Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Don't Read This If You Want To Feel Happy

This is such a quick update! I’m so proud. We just had a really interesting day. We split into two groups to go to different composting sites. My group went to a smaller site, then went to visit a resettlement area and an area soon to be resettled. The composting was really interesting. The woman we spoke to who worked there was saying she chooses to work there because she knows it’s better for the environment. Farmers in the area buy the compost, and the people who work there get some for free each year for their own gardens. It was all done manually; the women were wading around in disgusting garbage, separating the organic material. There was some really disgusting stuff in there.
The resettlement: basically, there are ‘slums’ in Qui Nhon, in this case inhabited by fishermen and their families. They live literally over the ocean. There are shaky wooden walkways with houses on top, with all the boats tied at the edge. While we were there a man actually half fell through the walkway when a rotting board broke. I had been assuming it only looked like it was all going to collapse, but I guess in this case appearances weren’t deceiving. There were babies running around there! The government is making the people move off the water, into the city. They buy the houses off them for what they are worth, which ends up being a little less than six hundred dollars. The government then provides free (not very nice) housing until the people can buy the house from them. I couldn’t tell if the motives for having them move were pure or not; half the time it sounded like the government wants to beautify the area, half the time it sounded like they were worried about the people living in such dangerous conditions and polluting the water. The people already in the resettlement area were largely unhappy to have been moved. They had also started out as fishermen, but some had switched to manual labor and service professions in Qui Nhon. The people living on the water were looking forward to better conditions, though they worried about being moved too far from the sea.
When we got back to the hotel, I finally watched GO!, the Invisible Children movie about the kids who went to Uganda the year before me. It was really interesting to hear about the people displaced in Uganda right after the talk of displacement in Vietnam. There are clearly infinite differences between the circumstances, but I guess people being forced out of their homes have some similarities no matter where they’re from or what the reason is. The people in the resettlement area here made a huge point of wanting to own their homes; living on the government’s charity wasn’t sitting well with anyone. I know from going to Uganda how important it is for people to be out of the camps, back in their villages on their own property.
It was wonderful to watch GO! and see all the places I went this summer, and some of the people I got to know. I never wrote about Uganda here, I know, and someday I really will type up some of my journal entries from then. Watching GO! made me think of two girls in particular, though, so I’ll write about them quickly. We spent one morning at Sacred Heart Secondary School, hanging out with the girls and then having a meeting about how to run a schools for schools club. I spent most of the day with two girls, Vicky and Agnes. We had a standard conversation to get to know each other- where are you from, what’s your favorite subject, etc. As part of that, they also asked if both my parents were alive. Neither of them had both parents. Their parents were dead, or had abandoned them. They discussed this as casually as they had discussed school, and quickly moved on to hair. They were shocked I’d never shaved my head. They were even more shocked to learn I shower every day. They invited me to spend the night with them in their dormitory, but Jolie (the country director) said it was too dangerous. We were supposed to be back in the gated compound with the security guard by nine o’clock. It was ok to be out later, as long as we were with the group and in a mutatu.
Yesterday, we went to the Son My (My Lai, in America) memorial site. Son My was a peaceful village, not involved with the Viet Cong. During the war, the American army went there and killed 504 women, children, and elderly people. Most of the males of military age were out working during the day. People were raped, thrown down wells, burned, and worse. There were pictures there of bodies piled in irrigation ditches, children with limbs cut off, women with no clothes lying dead, people on the floor with their intestines hanging out, and much more. I learned about My Lai a little in my US history class, but I was one of the few who had. One thing I hadn’t learned about at all was the rescue performed by Hugh Thompson and Lawrence Colburn. It was a big deal at the museum; there were pictures and articles and plaques on the wall. Hugh Thompson was a pilot who saw the massacre taking place and knew it was wrong. He saw a group of soldiers chasing 10 villagers, trying to kill them. He landed his helicopter between the two groups, and told his machine gunner (Lawrence Colburn) to fire on the soldiers if they came near. He brought the villagers into the helicopter and flew them away.
Something I forgot to write about last time: we went to the war memorial museum. It was so, so strange. They were showing all the horrors of war (including human fetuses deformed by Agent Orange, floating in a box), but they were selling camouflage helmets and war toys in the gift shop. They had all these paintings on display, done by children as part of a competition. The options were to draw something about world peace, or your feelings on war. They put the winners (all five hundred thousand million of them) on display. Many were of differently colored people holding hands and dreaming of world peace. But there were also some in the ‘your feelings on war’ category. These were titled things like ‘Oh God, Americans are bombing us!’ and ‘SOS’. They had people blown to pieces as American flag painted planes flew overhead and dropped bombs. There was one titled ‘Iraq-American War’, which had, again, stars and stripes planes dropping bombs on a city, with decapitated heads floating in a river of blood. There were drawings of deformed people in wheel chairs, with lots of orange around them.
Happy Holidays. I'm sure that helped get you in the mood.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh

I just wrote this whole thing, then the internet messed up and deleted it. I'm so mad!
Ok, the main points of that blog:
We are out of Ho Chi Minh! Thank God. I hated that city. But I LOVE the rest of Vietnam! We're in Quy Nhon right now, which is a tiny, quiet, clean, city on the coast. We can see the beach from our hotel. It's lovely! Our bus broke down five hours into the 12 hour ride here. They had to send a new bus from HCM, so for the six hours we had to wait we rented rooms in tiny bungalows right on the beach. It was the bluest, most beautiful water ever! None of us had bathing suits so we all swam in our underpants for hours. The fishermen thought we were crazy. We didn't get to the hotel til three am but whatever, we got to sleep in the next morning.
Today we went to the crazy eco uber-resort today. A bungalow there costs as much as a small country but it's so worth it. Gorgeous! I've given up all dreams of changing the world. I'm going to be a trophy wife and live there forever. It's not as green as they market it as though- they just want the rich people who stay there to be feel like they are being socially responsible. They burn all their trash!
After we went to a meeting with an organization to help families affected by Agent Orange. We've been learning a lot about the Vietnam War (Resistance to the American Invasion per the Vietnamese) and Agent Orange, but it was the first time we've worked directly with people affected by it. It was awful. People here don't really understand it. They told us that if the parents had known the kids would have had these birth defects they wouldn't have 'brought them to life'. They said it's so hard to be the parents. Many of the kids were essentially babies in the bodies of nineteen year olds, but not healthy nineteen year olds; nineteen year olds with twisted bones, stunted growth, and sores all over their skin. The government sometimes give scholarships to the affected kids who can, technically, go to school, but it only amounts to about $30 a year. They ask the US government for reparations but nothing is happening. When I see what people here are going through as a direct result of Americans, I just don't understand how excited they get to see us. They are so, so stoked we're here. Everyone we see, especially the kids, yells 'Hello!' when we pass, and giggles and takes pictures. They love us. It makes me feel so, so, guilty for what I am. There are birth defects everywhere. How can they forgive us that?
We've had tons of seminars and all, but I don't feel like rewriting all that. I'm stoked for Christmas! We're going to a nice resort for the day. It'll be awesome. Happy Holidays! Love you all!

Monday, December 8, 2008

I'm Sorry!

Ok, I know I haven’t updated in forever, I’m sorry! There are no excuses. I’m a terrible person. This’ll be a long one, or maybe I’ll make it two. I’m in Vietnam right now, but before I get to that I should do Shaxi and Cambodia.
Our last week in China we went to Shaxi, a tiny town in rural China. It looks like something out of a movie or a time machine. There’s a little town square with a Buddhist temple, a market, a bunch of little family run stores, a school, a few guesthouses, and not much else. The houses are large and well taken care of, with three walls of rooms built around a courtyard and the curved roofs that I associate with Chinese buildings. Shaxi was recently restored by a European architect or something so it’s really nice, but it hasn’t yet come to the awareness of many tourists so it’s still quite and very real.
I lived with a family on the edge of town. I literally mean the edge- the town was to our back, if you left our gate you faced the fields and mountains, and had to walk to a gate to enter the main town. The stars were amazing, because we didn’t even have the town’s light pollution in our way. I lived with a mother, father, grandmother, and two girls of fourteen and eight. They spoke not a word of English (just like my Kunming family!), but were so friendly. I felt way more at home in their house after a day than I did in my Kunming house after three weeks. The kitchen had this huge pit for dumping waste, and two enormous stone bowls over a fire for cooking. The parents gave me their room while I was there, which was beautiful. Oddly enough, it had optional red, yellow, and green mood lighting. There was a latrine, and no shower.
Shoot I have to run, I need to go follow some scavengers around and collect trash for a couple of hours, I’ll be back later and finish this. I promise!
Ok I'm back, and I just remembered you can edit these posts so I can keep going! Quick break from Shaxi- that was so interesting. We went to the place they bring all the trash and hung out with the people who pick it up and sort it. They are all very poor. They work about fifteen hour days, or fifteen hour nights depending on what shift, collecting trash from families in Ho Chi Minh. Then they bring it back to the center and pour it onto the sidewalk, to sort out all the things they can make money selling to a middleman (who then sells it to the recycling companies). Up until about five months ago they were making 7,000 for the kilo, now they are making 4,000. They don't know why, they just accept the prices given by the middleman. Our interpretation is that it has to do with the economy, but the middlemen are running a very tight (and illegal) operation, so it could just be that they felt like having a little more for themselves. We tried to talk with some of the middlemen afterwards, but they ignored us, and as we persisted started cursing at us. One woman we spoke to had been working there 31 years. She has a lung disease from breathing all the disgusting fumes. One woman said she'd been to school through third grade. She wants her children to go to school, but with the cut in wages she doesn't know if she can afford to not have them working.
Back to Shaxi. Teaching there was very different from teaching in Kunming. The students were far behind their peers in the city, and the classes moved at a much slower pace. Zach and I were teaching together. In our first class we moved at a normal pace for Kunming, maybe a little slow, but at the end of the lesson were told by the teacher that we'd covered five lessons worth of material and had not been understood at all. Our second class was much, much better. We did an easy lesson on prepositions, and got all the kids involved and active which they really liked.
Our last day there was market day. I woke up around five am to hear my family slaughtering a pig. When I actually got up hours later there was pig blood all over the courtyard, and a dead pig in a wheelbarrow outside the gate. I helped push it to market! The mother, father, little sister, and I all pushed the wheelbarrow dripping pig fat up the hill. I wish I could have taken a picture of all of us.
Our last night, there was a concert with traditional dancing and music. The costumes and dancing were so interesting. At the end, we were asked to perform a traditional American dance and song. We danced the Macarena while Isabel sang it in Spanish. We couldn't think of a song everyone knew, so we sang the 'Let's get down to business' song from Mulan. We were not nearly as impressive. I think Robin got it all on camera, so that'll definitely be blackmail in a few years.
I had the plague literally the entire time we were in China. When we were in Shaxi, it moved into my lungs which really sucked. I got some medicine which kicked it back out, but it didn't actually go away for ages after. I still have a slight cough. Hopefully I'll be cured by the time we leave Vietnam- I think carrying the plague across two continents and four countries is more than enough.
Cambodia. I spent most of my time chilling in my room. I did very little. I totally didn't take advantage of it being Cambodia, I just wanted to rest. I mean sure, I did some things, but overall I stayed in the hotel. One of the things I did do was go to Angkor Wat at five am to see the sunrise, which was very cool. I got a couple of traditional massages, which were very odd and somewhat painful. You have no idea how much I miss traditional Swedish massage!
We went as a group to the killing fields and genocide museum, which was incredibly sad. The things that happened in Cambodia are incredible, all the more so because of how little we learned about it in school. I don't remember even hearing about it, although realistically they could have mentioned it during one of the many lessons I spaced out during. There was one tree they showed us at the killing fields, which was used to kill babies. Soldiers would take them by their feet and swing them against it. The museum was in a former school which had been a jail during the genocide. They had on display all the mug shots of the people kept in the jail. Some were of very small children.
Vietnam. We're all staying in a large guesthouse. The guys are two each in a hotel type room with bathroom. We girls have two rooms with five girls and a Vietnamese student in each, and we have one toilet/shower set up to share for the twelve of us. Whatever. Our rooms are nice, and we've decorated them with Christmas lights and hung our socks on hatstands serving as fake Christmas trees. We're reading books about social entrepreneurs and how to make a big impact on the world, as well as books about the environment. Our seminars are so interesting! I'm also reading The Fountainhead just for myself, and I love it. It's maybe my favorite book I've ever read.
Everyone here drives moped things. There are hundreds on the streets, and they don't follow traffic rules. They go every which way, on both sides of the street, at all times. The honking is incredible. To cross the street you basically just wait for a small gap and walk slowly and consistently, and hope they know to avoid you. You almost don't even have to look, it's not like that helps at all. I really, really, hate the traffic situation here. Also the pollution. We keep getting hit by things, though not badly. I got hit by a bike. People drive on all the sidewalks too. You have to be aware at all times of everything around you. I wonder how people live like this their whole lives? The food is good though.
We talked to a guy who runs a landfill here, and he had some really interesting things to say. He talked about how, with the economic crisis and all, people aren't buying toys. So China isn't making them. So they aren't buying the cardboard to package them. So paper, which used to be a huge commodity for the scavengers, is no longer useful. No wants wants to buy it to recycle, because it won't be bought off them in the long run. So the scavengers no longer separate it, which means the trash going to the landfills is not as separated, which is bad for the environment, and they don't make money off it. The man was telling us how recycling is market driven, and interestingly the next day there was an article on just that in the New York Times.
OK, thanks for reading all this. I promise to be quicker about updating in future!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Last from Kunming

Hey! This is probably the last post for a while... we're going to Shaxi on Tuesday, where I probably won't be able to post, and I don't know how it'll be in Cambodia.
We'll see how it goes.
I went to a Chinese wedding last week with Katie R., it was very cool. Also very different! We were told that casual dress was fine- like, really casual. I was wearing sweatpants and a tee shirts that morning, and I didn't have a chance to change before the wedding (it was fairly last minute), but I wasn't really under dressed at all. Some people wore suits, but most were in jeans and other casual clothes. We got to the hotel it was at, and were instantly hurried over to the bride and groom for pictures. He was in a fairly standard suit, she was in a disney princess style gown, all floaty and white and sparkly. She was positively dripping in diamonds (or something like them), and had a sparkly tiara cocked rakishly on the side of her head. She had a white fur stole around her shoulders.
After Katie and I took plenty of pictures with the bride, we were brought inside to a large room full of tabels and people smoking. In the center of each table was a dish full of candy and cigarettes, as well as plates of wrapped food. The dinner started shortly after, and everyone smoked and ate as more and more dishes were brought to the lazy susan in the center of our table. There was literally a cloud of smoke hovering over the room.
Eventually some of the people got up and stood around the top of the stairs, and the bride and groom came in to music that sounded like it was from Jurassic Park. Although some people were throwing roses and confetti on them as the went to the platform at the front of the room, most were still eating, talking, and smoking.
Throughout the ceremony we could barely see or hear what was going on, as everyone kept talking and a crowd of professional photographers clustered around the stage and took photos from every angle, sometimes right up in the bride's face.
The ceremony itself was nothing like in America. There was a lot of bowing- to the parents, to each other, to everyone. They drank from each others cups, and each of the parents made a speech. The bride's mother wore a tight sparkly pink dress that made her look a bit like a mermaid, and I thought she was a hired MC for the first half of the night. The whole thing was done like a fairy tale, with small lights hanging from the ceiling and millions of rose petals.
After the ceremony was over the bride and groom went off, and three girls in see through, neon yellow harem pants and bra tops with tassels hanging off came on stage and belly danced for a while. No joke. They would go off and change when the music ended and come back in some completely different costume and do more.
Eventually the bride came back in a beautiful red dress, and made the rounds saying hi to people. The parents, meanwhile, were going to each table and toasting with very strong alcohol. After the bride came back I left, because I had a lot to do and the main stuff was over. I heard later from Katie that the whole wedding party went off to kareoke afterwards. Incidentally, the groom was Katie's host uncle, so that's why we were there.
It's been great here. I love Kunming, I hope I come back someday. Next time I hope to be a little healthier- I've had this damn plague since we got here. I can't stop coughing! Two days ago they gave me a million pills to take three times a day, and I actually think I'm finally getting better. It's all Chinese medicine, so I have no idea what it is. Hopefully it's working.
Ok, bye!

Sunday, November 9, 2008


So China is pretty fab. I'm so happy that I can find my way around Kunming now... at least my part of it. I also came up with some great ideas for how to get find places. For instance, my acupuncture adventure. I wanted to get acupuncture, so Charles recommended I go to the hospital because it is the most clean. He wrote down the number for the foreign affairs department for me. I called it from a phone on the side of the road, and a Chinese woman told me in English to meet her on the sixth floor of the outpatient building at three (in fifteen minutes). I grabbed a Chinese guy off the street, handed him my notebook and the phone, and had him write down the address from her. I then showed what he wrote down to a taxi driver, and sure enough ended up at the hospital. I wandered around it for about fifteen minutes while I tried to find the right bit, which was actually pretty cool because I got to see a lot of interesting stuff. It's an experimental hospital, combining traditional Chinese medicine with Western. For instance, I wandered into the gynecology wing by mistake, and in an open room I saw all the traditional equipment, but also a woman getting stomach acupuncture. In every wing, from surgery to oncology, they have at least one traditional massage therapy room. While I was waiting outside the outpatient acupuncture room I watched a guy sitting in traction- he sat in a chair, with his neck in a sling pulled tight to the ceiling. He had to sit so straight in order to not get hanged!
When I finally got to the doctor, she sat me in a chair in a room filled with patients in beds and a million of her disciples. She took my pulse in a bunch of places, looked at my tongue, and asked me a load of questions. She sent me out to pay the 30 yuan (a little more than $4) for my treatment, and return with my receipt. When I did, she put me on a bed and did all the pulse stuff again, then palpated my stomach. She seemed dead certain it would hurt. She hit one spot and it totally did! She looked so satisfied when I flinched. Then she and her disciples gathered around my head and told me to go 'ahhhh'. It was a bit strange seeing about 18 Chinese doctors staring at my tongue. Eventually they decided to put needles in my hands and just below my knees, and put a heat lamp magnet thing over my stomach. They attached smoking balls of paper to the needles in my knees. The needles didn't hurt at all, I was very impressed. The areas where they put them got all warm, and twitched like when you are going to sleep. I lay there for about half and hour, then was set free into the wilderness of downtown Kunming.
We're reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed right now, and it's amazing. We have the best seminars about the nature of development and education and so much more. It's crazy hard to read, but so worth it. Chinese class is going great; I still can't pronounce anything, but I have learned so much. Charles is a great teacher. I think his goal is to send us home fluent in Chinese. The other classes are working from the textbook and not learning nearly as much. Charles is writing his own textbook! Our teaching is really fun. The kids are always so engaged when they talk to us, so there's a lot of energy in the room. We teach really basic stuff, but it's pretty hard to do.
It was so exciting on election day! Well, the day after election day for us. We watched live in our classroom as McCain conceded and Obama accepted, and it was crazy. We all wore our Obama shirts for days before and after. It was really fun at English corner this week, discussing it with people.
I asked some of the people at English corner about the importance of learning English and why they do it, and I got some pretty interesting answers. One girl told me she is Muslim, and speaking English she can talk to Muslims in other parts of the world. One boy said he can read Western news sources and find out things the Chinese government tries to keep secret.
This weekend, Alexis, John, and I went to the stone forest. We had a lot of trouble booking it, because Chinese hotels don't make you say how long you will stay and therefore never know if they have room or not. At first we were going to go to Tibet, but there has been so much rain that there have been a lot of mudslides and it would have been too difficult. We took a two hour car ride there, then found our hotel and chilled. We had a really relaxing weekend; lots and lots of sleeping, eating, chilling. We went to the stone forest Saturday after sleeping in really late. It was a beautiful day, perfect spring weather and completely sunny. The stone forest is amazing! The stones are incredible shapes, and so cool (temperature wise, but also cool in the other sense). We walked between them for hours- most of the time we were completely alone. In between them it is radically cooler than outside, and dark and so silent and still. It was really worth doing, and so relaxing- I guess the stones are very calming in some way. There were tons of caves and lakes. Alexis wanted to stay there, we think that caves may be her natural habitat. She is white enough! She borrowed my umbrella when we weren't shaded by the stones so she wouldn't have to be exposed to the sun.
To balance out all the awesome things about China, here are some not so good bits. I don't like how everyone spits loudly all the time. You can be walking alone at night and hear someone make a disgusting spitting noise the next street over. They are so loud! I also dislike how everyone here smokes all the time. In the house, in school, at dinner, while walking in the stone forest... it's absurd. I don't like how everyone has mopeds with hugely loud alarms which constantly go off, and how if there is traffic they will drive them down the sidewalk no matter how crowded it is, honking at people to get out of the way.
But essentially, China rocks.
Here are some more pictures, finally!
I'll add Machu Picchu soon.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


So here are all the details I didn't have time for this morning, plus a description of Kunming exploration day. Definitely read the post below this first though, it gives an introduction to what we're up to in China.
Becca's birthday was a few days ago, so her mother sent us all Obama shirts for her present. Since we haven't had laundry done since Machu Picchu, we all wore the Obama shirts three days in a row, until we got some clean clothes back. The Chinese loved it! Everyone asked about it, and I'm pretty sure all of China supports Obama. Thursday night we went to 'English Corner', which is when all the people in Kunming who want to practice English gather at a park and talk to each other and whatever foreigners are there. We were told not to discuss politics or anything controversial in school, but at English Corner everyone asked about all the taboo subjects. I ended up discussing gay marriage, Obama, democracy, the constitution, abortion, and more. Of course, there was also a lot of talk about food and friends and things Americans do for fun. I was very suprised by the wide range of opinions I heard on a very wide range of topics. Everyone here asks for your email, so I've already gotten loads of emails from people I've met at schools and at English Corner.
More details- Chinese bathrooms. Wow. What little modesty wasn't beaten out of me in Bua is definitely gone. Most of the public bathrooms are essentially a line of holes in the ground with waist high walls in between and no doors. I always try to get the stall farthest from the door, so I have to walk past all the Chinese women doing their thing to get there. It is a very strange experience when people are walking past while you go to the bathroom. I am not a huge fan. They also don't give you toilet paper, so everywhere I go I steal tissues and napkins. None of the sinks work, so I always have purel. At least in my house here I have a hot shower! No more rio for me.
Kunming exploration today wasn't actually alone, it was in groups of three. Alexis, John, and I were a group, and were given a temple to find. Actually we were handed a sheet of paper with three Chinese characters and told to go. We found an English major on the university campus within thirty seconds, and he walked us all the way to the temple. His name was Hawk.
We didn't actually go in the temple, because of the volume of beggars outside. We knew there was no way we could get through without giving them money, and we didn't have much on us. Instead we went to the zoo and aquarium just down the road. It was a pretty cool zoo, except some of the animals were in tiny, awful cages. There was one cage of absolutely emaciated lions we saw hidden behind some fences, clearly not open to the public. I held hands with an elephant! It was sticking its trunk through the bars of the fence, and if I stood on the wall and reached my hand over the moat we could touch. The elephant would stretch as far as it could, and caress my hand. It was a very strange feeling. John has a pretty cool picture of it, when he puts it up I'll post it.
The aquarium was not well taken care of. One tank just had a large, dead horseshoe crab in it. Another tiny tank had two large sea turtles, floating with their heads against the wall. A small bathtub sized pool of water was filled with coins as well as a sea turtle. It was very depressing.
Afterwards we walked around a bit, and found our way to foreigners street, where we got excellent hamburgers and ice cream. Overall we had an excellent day! Though very wet- it literally poured the whole time.I'm still soaking. Actually, Charles told us that it has never rained this much at this time of year, which is the same thing they told us in Bua. Pretty scary- global warming much?
Anyway, that's all for now. Tomorrow I think I'm going ice skating (if we can find the rink) and learning to make dumplings. I'll have much more regular internet now that I've figured out Kunming, so write to me! I miss you all!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Peru, China, Happy Halloween!

It has been ages! This is going to be such a long post. Apologies in advance. It's all interesting though. Of course.
So. Peru.
Cusco is my absolute favorite city ever. It is amazingly beautiful, and so interesting. We got there very early in the morning after a huge layover in Lima so we essentially hadn't slept in two days. They instantly gave us lots of coca tea (which is a bit like a religious experience), and I was good to go all day. It gets rid of your appetite and need to sleep. We had a quick introduction to the Incan trail with our guides, then were set free for the day. Since it was still just about 8:30, we had a lot of time. John, Alexis, Isabel, Katie Robson, and I went and hired horses and a guide to ride around the mountains and visit some of the temples. It was the most incredibly clear day, with the bluest sky. All of our pictures look photoshopped. Strangely enough there are eucalyptus forests on the mountain, so we rode through some of those too. When we got back we did some shopping at the markets, got ice cream, and wandered around. I spent a few hours walking around by myself which was nice, it was pretty much the first time alone I'd had in ages. Oh, also, John got hit by a truck. We were walking along the narrow sidewalk when a man walked straight at us. John stepped off the sidewalk to let him pass, and before he could get back on a truck drove into him. He stumbled foward and I thought he was dead, but he didn't even fall over or get a bruise.
The Inca Trail! It was very long. And very steep. There were a lot of stairs. It was quite hard. It was also incredibly beautiful. Nights were very cold, with more stars than I've ever seen. We'd lie out in our sleeping bags for hours, and see maybe six shooting stars a night. Huge ones, with fiery tails. It was amazing! The second day we hiked Dead Woman's Pass, which is exactly like it sounds. A million steep stairs. Towards the top we got into a cloud, and it was very cold and wet and you couldn't see in front of you at all. Day three we got caught in a hail storm! By the end we were all so tired and sore, but so glad we'd done it. Even when I was struggling up Dead Woman's Pass I was enjoying myself; how many people get to do that? I was hiking the Inca Trail! We saw many Incan ruins along the way, which were wonderful. All of their stones are perfeclty fit together, and they polished them with water and sand! The last day we woke up early and saw the sun rise over the mountains from some Incan ruins, before finishing the hike to Machu Picchu. Finishing the last climb to the Sun Gate and seeing Machu Picchu at last was absurd. We were sweaty and tired and sore, and suddenly it was there. It's as amazing as you would imagine. We spent hours there, walking around and learning about the Inca. They were brilliant astronomers, and all their buildings are built to work with the sun and stars. Their special animals were the condor, puma, and snake. They view the snake as cunning and intelligent just like we do, but their idea of the condor is very different. They think of it as peace, because though it eats meat it never kills. Very different concept of scavengers!
After Machu Picchu we went into the town, Aguas Calientes, and had the largest meal of my life. Noah, Alexis and I went to the hot springs for which the town is named. They are a green-yellow color, and apparently smelled like urine though obviously I couldn't tell, and very hot. I enjoyed myself, but Alexis and Noah were a little grossed out.
Then we flew to China! It took about two days, with five flights. After the first flight Robin's bag got stolen, with two computers and his journal inside. That was a very bag beginning. They could only check our bags through to LA because damn USA wanted to check them even though they weren't staying in the country. We only had an hour layover so we got security to let us off the plane early and escort us to get our bags. Which would have been great, if our bags hadn't been the last ones off the plane. The security guard helping us was insane, more like a tv caricature than a real life guard. He kept announcing anything he could think of, and making jokes about our names and whatnot. Then we had to literally run through the airport, and about five of us got lost and thought we weren't going to make it. But we did. I slept for most of the flight then played chess with John, on our awesome Incans vs. Spanish chess board.
Excellent food. EXCELLENT. You sit at a huge table and about twenty dishes are placed in the middle on a lazy Susan, and you pick what you want with chopsticks and put it in your bowl. They don't drink cold water here, they drink hot, so my mouth is always burned. We spent a few days in Tonghai at a hotel for orientation, visiting schools and temples and having lessons. Then we went to meet our families! Part of the fun is that we hadn't done laundry since Machu Picchu, so we were all wearing the same clothes for about a week. Right before we met our families we gave our laundry to a woman, but we didn't get it back until yesterday so I had to wear the same shirt with my family four days running. Since they speak not a word of English I couldn't explain why, and I'm sure they think I'm a slob. I'm wearing a clean shirt now though, it's amazing!
My family is a mother, father, and possibly son. By which I mean a teenage boy lives with us, but he never looks at me or talks to me and I almost never see him. We've only spoken because I got forced him to shake hands the first day, since then there has been no contact. My host mother is very nice but has a poor opinion of my intelligence since I got lost the first day three minutes from the house. I showed two men the address hoping they'd point me in the right direction, but they instantly called my host mother and told me to stay here, the only English they knew. So she thinks I'm an idiot. My host father is the happiest person. He smiles and giggles and talks to me in Chinese and doesn't care that I don't understand. I really want to squeeze him, he reminds me of a teddy bear. Liz lives very near, and her parents are best friends with mine. We always have dinner together. She has a host cousin who speaks English, and he eats with us too which is very helpful.
Every day we have Chinese lessons at the school which are incredibly hard but so interesting. I have a great teacher, Charles (his English name), who is one of our guides while here. He is a whiz kid computer hacker who skipped high school, and he keeps getting us TV shows for the computers. After lessons we have two hour seminars with the group, then lunch. After that we go to our schools. I'm with five others at the private school. My teaching partner is Dave. Yesterday we gave our first lessons, a day before we were supposed to. Because we didn't think we'd start til Monday we had nothing prepared, so we just talked to them about America and China and tried to have conversations to practice English. They are enthusiastic! We watched their PE class, which was very funny. They run around a basketball court as a group, and look like the wildebeasts from the Lion King more than anything else.
Last night was Halloween (even though for you it is right now), so we had a party. We went back to our room at the university in the evening, and ate lots of candy and watched a Chinese ghost story. It was so funny and strange, but sadly I fell asleep for most of it. No one here knows Halloween, so it was part of our lessons yesterday.
I have a bit more to say but I have to go meet at the university. We are doing Kunming exploration today, where they drop us off solo or in pairs somewhere in the city to find something. Essentially it will be about six hours of being lost, but it should be fun! I'll probably be back tomorrow and say all the other little details.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Quito and the Plague

We´re in Quito, leaving today for Peru. We´ve been here for a few days. There´s a lot to write in this one so I may have to come back to it later...
First off, I finally got sick which was unfortunate. The night we left Búa I got sick at our going away party. I had this crazy fever and cold sweats and aches, as well as a bad stomach and head. Sadly it´s still clearing up, but I felt so much better after the first day that I don´t really care though. So many of us have been struck down by the plague- Alexis especially (of course). She seems to have a parasite, so they gave her medicine and she´s healing finally. Most of the sick people have been from Lower Búa Compound, so they´re wondering if it wasn´t something up there making us sick. Yesterday I stayed home with a few other sick people while the rest went on a hike to prepare for Machu Pichu. Alexis and I lay in bed and watched Knocked Up and Lion King 2 and then slept, and it was the most relaxing thing I´ve done since the start of TBB. Last night John and I watched Wall-e, so it was a very relaxing day.
Back to the actual Ecuador stuff:
Guayaquil. Eight of us went on an independent travel there last weekend. We caught the bus after work on Friday, and stayed at the Dreamkapture Hostel. We were a little worried it would turn out to be a brothel, but the name was just a reference to the many dream catchers placed around the rooms, and it was actually very nice. We had a great weekend, but it was hardly relaxing. We didn´t sleep much at all. Saturday we spent literally the entire day walking around. We hit the boardwalk, museum of modern art and anthropology, the forced-quaint old part of town, and a million places in between. The old town had some of the best ice cream I have ever tasted. They give you tiny little scoops, so we all felt ok about buying from every store we passed. After the museum most of the group went to walk more around the city, but Lily and I split off to try to find new cameras. We were theoretically going to catch a bus to a Canon store we´d passed on the way, but we got very distracted walking down the boardwalk and ended up stopping and trying just about every ice cream store we passed (there were a lot). In the end it took hours, and by the time we caught the bus the camera store was long shut.
For dinner most people went back to the boardwalk to hang out and get something cheap, but John, Alexis, and I went to a sushi restaurant we passed during the day. We spent about a million dollars on a four person platter and it was so, so, worth it. Amazing. Everyone made fun of us afterwards for our splurge, but I would do it again in a second. I´m making myself so hungry just writing about it.
Back home we wrapped up the projects as best we could. I went to Freddy´s three times this week to build the single eco-toilet. We spent the whole time slapping cement around the egg shaped toilet; my hands were a mess! They´ve mostly gone back to normal now, but they were completely peeling from all the cement handling. Now they´re just super tough. We didn´t quite finish the toilet by Friday, but we got it to the point where it just needs the pipes set up to work. The physical toilet is all built. Similar story with the school toilets. We had another small project Thursday and Friday: mucking out a fish pond at ShinoPi. When the first team went on Thursday it was basically a small mud pond with a trickle of water running over the top. By the time we finished on Friday it was clearly a fish pond, though a dirty one. Basically you climb into the pond, up to your thighs in mud, and throw shovel fulls of mud onto the banks. It goes fairly quickly but it is incredibly hard!
Zach´s 19 birthday was this week. We had a little party for him in the morning at work with the group, and a huge one at night in Lower Búa Compound! Our families made a special celebration dinner of delicious fish, and we all ate together. Emily, Alexis, and I bought balloons in Guayaquil, and with the help of our host sibblings we blew up about 25. They all ended up on our bed, with Joselito doing his best to pop or steal all of them. We didn´t really know what to do with them so we put them in a blanket and threw them over Zach at the dinner table. The babies loved them! As did Don Herman, oddly enough. There was one point during dinner where we looked over and saw Don Herman pushed back from the table, bounching a balloon on his lap with the most absorbed expression I´ve ever seen. We had a cake after dinner, and a dance party! Sebastian put on his Tsachila music and we TBBers started dancing, and soon everyone was. Sebastian got the truck and parked it right outside the window so he could blast the music. We all ended up dancing with our host sibblings and parents as well as each other, and the party went on for hours. It was incredibly fun.
As I said, they had a goodbye party for us our last night. It was at the school, and had traditional dancing, the same nice fish they gave us at Zach´s birthday, some speeches, and tons of group photos. It was all brilliant until I got sick in the middle of one of the photos and had to run off.
Something I forgot- early in the week two tiny kittens appeared in the room we use at the school. We couldn´t figure out what they were doing there, but it turns out someone at the school brought them as a present for us. They were tiny balls of fluff, and they would run under our chairs during seminars and sit on the shovels and watch us. I was so sad we couldn´t take them with us!
I also can´t remember if I mentioned the Maripositas yet. If not: one of our dogs, Mariposa, had four puppies! They are tiny black nothings at the moment, unable to open their eyes or hear for at least a month. They are so cute though- you pick them up and they start sucking on your finger and cuddling against you.
In terms of baby animal news, John and Lily´s family also has nine baby chicks. They are called unolito, doselito, treselito, cuatrolito, all the way up to number nine who is not loved and is just nueve. No -lito for him.
I got a new camera! It´s the newest version of the point and shoot that I broke. I´m pretty happy about it. I´ve already got some nice pictures.
When we left, all of our mothers cried. To our infinite suprise, so did Don Herman! It was an interesting morning for Alexis and me. We both felt awful but we still had to pack, so we took loads of drugs to get us through it. Marcia sat with us the whole time and talked about the family, Búa, her life, our lives, and much more. I´m really going to miss our family here. They expect us all back for a visit (and maybe marriage) in four years, when we finish college. We´ll see. It would be great, though. I´ll put up a few photos later if I have the chance. Also, go to the TBB website (thinkingbeyondborders.org) in the next few days, as all of our media projects will be up. We´ve been crazy busy working on them for the past few days. My group was writing the article as well as the introduction blurbs for Costa Rica and Ecuador, and I´m quite happy with how they turned out.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Get thee behind me, Satan!

I have been exorcised. I am clean.
I went with Alexis and Emily to the shaman yesterday evening, to have my spirit cleansed. It was a beautiful house, with beautiful land all around it. Our host dad brought a packet of white candles and three eggs with him, which he gave to the shaman. The shaman picked a bundle of herbs then led us into a small hut. Alexis and Emily sat on a bench against the wall, and I sat next to the shaman in front of a table covered in stones, candles, and other magical objects. He lit a small, well burned white candle standing on a rock, and blew at the table for a while. He drank some brown liquid from a water bottle beside him, and spat it all over the table. Then he took a new white candle from the bundle, and started scrubbing me with it. He was whistling the whole time he worked. He thoroughly scrubbed my face, hair, arms, and torso. When he finished he held it against my head and chanted, which he later told us was to call the spirits to work with him. He lit it from the already lit candle, and stuck it on the table. Then he picked up the bundle of herbs, and started brushing me with them. When I say brushing, I really mean beating. He kept smacking me in the face with them! When he finished with the herbs he used an egg; I was sure it was going to break on me with how hard he was pressing, but it didn´t. I could feel the yolk shaking inside as he vibrated his hand back and forth. After the egg he used two rocks. When he finished scrubbing me with them he put one against my forehead, and started hitting it with the other. Hard! It was rather loud. Then he took another drink of the brown liquid, and holding it in his mouth sort of prayed over my head. Then he spat it all over me! He must have extensively practiced spitting to be able to spray so well. I could hear Alexis behind me almost burst into laughter at that part. I was quite suprised. He went to get another bottle, this time orangina, with an orangey liquid in it. The brown stuff was running down my face. Shaman spit. He put the orange one on his hands (it wasn´t actually orangina, so I was happy) and rubbed it all over my face, neck, and arms. Then he did the same with another sort of liquid. After that it was Emily´s turn, then Alexis. He didn´t chant over them, or clack the rocks against their heads. He focused more on my head, Emily´s neck, and Alexis´ eyes which was strange. He also reversed the order of rock and egg for them both. After he finished all three he put a tingly, wonderful smelling liquid on all of our faces and necks. He then brought us each a cup of bitter tea, which he said was medicine for everything. He let us ask questions about the cleansing, so we know now that the candle was to tell what was wrong with us, the herbs to get rid of bad things in our spirits, the egg for illness, and the rocks to generally cleanse (and banging them against my head was to raise my energy). I actually did feel really good afterwards, maybe just because it was all so calming.
Other news for the day: Alexis and I were on our bed when Emily came over to hang out. Joselito was chilling on our floor as he often does, when suddenly Alexis noticed a horrible smell. We thought Jose had farted and we were quite grossed out, until we actually looked at the floor. There was an enormous poop. It had a giant white worm in it. We were wondering if a dog had come in and done it when Jose wandered back in, with a huge poop stain down his pants. We were screaming and laughing, and Lisbeth ran in, didn´t miss a beat, didn´t giggle, just scooped it up in a shirt and ran out. I can´t believe we missed him pooping on our floor! I put my sneaker over the spot so we wouldn´t step on it, but Jose came back in beaming, so proud of himself, and kicked it away. So now we don´t know where it was. We just do a James Bond sneak next to the wall whenever we want to leave the room. I asked Marcia if she knew he had that thing in him; she said he´d been taking medicine for it, and that he had it because he eats sweet things. What?
Monday, Marcia came in and told me Fifi was going to die. She was throwing up and shaking and couldn´t open her eyes or stand up. I was so upset. I sat with her for about 45 minutes in the dirt. They all thought I was crazy, they just don´t get worked up over dogs like that. They were really nice about it though; Kevin, Sean and Emily´s eight year old host brother, came and sat still with me for about ten minutes and was so nice about Fifi even though he doesn´t like dogs and normally can´t sit still at all. They told Joselito that I was sad, so he brought me his bottle and stuffed toys. They said they´ve had a few dogs who died of that illness, and that only rarely do they recover. However, the next morning Fifi was running around, good as new! So that was wonderful.
I also talked a lot to my family here about water- they said that until about 15 years ago they drank from the river, though they always boiled it. Then the well was built. They said that all the pesticides the farmers use have polluted the river, and the big fish they used to eat aren´t there any more. It´s interesting because all the others who live with farming families have been told the river is dirty because of chemical plants upstream, nothing to do with pesticides.
New pictures!

Saturday, October 4, 2008


We´re at the coast right now- if I walk out of the internet cafe and cross the street, I´m literally standing on the beach. It´s so beautiful. I´m staying about 100 feet from where I am right now, and sleeping in an actually comfortable bed! I had my first good nights sleep last night since getting to Ecuador. We´re going back to Bua tomorrow, so we can start work again Monday. We´re really close to finishing the toilets at the school, and we´re building another at the house of a guy named Freddy, which will be used by many families. We´re also building a well at Shinopi, the cultural center for the Tsachila.
Last Sunday we baked our chocolate chip cookies- it was an adventure! We just gave up trying to measure and threw things into the bowl until it tasted right. We made so many cookies! They actually turned out really good- our families loved them. It was so fun, six of the people staying near the school came over to see our compound (they are full of admiration for how far we have to walk each day to get to and from the school. It really is uphill both ways). 14 people was a lot to fit in our kitchen, but it worked.
We worked really hard all week on all the projects- my hands are all blisteres from shoveling and lifting rocks. A bunch more people got the 24 hour stomach bug, although some of them may well have been sick from the slightly off cheese two of the families used.
Thursday the lights were out all day. When it got dark there was nothing to see for miles, except the amazing stars. Sean, Emily, Alexis, Ian and I lay in the yard and watched them for hours. We saw so many shooting stars, some huge! Fifi and Chito (our puppies) slept on my stomach the whole time.
This week was much more relaxed than last week, but so fun. I´m really tired though, all those nights of waking up a million times are catching up. I´m so glad we´re here for the weekend! Maybe I´ll catch up a little.
We all read a bit of either End of Poverty or White Man´s Burden this week, and discussed them during a few seminars. I have to say, I think I agree much more with Easterly than with Sachs. So little of the aid given is actually going to the right places, I don´t see how we can possibly achieve the millenium goals. I think Easterly´s ideas about doing small projects initiated by people within the community who know what is really needed is the way to go. I think Invisible Children is following his method- even though the support is coming from the states, Jolie is directing all the projects and deciding what is needed. IC is addressing specific needs, not trying to change the system from the top down the way the Sachs method often seems to. I think they have sort of different goals too, though; Sachs wants to end extreme poverty, while I think Easterly is talking about general poverty, and just wants to improve quality of life. Also, he says a million times how often the IMF and World Bank are huge factors in countries right before they experience a crisis, and he keeps saying how that they definitely aren´t causing them but won´t give any proof. If we hadn´t read Perkins last week I would accept that, but as it is I think he may be ignoring some important things. We read some other global empire things which support Perkins, so that´s kind of scary.
Oh, and other news; my small camera broke! I don´t know why. It just stopped working. So I really need to get a new one now! I´m having some seriously bad luck wtih cameras.
I´ll have internet again before we leave tomorrow, so you should write to me before then!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

More from Santa Domingo

Since I last wrote, a fair bit happened. Sunday we had a huge dance party with our host sibblings, to traditional Tsachila music. Monday morning we went to work, and first thing, they announced that Nina, one of our leaders, was leaving. Personal issues among the leaders; a case of ´differing expectations´. The way it was phrased sounded like our parents were getting divorced! It was unfortunate, and I´ll miss her, but it´s still fine. Right after she left someone said that there was a political rally in Santa Domingo at which the president was speaking, so we all hopped on a truck and left. We got to the rally really early, so we got seats right at the front. It was huge! When President Correa was speaking, he looked right at us (we were easy to pick out, as the only non-Ecuadorians) and started talking about how we were there to witness his country´s revolution. Then he switched to English and asked where we were from and how we were doing! On the main news channel the next day it showed him speaking to us in English. After the rally, the prefects sister found us and wanted to know what we are doing here so the prefect can help. Part of the new constitution apparently is being actively involved in improving quality of life, especially in the countryside, so they want to jump onboard our clean water project. They said it can be hard to figure out what the indigenous groups here want and need, so through us they could have a way in. Some of us are going to meet with the prefect next week probably. His sister came out to our project midweek to look around.
We had maggots for dinner two nights ago, which was the only meal here I haven´t loved. I´m sure they tasted all right, it was just too weird bringing them up to my mouth. I´ve uploaded a picture of them alive in a jar to photobucket, I´ll add the link to the bottom of this post. Last Sunday my host mother pulled out a basket of moldy corn, and invited all of us at our little group of houses to pull it off the cob with her, mush it up, and turn it into a traditional drink called Chicha. It was disgusting work, but pretty fun. We had the drink the next day- normally it´s alcoholic, but they didn´t add cane juice and said because of that, it wouldn´t make us drunk. I liked it, but everyone else hated it. We figured out that it´s because I can´t smell; everyone else was bothered by the fermented bit, but I just tasted the sugar and corn.
Tomorrow the families are going in to Santa Domingo to vote, so we´ve invited all the others who live close to the school to come see our commune and bake chocolate chip cookies with us. It´ll be an adventure; we don´t have measuring tools, and we have to use a bread oven. We´re going shopping after this for ingredients.
This week we dug so many more trenches, about half of which turned out to be not needed. John and I had a different project of fixing the sink where kids wash their hands and get water to flush the toilet. We sledge hammered concrete and pulled out the old pipes and filters, then made a new filter, dug a trench down the hill for the new pipe, put it all together, and covered it in new concrete. It took three days all told, but it actually worked! After that we were moved to making wooden boxes to put on the floor of the new toilets while they lay the cement, to hold the bathroom hole. John does woodworking for his hobby so he was fine, but I found it so hard! We measured wood, then hand sawed for hours, then measured and sawed some more, and finally got to hammer stuff together. He did everything twice as fast as I did, and twice as neat. I had to take my first box apart to make it tighter! I was immensly frustrated by the end.
Yesterday we went on a hike in the rainforest, which was beautiful. I won´t be able to capture how incredible, or how uncomfortable, it was. There are bugs everywhere. I am one large bug bite.
Speaking of which, Zach got a bug bite on his foot which got infected. The doctor in Santo Domingo lanced it a few days ago, then it got worse. Yesterday morning his foot was twice the size of the other, and all red and painful. He went to Quito with Robin and Isabel (who has been feeling faint for a while) to go to the hospital. They cut his foot open to fully drain it! Isabel may have an ear infection or something, I´m not too clear on the details. They are back now, but we haven´t met up with them yet.
I can´t think of more to write just now, but I know there is. I´ll be able to come back into Santo Domingo sometime next week I´m sure, so I´ll put the rest up then!
new photos!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Santa Domingo

I´m in Santa Domingo, the city near Bua. We came in for the day to shop and internet and whatnot.
Let´s get the bad stuff out of the way first: I got off the bus from Quito in Santa Domingo a few days ago, only to see that my bag had been slashed and my nice camera stolen. I´d been sitting on the bus with Sean, my feet on my bag the whole way, with the zippers under my feet. A few women with babies were sitting behind me, but at the beginning two guys had been there and gotten off. Sean´s bag was opened but nothing taken (because his camera was stolen in Costa Rica, so he had nothing valuable). They took my really nice Canon and my extra telephoto lens. They did not get my credit card or small camera. The thing is, the day before that I had used a memory card uploader to put some pictures online, and I realized yesterday that I put the cards back in the wrong cameras. So the small memory card from the point and shoot got stolen, but I still have my 8 gig card with Costa Rica pictures. Which is great, except that it doesn´t work in the small camera. So I couldn´t take any pictures! Fortunately John has a similar camera, and four memory cards. He gave me a two gig one, so I can still take photos. I have a few I´m trying to upload now. Robin and I filed a police report a few days ago, for insurance- the police here send you out of the station and make you pay to copy the reports four times!
Other than that seriously bad bit of news, everything is wonderful. My host family is really nice and interesting. The father, Jose, has been teaching us Tsafiki (the language here), and the mother, Marcia, teaches us to cook and wash our clothes in the river (which is also where we bathe). This morning she made Alexis and me bags out of traditional Tsachila cloth, which is covered in colorful stripes. We have an eight year old host sister called Lisbeth who is so sweet, and a one year six months old host brother called Jose (or Josito) who is so cute. We have like five dogs, two of which are three month old puppies, Fifi and Chito.
We catch the bus every morning to be at the school by eight. Then we spend the day digging, measuring, digging, eating, digging, and digging. We´ve dug absurdly long trenches all around the field for the ecological toilets. When we´re done working for the day we do our seminar (around 2:30). We are so tired and sore! It´s actually really fun though, when we´re all there digging together. As well as learning about the water issues, a huge part of this is learning about how a project works in a developing country. It´s very confusing. We´re working with Yana Puma and engineers without borders, as well as commmunity engineers. Everyone is confused. The American engineers insist on American standards, but the thing is that they don´t work in the community very well. Like they were telling us how they won the battle to have the larger size of supports they wanted, but yesterday we realized that the reason those don´t work is that the cinder blocks here are designed for the smaller ones, so we have to chisel them out in order to use the bigger. There´s a lot of miscommunication. We´re learning pretty quickly, just by watching, what not to do when running a project. There´s good stuff too; the school was the driving force behing the new toilets, they were offered few projects to choose from. The school went from fifty students to two fifty in one generation, so the septic tanks are awful. Ecotoilets are really useful, and obviously good for the environment.
Tomorrow our host father is going to paint his body with the black lines, so Alexis and I can see the traditional Tsachila outfits. Our host sister wore hers yesterday for a while.
We live very far from the school, in a small cluster with three other families that are all related. There are six other TBBers with us, the other eight are living in families right next to the school.
It´s so interesting here, learning how our family lives and what they eat. I have had so many bananas since we got here. They have really good soup. There are so many bugs! I got some cortisone today while we were at the mall for lunch. I think it´ll help a lot. Last night there was the biggest storm I´ve ever heard; Alexis and I woke up at five because it sounded like the roof was going to break. It continued to rain that heavily for about three hours!
In conclusion, I really love it here, although I may be more tired than I´ve ever been in my life.
Heré´s the photo link again, I added a few from Ecuador to the album. I hope it works!

Monday, September 15, 2008


We´re in Quito! It´s actually quite cold here. We had a huge orientation today that was incredibly interesting. We learned all about the history of the country, which is exceedingly relevant as they are voting on a new constitution on September 28th. It would usher in ´socialism for the 21st century´ per president Rafael Correa. We saw a pro-constitution demonstration today, as well as a great deal of anti-constitution graffiti. It´s so funny to learn about some of the ways the social structure here mimics the USA; Quito is the conservative mountain area, that views itself as the moral guardians of the country. The are very Catholic. They don´t like the new constitution because it allows abortion and potentially gay marriage. The super rich in the liberal, capitalist, coastal area don´t like it because it will nationalize a lot of business and redistribute wealth. Many, many, people like it though, because already Correa is following through with the free housing, schooling, and medical care he promised. The divide between coast and mountain here is like our red and blue states!
It´s also been really interesting learning about the economy. Ecuador is on the dollar, so essentially the economy has nothing to do with what´s happening here. Also, the way the world bank thorougly and intentionally screwed them over is suprising. Even now, 1% of the budget is education, over 50% paying off the interest on the world bank debts. They haven´t even touched the intitial amount owed! They are really not big fans of America. Correa told the USA to be out of the military base they set up in Monta by 2009, so it´ll be interesting to see how that goes. He´s also seriously standing up to US oil companies. There´s a huge lawsuit against Texaco for poisoning the water in the Amazon basin, asking for 12 million dollars. The oil industry here is contributing to deforestation, shrinking water supplies, and seriously harming the population of oil areas, yet the oil left in Ecuador is only enough to keep the USA running for six weeks! In 2006 they defeated a Free Trade agreement with the USA in a vote. They are really, really, really, not huge fans of America.
Land reform only happened in 1964- even in the 70´s there are newspaper articles selling land and the 300 workers who come with it. There´s a ton more interesting stuff historically, but not enough time to write it all.
I have a lot more I want to write about this all, but my keyboard is awful and the internet cafe is going to close and I want to write about where we´ll be for the next month. It´s a place called Bua, with 544 people of the Tsachila ethnic group. Alexis and I are in the same family for our homestay! We´re very excited. Bua is tiny- we´ll bathe in the river, talk to the SHAMAN(no joke), and admire the men with red hair and painted black stripes on their bodies to avoid evil spirits. Guys and girls aren´t supposed to have platonic relationships, so it´ll be a bit difficult. There´s some serious racism in the community, just like there is in all of Ecuador. The people in Bua are really quiet, especially the women. It´s very poor. We´ll be working with Yana Puma on installing ecological toilets, because currently the water systems are hugely unsanitary. Ecuador has tons of water resources, but deforestation and global warming are rapidly shrinking them. The glaciers that give Quito water are shrinking by ten meters a year!
It is so interesting here, and beautiful. We´re leaving for Bua tomorrow early, we´ll see how the internet situation goes.
Here are some photos from Costa Rica and Ecuador!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Last Night in Costa Rica

Hey everyone!
I´m back at the hostel in San Jose, flying out to Ecuador tomorrow morning. We got in today around four thirty, then went to the mall and food court. I went with Alexis and John (two of the group), and Nina (one of our leaders) to see Eastern promises. It was pretty strange to have them speaking Russian with Spanish subtitles.
Sorry in advance if there are a lot of mistakes, this is a tough keyboard. It feels different, and many things are in different places. Cool keys though- ñ, ç, etc.
It has been amazing here. This week was orientation, so we spent a lot of time getting to know each other and talking about who we are and why we´re here. We also did a lot of discussions about how the program will work. We also spent hours discussing what development is, and the readings we did (Ishmael, and parts of the End of Poverty). It´s been pretty intensive discussions, but so many cool things just for fun. We learned how to surf on a completely deserted beach. The rainforest goes right down to the water, and there are little islands off the coast you can see. It´s actually kind of far from where we´re staying, so we have to hike pretty far through forest while carrying surf boards to get there. When we go, it´s mostly at five am so we can be back for breakfast! I have some pretty impressive bruises from the surf boards. It´s hard, but finally this morning I really got it, and could actually get up and stay up. We´ll be able to surf again in South Africa, although we´ll be in waters full of great white sharks. Speaking of which, we saw some here the other day while we were snorkling. Also some dolphins and whales. We´ve seen some sloths and monkeys and cool birds too! And I didn´t see a sea turtle, but other people did.
We went on a hike to the rainforest one day, and went all the way in to this crazy mountain stream with waterfalls. We collected a ton more bruises from that, because we spent the whole time climbing up waterfalls and jumping (falling) off. It was beautiful- we were the only ones there, and the trees hang right over the icy blue water and there are birds and butterflies everywhere.
We went kayacking in the mangroves one morning too. It was hard work, but so cool. I´ll eventually get pictures up, because I´m not going to be able to describe it. Our guide pointed out an alligator when we got to the main body of river, but none of us could tell it apart from the logs.
We went on a sea turtle hike one night along the beach- the only people who saw turtles were the few who stayed til two am, the rest of us went home around midnight.
The noises here are so loud- birds and bats and lizards (which make this insane chirping nyuck nyuck nyuck sound).
Everyone in my group is as amazing as they first seemed. People play guitar and dance and have travelled all over the world and speak different languages and have tons of interesting experiences and information. Everyone´s interested in things too- people just go for it, all the time. We´re all learning things from each other, so hopefully I´ll come home able to play guitar and things like that. We have a small one with us.
The coastline here at low tide makes a whale´s tale, so everything around here is named after whales.
I´m sure I´ll think of more things, but for now I have to sleep because we´re having breakfast at six thirty so we can fly to Ecuador. I was up this morning surfing, and it´s been a long day.
I think this is going to be an amazing year. Even though it´s just orientation my mind is fried from all the new things we learned and talked about. I can´t wait to start my homestay!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Costa Rica

We made it to Costa Rica! The planes took a very long time, especially since we couldn´t land in Costa Rica and had to fly to Panama to refuel before trying to land again. Everyone here seems really nice and interesting, so it should be great!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What I'm Doing

I graduated high school in June, and I'll be going to Tufts University in September 2009. This blog is for me to keep in touch with everyone back home while I'm away on my gap year. In July I went to Uganda with Invisible Children for two weeks, and eventually I'll copy my travel journal from that trip onto this blog. It won't be for a while though; I leave the day after tomorrow, and I'm not going to have regular internet access until I get home next May. I'm doing a program called Thinking Beyond Borders. I'll have internet at various points during the trip, and I'll update this whenever I can.

Here's the program itinerary:
Orientation: One Week - Costa Rica: Introduction to Curriculum, Team Building, Goal Setting, Safety Training
Unit 1: One Month - Ecuador: Clean Water and Development
Enrichment Week: Peru: Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Unit 2: One Month - China: Public Education and Economic Growth
Enrichment Week: Cambodia: Angkor Wat and Beaches
Unit 3: One Month - Vietnam: Environmental Conservation
Enrichment Week: Thailand: SCUBA Certification
Unit 4: One Month - India: Sustainable Agriculture
Enrichment Week: Delhi: Delhi and Taj Mahal
Unit 5: One Month - South Africa: Public Health & the AIDS Epidemic
Enrichment Week: Addo Park: Safari in Addo National Park
Culmination: Six Weeks - USA: Processing and Presenting

While I'm away you can email me, but I may not get it for ages or have the chance to respond. If you want to write to me (or send food!), these are my addresses:

The dates listed here account for weekends when offices may be closed as well as travel and so are NOT the actual date when students will be leaving the country.

ECUADOR - Mail can be received in Ecuador until October 17th.
Fundación Yanapuma
Veintimilla E8-125 y 6 de Diciembre

CHINA - Mail can be received in China until November 11th.
Lu Yuan and Sam Mitchell
Center for Cultural Learning and Development
School of International Education
Yunnan Nationalities University
12.1 Street #134
Kunming, Yunnan, 650031

VIETNAM - Mail can be received in Vietnam until January 1st.
c/o Rylan Higgins
1B Pham Ngoc Thach
District One
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

INDIA - Mail can be received in India until February 6th.
Manda Parikh
Indian Society for Community Education
Community Education House off Ashram Road
Navjivan Press Road
Ahmedabad, Gujarat

SOUTH AFRICA - Mail can be received in South Africa until March 16th.
Mr. Rocky Reeder
Willing Workers in South Africa – WWISA
PO Box 2413
Plettenberg Bay, 6600
South Africa