Saturday, December 6, 2008

PC China Top 5

So I've always been a person that is big on personal development and work-life balance...and after 2 weeks in Panzhihua I have come up with my official list of goals for my free time while I am here. I hope to spend the majority of my time that is not spent in class doing these activities (or combining the activities with hanging out with students and helping them practice their English). I'm finally giving up on my dreams of playing guitar (yeah, if it hasn't happened by now it's probably not going to) and focusing on a few things that I already have some interest in.

1. Chinese - Self-explanatory. It's one of my main personal reasons for being here and a lifelong (well, since college...what was I doing slacking off in Chinese School all those years...) goal of mine.

2. Badminton - A very popular sport that I used to love dearly in high school. So much so that I used to skip other classes to attend gym classes so I could play more. I don't want to play the backyard laid-back version...I want to play the as-seen-on-TV, birdies whizzing by, hardcore, diving all over the place, competitive version. I played 2 hours today and I can tell my arm is going to be very sore tomorrow.

3. Ping-Pong - Another national hobby. There's no lack of people to practice with and with the skill that they have, there's no choice but to improve.

4. Chinese Chess - Trying to re-learn a game that I used to play as a child. It'll probably be good exercise for the brain.

5. Mahjong - Who doesn't want to be one of those expert mahjong players? I want to be able to say I play, not just I know how to play. Maybe I'll even get a chance to play with my dad then.

As you can see, most of these hobbies are very Chinese...I am following the advice of one of Claire's students -- "when in China, do as the Chinese do." I find myself feeling very American some days, but I figure I can also discover my inner Chinese soul also during my time here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Panzhihua Observations

1) I am going to have some killer legs when I leave this place. The city is nestled among the mountains and there are some steep climbs to get anywhere – including from my apartment to the classrooms and campus.

2) Bubble tea exists! I stumbled across a shop in my wanderings and the bubble tea shop (aka Jack Hut Fresh Drink) will probably be a regular stop for me on my trips into town.

3) I had my first cockroach sighting in my apartment yesterday. Today I bought my first can of cockroach killer. I don’t so much mind dead cockroaches, but I am not fond of the live scurrying variety. And although I had some issues with bugs when I first got to my site in Bolivia, I actually would prefer scorpion infestations to cockroach infestations…the natural countryside bug vs. city dirty bug argument. I’m just very squeamish.

4) Wang Ke Long. It’s like Carrefour where you can buy anything from appliances to apples. I went there today to buy some household supplies and was attacked by the random salespeople on all sides. I think they enjoyed helping me because I actually bought their ridiculous fancy things after they convincingly gave me their best pitches and product demonstrations. 150 kuai wet/dry mop anyone? I also happened to checkout behind the guy that was buying the 3 plastic bags (as in shopping grocery bags, not small produce bags) of pig fat. No, these were not sealed bags, they were grocery bags that had been shoveled full of pig fat and tied at the top with the fat oozing and spilling out the top. No doubt, pig fat ending up on the cashiers’ hands and the handle of the broom that I bought. Lovely.

Panzhihua University

Here's the English website. Yes, we are so advanced we have an English website!

Check out the photos under "The University" - "Pictoral"...

"So cute! Like an apple!"

Although I’ve always fancied that I am a kumquat in the game of “if you were a fruit, what fruit would you be?” apparently I evoke responses of cuteness and apple-ness as well. That was the first remark I got when I was introduced to the medical assistant in the PC office here.

Yes indeed, I’m finally in China after a month and a half of slacking in the States. I spent one week in Chengdu for training and then took a 12 hr overnight train to arrive in Panzhihua, my site, this morning. It’s been an interesting experience so far. I can already see that the challenges of PC China (or shall we say U.S.-China Friendship Volunteers) are totally different from what we had in PC Bolivia. I am living in a city of 1 million people in southern Sichuan province, I have a washing machine and internet access in my massive apartment, and I have what appears to be a real job here as a university teacher. I blend in better than any other volunteer (it puts my sunglasses Bolivian disguise to shame) and am more likely mistaken for being mentally handicapped based on my level of Mandarin and blank looks following questions in Sichuan dialect rather than applauded for my feeble Spanish and Quechua. But there are some threads that tie my experience in Bolivia to what I see here. We’re still fulfilling the 3 Peace Corps’ goals of providing skilled people where they are needed and cultural exchange…and even the mountains surrounding Panzhihua make me think of las montañas del Valle Alto. So far, I’m very hopeful about what my experience can be here though. I spent a lot of my time in the States feeling guilty for not accomplishing what I had hoped to during my time in Bolivia and the choice I made to leave what I had started in Bolivia to go halfway around the world and start over in a move that can only really be called selfish. Finally arriving in China has helped me to move on and think about the future though. When I finish my work with Peace Corps, I will have spent more time in China than Bolivia and will hopefully have a better mastery of Chinese than Spanish. I hope that I will help students improve their English to the best of their abilities and that I will learn how to teach in the process. I have high hopes for my language skills and dreams of HSK success, but those are tempered by the fact that in contrast to where Spanish was critical for my work in Bolivia, Chinese is not especially necessary in being a successful teacher. Also, I will be teaching English majors who have blown me away in the classes that I observed with their huge vocabularies and overall knowledge beyond any English students that I encountered in Bolivia. It seems as if what they really need is just to practice all the knowledge that they have stored in their impressive memories and my job is to make sure that what they can read and write can be used in practical oral speech as well.

I’m actually not going to be teaching for a few months though…since I don’t have any formal classroom teaching experience (minus 10 student classes with Literacy Volunteers), I’m going to be spending the next two months observing classes and planning for next semester. Then we’ll all go on the long break for Chinese New Year and then I will start anew in February with a new class of students (hopefully having blazing success!). There are two other foreign teachers here, Claire, another PCV who has been here since Fall 2007, and Michael, a friend of another PCV that is in Panzhihua at another university. Other than us 4 Americans though, the expat community is pretty much nonexistent (this contrasts greatly with the concentration in Chengdu and Chongqing). We’re also pretty isolated from other volunteers which is a double-edged sword (hah, gotta start practicing those idioms so I can teach them to my students, did I even use that right? maybe I should call it a mixed blessing). It probably helps us integrate better into Chinese culture and concentrate more on the language without the distraction of going out with volunteers and expats every weekend, but getting to hang out with other volunteers is half the PC experience and we’re really too far away to even get together with others during weekends when there are holidays. Plus it stinks that I got to know some of the volunteers in Chengdu but it’s possible I might only see them once more before they finish their service since they are all in the group that came in 2007. Some of the more memorable experiences during my time in Chengdu were my first Sichuan hot pot and shaokao along with karaoke and getting to see the other volunteers teach as well as their secondary projects. I got to observe an English language singing contest that is held annually at one of the schools (one girl even sang Tori Amos and it was freaking awesome), a hip hop class that one of the volunteers teaches, and a lecture on American food that culminated in a sandwich making contest. The best part probably being the cute little Chinese students that did not know that mustard and peanut butter probably are not the best combination which resulted in their classmates that were the judges running out of the room to spit out the atrocious combinations that they were forced to try. Something tells me that those students do not have a very good impression of the American sandwich. Jelly and red onion anyone? I also had a lot of laughs from the English names chosen by students (and teachers!)…I met a teacher named Tomato and there were students with colorful names such as Moon, Jujubur, Fish, Lantern, and Auntie. Yes, there are fun times to be had in China!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Alegría en China

So after a lengthy process and the most stressful week of my life, Alegría en Bolivia is no longer. I will be transferring to Peace Corps in China to teach university-level English for 2 years (pending medical clearance and visa). First I will be coming back to the States for a visit while I wait for my clearance...which could take anywhere from a few weeks to a month or so and then off to China (among the possibilities are Sichuan, Guizhou, Chongqing, and Gansu). I'll be doing 2 weeks of training/orientation in Chengdu and then be off to my site...which apparently will have a minimum population of 200,000 people. Goodbye rural Bolivia, hello urban China. I'm REALLY excited about the opportunity to FINALLY learn Mandarin at an acceptable level and just as excited to be getting a more structured job AND to teach English as my main job. Apparently every cloud has a silver lining.

Dear Bolivia - I will miss you A LOT. But it's not "adios," it's more of an "hasta luego" or "tinkunakama" because I know in my heart that I will be back. Te cuida bien y te amo.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bye Bye Bolivia...

Sad news...

Next steps...figuring out what to do with my life while here in Peru...

Friday, September 5, 2008

More New Fotos

Lake Titicaca - Copacabana and the president´s visit to Tarata!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fotos Nuevas!

Posted some new photos...Chile vaca and random Bolivia at right.

Trouble Spots?!

I have discovered a love for reading fashion and celeb magazines since I have come to Bolivia. Nevertheless, I was disturbed by two articles in particular that I came across in the August issue of Vogue that my mom recently had delievered to me. They both appeared in the section which is titled “trouble spots”…all about plastic surgery and new fancy cosmetic procedures. These two articles each warranted two pages…one was on the “trouble spot” of the fat bulge that is in your armpit that overflows when you wear a strapless top and the other was on knees and the cosmetic procedures (such as lipo) that can be done to make your KNEES more attractive. I see several problems with this scenario. First, that someone actually is obsessed enough about their armpit and knee appearance to write a two-page article about each of them. Secondly, that people are actually spending money on procedures to reduce their armpit fat roll that you can only see when you wear a strapless garment or strangely unnatural surgeries on their knees to improve asthetics (we are not talking about repairing ligaments and critical components here). And thirdly, that I am wasting my time reading an article on making your armpit and knees more attractive. This last problem is definitely within my control…but I almost get the feeling that these articles are satirical and making fun of people that actually care about these things (do people REALLY care about these things?!). Whatever, the frightening nature of those articles was offset by the pretty pictures of Kate Moss and an article about one of the Vogue editors where she was pictured with all of her cats. Really cute, smashed-in-face, fluffy cats. As I said to Sarah during our vacation to Lake Titicaca after a particularly satisfying meal where we waddled out of the restaurant, “let’s go back to the hotel and stare at the cats in Vogue and then go to bed.” Sounds like a perfect evening to me indeed.

Other notes…I saw a picture of a proscuitto and fresh mozzarella sandwich on this really crusty bread with tomato and lettuce in a magazine and it made me very very hungry. Proscuitto-wrapped asparagus anyone? Also, Evo came to Tarata today! I saw him speak (well, heard him speak, I was too busy lounging on the grass by the ice cream cart ladies) and was impressed by the use of helicopter transport that created a big dust swirl when he landed and took off…just like the movies!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Muchas Gracias!

Just wanted to give a shout out for a couple of packages I received recently. First to Lisa for her Jelly Belly filled birthday package (it’s very difficult to get good jelly beans in Bolivia). And also to Yoko and Dan for the “religious articles”…which included holy water (REAL Starbucks coffee!) and Communion wafers (Chips Ahoy!) along with some really tasty looking Asian treats! Very much appreciated and will be fully enjoyed and in-joy-ed (I shall be consuming it get the point). Thank you, thank you, and thank you!

To the Navel of the World…and Back!

I am going to have to admit that I realized while I was in Chile and Easter Island that for having been to around 25 countries and counting, I’m not a true traveler of the backpacking variety. Translation – I’m a sissy. My opinion on traveling is that there is a certain thrill when it comes to learning about a new place and culture and seeing some pretty cool things (and tasting some new foods!) that I crave. But in essence, traveling = vacation. Therefore, based on logic, if vacations should be relaxing and luxurious as possible on the available budget, traveling should be relaxing and luxurious as well. Consequently, I am now viewing my post PC service plans of “backpacking” through Central America with some trepidation, but then again, I should be in good company so the whole DMB “turns out not where but who you’re with that really matters” should apply and make scary hostels and torturous bus rides manageable right?

Anyways, so I guess some of you out there want to hear about my trip. Let’s start with the guilty confessions. My first meal was at McDonalds, followed by a second meal at Dunkin Donuts…and I certainly spent most of my budget on food (or a variety of ridiculously overpriced things that I either didn’t need or purchased in spite of the ludicrous price). I had two fantastic sushi meals, ceviche (which might be my new favorite food), a lovely mahi mahi dinner, and a super-splurge Indian meal…not to mention that tuna and scallop tartare…yum yum YUM. I bought Starbucks twice (vanilla latte and caramel macchiato) and my scariest moment was when I bought the current Time magazine in the Santiago airport for $9. Yes, that’s 9 USD. I could have bought an actual book for that same price…but I have acquired a certain addiction to American magazines since I’ve been down here. Also, I have a warning to people that have not been in a shopping mall for a long time that it can be a scary and disorienting experience. The first purchase I made in the mall I went to in Santiago was 4 pairs of neon colored capri tights (what I call the neon citrus colors – neon blue, orange, yellow and green). I am not sure why, but I thought Lindsay, Sarah, Kasia and I could use them during a “superstar” costume party during the all volunteer gathering. Don’t worry, that was followed by sensible purchases of hiking shoes and trail running shoes and spending money that I am not recouping via my nonexistent salary.

Overall my first real solo traveling experience went well. It had a slow start in Santiago when I got there because I have a general fear of new places the first day I am there and wandering too far off the beaten path, but the second day in daylight is always better. I found Santiago to be a very interesting city with lots to do (definitely worth a visit on a South American backpacking trip) and even more to do in the surrounding area if you’re into things like wineries, skiing, and beaches (none of which are my style). I went to a museum on pre-Columbian art and textiles, hiked up a few hills, did a little shopping, took in the sights, admired the super-cuteness of Barrio Bellavista and even managed to go see a movie (the new Batman one – dubbed in Spanish of course). I think that the solo traveling style suits me…as long as I can meet people to eat dinner with (best way is probably to join those organized tours where you actually learn stuff about what you are seeing). Lunch alone, fine, but dinnertime alone can get lonely. After a few days in Santiago I was off to Easter Island! I must say that LAN Chile is the best airline I have been on so far. So lujoso compared to crappy American-owned airlines. They have those screens in the back of the seats like JetBlue and they have huge selections of TV shows, movies, and music. I used the entertainment system non-stop on the way back and wish I had discovered it earlier on my flight there (got to watch Smart People – gotta love how they stick Donner Hall in there). Their food isn’t half bad either. And I like their little star with the wavy line under it logo! So Easter Island…has the feeling of a tropical island of Hawaii, the mystery of the moai, and really really good seafood. Definitely worth a trip out there if you have the time… During a tour I met some other American tourists who were my dining companions for the rest of my trip which was very nice (see note about eating dinner alone above). I did all the typical things of going to the sites to see all the moai and the volcanoes, avoiding stepping in horse poop from all the horses that roam around, and attempting to save money since everything is always ridiculously expensive on an isolated island (reminded me of the $7 box of Rice Krispies that gawked at in Hawaii). The only negative parts of the trip were probably my overspending, the loss of my Jcrew floppy white hat (whoever stole it, that green ink stain is permanent so too bad for you!), and the return trip from Iquique to La Paz when we apparently took more than an hour flight (almost the time it takes to get there) but ended up back in Iquique for a 4 hour delay while the bad weather (snow?!) in La Paz cleared up. I spent most of those 4 hours sleeping on a bench outside of the teeny tiny Iquique airport while people probably stared at me (I only got an hour of sleep the night before leaving). The funny part of that was that I was sitting next to a couple from New Zealand on the airplane and I was sleeping most of the time and when I woke up we were landing and the guy was like, um, we are back where we were before. I was like, no, can’t be…and Iquique seems kind of desert-y…almost altiplano like so I was convinced we were in La Paz. But then there were the palm trees…yeah, La Paz does NOT have those. Apparently even though they were making announcements continually on the plane about the bad weather and returning to Iquique, my Spanish was not good enough to understand the messages and the English translations were too fuzzy for my understanding as well. Such is life.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


I really liked that karaoke song. Maybe because the video had people prancing around in bathing suits at the beach. Anyways, I will be off to Chile and Easter Island this coming week on my fabulous vacation with myself…followed by a few days in an “all volunteer gathering” which should be good times as always...then followed by a week back in my site before I go back on vacation to Lake Titicaca and Copacabana with Sarah! Hmm…August doesn’t look too promising as a productive work month but así es, pues.

Senile? Gluttonous? Maybe a bit of both…

I have a problem with food. If you know me, you know I really like to eat. And I can eat a lot. Maybe more than even I think I can eat. Not that this problem didn’t happen to me before I came to Bolivia, but I recently noticed that it has occurred with more frequency.

Today when I was eating a banana (one of two as part of my breakfast) I turned over to get my boiling water in my electric tea kettle and then when I turned back, my banana was gone. *poof* The only possible explanation is that I already finished eating it and didn’t remember. So of course I had to go get another since I clearly wasn’t satisfied with just one. The incident in itself would not have been cause for alarm, except that the very same day, in the evening I went to go make myself an egg sandwich with tomato, and realized I had one less “pancito” than I thought I did. Bread here in Tarata is purchased as single size serving rolls rather than a big loaf where you have no clue how many slices you have left until you’re down to the last few. How was it possible that I only had one roll left when I thought I had two? Only explanation once again, I ate it and didn’t remember I ate it. If the explanation of this forgetfulness is gluttony, I think I can live with that, but if my short-term memory is going this could prove problematic. It’s good that I’m not dieting because a part of dieting is being conscious of what you are consuming (which I clearly am not). I find the issue happens most frequently with bread, although it can happen with anything from fruit to candy to a bowl of pudding (what?! I already ate the whole thing?!). My course of action from here will be to monitor to see if this absentmindedness invades other parts of my spectacularly uneventful daily life or if it’s merely confined to the realm of the automated task of eating. Vamos a ver…

My Bolivian Haircut…And My Not-So Bolivian Haircut

First off, I have not been very good at this blog updating business. My life has been less than spectacular lately so I am lacking in worthy events to recount to the masses. I would like to share that I am a big fan of the new Death Cab for Cutie CD though. At first I wasn’t too impressed (I got bogged down in the 8 minute 25 second track that appears second on the CD) but when you get past that, it’s quite pleasant. After all, how could you resist tunes called “Your New Twin Sized Bed” and “Long Division”? I also have been jamming out (by that I mean sitting in my room by myself bopping around) to the new Gavin DeGraw and Jason Mraz CDs. Both which I would classify as excellent.

Anyways, so a few weeks back I decided it was time to cut off the dead animal on the back of my head that I had been dragging around since August 2007 (I hadn’t had a haircut since I came to Bolivia). It had grown from my normal semi-bowl cut that I had before I came down to this atrocious scraggly mass that I kept in a ponytail about 75% of the time. I planned on meeting my counterpart Vivian to go to a salon that she recommended, “Los Espejos” but when it came time she didn’t show up…but I pushed onward and went to the salon where I got my 25 bs haircut. I had a little difficulty explaining to the woman what I wanted (which was very short, semi-bowl cut style which is my trademark) and I ended up with a bob that was noticeably different and neater than my hair before since she removed all the gross excess parts, but not what I had in mind. I got the feeling that she was afraid to cut it too short since most women here have LONG hair (maybe just so they can put it up in braids for dancing in festivals?) but I guess what I ended up with was kinda cute. My friends in Tarata thought so and I got some good feedback when I came back that first day about how good it looked (when it still was nicely styled and not flipping out in all the wrong directions as it naturally does).

But I wasn’t satisfied. Then this past weekend, Kasia, Lindsay and Sarah all were in town and we decided to take a little trip to Cine Center which is one of the most lujo (luxurious) places that you can go in Cochabamba. It’s just like an American movie theater and mall food court in one, with an internet café and salon and a few restaurants off of it. Lindsay, Sarah and I all decided to splurge on some seriously expensive (like 10 USD!) haircuts and we had spent the night before browsing Vogue and Marie Claire to find our models that we were going to emulate. When we got to the salon I found a cute pixie cut in one of the books of hairstyles and decided that was what I was going to go with. Very short, uneven-ish messy chunks, the type you don’t even comb (you just put some gel in and go) and totally me. So the stylist started cutting. And at one point even told me, “you can’t go back now” after she had hacked off a bit. Perfectly fine with me. I neglected to mention to her that I had my head shaved at one point which probably would have scared her. As she continued to cut, a few other stylists and assistants (hair-washing people?) gathered around to watch my haircut take form. I credit this to the fact that I was getting a haircut shorter than the man that was sitting next to me and they probably don’t see super-short cuts very often there so they are a novelty. In the end the haircut turned out exactly how I had wanted it the first time and it definitely was not your typical Bolivian woman’s hairstyle. The stylist liked it as well, I do believe, and I got some positive nods from the other bystanders along with compliments from Sarah, Lindsay (whose haircuts were also fantastic) and Kasia. But I think that’s where it ends. Vivian actually really liked my haircut and was telling me it was very fashionable and “te queda bien” several times which means it looks good on you. She’s also very fashionable so maybe she’s not as shocked by the supershort cut on a woman though. I would take the lack of comments from my other acquaintances in town (it was a major haircut that you couldn’t not notice) that they didn’t like it so much. I got a few, oh, you got a haircut, it’s a new look…a “why did you cut your hair?!” and a “you cut your hair, it was prettier longer.” I also got a few comments from some punk high school boys that were like, “dude, she looks like a boy.” Haha, too bad I’m used to getting mistaken for “sir” and “son” to actually think their comments were something novel and worthy of paying attention to. But gosh darn it, after this haircut I feel so much more like me. And I look so much cuter. Oh, I’m so egotistical.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Day a Boy Ran Away From Me

Kelley – You might find this particulary interesting since we are the ones usually doing the running away (brings back memories of a particular incident where we stared at some dude behind the glass without his ID then ran away?).

I’ve seriously been lacking in any good blog material so I though I’d tell a story about something I found amusing (although it could be interpreted as slightly embarrassing). So after some “despedida” (going away) party fun, another volunteer Karen and I decided to go meet up with my counterpart, Vivian, who was out on Pando (street with basically all the discotecas and bars) with three of her friends. We were having a grand old time of a girl’s night out at this place called “La Boom.” Yes, the name is highly suspect. Anyways, so in the middle of the night I found myself making eyes more than once at a very attractive (and tall! so not my type) gentleman and he was definitely looking my way too (this can be confirmed by Karen, and if he wasn’t this story never would have happened). Around 2 am, Karen gave me the signal that she was ready to go home and I told her I wanted to go talk to the “guy in the blue t-shirt” and she told me to go do it. After blowing in her face a few times to make sure I didn’t have bad breath (I couldn’t find my gum), I marched right over there where he was standing with his friend and asked him, “quieres bailar?” or “do you want to dance?” If you know me, I don’t normally do things of this nature, but it might have been the few beers that I had consumed that night while bopping around crazily while dancing (that is normal – and possibly WHY he was looking at me) or as Pat said, it might be that I have been watching too much Sex and the City and was trying to emulate Samantha but apparently lacked the technique that she has (I am so much more Miranda). So his response to this was that he couldn’t dance right now and held up his drinky drink (which I believe was a Red Bull and vodka)…which might possibly have been a line or was the truth? So I continued to make small talk and although I remember everything else about the conversation, his name fails to come back to me, I remember it was something difficult to pronounce that I had to repeat to him to see if I got it right. So it turned out that he was from Brazil (Rio de Janeiro to be exact) and we continued the normal conversation that I have with people which includes him asking where I’m from, I say I’m from the U.S., he says I look Japanese, what do you do, I’m a Peace Corps volunteer…blah blah. So I ask him what he does and it turns out he is a medical student (future McDreamy perhaps?) here and I asked him what year of med school he’s in and about what kind of medicine he plans to practice. He answers “neurosurgery”…and this is where I think I might have gone wrong. I was joking around and was like, “entonces eres muy inteligente, no?” (I think that might have been coupled with a cheshire cat-like grin too on my part) which means “then you’re really smart right?” But come on, if he said he was a rocket scientist I would have made that same comment, you know, there are just some careers that encourage that type of thinking. Then I went to talk to his friend who was standing next to him who turned out also to be from Brazil and in med school and I asked him standard questions like if they knew each other before they came here and stuff. And literally it was like in the (bad) movies. In the moment I was talking to his friend, I turned around, he was gone! He ran away from me! I think he was scared that I was a little too “fuerte” (strong, aka forward) but who knows. There are two theories: 1) he might have really had to use the baño, or 2) he was really scared of me (which I prefer to think because it makes a better story). After he disappeared *poof* into thin air, I kind of just stopped talking to his friend and sauntered over to Karen and told her that the boy ran away from me and we headed out. I did notice when I turned around as we were walking out that he was back with his little friend but I didn’t think to actually stick around to find out if he actually ran away from me or had to put his drink down or something. The reason I think he ran away is that I don’t recall him saying anything to me like, hey, I’ll be right back, going to the bathroom or put my drink down. Así es, pues. I’m still wondering if my failure was due to my outright (scary) flattery, the possibility that maybe he was looking at the girl behind me the whole night, or my grungy clothing (Karen and I were in typical PC attire that is sneakers, jeans, and t-shirts whereas everyone else was in cute little tops and heels) but there will be other opportunities! Seguimos adelante!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

New Photos!

Finally. These took a LONG time to upload. Sorry Mom, yours will have to wait.

Click on link at right and it´s under the ¨Bolivia¨set. Wheee!

The Prolific PC Mini-Success

So you would think that after 8 months in a new job that you would be ready to move on to expert (let’s say “verifier” in OTC confirmation-speak) status. But alas, my friend, this is the Peace Corps. After 8 months I’m just getting started. I recently had a mini-success with my tourist survey that I administered at the last fair. I did what I do best, and packaged all my data into a pretty little document brimming with pie charts and the like and I think that my counterpart was semi-impressed (she said she wanted to hire me…too bad for her I already work with her and in some ways for her). Although I think it’s important to know who your clients (aka tourist target market) are, I am hoping that the most important part of that document is the recommendations that I came up with for things that are potential projects that should be supported by the guide association and tourist office. These include giving a workshop to the food vendors on hygiene and santiary food-handling practices and also continuing the involvement with the guides during the fairs where they’ll organize tours during the fairs and festivals along with selling postcards and posters. The thing about being a Peace Corps volunteer is that you try to do the same work as the other volunteers in your project, but the key is to avoid reinventing the wheel, exploit the synergies (ha! what the heck does that even mean, business terminology popping out of my arse) that exist, and leverage the resources that are already at your disposal. Let me say, that was an excellent sentence. I do believe for that reason I am a microenterprise volunteer and not a basic sanitation volunteer building latrines. Anyways, I’ll keep you updated on my work in tourism; I think (cross your fingers) it might be going somewhere!

I found this article (along with the readers’ comments) in the yuppy NY Times on public service careers and the incentives for going into them kind of interesting. I agree that until you can change the view people have of under-valued and under-appreciated careers such as teaching – followed by a major adjustment in salary (hmm…let’s think, if I want to make a lot of money do I teach 9th grade math or be an investment banker?), you can’t incentivize bright, practical, economically-conscious (some with large student loan debts) people to go into public service as a career.

In more important news, after reading the June issue of Vogue, I’ve decided that I am a fan of Alexander McQueen dresses. Although completely irrelevant to my current situation, I still have the ability to admire couture fashion and fantasize about prancing around in frilly dresses and 4-inch stilletto heels.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bloggy Blog Blog

As evidenced by my lack of postings, I’ve been suffering from a lack of inspiration as of late. At the end of May, my mom came for a very lovely visit and since then I’ve settled back into my daily rituals and work. I think that life here has ceased existing as a novelty and is just work as usual now so I don’t find anything noteworthy (or blog-worthy). This past weekend was the annual chicha and chorizo (corn beer/liquor and skinny sausage) fair in my town and Pat and I indulged in both chorizo and some beer, but stayed away from the chicha which we blame our most severe gastrointestinal illnesses on. We had a nice (but short) visit from several other volunteers (actually 5 volunteers and 2 other American girls that are working with one of the volunteers at an orphanage) so it was nice to show them our site. I think of Tarata as my baby and I am the proud mother that likes to parade it around; the colonial architecture, pretty views, and of course the lovely homes that Pat and I live in. Also, the fair marked what I might consider to be my first substantial work in tourism that I initiated since I’ve been here. I wrote up a tourist survey and organized the guides that are in the tourist guide association (started up by the prior volunteer) to have a stand during the fair where they sold postcards and posters and administered the survey that I wrote up (with the reward of free homebaked cookies that I contributed – chocolate chunk and oatmeal raisin). All in all, I think they did a pretty good job during the fair and I was glad to have them running the stand themselves since they should be involved in big tourist events in town.

I also finally got my kitchen set up while my mom was here (still missing a fridge and a table but will hopefully be getting those two things in the next month from a volunteer that leaves at the end of July) and have been making good use of it. I baked the cookies for the fair, a messed up pan of brownies (that I am eating all by myself), two birthday cakes (tangerine and chocolate), and made up a little stirfry of broccoli, chicken and bean thread noodles (that the grocery store inexplicably carried at one point and no longer are selling). There are a few upcoming events that I am looking forward to…such as my counterpart’s birthday (I haven’t been out since January, it’s very pathetic) which I am sure will be oodles of fun. Also, I’m trying to get down to Sarah’s site and Oruro in the next month to finally see where she lives (and spend more than ½ hr in Oruro from an inadvertent bus detour – which some may label as a stupid error). After that, Chile and Easter Island! I will be heading out on my first solo vacation to explore the archeological mysteries on Easter Island and hopefully also get a taste of Santiago and Valparaíso.

In other news, something right now in my room smells like rotting vegetables (not pleasant) and I’m trying to figure out if it’s me. I have also, as of late, started studying for the GMAT since rumors are that the 2nd year of service flies by and if I don’t start now I’m going to be sitting there in November 2009 wondering what the heck I should do with my life when I get back to the States. I’m not so much a fan of the reading comprehension and data sufficiency question types. I know, you must think, how difficult can reading comprehension be? But I find myself struggling with those questions the most on the verbal section (ha! I have declared a truce with sentence correction questions – my old nemesis on that PSAT that I took, I think with a little more grammar study I might be alright) and there’s not much you can do to study for that section. It’s all good though, I still have the decision to make of where I want to take the test…there is a testing center in La Paz, but I think I might be more comfortable if I took a vacation back to the States and took it there (or that could totally backfire and I actually might be better off taking the test here in my little Bolivian bubble). Vamos a ver.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

This is the Peace Corps. For Real.

Some people say that Peace Corps is a life-changing experience. Within the microcosm of this 27 months though, there are also service-changing experiences. My past week was spent adjusting my outlook that had unfortunately become very pessimistic and skeptical during the first six months of my service (holy baloney, I’m 25% done with my service!). I had started to think that the work that Peace Corps thinks that us volunteers will accomplish is nothing but a…uhh…pelican? (haha, from The Pelican Brief, does that mean it’s imaginary?) whatever, I mean that it was a figment of their imagination, impossible, unattainable, not viable. I have changed that attitude after my 5 day trip to Independencia to visit Dorinda, a volunteer from B-43 (microenterprise volunteer that started her service one year ahead of me) that recently decided to extend her service one more year so she’s now going to COS (close of service, aka finish her service) with my group, B-46. I initially went up there with Karen (another microenterprise volunteer from B-43) to get to know Independencia (which is about 7.5 hours from Coch on a really crappy yet beautiful dirt road through the mountains and happens to be in the middle of nowhere, literally) because Karen was doing an informal tech exchange to teach Dorinda’s group of kids that she teaches life skills to how to manejar (uhh…what’s the verb for that in English? Maintain? Use?) a cash box and contabilidad (aka the wonderful world of accounting and book-keeping). The Sunday that I was there was the biggest fair in the town, Feria de la Chirimoya (yes, that is the famed globby custard apple that is oh-so-delicious). The kids were baking cakes (that were ridiculously delicious btw, so many repeat customers once they got a taste of it) to sell at the fair and Dorinda was doing an artesania exhibition at their stand to sell the products (woven out of lambswool and dyed using all natural dyes – think plants, wood ash, etc.). So I probably did the most work I’ve done continuously since I’ve been here…preparations for the fair (and we didn’t even help with the baking!) included making signs, moving things, organizing things, transporting things (dude, I totally used a wheelbarrow for the first time and pushed things up and down hills with it, I felt like I was on a farm or something). Anyways, Dorinda is totally the model volunteer, doing really great work, meaningful work. The grassroots, get your hands dirty, make a difference work that we can all hope to accomplish while we’re here. She is one cool lady that went to culinary school, is vegetarian, environmentally conscious, spent years working in Alaska at Denali National Park…which makes her ridiculously outdoorsy and hardcore. She probably has 30 years on me but is 10x stronger than me (as evidenced by our comparative wheelbarrow-pushing abilities). Anyways, she’s doing what volunteers SHOULD be doing…capitalizing on their strengths to create projects around them that “aprovechar” the unique assets of each volunteer. She made me want to be a better volunteer. Or maybe just a little like her, haha. She has done a lot of traveling that makes me jealous. Plus she’s so HAPPY in her site, I mean, I should be as well right? My name is Joy. So after this experience of watching her work on the most important day of the year for microenterprise in Independencia, I came back to Tarata all hyped up to try to be a better volunteer. I have notions of maybe taking some of her ideas and modifying them for implementation in Tarata (perhaps with the Kid’s Club) and really going at it to make a difference in tourism and microenterprise. I guess what I was so impressed with wasn’t just her work, but the other little things she does like her environmental efforts of composting, growing lettuce, herbs and flowers, her resourcefulness (surprisingly good diet for not having a fridge and being 8 hours away from a city), and overall badas*ness of being able to handle the flota (bus) ride just to come to Cochabamba each time. Plus she makes great salads with cabbage, avocado, cucumber, carrot, tomato, campo cheese, salt and pepper, oil and vinegar. And she makes her own granola, pizza crust and bread since they use lard in the bread around here (but dang is it tasty). In conclusion, I am an incompetent sissy. There, I said it, and it has been confirmed the truth now that I’ve seen where and how a real volunteer lives and works.

I have to leave you with a tidbit of how hardcore the flota ride is to Independencia is though. One time apparently Dorinda stood up the whole way there. That is ridiculous. It’s hard enough when you are sitting down…the regular schedule is that it leaves Coch at 5 am, and then it leaves Independencia at 4 am (and it’s freaking COLD…I took my sleeping bag with me on the way back because I nearly froze without it on the way there, luckily Karen shared her blankie with me). Anyways, so on the way there, through the winding roads, my stomach sometimes can’t handle it, and the old woman next to me (who was sitting in the aisle on a bundle of something or other…which is a perfectly acceptable seat around here for a passenger) was barfing into a bag for about 2 hours of the trip. You know when the Bolivians can’t handle it, it’s a little rough. And on the way back, while I was sleeping, Karen said she noticed a rank odor so strong that she had to open the window. She cautiously checked her backpack that was on the ground and her sneakers to see if someone had pissed on the ground and it was dribbling towards her stuff. Nope, nothing was there. So once at the first stop near Coch about half the passengers got out and I moved to sit in the seat behind me (that had been next to Dorinda) and give Karen more room with her stuff. At some point Karen looked down and gasped in horror. The seat had previously been occupied by a woman with her young child. There it was, a pile of poop under the seat I was sitting in. Yes, human excrement. Along with a little plastic bag, which apparently was supposed to catch the poop being expelled by the child, and which apparently was unsuccessful in its mission. And the woman also made the executive decision to leave the poop and bag in a pile on the bus where it landed instead of trying to clean it up. Thankfully, I did not step in it. The End.

In other news, I officially bought my ticket to Chile and Easter Island for August so I am off on my vacation! I am still looking for travel partners if anyone is looking to get in on it. As of now, it’s uhh…just me. So whoever comes will get some quality time with the Joy Dog. Joyster. Joy-a-rama. Joylicious. Joyimal (that’s for you, Dan). Joymeister. Fluffmeister (that’s the name of a pillow on an airplane, once upon a time, Helen, I know you didn’t change them, I had the Fluffmeister and you were just jealous). Okay, that was really random. I’m done now. Feel free to navigate away from this page and ignore me. I am the biggest dork you know.

Oh, but one more thing, my mom is springing a surprise visit on me that was supposed to happen in June/July. She will be here in about a WEEK! May 19th – 28th…so I know you are rushing to the post office to send a package to her express to bring to me so let me know if you need the address (aka if you love me) :) This way there is no ridiculous postage and I don’t have to wait 3 months to get it. Win-win situation right?

An Inconvenient Truth

Pat and I recently watched this movie during one of our infamous “movie and chocolate” nights. Although the cover categorized the film as “documentary,” I would deem it more to be of the “horror” variety. The picture that was painted of global warming’s impact on climate change was kind of scary. The idea of a drastic change in global temperature causing Greenland and/or western Antarctica to melt and raise sea level by 20 ft…not exactly an ideal situation I would think. Goodbye New Orleans and all other low lying places on Earth, hello lots of scary diseases, storms, droughts and all sorts of other catastrophes…how about 100 million displaced people from low-lying areas? I have always believed scientific evidence to be the most convincing form of persuasion and in this case I saw more than enough statistics to make me believe. And I also was surprised by some of the facts…such as the emissions regulations that in the States are way lower than other developed countries and how auto companies are throwing hissy fits over Cali’s proposed tightening of regulations over several years that would put the state on par with China’s current standards. In conclusion, it served its purpose to make you think about your impact on the situation and what your role as an individual is in having a positive influence.

Although I am a PCV, I am probably as far away from a tree-hugging hippie as you get. I am guilty of eating more meat than the average person, driving a car when I could have walked (for 3 years), and doing more than my fair share of travel via airplane. I don’t believe that I am a wasteful person, although I can see through my experience here how living in the U.S. easily lends itself to the levels of consumption that makes Americans the biggest culprits of the causes of global warming. Here’s where the hope comes in though (we’re trying to avoid the denial to despair sequence that Gore spoke about), if we are the ones that are most at fault…that also means that if we change our habits, that we can also have the biggest positive impact on reducing the effects of global warming and thereby “saving our future.” In evaluating my lifestyle here, I notice the little details in things that demonstrate the lower level of consumption in a country such as Bolivia in comparison to the States. Take something near and dear to my heart for example, food (and the packaging it comes in). I buy chicken in plastic wrap and styrafoam in the U.S., in Bolivia they throw it in a plastic bag for you to take with you. In the U.S. you can find disposable cups at every corner (think Starbucks) and I have yet to see coffee for takeout here and the beverages served from carts in the market either come in plastic bags or are served in glass cups to be downed in one gulp. And although two frequent methods of waste disposal in my town are for trash to get burned or thrown in a pile by the river where some people wash their clothes, the reality is that there is a lot less trash and waste that results from the lifestyle here.

So what to do about it all? I’m no environmental expert or activist, but I figure when I go back to the States I should make some commitments to do my little part in this all. It seems too overwhelming and ominous sometimes when you think about the big picture, but I truly believe that if every little person does his/her own part it will make a difference in the end. It’s stuff like using those $1 green cloth bags when you go grocery shopping, buying the energy efficient lightbulbs that last like 20 years, not drinking bottled water (c’mon, there’s no giardia or amoebas in the water over there) whenever possible, buying a hybrid car (or at least energy efficient compact car if you can’t afford the hybrid), using heating and AC more efficiently and only when really needed, walking or biking or using public transport whenever possible, and trying out the methods of clothes-drying without using a dryer. As a “businessperson” (with no soul, as we microenterprise volunteers are sometimes labeled), the question of how trying to help the environment will affect the economy is an important one. I think so far the verdict is still out on whether being a leader in being environmentally conscious helps or hurts the bottom line, but I strongly believe that if these widespread initiatives are to succeed, action will have to come from all angles. From the individuals changing their habits, to politicians putting in place incentives (aka laws and subsidies) for people and businesses to change their behaviors, and also the companies that consciously decide to be leaders in taking on this “moral” issue…I think that if everyone works together there just might be some hope for the outcome that is desired. It has been proven though that humans are rational creatures (usually) and will only act to help the environment if it serves in their best interest; the conundrum is how to make it so that everyone (individuals, businesses, politicians, etc.) sees that trying to stop global warming is in their best interest and then they will willingly make the sacrifices necessary to do something about the problem. I think that the way that economies and technology have developed is a double-edged sword that creates necessity of some of the wasteful practices while providing promising technological solutions to solving the problem that might not have been there in the first place…but what can you do. It is what it is. Así es, pues! A stone’s a stone! Haha…okay, I’m done ranting and raving. A reader might want to hear more about the Peace Corps experience rather than my psychotic rantings…but I’m not very good at talking about that. I will throw in a related tidbit here though, that for Kid’s Club I would like to do some environmentally-oriented activities and sometime in the future I would like to work on a garbage cleanup in the town and maybe work with children on environmental awareness (man, where are those environmental education volunteers when you need them). That’s all I got for now though. Chau!

Friday, April 18, 2008

New Photos...Finally!

Click on link on pics under "Bolivia" of my house, etc. and also new set "Artesania Rojas - Bolivia" with some samples of what the artisan woman that I am working with makes...

Friday, April 11, 2008

¿Mashkha pilipintusta munanki?

How many butterflies do you want? I’ve discovered that my favorite part of learning a new language is being able to say nonsense phrases. I take pride in having a little creativity when it comes to randomness and with practicing Quechua I don’t hold back. It is especially useful when you have a limited vocabulary and want to practice what you have at your disposal (as I do with my 10 sheets of picture vocabulary and 3 pages of verbs). Anyways, I was able to understand that the answer to my question that she wanted 10 butterflies so it was a useful form of practice. I have the feeling that if someone came across my blog they might think I’m slightly insane going around asking people how many butterflies they want and saying I believe in aliens, but you need to trust me, I haven’t gone crazy, I’m in the Peace Corps and this is what volunteers do. I was also able to get the idea across when I was practicing Quechua to ask Erlinda if she believes in life on other planets…and FYI, yes, she does.

My motivation to improve my language skills has recently been at an all-time high (I might ask Sarah to create a graph of that for me – x-axis for time, y-axis for language motivation) so I am trying to do a self-imposed language program of an hour per day each of independent studying (grammar, vocabulary, reading, etc.) of Spanish, Quechua and Chinese. I figure being able to discipline myself will actually come in handy when (if) I end up back in school when I go back to the States.

I Believe in Aliens

I like looking up at the sky here since you can see the stars so well. It’s unfortunate that I don’t remember any of the constellations from Advanced Earth Science but I still appreciate the beauty of the nighttime sky. Or maybe it’s because I never thought to stargaze until I was blessed with the enormous amount of free time that I currently have. Either way, I find myself always thinking when I look up at the stars that there must be life somewhere else in the universe. I believe that the universe is way too big not to have some kind of living being (and intelligent life) somewhere else and that it would be really really cool to make contact with them. But alas, that might be reserved for some far away time in the future or maybe just the movies (Contact is one of my favorite movies after all, not just for the fact that it includes Jodie Foster, one of my favorite actresses, and Matthew McConaughey – what’s not to like about him right?). Hypothetically, if I were to speak to someone from another planet, in another solar system, somewhere way far out, what would I ask them? I think it would be much like when you travel to another country and want to see how they live, what it looks like, what do they eat (do they even need to eat to sustain life?), and certainly they must have some really spiffy advanced technology that we could learn from. Until I meet those creatures from far away though, I will be content learning about the cultures of homo sapiens from the planet that we call Earth.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Beauty on the Run

So I was walking to the plaza this morning behind a cholita (Bolivian woman in traditional dress) and another man and from behind me I heard a taxi honking for the cholita to move back since she was standing quite close to the street. Her exact location was near a large puddle. She moved back to let the car pass and then proceeded to swoop down and scoop water out of the puddle on the ground with her hands. For a second there (in horror) I thought she was going to drink it...but *whew* she took the water from the puddle to wet down her long hair, and then whipped out her little plastic comb to comb it and put it into braids. Well wonders never cease, I guess when you need some water in a jiffy a puddle on the side of the road will do just as well as any sink. What really puzzled mean was the fact that it was also raining at that time and I was wondering why she wouldn't just get her hair wet from the "uncontaminated" rainwater. Some things I guess I will never know. Ah, the things women do for beauty.

¿Estás hablando chino?

Are you speaking Chinese? It’s a universal joke. I think I may have heard of it when I was in the States, but I think Bolivians find it much funnier, or maybe I’m just exposed to more awkward / I have no idea what you’re saying moments when I’m here. Anyways, I find myself using that phrase whenever I am trying to sound out something in Quechua that I know makes no sense and someone just jabbers something that I totally don’t comprehend, or it’s also useful when we are trying to say something in Spanish and we find ourselves horrendously mispronouncing it (Pat’s nemesis is “ojalá” which means “only if / I hope!” I think 90% of the time it comes out as “aloha” for her, I think subconsciously she may be missing the beach in Florida and thus projects some type of Hawaiian vacation fantasy on her Spanish). I had one particularly funny incident today when I was chilling with Vivian in the tourism office and she showed me a solicitud from a web design company that they are considering going with for designing their website for tourism (woohoo! work for me, I’m supposed to translate it into English!) and there was a whole listing of services that the fees included. I have realized, for going to such a nerdy computer-oriented school like CMU, I am pitifully uninformed when it comes to computer matters. All I could really distinguish was that it included something with Dreamweaver, Linux and Flash…and I know vaguely what those are…and the rest…I have no clue. Note, if any of you computer science, web-designing (I mean beyond a website with like 3 frames about ice cream, Steph) friendly friends out there want to help me, I would like to send you the list if you can tell me what it all means (send me an email! Por favor!) Anyways, so Vivian is not too up-to-date on computer jargon either so she said something about “it’s in Chinese” and at that point I think I had gotten a little lost in my “you’re speaking too fast so I catch every other word” haze so of course my immediate reaction was…I speak a little Chinese, maybe I can figure out what it says. And then I realized she was using the “it’s in Chinese” saying…I think the phrase is so much more useful down here because it is very unlikely that the person that you are talking to knows any Chinese. I think I’ll start using “are you speaking Quechua?” when I go back to the States because that will be my obscure language equivalent. Anyways, we had a good laugh and then I taught her to say a few things in Chinese and my one Taiwanese phrase “jia beng” (umm…can you use pingyin for Taiwanese?) that I know. Very useful. I should just run around town speaking some Chinese and when people don’t understand they will say, are you speaking Chinese? And I can say, why yes, I am speaking Chinese!

I could go for some Starbucks right about now.

Pat and I were discussing the other day heading over to Starbucks around the corner to get a Frappucino for me and a cappuccino for her. And then we woke up from our dream. But we did decide that it would be a good idea to get jobs there once we got back since supposedly they offer benefits if you work at least 25 hours a week, plus a pound of coffee per week and seemingly lots of free beverages while you work (and hopefully a discount on some of those pastries?!). And then I decided to torture myself by thinking about bubble tea. The iced black or green tea variety (addition of jasmine or passion fruit preferably) with tapioca…never was much a fan of the milk tea, but I could make an exception right now. Mmm…I think I’ll head over to Flushing this weekend to go to that bubble tea place and Taiwanese restaurant on the same street. Or maybe that buffet. BUFFET. Hungryyyy. I also have had some longings lately for Rachael Ray. Oh those 30 minute meals, $40 a day, and her “yum-o!”s. I didn’t get to see much of her in the last year since I didn’t have cable TV in my last apartment…but I miss her and her perkiness and her tasty looking food. And I have occasional yearnings for Alton Brown and his Good Eats as well. I think this is the appropriate time for a “wah mommy wah” interjection about the Food Network. And somehow one thing leads to another and I’m craving a chocolate cupcake from Crumb (or is it Crumbs?) on the Upper East Side. Preceded by some Thai food (Drunken Noodle with beef from Kit’s Thai Kitchen), a sushi regular combo from that place by the Stamford library, or even a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese Extra Value Meal (super-sized of course). I’ll follow that up with some banana bread french toast from Annie’s and a pizza from Totono’s (white with spinach and mushroom) or maybe a pizza from Papa John’s…how I do love that garlic dipping sauce. And for a break I’ll have to head somewhere that serves dim sum so I can pick up some turnip cake and sticky rice. And finally, for my grande finale, I will time it just right, so it will be the day that UBS’ cafeteria has those giant chocolate chip cookies and I will get one for take-out, run over to Stop and Shop to get a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (that one that has the peanut butter filled pretzels and fudge swirl in it), and go jump into my lovely bed with pillow-top mattress and eat it all. That is my dream for the perfect indulgence that I hope to someday achieve. But until then I shall eat potatoes and rice.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Taking a Walk with a Rock

Pat’s dog’s name is Rumi which means “rock” in Quechua. Although I am not a dog-person (contrary to what that t-shirt that I own from Goodwill says), I am glad that she has a dog since he’s actually quite amusing. He’s this black little furry super-energized hopping crazy canine that acts like half-horse and half-cat. I still don’t really like petting dogs (and if I touch him I immediately have to go wash my hands) but he provides a lot of amusement when I go with Pat on her daily walks with him where he usually ends up doing something amusing…most recently I watched him run crazy circles in a little patch of grass that couldn’t have been bigger than 3x3 ft and then there’s also the enjoyment in watching him getting chased by all the bigger dogs after he goes sniffing at their butts and then the pleasing activity of yelling at him for doing gross things like playing with dirty clumpy-haired dogs and sniffing donkey poo. I think overall Rumi has a promising future; Pat is working on teaching him to bow (he already has the “sit” (in two languages!) and “shake” and “venga”) we’ve already discussed entering him in amateur dog races (he’s very fast) although he won’t be winning any dog shows (a neighbor woman even told Pat her dog was ugly and that she had a little puppy that was really cute that she could give Pat – which is always the solution when your dog grows up to be less than beautiful, go out and get a new one).

I am the best volunteer in the world. Hear me roar.

There are those really crappy days. And then there are those really good days (defined by a few good moments). I’ve been teaching a lot of English lately. It’s not supposed to be my primary project, but it is intertwined with the goals of tourism (teaching guides to speak English so they can communicate with tourists) and micro-enterprise (teaching a businesswoman that is interested in exportation of her product to communicate with potential markets). I teach about 10 hours of English a week in about 5 classes (okay, they’re not “classes” technically, more like one-on-one tutorials because that’s what I end up with when I fervently try promoting English classes). I have had a few people approach me randomly and ask if I can teach them and then I tell them when my classes are and tell them to show up…and usually they don’t. But then sometimes they do and it’s wonderful. Like this new high school girl that I started having a class with this week told me that her goal is to be a foreign language (particularly English) teacher and wants to study linguistics in the university so…ta da! She has a purpose to have the “ganas” to learn. And I have to say that the Kid’s Club that Pat and I have is the feel-good activity that every PCV should engage in. Honestly, we come in and plan a few games and activities and next thing you know we’re the kids’ favorite people and they shout our names from down the street, the back of the truck they’re riding in, and *gasp* show up ON TIME every Monday for Kid’s Club lest they miss some stimulating activity (such as running around trying to pop a balloon tied to your friend’s leg). And the proof of my celebrity status (not just in the fact that a kid gave me a raw egg with seasoning as a gift) but during my English classes that I have twice a week at night with Sonia, her daughters (who are in THE club) actually want to hang out with me and sit through the class and ask me to teach them English as well. Okay, so maybe it’s just that all kids are that way, but whatever man, nothing beats the moment when you do your Kid’s Club secret handshake with a member of the most exclusive club in the world (in a place such as a tienda) and all the non-members can do is stand around and gawk and wonder, why am I not in the Kid’s Club??? (usually the answer is because the person is an adult, but whatever) And it’s at those moments that you feel like you’re actually doing what a volunteer is supposed to be doing. Yeah, you heard me, volunteers make up secret handshakes and make friends with kids in the 7-10 age range. And we’re pretty darn good at it.

I have to give props to my mom here for teaching me my most successful to-date English activity for low-intermediate and up students…where you show them a picture from a magazine or book and they have to come up with as many sentences as they can about the picture in the language that they are learning. I even got a request for a repeat to play the game again (by Sonia’s daughters who were playing in Spanish…who were actually very good at the game – creativity goes a long way). Thanks Mom, I’ll move on to the “color-jumping” game next since it seems like a winner as well.

Random Thought of the Day

Showering infrequently is quite economical. I brought one bottle of shampoo with me to Bolivia (smaller size, Suave in Ocean Breeze scent) and after 7 months I have still only used half of it even though I wash my hair twice when I shower. It might be the combination of having short hair (which is growing quite long by my standards) and the sporadic showering schedule, but the only time in my life when I used less shampoo was when I had my head shaved (and that was because I was using soap to wash my head and few sprouting hairs). I finally broke down the other day and decided to buy a new bottle of shampoo since I thought I deserved a little treat. I ended up with a bottle of my favorite smelling Herbal Essences (green colored) for “cabello graso”…that’s not to say that I consider myself in the category of oily-haired people, but when you shower once a week it can tend to get that way.

Give the Gift of Love…Eggs

So I have to say, I’ve received some pretty neat gifts in the past, but today I received one that I have to say takes the cake. You could actually make a cake with them. Eggs. Yes, huevos, runtus, dàn. Pat and I were wrapping up our Kids Club today and getting ready to leave when one of the cute little girls, Claudia, came up to us and asked us if we liked eggs. The correct and only answer to that question of course is YES! We like them fried, boiled, scrambled, over-easy, poached, and especially deviled. Anyways, she whipped out these four raw eggs from her bag (Pat had to ask if they were raw or cooked) along with these seasoning packets (one being aji con colorante…basically spicy paprika) that are supposed to be used with the eggs to make saice (I can’t spell, it’s a Bolivian dish of some sort). LOVE IT. I think the gift of eggs definitely had something to do with the fact that it was the day after Easter (I heard from the mother of another kid in our Kids Club that he tried to find us yesterday to give us chocolate eggs) but it was still pretty random and awesome. After all, how can you not love it when someone gives you a gift of food? I think Bolivians are much better at this random food giving…I also received a few peaches a few weeks ago from Doña Sandra, who runs a tienda that I frequent. What’s not to love about going to a store to buy a few pieces of bread and coming out with a few free peaches as well?

Monday, March 24, 2008

An Indication That You Should Be Calling Your Friends More Frequently

Me: Helloooo!
Steph: Hello?
Me: Hey! You were screening my call! I called you like two seconds ago!
Steph: Oh, weird…you’re coming in as a long-distance number.
Me: I AM calling from a long-distance number. Hello? It’s me!
Steph: Oh! Joy?! Oh my god, I thought you were my mom!
Me: Your mom?!

Then we went on to have the regular conversation about grapes and starfruit.

Yes, now my friends think that I am their mothers. Is my voice matronly? I have gotten the occasional “do you have kids?” here and I was asked by one woman if I had kids at UBS because I liked to bake cookies and she said that my kids must love me when I bake for them. Hmm…I’m a little behind on peoples’ expectations so if anyone knows any strapping young lads that would like to father my children I am taking applications.

Also, I would like to happily inform you that the tally of the times that I’ve been asked if the blond-haired blue-eyed Pat is my mother has increased to 2 and counting. And I can also add to my credit the question if Pat is my mother-in-law. Haha, why can’t we just be friends?

“Cave Signatures”

So along with the territory of being an English-speaker comes a variety of odd translation jobs. Pat has been stopped in the streets of Tarata by people asking her to help translate the directions to medication that they need to take and we frequently get the requests for help on homework. But my favorite incident happened recently one night while I was over at Pat’s and we were watching a movie on her DVD player. A gentleman came to her door asking for her and said he was a friend of one of the students in Pat’s English class and he needed some help translating something. Let me remind you that it was already odd enough to be showing up on her doorstep at around 8 or 9 pm since small towns like Tarata pretty much shut down after dark unless there is a festival going on. When Pat couldn’t make sense of the document she called me from upstairs to come down and help her with the translation job. The gentleman handed me a piece of paper with some diagrams that I had no idea what it was but it was titled “Cave Signatures.” I started “translating” it for him but then again it wasn’t making much sense because it had something to do with building some kind of agriculture-related or architecture-related thing that probably doesn’t translate well directly. I kept on asking “cueva firma?” which means “cave signature” as a direct translation but he just gave me a blank look and eventually I had to tell him that my Spanish really wasn’t very good and if “cueva firma” didn’t mean anything to him that I probably couldn’t help make sense of the rest of the document. I enjoyed the incident thoroughly though since I take pleasure in randomness (it’s the key to success, anyone remember that saying?) and it certainly was random.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

New and Improved Vacation Schedule

So in a flash of inspiration and realization that I should probably hit up as many South American destinations as possible while I’m down here (and while I’m young and spry), I spent 4 hours last night rearranging my vacation schedule for the next two years. I’ve made the executive decision to count my chickens before they’re hatched and blow all my PC money plus some to “aprovechar” this opportunity of being in South America and having 24 days of vacation a year. I’ve eliminated any possible trips to the U.S. and the planned trip to Taiwan next year and scheduled in 3 major trips besides the already planned trip to Peru (and then Semaipata) with the group of visitors that is coming in November and a trip to Salar de Uyuni in October with Kelley (Kelley, I hope you don’t mind going there, haha). They are as follows:

1. Chile (Santiago / Valparaíso / Easter Island) – approximately 9 days, scheduled for later this year (August or September)
2. Patagonia in Argentina (maybe Chile but there probably isn’t time for that) – approximately 10 days, scheduled for early next year (February or March) while it’s still summer
3. Paraguay (Asunción, Ciudad del Este) / Argentina (Iguazú Falls, Buenos Aires) / Uruguay (Montevideo, Punta del Este, Punta del Diablo) – approximately 14 days, scheduled for next June or July

Now for the important part, travel partners! I have decided that I should go “si o si” (regardless of the circumstances) but I am open to the idea of having some company along for the ride. I will try to drag Pat along on my Chile trip but am thinking that there might be some interest out there for the other two and being that they aren’t happening until next year it will also be more feasible in terms of planning. With that in mind, I had some people slated for the other trips since they’ve expressed interest in a trip to somewhere other than Bolivia or Peru in South America. These people would be Steph to accompany me to Patagonia and Kelley, Caroline and Fuyu to journey to Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay. Let me know if there’s anyone else that is interested and I’ll sign you up and we can start planning!

Lost in Translation: A “Bāozi” Riddle

So in Day 2 of “motivated to study Chinese” I was browsing through my “Elementary Spoken Chinese: Part 1” book and the English translations of the dialogues in the lessons when I came to an interesting one. It read as follows:

“A bun with stuffing is a bun with stuffing. A bun stuffed with bean is a bun stuffed with bean. A bun stuffed with bean is not a bun with bean stuffing. Only a bun with meat or vegetable stuffing is a bun with stuffing.”

In pingyin for those Chinese speakers: “Bāozi shì bāozi, dòu bāor shì dòu bāor. Dòu bāor bù néng jiào dòu bāozi, ròu bāozi cài bāozi cái néng jiào bāozi.” (Yes, I did go through the effort of putting in those accents so you’d better read it with proper “shēng diào”)

Now I’m still puzzled at the purpose of this lesson which was titled “I like tea” and talked about “buns stuffed with bean paste” and “buns with stuffing” for the majority of the dialogue but I think the reason why there is a line around the corner for “bāozi” in Lù Găng has become a lot more clear. People take their “bāozi” very seriously as well as the task of defining the term.

I also enjoyed Lesson 18 that has the saying “shuō nĭ pàng nĭ jiù chuănshang le” which roughly translates to “when someone calls you fat, you start panting.” At first I was confused and was wondering (as did the character, Lisa, in the dialogue) why someone was being called fat and then I realized that it was a saying…such as “give a mouse a cookie and he’ll ask for a glass of milk.” Umm…or something like that, I don’t know if that’s really a saying or just in that book. Whatever, anyways, I am going to take a shot at the meaning behind the saying based on the context that it means when someone mentions something you, you take it and exaggerate it or go on and on about it. I’ll have to try to work that into all the Chinese conversations I’m having with myself nowadays. Kind of like the “ná lĭ ná lĭ” (where? where?) reaction to compliments and the oh-so-popular “shàng tù xìa xiè” (simultaneous vomiting and diarrhea) that I picked up while in Shanghai (referring to the phrase, not some kind of gastrointestinal disease). If you didn’t know Chinese before your read this, I’m glad I have given you a few handy sayings to use in times of crisis.

P.S. I recently finished a Free Cell winning streak…13 wins in a row! Overall 55% win percentage (and yes, I’ve played a total of 370 games, not counting those furtive games on Pat’s computer). After hearing that Sarah so cleverly changed her opponents in Hearts to honor the “Full House” characters of Danny, Joey, and Jesse I decided to do a little renaming myself. I have gone to the trouble of changing the opponents from the generic computer-given names to my 3 PC buddies (Sarah, Kasia and Lindsay) and I must say, they are quite worthy opponents, either I’m getting worse at Hearts (is that possible?) or the skill level of the computer opponents increases with the number of games that are played.

Never a Dull Day

So today in the plaza I was killing time before one of my many English classes by studying up on one of three languages that I’m trying to improve, Chinese. I was minding my own business, mumbling to myself with “Learn to Speak Chinese: Book 2” in hand while sitting on a bench when a coca-chewing, rubber sandal wearing man joined me on the bench and started blabbering to me in Quechua. I managed to sputter out a lame “Mana Qweshwata parlanichu” (what I believe is the translation of I don’t speak Quechua) and he proceeded to talk to me in what I think is Quechua after repeated “no entiendo’s” from me (I don’t understand in Spanish). Then he kept on saying “sal sabía” or at least I thought he was saying that which means “did you know salt?” Hmm…then he took out his wallet and whipped out a little scrap of paper and handed it to me…and I kept on asking “sal como sal para comida?” (salt as in salt for food?) and I think I got an affirmative response to that. At this point I think he might have been asking for the Chinese translation for salt (yes, very odd I know) but I couldn’t think of how to write the character “yán” (and I wasn’t even sure that was the word for it, I double-checked myself after he left) so lamely I wrote “sal” and then “salt” on his little scrap of paper which he tucked back into his wallet and then went on his merry way. Haha, hopefully he’s not going to go find some Chinese person and try to communicate with them by saying “salt”…and I’m not even sure that’s what he was trying to get at in the first place…but oh well, I tried to “help.”

I think the general consensus is also that we should start a “Heard in Bolivia” like how they have the “Heard in NYC” website where people post random nonsense of stuff they heard on the streets or in the city. I was walking back to my house today when along the way there were two little boys and one was shrieking about “día de la víbora” which means “day of the snake” and then they proceeded to whap each other with these large branches. I’m telling ya, never a dull day. (Okay, that’s a lie, I have plenty of boredom in my life but these little incidents keep me entertained)

Also, I am hoping to start a “women’s club” soon (modeled after the famous women’s club of Taiwanese women in Rochester). Well actually there’s a group of young professional ladies in Tarata that I eat lunch with and they told me today that they wanted English classes in the evenings (and they even suggested having it at different peoples’ houses each time) so we’re supposed to be starting this class next week on Wednesday and Friday evenings. My ulterior motive is that I’d like to teach English if they want it, but to have a little women’s club where we can bake cookies, cakes, pies, cobblers, tortes, brownies, pastries, and fattening things and gossip about men. After all, correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t that what Peace Corps is about…dessert and men?

Friday, March 14, 2008

The 2 Hour Wakeup

It takes me 2 hours to get ready in the morning. My routine doesn’t even involve primping (unless you take into account running a comb through your hair a few times or putting sunscreen on) or even showering. What it does include is several games of Free Cell (which I’ve gotten very good at) with a few games of Hearts or Spider Solitare scattered in there. I jam to a few songs on iTunes (I’ve been enjoying some Enrique Iglesias and Jason Mraz lately), drink a little instant coffee or tea, eat a piece of bread, change my underwear and pants (I tend to wear the same t-shirt to sleep and during the day for several days in a row)…and all of this done at a leisurely pace. Oh. My. God. How am I ever going to go back to the U.S. and the world of rushing around like a madman in the morning to get to work on time? I do recall the days (not so long ago) when I used to get ready for work (including shower, cup of tea, and full change of clothes) in half an hour. I think this new routine fits my non-morning person personality quite well although I fear the ramifications of getting too accustomed to not having anything to do until noon (or maybe 10 am if it’s an ambitious day). I really need to get back into the routine of running (haven’t done so in probably at least 3 weeks) but then again you really aren’t a PC volunteer unless you’ve eschewed all forms of exercise (excluding games of soccer or basketball with young children which I don’t participate in anyways). Only weirdos go running through the cobblestone streets for no reason and if anyone catches you they’ll think you are trying to lose weight and they’ll try to sell you Herbalife. I’m still not quite sure what that is, but I think it’s some system of powdered drinks or pills for weight loss.

In other news, Sarah informed me that today is our 200 day anniversary in PC (woohoo! definitely need to have a party with myself) and that she has 216 days until she goes back to the U.S. for her sister’s wedding and vacation. She’d better start packing, it’s casi aquí.

Pat recently told me an amusing story involving stray dogs and bread. She took her puppy Rumi (which means Rock in Quechua) to the tienda to pick up a few essentials and had her hands full on the way back to her house. She bent down to adjust the leash on Rumi and had a plastic baggie with a few rolls that she had just purchased in her hand and a street dog ran by and snatched the bread out of her hand, one of the rolls falling on the ground and the other still in the plastic bag in the stray dog’s mouth. Of course such incidents cannot happen without some witnesses (the lady in the tienda who was laughing heartily at her) and Pat had to go back to the tienda to repurchase her bread to replace that which was lost in the run by bread snatching by the stray dog. I’ve discovered such episodes tend to happen to Pat…she was also the one who was walking down the street with a bag of tostadas (big popped corn that is slightly sweetened) one day and was approached by a donkey giving her sideways glances and pulling it’s owner in her direction (aka the direction of the tostadas).

Scrabble Word of the Day: FOZY

I’m not quite sure what it means, but it’s a valid word in Scrabble. I was playing the free trial edition on Pat’s computer (man, computers these days come with all sorts of cool games like Scrabble and Bejeweled) and they have a “hint” button and I was seeing what words the oh-so-smart computer could come up with…and it had to be some kind of record…by using the word FOZY with a triple word score it came up with 56 points or something ridiculous like that. That will be my second Scrabble specific word that will be ingrained in my memory forever (the first is “QAT” my favorite Q without U word). Another good one (in the category of words made up purely of vowels) is “AI” which if I remember correctly means “a three-toed sloth.”

Graphing Fun

In addition to drinking instant coffee, Free Cell, and staring at the wall, Sarah has recently discovered the fun of creating nonsense graphs in Microsoft Word. She has a new edition of Office on her computer and determined that there are some very fancy schmancy designs (graphs in 3-D bubbles with all sorts of cool colors) and set to work on making some graphs in her journal with fake data (usually doctored so it would create the pretty pattern that was desired in the graph). These graphs showed things such as the correlation between boredom and mental well-being and actually proved that there is no correlation between the number of tasks that a PC volunteer has on their to-do list and the level of boredom (aka you could have a ton of stuff to do or nothing to do and still be bored). Also a graph of her mental well-being on a gobbledygook (I just used the thesaurus to look up a synonym to nonsense) scale…of course 10 (total elation over life) and 0 (suicidal) being unattainable; I was impressed that she had maintained a rating of 8 throughout training. Then I showed her my PC time tracking spreadsheet that included conditional formatting which I think thoroughly awed her. And I decided to create a nonsense pie chart of how I spend my time here (the largest slice being the stimulating activity of waiting for other people). I will admit that I miss the thrills of using Excel everyday and I’m afraid I’m losing my memory of all the handy keyboard shortcuts in Excel, but alas, I am striving to maintain a little knowledge of these things.

Sarah is visiting me right now and beyond creating graphs in Excel, we engaged in some wonderfully exciting activities…such as a game of cacho (Bolivian Yahtzee), watching several episodes of Sex and the City, trying yerba mate for the first time (this very natural, earthy seeming tea of herbs that volunteers in the Chaco swear by), and a rousing game of Scrabble (travel set). Sarah beat me thoroughly although I was trying to make a comeback, we both had best plays of 27 points (“twigs” for me and “etch” for Sarah, both triple word scores). She seems to be a master of the two-letter words which I will need to improve on if I intend to compete in her league.

My Top 5 Bolivian Guilty Pleasures

1. Formas, the fingerprint identification gym. I have to admit I’ve been there twice in the past week when I was in Cochabamba taking care of some other errands. I huffed and puffed my way through a few miles on the treadmill each time (pathetic, I know) and then elatedly reunited with the joys of weight training. Trying to turn that flab into rock hard muscle and this is one thing I will not mind spending a little money on while I’m down here. Plus the weight room at the gym is prime zone for eye-candy. What Conti would lovingly call “man beef.” I recently also saw some interesting articles in the NYT (beyond the Spitzer scandal) about how a push-up is the sign of overall physical fitness, I should be able to do 16 (yeah freaking right, dream on) and women over 60 should be able to do 6. Another article confirmed that distance runners do not need to stretch and are probably better off if they don’t because they use energy more efficiently in their movement if they’re less flexible. Forget that yoga crap.
2. Oreos. I need to stop my pack-a-day habit. But they’re just so yummy. And sometimes they have the peanut butter cream or my favorite, the chocolate cream on chocolate cookie. Yes, they are twice the cost of cremositas, but the chocolate cookie of an Oreo is hard to beat.
3. Laverap. It’s the laundromat that all volunteers swear by. The lady that runs it is super-nice and the clothes come out super-clean and super-smelling. No stiff jeans or cotton t-shirts. I actually don’t mind doing my own laundry by hand but sometimes you just need that little bit of luxury. Or you need to wash your sheets or blankets, not an easy task to do by hand.
4. Sex and the City. Sarah recently came to visit me and so kindly let me borrow the 2nd season. Pat and I have been indulging here and there. If anyone wants to send me something that I will forever be indebted to them for…Sex and the City! The collector’s edition of all the seasons for like $200. Thank you all my rich friends. The show is just that much more amusing nowadays when I see what they’re wearing and I crave the tantalizing food and drink that’s on the show.
5. Not showering. Yes, you knew it was about time that a comment about my personal hygiene made an appearance. I haven’t showered in 6 days and I worked out two days ago and sweated like a pig. Surprisingly, I don’t feel that gross and I am seriously considering switching from the every 5 day plan to the every 6 day plan. Sarah’s on the Sunday bathing plan (7 day plan) and has gotten comments that she smells good so I figure I have some leeway here.

I Said I Loved You, But I Lied

My latest triumph in overall work productivity was a visit to Sonia’s house to get some “computación” work started (means computer skills). I ended up taking a gander at all the music that came on the computer when they bought it which included lots of American ballads. I ended up doing the service to them of listening to a few songs and typing the lyrics that I heard (probably with lots of typos, you know how clear songs can be) so they could practice their English. Of course there were songs by Guns and Roses, Michael Bolton, the Carpenters, and the Beatles, and a little Avril Lavigne in there for the teenage son. Let’s just say that it’s very difficult to type out the lyrics to “Complicated” at the pace that Avril belts it out. Or maybe my typing speed is decreasing due to lack of practice…noooooo!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Newsflash! Soda is healthy!

So I recently noticed the label on a 2L bottle of Coca-Cola that I was consuming. It was following 2 days of gastrointestinal distress and not eating that I polished off 2L of Coca-Cola in a day and it did wonders for my body. I know it’s not healthy to drink so much soda at one time, basically half your daily calories in soda, but whatever, I figure it was making up for lost calories in the days that I couldn’t eat. Anyways, back to the Coke label. They have this “movimiento bienestar” here which means “well-being movement” and they tout the benefits of “walking for 30 minutes daily and smiling” as part of well-being. I also recently noticed the part that says that “each portion has 84 calories,” it’s a “fountain of hydration,” and “low in sodium.” I had to laugh when I saw this. I’m not sure if they intended the 84 calories part to be impressive (as if it were healthier than milk, water, or juice and besides, my super-size American view knows that the portion size is only 6 oz, half the size of a can of soda which I think is puny) and then certainly soda as a source of hydration should not be a selling point (how many people drink soda while they workout? especially in 6 oz portions that can’t be effective). I think they intended their saving grace to be that their full-sugar soda was low in sodium (ta da!)…are they comparing it with all those salty beverages out there that are worse choices in drinks such as V8 and…umm…chicken broth? Right. I’m thinking that this could be considered misleading advertising in the U.S. that would cause a problem. I love Coke just as much as the next person (maybe even more) but find this little bit of advertising to be disturbing for those mothers out there that may give their young children Coke since these little tidbits make it seem like a healthy choice for a beverage. That’s just my two cents.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cell Phone Note

Seems like my phone that initially had better service is failing me so I’m making the other number my primary number…not that anyone is really rushing to call me except my mom (and that was nice to receive a call from you today Kelley! Burger King was fantastic!) but try this one first going forward – 722-83054.

Gringo Pricing – Part II

So I had a particularly memorable incident (in terms of my experiences so far in Bolivia) regarding getting ripped off today involving a taxi driver. Pat and I were on our way back from the airport and we decided to hire the taxi directly to Tarata instead of heading from the airport to the stop to catch a taxi-trufi (the regular mode of transport to and from the city for us) and then to Tarata. The standard fare is 25 bs to go from the airport to basically anywhere in the city and then a full taxi-trufi earns the driver 20 bs (5 people x 4 bs per person). I figured 45 bs was a fair price being that the distance from the airport to Tarata is less than the distance from the airport to the stop and then to Tarata as well as the fact that the 25 bs could cover going all the way to the other side of the town (the stop for the taxi-trufis to Tarata is quite close to the airport in terms of the overall layout of Cochabamba). So we loaded all of Pat’s luggage in there and I said 45 bs and off we went. * Lesson #1 Learned: make sure the driver agrees to this fee, even if you’ve said it in a loud voice at least 3 times and he looks at you in comprehension of this fact, you need to get a verbal agreement, especially if it’s a route that they probably don’t take very often.

So we had a relatively pleasant ride back except for the rocks and shrubbery that found it’s way onto the road due to a bloqueo that had happened earlier in the day (over high tolls but crappy road conditions for the drivers of public transportation). When we arrived at Pat’s house she pulled out her 100 bs bill to pay for the ride. * Lesson #2 Learned: Always pay for taxis with exact change or near exact change so in the event that they won’t give you your change, you don’t get ripped off that much. So he guy decided to say “gracias” and basically walk away with the money, and that was when I was like, “cambio?!” (change). That began my argument with him that was actually quite short due to several reasons. I said that I had said earlier that the fare would be 45 bs (although he did not acknowledge this fact I am pretty sure he heard me earlier) and I said that about 3 times…and then he obviously didn’t have a price in mind (he just thought he was getting away with the 100 bs) so I was like, okay, let’s compromise, the middle of 70 bs (which was still totally getting ripped off). Since he already had Pat’s 100 bs bill in his hand I couldn’t really do anything (short of punching him in the face and snatching it from his hand or swearing at him (good thing I don’t know any useful swear words in Spanish) which both were routes that I thankfully did not take in the heat of the moment) and he ended up giving us back 20 bs. 80 bs?! Ripped off by what I consider 35 bs.

*Lesson #3 Learned: You cannot argue convincingly with someone unless you speak their language fluently or are at least equipped with the appropriate vocabulary. In retrospect, I probably sounded quite lame because I couldn’t even coherently explain to him the fact about the 20 bs cost for a full taxi from the city to Tarata with 5 passengers or that it was closer for him this total trip than what else would have been required, nor that he had agreed to my price of 45 bs earlier. Unfortunately it came to me after the fact how to say “you are cheating us” and “this is wrong.” I would also like to equip my Spanish vocabulary with arguments of emotion such as the golden rule and I will work out how to say, “how would you like it if you went to the United States and someone ripped you off?” as well.

After all was said and done, I was pretty steaming mad (sorry Pat, I know it wasn’t even your money) and that is even the reason that I am up right now typing this even though I got up at 6 am today and it’s already 11 pm because I was thinking about the situation. It brings me back to what I wrote about earlier. 35 bs. 35 bs is less than $5. I can’t say if the 35 bs would make very much difference to him since he clearly wasn’t working to get his next meal (after all he was employed and his taxi was actually pretty nice) and I know that 35 bs doesn’t make much difference in the scheme of things for Pat (sorry again, I know, also for me if I had been the one that had paid). So I’m back where I started with my moral/utilitarian dilemma. Immediately after this incident I was totally of the mindset that getting ripped off is wrong no matter whom you are, but then the gringo pricing dilemma creeps into my mind again. In this particular case, I think that I should have clarified more strongly what the price was and he should have been fair in his price (I know that he clearly knew that he was ripping us off). So maybe in the end I can compromise, and say we are both slightly at fault and move on. It makes it easier for me sometimes when I can find fault with myself for consequences that I face (I didn’t agree the price as strongly as I should have prior to getting in the taxi and I clearly was not equipped with the proper Spanish to deal with the situation) because nobody likes not being in control of a situation. I guess the only part of me that is troubled is that I would not rip someone off just because I thought they didn’t know any better or I was in the position to do so. But then again, if I were a taxi driver in Bolivia and I was perhaps just scraping by and of the mindset that you get the highest price possible as part of your business (what’s that called in econ? price parity? disparity? point pricing? when you charge different prices based on what you think the consumer will pay?), who knows what I would have done. That’s just the part of respecting different cultures and backgrounds of people that in the end you might catch a glimpse of what another person is thinking through their actions, but you will never know what you would have done in that situation.

Lesson #4 Learned: This is a biggie. It’s the one about self-discovery. Beyond what we’re here in the PC for in terms of the official “goals 1, 2 & 3,” one of my hopes was personal growth and learning even just a little bit more about myself. I’m a non-confrontational person. I hate arguments, and the closest I get to them is being passive-aggressive and seething internally about something or whining to some unlucky party about what I am upset about…and then I forget it and move on. I get over things pretty quickly and am pretty adaptable if you haven’t noticed (also a fault because it sometimes leads me to give up on things too easily if I wasn’t too invested in it in the first place). I was quite surprised at myself for how I tried to stand up and argue for what I thought was right because I don’t hear myself speak in that voice very often (if at all). I know there’s a time and place for this type of thing, I probably will never be the type that complains about food in a restaurant when there’s a problem and prefer to speak my mind about service via the tip that is left. But I also had a realization that what happened today is what I’m here for. Recognizing weaknesses in character and working on them and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations and overcoming them. Sarah recently told me about an series of incidents in her work, and when I read about them in an email I found that I admired her for being good at drawing her lines of what she wants to fight for and then going for it rather than rolling over and playing dead (my typical tactic). So in the end, I’m attempting to be more “fuerte” in my beliefs…although that poses another issue because currently I’m also struggling with finding my passion in life and solidifying what my values are. Ai ya! Haha, it’s like in The Joy Luck Club which I just reread and how the one chapter is about the daughter that is “without wood” so she bends too easily to listen to everyone. I guess I need to work on growing stronger and straighter (including posture!) so I don’t end up “a weed, growing wild in any direction, running along the ground until someone pulls you out and throws you away.”