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.

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