A FAO Greenhouse

A FAO Greenhouse
One of the members in my training group taking a look at a plot of lettuce

Another Visit With QBL

Another Visit With QBL
We visited the innaguration for a series of new chicken coops QBL financed in a small village in the low-lying andes mountains, 7 hours north of La Paz

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Violence and Tensions

This is an email I sent out to some friends and family- explains a bit of the tensions right now and thought it might be helpful in understanding some of the situation.....

It's getting exciting. If you're at all interested in latin american studies, democracy, or a host of other academic issues, this is the place to be! Just thought I'd write because it seems things here are heating up a bit. There's been violence, autonomous votes, referendums, blockades, demonstrations, miners blowing up buses, miners taking over tax offices, etc. etc. since I arrived in January. It's become almost like second nature.

Recently, however, these confrontations between the government and the pro-autonomy groups in the eastern/ northern-southern departments ( that make a half moon "media luna" of the country) have become quite violent. More or less, in Tarija, Santa Cruz, Pando, and Beni government offices are being taken by civic and youth/student groups resulting in violence between the police and between supporters of the government who are for the most part campesinos (farmers, almost always with an indigenous connotation). So far 20 state offices have been taken over and 140 roads blocked. There's talk about Hugo Chavez's promise of military support for Bolivia against these movements but also that if Venezuelan troops came into the country, the Bolivian army would have none of it. Who knows, right?

Hundreds have been injured and I heard today that 8 ( that number has since been raised to 14 which is growing) were killed in Pando, 32 injured and a number critically injured many from gunshot wounds. I'm sure there were other deaths in other conflicts and unfortunately we might assume that number will increase because of serious injuries.

Essentially what happens is that autonomous, largely urban groups sack an office or are out in the streets, then campesino associations or sindicatos grab sticks, stones, or farming tools and head to town to protect them/ to assemble. In Pando there are different versions of what happened but the government says the prefect Leopold Fernandez, (almost like a governor), and his functionaries/ members of his administration met a group of campesinos who were going to assemble in town. While the media hypes things up, it still referred to the place where this occurred as a "battle zone," and that the campesinos were "ambushed." Indeed both sides had guns, sticks, stones, and machetes. The presidential representative reported that some of the autonomous civic groups had machine guns and leaders of the campesino groups said 15 of their group were kidnapped by the Civic Committee (again, autonomous).Of course, the other side claims it wasn't their fault and they were responding to the first blow.

From what I've heard the autonomous groups are better-armed with guns. Both sides are very much ideologically aligned although the issues can be deeper than that (race, exclusion, economic interests, etc). Still, the biggest issue, as always, is the return of the IDH a national revenue generated from oil/natural gas and the recognition of the autonomous votes. Some rumors even talk about how the army/government positioned fewer and ill-equipped soldiers to defend state offices in Santa Cruz in hopes that the pro-autonomous groups would kill a soldier, giving the green light to reciprocate or to open up the possibility of martial law. Don't know if I'd go that far, but I don't know if I'd rule it out.

Evo Morales, the president, ordered the American ambassador, Phillip Goldberg, to leave because he claimed he was supporting those autonomous groups and/or fighting against democracy. The US government reciprocated, kicking out the Bolivian ambassador.For the first time I've heard people legitimately talk about the country breaking apart. There have been whispers before, but never people saying "this is point of no return." I've also been told by a couple Rotarian friends that I should keep a lower profile in the coming weeks in La Paz where, until now, things have been relatively violence-free.This, of course, is great news because I had been planning on doing a speaking tour to the other departments of the country during the first two weeks of Oct before heading out.

Now, I highly doubt I'll be able to do that- not only because most airports and main roads are blockaded but because it might get more violent. And for the first time since being here I've seriously thought about what would happen if I had to leave the country a bit early.For now, nothing has happened in La Paz and I hope nothing will. No matter what, if they could just hold off bringing the conflict to La Paz until my classes end Sept. 27th that'd be delightful. Also I've come to really enjoy a great ice cream place on the Prado called "bits and cream" where you get a mountain of ice cream with toppings and caramel for a couple bucks. A guilty pleasure- SO GOOD ( although last time I was ordering there a couple weeks ago some guy pick-pocketed my cell phone).

Things like this have happened frequently in the past few years- in Oct. 2003 the government fell and the president, Sanchez de Lozada "goni" had to flee the country to Miami where he reportedly took with him millions of dollars in briefcases he essentially took from the money he positioned for himself in the transition from state-run to privately owned enterprises. In Cochabamba there have been deadly clashes over water rights and there have been injuries over land rights in the eastern provinces.

Still, this seems like it will get worse before it gets better. The civic leaders in Santa Cruz such as Branko Marinkovic have closed dialog and opened up possibility for more pressure. Perhaps people have let their steam off, but once two sides are formed and people are killed, it's tough to reconcile an already seemingly irreconcilable issue. On that note, I'm gonna get back to school work and try to line up going to a jazz concert tonight!Hooray! Below are some articles if you're interested in a reading a bit more-Saludos

Some articles

one example of past conflict, not entirely dissimilar to now:http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E02E7D7123EF93BA25753C1A9659C8B63&scp=6&sq=sanchez%20de%20lozada%20bolivia&st=cse

a bit about how the U.S. has been involved in Bolivia besides anti-narcoticshttp://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/26/movies/26fore.html?scp=3&sq=sanchez%20de%20lozada%20bolivia&st=cse

Monday, September 1, 2008

Some Gardening Tips for Your 13,000 Foot High Greenhouse

I was going to try to make a list, much like the list of things I've eaten, but this might be easier.
Here are a few fun ideas / tid bits I picked up in the FAO training sessions ( see blog entry below):

*Fill plastic bottles with sand or water, paint them black, and hang them along the top of your tarp so they emit heat during the night time.

*Have at least 8 varieties of aromatic plants throughout your parcels to keep bugs and pests away.

*Use tires, thermoses, plastic bottles, and even used basketballs for your planters.

*Plant big seeds directly in your parcels. For smaller seeds first put them in your pre-planters, essentially a small little plot to get them started.

*Nutrient broth- buy two kilos of earth worms ( they come with soil too), put them in a plastic jute bag, and dunk them in 5 liters of water as if you were steeping a tea bag. Do this for two hours and sift the water. You now have an incredibly nutrient rich bath you can spray your plants with, focusing mostly on the roots when applying it. You can also use animal manure mixed in water, covered with plastic, and left to sit for a couple weeks to get deliciously nutrient-rich.

* put broken egg shells around your plant roots to keep certain bugs and pests away.

* Plant lettuce in the same plot with flowering (cauliflower, broccoli, etc.) or fruit bearing plants (pumpkins, squash, etc.) to diversify your parcel. Don’t mix root plants ( carrots, potatoes, etc.)or leafy plants with other types ( lettuce is an exception).

*You need to spray the outside of your tarp with water so it doesn’t crack and dry reducing its life span from 8-10 years to 2 or 3.

*Wait for manure to dry and ferment for at least 15 days before using it. Don’t use the fresh stuff- mmmmm.

*Recipe for a natural pesticide:
Boil in 5 liters of water 4 garlic half moon thingeys- ground, 7 dried hot red peppers- ground, and one capful alcohol ( add after first boiling pepper then garlic for 15 minutes each).
Use this mix as a smoking agent- set up a mini stove and let the stuff boil into your closed tarp for 15-20 minutes. Then air everything out.

*Always rotate your crops if you’re going organic. Hydroponic don’t worry about it!

*You can grow lettuce in water! By filling a 10 cm deep box with water and placing already growing seedlings in holes in a Styrofoam board you can grow lettuce! All you need to do is add the right chemical nutrient solution and oxygenate the water at least 3-5 times a day ( by just moving it around).

*Your strawberries aren’t growing? It’s probably because you’ve let it grow new root sprouts. If that’s the case simply cut them off and plant them again to create a new plant. Because those guys are using up food too, your plant won’t flower.

*Grow onions in separate pots because they suck out the nutrients for the other plants.

*Don’t let your aromatic plants flower! Harvest them often and restrict their growth. We’re talking basil, oregano, mint, and tea plants. If you harvest often they’ll try to fight back by growing more. If they flower they finish their cycle and basically say, phew! I finally finished the race, I’ve raised some beautiful flowering kids, I think its time to retire and say goodbye to this beautifully smelling world.

*Don’t let tomato branches hang down and touch the soil, it will pass along sicknesses to them.

* Make sure your soil has AIR! To make sure you have air, make sure you have some sand mixed in there. To know if you have some sand, rub some dirt next to your ear and listen for the sound- or water it a little bit and make a sausage roll with the mound in your hand. If it continues to roll roll roll and doesn't break apart, it doesn't have enough sand.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

FAO urban agricultural project( soberania alimentaria)

This past week I had a great opportunity to visit some of the FAO’s star projects which they’ve implemented in a number of other countries. The idea is for families to grow their own food with family green houses. The context here is urban, something I haven’t experienced yet ( I have visited a number of rural greenhouses). The program is truly fascinating. Working with the local mayor’s office, families can apply for and receive all the materials for the construction of a green house. They also receive free training and technical support. The benefits are obvious- you remove yourself, at least partly, from radical global changes in food prices, you know the quality of the product you eat, you can create a small surplus to sell to neighbors or in the market, and you drastically better your diet by having a variety of vegetables.

After a first day of visiting the large plot in the middle of the city where the FAO has their research greenhouses ( far larger than family plots and unfortunately in the process of being moved because the city is about to build a judicial building there), and visiting a couple families’ greenhouses in the periphery of the city, I absolutely loved what I saw.

So I signed up for a two day intensive training course on how to set-up and maintain your own personal greenhouse. A number of beneficiaries had their greenhouses built, but still needed training. This would be the last training session, so I was lucky to find out about it when I did. I tagged along and has an inspirational experience.

We learned two forms of planting- hydroponic and organic. Some of the themes included how to maintain humidity levels, when to water, what ingredients and ratios you need for your soil base, how to diversify crops, how to create organic pesticides, how to maintain heat in below zero temperatures at night, how to clean and maintain plants, and probably coolest of all how to use all recycled materials.

In the context of the altiplano which is cold, high, and barren, these greenhouses are beautiful. It does have its uphill battles- families don’t like the change in diet from rice, pastas, and potatoes to more veggies. It takes work to maintain your tarp and produce what you need. If you don’t like what your growing you don’t see the incentive to grow. But for the families who carry through with it, they have seen great results overall.

Flood Assistance Through The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN

A Rotarian from Rotary Sopocachi, Einstein, presented a problem to the club a couple weeks ago concerning flood victims in Beni, a amazonian department north of La Paz. Between Jan, and March of this year they received a second year of record floods. They lost everything.

The FAO already has a project they’re working on there to rebuild houses and start up some basic turism. Still, they have many things they aren’t able to fund as their mandate/ mission restricts them. Therefore we’re working on a much more comprehensive and truly sustainable project which would include the building of schools, solar panels, improving means of communication including an early alert system, and looking into alternative economic activities besides livestock and farming. Finally I have a truly good feeling about this project- as mentioned I’ve work on a couple other projects that haven't moved past a proposal like one that would have created a youth technical training and academic tutoring program in El Alto through Gregoria Apaza. Unfortunately, I learned you need to find the right organization to take something from ideas to action.
With the FAO it’s another story. No more meetings cancelled at the last minute or simply forgotten- no more closed access to and/or entire lack of important information. It's delightful.
My role is translation, investigation of prices, hopefully a trip to the site, fundraising in the U.S. including contacting and presenting the project to rotary clubs.
Essentially, the only thing we need now is some strong Rotary backing, something I hope I’ll be able facilitate.

English is Growing on Me

My class has grown! I now have at least 15 regular students. After changing my teaching times to the afternoon students who couldn't come because they were in regular HS classes now can. Thankfully the director of the CRP ( educational resource center) was either fired or left. Although he was a very nice man, it was probably for the better. The new coordinator is definitely on top of things in comparison and even provided me with some good teaching materials like video and cassette listening activities. So now I will be teaching a two and half month intensive English class. I’m trying to focus on themes like pronunciation and basic conversation because the kids are of all different levels. Some have had one year, some three.
Needless to say its fun! Although they have yet to take me up on Friday “party”day where they can bring in English music with the lyrics so the whole class can practice listening/ pronunciation, I hope this upcoming week will change that.
As my time here comes to an end I thought I’d update a brief list of some of the more memorable moments among the Rotary Community. Among house dinners, regular meetings, small conferences, and workshops, these are a few I enjoyed the most

The President of Rotary Chuquiago Marka invited me one Wedneday for a day of offroading! He’s a member of a 4x4 group and they have excursions every once in a while. So around 10:00 on Saturday we left in a caravan of some 50 SUV’s of all varieties. We traveled up toward la cumbre which is a slowly fading glacier block. The region climbs from la Paz among jagged mountains that create a border between the altiplano and los yungos, a subtropical low-andes mountain region. A great day! I'll upload photos- hope the link works!

Children’s Hospital
With Rotary San Jorge I visited the burn victim and cancer childrens unit to distribute blankets for visiting parents ( who sometimes traveled over 6 hours to be with their children and had little to no family or friend contacts in the city) and to spend some time with the kids. We had a great time but hard it was to see how much they were in need/pain. At least we were able to spend one afternoon and from what I understand, they received frequent visitors. After talking soccer with a number of the kids and their parents, I established my minority status in favor of The Strongest, long foe of Bolivar. A great Saturday afternoon!

Children’s Painting Festival
For months Rotary Sopocachi planned a childrens painting course in one of this cities main plazas along with a midday cookout. I visited 9 schools to meet with directors about the event and make sure as many students as possible could participate. We hosted over 150 children and their families along with many Rotarians from other clubs.
Students competed in different age groups and all were up to win a series of prizes at the end of the day. I converted myself into the MC, announcing time changes, helped distribute drawing materials, answered questions, and selling food tickets for the cookout. With my Rotary sopocachi cap and two posters taped to my front and back I corralled lost children and recruited new participants, as well.

Rotary National Conference

In May we had a four day conference which had been the central topic for most of the weekly rotary meetings I had been going to since I got here. It was a national conference and representatives from every part of the country were present- over 300 people. It was somewhat unsure what the turnout would be considering the political situation dividing the country here but was a great opportunity to exchange ideas, for me to plan trips to make presentations all over the country and to listen to varied accents. It featured inspirational speeches from Rotary International's regional representative and a number of informational speeches about Rotary's programs. One day was the orientation for new officers and involved sharing ideas about the district's goals for the next year. Got an idea of the heirarchy of the organization and some of the successes / challenges that face clubs in the next year.

One of the best days was when they invited reprensatives from the UN and the head of the Museum of Natural History to make presentations on The Effect of Climate Change and Climate/ Health Policy in Bolivia. From there we spent the afternoon discussing projects from all over the country and ended with a "rain of ideas" ( the spanish version of "brainstorm") about creating a national agenda for addressing those issues. One table was to be only english speaking- a large contigent from California, Oregon, and Canada were in attendance. The rest were to be loosely topic based- waters projects table 1, education table 2, etc. etc. What happened, however, was that all the tables converged into the English Speaking table and we presented over 60 projects in English- I was the in house translator. Basically we just read a profile of the project- sutainable water projects, malaria eradication 5 year plans in Beni, health policy in schools, etc. It was a great exchange although I'm not sure about how and if they'll come to fruition- each project would have to apply through the Rotary international matching grant program in which co-sponsor clubs in the U.S. France Japan etc. and the foundation provide the bulk of the funding.

On saturday we had a "dia del campo" which was a big ole cookout. A beautiful day and tons of fun after all day everyday Rotary for four days- One highlight was the talent show. On one level it was formal in that Rotarians danced traditional dances in traditional clothing typical from each region here to welcome all the guests. The other part was open mic. For those of you who know me or of me, I couldn't resist. Indeed it was my ambasadorial role! So I sang John Prine's Paradise/ Muhlenburg county on guitar- it's been a while so I was rusty but it was an overall success. Bluegrass was something a bit foreign to many in attendance.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How many Bolivias are there?

President Evo Morales won recently in what historically should be considered a landslide with some 67% national support for his administration through the Referendum Revocatorio.
At the same time many of his political enemies- the prefects of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando also won by a substantial margen, all over 50% with Costas from Santa Cruz winning some 70%

The biggest issue is the IDH or the tax revenue generated from oil/ gas which was “confiscated” by Morales to support his national social security system that gives about 240 bolivianos monthly to citizens over the age of 65.

In the macro, you see the battle between autonomy and nationalization. But the nuances sometimes aren't that easy to nail down and a long history of transitioning since 1996 from a national to a descentralized government has meanth new changes and new political dinamics. This transition has had support from the World Bank, the U.S. and others. Still, Hugo Chavez has been closely allied with Bolivia which has helped it's ability to create/ support health and education programs/ support for nationalization. It also means having leaders at least rhetorically against the U.S. and the "west." Still, although Venezuela is giving millions to Bolivia, much of it still comes through lones with interest. Nationalization is an ambiguous term as well because it still allows for private management that is essentially contracted out. Just like the "nationalization"of the largest telecommunications company ENTEL still allows for the management to remain and for non-state agents to run the business. As most issues here, the argument is over distribution of wealth.

Morales may have a political mandate but doesn’t appear to have a blank check.
Before the vote airports were closed by groups protesting against Morales in Santa Cruz, Tarija, and Pando. Now the prefects of Tarija, Santa Cruz, and Chuquisaka have declared they will create blockades leaving the country to Argentina and Paraguay in protest of the IDH. There have been threats in the past weeks that civic groups including some newly "youth civic groups" will take state offices and departments. At times its hard to see these "youth groups" in a serious light. They have no respect for law - they've burned police cars in Santa Cruz anddon't appear to support an intellectual agenda usually forwarded by a "student movement."In Tarija the customs office was "taken"for a short period and groups alined with MAS have said they will defend state offices. Still, I need to read up on these youth groups and excactly who are the "civic groups."
Morales recently declared that if oil ducts, state oil field, etc. are taken or damaged, etc. they will confiscate all municipal funds if political leaders from those regions participate. That includes if people are injured.
Again, the issue is the tax revenue generated from Oil/ Gas revenues, the IDH. They want some 166 million dollars to be returned to their local governments that has been used for Morales Renta Dignidad plan.

We shall see how it goes. But the rhetoric is somewhat tense with groups being clear in not ruling out violence.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sifting Through the Political Situation

Here are some impressions of mine about the current political situation. I got a number of emails asking me how I was and if it was still safe here especially last may 4th. SO......

The press isn´t amping it up- the country is divided. As far as how the press from the Nytimes describes the race relations I think they're prettyclose. As for the underlying economic and political relations, they get it sometimes although if you've read as many articles as I have over the past 4 years from the Times, they like to recycle information, phrases, impressions, and political summaries. I'm about 2/3 through the new constitution that was passed in dec. 2007 by Morales' party MAS in Oruro. It's dense, long, and more like a massive public policy document as opposed to a general guideline; it creates a national health care plan, land distribution, state control of telecommunications, and natural resources to name a few. It is somehwat under scrutiny because some of the constituent delegates who weren't with MAS or opposed to their proposal left the table after MAS lost the 2/3's vote on their version. At that point MAS tried to change it to a simple majority to pass it and thats when the other delegates from Santa Cruz and other deptartments left. Still, from most accounts, the constitution is considered legitimate although controversial ( I'm still trying to piece things together).

So on may 4th Santa Cruz decided to have a referendum on their autonomous statutes which I am in the process of reading- more or less it would involve much more local control over natural resources like gas and agriculture. They would also have their own police force and would recognize only a couple indigenous communities that are original to their dept. as ¨original¨or indigenous, as opposed to immigrants from la paz or other depts. who have moved there in more recent times. The referendum is not legitimate from most anyone's perspective but some give it "legitimacy"because it's a show of public opinion. Although about 38% of the people abstained( a couple voting stations were blocked by protestors but it wasn't overly significant), 85% of the people who did vote were in favor of the statute ( the vast majority of whom hadn´t read the actual statute nor the new constitution).

Some say Santa Cruz is crying over the fact that they have to pay taxes to the state and give up more control to the state- they're the economic engine of the country. Addittionaly, blatant racism exists in those regions as in much of the country. Demographically and many times economically speaking it's a "naturally" divided country. That has been the case for it's entire history, however.

On one hand, you gotta love Evo Morales. He's the first indigenous president and therefore in a crude way represents the 60% of the country here who consider themselves indigenous. He's radical but won in landslide victory two years ago- people wanted a change from failed neoliberal economic policies, sovereignty from the developing world including U.S. policy preferences, and the ability to control natural resources. If you've read anything about "development"after the 2nd world world, the failing war against drugs, the massive unemployment resulting from neoliberalism, and the drastic economic crisis in Bolivia in the past 10 years- you sympathize in a lot of ways. Of course there are good sides to the reforms in the 90's like bilingual education from '94 and the improved status of women. I won't get into the long and complicated discussion here. Still, Morales is controversial.

When it comes to Democracy I'm not sure if I agree with Morales since a large number of people in other departments want some kind of autonomy- more than the current constitution affords. For example, Pando and Beni recently voted for autonomy and of those who voted about 80% were in favor of the statute while obviously more or less 20% were against. At the same time, there was about a 30% abstention rate. Morales has pointed out in these votes that the abstention rate combined with the "no"vote still supports his position against autonomy- some 50% of the population in one way or another against it.

Morales is in a very tight political position and is gonna have to negotiate at some level since it is clear there are significant divisions. On August 10th Morales has called for a Referendum Revocatorio- he's offering himself and the departmental Prefects up to the people for a vote of confidence. The prefecturas, for the most part, are opposed to Morales and act as the primary filter for funds from the State among other things.

In a country where poverty is so high I think the state has to step in and allow for capitalism to do its job but, as one can see in any developing country, the state has to take a significant role ( see Michael Mann or Peter Evans among others for some fun reading).

The debate is fascinating. For example, the new "MAS"constitution limits the amount of land people can have and would distribute land to mostly poor indigenous communities (I believe it is 10,000 hectares limit per person). It also allows for indigenous judicial rights within their community. Is that limiting personal rights or saving peoples lives and giving them some land to grow food on? Is it more in line with the Andean Cosmovision/ Communitarian vision? Is it against the liberalism most "modern democracies" are based on? If so, how would it respect personal freedom i.e. individual rights? Is there a system that's entirely capitalistic and market based- one that doesn´t control prices( note: the U.S. and corn markets especially considering ethanol subsidies) and land?

Another example: I don´t agree with Morales' periodic ban on exports( perhap I don't understand the economic rationale). He recently did it with oil ( cooking) a couple months ago in Santa Cruz because the internal market prices were too high. Just a week or so ago they limited the export of chicken and certain types of cornmeal. The gov. has a regulatory agency that supposedely knows what the market price should be. Therefore Morales by decree can ban exportation ( in the case of oil some estimates say they lost 100 million dollars because of the ban). About a month ago, they came to an agreement with producers in that they should sell domestic oil at a certain price and export at whatever they wanted sighting the ¨just¨price for a population so impoverished. These kind of agreements/ issues many times baffle me and are indicative of the incredible difficulty in finding a middle ground.

In a world of such hardball politics compromise is difficult to come by.

Overall, there have been spurts of violence. On may 4th things were calm in la Paz although there were marches in most places especially SC, dept. of cochabamba, and El Alto. A few injuries but major violence wasn't a problem. Things shouldn´t get bloody but they might get ugly. I'm fine in La paz for now, but no one knows whats in store for the country in the coming months.

I hesitantly express my opinions- sometimes the papers get it right, sometimes they don't. Sometime's what you hear from people is, as with many political discussions, misinformed and based on opinion or hearsay. Amid this tangled discussion and situation, I'm just trying to keep up on whether my favorite soccer team "The Strongest" ( Mascot, The Tigers) is still losing. And they are.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dancing on the Altiplano

A few Thursdays nights ago the president of Rotary Club San Jorge gave a great inspirational presentation to club members and invited guests. He explained the international and national role and achievements of Rotary coupled with what could make the club even more effective.
Afterwards I chatted with a number of Rotarians about service, the meaning of giving to others, and occasionally we dipped into more philosophical discussions. I always enjoy certain aspects of the Buddhist outlook- that we are simply a reflection of others- diamonds in net that reflect our setting. You serve just to serve as opposed to helping others in pursuit of selfish fulfillment (in my opinion, hard as heck to remove selfishness when it’s tied to the happiness of helping. At this point we could begin a fun discussion about society, the self, and the reality of theories in practice).
So after a delightful night I ventured home and watched a bit of a movie- I was nearly in bed when I got a call from the president of Rotary Miraflores, El Capitán- “Yohn! Manana vamos a pachacamaya con QBL- 8:30, plaza triangular!” Le digo “estaré allí, plaza triangular 8:30, por supuesto!”
Rotary provided the funding for more than 20 water pumps in a small community of 25 families and they were going out to see the final product.

We headed out to the site and met up with a couple members of the community who proudly showed their brandnew pumps- worked like a charm. The community did all the work with the help of a technician; Rotary/ QBL helped put up the funds.
The plan was to grab lunch in the community hall- meet up with the families, etc.
Before I knew it, I was swept up by a beautifully dressed woman in a traditional poncho, small felt hat, a flowing colorful skirt. Its tradition apparently to dance to the dining hall accompanied by flautists (These flautist were our musical performers for the rest of the day and wore traditional head dresses with plumes of feathers spouting off the sides).
Once we made it down the short dirt road and to the main community hall we ate a delicious meal of meat, rice, potatoes, and soft drinks. As we ate, the flutes continued and slowly the community trickled in, all told about 50 people. The leaders of the community said a few words, the capitan said a few as well, and from there the good times began. Since we had finished our meals and were celebrating, that meant some shared beers. It was by all accounts a modest affair, but it signaled the music and more dancing. The women who led us in at first swept us up from the table and we whirled around the small hall until the music stopped. We would rest for a few minutes, then once again the music started the dance and my 60-70 year old partner ( who had more energy than I did) grabbed my hand to dance. Bar far, the best discoteca I’ve been to so far.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Teaching English

My class has grown! I now have 7 students (7.5 if you include Max’s 3 year old little sister who much enjoys our classes and has already mastered “hello” and “later.” Although some of the more in depth themes give her trouble her class participation is unrivaled). So I began my connection with Education Resource Center ( CRP) through Gregoria Apaza although that affiliation is no longer in tact- Gregoria decided they didn’t want me to be teaching in a setting beyond their control in a many-times anti-American/impoverished city. So I decided to teach any way. One because I really enjoy it and had already made the commitment to the director and two, because we had already had two classes. Although I was informed that these students had a decent base in English and I would be focusing on conversation, that was entirely incorrect.

All my preparation was conversation games and vocabulary building- now its numbers, introductions, present-tense conjugation, and basic grammar. Turns out they had had “a year or more of English” but only once a week for less than an hour and apparently with little to no use of mnemonics; or anything they would or could ever use in a classroom or real-life setting.Additionally I’m making all my own materials- the CRP has no money for texts and I haven’t found any English textbooks in the scattered corner librerias which are more like supply stores with a few books here or there. I’m still looking around and have a couple good leads but until then I’m the writer and editor. Which I suppose sounds alright but last I checked Wake Forest didn’t teach me how to write educational texts. On the other hand, I really enjoy it- I like the creativity and freedom of it. Next week we're going to teach eachother how to cook a dish and on Thursday we're going to have a poprock festival when we translate their favorite English songs. Any suggestions and/or resources are gladly welcomed!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

El Día Del Niño

Last weekend I accompanied Rotary Club Miraflores to a small community about an hour south of La Paz on the Dia del niño to distribute toys and others items such as baseball caps. The community is situated near the river that flows north-south from La Paz in zona sur. In January the river diverted its course and innundated a number of houses, fields crops, and had a grave impact on the region.
We worked through a contact who was the leader of a recently formed children’s activity center (although I call it a “center” it was simply someone who cared enough to plan activities for the kids around their dusty small soccer field- from all accounts it had been a great success). All told we distributed items to more than 50 children from ages 4ish to 15ish. They greeted us with a covered tent area adorned with local flowers, two liters of pepsi and plenty of energy. Each child came up to us and shook our hand before getting a toy and a hat ( a display of manners the director was proud of). We then shared pepsi and some candy with everyone. All the kids were lined up according to age groups in single file lines. Once we finished up the formalities however, I, along with others, suggested we begin the real job at hand- challenging the locals to a little game of soccer.
The president of Rotary Club Miraflores, the Secretary of the club, myself, and a couple other kids formed one team- the other team consisted of entirely too talented 9-10 year olds equipped with high altitude lungs, discipline and the burning desire of champions.
After a 30 minute battle between the two forces, random searches for lost soccer balls in the brush, and a continuous stirring of dust, the match ended. Indeed I can’t remember who won, but it matters not. We’ve arranged to schedule a rematch in the coming weeks.
After we finished the game, a number of the families overwhelmed us with plates of delicious food! It was far too much for us to handle and made me feel even less worthy than I did already- a great morning!

From there I went on to class where I did a presentation on the Spanish Colonial destruction of Andean territorial planning, culture, and daily life. Got to read some really cool laws from the 1500's. I'll try to write another blog about it!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Lake Titicaca

On March 15 I went with Rotary Club San Pedro to a small village near Lake Titicaca to distribute donations of more than 300 pairs of shoes, school supplies, and clothing. We got up early on Saturday morning and traveled with three Rotarians and two contacts we had with the village who had worked there as nurses. The drive took about 4 hours and included a brief ferry ride over a portion of the lake. A stunning, sunny, 60 something degree day surrounded us the entire time. We spoke with some of the leaders of the town ( some of the few who spoke Spanish) and they gave us a brief tour including a semi-finished plaza the local authorities had promised to finish. They also explained that the new expressway ( or Bolivian equivalent) would cross through or near their town a major boost to their local economy of artesanal weavings and agriculture.

We ate a communal meal of potatoes, corn, a garlic-salt cheese, ispi, and habas- delish. After chatting with the leaders some more we distibuted all the items we had and were presented with many thanks from an assorted group of leaders. A wonderdful experience and an even more wonderful Saturday evening when we got back to La Paz.....

The Tears of Change

Well I got my first taste of tear gas a couple weeks ago. I finished up a day at Gregoria Apaza visiting high schools to recruit for my English course I’ll be teaching at a resource center en El Alto ( they’re paying for my transportation which means about 3-4 buckaroos a week) I got back to La Paz late in the afternoon, taught an English class from 5:30-7:00 and headed to a café to grab some food before going to Rotary meeting around 8:00.
When I got closer to the café I heard the chants and shouting of the protest rally of “the pacifists”who were anti- Evo Morales. Through chants of “dictatorship NO, democracia, YES” I casually made my way through the line of police to the café a block away ( The issues are quite complicated and I’m careful to note that those chants might or might not be true).

Coffee Alexander is a trendy but nice shop next to my house and they have a killer Quinoa wrap. Around 7:50 I decided to head off to the meeting. Content with my excellent timing I neared the front of the store. It seemed to me that while everyone smokes everywhere whenever they can here, it seemed a bit much this time around. I also noticed a large group of people at the door with Bolivian flags, clearly members of the rally. Finally I noticed a man with bulging red eyes and snot running from his nose. Soon I was smacked in the face with a thin, burning, irritating feeling in my eyes and I quickly headed to the back of the store. Indeed, it was tear gas.

Turns out the police decided to break up the rally which eventually turned semi-violent when supporters of Morales (Masistas) showed up. A few car windows, and windows of a nearby university were broken, and a couple people got hit with rocks being thrown.
This I found out the next day. Of course, no worries mom, I waited in the café till all was clear, went to my apartment and made a delightful cup of tea…….

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Potable Water in Sorata with Miraflores

Rotary Club Miraflores donated more than $3,000 with the help of Rotary clubs in the U.S. to a Potable water project in a small village in the hills/ mountains of Sorata, a farming community about 3-4 hours outside of La Paz. They teamed up with a Quaker NGO that did the coordinating of the project and helped the families with technical assistance. The people in the community did all of the manual labor and built the piping, tanks, and distribution themselves.
So last week on a Friday we got up early and headed for Sorata at 7:30 for the inauguration ceremonies. El capitán, a naval retiree, is the president of Rotary club Miraflores here in La Paz and was the special guest along with two reps. from the NGO.

This of course didn’t mean we would get there in 3-4 hours. Because of a shortage of gas, protestors in El Alto( the sprawling city above La Paz through which the only road from La Paz runs through), made a bloqueo so we were stuck in a sea of sardined minibuses, taxis, and 1940’s dodge school buses for about an hour.

We were led by Rigoberto who we casually called Rigoberta Menchu. He took the role of holding my life in his hands as our loyal pilot ( he was a real pilot too). I saw the true altiplano for the first time and the massive mountain ranges that line it on both sides. Absolutely stunning views, I’ll post some pics once I get them. We passed through a number of small towns and finally made it to another mountain range we had to cross before going back down the subtropical level of Sorata.

As it is the raining season there were massive blocks of fog, derrumbes ( land slides), and no guardrails as we whipped around switchbacks thousands of feet in the air. Once we began our decent the weather cleared up and we entered into the overwhelming subtropical andes. Although we made it through the fog and barely manageable roads that didn’t mean things would get better i.e. I wouldn't be on the verge of death. Instead we climbed another 30 minutes on extremely narrow and washed out, bumpy and, again, non-guard-railed pathways. Finally we reached a stopping point and hiked another 20 minutes to the location of the village passing small farms, hogs in the trail, and glimpses of the thin but forceful mountain stream in the distance.

All of the families were present and had set up a wonderful wooden fencing structure decked with beautiful flowers in front of a table on a plateu. The small terrace of flat land among the sloping hill overlooked an unbelievable view (pictures coming soon).
The ceremonies began with words from many of the village leaders who spoke Spanish but who’s first language was Aimara ( I might be mistaken, it might have been quechua, but I’m pretty sure it was Aimara). They thanked Rotary and the Quaker NGO and welcomed me as a representative from the United States. El Capitan said a few words of congratulations and we shared a communal meal (see list of things I’ve eaten). The men were separated from the women and children and we were seated on a long bench along the wood structure they put up.
The meal was delicious as we ate handfuls of multicolored popcorn and drank Tampico. Finally we climbed a slope to inaugurate the water tank. El capitan smashed a champagne bottle on the side, some of the younger kids tried to scare everyone with a firecracker and the families officially celebrated the first time they had had potable running water in their houses.
We then ate another meal called an Andean Breakfast ( see list of things I’ve eaten) and concluded with handshakes, saludos and a beautiful drive home.

(please note cheese del altiplano in the list of things I've eaten: el capitan stopped in a small town and bought us all a cheese disk and buns for an afternoon snack. Delicious!)

Rolling with Rotary

Rotary club Chuquiago Marka
Two Sundays ago I went to the house of a Rotarian to distribute some 23 wheelchairs to those in need. Together with Rotary clubs in North Carolina (working with the UNC business school) they shipped brandnew wheelchairs to La Paz and El Alto. Sunday around 10:00am we began the distribution and took a number of pictures.

We ate some salteñas after the event and the president of the club invited me to lunch with his family in the Zona Sur. We ate at the Bolivian equivalent to O’Charlies which I find kind of hilarious (the featured plate was Jack Daniels ribs to give you an idea). Funny story: ater some delightful conversation and jokes I excused myself to restroom feeling content with my spanish conversational abilities. I went to the doors that said Baños- easy enough right? Wrong.
Apparently because they are soo family oriented they have separate restrooms for kids- I was wondering why the sinks looks like airplanes and the latrine was painted like a pirate ship with princesses on one side and princes on the other. Luckily I caught myself and after a few jests from my hosts, we continued on with the day.

We dropped his wife and three daughters off at the Alasitas market which ended that day. He then gave me a quick driving tour of La Paz. He worked for Coca Cola here for 7 years and managed the distribution to all the corner stores or tiny little street vendors- we’re talking over 20,000 small markets and corner kiosks.

Needless to say he knew the city pretty well and took me to an overlook. He also said he’s be my guide for when family visits. More to come with him as I describe my birthday.....

Friday, February 8, 2008

Classes- Modulo 1

I attend classes in the south of La Paz, about a 15 minute minibus ride from where I live.

We are in a traditional classroom and I suppose it would be considered a traditional style of teaching- a lecture followed by discussion. Our professor is the executive director of a development group that empowers women through technical training, legal aid, psychological assistance, and other departments. I´ve met with her and have proposed some ways I could help out, notably with the exportation of their products( they are a microempresa).

There are officially 15 students in my class although the regulars usually number 11 to 12. It is comprised of economists, sociologists, historians, teachers of aymara and quechua, and turism specialists. We range from around 24- 50 or 60 years old. There are two Brasilians, a Japanese student, and two United States students.

We read articles and write a response paper for each class (three times a week, 3 hours a class from 7-10pm). Themes right now deal with Trabajo( work) and range from theory to history to politics to sociology. I´m also working on a research project on the teachers unions here in la Paz. Cool stuff since they take to the streets pretty often! I enjoy it all and look forward to the next modules such as citizenship, migracion, and economia.

Carnaval, Oruro!

La Diablada is the Carnavale festival in Oruro, about 3 hours south of La Paz. When people ask, Vas a Carnavale? By Carnavale they mean are you going to Oruro to lose two days of sleep, get soaked with water, and experience 48 hours of constant, costumed dancing in the streets?

There were about 70 or so people in our group split between two coach buses. Our sponsor was Tigo, a cell phone company so we were inundated with Tigo gear- a blue t shirt, a waterproof plastic cell phone pouch, a sleek blue poncho, and a slew of bandanas.

Our group was relatively diverse- ages ranged from about 19 or 20 to about 28,one of the organizers was Rusian, and the highlight was the Chileans on summer break. We got to know eachother and I´ve got an invitation to Santiago.
We arrived from La Paz near the plaza and piled about 9 people in a taxi which took us about 15 blocks to our Hospedaje on Friday.
Don't, however, assume that by "of course we've got housing, we rented a house" the organizers meant "we rented a house." It had walls and a door and a roof. We slept on sandbag mats and I brought a blanket from my apartment. One must not forget about priorities, however; dancing troupes, hamburgers, water balloons, and comraderie. Maybe some sleep.
For the first time in two weeks it wasn't raining which was a good thing since our three hour bus ride took five and Saturday and Sunday were beautiful!

Oruro is a town of about 200,000 people and it IS Carnavale. There aren't any big buildings except for one Hotel, Hotel Eden. As with many small towns of Spanish influence, there is one main plaza. Once you get within about 3 blocks in any direction of the square the dusty streets, very modest homes, street dogs, and occasionally a person or two vanish as a throng a people and beating of drums overwhelm you.
We sat in bleachers that lined the streets around the plaza and watched the parade with everyone in our group, easy to spot because of our blue ponchos. Communal chants, bizarre costumes, and tons of waterballoons marked the day. I ended up staying out late and got to see one of my Rotary friends dance as a Caporale! (note the wikipedia explanation)
I ate only burgers and fries at Superhamburguesa, a marginally good fast food join. One highlight was lunch on saturday when I ate Charquekan which is LLAMA! It was very good- you eat it with mato (not sure about pronunciation-spelling) kinda like big corn kernels.
Sunday we did it all over again and headed back to La Paz at 7:00 arriving around 11:00.
pics from last year ( MY CAMERA BROKE!)


a better explanation of its signifance than I could give:


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Airport and Alasitas

Recently I accompanied a Rotarian who is a professor of Statistics on a trip to the airport at 5:30 in the morn. We were going to send off a young boy who was going to New Jersey for a heart operation entirely sponsored (travel, operation, etc.) by New Jersey and Bolivian Rotary clubs. Although we missed the boy and his father(they got to New Jersey from what we understand), I ended up spending the day with Ruben and his family. He let me finish up some reading in his office, I went to the Alasitas Mercado with his wife and her sisters, and then they invited me to eat a traditional Bolivian meal with their family. It consists of a steak filet (although this is a recent addition to the tradition), maiz( we’re talking big kernels here), the equivalent to lima beans, a delightful soup of meat, mint, potatoes, barley-eqsue heartiness, and potatoes harvested in the altiplano.
Alasitas is a molded version of the indigenous market which now means ¨buy me.¨ If you buy little trinkets you might have good luck in finding those trinkets in real life. For example, a rooster is for a boyfriend, fake money is for making money, plane tickets are for a trip, a fake degree is to graduate, etc. etc.
See some pics....

La Paz...

La Paz is at a height of around 10,000-12,000 ish feet and it varies depending on where you are in the city. It is built in a valley - towards the top of the valley is the commercial district, center for many government offices, street markets, and lots of kiosks. Generally, as you go down it becomes residential. In the center of the valley you’ll find crowded streets, the equivalent to an extended main street with a few minor thoroughfares running parallel. Along the sides of the valley as you go up from this main avenue, you’ll find hundreds of residences- some new like my apartment building, some from the colonial period( which means a relatively blank exterior but a well-lit patio-in the middle living space), and some that are very modest houses made from a mix of available materials.

Soccer Match

Went to a soccer match between the two biggest teams in Bolivia, The Strongest and Bolivar. Through a Rotary contact´s friend I got tickets! Check out my photo album under Alasitas, Apt. Etc.

It was glorious and I learned many a Bolivian foul word from his friend and his accompanying family.

imagine you’re on the top level and can see both inside and outside the stadium....
Hernando Siles stadium is surrounded in the foreground by apartment buildings in the neighborhood where it is located called Miraflores with the backdrop of mountains and massive weather patterns; dark clouds crashing, distant rain breathing mist, and slivers of blue slipping through sporadic heaven holes. Perhaps a bit dramatic but it was great.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

First Blog

This is a test to see if this website works.