May 30, 2009 - 1:00 PM
Last night was the second annual Kava Night, hosted by People of the Pacific (POP), a UO group of students of Polynesian decent.
The free event included a fabulous meal (including Spam!), live music, dance performances, information about several Island cultures, and Kava.
Kava is a kind of tea made from a root that grows on the Pacific islands. It is legal and available in stores, and has effects similar to alcohol. Each culture has a different name for Kava, and a different tradition of consumption, from mystical to medicinal to "just for fun."
The event took place in the Wesley Center, which has a stage and enough room for the 75 or so people who showed up for this fabulous event. We snacked on coconut slices, drank Kava, and answered trivia questions to win shell necklaces and palm fans. The Kava part included the Fijian traditions around Kava, including how to ask for another round and the correct response to a drink. Kava is not something you sip on: it tastes "earthy," or, more accurately, like dirt. But there is a really nice ceremony to it, with an emphasis on the group and on appreciation for the drink. (This actually reminded me of drinking "mate" in South America, which also has a ceremony to it, and which tastes like weeds, rather than dirt.)
The dancers were absolutely amazing. There were Hawaiian, Tongan, Samoan, Tahitian dances, mostly choreographed by student dancers themselves. My friend Ria, who is Samoan, was in charge of the event, and also sang, danced, and choreographed. The Hula dancers were part of Island Arts Productions, which is a dance school in Eugene. I was interested to see hula performed by dancers who knew what they were doing, and to hear an introduction to each song and learn about what story the dance was telling. The dancing is beautiful, and very unlike the stereotypical "hula girl" image of the dance.
Each group had a very distinctive look to their dancing, but still had a recognizable relation to each other. The different outfits and musical styles combined to make a truly multicultural feel, even for someone who knows very little about Pacific Island cultures.
Next year I will be attending more events hosted by POP. They hold dances, musical performances, and cultural events. My friend even offered to teach me hula!
May 28, 2009 - 7:00 PM
Today there was a volunteering and internships fair at the EMU on campus. Representatives from around Eugene came and set up booths, and students could go and find opportunities in their community.
I love events like this.
It's so exciting to hear about what people are doing in Eugene to improve the community. There is so much activism here, and so many people working to make our home a better place. But it's not just the representatives of the organizations that I find inspiring. I love to go and see that UO students are willing to spend some time to hear about organization and consider spending their precious free time making a difference in their community.
There were a large variety of organizations represented. The organizations I spoke with included:
-FOOD for Lane County: provides food to organizations for free distribution. Their projects include organic gardens, food reclamation from restaurants (including UO cafeterias), a summer lunch program for kids to replace their school lunches, soup kitchen, and repackaging of bulk foods for distribution.
-Shelter Care: a housing program for adults with mental illness
-Eugene Parks and Open Space: volunteer opportunities to maintain and improve Eugene parks, rivers, and open spaces
-IE3: international internships for UO credit
-The Child Center: an education and support program for children with behavioral problems in school.
-SASS: a campus group for women's issues and sexual health
(I somehow don't have the name for these last two)
-A recycling project for electronics to ensure that chemicals are not disposed of incorrectly (they had a statistic that a single cell phone can contaminate 400,000 gallons of drinking water)
-A project to encourage Natural Gardening with pesticide-free areas and protection for farmworkers to avoid exposure to chemicals
There were other groups there as well, including a Peace Corps representative, but they had left by the time I arrived.
Like I said, events like this are so incredibly exciting to me. I took fliers and publications, signed up for email lists, and heard everyone out. I hope to spend some time at several of these organizations over the course of the summer and maybe next year as well. Because of my job (which is never consistent as to specific work hours), I have to be careful committing to a consistent volunteer schedule. I am hoping to return to Volunteers in Medicine for the summer, and will also look into a community garden for Latino families, Huerto de la Familia. For the holes in my summer volunteering schedule, I plan to spend a lot of time at FOOD for Lane County. I would love to work in their gardens, make school lunches for kids, and organize cans. Actually that last one is probably my favorite: there is something incredibly comforting to me in moving canned donations around. For one, it is repetitive motion that I can concentrate on and be competitive about against the clock, which lets me get out of my head a little and focus on a physical motion. For another, it makes me happy to have people's meals passing under my hands. I become part of the chain between people who are willing to donate food to those who need it.
Anyway, if you are looking to fill extra time this summer, I encourage you to look up one of these organizations, or to find another in your hometown to work with this summer. You can gain amazing skills (like gardening!) this way, and know that your time is well-spent in service to your neighbors.
May 27, 2009 - 3:00 PM
I spent my Memorial Day hiking with friends in the extreme beauty of the Oregon Cascades. We took the city bus Number 91 all the way up to the McKenzie River Ranger Station, which is about an hour and a half from downtown Eugene. The city buses are free with student ID, so this was a completely free trip, which just adds to how wonderful it was.
The day was sheer perfection. The weather was perfect for hiking, and the Oregon forests are so completely beautiful. To my mountain-snob Colorado eyes, the Cascades leave something to be lacking as far as elevation goes. But whatever they lack in height they make up with sheer GREEN. The biodiversity here is just incredible: hundreds of kinds of plants, all the tree species, fungus and moss on the trees, and flowers all around. To my high-elevation Colorado eyes, this much green seems both impossible and miraculous.
We hiked about four miles up the trail, crossing over little streams and often right beside the beautiful McKenzie River. Four miles up the trail there is a hot springs resort, which we wandered into and took a nap on one of the lawns in their garden. We had a picnic lunch, and then packed off toward the bus station. The 91 bus line only runs twice a day on the weekends, so you have to head up early in the morning and head back early, because if you miss the bus it is a LONG way home.
We had a picnic dinner beside the river at the base of the trail, sharing tortellini (which has somehow become a hiking staple) and the good company. We talked with the other people hiking the trails, including some fabulous mountain dogs.
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One of my goals this summer is to discover more of these wonderful places around Eugene. Just how far can I get on the city buses? What is available within a 30 minute car drive? Within city limits there are several wetland and wilderness areas and city parks that I have still not explored.
Oregon is far too beautiful to leave unexplored.
May 24, 2009 - 11:00 AM
This blog requires some background information before going into my travel story.
First, I work for the American English Institute at the University of Oregon (please see my previous blogs on the subject). I work as a tutor and activities coordinator for international students who have come to Oregon to learn English.
Sometimes, instead of individual students coming for a term or a year to learn English, groups of students come from a university to learn English together. These students are often here for a shorter period of time, and pay an extra amount of money to have activities and trips planned and facilitated for them. I am a Lead Activities Coordinator with these special groups. We take them to Portland, the coast, the mountains, and Crater Lake.
The Humphrey scholars come to the United States on a kind of reverse Fulbright program. They are mid-level professionals in developing countries who do advanced research at a prestigious university for a year through a program in the State Department, which pays for their studies here. But some don't have the level of English required for this kind of long-term study to be conducted in English. So they come to us first.
Right now we have nine Humphrey Scholars, who are here from Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. Their professional areas include road construction, drug prevention, women's health, telecommunications, and service programs for disabled peoples. They are a fascinating group. To make matters even more interesting, two of our Humphrey Scholars are blind. Brigitte from the Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), and Svetlana from Russia are both blind. This has meant some adjustment to our programs, and some crash courses in disabilities services. Brigitte, who has only recently lost her sight, needs a sighted guide any time she is not on the floor of her dorm room.
I work out with Brigitte twice a week and get meals with her four times a week. This is in addition to providing general support for the Humphreys: when they arrived I did airport pickups, set them up in their dorm rooms, helped them get ID cards and email addresses and bank accounts.
All this will inevitably lead to a more detailed blog for another day. But with that background information in place, I'll move on to our day-long trip to Portland with the Humphrey's yesterday.
It could not possibly have been a better day. The weather was perfect. There were two other Activities Coordinators with me, which made it easy to keep track of everyone and not worry about losing anyone in Portland.
We went to the rhododendron gardens, which I had never seen before and were incredibly beautiful. We spent an hour there, looking at the flowers, the waterfalls, the ducks and geese, and the little kids playing with the ducks and geese. I was guiding Brigitte, so we touched the flowers and trees, and I had a great time trying to explain the difference between a duck and a goose to someone who has never heard a goose honk before. She has a great sense of humor and was endlessly entertained by my description of how ducks go "bottoms up" to eat off the bottom of a pond. I had borrowed a video camera for the day at Brigitte's request. She was so excited, and now she will be able to show her friends and family back home the places she went (think about it: this way she can at least hear what people are saying, and that way interact a bit with what they are seeing).
Then we went to Pioneer Square for food and sightseeing. Gabriela from Uruguay found a place for sushi, which she was extremely excited about. She lives almost exclusively on sushi and yogurt. Svetlana was particularly excited about the candy store in Pioneer Place (the mall). I got permission from the teller to have her try candy, which was so fun! She said she wanted to try something "interesting," so I gave her a Sour Patch Kid (even though I heard my mother's voice warning against giving an adult such gross candy), and she really liked it (ha!). She got $20 worth of chocolate and sour candy. That woman has quite the sweet tooth.
Then we went to Powell's bookstore, and the Humphreys loved it. Several said they would be coming back to Portland just to buy more books and gifts there. They all laughed when I told them I hoped Heaven would look like that, but a couple agreed with me anyway. Svetlana and I found an audio recording of Brave New World and talked about our mutual love for depressing dystopian novels. Then, in an effort to make a massive bookstore more entertaining for two women who couldn't see it, I took them to the children's section and read aloud some of the most important books of my childhood. If we'd had the time I would have read a whole novel, but I told them they were hearing essential pieces of American culture. I read Dr. Seuss's Fox in Socks (I had forgotten how difficult this was to read), Eric Carl's The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight, Moon, and everyone's favorite Where the Wild Things Are. Two amazing things came out of this: first, I got to read some of these old favorites again, and second, they told me I could be an audio book reader, which is just about the nicest thing I could think of anyone saying to me.
We finished our day at the Portland Saturday Market, eating ice cream, drinking lemonade, listening to the live music, walking on the waterfront, and doing some shopping. Although I spent some time with the other Humphreys, I again was serving as a guide for Brigitte and Svetlana. I had them feel an assortment of carnivorous plants, as well as insect sculptures made out of scrap metal kitchen implements. We looked for earrings for Brigitte, and found a beautiful stained glass hanging with a seashell embedded in it as a gift for one of Svetlana's teachers.
Then we packed the twelve passenger van and headed home.
I hope I am doing this trip justice in written form. I can only add that this was the most fun I have ever had in Portland, and I have lots of amazing memories of Portland. I love seeing the city through the eyes of foreigners, and hearing them talk about how it is different than places they are familiar with. I also found myself truly loving the mind game of turning Portland into an audio and tactile experience. I walked around Portland describing what I was seeing, trying to be as expressive as possible while also being limited to the vocabulary of English language learners. Svetlana would ask for "interesting" things, so I would look around and try to imagine what would be most interesting to someone who could not see.
Aside from all this, being with the Humphreys is a real treat. They are an amazing group, who are excited to be here and are so patient with us in our mistakes (we were comically lost trying to find the Rhododendron Gardens. We also got on the wrong bus once, but figured this out quickly). It has been an incredible privilege to work with them, and I am looking forward to continuing this job into the summer. In late June twenty more Humphreys will be arriving. While this feels a bit like a logistical nightmare, I am also extremely excited about the possibilities for more time spent with these amazing international students.
May 22, 2009 - 1:00 AM
This is not a romantic blog.
This is yet-another blog about a mind-blowing concert I attended. This time, it was the Decemberists, an indie rock band out of Portland, OR. I saw them at McDonald Hall in the spring of 2007, and it was a true highlight of my freshman year. During that concert, lead singer and former UO student Colin Meloy actually got off the stage, leaned on my friend Verni, and played a solo. Then, during the final encore, they brought out a massive paper mache whale and made us practice screaming and gnashing our teeth.
I have two regrets from that concert: first, I didn't have a camera, and second, I didn't buy a shirt.
As you might have guessed from the description of that 2007 concert, The Decemberists are a determinedly odd group. Their songs are often on such diverse subjects as Civil War love songs ("Yankee Bayonet"), Spanish blood feuds ("Oh Valencia!"), revenge on the high seas ("A Mariner's Revenge"), and an apology for losing a friend's bicycle ("An Apology Song"). It was during the "Mariner's Revenge" that the whale made its appearance during the 2007 concert. In addition to all of this, they insist on using obscure vocabulary. One of their albums is titled "Picaresque," and I bet that less than half of the people who will read this know what that means. I had to look it up and I'm a literature major, so don't feel too bad. (Check out Wikipedia if you are feeling bad about this. The basic idea, though, is a novel about a low-class hero living by his wits. Think Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens). Another fun example of obscure vocabulary is a line from the song "The Island," that reads "The curlews carve their arabesques."
Anyway, I carefully charged my camera battery this time, and prepared for another mind-blowing experience.
Their new album, The Hazards of Love, is a sort of rock-opera. The songs form a single, unified plot, and the singers have characters and costumes. They added two female vocalists for the album, Becky Stark and Shara Worden, who each added a new depth and power to their music. The plot line is distinctly indie rock: (spoiler alert!) The Queen of the forest finds an abandoned baby, and raises him, giving him the body of a fawn by day and a man's by night. But of course a woman comes along and they fall in love, and she becomes pregnant. The Queen is jealous, and helps The Rake to steal her away. Our Hero wagers his life for the chance to rescue her, and then they both drown in the river. Shara Worden is the lead singer for My Brightest Diamond, which opened for the Decemberists during their 2007 tour. She has an incredibly powerful voice, and the segments when she sang the Queen were simply amazing.
If you want to check them out, you should really listen to the album as a whole. But my favorite songs are "Won't Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)" and "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid."
In addition to playing the entire Hazards of Love album, the Decemberists also played about an hour of their older music. There was also a good amount of banter by Colin Meloy, including repeated references to his days as a resident in the Spiller Hall dormitories.
The big surprise of this concert was during the final encore song, which began with only three musicians on stage, but then evolved into an Oregon Trail reenactment as the other band members snaked their way through the crowd. Colin Meloy directed us to pretend to be "a wild river," "The Rocky Mountains," and "wild gypsies riding camels" (although I'm not so sure how historically accurate this is). Anyway, it was very funny, and meant that the crowd got some up-close-and-personal time with the band.
This time I bought a shirt. I don't usually, because the shirts cost as much as the concert tickets, which means that you can only go see half the number of concerts. But the tour shirts are awesome, and I don't regret it a bit.