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