Thursday, March 18, 2010

a link

i was asked to post this.


So I was gonna upload a bunch of sweet pics, but uploading this one took a while, and I don´t have all day to sit here and blog. I have to save some time for facebook.
Anyway, it is probably better to upload them one by one as opposed to displaying 20 photos of me being taller than everyone else all at once.
This particular photo was taken when I first got to site. I went out with some guys from the provincial government office of the environment to put a post delineating the buffer zone of the nearby reserve. In the photo you can clearly see some trees. Yes, there are many trees. Actually, I believe those are alders, known as aliso in these parts. Alders, though not techinically legumes, fix nitrogen into the soil through a symbiosis with some microbes. This is a very useful adaptation, and I believe it explains their niche in early succession. They are common around recent landslides. Although the lack to topsoil in these areas is an obstacle for other species, the alders can apparently handle it, probably due to their microbial buddies.
When these observations are put in a less naturalistic and more practical perspective, we can see why alders are such a good hedgerow plant around fields. Agricultural fields are a prime example of secondary succession, succession in which the topsoil remains but the vegetation is largely disturbed. Nitrogen is often a limiting factor for crops, and the alders can provide it as they drop their leaves. Furthermore, it comes with organic matter, which helps keep the nitrogen around, as opposed to chemical fertilizers, much of which is often washed away.
Another common characteristic of pioneer species such as the alder is rapid growth, and this has obvious benefits for the farmer looking to take advantage of a crop of quality wood.
So thats all very nice. Stuart the forester, my childhood friend and neighbor, if you are still reading this blog, please correct me if I´m wrong on the above.
Really, I should be blogging once or twice a week. I feel like maybe at one point I had built up a nice little readership base which I have now largely lost due to neglect. Now that I have internet so close to home, I have no excuse. Except maybe that I am working more. And thats true, the comment about facebook is almost entirely facetious. I´m working with several schools to build little nurseries to produce plants (such as the native alder) for the farmers. And stuff like that.
Ok, so maybe i´ll get back to this sooner rather than later. I´ll try to keep posting nice pictures.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Back Due to Popular Demand!

ok, so the day by day breakdown i tried a while back clearly isn´t going to work to cover this hiatus. a week by week breakdown might be a bit much too, so i´ll try a month by month:

november: i kind of abandoned my community to live in the nearby town of Pimampiro. Pimampiro has internet access, but i still didn´t blog because i had more important things to do. Such as: the work for which i was in Pimampiro, and studying biology. The work was at a nursery that has pretty much been abandoned. this is the fate of projects past. NGOs and stuff in ecuador, and probably all of latin america if not the developing world, work on a project by project basis. this is the result of having to write grants and then having to complete, or at least look like they are trying to complete, the proposal as written in the grant. but then when the time and/or money runs out, nothing else happens except for the natural process of decomposition. in this case, the project was to create business opportunities by growing a bunch of aromatic herbs, giving the herbs away to farmers in return for a slice of the product, and then processing the herbs in big expensive machines to sell the essential oils for soap or tea or whatever. i never saw the machines. i never saw anyone growing the herbs actually. but i did see and work in this nursery full of lemongrass, mint, and some little plant called matico.

so basically, i spent november and most of december working in this nursery and listening to free mp3 biology lectures from mit (check it out like, pulling weeds and killing slugs and stuff. kind of a pain in the back. if i ever have any say in nursery construction, the plants are gonna be on tables.

one benefit though, was being able to go to karaoke in town. they have several english songs including Bohemian Rhapsody.

also, for thanksgiving, we were invited to quito to dine with the ambassador or her henchmen. i had heard rumors (she makes you watch dog shows instead of football) which led me to ask for a seat at one of the other places. apparently, the head security officer has the best party with bbq and football and stuff (this is where the marines go). but i went to another embassy worker´s place, and it was pretty cool. apparently, their kids go to a private school here that costs something like $100k a year. this isn´t a university, this is a highschool. and the embassy pays. also pays for their housing, which is pretty sweet. one of the guys i met there might help me with a grant for the abandoned trout ponds near here. i should call him up again. . .

kept working in that nursery for the first half of the month. ownership of which has been turned over to the parish council at my site, so thats cool. at this point, it appears that my work was pretty much pointless because the parish president (El Pastor, the evangelical guy i think i mentioned months back. hes cool) wants to get rid of all the herbs and plant trees. thats cool with me, trees are more my thing here. also, i made some friends by giving some herbs away.

my bro and dad came and visited and we went to cuenca, that was fun. then we came to my site, which was also cool. then they left.

umm... i did some things, but i don´t think i got anything done. thats kind of the story of this whole experience so far. like we went and got about 400 alder cuttings, which can be planted to produce little trees which are great for agroforestry because they fix nitrogen and they grow quickly. before going, i asked the director of the project if we could put them in the greenhouse (this isn´t the herb project in pimampiro, this is the project in my parish, the one working to give fruit trees to farmers who sell the fruit to the jelly co-op who sell jelly and make everyone happy) sure, he says. they are trying to get their greenhouse going and they want some plants to make it look good (see above about projects either doing things or appearing to do them). so i go with one of my new favorite parish councilmen and another local kid to cut these stakes to plant. we take great care to keep them moist, and we even get some bags to put them in. the director and i had agreed that he or his people or the students who "work" at the greenhouse (it is located at the local highschool, which doesn´t cost $100k per year) would plant the cuttings. so i drop them off and go about my merry way, i had some other shit to do. (actually, this story took place in december when i was working at the other nursery and i had to get back to killing slugs or something). i come back a week later and half of the cuttings are exactly where i left them and the other half are dessicating in the sun. you are supposed to plant these things within 48 hours and you are supposed to do it beneath a shade cloth, and you are supposed to water them every day, but lets not be too picky. so i plant the rest of them with another guy who works at the project who is about my age, and i figure since they spent like $10k on this fancy shmancy sprinkler system , maybe someone would bother to turn it on once in a while. but no. so at this point, now that the story is taking place in january, the cuttings are all dead. and there is a project meeting with the boss man from quito, who is italian and has a phd in philosophy. and someone mentions these cuttings, and i´m like, well, it was a good idea, but their all dead. the director bullshits about how he wasn´t told ahead of time and he can´t be expected to take care of stuff that no one tells him about. i was pissed, but i´ve decided it might be best not to talk too much when i´m pissed and there are a bunch of people around. so we spoke later. i wish i could say that we communicated successfully, but since then he has bullshitted me twice more and i´m getting kinda tired of it.

i would bust him out in a meeting, but i honestly feel like i haven´t gotten much done myself, so who am i to bust his balls? but then, at least i don´t tell people i´ll take care of something and then not do it and then pretend like these matters have nothing to do with me. so i might bust his balls at the meeting this thursday.

uhm. took the GRE. went up to the woods with some biologists and found some spectacled bear poop. might have found a new species of mountain snail, but the wily beast escaped (true story). did not find the salt lick that the tapirs use, but got better directions and i´ll find it next time.

decided a cool project would be a sacha cuy breeding program with my host family. they want to do it. i want to do something. questionable legality, but i´ve been researching and will contact the appropriate authority next time i go to ibarra (provincial capital). sacha cuy by the way is a wild guinea pig about the size of a short fat house cat.

continued to do stuff without getting much done. but as we speak, i have about 700 alders in the high school green house (also have not been adequately cared for, as the director promised, but at this point i expected as much) and if everything goes as planned (which it didn´t yesterday but i haven´t lost hope) at 5 pm today i will be giving these trees to local farmers who have swore to me that they will plant them and not leave them to rot on their back porch. i will ofcourse check up on them in a week.

so that pretty much brings everything up to date. . . . filling in a few holes: i got the 700 alders from a guy from the environmental ministry who promised me 2000 about 8 months ago. so this guy is relatively true to his word in my experience around these parts. umm.. . i´m not really as angry at the director as i may sound. mostly i am frustrated with my lack of accomplishments, but i understand it is to be expected in this line of work.

ok, i gotta go check on these alders.

ps. i love you too, arbi

Sunday, October 18, 2009

its been a little bit

ok, so since i last posted i´ve done a few things. not many things, but a few. i probably should have posted sooner, if only because my dad enjoys reading this stuff. (hey dad!). on the note of relatives, my dear aunt reads this stuff too, at least occasionally, so i have to stop cursing. i found that tidbit out on my 10 day leave to the states. in certain circumstances, PC will let volunteers take unpaid leave. i had those circumstances, so i did. i´m glad i did, but in general i´d say it isn´t a good idea to go home so early in service. you get back and you start missing stuff again. but anyway, i got back, and i taught english in a community for a week, and then i got strep throat, but since it had been exactly 7 days since i was in an airport, and i had body aches and a sore throat and whatnot, i was scared i had the pig flu. so i called the PC doctors a lot until they told me to come to quito, so i did. and they told me i had strep throat, but i was already pretty much over it. so i stayed another night just to hang out and i ate a 15$ steak at a restaurant called the Magic Bean. it had vegan food, i´ll take my pops there if we stay a night in Quito (hey dad!). i also met a girl who was ending her service. she was from the omnibus (training group) after me, so she had really just gotten out of training. she was quiting because she had been expecting an international health experience, and then she got to a little community in the middle of the mountains. so if you are expecting an international health experience, don´t sign up for peace corps.

then a week later i got called to go get a flu vaccine, and they haven´t offered to reimburse my travel expenses. and a week after that was the reconnect conference, in which we report on the surveys we´ve been doing and we get trained on ¨project design and management¨which i found pretty helpful. we are supposed to invite out counterparts, at first i had 3, the evangelical president of the parish (parish is the political unit one step above community, i think i´ve refered to it as district before, but now i know the right translation), known as the Pastor by his committee, at least behind his back, also the 2 agronomists from the Project i work with. but before it was go time, they all three backed out. the Pastor invited in his place the ex-president of the parish, who is also from my community, who is a good guy despite the fact that he hit my beloved dog Jack with a machete while i was on leave in the states. apparently jack was about to eat their much smaller family dog, and each protects his own, as my compañeros explained the situation. but then he backed out too. so i invited my host brother but at this point it was only several hours before we needed to be at the conference, which was more than several hours away.

so he asked a friend to drive the truck home from the market (where we had been selling another friend´s tree tomatoes at a price below the cost of production). the friend didn´t make it all the way back. the truck broke down. so they sold it. and then the asked me for a loan to buy another. first of all, i explained, i don´t have enough money to my name to cover the difference between what you sold the old truck for ($5k) and what you need to buy another (at least $10k). second of all, if i did, how would you pay me back in two years?

they wouldn´t. thats why peace corps suggests not making loans. anyway, reconnect went well. and afterwards, i visited a university in the area of Riobamba (which was where the 5 day conference was held for volunteers stationed in the sierra), and filmed an interview with a micobio Doctor who grows trichoderma, a fungus which lives in soil, fixes nitrogen, and combats other fungi which cause blights. i bought a kilo of the stuff, and i´m distributing it among farmers in my parish who are interested in testing it out.

the day after that, i visited an organic farm, also in the area of reconnect, and filmed interviews and demonstrations with the farmer showing how to grow tree tomato (the most common cash crop in my parish) organically. i´m currently preparing that footage to be made into a short film to show to my peeps. i don´t think anyone is likely to convert to organic, but if they can save some money on chemicals, then everybody wins. except the chemical companies. but they´ll hardly notice.

so i got back from there and shortly thereafter went to quito to take the LSAT (just got the score, couldn´t have done better!) and then spend the rest of my accrued vacation days in cuenca, visiting my old host family from my exchange student days. haven´t seen em in over 7 years, but they haven´t changed much. very very welcoming. pretty much spent a week an a half on the couch watching HBO. i looked in to some loans for the trout ponds in my parish, but mostly it was HBO.

so i got back from that and i decided i should do some work. so even before i got to my site, i was contacting the catholic church, which owns the majority share of the trout ponds, about selling them, and also my man who works with the ministry of the environment about getting me some trees to plant (did i mention i have about 20 farmers signed up to plant about 2000 native trees? its more complicated than that, but its a good start). he said he´d look in to getting my 1000, and he invited me on a trip to train some of the farmers in my area. cool. so i´m doing that tuesday.

i spent last week walking down the mountain and back up every day to work with the project, or if they seemed unproductive, the parish. that walk really wears one out. sometimes in the rain. sometimes in the dark. i got a little bit done.

friday was the beginning of the anniversarial festivities of a neighboring parish, so i was invited to go join the parade. afterwards, i got pulled out to dance and placed in front of a lady who turned out to be a consejal, councilperson, in the municipality, which owns most of the other shares of the trout pond. i had recently been told by the president of the womens´group (the one which has their bidness very well organized and wants to buy and put back in operation the run down trout ponds in their community) well, she told me that the new mayor of the municipality doesn´t want to sell the trout ponds, but would be happy if the women bought the church´s shares and took out a loan to renovate them. but the president says uh-uh, cause once they are in debt and the ponds are productive again, the municipality is gonna screw them. she opened her mouth and drew a finger across it, i´m not sure if it was to represent a fish hook, or food being stolen just as one was about to eat it, or something else, but it was expressive, and i think i´ll try it sometime.

but anyway, the consejala i danced with didn´t mind talking business with me (i asked first) and she said that it wasn´t just up to the mayor (he had said it was), that she and the other councilpeople would have to vote on it, and that she would start asking em what they think. so score one for me and my great dance moves.

so that was friday. saturday i declined to return to the festivities, opting instead to read, do a little exercise, clean my room, and watch some macguyver episodes (bought seasons one and two in cuenca!). macguyver rocks. my family doesn´t believe his smooth moves would work, but i know they would.

sunday, today, i came to town to work in a nursery they got here. they got it, but they ain´t got no one working in it. the project that started it has ended, and they are considering giving it to my parish, but the parish has to put up some sort of investment in return. they want to throw in a nurseryperson to work it, but they can´t fit it in the budget till the new year. thats where i come in. plus, there is a school nearby and i´m working on inviting students so i can teach em about nursery stuff. plus there are a bunch of native trees for me to weed, water, tend, and then give to my farmers who have signed up to plant trees. its a good deal. so i worked from mid afternoon, when i got the keys, till a little after dark. we´ll see what time i wake up tomorrow, but i forsee getting things done.

there are other things i could type about, but i think the internet cafe is gonna close soon. maybe i´ll blog some more this week. but maybe not. don´t hold your breath or anything.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

The week I didn't really get anything done

Monday the 27 was when I last updated. I left the internet cafe and went to the map office, knowing they weren't gonna give me anything, just to check up and make sure the situation was as i understood it to be. i had been told that at this point do to my repeated assaults on the office and Carlos in Quito's talking to the director of the project that made the maps to begin with, we were gonna get all the maps we need. we just needed the current pres of the parrochia and the newly elected one to sign something saying that they wouldn't give the maps away to anybody else, strictly for the use of the parrochia (and since the parrochia is a counterpart in the project, us too). the presidents were unavailable at the time, so i just went to the office to better understand how it was all gonna go down. i get there and i go to the pendejo and i ask him, why did you give me the overviews and tell me they were detailed? why didn't you give me the detailed maps? I didn't give them to you, he says, because now you have to pay for them, the mayor has given us new instructions. what? putting aside the fact that the mayor had not given these new instructions at the time of the pendejo civilly disobeying my requests, the mayor shouldn't have changed his mind, he already signed a form saying to give us the maps for free. well, i spoke with the pendejo's boss, and it is true. apparently these maps are just too great to actually be put to use. they spent a lot of money making them, so now its very important that they keep them hidden from anybody who wants to do anything. they wanna charge a dollar a hectare, this would come out to well over 2 grand. so now we gotta wait for the new mayor to take his seat and ask him to help us out.

tuesday the 28th i thought about waking up early and going to the other side of the mountain for grafting class, but laziness got the best of me. i went down to the project office in the afternoon only to find my laziness overshadowed by that of the much better paid engineers who work there. Victor, my friend, the director of the project was playing rummy with his assistant engineer David who is also a nice guy i just don't know him as well, and the jelly prez. its lunch break, they tell me, 2pm. well, the government offices close 12 to 2:30, so i guess its ok. anyway, theres not a damn thing i can do about it. so i go to a nearby community to talk to the prez of the women's community bank about getting a grant or a loan to buy the trout ponds. she gives me some coffee and tortillas, and i get back to the project office about 2 hours later. and they're still playing rummy. the jelly prez is winning all their money. thats a lot of lunch, i say. to their credit, there is a power outage, so they can't do computer work. but that doesn't mean they couldn't be doing something a little more constructive to earn their salaries (2 to 3 times what i make). anyway, after 5, i figure office hours are over so i show the jelly prez how to play texas hold'em and i win 50 cents. they gave a lecture that night to a couple of farmers (they could have been publicizing it during the day and maybe more people would have come). i gave a part on agroforestry and wrote down some people who want to plant aliso. i feel like their presentation was overly technical and the people didn't get much out of it. they talked about ion exchange capacity, among other things. i left early to catch the last truck up to my community.

wednesday july 29th: pretty much the same story. except this time they were drinking too.

thursday july 30th: went to town. blew most of the day on facebook.

friday july 31st: taught my classes. the young adults have stopped coming. this, even when i ask them if they want class, and they say yes, so i open up the school, and they just keep playing soccer for an hour, so i leave. its really not as frustrating as it sounds, i spent the time watching music videos that the teacher put on the computer and printing lsat study materials.

saturday august 1st: at site they were celebrating the entrance of the newly elected people, but i came to ibarra to celebrate the leaving of my peacecorps friend here. should not have drunk so much.

sunday august 2nd: paying the price of drinking so much.

so that is the week in which i didn't really do much. hopefully there won't be more of the same. tomorrow i'm gonna go to an office here in ibarra to see about getting some trees to plant. also, a development bank to see about getting a loan for the trout ponds. anyway, since i didn't really do much this week, i've posted below one of my fellow volunteer's stories.

Why I don't think I'm gonna quit:

My friend sent out this story in an e-mail to our omnibus (training class). Its pretty wild, so I figured I'd post it. he's from Brooklyn, so read it with an accent. .

thursday, july 23rd, 700 am -- i woke up and saw, to my utter amazement, that the overnight high tide had taken an entire house off its stilts and dropped it IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BEACH, about 50 meters north of its original location. everyone in the community, of course, got a huge kick out of this: laughing, children playing on the now-vacant house, etc. however, they quickly realized that this is a bad omen, because in about 6 hours the tide would start coming back up again, possibly to destroy more houses. therefore, many people started evacuating their things from their houses and putting them on the road parallel to the beach. i realized that we had a potential "katrina-like" situation on our hands (imminent doom, etc.). i snapped some fotos and went to the municipio, where i had a meeting that afternoon.

thursday, july 23rd, 200 pm -- i show the fotos of the displaced house to the mayor and various people in the municipio. he makes the point that, all of the houses in this area of risk in Don Juan are illegal and were never supposed to have been built. he has a point, and even my house on thea beach is illegal, but still... to my shock, noone seems to concerned or ready to be proactive. unfortunately, i had more meetings to attend at my foundation´s office that afternoon/evening, so i did not return to my community for round 2 of the potential destruction (late afternoon tide). i tried to brace myself for the scene that i knew awaited me that evening...

friday, july 24th, 1230 am -- i finally return to my community after a long day of meetings. my community is eerily dark and quiet. i walk the beach with my flashlight, and the destruction of the late afternoon tide was horrible. my flashlight revealed that about 5 or 6 more houses had been destroyed (completely gone, not dropped on the beach), others had been mashed up pretty badly with wood and sh*t everywhere, and a few had that cross-section look, where an entire side had been carved away revealing the interior, like a doll house. all the people in the affected area where sleeping in the street, with all their stuff in piles around them. indeed it was, essentially, a refugee scene. the tide was starting to come back up, so i set my cell phone alarm for 300am that morning so i could be prepared for the next high tide.

friday, july 24th, 300 am -- i wake up and the waves are just smashing the hell out of my community, including my front porch. i watched for hours and saw light posts fall on top of boats, while houses, walls and fences disappeared entirely. the waves started overtaking my front porch quite a bit, and i had to jump back to avoid beeing doused. one of the stilts that holds up my front porch was beginning to buckle; i began running an escape plan through my mind. i already had a couple of bags packed to flee, just in case. really crazy stuff. the type of natural phenomenon that you cant take your eyes off. i finally decide to tap a nap at 600 am for an hour, knowing that a clean-up / relief effort would be necessary in the morning.

friday, july 24th, 800 am -- i wake up again and walk the community. we almost lost the front porch, but thankfully it is still standing. we reinforce it with a few more stilts. i walk to the south... approximately 15 houses are now completely gone, destroyed by the worst high tide of this multi-day disaster. it looks like bombs struck the individual lots where there were once houses. piles of rubble everywhere and people wandering around in stunned, post-disaster daze. i survey the damage along the beachfront and it is heartbreaking. after about an hour of silence and trying to think, i simply get busy. gotta get busy to take my mind off things. i got to each little zone of rubble and ask the people if they need help. i immediately suggest that we need to clear out all of the largest, heaviest posts from the destroyed houses because when the tide returns, those things would slam against the surviving houses and rip them apart. i convince dozens of people to STOP BURNING THE TRASH! holy sh*t, why do they just start burning everything? i say to everyone in large groups, "hey, we have to work out here all day long cleaning up and helping people. do you really want to work over fires and smoke all day, breathing in this sh*t? i dont! so lets cut it out! besides, you are just burning light little pieces of palm and bamboo. those wont do anything! they will float harmlessly in the ocean. lets get these huge posts out of here before they mash up everything again!" they listen (mostly), and the fires stop. after a few hours, some people start making lists of the families who dont have houses. this way, when the relief resources come, we will know who needs what.

friday, july 24th, 400 pm -- emergency meeting at the municipio. apparently the mayor is now willing to listen. great. before i leave, i tell dozens of people in the community to get their things ready to evacuate. trucks will be coming, so pack up your stuff and be ready to move when we get back. some blank stares and nods, and then i am off. we show fotos, discuss potential plans for this evening (tide coming back up to high in about another 2 hours!), etc. we suggest moving the people to higher, safer ground (school, church, empty lots, etc.). friday, july 24th, 700 pm -- we return to the community to see that NOONE HAS MOVED AN INCH! in the usa, when a disaster strikes, what do we do? we evacuate, right? not here. people keep saying that they would rather live in the street than evacuate to the school or church. why? because the school/church/empty lots are in don juan CENTRAL, and the people of BELLA VISTA don juan dont like the people of don juan central, so they refuse to go there, even in a crisis. unbelievable. all this while the tide is coming again. the press has arrived. i am pretty sure i was on the news. then the resources start coming in thanks to the municipio: mattresses, water bottles, pillows, sheets, towels, food rations, etc. the pista, the location where we would distribute the resources, is a f*ckin zoo of people who refuse to cooperate. i ask the police to help get some people out of there, the people who were not affected, so we can work. not happening. good job cops. there are kids playing indoor while we are trying to dish out rations. people are coming up to me asking for free sh*t when they live outside of the affectd zone. eventually, the system of handing out rations becomes corrupted, and people who LOST NOTHING SO FAR ARE RUNNING AWAY WITH MATTRESSES, WATER, SHEETS, you name it. that group of bandits includes my host family. when i see the mess that has become of this aid attempt, i kicked over a couple of plastic chairs, threw a few more out of the way, and yelled out something like "there is corruption here! people are taking things when they still have everything!" i storm out of there, refusing to calm down. this goes on well into the night.

well, perhaps i will write round 2 later, because now i have to go to yet another meeting with the mayor. there is so much more to tell. some final last thoughts to close out round 1 --
*people in don juan are beginning to invade private property to solve their housing problem
*i have had women yelling in my face about everything, when they still have a home and suffered nothing*miduvi is here and in the early stages of building new homes
*lets just say that my CAT tools community map will change DRAMATICALLY
*all of my projects post-CAT tools have been shelved, as you can imagine
*i didnt tell peace corps anything until 2 days ago, because i didnt want to get yanked from my site

alright, so bottom line - if any of yous quit after hearing what i have been through, i will shove my size 44 Venus sneakers so far up your culo that you will floss your teeth with the shoe laces, you got me?! yeah. seriously though, i am fine. its been tough, but we will make it. much like joyce, i just dont want to hear anymore omnibus 101 quitting stories, because if i can make it through this, we can all make it through everything. diga?

Monday, July 27, 2009

trying to catch up on the last month

starting back with Thursday June 25th i went to town, then to Ibarra to get some money out of the bank, then back to town, where i ran errands for the guy who filled out the paperwork to get me at this site. He works in Quito. it is very unfortunate that he doesn´t work here for the project. he and i both get frustrated at the way things go, but him more so because he can´t do anything about it. anyway, so he wanted me to keep trying to get these maps i might have mentioned before. the guy i have to talk to to get them is a real pendejo. by that i mean ass. he goes on and on about how he knows so much about thie computer map system thing, and he repeatedly fails to give me the maps we need. i don´t mind typing bad about the guy, because one of these days i´m gonna tell him to his face. anyway, so this time i have evidence that the last time, when he promised that he had given me all the maps of the county, he had in fact given me less than half. so i point out all the maps i need. i write down their codes, and i say, look, just copy and paste these on my hard drive. he dithers for about 10 minutes. manages to copy 1 file. then decides that i´ve asked for too much. hey man, i got the oficio, you wanna see the oficio? the freakin mayor signed it, bitch. so he does and talks to his boss, who is reasonable, and tells him to give me the maps, because if not, i´m just gonna come back and bother them both some more. so the pendejo goes back to his computer and shows me the big overview pictures. he showed me them before, when he offered me the choice of either overviews or details, but for some reason i couldn´t have both. i´ve come to realize that reason is his being an asshole. so he gives me the overviews, and i say, no, i want the details. these have the same detail, he blows me off. no they don´t. yes they do. no they don´t. yes they do, let me show you. he opens one up and zooms in. see, they have the same. no, i see that they don´t. let me check, i ask, hoping to just see the file size of the overviews and compare it with the detailed versions to prove that he is, in fact, an ass hole trying to shit on me. but no. i can´t touch the computer, because he is the expert (who can´t manage to copy and paste a few files without first complaining about it for 15 minutes and then doing it especially inefficiently). and then, to top it off, he deletes the detail file that he had put on my hard drive. why´d you do that? i ask, i´m starting to get pissed. oh, because. he says. alright dude, my ride is about to leave, so i´m not gonna waste any more of our time -today. but i´ll be back, and you´re gonna give me my maps godamit

so i went back to site. gave my first English class to the young adults in the community. they liked it.

Friday June 26th taught my little kids´english and computer classes in my community. went down to the central community to organize a meeting of all the community presidents. met with the new employees of the Project. they seem like a good team. but problems will arise. then i went back up to my other class then i went home.

Sat June 27th went to milk the cows with the host ma. studied some LSAT. slept. taught the young adults computer skills. Sunday June 28th slept in some more. thats what weekends are for. exercised. cleaned room. etc.

Monday June 29th taught classes
Tuesday June 30th woke up early to go to the agronomy classes in the community on the other side of the mountain. Made it there this time. Learned some grafting skills. have since tried them out with the host pa. we´ll see if it works. The most interest thing i learned that day which i can easily communicate via text is that it is possible to revive an old tree by cultivating several saplings close around it and grafting the saplings in to the trunk of the main tree. it is a good way to maintain a producer. anyway, on the way back, the guy who had invited me suggested we take a "short cut." cause he was in a hurry. i wanted to talk to the engineer who taught the class about making a video, but i like short cuts, so i went along. turns out our short cut was anything but, and this guy was intent on marching all the way back to the central community. this is an hour drive, but marching over the mountain as opposed to driving around it makes it an hour march instead. i like to think i´m in pretty good shape. me blood has thickened to adapt to the altitude and i can generally keep up. but i was in no mood. for one thing, i´s planning to hike to a lake the next day and i didn´t want to start tired. for two, he said it was a short cut, and i was kinda pissed about that. so when he kept calling to me to hurry, i eventually stopped trying to explain that he could go on if he wanted but i was in no hurry. instead i just started cursing him in english. great stress reliever. anyway i eventually got to the road and my host family happened to be driving back home so i jumped in back.

Wednesday July 1st I´m a little pissed at typing this because i typed it last night in an attempt to not spend all my time in town blogging, but there was a power outage and i lost the work. anyway, i hiked 9 hours with some local guys to a lake, Laguna Puruhanta. i wasn´t gonna go, because i sharted my pants at breakfast that morning from stomach issues. shart, in ecuadorian colloquial spanish is translated as pedo con caldo or, "fart with soup." anyway the stomach issues cleared up and i went. it was 9 hours in the rain and the mud with a back pack on an overgrown path, parts of which were so steep we were doing pull-ups with exposed roots to get past, other parts i had to crawl to get under the overgrowth, other parts the mud was up to my thigh. it sucked. and they want to develop this for tourists. at least it was interesting to see the transition to páramo, the high altitude wetland. similar to the peat bogs of scotland, páramo ecosystems maintain a lot of organic matter. while the cold is a limiting factor on biomass production, it is more limiting on decomposition, so there is all this slowly decomposing biomass which acts like a sponge, soaking up water. it is a really important ecosystem for watersheds. but it isn´t that great for camping. when we got there, i started cutting grass for the sleeping mat, but i wasn´t much better at that than i was at the hike. in gringo standards, i am pretty good with a machete, but nothing compared to the locals. they made a tent out of several sheets of plastic. lit a fire (using gasoline, everything was soaking wet). and made dinner.

Thursday July 2nd I was resigned to hang out in the tent all day. i would have left if they had wanted to, but somehow, they were enthusiastic to put on their cold wet pants and go out to the lake. eventually i followed them and watched two of the older more experienced guys catch a fish with a machete. machete fishing method: cut grass and pile rocks at mouth of stream entering lake. poke around upstream with stick. bash fish with machete at dam. i was impressed, but the water was high from all the rain so we went back. i then executed my plan to stay in the tent, while they inflated a raft and went out on the lake. i offered my video camera and they were excited about that. they caught some more fish too. that night it rained again and this time the tent leaked.

Friday July 3rd another 9 hour hike back. i fell less. i got used to the cold wet pants. and when we got back, it felt really really good to take a hot shower. i guess it is good sometimes to do stuff that sucks because you feel better afterwards. anyway, i made sure to thank the guys for having invited me and treating me well despite my lameness. they would make good guides, but if we are gonna develop this for gringo tourists, we gotta do something about the conditions. i can´t imagine paying for that. a $5k grant from USAID would be sufficient to cut another trail (there is a 3 hour route, i´m told) and build a cabin, or at least a foundation so you don´t have to camp on the aforementioned wet organic sponge.

Saturday July 4th went to Ibarra to celebrate our great nation´s independence. the other PCVs in the area had set up a barbq by another lake. Yaguarcocha, this one is called, which means puddle of blood. named after an especially brutal battle between invading Inca and some defending tribe. anyway, there was no hike to this lake. parking lot is right next too it. and instead of a leaky inflatable raft, they had swan boats. (sidenote on the leaky inflatable raft: superglue mixed with baking soda creates a cement sealant which can be used with old bicycle innertubes to fix leaky inflatable rafts. i was nicknamed macgyver by my training class, but the ecuadorians are the real macgyvers around here, speaking of which, did i mention welding with a tub of water, lemons, salt, wires, pliers, and the welding electrode?) anyway, the other peace corps people are nice. except all the ladies were taken, and no one wanted to party that night despite having talked it up all day.

but i picked up a pile of good books from one of the guys who is heading out soon. including The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. published after his death, it is more of a compilation of his writings, but it was good. Also a funny right wing family values book. funny because by studying for the LSAT i have become picky with the logic of written things, and there are mistakes. but the mistakes are apparently only funny because i don´t agree with some of the conclusions. when i read Noam Chomsky´s Latin America book, the mistakes just piss me off, probably because i would readily agree with a lot of the conclusions if only he would back them up with more than bs. Hey Chomsky, ever find the universal grammar center in the brain? no? then why don´t you keep looking instead of ranting about shit that is out of your scope. Does Chomsky have any experience in latin america? i don´t know. the first few pages of his book did not indicate any such thing.

anyway, Sunday July 5th I went with Anita, the Italian NGO worker, to the jelly group meeting. she had not been informed of the jelly group having a meeting until i called her the night before hoping for a ride back to site. this angered her because she had spoken with the jelly prez, and he had said nothing. more problems forthcoming. anyway, they decided at the meeting to charge $400 for membership in their little group. before, it was $100, based on the expenses they had incurred getting the group to where it is today. but they had actually never done the math, so when Anita helped them add it all up, it came out substantially higher. i was busy printing out the group statutes during most of the meeting, but i came towards the end. i made a few comments, namely, that charging $400 is functionally equivalent of charging $300, or $500, or $50,000, because any of those numbers mean that no one is going to join them. Furthermore, they need to clarify whether they are charging for the costs they the old members have incurred, or for the benefits a new member will recieve, because charging for both doesn´t make sense to me. for example, they are charging $6 per meeting held, which adds up a lot. but new members are hardly benefiting from the wasted meetings of the past. (and that value for the time required for a meeting is pretty questionable. $6 is the going rate for a day´s work, and it was only $5 in the past). they are also charging a substantial albeit depreciated amount for the cost of equipment which was not only donated to them but also will be rendered inconsequential upon the arrival of the new equipment which the Project is supposed to get them. then there was the vote by which they decided on $400: out of 15 people, 6 voted for $400, 5 voted for $300, and 4 voted for $250. Now, $400 clearly has a plurality, but a majority has voted for less than $400. You are using the mode average when maybe you should consider the mean or even the median average as a more democratic way of aggregating your votes. this kid is smart, they said, but we´ve already voted, so $400 it is. In one lady´s eyes in particular, i could see little dollar signs spinning. This jelly group is kinda pissing me off. they spend half the time complaining, and the other half thinking up ways to get money without producing anything. they´ve made a total of $93 in five years. actually, i´m impressed by their persistence.

Monday July 6th teach
Tuesdy July 7th went to Ibarra. primary objective: check out the ownership situation of the trout ponds in San M. the church is supposedly majority owner, but the ponds are dry. been dry for over a year. the sun is damaging them. the community bank is ready and willing to work in them. maybe the church would be open to something for the good of the community. not so fast. the church is running this and other businesses through a company. the company is out to make a profit. how about a little something for the good of the people? i ask. well, we might hire some of them. hmm..

secondary objective: check my mail. mission accomplished. thanks mom.

tertiary objective: find a place to crash for the night. usual friend is out of town. Anita has no room/would feel bad if i slept on concrete. but we go to get a beer with her boyfriend. she met her bf working in another community kinda close. they have organized businesses around their hot springs. they have hotels and restaurants and its all run by the communities involved. sounds nice. i´ll have to check it out. they show me a good cheap hostel in Ibarra. the manager´s daughter had done a study in their hot springs place. she needs another tourism study to graduate, i mention my site. we haven´t followed up on that, but i will next time i´m in Ibarra. also, on the way to the beer, i ran in to the teacher from San I. the one who did the cooking class and is working on growing fruit trees with the PTA. but the teachers are all in training over summer, so she can´t keep in touch with the PTA on the trees, i offer to help, but in this as well I have yet to follow through. I will though.

Wednesday July 8th wake up early to catch a bus back to site. meet with Carlos from Quito and a friend of his who is specialized in tourism. we are heading to the meeting of all the community presidents. we get there late. they talk a lot. i don´t like it when specialists come to a meeting and talk the whole time. really, we should be listening to the people at the meeting, and then make recomendations based on what they tell us about the specific situation. if they don´t feel like they are part of the decision making process, they are less likely to follow through. i point this out, thus somewhat ironically adding my own wind to that of the specialists.

to try and get some participation from the community representatives, i asked them a few questions, like what they see as potential tourist attractions, and when they are having meetings so we can further discuss with the individual communities. we noted the meeting dates and said we´d be there (this turned out to be untrue). also, a lot of the meeting went to debating a proposed canal that would potentially take water from the community to the cities below. unfortunately there was very little information around which to base the debate, and really the communities have very little say in the project. so i noted a contact to follow up on and get more info, and begged the group to move on to matters which we could actually have an intellegent conversation about. i finally succeeded only by ignoring the canal talk and talking about tourism again.

that night we went to San V. the community where i teach and Carlos and William, the tourism specialist, told them we would train them in community tourism (also, as yet, untrue).

July 9th went to town. worked on the map situation. actually i think some of what i was ranting about before occured on this date. regardless, that guy is an ass.

July 10th there was a meeting with the San M. community women´s bank. I told them about the situation with the church and the trout pools. and that some engineers would be coming to evaluate the pools´condition. the prez wasn´t there, she was in Quito getting support from the Ministry of Agriculture and Pisciculture.

Saturday July 11th went to town. probably just wasted time on facebook or something.

Sunday July 12th went to San M. for the soccer match. spoke with the Prez of the womens' bank. tried to get a guy to weld the door of the school in my community. been trying for probably about a month at that point. he always promises next saturday. . .

Monday July 13th toured the trout pools with the engineers. they say it is worth about $70k, and it needs about $90k investment to be fully functional. the water intake is full of rocks, and the water is about a meter below it. will have to look in to some sort of partial renovation to limit initial investment.

then i went to San V. to teach. afterwards i became very ill. and passed the next several days in bed. was very thankful for the books i had picked up in Ibarra. and for the PC medical officer. we can´t go to the doctor without the PCMO´s approval (unless its an extreme emergency) and my viral stomach infection was not approved. all the doctor would do is sell me antibiotics, which don´t do much good against a virus.

anyway, i was fully recovered by Friday July 17th so I went and taught my regular classes.

Saturday July 18th I walked about 10 miles trying to meet a Dr. of agronomy in Ibarra. He works with a fungus called trichoderma. very common in soil, it is an antiviral agent, and it has a lot of potential for fighting at least one of several common plagues that affect the tree tomato, the most common cash crop around my site. if it is effective, not only will it prevent these diseases and thus help production, but it will render unnecessary some of the chemicals which they spray every 2 weeks. they don´t use the recommended protection when they spray, and they use red label chemicals, banned in the U.S. for their toxicity to humans and in the environment. so this trichoderma stuff could come in handy. unfortunately there were no cars leaving from the central community, so i started walking to town. this is a 3 hour walk, i figured one would pass coming from another community or something, but no such luck. had i the constitution to wake my lazy butt up at 4am, i could have caught a truck leaving from my site, but i figured i would be able to catch a later ride. nope. by the time of the scheduled meeting with the Doc, I was an hours walk from town, which is still an hour from Ibarra where we were to meet. I happened to get reception in that particular bend in the road, so i called to tell him i´d be late. could we reschedule? no can do. so i turned around, and it started to rain. anyway i crossed the raging stream (up to my thigh at a point what with the rain and all) and got home.

Sunday July 19th i relaxed. did a little exercise, and studied for the LSAT.
Monday July 20th taught my classes, and did another class for the young adults of my community

Tuesday July 21st went to town and got the agricultural engineer from the quinoa and chocho video to come to my community and give a talk. he came and 6 people signed up to grow. actually, i think he had already come. i think i got my dates wrong. but anyway, he came back a second time on this date, and the people who had signed up before agreed to go on a field trip to see people who grow quinoa in another town, Cotacachi, famous for its leather. I´m personally more interested in amaranth, another crop that this guy advocates. i have a little experience with amaranth from austin where a biologist friend of mine grew it to isolate it´s dye to be used to indicate expired medicines. that was his idea. i haven´t spoken with him in years. i hope it panned out. anyway, according to the figures this engineer gave us, we could be making $10k per hectare twice a year on amaranth. considering, as i´ve mentioned, the average annual income is something like $1,500, thats pretty damn good. almost too good to be true. we´ll experiment.

Wednesday July 22nd went by San M. just cause i had time, and it happened to be the day that another engineer, this one from the ministry of agriculture and pisciculture, was scheduled to check out the pools. So I went with the prez of the community bank and the engineer and some other members of the community bank. i chimed in with what i had gleaned from the previous trip. in the end i offered my help in getting copies of some documentation concerning the pools to the engineer from the ministry. this ended up taking several hours longer than i had expected, but that´s what volunteers are for, right? also, i taught a class to the young adults.

Thursday July 23rd this is when i spent those hours getting those copies to that engineer.

Friday July 24th taught my classes and in between, i went to the central community where the Project was giving out the plants it had promised. Actually, they came several hours late, and they gave out a lot less than some of the beneficiaries had expected. 10 plants per species per farmer who had signed up. haven´t signed up? haven´t heard about it? tough tamales.

but what pissed me off a little bit more was that Carlos and William couldn´t come to the tourism meeting they had promised a community on the other side of the mountain. Why not? the director of the Project, also my friend, couldn´t give them any money. Why not? basically because Carlos doesn´t work here, he doesn´t get the full scoop in time. he needed to fill out a budget to send to Italy to get the money. wahwah.

so i tell the people from that community the bad news. They are apparently a well organized group of 60 working to promote tourism in their community. they are relatively close to the lake (the 9 hour route), and they have a locally famous Virgin Mary that, legend has it, appeared out of the rock. they told me that they had prepared food and everything, so i called their president to tell him to stop the stoves, the specialists aren´t coming. but he was like, well, hey, why don´t you come? thats a long way man. (one hour walk coming back from there to the central community, which is 40 minutes uphill to my site, the walk there would be significantly more than an hour because it is all uphill). and the meeting is at night, i can´t reasonably expect myself to make it. but he promises me a ride. he here at this time. so i´m there at that time and there is no ride. i´m still a little chafed about that, but maybe there was a good reason.

Saturday July 25th and Sunday July 26th i mostly just hung out. thats what weekends are for.

Monday July 27th came to town with the president of the county (the town is the capital of the municipality, which is bigger than the county) to get cracking once again on those maps. unfortunately, the mayor wasn´t there. so we couldn´t do much on that line. we were gonna circumvent the a-hole and get it all done. . .anyway, we spoke with an engineer about a budget for a bridge over the raging stream i forged the other week. my persistent questionng led to a $2k cut in the price, bringing it within the amount allocated by the province. sweet.

ok, my butt is sore from all this sitting. not sure how i did it in school. chao.