Posted by: frederickschick | April 27, 2010

Culmination

Here I am sitting in the FCAE office for my last official day. I bought my plane ticket from Bogota to New York earlier which brings reality into motion. These extra two weeks of “work” were important for me to see some kind of outcome to this experience with the Awá. Everything turned out great and eventhough I leave with a feeling that I could have done much more had I been imposed less restructions I should be satisfied with what I did here. I gave the artisan group one last push with new brochures and labels as well as a new strategy to pilot a 6 month weekly sale at the legendary Otavalo market.

The most amazing day which culminated my two years of work here was on saturday 24th of april when all my closest friends and I were at the Baboso community for one last workshop at the school garden and my farewell. Edwin, Monica C., Mauro, Silvio, Monica A. and Monica L. (so many Monicas!!!) and I. Edwin drove us there in his 1970 Ford truck so I took advantage and sold my bed and fridge for dirt cheap to the Baboso teacher which also paid for the pig to feed us all. We arrived to the community on Friday so that Edwin could have a look at the greenhouse and have time to rest after the hour walk. He’s put in quite a lot of weight and had a bad ankle so I felt it was important to give us that extra time.

I was gutted when we arrived to the Bocana where the Lita river meets the Mira river. It used to be  surrounded by the most beautiful and lushious forest. When I was still living in Lita they were building a strong bridge over the Mira river for cars to pass. Now that it is complete they have started to build a road that has consumed an entire mountain. The forest is gone instead all you see is dirt mud and the bulldozers working at it. Everyone in the community has been asking for it. This is development for them. The way I see it instead of walking through their traditional paths through the mountain protected from the sun and rain by the trees they will be walking on this road exposed to the elements. The Baboso community has been going through a difficult period as most families were told to relocate because the ground was unsafe and that their houses could collapse at any time. They therefore built a kind of refugee camp outside the community and have been dealing with the authorities to find a solution to their predicament. The teacher Manuel and I had written a proposal to purshase 10 hectares of land next to the community that belongs to a rich entrepreneur who refuses to sell. It seems like the authorities are on the community’s side and will probably expropiate the land so that the families could resettle and start over not far from their original land.

It was in this context that we came in. They were obviously tired of meetings and community work and Edwin felt it. He gave a great presentation on organic agriculture and greenhouses however which was very participative and dynamic. I insisted that he added a practical piece to the workshop so after a break we went to the greenhouse where all the tomato plants had died and started over on one row. I think that the most active listeners really got something out of this workshop and I hope it will yield good results. Later we had lunch and the pig was served in a stew. It was quite good and I think everybody was happy and well fed. The president of Baboso don Victor then invited us to the community meeting to thank me for my service and friendship. When I was asked to speak I naturally felt very emotional and almost cried as I did in La Union but managed to control myself this time.

Manuel also saved me by intervening right when I was on the brink. He was truly thankful for everything I did or at least tried to do: the environmental education and english classes as well as my participation in various community work. We had many ideas for projects we could initiate in Baboso and we were both frustrated my the circumstances that cut out ambitions short. I then shook everybody’s hand and  left Baboso with a peaceful feeling. It was great to find Edwin’s truck waiting for us at the Bocana and we were quickly back in Ibarra. It’s been a while since Edwin and I had talked about doing such a workshop and he kelpt on telling me he wished he had come earlier. The problem is that once we built the greenhouse I had to leave Lita for good and couldn’t follow up on the project.

I now have to vacate my apartment. I will get rid of all my stuff tomorrow and pack the rest as lightly as possible before I head out to Colombia. My time in Ecuador is coming to an end and I will leave this land with great sadness. I am not particularly excited about any next move. I certainly look forward to seeing family and friends again but in terms of my life I think it won’t be easy to feel as happy as I’ve been here and have the same peace of mind. I’ve been surrounded by such amazing people here who have taught me so much. My only certainty  is that I will come back to Ecuador to visit them and if given the opportunity to work and live here again.

Thanks to all of you who have followed me through this blog. This is my check-out. No more to be said. No more to be done.

¡Aishtaish apu!

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Posted by: frederickschick | April 18, 2010

Close of Service

I’m officially an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) as of Friday, April 16th eventhough I haven’t “returned” anywhere yet. I’m planning on sticking around a wee bit longer to wrap things up with the Awá; stuff I couldn’t do as long as I was under Peace Corps’ watch. My other motivation to stay longer is simply because I want to have time to give proper good-byes to all my friends and prepare my travel plans through Colombia next month. I’m glad I completed my contract with Peace Corps. It’s always been very important to me to finish whatever I start no matter how hard it gets.

The COS process was pretty smooth. It requires a full day to get all the paperwork sorted out and go after all the signatures from key people in the office. The best part is certainly the exit interview with the Country Director. There have been 6 different directors during my service either permanent or temporary ones, and I must say that the current director gives me much hope for the PC Ecuador program. It is really refreshing to be able to express yourself to a reasonable, understanding and compassionate person. It was important for me to leave in peace with the institution and I felt that way coming out of this interview.

There were a few volunteers from my omnibus in Quito. Most had COSed earlier and a couple of them are extending. I’m planning on travelling with some Peace Corps buddies in Colombia before heading to the States to visit my family. As far as job search goes, I’ve sent a few applications out but must start being more aggressive and proactive if I want to find something quickly. I want to continue my international development work whether in Latin America, Africa or Asia. I would not be thrllled to live in a rich industrialized country again but given the current situation, I can’t afford to turn any good offers down.

This therefore not my last post in this blog as I have some unfinished business with the Awá particularly the Baboso community and the artisan group.

Posted by: frederickschick | April 6, 2010

Semana Santa y Despedidas

These past few weeks have been full of goodbye parties, dealing with nonsense at work and feeling rising pressure for this upcoming transition period in my life. I have been procrastinating in my job hunt only responding to four offers so far yielding nothing so far. If I don’t get my act together soon I might find myself out of a job until september. That said I would not waste my time lamenting myself but rather take advantage of this “free” time to go back to europe for a much needed friends & family visit. My good non peace corps gringo buddy who got married with an ecuadorian girl went back to the States and I got to see him quite a lot his last week here. We had some good times together but did not see each other that much over the past two years especially while I was living in Lita and he suddenly got married. With my mounting frustration with the Awá Federation office I took the freedom to go with my buddy to the Peguche waterfalls next to Otavalo and making a late appearance at work. He wanted to go fishing to the San Marco lake but we were too underprepared for that so we opted for the easy close-by excursion. I had never been to Peguche and was impressed by the site which has been well developed for tourism without hindering its intergrity.

Later that week was my omnibus 99 north squad despedida party and welcome of the 103 group. Perhaps I had a bit too much fun there as I got emotional to see so many great friends together at once. Some of the new volunteers must think I’m a bit eccentric and will probably blame it on my frenchness. My good sicilian friend Mauro showed up at that party which contributed to my european side to reveal itself more. I felt bad for the party hosts who are quite formal and politically correct. It was a great night however and I apologized to the few people I might have offended the next day…no harm done. The following week I made it clear that I would no longer support the Federation with any proposal writing. The natural resources coordinator asked me to help her but I told her I was busy designing a new brochure for Awá handicrafts. They let me down during the USAID proposal writing which clearly demotivates me to continue supporting them. It might sound immature or even unprofessional but with my imminent close of service they need to get used to not having me around.

Then semana santa came along so I visited my ecuadorian family in Tabacundo for a couple days helping them out on the farm. Edwin confirmed that he would come to Baboso with me end of april for my last day of work with the Awá and in Ecuador for that matter. Many other friends are coming which should make it an amazing although eclectic minga. After that quick visit to Tabacundo me and Mauro went to Guayaquil and the southern coast. I had never been there in my 26 months living in Ecuador and it would have been a shame to leave the country withouy checking out its most important city. I only stayed two days there and one on the beach but it gave me a good feel for the place whcih is radically different from the rest of Ecuadorian cities. Guayaquil is very neo-liberal and commercial. Surely it os the most important harbor of the country so it has access to many more products that other areas. The most strinking aspect of the city is the super expensive work of the art malecon that they inaugurated in 2000. This project cost over $100 million. Many parts of the city still don’t have roads or clean water and it seems odd that they would invest all this money to give the false image of prosperity.

The people love it though. They might have lousy schools and hospital and very dangerous barrios. The malecon is the pride of the city. Mauro had several local friends so we got a chance to discuss different issues regarding the city and how they only seem to invest in the rich minority. The girls we were with were obvious beneficiaries of the local political system and praised the mayor for his work. I wish I had more time to visit the real Guayaquil but it is a very dangerous city and you have to know where you are going.  The beach was beautiful and extremely relaxing. It wasn’t as busy as I feared mainly because the new school year was about to start which forced coastal families to save money.  I was looking forward to a tranquilo time in the sun and I got what I was looking for. In two weeks my Peace Corps service officially ends so I am wrapping up everything I need to do before then. A lot of paperwork is waiting for me in Quito and I want it to go as smootly as possible.

Posted by: frederickschick | March 22, 2010

Wrapping up

With only two full weeks of work left in my contract with the Awá Federation, I am taking on less and less responsibility.  Since leaving Lita and working permanently in the office, I’ve mainly focused my energy on proposal writing. There are certainly a lot more to do in that area but it would make no sense for me to participate in these endeavours, and much less to lead these processes. Furthermore I have been gutted by a recent news from USAID that informed us that they would not consider the latest proposal we sent to them regarding water conservation because they received the hard-copy an hour late of the deadline. I had led this entire project for over two weeks and felt a mixtrure of anger and disapointment when I heard about this. This is obviously the FCAE’s fault and the lousy courrier service in Ecuador but no matter who’s to blame, there is nothing more insulting than to have one’s hard work being dismissed for such idiotic mistakes. The proposal was sealed and done a day before the deadline. I had done everything I could do but that wasn’t enough. I told the Awá president that they could no longer count on me on writing proposals in a calm and diplomatic way. I told him that I would focus my last days at work on artisan marketing products and helping out the Baboso community.

We are still waiting on the verdict for another proposal I have written and submitted to the Ministry of Culture to produce a CD of traditional Awá music. We should be getting there answer at the end of the week. It would be sweet to end my service on a positive note to help erase this extremely frustrating experience. I think I reacted very professionally though without getting mad or pointing fingers at anybody. There was no use and it would have been counter-productive. My social life has been good since I’m a single man again which also helped me cope with the stress. Ibarra is a great place to go out with lots of beautiful women and cool new bars and clubs popping up every week. Anticipated nostalgia has kicked in and I suddenly wonder if I really want to leave Ecuador. I made so many amazing friends here and have such a chill life, I feel no need to throw myself into a new reality. It’s strange how this always happens: when we end up intergrating fully in a new lifestyle and build a good social web, it’s time to leave. After leaving Barcelona, I think this will be the second most painful move in my life.

I have applied for a few jobs, been turned down by one already and rightfully so. The job was in Madagascar, a country I have never set foot on. Most jobs I apply to are in Africa and I am also doing the application process for the UN Volunteer program. I feel it would be the best next step for me to get a solid experience on the African continent and discover once again new fascinating cultures. Working with the Awá has been invaluable and helped me see the international development world through new eyes. It’s a much more realistic view, sometimes even a bit cynical but one that will help me work effectively in the field. Working with the Peace Corps also taught me valuable lessons and despite the difference I have had with some of my colleagues I truly believe that this program is one of the most effective development strategy. We all know how slow projects are to start showing tangible results especially changes in attitude or behaviour. Some may say that 2 years is not enough which motivates several volunteer’s to extend their service. Working in education is simply planting seeds in the heads on our students hoping that they will germinate and produce good fruit. Speaking with teh Baboso teacher this morning gave hope. They are movinjg ahead with the school garden and the tomatoes are growing well despite having some problems with worms. I am planning on going back to the community before leaving the country and giving them one final practical workshop with the help on my Ecua-dad Edwin. That would be a truly remarkable last touch to my time in Ecuador.

Posted by: frederickschick | March 5, 2010

Emotional trial

Saying goodbyes have always been difficult for me no matter how often I have had to move on with my life after incredible experiences just like this one. Although I still have over a month left in my service I feel that this painful process of rupture has already begun. I clearly broke down in tears at the last Awá Assembly in La Unión which marked the early signs of the inevitable departure. These past weeks have been challenging as I already feel nostalgic walking the streets of Ibarra and feel closer everydays to the many friends I have made in Ecuador. My colleagues at the Awá Federation have shown a lot of support and I feel now more than ever before how much they care for me and value the work I have been doing for them. The Awá don’t usually express their gratitude as I have mentioned several times before but I certainly feel it now. They want to take advantage of every chance that they have left to put me to good use before the closure of my contract with the Peace Corps on April 16th. The two coordinators are particularlt getting desperate as many proposals are due this month and the next one and I will unfortunately have to leave the office to take care of paperwork and other medical check-ups in Quito not to mention the Easter break. I will do my best to help out until my last day on payroll and then do some community work before beginning my journey up north.

The successful completion of a Peace Corps service requires much emotional support to help us get over the hurdles and gather the strength to move on from stressful moments. In my case the key was a woman who has been my friend and companion throughout my service. She has taken me with her the first time I visited the Baboso community and helped me integrate in the Awá world. I have never mentionned the important role that Monica has had in my life these past two years but I feel that this story would be a false one if I ommited this fundamental fact. Our relationship has deteriorated these past months beacause of the pressure of the end of service so I decided to put it to an end. We weren’t building anything but rather destroying what we had left. Friendship is the most sacred of relationships and I hope that we will be able to save it. Despite the fact that we are both adult, mature and intelligent people, it’s been emotionally challenging to adjust. Edwin, Mauro and my closest colleagues at the FCAE have given me amazing support and I am extremely grateful to have such incredible friends. Without a doubt friends for life.

I have to watch out for myself as a free man is a dangerous man. No matter how smart you think you are, we are capable of doing very stupid things. I’ve just been collecting my thought figuring out all the people I must give my farewell to before I leave the country. That goes for all my colleagues and Awá friends of course but also all the business owners and aquaintances I have made along the way. Saying goodbye is important and although I am probably not going to throw a party, my buddies will certainly do something for me. I hate being on the spot but such is life.

Posted by: frederickschick | February 19, 2010

Water Focus

It has definitely been the theme of the month so far. Starting with the invitation by a Swiss NGO called Cielo Azul to give a series of workshops on water conservation and the benefits of dry latrines, I had a chance to investigate more on this vital resource and learn about technologies for water conservation. The workshops took place in a Kishwa community called Topo about 40 minutes from Otavalo. I was immediately impressed with the school there and all its resources. After working with the Awá education system for almost two years, I have become accustomed to very basic facilities. Multiple classrooms, a conference room with computer and projector, multiple dry and water latrines, a rain water harvesting tank, this school seemed to have more installations than the school I attended in France.

My contact at this Swiss NGO was my good Sicilian friend Mauro who used to work with me at the FCAE. I told him that I needed some community action, that the office was driving me crazy so he gave me this opportunity. I gave workshops to a total of 7 workshops to about 400 students from 3rd to 10th grade. It was a lot of fun for the most part and I was fascinated by the enthusiasm and hospitality of these young Kishwas. It is a radical change from working with the Awá who are extremely timid and reserved around foreigners. The Awá are obviously much more isolated living in their forest and therefore haven’t developed the social skills these Kishwa kids displayed. All of them greeted me and thanked me for the workshops including several teachers. This hardly ever happens with the Awá, they seldom show gratitud.

In fact, returning to the FCAE office, I was thrown back into the proposal writing process of a pretty big USAID grant. Since the request for applications was all in english, I lead this process and received very limited support for the rest of the staff. Two days before the deadline I finally presented the work in progress to the Awá president and his counsel. They approved the objectives and planned activities and helped me with details regarding logistics and picking which communities who would benefit from the different pieces of the project. The main focus is on water conservation and treatment to improve the health of Awá people and protect their territory from different sources of pollution, particularly from domestic and industrial contaminants. As always we manage to complete all the requested parts of the proposal right before the deadline after working late and naturally did not get a “thank you” for the effort. This typical of the Awá and I must admit it can get a bit frustrating as you feel used and not appreciated for your hard work.

This is even harder to cope with when you see most of the Awá leaders just hanging out in the office not being productive. They sit in meetings but hardly ever participate only the president and two of his counsel members ever speak. It all comes down to the motivation level: many Awá leaders don’t seem to be genuinely interested in helping their people improve their quality of life. This is why I miss working with the communities so much; there you can see the harsh reality of their lives and help them figure out solutions. The office is a cold, steril environment to work in; disconnected from te people and ideals you are working for.

Posted by: frederickschick | February 7, 2010

COS Conference

We started out with 43 trainees in the Omnibus 99 arriving in Quito exactly 2 years ago today. We ended up 29 at out “Close of Service” (COS) Conference last week. Most of the 15 volunteers who terminated their service early did so for health or family/personal reasons, very few left early because they found out that this experience was simply not for them. This omnibus 99 was packed with talented and devoted volunteers who did amazing work during their service. It was great to see the group again, many of them I only get to see during those Peace Corps get togethers.

The program of the conference mainly focused on all the paperwork that has to be submitted before officially wrapping up and most importantly on the post-Peace Corps life. We were all given a package with a bunch of career tips and had a chance to talk with a panel of RPCVs who had interesting experience transitioning into a new life. I learned about the UN Volunteer’s program that might be a good lead as I seek a new experience in an African country. However after discussing post-PC plans with my fellow volunteers I decided I was going to put the job search on hold and travel for a little while. We all deserve a break after 27 months in Ecuador.

My travel plans are to head north: Colombia, Venezuela, Panama and more for a month or so. In the meantime I would send applications here and theer but try not to stress too much about it. On the contrary, I hope to get a chance to kick back and reflect on these past two years and where I want to go from here. Anyways I still have a couple months to plan this out and finish my work here.

I’ve been extremely busy lately with the Baboso community solicitating my help to find funding to implement an intergral development project there in the areas of education, health, production and organization. The teacher Manuel Taicus came to my house and we worked together until early the next morning putting the proposal together. The community had done a great job brainstorming their needs and priority and apparently the authorities in the Carchi Province responded positively to their request.

A tragic incident occurred in Awá Federation as the FCAE’s president’s father died in a tree felling accident. Hannibal Nastacuaz was a very important and charismatic leader and the Awá people feel this terrible loss. The president is back at work though and is counting on me for several proposals. The FCAE hired a new social development coordinator but unfortunately he seems to be completely incompetent in addition of being rude and impolite. The general project coordinator they were supposed to hire finally turned down the offer because the salary was not enough for her. This is not the first time this happens: conditions must be made clear from the very start to avoid such situations.

Only two more months to deal with this crazy office situation. I miss community work and hope to get some action next week helping a small NGO operating from Otavalo. They asked me to faciliate three days of workshops on water conservation and the use of dry latrines to a Kishwa highschool in a community 40 minutes out of Otavalo. This should be fun.

Posted by: frederickschick | January 27, 2010

Office blues

It’s amazing how little one can actually get done in an office. I mean tangible things. It’s just a bunch of little things added up that sometimes sum up to something real but you never get a chance to see. If you are stuck in the office that is. My move to Lita in September 2008 was for a good reason. I just have to deal with the situation until the end of my service. I probably will give another shot at doing some community work again however. Persistence has paid off in the past and I’m sure I could find reasonable arguments to get back in the field where I belong.

The FCAE office was a depressing place this month. With no coordinators to work with I found myself litteraly staring at my computer wondering what to do with myself. I started looking for jobs but that gets me even more depressed. Reading all these job descriptions really get me down, I feel I don’t fit anywhere perfectly. That said the job market is very dry these days. Nevertheless I’ve had some decent days as well this month. Since I can no longer go to Awá communities, they have been coming to me. Baboso’s teacher and other community leaders asked me to help them put a proposal together to buy 10 hectares of land to resettle the education center to more stable grounds. I handed them a draft but am worried about their inadequate planning: they have absolutely no funds to actually make this transaction happen any time soon.

later in the month a commission from Palmira visited me in the office and asked me to put a proposal together to refurbish their education center. That sounded like a more reasonable project but the list of things they asked for was beyond that: giant speakers, microphone, footballs and volleyball nets…It sounded more like an Awá party project proposal than anything educational. Nevermind, I indulged them with their proposal and handed it in tofay for review. With my last competitive proposal being recently turned down by the ministry of culture, I was glad to be given another shot at it. I’d be thrilled to secure funding for a  decent development project before I officially COS.

Talking about COS, Omnibus 99 is having their conference next week. We are indeed almost at the symbolic “2 years in country” mark. I really look forward to see my PC buddies again. Most of them I only get to see during these official PC reunions. Apparently it will focus on our post-PC life so it should be interesting enough. In the meantime, I’ll try to get the best out of this FCAE office experience. They hired a new social development coordinator and another planning coordinator should join the team shortly. I also planned to do some community work with my good Sicilian friend Mauro who now works for a small NGO in Otavalo. That should give me some good fresh air and ideas. I desperately need inspiration.

Posted by: frederickschick | January 15, 2010

Redemption

I had a bit more time on my hands this past week as I fell ill. It wasn’t too serious but I was asked to go to Quito to do an X-ray of my chest. Luckily my lungs were not affected as I feared and I ended up just having a bad pharingitis and sinusitis. Anyways this gave me time to take a step back, slow down and think. Nothing too deep of course but just a bit of reflexion on what motivates people like me to do what we do. I come from a priviledged background, never lacked of anything, had a good education and got a chance to travel quite a lot. So much so that I believe I now have the travel bug (I have lived in six different countries so far). Travelling to poor countries have had a huge impact on how I see the world particularly the greed and lack of compassion of most men and the complete indifference and hypocrisy of world leaders. Understanding of history is another critical element that has shaped my worldview and motivated me to take action. Having been given so much during my upbringing, I felt it was time for me to give back. Part of it is motivated by a need for redemption for my ancestors and contemporary westerners who are utterly indifferent to the real cost of their comfortable lives. Now I don’t feel better than anybody else, I simply have strong principles and I couldn’t live with myself if I witnessed the state of the world worsening from my couch. The guilt factor has always fascinated me and I am sure that it drives many people to volunteer for NGOs or any social uplift program, especially among white people.

A post-Peace Corps life is right around the corner with just three more months of service ahead of me so revisiting my motivation is essential as I begin a new job search. When I applied to become a Peace Corps volunteer I thought that they would send me to west Africa since I am fluent in french. I am certainly not disappointed to have served in Ecuador, particularly with the Awá people, but I have always wanted to live and work in an African country. To be perfectly honest I think that Ecuador is pretty well developed and shouldn’t have so many volunteers. The life expectancy here is close to that of the US, the main roads are in good conditions and most ecuatorians have access to higher education. Only some indigenous people like the Awá still don’t have such opportunities and live in extreme poverty comparable to many African communities. I believe that Peace Corps volunteers have a much more significant impact working with such vulnerable and marginalized communities. However, since the technical assitance piece is only a third of the PC goals, other more priviledged part of the country could benefit more from the cultural piece. The major concern that should consistently be considered is how not to replace any Ecuadorian job whether working in the IT sector or helping a local NGO with their accounting.

We should also consider the expectations of our counterpart and if you do so you will realize that their main interest in receiving a volunteer is precisely to get technical assitance. A trained professional working for free is hard to refuse and many counterpart organization can’t resist the temptation to save a few bucks on personel. This is why identifying potential sites and counterparts for volunteers is such a fundamental part of any PC program. Now that I am back at my original office job and that I’m assigned to work on different grant proposals, I obviously feel used by my organization to fill personel gaps. The FCAE currently don’t have neither a social development coordinator nor a planning and monitoring coordinator. I was gutted when the FCAE president announced that they would not renew the social development coordinator’s contract since he’s been my direct counterpart in the office and has done so much during his year here. Most importantly he is a profesional Awá (there are very few of them) and is respected by the communities. Unfortunately for his outspoken behaviour often criticising management for suspicious allocation of funds and unequal treatment of staff, the president decided to let him go. The way I see it, this is the last year of his mandate and he will not run for a third reelection so he wishes not to be criticised by anybody in the office during his last year. Apparently these two vacancies will be filled next month, they will both have a steep learning curve.

Posted by: frederickschick | January 4, 2010

Back in the States

Many volunteers go back home several times during their service. It’s a normal thing to do and the best way to get back in touch with family and friends. Eventhough most of my family had visited me once here in Ecuador, I felt it was time for me to show up at this traditional family get together during christmas and new years. My sister couldn’t make it as she was was working during those key days but I still got a cha nce to talk to her and catch up on the latest events in her life. I hadn’t seen my brother for quite a while and I was glad to see how healthy and outgoing he had become. My dad lives in New York and it was identified as the most convenient location to get together. The weather was certainly cold but not nearly as bad as I was expecting with only one really harsh day. I love walking around the city and I had quite a few errands to take care of for friends in Ecuador.

We can only bring in one new laptop across customs so I had to disappoint many people who asked bring them one. In fact only one family benefited from my trip to the US and I’m a bit upset that I couldn’t help much closer friends who are more in need. After going to their wedding in Riobamba, this family just showed up at my place one evening with $1000 in cash and a christmas shopping list including a laptop. I simply followed the first come first served policy and it was a bit tricky to turn them down. Anyways I delivered everything they asked for and hope they will be satisfied with the products I brought them. Apart from doing their shopping I enjoyed my time with my family, had great food and wine and went to a few shows/events. The most significant one was a knicks vs. spurs game at the MSG. I’ve always been a spurs fan ever since David Robinson joined the team in 1989, they now happen to have the best French player of all time with Tony Parker who had a great game and helped the spurs win.

I wasn’t hit too hard by the reversed culture shock that often happens after living in a developing country for some time. What amazed me the most were all these fancy new electronic gadgets everybody seems to have. I love the ethnic diversity of the city, it certainly feels like an immigrant land. I went downtown one day to check out the progress on the new towers they are building at ground zero and was surprised at how little has been done some 8 years after the attack. I have never been a huge fan of NY and don’t think I’ll ever live there but it’s nice place to visit every once in a while just for the cultural life it holds. It might be my transitional ground depending on how fast I manage to get a job after my service. I am planning on starting applying for positions this month at international NGOs operating in developing countries particularly in Africa.

After new years day I returned to Ecuador and was picked up by Edwin and Monica. I spent my first night on the farm and they took me to natural thermal baths in Oyacachi in the Napo province just an hour away from Cayambe. It was a really nice and relaxing start to 2010, helping the girls build confidence swimming across the hot pools and getting some hot sun after a freezing NY holiday. Now I’m back at work with Awá Federation for my last four months of service. Right before going on vacation I squeezed in one last proposal that was submitted to the Ministry of Culture that aims at training youth in traditional Awá music and produce a CD and several concerts in Awá communities in order to revive this important cultural trait.

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