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!