It's A Different World South of the Border

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November 28th 2007
Published: November 28th 2007
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Here I sit in the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas. It will be my home for the next 9 hours as I wait for my flight to Vancouver so I can continue my recent Scout meeting binge with 3 more full days of national Scouts Canada meetings. I'm pretty pleased because I've got a table, I've got access to a power outlet, and I'm sneaking free access to the "Continental President's Club Lounge" wireless network so I'm not even paying for internet! Excellent. The United States really is a different country from Canada, despite what some may say. For example, I ordered a "regular" sized frappaccino-ish thing at a coffee shop here, and received what we would consider a 7-11 equivalent Big Gulp sized cup, with about 12cm of whipped cream piled on top. Well, there's my caloric content for the day. Now I don't need to buy any other food for the next 9 hours! The Texan accents don't abound quite as much here in the international terminal as I would have liked, but every now and again I come across a really good one which makes me quite happy.

(Haha, the 2nd flight crew member just came by with a computer. I guess this free wireless is a well known secret amongst the air travel crowd. Oh, I just had to help him connect to the network, though. He must be new to the spot)

Of course, the cultural differences continue the farther south that you go. Last night we had a big cultural fair where each country (except Canada--we're so unfun) put on a really impressive display of their home nation. They all put quite a lot of effort into the displays. I was really impressed. They had professional backdrops with gorgeous images from their countries (particularly the Carribean countries), free little souvenirs or products, tons of food samples, delegates dressed in traditional clothing, dance demos, and, believe it or not, an incredibly diverse and ABUNDANT amount of different alcoholic beverages at each! It was pretty funny for us, since alcohol is SO not OK at Scouts Canada events (well..... it sort of is occasionally, but there's lots of rules and there can't be any youth members present, and its just generally discouraged). Yet, here we were, with allll delegations dragging me over to their booth and shoving alcoholic beverages in my hands. Unfortunately I wasn't feeling suuuuper well that day (total altitude sickness symptoms, but I'd already been in Quito for days so I don't think it actually was AMS) so I was trying to avoid drinking, but it was mighty difficult. Picture this: Mexico's booth. A tall, round table, with a huge bottle each of tequila and kualua in the middle, with dozens of shot glasses, limes, and bowls of salt around the perimeter. Then add various "oh! oh! oh!" chants and a drink called a "chacaracha" (or something) which involved mixing tequila and kalua and lighting it on fire, and you've got yourself a pary. =) Hehehe, Scouting is different in other parts of the world!

My favourite part by far was the dancing. Countries brought CD's from their homes, and some even had live bands, so there was lots of great latin music playing. Everyone knows that Latin people are great dances (Caribbean too!) and noooo one is too shy to seriously give'er, so it was really fun. Boy, did I feel out of place at times, though! Lots of people were trying to teach me different dances from their countries, and I was generally terrible at all of them. Especially couples dancing to Brazilian music. Yah, I'm no good at following. Stupid Canadian boys who don't know how to dance and therefore haven't taught me how to properly follow a lead. Ricardo, the Brazilian guy who was trying (trying being the operative word) to teach me asked at one point "well, how do they dance in Canada?" "Really lamely" was all I could reply. It was an awesome, super fun evening. I'll have to be back to Latin America for further fun!

Yesterday was about more than just partying, though. It was our first official day of the actual meetings of the conference. Now I REALLY felt like I was in the UN! There were rows and rows of tables and chairs, all with fancy gable-style plaques in front with the name of the country delegation. Of course, we all had the translation headphones again, too. These were VERY serious meetings, with extremely strict voting protocols. I think we determined the vote quorum by identifying each country present at least 3 times throughout the day, and the secret ballot process we went through to vote for the new members of the Interamericas Scouting Region Committee was pretty insane. The ballots were counted in front of all of us to ensure there were only exactly the right number, and the rest were destroyed. The ballot box was opened and showed to all to prove it wasn't pre-stuffed. Then we were called up country by country to receive our ballot. Then the countries with proxy votes were called up. This was where the fun came in for me: I was voting on behalf of St. Lucia! Hehehe, ooooh the random things I've done in Scouting. Then we got a ridiculously long time to mark our "x's", then we were each called up one by one again to place our ballots in the box. Chris got some funny photos of my putting the St. Lucia ballot in the box. Afterwards he said "Jess, sometimes you take pictures and you're just like 'yup, that's Facebook material all right.'" Haha, so check facebook soon for Jess-as-a-St. Lucian-photo soon! Theeennnn the ballots were counted one by one in front of everyone and each vote was indivdually read out. Are you bored yet? Imagine how we felt. I had pretty much pulled out my computer by this point.

Speaking of my computer, I think I'll insert a little story here. I walked back to my hotel at lunch to pick it up. It's about 15 minutes each way. It was the middle of the day, so I never felt particularly unsafe, but a blonde girl with silver ballet slipper-style shoes in a Scout uniform attracts a certain amount of attention. I got the usual whistles and "beautiful girl!" comments, but the funniest one was from these guys that started yelling "Boy Scout! Girl Scout! Where are your cookies?" Hehe, I guess the girl guides sell cookies in Ecuador, too. I did take a different route back, though, so I wouldn't have to re-encounter the same people.

We also had a number of presentations at the meetings which were really interesting and informative, including two on a recent crisis facing World Scouting as one very large, highly populated country (ahem, no names mentioned) basically threw their weight around and demanded the resignation of the Secretary-General of the World Scout Bureau two weeks ago, which was quite shocking to the rest of the world. Another one I was particularly interested in was in regards to the World Scouting Conference and World Youth Forum which are to be held consecutively in Korea in July 2008. It's my new goal to attend these events, although it will involve, yet again, missing 2 key weeks out of the summer which will likely cause me severe problems in finding decent summer work. But.... it's another one of those "once in a lifetime experience things" and I'm really hoping to get more involved with Scouting on an international level in the coming months and years, so... sometimes sacrifices have to be made. I won't know until like February if I've been selected to go, but I think I have a pretty good shot. I REALLY wanted to go the last one, held 3 years ago in Tunisia, but it didn't happen. Hopefully this time will be my chance. I think it's important to have some continuity in these international delegations so you can actually build on your experiences and connections, rather than starting from square 1 every time.

Monday was another great day, but I stayed out way too late to do a blog entry upon my return (what's new, right?) No wonder I wasn't feeling well yesterday. I've been completely sleep deprived for at least 10 days, I've hardly been eating anything and what I have been eating has been a bit strange for my system, and I've been going hard every day above 10 000 feet. Yesterday, all I consumed all day was fruit and alcohol! Hahahahahaha, yes, the perfect model of youthful health. Anyways, back to Monday. It was a full day of workshop sessions, again all of which were great and very applicable to my position in Scouting. I received some awesome info which is perfect for my sessions I'm chairing over the next couple of days in Vancouver. The only problem is I now have to create those presentations. Good thing I have 9 hours here at the airport! Andres, who works for the World Scout Bureau in Geneva, was really nice though and gave me a ton of documents and powerpoint presentations to help me out, so I have a good start. Unfortunately, I no longer had a personal professional translator for these sessions, but an amazingly kind Mexican named Leonardo stepped up to plate and translated in me and Chris' ears during each session for a day and a half. Poor guy, it must have been exhausting for him. But he did a wonderful job and we appreciated it SO much.

Monday night we had yet ANOTHER incredible experience. It was then that I really, truly came to terms with how worth it this trip had been and how it was a totally reasonable trade off to miss school. At a bit after 6:00pm the entire conference loaded on to a convoy of tour buses to begin our trip to the opening ceremonies. And guess what? We had a police escort the entire way! The traffic in Quito is UNBELIEVABLE horrible, worse than Vancouver even, and often you're just stuck at a complete standstill. So we had a combination of police bikes and SUVs which blocked off roads for us as we went. An adorable Scout (or Venturer?) on our bus gave us a little tour of the old city as we went. She'd helped me out translating a number of times already at the conference. Eventually, we arrived at the Quito City Hall. Now, this was quite an experience. We got off the bus amid flashing police lights, barracaded in by those temporary event fences, and proceeded to make our way through a huge cheering crowd waving home-made flags! I don't know who these people were or why they felt we deserved such praise and warm welcome, but it was really cool and exciting just the same. Then we went down the stairs of the building where a large police (or military) band was playing and various dignitaries were waiting to shake our hands as we entered the "house." The Opening Ceremonies were very formal, with a combination of speeches and cultural displays. The speeches were pretty funny because only a couple of speakers had given the girl who was translating copies or their talk, so she had to do her best to stumble through. The best one was by the Minster of something-or-other and Education, who was there on behalf of the President of Ecuador. He gave a great speech which was quite funny, but difficult for the girl to translate. The funniest part was, he totally spoke English, so she would stumble over words and he would correct her! We were all laughing about it, but I think the poor girl was rather embarrassed and just wanted that darn speech to end. I spoke to her afterwards, though, to express our (the ignorant English speakers') extreme gratitude for her efforts and told her she did a great job. After the ceremonies were over we were led by cute little kids, about 6 years old, in traditional Ecuadoran dress carrying candles, out to the big outdoor square in front of the building. Here, in an incredible setting, we all danced to police/military band. So fun! Then it was back on to the busses.

We had no idea where we were going at this point, but the North Americans were getting pretty hungry. It was probably after 9pm and we were wondering where the message had gotten lost about us eating dinner ahead of time (like the rest of the world, Latin America eats much later at night than Canada). So, we got on the buses and began a long journey with our police escorts throughout Quito. Eventually we started up a long, winding mountain road until we came to a massive, lighted statue of the Virgin Mary. Picture that famous statue in Rio, Brazil. It was kind of like that. One of the Mexicans had a congo drum, so a bunch of us youth just started a big, fun, sort of dancing, clapping, drumming parade down the road singing and laughing. It was sooo fun. And the songs were pretty basic so I could pick them up and sing along no problem. At certain points they'd be like "Viva conga Canada!" and Chris and I would bust in out in the center. Oh, it was awesome. As usual, I have no pictures. But hopefully Chris will send me his and I can post them. In the meantime, there are a few posted on his blog site, but you need a password to get in. So e-mail me if you would like to see them.

Our "parade" went to this very swanky restaurant on the side of the mountain, where we were given champagne (on an empty stomach, yet again!!!) and eventually, some hors-d'oeuvres. More fun and silliness followed in this amazing setting with all of Quito laid out below us (we were starting to get to know each other fairly well by this point). Chris and I decided to buy a rum and coke since we WERE in Ecuador, but of course right after we bought it we were told the buses were going to leave! Ooops. So I had to chug this extremely dry beverage back. Chris was impressed.

The bus back to the hotel was fun. The Brazilians were playing with us and teaching us (apparently) VERY bad words on the pretense that they were innocent phrases like "thank you very much!" Chris now has a bad reputation among the Portuguese delegates. =) All in fun, though. (Wow, you guys are going to think we're TERRIBLE Scouts, aren't you? I'm telling you, it's a different culture down there! You've got to let go!) Now, despite the fact that it was at least 11:30 and I hadn't had more than 5 hours of sleep at once since I got there, I some how was convinced to head to the Hilton's bar instead of taking the shuttle back to our hotel. It was a pretty fun night, but I seem to have made a bit of an impression. Ahem. I wasn't out of control by any means, but I definitely had a few "soooo Jessica! How are you feeling today?" comments the next day. I was totally fine, though (note: Tuesday's illness was not drinking related, so don't think that!). Not exactly the international Scouting rep I'd hope to create. =) Nah, again it was all in good fun. They loved us Canadians.

Well, I think that's about it for this chapter of the blog. I'll try to post some more pictures when I get my hands on them, but for now I REALLY need to get some work done. Thanks for reading!


29th November 2007

Great posting Jessica. I forgot to bring home my computer's AC adapter last night and just about ran down the battery while reading your very long missive. I suspect that the Vancouver meeting will be a come-down after the Quito activities. At the very least there will be a lot less sun, booze, music, and dancing. I look forward to seeing the promised pics when you return to Victoria. Love Mom

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