Saturday, September 27, 2008

Week 2 in Bua: The Cliff Notes Version

Hi again to everyone!

First I just want to say that even though I don´t really have time to reply individually to everyone´s emails and comments on this muy lento (sloooooooooow) internet connection in Santo Domingo, I love to hear from you all -- anything and everything from politics and the economy to family news or about what you´ve been up to -- so thanks so much for keeping in touch! (Those of you not being in touch take this as a subtle plea for updates on your lives).

I don´t know how long it feels like it´s been since I left the U.S., but I´d have to say at least two months...and we´ve just broken 3 weeks I think! But I´m having the time of my life.

I think I´m going to depart from the play by play style this blog has adopted in the interest of not spending every Saturday between now and March at internet cafes the world over, but don´t worry, the good stuff will still be here and I´ll have more stories to tell when I get home :-D

This past week has been a whirlwind. I´ll start with Monday.

Monday: Goodbye to Nina and a Hello from Correa
Monday was a rollercoaster of a day. We arrived at work at 8am ready to go. While we were sitting around waiting for our morning seminar (it fluctuates between morning and afternoon...) Lily and John mentioned that their homestay father was going into Santo Domingo to hear Rafael Correa speak. Correa is the current President of Ecuador and has spearheaded the writing of the new constitution. There is a referendum on the constitution tomorrow.

We all jumped at the news and started talking about how we should go in and see him speak. Robin went outside for a few minutes to make some arrangements and before we knew it we had plans to head into Santo Domingo at 10 to hear the noon speech.

But first, some news. As we sat in a circle, ready for our seminar, Robin said he had some sad news: Nina, the third guide with us other than Robin and Sandy (the married couple and two thirds of the TBB founding team), would be leaving. We recieved as good an explanation as Robin and Sandy could give. Basically, the program just wasn´t a good fit for her. A letter was sent to our parents that probably explained it as honestly and fully as it was explained to us. We were all very surprised, they had all three done a good job of keeping any strife away from the group, and we were all sad. A few tears were shed and there were hugs all around and then a cab came and spirited Nina away. Her bag had been in the room and no one had noticed. We´ll all miss Nina, but we´re all fine and Robin and Sandy have made sure that there will be a third staff member with us at all times until an official replacement hopefully meets us in China.

After that, we had an hour long discussion about Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (read it!) and then hopped in the back of our now semi-official group truck with it´s driver, Wilson (not my homestay father), and headed to Santo Domingo. We arrived at about 10:45 and they were still setting up. I ended up sitting next to a Tsachila man from another villiage who was probably about 25. We talked about the government (Correa´s OK...better than the line of corrupt presidents they´ve had in the last ten years), the constitution (he liked some of it and thought it would pass), birthdays (don´t ask), and the American government and the war in Iraq (this seems to come up a lot and mostly people really don´t get it, really want information). At one point I was trying to explain why some American government officials don´t like to talk to other countries and he finished my sentence for me as I searched for the right words in Spanish: they think they´re superior. Yeah...pretty much...good call... Hearteningly, though, all the Ecuadorians I´ve met so far may not be fans of our government, but they have nothing against us as Americans personally. In fact, as you´re about to hear, they rather like the fact that we´re here visiting and helping out.

At noon some provincial officials including the governor spoke and a lot of giant checks were given out (some micro loans, I believe). Finally, at 1:30, Correa got up to give his speech. While we´d been sitting around looking at our cartoon pamphlets explaining the new constitution, a woman working for the campaign came up and talked to us, asking who we were, where we were from, what we were doing etc and we ended up being introduced as one of the groups being welcomed which was pretty cool. We thougth that was the end of it, but in the middle of his speech, Correa mentioned that some foreigners were present and then switched into English to welcome us to Ecuador, ask if we were enjoying the country and tell us that they were in the middle of a revolution and needed change. Then he calmly continued on in Spanish. Oh, and I have it all on video thanks to my handy little cannon point and shoot :-D I think Sandy is going to try to put it up on the website at some point!

His speech was a little hard to understand because of the microphone feedback, but Isabel translated it for us afterwards. What I did understand though, was a part about change that sounded just like Obama. Voting for the constitution is voting for change, voting no is voting for more of the past. The "past" here is about at popular as it is in the U.S., maybe even less so. As far as delivery goes, Correa is very charismatic and all the women seem to find him muy guapo. (I asked my homestay father how old he is and he guessed 38. ) He speaks fluidly and forcefully without any notes or a teleprompter to guide him and even improvises well in English as we found out. (He is a U.S. educated economist from some college in the midwest I think...I don´t remember exactly where.)

Afterwards, we ended up networking with some of the local prefects adn the sister of a prefect ended up visiting our project site in Bua. It would be great if we could get them to work with Yanapuma (the organization we´re partnered with here) and support their efforts. All in all, it was a very sucessful trip.

Tuesday through Thursday:
We´ve been workign on our project and looking into projects we´ll be starting next week. Most of the trenches we dug the first week ended up being useless. A few of us helped redesign part of the project and it looks like it´s good to go for now. It´s been frustrating, but educational and in the end something good will come of it.

My homestay partner, Isabel, has been sick, so I´ve been taking care of her. She finally went into Quito to the hospital yesterday and actually just walked into the internet cafe as I typed that. She´s fine and she´ll get rest and get better. Don´t be alarmed. If anything, feel good knowing that we get good medical care here when we need it. Mostly we´ve all been a little sick on and off...just different food stuff mainly, and an inflamed foot due to an infected bug bite...or an alergic reaction to it...or something.

Friday: The Jungle
Instead of work on Friday, we took a trip to a forest preserve and walked around with a guide for 3 hours. It was pretty interesting and I got to take lots of fun pictures and play with the macro function on my camera so I was thorougly entertained.

Anyway, I´ve been trying to keep up with the news whenever I get internet. I read about the debate today, and Zack and Isabel got to watch it while they were in Quito last night so I have some first hand sources, too. I hear the economy sucks. Sorry about that. The dollar is rockin´here in Ecuador. A bottle of water is 25 cents. Lunch today, crab soup, chicken and juice, was two dollars.

Oh and a mini soap opera update...the girl who ran away was actually, as far as I can now gather, my host mother´s niece and is now living with us. She is fifteen, could pass for seventeen on looks but acts younger. She´s happy all the time now and is perfectly nice. Her daughter lives with us on and off...I think she´s next door with the grandparents the rest of the time but I´m not positive. Also, the home she no longer lives in is also a TBB homestay family, but luckily it´s in the area with the four homestays all together so the TBBers assigned there get family time in with "the commune" as we call it. That´s all. Just thought I should finish the story I started.

I´m off! I think we´re taking a little trip to the coast next weekend so I don´t know if I´ll have internet...So bye for now and keep in touch!


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sara-Ma Hue From Santo Domingo

Hey All!

I have some internet time today, so I thought I´d try to catch up on blogging (after reading my 40 emails! No, I´m not really THAT popular...half of them were from facebook and the Obama campaign) I have about 20 pages of journaling from the last, what?, five days so we´ll see how this goes. I apologize in advance if this ends in a cliffhanger :-)

So, I´ll try my best to go chronologically.

September 16
We at breakfast in the hostel where we met a British gapper named Ross. He had just arrived in Quito the night before and was planning on staying at the hostel for eight months and teaching English in a school. And traveling, of course. He didnt´know anyone and didn´t really seem to know what he was supposed to be doing, but he seemed excited (although he said his plan was "a little mental, really." Gap year students from England that end up halfway across the world tend to have a bad reputation for not being particularly hard-working because, since so many people in England take gap years, it´s the stereotypical lazy, rich kids that end up in places like Quito. That´s the stereotype we TBBers are fighting against, or so I´ve been informed. Ross seemed nice, though, and I hope to see him when we return to Quito next month to see how it ended up working out for him.

After breakfast, we took a van to the public bus station. We´v ebeen warnexd several times about pickpockets and thieves who will slit open our bags, so we were on our guard. We got on our bus, put our big bags in storage, and took our little carry-ons with us, all our valuables in them. I wrapped my bakcpack around my foot and made sure that I knew the people sitting behind me in case it slid that way. Before we left the station, an armed police officer in a kevlar vest boarded the bus and made the guy sitting diagonally behind me get off. I have no idea what he supposedly did wrong, but I doubt it was your normal visa check because the guy seemed to be Ecuadorian (as most everyone at the bus station other than us was).

After about an hour on the bus, a movie started playing on teh flat screen TV at the front. It was loud and in English with Spanish subtitles. "What classy movie did they choose to play?" you ask. Superhero Movie of course! For those of you not lucky enough to have seen this cinematic gem, it´s a spiderman spoof along the lines of Scary Movies 1 through 3 or Not Another Teen Movie. Apparently, though, the movies they normally play are incredibly violent, so I guess you could say we got lucky.

We got off the bust in Santo Domingo. Alexandra grabbed her carry-on only to find that it had been slit open. Although she´d had her feet on it the whole time, someone in the row behind her managed to slit open the side and grab out her nice camera. Everything else was still there, including the point-and-shoot camera she´d brought which, luckily, had the wrong memory card in it (the one with all her photos, which she´d taken on the nice camera). The guy who likely took teh camera had gotten off at an earlier stop. She´s reported it to the police. That´s about the end of that. You´ve got to be careful, but sometimes things happen and sometimes it sucks.

We were met at teh bus stop by a Bua man dressed in dark grey slacks, but with only a red piee of fabric drapd across his chest. He had his hair traditionally done: buzzed on the side and dyed red and flattened out on the top so that it looke das if he´d put a leaf on his head. We alll piled into the back of a truck, the kind with a big flat bed and wooden sides that reached about chest height, and hung on for out 20 minute ride to Bua. That seems to be the preferred method of transportation here, other than motorcylces, which we aren´t allowed to ride. That´s how we got back to Santo Domingo today.

Bua is really jsut a lot of houses spaced out along the road tha tcomes from Santo Doingo. Your address is the number of the kilometer your house is on. For example, the school is at kilometer 15 and the cultural center, where we headed first, is at kilometer 21.

Once at the center, we ate our bag lunch sandwhiches provided by Yanapuma (the organization we´re working with here in Bua). The had of the center, Alfonso, welcomed us, first in Tsafiki, then in Spanish. He was very emotional and very kind. He looked almos teary thanking us for coming from so far, telling us to be sur eto ask if we needed something, describing his hope for our cultural exchange and expressing pride in his village that has come so far in the last five years. We were shown their small cultural museum and introduced to our homestay fathers. Mine and Isabel´s is Wilson. Initially I thought that our family had sent a son to pick us up, but no, he´s the dad. He could possibly be 28, but at first glance I would have guessed 21. He has already hoste dthree volunteers which is why they put Isabel and I with him. Although we both said we´d eat anything, they had us down as vegetarians and actually, Wilson thought we were vegan. That would be rather difficult in Bua. You would eat a LOT of rice. He was very relieved to find out that we´ll eat mostly anything.

After a little hike through their ¨reserva¨ (not easy in flipflops...I fell twice...very gracefully, of course...and picked up about 50 bugbites along the way) we hopped back in the truck and got dropped off at our respective homes. Isabel and I were dropped off first, so we didn´t know where anyone else was living. We, however, are right next to the school, and I have since discovered that Liz and Noah live across the street from the school, two other pairs live down the street, and then the other four groups live in a little family group about a 10 minute walk down the road and then another 10 into the woods.

Isabel and I actually have our own house! Our family built it to house volunteers, although at first we were worried we´d kicked them out of one of the family houses. It´s basically a cement block with a corrugated metal roof. There are two bed in little side rooms, but we share a bed so that we can both benefit from the one hot pink, butterfly bed net. There aren´t doors other than to the outside, so when the kids in the family come to play, they get very curious about our stuff. There are 6 different calendars on the walls, one is even a little scadalous, being used as decoration. There are also three or four family photos.

When we arrived, Wilson introduced us to his three kids Anderson (almost 8...his birthday, I´ve since found out, is October 23), Magdalena (6) an dBenicio (2), as well as his wife, Germania. They all left us to unpack which took about 1 minute since there arent any drawers or shelves, but soon Andy and Magdalena were back to play. He´s very rambunctious and not particularly talkative; she, on the other hand, seems really smart and talks almost non-stop. She´s that kid that tells you all the awkward family secrets her parents don´t want you to know and in addition to being adorable, that makes here rather useful. (She already let us know that her mom is pregnant, which we found out again from Germania only yesterday). Out front, a volleyball game was going on. It looked like a bunch of 20 year old guys, so I was surprised to realize that Wilson was one of the jugadores. Benicio showed up a little later to hang out and I ended up kicking a soccer ball around with Andy for a few minutes.

It´s becoming apparent to me that I will never finish this post in my alotted time since nearly everyone else has vacated the internet cafe and we have to be in groups of four, so I´ll try to hit some high points and summarize.

The family speaks Tsafiki among themselves and Spanish to us. Our first night, Wilson spent time with us translating some basic Spanish phrases to Tsafiki and the Grandpa, who I think lives in the family house, teaches us a word every time he sees us. The title of this post, Sara-Ma Hue, means something like ¨good morning¨although I´m sure I´m spelling it wrong.

The first night we bathed using water in a little bucket in the back yard because it was already late, but since then we´ve been bathing in the river. It gets about thigh deep at its deepest and it´s a brownish color because of the dirt and moss that gets kicked up, but clean has quickly become a relative term and ¨there is dirt on me¨dirty is preferable to ¨disgusting and sweaty¨dirty.

Before dinner our first night, we were talking to the grandmother and she asked us how old we were and if we had boyfriends. We said 18 an no and she asked if we met someone, would we stay in Bua. We tried to explain no, we were on a schedule, and we would only be here for a month anyway. She said that most people have two kids by 18 although I´ve since found out that our host mother is almost 30, so she didn´t have kids until 22. Then again, I think our family may be a little more progressive than most. Wilson helped make breakfast one morning and when Isabel mentioned that she hurt her foot, he rubbed lotion on it and wrapped it in leaves he had Germania warm with a candle before replacing the Ace bandage.

We generally eat breakfast at about 7 and head to the school about 7:45. The project has quickly become an interesting lesson in international development. What we´re bascially doing is building six ¨banos secos¨to replace the eight year old septic system at the local school. The problem is twofold. First, the system was built to be used by 70 students and the school has already grown to 250. Secondly, there is no way to clean out septic tanks in Bua. It has already overflowed into the field, although an engineer came last year to put in a pipe so that now it overflows elsewhere. We´re basically manual labor. I have moved dirt from one pile to another and then respread it over the field, I built some stairs out of rocks put into holes we dug in the dirt (becuse the field is about 10 feet below the level of the school), and I dug a trench three feet deep into clay (not alone, but with the group). We get work done really quickly, which is good, but it´s starting to look like this project may only last one more week.

The really interesting part though, is the organizational issues we´ve been having. I´ll try to summarize, but before I do, I´d like to say that everyone involved is incredibly generous and well meaning. Basically, the problem is this: Yanapuma is a two year old NGO that has been working in the community for about as long as it´s been in existance. They talked to the director of the school, Guillermo, to see what kind of project he´d like done and he said some toilets would be great. So then Yanapuma called up the Portland chapter of Engineers without Borders (an organization that is itself only about 8 years old) and had them design the project. They sent down an advance team in March and asked good questions (example: Do your cinderblocks have holes in them? Answer: Yes. Problem: It turns out that the wholes don´t go all the way through.) They raised funds and headed down here on accumulated vacation time, making their airfare their donation to the project. When they got here they found that a local construction crew had been hired. Then they began to argue with the crew about materials and design because first of all, Ecuadorian buildign stadards are way more lax than those in teh U.S. and thus much cheaper and secondly, as evidenced by the cinderlbock prolem, the plans had to be changed and no one agreed on exactly how. I´m sure it doesn´t halp that all the engineers sent down here are electronics or water research engineers adn not actually people with construction experience. The engineers seem to be getting frustrated and demoralized because teh constrction crew builds better than they do and even seems to know better regarding some design issues and they expected this to be THEIR project. Also, when Cathy, one of the engineers, introduced herself to us, she said she was project manager and then qualified that with "Ï don´t know what that means, exactly.¨ There is a leadership void which is leading to miscommunication. Yanapuma has one plan, Engineers without borders has another and the construction crew has a third. Then of course there´s TBB. As I said, we´re basically being used as manual labor. Since we move so quickly, it sounds like we might build some wells in this and other Tsachila communities during out last few weeks here.

One more fun fact and then I have to go. We´ve dropped into the middle of a family crisis. My host mother´s sister left her husband and child and ran to Santo Domingo. They were looking for her for a few days, but have since found her and she may or may not be the new girl that started living in our house yesterday. She´s supposed to be fifteen and has a 14 month old daughter. The girl looks about our age and has been carrying around a little girl. Ian and Katie are in the family she left. Somehow though, no one seems particularly perturbed. Everyone is happy and nice and apparently very easygoing.

Anyway, I´ve got to go. Everyone is waiting.

Much love!

P.S. Again, I don´t know when I´ll be back on the internet...Sorry!

Monday, September 15, 2008

A fond farewell for now...

Hi again!

I´m at an internet cafe in Quito, Ecuador that closes in about fifteen minutes, so forgive me if this post is a little short. I´m going to hit the important points first.

We had a lot of orientation today with Yanapuma, the program we´re parterned with here in Ecuador and what I´ve gathered is basically this:
1) We leave for Bua early tomorrow morning. Bua is hot and humid and at sea level, unlike Quito which is at 9,000 feet and for which I broke out the long sleeved shirt and the jacket.
2) Bua is UBER rural. We will bathe in a river. If we´re lucky a toilet will be a hole in the ground. I´m thinking no internet access...although in Santo Domingo, a town about 45 minutes away (I think) I might get some internet...I can go there on weekends, but if you don´t hear from me for a while, I´m most likely both still alive and totally fine.
3) My homestay partner is Isabel. She is actually from Guatemala and so is fluent in Spanish. I´m a little sad that I´m not the more advanced Spanish speaker, but on the other hand, she will likely just chat away with our family and the experience will be almost as if we weren´t partnered. Also she´s really nice. Not than I have anything really bad to say about anyone in TBB. Everyone is fascinating, unique and pretty generally friendly and awesome.
4) Bua is actually a villiage where the majority of the population is from an indigenous tribe called the Tsachila (I think...I don´t have my notes with me) and they speak a language called Tsafiki. I fully intend to learn some Tsafiki while I´m there. The school we´ll be working at is even a bilingual school and I´m pretty sure the two languages are Spanish and Tsafiki.
5) We will be working to bring sanitary toilets to the local school, and by ¨bring¨I mean build from scratch. It seems there will be a lot of digging and pouring of cement. The toilets we´re building are eco toilets so that all the human waste that goes in will come out either immediately or in six months as some form of fertilizer. Pretty awesome, right?
6) The traditional gender roles are apparently pretty strong in Bua, to the point where we girls may not be able to get a lot of digging or carrying in at the beginning without the men offering to help us out. Also, there is apparently no such thing as platonic friendships between men and women so I´m really curious to see what happens in the homestays where we have one girl and one boy. I´m a little sad I´m not in one of those as well, but honestly, I can´t really complain. There is no way this isn´t going to be an amazing experience.

That pretty much covers the basics. We had a two hour lecture about Ecuador´s history today, followed by a short introduction to Bua by a girl who visited for the first time last weekend, so my information may not be perfectly accurate. Then we had about an hour and a half of Spanish class...I was in an advanced group so we ended up talking about American politics after twenty five minutes of reading on Ecuadorian culture and learning words pertinent to our work in Bua. We were all trying to explain the war in Iraq to our instructor. She was honestly interested, but didn´t really understand why we couldn´t just pull out immediately. We figured out that she thought it was a war medieval style, with two armies charging each other on a field (or basically like opposed to the policing and counter insurgency operation that it is in reality). She also knew a little about Obama and McCain (whom she called McClain).

What surprised me is that Ecuadorian politics right now is equally as exciting as American. They elected a new president in January of 2007 and he´s been instituting more reforms than any recent past president of Ecuador. Apparently they go through presidents pretty quickly here, with a lot not finishing terms. There is a referendum on a new constitution in two weeks. It would be Ecuador´s twentieth since it´s independence from Spain in 1809! Included are causes legalizing abortion and gay marriage as well as mandating free schools (and that 7.5% of the budget be spent on education) and free health care. The catholic church is against it because of the gay marriage and abortion clauses and the country is ostensibly 95% catholic (supposedly there are more people that practice indigenous religions than will admit it on a census), but most people seem to think it will pass. The question is, where will Ecuador get the money to pay for all this. Supposedly the government will start to tax the rich which it apparently does not do as of now, but with nearly 50% of it´s annual budget going to pay off the INTEREST on loans from the world bank (read: America conned Ecuador into perpetual debt so that it would be under our political should really read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man) and only 1% of the budget currently allocated for education it still sounds a little far fetched to me.

Anyway, the internet cafe is closing, so I´ve got to go pay my seventy cents for the hour.
I´ll see ya when I see ya (but not if you see me first)
Quick! Name that movie reference!

Love to all,

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Diez Dias en Bahia Ballena

Hi everybody!

I´m sorry it´s been quite some time. We didn´t have internet in the little town we´ve been in for the past week plus, or at least, I heard a rumor about an internet cafe the day before yesterday but I never found it. I promise when I´m settled in my Ecuadorian homestay I´ll work out internet at least once a week.

As far as formalities go, I´m alive, just a tad sunburned, a lot bug bitten (picked up some Off Deep Woods in una farmacia today on the way back to San Jose so we´ll see how that goes) and having an amazing time so far. We´re supposed to write in our journal for at least five minutes a day and I´ve been reasonably good...When I write it´s more like forty five minutes...but then I skip some days. I´ll work on it. The journal keeping is good for you all, though, because I have some prerecorded awesome experiences to share. So, on the the details!

After my last post, we got up the next morning and took what was supposed to be a four hour bus ride (a charter bus, not public) to Bahia Ballena (there´s an accent over the "i" but I´m not good at this computer...I think that will become a common refrain over the next few months). Bahia Ballena is near Playa Uvita if you feel the need to mapquest it. The ride turned into more like 6 hours because we ran into some construction and were stopped dead for about thirty minutes...and we stopped for lunch at this beautiful little restaurant on the side of the road. As a side note, the food here has been consistently good. Breakfast is always yesterday´s rice mixed with yesterday´s black beans and some cilantro and then some scrambled eggs. Lunch and dinner is usually rice, beans, salad, some kind of fresh juice and either chicken, steak, pork or fish. The fish at Bahia Ballena was top notch...really fresh, obviously.

Anyway, we arrived at our hotel and organized three to a room. There were three little cabin looking things with four rooms in each. We were the only people staying at the hotel. The rooms were nice with tile floors and bathrooms in each. Only cold water, but that wasn´t really an issue. We at about three quarters of our meals at the hotel (called Canto de las Ballenas if you want to google it) and, as I said before, very good. The hotel is, I believe, run by a coop of people that live in the town. They were all really nice. Nice is a word I would consistently use to describe people I´ve met thus far. ¨Pura Vida,¨ which translates at ¨pure life¨but really means something like easy going and hang loose, is a Costa Rican motto and outside of San Jose at least, it definitely applies. This results in what I like to call ¨Costa Rican Time¨which results in taxis coming about 30 minutes late and estimates of distance to be between 5 and 30 minutes short, but it doesn´t seem to matter. I´ve got to get to some concrete details, like I promised though, or I never will. Let me grab the journal and start at the beginning with choice exerpts and paraphrases.

Day 2 in BB: Rainforest Hike and Group Constitution
After breakfast and some group bonding exercises that I won´t go into we drove a ways to a specific section of the rainforest (with an impromptu safari on the way...¨look! a monkey! look! a sloth! and a toucan! let´s pull over and look!¨) where we hiked down a steep hill with some wooden logs made into rough stairs for about twenty minutes. At the bottom was a little waterfall in part of a river that quite literally looked fake it was so picturesque. We climbed up above the waterfall where there was a little pool and some rocks to jump off of. I did jump, but my ears popped and hurt for the rest of the day. Still, I jumped and I so don´t regret it. I just may never do it again. We had lunch and explored the river and the area for a few hours, then hiked back up. It was quite the hike...very steep. I´m freaking out a little about Macchu Pichu...I´m going to try to find time to go running in Bua (the village we´ll be in in Ecuador). Later that day, back at the hotel, we had one of our typical orientation conversations. This was aobut expectations, both of ourselves and each other. Out of an exercise we did came a group constitution which served to make me and I think all of us feel better about the group. Everyone seemed to share values of being supportive, inclusive, respectful and responsible as well as seeing the importance of keeping a sense of humor. It´s a good group we´ve got here.

Day 3: Reflections, Goals and Bahia Ballena
We had a conversation about why we´re each individually here doing TBB. Everyone´s reasons were different, but we each identified with a lot of them. We then set 9 personal goals in the following categories: Personal Challenge, Intellectual Challenge, Service Challenge, Vocational slash Employment Challenge, Spiritual Challenge, Adventure Challenge, Interpersonal Challenge, Creative Challenge and Personal Challenge of Your Choice. My vocational challenge, to use it as an example, is to find some theatre or storytelling in each community and explore it´s value in the culture.
After lunch we hung out in the pool for a few hours (I didn´t mention this, but we went to the beach the first day and it was beautiful but a good thirty minute muddy walk away). Then we were met by a Peace Corps volunteer named Travis who was originally from San Diego and his Tica (Costa Rican) girlfriend Pilar. He lived and worked in Bahia Ballena for two years and is now taking a third Peace Corps year organizing the Costa Rican contingent from San Jose where he now lives. He plans to stay in Costa Rica when his peace corps time is up. He told us some basic facts about the country that we could easily find on wikipedia and then we all got up and went on a walk through Bahia Ballena. I´ll list some of the things about that afternoon that struck me:
1) Travis may be from San Diego, but his English is now accented. He is, in fact, more comfortable speaking in Spanish and occasionally would say a word in Spanish when he couldn´t find the English.
2) The national government is not working particularly well on a local level in Costa Rica. At one point we walked across a long grass strip that is an abandoned or at the very least very rarely used airstripd that the community proposed to turn into housing for the homeless of Bahia Ballena. The government apparently vetoed this idea without much explanation. They seem to have some future plans for the strip, but didn´t disclose them. The Pura Vida attitude means that no is one really fought for it. Another example is the local marine park. It was owned by the community and the revenue went back into them and to the maintenance of the park. Recently the government took over and the income from the park is pooled into a national fund for marine preserves. The locals were furious and burned down the cabin at one entrance to the park, but it seems that the only result was that the cabin was rebuilt. Finally, the government will propose a construction project and get the community to agree by promising something like 500 jobs. Then they bring in 450 workers. But hey, Pura Vida.

Also on day 3 we wrote ourselves letters about what we hope to gain from TBB to be read when we arrive in Virginia in March. Along the same lines, we videotaped ourselves answering six questions posed to us by Robin. We turned on the camera and then read each question off the screen of a lap top and answered it immediately. They were along the lines of ¨Why is there poverty?¨and ¨Will there be world peace in your lifetime?¨Heavy, big picture questions. It will be interesting to see how my opinions change over the course of this year.

As you might be gathering from the descriptions, a day here so far has felt like a week. But, on to Days 4 and 5.

On day four our main discussion was ¨How do we define ourselves?¨As you can imagine, it was a sprawling two hour discussion. The kids on this program are ridiculously smart, opinionated and have strong personalities. It was a little intimidating, but very interesting, as all our big picture conversations are. I think as we get into different core countries our discussions will become a little more specific, but this is orientation and it´s been all big picture all the time (when not discussing safety or logistical program details, of course).

On the morning of the 9th we went kayaking in a mangrove forest. It was pretty chill. We saw a lot of river crabs, some tree snakes and apparently some iguanas, birds and a racoon but even when the guide stopped next to our kayak and pointed them out I couldn´t see them. Talk about good camoflage. I have NO idea how Michael (our guide) spotted them while paddling along. We went back to the hotel, had some lunch, and then we decide to walk back into ¨downtown¨Bahia during our free hour. There was a shop with some sarongs hanging outside that looked interesting. I ended up picked a charm out of a glass case that looked like a semi cylindrical piece of petrified wood wrapped in some metal wire and asking the man working at (and who I think owned) the store if he could put it on a chain. He said he didn´t have one, but he had some string and he made a nifty necklace out of it. I can even adjust the length. He explained how to work it twice because he thought I didn´t get it the first time. It was sweet. He was very patient. Then again, I´m pretty sure that after I left he was thinking "inept americans." While I was looking around, I heard him talking to someone about how he loves chess. He has a teacher and also reads about strategy in books. I think Zack actually played a few games with him, in fact. (Zack is one of the TBBers). As I was walking back, Alexandra (a TBBer...let´s just assume that from now on unless I say otherwise, ok?) asked if I´d noticed the Spanish language Nietzche books stacked in the corner that he´d clearly been reading. I had not, but I was very impressed. I can´t even spell Nietzche. He seemed like a fascinating guy.

After the afternoon discussion, one of the guys working at our hotel grabbed a bunch of the young coconuts off one of the trees on the property and chopped the tops off with a machete so that we could try the milk. It was delicious! Apparently it´s best when the coconuts are still green, and green they were. Mmm.

Two quick side notes here, while I´m thinking of them: 1) I have not yet posted pictures, but a few kids from TBB have put some on facebook so I know it´s possible. I have pictures of most of the stuff I´ve mentioned so I´ll work on it and try and get some up soon...or in a few weeks...pura vida, right? 2) The first book we´ve been assigned in its entirely is Confessions of an Economic Hit Man which several people recommended to me before I left. I must say, I´m about 230 pages in of about 280 and it´s really fascinating. I highly recommend it. It´s a pretty quick read and relatively well written, too.

And now for TURTLEING. Oh no, that is not a typo, you read that correctly. I´m going to borrow heavily from my journal entry for this. If you´re even still reading. Sorry this entry is becoming absolutely epic. Perhaps I should have composed a poem. Anyway:

OK, so last night was awesome. No one knew exactly what we were doing or where we were going, but after a short educational session about turtles while we were waiting for the cabs we hadn´t called ahead because we hadn´t known we´d need them, we endedup driving about fifteen minutes (on Costa Rica´s crazy potholed roads you rarely hit thirty mph so fifteen minutes is not particularly far) to a different beach with our turtleing ¨guide¨Mauricio. I put guide in quotes because he´s a volunteer turtler and what we were really doing was tagging along with him. So we started walking along the dark beach. (We had been told to wear dark clothes, not to bring flashlights or to wear bugspray so I had on long pants, but risked getting my arms bitten up because it was too hot to wear the jacket I´d brought along, even after dark. It remained too hot for the remainder of the night and I woke up with 32 new bites as a result, but as you´ll soon see, it was worth it.)

Anyway, we started walking pretty quickly, but Mauricio told us to slow down because it was only a thirty minute walk down the beach and we didn´t want to miss any turtle tracks. It was about 8:30 when we started walking and, as it turns out, ¨thirty minutes¨was a prime example of Costa Rica Time, but walk more slowly we did. I stuck with Mauricio and Emily and listened to their conversation, piping in sometimes if I had a question. About thirty actual minutes later, we stopped at the hatchery. It was a rectangle about 20ft by 10ft that Mauricio had built over the past two months with the help of some locals. The rectangle was defined by big wooden treetrunk poles connected by a strong plastic netting. He said the netting extended a meter into the sand to keep out predators. The sand inside the hatchery was crisscrossed with strings dividing the area into square plots for nests. A stick poked out of each, ready to be used as a marker when eggs were buried beneath. Next to the hatchery was a makeshift shelter, or rather, a shelter in progress. Mauricio said sometimes he´d be woken up in the middle of the night by smelly wild pigs. Still, it seemed kind of nice. Very peaceful and in nature.

The reason we´d stopped was so that Mauricio could quickly build a door for the hatchery (or, hinge on the door he´d already built--wood frame, mesh center--and attach a lock). Just, you know, casually pause to put up a door. In the dark. A few of us offered to help hand him nails from the bucket he´d brought or whatever, and so he kept talking. Below is a condensed version of all I learned talking with him that night:

Mauricio was from a northern suburb of San Jose. He had attende the national university and studied marine biology. At one point he studied in England (he spoke pretty good English and was already working on French) and he wanted to become a doctor--specifically, a pediatrician, because he loves kids. (Cue: Awwwww). His day job involves whale and dolphin research that he conducts mainly on behalf of whale watching companies or maybe the government with a group of a few other guys. He sleeps, he said, about 4 hours a night, but doesn´t seem to mind much. He was about 25, with a huge heart and a passion for life. He lit up telling me about the work he´s doing to prove that two different populations of humpback whales interbreed during a specific period of time--something rare, but something that would be very good for the genetic diversity of both populations and thus be important for whale conservationists. He talked about reaching out to the community because so few people appreciate the beauty and biodiversity in their own backyard. He hated the turtle egg poachers whom, he said, condescendingly, still believe turtle eggs are aphrodesiacs and endanger the species as a result. He implored us not to purchase anything made from turtle. When asking us about ourselves, I mentioned that I wanted to study acting in college and he said he had ¨the opposeite of a niece¨(nephew) studying that. After talking for a while, he invited us (those of us helping with the door...or watching him build the door, at least) to live in the shelter next summer as a turtleing volunteer. Next summer I´m working at Green Cove, but rigth then I was about ready to sign up for summer 2010. He was an amazing guy and his spirit was contagious.

Anyway, we continued our walk down the beach. We found a poached nest and an intact one. Mauricio took some measure ments of the poached nest, located it with a portable GPS he´d been carrying, and said we´d return for the eggs from the intact nest on our way back. By the time we reached the end of the beach it was 11:00. Half hour walk, right? And in the sand...after a busy day...We were all tired. Robin (one of the TBB founders) hadn´t realized we would also be walking back. He´d thought the taxis would pick us up at this end. Ooops. The group opted to head back and started walking...but the turtleing wasn´t done and Katie R, Isabel and I decided to stick it out along with Sandy, Nina and Chris (TBB founder, first staff member, and TBB founder and parent liason, respectively). Mauricio went a ways back down the beach and we sat together in the dark on a tropical Costa Rican beach recounting memories of ordinary but perfect days. Finally, he signaled to us to walk back to him by flashing his red headlamp a few times. he hadn´t found anything, so we continued on. Five minutes later, we found fresh turtle tracks and followed them up the beach to a turtle in the process of digging her nest. We watched from ten feet back, silent. When they´re about to lay eggs, tutles go into a trance-like state. We crept closer. Mauricio took the turtle´s measurements, then set Katie up with a plastic bag and had her hold it open under the tutle to catch the eggs as they fell into the nest. It was one of those moments that felt almost sacred.

The turtle finished and, bag in hand, we continued back down the beach, leaving her to cover up her empty nest. We left Isabel, Chris and Sandy to dig up the nest we´d passed by earlier and kept heading to the hatchery. there I put on a rubber glove, kneeled in the sand and slowly, carefully, laid each soft, thing shelled pin pong ball egg into the makeshif nest Mauricio had dug second from teh right on the far side of the hatchery enclosure. It must have taken ten minutes. At its deepest, the nest fit my arm to halfway between my elbow and my shoulder. (The depth affects the temperature which in turn affects teh gender of the babies so Mauricio is careful to honor the size of the mother´s nest). My only focus while placing the eggs in the nest was to count. 91. The bag that had held them for the walk back probably weighed 10 pounds. That is a LOT of eggs.

Isabel returned with the eggs from the other nest (87) and Nina renested them in the hatchery. by this point it was about 1am. We´d gotten up that morning at 5 to go kayaking so we were understandably exhausted (and very thirsty). We walked back to the entrance to the beach and said goodbye and thank you to Mauricio, but he ended up hopping in the cab with us. He said had we not come, he wouldn´t have had gas to get to the beach that evening and may have been too tired to walk or bike. I was especially glad we´d come turtleing that particular night. We finally got back to the hotel at 1:50. In bed at 2:08. It was totally worth it.

On Thursday the 11th our main event other than discussions was to attend a local soccer game. It was a small turf field covered by a shell roof. They played a few games of 5 on 5. We grabbed some dinner and hung out. Not a ton to report. It was fun though.

I´m pretty sick of typing...It´s been nearly a hour and 45 minutes since I´ve started, but I felt guilty for keeping you all waiting for so long. Tomorrow we´re off to Quito and then two days later to Bua for our first homestay. We´ll be staying in pairs because the homes are pretty remote and working in schools to bring them clean water. This involves something about building toilets, but I can´t say exactly what. I´ll let you know when I know.

I mentioned pictures before. I know for a fact that there are some on facebook and I´m tagged in a couple. I´ll work on pictures in the future.

Say Hi to the States for Me,

Thursday, September 4, 2008

In The Beginning

Well, it´s 12:42am Costa Rica time, so 11:42 L.A. time. We finally arrived, a little late, but all in one piece and one group. We took a small detour to Panama to refuel because it was too foggy to land here (as the flight attendant explained, San Jose is in a valley and it´s been rainy so...) and we´d been circling. Anyway, we´re staying at a hostel called Hostel Pangea in San Jose for tonight. It seems nice. I´m in a room with 5 other girls...bunk beds...But there´s pizza downstairs and I´m hungry (and a little line of us TBBers waiting for the 2 out of 6 computers here that work) so I´m going to sign out. Also, please excuse typos...this is a strange keyboard and it´s dark in here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In Lieu of A Thousand Words

When I put photos online, you should be able to find them here. (That is: When I actually upload some for the first time, I'll try to remember to post the link and URL again, but now you can't say I never did. :-)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Leaving On (Several) Jet Planes

Well, this is nearly it. I'm leaving the day after tomorrow. And I'm almost sort of packed! Impressive, I know. I'm pretty excited to leave. Sure there are things and people I'll miss, but really, I'm excited to leave. I'm even more excited to meet all the other TBB kids. And a little tiny bit anxious. And a lot antsy.

Anyway, welcome again to this blog. I guess I'll try to write once a week, but I think some weeks it may be more and some less. Who knows when I'll end up having internet access and free time simultaneously? I don't really know much detail-wise about what this year will be like. It's an adventure!

So, back to packing! Score!

Bye for now