miércoles, 27 de agosto de 2008

25 de agosto

Today is four months. Also known to me as my Capulispungo birthday... I always do a little dance on the 25th of every month. Although I do feel relived to have another month of service swept under the rug, I still worry about the length of time in which the others will come. I should say that I´m not necessarily "worrying" over the days but they are on the back of my mind. I feel content, still very happy- but what I do not enjoy is being here while things, important, silly, sad, funny, happy, are happening at home while I am so far away. But like my dear friend janet, commented one day... Peace Corps is day by day. You do it one day adn then you do the next and you keep doing it until it is done. By then you can´t imagine how much time has gone by.

Having my mother visit was more than I could have asked for. For my mind, heart, and soul her visitation healed, guided, and re-engergized me. I could not have asked for a more easy going travelling buddy and I could not have asked her to have come at a more perfect time. Although the trip was short in comparsion to the amount of time we have spent apart, it was definitely sweet. Having guests is hard at a times and I would say it is even a risk! You risk the happiness that comes at their arrival and the sadness upon their departure. You risk losing a camera.. or even possibly finding it when it´s all said and done. However, having guests is also like having Santa Claus come visit! because of all the trinkets they bring from anything to velcro, handtowels, pesto, chocolate, rubberbands.. and shoot! even clothes you have not seen or worn since the sixth grade. Thanks ma! I would continue to elaborate on the adventure we had together with our friend Steven but that might cause me to get teary eyed.. and at the end not be very productful.. so I´ll leave it at this, if you want to know what we did, ask my mother, she has a lot to say :) I also wanted to thank everyone who sent something along with my mom so that it got here safely. Every little present I deeply cherished and am soo thankful to have the support of all my family and friends.

To continue... In terms of my community, I get really excited when I feel as though I am getting emotionally closer to the people of my community. When once they were unfamiliar faces and now they are more or less family to me, some one I can joke with, confide in, or even chisme with! I enjoy the fact that they now knock on my door, try to invite themselves in, even if they are asking for yet another favor... It´s the joking around that really makes me feel good, when we can laugh together and connect inter-culturally on an intangible level of happiness!
The cakes, are going and going... but unfortunately, I´m not sure where. We bought an oven yesterday which apparently the treasurer nor the coordinator wanted to buy but, only the president did. I´m still learning.. and will always be learning... about the emotional inter-workings of all the people in my community and how so and so feels about so and so. For example, issues of jealously adn envy. How people get discouraged about participating because of envy which then translates to them being unable to see the extemely obvious open door that I have allowed for people in the pastel project. When one person has something, the next neighbor wants it too! and the next and the next. Beacause for one person to have something and the other not, implies power and wealth which in comparision to all the others... It ends up leaving the ones without, disheartened and jealous. Jealously to the point of sabatoge, rumors, chimes, and complaints.
On a more sentimental note.. I was advised to put this part in, even though I had my doubts. I don´t want to give anyone the wrong idea! and I sure do not want to paint a picture of rainbows and magic, so here goes...

i wish i could understand what im feeling. i hardly realize that this is the second entry of the day, although it feels like two days have gone past. i was so sure it was tuesday this evening.. i dont usually feel like that, like two days have become one or that one day was split into two.
and even if i dont do or accompish anything in one day, i still dont get my days jumbled.. i wonder why i was so terribly confused today. im feeling insomnicatic tonight, thankful that theres no alchohol in the house. last week i was finished off a bottle of rum within five days of just sipping on it. its just something to do when ive read all i can read... and i dont feel like conversing, writing, drawing, or practicing the guitar. alchohol makes me antisocial, i guess because all i want to do is retreat to my house in the evening, take a few drinks, cook dinner, and get lost in my thoughts. now more than ever, its easier for me to get lost in my thoughts when im sober but i guess im a lot less willing to share.. to myself that is!.. when i havent drank. but even contradictory, which i do drink...in order to let those thoughts wander.. i quickly close them up or neglect to really feel what they are saying to me. so either way the result is an obvious betrayal or coverup of my emotions. an intentive negligence to acknowlege them until its too late.
thankfully i havent reached the too late point, not even when mom left. but lets not speak of that now before i crawl into bed because surely, i wont be able to sleep. i have this uncanny and unprecedented desire to stay up all night. sit on my roof, smoke a cigar, watch the stars, and listen to the silence. but sometimes, for example now, when im not cooking and passing in and out of the house, or when i leave the door closed for too long, i forget where i am.. and when i leave that bubble unnoticingly, i am almost shocked, taken.aback, and obviously, instantly reminded where i have landed myself. i wouldnt say its a disrupting feeling but rather a humbling one.
at four months im more accustomed but definitely not completely acclamated. maybe at most half way acclamated, at most. there must be a higher reason why im here, in capulispungo. some universal truth that i will learn at the end of it all because, i have to remind myself, there is an end. being here remotely reminds me of how i felt when i was a young girl in high school, deciding whether or not we´d stay at the small private school or large public school. these feelings appear very neatly in my mind, how is it that i will have to spend so much time in such a small place? can i see myself pacing back and forth from my house to the office for two years? that analogy will probably not make any sense to anyone but me.
i feel as though i am learning unspoken values but i cant make out what they are..yet. so from that statement i guess its easy to detect my optimism and my skepticism. im trying to realize ways in which i can be a better volunteer.. one thats sustainable but yet essential to the development of my community. is that what a good volunteer means? but finding a middle ground in those two points is difficult and trying. it wears at my patience, its constantly challenging, its dreadfully boring, surprisingly exciting, but when the day is over, its all over and the next day brings you everything you wanted and never expected. every new day is a fresh start.

thanks for listening.

viernes, 25 de julio de 2008

This one´s about the music


I´m sitting on the floor, next to the kitchen at the church. I feel coldness from the freshly soaked floor as the concrete absorbs most of the moisture from the ground. I feel a cool breeze from the escaping rains, I see the clouds, slowly and perhaps reluctantly, allowing the mountains to appear from the distance. I think we´ll be as lucky to have sunshine too.

I am here this morning to integrate in the community by listening to an hour or more of non-stop Evangelist songs sung in kichwa. The group of women that sing for the church are varied, a few young girls, mothers of five, and a few older women who stand in the back. The women are practicing for a contest of sorts, I actually do not really understand why they are practicing at this time... as they practice every Tuesday night as well. But nevertheless, today, they are practicing with the aide of a DVD player that was miraculously dragged out to demonstrate how other kichwa communities display their singing with dance. However, for my mama´s its ridiculously hard for them to dance in rhythm, apparently the Evangelists don´t shake their booties at fiestas as much as the Catholics do... I feel like the age difference renders some sort of unspoken shyness...
Their music is sung with very high pitched women´s voices, almost screeching (when you first hear it). The musical instruments play a very repetitive, non-climatic tone that seems to repeat itself a 1000x over. It even sounds like they are playing the music purposefully off beat or in un-tuned sequences. But, after listening to this type of music for almost two months I have almost grown accustomed to it, to the point of enjoyment! It´s something that has definitely blindsided me, I never had the slightest idea what I had gotten myself into when they first invited me to church. I remeber when I first heard them sing, I almost started to laugh! I wasn´t sure if they were serious or not...and let me tell you, they sure are!!
I never wrote about the women´s meeting that we had two weeks ago. It pretty much went phenomenal in my opinion, and I have to say that they seemed really into it. The meeting was set up for 3 o´clock, but of course in Ecuadorian time that means 4-4:30ish... it´s like some unspoken Ecuadorian campo rule, to know that the meeting does not start for at least another hour or so after the designated time. So anyway, almost thirty women were present by the end of the meeting, which was a really good turn out for me. Before the meeting I had prepared posters and hung them around the room to introduce myself with family pictures and others to outline my ideas and goals. Finally the last paper was one for them to fill out in terms of what they wanted accomplished and what strenghts they felt they had as a community. I ended up speaking for about 25 minutes which followed with them speaking to eachother in kichwa, addressing me with gracious words, and more of their dialoguing amongst eachother. Hey, I even received a round of applause after the meeting!!! :)

viernes, 6 de junio de 2008

Come one, come all!


...who would have though that sheeps, lambs, goats, and pigs ride for free on the top of the bus!?

Every thursday about 45 minutes down the mountain from my community we have one, or the, biggest market in all of province Chimborazo. From everywhere around the area of Guamote, people gather to sell anything from animals to hardware supplies, kitchen supplies, shoes, sombreros, ponchos, furniture, grains, plant chemicals, hot food, veggies, and fruits. Not to mention your local home brew liquor, pajaro azul. It even comes with your own personal used water bottle to take it home in! So pretty much, everyone who is anyone goes down there to buy, converse, bargain, or to get out of the community. On the way there and on the way back, the buses are usually packed over its capacity which means for me, I´m stuck with a bent neck for the ride while everyone laughs or either some nice neighborhood friend gives me their seet and we all laugh anyway because we all know why they gave it up. Going to the market has become a postivie aspect to my integration process because I am starting to recognize people more easily and I feel more apart of the community.
Another postive aspect is because I´ve befriended people at the only hostel-hotel spot available in Guamote for tourists. It also happens to be one of the coolest and coziest hotels Ive seen yet. It is called Inti-Sisa and it is a Belgian cooperative/non-profit type that originiated as an educational center for the children of Guamote, as my sector of the province is one of the poorest of all, but it now serves multiple purposes. The woman who started Inti-Sisa, in kichwa meaning Sun-Flower, was from Belgian adn has an office that runs today and constantly connects the hotel/educational center with European tourists! So it acts as an educational site with a pre-kinder, monday through friday set up, a site for visitors or passerbyers to by artisans that a group of women make at the center, and they also make chocolate and offer Eco-friendly tourists expeditions. The center also boasts of a very quaint guest rooms and a huge loft upstairs that will fit about 10 more. It has a really awesome atmosphere, with interent, foreigners to stare at, and ¨volunteers¨ (who are sent from Europe every year) to talk to about the latest Ecua-travelling sites!
I have been trying to network wtih them because another goal of their is to promote environmental education in the neighboring shcools. They therefore have started a children´s recycling program in hopes of recycling the tons of waste that is usually dumped back into the soil or even into the river after Thursday markets. Unfortunately, Ecuadore has one of THE WORST recycling, or if even non-existent, programs. So, plastic bottles and tuna cans, which are in high numbers in the Sierra, are usually dumped along with every other possible nastiness you can think of. When the school year starts up again after summer break, which is just about to begin, hopefully my community will be apart of the program assoicated with Inti-Sisa with my help....
The problem is... according to my very disheartened counterpart, is that the people in our community lack hope, desire, motivation. I am pretty sure he has given up on them and before finding a new job- as he is one of the very few people in the communtiy who actually has a stable incoem working as the director of the German org. that sponsors our food, provides funds for buildings, salaries etc- he is curious to see what difference I can make in the community, as I am his last hope. With that said, I have been trying to bounce off my ideas to the women who I cook with in the mornings at the school, which is about three times a week. A few of them I have gotten to know and from those handful of women, I am lucky to say that they all seem to be very motivated and want to organize and mobilize ideas. Which m akes me stoked because I feel like I have a lot of ideas!
For example, some of you may already know that I have been leading carrot cake workshops. Yes, carrot cake! I know... not so much agriculture in its work but when closely looked at, it totally is! The idea is that, if I can organize the womens group together and THEY WANT to start a small business, we could sell carrot cake at the local thursday market. Carrot cake was one of the very first things I did in attempts to integrate with my work buddy and it has take off like crazy. People are amazed to find that the number one food source that they feed to their cuyes can be transformed into a delicious treat. Not too expensive and not too fatty. The ingredients come from the land and I have had people from all different ages and regions of the community asking me how to make it or to show them how. It has almost become annyoing! I have done so many, which is another reason why the next workshop will be apple pie! :)
So again, the idea is to get a kitchen certified to bake and sell goods from, organize the mothers to have and generate self-empowerment, female solidarity, and economic independence which for these women will surely have more implications than I could ever understand. The agricultural part is to also get our carrots certified organic, which we would obviously grow our own. However, this is just an idea, and I am aware of that. Once gain, the fate of this project is rested in the women´s group and in their hearts. I am going to pitch it to them at the end of this month of beginning of next, I´ll have to make a snazzy and catchy presentation! Wish me luck!

Porque lloras...?

This is asked when it rains, sort of like it has been... everyday. I believe the rains to be a cause of global warming, as the earth and her climate has been reacting differently this year than it has in the past. The rains make the air cold and the ground muddly but it definitely does not prevent my community from working or even palying soccer. Even under the rain, the people here in my community diligently work on constructing houses, tending their fields, and walking their lambs, pigs and cows, to and from food. As for me, I´m still a bit of a weak sauce and seek shelter with a book or hot cup of instant coffee until the rain escapes. Apparently, the rain will eventually give way to clearer skies, thier summer is in August and comes with sunny skies, wind, and cold air. Interesting conversation I had the other day with my companera Lucy, was about how the construction of ´summer´ is very much a Western adoption by Latin America because in acutality, like in my site, we really don´t have a summer here in the Sierra mountains! Or at least in the Western sense of heat, sun, and warm weather. I´m slowly learning that here on the mountains, you cna more or less plan all year long at anytime, it just depends on what and how. Because of the cold, most plants do not survive, unless started in a green house and then transplanted in comparative warmer climates down by the river, or within shelter of a lot of trees. Although there is some sun at my site (in comparison to Lucy and Craig´s site which does not have much sun and is located at river level) (which also then implies that my site is high up on the mountain with the river a hike´s trail down below) there is not enough to grow crops such as corn, even though a large portion of campesinos do and believe it is a suitable crop for the sierra.
The change in weather has alos made it harder to make life here more financially and economically predictable for the campesinos. For example, nearly all of the fava bean and potato crop died last season because of frost combined with a diseases. With the potato production at a loss, the prices of papas in the market raised substantially, meaning that one of their stable dietary foods was no longer in financial reach of consumption (the other being rice). So, what happens is that the next season, farmers try to plant papas again! Mind you without any sort of crop-rotation, or PREPARATION of the soil with green manure, or alternative planting strategies. The other thing that is risky, ist hat if the next papa season does not die then there will be a multitude of papas in the maket, thus lowering the price at which the middle-man at the market will give in payment for the papas to the campesinos..This trend unfortunately happens throughout the countryside.

sábado, 3 de mayo de 2008

last few days...

4.25.08 9:05 p.m. ..arrival…

Things to never underappreciate.. little notes that your sister secretly hid in your luggage. Comfy clothes that remind you of home, especially when your new home is a cement box of iciness. Music as a healer. Photos as motivation and reminders of why you are doing what you are doing. Also important, the fact that the world is vast and I have the privilege of being FREE, which means that I need to expand my mind outside my itty bitty community when I feel claustrophobic, tied down, and.stuck.

I am surprisingly calm despite how campo it is out here. And it’s not necessarily the lack of running water, my out-house bathroom, the kichwa language that is being spoken about one hundred times more than I had thought, the indigenous wardrobe, or even the dirt/mud road that reaches the town. When I arrived tonight, all I could see was darkness and fog...there was only about four light bulbs in the entire center of town! And, when I say town, I really mean barrio! Although the population maybe around 650 in the ´center,´its more or less 100 in the center and all along the hills around is perhaps, where everyone else lives. I think what is hitting me the most is the lack of gringos to talk to. And how the people here are sooo completely different than I and also implies that I’m going to have to search deep to figure out how we can relate. Probably those that I connect with the quickest will be the children. They are definitely cute and I am excited to learn kichwa from them. They almost all cracked up simultaneously when I said, nuka shuti kan lauren, which means, my name is lauren. They and the rest of people here are so interested in watching and following me...I felt like Guilliver in his travels among small people, a celebrity! I almost expected it, it wasn’t that bad actually, it was just interesting to see them swarm around me and blend into a solid flock of red ponchos.

It was really smooth travelling today, despite my anxiety due to my heavy luggage. Meeting my counterpart, Martin, went also very smoothly. He has lots of dreams and energy but seems disheartened. He mentioned his community and how some of the members do not really like him because he pushes them to work, try new things, and take risks. He said the people here do not like to take risks and expect money to fall out of the sky. I’ll have to figure out the scoop and gossip of the town, sometimes I even feel like a spy. A spy who has given up their secrecy and is now trying to figure out the ins and outs.

I also can’t expect how Peace Corps ´expects´ us to ´hangout´ for the next three or four months, especially when I feel like I want to start working tomorrow! Maybe not a formal project to start on but to do some type of agricultural work-perhaps that will help me integrate faster and more easily.


First day down and I would have to admit that it was a rather successful one. Off the bat, Martin and I went for a walk around the area, nothing far off but we did a lot of trekking up and down very steep mountains. At one point I thought we hiked up a hill for at least twenty minutes! Here they definitely lack trees; top soil erosion is killing their crops with the rains, and not to mention the lack of compost in the soil and diversification of crops is creating a lot of diseases.

After the walk, I voluntarily engaged myself in a four and a half hour long minga. A minga in the ecuadorian sense, is a community project that involves the free labor from everyone in the community towards something that more or less benefits them all. So, we worked on building a new classroom for the kids. While hauling bricks and moving cement in buckets, I was able to meet the community on an even smaller scale. Although the women were quite, albeit afraid to talk to me, I was able to successfully force myself on them and make them talk to me. With a smile and broken kichwa, I attempted to get to know the hardest social group to integrate into, the women. The young girls however, definitely worked the hardest and were the most quite. The men I could converse with about life, differences between the US and ecuador, and agriculture. For now I feel as though they take me more seriously then I had anticipated, which of course, makes me happy. Maybe, it is because my spanish is decent, or perhaps my height renders power, or maybe because they are desperate. It’s true though, you can’t be a prophet on your own land.

Other random tidbits...The people here whisper a lot, to themselves, away from me. Their curious brown eyes follow my every move. The children always seem to slowly gather around no matter what I’m doing. They are all very hard to understand, their accent is thick, and their words always seem to end in a -pse. I’m so blessed to have reception, not to mention internet! (even though it is slow) People have noticed me and seem to respond well. Tonight, I was invited to eat dinner at someone’s house and so therefore, I feel as though I made great strides today. My food and eating schedule seems a bit sketchy but now that I was able to nestle into my pad a little bit more today, I’m hoping to get a better nights sleep. Thank goodness for ipods, stolen speakers, books, good people, nature, and LIFE.



...Done! and I have to say (again) with much success! This morning Jose and I went on a really relaxing and beautiful hike through the valley down to his land and to the edge of a cliff that overlooked a deep crevice. The crevices or quebrados are formed from years of having no trees, I suspect. This is a very big problem because the lack of trees and cover crops is causing the soils to erode, especially when there are massive rains (like once everyday!) Also interesting, is that when it does not rain and there are winds, which happens solidly for once a month, dust blows everywhere and its cold! The main roads also have huge cracks that are sometimes 1-2ft wide or deep to a few inches wide or deep. It’s like a big earthquake a long time ago cracked the roads and a huge canyon on the side of the mountains. This is a problem I know I cannot change; it is a problem that has been continuing for years and has inevitably ruined a major portion of their soil. I feel from the information that I have gathered that most of the people here have given up on replenishing their soil and only want to produce the staple crops like, papas, fava beans, maize etc. But! even that does not make sense because the markets have an excess of the staple crops because that is what ALL the campo people are producing. Therefore, the prices for the crops go down in the markets and the price to plant, harvest, and most importantly, transport, and sell... no vale la pena. And for that reason, we need to diversify our crops here so that we can find new markets. In addition, introducing new plants back into the ground will replenish the nutrients that have been lost or devastated by growing the same crops over and over again.

The plant I want most to work with is raspberry o la mora. Moras sell pretty well and are very strong plants. They are sierra grown (although, I’m not certain how much cold they can exactly withstand), they have strong roots that will dig deep into the ground and also serve as anchors against erosion. From the fruit we can also make value-added products such as, marmalade which I think will be good for the people to know how to do. Another fruit I found here was taxo which is also very exciting.

I’ve been trying to find people with whom I can confidently work with and have a mutually agreement of ´experimentation.´ I need them to understand we are experimenting and that it’s not a guarantee that everything will work out. The only guarantee is knowledge that we’ll gain from both our failures and successes. And also, the guarantee of hope and effort to which we will be working towards.

More random tidbits... The people here don’t talk much, at least not to me. I find myself talking a lot, especially to the children. People here speak very indirectly and without direct answers. For example, when trying to locate a piece of land that I could privately work on, I asked are their tools I can use? Yes. You have them? Yes. Where are they? Above. Where above? Above in the bodega. Which bodega? My bodega over there, you can use them whenever... ha! writing that down makes me laugh, I have to take myself less seriously. It’s funny now that I think about it.. it’s like, when is whenever!!!! What does that even mean?

Something else that was wonderful today…After going on a walk with Jose, his ´woman´ and I made arrangements to bake a carrot cake and learn some English in the kitchen. But, right after we set apart it started pouring like cats and dogs (like it does here at least once a day) and because of that I had an extra 45 minutes to kill (life stops when it rains here, it is a known fact). When the rains finally calmed down, I heard a faint knock at the door and when I opened it, I found two little kids bring from underneath their red ponchos, a warm plate full of papas and cuye. I felt so good. It was such an act of kindness and humanity. It was given to me by the daughter of my landlord, who had also invited me to eat soup at her house the night before. As we sat in her kitchen/dinning room/pantry/garage eating soup, she explained to me in incredibly rapid Spanish (their dialect is soo hard to follow and they have a hard time understanding me too), how she wanted to expand her garden and produce different kinds of plants. She is definitely a resource for me and she has one of the very few mora plants in town. Something else sparked me as confusing while I was eating at her house…why was it that I lived in a rather large house, which also happens to be that of her sister´s who lives currently in Quito, while she lived in a very, very small house that lacked windows, clean floors, real chairs, table, and sink. The wall in her kitchen had a graffiti heart, her chairs were old wooden boxes that about to break, dirt and mud covered almost every inch of the floor, wall, and ceiling. Her children were and are part of the dirtiest group of kids I’ve ever seen. But, her generosity, excitement, and hospitality with which she spoke and laughed with me, shone through it all and erased the surroundings from my sight. She asked me to pardon her house more than twice that night.



Today was another great day but a bit stressful. I need to talk to my boss, Nelson. This morning I helped cook with the mothers from 7:30 am to about noon-ish for about the 150 ninos that attend the school. I met teachers, was introduced formally to the elders who happened to be having a meeting outside, I met with four and five year olds who attend the kindergarten down below the community and I met with a man named Pablo at his farm and attempted to milk his cow (the cow knew I was a gringa and wouldn´t let me). Later that evening, I hung out with young girls while they did their howework and I tried to read my manual… or until the group doubled in size and I then attempted to teach them about wormbins. After that workshop, my night turned into a guitar jam session with my male counterparts.

The issues of the day today, is how I was feeling about being represented as an educated agricultural technic… who is supposed to have all the answers. I have to be honest and say that I feel incompetent and like a cheat/liar/ fake in front of these people. There is not much that these people do not know about their farms… they know why their crops are failing, they know why they cannot gain any money from the markets, and they know, more or less what they can or need to do to change. They want me to hand them markets that will buy their non-existent products, they want me to export goods to the U.S, they want money, they want to learn English, they want me to help them get out of poverty. On my standpoint, I am a 23 year old punk kid who just graduated from college, I went through three months of training where we briefly went over subjects that I am now dealing with. The problem that I am seeing is that the people here lack technical information, o sea, just the in-between information. They know how to get from point A to B they just kind of… screw things up along the way. They also do not know how to prepare… prepare their soil, prepare for the rain, prepare in advance for their crops! Everything here needs to be easy and with quick results and that is another reason why in the past generations of farmers have used chemicals on their crops. A few people have come up to me asking me specific questions on how to better their crops, kill this disease, fatten up their cuyes, and I found myself yesterday, just handing them my huge manual, which is by the way in Spanish, and saying… look here´s the information, let´s learn together.

I feel as though I need to give up my position as the technic here and show them my true colors, meaning my handbook. Most of everything we need to know is there and I think they will be more sustainable if they teach each other, rather than me teaching them. So, if I can get a few of them to learn the material and conduct workshops with my face (so to speak), then other people will come and they can learn from others in their community. I for one, am not capable of giving workshops on how to build and better your cuye houses, although the Peace Corps has instructed us to do so. I feel that that method is entirely unsustainable and arrogant!!!! I guess my plan will be to do basic workshops in compost, wormbins, and how to replenish their damaged lands… and have other Ecuadorians do the workshops that are more technical and specific. At this point I have no idea what the future lies… I am just brainstorming. I just do not want to the give impression that I have all the answers and I do not want the future of their lives and farms in my hands. We need to work together and experiment to see what works and what does not. I already know there are skeptics out there who think that I have nothing to offer that they do not already know… I just have to focus on those few who want to learn and who will hopefully continue sustainable practices once I leave… Each and everyday that goes by, gets closer to the end of my service.

jueves, 24 de abril de 2008

Twenty Things To Remember During Your Time In The Peace Corps:

1. Mostly, you couldn't be weirder than if you walked around in a pink bunny suit clashing cymbals in the streets, so don't worry about seeming out of place.

2. Your sense of humor is your best asset. You will be the butt of jokes, some of which you won't understand, but that doesn't mean your community doesn't love you. They are just testing you a little.

3. There will be moments, days, or weeks where you feel completely useless. That feeling will pass.

4. There will be moments where you will feel so wonderful that you can barely contain yourself. Unfortunately, those pass too. But, they get you through the low points.

5. Almost nothing will cork out the way you planned it.

6. Sometimes, Peace Corps feels like the easiest job you'll ever be sick and tired of. Other times, it truly is the toughest job you'll ever love. Don't be surprised if you feel both simutaneously.

7. Don't underestimate the healing power of underwear fresh out of the package, particularly after about 12-18 months in country.

8. You will make a difference in people's lives, but it probably won't be in the way you were intending.

9. Adults and children love dinamicas and free food. Make sure you have both ready at presentations.

10. Almost everyone will be varying degrees of late to any meeting or presentation you attend or prepare. It's not personal.

11. Abandon the idea that sitting and passing time with folks is "doing nothing." Some of our best moments will come from paseando with friends and neighbors.

12. Always carry rocks in your pocket...dogs serve a purpose in Latin America, and it's not as surrogate children. They take their roles as protectors seriously.

13. It takes many months to build up confianza with a community, don't be discouraged.

14. Take care of yourself. You're not Mother Theresa and no one expects you to be. The happier and healthier you are, the more you can give to your community. Reach out for support when you need it and be alone, when you need that too. And don't feel bad about doing either one.

15. Don't let yourself get sucked into teaching English unless you REALLY want to spend your time doing that.

16. Let your community's needs dictate your work, not the other way around.

17. Observe the town's power structure. Knowing who thinks what of whom can be invaluable in moving projects forward and keeping you out of the crossfire of interpersonal disputes.

18. You may need to take a break from your town and seek comfork with American friends. That doesn't make you less of a volunteer, it makes you human.

19. Buy a machete. You may need one, you may not. But trust me, you will probably never again have the chance to semi-legitimately own one in your life.

20. Hay mas tiempo que vida. You'll never get it all done, so relax. Enjoy. This is quite an adventure.

lunes, 21 de abril de 2008

From Aspirante to real Peace Corps Volunteer

Dearest loved ones...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for all the packages, cards, letters, emails, phone calls, and text messages. Your support has been priceless and deeply appreciated. I can definitely say that without all of your support.. welll.... things would be a lot different.

Since my last email we have done a bit of travelling, some technical exchanges, and right up to this exact moment, my compadres are all at their sites as I am in Quito with a few others for the next couple of days for Kichwa courses... so, let me back track in time...

Our travelling began at the end of March where we as a group took a long bus ride to Puerto Quito, which is considered coastal region. Although our technical trip was intended for strict and focused hands-on experience, I have to say that I'll never forget the look on our faces when we all got off that first bus. It was paradise. The hostel was a large hotel, instead of a lobby we had outdoor patios, a bar, volleyball, soccer, and basketball courts, pool, rapid river, lush gardens, exotic flowers, and vibrant colors. At night we drank beers, listened to music on loud speakers, and played sports and during the day, we went to nearby farms and participated in various agricultural workshops. For one week we stayed there, slept in bunk beds, and were more or less eaten alive by mosquitos and creepy crawlers. And, on the night of the 24th, I honestly have to say that I had, was doing, and was with so many friends that it seemed almost unbelievably surreal that I was without my other half.

Among the brilliant flowers, warm weather, consistant smiles, and contagious laughter, I have to say that I felt almost empty, or perhaps emotionless, as I phoned my other half to wish her felicidades on her special day. Its funny because Monday night came around so quickly in the grand scheme of things... I remember pondering before I left the states, how it would feel to celebrate our birthday. separately. Time and distance is a curious concept, like an illusion, it separates people phsyically and emotionally, but it does not separate human souls, as long as you do not allow it. After phoning her for a mere four minutes, I looked up at the moon and thought to myself that we still lived under the same set of stars, no matter how far apart we are from eachother. Thinking of time as an imprecise form of measurement also rendered me some patience and feelings of ease. Our minds are an extremely strong tool, for our overall happiness, mental health, and stability. I believe in unity, security, and love between human souls, despite the obstacles of distance and time.

Our second week of travelling was dedicated to more technical work, which therefore divided the group into smaller sections for more specific training. The agricultural group headed to live in the coastal region went to the beach as we literally headed straight up the mountain. The sierra is infamously known for its high altitude, cold weather, snow covered volcanos, steep slopes, green pastures, terraced farm designs, and hand-made yarn. The largest city most nearby to my community, Capulispungo in the province of Chimborazo, is called Riobama or also known as "Friobama." Riobama is not surprisingly cold because looming over the industrial city is one of the highest peask in the world, Volcan Chimborazo. Chimborazo is breathtakingly large and all consuming, at every corner of the city you can see the volcano on a clear day. At this moment, Chimborazo is covered with snow that ran clear down from the mountain and across the nearest and only road. Along that road lies small villages dotted around the outskirts of the volcano and down into the valley. There, the indigenous kichwa communities live off their small integrated farms and financially subsist from the alpaca, llama, and sheep yarn. Although the kichwa communities are ethnically united, they seem culturally separated from the rest of the province. The indigenous people rarely go into the cities, perhaps only when supplies run out or to do small market business. I would have been able to offer more information in regards to my specific site but unfortunately, our week long site visit was cancelled due to the poor conditions of the roads that were caused by massive flooding in late Feb. And.. so therefore, we we will have to (and remeber most of us are at our sites now!) blindly enter our sites without any previous emotional or mental preparation. It is like a two year blind date! :)

However, during our sierran technical trip we were able to visit the site of the married couple in my "Chimborazo Cluster." Lucy and Craig are older folk from Wisconsin who have owned cow and mayple-syrup businesses. From my favorite person within from the Peace Corps Office, I heard that my site is considered a "hardcore Peace Corps site" and from a local Ecuadorian, that my site and that of Lucy and Craig are similar. From that information, I gather that the kichwa community is overall very tough to integrate into, I have to develop a thick skin, be patient, and not be discouraged by how they will react towards me... or rather how slowly. On the up side, I will be closer to nature then I have vere been before in my entire life. I will probably hike everyday, cook my own food from my own garden, read with desire, learn new skills, and overall, learn to be more sustainable in my life and by myself. Emotionally, I will have to have faith in the universe and in the unknown. I will have to be patient with others and myself while at the sametime, put forth constant effort and energy into an "outcome" that I will not see.. or feel!..until two years later when I leave.

In any event, after two weeks of travels, we returned to Tabacundo to live with our host families for another week and a half. Upon leaving their home, I was surprised at how I felt and how they felt towards me. Unlike most of my compadres, I left my home in tears as they all waved to me in tears as well. I was very surprised at how attached we had all become, it was like it happened without me even realizing. Its been a blessing to have their love and full support. I'll definitely make it back to seem them a lot, I wouldn't mind being pampered after living in the campo!..fastforward... On April 17th we had a gorgeous swear-in ceremony at the Amabassador's house in Quito. Her house is placed on a hill that has an amazing view of the valley which meets wtih Volcan Cayambe. We were also lucky enough to have had clear skies and warm beautiful temperature. Although the ceremony was formal and professional, our after ceremony activities included a BBQ picnic provided by other volunteers, beer drinking basketball games, party "Chiva" bus that took us touring around Quito at sunset, and late night dancing at a nearby club. The sad part to this story starts the morning after the ceremony. The catch to staying in Quito for a few extra days is that the rest of our compadres left without us and saying goodbye to each and everyone was super hard. I know my time to leave will come in a matter of a few days, it is just my need to adjust to that drastic change. It would have been nice to have had an extra day to be with everone... we are the first group to not have any one ET (early terminate) before training was over... which also means we are very close. The next time we will be together will not be for another four months until we have our re-connect.

.... I hope this blog suites us all better than before.. please check out my photos online at ... http://www.webshots.com/, search under username good33land. If that doesnt work and you need my password, email me and Ill send it your way. Actually, if you want my new cell number and or snail mail address, please email so we can keep the information private.

also, disclaimer, this in no way reflects Peace Corps beliefs, values, practices. They are in no way affliated with my blog. THANKS!

"the very motion of our life is towards happiness" - dalai lama.

..and in my experience, I dont remember the last time i was this happy..