I hope that you all enjoy my adventures through Ecuador and the Peace Corps. It is a road with so many unexpected turns, but it is what keeps it exciting. Know that I am sending all my love back home!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Turns in the Road

How the Time has Flown

Volcano Cotacachi with Snow!
It is hard to believe that it has almost been a year since I last wrote. I didn't mean to forget my blog but the time has flow by faster then I ever thought possible here in Ecuador. There has been so much change in this past year, but it has all been for the best. I can finally say that I have found my place here and feel that this is where I am supposed to be in this moment of my life. It is interesting where our roads will take us, which turns we will make and what bumps we will meet along the way. I will take you down the road I have taken as best I can.

After returning home for Christmas last year, I returned to Ecuador feeling discouraged and sad. I realized how much I missed my home and hot little I felt that I belonged here in Ecuador. Living my family and friends was harder than it had been the first time and I had no idea how I was going to do another year. However, with the support of my friend Roxanne and fellow Peace Corps peeps I was able to take a turn that changed everything about my service.
Maiz we harvested

February was my month of change. I decided to leave Cotacachi and move to the small indigenous village of Morochos where I had been doing so much work. I felt lonely in Cotacachi and lived in a giant apartment all by myself. For those who know me I am a people person and I learned that eve more in my months living in this apartment. I learned that for me to be happy I need to have people around me. Having alone time is important too but too much was making me sad, depressed, and unmotivated. It was a scary move but I can now say it was the best decision I could have made. I also decided in February that my work at the Reserve was done. I had tried for a year to make it work and it just wasn't going to happen. With the support of my program director of Peace Corps I said good bye to the Reserve and began working with Roxanne, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer who was getting to leave, in the office of UNORCAC (an indigenous organization in Cotacachi). Since taking these turns in my bumpy Peace Corps road I have found my place and finally feel content.

The Scholarship Kids and Katie :)
So what am I doing now you ask? Probably more then I should but I am learning how to juggle my time. My main projects consist of working for UNORCAC with their scholarship program. The program helps the kids from the Cotacachi indigenous communities have the chance to go to high school. I have learned that less then 8% of the kids here graduate from high school which is incredible low. I love working with the program and in August we raised about $12,000 dollars for them. We have 65 students in the program and every Wednesday afternoon I have an Ecological Club with them where we do lots of recycled art projects and will be starting a garden next week. I love working with the kids and feel that what I a doing has meaning. I am currently finishing up a website for the program and will get that out to everyone soon. I am working with this project two days a week and have the other three to dedicate to Morochos.

Planting the trees in the edible forest
I love that I have more time for my community. It is exactly what I had imagined Peace Corps in Ecuador to be. High up in the Andes (9,500 feet to be exact) I live in a community of about 800 people. The nights are chilly and the days are warm and the peacefulness is breathtaking. On a clear day I can see three of the beautiful volcanoes. I feel at peace here and love that I am surrounded by animals and trees.

I am still working on the tree nursery project with my friend Elena and it is going well. She is amazing and works so hard. Our goal now is to find buyers which is challenging but I am working on another website to help promote the project. I hope that we continue to sell so that the program will continue. In the space of the tree nursery we planted what is known as an edible forest in February. It was an amazing day and we planted about 50 native trees, in which all give a fruit or nut. The idea is to take a piece of land that was used for cultivation and reforest it but using trees that give something. In the years you are waiting for the trees to grow you can plant other crops. The soil is pretty poor so we are going to plant a cover crops to help fertilize and then peas or a local crop called chocho which will help put nitrogen into our soil and help the trees grow as well.

In October I am proud to announce that we finally started building the composting toilet that I have been working on for so long. I received the grant money in September and we started construction about three weeks ago. The building is slow because we can only work on the weekends with volunteers from the community but it is about half way done and I couldn't be more excited. We are building this toilet for the preschoolers of Morochos. So often they are without water and therefore without a bathroom. Having 40 children using the bathroom in our edible forest and tree nursery space is both unpleasant and unsanitary. This month we also plan to start building a medicinal garden in this space as well as vegetable gardens. I can't wait to come back to visit in five years to see this space. It has so much potential and little by little it is turning into a beautiful community space with birds and butterflies and space for the children to play.

My kids in Quiroga whom I teach Environmental Education
On top of these projects I am teaching environmental education in the school in the town Quiroga. I love working with the kids and most of them are from Morochos. Starting in the summer time I started a class in Morochos for the kids on Thursday afternoons where I teach English and Environmental Education. I will also be teaching in the local school on Thursday mornings. I love being with the kids and although it is challenging I love teaching and the connections I am making.

I am a busy girl but it makes the time go by and makes me feel that I am here for a reason and that I have a purpose. I suppose you can say that my life in Morochos is a bit more challenging but I am so much happier that I don't tend to notice. There are buses that come up about 6 times a day through the community, which makes it easy to get to Cotacachi. I can also make the hour walk down the mountain for some fresh air and exercise. It gives me a chance to think and let my frustrations go away. No mater how many times I make that trek I never get bored of the beauty that surrounds me.

Mira Paige we learned how to play Go Fish
My room all pretty and purple
So where am I living? I am living with Elena's mom who I call otra mami (other mom). It is what the kids call her and I have started doing the same. I am so lucky to have met and to live with such a wonderful family. They are kind and have welcomed me with open arms into their home and into their family. I truly feel that I have a family here in Ecuador. I live in the little house right next to theirs. I have my own kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. When hearing that I would like to move there they turned the storage room into a bedroom and put in a window for me. They also patched up the holes and built me a brand new bathroom with tiles and hot water. I love my little place. It is perfect for me. I have my own space but have the family right next door. I am constantly with the kids and although they can be a bit much I love them to pieces. I drink coffee with the three year old almost every morning (well she drinks hot milk) and play with the others when they get home from school. We color and play games and make cookies and laugh. I help them with their homework and they help me not feel sad that I am so far away from home. Every night at about 8 O’clock we make our way to the kitchen where we sit by the open fire and eat hot soup. We chat and I listen to their beautiful language of Kichwa. I can pick up on many words and phrases now but still have a lot to learn.

My Family and Peace Corps Friends during Inti Raymi

My best pal Dayana and her kitty named Chipi
My wawa Urku (his name means Mountain in Kichwa)
Life can be challenging and there can be so many unexpected bumps and turns in the road but I have learned that the most important thing is to never give up. After returning home from Christmas I wanted to pack my bags and return to what I know, my language, my home, my friends and my family, but I didn't. I grew stronger and made changes in my life. I took some scary turns but they ended up being the best thing I could have done. I love where I live and I love the people that I live with. I have projects and a job that mean something which gives me a purpose to be here. I have learned so much and continue to learn each and every day. Where before I couldn't wait to pack my bags, now I can't imagine it. Life here is simple and peaceful and beautiful and I feel so lucky to have been give the chance to experience it. I love and miss my friends and family at home but I have one here too now. If I do nothing else with my service my relationships with the Perugachi family is enough. I know that they will be in my life and in my heart for ever and isn't that the most beautiful success a Peace Corps Volunteer could accomplish.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Asi es la Vida!

"The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps"

At the top of Taita Imbabura (the volcano near where I live)

Well it has been so long I don't even remember the last time I wrote a blog. My apologies. It is crazy how life can get going and all of a sudden you have no clue where the time went. For example, today is the last day of November! How is that possible? I was talking to my Nana yesterday and she reminded me of the day I received my invitation to join the Peace Corps. I couldn't believe that was last Christmas eve, and now here I am about to start the month of December here in Ecuador. She asked me if I regretted my decision, and happily I was able to say although it has been hard I have no regrets. My path in life is here right now, I feel that I am meant to be here and I am prepared and want to see it through. What does life look like here? That is always the famous question. Where to begin is my question now.
Sisa busy drawing a protected area

Throughout these past days I have occupied myself with both the Reserve that I work for and the community of Morochos. I continue to work on the tree nursery project with Elena and Laura. It is going very well and I am happy to report that we have over 8,000 trees and about 8 different native species. I also continue to work on the preschool project of putting in a composting toilet for those little munchkins and help them have more space, however, it is a slow process and I try not to get too frustrated. I hope good news will come in the new year. I am happy to say that I have officially started an environmental education program with the Reserve. We are currently in 4 local school, two urban and two rural ever Wednesday and Friday. The best part is that I am working with the park rangers and they come with me to each class and help me. Although I love teaching the kids and believe it truly is important, my focus is more on the park ranger to help them become better and more engaging educators. Teaching here is tough. It is different in almost every way possible to what we do back home. The kids sit at their desks all day and copy whatever the teacher writes on the board. There is no critical thinking, no imagination, and no self-thought. If I can do anything to move people towards this direction that will be my biggest accomplishment in this country. For those who know me you know that nothing makes me happier than to be back with the kids. They are the ones who light up my day, the ones who assure me that I am here for a reason, the ones who assure me there is hope in this world. However, it's funny when coming to Peace Corps I thought I might out environmental education on hold and focus on other things I'm interested in. However, it seems to follow me wherever I go. This has truly shown me that environmental education is a true passion and something I wish to pursue for the rest of my life. Between this project and Morochos I have been keeping quite busy.
My kiddos busy doing water experiments

As for the rest of my life. Things are good. I have my own apartment which is wonderful. I have three bedroom, a living room, a kitchen (with great counter space), a bathroom, patio, and small piece of land. I live a little on the outskirts of Cotacachi and love that I fall asleep to the sounds of crickets and frogs every night. Let me tell you that beats the sounds of buses, church bells, and motorcycles any day! I am happy to have my own space and cook for myself, however, I still feel that something is missing in my life here, and I finally figured out what it was about a month ago. Here I am living very comfortably in a great Ecuador, in a beautiful city in Ecuador, surrounded by amazing, majestic mountains, busy with work that I am passionate about, but still something is missing. It came to me with a little help from a few good friends. I am still lonely. I am a people person through and through and living in the city is lonely. You are surrounded by people but hardly know anyone on the street. I was craving that sense of place, that sense that I belong, that I am a part of a community. I guess I never realized how important this is to me until it was missing. So with much thinking and talking to friends and family I have decided to move. Don't worry I'm not coming home, not yet anyways. I have decided to move to Morochos. This indigenous community of 800 people is where I feel most content. It is there that I feel that I truly am in Peace Corps. It is there that I feel I can make a difference, be a part of something, create relationships and memories that will last far beyond my return to the states. I was nervous though. What if they didn't really want me to move there? What if I had to live with a host family again? However, when I told Elena what I was thinking about she was delighted and right away took me to her mother's house where there is a little casita (little house) that they want me to live in. Apparently, they have been talking about me living there since they first met me. The little house is next to her mom's house but completely separate. I will have a kitchen, a fireplace, a bedroom, and a bathroom. What more could I ask for. I am going to move when I return from my trip home in January. A perfect way to start the new year. I feel content and at peace with this decision. I want to be there every day to participate in meetings, mingas, soccer games, help harvest and plant the crops. This is why I came to Peace Corps to be a part of a community, to be a part of something beautiful and incredible, to feel that I belong.
One of the famous churches of the city of Cuenca in southern Andes

What else? Well in September I went on an amazing hike called 'El Trek del Condor'. It was about 65 miles through the beautiful paramo of the Andes. I went with a friend and it was 5 days of long hikes through some of the most pristine and breath taking landscape I have ever seen. Imagine, only seeing three people in five days. Imagine being surrounded by mother earth just the way she was made. No human influence to alter the landscape. Imagine navigating with only topographic maps, a compass, and the landmarks surrounding you. It was truly magnificent. We slept by a pure mountain lake, under the stars at the skirts of one of the most gorgeous volcanoess called Antesana, in the waving grasslands of the paramo, and next to the second largest volcano in Ecuador, Cotopaxi. It was hard and I was tired at the end of each day but truly it was one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life. Something I will hold dear to me for the rest of my life.
Cotopaxi during my hike

In October mister Reed Fisher came to visit me. Let me tell you I have never been so excited to see my dad in my entire life. I stood jittery at the airport awaiting his arrival and at the first sight of him I burst into tears. I don't think you realize how much a person means to you until you are separated for so long. I miss my family and friends so much it hurts sometimes but at the end of the day I wouldn't change what I am doing for the world. We had a blast when he was here. Birdwatching in Mindo, hiking around the lake in my Reserve, horse back riding in Morochos followed by a delicious lunch of all my favorites from here, a trip to Otavalo to the markets and raptor rescue center, followed by 4 amazing days in the jungle. In the jungle we hiked, looked at beautiful flora and fauna, drifted down the majestic Rio Napo, visited an animal rescue center, learned how to shoot a traditional blow gun, drank chica de yuca with a local indigenous woman, relaxed in hammocks overlooking the Rio Napo, and yes I even swam in the pool, such a luxury! It was hard to say goodbye to my dad but it was such an amazing trip. Thank you daddy-o, you came when I needed you the most. Having him hear and showing him proudly where I live and what I am doing made me realize how much I really do love it here. I think the most magical thing that occurred was when Elena told my dad how thankful she was that he was lending me to her and her community. I have never felt such love and determination to do anything and everything I can to help them.
Dad with Elena and her beautiful family

In November I awaited anxiously the famous Turkey day. I knew it would be a bit strange to not celebrate with my family, but I did the next best thing, I went to the BEACH. There were about 18 of us and we spent four days swimming, drinking delicious juice, eating great food, singing along with the guitar next to the camp fire, and exploring the tidal pools. On Turkey day we killed a turkey! Well not me personally, I stood about 50 feet away and I must admit this was the third thing I have witnessed being killed here in Ecuador and I just can't handle it. I have nothing against it, and am happy that I know how the things I eat are killed because this is truly important to me since I eat meat, but I just don't do well with it. My automatic reaction is to gag and almost throw up and then I cry. Maybe I will get better, but honestly I think I am a lost cause. I am the girl who's parents had to fast forward through the beginning of Bambi so I wouldn't know the mom had died. Needless to say we had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner complete with turkey, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and even a form of sweet potatoes.
Where you can get the best fruit juices on the beach

Now we are about to begin December. I have next week followed by a week long environmental education conference and then off to the states I go. It is all I can think about. I can't get home fast enough. I think I am ready for a break. I am ready to be surrounded my my family and friends, familiar smells, good beer, and all my favorite food. I will be happy to come back, feeling refreshed but until now I will continue to count the days till I am on the plane.

Reflecting on this first year in Ecuador it has had its ups and downs but at the end of the day I love it here. I love the pace of life, I love that I am getting better at Spanish, I love how different the country is, I love the beautiful mountains I am surrounded by, I love the beautiful culture that is Kichwa, and I even am starting to love the food. Till next time hope all is well and as always missing all that are dear to my heart.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Inti Raymi! The Festival of the Sun!

"The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps"

Some wonderful kids I met when visiting Bahia!!!

Beautiful music composed of pan flutes, flutes, violin, guitar, and the drum floated through the night. Overhead, the sky was black and filled with a million twinkling lights. The air was crisp; fresh. The natural world surrounded me and I felt content. For the first time, I one hundred percent felt content to be here, to be in Ecuador. I sat back, taking a break, and watched as people danced to the rhythm of the music in a circle in front of me. I wondered to myself, “How do they never seem to get tired?”
Dancing with the men during San Juan

Inti Raymi! The festival of the sun. The time to give thanks to the crops that have been received and the crops yet to come. During the end of June throughout part of July Inti Raymi is celebrated among the Indigenous people of the Andes. I was lucky enough to experience this festival, seeing as I live smack in the middle of the northern Andes of Ecuador. The festival consists of traditional bathing within each of the communities, tremendous amounts of food, traditional Andes music, dancing, dancing, and more dancing. For two weeks I participated in Inti Raymi events and enjoyed having the chance to be a part of their tradition.

One night, my host family and I visited a community named La Calera, where we danced from house to house, receiving food at each one. We then hiked, in the dark with only the light of the moon to guide us, down to a pool and waterfall. Here, I witnessed the men doing a traditional bath, where they all go into the ankle deep pool and three at a time crawl through a cave to the waterfall. They are met here by the local Shauman who blesses them and spits cana (an extremely strong alcohol) in their faces to cleanse their spirits. While the other men wait their turn, they hit each other with a plant called Ortiga (which we all know as stinging nettle). As you can imagine this doesn't feel pleasant, but, again, they do it to cleanse themselves of any evil spirits. I was invited to join this tradition, but decided against it since I would be the only female. We left at 3:30 in the morning to people still dancing from house to house, meanwhile I felt like I was going to fall over.

Roxanne, Claudia, and I getting ready to dance for 4 hours!!!

My next Inti Raymi experience came when I went with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers Mina and Dan to a community named San Roque. Here we were dressed up in the traditional Indigenous clothing and danced with the family through town and up to the local fiesta. We continued to dance and then took a break to eat delicious food. I have found that something called colada de maiz con mote is one of my new all time favorite foods. It is a thick soup made of corn with delicious spices and you eat it with mote which is puffed corn. So delicious!!! It was amazing to dance with this family and be a part of this special day.

Ready to dance with the family in San Roque!

It is interesting because here in Cotacachi Inti Raymi is celebrated a bit differently from other parts of the Sierra. There are four days where the men dance, one day where the children dance, and one day where the women dance. During the days the men dance it is actually pretty dangerous. The reason being, is that all the communities come to Cotacachi to dance around the main park. There are communities from the high parts and communities from the lower parts. When these groups meet a fight will break out. Now this fight includes rock throwing and in more recent years knives. The fighting goes back to historic conflicts between the communities. The men also dance intensely. They march around the park stomping their feet, shouting and whistling, in military outfits and large hats. I have learned that the hats are for protection from rocks and the military outfits signifying how they are making a statement. They are dancing intensely to announce that this is their festival, their time, and their land. This goes back to when the conquistadors came to Ecuador and enslaved the indigenous people. It is said that this strong dance is the men expressing how once again Ecuador is their country. It is a bit scary, but also interesting. It amazed me that something like this could be allowed, but I was told that there really isn't anything that could be done to stop it. It is a part of who they are, a part of their culture, something that defines this region and the people who live here. As Inti Raymi came to an end in this area my legs were happy to take a break from all the dancing, but I feel closer to the people and more a part of this community. I was happy to have had the chance to participate in all the aspects of this very important time of year.

Mina's Ecoclub came to visit me at the Reserve!!

It is hard to believe that June has passed and I am approaching three months here in Cotacachi. I find that it feels more and more like home. Each week I meet new people, learn about new places and projects, and feel more content. I continue to work in the community Morochos in the tree nursery and I am happy of how things are coming along. At the end of July a group of volunteers will be coming to work on the garden part and I am excited to get that part of the project started. I was excited to build my first compost pile. Although I built it alone, I was in the community today and found that one of the women I work with, Elena, had piled up a huge pile of dried grass and leaves and told me she thought we could use these to build an even bigger compost pile. It made me so happy because I feel that we are learning from each other and truly working together to build this project. Everyday, we learn more and more about each other and each others culture. I am also excited to start working in a preschool near by where they have asked for my help in building an organic garden as well as hopefully helping with some environmental education. It feels so wonderful to be around kids again, especially little munchkins. The women at the preschool are so sweet and are truly interested in anything I have to offer.

With one of the preschoolers and the school I am starting to work at

It's funny, because I often find myself getting frustrated because things are moving so slowly or they don't happen quite like I expected, however, this past week my program manager came to visit me and one of the things he told me was to have patience, and it's true. I want to help and be involved and see progress, but at the end of the day I need to have patience and sometimes need to slow down. It is moments like today with the compost that make the day productive. It is playing with the children, conversing with the locals, learning a new word, admiring the majestic Andes that surround me, laughing with my host family, buying fruit from the lady on the corner, running in the early morning, meeting a new person, and so many other small moments that make being here special. I might not leave something huge behind, I might not succeed in every project I wish to do, but the relationships I make and the moments I spend with the people here are the things that will last. These are the moments that will never be forgotten. These are the moments that make everything worthwhile. Coming to this realization has brought contentment to my life here in Ecuador. It's not only about producing a product. It's about learning from each other while helping one another. It's about remembering to live in the present and enjoy all the world surrounding us has to offer. I have been in country for 5 months now, which is hard to believe. I still miss home and all who I love , but I am excited to see where this journey brings me. I am excited to take this road that life has place before me.

Walk through the only Primary forest left in Imbabura!

Love Always,

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


"The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps"
Alpaca! They have about 100 in the community and sell and make things from their wool!
Morochos is a small indigenous village located west of Cotacachi and only a few kilometers from the lagoon Cuicocha, which is a part of La Reserva Ecologica Cotacachi Cayapas. Morochos lies in the enchanting northern highlands of the province of Imbabura and is one of the 43 indigenous communities that surrounds the Cotacachi region. Like all the indigenous communities in the area Morochos is a magical place where traditions hold strong and the people still strongly believe in the elements of Mother Earth.

Laura with her two sons!

It is interesting because Morochos is not that old, although when visiting you might think differently. It is only about 70 years old, however, the traditions and customs of the people date back to the time of the Incas. Morochos was officially founded in 1938 in the high forested lands that rest upon the skirts of volcano Cotacachi. The name Morochos is the name for a white corn that is native to the Andes in the native language of Kichwa. This is the language that you will most often hear when strolling through the dirt roads of Morochos. It is a place of tranquility and peace. During the day you will find women working hard in the fields, tending to their children, cleaning their homes, or cooking lunch. The men may be off working in the fields, tending to their livestock, or off working in other places such as Cotacachi, Quiroga, or Otavalo. The majority of young men migrate out of Morochos, which you can clearly see when visiting since the majority of the population on a daily basis is made up on women and children. The majority of people in the community are farmers and although they do sell some of their food, the majority is grown for their own consumption. In the fields you will find corn, corn, and more corn. However, you can also find habas, beans, potatoes, quinoa, squashes, and personal gardens that hold many vegetables and medicinal plants. The community highly believes in natural remedies when you are sick and in personal gardens you can find many herbs that will be made into teas. Livestock is also a big part of the community and is wonderful to see cows, pigs, sheep, goats, alpacas, donkeys, and horses grazing in the fields or alongside the roads. The majority of these animals are raised for personal consumption, although the donkeys and horses are used for transportation throughout the community. In many of the houses you will also find rabbits, guinea pigs, and chickens, which are also an important part of their diet. There are roads throughout the community but several of them are inaccessible by car due to heavy rains that wash away the roads. There is one principal road, however, and a bus comes daily about 5 times a day to bring people down the mountain to Quiroga. It is a peaceful place where the people work hard to preserve their culture and feed their families.

Elena's youngest daughter!

I started working in this community about three weeks or so after coming to Cotacachi. I was brought to the community one day with my counterpart from the Reserve and met with members from the community as well as a man who owns an NGO here in Ecuador, and happens to be from Vermont. The community wanted to start a reforestation project in the community because they have begun to to see the results of heavy deforestation on their watershed. They want to build a vivero, which is a tree nursery, where they would grow trees until the appropriate age, and then plant them in their community. However, they needed some help to start this project and this is where the man named Peter and the Reserve come into play. Peter's NGO wants to fund this project as well as support it. The Reserve also wants to support this project by providing technical assistance, which is where I come in. The Reserve doesn't really have the personal to provide the technical assistance on a daily basis that could really help this project, but having me gives them that option. I also can help out Peter, who has many other projects and also can't be there on a daily basis. I was extremely excited because this was just the kind of project I was looking for. I wanted to work with the indigenous communities and learn about their culture, as well as help with projects that coincide with the goals of the reserve. Building a vivero in the community will help the community by providing some economic support when selling the trees as well as help them reforest their land to protect their watershed. I couldn't wait to get started.

I have now been working in the community for about a month or so and things have been going great. I have learned so much already and no there is so much more for me to learn. I am working with two women named Elena and Laura from the community. These two women were voted by the community to be the ones to work with Peter for a year. They are getting paid by Peter's NGO for the first year with the goal of after a year the vivero becoming sustainable and providing their income. They are truly wonderful people and I have begun developing relationships with both of them. It was hard in the beginning because the indigenous culture is reserved and people tend to be much more shy. However, with time I have broken through and we spend our days laughing and talking about all sorts of things. The other challenging thing is that they speak mostly Kichwa, although they can speak Spanish. However, I have noticed that throughout my month working with them they speak more in Spanish in order to include me in their conversations. I am excited to learn Kichwa from them as time goes on. We have collected and mixed soil, put this soil into bags, created beds for the beds, collected seeds and sticks of the tree Aliso, planted these, and many other things. Things move slow here, but with each week I gain more and more patience and appreciate my time in the community and what we accomplish each day.

Laura placing the bags we filled with soil to get ready for planting seedlings of the native tree Aliso!

I love working in the community and feel that there is so much potential here. Next to where we are constructing the vivero is land which they call a finca integral or integral farm. It was a project that was started by a group of volunteers many years ago, however, when the volunteers left the project fell apart. Now, this is not unusual in third world countries in all parts of the world. I have learned that when forget to involve the community, and you forget to include them and ask them what their needs and wants are the project most likely will never be sustainable. Now, for me, sustainability is my goal. I want to work and help in areas that the community wants, needs, and has enthusiasm for. Without enthusiasm a project will never go anywhere. So at the moment I struggle with what more I can do for this community, what else is it that they want to improve and grow in? Luckily, a part of my Peace Corps work includes doing Community Assessment Tools, which are interviews that are to be give to a community in order to find out the trends, needs, wants, strengths, weaknesses, etc. of the community. I have not started these but hope to do so soon. However, I do have some ideas already to present. One is to get this finca integral up and running again. There is so much potential in this project alone. For example, organic agriculture practices, compost, vermiculture, bees, bioel, companion planting, and so much more. There is also a per-school near this area and it would be so wonderful to get them involved. There is definitely malnutrition among the children and teaching them how yummy things in the garden are could be a first step. There is also potential for community and Eco-tourism in Morochos that is somewhat established but could use some work. How wonderful for tourists to come to this area, visit Cotacachi, Otavalo, and Cuicocha, but instead of leaving staying in a community like Morochos. What a wonderful experience to learn first hand how the indigenous people cook, what they eat, and what they do on a daily basis! There is so much potential, and I don't where to begin.

The Reinas of the community that I judged.

Although it is challenging to meet the people of the community, with time I meet more and more. It was really wonderful a few weekends ago when Morochos celebrated the anniversary of their community. I was invited to attend the festivities. On the first night I accompanied Elena and her family to watch the Reina competition ( kind of like a pageant). I was all set to sit down and enjoy the competition when I was taken and asked to be one of the judges. It was a new experience but one that I enjoyed. After, I was taken to a room to eat and was given a mountain of food. This food included; corn, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, soup, alpaca, and cuy (guinea pig). Alpaca and guinea pig were very interesting and I was told that the best part of the cuy is the brain (I chose not to find out). It was wonderful to participate in an important event in the community and being a judge enabled the community to learn who I was and what I was doing there. It's hard to say where these projects will go or what else will come about, but I feel lucky to have this opportunity. When I am in the community I feel that I am truly in a different world and feel special that the two women have opened up to me and welcomed me to meet and share time with their families. I cherish the friendships I am making and hope that there will be more to come with time.

Love to all back home!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A few things I forgot to mention!

"The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps"

The month of April was crazy and seemed to fly by. In my last blog I talked about some of the things that I did during this month. However, there are a few events that occurred in April that I forgot but are worth mentioning.
My Futbol Team!
Before we went away for our second tech trip, mine was in the southern, interior coastal region of Ecuador, we had a dia de deportes, (Day of Sports). Here in Ecuador, there is really only one sport, and if you didn't already guess, that sport is soccer or futbol. The majority of the people here in Ecuador live and breath soccer, so in order to properly integrate into the culture we had a day dedicated to futbol. Our Omnibus was divided into teams and we went out and purchased uniforms ( I told you this was serious). My team decided to be called Chupacabras which means the monsters who suck goat's blood. Those who know me well know that I was not happy about this, but I went with the flow. We purchased awesome jerseys that came with shorts and socks for $12.00. Now this wasn't all, when ever there is a sport event of any type you need to have a Madrina, which is more or less the equivalent to a homecoming queen in the states. I happened to be voted the Madrina, which meant that I had to dress up, including heels, and wear a sash and represent my team. This part wasn't bad and I enjoyed dressing up, however, I was not told that this also included a competition between all the Madrinas. This meant dancing in front of everyone, saying in Spanish what I thought I could do to initiate world peace, and overall being judged on our dresses. I sadly was not the winner, but I survived this disappointment. After the Madrina competition, the games began. I was happy to change into my uniform and do my best to support my team. This included getting smacked in the stomach with the ball by my good friend Andrew Chin as he attempted to score a goal. I had a nice red mark on my stomach for the next couple of days to remind me of this moment. My soccer skills are pretty minimal, but I did enjoy kicking the ball as hard as I can when I was given the chance. It was a really fun day, which also included an amazing potluck lunch and after a Mexican dinner at my friend Jenny's house.
Las Madrinas

Dance Team!
The second event that I want to mention was our day of appreciation for our families in Tumbaco. We were put in charge of hosting this event which included games, a dance (which I was a part of), lots and lots of food, and a futbol game. It was a really wonderful time to spend with our host families and each others families, especially the ones that we had become close to over the past three months. Stories were told, including the story of a friend who on the very first day of being at his host families house locked them out of the house. Not only did he lock them out of the house, but they also didn't have the key to the gate so they were locked in the garden for a few hours. Following the stories, we played games which included egg races, three legged races, and others. My host mom, Anita, participated in the egg race and won! A friend and I attempted to carry an egg between our foreheads but didn't make it very far before we dropped the egg. At the end of the games, I left with nine of my fellow trainees and got ready for the dance we had practicing all week. Now, this dance was a traditional dance of the Andes and included amazing costumes. The girls wore bright skirts and beautiful blouses. The outfit also included the traditional necklace of gold beads, bracelet of red beads, hats, and scarves. The boy's outfit included fur chaps, white shirts, ponchos, and masks. The dance went well and the crowd cheered loudly for us. At first, I hadn't wanted to participate in this dance, but being a part of it was truly a great experience. It is these opportunities that I must take advantage of, and these opportunities that make me feel more and more integrated into the beautiful culture that is Ecuador. After the dance, we ate lots and lots of food, and I enjoyed spending time with my host family. I looked around as I ate and was amazed at the relationships that had formed during these past three months. Everyone was full of smiles and laughter and it was clear that there was true bonds between the trainees and their families.

Omnibus 105!
The third event that I want to mention was swearing in. The moment that we had been waiting for all of training. I can't lie though I was dreading it, because I knew it would be the moment that I would have to say goodbye to my wonderful family in Tumbaco and all the friends that I had grown so close to in the last three months. We arrived that morning of April 20, 2011 dressed in our finest, anxious, and excited. We were loaded down with all of our stuff because after the ceremony we all were being shipped off to our sites. We had a nice breakfast and took many pictures as we awaited for the ceremony. The time finally came and we took our seats and listened to the many speeches. I felt that I was once again at a graduation. You know how it goes, first the national anthem (in our case two anthems), followed by speeches of encouragement, then comes certificates. We read the oath and with the close of the ceremony we were officially Peace Corps Volunteers; no longer trainees. It was a good feeling because I knew that I had again gotten past another hurdle in this trip. The time came to say goodbye and I was a mess. We all know how well I do with change. There were many tears and good lucks as we packed our stuff onto the vans and headed out to Quito to catch our buses. It was hard to say goodbye, but I know we will keep in touch and the bonds that we formed during training won't change. Also, in September we will be reuniting for a week. Until then, we have phones, internet and visits, and how wonderful to have a friend in almost every place I might want to visit in Ecuador!

We are now officially Peace Corps Volunteers!

It is now May, and I have officially been in my site of Cotacachi for two and half weeks. Sometimes it feels that I have been here for much, much longer. Things have been going pretty well. I have my ups and downs, but that is to be expected during the first months in site. It's hard. Every day I am faced with things that are outside my comfort zone, and I constantly must tell myself, “you can do this!” However, with each obstacle I face I know that I am getting stronger and more confident. My days are pretty busy here. Monday through Friday I have been working with the reserve with various things that include, reforestation projects, translating information in their information center into English, helping with trail work, going on inspections to see whether a farmer can cut down trees or use water from the reserve, and recently working at one of the nearby communities. It's hard because I want to learn as much as I can about the reserve, but also need time to integrate into the community. It is a balance that I am still working on. Hopefully with time, this too will become easier.

This past Wednesday I was very excited. I went with my counterpart to visit a small indigenous community called Morochos, that is located near the reserve. We met with members of the community as well as with a guy who has his own NGO and is also working with this community. I believe that it was destiny because this guy is from Vermont and used to be a professor at UVM. What a small world! The community is interested in re-starting a project of an integral farm, which would also include a vivero (tree nursery). I felt my pulse start racing as I learned more and more about this project and the potential that it could have. The structures for having chickens, pigs, and gardens are already there. It just needs motivation and some hard work to get it going again. I kept thinking how wonderful to be involved with creating a vivero to supply trees for reforestation projects, and helping to re-start this integral farm that could later be used as a model for other communities. The idea is to be sustainable and to create a closed system where your resources replenish themselves, and I believe that this project has this potential. I walked away that day with my mind racing of the possibilities. I have only been here for a couple of weeks and I know that with time things will become more clear, and I will get a better handle on things, but it sure feels wonderful to at least have one concrete plan, one thing to occupy my time here. During training, we were told several times that the biggest quality that we need to have when arriving to our sites is patience. We are Americans with American mentalities and work ethic. This means that we thrive to hit the ground running and its very hard for us to be patient. During training I heard this and thought nothing of it. I can be patient. However, now that I am here, it couldn't be more true. It is so hard to sit around not knowing what to do with myself every day. However, I feel lucky because already within the first two weeks I have something to work on. I am excited to see how this all unfolds and to see what other things it may bring about. For now, I continue to remind myself that I can do this, to have patience, and to savor my time here. It's hard, and I often find myself dreaming and wishing I could return home, but I try to focus on the little things and deal with things one day at a time. I can't emphasize enough how much the support and love from home means to me. It is what gets me through and what makes me know I can do this. I miss home with all my heart, but with each day Cotacachi becomes closer to also becoming home. As always, Love from Ecuador!


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Abril en Ecuador

"The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps"

How can time fly by so fast at times and then move so slow at others? This is the question I ask myself as I sit on my new bed, in my new home, in my new community. It seems like yesterday that I was here visiting. Where did the last month go? Where did the last three months go?

I did it! I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer. My time as a trainee is over and I was sworn in. The long days of charla after charla, PowerPoint presentation after PowerPoint presentation are over. I know I was ready to be finished with training but I would not be telling the truth if I said that I was jumping for joy when the time came to leave the training center. Tumbaco had become my home and the training center a place of familiarity. I knew what to expect there, I felt comfortable there. Now, I am in a world of unfamiliarity where I don't know what to expect or what to do with myself. Sure, I felt this way when I first arrived in Ecuador, but I was surrounded with 41 others who felt the same way as I did. Now, I am alone. However, I know that this too will be a challenge that I can overcome, a challenge that will allow me to grow and learn more about myself. First though, lets take a look at the last month.

Returning from site visit, I felt relieved to return to my home of Tumbaco. I was so happy to see my friends and my host family. I felt nervous then about leaving and boy did my last month fly. We continued with classes of security, health, technical information, culture, and language at the training center. 
Waterfall San Rafael near El Chaco! Hermosa!
 One weekend after our return, I had the pleasure to visit the farm of a friend's host family. We traveled the 3 hours to a town called El Chaco in the transitional zone between the Sierra and the Amazon. I must say that this section is breath taking. I was surrounded by lush green mountains, plants as far as the eye can see, and flowers of the rainbow. We arrived early in the morning on Saturday and ate breakfast with the family. After, we drove up winding roads and across rivers to where the family farm was located. Isolated and surrounded by lushness, I felt peaceful and content. Then to my surprise, I realized that there farm was actually a ranch. They had about 100 cows and those who know me can understand the look of excitement that was on my face. However, this was a group of cows like none I have ever seen before. Here in Ecuador breeds are not as important, so I found myself looking at Brown Swiss beauties, Ayrshire, Herefords, Holsteins, Brahmas, what looked like Short Horns, and others that I couldn't identify. Also to my surprise, they were all bulls, and boy were they aggressive in ever way possible. I found myself obsessing about the fact that I had found my first Brown Swiss in Ecuador. He was so tranquil compared to the others, which confirms there wonderful nature. I found myself daydreaming about all the Brown Swiss calfs that are being born at Shelburne Farms. However, my day dream was interrupted by being asked to help with vaccinating all the bulls. This was a traumatic and informative event. Bulls were shoved into  a small passageway, and then we went down the line with a needle and shoved it into there neck flesh as we quickly pushed the vitamin formula into them. 
Vaccinated bulls!

Needless to say, I avoided the Brahmas after a needle was broken in one's neck because of how aggressive it was and chose to focus on the Brown Swiss and Holstein bulls. When we had finished we walked the 6KM back to the house stopping here and there to eat fruit off trees and visit other farmers. After lunch, we got into the car and drove about an hour to one of the most spectacular waterfalls I have ever seen. We were surrounded by subtropical forest and I couldn't believe the size of the leaves of the trees. This wonderful day ended with us sitting in a hammock on a porch listening to the sounds of the night and eating a delicious meal. I found myself wanting to stay forever in this peaceful, tranquilo, atmosphere. 
On a ranch in El Chaco

After this wonderful weekend I returned to Tumbaco and re-packed my bag because I was off to the southern, coastal region of Ecuador. I was so excited to leave the Sierra and see another part of this beautiful country. I found myself on a night bus leaving from Quito to a town called Arenillas with 10 of my fellow trainees. The 12 hour bus ride was long, but we did our best to sleep most of the way. Arriving there at 8:30 in the morning on Monday, I was welcomed with suffocating heat. How is it possible that this tiny country of Ecuador, only the size of Colorado, can be so cold in some regions and so so HOT in others? I have never felt heat like I did there. I think the worst part was there was no escape. We weren't on the beach and the rivers were all too dirty to swim in. I did find myself acclimating towards the end of the week, but I never stopped sweating from the moment we arrived to the moment we left. 
A poisonous snake we found!

The week was crazy busy but interesting and exciting. We visited a vivero (tree nursery), took a boat ride through the mangroves to visit shrimp farmers, visited a waste management center, visited the local ministry, taught high school kids about recycling, visited a garden, picked up trash, discovered how glorious a banana batido is (milkshake), ate lots of chocobananas (chocolate covered frozen bananas), went on an amazing walk in a subtropical forest, saw monkeys, visited an organic coffee farm, saw banana plantations as far as the eye can see, and  managed to get some rest when we could. Needless to say, I was exhausted at the end of the week, but it was rewarding. We returned to Tumbaco Saturday morning and I enjoyed spending time with my host family and friends who had been on other tech trips. 

That Sunday I was off on another adventure. I went with a friend to a place about an hour from Tumbaco called Papallacta. It is high in the Andes and is one of the most famous places in Ecuador for thermal baths. We got off the bus and hiked the 3 or 4KM up to where you can find the thermals. We were surrounded by beautiful mountains and like El Chaco this place also had a sense of peace to it. It was early in the morning and the town was quiet. We arrived at the hot springs and enjoyed the many different temperatures the pools had to offer. It was beautiful! 

Howler Monkeys

After about an hour we decided to take a hike and check out the reserve. We hiked for about 6 or 7 hours discovering powerful waterfalls, unique  vegetation, many birds, and even a full rainbow as the clouds began to roll in. Before I came to Ecuador, I always imagined the Andes to be rough, mysterious mountains with their bare rock showing and clouds rolling in and out. Here is the reserve, I found just that. It was hard to see at times, however, this only added to the adventure. At times we found ourselves making our own paths and would have to turn around, but it was wonderful to hike and explore. After a long day. we returned to the hot springs to enjoy a final, relaxing dip as the sun went down. We reluctantly left and ate some dinner before hopping back on the bus that would take us back to Tumbaco. 

It's hard to believe that so much has happened since I arrived here in Ecuador. I know it will take time to adjust to my new home in Cotacachi. I can only do my best to take things a day at a time and go with the flow. At the moment I have no idea what I will be doing or what is expected of me, but I hope that with time these answers will come. I miss my fellow Peace Corps friends immensely and will count down the days till we all will be together again. I feel so lucky to have met them all and thankful to have them in my life. I know that great things await us all.

Till next time I send my love back to the states and hope that all who I love are well. Stay tuned for more about my life here in Ecuador!


Saturday, March 26, 2011

The moment we all had been waiting for!

"The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps"

It has been a while since I have written a blog and so much has happened. I will attempt to do my best to summarize the last few weeks here in Ecuador.

Volcanoe Cotacachi
On Wednesday March 16th, 2011 the moment we all had been waiting for occurred. We arrived to the Peace Corps training center as we do every morning, but this morning was filled with anticipation, anxiety, nervousness, and most of all excitement. We were summoned out back to the futbol field where we found a giant map of Ecuador sketched out in the field with rose petals.

 The map was divided into the provinces that make up Ecuador. One by one our names were read by our facilitators and with our name was the name of our site. The name of the place where we would be spending the next two years of our lives. The site that we had dreamed of since we received our invitations in the mail. I waited patiently as I watched my fellow trainees running to their spot on the map. Finally, it was my turn. “Paige Fisher, Cotacachi, La provincia de Imbabura”. My hand was taken and I ran to the northern most province that we are allowed to visit in Ecuador. I was met by my province neighbors Dan and Mina with smiles and excitement. Ahhhh! I will be working and living in Cotacachi, Imbabura in the Sierra region of Ecuador for the next TWO YEARS!!!! Now, I can't deny that I felt a little disappointment. Not because the sierra is not beautiful, but because I had seen myself in a more tropical and bio- diverse setting. However, being surrounded by beautiful mountains for the next two years doesn't seem to terrible. That Wednesday was one of the most overwhelming days I have had here in Ecuador, and to top it off we were all leaving the comfort of Tumbaco and the comfort of one another the very next morning to travel to these places that we had dreamed and wondered about for so long.
That Thursday I traveled with Dan and Mina the three hours or so to our sites in the north. I was met by my counterpart in the park of Cotacachi and taken to the office that I would be working for. I will be working with the Ministerio de Ambiental (more or less the equivalent of Fish and Wildlife in the US). I will specifically be working for La Reserva Ecologica de Cotacachi-Cayapas, the third largest national reserve in Ecuador. Only 30% lies within Imbabura and the rest is within the province of Esmeraldes. The reserve goes from sea level to about 10,000 feet, which means that the biodiversity within this reserve is huge. It ranges from tropical forest to paramo. I am hoping that I will be give the chance to explore all areas of this park as I work with them for the next two years. I spent my days doing my best to learn as much as possible about the reserve and how it works, however, this was difficult to do in Spanish. I did my best. Each day I would go to the reserve and work with the other guys in the reserve. It was hard work but I wanted to prove myself being the only girl. It was great though I did trail work, a reforestation project (on my birthday) and met many members of the reserve. It's hard to know exactly what I’ll be doing and where I can be the most helpful, but I walked away having ideas of Eco-tourism projects with the reserve and indigenous communities around the reserve, more English within the visitor center as well as English classes for the guides, and working in the schools. It is hard to know how this will all occur but I feel good to have a few ideas to begin with.
Reforestation Project. First time with a Machete!!!

The Volcanoe Imbabura. The view from my balcony.

My host family in Cotacachi is wonderful. I am living with a 29 year old uncle who takes care of his niece who is 13 and his nephew who is 18. The house I will be living in is wonderful and they own an art cafe where you can get the best empanadas in Cotacachi. There are definitely no complaints. On my birthday I was feeling a little sad to be so far away from my family and my friends, however, when I returned from working in the reserve that day with my counterpart I was greeted by balloons, confetti, streamers, and song. My new family had thrown me a surprise birthday party with cake, a bracelet, and delicious food. I will be sad to say goodbye to my family in Tumbaco but I feel so lucky to have me yet another wonderful family here in Ecuador.

My new family in Cotacachi!

I am now back from my site visit. It was a week of ups and downs that is for sure. That first night I sat in my new room with a new host family and wondered what on earth I was doing here. What made me leave the comfort of home and of my friends? However, as the week went on I was reminded that I am supposed to be here. My path in life has led me here for a reason and I am ready to embrace whatever may lie on this path. For now I will enjoy my last month of training here in Tumbaco with my friends and host family. I am nervous to finally be at my site, but excited to begin what we came here to do. I came home from my site visit feeling as though I was returning home. I felt relief when I arrived in Tumbaco. I only hope that one day I will feel the same about Cotacachi.