Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Favourite Quotes

Me talking to Shraddha on my way from the airport to her house in Bombay: Shraddha, I don't know what I'm going to do when I leave. I'm going to miss you so much.
Shraddha: "dude, you just got here"

-So what does your mother do for a living?
My friend Heeya: "She's a feminist..."

Exporting South Asian Bargaining

So I always have a favourite quote and this one has definitely taken the cake:

I was in London Heathrow Airport with my friend Pragyan from Nepal and I was getting ready to board my plane to Mumbai when the attendant informed me that the new checked baggage allowance didn't allow me to carry one of my suitcases. I asked her how much they charged for excess baggage and the total amount was 150 pounds. I was dumbstruck and a little annoyed so Pragyan grabbed me aside and said (dead serious):

"Talk to her, see if we can work something out..."

I looked at him in wonder. I know that bribing happens everywhere, especially in Third World countries like Nepal/India/Jamaica etc but dude, we're in London!

Can you imagine me pulling the British lady aside and whispering: "Psst, hey, how about if I offer you ten rupees to sneak the second suitcase on the plane..." I mean Can we PLEASE be serious?

I thought to myself, I know that every one of us continues to bring our own cultural norms as we travel to different countries but Pragyan was prepared to take this to a whole new level. I know it was 'well-intentioned' but can we please know when and where to utilise out precious bargaining skills. I mean its a airport in a first world country, not a Bazarre! We may just get arrested in London just for trying.

But thanks Pragyan, I'm definitely going to try that when I have a problem with airport security: "Hey, let's talk about this and see if we can work something out...nobody has to know about this man?"...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Poverty: your honeymoon dream

I was visiting some family friends in Italy and struck up a conversation with some newlyweds. I asked them where they went for their honeymoon and they told me that they went on a cruise through Spain, Greece and Morocco. When I asked the bride which country she liked the most she told me she liked Morocco and said: "the poverty just fascinated me..I loved it."

I was dumbstruck. I mean I didn't know that poverty was now being included in cruise packages. Wow! So I guess we can all start looking forward to 'camel rides' in the Arab world, 'exotic' jewelry and henna and last but certainly not least: poverty as part of our honeymoon experience. She was dead serious too when she said it. It was just like "Oh poverty, its great! I just love it!"

Her statement got me thinking some more about what poverty meant to her-a wealthy European white womyn living in the First World. For her, poverty was not only distant but part of constructing Morocco, an Arab country as the other. However it wasn't done in the typical racist way, instead, just like the other things consumed on a honeymoon trip, poverty becomes just another commodity, an exotic item to be looked at in wonder, to never be conceived as a reality.

But even more importantly, it continues to mask the systemic problem that traces Europe's historical exploitation and imperialism to the underdevelopment of many Third World nations. As long as poverty is constructed as exotic, then Morocco, like the rest of the Arab world can continued to be constructed as "different", "far away", and not Europe- read the 'norm' or 'standard' for development.

When she finished telling me about the rest of the honeymoon, I hadn't heard a word she had said because I was still thinking: "Oh the privilege of the rich first world, I tell you, it never ceases to amaze me."

Top Humourists of Latin America

So as you all know my research was about Political Humour and Social Transformation in Latin America and I spent my year meeting several artists, cartoonists and comedians. Here are a list of my favourite humourists whom I met and interviewed. I have included a lot of womyn because I am actually drawn to them but also because since there are so few female comedians, it is necessary to give them as much publicity as possible:

Manuel Guillen
Guillen is a cartoonist who produces a very popular show entitled 'Los Hulosos.' His critique has shifted in recent years because he has become a born-again Christian but he is one of the most successful comedians/cartoonists in Central America.

Luis Enrique Calderon
He is Nicaragua's only stand-up comedian who imitates several politicians, news-broadcasters and presidents. His ability to sound exactly like politicians is what has made him so famous and loved by the Nicaraguan public.

Els Van Poppel
She is the director of a popular theatre group entitled MOVITEP_SF (Movimiento de Teatro Popular Sin Fronteras) and does a lot of street theatre that has to do with HIV/AIDS, womyn's rights and sexual exploitation of children.

Bey Avendano and Miguel Angel Montoya are some of the most radical cartoonists in Honduras. They pride themselves in speaking for poor people and try to reach out to the most marginalised groups in Honduras. Miguel Angel Montoya also published under authoritarian regimes in Honduras and was recently honoured for his work and his courage to dare be a voice of dissent during Honduras most difficult periods.

Napoleon Ham
He is a cartoonist working towards producing new comedians and cartoonists. He has recently opened a cartoon school for children and supports development of all young artists-both male and female.

Martin Rocco
A self-trained stand-up comedian, he was the first to bring stand-up comedy to Buenos Aires. He learnt the art of stand-up comedy by watching videos of comedians all over the world but particularly those in the United States. He started performing in local clubs and later taught stand-up comedy at one of the local universities in Buenos Aires.

Gabriela Acher
One of Argentina's most famous and loved comedians, Acher brought issues of gender and sexuality through her writing and her performances on various television programs. A self-proclaimed feminist, her humour traces the experiences of middle-class womyn and the difficulties of motherhood, childrearing etc.

Andres Cascioli
One of Argentina's finest cartoonists, he is the founder of groundbreaking magazine HUMOR which critiqued the military junta in the 1970s. The legacy of HUMOR lives on today and is recognised as one of the greatest comic magazines in South America.

Patricia Ianigro
One of the directors of Teatro Por La Identidad, Ianigro works with the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo towards reuniting families by finding children and relatives of the people who disappeared under the military junta in Argentina. She uses theatre to take her work to the people and to tell the stories of those who died or who survived Argentina's authoritarian regimes.

Sergio Paris
One of the founders of the Improv Group Keto, this Argentian actor and director moved to Lima, Peru and has contributed to the art of improvisation in Peru's capital.

As an actress she trains young people to become great actors and improvisers at the Keto school. It is her belief that improvisation is essential to creative growth for any artist and the building of one's self confidence.

This is a small list of my favourite comedians but only a small reflection of many artists and comedians I met throughout my time in the region. I am confident that the humourists I mentioned will add to the legacy and tradition of producing deeply political humour in South America that lead toward social change.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Latin American lessons and tips

So after a total of ten months in Latin America, my Spanish has become a mixture of every country I lived in. The use of Latin American slangs has been beneficial for blending in but at times, you also forget that different places have different meanings for various words. This led to the following 'misunderstandings':
The first was when I was living in Nicaragua and was celebrating my birthday. I had just finished a meal and decided to ask the waiter for the cheque. So I said: "Pasame la cuenta por favor" In Nicaragua, this is actually a pick up line which means something like "give it to me" but with sexual connotations. So of course the waiter looked at me with a grin on his face: "Quieres que te pase la cuenta?"(You want me to give it to you?) and all my friends burst out laughing. They then explained what it meant and once I recovered from my embarrassment, I asked the waiter to 'give me the cheque.'

The second language mishap took place when I was having a conversation in Honduras with people from Chile. A young womyn was on a tour with her mother and her 6 year old niece and I struck up a conversation with them. She told me she was going to say goodbye to her boyfriend and went away. When she came back I asked "Se dieron un pico?" (You gave him a little kiss?") 'Pico' means a peck almost or chuups as we say in Jamaica but in Chile it means to give a blowjob. Needless to say, the young womyn, her mother and the six year old girl all looked at me in horror as if I was the most vulgar womyn they had ever met. I asked what was wrong and said "un besito..no" "a little goodbye kiss?" Then they said "OHHHH u meant kiss...in Chile it means oral sex." Needless to say, I was incredibly embarrassed and was silent for the remainder of the tour.

These two mishaps have encouraged me to write out all slang I learnt after my time in Latin America for any of you who may find it useful:

Los Ticos-Costa Ricans
Los Catrachos-Hondurans
Los Nicas-Nicaraguans

Chick/Guy: Chavo/a (honduras), Chavalo/a (Nicaragua), Pata-guy, flaca-girl (Peru)

"A la gran puta"-Nicaraguan exclamation for almost anything

"Te voy a montar un machete"-I am going to whoop your ass

Valeverguista-Nicaraguan slang for someone who doesn't care about anything
Money-Plata (most of central America), Guita (Argentina)

Dude and sometimes Idiot: Boludo/a, Pelotudo/a (Argentina)

Well...so...: Che (Argentina)

Work/Job: Chamba (Peru)

Preppy/Uptown/Elite/Upperclass: Gente Cherry (nicaragua), Gente guegue/yeye (Panama), Gente Fifi (Panama/Costa Rica)

Bus: Colectivo (Argentina), Bus (the rest of latin America)

You: Vos (Argentina and central American spanish) Tu (Most of South America)

Pipe: La llave, El Grifo, La Pluma, (You just have to guess most of the time)

Idiot/Dummy: Ordinario/a (Argentina) Tarado/a

Servant/Maid: Chola (Peru)

You know what I mean?/You understand?: Cachai? (Chile)

Sure:Si po--like si pues-- (Chile)

Very: 'Re' usually in front of an Adjective (Argentina)

Another interesting things are names of currency in different Latin American countries. This may seem uninteresting to you but when you move from country to country, you have to remember the name of the currency and understand the value.

Nicaragua: Cordoba

Honduras: Lempira

Costa Rica: Colon

Panama: Dollars/Balboa

Argentina: Pesos

Uruguay: Pesos

Chile: Pesos

Peru: Soles

Another point of interest is the food that you MUST eat in each country. I had to buckle up and pretend to like some of them but for the most part its good stuff:

Nicaragua: Quesillo (god deliver you if you're ever cornered into trying it. I confess I HATED it!) But they do have wonderful alcohol which you should definitely try: Flor de Cana

Argentina: Asado (Good stuff but if you're vegetarian...FORGET IT!). You can never go wrong with Argentinian wine. They have the world's best wine and my favourite is Trapiche. I am a white wine drinker so can't tell you anything about red wine.

Peru: Ceviche (A seafood dish which is good but only if you actually like seafood) Of course, I fell in love with their famous beverage: Pisco Sour. There is a huge conflict between Peru and Chile about who invented the beverage. I stand with the peruvians and I do highly recommend that you check it out.

I'm not a food person as most of you know so most of the other countries's foods have been neglected. Find out for yourself if you can.

Latin American Top Places to See:

So after ten months of travelling all over Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Peru, I would like to leave some 'must see's' if you decide to visit any of these countries:

Honduras: Copan is the MUST SEE. They are wonderful ruins to check out. Also visit Roatan or any of the islands off the coast of Honduras, Valle de Angeles and Santa Lucia. These are really cool 'pueblos' to check out in Honduras.

Nicaragua: If you end up in Managua which isn't a 'fun' city to say the least, just visit the Tiscapa Park or the Malecon but they are not to die for. Your best bet is heading out to Leon to hike volcanoes and spending a day in Masaya. Then of course there is very touristy Granada which is probably more interesting than everything else.

Costa Rica: It has beautiful things to see and fun things to do because of the fact that it is such an environmentally friendly country. If you're into Nature its the place for you. Go bunjee jumping there because they have an established tradition. Other than, check out Punta Arenas for the beach and La Fortuna for its active volcano.

Panama: Panama city is a fun city with its booming economy and lots of restaurant. Panama viejo and Casco viejo are good places to hang out. Bocas del Toro is really fun because you get to take tours for 15 bucks to go from island to island.

Uruguay: I only saw Colonia and I recommend it for a day trip but nothing else.

Argentina: This has to be the most beautiful of all South American countries that I visited. Buenos Aires is to die for. It has everything from Break-dancing to tango to great restaurants (My favourite is La Cholita). My favourite part of Buenos Aires is La Boca. Don't miss it if you're there. I travelled the North of the country so have no recommendations for the South but everything I saw was fantastic: Cafayate, Salta (Do the salt planes!) and the indigenous villages of Humahuaca and Purmamarca. And of course IGUAZU!

Chile: I found Santiago to be a bit dull but if you're there, check out the Bella Vista/Buena Vista neighborhood because they have nice bars.

Peru: If you're into history and learning about Indigenous ANYTHING, Peru is the place to be. Cuzco is to DIE FOR! Do the packaged tour of ruins around Cuzco: Ollytantambo, Sacsahuaman, Chincheros and Macchu Picchu..trust me you save money that way even though its expensive. The North was not particularly interesting to me but you could like it. If you're in Lima then try to stay in Miraflores and spend one day in the Center of the city itself. In Miraflores you can check out Larcomar and paraglide over the beach and Calle de Las Pizzas. If you dance Cuban Salsa, check out my second home in Lima "Son De Cuba"

This is it for now of my favourite parts of Latin America. I have left out many things but if you're interested in one particular thing I mentioned and want more info, just comment and I'll let you know.

Goodbye Lima

The finals in Peru were incredibly competitive and everyone who participated was quite professional. In the end, a professor of stand-up comedy won and a famous actor came second. I didn’t win but had a really great time with my routine. There are still a couple things that I think I could’ve worked on to make the routine even better. The first problem I encountered was the fact that I didn’t have an ending for the routine itself. A joke is a lot like a storyline and you have to have a beginning, climax and resolution with the punch line being the resolution. I didn’t have a punch line to close my routine. It wasn’t a fatal mistake but it still meant that the routine wasn’t as tight as it could’ve been. Secondly, my rhythm in the routine was off at times; I would say a line too fast or didn’t allow the audience to laugh enough before moving on to the next joke/line. In other words, I went so fast that at times I didn’t let the audience laugh enough. Thirdly, it just wasn’t a win night but it was still a good routine and I did enjoy myself. I have a copy of both routines, so if you speak Spanish or if you just want a copy of the DVD, let me know by posting a comment and I’ll be sure to give you one.

So what was this routine about? I used my experience at a Nicaraguan club (see previous post: Nicaragua Take one: Lights Camera, Action) and took it to the point of the absurd: I said that I thought that the power outage was actually a pause where the DJ lets the audience sings one line in the song and then puts the music back on. Obviously, since it was a power outage the music didn’t come back but the audience kept on singing. They even started singing whole new songs and then half an hour later when the power came back, the music miraculously started playing the exact same song at the exact same point that the public was singing. I also said that a Nicaraguan womyn explained to me that the Nicaraguan public education system teaches its citizens to sing and to continue singing when there is a power outage. Although I didn’t win,, the audience did laugh and I still feel good about having participated because I really felt like I was performing among real professionals who knew what they were doing and had a lot more experience with the craft. I hope to continue doing stand-up so Peru was just a starting point for a skill that I hope to certainly develop.

My time in Peru differed from my time in other countries because instead of interviewing comedians, actors, cartoonists, I used my time there to put into practice everything that I had seen in the previous countries I had visited. My aim was not to simply study humour, rather it was to produce it and to see if I had what it takes to actually be a ‘humorista.’ So I started taking improv classes and it helped me to come up with new ideas on the spot when I was doing my stand-up comedy routines. I don’t have a deep analysis of the humour industry in Peru but I can say that stand-up was one of the hardest things I have ever done and the new knowledge I gained about humour was from my own personal experience of seeking to make others laugh instead of observing people who make me laugh. Not only is it no easy task but also you have to be prepared to fail and to let yourself be vulnerable to your audience and to equally congratulate yourself when you get not just a burst of laughter but even a smile. A smile is an appreciation of a joke and so don’t feel bad if instead of dying with laughter someone just smiles because it still means that they have appreciated your joke. So I left Lima with the knowledge that I can actually produce humour and hope to do so again in the future.