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Archive for February, 2010

Frijoles, Otra Vez

As I looked down at my plate this evening, I knew we were in for another fun night in the Cobell-Silva room.  !Frijoles, otra vez! (Beans, again!)  Like many Latin American countries, rice and beans tend to adorn the table quite often, and Guatemala is no exception.  With almost two weeks here under our belts, we have likely eaten an average of two meals per day with beans as the main event.  Frijoles para desayuno (breakfast).  Frijoles para almuerzo (lunch).  And almost a requirement here in Guatemala, is a bowl of sopa de frijoles negro para la cena cada noche (black bean soup for dinner, every night).  Don’t get me wrong, the food here is actually quite lovely, and our homestay family spoils us with fabulous meals.  However, there is a reason why they call ‘em a “musical fruit,” and to be honest, our stomachs are just plain tired.

– We had the privilege of riding the infamous “chicken bus” yesterday.  You may wonder what exactly this could be.  Imagine a bunch of U.S. retired high school buses, repainted with bright colors and strong religious reminders across the sides (think red flaming letters with the phrase “God is the only way”), with large black clouds of diesel smoke farting out the back (hmmm…must’ve had beans for dinner), and a short Guatemalan man yelling out “Guate”  “Guate”.  For both of us, it was like going back in time.  Our many years taking the bus to school came rushing back, but for some reason, the seats on the bus seemed much smaller.

– Our last day of school was today.  We tried to be very American, and blow off all the work we needed to do (I mean, geez, it IS the last day of school and all) but our maestros (professors) were not about to let us off.  So we studied more, and then took them out for a café and shared some of our RTW photos with them – all narrated in Spanish of course.  It has been such a highlight for me to watch my husband learn Spanish on this trip.  He never ceases to amaze me.  I mean, even in his broken basic Spanish my husband can light up any room.  And I can’t take my eyes off of him.  He has learned so much in such a short time – wonderful.

Maestros Jorge y Lorena

– We leave Guatemala tomorrow.  I have made sure to add frijoles to my repertoire along with my new Spanish skills as we return home.  I guess you know now what to expect when you get invited to our house for dinner!

Views from Antigua

Views from Antigua

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Cara in traditional Mayan wedding dress

Casey in his traditional Mayan marriage attire

The happy couple

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes...

Time to get to work...

...and off to church.

Taking tortilla lessons from a master

Our ride back to Antigua

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The “Mo” Nod

Cara outside our house in Antigua

We are in Antigua, Guatemala and loving the temperate climate, mountains that embrace us from all sides, warm and intriguing people, hot showers, greater purchasing power, a wonderful host family, and a good school experience that is propelling us down the road towards a solid command of the Spanish language.  Well, for Cara at least.  As for me, I still heavily lean on the technique we’ve coined “The Mo Nod.”

The “Mo Nod” is a deflection (some would say self defense) technique when presented with a situation where you don’t fully understand what the other person is saying but can marginally follow it because you weakly grasp the context.  I have employed this technique for many years.  It’s only now that I have an adequate name for it.  It goes without saying that I employ the Mo Nod often here in Latin America, most notably with my very patient Spanish teacher.

Some of our neighbors who aren't going to school today

The name “Mo Nod” comes from our friend Mo Glass.  Mo coined the phrase some years ago while on one of his adventures in a foreign country where he was, most likely, destitute and living in someone’s barn.  Getting there, no less, by giving the farmer the Mo Nod when confronted while trespassing.  But nonetheless it works and I’ll be the first one to admit that with Spanish I need all the help I can get.

Today Cara told me she thinks it’s cute watching me speak Spanish.  That’s wife-speak for my Spanish is still in the early development stage.  But she will be the first one to acknowledge: I’m actually speaking the language.  And native speakers can actually understand (sort of) what I am trying to say.  This is a huge departure from where I’ve been all these years I thought I was communicating in Spanish.  All those times – college trips, weddings, motorcycle adventures – I was brutalizing the language.  Now I understand why I always got the kind smile followed with a confused “Como?”

My beautiful wife

Learning Spanish here in Latin America has been much more enjoyable – and inspiring – than I expected it to be.  I would say that learning a language in an immersion experience is the best way (maybe only way) to really get it to sink in.  Tonight I fumbled through a complete sentence while talking with our host family and they actually understood what I said – they even replied with an enthusiastic “muy bien!”  That wouldn’t have happened in three weeks of Spanish classes in the States.  Being forced to speak a language you are just learning is a great way to incentivize the memorization process.  Unintentionally ordering cow tongue soup once is too many.

So I’m happy to say the Mo Nod is slowly being replaced with a look of recognition and the ability to communicate with more than grunts and hand gestures.  I have my wife to thank for this, and we plan to speak Spanish at home and even bring our kids up speaking Spanish.  But the Mo Nod still has a place in my life.  I plan to learn French next.

One of the many beautiful doors in Antigua

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There is no “U” in Colombia

We originally planned to finish our RTW with a full month of Spanish language school in one place.  With so much moving around, we thought it wise to nest a bit, and with the thought that we might pick up the language better by becoming more acquainted with one place.  It might be nice too, to become regulars at the local café (insert smile).  Our original itinerary put us in Colombia for these four weeks.  Sadly, after the first 4 days in the city of Cartagena, we reconsidered. Wait, aren’t we supposed to pack up at the end of the week?  Where do we go next?  It is H-O-T here (and quite expensive on our dwindling RTW budget as well).  It was beginning to feel a bit odd that we didn’t have a new place to go to after a week here.  Arg, I wonder what it will be like when we get back home?

But really, Cartagena is an incredibly gorgeous place, and we really enjoyed our time here.  I (Cara) took a liking to the colonial doors with exquisite hardware.  We decided to start a door project, where we photographed like crazy (soon to be a beautiful compilation of photos).  Cartagena and the surrounding cities have a regional culture of themselves.

Carnaval Parade in Barranquilla, Colombia

I wouldn’t say that what we experienced here, is the only culture of Colombia though. The region has it’s own food, dance and music that are very specific to the Caribbean Coast, and it felt very different from the short time that I experienced in Bogota some years past.  I loved it just the same, and we were even lucky enough to be in the area during the Barranquilla Carnaval – the second largest Carnaval celebration after Rio de Janeiro.

I have to say that the biggest highlight of our time in Cartagena was having our first and only visitor from the States meet us on our trip.  Casey’s sister Jen came down for a week, and we soaked up every moment with her.  She is awesome.  It was SO fun to have family with us, to get to chat up our experiences, create new and fun memories with her, and learn a bit about what is happening back in our home country.  Jen has an adventurous spirit, so it was a great way to reinvigorate our travel weary souls.  Even better, was that we didn’t have to say goodbye until we caught separate flights in Panama City just two days ago – she, to Los Angeles, and us, to Antigua (Guatemala).

Jen and Casey at Castillo de San Felipe

Coming in second (on highlights) would have to be… the most amazing pina colada I have ever experienced.  Yes, the drink.  And yes, it was an experience.  Let me explain… Imagine sitting on a white sand beach on the Caribbean Ocean (named “Playa Blanca” no less), with your handsome husband on one arm, book in the other hand and the sound of the sea breeze and waves as background music.  A man walks by with an overflowing burlap sack full of what are clearly coconuts, and he is shouting “Pina Colada.”  I immediately perk up.  The only thing to make this dream complete would be the word — “Fria” (cold).  He then says, “Pina Coladas Frias.”  We order two.

I’m not quite convinced that we’re going to get anymore than a simple coconut water drink.  Instead, after he pulls out two beautiful fresh coconuts and a machete, he then pulls out a bottle of pina colada mix and a bottle of Caribbean rum!  We then sit on the beach and watch this man, hack open our coconuts with his machete (Casey drinks off the top portion of the coconut milk to make room), and add his own mixture of rum and mix, two straws, and fresh ice cubes.  Vwa-lah!  The dream is complete.  What more could I ask for?  Colombia was great.

Oh, and to explain the title of this blog: it is simply a pet peeve of mine.


Part of our Door Project

Man with the coconut and machete - happiness in the making.

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Primer Dia de Escuela

Woke up at 0500 (yes, that is 5 a.m.) and walked in the dark up to the top of the hill to watch the sunrise.  About 2 kilometers, climbing 150 meters, in humidity of course, but lacking the scorching Colombian sun beaming down on me (phew).  I walked up to the Convento de la Popa (add link), a beautiful church overlooking all of Cartagena and the Caribbean Sea.  I enjoyed this gorgeous trek with my lovely husband and darling house-mom.

House-mom: Her name is Maria Beatrice and she is the mother of the house, or ama de la casa.

Valentina y Maria Beatrice

In other words: the Boss.

Maria Beatrice has two daughters in their mid-20s, Brenda y Carolina, and one granddaughter, Valentina.  She cooks, cleans, shops, laundries (by hand), mothers three girls (and now a couple of guests), and does it all with a smile.

She not only got up @ 5 a.m. and exercised with us, but she also came home and cooked us breakfast (from scratch), made us fresh juice and tea, cleaned up, and then proceeded to put on her tennis shoes and sunglasses and follow us out the door as we left for school.  Yes, she walked us to school!  Imagine two thirty-something year-olds, gringos no less, walking single file across town, backpacks in tow, with “mom” directly behind them chatting in Spanish.  When she safely brought us to the front door of our school, she put on a huge smile, wished us a great day (!Buen dia!), and left us alone for our first day of school – in new school clothes and all!

!Ahora…aprender espanol! (Now…to learn Spanish!)

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77 Days

Here is the latest email to Ethiopian Airlines regarding my lost luggage.  I will send this email every two days to a list of sixteen Ethiopian Airlines staff and departments until I get some semblance of resolution.  I have become numb to the ridiculousness of this situation, but still need an official statement from EA that my luggage was indeed lost.  As though 77 days wasn’t proof enough.

“Dear Ethiopian Airlines,

As of today, 6 February 2010, it has now been 11 weeks since Ethiopian Airlines (EA) lost my baggage on flight ET810 from Entebbe, Uganda (EBB) to Kigali, Rwanda (KGL).  Despite my repeated requests, I have still received no confirmation from EA as to the status of my baggage, or EA declaring it lost and compensating me according to EA policy.  I HAVE NOW BEEN WITHOUT MY BAGGAGE FOR 77 DAYS.  I am on a trip around the world and have been on this trip for almost three (3) months without my personal belongings.  I am still on my trip and the personal cost to me to replace my luggage, clothing, shoes, jackets, toiletries, etc. has been significant.  Lost baggage file: KGLET12367.

Complicating the situation is that your baggage tracking system states that on 7 December 2009 the baggage was delivered to me at Kigali (KGL).  In an email on 28 January 2010, Tariku Banbojie of EA customer services states: “I would like to inform you that the file indicated that baggage was received and delivered to your end on the 7th of December 2009n at Kigali to your end.”  On 7 December 2009 I was in Gambella, Ethiopia having flown there on Ethiopian Airlines.  As your flight records will state, I flew from Addis Ababa to Gambella on 28 November 2009 (ET139) and returned to Addis Ababa from Gambella on 13 December 2009 (ET138).  It is impossible that I received my baggage in Kigali, Rwanda on 7 December 2009 as your baggage tracking system states.

On 28 January 2010 Tariku Banbojie informed me that I would be contacted by the KGL baggage staff as to the status of my baggage.  I have yet to hear from anyone from Ethiopian Airlines – IT HAS BEEN TEN (10) DAYS AND NO ONE FROM ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES HAS CONTACTED ME AS PROMISED.  Prior to this, EA did not respond to my email for over sixteen (16) days.  This has happened numerous times.  This is not the kind of customer service EA prides itself on.

PLEASE LOCATE MY BAGGAGE AND SEND IT TO ME or ACKNOWLEDGE MY BAGGAGE IS LOST AND COMPENSATE ME ACCORDING TO ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES POLICY.

I await your response.

Thank you,

Keith Cobell”

Traveling light for 77 days

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