Monday, December 15, 2008

final city

Cast B 2008 is saying goodbye. We finished our semester in tropical Subic Bay, Philippines, and its sister city, Olongapo. It was a whirlwind 10 days... closures, fantastic CI days, an incredible last show with an overflowing audience of over 3,000 people, a fantastic staff banquet celebrating a team we were lucky and grateful to work with, and just now, finishing with a beautiful cast banquet to celebrate our triumphs and say farewell.

We waved goodbye to the bus full of Europeans, who are already on the way to the airport in Manila. The North American flight leaves tomorrow evening at 8pm, to arrive in Los Angeles three hours before we left.

Scott and I will be in Colorado for about a week before driving home to Minneapolis to move back into our lovely house.

We'll post a little more about the end of our trip in the next few days. Thank you for following us on this adventure! Soon we'll be on our way home.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Habitat by the numbers...

In our eight days of CI in Manila at Habitat for Humanity – Baranguay Pinagbuhatan, Pasig City, we:

□ Made 593 CIB (Cement Interlocking Blocks)
□ Laid 2,303 blocks
□ Poured 21 bags of cement grout
□ Hauled 132 Jackbuilt blocks
□ Hauled 400 CIB blocks
□ Completed 2.5 cubic meters of gravel bedding
□ Bent 325 pieces of rebar
□ Cut 660 pieces of rebar

We also…

□ Were a team of 11 people from five countries (Ethiopia, Germany, Mexico, Singapore, and the USA) who helped to build the first story of a four-story, 120-unit housing complex.

□ Watched other volunteers come and go, just carrying blocks and hauling dirt, while we learned to make CIB blocks, lay blocks, level walls, extend rebar, make cement, mix and pour grout, shovel and bag gravel, haul mud on the chain gang, move gravel in the pit, and to cut and bend rebar.

□ Worked alongside the Boss, Mario, George, B-Boy, Glenna, Ching, Anita, Elaine, Mr. Perfection, Engineer Noel, Volunteer Coordinator Ving, and many others…

□ Ate a delicious lunch everyday at Delia’s.

□ Drank more than our fair share of Coca-Cola, Royal Orange, and Juicy Lemon sodas, and snacked on Chocolate Pillows, Choco-Pretzels, and Combis.

□ Rode in taxis, tricycles and jeepneys to get to and from our site each day

□ Visited a partially completed Habitat site in Paranaque to see the housing units that last year’s UWP crew helped to build.

□ Met and played with the children of our home partners, the beneficiaries of our team’s hard work, including visiting Rainforest Park with them.

□ Were invited to visit the current homes of our new friends, Anita and Elaine, and were welcomed warmly by their families.

□ Learned that of the 18-20 families that live on stilted slum housing under the bridge in C-5 (including Anita with her husband and five children) only four of those families are currently eligible and approved to receive a Habitat home unit.

It was eight sweaty days full of hard work, and I am proud to have been part of such a great team.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Turkey Hands and Apple Pie

Happy Thanksgiving from steamy Manila! In elementary school Thanksgiving tradition, we spent the evening as a cast tracing our hands on bright-colored paper, adding legs at the wrist and a beak on the thumb, turning them into the day of thanks Turkey Hand.
We then spent 30 minutes wandering around, writing on each person's sheet why we are thankful for him or her.

In the meantime, Yui and I wandered through grocery stores and bakeries all around the Ortigas Center, on a desperate hunt for Thanksgiving pie. We were having Filipino BBQ donated from a local restaurant... no mashed potatoes and gravy for us, so we wanted to have a special treat made of pie and cool whip, to remind us Americans of home.

But unfortunately, no such luck... lots of cakes and pastries, but we only found one pie, and it was an "egg pie" (more like quiche) which wasn't: A. Enough for the whole cast, nor B. anything close to what we were looking for to be a Thanksgiving dessert.

So, disappointed, we headed back to our meeting room at the Ortigas Foundation, until we looked up at the building right next door, and knew we had found the perfect substitute.

That's right, the Golden Arches of McDonalds were a small parking lot away, and we went straight inside and asked if it was possible to order 110 apple pies. The shocked cashier ran away to ask the manager, who came back laughing and said, "40 minutes, 40 minutes." And so it was that we had a little bit of America on Thanksgiving in the Philippines, thanks to McDonalds global domination. And I can't lie, after barbequed chicken, soy sauce and lots of white rice, the deep-fried individual apple pie tasted GOOD.

Friday, November 21, 2008

back in Manila

So, almost exactly one year later, we find ourselves back in the bustling city of Manila. Actually, bustling is a severe understatement... think blood-pumping, jam-packed with people, belching fumes from the most chaotic traffic you've ever seen, thick, muggy air that was 85 degrees at 7am when we arrived, and the excited energy of 104 people, 99 of whom hadn't been here before, ready for their last big adventure together.

For Scottie and I, there is a lot that is familiar. We are staying with his same host family, Frank and Inez Reyes, and their two boys Patrick and Pa-el (short for Pablo Gabriel). Pa-el, who is adorable, said to us at dinner on our first night, in his charming Filipino accent, "Scott and Ellen, I know why you got married!" "Why, Pa-el?" "Because you have the same skin color."

We've dived right into our Community Impact projects... the cast is at seven different sites each day, for eight total service days here in Manila. My site is a Habitat for Humanity site, where we are working alongside Filipinos who are accumulating sweat equity, part of their 1000 hours required to qualify to receive a habitat home in the area we're building.

Two days of hauling cement blocks, and buckets of mortar, building walls with interlocking bricks which are a bit like Legos (and are an exclusive Habitat design, to be lighter so more accessible for volunteers, more appealing to the eye than cinderblock, and more efficient and sturdy). We only use mortar for every fourth row, and then pour a runnier consistency down into the vertical holes after every layer of three rows. Now we've got the system down to the point that our foreman can't keep up! We call him Boss, and his crew of guys who know what they're doing run around leveling our walls, laying water pipe and electrical lines, tying up rebar- the things they haven't taught us how to do (or don't see us qualified for), and we just keep hauling, stacking, and cementing things into place. We are building a 120-unit apartment building, the first of two on a government-owned lot in Pasig City. It is a pleasure to work next to Ching, a woman who is approved to live in the building we are building, once it is finished in the next eight months or so.

It takes us about an hour to get to our site from the Reyes' house, though without traffic it would be only about a 15-20 minute drive. We take either a taxi, or a combination of jeepney and tricycle. The taxi costs a little over two dollars, and the jeepney/trike combo is about a dollar. Its nice to know enough about the transportation system that we can get around confidently, even on our first day.

I was worried about jet lag with such a busy schedule for our first days, but besides falling asleep by 8pm the last two nights, I'm doing pretty well! Tomorrow is our big regional learning day in Manila, another day of stark contrasts.

Monday, November 17, 2008

North Platte, NE: Nov 10-17

Our last USA city! North Platte is the proud location of the largest railroad yard and track exchange in the United States. During WWII, they had a canteen in the depot for soldiers that provided free cookies, cakes, sandwiches and coffee, as the troop trains stopped for a 10-minute pause on their cross-country treks.

The story was that the town had heard the train coming through was carrying local boys, so all the moms and sisters baked goodies and went down to the platform to meet the train. They quickly realized that the troops weren't the ones they knew, but was actually a platoon from Kansas. After their initial disappointment, one woman declared she wasn't going to bring her cake back home again... and the whole community followed her lead. They decided that it was the way that they in the heartland could support the war effort, but having a 10-minute morale boost for the troops that came through. And there were plenty that came! Over the six years that the canteen was operated, they served between 10 and 20,000 troops EVERY DAY. Keep in mind that sugar, flour, all treat-making supplies were rationed, and that everything was made by hand. It was a legendary stop for troops, and those 10 minutes stuck with many soldiers as they felt the appreciation of the communities that supported the North Platte Canteen.

As you can tell, this story is a source of pride for the town, and we watched a documentary on the Canteen, and then our host families brought tons of incredible food for a real Nebraska potluck, in the style of the Canteen. We even borrowed 1940's costumes for the staff from the local community theatre, to help set the mood for the dinner.

But Lloyd and Nola are the ones who really stole the show. This warm and wonderful couple has only been married five years (same as me!). They both lost their first spouses, and now play four-handed piano for parties and events. They work for free, but often get paid in restaurant gift certificates. Lloyd plays the low notes and Nola plays high- they tried to switch once and it didn't go well. They played a fun combination of old show tunes and Christmas songs, and had a steady crowd gathered round the piano for a sing-along. My favorite was when they played the song they always play before they go to bed every night, called "I'll see you in my dreams."

Lloyd and Nola came to both of our shows, and were such a touching impact on my experience in the city.

We had the unique opportunity of going to Ft Cody, which is one of the '7 Wonders" of North Platte. We had a ton of fun!

Not only did we see all of the kitsch in the shop, but we also saw the 2-headed cow!

We had so much fun that we eventually got thrown in jail :-(

Being the last US city, we also had to say goodbye to three cast members who aren't joining us in the Philippines because of health reasons. It was an emotional last few days, and now we're running on just a few hours sleep, catching up on the past six weeks sitting in LAX on a 12-hour layover. We're headed back to Manila, ready for four more weeks of adventure!

Sioux Falls, SD: Nov 3-9

I looked forward to Sioux Falls all semester because it was the closest city to home, and I hoped to have visitors! We weren't disappointed...

We were so happy to have Beth and Emmy drive down on Friday night to hang out with us on our host family day. We went to the waterfalls of Sioux Falls, checked out the sculpture walk downtown, and then saw the cast perform at a half-time show for a high school football playoff game. I was so glad that they were able to come and hang out with us--- its always so good to see the sibs. Missed you, Kato!

Thanks to M & D, along with Uncle Jonny and Aunt Linda, for making the long drive all in one day to come see the show and go to dinner with us! Scott and I had fun working on the swing dance, to perform in the show and surprise the fam.

Other fave moments of Sioux Falls:
We had our hunger and poverty banquet there, which is always a powerful experience for the cast. The volunteer team of students that helped plan it added another dimension... they wanted the various social groups to spend time working in the typical occupational environment of their economic status. The poorest group, representing the bottom half of our world population, spends the majority of their time getting food and shelter, and so they were given access to a dumpster full of cardboard, and needed to make a home for the 10 people in their family. Some of their family members represented those too young or old to work, and could only watch but couldn't help with the planning or building.

The middle class, about 35% of the group (which is those people in our world that make between $400-$1,500 annually) spend their work time doing mostly manual labor, and so in our simulation they helped the school we were at by raking leaves, and picking up sticks on the playground.

The wealthy class, the top 15% in our world, were given the task of making a business model for a non-profit organization. They worked around a conference table, and had snacks of popcorn, cookies and hot cider, as the others worked outside in a blustery fall day.

After their hour of "work", we went into the banquet, where the top percent has a three-course meal, the middle class has beans, rice and water, and the poor class shares one pot of rice, and slightly salted water.

There were two significant points of discussion in reflecting on the experience that have stuck with me: Laura Lynn from Nebraska commented on how frustrated she was that the middle class ate beans and rice only, because she thinks of herself as middle class. Its the difference between the relative poverty within a country, and looking at the percentages on a global scale. It was a new reality to confront for her, and a powerful moment.

For Caitlin from Arizona, she was most upset by watching us throw away the perfectly good food that was left over from the wealthy table. This is the hardest part of the simulation for me, because it is so tremendously wasteful, as we purposely make more than the wealthy class could eat, in order to throw away the leftovers, in full view of the poor and middle classes who are sitting there, stomachs growling, smelling the flavorful pasta and garlic bread. But, sadly, around 30% of the food in developed nations is wasted, and so to not represent that as part of the simulation is doing an injustice to the circumstances in our world. What I thought was really significant was the reaction of the middle class... they saw me throw away the wealthy class' food, and they immediately went cleaned out the dishes that held the rice and beans they were served, not leaving a bit to be thrown away. Those type of reactions, and the hope that it affects how much food we take in buffet lines for the rest of the semester, is why we do these activities.

Aberdeen, SD: Oct 27-Nov 3

In Aberdeen, many of the cast attended their very first Halloween Party! We had costume contests, carved pumpkins, and got people in the festive Halloween spirit. The road staff went as Dominoes, and we had a signal, so we would periodically line up during the party, and then knock each other down. Our party was on the 30th, so people could be home on Friday night to pass out candy with their host families.

Aberdeen is the home of StoryBook Land, and though it was closed for the season, they let us come in and check out the park anyway, posing in front of the statues and scenes of many famous storybook characters.

We did our immigration simulation in Aberdeen-- we start off with people getting passports, determining their citizenship status, and then we make it interesting by electing a mayor, proposing laws, taking citizenship tests, starting businesses, getting married... it becomes more of a simulation on government and social involvement. And it inevitably gets silly, and people get frustrated because some want to take it seriously and for others, its a game where its more fun to make a mafia, or kill the mayor with a letter bomb. It ends just as things start to get out of control, and the lesson is always in the reflection and analysis of what happened, what that says about our society, and about us as a group. After three semesters, I'm still not sure the activity exactly gets to the purpose of why we try to do it, but its really fun, and I hope its valuable at least for some people.

We held a Diversity Fair at the mall, and each continent had an information booth. We held an international fashion show, had contests to guess national anthems, face painting, language lessons, Name that Flag, mini-performances from our show, and even had a "security checkpoint" where you received a passport and ID card, and were scanned with a hairbrush. It was a lot of work, but ended up to be a huge success. It was fun to make a structure that really let people be creative and have a lot of fun within it.

It’s a small world after all

It really is funny how the world works sometimes. When you think of the probability of things happening, they can often seem so remote, but then…BOOM!...there it is. On our way from Cheyenne, WY to Aberdeen, SD, we had the great opportunity to stop by Mount Rushmore and then spend a night at a camp in the Black Hills. When we arrived at “the faces” as some of our foreign students have come to call them, it was a sunny, brisk day with a biting wind blowing. One of the rangers gave us a tour and shared some fun facts about Mount Rushmore. Did you know that it was originally going to be faces of old west legends? The sculptor talked them out of it though and we ended up with four presidents who helped being about the unity of this country.

As we finished our tour I hear someone yell “Scott Enebo!” I thought that this was odd since no one ever uses my last name here, and so I turn around and see a park ranger walking towards me with gun, badge and everything. “Oh crap” I think…my first thought was that one of our students had done something stupid and that they needed someone in charge to bail someone out or something. But as he gets closer, I realize that I know him! It was Chris Chaffe who Ellen and I travelled with as students in Up with People. As it turns out, it was almost 11 years exactly that we were at Mount Rushmore together as students and here we were connecting after all of those years. Was the world sending a message? Who knows, but I can say that it was so great to have such a surprise.

After this we went to the “Outlaw Ranch” and had an overnight stay with the entire cast in cabins. It was an amazing night where we ate good food together, played games, toasted marshmallows around a campfire and played pranks on each other while running around in the woods. It was just what the cast needed and a fun way for us to just unwind and have fun. In the morning we woke to a herd of deer in the pasture and dozens of wild turkeys too. With our brains recharged, we headed back on the road to Aberdeen, SD.

Cheyenne, WY: Oct 20-26

We were so excited to get to Cheyenne, WY, where we were lucky enough to stay with Jack and Karen Sapp. We were so spoiled the whole week, having fresh smoothies delivered to our bathroom, delicious hot breakfasts every day, and lively, fun-filled conversation every night. Julie was in town two evenings for dinner, since she commutes to Cheyenne for her job once a week, and it was wonderful, as always, to spend time with her.

Our regional learning for the cast was to hang out for a few hours with the Laramie County Community College Rodeo team- they talked with us about their rodeo events, shared some theory, answered our questions, and then taught us (or at least attempted to)how to rope cattle, tie goats, and try out riding a mechanical bull. The cast got a kick out of seeing Scott's bull-riding footage from the Sapp-Stone wedding (on You Tube- search amateur bull-riding and he is the number one video!). Quite a few cast members thought it would be fun to pretend to BE cattle, and the college cowboys roped their legs. It was a pretty stupid idea (and a few people got ankle rope burns) but it was hilarious to watch!

We had a fun crew drive up from Denver to support us and see the show: Lisa, Collins, Jules & Jon hung out on host family day for a fabulous brunch and a visit to the fall festival, where we raced in the corn maze, went on a hay ride, and watched the pumpkin cannons in full force. We ended the night with a legendary Karen Sapp dinner, and a fierce "peanuts" competition. Phil Worcester, who was hosted by the Sapps while he set up Cheyenne, graciously gave up the guest room and slept on the couch while we were in town, and he and Lisa, Jon and Scott, all bravely faced the intensity that is a Peanuts game in the Sapp household.

The week was over all too quickly, as we had a long drive ahead, with an exciting overnight planned in the Black Hills!

Salt Lake City

We took the cast to Temple Square, where the Mormon sisters gave tours in many cast members' native languages! It was fun to see Seung-beom, our South Korean student, getting his own private tour of the complex.

Our stay in Salt Lake was impacted by organizing the tradition of Cast Appreciation. Ten staff members were hosted with the owner of the movie production company, Feature Films for the Family. His enormous house very generously held a lot of rehearsing, planning, and baking sessions to get ready for the big day.

In addition to the surprise set-up and the self-deprecating mini-show we prepared for the cast, we also this time made a "Cast B Lounge". You could get mixed "drinks" (made with combinations of fruit juice, sparkling water, and Red Bull), play a slot machine, get your shoes shined, have a massage, eat a cupcake, brownie, cereal bar or bagel, or play a little blackjack (complete with a Native American dealer!) I think we possibly had more fun planning it than the cast had getting appreciated.

Our show facility was in the suburb of Murray, at Murray High School. Many cast members were excited because the auditorium where we performed was the very same facility that High School Musical was filmed in! You could recognize the space especially in the audition scene.

On Sunday, after recovering from an exhausting week, we drove out to the Great Salt Lake. What a great place to film a thriller movie with its rolling fog and spooky mist, even in the middle of the day. We barbequed in the evening, and enjoyed our success!

Colorado Springs: Oct 6-12

Highlights from our week in the Springs:

Visiting Garden of the Gods -- these gorgeous red rock formations were a huge hit with the cast. My favorite was the "Kissing Camels"... a few years ago one of the camels was hit by lightning, and now it looks more like a camel kissing a turtle.

Touring the Olympic Training Center -- they only drain the pool once every four years, during the summer Olympics, so we got to see a rare site at the center- a completely empty pool. Our tour guide was a female weightlifter... she's been living at the center for over 10 years training to be an Olympian. Unfortunately she only qualified for the team as an alternate, so she didn't get to go to Beijing. She's going to train for four more years, give it one more shot. I can't imagine that kind of one-track focus... talk about putting all your eggs in one basket.

Being based on the base of Fort Carson: We were there for the week to honor military families. Our bus driver Marv was thrown for a loop when his GPS didn't work anywhere on the base. It was grayed out completely like it didn't exist.

Great Big Sea: we drove up for a concert at the Paramount Theatre in Denver... always a good show!

Hanging with the Enebos: we went hiking with Chris and Gene on our host family day. They came down to celebrate an early birthday with Scott, brought cake for the cast, and then on Sunday we saw Seven Falls, and went for lunch.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Hurray for Photos

Well, after much slacking and procrastinating, Scott got his act together and posted some pics. Be ready for some serious blog action in the near future. Here is a photo that never got posted but is totally fun.

It just made me laugh!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

No pics yet...

I'm sorry to say that something is wrong with our photo card, and though I have tons of pictures from the last few weeks, I can't get them off the card to post. So as soon as we figure out what's wrong to make that transfer happen, you'll start seeing pics again.

Balloon Fiesta

This week I checked something off my life list:
As a surprise for the cast, the advance team got us all volunteer positions to work the opening day of the largest hot air balloon event in the USA, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta!

We didn't go home after our show Friday night, but went instead to a banquet facility we used all week called the Event Palace, where we took about a two-hour nap before departing for the Balloon Fiesta launch grounds at 4:00am Saturday morning.

About 40 people volunteered for the Make a Wish foundation, working their tables selling calendars and programs, and the other 60 were on chase crews. We were assigned balloon pilots in groups of 2-3, and were spread out over the 74 acres of balloons. There were over 600 launched in a little under two hours.

To be on the field, seeing so many balloons filled and lit up in the dawn, and then taking off in pickups and vans to chase the balloons through ABQ and repack them was totally exhilarating. There were at least 15 cast members who were invited by their pilot to fly in the balloon instead of riding on the ground in the chase crew... we felt so lucky, and decided it was definitely worth it to schedule a night that lasted only three hours (which is always a fear when you are responsible for planning a ridiculous schedule.)

Another recommend from this week's stay: anybody can come and volunteer on a chase crew at the fiesta. Lots of people come and volunteer multiple days for the same balloonist in hopes that they will reward your hard work with a free ride. I would love to come back and do it again sometime.


Our week in Albuquerque had some really incredible opportunities!

We toured Acoma Sky City, a Native American community that sits atop a mesa on a reservation north of ABQ, and the oldest buildings are carbon dated back to 1150. Our tour guide was an engaging and mysterious storyteller, and wandering through this town which is still inhabited with no running water and no electricity (though many families have generators, because as our guide said, even they can't live without Deal or No Deal and Monday Night Football.) We were shuttled up to the little town, but got to climb down an ancient steep stairway to get off the mesa and back to the museum and welcome center. I highly recommend visiting this community if you are in New Mexico.

ABQ was our environment city, where the cast does one of my very favorite activities, carrying our trash for the week. We had a few meals with excess packaging, and it is fun to see how people handle the challenge. We had a few who tried to eat things they would normally discard- someone ate her whole watermelon rind, and another tried to choke down a banana peel (but gave up after just a few bites). This activity is always a realization in how much we use and waste- especially when our trash also includes any unfinished food on our plates. My hope is that the lessons transfer to less waste for the rest of the semester.

Our show in Albuquerque was at the amphitheatre at the Rio Grande Zoo. We performed literally in the duck pond- there was a moat complete with a huge white swan between the stage and the grassy lawn where the audience brought blankets and lawn chairs. It was a lovely evening and a great crowd- the only downside was that our generator was having problems and the power to the lights kept going out. Scott can add another line to his job description: his task for the evening was to sit next to the generator and every time it shut off unexpectedly, he was there to turn it back on. So now, in addition to being the assistant cast manager and the truck driver, he is also the generator monitor. Hopefully that will come with a pay bump.


It turns out that its quite difficult for most people to pronounce our first city back in the US, Sahuarita AZ. This community in the midst of the largest pecan grove in the United States is about 45 minutes south of Tucson. We had our first day of school projects, with this cast's debut of the Stand for Peace program. They taught two 1.5 hour classes and performed a mini-show in the afternoon. It was a huge learning curve, as your first child audience always is, but most people loved it and are excited to do it again (which is good because at least three more of our US cities have this program as part of our community impact.)
We also had a really wonderful evening at an independent living community for seniors called La Posada. They hosted a barbecue where we were the food line crew and wait staff, and after we had served our tables, then we sat down and ate with them. We thought it was going to be burgers and brats, but our meal turned out to be roast beef and a skewer of shrimp, rice pilaf, salad with berries and greens, and New York cheesecake topped with bananas foster. It was quite possibly the fanciest dinner we've had on the road, and it was a pleasure to chat with the residents of La Posada. They were so appreciative and friendly, and many came to our show (even though they usually don't like to drive in the dark).

The show day was also incredible--- being so close to Tucson, which was UWP's headquarters for over 25 years, there is a lot of history here. The original UWP musicians, the Colwell Brothers and Herb Allen, all in their 80s, joined the cast onstage towards the end of the show and played a few songs. Herb Allen is the most incredible xylophone player I have ever seen. It is such an honor for the cast to be able to perform with them and to experience live that part of UWP's legacy. We also had lots of guests from Europe who were wanting to see how the "new" Up with People was working, and they ate dinner with the cast before the show. We had to have special security in place because a prince from the Netherlands was in attendance, Peter Von Vollenhoven, who is also a famous pianist and produced the well-loved UWP album, "The Dutch Touch."

Much of this week was a blur to me though, as I was incredibly sick for a few days. I was a walking zombie on the show day, and laid in bed for literally all of our free day... luckily I was in the hotel and not a host family, as I would have been an antisocial, grumpy mess. There's nothing worse than being sick on the road- usually my body doesn't allow it, but I think it held together for the whole Mexican tour, and figured that when we got back to the US it could finally relax. No such luck. Thankfully, I'm almost back to normal, with just a little cough lagging behind.

over 900 hours

Hermosillo was an incredible service city too. The cast logged over 900 hours of community impact work. We had three main projects: we attended a youth conference on health and sexuality and participated in activities with local youth leaders, we visited a children's hospital with what roughly translates as "funny doctors" (like Patch Adams, who wear red clown noses as they do their rounds), and each afternoon we refurbished basketball courts around the city, completing a total of 21. We repainted lines, planted trees and picked up trash, working alongside local high school and college students that came out to help.
The city ended with our hottest show day yet. We had a super crew that started setup at 5am to try to avoid the heat of the day. I wrapped rope from our education supplies around the hand railings to get onstage because the metal was so hot you couldn't touch them (which makes handrails basically useless). We went through 16 five-gallon jugs of water throughout the day (which is almost a gallon per person, which doesn't sound like much-- but you have to remember that that is only refills, it doesn't count what each person brought with them at the beginning of the day). But by the time the show started it was an almost comfortable 90 degrees, and the whole community was there. We sold a ton of T-shirts (including a few hundred to the cast) and had a fun encore. It was a fabulous way to end our Mexican tour!

last beach day (for awhile)

Something that was very different about this tour of Mexico from our last one was the amount of time we've been able to spend at the beach! Compared to our landlocked tour in May, this cast has been absolutely spoiled.
Our regional learning day in Hermosillo was no exception. We traveled about an hour to the coast, as we were invited to a luncheon hosted for us by the Mayor of the Guaymas/ San Carlos area. There was an amazing buffet at the San Carlos Beach Club, where afterwards we could swim in the pool and go kayaking and paddle-boating around the bay. Check out the tamarind margarita garnished with a chili-covered mango (pic to come!)
We also had a historic tour of Guaymas before our bus trip back to Hermosillo. Such a relaxing, wonderful day-- especially after our busy, late night.

Dia de la Independencia

We arrived in Hermosillo on Mexican Independence day, changed immediately into our fanciest clothes and walked over to the Municipal Palace to attend the Governor's reception. We made a long receiving line, went into the reception for a quick drink, before being escorted back outside to the plaza to see "el grito" and some fireworks. El grito (the shout) is a tradition on Independence day- the mayor of every city, the Governor of every state, and the President of the country all stand on the balcony of their respective government palace building and do their own version of a cheer for Mexico, which of course always ends with "Viva Mexico!"
This is a reenactment of the cry of independence first shouted by a priest named Miguel Hidalgo, who rallied his community to revolt against the Spaniards in a battle that started September 16, 1810.
We stood in front of the palace, the white facade was lit green and red like the Mexican flag, and watched from a prime location inside the security fence the huge display of festivities. There were Mariachi bands, the military drum corps and color guard, lots of folklorico dance groups, and a huge finale timed to music with fireworks and confetti that went off in three directions.
It was a huge honor to shake the governor's hand, and to be welcomed into the city by being invited to attend this special event. We finally met our host families a little before midnight, and jumped into a really fun and full week in Hermosillo.

Dental and drug adventures

Sorry that we've derailed on the blog for a few weeks... the rest of the Mexican tour was a blur of tacos, huge crowds, fireworks, and the biggest tortillas I'd ever seen.

But first, back to Culiacan:
Culiacan was about 45 minutes from the coast, and the capital city of the state of Sinaloa. Our host families from the rest of the tour were very concerned that Culiacan was on our itinerary, because there is a long history of drug-related violence in this area. (Of course, most of them had never been to Culiacan before themselves...)
Because President Calderon has a personal agenda to severely cut down on drug-trafficking, there is a large military presence in Culiacan. But, like so many things, it sounds so much worse in the media than it feels when you are actually in the community. The only difference we saw at all was occasionally passing a military vehicle full of patrolling soldiers with machine guns. Otherwise, its normal everyday life for the community. We asked the cast how they felt after being in the city for a few days, and had a really great discussion about perceptions, realities, daily life in cities that have a bad rep in the eye of the media, and what their host families thought about it all.

And then, the rest of the city was a blur to me, as I broke a tooth on the first show day, and spent the majority of the rest of my time in the city at the dentist.

Differences in Mexican dentistry, at least in my experience:
Though he had a spit-sucking tube, my dentist didn't use it but rather had me sit up and spit, to give my jaw a break. What's gross was actually seeing the color of my spit as he worked on my tooth... not recommended.
I had a television hanging in my line of sight, and held the remote so I could channel surf during my appointment.
There was no dental assistant or nurse of any kind-- just one on one, me and the dentist.
After my first of two appointments, my jaw had been wide open for almost two hours, so my appointment ended with a jaw and face massage. Relaxing, yet very odd. I chalked it up to a cultural experience.
Best of all, the price difference. I always want to break my tooth in Mexico: what surely would have set me back $600-800 in the US cost $120 cash in Mexico. Two appointments and three hours later, I was good as new. On to our last city: Hermosillo!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Free Beer - Non Negiable

For our host family day, we went with our host fam out to the coast after a nice relaxing morning (our typical Sunday in Up with People). We started by going on a boat ride through an estuary that eventually led to a crocodile breeding area. When we got tickets, there was a sign out front that said something to the effect “With every ticket purchased you get a beer…not negotiable.” As we did not want to be offensive to our Mexican hosts, we took the beer and we road the boat ;-) It was such a beautiful ride where we saw some nesting birds, a crocodile and some beautiful landscape. We stopped at a crocodile breeding area, where they are working to maintain a healthy crocodile population in the area.

After this we made a trip to the beach and played with the host bro and sister in the water. Right after we arrived, it started to rain like crazy. This was such an amazing experience to be in the water and have a torrential downpour fall all around us.

When we had our fill, we came out and had a meal of ceviche, empanadas and pescado Santiago (a fish smoked over a special wood found in the mangrove forest). It tasted so amazing...I think I ate about 6 tacos.

Life continues to be great down here in Mexico. Thanks for reading about our latest adventures.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mexican show days

September 6th- I love show days, because the education department isn’t responsible for anything in particular, and are just there to support what all the other departments are doing. We’ve been performing in huge open spaces, baseball stadiums, and here in Tepic at the fairgrounds, and in all locations so far, we’ve set up at least 2,000 chairs. One of the things I love about Up with People is when you get a group of people helping, how quickly you can do something like set up thousands of seats in the glaring sunshine. I’ve spent my last few show days helping out at our merchandise stands, which I really enjoy. It lets me use my Spanish to chat with people about what they think of the show, help them pick out which T-shirts they want, and doing quick math in pesos keeps my brain on its toes. Also, because Matthew, our merchandise coordinator, is also in the show a lot because he has a great voice (and this cast doesn’t have many strong male vocalists) so he needs somebody to guard his stuff. So the past few shows Scottie sits at one of the merch tables and I man the other one. Last night was incredible, as I watched from the back of the amphitheatre, I could see the bright lights of the stage, the moon, and a huge lightning show silhouetted against the mountains. It was a lovely evening, and the few raindrops didn’t deter our audience… in fact, they rushed the stage (mostly to get under the roof that overhung the stage area by just a few feet), but to the cast, it felt like they were rock stars with everyone leaning in so close. The energy at the Mexican shows is just so fun, and last night, the cast got to do its first encore. “Otra! Otra!”

Feria Cultural

September 5- We’ve spent the week in the city of Tepic, in the state of Nayarit. It is about two hours from Guadalajara, 40 minutes from the Pacific coast, and set in the green, tropical mountains of western Mexico. We are partnering with three universities this week, and one of our community impact projects was to participate in a Culture Fair for university and high school students. We designed our booths the day before: we had an international trivia booth in a jeopardy-type format, a Music & Nightlife booth where you could learn about what going out with your friends looks like in different regions of the world (and where they had periodic dance parties and club music playing throughout the fair), and a Languages booth, where people could learn phrases in other languages, and get their names written in other alphabets (like Thai, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese). The universities had booths too- there was a culinary school that was teaching people how to carve fruits & vegetables, an art department that was screening Tshirts, and a representatives from the Huichol tribe that were demonstrating and selling their traditional beadwork. Part of the cast performed a mini-show, and we had an International Costume fashion show with about 15 cast members. What I love about events like this is the cast gets to create the content beforehand, so we are all more invested in the success of the event.

Cabo Contrasts

In coming to Los Cabos, we wanted to show the cast more than just the beautiful vacation community full of wealthy snowbirds that move south to spend their winters here. Part of the goal of our sponsor, the Los Cabos Children’s Foundation, was to educate the local Mexican community that lives and works here year-round about the services and support that the foundations partner agencies offer. So we were taken by the director of Ligamac, which is an agency that helps children get school supplies and uniforms so they can attend school, to a very poor, newer community on the outskirts of Cabo San Jose. In recent years, there has been a huge migration to Cabo because of the construction demand. But families are moving here too quickly for the community infrastructure, so there isn’t enough housing or schools or sewers or roads to handle the influx. As a result, there are squatter communities popping up in the desert outside of town, where homes are made of plywood and scrap metal, and in some cases are put up the dry riverbeds, where a strong storm can wash away an entire community overnight.

It was hard for the cast to drive our air-conditioned shiny coach buses into this community, to get out for less than an hour, to walk around, talk with the families living there, to play with the kids, and to learn a little bit about these people and their situation. To some it looked so bleak, yet there were small gardens, and homes that were well-cared for, and in the more established community, where most families have been there for a year or more, there are structures of cement with rebar sticking out the top as a sign of the 2nd floor addition that they’re planning as more money comes in. That’s what is incredible about the way this community is developing—its not that a big development company comes in and builds a complex, and then the families move into bright, finished suburbia. It’s one family at a time, building their houses from scraps that the husband brings back from the fancy condo construction site he works on all day, if he’s lucky enough to have found work. Every house has a water tank, and a truck drives through the community delivering water, house by house. It isn’t potable, so another truck delivers drinking water. Schools are overflowing and for many, the nearest one is over an hour’s walk away.

But as we talked to the women and played with the children in this dry, dusty village, they expressed their appreciation for us coming, and being interested in learning about their situation. So even though it feels horrible to get off the buses and take pictures—I heard comments about cast members not wanting to treat these people like we were at a zoo- but if we had ignored it altogether by not coming, and instead have only had the more touristy Cabo experience, we wouldn’t be doing the community justice either. And in visiting the community with one of our beneficiary partners who works with these people every day, it was an honor for us to see what the money raised from our show will benefit.

The irony was that we started the day in this poor, depressed community, and then visited a lush mango farm in the rain where we hurriedly hiked to a waterfall and rode back to the buses in pickup trucks full of mangos, with fresh mango juice dribbling from our chins. We had to rush back to Cabo in order to make our sunset boat cruise out to the famous Cabo arch. On the boat there was a band and an open bar, and we danced and ate sushi and saw sea lions, and had a wonderful, amazing time… all the while remembering the families we met this morning and how different our lives were from theirs. It was a day of huge contrasts, and one that this cast will not soon forget.

nuestro anniversario

August 30th, 2008: To celebrate our anniversary, we actually took a day off! It was August 29th, because we had to attend a VIP cocktail hour before the show on our real anniversary. It was so relaxing to stop and do nothing for a day… we hung out around two of the resort pools, went out to breakfast and to dinner, and walked along the beach. The resort sat almost at the very tip of the Baja peninsula, so you couldn’t actually swim in the ocean there. The waves were too dangerous, because of the riptides from the Pacific meeting the Sea of Cortez. I’ve never seen such powerful, intense waves in my life. We were up at the sky pool at happy hour, and enjoyed mojitos sitting on stools in the pool. We couldn’t have been luckier to celebrate here, to have that gift of a wonderful, peaceful day in the middle of this crazy busy life that we love.

Pueblo Bonito

In honor of our fifth wedding anniversary on August 30th, we requested to be in the staff hotel, which happened to be the Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach resort in Cabo San Lucas. They were one of our sponsors in Los Cabos, and we were so spoiled! The resort sits on a steep hillside, with speedy oversized golf carts that drive guests around the complex. Our building was in the middle, so we could walk easily down to the lagoon pool and beachfront, and also up to the restaurants. The sky pool, which was above everything- a two-level pool with a hottub that sat above it, was where we spent most of our time when we were there… though most days we didn’t get home before dark. On our last day though, we went up to the sky pool at 3:30pm and stayed until 8pm. The sunset was incredible.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Though you might think that “little bombs” or bombitas would be the result of eating too many beans here in Mexico, its actually the term for cannonball! In honor of the close of the Olympics, we did some synchronized cannonballing. Que padre!

La lluvia

(Sunday, August 24th) So it never rains in La Paz, except when there’s a hurricane. When I asked the advance team if we needed a rainy day plan for any of our activities, they laughed… until tropical storm Julio started rolling in yesterday. Our show was in a baseball stadium, and we built a stage basically on second base. Because its 110 degrees here everyday, we were worried about our equipment being too hot to function properly. That turned out to not be a problem at all, since it started to rain right when we started our afternoon rehearsal. It sprinkled through most of the afternoon, and rained hard enough for us to stop and get offstage for a little while. The tech team was busy all day… moving tents over speaker towers and wrapping lighting trusses in tarp. There was a canopy onstage all afternoon over the band. When the rain got heavy, all the microphones were covered with plastic bags, and the stage was full of gravelly mud from the baseball field. Thankfully, by some miracle, it cleared up about two hours before our show and was dry through the evening.

Our biggest problem during the show was that the air was steamy and humid, and dancers kept losing their grip because they were so sweaty!

We awoke this morning (Sunday) to a gray, steady rain. It cooled the temperature to about 90 degrees, and though our beach and boating plans were foiled, we instead got to relax around the house, and had a fabulous pool party in the rain with our host parents’ grandchildren. Every Sunday their children and grandkids come over and make a big lunch… we had a mix of Italian, Lebanese and Mexican food (since two of the daughters lived for awhile in Italy, and hostmom Magui’s family is from Lebanon). Caprese salad, shrimp and fish ceviche, spaghetti la carbonera and a homemade red sauce with a little bit of cream cheese. Also jocoque (which is like Lebanese sour cream- I don’t know the English word) with pita chips and salami. We ate and swam, and had diving contests, races, did cartwheels into the pool, played marco polo and “Tiburon” (shark!), and just had a wonderful day… and tomorrow we’re off to Los Cabos!