Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mis manos no trabajan

I have cement in my hair, more knots in my back than verterbrae, dirt in places where the sun don´t shine, and I can´t grip anything without looking like a new patient at the Betty Ford Clinic. This is the hardest work I´ve ever done outside of soccer and I´m actually enjoying it. I´ve used pick axes, shovels, sledge hammers, wheelbarrows, and they even let me run the cement mixer for a bit. Work typically starts around 9:30 in the morning and goes til around 1:30 when we have a delicious Peruvian lunch made for us by the respective families we are helping. Today we actually had grilled stingray, something I´ve never even heard of eating before. We then work til around 4 before going home and either hopping in the shower or diving in the ocean to clean off the mess accumluated throughout the day. Dinner is promptly at 6, unless there´s a soccer game, in which case everyone goes to cheer the team on against the nasty tour guides and then dinner is afterward. The night is then spent playing cards, having a few beers, and exchanging stories. For me, however, the night is usually over just after dinner as I crawl into my bed, which happens to be about as hard as the concrete we hammer, and I struggle to keep my eyes open reading a book.

I´ve made the strongest bonds of my trip thus far because, as you can imagine, all of us volunteers are constantly around each other. My ¨partner¨ has been the 21-year-old, professional soccer player/model, Jhonatan, cousin of the founder of the organization. Fortunately, we´ve been able to work together every day as he is a constant example for myself and everyone else; he´ll work tirelessly all day digging four and five-foot trenches and still have enough energy to play with the little kids surrounding our worksite yelling at us gringos to either give them money or give them wheelbarrow rides. We usually choose the latter.

Besides Jhonatan, I´ve also been lucky to become close with Harold, the founder, Harold´s brother, Edwin, and Harold´s sister, Carolina. Their family´s house didn´t succumb to the actual tremors of the earthquake a year-and-a-half ago, but it did burn down a couple days later and they lost nearly everything. A few of their family members died as well, but they all have been selflessly working nonstop to fix the damage as best they can.

So now here´s the pitch I assume some of you have been expecting: this cause has become very close to my heart as I have literally put not only the cliche of blood, sweat, and tears into it, but nearly every other bodily function as well (don´t drink the tap water). If you haven´t looked at the website yet, please do so: piscosinfronteras.org
I know that this time in the world is not a time to be asking for money for people in foreign countries when it is so desperately needed at home, so all I ask is that you promote the cause by telling other potential volunteers about it and keep it in mind for the future. The people here are some of the best I´ve ever met, and although I could have easily donated money and saved myself a lot of pain and discomfort, I take much pride in my ability to attempt to do something I´ve never done before and I will always be thankful for the experience I´ve had here and for the friends I´ve made.

Note: Please feel free to pass this on to whomever in an email or otherwise. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pisco Sweet

My birthday in Buenos Aires was an absolute delight. We had a barbeque at the hostel I stayed at and all the friends I made in the past week and a half were in full force putting up signs and buying me drinks. The hostel even bought a cake (which was made with dulce de leche, the national sweet flavor, delicious) with a candle and everyone sang before heading out to a club to dance all night. It was definitely one of the more memorable birthdays not only because of the location but because of the heartwarming gestures made by everyone who I´d only just met days or even hours before. The next day was spent lounging around, packing, and getting ready for my next little adventure: Peru.
This was an unexpected stop on my trip but so far has proven to be well worth another airplane ticket. About a year and a half ago there was a very bad earthquake in Pisco, Peru, home of the Pisco Sour, that killed hundreds of people and destroyed almost thousands of homes. I found out from other travelers about something called Pisco Sin Fronteras, a group of volunteers dedicated to rebuilding homes, schools, and other community service projects around the area. I checked out the organization online (piscosinfronteras.org) and found that it was something I really wanted to be a part of. So Friday I flew from Buenos Aires to Lima and took a four hour bus ride to Pisco where I found the headquarters and will be staying for the next couple weeks. We´ve got about 20 people now digging trenches, laying bricks, going to schools, and rebuilding furniture all out of the goodness of their hearts. The past few days I have been doing more manual labor than I have ever done before, and though I´m exhausted and completely out of shape, the looks on the faces of the families we´re helping more than compensates for it. I even got to play soccer last night with some of the guys who live and work here against some nasty tour guides. We lost unfortunately, but surprisingly enough I put up a somewhat impressive performance for not playing in two months, or at least I wasn´t embarrassed off the hard court. I´ll write more about the projects as we go along, but I invite anyone reading to please look at the website and check it out. It´s definitely worth a look...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I'm retired from the Tango

Just wanted to write a tidbit on my short-lived Tango career. I went with the American guy and two Dutch girls I met in Uruguay to a Moulin Rouge-looking tango club called La Catedral where they have a half-hour lesson before the club becomes a club. So I found myself on the dance floor in a circle with about 30 other people and two teachers in the middle in my Tango dress and sandals (one, I didn't bring my dancing shoes, two, I was already worried about falling on my face and didn't need the extra inches of a high heel). As I was having flashbacks of my failed hip-hop team tryouts in 7th grade, we started slowly doing some individual footwork going backwards and forwards, and then they made us get into partners. The one Dutch girl and I were both solo so we just grabbed the first two guys we saw and made them dance with us. Imagine my surprise when I found out my partner was the one and only Professor Javier, Tango teacher and extraordinnaire. He's not actually famous, but he was pretty good and I apologized in advance for being "muy mal". He didn't speak much English but he attempted to instruct me in my movements and was very patient. While I was cursing at myself under my breath he was saying, "Tranqilo, tranqilo" and telling me to breathe, which suddenly became very difficult under the circumstances. In a way he was a really good partner to have because I suppose he is used to uncoordinated beginners such as myself, but I also felt so much pressure to do well that I don't think I enjoyed it as much. We'd get into a bit of a rhythm and I'd think, "Yeah, I've got the hang of this!" but then since he was leading he'd try to take me somewhere else and I would either trip on my feet, step on his, or not budge at all. My theory is that playing center back in soccer forced me to be sort of an unmoveable being (one reason I usually remained standing after a collision and am still third all-time at Oregon in yellow cards, woo!) and I'm not really able to relinquish control of my body to someone else just to have them swing me around. I tried to explain this to him and he just kind of looked at me puzzled, as if thinking, "How can this gringa play soccer and not have good feet?"

Well, oh, well. I'm really happy I did it, but I was so relieved when it was over that when I went back to the couch to sit with my friends I downed a glass of bad wine and sprawled on the couch as if I had just finished playing a half of soccer. At midnight we all cheers'd for my birthday and exchanged the kisses on the cheek that I love and the Dutch girls bought me a piece of Tiramisu. It was very sweet...

We're having a barbeque tonight and then going out after. I'm not too sure where yet, but I can almost guarantee it won't be a tango club. Who knows, maybe I'll pull a Brett Favre or Michael Jordan and come out of retirement. Unlike them, however, I can't get much worse so it'd most likely be an improvement!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It's called a "trip" for a reason

A week in Buenos Aires feels like two with all that I've done. Before I arrived I knew that there was one district I wanted to visit above all others (no, not the red light district): San Telmo. It's the sort of artisans hub with many galleries, hippie jewelry, and vintage and antique shops, or as they so originally call them here, old things (cosas viejas). I spent a day walking around that area looking in some of the galleries and shops where there is some really unique art and clothing. I've really enjoyed observing the women's fashion here with its very loose, flowing lines and usually eccentric patterns or graphic designs. A common style for women is wearing pants that somewhat resemble, and please excuse the reference, MC Hammer's parachute pants, though not quite as extreme. They don't look as bad as you might imagine, however, and after buying a pair for the hell of it I found them very comfortable. I also spent Sunday in the same area where the biggest and best street market in the city is found. The main street is blocked off from cars so that hippies, designers, artists, and street performers who come from all over can sell their merchandise and their talents.

I went to the MALBA last week as well, which is the Museum of Latinamericano Art in Buenos Aires, and that was quite a treat. The work ranged from film to painting to sculpture and mixed media and most of it was done in the past century, so it was anything but boring. My favorite piece was a sculpture designed exclusively for the space meaning it would have to be completely modified if there were any hoping of moving it. It was a set of wooden benches on multiple floors whose ends extended into vines that wound up multiple floors into other benches. The craftsmanship was really quite incredible, if you want to see it you can look on http://www.malba.org.ar/web/home.php and you'll see it on the right side of the page.

I spent another couple of days doing something I never would have done had I not gone with other people: walking tours. Ugh, they just sound horrible. I don't like tours. I'd much rather discover things on my own, but since they were free I decided to submit myself to them. And they weren't too bad. We walked from the Congreso to the Casa Rosada where Eva Perone aka Madonna gave her famous speech to the people. Our 27-year-old Argentinian male tour guide was very informative, funny, and not bad to look at, all good qualities to have for three hours of walking.

Everything at night doesn't start til around 1AM and usually goes til 6 or 7AM, so that's what I mean by one week feeling like two. The hours that I would have spent sleeping were instead spent at various clubs dancing and jumping around. I've had more good luck with meeting really fun people at this hostel I'm staying at, so each night has presented new kinds of entertainment. One English guy here is in love with Salsa dancing, so even when there is techno or hip hop on he'll grab one of the girls and just start swinging her around with the moves he's learned in only a few weeks. He's actually quite good, and has been complimented by various locals.

Last night we went to a drum show called La Bumba where there were about 20 different percussion instruments and musicians standing in a choir-like form playing such good beats that it was impossible to stand still. The audience was mostly tourists, but it was a show not to be missed. Beers were huge and the air was filled with smoke, giving the city a run for its name.

Tomorrow is my birthday and there are quite a bit of people rallying around it which is really nice, especially being away from home. Not too sure what we're doing yet, but it's sure to last into the wee hours of the morning. Tonight I'm going Tango dancing where I'm bound to make a fool of myself, but I vowed I would try so I'll plunge headfirst into that embarrassment. One valuable thing I've learned from this trip is that it's inevitable that I'll make so many mistakes and look entirely stupid at times, but it's only temporary and I just have to get over it as best I can. I gotta take it in stride, roll with it, and hope that I'll come out with a lesson or at least have a good laugh in the process!