Sunday, September 27, 2009

Photos from Las Tres Cruces

These are some photos from my Sunday morning hike up to the top of el cerro de las tres cruces here in Cali. It was a great way to see the layout of the city and the reward of fresh banana bread and freshly squeezed juice at the top wasn´t too shabby either!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Amor y Salsa

I really love teaching. I have certainly enjoyed teaching in the past - in Santiago and Chicago - but not until here in Cali could I honestly exclaim such unabashed sentiments. Blame it on the sentimentablity of the recently celebrated Día de Amor y Amistad if you will, but it probably has more to do with my awesome students. The connection one is able to make with students in a language classroom is a special one. In my application for my current fellowship, I wrote about some of the most meaningful student-teacher relationships I had had and how the majority were with those who worked to teach me Spanish, French, and Portuguese. The best taught me much more than language. They taught me culture and now perspectives while creating an atmosphere more akin to a cafeteria table than a lecture hall. Luckily, I have some great examples to follow as I try to do for my students what has been done for me.

I have been trying to get more and more creative with conversation club, exploring some classroom theatrics, debates, and faux-news room set-ups to aid my constant movement about the classroom in keeping things lively. I substitute taught a four-hour class on Saturday morning which at first thought seemed horrifying,but turned out to be a blast. As far as the younger age bracket goes, primary and secondary schools including the foundation are on vacation for a few weeks. I did have the opportunity to visit a privately run school in the barrio of El Terrón Colorado this Friday that serves students from poor families in the neighborhood, some of whom have been displaced. The mother-daughter team I spoke with have given a combined forty plus years to developing the school and I am thrilled to start volunteering there on Wednesday mornings. In many ways, but not all, the school reminds me of the Academy Miguel Asturias in Xela, Guatemala which I visited this past March. Families give a minimal tuition, many receive scholarships, but all must give a little towards the importance of their education. The women who run the school seem to be incredibly dedicated and very well-educated, one of whom has a masters from a university in The States. I am sure that I will able to learn much from them about educatyional policy in a country like Colombia, a topic which is interesting me more and more these days. As I believe I mentioned before, I had not planned for my time here in Cali to be so devoted to education, but I like what I am doing and feel like I am stumbling smartly into the right places.

That last alliterative phrase was provided by the newest gringa in Cali named Katie who graduated college in ´06 and is working for an agricultural sustainability NGO just north of here for the upcoming year concerned with issues similar to those I learned a bit about while in Nicaragua on an ASB trip a couple spring breaks ago. We grabbed a late lunch SUnday and decided that we should be immediate friends. It is amazing what shared nationality can do when one is far from home.

And now, some slightly random thoughts from this past week...

Translating poorly written Spanish is no easy task. The level of writing I have witnessed thsu far from students has surprised me, and not in the best of ways.

At Colombian universities tuition varies according to one´s area of study with the cost of a semester studying law or medicine for example being more than triple that of education or finance. This system, combined with the fact that at most private universities money in the back equals acceptance and enrollment, creates a marked economic divide amongst students of differing majors.

In the 1930´s as the Liberal Revolution was gaining steam, 2 of every 3 students were being educated by the Catyholic church rather than the state and many were receiving no education at all.

Lacoste, Dolce & Gabana, and Armani labels are plastered in nearly every t-shirt, pair of blue jeans, and tennis shoes I see. Real? I doubt it. Brand-conscious? I´d say so.

I missed my one o´clock bus to La Fundación Libertad y Paz this week due to a demonstration downtown that was blocking bus traffic. A friend of mine, the director of the foreign language department at ICESI, could not arrive to work by car on Friday due to a cole miner´s protest which barricaded all the roads between her home and the university. Welcome back to Latin America, Nico.

Who thought that in the hyper-globalized twenty-first century I could still discover new fruits? The latest find - guanabana. Delish!

I have observed that people here have an odd habit of removing the cell phone from their ear and placing it directly infront of their mouth when speaking. I have brainstormed with many a Colombian about this phenomenon (which none find so extraordinary as I) and have come to several hypothesis, including the need to constantly check how many minutes one has been chatting to assure a hang up as close as possible to the 59 second mark in order to get one´s money´s worth from the steep cell phone prices. I´ll keep hypothesizing and let you know what else I come up with. Another quirky feature of cell phone communication in Cali is the placement of individuals at nearly every important street corner wearing green vests and equipped with several cell phones from the biggest three telecommunications companies in Colombia. You can use one of their cell phones, choosing the company of the carrier of the person you are calling for between 100 and 200 pesos a minute which is cheaper than calling from your own.

Enough of the random Caleño idiosyncrasies. On the lighter side of life, I was sure to take full advantage of the cultural line up for the week. Saturday afternoon a few friends and I went to San Antonio (the oldest part of town with the cutest most homey character of any of the caleño barrios I have yet to explore) for a street festival full of artisans, music, dancing, and theatric performances, not to mention delicious food. I of course took full advantage of the latter, munching on alfajores and dreating a nice champú de lula. You might have noticed that I invented that last verb there for I really know no other way to describe how onemust simultaneiously drink the lulo juice and eat the corn contained in a champú - an odd culinary experience, but one well worth the awkwardness. My favorie two stage shows at the festival were a couple dancing Argentine tango and a group of actors with Down Syndrome performing a delightfully comic mimed sketch. The latter gave me the idea of doing some more theatrical activities with my more youthful English classes, resurecting some skills from my theatre days.

The largest cultural even of the week by far was the fourth annual wold salsa festival. On Thursday I was able to catch an exhibition which included a group of blind salseros putting my dancing skills to shame and some youngsters moving their feet faster than my eyes could follow. Saturday was themain event with dozens of salsa groups strutting tyheir stuff at the Plaza de Torros. When we first arrived, we were sitting in the nose bleed section, but a member of the production team heard my Mexican friends talking and offered us passes to the VIP section just for being foreigners. The couple of Colombians who were accompanying us quickly became Uruguayan and we were in - really sweet! Check out these two videos of the third and first place performances. There was some truly inventive stuff, almost all incorporating that quick caleño footwork into their acts.

I also found time for two holiday celebrations- Mexican Independence Day and El Día de Amor y Amistad, Colombia´s version of Valentine´s Day. Some of my Mexican friends studying abroad at various universities around Cali hosted a party on Tuesday night with some delivious Mexican food - tostadas, quesedillas, guacamole - you name it. So so good. So much flavor - it kept my taste buds happy for days. The only slight damper on the event was the lack of electricity due to a thunderstorm, but we managed by candle light just fine. As for the Day of Love and Friendship (which I found a bit more inclusive than our gringo version of the holiday although that might have just been a more advanced scheme by a Colombian greeting card company), I received a few chocolates and such and spent Friday night with a group of Colombian friends drinking and dancing along to a live vallenato band at a bar close by called Obama´s...he´s´s crazy.

This upcoming week promises to be a bit less busy. Dave, the English English TA as we like to call him, and I are starting up our movie club this Wednesday by showing the British film Trainspotting. I need to choose an American film for the following week, so if you have any good ideas that stray from the standard Hollywood Blockbuster fare do write me an email and let me know. Next I write, I will have hopefully figured out my new aprtment situation so I can let you know my new address. Wish me luck in my search!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Photos from La Finca

1) The whole gang by El Lago Calima.
2) Our little weekend house on the finca.
3) The view from my favorite hammock.
4) Mid volley ball game.
5) A smaller group by El Lago Calima.

Música por Todos Lados

There is always music in Cali. There is music on campus, pumping out of stores and racing past in cars on the street. Music emanates from concert halls, stadiums, gymnasiums, and even dusty little countryside houses. It is everywhere - vallenato, bachata, salsa, merengue, traditional, pacífico, and yes, even the occasional American pop tune and Euro techno hit - de todo! Although on a rare occasion it can be an annoyance, such as when one might want to go to sleep but cannot due to the party on the street corner outside, the vast majority of the time it is magical. It is a constant reminder of this different and exciting culture to be found at each and every turn. Much of the music has its own dance while some simply calls people to gather and sing along or even simply listen, although this last option is rather rare. The ubiquitous presence of these Latin rythms enthrals me each and every day. This is no exageration. It truly gives me a special energy and excitment for life. I love it!

This past week, my musical intake went to another level. As I mentional previously, jazz made its way to Cali for the ninth annual AJazzGO festival and I was able to attend two of the events - the first an experimental Italian jazz duo which I attended with my fellow American Fulbrighter here in Cali and the second a Colombian jazz group led by a professor here at the Universidad Santiago de Cali that I went to with the same group I had gone to Pance with the weekend before. The former was a bit bizarre, but certainly interesting with one musician playing two saxaphones at once or blowing through the ¨wrong¨ end of a flute. The latter was more my style and located in a bar with an atmosphere that oozed out a smooth jazzy feeling before the music even began. In addition to the more traditional fare, the band also played some latin jazz fusion which was amazing, especially after getting more familiar with some traditional Latin beats here in Cali. It seems that wherever I go from Chicago to Santiago to Stockholm to Cali, jazz is chasing after me, or perhaps I am the one chasing after jazz. Either way, it not only provides a spectacular sensation for the ears, but is an interesting study for the mind as well both in terms of the music itself and its historical sweep of the world.

In between my jazz excursions on Tuesday and Thursday the music came to me on Wednesday night as the university held a concert after a day of elections for various faculty and students posts. Some colombianas taught me some smoother salsa and bachata moves and I in turn provided a lesson on how to dance to some American hip-hop that was played between acts - overall a great time.

My dance moves got one more workout this past weekend as a group of Colombian friends invited Servane, my French counterpart here athe university, and I to a holiday farm house about two hours outside of Cali by Lake Calima for the weekend. In Cali, a weekend getaway is almost always synonymous with an escape from the heat of the Cauca Velley to the cooler mountain breezes. I actually uttered the phrase ¨I´m cold¨ for the first time in recent memory and required the use of a light spring sweater. Don´t ask me what how its going to feel to be transportated away from this place in December to a blistering Midwestern Christmas. My bones shiver a bit just thinking about it. The cooler temperatures were accompanied by another round of enchanting misty mountain vistas along with an awfuly enticing hammock and more than a few refreshing dips in the pool. The days were filled with games and lazing out of doors, the night with dancing, dancing, and more dancing. I was pretty much in heaven. The group that went was mainly made up of students studying English and French to become school teachers and has been my biggest base of Colombian friends up to this point. After a great weekend of getting to know everyone better I´m sure these friendships will continue to grow. I´m already looking forward to our next finca adventure!

This upcoming week I will be making my second trips up to Fundación Libertad y Paz as well as down to Universidad ICESI to keep both of those projects rolling while continuing my normal schedule at the university and having a couple of lunch dates with different volunteer contacts who although I may not be able to work with would still like to meet me. Oh, and the World Salsa Festival starts today, running through the weekend, so you can be sure I am going to make it to some of that!

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Weekend of Firsts

1) My first ride on a chiva.

A chiva is a bus equiped with a dance floor, music, lights, and a bar, lacking windows, and colorfully painted on the outside, ready to take its passengers for a ride around the town. There are also chivas that are simply colorful old buses strictly used for transportation, but they aren´t nearly as much fun. Friday night the university rented out six of them and I hopped on with a few friends. So much fun!

2) My first trip to Pance.

Pance is a town just south of Cali that receives large amounts of visitors Saturdays and Sundays who throw on their swimsuits and plop themselves in the cold, rushing water of the river. It is a lovely and refreshing way to spend a Saturday afternoon accompanied, of course, with a beautiful view of the mountains. I woke up the next morning with some pretty nasty bug bites around my ankles, but besides that I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

3) My first time at Fundación Libertad y Paz.

Fundación Libertad y Paz is located about 30 minutes outside of downtown Cali up in the foothills of the mountains and houses and educates about two dozen boys who have been rescued form the streets. Many of their parents parents were drug addicts or altogether absent. The living accomodations are quite basic, but the view is fantastic and they boys get three meals a day and schooling in the mornings. The foundation has connectios to the Colombo-American Association by which I was able to visit, play some English pictionary, and just talk with a lot of the boys for a few hours Saturday morning. From now on I´ll be visitng them Monday afternoons with the goals of teaching them some English and also simply being a friend and hopefully somewhat of a role model and mentor. I have some cool ideas for future projects between the foundation and my university here, but I´m taking it one step at a time. Although my initial ideas concerning volunteering did not involve education, I am realizing more and more that those are the skills I have to share and I should run with that, leaving my interests in displaced peoples and politics and such to the research side of my time here, at least for now.

Hope everyone enjoyed their holiday weekend up in the U.S. of A!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Welcoming in September

September in Cali - the mercury is still passing right on by 30 degrees every day with no signs of stopping, however, many other things are changing and bringing with them new and exciting oportunities. Culturally speaking September brings two festivals - the Cali Jazz festival starting this week and the world Salsa festival later this month. I love me some jazz and am appreciating salsa more and more since arriving in its capital city, so I plan on attending quite a few concerts in the upcoming weeks!

Another change is that I have successfully been in contact with two organizations apart from La Universidad Santiago de Cali with which I will be working in the future. The first is Universidad UCESI. I went to their campus yeterday to lunch with the director of their office of international relations and the head of their foreign language department. We discussed three activities of interest - running Friday afternoon extracurricular English activities for them, working on a small research project with a professor of the International Relations or History faculty, and as an important addition to my weekly schedule, participating in yoga classes offered nightly at the university for free! I am hoping to lunch with a group of profs soon to discuss academic interests and get something rolling. I had at first thought I would lay off the academic for the first semester, but it sounds like an exciting oportuinity that will put me in contact with a group of academics that comes from an impressive range of countries around the world. The university is having a conference on Western Hemisphere relations later this month which I have been invited to attend and am greatly looking forward to. The second organization is the Colombo-Americana Association. I had an interview Tuesday with the woman who runs their volunteer programs and this Saturday I am going to a foundation in a poorer barrio of Cali to meet a bunch of kids, do a little English activity, and talk about creating a mentoring program. I´m hoping that this will develop more as well in the upcoming weeks.

As far as work at the ole USC goes, we´ve moved on in conversation club from discussing the king of pop to Billy Joel and John Lennon as well as topics such as renewable engergy sources and work unions in relation to the North American Labor Day. Students here continue to be truly excited to learn and I have really enjoyed getting together with them outside of class to chat. This weekend I´m off to Pance which is a small vacation town south of Cali with a rive to sweim and waterfalls to hike to as well as plenty of bars stocked with aguardiente and (I´m hoping) pumping out some salsa tunes. Within the Cali city limits too I continue to discover new cultural activities such as independent film showings and art museums. The amount of outlets such as these has truly surprised me for a city which at first stuck me as dirty and a bit shady.

For now, that´s life. I´m feeling more and more comfortable with each passing day and truly enjoying myself. Patience and persistence have certainly been two necessary qualities adjusting to life here, but I think I´ve done fairly well thus far. Now I´m off to start apartment searching online. Wish me luck. Que estén bien!