31 May 2007

Webisode #5 - Paris, France 5-29-07

The fifth in this serious of webisodes tracking my tour around the World to raise awareness about youth social change. This time I am in Paris, and the sites and sounds are terrific!

The link, if it does not show up:



29 May 2007

It’s Not All Kumbaya, I Promise

So I’ve been having trouble figuring out how to tell the stories of all these incredible young people and how their combined efforts become a global movement of empowered young people that is redefining an entire generation. Why, you ask? Because I know it all sounds a little “campfire, lets sing a song accompanied by acoustic guitar and make necklaces out of grass while eating lots and lots of granola bars and drinking protein shakes made of beat roots in between shots of wheat grass.” I get that, but the further I get into this tour the more I wonder why it has become that way.

It’s not that kumbaya, and even if it is, what’s wrong with that? What’s corny about young people who are doing good in their communities? What’s cheesy about people who think creating change is positive and cool? When did our society turn in such a way that wanting to change the world was cliché? It’s not that way here in Brazil, and it wasn’t that way in Argentina. This seems to be an American mindset, and that is upsetting.

I was just watching Miss Congeniality (hey, Sandra Bullock is funny and I’m in a foreign country. Lay off) where every Miss America contestant says they want World Peace, and this is laughed at by Sandra, who’s the “cool, undercover FBI agent” until she gets to know the girls and sees that they are sincere. Then they play some dramatic music, she cries and tells them she has been “changed forever.” I found it oddly relevant to this project in the sense that it seems the “good” and the “positive” constantly has to prove itself to the “cool kids” and the troublemakers (like big tobacco and Wal-Mart). Why is that?

These people I’m meeting aren’t beauty queens. They’re real. Their vision and drive is genuine. Yes, some of their stories are very “rags to riches,” but that should inspire, not illicit eye-rolls. Others have nothing and will likely never have a whole lot, yet still fight every day to create a better life for themselves and those around them. For a while I thought I needed to change the way I told their stories to make them seem more cool and mainstream but the reality is, our frame of reference is what needs to change.

How did we get to this point where Paris Hilton (who violated her parole after DRIVING DRUNK) going to jail garners public petitions to keep her on the streets while an account about young people taking action to fight problems in their community is seen as a “human interest” story, poked and prodded as if to say, “oh well isn’t that cute?” Darn rights it’s cute! Way cuter that Paris’ stupid dog.

These young social entrepreneurs aren’t cliché or corny. Their work is inspiring. Look at them as role models. Rather than see them as the exception, make them the rule. I guess what I’m really trying to say is, become a Sandra Bullock. Challenge the way you see the world. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

28 May 2007

Brazil Photos Uploaded To Flickr!

Just posted all the pics from Brazil to Flickr. Follow the link below to see the entire album!



Public or Private and Nothing In-between

When I first arrived in Brazil and started visiting teams something wasn’t clicking for me. They were doing great work. The impact was evident. But why was it the way it was?

I’ve never seen poverty quite like this. The better part of a year in China, time in Greece, Bosnia, Argentina & Mexico and yet nothing quite compares to the situation in Sao Paulo. Flavellas (Shanty Towns) extending for miles and miles in every direction. People living in cement box makeshift apartments stacked three-high. Random muggings in broad daylight with hundreds of people around right outside the Cathedral downtown, where droves of homeless Brazilians shower in the shimmering new fountains outside, sleep on piles of old blankets and dive into trash can looking for their next meal. Meanwhile, Sao Paulo is home to 70,000 millionaires!

I firmly believe that every major social problem in our world is rooted in a lack of education resources and inequity in youth. Nobody chooses where they are born or to which social class they will be a part. If it’s not their choice then why should they be punished for not having wealthy parents, or for not being born in Canada or Europe or the United States? Education has to be the social equalizer; the one thing that everyone is guaranteed. The one thing that no one can take away, deny or be prejudiced against. Kids are kids are kids and each and every one deserves a chance at a better life.

This is where it is all rooted in Brazil. As it was explained to me, poor kids go to public schools in their youth. The schools have no resources, are plagued by violence and give little to their students. Meanwhile, the parents of rich kids pay lots and lots of money for their children to go to private schools, where they learn three languages, study abroad and wear uniforms. Then comes time to go to University! Everyone takes the same, extremely difficult exam to get into free Public Universities, which are the best in the country. The rich kids who went to private schools do well and get in. The poor kids don’t, which means that if they want a university degree they need to pay loads of money to go to a private university that is both bad and overpriced. They, of course, don’t have the money so they either don’t go or take out huge loans to attend. The only problem is, few businesses will hire graduates of private universities because they are SO BAD, so the poor kids are then deep into debt and can’t find jobs. Meanwhile, the rich kids get a free University education and continue on to find incredible jobs. Seriously? In as few words as possible, THIS SUCKS, and it is at the root of most social problems in Brazil. Oh wait, it’s at the root of most social problems in America as well…hmm…

Consider this: A poor kid in public school knows he isn’t going to get into public university because his current school stinks. This kids also knows that means their only option is private university, which they don’t have the money for and which is known to NOT lead to a job. Why try at all then? Every ounce of drive and commitment is pulled out of them and then you end up with another generation of uneducated adults scraping by day-to-day. I’m sure you can imagine how much this enrages me…

It also creates more and more social problems that need more and more solutions, which is where Youth Venture (Geracao Muda Mundo (Generation Change The World) in Brazil) comes in. More soon. Just let the above fester in your mind a bit.

26 May 2007

Ciao Argentina, You Will Be Missed…

Upon leaving I wanted to share some final lessons learned:

No matter how much you enjoy something, never verbalize it. For example, I told Patricia I really liked Dulche de Leche. She brought out the tub from the fridge with every meal, insisting I eat some. Then she bought me Dulche de Leche candy to take with me.

Argentinians drink TONS of carbonated beverages and eat more chocolate and sweets than any other culture I have EVER seen. Coke and chocolate. Coke and chocolate. Coke and chocolate.

Take your watch off before you arrive. Time is of the essence, and attempting to push that is a futile task and in the end, a big mistake. Just go with the flow. That in-between flex time ended up offering some of my most memorable moments. To note, that flex time increases as you travel further north. When we were in Humahuaca, which is just miles from the Bolivian border, the school had a room for students to hang out in when teachers “just don’t show up” or are “really late.” The culture show started two hours later than we had expected. If you know me, you can imagine how many times I asked if something was wrong.

Somehow, the Argentineans managed to cram another hour into the day! See below…

It’s not that they don’t have hot water anywhere, it’s just that it comes out of the right tap, not the left. Yeah, not my proudest moment(s).

Sometimes a 16-year-old might be driving you around in a large van with broken windshield blasting Beyonce while winding up the side of a mountain. Just breathe.

Finally, They LOVE “High School Musical.” I mean, obsessed. 100,000 people bought tickets to see them perform in Buenos Aires. I even saw them on MTV in Humahuaca. The one girl said “the best part of being famous is that a lot of people care what you have to say.” Um, I don’t. I care what the girls who started their own recycling center have to say though. How about we put them on TV, in magazines and on stage? But maybe that’s just me…

24 May 2007

NEW VIDEO! Dream It. Do It. World Tour - Argentina

An incredible short film documenting the Argentina leg of the Dream it. Do It. World Tour about catalyzing a global movement of empowered young people. So many incredible stories! So many funny incidents...Enjoy!

In case the link doesn't work:


23 May 2007

Webisode #4 - In Sao Paulo, Brazil

The fourth in this illustrious serious of webisodes chronicling my trip around the world connecting young changemakers. This time, I'm in Sao Paulo, and I got bumped to business class! Excitement!

In case it doesn't show up:



22 May 2007

Bus Journal – San Salvador de Jujuy to Buenos Aires

5:50PM – I’ve decided to bring back the style I used on the train from Beijing to Lhasa. I just realized that ride was 48 hours on a train. This is 22 hours on a bus. Almost half as long, only I don’t have my own compartment. Just me, this leather recliner that’s been nailed to the floor and “Monster in Law” in Spanish on the TV. Joy. Rapture. Oh, and I can’t forget my riding buddy. I’ve nicknamed him Captain, his wife Tennille. He spent the first 40 minutes standing in the aisle talking to me about I don’t know what. I kept saying “No Abla Espanol” but he kept talking. Then Marina, my travel buddy and Youth Venture (Avancemos) staff explained – in Spanish – that I don’t speak Spanish. He doesn’t seem to care. In fact, he’s talking to me right now. Now he’s watching me type pointing at the screen saying something that sounds like “typo, typo.” Oh man. 21 hours and 10 minutes to go…

7:22PM – The movie just ended. I had the lovely opportunity to go to the bathroom on board, which was quite an experience. We’re moving at about 75 miles an hour. The Captain is still milling. He made his way upstairs for a while, attempting to strike up conversation. The bus attendant brought him back down and asked him to please stay in his seat. He’s standing again, reading what I’m writing. You are weird. Sit down. He laughed. Hmm…

8:13PM – The Captain just emerged from the bathroom. He went in there at 7:40.

8:47PM – The Captain snores LIKE WHOA.

9:32PM – We just made our pit-stop and pick-up in Tucuman. Who do you think surprised us at the bus station? None other than Patricia and Pupe! They brought sandwiches, cookies and of course, soda for us as a mid-trip recharge. With those two, you never go hungy! Pupe has informed me that I am her “Yankee Grandson” and I can consider her my “Argentinian Grandma” forever. I can’t wait to come back and visit them!

9:54PM – We just watched the “bus safety” video, which included an overview of how to know how fast the bus is moving. “Look at the velocity meter,” it said. Will do.

11:20PM – The woman in the row in front of me started freaking out because her seat wouldn’t stay fully reclined. She was screaming at everyone. The bus attendant woman was doing everything she could to get it to stay flat, including literally jumping on the headrest. All the commotion woke Marina up, who offered to assist. For whatever reason, Marina solved the crisis in a matter of minutes then proceeded to yell at the woman for getting upset with the bus attendant, who obviously had nothing to do with the broken chair. Rock on, Marina!

11:54PM – Marina couldn’t go back to sleep so I introduced her to Desperate Housewives, courtesy of iTunes. I forgot how twisted and complicated the show is.

9:15AM – Just woke up from a less-than-wonderful bus sleep though feeling oddly refreshed. The Captain is still sleeping.

10:36AM – The Captain just woke up. He’s standing in the aisle again. He’s got major bed head and looks a lot like Don King right now.

11:22AM – The Captain just emerged from the bathroom. He went in there at 10:45AM. Man, what’s he doing in there? Now he’s watching me type again. Sweet. Almost there. Signing off for now.

21 May 2007

Smelly Buses and Beautiful Sunsets – The Road To The North Is Paved With A Desire To Sleep

We were up at 3:30am to catch our bus to Humahuaca, 7 hours from Tucuman. Patricia had breakfast on the table (our hostess with the mostess). All I want to do is sleep. We haven’t been doing much of that lately – at least not in beds. 4 AM and we’re out the door, arriving a full 15 minutes early for our bus, scheduled to depart at 4:30am. 4:30am comes and goes. No bus. 5AM. No bus. It turns out our bus was delayed because of worker protests along the route. Apparently people block all traffic for hours upon end in opposition to something, but no one is quite sure what, exactly. I later learned that the men who distribute welfare are – shockingly – corrupt, and force recipients to do this by threatening to withhold their monthly allowance. Awesome.

Needless to say, we end up on another bus that is heading all the way to the Bolivian border (and get a full refund for the delayed bus tickets. United Airlines, pay attention). This bus is about 112 degrees and smells of eggs, sweat and Doritos. I spend the next seven hours getting the worst sleep of my life before arriving “refreshed” in Humahuaca, the quaintest most adorable UNESCO World Heritage Site I have ever seen. Let the games begin. We quickly drop our bags before meeting Ayelen & Florencia, the leaders of “Basura Verde Proyecto En Accion” (Green Trash Action Project). These girls could be out of Brooklyn, they’re so hip. Their first question is “Do you know Beyonce?” I of course lie and say “absolutely!”

The rest of the day wass a whirlwind. Marina, Gonzalo and I were so exhausted we did all we could to be gracious guests, which wasn’t difficult given their planning and hospitality. They took us on a tour of their school before hosting an enormous lunch in the “room where we sit if a teacher doesn’t show up.” Ayelen had informed the local government of my visit and they in turn supplied all the food to prepare our meal.

Following lunch the four of us, along with their team’s ally – a teacher – and a half-dozen friends or so hopped into a big van to “see the sites” of Humahuaca. We went first to the town’s independence statue, followed by a casual stroll through the street market. I asked them why they weren’t in school today. “Because we have a special guest, silly,” Florencia told me.

Then it was off the beaten path, to the city dump, where people literally throw piles and piles of garbage into the desert and light it on fire. This is what Florencia and Ayelen are trying to eradicate through their Venture – dumps like these across their province. They’ve launched education campaigns in their school and throughout the community, teaching people about recycling and garbage sorting. Still, the local government continues to put up road blocks. The woman were able to get an entire neighborhood to agree to sorting their garbage into organic and non-organic, only to discover that the trash collectors put everything in the same bin and take it all to the city dump. “There is nothing we can do, because the people in the town will always support the government. They are scared.” Still, the girls press on, recruiting more volunteers, launching new education initiatives and leading by example. Imagine not just understanding but taking action to fight environmental degradation in a small town 9000 feet up in the Argentinian frontier?

We finished the day with a trip to “Hippie Mountain” (there is an enormous foreigner hippie community in this part of Argentina) to get a panoramic view of the area, followed by a trip to the school’s farm, where they hope to open a recycling center as soon as they have the funding (um, amazed yet? I was). Once we got back to school the ladies said we had twenty minutes before the culture show started, so we raced to the hotel to put on some pants then zipped to the internet café with the hope of posting a blog. Sadly, the connection was slower than anything I have ever experienced in my entire life, EVER, so no blog that day.

Feeling inconsiderate, we were back at the school ten minutes late, me thinking we had ruined the whole evening. Luckily, this is Argentina, where twenty minutes means two hours. We had snacks, drank Mate (the traditional Argentinian tea-like concoction) and chit-chatted from 6:15pm to 8:10pm before the extravaganza began. Gonzalo looked like he was going to pass out. Marina had a migraine. I was, once again, the guest of honor.

I can’t even begin to tell you how charming and wonderful the show was. They combined the traditional “Mother Earth” ceremony with local dance routines (in which Marina and I were urged to participate) before the big finish, which included dumping a bucket of confetti on my head. Hurray? Now closing in on 10PM, the ladies wanted us to go out for a nice dinner with them. We graciously declined, agreeing to meet them for breakfast instead. At this point I don’t think Gonzalo was actually conscious. Marina and I both had pounding migraines. Sleep was the only thing on my mind. In fact, I slept NINE HOURS. I honestly don’t remember the last time I slept nine hours all in a row. It was worth every minute, I tell you that much!

After another day of bus rides and team visits, we’ve just boarded our last and final bus back to Buenos Aires. This one is 22 hours. Thank god for Shania Twain remixes in Spanish!

20 May 2007

Tucuman, Argentina – The Whole World Wrapped Up In One Small Town

We rumbled down the dirt road to Patricia and Pupe’s house (a friend of a friend of a coworker’s sister’s aunt’s cousin’s priest, or something similar. That’s how it works in Argentina. They’re so incredibly open and kind. When Patricia heard we were coming to town through eight degrees of separation, she insisted we stay with her). Horse-drawn carts were sprinkled among old Ford pickups, an enormous fleet of Fiat taxi cabs and the occasional luxury car. People were milling about everywhere. “Everything” stores (those shops in the developing world that literally sell every possible food and household item that you would ever need) were everywhere!

We arrived to find Pupe (who has quickly made her way onto my “Top Ten Favorite People On Earth” list) had cooked up a big giant lunch including chicken, bread, sandwiches, hot dogs, fruit, coffee, tea, orange juice, Sprite and Coke. This would soon become one of two themes of my time in Tucuman. We were there for a total of four meals and I ate the above plus Empanadas with Coke, more sandwiches with Coke, rice, bread, spinach quiche and bread with Coke, cereal and yogurt with tea and Coke and an entire homemade flan, with Sprite (they were out of Coke). By our second night I had gained a solid twelve pounds and went digging for some Rolaids.

The second theme was some of the most incredible young people I’ve ever met. We had four teams in Tucuman when I arrived and after a 100% successful panel round led by Marina, YV Argentina staff, we had ten teams when I left. Thanks once again to incredible planning by Marina (she’s basically superhuman and amazing), I was able to meet all of them.

We began at the home of Natalia, who started “Delicioso Comidas Para Llevar” (Delicous Take-Away Food). She uses a home made mud oven in the backyard to cook Empanadas (which she served to us, along with a bottle of wine that I was asked to uncork as the Guest of Honor) and other local favorites for parties and special events, using the proceeds to prepare meals and buy clothes for families in her community who are in need. Her husband supplies the wood for the oven, donating scraps from the furniture he builds. Her kids now play an active role in preparing the meals and making drop-offs. “People found out that I do this – give away food and clothes – and now they many knock on my door all the time. How can I say no? They are in need. I must help.” She recently expanded her enterprise, opening a full-fledged store at the front of her home to raise more money and meet an even greater need.

Next it was Juan, who used his funding to refurbish the city’s library and rec. center so kids would have a safe place to study and play after school. Called “Ensenando Para Un Futuro Mejor” (Teaching For A Better Future), he got computers and internet service donated so the kids could connect with the rest of the world. Juan also found an English teacher to give lessons three days a week, because he believes English will give them “access to a better life.” At 25, he works a separate full-time job, maintaining the library on the side. In January Tucuman experienced major flooding. Juan opened his doors to more than 100 people whose homes were destroyed, sleeping on library tables for more than a week while managing food and showers for those affected. He also schooled me in futbol (soccer, duh).

We met Carla in what used to be an abandoned warehouse until she asked for and got permission to use it as a studio for belly dancing lessons. Aisha, the name of the program, is now in its third year of empowering young women by building confidence through dance.

Carla has not only given these ladies a creative outlet; she has also provided an after-school activity that doesn’t lead to baby-making, as well as rejuvenated a run-down building and neighborhood. She was also willing to teach me how to shake my thang.

I finished the day at a genv.net web training seminar hosted by Ely, a Youth Venturer who started “Centro Tecnologico Vecinal” (Community Technology Center), a local internet café where she and her brother not only offer access, but training in how to use computers. Her facility is completely FREE for the low-income kids in her neighborhood. She offsets operating costs by charging adults and other folks who can afford it. She is single-handedly working to bridge the great divide that exists between rich and poor by educating youth on what is becoming the great equalizer – technology.

More than twenty young people showed up to our web training, set up profiles on our site and connected with people in other countries. Some of them had started their own programs, others were just beginners. Everyone, however, shared an interest in making their community better.

Tucuman embodies every problem and every hope that we’re facing as a generation. More and more kids are snorting Paco, the crap left over after they’ve made premium cocaine. Teen pregnancy is on the rise. Schools are terrible. The divide in wealth is growing. Politicians care less and less about people and more and more about their own personal interests. It’s only my first stop and already I’m noticing that we really aren’t all that different. Poverty is poverty is poverty. The importance of education is borderless. Empowering young people is a universal goal and as I’ve begun to see, a universal reality. Join them. Find your inspiration. www.genv.net

Nominated For $10,000 MySpace Impact Award! PLEASE VOTE NOW!

YOUTH VENTURE - the organization I'm working with for the World Tour - just got nominated for a MySpace Impact award, and I need your help to win! You can go here:


Or paste this into your browser: http://www.myspace.com/impactawards

Vote for YOUTH VENTURE! We'll receive $10,000 in additional funding, as well as premium coverage on the MySpace Homepage, Impact Homepage, etc. It would really be a boost for us as MySpace reaches 90 MILLION ACTIVE USERS WORLDWIDE!

You can VOTE ONCE A DAY NOW THROUGH FRIDAY, so please come back again and again! I'll probably post about this often, as this is a HUGE deal for us!!!

Please send emails and MySpace bulletins to your friends and ask for their help as well. It would really mean a lot to me. We're doing some great work and could use this additional push!

Thank you thank you thank you!

16 May 2007

When Recliners Meet Celine Dion In Spanish – On A Bus

Our bus was departing at 8:15pm. I should have known at 8:02pm when we were still standing in the office that time was going to be tight. Combine our late departure with a 65-year-old cab driver who didn’t quite understand the severity of our situation and you’ve got one stressed out host in the form of Marina, the Avancemos representative escorting me to the North. Since she was so worried I didn’t have to be, so I just laughed about the whole thing. We get to the bus station at 8:14pm and Marina darts into the building. I’m a close second with Gonzalo, the Argentine venture rep bringing up the rear. Marina is literally “paving the way” for us, zigzagging through crowds of adults, children and luggage. The big digital clock now says 8:15pm and Marina is talking to herself in Spanish. I’m guessing she’s using angry words. I’m still laughing. I mean, how funny would it be to miss a 15-hour bus that wouldn’t leave again tomorrow after missing an 11-hour flight that didn’t leave again until a day later? Pretty funny!

We arrive at our “gate” (this bus station is reminiscent of an airport) and Marina flings the tickets in the man’s face. He takes them calmly, pointing to the luggage compartment. Marina smiles at me, relieved. I turn to smile at Gonzalo only to find that he is nowhere to be found. Gonzalo is gone. He was there we exited the cab and still behind me when we got into the building. Now the only thing behind me is an older, heavyset woman wearing lots and lots of gold jewelry. Marina tells me to find him. Um, ok?

I walk back to the central corridor and keep my eyes peeled, scared to leave the bus for fear that I’ll be gone, he’ll show up and I’ll have no idea how to get back to the bus. This really isn’t an effective search method. There are literally thousands of people milling around. So, for lack of a better idea I start yelling his name. “Gonzalo! Gonzalo!” People start staring. This isn’t like China, where no one notices anything you do. Curious heads turn and watch. It is now 8:19pm but it feels like an eternity has passed. I’m still cracking up inside about missing the bus. Suddenly, like in a movie, the crowds part and Gonzalo appears, shaking his head. “I went to far,” he says. I nod. We “check” our luggage and board the bus, crisis averted.

It’s now 11pm. I’m sitting in my luxo super reclining dream chair at the front of the top floor, so I’ve got a 270-degree view of the Argentinian countryside. At about 9:15pm the “bus attendant” told us to “put our seats in the full and upright position, lower our leg rests and insert our tray tables” for dinner. They really take bus travel seriously! She brought two small sandwiches and poured us each a glass of champagne (no, seriously). I assumed this was dinner, until about 40 minutes later she reappeared with a plate of rolled deli meats, cheeses and empanadas. Apparently the sandwiches were a “snack.” The champagne continued to flow. “This must be dinner,” I thought to myself. 10 more minutes pass and the woman appears once more, this time carrying a steaming tray of roasted chicken and mashed potatoes as well as MORE champagne. We’re now pushing 10:30pm and here I am eating two sandwiches, an enormous plate of deli meats and cheeses, two chicken legs and mashed potatoes, all while “Take My Breath Away” pumped through the bus speakers. This “jam” was followed by a DVD of Cirque du Soleil in Vegas. The evening concluded with a US feature film starring Vince Vaughn that I had never heard of. I don’t even remember the name. I’m just about to watch an episode of The Office before drifting off myself. Peace out.

Update: It’s 8:12am. The entire bus was forcibly woken up at 7:15am with Celine Dion’s “All By Myself” blasting in Spanish. In protest, I left my seat in full recline until just minutes ago. I missed breakfast, which is alright because I’m still full from last night (all I’ve really done since arriving is eat hunks of meat and cheese quiches). At some point in the night my eye mask fell off and is now nowhere to be found. Oh god…they’re playing Brian Adams…in Spanish…and we almost hit a guy on a bike…and now it’s Robbie William’s “Angels” in Spanish…

Webisode #3 - In The Middle Of Argentina, Somewhere

The third installment of my World Tour webisodes! This one comes all the way from Tucuman, Argentina, which is about 1000 miles North of Buenos Aires. Amazing stuff happening here!

Here's the direct link, if you can't see the embedded file: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2PMM3kCXcg

15 May 2007

Kissing Babies On The Forehead & Shuffling Rival Newspapers Around

After an hour ride on a “traditional” Argentian minibus we had reached our destination – one of probably hundreds of Buenos Aires’ suburbs. Like most Latin American capital cities, Buenos Aires is home to nearly 35% of the country’s population and continues outward from city center for nearly 100 miles. The town was totally adorable, with it’s tiny single-family homes, main street with pharmacy, bank, super market (where we ate breakfast) and coffee shop and central school, which was our destination.

We met Gonzalo and Julia Souto there. Brother and sister, they started Abuelos y Chicos: Hagamos Teatro (Grandparents and Children: Lets Make Theater) in December with an Avancemos (Youth Venture’s Argentine partner) grant funded by Office Net, the name Staples uses in Latin America. We began with coffee and a roundtable discussion with their high school’s headmasters and teachers. Now 23 and 24 respectively, Gonzalo and Julia are “the only two students” to come back and work with kids from their own school,” the headmaster told me. “We are very proud.” They gave me an impressive book about their school, Newlands, as well as an official student pin. I got pinned in Argentina!

Then we hopped on a bus full of all the seventeen and eighteen year-olds from Newlands en route to a local nursery for children whose parents have to work all day to make ends meet, leaving the kids with nowhere to go. The bus ride was more than amusing. Laura, who would soon become our guide, strummed her guitar while the entire bus sang Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” As we drove up to the Nursery I could see all the kids standing at the fence. They clearly knew today was visitor day. Half of the high school kids started in immediately playing with, teaching and mentoring the five to eight year-olds. The other half disappeared into a back room, which I discovered played host to the most adorable infants and toddlers I have ever seen. I honest to goodness wanted to take one home. I wheeled one around in his walker, made playdoh with Olivia and helped another boy secure his mask for the upcoming theater rehearsal. He was the lion.

In talking with Laura, my guide, I learned that what Gonzalo and Julia have done is find a way to improve cross-generational relationships between high school youth, underprivileged children and senior citizens that have been “left to die” in homes, as she described it. Gonzalo and Julia, along with their old teacher from Newlands, bring the high schoolers to the Nursery every Monday, where they not only feed the babies and make playdoh, but work with the kids to develop a short play with singing, dancing and costumes. Local senior citizens also come to the nursery once a week, adding additional insight into the production while acting as another role-model figure for these small children in need. The kids then take the production on the rode, performing at local soup kitchens, other low-income schools and senior citizen’s homes. This helps them improve their interpersonal skills while simultaneously building confidence in themselves; both necessary and crucial to early childhood development.

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to addressing impact. Gonzalo and Julia have found a way to support at-risk youth, offer a positive outlet for teenagers and give abandoned elderly something to live for using an incredibly important and timeless medium – theater, something he believes brings generations together. When asked what inspires him to keep going, Gonzalo said “because I want to put the old people in a role that fits them and I am satisfied because I see the expression of the children when they do this and it makes me happy.” Plus, I got to make playdoh!

The afternoon played host to back-to-back media interviews with Argentina’s two largest publications, Clarin & La Nacion, who also happen to be major competitors. Clarin was at 3pm, La Nacion at 4pm, which meant we had to do a little dance to keep things flowing smoothly. We convinced the Clarin people that it would be a better idea to shoot photos and host interviews in the Plaza, since it was such a beautiful day. Per usual, things were running long. After I was done with Clarin and Gonzalo was being interviewed, Carolin (Avancemos staff) and I ran back to the office to catch the folks from La Nacion. Their photographer suggested the Plaza for photos. Carolin told her there was construction (half true) and that there was this really nice fountain the other direction, which was also nice. Now, this photographer was a total character. She had long hair down past her butt and kept telling me what to do in Spanish, which I don’t understand. “I don’t understand either,” Carolin told me. The other interviews were still dragging on, which meant more stalling. We walked back to the office and I started talking with the reporter. The photographer was busy redesigning the office to fit her photographic needs. Mid sentence she poked her head in and asked if anyone wanted coffee. There were nods all around. I assumed she meant she was going to run down to a coffee shop. Nope. She just popped into the office kitchen, made some coffee and returned to the room with a full coffee service – a plate of tiny cups, spoons, sugar and French-pressed brew. No one thought that was strange except for me. Could you imagine a total stranger, who just took your picture for the newspaper, in your kitchen making coffee? So friendly here!

The others eventually showed up and did their interviews, which were followed by another photo shoot with the wacky but lovably woman; only this time, she had me holding a map of Argentina, as if it belonged to me or something. After a few shots she realized this image was less than desirable and we regrouped. Now I’m just doing final prep before boarding the bus to the North. More soon, I promise.

14 May 2007

Buenos Aires – Latin Lovin’ Like No Other

After two solid days of traveling or attempting to travel, it felt good to finally step foot in Argentina. After passing through the most efficient customs I’ve ever experienced and being forced into a maze of Duty Free insanity, I grabbed my bag and hit the ATM. Well, I tried to hit the ATM. The first one I tried (HSBC) was out of money. I kept asking for lower amounts and lower amounts until finally I got to about $4 and figured that wouldn’t do me much good anyway. After a good five minutes of wandering I found a second ATM. Sadly, the “enter” button on this machine was broken, so there was no way to tell it to move on and go to the next screen. The woman at the info booth could not have been more helpful and guided me to my third (and this time successful) ATM attempt.

Then it was to the cab stand. I turned down every guy on the way, really wanting to get a “legit” taxi. The man at the official Taxi booth directed me to a guy standing a few feet away puffing a cigarette. “He’ll take you,” he said. This guy stolled up very “I own this country” and told me he was parked “over there,” waving his hand erratically. Heeding the advice of a friend, it actually felt alright so I went with it. Good decision. He set a land speed record and got me downtown in about twenty minutes. “Cars are made to be driven,” he said, while zooming around our fellow freeway travelers, cigarette in hand, radio blasting Mika’s ‘Love Today.’ “I love this song, he kept telling me, tapping his hand on the dash.

We arrived at my “crash pad” ( a coworker’s place) and I quickly showered before hitting the town on my only day off with another coworker – Carolyn. She and I really did it up right. We saw (in order, with pictures:

Casa Rosada (The President’s House)

San Telmo (Where are the foreigners hang out. These two were posing all afternoon)

Caminito (The old port part of town, where people painted their homes with the leftovers from the boat)

Tumba de Evita (Evita’s Tomb)

& Recoleta (a beautiful market/music park right downtown)

Buenos Aires is incredibly international, striking the perfect balance between South American charm and European sensibility. American brands are slim – only Levi’s, McDonalds & Burger King are all over the place (BK’s signs reading “Los Angeles”) and there are absolutely no Starbucks, a far cry from Shanghai. There are police officers EVERYWHERE enforcing laws that aren’t really publicized (like parking on the left side of the street. Oops!), the cabs and buses run on natural gas (so clean) and everyone is friendly and helpful, particularly with driving directions. Oh, and they play host to the most incredible ice cream I’ve ever tasted, not to mention enormous sandwiches that literally consist of a slab of beef and some tomatoes on a big baguette. Tango is HUGE too! I was exhausted by the end of the day and crashed before 10pm – a record for me. Got up at 6:30 this morning to take a short run (only got slightly lost) and now heading out to visit a team. So far so good!

12 May 2007

World Tour Departure Foiled, Still In America – Why United Airlines Is The Absolute Worst EVER

Be warned, this is a long one but you'll understand why after you've read. Truly a saga...

After a hectic, high-energy day of packing, emailing and saying goodbye to friends and family I arrived at Logan airport a full two and a half hours before my flight was scheduled to depart. After waiting forty minutes in the paper ticket line and helping a poor Brazilian woman find her way (the ticket agents kept telling her she should learn English then come back. Real helpful guys), I made my way to security.

Shoeless, watchless and bagless I watched as my bags were pulled aside due to some “suspicious activity.” That suspicious activity was a bottled water and some Purell that wasn’t in a baggy. “Sir, what were you thinking bringing water into the terminal and why isn’t your hand sanitizer in a zip-top bag?” Now, how do you reply to this question? “Um, I brought the water because it is key to human survival? The Purell isn’t in a baggy because it has its own container?” I just kept my mouth shut. If you know much about me you’re aware of the fact that I don’t have the greatest luck when it comes to airport security.

Now dehydrated and germ-coated, I made my way to gate 15 where the flight info board said “6:29pm.” We were supposed to leave at 6pm. Not too much concern. “It’s only thirty minutes,” I say to myself. “I’ve got a two-hour layover in DC before flying to Argentina.” There are no seats available in the waiting area so I end up sitting on the floor between a newsstand and an emergency exit, making phone calls to friends and family to say goodbye. Time is ticking away and there are no status updates about our flight. There is also no plane at the gate, which is usually a good indicator as to whether or not you’ll actually be flying somewhere. 5:15pm. No plane. 5:30pm. No plane. 5:40pm. The man comes on the squawker and says our plane is still in DC and should be leaving soon but is delayed due to bad weather. I’m actually on the phone with a friend in DC at that minute and ask about the weather situation. “I’m driving by the airport and it’s beautiful outside,” he says. I’m getting suspicious. 6pm. Still no plane and another update from our overly chipper gate attendant Ronnie. They’re not sure where the plane is. It may have left, it may not have left. It was waiting on the tarmac for an hour then took off and had to come back to the gate due to “bad weather.” Apparently flying in overly sunny conditions can be dangerous.

It’s now 6:15pm and I’m starting to get nervous. If this pathetic airline (*cough*UNITED*cough*) can’t find a plane how are they going to get me to Argentina? I decide to go ask good ole Ronny for a personal update. “Sit tight,” he tells me. “You’ll definitely make your connection. I guarantee it.” 6:30pm and all semblance of order crumbles. They’ve now decided the plane is delayed because of a mechanical problem but still have no idea where it is! How do you lose a 50,000 pound aircraft? It’s not like they all look alike. Yours has your name (UNITED) written across the side. Just call someone who’s at Dulles and ask them to look out the window!

This mechanical failure means they’re now attempting to put all of us on later flights. I wait in line like a good waterless and Purell-less American and explain that I’m connecting internationally. He tells me I’ve been made “first priority standby” on the 7pm flight. I go to that gate only to find that it’s totally full and I have a slim chance of getting on. Still, I wait. I’m really kind-of wanting to get to Argentina tonight. Mean Martin the gate attendant (MM for short) makes an announcement that all standbys need to “stand back” while he boards the plane. We do, all 130 of us. Yes, that’s right. The genius at our first gate put all 130 passengers from my original flight on standby for this full flight that only had 100 seats to begin with. It’s now 7:02pm. My connection leaves in two and a half hours. Time is of the essence. MM comes back on the loudspeaker. “People, the plane is full, okay? You gotta go find another plane.” I’m sorry, we ‘gotta go find another plane?’ What plane is just sitting around with 130 seats on it waiting to take us to Washington? I don’t know Mean Martin, because I don’t work for the airline.

At this point things are getting rowdy. People are irritated and understandably so. MM says there is nothing he can do and that we all “need to go see Edna at the Customer Service desk.” The masses begin to herd, everyone doing that awkward adult walk-run thing so no one thinks they’re trying to race but they really are. I stay behind and approach MM to explain my situation. He tells me to stay here and he’ll help. THIRTY MINUTES LATER he returns and picks up the phone. I begin to open my mouth and he gives me the universal “Shh” sign. I am totally flabbergasted. He spends the next ten minutes chit-chatting with his ‘gurrrrl’ Rhonda at gate 22 saying things like “shoot Ro-ro, it’s crazy over here” and “Oh no she didn’t.” Yes she did Mean Martin. YES SHE DID. Now help me! Meanwhile, Edna was nowhere to be found, which brought all 130 angry people back to my line.

It’s now 7:40pm and Martin is ready to do his job again. I hand him my ticket. He punches about 300 keys (What are they doing when they push all those buttons? When in life have you ever punched so many computer keys to accomplish such a small task? Who needs to press enter 75 times?) and purses his lips as if to say, “you’re not getting to Argentina tonight.” My full itinerary now appears on his screen and he sees that I have an around the world ticket, which has resulted in about 1 million air miles. Suddenly everything changes and Mean Martin transforms into “Only Slightly Mean Martin. “I’m sorry sir, there’s nothing. I have a flight at 8:10pm to JFK, which gets in at 9:15pm and would allow you to connect to a 10:10pm flight to Argentina (I’m liking what I hear until the dreaded transition word comes) BUT it leaves in less than thirty minutes so I can’t put you on that flight. If you had only gotten here five minutes sooner…” I cut him off there and lay into him about his casual convo while all 130 of us stood and watched. I’m getting steamed and the people behind me are chiming in. “Yeah! Yeah!” Only Slightly Mean Martin is quickly turning into “Scared of a Mob Scene” Martin.

At this point I’ve accepted that I’m not getting to Argentina tonight but would still like to get to DC so as to be 24 hours early for my connection. Martin agrees with this idea and supposedly books me on the 8:45pm flight to DC.

I trek back through the terminal to my next gate, only to discover that I’ve not actually been given a seat but am on standby once again! I immediately approach the desk and tell Tom that Martin, his coworker, told me I had a seat. Tom goes into some boring, pointless, I-don’t-care shpeel about how I’m not going to make my connection anyway so I am “not a priority for the four standby spots” and should just “take the free hotel, watch a movie and fly out tomorrow.” The gloves come off. About to explode on the inside, I keep my composure and begin to outline every detail of how I have spent the last six hours of my evening, finishing with “so the least you can do is get me to DC.” He pulls up my full itinerary and once again things change. He tickets me for the flight. I’m in seat 6A.

I sit back down and watch as my original flight – the one where the guy couldn’t find the 25-ton flying metal object also known as our plane – goes from being delayed to totally cancelled because the pilot doesn’t want to fly back to DC. Complete pandemonium ensues. I’m at least feeling slightly relieved, as I have a confirmed seat to DC, where I can spend the evening with my friends in an apartment I know. You may think the saga ends here, but you’d be wrong. I board the plane and sit down in 6A. A man gets on and asks if I’ll switch with his wife in 2D so they can sit together. I agree. After all that I’ve been through the least I can do is help this couple out with the hope of improving my karma.

So now I’m in seat 2D listening to Kelly Clarkson’s “Never Again” on my iPod, reading about hiking the Appalachian trail in “Horizons” magazine thinking about the comfort of the night ahead; a friend is picking me up at the airport, we’re going to rock out at his apartment and I’ll even be able to borrow some clothes and deodorant (I may have forgotten to mention that while I didn’t make it to Argentina, my bag did. It was on the 7pm flight to DC and would then be shuffled through to Buenos Aires). They close the door and the plane starts backing up. We stop abruptly and start to pull back into the gate. The Captain comes on over the loudspeaker: “There was a small problem. We’ll be just second.” At this point I’m not really caring, just as long as I get to Washington. The door reopens and Tom appears. He grabs the intercom and announces to the whole plane, “Is there a Kyle Taylor on board?” I raise my hand, thinking there was a problem with my luggage or something. Tom approaches me. “We ‘duped’ that seat. Sorry, that’s airline lingo (he chuckles annoyingly). We ticketed you in a seat that was already assigned to someone. You’ve got to get off the plane.”

At this point I was at a total loss for words. Who do you know that has ever been asked to get off a plane after they had been ticketed an actual seat? What did I do in an earlier life to warrant this punishment? The madness didn’t stop here. Because it was a small regional jet I had to “gate-check” my carry-on only now, the door to get to the luggage was jammed. “Can you just get that bag when you get to DC tomorrow,” Tom asked. Tom was obviously suffering from some sort of temporary – or more likely long-term – mental deficiency to think that I was going to spend another night in Boston with NONE of my luggage, including my laptop and a rather expensive video camera. So I stood there on the airplane ramp for a good twenty minutes watching as four United employees struggled to find a way to get my bag from the tarmac back to me, and didn’t feel bad about it at all.

Then it was back to Edna at Customer Service to get my hotel vouchers and meal coupons, followed by a long walk to the free hotel shuttle, where I waited thirty minutes only to be told by an attendant that that shuttle had stalled out at the previous gate. No, seriously. I couldn’t make this stuff up. No taxis would take me because it’s only a two-minute ride so I had to walk the mile and a half to the Hilton. Luckily, the Hilton understood customer service. The lovely check-in woman apologized for all the drama that had ensued and had fresh strawberries sent up to my room, which was absolutely beautiful – a far cry from Paris’ jail cell. I told her I planned to sit in the hot tub. She informed that the hot tub was out of order because the health center was being remodeled, and back to reality I flew. I ordered room service (paid for by United), watched an episode of Desperate Housewives and drifted off in my fantastic pillow-top mattress-equipped bed, surrounded by half-a-dozen down pillows.

Because United was able to get my bag to Latin America, I had with me about a thousand “Dream It. Do It.” Buttons and a good 500 business cards, but no change of clothes or deodorant, which meant putting the same outfit back on this morning. I grabbed a quick OJ and banana (also billed to United) and hopped on the shuttle, which was now actually running.

You might think things got better at this point, but you’d be wrong. I was able to get my ticket but, true to form, I was “randomly” selected for additional security screening, leading to a full investigation of my carry-on bags which, if you remember, were full of buttons and business cards. “Why are you carring so many buttons sir,” the wide-set TSA employee asked me. Once again, what type of question is that and why does it matter? “Um, I’m giving them away around the world,” I replied. “Uh huh,” he uttered, suspiciously, before swiping them with a bomb residue swab.

Twenty minutes later and I am now sitting at my gate, waiting for my flight to DC. I’ll spend the day there before attempting to get to Argentina again. I can’t help but wonder, did this really happen? More importantly, what has customer service come to in America? How can an airline employee speak to a customer – another human being for that matter – the way I was spoken too? How do you lose an airplane, and how do you give someone a seat then make them get off the plane? I’m the one who missed four meetings, a media event and a rock concert in Argentina because of your incompetence, United Airlines. Get it together!

I’m starting to think I may be the crazy one or something…Anyway, here we go, ready to try the whole world tour thing one more time. I ask of you though, when is enough enough? When are we going to stand up to these airlines and to TSA and say “NO MORE!?”

11 May 2007

Movin' Pictures Are Always Fun! Feature Video From NYC & Mass All Done!

It's here! The full feature video from my time in New York & Massachusetts. This covers some - but not all - of the incredible people I met during both trips, as well as the gorgeous (and interesting) places. Enjoy!

The url, if it doesn't work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY9OMlF2y7Y

The United Way - Youth Venture event in Gardner, MA was a great time. Met some awesome Venturer's, relaxed in the hot tub and tried to steal the biodiesel bus! Sadly, I was found!

Leaving the country in 6 hours for Argentina, so doing all those last-minute bits and bobs that have to be taken care of, liking replacing the heart faceplate on my phone, printing paperwork and throwing clothes out of my bag to make room for buttons, YV t-shirts to give away and business cards. Hey, who needs clothes, right? I'm off. More as soon as I have a chance to get on a computer in Argentina! I won't be back in the US until August...crazy. 97 days abroad. Bring it on!

The tour's official website is www.genv.net. There's an interactive map there, the blog is there, videos are there, etc. etc. Just click the box of me on the left.

09 May 2007

Media Blowin' Up!

It's been an exciting week for us in the news. The World Tour & Youth Venture have gotten some incredible news coverage! Check these out:

1. A one-hour interview on NECN's "Wired," a talk show aired across New England to over 3 million viewers! This is an eight-minute clip of the hour. Click here, then open the clip titled: "People Who Make A Difference on NCEN."

2. A great blog article written about Youth Venture & Staples' "That Was Easy" Challenge. Click here.

3. Another great blog article about an Ashoka partner called Changemakers. Click here.

4. An article in an Argentinian paper about my visit as part of the World Tour. Click here.

In Gardner, MA at this amazing regional event hosted jointly by United Way (a big-time YV partner) and Youth Venture. Nearly 200 changemakers here! More about this event before I head out tomorrow, Friday.

Webisode #2 - From Boston To Gardner, MA & Almost Arrested Inbetween

Ok, here it is! Webisode #2 in the ultimate series of video blogging madness! Enjoy...

08 May 2007

“Sir, Is This Your Bag?” – Almost Causing An International Incident

As you can imagine my departure from Washington, DC was a touch overwhelming. After spending six weeks constantly surrounded by friends and family I am moving back into an extended period of independent “rugged” travel where every day will bring new faces and new places. While I love the adventure, that initial “break” from comfort and consistency can be a tad “BLAM,” if that makes any sense. I go from talking to fifteen different people, all of whom I’ve known for years, to talking to myself – and the crazy lady sitting next to me on the plane. Which brings me to my perfect opening sequence for this World Tour.

A friend was nice enough to rent a Zipcar and drive me all the way out to Dulles, blasting another friend’s “Dance Mix #2” the whole ride (she’s insanely proud of these mixes. She takes them everywhere, constantly asking wait staff, club owners and Target store employees to pump them through the building). After fighting curb traffic, he helped launch my backpack up over my shoulders, I flashed him the “Peace” sign (why, I’m not sure. It just felt appropriate) and I was off. I followed the signs to the cattle call line, more commonly known as “Economy Class.” There are 17 people ready and waiting for the first class, premiere class, business first class, business plus class, ‘I bought this ticket with laundered money class’ folks and about 9 people for the rest of us. I then de-backpacked and began pushing the monstrosity down the never-ending cue. A female attendant was walking up and down yapping about knowing your confirmation number and having it ready because “the people at the desk don’t have time to look it up.” I’m sorry, please don’t let any of us – who paid for these tickets – take up anyone’s time (this came after a brief lecture on how we all should have checked in online and printed our own boarding passes). It’s strange, I feel like consumers continue to pay more and more for everything these days and yet we’re doing more and more of the actual work ourselves, from printing our own boarding passes to scanning and bagging our own groceries!

Anyway, so I’m kicking this bag and searching through my itinerary to find this all-important confirmation number that just isn’t anywhere to be found. Not wanting to inconvenience the actual workers as the desk, I decide to ask the “friendly” line monitor where I might find the info. She sighs, rolls her eyes and tells me to “come over here,” grabbing my wrist. I follow her off to the side of the line. She then snatches the itinerary from my hands and says “let me do it.” Ok, cranky nine-year-old! She’s perusing and sighing and rolling her eyes and shaking her head and tapping her foot for a good two minutes until she finally looks at me and says “well this is the wrong form so I guess you’ll just have to talk to someone at the desk.” Heaven forbid the people at the desk be required to speak to a lowly Economy Class passenger!

Little did I know that while I was busy getting a talking to, an international crisis was emerging behind me. The woman had pulled me so abruptly from the line I had forgotten to grab my backpack, which was now leaning up against one of the line poles. There were two other attendants “surrounding” the bag while other passengers were backing away from the area. I dashed back over and grabbed my bag. One attendant said to me “is that your bag?” I replied coolly, “yes.” This is when things got interesting. He looked and me angrily, pointed his finger right at my face and let loose. “You can’t leave bags unattended. You’re going to be arrested. You just committed a federal offense. You scared a lot of people. The bomb squad is on the way. You’re in big trouble. You could have killed a whole lot of people.”

I was completely flabbergasted. First of all, how could I have killed a whole lot of people? I DIDN’T have a bomb in my bag. Second of all, is being absentminded and forgetting a bag somewhere for literally two minutes honestly a federal offense? Third of all, you called the bomb squad after two minutes? I mean, really? Not only did this man ream me out, his coworker – the woman who blamed me for not having my confirmation number in an email HER COMPANY sent to me – joined in. She was the one who said “come with me” and dragged me away! At this point other passengers started chiming in: “you could have killed us. What if a terrorist left the bag there? What if we all died?”

At this point I honestly thought I was on a hidden camera show or something. What rational human beings turn into absolute crazies in under two minutes? Knowing that my only witness was also against me (that rude ticket lady who was clearly a hall monitor in elementary school and picked on by the cool, pretty girls) I decided to just pick up my bag and walk to the check-in counter, uttering just a few short comments: “Oh, is this really a federal offense? Huh.” That was it. What else could I say? This whole “scared of everything” mentality is not rational, so you can’t really talk to someone about it in a reasonable manner. Do we check every car left in every parking lot to see if someone left a bag in it? Do we search through every bush in every public space to see if someone hid a bag there? Do we check every train car for unattended bags? When did it shift from the possibility that someone forgot something to “someone is a terrorist?” I forget things all the time! Bags, watches, sunglasses, my vitamins…if this is our “New World” then I’m in big trouble as an absentminded American.

Of course, the ridiculousness didn’t stop there. While checking my bags the male attendant from earlier came over to let me know he had called off the bomb squad and that I should consider myself “lucky.” People, I left a bag sitting on a pole TEN FEET from me for TWO MINUTES! Lucky? I’m human!

I was then asked if I wanted to pay $15 extra for 5 more inches of legroom. Pay for legroom? Honestly? What’s next, paying to use the bathroom? Then it was off to security, where there are now two lines – “Security Checkpoint” and “Premium Passengers.” I can’t even begin to tell you how many problems I have with this. It’s fine if airlines – private companies – want to give special treatment to people who pay more money, but not the federal government. Airport security – TSA – is a federal government agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security. It is a public entity and there is no reason why people who can afford more expensive plane tickets deserve special treatment or to be “more safe” while flying. This is what all those people should be outraged by! If you want evidence of how the rich and the poor are not treated equal just go to the airport! Listen America – my two-minutes-forgotten bag is far less of a threat to you than an American government that says certain wealthy citizens are “Premium.” Aren’t they really saying the rest of us AREN’T “premium?” I mean, I think I’m a pretty premium American…

03 May 2007

Launch Event Videos - Finally!

Here it is! The actual footage from the launch event at American University. Sorry for the delay, but we were (and by we I mean Dom, the video star in our office) trying to get a handle on the echo problem then discovered we could only upload files 10 minutes or shorter that were less than 100MB. Eek! That sent us (and by us I mean Dom) back to the drawing board. Needless to say, here it is - in two parts! The event went really well and the tremendous support of the Hill and Knowlton PR folks - who did some awesome media and message training at their DC office, American University Staff, and Youth Venture and Ashoka staff was greatly appreciated! Enjoy...

The link, in case you can't see the video

The link, in case you can't see the video

02 May 2007

Wait, This Is For Real...

So I was in a meeting this afternoon with the entire Argentina team which is currently in the DC office for planning, strategy, etc. and we were going over the Argentina leg of the tour, which just so happens to be the first stop on the tour.

It started out simple: "We'll pick you up from the airport then visit a team, then let you unload your stuff." No big thing. Then it got to "and we'll take the 16-hour bus into northern Argentina to meet with teams working to bridge the gap between young and old through theater. They live in a remote village along the Bolivian border. No internet there." Ok, kind-of getting intense. Then it finished with "and the most popular magazine (The Nation) will do an interview on our last day in Buenos Aires, followed by a press conference for major media." I can't believe this is real, and I can't believe it's starting next week. So nervous, anxious and excited all at once!

Have to do some essentials shopping soon, so I'll keep you updated on what I'll be "equipped" with...Wow...for real?

01 May 2007

My Dramatic Return To China(town)

Mouth watering. Head spinning. I can hardly contain myself. I’m on the subway en route to China(town) in New York City. The thought of crowded streets, outdoor fish markets, stretched noodles and gitchy “things” has me ready to pee my pants. As soon as we exit the station I’m enveloped in total chaos, and fully embrace it. My friends are struggling to keep up with me as I join the natural flow of thousands of bodies moving as one. They’re tripping, mis-stepping and doing their best to remain standing.

I ask around to find out where we can get an authentic-as-possible dinner. Mott Street is recommended and we’re off. I have this odd feeling inside that I can’t quite identify. People are offering us goods on the street and a “buyao” (don’t want) slips out. The saleswoman raises one eyebrow in interest. The girls find the most non-Chinese store and decide to stop in. The boys trek on in search of food. After scoping a solid six or seven menus I find a place that serves the all-powerful celery and lily buds dish. Before committing I decide to ask a man on the street where we might get some la mien. I ask in Mandarin. He stares at me blankly. I ask again. More blank stares. That feeling is still churning inside. Then I ask in English. He responds (in English) by telling me there isn’t really anywhere close by.

We’re now in the restaurant and ready to order. I ask the waitress if she speaks Chinese (in Chinese). She nods. I begin to order (in Chinese). She stares at me blankly. I ask her again if she speaks Chinese (in Chinese). She nods. I begin to order once again (in Chinese). Nothing. I eventually give up and order in English, supporting my requests by pointing to the items in the menu. The feeling inside is getting stronger. We eat some delicious (and fairly authentic) dumplings, sweet and sour chicken and brocolli with garlic, pay the bill (which is literally ten times greater than the check would have been in China) and hit the streets.

I still can’t quite identify this strangeness. Then, suddenly, without warning, a man leans back, hawks up some flem and launches a loogie through the air and into the street. It comes to me! I feel at home!!! It’s like I’m back in my element – my very “China” element. It’s amazing how content, calm and relaxed I felt; maybe even more at ease than I have been since returning to the US. It’s like my own world is almost more “foreign” to me than my world in China. Counting down until I “go international” again in two weeks. Until then, just follow the scent of Peking Duck if you want to find me.