Thursday, June 9, 2011

Last post from the Principality... How does that make you feel??? ;-)

Dear all,
Well, it feels like yesterday that I was writing with excitement and nervousness as I first arrived in Andorra. Those first days are firmly entrenched in my memory and I will never forget arriving fresh from Barcelona and going directly out to eat (at 9:30 pm) and then dancing, my first meeting with the head of the department, the highly memorable conference in Madrid, selling myself as someone in the upper 20s. I remember when the gorgeous drive from Barcelona to Andorra was still a novelty, when I used to look up at the mountains and be blown away from their gorgeousness (yesterday), discovering the tiny almost invisible alleyways hidden behind boring, new apartments. I remember being afraid when it first snowed in September (it just snowed last week again...), I remember my first tutoring family (Ian), I remember my first football practice (in Spain), I remember the first Catalan classes. I remember lots of wonderful things.... I love first times, I love exploring new things and discovering more about myself.

There are less new things now for me here, but there are still new things, and some things still feel new, like the beauty of the Pyrenees. Just over one year ago, I had just said goodbye to so many wonderful people at Wake Forest knowing that some I would not see for a long time and surely some never. Such is life, and now, I find myself in a similar emotional place if not a physical. My dear roommates are all going to disparate places in the US of A, none of them close to my destination of North Carolina. Will I see them, probably... or as so many say, nch'allah. but, life changes, and I've had a lot of good days with them right here in the grand capital of the Pyrenees.

The teachers at my school who I've eaten with, whined with, laughed with, drunk with... many of them probably I will not see again. A few of them, I certainly hope life will throw some curves so we see each other again. My teammate Dany from football, one of the most generous people I've ever met, a guy so full of life, you can't help but feel better around him. I hope someday to visit him at his house in Portugal and have him show me the vineyards where his father worked to pay the bills, the little house that didn't have hot water, and the little village he grew up playing in. That will be awesome... but who knows when. My friend Clare, a number of years older in age and many decades wiser in the ways of the world. The coffees, conversations, and her generosity have never ceased to amaze me. Jordi, from school who invited me to his house, who gave me rides, who went skiing with me, and is one of the most genuine people I have ever met. Laura, whom I met too late to fully comprehend and absorb knowledge, but who taught me and showed me so much about her Catalonia, about what it means to be a medical student and why the world really can, and SHOULD be a better place even without the belief in God. Laura, thanks for reassuring me that despite all the surface differences, the way our cultures form us, and the way the world teaches us we should be, some souls are just meant to connect and nothing can keep them from connecting... nothing. I don't find soul connections just anytime but when they come, they are unmistakable. These people as well as my friends the crazy irishman, the first cuban I've every known and one of the best dancers I've ever seen, an hilarious Catalana who confuses me with her ability to dance so long without sleeping, and a one-in-a-million Arkansas native turned ? I will miss but... hopefully will see again.

What about things I've learned? I've lived in Andorra for a year, and have confirmed that at least in the near future, I want to stay away from small places far from airports...! I have learned that customer service in general in Europe is at an all-time low and it must be only to the hundreds of years of history and the cultural pull of Europe that they manage to keep people coming! I've confirmed that milkshakes REALLY can't be reproduced anywhere outside of the USA. I've learned that girls are just as, and even more really, confusing in Europe as in the USA and that it would certainly take a very, very special non cultural American for me to consider marrying them (and by that I mean her, monogamy still seems cool to me). I've learned that to many Europeans-at least Spanish/Andorrans: God is an object in a church, a tradition of by-gone times, that religion is a curse which restricts the joys of men and creates bitterness and conflict. I've learned that if we, as Christians, really do believe in what we say we had better start being really honest with people because right now. It seems that our hundreds of years of misbehavior in the name of God, our authoritarian way of forcing people to adapt to our beliefs, and our scorn for and fear of others' ideas has resulted in a culture of disbelief and anger. And really, who can blame them??! As long as men act in our human selfish ways but yet claim God's blessing... how CAN people know the God I have seen who is Love, who is Patience, who is Forgiveness, who is a million shades of black and white but never one at a time? Let's be honest and maybe when my kids go to Europe they will find people who are not shocked at intelligent people who are religious, at people who seem to really care about others and are religious, at people who would have others choose their own way yet not yearn for the same things. God, I hope so, cause otherwise this island is going to grow.....

I have also learned how wonderful it feels to hear trees creaking on the abandoned slopes of an early morning ski-run,  how a sunrise can almost compare to sunsets when there is none of the latter, how a cup of tea on a Wednesday morning in your living room looking out to the mountains with John Mayer (or Creed Allison hehe) can make you smile, how you can bond with people whose lives look nothing like yours (everyone I've met here), how the taste of a snowflake on the tip of your tongue in November feels, how watching the late-afternoon sun's rays bend and manipulate the surrounding mountains in a way that makes you feel truly humble in the face of creation, how a chilly late night run with a full moon on the path above Andorra la Vella makes running almost fun, how being so far from people who share the same Passion can help you be more open to questions yet emboldened on its role in your life, how pancakes and bacon and Frieda french toast make a Sunday brunch so amazing, how much I crave for companionship, how much I have to learn about who I am, how rewarding it is to work with a teenager and see them gain confidence in the knowledge you give them, how being a teacher is totally not worth it just for vacation time...!

I have learned that the guy who has taught me the most about generosity, the most about finding joy in life, the most about believing that life is a gift and that hard work is how you should live is a man whose formal education cost virtually nothing and although I could out-write him in style, out-debate him in intellectual points, out-score him on an exam, and out-boast him on the $$$ spent educating my mind, he continues to put me to shame with devotion to his family, his generosity, his wonder for life and joy to be in it, his refusal to complain, and his stead-fast belief in people. To know that through a personal friend when you never talk about it and only observe it, is one of the best lessons I've ever gotten. I've also confirmed that I like seeing new things, meeting new people, and learning to deal with the differences that I don't like, and that not everyone is cut out for that. I also know that I miss people, even if I don't tell them enough how much I think of them, I miss so many people, there are tons of little things that remind me of many of you who read this. How I will blend my love for travel and change with my love for my friends is yet to be seen but... I'm sure life will take care of itself.

I am so thankful to my Alma Mater, the people who poured themselves into me to help me get this Fulbright from age 0 to 21, for the people who made my stay in Andorra pleasant, for those who continue to pour themselves into me, and for the Love I feel in me which I continue to disappoint but continues to give me hope. To be able to live in this beautiful country and meet amazing people here as well as in my travels throughout europe and Morocco has been a huge blessing to me personally. As I have told so many people, I consider myself one of the luckiest humans in the world right now! I am so happy to be alive, and I pray that each day of my life I will love living even when it's not as easy as it is right now!

As I have met so many fabulous Fulbrighters, I remain flattered to the committee for having chosen me, and thankful to the American tax-payer for helping pay for this year. A virtually invisible gift from your taxes but I promise you that the conversations, the actions, our work, and the variety of backgrounds of virtually each fulbrighter that I have met is creating good images of America to many who have many false and negative impressions of what America is like. At a cost of $11,000 a year for an average fulbrighter we can fund 2,300 fulbrighters who will meet... oh let's put an average of 200 people in a year. If that's true, that means 2,300 fulbrighters make a direct person-to-person impact on 460,000 people a year (about the amount of people in Wyoming). If 150 of the people each of us has met has a good impression... just imagine how many people have the positive knowledge and impression of an American.... the glory of soft politics, and the glory of humanity. Or... we could buy 1 AH-64 Apache with its 1,200 rounds of 30 mm chain machine gun, 76 2.75" rockets. In theory, that has the potential of killing with an average of 2 people a rocket and 3 bullets for each person would be 552 before getting reloading.... Both of these options cost about $25 million. Guess whose budget got cut because it was seen as un-strategic spending? I'll let you decide which one you think does the most good and which one deserves to be continued and expanded.... I bet you know what I think! ;-)

Sorry for those who think that's too political but... in my mind our decisions on what to do with our time and our money are also life and death decisions. I've attached photos of all my classes and one of my friend Laura and I at Sitges near where she grew up. To end on a more personal, less heavy note thanks so much everyone for reading this blog, I hope you have enjoyed seeing my thoughts and seeing what I have learned along this journey. I look forward to my life next year in Winston-Salem but I hold no illusion that it is blog-worthy. Therefore, this is my last blog... I will return to doing my once-in-a-while email thoughts and I welcome you to check them out. If you care to get them and did not get them as of May 2010, shoot me a message and I'll add you on. Sorry this post is so long....

Thanks to all who read from: Singapore, US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, DR Congo, Kenya, India, UK, France, Spain, Andorra, Croatia, Czech Republic, Russia, Lichtenstein, Greece, Japan, Slovenia, Russia, Poland, Finland, Ukraine, Denmark, Malaysia, Romania, Ireland, Bulgaria, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Switzerland, Norway, Croatia, Uruguay, Israel, Slovakia, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Italy, Mexico, Italy, Vietnam. I know many of you... but I don't think all of you. If you read it cause you like me, come see me in America!!! :-) If you read it cause you are curious about Andorra, go visit Andorra, if you read it by accident... you're probably not reading this, and if you are one of those creepy robot things from servers, bugger off please. Thanks all and let me know what's going on in your lives!

Peace and Love from the Principality for the very late time,
Mark Titus Hoover

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

April and most of March... in summary (the post whose pictures shouldn't exist)

Dear all,
Hmmmm... it has been a long time and so much has happened. I will have to be brief, in order to save your sanity... and time! haha
First thing is first. During March and April I traveled a lot, much of it in cities and I came to realize a very important observation: I believe that the next evolutionary step for the city pigeon is... well.... a rock. In no way, shape or form can I see these creatures improving themselves in terms of intelligence. My hypothesis is that due to the inordinate amount of times that pigeons in cities run into windows, knock each other over in their humorous yet bizarre lovemaking, and the general lack of intelligence needed to peck up bread thrown from tourists will result in this evolutionary 'progress'. Look for this stunning piece of academic evidence in "Evolution Today" (Additionally i am happy to sign autographs for people). ;-)

Okay, as for life in Andorra, which is where I currently reside, although not so much in the last 2 months. Life has continued to proceed well. Teaching continues to go, which is perhaps the best possible. My students and I have overall progressed to a stage where we have an understanding whether or not they like English or not. To say that I am the most effective teacher would be false, but to say that I had no control at all would be equally false. To say that I will be happy to finish this year would be also true. The rest of my life here though is great, our Encamp choir had a great minitour to Catalunya where we sang at a school in Manresa outside of Barcelona and also at a choir convention with over 5000 students! It really was a great moment and very fun to see the kids outside of class. Overall, we couldn't have been prouder of our 30 odd students and their representation of Andorra as they were polite, they tried their best with singing and they seemed to genuinely be interested in those they met. Particularly when there were any boys deemed "macos" or cute.... haha, being in choir with them is of particular joy to me. Two weeks after our "big" tour, we went across the border to Seu d'Urgell to do a concert with their school too. This was great because one day they came up here and the next we went down there. Again, our kids made us proud. When the other choir was here at our school some of our audience members were fairly embarrassing but the choir itself, impeccable! In the midst of one of those tours my friend Jenny came from Madrid and we had a great weekend exploring Barcelona from the luxury of the apartment of one of my co-teachers in Andorra. Thanks again Jenny for coming up, so many great laughs and it was cool to have you meet some of my students and co-teachers.
In other news in my Andorra life, my football team, Lusitanos are 2nd division champions of Andorra. I can now proudly say I was part of a european division-winning football team... even if I never actually played in a game... hehe. I continue to enjoy practice and starting this next week will begin running with Dany who is my closest friend on the team. What a wonderful privilege to be able to exercise, run around and play football with some very talented, and for sure exuberant people!!!!
Of the months of March and April I was actually only IN andorra for one weekend because of all these trips, and choir. For the one weekend I was here our choir had a concert at the mall as part of a fundraiser for a NGO working towards "ending world hunger". Then, I also got to go skiing which was fun as always although the snow was pretty crap so by 12 or so it was almost impossible to ski and certainly jumping was difficult. I had a very bad fall at the very end which resulted in skis, poles and me all in different directions. I twisted and bruised my knee fairly badly but after about 2 weeks I was able to once again run with fair ease. I also lost 1 pair of sunglasses*** (note, another pair of sunglasses will be mentioned later...) Because of the craziness of the weeks I have been here I did not go to Catala class or language sopars because of the busyness. BUT, I did get a chance to go to church which is fairly rare, and that week the pastor was from Malaga but was American. As always, church is a refreshing, albeit very different from church where I grew up or Green Street in Winston! haha, but that's probably good cause it's in a different place!
Final bad thing that did happen in the last month was teh collapse of my WFU issued Lenovo which died a painful death from 2 sources, both software and hardware. I was beyond repair but luckily a kind coteacher lent me her super old one to help me with my classes and then my gracious roommate helped me a) pick out a new computer, and b) he let me ship it to his address in NY where he was going for Easter so he could then bring it back for me. Angels and luck come in all ways, shapes and forms and this was luck although it started as seemingly an awful event! It's body has since been donated to the science class at my school for dissection and hopefully some sort of education purpose.

1st trip to talk about a bit. I went to Berlin for the Fulbright Europe conference which was a blast. Got to explore Berlin a bit, meet a few really excellent, cool people and hang out with a Wakie. Plus, got to stay with a dear friend of my sister-in-law which was extremely generous since they had a baby in April so she was very much pregnant! It was a great 4 days there, and then I was able to take the train down to Ulm, Germany where I was able to spend 3 very lovely days with my dear old friend Sara. She and her boyfriend were so unbelievably generous to share their lives with me for those three days and particularly generous since Sara and I did a ton of catching up which can't be too fun for him! Ulm is a very pleasant small city which I recommend visiting sometime. I went to school with Sara where I was able to enjoy a class with some of the darlingest little kids. They were really cute, they were so excited to have an english-speaking american in their midst that they were on really good behavior. I also attracted visitors from the next-door school during break time. Needless to say that the the fact that Sara and I know each other from Congo was probably going to be a bit too much for them to handle with ease... haha. It was a great time and Sara is a wonderful teacher so to see her in action and then realize how many things I have to learn to make my classes be even CLOSE to that smooth is humbling. So much energy, diversity of learning skills offered, so much stimuli, funny examples, really cool for realz.

The second trip that I went on could take pages and pages to describe but, I will spare you. In short, I went to Morocco and then to Southern spain. Further detail will entail now so you can skip if you just want the shortest of summaries. I went to visit a friend in Agadir, in southern Morocco which was interesting as it was completely rebuilt after an earthquake 60 or so years ago and it was built with the express purpose of being a tourist town. I spent two lovely days there resting, exploring a bit and catching up with friends. Then I went by bus to Ourzazate where I sat next to a very friendly, nice guy called Isham who was from the area nad therefore gave me a guided tour along the way pointing out caves he explored as a kid, valleys with high numbers of snakes, what this village or that village was famous for etc. It was really kind, and I enjoyed our 9 or so hour journey together. I spent that night in an oasis out of town which I got to by moped and got out of with a hitched ride. ***** (you can begin counting means of transportation for fun if you want now...). THe oasis was beautiful. Thanks to angels in the form of Michel and Cristine, two french tourist who have me a ride and with whom I enjoyed great conversation and a warm beer! haha, I am able to have any photos of this journey at all. This is because, beign Mark, I left my camera in their car but luckily we had exchanged contact information so that I was able to get it back in an hour or so... Wow, the only reason they even found it was that I had forgotten to totally close the window so they stopped to close it and found it... what incredible luck, eh? My life is grace-filled for so many reasons, but this being a clear materialistic example of such grace! Merci encore vous deux car si non pour vous, je n'aurai pas des photos d' un voyage magnifique! Vous etes toujours bienvenue chez moi. Et pour que vous saviez, j'ai nomme l'album de photos sur f-book avec le nom que vous m'avez donne! merci mille fois!
I then joined up with a tour group in town which was heading to the Valley of dades and then the desert. This turned out to be a fantastic, life-filled group which I felt SOOOO lucky to be part of, especially since I was a bit nervous about joining a random tour group. It turned out that we were all young(ish), lively, and interested in each other's lives so we got along well and were able to learn a lot. In particular, three of the girls ended up being Catalan so they live nearby and 1 will come up and visit me this first weekend of May and hopefully I will get to hang out with them later in May!!! What luck, eh? It was so neat to be able to meet some young Catalans who are interested in the world outside of them. Definitely something that is hard about living in Andorra, since there aren't many people around my age. We saw the valley of roses, a fantastic, steep, impressive gorge with one night spent near a rock formation called Monkey's fingers before culminating in the expectedly cool experience of one night in the desert. Most of this was done with a minibus by the end by camel... Camels, a good thing to try once, but I have no desire to do a trip with them again!.... EVER. ugh, my butt, and overall body hurt after 1 1/2 hours so I can't imagine longer.
At the desert I parted ways and headed to Meknes by another kind of bus (cheaper and without air) where college friend Monica was unbelievably generous and allowed me to crash with her three nights and showed me her town of Meknes and then I explored Fez mostly by myself with a visit to an old friend there too. WHat an honor to get to spend so much time with friends in places they live and know (and speak arabic). Arabic is now on my radar of languages to learn... it will surely be the greatest of challenges that I have faced linguistically but certainly cool. Again, I can't underline how much I appreciate Monica's hospitality. From her place I headed off to Tangier/Tanger by train. Trains are very comfortable and nice in Morroco. I spent the day in Tangier walking around, exploring, seeing a beautiful sunset and getting a shave! It is a decent town, but in my opinion cities of MOrocco are not the charming part of the country, despite all the talk about the Souks (markets). Also, I spent one night in a super cheap but equally super shady hotel which left me feeling like bedbugs all over and teh ice cold shower they offered did not help me feel like I got rid of them. No worries though, no actual signs of bedbugs.... gracias a Dios!
The next day I jumped across the Mediterranean (in a boat) to the charming,  lovely town of Tarifa which is a super place to chill out, and posssibly own a beach house if you have the funds... look into it and if someone ever does, tell me so I can visit cause I doubt it will ever happen in MY life! haha. THis is where adventures began. I spent one day in Tarifa just exploring, enjoying the beach and relaxing at a 12 euro hostel, awesome. I began walking.... about 5 kms before I got a hitchiked ride to the nearest intersection of the town of Vejer where I then had another 2 km walk up a steep mountain to the hilltop, which was worth the walk. I spent an hour there enjoying the first white-washed town of the "Pueblos blancos" before then walking about an hour and change. I figure I do about 7 kms in a good hour but I"m only guessing. Got a ride for about 30 km where he dropped me off at a 2nd pueblo blanco called Medina Sardinia. a half hour more walk got me to the actual town where I had a lovely menu lunch where I consumed as much agua griffa (tap water) as possible! Another hour walk before I got a ride that took me to Arcos de la Frontera. Lucky too cause there were no trees, no shade, no restaurants, nada and it was very hot in Andalusia. Apparently that day was the hottest day of the year so far... haha. Got to Arcos de la Frontera which was my favorite city of the south of Spain. Loved the views and the lovely guesthouse I stayed at there. Then began my longest straight walk. I ended up having to walk about 14 kms to the next town cause no one would pick me up and I needed to catch a bus in the next town. ugh.... definitely left my legs hurting, my back and backpack sweaty and my taste for hitchhiking significantly embittered.
I spent that night in ROnda which is perhaps the most touristed of the pueblos blancos and famous for its Bullring where modern bull-fighting started as well as its gorge-spanning bridge connecting the old town with the new town but it was not my favorite. Arcos was. From Ronda, I headed to Granada which quickly became one of my favorite towns I have visited, ever. Although I was only able to spend a day there, the proximity of skiing 1 or so hours away, the beach equi-distant, and the blend of hippies, modern business and the antiquity of the Alhambra was great. I came into serious luck here as I had no reservation for the alhambra (apparently booked for about 3 weeks now) but I went to the ticket office anyway and someone canceled right when I got there so I was able to visit the Alhambra in the end. It is a very impressive palace. I would definitely opt to be an Arab/Moorish prince to european princes trapped in shady castles and such organized bush gardens. The gardens at the Alhambra still maintained some wildness and were full of water.
The final part of my trip was spent in Madrid, which I went to by train and stayed with Kesley and Dan, two fulbrighters who stayed with us in January. Again, what luxury to be able to spend time with friends everywhere. and of course, all these lovely people saved me a ton of people which is what enabled me to do all this. In Madrid, I enjoyed a myriad of cafes, senegalese food! :-) hmmmmmm, and a whole day of Madrid Open tennis where I saw Nadal, Federer, Murray, and got the signatures of Sharapova (I think that's the beginning of a promising relationship.... ;-) hehe) and Wozniacki and got to see a good number of the top 20 women play in their respective matches. Sunday saw me return back to Barcelona by airplane and then the final three hour, familiar bus ride to Andorra. Oh, I got to see the Athletic Bibao football team at the BCN airport which was pretty cool. I was just waiting for my bus right where their bus was waiting for them so they all walked right by me... haha, but I didn't get any autographs this time.

What awesomeness, right? I feel like a rockstar after such a luxurious trip, and despite a great deal of money spent along the way, every cent was worth it and the amount I saw makes that sum seem incredibly small. I tried new things, met cool, new people, saw amazing places, tasted new food (some good and some bad) and overall loved living the entire way. Isn't that all you can really ask for, especially when you enjoy the materialistic luxuries of my life? Traveling alone isn't all that it's cracked up to be, although making decisions was easy... as was finidng places to stay. I would just show up in a town and start asking and visiting hotels/hostels till I found something in my price range that was decent. haha. but, I prefer traveling with others. It is my last real holiday in europe before heading back to the USA where I am very excited to join the WFU admissions team in Winston-Salem, NC at my alma mater as we try to bring the best and brightest who will thrive at Wake. I will have a luxurious 5 days between jobs as I drive from the midwest to NC with a car which my cousin is kindly organizing the purchase of.

Much love for now, pictures will follow later as they are on an external hard drive. Much love and thanks as always for reading and keeping in touch.
Peace and Love from the Principality for one of the last times....
Mark Titus Hoover

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Dear all folks whom I love plus any of the randos who seem to check out my blog from places I don't know....

Okay, well I'm in Andorra for the day before going off on my next adventure so I wanted to write a quick update. First, February ended up being a fantastic month, chilling in Andorra, skiing every weekend plus an occasional Wednesday and Friday. One weekend I got to go to Barcelona and meet up with my dear friends Tom and Liz Ryder from Congo days who were passing through on a cruise (I think the exact same one as my cousins did earlier!) This was the first time I did not end up going to Parc Guell! but I got to do the double decker tourist bus with them which was really fun. You really get to see a lot of a city through those buses. It was really nice to be able to catch up with them since my last visit to them was in the summer of 2009 so my life looked TOTALLY different. It was fun to hear about their plans, where all they have traveled, I could definitely handle being like them when I grow up.

Here in the homeland of Andorra, the biggest highlight of my month was ski week with my school. To get a really cheap ski pass is a fantastic perk of my job, to get PAID to ski is an entirely amazing, and spoiling opportunity. Everyday I weould go to work at 8 am, Tamara-my ski teacher partner-and I would gather our students, make sure everyone had their equipment and hand out their passes for the day. Then, at 9 am, we headed out to the slopes usually getting there around 9:45 and then everyone eats their breakfast. I was never able to discover why everyone eats breakfast WHEN they get to the slopes instead of on their way, but Andorrans/Spanish are religious about their mid-morning esmorzar and it must be taken in their sweet time. As an African/American, this mid-morning meal was not something I was about so I was usually gunning to get started on those beautiful, white, fluffy slopes! :-) We then skied with the kids for two hours, I was assigned blue ski so Tamara and I led them on blues for the morning just to give them practice before the afternoon when they went with an instructor. Luckily, I can ski on blues without any worry but having 8 or so students gunning behind you can be a bit nerve-racking at times. One of the instructors got nailed by one of her students and ended up having to get stitches... eeek. The concern in the back of my mind was always... I better not get injured cause I'm NOT part of the State insurance system and don't have extra (don't tell my mom.... ;-) love you mom) Luckily all went well, then in the afternoon while the students skied with instructors I just went skiing for fun, super, super fun. :-) I tagged along with professors most days almost inevitably being one of the weaker skiers but they were always super cool and pushed me and gave me pointers. On Friday, I passed my set goal of 50 hours of skiing this year! :-) This was a goal cause 50 is a good number, and it brings the cost of Euro/hour to 4 euros an hour! :-) which is about the price of a coffee and croissant. :-) :-) Very pleased, but most importantly I have had a ton of fun. The last two days I did nothing lower than a red with them and jumped on Friday! Talk about a super scary feeling... but super cool too. I continue to fall, I have never been skiing without falling, but it's an AMAZING feeling you get in your heart when you are zooming down a slope, dodging/jumping the little pesky bump things they put in. And at 3, we gather up the kids and take them back to school and then, all but one day, I got to go home at 4 pm. :-) A country where the national pasttime is skiing... priceless.

Okay, so skiing in Andorra, HIGHLIGHT of February. But, the end of February was also pretty cool because we got Carnaval holiday. This is a holiday which is just not a big deal in the US but is MASSIVE in France/Andorra/Spain so tons of people were on holiday, including us. For holiday I got to go to Paris, France. I know what you're thinking of, I thought about Paris, Texas but at the last minute went with friends and the Eiffel tower instead of... whatever the hell is in Paris, Texas! I seemingly have a plethora of friends living in Paris and didn't even get to see one of them, sorry Jimena! But I got to stay with my old boss from the Embassy in Senegal who is now stationed in Paris. He treated me so well that I felt like I was staying in a luxurious 5 star hotel centered 10 minutes from the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower! He made me so comfortable, just like in Dakar, provided me with a wealth of maps and books about Paris-most of which I did not use but it was nice to have them. I took the train from Hospitalet (nearest train station from Andorra) to Paris arriving at 7 in the morning. This was just in time to get breakfast with Wallace before he had to go off and work (he was not impressed by my intense work week! haha). In the afternoon, I met up with Matt Secrest from WFU/CO and we walked all over Paris just catching up and hanging out with various coffee stops. It was nice to be able to visit Paris without the pressure of what to visit when but rather just be able to stroll. Visited the national archives and rue Bercy, Palais de Tokyo (where we some some funky art, not all of which I appreciated). It was pleasant and ended with Wallace and I catching bar food around the corner. Sunday was another relaxing day with a reasonable wake-up and then we got (and by we I mean I fetched stuff) Wallace's car up and running, only to take the metro.... haha, but we went to the Pompidou center and visited the free exhibits they had going. In the evening we joined another cool officer, his wife, and their super cute little girl to watch Arsenal play Birmingham in the Carling Cup final. Let's not talk about the result.

Monday... I woke up leisurely, visited Wallace at work, ate with the interns who are currently serving there. Let me tell you, a SUPER different experience than mine cause Paris Embassy is massive and there are seemingly a million people. Wallace says he doesn't even know many of the people outside of his section. It was crazy, plus seeing that Paris is so big and there is a large foreigner community, it's not so bonding. Can't imagine being an unpaid intern living in Paris... ugh. But they were very nice ladies both from smaller schools. The State Department is good about getting people from all sorts of schools. The afternoon I rocked out the Louvre. Proved the existence of Venus de Milo (not that cool), spent the late afternoon with AManda Bowers, Brad Keck and his girlfriend Flannery at a MOroccon Hookah bar by Montmartre (fascinating area), and then catching dinner alone at a Senegalese restaurant where I talked a bunch with a guy from the Ivory Coast who just walked up to me (love africans!). Finally, then met up with Matt to go to an acquaintance's birthday bash at a local bar. The night was fun, and ended ridiculously. I ended up being alone on a subway platform with this girl waiting for what we thought was the last metro. The line ended up being broken down. Anyway, she ends up being a famous french actress!

Nah, just joking, but I bet at least one person believed it! haha, so I made quick convo with her, knelt down to pick up my book which had dropped and when I looked up she was literally falling over! Obviously I jumped up and helped her over to the bench to sit her down. She is super white in the face and is saying it's "my heart it's my heart" while rubbing her chest slowly and not really communicating well with me. Luckily about the same time the security came through to kick us out so I wasn't totally alone. Turns out she has a birth defect with a valve and sometimes it acts up and she gets like this... I was like, metros may not be your thing..... Anyway, after about 10 or so minutes she was okay to get up so I walked her to her house (which was only about 20 minutes from Wallace's). Ended up being from Martinique and an architecture student who wants to study in the US! Really nice girl, whose name I never asked, but what a random, weird experience. Nothing like walking around Paris at 1:30 walking a heart-defect French girl from Martinique and reminiscing about ridiculous questions we get! haha, just a standard Paris tour. Tuesday I hung out with Matt, ate a very nice dinner with Wallace and then meeting Matt, Courtney from WFU, and another ETA and his girlfriend

Okay, part two of my break was at the Taize ecumenical Monastery-not necessarily only Catholic monks but definitely an overall Catholic, old-church experience, where I was very excited to go to get an opportunity to kick back, relax, and use some time to connect with God again. Andorra is many wonderful things, but definitely miss a Christian community. I didn't "do" much but rather I "was" a lot. I spent 4 days in silence which was a really cool (and at first challenging) experience. I lived in a room alone sharing a common hallway shower and eating together with other guys who were doing 4-7 days in silence. The oddest part for me was definitely eating all together yet not speaking. It was really a very cool experience which I will treasure but not particularly interesting for you to hear about. Short of it was, I didn't hear God speaking to me in any crazy out-of-body experience but was given a lot of peace and was able to delve into God's word a bunch and enjoy worship at Taize. Taize has a particular style of worship with chants and repetition which was very beautiful. I am sad that I missed out on getting to meet a lot of cool people-a little shout-out to the cool folk I met the last afternoon before I left from Baylor, would have been fun to get to talk more. Also, I understand why a "garden" is the scene of the perfect creation, such a tranquil beautiful place with just the wind, trees, and birds to accompany your soul.

I returned bright and early this morning on an all-night train, this time unfortunately I did NOT sleep. Got into Andorra, unpacked, dug into the multitude of emails that I missed, uploaded photos to F-book, and now I'm about to go off to work for an hour tutoring before watching Arsenal play Barcelona. Hopefully, that goes better than I'm afraid it will... it promises to be a depressing result for me.... but we'll see. I will attach a few photos so you can see a few of the things....

Peace and Love from the Principality
Mark Titus

Friday, February 4, 2011

January in the Principality

Good afternoon/morning/evening/night everyone,
Stillness. Utter, complete, total silence. Then the smooth sound of skis slicing through the thin air and a green-cloaked monitor comes to a graceful, effortless stop in front of me, snow swooshing up behind him in an arc. "hola" he mutters in his tired, Chilean or Argentinian Spanish. "bon dia" I whisper back in my apparently portuguese accented Catala. Ahhhh..... the day begins. With the groans of frozen metal and the creaks of routine, the ski lift begins its day and I'm on the first seat meeting the sun sneaking its way over the mountain half-way up the slope.

This has become one of my favorite ways to start a day. Heading out of my slumbering apartment at around 7:50 carrying my 20 year old skis and boots with me wearing my shoes and small backpack with mandarins to boot. Getting to the first gondola to the ski lift at 8:30 is described by some as utter suicide on a weekend, an action of folly suggesting that 5 months in the Principality has addled my mind but despite my dislike for mornings, I cannot disagree more vehemently. It is a beautiful thing to be the first on the slopes, cutting across the freshly ironed pistes with only the instructors whizzing by you on one ski, backwards, jumping and basically showing me how very far I have to go before I can consider myself even decent! haha, skiing has been an amazing gift to me this year. With not a lot of ability previously to ski, this has been virtually my first exposure to the sport, and surely the easiest and cheapest exposure I'll probably EVER get. Totally worth every penny and early morning I have suffered. Even the walk up my hill, which seems like Everest at the end of a day of skiing, is worth it. If you ever get the chance to come to Andorra, go skiing, you'll love it. The mornings are my favorite as they are void of the tourists who usually are as bad or worse than me and suicidal preteen/teenagers whose bones may still be rubbery but mine aren't! haha. By this first week in February, I have now clocked up 27 hours of skiing. Yes, I am counting.

What else does a 22 year old American Fulbright do in Andorra? Well, in my free time I enjoy getting coffees and/or beers with friends, whether they are crazy Irish English nut bags or equally crazy French teachers from Canada. I am privileged to get to know such crazies. You all know that I'm not one for late night shenanigans so usually I'll be found lying around the apartment on a weekend, enjoying the fact that I can be inside before 8:30 pm. I drink a lot of tea, admire our view, clean up my room, do my laundry on Saturdays or Sundays and basically just chilax and prepare for the next week. And, if I don't finish my lesson planning, or just want to edit them, I do that on the weekends too. Despite the fact that I only make one or two lessons a week-yes, I know real teachers are reading this with jealously-it takes a surprisingly long time to do so. I also do my food shopping on weekends, plus any other shopping I need, and on Sundays I traditionally make a big meal which I then plastify and keep for the following several days. yes, for leftovers. Sundays has also become our traditional going to Portuguese Chicken place where we eat fries with some sort of drug in it (we suspect), delicious rice, and chicken with some sort of spices on it that make it taste FANTASTIC, and a Portuguese Sagres beer to wash it all down. The three ladies who work there all have different personalities and all know us by sight now.  Life has a lovely rhythm, and Friday continues to be my most favoritest day of the week! oh, and of course, one of the most important elements of my life is watching football every single week watching my dear gunners fight each game to the bitter end in a bid to beat Manchester United to the crown, unlikely but I continue to hope. At least they are good this year... unlike virtually every Wake Forest sport! Oh, another thing I am doing is trying to read a bit, finally finished "Confessions of Saint Augustine" which was a fantastic, albeit difficult read and now I have started Life of Pi which is significantly easier, and a very fun read so far. it's amazing how much you can read doing so only in the bus going to and from work places. :-)

During the week, catala class, language sopar, choir, football, and tutoring keeps me busy every day. Tutoring continues to give me sincere pleasure despite the later hours, choir proves to be an enjoyable use of my time and I continue to enjoy the comradery and language challenge of both the Sopars and Catala class. Two weeks ago I had my first ever true melt-down while teaching. I have had difficult days ever since I got here and my 3cs have always proved a challenge to me but one whom I have been confident I would figure out how to channel at some point. Two weeks ago, I realized that after 5 months, my best students seemed to be getting weaker, my worse students no better, their overall English level hopeless (to be gracious) and their attitude like that of a chihuahua towards a German shepherd, utter contempt. Another similarity to this allusion, like the German Shepherd I am somehow intimidated and unable to realize that their attitude is not my problem.  I broke down.... no tears but real close. haha, anyway, after throwing three out of them of my class for the day, I talked to my head of department and then my principal came in and gave me sympathetic ears. Anyway, at the end of the day, a wonderful conversation with an angel in the form of my sister!, and a few days of sleep, I felt better about it. We shifted some students and... we'll see. Monday was still super tough, but that's just the way life is. I will continue to do what I can, research better ways to channel energy and keep discipline and ask questions but I am determined not to let them ruin my days either. If I throw my fullness into it and it still doesn't work, I just have to keep trying and hope their little teenager radars go down long enough to learn something.

Last weekend, we had the pleasure of having Antonio's birthday celebration at our apartment. Thongdam organized pretty much everything despite being sick, she and Amanda did a shopping storm to get all the food but the veggies which were my charge and then we cooked... for a long time Thongdam and I cooked! :-) well, really I just took orders and Thongdam informed me of what to do. In the end two kinds of enchiladas, lots of dipping veggies, nachos, beans, salsas, and pies resulted. And it was glorious. We had a great time, with a lot of people over

Okay, to keep this brief. The rest of February will be work world, ski world, tutoring etc. PLUS! I'm going to get to sneak out and see the Tom and Liz Ryder who are going to be in Barcelona for a cruise. That's going to be a special treat. Then the end of February happens and before I blink my eyes it'll be april and then another blink it will be May. I go to Paris at the end of February for 4 days where I'll get to see Wallace Bain, my boss and friend from Embassy days in Senegal, followed by a personal trip to Taize retreat center in Taize, France. Then I get back to Andorra just in time to run to Pamplona, Spain for a week-long Fulbright conference with a weekend going to San. Sebastian, then I teach for a week, then I go to Berlin for a week conference followed by a weekend with Sara Brucker and her boyfriend in Ulm, Germany (maybe see Stefan? from RVA days). Then I get back, teach for 3 days before heading off with my school choir to Catalonia for an All-Catalonia choir congregation where 5000 or so students will do a mega-concert. Looks to be ridiculous, loud, seriously off key, and amazing. :-) Then I'll be here in Andorra for a full 2 weeks before heading off to Morocco to visit my dormparents from high school, my old (actually young but old in terms of time) math teacher, and hopefully seeing a friend from Wake. At the end of that trip (easter) I will crown it with a weekend in Madrid, crashing Madridites' couch and watching the Madrid open for a day. I will finally return to Andorra much poorer, probably quite fatigued, tired of the 3 pairs of clothes I will be using during my travels and ready to settle down for the final drive. It is weird to think but... I pretty much have everything from here until May charted out... strange, but virtually true. Sometime in the next few months I need to do: taxes (don't forget to give your $1 for public campaigning ya'll! let's try to get back to that... I'm tired of wasting money on hateful t.v. ads), find a job if my desired one doesn't work out, and keep sane. Plus a haircut, September to December without a cut was a bit much and I want to be a bit neater this time... Maybe I'll do that this weekend. Hopefully I will at least update during the week I'm here in March if I don't squeeze out another quick one before leaving at the end of February.

Tonight, we are (hopefully) having guests from Spain over for dinner, then it's football practice, then sleep then tutoring early tomorrow morning before perhaps skiing with a friend from school, and food shopping... should be a good time! :-) Sunday is a ski day with Jordi, the music teacher, and then laundry, cooking part of life. :-). The quote of the month goes to our friend Kamran who visited from Barcelona-Andorra: "Where good things happen"!


As always, thanks for taking the time to read up on my daily life-I know it's not really that exciting-and for your thoughts, prayers, and what you mean to me. Know I often miss family and friends despite being confident I am where I should be. I would ask you to pray for me particularly during travel, during my weekend retreat at Taize, and as I seek out opportunit(ies) for next year. For patience, peace, and that the right situation at the right time will become obvious to me when it needs to be.

Peace and Love from the Principality,
Mark Titus Hoover

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dude, it's 1/11/11. You gotta smile now!

Well, I'm back to Andorra, the booming Principality! My Christmas holidays were fantastic, definitely full of curiosities, colors, sounds, smells... overall, a fantastic Christmas. If you ever get the opportunity to go to India, do not think about it, Just Do It! (thank you Nike). It may not be a country where you would like to live but it is certainly a country that is worth a visit. I guess I'll start at the beginning.
#1 First of all, the 22nd of December was our school's Talent Show. Wow! Hiliarious, first off, only one brave boy participated in this talent show and he was fantastic, he is a great guitarist. Secondly, virtually every single performance was a group of different girls performing some kind of dance and lipsync to music that was altogether not appropriate. There is something that is coincidentally very funny and sad about watching girls 'shake it' except they really don't have anything to shake... haha, anyway, despite my mild discomfort with both the lyrics and actions of these girls I was impressed with the amount of effort and passion they put into their songs.
#2 The 23rd saw Amanda, Antonio, and I on an early bus to Toulouse, France-home of Airbus most famously. We dropped Amanda off at the airport before Antonio and I headed off to explore. We proved to be excellent companions as we both enjoyed spacing any kind of formal cultural visits to churches, and/or museums with long stops at cafes! :-) We did see Thomas Aquinas' tomb which was super cool, a black Virgin Mary which was curious, and saw lots of cool statues in the Musee des Augustins. It was nice to be once again in a country where I can communicate more or less fluently. That evening Antonio left and I went to the airport to begin my airport vigil till the next morning. One of the french teachers from my school met me at the airport to hang out for a bit before I truly was solo. It wasn't a bad stay though, for real.

#3 Trip to India. Of course, the 6 am flight (first of the day) from Toulouse was late leaving somehow making the connection between Paris Orly and Charles de Gaulle extremely tight. I, along with 4 other stressed, late passengers, jumped on the RER train and got to the airport 20 minutes after my flight had stopped accepting passengers. I was lucky to have a super kind gate clerk who let me on the flight and in the end we sat on the runway for 2 hours waiting to be de-iced. I was very thankful to be there and having slept realistically only about 5 hours total in the last 48 hours, I collapsed into sleep. My flight was enjoyable, the passenger next to me was a very nice Sikh man who was entertaining. He was all about pocketing sodas and the gift boxes we got. :-) haha, I got to travel in Premier Voyageur which is a new class Air France started that is between Economy and Business and is quite nice. You get plugs which I find sweet! I arrived in India Christmas Morning at 2:30 or so.

#4 We stayed in Mumbai until the 27th getting to relax, meet Jane's boyfriend, some of her/their friends, and explore Mumbai a bit. What a giant city. Over 20 million, which is still mind-blowing to me! After our trip, we returned to Mumbai for another four days which was a nice way to relax at the end of the trip before a long flight back to Europe and work on Monday! Throughout our time in Mumbai were many highlights: seeing Jane's school which is gorgeous and clearly a place of constructive learning, getting to meet her friends and her bf's family kindly invited us over, riding around in rickshaws (a super entertaining means of public transport-box on top of a motorcycle), walking around in shorts! :-), watching Mumbai locals throw on winter jackets against the bitter cold gripping the city (15-20 Celsius!), going to the Taj Hotel to get a coffee, looking at many fascinating architectures throughout the city especially the old British colonial buildings, Victoria train Station, a nice dentist appointment and of course for me... FOOD! FOOD! Delicioso. We also went on a powerful tour through Dharavi where I learned that the slum which is 1.1 million people on 1.75 km2 but it produces more than 500 million $$$ of output. Crazy right? Money flows out and into the pockets of some but not the residents. It was interesting to hear the perspective of our guide-a resident and the resistance of slum dwellers toward any type of gentrification or reorganization-lots more stuff I learned which if you are interested in, you can ask me. Throughout all of these activities, just being together with my awesome parents and sister was a super big blessing that refreshed me more than sleep did! It is always nice to be around people you know have known you throughout all the stages of your life and love you anyway! Haha.

#5 We got to see some amazing things during our trip in India. We began on the 27th with a “14 hr” train trip. This began badly because it was 9 hours delayed, but during this time we got to eat at Leopold's Cafe which is a famous Mumbai eatery and I will be the first to say: worth the hype. The train was late leaving and then further delayed because the Gujars (a semi-nomadic tribe) was protesting government policies by both blocking the road and the train tracks. This proved to be a good reminder to me of how complicated it must be to run a country as diverse and as complicated as India. Anyway, this train trip turned into over 25 hours BUT I pretty much slept the entire thing! Haha, and when I wasn't sleeping I was virtually always eating as the Indian rail company just keeps bringing you food. Two thumbs up there. We arrived into the capital of Delhi well past midnight having already missed the day we were supposed to have there. A complicated rescheduling followed and we were able to get one full day in Delhi. We saw the Jama Masjid Mosque, an amazing old palace/temple whose name I'm forgetting, the place where Gandhi's ashes lie, were entertained by the ubiquitous melange of cows, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles, cars, trucks, buses, etc. Incidentally, India is pretty darn crowded, while at the station in Mumbai I saw people sleeping on top of the snackshop roofts, underneath sidewalk shops, pretty much everywhere there were people. Also, we saw some MASSIVE rats-only beat out by rats I spotted in New Orleans a few years ago! Which wandered the tracks free at will feasting on the multitude of trash and other less appealing things on the tracks.

From Delhi we took another late and delayed train to Agra (hometown of the Taj Mahal). We stayed at a nifty little hotel within a short walking distance of the Taj. My biggest observation: there is a lot more around the traditional image of the Taj than I knew existed. Also, the symmetry of the whole place is pretty fantastically amazing and detailed. Inside the Mausoleum within the walls are these precious stones which come from India that glow only when the moon hits them! How cool is that? Once again, I was amazed by the detail that went into the Taj Mahal. After the Taj, we then got an opportunity to visit the Fa which is heralded as the largest gate in Asia. While I have neither the interest nor the ability to defend that statement I will say that it was incredibly large! 70 meters total. Inside was the tomb of a Muslim holy man who was credited with an ability to predict things and also for granting an emperor the life of child by sacrificing his own. It was neat to see people of various religious persuasions all joining together to offer prayers and gifts at this shrine.

We then drove from Delhi to Ranthambore National Park which was about a 8 hr. journey as I remember-again slowed by the Gujar protests. But the protest meant we got to go through a lot of villages which was honestly really cool as it helped us see better what the countryside looks like. Biggest observation: there is virtually NO free land at all, everything has either people or farms on it. It seemed like every inch of the country was covered! This park is famous for tigers but alas we were not able to see any. We did get to see a ton of other animals all of which were new to me so despite some disappointment I was very pleased overall. We celebrated New Years Eve at the hotel just outside of the park. We ended up eating a delicious Indian buffet-style dinner at another hotel. Anyone who knows me well will know that I enjoyed that event immensely as I feasted for a few hours! :-) This year, I was so proud as everyone in my family made it to New Years Eve (albeit barely!)

The 1st saw us make a 4 am trip to Jaipur to catch a morning flight to Ahmedebad which is the biggest city and defacto capital of the province of Gujarat which is the province from which MANY of the Indians both in the US and in Africa come from. It is a fairly affluent state which is dry and also the home of where Gandhi lived within his Ashram or community. Getting to visit the Ashram was a special treat. Additionally, we were there shortly before the international Kite Festival (envision the movie Kite Runner) so we were able to go to a street which only sells Kite products and watch them making the glass covered string which is used in these fights. Here we were the honored, honored guests of a friend of my sister at her wedding! People were so unbelievably generous as hosts, making us feel incredibly at home, giving us rides, always asking if we were doing okay. My whole time in India I was humbled by the kind welcome everyone gave us. Another example of this in Ahmedebad was the opportunity I got to see a friend of mine from Wake Forest who happened to be there at the same time for his sister's wedding. Despite the fact that the wedding was the day after we were there, he and his family were kind enough to have us over to a traditional Gujarat lunch full of delicious foods and he helped us plan the rest of our day there. Throughout Africa I have always felt welcomed too, but India truly was something extraordinary.

This vacation was remarkable in many ways. Two personal firsts: 1) I never once tickled my father-which many of you know is a difficult thing to NOT do, 2) this new year has marked my commitment to not biting my nails. This is my first serious effort at this so hopefully it goes well. I already had to clip my nails which was the first time in a very long time.... haha. So, keep me accountable!

This is kinda random but... flying reminded me of something I cannot understand. It is almost as difficult to understand as such mind-blowing complexities such as why do monkeys make opening bananas look so smooth, why do we call the bone a “funny bone”-it's never funny to you, and of course, why exactly do we as men continue to be attracted to women when we know our entire lives we will never be able to predict what's going on...? Oh yah, the event which brought this to mind: why is it that the same people who look like they are fleeing the apocalypse while boarding an airplane are the ones who also attempt to climb over you in their attempt to evacuate that SAME airplane?! Is it that they just forget that they don't actually like flying when they are smacking people with the briefcase rushing through line into the plane? Anyway... just musings from me but... for real?

Of course, my time in India had to finish eventually and I returned to Andorra on Saturday, just in time to have a Fulbright friend from Barcelona come to stay with us for two days, he ended up leaving Tuesday night, but he promises to be back! :-) Unfortunately, as ya'll know, Mondays and Tuesdays are fairly hectic days so I wasn't able to spend much time with him after Sunday (as in I did not see him at all Tuesday)

Now I'm back in Andorra, enjoying the high life as I live away. I am finishing up this email at night and we just had a fun birthday bash with some of our close friends here and it was a great time. It is fun to be able to have friends over and just feel relaxed. Haha, it is surprisingly nice to be back to “home” and hopefully this term will go as well or better than last semester. As always, thanks for reading and thanks for who you are! Hopefully this new year will be challenging, fun, and hopefully will end the year with a job! Despite the work and stress/excitement I look forward to being relaxed in the moment as I continue to seek to FULLY live and learn what Love is all about!
 As always, Peace and Love from the Principality!

Mark Titus