Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Bolivian Rainstorm

It’s inevitable. Rainy season in Bolivia and walking as your only mode of transportation. You’re going to get caught in the pouring rain at one time or another. And you’re not going to have a raincoat nor an umbrella. It happened to me today. After English class around 8:30 pm, I decided since I was having a particularly WTF-am-I-doing day that I would traipse over to the internet café to read my email and check Facebook and see if I still had any friends that loved me (indeed I do! and my mommy called me while I was there to boot). By the time 40 min was up I was ready to go home and I looked outside and saw it was raining. No biggie, I’ve walked places in the rain many a time and I’ve even gone out running in the rain voluntarily (not pouring let me remind you). So the internet café owner told me I was going to get wet, and I responded “voy a correr” (I’m going to run). Hah. Not that it would have helped anyways. Apparently it was raining a lot harder than I thought and by the time I got to the plaza (a 2 min walk away) I was wet, so I decided to wait it out a bit under an overhang. After about 10 min in the rain (and it was freezing cold by Bolivian standards as well) and I saw it let up a tiny bit…so I made a dash for it…which in Tarata means I plodded along through the flooded cobblestone streets like a turtle, choosing to remain upright with no broken ankles rather than get home just a teeny bit drier. By the time I got home (which requires a 10 min walk but in the rain jumping over the streams in the road and mud is more like 13 min), I was probably more soaked than I ever have been before. At some point I gave up on trying to avoid the puddles (and some I can honestly say I was trying to avoid but was unsuccessful) and just trudged and slogged my way through it all. Now I am fearful that I am going to catch some kind of foot disease (I would compare soaking your sneakers and socks in the water running through the streets to doing the same thing on a NYC street corner after it was raining – aka gross, not something that is good for your podiatric health). When I finally made it back to my house I ducked in the bathroom to see the damage and saw mud splotches all over my sweater sleeves (?!)…I’m at a loss at how the mud could come up to my arms, but then again, this is Bolivia where crazy things do happen. All I have to say is that all those clothes are getting washed tomorrow morning (if it’s not raining…remember, doing laundry is dependent on the weather) and I’ve learned the valuable lesson to carry a raincoat and/or umbrella anywhere you go during rainy season. That way maybe your shirt with stay dry. Shoes, socks and pants are s*&^ out of luck.

News Update

People tend to be interested in matters that concern them and when I read whatever news source I can get my hands on I am no different. When I receive BusinessWeek I still scour it for articles on energy and investment banking but I’m also branching out into being excited about reading up on Latin America, development and NGOs, and socially conscious whatever it may be. Quite thankfully, all volunteers receive copies of Newsweek so we can stay semi-up-to-date on world issues. I read all the articles on the 2008 presidential race and business articles, but I struggle to get through the world affairs articles (unless they have to do with Latin America or China). I don’t know why, but international politics doesn’t interest me all that much. It’s one of those topics that I wish I were more knowledgeable on and more interested in, but I’m just not. An interesting article I did read lately deals with private foreign-aid providers. At first I thought it was kind of an oxymoron, USAID contracting out some development project to a private company instead of NGO…but then after reading the article I couldn’t decide which side I agree with. The argument to use private firms is that they can get the job to build x number of schools or y road connecting point A to point B done more efficiently (aka cheaper!) than an NGO can. But in reality the companies are only better at big infrastructure projects like bridges because of their expertise while they aren’t as good at the smaller projects that require knowledge and trust of the community that they’re working in. A PCV would side with the NGOs in the belief that you really need community support to make an aid project successful (and the fact that they say they waste less money in the levels of bureaucracy when they contract the jobs out because they have offices located in the communities) but my capitalistic way of thinking says that if it makes economic sense to use private companies for aid projects they should go ahead and use them. After all, in my short time here in Bolivia I’ve seen and heard of plenty unsuccessful projects executed by NGOs that are supposed to be better at development projects that actually make a difference. And so the debate continues…

Confessions, Reflections, and Resolutions

In the past few weeks I’ve been rather uninspired to write any blog entries, mainly because recent events have been uninspiring (yes, everyone loves Christmas and New Year’s but nothing particularly thrilling happened to me during the holiday season besides the excessive consumption of street hamburgers). But 2008 is a new year and a week into it, I will try to get back on the horse. Neigh.

Let’s start off with a few confessions…
1) I went online (window) shopping at J.Crew the other day. Blasphemy! I can honestly say that was the first (okay 2nd or 3rd) time I have wistfully online shopped down here. And I’m going to blame it on the fact that I never cancelled those email notifications (“50% off winter sale!”) because I used to live for those. I did make a clean break with Lord and Taylor and unsubscribed to their notices (although I daydream about shopping sprees with Kelley where we use our coupons to buy $20 Rock and Republic jeans and $80 leather Coach purses). Clearly it was a case of the “I want it because I can’t have it” along with the fantasy that I can be femininely and elegantly dressed even just one day during the next two years. That cashmere cardigan, wool toggle coat, and knee-high leather boots are SO not Peace Corps though. Gotta keep up with the times (currently stylish are a grungy t-shirt and jeans). Maybe what’s even more shocking about this whole experience is that I’m turning girly! Ahhh! Nooo!
2) I haven’t shaved my legs since I left Rochester 4+ months ago. Sarah found this amusing. I don’t have much to say about it besides the fact that I’m soon going to either start putting the leg hair in dreads or braiding it.
3) I made an Excel spreadsheet that tracks how many months I’ve finished of my service, my time in Bolivia, and converts this to a percentage of time completed (currently around 10% of my service done, 17% of time here in Bolivia done). In another column I have detailed what exciting events (ahem, such as visits by my delightful friends and family) are happening each month to keep me looking ahead. I shade green the time that I’ve completed (logically) whereas time yet to be completed is highlighted in yellow. Now, I am enjoying myself the majority of the time that I’m here, but this spreadsheet is for those truly crap-tastic days that you just need to feel like you accomplished something and there’s an end to the madness. Don’t worry, I’m not that weird, Pat confessed to me she does the same thing (albeit not in Excel) and another volunteer who will remain unnamed has said she counts the number of days that she has been in country. This unnamed volunteer also exclaimed to me upon the advent of 2008…”we’re going home next year!” We’re all crazy. It’s okay.
4) I wear the same outfit 5 days in a row. Then I shower. Then I change. I had this debate with my mom about what makes more sense…I believe that if you’re not going to shower, you shouldn’t bother changing your clothes because what’s the point of getting more clothes dirty? My mom thinks that BECAUSE you aren’t showering everyday, you should change your clothes everyday to keep a minimal level of hygiene. Any thoughts?
5) I ate half a watermelon in one sitting. Not one of those itty bitty ones that you can pick up with one hand (like the one you ate when you timed yourself in Shanghai, Steph), but a full sized watermelon. Bolivia makes you do crazy things, I’m not sure why I bought it when I knew fully well I was the only one that was going to be eating it. But then again I’m the kind of fruit fiend that can eat 2 lbs of strawberries in a day no problem. The day I bought the watermelon was also the day I went to Coch in search of fruit and I was tottering through the cancha with 5 apples, 8 mangoes, and my big watermelon along with some other Christmas purchases. Surprisingly, my stomach did not explode as a result of the watermelon consumption. Leslie – do you need me to carry a watermelon back to your apartment from Star Market for you?

Moving onto a reflection…I was riding in the taxi-trufi (of course double-shotgun) back to Tarata yesterday after dropping Pat off in the city with her luggage (she’s going home! hopefully just for a few weeks though to get some medical stuff taken care of…if she leaves me for good I will not be a happy camper) and I was like, wow, Bolivia IS pretty. I finally took notice that since rainy season is here the mountains and everything are lush and green. I guess that’s what it’s like to be in a site like Semaipata that is green and tropical all the time. Anyways, I’ll enjoy the scenery while I have it and then enjoy the dusty brown landscape with cactus the rest of the year. It makes me think that maybe people should come visit me during the rainy season though because it’s prettier here during that time. Vamos a ver.

New Year’s Resolutions. Me being me, the master of to-do list (taking a shower was on the agenda for yesterday, check!), traditionally, I write resolutions in list format. I enjoy quantitative, measurable goals for the latest year (some might even say they qualify as SMART objectives as designated by PMM – the oh-so-useful annual performance review mechanism at UBS). In light of my recent move to Bolivia, land of uncertainty and circumstances that prevent you from accomplishing things on a strict timeline, I am willing to make an exception. By writing in paragraph format. If I get really creative I might even throw a poem in there for you.

Resolution: I am going to lose 15 lbs and quit smoking. Actually, no. More probable is that I’m going to gain 15 lbs (or shall we convert that into kilos? or maybe it’ll just be 15 kg, I’ll round up) and take up smoking. No Mom, not really. I’m kidding. But I have heard on more than one occasion volunteers have taken up cigarettes in order to combat stress (yes, getting 10 hours of sleep at night can be extremely stressful). Anyways, in review, 2007 was the year that I turned 25 and had a major quarter-life crisis and immediately flew off to Bolivia on my birthday, August 21st. I would like to think I am spontaneous like that, but unfortunately my decision to finally LEAVE for the PC was the combination of the premonition of the impending sub-prime disaster in financial services (hah, if I had actually seen that coming I would be a very smart and rich person) and the decision to finally stop being lazy and wade through the paperwork required for PC.

So that brings me to my one-liner: my resolution for 2008 is to live without regrets. As some of my sisters of Kappa Kappa Gamma might put it “to go for the gold.” Umm…I haven’t though about the fact that I was in sorority for awhile. I feel the urge to bust into an “Everyone Loves a Kappa Gamma, Everyone Loves a K-K-G” chant or the refrain from “On the Heart of Each Sister.” Okay, that moment has passed. So what does living a year without regrets involve? At this point I really have the hankering to make a numbered list but I will resist! Something smells really bad right now. I think it’s the pigs next door though since I just took a shower yesterday. But I digress. So what I really wanted to say is that living without regrets this year means that I’m pledging to try really hard to get some sustainable (ooh, development buzzword!) work done in my primary and secondary projects. And I’m going to get out in my community more to embrace the experience that I’m so lucky to have. And I’m going to make a conscious effort to improve my Spanish and learn some Quechua (this requires putting down those darn cheesy mystery novels I keep on getting from the PC library). Overall, I think it can be summarized in getting off my lazy arse and not being afraid. Oh, and I’m going to study really hard for the GMAT and at least 680 on it (hopefully I’m as smart as I foolishly think I am). And then I’m going to save the world. 2008, ready or not, here I come!