Sunday, December 17, 2006

Updates Part 2

More events/thoughts:

• A week ago, two teachers from my school showed up at my house and invited me to a party. They had told me about it earlier, but I had forgotten the date and wasn't particularly excited about it anyway. In fact, on the particular night they showed up at my house, the power was out on my street and I was looking forward to using it as an excuse to shut my door and go to sleep early. I obviousily didn't shut my door soon enough, and when they asked me to come I couldn't easily come up with an excuse given the power outage..."actually, I've gotta a lot of work here to do in the house without power, so I'm gonna have to pass," wouldn't work, so I reluctantly went.

We arrived at a house and the majority of the 25 or so teachers from my school were waiting, dressed in their best. Like every other Nicaraguan party I've been to there were an assortment of plastic chairs sitting around the room and a large stereo system that blasted music at an uncomfortable volume, making conversations beyond two word phrases impossible. This never seems to be a problem, however, given the only thing that is ever said to me at the parties is !Baile, David!

When I first got to Nicaragua, I would normally decline the requests to dance until the end of the night when everyone else was dancing, foolishly thinking that given the number of dancers I would be able to blend in a bit more. It never worked and generally made things worse, only prolonging the anticipation of the other party goers of watching the gringo dance. This particular night, I decided to try the exact opposite and immediately started dancing. Was I the only one dancing in the center of the plastic chairs? No, there was one other lucky lady, but you can imagine who the wallflowers were watching. To the cheers of my coworkers, I danced to the first song wishing I had had a few drinks before coming to the party, but my strategy of dancing immediately seemed to work as the hoopla surrounding my dancing was significantly less than what I had experienced by waiting until the end to dance. After the first song, I took a seat along the side of the room and was surprised to have one of the teachers hand me a drink.

Most of the drinking I see within my site is the drinking that's done in the park by groups of men that drink cheap rum out of plastic bags. The idea of a casual drink is almost non existent and I had never seen a woman drink before this night. Given the conservative nature of the teachers and that almost all of them are women, again I was surprised to see that many of them were drinking as well. But, I didn't have much time to dwell on this thought or finish my first drink before I was grabbed again to dance.

I quickly realized that the downfall of my new strategy was that now I had shown them that I would dance, making it that much harder to turn down an invitation to dance. So, I ended up breaking it down with just about every teacher that was there. "¡A ver, David! ¡Baile!" As they all drank a little more, things started to get a little more relaxed. First the cigarettes came out. Then, the chants of ¡Arriba! ¡Abajo! started and I laughed watching all the teachers dressed is their handmade, knee length skirts dance as close to the ground as they could. Professora Esperanza, with her painted eyebrows and short, curly hair, was the clear winner and was applauded with screams of approval.

Even further into the night the karaoke dvd made an appearance and some of the teachers took turns with the microphone. Unfortunately someone also brought a karaoke dvd with songs in know, all the greatest hits, ABBA, It's my party and I'll cry if I want to, Rivers of Babylon. The calls for "Dance, David!" turned into "Sing, David!" With horror I watched them put in the disc, and with delight I watched them switch the audio/video cords incorrectly. When they asked me what was wrong, I politely said "I have no idea."

By the end of the night, many of the teachers, though certainly not horribly drunk, had had a few drinks. Beer cans, cigarettes, CDs, and left over food could be found on every chair/table and the house looked more like a college house than a Nicaraguan sala. When I finally bid my farewells, I was happy I had come. I didn´t particularly want to dance as much as I had to (my original strategy is better), but it was really nice to see the women from my town enjoy themselves and relax. I wish it happened more often. I just hope that next time they don't bring the English karaoke dvd.

• I often eat two lunches or two dinners in one day. It doesn't matter where I go, without asking the family always seems to give me food. Not only do they give me food, they give me more of it than anyone else in the family. More meat, more soup, more fresco. I accept it with a smile and eat it even if it's the last thing I want.

Along the same lines, I've become quite a coffee drinker here. Like the food, almost every house that I go to, I'm given a cup of coffee. Last week, before two p.m. I had had four cups of coffee and a coke. It was rather disgusting, but what can I say when they just give it to me?

• I've posted some online pictures online. I have other pictures that I will post when I get home, so check again in about a week.

• Last week, my next door neighbors had a purisima, a celebration of the Virgen Mary. What seemed like the whole town showed up to celebrate, and the family handed out food, toys, and candy to anyone who showed up. The party was really nice, but unfortunately, the shrine to the Virgen included one of those plastic, Christmas dolls that play the really plasticky, annoying, looped music. No words, just a da da da, da da da, da daaa daaa da da to the tune of Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is coming to Town, and We Wish you a Merry Christmas.

It was drowned out during the party, but when everyone had left I began to hear it. I didn't think anything of it until I went to bed that night and it was still on. The houses here are really close and the concrete walls block no sound from passing through. It's not rare for me to be in my house, listening to a conversation that my next door neighbors are having. So, though I've learned to ignore the conversations, the blaring stereo at 5am, the roosters, and the fighting dogs, the Christmas doll was impossible to ignore.

I lay in bed annoyed, but surely someone will turn it off, right? Wrong. It played the entire night. The next day it continued and again drove me nuts as I went to bed. By the third night, I was no longer angry at the doll, I was furious at the 12 people that live in the house. Isn't there at least one person that is annoyed as much as myself. Had I not left for the weekend on Friday, I was going to pay my nine year old friend, who is always with a sling-shot in his pocket, to assasinate the thing. Thankfully, when I returned on Sunday, the doll was no longer turned on, was taken out by the other neighbors, or was out of batteries.

• I'll be in the states from December 21 through January 4. I wasn't allowing myself to think about my return trip home until this past weekend. Now, I can't wait for Thursday though I'm still debating what my first meal will be. I hope to talk to you over the holidays. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Updates: No particular order

It's been awhile since I last updated and a lot has happened. Rather than try to catch up with everything I'm just going to write about some specific events/thoughts in no particular order.

• I'm all moved in and settled into my house. I've done a lot of work over the last two months to get it into shape and finally I feel like I have a home. Among my bigger projects: building my shower wall up so that it covers more than just my lower half; replacing the actual shower head and pipes so that I can take a shower rather than a bucket bath; painting the inside of the house (it didn't quite come out as I looks like a mint chocolate-chip ice cream, but my options were limited and it certainly looks better than what it was); cleaning my backyard of most of the trash that had been thrown there; and building a fence in my backyard that, unfortunately, fails to keep the roosters, cats, dogs, and ducks that still get in.

I also finally have tables, chairs, bowls, more than two plates, and everything else that I was lacking. My site mate just ended her service and left me almost all of her things, including the above items and her first class mattress which, though is wonderfully comfortable, left me with a funny feeling after the first night because I didn't wake up with a deflated four inch mattress resting on the uncomfortable wood frame. You'd be surprised what you get used to.

• I actually think I'm moving up in my age group of friends now that I've been here a little longer. First, the street that I live on is also home to around 6 fourteen to sixteen year olds that I've become friends with. Normally they just come over and sit around, making me say swear words or asking me to talk in English. Although at times I wish I could come home without one of them seeing me and coming over, it's nice to have some friends older than 8 years old. Strangely, the 14-16 year olds remind me of hanging out with my friends from home which has a lot more to do with our immaturity than their maturity.

I also have become better friends with two kids that are around 25. They've helped me do all the work at my house and we're starting to hang out a bit more. My language is getting good enough where I can generally joke around which helps, but it's still hard to make friends here. In the states, you can easily go out and get a drink, go to a movie, or go out to eat. Here, at least in my town, there's nothing like that and if there was no one would have the money to do it anyway. So, the manner in which you become friends is fairly different than what I'm used to. But, like I said, I really do feel like I'm becoming friends with some people and I'm definitely not lonely here...if anything, I could spend more time alone given the street that I live on and the number of kids knocking on my door.

• My birthday last week was actually fun. I was expecting it to be rather boring and uneventful, but it went well. I went over to my host family's house for dinner and my host sister bought ice cream for me after. We walked by La Casa del Adolescente where a youth group that I hang out with meets and heard someone talking in there. I peered in and...Surprise! We ate cake and drank pop (you know, just like my 2st, 22nd, and 23rd birthdays in the States) and there were never ending calls for ¡Dance, David! When I got out of there and finally reached home to have a well deserved drink, my sitemate, and the other two friends I had mentioned earlier came over and hung out. Overall, I had a good time.

• Two weeks ago all the volunteers (around 150) in Nicaragua were invited to spend four nights in a hotel/resort in Managua. The conference happens once a year, the week of Thanksgiving, and gives us the chance to meet the volunteers in other groups and learn more about their work. It was basically two full days of presentations on selected topics that volunteers might be interested in, from your career after Peace Corps, to how to build a community garden. Anyway, the hotel was the same hotel that I stayed at the first three days when I arrived in Nicaragua. I remembered it being alright, but nothing very special and certainly not nearly as nice as the hotel they put us up in in Washington, D.C. So, when I found out that the conference was there, I was excited, but didn't think it was that special. I guess I had forgotten what I'm use to now.

The hotel was awesome this time around. The showers I took twice a day were certainly the nicest showers I've had here in Nicaragua. Hot water and water pressure, how quickly I had forgotten how beautiful you are. The food was all you can eat buffet and included more than just rice and beans. The air conditioning, the pool, the cable tv, none of this I remembered from my first stay when I wrote the hotel off as mediocre at best. At the end of the four nights there this time around (after 7 months here) I was ready to write a five star review. I think I've actually become accustomed to my living conditions here and now after experiencing this hotel, I'm a little worried what might happen when I get to the states.

You mean to tell me that I can throw toilet paper in the toilet and it'll flush. The water comes out hot! What's this...ahhhh, a napkin to wipe my hands off. I don't have to wear shower sandals?

• I finally feel a bit more defined in my work. The school year here ends at the end of November so I won't start teaching again until the end of January. As for my other projects, I'm working with three businesses here. One group makes bamboo baskets that they sell in the markets in the larger cities. Another group is a group of 10 or so women that are just starting to make coffee and ground up powders that the people here use to make several types of drinks. The third business is a restaurant that just opened in my town. Right now I'm working with the first two groups trying to come up with a name for the business, a logo, slogan, etc. Both groups are just selling their products to friends and families, but really have no real grasp of what a business is in the way that we define the word. They have both received funding from a program here in Nicaragua that hands out money to small businesses. So, although they were required to write a business plan to be considered for the funding, I've gathered that the plan was mostly written by outside people and not the actual owners of the business.

The restaurant is a little bit further along, despite being only a couple of months old. I'm just starting to help them with how they manage their accounting. I really enjoy working with the groups, but it is frustrating. There's so many things that need to be done that it's hard to figure out where to start, and everything takes longer than necessary. You want to do so much and it'd be so much easier to do everything myself (the stuff that needs to be done is very basic and would have been done before the business opened in the US), but I can't because one it's not my business or money, and two, they need to learn not only how to do it, but why they should do it. It's certainly challenging, but it's nice to have finally somewhat figured out a few other projects other than the classes at the school. The frustration now is a good type of frustration in that I have figured out what I'm doing, but I'm not in a position to fully start given the vacations here and my vacation to the states in a couple of weeks.

• My beard is over two weeks old.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Why can't I be there?

The beauty of this Motor City season has been the utter surprise. There was no real hope of spring, and no chance of a letdown come the summer. This wasn't the Red Wings or Pistons or Michigan football -- teams that carry expectations like rucksacks. The Tigers were a baby left in a blanket on a doorstep, thrilling with every coo and smile and crawl and wobble. So the city was happy with a winning team, delighted with a contender, giddy with a playoff clinch, and downright dizzy with a win over the almighty Yankees, who will never ever know the wonder of an impossible pennant.

The economy may be bad, and the auto industry may be struggling, and the Lions may be winless, but for a good hour Saturday night, a slab of pavement in Detroit was the happiest place on Earth. The Tigers had given a town its most unforgettable two weeks ever.

The party went on Saturday night, in the lot outside Cheli's, and in the parking structure outside Elwood's, and everywhere in between. And even when Adams went quiet again, well after 10 p.m., there were still two kids hanging on that fence.


Waiting in Palacagüina just isn't the same.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"Today, the league. Tomorrow, the world."

I got home today just in time to turn on the TV and watch the bottom of the ninth inning of the Tigers vs. Athletics game. This is just too good to be true. My host family was a little weirded out to see me jumping in the hair, yelling "Walk off home run, walk off home run!!!!!" but they can think what they want...the Detroit Tigers are in the World Series!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

My New House

I finally found a house and moved in two weeks ago...finally. It's essentially a square, concrete structure with a dividing wall in the middle. On either side of the dividing wall are two rooms. Of the four rooms I've made one into my bedroom, one into a kitchen, and one into a living room type area (the other I'm reserving for the hammock I plan on buying). Unfortunately, the house doesn't have indoor plumbing which means I have a latrine in the back and I have to store water to use in the kitchen in a big barrel. It's certainly inconvient, but you get used to it.

The house is a bit of a fixer-upper. Along with being covered in cobwebs when I moved in, the repair work that has been done in the house reminds me of the classic student house in Ann Arbor. Everything is done haphazardly by people that probably shouldn't be doing the repair work in the first place. The owners here don't always have the money to do an effective/professional job, so they let their son, uncle, aunt, or whoever else do the job with whatever's available. That means, I have a light switch that is at ground level, a repaired crack in the wall that is already beginning to crack again, and a closet that is made out of old, rotting wood. But, like that old, shitty college couch that upon first site is deemed too gross to sit on, after a couple days of use the dirt, cobwebs, and faults become your own and you're comfortable with the filth. So it goes with my house and after a couple days of cleaning and repairing the house feels like my own...even if I still have a long way to go.

My first job has simply been to buy the requirments to actually live and cook in the house. Without a Target down the street, this job is much more difficult. I've been all over town questioning people and meeting people in search of tables, chairs, dishes, mattresses, etc. In many respects it's been a two week long Spanish vocabulary session where I'll realize I need a screwdriver, for example, and then walk to the hardware store to describe what I'm looking for. Have you ever tried to describe the word "hook" without also knowing how to say "to hang"? It's hard!

Besides the Spanish, outfitting my house has been a cool experience mostly because it's so different than what I would have done in the US. Everything I've bought has come from a twenty or so block radius. Besides the help of a truck to move a bed and a refridgerator I've made all my purchases on foot, walking from store to store. Need a table? Go to the carpenter's house and give him the drawing. He'll have it done in a week and will transport it to your house in the basket of a vehicle that can best be described as a tricycle. Need a plastic basket? Go to the park where a man has 1980s pickup truck filled with everything from socks to sheets to plastic hampers. It's kind of a Target.

So, after a few weeks of working and buying, I finally got all the things I needed to start cooking this week. This means I'm now on a healthy diet of oatmeal and bananas which is just what the doctor ordered after a lack of fruits, five months of rice and beans, and something fried at every meal. It's beautiful to be able to eat when you want, what you want, and how you want it. Now, if I could only find a Taco Bell.

Monday, September 04, 2006

First Month at Site

I was waiting to update my blog until after I had found a place to rent, but I'm still waiting, and as this marks the first days of my fifth month in Nicaragua, I decided to update anyway.

Things have been going really well. After the first two weeks, things started to pick up a bit more and since, the days have been moving quickly. My work in the schools involves three sections of around 50 students at the institute and one section of 18 students in the more rural school. Right now, I'm mostly observing and helping out the three different teachers I work with, but I plan on starting to teach more formally within the next week or two. I did have the chance to use a class period to introduce myself which was a nice way to break the ice, and since then, the students are a lot more willing to talk to me and I've really enjoyed the classes. Among the questions I've been asked are "What does 'son of a bitch' mean?" "Do you have a girlfriend/how many?" "Have you been to Yankee Stadium?" "Why are all North Americans tall?"

Besides my work in the school, I still hang out a bit at the youth group building. This past weekend they had a small party which I can best describe as a middle/high school dance. The dance floor, at any given point, was filled with five to six couples dancing (certainly not enough to make me feel comfortable dancing) , and several people around the outside watching. It has been my experience at parties that no matter how many people are dancing or how much I don't want to dance, I am asked, pleaded, expected to dance. This party was no different, and as most of the kids there were students from my class, my entrance onto the dance floor was met with shrieks and screams, followed by all eyes on me for the remainder of the song. Thankfully, my site mate was there to share the spotlight a bit.

My housing search has been a frustrating process that still isn't over. There's been a range of issues that I've run into that disqualifies a certain house (too expensive, too close to loud church, no latrine, broken shower, etc.), and unfortunately, I think I've seen just about all there is to see to rent. There are still a couple of houses that I'm waiting to hear back from the owners, so I still have hope to be back on my own after living with a family for four months (try it, it's hard).

As much as I'm ready to have my own place, my family here is really good. My best friend is my four year old cousin who is ready to play when I wake up and when I'm ready to go to bed. He competes for attention with his four month old brother and I, at times, seem to be the only one he can win over. Otherwise, the house is comfortable, the food is good (I'm actually use to beans for breakfast), and the rest of the family is great.

Though my first two weeks went by rather slowly, things have really picked up. Already, with a couple of meetings in Managua scheduled for September and October, I feel like I don't have much time until the school year ends. I hope I can find a house before then!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

I'm a Volunteer

After eleven weeks of training, we were finally able to swear in as Nicaragua 41 Small Business Volunteers. I can't say that I felt completely comfortable leaving the schedule of training, but we were all ready to start our service as the end of training was a bit repetitive and we were all looking forward to being closer to living alone.

Week 10 was spent in Niquinohomo. Our last week we had some classes, but really it was a chance to say goodbye to our training families and towns. I was definitely looking forward to moving, but it was hard to say goodbye to my family and friends in Niquinohomo. My family had a goodbye party for three of us, complete with a piñata and every kid on the block, and my mom wouldn't let me leave without at least two plastic bags for my trip and my new town. I don't think I convinced my family that I could indeed wash my own clothes and cook my own meals. When I told them I could do both, it was always met with skeptical looks, so I assured my mom that I would call with my address so that at least she could send me the bread she bakes every Saturday.

Our last week of training was spent in Managua where we had many of the creature comforts we had been missing. Think: air conditioning, McDonalds, Burger King, movie theater. It was a comfortable "vacation" from our normal living arangements. On Friday of our last week, we swore in as Volunteers. It was a real nice ceremony with our training families, Peace Corps staff, US Embassy representative, and Nicaraguan government representative. Several people spoke before we sang both national anthems and took the Peace Corps oath in both Spanish and English. At the end, we were official volunteers.

I spent the rest of the weekend in Managua before leaving for Palacaguina. There were four of us that were able to take the same bus north which was nice to have some company for the three hour trip. Especially since as we approached our towns we were all pretty nervous. I was glad I had the opportunity to visit before arriving, but it was a scary thought that I was really on my own now in my new town. I got off the bus, got my bags and that was it, I was in my town where I would spend the next two years.

Though I've been going to the school and trying to stay busy, my first two weeks have been pretty slow and I anticipate the first few months to be the same. My primary job will be teaching in two schools. The Nicaraguan school year ends in December, so the first few months of my service are designed to give me a chance to get to the know the town, the schools, and my students (and in many cases learn Spanish) before having to formally teach. In January/February I'll begin teaching a junior achievement type course to the equivalent of 11th graders. Until then, I get to observe in the schools and give "charlas" to the students I'll teach in the coming year.

I'll also be working with a youth group that a former volunteer started. I'm still not sure what I'll be doing with the group, but right now I go to the meeting place just about every night to play ping-pong with the kids who are all around 14-18 years old.

For the most part, I've had a much easier time easing into the town than I had anticipated, and things are going really well. My Spanish surely isn't great, but I tested out at a fairly high level considering my entry level, and I'm much more comfortable with my ability. Partly, I'm simply more comfortable going through my day and only understanding a certain percentage of what's said to me, but it gets a little better each day and I can generally fumble through most conversations. The next test will be finding a house to rent and actually understanding/writing a contract with the landlord. I envision no problems with that task.

I had planned on posting the pictures of my training town while I was in Managua. Unfortunately, two weeks before getting to Managua, my camera was stolen while I was eating lunch during a training session. I have a few pictures that I had saved on a jump drive, but the rest were lost. As for pictures of Palacaguina, I hope to borrow a friend's camera for a day to take and post some pictures online.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Worm Woman of Kalamazoo and IKEA

I initially hated IKEA as I first visited when I lived in London and anything in/around/about London I hated. But, since they built a store within the Metro-Detroit region I've been slowly growing to like the company.

Now, after receiving this link from a former professor, I think I have to love them. Commercial scale vermicomposting! I wonder if Ingvar Kamprad has read Natural Capitalism.

Site Visit

I'm not really sure that I could have gotten a site that I wasn't excited about because I really didn't know any of the sites and I didn't have too many specific things I was looking for. So, I went to Palacagüina (ümlaüt-ville) expecting to like it, and after spending a week there, I'm reading to move in.

We travelled from Managua to Palacagüina on Tuesday morning. The ride is 3-4.5 hours depending on the bus you take (school bus or Greyhound), but it's an otherwise really nice trip through the mountains (especially when along the way you hear The Scorpions hit, The Winds of Change). I travelled with the sub-director of one of the schools I'll teach in, and when we got to Palacagüina he was able to show me around. This was, of course, after we stopped and took a break at a friend's house where we watched the Michael Jackson Thriller, Billy Ocean Get out of my Dreams, Get into my Car, and Gloria Estefan Rhythm Is Gonna Get You music videos. Yes, with the school buses and music, it could be 1985 here.

Anyway, Palacagüina is a small town with around 3,500 people that live within the central city and 15,000 people within the entire municipality. It's a lot cleaner than my training site and has a bit more to offer wtih a couple of restaurants, three internet cafes, a "gym", etc. All in all, for a small town, it has a lot more than most. It's about 20-30 minutes away from the department capital which is a larger city with anything else I would need, including an actual grocery store, and it's an hour to an hour and half away from Esteli, the North's largest city.

The family that I'll live with for the first six weeks is also really nice. The house is smaller than the one I live in now, and it's a lot more basic with concrete walls and a "tile" roof. We have electricity and running water, but the house only has a latrine and my shower is a brick structure with four walls and a door that works well for the short women in my family, but only covers me to my upper chest. The short shower stall makes for a great view of the house kitchen or looking the other way, a great view of Nicaraguan mountains.

I'll be teaching at two schools. One school is within the central city and has 2-3 sections of third year students (it's basically the equivalent of sophomore year in high school) and the other school is in a small rural town about 10 km outside of the city. I didn't get to spend too much time at the schools, but the directors and the few teachers I met seem really nice (they all spoke slowly which is really all I ask) and happy to have me. I also met the coordinators of a youth group that was started by a former volunteer and that I might do some projects with.

Three nights isn't a long enough time to get a great impression of any place, but as first impressions go, I'm really happy with my site. As much as I enjoy being around my training group and having an English outlet, I'm looking forward to having more time and space at my site. And, though I feel like I could still go through months of Spanish classes, I think I'll more quickly learn the language once I'm at my site and surrounded by it all day.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Palacagüina and Parasites

We've been really busy the last few weeks, so I haven't had the time to update. But, a lot has happened and we're almost done with our training period, which is exciting and frightening.

My training group finished our youth group project a couple of weeks ago when we spent three days working with our group and students from two local schools cleaning the main street of Niquinohomo. The street really did look a lot nicer when we were finished, but it was completely trashed again within two days. That was a little discouraging, but without trash service or waste baskets within our town it's hard to fight. Anyway, it's been a lot of fun working with our youth group as most of them are around my age. It's also helped my spanish along.

Our second class at the school was two weeks ago. I taught to the same class which made it quite a bit easier than the first time. My second class was definitely a lot better than my first. My Spanish was a bit better and I was more prepared for the environment.

We also had our second language interview. Basically, you talk with one of the language professors for 10 or so minutes. The conversation is recorded so that when the interview ends two people are able to listen and critique your Spanish ability. My first interview wasn't much of a conversation. It was more me blurting words (and by words, I mean colors) and the two or three phrases that I knew. Needless to say, my second interview was much better. I was graded at the intermidiate level which means I can carry on a simple conversation and "get by." I certainly don't feel all that comfortable with the language, but it has gotten a lot better since I arrived, and the interview helped remind me how much I have improved, even if I have a long way to go.

In other news, this past weekend I woke up on Saturday morning running to the bathroom. I then spent the morning in the bathroom and the rest of the day in bed without energy and with a fever. Sunday, I woke up feeling alright and Monday I was back to normal for the most part, but I learned on Tuesday that I have a bacterial infection and two types of parasites. Pleasant, I know. Truthfully, I feel fine sounds a lot worse than it is. Anyway, I took some pills last night to kill the parasite and for the next three days I have antiboitics to take. The worse part is that it has made me a lot more conscious of what I'm eating and how it's prepared. This makes it a lot harder to eat anywhere in Nicaragua. I haven't had much of an appetite lately, but slowly it's returning.

And...we finally received our sites. For the next two years I'll be living in Palacagüina. We got a list of possible sites two weeks ago and then we had an interview with our boss to explain our preferences. We had to wait a week before finding out which made for some good speculation amongst the trainees. It was a little unnerving the night before knowing that someone else was deciding where you'd live for two years, but I didn't have much of a preference in sites. Beyond Niquinohomo and a few other towns, I really don't know much about other cities and regions of Nicaragua, so it was hard to decide where I wanted to move based on a short paragraph description. Palacagüina sounds good to me.

The town is in the north of Nicaragua, in the department of Madriz. The entire town has around 16,000 people with 3,500-4,000 people within the main city and the rest in the surrounding rural areas. It's the first time that a business volunteer will live there, but there's been a number of health and environment volunteers, and I'll have a sitemate from the health sector. I'll teach in the city school and also in a small rural school outside of the town, and apparently there's several other NGO's that work within the city.

On Monday I leave for a week to visit Palacagüina, giving me a nice chance to get to konw it a bit more before moving there for good. The following week we return to our training towns for our final week of Spanish and technical classes before spending our final week in Managua before swearing in as volunteers and moving onto our sites. The last few weeks are really busy with finishing everything up before training ends.

Other thoughts: How are the Tigers so good and why do I have to miss this season? I can't wait to move back to this. I'm jealous of all that went to Bonaroo. Why isn't anyone going to Nashville for the 4th of July?

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Thanks to everyone that has posted comments so far. I can't quite explain how fun it is to hear from people through email or through this blog, but going through a day only communicating in Spanish is tough, and when I'm able to escape to the internet to enjoy an hour in English hearing from friends and family really is cool. Thanks.

Also, congratulations to Brent Carr on his new job in Houston, Texas. I hope it's not EECS related.

Friday, June 09, 2006

"Teaching" a class

Since my last update, I managed to "teach" a class and travel to Nandaime for a volunteer visit.

As part of our training, we are required to give three or four lessons at one of the local schools in Niquinohomo. The trainees are able to pick the lesson and the class lasts 45 minutes. Easy enough in English, but in Spanish it's another story. If you could hear my Spanish you would laugh at the thought of me teaching a lesson on self-esteem in front of 45-60 sixteen year olds. To add to the problem, the classrooms sit back to back in one building with thin walls and lots of windows, allowing lots of noise to pass through and students to sit outside of the classroom whistling, talking to students in class, and laughing at the instructor.

Other than the environment my class actually went fairly well considering my language ability. We played two games that took up most of the time period and my speaking part was generally scripted out. It also helps that the students are interested in you (at least the first time) and are willing to listen to what the gringo has to say. But, it was scarry getting in front of a class and trying to teach in a second language. I have a lot more respect for the foreign GSI's that I had in college. Brent, give them a break in your next class. It's not easy.

This past week I visited a volunteer in Nandaime, a city about an hour away from Niquinohomo. The visit was for us to get an idea of what it will be like working in the schools, working on secondary projects, and living on our own. It was also a nice break from our training routine and language classes.

The volunteer I stayed with had a fairly large house with two rooms and a porch in the back. The two rooms had nothing except his bike. A bed sat in the middle of his porch and a plastic chair sat in the corner. That was it. He had a broken sink and a toilet that semi-worked, but nothing else. I slept on the floor with a small sleeping bag and a jacket as a pillow, and we traded the chair back and forth through the three days. Despite the living conditions, the visit was pretty cool.

On Monday we rode bikes on dirt roads into the country, crossing two or three rivers and stumbling upon different trails. I haven't seen much outside of the small towns I've visited, so it was cool to see a completely different environment and landscape. Tuesday and Wednesday we spent at the school teaching classes and meeting his students. It was cool to see the actual class and subject that I'll be teaching in a few months.

I learned a lot spending a few days outside of training. Mostly, that it's going to be hard moving to a new town without the safety net of other volunteers within your site. Finding housing, projects, friends, etc. will be a tough task to complete on your own. Especially after establishing a home in my training town. I've become comfortable with my town, my family, and my friends (despite my spanish). It'll be hard to leave and adjust again.

This next week we're busy with our youth group and another class at the school. I'm staying healthy (somehow I didn't get sick after eating trash food and drinking tap water for the weekend) and happy.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Nicaragua Week 3

Week 3 and things are starting to get to be more of a routine. My spanish is still fairly bad, but I'm a little more comfortable with my family and my town. Through the last week, some notable events:

As part of our training period, my group of trainees in Niquinohomo are required to work with a youth group on a project within the town. Our first meeting was last week, and it marked the first time that we had to give a presentation in Spanish. For the most part, our parts were scripted out and rehearsed, but it went fine, and the group was more than patient and helpful.

We will continue to meet with the group for the next 8 weeks, working on a project that they decide to do. So far, we've been lucky, as our group has shown interest and done a lot of the work by themselves. Considering our Spanish level, we're grateful for their initial ambition.

Last weekend I went with family and friends to San Jorge, a town on Lake Nicaragua. All 23 of us rode in the back of a UHaul-type truck, sitting in lawn chairs, for the hour or so long drive. The beach was fairly nice and was surrounded by two volcanoes in the distance, making it a nice spot to spend an afternoon.

I also was attacked by a dog this past week. At my house, I essentially back up to a compound-like area that holds four or five homes for the entire family (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents). In the middle of this compound is four or five dogs that either roam around or are chained up on trees, sinks, cars, etc. During the day, the dogs aren't a problem and I'm free to walk around the place. As night falls, however, a family member walks me through the compound so that the dogs don't attack/bark at the unfamiliar face.

Anyway, I was walking back to get my dinner one night when I get to the area that the largest dog is normally chained up. I realize I'm rather close to this area and that it's beginning to get dark. At this moment, I see the dog charging from underneath a sink with mouth open and fangs showing. I jump out of the way, just in time for the dog to rip my pant leg but miss my leg. It was a scarry moment, but not quite as scarry as the sounds I heard coming from the dog as it was punished by an older woman after the poor dog had done what it was trained to do. The worst part is that I'm down to two pairs of of which currently has gum all over the butt after I sat in something on the circa-1988 school bus that functions as public transportation.

Other than that and a large unidentifiable bug on the inside of my mosquito net last night, things are fairly normal and quiet. This next week we continue with classes and on Wednesday I teach my first class at the local high school. How I will do this with my language ability, I'm not quite sure, but I'll let you know in a week. Next weekend we leave our training towns for half a week to visit a volunteer at site which will be a welcome break and a nice way to figure out what it'll be like after I leave my training town in 7 weeks.

Things I want: An afternoon game at Comerica Park to watch the first place Detroit Tigers.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Nicaragua Week 2

I typed out a fairly long review of my first two and half weeks in Nicaragua this afternoon only to have the computer bring up an error message when I tried to upload. Needless to say, I lost the entire post...welcome to the third world.

To summarize, I made it to Nicaragua on May 3 with 16 other trainees. Our first three days were spent in a really nice resort type hotel in Managua before we were sent to our host towns and families. Each town has three to four trainees, grouped together based on language ability. My group tested into the novice mid category which essentially means that we speak in isolated words, grunts, and phrases that only the most sympathetic ear can understand. The first weekend with my family was a lot of me saying ¨Si¨ to things that I didn´t understand.

I live in Niquinohomo with my host mom, 7 year old sister, 19 year old brother, and 26 year old brother. Our house is fairly´s a U shaped house with a small courtyard type middle. We normally have electricity, and we have a flushing toilet, but we rarely have running water.

My days are busy and tiring. I normally wake up at 7am (although I rarely sleep through the night because of roosters, dogs, busses, etc. There´s an absurd amount of noise) I eat breakfast with my mom and sister, then I have language classes Monday through Thursday. Wednesday afternoons, Fridays, and Saturday mornings are spent taking technical classes with the other 16 trainees. We travel to various towns around Masaya where current volunteers teach us about teaching, Nicaragua, security, etc. Fridays are also the days that we´ve been receiving our vaccacinations...7 and counting, so far. After classes I eat dinner with my family and do whatever homework I have before retiring to my room around 9 or 10. I go to bed with my mind swimming in Spanish and English.

My Spanish is improving, I suppose, but it´s an uphill battle. You lose your personality when you can´t´s one of the more frustrating experiences I´ve had. I´m severely jealous of the trainees that came down essentially fluent. I´d give anything. So much patience is needed.

My town is fairly small, and although there´s an internet cafe, the connection is not always great and it´s rather expensive for our Peace Corps allowance. Now that I´m getting to know some other towns and the bus system, I hope to be able to update a little promises though.

Things I want: a giant burrito from BTB (what´s the new name?), a budweiser, a wallow spot on the hoover couch, a tv to watch game 7 of pistons vs. cavs

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

20 in their 20s

Crain's Detroit Business just published their 20 people in their 20s making a mark on Detroit. It's really good stuff and makes me want to stay in this region for the next two years. What's so exciting about these 20 people is their commitment to stay in Detroit and their willingness to create the job they want or become the catalyst to change this region. Most exciting though and something I've thought about a lot, are the comments about Detroit as an opportunity. Detroit offers a young person the opportunity to quickly become one of the leaders that this region so sorely lacks. This opportunity does not exsist in Chicago or New York or any other more established city, and it's an opportunity that I look forward to taking advantage of upon my return. In the meantime, I wish all of these 20-somethings good luck. They are the reason I've become excited and will continue to stay excited for Detroit.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Peace Corps

"The Peace Corps invites you to NICARAGUA." Uh oh, it's finally arrived. My formal Peace Corps invitation marks decision time after a year's worth of pondering, questioning, and flip-flopping. And though I'd rather just get started with my service if I decide to accept the invitation, a May 1 departure date is frighteningly close and leaves little time to waste. So, inspired by Dan's law school post, I give you a rundown on Peace Corps/Nicaragua:

Status: Second poorest country of the western hemisphere, distribution of income is one of the most unequal in the world.
Visit: Never
Family: None
Friendship: None
Weather: Tropical
Peace Corps Program: It sounds like I'd be teaching a Junior Achievement type course in local high schools and vocational institutes.
Language: Spanish
Language Knowledge: Minimal
Housing: Concrete or brick home with wooden doors and windows and a tin roof. Latrine and shower in backyard. Probably electricity and running water though both are prone to outages.
Intangibles: Sleeping under a mosquito net for two years, machismo, relatively "normal" food, short flight for most potential visitors
Prospect: Shit, I'm scared!

There you have it. Peace Corps/Nicaragua. What do you think?

And finally, because it's never to early to start planning, I offer you possible flight options for Spring Break 2K7: Nicaragua.

Detroit, MI to Managua, Nicaragua: $703
Nashville, TN to Managua, Nicaragua: $752
Atlanta, GA to Managua, Nicargua: $796
Denver, CO to Managua, Nicaragua: $705
New York, NY to Managua, Nicaragua: $702
Phoenix, AZ to Managua, Nicaragua: $668
Los Angeles, CA to Managua, Nicaragua: $578
Boston, MA to Managua, Nicaragua: $653

Friday, March 17, 2006

Quicken Loans Moving Downtown?

"I'm David Hall, President of Rock Financial." These ads, played over and over during Pistons games, would quickly move from the bottom to the top of my list of favorite advertisments on TV if David Hall plays any role in convincing Dan Gilbert to move his headquarters downtown. Please, Lord, let this happen! This rumor has been floating around for a few months, but to my knowledge this is the first time that Dan Gilbert has publicly said he is indeed considering moving downtown.

Considering the old Statler Hotel site and the old Hudson's site, I would prefer to see them develop the Hudson's block. Although a development this size on the Statler site would provide a legitimate anchor for Grand Circus Park, the move to the Hudson's block would really help finish off the Lower Woodward cooridor. Detroit has plenty of pockets of development going on, but nothing that seems to be completely finished. Quicken Loans, Compuware, Campus Martius, One Kennedy Square all within a stone's throw from eachother would create a truly walkable district and potentially fill in the remaining downtown Woodward storefronts.

This is really exciting, but I won't get my hopes up until I hear Quicken Loans official announcement.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Doug Rothwell Interview

This is a great question and answer session with the president of Detroit Renaissance, Doug Rothwell. Once again, I'm happy to learn that there's a lot of talented leaders thinking about Michigan's future. I'm excited to read his group's major recommendations to Kwame Kilpatrick, and there's a lot in his answers that suggests some good things to come. I particularly like that he mentions the importance of building the "urban core" and talks about Detroit Synergy folks embracing Detroit for what it is. The "edginess of Detroit and the grittiness of Detroit and the hardworking nature of Detroit" are certainly all traits that I've grown to love over the last year. The idea of building a "brand and an image" around these is exciting and although you'd take some of that edginess away when you have have politicians and CEOs building an "image," I definitely agree that Detroit's grittiness is something worth promoting.

Airport City

Airport City, a landscape of modernity and prosperity, has helped Detroit become the nation's fastest-growing big city and pushed southeast Michigan back to the top of America's best economic performers, a place it has not held in 70 years. The quality of life in southeast Michigan — which at the start of the century embarrassed bright young adults and drove them away — is now a point of pride keeping them around.

This is the vision of Wayne County's development director, Mulu Birru, and an exciting plan for southeast Michigan. As the article points out it has some serious obstacles in its path, but I think Birru has the right attitude when he says, "It's a big project and it will take a lot of consensus, a lot of cooperation and a lot of imagination to make it work. But it's all possible."

The Airport City vision and yesterday's conference "Where Do We Go From Here? at least let me know that the region's leadership is thinking about Michigan's struggling economy, though time will tell if Michigan is able to successfully transform itself and thrive or if it will be left to languish and struggle.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Pop City

Model D just launched the Pittsburgh version of their site, calling it Pop City. Like Detroit, Pittsburgh has to continually fight old stereotypes and tired perceptions to "break the bad news cycle." Often beating the Free Press and News in publishing development news, Model D is exceptionally good at highlighting Detroit's transformation. The neighborhood visiting guides are well thought out and well written and the features are always informative. I can't imagine Pop City will be any different...Pittsburgh enthusiasts will be excited with this new website.

I haven't formally visited Pittsburgh, but I have driven through and as Charley in The Perks of Being a Wallflower said, it really did make me "feel infinite." Driving through the tunnel and emerging on the other side in the heart of the city was one of the cooler drives I've done. A quick look through Pop City tells the story of very healthy city with a lot of cool neighborhoods and potential.
Pittsburgh’s Downtown remains healthier than those of many midsize American cities. Geographically and economically central, it absorbs a 41-percent daytime population surge, the fourth-highest among U.S. metro areas; what’s more, 48 percent of Downtown workers arrive by transit – and, over lunch, it can seem as if nearly as many are bargain-hunting at Kaufmann’s landmark department store.
Here's to a sister rustbelt, blue collar city and Pop City's success. Pittsburgh, you give me hope for what Detroit will become.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Chevy Camaro

Please come out with this car. I think if the production model looks like the Camaro concept that debuted at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show, GM will have a hit. My only worry is that it'll take a good two to three years to develop the car and get it into dealer showrooms. Regardless, retooling the Oshawa plant as a flexible manufacturing facility and saving close to 6,000 workers is good news.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cultivating Community

Anyone wandering around the Diag this week should keep an eye out for the Cultivating Community banners advertising our benefit dinner. My efforts making these banners, though minimal, required more of a commitment in an extracuricular activity as a non-student than I ever made in my four years as a student (excluding water polo). That's pathetic.

Talk to Brent or I if you're interested in attending or learning more about the project.

Riverfront Development

Over the last month there's been a lot of exciting news about Detroit's riverfront. Two of the three former cement silos are now slated for redevelopment that will include condos, retail, and restaurants, creating a walkable/liveable community along the river. This announcement comes just a month after GM selected a development firm for property just east of the Ren Cen, and construction is set to begin on the new Asian Village development in the same area. It looks like this neighborhood is well on it's way to taking off and becoming a downtown destination. I wish it could happen overnight.

Detroit's Super Bowl success, riverfront news, and news that the city leads southeast Michigan in new housing permits should finally give some skeptical suburbanites legitimate reasons to get excited about their city.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Rivers Cuomo is a strange bird. I hope he's listening to Puccini now, writing something even remotely close to as good as Pinkerton.

I'm not sure what's stranger to me...thinking about the lead singer of Weezer living underneath a freeway in Culver City, CA in a black apartment with the windows covered with fiberglass insulation, or realizing that the Blue Album came out 12 years ago when I was 11 years old.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A Super Super Bowl Weekend

It started on Thursday. The Super Bowl weekend. The weekend Detroit had been planning for and working towards for five years, and I wanted every part of it I could get my hands on as a downtown street ambassador volunteer and as a "cast member" for the Super Bowl halftime show.

I've been to Detroit almost once a week since late summer, admiring the improvements made each week in preparation for the Super Bowl. Just last week, the week before the Super Bowl, I was impressed with some of the last minute changes that were happening. But, even arriving with high expectations on Thursday for my first shift as a street ambassador, I was wowed by how good Detroit looked. The lights, the throngs of people, the temporary store fronts, the facade improvements...this wasn't the Detroit I saw a week earlier.

My partner, a 65 year old sassy black woman and life-long Detroiter named Jo-Ann, and I were assigned a route behind the Fox Theater that was mostly parking lots, but also required a convient walk past the Town Pump Tavern, one of my favorite bars downtown. On our second walk past the bar, Jo-Ann, without really asking, grabbed my arm and said, "Let's go in here. I really want a Crown Royal on the rocks." Good. I've never had a Budweiser taste so sweet than while in that bar, wearing a red Super Bowl volunteer coat, sharing a drink with my new friend, and basking in Detroit's glory, knowing that my weekend was just starting.

After our first drink, we didn't really spend much time on our "route." We wandered around all of downtown checking out the Winter Blast tents and markets. We stopped in a couple more bars along Woodward and otherwise just enjoyed being in the thick of it all. It was still hard to believe how good everything looked.

After my shift was done, I met my brother and two of his friends downtown and drove up to Midtown's Bronx Bar. Even outside of downtown it was packed...was this really going on in Detroit? First far, too good to be true.

Friday, I worked the early shift from 10am-2pm which was hard to get up for after staying out until 1:30am Thursday night, but like I said earlier, I wanted every bit of Detroit that I could get this weekend. I was paired with Wilma, a late thirties accountant who grew up in Detroit, moved to Washington D.C., and had just returned to Detroit a year ago. She was so impressed with downtown after her first shift on Thursday, that she brought her family back that night to the Winter Blast. Again, we didn't really stick to our route, instead wandering around the main attractions and even stopping in the new downtown YMCA long enough for Wilma to open a family membership and tour the facility. (I had been meaning to do this since the building opened in December, so this made my day. It was the nicest YMCA I've been in, and one of the nicest health club facilities I've seen.)

After my shift, it was time for the halftime rehearsal at Ford Field. For the most part, the rehearsal was a lot of waiting and trying to organize 2,000 or so "cast members" and stage hands, but it was exciting to run onto the field and be a part of the "dress rehearsal" where the Rolling Stones performed their three song set to our small crowd. I also found out that we were going to be part of the pre-game show with Stevie Wonder...did you want to be on the Super Bowl field twice during the game? Is this some sort of joke!?

When we finally were done with the rehearsal, my brother and I met up with one of his friends who lives in the Lofts at Merchants Row, along Woodward. Again, I had been meaning to tour these lofts for awhile, so when this opportunity presented itself I decided that this day was damn near the best day of my life. The lofts were definitely the nicest I've been in. The Kales Building has the best view, but the Merchants Row lofts, you could tell, were down very well, with quality in mind.

Downtown was crazy busy now (11:30pm or so) and I caught the tail end of Clint Black's performance on the Winter Blast Sprint Stage before meeting up with Ann Arbor friends. Mike and I roamed around downtown looking for a bar that didn't have a line outside--they were hard to come by--and finally stumbled into Foran's Irish Pub. The bar was more of a house party than a pub. All of the taps were out, and they were serving bottles of beer out of the boxes. Miscellaneous fifths and half gallons were behind the bar with trash, bottle caps, and two liters. We liked it. More friends met us there and luckily got into the bar before two people were shot two doors down from Foran's. Everyone was kept inside the bar for awhile while the police barricaded the area. When we were allowed to leave, we headed back to Ann Arbor. It was a sad ending to an otherwise perfect day. If they find the man responsible for this shooting, I'd like a judge to sentence him to public humiliation--strap him into a pillory and let the 3,000 or so members of Detroit Synergy shit on him for embarrassing Detroit.

Home at 3:30am and back in Detroit at 9:30am Saturday morning (need coffee!). I had the 10am-2pm shift again and I was working with Wilma and one of Wilma's coworkers, Annie. We rode the packed People Mover (it's normally the Person Mover) over to the RenCen and wandered around the crowds there. It was a cool atmosphere inside with a lot of fans roaming around looking for sports stars. We saw Emmit Smith giving an interview downstairs and passed by Shannon Sharpe on the second level.

If you've ever been inside the RenCen you know that it is far from user-friendly. It's more of a maze than anything else and we helped plenty of people that had gotten lost wandering around. On the second level concourse a man in a suit approached looking for where he parked his car, "I'm really lost in here. I need to find where I parked my car, but I forget what garage it's in." Just like they taught us in training, "Sure, we can help!" with a big smile on our faces. Then, for the next twenty minutes we help Steve Mariucci try to find his car! We take him to where he points on the map..."No, no. I was on the other side of the building." Okay, we'll walk you back that way. The whole time while roaming around with him, Mooch is being bombarded by fans for autographs and pictures. As we turn around to go back into the thick of the crowd, he looks at all of us and says "We have to go back in there! Alright, I'm going to keep my head down. Walk quickly." He probably would have been better off without three red Super Bowl coats surrounding him, but his sense of direction required it and we finally got him into the parking structure he was looking for. We helped him find his car (he wasn't sure if it was on the first or second level) and bid him farewell.

After my shift, my brother and I went to Detroit Beer Company for a couple of over-priced beers before heading to Lafayette Coney. What's a Detroit Super Bowl weekend without a coney island? The line was out the door but we got to see the cook make coneys with machine like efficiency. Once seated and served, I bit into the best damn meal I've had in awhile. All was right in the world sitting in a coney island in an alive downtown Detroit.

Super Bowl Sunday. My brother and I got downtown around 1:30pm and it was nothing but yellow and gold--it could have been Pittsburgh. We got a ride up to the State Fairgrounds where the pre-game and halftime cast were meeting. Checked in, ate lunch, got some last minute reminders, and then the pre-game cast filled twelve Taylor Schools buses. A police escort took us right down Woodward to a security check-in outside of Comerica and Ford Field. More Pittsburgh fans! The cast moved inside of the Comerica Park tunnel and then waited for the first show. All of the pre-game cast was in the tunnel. The dancers, choir, and armed forces walked by on their way to Ford Field, and each group was met with school children like shrieks of excitement. Doug managed to get the 500-600 people chanting "USA!!" as the armed forces paraded by with Old Glory.

Finally, it was our turn to move out. We started in a slow walk that once outside of the tunnel and at the front entrance of Ford Field turned into a run. Into the Ford Field tunnel that sloped down for a quarter mile or so with production workers begging us to "RUN!" Then, the light, the field, the fans hanging down from the railings as we entered. It was so cooool. It looked like everyone in the stadium had a Terrible Towel. We ran to the front of the stage where Stevie Wonder waited for us and the show started within a few seconds. We danced, cheered, twirled around to breathe it all in. Then, as quickly as we entered, we exited. Production workers again yelling "Run!" as we moved from the field into the tunnel and back into Comerica Park. It was awesome.

We got to watch some of the first half of the game on TVs they had set up in the tunnel, but most of the time was spent getting everyone back in line and organizing the other 1500 people that were part of the halftime show. At the two minute warning, we started to move out. More excitement, everyone buzzing. We waited outside of the front entrance to Ford Field and caught the last minute of the half on the jumbo-tron you could see through the windows. We watched the stage roll into the tunnel in front of us, and we walked closer to the tunnel. Then, "RUN!" We were dashing down the tunnel again with more and more people trying to head for the front. Down the tunnel, onto the field, over the cords, and into the tongue at center field. The giant sheet that covered the middle was already out and we had to climb around underneath it to our "assigned spot." The lights went out, you could hear the crowd. We waited under the giant dutch oven for the Rolling Stones to start their set and our chance to be a part of one of the largest live television events of the year. Fireworks. Guitars. Crowd. Mick Jagger. The cloth tongue starts to move its way forward and we wait...then, light...revealed! Jumping up and down--how'd we get this close!--to "Start Me Up." Yes!!!!! Jagger parades around the tongue over to his left and moves to our area. We could nearly touch him, everyone in the tongue going nuts.

At the end of the first song we were all trying to catch our breath. Keith Richards stands up at the front of the stage and lets his guitar pick fly. It moves to my left, sailing away, then takes a right turn and heads towards me. Is this happening? Very few people around us notice that he threw his pick, let alone that it's being drawn close to our area by the blanket of good luck that had been wrapped around me since Thursday. The pick floats in slow motion, hits a man in the chest, falls slowly to the ground. A girl to the left of me sees it fall to the ground. She moves for it. I move for it. We look for it. Legs, shoes, socks, more legs...pick!!! I reach through a pair of legs and cover it with my hand, feeling it with both hands to make sure it's real. I return standing up and show it to everyone around. No way! I put it in my pocket and through the rest of the performance reach in to make sure it's still there. That this actually happened.

We jump, scream, dance. The crowd is huge. So many cameras and photographers. Clothe banners fall from the rafters, fireworks ignite behind the stage. The end of "Satisfaction." The Rolling Stones bow and exit. We wait for the first part of the stage to be disassembled and then, "RUN! Go, Go, Go!! Watch the cords! RUN!" Up the tunnel, a herd 2,000 strong running up the tunnel so that the large stage doesn't catch up with us and have to stop or worse, start rolling back down the hill and onto the field. Out of breath and into the cold air. We're all done. The best twelve minutes of the weekend.

I'm not sure what I did to deserve all of this, but it was the coolest weekend of my life. I couldn't ask for a better four days. Detroit, all dressed up and on center stage, gave me more than I asked for. I'm still having a hard time believing it all happened.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Detroit in the news

This list was compiled by Detroit Synergy although a number of people (Tom Campion, Matt Lapinski, Brian Emeott, Troy Jackson) have passed along a few of the articles to me over the last week.

Culturally Speaking, Detroit is Hopping (Seattle Post Inquirer)
Detroit doesn't deserve it's Reputation (
Detroit gussies up for Super Bowl XL (Toledo Blade)
Detroit shows off a Super new side (USA Today)
Getting Revved Up about the Motor City (Boston Globe)
Motown ready to play its best defense (
New Detroit (Dallas Fort-Worth Star- Telegram)
SBXL: Fresh sets of eyes on Detroit (Crains Detroit Business)
Weather is cold, but the reception is not (Miami Herald)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Super Bowl Week!

After all, we don't have South Beach. We don't have Bourbon Street. We don't have Disneyland. But those places aren't real. They are dolled up, stacked coins, candy on candy. They are bars next to more bars and rides next to more rides. They are not cities. Detroit is a city.

When you see The Bus, you see Detroit -- large and slightly out of shape but churning straight ahead, with more to offer than people realize. He's real to the core. It's why Pistons center Ben Wallace, all muscle and hustle and hair, and Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman, the sage, reserved leader, are so popular.

Those who still think of Detroit as a blighted, dangerous industrial city in decline will be especially surprised by the new look of the city's downtown.

"It's got its own flavor. New York is great, don't get me wrong, but Detroit, there is something more raw about it that I really, really adore."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Back to Blogging

I've obviously been neglecting my blog's what I've been up to:

My winter break was good, spending time with my family and friends. I wasn't sure if I'd get a whole week off from work, but I was pretty much told to take it off. Good. I some how managed to get paid for that week too. GOOD. Otherwise, my job sucks...more on that later.

I spent New Year's in New York with friends. Despite going out every night, we actually saw some sights which was a welcome change from the crippling all day hangovers/wallow fest usually associated with visiting friends in new cities. Overall, it was a great weekend and a nice way to end my break.

Then came work again. The first two weeks of January were the worst couple of weeks I've had in awhile. I was really frustrated with work going into winter break and I thought that a week off would help, but really it just made going back to work harder. I was close to telling my boss that I was done at the end of January, but I waited a bit and decided against it for the time being. It's gotten better since then and if nothing else, the frustration has really forced me to think about what I want to do in the near future...Peace Corps or no Peace Corps.

I had my final phone interview with the Peace Corps the first week of January. The recruiter and I spent the interview reviewing what I was interested in and qualified for before she read off a list of potential programs, regions, and departure dates. I was nominated for a business development program in Latin America leaving early May to late June. The nomination is no guarantee, but they say it's a good idea of where and what you'll be doing. I now have to get my doctor and dentist to fill out a ridiculous amount of paper work before the U.S. government stamps my ass "healthy," and I receive specific information on the country, job, and departure date I've been assigned. Once I get my formal invitation, I'll have ten days to decide to accept or reject and at least four weeks before I'd leave. Decision time is closing in quickly...I'd like to decide in the next couple of weeks so that I can tell my boss when I'll be done with work. If I do this, I'd like to have at least a couple of months to pack, sell most of my belongings, visit family and friends, organize my life, enjoy extra value trash meals, roam the aisles of Meijer, and consume as only an American can.

The past few weeks I've spent gearing up for the Super Bowl. Through a couple of my brother's friends, he and I are trying to get on the field for the Super Bowl halftime show. This would be...SUPER! Regardless, I've completed the training to work as a downtown street ambassador, working three four hour shifts assigned to a city block to welcome visitors to Detroit and answer questions. Through this program's training I was also able to meet and talk to a women who works for Downtown Detroit Partnership, a non-profit group that does different development work and has done a lot of work planning for the Super Bowl. This is the second group doing work in Detroit that I've met with and both times I've been surprised to find out about the extensive and well thought-out plans for where Detroit is headed. It's really cool to hear about this from the people that are making it happen rather than simply reading about the developments. It's clear after meeting these people that downtown Detroit's momentum will not end with the Super Bowl. I'm excited to see the developments in the coming months and years. Right now though, we'll focus on getting the Super Bowl right on February 5th!

Last weekend I was at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Over the weekend we saw five screenings, absurd women's boots, and outrageous outfits/fur coats. It's safe to say that the fans at Sundance were a bit different from the fans at the Detroit Auto Show two weeks ago.

And finally, the most obvious thing I've been working on has been this blog. I've added a third column that includes books I've recently read and music I'm currently listening to. The flickr badge links to my updated and organized flickr account and I included a few more links on the right. I might tweak with the format a little more in the coming weeks. I hope you like it. February will see more consistent blogging...I promise.