This is Julian's blog, featuring news about Tecnologias en Desarrollo, South America and quite possibly the odd mention of Arsenal FC...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mis dos amores

It is fair to say that since we returned to live in the UK that my blogging has come to a halt. However, I am keen to provide an update since our big day back in 2006, namely that I have not one but two amores. Sofia Michele, who shares the same initials and middle name as my mum, was born on 7th June 2008. Enjoy!

Mum and Sofia (1)

Mum and Sofia (2) - Look carefully!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Exclusivo: La Pareja Feliz

Hola from Cochabamba. It´s official, a Jacobs has finally got married. Marioly and I had a wonderful day, combining the best of Bolivian, Catholic, English and Jewish traditions including lots of folk dancing, a reading from Corinthians, a best man, wedding speeches, Israeli music and the breaking of the glass, and we even make the Society pages of Cochabamba´s Los Tiempos newspaper!

There are photos courtesy of my friend Nick, who also has his own inimitable account of our wedding which you can see by clicking on the link, and my wedding speech

"I want to start by saying a few thanks. First of all to everyone for coming, we have guests who have travelled a long way to be here – from England, Spain, Israel, Morocco, Peru, France, Belgium, United States, from all over Bolivia and of course from Cochabamba. it really makes us so happy to see you here.

Thank you very much to my best man Andy for your kind words. We have known each other since we lived together in France 12 years ago & it means so much to me that I have got you to return to Bolivia and share this occasion with us. However I must point out that Andy has not always given me the best of advice, I remember clearly the day when I was planning my first trip to Bolivia and Andy said to do not bother going to Cochabamba, there is nothing there! I forgive you, you had no way of knowing about Marioly…

Marioly and I also want to use this very public occasion to say how much the love and support of our families mean to us. While today may be about our sacred union, it is much more than that, it is bringing together two families who share all that is best in common. One of the things that Marioly and I share is just how important family is to us. While some English boys might find the whole Latin culture a bit overwhelming, it is impossible not to feel at home in the Lopez family even if my brother-in-laws idea of play leaves me with bruises. Also, while London is very far, Marioly has a new family who think the world of her and with Skype we forget the distances.

We are also so lucky to have not one wonderful celebration but two, we would like to thank Tony & Flora for the lovely party in London and Jose Luis and Maria Christina for all their hard work that has made today possible.

I want to use this opportunity to tell you a bit about my ‘amor’ who I met just over 12 months ago. A special mention must go to Dieter, who I met a couple of days after arriving in Bolivia and so generously invited me to his wedding to Claudia the following week: it was there that I first met Marioly. So it was not quite love at first sight at the wedding… more like second or third. Pretty much from then onwards, we have been inseparable and in January, on the way back from our holiday in Chile, I proposed to Marioly in a most romantic setting, in a taxi in La Paz on the way to her uncle and aunt´s house. I am not allowed to say that Marioly is perfect, her mum has told me on theological grounds that no human being is completely free of sin… but she is most definitely perfect for me.

Also I can strongly recommend that getting a Spanish speaking girlfriend is by far and away the best way to learn a new language. In the early days it was great too as I could pretend I did not understand what Marioly was telling me. I am also very proud of my large but often completely useless vocabulary that I have picked up however it can be really difficult to engineer opportunities to make use of it:

  • Es un muchacho sin oficio ni beneficio - he´s a good for nothing layabout
  • Esas ninos me van a llevar a la tumba – these kids will be the death of me
  • Las polillas me han dejado el jersey como un colador – the moths have eaten great holes in my jumper…………… actually that one has come in handy.

As for the future, after the wedding and our honeymoon in Brazil, Marioly and I will be studying next year in London and plan to stay around there for a few more years but our long-term aim is to come back and live in Bolivia. This is such a wonderful country and I think that people concentrate only on its problems, which are real, and Evo´s jumpers, which are terrible, but when I think of Bolivia I think of its incredible beauty and variety, its natural resources, there the endless festivals and parades; salteñas; that everyone knows how to dance and endless family parties; and the eternal sunshine in Cochabamba which makes it a challenge for anyone to wake up in a bad mood. I could go on, but I think you get the point, the country has so much going for it and I for one will be proud to live here.

Thank you once again for sharing this most special occasion with us and we look forward to seeing you all in London!"

Un beso muy fuerte

Julian & Marioly

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Full Circle

Two weeks into my Bolivian adventure I was invited to a wedding by a friend of a work colleague of my friend Andrea where I chatted to a pretty architect called Marioly (as well as quite a few other pretty girls!). Little did I know where it would lead.

Anyway, it feels like I have come full circle as with a little more than two weeks to go until I return to the UK I was attending another wedding, this time with Marioly and the entire Lopez clan for her cousin Patti’s wedding in La Paz.

While I have not quite got used to drinking rum and whisky with my meal (there will definitely be wine at OUR wedding), I realised how much has changed in the 10 months since I left England. While not quite indistinguishable from the locals, I have an excellent grasp of Spanish though sometimes it is still useful to say I do not understand. I have also discovered a bit of rhythm which I really did not think possible and danced the night away along with the other 250 guests.

There is so much I love about Bolivia, though one should be careful not to over romanticize the place as it is not without its faults or problems.

What I love: Marioly, the sunshine, La Paz, dancing, biogas projects, Wilstermann football club, cable tv which means I can watch Arsenal matches, the ease with which one can meet people, the regular national holidays and religious festivals (which coupled with the strikes makes it a miracle to actually do a day's work) & the sprawling Cancha market where you can buy anything from clothes and fruit to computers and second hand cars.

What I dislike: the lack of vegetables in the Bolivian diet, drinking rum or whisky with a meal, the difficulty to really get to know people beyond the superficial, the Bolivian work mentality (or lack of it), the incredible amounts of pointless paperwork and the corruption which while I have not witnessed directly is a constant theme and one that does so much damage to the country.

I cannot quite make up my mind if I like the fact that you can never plan with confidence in Bolivia. On the one hand it is quite refreshing to not have everything mapped out, yet it is also a bit tedious if you do not know whether the buses or planes are going to leave (the former are regularly on strike as they do not want to pay taxes, the latter national airline is on the verge of bankruptcy due to a mixture of corruption and mismanagement) or whether you can get to work (when Bolivians protest, they blockade the roads).

Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous President took the reigns of power in January 2006. He refuses to follow the US and World Bank’s prescriptions for economic reform which have served the country so badly for the last 20 years. There is therefore a chance that things may change for the better. I for one am willing to give him a chance, but it is still too early to say whether he will change the tide of history.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Broken noses and sinking ships

The title is not meant to put off potential visitors to this part of the world and neither is it a fair reflection of my family's trip to South America... but I can hardly not mention these episodes.

A few weeks ago, my parents, uncle and aunt were fast asleep one night on their Gallapagos ship cruising between the islands when they were shaken from their slumber by a huge crash. The ship hit a massive rock and the captain's voice could be heard over the loudspeaker trying to reassure the passengers... though sounding terrified. My uncle claimed he was really rather relaxed about the whole thing, my aunt begs to differ. The good news was that they did not need to abandon ship and after some checks and minor repairs continued on their merry way.

At this point, Marioly and I all hooked up with the family, taking in Cuzco where we celebrated Marioly's birthday, Machu Pichu (or Pichy as my dad invariably calls it, though this is something quite rude in Spanish!), a Champions League game involving Cuzco versus Caracas of Venezuela, Lake Titicaca, La Paz and finally to Cochabamba where incident number two happened... It was like an episode from the film "Meet the Fockers" with Robert De Niro et al. We were driving back from a day trip to Tarata, a lovely little colonial town, about 40 minutes from Cochabamba. Marioly's father, Jose Luis, was in front in the jeep with my parents and uncle and aunt. We were following behind in the VW Beetle with Marioly´s mum. Suddenly she slammed on the brakes as we hit a huge speed bump (more akin to a small wall), but the jeep had not been so lucky as Jose Luis had not spotted it in time and passed over it at about 30km/hr sending his passengers flying. While the others had a bump to the head, my dad suffered a thwack to his nose and bleeding. While it did not look so serious, he was in a bit of pain and Jose Luis headed straight to one of the local private hospitals. Two hours later my dad left the hospital complete with three stitches and bandages for a broken nose. Actually it was Marioly's dad who looked worse, racked with worrry and guilt. And just to make matters worse, we had organised a family reunion of the Lopez clan that very night. My dad being a good sport did not shirk his duties and made his rounds of the two dozen or so family members. I of course was keen to tell anyone who would listen that there had been a punch up but we were all friends now!

The Lopez family hospitality was wonderful and I know that my parents and uncle and aunt have had a wonderful introduction to South America despite a couple of incidents. Anyway it gives us something to recount on web blogs and postcards.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bombs, buckets and hosepipes

The title just about sums up Carnival, which after four days of celebration, ended on tuesday (well, not quite for us, it was Marioly's mum's birthday yesterday and about 50 guests popped over during the evening).

While most people know about Carnival in Brazil, the next biggest Carnival on the continent is probably in Oruro, about 4 hours from Cochabamba. Marioly was not keen to go as it is as famous for its wonderful costumes and dancing as for the number of extremely drunk people in the streets.

Also Carnival is famous for getting soaked. There is little point trying to avoid it, one way or another you will get wet as people throw water bombs and buckets of water over you, or if you are in a private party, the chances are that someone will get hold of the hosepipe and soak all the guests. The worst was a journey that we took in a taxi, his windows were broken so we were unable to close them, making us a very enviable target. Two buckets of water later we arrived at our destination.

Carnival is not just getting wet. There are lots of BBQs, visiting family and friends, dancing and to my delight playing football. We found ourselves at a bit of a posh do on monday where I was making goal assists for the Bolivian Vice President's brother (and getting a black eye in the process, though not his fault). May be next year in Rio?!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

No more paperwork please!

I cannot take any more, please not another "tramite" or document... such is the never ending Bolivian bureaucracy (and with which I believe the British Embassy is in connivance.)

So just how complicated can it be to get married in Bolivia and for my betrothed to get a visa to come to live in the UK? Well, not only do I need my birth certificate, passport, a declaration that I am single (issued by my Embassy after 21 days of notice), title deeds of my property, proof of savings but we also have to get documents translated into Spanish (by an offical language translation service, I cannot do it), certified by the British Embassy and then further certified by the equivalent of the Home Office in Bolivia.

I nearly lost my rag yesterday in La Paz, not only were the documents not ready in the British Embassy (a two and a half hour wait), then we headed off to the Cancilleria, the Bolivian Government Department that deals with certifying documents. There were a mere 100 people in front of us in the queue, hence another wait, this time of 4 hours. When it finally came to our turn, the official refused to certify the British Embassy certified copies of my birth certificate and would only certify the translation. There is no logic and they will certify the photocopy of my passport, but it is not worth arguing with these officials. I thought the day's tramites were over, but no, we had to pay. $43 of stamps that they attach to the document we purchased in another office in the aforementioned building, but inexplicably the fee for processing their services had to be paid into a bank (it was 3.42pm, the banks shut at 4pm), before they return the documentation to you. Of course while there are dozens of banks in this district, the one where we had to pay the fee was nowhere near the Cancilleria, it is the other side of town. When we got there, there was no bank machine and we were out of money so while I was queuing Marioly went in search of money. We then had to rush back to the Cancilleria, which itself was officially closed (though they let you in a side entrance) and queue a bit more to hand over the bank receipt in return for our documentation.

I really hate to say it but I think the bureaucracy contributes to the country being underdeveloped. Firstly, if the Bolivian administration can make the most simple thing so complicated, how is it ever going to cope with the complicated? Secondly, there is no doubt that the pointless bureaucracy invites corruption, and we are talking about the continent's second most corrupt country. I would have been tempted to pay a bribe to circumvent some of the aforementioned!

Oh, and the Catholic Church has taken the lead from the Bolivian adminstration, have their own bureaucracy. They have interviewed me, Marioly and our witnesses , I have signed various declarations and now we must attend 4 days of evening classes - compulsory for marrying over here.

I am not sure if I want to get Bolivian nationality, imagine how much paperwork that will involve!

I have to confess....

....that I do not like milk. How does one admit that when working with the Association of Dairy Producers in Achacachi, near Lake Titicaca?

I had a tough and simultaneously very rewarding week of work in this north western part of Bolivia. Achacachi is at 3,800 metres, the sun is really strong and the scenery of lake, river and snow capped mountains captivating... though also misleading, as the altiplano is one of the country´s poorest zones.

For 6 days our team of 4 worked ten hours a day first to build 27 biogas systems and then install them. In terms of getting around, since our boss sold his 4 x 4 car and went to study in Spain, we had to make do with local transport. And make do we did - during the week we travelled between the nine communities that make up Achacachi by taxi, by lorry, by boat, on the back of a motor bike and of course on foot. Those who know me well will no doubt find it hard to believe that I was getting up at 6.30am and tucked up in bed by 10pm. Evenings were very quiet, the town goes to sleep by 10pm and my craving for pizza could not be sated. We did push the boat out one night to treat ourself to the local brew and karaoke in the town´s one (half decent) drinking establishment.

The community is primarily Aymara speaking though most understand Spanish. Amusingly, one of my colleagues though born in Bolivia has lived nearly all his life in Argentina and has a gaucho accent to go with it... half the locals could not understand him and looked to me to translate into Spanish!

In all, there are over 200 families that could benefit from biogas, eco toilets and showers. We have funds to install 27 systems as demonstration projects with the long-term aim of continuing the project if there is demand form the community. One of the funders is the British Embassy in La Paz, and on Friday 16th a representative from the Embassy came to visit. She was very impressed by the tour, meeting and food (see right!) we organised, and while making no promises until she sees everything fully operational, has suggested that the Embassy´s support will not be a one-off.

This was my third and final project with the NGO, overall I have really enjoyed it, have no doubt about the quality and benefits of the projects and my only wish is that I would have liked to have done more. Now I have to get down to lots of report writing as I am not sure that the funders accept web blog entries as an official reporting mechanism....

Saturday, February 11, 2006

This is why I came to Bolivia....

I had one of my most rewarding days in my working life today. The story began about 5 months ago with an offer from an ex-colleague of the Camden Green Fair, who suggested that his charitable trust would be open to receiving an application for a project benefiting young people in Bolivia. After identifying the community and working out the details of the project together, I submitted an application and within a month we received the wonderful news that ₤4,000 was on its way.

So what have we done with the money? Well the most important aspect was that young people from the community played a major role - both in terms of physical manpower and also in terms of educational benefit - in creating what we believe is Bolivia´s first renewable energy powered primary school. The school has been transformed, replacing holes in the floor with flushing toilets, ice cold showers that now have solar heating, biogas for cooking, electricity powered by a bicyle, solar panel and mini windmill, a solar oven for cooking outside, a new building for the kitchen so that the teacher no longer has to share his bedroom with the cooking facilities, a library of educational books, software and DVDs and a new colour printer. While the project was initially meant to involve the young people and benefit the children who attend the primary school, the truth is that the whole community will benefit and make use of the new facilities.

The official inauguration was a wonderful day, and a great way to acknowledge all the hard work by the community as well as their appreciation for our input. About 70 people attended of the community's 170 residents, the rest were working. The local mayor was invited, though by the time we left - 4 hours after the official starting time - he was still not to be seen, though given Bolivian timekeeping, it is quite likely he arrived later. I gave a 10 minute speech in Spanish, which hopefully they understood (like me, the majority's first language is not in fact Spanish, but Quechua), we unveiled and exchanged various plaques and we were covered in confetti, garlands of flowers and toasted the completion of the project with the local brew, chichi (not recommended in large quantities).

A special thank you to Stefano Casalotti and Greenboard who funded this project. The process as well as the end product really have made a difference to this community's quality of life.