Scratching Our Heads and Stretching Our Brains

(Today's guest blog (two in a row, amazing I know) comes from Country Director Mark Hand. I think everyone's trying to de-stress me so I'll get the Seth Harlan interview up, and it's worked; it will be up tomorrow! In the meantime, enjoy Mark's insightful contemplations on educational games.)

"When we opened our library here at MPI-Ecuador, we had a handful of books, a couple of chess sets, and a second-hand Connect-Four. I've wanted to expand our educational games section for some time now, driven by the feeling that my own intellectual development had a lot to do with Mastermind and Memory.
Thanks to the McCallas, we've significantly expanded the number of games that make our heads hurt, with Blokus, Rush Hour and my personal favorite, SET. In my mind - given Ecuadorians' own acknowledgment that the educational system here discourages creative thinking - these games are one of the funnest ways for us to contribute to the development of the children at the MPI library.
If you'd like to contribute to our collection of educational games, please let us know! I've picked out a handful of games below that a) develop fine motor skills or critical thinking abilities; b) are durable and c) are either language-free or Spanish-based.

Apples to Apples para Niños
Memory (Dora the Explorer edition)
Memory (original)

Thanks, and really, you should all pick up Blockus next time you're at Target. It's awesome.

My Smallest Doctor

(Today's guest blog is from Mark Hand, who is currently in Quito with Dunc listening to a talk by President Carter...maybe I can squeeze another guest blog out of them about that!)

"On average, I kick back six rounds of antibiotics a year for sinus infections. If you've never had a sinus infection, it feels a lot like being held underwater and hit in the face with a rubber mallet at the same time, while somebody sucks out your life force.

One of the young girls who frequents the library these days is named Melani, and she noticed me snorting and sniffling the other day. "What's wrong with you, profe?" she asked, wrinkling her own nose.

"I've got gripe," I told her. Gripe, which is pronounced GREE-pay, can be applied to just about any mild sickness resembling a cold. It's a lot like the flu in Southern Africa. I didn't feel like explaining the intricacies of sinusitis to a nine year-old, so gripe worked just fine.

"You know what, profe? You should have tilo tea. We've got some at my house, you can come by and get it tonight. You put this much in water once it's boiling, let it sit, and it will cure you fast." At this, I asked Melani if she had ever considered being a doctor. Her eyes lit up, and she told me "Yes, profe! Since I was little!"

Melani and I spent the next thirty minutes in the health and wellness section of the library, she trying to explain pictures of hernias and scabies to me, I trying my best to be encouraging without actually having to look closely at any of them. Kind of reminded me of watching Animal Planet with my sister Minette growing up.

The tilo tea, which consisted of boiled flowers Melani pulled off of a bush in her front garden as she tried to set me up on a date with her shy older sister, didn't quite do the trick. I'm hoping the second round of antibiotics I got from a Chile-trained ENT in Quito will. Melani was disappointed that the tea didn't work, but agreed that antibiotics were a good next step.


Interview a PD: Mark Hand

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions via email for our first PD interview with country director Mark Hand!

The first half is filmed in the art studio; if you look through the window behind Mark you can see the back side of the library stacks! Apologies for any background noise, most of it is little kids reading and talking in the library (although some of it is the crazy bird who lives in the tree just outside the studio).

The second half is filmed in our living room in the Manna house, in front of our Spanish Brick Red wall (yum... I just love that color, although the video doesn't do it justice).

Thanks again and again to Bill Meier for donating the incredible video camera; we're SO excited to have it up and running! Stay tuned for a short film documenting the opening of the library, to be included in the monthly update.

And now, without further ado, the Mark Hand interview.

Happy Friday!

Keep the dharma wheel turning

(Guest blogger of the week: Mark Hand, or "Gringuito")

Life, until this morning, was pretty great. Our library and teen center are up and running, we have great applicants for next year's Program Directors, the search for a new Country Director is coming along swimmingly. I'm rock climbing more, my inbox is short, and I made a new friend at the library. José Suntaxi Suntaxi, age five, barreled into the library with his family yesterday like he was born to read, and of course ask copious amounts of questions. A sampling:

How do I open this?
Take off the plastic, José.

What's that?
It's a microscope.

What's a microscope?
It lets you see little things, look.

Oooh...! Little Gringo, do you have a bathroom?
We do - it's right over there. Make sure you wash your hands, ok? And you can call me Profesor Marco, instead of Little Gringo.

Ok! Little Gringo, are you going to be my friend?
Of course I am, José.

Why is this called a 'biblioteca?'
It's a place where you can borrow books. It's from the Greek... nevermind. You borrow books here. A libreria is where you buy them.

I've never, ever been in a biblioteca before. I can take a book home and bring it back the next day?
Sure thing, brother.

Given how great all this sounds, what could possibly go wrong? I was sitting in the upstairs office this morning, minding my own business and reading applications, when Dana poked her head around the staircase. "Mark, you and I are cooking tonight. Can you think of something to go with black bean salad?" Now my palms are sweaty, my pulse is up, and former volunteer Zak Schwarzman is reminding me to breathe, via g-chat.

I hate cooking. Last time I cooked, I ended up with some kind of spicy water that made everybody's nose run, apparently a no-no outside of Cajun Country. That was October. Now we've had to redraw the cooking and cleaning rotation, and I'm back in. Zak's response when I told him was, "Did everyone else tragically lose their arms?"

I think I'm going rock climbing. Here's to you, Zak the food therapist.

Neither Here Nor There

(Today's guest blog comes from Mark Hand, Country Director extraordinaire)

Men in Botswana holds hands to display their purely platonic friendship. In Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, cars drive on the left side of the road. In Nicaragua adios ("to God," literally) means hello and goodbye. In Louisiana, the southern gentry stand by their chairs whenever a lady arrives at or departs from a table. Travelers both seasoned and novice note these sorts of cultural quirks. Sometimes they are just that – quirks. Often, they point to deeper cultural currents.

In my travels, these quirks have always been amusing, and at times thought-provoking to me. While in Nashville last week, for example, my sister would physically push me away for walking too close to her on the sidewalk; an amusing notion, and one which in more thoughtful moments could lead to a discussion of the quintessentially North American need for personal space.

This trip back to the US, which I spent at a conference in DC and in MPI's first organization-wide conference in Nashville, was the first time I have paid more heed to those quirks in myself than in my surroundings. When in an uncomfortable formal situation, I used to find myself reverting unconsciously to my training as a southern gentleman; now, however, I find myself acting more like a polite Ecuadorian country boy. When I walk into a room it feels more natural to greet evry last person – the men with a not-too-firm handshake, the women with a single fake kiss on the cheek – than to slip in quietly, shake hands with those in close proximity, and nod in recognition to those who make eye contact from across the room. When I make physical contact with someone on the metro (a grave offense in the US, apparently) my immediate reaction is to say perdoname rather than excuse me. And man, driving in the US is boring.

I am back in Quito now, interviewing an excitingly strong group of applicants for next year's E-team. And instead of coming back with open questions about the differences between Ecuador and the US, I come wondering about how I fit into both – or neither. So Mom, if I stand up at the table whenever you do, but then attempt awkwardly to kiss you on the cheek, you'll know why.