but now I’m adjusting and learning to like the food because it’s all fresh although there’s no fish and very little meat (that’s health though right?). My host mom was telling me about how the volunteer that stayed with them last year was a vegetarian and ate all organic stuff and used all organic soap, shampoo, etc. and how she didn’t comb her hair and was a hippie. Definitely a contrast to me but change is good right? Too bad I don’t do yoga because the last two girls that stayed here did yoga with my host mom...

We’ve had a bunch of work assigned to us lately and more coming up since our training schedule is a bit compressed. We only have 8 weeks of training in comparison to the 10 weeks that past volunteers got so I have to be working really hard at my language skills and what not because in an ideal world I would test out at an advanced level of Spanish at the end of my training but I heard that even moving up one level (e.g. for me from intermediate low to intermediate mid) is already a tough enough challenge. I think my plan is going to be not only to take advantage of tutoring opportunities (basically discussion for a half hour on Wednesdays with a teacher and 2 hours on Saturdays) and speaking with my family, but seeing where I can get a newspaper once in awhile since for me reading and knowing how words are spelled and being able to visualize them is pretty important for me to be able to remember them. Next weekend is already Tech Weekend where we get to put some of the skills we learned into practice with a group of artisan women at one of the sites that a current volunteer is at…and then after that we have other “big” events coming up like a whole Tech Week where we travel to another volunteer’s site and we’re going to have a booth at a tourism fair in Coch for World Tourism Day and we have to create all the informational material and interactive games and stuff for it. And in about a month (October 9th!), we find out our sites! It’s pretty exciting because that’s when you know where in Bolivia you’ll actually be for the next two years. At this point I’m pretty torn between what I want in terms of more Business Education vs. Consulting vs. Tourism…and then whether or not I want a more rural or more “urban” site and whether or not I want a site mate and be further from a big city or closer to a big city without a site mate. We’ll just have to wait and see though; I think it depends on if I can get to an advanced level of Spanish and what everyone else wants. In general I think I’m pretty agreeable…my concern is being able to get through the first 3 months at my site when you’re finally off on your own and dealing with the “real” PC experience rather than worrying about if the site I got is what I really wanted because at this point I have no idea what I want!

That’s all I got for now…going to chill out for a bit before I have to get ready for dancing again! Tomorrow I’m going to be heading into Quillacollo to use the internet to work on a project we’re doing along with having washing my clothes (first time!) by hand on my to-do list in the afternoon…should be an interesting experience since I heard it takes forever and I have no idea what I’m doing…

Ok, the uploading on blog didn´t work...check out flickr for the photos...

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Public Transportation and the Llama Dance!

hola amigos y familia - so it´s saturday and i´m hanging out in cochabamba (with the cochabombinos as those who live in cochabamba are called) at the internet cafe. i had language tutoring this morning for two hours with one of the language teachers. we have optional tutoring on saturday mornings (private language tutoring for free!) and most of us signed up so we can get our spanish skills up to par. the whole public transportation thing is kinda crazy around here though...takes forever to get anywhere but i think we´ll get used to it...i left my house at 6:10 am this morning to walk over to meet 3 other volunteers to catch a trufi to quillacollo where we then had to connect to another trufi to was nice that we got into the city kind of early though because then we stopped at a place for coffee (i got real oj!) and then headed over to meet the teachers at the hotel that we had our retreat at when we first arrived in coch. the two hours of tutoring was really cool...i enjoyed it a lot actually and made getting up at 5:30 this morning worth it...just chatted en español por dos horas with one of the teachers about anything from immigration to my semester at sea to whether or not bolivians can distinguish chinese from japanese from korean, etc. i think these saturday morning sessions will be very good for improving my spanish (plus giving me a reason to get up and go into the city to access internet and hang out with other volunteers).

earlier this wk we had some tech training...random sessions and presentations about what some of the other volunteers did in their sites for projects and we also found out all the potential sites for MED (microenterprise and development) volunteers...looks like a bunch of them are in the santa cruz departamento which is the one close to brazil that gets all hot and has mosquitos with malaria...good for those that like hot weather, but i´m hoping to be placed somewhere where i don´t have to spend all day sweating and wanting to take showers when i can´t. speaking of...i should probably take a shower this wkend since it has been since weds morning and now its saturday afternoon. maybe i´ll wait until tomorrow though...tonight all the volunteers were invited by one of the host moms who happens to actually be a teacher at the local high school as well to have pizza dinner at their place and then we´re heading up the mountain (to somewhere that supposedly has a beautiful view) to some hot springs...think stinky sulfur water. don´t think that í´m going to partake in the hot springs because public places with water kind of skeeve me out...think hot springs in budapest steph? but it´ll be good just to hang out with other volunteers and see what it´s all about because it´s supposed to be quite pretty up there en las montañas.

another exciting thing that we´ve done the past two nights is practice our dancing! apparently we (as in all 20 volunteers) are going to be in a parade next saturday for the 8th of september. we are doing a dance called the llamerada (as in llamas) and we´re supposed to have this crazy dance that involves spinning around while staying in formation along with wearing these costumes that they are renting from somewhere far away...that guessed it...llamas all over them! i´m pretty psyched to be participating in my first bolivian parade and having it being associated with llamas! i am sure there will be some good pics and i´ll try to post them when i get them.

okay, that´s all i have for wk should be bundles of fun when we get to go shopping for ingredients during spanish class on tuesday and then we get to cook lunch with our teacher on thursday together! time to go get myself all up to date on US news...what is this crazy business maria sharapova getting upset at the US Open and idaho senators resigning over scandalous business...*sigh* what is this world coming to...alrighty, send me email everyone and update me on your lives! yo estoy perdido en bolivia...i think that means i´m lost in bolivia...without updates!