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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Regional Enhancement Seminar- Montevideo

Ok, so THIS is a little behind... I might be getting a few of the evening activities mixed up, so I'm sorry for that.

June 26-30 was our Regional Enhancement Seminar in Montevideo, Uruguay. It was a chance for all the Fulbrighters from Argentina to reunite for the last time before leaving, as well to meet the ETAs from Panamá, Costa Rica, and Uruguay. The first two days were composed of parallel presentations on ESL topics given by the different Fulbrighters (mine can be found here) and Jennifer Herrin, the Senior English Language Fellow with the Department of State. Despite the meetings taking up a major part of the day, time went by very quickly. Monday afternoon, we took a tour of the city, including the Viejo Mercado and the Teatro Solís. That night, I believe we walked down the beach to catch the sunset before heading to see a Philharmonic Concert which included some Beethoven and Gershwin. It was great.
The lovely Hannah Dalporto enjoying the sunset by our hotel
Tuesday was a wild, fun night, if I remember right. The plan was to go to the Pony Pisador (Prancing Pony) bar in viejo mercado to do some karaoke, and eventually I made it there. Beforehand, though, Alex, Katie, and I stopped by an Irish pub next door to have a little bit of relaxation. I had a yellow submarine, which was an upside-down shot of gin trapped at the bottom of a glass of beer (Mmm!). In going to the pub we were in luck...they had a beautiful lady in a red dress sing some really classic, old, jazzy tunes. We also got to try a chivito, this sausage, egg, lettuce, I don't know what else sandwich that's a popular Uruguayan dish. After our date with deliciousness, we headed to the Pony; the party was well underway. I got there just in time to here Jacqui Cornetta sing "La Tortura" by Shakira, one of my favorite songs; girl nailed it. Then, there was dancing. There's always dancing in Latin America. Real dancing. I love it.

Wednesday was a special day because we went to visit an elementary school in a nearby, impoverished area. The school they took us to--a religious school (which I have an entirely different set of qualms about)-- is unique in that it is a public school that is entirely funded through private donations Though I think it was a wonderful idea to provide cultural exchange to people who may never meet a foreigner, there was one big problem: I hate children. I don't know what it is, but in general I dislike them; in fact, if I'm around too many children at once I tend to lock up and freeze. They're like tiny, incomplete adults that jump around and talk too much. Anyway...I'll tell the tale the best I can, but bear in mind that I have a very, very strong bias that has undoubtedly shaded my experience.

We started with a few icebreaker activities, all of which involved movement and forcibly acting silly; it was my hell.Then, we were introduced to everyone by the organization that was hired as an activity organizer between the children and us. We were given an assignment to do some rapid-fire cultural presentation with 20 slides on a PowerPoint, each slide for 3 seconds (or something crazy like that). If you have ADHD, it's a great idea. If you don't, it's too spastic. Another problem is that when you have 20 individuals that were selected on the basis of being very strong leaders, you run into problems with the delegation of work (I'm not the biggest fan of group work to begin with). Long story short, we ended up throwing some stuff together on the computers and internet that Movistar had donated to the school.

After that, we went to cook together. We cooked gnocchis (ñoquis in Spanish) and chocolate chip cookies as a sort of culinary exchange (although it was a really weird combination of foods). This was the one part I enjoyed, as long as I ignored the little creatures that were running and throwing flour around.
Which one of these things is a bad idea to give to children?
We tried to get creative and make our cookie (which, after baking cookies for 17 years, I knew was going wrong) into a heart, but we later found out that it was torched. The gnocchi was great, though!

After the cooking had started, we all went outside to spend more time with...the children. This included dance lessons and chatting time; I sat out on both (I promise I'm not a Scrooge; forced "fun" mixed with children is just my Achille's heel).

After that, we ate. It was pretty good. 

Then, we did our presentations. Sadly, the children did a much better job than we did. Granted, they made us do ours in Spanish, which may have intimidated some of the presenters, but we still got schooled.

Ok, enough of that. Let's talk about Thursday. That was the paradise to my Wednesday's inferno.
Thursday started with a bus trip to Maldonado, a province about 3 hours away from Montevideo. When I looked on the schedule, it mentioned we'd be spending a sizable portion of the day at the Estancia Siglo XX, which sounded to me like some boring ranch. Oh sweet lord...curse my thoughts and prejudices!

As we drove up, it looked like the entrance to any normal farm or ranch (you have your standard log poles that support a sign saying "Bill and Suzie's ranch" or whatever), except for one thing: there was a man on horseback dressed as a gaucho wielding an Uruguayan flag to guide us in. That's right. I can't make that up. As we drove our tour bus into the small ranch, we immediately noticed the herd of alpaca on our right. And we thought that was exciting...

Once we got off the bus, we noticed that there were waiters standing there with glasses of white wine for us (and Coke, but who was going to go for that?).

It's free, you say? Oh, daddy will have two...

At this point we were informed that this ranch had an open bar, museums, gaucho-style games, hammocks, Wi-Fi, alpaca, and horses that you could ride for free. Oh, and snacks would be floating around and we'd be eating lunch there. You can imagine the mental explosion that occurred within each of us upon the utterance of those words. Not to mention, it was a gorgeous day....

This was the happiest I think I have ever, ever been. Here are some pictures:
Happiness refracted.

Gauchos, wine, and horses. You guys go on ahead; I'll stay here for a little bit.

I ate this. Oh, it was so good.

I rode a horse, and it went fast. Yes, yes, yes.
I also kissed an alpaca. No, no, no.

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