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.”

New House, New Start!

My lovely friend Eveline who currently resides and lives in New Brunswick, NJ is in the process of overhauling her life. Job, living situation, outlook. I’m about to join her. Okay, so I’m not starting a new job, but I am moving! I found a new place to live the other day and I’ll be moving at the end of this month. I’m looking forward to a lot of things about this new place. One is the more substantial roof that consists of more than just corrugated tin (although it seems like the rainy season has eased up considerably in the last few weeks). Another is the fact that the room comes with what seems like an American-style mattressed DOUBLE bed, yes, that means I am ready to receive visitors (if you want to snuggle up with me, Steph, I’ll even let you sprawl your leg over me if you make the trip down here)! Plus I’ll still have the mattress that I bought when I first got here so I have room for two visitors at a time. I will be giving up a lot of privacy and space and my own bathroom, but I will have a bathroom that I’m sharing with a girl that’s one month younger than me (a sister!) right next to my room so that means no more peeing in a bucket at night when I am too lazy to hike through the garden to get to my bathroom. Also, I’m looking forward to sharing some living quarters with the family since in my current arrangement I have an unheard amount of privacy for a volunteer…that means having more interaction with my family to improve my Spanish and get more of the family atmosphere. The place is a little outside of town but it’s right across the street from Sonia’s house, the artisan woman I work with, so it’ll be nice to be able to visit her and her family (she has the two friendliest daughters) more often. The family also has this gorgeous garden (I saw these massive grapefruits hanging off of one tree when I went to visit) and a nice shaded area that seems like it will be a perfect lounging and reading area. Anyways, I’ll post pictures when I get them.

In terms of work, things are going okay. Success is all a relative term I guess. There’s a ton of potential projects and work for me and I have managed to stay relatively busy the past week with real stuff although I don’t really have any concrete evidence of that. I tried to start a new English class for high school students and adults and actually advertised for it with signs at the tourism office, a popular tienda, internet café, and copy shop…but alas, today for my first class, that I was well prepared for, nobody showed up. I later went with Edson, one of the tour guides that speaks excellent English, to the high school to put out a formal invitation to the classes…still not much response. That’s the Peace Corps way, you’re going to fail the first time you do anything, and probably the second through ninth times as well, but you just try different things and hope that at some point you succeed. You scale back expectations every now and again and come back to Earth from your lofty hopes and take pleasure in the little victories. The mayor and another employee in the mayor’s office gave me a good idea as well when he said he was interested in taking a class and to put out a notice that basically says that if you can find a group of 5 people that want to take classes together, just tell me when and where and I’ll be there.

Beyond that, I purchased a guitar! Hopefully I’ll come back strumming some tunes and actually knowing how to play (unlike my first failed attempt senior year at CMU). I think I’ve reached my maximum book reading for now…I’ve read 27 books since I’ve been in Bolivia and I’ve gotten sick of several authors that I originally was a big fan of (Lawrence Sanders or John Grisham anyone?). It was the Dan Brown syndrome that hit me. I remember when I first read The DaVinci Code I was like, wow, what a great page-turner. Then Angels and Demons was good…and then Digital Fortress seemed a little predictable…and when I got to Deception Point I couldn’t stomach anymore and didn’t even finish it. I definitely recommend the McNally series by Sanders though when you’re looking for a quick enjoyable read. He uses some crazy language talking in the “Archy McNally” voice and half the time I don’t really know what he’s trying to say which kind of amuses me. I’ve currently moved on to trudging through studying Quechua vocabulary and muddling through “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits” which deals with how big international corporations and the impoverished can benefit from creating a new market together. Interesting although I’m having difficulty changing my pre-existing viewpoint to see these theories as being viable on a larger scale.

Fruit, glorious fruit!

I know I already discussed fruit, but I still can’t help but be flabbergasted when I see the offerings of the variety of fruits in the market. We’re not talking the street vendors that sit behind their little displays of fruit and usually convince me to buy way more than I originally planned on. In my amazement I purchased a kilogram of starfruit for only 5 bs (that’s approximately 66 cents!). In one sitting today I consumed in a span of 10 minutes, two large perfectly juicy sweet white peaches, three figs, a bowl of cherries, and a prickly pear. What a gastronomical treat! It seems that during this summer season, one fruit after another are seemingly in season and just as you get tired of one fruit, another one catches your fancy. For example, awhile back I was caught up on the mangoes and papayas, then that turned into cherimoya and peaches, and now I am discovering the other realm of figs, grapes and cherries that can also be purchased. Just to take stock of the fruits that can be bought right now to illustrate the variety that can be found, I am making a list for you in categories.

Everyday fruits: bananas, apples, oranges, lemons, grapes, peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, strawberries, raspberries
Semi-exotic: papaya, mango, figs, pineapple
Exotic: cherimoya, starfruit/carambola, prickly pear, paqui, passion fruit (maracuya)

The fruits I don’t see around here very frequently would have to be kiwi, blueberries, blackberries, grapefruit, cantaloupe/honeydew/canary melons, and lychee (although dried kiwi that have been processed in Bolivia can be found in the supermarket).

My Bolivian Disguise

I look Bolivian. Well not exactly, but I am getting closer to it I believe. When I’m in Cochabamba nowadays, I’ve cleverly started wearing my sunglasses everywhere and I think that it helps me to look more Bolivian when you can’t see my slanty little Asian eyes. I think I’ve had some relative success with this. I’m trying to play myself off as a Bolivian or at least a person of some type of Latino descent from somewhere unfamiliar (to…umm…everyone?) that could explain my horrendous accent.

My greatest triumph lately was when I was walking down the street and a teenage boy called me “blancito” which roughly translates to “whitey” (and was supposed to be some kind of insult, au contraire!) Victory! My assumption was that he thought based on my physical appearance I was a light-skinned Bolivian. Well look at that, the first time in my life that someone has ever called me “whitey.” Up until this to this point it has only been “chinita” or “japonesa” so I think I’m making progress.

Taxi Drivers

Some of my proudest moments so far have been the proof of my conversational ability in small talk with taxi drivers while in Cochabamba. I’ve decided it’s a good way to practice Spanish and also can be quite amusing when you are with your friends and you know they’re using one of the three way overused topics that you talk to taxi drivers about.

1) Are you from Cochabamba? – Kasia likes to bust this one out of left field but I’m just as guilty of using it; it will usually segway in or out of the topic of where you are from
2) Festivals and Holidays – for this reason it’s good to know about the schedule of when the last Bolivian holiday was or when the next one is, as a frame of reference, this is a good topic of conversation because another festival is never more than a month away
3) The weather – el clima en Cochabamba es perfecto – the climate in Cochabamba is perfect, yup, that’s my favorite line regarding the weather

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I found this amusing...

Another volunteer in my group sent this out that is of some other PCV in a different country killing time...apparently this is what happens when no one shows up to your meetings....


I don’t like animals (in real life).

Yes, I know I am a dailybunny.com enthusiast and on more than one occasion my yearly calendar has been of some kind of fuzzy critter or furball (sheepdogs anyone?) but I am coming to grips with the fact that I just don’t like animals. I probably will never own a pet again (two parakeet and a hamster was enough for a lifetime) and I don’t really like touching pets whether they are cats or dogs here. They just seem dirty and stinky to me. Is that so wrong? I only am realizing while I am here in Bolivia since my exposure to pets up until this point has been very limited. I guess indoor cats are the least offensive to me (Sarah, don’t worry, I’m not going to drown your cat) but in general I try to stay away from dogs. I’m trying to be nice to Pat’s dog, Rumi, while she’s still in the States but I just don’t like the way they jump all over you and the feeling that you need to wash your hands right after you touch them because you know they’ve been chewing on something foul right before they licked you. When I first arrived in Tarata, there was a moment of insanity when I thought I might get a dog for companionship, but that flash of stupidity has passed. I am working on accepting the idea that I just might be the biggest sissy that the Peace Corps has ever seen. And I’m quite alright with that.

Baby’s First (and Last) Carnaval

So this past Monday and Tuesday were Carnaval, Bolivia’s most important holiday (the only holiday where two vacation days are given might I add) and a favorite of many Bolivians and tourists alike. I am not a fan. Let’s say that this holiday includes a lot of my least favorite things and just by sheer existence in this world I get included in those even though I did not ask to participate. All I have to say is the madness of Mardi Gras in New Orleans is preferred and that I am happy to say that I will probably be in Taiwan for Chinese New Year next year during Carnaval. I would highly recommend for anyone that was scared of attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans (Steph) to definitely not travel to any Latin American country during Carnaval. I am happily content in my change-of-plans decision to not travel to Oruro (craziest Carnaval in Bolivia) this year and will not be even considering traveling to Rio in Brazil anytime in the month before or after Carnaval.

I don’t like getting hit with water balloons. That’s the truth. During Carnaval it is perfectly acceptable to pelt strangers with water balloons, shoot them with water guns (yes, I saw a grown man shooting an old cholita with a supersoaker out a car window) and spray them with foam. I went into Cochabamba on the Monday of Carnaval and I was probably asking for it by just being there, but to experience that once is more than enough. The city was strangely quiet for the holiday with the exception of the Cancha (open air market) where I was warned things could get very ugly and messy. I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to walk from the Cancha (where the stop for the taxi-trufi from Tarata is) to the Cine Center with only minor incidents. But as I was making my way back to the Cancha to go home was another story. My first incident involved a group of teenage boys in a rotunda/plaza near the Cine Center (big American type movie complex). There had to be about 10 of them and I did my best to ignore them and just walk by…and honestly I wouldn’t mind if after I walked away they tried to pelt me with their balloons nor do I mind getting hit with a watergun that much. But one walked right up to me and stuck his hand under my chin with a balloon and popped it. I mean, come on, is that really called for? I did not appreciate that invasion of my personal space more than getting soaked. I did my best to ignore the fact that it happened and just walked away while they cackled in laughter and pelted me with a few more balloons. What I really wanted to do was punch him in the face but I could imagine my Carnaval experience degenerating into me beating up teenager boys and young children so I decided against it. That was then followed by my encounter with three younger children who hit me with at least 3 balloons and then as I kept on walking as if nothing happened, one of the little ones ran up behind me and sprayed my back (luckily raincoat covered) with a huge pile of foam. Direct hit from point blank range, not that impressive or satisfying in my opinion. I was then determined to walk back to the stop to get back home since I was already wet and as I neared the Cancha, I got a bucket of water dumped on my head. Yeah, I forgot that is acceptable as well…to dump buckets of water from balconies onto the people walking below you. Then as I was walking through the Cancha I heard more teenage boys going “get the chinita” and I literally ran to the other side of the street after I heard that.

Maybe it’s the lack of the potential lawsuit that allows this to happen in Bolivia, after all, in the U.S. you can sue anyone for just about anything, and it’s not unheard of for people around here to fill the balloons with paint, urine, or freeze them. There was that story of a motorcycle driver that got hit with an icy balloon last year and crashed and died. Right. Plus beyond that I’m sketched out by the fact that who knows what kind of water these buckets and water guns and balloons are filled with. I did see some kids filling some balloons from some skanky fountain filled with stagnant water. I’m just afraid of catching some disease by inadvertently getting some of the water in my mouth (hard to avoid when u get a full bucket dumped on your unexpectedly). There’s always typhoid fever which as one volunteer that contracted it by swimming in a river eloquently put it “I got poop in my mouth.” Which is apparently the way you get it when infected feces get in your mouth, usually through a contaminated water source.

Anyways, I sound like a whiny brat (Negative Nancy, Debbie Downer, any assortment of pessimistic nicknames) complaining about this because everyone experiences the same thing during Carnaval, but being less fun-loving than most volunteers and being less accustomed to it than Bolivians, I hate it that much more. Hopefully later this week when Carnaval is over, I can go back to worrying about pickpockets as my primary concern rather than walking around with the fear of getting hit by balloons and buckets of water.

Fruits Galore

I consider myself a fruit lover…I like to eat strawberries by the quart, bananas on my cereal, and on occasion I have cried when my mom gave the rest of the raspberries to my sister because I had already eaten the lion’s share. You can just imagine my delight when I visit the market in Bolivia and see exotic fruits that I have never tried before. During training I had paqui (this strange banana-shaped fruit with a hard rind and fuzzy white interior with big black seeds) and this other citrusy fruit whose name fails me now (it is a cross between a passion fruit and a lemon). I savored the 40 cent giant pineapples and 60 cent papayas and relished the sweet bananas with real flavor and the best mangoes I’ve ever eaten. I gobbled down sour starfruits (or carambolas if you will) and am eagerly awaiting the Peach Fair that takes place in my town every March. My most recent discovery is the cherimoya (aka custard apple). It’s a mushy blob of flesh inside with big black seeds and quite tasty. Might be a new entry on my top 10 favorite fruits list but I’ll have to do some internet research to see if any damage can be done from daily consumption. I also purchased recently what I believe are cactus pears (aka the prickly pear) which I wasn’t so fond of. It had way too many seeds that were difficult to remove (although according to the description in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook you can eat the seeds) but ruined the texture and flavor when eaten whole.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The major food groups: less of, more of, and roughly the same amount but in different form

So I’ve noticed lately that I’m becoming a little pudgy due to the lack of exercise (attributed to both laziness and the daily rains) and I have decided to analyze my diet as a method of weight control (although it’s highly unlikely that I have the self-discipline to actually eat healthier food in place of the Cremositas and french fries). Here’s what I have:

Less of (or nonexistent): tasty vegetable variety in exotic salad forms found on UBS’ salad bar, fish, meat (chicken, beef, pork, lamb), frozen vegetables, canned soups, soy products (milk, tofu, and veggie burgers), CHOCOLATE, ice cream (wahhh! Ben and Jerry’s, crap, I forgot I’ve been eating Flavor Burst like there is no tomorrow when I’m in the city), water, ICE, bread (in hearty whole grain form and toast), cookies, beer, rice (I have performed a minor miracle and haven’t cooked it once since I’ve been in Tarata), pickles, bacon (oh I miss microwave bacon!), canned beans (I miss the pork ‘n beans and refried varieties), anything asian flavored, deli meat, yogurt, salads (boohoo), potato chips

More of: potatoes (esp. fried), whole milk (in liquid and powdered form), bread (in lard filled roll form), coffee, tea, SODA (full sugar, especially Pepsi and Coke), popcorn, corn on the cob, cheese (maybe that’s because if you don’t want to pay out the arse for it you buy it in the one pound block form), fresh tomatoes, hamburgers (I can’t resist a good street hamburger around here), alcohol (in mixed drink or wine form), tortillas, pasta, cream cheese (on bread since they lack bagels around here), chocolate milk (what am I, 5 yrs old?)

Roughly the same amount but in different form: fruit (rarely apples anymore), eggs (fried egg on tortilla with cheese and ketchup anyone?)

Based on this scientific analysis, it is fair to conclude that I have replaced many healthy foods with filling, carbohydrate-laden, white colored, non-nutritious foods thus resulting in weight gain. Although I have reduced my consumption of parts of the “fats, oils, and sweets” group in the traditional food pyramid such as chocolate, ice cream, pickles and bacon, the resulting increase in caloric intake from carbohydrates and decrease in physical activity has lead me to my current circumstances (rotund).

Solution: break all full length mirrors in sight, buy a few pairs of pants with elastic waists, under no circumstances wear anything spandex, banish horizontal stripes from my wardrobe, go for a daily walk, and worry about this in approximately two years.