14 October 2010

Cerveza y Siesta

The jamon iberico that hangs in all restaurants and bars.
I honestly for the life of me cannot figure out Spanish eating habits when relate to time.  I can't. 

Growing up in a very Colombian family, my eating habits were shaped by my culture.  I would eat a big breakfast in the morning for school (arepas when I had time, eggos when I was running out the door).  At lunch time I would forego school food and grab a snack.  At three when I got out I would have a huge meal at home.  At night I had another snack (probably arepa #2).

This system, while adjusted at times, particularly during college, has absolutely failed me in Spain.  I just can't get a hold of things.  I'm always hungry during siesta (nap time), but convinced that Spaniards sneak away and actually eat AND nap.  So sneaky. 

From what i've gathered here are my approximate times for eating and drinking in Spain*
7-9 a.m..- Light breakfast, Coffee and Bread (maybe)
11am-12pm- coffee or beer** break (usually the latter)
2-3pm-lunch (I think, i've never actually seen a Spaniard eat a large meal)
6-8-whenever pm-  beer, usually. Tapas, maybe.  Coffee, sometimes, you know for that post-nap lull. This is post-work, post-siesta time when everyone gets together. 
9-10pm- beer and tapas.

All of this is completely thrown for a loop on Saturdays and Sundays.  I walked by a restaurant on Sunday morning (11:30 am-ish) with my roommate Kelly and saw two older men drinking beer and eating ham.  So, when you can't beat them, join them I guess.

* I still really have no idea when it works, I just eat when i'm hungry.  Or if i'm hungry during siesta, I just eat ice cream, one of the few things open.
**It helps that beer is cheaper than water, wine, milk, tea, soda, or juice.

13 October 2010

Regreso a el Blogosphere

After a two month hiatus, the blog is finally back.

Things are starting to wind down here in Spain (yeah i'm in Spain now, not Peru, or Colombia, or the US). 
I completely failed at writing the entire time I was in Peru.  While I was there I really just wanted to experience things the as they came.  There wasn't much time for self-reflection and certainly not enough time for blogging.  I'm insanely nostalgic for Cusco at the moment so I might write a bit about my time there in the future.

As I sit in my new and first official apartment as a 'real person,' I'm thinking back on the past year or so and how hectic, crazy, incredible, and wonderful everything has been.  This is the first time since Junior year that I will be living somewhere for more than four months (eight to be exact).  I think if I average it i've moved states/ countries every 2.5 months or so.  I'm certainly not complaining, i've loved and appreciated every moment of it.  However, some stability in the housing department is certainly welcome. 

Summer '09- Boston, NY, Colombia, Peru (Lima, Ayacucho, Cusco)
Fall '09- NY, France (Paris)
Spring '10- Boston
Summer '10- NY, Boston, Colombia, Peru (Cusco)
Fall '10- NY, España (Sevilla)

As great as Sevilla is (although tumultuous at times), I don't feel as if i'm fully here yet.  I've started my job, i've found a place to live, I have roommates, but i'm just not fully emersed.  I think all the moving might be a contributing factor.  Studying in Paris was quite a culture/ language shock.  Peru both times was astounding between adjusting to living in a small city (Ayacucho) and living part time in rural areas outside of Cusco.  All of those instances there were cultural barriers that I had to overcome.

Although I'm feeling appreciative of the lack of cultural shift.  Between starting a new English teaching job with no training and living out of (3) hostels until I found an apartment, culture shock might have been too much to handle. 

So the goal is to make some new friends (3 and counting!), find some Spaniards, eat some tapas adjust to Spanish eating/ napping times (more on that later) an hopefully something will snap and i'll finally feel like i'm actually here. 

03 August 2010

Point A to Point B

A small word about commuting:

Riding public transportation can be such a window into the culture of a city.
My experience in Paris commuting to class/ my internship was interesting to say the least. I never thought that a train could be more packed than the E train through midtown during rush hour, but the matchbox trains of the Paris metro beats the E any day (during rush hour at least). The French need for privacy and personal space gets completely thrown out the window.

However, during non-rush hour times a few rules about the Paris metro stick out:
1. Never, ever talk loudly- If talking, and even this is looked down upon, it should be quietly and to someone right next to you. Anyone talking on the metro is either a tourist or from another country/culture.
2. Do not make eye contact. The short film in "Paris, je t'aime" was not kidding. Making eye contact welcomes unwanted attention. All effort should be made to avoid locking eyes with another person. You quickly develop techniques such as reading a book, looking out the window (when really you're looking at people through the reflection), finding a nice spot on the floor to stare at...
3. Whatever you do, NEVER EVER fall asleep. I sadly made this mistake once after a long day at my internship. It ended with me running down a train platform to get away from a man that was chasing me asking for my phone number. Never fall asleep.

This is very reflective, I suppose, of my experience with French culture. The French value their privacy so highly that you must close every door when entering and exiting a room. No exceptions. Making eye contact with a guy at a bar is basically an open invitation for him to come over and hit on you. And well the falling asleep thing is just a safety issue that I failed to follow.

The one thing I will say that gives major points to my Parisian commute is that every morning, taking the RER C to my internship, through Neuilly, a rich suburb of Paris, was like having a living GQ catalog walking past you. Beautiful men in beautifully tailored suits everywhere. Le sigh.

Commuting to the Pontifica Universidad Católica del Perú last year in Lima was drastically different. The morning of my first day of classes in Lima my host brother (cousin?) walked me and my roommate to the main boulevard. He told us we would take a Combi to school. Basically this was a 15 passenger van from the 1970s with words painted on the sides. Someone would hang out the side door and yell the name of the route it would take. In my case, it was the Universitaria. I paid about a Sol fifty and got to school twenty minutes later.

Unlike my Paris commute, the Combi only really had one rule. When the guy that yelled out the door came in and put his palm out you gave him the fare. That's it. Oh and don't get your shit stolen, but that's really a given. People stared, people even had physical contact (oh dear what would the French think). My favorite part though was the music. There was nothing better then making your commute to class while (internally) dancing to salsa, merengue, reggeaton etc.

While we were in Lima and Ayacucho the Peruvian government was trying to increase regulation on who can drive the buses and under what circumstances. This caused a bus strike. May of the drivers came from smaller villages outside of Lima and drove the ancient buses as a way to make a living in the city. This however caused many problems as some of the drivers were illiterate and many did not have adequate resources to safely drive the buses. The roads were often overcrowded with buses, a system that still remains largely unregulated. Yet, I never found my commute to be dangerous at any point.

Colombia is a bit more chill. The buses have routes and schedules. Some are large buses and some are tiny colectivos. You judge the route based on the huge shiny, colorful letters printed on the windshield. Although I would not recommend the buses to anyone that hasn't been here before. The bus only lists the major stops, and it never says where exactly it's going, you kind of just have to know.

A sign of the progress Medellin has made in the past decade or so can be seen in the Metro that was build recently. It goes from one side of the massive city to the other, and usually runs along the river. It's reflective of Colombian orderliness and cleanliness. Paisas (people from Antoquia the state Medellin is in) are very proud of their Metro and you won't see it dirty or being vandalized. The metro is connected with a system of cable cars that connect the metro in the center of the city to small and often poor barrios in the high mountains that surround the city. We took a ride just for fun last year. It's pretty awesome and you get an incredible view of the city. It also has allowed the poorer parts of the city greater, and quicker access to the center of the city. Although I do wonder how economically viable it is for the people that live there.

From what my roommate has told me my commute in Cuzco will be more, well pedestrian. My apartment (I have a place to live now!) is a 25ish minute walk from the office. The Parisian underground and the boulevards of Lima will be replaced with the narrow and ancient streets of Cuzco, with the Andes in the background for good measure. My general lack of athleticism and out of shape-ness might make the trip a bit longer, but hell who can complain with scenery like that?

Che: Oiga caballero y yo me pregunto cuál de estos muros es inca.
Niño: Este debe ser el muro inca (right) y aquél español (left), para nosotros a forma de burlar decimos “el muro de los incas y el muro de los incapaces”    
--El Diario de Motocicletas

29 July 2010

Looking (Forward and) Back- Peru, Pt. 2

Watch this video on YouTube

I'll be the first to admit it: I complained a lot in Ayacucho. The town was small and devoid of things I found completely necessary: a real supermarket, a movie theatre, more than 2 million people. The altitude made going up a flight of stairs exhausting and also somehow had an effect on my digestive system (yes, altitude affects digestion). The director of the program was a bit aloof to put it nicely. Finally, living in what I described to be a 'small town' (It was actually a city with over 100,000 people) scared the crap out of me. Clearly growing up in New York City had set impossible standards for other cities.

I would have to say that my saving grace was my host family (and friends on the trip of course). Charo, my host mom, and Jorge my host dad and Romi my host sister were increidble. I lived in the most beautiful house in Ayacucho by far. And my host parent's business could not have been more perfect for me. They owned the nicest and most delicious bakery/ cafe, La Miel, in Ayacucho's main plaza. The chocolate chip frappes were worth the subsequent lactose-intolerance induced stomach ache. Their chocolate cake was so good some students would get it for lunch. I was more lucky though. I would wake up to the smell of baking and a dozen cakes in the kitchen every morning. The bakery for La Miel was located in my house. My host mom would sometimes bake my roommate Erin and I our own small chocolate cakes, or leave us a plate of alfajores to take to class.

But overall, I sadly spent most of my time in Ayacucho only seeing the negative side of things. It wasn't until after I had left Ayacucho that I fully started to appreciate the reasons for why I was there. All 18 of us on the BU program were in Ayacucho to study contemporary Peruvian politics. In order to understand this though we had to delve into the complex political realities of Peru over the past 30 years, or the internal conflict caused by Sendero Luminoso. We read articles and speeches by Abimael Guzmán, who founded Sendero to understand where the ideas of the movement came from. This contrasted the testimonies we read of people affected by the conflict.

I started thinking about the reasons why we were in Ayacucho while we were there. It was of obvious importance politically, since Sendero got started in the Universidad Nacional de San Cristóbal de Huamanga. It wasn't until I had left and started examining my time at FincaPerú, that I realized how important our location was. All I had to do was talk to my host dad and I would have a first hand account of someone who was affected by the violence. Many of the older women that participated in the microloan programs at FincaPerú were also affected. It would be hard to find someone over the age of 30 in Ayacucho who doesn't have some story of the impact of the war on their lives.

The BU group was lucky enough to be able to attend a talk at ANFASEP an organization that helps the victims of the conflict as well as gives them a forum for expressing themselves. I've obviously oversimplified this. In the video you'll see people giving us testimonies of what they saw during the war.

Watch this video on YouTube

*A shout out for the videos goes to Alan Wong who shot the group during our time in Ayacucho and Cusco for BU. And then proceeded to edit hours of tape to make these videos. Oh and there's more to come!


Finally, what we learned about the conflict highlights the importance FincaPerú's work and that of other organizations. Most of the victims that died as a result of the fighting were poor and indigenous. Providing people with the ability to learn and removing them from a cycle of poverty removes incentive and necessity for war and fighting. Development is an important and underutilized tool for avoiding further conflict.

27 July 2010

Looking (Forward and) Back- Peru

It's interesting how life can be so cyclical. In my case it happened a bit earlier than I had expected. Last summer I spent some time in Colombia visiting family before going to Perú for 7 weeks to study with the BU abroad program. This summer I am (currently) in Colombia visiting family before going on to Peru for 6 weeks to do an internship.

I knew that I wanted to return to Perú at the end of my trip last year. I had an incredible time and felt that I had a lot more to see, and definitely a lot to learn. However, I didn't think I would be fortunate enough that it would be so soon.

I'm going to be working with an lab called Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). The project I will be helping out with is called Targeting the Ultra Poor. Click on the link to learn more about it. I could not be more excited to be working with the lab. The internship is unpaid, making my financial situation for this summer and next year fairly difficult. I have no idea where i'm going to live and have to pay rent. Despite all these road block, I felt, however, that I could not pass up the opportunity to learn more about how various microfinance, and other poverty eradication programs work. Most importantly though, I felt that the work the lab is doing, by measuring the effectiveness of such programs is incredibly impactful to the effectiveness of non-profit and governmental work not only in Perú, but also in the world.

I had heard about IPA for the first time my last semester during my Women and International Development class. My class was debating the effectiveness of Microfinance and whether or not it actually does enough to permanently get people out of poverty. We read an article by the Jameel Poverty Action (JPA) at MIT lab that wrote that microfinance alone is not enough to lift people out of poverty, but other measures in conjunction with microfinance would work better. This critique was shocking since I had never heard anyone say that microfinance alone doesn't work.

Anyways, I've digressed to a long discussion for another time. The point is that I applied to a few jobs with the JPA lab and found that it was affiliated with IPA. I also applied to their Global Intern position and that's what I ended up interviewing for and getting!

As an aside: Esther Duflo from JPA lab did a TED talk about Poverty and the method used in the study i'll be working on. Check it out!

This would make my fourth internship. Can you make a career out of doing awesome internships? I can already tell, though, how different it will be. I will be working for 6 weeks in Cuzco (or Cusco). I will be (from what I've been told so far) working both on the field helping conduct a questionaire/ survey to gather data about various households, as well as working in the office gathering and organizing data.

While thinking about my internship, I thought back to my work with FincaPerú last year. During my brief time in Ayacucho, I worked with three other students from the BU program (Jenn K., Julia, Hector), to conduct a survey to see what the women who participate in the microloans think about the organization, what they think needs to be improved, and what needs to be added.

I'm not going to lie, it was difficult. It was often difficult to get the women to speak to us. Oftentimes they spoke Quechua and not Spanish. Sometimes you could tell that they just didn't trust us. It was understandable. Many of these women had been affected by the Civil War in Perú, most have had really difficult lives. Who were we to come with our funny Colombian, Gringo, Dominican accents and ask them about their private lives, finances, and opinions? I was often frustrated when someone did not want to speak to me, and even more when people were rude. I did not stay at FincaPerú long enough to develop the skills to be able to better communicate with the people I was surveying. I am hoping that I will get a chance to improve while in Cuzco. As much as I have to learn from my internship, I know that I can learn as much, if not more, from the people themselves.

23 May 2010


Well a few wonderful things have happened since the last time I wrote.

1. I GOT A JOB! I applied earlier this year to work for the Spanish government as an English teacher in Spain. I was worried that I wouldn't get it because my recommendation was in really late, but I did! I will be working from late-September to May of next year in Andalucía. I loved Andalucía when I was there, especially Granada, and i'm really excited to go back. Of course i'm nervous about moving to a foreign country alone, but I have friends all over Europe to keep me company (hint: come visit!)

2. Since I was about 15, I have been listening to The Strokes. Basically, i'm obsessed with them. I have also loved Julain Casablancas for as long, even saw his concerts in Paris and Boston this past year. Needless to say that when I saw him on the street in front of the Strand bookstore I couldn't breathe. Cheesy and lame as it sounds, it's the truth.

3. Thanks to my good friend Simone, and her amazing friends from Brooklyn College, I have finally experienced the wonder that is Prospect Park. It's beautiful and peaceful, with less pretension than Central Park. Spent a sunny Saturday in the park yesterday doing nothing and having a wonderful time.

Finally, I've started reading "The Blue Sweater" by Jacqueline Novogratz. It seems that 90% of what I read these days is about getting people out of poverty. Not a bad subject considering it's what I want to do with my life. Ms. Novogratz started the Acumen Fund, and incredible organization that invests in enterprises as a means of helping people get out of the poverty trap. (Edit: I didn't explain that very well, just check out their website!)

You can also check out her TED talk (I'm addicted to TED talks)

Off I go to find a summer job so I can actually afford to live in Europe!

19 May 2010

Welcome Back!

Hello again!

I started this blog last September in an attempt to document my time abroad in Paris. That was a bust on the blogging front, not on the Paris front. I had so much fun that I forgot to ever write in it. Well, i'm back and giving this blogging thing another try.

As a recent graduate, I wanted to find a way to document my post-grad life and find to continue to improve my writing. I know what you're thinking, "using a blog to improve your writing, that's strange." I figure practice makes perfect, and so does feedback, so let me know what you think of my writing and general comma overuse!

I moved back home yesterday. I'm having mixed feeling about it, as I haven't spent more than two weeks at home since August 2006. However, staying in Boston was not an option financially. To be perfectly honest, I can't complain about living in NY city(ish) rent free either. So here I am.

My main priority at the moment is to find a job. An internship would do as well, paid would be preferable. Not wasting any time, I applied to two jobs at Human Rights Watch last night and am sending in another cover letter today for one of their internship programs. I really admire HRW and have used their reports since high school for papers and Model UN. Cross your fingers for me!

OH! A little shout-out to my great friend Ramil who inspired me with his blog: http://ramilgetsajob.blogspot.com/