Andrea Durham - Peace Corps Ecuador.
Agroforestry, Soil Conservation.
Undergraduate at the University of California-Riverside in Liberal Studies (Biology Concentration).
Andrea was both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at http://peacecorps.mtu.edu/ .
A church in Quito.
5 March 2001 - first email from Ecuador.
" no idea where the question mark key is on this keyboard as everything is geared toward spanish speakers, or typists! anyway, i wanted to let you know that i am alive and i will try to send you my quarterly report via email this weekend. if that doesn´t work, i´ll send it through the mail and see if it reaches you! this is the first chance i´ve had to email since i´ve been here and i took a 40 minute bus ride to get here. i suppose that´s not unusual! anywaý, i´m living in a community of 40 families called la portada in the province of carchi - northern ecuador, so we´re still in the same hemisphere. my spanish is improving everyday, but it´s hard. i should have listened to you and really buckled down and studied! oh, well, hindsight, right... i miss the u.p. already!"
12 March 2001
The transition is really quite an emotional roller coaster for me. I never know how Í´m going to feel from one day to the next. I spent this weekend with a cold and feeling very weak. I also have something sprouting from my lips, can´t tell if it´s from sunburn or from something I ate. Guess we´ll see!
Okay, as far as the technical training I´m receiving and pretty much in this order: how to make a wormbed, how to establish a nursery, and how to work on an integrated farm, including building compost piles, windbreaks, trap plants (to attract bugs away from crops), and livestock. On the integrated farm day, we split up into groups with one person from each program (ag, animal production, and natural resources) and drew out how we would set up our integrated farm. For me, it was difficult to see the entire picture at this point, but I feel like I have a better idea now. We had to think about companion planting, which plants need more water, etc. Pretty basic, right, just difficult for someone who´s never done this before! I met a man named Tomas Guerrero who has been around PC Ecuador for so long that he is mentioned in Moritz Thomsen´s book "Living Poor". He is very schooled in the lifestyle, plants, agriculture, everything of Ecuador (of course he´s from here), but I thought it was quite an honor to meet him. Oh, I got to tear shit, literally shit, up with my bare hands that day, too....welcome to the Peace Corps, right!
I have Spanish about twice a week, plus all the talking I have to do with my family. They are really very patient with me and I feel pretty fortunate to have such a nice family. They own a restaurant, so they know how to cook, and I haven´t had diarrhea yet - woo hoo! Oh, but just wait, right?! We have our health training on Fridays, pretty basic stuff, except for the lectures on worms and amoebas - definitely not looking forward to that! It´s pretty disgusting.
I puked all over my family´s backyard the first day I was here - I believe it´s cuz I took my malaria pill on an empty stomach because Í´ve been fine ever since. Also had an allergic reaction to a bug bite. I went and picked mangoes with my family and got eaten alive. Don´t think I´ll be able to live on the coast or in the jungle if I have such reactions, but I think, I´m leaning towards the mtns. anyway.
17 March 2001
Training is all right although I can´t wait until it´s over. Slowly learning spanish, but I have a long way to go! We have assessment interviews, tech demonstrations, and new spanish facilitators coming up this week and next. We´re also having our site fair this friday which means we get to put in for our top 3 sites. I´m looking at the sierras.
Í´m in a big tourist town called Otavalo right now with 10 or so other volunteers. It´s market day so I got a cheap bag-purse thing. I also had pizza and beer!!! Lucky day! Besides the pizza, the best thing I´ve had to eat in the last 2 weeks was a carrot from a farm that we were at! Still craving that bacon cheeseburger and salad with cucumber ranch dressing. What a wimp!
Anyway, what I´ve learned so far as a PC Ecuador trainee:
-SAVE your drafts when emailing
-children sing on buses for money
-old men pop out their fake eyes for money on buses
-on buses, one can watch a movie about the first mexican vampire in space!
-dogs eat avocado
-rice is yummy!!!!
-sugar and lard in excess are GOOD
-your host family will let you name the new puppy after your boyfriend because they think that´s the only reason you get sad
-farming on sheer hillsides is totally acceptable
-the world is your garbage can
-the term ´passing lane´is used quite liberally in the Andes i.e. buses pass other buses in the face of on-coming buses on curves with no guardrails...it´s great fun!
-you can get worms, amoebas, and diarrhea for free!
-the term ´privacy´does not exist
-when running late, don´t eat hotdogs for breakfast, hike uphill for 40 minutes, and expect to feel great!
18 March 2001
We´re in the rainy season right now and some much needed
rain has come over the past 3 days. I can´t wait to see
what the dry season´s like! Anyway, not much new to report
since yesterday. I have a bunch of work to do when I get home.
I´m going to start a compost pile in my family´s backyard
today - I get to go collect cow poo. Doesn´t that sound
like fun?! I´m also going to try and get my wormbed started
with the neighbors - they have so many questions and it´s
hard for me to answer because my Spanish is so basic, but it´s
good practice. I also have to collect leaves and seeds from 10
different species in my community, so I should probably get started
on that as we have a busy week ahead of us. I will now have 4
days of Spanish instead of 2 so that´s good. I really need
to learn my verbs so I can stop sounding like a caveman.
Andrea at Nueva America Cloud Forest.
The mountains are beautiful when it rains - there are so many beautiful clouds here and the peaks of the mountains still tower above them.
I saw a little girl peeing on the sidewalk today in downtown Ibarra. Did I mention that in Ecuador the world is your bathroom, too? Oh, well, that´s life.
1 April 2001
The soccer game was awesome!!! We actually got in and got seats.
There were quite a few gringos there. Ecuador won 1 to 0 - I saw
history in the making because it was the first time ever that
Ecuador has beat Brazil and the first time ever that Ecuador has
qualified for the World Cup. It was incredibly calm, in my opinion,
and lots of fun!
8 April 2001
Well, it´s been a hell of week! I got the flu on Sunday and was pretty much out of commission until Tuesday....still feeling tired and I have a cough and the sniffles yet, but I´m feeling better. I had my technical demonstration on Thursday and it went really well. I did a talk on the importance of lombricultura (wormbeds...for those of you who don´t know, it´s just composting with worms to produce humus for a chemical free fertilizer. It´s good for your soil! And it´s cheap and easy to do!). Anyway, one of my competencies for this week was to do an environmental education talk with some children in my community, so I decided to gear my demonstration towards kids and kill two birds with one stone. So, I did a puppet show! I had a worm tell a farmer the importance of lombricultura, etc. It went really well, although I talked too fast because I was nervous.
Then we went across the street so I could show them my wormbed.
I wasn´t totally prepared for all of the questions they
asked me, but I did all right. I passed! The only thing I have
to improve on is better audience participation and take better
control of things i.e. everyone was kind of talking at once and
I forgot some of my Spanish! But, the Spanish facilitators complimented
me on how quickly I´m learning Spanish - they were really
surprised (so was I!) and it made me feel good. It´s nice
to hear things like that once in a while!
Andrea, Dan (left), and David (right) learning to use an A Frame Level during training.
But, my big news is that we received our site assignments yesterday! I got the site that I was expecting. I will be living in an indigenous town called Angla which is in the province of Imbabura (so I´m north of Quito by about 2 hours). The people are bilingual in Spanish and Quichua, but I think they prefer to speak Quichua, so I will probably have to learn some of that language, too. Mine is the only indigenous natural resources site! I have visited the site because it´s near Otavalo (the cool tourist town) and it´s very beautiful. It´s nestled in between mountains and a lake. There are lots of eucalyptus plantations and lots of agriculture, so hopefully I can do some reforestation with native species. Supposedly the community is very friendly and very involved. I will have 4 counterparts to work with: a teacher who is interested in environmental education and a school garden; a youth group that is involved in a garbage recycling project; a women´s group that does embroidery things and is interested in income generation; and CEMOPLAF, a family planning and health organization that works with different communities....they are interested in reforestation, as am I, so hopefully we can do some cool stuff. So, it sounds like there is work. I hope so...I´m excited but also really nervous.
16 April 2001
I´m officially over the grippe (flu), but I still have
a lingering cough. We had a really busy week...sort of last minute
things for training that they realized needed to be talked about.
Like I´ve said before, we are the guinea pig group in Ecuador
since we are the first training group to do a full 12 weeks of
community based training...needless to say, they´re still
working out the kinks. We had some happy talks on AIDS, STDs,
women´s safety, the like. It was quite fun.
Anyway, it´s a religious week here for Ecuador since most of the country is Catholic. Spent the day with my family yesterday. They make some kind of dish here called, excuse my spelling, ´fanesca´. It´s actually pretty good and was a nice change from rice. There´re all kinds of beans, potatoes, fried bananas, eggs. It sounds weird, but when you eat rice and fried eggs everyday, it tastes pretty damn good! I also had something similar to mashed potatoes - heaven! So all of you sitting down to your yummy Easter dinners tomorrow, please eat something extra for me. Sometimes I think I miss food more than anything! Although, there´s supposed to be a pig roast in our community today. Mmmmmmm...pork. I´m happy!
What else? We leave for Quito on Monday where we will be having our counterpart conference. On Monday I´m also going to a research station called INAP ( I think that´s the right acronym) where I will have the chance to learn about seed collection, planting, Sierran crops, etc. There´s another place where trainees can learn about bee keeping, pruning, and grafting, but I figured I can learn these things with time. Since I´ll be living in the Andes, I thought it would be better for me to learn about the Sierran crops, etc.
So, Thursday morning we leave with our counterparts to go on our site visits. I have to do a community map, a community resource inventory, collect 10 leaves or seeds, look for an environmental problem so that I can present it to my technical class, come up with an emergency disaster plan, and write up a 3 month work plan with my counterpart to give to my APCD (my boss). I have 4 counterparts, so needless to say, I have no idea who, if anyone, is going to be showing up at the conference. Should be interesting.
7 May 2001:
We stayed for 3 days in a very posh convent in Cumbaya and had conference after conference about what counterparts expect volunteers to do and visa versa, objectives for our site visits, competencies to complete during our site visits, etc. It was all in Spanish with some English translation, so needless to say, it was information overload! For those of you who don`t know, our counterparts are the people we will be working with over the next 2 years. They are not paid by Peace Corps, they`re simply interested community members who are willing to volunteer their time to help out their communities. Counterparts can also be agencies or NGOs (non-government organizations).
I have about a million counterparts, but the one who came to Cumbaya is a teacher in the elementary and junior high school in Angla. His name is Rafael and he is very enthusiastic about having me work in the schools and with the community. After the counterpart conference, we were all taken to the bus terminal in Quito where we left for a week for our site visits. My site is about 3 - 4 hours north of Quito, off the Pan American. Once I got to my site, I met one of my other counterparts, Rosita. She is head of the women`s group in Angla and they already have an embroidery project going, as well as an interest in reforestation. She is a very nice person and made me feel right at home. I will actually be living next door to her in the previous PC volunteer`s house. Yes, there was a PC volunteer in my site about 8 months ago and her name came up in every conservation! It`s good and bad because at least they`re used to having gringos around, but bad because I know they`re comparing me to her. Fortunately, she was a health volunteer, so at least our programs are different!
Anyway, the previous volunteer fixed the house up really nice! It`s already furnished....2 beds, writing table, stools, kitchen table and chairs, 2 wooden kitchen `counters`, a cocinetta (little gas operated stove, but no oven), bookshelves, and a dresser. It`s great because now I don`t have to deal with the hassle of getting furniture to my site and I can use my moving in fee for other things, like blankets and other insulating items. Yes, my place is FREEZING at nite. You may laugh since when I left Michigan it was 2 degrees out, but I`m not kidding, this place is cold! I slept in silk long johns with a hat on under 7 blankets and I was still cold! It`s probably only in the low 50s/high 40s at nite, but the walls don`t meet the roof, so there`s about an 8" gap where the drafts come in at nite. And, the house is all concrete, so it just sucks in the cold. I will definitely be searching for heating options; I understand that PC has space heaters, so I´ve already requested one of those from the nurses. It`s just a matter of when I`ll get it! Other than the cold, I really like my new house...I have electricity and there is a faucet outside where I can get water to boil for my `shower`. I actually have a shower stall next to my house, but as there is no running water other than the faucet, I will be bucket bathing. It`s actually not that bad, I just have to do it in the afternoon because that`s when it`s warmest at my site.
The people in my site are very personable, but they giggle a lot or just stare at me. It`s a little unnerving, but I think it`s just their way. I`m taller than every single person in my site and I`m having a hard time telling the indigenous women apart because they dress the same. If you have seen any pictures of the indigenous with the top hats, white peasant blouses, and skirts, these are the women in my site!!! And they predominantly speak Quichua i.e. Spanish is their second language, too, which is good because then we all speak slowly, but when they`re not speaking to me, they speak in Quichua and I can`t understand a darn thing! PC has self-study books in the office in Quito, though, so I`m going to be borrowing those.
What did I actually do while I was on my site visit? I`m trying to remember! I will be working with a total of 4 communities in the area: Angla, Ugsha, Topo, and Casco. The 2 schools I will be working in are in Ugsha and Topo. It`s about a 15-minute walk to the school in Topo and I was introduced to the principal and the kindergarten class (the girls are miniature versions of their mothers and they are absolutely adorable!) The school in Ugsha is about a 30-minute walk and is in more need of an aide than the school in Topo. Hopefully I can do some environmental education in both schools, though.
Andrea in the paramo at El Angel Ecological Reserve.
I also hiked up to the paramo (this is the grassy area above the timber line here and I definitely need to learn more about it because it`s the only natural area in my site...I`m the only natural resources trainee in my group to have received a site without some kind of native forest or park nearby , but it`s okay....). Anyway, I hiked up to the paramo twice: once to see their water tanks and the other to help bring lunch to the minga working on the new water pipeline. Mingas are groups of workers for those of you who don`t know, and this is the way the indigenous work. It`s all really very organized which is good for me! I also met 2 organizations in Otavalo that I can work with and that my community is already involved with. One is called CEMOPLAF and is a family and health planning organization that also does agricultural extension, and the other is called CEPCU...they are the Center for Pluricultural Studies in Otavalo and they work with all of the indigenous communities within and surrounding Otavalo. They are a big natural resources organization and I had the chance to meet the president as well as see the office. They have a library that they said I could use, and I am really hoping to work with them because they are already involved with my community. The women`s group just received 3000 tree seedlings for outplanting, so these people are definitely interested in reforestation and trees. I`m so glad!
Other than that, I just sort of hung out during my visit. A current volunteer came and stayed with me for a nite to go over the `accounting` for the women`s group. Looks like I may have to teach them how to operate a calculator. Thank god it`s not calculus or something - heh heh! I was left alone a lot at nite, but I think they just didn`t know what to do with me, especially since my Spanish is still pretty minimal. But all in all, I really like my site and the people seem to have a good work ethic. I think they are expecting a lot from me, which is good so I`ll stay busy, but I told them that I need to learn more Spanish before I jump into any big projects. So, we`ll see how it goes. There is supposed to be a Canadian woman staying with me for 3 months, too, when I first get to my site. There are a lot of Canadian volunteers in Ecuador; it`s muy interesante!
7 May 2001: Trip to Mindo
The purpose of our trip was to learn a little bit about ecotourism
as well as to see that there are Ecuadorians who are concerned
about conserving their lands. We went to this awesome place called
Mindo which is about an hour northwest of Quito that had a park
and and an orchid reserve. It was so beautiful! It rained a lot,
but it wasn't cold at all, and I actually got to see some vegetation
that looks like rainforest. The Andes are totally deforested and
it's all agriculture, so this place was a sight for sore eyes!
We also went to the place where you can straddle the equator...it's
not the real equator, though, but I guess it's close enough (50m
or so away). I straddled the line and took a picture of the sign
with the lat and longitude. It was okay.
At the Equator.
We went to a nursery and checked out some agroforestry systems and hummingbirds. The hummingbirds are beautiful here and the ones at this place were tame. I'd never seen them not in motion, but they were very relaxed here. There's a big controversy going on in Mindo with the possible construction of the oleoducto (the oil duct). Don't know too much about it, but the people in Mindo, understandably, don't want it. After spending 2 nites in Mindo, we drove further west towards the coast (still haven't been to the beach or seen the ocean, though) and checked out a coffee and cacao plantation. I ate the fresh fruit around the coffee beans and the cacao (chocolate!) beans. It's actually pretty good. Unfortunately for this farmer, coffee is only selling at $3.50/lb. and it costs $4 to harvest it. So, he's losing money...bummer. After the coffee place, we didn't do too much. The trip was a learning process, but it was more of a vacation for me since all of the plants we looked at don't grow in the Sierras.
Had my tech demo this past thursday. I did it on the importance of windbreaks and we planted 9 tree seedlings on an area of some farmers land. I passed, and it actually went better than my first one! I think I have Spanish classes for the next 4 days and then next thursday I'm going to some place to learn how to do grafting. Friday I spend the day with my family, saturday we're having a Dia de Familias for our host families to thank them for their hospitality, etc. Sunday, we leave for Quito, and then I don't really know what we're doing in Quito.
14 May 2001
I have arrived safely in Quito, and I am immensely enjoying
gringo time, pizza, Mexican food, free time, and movies (I saw
´Traffic´ and the Spanish parts weren´t subtitled...I
was able to get most of it, though)! The only bummer is that PC
has split our training group into 3 different hostels so it`s
difficult for us all to hang out. We do, however, have a ton of
administrative information to go over before our swearing in on
Thursday, so that`s what we`re doing for the week, and we get
to see each other during these times to sigh and roll our eyes
because it´s time to GO. It´s all stuff we know or
that is in the handbook, but it´s the last time all the
birdies are going to be in the nest before we fly away to our
sites, so they are reiterating a lot of things. And the PC office
has just been moved so we´re getting the low-down on the
office and the staff, etc.
As for swearing in, we will be sworn in at the Ambassador´s residence (not the Embassy) Thursday morning, and I believe that we will all be going to brunch after that or staying at the Ambassador´s residence to swim and hang out. Then, we have our big bash at some hotel for $11/night...that includes a room and the party room and music, but no beverages or comida (food). That's on us. I think it´s going to be one hell of a party! We should all be chuchaqui (hungover) the next day for the special BBQ that's being held for us, and then it´s off to our sites to begin our next 2 years as volunteers! Yikes, I'm a little nervous!
As for Quito...how do I describe Quito. It´s like reverse culture shock after 3 months of living in the campo and looking at people with bad teeth. Quito feels like any big city in the States, but definitely has a charm of its own. The exhaust fumes from the buses are so black that it makes Los Angeles look pretty. It rains at least once a day and ranges from foggy to overcast to sunny. It´s also the world's second highest capital. Actually, Quito is pretty interesting. It´s a NASCAR event everyday the way the people drive here, and pedestrians certainly do not have the right-of-way. For those of you who remember the video game ´Frogger´, you can literally play it here in Quito as you deftly dodge traffic and make it safely to the next sidewalk.
There's every kind of shop imaginable, from Baskin Robbins to Ace Hardware. Our hostels and the old and new PC offices are near a very touristy district called the Mariscal Sucre. I went on a Taco Bell hunt here for lunch today because I found another person here with this nasty addiction (she's from California, too, which probably explains a lot), but we ended up finding a Mexican restaurant called Red Hot Chili Pepper instead. I had enchiladas and they were very good!!! I have got a serious obsession with food...
I haven't seen too much else of Quito, but it´s a nice city. There are 2 million people living here which, of course, makes it feel very crowded. There are buses running constantly and you can take the trolley for 20 cents just about anywhere (it´s not cable car trolleys, it´s buses that run on electricity...are they called trolleys in the states? I don´t know). It´s not really very safe to walk around at nite, but you can get a taxi for a buck or two and tipping is not customary, so it´s pretty cheap.
18 May 2001
Well, it´s official, I am now a Peace Corps Volunteer!
I can´t believe I´ve made it to this point! It´s
kind of exhilarating and frightening all at the same time! When
we last visited the life of Andrea Durham, PC trainee, I was enjoying
life in Quito, aside from dodging cars, and spending too much
money on wonderful gringo food and internet. Today, Andrea Durham,
PC volunteer, is still enjoying life in Quito, dodging cars, and
spending too much money on gringo food and internet. There´s
a very fine line between the life of a PC trainee and PC volunteer
when one is Quito.
So, our swearing in was held at the Ambassador's residency yesterday morning at 9 am. It was a very posh, large white house with a view of the snow-covered Andes in the background. We had to sign in with a guard and there were all kinds of official-looking people there. Everyone looked very spiffy, including me, and it was kind of nice to feel like a ´girl´ again. The ceremony was held outside and it was short and sweet! Half of it was in Spanish and half of it was in English because our Spanish facilitators were there and we wanted them to understand what was being said. Our country director gave a short speech, we were all thanked and congratulated, etc etc, and then the Ambassador talked to us a bit about herself and Plan Colombia. Then we all had to stand and repeat the oath after her. Anyway, then our country director read off our names by program, and one-by-one, we went up to receive our little diploma and shake the Ambassador's hand. It was pretty cool and it feels like an honor to be sworn in as a volunteer by such a high ranking official.
After the swearing in, we went back to our respective hostels to gather our things for the move to the party hotel. All of us stayed in the same hotel last night and we rented a room and DJ for our little shin-dig. Well, it was a fun party and there was lots of dancing, lots of drinking, and lots of lovin´ going on last night! A bunch of current volunteers crashed our party, as well as some of the Spanish facilitators, so it was rockin´! I tried to dance to some Latin music, but I was overlooked when they were handing out the rhythm genes. Fortunately, I am not the only one with this genetic defect, so I didn´t feel too embarrassed about trying to shake my thing.
12 June 2001
After I left Quito, I stopped by my site for 2 nites and then went up to a place called Cotacachi which is north of Otavalo and famous for its leather-making. All of the pueblos surrounding Otavalo are indigenous, and the difference between a lot of the pueblos is in the way the indigenous people dress. For example, the indigenous women in my site wear pleated skirts trimmed with gold embroidery, whereas the indigenous women in Cotacachi wear skirts without pleats and not as vibrantly colored.
I stayed in a hostel in Cotacahci with a couple of other volunteers, and we visited a lake called Cuicocha that rests at the bottom of the Cotacachi volcano. Otavalo is actually situated between 2 extinct volcanoes, Cotacachi and Imbabura (I can see Imbabura from my kitchen window), and the legend goes that when it`s raining in Otavalo, Papa Imbabura is pissing on the valley. When Mama Cotacachi has a fresh covering of snow on her in the morning, it is said that Papa Imbabura has visited her during the nite. I thought that was kind of an interesting legend!
Imbabura - The View from Andrea's Kitchen Window.
Anyway, after my Cotacachi visit, I returned to my site and have been basically buying things for my house, trying to stay warm, and slowly adjusting to life in Ecuador in an indigenous site.
1 July 2001
I also went to a community meeting yesterday that was a discussion about their forests and their lands. They were talking about the eucalyptus and how much money they could make from it, I think. That was all I got from it. Sorry, about 3/4 of it was in Quichua, and my brain didn't seem to want to process the parts that were in Spanish. It was kind of frustrating.
Of course, I am still trying to learn Spanish. This is one
of my main priorities right now, aside from trying to meet people
and get my face out there. I would like also like to improve the
garden that is next to my house with my counterpart, Rosa, and
plant some veggies. For some reason she seems to think that I
know something about medicinal plants, when in actuality, this
is one of her specialties. Perhaps we will be planting some medicinal
plants. Rosa and I also want to plant the aliso (alder)
seeds that we have in a seedbed, but we're waiting until August
and for rain. It's been incredibly dry and windy in Angla for
the past couple of weeks. Consequently, I haven't bathed for almost
I want to do some seed collecting of other native species here and get some seedbeds started. I believe the women's group has space for a nursery, so it would be nice to get something like that going. However, I don't think that will happen between now and September. There is a bit of worm composting going on in Angla, as well, and I would like to improve upon that and hopefully get wormbeds going at every house. Again, this will probably take a bit of time. Angla needs windbreaks! This is good for me because I can plug agroforestry, but I need to talk to CEPCU and see if they would be interested in helping me obtain trees for planting when the rains finally come.
I did go to the festivals last week for Dia de San Juan (St. John the Baptist Day). The group from Angla gathered at the Casa Comunal and we walked-danced-ran to San Pablo where the fiesta was held. It's interesting because the men wear chaps covered with goat hair and bells on their backs, and they play pipes and guitars (the same song over and over again!), and then everyone dances in a circle around this pole that has fruits, vegetables, and bottles of alcohol mounted to it. The dancing is more like running, and they chant a song in Quichua. Well, during our little jaunt to San Pablo, the group had to stop at each house, sing, and run around in the circle. So what should have been an hour walk was actually more like 3 hours! I had some funky shawl thing wrapped around my waist and stalks of trigo in my hands and was running down the cobblestone road with the indigenous people from my community. It must have been a sight!
And last night, just as I was feeling all lonely and trying to convince myself that I should go visit Rosa, she and 3 of her kids came over and knocked on my door with a bowl of corn and beans for me. It's funny, because every time they come into my house, it's a mad dash to go through everything I have out. They were looking at my books, at what kind of food I eat, my dirty dishes, and then they noticed the plastic 2 liter coke bottle in my trash, which immediately prompted them to go through two bags of my trash and take out every plastic bottle and glass jar they could find. It's amazing!
2 August 2001
I am in Quito eagerly awaiting the arrival of my boyfriend
(and first visitor for me to Ecuador) tomorrow and am very curious
to see what a boy from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has to
say about my little 3rd world country! Quito is the same as usual,
internet, gringo food, and a risk to your life with all the crazy
drivers, but I am happy to be here and to have a shower.
I have been working some with two of my counterpart organizations in Otavalo and have been out to see some nurseries and visit other communities. I´m still trying to figure things out in Angla, but I just found out this week that I am to be given a position at the school to teach strictly environmental education. They want me to teach a couple of hours a week and I will get to plan the activities. The school already has a store of seeds on hand, don´t know what kind yet, but each student, or a group of students, is to have a parcel of land on which to plant and I will help monitor their progress. This sounds very exciting and even organized, but I´m waiting to see what actually happens.
Well, as conservative as the indigenous folk are, they sure love to party! We just had Dia de San Juan on June 24 and then Angla had its own fiestas from July 27th, well, really, until a couple of days ago. From what I can discern, the festivals are an indigenous tradition called Intirymi which means Festival of the Sun in Quichua. Even though the fiestas are technically only supposed to last for 3 or 4 days, about a week of preparation goes into them, and then they last at least 2 or 3 days longer than they´re supposed to. I personally don´t care for the fiestas because all the men get extremely drunk, and I´m not exaggerating when I say it´s not uncommon to have 3 or 4 drunks passed out in the gutters along the roadside while they´re wives struggle desperately to revive them enough to get them home. It´s really very sad and the indigenous have the highest alcoholism rate in this country due to lack of work and poverty.
I was a judge on the panel for the election of the queen. They had 5 candidates and they were lined up in chairs on stage and each one had to do a dance, tell what they thought Intirymi meant, and then answer some other questions about the environment. Half of it was in Quichua and 3 of the judges were gringos (including me) so it was kind of funny that we were judging because we couldn´t understand what they were saying. The women also did their traditional dance which I was invited to participate in. Imagine tall white me in American clothes, holding a live chicken in my hands and parading down the street and then dancing in circle after circle with short little, traditional indigenous women. It was a site to see!
My biggest news, though, is that I have truly started to ´go native´. I finally had the chance to eat cuy (guinea pig) for the first time here in Ecuador. Yes, it´s true, I ate guinea pig. If you don´t think about it when you´re eating it, you won´t wretch because it actually tastes like dark meat chicken, just greasier and there´s a lot of bone nibbling going on because there isn´t much meat. They cook it almost like fried chicken because that´s what I thought it was when I saw it in my soup until Rachel, the previous volunteer, said, ´How do you feel about cuy?´ I bet the look on my face was priceless. Rachel was nice and showed me how to eat it and also told the folks we were with that it was my first time so they would understand my hesitation or possible dislike of it. I can´t say that I relish the idea of having this experience again, but I am glad to have tried it.
9 October 2001
In true PC form, I have not done much since the last report. During the summer months, I spent time at CEPCU and CEMOPLAF. CEPCU has 6 community viveros (nurseries) established and I was able to visit one of them. Alberto (works with CEPCU and also lives in Angla) and I spent half the day at one community vivero weeding aliso saplings and he talked with me a bit about this particular nursery. They`re growing yagual which is a type of tree that is good for windbreaks. They´re also growing a shrub called lupino which is not only good for windbreaks, but is leguminous and a nitrogen-fixer as well. Apparently as an incentive to get people to maintain the nursery, CEPCU pays .16 cents per plant that they grow to distribute in other communities. I think the nurseries are for outplanting trees for windbreaks as well reforestation practices. They are also a good way to make people environmentally aware and this may be something to think about getting Angla involved in.
In July, I went on a trip sponsored by CEPCU to a town about an hour south of Angla called Cayambe. There is an organization called IEDECA (Instituto de Ecologia y Desarrollo de las Comunidades Andinas) located there and one of their people spoke about management and reforestation of the paramo. I was only able to catch some of what he was saying, but he was talking about the paramo for pasture use, reforestation with native species (they´re big on that here), and how it is our responsibility to care for the paramo if we´re going to use its `environmental services´ (not sure how else to translate what he said). We visited the paramo in the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve which is also located at the base of the Cayambe Volcano. The volcano was absolutely amazing, snow-covered and glaringly white in all her majesty. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera. It was freezing and windy and my absorption level for Spanish had drastically plummeted by that point, but we were able to see different levels in the paramo, for example, areas of overgrazing and burned areas. Upon our return from the paramo, we visited IEDECA´s nursery in Cayambe. They specialize in Sierran and native species, as well as exotics.
Types of fruits that can be grown in the Sierras:
Tomate de arbol
I´ve only seen tomate de arbol and raspberry in my site because I think it may be too cold for the others to grow, especially citrus and avocado.
Types of Trees/Shrubs that can be grown in the Sierras:
Eucalyptus (this is everywhere!)
Red and White Alder (nitrogen-fixer, native)
Leucaeana (I think)
Chilca (native shrub)
Lupino (nitrogen-fixer, shrub)
Of course, these are all temperature dependent as the temperatures and altitudes vary in the Sierras.
CEMOPLAF is the health organization in Otavalo and I can use them as another counterpart or resource if I choose to do so. I believe they are a government organization because they have offices all over Ecuador. They promote things such as natural birth control methods and ways to get people to use their services, but they also promote lombricultura (vermiculture), seedbeds, and organic gardens.
In September, the PC Natural Resources Program held a 3-day conference on agroforestry and biodiversity. It was a great conference, and although a lot of it didn´t apply to my site, for example, growing orchids, it was still really interesting to learn about. There are a lot of people and a lot of institutions here in Ecuador who are interested in preserving Ecuador´s natural resources. It´s a very diverse country, ecologically speaking, and I wish I had a reserve or a forest to protect!
Unfortunately, we are still waiting for rain. This is making my work as a natural resources volunteer virtually impossible. At the present time, we have water 2 or 3 times a week for an approximate total of 4 hours per week. While we all have enough water for drinking and cooking, it is not sufficient for their animals or their crops, nor can we begin seedbeds, gardens, or nurseries. By some miraculous twist of fate, my wormbed is coming along nicely, sin mucha agua, and I´m thinking of offering a ´refresher course´ in the construction and maintenance of wormbeds. Some people already know how, but it might be a good reminder and a good motivator to get them started. My wormbed has a fair amount of California reds which reproduce rapidly (every 8 days), so if there´s interest, I can give people a few worms each to begin a wormbed.
Early December 2001
Although [my Thanksgiving] was very non-traditional, I did end up having a really good time. I treated myself to ribs and shrimp at Tony Roma`s, a strawberry margarita, and then some good beer at the bar afterwards. I still would have preferred turkey with all the trimmings and family and friends, but we all have to make compromises sometimes.
Anyway, I`m not going to bore you all with the minor little details of my life, but I have actually been doing more in my site than before. Rosa (one of my counterparts, neighbor, and very cool lady) and I constructed some seedbeds for veggies with the help of seeds donated by CEMOPLAF for the women`s group. The rain has finally come, in fact, this is the first day it hasn`t rained since Saturday. And although it is very nice to see the sun, I miss the rain already. There`s something about it that is comforting for me and if I`ve learned anything during my time here in Ecuador, it`s that I have such an incredible appreciation for water and its value to life. I have never lived without consistent water before and not bathing for 10 days at a time, yet the people in my community do it on a daily basis. I can`t express the level of respect I have for these people and how they manage to survive this way. It is absolutely amazing.
I´ve been super hectic busy with being back, got a dog, my 2 best PC friends just ETed in the same week, giving an agroforestry presentation in my site, working on forestry stuff in another community, planting trees with the women´s group, all aside from trying to work this water project out and some env ed stuff. Pant, pant, so I´m busy, can´t breathe.
1 April 2002
I was asked to be a godmother to two little girls named Marjulie and Evelyn. I know that I was mostly asked because I have money and it is a sign of status for them, but I felt honored. Well, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but Rosa was a big help. She went with me to Otavalo to buy everything, acted as a liaison between the family and myself, and was basically my lifeline. A week before the baptism and, as is custom, the entire family came over to my house to bring me gifts and to celebrate. The gifts were as follows (note: everything was already cooked unless otherwise noted!):
-7 cuyes (guinea pigs)
-5 chickens (including the live one they brought that spent the night in my kitchen and scared me half to death with its squawking the next morning because I forgot it was there)
-50 boiled potatoes
-2 dozen hard-boiled eggs
-2 liters of trago (cane liquor, probably equivalent to moonshine and is so potent it burns your nose hairs)
-2 boxes of wine
There were twelve people plus children in my house. It was the longest three hours of my life but I actually enjoyed myself. My face was red from taking trago shots and everyone was laughing at me. Trago gets better after the third shot, by the way, but cuy does not improve with time. I can stomach it, though.
As for the actual baptism, my friend and fellow volunteer, Kristen, graciously accompanied me as we adorned traditional indigenous wear, sat through an hour of words from the priest, then baptized the babies. We waited for a camioneta (truck) to take us back to Angla for almost 2 hours, where we promptly changed clothes and then had to go to my co padres' house for the fiesta. There was more cuy, more chicken, more potatoes, more food than I care to remember, as well as soda and alcohol. It is customary here to pass shots around to the entire room, individually, and wish them well. This takes about an hour and by the time you're done, you're half in the bag and have to do it all over again. God bless Kristen for accompanying me!
At CEMOPLAF, I work directly with their natural resources/agricultural tech, Fausto Moran. This guy is well educated in comparison to most people from the campo and has been an incredible help with my little projects in Angla. It has been kind of a `you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours` deal in that he helps me out in Angla and I work with him in other communities constructing seedbeds and giving talks about the benefits of agroforestry and nitrogen-fixing plants. Most people don't understand what nitrogen-fixing actually is, but we put it in terms that they can understand i.e. this tree puts good nutrients into your soil to help improve its fertility.
The majority of January passed with me getting readjusted to being back in Angla and doing small things within the community. The women's group and I managed to obtain 400 - 500 white aliso seedlings from CEPCU, and we planted about 200 of those as a windbreak on the land that they lease. The rest were used for sale to the women's group at 2 cents a seedling. I took advantage of this incredible price and bought 20 trees to plant on Rosa's land because we want to start an agroforesty system there. I spent a lot of time working in the garden, weeding it, planting vegetable seeds, and watering it. I was hoping to have a little plot of my own, but the Terminator (Rosa's mom) can be pretty stingy at times. So, I just help them and they let me have some of the vegetables when I want. The worm bed is still going strong, although I constantly wage battle with the chickens that are always getting in there and digging it up. It is not uncommon to find a pile of feathers or an egg in my worm bed. But, we have produced enough worms (California reds) to share with the entire community, and we have enough humus to use for planting trees and in the garden.
The end of January saw my great transition. I actually planned, organized, and gave a small workshop on agroforestry in Angla. With Fausto`s help from CEMOPLAF, we gave a 2-day workshop to the women's group.
Planting the seedbeds.
Two weeks after the agroforestry workshop, CEMOPLAF came to Angla again to help me construct seedbeds with the women's group. Because Angla is so spread out, we made seedbeds in 3 separate places - below, in the middle, and above the community at my house. The idea behind this was to teach smaller groups at a time so that there was no confusion as to who should be watering and doing the upkeep of each seedbed. The women know how to construct seedbeds, but we demonstrated how to do it `properly`, using humus for nutrients and ash as disinfectant/insect repellent. We also showed them how far apart and how deep to plant the seeds. We planted different types of seeds in each seedbed so that once the trees are big enough for final transplanting, the women can share and divide up all the trees from each seedbed. I bought all the seeds, as well as some fruits from which I extracted, cleaned, and dried the seeds. It was a lot of work and I used my own money, but I don't mind when it comes to growing trees and it will benefit the community.
Children onWomen's Day.
The second week of March marked the Casa Abierta (Open House) in Otavalo and March 8 was International Women's Day. The Open House was held by the courthouse and the main park in the center of the city and various organizations from Otavalo were invited to participate. I was invited to set up a natural resources demonstration at CEMOPLAF's table, so I wrote a little story about the environment, brought my seeds to display, and made a mini worm bed with instructions on how to construct one. It was fun and I got a lot of exposure since I'm the gringa.
View of Angla. Andrea's house is center right with twodark windows.
15 August 2002
So, I am doing well for the most part, although I am incredibly behind on my work here. I have 9 months left to go of my service and it really seems unbelievable that I have made it this far! I only wish that I had something more tangible to show for it, but such is life.
My sister is currently visiting until the 19th. We have not done much traveling, but she has received a small taste of what PC life is like, which is what I wanted. The last several months have been a blur for me in that I've done nothing, but the time has flown by. I never believed I would be saying that! Currently on my plate aside from taking care of my dog and my new cat, Milo, I am waiting to hear from PC Washington to see if my grant to receive computer equipment for my community has been approved. Apparently 4 volunteers from Ecuador applied and my proposal was second in priority. Doesn't sound too promising, so keep your fingers crossed. I have also been asked to give a 30-minute talk on safety (in Spanish, of course!) at the Natural Resources In-Service Training Conference on Wildland Fire Management. I'm pretty nervous about it because I am terrible at public speaking and I am certainly not fluent in Spanish yet, but with practice, it should turn out all right. I am pretty excited about the conference because I really miss fighting fire even though it was brief. We are even planning on doing a controlled burn during the conference so that people can learn the techniques - I can't wait!
I am planning on starting a community bank with my women's group by the end of this month. My country director is one of the creators of this idea and she holds a community banking conference twice a year on the beach which I went to this past April (see, I told you I'm behind!). I think it is an excellent idea and without going into too much detail, basically the women use their own money to start the bank, they set the rules, create the fines, use an interest rate of 10% because that's easy (thank god, because I'm terrible at math!), and then they close out at the end of the year by dividing the money equally. Then it starts all over again. It's sustainable, it's their own money so they have more respect for it, and it also teaches them to work together, to manage money, and it empowers them.
For the most part, I am happy and enjoying my time here. My relationship with my neighbors is excellent and the kids come over all the time to color or just sit and have hot chocolate with me. I am glad that my time here is coming to a close, though. It has been challenging, but I do not regret my decision to come here in the slightest.
6 September 2002
I am super super busy right now which is good. the natural resources program is having a conference in 2 weeks and i will be giving a talk on fire safety, yikes! i am in the process of getting a community bank started with my women´s group and we have our first meeting tomorrow. my counterpart, rafael, is a little gungho about it and seems to want to run the whole show and have all the kinks worked out by the end of the first meeting, but i am going to have to tell him to cool his jets! my other counterpart, rosa, and i will have to have a little side talk, but i am excited that we are finally going to get the bank going because i think it´s a great idea.
the youth group and i in conjunction with the women´s group are in the process of starting a tree nursery, but as is normal, things are running slowly and behind schedule. my job is to find seeds, but i can´t seem to get ahold of my boss, so i am searching for other avenues. it´ll come through one day, i hope. we´re also waiting on the rains again. rar.
my big news, though, is that my AOL computer grant was approved! that means that i will be receiving funding from PC Washington in conjunction with AOL to purchase a computer, scanner, printer, digital camera, and two years of internet service for my community! pretty a-mazing! i really didn´t think it would be approved because it´s a very competitive grant and 3 other volunteers from ecuador had also applied. so, not to toot my own horn, but i´m pretty proud and excited for my community! we´re also going to buy two used computers thru another US organization called World Computer Exchange for $160 so that we will have 3 computers up and operating in my site hopefully before i leave next may!
9 November 2002 - Excerpts from quarterly report.
Rafael, Gonzalo and I put together all the information we would need to write a proposal to the AOL Computer grant offered via PC. Well, the grant had to go to Washington and it was approved in September! We will be receiving funding to buy one computer, scanner, printer, digital camera, 2 years of internet service, and initial purchases of toner, paper, etc. Our plan is to charge for Internet usage and also offer classes, beginning with the youth group, then the women's group, and then extending the classes to other interested community numbers. The idea is to teach the youth groups first, because they have the most previous exposure to computers and then have them actually teach the classes. This was it will be self-sustaining. We would also like to design a web page for the community of Angla, specifically for the youth and women's groups, because they are currently the only groups doing some sort of income generating project. Eventually, I would like to create a resource center in the Casa Communal where we will be housing the computer equipment. So, it you know where I can obtain used Spanish books, let me know! Alas, we are still waiting for the funding to come through. I'm hoping by Christmas; or at least before I leave, otherwise I'll never get to see the final product!
Since we're on the subject of computers I should also mention that we are working with an organization called World Computer Exchange that finds, fixes, and sells at very reduced prices ($80.00), used computers to communities in developing nations. Rafael is very excited about computers, so he spoke to the president of the community, and somehow, they have the $160.00 to buy 2 computers. One of the schools near by (where Rafael works) will also be purchasing 2 computers. So, we have requested 4 computers in total and are still waiting to hear back from the PCV who is coordinating all of this. I think there are some loopholes and we have to have an Ecuadorian NGO help us with customs, etc., but 2 volunteers here have graciously taken charge of this project for all the interested PCV's in Ecuador. Thank God for them! So, at some point, we should have 3 computers in Angla and 2 in the school.
Anyway, so since I no interest in this recycled paper project, Gonzalo and I have talked about making natural soaps (ironically, yet brilliant in my opinion, Gonzalo wants to package soaps in recycled paper!) About a month ago, the youth group went to an expo in Lotacachi (north of Angla) to show and sell their recycled paper. They met a group of women involved in making natural soaps, and apparently, they were a hit. So Gonzalo approached me about it, we talked to Francisco about it, and we came to the conclusion that it's very viable (?) - feasible project to undertake. The problem was that we had no idea where or how we were going to buy or make lye, obviously the key ingredient in soap - making. I searched the Internet and came up with nothing. Finally, on a whim, I looked in my book called, The Encyclopedia of Country Living and there is a natural recipe for making lye, and thus soap. So, we will be talking with Francisco about it when he comes to visit next week. Making lye is quite simple really. Who knew! All you need is a leaching barrel, ashes from hardwoods (yah for eucalyptus!), straw, rocks, and water. Basically, once you have accumulated enough ash, you gently run water to the barrel until water runs from the tap. You then plug tap hole and let it soak for a few days. You can add ash and water as first layer begins to settle. In 3 days, open and plug and let lye water run into a non-metal container. Seems pretty simple and then you are ready to make soap. We plan on using herbs, flower, etc. to enhance the soaps. I think it will be trial and error for a while, though. This is obviously a work in progress, but as always, hopefully something will come of it.
Briefly, I would like to mention the water source, San Francisco, again. Gonzalo and I have talked about going up here and looking for another source that we might be able to tap into, and if the surrounding communities are in agreement, we will look into obtaining funding to build a water system. Frankly, I think this sounds like something that might need to be handled at a governmental level, but I have offered my help. The community leaders are also involved in this because as you know lack of water in an incredible problem here.
Well, that's it as far as the youth group is concerned. In the beginning of September, my country director, along with the APCD's from Youth and Families at Risk and Animal Production, and 2 APCD's from Panama and I think Nicaragua did a gender analysis workshop specifically looking at indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian communities. My community was included in the assessment and Rosa acted as a Quichua - Spanish translator for them. The analysis was very small, i.e. only 4 indigenous and 1 Afro-Ecuadorian communities were looked at, but a workshop was held to go over the analysis. Two married couples were interviewed in my community and I attended one of them. They were asked basic questions about family and gender roles, community problems, community improvements, what people do for work, etc. As I've mentioned before, my Spanish really isn't all that great, so I'm being pretty general with this information. My CD did tell me that the results will be made available to us, so I am looking into obtaining those. Might be good added information to my thesis!
The workshop itself was interesting in that that divided us
by gringos, by indigenous, by mestizos (mixed), and by Afro-Lantinos.
I have never been divided into a group solely made up of gringos
in PC and it was a strange feeling! We talked about an Ecuadorian
girl trying to decide what type of work to do, etc. And of course
the perspectives were very different. My favorite and most memorable
part of the workshop was actually an icebreaker, which I can't
stand! We had to create our personal flag which included our name,
our secret passion, something about our culture that we're proud
of, and what animal we'd like to be and why. Well, I'll use myself
as a prime gringo example. I said that I would like to be a cat
because they sleep all day and a bird because I could fly. I will
use Rosa as a prime Ecuadorian example. She said that she would
like to be a cow, because they give milk and meat to help out
in fieldwork. Others said they'd be chickens, because they give
eggs and take care of their young. All of the gringo answers were
pretty selfish, and all of the female Ecuadorian answers had to
do with giving and caring for their families. They were so beautiful
and sincere and I almost cried at their thoughtfulness and my
selfishness. It was really quite amazing.
18 December 2002
My APCD came to my site at the end of October and was able to see me meet with the women's group and give out 3 trees to each member from the seedbeds we started back in February. It wasn't much, but Francisco was very impressed that I had done all of this with the women's group and he was happy to see trees being given out. He also had the opportunity to speak with each of my counterparts, Rosita, Rafael, and Gonzalo. Everyone was very pleased with the small amount of projects I've managed to accomplish in Angla. Rosa was happy about the trees and the community bank, Rafael was very excited to discuss the AOL project with Francisco and we were told by Francisco that this was no! t an easy grant to get and that the community needs to know how hard I worked to get those computers for them. I thought that was very nice. Gonzalo was eager to discuss soap-making and showed Francisco their recycled paper project and the area where we made seedbeds to begin the tree nursery with the youth group.
I planned a Halloween party with the youth group in the hopes that they would have a fun Halloween. The entire community was invited, and it wasn't until I arrived at the party that I realized Gonzalo expected me to provide the entertainment for the entire evening. Not only had I donated candy, games, alcohol, popcorn, banana bread, and two other gringos, we were supposed to be the entertainment. It was actually very funny. My friends Tim and Justin came over so that I wouldn't have to do the party by myself and Tim saved the day by creating costumes for all of us. I was a weird hippy chick with a big smiley face on my chest and flowers painted on my cheeks, Justin was an Arab, and Tim was a fat hobo wearing a garbage bag. I thought the youth group was coming in costume as well because I had provided materials for costume making. Well, we three walked in to the party and we were the only ones in costume. The room fell to a dead silence until Tim thankfully took over and started the 'Donde esta mi rabo?' game (Pin the tail on the donkey ..or the llama as was the case here). We ended up staying only an hour or so and it was mostly kids and the mothers of the youth group members. After 'donde esta mi rabo' lost its charm, we bobbed for apples. The kids had no idea how to get the apples. Little 4 year old Jhony tried and tried .he was so adorable. I ! finally took a turn and showed them how to do it by dunking yo entire head under water. They got a kick out of that and suddenly everything was mayhem because everyone wanted a turn. There weren't enough apples, but Gonzalo and Rosa had the sense to let the mothers have a turn, so it was fair and it seemed that each family was able to share an apple. The last exciting game of the evening was musical chairs. You should have seen Rosa, Tim in his fat hobo costume, Rosa's mom aka the Terminator, and a couple of other older women dancing around those chairs. It was the funniest thing!! The best part of the whole evening, though, is that I was completely duped by the youth group.&n! bsp; They convinced me to buy alcohol to sell to the older folks so they wouldn't be bored or cold. Turns out the little shits were drinking the alcohol themselves and being obnoxious little teenagers. I got my youth group drunk! I never heard anything from the community about it, so I guess it wasn't that big of a deal .it was a good night overall, even though I got the kids drunk. Que vestia!
15 March 2003
We have had several meetings with Rosa, Gonzalo, and the president of the community to discuss appropriate internet prices for the community and to make clear that this privilege is not to be abused by leaders in the community nor by myself. We have a set list of prices for internet use, program use, and printing of documents. We are still in the process of setting up a bank to collect money for a project maintenance fund and organizing classes for the youth group to begin learning some necessary computer skills as stated in the grant proposal. We have a long way to go because only two members of the youth group have prior computer experience and they only know the basics, as do I. I am trying to receive approval from the Peace Corps office to do a technical exchange with another volunteer, but it doesn't seem to be too promising, so we will look for other alternatives. I believe Rafael knows people with computer experience, so hopefully we can utilize them for free. We also have to do a follow-up report that goes to Washington, so I am currently working on that, as well.
The community bank is functioning 100% without my help, and as Rosa likes to put it, the money is working. Women are taking out loans for various things such as the purchase of seeds, potatoes, school uniforms, and medical care. They also held a small clothing drive with the used clothing I brought back from the States, and I believe they made approximately $40 in sales. I originally wanted them to use the sale money to increase the amount of money in their bank, but I told Rosa that if they prefer to use it to buy trees or seeds for their lands, that would be all right, as well. It's up to them to decide how they want to use it.
I am still working on a small independent project with my tree nursery and germinating seeds. I have already planted 5 trees along the fence of my house and I plan on planting some more trees as they are ready, as well as some nitrogen-fixing shrubs (lupino and retama) around my new landlords' fields because they seem very interested and are open to my experimenting with an agroforestry system there. Currently, I have about 50 trees and shrubs in my nursery and I am germinating more lupino, retama, cherry, and acacia. I'm also experimenting with dill and chamomille, which is easy to germinate and excellent in teas.
I'm very happy to see that the women's group continues to work on their leased plot of land where the 200 aliso trees we planted a year ago have reached heights of 4 5 feet and that about 90% of them survived. It is a beautiful windbreak and honestly, my heart swells with pride every time I walk by there and see all those beautiful trees that we planted. They also incorporated some tomate de arbol trees in their crops and they have a lot of vegetable beds planted as well.
Aside from all this, I am not doing too much. I have distributed seeds to the youth group and their projects are flourishing. They have created a small tree nursery and have a fair amount of seedbeds going for vegetables. I translated a natural soap recipe for them and told them that they could use me as a resource if they have questions, but that I do not want to be involved in any new projects as I am leaving soon.
I now truly understand what the previous volunteer meant when
she said that she couldn't extend in Angla because the community's
problems started to become her own. It's like everyone panics
when they realize your time is coming to an end and all of a sudden
everyone is in your face with community and personal problems
that you cannot possibly solve. I feel that my time in Angla has
been wonderful, but I am also anxious to leave. I feel somewhat
stagnant and can only equate it to a feeling of senioritis
llena (I am full).
Late March 2003
I could leave next month if I so desired. However, some things have changed for me down here and I am extending until the end of July to finish up projects in my site and my research. My APCD (my boss for the natural resources program here in Ecuador) offered me the Volunteer Coordinator position for Natural Resources in January. This position is for 3rd year volunteers selected by their APCD to work with the APCD´s and the volunteer´s specific program i.e. nat res for me, coordinating training, conferences, visiting volunteers within the nat res program, researching, and looking for new sites as new volunteers arrive. Originally, I thought there was no way in hell I was going to take on such a position, but the more I thought about it, the better it started to sound. The only con I could think of was time, and what´s one more year in the whole scheme of things? Life is short, as the saying goes, and I´m trying to enjoy it to its fullest while I still can!
So what this all boils down to is that as of Aug. 1, I will begin living and working in Quito until June 2004. The way I see it, I am ready for a change, but I´m not quite ready to return to the States. I know this is hard for most of you to comprehend, but how can I explain this to those of you who have never lived overseas or who have never felt what I´m feeling? I see it as an opportunity to accept more responsibility, yet not have to jump directly back into life in the States, which, although this may be hard to believe, is going to be pretty difficult for me to do as I have become Ecuadorian and have no manners ;) It is also a chance to gain more professional experience and I´m actually really excited about it. Plus, it comes with perks such as driving, travelling all over the country with expenses paid, mochas, ice cream, Mc Donald´s, and movies since I´ll be living in Quito! How could I pass it up!
Other goings-on in my life. I recently bought a yellow lab puppy for $50 and I´m still suffering the repercussions of that cut, but he is so worth it! I´ve named him Bagel (I was listening to Bob Dylan and he was singing about bagels...I don´t get it either) and he is a little over 2 months old. He is a handful, but adorable and an excellent replacement for Sacha, who ran away last November as some of you may recall. It´s wonderful having a dog again and I can´t wait until puppyhood is over! He knows his name, kind of ´come here´, and he is almost potty trained. We´re working on leash training as well, which he doesn´t like too much, but we´ll get thru it. I´m learning more patience, if that´s possible after having been in Ecuador for 2 years.
PC Ecuador has a new country director. His name is Ruben Hernandez and he just came to visit my site yesterday as part of his tour to visit the northern volunteers. He´s very down to earth and I look forward to start working with him in August, as well.
My community is trucking along. We just got our computer equipment from my AOL grant at the end of January, so there is now Internet in my community! I haven´t checked it out yet, but it´s a strange, yet cool, feeling. We´re going to have classes for the youth group every Sunday if my APCD approves my technical exchange with another volunteer so that I have a teacher. I don´t know anything about computers, so I´m hoping to bring in another volunteer who does! The ultimate goal is to create a web page for the community, but we also want the youth group to take over the classes and then start teaching members of the women´s group and any other interested parties. We also bought 4 computers from a US organization called World Computer Exchange. Those will hopefully be arriving in May. My community is extremely excited about the computers and are eager to start learning the basics. This is a huge step for them to have such! advanced technology in their community, and they have actually thanked me more than once! It makes me feel good to see something that is hopefully going to be sustainable and benefit them once I leave.
The community bank that Rafael and I started with the women´s group has taken off thanks to Rosa who has prior banking experience, so they are functioning 100% without my help. It´s so great to see these projects working without my assistance because that means that they are sustainable and that the people involved are actually interested!! I feel like I´ve done something. The youth group is also fairly self-sustaining and they continue to work every afternoon on their recycled paper project and their nat. res. work which I helped start. They have a ton of seedbeds and a small tree nursery started thanks to donations of seeds and bags donated by myself and Francisco, my APCD, as well as other NGOs. I can´t take much credit for this, though, because Gonzalo, the president, is super motivated and he strives every day to make this happen for the youth group.
6 June 2003
If you all recall my dog Sacha who ran away (or was stolen) last November, she came back about 2 weeks ago! my friend Carey was sitting in the park in Otavalo and sacha came up to her as if she knew her. Carey brought her to me, and the rest is history! It's like the incredible journey or something and Sacha deserves kudos for surviving 6 months alone in this country. i am now the proud owner of two dogs and still tearing my hair out about this, but it is very good to see sacha again.
aside from that, my other news is that instead of moving to quito as originally planned for my third year in Ecuador, i will be moving to Ibarra, north of where i am now, to serve as the peace corps volunteer regional coordinator for region 2 of Ecuador (that's 2 provinces), and instead of working with just the natural resources program manager, I will be working with all five program managers coordinating events, visiting volunteers, acting as a liaison for volunteers, peer counseling, etc. I am going to be very well rounded, maybe not well adjusted, but well rounded, by the time I leave Ecuador. ;)
1 August 2003
I saw a small coral snake when I was visiting a friend in the jungle. I don't like snakes, but its colors were so beautiful and the sighting of it a bit rare, that I was enamored. I am going to help a friend build a clay oven over the next few days and I am super excited about it as the same friend who lives in the jungle has one and it produces a delicious pizza! My community is currently in fiestas so the loudspeaker goes off every morning at 5 with the same annoying man yelling at everyone to get up and bring down their firewood. I feel like I live in an internment camp when this happens.
So, I'm just relaxing, working, and trying to enjoy my last 5 months in Ecuador. They will go fast and 5 months is a drop in the bucket after 27.
2 January 2004.
Closing my Peace Corps service was harder than I could have ever imagined. It's like finishing a good long book and wishing you hadn't reached the end, yet feeling relieved to have made it through it so that you can start another one. Saying goodbyes were difficult even though I felt ready to leave, and small detailed things kept cropping up that I could not have planned for. Taking on new responsibilities after having been somewhat handheld by Peace Corps for 3 years was slightly daunting, but it feels good to be independent again and not under the thumb of Peace Corps. Most of my time was spent finalizing projects in my community and preparing for my departure from Ecuador.
The women's community bank is still going strong and the women recently held a raffle to augment the bank. Women are actively borrowing money from the bank for a variety of things including school registration fees, medical bills, and vegetable seeds. They are planning on helping the youth group start their own bank. I also aided some of the women in the marketing of their embroidered products. While not yet a sustainable source of income, these products continue to be sold internationally via community 'gringo connections' in both the United States and Canada. They continue to be hopeful that their work will become part of the international market. The youth group carries on steadfast and strong as well, and they, too are hopeful that they will be able to internationally market their recycled paper products which include greeting cards and envelopes, gift bags, and photo frames.
There is a good chance that an international market for these community groups will become a viable project through the construction of a community web page. Unfortunately, the volunteer who was to help me in the creation of this page was occupied with the World Computer Exchange project in the south of the country up until my departure, so the web page was never finished. It does not feel good to have left this project unfinished as I feel it was one of my more successful accomplishments, but the volunteer and I arranged to have her go to Angla when her duties with this other project are completed. She is also the person who will be responsible for getting our 4 World Computer Exchange computers to Angla and will work with my counterparts in the installation and set up of each computer. Most of the computers from this project have finally arrived in country and there is currently a group of volunteers working on checking the hard drives and installing programs onto each! computer.
All in all, I have some regrets that I did not do more during my time in Ecuador. I feel that I could have accomplished greater things, but I was only capable of working at a certain level. One day I hope to do Peace Corps again and serve as a better, more confident volunteer. Leaving Ecuador was bittersweet, but things don't last forever, and I left knowing that my community was happy with me and grateful to me for the time that I gave them. But mostly, I'm grateful to all of them for their patience, their friendship, and for the experience.
*Culture of the Andes*
*The Embassy of Ecuador in Washington DC*
*The Lonely Planet Guide to Ecuador*
*The US State Department Ecuador Background Page*
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Page created 30 January 2001.
Updated: 2 January 2004.
Page created and maintained by Blair Orr.