Thursday, July 3, 2008


So, our volunteers arrived. We had a few days of training and then shipped them off to their respective communities. I just got back the other day from visiting my volunteers during their first week. It was really nice to have a break from La Piedad and hang out with them -- I attended one of the daily classes they're doing with children in Zaragoza. The topic was trash, so they had planned some activities and games that centered around what is organic and what isn't and what can be recycled -- super cute. They're also already getting ideas from kids about what project they should enter in the Ecological Fair that will be on July 28 in La Piedad.

Mostly I have a lot of pictures that I downloaded from someone else's camera because I haven't been taking enough.

This is most of our staff with paletas. There is an AMAZING paletería just 3 blocks from our house and we are addicted en masse. Anyone who's going to be walking by the paletería when they leave the house automatically has to take orders for the rest of the group.

Before the volunteers arrived, we had a "capacitación de contrapartes jóvenes." Supervisors invited two youth from each community to attend a training workshop to teach them more about AMIGOS, our mission, what resources we have, and how they can act as counterparts to volunteers in their communities. I think that getting local youth involved is one of the most exciting aspects of the project -- we discussed how they'll be facilitating classes with volunteers and working closely with them to write grants for community projects. I met several jóvenes who were asking how they too could be AMIGOS volunteers... (Chema, who's looking directly at the camera is wonderful!!!!)

Lyndsay and me at the "mirador" that overlooks La Piedad

Welcoming our volunteers in Mexico City...

One our partner agencies, UNIVA (a private university in La Piedad) threw us a giant bienvenida complete with my favorite... MARIACHIS! Everyone got up and danced, thus creating an even bigger spectacle than we were to begin with as the only gringos in the entire city. We were even featured in the local paper :)

The day after we dropped volunteers off in community, we had an workshop about amaranth. I worked with amaranth when I was a volunteer in Oaxaca in 2002. It's a grain indigenous to Mexico that is promoted by health workers because of its incredibly high nutritional value. It's specifically used to combat under-nourishment in children. Pregnant and lactating women are also encouraged to include amaranth in their diet to promote the healthy development of their children. A health worker from Oaxaca ran this workshop, teaching community members about the value of amaranth and the consequences of malnutrition and conducting a sowing and cooking demonstration to encourage people to start their own gardens and begin to incorporate amaranth into familiar recipes. It was an amazing day, and incidentally the kind of work I'd really like to be doing post-AMIGOS....

Here, Liliana (from Oaxaca) is doing an activity about the process of growing amaranth.

Me washing quelite leaves for our cooking demonstration.

That's it for now!


Monday, June 23, 2008

El Otro Lado

My apologies for not posting sooner -- I feel a world away here in La Piedad and my correspondence has suffered a bit. Things are really busy here, our volunteers are arriving to Mexico City on Tuesday night. We'll be staying overnight in a church -- right across from the American high school that my dad and my tíos attended some time ago... before heading back to La Piead the next morning.

I've been visiting communities and helping the supervisors settle in. I'm only going to be in charge of one community, the town of Zaragoza, because of some unfortunate changes. Our supervisors spent last week on Survey, visiting and spending a night in each community where we'll be working. Due to various types of miscommunication, some communities did not receive us as well as others -- we had to make some last-minute changes to where we'll be working, and I'll only be supervising one community instead of two. It was hard to give one up, because I'm really excited about both of them and already felt really close to the fantastic host families I found, but such is life in the tropics...

Despites some rough patches, I mostly never cease to be surprised by how warm and welcoming the people I encounter on Amigos are. Corny, but absolutely true. Imagine some stranger showing up unannounced on your doorstep, looking for a place to stay and the opportunity to do some community service! Instead of thinking I'm crazy, I get welcomed with open arms into people's homes, I instantly become a confidante and a friend -- and I get sat down at some kitchen table or another and fed a stack of tortillas, meat, salsa, frijoles, arrozzz and so much more... I even tried to time a community visit so that I could skip lunch because I was so full from the being in another community the day before. I arrived at 5pm and told them I'd already eaten, but they sat me down anyway despite my weak excuses.

The hardest thing about visiting these "ranchos" as they're called, is that most of the time, half of the houses in town are empty and the towns are virtually devoid of young men. They're all working in the United States, which they refer to as "allá" (over there) or "el otro lado" (the other side). It's weird because I just finished reading "The Devil's Highway," a non-fiction account of a group of around 26 men who attempted to cross illegally into the U.S. and 14 of whom ended up dying. It's an incredible read, albeit gruesome in its details, and I thought about it a lot in community. It's sobering to realize that these are the mothers, wives, and children that countless men risk and sometimes sacrifice their lives for -- spending years in a foreign country working at jobs that no one else wants for virtually nothing. One of my host mothers hasn't heard from her husband for years -- she thinks he's in jail but hasn't been able to talk to him, and she has to raise her three children on her own.

Still, the good outweighs the bad for the most part. I'll post some pictures before I end this.

Below are Lyndsay and Peter in the Saturday market with one of our host contacts Mati, who works for DIF. She and her husband Rafa have been like our family in La Piedad -- Peter and Lyndsay and I stayed with them when we first arrived.

Lyndsay enjoying an enchilada in Guanajuato -- I'm still a little chicken when it comes to jalapeños, but I'm getting there...

Our house!!!

More soon I hope...

Love, Rebecca

Saturday, June 7, 2008

First Impressions

So I arrived in Mexico City on Tuesday and spent a few days baking in cross-town hour-long taxi rides on errands. I got to visit the U.S. embassy, which must be a very strange experience in any country, and Mexico is no exception. It's heavily fortified -- thick steel gates and traffic cones blocking traffic in front -- against what I'm not quite sure, since the surrounding neighborhood of Chapultepec appears to be on the ritzier side... I couldn't take any electronics inside and I had to be escorted around the premises. The premises included an outdoor market inside -- exactly what you'd find on the street but disturbingly calm and quiet, altogether sanitized for those who want a little bit of Mexico without the Mexican aspect of the deal.

I've been in my headquarter city of La Piedad since Thursday. I arrived to find it bigger than I expected and surprisingly free of pigs -- I've been threatened for weeks now that I was going to be wallowing in the pork production capital of the country for the summer. That industry has died out for the most part, so I've been told. Plus, I haven't seen or smelled any major pork production going on.

This is the view of the town from my window. We're staying in the house of one of our partner agency contacts. The center of La Piedad is located in a valley, so the town sort of rises up around it.

I'm here with the Project Director Lyndsay and the Assistant Project Director Peter setting up the program. So far the most official thing we've done besides quite a lot of paperwork is a successful first meeting with some of our partner agency contacts. We talked about the schedule for the summer and selected the communities our volunteers will be living and working in.

Here we are with some of the health officials we'll be working with this summer. It took a lot of effort to figure out the self-timer and get the camera at the right angle to take this picture.

The best and possibly most exciting aspect of my trip so far is the FOOD. I had forgotten how Mexican food in the U.S. just does not compare -- at all. There is chile on literally everything, which I'm getting used to in small increments.

More to come as things besides food actually begin to happen to me.