Reject the Single Story

 

When we were offered the assignment to move to Mexico, we created a pro & con list with the single story knowledge that we had. Safety was a big concern for us, and what was it going to be like to move to the desert? Would we have to adopt new names or join a mariachi band to fit in? We were victims of the single story that is so often painted for US citizens. We had even been to Mexico on mission trips building houses and working with youth groups. The only story we knew of Mexico was that Mexicans were impoverished, less than, and always trying to sneak into our country. I can’t blame you for thinking the same.

 

Arriving to Mexico, I was nervous and skeptical of what I was seeing. Could people really be happy hear? Is that jazz music I hear in the courtyard? Why are there coffee shops and pizzerias on every corner? Aren’t these people supposed to be poor? 

 

My friend, let me tell you, there are many Mexicos.

 

Throughout the two years of living in Mexico, I have encountered more Mexicos than I thought possible. I have been to the coast to stay with a Swede in his beachside hotel. I have been to isolated communities that lack clean water. I have been to the jungle and spotted exotic birds. I have been to the city and watched people cram themselves into an already full subway train. I have been to pyramids where indigenous people played soccer and birthed new life. I have been to cold, rainy, and clouded forests that feel just like the Pacific Northwest. I have been to the coffee growing regions and met the poorly compensated farmers.

 

Over the years, I have heard countless stories of cousins, brothers, fathers crossing the border. You can see the pain in their eyes as they tell you the story of the economic hardship that drove them to trek the 400 miles in hopes of providing for their families. I have met men who started a life in the US, only to be deported and ripped away from their kids who have citizenship. It is not an easy story to hear, but it is an important one.

 

Mexico is so much more than Spring Break, drugs, and immigration laws. There is vibrant life and culture popping out at every corner. Happiness, joy, sorrows, and struggles. You must not forget that we are all humans, part of the human race.

 

I encourage you to reject the single story of any one person or any one place and seek a new perspective. On that note, I have to say that I am only one voice, one story in the Peace Corps novel. If you are interested in embracing new stories, I would encourage you to check out these other fabulous Peace Corps bloggers below to help you better understand what Peace Corps truly is and how you can support those who work for peace around the globe.

 

Meet Jessica, author of prize-winning blog Among the Stone Cactuses, who like myself was in Mexico. Her time was cut short due to a medical injury, and she had a different experience to her time as a PCV. She is an incredible writer and her journalistic photos draw you into her story.

 

 

Meet Jedd and Michelle, authors of Simply Intentional, who served in Jamaica as a married couple from 2012 – 2014. Their videos make the stories they have encountered come to life and pop out. They have a similar timeline to Neal and I, and they too are in the RPCV sabbatical mindset.

 

 

Meet Sara, author of Guinean Dreams, whos Peace Corps service ended 21 months early because of the Ebola outbreak. Read her true stories on the perspective of Ebola and tell me that the US news has not desensitized us.

 

 

Meet Keith and Heather, authors of Sponge & Slate, who are currently serving as Peace Corps Volunteers in China. They are English teachers who record their students during class and work on gender equality issues on the side.

 

 

Peace to you, amigos!

CBJ

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Nuestro Departamento

Due to safety reasons, we were never able to publish photos of our apartment while we were living on-site. For your viewing pleasure, I have put up some photos so you can see what our apartment looked like as Peace Corps Volunteers in Mexico. We lived simply, but we were safe and had a host family that took great care of us. This apartment is located in San Pedro Cholula, which is unrelated to the popular hot sauce. We lived on the second floor and to our surprise, never had any problems with scorpions or snakes or any other unwanted creatures that are common to the Peace Corps experience.

 

You have to understand, life was simple and cheap. Our apartment in numbers… rent was $155 USD/month; internet with router was $25 USD/month; gas was $20 USD every other month; electricity was $4 USD every other month.

 

Our garden patio – chives, lettuce, tomatoes, and our compost!

 

Our economy bathroom – shower, sink, toilet all right there!

 

Part 1 of our kitchen – limited space, limited pots and pans.

 

Part 2 of our kitchen – Note our mini fridge!

 

The living room where friends and family have spent many hours together!

 

The view from our bedroom door. I love our little apartment!

 

Since we’re still not settled in our new life, this still feels like my home. It breaks my heart to see our home and to know that we willingly chose to leave this life. It is easy, however, to idealize the things you’ve lost in life. Mexico will always be a part of my life and our story. I am forever grateful for our experiences there and the many memories we had in this apartment.

 

¡Feliz Navidad! 

Chelsea Beth

Sustainable School Food Gardens

If you were to just look at our blog up until this point, you would be convinced that being in the Peace Corps is all play and no work. Well today I hope to set the record straight.

As Peace Corps volunteers we have a unique opportunity to apply for Small Project Assistance (SPA) grants which are small pieces of the USAID budget.  These grant funds provide a way for Peace Corps volunteers to partner with USAID to support development efforts in rural communities. I applied for funds to begin a gardening project that focused on teaching rural community members about climate change adaptation measure such as school gardening, compost, and environmental education. One of the most exciting outcomes from this project included publishing a manual specifically regarding school gardens, one of the first of its kind available in Spanish.

Why school gardens you ask? Well since schools are already an educational institution, we decided that working with the schools would disseminate out to the communities via the students.  We focused on sustainable food gardens as they can be used for climate change adaptation, environmental education, food generation, income generation, recreation, and conservation of native plants.

The implementation worked like this…

1. We selected three schools who previously demonstrated interest in themes of environmental education in three different socio-economic levels to show that regardless of access to resources, all schools can grow their own food.
2. A group of local garden experts united together to technically educate the schools in four different trainings that increased their capacity and knowledge in the theme of school gardening and small scale agriculture.
3. Depending on what the school had in regards to resources, we implemented one of two options for school gardens: the keyhole garden methodology or container gardening in huacales, wood boxes from the market. The keyhole garden is a circular garden bed with compost integrated in its center, this is a closed loop system which is essential for schools that are busy and have little time to manage another project during school hours. Below are some images for clarification…
vista lateral sin
Side View of a Keyhole Garden by Jesi Friedly
Birds Eye View by Jesi Friedly
Birds Eye View of a Keyhole Garden by Jesi Friedly
4. As a demonstration of their learned knowledge, we asked the schools to host an ecological fair which focused on the knowledge dissemination of the keyhole garden method.
5. Our technical team has completed a manual which offers a definitive voice on school gardening which is the first of its kind available for free to the Mexican communities. The manual covers a variety of themes, all of which were included in the various training during the lifespan of the project.
 

Here is a picture of me and the finished product!

 

Here’s a sweet story from my project… During the ecofair in Rancho Viejo, which was the most rural school we worked with, the students gave a tour of the different ecological elements throughout the school. The local beneficiaries, including parents and other community members listened intently to each of the students placed at their stations. Some of the students were shy and some were very excited to explain why their school was in-line with environmental practices like limiting water use, recycling, upcycling, composting, and of course, gardening. The highlight of the event was when the students gathered to explain how important it is to garden and to learn how to grow your own food. They explained how the keyhole methodology works and why it was so effective at their school which had very poor, rocky soil. Before the tour concluded, the student plucked a radish from the ground and handed it to me as a gesture of acknowledgment and gratitude.

 

097-P1120385

 

Exciting news is that the Ministry of Public Education has demonstrated interest in picking up the project and launching it on a state-level. With this manual, we are continuing to train advisers who will return to their regions and are responsible for training and assisting the schools in their region.

 

Once I get the link to the manual, I will post it here so you can check it out yourself!

 

Paz,

Ceebs

Lugares Hermosos: Tehuacan

So I can’t exactly vouch for the town of Tehucan, but I can however tout about the Tehuacan-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve which is just outside of town. The trip to Tehuacan (the town) was about 2 hours from the central bus station in Puebla, and then to travel to the Biosphere Reserve was another 30 minutes by bus. It was a little convoluted, so I definitely recommend knowing Spanish if you’re travelling to this little desert oasis. We had a work meeting out in the reserve and we only stayed for one night. If we could do it again, we would definitely try and stay out there for at least 2 nights!

The Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World heritage site that has highly concentrated biodiversity with over 3,000 species living inside the reserve! It is one of the zones with the highest concentration of columnar cacti in the world.The site is also considered a key site on the origin and development of agriculture in Mesoamerica and has provided central information regarding the domestication of various species such as maize, chile, amaranth, avocado, and pumpkin. (Thanks, UNESCO for the facts!) Below are some of the views we saw in the short time we were at this amazing place.

 

 

(see Neal as scale)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working hard as Peace Corps Volunteers!

 

Having fun with the Super Moon!

 

More Super Moon fun!

 

Thanks, Tehucan! You are beautiful!!

 

Could you ever imagine a forest full of cacti to be so beautiful and breathtaking?? We were certainly surprised. Our two biggest regrets is that we waited so long to visit and that we didn’t stay long enough. Oh well! Better than never visiting at all.

Keep adventuring, amigos!

Love,

C

Lugares Hermosos: Cantona

One of the most interesting things about Mexico is the culture and history! Learning about the indigenous, pre-Hispanic culture has been one of my favorite parts of living in Mexico these past few years. There are so many archaeological sites, one has to wonder if even a mountain might have a pyramid beneath the vegetation.  We have seen pyramids all over Mexico: Palenque in Chiapas, Yohualichan in Cuetzalan, and of course Teotihuacan near Mexico City.

Cantona, however, is a very different archaeological zone in that only 10% of the zone has been studied and uncovered. This zone has less emphasis on pyramids and is almost completely devoted to city life. There are neighborhoods, streets, ball courts, and designated religious areas. Experts say that in the peak population, around 7,000 people lived in Cantona.

Having heard all the oohs and ahhs and you really must go‘s, we decided to make a trip out there when our dear friend Matt was in town. Although the trip was inexpensive, we had to take two buses and one combi to get there. It took 3 hours in total to walk around the uncovered area – never retracing our steps. We highly recommend this to anyone in or near the Puebla area!!

This beautiful lizard isn’t sure what to do with us.

 

Platforms where sleeping areas were constructed out of wood.

 

All smiles!

 

Walking down these pyramid steps takes a lot of concentration!

 

The site was so well preserved!

 

A little micro-forest blooms amidst a rock wall.

 

It’s almost as if the mountain caps off that pyramid!

 

Goofing around!

 

Don’t forget to mark your name on the agave on your way out!

 

Goodbye, Cantona!

 

Although the travel was arduous, it was truly a beautiful and interesting spot. If you have visitors in town who are up for an adventure, I highly recommend you take them to this site!

 

Cheers,

Chelsea Elizabeth

Visita de mis Suegros

¡Hola! I hope everyone had an excellent celebration of Cinco de Mayo, better known here in Mexico as the Battle of Puebla. The date in May in the USA seems to represent Mexican Independence Day or Proud-to-be-Latino-day or Lets-just-drink-lots-of-tequila-day. In reality, the 5th of May is the date of one significant battle won in Mexico’s history. The significance to most Americans is lost, especially when you consider what would have likely occurred had the Mexicans not won the battle. Historians speculate that if the French won the battle in Puebla, they would have conquered Mexico and sent troops to the Confederates during our Civil War. Therefore,  potentially changing the outcome of our Civil War. America and Mexico have a much more co-dependent relationship than I had ever known or realized before my time here.

Anyway, here are some quick highlights from when my in-laws came to visit us here in Mexico!

Mexico City has little gems of art installations all over the place!

Mexico City has little gems of art installations all over the place!

 

Beautiful... jell-o? Yep that's gelatin art right there!!

Beautiful… jell-o? Yep that’s gelatin art right there!!

 

Famous Diego Rivera overalls!

Famous Diego Rivera overalls!

 

One of my most favorite maps ever of all time!

One of my most favorite maps ever of all time!

 

A huge butterfly kite embodies Mexico's spirit and culture.

A huge butterfly kite embodies Mexico’s spirit and culture.

 

Neat cathedrals and garden spaces!

Neat cathedrals and garden spaces!

 

Watch out Neal, that agave is going to attack you!

Watch out Neal, that agave is going to attack you!

 

Hanging out in our kitchen, chopping mangoes!

Hanging out in our kitchen, chopping mangoes!

 

Thanks for a great visit, suegros!!

Thanks for a great visit, suegros!!

 

Hope you liked seeing a little bit of their trip. We had a blast and always love having visitors. We love sharing other parts of Mexico that just aren’t depicted very well in America. A very popular phrase here is: ¡Hay muchos Mexicos! // There are many Mexicos!

Keep on adventuring!

Chelsea

Lugares Hermosos: Jilotepec

Jilotepec is a small town located in the state of Mexico. Its not the town we visited, but an awesome climbing spot on the fringe. You may remember my love for rock climbing albeit I had a climbing accident in 2013, when I fell around 15 feet while lead climbing. I still love it and hopefully will continue to rock climb for the rest of my life.  Our adventures are documented below. Jilotepec has…

…Beautiful views with great pitches…

[Can you spot the climber?!]

…super fun morning hikes with friends…

 

…views from the top of el huevo…

 

…world-class climbing and fun… 

[Thanks for the shot, Adriana!!]

…and watching world-class climbers in their element!

 

In case you want more craglust, you can check out the Petzl RocTrip video for this climbing site. We had a blast, even though it was a quick trip. If you have any questions about the location or how to get there, leave a comment and I’ll respond to the best that I can. Adventure is out there!

 

Cheers,

Chelsea Beth

 

PS – We only have six months left to our service!! I feel like it was just yesterday we were celebrating our one year anniversary!

Una Foto Famosa

Mexico is an phenomenal country; I have learned invaluable lessons about the culture, the people, and myself. When prompted by the infamous howapcvputsitgently tumblr to submit a photo that best captured the essence of your host country, I knew just what to submit…   1-P1100758

Resilience is a core skill. You have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” —Debora Spar

 

If you’re here because of the submission, welcome! Take a look around and learn more about the real Mexico. If you’ve never heard of the howapcvputsitgently tumblr, well you probably won’t find it all that hilarious unless you are a PCV yourself. Check out my submission here!

 

Abrazitos de Cholula,

Chelsea Beth

 

PS – There are in fact some new posts in the works, so don’t give up on me! Cheers!