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.