Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Trip to Uruguay's Capital

I just got back from a trip to Montevideo to apply for a visa to Brazil.

Next month we have a regional seminar in Sao Paulo, but we have to have visas to enter the country. The fee for American citizens seems to be much higher than residents of other countries. Booo. What's up with that? Wouldn't countries want to encourage tourism from the US, and thus not charge more than $160 plus the hassle of getting the visa? I suppose the visa either does not discourage much US travel to Brazil, or they make enough off the visas to make up for the lost revenue otherwise.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed being in Montevideo. It made me excited for when I will move to there in almost a month now. It will quite a change to move from a city with a population of 100,000 to one with a population of 1.3 million. I imagine leaving Salto will be bittersweet experience. I have to make the most of every day that I have left in this little place.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

One Laptop Per Child

In searching for materials (to help expand the English teacher's vocabulary in adjectives), I was surprized to find this Amazon ad in Time magazine. I took one look at the ad and said, hey! those laptops look awfully familiar. They're the same ones that the students at my school use--the XO.

Apparently in 2007, Uruguay was the first country to place an official order for child-friendly laptops from the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative:
[OLPC] has a simple mission: to create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each and every one with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning.
Sounds like a walk in the park. But not all may be as rosy as it seems. This article has much to say on the topic. Among other serious problems, one powerful corporation is putting their weight against the internet provider contracted by the OLPC, Ceibal.
A major challenge for Ceibal, among several: the national telco monopoly, ANTEL, is not overly enthusiastic about free wireless internet. That is an understatement. Who will ANTEL get to pay their rates (4 times higher than in the US at 1/4 the GDP, thus 16 times more expensive than here!) when by using your kid's XO you get access for free?
Hurdle after hurdle the laptop program must face, but Uruguay is well on the way to achieving its goal of a laptop for every schoolchild in the nation. They only have Montevideo left to furnish with XOs.

Personally, I think the goal of laptop for every child is great. Even though the computers run extremely slow and teachers complain that the kids only want to use them to play games and download videos, I still think they have a lot of potential. Children have to learn to use the internet to be successful in today's world. Those without computer access are at a severe disadvantage compared to their peers in other countries. There is no way to escape the fact that technology has become a cornerstone of modern civilization, and children who do not have the opportunity to become versed in technology are missing a vital part of the education they need to be successful.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

No Tirar Basura: Don't Throw Trash

A woman in a professional business suit walks down the street digging into her purse. She pulls out some old receipts, takes a look, crumples them up, and tosses them on the street. For a block she throws at least 5 pieces of trash from her bag leaving a trail where she has walked.

Yes. This happened. In fact I have seen similar behavior several times in just the past month. No guilt littering.

It disgusts me. I actually give the offenders dirty looks, because I can't help it. They have no shame whatsoever dumping their trash on the middle of the street. What ugly behavior. Of course not every Uruguayan litters, but there seems to be little social stigma attached to dumping used wrappers, old receipts, plastic bags, and other types of waste on the street and sidewalk.

I can imagine if somebody did this in the US another bystander would confront the offender. Or the litterer would be more secretive about their behavior because they recognize they are doing something wrong. I think there needs to be a "no littering campaign" here that makes tossing trash on the street an embarrassing faux pas for everybody.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Delicious Food

Mmmm. I had some delicious food tonight.

This week Anthony's parents are visiting Salto and they took us out to dinner at a local restaurant called La Caldera. Mmmm. I had pollo glaseado which was glazed chicken stuffed with ham, raisins, and onions, served with a side of warm apple sauce. It was delicious, but unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it. I think finding good food in Uruguay is a matter of knowing what to order (or where to buy your groceries). I was despairing for a few weeks when I thought the only things I could find were fried foods, gooey pasta, mayonnaise, and greasy pizza. The options are much more palatable now that I've learned the ins and outs of this South American cuisine.

Then for dessert Christie and I stopped by a nearby bakery to get masas (bite-sized pastries) for everyone. Most include dulce de leche in their ingredient list and all seem to be super tasty.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Batalla de Las Piedras

Today was another holiday in the wonderful nation of Uruguay which meant no school or work. Today was a celebration of the Batalla de Las Piedras (Battle of the Rocks).

The Battle of Las Piedras was part of Uruguay's independence movement, led by none other than the national hero, Jose Artigas, whom I mentioned earlier. He led a group of revolutionaries from the Provincia Oriental del Río de la Plata (modern-day Uruguay) to defeat the Spanish in 1811. And it was on the 18th of May that he uttered one of his most famous phrases, "Clemencia para los vencidos" (Mercy on the vanquished).

Of course, in celebration of Batalla de Las Piedras, I took a trip to the hot springs. I had intended to go one I had never been to before, but oops, I got on the wrong bus and ended up at the Termas Dayman again. Oh well.

Estaba bien. It was fine. I had a great time. I love the termas.

Being there at night was great too. The hot springs are different after the sun sets. They seem more toasty--but that could just be the visible steam wafting into the night sky.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Theater Show

Last night I went to a play at the Teatro Larrañaga in Salto which is beautiful. The name of the show was La Amante Inglesa which featured one actress discussing the psychological journey and crime of another actress.

I've decided that if I go to anymore live performances I am going to research the plot beforehand so I focus on the language without getting lost. Once you lose your place, it's pretty much hopeless for the rest of the show. Halfway through, I started thinking about how the actresses feet didn't get cold without wearing socks or about how I need to buy a watch.

You can't let your mind wander like that when attempting to enjoy a foreign language production. I tell myself if there had been more movement, more props, more actors, more gesturing it may have been easier to stay focused, but mostly it's just shame on me and my whirring mind.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Brrrrr, it's cold

When I first arrived in Uruguay it was late summer and so hot I didn't believe it when people said it would get cold here. I thought they were speaking in relative terms, as in brrrr, it's cold for me, but it won't be cold for you. Well I was wrong. The weather finally started to act like autumn, and I had to dig out my coat today.

There were thunderstorms earlier this week that are responsible for the cooler temperatures.

This is lightning from my window. You don't even want to know how many attempts it took for me to get this photograph. Luckily (unfortunately?) the storm lasted all night. There were plenty of opportunities.

Also, side note, someboday was BLASTING their television at 4:30 AM this morning. What is with that? One, who is up that early? Two, who turns on the TV that early? Three, who puts the volume at on full blast when staying in a hotel? Didn't they think the rest of world might be trying to sleep?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I went to my first asado this weekend with new friends. Yay!

I've been hearing soooo much about Uruguay's amazing asados and now I've finally had a chance to partake. An asado is something like what American's would term a "BBQ". In a nutshell, it implies large groups of people assembled to grill up a bunch of meat. The word "asado" can also refer to the actual grilled meat itself--from beef steaks to chorizos.

Yes, I like these asado things. Good company and good grilled meat. What more could one want?

Monday, May 11, 2009

White Herons

Salto is a wonderful place to be. It is beautiful.

I have a resolution to run (read jog) at least 3-4 times a week and thus far I've been pretty good about doing so. It makes me feel better to get some exercise, suck in some fresh air, and enjoy the stunning Uruguayan scenery.

Usually, there are large flocks of white herons that congregate by the river. They are beautiful birds to watch because they are so graceful and provide a stark contrast to their surroundings.

I am thankful for those beautiful white herons. I thankful for the beautiful river. I am thankful to be in Uruguay. I am thankful for my family and friends who love me. I thankful for so many things. And I recognize that it never hurts to remind myself of the things I am thankful for when I am going through difficult times.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mamá Mamá

Felices dia de la madre!
Happy mother's day!

I translated the song Mamá Mamá by Los Nocheros for my mother for Mother's Day since I am not exactly in the US to give her a present (sorry Mom). Hope she likes the translation though. You can hear the song here. Spanish lyrics here. They've been playing this song all weekend, and the students at Escuela 1 were practicing it on Friday to sing to their mothers. Awwww.

Mamá Mamá

Even now I feel your hand here on my forehead
It is the best cure for my pain.
When I need you, you are always present
My world is transformed by hearing your voice
It was this way since I was a child
At each question, your word in the end
Gives me a wise response.
Your light illuminated my soul
And doubts did not exist for me.

Mom, Mom
It is so much that you give me.
It's a tender debt, loving and eternal
Impossible to repay.

Mom, Mom
It is so much that you give me
That I would strive
To have ten lives
To love you more and more.

At times it seems to me that you have plenty of arms
To bring everyone into your heart.
You multiply so much without giving a thought.
Instead of one, you are a million.

Fortunately I have many mothers.
Her who makes me safe, her who gives value.
Her who works and leaves footprints.
The woman who is forever beautiful.
Her who illuminates us with love.

Mom, Mom
It is so much that you give me.
It's a tender debt, loving and eternal
Impossible to repay.

Mom, Mom
It is so much that you give me
That I would strive
To have ten lives
To love you more and more.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

We All Need A Hero

The national hero of Uruguay is José Gervasio Artigas Arnal, known as the the father of Uruguayan independence. He championed independence from Spain's centralized control in Buenos Aires, and eventually his work came to fruitation in the early 19th century.

In almost every city, there is a statue of him on his horse in a major plaza. There is a city named after him and an entire entire department (what we would call "state") in northern Uruguay. He also has bridges, airports, and schools (included the one I work at) named after him. The entire country is infatuated with Artigas.

Artigas was able to ascend to such a place of heroism because he represents military and political leadership without bipartisanship. He lived before the parties (traditionally the colorado and blanco parties) divided the political landscape of Uruguayan democracy.

I was trying to think of similar figures of national appeal in the United States and George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln were first ones to come to my mind. These men were not bipartisan figures in US history, and yet they each register as heros in our public memory for individuals of every political leaning. Interesting.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dulce de Leche

Dulce de Leche is the most popular dessert in Uruguay hands down. The closest thing I can compare it to is caramel, but dulce de leche is distinctly different, perhaps a bit thicker and creamier. It is almost a source of pride for the nation.

Uruguayans spread this ooey gooey amber-colored stuff on everything--on cookies, candy, cake, ice cream, fruit, bread, tostados, pancakes, etc. But who needs something to spread it on? They could eat it straight out of the can.

I can eat dulce de leche in small amounts with other foods, but a big spoonful of dulce is too sweet for my tastes. Christine and Anthony seem to like it though. Scratch that. Christine and Anthony seem to be obessesed with it...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Trip to the Zoo

I went on a field trip to the zoo this week with the kiddies. Great fun. Ohhh, birds. Ohhh llamas. Ohhh anteaters.

Animals are one of the easier things to teach in English. Kids love animals, and there are lots of animal songs. In addition, some of the names are similar to the Spanish ones (tigre, tiger; leon, lion, mono, monkey).

And you can always act out the animals. (Example, monkey: hop around, curl your arms under, and yell ee, ee, oo, eeee, ooo, eee) They seems to like that.

For some reason the kids were excited to the see the spiders (and they knew the English word for spider quite well, which I am going to chalk up to Spiderman). Ewww. What is wrong with these chidren?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hot Springs

Today Christie and I went to the Termas del Dayman, also known as the hot springs or thermal spa. We caught a bus from the city center to the the termas which are only a few miles outside of the city of Salto. The area around the hot springs is basically a little resort town because the naturally occuring pools of hot water attract tourists from all over.

For 50 pesos (about $2.50), you can gain entrance into the area with all the hot springs. The area is beautiful. Bright greens and blues. You can sample the different pools, each with a different temperatures up to 42 degrees Celsius (111.2 degrees Fahrenheit). Some pools are so hot, you feel like your internal organs are cooking. Others however, are just perfect for relaxing your muscles. They also have several places where you can turn on as many faucets as you want and get a heated hydromassage on any part of your body. Two old ladies from Argentina joined me on the massage bench and insisted that I go to Argentina to find chicos guapos (cute boys). Hahaha. They were sweet.

I was teaching FDR's first inaugural address (you know "there is nothing to fear, but fear itself") in my discourse analysis class and I asked the students if they knew anything about Franklin D. Roosevelt and they said yes, because he apparently visited Uruguay and went to the hot springs where he was healed from his polio. I thought that was very interesting. I'm having trouble tracking down whether that really happened, but it is likely that FDR visited Uruguay in 1936, and it is likely he may have stopped by the termas to relax. Regardless whether that story is true or not, many people do believe in the healing powers of the thermal water.

If nothing else, I know my skin feels silky smooth now. What a great way to spend a Saturday! I might just have to visit the termas more often.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Dia de Trabajadores

May 1st. May Day. Labor Day.

Felices Dia de Trabajadores!
Happy International Worker's Day!

No work for me today. Today is a holiday. Today most of the world (that is, except for the US and Canada) celebrates the worker (which ironically can trace its origin back to the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, begging the question why the United States' labor day in September...)

But anyway, International Worker's Day "is a celebration of the social and economic achievements of the international labor movement. May Day commonly sees organized street demonstrations and street marches by millions of working people and their labour unions throughout most of the countries of the world."

I guess that explains all the honking in the streets today. Hoorah for the eight hour movement.