Tuesday, February 22, 2005

La Paz Photos

Finally, here are our La Paz pictures. We spent 10 days in La Paz, Tiwanaku, Copacabana and Isla del Sol (on Lake Titicaca) over Christmas break. It was a great trip, but it was all between 12,500-13,500 feet in elevation. To put that in perspective, that is more than 2,000 feet HIGHER than the summit of Mt. Hood. Our kids have a tough time with those altitudes, despite the fact that they are acclimated to 8,500 feet (which is what Cochabamba is). We learned the hard way that we really need to limit their exposure to those heights. Everyone coming down with stomach amoebas didn´t help much, nor did 10 days of eating horrible Bolivian food.

Pic: La familia at the Tiwanaku ruins (circa 700 AD).

Pic: La Paz skyline. La Paz is called ¨The Big Gash¨ because it sits in a valley dramatically carved out of the altiplano. At the lip of the gash is El Alto, which dukes it out with Potosi for the title of the World´s Highest City.

Pic: Jane and her Aymara friends on Isla del Sol. These native indians either descended from the Incans, or pre-date them. Forgive my lack of recall. Anyway, let me say that Aymarans are possibly the nicest people on the face of the earth. Isla del Sol was worth the hassle to get there.

Pic: Jim and his coca bag. Possession of this 25 cent bag of coca leaves could get me a long stretch in prison in the US. Chewing coca is the only way to deal with the altitude. Plus, you make a lot of friends by giving them a handfull of these magic leaves. The only time I got sick up here was when I could not chew coca due to a badly upset stomach caused by yet another delicious (gag!) meal of Bolivian ¨food¨.

View the rest of the pictures here. Just cut and paste this into your browsers window:


Immigration Watch 2005

For those keeping score at home, today I made our family´s 41st visit to immigration. And the process still isn´t over. I need to go back at least once more. So we are now in our 7th month of trying to get our 1-year visas, a process that so far has cost us over $1,300. 7 months, 41 visits, $1,300. Not that I´m saying the process is inefficient, or anything.

I won´t allow Megan to go to immigration anymore, because I honestly think she may hurt someone.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Yikes, this is scary

A poll published in the current international edition of Newsweek asked U.S. high school students whether they agreed with this statement: ¨The media should be able to report what it wants without government approval.¨

51% agreed with the statement. Meaning that 49% (or almost half) of the high school students polled believe that the U.S. government should control (or, ¨censor¨) the media. Like the crap reported by the U.S. media isn´t slanted enough!

In the same poll, 17% of high schoolers said that people should not be allowed to express ¨unpopular opinions.¨

Leading Newsweek to comment that perhaps George W. Bush ought to direct his efforts at protecting liberty a bit closer to home.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Confessions of a Hopelessly Undecided Mind

We´re going through an interesting excercise right now -- trying to decide where to live next. Considering the fact that between us we have spent more than 14 years living abroad in 4 different countries and in total have lived in something like 26 different cities, I guess you could say we aren´t really tied to any one place.

We are hoping to come up with a short list of 3 or 4 potentials, so that this summer we can visit them and do some up-close evaluation. Then, when it is time for us to come ¨home¨ in 18 months, we´ll at least have an idea of where home might be.

We started with a blank slate. Or I guess really more of a full slate, since it had all 50 states on it. The first to go were the Bay Area (too expensive and fast-paced) and So. Cal. (too plastic) followed by Arizona (I don´t care what y´all tell yourselves, ¨dry¨ or not, humans should not live in 110 deg. heat . . . and what´s up with no MLK Day? Even Mississippi celebrates that) and Florida (too many hanging chads). Our most recent home, Oregon, also took an early exit (you can never go home again, even if ¨home¨ is Portland, one of the greatest cities in the world).

So, that narrowed it down to 46.5 states (plus DC).

Megan once spent a night in a Weiser, Idaho motel room, sleeping in the bath tub to avoid getting hit by stray bullets from the meth lab bust taking place in the room nextdoor. She holds it against the entire state. Idaho is out.

I do not want to live in the great plains, so out go Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Iowa (to the extent those are actually different states -- I´m not sure).

We´re both terrified of the ¨deep south¨ (afraid I may get lynched with my high-altitude South American tan), so we next axe Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina (where some of our relatives had their house burned down -- twice -- because they were Yankees).

Now, there are some states that I´m pretty sure no one actually lives in and I do not want to be the first. Bye bye to the Dakotas and Wyoming.

Utah has some beautiful country. But, at the risk of pissing-off some nice people, all those Mormons freak me out (all cults remind me of Guyana for some reason). I´d always be afraid someone was trying to put cyanide in my kool aid. Plus, alcohol and caffeine are my two favorite substances, next to coca and yogurt. Hasta la vista Utah.

Alaska is beautiful, but I´m pretty sure bears would eat me. Hawaii? I´d lose my mind with all those tourists in socks and sandals telling me ¨shakka brah.¨ Nope.

Our list is getting more manageable, but it is still too long. Time to get irrational.

Louisiana is out because it is just too much cheap, bad alcohol served in giant take-out cups and too damn much deep fried turkey.

New York? Puhlease! F@#k the Yankees!!!! New Jersey? Yeah, I wanna live in a toxic waste dump with a bunch of guidos. Next.

Delaware? Can´t take that accent, so, no. Washington, D.C.? Let me get this straight: You elected Marion Barry AFTER he got busted for smoking crack? Can´t do it.

Nevada? Yeah, if only I liked gambling, hookers and oppresive heat (though it would be cool to go to Winnemuca and hang out at Winner´s Casino just once, wouldn´t it Terri?).

New Mexico? It´s like a ¨stealth state¨. I have always thought of New Mexico as Arizona-Lite. Which is kind of like Bud Dry. Plus, I prefer the old Mexico (hola, Zej).

Indiana? Two words: Peyton Manning. I´d rather shave my eyebrows off than live in a state that worships that she-male. Hey Peyton -- who´s your daddy? Archie? Nope, it´s Tom Brady. You know it. Come to think of it, Peyton Manning is reason enough to cross Maryland off the list too (still think of them as the Baltimore Colts). Enjoy your Marino-esque career of racking up fat yards and never winning the big one. Out.

So our list is getting more manageable, but still has like 18 states, mas o menos (as they say here in the barrio). Time for some rationality (mas o menos).

Our no. 1 criteria for our new home is that it absolutely must have a Spanish language immersion school for the kids. Luckily these are becomming popular and more and more are popping up every year. I did some on-line research and we can now cross Montana, West Virginia, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Missouri, New Hampshire and Maine off the list, cause these sinners don´t have such a school (a shame too, because otherwise WV, MT, ME, NH and VT would be on our top 10 list).

In addition to the immersion school, our new home has to be a place (1) we can afford and (2) we´d actually want to live. And so please say goodbye to Washington (until they put an immersion school in the San Juans, no desire), Virginia ($), Michigan (no desire), Illinois ($), Massachusetts ($) and the rest of California ($$) (thus ending my short lived dreams of living in Ukiah or Healdsburg).

So this is what our list looks like today, with at least one city still in the running in each of the following states: Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee (though that´s down on the list ´cause Peyton Manning went to school there), Texas, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Connecticut. And if Megan reads this, she will come home and say ¨Why didn´t you put Flagstaff on the list? I thought we talked about that!¨ And we did. So let´s humor her by listing it here. But between us, um, no.

So now Megan´s task is to evaluate each of the 26 immersion schools located in those 10 states and determine which ones she thinks are the best. That ought to weed a lot out. Then, we´ll apply additional criteria on our list. For instance, we really want to live near family for once. Unfortunately, most of our family lives in the Bay Area, Southern California and Arizona, which you will recall where the first 3 places to get cut (and our 3 least favorite places on earth). Maybe we were both adopted. Megan wants stuff like parks and museums and zoos for the kids. Women. Luckily I have my priorities straight, and am looking for things like a pro hockey team and good music scene.

We´ll keep you posted.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Dog Gone

At first I wasn´t sure what it was. It kind of looked like a big brown and white fur coat. It was lying on a small ledge at the base of a deep, steep-walled drainage ditch. The ditch ran down the middle of a wide, 4-lane cobble stone road. It had been raining all day -- not that Portland mist, but a good heavy, big-dropped South American rain. The muddy, dirty water in the ditch was running high.

I walked closer to the upper lip of the ditch -- its almost vertical sides 7 feet deep and 10 feet across. As I peered down, I could tell it was a big dog. A collie. He was shivering from the cold. He was also stuck -- the water cut off his path forward and there was little room on the ledge for him to turn around. I shouted to him, ¨Hola. Perro!!¨ He didn´t move. I moved closer and shouted again, louder. ¨HOLA!!! PERRO!!¨ He looked around this time, but didn´t know where I was. ¨Up Here!!¨ I screamed. He looked up.

His eyes were milky gray discs, much like you see in scary old blind women in the movies. Or maybe more like the old master in the TV series ¨Kung Fu.¨ I know this dog. I walk past him 4 times a day, every day, on my way to and from Jane´s school. He sits on the sidewalk in front of his house. When I walk by, he looks up at me with his gray blind eyes. He always seems scared and maybe a little freaked out. He´s never been aggressive towards me, unlike most Cocha dogs. Still, there is a defensiveness to him that always makes me give him a wide berth.

The blind dog lives a few blocks up the hill from where he sits now, at the bottom of the river. Or maybe it is one block. Or three. I cannot remember. But it is obvious that for some reason he wandered across the street from his house and fell in the river. He made his way this far along the bank and is now stuck.

This is the part where I am supposed to tell you how I found an old piece of rope. I tied it around the trunk of a convenient nearby tree. I quickly fasten a harness, using my sailing knots, and rapel into the river. Knowing help is finally here, the dog gives me a thankfull bark as I approach. He lifts his blind eyes towards me and warmly licks my face. I fasten the harness around him, and a couple of the helpful on-lookers pull the dog to safety. A group of passers-by let out a cheer. Next, I am pulled to safety, patted on the back. The dog is whisked to the vet, where he is proclaimed to be in sound health. His owner comes to my house later that night. He thanks me profusely for saving his baby. A short time later, the dog has puppies. The owner gives me one. I name it Lassie.

Only that isn´t what happened.

What I do is walk across the street to one of the blocks I think the dog lives on. Like everywhere in Bolivia, the block is nothing but a huge beige 10 foot wall, alternately topped with broken glass set in cement, or barbed wire, or electrified wire. A few doors break it up. In front of one door is a security guard in a booth. I approach, and knock on the window.

I do not know the word for ¨blind,¨ so I ask the guard ¨Do you know the dog with no eyes?¨ He says, ¨Huh?¨ I ask him again, and he says ¨si.¨ ¨What house does he live in?¨ I ask. He shrugs his shoulders, and says, ¨I don´t know.¨ He pauses, then adds, ¨The dog is in the river.¨ Obviously this guy is not going to help.

So I walk up the block further and am met by another long beige wall. I cannot for the life of me remember what house is his. I walk past him 4 times a day for a month, but every beige wall looks alike after a while. What house is his???

Then, I do something I never would have done 6 months ago. I give up. I walk back down the hill, past the old blind dog, and go to the grocery store to buy rolls for dinner.

Why? Six months of having to deal with big packs of mean, mangy, potentially rabid dogs on a daily basis has made me callous. You can only be attacked and chased by vicious dogs so many times. At this point, I no longer feel any urge to risk my life jumping into a deep river to save a dog that may just bite me and potentially give me rabies. No one here cares about their dogs so neither do I. I´m sick of having to carry a huge batton with me every time I run. It is sad.

I never see the dog again.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Show her the money

As many of you know, my baby sister Danielle is battling breast cancer. She´s already had a few operations and she started a 6-month course of chemo a couple weeks ago. She´s a tough kid and is really dealing with it well. Plus, she looks really, really good with her new short hair cut (don´t know how she´ll look bald though!).

Anyway, she is doing a Susan Komen 5k run/walk to raise money for breast cancer research. Below is a link where you can sponser her and donate money. Please do so if you can. Remember, the life you save may not be just my sister´s. It may be your sister´s or your wife´s or your daughter´s, too.


COMING SOON: I am gonna get our La Paz pictures up this week. I also have a fun story about my visit to the dentist that I should post later on.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A Trapper Keeper and some pencils

So summer vacation is over and kids are heading back to school, including Janey. We switched Janey to a new school so that she will get more Spanish and less English. Speaking of which, we were at the medical lab the other night getting the kids 5,000th poop test results to see what the Amoeba of the Week is. The lady working there commented that Jane spoke Spanish with no gringo accent. ¨She sounds just like us,¨ said the woman. That made us feel good.

So anyway Jane´s new school is called Tierra de Ninos. She likes it because its name is similar to ¨Tierra de Osos,¨ which is what the Disney movie ¨Brother Bear¨ is called down here. Jane dug that movie. It is also one of the few preschools here that did not steal its name from Disney. There are several ¨Disney¨ preschools. There is one called ¨Walt Disney¨ and another called ¨Mickey and Friends.¨ There are also ¨Winnie the Pooh,¨ ¨Shrek¨ and ¨Simba¨ preschools, each decorated with large colorful paintings of their namesake characters. No, these are not licensed by Disney. Apparently ¨respect for the intellectual property rights of others¨ is not a concept taught to kids at this age. Well, at any age here, really. The markets are full of bootleg cds and dvds and other products. You can browse the internet from the Google Internet Cafe (same logo even) or eat at Chilis (oh, just a little different) or have some coffee at the Casablanca Cafe, decorated with stills from the movie. Don´t even get me started on Globo, the kids icecream place here that has people in Mickey, Donald and Goofy costumes dancing in front of the store everynight. Dirty dancing, I should say. Why you would have Mickey grinding his hips into Donald´s ass and think that is a good thing to do in a kid´s icecream parlor is just beyond me. But I digress.

On Jane´s first day her teacher gave me a list of materials we need to buy for school. Here is the list:

3 goma evas colores brillantes
2 paquetes de plastilina
1 caja de pntadedo
3 pilegos de papel lustre
1 caja de crayones grande
1 capricola grande 1/2 litre
1 capricola de color
200 palitos de helado
20 hojas de cartulina tamano oficio de colores
150 hojas de papel bond
2 mareadores gruesos
1 caja de colores
1 caja de marcadores
1 cintas de embalaje
1 archivador condor
1 cuento
1 tijera tramontina amarilla
1 lapiz negro
1 trajabador
1 borrador
1 pilego de papel crepe
1 pilegos de cartulina
2 pilego de papel celofan
1 cuaderno de 100 hojas anillado, rayado, ramano carta
1 tinta para decorar (Tulip)
1 pincel #5 punta planta
1 agua punta roma lana
1 individual
1 juego para el arenero
4 rollos de papel higienico blanco
1 crema dental con sabor
1 cepillo de dientes
1 peine
1 tohallita
1 jaboncillo
1 caja de Kleenex

Ok, now where do I start. Frist off, we´re paying more each month for this school than we pay our faithful sidekick Lourdes to come and clean up our crap 6 days a week. That´s a lot of dough, and I have to buy an entire stationary store too? Second, keep in mind Jane is 3. She´s two years away from kindergarten. That´s a lot of crap for a 3 year old to go through in a year. When I was in highschool, back to school shopping meant a new Trapper Keeper, a couple pencils and maybe a new pair of cords from the Gap.

Finally, I look at this list and I´m thinking ¨What in God´s name is a ´cintas de embalaje´ or a ´borrador´ or an ´individual´?¨ And even if I can figure out what they are, how am I going to find these needles in the haystack that is our sprawling market La Cancha.

So, I did what anyone in my position would do -- I punted. I gave the list to Lourdes, handed her a wad of money, and had her go to La Cancha and buy it all for me. It was a lot of crap, let me tell you.

IMMIGRATION UPDATE: We´re now at about $1,200, 6 months, 37 visits to various agencies, and still no visas. And no one at the school has been able to explain to us why we have to keep paying money, what exactly the money is for, or why we have had to go through the entire process twice. No one knows anything, which I think is part of the problem to begin with. To say that we are a little upset about it is, well, like saying Jane had to buy a couple things for school. We could have saved a lot of money by just taking a bus to Chile every 3 months to leave and re-enter on a new 90-day tourist visa. I would also imagine that the process would be much faster if school employees didn´t have to spend half of their days running personal errands for members of the school´s board of directors.