18 October 2014

Knock knock!

Hello? Anyone there?!

I know... it's been quite a while. It feels like a lifetime has passed since I last logged into my Blogger account. This whole being-a-grad-student certainly takes its toll on you. Since my last post, (July 2013!?), a whole lot has happened... I had a life-altering journey in Cuba. I gave birth to a thesis. I graduated and got my Master's degree. I traveled some more. Life lead me to move to start my PhD, leaving Puerto Rico behind for the time being. It is my sincerest wish to continue to write about my travels, language, food, and experiences, as I definitely feel I have so many stories and insights to put out there and share on my tiny corner of the internet.

For those very, very few but faithful readers out there, I appreciate the patience, really. Thank you for you gentle motivation to keep writing. For me, writing is a slow and organic process, and inspiration comes during the strangest moments. In the meanwhile, Instagram should give you a pretty good idea of what I'm up to when graduate school isn't consuming my life. Thank you for your time :)

La Habana, Cuba
December 2014

Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
July 2014

22 June 2013

My 3rd Blogoversary, question mark?

I'm not quite sure I've earned the right to celebrate my 3rd blogoversary  since I've completely neglected this little project over past year. To the two people who will notice this post (Hi, Mom! Hello, Mr. NSA officer!), I would just like to say that I'm still here, even if I haven't produced any new content in a while. Therefore, make sure you add me to Feedly now that Google Reader is going away, because I will eventually someday be writing again. I haven't erased my account yet! What can I say, grad school has been taxing, and it's my blog and I'll write if I want to!

Viejo San Juan
In other news, ONE YEAR LATER I finally picked the winner out of a virtual hat of my postcards from my travels from last summer! I'm pretty sure if there were a degree in procrastination studies I would have graduated summa cum laude eons ago. Congratulations to Kaley from Y Mucho Más for winning the contest! I'll be sending the postcards out soon (promise!)

13 January 2013

21 Road Rules for driving in Puerto Rico

Successfully driving in Puerto Rico is no small feat. For a country that is so laid back in pretty much everything else, they are some of the most impatient drivers! Cars are a necessary evil here, since if you want to get pretty much anywhere outside of San Juan, a car is necessary. Lots of people rent cars when they come here too. If you're ever going to drive in Puerto Rico, there are some very important rules of driving if you want to survive!

1. Red lights are a suggestion, not a hard and fast rule. Actually, it's technically legal to go through a red light at night, but you must come to a complete stop first. But that's a 'suggestion' too, right? Yellow means speed up. Red means the other side still has a few seconds till it turns green. So everybody and their mother will try to cram through the intersection. The people going in the other direction will begin honking the horn. You just stay stay in the middle of that intersection on a red light though, because you have important places to be!

Speed limits and stop signs are also optional. I personally have rarely seen someone getting a speeding ticket (see #3). Going too slow is actually a hazard here, so speed up. You must be going at least 20 miles over the speed limit.

2. Someone is being too cautious for your liking? Just pass them! Are you in a designated turning lane with no arrow (or a red light!), waiting to make a left hand turn across 4 lanes of traffic? If the person in front of you is too skittish and hesitant, just pass them and dodge into oncoming traffic. I mean, they'll have to stop, right?

On highways, passing on the right and left is okay. If you're a slow driver, it's okay to be in the furthest left lane, and vice versa.

3. If you're a police officer, just drive with your lights on constantly. You're not actually pulling anyone over. It doesn't matter if the person in front of you is about to have an epileptic seizure, you just need to look cool and assert your authority, damnit! Not to mention, the lights alert everyone that you're coming... I mean, you don't want to have to stop playing Angry Birds to actually pull someone over, right?!

You probably won't get stopped for anything here. Unless you forget to renew your registration. Then you will be stopped within hours, fined and ticketed, get your license plate taken away, and given a date in court. No joke, this just happened to me.

Oh, I'm not actually pulling you or anyone over. I'm just going to annoyingly tailgate you with my awesome flashing lights for about 15 minutes, and then I'll pass you! This is especially cool at night!
Told ya!
4. Miss your exit or turn a mile ago? Just back up! It doesn't matter how far back it was, you don't want to take the wrong exit and waste time backtracking, so just back up in the shoulder, even if you realized you missed it like 5 minutes ago and you're on a 4 lane highway!

5. Arrows are strange alien symbols. This one REALLY grinds my gears, and everyone does it. I have gotten into numerous arguments with friends who do it all the time. I present to you the following scenario, which happens specifically at an intersection right by my house EVERY TIME I go through it to make a left to go home, wherein I am in the left hand ONLY turning lane, with an arrow. There are three lanes. But sometimes this turning lane has a few cars in it. So the logical thing to do is to use the next lane over, which you cannot turn from, right? So you stop there, waiting to turn too. Causing the people who want to go STRAIGHT, to have to move into the next lane. Then, you must cut in front of EVERYONE who is actually in the turning lane:

Of course, there are also cars in the opposite direction who are trying to turn too. And this road is small, and hilly, and full of potholes, just in case it wasn't exciting enough for you! So traffic ALWAYS forms because everyone from the lanes that aren't supposed to be turning are trying to merge onto this narrow street, all while not getting stuck in a giant crater in the ground! And it's steep, so of course, that's always fun when there is an inch of space between you and the car behind you and you have to stop and start up again, hoping not to roll backwards hitting him! This can occur even from the furthest  right lane as well.

By the way, the lack of understanding about what an arrow means also applies to ONE WAY STREETS. Just go whatever direction you feel like! Also, suddenly need to go the other way? Just make a U-turn! Those silly signs saying no U-turn don't mean anything? After all, arrows are alien code! Extra points if you make a U-turn into oncoming traffic on red!

6. Bored while driving? Driving is the perfect time to gab with your girlfriends, send that e-mail, put on your mascara and eyeliner, fix your dubi or rollers, or even knit that sweater you've been working on (swear to god!) All while eating your alcapurria and blasting the lastest reggaetón or salsa hit! Even better if you are doing all of them at once!

7. Turn signals and brake lights are so last century. Don't use your turn signal. Ever. People are smart, they need to keep up! You just change lanes and make turns and cause accidents, who cares? You're the one in front! Also, when some poor lost soul does use their turn signal to merge or change lanes, you must teach them the error of their ways and purposely speed up so they can't get in.

If you use your turn signal to indicate that you "called" the parking space someone is about to leave, you're just asking for it! It's not finders-keepers, it's whoever can pull in faster!

Also, don't worry if your brake lights aren't working. It's perfectly safe, and nobody will stop you anyway! This also goes for side view mirrors, head lights, and taillights.

8. White diamond lanes are NOT carpool lanes. Anyone who lives in a place that uses a white diamond, such as California, to indicate carpool or HOV lanes, the white diamond in PR does not mean the same thing. I accidentally made this mistake the first time I drove here and narrowly avoided an accident, learning the hard way!

Here, painted white diamonds on a lane mean it is a lane for BUSES ONLY! And these buses are normally going in the opposite direction. Which means, not only could you get fined, but it could be dangerous

9. Parking. Of course, lines to indicate parking spaces are just pretty little decorations someone painted on the ground, just like any traffic signs and pedestrian crossings, right? You must do your very best to take up as many parking spaces as humanly possible. Also, parking straight and well-aligned is so overrated! If Plaza Las Américas (the biggest mall in the Caribbean) gets too packed at Christmas time, feel free to invent your own parking space, even if you block a lane and not even a bicycle can get through! Sidewalks, someone else's drive way, yellow lined curbs, handicap spaces all are valid too!

You may also double or triple park, or park your vehicle in a moving traffic lane, thus blocking traffic. Getting your empanadilla at the roadside stand is way more important!

10. Have a tire budget. It is very possible you will spend more money on tires than gas. In the year I've had my car, I have had over 4 flat tires. The road conditions are not always the greatest because of the rain, so potholes, sometimes more like craters, abound! You must begin to make a visual roadmap of where the potholes are on your commonly traveled roads to remember to avoid them, like you're in a video game!

A note about road conditions: In very rural areas, unpaved roads are common, which are a joy when it rains. Also, painted lines marking the separation of different lanes tend to fade on highways even in San Juan, so lanes are not always clearly marked.

11. Tapón. Tapón. Tapón.  Traffic jams (tapones) are everywhere, and when you least expect it. During prime commute hours, ni se diga. But even when you least expect it, there will be traffic. Double or triple the time you think it will take to get anywhere, and that's how long it takes. Extra points for funeral processions!

12. Horns are musical instruments. Feel free to honk them whenever you feel like it. Especially in traffic just for the heck of it. The more the merrier! Honking your horn is OBLIGATORY as soon as the light is turning green, if the person doesn't move within the first nanosecond or inching up while the light is still red.

13. The word "merge" doesn't exist in Spanish. You must force yourself into traffic at all costs. You must not let anyone else in, for that matter. You have the right to cut in between any two vehicles you choose. Feel free to stop moving traffic on a 3 lane highway in order to change lanes to get where you need to be! Do not leave more than 2 inches of space between you and the car in front of you, or someone WILL force their way in.

14. Driving is the best place to meet people and catch up! See a friend going the other direction on a two lane narrow street? Feel free to just stop and have a conversation and shoot the breeze! Why not share a cup of coffee while you're at it? People behind you can find alternate routes; after all, that bochinche is too juicy to pass up! Same goes for hitting on jevas (girls) walking by.

15. Fake out everyone while turning! When making a turn, you must make a pretend to turn in the opposite direction as wide as possible, and then swerve the opposite way in the last second! Extra points in parking lots!

16. Driving is a great time to release your anger! All of these things might bring on some road rage. So naturally, you need to flip the bird, honk your horn, maybe even get out or your car, all while threatening and saying insulting things like:
-Canto 'e cabrón! 
-Mamao, adónde tú vas!?
-Bicho es! Ni pal carajo te voy a dejar entrar!
-Me cago en la chocha pelú! 

Of course, do this at your own risk. You probably don't want to get shot, after all. Funnily, my road rage is completely in Spanish now, even when I'm the States!

17. When you cause an accident, DENY DENY DENY! It wasn't your fault you were talking on your cell phone and didn't see the person in front of you had stopped! Start immediately insulting the people with whom you were in the accident, waving your hands and pointing fingers.

18. Don't actually know how to get anywhere. First off, street names and route numbers are superfluous. Nobody knows what those things are. When giving directions, say things like:
Keep going straight. when you see the place that used to be the old Fulano's Pharmacy, make a left. Then, when you see the tecato (homeless drug addicts, normally asking for money) in the red shirt on the street corner, make a right. Sigue por ahí pa'bajo until you come to your second Burger King and the third Walgreens. Then you go like 2 minutes and you're there.

No criticism intended, but, I have found that locals don't have the best sense of direction. I have only been here a year, am not that great with directions, but when driving in caravan, many times I end up leading a group of Puerto Rican friends who have lived here their whole life, to get to somewhere fairly well-known. Yes, it's that bad! I think the mentality is, if you get lost, don't worry. De la Isla no te vas a salir! (You're not going to leave the Island!)

19. You must pay the tecato toll. Speaking of tecatos, it's probably a good idea to keep some change on you. They really don't do anything and are pretty harmless, most of them are too strung out to even realize what's going on, but they will probably walk by your car at red lights and give you a sad face with an empty Subway cup. If you don't have change or don't want to contribute to their next hit, just shrug your shoulders and say something like, "Acho mano, no tengo chavo!" and they will probably keep going.

If you want to avoid them all together, the best tried-and-true trick, tested by yours truly, is to pull out your cell phone and become really engaged in your conversation  Pretend you just got some really great gossip, or found out your boyfriend is cheating on you. Hit the steering wheel a few times and talk loudly and they won't even look twice. Swear to god., works every time.

However, it is necessary to pay the tecato when he is being 'helpful' and 'saving' you a parking space or  'helping' you park. After all, he knows where your car is. If you pay him the tecato toll, he'll make sure nobody touches your car. If you don't, you might come back to find some fancy new artwork painted with a key over your vehicle.

20. Strange conversions. Just like the confusing political situation of the island, things are kind of confusing here. Like Gasoline is measured in liters. Speed limits are posted in Miles per hour. Distances  are all marked in Kilometers. Keep that in mind when driving here!

21. Enjoy the scenery, it's not too bad! The good thing is, these rules are universal here. Because you know what to expect from drivers, there actually aren't too many accidents. Puerto Rico does not have the worst driving I've seen, by a long shot (I'm looking at you, Morocco!) And most parts of the Island give you such breathtaking scenery while driving, so just enjoy!

View from the road on the way to Old San Juan

05 January 2013

The one with the Ghanian police officer

The sounds of a loud charismatic speaker, singing, chanting, and praying wake me out of a dead sleep at 5:30 in the morning. In a temporary moment of confusion, I cannot place where I am or the strange room I'm in; a familiar sensation when waking up in a new place. It dawns on me. I'm in Ghana.

The sound turned out to be a student Christian organization having early morning worship on campus outside the dorm. The friend I'm sharing a room with and I look at each other, trying to make sense of our surroundings. It's our first morning in Ghana. Still a little groggy after the almsot 36 hours of travel from Puerto Rico to Ghana, we get ready and make our way to the designated meeting point. After a tour of the University of Ghana, with an impressively enormous and beautiful campus, and our morning class, we head out to Madina Market, an enormous market located in the capital of Ghana. This is the first time we've ventured this far into Accra, the Accra far away from the university. The almost fifteen of us split up into small groups into different taxis, planning to meet at a specific part of the market. After negotiating with the taxi driver over price (you barter and haggle for everything here!), we hop in and are on our way.

The taxi plows down unfamiliar roads. It's rained a little bit, and the cars swerve around the red muddy road, dodging potholes filled with rust-colored pools. Here in Ghana, the taxis do a curious thing. They are required to stop and get out of the car at designated checkpoints along the road and show their licenses or permits to the police. At one checkpoint, our cabby scoops up some money from the cup holder under radio the radio and gets out of the car. He heads over to the police officer and they shake hands and nod with an understanding, with a noticeably not present license on the windshield. So that's how things work! The taxi driver gets back into the car and we continue on our way to the market.

On our way to Accra market

Everything looks so different and new to my eyes, and I try hard to take it all in while the taxi whizzes along. Traffic begins to slow and thicken like molasses as we get closer to the market. We are surrounded by people and commotion everywhere, many tiny faces peering at the obrunis 1 in the cab. An intimidating-looking armed police officer scrutinizes the vehicle and starts speaking in a mix of English, Ghanian Pidgin, and Twi with the driver, only about half intelligible to my hears. However, body language was certainly enough to get the gist. The driver pulls out some paperwork saying that it had expired. The police officer asks him to step out of the car. He gets out and we're in the middle of the market, with our group nowhere to be found. Not to mention, none of us have any way to get in contact with them, nor do we have any clue where we are! The driver and the police officer go off a ways, and the group of us in the car are debating on what to do. For a few of the people in the car, it was their first time out of PR, and they start to freak out a bit. We decided to wait it out in the taxi, and he comes back after 20 minutes. The police officer asks him to step out again and they go off and talk. One of my friend, S, goes into full-blown hysterics, drawing even more attention to the group of foreigners in the taxi in the middle of a crowded market. S starts to stuff all her money and IDs in the bottom of her shoes in a hurried panic. My advice to 'remain calm and don't draw attention' isn't taken very well. The sun is now beginning to set, which only adds to the tension. How much longer should we wait? All of the sudden, we see a familiar face. In an almost biblical scene, a tall, bearded, Ghanian man (a professor of ours at the University of PR who came with us) parts the sea of people and spots us in the taxi to rescue our sorry, lost selves! The taxi driver finally returned, who claimed he forgot to  renew his registration. We then paid and tipped him, and proceeded to explore the exciting Madina Market. 

Sensory overload doesn't even begin to describe the experience; the sheer multitude of people, all new kinds of new and delicious foods to try, all kinds of goods for sale everywhere, all new kinds of sounds mingling together as they hit my eardrum. It was energizing and exhausting at the same time. Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of the Market, but HERE is a good one! Hours of exploring later, we made our way back to the University, almost forgetting about the incident in the taxi, although months later it certainly is something that still makes us laugh! Upon returning to our rooms, we crashed, thoroughly worn out by the day. And that was day one.

1. Common word in Ghana for westerners or gringo

30 December 2012

Word of the week: ¡Qué bochinche!

It's been a while since I've done a word of the week (let alone write on the blog)! Now that I'm on a break from grad school, hopefully I'll get some writing done (and I haven't forgotten about the postcards!) This week's word is bochinche, which is an extremely common word in Puerto Rico that means gossip! And of course, you can't talk about bochinche and Puerto Rico without mentioning... La Comay! The most-seen television show in PR, SuperXclusivo, is a celebrity gossip-turned-political commentary show featuring a giant puppet  with a somewhat annoying voice called La Comay, or "the Godmother", famous for saying "Qué bochinche!" after revealing the juiciest happenings on the Island and elsewhere! 

In a sentence: ¡Chica, tienes que escuchar este bochinche!

Other words that are derived from bochinche are:
  • bochinchar - to gossip
  • bochinchero, bochinchera - a gossips or someone who gossips or is gossipy

The word in more standard Spanish would be chisme, but in PR bochiche is omnipresent! The word chismoso in Puerto Rico can also mean someone who easily gets worked up over something, just like the word enchismar, which means to get upset or get worked up, as in: Marta se enchismó cuando le contaron lo que había pasado. 

Now that you know how to properly talk about gossip, enjoy this clip from SuperXclusivo:

06 November 2012

Rocking the vote in Puerto Rico

Oh my poor little blog... completely neglected and abandoned, I ignored you when you needed me most! After my summer of globetrotting, you would think that I would have been extremely motivated to write and share my experiences. However, unsure of where to start, I procrastinated. And then I came back to Puerto Rico and the semester started and things got hectic, way more than last year! However, I decided that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to write about about the elections here in Puerto Rico. I hope to keep writing consistently from now on!

Puerto Rico not only votes today for their Governor and other elected officials, but also in a referendum or plebiscite to vote on the political status of the island, which hasn't been done in several years. As a result, this is a very important election!

The political system here in Puerto Rico works different than in the United States. First, although Puerto Ricans are US citizens, have US passports, pay taxes, etc., they are not allowed to vote for president. The political parties are also structured very differently:

These are the political parties: In the upper lefthand corner is the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP), which is in favor of becoming the 51st state of the USA. The current governor, Luis Fortuño, is a member of this party.

In the upper righthand corner is the Partido Popular Democrático (PPD), which is in favor of maintaing Puerto Rico's status as a territory.

The next party is the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (PIP), which is in favor of independence, followed by the Partido Puertorriqueños por Puerto Rico (PPR), which is in favor of leaving the political status of Puerto Rico aside and instead focusing on social, economic, and environmental issues that affect the island.

Finally, there's the Movimiento Unión Soberanista (MUS) is a new party in favor of a sovereign Puerto Rico, in other words to stay a territory but to give the Island more sovereignty. Another new party, the Partido del Pueblo Trabajador (PPT), is in favor of the well-being "working people". 

The PNP and PPD are generally two biggest parties. In each party, there are politicians on both sides of the political spectrum in terms of political, social, economic, and environmental issues.

As the elections grew closer, huge groups of people from different parties travel throughout the island, blasting music and political slogans from huge speakers mounted on top of cars, people with flags from all parties driving all around honking, causing massive traffic and confusion all of the island!

Here are some pictures of the past few weeks via Instagram:

The PPD outside my apartment in Río Piedras
"Dominicans with Santini"- Santini (PNP) is the mayor of San Juan in Santurce
PPD Caravana Política in Santurce

Ads to vote NO to the current status and pro-Independence during the plebiscite, Río Piedras

The Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores (Worker's Socialist Movement) organization saying "Who ever wins, the people lose: Don't vote!" in Río Piedras

Another add saying "Le'ts ask for it", referring to Statehood and becoming the 51st State in Santurce

PNP cars, with Unitedstatesan flags and everything in Hato Rey

PPD outside the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras

The Plebiscite!

Ballot for Governor
The Pro-Independence Party's (PIP) flag down the street, Río Piedras
PNP supporters going crazy in the street with palm tree leaves and flags on top of a bus stop, Carolina
"Say No to the Colony, Vote No November 6th" and the white pice of paper says "The politicians want to clean PR (by) dirtying the walls",  Santurce
Juan Dalmau, the PIP candidate, Río Piedras
Signs for the PPT, Río Piedras
Election time is definitely an interesting time to be in Puerto Rico, we'll see what happens! I'll be posting more soon about my trip to Ghana, Morocco, Spain, Philadelphia, as well as announcing the winner of the postcard contest! It's not too late to comment on the previous post and get a chance to win postcards from my summer trip!

22 June 2012

Happy 2nd Blogoversary to me!

Greetings from Spain! Long time no write! I have access to a computer at the moment, and just wanted to announce that today is my 2-year Blogoversary here at Polyglottony! I'm glad I've been able to stick with this little project for so long, which is a pretty major accomplishment for me! Although not without bouts of radio silence (writer's block, travel, and graduate school being the major culprits), I want to thank all of you who take time to read my musings on the interwebs. I hope to continue to travel and write for years to come, as I still have so much more to learn and share!

 I can't wait to tell about my newest adventures all over Ghana, Morocco, and Spain. Although I wish I could have posted more from the road, I don't regret leaving my laptop at home. I've been moving around so much, and it would have been quite difficult to carry, not to mention that my schedule has been so hectic, I don't know how much I would have been able to write, anyway!

I'd also like to present a small contest! I have accumulated lots of postcards from the places I've been on this particular trip so far! Want a chance to win them? Here's how:
-Comment on this post with a suggestion/curiosity/question about something you'd like to hear/read about in the future, from this particular trip or otherwise
-Contest is open to readers from anywhere
-I'll pull a 'name out of the hat' virtually to determine the winner
-I'll announce the winner at a future date, still TBD, and will notify the winner!

Being that I'm in Spain, instead of a cake to celebrate my blogoversary, a plate of huevos estrellados with jamón serrano and a caña seemed more fitting. ¡Feliz blogoversario a mí!