Saturday, December 5, 2009

Going to Arkansas

Before even thinking about going to Arkansas, I played a couple of shows with Seba as a guest musician. I sang on a tune called Antequedas, which is about a place of the same name where people go to eat, fish and relax near the Paraná River.

It was a big deal because it was Seba's release party for his second CD, Palimay. I haven't gotten nervous in a few years before performing but my first show with Seba I did get nervous. So in addition to a lot of yoga, I said a little prayer before going on stage that my singing would help bring about a world of social justice and peace.

Keeping my eye on the prize helped a lot, and I just had a blast. Friday in the newspaper, the review of the overall concert was positive, but it said, "le puso un toque de simpatía Stephen Coger," and I wasn't sure if it meant that it was sympathy that brought me to the stage or if I brought a sort of charisma/friendliness to the stage. Fortunately it was a compliment, as my sister Lorena and my brother Kevin later confirmed. Ha!

We played a show again on Friday, a bar show, intimate and small, compared to the Wednesday arts center, 200+ people show. We got home after 2am that night and then on Saturday morning I headed alone to teach music at Vilelas. Fortunately the literature teacher showed up and then Seba and Lorena came once their son (my nephew) Yamil finished a gymnastics show at his elementary school.

On this night in Vilelas we were holding a concert for the students' parents, and so after rehearsing all of our tunes we decided to end the music workshop early. Upon informing the students that we were ending a half hour early, one of them pulled out a cell phone, checked the time, and said, "No, profe, son las 11 y treinta. Ustedes están acá hasta las doce." "No, professor, it's 11:30. Ya'll are here until twelve." And so it was, and so we were. He wasn't combative; he just said the truth, and that was all it took. Ha! So they held a sort of drum circle for thirty minutes more and I was moved to join them on the trumpet. It's a humbling and joyous feeling to share music with people and see how drastic of an improvement can be made over just four months. Without any direction these kids changed rhythms, gelling in and out, transitioning clean and transitioning together like the fine brustles of two combs passing just next to each other, amongst and between each other in perfect synchronicity. I was totally impressed, and joyous to be playing music with them.

But how can I share with you the fun, good work that we did that day? We taught music in the morning, played a children's music show in the afternoon, and then put on a show for the parents of the music workshop kids in the evening. It was beautiful. I shared with them their fortune at living next to one of the world's most important rivers, of having successfully struggled for universal health care, and of having successfully struggled for universal education. I told them that 45,000 people die in my country every year for lack of health care, and we talked about music and I thanked them... and after the show and during the good-byes, just as we were about to pull away, Facundo, one of the older kids, started to tear up, and I thought, "If we don't leave now, this is it! I'm gonna cry!" And so it was. ha! It was a beautiful goodbye, sitting in the back part of a pick-up bouncing away down the gravel from Vilelas, thanking Seba for inviting me all those Saturdays ago and crying.

In India they talk about "rising in love" as opposed to "falling in love," and I think it applies not only to romantic love, but also to friendships like those my friends and I made in Argentina. A sort of constructive love that sets free and isn't codependent but rather interdependent towards mutual growth. That's what all of my Argentina friends and most of my students and I did. We had just a little bit of time, and yet we really formed strong bonds in that short time.

And because the musicians that play with Seba had been here all week from Buenos Aires, we'd spent every night awake until 2 or 3am eating, visiting, swimming, and playing music... tonight I slept.

Sunday I played with my Taiwanese friends while the rain poured outside, and then that night played with Seba, Lorena, and Yamil in the park. Yamil learned to skate tonight (Nov. 15, 2009). I began to pack.

Monday I practiced yoga with Seba and recorded a video journal while cooking dhal. Tuesday was my last day at San Fernando Rey, the college whereat I teach, and I printed off four certificates for my two most improved students and my two best speakers. Wednesday was another love-filled goodbye; it was my last day at Escuela Normal Sarmiento, my high school. You know what? I'm just going to include my journal entry from this day. It was a big day.

This morning I got nearly EVERYTHING for our Thanksgiving dinner at my beloved butcher shop (which has everything one could need hidden amongst its few shelves), then hunted down the last few ingredients in the centro. Lorena (my sister) beat me home and we cooked together, and Nico (my brother) came over and helped. We had lunch together outside the oven-heated sauna of my casita (little house), then went together to my favorite class. We ate ice cream, visited, and shared about things beyond English. I asked them not to smoke, and they shared their thoughts, danced, and Lorena and Claudia (the professor and my dear friend) spoke, too. I reminded them that they live in a beautiful place and that they are fortunate to live here. I reminded them that Claudia is a great English teacher that speaks English perfectly, that we have a choice when it comes to our emotions and when it comes to what we enjoy, and that it’s better to hang out solo than be mal acompañado, than to hang out with bad company.

Nico and Lorena told them about San Fernando Rey. Then we took a picture together, Nico helped me prepare envelopes for Kevin (my youngest brother), then my Argentine family--Lorena, Nico, and Kevin--and I took a picture together, then one with Claudia.

Lorena wrote her contact info down for Kevin, then I wrote a quick note telling his parents that another adoptive sibling (Lorena) had agreed to get him up to speed on his English free of charge. I also invited them to my Thanksgiving dinner tonight.

Then Lorena and I walked back home, crying a little, and then I helped her with her English homework and we went to swimming lessons! Yamil and Nahuel can swim wonderfully, and while Magalí and Lara know HOW to swim, they haven't let me let go of them, and when I do they sink like a stone. So today I didn’t let go of them at all though at one point Magalí was swimming with such speed that I wasn’t supporting her at all. Ha!

Then I came home and practiced yoga, and my 9:15 dinner started when Seba and Lorena showed up at that time, though we didn’t begin to eat until Steven Washington (a former Harlem Globetrotter from Chicago, he now resides in Resistencia and teaches basketball at the university where I taught swimming) showed up around 10, and the party got started really when Kevin and his family showed up shortly thereafter, and it was a total blast when Vanessa (whom I met meandering around Resistencia) and her son, Segundo, showed up shortly thereafter. I think everyone had gone home by 2am, after empanadas, sweet potato pie, chocolate cake, pizza, and ice cream. haha! Empanadas and sweet potato pie…

The sort of running joke of the day was that I had to get back after the ice cream at high school and “brush the sugar off my teeth.” It’s funny because it’s mostly not a joke. ha!

On Thursday, I had my final swimming lesson. AND I'M SO HAPPY!! MAGALI SWAM! She swam and she swam and she swam! This is my favorite Going to Arkansas Present. Then we had pizza at my friend David's house. He's a great sculptor. And maker of pizza.

On Friday, I said goodbye to some friends from Taiwan, said goodbye to the Britoses, and they took home the stuff that they had loaned me all those months ago: a sauce pan, forks, etc. Seba came over and helped me finish up, and then we called a remise. I headed to Seba, Lorena and Yamil's while Seba rode that way on his bike. We shared one more afternoon of playing and tereré, that wonderful, yummy, cold version of yerba maté that Argentinians, Paraguayans, and some Brazilians drink in the summer.

My friend Luis and I performed Ben Harper's Waiting on an Angel for Seba, Lorena, Yamil, and a couple of friends of theirs, and then Seba and I played a few of the tunes we'd played together over the months. After that Yamil skated a bit.

Then the remise, which as far as I can tell is the same thing as a taxi, came to get us and take us to the bus terminal. We had to get dropped off before the terminal actually because of a demonstration that had blocked the road. I remember walking toward the terminal, flanked by and following my friends who were helping carry and roll my things, thinking, "SWEET! The buses can't run! One more night in Resistencia!"

As it happened, the buses were running, just behind schedule. And so my friends from Taiwan managed to make their way to the terminal, too, and we all visited. Seba and I visited about the benefits of our friendship, and Yamil and I performed a version of the "I'm Bad" Michael Jackson music video. If you can come over to my house I'll show this to you because it is hilarious and Seba videotaped the whole 1.5 minute show. ha! Also, the Calvin and Hobbes vibe of me and Yamil's friendship is crystal clear and tangible in the video.

Here is Seba and the musicians that helped present his new album.
They are, from left to right: Guido, Mauro, Seba, Esteban (the producer;
he's playing the drums), and then a lovely, lovely guy
(muy buena onda) on the
accordion, Bistolfi.

Lorena, Myrian, Seba, and I in one of the classrooms
at Vilelas.

Here we are playing for children. Someone had the
not-so-bright idea of bringing the food out just as we began to
play, so after this picture was taken nearly
all of our audience disappeared. ha!

Of all the classes at the Instituto Terciario San Fernando Rey,
the university where I worked and played, I spent the most time
with this class of sophomores. Teresa is a great teacher,
always listening to her students; she's in
white to my left, and she is also a Fulbright scholar. She worked
as a Spanish teacher in Washington on her Fulbright scholarship,
and she encourages her students to think critically while
learning English. I really like that, and I suspect that
the context it provides helps what they learn stick.

Chaco is beautiful.

David made everything from the crust to the fire.
And it was delicious. This was another late night, after
a farewell get together in Laguna Argüello, the same
place I had my wonderful birthday party. In the park, I had my
last torta parrilla (flat bread, al estilo Argentino) for a while.

My truly beloved siblings: Lorena, Kevin, and Nico.
They started out as students, then became friends, and then
sister and brothers.

That's all, ya'll. Some how or another the eight plus months of my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship have ended. I made great friends, and they made me. And I achieved my goal--mentioned in my second blog entry--of verifying that no automatic trajectory is mine. My path is mine and is not determined by society, by my beloved parents, by where I'm from... but by all of these things and by me and by more. Mmm-hmm.

I learned to cook well on a fairly consistent basis! I played Kilómetro 11 with my great friends, ate queso cremoso, taught swimming lessons, helped teach a music workshop, taught English, played pool with my high school students, ate pizza and danced with my college students... I became a vegetarian and began to develop in other ways that facilitate the social justice that I want to see in the world. And I resolved never to drive in Danville again; if Seba and Lorena can bicycle around Resistencia, a city of 400,000 folks, I can ride my bike all up and down Danville, my hometown of 2,000 folks. ha!

Aright friends and family. Thank you again for following my blog. As we wade through life's water together may we relax and leave behind the unnecessary and hurtful: the Coca-Cola, house decorations, lawn watering, and more. And as some of us changing see some of us not changing, may we remember that honey attracts more bees than vinegar and be genuinely human. May our art accelerate and make efficient the process of our slow, simple discovery of our common humanness.

See you!


PS On the flight home, the plane ride included the super interesting screen that tells things like the altitude and speed and other stuff. Here are a few screen shots, followed by one of me at home in my back yard in front of the bradford pear tree.

This is my favorite because we can see where
the sun has risen, where it's setting, where
night is falling, and where the sun is rising.

And I know McDonald's to be a place of poison, so I got my food elsewhere so that Dad and I could continue the tradition of eating and reading. Y yo sé que McDonald's es un lugar de veneno, por eso yo compré mi comida en otro parte para que Papá y yo podríamos seguir con la tradición de comer y leer.

And here is a video that I made for my beloved Argentine family, the Ibarras. They took me to so many of their sacred places that I wanted to show them mine; and so this is the first of several videos which will certainly include Spring Lake--at sunset--and Long Pool.

A big huge thanks to Krishna at Espacio Thai in Buenos Aires for allowing me to feel so welcome there. My final two nights in Argentina were passed there, even though no one else was there. Another big huge thanks to all my friends and family and teachers that stayed in touch while I was in Argentina, those that are physically with us and those that aren't.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ingrid and the Andes

Ingrid is a science teacher in the UK. She had a week-long vacation, and she shared it with me! We studied yoga together in India, then went camping and road-tripping in the UK, and then...

She left a teacher’s meeting on Friday at 3 (UK time) and arrived in Resistencia on Sunday morning around 8 (Argentina Time). We went to the farmer’s market to get the makings for dinner, and then shared the whole day with Lorena and Yamil.

We checked out the plaza, various sculptures (Resistencia is the sculpture capital of Argentina, (¿viste?), and then we checked out Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, an awesome movie from 1988. Ingrid brought it for me to give to Lorena and Yamil, along with Something Under the Bed is Drooling, a Calvin and Hobbes book. We dined with Susana and her daughter Luz, and they shared photos and helped us plan our trip to the Andes.

Ingrid spoke in her English accent for students at my college, San Fernando Rey, and also my high school, Escuela Normal Sarmiento, then before we left on Tuesday night, Lorena, Yamil, Ingrid and I headed to the flooded Rio Paraná.

In my querido high school, Ingrid and I traded words like, "computer," "letter," and "tomato," so the students could hear our different accents.

Ingrid and mine's trip to the Andes began that night when we headed to the terminal and missed our bus. ha!

It may seem strange that a person would spend just a week touring another country, but when the power of the pound (nearly 7 Argentine pesos to 1 English pound) is combined with the rarity and value of a good travel partner (not every friend is necessarily a good travel partner), it all adds up. So we happily boarded the next bus to Salta, the capital city that shares the name with its province.

Once in Salta, twelve hours later, we lunched with my friend and fellow-Fulbrighter Paige from Tacoma, Washington, and headed to our hostel…

On Thursday we scooted off in a rented Chevy to Jujuy, a jewel-studded province if ever there were. WooO! Millennia in the making, exposed strata’s colors shift with the sunlight. It’s holy ground like every place but it does look different! In parts its hills are like black rock crumbs under black cacti dangerously sharp and with good posture like a SWAT team, in parts it's like red clay, in parts it's seven colors, and in parts, well, it's hard to explain.

Dinner included a sincere and talented musical performance, as well as a big, fuzzy black dog that casually pranced into the restaurant. We stayed in Pumamarca (that’s where la tierra de siete colores is, the hill of seven colors), and then rolled south early on Friday for more rock admiring. We arrived at a natural amphitheater, and I sang and met a few of the musicians and artists, one of whom invited us over. I had originally asked if the nearby river was swimmable, and he said not only was it swimable, but he would take us there, and to his house. His name was Adán, or Adam.

We talked about life styles, and he mentioned auto-marginalización, or self-marginalization, and also he imparted the idea of carrying, being near, or otherwise treating like amulets metals and liquids in the forms of cell phones and televisions. As you can imagine, we had a good connection.

He’s built several structures next to the river for prayers, music, and shelter from the rain. He lives without such apparent necessities as email, cell phones, electricity, and running water.

And if you know me you know swimming holes are important, and if you think I took a dip into that river, you’d be right. It was 37 degrees Celsius, or over 98 degrees, and it felt great.

Before we knew it we were back in Salta on Friday night at the hostel, and Ingrid said that there was a party that lasted loud through 3am, but I was out like a light at 11:30.

Saturday, after hanging out with Paige and one of her students who’s bound for Florida, I headed to the bus station and right now I’m 30 kilometers from home. Lorena and Yamil and I are going to hang out today, and possibly two German travelers that I met here on the bus last night.

Here are some pictures from the journey. It was a pretty one.

Chabela just happened to be teaching on UK culture
as Ingrid was passing through town.

Before our journey began, Ingrid got to meet my high school class.

Ingrid snapped this pic just as we were packing up
to leave for the bus station.

We stopped for this photo op on the way to Humahuaca. The next few
pictures are from about 4000+ meters high, several kilometers outside

This is outside Pumamarca, beneath the hill of seven colors.

A couple of hundred kilometers south of the previous
picture, and maybe 50 kilometers north of Cafayate,
this is where the natural amphitheater is.

Can you spot me? I sang along to some local music, and
then sang an acapella "Come By Here."

On the left is Nahuel, a musician, and on the right, Adán,
the artist who invited us over to his place on the river.

We shared about important things: non-participation,
exclusion, "self-marginalization," and other such topics.
My most urgent point was to share that we have to enjoy
creating a world of social justice and peace, partly
because honey attracts more bees than vinegar.

Things outside his primary structure.

Trading contact info. His address has his name and the zip code,
no más.

Ingrid, one of Adán's places, and the river and land.

Adán is pictured here next to one of his
houses of worship.

Here we are on the way back to the car continuing the visit
after the swim.

Thank you for following the blog. I head home in just 21 days. It’s really unbelievable: 8 months. It’ll be hard to leave Seba, Lorena, Yamil, the high school, the college, the Saturday music workshop.

The urgency of a practical realization of our common humanness, or how quickly we became friends, exposes our common humanness, millenniums in the making, and verifies that regardless of imaginary national boundaries we are one people, one family with different colors, different languages, different religions, and other subtle, potentially uniting differences. Yeah, I’ll see you in three weeks, Arkansas! We can practice yoga together, and I'll cook us brown rice and vegetable burritos! Then I'll study for the LSAT. ha!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Rowing, Swimming, Celebrating

What a week! On Monday, Seba, Lorena, Yamil and I went rowing in a branch of the Parana River. The river and the land along it was beautiful and relatively untouched by human "development." Then we had a picnic with the folks that let us use their canoe, and there was a commanding, funny woman there that loved to visit. They shared their mashed potatoes, their bathroom, their desert, and their tereré with us.

Next, and if you know me you ought to know that among my favorite things in the world is swimming in rivers, we went swimming in a safe part of the Parana River. It was a fun, fun day with fun, fun friends, and I hope we do it all again. ha!

Tuesday I worked at both the Instituto Terciario San Fernando Rey and Escuela Normal Sarmiento. It's become kind of a tradition that I pick up vegetarian food from my Taiwanese friends' restaurant on the way to Escuela Normal and then eat with the juniors and seniors that linger there after school (they go from the morning to noon-ish and then what we might call middle school goes in the afternoon. I think.)

Wednesday I turned 25! A quarter of a century old. Seba, Alejandro and I practiced Kilómetro 11, an old, beautiful, and difficult Chamamé song. We had a party of ice cream and cake at
Escuela Normal, and then that evening I skyped with Stephen and Darby and called Mom and Dad before heading over to hang out with Seba, Yamil and Lorena.

Thursday I worked at SFR and napped.

Friday I had lunch with Seba's grandmother and Seba, Lore, y Yamil, and we were able to hear a little about what Chaco (the Argentine state in which I live) was like 70+ years back. She made delicious veggie empanadas (Argentine dumplings) just for me (there's an ode to her empanadas below). Then in the plaza my students and I read an article on organic farming and a great poem/story by Sonia Sanchez called Norma from her book Homegirls and Handgrenades. I dined with the Britoses, one of my two Argentine families.
On the way to the plaza Lore and I stopped by my place to put some beans in water, and she happened to read a couple of letters from Stephen Ironside and Darby. She observed that I'm fortunate to have people that love me and want to sing with me and be with me here and in Arkansas. I couldn't help but agree. The speed at which my Argentine friends and I have risen in love is inspiring. Seba, Lorena and Yamil have become some of my best friends ever and we've only really been hanging out for a few months.

Saturday I helped teach music with Seba in Vilelas, then came home and pressure cooked black beans. That night I hung out with my Taoist/Buddhist/Christian/Confucian friends from Taiwan and Resistencia.

Sunday I made fresh-squeezed orange juice for tereré, the cold version of the sacred yerba mate. Seba, Lorena, Yamil, Andrés Alvarez (a student and friend from San Fernando Rey, the college where I teach), my Taiwanese friends Pablo, Andrés, Shuwei, and Angela, and a couple of new friends, one from Italy working for a non-governmental organization (NGO) and another, a great sculpture from Resistencia, one of the world's
sculpture capitals.

Monday, today, I dared to wash a mountain of dishes and in a moment I'll sweep the floor. It's a beautiful, shirtless, tereré kind of day. Seba came over earlier and we wrote a lovely description of his music in English for publication on various websites. Tonight, veggie burritos and, if I'm feelin' real crazy, homemade peanut butter.

Thank ya'll for following the blog!

Below are some pictures, and an invitation to Fayetteville's event for International Climate Action Day. Obama and most of the rest aren't doing enough, and as they're a reflection of us, we can now examine ourselves and get to work.

See you!

PS I can't believe I'll be back in Arkansas in a month and four days!

Here is some great art from the port in Barranqueras.

Just outside my house these flowers were growing.

These are right outside the kitchen window and its mostly effective mosquito screen.

On the 11th, a few folks from San Fer came over for dinner.

This is of course my favorite class, minus a girl and all four
boys. The gal in the back scarfing ice cream is
really funny.

With a happy birthday wish in the background
and a delicious, lopsided torta in the foreground.
Much thanks to the four students who got
together to make this delicious cake.

Seba's grandmother is really cool. A technologically
literate senior, a gardener who knows a bit
about medicinal plants, a superb painter, and...
her empanandas weren't burnt at all
they were soft pockets of experience
and spinach, chard, and eggs.

Lore, Seba, me, and Seba's cousin Cristian
who later came and visited me and my students
in Plaza Belgrano as it is in front of his

This is from Saturday in Vilelas at the music workshop.

These feet were in the park at Laguna Argüello to celebrate
my birthday with frisbee, badminton, and bike riding.

Here we are, some of us.


Ricardo is there on the left, then me, Seba, and Lorena.

They said the red candle/firework was worth
20 and the little ones one each. ha! Good times!

And from Moshe and Hamsa Newmark:

Greetings, please invite everyone you know, including those with alternative transportation (bicyclists, scooter people, those with bio-diesels etc.) to join in the parade - rally for Climate Change on Saturday, October 24th, at 2pm behind Bordinos Restaurant. This is an opportunity for us all to be part of an international tapestry with over 1300 other cities world-wide to help push for substantial climate change legislation. This issue affects everyone on the planet and is universally the most pressing! Let's join in solidarity on the are the details:

Climate change is real and you can do something about it. October 24th is International Climate Action Day and Fayetteville is one of over a thousand cities around the world that will host a rally. Join with fellow citizens of NW Arkansas and people world-wide on Saturday, October 24th, 2:00pm for a March and Rally beginning in the parking lot off Dickson St. behind Bordinos then marching to the Fayetteville Square. There will be speakers, music and information on how we can make a difference affecting the December treaty in Copenhagen. Stand up for Action on Climate Change, Saturday, October 24th, beginning at 2:00pm behind Bordinos, sponsored by and 1 SKY. For more information call 521-7786.