I can see why they call it "MIA"

Published: July 13th 2009
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I left camp this morning full of happiness and a contented peace. Unfortunately the Miami International Airport, particularly the customs department, took approximately 36.7 seconds to rip any joy from my soul. Just to rub things in, I was forced to pass a banner proclaiming this god-awful place to be the 2008 Best American Aiport, according to the TSA. Good for them.

But now, FINALLY, I am in the air and quickly jetting hundreds of kilometers in escape. Let me close my eyes and try to remember back to happier times….

Ahhh yes. I am back at Camp Iztaru in a beautiful setting with a beautiful view. I am surrounded by new friends from every corner of Central and South America. I have learned to consider the cold showers “refreshing” instead of “tortuous.” I have new pants which are both stylish and warm. I have some inexplicable ability to eat massive, delicious meals and snacks five times a day with minimal weight gain. I am getting free Latin dancing lessons from many skilled teachers (more on that later). I am fortunate to have access to top-rate Spanish-English interpretation, provided by really great guys who go above and beyond to make sure I’m always included. When the pros aren’t around I’m fortunate to have great friends who never forget to translate as best they can to keep me in the loop. And, best of all, I’m spending all day learning about a really amazing program which can truly help in our goal of Creating a Better World.


I feel better.

Yes, the Scouts of the World Award Seminar was a great event. We were sure kept busy (hence my lack of time for any updates—sorry!) but the work was rewarding and I’m excited for the possibilities the program could hold for Scouts Canada if we re-launch it properly. Briefly, the Scouts of the World Award is a program designed to revitalize the oldest section of Scouting (in our case, it would be Rovers who are 18-26 years old) by encouraging them to learn about either world development, peace, or environmental issues, then create and carry out an action plan for a voluntary service project to address the identified need. If you’re interested in more information you can check out www.scoutsoftheworld.org (uhh… I think that’s the address… I just went to double check but I’m in an airplane and don’t have internet access. Good one, Jess). There are also some inspirational videos on YouTube that highlight past projects undertaken in other countries. The great thing about this program is that it is being adopted by National Scout Organizations (NSO’s) all over the world, so there are ample opportunities for international linking. Liiiiiiiiiike MEXICO!

So, on Thursday morning, when the seminar started, the translators hadn’t arrived yet. All of a sudden this guy swooped in behind me and kissed me on the check (Latin America welcome style—don’t worry!) and said he was going to translate for me for the morning. I didn’t recognize him at first, but we’ve actually been facebook friends for a couple of years, though we had never met face-to-face before. It’s sort of a long story, but I commented on a picture of my Scouting friend Ricardo, from Brazil, when he was sitting in the UN chambers. Ray was also in the picture (or just had commented on it? Can’t remember) and he requested I add him so we could talk about international Scouting stuff. Now, normally I only accept invites from people I actually know, but I was intrigued by this guy because we had a mutual friend from Victoria (the one we stayed with in Meribel, if you’ve been following the blog since then), even though he was from Mexico and had been taking courses in Europe (I think), but had no actual connection to Victoria! Small world. Sooo I added him. Anyways, turns out he’s a super great guy (and AMAZING dancer! But again, more on that later). We got to know each other quite well because we sat beside each other in the seminar sessions and we were in the same small working group (Team Maricuja Ice Cream! Wooo!). Ray had just finished a stint volunteering at a sea turtle nesting ground, where Scouts of Mexico are setting up a site for youth working on the SW Award to come and learn about environmental issues. It sounds amazing, and now I have serious aspirations of making a trip down there next March break to have some turtle time of my own. Time will tell if I can make that happen.

One of my favourite things about the SWA Seminar was that it was productive. I think the Youth Forum was an important event and a really good experience for a lot of the youth to participate in an international event like that, but like I mentioned earlier I’m not sure if a lot of our “recommendations” were actually feasible, and I just felt like there was a lack of deliverables emerging from the event. The SW Seminar had some concrete products, though. For example, in our group in about four hours we were able to translate a great document that Ray had created from Spanish into both English and Portuguese, we created an outline for an FAQ podcast that I’ll be able to transform into a finished product upon returning home, and we uploaded all of it onto the website (the Spanish website: www.scoutsdemundo.net I believe). All that in one morning! Annnnd all that while working simultaneously in both Spanish and English, thanks to our lovely translation team, as usual.

I knew the seminar would be good because it was lead by Andrés, a Costa Rican who works for the World Scout Bureau in Geneva as the manager in charge of adolescent programming. I first met him at the conference in Quito, Ecuador, in 2007, and we’ve kept in touch by e-mail, facebook, and even snail-mail (gasp!) since then. He’s one of those highly effective people I try to learn as much from as possible. I’m not sure how he came to hold his current position, but he’s only in his late-20’s and he has an amazing job. He’s always traveling across the world to roll out and support new programs. As far as I can tell, he’s pretty much single-handedly spearheaded this Scouts of the World Award across the entire globe (I’m sure he would deny that and say that he had a whole team of supporters, but he’s a pretty modest guy). His awesome older brother, Leo, was the head of the organizing team for the Forum/Seminar. Good family! Oh, while I’m on the topic of Leo, I be would remiss if I didn’t mention that I felt rather guilty for my exasperation on the internet situation. I sort of felt for some reason that the organizers were intentionally limiting our access because they thought we would just be playing on MSN or watching YouTube videos or something, but I think there were legitimate issues of the service providers and I was being very unfair to the committee. They got the problem fixed for the start of the seminar and I actually had pretty good access from Thursday on—I just didn’t have a lot of time to make use of it! Overall, the organizers did a really great job of coordinating everything.

Our days weren’t all work, however. We managed to have a lot of fun during our downtime. Every few hours Pato, from the World Bureau, would lead us in these funny activities which were supposedly secrets from a monastery of “midget French monks” which he “used to belong to.” I’m not sure what I enjoyed more: the activities, or hearing the translators try to keep a straight face as they translated the crazy tales that Pato told us. What kind of activities were they? Well… they helped us get close as a team, that’s for sure! Did you ever play that pass-the-orange-from-person-to-person-with-only-your-chin game? I’d never actually played it before, but ooooh have I played it now. It’s an, um, intimate activity, if nothing else! But soooo funny. (I was terrible at it, by the way. You have to stop laughing to pass the lime. I could not.)

Every night seemed to end in a dance party in one way or another—but not a dance party like you would find in Canada. I really can’t describe it exactly, but all it took was a bit of music and people would be up and dancing a salsa or some other kind of neat Latin dance together. I think the difference is that guys actually enjoy dancing down there—and they’re good at it, too! Like, really good. As I lamented earlier, I had no partner dancing ability coming in to this event but I have to say I’m pretty impressed with my improvement. Ray from Mexico was particularly adept at sweeping me off my feet—literally, at times! Goodness that guy has a lot of energy. He would just spin us around and around so quickly that my feet would fly out from under me. Super fun.

On Friday night one of the girls from Paraguay had to leave to catch a bus in the middle of the night. She is studying dance and music in her home country, and teaches both to elementary school kids. I noticed that she had brought a beautiful traditional Paraguayan dress that she hadn’t had an opportunity to wear, so I convinced her to get all dressed up to show it off. We went up to the boys’ dorm, and there she showed off her bottle dancing abilities. In Paraguay, really skilled dancers can dance with up to twelve bottles stacked on top of their head! This girl could do eight, but we only had one this evening. That was enough to impress us, though. We threaded a power cord through the windows of the dorm (we were sitting out on the porch) and loaded some traditional music onto a laptop. Then all the boys took turns dancing with her, and eventually everyone ended up dancing in various styles to all kinds of Latin music—even me! The fog was fairly thick, but at times clear patches would roll through and you could see the lights of the city twinkling far below at the base of the mountain, while my friends glided across the porch and people laughed in Spanish around me. I love Scouting =) Last night we visited a big campfire that was being held by a few of the local groups who were at camp for the weekend. I did “the Beaver Song” (which I have come to be known for now in Laos, the Gambia, and Costa Rica) and then the delegation from El Salvador did a couple great songs. The kids loved us and were incredibly appreciative of our visit, even though the pleasure was all ours. Just as we were heading off into the night (the dense fog made for a very dark and spooky journey back to our area) a Scout ran up to me. I thought he wanted to shake my hand, but when I grasped his palm I realized there was a wad of badges in it! He didn’t speak English, but I think his whole group pitched in to give the Canadian a token of thanks. Awwwwwwwww!!! Then a little Guide wanted her picture taken with out whole group. She was probably 10, but somehow already spoke great English. Also very cute. Finally it was time to hit up the end-of-week dance party that was going on back in our seminar building. Again, Latin dancing ensued and I improved some more with my partner dancing ability. Good times.

This morning I woke up to find a note from my good new friend, Johana from Paraguay, beside my bed. I haven’t had access to Google Translator yet to figure out exactly what it says, but I can tell it’s very sweet, and she drew a nice characture of me, as well. I was taking my time packing up to leave and was just about ready to head up for breakfast, when Cata called “Jessssssssiicaaaa! You come?” “I’m not until the 9am bus!” I yelled. “No! You are at 8! Your bus leave now!” Yikes! (I had been told at least twice previously that I was on the 9am shuttle so I’m not sure where this miscommunication happened, but admittedly I didn’t actually check the latest version of the list personally). Luckily I was pretty much ready to go, so I just crammed the remaining few items in my bag and jumped in the van. I didn’t get to say goodbye to most people I would have liked to, but I’m sure they’ll understand.

I think I’ve mentioned before that the roads in San Jose are crazy, especially compared to the wonderful grid system of Toronto. Every time I’m being taken somewhere we seem to go on a giant labyrinth of a route, which, as far as I can tell, just has us going around and around in circles, but the drivers seem to know what they’re doing. Today involved one such route. After driving around (and around) some very lovely areas of San Jose we finally arrived at an empty building, where we parked. I was quite confused for a moment, but it turned out to be a Greyhound bus station where we dropped off one of our passengers (adult who spoke 0 English, so I never really got to know him). Then more circling ensued, which allowed me the opportunity to ID a black vulture with my “Birds of North and Central America” book, until we stopped at the side of the road again. This time it was to drop off Andrés, who was catching a taxi the rest of the way to his family’s home so he could have a last visit. Andrés is big into snowboarding, and he tells me that he’ll see me next in 2010 in Vancouver when he is representing Costa Rica at the Olympics =)

Finally, it was time to take me to the airport. A couple short circles and BAM, suddenly there we were. I must say the San Jose airport is pretty nice—they even have free wi-fi. Oh, I’ll insert one final story here. Since I had to leave so abruptly in the morning I never had a chance to eat breakfast, and I was very hungry by the time I reached the airport. Fast-food was the only option, so I lived up at Burger King with a breakfast croissant meal on my mind, which was to cost $7US! Yikes! I tried to pay by VISA, but it was processing, processing, processing FOREVER. The line was getting long behind me. Then, it was declined! Uh oh. I only had Canadian money, and only 4000 Colones. I was at a bit of a loss and was about to suggest we try my debit card, when an American behind me threw down the remaining $2US required. I was so grateful and profusely offered my thanks, but I’m pretty sure it was more just a move to get me on my way than a gesture of goodwill, because he didn’t seem very interested in receiving my appreciation. Whatever, it was nice just the same and really helped me out. And I was hungry. (Note that I refused to buy anything substantial in the Miami Airport, in order to avoid supporting in them in any unnecessary way).

Oh, one more must-tell tale! I pretty much ignored the “inflight entertainment” for the flight from San Jose to Miami because they were playing some stupid kid-alien movie with the Rock (which, by the way, I have been treated to a second time on this flight), but near the end of the flight I happened to glance up and discover they had moved on to something else. And who is sitting in a convertible on screen? Paulo—one of my roommate’s best friends!!! They were playing the pilot to his new show! I’ve hung out with Paulo a handful of times when he’s been in town. He’s really funny. Now I know how David feels all the time when we’re watching TV and his friends pop up on screen. Paulo had already given me the verbal run down of the plot of this episode, so it was fun to see the finished product. I don’t know the name of the show, but it’s about a doctor who ends up being a private physician for the rich in the Hamptons, where is somewhat deadbeat brother (Paulo’s character) likes to talk his way in to parties. That’s not really a fair description of the show, but you’ll have to check it out for yourself. Anyways, it was pretty fun to see him on screen like that in mid-air. I was almost tempted to eat the outrageous international roaming fees to call David and share my excitement.

And that about brings us to now! I’m sure I’ve left out a ton of fun, touching, interesting, exciting moments, but you’re probably sick of reading, anyways. I’m going to upload some videos to the previous entries in a couple of days, so you might want to check the blog in a little bit if you want to see them. They’ll just be short.

So, here closes another adventure. It is now 11pm and I’m still in the air. I have to be out on the street corner at 7:30am tomorrow doing bike helmet observations. Back to the grind!


6th November 2009

A little quiet
I thougth Newfoundland was Travel Blog worthy. Maybe an update at Christmas?

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