Monday, November 30, 2009

Uruguay Elects a New President

There was quite a party Sunday night as thousands of Frente Amplio supporters took to the streets in Montevideo to celebrate the win of their presidential candidate, Pepe Mujica.

The results of the runoff followed pretty much just as the pre-election polls predicted. Mujica, the ex-guerilla fighter won 53 percent of the votes, beating out his opponent, Luis Lacalle.

Only minutes after Mujica was officially announced the winner of the election, a torrential downpour soaked the crowds gathered along the rambla. That didn't seem to bother anyone. In fact, soaking wet FA enthusiasts took to 18 de Julio (Montevideo's main street) celebrating the win of their party in a long victory march. Flags, fireworks, and Frente cheers abounding.

Mujica ended his short speech on election night with a phrase from Uruguay's national hero, Artigas, "ni vencedores ni vencidos"(There are neither victors nor those who have been defeated) in order to leave party differences aside and unite Uruguayans together under the new democratically elected leader.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Piriápolis, Uruguay

Piriápolis is a beautiful beach town in eastern Uruguay in the province of Maldonado. It is a great place to go to relax on the beach a catch a few rays of the hot Uruguayan sun without all the hustle and bustle of its more famous neighboring city, Punta del Este.

There's a great cable car (ski lift-like thing) you can ride on to the top of Cerro del Inglés where you can see a majestic vista of the whole coastal city. From the hill you can also see a glimpse of Montevideo on one side and Punta del Este on the other. There's also a the other cerros to climb including Cerro del Toro which features a statue of bull and natural spring water flowing out of his mouth. The cool water is all the more refreshing after the trek there.

There are also beautiful sunsets in Piriápolis. But that is nothing new. I'm firmly convinced Uruguay has the most beautiful sunsets in the whole world.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Teaching English in Montevideo

I realize that many of my posts on this blog are about things unrelated to my work as an English Teaching Assistant and have decided to remedy that. Let me tell you about the work I have been doing this year in Montevideo.

I have been working in two places since arriving in Montevideo.

Instituto de Profesores Artigas (IPA)

I worked in many different classes, with all of the years and shifts, but mostly in Language, Literature, History, and Culture. The professors asked me what I was most interested in teaching and my answer was usually something related to discourse analysis. As such, I am confident my students are better able to develop quality criticism of the texts they encounter daily.

Inspeccion de Ingles for secondary schools

I give conversation circles every Tuesday and Thursday for teachers in distinct areas of the city. The idea was to reach those who may need English support and to provide a more relaxed atmosphere to speak in English. I also visited the classes of some of the teachers at their respective high schools.

I also work in the office of the inspeccion where I focus my time mostly on the design, research, organization, and distribution of the monthly Teaching English Newsletter.

Friday, November 27, 2009


My Thanksgiving this year was hardly traditional. I spent the morning and afternoon visiting a local private school with my mentor from IPA. This was the first time I stepped foot inside a private institution since arriving in Uruguay to work in the public education system. The difference was quite noticeable, even though many of the same teachers work in the both the public and private sector. I'm not sure whether to attribute this to management, funding, student background, or support. Clearly, Crandon, the school I visited, is getting it right.

I took advantage of my visit on Thursday to teach the students about Thanksgiving in the United States. I talked about the history, the idea of giving thanks, the time spent with family, the American football, and of course the turkey. But turkey is next to impossible to find in Uruguay! Nobody likes it! I was worried about celebrating Thanksgiving without a big fat juicy turkey, but then my problem was solved.

A friend of a friend us over to his house for big Thanksgiving feast that he spent two days preparing. And it showed. His food was delcious. And not to mention the view from his apartment was spectacular. People are very generous and caring here.

I am very thankful for my time spent in Uruguay and for the many great friends I have made.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dairy Farm

The English professors at CERP Florida were kind enough to organize a day trip for us to a nearby dairy farm. The visit was fascinating.

We learned about the milk cooperative, Conaprole, (Cooperativa Nacional de Productores de Leche) as it one of the largest dairy exporters in Latin America and has a unique history within Uruguay. Agricultural production remains as one of the cornerstones of the Uruguayan economy. At the farm we learned about milk production and maintenance of the cows. Who knew running a dairy farm could be so complex?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Punta del Este

Punta del Este is a beach resort in Eastern Uruguay known for its glitz and glam. Wealthy Brazilians and Argentinos flock to Punta del Este during the hot summer months to live it up.

The beaches are beautiful. The houses are beautiful. The people are beautiful. Everything is freakin' beautiful in Punta del Este.

Among the fancy restaurants, shops, cabanas, yachts, clubs, and casino is the famous hand sculpture on La Brava beach by Mario Irrazábal. It is supposed to look like fingers sweeping the sand, and it would--if it weren't for traces of the concrete base peeking up through the sand. Nonetheless, the sculpture is still cool. Imagine those fingers being very very tall. And just to let you know. I climbed the thumb.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Uruguay's Inferiority Complex

Uruguay is headed to the Copa Mundial (Soccer World Cup) in South Africa after this Wednesday's qualifying match. The entire country was on hold as Uruguay hosted Costa Rica in the Montevideo stadium. It is quite possible there wasn't a single person NOT watching the game. If there is one thing that Uruguayans take seriously, it's futbol.

When I ask people if they are proud of their country, futbol often has its way of making itself into the conversation. I want to get a sense of the nationalism (or lack thereof?) of the Uruguayan people, but of course, individuals vary greatly, and discussions with foreigners aren't always the best way to assess one's true sentiments about his or her country. That said, speaking from my observations, Uruguay has a bit of a inferiority complex. Nobody cares about us. Our neighbors are so big. Nobody even knows where Uruguay is on the map. Maybe we aren't very important after all. It's almost as if they imagined insignificance into being. But wake up Uruguay: you are awesome! and I could go on and on about why (just look at some of the other posts on this blog).

Despite the tendency to downplay perception of self in conversation, denying great love of country and identification as a unit, we can all agree that futbol is one example of unfledgling patriotism in Uruguay. The entire nation seemed to wear celeste (light blue, color of Uruguay's soccer jerseys) in a celebration of the Uruguay's last game to qualify for the Fifa World Cup. The signs suggest that Uruguayans really do love Uruguay.

Take, for example, the national anthem sung before the game mentioned above. It was performed in the version of a murga. See it here departing from its traditional style. There has been a lot of chatter recently of either strong aproval or disapproval for this new rendition, the "himno murguera." (I like it by the way.) When you speak of symbols of one's country, people are bound to passionately involved, heavily opinionated, and vocal about their convictions. All signs point to a type of nationalism that can't be easily defined.


Distinctly Uruguayan.
Extremely popular.

Photo courtesy of Marcos.

Basically male singing, acting, comedy groups. See this person's YouTube video for an example.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lobos Marinos

This weekend I visited Punta del Este in eastern Uruguay and got to see Uruguay's infamous sea lions or "sea wolves" as they call them in Spanish (lobos marinos).

Swimming about in the port of Punta del Este are a group of 8 or so enormous sea lions. They hang around the port alongside a flock of albatrosses where all the fishermen dump their leftover fish pieces.

You can get uber-close to these fascinating sea creatures and watch them swim around, playing, eating, and fighting with one another. This little boy in the picture enjoyed walking up and down the dock with a fish carcass while the lobos marinos greedily followed his every move.

"Feed me." You can almost hear the sea lions calling out to you. "Feed me. I'm going to sit on this rock here, and you throw me some tasty fish guts."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Nike 10k

Bright yellow. No. Blinding fluorescent yellow. That was color of our jerseys for the Nike 10k in Montevideo. I don't suppose they could have picked a brighter color.

On Saturday Christie, Fede, and I ran in the Nike 10k, which is the equivalent of 6.2 miles. The race started at the Palacio Legislativo and ended along the rambla. I beat my goal (of 60 minutes) by a little more than 3 minutes so i was really happy. I'm pretty sure that if i had been in this race a year ago I could have barely crossed the finish line, but Uruguay has encouraged me to live a healthier lifestyle. I have to exercise everyday or I feel rather anxious. The rambla in Montevideo is perfect for running and the path along the Uruguay River in Salto was great for running too; and I visit my gym, Los Bohemios, 4-5 days a week. I have Uruguay to thank for encouraging healthy living. Everyone seems to be fit around here.

In the Nike race there were almost 8000 runners. Woah! That's a lot of yellow. Almost like a yellow streak. I came in 3424th. Haha. That sounds horrible I know. A little better, I came in 102 out of 367 in my gender and age category. For the second race of my life and first 10k one ever, I'm quite pleased.

English Symposium

I'm so proud of everyone who made our English Symposium: Students' Voices a great success!

One project I developed as an ETA was to create a space for my students at IPA to share their academic research with a larger audience. I was concerned that students did not have an outlet for their voices to be heard outside of the classroom, so therefore I got the English Department on board, and started organizing a culminating event. After months of planning and organizing, the symposium commenced in the last Friday in October. There were individual and group presentations by students and special guest speakers, a round table discussion, lunch social, book fair, and poster session. The day was exciting and thought provoking.

I am so proud of the hard work of everyone involved. A special thank you goes out to IPA students, IPA professors, guest speakers, the Uruguayan Fulbright office, my mentors, and the Department of Foreign Languages. Thank you to all of those who presented, attended, and contributed in any way to the event. YOU are the reason the first English Symposium was such a success!

And follow-up good news. There will be a journal publication coming out from the symposium that has been sent to the press and is in print.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Birthday Celebrations in Uruguay

This past Saturday was my birthday, and I have to admit that it was perhaps one of the most fun ones I have ever had. Thank you to all of you who made it super special!

From facebook messages, emails, texts, presents, dinner, dancing, and dessert, it was a weekend to remember!

Beso muy grande a todos!!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sifting through the Trash

It's not unusual to hear the clip clop of horse hooves below from our living room window. Some of the poorest people of Montevideo (who likely live in the suburbs) go around from garbage bin to garbage bin searching for trash to collect.

Sometimes it's men collecting garbage. Sometimes it's women. Sometimes it's teenagers. And sometimes it's children. I think it's heartbreaking to see a 5 year old child riding in a wagon, waiting for his big brother to finish diving in the big green dumpster nearby. What kind of future will these children have?

The quantity of horse drawn garbage collectors is surprisingly high for a modern day capital city. Haggard horses pulling rotting wooden carts trot by while cars zoom past them on 4 lane highways. They seem strangely out of place, yet many low income families have resorted to scavenging for trash as a primary source of income.

On the brighter side of things (if there is a brighter side), these trash-sifters take care of most of the city's recycling. For example, we don't have a means to recycle near our house, so we put all of our empty plastic containers in a seperate bag for garbage sorters to come through and collect them with greater ease. We feel this is the most likely way that our shampoo bottles and coca cola liters will get resold and reused. They provide an important public service in this regard.

The situation for the trash sifters isn't always completely bad (not to diminish the real hardships that come hand in hand with poverty). One of the most absurd things I've seen thus far is a man driving his horse and cart piled full of refuse while talking on his cell phone. His cell phone! The irony is striking.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Colonia, Uruguay

Colonia is a beautiful town in western Uruguay, just across the river from Buenos Aires, so there are a lot of tourists who visit this slice of history. My aunt and I hopped on a bus from Tres Cruces right to the terminal in Colonia without any problem whatsoever. When we arrived at our destination, found the tourist office, grabbed a map, and started touring around.

Colonia del Sacramento, as it is officially called, was a Portuguese settlement as evidence by the old houses and cobblestone streets in the historic district. The streets are well preserved and very peaceful. Colonia was declared UNESCO heritage site in 1995 to keep it that way.

As with almost all Uruguayan towns (in general) I recommend you climb up the lighthouse to get a nice view of the whole city. Beside roaming the streets and checking out the museums there are also an abundance of great places to eat and shop for crafts. Colonia is great place to visit.

Dia de los Muertos

Another federal holiday in Uruguay! Today is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The idea is to spend the day being respectful and honoring those who have passed away. The Uruguayans I've spoken to said they don't really take the day too seriously. It is more a day of relaxing without work.

They also said they don't really celebrate Halloween which was this weekend too, but I definitely saw some children out trick-or-treating...unless those skeletons and ghosts weren't really children in costumes. Hmmmm. For Halloween I attempted to have a little party for the teachers in my conversation class, but the only thing that turned out scary was my cooking.