Junk on the Bunk

The students returned a few days ago and they appeared to be excited.  To me, this is a good sign for, what I hear will be a fast and sometimes challenging, Spring Term.

As is customary, we welcome the kids back and have to do “Junk on the Bunk.”  “Junk on the Bunk” is a precautionary measure to inspect their luggage and ensure that they didn’t bring back any paraphernalia (candy, soda, chips…) after their two week hiatus.  Also, it is a way to safeguard their valuables so that they don’t get misplaced or damaged during this spring season.

While doing this interrogation, I encountered a student, Sean, who, by the way, is a very well behaved and honest kid, with five bite size Hershey bars.  I was inclined to take them away but I decided to strike a deal with him because he wasn’t trying to be misleading; as some kids tend to do.  So, I said, “If you can get rid of the evidence in five minutes, then I will pretend like I didn’t see a thing.”  He, happily, accepted and in that short window of opportunity, he disposed of his stash by ravaging three for himself and sharing two with his housemates.

One of these accomplices was also caught with contraband; a grape flavored Blow Pop!  When offered the same ultimatum, he took his sweet time to contemplate.  Darren decided to decline this motion.  He realized that he couldn’t really enjoy it in that amount of time.  So now it is in his valuables box, along with his PSP (Playstation Personal, I think…), waiting to be devoured  at the end of school; an inspiring example of delaying gratification, don’t you think?

Oh, but we’re not done with little Darren just yet!

While unpacking, it was brought to his and his roommates attention how clean their room was; they usually leave it in shambles.  I said to them, “If you can keep your room looking like this for the whole term, I will get you anything!”

Please allow me to go on an introspective tangent.  Darren and his roommates are a mixture of fourth and fifth graders.  What do you think his wager will be after hearing the word, “anything?”  What would you request?  I mean, this is a child with unimaginable imagination, it could really be ANYTHING right?

Darren looks at me with spirited eyes that cause me to feel like he is going to make me eat my words like Sean ate that chocolate…  He gazed at me with conviction and an intimidating smile and stated these words, “Sour…Patch… Kids… Gum!”  The look on his face was so victorious and it could be felt in the air how pleased he was of his decision.

A goulash of confusion, relief and elation took over, all at once.  Here I was, ready to say that I can’t afford a Porsche and he tells me, “Sour Patch Kids Gum.”  He wanted a future snack, a year 2000 snack!  I quickly shook on the deal, and that was that.  They had motivation to keep their room clean and I felt bliss because I have the opportunity to experience this type of feeling daily.

But wait, there’s more!

Today, Darren stopped me on the stairs and said, “Dion, I gotta talk to you.  I’ll keep my room clean, but I would like to change the deal.”  I took a deep breath and waited for some extravagant replacement.  “Instead of a pack of Sour Patch Kids Gum… I want TWO!”

All that I could do was smile and shake my head.  I looked at him with astonishment.  I politely obliged and put my arm around his shoulder, laughing.  When we went our separate ways, we both looked back at each other and smiled.  I was ecstatic just to be able to know this superstar.  And, I like to imagine that he was thinking, “Just like stealing candy from a teacher.”

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Hyperballad

“We live on a mountain, right at the top.  There’s a beautiful view, from the top of the mountain…”  While I have yet to go to the edge and throw little things off, I still feel safe here!

I’ve been listening to different music lately, ranging from some good ‘ol Poinciana (Song of the Trees) by Ahmad Jamal, to the intricate sounds of Bjork’s Hyperballad.  Of course there are others to note, like Death Grips, Bach and Little Dragon.  But the point is, that there is a wonderful world of music out there that you can mismatch to your liking.  It might be your not-liking actually, but listening to different sounds can be intrinsically pleasing.  The same goes for films or any other type of art you find enticing.

Sticking to the theme of art, being here at North Country School has re-ignited the creative flame.  While it’s just a flash right now, I’m hoping to cultivate it into a phoenix!  This summer’s task is to finish my training in Tae Kwon Do diligently,  reaching black belt after 18+ years of being a brown belt.  The belt really is not important to me, it’s the quest to try to master something.

Next up, percussion!  That’s right, martial arts and drumming, don’t call it a mid-life crisis, I’m too young for that… right…?  I’ve always wanted to learn music and I think that this would be a good introduction.

Evelyn will be looking into ballet and tap dancing to hone her skills as a dance teacher.  She should be able to do this by the end of the summer.

Maybe we’ll even take some visual arts classes at LACMA or some cooking classes together!

We’re supposed to grow, kind of like my hair.  But like my hair, sometimes we don’t care!  So we’re deciding to trim it up and cultivate a creative spirit within our union.  Once we pick up these new traits, who knows what we’ll tackle next.

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Spring, Still Snow

We’ve been having electric blue skies these past few days with warm, 39 degree, weather.  The snow is hard and the ice is all over the place.  Thankfully, I haven’t slipped and fallen on the black ice yet.  The winter is keeping me in good shape but, at the same time, taking its toll on Evelyn at times.  We are very excited about what is to come and spending more years here in the future.

Cross-country skiing is one of best pastimes that I’ve experienced in my life!  Within skiing distance there are kilometers of groomed and un-groomed snow that not only keep me in shape but also keep my stress levels low.  It’s so nice to go in between wide and thin trees and get lost in silence for a while.  Surrendering to this foreign weather and embracing what it has to offer is rewarding.

I’m a little worried about how we’ll respond to the weather when we visit L.A. or Paraguay in the future.  It’s probably going to feel unbearably hot for the first week or two.  I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do with myself when the snow is gone, here…  I guess I’ll get back on the good ‘ol bicycle, inline skate or go all out in Tae Kwon Do!  Or maybe some mixture of that with a little basketball for old time sake.

Evelyn is getting used to the new environment, even thought she hit some moguls on the path.  During one of our last visits to the local ski resort, on her last run, she was picking up speed and caught her heel side on her snowboard.  She fell backwards, hitting her tailbone and her head.  I watched the whole thing from the chairlift.  It was frustrating, because I had to wait to get up and then get down to her.  She was laying there for a while, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  Thankfully, she had a helmet on.  She told me that she was trying to show her skills because she saw me on the chairlift.  She’s done for this year with snowboarding, but I’m sure she’ll come back with a fury next season!

This is a very enjoyable place to be and teaching is beginning to be more comfortable for us.  We’ve made strong bonds with the students and the staff here and we are very happy to be part of this eccentric community for years to come.  We look forward to sharing more chronicles of our lives here in the Adirondacks.

Oh yeah, we’re going to be in Los Angeles this summer and were trying to figure out how we should get there.  Any advice or personal experience would be greatly appreciated!

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Would You Like Some Change?

It has been a little less than two months since we left South America.  Since then, we’ve been adjusting back to life on this side of the equator.  We had the opportunity to stop off in L.A. to see family and friends, eat old favorite foods and  revisit familiar places.  Did I mention that we had to culturally readjust?

L.A. Can be very exhausting and over-stimulating; even if it’s your home town.  With stressed out drivers yelling at the top of their lungs and constant chattering about the latest pop news, it makes one long for the simple life back in Paraguay.  For example, hearing claps in front of the fence as a request to enter makes a door bell or a hard knock seem intrusive and violent.  The vibrancy of the colors and the freshness of the air down there, trumps the fabricated accents and irritation to  the eyes from lack of oxygen.  But Los Angeles is Home and always will be!  Home is also Villa del Rosario and we’re working on making Lake Placid the trifecta!

After 15 hours of migrating eastward, towards the end of Summer, we landed in Albany, New York where we encountered David.  He has a Kal-El aura that made us feel secure after being shipped off to another world.  David was kind enough to come two hours away and meet us at 8:00am.  After loading up the van with our two duffel bags and backpacks, we were on our way to our final destination.

I remembered during the drive that about a month earlier we had gone to Lake Tahoe to participate in Tough Mudder with our friends, The Fingers; it was a beautiful place filled with towering trees and multiple mountains; we remember thinking, “this is the type of place that we are going to live!”

Continuing down this, what seemed to be, endless highway out of Albany it put me in a trance. The foliage flipped, folding from far to near and a certain calm corralled my consciousness.  Our conversation was well suited; basic introductory stuff… but before you knew it, we were right outside of Lake Placid!

One week into orientation, two 46ers down, experience with barn chores, the apartment is becoming home and we are in our element (Really!  We found a used, burnt orange, Honda Element with 100,000 miles on it).  We also have an untold anticipation for our first year teaching and our first real Winter (This might be re-occurring theme once the cold hits)!

So here we are, as prepared as we can possibly be here at North Country School!  The people and the culture here puts us back into a tranquilo atmosphere.  Everyone is fantastically welcoming and inviting.  We were thinking, had we not been in Rosario over the last year and experienced living in a small community, we would have felt that something was a little off here (a la Wanderlust).  But we are getting in tune with the rhythms of the Adirondacks and this special community.

We anticipate great stories and experiences, readying to blossom.  Our hope is that we can snip it in just the right way so that this perennial will make it through the frost; continuing to sprout for an indefinite rotation of seasons!

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“And if you give me a basketball…

I’ll show you how to shoot it.”

Basketball is taking off right now!  On average we have about 10-12 people that show up.  They’re picking it up rather quickly.  It has nothing to do with my teaching, they’re just having fun.  We started out by putting up the baskets; no lines for out of bounds, three points or anything like that.  There were very few rules to enforce on them; just a ball, a lot of space and two (as close to regulation) backboards with the accompanying rims.  I showed them a few of the basics like passing and layups, not knowing the terms in Spanish; but they got it.

After a few warm up drills, the ball was tossed up and they were going at it.  Running from one end of the court with the ball snug in both hands like a pot full of boiling water ~whistle~ ”Viajando!” says Referee Evelyn.  Lots of dribbling with both hands simultaneously ~whistle~”Dribleigh Doblei (acting out what they can’t do).”  Running into each other like bats without sonar ~whistle~”Falta, No puedes hacer eso…” Evelyn really enjoyed being the super cop with her big, orange whistle; and she also didn’t know the terms or the signs hence ~whistle~”No puedes hacer eso”.  Everyone that was playing was having a good time trying something new.  Even the Mayor and High School Principal swung by.

The jugadores occasionally fell down and acted like they were really hurt, forgetting that this wasn’t soccer…  But it was entertaining.  And whenever there was a change of possession, they would touch the ball to the floor at the spot of the infraction before resuming play.  Little by little we’ll introduce the rules more, but right now, they’re just Paraguayan Ballin’!

But speaking about Soccer, the mentality of the youth is defensive even when they are in possession of the ball.  If someone has the ball, there are at least two or three of their teammates behind them.  Instead of advancing the ball, they throw it backwards; there is no half court line yet.  When they are on defense, they try to overuse their body resulting in a blatant foul; but we can’t call everything, or else they would never get to play.  And whenever they are within 20 ft. of the basket, they are in a rush to shoot it.  I think that this is because in soccer, you have very few opportunities to take a shot at the goal.  I tried to explain to them that they have a lot more opportunities to score in this sport.

Back to the lines, we plan on putting down some yellow lines so that they can differentiate from the white soccer lines.  But I like introducing them little by little.  When we first started, they were running all over the place because there was no out of bounds; the court was wider than it was long.  We recently put in side lines and baselines, drastically limiting their space, but they adjusted superbly!  I’m hesitant to put down the three point lines right now because they are just going to launch line drives from there and eventually break the nimble backboard.  They shoot the ball very, very hard.  I think the next installation will be half court to teach them backcourt; no more being behind the ball Jóvenes!

One of our youth that’s been with our youth group since its iniciation, Pako, was amped up to play!  He started up just like everyone else.  But after the first day, he came back and told me, “Yo ví anoche un partido del NBA.  Nuevo York Contra Boston.”  Yeah, they have ESPN out here!  He watched Playoff basketball and downloaded the information like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix.  He came on the court, smiled, and started Paraguayan Ballin’, to the max!  Pump fakes, spins(with an occasional travel), back pedaling like a pro!  Hitting mid-range jump shots mixed with a few, stylish, air balls…  executing the give and go and controlling his team.  He even became such a go to guy, that when he had an off day, he said, “Hoy no es mi día…” Go ‘head Pako!

They’re getting ready for youth from the neighboring town to come and play a few games.  The kids from the other town have had a basketball court for years now and are, somewhat, good.  But the kids here have a quarter pro as their coach; maybe more of an eight pro?  They should have a good time.  And did I mention that the Referee is my wife? Wink, wink…

That’s all for basketball for this time in the Fall.

Now we need to prepare for our dance competition, we’ll let you know how it goes when we get a chance.  Right now we’re going to self-invite ourselves for lunch to one the houses of a youth in our group; we want to spend quality time with them before we go.

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Chronomentrophobia

“Trying to find solutions to the situations I’m facing.”

It’s been longer than the amount of time that we actually have left here in Villa del Rosario since we wrote our last blog!  But what’s left?  Two months of trying to close up our work here.  Two months of spending quality time with the friends and family that we have made.  10 (and some change) weeks of slowly saying our “see you laters” (Not goodbyes because we will be returning!).  10 weeks of Polka Paraguaya classes (2 weeks of practice before a competition in May!).   About 70 days of anticipation and excitement for our next adventure (Spending time with friends and family in the States & preparing for our move to New York…).  This is a short period that, at times, seems to stretch out longer than it seems it should; oscillating from fast to slow like intervals during a basketball game.

In the last four months we’ve participated in two different leadership camps (one national and the other local).  They were both successful, motivating a few of the youth to continue strengthening their abilities and developing their communities.  We’ve been able to see a few other parts of Paraguay; a beautiful waterfall at Salto Cristal (Evelyn did a, baby, cliff jump where she bit a hole in her tongue), we visited the countryside without the amenities of electricity in Las Brisas (Evelyn milked a cow) and we’ve made a few trips to the capital (Evelyn spent all of our money on restaurants!).  And we’ve even produced and recorded a few reggaeton songs about personal finance, cleaning the neighborhood and civic participation.  We’ll share those with you later.  The basketball court is up and you can see that and more on the Facebook page of the youth group Jóvenes en Acción.

Everything is pretty much on cruise control right now.  We’ve done what we can and we are preparing our community for follow up volunteers to continue and do better work with the firsthand, yet stable, foundation that we laid down.  The youth here are ready to do more activities and learn new things.  The next volunteers (we are hoping for another married couple) will have great potential to execute great projects and lasting relationships!

Wanna hear a cockroach story?  It’s short…

Sometimes at night (about one or two in the morning) I have to go to the bathroom because of all of the water that I drank right before bed.  Well, one night, as I was half way asleep walking through the house I went to the bathroom.  I went to wash my hands and then… ffffFFFF POOM! I received a POP on the back of my leg!  I was like, “Oh, What?”  I was looking around and I turned on the light to see a big ol’ roach looking at me, showing off its wings and its ability to fly.  “You ain’t never seen these bad boys on a roach huh?”, referring to his wings.  I replied, “Nope.” SPLAT!  I had to take him out because I didn’t know when he was going to take off again.  Since then, I’m always alert when I have to go at night; either that, or I hold it until the morning.

Ok, I’ve left you on a cliff hanger for a few paragraphs…  We are very thankful to have found, what seems to be, our passion out here.  Also, we have been blessed to find jobs that line up with that passion.  So do you want to know what I’m talking about?  If not, I’ll just leave it like that… let me know…

We’ll be teaching at a boarding school in Upstate New York (Lake Placid) starting this August.  The school is called North Country School and all of its values are core values that we share.  I will be teaching fourth and/or fifth grade Social Studies and Language Arts.  Evelyn will be teaching fourth and/or fifth grade Math and Dance.  We will also be house parents to 10, or so, kids (great practice right?).  We are very excited for this opportunity.  For this reason, we will be leaving here a month earlier than expected, to be able to spend time back in L.A. before we ship out again.

With all of this going on, it is challenging to stay focused.  We are thinking about all of the memories that we have made, the good things to come and trying to value the present.

I’m going to stop now because Evelyn is crying again…

We’ll see you soon!  Who knows, maybe we’ll have a few more blog entries before we come back.

 

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But I Still Get Overwhelmed

When I Look In Her Eyes!

With the nice cool weather (which is probably 80 degrees) we have been able to relax a little bit these last few days after a nice summer rain.  The bugs are still singing all kinds of songs with the dogs, roosters and toads performing backup.  The cicadas go all out with their voices; they leave you looking for them.  Though, the only time that they can be spotted is when they’re quiet.  And then you say, “Damn! That’s a big ol’fly!”

It’s Evelyn’s Birthday on Sunday!  I’ve spent a quarter of her life with her and look forward to that percentage increasing.  With all that we are doing out here, I get to see her continue to blossom into a wise and wonderful woman.  She has really pressed herself to push and reach and grab and assess her own limits!  I can’t wait to see what she does next…

Actually, she just finished   teaching her first, all women, dance class; and it seems to have gone well.  She came back with her little yellow shirt drenched in sweat.  She was probably dancing harder than the people in the class.  It was supposed to be once a week, but because it was so fun, I think that they convinced her to do it every Monday, Wednesday and Friday now; go ‘head Evelyn!

This class is important for the community, because usually the women here don’t have any extracurricular activities to go to.  I think that by providing this class, other projects or groups or business might start up.  But that’s just my idea; maybe it’s good in and of itself.

Jóvenes en Acción, held a movie night (Evelyn told you about it in the last blog; again, please add them on Facebook if you haven’t already) with free snacks and juice.  It was a success!  It was our favorite project that we’ve done to so far.  It was that good feeling of giving without expecting anything in return.  And, this time we were able to share that feeling with the group; I think they really enjoyed it.  There were about 100 people, mostly kids, which came through.  Hopefully we can do something similar again in the future.

Yesterday, we finished cleaning up our yard a little bit with the help of our neighbors (ages 8 &10).  Niko, came ready with his machete and made grass spaghetti !  He was hacking down that tall lawn that was growing in our front yard.  I was using the hoe to get a lot of the small weed sprouts before they grew into a mini jungle.  Yeni (Jenny), came over and wanted to sweep the dirt, which is actually pretty relaxing.  Sometimes I make a little Paraguayan Zen Garden after it rains when the sand has a little moisture and holds shape.  Evelyn helped gather the clippings up and put them in a pile to be dealt with later.

It was cool working together like this.  Usually I go out and try to do everything on my own and I get good work done; but afterwards I’m exhausted and the day has gone by.  When everyone works together, it’s more fun, more gets done and you build your relationships with your partners!  Speaking of my little partners, Niko and Yeni, when we were done they looked at me and smiled (I knew what that meant).  “Cuantos vas a pagarnos?”  (How much are you going to pay us?) I told them I would pay Yeni 10mil (about $2.50) and Niko 15mil.  So as I went to retrieve their proceeds, Niko says to me, “Dijiste 16mil para mi y 12 para yeni, verdad?” (You said 16mil for me and 12mil for Yeni right?).  I had to respect his hustle, but I corrected him and proceeded to pay them as we had agreed before.

This is not for Marlene Wilson!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY EVELYN!

If you get a chance, try to get in touch with her one way or another.  Hopefully we have electricity to try to talk on Skype or telephone or at least Facebook.

As always, we love you and miss you and look forward to catching up in the near future.

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