Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Like the desert's masquerade"

Today, I really screwed up. Separate reprimands occurred when I touched two flagpoles, stood on a cement block, closed a taxi door, and expected government service past noon on a weekday. And, this is Chile. Land of the backwards, slow, incompetent, ineffecient, and homeless. But honestly, I love it. Why bother crossing borders to get a taste of the usual? Adaptation will occur and especially with a future four month stop in the ever-so-slow tropics, our eventual return to the pace of Boston will hit harder than a bowl of speed, brown sugar, and oatmeal.

Onto a week's recap. Last night was a high school tournament of the cuerca. A dance known for its white bandana twirling, spurred heels, and a moustached man screaming CUERCA over his guitar beat, it made the most of our Tuesday. In preparation for the dance-off me and a few ladies hit up a grocery store to find a bag of frijoles to share. I actually ended up purchasing some fruits from the finest of clerks who sat back and watched as I asked about the price range of her box of oranges. A basic translation of what transpired: "I'm sorry, I have no idea what you're referring to. These round, orange, citrus fruits you're pointing at clearly are not oranges. Go ahead, ask me about them again. Oh, I'm sorry, do you mean the mandarinas? Yes, dumbass, they're 20 peso per fruta. Now please place that pineapple down and do not strike me in the skull with it." Two wrongs never make a right, but I now feel like I've been granted at least one future opportunity to play dumb and distatesfully sit and watch an Asian/Mexican/Alabaman-American struggle over the proper usages of much vs. many.

Considering other moments to sit back and marvel at... Last weekend a tame Friday night was in order. We accepted an invite to a high school karaoke night only to discover that this was a teacher-only event. And an event it was. Three standing mics were placed for those singing chorus, a few microphones were dispersed amidst the rest of the audience, all facing the projected karaoke music videos. After an awkward entrance, we slowly worked our way into their graces as we embraced these spanish jams for what they were, brought in a few slow claps and chimed in with the lalala sections, which the majority of their songs featured. Then came the chorizo. To explain, it's no more than a 6 inch sausage (jokes stop there) which can be covered with the wide array of condiments (and there) that they utilize for nearly every meal of every day. A man who I pray is not allowed to call himself a teacher was in charge of distributing these grilled meats to all and he decided that these sausages were so other-worldly that they should be celebrated as such. Thus, he screamed "Chorizo!" to every single individual he provided one to. And to those he didn't. And to every pause in a karaoke jam. Chorizo Man eventually made his way out to the improptu reggaeton 40 plus dance fest that broke out post barbecue and felt that his twisting hips should be complimented with joyous sausage shouts. I'm learning so much.

To add one other evening of note was our attendance at a school competition that was culminating after four days of athletics, eating contests, and dance-offs rewarded with an unknown prize. Intensity and hormones at its peak. A sampling of competitions to note: Music. Harmless, harmonius, and as we first walked into the school gymnasium, Kansas' Dust in the Wind was being played and sung flawlessly. Following this fine melody? A swimsuit grind competition of course. Where thongs and onstage body meshing was in order all for the watchful eye of the middle aged male teachers judging the talent pool. Next were the three live music videos which revolved around empty beer bottles, impregnation, and pimps. Colin and I had averted our views to the fourth floor railing and were watching paint peel at this point. Students offered freshly cut locks of hair to gain more points and we were just leaving as three bra-piles were being made on the stage to signify which team had the biggest, let's say winners. American high school has never felt so lame.

The rest of our days have been additionally enjoyable and interesting. I awaken at 630 most mornings to a rooster crow who continues until the sun rises over our easter sand hills at around 930. During a breakfast of tea and bread, I'll sit and listen to either the propane tank truck drive around the city while its spoon stocked percussionist stands in the back of the truck clanging away or the man in the egg-van announce via megaphone that he has the best eggs in all the village. A few hours of teaching gets thrown in here and there and then I'll eventually make the fifteen minute stroll south to the waves which are alarmingly growing by day. Surf lessons have begun for us, as have the subsequent bruises, scrapes, and welts. One fine game of tennis ball ocho once has been created and occurs regularly until vagrant dog decides to join. And today I attempted to walk only in 90 degree angles, which basically backfired during our visit to the dead alligator glass exhibit. This is what I'm working with and have no problem enjoying it for what it's worth. Chao chao.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"You know you've entered the desert when chalk boards become street signs."

It's been a week and a half. Slacking, Andy, slacking. School has hit full swing and beyond the daily shout outs and juice box offerings, I've started to settle in as a staple at my Croatian colegio. I've come to the realization that while Asia rivals my Chileans in the height department, they have unquestionable ownership as English speakers. I imagine a decathalon is in order. (I'm not quite sure why thoughts of leading revolutions with my newfound apprentices in my current nation of residency is so appealing.)

Breaking down the number 18 and the word "good" to fifteen year-olds has slowed planned classes substantially, but my role here is teaching by whatever means. Things get more difficult with the realization that basic topics such as family members and homes are sensitive issues. A greater portion of my beloved students come from single-parent household, living in projects within the drug-infested regions neighboring the school. Foster homes are also the norm and if parents are still in the picture, it is not uncommon that so are alcohol or prostitution. No storied success has ever been brought about through the ease of a football jersey in room of inebriated freshmen ladies. And like the freshmen male dropping every possible human connection along with a 100 pack of Solo cups, 4 ping pong balls, and a promise as permanent marker slut to gain entrance to said party, I eagerly accept this challenge and marvel at the smaller successes as they come.

So really, what have I done? Lots. We went to a club not named Kamikaze and cleared out a gringo quarter of the dance floor, while staring up at a wall of males with gold chains and gel observing the female dancers in a three-deep ring as if they were preparing to purchase a steed at auction. We spent one night beachside til the hazy sunrise, enduring a few car chase sequences. Another beach night just passed and this one began with verbal battles of sexism and nearly ended with a personal battle of yours truly with a lad whose fist was amusingly wrapped in a chain as a he prepared to connect it with a skull two feet higher than his. Oh yes, we also met a supposed Al Qaeda member who promised our death on one truly purgatorial Saturday of wandering under gloomy skies amdist abandoned alleys. In all honesty, tennis ball craving dog packs have been the only things to make me truly fear my surroundings. We went to Pica. An oasis two hours from our beach town, we bathed in clear blue skies, nearly clear blue hot springs, and certainly not blue rock-face purification. Bus rides were spent creating new sounds of music (patent pending) and rejecting mayonnaise sandwiches. Would you rather spend the rest of your days living in a desert hut or on a sailboat in a never-ending ocean? My first voyage to the desert had me opting for the latter. Beautiful in many ways, I couldn't escape the desolation and loneliness offered by the Atacama, the world's driest land of sand. I enjoyed some of the best mango drinks of my mango career, although the how and why of an oasis was never realized. Three days in this sunny oasis brought us back to Doggis. Hoo doogy doggy doggy. Hot dog value meals have never looked so appetizing.

And, in closing, Dia de los Ninos. Another silver platter to the 7 volunteers from America. Of course, the twenty-somethings were provided gifts of shaving cream, socks, and keychains for this day celebrated nation-wide by pre-schoolers. Personal gratitude will never equate the overwhelmingly welcoming arms of our families and friends here in Chile. The best service I can do to repay them is to carry their smiles and selflessness with me on my way.


Transitions, transitions. An ever-changing daily itinerary and lifestyle provide me with precious few moments for self-reflection. Thus, this writing is both inner relevation and constant bewilderment at my current surroundings. I have spent the last week or so coming to a realization that my life no longer revolves around the Wednesday night Gauntlet, thursday night Qdoba, and the ever-popular ever-deadly Mad Dog Friday (some traditions need to be continued regardless of income or supposed maturity).

Putting college debauchery behind me, I hit the Asian circuit and hit it hard in the incomparable illumination of Tokyo. Good times were had, good time passed and Taiwan embraced me as temporary resident. The planned final stop of the Hear Candy duo's tri-country yearly adventure, I found a second home in this happy, humid island nation and greatly anticipate my return to Luxy, Guting, and midnight basketball. Thailand wreaked havoc on my inner and outer self for a few weeks and I left craving a vacation from this vacation. Stateside was both welcoming and white (the snow not the people). Families and friends were years older yet recognizable. Bad habits die hard as do good ones and the daily routine I had been accustomed to for the first 22 years of my American life seemed to be waiting for me as I eventually succumbed over the next few weeks. Culture shock will always hit but will never compare to its reversal. So you're telling me that while my last turbulent 15 months have been surprise after ball pit after chicken cartilage, the motions have simply been continued through here back home? You can never return expecting the same and when that's what you receive, another global expedition is required. Welcome to EF Tours, college campus bottled into a ten story office. Motivation here was not the beeramids stacked in manager rooms nor the goal-hitting taco bonus. No, a paycheck called me to a corporate world I had never wished to be a part of. (A holler at CUSTOMIZED) Dreary January led way to a balmy July departure as South America beckoned. And now this. Reality shows, 10 dollar Mexican meals, and Orange Jubille have since transitioned to street-roaming mutts, oases, and Sunday night Arabian musical performances echoing down from my roof.

When does this all end? Only time will tell. Maybe the "settling down" ideal will hit and finally stick. Maybe deportation charges will limit further travel. Or maybe there is no end. Recently purchasing insurance from the ironically named Global Nomad Co. may have been a declaration of this lifestyle under possible careers. Until then, where I am is where I am meant to be and no one can tell me otherwise.

As an anonymous dude once said, "The beautiful thing about life is knowing that we're the ones who get to put it all together."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

If I wasn't a celebrity...

Seriously, this is ridiculous. Gringo takeover is in full-swing here in Iquique and I couldn't be more intrigued, disturbed, nor in awe of my own white skin and green eyes. Besides entering every high office in this regional capitol, being interviewed for newspapers and nightly news, and treated like Victorian royalty, our entrance to our respective schools was overwhelming. Having taught before in Worcester city public schools, I was used to the blossoming high school sophomore females telling me they'd "show me a trick or two" in the parking lot during lunch hour. Having taught in Asia, I was used to the wide eyed fascination as I towered over World of Warcraft wizards and lonely housewives alike. But this was something new. While scraping my brain to try and find suitable comparisons to my welcoming, here's what I'm getting. Joaquin Phoenix as newly appointed emperor Commodus' extravagant entry to Rome in "Gladiator" is a clip you might want to view. And then double it.

Yes, every square inch of the halls, overhangs, and stairwells were flooded with curious eyes. But so was the courtyard where I sat alone in a folding chair, flocked by 700 students. Where they danced for me. And sang. And presented me with gifts of stale candy, plastic bracelets, high fives, and shouts of "te amo". What time did you line up the human sacrifice? Connecting with the scene from Gladiator more than anything, was my own feeling that this was all unwarranted. What have I done besides hop a flight south and take a four month adventure in a semi-developed country? I've got the transfer of wine to urine down quite nicely but water to wine wasn't something I was ready to produce quite yet in front of the adoring throngs. Brad Pitt's never had as much sympathy. While the impossibility of making more than 6 inch strides due to a 10 student deep personal circle of worshippers is not something I currently have any qualms with, I can't imagine this going on for four more months. And maybe it won't. Fads ebb and flow, and if I have to analogize my school experience with Pogs, that's something I can be content with. Interestingly enough, the school has such low standards due to its socio-economic position in the Chilean grand scheme of things, that a weekly Simon Says and possible Pictionary lesson might just be all they're looking for. But just hearing the unfortunate plights of the majority of these students, does not allow me to give just that. Intrinsic value for education somehow peaks with the underprivileged and at this critical juncture in their lives, being an educator is more powerful than any other career imaginable.

After speaking with my fellow volunteers, it seems that they too received deity treatment. Extending our own personal popularity to those less fortunate within the school is just as much our responsibility as an hour of present continous verbs. If this is my fifteen minutes of fame, I'll take it. Now fork over another package of oreos, Gabriela.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Where to begin?

I'm happy. I'll start with that. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind, a mix of late nights, awkward looks, treacherous hikes, and painful classrooms. Attempting to take every moment in for what it is and not consider what it isn't, this trip has so far been more than I could have imagined. Talking with counterpart Colin last night as to how to summarize the events of the previous days: Connecticut to New York City to Bogota to Santiago to finally Iquique, it's just beyond the realm of possibilities. However, sharing an inside joke an outside joke or a disturbingly awful pumpkin ice cream joke will still at least allow me to keep track of this year's adventure that we set out to achieve something. Whether be it peace of mind, the allure of the open road, the beauty of a drunken tumble down a sand dune, or pure and simple freedom, I can not say, nor may I be able to when all is said and done. And off we go. Too many points of no return have been crossed and I could not be more satisfied and impressed with myself and my fellow travelers for doing so.

Prior to becoming a bloggist, I decided to yahoo search the bag out of insightful travel quotes to reveal my inner author. Check it out, I'm legit, I'll inundate you with Mark Twain and Confucius. No, that can't be me. If someone even finds the effort within their basement twilight hours to read this, prepare to be not disappointed by me. Jesus, look at that gem I dropped right there. Anyways, I'll give you what I've got. Drunk bloggings will never look or feel so good. Nor will Southern Americans females, or as the Cheyennese say "them woms". Showing up last thursday, expectations were high. Toothless wonders offering jewel encrusted denim on the streets of Bogota got things started off proper. A city to behold. Surrounded by massive cliffs on three sides, the city spreads and like all ciudades, has its good and its bad. We didn't hit the posh areas where our future brides awaited, but we got a real look and I enjoyed the way the numerous threats from security and information about the city's dangers were quickly washed away with an absurdly sweet bottle of coca cola. Little to our knowledge, our third traveling companion Bree has been taken out of her airport bathroom stall she was starting to flood with vomit from the previous night's activities by colombian police. Not exactly the best way to start a journey or the people I'd choose to share it with. Spanglish opened the door to allow her womanly ways to start an improptu english class with the officials eventually allowing her to go to our terminal with some hydration salts and a pat on the ass. No, that's not true.

Hello, Santiago. Goodbye sense of sight, respiratory system, and liver. Our hostel awaited the 80 volunteers hailing mainly from the US. First impressions are book covers. It's amazing what a week can do. A climb up the impressive and spiritual Saint Cristobal Mountain upon sunset whose beauty mirrored the Christ the Redeemer of Brazil only in Virgin Mary form. Ricardo, the troubled uncle and his two sherpa nephews led the way up slopes lined with Peligroso, and I have my Rainbows to thank for their tenacity as we endured this two hour ascent up cliff after boulder cliff after forest hook up interruption after an eventual summit. Pope John Paul II said mass here and for very good reason. With the Andes on your left, the stone altar and entire city of Santiago ahead and below and a sunset on your right, all your missing is a massive statue of Mary. And there she is behind me. So, as all nights begin, a few beers were in order upon return and that led to citywide latenight exploration. And god are we good at dancing. Wait, me grabbing your waste and moving sideways is not a dance in this country? Some salsa needs to be acquired and fast before the molestation charges hit. The next seven days can be summarized as such:

Drug induced hostel receptionists asking if they can be Mr. Burns
Hoo-doggys galore
Stammering former english teachers attempting to provide insight on classroom management
3 mile runs through the smog-ridden streets. hike the pants boys and girls.
do i remember packing my bags?
the finest bus ride of my life.

Seriously, I don't know what to say. We took the best out of Santiago we could with the seven days we were given. A moment wasn't spared and a lunch lady wasn't left without a box of strawberries...or pepperoni pizza. Our volunteers are amazing. They share a willingness to get out and help in whatever way they can. Again, I was reminded why I take these chances, jump on a random bus, and talk to that shady homeless guy. People never cease to amaze.

And to conclude, Iquique. Wow. Beyond the geographical contrast of towering sand hills to my right and perfect blue waves riding into our shores a few miles west, I'm the midst of a natural disaster nightmare. A rainfall brings our mudslide demise and an earthquake leads to nothing more than a city-wide tsunami. God's on our side. Juan, the community leader and possible mob boss led our way to family birthday party then governor's office then to seaside hotel. It was miraculous, the week-long hangover telling us it cant be real, but somehow here we are. The last two days we dazzled local news reporters and spent time deciding with our teachers how to force english words down the Chilean throats. Colegio Republica de Croacia, named for the zero Croatians residing in or founding the school, promises cement blocks and a loving fanbase of students. Expectations have been set extremely low by cooperating teachers and locals, so when I lead this band of rebellious impoverished youths down the city streets to spend our classes playing futsol on the beach's sand, I'm not expecting much criticism. I honestly wish I could have written less and spent more time with my new familia or conquering sleep depravation, but that's the minimal gist of our travels thus far. Until next time.