Sunday, December 7, 2008

Philippines - Manila

There is no easy way to describe the incredible things of the Philippines. My life is impacted in some way each day. Everywhere I go there is something that either profoundly touches my heart or causes me to laugh out loud. Our Up With People visit to the Philippines is much different than any other city or country we have been to. The cast has been split up into small groups which have been formed to favor our community outreach projects. Students are placed in host family homes that are somewhat close to their CI (community impact) Projects. We have spent only a week in every city we have been to so far during our six-month tour, but we are spending 2 1/2 weeks in Manila. We are teamed up with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, an organization that is building homes in regions of the world where housing is unavailable.

My experiences in Manila so far have intensified my abilities of being a flexible leader. I am adapting to new elements of decision making and conflict management. The cultural differences of the environment that I am living in have caused me to develop leadership skills that can only be reached by a complete change in surroundings. Being a catalyst for others in a foreign country is the ultimate classroom for individual development.

I am living in a beautiful home in a neighborhood called the Valley of the Green or Valley Verde. My host parents’ house is in an area called Ortigas, which is located in Metro Manila. This area of Manila is filled with large buildings and is a metropolis of shopping and attractions. As a non-native Filipino, I am having a great deal of difficulty speaking Tagalog, but the majority of those who live in Manila speak English. Living in a tropical climate is of course very humid. The temperature during the day is usually in the upper 80s and it stays fairly warm throughout the night and there is often rainfall every day.

Manila is filled with cultural aspects that I have never witnessed before in my life. Pollution is a large problem here, yet the amount of recycling that takes place is profound. A piece of sheet metal that was originally manufactured to be used in building construction can be modified and used to manufacture a motorcycle sidecar or side panel on an old vehicle. One glass Coke bottle can be used dozens of times so it is important to drink your soda with a straw. Two days ago I saw that a man had used half of an old car tire as a fender on his motorcycle.

The people in the Philippines are without a doubt the friendliest group of people I have ever witnessed. Because of my white skin color and blonde hair, six out of every ten people call me Joe. As I walk down the streets of the city, people of all ages and genders yell out, "Hey Joe!" or "Yo Joe, where you from." I have never witnessed a cultural title before, but unlike many other racial titles, the Filipinos call a foreign man with white skin Joe with a smile and greet them with kindness. Filipino people are helpful and kind. Some of the poorest people I have ever seen in my life are the friendliest individuals I have ever met. They are probably so happy because the Filipino Christmas season starts in September and lasts until the end of January. Just imagine all of the rock-bottom deals that I am bombarded with daily!! It is the perfect country to visit during November and December. Nothing says Christmas like sitting in a rain forest climate listening to holiday music as you eat spaghetti at McDonald's. Yes there is a place in the world where you can eat McSpaghetti!!!

Everywhere we go, Filipinos say Hello sir!, Right this way, sir! I have what you need right here sir! Handkerchiefs for only 40 pesos right here sir! Do you need help finding anything sir? It is very polite to call someone “Po”. If you do not need a service or a product you might say, "Oh no thank you, not today Po." The kids in the Philippines are without a doubt God's children. I am convinced that they are the most gorgeous children in the world and they are EVERY WHERE!!! They are very creative and take on the roles of adulthood very fast. They can be seen delivering water on bicycles, inventing new ways to play, and sometimes running naked through the streets. Yesterday, one left a wad of gum in my hair after a short ride on my shoulders. They have no problem finishing your soda or taking one of your crackers and feeding it to a monkey.

As my cast group and I have passed through neighborhoods, we have seen men sitting outside their homes patting their roosters as they wait for weekend cockfights. Manila is never asleep. A large portion of the population work in call centers which operate during North American time schedules. As the daytime workers are eating dinner, modes of public transportation become filled with thousands of night workers. Traffic in the city is absolute chaos even at one o'clock in the morning. The cultural differences of Manilla have stimulated my initiatives and have heightened my perseverance towards the understanding of others.

Meals in the Philippines have been incredible so far. My host Dad and his son are from Puerto Rico so dinner at the home usually consists of some sort of Puerto Rican dish. This adds for an exciting amount of cultural meals since meals outside of the house are... made Filipino style! I love to eat in this country because I could eat rice every day. Filipino food is very sweet and saucy so it's good to have a substantial pillow of white rice under each meal. The Filipino people primarily use a spoon and fork while eating. They use a fork to chop up their food and then slide everything onto the spoon for clean transportation to the mouth. I have only seen the Filipinos eat with chopsticks at Japanese and Korean restaurants.

I never go to McDonald's in the states, but I love McDonald's in the Philippines. For the grand price of three dollars, you can enjoy a chicken strip sandwich, rice, McSpaghetti, and a regular sized soda. But, the coolest thing is that you can call McDonald's any time day or night and a guy shows up on a motorcycle and brings it to your door. McDonald's in the Philippines is fun, but when I am looking for a real cultural experience I head over to Jollybee which is the Filipino version of McDonald's. Absolutely everything looks just like McDonald's, but they try to mix all the American foods at one time. On just one menu you can order a cheeseburger, fried chicken, mashed potatoes or spaghetti. If you need to “Asian it up a bit”, you can still order a burger wrapper full of rice. I suggest everyone should go to Jollybee, see pictures for details.

The most traditional thing to eat in the Philippines is a duck egg called Balut. Everyone and is a fan of this delicacy. When a Filipino finds out that it is your first time in the Philippines he or she will strongly encourage you to enjoy Balut. I have mixed feelings about eating balut since the duck egg is served with a small embryo inside. Here in the Philippines it is customary to crack the egg open, drink the dark juices inside and then eat the small duck and its soft yellow yolk. Today, I found out that fish eye shots are enjoyed as well, but there is no way in the world I would ever eat that.

In the area of our CI project, many families open restaurants below their houses and sell meat and rice meals in small plastic bags. It is common to see a small child running down the street drinking a bag of juice through a straw. The Filipino people use every part of the food animal and waste very little since poverty is so prevalent in their country. It is common to see a man or woman standing outside grilling hard pieces of blood and sticks of intestines. I do not suggest eating these products, but it is incredible to see the Filipino ways of conserving their resources. With food selections like these, I have often found myself practicing my conflict management skills. The Filipino people are so nice and generous that they try to give you all that they have as they greet you in their country or build new opportunities for business. It is important to make wise decisions, but I have gained a lot from showing kindness even when I am saying no.

The best thing about eating in the Philippines is that every fruit is fresh from the jungle and is always delicious. The mangoes, bananas, and kiwis that I have had so far have been ridiculously good! I hope to be hosted with a Filipino family next week in order to become fully immersed in a Filipino meal. As for now I am enjoying my Puerto Rican style food at home and eating Filipino goodness with the cast. I hope the food in Subic Bay is as good as in Manila.

Our community impact project in Manila has been the greatest opportunity of our stay in the Philippines so far and has caused me to become very achievement driven. Myself and nine other cast members have teamed up with Habitat for Humanity Philippines. Habitat for Humanity originated in America, but has branches all around the world and is working in the Philippines to build unit housing for families that are now living in some of the worst slums in the world. Habitat's building project in Pasig City will provide homes to 120 families. The building process that we are able to help with is one that uses cement bricks reinforced by concrete and rebar. The construction design in this housing development was designed by Habitat and is a quick and reliable. Our cast works alongside 30 local people. The Filipinos are either skilled construction workers from Habitat or they are the home partners who will eventually live inside these houses. The home partners are unbelievably hard workers. They are men and women who are incredibly poor and work day after day to construct their new home.

Before we started to work with Habitat Philippines, I was chosen as the crew leader of our site. I an no longer required to be a crew leader on this tour because I served my six week position earlier in the tour, but because of my work in Mexico I was placed in charge of our 10 person group on this project. I have been given a great opportunity to develop close relationships with Ving and Noel who are two of the leaders of Habitat Philippines. We are broken up into two groups. One works with individuals who are pressing cement bricks and the other works with the gentleman who are involved in placing the bricks and pairing concrete for different areas of need.

The guys at our worksite are an absolute blast. Many of them do not speak English, but everyone at the site knows Christmas songs. Because of the Filipino's love for Christmas, singing the songs of the holidays keeps us moving and is allowing for relationships to begin to start between the Up With People cast and the Filipino workers without us even speaking the same language. In addition to our help building the home partner's homes we have been able to play with their children twice during our 2 1/2 week stay in Manila.

During the end of every November, Ateneo University in Manila hosts The Blue Christmas Celebration which is a large holiday party for over a thousand street children. University students tie-dye shirts, cook food, decorate bags, sing songs, play games and interact with children that would otherwise have no Christmas celebration. The University has a large entertainment show and moon bounces set up in their large quad. Half of the Up With People cast helped with this day long event which is the highlight of hundreds of children's Christmas season.

Transportation to and from my CI site everyday is an ultimate test of my independence and my ability to navigate a foreign city. In order to travel to Pasig City, I have often had to take two or three different modes of transportation. In the morning, I walk with my roommate, Umberto, to a main street where we wait for a taxi. The taxis are commonly occupied in the morning, but 20-30 may pass every five minutes or so as we wait. The taxi then takes us to the Pasig City Hall near the Pasig market. After a 25-30 minute cab ride through stop and go traffic, in what looks like a parking lot, we then pay a trike to take us through the market to get to our Habitat for Humanity worksite.

A "trike" consists of a motorcycle and side car and is almost always customized and hand fabricated. It is not uncommon to see 5-6 people riding a trike. Comfortably, two people can be seated in the sidecar, but I have seen a third wedged inside or riding on top. The motorcycle then holds the driver and 1-2 people behind him. I have commonly had to sit on a seat extension or luggage rack which sometimes provides for a somewhat uncomfortable trip. This mode of transportation would be extremely dangerous in the states or in other countries, but because of traffic and thousands of people in the street, the motorcycle driver rarely ever goes above 25-30 miles an hour. Trike drivers as well as cabdrivers commonly try to charge foreigners more than the normal cost of transportation, so the cheapest way to get around is without a doubt riding a jeepney.

Jeepneys are retired USA World War II convoy trucks that are privately owned and customized. The jeepney is an international symbol of Manila and provides transportation to hundreds of thousands each day. The convoy trucks are usually given large chrome decorations such as windshield guards and fans that make them appear to look like large Batmobiles as they intimidatingly roll down the streets with blaring exhausts, spewing out black smoke. I have found jeepney drivers to be some of the nicest people in the public transport system. They always return your change honestly and can be a big help when navigating the streets of Metro Manila.

The greatest thing about a jeepney is that the entire thing is a seat. Whether or not you are riding inside, hanging on the back, hanging on the side or riding on the hood you are still considered a passenger and will pay the fare. I will always remember the sight of a jeepney driver who can to drive stick shift and count back change as they maneuver the streets of the Manila markets and neighborhoods. It is crazy to watch one of these individuals because they are driving a very large vehicle through incredibly tight spaces with different denominations of bills wrapped around their fingers and almost always smoking a cigarette.

The jeepneys run in circuits so it is not unusual to see a driver talking to a passersby, but the most incredible thing is that the jeepney driver will reach a certain point in his route where he will honk his horn and receive a soda from someone on the street as he drives by. This might not seem that impressive, but the extreme chaos of the streets in the market make this an act of phenomena timing. You can only see it if you paying attention to every detail.

Just about everyone who travels wears something over their nose and mouth to protect them from the large amounts of exhaust that is in the air. My travel buddies Javi and Umberto both wear bandannas up over their noses in the same way that I do, so the three of us look like bandits as we ride the jeepneys and trikes. It is important to remember to hold your belongings tightly and enjoy! Salomit Po!!!

The US dollar is worth around 49 pesos. A family in the Philippines must make over 10,000 to15,000 pesos annually stay out of poverty. This is around $230 USD per year. The fare for a taxi is generally somewhere between 50 and 100 pesos, while a trike ride averages between 20 and 30 pesos depending on distance and number of passengers. A jeepney ride is always eight pesos no matter where you go. Soda in a bottle can be purchased for six pesos but it can sometimes be 20 inside the city. Meals at nice restaurants average between 200 - 400 pesos and a ticket to a movie is 150 pesos.

There are thousands of markets in this area of the Philippines, but the Green Street Market is one of the greatest aspects of Metro Manila. Shoes such as Adidas, Pumas or Nikes are commonly 900 pesos but can be haggled down to around 450 or 500P, which is about 10 US dollars. Most products like shoes are imitation quality. Other merchandise which is usually very expensive in other parts of the world are commonly very cheap here since they are manufactured and exported from the Philippines or other neighboring Asian countries. Products such as Coach Purses or designer sunglasses appear to be just like the real thing and are sold for around 1/10 of their usual price. The Philippines are known for their genuine pearls. Many pearl necklaces that are purchased in the Philippines for around 5,000 pesos or $100 USD can be appraised in the US for $900.

Shopping at the Green Street market is kind of like banana time in the monkey cage. Products all pretty much taste the same, but no one really wants to lose anything in order to get a lot. While you shop it is common for people to sneak up behind you and ask you if you would like to buy a DVD. They speak with the confidence of knowing that they might make a sale, but creep up like thieves and speak to you as if they are making some sort of drug deal. Of course they see no problem with totally creeping you out because to them, they are simply providing an easy avenue to pick up a bootleg copy of your favorite flick. After the fourth or fifth time of telling them no thank you Po, it is common for me to then tell them that I do not have a TV. Shortly after the salesperson becomes aware of my "tragedy". They either sadly walk away or make sure that I understand that it is the easiest thing in the world for them to get me a TV and that they will go pick it for me and then still give me a rock-bottom price on my DVD.

Independence is a large part of our stay in the Philippines. We are given transportation money, but are in charge of getting ourselves around. Having the cast broken up into small groups of 10 has really caused the students to call upon their skills of Individual strength. My roommate, Umberto, and I have become very good at navigating various parts of the city. We have developed a pretty good ability to determine if an individual is trying to help us out or just trying to get our money.

Being in the Philippines has given me a lot of flexibility. Whether it comes to transportation or to working with individuals at our Habitat construction site, I have been able to mold my thinking and orient my expectations in a way that benefits the goals of others.

As I go through each day I am met with my thoughts of exhaustion or resentment for the climate, but the people that I am with and the things that I am doing will only happen during this month of my life, so I am constantly overjoyed and soaking up each moment of my opportunity. Beginning with the Filipino boy that I sat next to on the airplane, my new Filipino friends have opened new windows for me to look through and they have expanded my ability to understand the art of life.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Aberdeen, South Dakota

On our way to Aberdeen South Dakota, our cast spent the night at Outlaw Ranch in the Black Hills, located in the west-central area of the state. We spent a large portion of our evening learning about the week's Global Series topic. See my Wyoming blog to learn more about our cast's Global Series workshops. Our Aberdeen topic of the week was immigration simulation and became an excellent team builder activity for our cast.

On Sunday night the cast and I were introduced to the "Up With People Land" workshop. Each member of the cast was assigned as either an immigrant, an illegal alien, a migrant worker or a citizen. This weeklong activity was an exercise that allowed the cast to experience concepts of immigration and the hardships of the immigration process. The objective of the game was to become a citizen by the end of the week. Each cast member could become a citizen by either getting married or by taking a test of citizenship.

Personally, I was assigned as a citizen with a government job. I was given the role of "Keeper of the Peace" and was one of the only two people that could perform marriage ceremonies. If two members of the cast/citizens of "Up With People Land" wished to get married in order to gain their citizenship, they had to first come to me and my partner in order to find out if they were truly in love and not just working the system in order to gain citizenship. There were other cast members that held roles like Border Patrol and Governor, but each Up With People student was given a position in UWP Land that simulated some sort of real life position in the process of immigration. Citizens were given real-life benefits during this week of the game. Citizens could do things like, eat first during cast meals or get better seats on the bus. At the same time, illegal aliens and migrant workers had to become citizens and move up in the game.

Throughout the week our Up With People cast became a brawl of a society. Some citizens did their best to keep illegal aliens from gaining rights while others concentrated on electing new governors so that immigrants would gain rights. The entire week I interviewed "Up With People Land" couples and performed marriages at morning meetings. This activity became an excellent way for our cast to grow as a whole and witness how hard the immigration process can be.

Many exercises that UWP facilitates cause our cast to grow significantly. Many exercises can just be seen as fun activities, but every workshop we do simulates some sort of actual global issue. I am always blown away by our education department's ability to use our full cast in every activity.

Our week in Aberdeen provided Up With People students with a variety of ways to interact with the community. Our community impact projects provided Aberdeen with hundreds of hours of community service, but on Wednesday we participated in a cultural fair and mini show at the Aberdeen Mall. Students were able to educate the public about their home countries while promoting the UWP show. Our cultural fare was broken up by each region of the world. Obviously, I worked at the USA and Canada table, but our booth was poorly attended since we were placed right next to the European exhibit. The Up With People cultural fairs are always well received and are an excellent way for our students to educate others on their cultures and customs.

My experience in Aberdeen South, Dakota got even better when I found out that I had been selected for the Up With People Business Internship. The UWP tour is run by 16 staff members, but there are many things to manage during the tour so internships are given in each road staff position. As the business intern I work with Matthew, who is our Finance and Merchandise Manager on the road. I shadow the business process of the UWP tour and assist in business decisions that have to do with merchandise and economic planning for future costs. We use a creative process to design merchandise promotion, price points, and sales strategies. This internship also molds my public speaking abilities and my conversation techniques.

Cheyenne, Wyoming

On Monday, October 20, our cast reached Cheyenne, Wyoming. In each city on our American tour, the cast and I have taken part in a series of workshops based on global interaction. The workshops are some of the most interesting aspects of our tour and allow our multicultural group to discuss universal issues that are shared among people no matter where they come from. They generally take place on Regional Learning Day and the topic we discuss is exercised throughout the week. For example, our topic in Utah was centered around student's perspectives of religion. During our time in Cheyenne our topic of the week was gender.

Our cast studied the different roles of men and women around the world. Each International Relations session is given by cast members from different countries, so the perspectives and ideas that are added to each discussion make for an incredible life experience of learning. Just like any Up With People workshop, the message that is conveyed during these sessions is incredibly well-rounded because of the differences in opinions brought forth by students that represent opinions from a variety of cultures. Our Cheyenne gender studies were given to help the cast better understand the past and present rules for men and women in different societies. Its purpose was to encourage people to think about how they can change or facilitate change for future generations. Our group was presented with several elements of introduction and then broken up into group rotations.

Our workshop was broken up into four topics: children's gender roles, the media's effect on gender roles, women's role in the workplace, and women's roles in the communities of different cultures. Many of these topics may seen like normal topics for discussion, but imagine having the ability to travel to the 22 different countries that are represented in our UWP cast and hearing the opinions of a vast number of cultural opinions.

Gender Workshop created by Up With People students

Children’s Gender Roles:

The children’s gender roles session, was geared towards raising children in certain molds. The main topic was how parents and society influence children on how they look, act, and participate in society. This group was a discussion group. The beginning of the 15 minutes was dedicated to facts found on the internet through various sources and then opened up to general discussion between the students and the coordinator of the workshop. The conversation evolved around personal experience, ideas and opinions.

Media’s Effect on Gender Roles:

The media group was designed to bring up issues on how both men and women have standards to live up to based on how the media portrays each gender. This too was a discussion group with facts given throughout. The main focus was how women have been given the passive role as well as how they are portrayed in most of the sex driven commercials. The focus was also on men as well, due to the fact that they have pressures put on them to look masculine and tough. The group discussed the feelings and opinions on the media in their own culture as well as how they felt about it in the western media. They discussed how it effects the girls and boys who these ads are geared towards and the standards it sets for each gender as they are discovering who they are.

Women’s Roles in the Business World:

This workshop was an interactive workshop with facts given throughout. The goal of this workshop was to give statistics on women and men in the workplace. It pointed out how women were habitually paid less and advanced slower than men. It gave examples of women who actually responded better in leadership positions and how women are just as capable of doing the same job as men and should be paid accordingly.

Women’s Roles in the Community in Different Cultures:

This workshop was an informational workshop with some discussion. It was geared towards how women are treated and expected to act in various communities around the world. It brought up issues on roles they play in the family, roles they play in society, and how they are pressured to be subservient in specific cultures. They discussed how to create change so that women are no longer oppressed or treated unfairly in those societies.

Cheyenne, Wyoming is the home of Cheyenne Frontier Days which hosts the largest rodeo in America. Our cast had a blast learning about the culture of the rodeo at the Laramie County Community College. Rodeo students had a blast sharing their experiences and knowledge with our cast through the art of roping, riding, and storytelling. Personally was able to try my hand at working with a lariat and riding the mechanical bull.

Our show in Cheyenne was performed at the Cheyenne Civic Center and was a great way of ending our week of working with The United Way community impact partners. On show day we were given the opportunity to see a cultural presentation on the Netherlands. Students dressed up in traditional Christmas costumes and gave out plenty of holiday treats and information about their country's heritage.

During my community impact projects in Cheyenne I was able to work at local homeless shelter and help the local Parks and Recreation Department get ready for their family Halloween Events. Our travel day from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Aberdeen, South Dakota started a day earlier than usual because our cast was given the occasion to spend a night in the Black Hills of South Dakota and visit Mt. Rushmore.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Colorado Springs, Colorado

After experiencing cast B's week in Colorado Springs, I felt as if I had experienced the cookie cutter week of Up With People; my experience was a perfect example of an UWP tour week. We arrived in Colorado Springs at five o'clock on October 6th and had our Allocation Meeting at the Crowne Plaza, just outside of town. We were then told that the week ahead of us was all about honoring our US military families. The majority of our cast is made up of students from other countries so it was important to point out the fact that this week was about family and outreach to those who are doing things for others. Our goal was to acknowledge the US military families, but also to promote universal compassion from so many international students.

We met our host families at 6:30 PM and little did I know that I would be staying in a "Little Home on the Range." My Colorado host mother worked as an event planner for military families, so she personally had a lot to do with Up With People's visit to Colorado Springs. After telling her how honored I was to be performing at the Fort Carson Event Complex, she told me some of the history of our show venue. We were performing on a stage that had held many stars over the years including Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, and Alan Jackson numerous times. She remarked how pleasant it was to be working with UWP and how she could not wait to pick up her host sons Vitor from Venezuela and Russ from Baltimore, Maryland. Our host dad was a retired firefighter and ex-rodeo rider who enjoyed teaching us about the prairie and taking us for a horseback ride! Ye-Ha!!

On our regional learning day, the cast and I toured the USA Olympic Training Center and visited the Garden of The Gods park. Each week, a member of our cast gives a cultural presentation of their home country. Since our group represents 22 different countries it is important for us to learn about each other's international backgrounds.

During the week in Colorado Springs, our Swiss UWP students gave a presentation of Switzerland. The country covers an area of 15,942 square miles and is only twice the size of New Jersey, USA. Some of the largest cities in Switzerland are Zurich, Geneva and Basel. The capital is Berne. With a population of 7,290,000 only 20% are foreigners. About 65% of all those in Switzerland speak Swiss German, 18% speak French, 10% speak Italian and 1% are making other choices. Citizens are mostly Catholic or Protestant.

The first of August is the anniversary of the founding of the Swiss Confederation and is a large day of celebration. The yodeling festival is held in Lucerne. Switzerland is made up of 26 cantons. While each canton has its own constitution and laws, national laws are above those of the canton. Education in Switzerland seems to be very practical. Students start out in elementary school and then move into apprenticeships during high school. There are apprenticeships in America, but those of Switzerland are much more common and carry the majority of students into the work world. Just like America, their highest level of education can be found at universities. Switzerland's government is made up of seven counselors and one federal secretary. Every year one counselor stands as President of Switzerland and the seven counselors rotate annually.

The Swiss are very independent, responsible people and are very proud of their heritage. Three kisses are given on the cheek when two people meet on the street. The Swiss love their meat, cheese, potatoes and lots of coffee and tea, but just from being a member of Up With People, I can tell you that the Swiss girls hold chocolate to be above everything else. Switzerland has many issues that are similar to America. There are problems with immigration, drugs and drinking, but for the most part Switzerland is a very safe place. Social etiquette and respect is very similar to the United States. Friends are excited to see one another and people are respectful to individuals they do not know. Gwen, a cast member from Switzerland, told me that many individuals in Switzerland do not use the phrase "I love you" as much as Americans do. She noticed that Americans seem to throw around the phrase quite commonly. They will say things like," Oh thanks for doing that for me, I love you!" Gwen told me that such a phrase is held with much importance and is only used when it is truly meant.

Cultural presentations are an excellent way to better your relationship with cast members and to develop your global understanding of others. Listening to other students tell about their home cultures is an experience that affects me more than others may think. I love to watch students tell about the things that make them passionate. Cultural presentations have given me the opportunity to better my lifelong listening skills and witness the life of others.

After our cultural presentation, military officials joined our cast and the students of UWP were able to attend a military panel at Fort Carson. Being in a room with international representatives and members of the United States Army was an opportunity of a lifetime. With so many global issues going on in our world right now, I was able to be a part of promoting mutual understanding at a UWP gathering of diversity.

Our Colorado Springs community impact took place in the elementary schools on Fort Carson. On Wednesday, October 8th, Up With People taught Stand For Peace lessons at Mountainside elementary. Thursday’s classes took place at Abrams elementary and on Friday were at Patriot school. To find out more about Stand For Peace please visit my Arizona blog.

Stand For Peace is an excellent example of Up With People's drive for helping others to develop. It is an awesome experience to be a part of UWP's ability to reach all ages with a motivational message. Imagine the impact that 94 international teachers have upon one school. With our appearance at the three elementary schools, thousands of young students could witness our message of unity throughout the course of just three days. Our students became very involved and seemed to be very eager to learn about international opinions. At the end of each Stand For Peace day, our cast performs a mini show in each school's auditorium. To hear the roar of 700 elementary schoolers is like being at a Beatles concert. Students get very in tune with our colorful presentation and the energetic delivery of our message. These mini shows bring hundreds of students to our primary performances and make for an excellent demonstration of calling students to action and influencing their interests to learn.

Our Colorado Springs show was our second in Colorado and was greatly received and appreciated by hundreds of military families. Our backstage tour had an awesome turn out and the cast had a blast in that night's performance.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Albuquerque, New Mexico

On Tuesday, September 30, the cast and I spent our first day in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a regional learning experience, we were able to take a bus ride to the Acoma Sky City, located at the top a 367 foot Mesa 65 miles from Albuquerque. Acoma is the oldest constantly inhabited community in the United States and is continuously being restored through traditional means of construction. After a short bus ride, the cast and I reached the top of the mesa and saw many men constructing mud bricks and patching the outsides of buildings in need of repair. We were able to enter the city, but were expected to be extremely respectful to people's homes and most importantly the church.

Even though photography was limited, I found the scenes before me to be filled with color and easy to remember. The San Esteban del Ray(Acoma Pueblo Church) was incredible and filled with history. In front of its doors was a large cemetery which was made up of five layers. A small wall surrounded the burial site to protect the individuals buried within. I noticed a small hole within the wall. It was said to be a doorway for the souls of buried individuals to pass through as each moved on. The walls of the San Esteban del Ray were over a foot thick and held a ceiling that was supported by large wooden beams transported from Mt. Taylor, located over 15 miles from the Acoma Pueblo. Each wooden beam, carried by hand, was prohibited from touching the ground in order to maintain its purity. The wooden beams were then pushed up large dirt ramps that led to the height of the church's ceiling and placed into their final resting place. The remains of many holy individuals and builders of the church lie within the walls and floor.

As we toured the city we passed large collecting pools which held water for building and cleaning. Water from the collecting pools is mixed with mud and clay which is then combined with straw. Straw is the most important element of the building process because it cuts down on wind erosion and protects the walls of the adobe homes from being blown apart. The walls of the adobes are thick just like that of the church because they are constantly being rebuilt and recovered seasonally. The streets of the sky city are filled with hard workers and street vendors and one of them sold me a tasty apple pie. The view from the Pueblos is absolutely breathtaking. I felt as if I was standing with in one of the scenes of Will Hobbs' book The Maze. It is said that one travels to the ocean to think outward and then hikes in the mountains to reflect inward, but I was able to witness the feeling of being absolute free from thought as I gazed at the mesas in the Acoma Valley..

Wednesday, held an excellent experience of understanding cultural communication and interpreting group interaction. Our Up With People education team put together a workshop based on the concepts of "Johari’s Window." With a group as diverse as ours, there are sometimes moments when individuals will misunderstand one another simply because of communication barriers. The members of our cast are around each other for such a long time that sometimes a simple misunderstanding may grow into a slight grudge. This is perfectly normal in group settings, but in order to keep our group's zest for development it is important to iron out mistakes in communication that magnify issues so that positive growth can take place. Concepts of "Johari’s Window" addressed such elements of communication as approaching an issue at its source and understanding the self deeper. It was a workshop that opened many minds and asked students to reflect upon their understanding of them self and those around them.

"Johari’s Window" Is divided into four sections of glass. Section 1 is referred to as the open realm of communication. It is based upon how an individual concretely sees themself and what they feel they know about others. Section 2 is titled "blind." A person is in the blind area when they feel that they understand another person, but they are unknown when it comes to themselves. Section 3 is called the hidden realm and it is when a person is fully understanding themself but cannot see the ideas of others. Section 4 is the ideal area of understanding. It is when a person understands themself and the perspective of others. Using these ideas of communication, our cast was asked to discuss the ways in which we may reach section 4, in order to better our interaction with one another.

In order to apply "Johari’s Window," we were broken up into smaller groups and asked to give one another constructive feedback. We were given slips of paper and instructed to simply write other students small letters that would better them as a person. I found it to be one of the most interesting activities I have ever taken part in. It was incredible to see the different ways in which I personally was being received. A student from Germany said that I should be more precise when I speak and more to the point. A student from Asia remarked that I was always positive but could speak more clearly and a bit slower. An American wrote that I could talk to him more because he did not know much about me.

I found these elements of feedback to be very interesting because students from similar regions of the world wrote comments that were similar in content. I began to realize that mechanics of communication are taught somewhat differently in different countries. All people realize the importance of communication, but it seems to me that some cultural communicators sometimes like to play around a bit more with their conversation objectives. For example, during a conversation with a Swedish girl, I was interrupted and had to leave. I told her that our conversation was, "to be continued" and she replied by saying, "but I don't want to be continued, is that an insult?" Of course I meant nothing hurtful by what I said, but without the proper reflection, I could have potentially hurt my relationship with that individual. Our exercises in Up With People almost always build some kind of cultural bridge, but the "Johari’s Window" feedback groups changed my perspective of myself and the ways in which I feel I am perceived by others. There many elements of communication that affect the ways in which we are seen by others, but cultural differences should not build barriers between us; they should give us things to talk about.

Our show today in Albuquerque was unlike any other. The cast and I were given the opportunity to perform at the Rio Grande Zoo. Personally, I was placed in a situation where I could totally rock 'n roll and relive my childhood at the same time. Our set up was totally out of this world. The stage pavilion just happen to be located between the giraffes and the seals and of course directly across from the grizzly bears. A large fishpond divided the stage from our audience and I was hoping that I would be able to float by on a kayak during my big guitar solo. Unfortunately, I was told that the swan ate a small boy three years back and that the cod were only fed every other day. So, sadly I decided to stay out of the water.

The day started off on kind of a sad note because the giraffe wouldn't turn around for his picture to be taken and the seals had no idea who Up With People were, but my spirits were lightened when I found out that our concert beneficiary was Albuquerque Reads. Many blog followers have no idea that I have dyslexia, but I love an opportunity to encourage someone to read.

Just like any other UWP appearance our New Mexico show was packed full of sponsors. thanks to Comcast, Univision, Telefutura, Super Estrella105.9, and Zangara Dodge, our advertising and expenses were generously covered. Ticket sales from around 2000 people, provided a generous donation to the young struggling readers of Albuquerque and were available to be purchased directly from the Rio Grande Zoo, Music Mart and Book Works, a local bookstore. With Comcast as one of our major sponsors we were able to have Up With People advertisements air regionally on TV channels such as MTV, Discovery Channel and The History Channel. We experienced lighting problems due to a faulty generator, but generally our show was pretty "kick’n."

As far as the performance I bring to the UWP show, I am beginning to develop the ability to musically step outside of the instructions I have been given and improvise a little bit. Each of the people in the cast performs a relatively similar show so it is important for each student to make their individual role unique and special. I have begun to make the guitar part mine by giving it that informational garlic and rhythmic seasoning that really adds some zesty nuances to each song. The dancers are really starting to get comfortable with their routines and have begun to take on bigger responsibilities. Our show day rehearsals have begun to become much more student run as interns have begun to step up into larger roles. Every week I am fulfilling my need to perform and this week I accomplished a childhood goal of working at the zoo. our show in Albuquerque allowed my fingers to dance on the fretboard while my inner child played at the zoo. Needless to say our performance was awesome.

Our theme for the week was centered around global pollution and natural awareness so we were told that we would be working at a landfill at four o'clock on Saturday morning. All week we have been discussing pollution, energy usage and natural disasters of the countries that are represented in our UWP 08 cast, so the cast expected to leave Friday night's show at 12:30 AM, sleep for two hours at our base facility and then leave for the Albuquerque landfill at three but little did we know that our staff had made other plans.

Before the show on Friday, the cast and I were informed that our actual Saturday activity was to volunteer at the 2008 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. We were told that we would be assisting international balloon pilots during the launch of more than 250 hot air balloons. I thought to myself -- leave it to Up With People to put me in the exact center of the action in every city! I was given the opportunity to work with a gentleman by the name of Randall Fuehrer, pilot of the Magic a balloon from McMinnville, Oregon. Rendell was an honor to work with and an excellent teacher. I was placed on a team with three other UWP cast members: Fenna from Germany, Natalie from Sweden, and Rina from Finland. The four of us were able to help Randall interact with the Magic's ground team and successfully work through each step in the launching process.

As a part of a ballooning team at the International Balloon Fiesta, it is important to review your Crew Chase Handbook and dress warmly because the working hours of the morning are freezing cold. The balloon arrived around 4:30 AM and our team began to prepare the launch site. The balloon launch field is broken up into a large grid that is organized by a sequence of letters and numbers. Each grid space provides enough room for a balloon to be properly spread out, filled, and launched. The word of the day is without a doubt: teamwork. It is essential that every member of the team is communicating clearly and conscientiously sharing the field with other pilots and their crews.

After Randall arrived, nine balloons began to fill and left the ground just before daybreak. This activity is called a Balloon Glow because each balloon glows like a light bulb in the night sky and creates an effect that is truly breathtaking. Around 7:30 AM our international team began spreading our balloon for a cold fill. After the basket is attached, the cold fill is a process that calls for a large gasoline powered fan that fills the balloon with cold air as it lays on the ground. Members of the group stand around the balloon and protect it from blowing into trailers or other objects that may puncture its parachute-like fabric. An individual stands at the top of the balloon as it rests on the ground and holds a long rope that prevents the large craft from blowing side to side.

After the pilot fills the balloon with the fan, he tests his two propane burners and begins to fill the shut with warmth. The flame gave off an intense heat which seemed to warm the morning around us as our breath seemed to disappear from the air. As warm air is added the balloon begins to rise. My job during the launching process was to make sure that the Magic did not blow up against a truck and trailer that pulled up nearby our launching site. After the balloon finished taking form and was fully upright, it's tie down ropes were removed and our team held tightly to its basket until we were cleared for takeoff.

At around 8:30 AM, our balloon took flight and began rising with all the others. As I watched it float into the sky, I felt as if I was watching my child chase the school bus with all the other little children in a graceful effort to make it to school on time. Mom you would have loved it. International balloons came from places like Great Britain, Germany, Spain, New Zealand, Belgium, Brazil, Switzerland, and Canada.

My host family was an absolute a blast. I was hosted with four other members from our cast: Kyle and awesome friend and talented dancer from New Jersey, Natalie one of the best Swedes you will ever meet, Lexi a singer from Maine, and (believe it or not) our cast manager Martin Brennan originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Our Albuquerque host parents where without a doubt people who love life and enjoy sharing it with others. They did an excellent job of knowing which sites to take us to. Spending time with them on Saturday gave us a chance to journey to the top of Sandia Peak. We were able to ride the longest passenger tramway in the world. The Sandia Peak Tramway was manufactured by Bell Engineering of Lucerne Switzerland and was completed in 1966 at the cost of 2 million dollars.

Some statistical facts for all those engineer-like people out there. The tramway’s total horizontal length hits 2.7 miles with a vertical rise of 3,819 feet. The tram car starts at a lower terminal which is located 6,559 feet above sea level and climbs to an upper terminal which sits at 10,378 feet. The tram car’s full capacity is around 10,000 pounds, or approximately 50 passengers. An average of 250,000 passengers ride the tramway annually. Two towers hold up the cable car's track ropes. The maximum clear span between Tower Two and the top is around 1/2 mile and is one of the longest spans in the world. The tram rides take 14 minutes each way at normal speeds of 20 feet per second or 13.6 miles per hour.

During our short ride up the mountain, we began to lose the ability to see much farther than 3 feet outside the tram windows; a thick fog covered the top of the mountain. Fortunately, we were able to see all of Albuquerque before reaching the first cable tower. Even though visibility became poor, our view of the mountainside was absolutely gorgeous. Pine trees and large rock formations stood below us and seemed to be floating in the cloud-like surroundings.

After reaching the upper terminal, our host dad took us on a long hike up the mountain towards a visitor's center located near the top of the mountain. Our path to the top was very narrow and very close to the edge of a long drop that seemed to end in a foggy abyss. In places our walkway was only around a foot and a half wide. I decided that New Mexico is the only other state in America that I could see myself living in - the only other than Maryland.

Our tour is changing my life more than I ever thought it would. I can only imagine what awaits in Colorado Springs.