Saturday, May 10, 2008

This is the Peace Corps. For Real.

Some people say that Peace Corps is a life-changing experience. Within the microcosm of this 27 months though, there are also service-changing experiences. My past week was spent adjusting my outlook that had unfortunately become very pessimistic and skeptical during the first six months of my service (holy baloney, I’m 25% done with my service!). I had started to think that the work that Peace Corps thinks that us volunteers will accomplish is nothing but a…uhh…pelican? (haha, from The Pelican Brief, does that mean it’s imaginary?) whatever, I mean that it was a figment of their imagination, impossible, unattainable, not viable. I have changed that attitude after my 5 day trip to Independencia to visit Dorinda, a volunteer from B-43 (microenterprise volunteer that started her service one year ahead of me) that recently decided to extend her service one more year so she’s now going to COS (close of service, aka finish her service) with my group, B-46. I initially went up there with Karen (another microenterprise volunteer from B-43) to get to know Independencia (which is about 7.5 hours from Coch on a really crappy yet beautiful dirt road through the mountains and happens to be in the middle of nowhere, literally) because Karen was doing an informal tech exchange to teach Dorinda’s group of kids that she teaches life skills to how to manejar (uhh…what’s the verb for that in English? Maintain? Use?) a cash box and contabilidad (aka the wonderful world of accounting and book-keeping). The Sunday that I was there was the biggest fair in the town, Feria de la Chirimoya (yes, that is the famed globby custard apple that is oh-so-delicious). The kids were baking cakes (that were ridiculously delicious btw, so many repeat customers once they got a taste of it) to sell at the fair and Dorinda was doing an artesania exhibition at their stand to sell the products (woven out of lambswool and dyed using all natural dyes – think plants, wood ash, etc.). So I probably did the most work I’ve done continuously since I’ve been here…preparations for the fair (and we didn’t even help with the baking!) included making signs, moving things, organizing things, transporting things (dude, I totally used a wheelbarrow for the first time and pushed things up and down hills with it, I felt like I was on a farm or something). Anyways, Dorinda is totally the model volunteer, doing really great work, meaningful work. The grassroots, get your hands dirty, make a difference work that we can all hope to accomplish while we’re here. She is one cool lady that went to culinary school, is vegetarian, environmentally conscious, spent years working in Alaska at Denali National Park…which makes her ridiculously outdoorsy and hardcore. She probably has 30 years on me but is 10x stronger than me (as evidenced by our comparative wheelbarrow-pushing abilities). Anyways, she’s doing what volunteers SHOULD be doing…capitalizing on their strengths to create projects around them that “aprovechar” the unique assets of each volunteer. She made me want to be a better volunteer. Or maybe just a little like her, haha. She has done a lot of traveling that makes me jealous. Plus she’s so HAPPY in her site, I mean, I should be as well right? My name is Joy. So after this experience of watching her work on the most important day of the year for microenterprise in Independencia, I came back to Tarata all hyped up to try to be a better volunteer. I have notions of maybe taking some of her ideas and modifying them for implementation in Tarata (perhaps with the Kid’s Club) and really going at it to make a difference in tourism and microenterprise. I guess what I was so impressed with wasn’t just her work, but the other little things she does like her environmental efforts of composting, growing lettuce, herbs and flowers, her resourcefulness (surprisingly good diet for not having a fridge and being 8 hours away from a city), and overall badas*ness of being able to handle the flota (bus) ride just to come to Cochabamba each time. Plus she makes great salads with cabbage, avocado, cucumber, carrot, tomato, campo cheese, salt and pepper, oil and vinegar. And she makes her own granola, pizza crust and bread since they use lard in the bread around here (but dang is it tasty). In conclusion, I am an incompetent sissy. There, I said it, and it has been confirmed the truth now that I’ve seen where and how a real volunteer lives and works.

I have to leave you with a tidbit of how hardcore the flota ride is to Independencia is though. One time apparently Dorinda stood up the whole way there. That is ridiculous. It’s hard enough when you are sitting down…the regular schedule is that it leaves Coch at 5 am, and then it leaves Independencia at 4 am (and it’s freaking COLD…I took my sleeping bag with me on the way back because I nearly froze without it on the way there, luckily Karen shared her blankie with me). Anyways, so on the way there, through the winding roads, my stomach sometimes can’t handle it, and the old woman next to me (who was sitting in the aisle on a bundle of something or other…which is a perfectly acceptable seat around here for a passenger) was barfing into a bag for about 2 hours of the trip. You know when the Bolivians can’t handle it, it’s a little rough. And on the way back, while I was sleeping, Karen said she noticed a rank odor so strong that she had to open the window. She cautiously checked her backpack that was on the ground and her sneakers to see if someone had pissed on the ground and it was dribbling towards her stuff. Nope, nothing was there. So once at the first stop near Coch about half the passengers got out and I moved to sit in the seat behind me (that had been next to Dorinda) and give Karen more room with her stuff. At some point Karen looked down and gasped in horror. The seat had previously been occupied by a woman with her young child. There it was, a pile of poop under the seat I was sitting in. Yes, human excrement. Along with a little plastic bag, which apparently was supposed to catch the poop being expelled by the child, and which apparently was unsuccessful in its mission. And the woman also made the executive decision to leave the poop and bag in a pile on the bus where it landed instead of trying to clean it up. Thankfully, I did not step in it. The End.

In other news, I officially bought my ticket to Chile and Easter Island for August so I am off on my vacation! I am still looking for travel partners if anyone is looking to get in on it. As of now, it’s uhh…just me. So whoever comes will get some quality time with the Joy Dog. Joyster. Joy-a-rama. Joylicious. Joyimal (that’s for you, Dan). Joymeister. Fluffmeister (that’s the name of a pillow on an airplane, once upon a time, Helen, I know you didn’t change them, I had the Fluffmeister and you were just jealous). Okay, that was really random. I’m done now. Feel free to navigate away from this page and ignore me. I am the biggest dork you know.

Oh, but one more thing, my mom is springing a surprise visit on me that was supposed to happen in June/July. She will be here in about a WEEK! May 19th – 28th…so I know you are rushing to the post office to send a package to her express to bring to me so let me know if you need the address (aka if you love me) :) This way there is no ridiculous postage and I don’t have to wait 3 months to get it. Win-win situation right?

An Inconvenient Truth

Pat and I recently watched this movie during one of our infamous “movie and chocolate” nights. Although the cover categorized the film as “documentary,” I would deem it more to be of the “horror” variety. The picture that was painted of global warming’s impact on climate change was kind of scary. The idea of a drastic change in global temperature causing Greenland and/or western Antarctica to melt and raise sea level by 20 ft…not exactly an ideal situation I would think. Goodbye New Orleans and all other low lying places on Earth, hello lots of scary diseases, storms, droughts and all sorts of other catastrophes…how about 100 million displaced people from low-lying areas? I have always believed scientific evidence to be the most convincing form of persuasion and in this case I saw more than enough statistics to make me believe. And I also was surprised by some of the facts…such as the emissions regulations that in the States are way lower than other developed countries and how auto companies are throwing hissy fits over Cali’s proposed tightening of regulations over several years that would put the state on par with China’s current standards. In conclusion, it served its purpose to make you think about your impact on the situation and what your role as an individual is in having a positive influence.

Although I am a PCV, I am probably as far away from a tree-hugging hippie as you get. I am guilty of eating more meat than the average person, driving a car when I could have walked (for 3 years), and doing more than my fair share of travel via airplane. I don’t believe that I am a wasteful person, although I can see through my experience here how living in the U.S. easily lends itself to the levels of consumption that makes Americans the biggest culprits of the causes of global warming. Here’s where the hope comes in though (we’re trying to avoid the denial to despair sequence that Gore spoke about), if we are the ones that are most at fault…that also means that if we change our habits, that we can also have the biggest positive impact on reducing the effects of global warming and thereby “saving our future.” In evaluating my lifestyle here, I notice the little details in things that demonstrate the lower level of consumption in a country such as Bolivia in comparison to the States. Take something near and dear to my heart for example, food (and the packaging it comes in). I buy chicken in plastic wrap and styrafoam in the U.S., in Bolivia they throw it in a plastic bag for you to take with you. In the U.S. you can find disposable cups at every corner (think Starbucks) and I have yet to see coffee for takeout here and the beverages served from carts in the market either come in plastic bags or are served in glass cups to be downed in one gulp. And although two frequent methods of waste disposal in my town are for trash to get burned or thrown in a pile by the river where some people wash their clothes, the reality is that there is a lot less trash and waste that results from the lifestyle here.

So what to do about it all? I’m no environmental expert or activist, but I figure when I go back to the States I should make some commitments to do my little part in this all. It seems too overwhelming and ominous sometimes when you think about the big picture, but I truly believe that if every little person does his/her own part it will make a difference in the end. It’s stuff like using those $1 green cloth bags when you go grocery shopping, buying the energy efficient lightbulbs that last like 20 years, not drinking bottled water (c’mon, there’s no giardia or amoebas in the water over there) whenever possible, buying a hybrid car (or at least energy efficient compact car if you can’t afford the hybrid), using heating and AC more efficiently and only when really needed, walking or biking or using public transport whenever possible, and trying out the methods of clothes-drying without using a dryer. As a “businessperson” (with no soul, as we microenterprise volunteers are sometimes labeled), the question of how trying to help the environment will affect the economy is an important one. I think so far the verdict is still out on whether being a leader in being environmentally conscious helps or hurts the bottom line, but I strongly believe that if these widespread initiatives are to succeed, action will have to come from all angles. From the individuals changing their habits, to politicians putting in place incentives (aka laws and subsidies) for people and businesses to change their behaviors, and also the companies that consciously decide to be leaders in taking on this “moral” issue…I think that if everyone works together there just might be some hope for the outcome that is desired. It has been proven though that humans are rational creatures (usually) and will only act to help the environment if it serves in their best interest; the conundrum is how to make it so that everyone (individuals, businesses, politicians, etc.) sees that trying to stop global warming is in their best interest and then they will willingly make the sacrifices necessary to do something about the problem. I think that the way that economies and technology have developed is a double-edged sword that creates necessity of some of the wasteful practices while providing promising technological solutions to solving the problem that might not have been there in the first place…but what can you do. It is what it is. Así es, pues! A stone’s a stone! Haha…okay, I’m done ranting and raving. A reader might want to hear more about the Peace Corps experience rather than my psychotic rantings…but I’m not very good at talking about that. I will throw in a related tidbit here though, that for Kid’s Club I would like to do some environmentally-oriented activities and sometime in the future I would like to work on a garbage cleanup in the town and maybe work with children on environmental awareness (man, where are those environmental education volunteers when you need them). That’s all I got for now though. Chau!