Sunday, April 30, 2006

My Turn

Jamie is on babywatching duty, so now it's my turn. While I agree with much of Jamie's review of The Constant Gardener, I'm not dismissing it as complete Hollywood garb. What I liked about it, apart from the interesting sequencing of events, was the honest glimpse it gave of African life - the impoverished towns, the terror of village raids by armed men on horseback, the comparatively decadent lifestyle of westerner diplomats, and the feeling of utter helplessness in the face of extreme poverty and corruption. I also liked the cinematography - in the beginning the camera did nearly all the work telling the story, allowing the audience to form their own conclusions, but later the film felt the need to make sure the audience had arrived at the "correct" conclusions by having the characters verbalize these directly. That is really my only complaint about the film.

I'm also enjoying Aysha's growing ability to communicate. Yesterday I taught her the froggie sign (we are working on baby sign language). When she picked up a leather box Ryan had given me from Jamaica that had a frog on the top, I reached for a couple other frogs we had in the apartment (a wooden fridge magnet, and a plastic toy frog from a cereal box). Instinctively I knew that in that moment, if I found these other frogs and make the frog sign, (tongue darting in and out), that Aysha would learn the sign. And she did! It was so exciting! Almost everyday she learns something new.

Today is free museum day. The last Sunday of each month there is no charge to visit any museum in town. Hence, today we are going to check out the Navel Museum. It's an excuse to get out of the apartment early in the morning and go for a walk in the old town. Yesterday I joined another teacher at 7:30 am for a walk all around Bocagrande and Castillogrande. It took us between two and a half and three hours. I don't usually walk around Castillogrande, so I was pleasantly surprised to see how beautiful and quiet the beaches were early on a Saturday morning. It's nice to know this city still holds a few surprises. I'll have to take Jamie for a walk there one morning!

Alright, the museum...

Sunday Morning

Aysha went to be early last night, thanks to not having an afternoon nap, and we watched "The Constant Gardener" with Sarah, a high school English teachers who is getting ready to leave.

I enjoyed the movie. It reminded me of "Memento" in that the way it was told was the movie's hook. I didn't find "The Constant Gardener" as appealing though. "Memento" is about a man with no long term memory. The movies begins with the last scene and then presents the rest of the scenes in reverse order back to the beginning. Like the main character, you are forced to try to understand the characters and circumstances without knowing how you got there. Each scene provides more insight on the scenes you've already watched and forces you to readjust your idea of what has happened and what each character is after. "The Constant Gardener" begins in the middle of the action, when the main character's wife is killed. Then you go back to the beginning to learn the circumstances around the death and are made to feel the suspicions and confusion of the husband. The second half of the movie provides the scraps of information that let you slowly discard false assumptions and follow the main character's discoveries about who his wife was and why she met her end. "The Constant Gardener"'s story is adapted from a John LeCarre novel and is typical of a Hollywood movie; a passionate activist faces off against a huge corporation motivated by greed that is up to no good. The movie has a good cast who give strong performances. It's worth a watch, but is nothing magnificent.

Aysha is copying more and more of wthat she sees. She started making the sign for frog yesterday and even tries to make the words. Most of her words are not distinct yet. The Spanish word for frog is "rana", which comes out as "nana", which is her word for banana. Or "vaca" (Spanish for cow) sounds almost the same a "papa" most of the time. She is letting us know more and more what she wants - she points, nods and shakes her head for yes and no, and uses a few signs and words too. When we've figured out that she wants something to eat or drink, she stands watching us get it ready and all the while make an unusual combination of laughing and crying that comes out in little bursts that make her sound like a little maniac. There is no doubt that she has moved into the communicative phase.

Karla is in the blogging on-deck area. She has been watching Aysha while I wrote this with the deal that she and I will change roles. Aysha... where are you?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Fun with Aysha

Watch the video
Aysha plays in Cartagena, accompanied by "Good Vibrations" courtesy of The Beach Boys. I used Windows Movie Maker instead of the software that came with the camera because it let me use a few more effects.

Aysha is using more and more langauge everyday now. She is starting to copy sounds that we make. She has copied a few animal sounds from her books for a while now. She roars and makes the sound of an elephant trumpeting (sort of). This weekend, she started saying "uh-oh" when something fell. She started saying "bye-bye" (instead of just "bye") and "more". She says mom and papa quite a bit too.

Enjoy the video.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My Two Bits

Jamie did a great job posting to the web so quickly after our trip, but I thought I would add my two bits. Some of the Aysha photos posted were ones I took, even though Jamie posted them to his flickr account. I told him I was annoyed that many members of the family think that he is the photographer, when picture taking is my hobby as well! I have to admit that these days I end up doing more childcare duty, and Jamie more of the picture taking.

It has been hard getting back to work. The holiday was great - better than I had expected. Aysha really enjoyed the stimulation of being in a different place and around other people. I think she also liked having both her parents with her the entire week without either of them distracted (not giving her the attention she would like) due to school work. I've looking forward to being that relaxed during the summer.

We are now in the home stretch of school - only seven teaching weeks left. I know the time will slip by more quickly than I want it to, as I still have a lot that I want to teach and do with my classes. I'm already thinking that I'm going to miss this group of kids. They are really a strong group academically and in terms of creativity, which makes project work a lot more fun. Right now they are working on scripts for a talk show, where each of the members in a group of six are leaders of the past (people who lead Latin America toward independence). They just finished a project where they made children's books on the Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas, which they are going to present to a grade two class later this week. The books were beautifully done. In English we just concluded a novel study, and so I am now focusing this week and next on how to organize a short essay. And there are too many things that I would like to teach that I simply won't have time for.

Well, that's my two bits. My goal is to add my voice a little more often to this blog.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Working links to pictures

Ok, I just fixed the links to all the picutres so now by clicking on them you can see larger versions. Karla went to show off the blog to people at school today, and it didn't work. Happy viewing

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Aysha at the Park - Composite

I had a little fun with Photoshop and made this out of a series of five pictures of Aysha. Not bad, huh?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Green Hills of Bogota

We left early Saturday morning on a mostly empty Avianca flight from Cartagena to Bogota. As we taxied out to the runway, Aysha had made a mess and I was sent to ask for a napkin. The attendant replied, “Not on national flights, only international.” I guess that’s how they manage to fly with planes that are mostly empty. We touched down in the cool Colombian capital an hour later. A quick call to our hotel produced a promise of a ride in 30 minutes. Sixty minutes later, the car arrived, delayed by traffic. We did manage to fit four adult, two kids, the driver and all our luggage, including a stroller and baby backpack into the car, which amazed me every time we did it.

We rode down a big divided highway towards the hotel. In between lanes there was a wide green space with a bike path down the centre. Bogota is very different from Cartagena. Our little city is hot and full of stone and cement buildings crowded around the ocean front. We have a sidewalk system that seems to be voluntary; each building installs its own piece of sidewalk so that it is rare that you see a stretch of sidewalk that continues at the same height, width or distance from traffic for more than one or two lots. Bogota has consistent, smooth(ish) sidewalks that are even accompanied by bike paths along major roads.

The Hotel Marbore was small and very friendly. We checked into our rooms and caught a taxi downtown. We stopped for a vegetarian lunch. Bogota, the big capital, manages to be cheaper than “tourist-friendly” Cartagena. Our first visit was the Gold Museum, which was full of funerary decorations: gold masks, bracelets, belts and other decorations, and gold statues that the indigenous peoples dropped into lakes as thanks to the Gods for their successes.

Next we walked along busy city streets down to the old city. It looked a lot like Cartagena’s old town, except in Cartagena the old town is surrounded by fortified walls and in Bogota it is surrounded by busy city streets and impressive, more recent public buildings.

The Alcantaras in Bogota
Here we are stopping for a rest in Bogota on the main sqare.

Bogota man

Just a guy who walked by

We found the Botero museum which features the works of Colombia’s most distinctive artist. He paints and sculpts fat things – people, animals, objects. By this time the kids were getting tired of the museum visits. Karla and I sped through the museum while Tony and Diana had to work harder to keep two year old Julian busy. Aysha was restless in her stroller if we stopped, but still too small to be really intolerant of the museum. The highlight of the museum was a Chagall, who is still my favorite. We returned to the hotel and spent the night resting up for the next day’s trip.

Villa de Leyva morning
Here's a shot from the quiet morning in Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva is two bus rides away from Bogota over twisty mountainous road. We pulled into town just as it started raining. The town of 6000 has maintained their original cobblestone roads. The roads are made of uncut stones that may once have been mortared into a fairly smooth surface, but now are lacking any sort of joining substance leaving a surface that makes pushing a carriage nearly impossible and carrying a child or suitcase precarious. We were all pretty wet by the time we made it four blocks to the hotel.
That afternoon we wandered around to check out the quaint little streets full of restaurants and shops. Villa de Leyva gets a lot of weekend visitors from the capital and has a thriving artistic community. It didn’t suffer from “Cartagena Syndrome” – shops that all sell the same cheap looking stuff that you don’t really want to buy anyway.

Green countryside
In Villa de Leyva

Monkey on my Back

Monday we walked back to the bus station to find a taxi to take us around to see the sights. The Lonely Planet said that the ride should cost $20, but when we talked to the taxi driver, he offered to do it for less. After a few minutes, when I had asked about the price in every way I could, I had to conclude that it wasn't a trick and he was actually asking for less than we had expected. Our first stop was El Fossil, a nearly complete large aquatic dinosaur. The land around Villa de Leyva was a lakebed and is covered with fossils that are often incorporated into the stone buildings. Next we stopped at El Inferntio (the small hell), that was a religious site and calendar for the indigenous people. It earned its name from the Spaniards who misinterpreted the phallic stones that cover the site. We made out way from there to Ecce Homo, a monastery built with fossils. It was a beautiful site. We ended our trip with a visit to the local winery for a sample of their products.

El Infernito

By the Well

Here we are in Ecce Homo

Julian and Aysha

The next day, we planned to take a taxi to Raquira, a nearby town famous for its pottery. We started the day at the French bakery, but before we had finished our quiche and coffee, we had met Carlos, a friendly Colombian, and Sylvia, his 18 month old daughter.

Julian, Aysha and Sylvia - It's hard to get a shot of three young kids all looking the same way at the same time!

He invited us up to meet his wife, Monique, and parents-in-law just outside of town. His parents-in-law had built a house and organic garden on the side of a previously barren hillside. Their beautiful house was in a tiny jungle populated by parrots and chickens, and a cat and dog. It reminded me a bit of my sister and Dave's place outside of Nelson. After a refreshing morning in the hills, we headed back to town for lunch. That afternoon, we went to see Carlos’s parents who had a weekend house a little further outside of town. We spent the afternoon with the proud grandparents. They had build a little park, playhouse (with running water and electricity), lake with boat, and basketball court in expectation of more grandchildren to follow their two granddaughters.

Villa de Leyva Locals
Here is a group of traditionally dressed people waiting for a bus at a town outside of Villa de Leyva

The next day we went to Raquira with Luis, Carlos’s father. He picked us up in a huge van (with room for at least 10 grandchildren in the back). We all picked up a few things in Raquira, a village that for two blocks becomes a shopping mall. On the way home, we drove through a downpour.

Thursday we rose, grabbed breakfast at the Posada de Los Angeles, the little hotel we wished we had stayed at, and returned to Bogota, which almost exhausted us. All along the way, the road was littered with rockfall, the result of the previous day's rain. We checked back into our hotel and then went for lunch in a huge, trying-too-hard-to-be-chic restaurant that left us entertaining kids for 40 minutes while waiting our food. The lunch finished exhausting us. We spent the evening in our hotel watching movies on TV.

Church on the Hill in the Clouds

Friday was Good Friday and we set out to see Montserrate, a church on one of the mountain tops around Bogota. When we arrived, we were behind about a million people waiting for a ride up on the gondola. We decided not to wait for a ride up, but entertained ourselves other ways.

Aysha on an Alpaca
How could we let an opportunity like this go by?

We gave up and found a park on the map to take the kids to. One of the best things about Bogota was the abundance of parks - one every few blocks, and they were full of slides and swings for the wee ones. Even amid blocks of tall apartments, there were green spaces.

Aysha on a Swing

She likes the park

At the first park there were a dozen or so parents and kids around speaking different languages. They apologized to us for the weather, but we were grateful to be cool. When it stated raining we had a bite to eat and took the kids to a mall that had a play area. We were lucky that the streets of Bogota were quiet and nearly empty due to the holiday. It made the centre of town much quieter and more peaceful than if everyone had been there hurrying around in cars and buses.

Aysha at Play

That evening we caught an evening flight home. When we stepped off the plane, Cartagena didn't feel as hot as I'd remembered it.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Fuel for the Fire

It's been a week, and I have been checking to see who's been around. I set up a counter on the website that not only tells me how many and when people visit the blog, it also reports your web provider and location. I can see when you log in from Telus in Calgary, or Atco in Edmonton, or from Atlanta, or Spain or Kuwait. Someone keeps checking the blog from the Medicine Hat Police web provider, and I can't figure out who it might be.

Last weekend, we watched Crash, the winner of the best picture this year. It was very different from the rest of the nominees. It was much more exciting to watch - its character made you like, hate, or feel sorry for them immediately. No ambiguity here. And then each character works themselves into a situation that seems to test the trait that made them evoke such strong feelings in me. By the end, I felt like I had been manipulated - like a ghost story or joke sets up an expectation and then surprises you with its punchline. It wouldn't have been my choice for best picture.

We haven't taken many photos lately. I think it is part of the after visitor shadow. I took the camera out on Sunday for an afternoon walk, but only took two shots. Hopefully by the weekend, when we get to Bogota, I'll be back in the mood to take some pictures.

Until we meet again.