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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Meeting Bill Archer

The Bill Archer Fellowship Program was established by The University of Texas System in conjunction with Former U.S. Representative Bill Archer as a way to bring highly motivated and accomplished students to Washington, D.C. to participate in varied internships and take part in classes focusing on policy, economics, and persuasion. This semester, two McDermott Scholars -- Mary Makary and Sophie Rutenbar -- are Archer Fellows. You can read more about the Archer Fellowship Program here.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Visiting Cape Point

Contrary to popular belief, Cape Point is NOT the southernmost point in Africa and it is NOT where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic. It is, however, the most southwestern point in Africa and the location of the true Cape of Good Hope. We stopped at Hout Bay - a small fishing village - on the way.

We continued on and made it to the tip of the peninsula. While standing on the Cape of Good Hope I couldn't help but laugh at how ridiculous this was. Thinking back to elementary, middle, and then high school geography - every time I labeled the Cape of Good Hope on a map or did a matching exercise where this was the answer to a question, I never even fathomed that I would one day go there. And here I was. Outrageous. My life's been that way a lot, I think. I should just stop imagining what my future is going to be like because it never really turns out that way after all!

We made a few more stops on the way back after grabbing a bite to eat (swordfish is good!) including a visit to a beach overrun by miniature penguins. It was strange, but cool, to see penguins living on one of the warmest, most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. Hot sun beating down, naked kids splashing in the cool, clear water, and penguins chillin' on the rocks.

>> See Tim's blog

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Life in Vienna

This is a picture of me looking down on the long-lived Austrian mountain town, Murau. Filled with skiers in the winter, its local brewery is well known (and well loved) across most of Austria.

If asked on the street what they thought of Austria, nine Americans out of ten would conjure up images of Kangaroos or the Sound of Music. At best, public memory can recall that the country played some role in the first and second World Wars, if only as a matter of proximity. In spite of this, I came to the heart of Austria to study for the 2004 fall semester and I haven’t regretted a moment of it.

Life in Vienna is a fascinating mix of old and new. There’s something distinctly quaint about European life; everyone, it seems, walks a daily path that’s been traced for centuries into the past. In our world of plastic wrap and lunch to-go, many Europeans still go to daily food markets for vegetables, hang up every piece of wash, and travel by train more often than by car.

At the same time, this is still a very modern city. Many of the clothing styles are above and beyond the curve (compared to what you see in Dallas). You can find any number of chain restaurants and retail stores ranging from Hooters to McDonald’s. Ask any person on the street (though you may need German, Italian, French or Turkish to do so) a question about American politics or the policies of the EU and you will receive an energetic response.

Yes, Austria and Vienna have played an important role throughout history but they continue to play one today. Vienna remains one of Europe’s most prominent cultural centers, and you cannot help but find operas, symphonies, and musicals playing nightly across the city. The collections of art amassed under the discerning (and rich) hands of the Hapsburg rulers are worthy of any nation’s capital, and the long tradition of Vienna’s embroiled political significance continues to this day in the strong educational scene for aspiring international diplomats.

Life in Vienna has been very different for me; it’s given me a much more international outlook on the world and taught me much about history, in general. Living in a place that has played such a unique role in the historical development of a modern Europe encourages you so much to actually appreciate and learn the history. I’m sure that long after I’ve returned to the States, I will look back on Vienna, Austria, and Central Europe with an empathy and fondness that would be utterly foreign to me had I not had the opportunity to study here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Visiting the Great Wall of China

Looking around, nearly all that I could see was as it was when the wall was first built centuries ago. Walking on the Great Wall was more than stepping on a big pile of bricks. It was walking on history -- feeling the way that the Chinese and the Mongols felt when they encountered it. Strangely to us, many Chinese regard the structure as just a wall -- a simple fact of life. Much the same way, I think, that we regard 90-story buildings in New York City as just a place to go work. Being at the Great Wall was a surreal experience.

>> See Tim's blog

Thursday, September 30, 2004

A visit to Venice

I set out into the beautiful sun-painted cobble-stone streets of Venice and began to have a wonderful day. I purchased a map of the city and even one of Florence as well. (I was going to be very well prepared when I arrived in the next city!) Never mind that I later discovered that I purchased a map and guidebook of Florence that was all in German. Don’t ask me how it happened, suffice it to say that the plastic-wrapped set seemed understandable enough at the time that I didn’t even notice it wasn’t in English.

So with a fat back pocket (stuffed with two city maps and a guidebook, no less), I began walking around the east side of the city to San Marcos, the city’s single Piazza. The city was really fantastic. Little canals crisscrossed underfoot, streets and side-streets led every which way, and the weather really was perfect. It was worth it to do nothing more than people watch as hundreds passed up and down the narrow pathways.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

A visit to Verona

These arches are the outer portion of the original Roman arena that have survived. These are actually part of the logo for the arena (I guess no one else has this distinctive outcropping). It's really interesting to see how each arena crumbles and falls, because they're all different (Padua has barely anything left of an arena).

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Euro-Rail trip

The end of summer has marked a successful end to my studies in Cologne. I "passed" the Numerik math class that gave an end of the semester exam and got certificates of participation in the other classes who didn't offer takeable exams for me.
I left last Sunday after a frantic move-out from my 23rd-story apartment in Cologne and met a friend from Dallas, Aidan, at the train station in Duisburg, Germany. Aidan spent the summer learning Italian and touring the opera houses of Italy.
We met two Canadian girls on the connecting train to Amsterdam who recommended a youth hostel there. We had just picked one at random from the internet so we blindly followed. The Bulldog, it was called, happened to be in the midst of the Red Light District in Amsterdam so we got a first hand look at the Amsterdam underworld and nightlife in the evenings.
During the days we saw the Van Gogh museum, took a canal tour, hiked around the city, and visited the Nemo, a stunning Science and Technology museum with tons of neat experiments to wow little kids like me.
On Tuesday we headed to the Hague and spent a nice evening on the beach and even took a dip in the frigid North Sea waters. A beautiful sunset over the rocky pier ushered in the night and the chilly north wind. But we still had time and energy to admire the beautiful yachts moored in the cove and dream about hitchhiking a boat ride to Bilbao or Lisbon.
From the Hague the next morning we left early and went to Brussels where the whole town was out to celebrate our arrival. There were tons of people waving flags and the whole military and even the king turned up. It was actually the Belgian Independence Day and we just happened to visit at just the right time.
After a nice Belgian lunch and some potent dark beer, we hopped on the Thalys high-speed train to Paris and on to Bordeaux. We were originally planning to go to Nantes but we met some other Canadian backpackers who convinced us to head to Bordeaux, where on the first evening we tried to order two glasses of French wine and ended up with two half-liter beer mugs. Oh well.  The next day we took a tour of the Bordeaux vineyards and got to see firsthand more than we ever need to know about the entire wine-making process. It is indeed a feat that some of these little chateaus can bottle more than 400,000 bottles of wine a year.
From Bordeaux, we took a train to the coastal city of Arcachon and then took a ferry across the bay to Cap Feret where we have been for the last 24 hours. Yesterday we rented bicycles and rode all around the peninsula and put our feet in the Bay of Biscay. Since the youth hostel is so cheap here, we figured we could have one real 2-and-a-half hour French meal, which much more than made up the price differnce between here and the hostel's in the other cities.
From here it is on to San Sebastian, Bilbao, Salamanca, Lisbon, Gibrlater, Barcelona, Interlaken (switzerland), Nice, Monaco and Rome or until we run out of time along the way and have to speed to Rome to get Aidan to his flight home.
I then have another week to see Italy and return to Germany to collect my belongings that remain at my aunt's in the town of Hagen.

>> See Walter and Aidan's web site, EuroTrip 2004

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The dog days of summer

And greetings once again from the basement of the Mathematical Institute at the University of Cologne.  I hope this e-mail reaches you all in good health, good spirits and in a time that is not as hectic as the chaos during the rest of the year.

Since my last entry, I have crossed the little pond known as the Atlantic twice, on a 9 day trip to South Carolina to see my LITTLE brother Benedict's graduation and a house full of relatives, family and friends.

It was a great change of scenery for a few days and nice to see freinds and family after four months of separation.

The past few weeks have hardly seemed like "real" school at all here with the plethora of breaks and German holidays. Two weeks ago, we had the entire week off for Pfingsten, known in English as Pentacost, as the Catholic religion still dominates many aspects of life here.

This past week we had a Thurday free for Fron Leichnam, which has something in the church to do with the body of Christ.  In my first translation, the holidy became known as the "Happy Cadaver" and the name has stuck with me.

Our family has finally found a nice house in Atlanta and the planned move date is set for middle August, just before my return to the country. My father has received an awesome post at Georgia Tech's brand new research center for biology and materials sciences and will begin work there next semester.

Classes here in Germany are going well, but are seeming just a fraction of all that goes on here.  For instance, Fussball fever has struck Europe as the European Cahmpionships are currently being played in Portugal.

Germany tied their first game against Holland and also play against Latvia and The Czech Republic later in this first round. Fingers crossed!

In other news, a bomb exploded in Cologne in Little Istanbul about a week and a hlaf ago, but the international press made it out to be much more than it really was: Authorities think now that someone was mad at a Turkish barber in front of whose shop the bomb went off and devised this nail bomb as a result.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm usually not that upset over one bad haircut.

Well, time to head to the Mensa (Student Cafeteria) and grab lunch with some friends.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Mexico and back

Once in Chiapas, one of the southernmost states of Mexico, and after a three hour ride hanging off the back of a redila (basically a small truck with an open back covered only with a metal frame from which at least 20 people hang as we rumble through the mountainous jungle of Chiapas), we reached Zapatista territory.

The Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional orchestrated a 12-day armed uprising in January of 1994, and have since continued, through non-violent means, to call attention to the plight of the indigenous people of Chiapas -- namely economic exploitation, political and social exclusion, and a sub-human standard of living. And I got to visit their territory.

I was first greeted by a sign that read "You are now in Zapatista territory in resistance, where the people rule and the government obeys." A short walk through a mud path led me to the center of their community, a community that consisted of a small group of wooden houses surrounded by mud, animals, and the massive and gorgeous Chiapas jungle. The center of the community, a sort of downtown, was made up of a small store, a church, a K through 6th school, a library (which housed an impressive collection of Mexican history, literature, and Marxism), and some Zapatista offices, all decorated with the faces and words of Ernesto Che Guevara, Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, and the leader of the EZLN, Subcomandante Marcos. Messages like "Resistance into a new dawn," "United in the Struggle," and "Education, Health, and Resistance" emanated from these murals, accompanied by images of plentiful corn, of people of all colors, and of visions of justice.

The two University of Monterrey students who accompanied me and I first went to the Vigilance Committee, where women whose faces were covered interviewed me about the purpose of my visit. After waiting about an hour, they informed me I could speak to the Junta de Buen Gobierno (Council of Good Government), the governing council of the community. We went in once again for a similar interview, I asked if I could interview them and different members of the community about opportunity and social mobility, and I was told they would inform me of their decision later that day.

I spent the rest of the day speaking to a teacher, a member of the governing council, and some observers from the human rights center that enabled me to go to the community, trying to cook a meal with little to no utensils, and walking through the community as its people gathered at dusk to talk, smoke a cigarette, or simply stare at the darkening horizon as the rumbling of military convoys resonated not too far away.

As day turned into night, a member of the governing council approached me and told me I would not be allowed to perform my interviews. I also could not accompany them on their field labor the next day, which I had also asked about. And with those news ended my experience at the Zapatista community.

We headed back at 4am that night, riding the three hours back through the rainy jungle in an overcrowded and ancient American school bus, trying to sleep while standing and realizing the interminable distance between the world I had just visited, and that in which I live.

Mexico City was glorious, grand, gigantic and pulsing with the lives of its 20 million residents. I spent most of my time at UNAM, home of approximately 200,000 college students and excellent research institutes and programs. I visited the city?s museums, saw its innumerable monuments, danced with the Aztecs in its plazas, and heard Mexican professors tell a sad tale about no opportunity in a Mexico that is richer than ever.

And with a short trip in my last few days there to the town of San Blas, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, to conclude my travels, I headed back to the states.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for caring. I have seen so much beauty throughout these lands, beauty that has often been coupled with pain, and I hope that I was able to show you a small part of it. The remnants of a violent past, the questions about an uncertain future, the cry for some, any, form of progress, will plague any person that takes but a second to see the life south of the US border. Yet you can also see its vitality, feel its passion, hear its hopes, and dance its dances of celebration. Whether a God, or the Sun, or a feathered serpent, or any deity you choose, someone or something lovingly molded the land and sky of Latin America and gifted it with its wealth and beauty and magic and even pain, and today waits to see its people arise. There is much to be done.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Reporting from Germany

Eleven days ago I finally moved into my own apartment here in Cologne. And things are going well. I now live in the "Uni-Center," a short five-minute walk from the main building on campus on the 23rd story. The Uni-Center is the largest Apartment building in Europe and houses over 3.000 people and that's 3,000 (in English notation) not an overly precise decimal.

I am actively attending four classes this semester in Elementary Number Theory, Numerical Analysis, International Financial Markets and Risk Theory.

Thus far, I have plans to take the final exams in the two Math classes. The Number theory class is really quite interesting. So far we have explored many relationships among prime numbers and various algorithms for dealing with these relationships.

The Numerical Analysis class has thus far dealt with computing errors, interpolation errors, and various methods of numerical differentiation and interpolation. I am "missing" a few of the prerequisites for this class and having to struggle a bit to keep up, but in the end will have learned basically two semesters worth of stuff.

And when the Germans say international finance, they really mean a comparison between the European and American financial systems. Here, I have learned basic concepts of global trade and different risks associated with investing in the States as a European and vice-a-versa. Now we are moving into studying low-risk portfolios in an international (err trans-Atlantic) context.

The risk theory class is really training for insurance lawyers, not what I thought at first, and I am thinking about dropping that one all together. There are only eight students in the class and the others are all older, near graduation and want to study insurance law. Not quite my cup o' tea.

For sport, I have joined a local basketball team but am not sure when the games start. We have training tonight though. I also have played indoor soccer and table tennis to keep in shape.

I am having a great time in the slightly less hectic world here but am at the same time eager to return to Dallas and return to the world of deadlines and near-constant excitement. I have had lots more time here to read and think for thinking's sake here in Germany and have really enjoyed that. I have been keeping up to date with the new from the NY Times each day that is delivered to my Email inbox. I also get a free copy of the Wall Street Journal Europe when I go to my Financial Markets class on Tuesday and Wednesday.

I bought a neat book here called NANO!? and have been reading through that. It describes the underpinnings of the nanotech revolution and tries to quantify what it is and where it is going. I have also been reading article from www.smalltimes.com, a website that tracks happenings in the nano world. I was excited to see an article and mention of Zyvex there this week!

Lots else is new (besides 'c' over lambda) but if I don't stop writing about it soon, I'll miss it. I miss all of you guys a bunch and can't wait to see you all later this year.

>> See Walter and Aidan's web site, EuroTrip 2004

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Costa Rica y Guatemala

With only one week spent in Costa Rica and one in Guatemala, it went by very quickly.

In Costa Rica we discovered what may be the best public health system in America -- the words "universality" and "solidarity" took precedence over all other considerations. Visiting a community of upper-middle class and wealthy residents and visiting another in a marginalized and impoverished area meant little difference in the health services offered. There was a uniformity in the quality and quantity of services medical teams whose purpose was to reach every home, whether made out of brick, metal, or cardboard, and whether they had to travel by bus, motorcycle, or horse, and they were the best organized and most efficient teams we had yet seen. Every community, no matter the average income of the residents or the amount of crime in the area, had a school and a health center, side by side, serving the people in an equitable manner across the nation.

Whether it is because Costa Rica never had a large indigenous population and therefore few problems with slavery and widespread discrimination, or because they abolished their army after the civil war in the 1940s, or because they have catered to US policy for the last 50 years, it was generelly a more safe, more peaceful, and more stable nation than the others we have seen on our trip.

Guatemala was very different. Centuries of blatant and violent oppression and repression, decades of brutal warfare, hundreds of displaced indigenous communities, and thousands of people who have "disappeared" over the decades make Guatemala`s social services incipient, to say the least. Guatemala is yet another vastly rich country with a fertile and beautiful land that has been exclusively owned by either the Spanish, the US (home of the infamous United Fruit Company), or the national economic elites, depending on the era--the rest of the population (about 80%), until today, has largely lived in fear and hunger. And yet it was here, where we saw the greatest struggle, that we also saw people empowering themselves and their children unlike in any other nation.

There are thousands of communities in Guatemala that have no access to education. After the armed conflict ended in 1993, numerous outreach programs were created to expand access. One of these, the biggest and most successful one, asks for parents of children in marginalized rural areas to organize themselves into committees and petition the government for funds to start their own schools. They then hire a teacher, build a school with whatever materials they have available, cook daily school meals for all of the children, buy utensils, and build boards and desks for their children with the labor of their own hands. We took two buses, hitchhiked on a truck, and rode on a motorcylce for half an hour to reach one of these communities, where we were warmly welcomed. These people, whose first language was Cakchiquiel (Mayan), proudly showed us every part of their wooden, two-room school for their 70 children. We sat with the children on the ground to speak with their teachers, since they had no floor, and barely had a ceiling. The parents told us of their years of struggle to build the school, and the teachers told us of their dreams for the children. "Maybe I dream to big," said a teacher, "but I would like them to make it to the university." They invited us to a delicious lunch of native tortillas and rice, and sent us off with a humble plea for help. And we promised we would help.

And with this promise in mind we head to the state of Chiapas in Mexico, the last country of our journey. I will be in Mexico for roughly the next three weeks, searching for the Zapatistas, and for hope.

Monday, April 26, 2004


A taxi ride through Caracas, Venezuela, will show you an expansive system of highways, numerous high-rises spread over miles of metropolitan jungle, streets teeming with merchants, parks filled with Simon Bolivar and running children, "Hugo Chavez is the people" banners, and numerous games of dominos taking place at every corner and with players of all ages. It is an impressive city, showing a level of infrastructure and construction unlike that of any other city we have visited -- this is an oil-rich nation. And yet a very real image of physical decline plagues its corners and avenues, the streets are the unsafest to walk that we have yet encountered, and there is a tension in the air of an immensely diverse people that live day to day in the political and economic uncertainty of its present and future. As one professor put it, "oil has been our wealth, as well as our misery."

Our first days in Caracas were stifled in terms of research due to the complete paralisis caused by Holy Week. Everything closes, from schools to universities to government offices to businesses. A significant part of our work that week came from numerous interviews with one of the most salient characteristics of Caracas: the thousands of street merchants, selling everything from bathing suits to calculators to police badges, that populate its every street. Stepping into any downtown street meant navigating through a tumult of vendors as enterprising as any capitalist I have ever heard (except perhaps with less capital). These people did not need permits, and had on their own achieved numerous extralegal arrangements for mutual protection, sidewalk rental, hours of operation, prices, and cooperation. They all had their wholesalers, they all had their methods of distribution, some were owners and others merely employers. Some were children of 17 with their own children to feed, others old rural farmers who could not sell enough coffee anymore. All of them sold their goods in the so-called informal sector, the extralegal sector, a significantly large sector (anywhere from 50 to 80% of the laboring population) in Latin America and in much of the so-called third world, a sector that awaits for the law to acknowledge its existence and permit its full development. We walked the streets from shop to shop, asking if they believed they were doing better than their parents, and if their children would do better than them. The answer to the first question was usually no, and to the second, varied from "of course," to "probably not," to "God, I hope so."

And then there was Hugo Chavez, a man not only who's speeches occupied hours and hours of each day's television programming (and who had his own show, "Hello Mr. President"), but who's military, along with their uzis, shotguns, and tanks, occupied most of the streets of Caracas. This man, carrying out a Bolivarian Revolution in the name of equality and justice, telling stories of Bolivar and quoting Alexander the Great, presented a neverending paradox. On one hand, we saw the grueling work of a government to build accessible universities, equitable schools, and advanced health centers in the (quite literally) mountains of poverty found all throughout Caracas, where homes are stacked one on top of another on the sides of hills with no apparent order; on the other hand, we saw an increasingly fascist state being born under a man who ten years ago attempted to violently take control of the government, as he reorganized and centralized the government power under one authority: him (or "the people"). And what do "the people" think? Many hate him, many love him, and even more just want to live their lives.

And yes, we were held and questioned by his military for approximately an hour. Apparently, asking to board a cargo ship headed for Panama is illegal, being there without a passaport is not problematic, and having "Hossein" as a middle name is just bad luck.

The last thing worth noting about Venezuela are, of course, the Venezuelans. They are a people that truly make up what some have called the "cosmic race": a beautiful mix of white, brown, and black that practically erases the boundaries of race. When we asked if there were any problems with racism or discrimination, we were told "we dont even really know who is of what color."

And with Venezuela ended our days on the South American continent. We now head for Costa Rica (by plane and not by cargo ship), one of the greatest success stories of Central America and all of Latin America.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Checking in from Peru

Our days in Peru began with the cab, truck, bus, and train we had to take to reach the heights of Machu Picchu. From the city of Cusco, once capital of the Inca Empire, and now little more than a few monuments of a magestic past and a sad people that sell their lives to tourists, we headed to Aguas Calientes, the city from which you ascend by either foot or bus to Machu Picchu. This is a city wrapped in mystery and greatness built, quite literally, on top of the sky. Nestled on the slopes of the Andes Mountains, rising over 8000 feet above the sea, built solely with rock on top of rock on top of cloud, with temples to the sun and moon and earth, with houses, theaters, and roads, and with thin paths that ascend, descend, and criss-cross interminable chains of mountains -- this was Machu Picchu.

After spending a day breathing in some of the purest air I have ever tasted, we prepared to head back by train. Upon reaching the Aguas Calientes train station at 5:45AM, we were informed that, due to heavy rains, approximately 6 kilometers of railways were under either water or rocks. Hence, there was no leaving Augas Calientes by train, and since no roads reach it, not by vehicle either. Walking back five or six hours to the nearest town with access to roads was suggested, yet no one knew exactly in which direction. The train station people then announced to the 700 or so tourists trapped in Aguas Calientes, that there would be no train for four days, and that about 150 people would be able to leave the town by helicopter. Only one helicopter was found in all of Peru to come rescue us, and then began the frantic battle to decide who got on, and who stayed behind.

We managed to get into the sixth group of people they organized to leave by helicopter, and since I made the list with the names of the people in our group, we were numbers one and two, and therefore sure to get on if they could actually take 6 groups (the helicopter could take between 22 and 25 people -- nobody was really sure which it was). At around 5PM that same day, after hopes for departing were vanishing and the sun was leaving us, we were informed that one last flight would be made -- and sure enough, Amir and I were first on that list. And so we ran to board a helicopter in the middle of Inca land, which took us on a thirty minute flight through the Andes all the way back to Cusco, giving us the chance to admire from the sky the centuries? old towns and ruins that yet remain in Peru, and leaving behind an angry mob of about 500 tourists.

Lima was not as exciting, nor as clean. Perhaps the most note-worthy -- and telling -- event was a ceremony in the middle of downtown. It consisted of a midnight procession of a few hundred people, marching to the beats of loud and melancholy trumpets, with two groups of around thirty small, dark, Peruvian men carrying on their hunched backs two large, heavy platforms, one with the Virgen de Dolores and the other with Jesus, all decorated in gold and silver, with pale faces and purple robes, shining from their heights upon the darker people below. And in the midst of this, I saw a boy, of about 6 years of age, wandering aimlessly throughout, with his dark eyes reflecting the shine of the Virgin, with no shoes on his feet and barely any clothes on his back. And he wandered away, lost in the crowd. This was the beginning of Holy Week.

After five days in Lima, we headed out by plane, and our flight to Venzuela had a five hour stop in Bogota, Colombia -- a calm, relaxed city that is the cross of a colonial town and an industrialized city. My next news will be from Caracas, Venezuela, home of four Miss Universes, five Miss Worlds, and Hugo Chavez.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Attending the UN Commission on Human Rights

Geneva is stunning. Green parks, trees, flowers everywhere. Clean, wide roads, buses that run on electricity, an extensive metro system. Sparkling blue lake with the magnificent Jette d’eau spraying into the air; in the distance Mont Blanc draped in fog. The population is young, dynamic, and their energy is reflected in the clean, contemporary art exhibits, in the modern plays, in the laughter on the lake front, in the clip of heels against the sidewalk—a city not afraid of living.

Le Palais des Nations is amazing. From the moment I opened the door and stepped inside, my heart began to quicken. All around me were tables loaded with documents and leaflets and booklets recording violations of international human rights, describing measures being taken to rectify the situations of atrocity, calling for help. All around me were women and men of all languages, of all skin colors, of all backgrounds—all with that clip to their step, with that set to their jaw, with that light in their eye that says they are moving forward, accomplishing something bigger than themselves. All around me were rooms of discussion, briefings on issues that bare upon people’s lives today. I could not read fast enough, could not move quick enough—there was too much that I wanted to engulf at once; and my heart beat faster. I was so hungry for all that was happening around me that it was 8pm before I remembered to eat lunch.

In the plenary sessions, member states generally just deliver five minutes of good political rhetoric. They all say about the same thing, from China to the Ukraine to Chili. They believe in the necessity for the active observation of international human rights standards, and their country is of course seeking to realize these rights….Although the NGOs have only three minutes to speak, their speeches tend to be more varied, perhaps a little less political show. But I still see little purpose in a three-minute speech. It is in the assembly room and in the briefing rooms that I find the real hope that this Commission represents: Draft resolutions on the rights of the child and on arbitrary detention, open forums on the prevention of violence against women, a special European Islamic Conference on Human Rights and the Muslim Woman… The discussions are endless, they are stimulating, and above all, they are hope-infusing.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Munich chapters have ended

If ever a story were to arise out of my adventures and misadventures, one thing would be certain: this week would mark the end of the Munich chapters and transition into my studies in Cologne.
Last Thursday, I completed a second month at the Goethe Institute in Munich, packed my belongings and took the Deutsche Bahn to Hagen where a friend from the Goethe Institute (Chris) and I stayed with my Aunt for the first part of the weekend. There we went spelunking in an cave found by a railroad worker who dropped his hammer into a hole in the ground.  Although lacking the sheer magnitude of Mammoth Caves or Carlbad Caverns, the cave was beautiful, as were the age-old stalagmites and stalagtites in their many drippy forms.
We also visited a physical science museum in a neighboring village which was very interesting.  Called the Phenomenta, the museum offered life-sized science experiments to try out. There was a section on making music with wind and electrical currents, which my uncle and I had lots of fun with trying to play "Ode to Joy" on the various devices.  Tons of other gadgets and gizmos kept us all entertained for a solid afternoon. 
Sunday, Chris and I took the train from Hagen to Cologne where we stayed with some old family friends for the first half of the week. I had never really played tourist before in the city of my birth and it was fun wearing the tourist hat for a few days. Chris and I climbed all 509 steps of the Cologne cathedral and tasted the local cuisine and beer, the Koelsch. It comes in a ,2L tall skinny glass and is not bad.
Friday I Ieave from my uncle's house in Marburg and head to Switzerland for a week of relaxation and skiing before I am back in Cologne taking classes at the university. 
I hope all is going well back in Dallas, South Carolina, NorthCarolina, Michigan and where ever else you all may be.  All the best and have some fun this year with April Fool's Day.

Friday, March 26, 2004


At 3:30 AM one March morning began a day I shall not forget. That morning we headed to the port of Niebla, thirty minutes away from the city of Valdivia, which is located in southern Chile. We were told to contact Don Osvaldo, who we could find at 4 AM that morning in the port, by a woman whom we met in the fish market of Valdivia. We waited for our fisherman to arrive, standing alone at 4 am on a dock staring at a gathering of about 12 medium sized fishing boats docked at the port. When Don Osvaldo arrived, with three other men, and invited us into his boat, we set off on a fishing journey into the southern waters of the Pacific. Fishing is the second most important industry of Chile, and we lived its significance through the yells and laughs and jokes and labor of 10 Chilean fishermen, who rise daily at 4am and dock nightly at 6pm after a ritual that sometimes pays off, and sometimes doesn't.

We set off into a dense fog fed by the darkness of the morning, having only instruments to guide us to the Pacific. We navigated the shores of Chile for close to 12 hours, lowering the nets in a wide circle and trapping a few tons of anchovies four or five times. The boat, large enough to have a small kitchen and hold ten men, was unfortunately not large enough to control the rage of the ocean. My stomach fiercely fought the torment of the pacific, and lost every single time. As we were rocked back and forth by a seemingly anxious ocean, ate beans and bread with homemade marmelade, and took intermittent naps on the roof of the cabin, I asked the fishermen why they fished. "Because my brothers, my father, my grandfather, and all my uncles fish," replied many. "Because it is all I know how to do," another told me. Some of them were saving their money for their children?s education, earnestly hoping for a professional degree of any sort. And many of them drank their earnings away nightly. The day left us exahusted, and as we headed back to our hotel that night, the fishermen waved goodbye as they went to unload their precious cargo and prepare for the next morrow.

Santiago went by quickly, spent mostly in universities and with researchers from the UN Economic Commission of Latin America, whose headquarters are in Santiago. I visited think tanks and government ministries, many times being amazed by the similarties found in the politics of Chile as compared with those of the US (never forgetting, of course, the much stronger left found in my country). Chile as a whole presented a less grim picture than Argentina, showing signs of a foundation built over decades of loss and struggle, yet made strong through difficult lessons and sometimes violent changes.

We then headed across the driest desert on earth, the Atacama desert, crossing what seemed like an ancient ocean frozen in the midst of a tumultuous storm, colored light brown and abandoned forever, and into Peru, Inca land of rich history and a more sordid present. We will soon walk the paths of the Inca empire, ascending to Macchu Pichu (chewing nonstop coca leaves to prevent altitude sickness) and crossing the height of the magestic Andes. And then to Lima, to see where history has brought the proud people of Peru, from a mystic greatness of the past to a more questionable today.

Friday, March 12, 2004

The days March onward

Greetings once again from the slightly-less-snowy somewhat-warmer state of Bayern.

I have finished a month and two weeks here at the Goethe Institute and have a fortnight left before I head off to Switzerland to go skiing and then to Cologne to begin my studies in Math and Economics. My stay here in Munich has been phenomenal thus far. 

Although trips outside still require layers and often a nice warm beanie, the blizzard snow and sleek, icy roads are now a thing of the past.  Since I last wrote, I have been to Cologne (a good 5.5 hour train ride from Munich), to Hagen to visit my Aunt and to Augsburg with some friends from Munich.

But the real excitement this past 21 days has been right here in Munich.  Each year the Germans in particular and some hooligans in New Orleans celebrate Karneval on Faschings Dienstag (Fat Tuesday).

I dressed up as a clown with a psychedelic hat, some outrageous polka-dot pants (thanks Clarisse!) and on oversized glitzy orange and yellow bow tie. My group of friends and I paraded around in downtown Munich near Marienplatz with hundreds of other highly-decorated individuals. Although when I got to Cologne the next weekend, I saw pictures of Karneval and found out that I missed the REAL party.

Quick history lesson: Karneval originated as a way to eat of lots of the meat that had been frozen over the winter that would soon go bad in the spring as the weather gets warmer. In addition, many Catholics choose to give something up for the month plus before Easter and often it is meat. Karneval is one last chance to get rid of the extra. Besides, the Germans, esp. the Muencheners would never overlook a chance for another big party :-)

In and around Munich I have kept myself busy in the last weeks as well.  From touring the BMW museum, to learning more than I ever wanted to know about Abstract Expressionism and the Blue Rider Movement in the Ledenbach House, to strolling around the old city center at night, I have had an eventful time. 

My night train to Paris, which leaves in just under two hours will deposit me at the Paris Est train station at 7:01 a.m. tomorrow morning where I will hopefully meet Matt, Sophie, her sister and Rabea.

Laura and Richard both know that if I am forced to try to speak French, I'm in trouble, n'est pas?

I hope midterms went well for those of you in that boat right now and everyone is healthy and doing well. But alack, it's getting late and I've a train to catch.  Bis dem Nachst.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Cordoba, Argentina

After that eventful week in Buenos Aires, we headed to the city of Cordoba, located in the province of Cordoba, in the geographical heart of the country. It was much calmer, more relaxed, more peaceful than the bustling capital, with a central plaza where many gathered each weeknight to listen to the songs of a man who subsisted on the change his audience was willing to give.

Our research continued with the voices and experiences of professors (this time from the National University of Cordoba), labor union leaders, students, carpenters, nurses, social workers, doctors, and bureaucrats.

We were guided to the headquarters of a program funded in part by the World Bank and operating as a sort of guinea pig in the province of Cordoba. It was with Salud Familiar, as the program was called, that we saw beyond the magestic cathedrals and colonial streets of Cordoba. This program applied the same concepts of medicine we saw in Buenos Aires, called "atencion primaria," but went much further. A team five professionals (doctor, nutricionist, psychologist, dentist, and nurse), along with their residents-in-training, were assigned one community in the province, always one with the worst socioeconomic conditions. These people then headed to that community to find a place out of which to work (sometimes a local church, a restaurant, or someone's garage if necessary), and began the process knocking on 10,000 doors. These professionals took us with them to these homes, in both urban and rural communities, where we saw the lives of those marginalized by society and forgotten by the world, where neither the police nor an ambulance will enter. One of these communities was "built" by the people themselves on land formerly owned by Fiat, hundreds of unemployed people and their families forced to squat on a piece of land and somehow survive. They are now in the process of building their homes, attempting to access electricity and pave streets they themselves designed.

As we walked on the streets of Cordoba on one afternoon, we saw what looked like a private clinic, and decided to try to interview someone. What we discovered from one of the nurses who sat down with us was that she was actually one of the new owners. This woman, with what looked like the threat of tears on her eyes more than once, told us her story. Two years ago, with the economic breakdown of Argentina and the capital flight that ensued, numerous companies were completely abandoned and all of its workers (thousands across the country) thrown onto the streets. What happened next happened out of pure need: the workers, out of a job and with no way to support their families, with many nurses forced to beg on the streets for change, decided to take over their abandoned companies (which were left with machinery and supplies in many instances), and attempt to restart them themselves. And in this way, a group of 26 nurses and doctors took their destinies in their own hands, borrowing from the expertise of other professionals (lawyers, engineers, technicians), who had also lost their jobs, to rescue the company and achieve legal ownership of the capital. These workers organized assemblies, elected leaders, purchased materials, managed the accounting (where they discovered over $20 million worth of corruption by the previous owners), and in this way resucitated over 200 abandoned companies all across the country. The one we were in at that moment was negotiating the terms of their legal status with national government, a mere weeks away from completely controlling their means of work and survival and having recuperated their diginity. With the work and tears of 16-hour days and many hungry nights, they had pulled through.

After Cordoba, we headed to San Martin de los Andes, a small town in southern Argentina where we breathed cleaner air and saw the natural grandeur of this nation. Hills covered in green, snow-capped mountains, the largest fresh water reserves in the world, massive and fertile farmlands, long and powerful rivers, and a rich and expressive people are the landscapes that have accompanied us on hours and hours of bus rides. We are now in southern Chile, in the city of Valdivia, and have left Argentina with a sense of its fertile land and vast natural resources, yet also with the deep sadness of a nation painfully trying to move forward.

As one doctor told us, you can throw anything on Argentine soil, and something will grow in time. And that, I believe, is the greatest source of hope for this beautful nation's future.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

First greetings from Germany

Greetings from Munich,

I hope my first correspondence finds you all in good health and good spirits midway through this semester.  I have been gone just under a month now and have loads of stories and pictures to share and tell.

I left for Europe Jan. 29 and stayed the first week with my Aunt and Uncle in Hagen, which is in the Ruhr valley in north west Germany in the state of Nordheim-Westfallen. After getting my feet wet for a weekend and practicing my German, I packed up my belongings and headed south by train to Munich where I have been, for the most part, for the last three weeks, taking classes at the Goethe Institute, a German immersion program.

The classes have been going very well and my German is vastly improving. I am finally learning all the rules and dont just say something now "only" because it sounds right. 

Aside from the German classes which end at 1 p.m. each day, I have seen many of the "touristy" sights of Munich like Olympia Park, the Residenz, the Spaten-Lowenbrau Brewery, the New and Modern Pinokothekan art musesums and many other interesting parts of the city.

As for longer trips, I have been to Dachau and Vienna and have lots of pictures on the web.

I also joined a Sport Halle, a fitness gym, and am practicing with a local basketball team to keep in shape. I have also taught many of my friends here Die Siedler von Catan and we have played that more than a handful of times already.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Andres in Argentina

Our first week in the southern tip of our continent has been relatively peaceful, yet no less intense. Very quickly, we have sank into the realities of Latin America, full of its beauty, passion, and pain.

Buenos Aires is a captivating metropolis. It is gigantic, and if this is what they call the third world, then the first world cities must float in the air, or something similar. Vibrant and glamorous, Buenos Aires offers the best for those who can afford it, and the worst for all of the rest.

Our studies brought us this past week beyond the tourist's view of the city. We began the week with the good will of the director of a public hospital, who took us around to the different centers of health that the city offers all of its citizens, whether they can pay or not. Centro N 24 -- Centro Maria Evita Duarte de Peron -- buried deep in the land of the destitute and indigent of Buenos Aires, showed us the true heroism of this society. As we sat speaking with its head doctor, who excitedly told us of their efforts not to wait for the people to come for them in search of medicine but for the doctors to bring the medicine to the people, a group of four social workers no older than I rushed into the room, headed for the only telephone this center had. They had just received a woman whose cocaine-addicted husband had threatened her by shooting at her in their home, placing her, and her nine children, in serious danger. Amir and I sat by as we watched these young girls desperately seek a place for this woman and all of her children to spend the next night. On the verge of tears after numerous silent refusals over the phone, they finally did. I saw true heroism, buried deep in this place of little hope.

We were taken to many other health centers, where we were introduced as "doctors from the United States." Not wanting to confuse them, we played along, and diagnosed accordingly when necessary.

We watched people receive medical care of all kinds, and all they were asked for in return by the doctors was for their continued care for their health. We watched doctors hand out free milk to the children of the neighborhood. We watched free medications being distributed to the sick, even to immigrants from Bolivia and Peru without legal documentation. We accompanied doctors into buildings of about 15 rooms, each approximately 1 meter by 2 meters, with 80 people inhabiting them (you do the math), as they advised people on their health and prompted them to get all of their vaccinations.

We also got the chance to speak to a congresswoman. We sat in her quiet office speaking of the massive necessity for change and for hope, as the drums and voices of social strife beat and sang consistently outside. She told us of the challenge and opportunity of today: Latin America is waiting for an answer.

And, of course, we have marched, we have protested, and we have learned. By one of those things of chance, we wound up in the midst of a march of 50,000 people (really, we just inadvertedly walked right in the middle of it), all of whom had very simple demands: US$50 per month until they can regain work. We spoke with their members, who told us of what brought them before the houses of government--"all we want is work," they said. "We are ashamed to have to do this, but we believe it is our right, and it is definetely our need." And we spoke with their leader, I with a notebook, Amir with the camera, in the revolving door of the Department of Labor, with the police watching silently and the protesters camping in the street behind us. Raul Castells is a man who has spent four years in jail for merely entering public offices and demanding dignity for his people, and today he led 1000 of them into occupying the lobby and street of the Labor Department. He told us of the struggle, speaking to us from his age and quiet forcefulness, and he showed the resoluteness of a man with hundreds of thousands behind him who do not have enough to live on. In the ten minutes we spent with him in the revolving door, we were informed that if the government does not offer the unemployment support, on this Monday the Movimiento sin Trabajo will close down all access roads to Buenos Aires.

Do not fear: Amir and I depart for Cordoba tonight, so we will responsibly pull ourselves out of danger. Yet the struggle is is found all through the continent, and we will face it in all of its shapes and forms. We only wish to learn, and we certainly are.

Hope you are well, saludos desde Argentina.