Thursday, September 22, 2011

Un pedazo de paraíso: Salto!

I feel like I am always just re-capping my weekends, but in reality that's when all the good things happen! School is the same old same old.. so on to what I did last weekend!

I went to SALTO this weekend which was about a 6 hour bus ride up the coast from Montevideo. It is located on the Uruguay river which happens to be the border between Argentina and Uruguay.
Our bus departed from Montevideo at 6:30am Friday morning, but since I decided to stay Kelsey's (and forget my bus ticket at home) we had to leave at 5:30am to get there on time. Not a whole lot of sleeping occurred Thursday night since we decided this 3-day weekend was our "Spring Break Re-Take." All of the other schools here are on Spring Break this week and for some reason we don't get the week off- so we made our own Spring Break! Although we didn't have a week to spend traveling our weekend in Salto was an amazing way to spend our impromptu Spring Break Re-Take!

After a 6 hour bus ride filled with sleeping, picture taking, and Cosmopolitan Magazine we found ourselves in the small town outside of Salto called Dayman which is where we rented a small house for the weekend. We were met by Kelsey's uncle and while we waited for the rest of the group who took a different bus we went to see the "termas" -hot springs- that the area is known for. I don't know about you, but in my mind I was picturing rocks, pools, maybe a river? Something very natural looking, but that was not what I found. They have actually channeled the hot springs into pools for people to enjoy. I wasn't sure how to feel about it at first, a little disappointed that there wasn't more of a natural feel to it, but I was happy to be traveling and seeing something new.
After walking around a bit we decided to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant. The weather there was amazing so we decided to eat outside. I ordered asado al tiro- best food you can find in Uruguay. It is type of beef ribs that is grilled on a parilla with the bones, fat, everything still in tact. It was DELICIOUS. Almost too delicious to really describe in words.

When we went to the house we were staying at it was like we had our own little getaway, a wonderful break from city life. We had a long GREEN front yard with trees! We joked as we walked up to the house "what is this green stuff- is that grass?" As if we had almost forgot what a yard looks like! Then the fun commenced: I finally introduced the world of frisbee to a few people! It became and obsession for the weekend and I was more than happy to feed that addiction! I threw for hours this weekend and it was wonderful! It really made me miss my team and I want more than anything to play an actual game now, but until then I'll just be perfecting my throws and teaching others! Later that night we headed into the actual city of Salto which is just a short bus ride away to visit Kelsey's cousins house and have some pizza! (I think by the end of this 5 months I won't even be able to look a pizza!) We walked down the mains strip of the city which was fairly deserted and quiet, much different from the main road that runs in front of my house in Montevideo. We made our way to and for the first time in my life I saw Argentina! Salto is on the Uruguay River which at this point is the border between Uruguay and Argentina. I didn't cross this time, but on my next trip to Salto (I intend on going at least on more time) I will be sure to adventure that way.

We called it an early night that night. The next morning I woke up early- much earlier than anyone else was going to! I laid in bed listening to the birds singing and decided to take sometime to go outside and enjoy the peacefulness of the morning. I don't think I have ever appreciated seeing dew in the grass and the freshness of the morning so much- I know I don't live in the country generally, but every morning when I leave my house in Montevideo I am surrounded by cars, pavement, and buildings. Something about this has just given me a new love and appreciated for the little things like dew on the grass in the morning and the sounds of the birds. Ali woke up shortly after and when we were getting ready to head to the hot springs and little shops everyone else was just getting out of bed!
Ali and I wanted to spend as much time as possible in the warm therapeutic water so off we went! The water was heavenly. There were multiple different pools- some were bathwater warm, others were hot tub warm. It was a wonderful day for it because it was slightly overcast and cooler making the water feel even more amazing. I'm not sure how I would feel about being there on a super hot day- hot water and hot weather don't seem to go together very well....

Later everyone re-united at El Rancho. We threw around the Frisbee and bit more, played poker, and had some awesome conversation. I couldn't help but feel the love of good company the entire weekend, we had such an amazing group! It was a great weekend for improving my Spanish as well! I felt so welcomed by all of Kelsey's family, it really made the journey even better for me. It was like I found another family here in Uruguay!
The crew at the bar
We ended up going out that night in Salto- 9 people in the bed of the truck and a 10 minute ride later- we arrived at a half outdoor bar. It was a lot of fun, we had a big group and danced the night... and the morning away.

Hammocks are wonderful inventions!
Saturday was beautiful and sunny all day! We spent most of the day at Kelsey's cousins hanging out, lounging in hammocks, and eating more delicious food. This time they made us chorizos- by far the best chorizo I have ever had. I also finally saw the entire process of grilling that makes meat here so delicious. First of all- they never EVER put wood that is still burning under the meat. The wood burns off to the side and as the coals go white and fall off the wood they put them under the meat. It takes a while to cook things, but it is well worth it. The chorizo had that nice crunchy skin on the outside and the inside was super juicy and flavorful- absolutely wonderful. The sun combined with good food and good company made for an enjoyable- and exhausting day. (Especially after only about 4 1/2 hours of sleep!) And people wonder how in the world I could fall asleep in this position (reference to the photo <----).
Later in the afternoon we headed for Dayman to go back to the hot springs one more time before we had to leave for Montevideo. I decided that hot springs at night is the way to go. The area was illuminated with green lights, the temperature had gone down enough for the water to give off a beautiful steam, and it was very peaceful. It was a wonderful way to spend the last of our time in the area. Before we left Totu kept telling me how much he loved throwing with me and how much he wanted to learn more about frisbee. He told me multiple times he would love a disc from my team when I returned so I decided I would give him the Frisbee I had with me. He was so excited he wanted a picture to make the gifting official! It made me so happy to share something so wonderful. Watch out: Ultimate Frisbee in Uruguay could be the next big thing!

We made our exit from Salto at 11:30pm Sunday night and arrived in Montevideo around 5:15am. Still catching up on sleep, but a weekend well worth it!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Un Techo Para Mi País

Well here is goes... the recap of my weekend with "Un Techo Para Mi Pais" It took me a few days to get this done because I had my first two exams today and since I didn't study at all over the weekend I had to get past those first! Hopefully they went well :)

If you want to see or read more about the program I worked with you can look at this link: UTPMP This weekend started off Friday night when all of the students participating met up at a stadium- about 700 or so students in all. We were divided into multiple groups, most of which stayed in Montevideo and a few went a little ways outside of the city to Paysandú. Within Montevideo the students broke up into nine different schools. We stayed overnight at our designated schools which were close to the neighborhood we were going to work in. I asked to be in a specific school along with Sam and Ali; we went to school 9 which is where Maggie (the girl that presented this opportunity to me) was going to be. It couldn't have worked out any better. Once we arrived we all got together outside in the courtyard and we were given a piece of paper. On one side we put our name and on the other side we put an ability that we have- I put "I know English." They were then placed on a wall with only the ability showing the 12 group leaders chose the groups based on the abilities each person wrote. Sam, Ali, and I were all in different groups which was actually kind of cool- we all had the same home base but during the day we got to spend time with different people and get to know more people. So Friday night we were assigned our groups, we chatted and did activities until after 1am. Once we were finally able to go to bed we were informed we would be getting up at 6:45am the next morning! So much for a good night's sleep before a long day of work.
Saturday morning we were woken up by a loud boom box sounding in the courtyard and the leaders coming into the classrooms yelling "Buen Día!" We changed, ate some breakfast, and off we went to meet the family and start the building process. Coincidentally enough the neighborhood I worked in was very close to the school I work at every Monday; it gave me a different appreciation for the work I do with the kids. I don't think there was anything that could have prepared me for the conditions of the area I was working in- sure I have driven past in the bus and I have seen pictures of areas in a similar state, but to work in the neighborhood changes everything.

We were building a house for Magali, her significant other Jose, and his kids. I didn't learn until later in the day that she is only 19- I thought she was at least 25! I was absolutely shocked to hear that she was younger than me... It took a little while for that fact to settle in. We spent all of Saturday preparing the base of the house. We had to dig 18 holes about as deep as my arm is long to put the posts in. This took the entire day- about 8am to 6pm and at the end of the day we hadn't quite finished. For lunch the families in the neighborhood collaborated and made one big lunch for all of the groups working in the small area, in total four houses were built in this area. It was wonderful and so nice of them to make such a big meal for us all. They made guisa, very similar to types of stews, with rice, lentils, chicken, and some vegetables. Part of me found it hard to really enjoy the meal especially when the families didn't join us to eat- they left it all for the volunteers.

It felt good to be doing some manual labor, but at the end of the day I was tired- and very dirty. Back to the school we went for the reflections about the day and group discussions. It was another late night and by 11pm I was ready for bed!
Sunday morning we woke up in much the same fashion as the morning before and headed off to finish the house!
I should clarify what a house in this situation actually signifies- I don't have pictures because I wasn't sure that bringing my camera was such a good idea, but if you click HERE it will give you a general idea of what we built. This isn't a picture of my group or any group from this past weekend, but it is generally the same. A one room refuge for the family- no bathroom, no kitchen, etc- very simple, but much better living conditions than they previously had.

Sunday- even though we started off the day with a little bit of pressure to get moving, turned out to be a wonderful and successful day! We got to work right away when we got there, determined to finish the posts and get them all leveled within the hour."Nivel!" (means level) became the word of the day as we went one by one to all of the post leveling them over, and over, oh and over again haha Once that was done with we started on with the floor. The panels for the floor and walls had been made the day before and were delivered on site which made this part of the process much quicker. We assembled the floor and the walls within a couple hours and ate lunch as our small group within the walls of Magali's new house- she was so excited! The roof was a "corrugated iron roof" and assembling that took a little more time. Once we had everything assembled we closed the door and decorated with streamers, balloons, and all signed the "title" to Magali's new house. We put up a ribbon across the door so they got to participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially designate the house as theirs! It was wonderful to see the smiles on their faces when they cut the ribbon and walked into their complete safe haven for the first time. Afterward Jose cut the ribbon into pieces and gave part of it to all of the members of the group- it was very touching.

I wish I had pictures to show you all right now but I have to wait to get them from other people that were working, I'm not sure how long that will take. Once I have access to them I promise I will share them with you!

Now that I have gotten through the gritty details of what we did physically- I want to share a little bit about how I was feeling and what I was seeing throughout all of this because that is what made this whole experience even more special for me. The level of poverty in this area was almost indescribable and nothing like I have ever seen before. The area I walked into looked similar to this 
This is not Montevideo nor the neighborhood I just want to give you a little bit of an idea of what I saw since I don't have pictures to go with this post. We were greeted by the families, children- lots of children, dogs, horses, cats, and even roosters. All had free reign over the area; there was virtually no boundary among the houses it was almost like one big family. That is one of the first thing I noticed- everyone knew everyone, I could hardly tell whose house was whose or whose kids were whose because it was all so integrated. The kids were an entirely different subject- as many of you know I have a special place in my heart for children, it is kind of a passion of mine to work with them, I love kids! I want to say what I saw regarding the kids broke my heart because it did to see them living in such circumstances, but despite it all they appeared happy and it was very moving. Just like any other small children- running around, creating mischief, getting dirty, and bothering all of the adults. Granted their playground was the area surrounding their houses (full of garbage on a level that I can't even explain) and their idea of toys were rocks, pieces or wood, or any other random artifact they could find- yet they occupied their time, played games, laughed, and didn't seem to have a care in the world. They also thought it was awesome to help us dig the giant holes for the poles- it was disheartening and heart-warming all at the same time, an experience I really can't explain in words.

When we finished building the house I felt so accomplished and satisfied with what we had just spent the weekend. After all we had just finished a house for someone in 2 days! But then I took and step back and looked at what we just built- a small one bedroom refuge made of two-by-fours, plywood, and a tin roof- and that was about to be someone's home. Maybe the best house they have ever lived in or will ever live in and that fact right there hit me like a ton of bricks. I am not trying to downplay what we did, it was life-changing for them, but it is hard to grasp the idea of someone living in such poverty then seeing people on TV complaining about how 24 million dollars a year to play a sport isn't enough. In all honesty it makes me sick to my stomach. It is hard to put into words all of the things I saw and felt the past weekend. All in all it was a very eye-opening and rewarding experience. I am blessed to have had the chance to take part in it all!

I know this is long and I appreciate you taking the time to read it all- this was a very special and unforgettable experience for me and I am glad I could share it with you!

The pictures I promised! I don't have too many, but I wanted to share them anyway :)

The group of students at the school


The "front yard"

Their previous house

Official property owners

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Competencia de "Barman"

Hello all,
Shall we recap the last week of this Uruguayan adventure? I think so!
I have had two more days with the kids at the school since I last wrote and so far everything is going really well. We are only there for an hour and in my opinion that is not nearly enough time! Each day we have to do something semi-small because of the time restriction, but slowly but surely wins the race. We started with the alphabet by making giant bubble letters, letting the kids color them in, and then they wrote an English word that started with their letter, and drew a picture of their word. Now we have the alphabet with all of the English words hanging in their classroom, they also sing the Alphabet Song with us before every class. As a review/ introduction to something new this week we broke the (approximately 30 kids) into four groups. Two groups were playing memory with the alphabet, the other two were working on parts of the body. For memory we had a letter and a picture to go with it; the trick was they had to know how to say what the picture was in English. I was working with one of those groups and of course I went through the process with them helping them out with names, but they were having a blast and getting really into it! It was cute to see some of the words they came up with and their pronunciation- absolutely adorable. My favorite example was A. The matching picture, as you can probably guess, was an apple and each time they flipped it over they would immediately yell "manzana" which is correct in Spanish. When I would ask how to say it in English they would think for a few seconds and then someone would get super excited and say "ah-play." Got me every time. I love the learning process :)

The weather here, for the most part, has been steadily getting better. I have spent a lot more time walking; I walk home from school a lot now instead of taking the bus and it is about a 40 minute walk. I haven't gotten sick of it yet though because about 25 minutes is down the main street and every time I am walking I seem to see/ find something different. The other day I decided to stop into one of the bakeries or "confiteria" to buy myself a snack. I  know one thing I am going to miss is the abundance of fresh baked goods- their pastries and such here are delicious. Kelsey, Ali, and I also spent one evening walking around a little- they bought some Espejitos and I settled from some ice cream. That was only the 5th time I have eaten ice cream since I got here, less than once a week! Uruguay just might be breaking my ice cream addiction.. but then again.. maybe not..

On Thursday last week I decided I would make dinner for the family. I couldn't seem to come up with a very "typical" American meal- that isn't burgers and fries- so I just decided to make something semi easy that I like a lot: Stir Fry! It felt awesome to cook again, except when I took on the project I didn't realize I would be cooking for the entire family (grandma, grandpa, and cousin included!). I didn't mind at all of course, I love baking and cooking. I spent a good four hours in the kitchen between the  main dish and dessert I had a lot to get done. I made the dessert first which was Snickerdoodle cookies, I figured since the first round went over so well I would try something new. Then I started on the Stir Fry- all of the veggies and meat were fresh so my host mom helped me get everything all cut up and started. Then I was off and running- I had to cook everything in two parts because I didn't have a pot big enough for all of it at once. In the end it turned out to be a great meal every one really liked the food, but more importantly they devoured the cookies once again. Lu, Caro, and Juan said they prefer the ones with Chocolate, but every one else seemed to prefer the "cinnamon cookies." I have started thinking about what I want to make next time- suggestions welcome! I love cooking/ baking- something about food that just brings people together to enjoy a meal, especially one that I took the time to cook, just puts a smile on my face.

Didn't take long for them to disappear!
The past weekend was much more calm and uneventful than the last one I wrote about, but I rather enjoyed myself. Kelsey, Ali, and I spent quite a bit of time together this weekend. Friday night the three of us went for a walk down to the beach have a look, I decided to walk barefoot and stick my feet in the water. The water was suuuper cold, but it kind of felt good. We went out for dinner and had AWESOME dessert. I had a chocolate mint cake, Kelsey had a chocolate cake (one of the best desserts I have ever tried), and Ali had some kind of strawberry tort. After that we decided we would be making another visit there someday for dessert alone! It was also Javier's (another exchange student from Guatemala) birthday, so they had a little get-together at his place. We hung out, played some cards, I failed at playing ping-pong, and I made it home just after 2am.
On Saturday, it was very windy with a few rain showers, but we braved the weather and spent some time walking around one of the Ferias that I have mentioned previously. Then a few of us spent sometime down by the sea-ocean-river, whatever you want to call it. I enjoyed the little bit of "fresh" air like always. Saturday night we made our way to another friends apartment, it was essentially the same with the exception that we weren't celebrating. Aurore (from France) has her own apartment close to the school with an awesome view of the city! Kelsey and I left pretty early to have a Bachelorette night- she is currently working on getting me hooked on the show haha What we ended up doing was about a 1/2 hour workout, eating some food, and watching 1 episode of the Bachelorette. I would say it was a night well spent!

The drink Ali bought!

Now- onto what the title of the Blog is referencing. The national Barman Competition was here in Montevideo the past few days and a few of us went to check it out. Now you may be wondering how we heard about it and what prompted us to go? Well Kelsey's cousin is currently training to be a professional Barman and he competed in the Amateur round. I supposed I should spell out what a Barman Competition involves- I sure didn't know before I went. Part of the competition is just making drink, with a certain time restriction. For the professional level they have a certain amount of

time to make the garnish for their drink out of fruits, vegetables, etc Then they have to actually make the drinks afterward. One or two of the drinks go to the judges and they auction off the others to the audience. Ali ended getting two drinks and an Encyclopedia of Cocktails- in her words "You only live once!" We all got shared/ tried the drink and it was absolutely amazing. It was a kiwi-apple-mint type cocktail and of course it was very well made. The second part of the competition, the real reason we all went, was for Flare.

Flare is the part of the competition where the competitors are not only making a drink, but juggling the cups and bottles in the process. This blew my mind! The first three to go were good, but the 4th guy was the 5x world champion. He is from Uruguay and I have never seen anything like the show he put on! It was flawless- one of my friends has a video of the entire routine. I am going to try to get it and put it up because it is nearly impossible to describe. It was amazing!

Well.. I think that about sums it up! Hopefully after this weekend I will have another amazing post to write you all. Ali and I are volunteering for "Un Techo Para Mi Pais" which works on building homes for the homeless and less fortunate. Check out this website if you want to read a little more about the organization:
It is an all weekend event. I can't wait to be a part of something that makes such a difference in people's lives!

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