Friday, December 22, 2006

Peace Crops Journal 4 Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw, Poland
There are times in your life where the stars align. Things just seem to go your way. You’re doing what you love to do, you’re living somewhere interesting and you have great friends. For me, most of my life has been this way, but there are peak experiences mixed in which alter the way one sees the world. When a group of people click and you have a group of friends who get together for the sheer pleasure of each others company, it’s amazing. There isn’t a magic number for the group’s size, but its more interesting when it’s larger than, say, five people. You’re a collective, a crew, a posse, whatever cliché you want to insert here.

In D.C. we were a crew and did everything together. Since then, I’ve always sought to re-create that. It started to gel in Poland. Our posse spread across the country and we’d get together in different cities; it was like a rolling party when we did. It involved a trip to Berlin, to e-Werk in particular. A weekend with the crew would begin Thursday evening with people meeting in Warsaw at a bar; I forget the name of the place. That included Josie coming in from near Krakow, often it included Gabby and Bruce. Andrew and Solli might be there; Patrick too. DJ Misha, a German cat, could be found there. Same with (name escapes me, anyone , help, please). He was quite the character, half Chinese, half Portuguese. He used to be the lead singer for a metal band. We’d have a few beers and catch up on the week’s news and make plans for the evening. It basically involved finding a place to eat dinner. We’d go have oriental food in the old town, the Middle Eastern restaurant at the train station, or some other place that took our fancy. The variety of food in the capital was in and of itself a big draw. By 11:30 or so, we’d head down to Sczatnia, a local club that had a good house night. A Dutch DJ would play house and breaks along with some local DJs. It was brilliant. We’d catch up with whoever else we hadn’t met up with yet. There’d be a couple of guys I skated with at the Pepsi demo in Wroclaw. In short, we’d start the weekend off with a bang.

On one occasion we went to Ground Zero, a club in Warsaw, which Andrew used to manage. It was a Chippendales night the night we went, which as pretty funny. There were other great stories from that night, but I won’t get into them to protect the innocent.

Left to right: Back row: Bruce, John, Front Row: Gaby, Josie, Solli, Tyson, Andrew, Front, Eva.

On another occasion we went to some party in the outskirts of Warsaw, a hazy memory now. It was somewhere in the woods on the outskirts of Warsaw. Yet another time, we got together to see a Nick Cave concert. It was held in an auditorium that used to be used for Communist Part functions. The chairs were red velvet and there were boxes behind each seat where microphones used to reside. One time we were wandering back from a party when we passed an after hours bar, and someone opened the door and said “we were waiting for you.” It has a most surreal affect on us. We did a variety of things together. Anyway, Thursday and Fridays were really just a prelude to Saturday nights because that was when we went to e-Werk in Berlin.

Friday, June 02, 2006

An Electronic Music Website Worth Checking Out

For those of you who are into electronic music, here is a site that I spend some time on. It’s a community devoted to all types of electronic music. The way it works is that you sign up and participate in the community. You get points by linking in or contributing articles, posting comments, adding reviews of CDs or 12 inches. There are over 5000 sets on the site you can download. It’s a great way to fill up an Ipod, hard drive or a fist full of CDs or DVDs. It’s legal and a great way to keep up with the music and learn about new DJs and live acts.

Like many communities online, there are threads that are not of interest to me, or the discussion is on some topic I’m not all that interested in, but there are some cool features. For example, it’s a great place to post a question about a track you’ve heard somewhere.

The site also features live feeds and DJs who play on MPiii radio. I’d recommend this site to anyone who’s into techno, breaks, house, jungle, etc…


I’ve never lost interest in skateboarding since I got an SKF skateboard 1984. I learned the basics of skateboarding in Santiago, Chile where there was a skate park. I spend most of my time riding my BMX bike at there, but I brought my skateboard along occasionally to try and learn a few tricks. By tricks I mean learning to simply ride the skateboard and do a kick turn. The skate park in Santiago had a vert bowl with a roll in and pool coping. There was also a snake run that ended in a mellow bowl. (I was filled in and turned into a shopping area sometime in the mid 1990s).

When my family moved back to the States, we went first to Tennessee for a vist before moving back to Virginia. I was given a Sims New Wave deck for my birthday. It was a tank. It was about 31 inches long and ten inches wide. I had independent truck and purple Sims wheels on the board. It came with purple rails and a tail bone. Copers, a nose guard and a bird came shortly there after. Back then, everyone I knew had all the plastic protective stuff one could mount onto a board. I got it in Nashville, Tennessee and spent most of my time learning to street skate. Since I didn’t have my BMX bike, which was being shipped to Virginia, I focused on skating. That summer I skated my first mini ramp. From then on, I was hooked.

Once we moved to Virginia, I started to skate whenever I could. I don’t recall what happened to my Sims deck; it must have fallen apart. I made new skateboarding friends and we skated all over my neighborhood, my high school and the town of McLean. Before I had my driver’s license, I’d skate two miles into town, skate for hours and then skate back. It was mostly street skating at first and the occasional jump ramp we built. I could do little more than a few simple tricks. My friends and I would watch the Powell Peralta Bones Brigade video virtually every day for inspiration and then go out and skate.

There were several things that impacted my skating ability. The first was my parents’ support. They would take me places to skate, watch and encourage me. They bought me the gear when I could not afford it and my dad in particular, who probably would have preferred that I had stuck with baseball, supported me nonetheless. Over the next two years, I got progressively better until one day a skater at my school named Chris Wassel taught me how to ollie. That was the second major change. It reshaped my entire skate experience from that point on. Once I could ollie, I never looked back. I could jump onto curbs and ledges. For street skating, this was unlocking a new dimension. It paid off on ramps too.

There was a mini ramp next to Neil Wadhwa’s house that I skated with Neil and Phil all the time. It was an 8 foot wide, four foot tall mini. We skated that ramp almost every day. If it snowed, we shoveled it off right away so that it’d be dry and we could skate it. I learned a lot of my tricks there. I learned most of my early ramp tricks on this ramp, and took them to bigger ramps later.

The other major factor was getting my driver’s license. I was mobile. I could drive to ramps in Northern Virginia. While I skated street more than anything else, because it was the easiest to get to and by far the most abundant, I craved skating ramps. Mini ramps were the easiest to skate and I could do the most tricks on them, but my true love was vert. I considered pools the pinnacle of skating, but there were few pools to skate. Any pool session was clandestine. There were ramps in McLean, Great Falls, and of course there was Cedar Crest, out in Centerville. With a car, I could hit all these spots. The car also meant that I could go to a really good drainage ditch we called the toll bowl. When it rained, we could go to parking garages. I skated pretty much every day after school, all day Saturday and Sunday if possible. I even snuck out at night sometimes to skate a bit more. At the end of day sessions, we’d end up at Neil’s ramp.

I skated with my buddies Phil Kim and Tari Ahmed whenever I could; we had some really great times skating together.

I went to college in Greensboro, NC. There we had several mini ramps, a ditch called the causeway and some street decent street spots. By 1989, an indoor skate park was built. I would have liked to have gone there more often, but it was about 20 miles away and I didn’t always have access to a car. I’d skate with Nikos Chremos almost every day. We had such fun!

During the summers, I’d skate a lot of ramps at home. I went to Cedar Crest in Centerville, Virginia when I could find the time. It was a gigantic metal ramp that drew some of the best skaters on the east and west coasts. There were puck rock shows and parties there from time to time which where really fun. I’d drive to Richmond or Baltimore to skate for the day; sometimes even farther. Part of the fun was the trip to wherever the next skate spot could be found. All through high school and college, I was into hardcore shows. I’d bring my board wherever we went and we’d skate before and after the shows. If they were matinee show, we’d sometimes skate in between sets.

After college, I moved back to Washington, D.C. I started to skate a bit less because of work and other activities, but I managed to make it out about once a week. I mostly street skated, but would go to ramps whenever I could find one relatively close by.

In June of 1995, I went to Poland with the Peace Corps. I brought a street board because I couldn’t bring a ramp board as well. I brought knee pads, but no other protective gear. I had no idea what I would find. During the first three months in Poland I lived in a town called Tomasow Masowietski. Within days of arriving, I met all the local skaters and we’d street skate together from time to time. It wasn’t until I moved to the town I was posted to; Wroclaw, that I really got to do much skating. I met the locals pretty quickly there as well, and they turned me on to a few local street spots to skate. Within a year of arriving, a local company and the town council built a vert ramp. I was set. My friend Cole came over to visit shortly after the ramp was built and I had him bring the remaining safety gear and my ramp board. I would go there whenever I had the time. Being American, I was exotic and became pretty well known around town. By my second year in Poland, I was taking the train up to Warsaw to party and to skate the two skate parks there. Towards the end of my first year, I was starting to get noticed and skated on the Wroclaw leg of the Pepsi tour and was offered a sponsorship to tour Poland for the summer, which I ended up turning down.

When Silvia and I moved back to the States, I didn’t skate much. We had a busy social life and there wasn’t anything particularly cool to skate near our apartment. I still kept my skateboard in the car in case I saw something worth skating. Around 2003, I started to go to the Vans skate park, which has recently closed. I’d go with the guys on Thursday nights from time to time. It was great because it was like the adult swim at a community pool, only people our age. That was the beginning of my return to skateboarding as it were.

In 2004, a skate park opened in Alexandria near where we lived and I went there a few times while Silvia and Eva were in Spain. It had a two ramps and a street area. It wasn’t great, but certainly much better and closer than anything I’d seen up until then. I didn’t have to wait long for the skate park in North Arlington to be built and that settled it. I had skating on the brain. The skate park has two bowls, a spine and a street area. I go pretty much every Saturday morning for the daddy skate session. I hang with my buddies and skate. It’s brilliant. I see Jamie Early most Saturdays; we started skating together back in 1992. (I’ve added a few pictures to my website: ( for those who are interested).

This summer I’ll have three weeks without my family and I plan to live at the skate park. I’m even entering a contest on July 29, 2006. Should be fun.

The Boards
Man, if you’ve read this far, you must be a skater, and if so, then indulge me while I reminisce about all the skateboards I’ve had. After skating for over 20 years, you accumulate some history with the sport and the boards. During my high school period, I had a Tony Magnusson, two Hosoi Hammerhead decks, two Madrid Claus Grabke decks. After high school, during college, and thereafter, in approximately this order, I skated Santa Cruz Claus Grabke, a Schmidtt Stick Andy McDowell, a Sims Kevin Stabb, a Vision Gonzales, a Powell Tony Guerrero, a Small Room, and an Alien Workshop Ron Allen board. After college, I had a Blind Gonzales, and a Jeremy Klein birdhouse deck: I don’t remember the model. I’m now skating a Cult Cooks deck and have a black label Hosoi set up as well as a black label Lucero long board. I also have a five points deck in the wings.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Dream Life of Sukhanov
Olga Grushin

Russian and Eastern European culture fascinate me; particularly the 20th century. With the advent of Communism and the Soviet Union, artists were forced to be marginalized and in many cases prosecuted, or conform to communist ideology and produce state-approved art. What was state-approved changed from time to time as well. A style or an artist, could fall out of favor. It was a tricky line to see and avoid crossing for many artists. Clearly, the more interesting cases are those who defied the soviet conventions. Whether they left the Soviet Union to live in exile or continued to produce their art at home, they found themselves expressing their art in allegorical and/or absurdist manners to escape the censorship. (Czeslaw Milosz’s book “The Captive Mind” brilliantly explains how the mind of a person must contort under a totalitarian regime). “The Dream Life of Sukhanov” starts from the opposite side of the spectrum towing the party line and works its way to the artist at heart at odds with the Soviet system.

In Olga Grushin’s book, the non-hero Anatoly Sukhanov is an art critic who toes the old Soviet line on art, decrying the western imperialist values that so debases these bourgeois works. He is well-positioned in the communist party in the mid-1908s when this story takes place, but changes are afoot and he finds himself in an environment of shifting contexts. The reader is not overly fond of him at the beginning; he is alienated from him family and smug in his cloistered, privileged position as the director of the leading Soviet art magazine.

As the story unfolds in dramatic and beautiful detail, our sympathies grow for Sukhanov as we learn more about his wife, children, mother, a cousin and friends. He had sold his soul and he begins to realize this through a series of increasingly hallucinatory experiences he has. His façade of firm belief in the soviet ideologies begin to crumble as his cousin Pyotr discusses art with him. Paintings by Chagall and one by his best friend from his art institute days figures prominently in the story. The painting leads to reflections on the past when Anatoly, a gifted painter, was excited to produce art at all costs.

From there Sukhanov’s personal history in revealed from the strange circumstances of his father’s death to the alienation from his family and children. Anatoly’s recollections of the past increasingly blur with the present. This hallucinatory effect reminds me of Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano” as the protagonist slips deeper and deeper into an alcohol-fuel inferno. Sukhanov wanders in the Moscow of his youth and of the present interchangeably, and slowly begins to peel away the layers of memories he intentionally buried in the deepest recesses of his memories until they slowly re-surface, driving him to clarity and madness simultaneously.

The vividness of the descriptive detail Grushin has put into this book is astounding. I was at once delighted to read slowly to savor the lushness of the story unfolding and faster to find out how the fraying strands of Sukhanov’s unconsciousness and memories would play out. I am already eagerly waiting Olga Grushin’s next novel. Since she lives here in DC, I hope I’ll get to see her at a book reading soon.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Minimal techno

It’s hard to say when minimal techno began, and who started it. Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos are two DJS, to name a few that have made the sound more popular. As with most electronic music, there are multiple genres and styles associated with minimal techno. Terms such as microhouse, glitch and dub-techno orbit around the term minimal techno.

I got into the sound in late 2003. As I was looking around on the internet, Magda’s name came up in association with Richie Hawtin, which eventually led me to the Paxahou site, where I listened to one of her sets and ended up buying a copy. Ever since then, I’ve been following the sound. Good minimal techno, to me, should be focused on a strong bass-driven beat, with interesting (subtle) samples. The track should build up slowly, including quirky (this is where the glitch might come in) and catchy samples or loops. Two tracks that demonstrate this to me are Adam Beyer’s “A Walking Contradiction” and Heartthrob’s “Hot Sugar Candy Apple Taffy.” Both of these tracks can be previewed at; just search by name.

Recently I came across a good article on the matter called “The Month in Techno” from the Pitchfork site. It’s a good read for anyone interested in minimal techno. The articles goes on the discuss the logic of 12 minute tracks, the use of laptops and vinyl for sets, the extraordinarily long (4-6 hour) sets, and the marathon length of the parties in Berlin. I would recommend this article to anyone interested in the sound.

I wonder when the scene and sound will get rolled up into a book. (Anyone interested in exploring this?)

If you’re interested, below are a couple of links that give a good presentation of minimal techno.

Check out the following link for a list of downloadable Magda sets: :: Ver tema - Magda Sets.

Another good example of the minimal sound is DJ Ganik from Serbia, I think. His sets can be downloaded here.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Journal 02- Pre-Peace Corps, Raving While Waiting for Poland, Segue #1

It’s not as if we did nothing but rave. My friends and I got together for dinners, to play mini golf, and go swimming (skinny dipping) at a lake in Great Falls, Virginia. For those of us who skateboarded, we’d skate pools we found out about, and hit ramps whenever someone tipped us off to their location. Sometimes it would be a small group getting together to go to a show, the museum, The Sugar Shack (coffee house) or whatever else we decided to do. These activities were really fun, but the vibe really struck when we all got together. We were all in our early twenties, so we had all the energy in the world to stay up all night on the weekends.

Come Friday and/or Saturday night, the cumulative conversations and plans for the night had us all wound up to go out. Pretty frequently, someone new would join us to go up to Baltimore, or to the rave happening that weekend. Shortly thereafter, the person would join the group which was something truly remarkable. I am trying to get at the phenomenon of our group, collective, crew, posse or whatever it should be called. The dynamic was so positive and we were all so genuinely happy to be together. I can only describe it as being with your ten or more of your best friends. It felt like each person in the group was your best friend, not just a good friend. It was euphoric.

We’d begin to congregate at a restaurant or someone’s house for dinner in smaller groups. Eventually we would all converge on one person’s house and then between 10:00 and 11:00 we’d caravan to the party. Even the car ride was fund we’d be really pumped up, happy to be with each other, listening to music and talking up a storm as we drove. If we were going to Rise or Fever, it was a warehouse party with a limited, but excellent line up of DJs. There were anywhere from 500 to 1000 people there. If we were going to a rave, then the excitement was notched up several levels and there were usually several thousand people at the party. Rise and Fever were fairs and raves were full on carnivals. We’d bring everything you need for a long night of dancing and hanging out: water bottles, candy, bubble gum, fun trippy glow toys and anything else that sounded like it might be fun to have. This kind of stuff would quickly fill up a back pack or two that we would put on the floor to mark our group and dancing space. If it was winter, the jackets would pile up on top of the backpacks.

The people you’d meet at these parties ranged from the interesting to the scary. Fortunately, most of the people were pretty cool. There was a group of really young kids and then there were the tweakers, which were scarier. These people looked like that had overindulged in a variety of substances. There were the dancers who were focused on dancing above all. Sometimes they would bring baby powder to put on the floor so that their feet would slide better. (At “Glow” in Harve De Grace, Maryland, the dancing area included a few tennis courts and the baby powder made the surface much better to dance on). Others would dress up in anything ranging from costumes to complex blinking light systems. They were always fun to watch. The queens showed up at some of these events and their flamboyance was fun to watch. Many people brought fun things along with them and were generally cool and friendly. There were back rub circles and one guy brought a set of paint brushes trying to get people to submit to his (dry) paint brush facial massages.

Our crew was relatively tame in attire. It was about having a good time, but there was no need to get involved in complicated costumes. This didn’t prevent the occasional wig or goofy hat.

We’d get pretty jacked when there was a good DJ spinning. We tended to favor the techno, house and breaks DJs as well as the Jungle or Drum and Bass DJs, the latter when it was more musical than it is today. The sign of a good set was when we would get lost in the music. The intensity would build slowly but steadily for an hour or so. By this point most everyone in the club was a sweating, pulsating mass of dancing, it seemed like the DJ would have a sense of when the crowd was peaking in their frenzy when he or she would break the intensity with a track with a much lower BPM and often with blissful atmospheric qualities. This served as a break or brief respite from the next onslaught of pounding beats.

Words, at least mine, do no justice to the experience when you dance virtually all night at a rave. It is a combination of the people you are with, first and foremost, and a series of other factors. It is the mood you are in. It is the repetitive beats, smoothly waning and ebbing in both speed and intensity, which allows you to find a rhythm and stick with it for protracted periods of time. It feels like the DJ is taking you on a journey, (at the risk of sounding very corny). It is the lights and decorations in the warehouse or club. It is the sound system too. And it is so many other things.

Imagined Places. Geoff Dyer: The Search

I recently re-read Geoff Dyer’s novel “The Search." It reads like a cross between film/detective noir and road movie, but what stood out in my mind was the homage to Italo Calvino, specifically to his novella “Invisible Cities.” I love the allegory of the cities that Calvino describes in his book. It is a collection of short stories, sometimes a page or less, that describe real and imagined cities or aspects of them. Calvino’s book so captured my imagination that I have followed that vein in literature ever since. Dyer’s novel makes an excellent companion to “Invisible Cities.” In fact, I was turned on to Calvino by reading a blurb written by John Updike stating that Calvino provided carefully imagined stories on par with Borges and Marquez, who are both related

Dyer’s novel starts out in what might be the Bay Area in San Francisco. As the narrator travels in the story, he goes to places that could be American towns and cities, such as Chicago and New Orleans and to others that sound as if they are based on Italian cities. One town sounds like he is describing a photograph of a busy cityscape. Another city is a large museum or palace. I wish it would just keep on going, describing ever more cities and places in the search. True to the homage, the plot is thin; the search of an illusive man is almost beside the point. It provides a narrative thread to for the story. In fact, the sightings of the man the narrator seeks link a trail much like the effort the narrator and a film maker engage in to trace the figure though a series of thousands of photographs taken in a city on a single day. One gets the sense that Dyer is reliving some of his travels. He lived in San Francisco and New Orleans and traveled through much of America and Europe.

I’ve read several other Dyer books. His last novel is about photography. The one before is a travel book, called “Yoga for Those Who Can’t be Bothered.” He has a wry sense of humor and an eye for detail while maintaining a tight prose style. He resonates with me on the story level, and the fact that he has similar interests to mine. I look forward to his next novel.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Journal 02- Pre-Peace Corps, Raving While Waiting for Poland

After choosing to decline Guinea Bissau as a post, I turned my focus back to my life in the Washington D.C. area. I had a job that didn’t pay fantastically well, but I liked the people I worked with, was moving up steadily and enjoyed a real renaissance in my social life. Sticking around hoping for another Peace Corps assignment was easy. At this time I was writing for a small local music magazine called Scene (out of print for some time now). It was unpaid, but the free CDs to review and the ubiquitous guest list access made it more than worth while. I had time to skateboard, which I enjoyed. I was a bit sad about having to give up skateboarding had gone to Guinea Bissau. There probably weren’t many paved roads there, much less a skate park.
Work was fast-paced; I dealt with mutual fund trading which isn’t rocket science, but it was a good experience and I had developed a rapport with traders in town and around the country. I would later be quite touched when one of the traders came down from Pennsylvania for my going away party. We’d play trivia games and share jokes to add a hint of variety to the daily trade placements. The morning coffee at the local coffee shop and visiting with work buddies made it a rather pleasant experience.
Things got more interesting after work. I’d go home to the group house where I lived and could hang out with my housemates if I didn’t have specific plans. We’d play variations on indoor baseball. It mostly involved hitting a ball around on the ground floor of the house and induced a good deal of chaos. There was nothing to break but the TV set; which miraculously managed to survive in tact. We would also watch TV when John wasn’t watching football (which was almost all the time) or just hang out on the porch drinking beer.
My room was little more than a crash pad. I had a place to leave my stuff, listen to music, and write articles for the magazine. Sometimes a friend would come over and crash after hitting some after hours joint, about when I was heading off to work on my bike. My girlfriend would spend the night a few times a week. She soon had to return to Spain but we kept up a long distance relationship. My love live was reduced to phone calls and letters for several months until we would reunite in Poland, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The best part about this time was the group of friends I hung out with and the collective we formed around our rave adventures. I’d been involved in the dance music scene since college as a radio DJ, and went to events in Greensboro, North Carolina, mostly to a club called The Edge and then later to a regular warehouse party downtown. At the warehouse, the latest 12 inches and acid house were being played such as The KLF, the Happy Mondays and so on. The vibe was fresh; all of there felt like we were tapping into something new and fresh. It had the collective feel that hippies must have felt in the 1960’s. The sense of community was very strong and I latched on to that immediately. What struck me the most aside form the weekly crowds diggin’ this new scene was the old WV combi bus in the middle of the floor and a skate ramp. We’d skate, dance and drink until early morning. This was my introduction to raving and it could be said that we were having our own ‘summer of love[1]” in 1991.

By 1993-1994, I’d come to really enjoy going to raves. One day, another writer for Scene, and I got to talking about raves. He had previously been a lead singer for a band and was mostly into rock. The conversation turned to raves and I invited him to come along to a party in Baltimore called Rise. A week later, he and I piled into my car along with his friend to head up to Baltimore one Friday night. That night opened a new chapter in my life.
As we headed up to Rise, I told my fellow Scene writer what he might expect. His friend was already tripping as we got onto Interstate 95 North. We began joking around, pretending the German techno tape we were listening to was a Grateful Dead bootleg. The friend was not the wiser. He’d been to a rave before and decided to check it out again.
The benefits of being a music magazine writer paid off. We were on the guest list and ushered to the front of the line to go into a warehouse hear the Baltimore harbor. We went straight in, dropped the backpack on the floor and began dancing. It was a evening of trippy breaks which really set the mood and hit the spot. My friend the Scene writer and his buddy were hooked. This was the first in many trips to Rise and Fever in Baltimore where we partied like nobody’s business.

[1] Simon Reynolds, in his book “Generation Ecstasy” termed the summer of 1991 ‘the summer of love’ because the ecstasy-induced euphoria and sense of community that was spreading across the country.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Journal 01: Pre-Peace Corps Guinea Bissau

It’s been a long time since I left the Peace Corps but the experience still resonates with me eight years later. I am constantly remembering and reflecting on the experience. Most Peace Corps stories begin at the site where the volunteer was stationed, but this one begins before the orientation. I had wanted to go into the Peace Corps for some time. Having lived abroad for much of my life as the son of diplomats, I knew I wanted to go overseas again. I also wanted to give back to the world. I had been brought up in a wonderful, loving, caring environment and wanted to somehow pass that on. I’d done volunteer work since I’d been in college, but they were mostly one-offs, such as a day working on a Habitat For Humanity house, or the DC Soup Kitchen, a non-profit that trains homeless people how to become chefs or food preparers.
In preparation for the Peace Corps, I began volunteering at an English as a Second Language (ESL) evening School, teaching once a week. The personal histories of the students were really interesting. I worked with a small group of students, a group of three for most of the time. Two were from Nicaragua and one was form Eritrea. They all grew up in lands at war; whether they were Sandinistas and the government or a civil war. They were still learning to read and write; each of them left school after the second grade or so to support their families. They were united in their desire to speak English. They wanted to learn the language to try and improve their lot at work and to be prepared to help their children in school. It was an inspiration to see these people who had it pretty rough struggling to better their lot in life. I imagine that this is what it must have been like for many immigrants to this country. I note in passing that when people get upset about jobs going to immigrants, they probably don’t struggle as hard, or are willing to work for less. Much of our country’s success is built on the hard work of immigrants. For there to be prejudice against the latest immigrants is hypocritical; we all were immigrants from somewhere at one point or another unless they were Native Americans.
Other students of foreign descent attended the school. Several au pairs went to the school and this is where I met my wife. She wasn’t in my class, however, so I only got to know her at breaks and then we started dating after school was out.
There were many other reasons for going into the Peace Corps that weren’t as altruistic. I wanted to have another adventure before I really started to grow roots and feel the pull of my comfortable life in the U.S. I also wanted to go to a Spanish or Portuguese speaking country in Central or South America. I figured that I would be a good candidate for those places as I already spoke Spanish pretty well and could have recuperated the Portuguese I learned many years ago in Brazil.
When I first heard from the Peace Corps, they offered me a post in Guinea Bissau, a small ex-Portuguese colony in Africa. This would have been a real Peace Corps experience. I imagined living in some isolated village far away from any major towns and other Peace Corps volunteers. I read in the Peace Corps manual that I could bring 80 pounds worth of stuff with me. I packed a backpack with the books I thought I’d get the most mileage out of: the complete works of Shakespeare, the Bible, (I figured I would finally have the time to read it) and a variety of other books. I was at 55 pounds after a difficult struggle to remove books. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be happy in Guinea Bissau, becoming Kurtz in the rain-soaked jungle.
Meanwhile, I began studying Guinea Bissau and learned that the nearest metropolis was Dakar. The rainy season made roads impassable in much of Guinea Bissau for several months every year. I read the country report that the Department of State published; the economic data was depressing. The country had a GDP of approximately $6 million and external debt of $36 million. While Portuguese is one of the official languages in the country, I figured out that my chances of learning much Portuguese were pretty slim. I would probably be learning a tribal dialect. I began to wonder what a Westerner would have to offer the country. Would English be an important addition to what the people learned at school? I decided to risk it and decline the post and ask to put on the list for consideration for another post. I was also having so much fun living in Washington D.C. with my friends that it was almost a relief to know I wouldn’t be going off to Africa.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Styrofoam snow

I went out onto C Street SW between 14th and 12th Streets at lunchtime today. It was about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but it was snowing. I touched the snow that was eddying against the curb and it did not melt on my fingers. The new building going up a block away was the snow cloud. It was pretty to see the snow beginning to accumulate by the curbs and the mulched hedges outside the surrounding building, as snow does when it is windy.

It was Styrofoam. The realization brought back the sounds of construction from the snow cloud. The noisy Styrofoam pollution drowned out the quiet snow that fell before.