The End... and the Beginning
Friends and Family! I believe that this will be the last time that I use this forum to communicate. I have been inconsistent and lazy when it came to updating all of you, and for that I apologize.
I am currently in transition from one thing to another. My work in Ecuador has ended and I tearfully left my adopted family, some very good friends, my little town, and the amazing mountains behind. Currently I am visiting some friends who live in Guatemala as I gradually make my way back to Michigan. I will be here for another week before heading to New York City to see Marni. A week later, I will be in Terra Houte visiting Dan and Bethany, and finally I will make it back up to Mom, Dad, and Katie in the middle of September.
The journey only pauses there, however, since at the beginning of October I will be heading out to Seattle to take a job with the Phinney Neighborhood Association. I will be in charge of their tech center, as well as attempting to build relationships in the Spanish-speaking community in the neighborhood in order to assess its needs and connect it to the Association.
I am excited about the change, but also apprehensive about some "old" things. The opportunitiy to see a new city, the chance to start a new job with different challenges (a welcome change), meeting new people and making new friends, but also an "old" culture and way of life, which I am supposed to know and be accustomed to, although I am not so sure that I will adjust back to so readily.
Although nervous, I am eager to see family and friends in this next month and then get started with a new period in my life. Change always holds opportunity, so I am ready to adjust and learn and grow as I find myself in another situation under different circumstances.
I tried to put up a few pictures for the few of you who check up on me now and again. I have had little success with pictures, but every now and again I get motivated to try.
These pictures show a bit of what I have been up to regarding work. Organizing, training, and working alongside my friends and neighbors. I have focused on beekeeping for about the past year; forming, training, and strengthening three community beekeepers associations. In the past 6 months I have been actively helping a foundation-supported tree nursery get started. It has been a challenge to help 90 families scattered across a few different communities get organized and stay motivated; however, things are still going forward and I am just now starting to see a few positive results.
In other news, I am very close to finishing a whopping 650pg book on church history – sobering stuff. It is amazing that I have never heard most of this stuff before. I am also enjoying hanging out with my adopted Ecuadorian parents/grandparents (they call me their son and I call them “Grandpa” and “Grandma”). My self-declared caretakers are already mourning my imminent departure, which is planned for August of this year.
A funny story – the other weekend, along with some other American friends, I accompanied a large group of Ecuadorian women to plant trees about 13,000ft up on a local mountain. After the long climb up, we started to dig the holes in order to plant the trees. All of a sudden one of my (American) friends excitedly turned to me and said, “Look, a gringo!” I stared for a few moments at the older white man who had not come up the mountain with us but who was evidently hiking up the mountain to the peak. All of a sudden, we realized what we were doing… we broke down laughing at our typical Ecuadorian reaction to foreigners, realizing that only hours before the majority of the women with whom we had come had reacted to us in the same way that we had so quickly taken notice of the elderly hiker.
An update is way overdue (when is it not?), so after laboring all day, getting myself dusty and sweaty, and then walking the 30 minutes uphill back to my house, I am sitting down to let you all “in” on what´s been happening.
First, it has been a month since Mom, Dad, and Katie (little sis) were here for their two week visit! Neglectfully, I haven´t written anything about their amazing time here. For 10 days in January, I was able to introduce ¾ of my nuclear family to all of the strange things that have become customary to me, present them to my friends, show them the Andes Mountains, and try to poison them with local food.
The highlight for them (at least this is what they told me) and for me was to finally have them here in Santa Ana. Everyone wanted to meet them, chat with them (which meant a lot of smiles and nodded heads and confusion on both sides), and give them food – they really wanted to feed them, to the point that we had to eat 2 dinners one night because it was our last night and one family would NOT be denied! I was really impressed with Mom and Dad, and especially Katie´s adaptability to all of the situations that arose in their 4 days here in “my neck of the woods”!
We also had a chance to go spend some time in the jungle seeing all sorts of orchids, butterflies, hummingbirds and a few waterfalls. We even zoomed for a few hundred yards over a canopy-covered valley in a little cable-suspended “car” (I think Dad opened his eyes for a moment or two as we crossed – he loves heights). Afterwards, we downhill-biked down the largest active volcano in the world; starting somewhere around 15,000ft and rolling down to about 7-8,000, it was an adventure! Then, we finished out our time together crossing back and forth between the north and south hemisphere and learning why Ecuador deserves the title The Middle of the World.
It really was an awesome time, and I am so glad that they made all of the sacrifices they did in order to be able to come down!
Well… to bring everyone up to date to now:
The bees are going just fine. The production has been much lower than expected, but the Professionals say that this year has been a super bad honey year. Additionally, the goals that I have for the 3 Beekeepers´ Associations have more to do with learning, organization, initiative, and independence than they do with production. So I am content.
My main new project has been building and starting a tree nursery from scratch. It is just myself and a friend of mine doing this, so I have been involved in every aspect of everything. This was exactly the idea. I am learning a ton about how to produce trees (and why everything is done the way that it is). The work has been super physical and I have been falling into bed asleep for the past couple of weeks – partly because I came down with the flu last weekend and am only feeling 100% again since Thursday.
Oh yeah, I was the coach of the high school basketball team for about a month (it´s entire history), and they won all three games they played and finished the CHAMPIONS of the tournament in which they competed… fun stuff!
Family and Friends...
I am in the big city today looking for materials to make a small, low-technology greenhouse. Over the last few months I have been working with a few communities in producing fruit trees and it has been a relative success until know (the final product is ready in about 8-10 months). It has gone sufficiently well, that I am going to invest a bit of my own money and help a friend of mine begin his own tree nursery. We will be "partners" and he will continue to teach me the art of growing and taking care of young trees (a very useful and hugely environmentally beneficial skill to have) while I will put in the majority of the money (which won`t be more than a few weeks worth of gas money there in the States these days).
I am curious to see how it works out. At worst, I will learn a new skill and pay a "class fee", plus I will participate in producing and planting a few more trees. At best, I will help a friend begin a small business and I will be able to use the money that I "make" to help support youth in the area go to college.
Fat Tuesday is this upcoming week. Here in Ecuador (and I think in most of the Catholic World) that means that we are in the festivals of Carnaval). I will celebrate by throwing water on everyone and their mother (literally) this weekend, then watching the superbowl with other US friends, and on Monday going to a big outdoor concert-party where we will continue to get drenched and drench others and maybe participate in a white-water rafting competition.
It should be a blast!
I think that this is a great way to avoid the "after-christmas blues"... you just schedule more Holidays!
In the past few weeks, I have gotten out of my normal routine a few times. Although, it is probably not what you imagine when you think of me in "Ecuador-South America", life is generally fairly predictable and normal; it is also interesting and enjoyable, so don`t think that this a negative thing.
My life continues to be dominated by work with four community groups, three of which are now in the production phase of beekeeping (Yeah! An exciting and successful stage!). The other group is attempting to maintain a small tree nursery and produce fruit trees. It has been moderately successful to this point, but I am a bit worried and have much work to do regarding that project.
I am TREMENDOUSLY excited that my parents and little sister will be arriving here in Ecuador for an (almost) two week stint one week from today!! I am disappointed and saddened by my inability to be with the Gisel and Picklo families for the second straight year. I grow more and more appreciative for family, and I have been given an amazing, supportive, fun, and loving family. That I have not been able to spend time with you all in such a long time is a terrible falla!
Despite being far from family, I had a wonderful Christmas. I spent Christmas eve with a great family who I consider good friends. It is the family that I stayed with upon arriving here for about 2 months, so I have known them for a year and half. We celebrated together with a midnight turkey dinner (which actually started a bit after 10pm on the 24th, but ended after midnight). It was delicious as well as fun.
The 25th, I met up with 2 friends and traveled most of the day down to a beautiful town a few hours south of the capital. We ended the day with a short hike to the top of a 11,000ft "hill". We spent the next two days hiking around the town. One day we hiked into a huge canyon and then wandered around all day, a bit lost, but enjoying a soaking rain and repeatedly trudging back and forth through a small river. The other day, we did a tiring hike up to a beautiful crater lake.
Then, yesterday, we finished off our Christmas Hiking Tour by summeting (climbing) a mountain called Iliniza Norte. I will hopefully be able to put up pictures relatively soon, but you know me. If you want to see a picture go to the following page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illiniza . Iliniza Norte is the mountain on the right (the other one is Iliniza Sur... North and South). It is one the 10 tallest peak in Ecuador at 5,126m or 16,817ft!
It was an exciting, but nerve-racking climb!
I hope to hear from you. If you have a second, just add a comment and let me know what`s happening, or send me a real email.
The blog still lives...
It has been quite some time since I have had a little free time to get free and use the computer. Yesterday, I took advantage of a slow week visited tht city with the sole purpose of writing emails. After almost 3 hours I had to leave, with only about half of the work done that I had wanted. Today, I find myself in an office waiting for a "meeting", so I asked a friend if I could use one of the unoccupied workstations (this is one of the only offices that I know of that has internet access... lucky for me).
I guess that it is fairly obvious that I have been busy. Bees, youth, trees, friends, and following leads on new ideas were my main activities in the month of November.
My birthday (#25) will be arriving for the second time since I have been here in Ecuador on Sunday. I am not sure what it is that I will be doing, but it will be fun since a friend is planning it as a "surprise". I am sure that for at least part of it, I will be outside enjoying the almost unbelievable beauty of the mountains.
I am growing more and more excited about the visit of my parents and little sister. They will be arriving one month from today!
Thanksgiving was a low key vegetarian affair on Friday (day after real Tday) with a few friends in the big city. Christmas is up in the air right now... but I am beginning to plan a bit of a vacation with some Peace Corps friends. It should be fun, although I wish that I could participate in the Gisel Gathering, and be at Grandma Picklo´s for Christmas Day.
More to come soon... I will not delay another month. Promise.
Simply an Update
After (how much time? I normally say, ¨a little over a year¨) 15 months here in Ecuador I definitly feel "at home". When I go out and about, which I do quite a bit, since I am working in about 6 different communities, and I come back to my town, I feel like a load falls off my shoulders. There is something about how everyone greets me by name, and the little kids say Hola! to me repeatedly as I walk towards them and then Chau! as I walk away that makes me feel warm inside.
After cooking for myself for a year, I am now eating exclusively at my Grandma`s house. I decided that since I was only normally at my house for an average of one lunch OR dinner per day and that every other day my Grandma would force me to eat at her house or just drop food off at mine (so I was eating about 50% of my meals there anyway)... that I would just make arrangments to eat there all the time and that would give me permission to chip in for the cost of the food. While I was still a ´guest¨ she wouldn`t let me give her any money for things. But since now I am permanent fixture, she let me buy the 100lb bag of rice for this month.
I also have an awesome best friend who lives in the closest big town teaching English. She is from Long Island. One of the nicest, kindest people I have ever met... In addition to being my best friend, we are dating, which is fun. :) Her name is Marni.
I feel busy and satisfied with what I am doing... although I always want to do it better and with more love and attention to the relationships that I have, am making, or could make! I am doing a variety of things, which I love.
- Group of Youth - 10 teenagers meet at my house once a week, to plan activities, chill, and cook (generally). My purpose with them is to help them develop their leadership and planning skills, as well as to inject them with thoughts on gender equality and improve their self-esteem so that they will start to think and plan for what they want to do in the future. Right now they are getting started again teaching older women in my community how to read and write (they did it last school year, but stopped for the summer and we are just getting back into the swing of things again).
- Bee project - I am working with 30 people divided among three groups in different communities. I am training them how to take care of bees and produce honey (as I study and learn from others), and I am helping them form Associations in order to be able to grow and sell their product better.
- Tree Nursery - I am in charge of a project to produce 2,000 trees. Mainly this means coordinating between the agency, the forestry engineer, and the three towns-womens groups that are involved.
Other than that, I am trying to pursue a couple of ideas that I have for other things to start and working with a couple of individual families on special cases. It has been a long process but I am excited about stuff.