Wednesday, March 31, 2010

PD Interviews: Shawn Fagan

Good news: Shawn's interview is done!

More good news: in her interview, Shawn answers multiple questions about food... she demonstrates her Tae-Bo moves... and she manages to succinctly answer her father's inquisition about her fondness for Ayn Rand. Impressive, no?


Until next week (this weekend is our Easter ferriado!),

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bibi and Buses

This guest blog comes from our very own Country Director/boss/mother/snack food enthusiast/friend, Bibi Al-Ebrahim. "Beebs," as she is often referred to, is best known for screaming "BUENAS TARDES" outside of tiendas/homes when the owners/residents are not in eye-shot ("eye-shot"... is that a phrase?), eating copious amounts of snacks and leftovers from our fridge, and owning a dog which recently went through a hysterical pregnancy (no, really). Oh, she's also a pretty great boss... and she has a not-so-secret adoration for the Ecuadorian bus system, which she explains below. Enjoy!

"Contrary to US popular belief or understanding, bus systems, good ones, can in fact make your life better; and I don't speak solely about mobilization and getting from point A to point B. Instead, I am talking about all the wonderful opportunities it provides in 1) lowering fuel emissions 2) gaining further insight into who you are and 3) greater understanding of Ecuadorian culture.

Pertaining to numero uno, developing countries' fuel emissions are not to be blamed for the world's global warming threat. We all know that the blame falls on industry, and most heavily on developed country industry. With that said, I have nothing more to add.

Numero dos can be easily answered with a single personal trivia question and an imagine thyself scenary.

Personal Trivia question:

A) When on a bus, would you be the person that runs and elbows an elderly man, or a pregnant woman, for the one and only seat? or

B) Would you be that person that renders the competition moral-less, and willingly gives up your seat to anyone that looks a little worse off than you feel?

Either way, once panting in your seat or squished and standing unpleasantly between an excess of people, you'll have plenty of time to comtemplate just what type of person you are, and maybe even the person you'd like to become.

Now, imagine sitting in traffic, but not having to drive. Why be behind the wheel, when you can be day dreaming into the distance at the Andes mountains? Or, while more consciously pondering your life. Just think of how much more dreaming and scheming you could do in your lifetime in window seat, row 16.

Lastly, the bus is a petri dish for cultural insight. For many, the bus can be the most intimate cultural experience they'll have. Here are some cutlural norms that the buses teach us and some of the questions that arise:

1. Machismo: 9 out of 10 (this is my personal observation) young men use gel in such that put their female counterparts hairdos to shame. What are some of the differences between how manhood is defined in Ecuador versus back home?

2. Heavy making out: It's not a private affair, and is totally acceptable on a public and inescapable place like the bus. Is this due to the fact that there's very limited personal space and alone time, anywhere, including in people's homes?

3. Breastfeeding: It's beautiful to be in a country where breastfeeding is actually viewed as a natural and needed process that a woman can do it anywhere she wants, including on a speedy and bumpy bus, all the while chitchatting with her brother. How does this speak to women's roles and their place in Ecuadorian society?

4. Informal employment: On your way into Quito, you will most likely experience the vendedor ambulante, or person that will get on the bus to sell you pens, candies, hangers, natural healing teas, etc. This may be a shock at first as you question whether it's possible for the vender, often a child, to make a living selling candies for $.25. Venders get on the bus hoping to make money, and get off without paying the fare. Despite the fact that the vendors represent one of the lowest economic classes in the country, there is a level of respect paid to them by both the bus driver (by permitting them on the bus) and riders (by window shopping their product). More often than not while on the bus you find yourself witnessing the interactions between Ecuadorian social-economic classes, and experiencing how social justice is played out in small, daily ways.

The bus is like a sacred place (possibly the only one on wheels), of self and cultural reflection. It's the daydreaming, the people watching, and the changing of scenery that teach us so much about ourselves and Ecuador."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Teenage Kicks

As part of our goals for the teen center Shawn, Mike, and Erik have been holding monthly events outside of regular teen center hours. This month's event was a party, organized and mostly run by the teens themselves. The party was highly successful, but as we debriefed afterward and found that most of the attendees were male, ideas came up about trying to have afternoon or earlier events for those teens with early curfews.

Here's a short recap from Mike about the event!

"This past Saturday, we had our second teen center party. Much like the first, the teens planned and prepared all aspects of the party- invitations, DJ, music equipment, cover charge, and advertising. An addition to this party was a rifa, or raffle, in which we provided a ticket to every person who paid to enter the party. The hard work of the teens paid off, as we had more than 30 people come and pay, as well as a number of new people to the Teen Center. Special thanks go out to Christian, for getting the music equipment; Dario, for helping Erik with the rifa; and Pammy, for keeping everybody in line. "

The 'auditorium' all set up for the party (pictures courtesy of Christian)

Mike and Pammy pause for a photo

Christian and Grace jam out to the DJ

Other teen goings on include an after school homework help (apoyo escolar) for math and reading run by two of our most active teens, Christian and Pammy. As library attendance drooped this month, parents informed us that their kids need to focus on school and that we don't offer enough scholarly activities outside of English class. Simultaneously a couple of teens wanted to get more involved in the centro, and so far these study sessions have been going really well. Eventually, we'd like to try and fuse some of our teen trips and kid's paseos together to encourage interaction and give the kids some good role models outside of the library.

youthfully yours,

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vanderbilt SB Recap

Two weeks ago we were hosts to our first Spring Break groups of the year. While Erik and Chet were busy leading Duke around in Lumbisi, Mike and I were keeping track of the Vanderbilt group. Our week was packed with morning activities in Quito, afternoons in the Centro, and an overnight trip to Mindo. Our group was able to accomplish a lot in their short week here, including painting the big room upstairs (the "auditorium," if your name is Chet), fixing up the garden for the Alinambi nutrition program, leading Women's Exercise, and getting to participate in all of the other educational programs that we offer. Here is a brief recap in pictures (courtesy of the Vanderbilt girls)...

Most of the group outside of the Guayasamin museum in Quito

Painting the big room a nice shade of celeste (contrary to photographic evidence, the room is NOT lavender.)

Allegra reading to kids in the library

Working in the garden at Alinambi

Helping out with Children's English

The whole group in Plaza Grande

Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Condor Truths

Although we may be miles away from a typical St. Patrick's Day celebration, I assure you we celebrated in style with green eggs and clothing, an Irish meal of Shepard's pie and soda bread, and of course a viewing of Boondock Saints. Mister Irish himself (Chet) spent last week in Lumbisi with one of our spring break volunteer groups teaching classes, painting murals and planting a vegetable garden. Since we only got to spend a night with the feisty North Carolinians, which mostly consisted of embarrassingly revealing questions deemed 'condor truths,' I'll let Chet explain a day in the life with the Duke spring breakers...

"The Duke spring break group accomplished some great manual and artistic labors in the week we were in Lumbisi. Like all things Erik and I do, we accomplished it with brutal honesty, a fun-loving attitude, and a little bit of insanity. It is important to remember that Lumbisi has a biting fly problem; and I mean like a Jean Paul Satre-style "The Flies" biting fly problem. While Erik and I spent the week living in the FEVI office, we ate all our meals at home stay. This was the same home stay where Sarita, one of FEVI's long term volunteers from the US also ate. Wednesday night, Bibi was in the area and had dinner with us and everyone at the table was involved in a very engaging debate between James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges. Remember, James Joyce wrote Ulysses, arguably the best novel of the 20th century and in my opinion the gold standard in the modernist literature. Borges was a writer from Argentina. Given the distinct advantage Joyce has in this comparison. I'm a bit abashed to admit that it was more or less a tie.

Thursday was our last day to complete our work projects. In the morning we all went up the to ecological forest reserve to collect straw for the garden we had been working in. To settle the dinner debate, in the afternoon we split up into two groups to see who could finish first: one with me to finish the murals we had been painting on the outside of the pre-school, and the other down in the gardens with Erik to finish up the work on the new beds. The beds were all dug and just needed to be layered with straw, fertilizer, and filled with dirt; however, there was one large rock in the corner of bed 2 we had been unable to remove.

About an hour and a half into our work projects for the afternoon, I look to my left and see Erik, with a stride of pride, enter the fence to the preschool with a huge rock in his hands. He draws near me and asks, 'Hey Chet, if you were going to name a rock after an author, what would it be?' I of course look at him like he is crazy. He then informs me that after an hour and a half, they had finally removed the gigantic rock in the corner of bed two and I was staring at a small piece of it. He then informed me “this is Borges” spiked the rock, and walked out of the yard in triumph. My comment was for him to bring the bug spray the next time he came back. This is why we work so well together and why, while the Duke spring break volunteers probably think we are crazy, we got a lot of work done in three and a half days and had a great time doing it.

Alberto, Erik and JJ dominating said rock

The whole group sight seeing in the centro historico

Maria puts some finishing touches on the wall mural

KP plays with some kids in Lumbisi

The group leaders, and their respective cuy heads, share a moment

Erik would like to set (sic) that 'we still beat ya’ll.'


Monday, March 15, 2010

I Feel Just like a Child

Last Saturday while half of the PDs were showing spring breakers around historical Quito, the rest of us were field-tripping to Quito's interactive science museum. One of the goals of our agriculture and environmental program is to take kids outside of the four walls of the library for science-based paseos (field trips). We do this to expose the kids to nature, help them understand and appreciate the incredible amenities that exist in Ecuador, and to foster creativity and active learning.

Our first trip was a great success, chock full of 10 energetic minds ranging from 6 to 12 years old. The museum hosts three distinct exhibits - the sala de guaguas, the physics hall, and the Quito 2025 exhibit. The guaguas space is especially designed for younger kids, allowing them to hike through the paramo grasses, balance atop plates tectonics, follow life on the farm from soil to almuerzo plate, and dress up as their favorite Andean animals. The physics hall excited the kids with interactive acoustic and mechanics demonstrations as well as a myriad of mind games to challenge their critical-thinking skills. Kids and PDs alike we're enchanted by the space-age cocoon showing how our city will look in 2025 - including the current airport converted into a wildlife park and an enhanced public transportation system.

Leslie flies high to experience life as a Condor

Daniella balances without sight to test her other senses

Vinicio shoots down the paramo slide into the lagoon ball pit below

Some of the kids watching their shadows in the dark room (sorry the flash messed up the picture!)

Krysta and the kids learn how to separate the intertwined metal puzzle

Helping Henry levitate his ball into the top hole

Sonia, Krysta, and Shawn and Jenny with the kids

As we rounded the corner on the bus back to Rumiloma, PDs were exhausted but the kids we're ready for more, asking over and over when the next paseo would be. We're really excited to continue spending time with these kids outside of the library and hope to make next month's destination a naturalist hike through Pasochoa reserve. A special big thanks to Shawn, Sonia, and Krysta for being such fantastic chaperones!


Friday, March 12, 2010

You Are What You Eat

This week's guest blog comes from Krysta Peterson, our house walking human dictionary who has a tendency to make up words and mash-up sentences. More importantly, she is our nutrition enthusiast who has been working with a local school, Aliñambi, since August, on starting up a nutrition education program. After months of hard work, she now helps run an inclusive nutrition program. This program focuses on educating students through hands-on learning with an overall goal to raise students' self-efficacy in food consumption and decision making. Here's a glimpse into working with these enthusiastic sixth graders twice a week!

Charlas! Portfolios! Cooking Classes! School Garden! Oh my! If you think those sound fun, just imagine the excitement and enthusiasm coming from our 6th graders each week as we walk in the gates at Aliñambi to do just that. After 7 months working with Aliñambi and nutrition with little physical evidence, I am thoroughly ecstatic, to say the least, about starting this nutrition program with the kids there. I believe through these kids is where we will be able to really initiate a change towards healthy lifestyles for these communities.

Along with Profes Haley and Jackie we will be teaching nutrition through charlas (lectures), thought provoking portfolio work, and hands-on cooking classes and a class garden. Every Tuesday I will be leading the class through charlas and portfolio work based on topics from the food pyramid to macro and micronutrients to hygiene. And every Friday Chef Haley and Sous Chef Krysta will be leading the culinary trainees with watchful eyes as they learn to wash and cut vegetables and make healthy meals using all local goods. Farmer Jackie and Farmhand Bibi will be leading the apprentices in designing and building their own garden to include radishes, lettuce, broccoli, cilantro, and basil…can anyone else see delicious salads in our future?! Yum!

Today we finished our second full week of class and despite a few punishments after a dirt-throwing jaunt everything has been going great. I truly believe in these kids’ ability to succeed in this program and their capacity to realize they have control over their nutritional lives and can promote permanent change at home.

Last week we didn’t realize we were not allowed to take photos at the school, so these are a few and probably the only pictures we will have for evidence that this program actually took place. Enjoy them while they’re hot!

Krysta, Erik, Chet, Mike and Sarah lending a helping hand in the huerto (which was all grass before we started)

Two hours later...

Krysta and some of our Aliñambi students

amor + nutrition,


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Questions for Shawn!

It's time for PD Interviews: Round 2... this time with Ms. Shawn Fagan. Shawn, resident Brooklynite of the olive green room at the end of the hall, is most famous for completing the NY Times crossword on a daily (almost religious) basis, finishing two 1000+ page Ayn Rand novels in the last few months, and participating in all programs Teen Center, Children's English, and Preventive Health Center-related.

I'll be interviewing Shawn next MONDAY, MARCH 15th... so please submit all questions in the comments section of this blog or by e-mailing me at BEFORE then. Thanks in advance!

Now back to check on the 12 screaming girls sitting in our living room (Spring Break 2k10 is definitely in full swing),

Little-Known Fact: Shawn is also famous for starring in Where the Wild Things Are

Monday, March 8, 2010

Feels Like Home

Despite scurrying in and out of Quito, Mindo, the library, and everywhere in between with our first group of spring break volunteers, Sarah found some time to give us the run down on her homestay experience. Community homestay is a new program for us PDs; we spent three weeks in mid-July living with families in Quito, but now we're taking turns spending time with families in and around our community. This gives us a chance to brush up on our Spanish and, more importantly, expose ourselves to different cultures and extend relationships beyond the four walls of the centro.

"Sometimes I forget that I live in Ecuador. Mike once said that we live in a “little America,” (see interview below) and you know what? He has a point. We speak English in the house. We watch American movies and DVDs (albeit Ecuadorian bootleg versions). We cook what we know – mostly American (and occasionally Indian) meals. And we seem to maintain our fast-paced lifestyles in the midst of a country where la hora ecuatoriana (i.e. everything is late) dominates.

Last week I got a taste of Ecuadorian culture 24/7 while I was on my home stay – living, eating, and playing with an Ecuadorian family whose kids attend our children’s English classes. I was the guinea pig PD, as I was the first one to leave the shelter of our little America to live with community members. And I am happy to report that it was a phenomenal success!

Each evening, instead of piling into the camioneta bound for home, I jumped on a bus to Sangolquí and arrived at my new home just in time for dinner. I lived in one home with two parents and one daughter, but we were surrounded by the entire extended family. Within this small block of Sangolquí lives roughly 35 members of the same family. This means lots of cousins, lots of little kids, and lots of playing.

After dinner each night, I played made-up games with the kids (so funny how kids make up games… I miss that!) that ranged from playing “basketball,” where an arco was made by hitting a circle on the wall made with chalk, to “nombre” which involved a lot of running and throwing a ball at each other, to good old jump rope, which was probably a bad idea after eating such a huge dinner.

The weekend brought more cultural immersion, since last Saturday was Flag Day at school. From what I gathered, Flag Day is something that all students do on a selected day every year. They march with the flag, sing their National Anthem, and honor the students who are at the top of their class. One of the cousins with whom I was living happened to be at the top of his class, so he got to lead the march and stand in the front. The whole day turned into one big celebration – a big family lunch, lots of talking post-lunch, an afternoon in the park, and cake in the evening.

I left my new family on Sunday to travel back to the Manna House where a meeting and cooking responsibilities promptly greeted me at the door. It was good to be home and with my housemates whose screams and general absurdity I have come to love, but it is infinitely better to know that I have a family in Sangolquí that asks me every day in the library when I’m going to come back to visit and play games in the courtyard.


Friday, March 5, 2010

PD Interview: Mike Gabrys

HOORAY FOR FRIDAY! And hooray for our first finished PD Interview with Mike! Thank you to everyone who submitted questions. They were ridiculous and thought-provoking. Hopefully Mike's answers will give you a better idea of what he's up to down here and the role he's playing within Manna Project Ecuador. And without further ado... Mr. Mike Gabrys.

Thanks again to everyone who submitted questions and to Mike for sitting through a marathon interview. The next interview will be with Shawwwnnnn... we'll keep you posted on when we'll need questions for interview. Stay tuned.

And now. Off to pick up the Vanderbilt Spring Break group for the airport! How is it Spring Break time already?!?!


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Split-Screen Perseverance

Kudos to this week's guest blogger, miss Shawn Fagan, who completed the task of writing us an entry during the week of all madness before spring break gets here! That's right folks, we have just finished the (last minute) preparations for our first group from Vanderbilt to arrive tomorrow. Even Bibi came over, eager to help us clean the kitchen, but really ended up just whipping us with rolled up towels for 45 minutes. As we enjoy a 'quiet' last night in the house, I hope you enjoy Shawn's entry, and look forward to Mike's interview for tomorrow!

"Yesterday I added a new objective to my lists of goals and objectives for this quarter. This objective is to be accomplished by the end of my stay, rather than March 31st, the official end of our third quarter. My new objective struck suddenly; like a beacon of light, it was so clear, so obvious, so logical…how had I not thought of it before? Allow me to explain how this wondrous occurrence played itself out on an otherwise insignificant Wednesday.

I was walking home from the bus stop, excited to test out the new DVD store that had opened up just a block from our house. I was seeking a scary, perhaps funny movie to show at this Friday’s “Noche de Cine” in our Teen Center. The movie I had in mind was “Zombieland,” which, for all of you zombie movie/book/legend lovers (a fan base that includes most of Manna’s 2008-2009 Program Directors), successfully combines gore with humor, romance with dead bodies, and features a fantastic cameo by Bill Murray. Upon entering the intriguing new DVD store, I was slightly dismayed to discover that the window display is pretty much the entire collection. Regardless, I took a look around. Lo and behold they did have “Zombieland,” but only in English with Spanish subtitles. We make it a practice during movie nights to watch movies that are dubbed in Spanish; the teens are typically less than thrilled about the prospect of having to read subtitles, and the Profes always benefit from listening to the cookie-cutter-accented Spanish that is used in film dubbing here.

I began to look around for a different scary/humorous movie. My eyes perused the shelves. In ninth grade, before the age of DVDs, when the neighborhood indie video store reined supreme, my friend and I went through a semi-pretentious phase where we would watch only Kevin Smith movies and then feign an understanding of all the jokes. So when when my gaze fell upon that classic "Mallrats" cover art, I knew it was more than just chance. I rushed home and popped in one of my favorite movies from those long-lost high school years. It was just as good, if not better than I remember, in part because I definitely get a whole lot more now. And then came the revelation that had always been there, just below the surface, waiting to be unveiled. I will, as of my official end of July objective, seek to recreate my golden collection of VHS movies, those that still hold a permanent place on my TV stand at home, in bootleg $1.50 Ecuadorian DVDs. A lofty goal, I know you're all thinking, but it's a noble cuase, and I must persevere.

Shawn and Selena enjoying their make-up

- Shawn"