Tuesday, September 28, 2004

10 Great Things

Megan thinks some of the stuff I write is too negative, but that´s probably because she´s privy to the entries in my journal that will never appear here. All the ¨I´m afraid to leave the house and just want a good, hot cup of coffee¨ stuff. Ok, the coffee riff will probably show up here. Alas, my kingdom for a cup of Stumptown coffee!! I´d hate to think that most of what I write is negative -- I just like to write about what interests me.

Anyway, in no particular order, here is a list of 10 cool things about Bolivia and Cocha.

1. Natural Beauty. Bolivia is the most beautiful country in the world, period. The others can just give up now. Green valleys, jagged mountains, jungle, altiplano, salt flats, ancient Incan ruins, colonial cities. No other place on earth has all of this. Stunning in its diversity and its beauty. And what is perhaps most stunning of all is that the rest of the world doesn´t even know what´s here. A shame.

2. Produce. Great, fresh, cheap produce, grown locally. Our kids eat 4 kiwis each, every day. You´d faint if you knew what we pay for a kilo of these.

3. Ades juice. Ok, it is actually made in Argentina, but you can get it everywhere here. It is soy juice. Or is it fruit milk? I don´t know, but we drink a liter a day. The manzana is our favorite, but fruitas tropicales is good too.

4. Tranquillo. Let´s face it, that report that your life will absolutely end if it is not done by the end of the day -- in the grand scheme of the world, it doesn´t mean shit. Really. Who cares? It can wait until tomorrow. Cochabambinos get this. Better you should take 2 hours to go home and eat lunch with your family. Everything else can wait.

5. Milk. Milk here comes in 1 liter plastic bags, and does not need to be refrigerated until opened. I´ll take their word for that -- we keep ours in the fridge. Anyway, you cut open the bag and pour it into a plastic jug and decant it that way. Cocha has the best tasting milk I´ve ever had. It is very fresh and clean tasting. You can´t take good milk for granted. Japan, for instance, has milk that tastes like dead samurai farts. Really, the first time I had milk in Japan I sent it back, telling the waiter it was rotten. No, that´s just how Japanese milk tastes.

6. Cows walking down the street. Maybe it is me, but I love the fact that I live in a place where a herd of cows can walk down a main Avenida in the middle of the day, and no one blinks an eye. I also love it that you can ask a cab driver to strap 5 live goats to the top of his cab and he´ll do it. Try that in New York some time.

7. La Cancha. Bolivia´s largest outdoor market is a sprawling, endless wonder. Meg hates it. I love it. Need 200 kilos of angel hair pasta? La Cancha has it. A haircut? Check. ¨Shrek 2¨DVD? Yeah, got that. TV? Check. Stove? Check. Patio furniture? Virginia Tech baseball cap? The whole head of a cow? Check, check, check.

8. Micro buses/Trufis. The go everywhere you need to go, stop anywhere you want, and pick you up anyplace you ask. One comes by like every 2 minutes. All for 12.5 cents.

9. Coblestone Streets. Many streets here in town are cobled, including ours. They are cobled with natural stones in interesting patterns. It is real craftsmanship. In fact, the main road that we live off of was cobled until last year, when they paved over it. Go a mile past our house and it reverts to cobles. I suspect many of these roads are being paved over in the name of progress, but I live the quaintness they give.

10. Indiginous people. Maybe I´m simple, but I like to be reminded that I live in an exotic location. Many indiginous women in Cocha still dress in the old style, with layered peticoats, colorful shawls, bowler hats and colorful blankets which are used to carry things. People say that this may be the last generation to dress this way, which is a shame.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Hello Sam, Goodbye Mitchell

Our Bay Area friends Ed and Nico White welcomed their first child on August 31. Little Samuel Howard White is healthy, happy and suitably keeping his parents up nights. Congratulations! August 31, of course, is also our Janey´s birthday. Good day to be born.

Unfortunately, my stepdad Chuck´s best friend Mitchell passed away last week. Mitchell had suffered a massive stroke a couple of weeks ago, from which recovery was impossible. He was taken off life support last week, surrounded by friends and his wonderful wife Judy.

Now, anyone who knew Mitchell for 5 seconds loved the guy. He was bigger than life, and at least to me it seemed like Mitchell lived every second to the fullest. He was the kid of guy who you heard coming 10 minutes before he actually arrived -- one of the few people who could out-talk my brother Jeff. Mitchell ¨got it¨ in my opinion. He realized that life isn´t up around the corner. Life is under your wheels right now. Had Mitchell put off living his life until retirement, he would have never gotten there.

Anyway, if you are religious, please keep Mitchell´s wife Judy in your prayers. If you´re not, just send her some good thoughts.

Where´s Megan?

Several people have asked whether Megan will post anything on this blog. The answer is a very strong ¨maybe,¨ but I wouldn´t hold your breath. Personally, I think it would be great if she´d write something, but don´t see it happening for a couple of reasons.

First, she doesn´t have the time. Unlike me, she actually has a job. When she is not working, she is handling a lot of B.S. that I should be doing. Problem is, my Spanish is limited to useless right now. As our only Spanish speaking representative, Meg has to do things like call the landlord to get the toilet fixed, order drinking water, find an exterminator to kill the spiders, deal with the maid, etc. All of this stuff takes a whole lot of time -- more so than it would in the U.S. In addition, she is still adjusting to the fact that she is not with the kids all day. When she gets home, she wants to spend every second with the kids -- not writing some crap for the blog.

Second, I just don´t think that Meg has much interest in writing stuff for the blog. Maybe that will change as life starts to calm down and we begin to assimilate a bit here.

So, if you want to talk to Meg about her experience here, your best bet is to send her an e-mail and ask her. She is good about checking her e-mail regularly.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Is that dog just happy to see me, or is it rabid?

When we went to the travel clinic to get our immunizations prior to coming down here, they asked if we needed a rabies vacine. (Side note -- want to see the very pictue of utter, profound confusion? Go to a travel clinic and tell the nurse you are going to somewhere other than Canada, Mexico or Costa Rica and watch her face. It would be funny were you life not in her hands). First, I didn´t even know such a thing as a rabies vaccine for humans existed. I thought that pretty much you get rabies and then have to get those horrible shots your mother always would tell you about to scare you. You know -- 65 shots in your scrotum with a needle that looks like something you knit with. I didn´t know you could prevent it up front. Still, I kind of laughed. Rabies? Who gets rabies.

Well, 93 Cochabambinos have gotten rabies in the past 3 months. There has been a huge epidemic here. Why? Two reasons. First, there are dogs everwhere. I may have mentioned this here before, and I have certainly shared this in e-mails and phone calls. But there are dogs EVERYWHERE. Big ones. Small ones. Medium ones. Muts. Purebreads. All kinds. Sometimes they run in big packs of 6 or 8. Others are more the lone wolf types, going it alone. There are no leash laws here, of course. At night, it often sounds like you are sleeping in the dog pound, with a non-stop cacophony of howls, barks, screams, fights, etc.

The second issue is that, with a few exceptions, most of these dogs are not well cared for. They are largely mangy, underfed and unkempt. People do not generally feed the dogs, letting them forage for themselves. They do not bathe or groom the dogs. And they certainly do not immunize them, including getting the rabies shots. There is a big push on now to educate people and get the dogs immunized, but it is probably a losing battle.

To be fair, most of these dogs leave you alone. But not all. I run most mornings, and always do so with a big rock in each hand. A day doesn´t go by that some dog doesn´t come after me. Learning, as I did this weekend, about the rabies outbreak, certainly makes me a little more cautious though. Almost wish I had gotten that shot.

In other critter news, we are experiencing something of an outbreak of spiders in our house. I´m not talking cute little California or Oregon spiders. No, I´m talking South American S-P-I-D-E-R-S. Suckers are have like 2-3 inch wingspans, but when you are facing one of those bad boys down and he is challenging you from the ceiling, it may as well be 2-3 FEET. I´m freakin´ terrified of spiders, and so is Megan. We call ourselves the Arachnaphobic Pest Control Team. ¨You kill it!¨¨No, YOU kill it!!¨ We´ve been averaging 1-2 of these monsters a day. Even worse, I´on my way to the internet cafe this morning and I look in the shoe I wore yesterday for some reason (first time I wore the shoe in a month), and cracked in the toe of the shoe are the remnants of a monster spider. I mean, the pieces were almost like the pieces of a lobster. It was in my shoe yesterday when I put it on to go to the soccer game (GO WILSTERMAN!!). I must have just crushed it. I am afraid by the size of the pieces it was a scorpion, which we have here. Glad I got him before he got me.

In yet MORE critter news, we have a mouse living in our kitchen. He lives under the cabinets in the corner near the gas locker. We see him every night when we are having our bedtime tea. He pokes his head out, looks around, and scurry´s here and there. One night last week, there was a stray piece of rotelli left over from dinner. Sitting on the floor about 2 feet out from the cabinets. Dude sees it. Looks at us -- we´re only 6 feet away or so, sitting at the table. He scurries out to it. Pauses, as if to say ¨You´re not gonna eat this, are you?¨ Picks it up in his mouth, and scurries back. Let me tell you, Dude may be small but his balls aren´t.

Finally, as mentioned above, we took in the hometown Wilsterman vs. Real Santa Cruz football (soccer) game last night. Lots of barbed wire keeping the players and fans separate, but the stadium is in a beautiful location with the wonderful hills above town framing one side and the Cristo statute framing the other. Despite the fact that the team´s main sponser is major brewer Taquina, there is no alcohol served in the stadium. Bummed me out, but probably a good idea. I hadn´t seen sports in probably 5 weeks, so I actually enjoyed a soccer game for once.

This week I need to extend my visa and the kids´from 30 to 90 days, ´cause the visas are up this week. Boy, that should be fun.

Later.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Drinking Cocaine

Cochabamba is both a city and a state -- kinda like New York. In Cocha State is the coca-growing Chapare region. It is supposed to be beautiful, though a gringo with a crewcut probably doesn´t want to venture too far into the fields, lest he be mistaken for a DEA agent. Speaking of which, the DEA has spent a fortune trying to erradicate coca in the Chapare. I forget the number. It´s tens of millions or maybe over a billion bucks. Anyway, the dollars are freaking huge. Still, you can get yourself a big old baggie of coca leafs in any outdoor market in the country. The coca leaf is very much a part of Bolivian culture, and is chewed both for its relaxing effect and because it helps deal with the altitude (remember, some cities in Bolivia are over 14,000 feet -- freakin´HIGH.

Despite the fact that Bolvia has used the coca leaf responsibly forever, the USA has decided that the coca leaf has to go because a bunch of stupid Americans insist on smoking crack. Nuts. Lets not spend the money dealing with WHY people are smoking crack. Let´s instead ruin the livelihood of a bunch of peasant farmers. And we wonder why the whole world hates us. Anyway, I don´t want to get all political on you.

I bring all of this up only because you can buy coca tea in the supermarket here. It is 100 percent coca leaf, put in a nice little tea bag. I bought some last week and have been drinking it ever since. The package says that it gives you an active mind, settles your stomache and helps with altitude. Personally, it just makes me jittery and makes my nose run. Hah -- I´m kidding. I really don´t feel too much from it. It tastes like Japanese green tea. Mostly I feel kind of naughty drinking cocaine.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

It´s Like The French Have a Different Word for EVERYTHING!!!

First off, some interesting things I have seen in the past few days.

First, Jane and I saw a herd of about 100 sheep and goats grazing in the riverbed below our house. We see this herd all the time, being sheparded by one indian woman.

Next, Jane and I saw 6 or 7 big (150-200lb) pink pigs grazing in the riverbed today.

Then, on our way home from a busted trip to Tiquipaya (paper said HUGE ARTISAN FAIR. Tiquipaya knew nothing about it), we saw two donkeys, unattended, grazing on side of the street.

Finally, in Tiquipaya´s Plaza Central, the obvious loser of a brutal bar fight, blood still oozing from his wounds, cased us for a while. Eventually he approached, showed us his doctor´s prescription, and asked for some money to pay for the medicine. I gave him a B (12.5 cents, the going rate for beggars, more or less).

Now, I thought it might be interesting to share how things are done differently here. This is definitely not to say the Bolivian way is bad or inferior in any way. Just that it is different.

1. Bills. A guy comes to your house, rings the bell, and you let him in. He reads the water meter or electricity meter, puts the numbers in a handheld computer, and out comes the bill. He hands the bill to you. Now, your obligation is to go to the utility company and pay the bill in person, in cash. No checks. No mailing things. You have to go in person and stand in line. For each one.

2. Mail. Mail? What mail? There are no mail boxes here, and I have yet to see a postman. We get what little mail we do receive through the school´s post office box. If we want to mail stuff, we either wait for someone to fly to the US and mail it for us, or we have to go downtown to the central post office. Oh, and if you ask US Postal, they will tell you it takes like 4-7 days for airmail to reach Bolivia. Bullcrap. It takes 4-5 weeks OR MORE for airmail to get here.

3. Gas. We cook with, I think, natural gas. There are no gas lines running to your house. Instead, you use what looks like a big propane cylinder. How do you get more gas when the tank runs out? From the gas man. Big old open-backed trucks that look like 1950´s Fords roam the neigborhoods, with one guy up on the back of the truck clanging and empty cylinder with a piece of metal. It´s like the ice cream man with gas. So, you hear him, run out to the curb, and swap out your cylinder.

4. Laundry. Rich folks have washing machines. No one has a dryer. We have a little open-air room attached to our house, next to the maids quarters. It has a big sink in it, and you wash your clothes in that. We have a woman in her daughter who comes and does our laundry every week, but sometimes they don´t show up (such is Bolivia). In those cases, Jimmy is the laundry man. Regardless of who washes it, after it dries on the lines, it is stiff as hell. So, I have to spend a morning ironing every piece of clothing we own to try and soften it up.

5. Drinking water. You wouldn´t want to wash your dog´s ass in Bolivian tap water. Even Bolivians don´t drink it. So, you have the drinking water guy deliver water. By the way, a huge 20litre bottle of pure water costs $1.25. Anyway, these guys aren´t like the Arrowhead man or the Sparklets guy. In the states, once you get the water service they drop off two bottles every week whether you like it or not. 6 months into your contract you have so much water you could fill your pool with it but you just can´t stop it coming. Not here. Here you run our of water, then call for a week before you can convince them to bring you more. A friend of ours said it took her a full year to get them to come on a regular basis.

6. Trash. There is no trash service here. Your options are (1) burn it, as many do; (2) throw it in the gully behind our house, as many do; or (3) walk it down to one of the giant green dumpsters that are randomly scattered throughout the city (which we do).

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Photos, believe it or not.

Ok, so as per my last post I do not have the time to get things all pretty and figure out how to put photos in the blog -- I will get to that. But I do have a Shutterfly slide show all set up. Cut and paste this in your browser and you should get there --

http://share.shutterfly.com/osi.jsp?i=EeAM2jls5cs2rCWA

We have a lead on a full-time maid. I am excited. Enjoy the pics.

p.s. Special thanks to Vitter at Colegio Calvert -- without his technical expertise I could not have gotten the pics

Incommunicado

Well, this is the 3rd time I have had an opportunity to log on to the internet in almost 3 weeks. I am finding that I just have no time to do it, since the first break in my day comes at 7pm, and we go to bed at 8. It is impossible to go to a internet cafe with Mac, because he screams the whole time.

This is compounded by the fact that the connections here are slow. An hour of internet time can mean reading and responding to 5 e-mails.

So, we are in the process of looking for an empleada, which is a person who will either live with us or spend the day with us, doing the cleaning and taking a role in watching the kids. We are told that it will be difficult to find someone, but eventually we will. So, untill we find that person, my prescence on the web both at this blog and in responding to e-mails will be sporadic, at best.

It is easier for Megan to get on the web, since she can do it from school before she leaves each day.

I have a ton of great picutres I hope to post as soon as I find a decent speed connection.

Strangest thing I have seen so far; A taxi with 5 live goats strapped to its roof. I´ve seen this twice, so obviously it is a common practice. There is also a farmer who heards his 8 cows down to the river everyday, so I often see him and the cows strolling down Avenida Circumvalacion. Imagine a guy hearding 8 cows down Sandy Blvd. or Steven Creek Blvd. and you get the picture. Strange.

Mac is finally getting over the cold he caught in LA. Jane loves school and has lots of friends. I start Spanish lessons on Friday.