Monday, August 21, 2017


I want to pinch myself. Scored a glamping tent overlooking the Cocora Valley, wow. For $28 a night! Not too shabby! Hearing the birds cackling and a mist in the mountains with the palms below. Definitely a change in climate-very thankful I brought the smart wool and a jacket! This is just unreal. If this isn't a meditation corner, I'm really not sure what is. And tomorrow I'm splurging and getting a massage after hiking. It's a shame there are clouds because I would have a perfect sunset view. But this ecohostel is incredible!!

Siloe was a far more complex project than I realized. The foundation funds various projects including sports and I also had a wonderful interview with one of the coordinators of the soccer for pecae program. Too bad they didn't have participants over 18 as that would have been a very interesting comparison. The big difference I noticed was youth in that program only participate for 2 years maximum whereas music the average was 5 years and some as many as nine years. I haven't tallied the results yet to say how they would compare to La Red in terms of responses, but they have social workers on staff who teach a class called "psicosocial" where they pick a theme and play games to address it. THis year's theme is Gender reconcilation-no shallow stuff here! I have to read all the documents sent about this to elaborate but each youth in the orchestra program has this class once/week and the orchestra program is 5x/week, each day with individual practice, sectional, and ensemble. Choir is only for the youngest singers with music literacy, but their music literacy class was also very singing-based. They were working on Pirates of the Caribbean and Mozart, so not as much Colombian music as La Red. HOwever, all of their sectional teachers they called monitores and were volunteer former students now in the chamber orchestra and attending the conservatory.

The tambores de siloe program was by far the highlight. These kids were a maximum of 11 (I didn't get to see the older kids because it was dark and not safe to leave at night) as well as a month and a half strike that occurred among teachers, making students have significantly more work to complete. But even though the kids I saw were younger, did not mean I was not impressed (see videos on Facebook). It seemed they learned all the songs by ear and 80% were written by the teacher who himself was self-taught. There were three levels. You started with the equivalent of a bass drum, except it was made out of half a plastic trash can; then you moved to the pvc pipe vibraphone which you hit with a foam rectangle, and lastly you progressed to the marimba, whose keys were wood, but amplified by plastic bottles placed over a bucket! Talk about innovation. These kids did not tire from practicing and entertained themselves when the teacher was rehearsing with another group. The tambores group didn't seem to receive the same intensity (only 2x/week) or comprehensiveness (no psicosocial or music literacy class) as the orchestra, which saddened me, particularly because most of the music was representing the Pacific and was far more "folk" than traditional classical music.

I think what amazed me was how remote/"dangerous" these sites were, though I only saw children playing on the park outside and people running around in flip flops or moving a wheelbarrow or a family of 4 on a moto-I was only in there in daylight though. Taxis did not go there so I had to arrive by moto raton (which literally translates as motor rat, but is what they call motor taxes, piki piki for those who know Swahili). I don't think cars could go where we went even if they weren't afraid. We went over broken roads, people's front ledges (can hardly call them porches), super narrow, and super steep. And to know that music was happening inside these places 2x/week that took places in libraries, and that there were libraries even in the most difficult to reach, "dangerous" neighborhoods. There were also gondolas in these neighborhoods, but the parts of the neighborhood I went to were not served by them. Yesterday, Karen, the 19 year old teacher, left the site on foot, so I had no choice but to be accompanied by her down the mountain (you only go with moto ratons you know and obviously I didn't know any). Walking down in sandals as a gringa was pretty...interesting in that many were shocked I was there, but at the same time, it was completely uneventful. Salsa music was playing from people's houses, kids were playing outside, people were talking or laboriously working. Nothing happened (of course I was accompanied by a local), but it's so interesting how these neighborhoods where people don't dare go get perceived. I spent probably more time in Siloe than Cali, or at least as much, since that's where all the sites I visited were. Kids were kids (more on this in the next blog post), people continued to welcome me, and once again, carrying an instrument was a sign of peace, so these teachers were like the local celebrity and the kids could pass the invisible borders without problem.

These invisible borders are quite prevalent in Colombia and the huge source of most danger in the neighborhoods. But of course because they are invisible I didn't see them. Borders are such an interesting concept since they're arbitrary lines to begin with, visible or not. Yet the power of who owns that land is decides everything. Take the US as one example, (especially in this era!). It was great to see such an emphasis on Pacific music and learn more about the non-mestizo populations of Colombia. I will definitely return to Cali. It's certainly a city, but a city with so much heart. That's really the only way I can explain it. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Adventure of Pueblito

Wow, what an adventurous weekend. People, both Colombians and more generally, continue to treat me well. Had a crazy taxi driver going 60 kph on side roads that refused to bring me two more blocks to my hostel and I will NEVER fly Vivacolombia again, but all is well.

The past 24 hours have been quite adventurous! I got to Santa Marta late Friday after a long day of traveling from Guatape via bus, taxi, plane, taxi. Masaya was a really cool hostel! Had a pool, a rooftop bar/kitchen/pool/dance floor, and I finally danced with a professor from Andorra. He gave me some really helpful travel hints, one of which I'll share here since it's more general-MapsMe is an offline maps application for your phone. Download it, you'll thank me later!!
I then met up with a CS who let me keep my stuff at his cousin's house while I was in Tayrona and showed me around the local market. I'm so happy I brought the food I did-a bullo of maize (think tamale minus the stuffing), a bit of queso costeno, another huge avocado, and some fruit. I was advised to get to Tayrona early and by the time we met up with his counsin and went to the market it was pushing 9:30. Nevertheless, they were very gracious having me try this aloe juice and that corn masa, and saw me off. THe only stop on the bus was the bench in front by the driver. While I was on display, Tayrona is really touristy so it wasn't that big a deal. I got off the bus quickly, the advantage to being in the front, and rushed to stand in line, only to find out 2 things 1) I could have made a pre-reservation and 2) you took a ticket number. I waited for close to an hour and a half and finally entered the park for $2 less than my private room in Medellin!

I began hiking (and sweating almost immediately) in the jungle-wooden bridges, humidity, and lizards galore. Iguanas didn't seem afraid at all! I got quite close to multiple! I met two Paraguayans, Andres and Diego, who were on vacation and going to Florida after to do a work-study program. We ended up conversing the whole way and spending the rest of the time together. One studied opera (even in Paraguay!) and one studied business. THey both spoke English, but by default we spoke Spanish. Honestly it's harder for me to think in English than Spanish at this point. We stopped for a beach picnic after some lookout pictures. It's so rare because the path leads to a beach right out of the jungle! The jungle reminded me a lot of Belize, both in climate and appearance, and the beach was beautiful with rocks and the jungle backdrop. There was one beach called La PIscina (the pool) where one could swim, but we still had 40 mins to reach our destination so we decided to continue on-I was determined to get one of the hammocks! After crossing streams, mud,sand, and jungle, we arrived at Cabo de San Juan and wow was it gorgeous. Many others seemed to think so as well, but it was worth it regardless. It was interesting because it was a park, but it also had a restaurant, outdoor bathrooms, and lockers. I got lucky traveling solo and scored one of the coveted mirador hamacas-hammock that looked out onto the ocean! It was beautiful and frankly, after that hike and the past two weeks of research, I deserved it! I strew clothes on my hammock so others wouldn't sit in it and went swimming. Boy did the water feel incredible! DIego and Andres camped and I met up with them riding the waves like I used to in New Jersey with my cousins on boogie boards.

 And then it began to drizzle, which turned into pouring rain. We took shelter under the restaurant roof and for the first time I didn't have my book and wanted it (didn't think it'd be worth the weight). Regardless we had a nice chat and waited for the rain to cease. An ice cream vendor continued to say he was going and this was our last chance to get ice cream...for an hour. Pretty amusing. The horses were all saddled up (they might have even slept like that overnight :() and I splurged on a juice of course twice the price as normal. Thank god I brought the extra 50,000 I did because I spent every penny! The credit card reader wasn't working with the weather so after an outdoor shower (with very low walls) we split a fish plate three ways. Coconut rice might just be my new favorite thing. We definitely demolished it, but somehow the one plate fed all three of us! I bought a lock for the lockers that I ended up selling to them at their request (and a way for me to get more cash! If you go to Tayrona, bring A LOT of pesos). They then accompanied me to the mirador where my hammock was located and we had an amazing view of the stars. No meteor showers here (It was perseids), but still beautiful. My first hammock camping was great-no bugs (though I took local precautions-both a pill that makes your sweat a repellent, and a soap that you don't wash off), and I actually woke up slightly chilly and thankful I had brought the scarf and jacket I did (hard to imagine being cold earlier in the day!). Because it was rainy, no sunrise, but the rain shortly subsided and Andres, Diego, and I had a breakfast picnic on the beach of a stuffed pepper with avocado and tuna, and some fruit. Little random, but it sufficed (I had no more money for even the cheapest thing on the menu because it was 3x as expensive as breakfast usually is!).

I then set off for Pueblito, which translates as little town. I knew it was up a mountain, but was in NO way prepared for what lay ahead. THere was a sign that said "if you value your shoes more than the hike, it's not worth it" but nothing about the difficulty of the hike or the terrain that lay ahead. Within 10 minutes, I couldnt' figure out where the path continued, and after wandering around for a bit, met two German ladies, and very thankful I did. Turns out we had to crawl through a cave (the arrow on the sign said to go that way, but I didn't realize it meant THROUGH the cave!). And that was just the beginning. Over the course of the next hour, we hoisted ourselves up rocks, praying we wouldn't slip, used each other for hands and German-English-Spanished our way through the jungle. We encountered a guy from Barcelona and he made me feel much safer. He arrived jumping from rock to rock as two French guys that passed us did. This guy was AGILE! He dropped his water bottle and then sunglasses and both times just leaped between the two like no big deal. Meanwhile I did not take the leap of faith and inched my way through a 3 foot tall rock (that might even be generous) and then climbed up. I haven't been that dirty in a very long time-especially that quickly. We were sweating uncontrollably with dirt sticking to us and miraculously no bugs. Eventually, we had a beautiful view of the canopy (yes we hiked from the ocean to the canopy of the forest!) and came across a stream. Ana, one of the german girls, laid down in the water. I certainly washed myself and putting my feet in felt SO good. Unfortutunately, getting the Keanes wet wasnt the best idea and resulted in blisters :( At that point we were 90% there! I now know why this is the less touristy route, but was thankful I didn't have to climb down (we were exiting the park). At that stream, I met a gaggle of travelers from NZ and one from South Africa. They said these types of hikes were totally normal in NZ (!!) and I was sure I would lose them in the dust. But somehow I kept up with them and the Germans continued on and we had a lovely hike out, Two couples who were traveling for a year and a guy who was traveling by bike all over South America!

We arrived at Pueblito, which was the equivalent of four huts where some indigenous people lived and 250 terraces they used for storage. Definitely about the journey, than the destination! I bought a US-priced banana and a bag of water (I had been completely out!) and we carried on. After we had finally stopped climbing up (I wish I had measured the vertical on my phone, but it was 5 miles of distance), we had a lovely jungle picnic-stopping for crackers and peanut butter and Colombian Chips ahoy in the middle of the jungle-I don't think peanut butter has ever tasted that good (esp when it's such a rare commodity here!)! We even tried a combo of peanut butter, tomato, and onion, which actually tasted pretty good. They were so gracious to share with me. Two were even vegan. They definitely made me reminisce about Chile and we exchanged travel stories. It's times like these when I"m so thankful to be traveling solo, because these things just don't happen when you can depend on another person.
We had a beautiful view of the forest, with some unidentifiable red flowers, and began the descent at last. As we did, a symphony of cicadas accompanied us-they sounded like sirens!

40 mins. later we arrived in the small town of Calabazo where one of the travelers loaned me his flip flops (my blisters were really bad at that point). That hike made me thankful I wasn't doing the Lost City hike-I had my share of nature this weekend! We refreshed ourselves with a cold Lulo juice and after being turned down by several buses, rode back in style on an A/c wifi bus to Santa Marta-or so we thought. Turns out it didn't go all the way to the town. So we transferred to a city bus and I took it until my CS host told me to get off at the fire station, tracking my location on my phone (what did we do pre-cell phones!) I walked barefoot two blocks to his house (barefoot seems to be a theme this summer!), my feet minimal contact with the hot ground. My poor left foot, this trip! First run over by a car (don't worry I'm fine, just a bruise and slightly swollen now, but I"m not even taking Ibuprofen) and then blisters.

He graciously offered me a shower and water, and then accompanied me to the ATM and to retrieve my wheat bread from the hostel fridge. Meanwhile, it began to downpour. And the streets in Santa Marta flood, so then I was barefoot because we had to cross the road with water up to our ankles! We made it back and he offered me some crackers with queso costeno and MUSHROOMS! I haven't had mushrooms since being here so I was overjoyed. We then waded our way to the bus, which was incredibly delayed in the rain. In the rush, I left the bread (after all that!). It eventually arrived, but I was super worried about making my flight (I had only an hour at that point) and my host advised I get off and take a taxi. After getting off and unsuccessfully waving down a taxi, a man on his way back to Cartagena gave me a lift to the airport-and charged me nothing.

 People here are incredible. I had to pay for checked luggage (only flying Avianca from now on!), but I didn't care. It's been an incredible 48 hours and while people say you need 4-5 days to see Santa Marta, two days was definitely worth the trip! I def. plan to return and see Minca and Palomino. I was proud of myself for accepting it was better to skip it, but I would've had an hour max. Off to Cali now for program 2 of my research, an all-percussion program and some reparation programs. Not nearly as intensive as La Red, so I'll have time to salsa :):):)

Well we're landing. Adventures never cease, but that's the way I like it. Just amazing to think this morning I was meditating in a hammock overlooking the ocean and then ended up having a grueling, but incredible hike. The agile Spaniard even said he was exhausted so that made me feel better :) He also described it as a personal reto, challenge/goal. That it was and is part of the reason I love hiking! There were definitely various points where I proved to myself I could do something that looked harder than it was and continued mind over matter despite the physical challenge, heat, and exhaustion. I felt so good when I completed a tough section! And you can bet I got an ice cream, mora with arequipe (caramel) to celebrate in Santa Marta! 



A city with intention
The people so helpful and friendly
Bustling with activity
Developed and yet still full of arts and culture
Library parks and fitness complexes present
Environmentally aware
Exitos saving me from the dearth of greens
And yet avocados the size of sweet potatoes.
An authentic social evolution
From the murder capital of the world
To a cultural centre.
Mountains framing her heart
Bridges and metro connecting the city.
Music and flowers abound.
This is Medellin.
The hilltops still fighting combos
as combo takes a new meaning among the youth playing music in the city.
Escuelas de Musica, the true centers of the neighborhood.
The combos defending them, protecting them.
The smell of carne roasting on the camioneta
arepas served with all
The only bland thing in the city.
Kids so curious who I was and where I was from.
Lomas abound, like a roller coaster, but with the steeper incline
Comes a steeper violence. Complejo as they say.
People treating me only like family.
and bringing my emotions to the forefront.
Tears have broken free
Cheeks have been kissed
Minds have been sought
And most of all, hearts have been connected.
Our paths will cross again.
This I am sure.

No cars on the beaches.
Only pure nature.
A hiatus from surveys, compiling data.
Only me and the trees.
That is this weekend!

I want to write more because it's been so long. Stage 1 is complete, and the most thorough. Now it's mostly observation with a few surveys and interviews spattered in there. Part of me wanted to stay in Medellin the whole time. I don't think it's possible for me to become more impressed, but I am trying to keep an open mind and see other models-less intensive, for sure. Readjusting takes so much energy, but Couchsurfing helps with that. And I'm excited to meet Liliana, Natalia's aunt and see ATK in BOG. What a small world. This is the part of the trip where I get to do more artsy things. Talleres, who knows, but the majority of the data has been collected. Now it's just me and salsa dancing. Me and conocering. Me and some heat-for sure. I know it's gonna fly by as this second week certainly did. But I can believe it's been two weeks, and I still have three more! Here I come Tayrona. And I'm more or less in a routine of waking up at 8 am, despite bedtime of 1 am. I'm so excited to eat fish on the beach with coconut rice and go to bed early tonight. These two days I get to do what I want, on my timetable. And I Haven't talked to anyone back home, aside from text messages. They've actually been pretty minimal.

Wed Best Day Yet/La Red Wrap-Up

I know, I'm long overdue for a post. The past two weeks have enough thoughts for a post a day, but I think for now it will be these two.

Wednesday day was THE BEST! I think it's better explained through the photos I have on Facebook, but seeing the escalators outside in the previously most dangerous neighborhood in Medellin which was the murder capital of the world now decorated with beautiful murals was absolutely incredible! I also got to eat my first real salad and wheat bread with a friend of a friend from Luther who has been one of the most helpful, kindest persons towards me, doing things only close friends/family would do back home. It seems there is no such thing as a stranger here-paisa, as locals are called here, will follow you when you're going the wrong way after you ask for directions, they'll find someone who is going that way to accompany you, they'll pay the difference when you don't have change, nothing but kind, helpful, hospitable people (though I've been warned this isn't the case in Bogota). Not to mention Wed. was topped with biking in the middle of a highway and all over the city for 18k (a little over 11 miles) with HUNDREDS of other bikers and to think they do this on a weekly basis! Oksy to return to the electric stairs as they're called here.

To think that this is where guns sounded, people were forced to join guerrilla groups, and people had to climb 385 steps and then go down a steep hill to get to any type of manner of city center, is dumbfounding!!! I went up the escalators saw the beautiful mist kissing the tops of the mountains and overlooking the entire city of Medellin. The only sounds I Heard were of kids playing and people talking. The only things I saw were beautiful murals, a kid playing with a recycling bin, and lots of plants. I was even thanked for visiting. The locals didn't even know about this and thought it was still a very unsafe place. I wish we as a northern hemisphere would accept we don't know everything (not even close!) and would bumble ourselves to look at our "less developed" counterparts in South America. Those stairs, the metro, the gondolas, a free bike-loan system (like NiceRide), and more than weekly road closures for bikes only, and the incredible free, fitness complexes in multiple neighborhoods throughout Medellin, not to mention La Red itself, available to any youth in the city, in all 27 neighborhoods!, are just some of the lessons we can learn. I saw true access, adaptation, and more than anything, an increidbly investment in arts and culture, both the physical capital and the art itself. La Red de musica is only one of the many programs, they also have dance, acting, visual arts, ceramics, and of course this doesn't include sports programs. Music is certainly the most intensive, but Medellin is a true model for other cities to follow.

And the stats match the investment: <5 teen pregnancies (used to be an epidemic), 1/350 students joined a combo or gang in a neighborhood notorious for them, not to mention how articulate EVERY student that I interviewed was. I'm still tabulating surveys, but it is sufficient to say according to the ARC tool I used, these kids are pretty dang self-determined. I think a lot of it comes from the focus and need/opportunity to practice. In addition to ensemble rehearsals here, which only happen weekly, so they have to practice. Instruments are kept at the sede and they can come between 8-11 and 2-6 to practice. I'll write more on the exact structure of La Red later, but structured time is only 3-6 hours/week maximum. THat means the rest of the time is them practicing, planning, conversing, for themselves. And youth are choosing this program from many other options. So why aren't we looking to Medellin as a model? Because they're not spending their money on marketing, on international tours, on being missionaries elsewhere-they're investing in their community, every single dollar.

Of course, nothing is a panacea, and being 100% funded by government funds has its challenges-particularly guaranteed work (you are lucky to have a 9 month contract), budget cuts (the city accord says they have to guarantee funding for the program, but doesn't say how much), and like any government, the politics that go with this. They let go of an amazing woman who was the director the past three years because a new mayor took hold and they've switched locations of many of the veteran directors of each sede, one may suggest, to gain control. I'll stay neutral, and will say the new director is wonderful and very focused on adding more cultural ensembles-an African ensemble is due to begin in October, and I had the pleasure of watching a Colombian ensemble, made up of entirely Colombian instruments, and a "contemporary ensemble" that gave an amazing concert, all music from Latin America. I didn't have the pleasure of seeing the tango orchestra (I chose to go to the parent choir instead), but I know it exists. Some of the directors said youth chose 70% of music and when I walked into any rehearsal, I didn't hear the traditional, Western European classics-they do 1 or 2, so the youth know them, but I heard directors arranging Grease, students asking to play soundtracks like Titanic, lots of Colombian rhythms, learning about the music of their own country!

A director said something yesterday that has really stuck with me-Latin America used to only see these instruments on television. THere was an incredible colonization and if you had the grand privilege of these instruments being available it was guaranteed you would play "their' music-the classical standards we're all accustomed to. But La Red offers something different-in addition to a familial environment where you learn about yourself and others, La Red offers a chance to practice one of these "televisoin instruments" in your own neighborhood-and to play music that is from here. That doesn't happen elsewhere! Of course I'm paraphrasing, but he's right, and now I understand why so many Sistema programs are instrumental. Sadly, the voice isn't seen as a hot commodity because it's something we already have, (I won't make the counterargument of that being why it is the most powerful and accessible here!), but now I understand at least, to some degree, why these youth are so determined, disciplined, and tenacious!

I also found it interesting that the only time the students I interviewed had worked was during holiday. Without tabulating exactly at least 75% of interviewees were studying music and 100% were studying something with about 95% of them in formal univeristy. This is noting that there were probably students working who couldn't attend the site when I was there, but the majority of students of this age group (18-22) were studying. Definitely surprising. Because even 10 years ago, in some of these neighborhoods it would be unthinkable that their child was going to college, let alone to study music. One of the teachers did mention the problem this is creating in Medellin of having 42 of one instrument, for example, with only so many professional ensembles, increasing the competition and the possibility of low wages, etc. He thinks the next step is to create a Simon Bolivar equivalent. But this won't happen because the program is purely social-yes some are first chairs in Brussels and Italy (which was news to me!) and 80% of the professional ensemble players were students in La Red, but the money they invest is only towards a social aim. My point is not to argue whether this is good or bad, but rather to demonstrate the possibilities and opportunities that La Red has made possible to ALL children (in those 27 neighborhoods, they do have programs in the wealthy neighborhoods too!). Equal opportunity for all-5300 youth choosing this over other extracurriculars and street activities.

Get ready St. Paul. I'm ready to make a proposal to whoever the new mayor is!!

Power of youth

Today I visited San Javier-a neighborhood I thought was incredibly unsafe, that turned out to be nothing but lush green and actually one of the middle class neighborhoods La Red works with in comparison).The director had been changed from a poorer neighborhood so that was her perspective anyway. The sede was in an old house and like every other site, students were practicing. I went into a practice room with four students to take the survey. But one in particular, Jorge, really struck me. He asked in what context many of the questions were, thinking of the social parameters, providing option C not listed, and of course it was him who did the interview. His story is incredible. I will try to do it as much justice as I can and what I've learned is these students LOVE to share and be heard. I've learned through these interviews they have been empowering to the youth and/or a method for them to internally reflect. When I thought my gift was the American chocolate I gave them, it turned out for most of them, it was the gift to be heard and hear their story. WIth this in mind, I will keep Jorge's true name to share his authentic story with y'all. All the teachers told me he was unique, but that's one of the words like "special," or "interesting" that I didn't know how to interpret. Jorge, 22, was dressed in a yellow shirt and baggy cargo pants, long wavy black hair, a gap between his two front teeth, and a huge, relentless smile with a cello between his legs. It was like his accessory-instead of a necklack around his neck he had a cello upon his chest. He even lifted his shirt at one point in the interview to show me the mark that the cello had made on him physically so that it literally had become a part of him. He described the sound of the cello and the harmonics as something spiritual. From the minute he began, I understood what the teachers meant by unique. He had a self-awareness unlike any other-he began talking about how he had the love of his family, health, and the things he needed and that even sometimes he could go out to do something special.

His dad was a unique artesan who had accepted he couldn't make his entire living through his plastic art so was an "obrero" (laborer). His family, very Catholic and "close-minded." He assured me had their support and love and accepted him for who he was, but that they didn't understand him. He did say the routine La Red had established helped them somewhatHis short-term goal was to finish his degree in the equivalent of music technology and his long term goal was to have a tool to share his music, to be able to record it, be a professor, hopefully in a "vulnerable area" to help those without access,.and sustain himself both physically and socially (more on this later). He talked about before cello he played guitar and about how once you strum the strings they're done. Whereas the reason he had acquired patience, discipline, concentration, and this grand profundity of spirituality was through the elongated sound one must have using a bow. And then he said cello was what helped him find the light.

It was then that I learned Jorge used to be suicidal, for 2 years, and incredibly depressed. He treated school as an obligatioin, slept through classes and did not use his time wisely. . Jorge told me how when he first came to La Red, particularly in the class of expresion corporal (body expression) he was incredibly resistant. He didn't understand why he had to go, but now admits it was fundamental. His first lesson with his cello teacher was the beginning of a grand transition in his life. It was there that he felt equality between him and her, despite her being the professor, that he sparked "feeling like a child again with a new experience.

He told me expresion corporal ended up having an incredible influence on him because it was there he developed self-awareness, not only how we define it academically, but also things like how to carry oneself with balance and what happens when one does not do so. Frankly it sounds like everyone, myself included, should take this class!  It was there he began this truthfully spiritual transformation where he learned how to respond to people different than him, that there was more than one way to perceive something, and that there was more than one accepted way to do something. In this regard, Jorge began to advance, expressing his entire self through cello, and the cello truthfully becoming part of his identity..He claimed it was the interaction with others that changed his spirit and opened him to everything (science, music, "the amalgam of everything"), His self-esteem "increased to the clouds" when he showed himself self-love, stopped comparing himself to others, and accepted that we are all different from each other and how to be respectful towards others. He said one has to balance feeling good with sharing with another person.

It was also through cello, that he realized he needed to do well in school, to be curious about everything, and apply himself. Cello was the first time he studied something because he wanted to, and now with a major in music technology, he is learning physics through the music. He ended up turning this "youthful rebellion" into graduating from a baccheralaureate program by night being at La Red from 8-12 and 2-6 every day! His philosophy was with all activities one had to mediatate and reflect on what one was doing and that it was a process (like I said an incredible, unique student!).

One of my questions was about if and how La Red has helped you make "good" decisions. Jorge's response was again quite philosophical. La  Red has given him the awareness and confidence to make finite decisions. One has to confront problems. "When one ignores reality,or wants to ignore reality, problems increase. La Red has helped him make decisions with the focus/contet he has now.  He doesn't drink in excess, because in addition to alcoholism in his family, he knows the consequences-it means he can't study cello. Though he did admit that even though he knows the brain damage substances can do, you have to live a little! .He brought up a very interesting point-nothing is inherently bad-it's not the alcohol or marijuana or sex that is bad. It's the actions people do ("fighting, non-consensual sex,and being hungover") ,and the lack of finality when these become habits-for example being tostor (Colombian word for hungover)..He also talked about how one has to interact with one's self to know one's self, a self-"socialization" if you will. If you have a plan, you have to be able to distinguish good from bad.  Have I said how wise this chico was?

As a side tangent, this was an incredible difference I noticed here-no one said practice, or attending La Red, everyone referred to it as studying, which in itself I think is notable in measuring determination.

 I would have never guessed Jorge had a darker past, he was nothing but smiles, laughing various times throughout the interview, his yellow shirt reflecting his capricious demeanor. He spoke for over an hour (so I won't write down all of his responses), but I again want to restate how articulate these youth are. He articulated his process of learning as enjoying, learning, transmitting/sharing. Almost all of the youth have mentioned this last step-how it's not about them, but rather how they interact with others. He gave an example of how he interacted with different people, like me.

Another thing that left me pensive was how he thinks of time. It reminded me a little bit of the way indigenous tribes and Tanzanians view it-circular rather than linear. He drew me a picture of a circle representing the sun, showing me where on the circle the sun rose and set, with time left for sleep. He talked about how he does everything fragmented with studying being the continued variable.

He then asked if he could show me something on his cello. Of course I agreed. He started to play various strings at once in various intervals 4ths, and fifths, and said that this was how people would ideally interact, with the maximum tension possible in a respectful way, because we are all different and we need to show all our colors (again, paraphrasing/interpreting). We have to not be afraid to be radical or challenge injustice (tension), but do so in a respectful way. In addition, in this context I believe, had to do with passion, with the maximum exertion of one's self. That together two notes make a chord-accord. The fact that he was able to articulate this was beyond anything I ever anticipated. Let the deep conversations continue! Power and wisdom of youth continues to amaze me! .

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Contour of the Mountains

Wow, it's only day 2 of interviews and I already have so much. These students are so articulate! Every single one talked about how it was a social program AND explained what that meant WITHOUT prompting. I have some pretty transformative stories of differences in behavior, but today I want to share the context of where I was: San Cristobal. Each morning, Julian picks me up on his scooter and off we go-the past two days up and down hills, like a roller coaster of sorts (don't worry, I'm wearing a helmet and going a max of 40k). Anyway, today was a 30 minute ride and up up up we went. It was beautiful, up in the mountains where they grow some of the flowers for the feria, and the city has made library parks. This particular one had an infamous, rotund Botero statue of a cat (see my Facebook) and an incredible 5 year old building with A/C (too much in my opinion!) and tinted windows. BEAUTIFUL space. But this was a neighborhood where violence was still very much a reality.
Three years ago, Walter, an 18 yr old flutist in La Red for 8 years, left the school and was approached by some of the combos as they call them. They pressured him to join their drug trade and also wanted his knowledge from being from another barrio. He refused to join so they brought him elsewhere and killed him. An 18 year old that had a future ahead of him, that was being resilient, that was on a new path. Gone.

As you can imagine, there was some serious grief after this incident and one of the staff interviews talked about how they had a workshop on grief to deal with it. It is instances like these that use reflection as a real life application, not just a "what did we do today" pedantic question. This really hit home as while I haven't had to deal with this exact situation there are many times where I too have frozen not knowing what to do with an abusive family relationship or a youth who doesn't feel safe going home.

Multiple times today, I saw youth from outside trying to peer in the tinted windows. It was pretty impressionable to see youth outside consuming substances (I won't make assumptions as to what) juxtaposed with youth preparing diligently on the inside of the A/C, wood floor building for the concert this evening.
But what's been amazing is while I've consistently heard that La Red is a social program about growing people, not musicians, I haven't heard the evangelical pitch of music saving lives, and yet, the anecdotes I've heard, couldn't be more clear, that it has. So much so that Walter gave his life for it-he felt that strongly.

I wrote the following poem as I watched the beginning band with the backdrop of these youth from the street outside: :

Kids working hard, playing music, and the window behind them
The sun shining, street kids consuming
Peering in the tinted windows
Looking to see what was happening
Me looking back at them, the rest unphased, continuing to strive, to express themselves.
A maximum of 12 years old, these youth on the outside had potential too,
Locked inside of them, yearning to be discovered. But instead,
psychologically altered,
prioritizing immediate gratification. The drugs. Hit. Hard.
How can this be? They already murdered Walter when he refused to be
One of Them. But lost that battle.
Lost his life and his possibility of another life-a trajectory
that had flutes instead of guns, music instead of drugs, friends instead of gangs.
The green mountains and agriculture creating the beautiful sillateros a la vez cultivating the coca and other substances. Providing the good and the bad.
Inside, a beautiful A/C building with its own statues, art gallery, and sounds of youth
practicing with esfuerzo for the concert hosted in the private theater that evening. Red velvet seats, and youth presenting on the stage
A mix of ages
Matching uniforms.
La red-a network of musicians, dreamers, youth who can truly change the world because they've changed their paths, had the possibility
to live, not just survive.
To dream, to unlock their potential
A refuge
spirtually, musically, socially, atop that mountain daily
freeing themselves from the ignorance, the conflict, the tumult of San Cristobal.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Day 1

Wow, my head is already spinning with thoughts and it's only Day 1. The people here are incredible- so friendly, hospitable, helpful. I am reaffirmed how much I love this continent-and I think at this point I can say continent! I feel completely safe so don't worry Mom :)
I think a daily blog will be necessary to help me process all the thoughts. Today was mostly interviews with staff and concluded with an amazing concert by a contemporary ensemble of music from around Latin America-incredibly well done! Interdisciplinary, visuals for every song, musical excellence, and fun! Despite Monday being a "bad day for cultural outings" there were 1750 people in the audience! Amazing and truly inspirational. I definitely took notes for how to improve CMC performances so stay tuned!!
I learned so much! It always happens over the "cafecito," the spontaneous interviews you didn't have planned! I ended up having two interviews in a row-both unplanned. One was with the director of the entire program and one was with the pedagogical coordinator. I won't lie, I was jealous such a position existed, but I guess with 5300 students and 27 sites that's allowed. I'll save the facts/figures for my thesis unless someone wants a specific fact, but I am super excited to have a sequential socioemotional learning process document. SO many programs talk about the social skills but this is the first program I've seen that has activities and an aspect dedicated to it. Stay tuned once it's translated and compiled!
Geoff, I think you would be pleased. I was pleasantly surprised to learn the goals of the program were to expand culturally, both in pedagogic practices and in the repertoire, so that European music wasn't the dominant type, but rather "horizontal" to other whether that be a tango orchestra or a violin piece by a Latin composer. I'll get the exact demographics at some point, but the grand majority of participants are "mixed" meaning the large African population, indigenous populations, and others, are not super well represented and they want to be a reflection of the community. They are not only saying this, but their goals reflect this desire. The new director was younger than I would have expected (mid 30s), but seems very well-intentioned and is a musician himself.
The program, note I did not say organization and I learned some of the great challenges that come with this, is incredibly sustainable because there is an agreement from the City Council that it must be guaranteed and 100% funded by the Mayor's office. However, one of the great challenges I learned is because it's a program and not an organization there are fluctuations in the budget, amount of teachers hired yearly, etc. The city gives the budget and then they plan their program instead of the opposite, like in the US. What was amazing to me was to hear Julian, the curriculum director, that it's only a 9 month program-and they are not paid the other three months so they have to save money and plan for that. He has done that for 13 years! And next year, he could not be invited back-but that hasn't happened and he continues to have faith.
Everyone has been so gracious and excited to have me. So approachable. I'm giving a presentation to all 16 of the administration on Wed morn at 8 am (no hora latina here!) and after meeting them today, I'm not concerned at all. They're all so approachable and want to help however they can. They're willing to share anything and already have so much more documented than Venezuela. I'll save their history for my thesis, but always interesting and have a good context to begin interviews tomorrow.
Well I promised myself an early bedtime. My hostal is lovely with a terrace and a covered rooftop kitchen overlooking all of Medellin. I'm LOVING the Metrobus and very thankful to have data through T-Mobile free of charge as SIM didn't work since iPhones are locked. Decided to retreat to the hostal after the concert instead of going to another concert, but there's one every night this week so I'm sure I'll say more (see a few pics on Facebook).
Te despido. Buenas noches!