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Archive for October, 2012

Amongst the beagles and other varieties of street dogs roaming the humble pueblito known as Piedra Grande, roamed two Peace Corps volunteers named Danny and Josephine. Now these two volunteers found themselves in the mountains above Mexico City with a quest – a quest to create some of the best-recycled art crafts known on this side of the border. The motivation was simple and absolute, an eco-fair for about 70 children. Two weeks to prepare, and too many recycled crafts projects tantalizing their artistic energies led to quite the experience involving trash-picking, rancid milk, plastic dust in noses, and medical emergencies.

Now setbacks are inevitable in projects such as this, but they can’t always be anticipated.

Setback 1: The realization that papelerías are closed on Sundays. Significance of this discovery? Well, Danny and Josephine needed to buy art supplies from said papelerías before heading out from Querétaro to Piedra Grande that Monday morning. With a little huffing and puffing, the crisis was marginally averted. If you saw two gringos running at 8:00 in the morning, one falling a few steps behind the other (Josephine blames it on the altitude), then you saw Danny and Josephine running to buy paint, glue, construction paper, string, etc., before boarding a bus to Piedra Grande.  “Great,” they thought, “we’ve got all the materials, what can stop us now?”

Setback 2: Danny and Josephine decided to transform plastic bottles into jack-o-lanterns of all varieties in honor of the approaching and children-cherished, Halloween. In preparation for this feat, they collected bottles from a local school in Querétaro and hauled that “trash” bag to Piedra Grande, ready to turn the transparent bottles into pumpkins of vibrant orange opacity. And so, they began to paint. “Huh, how strange,” they thought, “the paint seems to be sliding right off the bottle.” Thus, they learned that they needed to sand 65 bottles before painting them – every nook, cranny, and crease needed a graze of the rough paper. That’s not time consuming at all, right? This is what led to plastic dust in noses.

Setback 3: Turns out Josephine was freakishly allergic to something, something still unknown, and as a result turned into a Blotch Monster. Face swollen, lips white, Benadryl state of mind. It is said that at this moment she informed Danny that she was no longer sanding. No, no dust particles were touching her already fragile face. At which point, as you can imagine, Danny ended up with more plastic dust in his nose.

With the setbacks finally out of the way Team Reduce, Reuse, Recycle was ready to get down to business. Day after day, more oranges bottles lined the room, haunting PC volunteers and begging them for eyes, noses, mouths. But jack-o-lanters weren’t enough. Oh, no. Danny and Josephine decided to make other recycled crafts to give out during a raffle during the eco-fair. This team was getting ambitious it seemed. Like elves, they carried on, hoping their energy and efforts would help dispel the myth that trash is nothing more than trash. Miraculously, beer bottle caps transformed into tambourines, a soda bottle into a piggy bank, milk cartons into wallets, and jugs into Day of the Dead decorations.

Two weeks of working and the time had come. The fair. Team Basura, Team Trash displayed all their handicrafts on the table, anticipating the rush of kids, and eager to give the pumpkins the faces they craved. As was hoped, the kids loved it! Helping the kids decorate their jack-o-lanterns made all the puffy eyes, and frustrated evenings of work fade away, and so they glued, decorated, and transformed “trash” for two hours.  It was the fair winding down, it was time for THE RAFFLE. Now kids had been eyeing these prizes every time they passed Team Basura’s table. They wanted that piggy bank. They wanted those tambourines. They wanted the trash. Names began to be drawn, as fingers were crossed. Prizes were received by kids with smiling faces, hugely smiling faces.

And so, Danny and Josephine gave each other a pat on the back, vowing next time to do the same, setbacks and all.

the twigster,

Josefina

PS: Make your own bottle cap tambourines, milk carton wallets, and soda bottle piggy bank.

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My home for the next two years, I thought as I approached Huimilpan for the first time, “the place of the biggest cornfields.” My whole reason for joining the Peace Corps, to live and work in a community, was finally manifesting itself after a month of living in México. It was time for my site visit, time to gather the information I needed to survive physically and mentally for two years. Gathering, recording, processing. It felt a bit like collecting kindling with full arms. My mind was already heavy with new information. Taking a deep breath and fortified by the scent of the sea of flowers surrounding me, I stepped out of Señor Francisco’s car.

A combination of nerves and leaving the controlled setting of my Spanish classroom, instantly transformed this “intermediate” Spanish speaker into an eight year old. Nice to meet you. Smile. Nod. Smile. Fumbling over my words, I desperately tried to link context clues with what my boss was saying. Please,..time..to..process…the..translation. There was no stopping. “This is so and so, and this is my cousin so and so.” Dozens of hands shaken, dozens of kisses given. Nice to meet you. Smile. Nod. And so it went for four days in Huimilpan. Freeing embarrassment from my list of possible emotions, no entiendo, otra vez por favor, became a motiff in every dialogue. Smile. Nod. Locals turned a much-appreciated blind eye to my broken Spanish, helping me to feel less like a fish out of water. People were kind and patient, taking the time to repeat their sentence or say the same things with simpler words. The smile and nod returned if all else failed.

As the days passed, it seemed that the people of Huimilpan were happy just to learn the reason behind why there was this foreigner, the gringa, walking around town. Mexicans aren’t very shy in asking personal questions. Luckily, my family prepared me for this growing up. Uncles always put us on the hot seat during Sunday dinners to interrogate us about the latest boyfriend, or life step. With this experience under my belt, fielding the questions wasn’t too hard to navigate. Thanks, Uncle Joseph. Foreigner celebrity status was a bit harder. Sitting in the plaza after attending the outdoor mass to celebrate the Huimilpan’s patron’s saint, San Miguel, I felt hundreds of pairs of eyes of me. Peace Corps warned us about this. Since we Peace Corps volunteers are the odd ones around in our communities, people will be looking at our every action, all day, everyday. Gaga status. While in site we are “on” all the time.

Gaga status does have its perks though. While visiting one of the communities, Piedra Lisas, and chit chatting with a woman about her different eco-technologies, I was invited to make some tortillas with her using one of her eco-technologies, her efficient wood stove. When conversations involve food, somehow I manage to understand that Spanish. We spent the next hour making and eating corn tortillas with salsa made from the chili peppers she grew in her garden. Hot tortilla in hand and a mouth of fire, I stepped outside for a second and checked out the surrounding view – my new home. It was then that Francesca’s poem popped into my head. Francesca wrote “Simplistic Beauty” for me when I graduated from Tulane to serve as a constant reminder of the person I am, and the person I hope to be.

“There is nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…life isn’t about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself.” With this as my mantra, Huimilpan didn’t seem as intimidating anymore. I went back to my host house in the city of Querétaro, took out my Spanish Grammar Book, and got to work. After all, I can improve a lot in the month before my service begins in Huimilpan.

the twigster,

Josefina

PS: After an extended period of  thinking about every verb ending before speaking, all I wanted to do is chit chat with other volunteers in English upon my return and know certainly that they understand the sounds rolling off my tongue.

PPS: With only a quick assessment of the community to inform this, I think I will be working to build water cisterns and developing people’s individual gardens!

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