Archive for February, 2010


Kathryn: La vida diaria

February 28, 2010

At this point my life has more or less settled into a routine.  I will attempt to inject the mundane facts with as much fascinating detail as I can.  Now that I’m more familiar with the city I can supply context that will help.  I live in the North of Quito, first of all.  All of the major streets in the city run North/South and there are several major streets and trolley lines that go from one side to the other.  Since most tourist sites are towards the center of the city, when I want to go places I generally just “travel South” by bus, trolley or taxi.

If you picture a city block like the one to the right, the street on the bottom is called Shyrris (Shee-dees) and is a busy street with restaurants, stores, banks etc. The street on the left is Rio Coca and the one at the top is Isla Seymour (Say-mor), which is my street. I live about the fourth entrance from the left on the top row.

I say entrance because almost all houses/apartments in Quito are behind locked gates that lead to driveways or patios.  Behind my entrance is a long driveway with staircases that lead to roughly six apartments, three stories on each side.  Our apartment is the bottom floor on the left.

My favorite room in the house!

Monday through Friday I have been leaving for school around 8:30 a.m. After a breakfast of yogurt, fruit salad, ham and cheese melt (on a roll), and fresh squeezed fruit juice,  I leave the house, walk around the corner and across the street to the bus stop, and take the 25 cent ten-minute ride to school.  In the morning, the six students in the Microfinance track have class together for two hours with our track coordinator, Jacqueline Campoverde, or guest speakers.  We then have a two hour lunch break.  Students either go to lunch in one of the tiny cafés nearby or purchase bread, cheese, fruit, avocado or American junk food at the stands on the road.  I usually use the rest of the time to do homework. In the afternoon, we have two hours of Spanish class.  We spend a lot of time discussing new words or phrases we’ve heard or don’t understand but also do lots of interactive exercises and games.  Recently we each read a short story in Spanish and presented it to the class.  Our teacher, Beto, is a master at making grammar fun. To reinforce the preterite perfect (I have…), we played “Never have I ever…” After Spanish, I walk or take the bus home and get ready for soccer. I am training with the women’s club team at Universidad Católica, which is a 30-45 minute bus ride in traffic. We train from 5:30 to 8:30 Monday–Thursday.  The team has been a great way to practice Spanish, get to know people and participate in my favorite sport! I get home from soccer at 9 p.m., drink coffee and eat rolls with my Mom and/or my Abuelos (who live above us), work on homework and go to bed!

The weekends are often much more relaxed. Last weekend I toured several churches in Historic Quito one day and attended a professional soccer game another day.  The soccer game (Barcelona vs. Independiente) was very lively; when the fans got upset they threw empty and full water bottles at the referee.  Soccer is taken extremely seriously here.  There is a whole section of the newspaper dedicated to disseminating the results of the weekend’s soccer games.  This weekend, I attended an Ecuadorian reggae concert featuring many of Bob Marley’s old and new hits.  The three bands that played had wonderful grooves and singers fluent in both Spanish and Caribbean sounding English.  Smoke, lights, a free poster and a hundred dredlocked fans = una fiesta.


Heather: classes & preparing for Mombasa

February 27, 2010

Life here in Nairobi has been pretty laid back for the past couple days. It was rather depressing going back to school on Tuesday because Uganda was so much fun and it was a real vacation. No one wanted to go back. We’ve only been having 2 classes a day recently instead of 3. We were told this was to give us time to write our papers that they’re loading on us. I just got another 5 page paper today, due on Tuesday. Ugh.

Classes are going well. They’re pretty easy for the most part. Kiswahili is going well…we have a scavenger hunt around downtown on Monday, so that will be nice to be able to get out of the classroom for a couple hours. In Development we’re just talking about Post Independence development plans and how to improve the country. It’s very repetitive so it’s easy to fall asleep. In Country Analysis we’re discussing the challenges that Kenya faced with a new constitution and the expectations of the new constitution. This professor is pretty legit so it makes class fun. In my environment class we’re talking about agricultural chemicals and soil erosion, stuff like that. I actually enjoy this class, it’s interesting.

We don’t have classes tomorrow so a couple of us are going to go downtown to go to the UN buildings and get some research done for our papers. I hope I can finish my first one by Sunday; I am on track so I think this might be doable. On Saturday my friend Mia and I are going to head downtown to go to the Maasai market. Irene is going to come with us to tell us what the price of things should be so we don’t get ripped off like we normally would. I am mastering my bargaining skills some more. I went to Adam’s market the other day and bought a shirt for Ksh150. However, I was at the end of the street before he actually came up to me and handed it to me and told me I could have it for Ksh150.

I got my information for my Mombasa family yesterday. My mom is a social worker, not sure what my dad does though. I have 4 siblings-25, 19, 16, 13. Pretty good ages. I will be sharing a room again, but that’s ok. But apparently we live very near to a great beach. So we all know where I’ll be after work every day! Getting excited! I am confident that my family here in Nairobi is going to miss me when I’m gone, but then again I might be too much for them.


Emma: Lovely

February 26, 2010

Today marks the end of what has been the best vacation of my life haha… Uni starts tomorrow and even though the fun will continue I am sure things are going to begin to calm down a little. Surprise surprise I don’t have class on Mondays or Fridays so I am going to continue to live the dream with a four day weekend!

This past week my friends and I did some more sight seeing events around Sydney. On Wednesday we walked a good 8 miles round trip to The Botanical Gardens and Opera House. SO beautiful with so many exotic plants and trees. At one point in the park there were bats EVERYWHERE! Sooo disgusting and you all know about my fear of rodent type things so I was so creeped out. But hey the good thing is that they do not have squirrels here.

I finally felt like I was really in Sydney once I saw the Opera House. I have decided that by the time I leave here I will have eaten dinner at the restaurant there. I don’t care what it takes.

On our walk back we found a store called Cotton On, and I am not kidding when I say none of us could stop smiling the whole time we were there. It is like the Forever 21 of Australia so all the clothes were super cheap. It felt so good to finally see something I could actually afford.

The next day called for another afternoon at the beach! I went to Coogee with Joey and Bernie my friends from MN. This time was a little more relaxing and it was an absolutely gorgeous day! That night the director of SUV (Sydney University Village) had a Spanish Fiesta party. We got free pizza, Coronas, and sangria! After the party a bunch of us went to Kelly’s Irish Pub for Karaoke..interesting to say the least!

I am now fully stocked with fresh fruits and veggies. Yesterday we went to Paddy’s Markets and I got SOO many fruits and veggies for only $8 it was amazing but a little overwhelming at first. We are going to make this a weekly event to buy fresh food!

Yesterday we layed out at a friends pool and I had my first meat pie. Delicious, but hard to eat. We have been told we cannot leave the country until we are able to eat a meat pie without any utensils. The challenge is on.

My new food of the week is 100’s and 1000’s they are like sprinkles and you are supposed to put them on toast with lots of butter. I am actually going to go and try now. yummm


Christina: Paris bound

February 24, 2010

I knew only one thing about my trip to Paris: that I wanted to probe beneath the immaculate shroud of expectation to find something truer. An American tourist in Paris was something I could not and would not allow myself to be. With that thought, I had made the difficult decision of leaving my camera at home. It would not be kind to subject this city to my amateur skills as photographer, and no picture of me lopsidedly posed in front of the Eiffel Tower could ever be just.

This was an experience that would rest within my mind alone, and I would have to do my best to find the words and the space in my memory to keep it fettered there forever. I would need both honesty and vigilant consciousness for the next four days, but I would not view this place through a glass lens.

It wasn’t until I began packing my suitcase that I realized I had been here before. That January afternoon when I arrived in France was little more than a few weeks ago, yet it felt years away. On that day, missing my train from Paris to Montpellier found me in cold desperation, my French-English dictionary a weak weapon against my own burgeoning fear. This language was being used against me in what felt like the most violent way possible, and where was the France I had dreamed about? I could not see beyond my tears of frustration, could not see beyond the grey gloom of the freezing train depot. Paris as a land to be discovered was lost to me.

A month later the slavish February rains had settled and March promises warmer winds. Although this language continued to humble me daily, I was astonished to realize how far I had come in only thirty days. Buying a train ticket, understanding a simple transaction in a store or restaurant—these were things I could now do without thinking. I knew I was willing to give this city another chance, so perhaps the trip would require reconciliation as well.


Daniel: La Ciudad de Mexico, Evo Morales

February 24, 2010

We went to Hidalgo Square in Mexcio City to see Evo Morales (the current president of Bolivia) speak this past Sunday. He was on an ‘unofficial’ visit, as he was Headed to Cancun for a conference and had just stopped in the Federal District to receive the key to the city, have lunch, and give a speech to an enthusiastic crowd. The four flags in the following pictures are the flags of Mexico, Bolivia, an indigenous flag, and the one with the ‘PT’ on it is the Partido del Trabajo, or Labor Party of Mexico.

Every one of these shots was taken in about a 20 foot radius. Moving became a bit difficult when Charlie made sure we had a front row seat for the passing of Evo, and to ensure he had a chance of getting another famous handshake. No luck this time though, security was tight.

The bottom photo is sadly the best photo of Evo I could get. I don’t want to make excuses but it was getting dark and shooting with an 18-135mm at about 120mm, f4.5 or so with a 1600 ISO. The amount of people packed in around me didn’t help this matter either. He’s the guy wearing the hat and flowers.








Emma: G’day mate!

February 23, 2010

2 weeks later and I am still living the dream, smiling non-stop, and wondering what exciting adventure is about to happen next!

Right now it is O-Week on campus (Orientation Week) so there is a ton of free food and events going on. At Sydney University Village (the place I am living) we had a free BBQ on Sunday including sausages and burgers. After the BBQ we walked down to Victoria Park where the start of Mardi Gras Festival was taking place! The Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras here in Sydney is the second largest Mardi Gras in the world! The festival was pretty interesting to say the least…drag queens, music and food everywhere. Fantastic! The parade is next week so if we venture down to that, I am sure there will be plenty of interesting stories….

Monday Feb 22 was a pretty lazy day, did some laundry which is outrageous..$4.50 a load just to wash and not dry. Sooo I hung my clothing all over my room to dry because I am doing all I can to save money. HA!

Last night we went on a pub crawl all around Newtown, which is the part of town that I live in so all the pubs were within walking distance. For a Monday night there were a good amount of people that went out. It was a good mix of people from OZ, the US (saying that 70% of the people who live where I do are Americans) and a few from Europe.

The next day called for what we thought would be a lazy day at the beach. Our friend Xan took us to Coogee Beach in the afternoon, on the way the way there we drove through Centennial park, saw the blue line that traced the route for the Sydney Olympic Marathon (obviously I thought this was cool) met up with one of his friends and headed to the beach. It was very windy day and a little cool (okay not as cold as home but still cool) so the waves were a little intense. We went in the water for ohh about 2 min got rocked. Lost both my contacts, was on the verge of drowning with my friend Lindsey (not really but still) and then our friend got stung by a jelly fish..sounds pretty relaxing hey!?

After the events of the beach we went back to Xan’s home (where I was blind for the about the next 6 hours because I was an idiot and didn’t take extra contacts to the beach with me). His mum invited the girls and I to stay for dinner. The dinner consisting of curry, bananas with coconut, cucumber salad, so many sauces and so so much more was absolutely delicious. It was nice to have a good home cooked meal! Xan’s family are the kindest and the most caring individuals ever. They are so funny and sometimes I wish people in the US could laugh and joke as much as people do here.

Today we are walking down to the Botanical Gardens, seeing the Opera House and doing all that good stuff!

I have also decided that I will be bringing home an entire suitcase of Tim Tams(amazing chocolate cookies). They are my life and I have already gone through 2 packs in a week! I was also taught that if you bite off alternate corners put it in tea or hot cocoa and suck like a straw until you taste the liquid and then put it the whole cookie in your mouth you will be in heaven. Mmmm


Tiana: In a rhythm

February 23, 2010

T-minus three weeks left of class…and counting. WHAT?!

This weekend has been a sort of surreal transitional period.  I feel like I’ve been here for months, but also like I just got here.  I finally feel at ease and in-step with the pace and practice of Senegalese society and with my family.  I’m becoming more and more able to communicate in both French and Wolof.  And what’s more, I’m just starting to realize that I have three weeks left with my family before I pack my bags, spend a week in Saint Louis and in the desert for spring break, and head on to Joal to work at the pediatric center and integrate into a new family.  So, to recap, life has somehow sped by in slow fashion.  Are you with me?

Friday, most of us spent the morning and early afternoon at WARC for our Wolof class, then we just hung out and did absolutely nothing.  A few people were finishing their papers for Country Analysis, some were befriending the Senegalese students who study there, others were planning the schedule for the weekend and for spring break, and me, well, I sat in the sunshine and played solitaire on my computer for about two hours.

Later that evening, the majority of our MSID group along with some CIEE students met at New Africa, a restaurant in the Sacré Coeur 3 neighborhood, which was putting on a salsa dance party.  Very à la Loring Pasta Bar, if I do say so myself.  All of you University of Minnesota folk know what I’m talking about.  It was so much fun!  The ambiance of the place made me feel like I was in the middle of the movie Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.  Cool, upbeat music, open-air, tropical setting, incredible salsa dancers (including the U of M’s very own Kaela McConnon!), pool, and an ice cold Coca-Cola.  We relaxed and chatted for a couple of hours, and then us non-salsa-ers got up and danced a bit towards the end of the evening when the less salsa-y music came on.  Surprisingly (and thankfully!), creepers were few and far between that evening, and everyone seemed to have a great time!  I taxied home with Devyn and Brenna at about two a.m.

Aminata, Xadi, and Doudou standing outside my bedroom.

We started by trying to hail a taxi.  Aby negotiated the price which, unfortunately, was upped because of my presence, as I am undoubtedly a toubab.  The taxi ride was long, and I was relieved to finally get to the market, called HLM.  The market is huge! And was incredibly busy!  At first, I experienced some intense sensory overload.  Cars and taxis everywhere.  Colors everywhere.  Hundreds and hundreds of people hustling and bustling through the narrow walkways between packed stalls and vendors selling jewelry, shoes, bags, clothes, fabrics, books, food, sunglasses.  A little scuffle breaking out between a vendor and a buyer.  Vendors coming right up to your face and staying there, trying to sell you their product.  I cannot explain how grateful I felt to be there with two Senegalese women who knew how everything worked.  Otherwise, I think I would have lost myself, both in terms of location and in terms of sanity!

Magat knew just where to bring me for fabric to make a traditional taille basse, as she works at the market and is well acquainted with it.  We went to two different places, and her and Aby helped me decide on a deep, midnight blue, shiny wax fabric with golden, radiating starbursts on it.  After buying six meters and spending four thousand CFA (such a good deal!), we headed to the area of the market where the tailors congregate.  Enter another moment of sensory overload: a one-level, concrete edifice with open air above, aisle after aisle of stalls, maybe six feet wide by eight feet deep, holding up to six tailors, each working on some intricate clothing or beading or threading design, hundreds of sewing machines thump-thump-thumping in rapid succession, fabric and plastic scattered on the ground, you get the picture.  We approached one stall and I was introduced to Xadim, another one of Magat’s friends who works as a tailor and would be making my taille basse.  He took my measurements while him and a couple of his friends tested my Wolof, and then Magat, Aby and I headed to another stall to meet with another man who specializes in more intricate threadwork.  Aby is having an incredible thread design embroidered onto a new tunic, so she negotiated with this man while Magat and I looked through magazines for a specific design for my outfit.  We ate crème glacé, or frozen cream (not ice cream, mind you) and I decided on a pattern.  After sitting and chatting a bit more, we went back to Xadim to show him the layout, I paid half of the price of his service in advance, and Magat is going back on Monday to pick up the finished product.  Thanks to Magat, I’m getting a significant discount!  In sum, I’m spending about twenty dollars on this outfit, and I am so excited to see how it turns out!

I taxied home from the market by myself and got a tour of a part of Dakar that I hadn’t seen before, which was really great.  In awe of how amazing of a time I am having here, I took the duration of the taxi ride to thank the Lord again for this opportunity.

After arriving home, I spent the afternoon with the nieces and nephew and some of the neighbor children.  We ate baignets (YUM!), said hello to people who passed on the street, and held a casual photo shoot.  I flashed back to my first few days here, when the kids were too shy to approach me or jump on me or come up and say hello, and I see how far we’ve all come since that short time ago.  I love it here.

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Heather: What. A. Weekend!

February 22, 2010

Thursday for classes we had our Development field trip. We went to the industrial sector of Nairobi. It was actually pretty interesting. We walked around the informal section—where they make kitchen supplies and various other household stuff with raw materials. My professor told me to sit down and hammer away at one of the pans someone was making, it was slightly difficult. We got back to Nazarene at 12:30pm and the program treated us to some lunch…we went to another Ethiopian place.

Anyways, we had to leave so we could go home to grab our stuff for the weekend and then take a bus downtown to catch our bus for Kampala. We finally got out of town around 8pm on Thursday night. Driving through the night wasn’t bad, as we slept for chunks of it. We got to the Uganda border exactly at 4am. Very sketch. There were no lights, no signs, no people telling us where to go. It was an absolute mess. We finally figured it out and had to walk across the border to get our visas and stamps. The rest of the ride went pretty smoothly. Uganda is a really gorgeous country with some Spanish, or so it looks like, influence. We got our fist glance of the Nile River in Jinga. I smelled it before I saw it and it reminded me of home because it smelled exactly like Lake Winnebago. We got to Kampala around 10am and took a taxi to our hostel, Red Chilli Hideaway. It was amazing! We grabbed lunch and split up for the afternoon. We were hanging around and we met a guy from England doing some traveling on his own for 4 months. He actually needed a Leatherman and thanks to dad, I came to the rescue! He hung out with us for the rest of the afternoon. We went to Lake Victoria and got on this boat that took us to an island. We walked around there for awhile and saw some villagers.

On Saturday morning we had a shuttle come to take us back to Jinga, where the rafting company, Adrift, is. However, the day went terribly downhill from there. About halfway there we came upon an accident. It was raining really hard that morning and still was then. A semi sort of truck jack-knifed in the middle of the road and a semi from one side collided head first, and a bus going to Adrift collided head first from the other direction. It was the scariest thing to see because we arrived about 15 minutes after it happened and there were people running around with blood on them, glass in them, huge cuts, you name it. We all stopped and got out and tried to help as many people as we could. Both of the drivers were still stuck in the trucks. One had the engine fall on his lap and metal bars from the seat jammed into his calves. The other one had the dashboard fall on his so he was trapped. Stosh and Simon, our British friend, went over and helped get them out. It took about 3 hours to get both of them out safely. Luckily everyone made it out. It was a mess. The Ugandan police and firemen had no authority and in all reality, really had no idea what they were doing.

I guess the van started sliding on the road because of the rain when it saw the the truck was jack-knifed and then all of a sudden the gears locked up and the brakes didn’t work so they saw the whole thing coming. A few people had to be taken to the ER, but they’re all ok now. It was really unfortunate for them, obviously, but also because it was only their second or third day on their trip. It was also frustrating because the Ugandan locals swarmed the scene and tried to steal things that were being taken out of the bus and trucks. As sad as it is to say, they saw it as a blessing because they could get all this stuff. They were also taking pictures of the drivers trapped! Who does that?!!

We finally got on the road again and headed the rest of the way to Jinga. Unfortunately we did not get to go rafting that day because the Adrift crew was helping out with the accident. They also said that they might not take us out on Sunday either. So the 9 of us decided to go into town, change our bus tickets to Monday, and book with another company. We rode boda bodas into town (extremely fun by the way). Boda bodas are little motorcycle/dirt bike things that cart people around where they want to go. We got back to Adrift and they informed us that they actually would take us out on Sunday, and cut the price from $125 to $90 for the whole day. So we stayed with them. They even gave us these really nice tent/house things to stay in instead of the dorms. Overall Saturday was a very long and frustrating day, but in the end it all worked out well! Read the rest of this entry ?


Christina: French yes

February 22, 2010

It’s 6am now, and the morning light is sifting through the wooden shutters and warming the chilled stone floor. The earth below our apartment is beginning to shudder awake, and I know that this will be a day full of new ways to say “yes.”

There’s the tarte de pomme my host mother Collette will offer me for breakfast, the extra wool scarf she will want me to wear to keep out the dry winter winds, the telephone call from a French friend who will want to meet for a drink tonight, and my American friends who will talk about going to Paris for a weekend. It’s so easy, so freeing, and so simple: the way a tiny word opens up all this wonder within the ordinary.

There’s a sinful decadence in the sense that I can use this word in almost every situation, but then perhaps it’s the French culture that makes saying “yes” feel natural. Life is slow, and life is long, so why not enjoy it in every way possible? It’s a different kind of mentality that I’m quickly learning to love. I leave for school an hour or two early because I know there will be something unexpected to do along the way. There will be a new graffiti painting to photograph, a chocolate crêpe I will need to eat, street performers to watch, a language to be learned. I say “oui” to all of these things, mostly because I can.

When I arrived in this country, the word “oui” was my coping mechanism; something I said in nearly every situation to avoid having to explain myself. During those first days, I answered most questions Collette asked me with a “yes,” and often, that meant thirty minutes later I would find myself in her car, inexplicably bound for some unknown place, or trying an exotic dish, or spending two hours sifting through vegetable stalls at the open-air market.

A month later, this language is a little easier, and although “oui” is still what I say more often than any other word, it never gets old, and it never feels anything less than thrilling.


Daniel: Peregrinación, Relleno Sanitario, y mas VAMOS

February 22, 2010

I’ll elaborate on all of these a bit more later, but the bottom three are from VAMOS and the very bottom one is my 5th/6th grade class with our Valentine’s day pillows.

The two following of the garbage trucks were taken by a friend of mine named Ben who’s been staying in Mexico City for the past month or so. I lent him my D50 while I shot a roll of film, some of which is located below this post. Beyond that is mostly just the ride back from the Pasa sanitary landfill with the exception of the top photo, which is a tree in the middle of the Zocalo.

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