Friday, June 29, 2012

Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done. - Andy Rooney

I flew from New Orleans to Miami, Miami to Madrid, Madrid to Jerez, and took a taxi to Cadiz. I arrive on Tuesday afternoon to the Residencia where I, the students, and some faculty will be staying for the month. I go to the common area where they have wifi and I try turning on my laptop. It tries to start up but shuts off immedately. It then cycles through trying to turn itself on but turns off, over and over again. I think its maybe the plug, the prong adapter, or the battery. Nothing. Luckily, there were some people who are leading some high school students on a program who spoke English and they told me of a computer store that was really close to the residencia. I go over to the store and the guy tries different plugs, batteries, etc. and tells me that its probably the motherboard and there is nothing he can do.

Just fucking great, this laptop was working last week in the states just fine. But as soon as I arrive in Spain, it turns into a fucking 10 pound paper weight. I had to lug this heavy laptop through three different airports and decides to quit on me THE EXACT MOMENT I arrive to start working on this summer abroad program. Not only do I have to deal with being in a new place, in a new culture that I don't know much of the language, I have to deal with the stress of a dead computer and the possibility of not being able to do my job well. Talk about culture shock!

Luckily, the director of the Residencia was kind enough to let me borrow his laptop to check emails. And my Director came in to Cadiz today to help kick start the summer program and he came with another office laptop. So now I feel like I can get back on track and do what I have to do for the summer program.

So that is why it has taken me this long to update my blog. I don't read many blogs but I believe that blogging about not updating said blog is a cliche but I'm happy to contribute and keep the tradition alive. I have, however, been writing everyday in my notebook and I hope to transcribe previous days on here very soon.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"The rules of soccer are very simple, basically it is this: if it moves, kick it. If it doesn’t move, kick it until it does." - Phil Woosnam

My third day in Cadiz and I’m still feeling the effects of jet lag. I can’t believe that I’m actually sleeping through the night. I don’t have a/c, but I do have a fan. The mattress is still as hard as me trying to speak Español. But with like all things, I’m learning to adapt. Maybe I wouldn't feel so tired if I went to bed at a respectable time.

Last night though, España played Portugal in the semi-finals of the Eurocup. It’s a real treat to be able to be in Spain during this soccer tournament. Their national team is the best in the world and they are ranked #1. They are like the Saints in the European soccer world.

Last night, everyone was wearing their red, yellow, and blue colors to support their national team. The plazas, restaurants, and bars were packed with people glued to their seats. I went with a group of high school, summer abroad teachers to a small bar outside on the coastline in the northern part of the island. We got there towards the end of the 2nd half because the match started at 8:30pm but dinner wasn’t ready until 9:00pm. Luckily the score was still nil-nil when we arrived. I decided to wear my Chicago Fire jersey because it’s a soccer team from a city I used to be from. But I got extra stares last night because the jersey looks like the Portugal jersey. I also have a handle-bar mustache so they know that if they mess with me, I will fight them like an old-time boxer, ha!

There are similarities between cultures that I find interesting. People wear their team’s jersey in solidarity. You swap the red & yellow for black & gold; you couldn’t tell the different…well maybe you could but you know what I mean! And both Americans and Spaniards yell at the TV like the players are going to hear them. It reminds me of my NOLA host family during Saints games. During last night’s match, everyone in the outdoor bar in the plaza would rise out of their seats and try to get close to the TV when the Spanish team would have an opportunity to score. The tension would build but fall quickly when they missed. The match did go to a penalty shoot-out and it went down to the final (5th) shot and España won!

We were with a docile (older) crowd so it wasn’t too wild of a celebration so we decided to head toward Plaza Mina were it was much more livelier! There were many young teens jumping around, cheering, and sounding off air horns. People were also setting off fireworks and running around. One of the restaurants set up a lot of chairs and tables in the plaza in front of a big screen TV; not as big as American standards but big enough. The restaurant and big screen TV where the focal point for the match in this part of the city. Since España won, the owners decided to get on a tall ladder and spray the crowd with a garden hose. A big group of teens and college kids were in the middle jumping around and dancing to (of course) techno music while getting wet. Of course I wanted to join in but being dry and not having to do laundry was a bigger priority.

I got back to the residencia at about midnight. The night clerk at the front desk hasn’t met me and she was asking me questions in Spanish that I didn’t understand. So I showed her my key and everything was alright. I thought that the city would be lively all night but it was surprising quiet. At least where I was. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"Going to another country doesn't make any difference. I've tried all that. You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There's nothing to that." - The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

I'm sitting in the Plaza de la Candelaria, which is in front of the residencia. It's 9pm (or 21:00 like the locals do it) but it feels like 7pm. They are kids running around and using the plaza like a jungle jim. The adults and teens sitting around the edge of the plaza are as loud as the kids. They sit, smoke, and talk with one another while the young boys play soccer. It's loud, people are active and interacting with one another. It's something I used to see and do as a child in the Chicago suburbs. It's something, however, that you don't see anymore. It's almost like people in my hometown, or America in general, are afraid of each other. They distrust one another. This is, however, not the case in New Orleans. People sit and talk on each other's front porches. They go to one another's houses with a six-pack of Abita Amber and chill. Cadiz is almost like that but instead of front porches, they have plazas.

This feels very surreal, I've only been here for less than 24 hours and I feel like I've been picked up and dropped off in the home stretch of a horse race. Nothing stops for you so you can figure it out. You go at their pace so you better keep up.

The residencia is not bad for a dormitory. The people who work here are extremely helpful and kind. They are always happy, always smiling, always laughing at my goofiness. It's the only thing I have going for myself. I don't speak much Español and I have to resort to what I can remember from Sophomore year of high school. It’s a classic situation of I don’t speak Spanish, they don’t speak English, but somehow, we all are making it work. I can tell that they are genuinely interested in getting to know me and I the same.

Having a handle-bar mustache probably helps. In what, I don’t know. I have been getting a lot of stares since being in the Miami airport. Is it really that common in New Orleans with all the hipsters and 610 Stompers? It will be interesting to see if I get more stares when I’m back home. I guess that the Latin and Spanish women don’t like mustaches and prefer the shaved look. If the Latinas stared finding the mustache sexy, you know that every single guy here would sprout one. Everyone dresses nice and while I probably look schlubby in their eyes, I don’t really care.

One thing that I have noticed in this square is the boys who are playing soccer are wearing full soccer team kits while they play around. It’s like if kids wore full NBA uniforms for a game of pick-up basketball at Annunciation Park. I see kids wearing national team and Barcelona shirts, shorts, and socks. They even wear soccer cleats while running on the concrete. But these seven year olds have better soccer skills than me. In the states, you usually see people wearing a Yankees jersey to the game, but never baseball pants.

The residencia is now serving dinner. I can see why Spaniards eat so late. It’s almost 9:45 and I’m hand-writing this with only sunlight. As I’m writing this, a mom stands next to me. She is holding her 3 year old daughter without any pants on. The mom hangs her daughter over a tree stomp so the kid can pee.
So far, so interesting…

This mattress I’m lying on is one of the hardest mattresses I’ve ever slept on. Even the mattress I slept on at my Uncle’s house in D.C. wasn’t this hard. I think I’m actually lying on just the box-spring. At this moment, I’ll take the half-ass, “reclining” seat I had in coach on the flight over here. Coupled this with the fact that I’m alone in a unfamiliar place, in a barren room, having jet-lag, and worrying that my work computer is now a paper weight (it died), it doesn’t make me feel relaxed to induce sleep.
There is no point in wasting energy and time worry about these things. So I’m going to finish writing this, take a melatonin, and do some laying meditation. Soon enough, it will be morning and new day!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

I never really thought about writing a personal blog until I started reading Henry Rollin's travel journal "Smile, You're Traveling!" I saw him perform his spoken word act at Earlham College a couple of years ago where he talked about his travels abroad. I really enjoyed how he told his stories and felt a connection to what he experienced abroad. I began reading his book last July and felt the same connection. I understood exactly what he was going through in his travels and what he was thinking. It was at this point when I realized that I too felt the same way about my life and my experiences.

I have done such amazing things in my life. I have experienced a lot, both good and bad; why not write down my adventures, my experiences, my thoughts?

Three years ago, I moved from the suburbs of Chicago to the greatest city on earth, New Orleans. I tell people all the time, I have traveled to many different countries and interacted with many different cultures. New Orleans is the most accepting, most INCLUSIVE community I have ever been a part of. If you show a willingness to learn and contribute to the culture, New Orleans, and its people, will accept you with open arms.

Within this time, I have become a member of Krewe du Vieux, become a lieutenant for MOMs Balls, and auditioned for the 610 Stompers. I attribute my experience living and working in Japan to how I've gotten this far in the New Orleans culture. I know how to assimilate and integrate into a local community; I have used that here in New Orleans.

I'm sitting here typing this in my living room; the night before I leave for Cadiz, Spain to facilitate a summer abroad program for 18 college students and 3 faculty. Packing for this trip has been difficult. While I traveled to Denmark and Spain last year (three days after Mardi Gras) to visit study abroad programs, I haven't been out of the United States for more than a month in a long time. Come to think of it, the last time I have been out of the country for longer than a month was when I was teaching English in Japan.

Packing for this program has been the most nerve-wracking as well as the fact that all 3 pieces of my luggage are heavy as hell. I hate packing because I'm a classic over-packer and I always feel like I'm forgetting something. I also, for the most part, wait until the last minute to pack but not this time.

With the extra time I had today, I was able to attend the Uptown Swingers second-line parade with my friend. It was hot 'n humid but everyone was dancing to To Be Continued Brass Band. It was a lot smaller than I was expecting though. I thought that there would be several social clubs with several brass bands. Some readers might be shocked that I didn't know this already since I've lived in New Orleans for about 3 years. But I haven't been to a African American-style second line parade until today. No matter how long you have lived here, no matter how well you are connected into the culture of this city, there is always something new to explore and learn.

This mindset is what I take with me to Cadiz. I know there are somethings that the city and New Orleans have in common. Cadiz host one of the largest Carnaval festivals in Europe; similar to Mardi Gras. I went to visit this city last year for a 3-day reconnaissance mission and I already saw the connections. The way people are and act reminded me of New Orleans. That laid-back, easy-going lifestyle. The way people interact with one another; especially with non-locals reminds me of New Orleans.

While I'm nervous as I hope this summer abroad program goes smoothly, I'm really excited to be able to live in this city. I'm really excited to learn from the Cadiz community and the people that live there. I hope they will be open to learning some aspect of New Orleans. I envision a strong and interesting relationship forming between the two cities and I hope I, we on the summer program, can help facilitate that.

See you "across the pond!"