Friday, August 31, 2012

BRB eloping to NYC tomorrow!

I'm planning a weekend trip to New York for tomorrow with one of my closest friends from school (we're joking about how this is a weekend long date even though that's not at all what our relationship is like!)

Most importantly, I just bought our discounted student tickets to MoMA and he bought tickets to see Chicago on Broadway tomorrow night (my first Broadway show!).

And I'm blaring my favorite song and reading through guidebooks and having such fun.

Cant wait for the 8 am train tomorrow!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Accepting Vulnerability

ENRIQUEZ: Accepting vulnerability

“I can imagine the face you are making right now,” says my best friend over the phone. And it’s true: He probably can. That is part of what makes this relationship and a few other friendships as rewarding as they are. He knows me well enough to know not only how I will react to something, but also how I will communicate this reaction publicly.
Many of the Yale students I have come to know and love started off with similar social patterns: They liked having big networks of friends. These networks are filled with people to talk to on the street corner and ask “How was your summer?” without necessarily wanting a long and detailed answer. They come with promises of lunches and coffee that may or may not actually happen — and yet we aren’t offended when someone didn’t really mean she would follow through. We also have friends and suitemates with whom we spend nearly all of our time — and yet some Yalies still feel lonely though they are constantly surrounded by activity and groups of so-called friends.
We have all learned to manage challenges and failures and move forward. It’s part of the reality of being a student here. You simply will not be able to do everything offered to you and do it perfectly. Every single other student I know was in some way unprepared for academic, social or mental challenges. During those low points, we feel more alone than ever in our lives. We are surrounded by some of the most talented students from across the country and around the world. How can we admit we’ve done something wrong?
Vulnerability is terrifying. It means standing in front of the mirror of your own judgment and scrutinizing yourself for much more than your physical appearance. You can put on your war paint and a smile for every day you spend at Yale without developing the internal strength and understanding of who you are as a person. What will carry you through every challenge you face here and when you leave Yale comes from that personal fortitude that only you can build up by allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
University of Houston professor of psychology BrenĂ© Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability went viral shortly after it was posted on Her message is simple but profound: She defines shame as a fear of unworthiness of peers’ acceptance and friendship. If they know this about me, we think, then they will not accept me. We choose to “numb vulnerability,” Brown says. But we cannot do this without turning off other emotions like excitement and anger and joy, because numbing vulnerability also means numbing emotion.
How often I have listened to this TED talk and felt the weight of truth in her words. But where could I start when I, like many other Yalies, learned to turn off emotions to get whatever I needed to done, come off as completely put together at all times and be able to adapt quickly and effectively to all environments?
I found peace and acceptance in my friendships — in relationships where everything is laid out in all of the beautiful and ugly truth it holds. My best friends call me out on my mistakes, bad decisions or good work, even when I will not reach these conclusions on my own terms. My friends’ words hold weight for me, because we are able to see, understand and respect each other for all of the pieces that come together and make the whole of the other person. These friendships I have formed at Yale come from late nights sitting in common rooms and hallways, tears, frustrations, failure, unexpected success, celebration of jobs well done, criticism to push the other toward improvement — and acceptance when I never thought it could come.
I could only form these relationships that give me the strength to do everything I do because I accepted vulnerability as part of the bargain. There’s a constant pressure to duck out early and stay emotionally safe. But it’s not worth it. I will tell my friends that I love them because it is true and we both know it, even with the occasional pain that sometimes comes from trusting people on this level.
I believe in them, the same way they believe in me. And that is always worth the price of being vulnerable. So take the time to say what you really mean to those who matter. The results are something you will always carry with you.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Designing My Own Job.

It's beginning. That time of crazy thoughts,

the pretty steady "So you're a senior... what will you do next year?" pleasant conversation question

always awkward.

There are three possible scenarios here:
1) the person is cool and would understand what I'm talking about when I explain that I am obsessed with informal economies, latin america, and the dynamics of the drug trade. So I say, straight up, I want  to find a way to be paid to research and model informal economies in Latin America.

2) the person would FREAK OUT if they knew where I did research and what I am interested in, so I said "I study Latin American economies. I'll probably work in some way with businesses" vague. Socially acceptable. They usually dont ask further beyond that, because frequently (at least within the US) this category of people tends to fear Latin America as a blob of countries where the American news show violence and tan people running around in the jungle speaking Spanish. They feel better knowing less about it, and I feel better saying less about what I actually study.

3) the people who are interested but conflicted about what I do, and generally express concern about my interests. This category is tricky, because they ask more questions. They want to know but at the same time cant help but let a look of I'm-concerned-for-your-well-being cross their faces.

So I've been writing for the past two days. Word documents filled with ideas and people I want to work with, ways to reach them, stories I want to learn more about...

and realizing, slowly

through shaping

and some very masochistic episodes of looking through job recruiting offers on various NGOs, Non-profits, Government, and business sites that I am potentially interested in while realizing where some of the holes are in my previous experience. Somehow I-lived-in-India-and-worked-a-research-project-I-designed-in-the-slums doesnt seem to fit in nicely in the black ink resume "previous experience" section they usually mention.

It took my Dad telling me, it's ok to be out of the box, several years ago for me to come to terms with it. The fear crept back in AM I DOING THIS ALL WRONG? during the evil period of consulting/banking interviews on campus this fall. When everyone and their mother was going to these interviews all the time... and it wasnt for me. But you cant sit there and not wonder at the time.

So here I am. I'm writing out my dream job and then going to find the closest thing I can to it over the course of the next year.

Watch me. :)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Today I watched women from the US dominate the track and field and the beach volleyball court. As much as I take issue the US on various accounts, today was one of those days where I was proud to be an American citizen and proud to be able to associate with these incredible women, even if just through the thinnest of connections in this imagined community.


(Mexico is also doing pretty well in these rounds... let's see how our futbol team does this weekend!! ANDALE!)

Familial Bonding

My mother and I spent the evening talking about different kinds of violence and Colombia last night. Why, you may ask. Well... because we're both working on research projects for two very different fields and from very different perspectives on Colombia and it's history with violence. She is interested in how Colombia remembers its past through art and history and stories, I'm interested in how Colombia remembers its history through its laws, its modern political campaigns, and through its politicians (whatever they are or arent willing to say aloud).

It's been helpful to me to have this additional perspective. Not just because she is a professor (though that is a serious plus when I'm working on my research and interview methods) but also because she is deep in the books too trying to make sense of one of the most confusing and conflicting histories that exists. We'll often compare notes on various incidents and see what makes sense where. Or if it makes sense at all. Like Mexico, there are clearly chunks of the history that no one wanted to remember or touch.

Which is a bit where I come in. There wasnt a legal code strictly governing campaign finance during the 1980s. Which made it easier for dirty money to get into the political system.... for people to invest in campaigns without being noticed and recorded... and other similar events.

It's interesting though. I'm building a model to explain price changes in the Plata o Plomo approach to things. I'm working off of a few data sources that I am collecting myself... but it takes time. I'm working  on a few different ways of showing trends and seeing which ones make sense. While she doesnt work in this kind of methodology, she has been helpful in terms of seeing those trends once I come up with data sets. One number at a time.

To be continued...

This song feels like appropriate background music, for some reason: Maximo Park: Books from Boxes

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What Will It Take To Get Your Attention


I'm sitting here in a room enjoying the breeze on an American summer afternoon. It's delicious. Sheltered. Forgiving of my mistakes, my outbursts, my opinions. My gender, my history, my studies, my aspirations, hopes dreams wishes thoughts.

And still. We have something to disagree about. (well, maybe a few things)

I'm reading piles of histories, testimonies and accounts of Colombia from the 1980s, 90s and 2000s. The hardest part is reading about things that happened within my lifetime. And now. When I know I'll go back to school and the same rules about drug laws will be preached, but the same users will keep using. And frequently. With complete disregard to the market, where it came from, the blood on their hands between lines of cocaine.

When people preach about college they say, try new things. Explore. #YOLO right?

When did we stop thinking about the consequences of our actions? When did pop stars, politicians, journalists, TV personalities tell us to try everything once, and forget about the rest sometimes. When did the price tag attached to those actions, what it costs other people and other places much more than we can imagine... just fade away? When did drugs become so sexy that we can ignore the bloodied hands they came from? The communities they destroy along the way?

Thank you for your purchase.

You have now funded: ammunition for a guerilla army occupying southern Colombia. A hit man to take out a politician speaking out against drug violence or a journalist providing accurate coverage of the violence. You've given a paramilitary group money to fund dirty politicians who will keep corrupting the government's efforts for peace. Pick one. Do you want any of these on your hands?

I watched a grown man cry on a journalist's footage of the violence and occupation of rural towns plagued by extortionist practices of these armed groups. He will live in fear each day for the rest of his life, while he waits to see who is next.

And while the coca grows in South America... THE PROCESSING CHEMICALS COME FROM THE UNITED STATES. And Europe. The two markets bankrolling this process and ensuring that visitors to cities like Medellin need to go through 3 or more military check points and interrogations wherever they go near the city.

The irony is that the students who use will be in their quiet apartments or at a party. Safe, controlled spaces where the most they have to worry about are the police busting their event.

Imagine the alternative and what production ACTUALLY looks like. Imagine fearing for the future of your children to the point that you would willingly send them away to live with strangers. You probably cant, if you are someone I just described.

I have a personal soft spot for conservative cocaine users. Rich upperclass students with access to disposable income who believe in everything the Republican party pushes, including the war on drugs, all while keeping a steady supply of cocaine in their possession. If this isnt corruption, I'm not sure what else is. Yes, end the supply. Get rid of the sellers in South America... they say. Yet...

The day we started ignoring the reality of where are drugs come from and the consequences of our actions is the day that truly lost sight of our supposed desire for "peace" in the western hemisphere.

To those students I mentioned earlier: It's not about you. Your hour long experience of drug induced haze is not worth this. And if you had to stand before these people affected by your decision and watch what the reality of this trade looks like, you wouldnt make the decisions you are at present.

To the US: Stop hiding the truth behind your political speeches claiming everything in Colombia is cleaned up, and saying that Latin America is the source of all these problems. Without a market, there wouldnt be the same degree of production, economic growth and promise that comes with this trade.

To my readers: Keep yourselves informed, but with a grain of salt. The media in the US takes one angle, and other countries will present themselves in the best light that they can as well. Only by reading and talking to as many people as possible (carefully) will you understand the extent of the consequences we face from our decisions right now.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Medellin and Antioquia: a Check-List

Imagine a city where the history is still so present that it sits on rooftops, on the backs of motor cycles, in dark alleys, crevices in the mountains, whispers, names, the cover of DVDs on sale in the informal street market, and on the beautiful metro-cable cars that climb into the barrios in the mountains...

Welcome to Medellin.

You wont soon forget what you learn here.

A Check-List:

[done] found people speaking in a much higher volume than usual.. or at least this is true for me because I mumble frequently. They speak with a rich, loud and whole hearted voice, or at least, the stereotypical Paisa does. There is so much love for this city from so many of the people who live here. Love for this area, and it's people and it's personal strength -- which people frequently point to as the reason that this city grew and prospered after it's long period of violence.

[done] the flower festival is going on right now. A tradition attributed to former president Uribe when he served as mayor of Medellin and then governor of Antioquia. Tourists have come pouring into the city to see the free theater productions in the streets, the antique car show tomorrow, the parades, street markets, tourists... so much activity. Right from an air rich in agricultural production and growth of beautiful flowers like the hydrangeas that will soon go to the US. Some of them will even be spray painted darker blue to meet American preferences.

I feel that last statement is funny in a dark, bitter cynical humor kind of way.

[done] went through three military check points on one outing from the city. The driver assured me, it's good. it's good! It means they are keeping the city safe. It's hard not to feel a little nervous when a young solider with an AK-47 is standing outside your car drilling the driver about who you are and where you are going, asking for endless papers and proof of activities... then he leans into the car. His arm resting on the top of the door way, and he watches you with cold, calculating eyes. Who are you. Where are you going. whereareyoufromdoyouknowthismanhaveyoubeenherebeforeforhowlong... it all blends together.

The history is raw and sitting there in front of you. You realize in these moments that perhaps less has changed than we all thought.

[done] endless books, comic strips and now a TV series exist on the life of Pablo Escobar. From street corners, for formally certified national bookstores, windows and displays feature his face prominently and his name in red or black bold font. I now own a bookstore (or at least, pretty decently stocked table in the informal street market) worth of new things to read...

[done] bandeja paisa. Sort of. Being vegetarian proved to be impossible while I was here given the circumstances. So I dove in with other things, but I fear a good 1/3 of what comes with this local specialty. Mainly, the seriously intense pork rinds and the blood sausage.

[done] enjoy the breeze and amazing fruit in the nearly permanent spring time. Even the papaya tastes somewhat ok!

[done] the city allows artisans, hippies and artists to sell their work in the plaza bolivar on the first Saturday of every month. Which happened to also be today, my day off and the first day I am not doing interviews while I have been in Colombia. I saw all of the different ideas and skill sets that came to this space today in a very festival and colorful display of works, local resources, and new ideas. The other thing I love about informal markets is that you meet and talk to zillions of super different and interesting people. From the woman who was a long time artist making silver rings with flowers pressed inside of glass to the backpacking Argentine man who sold me a pair of meticulously women flower earrings to the two Antioquian women who made my first Arequipe (it's rice wafers with caramel and queso fresco inside) and the true Paisa man who sold me my Medellin gaucho bag.

And here ends my tale for now. I need to pack to go home tomorrow.

Research in Dharavi Part II: Actual Cases

It is not hard to find women working in Dharavi. Even before we arrived in Dharavi, we met some women working as sales people in the women’s compartment of the train. One woman dropped her bin of pomegranates onto the seat beside me before going through the compartment haggling prices on the fruit. Another woman sat in the doorway vending bags of pistachios while her son played under the seats of the train. From the entrance to the main road going back towards Sion Station, women sell Chat and other snack foots and they carry baskets of fruit and roasted peanuts, selling them along the street. There were far fewer women working on the main road than the men operating snack stores, barbershops and restaurants. Women working in this street tend to be with their husbands or a male figure while they work, hardly any of them are here alone. Overall, women seemed to be far less involved with the public face of these businesses, and far more involved with the behind the scenes work. This also seems to be true given the statistics of female versus male street vendors in areas of the city like Colaba.
Once we started moving through the dark, twisting alleys in this informally planned space, we saw more women. Each little house front had clear signs of someone caring for the space: whether it was plastic flowers hanging from the doorway, curtains sewn and hung over the open door, carefully swept front steps, and clothes drying from wires outside of the home. Women sat together chatting in small candy and odds-and-ends stores in the less public parts of Dharavi. 
We ran into three older women, probably in their late 50s, sitting in a circle chatting and making brooms out of dried grass and twine. They explained to us that these are sold in bundles to stores and businesses outside of Dharavi. Just across the narrow dirt and rubble road from them was a young woman in her early 20s printing on an old fashioned printing press. While she worked, her husband sat on the floor stacking and cutting pages. She showed us how she ran a round of printing and then went back to work. The little shop sold paper, printed goods, and provided a cheap printing service for manuscripts and books. 
A third young woman, at most sixteen years old, was sewing pants with a sewing machine in the doorway of her home. She was working alone. She had a pile of finished men’s trousers beside her, and she excitedly showed us how much English she knew by pointing at various things in the room and giving us the word for it in English. Most of the women that we saw producing goods independently were working alone or with other women off the main streets. In this capacity, their work seemed to be very limited in its interaction with customers or clients.
A few industries within Dharavi are famously run and operated by women. One clear example of this is the Popadam industry in Dharavi, which is run entirely by widows. The widows work in a collective to make this kind of bread, which is then sold in restaurants all across the city. Women making and drying this bread fill one of the public spaces in Dharavi with colorful saris, kids running around between the baskets, and baskets with drying bread. Their work is limited by the weather: the process in which the bread is dried and cooked requires the round sheets of raw dough to lie on wicker baskets to dry before it is cooked, so they must find other ways to supplement their income during the monsoons. 
The traditional fish market is also an industry dominated by women. Bombay began as a Koli fishing village, and this rich history remains in the heart of Dharavi, where Koli women have sold fish for generations. Women originally inherited this job because the men would fish while the women sold it, but now, even as others have taken up the job as local fishermen, the Koli women of Dharavi continue with this tradition (see appendix A). There are 60 women who sell fish in this space, and the tradition is passed down through women in family. Once the sons in the family get married, their wives are trained and expected to sell fish in the same way the elder women do. These women go to the wholesale fish market from 4:30-5:00 am, buy fish in bulk, and then return to open their market stalls at 9 am and then again at 6 pm until the sell all of their fish. Each woman has a marked block where they sell their fish, and the stands are passed down through generations of women. While there are men selling fish in other parts of Dharavi, this market space is an integral part of Bombay and Dharavi’s shared history as a Koli fishing village. While other factors have changed, the presence of women in this part of the industry serves as an important piece of Dharavi’s economic activity.
Outside of these professions, the majority of workingwomen are drawn into a few keys industries that offer them informal “contracts.” Often they are given work in construction sites in a sort of delivery service, where women bring supplies like bags of cement back and forth between trucks delivering supplies and the construction site. Another 1.68 million women are employed as domestic labor for the middle and upper classes outside of slum areas across India.[1] Many another women are employed as low skill labor within informal garment production in Dharavi, offering help as assistants to trained tailors and finishing garments before they are sold off to western companies. These jobs often have very low entrance barriers, which is appealing for women without training in specific skill sets, but their wages were usually far under minimum wage standards and come with very low job security.[2] 
Another option for work comes from self-employment and running local, small-scale businesses that often end up employing other workers. The benefit for women who start their own businesses is that they control their own wages and have direct access to their profits. On this level, they are more likely to receive the same wages as men working in the same industry. Street vendors are some of the most visible workers in the informal economy for any part of the city, and about 40% of them are women.[3] Often, these women can run and operate their own small-scale business while competing alongside men without significant barriers to entry based on gender or skill set.
We found a one-room schoolhouse run out of someone’s first floor apartment and children poured out of the room chewing on sweets and being led out of the alley by their sisters. The kids looked ranged from ages three to six and they were taught by a young woman who looked like she was in her early 20s. One clear benefit of a community like Dharavi was that children could go through the streets in groups while their parents worked and it was safe enough that boys and girls alike did not need constant supervision beyond that provided by the community. The space and the street belongs more to these families here than the streets in middle class neighborhoods do to those families. Only when we stood in corners, watching games of cricket or cards, did groups of children gather around us, curious about what had drawn our interest, and often older women would appear and shoo them away, giving us more space. In some ways, the neighborhood helps lessen the burden on working mothers who need to care for the family as well as complete domestic work, an added benefit of living in Dharavi rather than living in other parts of Bombay.
Even the space seems to have certain expectations to it for men and women. We walked through a few “men’s spaces,” where we were the only women present. Often these spaces were filled with little boys and men of all ages playing cricket. We typically found women interacting socially by sitting in their door thresholds and chatting with their neighbors. At first, most the women looked at us cautiously, or even warily, but we grinned and said “Namaste!” to all of the women we saw along the way, and often they returned our greetings very kindly. Their presence in the social sphere was much less public than that of the men in the community. Unlike my interactions with men in other areas of the city, all of the men that we encountered in Dharavi provided us with respectful amounts of space and only communicated their curiosity about our presence in Dharavi by asking if we were lost and needed directions. Besides the typical problems workers in the informal sector face, women also face cases of sexual harassment, limited access to restrooms near their work places, and limited bargaining power in their workplace.[4]

[1] Geetika, 535.
[2] Ibid, 535.
[3] Ibid, 535.
[4] Mathew, 8. 

Love Letter to my Lonely Travelers

Dear Lonely Traveler, Explorer, Friend,

Well, you've done it. You've done what most people spend their lives fearing -- you've left what you know and decided to try something new. You're learning to adapt to a new space. You're meeting new people, you're (hopefully) trying new foods, maybe speaking a new language, seeing all the places you're supposed to see... and getting to know yourself a little better.

What you can actually do when there arent people there telling you how to do it. You're navigating a new space. You're learning about how you fit in in the grand scheme of a city... because for the first time you may be figuring out what it is like to adjust and have to find a place for yourself. If you are lonely, you're doing it right. It means you've gone beyond whats comfortable and seeing the brand sparkling new, there in front of you.

I've always felt lucky. I like being in different places and learning how to leave that uncomfortable time of mal-adjustment and hope that things will get better. Because, they do. I promise. I've lived in a few different places so far. Always with the goal: learn to survive. learn to find comfort where you are. make a space for yourself, because you can. It's tough. uncomfortable. Painful sometimes. I know I'll never be able to leave everything behind, and I carry parts of home with me wherever I go. Because you have to, dont think you cant. You will never forget where you came from, and that's a beautiful thing about you.

So, my lonely traveler, you're getting better. It is getting easier. You're doing a great job! And soon, very soon, you wont even notice that feeling of "foreignness." You'll tell your friends about the places you went and people you saw, and they'll smile because guess what... you look like a pro.

You'll return as a different person because you made yourself jump these hurdles. You made new friends and built a new space for yourself. Guess what? When you do it next time, it will only be easier :)

And in the meantime, know that you have a friend in me. And I'm always here for a chat.



[Disclaimer: this post is dedicated to a very wonderful friend and loyal reader now in Belgium, but I think the theme is universal enough that I wanted to post it as an open letter to my friends every where going through the out-of-place-in-my-new-space experience. Good luck!]

Thursday, August 2, 2012

If You Find Yourself in the Mountains Of Colombia

I was just flying in through the clouds outside the mountains that surround Medellin, chatting with an Israeli tourist who was in Medellin for the festival of flowers (he referred to it as the Mardi Gras of Colombia... I didnt have the heart to tell him that he was going to be disappointed and this isnt a secret covert massive parade party session on king street...)

For those of you who dont know or dont remember, I'm in Colombia now as part of my thesis research.  I'm studying something very technically nerdy that is made interesting by the complicated histories of the cities that I am visiting here -- Bogota and Medellin.

I just finished a four day whirl wind series of interviews in Bogota. I think I've been eat, sleeping and breathing my thesis for the past 2.5 weeks. Dont get me wrong, this has been great. Now as I am sitting for over an hour not worrying about work, however, I notice how overwhelming/awesome/exciting/interesting/intense it has been. Really, I guess most of this summer has been this way.

[on the plus side, I rarely feel tired because there is coffee everywhere all the time and it's fantastic. I'm enjoying all of it so much! I suspect this drink-all-of-the-coffee campaign I seem to have going on isnt great... but whatever. I'm sure I'll go back to normal when I get back to Boston. #YOLO..? I guess...]

I've learned a lot of history, read through pages and pages of new legal codes, talked to politicians, journalists, professors, researchers, reform advocates, watch-dogs, taxi drivers, campaign managers, students, and artists about this wonderful, confusing and thought provoking country. I had some time to wander through the colonial downtown, to go out to a horse farm where the forests touch the sky, and through the business districts of a city once feared by the world. It's so full of secrets. Behind the smiles there are memories that make you shiver.

The best conversations I've had were candid. Passionate. Full of truth in the eyes of the beholder. The worst were full of silences, slanted brows and glares, exaggerated movements, standing in the window facing away from me and growling an unrelated response to my questions.

I love the role of interviewer. You get to see how many different ways people process the same questions and ideas. Who allows you to have a conversation with them, and who makes it as painful as possible. One silent space between your questions at a time. You see the people who weave stories out of thin air and bring you right into them. They make you remember. (They are the ones I wish I could drag out for the TEDxYale stage...) It's an ongoing experiment where you realize that regardless of where you are in the world, you will find some of everything.

In the best cases I felt a sliver of my heart drop to the floor. Sometimes with fear of those moments and hoping to God Mexico doesnt head so far and fall so hard... some with pain for the other person. I was humbled by stories I took down in my notebook, scribbling quickly and hoping that I could catch everything before it slipped between my fingers and into the shadows under my chair. I showed up to an interview an hour early, and waited an hour and a half for another one. I sat in hours of the legendary Bogota traffic, enjoying the view of twisting roads and numbers I still dont understand heading into the mountains.

I had arepas of all shapes and sizes, though to be blasphemous and completely honest: I only ate one that I really liked.

And now I have some of those faces etched into my mind. The love these people feel for their country, all in different ways, reminds me of my own love for Mexico. It's complicated. Hard to package, impossible to sell. So many warts and bruises amid patches of shiny and beautiful and something you want to hold close to you. Despite it's claws.

Colombia is beautiful. Even with the wrinkles and cracks, I feel at home here. Which, I've learned, is harder to find that I thought it was. I am lucky to have found a few places I love as dearly as Boston and Mexico.... and perhaps this country is heading that way.