Friday, June 13, 2014

A Story Referencing Quality


As I just wrapped up grading my last final exams, I remembered I still needed a to blog for the week.

So here you go.

A Quick One

One story, covering two days of incidents.  On Monday, Jon had to take Rexin to the doctor to have some tests done. Morris and I had to pick up Jon after dropping off Randi and Brittany.  He had the car to get Rexin and he was dropping it off so we could take him to get a tattoo. 

Jon did the usual, show up super early, sign up to be seen, and wait.  And wait.  And wait some more. They had two appointments one at 8 am (he wasn't seen until 11:15 am) and another one at 2:00 pm but he and Rexin left as it was 3:40 and no doctor had shown up for that appointment.  To get this appointments you go and sign up, he was 5th for the 8 am appointment and first for the 2:00 pm appointment. Jon and the little dude we at the hospital for nearly 9 hours and only were seen briefly on one of two appointments. 

Jon had to return the following day for lab tests, but the power went out and they informed him they didn't have the reactants for those tests anywhere in the city or possibly the country.  The hospital didn't have a generator for that area.  Crazy.

The following day Morris had to go sign one form for his insurance claim on his accident.  You remember, the accident- the drunk driver at 4:30 pm in the middle of the week that ran a red and smoked us.  That was about three months ago and he is just now going to get the claim process going (not his decision).  Still no word from the drunk driver's insurance agency and no work can be done no his van yet.  Yep, he's excited about it.

He got a map (yes, like a treasure map) from one of our secretaries to show us how to get there.  Remember, there aren't well marked road signs or many business signs and believe it or not, the map actually worked.  We got to the agency and found our way to the front desk where we took a number.  R-580.  They were on A-050.  I have no idea what that meant within this countdown system , but whatever.  Morris and I look beaten, this could be HOURS.  He asked the woman working the desk, she didn't answer specifically, then played off.  He finally got her to confirm, one hour.  Awful.  We sucked it up and lounged while watching a World Cup final from the 70's on the TV hanging from the ceiling.  
It's upside down, but you get the idea. The short lines mean traffic...I think.

I hate lines/waiting.  So does Morris.  So does Jon.  EVERYONE does. Here's a major area of suck in Valencia: crossing the highway.

I told both those back stories to tell you this one. 

You have a highway in your city? Have you taken an on/off ramp? Can you drive? Good you can relate to this.

To cross the highway here you have to take one of two bridges.  1.5 million people living around a mountain, divided by a highway, and only two bridges.  Now remember, there are only a handful of places with traffic lights (most drivers don't follow them anyway) and the areas around the ramps do not. We were heading east and to our right are two streets that filter into the bridge.  One would think these two roads would consist of two lanes of traffic, but that would be incorrect. It becomes 4 to 5, maybe 6 depending on how people are driving.  It then bottlenecks and the waiting commences. When a crack of space opens up people just dart in, regardless of the lane.  Motorcycles shoot the gaps like ants in a doorway, providing you with the only semblance that you are on a roadway.  

We waited in this manner for an hour both days.  Mind you were needing to travel only two blocks, one to the merging traffic and one over the bridge. Not only was the bottleneck an issue, but the protest, donation collection on the bridge causing a stoppage.  On Monday, it was people collecting money for their neighborhood fund with one car just stopped to talk to his friends.  The next night the collectors were replaced by hospital dress clad protest with yet another singular car stopping to chat.  

They funny thing is we don't even get mad anymore.  It's more of a shaking of the head and a chuckle of "we signed up for this."  Which we did.  Two days, two hours, two sections of two peoples' lives never to be replaced.  I caught myself wondering the other day how many hours people here waste just waiting in various lines.  Or maybe, if that is the cause of the rabid use of Whatsapp on their smartphones.

This situation is a great mystery that I do not know the answer to.  However, if any of you have read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (If you haven't read it, give it a shot.  It's a bit of a bear at first but well worth it) then you are familiar with the book's analysis of quality.  If you haven't, but have enjoyed a great cheeseburger, beer or cookie you also know what quality is.  Then be definition (or lack of) we all know what quality is without being told.  Thus you now know that the traffic situation here is not quality.

It's all about quality.

Any who, I thought I'd share that story to hopefully give you a chuckle and lighten up your Friday morning.

Ryan Robinson's Links of Knowledge      

The fight against teacher tenure, and why it is dumb.  
Body found on sidewalk in Valencia. 
Prostitutes making more money selling dollars than sex.
Venezuelans head to Cucuta to evade currency controls. 

I'll try to throw together a capstone of my experience here in the next day or so.  I have to get my apartment cleaned and approved to leave, same with my classroom, and get ready to fly to Brazil for the World Cup...but I think I can do it. 

I hope to find some wifi in Brazil and keep you all updated.  Cross your fingers. 

Have a great Friday!


Thursday, June 5, 2014

"We Gotta Get You Ready For The Ball Cinderella!" or CIC Graduation

I am currently finishing this blog (started it on Tuesday and it's now Thursday morning) via screen and candlelight in my hot ass apartment with no electricity and no air.  The sounds of generators running the emergency flood lights for the surrounding buildings bellows off the mountain.  Sounds awesome right? It is, especially since I just played a soccer match and was completely soaked with sweat.  Sorry, too much info.  Anyway, on with the blog. 

Well here we are, two blogs from the conclusion of my one and only year teaching at CIC.  Crazy.

This weekend I got to witness a "tradition like unlike any other" in the Venezuelan school sense of the phrase (do I have to pay the Masters for stealing that?).

Collegio de Carabobo Graduation.  It was super interesting... and a lot over the top (from an American perspective).  Let me explain.

In the US, high school graduation from public school is a unique, but matter-of-fact event.  It is still a cool experience to take a few hours and congratulate students on the culumination of four years of work.  Some students really put in the work with extra-curriculars, AP courses, and college courses, while others meet the requirements and get on their way (which can be just as challenging for them).  Both have their merit- college isn't for everyone and it shouldn't be.  There are thousands of service jobs out there that people need to do and do with a sense of pride.  Blue collar jobs will always drive this country, just as job creators will want the lionshare.  Anyway, I got off track.

Let's be honest, hardly anyone fails and doesn't graduate high school.  It's just not in the system to allow it.  There are tons of failsafes to prevent it.  Graduating from high school isn't exactly easy for all, but it's not the level of accomplishment it was in the 40's, 50's and 60's (maybe even the 70's).

While the pagantry is gone, the traditions remain.  US kids have a pretty standard ceremony regardless of where you are.  It consists of music, national anthem, a couple of speeches, reading of the names, and then the hat toss.  It's as American as the Yankees.

Sometime after, most have a graduation party at their place, a pavilion or rentable space where they invite friends and family to break bread and enjoy each others company. Each kid that has a party also thinks about one thing, MONEY.

Admit it fellow Gen X and Y'ers, it was in the back of your mind with each card that came in.  These grad parties were a send off in a way.  The drifting away from the patterns of people you'd been asscioated with were ending, and everyone was ok with it.

The parties weren't overly extravagant.  A decent spread of food, cold beverages and maybe, just maybe, some music. Girls would bust out spring/summer gear and a fake tan or two, guys would break out the button up shirts, some gel, and fresh new cologne.  If they were lucky, some parent may allow them to drink (while I don't agree with this in any way, especially as it is illegal, I'll tie it into the story later).

A few weeks into June and it's over.  The focus then is onto college.

Here is what it's like down here.

Graduation Ceremony

Mr. Chicas, Mr. Hernandez, and Mr. Moreno-Ramirez, presenters extraordinaire.
Dr. Philbin (didn't get the dress code memo) and Mr.Robinson waiting for the festivities. 
Seating started at 6pm with the ceremony supposed to being promptly at 8:00pm and the flickering of lights signaled the start was near.

As those lights died down to dark with a shade of blue and spot lights things were about to get underway.  
Well, as with most things here, it started late (cultural differences).  At about 8:20pm the intial music started and we were off.  The after some brief welcomes the students filed in walking in couples with an elongated stride-pause-stride pace.  

Once a duo made it to the front of the stage the next two started.  It reminded me of on oddly cadanced wedding entrance.  After about 15-20 minutes of entrance for our 21 graduating seniors, there was an innvocation and some music.  
Calm before the storm, or at least before the rest of parents get here.
At the conclusion of the music, our administration began the to move us through the itinerary.  About this time, I'd say 30-45 mins since the start, a bunch of families (maybe 5-7) ambled in and found seats.  The first section of the ceremony was a grade by grade summary of who came or left the class (students transferring in or out), who taught them, and what they thought about the class from Junior Kinder to High School.  

Next, each student was given 5 powerpoint slides to describe themselves, memories of school, friends, family and their ambitions going forward.  These were loaded statements.  Student's referred to themselves as "popular, social, compassionate, athletic, skilled, musical, outstanding, and phenominal."  Many even included of a slide dedicated to their current significant other. The graduating class hoped to achieve degrees in the following areas: international business (x7), business administration, business marketing (x2), civil engineering (x4), creative writing, acting, photography, interior design, journalism and "symbolic systems" (which is legit, the kid is going to Stanford). 

After this there were speeches by the top two students in the class, and senior awards.  The director then shared some words, and finally they began the reading of names.  Mind you we are in an open air auditorium with only fans.  I have my pants pulled up my knees, tie undone, and collar loosened.  Just straight sweating.  At this point, I'm just begging for this to end quickly.  It felt like each student received two sets of applause for their acceptance of the US Diploma.  After the last name was read, the class president came forward and signaled to turn the tassels.  Boom, graduation city.  Let's roll before I sweat through my shirt.  

The graduation party was supposed to start at 10pm, but since this was late and the students had to take a bus to the hotel where the party was, I knew that this wasn't looking good time-wise.

The Party

Ok, let me through this out there.  Last year's party was supposedly crazy- expensive, great food, and top shelf booze.  Jon and Ryan estimate it cost about $30,000 USD.  So coming into this I had an idea of what to expect, but no visual reference to what that would look like. 
Well I saw.

This party was invite only  Invitation and cedula were needed to get in, but before that you had to pass through metal detectors and security.  Jon and Randi guide me into this huge ballroom to the back where they sat last year.  No dice, (un)lucky for use the teacher table is front row.  We are behind the dance floor and couches, but not far enough away that when the DJs started spinning that you didn't have to yell at max volume.

View from the "cheap seats."

Moving on up.

The welcome spread. 

Each table had bottles of wine, water, Coke, club soda, meat, cheese, bread, and its own waiter.  Yep, own waiter.  The wine was top shelf.  Each table corresponded with a family and they typically had their own specified drink, vodka, rum or whiskey.  Apparently, last year there was no beer, but luckily this year there was.  
School logo..on a bottle of wine. No I didn't do that. 

After I choked down a glass of wine (sorry folks, just not my thing- unless it's out of a box on Ragbrai), Jon and I switched to beer.  After our first beer, a flood of appeitizers and hors devours filled the walkways between tables. Slowly (I mean very slowly) people started to fill in, remember they enjoy the fashionably late concept.  

After about an hour, the DJs (yep, 3's not a crowd) took the stage and sent out ear bursting reggaeton (Don't know reggaeton? Watch this video and you'll know every single song- every song has the same beat) and club music.  I literally was yelling to talk to Jon, Randi, and Eric- all who were within arms reach. 

Slowly and surely the kids hit the dance floor. It was at this time I noticed something.  Nearly every student changed clothes, new dresses and suits.  It literally looked like a red carpet event.    
No this is not a wedding. 
While the dance floor called nearly every student and mom, the dad's stood at the tables discussing whatever dads discuss at these sort of things.  It was at this time I made the mental note to never let anyone family member of mine dress like this in a graduation setting.  I understand it's Latin America, but I'm talking about later in my life up north.

As one could predict, add enough booze, students (remember no drinking age), dance happy mothers, suit clad fathers, and one mayor and things got crazy.  Our teacher table just sat for a time, with me asking Jon if this was real.  It was...apparently.
No this is not mardi gras.
Later, some seniors came over, said hello and thanked us.  We shared a drink with them (weird), and they tried to get a group of us to dance.  Some did and some didn't, it reminded me of wedding when people are peer pressured to go stand there while others think it's the coolest thing.

At this point I was starving.  Don't get me wrong the finger food was good, but I was really watching my alcohol intake as to not reach buzz level plus I was tired.  Finally, the food came.  1:15am.  Pasta.  People swarmed the buffet line to form a line (cola).  Even here, at this party, I could not escape a line!  The food was good and I started to prod Jon and Randi about going home.  I was beat.

We stayed a little longer and were definitely not the first teachers to leave.  On Monday I asked some staff members, sophomores, and juniors what time they left the party. Most said between 4-5 am! And, they were complaining about it.  I was tired and we left around 2ish.  I'm too old for that business.

All and all it was a interesting and good experience.  Good food, colleagues, seeing the seniors graduate, and taking in a different culture's graduation ceremony.  I later commented that due to my deep-seeded US-Puritan influenced beliefs, I had a hard time understanding it, but I just followed Jon's lead and saw it through.  

Jon Moreno Ramirez ’s “We Signed Up For It " Moment Of The Week

Jon hasn’t had water since last Friday.  So, it’s been roughly 4 days without a proper shower.  Yesterday he an his family come home and get in the elevator where they see one of the workers in his building.  The guy says he’s going to turn on the water, but doesn’t give a timetable.  Jon and Randi drop their stuff off and go about their usual routine.  All of the sudden the water comes on and they sprint to the bathroom to squeeze in and shower.  Jon is the first one out and he throws a towel on and high tails it to the kitchen to start doing as many dishes as he can until the water stops. 

If you have never had to ever phase this scenario before, consider yourself lucky.  As Jon now Zen-ly states, “We chose this.  We signed up for this.”

I actually had this happen last night.  SMH

Ryan Robinson's Link of Knowledge

A cool $4 billion in forwards to Venezuela for oil.  
Halliburton in Venezuela.  The irony of it.  
Lopez will stand trial.  
Sacrificing water to pay bond holders.  
Allegedly the US (opposition leaders, Colombia, and others) plotted to assassinate President Maduro.  

We also received another US State Department Travel Warning email.  Don't worry we are diligent in our security plans.  

That's about it from down here.  I'm really sorry about the double delay on the blog.  I'll definitely have at least one more before going to Brazil and Spain.  I hope to give some shorter posts while traveling, but we'll see how the wifi works.  

Have a great weekend.

Until Next Time,


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

1800 MPG Goes Buzzworthy: 10 Things A 1st Year Ex-Pat in VZ Misses About Home


Hope things are going well for you.  The school year is winding down, and we are finally in our last week of extended days (thank God).  I know I get no sympathy from stay at home parents and people that work 10s or 12s, but the extra class hurts the brain.

Big week at CIC, Senior Finals, a variety of celebrations (there seems to be no shortage of them), graduation on Saturday, and the infamous graduation party following.  I was one of the secondary teachers that were "lucky" enough to get invited, so I'm interested to see what it is all about.  Jon and Ryan tell me this is a US graduation party on wealthy Venezuelan steroids. Top end food and booze.  We'll see.

I was really struggling for a subject to discuss in today's blog, but with the help of two conversations I stumbled upon one.  I was talking to Ryan recently about his hatred for the website Buzzfeed ("The hottest, most social content on the web!" - Yep, that's their slogan).  He describes it as low level, lackluster journalism, and another example that we are drifting near Idiocracy.  Ryan uses the fact that 20 ish million people get their news from Buzzfeed as opposed to 12ish million for the New York Times as proof that society is decaying, the end is near, and the Cubs will win the World Series in his lifetime.  Ryan also hates most things. But I do hate the "What type of .... are you quizzes" or "33 actors dogs that have a better life than" you countdowns.

I was then talking to Jon today and we both confessed that while we are looking forward to going to Brazil for the World Cup (and me to Spain after), that we both sometimes wish we were returning to the good old U-S-of-A.  We frequently ask each other, "How much freedom is (insert food, service, or activity) that? What is the first thing you are going to eat when you get back? Or, "You know where (insert problem, complication, or failure) doesn't happen? 'Murica!"

I figured there it is! My blog for the week.

Don't worry Ryan, I won't tell anyone it was your 38th birthday this past Friday and that you were so mad at all of us for telling the kids to wish you happy birthday.  And, that you tore down the birthday sign that we had all signed and put on your library.  I'll leave it out.

Ryan's birthday cake. Designed by Jon including an offensive name (Region Rats) and Ryan's favorite things. 

I decided I would make a Buzzfeed list of the ten things one misses the most as an ex-pat in a third world country near the end of their first year teaching abroad.

10 Things A First Year Ex-Pat Teacher In Venezuela Misses Near the End of the School Year (In no particular order)

1) Running, Drinkable Tap Water

Sounds simple enough right? Wrong, a older colleague of mine hasn't had water in nearly 3 weeks.  My apartment has been spotty at best and I know the neighborhood by Jon and Ryan is awful as well.  Right now I don't water, which is great that I don't have to do the dishes or shower, but is awful because these goddamn ants are everywhere (not just my apartment) and I don't want them to have a party in my sink.  Being able to turn the faucet and just pour a HUGE glass of water is something I'm looking forward to for sure.  I know this doesn't seem like a big deal, but last week I ran out of the big jugs of water we have and my building just randomly stopped selling them.  I had to go find a kiosk that sold it the next day and they wouldn't exchange one of them.  Again, it could be way worse, but nothing is worse than not having water to drink and not being able to shower before going to senior convocation.  Just saying.  

2) Flushing Toilet Paper 

I know this sounds gross and it can be.  Before I moved down here I had no idea that the indoor plumbing here couldn't take it.  I thought everywhere flushed toilet paper, WRONG. Needless to say that on multi-day stays in posadas, warm days, or days the custodians at school are busy,  it's not a great deal.  I prefer flushing then throwing it away into plastic bags and then throwing that out with the trash.  Ok, I'm done.

3) Traffic Rules

You hate stopping at stop signs? You swear that one particular stop light is possessed and stays red for-ev-er? Don't sweat it.  I can't wait to be stopped at a either of those traffic enforcement tools, crank up whatever music I'm listening to, sing along aloud with no shame, and wait for people to move in an orderly fashion.  The daily drives to school and back, as well as the walks to the gym have frustrated me with the bumper-cars-cum-amoeba-cytoplasmic-streaming chaos.

4) Small to Non-Present Lines

Discussed it in previous columns, but the concept of a "cola" (line) is different here.  Longer waits (45min to an hour) in a grocery store, gas station, or bank just isn't cool.  Neither are the employees of those establishments that work at a snails pace or use their phone on the job. 

5) ATM Machine/Banks That Work Consistently

Pretty self explanatory.  The bank website is consistently down, the ATMs frequently are without money, and sometimes the cards won't work as a result of the problems.  Think about it, ATMs without money.  Yeah, it happens.  Also, think about the availability of them in the States.  Finally, think about using it as a debit card and getting cash back.  Yep, be happy.  

Oh, you wanted money? HAHA.

6) Peanut Butter, Chicken, Asparagus, Milk Not in a Warm Box, other Non-Native Foods, and Gluten.

Four words: PBJ's aren't normal here.  [Gasp!] I know, blasphemous! And I haven't seen any in the last month.  Chicken is scarce (at least in my neighborhood markets) and I am scared to drink the milk.  It will be awesome to go home, go to HyVee/Fareway, and load up on veggies and chocolate milk.  I will be Ron Burgandy.

7) Clean Water

I hate showering as much as the next guy, but when I do shower, I want to get clean. The water here (when on, see #1) usually comes out a shit brown color at first and then turns into normal "looking" water.  That "normal" looking water isn't normal.  The treatment facility here isn't designed to filter/clean water for 1.2 million people (or however many) so the water is heavy and leaves your body and hair greasy with a slight film.

8) Variety 

Meat, chips, cereal, veggies, fruit, beer, canned goods, supplies- all of it basically rotates in terms of supply and brand.  The simple fact that you can walk down an aisle and it will be entirely filled with Doritos may be great one day, but when you get bored of them OR can't find soap or toilet paper, than you enjoy the variety that stores in the US have. 

9) Driveable Roads

Clinton has its own problems with giant craters in some of the more dated roads, but none are as bad as here.  I think you could drive US Military Buffalo and still break an axle or pop a tire.  But, I will say the surprise of not being able to see the potholes at night or before they are unmarked in the daytime is like Russian Roulette for you car- every street is exciting. 
I give this baby 2 to 1 odds it goes no more than a month without a problem here. 

10) Family/Home

Being in a different culture for this long is definitely a challenge that has it's various phases.  At this point, most foreign hires are just ready to go back home to the culture we have been predominately raised in.  It's not to say that this or any other abroad culture is bad, it just isn't ours.  There are societal aspects that make my mid-western culture unique and I miss them. Mainly I miss my family, but also the slower, more friendly pace that is spread out across a less dense area.  Being able to speak and understand the people you are surrounded by in public would be nice too.  

Ryan Robinson's Link of Knowledge

The Venezuelan government pays its debt to the airlines...well, some of them.  
Amputations skyrocket due to lack of medical supplies.  
Wives of two ousted Venezuelan mayors win election and replace their husbands.  
Venezuela and Palestine become oil and diplomatic partners. 
Protests aren't over. 

That's all she wrote.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate all the friends I have made here and the travel's I've had, but I just wanted to reflect on the things I miss from home.

Also, if you have come this far and haven't seen the movie, check out this trailer.  You have to watch it, it's like looking into the future (but hopefully not).

Don't worry next week's blog will be better, as I'll be able to talk about graduation and how it compares to the States

Hope you're well.

Until Next Time,


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ze Germans


I hope the week has been kind to you and that the impending summertime is giving you more energy to get through the days.  For my teacher friends, you're almost there- keep gutting it out.

The "grind" (cliche city) is really getting heavy now.  We're in the middle of week 5 (or so, I've lost count) of extended period days and I'm still surprised how one extra class to teach can drain you that much.  I suppose that it could be worse and we only have one more week of them left, but it's tough.

Other than that, it's a slow roll to the finish.

This past weekend a group of us left Valencia (thank God) to go to a small mountainous town called Bejuma.  It's maybe an hour and a half away (it felt like 20 mins for me as I fell asleep in Jon and Randi's car- haha).

The place, Casa Maria, was pretty cool.  It was run by a wealthy German couple, Norbert and Gaby, who have lived in Venezuela for 44 years.  Their compound/facility/grounds is one part tree nursery, one part wildlife preserve, and one part posada (motel). It was literally cut into a huge tropical forest and he built nearly all of it himself.
The deck/social area.
People paying for things. 

He designed nearly all of the buildings, laid the tile, and made the entire complex almost self-sufficient.  His buildings catch and distribute water, the grounds are full of fruit trees, and the living quarters were really well done.  This guy had some crazy vehicles too.  A Mercedes-Bens land rover type thing, several trucks, boats, campers, and other toys were found all over the grounds.  All in good condition, a little too good of condition...
Dahhhgs? Ya, I like doogs? Jon and Rexin, lovers of animals.
Taking in all of these aspects of his place, his obvious wealth, yearly trips to the fatherland, his engineering background, and intelligence Jon and I had our suspicions.  We figured spy, possible descendant of a German who fled the country, or just a really eclectic dude.  Regardless, I watched him pretty close.

Creep indigenous people painting. 

The digs. Those are spears to the left.
The crazy thing about Norbert was that he wasn't afraid to talk about his treks to the States and the tours he's taken there.  Especially the one in Idaho that showcased a US Government prototype nuclear jet engine.  he was pretty interested in it... a little too interested.

Elephant beetle.

Future dinner.

Mono recordings only. 

Peacocks just hanging out.

I may or may not have eaten their older brother. 
The weekend basically was just eat, sit around/read, eat, nap, read, eat, relax, and sleep.  I can't speak for the others that went with, but I feel most are nearing burnt out.  Some are a little more down than others and the challenges of teaching where we teach and living in this country are wearing on everyone.  Luckily, we have only 13 school days until Final Exams.

Ryan Robinson's (who has a big birthday Friday) Links of Knowledge 

Non-Silicone enhanced women are falling from the norm.  
U.S sanctions could hurt the opposition.  
Venezuelan mail stopping international service.  
More airlines stopping service to Venezuela.  
Danny Glover vs. Jared Leto over Venezuelan politics. Does Jared know that Mr. Glover killed a predator?

Wrong battle Jared.

Not much else going on down here.  Everyone is hoping and praying the flight situations stay positive until we can all leave to return home.  Otherwise, it could be a very long bus ride home.  Next year, it may be almost impossible for my friends still working here to get home if things continue.

While the days are dull here, the impending World Cup trip will provide some better material to share.  Morris and I have a special project going along with the WC so keep an eye open for that.

If you can spare them, my Grama could use some more positive vibes and prayers as she is going through radiation and chemo.  She's a tough cookie, but any support is huge.

Just got word that my favorite band of all-time, Pearl Jam is coming to Moline, IL.  I cannot believe it.  If anyone has any contacts in ways to go about getting backstage passes or anything like that please let me know.  I'm willing to pay whatever it would take to meet the band and/or watch from the side of the stage.

With graduation ceremony and the senior graduation party looming, I'm sure I'll be able to entertain you for a few more weeks.  

Enjoy the rest of the week.

Until Next Time,


Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I'm back.  Sorry about the wait. 

So where was I?  After Cuba,  I returned to Venezuela and found out that my Grandma Lueders had been diagnosed with cancer.  Actually, she got the diagnosis before I left.  Needless to say that was tough news to take.  My family is very important and my Grama is really special in the sense she has a unique relationship with all of her grandkids.  As soon as I heard the news and the supposed time table, I quickly approached my administration about getting back ASAP.

The administration at CIC was great.  As soon as I met with them, we hashed out a plan for me to return.  There was only one problem, a flight.  Now, if you've been following this blog at all you know that flights out of this country are becoming very scarce.  My initial search had me paying about $3700 USD to fly from Caracas>Atlanta>Moline.  Yeah, that's not expensive or anything.

Next ticket was better...and worse.  Carcacas>Curaco>Miami>Atlanta>Moline one way was $1700 USD.  I enlisted several local friends to help and through their calls to travel agencies and local email accounts I found one that left two days after I heard the news.  I would fly out of Caracas on Thursday, which means leaving Valencia at 1am or so to beat traffic on the 106 mile drive.  My friend took me to to the travel agency to get the ticket for about $500 USD (I paid in BsF at the black market rate) and we found out that the flight on Saturday had a few seats.  I switched flights, caught a ride with a friend to Caracas, and hit the trails.

I got to Clinton around 6pm and got to see my Grama and the rest of my family.  It was a pretty tough moment.  The whole week was tough.  Seeing my extended family under such stress and my Grama approach the situation with courage was very moving.  I accompanied my mom to take her to treatment a few times and it was an experience unlike anything I've ever seen.  

The patients and staff in the cancer wing were so cheerful and positive.  I know that deep down that patients are scared, but the rarely show it.  They go about their day and conversation as if it's just another appointment.  I was very inspired by their bravery in the face of a very challenging opponent.  

The week was a very challenging roller coaster of emotion for me. Trying to find the right balance in regards to wanting to help, being around to help, and go about things I needed to do (apply for jobs, workout, read, make sure my students did something with their life while I was gone).  I did a pretty good job of holding it together for the most part.  A few times, I had a tough go, but I didn't have the opportunity to deal with that when my family did due distance.  Looking back on the week it went so fast, but I was happy to be back and spend time with family.  I am grateful the school allowed me to go home.


The one word that middle to high school girls hold like gold in their mind.  It probably trumps 1D, JT, and any other random pop star of the month/year in terms of obsession, except now it's even crazier.  In the states the clothing has become more Hollywood and the "asking" more MTV.  It's almost too much.  Here it's a little different.

As a junior advisor I had to attend Prom with the other upperclassmen advisers and administration.  Prom here consists of photographs, a very nice dinner, and junior speeches to the seniors.  The dress is "cocktail"with common sense in terms of dress in mind.  Girls wore dresses or jumpsuits (if I knew it was a jump suit party I would have brought my real Air Force jumpsuit I found in Austin) and guys wore shirts and sport coat.  There were a few ties, but most dudes did not go that classy.  There was a very noticeable effort with facial improvement methods (make up).  I did not recognize many of my students due to the dedication and quantity of effort.  Which was probably to be expected with some students leaving early to go to get hair "did" (isn't that what girls say?) and make done.

The meal was several courses with steak in between and an ice cream/fruit plate at the end.  Very solid dinner (can't beat steak-it's hard to find).  During the meal each senior has a junior (or in a few cases, two) talk about them in a sincere way.  No roasts.  The kids did a very nice job talking about their senior friends.  There was only one slip up.  One student had moved away and no one found a replacement speaker for his senior.  We had two kids step up and give an improv speech (admirable, but mistaken).  Then the night concluded.  The students kept trying to get Ryan, Jon, and I to go to the after party but we told them that doesn't go with the teacher code of ethics.  They kept pushing the issue and I just said I was old and tired...and I didn't want to spend time with them in class let alone when I wasn't on the clock (that got a chuckle, but I may have been serious with a few of them).  Jon just started saying yeah and they left not really believing him.  As soon as they all cleared out, Eric gave us a ride home and I was sleeping within in 30mins.

After prom the students then go off to one of their houses for an unofficial after party.  I heard that the party cost north of 10K USD, but I don't have a firm number.  Only a few juniors and seniors were "sick" on Monday, so at least they shook it off.  No drinking age here in Venezuela, so the conversation of drinking is much different than the States.  I was just glad no one drove home and got in a wreck.


The seniors are wrapping up their final week and a half at CIC (only 4 more days with me until finals), and they are excited (and lazy).  To their credit, the 5th block is really wearing on everyone.  The staff cars roll in later and leave as close to contract time as they can now.  I think the long days have everyone looking towards the end a little closer than usual.  

Flights are becoming harder to get and much more expensive as inflation is continuing to rise and Venezuela still not paying the airlines.  My foreign hire friends that are staying are frantically looking for flights home for Christmas next year now.  It's wild.

Civil unrest continues, but in more secluded pockets.  Shortages continue, my neighborhood is allegedly not going to have water two days a week to ration it.  One colleague has not had water in two weeks.  Think about it, no dishes, clothes washing, showering or anything.  My building won't get drinking water until the end of the week.  So it goes.

Ryan Robinson's Links of Knowledge 

Only going to give you one link, and I'll post the story below it for you.  

Caracas Chronicles writer Juan Cristobal Nagel:

Every morning, before I get out of bed, when my alarm goes off at 6:00 AM, I check my email for the news roundup from Venezuela.
I really should stop doing that. On mornings such as today’s, reading it gives me a knot in my stomach.
Here’s what I woke up to – what all Venezuelans woke up to – today:
  • At 3:15 AM, the National Guard and the National Police attacked the student protest campgrounds in Baruta and Chacao. Many were detained.
  • Warnings are raised about the quality of Caracas’ drinking water.
  • Director of press freedom NGO Un Mundo Sin Mordaza is detained.
  • Opposition radio show Plomo Parejo suspended from the air.
  • Private school principals in BolĂ­var state are fired
  • El Universal only has paper for a few more weeks.
  • Failures in the Amuay Refinery stop gasoline plant.
  • Maduro acknowledges 20% of Venezuela’s industries are not working.
  • In 2014 there have been fewer dollars disbursed for imports than in the same period in 2013.
  • Cheese industry about to go bankrupt due to a lack of packaging material.
  • Venezuelan Chamber of Packaging (glass an aluminum for food) says the industry is paralized due to a lack of dollars.
  • Steel industry has been on strike for fifteen days.
  • $4 billion debt has airlines reconsidering leaving Venezuela altogether. They are contemplating international legal arbitration options.
  • Government owes car assembly plants 2.8 billion.
  • Electricity rationing in Zulia.
  • Chacao businesses are geting their water from water trucks.
  • Attempted mutiny in Los Teques leaves several wounded – prisoners and their relatives.
And that’s just a slow news day!
That gives you a pretty good idea of a day here.  Our bubble at school remains fairly strong, but it's hard to not notice many of these things daily. 

That is about all I have for right now.  I'm going to try to conjure up another Cuba post here in the next few days to give you more insight on that trip.  

Only 31 days until the end of school, 34 days until the World Cup/Brazil, 47 days until Spain/Running with the Bulls, and 57 days until I return stateside. But who's counting.  

Hope you're well.

Until next time,