"...He prayeth well, who loveth well, Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best, All things both great and small;
for the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all..."

The Rime of the Anchient Mariner -Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Friday, October 26, 2012

Every New Beginning...

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end..."  This is the republishing of the title of one of my blog posts from 2010.  I wrote about feeling happy for the change and preparing to come to Mexico and sad for the good-byes of family and friends.  The cycle continues and time advances in God's perfect pace.  I shared a few quotes then, which as I re-read them, inspire me once again:

"Have the courage to ask." -my friend Anna
"More things are wrought by prayer than this world dares dream." -my Dad
"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, and become more, you are a leader." -John Quincy Adams
"He who dares not, need hope not." my brother Robert

I made my niche here for myself, I am independent, and I am working for a cause I really believe in.  This sounds conceded, but I'm really 'someone' here.  The challenge will be to define who I want to be when I go back; I'm still trying to imagine what the next six months is going to look like, but for now I know that I'll be traveling around Mexico for the next month on my tour d' Bon Voyage.

I came here to be inspired, find direction, grow and learn among other things.  I have learned more than I could have taught.  I have learned how to plant trees, clean beaches, talk to little kids, bird-watch and I have learned how much I enjoy helping others.  In the process of all this learning, I dare say I've inspired a few little people....I was recently flattered by a little girl who said she wanted to be a Marine Biologist just like me when she grew up...I didn't have the heart to tell her that I'm not a Marine Biologist, lol...but I truly hope she meant it.  In all,  I did not change the world, but rather I changed.  I'm of the opinion that we need to actively seek opportunities to be inspired and inspire others.  It worked!--this Peace Corps journey turned out to be a great inspiration to me through the people I have met and the defining moments I have lived over the last 27 months.

I'm fresh on the heels of having coordinated a successful 2-day workshop for local teachers on migratory birds, wetlands, and climate change.  The purpose was to equip teachers with information, and inspire them to take action in the classroom and in their schools.  It's so fresh in my mind, I'd rather not write too much about it, but I am so happy that the training marks the completion of my Environmental Education Project for San Blas.

Me and my boss 'Jorge'...he's the Man.  Truly a great leader.

The San Blas teachers

We taught about Migratory Birds...

...and environmental services and benefits of keeping a healthy environment.

We also gave them books w/ lesson plans to help them take the info into the classroom easily.

Then we went to a near-by lagoon to scope out our local and  migratory birds.

Commitment time-each teacher made a commitment to implement or organize a conservation oriented activity in their school/classroom.

For the next few weeks I'll be pushing forward without jumping too far forward.  I'm going to try to enjoy the moment, find time for myself to relax, do my reports, and find time to say my good-byes with glassy eyes that won't hold back tears...just another part life to be remembered, as my emotions start to mark the end of this beginning.

Below is a picture timeline of my time as a volunteer: Aug 18th, 2010 - Oct 31st, 2012

Day 1 of PC w/ national soccer stars.

My first weekend in Mexico w/ my host mom.

Four months-touring an hacienda, San Luis PotosĂ­

A Quetzal bird head dress & I think it was Quetzalquatl's.
National Museum of Hisory and Antropology, Mexico City
Easter 2011
Casa de las Sieta Muñecas, Yucatan
My brother came to visit his gf & I tagged along. Aug 2011

El Cora, Nayarit
Adventure tourism with local San Blas legend Juan Bananas.

Isla del Rey, Nay
Out for a gingerly hike Oct 2011

Platanitos, Nay
We're not bothering the turtle with all these flashes...they go into a trance once they start laying eggs.
Taken at a Federally run turtle camp. Nightly patrols to protect against poachers.
Oct 2011

Valle de Bravo, Estado de Mex
A piece of Europe in Mexico, and a great place to see the North American Butterfly migration.
March 2012

Isla Isabel, Nay
Though I worked for this National Park, I only went 3 times to this marine bird sanctuary.
Mar 2012

Seafood so fresh it'll make you smack yo' momma!  Weather so hot they serve minny- beer to avoid it getting warm.
San Blas, Nay
This blog started one bitterly cold January night in West Virginia, and I think it's going to end on one muggy night in Nayarit, Mexico.  It started off as 'From CG to PC and beyond', but I later changed it to 'Girl with the Blue Dove Tattoo' in honor of the Steig Larson triology's first book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (no, I do not have a dove tattoo).  Through the application process, training, and the ups and downs of being a volunteer far from loved ones, this has been my outlet. My URL comes from Revelations 3:8 "See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut," because I had a sense of destiny in coming to the Peace Corps.  I feel like Moses coming down from the mountain: older, wiser, and with something to say. I've tried to be positive, informative, and personal in this blog.  Keeping up with it has been cathartic, but it also helped me realize that I would like to continue to write in a more academic setting.

Thanks to my followers and friends.  Please keep in touch!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Environmental Education: A Social Issue

I object to letting a job define me, though I am very proud to be defined as a Environmental Education Volunteer.  Maybe it's because as Americans we place a high value on jobs, image and self-worth, that an ice-breaker for us consists of "...and what do you do for a living?"  (note: I think this ice-breaker is considered rude in Europe and in Spanish, it sounds really awkward, the way projecting your values in a second-language would sound).  At any rate, I've lived in Mexico for two years, and I've learned a thing or two about the environment, Environmental Education and culture.

A year ago it occurred to me that Environmental Education is needed more in the United States then it was in Mexico, and I still agree.  Simply by its proximity to the US, there's no hiding our high standard of living in the US, and all the waste it generates.   It is said that there are many Mexicos because the Mexico of 70 years ago still exists, and the culture of northern Mexico contrasts with that of the south, of the east and the west.  Mexico is as modern, as it is traditional, as it is colonial, as it is futuristic, as it is rich, as it is poor--it is all of these things sometimes within a one hour bus ride.  So how do you tell poor Mexicans to stop an environmentally detrimental activity, when its a matter of human life and survival.  A friend and I once talked about how to convince a rural desert villager to save water using environmental technologies like Eco-Latrines, when the villagers know that urban citizens 45 mins away are living modern and desirable lifestyles that include toilets--let's be truthful, would you give up your commode for an Eco-latrine to save water? Does being in the  middle class make you more entitled to the use of natural resources, like water?  Why should the poor be more environmentally conscience in their quest for upward mobility?     

Critical habitat in the San Blas Mangroves is lost one homestead at a time.
There are many beautiful and unique aspects of culture, but I believe consumerism, political negligence and corruption is too pervasive.  The complacency of the under-educated and under-represented leads to irreversible changes in the landscape.  I'm seeing and reading about the end of the world daily.  The last free-flowing river will regulated one damn at a time, forests will be cleared one tree at a time, mangrove wetlands will shrivel one day at a time.  In the midst of this slow-motion apocolypse, the national conversation  revolves around drug violence and soap operas.  

It's impossible to say whether better education, quality food, efficient government, and if gender/ethnic/racial equality would be enough to save people from themselves.  There will still be human follies like avarice and idleness, but the stakes keep getting bigger.  Environmental degradation is a result of poverty, corporate and personal greed, and increasing population demands.  The environment IS a social issue; true in the US and true in Mexico.

I'm trying to keep abreast of the political scene in the US.  I just heard the snipit of Romney's Acceptance speech at the GOP Convention where he touts that he cares about people, while Mr. Obama cares about the environment...  My discovery in Mexico is that people are part of the environment, and human development depends on the exploitation of natural resources.  We are inextricably linked to the environment.  I'm saddened by the current administration's approval & construction of the Keystone Pipeline, which will transport tar sand from Alberta to the Gulf.  I wish I had the courage of the GreenPeace activist who Occupied a Russian Artic oil rig a few months ago; the world is shaped by people like him...and like Sandra Fluke, Lilly Ledbetter, MLK.  

I recently delivered a presentation at the Statewide Environmental Education Forum.  When posed with identifying the challenges of Environmental Education and how to fix it, my opinion was that it needs to become part of the national conversation, and needs to infiltrate broadcast television commercials, kids shows, documentaries and variety shows.  My premise is that kids are learning more through a soap opera then they are at school (fact), and that more households own televisions then do washing machines (fact).  Mexicans love television, and corporations are using television to manipulate politics, brand name preference, and encourage desired behaviors...why not use this brainwashing tool for environmental justice?  For those not confronted with the choice of hunger v. conservation, making environmental decisions is a matter of integrity, civic responsbility, and conforming to social norms.  If we can project environmental-social norms on television, then people will conform--or at least that is my idea.
The little boy that I tutor in his back yard.
Squatters invading the mangrove on the edge of town. 

When I started tutoring earlier this year,  this was still mangrove.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Historic Times

My twenty-seven months in Mexico as an Environmental Education Volunteer will draw to an end in November.  It's been a battle with my inner-self in many ways.  An example might be: forcing myself to do stuff even though I don't want to, then being really happy I did.  I'm intentionally trying to enjoy the moment, understand the world around me, and understand my place in the world.

Well, up until now, my place in the world has been in Mexico.  Though there were times where I felt lost, below average, under achieving, inadequate, incompetent, tired, frustrated, angry, and/or miffed, most other times I was learning, cohabitating, fun-loving, vacationing, and generally getting the hang of things.  Time progressed in a natural fashion, and I seem to be coasting to a finish though I have four more months.
I wake up at 9am every morning--I like that.
I'm very independent in my work--I like that.
I like my work--I like that.

I have a true appreciation for what life is like in the under developed parts of Mexico having lived and interacted in this facet of Mexican culture.  Knowing that my mother comes from a similar situation and part of the world, enables me to relate to others more easily.  That may not seem like a special skill until your stuck with a person for a very determined amount of time, and staying quiet becomes a luxury.  Now, when I think about the time I've wasted comparing myself to others, moping about my lack of skills (or whatever), I make myself think that my gift is different.  I have skills, and they are different--I like that.

It's been a time in my life where I've been living out my dream (I had always wanted to join the Peace Corps), and I am enjoying the pursuit of my dream...a happy time.  This time here has been special too because I've witnessed historic events like the Bicentenial of the Mexican Independence & Centenial of the Mexican Revolution in 2010.  This spring I witnessed the Mexican presidential election season.  I've never been one to keep up on politics, but I've tried at least stay in the loop & observe what was going on around me...if for nothing else, then to entertain conversations.

I knew about the Presidential front-runner's gaff at the Guadalajara Book Fair, unable to name three authors/books who inspired his own book.  I knew about the staged political rallies & the Occupy inspired movement called YoSoy132.  And about the last ditch effort to win from the political party presently in power by nominating a female Presidential candidate.  The hot topic of the election being security & end to the war on drugs, a war that has been waged in the last six years and has resulted in over 50,000 deaths in Mexico.  The truth is that everyone already knew who would win two years ago; Mexico wants to end the violence, and the front-runner who promises change is backed my the major television network in the country & his wife is a soap-opera star.  The week before the election was mared by political rallies but, to the unsuspecting bystander, they look like big parties with nationally renowned musical groups playing the latest in dance music...a true fiesta.
Election Day in San Blas, Nayarit, 1de julio del 2012.

The march down Jardin Zenea, QRO
On election day, I was walking to the bus station at 7:00am on Sunday morning when I saw a line of people waiting their turn to vote outside of government buildings.  I was on the bus, and the bus' radio would announce electoral updates (all updates seemed to be predicting a foregone conclusion).  People walking around with purple ink on their thumbs.  Newspapers announcing the winner.  Now news shows explaining the legal process for the refutation of the vote counts; the runner-up was a 3rd party candidate who was backed by the YoSoy132, a liberal who promised to make an effort to change the broken democracy.  The system, however will not be unbroken, no matter how many young people stage protests...but the worst that they can do is stand idly by and let a television network and affluent jet-setters run the country, while they post FB comments.  I was in the central Mexican city of Queretaro and witnessed two protests.  It did make me realize that I was witnessing a piece of Mexican History.
As viewed from our lunchtime restaurant.

What does TLC mean??

Seeing the media, seeing the election, and seeing the reaction to the election makes me realize how important it is to know what is going on in the world around you.  I have a tendency to make my world small, as small as to only involve myself.  When you start being interested in your neighbors or in the world around you, your world gets bigger.  I knew I would like it here, but I didn't know I would love it.  One aspect I love is that I have become a student again; a student endeavoring to understand Spanish, culture, and myself.

Recently, I  became a member of a list-serve called The Listserve (Google it) of over 20K people, who one by one, will randomly get selected to write a mass email with the other members.  One email from the Listserve had a quote that defines why I had always wanted to be in the Peace Corps:  "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth."  Muhammad Ali  
I came here to 'pay it forward', but in the end I became a student, a teacher and an ambassador--I like that.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hotel Soap

Last week I had my 30th birthday.  I had made plans to leave my little town to avoid acknowledgement of this 'milestone birthday', but as they say 'the best layed plans of mice and men, oft go aft agley.'  So last week, I celebrated my 30th birthday and it was the best birthday of my life.

I didn't go sky diving or riding on the backs of whales.  I didn't go to the Wirikuta Fest in Mexico City to protest/fund raise against the land concessions for foreign mining companies of sacred tribal lands.  I didn't go to Puerto Vallarta to feel the charge of the bustling Pacific Coast paradise, or the anonymity that I sometimes miss.

Instead, I woke up at 6am and went bird watching with my birding class to the beach of my little town, and in the heights of its historic fort.  I saw the dawn of my 30th birthday, while marveling at some of God's most beautiful little creatures, in one of God's most beautiful places.  Then I went out for a two hour breakfast at 12pm with my best San Blas friend, followed by a mid afternoon lunch with my volunteer friends and host-family.  We ate, we imbibed, we chatted, and we sang into the night.  All in all, it was a lovely day with people that I love, in a country that I love, where I'm doing things that I love.

My time in Mexico is finite.  I do a little mental math and figure I only have five more months left.  It's time to start using up all my hotel soap.  In typical American fashion, I have a rough/precise idea of what the next 6-8 months will look like, but one of my life lessons has been to enjoy the present.  I pray that I can wake up for the next five months, and enjoy every new, muggy San Blas morning, enjoy the freshest produce and fish at the tip of my fingers, and accept impromptu invitations to family gatherings--even if I happen to be in sweaty gym clothes...after all, my time in Mexico is finite.

I still have a tremendous sense of getting propelled into a destiny, into a time and into a place.  I came here with the belief that something unimaginable and good is going to happen to me.  I often think to myself, 'is this the epiphany I've been waiting for'?  In my search, I've discovered some amazing things.  I've shared my life with people.  That's risky, because no one wants to get hurt, but it's most rewarding as well--to love &  be loved, and to remember & be remembered.  To laugh, to love, and make memories with people.  To have discovered I have special gifts, and I might even say a super power.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Story about a Story (about a story)

There's this verb that is widely used in Spanish: to 'convivir.' It literally means to 'live with' or to coexist. In English we might see it in print describing a get-together like 'a convivial atmosphere', though to say it in the same context might be a little archaic. I've written about this word before perhaps to emphasize the inclusive nature of Mexican Culture when I get invited to family events like BBQ's, dinner, TV, parties & religious or cultural celebrations. Whether it's a real tradition or just an excuse to throw down a couple beers, it's always an honor to be allowed into the threshold of the family circle. I knew of the importance of 'convivir'-ing to the culture after a few months in Mexico, but it wasn't until recently when 'convivir'-ing took on a new dimension for me. It's more than just the act of eating, drinking & laughing. It also includes sharing life's trails & sorrows. Being interested in life, sitting down and listening to someone get something off of their mind is 'convivir'-ing too...like listening to a mother tell a story about a story.

The story starts with a young Emiliano Zapata, who grew up to become famous Mexican Revolutionary War hero and who is characterized by the curvy mustache (and a big sombrero). Young Emiliano was having his 7th birthday, and he was getting really excited. More than toys, he wanted to have a party. A party with beef & maybe a cake, but Emiliano's parents were poor and couldn't afford that luxury. His mother told him that for his birthday, instead of just having two tortillas with beans, he could have five. Then came the day of his birthday but no party & he threw fit, and said lots of hurtful words to his mother. The mother started crying and went to her room. Emiliano started feeling remorseful. He went to pick some greens from a field, and brought them back in a big sack. He got close to his mom and whispered that he was ready for dinner, showing her the bag of greens (collards probably). She sighed and said that she still didn't have the meat & young Emiliano hugged his mom and told her that he would be happy just eating what they have with his family.

There's a classroom full of children listening. During the part where young Emiliano is in the field picking the collard greens, a 7 year old boy is bent over at his desk in school sobbing, because this story reminds him of the banquet party he demanded of his mother. His schoolmates are laughing at him, because they don't know that on most days he goes an entire day without eating. The boy gets home from school, hands his mother the story book, and asks his mother to read the story about Emiliano. "It's a sad story, isn't it mommy?" Mother and child are reading the story & crying, and she tells him "Never stop studying, so that your children won't suffer like we do."

These are stories that are part of life. Listening to them gives you a concept of what life is like for someone beyond the superficial greeting. Listening to them is part of 'convivir'-ing. As I hear this story, I started tearing up too. I remember being 7; if volunteers hadn't interceded for me when I was 7 years old, things would be vastly different for me. In the same way, I hope that the little time I spend with this 7 year old is helping to alter his life for the best. Being a volunteer where you live is important, even if your profession is a "volunteer." We all have the opportunity positive role models and make a difference...I guess I forget sometimes.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Trash Talk in the Garden of Eden

I've been looking forward to retirement for a long time, but alas, I'm only almost 30. Plus, this year the world is supposed to end, which is a bummer. I think about this once every other day!

It's a very brisk 66 degrees & overcast in San Blas on this February morning. I have a lot of eustress-ie the type of good stress that motivates you to get work done. I'm writing a Project Design for the first time for a grant proposal that got approved. It's exciting in one way, but it's a lot of work, plus I have to craft objectives that I will meet in a given timeline. I can tell that this is going to be some hard work.

When it comes to environmental awareness (and every other aspect too), there's a big disconnect between knowledge v. actions. For example, last week I gave some Environmental Education classes at a Youth Camp as part of San Blas' Migritory Bird Festival. We talked about habitat, trash, trash separation, habitat, birds, and trash. We were camping on this beach-front eco-campsite, and just 500 yards away behind some trees was their growing trash pile of different types of trash. With the kids we talked about the impact that humans have on habitat, we talked about trash, and they knew all about separation and the 3/4/5 R's. Then I have them bring me the trash bin, which had tons of recyclables, and I made them separate them (even though they already knew about separation). After that, we went to the trash mountain and saw the types of trash. I had them write letters to the management making a suggestion to separate trash etc. It was great, but the day didn't feel so successful when I saw kids putting trash in a singular trash bag, or just tossing their trash in the campsite (I corrected them of course), but they stand there and argue that they didn't do it. So what they know and what they do are two different things...and how do you bridge that gap? How do you make people believe/realize that they're living in the Garden of Eden? Of course it takes YEARS...

I can only hope that my grant money will enable positive and early action that is part of the culture shift needed in this town. San Blas is an amazing place, with over 400 bird species, while Mexico is considered the 3rd Mega-biodiverse countries in the world.

Sometimes my work is fulfilling, other times its disheartening. Even so, I'm meeting great people, and having the opportunity to do some great things. Part of me wants to travel to Europe or South America after I finish with the Peace Corps, but then the other part of me is tired of living out of a suitcase.

This is the point where I stop myself about thinking about the future, because I have a Project Design to write.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

National Conservation Week

Mexico's CONANP (equivalent of the National Park Service) commemorates National Conservation Week, and so I commemorated National Conservation Week. What started off as an idea to do a one-day event in the Plaza and maybe a Scavenger Hunt, grew into a week-long Environmental Exposition followed by several activities on the weekend.

The neat part was seeing how the idea grew as I socialized the idea at the municipality and community stake-holders. We held a meeting and invited over 20 people, and all of the came! They all had ideas and wanted to participate, which was awesome. The less awesome part is that not everyone was willing to be in-charge of the events they proposed. I was left with a miriad of activities and only two weeks to organize them.

Having had to coordinate and schedule an inauguration ceremony, workshops/conferences in schools, give workshops, coordinate an Expo in the afternoons, and a Scavanger Hunt, I am exhausted. The Week overall went well. I made a lot of connections and acquaintances that will be valuable in future endevers, and also friendships which is the best part. I will say that some of my events did not turn out well, and the fact that they didn't makes me feel inadequate. These emotions are still fresh and you can see the tired look in my eyes. Feeling the way I do, it really meant a lot to have been stopped by multiple people today to tell me that they really appreciated the event and that they thought the message of 'taking care of the environment' was getting threw.

Two weeks ago my dad asked me what exactly I do in the Peace Corps (my family strangely doesn't ask me a lot about my work). I told him I try to get people to take care of the environment. He said "Oh, So you're saving the world one country at a time!" A tear welled up and I said "Just like you Daddy."

During National Conservation Week I started typing up some thoughts I had. It's 'just flow of thought', but here they are:

"A time for self discovery and personal growth. A time to read. A time to travel. A time to learn about other cultures. A time to learn a language. A time to understand the realities of existence in another country. A time to celebrate other holidays. A time to fail. A time to succeed. A time to share success. A time to learn from failure. A time to step out of my comfort zone. A time to be 'some-body' who gives w/out obligation or expecting payment or political support in return. A time to give. A time to live-together with people...'convivir'. A time to realize that NO person can change the world, but we can change ourselves. A time to realize that if we as Peace Corps Volunteers come away from their experience with a feeling of having accomplished nothing, we have missed a big part of what it means to be a volunteer-we're here for more than just 'the job'. Maybe this is too idealistic?--Doing something in exchange for nothing is something that most people aren't used to in the US and even less abroad. Merely existing in another culture for the purpose to learn and help is something that host-country nationals appreciate...and just maybe they will be inspired to do something in exchange for nothing.--We are outsiders. We are judged. We are observed. We compare ourselves to other Volunteers. We are hurt by failure."