Wednesday, May 13, 2009

home again

Well, I'm home. I've been home for a little while now. I have avoided blogging about it...for complicated reasons. On one hand, I have just avoided being on the computer. I am enjoying being outside, digging in the dirt and planting a huge-onic garden at my parents' farm. On the other hand, it is hard to describe all the weird emotions whirled into one ...happiness (seeing family and friends!!!), overwhelmedness (SOOO many choices of everything. Supermarkets are just sensory overload), joy (hot showers and clean drinking water), revulsion (how morbidly obese Americans are. I had forgotten.), sticker shock (seriously, you want $4.50 for a latte? That's, like, half a day's pay... That's 3 Ecua almuerzos!...that is just wrong!...) embarrassment (I need "potty trained" again. I keep throwing toilet paper in wastebasket. Sorry mom!), relief (not having to deal with Ecua meetings that start an hour or more late), blownaway (I forgot how much wind there is in Northwest Ohio!), sadness (I am already missing some of my Ecua friends, PC buddies and fresh avocados and chocobananas), unstressed (man, everyone in the U.S. seems to be competing for who can be most stressed out), annoyed (with the political psychobabble on both sides. Stop blabbing and actually DO something) and proud (despite all the b.s., I still feel kinda proud to be from this crazy country). So, in reviewing my list, it might appear that I am not happy to be back, but that is not really true. We were ready to come back. We are happy to be back (but please don't ask us if we are happy to be back "in civilization." Argh! Is that really the only question you can think to ask me?). We are having fun being back. We are spending the summer gardening, traveling, hanging out with family and friends and figuring out what we want to do next. Unemployment and homelessness is working out well for us so far. Who knew it could be so fun.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Introducing: Amazon Partnerships Foundation

No, I am not suffering from a contaminated Clifbar-induced coma. Just writers block. Actually, that is a lie, I don’t have writers block: I just haven’t had much motivation to blog lately. I admit I have a lot on my mind as I try to wind up my Peace Corps service and transition back to life stateside.

So, one thing that has kept me busier of late (and a topic that I have been meaning to blog about is) Amazon Partnerships Foundation. I am proud and honored to be part of the Board of Directors for this incredible new organization.

A really amazing woman that Jer and I have had the opportunity to work with, Mary Fifield, founded the organization and has asked me to serve in an advisory capacity. Amazon Partnerships Foundation provides small grants and project management support for initiatives designed and implemented by local communities here in Ecuador´s Amazon region. Some of the projects include the construction of rainwater catchment systems and dry composting toilets. Some of my faithful readers will remember that Jer, Mary and I have worked together to install the tanks and toilets in Kichwa and Waorani communities. These are low-cost, environmentally friendly initiatives that provide basic drinking water and sanitation—things that you and I take for granted, and are a basic human need—to remote indigenous communities.
Be sure to check out the website (look for the cameo of yours truly on the dramatic and inspiring flash intro) and please consider making a contribution to this critical cause via the website. I am trying to help raise $5,000 to support the first year’s operations and am hoping my faithful and generous blogstalkers will help me out. Click here to donate (POR FAVOR!!!!).
Keep reading for more about APF:
Amazon Partnerships Foundation is based in the Ecuadorian Amazon province of Napo. The Napo River, one of the largest in the country and a major tributary of the Amazon River, traverses this rainforest region. Widely recognized for its biological diversity and importance to the global climate, the Upper Napo basin is also a popular destination for year-round kayaking and whitewater rafting.
Over the years this area has suffered from two simultaneous crises: severe environmental damage and disempowerment of the indigenous Kichwa people, whose traditional practices for maintaining a balance between human activity and nature played a critical role for generations in conserving the watershed and rainforest. Through global economic pressure and the influence of Western culture, large areas of Napo province have been overhunted, much of the primary rainforest has been cut down, river levels are dropping, and the watershed is threatened with run-off pollution from mining and oil operations. At the same time, the Kichwa people, who make up nearly half of the population, have been systematically discriminated against, marginalized, and impoverished.

Executive Director Mary Fifield and others (like me) saw an opportunity to reverse this trend and founded Amazon Partnerships Foundation in 2008. Our mission is to empower indigenous Kichwa communities that value environmental stewardship through expression of their nature-based culture. We provide small grants and project management support for projects designed and implemented by communities. Through the exchange of ideas between Kichwa and Western traditions, we envision a new awareness for sustainable living based on equality among people in harmony with the natural world.
Inspired? Please support Amazon Partnerships with a gift today!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Peanut Pact

If you are ever around more than, say, three volunteers at any one time the conversation will inevitably revolve around food we miss from home. Sour cream, good cheese, Guiness, Chipotle burritos and bratwurst were just a few of the foods that were making us salivate this weekend. PCVs can literally go on for HOURS talking about food. So, when parents of Peace Corps Volunteers come to visit, they come bearing gifts of joy. Because they have to. Months before coming down, we send them long lists of things to bring with them. More often not, they are food related...because, well, hot showers just really are not that portable. When my parents came down in December, they brought me a case of Take 5 candy bars among many other delectible delights. Parents also take us to dinner at fancy places that are normally out of the budget of stingy volunteers. So, when my friend Casey's dad came down to visit recently, he took us out to eat at the all-you-can eat tapas restaurant which (wait for this) also features all-you-can wine for a set price (which is roughly the equivalent of 4 days of our salary.) Let's just say it was a glorious time. He is my new BFF. Casey's dad also brought down two suitcases brimming with other goodies, including no less than 100 Clif bars. Dozens and dozens of delicious mounds of healthy soy energy to power us through our jungle adventures. Let the good times roll! Lucky for me, Casey is a very generous person and usually shares the wealth. Clif bars for her, meant Clif bars for me. So imagine our conundrum when we learned that Clif bars were being recalled---something about a peanut poisoning that is plaguing the U.S. of A. Huh? Her dad, being a doctor, texted her and recommended she throw them away. So, what is a poor, hungry Peace Corps Volunteer to do? Do you just throw out 100 Clif bars?...which, is almost one month's salary here and just goes against every grain in your body to waste food? Or do you eat them anyway and risk certain death by Salmonella?

Five PCVs assembled to contemplate this very question. We had just stocked up on boxed wine because the Ecuadorian government just enacted some really rediculous new limitation and taxes on the importation of certain products including shoes and booze. So, instead of guarding our stockpile, we started to deplete it as we debated death and disease and salmonella. We all concluded the following: if we were in the U.S., we would definitely dump the Clif bars. But we are not in the U.S. We are in Ecuador. Where we are surrounded by super germs and giardia every day. Matt reasoned that he lived in China for 4 months, and he was much more likely to get food poisoning or die from salmonella there, than from a silly Clif bar here. He said he would eat it. Her MPH backround kicking in, Case was more cautious. She texted her family to find out just how many people had died from the peanut contamination. 7. Maybe even 8. Humm.... Quite a dilemma. Matt said he was definitely going to eat it. The rest of us decided we couldn't eat the Clif bar alone. So we made a solumn Peanut Pact: We would each eat one of the peanutty Clif bars and risk salmonella together. So as part of our Peanut Pact we slowly and cermoniously ate our Clif bars together.

During our conversation, Jer had been reminscing about Barnyard Busters at TeeJays. He just loves those things. So the next morning he decided to make homemade buscuits and gravy to celebrate being alive. He also made bacon. As Casey would say, it was a "sheer delight." Good ole greasy diner food! Deelish.

Later, Casey took off for Quito. Her parting words, "be sure to text me every 5 minutes to let me know you are still alive."

So far, so good. So, if anyone wants to send some more Clif bars down south, we will happily accept them, fresh or recalled, we don't care. Just don't send more than 2 kg at a time, as we don't want to have to pay taxes on the package. Yes, we're hungry...but we are also cheap.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fine dining adentro

I recently got back from a trip to the Waorani community of Tepapare (my favorite of the dozen or so I have visited). The purpose of the trip was to work on a the chambira palm nursery. We had planted seeds months ago and it was time to replant them. This last trip adentro was a gastronomically unique experience. There seems to be a lot of fruit...and other gather in the rainforest at this time of year.

Below is the truck we loaded up with 7 passengers, 20 sheets of sheet metal, a half dozen gas cans and 100 pounds of food and other supplies.

This is a morete. The outer covering is sort of like scales. It first has to be boiled, then peeled, then you kind of gnaw at the fruit inside. Pretty tasty, actually.

Chontacuros. Yes, these are worms. And yes, I even ate one!!! (and no, I didn't even get any dare money for it.). Thankfully it was cooked (they are commonly eaten raw...LIVE!). The flavor was unmemorable...the texture was too much for me to take. Too chewy on outside. Locals say that eating them is good for fighting colds.

Here is Manuela eating guaba. We ate LOTS of guaba over the course of the week. They are long green pods that contain large black seeds covered with sweet, white stuff that you suck on and then spit out the seed. Pretty good, actually.

Here is a guy climbing a tree to harvest more tasty treats.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A very Ecua Christmas

On Christmas Eve I went with my scholarship girl, Janeth, to her school's Christmas program. It was dominated by elementary school kids lip synching to poppy Christmas songs, but also featured some lively renditions of Silent Night played on their recorders.

The costumes were fantastic. There lots of pretty little angels, and cutie kids dressed as sheep and cows and chickens in the stable. The shepherds even had goatees.... although this poor kid below is going to have his on for at least a week, as it appears he applied it himself... with a sharpee marker. My favorite part, hands down, was the LIVE baby Jesus. (see here in lower right hand corner). No baby dolls for this crowd! Nothing but a real screaming pooping hungry live baby for this show! I had my hands full with my own baby (okay, not really, it is my friend Silvia's daughter). I somehow successfully held the baby while eating a plate of bbq chicken, rice and yuca with a flimsy plastic spoon. Quite a feat, I must say.

Here I am with my crew.

By the time I got back to the apartment after all the festivities, Jer got home and our friends Casey and Roger had come over for a little Nochebuena Christmas Eve dinner. I was pysyched to be able to hang out with two of my bestest Peace Corps pals for the holiday.
The next morning we had a Christmas Day breakfast extravaganza which featured bacon, a rare and expensive commodity here in Ecuador (which is weird, considering how much they love other pork products). After gorging on good food, we headed out to take a hike on a trail about a 10 minute busride from our house. It was a nice day and we encountered exactly 0 people on the trail. As we hiked along, we stumbled across the perfect little place to take a dip.
So we did.

It was our very own beautiful little swimming hole in a bend of an emerald green river...surrounded by steep hillsides swathed in in ferns. It was awesome.

So, all the sadness about being away from family for Christmas was washed away by the refreshingly cold current of the river. So as past Christmases seemed to blend and blur one into another in our memories, we all agreed that we would always remember Christmas 2008 where we played in the river in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Joy to the world!