"...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

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."

Monday, October 31, 2011

My Obsession: TIME

I stare at my daily planner, and I ask myself "is it really November of 2011 already?" I notice that sometimes I look at my calander, daily planner, and watch obsessively. One of the motivating factors of me to join the Peace Corps is that I didn't want time to pass me by & lose my 20's to a job. My birthday card from this year reads, "enjoy the last of your 20s". I think hurtfully, "what are they talking about- I'm 28..oh, I'm 29." If I forget my own age, maybe I'm not so obsessed.

Q: One year into my Peace Corps service and how do I feel about it? A: This is exactly where I should be in terms of comforts and challenges. I have a good idea what my role is & what I want my legacy to be.

Q: Am I happy? A: Everyone says how much happier I look! I realize that I may never have a job with this much liberty, satisfaction, and status. I want to look back and say "I loved it".

Q: Can I do this forever? A: Well, no. I seek something profound in Mexico, but if I don't find it, I obviously need to move on.

One cultural note that my friend and I talk about is the tendency of Mexicans to talk in the Present Tense...do you notice me talking in Present Tense right now? It's not so natural in English, b/c all I want to do is talk in the future, the gerund, and past participle and every other verb tense to get my ideas across. Maybe that which I seek in Mexico is new way of thinking...to think in the present, and not obsess over the future.

Q: So, do I love it? A: Yes! The people, the food, the natural beauty, the language, the experience.

I am so grateful for this experience. So many peers have experienced a wide variety of feelings and life-changing events. Everyone's journey is different. I say that I love my journey in the most humble manner, and only to acknowlege how I'm feeling.

Below, there are pictures of a Beach Clean Up we did here in San Blas in honor of International Coastal Clean-Up Day. In the span of two hours, 77 volunteers picked up nearly 500lbs of trash including two Jumbo containers of plastics. It was a great event that incorporated many different Gov, non-Gov & private institutions & that got Media coverage. The cool thing with this event is that we did it as part of the Ocean Conservancy, so we formed teams of 4-5 people and had each team record the types of trash we collected. It was an overwhelming amount of plastic! I added up all the data sheets and fwd'd it to Ocean Conservancy, who then provides it to governments and businesses internationally with statistics to encourage them to make environmentally responsible decisions.
Find out more at http://www.oceanconservancy.org. All in a day's work (though, it took much much longer to plan).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Leap of Faith

Occasionally, I have the special opportunity to make future plans, relying on my confidence in the future fulfillment of prerequisites hoped for. Those who speak to me for any length of time know that I believe coincidences are practically acts of God, and that I believe I have the ability to speak things into existence. Pretty crazy, I know!

All this manifested itself in a "Peace Corps 50th Anniversary" event that I lead and coordinated. To provide background, I have been working with a group of fishermen's wives who were participating in a Temp Empoyment Program (PET) cleaning up the surrounding Mangrove forests. To complement the PET program, I was asked to incorporate Environmental Education workshops into the scheduled work times. We took the group from a Participatory Analysis (where they ID'd trash/pollution as a problem), to a series of environmental topics, and Sustainable Development. During the Sustainable Development meeting, we did an exercise where we posed the question: "what would make your neighborhood better?" They id'd short term & long term projects. We focused on the Short Term projects w/ the idea to get funding from Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary funds (funds I thought were at my disposal), and voted on a Basketball/Speed Soccer Court renovation.

Our vision for the BBall Court renovation is to encourage these women to continue to work together voluntarily AFTER the PET program ended (july 27th), to improve their environment (in terms of people/community & nature). Twelve women signed up for this project. The Court has an adjacent wall with graffiti, which gave me the idea to make a mural with Environmental Messages. The women spread the word in the Colonia and got neighbors and kids to get involved (aka volunteering).

The long-term vision for this group is to have them be "Promotores Ambientales." or Environmental Promotors. The last session I did with them we talked about Gender Equality, and linked their social participation as being key to bridge the gap between men & women's rights in society etc; it segued into a presentation on Promotores Ambientales, which is a way for them to participate in improving their community and benefit the environment.

So one fine Sunday I'm laying on the beach, and in my head the big picture I just described was clear, but what do I know of paint, painting murals or even basketball court lines or futbol rapido? Well, nothing really. So I'm walking off the beach when I meet a surfer that I find out is a muralist. He says he's done several murals around town and would love to help out. I invited him to our meeting later that week and he was "in"! In addition to advising on materials and the paint, primering the walls, and painting, he even donated and planted trees around the court.

Once we knew how much paint to order, we requested the funds to our PC 50th Anniversary Funds person. His reply email didn't give me the warm and fuzzy, rather it alarmed me, something to the effect of 'government austerity measures'. They didn't reply back for nearly two weeks, and I wasn't about to halt my planning efforts until I got a reply. I made the decision that the show must go on!

Meanwhile, I'm telling everyone about our BBall Renovation Project, assuring them what a great event it's going to be & that they should come and help us! We continued to meet with the ladies to delegate resposibilities and meet to do prep work cleaning the court.

We decided we should let the local government know what we are doing, 'even though they probably won't care' (b/c their term ends next month, so they're probably napping). I go, and tell them, and I meet a Dept Head who thinks it's a great idea, and tells me to make the official request via correspondence, and they will help buy paint. I do this, and while I'm writing a letter I decide to ask for more ingredients that we need for the Primer mixture...and it gets approved!! Absolutely more than I expected, and 100% of what I needed b/c we didn't have those materials accounted for in our budget.

The week before the event, the funds are approved & family pledges to help out. (we went overbudget almost by the exact amount pledged by my fam)

Event day:

Some fellow PC Volunteers and friends coincidentally schedule their visit the same weekend as the event (one of which just completed a mural of her own)!

After a rainy night, the sun pierces through the cloud cover and dries the court!

On our way to the court in the morning, I was commenting on how we need a Basketball; later that morning an American Ex-Pat stops by the court and donates a Basketball!

Adults, kids, youth, including local graffiti artists and the neighborhood futbol league come and help!

My counterpart, who was unexpected to come, came and cleared an overgrowth that resembled a jungle between the court and the road!
After a long day in the sun, It. Was. Done., or rather we were done. We didn't put the nets up (bball & court soccer). I also left a section of the wall and the left over paint so that the graffiti artists could paint it. I had my doubts whether such trust was a good decision, but from a comment from one of the ladies who I've been working with, I don't think they'll betray my trust. Besides, it's their court too and I want them to have ownership of it.

Acting on faith can be pretty nerve racking, but it is beautiful to see in action.

I would say that the best thing about this project was the people I met in preparation and during the event. I firmly believe people are always the most important element!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sea Turtles Are Delicious

It’s true what they say about ‘not knowing something until you have to teach it.’ I’ve been working with a group of fishermen’s wives doing workshops and activities, setting up a syllabus and session plans, and activities etc. Wearing the mantle of a teacher, ecologist (they were calling me ‘la ecologista’ for a while), and authority is fairly stressful. To compensate for the fact that I’m not really any of these titles, I organize, I create, I research, and I learn—and I evolve into a quasi- authority, a teacher, a facilitator, a student; I assert that having a Marine & Environmental Science degree does not make me a Marine Scientist nor an Environmental Scientist, rather I think it made me an environmentalist: I care.

I laugh at myself when I think that during Peace Corps training I freely admitted that I knew nothing about the Water Cycle. Now I proudly think to myself that I and 20 other women know about the Water Cycle, Watersheds, and how the impacts of pollution in one stage affects another…the world is interconnected. My dad would say that this world is a ‘zero sum game’, or in other words: benefits come at the expense of something else (plus one for you) + (minus one for them) = zero. I think these ladies are getting it! We made battery collection bins out of plastic jugs and delivered them to local stores/public places (because none of us would dare through a battery into the trash or a body of water, right?). Today, we talked about Sustainable Development and Community Development, and together picked a project/activity that would make their neighborhood a better place. We voted on renovating a basketball court for August! My fellow volunteer and I are going to request money from the Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary Event Fund for this project which is meant to promote volunteerism in our communities. This is a great first event, and I think it’ll be a promising and positive event.

I must mention that of all the things I’ve had to learn in order to impart a workshop/enviro-chat, I’ve most enjoyed learning about sea turtles! The following should be required viewing:

1) Sea Turtle Puppet Show- an amazingly well done puppet show that is captivating even/especially for adults. LOVED IT!

2) A Televisa Special Report (in Spanish) on Sea Turtles during the month of October in Ixtapilla, Jalisco MEX. MADE ME CRY, it was so heartwarming.

Basically, sea turtles are a 150 million year old species that take 15 year to reach maturity to nest, always returning to the beaches they were born on. Only about 5 little turtles of the 100 eggs a mother turtle will lay will make it back to nest. Those 5 little turtles have a big bad ocean to navigate through-- from drowning in shrimp fishermen’s nets, being caught by bated hooks, eating plastic bags that they mistake for jellyfish, or ingesting pollution (think oil spills, or mercury). Should they make it back after 15 years, will the lights of a new hotel disorient them, or will their eggs be harvested for sale? The eggs sell for 6 MEX Pesos (60 cents), and people love turtle soup here…though no one admits it. When I asked the ladies what they knew about turtles, besides the fact ‘that they were delicious’, I was beside myself with how much they knew! They say that they know it’s illegal and would not intentionally kill one, but once it’s dead it would be wasteful to not eat it…

A ‘State of the Ocean’ report put out last month forecasts that the sea life will be endangered by the end of the century if the world’s oceans are not given a Protected Status now. It said that the ocean’s plankton naturally absorbs CO2 (and give off O2 acting as lungs of the earth on the scale of the Amazon), and that an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere is causing an increase in the acidity (pH level) of the ocean water. This is affecting the ability of organizisms to make shells CaCO2 (b/c acid dissolves calcium carbonate). A small change like this can have a large change in ecosystems and food chains; for example, increased ocean acidity affects tetrapods’ shell, so if their populations decrease, so will the herring that feed on them; increased acidity causes ‘coral bleaching’, when the coral expels its hosts and dies, which would then mean that the marine life that depend on the corals for feeding, breeding & protection would lose their habitat, not to mention the economic impacts.
After a month and a half here in my new site, I’m so much further along than I was in my previous site in terms of work. In terms of personal relationships/friendships, I will say that it was easier to know people back in the ‘rancho’. People here are just as nice, but I can’t just waltz in to their home and expect them to know who I am...not yet anyway. I would say that my closest friendship is my host-mom, who is admirable in so many ways. Work hours: I didn’t really see myself having workhours in the Peace Corps, but I do. My goal is to make it out to the beach after work as much as possible (this week I only did it once)…diving into the waves and watching the sunset on the beach on a routine basis…nice. I haven’t been waking up for a morning run on the beach anymore…but to know that I can…nice too.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Call Me Lucky

I am so grateful to my friends for your kind words and support IRT my last blog...it was VERY MEANINGFUL to me. My last blog was part of the Mourning Process of leaving a place I called home and a people I called family. Viewing it as a process, it came to an end upon my arrival to my new Volunteer Site.

I did not feel the wind, or smell the salt air. I only stood there staring...* I remember having a big smile on my face as we descended a windy mountain road going down through mangrove forests, with palm trees jetting out of the hill sides and in the distance of the beaches...my new home. It's a fishing town that has seasonal tourism, and a lot of historical and natural beauty...and along with that, a lot of socio-environmental challenges. The humidity, the heat, and the mosquitoes abound, but you get used to it too.

I have a great new family-they are so funny and easy to talk to! They helped me scope out an apartment & I've already started working with a group of fisherman's wives doing a Participatory Analysis, with which to base further environmental education activities.

It seems I'm off to a good start here. It makes me smile to think that this is exactly where I am meant to be, by the mere fact that I physically can't be anywhere else...it serves as a reaffirmation that prayer is powerful!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mission Incomplete: Removed from my volunteer site

I had grown comfortable in Gogorron. From where I stand, I look back on the last six months with great fondness to have lived and bonded with people there. At times it was challenging, other times awkward, uncomfortable, a waste of time, frustrating, daunting, and still most of the time it was fun, meaningful, emotionally charged, and fulfilling. I have regrets too though.

I was starting to become complacent. I had enough time on my hands to ask myself whether I wanted to be here in Mexico or not. I was starting to feel sad. Maybe it was because of my birthday. At the same time, everything was starting to come together and our projects were starting to take form. I used to joke around with my host mom that I hadn’t done anything meaningful yet because I hadn’t built any bridges (referring to something tangible).

On May 18th Christian and I were removed from our site temporarily after Christian reported two incidents that allegedly happened involving the Zetas (ruthless drug cartel) and a kidnapping in our community. On May 18th my SWATCH watch stopped working too, so maybe time was up. It was obvious by the next day that we wouldn’t be going back. The numbness, the shock and sadness started hitting. The sadness of leaving my friends behind makes my stomach hurt. Before leaving I told my host mom, that out of all the bridges that I could have built, the most meaningful bridges were the friendships and relationships I had already built, and I thanked her for being a friend.

Surprisingly, the one friendship that I thought would survive time, distance, and misunderstandings seems to have ended immediately: the friendship with my counter-part. She went out of her way in all instances, to help us adjust to our new life, and she made us a part of her life and family. I admire her, and fear that one anxiety I had of letting her down has come true. She had an evolution of feelings of her own since we were removed from our site, from ‘ni modo’ [Eng: oh well], to sadness and crying together, to anger. The tragedy of this situation is that our reaction to unsubstantiated report of a kidnapping (which did not take place at all) resulted is us being removed from our volunteer-site, leaving behind a community that was starting to organize and become empowered, and leaving our counterpart abruptly with pending projects & expectations , ultimately resulting in a nightmare for her. This being said, I understand her frustration, channelized as anger.

I packed my things, and said good-bye to my special and close friends, because I couldn’t have bared to to say good-bye to everyone. There was a special meeting held in the community for our bosses to explain how the decision to remove us from the community was taken etc, and I got to address them. I addressed them for approx 45 seconds, because that was all I could bare. I said that I was leaving with great pain in my heart, that I learned a lot from them and about myself, and I thanked them for being a part of my life.

A much more pleasant surprise was having some community leaders buy me a cake right before I left and we ate it in my host family’s home; the little kids in the family sang las maƱanitas. It was the sweetest gesture, and what makes me believe they appreciated me as much as I appreciated them. When I left the community, I had cried so much for so long that my head hurt, and I felt nauseous…I was emotionally exhausted and literally sick.

As I said, I have regrets about some things I did or failed to do in the last six months, and now I have time to reflect, and to commit to doing things differently in the next place they send us.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Legendary Earth Day Event

I’ve been told my blogposts are a little long, so I won’t go into too much depth about what’s been going on in the last couple of months. If I had to use a metaphor to describe my experience, it would be this: Like when I was learning to drive a stick-shift, and I finally get into first gear, but I’m so thrilled or scared that the car is moving, that I don’t know what to do next.

Yada, yada, yada, I finally shift into second!

Lately I’ve been busier than I care to be, but a sense of accomplishment does feel nice. Two weeks ago I had two positive events come to fruition:

1) My first Environmental Education session with students from the Secundaria (middle school). It was the first one that I actually organized and planned. It was really cool because I took it from the very beginning with a story that presented the kids with a moral dilemma. Yesterday I found this quote by Baba Dioum that says ¨in the end, we conserve what we love, we love what we understand, and we understand what we are taught.¨ Essentially, our values have a direct impact on how we act, and our actions have direct and indirect impacts on our environment-so that was my ´learning objective´. It was a simple yet important place to start I think.

I was backed up by my counter-part Gaby, who mostly has traits I admire, for example she is as sharp as whip and thinks on her toes and is a great public speaker. My friend Christian, who’s another PCV was there to help out, and his presence was very welcomed. We basically worked as one finely tuned machine.

2) On the 15th I organized an Earth Day Clean-up of the river-bank which is used as a dump. It basically involved an entire primary school (approx 240), where the 4th-6th grades went out to the river, while the 1st-3rd grades stayed indoors and where ran through a circuit of environmental activities. I invited 15 kids from the middle school, 30 employees from the nearby G.M. factory, the Ecology Department from the Municipality, and about 30 women from the community. They picked up the trash and separated it (plastic bottles, glass, aluminum, and paper etc). In Mexico, glass is not recycled because it has a low value…so we filled an entire trash bin (those really big ones) full of glass…like beer bottles & Nescafe bottles (much to my dismay, mostly everyone here drinks soluble coffee…like, I had to sow my own coffee filter out of cheese cloth so i could have brewed coffee). Anyway, after about an hour we retreated from the mid-day sun. We then invited everyone who participated into the Hacienda’s gardens to feast on sandwiches and Mole con Arroz (come to Mexico and you will find out what a special meal this is) under the grassy shade (which is very UNCOMMON in this town). I had arranged for the guy who owns a radio station to blast music while we all ate. Kids played and a good time was had by all. I was so blessed that it all turned out fine, and that no one got hurt. Honestly, it took a LOT of coordinating, and ‘riding herd’ on people. I did everything I could do to prepare, and despite a few hiccups, it was amazing by American standards. People were asking me when the next clean-up would be, and asking me about other projects like renovating the Basketball courts. It really inspired people in this dysfunctional little town where the film Zorro was shot…so even though I really don’t like organizing events, it was totally worth it!

And so, I simply could not have made this any shorter, even without parenthetical clauses.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

New Frontiers

December flew by. I was still getting used to being in a new community, living with a new family, and experiencing ALL the Mexican traditions.

December 12th is the celebration of the Virgin Guadalupe. Everyone attends ‘velacciones,’ which is like a small prayer group and say the Rosary, for the previous 40 days, and on the 12th they eat tamales and ‘atole’ (a corn based drink of different flavors like peacan, cinnamon, vanilla, strawberry, chocolate etc). On the 18th the Posadas start; this entails more ‘velacciones’ except with different chants and the it’s where the people reenact Joseph & Mary trying to find lodging for the night when Jesus is born. At the end of every ‘velaccion’ cookies and candy is given out (I think tamales were given at some of them). They have a tradition where they build mangers full of little replicas of the Mary, Joseph & the three Kings. Before Christmas, they ‘acostar el nin~o Dios’/lay baby Jesus down to sleep; this is where they have little baby dolls and they through a big party with tamales, candies, cookies, rice, mole etc and they have people rock the multiple babes to sleep and cover in waddling clothes. They lay the babes down to sleep before Christmas. At an indeterminate time after Christmas, they ‘leventar el nin~o Dios’/raise baby Jesus. More of the same except in reverse order. My host family is religious so they hosted some pretty big parties, and they have a large extended family so it felt like we always had a party to go. Yada, Yada, Yada, I think I gained five pounds.

Christmas Eve we had one of these really big parties in the afternoon. In the evening, I was hornswoggled into participating in a parade dressed up as the Virgin Mary. This is a contentious subject for me, because I really didn’t want to do it. The people I work with at the municipality were in charge of putting together one of the floats, they asked me and my fellow volunteer if we wanted to participate. We agreed that we did not want to dress up and spend our Christmas Eve being paraded around town. They badgered me until I gave in (but in exchanged, I asked for 6 concert tickets to the dance—which they said they would give me). We were told it would take less than an hour, but it really ended up taking nearly four hours. I was really upset (them for lying to me & at myself for being dumb enough to give in), but then what really urked me was having discovered that the heavy Little Baby Jesus I was carrying on my lap for the last four hours had peed me!

Christmas morning was different in a sad sort of way. No other way to describe it. That night I went with one of my host-sisters and some friends to the Dance/concert. It was actually really cool; I learned how to dance the latest Mexican Dance: hy-fy. It’s mre complicated than it looks, but it’s a simple foot move in a circle, which can get complicated depending on how good of a dancer you are. It can also be danced in place, which looks more like jumping in a rave. It was a 3AM night. *I definately feel like I lost sight on the real meaning of Christmas this year.

New Years was fun. I stayed in my community and chilled with the host family. I ended up going to bed at 6AM (which was a first for me).

The search for a house started after the new year. I’ve seen four or five, and I believe that I have the incredible fortune of finding a centrally located, fully furnished home that resembles a hacienda in style. It has four rooms not interconnected; one room is a kitchen with plumbing, full gas range, large fridge, china cabinet with all the kitchen utensils AND a chimney for cooking; bathroom includes a Washer/Dryer; bedrooms includes all the furnishings like TV, a large stereo, and a couch etc. The patio has a gigantic palm tree and lots of potted plants and vegetation—which is a premium considering I live in a dessert town. I have not gotten Peace Corps approval to move in, but I hope they approve it.
After being in-site for approx two months, my fellow volunteer and I had our first community meeting. We explained the meaning of Sustainable Development, then went into a participatory analysis exercise where we split the crowd into three groups (men, women, and youth) and asked them to draw their ideal community, identifying three important community-level concerns. We were half-way through the prioritization when this very disruptive old lady hi-jacked my meeting. She disagreed with the priority of one of the issues, and was going back and forth with another gentleman. I saw that we weren’t going to get anywhere, so I was trying to end the meeting, and she kept on talking. I was trying to take control of my meeting while not being disrespectful to this old lady; it was very tough to manage. Afterwards, I was exhausted. The next day I found out that this lady is a ‘boat-rocker’ and the person she was bickering with in my meeting was from her opposing political party…basically they were using my meeting to debate and complain about broken political promises etc. In the end, no irreparable damage was sustained, and I think we can continue to work on community development. A victory from that meeting was that the community’s trash problem was identified and given first priority! This is great, so I can start on getting people organized.

Ideally, I will be able to get 5-7 committed community members to participate in a council to help solve the trash problem. I hope that we can get the municipality’s support to have trash bins placed in the community and have it scheduled for pick up one or twice a month. Also, promoting recycling and trash clean-ups.

Last week I also started teaching English & it was challenging. On one day I had young kids (<9>
I look forward to reporting my challenges and successes.
p.s. I started this blog nearly a year ago & I reread my first posting, and it's amazing what a difference a year makes. Despite the lack of exclamation points (which I tend to overuse) in this entry, I must say I'm really happy to be here.