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
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Blog 2 Merida
January 26, 2016
Hola Todos! Hello All!
Lots of things happening, so let us tell you some things.
Since we arrived on January 3rd, the $US has gone up, or the peso has gone down, so the exchange rate is better for us. Consequently, our rent in pesos is the same, but less in $’s. Now we are only paying $294 for our 2-bedroom apartment with swimming pool.
We found a US NGO that provides vitamins and de-worming pills to children and lactating mothers. We sent in the application yesterday and hoping for the best. If funded, they will provide these pills for 3 years.
One of the things we were asked to work on was to help market the eco-tourism project here. Good news: Moon Travel books has agreed to include it in their next Yucatan Edition. Thanks to our friend Joshua Berman who is also a writer for Moon who helped us connect with them.
We believe in teaching skills rather than doing for, and I, (Peter) am spending a lot of time mentoring Susana, young, bright women here in the office who is doing a lot of grant writing and other fundraising activities, something I know lots about. She is a fast learner, and so as she learns new skills she will put them to use here, and in her future endeavors.
Merida just celebrated its 474th Anniversary, and for most of the month of January there have been musical performances, dancing, lots of arts and crafts for sale, etc. We saw two good concerts and dancing. Colorful, free, and fun!
The weather has been nice. We sleep ok with just a fan, no need for air conditioning. Only a little rain, and mostly sunny and warm/hot days, and nights cooling off nicely. Every room in our house has a fan, including the bathroom, and there is even one outside near the pool.
Our office is in the house of the Director of the organization: elhombresobrelatierra.org, and each morning we have coffee here. The founder, Sigismundo is an excellent cook, and he is always making things to eat, so we end up having two breakfasts and two lunches nearly every day. He only cooks organic vegetables and fruits, and even makes his own bread.
Here in the Yucatan, many people sleep in hammocks, and thus all bedrooms in houses and all hotel room have hooks to hang the hammocks. So far, we are sleeping in our bed.
My (Peter) Spanish is improving each day. In the movies, the movies are in English with Spanish subtitles, so I found it is yet another way to improve my Spanish. One of the local taquerias where we eat lunch from time to time teaches me a new word each time we go and we teach him one new English word also. The food in the small street restaurants is cheap and good and sometimes we have to point at what someone else is eating to show what we want to eat. Hinda understands a lot but speaking is difficult.
There are a lot of short people here and so we have been asking why. Apparently before the Spanish came, people were bigger and stronger. As the diet has changed – become poorer, especially in the last 100 years, it has had a very negative effect on the stature of people – like more obesity in the US because of sugary drinks, white bread, etc. And also there is a lot of diabetes here as well, and even worse, it is difficult to treat, especially in the Mayan villages where health care is poor at best. In fact, in all of the villages that this NGO works in, there is not even one Mayan speaking doctor.
In all of the neighborhoods here, there are bicycle peddlers on 3 wheel bicycles selling fruits, ice cream, vegetables, cakes, etc., so the food comes to you, and you don’t always have to go to the store for everything.
Hinda is working with the staff here in the office trying to do some basic organization, but it is slow going because there has not been a history of that here. But as this organization grows, it may have to do more of this.
We went away this past weekend to a nice town – Izamal – about 1.5 hours away by bus. The highlight of Izamal is a very large church, former convent painted in yellow, and in fact the entire town is painted in yellow as well. There are a lot of horse carts to take people (tourists) around. Ours was pulled by a horse named Poncho, who stopped at every stop sign on his own, (we think). Pretty cool. In Izamal there is one of the largest Mayan temple ruins in the Yucatan.
We needed to have our propane tank for our house refilled. Here’s what happened:
· The gas truck came at night
· The gas tank is on the roof of our 2 story house
· The ladder wouldn’t reach
· The man climbed went to the second floor and climbed onto the window grating
· Then climbed from the neighbors window to the roof
· How to get the gas hose onto the roof?
· Throw a rope up to the man now on the roof
· Hook the hose from the truck to the rope
· Pull the hose up
· Fill the tank
· Reverse all the way down
· Now we have gas!!!
Talk to you all soon. Love from Peter and Hinda
Monday, January 11, 2016
Blog 1 Merida
January 10, 2016
Merida, Yucutan, Mexico
Hola Amigos y Amigas!!
Well, here we are in Merida, Mexico, in the Yucutan to volunteer once again. This time, we will be working with HST (El Hombre Sobre la Tierra), who have for the past 20 years or so have been working with the Maya to help them develop and maintain a better quality life, especially regarding the sustainment of natural resources as well as teaching them other things to work at so they do not have to depend solely on the land. Here is their web site: www.elhombresobrelatierra.org
We’ll tell you more in a bit, and of course in later blogs. Some of you may remember that we were here in 2007 with a group of people from AJWS and Temple Beth Am in Seattle to help build (physically) an eco-tourism project. We will work on that again while here, but not with our brawn but rather with our brains. Yes, our brains are still good.
We are living in a very nice 2-bedroom house in Merida completely furnished and with a nice swimming pool, and with the 90 plus degree heat we have been having, it is nice. Each room has a ceiling fan, including the bathroom and the seating area outside by the pool, and the bedrooms are air conditioned but we haven’t needed it yet. The area of town in which we live is named Brisas and it is about a 10 minute drive to the office and a 20 minute drive to the city center.
The upstairs of the house is another apartment in which a nice young woman, Duli lives. Even though the two apartments have separate entrances, we can go to her apartment, and she to ours via a circular stairway between us which has no locked doors! So far so good.
HST ‘s office is in the house where the Director and the founder live, and we work with them, and with two other women. In addition, there are about 30 or so more people in the field who work in the various Maya villages served by HST. We haven’t been to Muchucuxa yet this time, but will be going sometime later this month. One of the projects we are starting to get involved with is the marketing of the eco-tourism program there. We will also be helping to develop a student housing center here in Merida for Maya college and university students.
When we were here in 2007 we became friendly with a nice man named Primitivo, and lo and behold, his son Wilen is working for HST now. Very nice young guy who just became a father.
So far we have been greeted with hugs and kisses. In fact, everyone is greeted with a hug and kiss. Very nice indeed! Not only are people very warm and friendly but they try to feed us all the time. Food is great and we are certainly enjoying it. People are friendly and helpful everywhere. We feel comfortable and safe. It seems that not many people speak English, including the police who have stopped me (Peter) twice. Once because I was holding a cell phone ( and did not have my seat belt on) to use the GPS and once because they saw me come out of a tavern (thought it was a restaurant) and asked if I had been drinking beer. Me? Drink beer? Hahaha!
There are a lot of very fancy malls here, just like home with Costcos, Walmarts, etc., and we have found a nice couple of supermarkets in them, but we are also trying to buy fruits and vegetables from local markets, including street vendors who come around the streets selling cakes and ice cream.
Merida is celebrating its 474th birthday this month with a month long “Merida Fest”- went to a piano concert there today given by the bosses son. He plays very well and will be going to London in the fall to complete his masters.
We are driving around in our “Mexicana Bomba”, a beaten up VW, but it works – sort of, and beggars can’t be choosers. It was lent to us by the people at HST and they were very nice to do it. Now all we have to do it keep the policia from stopping us too many more times. We heard that the Mexican jails aren’t too nice!! Peter does the driving and I (Hinda) am the navigator, thank goodness for the Google Maps GPS.
So that’s it for now.
Peter and Hinda
Monday, September 07, 2015
Sunday, September 06, 2015
Blog 1 Kisumu, Kenya 2015
Habari Zenu! (Hi All!)
Here I am again back in Kisumu with KMET, helping to finish what I started last year (floor 3 of the first KMET Building – but actually started the whole project back in 2009).
First off, I arrived here on August 25th after a series of very long flight from Seattle. Tired but safe and sound. I am not getting any younger and the flights are more crowded and seem longer.
I am living in a very comfortable 2 bedroom apartment – small, but adequate and which has everything I need to including a nice swimming pool which I have not yet used. It is right in the sun, and it is very sunny here, in fact damn hot so, and not yet ready to go in, but I will soon. In fact a friend and her daughter are coming tomorrow to go swimming.
This apartment is too far from work for me to walk as I have been doing before so I either take a motorbike or a tuk tuk – a covered 3 wheel motorbike which has no springs, so you can imagine the bouncing on the still very many unpaved roads here. Not much has changed in that department.
I was given a very warm welcome by my KMET friends on the first day I reported to work – volunteer. And it was easy to get right back into the swing of things.
My major responsibilities are to raise enough money to finish the third floor which is close to completion - need to finish the roof, paint, tile the floor, glaze the windows, and install doors. The cost about 1.5 million Kenyan Shillings, about $150,000.
Well, in just a little more than a week, I have raised about $30,000 of that, so I am hopeful that I will be successful.
Another of my jobs is to work with the contractors and the suppliers to make sure that the estimates we get are the lowest (and best), and on that score also doing OK. Have negotiated a very good tile contract and about to finalize the contracts for the rest of the work. I really enjoy bargaining.
I am working very hard, but the successes energize me, and I have seen my colleagues pick up so many skills since I first started, so that I feel confident, that in the not too distant future, these KMET guys will do it all on their own. There is one person who is so good at fundraising – that some wallets are going to get smaller.
For me the weather has been hot. I have a fan blowing at me at night and one on my desk blowing on me at work. The temperature has been in the high 80’s and 90’s since I got here. It rained so hard a couple of days ago, that it was hard to see through it. Everything was flooded. Power was out, etc.
Now that the power has come back, there was a planned power outage for the whole City of Kisumu, so shortly after I woke on Sunday morning, the power was off and is supposed to be off for the whole day.
So, even though there is no generator, we do have solar hot water, so I was able to shower!
So here is a fun story: There is a lot of bribery here as there is elsewhere in Africa. The other day, I was in town and the driver I was with parked with just a small part of his tire on the yellow striped line in the parking lot. When we came out of my appointment, the front tired had been clamped and locked so the car was immobile. The guard came over and told us we had to go the Management Office and pay 1,000 shillings, about $100. I refused to go and asked the guard if I could give him something “small”. He said ok and asked how much. I told him 100 shillings and he agreed. But I didn’t have a 100 shilling note so I had to give him 200. Did he give me change? Guess!! But these guys earn next to nothing, so I did a good deed. Hopefully he had a nice lunch or bought candy for his kids.
That’s all folks! Be well.
Just in case you get a yearning to call me my number here is +254 733 257 039 and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and you can also find me on Facebook.