Fin de Semana – Que Ocupada

Campaigns, family interviews, painting the greenhouse, buying materials and buying and carrying a 10×8 meter piece of plastic. To say this weekend was busy would be an understatement. On Friday we decided to add a community survey part to our own greenhouse and health-oriented evaluation: this meant interviewing as many families as we could outside of the greenhouse owning ones. Our questions were mostly centered on their vegetable-eating habits, if they had enough water and whether they would be interested in classes to learn more about growing vegetables.

Though Paula’s covering most of Saturday, I’ll fill in a little of my own adventures – since Paula and Judy went to Amealco and just caught the beginning of the campaign in Chiteje – and go on to Sunday and Monday as swiftly as I can. Although… we got a lot of walking done those three days, but not as much running (kind of hard in jeans, high elevation, and > eighty degree Fahrenheit weather), so I’m out of practice when it comes to speed… I’ll do the best I can.

Saturday – POV Marcela

Paula and Judy went off to Amealco for Internet and supplies in the morning, after checking to see that Francisco and Carlos (the soldering guy) had started work on the greenhouse at 8am. That morning Emma had told us there was a town meeting at 2 that we should attend, so they planned to come back by then.

I visited Petra’s store first, and wrote down vegetable prices, bread prices, even Coca Cola prices. Then I did my first community interview with the family I had originally (earlier) mistaken for Petra’s. They were so nice and welcoming; they even gave me a full cup of a (pink) banana smoothie. It was AMAZING. I had to stay a bit longer just to finish the glass.

I then went down the hill, past Maria Romalda’s house and to the end of her road, trying to reach the furthest families and work my way up. There were two small girls at the furthest house, but when I asked where their parents were their answer was ‘In Amealco’. Surprised, I continued on, but reached the opposite gate of their house where their dad greeted me. He was there – phew! He talked at length about how he had gone through a drug rehabilitation program and received help from the government to raise his (eight) kids, how there wasn’t enough water because he was growing trees, etc. His story was definitely interesting. I hit two more families next door, one of which had an adult dependent and was also low on water, but the woman I interviewed kept thanking me for coming to visit and listen to them.

It was getting past noon, so I went up and checked on Francisco and Carlos before getting lunch at Emma’s. I did eight more families up near Emma’s house before meeting Judy and Paula for… the event…

That turned out to be a political campaign! For none other than the PAN party! Judy and Paula left before 3 because the actual campaigning (political platforms, ‘platicas’, etc.) were not going to happen soon – the announcer was busy injecting excitement into the crowd with music, campaign songs, and even a CLOWN! They also thought the candidates weren’t there and had only sent their representatives, but I soon found out otherwise. Gil Garcia and Rosendo Anaya, candidates for the municipality of Amealco, were there!

(Pictures of the event will be up soon!)

Their party had been the only ones to talk to our group about getting the government involved in the greenhouse project. But we don’t know THAT much about Mexican politics now (PAN is apparently very conservative, we learned later?) so this isn’t a big political endorsement for them or anything. I was mostly waiting for the free food anyway. Only took two hours of waiting and one hour of talks…

Oh and Petra was there too, she tried to buy me ice cream.

It was too early for me then, but afterwards someone else gave me these almond flavored ice-type one that was OUT OF THIS WORLD. Banana smoothies + tacos with potatos and frijoles + good helados = happy Marcela.

Sunday

We met Francisco and Carlos at the secondary school bright and early at 8am. They were finishing the soldering, and said we could return at 2pm to start painting the greenhouse. Judy planned to take the next bus to Amealco to do a test required for her research project at MIT before the deadline. Paula, Judy for the time left before the bus arrived, and I continued interviewing families. My first ‘family’ was an elderly man living by himself that in lieu of vegetables wanted to talk about his family, his Episcopalian temple, and his other native language, but he was friendly.

I managed to find three more real families. They seemed interested in the idea of lessons and told me that they were interested in things like help buying seeds. After that last family though, Paula found me and voted that we go back for the morning. She had tried to interview a man who had given her a sermon of how Sunday was the holy day of rest and how it was not right to disturb people on this of all days of the week. We played it safe and spent the rest of the morning translating interviews and working with our data.

Judy returned at about 1:30 and met us at 2 at the secondary school. The soldering was practically finished, but there was still some work for Carlos and Francisco to do. It wasn’t until about 4:30 that Francisco said the greenhouse was ready to paint. Most of the greenhouses from last summer hadn’t been painted, but painting wasn’t just for appearance; it would help keep our metal from rusting prematurely, allowing it to last years longer. We needed to get the primer on that Sunday, so we could get one layer of paint on Monday, and then put the plastic on Tuesday before leaving Wednesday.

As the shortest of our short group, I took the tall ladder where I could paint the metal rods at the very top of the greenhouse. Due to needing to move the ladder and make sure I had reached every spot, the others finished before me. They went ahead to do more interviews, while I wrapped up the painting and Francisco finished up some drilling. We got back at 8pm for a much-needed dinner and some data uploading – we had finished up with 49 non-greenhouse family interviews! – but I for one dropped out not long after my shower after 10pm.

Monday

Morning: it was time for getting up bright and early to get our layer of paint on the greenhouse. I happened to be the lucky one that dropped the paint can from my tall ladder, resulting in a ladder and my self being covered in paint. And this was just before catching the bus to Amealco, nicely decorated with white paint from hair to shoe, to finish job applications and buy plastic and wood with Paula. It took me from 12-2 to get my recommender’s letter and send out my application, and then until 4 to order our greenhouse plastic to take with us, and the wood for shelves for the greenhouse for delivery. We were in such a rush that Paula ordered a gordita and left it sitting on the grill to run and pay for the plastic.

The major finish: wrapping the greenhouse with plastic, attaching the plastic and windows, and putting on Velcro to help people close the windows, all with the help of hopefully enough willing students – would begin on Tuesday. Followed up by a nice, relaxing art class!

Mini Reflection – as if this post wasn’t long enough –

I’m finishing this blog post from home in New York City, but have to say that every moment in Mexico was worth it ten times over. The weekend I blogged about was full of activity, stressful and fast at times, but we got to know the community a bit better (and finish our greenhouse!) as a result.

It’s activities like these, and the smiles of the children that helped us; the ones that watched us build from just outside their classrooms; the families that thanked us for coming all the way to their houses and asking for their stories – that renew my faith in our ability to make a difference, even just a start.

The key to any international development project is empowerment: giving people the tools, the opportunities, to improve their own lives, and eventually stepping aside and letting them take the lead. Some challenges are outside of our scope to handle, but we worked every day we were there on what we were equipped to help with – families growing and consuming vegetables, us working with children a little, etc. We’re learning many lessons from our evaluations, as well as our personal experiences. In terms of the personal lessons, I don’t plan to forget a single one.

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