Friday, January 19, 2007

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Pictures... finally. Forgive the lack of order.

This is the area that leads from the living room out to the kitchen/bathroom. Our bedroom is on the left. I think we'll call this our "courtyard." Sometimes there is a hammock hanging there and that old shower curtain on the left is Clavo's bed.

Here is our old host-sister Gloria Elena. She just turned 5 and she is holding her sobrina (neice) Francela who is almost 3 months old now. Francela's dad, is shown singing in the bottom picture.

We went to a beach once with our old host sister Francis and our friend Greg. Here they are walking on it.

I think this was Christmas Eve and you'll have to enlarge this and look closely to see it, but that ball of light that all of the chavalos (kids) are running from is a guy who puts a huge box over his body covered with fireworks and runs around in the streets. In the US he would need years of training, several permits and probably firefighters on hand. Here all he needs is someone to light him up.

So, we used to go to the baseball stadium and play frisbee with kids fairly often. One time Brenna said, "Do you think you can throw the frisbee over that wall?" It didn't make it, but luckily there is this random stairway that I could stand on (I'm about 20 feet off the ground) and we found three long branches that I tied together to get the frisbee (I wanted to just climb up and relive my pre-PC rock climbing days, but the tin roof was overhanging about 4 feet and the tin wall offered no purchase for my Chacos). The frisbee was about 6 meters away. Maybe you can see it in the picture, but I'm not sure. It was a good thing we weren't doing much in the beginning, as this took about an hour.

Here is our "bathroom" with the shower on the left and the toilet on the right. This is much nicer than many volunteers. Most have a latrine and no shower (a bucket). The doors were hastily built just before we moved in and don't really close.

Here is a look at the sweet closet I built in our bedroom. Very complicated construction. This took days.

Our kitchen. A two-burner hooked up to a gas tank and some dishes. We keep all of our food in big plastic boxes because of animals, and actually this is all covered up now at all times with a sheet to keep the dust off of the dishes. All of this came with the house.

We share a patio (yard) with our landlady's family and they have a chanchito (baby pig) tied up back there who Clavo likes to play with. Also notice the pile of burned trash in the foreground.

Yes, sometimes I even eat dinner in the hammock. This photo is a month or two old at our old host-family's house. That is a typical Nica meal of gallo pinto (rice and beans mixed together with oil), queso (a chunk of salty, squeaky cheese unlike anything we have in the US that I know of), and pan (bread). Most people eat this three times a day every day. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to start doing my own cooking when we moved into our own place.

Here is our sala (living room) before we moved in and painted. That open window faces the street.

Another view of the living room. The previous picture was taken from the doorway you can see in this picture. Our bedroom is back there. Yes, the house came with 4 sillas abuelitas (rocking chairs).

Here is a similar view after we moved in and painted. You'll notice our two hammocks. Also, we have pictures of the wedding and our previous life hanging on the brick wall in the background.

Same as the first house picture (above) only with paint.

Me standing in our front door. Notice the dirt street. We throw our waste water (from laundry and dishes) on the street to keep the dust down. If you click to enlarge this one, you should also be able to see Clavo in the doorway with me.

Here is Clavo in a box on a bus. We were transporting him from his old home to our new house, a trip that took 3 busses and about 4 hours. Isn't he handsome?

A scorpion on our bedroom floor. (1 of 3 so far) Including the tail it is probably 6 inches long.

Here is a tarantula being attacked by a huge wasp. That tarantula is about the size of Brenna's hand, so the wasp is huge! I'm not really sure what the wasp did to it, but it laid there and looked dead for about an hour and then I picked it up with a shovel to move it (it was right outside our back door) and it started running around.

There is a holiday here called Purisima that celebrates the virgin Mary. People go from house to house and shout ¿Quien causa tanta alegria? (Who causes all this happiness?) and the people reply: ¡La virgen Maria! and then they sing and the people give them candy or other goodies. Here are some guys singing at our neighbors house. The one on the right was our host brother, Javier.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

January 12, 2007

Happy New Year everyone! This is Mason.

We’re settling in to our new house and new town and are starting to get a little busier. Clavo (the dog) is gaining weight and growing up so fast. He already knows how to sit, but doesn’t care to come when we call him. We talk to him in both English and Spanish, generally choosing the word with the fewest syllables for what we want to say (sit (1) vs. sientate (4) was an easy one). He has numerous chew toys and as you may expect, he prefers the random things he’s found in the yard to the 2 toys we have bought him. He also is getting old enough to finally have a small pair of huevos (balls) which we will get taken care of soon. If we contribute nothing else to this country, at least we’ll know that we haven’t added to the huge canine population surplus.

Speaking of animals and the new house, so far we have found 3 scorpions (1 dead, 2 alive), 1 mouse (dead), 1 snake (alive, I think it was a Boa baby) and 2 tarantulas (1 dead, the other we thought was dead, but maybe it was just stunned… It’s definitely dead now though.) in the house. And we’ve only been here 9 days! If only we had a cat to take care of all of these things for us... I think we may have one in a few weeks, as the lone survivor from the savage dog attacks is still hanging on to life and is now old enough that it has opened its eyes.

The funny thing about those dog attacks (see our previous post if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Not the attack on Brenna.) is that the dogs who did the attacking are about the size of your average house cat in the States. The only macho (male) in the group is named Pinky and he has a terrible case of short-man-complex. They’re all ugly as sin too. One of them, misleadingly named Princesa (Princess), has an underbite and barks like an old rusty truck trying to start up on a frigid winter morning. The other one, also incorrectly named Bella (beautiful) is small enough that I could take it out in one swift kick if I were wearing the proper footwear. I have had cats in the past (remember Boyfriend?) that could easily take out these dogs.

So, party season is starting to wrap up. It all started in November with the elections (school was out for 8 days to signify the importance of that event), followed by promociones (graduations) from pre-school, 6th grade and colegio (high school), then Purisima, a holiday celebrating La virgen Maria (The virgin Mary) that is most similar to Halloween, on Dec. 7. Then we had Christmas and New Years. In the first weekend of January are the fiestas patronales (celebrations of our patron saint) in our town. There are various events such as concerts, dances, horse races, venders selling a bunch of crap like in the US, rides, booths where you can win a stuffed animal. It was a lot like a carnival or county fair at home. A couple of nights ago our town had a huge concert to celebrate the New Year and inauguration of the new president. I think this concert also marked the end of the party season. Also, school starts soon.

In a couple of weeks, all of the volunteers in our department (like a state) of Leon will start traveling to each others sites to give teacher talleres (workshops) for two days every other week. We will be presenting 4 different topics:

1. Teaching about VIH - SIDA (HIV – AIDS)

2. How to work with parents / parent groups

3. How to use huertos (vegetable gardens) as a multidisciplinary teaching tool

4. Starting and maintaining community banks

Hopefully we will reach about 400 teachers in all. I think that these talleres will be a lot of fun and also one of the ways that we are promoting sustainability in our projects. If theses turn out to be a good thing, which I’m sure they will, I may look into doing some just for the teachers in my schools on a regular basis in the future.

Also, since the students return to class on the 29th of Enero, (January) we will soon be busy observing in the schools and starting to prepare our own charlas (lessons) to give to the students. The overall process of our work in the schools is that we observe for a while, then start teaching a few lessons about the environment here and there, using interactive and participatory teaching techniques. Ideally, the teacher will be watching us teach our lessons and after a while of this we will start co-planning and co-teaching with them in an attempt to pass on our knowledge of different teaching techniques and theories. After all of that we spend a good amount of time observing them and coaching them on their teaching. Within all of this, we can also take time to teach them strategies for classroom management, learning styles, etc. Also, keep in mind that we will be working with kids from 3rd to 6th grade, so our environmental lessons could be as simple as the parts of a tree, or the water cycle. It’s not like were teaching conservation biology here.

In addition to that, two local non-profit groups have asked for our help. We may or may not be starting to build a vivero (tree nursery) with one of them. We are now trying to do a compost project with them so that we will have good soil for the vivero. It’s moving slowly. The other non-profit is trying to get a lot of projects going and initially sought us out looking for monetary support. After we told them that’s not what we do, we’ve decided to help them organize and have started planning to help them with an after-school project for kids. As I’ve mentioned in the past, things move slowly here, so we’ll see what happens with these projects. Also, we’ve met a handful of people who speak English fairly well, so I’m thinking about having a weekly English conversation hour at the house. Brenna also will likely do some sort of reading to kids group at the library. We are now trying to not always do everything together, so people will see us more as individuals and so my Spanish will improve.

I keep hearing about the huge storms dropping the fluffy stuff on Colorado and am definitely jealous of all of you who are enjoying frequent turns in the nieve (snow). Also, I recently received a CD of pictures from Zac that had pics of hiking in the CO fall, canyoneering in Utah, and Grand Lake. Looking at those, I found myself tearing up a bit. I really miss all of you and the mountains and wilderness. I’m not at the point of homesickness, and I’m definitely enjoying life here, but I do miss the old life. It’ll still be there when I come home. I really hope there are storms like this next season, when we are planning to come home for a visit.

If you want to read about a great trip we took just before leaving home, click here to read my friend Dave’s narrative and see his great pictures.

I promise more pictures are on the way… Thanks for your thoughts, e-mails and care packages.

Que les vayan bien.

Mason's Book Reviews

So, I read a lot down here and have been keeping a log of what I've read. I thought I'd share with you in case you are looking for a good read. Enjoy:

The Mapmaker’s Wife, Robert Whittaker

So, I read this book right when I got here (Sept.) and I am writing this now in the middle of January so forgive my lack of detail and possible errors… This book is about the scientific voyage of a team of Frenchmen to Ecuador (formerly Peru and a French colony) to measure a line of longitude (or is it latitude?) at the equator in the 1600’s. This was huge scientifically as there was still debate as to the shape of the Earth. Some thought that this young Newton fellow was crazy with his suggestions of gravity and a resultant spheroid Earth with a slight bulge at the equator. Some argued that if gravity worked the way Newton suggested, then the earth was actually indented at the equator, which may sound crazy now, but this is the way Science works. These Frenchmen set out to settle the debate once and for all, and to achieve long-lasting glory.

This expedition was a massive undertaking and was really the first scientific work ever done (at least by us educated white folks) in the Americas. The list of discoveries and scientific firsts that were accomplished by this team could fill the page and honestly I don’t remember them all. Nevertheless the amount of the things these men accomplished is breathtaking. I do remember that this team “discovered” both cinnamon and rubber and introduced them to Europe (and therefore civilization).

Their work took them something like 6 years, many more than they were planning, and when they were finished they all went their separate ways. One of the scientists fell in love with a local Peruvian woman (hence the title of the book) and lived with her for a few years, but always dreamed of taking his family back to his homeland and living out his life there. He decided that he would head down the Amazon, from Peru/Ecuador – a voyage that had only been attempted by 4 or 5 people in all of history – just to see if it was do-able and then return for his wife and head back down the Amazon. He planned on being away for a year and a half. He miraculously made it to the Amazon delta and sought out refuge in French Guyana (I think) where he had to wait for some trans-Atlantic paperwork from his homeland in order to pass back through Portuguese and Spanish land. After something like 9 years (and 20 years after leaving France) he was still waiting (they had government bureaucracy / ineffiency back then too) and had started a new life in some sort of business that I can’t recall right now.

His wife, on the other side of the continent decided that she would make the unprecedented trek to her husband, and so she went for it. Along the way she encountered outrageous obstacles and the death or abandonment of everyone in her party. After losing her boat, she was forced to walk through the wild Amazonian jungle where she was exposed to all sorts of flora, fauna and insects that crawled and chewed on her constantly for weeks and even months on end. At one point she laid down to die, but then somehow found the strength to get back up and continue for another six weeks! Her journey was amazing.

The scientific and cultural history in this book fascinated me. It is very well written and you will learn a lot from it and at the same time become captivated by the hardships endured by everyone in the book. I thoroughly enjoyed this book both as a scientist and an adventurer. Read it.

RATING: 8.5/10

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair

The classic novel about the horrible injustices on all levels of the Chicago meatpacking scene in the early part of the 20th century. Many people read this in High School or University history classes, but for some reason I never did. This book is the predecessor of books like Fast Food Nation and that one about the pride of Arkansas, Wal-Mart (I can’t remember the name). Although it is a work of fiction, it is based on the actual working conditions of the meatyards and the lives of the immigrants who made them run.

Based around one family of Polish immigrants, this book exposed the impossibly hard lives these people lead (and many still lead today) because of the system into which they tried to make their lives. Reminds me at times of the current situation in Nicaragua or for those who try to make a new life in the U.S.

The innerworkings of the entire industry are uncovered, from the stockyards and the killing floors to the canning rooms and political corruption. This work of fiction provoked political change almost immediately upon its release, although after also reading the aforementioned Fast Food Nation, I'm not sure how much we have really progressed.

If you haven’t already, you should read this.

RATING: 8/10

Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder

The story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his quest to rid the world’s poor of unjust suffering because of a lack of access to health care. Farmer started his quest as a medical student at Harvard where he spent most of his time in Haiti working with Tuberculosis. He only returned to campus to take exams and ended up setting up a clinic in Haiti. Throughout the years, he has transformed the area surrounding his clinic and has gone on to shake up the world of public health policy, especially in the area of TB treatment. This book chronicles his success in Haiti, Peru, Soviet prisons and other areas of the world.

He is a truly humble and massively intelligent person who is fighting the good fight seemingly with no regard for his own life and well-being. He travels constantly, is always working, doesn’t sleep or rest enough and has no personal time. But at the same time, he gets results. He started the non-profit Partners in Health and is causing the public health community to rethink its strategies and methods.

Farmer is very driven and should be admired for his hard work and dedication. I think the author did a good job of showing that and also a good job of showing that maybe Farmer is a little too dedicated. This is a great read and is very inspiring. It’s a great thing to read during Peace Corps service, although the sustainability of his work (one of our primary goals) is questionable. Reading this will show you just how much difference one person can make in the world.

QUOTES: “We should all be criticizing the excesses of the powerful, if we can so readily demonstrate that these excesses hurt the poor and vulnerable.”

RATING: 7.5/10

The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan

Pollan, a professor of writing and avid gardener, looks at how plants have used humans as an evolutionary tool, playing to our desires in order to be more successful species or to increase their “fitness.” Specifically, Pollan examines four human desires: sweetness (apple), beauty (tulip), intoxication (marijuana) and control (potato). The intro is really good, but the excitement it generated didn’t really pan out. There is a lot of history in this book, including a lot about Johnny Appleseed, and the tulip’s role in the economy of the Netherlands. I often found myself getting bored in those first two chapters although they were quite interesting overall. The following sections on intoxication and control (through genetic engineering) I found fascinating.

Even though this book wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped it would be, it was still good. I think I just got my hopes up and thought it would be something it wasn’t. It is a very interesting plants-eye view of our world, showing that plants have manipulated us just as much as we’ve manipulated them. Plants that have satisfied our desires have greatly increased their numbers and their habitats. And after all, increasing numbers and habitats seems to be the evolutionary goal of all life.

After reading this, I am really excited to start gardening.

RATING: 7/10 (although the marijuana and potato chapters get a 9)

The Creation, E.O. Wilson

Written by one of the most respected and accomplished biologists of our time (one of Time magazine’s most important people of the 20th century), The Creation is written as a letter from Wilson to a fictional member of the clergy, Pastor. It is an appeal for science and religion to put aside differences and work together to save The Creation (Earth, life, the biosphere…). There are lots of facts relating to biodiversity and the rapid loss of it since the agricultural revolution. His main argument / talking point is that humanity should be ascending toward nature instead of away from it as the majority of humanity has been doing.

Wilson, raised as a southern Baptist in Alabama, hopes to take advantage of the common goals of religion and science (stewardship, humanity) to reverse damages to the Earth. He clearly outlines what he thinks needs to be done and how it can be accomplished. His writing is easily understood and he has a gift for simplifying scientific ideas for the comprehension of those not familiar with them.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. Anyone interested in the ‘teaching of evolution vs. intelligent design’ debate should particularly read the last chapter (165-168). I wish I were smart enough to share my thoughts on the topic that clearly. I also love that he always capitalizes the word Nature. My only complaint, which is both personal and petty, is that for me, someone who has studied and taught these topics, I wished he would have gone deeper, although I realize that would be self-defeating in this book. Great read that left me feeling very positive and excited to get back all of our childhood roots of finding endless joy and wonder in Nature.

QUOTES: “Do you agree, Pastor, that the depth and complexity of living Nature still exceed human imagination? If god seems unknowable, so too does the rest of the biosphere.”

“It is not the nature of human beings to be cattle in glorified feed lots. Every person deserves the option to travel easily in and out of the complex and primal world that gave us birth.”

“…While most people around the world care about the natural environment, they don’t know why they care, or why they should feel responsible for it. By and large they have been unable to articulate what the stewardship of Nature means to them personally.”

RATING: 8/10

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Clavito and Telica

So since we have written last, Hannukah, Christmas and New Years have all passed. We would like to wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year. Our Christmas was much different than any Christmas we have had before. Here they celebrate Christmas Eve more than Christmas day. We ate a meal of Gallina Rellena, or stuffed chicken for dinner with the entire family. Many family members were gone visiting family in Managua and Costa Rica, but many others came from elsewhere to be here as well. There were piñatas all around the town on Christmas Eve. Each neighborhood set up a piñata on a street corner and the kids got to play and make a mess. It was fun for them because the candy from the piñata was probably the only Christmas present they would get. Christmas day was just like any other day here. We called all of our family back home and felt pretty homesick after because everyone was together and happy!

The days following Christmas we began moving into our new house. We painted for a few days, which really did the house a lot of good. We live in a little place with the bedroom and sala (living room) indoors, and the kitchen and bathroom outside. It’s perfect for us. We share a giant yard with our neighbors and their two dogs. One of the dogs stays tied up all day, because he is bravo (mean). One morning when we were still moving in we came by really early, and the dog wasn’t tied up. Well, he saw me standing in his yard and took a mean dash toward me so fast that I only had time to scream before he bit me! He got me right on the calf. I was lucky because I happened to be wearing jeans that day (which is really rare for me to do in this weather, but we were planning on traveling to a colder place later in the day). He didn’t break the skin, but gave me a good enough scare that I started to cry in front of the entire family who came out to watch! So now that dog stays tied up ALL the time but I still sneak a cautious look his way quite often!

In a period of just a week and a half we found and lost a cute little kitten, and acquired a dog! The kitten found us one night at our host family’s house. Its owners had left for a Christmas trip and forgot about it. They never fed it anyway, so we adopted it. We bought it food, cuddled with her and named her Telica (after the volcano we can see from our town). We left on vacation for New Years for 4 days and when we came back we were told that the three ugly short dogs that live there ate her. We were pretty sad about that news. She was such a sweet little cat! So now we have a box of Super Gato and no one to eat it. The grandmother of the host family has a cat that just had two kittens that are so young their eyes are still closed. She told us yesterday that we can have one when they are ready. So today we went over there and she told us that the dogs ate one of them this morning. Now we are banking on this one remaining kitten to survive the dogs. It will be a miracle if we can ever get a cat! Mason has never wanted to kill an animal as bad as he wants to kill those three dogs. They really have no endearing qualities at all.

Clavito is finally with us here in Malpaisillo. Now that we live on our own, we are able to have a dog. He has adjusted really well to his new life, and we’re really enjoying making a spectacle of ourselves walking him around town on a leash! All the little kids yell out his name when they see him coming. They love him because he’s manso (friendly) which is really rare for dogs around here! We took him on three different buses to get him here. That was an adventure in itself! People here are generally afraid of dogs (rightly so, if you ask me) so you can imagine how happy they were to have him near them on an overcrowded bus!

We’re loving having our own place, and we’re quickly realizing how much work it is to keep it clean. Fighting with the dust of Nicaragua is not a good idea! Yesterday when I was sweeping I found a dead tarantula on the floor! It was really cool. Mas and I spent the entire day washing clothes and cleaning the house. We think we’ll have to devote an entire day a week strictly to house work! A lot of the work is splashing buckets of water on the street to keep down the dust. Little things like that really add up!

We had a nice New Years trip in Granada. We met up with our good friends from our group who we hadn’t seen since swearing in. It was a good time, but we were really happy to get back to our new house and friends in Malpaisillo. Thanks for reading this long entry, and take care!!!