Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Greetings from Guatemala

Dear dad,

It's difficult to write from a hammock, so if my spelling gets worse, that's where i lay the blame.
greetings from the edge of Fatima, along the road to Santo Domingo in the municipality of San Marcos Sacatepeque. To say this is the middle of nowhere is an understatement, as is saying it's a lazy little hacienda surrounded by coffee plantations and fields of maiz. The Mountain School is just off the main road, along a cobblestone street. a block further lies the hamlet of Fatima; another block later is another hamlet Nuevo San Jose and further still is Santo Domingo. the poverty is disturbing and reinforces my opinions that Cuba is a great place.

The school is a little hacienda, the teachers are nice, the kids from Seattle are very good. Among the five other students is a Jesuit priest and a couple your age from Stoughton. Briana and I have lessons in the morning, the kids in the afternoon, which isn't the best of plans but oh well. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner we wander into the villages to eat with assigned families. My family is Elisa who has four small children, the oldest, Maria, age 9, the only one who talks (and she does so often, quickly, and very animatedly). The husband is in Houston working. the poverty is immense: today at lunch i left early because the smoke was too intense: behind my back in the kitchen where i ate was the stove, a bunch of sticks burning freely between two thick bricks. they built the shack again the cement house of her sister-in-law. the walls and roof are tin and the frames are a sort of bamboo, and along the dirt floors run baby chicks and ducks. I later learn that Elisa is 23 years old.

Now it's afternoon, the kids are having their lessons. Our lessons this morning were spent with the group on a side trip to a coffee plantation. It's everything you'd suspect a coffee plantation run by the descendants of 18th century Germans immigrants would be: huge hacienda (there's that word again) with a stunning view (in the distance is the ocean, but it's a little hazy to see it) basil, citrus, avocado and guava trees, all surrounded by concertina wire. They say they're trying to sell to Starbucks, who have stricter requirements: workers get 40 quetzales per 100 pound bag of beans instead of 35 ($1=7.5Q) and there's a limit to the amount of chemicals they can use.

That was our morning, but no account of our first day would be complete without mentioning the rain. It's raining now. it rained all last night, and not that tepid drizzle you think of Seattle, but authentic tropical deluge with thunder and lightening. it'll probably rain like this until midnight. Yesterday (Monday) was a long day of traveling, first a four hour ride in a decent yet rickety bus from Guatemala to Xela (Quetzaltenango), where we briefly checked in with Joe and his half of the group. then we hustled over to the bus station to jump on a typical chicken bus that crept its way through narrow mountain passes to the school. But since the school is next to a tiny hamlet, there's no big welcome sign and difficult to spot, which we didn't, and the driver forget we were on board as well. it may have been for that tropical deluge pounding the windshield, or the constant hairpin turns, or aisle-packed standing-room only bus, but we went cruising by. I was suspicious though when a smartly-dressed, bespectacled group boarded (as opposed to the brightly-dressed Mayan women and worn second-hand US clothing that the men wear). I asked a woman if she was from the Mountain School, and she said yes, but we had passed it. They offered to help us when we got to the end of the line in Colomba, but first called the school to tell them we were lost (ah, the wonder of cell phones). the school told us to eat, as dinner time had passed. we arrived in Colomba -a real town, but a tiny one- just as a power-outage struck. All the restaurants were unable to serve, and the market was closing down. we finally found a tamale stand to get our only meal of the day. The teachers then found us a taxi to take us 10 km back to the school. I'm not sure if i can say it was the scariest ride I'd been on, but the minivan had all its windows tinted, except for a narrow strip in the middle of the windshield. We couldn't see out the windows, the rain was pelting like a fury of pumpkins hurling towards the earth; the roads windy and curvy, now augmented by nightfall and the blackout (I don't know if there were any street lights, but if there were, they weren't lit.) Luckily, the road was completely deserted and only two cars passed us the entire way. I call it a 10 second rain -10 seconds outside and you're completely drenched.
we arrived to a welcome of tiny flashlights and soon, everyone was asleep. There's not much to do here during the day, and when nightfalls everyone says its too dangerous. Crime is rampant, even in the boonies out here. unemployment nears 75% (every morning at 3,4, and 5 am trucks roll along the road honking their horns calling available labor to come out to look for work) and the women stay home to watch their kids or gather firewood to cook with.

Now the rain is picking up again. there's an active volcano they spews thin ash every 20 minutes, and “surprisingly strong but not destructive” earthquakes happen “often” (“how often?” I asked. “oh, once or twice a week”)

That's all for now. there's no wifi so I'll have to send this later. hope you're doing well!



Sunday, March 16, 2008

Writing Clips in Real Change

In case you're looking, my writing clips for Seattle's Real Change can be found here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Brave New Traveler

I've been working on this article since last summer, and finally it was picked up at Brave New Traveler (and boy did they pick the title!). Check it out here!

Friday, January 11, 2008

It's not too often I "URGE!!!" people to watch something...

Things like this make it worth working in a middle school.
Now, everything makes sense.
Thanks to Mr. Levin, the 7th Grade Science teacher:


Thursday, January 10, 2008

My New Year's letter, only ten days late.

Dear friends,

For the first time in several years, I concluded that the past year was not so bad.

As I think back on 2007, I have to say things went pretty well: I love a great woman and she reciprocates; I spent the summer reconnecting with old friends around the hemisphere; My first student wrote me after a long search and eight years in prison. I got a real job, a first since 2002, and it's not a bad one.

To top it off, in the week before Christmas, I bid on a house, an action I feel I should clarify by plugging Homestead Community Land Trust (homesteadclt.org).

I feel like I'm nit-picking to find negatives: I wasn't really published, a goal of 2007 (a two-bit romance story that appeared in cautionarytale.com doesn't quite cut it; nor does the recent Not For Tourist Guide to Seattle, of which I was only one of many contributing editors; and as of this writing, I don't know if the little known Noo Journal actually published an essay on Cuba like they promised in November. (Though within the first week of January, two other places say they'll take my stuff: Brave New Traveler and Go Nomad). My blogs, of which at last count numbered eleven, are like all blogs: a joke in general. But I was rejected roughly twenty times, and each time I accept the rejection with glee.

I don't write enough; I don't write my friends enough, I'm not focused on writing; I'm overbooked in my personal activities and want to do too many things (currently, starting my own non-profit, Youth Vote Now; joining Sustainable Ballard; and turning my new home into a self-efficient, self-sustainable fortress.)

I spent a good portion of the summer and fall fretting over and researching global warming and realizing my own complacency that would rather sacrifice the global and future generations by flying instead of taking the fucking train/bus.

I'm leaning towards supporting Edwards, but only if Bloomberg runs, making my vote actually matter in Washington. Otherwise, it'll be for whatever Green gets the nomination -McKinney or yes, still, Nader.

Above all, if you're reading this, it's because you're a friend. I think of you and I love you and wish you the best, 2008 and beyond. Take care, keep in touch, and please come visit.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Dear Michael,

"Transformers" was palatable, the most I can say about any of your movies. But I see a disturbing pattern: your movies are too fucking long.

Two hours is too much. Your movies are about gun fights, explosions, car chases, the requisite hot chick, product placement and in this case, robots.

Your successful peers manage to tie these ingredients together with a thin string of a plot that lasts ninety minutes, just enough to fill us with adrenaline without being boring.

Transformers is over two hours along. For intriguing Oscar-worthy dramas that include character development, plot twists, and witty dialog, this is acceptable. For movies about giant robots fighting over a hot chick wielding the latest Nokia, it is not.

Not only does Transformers drag for long stretches, but the plot sucks. I can handle bad plots in action movies -in some cases they're encouraged- but not when it drags the movie out unnecessarily and clutters it with awkward moments. I've regrettably compiled a list of things this movie could do without:

-Why did the Scorpion robot attack the military in the desert? Granted, it was a good scene, but it had nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Um... explain?

-Was the young black kid simply pandering to the inner-city audience? He was introduced to crack a code, but the code didn't say anything. I don't even know what happened to him at the end, I think he disappeared.

-Same with the Australian girl. You already have a hot chick, adding another one only confuses the males in the audience and gives them false hopes of a threesome. Not only was she annoying, I don't know why she was there. Eliminating her out would've cut five minutes from the film.

-The scene where boy meets girl: too long and irrelevant. You've shown that he has a crush on her in the classroom scene, and that he's the nerd that needs a car to impress her. That's enough. You don't need him showing up uninvited at a party, as it added seven early, unneeded minutes to the movie. Remember: explosions, robots, hot chicks, product placement. You suck a dialog so don't bother.

Furthermore, "boy lusts girl" belongs in another movie; like "Pearl Harbor", you forget your point. Like the ADD addled audience you target, you suffer from quick jumps from unrelated subjects and the inability to focus for more than five minutes. That's why you make action movies.

-Speaking of that scene, remember his friend? The blond kid who hung upside down from the tree? Yeah... him! Why is he in the movie? Don't addle it with unnecessary characters.

-How did the glasses show that the cube is in the desert? The glasses were imprinted with the location of the cube when Megatron was frozen in the arctic. Goddamm, that's a confusing plot piece, such a development needs some explanation, like a sentence "Megatron had followed the Cube to earth... (pause for digestion) but he got off course and crash landed in the Arctic (further pause). THE CUBE WASN'T IN THE ARCTIC, IT'S SOMEWHERE ELSE" If you clarified that part, you wouldn't even need to try explaining how the cube got to the desert.

Ok, I hate to nitpick, but you're making Transformers II, I'd really prefer not to have to sit through thirty minutes of pointless backstory in order to see robots battle over a hot chick, turn into cars and explode. Thank you and feel free to call me if you need a consultant, my fees are surprisingly reasonable compared to Hollywood standards.