Minga de Limpieza Comunitaria

This past Saturday marked our first Minga of the year.  (Minga |meen-gah|noun: an Ecuadorian word for people coming together to do a community service project)  

Nine PDs awoke at 6:45 a.m. to the smell of brewing coffee and a scramble to collect brooms, gloves, and as many trash bags as we could find.  Though we sleepily commuted into Rumiloma, we perked right up as we stepped off of the bus to find a dozen kids and parents already gathered in front of the library, ready to clean up their community.  As we split into groups to tackle the various neighborhood streets and sidewalks, we found many residents cleaning streets and sidewalks by their homes as well, asking us to borrow supplies.

Our neighbors, brushing up garbage from the drain pipes 

We spent the better part of 3 hours cleaning up around Rumiloma; my main job was to run around making sure everyone had enough trash bags, haul full bags back to the library, label them with kids' names and then weigh them to keep track of which kid collected the most, by volume.  By 11a.m. we had run out of bags (something I never thought would happen given the amount we stole from the house and wiped out of the library stash) and rounded up all of the kids in the library to tally the weight results, which are the following:

Total Combined Kids' Weight: 376.5 lbs 
Total Combined Profe's Weight: 70 lbs (plus Sarah's 2 tires)
Total Weight: 446.5 lbs 

Team Iori proudly showing off their loot 

A few notes about the weights: the profes had significantly less weight because we mostly helped the kids (we're not lazy, don't worry) and there was an estimate of 60-70 lbs not weighed that were left on street corners, where other residents were instructed to put their trash for pick up.  Though there were only 4 kids who got our grande sopresa, we dolled out lollipops to the other kids who answered our environmental quiz questions correctly and provided other refreshments for the families.  

Mike and Dana haul kids (and trash) from the plaza to the library

Lucia, Shawn, Erik and Bibi weighing the trash

The whole group in front of 450lbs. of collected trash!

Everyone helps throw trash bags into the truck

Some people question the sustainability of such an event, wondering if the streets will simply become riddled with garbage again a week later.  While that reality is more likely than not, clean-ups are a powerful tool for a number of reasons: they bring people together, engage them in a service dedicated to the area where they live, and quite frankly, after participating in something like picking up trash for house, you tend to think twice about dropping a candy wrapper onto the street.  

The event also opens the door for bigger projects.  There are two major trash issues in Rumiloma: burning household trash, mostly out of habit since there are reliable waste haulers now, and water contamination as a result of excessive litter and agricultural/livestock practices.  It is a priority of our environmental program here in Ecuador to tackle both issues in collaboration with USAID, FONAG (El Fondo de protección del agua), and most importantly, local leaders and organizations.   But I'm getting ahead of myself.. you'll have to wait to hear more about that in future posts!

Litter-less and feeling free (not really because quarterly reports are due next week!), 

Advertising Antics

When you're starting up a handful of new programs, excessive advertising comes with the territory.  Planning for classes, charlas, mingas, and health clinics takes a ton of time and we certainly want to make sure we have successful event turn outs.  In order to make this happen, we are on our way to mastering various types of advertising strategies.  Some are pretty straightforward: making posters, handing out flyers to community members and library kids, and attending as many community-based meetings as possible (churches, town councils, futbol leagues etc.).  

There are also some more non-traditional methods.  One of them involves hopping on buses and having one person give a presentation while the other puts up flyers at the front of the bus; so far Erik and Mike have mastered the art of bus advertising while the rest of us stick to less intimidating methods.  However, starting next week I will be participating in three days of advertising via riding around on a Camioneta shouting into a megaphone about the details of our very first Minga, set for the third of October.  

Erik and I have collaborated to co-lead a community clean up in Rumiloma.  It's a perfect combination as he is in charge of organizing Mingas (an Ecuadorian word for people coming together to do community service projects) and I am running the environmental programs.  Litter is a huge problem in our community as people are accustomed to simply throwing trash, from water bottles to candy wrappers, all over the streets.  Many community members approached us both in the library and at one of the town meetings last week about this issue and wanting public trash cans.  We've also created a friendly competition between library kids to give them incentives to come to the clean up.  Hopefully we'll be able to use this time to talk with interested people about improving waste management and mitigation for our community. 

I'll keep you updated about how the telefoneo incident goes (and of course about the clean up itself);  I think I'll be spending the next week taking notes on the Camionetas drive down our streets yelling things like "el gas el gas el gas" and "escobas escobas... escobas."  

- Jackie 

And We're Back

After 2 flights en route to Durham, North Carolina, 2 five hour trips to the Smokey Mountains, 1 blown out rear windshield, 1 6am flight to St. Louis, 1 5 hour road trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas, 1 wild wedding weekend ride, 1 11 hour road trip back up to St. Louis, and 3 flights back down to Ecuador, I am glad to say the travel is done and the blog is back.

Well, the travel is done until this Thursday when Dunc and I take our Vanderbilt spring break group to Banos, and the blog is back in the sense that most posts this week will be written in sleep-deprived stupors late at night...but at least progress is being made. No camera yet, so I might resort to posting pictures I find on the internet, otherwise you'll just be left with my words and we all know those can get old quick :)

Dana and I are currently both on our computers in my room (she's moved in for the spring break weeks so that the college kids can have the apartment to themselves), and everyone else is sound asleep. Apparently today's Minga at Alinambi went exhausting-ly well, and also apparently buying enough food from markets for spring break requires a truck bed. Oh the joys.

Welcome, March. Time for another monthly update...the first of the new year. Coming soon, I really do promise.


When the cat is away...

The mice will work on Saturday at our second Minga.

That was my weak attempt at a joke, trying to scare Mark (who is currently on a plane back to the states) into thinking all we're going to do for the next week is sit around feeding each other pineapple on our roof. He'll be gone for the next week, but honestly things are picking up so quickly down here that we really won't have much of a chance to even pretend to slack off in his absence :)

This post is late in coming today because we just got back from Quito, where we watched the Vice Presidential debate between Governor Palin and Senator Biden. Disclaimer: I promise I won't use the daily life blog as some kind of political platform from which to spew my ideas, unless those ideas include the establishment of a mandatory dessert hour. While we were all nervous (and some of us a little too eager) to watch Palin after having youtubed her interview with Katie Couric many times, overall both candidates presented their platforms in respectable manners. Which platform is respectable in its own right I'll leave up to you to decide for yourself.

I write about this because, for the first time in our lives, we’re experiencing a presidential election while not actually living in the States. Granted, most (all?) of us have only been able to vote in one prior presidential election, so a precedent hasn’t really been established. Yet it is incredible how passionate we’re all feeling about the whole deal. It’s as if the distance has made us even more involved, wanting so badly to taste the electoral anticipation and read as many articles and editorials as we can, to keep track of our state’s polls and to find key policy pieces which tie us to certain candidates. Maybe every young person experiences this as they become more aware of the scope of elections, but this time around it just feels different; fresher, bigger, closer. And that, written from south of the Equator, is truly saying something.


(colors in our curtains)

Our First Minga

As I mentioned last week, on Saturday we participated in a minga to clean up the local river which has, for the past 3 years, served as a dumping ground for thousands of plastic bottles. A longstanding Andean tradition, mingas began as a way to clear a farmer’s fields; since the job could not be undertaken by a single family, the entire community would come together and help clear and harvest different fields each week. The practice of mingas continues today, albeit with less frequency. Luke, who has been working within the community to identify areas where mingas could respond to a need, collaborated with a number of women living in San Francisco and Tena to organize this weekend’s project.

5:45am on Saturday found team Ecuador stumbling around our kitchen trying to find coffee and scramble eggs with our eyes half closed, laughing at how out of it everyone is before 8am, our usual kitchen meeting time. After dangerously passing 2 ladders from the roof down the front of our house by hanging out the second story windows and hoping they didn’t drop on the faces of those waiting to receive them on the front patio, we all piled into what was quite possibly the most beat up Mazda truck I have ever seen and headed over to the river.

(the Mazda, held together by scrap metal and reggaton beats)

Upon splitting into two teams, the ‘river people’ and the ‘cleaning people’, we got down to work. Serena, Luke, and I started out in the river with 5 Ecuadorians, all decked out in rainboots and rubber gloves, looking hesitantly at the enormous pile of bottles, while Seth, Jocelyn, Eliah and Dunc headed down to the ‘cleaning station’ at Aliñambi, which consisted of wash tubs and a cement patio to crush the bottles. Craig was our 'go between' guy, hauling the bags from the river down to the recycling center, and Mark set about constructing “NO Bota Basura!” signs to put at different points along the river's path.

(Serena and I with our first trash bag of the day)

Starting at 7:30am, we worked straight to 1:30pm, at which time we were all a little woozy from the amount of trash and fumes from the discarded paint cans, gasoline bottles, and fermenting plastic. Serena, Paulo (a community member who spent much of the time in the river balanced on one of the ladders pushing the bottles away from the deep middle) and I all ended up falling into the river at some point, filling our boots with sludge and soaking our jeans in awful ways. Despite having filled up 49 industrial sized trash bags, we were barely half way through the bottles, and the executive decision to split the minga into two days was made by Christina after we realized we had already overflowed the recycling center’s capacity for bottles 3 times over.

(Jocelyn, Eliah, Dunc and Seth handwashing each of the plastic bottles)

Overall, it was a day filled with sweat, trash, bilingual conversations, horrible smells, frustration, and laughter. It was hard to spend the entire morning waist deep in trash, thinking not only about the work of cleaning it up, but also the feasibility of changing the mentality that turned the river into a trash pit. But none of us came down to Ecuador with the intention of avoiding encounters with the difficult, rather we came to dive into the thick of it. This weekend was a study in that dive; and while we may have bellyflopped a few times, it’s good to be in the deep water together, even if that water is a contaminated river...