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

¡Hasta Luego, México!

See ya later, Mexico! 

 

And Hello Seattle!

 

November 1st marked our last day as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and it also marks the day we assume a new title of Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Once you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer, you’re always a Peace Corps Volunteer. The story sticks with you, the memories will change you forever.

 

We committed twenty-seven months to living abroad. We dedicated twenty-seven months to all things Mexico. We devoted twenty-seven months to lovings others outrageously.

 

Mil gracias to all of the people that participated in this part of our journey, to all those that visited us in Mexico, to those that sent us letters and packages, to those new friends that journeyed with us, and to those that welcomed us warmly back into their lives as we adjust to life in the USA once again. We truly could not have gone through the last few years without all your support and love.

 

Now we begin a journey anew, one of rediscovery and settling in to our old skin as new people. We have changed significantly over the last few years – we still resemble our old selves and yet not at all. This is where reverse culture shock begins to set in, so please give us mercy and grace as we repatriate to US culture once again.

 

Ways you can support us during the repatriation process:

  1. Be extra communicative. If you want to see us or spend time with us, please let us know! If you expect something of us, please communicate that to us. If we’re breaking some serious US cultural norms, please tell us!
  2. Be sensitive when asking about what’s next. Coming back to the United States after being away for so long is a process in of itself. We are planning on becoming employed and settling in at some point. Right now we are considering repatriation our job as we get through the holidays.
  3. Send prayers and good vibes. It’s a long, hard process to come back and start all over again. Please pray for us and send us good vibes as we begin a new life and new adventure.
  4. Clue us in on pop culture references. Because really, being away for over two years really does a doozy on your ability to understand pop culture. Lists of good music, TV shows, or movies to watch is infinitely helpful.
  5. Invite us into your home. One of the big life lessons we learned in Mexico was the importance of seeing people in their homes. We want to visit you in your home, or at your work, or at your place of worship. We want to be intentional about this blank time that we have, and fill it up with relationship-building time.

 

Paz,

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…
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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.

 

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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

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!

¡Gracias por su Apoyo!

When we decided to join the Peace Corps, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. We each separately had our experiences living and visiting abroad, and the concept of becoming expats for two years was exhilarating. Throughout the journey of the Peace Corps process, we started telling friends and family little by little. We didn’t exactly know when or where we were going, but we were going somewhere at sometime! Our closest friends and family were always there to cross their fingers or send up a prayer when we had a deadline or interview come up. We went public with our news when we were already packing and preparing for Mexico. The decision to wait was due to our job situations at the time. Our last day in the United States, I blogged about ways to support us regardless of the distance. Let me just say…

Y’all have been so good to us!!!!

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We had been getting so many letters and they were just getting piled in a corner. I had to create a makeshift cork board so we could appreciate the love everyday. I cannot even express the gratitude for all of the letters, packages, e-mails, skype calls, and post cards we have received during our time abroad. Thank you so much for taking the extra time to maintain a relationship with us regardless of the thousands of miles.

 

For the next year, here are some ways you can support us:

1. Come visit, seriously. Now is the time to plan a trip down south!

2. Continue to read our blog – and head over to Neal’s new GIS blog: Lost Axis GIS

3. Send us favorite recipes; they can be new favorites, old favorites, family favorites.

4. Share any book/music/pop culture recommendations you might have (…this includes youtube videos!)

5. Please continue to send us glorious, lovely letters, e-mails, packages, ect.

 

Lots of love from down south,

Chels

El Aniversario de Nuestra Llegada

Today marks the anniversary of our arrival to Mexico. One year ago today, we were boarding a plane in Washington, D.C. with our official Peace Corps passports in hand. We feigned confidence as the plane leaped into the air; we really had no idea what our lives would resemble as we left our native soil. I just happened to share this experience with a person who would end up being my cuata, Jessica. Just last week we giggled about our funny conversations on the plane down. We did not know the Mexico that we know now — we did not even know Spanish!

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Our first view of Mexico – our new home!

Our first siting Mexico City!

Our first siting of Mexico City!

Imagine the nerves getting through customs without any help from Peace Corps staff. Imagine the relief meeting Dan Evans, our Country Director, who met us in Mexico City and bused back with us to Querétaro.

Successfully made it to Mexico!

Successfully made it to Mexico!

Every moment we had on the three hour bus ride was electrified. I distinctly remember trying to soak every imagine into my brain; in reality, I had to take every moment for what it was because we had no idea where we were headed. Every sight and sound of Mexico surprised and overwhelmed me. This question kept repeating in my head: Will this be like my new home?! 

One of the many photos I snapped along the way...

One of the many photos I snapped along the way…

 

We arrived into Querétaro and crashed at a hotel that night. The next day would be our first day of training and meeting our host family. You can read up on what happened next by reading our first blog post from Mexico: Nuestra Hacendita y Vida. Now, I would like to welcome the next environmental training group to Mexico! They’re moving in with their host families today and training starts full swing on Monday. Good luck PCM-15!!! We’re all rootin’ for ya!

 

Thanks to everyone who has come to visit us, mailed letters or packages, or kept in touch with us while we’re on our Peace Corps journey. It has been a wild ride so far, but it certainly has been vale la pena. I will close with a remark from our President and founder of Peace Corps…

“Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.

But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.” — John F. Kennedy

 

Abrazitos,

Chels

Lessons Learned: June Edition

When we signed up for the Peace Corps, I imagined our life to be peaceful with a twinge of boring. I had already picked out my obligatory instrument of choice to master during my 27 months of isolation – it was the harmonica, btw! I planned to delve into innumerable novels to keep me sane. I had made peace with the lack of internet, friends, and basically any remnants of my life stateside.

 

Well, all of my assumptions turned out to be completely false. We’re SO busy; we’re either in salsa class three times a week, Skyping with family back home, or out climbing some mountain or rock with our new friends. There is no time for playing the harmonica, let alone keeping up with the blog for goodness’ sake! We decided that if nothing else, we would keep posting these lessons learned blogs as a way of documenting our time in Mexico. So at least you can rest assured you’ll at minimum be getting monthly (ish) updates from us. Without further ado, here they are!

 

  1. Situations change the vocabulary you’re using and learning. This month, I learned plenty of vocabulary related to the body due to my extended time at physical therapy. Neal, on the other hand, has been working intensely with the department of environmental impacts where he has been using and learning technical environmental words. Thankfully, we continuously learn from each other as well!
  2. Fermentation is fun! And by fun, I mean SO fun. We started on this kick after realizing all the different benefits of consuming pro-biotics found in fermented food. Right now, we have three different food projects. First, we are brewing kombucha which is absolutely the hippie drink that it sounds like. We’re also producing sourdough, gluten free at the moment but we may start introducing whole-wheat to the starter due to studies and speculation that the gluten is actually consumed in the fermenting process. Third house project would be pickled vegetables, which are delicious and nutritious.
  3. Mexican birthdays most alwaysP1080008 involve cake in your face – and in my case, up the nose too! It starts out so innocent with a song called Las Mañanitas – then you blow out the candles and people are already chanting Mor-di-ta, Mor-di-ta! (little bite). As you go in for your bite of cake, hands gather behind your head to shove the cake in your face. I do believe my three closest amigas here are responsible for this year’s round. Watch out chicas, I’m comin’ for ya!
  4. Computer viruses in Mexico are rather vicious. This month, both Neal and I got viruses on our work computers. The worst part is that the symptoms were so subtle that we didn’t even notice the virus for weeks! My symptom was that my accent key produced two accents with one tap of the key; it turned out to be a tracing malware and I had to change all of my passwords. Neal’s symptom was that it “erased” all of the contents of his iPod while it was connected to the computer and thought it was a problem with his work computer. When he connected it to our home computer to check it, it spread to ours at home.
  5. Puebla and Cholula are full of entertainment that don’t require arm movement. Having a bum arm when you’re an active person is pretty rough on the soul, no doubt. Thankfully we put a positive spin on the whole situation by seeing plays and trying out new restaurants.
  6. The rainy season here in Cholula earns its name.
    I mean, it REALLY rains here. Thunder, lightning, the whole bit. Plus, our street floods on heavy rain – so you better hope you’re home when it hits. One time on a heavy rain, our neighbor’s car was parked in front of our house and the whole vehicle got flooded. That rio which is normally our street was about a foot high.
  7. Always buy the cheapest seats at a theater. As mentioned above, we got to visit the theater this month. Being typical Americans, we bought the cheapest tickets we could find to see STOMP. Upon arrival, the theater notified us that no other tickets were sold in the upper balcony and it would not be open for this show. They marched us down to the ticket counter and they gave us complementary orchestra seats instead. We’re volunteers, so of course we took them!
  8. Our life really does revolve around food. P1070842We’ve got a routine down for making healthy comida for the week, making breakfast smoothies with homemade granola, and locked down our favorite store to buy the best natural yogurt in town (it’s Santa Clara, by the way!). We’re also perfecting a smoothie that tastes just like pumpkin pie with a local fruit called mamey, and figuring out how to get to our Italian friend’s pizza place more often.

 

That’s all for now. Until next time!

 

Cheers,

ChelseaBeth

Adventuras en Bici: Frank y Liz

One of the most fun (and at times, frustrating!) aspects of life here is the fact that we don’t have a car. In fact, we are not even allowed to drive under Peace Corps rules. Therefore, we are enjoying the freedom of not having to pay for a car. It truly does feel liberating to be completely car free. Some volunteers can’t stand it, but we embrace this part of our lives 100%. This means, we spend plenty of time walking or on buses. Sometimes walking takes too long, and buses don’t travel there. And really… who wants to pay for a taxi?! This spurred us to find our own means of transportation, bikes. After days of hunting, we found a neighbor who chops old bikes to make one new one.

Meet my love, Frankenstein. We call him Frank for short.

If you want to read the full story on our adoption, check out this old blog post. After sitting in the house for a bit, we moved Frank downstairs to the storage area. He got lonely and we decided to buy a companion for him. Meet Elizabeth aka Liz, Frankenstien’s love and Neal’s “new” bike.

Quick safety note: Riding bikes generally around Mexico is not a safe idea. Fortunately, we live in a small city where bikes are respected and have rights. We only use the bikes within our neighborhood and small city. We always use a helmet and lock up our bikes, even if the locals do not do so. It is important to consider your personal bike culture to avoid collisions and to protect your well-being.

I’m starting a new series where we share our bike adventures with you – where we go, what we see, and who we meet. Enjoy!

Love and stuff,

Chelsea