Like most people I know there are always things that I mean to do but never get around to. For instance, participating in crowd-sourced art projects like A Day, where people from all over the globe picked up cameras and photographed their daily life on May 15th. Guess which day I neglected to take even one photo? Yup. The girl who always has her camera with her didn’t take it that day when she ventured into the nearest city to buy groceries. Peace Corps did a good job of scaring me into leaving my flashy valuables at home (hidden in secret places that I’ll never divulge).
Other things I’ve been meaning to do: write in this blog, upload images from said flashy camera, back up images and documents to hard drive (also hidden so don’t go looking for it), write letters (real, snail mail ones) to friends and family in the U.S., and exercise more. I haven’t been totally lazy but I haven’t been as physically active as I was back in Virginia before Peace Corps when we lived down the street from the YMCA.
I’m actually surprised at how busy we have become. Where is all of this free time they say you’re supposed to have when you’re a Peace Corps volunteer? Granted, we are told our job is 24/7 but we are also told that we may feel bored and restless and to arm ourselves with lots of books and movies. Luckily, I have felt neither bored nor restless since I arrived. I can’t speak for Paul but if he’s been visibly restless for anything lately it is to have more time to work in the garden, which just supports my original point.
So, what have I been doing to not have enough time to interact with the blogosphere? Well, I cut Paul’s hair. Yes, really. I cut it all off and gave him a totally hipster faux hawk. It’s actually really cute but it is something that I am NEVER doing again. It was possibly the most stressful thing I have done since arriving in country. Seriously. More stressful than meeting either of our host families for the first time, more stressful than site placement day, more stressful than site move in day, even more stressful than delivering a speech at Swearing In in Spanish. Never. Again.
In other news…I’ve written several grant proposals in Spanish and English for a cultural tourism project I developed with our counterpart agency. We want to paint five different murals depicting some of the legends about our town. In addition, we want to put on short plays depicting the legends and make comic books out of them. I’m going to document the process and made a video, too. I’ll be doing all of this with the youth group members. It feels like the kind of projects we would do at Starting Artists, and that makes me really happy. Keep your fingers crossed for us!
I’ve also been writing with third and fourth graders in Nebraska (through Peace Corps’ World Wise Schools Program) and it’s been awesome. I’ve been able to send them letters electronically (add them to the list of people I want to send real letters to…maybe next school year!) with digital photographs from our experiences. It’s been a lot of fun translating what we do here into wording appropriate for their age group. I try not to use jargon like capacity building, technical assistance, and international development. Instead, I have answered their list of 30 different questions as openly and honestly as possible. They asked me all sorts of things from what kind of food we eat here (they loved hearing about Paul eating worms in Tena and the tradition of eating guinea pig or cuy in the Sierra), to what kids are like (basically the same), to what holidays we celebrate and how. They liked the Ecuadorian tradition of pushing the birthday girl or boy’s face into their cake.
Speaking of cake, I’ve been cooking nearly every meal. Our host mom has been ill so we no longer eat with the family though we still spend time with them, which is nice. We’ve been cooking up a storm (note to self: do a blog post about our favorite recipes) and enjoying some familiar tastes from home like peanut noodles with chicken and broccoli, chana masala (Indian chickpea dish), chicken Shnitzel with mashed potatoes, pasta with pesto, burritos, arepas, homemade sushi, pasta with meat sauce, panini sandwiches, and lots of variations on eggs, breakfast potatoes, and smoothies. Notice the lack of rice dishes!
Mainly, I’ve been working a lot on Mujeres Cambia. With the ladies of the group and with the support of Paul and **Jessica** I have prepared new marketing materials and a huge order that is bound for **Susie** in Virginia. Very exciting. It was a large undertaking that involved lots of design work (which I love), sewing (which I love, just a bit less than design), and coordination (which I neither love nor hate).
We thought of a clever way to get members talking about what makes a piece of jewelry more successful than another. Careful not to hurt any budding artisan’s feelings, we held a secret ballot for the women themselves to choose the top pieces from the latest order. We did this by making little origami cups (we reused scrap paper), numbering them, and then handing out 5 paperclips to each woman at the meeting. We laid the necklaces out during the meeting next to the numbered cups and asked the women to place paperclips in the cups of their top 5 favorite necklaces. It worked out really well. Most people agreed on the best necklaces and they could see what set them apart from the other pieces. Now, they have a better idea of which styles to use for future designs and the quality they need to achieve to sell the most sought after items. With the secret ballot we were able to facilitate the women giving each other feedback without it sounding like a directive from us and without hurting any feelings, which is really important in this culture.
I feel like I’m writing my Volunteer Report, which we have to do several times during our service. I just completed my first one and I’ll give you some of the other highlights not mentioned above: we’ve been working with an HIV/AIDS support group, helping on the tourism committee, and running around to the various ministries of government offices to get the required paperwork and permissions for the oyster company. Paul has been a superstar making budgets, financial projections, project plans, PowerPoints, even websites to help with tourism and the oyster company.
Finally, I’ve gotten back to writing. I’ve been working on a young adult novel project for a while now and I’m nearly done with a full first draft. Not ready to share it with the whole world yet but I’m getting there.
So, that’s what we’ve been doing and why the blog has been a bit on the back burner. But, it seems we’ll be enjoying a bit more free time now and we’ll enjoy it for as long as we can!
Take care, Mari
If we learned anything from Pre-Service Training it was to expect the unexpected. Little did we know two nights ago that being invited to the crowning of the Reina Señora of our town actually meant serving as 2 of the 3 judges for the evening’s competition. Here’s how it went down…
Paul has been meeting up regularly with our neighbor for a conversation class—one hour in English and one hour in Spanish about once a week. Why am I explaining this? Well, because this neighbor of ours invited us to the event last night by giving Paul a complimentary ticket at their last meeting. Turns out he was the main organizer of the pageant and the MC for the evening.
We arrived at the event nearly an hour later than the advertised start time as any good Ecuadorian would do. Still, we were early. It was another hour and a half before the competition began. During that time we enjoyed techno music in Spanish, English, and Portuguese and looked for our friend to say hello. About an hour before the pageant started we spotted our friend. He came over to us and said hello to Paul and shook my hand and kissed me as we met for the first time.
Then, he said (in Spanish), “You two are going to help me this evening, right?”
We nodded politely.
“You two are going to choose the winner, okay?”
We looked at each other.
“Sure,” I said, thinking that the winner would somehow be chosen by audience applause.
Then, he followed up by saying, “I’ll announce you. What are your last names?”
“Oh,” Paul said, stunned. “Wilson.”
He turned to me. “And your last name?” he asked.
I tried to pronounce my last name in a way that would make sense in Spanish but failed.
Finally, I just said, “Mari Wilson is fine.”
He winked and gave us a thumb’s up.
When our friend was out of earshot Paul and I tried to figure out what had just happened. Did he really mean that we would be judges? Why us? What did we get ourselves into?
Then, we noticed the judge’s table right in front of the catwalk. There were 3 chairs. A tall blonde woman wearing a rhinestone crown and a golden sash walked into the room. We would meet her later as the third judge. Or, should I say #1 judge since she was the only one of us who knew what she was doing.
We had nearly an hour of sitting on the edge of our seats waiting to find out the answers to our most pressing concerns. In order of importance we worried that:
1. We would need to give a speech in front of the audience that had swelled to over 200 people (in Spanish).
2. That we would need to make remarks like the judges on American Idol after each contestant’s performance (also in Spanish).
3. That we would have to go on stage and crown the winner (in Spanish).
After enjoying a teenage dance troupe from a neighboring town (I would have given them a 10!) our friend got on the microphone and announced the judges. First, the woman with the crown (no surprise there). Second and third, Señor Paul Wilson and his lovely wife, Mari, all the way from the United States!
We stood up. I wished I had worn lipstick and a nicer dress. Paul wished he had worn a button-down shirt and closed-toe shoes. We took our places at the judge’s table and were thankful for the bottles of water waiting for us. I was even more thankful for the instructions given to me by the #1 judge on my left that I translated for Paul. We were to score each contestant on a 5-point scale in 3 categories.
In the end, the most difficult part was choosing a winner. We actually had a tie for first place that we had to break with a second vote. Turns out we weren’t expected to give any speeches but our #3 concern did come true. I had to crown the second runner up and Paul had to crown the first runner up. On stage in front of everyone. Thank goodness the #1 judge crowned the winner.
All in all it was an incredible event and we were happy to be part of it. It would have been nice to be a bit more prepared but then again if we had known what we were in for we might not have shown up at all. One of the pieces of advice we were given during Pre-Service Training was to always say, “yes.” That’s exactly what we did that night.
Until the next adventure, Mari
What do these two images have in common? First, fellow volunteer, traveler, and all-around super star **Nikki** forwarded them both to me. Second, they are both incredibly beautiful things made from plastic bottles. Yes, really! It’s true!
I’ve never been more motivated to find new uses for plastics than I am right now. We live on the beach and we see what the tide brings in. It’s not pretty and it’s not good for our neighbors living in the Pacific either. We found an enormous dead sea turtle the other day and I believe he died under suspicious circumstances (i.e. he got caught in or tried to eat something man-made possibly plastics-related).
What can one person do about all of the plastic out there? Well, I’ll tell you the same thing that you’ve probably been told before and something that we’ve told dozens of Ecuadorian kids during environmental charlas: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Living in a low-resource area you can’t walk two feet without noticing how people have reused items often in novel and surprising ways. I should start collecting examples – it would make a great blog post. The point is, many other parts of the world don’t have a choice about reusing things like plastic bags, plastic bottles, the same cup for an entire party of people. So, the next time you want to throw your plastic water bottle away please think twice. Recycle it or make a chandelier or a canopy.
I’ve been working with Mujeres Cambia for about a month now and each week I am more impressed with the amazing progress I see from the group’s members. Each artist is coming into her own and developing her own style. Some beads are multi-colored and chunky, others are monochrome and so smooth they look like glass. Some design jewelry with colored accent beads others with wood. Some use intricate knots to add to the design, others don’t use any knots. Additionally, we’ve now recruited several new members and paired them up with the veterans who are teaching them the basics.
As for the business side…**Jessica** sold out of all of the necklaces she brought home to the U.S. and we have seven more orders in the works. All of this without a serious marketing push – just word-of-mouth! Paul and I are working on a brochure (hence the product shots), completing a digital inventory with photos, conducting time studies to see how long each piece takes, training members on business basics, establishing a group fund, and finding the best local suppliers for all materials.
These recent sales mean that members are that much closer to achieving the goals that each woman has set forth for herself including saving money to be able to return to university, pay medical bills, and provide a more balanced diet for her family.
So, as you can see we are incredibly fortunate to be working in the right place at the right time. As if you weren’t jealous enough – you should know that all of these photos were taken in either our back or front yards (our front yard being the beach).
Contact us if you’re interested in purchasing anything. Some of the pieces in the photographs have already sold but several are still available and as always we can make custom orders.
Enjoy, Mari & Paul