Thursday, May 8, 2014

We're on our Way!

Greetings Friends-
We're on our way to Chiapas in Southern Mexico to continue a program we started two years ago. We were planning to visit a number of small communities in conjunction with a Mexican non profit, Amextra. Unfortunately we had to leave early due to a family emergency. So now we're headed back to San Cristobal to give some workshops and meet with various community leaders and their families to discuss their issues with water and sanitation.
I'll try to give some updates as we go along and some pictures, it's going to be a great trip.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

First Days in Peru, 2013

Agua Pura was invited by another non profit, Health Bridges, to join them in their project in northern Peru where they provide health services. Their mission is to assist local health workers, doctors, dentists and others in modern medical techniques, ones that can be adapted locally. That sort of fits with our goal to teach water and sanitation techniques to community members. We are traveling with them on a three week trip, not only to Yungay in the north but also in Lima and in Arequipa, a big city in the south of the country.
The cool thing about going up to northern Peru, in the mountains, is that it’s where I was in the Peace Corps 50 years ago this year. I lived on the coast in a fishing town, Chimbote, but often took trips up to the Callejon de Huaylas, a beautiful mountain valley surrounded by peaks over 20 thousand feet high. This is a real trip down memory lane for me!
On Tuesday the first of October we flew from Portland to Lima via Atlanta. That was my first Delta flight in many years but I thought it was pretty nice. It seemed like a little more leg room and better food and service than we’ve experienced flying United/Continental to Panama. All the flights from the US arrive at about the same time and there is usually quite a jam up at the customs, but for whatever reason we caught a tail wind and arrived five minutes ahead of the crowd. We sailed through and our bags came off the luggage belts right away, so the whole process took less than a half hour. One of the Health Bridges staff came through the night before and it took two hours and he got hassled by customs carrying some of our stuff. Luckily he talked them out of paying customs import taxes.
We got picked up and taken to a Catholic formation house where guys studying to be priests live and work. No heat, no hot water and lumpy beds made us feel like we are also doing penance for something and need to work harder. It was quiet though and peaceful. Health Bridges pays to have their volunteers stay there, and has a warehouse in back to store supplies. There was supposed to be wifi but it wasn’t working so I had to borrow somebodies phone connection to send a quick message.
On Wednesday we went to two different communities around Lima to see some of their projects. One of their programs is to work with handicapped children, helping them navigate the Peruvian health system. A nurse visits each family regularly to check the health of the children and to advise the parents about things they can do for their child. The families live in very poor neighborhoods and have many challenges providing care, including clean water and sanitation. We talked with the families and I took water samples to be tested.
Lima is a huge city and really spread out. It’s geographically smaller than Mexico City, but the transportation system isn’t as good. Lima only has one elevated light rail line and a track for articulated buses, so there is tremendous car traffic. All the regular buses, colectivos, taxis are here and also thousands of three wheeled motos. As a consequence everything is chaos. I think the driving is worse and more dangerous than Mexico City for sure. Once our taxi cut a corner by driving through a gas station at 20 miles an hour, zig zaging through the pumps and scattering pedestrians on the sidewalk. Most of Thursday was spent shopping getting stuff for our presentations. We needed things like aluminum foil and white glue and stuff that you can buy in a supermarket. Harder to find are things like empty plastic buckets with lids for making school wash stations, and almost impossible are metal 5 gallon buckets. I used to find them easily but any more everything comes in plastic buckets. I did buy a few square metal cans but I think they may be a little small. We couldn’t find chimney pipe to make the inside of the stove, so I guess I’ll try to make that part out of some tin. To find all this stuff we had to go in all directions of the city, through the crazy traffic to different market areas for different things. It was a long tiring day getting all the stuff and bringing it home.
Friday though was a great day! We finally got hot water for showers and we gave our first workshop. I don’t have much control over my schedule, the workshop time and length kept changing. With the traffic we were late arriving so I felt rushed and sort of disorganized, but the participants seemed to appreciate it. The program was on how to make a families drinking water safe. The municipal water supply is contaminated so we demonstrated how to easily pasteurize it to kill harmful organisms. We demonstrated how to make a simple handwashing station without needing running water and talked about other sanitation and health issues. Normally a program like this would take several hours to go over everything, but we galloped through in about two hours and everyone was satisfied. They gave us a nice lunch as thanks and we went back to our place to prepare for the trip to Yungay.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Visit With The Wounaan People Of Panama

Greetings from the Darien!

My wife and I have just returned to Panama City from a short, intense trip to meet with a tribal group from deep in the Eastern region of the country, near the end of the road. It has been an amazing time, with many new experiences. I also feel that it was a very important and successful visit.
On Wednesday, we traveled by van to a Wounaan community called Puerto Lara, which is the site of the big Congress of the Wounaan people. The Wounaan people are a distinct tribal group, one of five or six in Panama, whose territory stretches from Eastern Panama into neighboring Columbia. It's a remote area with lots of problems, including drug smuggling and a safe haven for FARC guerrillas from Columbia. There is illegal logging and deforestation on Wounaan lands, and a general sense of lawlessness.
On top of all that, the drinking water supply is being contaminated by cattle ranching, and there is quite a lot of disease from the pollution. I was asked through a friend to come to Panama and talk with the communities about their water supply and perhaps plan a program to help them improve it. It has been a very short trip, more a meet and greet, but I was very impressed by several things. First the seriousness of their pollution, and second the determination of the people to take charge themselves and to deal with the problem.
Every two years the Wounaan hold a general meeting or Congress in one of their communities and all members are invited to attend. This year their were nearly 600 attendees, from about 20 other communities. Also attending were various Panamanian government agencies, big aid organizations, the Peace Corps – and me. I felt a little overwhelmed in the presence of so many dignitaries.
It was a very open and democratic atmosphere, with both men and women speaking and expressing strong opinions. There were computers and projectors and microphones, just as any well organized business meeting.

As invited guests we were expected to sit in the front row with the other dignitaries. Much of the discussion however was help in the Wounaan language, Wounmeo, which made for difficulty following the arguments at times, but occasionally we would get translation help into Spanish.
It was mostly a very formal situation,with a head table of leaders and the audience sitting on benches in front, but the attendees had no qualms about ripping into the leaders about problems. There were at least three overlapping organizations present: the Ninth National Congress of the Wounaan People; the Foundation for the Development of the Wounaan communities and the National Association of the Wounaan. Each has its own agenda and programs, and its own leadership structure. The foundation has a President and cabinet and constitution, and the Association is made up of chiefs (caciques) of each town and several layers of regional chiefs and head chiefs.
We saw one really nice example of participatory democracy, with the election of a new head of the Foundation. The two candidates each stood on a chair and their supporters voting for them stood in a line behind them. The two lines stretched for blocks as each candidates supporters tried to coax voters from the other line to switch sides. All tribal members, men and women twelve years and over were eligible. Then the two lines were very accurately counted and monitored and the winner declared. No secret ballots or under the counter deals, every voter stood proudly in a line, nearly 700 of them.

All the different organizations have an impressive amount of formal structure with bylaws and procedures. This is large part due to the presence of several large international aid organizations who are providing training on governance and effective leadership. Their effort has been in part to make the Wounaan more effective in dealing with their own Panamanian government. Some of the aid organizations working there are the Rain Forest Foundation whose goal is environmental protection and Native Futures who are working to help secure native land rights. The Wounaan have been officially recognized as a tribal group by the government and granted by law certain rights and resources, but basically the laws have been ignored by the Panamanian Government. Public education and health services are underfunded for them, and there are numerous human rights violations.
All the attendees either stayed with families there or camped out in the fields. The water supply of Puerto Lara was overwhelmed by the large number of persons at the meeting so there was little available for washing or cooking. We had brought bottled water but most people had to make due with whatever water there was. I did some testing and found that the community water was slightly contaminated, but probably no worse than other water they were drinking. The Congress provided all the food for the participants, cooking large tubs of rice and potatoes and meat over open fires in a sort of cook shelter, with everyone lining up with their plates for meals. The weather was hot and humid, a big difference from the freezing weather we left in Portland.
After the meetings in the late afternoon, the Congress sponsored a big soccer tournament between the different communities, both men's and women’s youth teams . The games were hotly contested and the different towns took great pride in wins. Also in the evenings were cultural events with traditional dancing and singing contests. My videos of the dances came out a little dark but it was interesting to see the same women who during the day were so smartly dressed and so expressive about their opinions dancing at night in their colorful traditional costumes. The dancers were in a contest where they were judged for the correctness and expressiveness of their dance moves. Both old and young women danced and competed in a generally friendly atmosphere. Men sang and danced as well, some dressed in their traditional loin cloth.

On Saturday I gave a short presentation about our work on water testing and water purification. I had been told that they would politely listen to my presentation and then think about it for a while, and if they were interested they would let me know. I must have struck a nerve however because the immediately wanted to talk more about water programs. They have been having a lit of trouble with their water in their different communities being contaminated and seeking solutions. I met with the leaders of the meeting a little later and they wanted to know if I could stay a few more weeks. I said I had to return home, but could come back around April 1st, if they wished. This would give me time to prepare supplies and a program and for them to organize and plan what they wanted to do.
There will be a lot to do, but by using the energy and organization of he community I think it will be a very satisfying job.
I usually only post to this blog when I'm traveling. If you want to follow our current activities you can check out Agua Pura's website

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Panama City, January 21, 2013

Greatings from Panama City! My wife Susan and I arrived last night on a flight from Houston. Traveling with us is our associate Dr. Mary Ann Westfall. It was through Mary Ann that we received an invitation to attend the 9th Congress of the Wounaan People here in Panama. Dr. Westfall is a medical doctor who has had long standing connections with the Wounaan. The Wounaan are one of several tribes that are trying to maintain their own tradional identity in the face of increasing pressure from modern Panama. Their issues include encroachment of cattle ranching and logging on their lands, also they are having increasing problems with contaminated drinking water. Today, Monday January 21, 2013, we visited several communities to where Wounaan people have migrated, near Panama City. As is always the case, they are at a disadvantage when it comes to jobs, housing, educational opportunities and government services. However, the Wounaan have banded together from necessity and created their own organizations to promote their interests. They have Wounaan lawyers who fight for property rights, Wounaan community centers where the people can get advice and services and residential facilities where families can stay when they have to come to the population centers for health or other reasons. Wounaan students can stay at educational boarding centers while they pursue secondary and higher educations. They have an active transcription program to write down the Wounaan language before it disappears, and to teach it to younger people who have lost it. Their goal is for youth to read and write in Wounaan. Those visits were very interesting and educational for us. The tribal communities have done a lot to help themselves, independent of the Panamanian government. The purpose of our visit is to meet with Wounaan community leaders and to discuss possible future programs that Agua Pura could undertake that would help them with their water problems. We traditionally give classes and workshops in accurate water testing, and also give demonstrations of simple methods that families can use to decontaminate their water. Susan often works with school children and families on hand washing and basic sanitation - the cheapest and most effective method of all to prevent disease! I am already testing water samples from two communities that had concerns. Tomorrow we will be visiting with some other Wounaan community leaders and discussing our programs, and also preparing to attend the Congress on Wednesday which will be held in a fairly remote community in Eastern Panama. We are taking our screen tent and camping gear. I believe there is electricity, but am not sure. We'll be there for 4 nights, and return to Panama City on Sunday afternoon. If I can, I'll try to post during the Congress, but if not then I give an update when we return. I'm posting a photo of myself and Dr. Westfall visiting with a Wounaan family she knew.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Agua Pura's Busy Month

Agua Pura has had a busy month. On September 15th we left for Mexico to start a three week program of workshops and community training programs in two different places. Our first week was spent with old and new friends at Tultitlan, near Mexico City. This is the site of a private garbage dump where community members work as recyclers and live on the property of the dump. Over the years working with different organizations we have become friends with many members of the community and have enjoyed following their progress.
For several days we gave small workshops to families and community members on topics such as basic hand washing procedures and sanitation. Susan Carter gave classes to the children in the community school and showed how to make simple hand washing stations using an empty liter coke bottle. It's interesting that the students in the school are divided up not by age but by families, so the older children help their younger brothers and sisters. Working together, each family made wash stations for their homes and at a presentation ceremony the mothers received a potted plant to be planted below the wash station and watered by it.
Director Tom Carter gave workshops during the week on how to build a solar reflecting stove and how to Pasteurize drinking water using the stoves. For once, the weather cooperated and all the families who made stoves for themselves were able to try them out and see that they worked. Gaudencio Cruz the program director there at Tultitlan is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable leader and eagerly helped with the workshops and promoted them in the community. Tom and Gaudencio also gave very popular workshops on building and using “rocket stoves” to cook on when the weather doesn't cooperate.
An interesting side note is that no one can assume that all the materials for a project will be readily available. The people living in this community at Tultitlan work as resource recyclers and so scrap materials such as cardboard and metal cans are valuable and not to be wasted or given away. Agua Pura purchased all the cardboard and other materials for its workshops from local families so some of the costs of the programs went back to the community.
On Friday of the first week Agua Pura gave a technical workshop on water testing to several Mexican non profit organizations. These groups have their own programs in various parts of the country and wanted the knowledge about accurate, inexpensive water testing procedures for their own work. Because of logistics and travel expenses the training program was condensed into one day, which made it more convenient and economical for the organizations to send more participants.
The workshop consisted of power point type presentations and hands on activities, setting up water samples for testing. Water pasteurization techniques were also shown and all participants received a WAPI pasteurization indicator. There were also discussions about the experiences and ideas that the various groups had had, so it was a very satisfying experience for all . Agua Pura likes to hold these programs in the local communities so that the learning experiences can be shared with the community members as well as the non profits.
The second week was spent in Southern Mexico, in Palenque, Chiapas, working at a new ecology training and demonstration center. The Mexican development organization, Amextra, is building this new center to aid local community members with training in improved, sustainable agricultural techniques as well as sanitation and clean water. Agua Pura helped again teach simple methods of hand washing and cooking using solar stoves and “rocket stoves”. Many local families cook on open fires on a raised, dirt covered table called a “fogon” or hearth. One interesting development was the use of the rocket stove principle, but building it directly in to the hearth, eliminating the outer container of the stove. We also gave a brief water testing workshop to several interested community groups, and left testing supplies for their use.
Finally, we spent our last few days in San Cristobal de las Casas, a colonial town in the highlands of Chiapas State. Although originally planned just as a stopover before returning from Mexico, while there we had several contacts and discussions about a spring workshop. The cultural museum, Na Bolom, has strong connections to some of the remote Mayan Communities and would be interested in hosting a program focused on their needs. Also, a local medical clinic that treats burn victims from open cooking fires would be interested in learning more about safer stove alternatives. Agua Pura would be able to train and supply organizations interested in helping these communities. More discussions are necessary but there is a good possibility of Agua Pura returning to Chiapas to provide a program this spring.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Our Palenque Work Week

Our Palenque work week started with a breakfast meeting with Edmundo Gomez Horta, the local coordinator for Amextra. He's tall, about the same size as me and has a long beard, very different from what I expected. He's also very intelligent and sort of philosophical, so he's great to talk to about anything, I really enjoyed him. He also speaks slowly and clearly, so I could easily understand him with my intermediate level Spanish.

Edmundo is the director and founder of a sort of demonstration farm and ecology center run by Amextra. It's on a piece of land a few miles outside of Palenque, with a stream running through it. Amextra is just starting to develop the land. Their plan includes various types of vegetable and fruit crops. The idea is to demonstrate to local people how to increase the crop yields. They are building greenhouses. They've started fish ponds to raise Tilapia and are planning to start raising chickens as soon as they can guard them from the coyotes. Edmundo really believes in permaculture and sustainable agricultural practices. They are also planting trees and doing stream side restoration.
Another part of their idea is to develop as a training and eco- tourist center with cabins and meeting areas and small shops where local artisans could work and sell their products. They were just starting to build cabins and latrines and other facilities when we were there, and improving the access road. It's really quite an ambitious project and Edmundo seems totally dedicated to it, I think he works seven days a week.
We arrived for the second week of a two week outdoor program for youth from various communities around the area. It was supposed to be a leadership training and development program for young adults. Because the facilities were still being developed the students were camping in tents and eating outdoors under a tarp. Volunteers from other organizations came to help with the camp and offer different programs.
Our plan was to teach sanitation and water purification in the mornings and then in the afternoon they would have leadership programs. They would also help with the farming and other projects as well. We had brought a lot of supplies with us for building solar and rocket type stoves and for demonstrating water pasteurization using the WAPI's. Unfortunately, many of the students who had been there for the first week before we arrived didn't return after the weekend. There were several problems, one of which was that some students got homesick. They came from small communities and tight knit families and it was perhaps the first time they had ever been away. Also it was a sacrifice for their families to have them gone for the week, instead of working and helping out. One of the girls was five months pregnant.
Talking to Edmundo we decided to go ahead with our program and just be flexible about the schedule. Some of the students who were still there were among the most dedicated, and also the staff of the camp and others there were interested in our project, so there would be enough participants to make it worthwhile. Edmundo was optimistic that he would have more participation in the future and could use the supplies we brought.
The camp was still pretty rough when we were there. On Monday, Susan took the opportunity to teach how to make simple hand washing items using a large plastic coke bottle and a bar of soap in the toe of a nylon stocking. She poked a few small holes in the side of the bottle so that when someone squeezes the bottle a little stream of water comes out to wash with. They can lather up with the soap bar through the stocking and then rinse off with the water. Susan even provided clean hand towels for drying hands after washing, rather than wiping them on their clothes. Everyone made wash stations to take home had seemed quite satisfied with them. In other workshops we have given out small potted plants and flowers to plant under the wash stations, so that washing hands waters the plant. We didn't in this case since most of the students come from areas where plants and flowers are abundant.
It was a bright sunny day so I set up my solar stove as a demo. It turned out that Edmundo also had a solar reflector stove, a metal one he bought somewhere that comes with an insulated glass cooking bowl. It's nice, and gets things hotter than my cardboard stove can, but costs about $100 dollars. It only took me about an hour to heat about a liter of water to pasteurization temperature. The demo went pretty well, and we agreed that we would make solar stoves the next day.
We got back to our hotel about 4, exhausted from the heat and humidity. There was very little shade at the camp and we poor Oregonians were melting. I agreed to go with Edmundo to look for cardboard for the stoves. That's the problem, it's easy to get enough cardboard for one or two stoves, 3 nice boxes for each is plenty, but if you want to make 8 or 10 stoves it's much harder. By the greatest luck, a super market nearby had a mountain of cartons that we plowed through and found many good ones. We had brought everything else including duct tape and aluminum foil, not knowing their availability. In Mexico that's not necessary any more, as even relatively small Palenque had a Walmart and a number of big super market type stores. The same goes for metal working supplies as there are well stocked hardware stores everywhere.
On Tuesday we brought out all the supplies for the stoves, Edmundo picked us up at our hotel at about 8:30 every morning. Tourism is way down and Susan and I were about the only gringos in the hotel, so the staff followed our activities closely. Plus we were leaving every morning clean and coming home dirty and sweaty which fascinated them.
I also took out my water testing supplies to test the camps system. I wasn't going to teach the students in the camp to test water, but to appreciate and understand the process and observe the results. They were drinking bottled water that comes in big water cooler jugs from the distributor that claims to have purified it, and no one was getting sick so I assume it was clean. However they were washing their dishes with water from nearby river and so I tested that water. They all watched me set up my tests and I told them about how it had to be incubated over night at body temperature by keeping it next to my body while I slept. It's an easy way to keep the sample warm at the right temperature, but they think it's funny to hilarious.
Susan and I then helped everyone make a solar stove. We had enough cardboard for about 6 stoves and plenty of duct tape and glue. I always say it looks like a 3rd grade art project with everyone down on the floor cutting and pasting. The box cutter knives are sort of dangerous, so I always have to warn everyone to be careful. What's fun is that all the stoves come out different, even though they are patterned on my stove. It usually takes about 2 or 3 hours to make them all and then we leave them to dry over night.
Wednesday was rocket stove day. It's funny what is available and what is not. In Palenque almost no one uses a metal chimney and the pipes and elbows are very difficult to find. Edmundo ended up taking apart his own barbeque at his house to get a section of 4 inch stove pipe. For some reason he had some 4 inch elbows and we ended up going to the market at buying someones 5 gallon garbage pail for 2 dollars. We also found a 5 gallon paint can so we had enough for two stoves.
I brought tin snips for cutting the tin with, but Edmundo looked at me in disgust and whipped out his machete and used it to cut perfect circles in the cans, much better than I could with the snips. He drove the tip of the machete through the metal then tapped the back of the blade with a hammer to push it forward. So much for my high tech tin snips.
Again it takes a couple of hours to make a stove with everybody participating. It had rained the night before and everything was wet and muddy. Edmundo found some wood ashes but they were pretty soggy. Normally dry ash insulates very well but I think the water in the ashes heated up and the outside of the stove got hotter than I expected. I think though over time as they use the stove it will dry out.
We completed one stove and fired it up. As usual a big flame shot out of the top which is always satisfying to the audience. I recommend keeping the other one open, without the ash, so that people can easily see how it is constructed.
We looked at the results of testing the river water and they turned out positive for E. Coli, with greater than 10 blue colonies on the Petrifilms and fluorescence in the Colilert tubes. This was a surprise for Edmundo as he had been using the river water to wash the dishes with. I suggested that they rinse the dishes in a dilute bleach solution after washing and then air dry them. That should kill any bacteria left on them. If the weather is rainy or something then they should dry the dishes with a clean towel.
Thursday was a split day for me. I came out to the camp in the morning with Edmundo, as he wanted to try out a new idea I suggested. It actually came from my workshop last year in Guatemala, that instead of putting a stove pipe elbow inside of a can and insulating it with wood ash, we could just bury the elbow in the dirt below the fire pit and use it directly. The Spanish word “fogon” translates as “hearth”. Their “fogon” is a low table covered with dirt that they build cooking fires on. The stove pipe and elbow would be buried in the dirt of the fogon so that the flame would come out right under the cooking area.
Edmundo loves new ideas and experimentation, so he immediately started working on a plan for this new stove.. Somewhere he found a piece of heavy gauge 4 inch pipe and we had another elbow left over from Wednesdays rocket stoves, so we started digging out a channel in the dirt of the fogon to hold the pipe. He cut a hole in the end of the table for the pipe and we installed it so that the rim of the elbow just stuck above the surface of the dirt. I wanted it high enough so that dirt wouldn't get in but not so high as to be dented or banged around. We put the three rocks back around the mouth of the elbow and lit the stove.
Some people say that they prefer the open fire because it provides some light and heat inside their homes, especially when it is cold. In a regular rocket stove the flame is enclosed and protected, some stoves even have an extra collar to contain the heat, so its mostly not visible. Our buried stove flame however shoots straight up and provides some light and heat as well.
I brought out some bleach to rinse the dishes in and set up a routine for the cooks to follow. They very thoroughly washed the dishes with the river water and then put them into the bleach water to soak for a few minutes. After that they took them out of the disinfecting solution and rinsed them off again in the river water to remove the bleach! I pointed that out to Edmundo who agreed that the cooks needed some more training. The next day I brought them a nice dish drainer for them to put the dishes in after the bleach soaking instead of putting them back in the contaminated water, or wiping with a dirty towel.
I caught a local collectivo on the highway and went back to town early that day as I was scheduled to give my workshop that evening in town for several different groups that were interested. Edmundo arranged it at the headquarters of Salud y Desarrollo Comunitario, a volunteer doctor group that operates a number of health clinics in rural communities. There also was a group Casa de la Mujer that focuses on helping women. It was a more informal program that evening as several people brought their wives and children. Edmundo's wife Mireya and son Esteban were there. I showed my power point program and taught everyone how to interpret the Petrifilms and Colilert tubes. I had some water samples including the water from the stream at the camp so we all set up specimens to be incubated. We also talked about how to pasteurize water and the various organisms killed at different temperatures, and I gave everyone a WAPI to take home and practice with.
I gave Edmundo the last of my Portable Microbiology Laboratory test kits and about 100 WAPI's, and put him in charge of distributing them as needed. Both other organizations said that they wanted to use the materials in their programs too, so I said that I would try and support whatever needs they had. Edmundo says that FedEx and some of the others are pretty good at delivering supplies to that area.
As with every project, when we are done it seems like we finished too soon and there was a lot more we could do if there was more time. We always talk about planning for next year and what new programs we could do. Edmundo is fully competent to give the programs himself and his wife Mireya and son Esteban are very sharp also, and so I've thought about bringing them along to programs in that area as a way to getting them started doing the workshops themselves. It's always been my goal to train and support other local people to carry on the programs and to work myself out of a job.
After a day Friday at the ruins at Palenque Susan and I traveled to San Cristobal de las Casas, a beautiful town in the mountains of Chiapas for three days before catching our flights back home. We stayed at Na Bolom, the former home of some famous anthropologists who lived and worked there for many years. Before they died they turned their home into a museum, with rooms for rent, and they serve family style meals as well. People with cultural ties and interests with the indigenous cultures often stay there so there are always different people to talk to. I also met again with Don Sergio Castro, a man in San Cristobal who has dedicated his life to treating burn victims among the indigenous people there. They cook over open fires and women and children constantly injure themselves. I showed him my solar stove and rocket stove as ways to help prevent burns and he was very interested in learning more. The people at Na Bolom also were open to perhaps having a workshop, so perhaps next spring we could have a program there in San Cristobal. That would be really fun.
So, who knows what next year will bring. We are grateful for the support of our friends and happy to have made connections with so many interesting and helpful new acquaintances Thanks for reading our blogs and keep in touch.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Saturday and Sunday

Saturday and Sunday, veinticuatro y veiticinco de septiembre
We were excited and relieved that our workshops during the week had gone well. There were so many factors involved in organizing it that it could have been a big bust, but with the help of Stephanie Sieveke at Amextra it came off pretty well. From her office telephone she coordinated the other participants and got them all to the Ibis Hotel on time. Speaking in Spanish over the telephone is still difficult for me, so I appreciated her time and effort to make the program a success.
The hotel Ibis is located in an industrial park next to a Home Depot and surrounded by freeways. There is a shopping mall next door, but that's about it. Susan and I were somewhat frustrated that we were “stuck” at the Ibis instead of downtown where we could have seen the sights. But without a car it was impossible to do much, and it was a $30 dollar taxi ride downtown.
We took some time in the morning to sort our stuff and get organized, and took a few clothing items to a fast laundry nearby who promised to have them done by 7:00 that evening. Actually it was okay because we needed the time to rearrange and pack, because we were leaving early the next morning. Also, it was the first day that we could sleep in a little and have breakfast. All week we had had to eat a banana in our room and run, because Gaudi would show up at 8:00.
In the afternoon we met Guadi and Ruthie and Luis and his wife Bere for an early dinner. There is a nice Posole place not too far that we've been to one other time. It was very pleasant to sit and talk for a while with them and talk about the various programs we have done together over the years. When we came back, we took some nice photos together that I'll send to them when we get home. We spent the rest of the evening resting and getting ready for the next leg of our trip.
On Sunday morning we left fairly early for the trip to the airport. The day before I mentioned to the door guard that we would be leaving and he said he would arrange for transportation. There is a taxi stand just across the street and I assumed he would call one of them. Instead, his friend pulled around the corner in his car and started loading our bags. He was nicely dressed and his car was clean and larger than many of the taxi's but it was a surprise and made me a little uncomfortable. I've read that people disappear there when taking an unmarked taxi, especially at night. This was Sunday morning and arranged by and in view of the hotel staff so I felt it was okay. He was nice guy and played his CD's for us on the trip to the airport and got us there in plenty of time, so it was a fair deal all around.
There was something wrong with our ticket on Aero Mexico and the agent had to fiddle with it for a while but finally gave us our boarding passes. Even in a big new automated airport like that, there was only one clerk who could take money for an excess baggage fee. Luckily we had plenty of time, though they changed our gate at the last minute from one side of the terminal to the other. Susan watches the monitors closely and spotted the change right away so we were able to get over to the correct gate.
The flight to Villa Hermosa was nice, the plane was not crowded so we could spread out a little and the Aero Mexico attendants were pleasant so it went very quickly and we arrived at the very small Villa Hermosa airport. When you get off the plane you are hit with a blast of warm humid air, very different from Mexico City. We definitely were in the tropics.
After picking up our bags we walked about 50 feet to the bus ticket counter and got tickets to Palenque. The buses leave directly from the airport and coordinate with the plane flights so we just walked out the door of the airport and got on the bus and took off, very convenient. It was a sort of mini bus but very nice and we had an enjoyable 2 hour trip to Palenque. We saw our hotel as we came into town, and were just a couple of blocks away from the bus station, but it was really hot and steamy and we opted to support the local economy and take a taxi to our hotel, the Hotel Maya Tulipanes.
The Maya Tulipanes is a nice enough tourist hotel with a swimming pool and a good restaurant. They are listed in the guide books as being sort of expensive, but with the fall in tourist business their rates are very reasonable. Tour groups come in and out almost every day, but we are here all week and so are sort of treated as special guests. The staff knows who we are and our food preferences and we get special attention. It's funny when we come strolling back in the afternoons covered in sweat and dirt and walk past the tour groups in their odd outfits, we get some strange looks for sure.
We got in on Sunday afternoon and planned to meet with our local coordinator, Edmundo Horta, but he was having all sorts of complications about his camp and so decided to wait till Monday morning to get organized with about what he wanted. We had a very tasty dinner and spent the evening getting ready for Mondays first day of work.