Saturday, March 4, 2017

What a lovely world

Hello friends!

I write you with a full and thankful heart for all that Kris and I have had the privilege to experience on our trip thus far. We have received so much from everyone we have met. I think this post may be remniscent of the last, as I share about the beautiful human beings we have come to know. Last time I wrote we were in the mountains in La Sierra Sur of Oaxaca, staying with the young groovy family. The rest of our time there was lovely. We got to celebrate the eldest child's birthday with a special meal of mole de guajolote (turkey) straight from the farm. They told us that the turkey was a gift to the child the year before for his birthday, so this year they killed it and ate it. Everyone was very excited. It was sweet.

From there we headed back to Oaxaca City and goofed off a while, eating so much delicious food, and going out dancing... I believe. Wait though, this is where it gets good. We found we had an extra week before there was space for us at the farm, so Kris suggested we go visit these small towns to the north of the city. We went. It was wonderful. We arrived at the first town by taxi, called Cuajimoloyas, and the first thing I noticed- silence. It was such a pleasant change from the loud city. We spent the afternoon walking a trail that wove through public and private lands, asking for directions along the way, and goodness, it was a good challenge, and gorgeous. We were in the forest! The people of the town were so genuinely kind. I was really humbled. After an excellent dinner in one of the town's tiny restaurants, we went to bed (so early) and thoroughly enjoyed the beds... and the shelter in the cold night. The following day we hiked to the next town over with a lovely woman who was our guide through the forest. She, again, was so kind. She volunteers to take people on tours. This brings me to the interesting format of these towns.

In these towns, from what I've been able to understand, they govern themselves by selecting citizens to serve the town for a year or two in various positions. In these specific towns, eco-turism is big, so there are also various positions serving tourists. I believe you start to serve the town when you turn 18. When you are called, you go. After that, you can volunteer if you want. In this town, people don't have much as far as money or cars, etc, but through the way the town is set up, it seems that most people get land to raise animals or plants, and through this they supply most of their needs. They are self-sustaining.

Oh my goodness. I almost forgot. We had a really interesting conversation with a man from one of these towns in the taxi ride. He told us about how the climate has been changing-- it used to rain in these mountains, regularly, predictably, and well. This provided for healthy crops, good harvests. He said that now it hardly rains, and when it does the rain is harsh and damages the plants. People aren't planting as much or practicing agriculture as much as they did before because of the unpredictable weather-- a crop can be destroyed in drought or in these harsh rains, and then all the investment is lost. He told us about how before plastic arrived to these towns they would use the fibers of a kind of cactus plant to weave baskets, bags, everything. Then came plastic bags, plastic everything, commercial everything, and the people started to use all of these new products. Now there is just so much trash generated. It was a really good talk. It was crazy.

Kris and I had just been talking about all these things that morning, and then he just confirmed it all. These are the stories we've heard for so long; that our consumerism, waste, and greed, our standard of living that contaminates and uses more than our fair share of resources (in the West) and also the history of taking and exploitation and oppression by the US (and others colonizers) in Latin America (and to be fair, in other places) really affects the poorest, the most humble, the most wise people. It really has made these places poor and kept them poor. It is just crazy. It is a harsh reality.

We feel so strongly our privilege being travelers in Oaxaca. It is so apparent, we just traipsing through the city, laughing, buying snacks, planning trips... worried about nothing, and then all around these people just doing their daily grind, selling the snacks in the street, sweeping with homemade brooms, or working their 12-hr shift to make the equivalent of $4USD in a day. It is hard to know what to do about these feelings, about, again, this reality. We recognize the privilege we have, even as US citizens, to be able to take this long trip to engage our curiosities about the world, to broaden our horizons, to taste the flavors of these far-off places. The thing is, it isn't fair. It just isn't. It isn't fair that I am born well-off, taken care of, and with plentiful opportunity to have a comfortable, even indulgent life, and that someone born in Oaxaca, even if they study and obtain a degree in psychology or engineering, are likely going to be struggling, and that taking even a short trip requires months or even years of saving. Even when they visit places in their own country, they may be discriminated against because of where they come from because the white person (with more money) is worth more attention.

These are things that have been rolling around in my head. It is good.

Where was I? I should try to be brief; there is much to share. We met other travelers in the next town, we ate more good food (that is really just a given), and we stayed there two nights. We got to enter into a temazcal to sweat... and drink this mint herbal mix tea... which felt so good in the cold mountains, and especially because I got sick those days... And we drank a fermented agave drink, tepache. It was strong. Like wine. Ha. Delicious.

And we walked on, to the next town, and goodness, the hikes were all just gorgeous. Imagine, in the mountains, pure, wild nature. On this last hike we met 2 friends, a young woman from England and a young man originally from the US but who had been living in New Zealand for a few years. They were really good company. We had a great time chatting on the trail, getting to know each of them, hearing of their experiences and hopes and dreams... Ha, always. And later we danced a little swing and Miss England let me teach her some bachata and merengue. And later we played card games until we went to bed. It was just pure fun. !Bellas seres humanos en todos lados! 

It was beautiful to visit the towns. We returned to Oaxaca, and then we got to go to the next farm! In Rojas de Cuahtemoc, a small livestock desert town, we arrived and while walking with our backpacks, were greeted warmly by The Icecream Man, who told us how to proceed to arrive to the farm. I think it is where most of the backpackers who come to Rojas are headed. Oh, man. This farm was out of control. So well organized, with a solid group of international volunteers. They invited us in, we set up our tents, and then we jumped into the game, sawing carrizo, a plant similar to bamboo, to help construct a bench.

We were so impressed with this place. We got to work on natural building projects (the carrizo, and an adobe-like plaster on a building). Like at Rancho Akna (the first farm) we mixed the plaster with our feet, and slapped and smoothed it on the wall with our hands. This mix was filtered sand, dirt, and baba de nopal, which helps it to all stick together. Pretty messy, very fun. I also got to help take measurements to create a map of the property with a lovely woman who is an architect. I also helped Kris build a compost system for the human waste generated on the property. That was rad. Kris worked so hard and finished it within that two weeks that we were there. Wild. And now that farm has a sustainable way to take care of their waste and turn it into a resource that they can use to fertilize their plants. Humanure. If you haven't looked into it, I really suggest you do. It is so important! Talk about Systems Unseen*.

Now I'm going to go on about that because it is fascinating. Basically, with the current systems we have, toilets, we flush waste away with (at least in the US) CLEAN DRINKING WATER, a precious limited resource. Then it gets sent to a Waste Treatment Plant where they use all sorts of chemicals to filter and process it to make it into something less toxic**, then eventually it is sent out to river or sea.... it can be done so much better. If we can take responsibility for our waste, we can implement systems that (like what Kris just built), cleanly convert that waste into a resource, saving water, saving the energy used in those Treatment Plants, and saving the rivers and oceans from further contamination. It is just wild.

This farm project has the ultimate goal of being a learning center for the community and outsiders, to show permaculture systems (recycling water, composting toilets, organic and sustainable cultivation of crops, specifically amaranth, which is native to Mexico and high in nutrients). It is funded by an association called Puente, that seeks to mitigate poverty and malnutrition.

Surely I will remember fondly the meals we shared at this farm. They have it worked out so that we´re on a rotation for house chores duty. When it is your day, you get up a little early and prepare breakfast for everyone (generally some delux oatmeal with an agua fresca or cafe or chocolate). Then as everyone goes to their projects, you get to clean up, wash dishes, and start preparing lunch. They have solar ovens, which are basically mirrors reflecting the sun´s energy onto a bowl with a glass lid. It is slow, but it works. Water simmers, bread bakes... with the pure energy of the sun. My first day as Kitchen Volunteer was a little rough because I didn´t know the ropes... but the second day (which happened to be our last day at the farm) I had a great time. I made vegan oatmeal banana pancakes for breakfast, and then an Italian plate for lunch, complete with pasta and slow roasted tomato sauce, steamed veggies, a salad (prepared by our coin Italian) and bread... and agua de jamaica... It was so fun, jamming out to my music, cooking the best I know how to nourish these new friends.

And that was the best part. Everyone who cooked took their role seriously, and prepared meals with great love and great seasoning. We ate curries, falafel, soups, breads-- from Spanish, Italian, French, US, and Mexican chefs. Everything was just so good. And everyone was always very grateful. It is simple, but just really nice.

Goodness. So much goodness.

Maybe this is a good place to pause, leaving on a note of gratefulness, joy, community, and health. I still want to share of a wonderful visit to Santa Catarina de Noltepec, a remote town where a good old friend is living, in Oaxaca, and then some closing thoughts on our time in Mexico. We are currently in Ecuador. Tomorrow we head to our first farm here. We are very excited.

Thank you, for your support, for your love, for the wisdom you have shared with me. I think of many of you often, and reflect on words you've shared. Much love to you!

*Kris's term. Get ready for a podcast with the same title.
**Even after excessive processing in the WWT Plants, particulates from prescription medications, antibiotics, etc, remain in the water (because our body doesn't absorb them, they just pass through in urine). These then get aborbed by algae, consumed  by fish and other wildlife, hurting their bodies and in turn hurting ours if we consume the fish. Also, some of it gets cycled through again to our "clean" water, and we drink it. Yikes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

In Search Of An Alternative Way

¡Hola Amigos! ;-)

I write to you from a little Ciber (internet cafe) in San Mateo, a pueblito (small town) in the mountains between Oaxaca (the capital of Oaxaca) and Pochutla (a coastal city). As we type, Kris and I share a snack of cacahuates con chile, ajo, y sal (salted garlic pepper peanuts). We both love peanuts, aguas frescas (fruit smoothies), palanquetas, platanitos, coco, pan dulce, quesadillas... it works out. We have a lot in common.

Maybe I should start with an introduction. Kris, a friend of mine from Portland, OR, and I are on a trip, traveling with our backpacks through Mexico, touring around and volunteering at permaculture farms (WWOOFing). So far we have been in Mexico DF (the capital), Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, and now, as afore stated, in the mountains.

In DF we arrived to a hostel that I had stayed at before and made good connections with the community that lives around there. It was fun to see a few of those people again and also meet new people (travelers, mostly). We met a young man from Peru who is in a hard core band and practices yoga.(His band is called Alhambre... Hard Core Lima, Peru.) Really nice guy. Also a good contact for later on... We met interesting people from Scotland and Germany, too. It was a good time. Kris and I spent a few days walking around the city, going to the botanical garden in Chapultepec (the big park in Mexico City where Tenochtitlan was originally). What else? While we were there I went to visit the family who hosted me for 4 months when I was in Mexico before. All is well with them; they are still in the same camino, still going to church... It was really nice to see them again. But odd, because it was literally just for like a day.

Ah, and then we went to another hostal that was really hip, really hippie :-) All the walls were painted with murals, with poetry, there was a vegetarian only kitchen, and there were rad travelers from all around...

Next we made our way to Oaxaca where we stayed with the cousin of a friend from Oregon (gracias Don Fernando!) who happened to be a young woman about our age. We had a good time. She was really sweet. While we were there we learned about different issues that Mexico is facing-- well actually, when we arrived we learned about them, but she helped to contextualize them and explain it all more clearly. One big thing is the gasoline prices. There is a big upset because of some of the President's actions, and the price of gasoline rose to higher than it has ever been. Protests, streets closed, a lot of upset, understandably.

While in Oaxaca we got to go to Monte Alban which is the site of an ancient city, ruins, pyramids, amazing, removed, with a lot of history. We really enjoyed it.

From there we continued on down south to Puerto Escondido, which is a beach town. There are many tourists, many snowbirds, many surfers. We did, however, go to stay on a ranch a little out of the town, up in the hills. It is a beautiful place. It is dry (as it is the dry season), but there are adobe constructions, an outdoor kitchen, a letrine and many projects in the works. We arrived in the late afternoon, tired and sweaty from the looong (and winding... ay) bus ride. Two guys were there who kindly showed us around. They mentioned a river-- I jumped on that. It was getting dark, but we took headlamps and headed down to the river to cool off. It was like a 20 minute walk down dirt roads, and the river was quite shallow with a good current. It was so nice. We arrived back at the common area refreshed and found a bunch of people, greeting us with kisses, introducing themselves, all in the dark. Ha. Uncomfortable! I was a little overwhelmed, so I set up my tent and went to bed, but Kris stayed up with them all and they made dinner and played music and chatted...  This was to be the pattern, the rhythm of things for this ranch.

In the morning I awoke, refreshed, and was able to meet everyone again, in the clarity of the light of the new day, and I believe I helped make breakfast or wash dishes while chatting with other travelers. They explained that we all contribute to buying and cooking food, and that there is work to be done but you only do as much as you like. We're all free to do as we please. Kris and I were a bit surprised to hear this, or I was at least (because generally with WWOOFing the arrangement is you work 30 hrs a week in exchange for food and lodging) but as I got to talking to people, eating the food they prepared, working on the adobe construction with bare hands and bare feet in the warm sun, going down to the beach to play in the ocean, returning to the house to make dinner by candlelight and play acoustic music and dance and hula and stretch and look at the stars, I realized what a treasure we had come upon. Ah, we also got to take hula hooping classes from the English woman and go out to a concert of friends of a friend and dance so hard and free.

We met characters from all over: A hula-hooping, health conscious, free, beautiful, yoga instructor fashion designer from Inglaterra (England) who speaks with the most beautiful accent and speaks the few Spanish phrases she has learned with an equally fun accent. And who is hilarious, my goodness, and wise. A young environmental engineer from England who has, again, that gorgeous accent, and the kindest demeanor, and is also travelling, planning on living and working in Mexico for a while. A few chaps from Guadalajara, a city in Jalisco, Mexico. who work as architects on projects both private (for income) and community-based (volunteering), who have a rad outlook on life and are, like the rest of us, seeking out a better, more whole, more honest way to live. They are also awesome musicians, and shared of their gifts and encouraged me to play and sing as well.  Then there is a young woman from DF who is just lovely, who is also free and working for the community on various projects, sustainability, etc. She plays Son Jarocho, which is a style of music that I've become familiar with through friends in Oregon. When she began to play my heart soared a little, and she taught me a couple of songs. And one of the chaps from Guadalajara taught me to play La Bamba, haha, which is great, but also is one of those songs that gets stuck in your head, so everybody loved that. ;-) Then there were young men from the Czech Republic, Chile, Italy, who were really fun and wholesome and kind, and would look after us a little, like uncles, and joke around. And later at the beach we met a few more lovely, free people from Chile and France and Argentina. Ahh, man.

I just loved getting to know each of these beautiful souls, hearing about where they have come from, where they would like to go, what they want to learn-- everyone is still figuring it out, and it is good. And we all got along pretty well and had some really sweet community time together. I accustomed to the heat, I hated it and then I loved it. We swam in the ocean a lot, went to el Mercado to buy food for the community, washed our clothes and our bodies in the river, slept under a million stars and a bright moon every night, awoke to a slow rising sun every morning... it was a dream. It was really a dream.

And now, through a person we met at that ranch, we have come up to the mountains, and we are staying with this young family on their ranch. They have a lot going on. They have a temazcal (like a sweat lodge built from adobe, used for ceremonies I believe) but they are building a new one. They have a few adobe houses (one they live in). We put up a big teepee where Kris and I are now staying. They distill essential oils and make natural body products using many plants that they grow. They have 3 children who bathe daily but also are just always covered in dust as they run around barefoot all day helping in the garden or with whatever projects. They are strong and healthy and smart. I'm continually impressed by this family. The couple is originally from Mexico City but they, as all these people I have mentioned, wanted something different. So they have been building their life out here on this property for 7 years now, and I'd say they are doing quite well.

Anyway, this is maybe a lot, or maybe a little, of what we have experienced. Maybe too many details. But I suppose take from this what you like. We have been continually blessed to meet interesting, kind people. We have never felt in danger or afraid. We have been seeing such beauty in the scenery and the people. We feel free, we feel sure, we are learning and experiencing new things every single day.

We sympathize with those suffering cold back at home (although right now in the mountains I am also struggling with this cold... brrr). We send you warm hugs, much love, a spirit of freedom, of light, of positive energy...

and much love. Thank you to everyone who has supported us on our search. May we all find good roads to walk on; may we all continue learning and cherishing the feel of the sun, or the rain, or the wind, or the ocean waves on our skin.


*Also, in case you are unaware, our plan is to be traveling, WWOOFing, for the next 5 months or so. We intend to travel to Ecuador and make our way through Peru and Bolivia before returning home in June. :-)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Reflection from a Day in the Garden

Working in the garden
Just with myself and the earth
And sometimes my music
Singing, Laughing (so much) 
Delighting in the utter Beauty of Being and Existing 
how I am made to 
Be and Exist.

With plants that nourish me, 
Nourishing them with tender care, 
composted sheep manure
lovely fallen leaves...

Them surprising me with how they 
Giving life- 
There is enough goodness 
For the little bugs and slugs and I and friends 
Especially since the bugs are passing on
with the Change of season
another overwhelming beauty to witness.

Estoy agradecida. This is how I end many of my journal entries and many of my days- with the phrase, “I am thankful”. There is really nothing else I can say or do when things go well, when I see such beauty around me, maybe sometimes even within me. My heart bubbles over with contentment, and I fall asleep.

Some background to this little poem~
I've been serving as a Confluence* AmeriCorps member with Adelante Mujeres since mid-September and have experienced too many emotions and felt too many shifts in perspective to count, which is partially why I haven't posted a reflection up to this point. But today I have felt so well, so high, that I want to share. 
When everything was green
Poco a poco I'm molding into this position.
I've felt lost at work- that I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing or why I'm here. I've felt incompetent and passionless and frustrated. So a few days ago I made some colorful documents to help stir the passion, to actively seek to make this work out. I wrote out goals- Meet more community members, Seek to become part of the community [to know and be known;)], etc. And in these few days, some of that has happened. I'm so thankful.
I also (in trying to figure out how to make this service more enjoyable or inspiring) reflected on what it is that I have loved in other positions I've held, as I was finding it hard to say "I love this position!". The list went as so:
I LOVED... working at Ray's, translating in Compassion, so many things that are not what I’m doing now, etc.

And then today,

I added to that document.

I started with I LOVE, and out came this reflection of the day. You know, it takes a good while to acostumbrarse to any new place, position, or community. And I am certainly not fully in this community yet. I don't know if I'll even reach that in the remaining 9 months of my service. But the point is: through diligence, perseverance, and just showing up to service and keeping an open mind, I am settling in. Really, it is through people who are letting me in- encouraging, teaching, and befriending me.

Goodness, and through fresh organic fruits and vegetables! Dear Lord, when you taste produce from YOUR OWN garden, there has never been anything sweeter. Today as I worked I munched on young fava leaves and cherry tomatoes, and I took home brussel sprouts, onions, and broccoli to cook up for dinner with a friend.
Gorgeous and fed me for weeks!
Surprise carrot! Delicious sweet flesh.

Dear, dear, resilient brussel sprouts.
 I should mention that working in the community garden is not the whole of my service. I'm serving in the Agriculture Program of Adelante which includes the Farmer's Market, a CSA Distribution Program, Sustainable Ag, Business, and Nutrition classes, and (as mentioned) the Community garden. So I help in all those areas. I love the Market for the social interaction and the whole production of it. I love the CSA for the straightforwardness of it, the importance of it, and getting to work with the other staff and volunteers in a sort of mindless setting for a while (sorting vegetables). And I'm really loving the garden (obviously) just for the time and space to really do something where I can taste and feel the reward of my labor throughout the process.
<You would think I were WWOOFing in Latin America ;)>
This is mi maestro, Ale-Alejandro, and farmers of el huerto comunitario.
These are (by my job description) my main areas of work. But the beauty of AmeriCorps is that we simultaneously serve with an organization and pursue our own dream project. My ideas are fermenting, currently, as I meet more community members and dream up possibilities. My people curiosity is being stirred again. There are just these gems of human beings living in our midst! It is terribly thrilling to meet them.
Forest Grove is so beautiful.

I want to encourage you all to dream. If people tell you that your dream is unrealistic, impractical, or they just give you a blank stare- hold on to your dream. Chances are, someone somewhere is already living it- which means it totally possible and practical. Seek those like-minded people out- they will potentially serve as your greatest inspiration and best help to reaching your ideals.
My first day in the garden
Some broccoli and chiles in my plot. 
So this is where I am. I will try to post an update in the future. Thank you for being a part of my life. Thank you for caring. May all go well with you. May you enjoy the same natural high of good health, a centered spirit, and connection to the good earth beneath your feet.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hey look, it's Mexico.

Hello Friends, Family, and Curious Strangers,

¡Saludos de la Ciudad de México!

This is my first blog post from México. And I’m in my last week here. Nonetheless, I wanted to write to share how I’ve been blessed abundantly throughout this time, and maybe a few things I’ve learned.

I was sent to México City (really, a municipality outside the federal district called Tlanepantla) by the Evangelical Friends Mission. “Friends”, or Quakers, are known for practicing peace (non-violence), being open to current revelation by the Holy Spirit of GOD, and choosing to live simply.

A link about a Quaker:

I came primarily to learn—of the culture, of how the church works in their community, and of the reasons why México is the way it is. I also wanted to support a cause, so I’ve been volunteering in the Compassion International Mexico office. Compassion works to alleviate poverty by connecting through churches poor children in Mexico with generous sponsors in 1st world countries.

It is every sight, sound, rhythm, taste, smell, and feeling that you may experience here. Every moment is fully Mexican. The colorful square-ish homes, the tiendas (stores) and puestos de comida (food carts), the loud traffic, the broken sidewalks... and in smaller towns the rural peace of hot dust and savagely resilient brush, the cobbled streets, the houses in hacienda style, the asoteas (flat rooftops) where you can see for kilometers.

In the street there is music sounding from las casas (houses), las tiendas (stores), unabashedly cranked all the way up, filling the air with rhythms of banda, bachatas, reggaetón, and the occasional US pop.

La comida is flavored with chile y limón, cilantro y epazote, y canela (cinnamon) y chocolate. It is accompanied always by tortillas or tostadas, and aguas frescas or café. It is communal—we always share meals together. And it is made from scratch—everything in the house is freshly bought in the market and prepared with love, and you can also find countless puestos (kiosks) in la calle (street) selling Vitamin T (tacos, tortas, tlacoyos), fruta picada (chopped fruit), churros, y jugos (juices). All delicious.

Walking through the city there are parts that smell of carnitas (roasted pork tacos) or pan (bread), and others like Parque Chapultepec where you just keep inhaling as deeply as you can because the naturaleza (nature) smells so fresh and healthy. And, of course, one of the prices of “progress” is contamination of our natural world, and so there is plenty of that smell as well—here in the city.
When we have traveled through the Mexican countryside and various towns, I watch the landscapes pass by in wondrous delight. When I learned how to get around town on my own, a sense of independence and freedom. Upon seeing new sights, a new museum, Aztecan ruins, an excitement and stimulation in that student in me. In greeting friends in the church, Compassion, or home, a warm acceptance.

I suppose the best thing about being in any new place is experiencing wonderful things for the first time and then getting the chance to experience them again as you develop rhythms, favorites, and friendships.

I have been blessed to have met distinctly beautiful human beings in this time. The family that hosted me took me in as one of their own. The parents have impressed me with their love and consideration for one another, their mutual efforts to work, keep house, keep faith, keep strong their marriage, and continue supporting their grown children. The mother has a strength and perseverance that you couldn’t imagine—that I think stems out of love for her family and for GOD in each human being, and just stubbornness. And she is just a delight. She is a joyful spirit—singing and dancing through the house chores, laughing and cotorreando (joking around) when her family or friends are present sharing a meal—and she has an almost-limitless well of patience and understanding. This is Lety. I love her.

Her husband is also a truckload of fun—his jokes, his expressions—he can always make us laugh. I was very surprised when I first began to see how he and Lety run their house—that he helps, that he doesn’t demand things (like food), but rather asks favors, and that he is just as involved in the lives of his children as Lety. This is Toño. I love him too.

Through Lety and Toño I’ve met their friends—another married couple with grown daughters who are kind and wise—the woman made the effort to take me to various super interesting museums in D.F., including El Templo Mayor.

El Templo Mayor is the ruins of the principle temple of the Aztecas, and was said to be the center of the earth according to the position of the stars. It is where the Mexicas* [Meh-SHEE-kus] gathered to offer sacrifices to the gods, among other activities. You can enter the temple and walk among the ruins, which are incredibly preserved—serpents carved out of stone, and other designs with paint still intact after being covered with dirt and built over for hundreds of years. After you walk through the temple ruins, you enter the museum which presents more artifacts that were found in the excavation of the temple and an impressive exhibition of history throughout eight large themed rooms. It is really incredible. And the entrance fee is only $64MX pesos, which is like $4US dollars. AND, it is right in the middle of the city, which is just awesome that they preserved this area amidst grand buildings and modern shops.

I’ve also been invited into a group of older people from church to play basketball after the Sunday services. It is the best.

And Compassion International is just chock-full of awesome people, which make it really fun and worthwhile to be there.

And lastly, the “goodbyes” have been too many, really, but the “hellos” are worth them, maybe? I’ve met people from other towns, states, and churches, who have taught me various life lessons, and encouraged my soul.

For now, I sign off, as my computer is about to die and maybe not wake again... for a while.


*”Mexica” is nauhuatl (the indigenous language of the Aztecas) for “Azteca”. It is where we get the name of the country, México.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Christmas/New Year's Greeting from Ecuador

Hola Amigos y Familia,

Some of you have asked for an update, so I thought I'd send out a little Christmas/New Year's greeting.  Also, you all supported me so kindly and generously as I left and have kept me in mind, which I really appreciate, so you deserve to know what is going on here.

I have added photos to show the alegría and the belleza that exists here in Ecuador, and within this family.

Christmas is a busy season here.  You know, it's funny, I'm tired, and I feel like we've been running around everywhere, but really it has just been a continual party since like, the 20th. Crazy. 

This is the makeshift parilla that little Andrés manned for over an hour, grilling up all the meats for a feast...

So, the family owns a restaurant, and it is on the same property as their house, so when they have events, we get to help out in the kitchen and enjoy the happiness of the people in their party, the sobras (extra food), and of course, the music that is bumpin’ into the early morning.  This night, I got to help in the kitchen, preparing plates a little but mostly just washing dishes for hours... and it was so great to feel a part of the team.  I miss work like this.  A little victory.  [Also, as I went from having fun washing dishes to being tired and wanting the dirty glasses to stop coming, I thought of Gage, and how he literally washed (washes?) dishes all day. That’s strength, bud]

 On Christmas Eve we started the day by making little candy gift bags for all the employees of the family’s construction shop. Candy art. And snacking. It was great. Then we prepared the place for the employee appreciation lunch, and this time got to be served by the cocineros and enjoy the program. These are the plates they gave. A full plate of meat, and then you add yucca, salad, and salsas.  I still don’t understand how people can eat literally 5 portions of meat in one sitting... 

And then followed hours of karaoke with dancing throughout; I’m learning new dances here, and people are really gracious with me, which is great. There was a mariachi band, a gift exchange, and a bunch of happy but tipsy employees heading home with bags of candy.  

From there we went to aunt and uncle’s house where we put on more cumbia music in the car and danced in the street while we waited for dinner... so great. I thought of Kelly and Nick... parking lot dancing.  Then another Christmas feast, singing villancicos (religious Christmas songs), and more dancing. It was really beautiful to see how a family celebrates.
from left to right: Fausto y Euvenia, Fausto Jr. y Gisella, tío Cesar y Michelle.
Then on Christmas morning, we have bolones, jugo, y café  for breakfast (a bolon is green plantain and meat, cheese, or peanut butter mixed together and formed into a big ball. With peanut butter… so good. And jugo is juice… de guanabana).

From there, we packed our bags and headed to Quito, which is a beautiful drive. Every time we go from one city to the next there are gorgeous paisajes (views).  When we finally arrived, we ate lunch and then the parents dropped us kids off at the central park, and we walked around and played for a few hours, which was so refreshing.  It was really interesting to see the difference between Quito and Santo Domingo.  Quito, being the capital city, is much more developed.  It felt almost like California. And the people here love it because it is cleaner and prettier and has nicer stores and all this. Everyone here seems to be looking toward progress, toward development, toward higher technology and nicer clothes, toward conveniences. This is hard to see/accept. I’m not sure how to feel about it. As for me, I try to point out the beauty in the simple, in the natural, in the traditional and slower processes. I recently read this in The Voice of the Master:
“God has bestowed upon you intelligence and knowledge. Do not extinguish the lamp of Divine Grace and do not let the candle of wisdom die out in the darkness of lust and error. For a wise man approaches with his torch to light up the path of mankind”(62).

 It is hard to hold to my values and try to express them when I am one in a crowd. It is easier to try to blend in, or to quiet myself and these thoughts.

There is, though, still tradition preserved and appreciated in the food—people here still mostly cook at home and use what is locally abundant—plantains, yucca, limes, bananas, etc.—which is awesome.  Also, one last note from Quito—while we were out on Christmas, we ran into some tourists from Texas. Well, we walked by them, but I slowed down to listen to them speak American English. It was beautiful. I talked with them for a bit and all the while my heart was melting. I was thrown by how sweet it felt to be in the presence of people easily speaking my native tongue. I realized that for over a month I haven’t been able to speak with someone easily in my native tongue (besides a few Skype dates), and how that is such a comfort. A taste of home.

What else? From Quito, the two sisters and I traveled by bus to Riobamba, which is a city in la Sierra where Fausto’s relatives live. We were received warmly by his family.  He is one of 11 children, so there were always a lot of greetings whenever we arrived or left. So many besos. That night they had a mass in their home, led by two sisters that are about my age. The Catholic tradition is really beautiful.


So it was basically a family reunion for like 4 days, and we were hosted in various houses and they drove us around to see things—like Chimborazo, the mountain that everyone gets excited about because it has snow.  It was awesome to get to meet different members of his family and connect with them on various themes.  Also, the night of the big party, there was food, soccer, volleyball, singing of traditional banda nacional, and much dancing. So much dancing. So much fun. It was great. Here they mostly dance cumbia, but they really get down. Funnily, the older people seem to enjoy it the most.
The family Christmas celebration--train dancing. 
We continued the trip, meeting more family members and being generously hosted, and one day hiked/climbed up this mountain, which was actually pretty intense because of the altitude. This mountain is called Chimborazo, and Ecuatorianos love it because it usually has snow... which they hardly ever see. 
*Recommendation: if you’re going to a foreign country where they speak a different language, or if you speak a second language, learn the vocabulary for topics you really care about, that you feel really define you, so that you can share intelligently and comprehensively when the time comes.
A typical breakfast. Yumm:)
Gisella on Chimborazo

The next day we returned home to Santo Domingo by bus. This is Michelle, Fausto Jr. and Andrés sleeping on the bus. 

Lastly, I will share with you about New Year’s celebrations. On New Year’s Eve, we worked a ½ day at the almacén, and then headed over to Euvenia’s parent’s house, where the women and Andrés spent the afternoon in the kitchen preparing food, and the men sat outside drinking and waiting.  You know what they made? It makes me shudder thinking about it. It was like, all the innards of a lamb—the stomach, the liver, the intestine—in a soup with potatoes. Euvenia was kind and understanding enough to pretend that I had eaten my bowl of soup when I only swallowed one spoonful. But we also made yucca, aji, una ensalada, y maduros (ripe plantains), which I gladly ate.

Anyway, some of Euvenia’s brothers, and their wives and children came over and ate, and then we had an amp that we blasted music from in the street in front of the house, and this was on a truck bed, along with el Año Viejo. El Año Viejo (the old year) is a life-size figure of a person made of paper and tape and paint. The tradition is that every family makes or buys one of these and dresses them up like a member of the family, typically the father I think, and then at midnight they pour lighter fluid on it and burn it. The idea is that they are burning all the bad away, and this means a prosperous year of blessings for the elected Año Viejo. What you get are bonfires through all the streets in the dark night, along with fireworks and people abrazando (hugging) and wishing each other Feliz Año Nuevo! Paz y bendiciones! (Happy New Year! Peace and blessings!). It was pretty awesome.
Los Años Viejos

Oh, and the best part, we danced for hours.  It started raining, and we kept dancing. Also, I got up on the truck bed and started dancing, barefoot, as is my preference, because the sidewalk was slippery (and who doesn’t want to dance on a stage?), and soon everyone followed, even to the point of taking off their shoes (not everyone, but the sisters did). Little victory. And to add to the victory, this guy put on music that was like North American pop, and I got to dance like we do in the US, and they all laughed and made fun but soon they joined in and they loved it.
Andrés' boat and plane in the diluvio.

Right now is the rainy season, and it has been pouring tropical-flood-type rain here in the afternoons. So, of course, Andresito and I play with his lego boat and plane out on the patio where the water collects. Another day Fausto took us kids to a waterfall resort place, which was beautiful—the waterfall pours into a swimming hole, and there was a turco (like a sauna) warmed by burning eucalyptus leaves. But one of the coolest things about this place was the construction of all the buildings. I’m pretty sure it is all cob, or something similar. So of course, I got way too excited about the cob houses and tried to explain to the kids why these houses are so cool and how I want to build one with my friends in Oregon... it is our dream... environmentally friendly... etc.

My friends (los cocineros) on the roof cleaning.

Alright, that brings us mostly to this week. As of now, the kids are back in school, the parents back to work, I am back to preparing and teaching English classes, with more vigor than before, with more patience and diligence. We’re having fun, and I feel like they’re learning more, which is really encouraging.
Here, I have friends; not the solid friends with whom you share everything and know each other deeply, but friends nonetheless. Kind people to greet and laugh with. Interesting people. Mm. And I am grateful for this time. Although sometimes I wish things were different, I wouldn’t trade any of it. Even when a day is tainted by conflicts or time poorly spent, I see it as a day of growth, of experience. So, I am well. The family is mostly in good health, but they are going through a stressful and difficult season. If you pray, you can pray that GOD would use me as a light and warming peace here. That He would bring peace in this family. Every family has their struggles, and every family their moments of sweet comprehension.

I love and miss you all, and I hope you this letter finds you well. Thank you for your support, your interest in my little adventures. May the Good Lord bless you and keep you in this time of renewal.

Much love,