Friday, November 18, 2011

From New Year's to Thanksgiving: And what to do in-between

As I'm sitting here on this crisp, sunny day sipping Millstone pumpkin coffee and nibbling Andrew's homemade chocolate chip cookies, I'm thinking..."so much for my public service blog!" (That thought actually came after the one about how charmed a life I'm living, even as a broke student).

But I don't plan on giving up. I've actually had a semester rich with great stories, enlightening moments, kickbacks to reality, and trying times. I just haven't put the words to the screen. But, like any good New Year's resolution, it's never too late to start again, and it's not necessary to wait until Jan-one either.

My first instinct was to list the highlights since September, and then slowly fill in the details with flashback blogs. But then, it makes much more sense to look forward at this moment in time. There's so much to look forward to!

TOMORROW, November 19, 2011
10th annual World Toilet Day celebration!! Why should you celebrate? In most cases, clean toilets come before computers. So, if you're able to read this, then you're probably able to answer the call of nature in a well-equipped, sanitary place. Imagine- while you're reading the newspaper over your pretty porcelain, up to 2.6 billion people are defecating in conditions that are less than sanitary. I don't mean to be crude nor do I want to make light of the situation. The point of World Toilet Day is to wipe away taboos and take a stab at the real issues. Wanna get educated on toilets?
  • Ira Flatow had a great convo with Professor Toilet on Science Friday today.
  • My classmates and friends Heath Carelock and Ryan Williams worked for the World Toilet Foundation in Singapore last summer. Click on their names to visit the blogs and get inspired.
  • And finally, I'll share with you some of my favorite euphamisms for you to break the ice and spread the word tomorrow about the beauty of toilet bowls! 
Break the seal
Spill the coffee
Paper work
Hacer caca (the Spanish version)
Wee willy winkle
Cop a squat (when you are out in nature)
And my favorite:
Making the bladder gladder

Now go out, spill the beans, and squat in solidarity on Saturday in the name of sanitary conditions for all!

Friday, November 25, 2011
To most, it's BLACK FRIDAY, a day of enormous pre-holiday sales, when the masses in western consumer markets crawl over each other in their haste to grab that last knick-knack before it's not 25% off anymore. I'm not bashing joining the festivities or, in this economy, trying to save pennies while still maintaining normal standards of living. But while you are out shopping, it would also be a great opportunity to grab a gift for a stranger and make them thankful for YOU.  Here's my top 5 six suggestions.
  • School supplies! The ones that you donated in August are probably used up now. There are schools all over in need of good books, fun learning tools, or just some new pencils. Grab a few notebooks and take them to your local learning institution. Or, find me (via comment on this post) because I know a lot of teachers/schools/programs in Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas that could use those supplies. 
  • Blankets. Whether you donate an old ratty one to the pups at the animal shelter, or your nice, but slightly out-of-date throw to a homeless shelter, it will surely find it's way to warm a fellow's hands and heart. 
  • Calories. Of course, food is always a great thing to give, especially when it's cold outside. Take a grocery bag to your local food bank. But think outside the box. Instead of soup, pick some peanut butter and crackers to accompany someone else's Campbell's can. Just make it healthy...the link between hunger and obesity is becoming ever stronger as the impoverished rely more on nutrition-less, high calorie foods that they can afford rather than hearty, healthful sustenance. 
  • Suit up. Donate or buy business clothes for a local employment agency or job fair. I went to a job fair in Rogers, AR, recently and they had FREE brand-new business clothes for job seekers who may be financially strained due to unemployment. Clever!
  • Make an investment. Take a mere $25 out of your holiday spending budget and put it toward someone else's business. With $25, you can buy one shirt, or you can enable someone in Peru to make hundreds of shirts! And if they do, you will shortly get your $25 back to reinvest. (Or buy that shirt, which would then be on sale for less in the post-holiday season). Try Kiva out.
  • Personalize it! If you know someone who works at one of the previously named institutions, ask them for suggestions. You never know when a school is going to need a bag of food and when a homeless shelter is going to need some books. 
 The most important thing is to stretch your creativity while you think about giving this time of year. Often, the same food banks and shelters receive a wealth of donations that are difficult to manage, while other less-known institutions are left wanting during the most difficult times of the year. Don't be afraid to ask around or make it a topic of conversation. You never know what cause you'll find that you and your family will relate to. Just follow your interests (and your heart) and find your special niche for gift-giving.

Post a thought:
What creative idea do you have for advocating, donating, or general do-gooding this holiday season?

    Thursday, September 22, 2011

    New Place, New Face

    Blog face, that is.

    Recap: I have been blogging intermittently while seeking my higher ed degrees - mostly about the interesting stuff. I got my Spanish degree in Salamanca, Spain, as an undergrad student, which is where my blog was born. After graduation, I went on to Andalusia, Spain, to study how to live a traveler's life on a meager budget and how to speak Spanish almost entirely without consonants. Finally, this past summer I spent in Buenos Aires, Argentina, doing the required international project for my slightly more official Master of Public Service degree at the Clinton School.

    Where is she now?
    I have come full circle, my faithful friends. I was born in Northwest, Arkansas, and somehow have ended up back here after 24 years and approximately 9 cities. My education continues with the final service project for the Clinton School. If you're still there with me, I invite you to follow along through this rather hazy, unblazed trail I call Finding A Career.

    It will actually be a little more abstract and a little less boring (I hope) than it may sound. My real intention with the continuation of this blog is to define Public Service and learn how to live it. My route will follow only one of many possibilities, but I hope it intersects with others' public service projects, definitions, and values, whether of my fellow CSPS friends and colleagues or other service-oriented peers.

    So, I invite you to follow me, comment and offer feedback, and share stories on my newest adventure!

    P.S. The blog is currently undergoing construction and may take a few more face lifts before I get it just right.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011


    Exasperated, I was a little testy as the security guard in the bank was trying to understand my broken Spanish explaining my problem with the broken ATM machine. It was my own fault that the words weren't coming to me and he was just trying to help. I gave up, left in a rush, and finally found an ATM that did work...just in time for the other bank to close where I needed to make the deposit to get my visa. Ouch. Bad Karma.

    In attempt to try to be a responsible student (read: someone who has no income except loans, scholarships, etc.), I considered but never actually went on any trips outside of Buenos Aires. It wasn't in the budget. Then, my Tio Ernesto calls my family asking if by chance I'm still down south. "Yes," they say, "but she's coming home soon."

    "Not without stopping by Santa Cruz first," he replies. (Those Latinos can be quite hard-headed)

    Somehow, this conversation resulted in my Bolivian uncle and my family in the U.S. pulling it all together and making it happen for me. Good Karma? Good family.

    I think I just got real lucky with the lot I drew in life and family. I miss you all dearly, but won't be seeing you as soon as I thought. I'M GOING TO BOLIVIA! Thanks so much for all your help and support:) You are the reason that I am where I am right now.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    Wrapping Up and Looking Back

    I've failed several times now to express in Spanish how glad I am to have been a part of Fundacion Cruzada Argentina this summer/winter. I already know that I'll fail in English, too, if I try. I just want to point out some of the small things that made the experience more fulfilling than simply handing over a deliverable as a volunteer grad student.

    First, it was just us four girls in the office this summer. As women, we were of course naturally motivated to carry out our responsibilities effectively and efficiently;) But we also found time for some female bonding time in between. Hearing silly stories about Ro's little girl and watching videos of Dan's sobrinitas (nieces) on her Blackberry actually made me miss the little monsters I've cared for in the past. Listening to Marian's stories of being in Washington D.C. and telling her about my own tourist adventures around Buenos Aires was a fun culture swap. The best regular cup o' joe here in BsAs was the coffee in our office. Even better...sharing our dunking cookies for a morning snack-time break and soaking them in said cup o' joe. Even BETTER...afternoon snack-time breaks that entailed a trip to the grocery store next door and ended munching on Milka chocolate bars or Tentacion cookies. You think it can't get better than that right? Wrong. The last week of work, Daniela brought mate and yerba to the office and we sipped on it all day long, passing it around like it is done traditionally - more or less. At week's end, they bought me my very own mate gourd (red, like the color of FCA) and broke it in with me.

    Lunchtime was always a fun time too, and great for practicing my Spanish. Again, just us girls - this time all  6 or 8 of us that work on the floor, depending on the day. I learned a lot about Argentine politics, the best-looking futbol players, how to cook a mean milanesa, and what sights to see around town. I joined in the complaining about public transportation and incautious drivers, and they listened as I told them stories about Arkansas, my own cooking attempts, and American culture in general. I'll miss my ladies' lunch group for sure.

    FCA got lucky, I think, with some of its board members, too. I met Tim for the first time in the beginning while I was still adjusting to the Spanish wasn't too long before I realized he was Canadian, phew! Jaime and Alejandra visited regularly to help the staff out with office business, but they often stayed to chat awhile as well. That's probably the reason why I felt so comfortable in the meeting for my final presentation today. It was nothing new...just sitting around and chatting about the day's business, except for the bigger room and the fancier table in between us all.

    That's not to mention my few, but very profound conversations with Eduardo, who regularly visits FCA schools to take them supplies like donated food, clothes, and computers. He's one of the founders and taught me quite a bit about the bygone ways of Argentine life and what conditions are like now in the rural provinces.

    Looking back on the last three months, I've had a very productive off-season, digamos (we'll call it), and am quite proud of the work I accomplished. The staff and board of the Foundation seemed happy with my work, too. I'm leaving the organization and, in 10 days' time, the country, but for all the reasons I stated above, I don't think I'll be able to clap the BsAs dust completely off my hands and call it a summer. I know that it will soon feel worlds away once I'm back in Arkansas embarking on my third and final public service project for the Jones Center on behalf of Clinton School and my degree. However, I certainly feel more connected to this project and this group of people than I expected after a mere 11 weeks, and I thank them for all the good times and the buena onda!

    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Country Brat

    Even though I come from a state capitol, my IPSP experience is definitely in the "Small-town-girl-goes-to-big-city" category. I've always said I want to live in D.C. or New York because it's so intellectually and culturally stimulating. The truth is, though I do enjoy living big here in Buenos Aires, the transition doesn't come without it's hardships.

    That's where "brat" comes from as the crown of this post. I have had this guilty feeling sometimes because my sense of space has been wildly disrupted here - even more so than when I was living in Spain. Guilt because I feel like such a Yanki (general term for North American) needing more space than I have here. I get frazzled easily by crowds and avoid public transportation at rush hour because it's too difficult for me to navigate the sea of fellow travelers (See "6pm Subte Ride" post) . But then I realized, it's not just Buenos's NY, D.C., and Madrid, too. And it's not because I'm American, it's because I'm a country girl.

    I was reminded of that this weekend when I went to visit La Rural - the livestock fair in Buenos Aires. It reminded me so much of home - "home" being all of the places that I spent time in during my formative years. Here's a quick tour through my childhood:
    The big pavilions showcasing animals at La Rural were reminiscent of the Arkansas State Fair livestock yard (Spencer, ya with me?). When I first entered the grounds, I was met with the fantastic and familiar stench of animal urine and hay. You think I'm being sarcastic, but I say give me animal ammonia over exhaust fumes any day (too much? sorry.)

     Memory #2: Playing the moo game which entailed screaming "MOO" as loud as possible toward the cow pastures on a long car ride. You scored points based on how many cows turn to look. I've played in AR and TN, but could also be a fun game in TX.


    My fondest memories are of horseback riding at Camp Monterey. I did it every summer for eight years, and being at the barn was like being in heaven. I was happy whether I was mucking stalls or cantering along the back trails. I just wanted to be near the horses.

    And these baskets reminded me of something I'd actually long forgotten...wandering the cotton fields behind my cousins' house in England, Arkansas. Besides rice, cotton is one of the major agricultural products in our beloved state.

    Needless to say, La Rural gave me a big dose of nostalgia for my country upbringing. And it made me appreciate being able to truly have experienced both sides of the spectrum - country livin' and city slickin'. By no means, however, have I lived the extremes.

    This is where the importance of my organization, Fundacion Cruzada Argentina, comes in. I know I've thrown out this statistic before, but it surprises me every time I say it: 90% of Argentina's population lives in urban cities. La Nacion, one of the national daily readers here, put out in an article that within just a few years, that stat could rise to 95%. It's crowded in the cities, but the jovenes (younguns) keep going urban for the lack of opportunities they have out by the countryside.

    Cruzada Argentina finances what they call 'productive projects' in secondary schools, so students get the chance to move beyond the books and learn a practical skill and the business theory behind commercializing that skill. I'm just beginning to realize during my search for possible network organizations how unique the niche is that they are filling. They are not only educational, but promote smaller-scale entrepreneurship like microfinance institutions. Their project activities and community outreach come together to have an impact in the area of rural development, with an emphasis in sustainable living practices. Furthermore, their goals include motivating and transforming students' attitudes to be more proactive, work-oriented. In short, it not only gives the studetns a chance to establish a productive career without having to move to urbania, but enables them to have a positive impact on their home communities, too.

    In reflecting on my country "spoiledness," I've come to think a lot about what it would mean for a true rural dweller to leave the peace and beauty of the Argentine countryside behind and try to adjust to the bustling city. Some have the dream to do so (like me!), and for them I don't discount that it may be a good choice. But that's the key - it should be a choice and not a necessity.

    I can't explain to you the vast difference in sense of space and time between large cities like Buenos Aires and more rural areas. It's as easy for a country dweller to feel lost in a sea of people as it would be a city-slicker who couldn't find his way out of the corn fields. The crowds and exhaust fumes can be just as choking as the smell of cow dung and hay dust. And the milky way and stardust against the jet-black sky at night can be just as breathtaking as the sunset reflected in the skycrapers at dusk in Puerto Madero. Each has its charm, each has its animosity, but both can induce a great amount of culture shock to a stranger.

    Call it an epiphany, but I've just recently realized that working for a rural development organization in one of the world's biggest cities is the apex of my life's experience in so many ways. Now I feel like I can empathize (even if only minutely), which even further heightens my sense of solidarity with FCAs mission and work. I am so glad that they've hosted me this summer and can only hope that the project I'm about to present to them will be half as valuable as this experience has been for me. I may be corny, and I may be country, but at least I know the difference between chic, in-style footwear and field shoes...and wear both quite proudly!!