About Me

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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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A DC experience

After receiving the Archer Fellowship for Fall of 2005, I followed my heart and its sincere distaste towards hardcore partisan politics and applied to neutral bureaucracies and think tanks, such as the AMA, the Department of Public Health, and the EPA. Once I actually settled into the 19th century New England townhouse with my ten roommates and began haunting the district's doorsteps, resume in tow, my repugnance was transformed into intense curiosity, and I took one of the most politically-charged jobs imaginable: as an assistant to David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation magazine.

Finding its origin during the abolitionist movement (where it was of course in favor of ending the institution of slavery), the magazine hails itself as one of the only true muckraking periodicals left in the world. David Corn, my boss, was the first journalist to sound the alarm that connecting Valerie Plame to the CIA may indicate that someone in the administration violated federal law (Don't believe me? He is mentioned by name in the New York Times timeline). The people at The Nation were true liberal bolsheviks, and since I fancied myself an aspiring political journalist, I vigorously pursued the job and was hired.

I was instantly terrified of the most irate pundit I had ever seen. David had books, papers, magazines, and government documents mounded around the office and took to them frantically with a red pen muttering about lies and inconsistencies. He was crazy, but he didn't hesitate to give me a ton of work--copy editing, researching, and even composing blog entries. It was a lot for a first week, but I appreciated the vote of confidence, albeit my warm fuzzy feelings were often split by flying papers and fits of swearing.

David took some getting used to, but my admiration of his sharp eye and keen knowledge of politics continued to grow. He knew everyone in DC, and even though he was unshakable in his liberal values, his meticulous, cautious fact checking and willingness to concede on principle made him one of the most respected pundits in the country. He trusted me more and more as the months passed, and I can tout several once in a lifetime opportunities as a result -- an interview with Senators Barack Obama and Tom Coburn on private security funds, getting harassed by Howard Stern, snarky phone banter with Ann Coulter, an article posted in a national publication, and, my personal favorite, stampeding down a courtroom hallway with several dozen reporters to grab the first copy of the Libby indictments.

My experience in DC was nothing short of amazing. Outside of a very successful tenure at The Nation, I made great friends, fell in love with the district, and found a calling in punditing and public policy.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A trek with the llamas in Peru

This weekend was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. After a lot of going back and forth between being concerned about the altitude (and the fact that Leslie compared the trip to giving birth -- terribly difficult but worth the pain) and being super excited, I decided there was no way that I was going to miss the opportunity to do a two day llama trek in the Peruvian Andes. And as usual, as soon as I started the trek I forgot my concerns and I'm so glad I made the trip.

We started at the house at around 8 (an hour late, but on time by Peruvian standards) -- Terry, Susan, Adam, and I left with Teodoro, our driver. Along the way, we stopped at a trout farm that had about a million rainbow trout of all sizes, a few of which we brought along with us in the car, flopping around the whole way, to have for dinner.

As soon as we met up with Pancho, my friend/the guide for all CCS trips who took us to Quinua and the Wari ruins last week and is helping me with my trip to MaPi next weekend, he handed me a pill for altitude sickness. At that point, I figured why not and popped the pill -- still not quite sure what it was but between that and the coca leaves I chewed along the way, the altitude didn't bother me a bit.

We met with the group of llameros who were on ponies and the llamas who all have their ears pierced with big bright colored pom-poms for earrings, which tell which llamas belong to which llamero. The climb was from 13,000 feet to 14,500 feet and back down to a little village. Pancho said that the trip we took was harder than hiking the Inca Trail! Good thing he told me after we finished, or I would have convinced myself I couldn't do it. The trip was breathtaking. That is, it was gorgeous, and also quite difficult to breathe so high up, but in the end, I had a great time and didn't even notice how tired I was! Our llameros included a girl named Lelia who was about 16, all in traditional dress, and I couldn't help but think about how it is completely luck that I was born in the US and she here, and that we are not in each other's shoes. Being here makes me think that a lot -- I wouldn't say it makes me feel guilty for being so privileged, but it does make you think. The llamas only spit a little. Pancho had brought a lunch so we had a picnic at about 14,000 feet overlooking a lagoon with the sharp peaks of the Andes for a backdrop. I was so glad to stop for lunch to rest, eat, and get the bitter taste of coca out of my mouth!

When we arrived to the first village, no one was around. There were a lot of tiny houses about my height made of stones just stacked one on top of the other with straw roofs and lots of wild dogs but no people -- it was almost spooky to come up over a mountain into a deserted looking valley full of houses after having seen no sign of people since we had left. Pancho said that between 7 and 4 the people are in the mountains with the herds of llamas and alpacas, of which there are 1 and 3 million here in Peru, respectively. We crossed to another little village where we stayed the night in a one room school house. We had some coca tea and crossed through a pasture full of llamas to talk with a family.

I had brought them some cookies, Pancho brought candy, and Susan brought them some hand cream and they were so grateful. To bend over to get in the house was reminiscent of getting on that tiny plane a week ago -- it was only about half my height. The house was about 15 by 8 feet and supposedly accommodated a family of ten at one point, but now some of the kids have moved out because they have their own families. It was completely dark inside and full of smoke because they cook inside but don't have a chimney or lights or candles. Since there is no light, when it gets dark around six they are stuck -- no one in the village has candles and there are absolutely no trees anywhere, so firewood is impossible to come by. To cook, they burn little patches of grass and llama dung. One of the little girls had a bad cough and they asked us if we had any medications for bronchitis, but Terry asked a few questions via Pancho because the women only speak Quechua, and said that her symptoms sounded more like TB. Pancho told the father that she needed to go to the hospital, but he said he didn't have the money. Before we left, Terry gave Pancho the money for the girl to go to the hospital and you could just see how much it meant to them. To see them cooking barley soup that they have for every meal was heart breaking, and I felt really conflicted about leaving to go have our dinner of trout. They asked us for money to buy soap and rice, but Pancho said it would be better if he brought them the products the next time he came, along with the copies of the pictures that we promised we'd give them after we took photos together. We said good bye and walked back as it started to snow to the school where we all tucked in our sleeping bags, and it made me so sad to think that they will probably never have a night that comfortable in their lives. But the thing is that yes, they are poor, but they are happy, and Pancho said that things are getting better for them.

Today we woke up and I learned how to shear alpaca wool with a dull knife. Then we took a horseback ride to the black lagoon. One of the girls, Eugenia, who was leading the horses and I talked a lot. Eugenia is 21 and has 3 kids, the oldest is 7 and the youngest is just a baby that she was carrying on her back. She asked me if I had any babies and I said no, and she said why not? I told her that in the US people don't have babies as early as they do in Peru, and she replied that she wished that it was like that in Peru because it was very hard for her to find food and work and she couldn't feed her kids. Then I explained to her about the different kinds of birth control and how it's free here in the health clinics and she was so excited to hear about it and promised me that she would use it. She told me she had never seen a gringo in her village before and asked me all about the US and Argentina, but I could tell there was something else she wanted to ask. She kept turning around to look at me and when I would look at her she would look away. Finally she asked me, "Why are your eyes blue?" I told her that it was because my parents have blue eyes and that's just how I was born, and she said it was very strange to her. I asked her all kinds of things about her life, and it was all heartbreaking to me but she seemed just fine with it all. For example, when I saw that she had blisters all over her feet I asked if it was hurting her a lot to not have socks and I loved her reply. She said, "Oh it is much better than without shoes!" So when we returned I gave her a pair of my socks and she and her sister Eduarda wanted their pictures taken. We said goodbye and headed back to home sweet home in Huamanga, or Ayacucho where I had a real shower (freezing cold, but still...) and where there is a real bathroom (even though you cant put toilet paper in the toilet). Here I am at an internet cafe just hours after having been in the middle of nowhere. It just amazes me how our world is.