Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Drop in the Bucket, Part 2

Children look on with amazement as Amizade volunteers and a neighbor help clear a site for a tank designed to catch rainwater to provide safe drinking water for a family. Some of you have written and asked penetrating questions about this project. Catching rainwater is being practiced in many places in underdeveloped countries. It is inexpensive, environmentally sound, and takes away the stress of transporting water from unreliable streams or from tapping groundwater. For a number of reasons the tanks are made of concrete rather than plastic and are put underground except for the top. First an underground tank is supported by the earth so it is more durable and doesn't require reinforcement bar. It is less likely to be stolen or damaged and the water has to be ladled out rather than tapped. Taps leak or get left open. Amizade has donated funds and labor for larger tanks for larger families as well, and received grant money for a huge tank for a grain storage facility and school. Other organizations, a friend wrote, such as Rotary, are actively involved in supporting similar projects throughout the world.

The middle picture shows a student from West Virginia University and some bald headed guy, referred to in Swahili as babu (grandfather), moving some dirt. The family this weekend completed the hole which is over six feet deep and are in the process of amassing rock and stone to help begin the next stage of mixing concrete. I hope to show the finished work in a future post.
In the meantime I think of all the good fortune we have at home and our tough daily decisions such as, "Should I wash the dishes by hand or use the dishwasher!"

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Drop in the Bucket, Part 1

After my amazing travel through Uganda, I finally arrived in Karagwe, Tanzania, and began immediately to participate in activities of the Amizade water project. In conjunction with several local organizations, especially the Mavuno Improvement for Community Relief and Services, Amizade students and volunteers are helping to install partially underground concrete water tanks for families. Rainwater is gathered from the roof by a gutter and is directed by downspout to the top of the tank. Like a well, water is then fetched with a rope and bucket. The local agencies select the household to get the tank, a daunting task since everyone here needs clean water.

Today we began installing a 500 liter tank for the above home for a family of at least five and, I think, a goat. The middle picture is of the site director Stephanie discussing the tank's location with a neighbor who will help with the construction and whose family will also be able to use the water from the tank. Tomorrow I will show you further work in progress.

The top picture gives you an idea of how tropical this area is. Every day I eat several fresh bananas, sweeter than I've ever tasted, but I have to tell you, the rainy season has begun and it has been pouring practically non-stop. As a veteran of the Pacific Northwest Coast, I know rain, but this climate produces some seriously heavy drops. Children cut off banana fronds and carry them over their heads to keep from getting soaked. Groves of these lovely plants adorn this highland and transform it into a magical landscape, but be not fooled by this idyllic description, it is as poor and problematic as any place I have been on my adventure.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 2 in Africa

I have uploaded what appears to be three random shots I took from my bumpy bus ride across Uganda on my way to Karagwe. Tanzania. My objective is to show you the world I see and understand my struggle with its amazing contradictions.
The first photo is a typical village scene. There are some fellows sitting around chatting. You can't hear their laughter or feel their gentle gestures, but a tenderness is there. What could they be talking about and in what dialect I do not know? The trash behind them? Why don't they pick it up? It spoils the picture or is there a message here?
The second photo shows a lady wearing a lovely shawl. She is looking across a mud puddle at some folks on a patio. People care here very much about looking clean and presentable. The big mud puddle will serve her and her friends as drinking water for several days.
The last photo of a lone tree at dusk on the savannah instilled in me a feeling of Africa which I have imagined since childhood. You might hear the lyric "... the lion sleeps tonight", when you look at this picture. The problem is there are no lions near here. They are long gone due to encroachment of people, degradation of the land for farming, and hunting and poaching for food.
My Amizade Adventure is a maize. I turn many directions in spirit and in purpose. I end in Bend, Oregon at home, or is that just one more remote outpost?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day 1 Africa

It has been several days since I posted and my world has changed dramatically. I arrived in Kampala, Uganda, late in the evening and met Stephanie, the young, energetic and capable site director. She prepared me for the exhausting journey to the border and on to the isolated Karagwe site in Tanzania.

The above picture, taken from my bus window, is a vivid reminder of the sea of chaos I found in my first day in Africa. Intensified by torrential rain and sloppy, trash-filled mud and wearing a heavy backpack, I slogged my way clutching my carry-on luggage through throngs of impoverished people. It was a scene out of a movie I was in, a tourist out of place and caught in a morass of strange world.
As the bus made its way past the outskirts, the magic of Africa began to reveal itself in a different light. Lush tropical forests and gentle rolling savannah offered scenes of local people dressed in colorful clothing working or relaxing by their homes or visiting in the market. I saw smiling faces, relaxed and living in a simpler world. It wasn't a romantic picture exactly because there was all the trappings of poverty. It was life here, accepted, predictable, and peaceful.

I can only with great luck upload photos so I hope to show a variety of scenes, but it is an incredibly slow process. It is hard to believe that there is connectivity at all.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Deep in Oxford?

These few photos fall short in an attempt to describe the incomprable beauty and intense energy that pervades this famous university community of Oxford. An array of quaint specialty shops housed in 17th century buildings, selling everything from maps or antiquarian books to exotic foods line sidewalks crowded with intelligent people. Interspersed among the finely decorated facades are large wooden doors which serve as entrances to college buildings and lecture halls. A feeling of the great educational tradition remains locked behind Gothic walls of stone.

I fantasized what it would take to move to England, be accepted at Oxford and to challenge myself again now as a more mature student. I sensed the joy of the intellectual stimulation of learning among the best and living in a community which has so much cultural activity, including the Ashmolean Museum and the Bodlean library. I saw myself rowing along the Thames, acquiring a taste for English ale, and taking occasional trips over to the Continent to tour Europe's greatest scenes.

Now I am back in London and my momentary ambition has been tempered by the realities of such an effort. Sometimes it easy to believe that everything is possible and others times even getting dressed is a struggle. I have made much of my life already and maybe some dreams just need to be moderated. Like a character in the Canterbury Tales, I have a journey ahead of me and its story has yet to be told.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

An Afternoon at Warwick Castle

After spending a gloomy rainy day at Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford on Avon, Tapirgal and I were told that it was essential to visit was Warwick Castle not far away.
The castle was originally built by William the Conquerer in 1068 but has gone through many restorations since then and was still in use as a private residence up until 1978 by the Earl of Warwick until purchased by the Madame Tussaud Group. The main quarters are elaborately decorated and filled with realistic life-sized wax figures taken from the Tussaud Museum. This is no run-0f-the mill tourist attraction but is ranked on par with the Tower of London as a Grade 1 Ancient Protected Monument. It had so many elaborate rooms, gardens and outbuildings open for viewing. We didn't have the time to go in the basement to see the dungeon, but we saw the world's largest siege engine hurl a fiery boulder 800 feet.

I've always found it hard to be sympathetic with the wars, intrigues and brutality associated with these castles and their residents and, since I was raised in a working class family, it's been hard to identify with the travails of upper class royalty. I know also that in the town below, countless people lived on the edge of existence and were exploited and enslaved through the feudal system.

Nonetheless the magnificence of such a place is seductive and romantic. It is easy to shut your eyes and hear courtly music, and see men in armor marching in on white steeds or hear the horns of a fox hunt while the ghosts of the past live in vapors on the heath.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Seeing the Past

Yesterday I spent my first full day in the English countryside Northwest of London in the direction of Birmingham, lodging in a 17th century inn of the small town of nursery-rhyme fame, Banbury.

The evening before, I had strolled the narrow streets, looking at statues, Gothic churches and peering into pubs. I could feel the hard solid Puritan historical character of the area floating within the moist frigid evening air. Later on within the warmth of a drinking establishment, an enterprising bartender retold tales of the interregnum of Oliver Cromwell and the subsequent restoration in the reign of Enlightenment of Charles II.

I wanted so much to see backwards. Scenes of modern, wealthy industrialized England had invaded everywhere, even here in the villages; that boring sameness which has destroyed regionalism in so much of the West. Not that I was surprised. Like a treasure hunt, I have grown accustomed to seeking out remnants of the past and romanticizing them as if they had intrinsically more worth than life today.

The second and fourth photos show scenes of the "crown jewel" of my pursuit. Tapirgal and I went to Dudley. Perched on a peak surrounded by a small zoo is one of the oldest remaining castles, dating from the 11th century. I climbed its walls, peered through its windows and growled the roar of dragons.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Awakening in London

After traveling for hours from the warmth and beauty of South America, I spent my first day in over forty years in England. The quiet lovesong of the pan flute that had hummed inside me these past weeks and that was Bolivia and the magic of the altiplano, immedately was drowned out by an overwhelming cacophony of modern discordant sounds that defines London.

Surging intensely along its sidewalks or in cars, taxis or double decker buses and, especially on the subways, the city teems with a flotsam of different nationalities in pursuit of the promise of a better life. Gone was any sense of the British Anglican England, I remembered from my youth and of countless episodes of Masterpiece Theater.

On a chilly Winter afternoon amidst chestnut sellers and falafel vendors, together with Tapirgal of Astoria Daily Photo, I took to the streets to acclimate to the new phase of my Amizade adventure and to enjoy some of the fabled sights of this great city.

One the most exceptional moments was emerging from the Westminster tube station in the early evening and finding myself standing below one of London's most storied and historical monuments, Big Ben. Moments later the carillion began to chime its powerful, melodic half hour call. Like a conductor summoning its orchesta to order, the clock's tone imposed its benevolent will over its fractious city. My eyes followed the music across the Thames and over a skyline of graceful stone buildings and churches built for kings. In the impending darkness I stood feeling humbled. Before me was the throne of a once mighty empire which ruled much of the world and still today commanded front row in the international scene. I, a student of history and politics, had come to England to see its renowned sights. Here I was now in its kingdom, a mere vassal, standing awestruck before His Majesty.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Face of Bolivia

This is a strange day for me. These are my last hours in Bolivia and South America. In a few hours I'll be flying to England and returning to a more familiar world. I am sad that these almost six weeks have gone by so rapidly and that I won't have the opportunity to continue learning more about these cultures and speaking Spanish for quite sometime.
The first picture comes from a museum on a tiny island on Lake Titicaca. Residents dug up and, together with an archeologist pieced together the face of an Amari resident who lived around 200BC. These were a proud people, who were quite advanced in astronomy, architecture, and medicine. There is much conjecture about what happened to them. The Inkas, whose oral tradition might have given some clues, came on the scene over 1000 years later, were so totally obliterated by the Spanish that we know little about these early folks..
The second picture is of a peasant girl selling chocolates on the street of La Paz. Her fate is in question. Without education or connections, she may at some point be faced with even more difficult choices to survive.
The last picture of this old man was taken yesterday. He came up to me and reached into his pocket and pulled out a small hard rock ostensibly sell. It was split open in the middle and revealled a fossil of a trilobyte, which had also lived many years ago along Lake Titicaca.
There is a connection between these three faces which can be seen in their similar physiology. Moreover they are emblematic of the challenging history of South American people. I am beginning to understand that story and feel deeply about it. I recognize appreciating its value as a key component in my Amizade adventure.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

School Zone, Part 3

This is my last post form Cochabamba and I have only an hour before I leave for my last shift at the orphanage. I appreciate all the kind words and special thanks to those of you for donations for diapers for the care of these lovely children.

On that note, a blogger wrote me and asked "Is there a solution to poverty?" The question, through its simplicity, struck a chord in me. I have already seen so much need and I haven't even been to Tanzania, Jamaica, nor the Navajo Nation yet. I feel overwhelmed already when I think of the problem of insufficient water, sanitation, medicine, food and clothing I've seen so far. It is hard to believe in the liklihood of a solution to this human condition, a fate which is faced daily by the overwhelming majority of people on this planet.
Nonetheless, it is so much more encouraging and promising to look at the grains of sand rather than the whole beach. The above photos, the last in the series of a rural school that I visited and posted about the last two days, provides a rich example.
The top picture, of some nicely dressed girls leaving school through a gate with no wall. The wall has tumbled and will require resources from already totally impoverished community members before it can be rebuilt. In the meantime local farmers take shifts at the gate to ensure the safety of the school. I have witnessed on this trip strong community involvement by those who seemingly can least afford the time.
The second photo is of three unfinished classrooms built entirely by donations and labor provided by Amizade college student volunteers in conjunction with local masons. Each room still needs the installation of a corrugated roof which cost $1500.00 a piece before the space can be used. The project started a few years ago, but has floundered due to lack of funds. The economic downturn in the U.S. has seriously curtailed the number of students able to participate in oversea's programs and reduced the ability of philanthropic organizations to raise nominal money.
The last photo clarifies what sufficient resources and international cooperation can accomplish to improve the quality of life in this region. I taught English to these lovely, eager, intelligent children the other day in one of these classrooms built through Amizade. This "friendship" is a commodity that America does well to export. It is more valuable because it is genuine. At a time, in a world fraught with fear and negativity, these acts of random kindness bring a positive message to those who, not by their own actions, but by historical coincidence, have found themselves in a labyrinth of poverty. It is appreciated by the people beyond words.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

School Zone, Part 2

This is 2nd of three posts I have decided to do on my visit to a rural school in Vinto near Cochabamba, Bolivia. Yesterday I showed the surrounding countryside and shared some impressions I had about the living conditions of the students that you will be seeing today.
The photo, which I am sorry is so red, shows an Algebra class with 51 students. This school has about 450 high schoolers that attend in two shifts for a half day. Education is compulsory in Bolivia, but there is no means of enforcement. Some parents need their children's labor full time in order to survive and, many families can not afford to pay for the surprisingly costly books or supplies for even one child . The classroom has no heat for the cold winter and no cooling for the humid summer. I stayed for a while and was impressed by the dedication of the students and teacher to the learning process.
The second photo is of Rey Naldo the school principal. I found him quiet and sincere. As he shared with me the demographics of the school, he projected a gracious no nonsense tone when it came to education. The children know how important their learning is to their future, their parents and the community. The school also serves 300 elementary age children and an "after-school" program providing woodshop, home making skills, and a computer room. The teachers are paid by the government but the physical plant, supplies, and the above mentioned programs are supported entirely by already destitute community volunteers.
The final shot is of a history class. It meets outside like several others, since all indoor classrooms are full. Desks and benches are made in the woodshop or are donated. Children wear white shirts and sweaters and, even though most families have no running water, the students come to school remarkably clean. I saw no cellphones, texting, or any loud, gratuitious socializing, so common in our own high school climate. I felt the atmosphere was peaceful but disturbingly spartan. I saw few books, and no pictures on the walls, except for the flag in the background. I guess those that do without, still some how do.
Tomorrow will be my final installment on the school It is also my last day at the orphange and here in Cochabamba. I feel like I have still so much to say and such little time left. On Thursday, I return to La Paz and then Friday fly to London. Then a week later, I start my third Amizade Adventure in rural Tanzania.

Monday, February 8, 2010

School Zone

Today, the director in Cochabamba took me to an outlying community called Vinto where Amizade volunteeers have, over the years, built classrooms at the local school. I spent the morning in classrooms, meeting teachers, the principal, and students and even helping some youngsters with English. I hope to post pictures of my experience tomorrow and describe what I learned. First here's a brief synopsis of some scenes I captured that describe the surroundings.
The first photo, taken at another nearby school, is of a parent or family member inquirying about some school issue. I chose this photo to indicate what many of the younger ladies look like that I saw walking along the dirt lanes by the school.
The landscape of the second photo shows the community's exceptionally fertile land, which is nestled below the Andes foothills. There are fields of corn, potatoes and other row crops, but I only noticed people working with their hands. I saw no tractors or heavy equipment. School lasts only a half day so children can work the fields next to the parents. It may look idyllic, but please note the third picture.
In this last shot, a home and stall combination, where probably several students live, there is no electricity, running water, or sanitary facilities. Also some of the school children you will see tomorrow live high in the mountains and come down once a week and stay in the village in order to make their schooling possible.
It was another emotionally moving day on my Amizade Adventure and I look forward to bring you tomorrow's installment.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Saturday Afternoon

After walking for hours in the heat yesterday and seeing plazas, churches and distinctive architecture, I feel mindless today and wanted to post a few pictures that through detail tell about my day.
The first photo is of the sidewalk which surrounds Cochabamba's main square, 14de Septembre. The illusion had me worry for a moment that I was experiencing heat stroke.
I took cover nearby under the umbrella of a cafe shown in the second photo. I have always loved sitting in outdoor restaurants and cafes. This particular place served delicious fruit drinks. Right now durazno, fresh peach juice, is in season. It is served in huge pitchers ice cold. I wish I could share a glass with you.
The third picture is the top of the column found in the center of the above-mentioned plaza. It is surrounded by the park's mature shade trees, gorgeous flowers, fountain, and quaint benches. Perched on a column in the center of the park is a stone replica of an Andean condor. The condor symbolizes the highest stage of existence, the universe in traditional Indian thought. My eyes see so many little things at the plaza: clothing, jewelry, facial expressions, blankets, children and their toys, exotic plants, stone details, and food. I am too stunned by the magic in the air. I need to sit down for a while and put my camera away and ask myself again where I am.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Drawing them in?

In a recent post I reported that I have been sketching the children at the orphanage. Some of you asked to see my drawings. My goal is give these little guys an appreciation for art. They try to sit still but they are so distracted by the others and the general chaos that I am dealing with moving targets. In a matter of moments, they are up and about, so any hope of having a fixed pose is useless. To my art teacher Dawn, thanks for your patience and support and yes, I see the eye in the second pose is totally off and, I know I could fix it and it is only one in ten thousand!
At my next visit I am bringing paper and pencils and will try to get the children to do my portrait. I am going to wiggle intentionally. They will laugh and then they will scold me for moving!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hats and Hair

I prefer a baseball cap myself, but the women of Bolivia sure love their hats. The above pictures show three distinct styles of millnery and express a fashion statement particular to a geographical location.
The last photo of two ladies waiting in the shade for a bus is taken here in Cochabamba. I have been told the hat is called a sombrero de chola. It is of hand-woven straw and has a wide rigid brim.
I have shown pictures of the second hat on previous posts. It is called a brombina of Italian origin and is the rage throughout LaPaz and the the Altiplano.
The third hat belongs to a lady from Eastern Bolivia, I am told, possibly from Santa Cruz. It is similar to the Cochabamba hats, but is floppy.
Please notice the hair. Most Bolivian women have contemporary hair-dos like any American or European. but there are those like who prefer the traditional look. They have the longest braids I have ever seen, in fact I think, some add some kind of extension which loops across at the bottom and ties the two braids together. I have neither the nerve nor language skills to ask. Perhaps these photos might stimulate some ideas for your Spring look. I think all these people look really cool.