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Len (aka Lenny, Leo, Lenman)

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[26 Jun 2007|02:54pm]
[ mood | calm ]

living now in perhaps my final hours as a resident of marlboro township, taking note of the probable passing of an era.  this morning i again went back to the swim club, walking the same nature trail that has welcomed me since my return in april.  today was a hot and sticky affair, made worse by the scores of people driving around in their pimped up, gas-guzzling SUVs.  it is part of an ethos that i will never understand or embrace, and yet, it was just nice enough being outside, checking out the squirrels and chipmunks as they dashed up and around nearby trees, feeling the cool relief and shade of a small patch of forest, as well as the warm rays of an early summer sun.  good to get the blood flowing, at least a little bit and if only for a little while, to lift the old spirits and help send me on my way this thursday.

last night, an enjoyable dinner at hunan gourmet with doug, dave, ian and ori, an enjoyable outing despite the teasing about how slow i tend to eat, and my insistence on taking any leftovers home, lest any food be wasted.  we don't have everything in common, or even most things necessarily, but i value their company and know, deep down, that their friendships continue to mean something different from any others that i have formed since.

a few days ago i joined dave for a trip to new hope, pa to do some furniture shopping.  there's an expression i'm rather fond of that says "go big or go home", and he surely spent a pretty penny on stuff for his new apartment.  he could have chosen more affordable things from any number of big box retailers, but decided to patronize an eclectic retro place in an artsy kind of town, so i wish him well on the purchases.  i treated myself to a few delicious chocolates while he made his final selections, and then we had a delicious lunch at a cuban restaurant not far away.  i kept hoping for a cute latino waiter to take our order, but it was to no avail.  for that i'll have to go back to la rosa, it seems.   : -p

so...yeah...that's about it.  just anticipating the coming summer, immersed in portuguese, and i feel well-rested and ready to get started for real.  not sure that i'll be able to post any updates until that finishes in mid-august, especially with the language pledge we're taking to use portuguese on a 24/7 basis.  it's a serious and significant commitment, and i like their approach.  i know it will work, and that it will take the fledgling foundation that i've cobbled together over the past few months and transform it into something durable and long-lasting.

so, i hope to catch many of you crazy cats on the flip side.  até logo! 

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[19 Jun 2007|12:15pm]
The last few weeks have been pretty good.

First, we had a real nice time celebrating my birthday at a Malaysian restaurant in Edison called Penang’s. There was yummy food (pi pa duck and rice for me) and the excellent company of Dave, Sarah Beth, Greg, Ian and Ori. It’s a real nifty place, something different but still very much inviting, and I was again reminded of so many wonderful friendships that continue to endure.

Second, Lori and Matt’s wedding was this past weekend - truly a wonderful day for the two of them, notwithstanding the thunder shower that interrupted the ceremony on the beach. Their vows were very touching, the food was delicious, the band was fantastic, and they did an admirable job of balancing the pressure of family members with a sincere desire to keep it a modest and humble affair. It was a special and enjoyable evening.

Third, I received wonderful and totally unexpected news that money has become available for a full scholarship to continue my Portuguese studies at Middlebury this summer! It will pay for the full tuition, room and board, books, and transportation to and from campus. My sincere thanks to the elderly Kathryn Wasserman Davis, whose generous gift served as the initial incentive for me to even entertain all this as an option. I am pleased by the progress I am making, and by the prospect of being able to stretch further still the limited money I have. At this point and time, every little bit more surely helps…

Mom was of course very happy for me, saying how it was great news and that she’s very proud. Dad, on the other, gave no reaction at all - supportive or otherwise - saying only that the school will probably sway me even further off the path that he would have me take. Those kind of comments stopped being cool a long time ago, after I realized and accepted that I’ll never be able to please him, that I’ll always be a disappointment in so many ways. It doesn’t leave too much room for a meaningful relationship with the guy.

Oh well.
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[08 Jun 2007|11:15am]
[ mood | amused ]

oh dear.

dad called me a "twisted freak" this morning. said in half jest, it nevertheless made for a memorable exchange.

he continues to be profoundly perplexed by the way i'm turning out, his exasperation growing deeper and deeper as time goes on. i guess, among other things, he doesn't like to see me listening to music in spanish, or that i'm delving into a third language, or that i'm not pushing all that hard to join the proverbial rat race.

plus there is this perceived tendency of mine to, as he puts it, "always stick up for the undesirables." by that he means blacks, illegal immigrants, or even most members of our immediate family, whom he criticizes on a regular basis.

yep, it's an interesting relationship we have.


oh well.

happy birthday to me. the big 2-8 today.

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[04 Jun 2007|07:58pm]
[ mood | upset ]

it's been a very bad evening here at home.

the frustration and fatigue coming out in a painful way tonight.

i want to get out of here as soon as possible and never live with them again.


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[29 May 2007|05:21pm]
[ mood | restless ]

My parents are really, really close to selling the house. They’ve reached an agreement with a family from Staten Island with four young kids, and if all the paperwork and legal review go through, they’ll likely be out of here before the end of July.

I’m relieved, and happy for them, even though they totally didn’t get the price they were hoping for. It’s probably the best that they’re going to be able to get in this market.

So…yeah…there’s a sense of imminent change, a knowledge that our days here are probably very much numbered, and an undercurrent of exhaustion, anticipating all the work that such a move is going to entail. Yet, in the long run, it’s an important and necessary step forward. That way my Dad can find a place closer to the GM plant in Delaware, thereby avoiding a long, expensive and tiring commute, and my Mom can enjoy the new house she’s invested so much time and effort and money to prepare.

Some of you know that I went up to the Adirondacks for Memorial Day weekend with a few friends of Ian’s. Was definitely an interesting experience, arriving at 1:30 in the morning only to find no entry into the motel where they’d made a reservation. Luckily we were able to find another place in Schroon Lake where there were vacancies, and we slept well. Following a fantastic breakfast at a local diner, we managed ten miles of rigorous hiking through woods of hemlock, maple and birch. It turned out that we were many, many steps slower than the pace we were hoping for, so we decided to stop on Pharaoh Lake and camp there. Made a nice campfire, enjoyed delicious smores, and watched a few stars emerge from the mostly obscured sky. It was peaceful, quiet, and not that cold, and, all in all, a nice change of pace.

We slept well, which was unusual for me, but Ori’s tent was nice and large and his loaned sleeping bag was a comfortable one. But day two featured rain, more mosquitoes and black flies, and the undeniable reality of more aches, pains and blisters for some of those guys. So we backtracked along the same path we’d come on, avoiding any more wrong turns and trying not to step on a multitude of orange and red salamanders on the trail. Swatting away the blood-sucking bugs, we gratefully repaired to the car and eventually to Applebees for a well-deserved dinner. Then we flew down the thruway back to Jersey, more than ready for a shower and our nice clean beds.

So, all things considered, it was a pretty good trip, certainly a memorable couple of days, but with much relief that it’s over and behind us.

The weekend before I was in the city, catching up with Keith, Sumon and Frank from Colgate days, which was a good time. We saw Spiderman 3, which actually wasn’t too bad. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the budget for that movie might just exceed the GDP for a country like Honduras, but haven’t had the time to check…

Later in the week I saw Pirates 3 with Ian, Russ and Ori, but that turned into a long night. I was completely lost with the plot, not having seen the second one, and it was too cold in the theater. Even Orlando wasn’t really doing it for me. It very well might have been the last time I’ll see a movie there, but time will tell.

In the meantime, I’m still studying Portuguese, trying to learn what should be an easy language, but of course these things don’t really come as fast as we’d like. I suppose more people would be bi- or even tri-lingual if in fact it were easier to do so. But mostly it’s not. It’s a long, hard slog, with the real gains still to come. Still, I’m edging closer to the equivalent of a year’s worth of learning at the university level in just two months, so I should probably be a little more forgiving of myself. It’s never been my trademark, though.

I’m also continuing to correspond with a few dudes from match.com, now in the final days of my subscription, but not really expecting any miracles. It seems likely that I’ll carry on with a few new friends, though, and right now, that’s good enough for me. After all, despite not having a job or any other major commitments, things somehow feel busy enough already…

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[06 May 2007|11:16am]
created a little more history with ian and kim yesterday, during what was a lovely day trip to cooper mill black river state park. it's a splendid little spot in the rising foothills on hunterdon county, and we just had a really nice time. the weather was sunny and beautiful, the people friendly and helpful, especially when we got a little lost, and we had yummy snacks to chase away any pangs of hunger. we managed to complete a respectable three-and-a-half mile hike, checking out turtles, a small snake, lots of green, leafy plants, and a bumblebee-infested tree with lots of pretty pink flowers.

we followed all that up with olive garden, a visit with the adorable doggie, and a sleepover accompanied by a cute romantic comedy with popcorn and kit-kats. it was a wonderful day in just about every respect, the perfect way to recover from a horrible friday with my dad that brought our relationship to a new low.

we were trying to put up a new wood panel underneath the roof of the porch outside. it was too heavy and i couldn't hold it anymore. but when i said i had to put it down, he completely lost his cool in yet another fit of rage. we exchanged some very unpleasant words, then i left the house and let the miserable old man do it himself. he is not a very nice person at all, and we are not speaking anymore.

i wish he were not my father.
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[01 May 2007|03:06pm]
just found out that i'm covered under my parents' car insurance policy without having to pay anything extra. hooray! i'm no longer stranded...


feeling today that i'd like to stay. i wonder what it's all about.
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[28 Apr 2007|10:22pm]
[ mood | content ]

it's saturday night but i've managed to stay somewhat busy and out of trouble. yay!

finished the first ten units of fsi's level one portuguese that ian was kind enough to help download and copy. it's been challenging at times but i'm doing fine so far.

boa noite, como vai?! :-p

it's just funny how much more shushing and gee-ing is going on. i can't even get away with a standard spanish pronunciation of 'esta' without standing corrected! and yet the D's are too hard for my liking and they keep switching from the brazilian to the continental european accent and back again. make up your damn mind, already! grrr...

there are no pretty pictures, not a single one in over fourteen hundred pages of text, and i'm growing a little weary of using the same half dozen verbs over and over again. but it's good, really solid actually, and probably the best thing i could have picked up for these next two months.

still kinda hoping that somebody from new york decides to interview and eventually hire me, but there hasn't been any news on that yet.


this afternoon i went with ori for lunch at chili's (enjoying a yummy fajita and fries and some good company. of course), and then hit up barnes and nobles to strategize for the big trip to the adirondacks on memorial day weekend. that should be real cool, especially since a little more nature would probably do me well.


this past week i cooked up a delicious stir fry and mom absolutely loved it - a real nice variety of veggies, meat and spices and she was just so incredibly appreciative and happy, i couldn't believe it. that helped me feel good, as she's done so much for us and deserves a lot more recognition and support around here.

earlier we had gone to the farmers market on route 9, a place that i absolutely love because they have so much stuff, with really good prices, and you always see a diverse clientele and staff. i was able to use a little spanish to ask about the mangoes, since we didn't really need a whole box, but having mom around tends to make me a little nervous for some reason. bleh...


thinking about the possibility of point pleasant tomorrow, and also maybe hitting up the tribeca film festival in the city at some point. anybody want to come with me to see something?

oh! i also made and posted a profile on match.com. heh. figured i didn't really have too much to lose, and maybe it'll actually attract higher quality guys than what you tend to encounter elsewhere. not really expecting any miracles, of course, but will try to remain open to the slim possibility that i could find someone that way. after all, none of my friends are really helping to introduce me to anyone! you guys are no help, i tell you...

alight, i want to review my notes one last time before bed. sleep tight my peeps.

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[17 Apr 2007|05:42pm]
[ mood | cynical ]

it's just very frustrating to see how so many gay guys behave, on line or in person. and i make no apologies for not participating in that kind of behavior. i'm just not going to do it. people can be such whores and hoes sometimes...

phooey on them.

i'm better off alone.



still no word re: the two jobs i applied to in the city. am again preparing myself for portuguese, betting that i'm going to vermont this summer or that it would come in handy for the new york job that i'm more likely to get.

don't really want to spend hundreds of dollars on the software to nail down all the basics, but the honeymoon back home is waning and i'm starting to get antsy. there's only so long that you can screw around on line and waste your time. i need to start feeling more productive.

real good to watch the charlie rose show on pbs again, though. he's wonderful...

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[09 Apr 2007|03:30pm]
well, i’m home.

guess i’m feeling a lot of different emotions right now, covering pretty much the entire spectrum. there’s definitely some residual sadness over leaving latin america, mixed with a genuine relief that the long journey is finally over. and while it’s certainly nice to sleep in my own bed again, there’s also a deep frustration to see my parents and their seemingly endless arguments.

yesterday, easter sunday, featured a huge blow-up with my dad’s family, which had been building up for quite some time over a number of problems. i was disgusted by the lack of communication, the bickering, the accusations, the animosity, and the indifference, and had to leave the room and get out of there. and was anything really resolved in the end? no, probably not…

meanwhile, my parents’ marriage is under terrible strain, near the breaking point now as they continue to squabble over a litany of things. it’s a constant, daily battle over the same old terrain, compounded by the burden of carrying two houses, a profound difference of opinion regarding where they want to move, and all the work-related pressures that have gradually taken a heavy toll. i can’t help but feel very sorry for both of them, to see their wearied faces, devoid of any sense of happiness or contentment, exhausted from one damaging confrontation after another. and so i just try to learn all that i can from them, even from the bad, so that at least something positive might come from all this. mostly, though, it just hurts too much to be around them.

still, despite the intentions i had to start learning portuguese as soon as i got back, i realize now that it’s actually much more important to process what i’ve been through and to take some time to get my head together before coming to any firm conclusions regarding what comes next. and in the midst of everyone else’s hopes and expectations, it’s interesting. it’s as though i’ve caught a glimpse in recent days of something a whole lot better that could be near, involving a new friend from the city.

anyway, we’ll see what might come about. i only wish to intimate that i’m feeling more open to certain possibilities, more ready to turn the proverbial corner, to finally put myself out there a little bit. my parents are going to be gone someday, and it’s hurting me too much to keep going at this alone. i can’t continue to stay with my folks for much longer, and i know that i should start moving towards becoming fully independent from them, at long last. so maybe there’s someone out there who would take care of me, and vice versa of course, someone with whom i could actually create something really wonderful after being numb to so much for so long now, despite all that i have done.

i realize that i’m not the most attractive or the most desirable guy on this earth, and that maybe he’ll come away disappointed and won’t want to have anything to do with me once we meet up. and i know that i have a confidence problem and a lot of issues still to work through, and that my parents will worry and want to protect me for as long as they possibly can, even though it’s actually asphyxiating me. but something does feel distinctly different lately, and i find myself more open to finding that real reason to stick around, this time for good.

in any event, i’ll definitely be in touch with you guys soon. just wanted to get settled in a little bit before making all sorts of phone calls and plans.

it’s good to be back, though.
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[02 Apr 2007|08:00am]
i'm on the final leg of my journey now, having arrived in mexico city yesterday. it was a relief to get in at an early hour, and to find a cool hostal to crash. the people here in the DF (distrito federal) have been absolutely wonderful so far - very sociable, friendly, and open - and it's been super easy to mingle and hang out with the other travelers, going out for food, drinks, and what not. also a very interesting place because zona rosa is so close nearby, a place that is sort of famous for being the san francisco of mexico. never before have i seen so many openly gay people in my entire life, and it's all the more incredible that it's here in latin america. so yeah, pretty cool stuff, except that maybe it would be a whole lot better if they didn't all congregate in a single barrio, as though it were the only place in the entire country where they can express their sexuality openly. still, it's been cool to share the company of some of those guys; it lends to an insight that wasn't even imaginable in rural honduras, and leads me to think that if i do end up visiting brazil later this year, it might be better to look into a decent sized city. the people just seem to be so much more liberal and forward thinking in these kinds of places...

so...yeah...in these last few days i'll probably just try to visit the zocalo, that being the main city square and one of the largest urban plazas in the world. then maybe some museums and perhaps some of the old aztec ruins. other than that, nothing too ambitious, just gonna chill and enjoy the time i have left here.

it is a truly extraordinary country, though. in the south and east you pass through hundreds of miles of barren, arid, mostly empty desert, dry and parched and so mountainous that human habitation seems ludicrous. fortunately oaxaca appeared after an eleven hour bus ride. and maybe i shouldn't have gone there, since several people have died in recent clashes between teachers and the government, but it was fine...i only saw a street protest and lots of police in riot gear, but it never seemed to approach a confrontation. was able to pay homage to a two-thousand-year-old tree, the widest one on earth, as well as a petrified waterfall made of calcified minerals, a demonstration of traditional zapotecan weaving, and a distillery where they make mezcal - sort of like rum but with lots of different flavors. was okay.

in chiapas i made it to the mayan ruins at palenque and we stopped to see two gorgeous waterfalls at agua azul and misol-ha. also checked out some films on the zapatista movement, which seems to have quieted down a good deal since the 90s, but one gets the sense that things are still brewing and unresolved.

and in puebla, a world heritage site, i saw more old and venerable churches than i thought was possible. the paintings and murals on the walls and ceilings were absolutely stunning, adding a sacredness to place that seems so very rare in this world.

time and again, though, i imagine how much more enjoyable all of this would have been if i had a travel companion or significant other with whom to share the experiences. going it alone has some advantages, of course, but in the larger sense it gets real difficult sometimes, and in a way i'm sort of glad that the trip is winding down.

still, as i ready myself for the flight home, i feel ever more convinced that latin america doesn't really end at the u.s. mexico border, and, maybe more importantly, that we are all americans. maybe, for me, that's the most valuable lesson i've learned here.
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[23 Mar 2007|12:54pm]
i´m in mexico!

crossed the border yesterday after a long bus ride, arriving here in san cristobal after dark. no problem at the border with immigration, and despite several military checkpoints set up along the road, everything went smoothly.

was interesting, though. they were looking for drugs or, more likely, for central americans making their way northward toward the united states. at random the police would ask for papers, or ask very pointed questions about where people were going. and the answers had to be precise, specifying the name of the barrio or the school where they supposedly work, etc. so it was a good thing that i kept my passport close at hand, just kind of sad that we gringos can go wherever we damn well please without a problem, whereas people who live here get hassled by the authorities of their own government merely for getting in a bus. it doesn´t really seem fair, but then again, neither is the world we live in...

so far i have a good impression of the people, though. it´s always a pleasure to step into a new country and quickly fall into a running conversation with folks on the other side. they appreciate that i´m not heading first thing for the biggest tourist resort, and of course that i can defend myself in their language.

funny, though. in my eyes mexico seems so much bigger and wealthier than the little central american countries from which i came. i imagine that most americans with all of their preconceptions see it as a step down - poor, dirty, dangerous, etc. but from my perspective, it´s actually a big step up. you still see some poverty, but the roads are in better condition, the transportation is comfortable and efficient, the streets are much cleaner, and people just look a lot better off. plus a lot of the music you hear was actually made here by mexican singers and groups, which seems to lead people toward a pride in their country as something distinctly different from their imposing neighbor to the north.

so i´ll probably stay here in san cristobal for a couple days, or else visit one of two of the surrounding villages here in the region of chiapas. it feels safe and relaxed, though, and the climate is cool and comfortable. just want to rest up and take it easy since i´m still recovering from an arduous hike that completed my travels in guatemala.

it was a two day journey with my friend azita, a former pcv from honduras, eastward through the cuchumatanes range of the guatemalan highlands to the town of nebaj. we went with a swiss guide named roman who has lived in the area for the past 14 years, which really helped as he knows the trails and the communities very well.

was an exhausting trip as we probably walked 25 or 30 miles, passing through very remote indigenous communities where spanish is barely spoken by most of the local inhabitants. instead we heard mam, quiche, or ixil, which made for a very interesting journey. we had dinner with a local family (soup with sheep meat) and then breakfast in another community...beans, tortillas, eggs and coffee. the conditions were very poor and it was extremely cold up there, but we slept in a small, community run hostel which thankfully had lots of heavy blankets and pretty comfortable beds. in the morning we saw lots of frost on the ground and it was breathtakingly beautiful. i took some nice photos and hope to share them with some of you guys another time.

okay...getting super hungry now so i´m off to find food. will be flying home on april 5th, but will try to update again before then. hasta luego!
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[13 Mar 2007|02:40pm]
i'm sort of in a holding pattern here in guatemala, waiting for my new credit card to arrive in the mail. mom sent it out on feb. 28th, but given the inevitable delays and lack of motivation in the correo nacional, who knows how much longer it could be. which is bad, because my trip can't advance much further without an immediate infusion of cash. we really should have used a more reliable service like dhl, but hindsight is always 20/20...

fortunately i am rested, clean and comfortable, staying with a few friends. one is currently rolling truffles for an algerian chocolatier who has a kick ass business here in antigua. the cleaning lady is also here, and she made us a delicious lunch of pepian chicken and white rice, a culinary specialty of guatemala. so that was yummy.

other than that, we watched babel last night, a real good film as far as i was concerned. also played cards and had a dinner party replete with vietnamese spring rolls, which were truly fantastic in every way.

i'm hoping to move on toward mexico in the next few days, though, luck permitting.

as for the curtain call to honduras, things generally went well enough. people seemed happy and appreciative that i came back for a visit, brief though it was. i caught up with a lot of folks, chillin like a villain on market day and making a return trek to the community where we did the latrine project. there remains a lot of leftover goodwill, and i saw kindness and hospitality in many forms. things have continued to change now that cell phone coverage has reached the municipio, raising at least the possibility that i can stay in better touch with many of my buds. unfortunately, i again had to grapple with questions related to my girlfriend(s) or lack thereof, and when i would be getting married. you sort of learn to deal with it, but at the same time, it gets pretty old after awhile.

so...yeah...it was nice being back again, maybe for the last time. but i'm also sort of relieved to be moving on, and glad that it's over. it remains a fundamental part of my life, but less so as i look forward to the future and to other things.

you can stick a fork in me. i'm done.
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[28 Feb 2007|10:07am]
it's an emotional and joyful day as i'm getting set to return to my beloved san manuel, nearly five months after finishing up as a volunteer. riding in on the bus this morning, surrounded by the familiar sight of honduran campesinos, a dusty, bumpy road, and thousands of tall green pines around every corner, it just felt like i was coming home again. definitely looking forward to catching up with folks, to visiting with friends far and wide, being invited in for coffee or a modest meal of beans, tortillas, maybe with an egg or some cheese. in many ways, this is my curtain call to honduras, one last goodbye as the sun sets on this chapter of my life.

indeed, the sadness has been building for some time. this past weekend i visited julie and walter, two of my closest friends during my service. they continue to contemplate marriage, moving up to the states, arranging the necessary paperwork, finding work, making a life for themselves. it will not be easy, but we have been there for each other for a long time now. one now gets the sense that our orbits are moving in different directions, as was always inevitably going to be the case. we will maintain contact and keep in touch, but it probably won't ever be the same again.

so yeah, we explored the agricultural school at zamorano where julie is working. we enjoyed beers poolside at peña blanca. we played stackrobats and had delicious pizza. and we went into teguc to see the bakery where they first met. also watched amores perros on julie´s laptop, and were able to follow it despite all the mexican culiche (slang).

as for the rest of nicaragua, it really was quite nice. i truly enjoyed leon, especially after visiting the nearby beaches and hiking a volcano named telica. it was really hot down there, being so close to sea level and what not, but i couldn't help but fall in love with a city whose street graffiti reads ¨bush enemigo de la humanidad¨ and ¨muerte al imperio invasor¨. the central park was pretty, the churches impressive, and the people generally pretty friendly. one sixteen-year-old brought me to one of the most impressive art museums in central america, late in the day when i was sure that it would be closed.

so it was cool, having the chance to talk to real sandinistas and also to get to know a kind and adorable waiter at this vegetarian restaurant with whom i hit it off so incredibly well. dunno...there was just something about the way he would hand me the menu, or how he would ask ¿todo bien? and the look in his eyes when we met with a smile. towards the end we started to get to know each other a bit, so i felt real sad about leaving leon, just having the sense that this was a kindred spirit that one doesn't find all that often in this world. for better or worse, it was time to move on, and the world keeps turning.

then i was robbed of my credit card and one thousand cordobas after carelessly leaving my packs in the corner of a backpacker hostal. i was just so hot and dirty and tired and wanted nothing more than a cold shower, and so i hadn't secured my belongings when i first arrived. other lodgers lost far more, but it was a frustrating day all around. what do you do without cash, without travelers checks, and without a means of getting any money from an atm machine? needless to say it took several calls home to cancel the card, get a new one sent asap, ask mom and dad to wire me some money, and slowly get back on track.

on the last morning, i stopped in somoto, a quiet mountain town with the oldest church in all of nicaragua. as luck had it, the bishop was giving a service that very friday morning, and as i was feeling incredibly sick after unwisely having breakfast at the mercado municipal, i sat in the pew with a look of profound seriousness. mostly it was with a hope that the urge to puke would pass, but also, to an unexpected degree, i ruminated about the pain and suffering and hardships in the world, overtaken by emotion in what was a sacred place, nearing the end of a journey that has been of deep significance.

i cried quietly, wiping away tears with my bandana as other parishioners probably wondered what was going on inside me. then the bishop launched into a passionate sermon against abortion, reminding us that ¨los prinicipios no se discuten¨ (principles are not debateable). i followed his argument, about how life is sacred, how regrettable it is to see so many pregnancies terminated, and it really did resonate in a kind of way. but then it was also a reminder of the rigidity of the church and its positions on so many social issues, so unyielding and unforgiving in many ways, and so i sort of came back to my senses and realized that there is no sanctuary for me there. i paid my respects and then went on my way.

well, i'll leave it there.
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[16 Feb 2007|05:01pm]
i'm at a NICE hostal in the conservative, colonial city of granada, nicaragua, where i arrived nearly two days ago after a not so enjoyable thirteen hour bus ride from san salvador. have been checking out the old churches mostly, tooling around and being the tourist, and otherwise taking advantage of the amenities available here for a very reasonable $15 a night. this place has cable TV, comfy hammocks, free tea and coffee, a small swimming pool, and ten minutes of free international calling for every night you stay. it´s cozy and relaxed and there are folks here from many different countries, mostly twentiesh and hippiesh and generally pleasant company.

it's been interesting to see locals and visitors alike in shorts, although certainly understandable given the ninety degree heat. i honestly can't remember the last time i wore them, but even this enthusiastic country bumpkin who supposedly enjoys the mountains so much more has suddenly rediscovered the pleasures of life on the coast. unfortunately, the locals here aren't all that friendly...maybe with all the extranjeros totting their cameras around, although i've read that other nicos feel that these particular folks have got their noses up in the air. regrettably, too, there have been a lot of beggars on the streets, people hassling you for money and what not. much more so than in the other countries i´ve been too, and it was just weird...the first night especially there just seemed to be quite a few fucked up people, just not all there mentally.

in any case, it's been good so far. have had a private room for most nights, and on occasion some very rustic accommodations, particularly in the natural areas i visited in el salvador. once again i was blessed with a remarkable sunset near volcano izalco, the horizon blanketed with puffy white clouds and the higher hills peaking through. not many people get to see something as beautiful as that in their entire lifetimes, and i had the opportunity to do so twice in little over a week. added to that was a liberating solo climb up volcan santa ana, where i explored the nifty crater rim and marveled at the quiet solitude that the morning afforded. and by now i´ve learned that the best and most promising time to go is indeed in the early morning, so i circled the wagons with the park officials until i could get the skinny on how to get up there without a guide. it was a little dangerous and risky, i guess, especially with no real trail anywhere near the top...but hey, eventually you find your way up there and back, scrambling over rock ledges, through dry river beds, across moist vegetation, anything to glimpse the breathtaking views that beckoned around every corner.

actually, though, it was the people of el salvador that really impressed me most. they were kind, socialable, helpful and curious in so many different situations. the women...the children...the hotel owners and proprietors...the tour guides. everyone was just so much more open, so much more welcoming, at least when compared with the guarded, closed indigenous people in guatemala. it was as though the whole ambiente changed instantaneously the minute i crossed the border. it was striking and impressive to behold in every way, and in a sense, i regret having passed through there as quickly as i did. i will forever remember how one family invited me in to watch soccer and eat mangos and topogigos (sort of like an icee), or how juan explained medicinal plants and picked wild raspberries for us, or how complete strangers would flagged you down in the street because they could tell you were lost and wanted to help you find the bus terminal, or how someone would just randomly offer to pay for your beverage and pastry in a bakery. who are these people? how can they possibly be so incredibly cool, in spite of the fact that the us of a hasn't exactly been a good neighbor historically. it was wonderful and touching to behold.

so, bottom line is, be nice to the guanacos, folks, should you happen to meet any there on the home front. they're neat people.

tomorrow i´m probably off to leon, the lefty sandanista stronghold...which should be an interesting contrast from the staid and snooty attitude that's more prevalent here. still, i've met some good people, an australian and an ecuadorian, and a nifty mexican dude from chihuahua who could give voice to his complicated perceptions of the united states, the immigration issue, his lack of religious faith, and various philosophical musings and ruminations, without judgment and without feeling as though i was shouting at him in response. (it is one of the great curiosities of cross cultural communication that north americans tend to raise their speaking volume considerably when talking with people from other countries...why this happens i'm not exactly sure, i only hope to avoid doing the same, and instead try to carry myself with a peaceful calm which some people actually commend me for).

it's been a pleasure to have so much spanish under my belt, though. nobody can seem to pinpoint what kind of accent i have...it's not really a gringo one, but nor can it be boxed into a certain central american country or other place. but they appreciate my proficiency as a welcome change of pace from many other interactions that they've had, as one gringo after another trips and stumbles over every other word. still, i need to keep reaching out and opening up. i realize that i won't be here long enough to understand the culture in any meaningful way, but to at least scratch the surface would be valuable, hopefully as much as any photograph, however pretty it may be.

well, on that note i'll get going, since i need to go and pick up some laundry anyway. take it easy friends, and i'll try to update again soon.
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[08 Feb 2007|11:19am]
resting up in antigua and trying to get everything together before the start of a long journey tomorrow. i am now free of peace corps and my bs assignment, and am just looking forward to being a carefree mochilero for the next little while. my intended route will take me first to el salvador for parque nacional el imposible, volcano izalco, and the capital. then on to nicaragua to visit the cities of leon and granada, to climb volcano maderas, and also visit the cool mountains north of esteli. from there i'm heading back to honduras to visit old friends in san manuel, then again through guatemala to hopefully do another great outdoor trip through the cuchumatanes. lastly i head to mexico, checking out chiapas and the distrito federal in and around one of the largest cities on earth.

needless to say, all this will keep me very busy until april 5th, when i fly back home to jersey.


should be pretty cool, though. i'm really looking forward to getting to conocer more of central america, and to just take advantage of the free time and lack of commitments and obligations back home to travel and enjoy some of what the region has to offer. i'm beginning to sense that my days down here are numbered and becoming ever fewer, and there's a twinge of sadness about that. but, also, a feeling that soon it's going to be time to move on to the next chapter of my life, and this feels like a nice way to bring closure.

i hope for a safe and rewarding journey, and got it started in a memorable way with a recent trip to the top of volcan tajumulco. at 4,220 meters (13,845 feet), it's the highest point in all of central america and provided absolutely breathtaking views of mexico, the pacific coast, and the volcanoes around antigua and lake atitlan, blanketed by clouds and lit up by a gorgeous rising and setting sun. accompanied by two germans, a russian, a handful of americans, and a capable and experienced guatemalan guide, it was one of the most amazing and unforgettable trips of my young life. i was glad to have handled the altitude so well, never having been so high up before, and despite a chilly and uncomfortable night of camping, it was absolutely and completely worth it. often it felt like we were walking on the moon, and again i was reminded of the fortune i have had to experience the beauty of the earth in such a striking way. how very lucky i am indeed...

well, there's a lot left to attend to today, so i'd best be on my way. take good care of yourselves.
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[19 Jan 2007|10:51am]
leaving antigua shortly, after spending most of the week here with friends. this morning i climbed the gentle cerro de la cruz and enjoyed a beautiful view of the city below with a christian cross in front and a volcano in the background. it was an awesome scene and a fond memory for me.

last night i saw an inconvient truth, a film with al gore about global warming. it was definitely very powerful and moving, and i would humbly recommend that you guys try to borrow it, rent it, or otherwise pick it up somehow. it makes quite an impact.

that's about it, though. i will be leaving guatemala by the end of the month and am busy trying to figure out where to next. either to honduras for a return visit, or to mexico for several weeks of exploring (or both). i figure that since the majority of the immigrants who arrive to the states are mexicans, it would be worthwhile to at least know something about their country. besides, since peace corps won't be picking up my return ticket home, it will be much cheaper to leave from there as opposed to the central american airports.

that's all, time to shower and get my belongings together.
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[12 Jan 2007|12:12pm]
yesterday morning i cleared my calendar for the rest of the month and submitted a letter of resignation to the crisis corps coordinator in the capital.

many reasons, really.

1. my counterpart has been a constant source of disappointment. despite having requested a volunteer to support the organization with which he works, it has become very apparent that he does not know what to do with me. he is almost always absent from the office, avoids face-to-face meetings on a regular basis, does not return phone calls, and has not provided sufficient guidance regarding how i can help in a meaningful way. he is also held in poor esteem by many leaders at the community level, who regard him as abrasive, arrogant, and unresponsive to their real needs and concerns – such as rebuilding roads and moving displaced residents out of temporary shelters and into new houses. given the magnitude and severity of the damage caused by hurricane stan, much more should have been done by now, and this perception has caused people, in my judgment, to be much more skeptical that a well-intentioned gringo can actually have a positive and constructive role in all this.

2. i feel completely overextended in terms of the number of municipalities that i have been assigned to cover. given the significant distances and travel time involved, it is extremely difficult to gain traction with the local people, and also very difficult to know how to help each municipality given the vast array of factors and dynamics at work on the local level. in the beginning it seemed plausible that i could stay on top of six or seven towns at the same time, but it has gradually come to seem like a daunting and totally overwhelming task. how can i insert myself in a beneficial and genuinely constructive way when as an outsider and as a newcomer i know so little about the place and the people? what right do i have to convene and lecture people to be prepared for a disaster when such an event may not happen again for a long time, and when many of the local residents regard my presence as an unnecessary intrusion?

3. and most importantly, i no longer believe that these efforts will be of any significant and lasting benefit. hurricane stan occurred fifteen months ago now, and for many guatemalans it has become a distant, if unpleasant memory. maybe i could have done something productive to emphasize the idea of disaster planning and preparation right after the storm hit, but as time passes and we move further and further away from the actual event, this stuff just isn’t a priority – not for the mayors, not for the municipal employees, and certainly not for most local residents who have many more important and pressing issues to concern themselves with and to occupy their time.

the bottom line is that what i’m offering isn’t really anything that the people actually want or need. this is especially true in an election year, as the priorities shift toward more tangible projects, ones that voters can actually see with their own eyes. so sure, i may be able to convince a small group of people to attend and endure a four hour workshop, but looking at it very realistically, it’s extremely unlikely that the participants will actually follow up and implement any changes on the ground, as good as something may look on paper or as good as it sounds in theory.

what it comes down to is that i've been down here in latin america long enough to realize when people want to participate in something and when they don't, and to put it bluntly, i just don’t believe in the work anymore. rather, i see it more and more as a waste of their time, and of mine, and also as a use of resources that could be better spent on other things. because if i'm really honest about it, my presence here really isn't making a bit of difference in the lives of anyone. instead, it's actually burdening local leaders with something they don't really regard as a problem.

so jim called me right away, of course, his voice betraying a sense of utter surprise and disappointment. he tried to explain the satisfaction he felt in doing the trainings over a year ago, but i could not be convinced. i wouldn't come right out and call it bullshit, but that's exactly what i was thinking. i'm not exactly getting any younger here, and it's getting harder and harder to justify being so far away from family and friends back home when i don't even feel that this has been the least bit worthwhile.

on the other hand, i'm not the type of person who feels comfortable breaking a commitment that i've made; one feels a certain obligation to see things through to the end. so during our conversation, i said that if we could somehow find a way to revamp the focus of the position, maybe i would stay until march. so we talked about mapping with gps and gis and how one of the volunteers already has a training planned with some of the new crisis corps folks less than two weeks from now. so it sounded like a possibility, maybe a way to salvage this and be able to leave with my head held high, as though i had actually done work that meant something to someone.

but the renewed hopefulness didn't last long. as the hours passed i again felt very cynical that people will really care about doing vulnerability or risk analysis maps. i just really doubt that doing that would really change anything in a concrete, practical way, especially when many of these folks may not be in these positions after the coming elections. unless there is some sort of agency or office in the capital that needs a certain type of map with specific data that would actually be useful in an emergency, i just sort of feel like well, why bother?

so i plan on taking the next week or so to think it over and then make my decision. but my inclination is that i won't see the beginning of february here in guatemala.

so, yeah, fun times.

needless to say i not enjoying myself and am reaching the conclusion that life does not need to be this way.

changes are coming.
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[08 Jan 2007|05:52pm]
new years eve was absolutely, undoubtedly the worst day i´ve experienced since arriving in guatemala. had decided to check out an art and music festival, which sounded promising enough, but of course it didn´t start until hours after i was anticipating, and in the meantime there were lots of annoying people, drinking, smoking, acting all cool like they were the shit. whatever. my frame of mind quickly cascaded downward, the loneliness creeping in, the frustration over what i haven´t accomplished workwise and the sense that maybe nobody cares whether i´m here or not. it was a very negative scenario, so i bailed and got the hell out of there, catching a pick-up around nine in the cold, clear night air with the moonlight and stars and city lights illuminating the shores of atitlan in a truly wonderful scene. it would be the only memory of the evening that brought me any sort of solace, and from there i stewed angrily at home, with hardly any food to eat, poor as i had been at the end of a long and costly month, wanting only to tune out the firecrackers and noise that erupted all around me for much of the night.

good riddance...

so 2007 began in a very crappy way, with tons of doubt as to whether i should even stick it out down here. in a very serious deliberation i was thinking about just bailing out, just saying you know, forget this, it´s all bullshit, i´m going home. but as one day after another passed, things began to look brighter. i could feel myself refocusing, thinking more positively, and also remembering how truly far i´ve come from the timid and unsure trainee i was to the capable, knowledgeable, well-adjusted tecnico that i´ve become. and now, just days before the first major training and workshop, i know that we´ll be ready, that everything will go fine despite the inevitable stumbles.

there are definitely many decisions still to make. what to include, what to emphasize, what is actually useful, what will really matter to the participants...versus what to leave out, shorten, or mention only briefly. what activities do i include, and how to make four hours, or even six hours as interesting and thought-provoking as possible, despite covering a topic that isn´t sexy, that isn´t perceived as important in any immediate way, and with all the coming distractions and priorities of an election year.

but whatever. forget all that. i´m just going to do what i can, give it a go, and venga lo que venga man. er. come what may.

in the meantime, the other volunteers are coming back from their holiday visits home, and really, it´s less than three damn months. i can certainly handle that at this point.

so it´s time to start buying all the materials, finalize the lists of who´s coming, and soliciting all the advice and input and suggestions from others in the field as possible without getting mired down. and when that isn´t happening, i´ll continue the morning workouts, cooking, listening to shortwave, sitting peacefully in the park, and consolidating the friendships that i´ve made in this short while. and later this week i´ll buy my ticket for mexico and finalize plans for a return visit to honduland, with much to look forward in a hopefully solid year to come. i quietly hope that this is to be one of big changes for the better.
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[23 Dec 2006|12:08pm]
i wanted to send off a quick message before the christmas holiday, since the internet will be closing up soon hasta who knows when.

i plan on spending the day in a nearby town with another volunteer named charlotte. we´re going to make apple bread and rice krispie treats and spend the evening with two local families, which should be really nice. i really didn´t want to travel anywhere far away this year, and so i´m down with a half-hour ride by pick-up to spend more time in one of the communities where i´ve been assigned to work anyway. should be cool, and i´ll be sleeping over until the 26th.

this past week i had the wonderful pleasure of spending time with my dear friend julie. she is my bestest friend from peace corps honduras and was kind enough to come all the way out here after finishing her crisis corps service in el salvador. we hung around touristy antigua for a few days, enjoying delicious chocolate, lots of good food, the classic film its a wonderful life, and a hike up the slope of one of the volcanoes through a bunch of corn fields. we stayed with our friend tara who also served in honduras and her canadian boyfriend mikael, who were super wonderful hosts as always. i hope to return the favor some time.

then jules and i came back to solola, where we bummed around the lake and checked out the local market here. it´s become sort of routine and normal for me, but it was nice to see the wonderment and joy that julie felt to see the colorful traje of the local people and hear one of the mayan languages. it just sort of helped to remind me that being here really is pretty special and amazing, despite the inevitable challenges. then we were able to watch a series of episodes from season one of grey´s anatomy, thanks to a laptop that another volunteer left with me while she visits family in the states. so that was enjoyable, and it was just really nice having the company for several days. jules is one of the few people who makes it so incredibly easy to talk with. we go on and on and on and never run out of things to say, and i can be open and honest with her about things that most other people never get to know about in my life. i treasure that confianza and hope to see her again before i leave central america.

following her departure, i quickly got wrapped up in something new. i was poking around the web and discovered that middlebury college is offering lots more money in scholarships this coming year for their summer language schools. a generous donor wants to promote the study of critical languages and portuguese is one of them. i´ve known about the quality and caliber of these courses for a long time, as they manage to compress a year´s worth of language learning at the university level into seven weeks of intensive instruction and round-the-clock immersion. and so, in a matter of two or three days, i eagerly went through the whole rigamarole...writing the essays, ordering of university transcripts, requesting letters of recommendation, completing the financial aid paperwork, etc. it felt like i was applying to college all over again, but it was manageable enough, and thankfully everything started moving forward before everyone´s holiday vacations got started.

so, yeah, we´ll see how that goes. it would be from the very end of june to sometime in august, which is an absolutely perfect time to be in the rolling green hills of vermont. i really do feel as though i´ve got a good chance for one of those scholarships, though, with all the education and experience under my belt. and it would be a perfect way to quickly get up to speed in another language. i´m hopeful and enthusiastic...

well, merry christmas to those who are celebrating it. and happy new year to everyone. catch you in 2007.
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