Monday, February 29, 2016
The Real Last Blog
Final Final Blog
February 29, 2016
We thought we were finished with our blogs from Mexico, but then we realized there were a few more item we should tell you about.
We realized that we didn’t say much about the serious problem of marginalization of the Mayan people here in the Yucatan Peninsula. And it has been going on since the Conquistadors from Spain arrived in the early 1,500’s and it continues until today. This is similar to what happened and still happens in the United States with Native Americans, and in other countries with indigenous populations.
What is this marginalization? It is economic, educational, health, in fact, all of the important aspects of life. Mayan people are excluded from all of this. In the villages, the government doctors do not speak Mayan. There are few, if any Mayan teachers. Government programs like vitamins for children and pregnant women which are given all over the country, somehow bypasses the Mayan villages. When the government gave out more than 2,000,000 TV sets because the TV system has changed, and requires special antennas, the Mayan villages, if a few people did manage to get a TV, didn’t get an antenna, and they can’t afford to buy one.
Many young people who want to go to a university, can’t afford to go. The scholarships don’t provide enough. The courses offered near the Mayan villages only prepare the students to work in the big resort cities like Cancun or Playa del Carmen, rather than offer courses which would permit them to return and work in the villages, in order for these students to help the villages and the residents become more independent, financially and otherwise.
In short, neither government nor the society as a whole seems to care about these Mayan people.
Thus, groups like this one we work with are doing a good job. Helping develop income generating activities that are highly successful now and operating independently. Helping small farms – milpas – produce more and better. And many of the milpas produce enough to sell their excess, and even supply local primary schools with food.
Merida, where we have been staying has an abundance of parks and activities: concerts, dances, some blocked streets on Friday nights, Saturday mornings, and all day Sunday in the Centro. We have enjoyed all of these activities. Plus, it is very safe.
But, it is time to go home, so bye bye.
Peter and Hinda
Monday, February 22, 2016
Blog 4 Mexico
Last Blog from Yucatan, Merida, Mexico
February 22, 2016
Saludos Todos! Greetings All!
This is our last week here volunteering with HST in Merida, and it’s a good time to write our final blog.
Here, everyone calls me Don Pedro. Pedro, the Spanish for Peter, and Don, a respectful term for someone older. I said older, not old! Hahahaha. And for Hinda, it is just Hinda, and you know she is younger than I am.
Our friend Margo visited us for about 10 days. She went to a Spanish language school for 5 days while we went to work, and then we spent the afternoons and evenings together. She just left yesterday. It was a nice visit for all of us.
Merida is a very safe place in Mexico. We never felt unsafe for even a moment. One of the jokes about why it is safe is that the families of the Narco’s live here, and so they don’t want any trouble here. True or false? Who knows?
Merida has a very nice folk art museum which we visited last weekend. We bought two small very nice pieces. One a maraca with a feather – a bit unusual, and a very nice hand painted gourd from the state of Guerera. You will see it when you visit us again back at home.
Here in the tropics, there are so many wonderful fruits and vegetables. It is so easy to grow things here. One of the fruits we discovered is a cross between an orange and a lemon, very sweet, and not too juicy. It is called a China Lima “cheena leema”. Mmmmmm good. The Cheena here is an orange good for juice and very sweet. In fact, we squeeze fresh juice at home every morning.
Last Thursday, both of us with the Director of HST met with the Consul General of the United States here in Merida. It was a fruitful and good meeting and he hosted us in his office for over an hour. We talked about the things that HST is doing. He has agreed to visit one of the Mayan villages for a full day in the next week or so, and his Public Affairs Aide will liaise with Susana who we work with in the office. He has only been here for 6 months, and we think that we are one of the first local organizations to meet with him. One of the things we talked about is linking the primary school his children go to with a primary school in one of the villages since each of them have garden projects. We are hoping the relationship will grow. It is good to have a friend in a US Consulate or Embassy.
A few more things from work:
- I have been mentoring Susana daily who among other things does some fundraising and she is taking it all in. For me, it is one of the most important things I do wherever I volunteer,
- Hinda spent a fair amount of time planning and conducting office staff meetings; writing policies and procedures; job descriptions; editing grant applications.
- The vitamins we helped to arrange from Vitamin Angels arrived and Susana and I along with the HST Nutritionist arranged a distribution system. The initial shipment is for children from 5 – 11 months to be followed by vitamins for pregnant and lactating mothers, deworming pills, and then older children.
- Helped HST to apply to Microsoft for free software and licenses.
- Trying to get a fabric supplier to donate fabric to HST for the
Village sewing workshops but don’t know if there will be enough time left to do it. If not, they can do it on their own. Hopefully less need for us now after these two months.
We spent this last weekend in Tulum, an archeological site and resort with white sandy beaches on the Caribbean, our first time swimming there. The water was warm and the sun hot. We got more tanned. The ruins at Tulum were interesting and situated on a cliff above the ocean. We stayed in a small palapa just a couple of hundred feet from the beach. Peter rose early every morning to photograph the sunrise. Hinda stayed in bed as long as she could.
So, that’s it for now. We leave here in 10 days and while we enjoyed being here, we always enjoy going back home to family and friends.
We will go to New York for a week in June and tentatively to Turkey, Israel, and Jordan in August, and for Peter, back to Kenya to finish his big project which he has been working on since 2009.
Monday, February 08, 2016
Blog 3 Merida, Yucatan, Mexico
Merida, Yucatan, Mexico
February 8, 2016
Hi Friends and Family Throughout the World!!
We wanted to bring you up to date on what we have been up to here in Merida, Mexico.
The weather has changed dramatically. From the mid to high 90’s to the mid 70’s. F. And the nights are cool, even cold. Hope it lasts, but who knows. In the meantime, it is very pleasant for us, but for the locals, it is cold and people are wearing jackets and sweaters and closing windows, while we go around with a smile opening windows. One of the interesting things we have found in Merida is that there are old street signs on many of the old buildings in the city which were put up many years ago when most people were illiterate. They are pictures, no words, i.e. an elephant for Elephant street.
Yesterday we had a “pool party potluck” for our office colleagues. It turned out well – the weather was good, but too cool for swimming, and the food and ambiance, but mostly the talk was fun. All had a good time including us.
We spent a great weekend in a city about 2.5 hours by bus from here. Campeche. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Campeche is on the Gulf of Mexico. It is about 500 years old, and the old part of the city is within the original city walls. There is a “malecon”- a walk along the ocean with a lot of fresh seafood restaurants where we ate our best meal yet here in Mexico. We had a red snapper cooked in banana leaves beneath the coals of a fire pit with local spices. Mmmmmmm good!! We had such a good time and liked it so much we are going to take Margo there on Feb 20.
Just about an hour out of Campeche is a well preserved Mayan ruins which we visited in the cool (relatively) of the last Sunday morning we were there. Not many people there yet, so it was really a nice visit to Edznas. My, those Mayans built very high steps. Either they were very tall – don’t think so, or ?????
The hotel we stayed in was originally a military barracks built in 1800 and the original structure is still used. It was turned into a hotel in 1901, and so the floor and wall tiles are from that period. We were only 2 blocks from the malecon.
We went to visit some of the villages that HST works with. We were most excited to go back to visit the village of Muchucuxcah which we first visited in 2007 along with about 20 others from our temple to do some volunteer work helping to build an eco-tourism site.
Well, we are pleased to say that we received a warm and gracious welcome from some of those people we first met there in 2007, including a man whose name is Primitivo and his family. We ate again in his home. And although the temperature was very very hot, we had a great lunch of chicken soup. Primitivo’s son, Wilen who we also met in 07 is now married with a baby son and you will see him in the photo accompanying this blog.
The eco – tourism site now has a big beautiful swimming pool, electricity, fans, and mosquito nets in the palapas.
We traveled through several villages where we were impressed with HST’s work including several first class sewing workshops which are now operating on a financially independent basis and making clothes for villagers, the police, school uniforms, etc,
The same with a carpentry shop which was started by HST and local people were trained and are working and selling their wares – all high quality.
We visited a school which is a middle school in the morning and a high school in the afternoon. HST sends people out to the schools to teach the kids about growing vegetables, soil conservation, etc.
In another village we saw a fish pond for tilapia – some of which are used as food by the families and some are cooked and sold.One of the things we saw in the village for the first time, is meeting some featherless chickens. We had never seen them before and thought they might be sick but the woman who owned them laughed at us and told us she just didn’t have enough money to buy them clothes. These chickens actually are not supposed to have feathers.
All in all, a very long and productive visit. HST has done and is doing a good job helping people in the village learn to become financially independent while still retaining their Mayan culture.
Speaking of Mayan culture, all of the people who live in the villages and their children speak Maya as their first language, and Spanish as their second, although not all speak Spanish. However there are only one or two teachers who speak Maya, and not a single doctor! Sound familiar to some of you? Yes, to us also.
We are excited to tell you that the international NGO, Vitamin Angels, accepted our application which we helped with, and starting the end of this week will be sending much needed vitamins to children and pregnant and lactating mothers to all of the villages in the states of Yucatan and Campeche that HST works with. We are really proud. And they also want us to identify other local NGO’s that they can help.
Our weekly staff meetings mostly created by Hinda are already having an impact, and people are coming together in the office to discuss, plan, decide, implement, etc. Agenda items are suggested ahead of time, and people are interested and very participatory in the meeting. We just hope it keeps up after we leave, but much of the stuff we have done elsewhere has continued, so why not here too?
We have been taking busses as we go away for weekends and find them very modern and comfortable. Air Conditioned, bathrooms, TV’s with soap operas or bad movies blasting, etc. But it is a comfortable and safe way to travel and we can read or just see the countryside.
Once again, we find everyone friendly and helpful. Mexico is a friendly place. We feel very safe and welcome by both friends and strangers. We are finding a lot of interesting food to eat, especially Yucatecan food, although often when we order it is by trial and error, or pointing at someone else’s plate. We do eat very often in a small taqueria just a block from the office where we have made friends with the owner who tries to learn a new English word each time we come, and we a Spanish word. By the way, I, Peter am getting along fairly well in Spanish. Working for 3 years in Seattle in a Latino organization helped as well as my two years of high school Spanish, and even my working in the NYC Youth House with so many Puerto Rican kids many many years ago.
Well, seems like we have rambled on too much, so let’s stop for now. We are waiting for our friend Margo from Seattle to join us for 10 days starting this coming Wednesday evening. Bienvenida a Merida Margo!!
Love and Hugs,
Hinda and Peter