Monday, November 22, 2010

Well, work was slow last week because the municipal dump truck was unavailable to take construction materials out to the communities and there were no classes because the federal government decided to employ high school students to take the national census, thus they needed to take them out of classes for a full week to train them. =( I guess the positive side of all of this is that I can finally update ye olde bloge. At this rate, maybe by the end of the year I’ll be caught up, hootie hoo!

So, in July I went home on home leave. Home Leave is one of the excellent benefits of being a PC volunteer...they give you up to a month of home leave and tickets home when you decide to extend your service beyond your initial two years. So off to Chicago it was! Dad, Andy, and I took a trip to some really great parks in the UP...lots of hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, and SUN! Came back to Lombard, visited Jen in Chicago (they were filming Transformers, that was kind of cool) and Jen and Betsy came out to visit me. We did a lot of shopping, seeing as most of my clothes looked about like most peoples´ do after two years in Peace Corps. We also did a lot of eating unhealthy American foods, yum yum yum! 

Kayaking in the UP

 Enjoying eating way too much food with Andy and Papa Nelson

Dad at Porcupine Mtns

 Andy at Muskellonge

Waterfalls at Porcupine Mtns

A tribute to my love at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Andy and I get lost at Sleeping Bear Dunes....FOLLOW THE TRAIL!!!

Dad kayaking just before he got tipped over by karma.

I got back in site just in time to work...JUST KIDDING! Actually I got back in August which, if you remember from last year’s blog, is basically one big, month-long fiesta. Of course I couldn’t miss that! This year I got to see the town beauty pageant and some other things, but was actually quite busy with events that we had in honor of Bolívar: an educational-center dedication, a bike race in the reserve, a fishing competition, and a ¨cultural night.¨  I’d like to add that August is a really great time for visits to Zapotillo if you want to see the town- it is still warm, but relatively dry, most people are back for vacation, and the festivals mean there are things to do. However, the forest is dry so this is not a good time if you want to see the forest green or hang out in waterfalls, etc. 

 Reina competition!!

 My moto-taxi driving, bmx-ing buddy...btw, the only Zapotillo bmx-er

 This guy fell a lot, much like he did about a half of a second after this photo.

So this picture didn´t turn out as I had hoped, but they were launching themselves off of the top of a moving truck, so they used the loader like an elevator to get on top of the in Zapotillo, safety always never comes first.

 This is the only kid who didn´t look grumpy throughout the whole parade. What a badass.

 My man, Rommel, looking sharp as always.

 Bike race track

September was, as far as I can remember it, rather uneventful. I was in the process of getting my service extended another year, so that was at least frustrating enough to keep life interesting. I got sent to Quito for that, to basically copy stuff from my physical a few months back to a new form. Yay 40+ hours on a bus for something completely unnecessary! Luckily, our grant for building pig pens and chicken coops ($5000 from USAID) got approved so I took advantage of the trip to accompany the Ranchers Association’s president to sign the grant contract. Ohhh AND there was this ceremony in the high school where they award the valedictorians and everyone in the graduating class has to swear, on bended knee, his or her fidelity to the nation’s flag, and then give it a kiss. I loved every minute of that ceremony just like you all love watching ¨Triumph of the Will,¨ though that may be exaggerating a bit. Oh well, I got invited to free food and beer afterwards so I can’t complain. 
 Rommel´s baby sister, Solange. So cute!

 Apparantly the kids wanted to play modeling at some point in September, because that´s all I´ve got pictures of!

  My 12th graders at their flag-kissing ceremony

 Next up...Galápagos!

Saturday, September 18, 2010


First and foremost, I apologize for the lack in updates. The truth of the matter is, I got stuck when it came to updating for June because it means writing about something that I´d rather not accept happened, let alone have to write about it. In June, shortly after returning from a study abroad program in Spain, my boss, Bolívar Tello, suffered a cerebral embolism and passed away due to medical negligence. He leaves behind a wife and three children, ages 15, 12, and 5. As I wrote earlier, his temporary absence while in Spain was tough on the office, both personally and professionally. If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have said that his permanent absence was unimaginable. Bolívar Tello wasn´t from Zapotillo, but was considered absolutely Zapotillano. He agreed to move here to better develop and care for the Ceiba reserve. He was wise, passionate, and gracious. He worked on the project for nearly a decade, seeing it through all sorts of hardships and difficulties. He was undeniably dedicated; normally the last one to go home. He had to set an alarm at lunch because otherwise he would forget to go and his wife would call, annoyed that his lunch had been left to get cold. For Bolívar, the work week wasn´t Monday through Friday, it was 24/7, year-round, whenever something needed to be done. He loved the people of the communities and looked to help them in any way he could, though the majority of them had doubted, denounced, or rejected him and his help at one time or another. He united our office not only as coworkers, but as a family. He was warm, sincere, and open; never judgmental. He didn´t know the meaning of minding his own business, because everyone´s well-being was his business. He was a joker…his laugh was the one most often heard ringing through the office. He taught us to enjoy each other, enjoy the work, and enjoy the forest that we were working so hard to protect. Bolívar wasn´t just my boss, he was a mentor, a friend, an inspiration. There´s no way to replace him or to recover what we´ve lost; our only consolation is to honor him by following in his footsteps.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Cat pictures I promised:

This is from the first few days I had Lucy. He (okay, I thought he was a she) did not want milk.

He was really malnourished and kinda looked like the crypt keeper...

In desperation, after having tried all of the foods you are supposed to give tiny, abandoned kittens, I gave him some tuna. Aha! I found out that the only thing this cat wanted was meat. And, thus, he started eating...
and eating...
...and once he grew a little more even started drinking milk!
He just kept growing and seemed to really like it around the office.

He got to be bigger than this by the time I left for the states, but I´m not sure where the most recent pictures of him are. This one is from around May. So there you go, months after you all requested photos, here they are. More updates to come...some day. Abrazotes,


Friday, July 16, 2010


i haven't written in my blog for a long time....ooops. i think the last update was march, so i'll go from there.

april- meow!
in april, darwin found a kitten that had been thrown out. it's common practice here to just throw female kittens out or drown them. nobody wants the females because then they will have more kittens. so they kill them or intentionally let them die. but the general first reaction to neutering or spaying a pet here is laughing at how absurd it is and/or commenting on how you're making the poor cat suffer because you won't let it have a family. aaaanyway, so the kitten was scraggly and TINY, like a skeleton with a big ole' head. i felt so bad for the little gal but after the kauri heartbreak said no, no, no, no, NO CATS. i couldn't bare to spoil another cat just to abandon it once it got older. but darwin said that, since his cat ran away and he really likes cats, he would take it if/when i left. i was already feeding the cat before he could even finish his sentence. i gave the cat milk; it wouldn't drink it. i gave the cat bread; it just kind of licked it sadly. i tried soup, rice, scrambled eggs...nada. it didn't eat for more than a day...the poor thing was soooo skinny so i got a can of tuna hoping i could convince it to eat even just a little of the oil. the cat started growling and hissing like a madcat and ran away with a piece of the meat. from then on the cat lived on tuna, fish, goat, chicken, beef, and would only eat meat even though it was clearly starving to death. for two months, the cat ate more meat than i did. i cleaned the mites out of her ears, bathed her and dewormed her (btw, super gross when your kitten has big tapeworms and expels them during dinner with your friends). the skin and fur on her face came off in clumps with the skin. a friend put a red collar on her so no one would give her the evil eye. i taught it to stay on my shoulder while i paraded it all around town. on a daily basis, rommel's mom told me the cat was the ugliest thing she'd ever seen, calling her satanas and lucifer and telling me i should go toss her in the river to see if she can swim. little by little the cat got better and i thought, well maybe she won't die. and then the first sunday in may she disappeared. i figured she had died and felt really awful about the collar because, had she lived, it was sewn shut and wouldn't allow her to grow or could get caught on something and choke her.

may- mystery illness
the first week in may i got really sick, though i didn't end up doing much about it. it all started saturday the 8th. i guess the first thing i noticed was that i didn't really feel like eating all day, but i felt fine. looking back on it, it was probably stupid to go out at night if i hadn't eaten all day. but i felt fine, so i went out. while i was out with friends i noticed that i was not feeling too well and so i went home early. the next day i had what felt like a horrible hangover, but that didn't make much sense considering that i hadn't drank much. all sunday (day 2) i was pretty miserable and just not wanting to do anything but sleep. days 3 and 4 i felt kinda icky, but it came in waves. i'd get really tired, i was freezing (which is weird because it's so hot here), i'd get dizzy and nauseaus, had a bit of diarrhea but nothing serious, and i had kinda like what they called growing pains when i was little, you know like dull aches in the bones and joints. but the thing that bothered me the most was the nausea...i had gone five days at that point eating very little...thinking about food made me sick to my stomach. i'd go to work, do what i most needed to do, sleep for a few hours, work a bit more, and then sleep again. tuesday night i told the teacher i am helping that i couldn't go in the next day. i planned to just stay at home and sleep but i woke up wednesday with such bad nausea and dizziness that i called the pc doctor, who told me to take my temperature. a work partner took me to get checked out, mostly to have my temperature taken. i had a fever and low blood pressure (90/50). while i was talking to the doctor i lost my vision for a little bit...everything went black but i was still conscious. the doc said i was just about to faint and it was just because of the low blood pressure. he gave me some candy and scolded me for not having eaten. they gave me some kind of injection for the fever that hurt like hell and something for nausea and to be quite honest at that point i was really too weak to even say anything. i thought it was weird they didn't take a blood sample but the doctors here are pretty careless. it was kinda like pick your illness...according to doctors i had a bad flu, according to my work partners it was malaria, and according to random people on the street it was dengue. who would you believe? i didn't have energy left to do anything but sleep. i should have called pc, but seriously i couldn't even speak well at moments. day 6 i was going to call pc again but i was back to feeling how i did on monday and tuesday- kinda flu-like. by then my host mom was making me eat and i bought some ensure so i was stronger than the days before. by day 7 i felt okay...just drowsy. but i noticed that my skin was itchy/burning with a rash and red all hands and feet too. since it's humid here during this time of year and i had a towel that hadn't been drying well lately, i figured it was some kind of fungus. so i went to the pharmacy to buy some anti fungus cream just in case and the girl at the counter looked at my skin and said "oh my kid had that, the doctor said it's dengue." i was like no that's ridiculous i've never heard that dengue does anything to your skin just give me the cream and she went and asked the doctor and he, without seeing me, said dengue too. i brushed them both off as i would any other quack in this town and went home. the rash and itch went away in a couple of days (fungus takes longer to cure) and sure enough there's been a dengue outbreak in town. checked the symptoms on the internet, and they all align with dengue. draw your own conclusions on the mystery illness, i'm just glad it's over. i was weak (kinda like with anemia) for nearly a month, still haven't recovered completely, and lost 10 pounds. actually i guess that part wasn't so bad. yay dengue! hah.

return of the demon-cat
mid may i woke up at 5 am one morning with a craving for bread from my favorite bakery here, which i hadn't been to in months because it moved completely out of the way. i couldn't sleep so i went down super early, at like 6 or something. while i was down there, there was a guy picking up some stuff to take to his store before he opened. he lives near the office but i'd never met him before. he looked at me and said, "hey sarah i've got your cat." and (thinking he was making fun of me) i replied with a request that he be so kind as to not screw with me because in reality i was pretty heartbroken about the cat's disappearance. he said no, seriously, it came with this collar but i took it can come to my house and see. and i was like seriously don't mess with me. he insisted that he had my cat, mentioning that the thing was weird and only ate meat. so i went to see the cat. it was a little bigger and i didn't believe it at first but then i went over to it and picked it up and right away it hopped on my shoulder. the guy said i could take her, i figure he half felt bad for me and half didn't want to have to keep up with her expensive tastes. i took her out to lunch to celebrate and she went absolutely nuts when i gave her the meat. didn't touch the rice. MY CAT WAS BACK!!! she's gorgeous now, a real feisty kitty. she's chubby, just enough to be healthy, and she has the softest black coat. she's sprouted some white hairs on her back and tummy. she wears a hot pink ribbon now. i named her Lucy, short for Lucifer since she still is kinda a little devil. she eats more things now, mostly puppy food and any dairy products. people really like her now, they tell me when she gets out and they think she's so pretty. my host mom still hates her and doesn't want her around, but i sneak her in on friday nights to watch movies with me. she wakes me up at 6am, doing laps around my bed. she's insane and i love it.

work is a bit sad lately. i really miss my old boss at NCI, who is in Spain for a few months. i like giving classes, but it's a rougher and slower start than i expected. the teachers are jealous that i am teaching classes and the other teacher is getting paid for doing nothing, even though the idea isn't that she does nothing, it's that she learns the new curriculum to be able to teach it in the future. i am having difficulties with her,'s a challenge that she's not acclimated to a formal work environment. and then there's the kids...there's just very little discipline and they get away with so much and the academic level they're used to is so low...not to mention that i only have 40 minutes a week with each class (exceptions: 80 mins/wk with the seniors and 20 mins/wk with one of my 10th grade classes) and on top of that, a good 1/3 of my classes have been cancelled due to vacations, holidays, conferences and god knows what else. i would estimate that these kids are getting less than half of the classroom hours annually than kids in the states. they have about 4.5 hours a day, and i don't even want to count the number of hours that have been cancelled this trimester alone. and the kids say there's even more days cut out the last 2 trimesters. ugh. in may, for example, i was sick one week, the next pc sent me to cuenca, had one normal week of classes, and then pc sent me to june we had a bunch of days off for various things and in july i'll be home in the states all month...overall i feel like i need more time to get somewhere with this program, but i do feel there's potential there and that it's worth it to stick with it.

one cool thing that we did in my classes was make solar ovens...huge success! more on that to come in a week! phew, that was a long rant. i'm gonna wrap this up then. expect another post soon, particularly abut some of the cool stuff we've been doing in class. love ya all! abrazotes,


Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Jen made a worthwhile comment to me after my last blog post that I’ve become accustomed to listing out my activities and posting photos of them instead of reflecting on or going into depth about my time here. So, I’m going to switch things up a bit this month and discuss one project that I’m working in: Eco Amigos.

I mentioned in November that Darwin and I were giving some workshops on solid waste management, and then in December that the students who went to those workshops started an environmental club and made and presented a Christmas tree out of garbage. Well, in January the high school students started a three-month break and things have died down a little, but we still have good attendance and participation. In total, we have had 29 kids who have participated at one time or another. Of those, there are about 15-20 who regularly participate.

I’m proud of the kids and their participation, which is complicated, not because they’re particularly busy, but rather because parents here aren’t used to kids being involved in their own activities and families depend on children being much more involved in the household. Also, several of the group members live in communities outside of Zapotillo and it’s more difficult for them to get into town: they have to pay for transportation, it takes longer, etc. For these and other reasons, often times parents won’t let kids leave the house to go to club meetings and activities.

I have two ideas on how we can improve this. One, I want to invite the parents to a meeting where the kids can present what they’ve been doing, maybe we can get some representatives (professionals) from town to talk about why their work is beneficial, let the parents socialize, etc. I’d like to create more of a sense of community among the families, particularly since there’s been talk about sending the kids to the city for a conference and I can just imagine how a father would react to his 15 year old leaving to go to the city for a week with a gringa he doesn’t know and for a club that he’s not even really sure what they do. Also, I’d like to do is have a set weekly meeting time. Until now we’ve been planning meetings and activities as needed and it’s been difficult to communicate. The kids didn’t want a set meeting time at first, but I think it’s best now to have one.

Also, the kids have to fight a social resistance which I commend them for; the general attitude here is not one of environmental conscientiousness. There’s been a shift towards consumerism and consequently social stigmatisms towards the rural population, which is seen as contrary to the consumerist ideal. The rural population, whose way of life was not too long ago the social norm, looks to meet its needs as locally and naturally as possible. Consumerism supposedly looks to meet needs with the lowest economic cost through commercial activity. However, with the influence of things like marketing and externalized costs, the market usually ends up serving corporations and itself meaning that consumerism looks to feed and grow the market. The rural populations grows its own fruits and vegetables; raises its own animals; know how to work the land; were brought up using local seeds which don’t require chemicals but whose products can’t compete commercially; reuses its waste; are concerned with survival of themselves and their families; etc. The new generations shop in supermarkets and transport plastic bags of processed foods to their homes in their own cars or taxis; encourage the use of agrochemicals for hybrids and other plants that aren’t naturally suited for the local climate and soil; have become more concerned with fashion, status/image, material wealth, and physical appearance, etc.

These differences manifest themselves in attitudes and habits that at first glance don’t seem to be connected, but are. Let’s take, for example, the overuse of plastic bags. Tradition in this area is to have reusable baskets woven from local, natural fibers, which were used to carry locally-produced fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, etc. This doesn’t much help any market because nearly everything is part of a closed system where the producer is also the consumer. At best it would enter into a barter-and-trade system within the community. Consumerism tells us that this results in high costs because the scope of what is involved in the definition of costs in the current system of economics is extremely narrow (externalization of costs). So the consumerist mentality is that we should outsource the production of both the foodstuffs and the basket. The market decides that it is best to have fruits and vegetables grown with chemicals; meats, dairy products, eggs, etc. from animals raised with hormones and processed feed; and finally plastic bags in place of the natural-fiber basket. Not that any of these new substitutions actually cost less, but more of these costs can be externalized. I.E. the producer doesn’t have to pay for them and thus the consumer does not pay cash for them…the damages to health caused by working with chemicals with little or no protection or supervision in order to keep producer costs down and yield larger and more crops than natural; the damages to health in consuming residual chemicals; cost of education denied to children workers; cost of water, air, and ground pollution from agrochemicals, factories, transportation, and the fabrication of all the machines involved in the factories and transportation of goods, etc. What I mean to say here is that modern economics does not factor in all the costs of production, but rather a small percentage of the total costs which either the producer or consumer must pay with money or opportunity costs meaning how much productivity potential (also monetary value) you give up for any particular decision you make. And in those terms, buying processed foods in plastic bags comes out a lot less expensive than the traditional model. However, human beings do not just produce, in fact our lives and the factors that decide our quality of life are much more complex and vast than the current economic model. It's crazy to think that just because certain costs don’t figure into the current economic model, they somehow don’t exist or don’t matter. Like it or not, we do depend on this planet, on the environment. So, anyway, in life terms instead of modern economic terms, the traditional way of obtaining foodstuffs is much less expensive. But modern culture here values consumerist tendencies and thus processed foods, supermarkets, and plastic bags become status symbols while locally produced whole-foods and natural-fiber baskets become social stigmas. Perhaps not everyone recognizes it as such, but it is evident in the attitudes and habits of the people.

Although the highlight of my work thus far has been outings to the reserve, I’m excited to switch to an environmental education focus because the people themselves are the strongest protection that the reserve (and environment in general) could have, but in order for that to happen, the people must value the forest and feel empowered to be able to conserve it. Hopefully I will be able to start working in environmental education in the high school as well, but I haven’t made any concrete plans yet.

Outside of work, life is still wonderful here in Zapotillo. Time goes by too fast, there are too many things I haven’t gotten around to doing yet. I’m trying to shape up some vacation plans for this year, but don’t know when to fit all the traveling in. And now, for those of you who don’t like words, pictures!

The current waste management system in Zapotillo:
Public Waste Receptacles (at least this one is in use...not too common here)

EcoAmigos meets with the mayor to present a project proposal for carnavales (fiestas)

Zapotillo's "Sanitary Landfill." Yeah...right

Painting reused garbage cans for carnavales

More world map project, Cabeza de Toro


Community bank meeting

Haha i got my picture in the paper...again...and they're always really bad pictures...

I painted my room :) and got a new comforter with bday $ from dad (thanks!!!)

Stupid crickets have been eating holes in everything. they got my swimcap (which by the way has lasted me nine years) and i went on a killing spree, getting somewhere between 50-100 of them in my room alone.
Alright, that's it for January. Now that it's March I'll get started on my February update...haha much love!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


December was an exciting month (well, for me) so this should be an exciting update! The 2nd I skipped our monthly rancher’s meeting to guide a short tour for a woman studying tourism in Loja and to work on the World Map project we started in Cabeza de Toro.

photo: darwin martínez

On the 7th a group came from the University of Loja to learn about the reserve, practice soil studies, and to help out fixing up the trail.

As you may recall, in November we started a series of workshops on solid waste management with a group of high school kids. Those workshops continued into December as well and on the 10th the group decided to form an ecological club, wrote a constitution, and named the club EcoAmigos.

That weekend a youth service group that I’ve been helping out (JUVENTUDEZapotillo) put on a cultural program to raise money for a young man here who has Leukemia.

The following week, the whole team went to Progreso to do a community diagnostic, since NCI is going to start work in the new reserve there. I was assigned to do an activity to chart the townspeople’s’ daily activities from which I could analyze the division of labor and complete a SWOT analysis of allocation of time, etc. Each diagnostic tool is pretty boring in and of itself, but the diagnostic as a whole, particularly the analyses are interesting and necessary for the development and conservation work that we do.


a Kasia tree

Not sure what these are called but it´s some kind of less-domesticated chicken...Guinea or something...

Alligators in the Puyango River!

I don´t know the scientific name for this plant, but the locals call it ¨huevo del burro.¨ If you know spanish, I´ll let you laugh about that for a while. If you don´t, I won´t be vulgar enough to explain it to you ;)

photo: darwin martínez
This parrot thinks its mother is a chicken. Very amusing.
photo: darwin martínez
photo: darwin martínez
The next week I was “a full” (a particularly funny saying here that means very busy) helping out JUVENTUDEZ in a project where they went around town collecting donations to go out to the communities and give cookies, candy, and toys to the kids for Christmas.

Also, Eco Amigos had their first official event on the 22nd, making a Christmas tree they made out of litter found around town and presenting it at a Christmas Carols competition. It was a LOT of work, organizing, finding the bottles, etc., making the tree, preparing the event, getting t-shirts, etc., but it was definitely worth it. The event was great, everything nicely decorated, good attendance, the president of the club spoke very well, the kids were all in uniform and carried themselves well…I only wish I could have gotten a video of the whole thing, but they made me a judge for the competition and I couldn’t leave the judges table to tape it.

The 24th I stayed in my host mom’s snack shop so she could go visit her kids in Machala. That evening I closed to go to midnight mass and then to the Martinez’ for a bit…it was really nice. Christmas day I basically just walked around town, wishing everyone I knew merry Christmas and giving them cookies I made. I got to talk with most of the family as well which was nice. The day after Christmas I went with the Martinez’ to picnic on the river, which was nice because Pauli, Ramiro and the girls were in town (they live in Machala).
photo: darwin martínez
I love these girls!!

It was the most satisfying holiday season since I left home. Luckily I was busy enough this year to not think too much about being away from home for Christmas. I think what really make a difference this year, though, was that despite not being with my biological family, I still got out and spent the holiday sharing with people I care about and who care about me.

The 29th I finally was freed up to be able to go with JUVENTUDEZ to hand out some gifts that were left over. Even though it was after Christmas, it was great to be able to reach out to some communities around here that I hadn’t been to before.

The 30th, Bolívar, Darwin, and I went to Progreso because we had heard that there was a bunch of baby alligators nearby and we wanted to try to capture some. To be fair, the alligators hatch something like 20 at a time and they are lucky if a few survive, and we wanted to catch them with the intention of raising them and releasing them. Unfortunately, the net that we were using was completely ineffective and the gators got away. I’m disappointed that we didn’t capture any gators to raise, but it was still a really good trip.

photo: darwin martínez

The Chaguano trees opened up their fruits!

The guayacán trees had just started to bloom and the whole area was covered in this sheet of vibrant yellow. It’s impressive; something that you really have to see in person to appreciate. I think the guayacán trees stand out most of all the trees when they bloom for two reasons: 1) they tend to be concentrated in certain areas 2) they bloom right at the start of the rainy season, when the whole forest is still dry and leafless so against the dull brown/gray background of the trees, the yellow flowers really stand out.

New Year’s I spent in Zapotillo, mostly with friends. It was cool, nothing too spectacular to tell. Alright, that’s it for December folks.

Take care! Abrazos a la distancia, les quiero hartíssimo,