Tag Archives: SUNY Oswego

A Year Later: El Salvador, Oswego, and Saying Goodbye

10151940_10152274893111550_1680990572_nIt’s been a full year since my trip to El Salvador with SUNY Oswego. My negative feelings for the organizations involved and my alma matter have dissipated, I even started thinking about somehow starting a small fund for history students. I’m not rich, but I was even more broke as a student and would have loved a scholarship, even if it was only for books.

The people I met on the trip and I still connect every now and again, though mostly online. Around the anniversary, a few days ago, I was a little skittish. Whenever I heard a loud noise my heart would start to race. It’s gone away now for the most part, but I think every year at this time (for a while) I’ll be a little jumpy. Further, and perhaps most importantly, I better understand the situation we were in and why it happened. I cannot be mad at those individuals, which I won’t go into here. I realized right away that I had it pretty good because, in reality, I got to leave and no matter how many things were stolen from me, they had to stay.

What I’ve also been thinking about is my connection with SUNY Oswego. I miss it. I spent a lot of time there and made friends and connections that mean a lot to me. From personal to professional growth, it all happened on that campus. I miss being in class (mostly graduate school) and working with students on a daily basis during my graduate assistantship, though I do not miss the lack of pay.

This is all coming to me now because Leah and I are looking at an apartment in Syracuse tomorrow afternoon and as much as we want to move, it’ll be bitter sweet, but I think it’s for the best. The two of us will always have a place in our hearts for SUNY Oswego and the city. We know this place so well and are comfortable here. There aren’t any surprises. We know what to expect no matter where we go. We have a bar, a couple favorite places to eat, and a nice apartment. Unfortunately, tomorrow could be the beginning of the end for our time living there.

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El Salvador Journal: Part V – The Final Days

It’s been a really, really long time since I wrote about this trip. I’ll try to make this as clean and to the point as possible due to the content and the fact that I want to finish this damn thing already. It’ll be based on my notes from March 20th to our last day, March 23rd. It may be confusing, but most of the time I’m waking up the next day writing up the night before or writing on the bus ride home from a site in the middle of the day.

Before I start, I want to say how much the people on the trip meant to me then and still mean to me now. These are some of the strongest humans I know.

So this entry goes out to Tim, Courtney, Ryan, and Andrew.

(Deep breath)

3/20 “My voice didn’t come back, but we did have a good day of work despite the long drive to the site. We went to a day care/living compound that was about an hour away from where we were staying. We were told that this group was displaced a number of times and was given these block housing, concrete homes.

It was a pretty scary part of El Salvador. We showed up and guards were at the gates , learning later that they were not always there and were hired to protect us. They were with us the entire day and we weren’t allowed out of their sight. Our job for the day was to give the kids there some attention, paint parts of the compound, and help clean up the school yard.

Before the supplies arrived, we played soccer with the kids: U.S vs El Salvador. It was fun, though I don’t think we won. These kids were good, but we held out own out there. The most important part was the kids loved it and wouldn’t let us stop playing, even when the supplies showed up. I felt bad just standing around most of the time, there weren’t enough paint brushes for everyone, so I rounded up some kids and a box of garbage bags and we walked around cleaning up for an hour or so. It was great to see them get excited about cleaning up their little community. Later on I was able to start painting and it was nice to be in the shade for a little while.

After passing a Walmart/mall on the way to the site, we decided to stop there on the way home. Our search for Cubans continued, but to no avail. We did, however, get ice cream, which is nearly just as good. After getting back to our house and going for a swim in the ocean followed by the pool and a shower it was time for dinner. Chicken, potatoes, beans, and rice.

After dinner,Ryan and I decided it was our turn to wash the dishes for the group and give our cooks a break. After all, there were more than 30 of us on the trip with both groups. A friend of mine told me they did that last year, so I made sure we did it too. Later on was “Skit Night,” created by one of our trip leaders, Tim. I was a judge for no other reason than I was tired and not feeling very creative. All the skits were hilarious, and the five other judges and I, which included parents from the Kansas City group, played the roles of American Idol and Voice characters while critiquing their performances.

As the night wound down, a few of the girls from the KC group started asking me about the last few years of my life and what was next when I got home. When I looked at them, I remembered doing the same thing, asking people older than me what was next and being in awe of what they were doing.

Now that I’m here, it’s not that glamorous. Anyway, it’s time for bed.

3/21 – We started our day a little later today (9am), meaning everyone was much happier with the extra 40 minutes of sleep, mostly me. Today’s site was closer than the others, about 30 minutes away from the house.
We had to dig a 6x6ft hole behind a house for a bathroom. The sun was the hottest it’s been all week, making this job one of the more exhausting ones. It did feel good to do some manual labor and see the finished product for a change. Anyway, it wound up being so hot that we left around 1:30pm as many in the group were severely dehydrated. As much as I needed water, I began to get sick of it. Lesson learned, though- Always bring salty foods to hot places to help absorb water. As much as I drank, I would immediately sweat it out. On the way home we stopped for ice cream (again) and upon our return the normal beach, pool, shower, nap routine continued wonderfully. Currently I’m just hanging out waiting for dinner.

3/22 – Before dinner last night, the 30 of us got into a circle and talked about what the trip has meant to us, our favorite parts, etc. It was hard not to say I, because in reality this trip wasn’t for me- it was for the people here. My personal growth was very secondary to that. Either way, it was nice to hear everyone’s thoughts. Afterwards, of course, it was dinner time. The night turned into round two of 20 questions with the other group as they asked me about Oswego, the snow, school, and my girlfriend gasping at how the snow covered our cars regularly. As the night wore on, the music got a little louder and, despite my voice still being pretty shot, everyone sang along to crummy pop songs and had a good time. By 10, it was time for everyone to hit the sheets, mostly the KC crew because they had to catch their flight north in the morning. As for today, it’ll be a day of sight seeing and whatever else we can manage to fit in. On a side note, while writing this on the balcony at 6:45am, I finally started my idea for a book that I’ve been thinking about for a while. Figure my mind is as clear as it will be for some time so why not get the thoughts out while I could.
Breakfast is in a while, so I’m going to hang out and keep writing until then and start our day.

3/23 – The last 24 hours are something I will not soon forget. Saturday started out like all the others- breakfast, hanging out, and off to the vans. We went to a Mayan ruin museum, had lunch a gorgeous lake, hiked a volcano, and bought souvenirs, which included a hammock, a small picture, and a jewelry box for Leah. The day was pretty amazing.

We got home around 5pm, went to the beach for swim and showered. Earlier in the day we moved our stuff from where we were staying to where we had been eating our meals. We settled in when we got back from sight seeing, but there wasn’t a huge need to unpack as we were leaving in the morning. We ate dinner and went outside in the backyard to hang out, play cards, and smoke cigars that Tim found, though they weren’t Cubans.

As we were winding down our game around 10pm, we heard a really loud crash and saw a guy hit the top of the outhouse and fall to the ground. Next thing we knew, there were 12 to 15 gang members with guns and machetes telling us to get on the ground. Some hopped the 10-12 foot concrete wall with barbed wire while others somehow got through the house. They took everything we had on us as others went through our bags upstairs while we were being held on the ground. Eventually they marched us into a room and told us not to come out for 10 minutes, which we did when we thought they really left and tried our best to take in what had transpired.

No one was hurt and a lot of our stuff was taken including laptops, watches, money, clothes, and backpacks. Personally, I didn’t lose much as I travel pretty lightly. I lost my leather-man, my necklace, a hoodie, the small picture and a hammock I bought earlier in the day, a crummy watch I bought for the trip, and $40. Courtney had 95% of her stuff taken, Tim both of his cellphones, Ryan his shoes and random other things, and Andrew clothes and his laptop. Staying with us that night was a Brazilian girl, Juliana, who had $1000 stolen along with her laptop and her passport. I hope everything works out with her.** My license and debit card weren’t taken because they were in a small pocket with a zipper. Wish I had put some more things in there now that I think of it.

Luckily our passports survived the ordeal.

At the end of the day, everyone being ok is what’s really important. We were really scarred at the end of it all and because my phone was magically not taken (it was charging on the bed and not in my pocket or bag so they didn’t see it) we used it to figure out how to get out of the house. Tim’s whole backpack was taken, meaning all of our contact information for people in El Salvador went with it. The bill will be unreal, but I’m hoping I can figure that out later.*

The experience was eye opening. I have never been in a situation at all like that and I hope I never have to again. After the ordeal and all the phone calls to people back home, we had a van bring us to the organization leader’s home where we stayed for the night. Mike was surprised to hear about what happened and, from what he said, this had never happened to one of his groups before. Though I can’t speak for everyone, I crashed really hard after the adrenaline went down.

The morning came quickly and more conversation and questions about the night before started just as fast. We ate whatever breakfast we could muscle down and off we went to the airport. I was able to FaceTime with Leah at Mike’s and my Dad at the airport to let them know everything was ok. Currently, I’m on the flight to Atlanta and I’ve never been so happy to be going home. Until last night, I really liked being in El Salvador, despite the extreme poverty and huge class gaps. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back, but I need some time to process all of this. Aside from having a gun pointed at me, I was pretty upset about losing my necklace I got when I was 10 and have been wearing ever since. It’s material, sure, but it meant a lot to me. I’m also not happy that I now have negative feelings about a place that needs as much help as possible and, overall, was an amazing experience that I would have spoke very highly about.

I won’t look at all the pictures with the excitement I had when I first took them. The stories won’t feel the same as when I lived them. Spanish will, for a while, be the language of fear. We just had the in-flight lunch and coffee- there’s about 45 minutes left on the flight until we get to Atlanta. I guess this concludes the journal. I really wish the ending was different and cannot think of a non-cliche phrase about “bad things happening to good people” that will aptly describe what took place.”

*AT&T were really cool about it and understood the circumstances. The bill was $30 or so.

** From what I understand, Juliana left El Salvador a few days after we did, but haven’t heard anything since.

The following are my current thoughts on the situation and now, having some time to think about it and multiple conversations over tacos with Tim, Andrew, Ryan, and Courtney, I feel it’s time to say how I really feel about some of the things that went down and how it was handled afterwards.

This does not, in any way, reflect how the rest of the group feels as I am not a representative of them or their thoughts on these events. 

First, none of the organizations involved (Homes From the Heart, The Fuller Center, and SUNY Oswego) did  their homework on this. From what I learned afterwards about the current situation in El Salvador (as far as from January 2014 to the present) we should not have been there. Last year’s trip isn’t this year’s, though that seems pretty simple in so much as you can’t plan on the same things happening each time in a country located in the murder triangle of Central America. Between the high murder rate and the political situation, as much as they need help it wasn’t worth what happened to us to go into that situation. Though we should have done some research, these organizations planned and sent us there meaning they should probably know exactly what the situation is there and make sure the other people involved also understand, to the best of their abilities, what’s going on there. Everyone assumed because nothing had ever happened before that it wouldn’t happen this time.

Second, how all the organizations handled it afterwards may have been even worse. The Fuller Center and Homes From the Heart said “This never happened before and there’s not a ton we can do.” They wound up giving us the trip cost back, but thinking about it now, I would have really liked a public apology on their behalf saying “Hey, we messed up, but this isn’t going to happen again on our watch. We’re sorry.”

SUNY Oswego decided to sweep it under the rug as fast as possible and I regret signing the piece of paper saying I wouldn’t pursue further, though nothing says that none of us can’t with the Fuller Center. At the time, we all wanted to get this over with and move on, and I think they took advantage of that. Also, having us sign something means they know they did something wrong. They too offered us reimbursement for the things we lost, though I later learned they have specific insurance for things like this and decided to not fill us in on or didn’t want to file the claim for whatever reason. The people they had speaking with us from the college were also not exactly who should have been having conversations with us- high enough that they had a title and low enough to not really know anything if we had questions.

Now, I will say that the programs that the Fuller Center puts together as well as SUNY Oswego’s organization of these trips is usually good. It’s just hard to swallow when it seems as simple as double checking that things are the way they should be before we go. Trips like this need to continue to happen and I hope both of these organizations learned a valuable lesson, though I would have preferred it not be at my or any one else’s expense.

A place I spent thousands of dollars at for six years worth of school and held multiple jobs pushing the great ideas of the college now has a sour taste in my mouth along with a place that desperately needs help. It may take a while for that to go away.

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The end, the beginning, and then…

20140504-132636.jpgA lot of things are ending in the next couple of weeks- I’ll be graduating with a master’s degree ending my academic career (for now), my assistantship contract is up ending my job at SUNY Oswego, and my museum internship will be completed with the ending of this semester.

The good news is, there are great things waiting for me on the other side. I start a job at Onondaga Historical Association in a month, I continue my job at a foundation, and I gain the freedom to, well, do whatever I want.

Thinking back, I always had a good excuse for why I didn’t go out: school. Yes, it’s a lot of work. No, I shouldn’t have done that. Now, I’m at a crossroads- I can decide I’m going to be boring and make excuses or I can go out and do something, anything, in the time I make for myself. I can’t keep saying I don’t feel like driving or spending money. If I want to do something I’m going to go for it.

I’m going to go at my jobs with everything I have as well as my personal life.

I want to start projects, books, trips, and whatever else to learn and grow outside of a classroom. I’m going to meet people wherever I go and learn to love to do new things. And sometimes, when the mood strikes, I’ll be a bum and sit around drinking beers at a bar with my friends, but that’s not all I’ll have to look forward to.

I feel good about starting a new chapter in my life. This one needed to end. And then? Well, who knows.

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What I’m Thankful For

Recently I’ve learned not to complicate things; that I’m a simple person that thrives on the little things. So when I started thinking about what I’m thankful for, I thought of all the things I’ve learned over the last few years about myself and where I currently live, Oswego, NY.

My list may seem cliche and boring, but to me, after learning about all the hardships of those in my community without the same “Zella” luck that I’ve been able to take advantage of, it made me appreciate what I have even more.

With that being said, here’s my list of things I’m grateful for since I started living on my own and learning about what it takes to survive.

1) I can afford to turn my heat on: For many people, this is an unaffordable luxury. It’s not terribly expensive, despite National Grid charging $60 in “delivery fees,” but for some this is a burden that can only be combated with layers of clothes while in the house.

2) My car starts every time I need it to: Another thing that people may take for granted, my car is the most expensive thing I have and something I’m really proud of now that I am paying for it on my own.

3) I have a (two) job(s): They’re not much, but I can pay my bills and frankly, isn’t that all we need?

4) I can afford to eat what I want, when I want: My favorite part of Italy wasn’t the history or the sights, it was about what the Italian people really care about: Food, culture, and conversation. When I visited my family in Milan, we didn’t do anything extravagant; nothing that would get a wow out of a thrill seeker. We went on bike and car rides, swam in a river, went to festivals, and ate and ate and ate. Though this is something a lot of people don’t find to be one of the more important parts of their lives, the fact that I get to surround myself with good people and tasty food makes my life a little better, and I’m glad I can afford to do it.

5) My clothes fit: Everyone complains about clothes and I’ll admit, I do too. But when I really think about it, I have clothes that fit and make me look a bit better when I need to go into public.

6) I have people around me that genuinely care about my existence: Good friends are hard to come by and even harder to keep in your life, especially if you met them in college. However, I’ve been lucky enough to keep a good group of people in my life for quite some time now, even if they live 3 or 6 hours away. When I messaged old high school buddies to help me be a part of Movember, they signed right up with me. When I call a friend in Buffalo and ask what’s going on, we spend over an hour shooting the breeze and planning a visit to each other’s current residence. It’s amazing; something I’ll never take for granted. My family, too, has continued to be a rock for me to stand on in a time of need, even if it’s not of the fiscal nature. I can always call my parents or grandparents for a good laugh and some reassurance.

7) I’m on my way to a Masters Degree: I was lucky enough to have most of graduate school paid for by my employer, SUNY Oswego, making it easy for me to concentrate on my studies and complete my degree in 4 semesters. With one more semester remaining, I’m happy with what opportunities have turned into over the last 2 years.

8) And of course, my girlfriend: She’s put up with me more than anyone of the last 2 years. Between never being home, reading or writing papers when I am home, and making sure I eat every day, there hasn’t been a person more involved with keeping me on the right track than Leah.

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Weight

You don’t have to think about something all the time for it to be a burden. It’s also hard to realize how much something weighs on your mind until it goes away or you get closure. Last night I spoke to someone that I haven’t talked to in a long time and you know what, it went pretty well. For someone I never expected to have a real conversation with again, it went as well as it could have.

It wasn’t exactly closure, but dare I say it helped us move into a new chapter in this whole situation.

I won’t go into detail on how it all started, but I will say he absolutely had his reasons not to talk to me. No matter how much I hated the idea of losing a friend, I knew that I needed to just let it happen.

It bothered me for a while that we just weren’t friends anymore and even more so because there was nothing I could do to fix it. But last night we actually spoke and it was more than just “Hey” in passing. I was caught off guard when we talked about music for a second and that, “Yeah, I’ll have one of them get in touch with you this weekend,” as we briefly talked about our old bandmates coming to Oswego for Harborfest and that we should hang out and jam or whatever.

Even though I was really happy that I found the medallion thing hidden at the Raven (a local bar I frequent) that came with a few prizes, the fact that we were speaking lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders. Like I said, it wasn’t something that I thought about all the time, but it was definitely something that bothered me enough that it was on my mind.

I know it’s not over and we’re not all of a sudden best friends, but as this point, talking is better than pretending that the other person didn’t exist.

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(The “medallion” which won me $13, a t-shirt, and 2 pints of beer)

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Things I miss: Burning Bridge Band

As I sit here at my computer, my kick-drum, which I cannot fit in any normal closet, sits next to me unplayed. I haven’t played drums for a while now and it kills me. I was in a band in Syracuse for a while, The Avondales, and had a lot of fun playing music with new people. It was cool being brought into a band that had been around for a while and was even cooler that the guys accepted me right away as one of their own. Even if I didn’t love the music we were playing immediately  I still had a great time and enjoyed playing gigs in front of people who enjoyed what we were doing. The music grew on me after about 6 months or so. Like most bands, we stopped playing as often as we wanted to due to some internal stuff and because becoming an adult means less time to practice and play out.

Before that, I was in a band called Burning Bridge Street. We came together in the fall of 2010 at SUNY Oswego. Eric, Corey, and I  always talked about starting a band or something, but never really got around to doing it. In the mean time, through a friend of ours, Jay, we met Ian and Myrar (Bryan), which was during our sophomore year. We would hang out and drink in their dorm room on weekends and talk about music and shoot the shit. At the beginning of sophomore year, the three of us, Eric, Corey, and I, started playing random covers in the basement of a residence hall that Eric lived in at the time. For whatever reason the hall director, who originally said it was ok for us to leave our gear in there, decided it wasn’t. I can’t remember the exact conversation that took place, but we were pretty bummed. We brainstormed where we would be able to play, and again I can’t remember exactly, but somehow we got to talking with Ian and Myrar and the next thing I remember is asking their housemates one day, and moving our gear in soon afterwards.

The band really became a “band” when I was on some committee that was having an event at SUNY Oswego and I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to start playing covers and playing together. So I said, “I can get us music,” even though we didn’t have a name yet, which was it’s own process, and one of the most annoying parts of being in a band. We finally decided on Burning Bridge Street, and, if I remember correctly, it was because we were sick of not having a name so someone just chose it. After a few weeks, we learned the event was going to be cancelled. At first it was a bummer, but in reality it was just a good excuse to start writing our own music, which we began to do. By the winter of that year, because Myrar needed a band for his audio production class, we recorded a 5 song EP in the basement of the music building on campus, and is the second most annoying part of being in a band.

We kept writing and throwing parties at Ian and Myrar’s house so we could play in front of our friends. It was a lot of fun. I think this is one of the first of these party-show things and the first and only time I sang (badly) in front of other people on purpose. (Dec. 2010)

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This is me doing my best drummer impression at the same”show.”

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So, we kept writing and would play gigs every now and again throughout the spring of 2011 and eventually, late in the semester, we recorded an 8 song EP. It came out pretty good, it wasn’t the best, but we were proud of it. Because everyone goes home for summer, we ended up not doing much of anything in the summer of 2011, well, besides ripping our EP apart via text message and google docs comments. Here’s a picture of us right beforewhat I think is the last show Myrar played with us. It was a battle of the bands at SUNY Oswego, that we didn’t win.

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In the fall of 2011, the band moved in together: Eric, Corey, Ian, and I.

(Burning Bridge House, August 2011)

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Myrar had graduated the semester before and moved back to Buffalo. We started playing a little bit, but needed to add a new bassist if we wanted to do anything serious, and is the third worst part of being in a band. Really glad we spread these things out.

Anyway, after deliberating for what seemed like forever, we decided on Andrew. He was into more hardcore stuff, but fit in nicely with our amalgamation of musical backgrounds. We taught him songs, wrote new ones, and before we knew it we were playing our first gig with Andrew really early in the fall of 2011.

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The songs we wrote were some of the best songs I’ve been a part of. It was amazing we could ever decide how it would be written, but when we did it was something else. The shows were empty most of the time, but every now and again we would get a good crowd and it was amazing to be a part of. Here’s a picture of my kit with a show poster from November 2011.

(Mayflower, The Surrogates, Burning Bridge Street)

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We wound up playing a bunch of shows at The Raven, some of which were pretty packed out. It still amazes me how many people showed up to watch us play when they could have just came over and watched us practice for free. Here’s one of the shows we played at The Raven. I think this was with Dreams of Gin (Rochester) and some other bands.

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We recorded some songs, the only one that was finished is embedded below, and played out here and there during the spring of 2012. We knew that some of us would be graduating, meaning some of us would be leaving Oswego and others would be sticking around. We wanted to keep playing in this band, but it looked like it would end. It may have been one of the hardest things about finishing my undergraduate degree. The worst part of the whole thing was, we never got to play our one last show. We played in Watertown at the Dungeon in April of 2012 and thought we would get one more shot at playing to say our goodbyes to the band. Unfortunately, we played the show not really knowing it was the end. It was an amazing time and we played really well. I think we surprised a lot of the people and bands there with how we played and wrote our music. Here’s a picture that was taken at some point of us in Watertown behind the stage followed by one of us playing.

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So that was it. We were done. We all still talk, mostly about how much we miss playing and all the regrets we have, but hey, that’s music. This was one of my favorite memories of college and these guys are all amazing musicians that I miss playing with. I hope I get to be in a band again that is half as talented as this. I loved playing these songs and best of all, I still love listening to our hard work. Below is a link that will play what is arguably our best song and probably the band’s favorite song. If anyone reads this stupid blog, comment below and let us know what you think. Even though we don’t play together anymore, this band still means a lot to us.

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Mixed feelings: When is it time to move on?

I’ve defended Oswego for a long time. Anytime someone said there was nothing to do, I had a list of reasons why it was the place to be. Whenever I left, I wanted to come back. I always said, “This place has a charm, it just takes you in.”

Lately, however, I’ve been feeling like maybe Oswego is just something I’m used to; something I know so well, making it part of who I am. I know to take, or not to take, certain roads at specific times of the day, which place has the best beer selection, where the best spots are to hang out by the lake, and who makes the best wings. Bartenders at my local watering hole, The Raven, even know what my favorite drinks are. It feels like home because I’ve made it my home. 

This city needs a lot of work, and I’m not saying I want to run away tomorrow, but unfortunately I don’t see myself here for years and years to come. I want to stay here a while longer, maybe start my professional career and live cheap for a while, then see where it takes me. I want to be committed to making this city better; to making it somewhere I would want to live for a long time. But right now, 20-something year old Jon needs a little more and you know what – it’s time for me to be selfish. 

I want to start my life here: get on my feet, get a decent job, have some fun, and move on when the time is right. I look forward to the day where I get to learn to love a city the way I learned to love Oswego; to learn which bars have the best beer; to learn about the people, the roads, and the restaurants; to learn why other people love it.

Like I said, I’m not running away tomorrow, and to be perfectly honest I’ll probably be here longer than I think. Who knows what happens in the next year or so. Maybe a job pops up I can’t refuse and I stay a while. I’ll leave that up to chance for now and work hard regardless. 

Right now, Oswego is home and I’m happy to be here. But I’ll always think about the day that I move somewhere else. 

One day I will. 

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