Jul 31, 2011

iMovie, Reggaeton, and more...


Biblioteca Publico Piloto

Natalie and I ventured out to Carlos E’s library, Biblioteca Publico Piloto, this week to do some research about comunas 7 and 17 (communities are organized by number in Medellín). After spending about 10 minutes walking around lost in the main room, we were escorted back to the front desk because we had managed to get past them without turning in our bags. Foreigner alert. They directed us to the Sala Antioquia (Antioquia Room) for our research. As is typical of every Medellín inhabitant when they encounter us foreigners, the librarian asked us, “¿Están amañadas?”, which is a paisa way of asking us if we’re in love with the city. Our prefabricated, overused response: ¡Claro! Yes, of course!!
We don’t have the opportunity to be much more eloquent with our answer, but it’s the unembellished truth. We are in love. After living up Medellín for more than a month, it feels insanely unreal that we’re leaving so soon.
The librarian pulled out stacks of newspaper clippings. Natalie and I spent awhile scouring through the clippings, learning about the history of the communities where we had been working. It’s amazing how a few old photographs and captions could make me love this city even more than the food, nightlife, parks, and people already have. If you hear a person’s secrets or stories of their past, you feel a stronger connection with them. You get more attached. I had only spent 11 days in comuna 17, but I couldn’t pull myself away from the chance to hear more about its past in this library. This DukeEngage project has taught me the importance of documenting history. We only have 2 months here, but the stories we’ve heard and documented will stay with us and will help keep our love for this city alive even after we leave.

Articles about Comuna 17


We fear the unknown. I assume that is why I have put off writing this blog post all week- because the topic was unknown. I was left stranded and directionless aimlessly wandering my scattered thoughts in an effort to stumble upon something inspiring. The uncertainty is why I demand to meet with Jota daily to continuously check my progress on my videos and ask for guidance- because I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing or how far along in that vague process I am supposed to be. It is why our parents hesitated at the thought of sending their babies alone to South America. It is why my program directors forbade me from camping in the woods of Santa Elena and why they were petrified to discover we accidently stepped outside the city’s familiar bounds. The fear is that we don’t know the risk involved. And while potential rewards are enticing, we fear the far more menacing flipside of taking chances: that our leap of faith will backfire. Making decisions without all the necessary information is uncomfortable. Dealing with the residual doubt left behind from an inconclusive thought process is inconvenient. But the only way to cure this sense of uneasiness is to discover, to try, to do.
Plagued all my life with bad luck and Murphy’s Law I have come accustomed to planning ahead and anticipating the “just in case” scenarios with an extra this or that in my purse. But I have never let the fear of everything going wrong stifle my eager assertiveness. Life itself is an unknown, everything in the future is uncharted territory. We don’t know whether we will wake up tomorrow or whether we will live forever. So “just in case”, I say yes to every invitation here, without even asking where we were going or what we would be doing, because I don’t know when I will ever be back here and presented with such opportunities. I try to do everything I am able to experience- even if it scares me to death. I am not reckless or careless, for I still always plan for misfortune, but I would rather have a short, yet wonderfully full life with experiences and memories that I love, than play it safe and lead an indifferent, apathetic, uninspired life with nothing to show for my time other than the longevity of its existence. So, my combative strategy to the unknown is this: I will be cautious- I will bring some goggles and plug my nose- but then I will run off the cliff at full speed into the opaque waves below and whatever awaits me beneath, because the unknown is uncomfortable, and at times even scary, but the power to vanquish it is simply curiosity, resolve, a deep breath, and the will to take action.

I love being special here. I know that sounds vain and shallow and arrogant, but it is a feeling I haven’t felt before. As ridiculous as it sounds, I like being cat called in the street, and whistled at when I wear heels, or referred to as “princessa”, “muñeca”, “bella”, or simply “ojos”. I like the attention I receive just for being me. Everyone is nice to me even when I butcher their language and sputter out incoherent sentence fragments. As long as I smile and giggle at the end of it, they seem to welcome my presence in the conversation. Here I am beautiful, and it has been such an amazing experience to feel that way for the first time. Where I live in the US, everyone has blue eyes, most of which are more dazzling and alluring than mine. All of the girls are athletic and thin with long shiny hair and wardrobes I could never afford. They are the beautiful people. I have never been considered above average before. Comparatively, there is nothing that sets me apart, that makes me special. Duke is the same way. There are plenty of girls with flawless bodies and pretty smiles to catch your eye- why would you linger on me? I’ve never made a head turn in the US. I’ve never been hailed and praised for my looks. I’ve never been treated this way- as if I were exceptional. I know here they are just intrigued by my differentness- the paleness of my skin and the color of my eyes- and their interest is nothing more than an odd curiosity. But gosh, I’m going to miss it. When I return home and fall into my humble position as the fourth child, the anonymous face on campus blending in with all the others on main quad, this will only be a distant memory. Maybe this feeling of celebrity is part of why I have enjoyed my time here so much. It is silly and unsubstantial and contributes nothing to the Duke Engage project or my general cultural enrichment, but in the last twenty years of my life I’ve never felt so confident or happy with myself. I don’t have to freak out over the amount of carbs on my plate at meal time or straighten my hair to go out at night- two swipes of mascara and a little liner and I’m on top of the world. It’s temporary, it’s fake, it will stop as abruptly as it started, but for now: I’m special. I’m exceptional. I’m beautiful. And I’m happy.


Today I met someone from Canada. While talking with him about his time here and comparing it to mine, I could really see the difference and uniqueness of the DukeEngage program. He has been in Medellín for maybe a week or so while I have been here for over a month. All of his group members spoke very little to no Spanish, while my friends can all hold conversations with almost anyone. It felt great when he asked me if I could recommend any places to visit in Medellín and what I liked most about the city. His program focused on one project, building a water tower for an orphanage. He showed me pictures of the kids at the orphanage and the process of building the water tower. It was great to see how proud he was of his work but at the same time I couldn’t help but notice how little he got to experience outside of that one project. I was given the amazing opportunity to go into neighborhoods and interview families. I feel like I made a connection with several families that I’ll never forget. He’ll be going home soon while I still have a couple weeks left. He wished me luck with the rest of my project and we shook hands, which felt strange after getting so used to kissing people on the cheek goodbye. I left with a sense of pride for my work here in Medellín and also feeling very thankful for this incredible experience.

Natalie: A Surprise Visit

This week has been tough, trying to edit our videos and chiseling away at interviews we most likely hold dear to our hearts. At least, by this point, I imagine we’re either all getting sick of seeing our interviewees’ face on iMovie, or finding ourselves connecting with their story more and more every day. It’s a little bit of both for me. But yesterday, I decided to revisit Jorge Arango’s house to gather just a tad bit more information. I had talked to my cogestora, Tatiana, the day before, and she said to meet her at the Valle Juelos Metrocable station at 12pm. I couldn’t go alone, so I brought Stephanie with me. When we met up with Tatiana, she informed me that Jorge had just found some work to do, so he wouldn’t be joining us. But his wife, Marta Alvarez, would be there instead. I was a little disheartened, but also excited to meet another part of Jorge’s life. We were there a little early, and Tatiana said that we could walk around a bit before Marta returned from work. So we made our way up to the main center of Santa Margarita. There were some elder ladies sweeping the front sidewalk of the center. Tatiana made her way up there and asked if there was anyone I could talk to about the founding or history of Santa Margarita. An elderly woman took my arm, walked me a ways, and pointed to the green building next to the center. She said, “That’s where the founder of Santa Margarita lives.” Stephanie and I looked at each other with giddy expressions. We assumed we had just hit the jackpot.
But when we came into the house, he wasn’t there. But his brother was, and he was in the midst of cleaning the bathroom. But as Tatiana asked him if he had any information about the “barrio”, his sponge continued to drip as he mapped out the story of Santa Margarita: about how thirty houses were originally built, and that there was a period of time where violence was rocking the neighborhood. After that period of time died down, three schools were built for the children of Santa Margarita and health centers were founded in order to benefit the people of the “barrio.” Honestly, I’d heard this story before. And I even asked him, “Was there any specific event that occurred that marks a period in Santa Margarita’s history.” He looked off into the distance, and shook his head. “No, no. No fue un evento.” Like I mentioned in my last blogpost, I didn’t want to get angry because he wasn’t providing me with a specific date or event. So we decided to leave and make our way to Jorge’s house. We waited for about five minutes, and then Marta showed up. She greeted us warmly, telling us she was exhausted. Tatiana continued to say we could wait for her to relax before we came in. But Marta insisted we come into her house. Before we made our way in, Jorge called her. The caller id read, “Amor,” and I smiled, finally hearing and seeing another part of his life before my eyes. She then passed the phone suddenly to me, and Jorge began speaking. He said he was sorry he couldn’t make it, but that he had to work. He said, “It’s very hard to find a temporary job, so when offered one, you have to take it.” I told him that I really appreciated him letting me come to his house, and in that moment, I felt so connected with this family.
Marta led us upstairs, into their house. She pulled out mountains of DVDs, putting some in, and showing us slideshows of events her and Jorge had been a part of throughout the years. Semana Santa, Fiera de Flores, all sorts of things. They volunteered constantly. Marta said, “As long as I’m happy, I don’t need to get paid.” Of course, she said it was hard, and that her and her husband were constantly stressed out when trying to find jobs. She offered us food, tinto, and eventually, fed up a really late lunch (arepa con carne y aucate con un chocolate). Hands down, the best food I’ve had here. Sorry, Mom, but it don’t think anyone will ever be able to replicate that meal, or that selflessness, ever again. Eventually, Katerin (their youngest daughter) showed up, as well as their grandson, Mateau. I got so much, if not too much, information about their lives. So I am a little stressed about how I plan on editing this video. But spending five hours with the Arango family truly made my experience here well worth it. I really wish we didn’t have to switch families, or cogestores, every day when we were working, because its times like these where you feel extremely connected and welcome in a loving, warm foreign country.

Stephanie: Appreciation at its Best

Who knew editing could be so meticulous? After conducting an interview of over 40 minutes, I now had to tediously edit the whole experience into a 5 minute clip. Two hours and two granizados de café later, I felt that I was going nowhere with my editing process. Trim here, split clip there, voice over in this section, and add in music over here. I finally got my video to be around 8 minutes, then my computer failed me. Spinning wheel of doom, how could you deceive me? “Mac, I love you, pretty little thing,” I say as I slowly pat my 13 inch MacBook Pro. I love you laptop, but sometimes I just want to toss you against the wall. I guess it doesn’t help that I have been using you for hours and you are probably tired, as am I. I needed a break. Thank goodness Natalie, a fellow Duke Engager, had to visit the Santa Margarita community for more information so I could remove myself from behind this computer screen.
Pajarito, from the moment we began walking, seemed like a true community to me. The fresh smell of bunuelos being made, arepas hogao, empanadas—all compliments of the various chefs of the Santa Margarita community. Families came together in the middle of the neighborhood to bake and make amazing Colombian cuisine. This sense of community then became extremely apparent when we visited Marta. Her humble smile, her charm, everything about her was welcoming. She told us to take a seat. What was supposed to be a 30 minute visit turned into a 4 hour visit! Marta kept feeding us, although I wasn’t complaining, I felt bad. I must say, however, her Arepas with guacamole and carne and the hot chocolate on the side was BANGING! Natalie and I kept looking at each other in awe and nodding as if we both understood that this was an amazing meal, and it wasn’t just the hunger talking.
Even though I loved hearing about her story, as it seemed that this family could do no wrong, my favorite part of the visit was getting to try on the SYMPAD outfits. Zip here, zip there, pull here, look like a midget there. The zip up bright yellow jacket fit perfectly, despite looking like an oversized fireman, but the pants were ridiculously short on me. I forget that people in Colombia aren’t as tall as I am. Then to top it all off I got to wear this nifty helmet. I felt LEGIT; I felt like I was ready to go help people in the community with problems concerning natural disasters. I felt like I could do anything I set my mind to, and that has been a lot what this trip has done for me.
When Suzanne, a faculty member from Emerson University in Boston, interviewed me and asked me how this trip has provided me with an internal change, I had so much to say. Although I have not changed, I am still the same person I was when I arrived here, I have learned a great deal about myself and about life. We take things for granted, we do not take advantage of the time we have, we complain about the little things in life. As Og Mandino puts it “Each day is a special gift from God, and while life may not always be fair, you must never allow the pains, hurdles, and handicaps of the moment to poison your attitude and plans for yourself and your future.” The short answer to Suanne’s question is APPRECIATION and RESILIENCE.

Gideon: Reggaeton

One of the things I like most about living in a Spanish speaking country is the music, including mostly salsa and reggaeton. My interest in Spanish music has also led me to analyze Colombian tastes in American music. For some reason, when we go out we encounter a weird selection of American music. For instance, “Hit the road Jack” is somehow one of the most popular songs here. Last night was a perfect example of their eclectic and bizarre music selection. The place we went to was blasting hard-core rock (like System of a Down) and then would switch to Bob Marley and then switch again to disco music from the 70’s. All the while, the Colombians were dancing and singing along as best they could, probably not understanding a word they were saying. I have also enjoyed salsa dancing, and every salsa bar seems like it is out of a movie. They are tiny, overcrowded and sweaty. But one the best things to do at a salsa bar is guess who the foreigners are. It doesn’t take very long, all you have to do is look for people who are grinning too much and moving their hips both stiffly and awkwardly. However, reggaeton has been one of my favorite things about Medellin. Although I don’t really understand most of the words in Reggaeton songs, most of which are probably inappropriate, I can’t help my self from to trying to learn the lyrics and sing along. In 2004, reggaeton made the jump into popularity in the U.S. with songs from numerous reggaeton artists such as N.O.R.E and Daddy Yankee. Although it has gained popularity in the states, I think it will be along time before I hear J Alvarez playing in Shooters. I guess it is just our responsibility to help make it big by playing Junto al Amanacer at our parties back at Duke.

Lydia Rose: Ode to iMovie

Dear iMovie ‘09,
I don’t mean to sound unappreciative
Trust me, you are quite the upgrade from iMovie 8,
And I love that you do cool transitions like
“cross dissolve” and “page curl right”
and let me ken burns my photos
So they look all cool and animated.
It’s just that, well, if you can do that,
Why can’t you just line my audio up w/ my visual automatically?
So the words and the lips match and people look less like time-delay muppets?
Or, why not just translate the Spanish into English for me?
And while you’re at it, put in subtitle, eh? (I bet my smart phone could do it)
And not to threaten or anything,
But why can’t you just sense when a person finishes a phrase?
And fade out elegantly without me splicing about messily
Trying to manually fade audio for 1.7385 seconds to no avail?
This can’t be that hard. Really.
And what about text placement?! I mean, come on,
why must my subtitles always cut across my interviewee’s chin?
Can’t they just hop out of the way automatically when she nods or something?
And why must credits scrolls so quickly? It’s the end, right?
Have they got somewhere better to be or something? Please.
Yea, it’s cool that you can see into my iphoto library,
But why can’t you just pick appropriate photos yourself?
I mean, interviewee says “my daughter” you look for a
Photo of a cute kid, am I right?
And, while we’re on the subject—
“the application iMovie has quit unexpectedly”
DO this to me, iMovie! I love you, I take it all back!
Please, please, I’ll be good! Just come back to me,