Wednesday, February 27, 2008

One Ride Around the Sun

I’ve been getting several requests for updates and concerns that something has happened and I no longer have the means/desire to write blogs. Worry not – I’m fine and still living it up Caleño-style; I just haven’t had any adventures up to par with some of the previous postings.

Regardless, for those of you inquisitive enough or interested in bit of vicarious living, I will give you a little day to day update:

Right now I’m reclined in my hammock five floors up from street level with my computer n my lap. (My keyboarding teacher from elementary school would not approve.) It is only about 8pm right now but it has been dark for about two hours already. Such is life so close to the equator; 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of starry skies become the norm. It is actually surprisingly quiet tonight. A motorbike just tore down the street but other than that I can hear a baby crying somewhere semi-close and the lights of the barrios on the mountainside are twinkling away. It is hazy at the top of the mountains so I can’t make out the tops but I can see some stars directly overhead. Perhaps it is some more rain clouds rolling in; this is a theme recently as the region’s second rainy season allegedly began about a week ago. From what I’ve seen thus far, this season is living up to it’s name much more than the previous one in November/December. Seriously though, two?!? C’mon.

I spend many of my evenings and weekends reclined in this manner here on my balcony, reading, napping, writing, grading papers, daydreaming, thinking about going for a run, napping again. It’s a good place to be.

Most weekends I enjoy some time to sleep in. When the teacher bus comes at barely daybreak each morning, sometimes 7am is sleeping in, but I usually abuse the term and roll out around 10am. I then convince my lazy ass to do something so I put on my Speedo and some running shorts, shirt, wrap my goggles around my wrist, stuff a swim cap and granola bar down my shorts somewhere (don’t judge) and head off for a three mile run to school. I usually attempt a breathless conversation with the guard at the gate. I, thankfully, no longer have to introduce myself as a teacher anymore, although I’m sure they have other names for me. I like to think of them calling me “that little pink boy on a suicide mission” but they just say “Hola, Profi.” I’ll swim for a ½ hour or 1500-2000m and then run back. I take my time and enjoy the pain so it tends to be a two-hour round trip. (The granola bar gets eaten pre-swim, in case you were wondering.)

This could happen both Saturday and Sunday or just one of the two. Occasionally I just run and skip the swim; God knows I’ve logged enough miles in the water for a lifetime. Another teacher friend who I run with most days after school, Sarah, has joined a running club that begins and ends their runs in a park near my house. She has tried to convince me to join them on several weekend runs but I just can’t seem to do it. It’s not for not trying either; I’ve set my alarm to meet them at 6am at least three different times. After years of forcing myself out of my warm bed to hurl my unwilling body into icy pools for morning swim practices, I just can’t bring myself to do it! Especially not when it is purely recreational…and I know I’ll go later.

Recently, I have begun a new Sunday tradition that I like to consider “Me Time”. After a possible late morning workout, I walk to the nearby mall, head to the movie theatre, buy a ticket for a show most of you would probably remember seeing on a marquee months ago for later in the day, head to the book store that sells overpriced American magazines, then make for the food court for some Chinese and a “good” read. Finally, when the time is right, I go back to the movie to laugh alone in the darkness because something didn’t translate, or at least laugh early. Then some quick grocery shopping for the next school week; I can’t forget the mangos and avena (oat-milk drink)! It makes for a nice Sunday afternoon.

School has been going well. My 9th grade biology classes are well into our genetics unit. Surprisingly, I think, they have not had any genetics before my class so I had to start at square one with them, which was new for me but also good because I got to see some of the misconceptions develop that usually happen before the students get to me. I brought my Marriage Lab (“Dropping Your Genes”) here and decided to put it into play with the Bolivar kids. My students back in Manitowoc always seemed to have fun with it, and I usually do too.
(For those of you out of this loop, I set the room up like a chapel with a center aisle and a podium and some gaudy weddingish decorations. They kids come in not knowing this is happening then I call them up two by two to meet their “mate.” Prior to this they have researched and interviewed family members about certain traits on their paternal and maternal sides as well as inventoried their own so they are aware of their own genotypes. After the cheesed up ceremony they go off with their “spouse” to make some babies by cutting out chromosomes, folding them in half so that only one allele is showing on each side, and then literally dropping them and pairing like traits up to determine the childrens’ traits. While they are working I set up a “reception” with cake and ice cream.)
Anyways, I was concerned that given the social nature of Colombians, and some of my classes’ track records, it would be more work than fun. Fortunately, they rose to the occasion and we all had a lot of fun with it. Some classes even “helped” with the pairings of kids in the later classes…just like in Manitowoc. More proof that 9th graders are 9th graders wherever you go: horned up and awkward.

Quote of the day came from a student who apparently had a very strong impact on the appearance of his progeny. He yells, “Meester! Look! I have very powerful semen!” This is my life.

Side note, a car just cruised by below blasting “What Is Love?” from that obnoxious SNL skit. I wonder if it was in Spanish…

Not really sure what else to update everyone on! Lists are fun so here is my own personal right-now-favorite-things list:
-I was recently introduced to an Australian singer named Missy Higgins (thanks, Sarah Lou) and am quickly becoming obsessed. Current favorites are “Sugarcane,” “100 Round The Bend,” “The Special Two,” and “Don’t Ever”…to name a few.
-Currently reading A Mighty Heart by Mariane Pearl about the 2001 kidnapping of her husband Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter, in Pakistan. Beautifully written and my “bus book” which makes me unhealthily excited to ride the bus each day.
-My hammock.
-Watching the newborn chicks of these two ugly squawking birds on my running path each day. Unfortunately they too will be ugly and squawking too. Perhaps why mom and dad are so crabby.
-The fact that I can still watch American Idol here…although it is a few days later and on my computer. It’s not like I voted anyways…not since Christina Christian unceremoniously broke my heart in Season 1.
-Fresh fruit.
-My porteros (doormen). They are probably about my age but they always ask me questions and humor me when I try and answer. They're good guys and they keep the bad people out.
-Starting my mornings at my computer eating a banana and avena reading “nothing” emails from friends telling me there was a snow day, almost vomiting on the NYC subway, or the “trials” of working from home.
-Running through the small sidewalk flower market on the weekends, briefly saving my nose from being assailed by the exhaust of the Pasoancho Avenue.
-The TV shows “Corner Gas” and “Pushing Daisies.” (I believe they are both Canadian but the later may be on cable?)
-Why not…you can never have too much music: the songs “Death By Chocolate” and “Academia” by Sia

Okay - enough self-reflecting for now. As you can see, life is good! This weekend is the school-wide Bolivar Day Festival and then in two weeks Semana Santa (a.k.a. Spring Break!). An adventure is in the works…

Monday, February 4, 2008

Marcha de la Paz

Today is an important day for Colombians. Today is the day that the people of this country have decided to stand as one and march for peace. Today is the day this nation hopes to bring international attention to the injustices put against its people by certain para-military groups. Today is the day they stand as one.

As I'm sure many of you have heard, even in the often Ameri-centric news media, several kidnapped victims have been released by Colombian rebels and leftist activists. Many more, however, remain captive and many people here are still paying off ransoms for their freedoms and to prevent further kidnappings.

The main, but not only, group that is being targeted with these injustices is the FARC (translated, it stands for the "Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia"). This is not your typical guerilla group, however. They do not generally commit random acts of violence; everything they do is planned and with a purpose. Those who are kidnapped usually have money and/or are in positions of power. Many of the families of the students at my school fall into this category. Several have been or have family members who have been kidnapped in the past and held until a hefty ransom was paid. (Do not worry about me - the FARC know I am not someone they could extort money for.)

This is the reason for today. Today, Colombians from all over the country and allegedly other nations as well, are holding Peace Marches against organizations like the FARC. Thousands of people are expected to take to the streets today in Cali and other cities across Colombia in a non-violent march for peace.

Apparently Colombia is not typically one of those nations that protests regularly so this is seen as a big deal. School is very much a ghost town today. The primary sections are in full swing but the numbers dwindle significantly as you reach the higher grades. There are only 16 9th graders here today out of about 75. The entire high school only has 30 students present.

Walking around this weekend I saw many of the traffic light vendors selling Marcha de la Paz t-shirts and those flags you stick out your car window instead of their usual fare of pirated DVD's, cell phone chargers, and mango slices. All of Cali, rich and poor, seemed to be gearing up for this one event. It is going on as I type this and I pray it goes well and everyone remembers this is a march for peace.

It will be interesting to see what happens. As the banners and t-shirts declare: