Monthly Archives: February 2010

Ah, Che Bel Vivere … Oh, What a Fine Life

Mariano is always bursting with contagious positive energy. Because he believes in astrology, he says it´s because he has a sun in Gemini, which brings fire to his spirit.

There really is no greater way to start your day than hearing your boss belt FIGAROOOOO!!!!!!!!, and letting their voice belt through the halls of your office. Today, Mariano showed me this video to emphasize the pleasure of this fine life.  “Largo al Factotum” means  “Make way for the servant,” which in Latin, the translation is closer to the person who does everything than the servant.

The fulls lyrics to the song can be viewed by clicking here, but my favorite phrases were ….

Ah, che bel vivere: Ah, what a fine life

Pronto prontissimo son come il fulmine:  Swifter and swifter, I’m like a thunderbolt

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Getting Real: When Life Gives You Too Much Lemonade …

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade … but what do you do when life skips the lemons, hands you three gallons of lemonade, and chants, “Chug it, chug it!” with the enthusiasm of a fraternity initiation? I, personally, could only happily enjoy one glass of lemonade before the power of diminishing returns would begin to take affect. When it comes to life and lemonade, you can have too much of a good thing.

At this point in my life, I am working creatively and optimistically to make opportunities for myself. I believe a lot in the power of positive thinking and the influence of visualization, most likely because this is the coping mechanism I developed after hitting rock bottom about a year ago.

I used to be that person who sat on Craigslist for hours searching for answers, turning in hundreds of online applications without response. One by one, I was rejected from such positions as environmental law office assistant, Amazon jungle cruise operator, gardener, house painter, bartender etc etc.  Even Oscar Mayer Wiener turned me down when I applied to drive their Wiener Mobile around America. I desperately wanted to be a “Hotdogger.” At least I scored the phone interview, but it was a personality screening, so does that say something about me?

From reaching that desperate place, where I literally woke up some mornings feeling without a purpose, I trained myself to make something out of nothing, but no one ever told me what to do when you are suddenly given too many great options to choose from.

Buenos Aires, Better Opportunities

Despite my status as illegal immigrant in Argentina, I at last formed a lifestyle that I am excited about. I began volunteering as grant writer with Mariano’s non-profit, and working as a hostess/translator at a local Argentinean grill. I was content until, along with the fury of the raging sun and blistering city heat, there came rushing in the test to everything I had established.

One morning, Mariano summons me to his office. Using the nickname he chose for me he says, “Che, Super Meg,” and he begins rolling his marble between his palms. Give and receive. “I see ourselves on the edge of something big.” We had just discovered a number of potential funding opportunities, but were moving at a slow pace since I only came into the office three times a week.

“I really want to press forward, so, how about I begin paying you for your work if you come more hours?” I was amazed. I would have offered to come for free, but I couldn’t possibly say no to his generous proposal. Then ….. an email shot into my mailbox …

It was from the director of a program in Argentina called Connecting Schools to the World. For a reasonable fee, participants are sent to live with a family in the countryside and teach English at a local school. After investigating the program from all angles, I can confirm that it is not only legitimate but also a fantastic experience. Earlier, I had written the director to tell her I wouldn’t be participating because I couldn’t afford the tuition.

That afternoon, she wrote me back generously offering a couple small projects, which would more than likely cover the fee. If I accepted her offer, I would start training in a week, and move to Cordoba by the end of the month. This would also mean turning down Mariano’s offer. I needed a tranquil place to consider my options, so I went home.

As I walked in the door, Mabel (the señora that started living with us not too long ago) leaps into my path and shouts, “I’m ready to start English classes with you! How about this Thursday?”

“Ummmm…sure,” I tell her. We had been discussing the idea of doing conversation classes together, but had never set a date. Suddenly, she was ready.

That evening, I went to work at the Parrilla. When I entered the restaurant, I gave all of the waiters a kiss on the cheek, which is the customary Argentinean greeting. One waiter, Alejandro,  just about breezes by me on the way to a table, but stops to tell me, “Megan, this week you and me, we’re going to start English classes. I want two times a week, one hour each session. We can meet at McDonald’s down the street just before work!”

“Of course!” I say enthusiastically, but as he walks away, I slump over the hostess stand. What to do! The feeling of indecision was tangoing at the base of my stomach.

I saw the positive side in everything I had been offered. Each opportunity to me sounded as adventurous and exciting as the other even though the experiences would be remarkably different. Even if I stayed in Buenos Aires, I wouldn’t have time for it all. What path was mine? And how ever could I say no to anything that’s good? What would I be missing out on by closing doors? I didn’t know how to decide. I’m not the type who draws out charts to weigh pros and cons.

But naturally amidst my state of indecision, there arose a natural, unmistakable intuition. It was an overwhelmingly powerful whisper that told me, even though I couldn’t foresee the outcome, my time in Buenos Aires is not complete. Something is evolving here, be it a challenge or an opportunity. 

So, I made the difficult decision to just go with that feeling and continue forward with what I am currently creating. This feeling couldn’t possibly be misguided if it arose from inside me. It was the same intuition that brought me here originally, and for whatever reason, is the same that keeps me here now as well. 

“Always listen to the little voice.” – A quote from my mother that thus far has proved to be true, whatever the truth may be.

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Getting Real: The Art of Finding Hope and Inspiration in Unlikely Places

I observe with unshakable attention the movement of the clear, large thimble-sized marble as it rolls in circles and passes from one of Mariano’s palms to the other. “Dar y recibir,” he chants, “dar y recibir.” Give and receive, give and receive. Mariano (director of a new, online NGO) and I always begin my days of volunteer work discussing his life philosophies, which oddly have a way of leaving me speechless. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., he frequently says, “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” And everyday, Mariano continues to roll the marble between his hands. Give and receive.

Mariano is one of those rare, inspirational geniuses I feel privileged to have met. His desk looks like the ground below a tree during fall on the East Coast which is covered entirely by fallen leaves. Only, in his case, his desk is always blanketed in leaves of white paper where he randomly jots down his thoughts. It’s like those times when you go, “Hey, that would be a great idea!” knowing that you should probably take physical note to remember, but don’t. Mariano, on the other hand, will reach for whatever material and writing utensil is within proximity and get the thought down before it has even a second to escape. 

I found him in the most unlikely of ways. About two months after I arrived in Buenos Aires, I was already having a break down with my friend Stephanie over the fact that I hadn’t yet found a job. And I knew exactly why not.

“My perfectionism makes me suffer in ways that are indescribable,” I wailed. “There’s always that little voice in my head that chants, ‘not good enough Megan, not good enough.’ So,  I turn down jobs I feel are not merit worthy and fail at achieving higher rank jobs because I am uncertain if it’s the ‘right fit’ or perhaps if there just might be something else better waiting.”

“So,” she said. “Do yourself a favor and just say yes to everything and if you don’t like it, then … quit. Who knows where something might lead you next.”

The idea sounded simple, but terrified me because I also hate letting people down, which is exactly what I would be doing by quitting at the drop of a hat. But I decided to go for it. Being broke can be a great motivator when it comes to risk taking. If you’re closer to zero, the less you have to lose as they say.

And that’s when I took a job as a cocktail waitress at a particular bar in Palermo neighborhood that I will leave unnamed for privacy purposes.

My employment only lasted for two weeks, mostly because of the draining work hours, where I lived from sundown to sunup and slept during the day. The night that I quit, I tripped over a table and deeply bruised my shin, got yelled at by customers because no one had come to clean up the broken glass that had been sitting on the floor for about three hours, almost got beat up for not giving someone free drinks, and on top of it all, when I was ready to go home (exhausted) at the hour of my usual departure my boss looks at me, scoffs, and says, “you’re not leaving. You don’t leave until the people leave. Now go clean up those glasses.” One major disadvantage of working under the table is that you have no rights.

At that moment, I decided that I would just live out the night until I got payed. Needless to say, I would not be feeling guilty in the least bit for resigning from this gig.

When I turned around, Mariano and his friend saw my grimaced face and waved me over. “What in the world are you doing working here?” They asked surprised, looking at me in absolute consternation as if I were a zebra in lime green boxers trying to play the accordion at a rock concert. Apparently my natural positive, sober energy was undisguisable among the crowd of transvestites and drug-using indy kids that flooded the bar. I shrugged, “I was giving something a chance that I normally never would,” commending my great idea with pride. They looked at each other and agreed amongst themselves that this was not the place for me, which I too had also realized. Mariano and his friend also were not frequenters of this bar, they had merely gotten word of its curious reputation and stopped in to observe the “quilombo,” which is Argentinean slang for chaos or disorder. 

Over a breakfast of facturas, tostados mixtos, and cheese pizza — when I finally left work at that bar for the last time — the three of us laughed and smiled enjoying conversation about the innocent simplicities of life and talking about my future involvement with Mariano’s non-profit, where I knew I undoubtedly would fit in.

It’s still funny to me that I found such a positive light in such a dark place, but I guess it shows that you never know who you will meet when you decide to open the doors completely and give the unlikely a chance. Just don’t expect me to seek employment at another bar any time soon.

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