Thursday, 20 December 2012

Rua Augusta

Quando eu viajo, os dias são muito longos. As novidades sempre fazem que as horas sejan muito mais largas e mais intensas. Hoje foi um dia muito ensolarado e quente em São Paulo. Depois da minha aula de português na escola, almocei e enquanto isso, tentava encontrar um destino pra minha tarde. Eu tinha toda a cidade de Sao Paulo pra explorar, pra ver coisas novas, pra ver rostos desconhecidos pra mim. Todos os meus almoços tinham issa mesma emoção: eu nunca savia o meu destino. Eu tinha que decider durante o almoço. Abri meu mapa, minhas notas, e decidi que Rua Augusta era um bom destino. Uma rua. Uma rua não tem destino. Uma rua vai pra outra parte. Não tem importância, eu pensei. Então, eu fui para a avenida Paulista e depois, fui direto até a rua Augusta. Comecei reconhecer todos os lugares que o meu amigo Gustavo me mostrou a noite anterior. 

Nós fomos ao Café Noir, um lugar com boa música, muitos livros, e um clima muito relaxado. Lá, nós escutamos uma banda de jazz muito boa. A vocalista era uma menina cuja voz era melhor do que a voz da Alicia Keys! No caminho, eu vi muitos bares de strip-tease, discos, cafés. Bom, eu caminhei na mesma rua e depois do almoço eu encontrei uma padaria, enseguida, o bar de strip-tease, depois, uma loja de abajurs de pé, depois um café "pay and see". Tudo misturado. Eu não conseguia acreditar que as familias caminharem na mesma calçada sem problema. Em Bogotá, todas as coisas estão agrupadas em setores. Diferente.

Caminhei até Bixiga. É uma rua que tem muitos restaurantes italianos. O mais famoso é Mancini. Esse e o nome duma familia italiana que começou o negócio mas agora, são só os nomes e a comida gostosa! Na mesma rúa há uma loja "Calligraphia". Lá, encontrei muita coisas lindas que me fizeram lembrar das minhas amigas Maylin e Monica, e da minha irmã. Oh, como teria gostado que elas estivessem comigo aí. Tinham muitas cosas que elas teriam  gostado de ver e comprar.

Depois caminhei para Higienopolis na rua Antônia. Encontrei uma galería de arte. Tive que perguntar muitas vezes pra pegar um ônibus. Adoro as perguntas. Mais eu adoro mais as respostas. Escutar as palavras que posso reconhecer, outras que são novas. À noite, nós jantamos com Gustavo em "Nice Cup" na Vila Mariana.


Another Christmas gift for my Capoeira friends

Tuesday, 18 December 2012


Contagiándome del espíritu Navideño, he decidido regalar historias de mis diarios de viaje. De aquí al 25 de Diciembre, espero poder escribirles a quienes ocupan un lugar en mi corazón. La primera va para mi única amiga por correspondencia.  La pueden leer en este sitio hermoso para contar historias: 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


Today I attended a very interesting webinar called Women and Leadership. It was held by the Yale School of Management. There were three guests but I can recall the names of only two: Beth Axelrod from E-bay and Linda Mason from Bright Horizons Family Solutions. Why do I remember them the most? Because of two things they mentioned. Here goes the first one: Beth Axelrod talked about behavior when entering the workplace and how women undernegotiate job offers. If I'm not mistaken, women tend to take the job offers without asking for more. She mentioned the compensation package. That is, if this company wants me in their staff, the question I should ask is: what are they going to offer to me in order to compensate all the changes I have to carry out when changing jobs?. That is the compensation package. Women should analyze job offers carefully and negotiate the compensation package. Speaking for myself, I had never thought about something like that. Especially under the working conditions for women in a developing country like Colombia.To my mind, a compensation package could even sound like a joke when I know there are 10 or 15 people behind me who would accept a job offer regardless the amount of responsabilities to take care of or if you get underpaid. For those people behind me in the waiting line in an interview, the most important thing might well be to have a regular income regardless the working conditions. That is why I don't really know what would happen if a woman said to a potential employer, her desired salary would need to include a compensation package! I'm not sure if I'm getting this concept right but last time I tried to negotiate, I just asked to make some corrections (number of students in my course and payment dates)to the contract I was supposed to sign as an online tutor. The answer was No answer! and I still don't quite know what's going to happen there because I haven't neither signed nor received another version of the contract. So, that is only an example to say, it would be so nice to be able to negotiate compensation packages and make companies and employers in Colombia understand the concept!

The second thing they mentioned was what has become an issue for me and for women who are my age: having a family Vs. a succesful professional career. I think this is a complete issue in a place like Colombia where there are very conservative values among families. As soon as I turned 25! people started asking "why haven't you gotten married? where's your spouse? And your children?" Very annoying questions for me since I had set up very specific goals regarding my career. From all mothers I've met during my whole life, I've figure out that finding that balance between a sucessful career and a happy family is one of the most difficult things to achieve. Especially if you end up alone, and the maternity leave in Colombia only lasts about 3 months, for example. If you are lucky, you are going to find your job back and/or good chances to negotiate your schedule.

Now that I've turned 31 and made my mind about not having a family in order to fulfill a career, I see all these women, in the webinar, who are succesfull and have 3 or 2 happy kids at home!! How do they do it?  Well, Linda Mason mentioned she had carried out a research project in which she had interviewed 100 women who were succesful and whose kids were healthy and very happy. Her findings are summarized in the "3 pillars of succesful motherhood". The first one has to do with excellent childcare. Either if you have a great nanny, or an efficient relative or someone you trust or all of the above, it is essential to have someone who does the babysitting work. Beth Axelrod concurred in this one by saying  that if you have someone you trust at home, taking care of your children, you can have the peace of mind to show up at work an focus without any worries. Second, Mason mentioned the importance of having someone with whom you can share the joy of raising-up a child. No matter if it is a spouse, a partner, a sibling, a relative, a close friend, it is important to count on somebody who is really involved in your child's upbringing. Again, Beth Axelrod added how important it is to be mindful when choosing a partner or husband who should be not only a good couple (which is the first aspect you look at when you start dating with a potential one)but a person who is eager to share parenting responsabilities unconditionally and is able to do it efficiently. And last but not least, the third pillar to a successfull motherhood relies on having the support of your employer so you can negotiate upcoming changes like a decent maternity leave or a flexible schedule.

From what I can see, these three pillars basically mean you need a complete team helping you raise your child and having a succesful career. I think it's really hard to do it alone. These ladies are really lucky. They have their complete team to be good Mums and sucessful professionals. But, how do single mothers manage? Do they choose? How do they manage when they are underpaid in non-family friendly workplaces? How do they do it if they are the only income in a family and the only pillar?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


 Taken from my daily entry from

Bogotá, June 11th, 2012

Today I read an article written by Juan Gossain, a journalist with a huge background in the Colombian media. He mentioned an incident carried out by Simon Gaviria, the president of the Cámara de Diputados de Antioquia. While discussing about alotting funds to the department of Chocó (one of the poorest areas on the Pacific coast), he shouted that giving funds to Chocó was like giving pearls to pigs due to the high amount of corruption among political leaders and civil servants there. The comment echoed inevitably in the local newspapers and Juan Gossain published an interesting article about regional diversity. He said basically Colombians have made our huge cultural diversity into a useless struggle of regions. If we want to insult each other, we name our hometowns and the worst stereotypes of each region we come from. Instead of being proud of our cultural diversity, we insult each other for being different. 

We are not learning from each other. We don’t know what it is like in distant regions like the Amazon or Chocó or Orinoquía. They don’t have a clue about how Pastusos live because there's no awareness of our identity as Colombians. I had already felt that. We are a country that has suffered from corruption, war, terrorism and inequality for so long that we are already used to it and we don’t recognize the richness of the different idiosyncrasies in our country. We need to develop an identity as Colombians because we feel so ashamed of being ourselves especially in front of people from other countries....we feel we don't have anything to show due to the awful fame we have (drugs, war, corruption). We need to develop an identity as Colombians by recognizing we are so different!!! Cachacos are different from llaneros, the latter are different from Costeños, the latter are different from isleños, we are all different and part of the same country (I feel we are all different because the areas where we live are geographically so different, we couldn’t be exactly the same. That's the feeling I have but I'd love to really know if that's true). 

If we constructed some kind of identity based on the awareness of our cultural diversity, we could come up with ideas like sustainable tourism, sustainable transportation, people could think of businesses that took advantage of e.g. local knowledge. Or the elderly could have a place in our communities. Loads of ideas come to my mind (Institutional projects in schools, community projects with vulnerable communities, projects related to the promotion of cultural diversity and tolerance, etc.). To my mind, Colombians need to start a huge healing process that purge so many years of violence and corruption. A healing process that allows Colombians recognize each other as different ones, sharing the same country but living in it in a different way.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Feliz cumpleaños muerte

Anoche asistí a un tipo de evento al que hacía años no asistía: un recital de poesía. Más de una docena de poetas fueron reunidos por el Tercer Festival de Literatura de Bogotá en la Galería Café Libro. Los poemas a leer debían tratar sobre la muerte a propósito de la fecha del evento. Noviembre primero, día de los muertos. El evento también incluía un homenaje a la recientemente fallecida Chavela Vargas. El concierto estaba a cargo de una cantante colombo-japonesa. Tremenda mezcla, pensé. Por eso, decidí asistir y a pesar de que no me quedé al homenaje, tuve la oportunidad de escuchar nombres de poetas que no conocía. De la docena de autores que leyeron sólo me gustaron los siguientes: Camila Charry, quién leyó un poema sobre violencia y lo aparejó con la imagen de un perro rabioso. La imagen de lo segundo lo recuerdo mas que lo primero porque la construcción de las imágenes sonaban tan bien caladas que se me quedaron atoradas en mi memoria a corto plazo. Esto más la buena dicción y claridad de la lectura del poema, me llevaron a preguntarle dónde podía leer mas de esas imagenes. Ella mencionó un libro suyo "Detrás de la bruma" y un periódico virtual "Confabulación" en donde ha publicado algunos de sus poemas. Este es un periódico virtual que le llega a 90.000 lectores semanales!

También me gustó un poema de Julio Daniel Chaparro. Lo leyó el anfitrión del evento y no el autor mismo porque fue asesinado en los 90's. Aún no tengo esta historia  pero ese dato ya es suficiente para alimentar mi curiosidad y buscar. Debo mencionar también a otra poeta: Gabriela Santa quien leyó un poema sobre la guerra. Me impresionó la calidad de las imagenes hiladas para describir una situación dolorosa. Siguiendo el tema del poema, ella le imprimió un tono al leer que realmente me causó impresión. Por lo que va hasta ahora, me gustaron los poetas que leyeron siguiendo al poema y no arrastrándolo, como cuando se canta una canción con desgano. 

Por lo anterior, se me ocurrre pensar en cómo se debería leer un poema. Debe haber mucha literatura al respecto, pero personalmente creo que un buen lector de poesía debiera evitar ese sonsonete de político setentero que quiere evangelizar a sus oyentes o cualquier rastro de sonsonete de sermón de Semana Santa, a menos que el poema lo requiera. Un buen lector de poesía debiera tener buena dicción y saber modular la voz para expresar el tono del poema: tristeza o alegría, de rabia o de dolor, de sarcasmo o halago. Si todos los poemas del mundo fueran leídos así, la poesía acabaría por gustarme del todo sin importar el tema o el tono.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Helping others in need: what it really takes

Long time ago, I had thought about going somewhere to help somebody in need but I was really afraid of seeing reality the way it was. I had always managed to dodge that idea but lately, I've been under, say, inner re-construction and I've posed many questions right into my own eye, like helping others and leading processes and basically take the initiative.

This idea about helping others makes me think of the actual trend of Humanitarian Tourism. The first time I ever heard about this term was when I met a Spanish nurse who worked for Doctors without borders . I met him in a very random place: the entrance of a bar. We met next day for lunch and he told me the whole story: He worked in Tumaco, a fishing village in the Colombian Southern Pacific Coast. He had been working there for a year or so,and when we met, he was in charge of a complete team of doctors and nurses. In less than 3 hours, he described what Tumaco was like, how simple life is for the locals, their needs, how harsh the sanitary conditions are, and how much money people waste in Bogotá: alcohol, party, restaurants, rents, etc. He was absolutely shocked about inequality in terms of covering people's basic needs in Tumaco and Bogotá people's expenses. During those three hours he picked up his cell phone several times to double check if his team of doctors and nurses were arriving safely to nowhere places they had to go to offer the only medical help people had around Tumaco. He also mentioned the latest trend of foreigners coming to developing countries to "help". What could they do in 2 weeks? He asked me trying to control an outraged tone in his voice. I could not answer. But he did right away: It's not about about dropping just once! Giving away gifts and that's it! I understood that if you want to really help a vulnerable community, you need to carry out a process, take the risk that the process will not lead you to a tangible outcome or result, and still keep trying. I remembered this story about the Spanish nurse while waiting in Portal Tunal for somebody to pick me up.

Looking at the bunch of foreigners waiting for somebody to take them to Ciudad Bolívar, I felt ignorant about what goes on with vulnerable communities there and kind of guilty for not taking the initiative before. But I wasn't ready. When you embark in a social venture like this, you need to be emotionally OK and strong enough to see pain, lovelessness, hunger and the like. Now, at least, I'm gathering all my guts to do something to help a little group of Colombians with NO resources at all, with absorbing jobs, families to feed, careers to fulfill and still, wanting to contribute to a small community in Ciudad Bolivar. Right now, these 3 accountants are opening the October-November cycle of Homework and School support. They need school supplies, white boards, forniture and above all well-intentioned people who help them regularly with the kids who go there to do homework or to learn to read. These accountants just have their will to help this community and that is how they have been through lots of trial and error stages during the last 2 years or so. What can I do to help them? Well, first, get involved with them and get to know the kids. As an English teacher I could basically give them a hand on Clasroom Management, for a start. That could be a great opportunity to review some principles and translate them into tips for these guys who are not familiar with pedagogical procedures with kids, for example. We brainstormed ideas like doing a diagnostic test, teaching the kids by doing or playing, etc. But first of all, I just need to get involved in order to start, really start doing something, to endevour a process. 

And you, what can you do to help us? Drop me a line if you WANT to try and stay for a while helping these Colombian kids who are so eager to learn and these 3 Colombian accountants who really want to contribute.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Saturday, 6 October 2012

The Secrets of Great Movies by Paul Brown

 Yesterday I attended a lecture by Paul Brown, a professor from the New York Film Academy. The main topic of his lecture was what makes a good story. He started talking about the quality of stories we see on TV and the cinema. Brown basically classified stories into two big groups: the kind of clever-boy stories in which we see a lot of noise, action, effects and we enjoy them with guilty pleasure despite their shallowness. There are other kinds of stories in which the readers or the audience can see how a character experiences an inner journey of transformation and self-discovery for good or for bad. Those kinds of stories are the ones that unmask the characters' humanity to the bone and make the reader or the audience feel connected.  To illustrate this, Brown showed excerpts from the movie “In America” written by Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan and Kirsten Sheridan. This is the story of a family who moved to NYC after the death of one of their children.

As we watched different parts of the movie he explained why the movie could emotionally connect the audience. First, he introduced the concept of the four selves that co-exist in a character:

The Public Self

This is how we present ourselves to the world. People are usually aware of this  self

The Private Self

This is how we behave behind closed doors. The way we behave in private with our families or loved ones.
The Blind Self

This is what we are not aware about ourselves. What other people perceive about us but we are not conscious about it.
The Undiscovered Self

This is are the beliefs that lie behind our emotions and behaviour. For example,  the painful events that justify someone’s choices.

A good story should play with these four selves in order to make a character go through an inner transformation that may imply make choices, face the consequences or not, move forward or backwards. The writer should have this idea clear enough to decide how to organize the events around a character. 

After sketching this, Brown mentioned other elements to make a good story. First, he mentioned the importance of having a backstory for the actual story told or shown on the screen. For example, in the film “In America”, the backstory of the actual storyline was the death of their 3 year old son, Frankie. This boy was present in the whole movie as a ghost: The characters talked about him, the narrator of the story asked wishes to him, he had become an issue for the entire family. But the actual death of this child was never shown on screen. It was part of the characters’ memories only. This backstory is the soul of the storyline in this movie since it unfolds the undiscovered self of the father of the family, and all private selves from the characters in the family fit perfectly well: they are all grieving Frankie’s death but they don’t say it aloud. So, the key to construct plausible stories that show inner conflicts is to understand the character’s biggest fears to make them face them and succeed or not.  For example, this is the key to construct a great antagonist character: The public self of an antagonist may be the consequence of a painful past event that leads this character perform certain behaviour that hurts people or him/herself. He gave other examples in which the character release ghosts from the past and can move forward. And this is the transformational inner journey that may get the audience connected. This transformational inner journey doesn’t necessarily have to have a happy ending. The craft of character-building relies on the unfolding of the four selves along the story. Any of the four selves can work as a fatal flaw, that is the reason why a character goes through situations, a wrong belief taken to deal with a painful event from the past, a self-defense mechanism or a coping mechanism from the character's behavior. 
The second element is the construction of empathy, fascination or mystery around a character. Here is where the writer decides what information to show in order to create this effect. Brown exemplified this with the movie Wallie: in the first scenes of the movie, the audience can see how Wallie lives, that he has an insect as a friend, that he watches musicals, that he dances. The audience can see that Wallie can be like any of us: human, loving, lonesome, etc. That is how empathy is constructed. If we are creating a hero, then we should show information that produces admiration, fascination or mystery. 

The third element has to do more with the plot. The writer needs to define the conflict, the issue that touches the reader or the audience. He mentioned the construction of a dilemma between a external problem and an internal problem from a character that implies internal transformation. In the plot, the writer needs to define the relationships among characters and how they are going to oppose or help his/her choices, for example. 

Last but not least, Brown mentioned a very key aspect of writing stories: What am I trying to say as an artist? What’s the message behind all the storyline? He said, the writer needs to have this idea clear too because it is the fuel that is going to keep the writer writing for about one or two years in order to come up with a good script. So, we should take something that matters to us: A feeling, an idea or an event from our past that means something special to us. From my point of view, it is important to question ourselves what is it that we want to do by telling a story. What do we want our readers or the audience to keep with them? Whatever it is, what the people keep from a story is what we, as writers, can contribute to the world.

Friday, 28 September 2012

My scarves = Stories & Memories

A cheap ultrafeminine black and pink floral scarf, a rip-off blue Indian silk scarf, a Dorothy Perkins squared foulard, an animal print satin head scarf, a vintage grey burgundy arabesque neckerchief, a huge purple pom-pom trimmed foulard, a heavy Turkish woolen pashmina, a fun turquouise bandana, a translucid black long scarf, a huge deep emerald green scarf, a red triangular cashmere shawl my mother wore in a wedding... All of them are specially placed in a piece of forniture that serves as a showcase in my room. And according to what I've heard, they have become an element that makes a difference. I started buying them because I always felt my neck naked and usually got colds even in warmer seasons... so, my collection started just to cope with a need and ended up having different anchors in my mind.

When I realised about this, I started travelling too. I found out myself scouting around many places and if I ever saw a scarf, I'd get it! That's what happened in Vila Madelena. This neighborhood happens to be one the most bohemian and hipster areas in Sao Paulo: lots of art shops, cafes, clothing stores, bars, shoe shops. I was going up a very steep street when I saw this entrance like an alley into a house. I just followed the stairs and found this second-hand shop where there were many "dominatrix" accesories, old jewelry, hats and a grey burgundy arabesque neckerchief. I couldn't leave it on that manequin full of belts and whips. I left the place and continued wandering until I got lost. So, I felt thankful I got this neckerchief because I could have never come back there.

Vintage shop somewhere in Vila Madelena, Sao Paulo, Brasil
A kind of similar memory I keep about  my heavy woolen turkish pashmina. It's turquouise on one side and multicolorly striped on the other. I didn't get it in Turkey though. I got it in a city where I spent the most life-changing two years of my entire life: Liverpool, England. There I worked as a Spanish assistant. By that time, I had no idea Zara or H&M or Dorothy Perkins existed (where my first purchases were...scarves) so, I kept scouting around for new stuff: cute dresses, weird shoes, British memorabilia or the like. One afternoon I saw this place full of half-empty showcases . There were some Indian people filling them out with stuff from huge boxes. When I entered, I saw zillions of colorful pashminas and one girl took out a turquoise one.I asked her to unwrap it and there it was: huge, heavy, colorful enough to cheer up my winter afternoons. It was so beautiful I wanted another one for my mother as a Christmas present...but when I got back that very next weekend, the shop had disappeared! I still have it as one of the most memorable pieces that kept me warm and cheeerful in those dark, lonely days in Liverpool.

Sometimes, my scarves remind me of people not exactly places.
La Alhambra from the rooftop of the flat Lola rented in El Albaicín, Granada, Spain
 Lola is one the dearest Spanish friends I made in this trip to Liverpool. She ended up in my school and we traveled together to Scotland and then she invited me to Andalucia. She has a lovely family: a loving husband and two kids. Despite the fact she's married and a mother, she showed me you don't stop being yourself if you get married (which was one of the beliefs I had adopted thanks to what I had seen in my home country). We traveled together to Nejar, Cadiz, Vejer de la Frontera and Sevilla. Here we wandered through the twisted narrow streets covered with fabrics to get some shade. We found ourselves in this place completely full of scarves that seemed smuggled from Morocco a hundred years ago. There, I got my pom-pom trimmed huge purple foulard which Lola thought was too heavy to carry back home. But what she didn't know was that my heart got a lot lighter since I realised a marriage didn't mean the end of my happy life. It meant the beggining of another.

Scarves have become symbols of what I've learnt, experienced, shared or just loved.  That is why they are not kept in my wardrobe: they are more than any accessory to keep me warm or pimp a weekend t-shirt. They are my personal trademark: they represent the stories I've starred by myself and that's why they are to be wrapped around my neck.