the joys of technology

After a month here in Buenos Aires, yesterday was my first difficult day. I couldn’t figure out what exactly how to do what I wanted: buy some headphones and some shoes. The clothing stores seemed all be closed and the headphones were all prohibitively expensive. I just couldn’t seem to find the cheap stores. I felt lost in a city that didn’t understand me. That night I had a dream about traveling.

In the dream I had just finished traveling for awhile in South America but for some reason I had to take a break. I was in my parents’ house so I probably returned to the USA for an event. Now the field had changed and it might be easier for me to travel in Europe than in South America. But I was torn on where to travel and I asked my dad for advice. He responded in tersely like “get with the program, buckaroo, why aren’t you just doing it?” The dream ended with my mom asking how many people would be eating tomorrow and my father saying something like “there’s Nathan cause he will never finally get out of here” and I said “I won’t be here for dinner. Tomorrow I’ll be traveling.” And everyone got upset because they wanted me to stay and they wanted time to say goodbye.

Why this dream… and why now?

I’ve decided to do something similar: stay in Buenos Aires for at least a year or so. I will be just living here and working, no plans, just sopping up the city.

Luck comes and goes. When I lived in Seattle I felt hard pressed to find a lucky break but here in Buenos Aires luck seems to grow on trees and the streets are lined with it. Joe’s parents say that lots of serendipity points to being in the “correct place.” After a month and a half I have a good paying job and a great place to live. I seem to be making some friends and already have a location for my first murder mystery party, to be written entirely in Spanish. I am aiming to have it in February in El Tigre. All are welcome.

Another stroke of luck was a couple weeks ago when, by chance my, mom’s dental hygienist was visiting Argentina and brought me a new camera along with my laptop. Both items are twice to three times that of the price in the States. I’ve noticed that writing has been very difficult without photos to illustrate it. This is conspicuous because in the month between the time I lost my camera and the time I received my new one I blogged perhaps only once or twice.

The other windfall was my laptop, which I am writing on now in my room. When I bought my laptop a month before I left on my trip I had thought it a “mistake.” When you measure a laptop against two and a half months of good travel, the choice is clear, especially when you can’t reasonably take a laptop backpacking. There’s no internet connection so it’s perfect for me now. I have a place I can sit, reflect, write and read email without having to be connected all the time. Also Lisa is lending me some amazing speakers and combined with downloading songs on the internet at work I have an amazing stereo. After 3 months without my own music in my life, it’s wonderful to have it here.

On it I had done my preliminary planning for the trip. I had Excel spreadsheets that inaccurately laid out my budget for my time abroad, lists of things to do before I left and final farewell emails. And there was music. I remember before my trip my mom telling me that all my music was sad. And she was right! Take for example the syrupy sad Jackie Green album “Gone Wandering” that I listened to nonstop before I left:

I woke up Wednesday morning with bad weather in my brain
I laid awake awhile just ignoring all the rain
Cause everybody’s talking about who they want to be
Everybody’s talking everybody except me

And I got a little money and I got a little time
And I got myself a pickup truck that I can call mine
I got myself a guitar and I got myself some friends
Some folks say I’m lucky but I think it all depends

On the lens that you are looking through and the music that you hear
‘Cause sometimes you don’t recognize your own face in the mirror
And I can’t help but think about what I done wrong
To deserve this roaming, this traveling song…

The notes I wrote reflect this same confusion.

BEFORE.TXT (5/16/05)
bring stuff to sharon’s house

-bring stuff to devon’s house
-WAMU deposit
-goodwill run
-teruki DINNER

-steal pie and meet with sharon’s friend?????
-practice guitar

TOMORROW
pack up car
move big stuff
clean house
mathew bookcase
christina
meet with felix and cindy, say bye and thanks

TRAVELPLAN.TXT (5/30/05)
travelplan

peru
– mostly nature stuff
– hiking
– meeting people
– learn some peruvian music?
– english language schools

bolivia
chile
uruguay
paraguay
brazil
panama?
argentina?

then

guatamala
costa rica
mexico
etc

good map of south america

FEELINGS.TXT (6/15/05)

relax before the trip
enjoy being somewhere at home
it’s ok to relax

-contact SERVAS people
-bike into choices
-read books
-play games with jolene
-READ

I left on 6/28/05 and I have not looked back. I am not even sure if there is a back anymore, it seems that returning the United States is just another step on the journey.

accepting work

I was invited back for a second interview which contained a kind of short test to see how well I operated in Word. Mark offered me the job and I accepted. I had decided to accept the job before we talked about the particulars. I was happy and I wanted to work.

MY NEW WORKSPACE (WITH MATE GOURD)

MY NEW WORKSPACE (WITH MATE GOURD)

It felt wonderful to go in and be treated as part of a team, working on a common job with a common goal, to be rewarded with money and praise, with people who believed in their project. It felt good, a friendly relaxation from feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders. Perhaps Atlas was tricked or perhaps without the world resting on his shoulders he felt too light, too weightless and without inertia.

But in the same moment it was strange. Here after so long out of the fold of standard work it felt strange that their priorities were all product based. At the school I worked at, my main work experience thus far, we were process oriented. We did not measure our success by grades, tests, overall graduation rate, or anything else. We actually had no objective means of measuring our success at all.

What we did have was goodwill, love, resources and a means to distribute them to kids. Perhaps we did have some standard by which we judged ourselves but I was never aware of it at the time. Our philosophy was very Christian in it’s basis: “go out and do good” and “We come not to destroy the Learning Objectives and the Average Daily Attendance but to uphold it.”

Our standards were more like did our students smile more, did Sarah like math now, or did we have more or fewer things to stamp, sign or photocopy. But these were never objectively measured and we never would have wanted them to be. We shied away all form of measurement, perhaps because our job was more art than science. We were the caretakers of the cracks pushing back those near the edge who were losing their balance.

Perhaps, standing back and looking at the numbers (and by “the numbers” I mean people’s lives and the work and value that they place on those lives) there are patterns that form and perhaps by working harder in one area while focusing less on another we could, perhaps, have done a better job. Perhaps then we could have reduced our art to science, perhaps made it capable of being performed by a computer program while we hurried around doing something else, but there was something that always struck me as intense when I see the resistance that many teachers have towards measuring progress. Perhaps it is in the measuring of lives we place values on those lives.

I have a friend back in Utah working for a large multinational corporation named Honeywell. She needs the job for her baby, who is about 4 months old at the moment. She has a family to support. But Honeywell is a company that does bad things like make parts of bombs. Recently there was a bomb that was marked as food and exploded a lot of people in some far away country. That bomb was partly made by Honeywell. She feels like she does bad things in order to feed her family.

Like many large projects we see only one small piece of the puzzle and will never understand the impact that our work has on the world. Our job is to fill the textbooks, to make them more efficient, so that students can learn the data inside. The company’s goal of providing quality educational resources seems to be pure but I doubt there’s a single employee who thinks much about the students, except as he might feel a twinge at not finishing the last morsels of his plate because of the “starving children in India.”