South of Socal

April 15, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Culture, United States | 3 Comments
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This is my second (and final) name change for my blog. I wanted something unique at first: this blog has turned into a wellspring of my musings from my travels and I wanted the name to reflect that.  But the more I think about it, the more my identity is, and always will be shaped by my growing up in Southern California… and my journeys south.

And thus, “South of Socal” is born.  It´s name reflects the “South of Hope” article that was written about my Kiva Fellowship in the latest Pepperdine Magazine. More than that, it represents my worldview. One that has been shaped south of the border.

All this introspection started this Wednesday. The Wednesday when 45 minutes before a phone interview the carne asada burned and my mom asked me to head to downtown Camarillo to the Mexican meat market.

Carnicería. That´s what they are called. I kept looking at the clock on my phone impatiently thinking about how I wanted to be home and settled and ready to answer my phone. I walked through the shop to the back and not a single one of the butchers turned. Where´s the stupid bell on the counter when you need one.

Finally one turned around with a “Hey, Amigo” and after a brief debate, I settled on speaking English. Let´s stick with no surprises and less unnecessary conversation. Get in, get out. A “I would like four pieces of carne asada marinada dripped off my tongue”. No blonde kid should have that good of an accent and his face showed his surprise.

Get in, get out. I grabbed the bag of carne asada and headed to the check-out. Good. Only one lady in line. An old Mexicana grandma with handfuls of groceries and who constantly was browsing the snack counter behind the register. They were chatting in Spanish and I wanted to join in. Now, it feels like such a part of me, but still here in the U.S. I feel so out of place in South of the Border, Camarillo.

I was rushing remember? A second register opened and I blew out of the store without thinking about it and showed up to my house with 20 minutes to spare to answer the phone.

And in a month had forgotten all the best parts of the Latin culture. The stuff that has caused me to spend almost two years of my life there. The no rush, the never feeling like you have somewhere more important to be, the chat with strangers, the community that you create with every single person you meet. All of those great feelings came rushing back to me and I vowed to take another trip to downtown Camarillo.

Yes, I think I like it south of socal.

2010 Year in Review

December 31, 2010 at 9:29 am | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Costa Rica, Cuisine, Culture, Cuzco, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guatemala City, Kiva, Microfinance, Nicaragua, Peru, Travel, United States | Leave a comment
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I usually don´t have new year´s resolutions, but the last few years, it has been a generic “make this year better than the last”.  Whether that be traveling to 15 countries or graduating from college or working for Kiva, this year has been both un-forgettable and equally hard to top. Here are some highlights!

January. I´ll bring this full circle. Last New Year I spent in Frankfurt, Germany with Sandra Nymphius lighting off bottle rockets. A subsequent trip to the glorious dutch nation of Holland to visit Shamir, eat herring, and see Amsterdam make January 2010 equally unforgettable.

February-March. Columbia with Devin Dvorak. This whorlwind tour of Medellin, Cartagena, Santa Teresa, and Bogota involved a lot of beach side eating, mojitos, salsa dancing, and monkey chasing.  Never forget that day in Cartagena eating Ceviche… And back at Pepperdine for Songfest! Half the time I think I hated doing the practices, but at the end (and KTD´s almost win), I wouldn´t trade it for the world.

April. Wine tasting for my birthday. Getting the Kiva Fellowship. Graduating from college. My favorite month / memories of 2010…

May-June. Cruising the Mediterranean with Princess Cruises with the parents. Highlights: seeing Venice, quads in Mykonos, the spice market in Istanbul, Florence, Rome, and going back to Barcelona (easily one of my favorite cities in the world).  Road tripping up to San Luis Obispo with Hallie. The 24 hour drive out to Houston for Andy and Trudy Smith´s wedding.

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July-August. Kiva Training. Visiting with the cousins in San Francisco. Moving to Guatemala City to start my fellowship. Getting robbed on Roosevelt in Guatemala City (not a highlight but definitely memorable).  Moving to Aldea Nimasac in Guatemala. Visiting Lago Atitlán.

September-October. Kiva Vacation in Nicaragua (one of my favorite vacations of all time). Kiva Vacation in El Salvador. Surfing. Visiting with Devin Dvorak in Costa Rica. Seeing the Kite Festival in Sumpango.

November-December. Visiting the U.S. My weekend in San Diego. Moving to Cusco, Peru. Finding the meeting place. The near miss with a Machete Robbery. Having Marc Capule come visit. Exploring the Incan Culture and Ruins. Christmas with Peruvians and brunch in San Jeronimo.

Getting in the Christmas Spirit (Read This)

December 1, 2010 at 6:00 am | Posted in Culture, Cuzco, Kiva, Microfinance, Peru, Philosophy, Travel, United States | Leave a comment
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Merry Christmas! This post is a MUST READ and is partially a carry over post from my minimalism post on Black Friday, and partially its own entity about making the holidays worthwhile.

First of all, I love Christmas. The tree, Christmas lights (you can ask my parents about what I did to our house when I was a little kid), hot cider, going over to Grandma´s house on Christmas Eve, eating tamales (everyone has their own Christmas traditions), the stockings, Eggs Benedict Christmas morning, watching my Beagle open up his gifts.  The feeling of being around those who you love and those who love you.  I love all of it.

As I search for meaning over the Holidays, I reflect on what I would change about all of it if I could.  And (I know I am not original saying this) I think that we mistake all the great feelings that culminate in Christmas for what we give and what we receive instead of the traditions and the people that really matter.  More than that, I–and I´m sure I´m not alone in this–find myself buying gifts that people don´t want just for the sake of giving them something.

My advice: if you run across that person that has everything this holiday season, instead of buying them another thing that they don´t want or need, get creative.  Buy> my shameless plug goes here: buy Kiva gift cards (you are giving something and helping entrepreneurs around the world!) Or buy gifts from social responsible and cause related not-for-profits like Ten Thousand Villages or Nightlight International *great handmade jewelry! Or give the gift of time: I remember one of my favorite gifts as a kid was a book from my Dad full of outings to the beach, ice dream, hiking, Disneyland, etc. It becomes more than a gift, but an excuse to spend time with your loved ones.

 

The Cusco Christmas Market

My final thought for the 1st of December concerns my own holiday plans.  With some of the people in the office, we are pooling our money to buy food, toys, and small gifts for the poor that come to sell handicrafts at the Cusco Christmas market on the 24th.  I am putting forward $50 with another $100 or so from my co-workers.  I have never been one to ask for money; however, if this is something you are interested in giving money to, feel free to donate (right hand side of the page) and (like Kiva) 100% of the money given will get to the families that need it most on Christmas Eve.  And you can count on me taking pictures and blogging about the project after its through!

Merry Christmas from Down South

Living with Less

November 26, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Posted in Cuzco, Peru, Philosophy, Travel, United States | 2 Comments
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I remember coming back from college the summer after freshman year, looking at a room full of stuff that I hadn´t used and wondering how I got it all.  Then, I just started giving it away.  I didn´t even realize that it was a part of my lifestyle until when at my college graduation party, my mom mentioned this habit as something she admired.  Now, I am spending July to March traveling and working in South America, out of a backpack, and I continue to wonder, what do we really need?

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less” – Socrates

So, here are some of my random thoughts on minimalism, “Living with Less”.  It seems that as Americans, when we are bored, we consume.  We buy new DVDs or invest money in new hobbies.  (I do all this).  Then we look at a blank shelf and wonder what we could put there and we head to Pottery Barn or an Antique Shop for that perfect “thing” to fit that hole on the shelf. (Guilty).  Consider even, the stimulus package: it was given for the purpose of consumption under the pretense that buying more would be good for the economy.

And at the end of the day, we end up with rooms, houses, garages, and storage units full of stuff that we have used once or twice and left by the wayside.  And I wonder if this consumption inspired by boredom is what we must really do to be happy? And I wonder that if everything I own was stolen, would I be less content?  I think back to the robbery in Guatemala, and sad as I was that all my stuff was gone, I realized that it wasn´t the end of the world, and that I could survive without all the stuff that I had lost.  Packing as I did for Peru, I realized that all I am taking in my 55l Osprey is all I will really need for the next few months.  More than that, I realize that I would be satisfied with what I brought for longer than a few months.

My revelation lies not in the desire to give up everything we own, but the evaluation that the things I own don´t make me who I am.  It lies in the realization that the most spectacular parts, the best memories in your life will never be created by the things you bought, but by people you were with.  So, endeavour, as I do, to make your life less about what you buy and more about those with whom you can share your life with.

Save Me, San Diego

November 15, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Posted in Beach, Cuzco, Peru, Travel, United States | 3 Comments
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It´s not a daydream if you decide to make it your life – Train

It has been a while.  And typically with my schedule as it was in the states I would never have the chance to get on and blog.  But here I am.  I think its only because I am trying to put off packing for as long as possible.

I visited a ton of people (and I´m super bummed about those that I never got a chance to hang out with!) and tomorrow, I leave for Cuzco, Peru.  As I leave, I wonder what would happen if I stayed.  If I would get a job, if I would be happy back in L.A. or the U.S.A. for a while.  But if I did, I would wonder what sort of adventure I missed out on down south.  Which is why I try to continue to turn my travel dreams into reality.  Over the next few months, I´m going to live at the base of Machu Piccu, explore Patagonia, and continue to serve as a Kiva Fellow in one of the coolest cities in South America.

It´s with a mix of nostalgia and excitement that I leave the U.S. because when you get down to it, nothing in the world beats a California sunset or crusing down PCH.

Closing Thoughts

November 4, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Posted in Culture, Guatemala, Guatemala City, Kiva, Microfinance, Peru, Travel, United States | 1 Comment
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This is my last blog. At least in Guatemala. Today is my last day.  Tomorrow, I jump on one of those planes that I hear fly every night over the house to take me back to the good ´ole US of A. So, I offer you some closing thoughts.

The experience has been amazing.  Besides learning about microfinance, I have learned about myself: who I am, how I confront challenges, and how to live alone in a country that isn´t my own.  And, I have gotten really good at speaking Spanish.

The pictures are from FAPE, the microfinance institution where I have spent the last few months working as a Kiva Fellow.  From working on repayment reporting and strengthening the Kiva connection between borrowers, lenders, the MFI, and Kiva to implementing lengthy social performance evaluation managment surveys and doing a lot of training on the Kiva process in Spanish, I can say that I have been blessed to have been assigned to such an awesome field partner.

Unrelated, I have begun to discover a few things about microfinance.  It isn´t the “silver” bullet that will eliminate poverty by itself.  It will take people from around the world contributing their skills, talents and resources, and it will take big picture policy changes on the parts of governments throughout the world.  However, I (personally) agree with Muhummad Yunus when he said that “Access to credit is a fundamental human right”.  The access to financial services will allow the poor to smooth their income streams, preserve capital for future disasters, and obtain capital for their businesses (in that order).

Access and provision of financial services to the poor will introduce competition to the market and as the laws of supply and demand dictate, the relevant price of financial products to the poor will fall.  There has been a lot of negative press in microfinance lately, concerning the apparent suicides in India and a recent conference in New York.  But both beg the question if microfinance does more harm than good.  To which I (and most of the microfinance community) would respond no.

All of the clients that I have met have expressed their deep gratitude for the loans and services provided by FAPE, and the key to all of this as I mentioned earlier is access.  Microfinance provides something that was almost inaccessible for most people in poverty (or at the very least unaffortable): financial services. And through these financial services (as their progress and impact is closely monitored and controled) and policy changes, I believe that we may begin to see people escape from poverty.

Figured I´d end my last Guatemala post with the Guatemalan ruins of Iximché that I visited last week.  All the Best!

Guatemala Rundown (2)

October 28, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Posted in City, Cuisine, Culture, Guatemala, Guatemala City, Travel, United States | Leave a comment
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I apologize for the uncreative title. I could title this “Stuff I won’t miss” or “Guate Culture Shock” or “Welcome Eric, this isn’t your country”, but true to form, this is my second (personal) decompression of the country where I have lived for the last few months.  And lets face it, everyone secretly likes the movie The Rundown with the Rock and only is reading this to see if I will reference it. WELL, I DID.

Safety. I have been robbed three times in my life. The first in Rio de Janeiro during carnaval (my wallet got lifted out of a friends purse), the second in Tijuana coming back from building a house (locks got punched out on the van and my backpack with my tools, phone and car keys got lifted), and the third here (window broken at 9am and laptop, two cameras gone in the first week).  I had heard that Guate City wasn’t the place to dance in the streets after nightfall, but I wasn’t expecting everything I had brought to get stolen the first week.  It’s a matter of fear and i’m not the only one who feels it.  The papers tell of mass murders in restaurants in the downtown, or armed bus assaults, or how 12 and 13 year old boys get paid Q100 by gangs to kill random people (Guatemala laws protect minors from going to prison).  It’s a sad reality that where there is poverty, there is crime, and I hope that for the sake of all Guatemalans the streets are cleaned up.

Food. Ok, this isn’t entirely a negative.  I have a love hate relationship with the food here.  I love the typical Guatemalan food: the tortillas are out of this world, as are the tamales, the shukos, the beans, the plantains and the soups (minus the revolcado).  But they consume limited quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables (makes me wonder where the huge bags of carrots and truck loads of pineapple go), and a lot of fast food.  I guess what I am saying is that I have ate more McDonalds here than my entire life in the states (exaggeration? possibly, but close), and although I love American culture, I like to leave it behind when I travel.

Loneliness. This isn’t Guatemala, it’s me. From my year in Argentina to my summer in Spain and Israel, I have always had a ready-made group of friends.  Travel is easy when you speak a foreign language 50% of the time and still have the comforts of your own culture.  Here, my English has deteriorated.  I love living with a family, but I speak Spanish at work, then at home.  I guess after a while, I just start to miss well America (in the form beyond fast food).

Videos of my visit to Iximche, Mayan ruins outside of Tecpan, microfinance thoughts, a new Kiva blog post, and a street food post soon.

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