Wednesday, December 3, 2008


(Captions below pictures) Oh man, so I’m sorry, I know that you have all been waiting patiently for me to say something about Ecuador. This was mostly brought to my attention by my parents asking if I am in fact alive. Well, I am alive and I can’t believe it is December already! I’ve been in site for five weeks now, though it feels like I just got here. I love my site and I love my work, so much that I just plain forget to go online sometimes.

My site is in southern Ecuador, on the Peruvian border. It is hot and dry (though I hear that it is hot and humid for part of the year, too) and under 200m above sea level! What a change, there is a wide variety of plants and animals (no llamas though) here and sometimes I don’t even sleep with a blanket.
I like going to the communities here because of the dry tropical forest preserve. There are these cool trees called Ceibas which undergo photosynthesis in the trunk and branches, too, making the tree green all over. I love love LOVE the campo.

Lindsay and I with a Ceiba

It´s freakin´ BEAUTIFUL here!

Town is super lujo (luxurious). I have a hot (electric) shower and a modern mattress. My “host family” consists of a 50-something divorced woman (Jhonny) who owns a snack shop and her 24-year-old helper (Ursula). We’re more just like roommates and so far things have been great.

Ursula is the furthest left and Jhonny is the one in the middle next to Romulus.

I have my space when I need it, company when I want it and all the modern comforts a girl could ask for. The town is about the same size as Mach but more modern. We have small grocery stores which carry about everything I could want and this really great market on Friday mornings where I buy produce for the week. The food here is fantastic.
Market spoils
People here are really open and the only thing I’ve really had to adjust to is the men being so…geez, I don’t even know how to explain it. We would probably call it Machista but they say that it is just that Latino’s blood runs hotter than gringo blood. I am trying my best to understand why things are like they are and sort out for myself where to draw the lines and when to assert myself. I think I’ve found a good balance so far…we’ll see.

My social life here is great…that is, my friends are a gang of kids, my BFF being an eight year old named Rommel (I call him Romulus). Rommel is a hell of a kid, though. He’s soft-spoken but very intelligent and a quick learner. At first we just played war (lots and lots of war) together, but now we are working on a simplified version of Scrabble.
Maria and Cristina at the river
The weather is a welcomed change from Oruro, though I think people think I’m a little weird for sweating so much. The malaria meds haven’t given me any serious side effects yet (gracias a Dios) so that’s good. I recently went to Loja and to visit Lindsay in her site for Thanksgiving/Thanksgiving weekend. That week was the same week as the workshop and I’ve kind of been on a high since then, it was so nice. We even got in some hiking and some bathing in the river. Oh and this crazy beauty pageant/town dance/ridiculous cumbia concert in Lindsay’s site.
Paper project in Lindsay´s site
Hiking in Lindsay´s site

There´s this cool practice here called a ¨minga¨where the community gets together to volunteer to do some public works project. The mingas we do in the reserve are mostly building fences to keep the goats out. Check it out:

As far as work, I am replacing a couple that was here (sounds like PC didn’t suit them) so I am busy, busy, busy! I can’t believe how much work there is to do here and how different the attitude is. It’s sad, though, because I am starting to see how difficult life is in Bolivia. I am amazed at how progressive and enthusiastic the people in the campo here are. Although I love Oruro, it was so hard to work there.

So…what have I been working on since I got here? Well, like in Mach, we work in the surrounding communities, though this time those communities are around and within a forest preserve owned mostly by my counterpart organization. We have various programs to help community development and, simultaneously, forest preservation. My first month here I tried to take advantage as much as possible to tag along with people, get to know as much of the communities and other projects as I possibly could. There is a project working with women to make and sell goat dairy products and I’m really excited to take that on as my main project. Luckily, we have many agricultural and other natural sciences experts working with the organization, but what’s lacking is someone with more business knowledge and experience. Which is very convenient for me! There’s a lot for me to learn and a lot for me to teach. My favorite part about the work is that the main objectives are not profits or production, but rather preservation of the forest and sustainable community development.

Goat love
Cheese factory
My first official workshop was last Tuesday, when I taught the women to make cheeses with local herbs and vegetables added in. The idea was to talk a little about what business is, what the women want to accomplish with their business, and then to talk about creativity and entrepreneurship. The workshop did not go at all as I had planned. It was supposed to be two days, like a total of 8 hours, and ended up getting compacted into 3 hours and lunch. Nearly all of the activities I planned had to be scrapped. BUT, it was phenomenal! The women picked up so quickly on the idea of inventing new products and just ran with it. Cilantro is a very popular flavor here and so I am hoping that the women will sell their cilantro infused fresh-goat cheese at the next fair, to test out how it sells. It turned out really well, as fresh cheese really compliments herbal flavors. I liked the one they made with hot peppers, but it might be a little tougher sell here. The women totally got it, though, and it opened their minds to so many other possibilities. I hope they continue to experiment and I can’t wait to see what else they can come up with!

Making Cheese

We have a fair to go to on Sunday and then we’re going to talk about planning for the rainy season. The problem is that there is hardly any milk production in the dry season (like 8-9 months of the year) and then there is overproduction in the wet season (3-4 months). During the wet season, due to market flooding, the price of cheese drops drastically, not to mention that transportation is difficult which means that their products can spoil before they are sold, since they are all-natural without any preservatives. I’m really going to try to push the women to try to come up with their own solution to this problem. They know that if they just make fresh cheese they will lose money because they sell it below cost. They know that neither I nor they can fix the road. We’ll see what they come up with and hopefully we will have an attack plan by January.

Other projects in my work are improved bee farming, community organizational development, and forest preservation.


Amusing ways of cutting wood for bee boxes. iloveit.

I guess that’s it for now. I don’t want to test my luck here or anything, but I’ve been in Peace Corps for 15 ½ months and I’ve got less than a year to go…at this point I’m so enthusiastic about my project that I’m just hoping I can do everything I want to in that short amount of time! I’m going to try to update this at least once, if not twice a month. If you want to email me, I will respond. If you want to call, my cell phone gets incoming calls, as well as being able to receive and send texts from/to the states. I think you all already have my mailing address (GMA, I received your Birthday card, THANK YOU! And sorry for being so rude and not having written to you yet, I’ll get on it!). Alright, I’ve got so much to do (starting a computer class tomorrow morning!) but I swear I will try to stay on top of these blogs! Love you all,

Sarita (con cariñito)

Monday, October 20, 2008

This is my new mailing address:

Sarah Nelson, PCV
Cuerpo de Paz
Casilla 17-08-8624
Quito, Ecuador
South America

Quito, here I come!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Me voy. Que lastima, pero adios...

Things have been so hectic lately. I wanted to wait until I knew what was really going on to inform you all. I’m going to start from way back, though, with right before my mom’s vacation.
Mom’s vacation in August was delayed by a consolidation we had in Santa Cruz because of the national vote for whether or not to keep Evo in office. I didn’t like being out of my site for so long, but everything turned out fine and I got to go back just in time to pick mom up from La Paz.

Mom’s vacation (10 days) was great. We started out in La Paz and took a bus (mom’s first flota!) to Oruro city. Then we spent a couple days in Oruro, checking out markets and some yummy food. Then it was home, sweet home to Machacamarca. The highlights there were visits with all of my friends and the annual bullfight.
me and mom in mach
kerry posing for the camera
mom enjoying a nutritious, delicious gourd full of chicha
After Mach, we left for Cochabamba, where mom met Joy and we ate more yummy food. Also we visited my host family from training, who had some very cute new dogs.

Then, all three of us moved on to Copacabana, to see Lake Titicaca. It is SO beautiful!
joy eating trout
mom and the lake
joy found cheetos!!!
fish heads, mmmmmMom wanted a little rest one day, so Joy and I went to Isla del Sol to see some ruins.
totora boat, made out of reeds. so cool!
the "1000 stairs". i counted. there are 200. i love bolivia.
llama love
Then back to La Paz where we stayed in a really swanky hotel. The trip was so luxurious I almost forgot I was in Peace Corps! Thanks again for the visit, mom, it was really fun!

However, when mom left, my very bad luck began. I don’t normally believe in luck, but a black cloud formed over me the second we said goodbye. I got to the bus station and started having back problems. There was no one to put my bag under the bus, so I put it in the overhead bin and took some pills for my back pain. Long story short, the pills made me pass out and when I woke up in Oruro, my entire hiking pack with most of my clothes and some other personal belongings, was gone. I can’t say it enough; I really don’t like being robbed. It’s so dehumanizing. This was Aug 25th.

Somewhere between Aug and Sept I heard rumors that PC was thinking about not sending future volunteers to the Altiplano to serve. When I started in Oruro in November, we had something like 15 volunteers. By August it was down to 5 in Oruro and 2 in Potosi, I think. My project (micro enterprise development) had just been cancelled in July. I was a little upset, I admit, because the Altiplano has the most poverty in Bolivia and I grew so attached to the region that I took it personally that we might not be able to continue to try to help the people of the Altiplano in the future.
However…my time in site was really good socially and work wise. Things were progressing well. My women’s group started a new set of classes. We had another K’OA/ walleyball tournament for work in La Paz. I was invited to participate in a nueve días ceremony for an unfortunate young man who had passed away while I was on vacation. Nueve días is a ceremony that takes place nine days after you bury someone because it is believed that after nine days of being buried, the body’s eyes burst and the soul goes to heaven. So you have a ceremony to bless the soul on its journey to heaven. I met a nice guy at the ceremony and got to know him a little better at another mass/celebration the next week. We ended up being pretty good friends for a couple of weeks. It was nice to have someone my age to talk to and hang out with…play bball and go hiking.
The 3rd after hiking, I got some kind of stomach bug, but waited until the 5th to go into the city to do something about it. When I went into the city, I found out that another Oruro volunteer was being relocated to another site because he was “too fair skinned” to serve in the Altiplano. Admittedly I was upset since he had already served over a year in Oruro, was doing good work, and was attached to his community. And, he was white the whole time! Did they not notice for that whole year? Aaaaanyway…we said goodbye to our friend and I got antibiotics from the doctor, so my stomach ailments cleared up.

I was invited to go swimming a few days later at a nearby pool/hot springs on Sept 8 when… I had an accident and got burned in a big gas fire in my house the morning of September 9th. I had wanted to make a cake for my friend’s birthday, but the regular oven was off-limits and my host family wasn’t home so I used the industrial oven. Bolivian ovens don’t have pilot lights, so you have to turn on the gas tank and then light the oven with a match. I think there was a gas leak because as soon as I lit the match (I didn’t even come near where you light the oven) there was a big explosion. It was pretty upsetting when it happened, but it’s all good now. I lost some hair and my eyebrows and lashes and stuff. The doctor said it was only 2nd degree burns though, so no big deal. Oh and now I’ve got acne from the ointment I had to use for the burns, but I have great medical coverage here and the dermatologist says it will clear up soon. The great thing was that I realized what awesome friends I had, as they took me to the clinic (to get my entire face covered by burn cream and gauze- what a weirdo!) and then when I was stuck in the house for days came by frequently, applying traditional remedies to my burns (don’t worry, I also followed the doctor’s regimen), calming me down, keeping me company, and assuring me that I didn’t look like a complete freak, even though I really did. One of my friends even walked around with me at night (since I couldn’t go out during the day) and watched Olympic swimming inside with me. It makes me a little emotional, thinking back on it now, but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to grow close to those great people. The physical damage will fade, but I will always remember those friendships.

It's okay to laugh at this picture. It's from right after the burns, when I went to the clinic. In fact, the photo cracks me up now which is why I am posting it.
Oh, yes, and then I got this giant splinter in my foot:

While I was sick and burned, I took several photos of Kauri documenting his fascinating lifestyle. I couldn't capture the full magic of the little monster on film, however. Joy was convinced he could be a model cat one day (saw it in Vogue) but alas I will never see Kauri again and his fate is in the hands of my friends. Ojalá que le vaya bien. I know he's just a cat, but "just a cat" can really help you through some tough times and I grew very attached to him, since we'd been together since his birth! Here is a short tribute to Kauri Mimijalalelacola (last name given by my host sister from Cochabamba):

kauri loves skittles OMG...SHOES!
kauri was not keen on me packing

So, as you read in my last post, we were evacuated from Bolivia. It was kind of crazy; we got a call the night of the 12th saying that we were on consolidation again and that we had to go to our regional cities the next morning. Since we had just come back from a consolidation that turned out to be nothing, I didn’t take it too seriously, but was nervous. I packed somewhat, wrote a few very quick goodbye notes in case, and left Kauri with a friend. I told a couple of people what was going on, but promised that I would be back. The mood was somber but, appropriately, we stuck with the Bolivian “This isn’t goodbye, just see you later. I’ll be back.” I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t have the heart to say goodbye to my friends, to my women’s group. I think I needed to believe that I was coming back, despite the sinking feeling in my stomach. I’m very bad at good-byes and the more emotional I feel about leaving someone or something, the more quickly I try to leave and the less I try to say. I feel a great deal of guilt about this because I allowed my anxiety to let me pull away from the community very quickly. What I wouldn’t give for one more day just to tell people how much I loved them. Anyway…

So we went to Cochabamba and didn’t hear much over the weekend except that things weren’t good. But we get that a lot in Bolivia, so I wasn’t stressing too much about it. Then they told us that Sunday morning we would be moving to a new hotel so we packed our things and loaded them on buses. Then we had a meeting and they said we were leaving immediately to get on a plane to Peru. Some volunteers came from the other side of the country and didn’t even know we were leaving the country until they were already on the plane to Cochabamba. We evacuated over the course of two days, on two military C130 planes.
At this point, we were all very sad to be leaving Bolivia, but hopeful that we might return. From there on out, the chronology of everything is very hard for me to distinguish. A day or so later, we heard that the PC Bolivia program was being closed. I heard there was to be more news on aid given to Bolivia, but I still haven’t been able to find anything about this. We have been stationed outside of Lima for over a week now, trying to figure out what’s going on. About ¾ of the volunteers decided to end their service and ¼ decided to transfer to a new country.

At first I really wanted to go to Honduras, but it seems like the program might not be the best fit for me. I’ve been assigned to Ecuador and I am really excited because it sounds like the APCD found something that fits well with my experience and interests. It will be tough being so close to Bolivia, but I am determined to throw myself into my work and community every bit as much as I did in Machaca.

Thus, I close the Bolivia chapter of my life with nothing but love, fond memories, and many lessons learned and hope to have the courage to open the next chapter on the same note. Though I carry on, I will never leave the Altiplano in my heart, as it will forever be a part of me. Viva Bolivia! Viva Oruro! Viva Machacamarca! Jallalla!


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Unexpected separation

Peace Corps/Bolivia Program Suspended

Volunteers have been safely moved to Peru WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 15, 2008 - Peace Corps operations in Bolivia have been temporarily suspended to ensure the safety of the Peace Corps Volunteers serving there. With growing instability in Bolivia, 113 Volunteers were consolidated on Sunday, September 14, and have now been moved to Peru where they will be transitioning out of service or to another post. “Our first priority is the safety and security of our Volunteers,” said Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter. “Thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Bolivia since 1962, building deep friendships with the people there. We hope the situation will improve soon so future Volunteers can continue the Peace Corps’ fine tradition of valuable service to the Bolivian people.” The Volunteers serving in Bolivia will be granted close of service in good standing, or offered an opportunity to transfer to another Peace Corps country. Since 1962, more than 2,500 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Bolivia. The current group of Volunteers worked in the following sectors: agriculture, business development, environment, health, and youth development.Peace Corps/Washington is in constant communication with staff in Bolivia as well as the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy. The Peace Corps will continue to evaluate and monitor the situation. Each Peace Corps program has an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) specific to that country and developed in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy and Peace Corps/ Washington. The plans are tested frequently and information is updated constantly. Volunteers are thoroughly trained in their role and responsibilities in the EAP. Posts are prepared for all emergencies.The Peace Corps is celebrating a 47-year legacy of service at home and abroad. Currently there are more than 8,000 Volunteers abroad, a 37-year high for Volunteers in the field. Since 1961, more than 190,000 Volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 139 countries where Volunteers have served, including Bolivia. Peace Corps Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment. To learn more about the Peace Corps, please visit our website:

Thursday, August 14, 2008

KOA, not just for camping...

Sorry for the lack of updates, everything has been a little crazy.

A while back, we performed a koa ceremony to bless the NGO I´m working with. I found this blog which has some good pictures. Basically, a koa is a ceremony in which you give back to the mother earth (Pachamama) so that she will bless and protect you and your business. You place cloths on a table and they are filled with sugar tiles that represent certain things like education, wealth, etc. and various other offerings (ours had some kind of animal, I think it was a llama but I´m not sure). Everyone sits around the table, shares food, chats, drinks beer, etc. I´m sure this varies with the group. You dip coca leaves in special alcohol to ¨challar¨, i.e. sprinkle the alcohol on the corners and in the center of the offering. We chose the best coca leaves out of piles to give to Pachamama and then placed them with the tiles, three at a time, making a wish each time we put three leaves on. Then you start a fire and place the offerings on the fire. With the rest of the alcohol, you challar the four corners of the fire. That´s a very compressed version of what went on, so you´ll have to use your imaginations, but it was very interesting and very nice to have time to reflect on the past and bond with my work partners.

Then I had to leave my site for some time due to PC security measures. Everything went well, thank god, and I´m very glad to be back in my site. My mom is going to be here soon for a visit and I´m really excited to show her my site and a few other cool places.

Not much else new, I feel like I´m all over the place lately and look forward to buckling down at work in September. I love and miss you all!


Monday, May 26, 2008

Howdy folks! It’s been a long time, I know. I thought I should preface this entry with the ever-encouraging statistic that something like 90 percent of development projects fail. If my entries are sparse, it’s only because I don’t want to waste your time with all of my failures. So just think, when I haven’t updated in a while, I’m probably just getting that much closer to success. Well, at least I like to think that every time a project fails my odds get better that the next one will work. Aaanyway…

I have started work with an organization called SARTAWI. I am very hopeful about this work. The people in the office are well-organized and motivated. I am working with a woman (Sonia) from SARTAWI on a project for the product transformation of milk into cheese and yogurt. We are working with sixty-something families in the municipality. We are starting with the basics and will work step-by-step to help the families improve their businesses and therefore their incomes. Our first workshop (taller) was this past Saturday, and it was incredibly encouraging. We are starting with production standards and quality control. This includes basic hygiene, hygiene of the work areas, proper milking, using a recipe and measuring, care of milk products, etc. We were able to cover the ideas of what is a production standard, what is quality control, why it is important, and personal hygiene. The families that attended each made a handwashing station out of a recycled 2 liter bottle and they liked them so much that several people asked for extra string to make more at home. The participants were very active in the discussions and activities and I felt like the whole thing was a great success. I can’t wait to go back again, which will hopefully be next weekend, so we can talk about proper milking techniques and hygiene, and using a recipe. I want to do follow-up on the production standards and then move on to other business skills, depending on their needs. I’m also working with a man (Abel) from SARTAWI on financial reports for the families’ businesses. This endeavor is much more tedious and dry, but necessary. We’re a bit rushed but after we get this report finished, I want to work with Abel to set up an Access program that people from SARTAWI can use on a regular bases to track and analyze the finances. Eventually I’d like to get the families themselves to have some sort of accounting and financial records and knowledge, but that is pretty far down the road. To say that I am hopeful about this project is an understatement.

Here are some books I’ve read recently:
· Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
· Getting Stoned with Savages,
· Beloved, Toni Morrison
· Naked, David Sedaris
· Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
· Confessions of an Economic Hitman, John Perkins
I’m currently reading “The Places in Between” by Rory Stewart.

Everything else is going just fine. My health is fine and I am truly happy and lucky to be here. Getting to know this area from the inside and getting to know the people who live here is a work benefit that far outweighs any salary or company stock I could have gotten with a job back in the states. I’ve always thought Peace Corps was the right thing for me to do next, and now I see that I belong just exactly where I am right now. I’d like to thank everyone who has sent me mail or packages or any other signs of encouragement since I’ve been here. You’ll probably never know what they mean to me, so a simple thank-you will have to suffice. You’re all welcome and encouraged to come visit if you have the chance! Love,


PS here are some pictures, out of order. and unlabeled. is pissing me off. sorry.