Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's me again

Well I made it in less than two months this time but there is still some room for improvement.

Since my last post in May life has continued to throw me several pleasent surprises. As you may already know I recently joined a online community called Couchsurfing.org (CS). When I went to Cordoba I stayed with a very nice couple and met several really great people. One of those fine folks was a French chap named Philippe. When were talking at the CS asado he mentioned that he would like to visit Montevideo so I told him he was welcome anytime at my place. Well about two weeks later I got an email from him saying he was heading my way.

His plan was to stay for just a couple of days but then we found out about the Uruguay versus Brasil soccer game the following Sunday. It soon became evident that there was no other option but to stay for the match. We went to the game but it turned out to be quite depressing really. Uruguay lost 4-0 which is quite the spanking.

Admittedly Brasil is a really great team but four goals is enough to make anyone cry. We ended the night with an asado at my place where we dried our tears and feasted on grassfed beef!

Philippe ended up staying an extra week with me while he worked on a project with a company in France. He also religiously cleaned my kitchen which was something I could complain about. His reasoning was that he had been traveling so much over the last four months that he missed doing it. Let me just say it will take alot of traveling for me to get to the point where doing dishes is enjoyable. Finally after two weeks he had to meet his sister in Brasil so he departed but it was sad to see the best house guest ever leave.

More photos from the game here.

Shortly after, I began my new, exciting, odorous yet interesting class at the university. It was called Sustainablity of Intensive Animal Production Systems a.k.a. Who wants to visit feedlots? The class consisted of several lectures from a visiting professor, Dr. Pete Lammers, from Iowa State University and several excursions to feedlots. These systems only make up about 10% of the total beef production in Uruguay so it is very different from Nebraska. Since they are all relatively new they don't have the regulation that exists in the U.S. The adventures are documented in the photos below. Enjoy and be happy that pictures can't transmit odors as well!

In my continuing effort to put together an interesting itinerary for my parent's visit in July I took the time to get to know the neighborhood sites a little better. I had yet to visit the large park just 15 minutes from my apartment, Parque Rodó is the place to be on Sundays.

They have an outdoor market in the morning next to the lake where you can rent a boat a go cruising with ducks and swans. On the other side there is a small amusement park and the best stuffed churros money can buy. I spent the afternoon zooming around the park on my bike taking pictures of the attractions. Definitely a great family picnic spot and if we get some good weather when the padres are here we will definitely be visiting.

I am gonna wrap up with that for now. I've got some more recent stuff to write about but I have to get my SD card reader back from my friend before I can post the photos. As soon as that happens be looking forward to another post.

Photos from Parque Rodó

Peace from down south,


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Has it really been two months?

Good lord I can't believe that I haven't written an update for such a long time. Life has been passing so fast down here.
After the appendicitis situation, I was busying playing catchup for awhile but everything is back to normal now. I've actually been pretty busy between school and life in general. Since I don't think I can write about everything that has happened (nor would you want to read it all), the following are the highlights of the last two months.

Having been cooped up in a hospital room or my apartment for almost three weeks I was desparate for the outside world. Three days after I was released from my home away from home (Hospital Britanico), I was hopping a bus with about 200 other Uruguayan kids to spend a long weekend building shelters in a poor settlement on the outskirts of town. The group is called Un Techo Para Mi País (roughly translated A Shelter for my Country) and they work in poor communities to provide shelters and much needed services. I was first introduced to this group when I was living in Cordoba, Argentina two years ago. I did a construction there and loved it , so I was very pleased to find this organization in Uruguay as well.
Working in groups of eight to ten we built 65 shelters over the course of four days. The first shelter we constructed was for a young couple, Mikahel and Maria, that had been living in a one bedroom shack. They were getting ready to start a family and they knew they needed more space.
At first I thought it was going to be impossible to build a house on the small piece of land they had. It was basically a muddy incline next to a four foot high pile of garbage with a small stream running through it. The ground was pure slop for the first foot then a layer of clay and rock making it almost impossible to dig the eighteen holes needed for the floor posts. After much labor we had the posts ready and the floor together, making the rest of the construction smooth sailing.
Working right alongside the family in the construction is probably the best part. You get to talk to them, learn about their lives and their dreams. Mikahel, being only 19 years old, was very responsible and respectable guy. I found out that he made a living by doing odd-jobs and by selling different things at a market. He showed me his bike and cart that he used to transport his stand. The bike had no brake so he had to use his foot on the back tire to stop it and on hills he would weave left and right to reduce speed.
I was amazed at his good humor despite his situation. When the house was finished we had a small ribbon cutting ceremony and presented the new owners with a certificate. Seeing the joy on the faces of the young couple was something very special. They were so excited that when we returned to visit the next day they had already moved all their furniture out of their old house into the new one and had connected the electricity. (This is no small task as all wiring is done off of pirate power lines that one has to connect themselves.)
The experience was great and I felt that there was real potential in this organization. They don't stop with a shelter but continue with a second stage of social empowerment. I am currently involved in the urban agriculture group which works to provide food security and a balanced diet to the communities through the development of private and community gardens. We travel each weekend to different communities to provide labor, tools and advice. I plan on continuing with this group throughout the year so you can look forward to hearing more.

My next great adventure was to the Eastern coast of Uruguay with some friends to test out my brand new-to-me surfboard that I got off of Uruguay's version of Ebay. Having only surfed a total of three times in my life I was ready to dominate the waves. Unfortunately, I was the only thing getting dominated. After about two hours of being pummeled by five feet walls of water I decided I had had enough and returned to the beach to rest a bit. I tried to go again but only lasted an hour this time. All in all I caught about three or four waves staying on one for about 20 to 30 seconds, not to shabby for a noob.
The next day was infinitely better with much less pummeling and much more surfing yet still far short of a good day surfing. My two friends, Vincent from France and Quique from Uruguay, were with me the whole way, drinking salt water like it was our job. I loved just being in the water on your board waiting for the next wave to come. It was so peaceful and relaxing that I can't wait to hit the surf once again.

In other news, I managed to make it back to Cordoba, Argentina to visit some friends. I studied abroad in this crazy city at the Universidad Catolica between July and December of 2007. Instead of staying at a hostel, this time I decided to try something different. I recently found an online community called Couchsurfing.org which has listing of people who will offer you a couch, mattress or place on the floor for a few nights. I figured that I knew Cordoba well enough that if it didn't work out I could find another place to stay really easy, so I gave it a shot. I found Ludo and Naty on the site and they offered me a mattress in their living room for two nights.
I arrived at their place around 11am and by 1pm we were out the door headed for an asado (bbq) with other people from Couchsurfing. We spent the afternoon talking about traveling while eating delicious grass fed beef and drinking Malbec from Medoza. When night fell we sang old Beatles songs (with a funny South American accent) while sipping on Fernetcolas. It reminded me of my days at the residencia, Casa Colon, where I lived while I was here.

The next two days I was able to met up with several friends but for too little time. After returning to Cordoba, I have much desire to visit again. I felt like every street I walked down reminded me of something from my past. I was shocked to recognize the same people in the streets selling cellphone holders and plastic toys. It was like nothing had changed in two years. Needless to say it was a great trip but way to short and I hope to be able to return soon and stay for much longer.

My most recent bit of roguery would be attending a soccer match (better known as fútbol down here) between two rival Uruguayan teams, Peñarol and Nacional. Let me just make the clear observation that the entrance to the game was nothing short of chaos. It consisted of a huddled mass of maybe 200 to 300 people pushing towards an open gate guarded by police outfitted in riot gear. There was no attempt to form a line, no clear direction as to which gate you should enter and clearly no forethought to crowd control. Once we made it into the herd it was like being at a rock concert. The smell of sweat was rising from all directions and the crowd swayed as if it were blowing in the wind.

When I was about twenty feet from the front of the crowd a big push came from behind. The crowd went flying towards the police who responded by beating them back with billy clubs and shields. They all went running to the back and quickly found myself in their position in the front of the crowd. Luckily I was able to get through the search area before another push came. My friend Gabe, another Ambassadorial scholar, wasn't so lucky receiving a couple blows to the ribs from a baton and a face full of shield (Don't worry, he's fine). Once we all got through the crowd debacle, we dodged the seats being thrown from the stadium at the cops and made it inside. We found or spots and enjoyed the rest of the game even though our team lost in what turned out to be a very ugly game of fútbol. It was a great time but I think they need to figure out a better system of crowd control before I'll go back again.

I suppose that's the jist of the last two month's. School is going good but nothing to exciting to talk about yet and Rotary activities are starting to line up so there will be some news on that front soon. This was already a long post so I will spare you any more words except to say that I am putting a note in my calendar to write here more often, say every two weeks. Hopefully I won't get attacked by another disease or illness that prevents me from doing so.

If you made it this far, thanks for taking the time to read about my life and I would love to hear about yours. So don't forget to be in touch and I'll do the same.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Finally an update

*** I meant to post this before I went back to the hospital but didn't get a chance to so it's abit outdated. I'm gonna post it anyway but look for another post very soon.***

I can't believe I've been here for more than a month now. So much has happened already that I can't imagine what the rest of the year will be like. Here are some highlights of whats happened so far.

On my way down South I had a layover in Los Angeles and got to visit three of my best friends in the entire world. While I only got to spend about 5 hours with these guys, they made it worth the while and I can't wait to see everyone again.

Shortly after I arrived in Montevideo I was informed that Carnaval was happening the next week and that everything would be closed. When I asked what there was to do in Montevideo I was surprised to hear that the answerwas "Nada." Apparently everyone packs up and leaves so I decided to follow suit and took a trip to the beach in Punta del Este. I found a nice hostel with great people from Australia to Chile to Slovenia and spent the next several days by the beach or the pool (with the exception of the day that it rained for 12 hours and flooded parts of the hostel.).

When I returned to Montevideo I immediately began searching for an apartement. I soon realized how difficult this process actually was going to be. In order to rent an apartment here you either have to put down as collateral a property you already own or pay a 6-month deposit. Not having the former I was stuck tying up a couple thousand dollars in order to get my apartment. Nevertheless I got a pretty good deal and I really like my apartment. If you should come to visit I even have an extra mattress for you.

More photos of my apartment

Rotary was quick to welcome me to their country. Shortly I got back from my mini vacation I went to my first Rotary meeting with my host counselor Hector Ferreira. It was a small club with about 10-12 Rotarians present and was much less formal than the meetings I had attended in the U.S. before I left. They served a delicious lunch, taught me a few great jokes and by the end of the meeting we were sitting around an out-of-tune piano singing classic bossa nova songs. All I can say is that I wish I had my camera.

I have also started classes and a project with my professor Valentin Picasso. For the time being I only have one class on Wednesdays (which is good because it's an hour bus ride to campus). I should start another two in April and will be doing some independent projects as well.

I guess that's about all that's happened so far....oh wait! I had to have my appendix removed. Ha! Almost forgot. Here's a picture of me in my lovely gown just before I went to have surgery. Basically I began to have pains really deep down in my stomach and after taking a couple different pain medications the pain only grew worse. I finally went to the hospital on Monday, they took out my appendix on Wednesday and by Friday I was out of the hospital. I have to say that I really love technology because instead of slicing me open and having a look inside they were able to do the entire operation with a camera making only three small incision. I had a total of seven stitches which were taken out yesterday and I would say I am about 95% back to normal.

So needless to say it's been an exciting month and I can't believe I have just short of eleven months left. If things keep going the way they are I am in for an exciting year and I hope to keep you all abreast to what is going on.

That's all for now. Keep in touch and I'll do the same.


Monday, February 16, 2009

¡Ya me voy!

Well it's official, I am leaving tomorrow. I'll fly from Omaha to L.A. where I get to spend my 9 hour layover with my friends in California. Then at midnight I'll hop on a plane to San Salvador and then finally to Montevideo, Uruguay. 

First, I want to say that I am really happy that I was able to see and say goodbye to so many of my friends before I left. Seeing so many of you at my going away party reminded me of how many great friends I have and I can't wait to see you all again.  Also, if any of you have a desire to come visit, you have a place to stay and I will do whatever I can to help find the cheapest travel arrangements.

Secondly thanks to my parents for all the support over the years. The only reason I have this great opportunity is because you were there to tell me that I could do anything. Kind of ironic that you are partly responsible for me leaving for a year :)

I guess that's all for know but I'll do my best to keep you all in the loop. Be in touch and I'll do the same.

Hasta luego,

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Just some background

For those of you who may not know exactly why I am going to Uruguay, I thought I would take a moment to explain. Before graduating I was forunate enough to win the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship allowing me to study abroad for a year. I wanted to study sustainable development and continue with my Spanish which led me to a very unique program in Bolivia. Unfortunately I was unable to go there in October to due civil conflict in the country. 

I then began searching for a new program which I eventually found in Montevideo, Uruguay. I will be studying the first year of a Master's degree in Sustainable Rural Development at the Universidad de la República. I will also be working with the Rotary clubs to initiate service projects as well as give cultural presentations to the various clubs. I have to give my gratitude to all the Rotarians that made this opportunity possible and I hope to make a difference while there. 

So that's the 30 second summary of the next year of my life. I hope it was informative and it encourages you to come visit me on the beaches of Montevideo.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Take 2

After the fiasco with Bolivia it seems that I will actually be heading down to Montevideo, Uruguay on February 17th. I am just waitng for my ticket to be bought by the RITS Travel Agency and all will be said and done. Keep tuned for more updates.