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