Wednesday, December 3, 2008

ECUADOR!

(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.
OMG THERE ARE BATS! :-) :-)
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.
Romulus!
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.
Thanksgiving
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.

BEES!





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)

4 comments:

alegria said...

sarita! hehe, just got around to reading your blog. anyways, it sounds like you are making some amazing progress in your work! very inspiring after some tough times in Bolivia eh? keep it up! ha, and it seems like you prefer the fresh fruits and veggies to chuno (ah! can't type an "en-yay") so we are on the right track.

Jennifer Nelson said...

Holy hell why haven't I read this before today!!

It sounds like things are AWESOME down there. I'm going to start twisting JP's arm for us to come visit you... oh crap. Not sure when as between grad school and his work we are booked up until after you will have left. Hm. Maybe we will abduct you sometime in the future and you can go back to show us around.

ANYWAY. Amazing. I am so happy for you!! I actually came online to find your address because I need to mail your package today (sorry very slack of me). I would have sent you a text but Verizon is sucky expensive apparently for Ecuador. (They are such liars... flat international rate my ass!) So texts will have to be special treats I guess. Bummer.

Take care, have fun, make the world a better place. I am super jealous!

Love you!

monelson6 said...

Wow - that's quite the update. Am very happy you are safe, happy and productive. I will send an email update from here

Love

Dad

Tammy said...

Sarah.....

Just blog stalking, got a little extra time on the internet this month. Lol. Glad to see you are doing well and the pics you have with lindsay make me happy but a little envious as well. I miss B46 like hell and don't you take it for granted for one sec that you have those girls around with you!!!!!

Glad to see that things are going well and I hope they continue that way. Send my love to the other former pcv bolivias that are around, specially linds and that one kasia girl.

love,
tammy