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,