Saturday, January 31, 2009

Awake

Sitting in the Lima airport, three Peruvians are playing the guitar and zamborinas (wind flutes). The sound is beautiful and carries a whistful mountain spirit through the modernity of the new stores. People are waiting. People are coming and people are going to discover.

There is so much to be learned in this space. It’s discovery. It’s what DiscoverHope is.

We can walk paths we’ve always known and walked many times— the foliage and the landscape are familiar. When you come to the end of that path, you confront the enormous cliff in front of you. It has an amazing vista. Your familiarity fades. You breathe in the incoming wind; it blows a thousand stories about people on their own treks. There is something genuinely incredible about every story being so different and so valuable in its own way. The vista below in this place is full of electric green—everything you see has experiences of its own.

You look back from this vista. You know the way back. You can go back if you wish. There is an unspeakable melancholy and a wordless excitement. There is a death opportunity for part of you with a promise of a birth. But it goes against reason and comfort at times.

To discover is to be enthusiastic about the impending birth regardless of the courage it will take. “enthusiasm” has Greek roots meaning “a god within.” How awesome to consult that spirit within and to summon the courage to leap into that new abyss, trusting-knowing-living-awake. Sure, you may be scared, but fear can be replaced by the Light that comes with trusting that you want to live awake.

This is discovery—meeting yourself on a new path with no trail blazed, whatever that is. It may be the job you’ve always wanted, the art you want to create, the decision to be a parent, buying a new home, forgiving someone, creating a passion and enacting an intention.

In this new place you meet yourself again. You are different and changed. This ripple goes infinitely into the Universe. It changes who you once were, who you are, and who you will become in that decision. You begin with new opportunity. This is hope—a chance to create a new vision for yourself.

In all of this there may be discomfort. This wrung in my stomach. There is a brand new path. What is ahead is not seen. I know there is confidence in trusting, to walk with Light and accept the discovery. Here we see how standing for a vision, no matter how small or large it seems, can change the world in ways we may see or not see. Knowing is great enough.

To being awake, MM

Gordita

Yours truly. Gordita. Little fat one.
I don't mind. Gordita means you look healthy, good, and your mom fed you well.
Peruvian women love calling me Gordita.
It's a compliment.

This Gordita is feeling tired, excited and inspired.
The end of this week Maggie and Gordita ventured out with G&C, our hopeful future allies in the fight against poverty here in Cajamarca. Went to the campo, just below the gold mine. I was scared, would people throw rocks at the car, as I have heard, in protest against the mine? I carried my business cards as my shield, no, no, I work for a different organization. I am on your side.

We went to visit health progress within family homes.
Goal sheets posted on dirt walls with pictures so that everyone can understand. We dream of a clean house that is in order. We want a new kitchen. A mirror. Clean toothbrushes. Clothes hung up on a thin thread, but not on the ground. A new stove in mid construction. Proud yet humble faces greeted us at every door. What big effort for small changes. Sustainability for a better day. Truly I was inspired and touched that these families, much like the families I work with, have taken steps to make their home a better place. Little things. Posters that reminded the family to drink boiled water. To brush their teeth every day. Not so little things, because they are milestones for a family that "never knew another way, because no one ever taught us." Our young teen truck driver safely brought us down the rocky road. We flew past the mountain curves, me ever thankful we didn't fall off the cliff that hugged the other side of the road. A return to Cajamarca with a new vision of changing lives through health education.

Gordita embraced the weekend with a soccer game. In the nice stadium. Where usually only the men play. This morning the women owned the stadium. We had few fans; empty stadium seats surrounded us with a background of mountain midst. This Gordita may not stay gordita, not if the stadium invites us in every weekend.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Dis-covery

Ahhh, the clamor of Lima outside my window. It is summer here and the humid air is wet and warm, a huge difference from the mountains of Cajamarca. I beg forgiveness for not posting my blog last night on my last night in Cajamarca. My old A+ personality is not happy with this, but the new and improved A- woman knows several things impeded my blog writing: the power was out in the city the entire day until about 6pm when I began a series of goodbye meetings, or “despedidas.” Despedidas are a big deal in Peru…you can’t just call someone and say goodbye, you must make the rounds or you may seriously hurt some feelings. I ended up eating dinner with Nora and her love Hugo at one of my favorite places in Cajamara, Don Paco. Wally is the Peruvian owner of the restaurant who lived in Jersey for some of his twenties. He is a great friend and always looking out for me, and so needless to say…we all had a fun long night that ended with some dancing to 80’s tunes and brought me home much much too late for typing.

High in the mountain mist, yesterday was a day of adventure for Nora and me. We left Cajamarca in the morning cold to travel up the mountains toward the gold mine to visit communities participating in an eight month health promotion led by G&C. We departed from the gray overcast skies of Caja in a truck with eight people squished into the 4-wheel drive truck (2 standing in back). We traveled another seven miles off the main road up to the mine winding around a rocky unfinished (mostly mud) road that skimmed along the mountains through green farmlands. My green tea didn’t prepare me for the stomach tossing I felt as our “14 year old driver” (as Nora and I called him) rounded the cliff curves with his “tough guy peddle-to-the-metal” manner. I don’t know if he was acting cool for us, but he kept looking back in the rear view mirror, and this prompted me to ask him to be careful when we stopped. Careful is the new cool, after all.

We arrived at a community high in the hills, and my breathing was more laborious as we entered the mist of the clouds. Rain began. Hard rain. I started thinking about the route and the road that was rocks and mud; mostly I tried not to think too hard about the route down in the ever increasing mud, since I knew I wasn’t leaving anytime soon. We met the first family of the day who showed us their “cocina mejorada” (new and improved stove and kitchen). This was one of the main objectives of this project, to build kitchens with adobe and brick stoves, shelves to place items, and other hygienic improvements to ultimately improve incidence of respiratory illness and other health issues. The visit was really inspiring, and most notably the pride that emanated from the family. On the walls of this house and others we visited, each family had a vision chart that described the way they wanted their home to be. To the side of the vision chart was a list of goals and deliverables for family members to participate in improving the household. Once goals were obtained and noted by the G&C nurses who visited 3-4 times a month, the family placed a happy face near their goal to highlight their accomplishments. I love the health promo model they are using as it calls for the family to be active in creating their own personal power. I truly hope we can work with them this year with our families.


Here in Lima I am ruminating on two weeks of excitement for DiscoverHope. I am thankful that I get to live my life’s work, and have so many amazing people to share with all over the world. Each of you gives me the power to keep creating, and I am endlessly thankful for this.

The road. The road of life. The journey. Life is a verb and motion is its essence. We are in the process of movement, all of us. I see myself changing. There is all-ways dis-covery. Dis-covery…the process of coming to new understandings. What are inside of our books? Unique and wonderful stories. Narratives of sorrow and triumph…that is simply what makes the process of sharing worthwhile. We find identification and comparison in one another. We agree and we don’t, but it is all worthy.

I have new layers of myself that have been added to the book that holds the records of my life. I have new understandings. I find myself seeking solace so I can face who it is I am. Who I have always been…who I have not been and what I have not done as well. One great mentor of mine once said, “what isn’t said is as important as what is said”…I agree and try to look at those unwritten unshared spaces within me. At moments I think that the greatest struggle is to be present in what is, what IS life itself. Whenever I return from Peru, I notice the tension of this culture of the USA, one that celebrates successes in looking forward to more and more accomplishments, one that celebrates getting the “to do list” near done. While I do not stand to say that living life this way is lacking life and that I do not get stuck in the Miller planning zone, I have noticed that there is so much that gets unnoticed in the scurry of DO-ing.

Peru has always taught me a lot about BE-ing. On this trip, I have been doing my best to take notice in the present. At one moment I contemplated a hummingbird and the meaning of it’s beautiful qualities…one of the most precious to me is a reminder to be thankful for the fleeting moments, ones that will always pass and are passing as we dialogue…to notice the brilliance in them, even when that hurts, because they are here and gone so quickly….

This year as we deepen our Microcredit Plus model in Cajamarca, I am looking forward to the ways in which we can connect your passions to what we are doing. Don’t ever hesitate to send me your ideas about how you can connect what you love to our work. This is one of my favorite things in the world, finding ways to inspire personal greatness and to be inspired by it!

Tomorrow I will write here from Lima during my hermit time in this room, trying to catch up to the U.S. side and what life asks of me there. Tomorrow will be my final post as we fly through the night back to the U.S. where I will have an absolutely lazy Sunday. I will find a regular rhythm for this blog when I return that will be more intermittent. I hope all of you will stay connected as Nora and I will keep sharing throughout the year.

To the greatness in each of you, MM

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Respite and Review

Cool rain pelts the roofs of Cajamarca, and my mind is running amiss. I am starting to think about the U.S. deliverables I have for next week for DiscoverHope, and my lack of Presence is causing me some mental stress.

I focus back on the fresh night and the rain as it washes the lingering exhaust down to the ground.
Tomorrow we leave early for the campo out of town up the road toward the goldmine to visit health projects in the nearby farming communities. My peanut butter sandwich is packed for the road trip so I don’t run into any meat dish I would rather not know. Upon our return, I will tie up any loose ends before my Friday morning departure to Lima. Despedidas are a big deal here, and people like to say goodbye as many times as possible…which always makes your last days in town busier than you can plan for.


Today Nora and I spent most of the day out at Laguna Seca, a beautiful hotel outside of town nestled in the farmlands and the trees. The honking of horns is absent there; the patient silence of alpacas and rising steam from thermal hot springs makes it an amazing place to think. Weeping willows and eucalyptus trees embrace the old adobe hotel that has maintained its structure for countless years. Our main purpose for the peaceful context was to review everything that had happened since we arrived in Cajamarca and to revise Nora’s 2009 goals based on the happenings. Of course, these goals will be ever-changing as the “to-do” list never maintains its structure within a day…I just wanted Nora to begin on as solid ground as possible to make the hard work here more focused. Nora is in a great place and is an amazingly patient woman, a true gift for the work that must be done here. At the end of the day, Nora was awesome and treated me to a thank you massage as a gift. I was lost in relaxation!! We both focused externally and internally and in the misty night, I give thanks for it all.

ps. check out the video clip below from the "Cafe y Pan" event, thought you'd like to see some of the beautiful women we serve.

To growth, which brings you up, down, and all around in perfect purpose. MM

Coffee Chaos

After a quiet working afternoon with Maggie at the 4 star hotel & spa I now feel completely recovered from yesterday. I wasn't sick yesterday; My body was just completely amazed and shocked by the amount of women that came to meet Maggie in the tiny Afider office. We organized an "informal" meet and greet The Director which surpassed my wildness dreams of participation. I arrived at the office at 3:05pm to find more than a dozen women waiting for the office doors to open. As soon as I opened the office doors it was as if a flood gate was open. As I scurried around the office to get things ready, every time I looked at the door there were new faces pouring into the office and immediately the women began playing musical chairs. Where to sit? We had planned for about 30 women. There were more than 70, 80, 90? We went next door to look for chairs, Vanessa brought stools on the motorcycle, we asked the neighbor to let us use some benches. So you would think with all this chaos that the women would lose their patience, complain, and who knows what else...But, the three tiny rooms that were filled with both sitting and standing women, as if they were coming out of the woodwork, all patiently waited for their coffee, saltine crackers, and words from the Director. We turned our informal meeting into an afternoon with speeches and a brainstorming session. Last year I may have lost my cool at a gathering like this; yelling at someone - Why isn't the coffee ready? Why didn't we plan better? This room didn't get marmalade yet! But this year I took it all in and just went with the chaos and enjoyed it. I loved seeing so many women squished into a tiny little place, filled with hope and excitement for what this year may bring. Curious and anxious to learn and participate with DiscoverHope Fund. My own hope and goal is to keep the fire burning - keep women coming back to fill up our small spaces with big passions and a helping hand to get them closer to their dreams.

After a much deserved restful night Maggie and I still had some things to work out for planning for 2009. Where better than the Laguna Seca in Los Banos? The sounds of birds, not combis. The air full of vapor, not smoke. The scene of endless flower bushes, not trash. The peace to think clearly, not be distracted by blarring cumbia music.
In Peru you gotta know how to handle both: the chaos and the stillness. We embrace the stillness today and dived into the brainstorming, planning and goal setting for this year. And, let me tell you, if we have as much participation as we had yesterday in the office it is gonna be a pretty amazing year.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Humility and Hope over coffee

I’m sitting here in Bella’s Cafe, letting my mind dissolve into Quietude. This is the one and only restaurant in Cajamarca where you can order a real Mexican flour tortilla…this place opened 2 weeks ago and lucky for me, just in time to enjoy handmade tortillas produced by the Mexican wife of the Peruvian owner.

I just came from our “Café y Pan” event (Coffee and Bread); this was our informal attempt at creating a space for women to come into the AFIDER office between 3-6pm to chat with me about their experiences and desires for 2009. Needless to say, we were completely surprised (and not prepared) for the nearly 90 women who gathered with us to share their feedback and experiences. Simply said, it was awesome!! I arrived tardy in Peruvian fashion, thinking that maybe a couple of women would be arriving within the first 30 minutes. But as I walked up to the door, Nora looked a bit frazzled. She told me that the entire office was full of women waiting for the “official program” to begin. The AFIDER staff scurried for chairs, stools, and benches to seat the women who just kept lining up at the door.

The scene was totally inspiring—walking into women wall to wall, some I recognized and came forward to hug me, others welcomed me with the courteous nods, and always, children whispering to their mothers about the Gringa with blond hair and blue eyes, a site some of them only see once or twice in their young lives. “Mira mama!” (Look Mom!), they whispered…it is always so cute as they try to be secretive, but they are totally obvious and point straight at me.
Nora and I realized quickly that you can’t really do anything informal here—it’s just not the “way things are done.” Soon we found ourselves giving official welcome speeches focused on this year and what we could create cooperatively. My main sharing was to ask the women to walk through the door of opportunity if they wanted to, and to take advantage of Nora’s work here to help create spaces for them to grow.

The women were spread across three rooms and I went room to room asking the women what types of development classes they wanted this year. Soledad, the AFIDER microcredit promoter, soon began soliciting even more feedback from the group and in 30 minutes we had three poster size wall sheets filled with class requests and a lot of work for Ms. Nora this year! Tomorrow Nora and I will take some time to digest the requests together so she can start on solid ground with all her year two goals as I prepare to return to the U.S.

Peruvians are infinitely patient as I’ve said before, and after 45 minutes of close quarters, the office started to get warm as the women were anxiously awaiting their “Café y Pan.” When you make a promise for food or drink, as small as it may be, people will wait for hours as this is a big treat for them.

Nora was busy passing out invitations to our monthly meeting-of-the-women’s-minds, and so I started passing out “galletas” (crackers). Somehow the bread got replaced with crackers, but there were no complaints as I began to pass out several crackers to each woman and child. Truly, I can’t tell you how humbling it is to see people have such an immense level of appreciations for 3 Saltines. Some women put them in the bags to save for their other children while others ate anxiously—and I felt so many blessings from being around these women and the creation of such absolutely simple Joy. One of our women, Marta, who taught marmalade classes for us last year, also shared dollops of her sauco (blueberry) marmalade on each of the women’s crackers. Marta also gave me a special package of her marmalade that she proudly sold at our DiscoverHope artisan fairs last year. Nelli, another village bank leader, also got up and sang two Peruvian songs for me and all the women. Her voice trembled in the beginning, and then she belted out the notes with pride. It was a seriously loving moment.


The preparation of the coffee was another chaotic story as boiling water for 90 women with one serving teapot became a long hot wait. But wait they did…The women were laughing at me when I opened the big bag of brown sugar and offered them teaspoons of sugar with their coffee. Little did I know that coffee is always prepared with the sugar in it, super sweet and black! I showed them how an American Café is prepped for some of us. Little by little, our pots of water boiled and we finally poured the 90 cups of coffee after warmth, conversation, gratitude, humor, and inspiration.


Simply said, this—my friends—is why I do what I do every day of my life. To see hope in their eyes is more than words can say and fills my heart to the brim.

To Humility and Hope over coffee, MM

The 2nd time around

Believe it. The first development classes of DiscoverHope Fund have been organized and are on the February calendar. I can't believe how much easier it is to organize classes the 2nd time around. Last year I went on a wild goose chase around Cajamarca to look for artesian, literacy and health teachers. This year I have a whole phonebook full of teachers. And this year I am entering into conversations with our contracted teachers with a written contract. What a great concept! This way both DHF and the teachers are held responsible for taking responsibility for making the classes successful. We are trying to avoid the late-show teacher or the teacher that holds a class and then disappears into her tienda (store) while class is going on (both of which have happened to us before). It is all part of the learning process and I consider this a huge positive step in implementing our lessons learned into actual physical action change.

Next month we will have a sewing with ribbon, natural juice nectar, and a ring making class. That is a lot for the first month of classes, especially since next month Carnival jumps into full swing with costumes, parades and yes, more water balloons. We are using our trusted and true teachers from last year, but part of what the next couple of weeks will bring for me is a search for other teachers that can teach new things to our loan recipients. For the month of February we will ask the women to squish into the current Afider office or travel across the city to a garage that we often use for classes. Then, in March, I am already dreaming of using our community center space for classes. Oh, how lovely!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday Mania

I said goodbye to Brian tonight who was heading out on the bus to Jaen, a town on the mouth of the entrance to jungle-land along the Peruvian/Ecuadorian border. The most interesting thing is that Jaen is literally three hours north of here via the mountains, but there is no passage there. So, Brian travels to Jaen for his Cacao project (chocolate bean) every 10 days along the carretera (the “passage”) through the mountains and north for at least 16 hours. The lack of infrastructure of roads is beyond modern imagination—there is the one way in and one way out of here. The buses are absolutely tiring journeys, mentally and physically. One thing you can be assured is that as you pass impatiently around blind corners in the mountains, decal stickers above the drivers head that assure you that “Dios es nuestra guia” (God is our guide!) Whether or not that means anything to you, every driver has this sticker as their “motto” and somehow, you hope that is enough to keep them awake for the mountain switchbacks on gravel pressed roads with no existent guardrails. There is something unnerving about looking over more than a thousand foot cliff several feet from the wheel of the bus, mud eroding away from the constant pelting rain. For the time being, I will remain here with Brian’s Peruvian family and try my best to be a polite houseguest while I hope that Brian indeed is cradled by the bus motto.

Today we hit the ground running after a very quiet weekend. This morning, I had a meeting set for 10am to go look at one of the two final houses for the women’s development center with Nora and Elio, the President of AFIDER. I walked in at 9:30 and was told in a sad whiny voice by the AFIDER girls that there could be no meeting at 10am, but now maybe 11:30am. I suppose not too much of a surprise. At 11am, I was told the meeting had to be moved to 4pm. I did what you need to do in these situations here—be firm in negotiation erring on the side of no negotiation! We called up the woman who was going to show us her house and told her we couldn’t meet her in the afternoon and were dropping consideration of her house, and suddenly 11:30am was an OK time to meet. Go figure.

After some debate on the two spots and discussion with the AFIDER staff, we are moving toward a house that is close to the AFIDER office, because of its spacious room inside and outside for the women’s development center; there are several spacious rooms inside, a back covered patio for classes, a large garden, an indoor kitchen and a more traditional “horno” outside, an adobe mud oven for bread making. Here are a couple picts of both the outside and the inside, with Nora showing you the entrance to one of the women’s class areas. There are still details to work out, but Nora and I spent the evening working on the proposed budget for the center. It looks like we can get the place totally up and running, rented, stocked and supplied, for about $5000 in 2009. I am excited about our upcoming Seeds of Hope event in late February that is focused solely on connecting people in the U.S. with the opportunity to help birth this space. I want each person who gives toward this project to know that they are indeed in the fabric of this place, a home with open doors to women to create their own personal power.

Nora and I circled back to G&C, the health promotion organization, to ask them to submit a proposal for doing year-long health promotion with some of our families that wish to participate. DiscoverHope is an advocate of working with women who want to be part of our classes, and as such, we never make classes compulsory. Instead, we build a culture of participation and hold women to high standards of being present once they say they are committed. We are excited to see if this proposal is sufficient for our health ed. grant on the U.S. side. Once again, we were impressed with G&C’s thoughtful process and desire to do audience analysis with our women to tailor their yearlong promotion in respiratory infection, malnutrition, and family planning. G&C doesn’t just give cookie-cutter programs, and Nora and I both really respect that.

It’s been a work heavy day and my eyes are quite heavy. Tomorrow we will host “Bread and Coffee with the Director,” a fun gathering for the women to come have free coffee and bread where they can share their feedback with me and I can ask them about what they really want this year. This event was another Nora suggestion, which is just another example of how amazing our Program Manager is!

To collective creation of personal power. MM

The hermit has rested

So thankful for the weekend after a very busy first week back in at work. I have already lived and worked in Peru a year so it should be easy to just jump back into the world of work with our village banks? Easier thought than done.

Maggie and I packed in a full week of nonstop work which included buying women's products, advising women on export markets and meetings with folks that can make some really amazing things happen health and education wise with some of our groups. Maggie also visited a number of possible community center location. Our plate was full. The week ended with a highlight for me that actually didn't involve the women. Maggie and I went out to the countryside to visit a group that creates weavings organically and we were planning on purchasing some of their weavings and also give them export advice for future weavings. We walked on the muddy cactus lined road until we got to the point where the road becomes thinner and you can see the adobe houses and the cows and pigs of the women we work with. One of the loan recipient sons saw me and came running to me with his arms wide open and his face with a grin from ear to ear. He gave me a big hug and said "You're back!" That was what I need to feel the true warm welcome back home in Peru.

When the sun came up on Saturday morning I just wanted to stay on my foam mattress bed and listen to the roasters crow. The one motivation I had to get out of bed was to clean up the awful mess the shower boys had left the night before. Yes, so I had not yet been in Cajamarca for 1 week and my shower broke. Lovely homecoming. It took 2 days and 5 visits to fix it. Not bad, actually. It was a nice first test of my Peruvian patience. Getting anything fixed in Peru is a waiting game. The shower guys said 5 pm on Thursday night, then they called and said 6, at 6 called and said 7, 7 turned into 7:30. I didn't wait longer than that and my landlord informed me the next day that they never made it that night. The bright side of all of this is that now I have a sporadically hot shower, not just luke warm, but HOT! Thanks be!

There wasn't too much else happening this weekend. I became a hermit and it was wonderful! This is such a contrast to last year when I arrived in Peru, I wanted to explore everything, taste new flavors and walk the streets and find my way here. This year I am coming back to a familiar place and it was an exhausting homecoming both with work and with the home/shower situation so there was no exploring - only rest this weekend.

I am ready for whatever the week may bring, including water balloons.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rejuvenation

Sunday evening cradles me in relaxation, and I think of the rejuvenation that is central to the meaning of this day for so many. My mind is rested and quiet. I got to enjoy the innocence of sweet Amara, Brian’s daughter, as she took her Peruvian bucket bath. Her curiosity is amazing and such a delight, a constant reminder our growth and change.

I began today with a family lunch outing with Brian’s Peruvian family. Sunday lunch is a large family affair and is more or less an expectation. If you decide not to go, you have to have a really compelling reason or it is taken as an insult. Off we drove toward the little town about 5 miles down the road, Banos del Inca, an old Incan post with wonderful thermal baths that are fed by hot springs. Brian and his wife Cecy sat in the back of the car with me with Amara on their lap. It made me think about our laws and how you wouldn’t be caught dead with a baby out of a car seat in the U.S. There are no car seats here, and it is a common site to see a father on his small moto (motorcycle) with the baby in front of him next to the handlebars. This is just the way people do things here.

I know by now that going to a typical meal with Peruvians will mean I have to explain that I don’t eat meat. This is absolutely crazy to everyone here, and they just don’t understand how I can live this way. I try to explain to them I just don’t like the texture more than anything, but they continue to question my strange custom. Ordering vegetarian food is even more difficult since it is usually not on the menu. Moreover, ordering is just not the affair of one person here, but the entire family starts getting involved and saying what I could eat and telling the waiter what it should look like. This “familial involvement” is very typical in other scenarios. You may ask a question like “Where can I find an alarm clock?” and suddenly the women asks the other worker and they ask their brother, and then the friend who just walks in gets asked also. After about 3 minutes, you usually have a crowd of people talking to one another about what you need.

So, my rice with vegetables took center stage. How would this be prepared? Did I want them with meat? Did I want pork? Did I want fish? Did I want seafood? I answered every question with “Just rice and vegetables please.” But serious disbelief continued “Nothing else? Nothing?” No, nothing else. Rice and veggies . Surrounding tables began listening in also and giving their advice. Rice and veggies did end up coming successfully which amazed me, since pretty much more than half of the time it will come with something else that they thought I should eat with the rice and veggies.

After our meal, I decided to do the absolutely coolest thing you can do in Cajamarca on Sunday—go to the “mall.” Now, the mall was constructed in 2006 after I had returned to the U.S. from living here, so when I saw it for the first time a year ago, I was in disbelief. Think about the strangeness in combining Incan tradition with a small but modern mall? The mall essentially is a large warehouse building on the outside with a typical mall store layout inside. The hottest thing about the mall is the escalator. People come from fields afar to ride the escalator. Imagine people who had worked in the fields their entire lives who now walk inside a mall to ride an escalator?! The meshing of two worlds is very distinct and palpable in a very nonsensical kind of way. The campesinos (traditional folks) that do come to the mall simply walk around in awe, trying to understand a world that is completely foreign to them. I walked right by a group of campesinos studying the escalator as they watched me mount this metal stairway with ease. I looked back down as I was carried further away from them, and it kind of seemed symbolic to me as our cultures moved further away from one another.
escalator

looking up to the heights
of modernity
bathed in pale fluorescent light
the grinding metal monster
awaits
to lift them to the highlands of consumption

they stare wide-eyed
to “where the wild things are”
a line of more than fifty anxious people
with cracked sandaled feet
bright layered skirts
sunbeaten campesino hats
deciding timidly if they will mount this silver-toothed beast
wondering how their fields of potatoes
exist in this same world

they step cautiously for their turn
as the line grows
there is an empathy of patience and fear
Change scales upward before them
the before
the after
the experience
will make them different
by the knowing.
we change
and the world changes.

To your own rejuvenation for this week of discovery, MM

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Reverence

The noise factor is high on this Sat evening. The random fireworks have begun, set off by groups of fun-seeking teens who have spent the day throwing buckets of water on one another. This is their method of flirting—chasing one another around with balloons. The water tossing gets more prominent everyday and a walk through the town becomes a paranoid stroll, looking up at rooftops and in doorways for the young kids seeking to soak you.

I hopped in a taxi today in the plaza de armas, this is the center of town as I told you, and on the weekends, one of the coolest places you can be to be part of the town “vibe.” My taxi driver must have been somewhat inspired because he cranked up John Mellencamp’s can’t-help-but-sing-along-tune “Hurts so Good.” Not only did he turn the volume to maximum level, but with the windows open we continued on to “dar vueltas” around the plaza. Essentially, this means driving around in circles around the “drag.” I have to admit, I felt pretty cheesy at first, but his love for Mr. Mellencamp was so intoxicating that I soon began singing as loud as I could those passionate words: “Sink your teeth right through my bones baby, let’s see what we can do come on and make it…hurt so good!” As he was dropping me off, he asked me politely in Spanish what the words of this song meant…I told him it was a much longer discussion to be had!

Nora and I spent this morning packaging all of our women’s goods that we bought this week. We label each item with the name of the woman who made it along with the name of her village bank as a way of connecting the products of our women to the people who purchase them in the U.S. This task if fairly laborious, but requires little mental capacity…so it was a very nice change of pace for us to get some rest over the weekend. The women are improving with each purchasing day and I was really proud to package their items and see the fruits of their labor and learning from all of our jewelry classes.

Nora and I continued on to a local favorite restaurant here, Cascanuez, with desserts that rival any I’ve tasted in the U.S. We spoke further about partnership with G&C in terms of creating health education for some of our village banks with upcoming grant money. We developed a fairly high level proposal to give to G&C next week in order for them to submit a full proposal to us for my return home.


We finished the evening at a local folk music gathering place, “Usha Usha” where 3 guitarists jammed along with bongo drums and a caja (the wooden box) over dim lit cigarette filled air. The music was speckled with storytelling by Jaime, who introduced himself as “James Bond” to me. What an amazing place to experience history and culture framed by music, where the walls were scribbled full of poetry shared from passer by’s and a large wall size frame of Ernesto “Che" Guevara framed the kerosene lit walls. My most prominent lesson perhaps was that people were celebrating music as their vehicle for joy and heart, present and fulfilled in the moment.

Reverence is in

the contented glaze of happy eyes
warm skin sharing a knowing embrace
the innocent power of a young child’s ideas
the bloom that always grows from the melting snow
breathing windy air deep into your chest
emotions falling inside crystal tears
dancing your inside out to life
laughter birthing more bliss
the humility in emptying what is full
the growth in filling what is empty
light reflecting against radiant eyes
a child dreaming in a warm blanket
the love that is wrapped within a kiss
fulfillment born from random acts of kindness
counting on the rising sun and the watchful moon
shared stories recounted in circles of comfort
music that speaks the words for you
the wet renewal of a fresh rain
the brilliant light gifted from a smile
shared LIFE with your family
meant to continue on in every new soul.

To letting your actions be your most stunning art, MM

Friday, January 23, 2009

Stitching for Survival

It’s Friday night and that means for most folks here, the party starts at about midnight and goes through the night at some of the local discos. The usual fare of music is heavy salsa beat into Reggaeton into an occasional foreigner treat such as Madonna’s “Just like a Prayer.” My arthritic ankles have no interest in dancing salsa all night, especially when sitting down is considered highly uncool. Besides, I am convinced that no gringa can ever move like a Latin woman. I surmise that there is an ingredient in Latinas that gives them the ability to move their hips and butts in expressive ways that are not contained in my Polish-German genes. I once tried to show one of my English classes here how to dance the blues in one evening class and put on a version of an old classic, “Fever;”needless to say, they were thoroughly amused at the slow sway of my hips. Once again, humor is a saving grace in the “Other Eyes” Adventure.
Today we visited some of the women from the village bank “Jehova es mi Pastor.” These women live very humbly out in the campo (farmland). Nora and I caught a “combi” (minivan) to outside of town. A combi ride is always intriguing because it is the locals’ mode of transportation. These rides cost about 25 cents and the entire objective is to pack in as many people as possible into a minivan to maximize profit en route to the destination. Passengers come along with tarps of vegetables, buckets of milk, and other interesting surprises like gas tanks and bundles of herbs on backs. The worst seat in the combi is the way way back seat as you have to forage your way through everyone in the van to get to the door. It would be fairly easy if people got off and made room for you to move out, or moved over and allowed you to squeeze by…but for some reason there is a prevailing manner I call “combi-blocking” where no one moves for anyone for any reason. Literally, you have to push against people to try and squeeze out through the crowd with your bag on your back or whatever you are carrying. All the while, there is some “combi caller” who manages the money by the door who tells the driver when to stop and tells passengers to get off and on. As you are attempting your move through the sardine can of people (sometimes up to 20 or so in there), the driver keeps yelling “Baja (Down) Baja Baja Baja Baja Baja…” until you get off. Imagine someone in the U.S. being like “Get out get out get out get out get out” to you until you left the bus?!
We left the combi and headed for greener pastures, literally. Nora and I walked about twenty minutes on a water filled pothole dirt road in the crisp afternoon haze with the smell of animal dung looming amidst the wet mud. Small farms plots of corn planted within groves of trees decorated the side of the road and the sight of an old bent-over campesina woman herding her group of sheep running toward us was a journey favorite. We were an interesting sight— two white women speaking fast English, dressed in rain slickers, running shoes, and backpacks. We looked like the REI magazine order form walking amidst the traditional locals in their wool skirts, big hats, and muddy sandals. Sometimes I wish I could see instantly from another perspective—I wondered what the locals were thinking as they passed us by. Was it, “I wonder if she got that jacket at REI or Sports Authority?” ….OK, just a touch of humor to move you along, but the humor sheds light on the divergent thoughts we and they might have in the course of a day, as my ridiculous question wouldn’t be an irrelevant question for us. All of this thinking was much too much, so I stopped on the roadside and co-contemplated with a cow. Nora was brave enough to snap a picture of this moment when I was in existential bliss.

We turned the corner of the narrowing path in a sea of green that surrounded several houses made of mud walls and corrugated tin roofs. Ahead was a group of four people about 50 yards, and when the little boy saw Nora he darted over in pure ecstasy and yelled “GRINGITA” in joyous excitement as he embraced Nora. It was such a darling site, and said so much about the trust and love she had nurtured in this little community. Every woman who came to meet us under the small tin covered area of dirt shared the same proud smile to see her as they declared to her how much they missed her. The whole scene really warmed my heart. The cool air began whipping in and the rain began to fall, and I felt really amazingly content sitting on the seat they offered me to “rest.” I began thinking about how far I was physically from everything I know and the people that I care for, yet I felt really full watching the people live with so little and be at such peace. The same little boy and his sister wanted to joyfully take me through the grass field and show me their animals…the piglets sucking on their mother for food, the cage of cuys (Guinea Pigs) squealing in the wooden hutch. They were overjoyed by me taking digital pictures and then showing them the shots on the screen I had taken, it was an absolute experience they had only known through our Presence there.

The purpose of our gathering was to look at weavings the women had done while Nora was in the U.S. This group is one of our only groups that creates weavings organically from beginning to end. The women raise the sheep and shear their wool, they spin the wool by hand into balls of thread, they dye the thread organically from plant derivatives, and then they weave the wool for countless hours into their creations. They’ve never done this for an “audience” before, and thus, much of our gathering was spent viewing their weavings and giving them advice about colors, thread weight, designs, etc. for the future. Part of what we strive to do in our export class sessions is to teach them that in this selling context, customer service is an important business concept. This is a foreign term here, because business doesn’t revolve around the customer at all, business is for survival purposes. These are new understandings for them, but they listen intently and absorb the information like sponges...they want to know what they need to do to produce the best things possible. Much of our discussion today gave rise to new class requests from the women for Nora to coordinate insofar as teaching the women to make products out of their long weavings.

The rest of the discussion came down to what we were going to buy (quality) and what we could buy (that I can still fit in my suitcase since I’ll be dumping out most of my clothes now I think). This is always a difficult balance for us and for them. For us, it means building a successful bridge between what we provide for them as a nonprofit (classes, etc) and what we desire as purchasing customers. This process can be draining. I mean, let’s face it, all over the world people obsess about money and they are no different. They need it for survival, not just to go buy the latest techno gadget. People end loving relationships over money and in essence, the energy of money is so powerful it can shape shift any situation. But…for me, the energy of Love is more powerful. Love is the greatest of all human capacities. This is why, during this situation, my main objective was to remind women about the circle they are participating within. I wanted them to know their goods come to us on our side, we buy them and enjoy them in our spaces, and the money goes back to fund more classes for them to learn and make more. I think they enjoyed understanding how crucial they are in this process, that they matter. You can see the pride and meaning in their eyes and their work. Every stitch is for survival, and so for those of you who end up with one of these creations in your home, I hope you know how blessed you are to be part of the circle also.

To being a participant in the energy of Love, MM

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hope on the dusk horizon

The purple sky is split by orange clouds, and below this celestial ceiling a thick layer of evening fog creeps slowly into my view. The mountains are preparing for the night. The day brings occupation and movement and the night brings reflective stillness and I come back to you…

The morning brought Nora and I to explore a potential partnership with “G&C”, a Peruvian organization that specializes in capacity building with those in poverty. Because their base of professionals consists of many nurses and other health professionals, their strength happens to be in the area of health education/promotion/action. Nora and I were both excited during this conversation since DHF was awarded health education grant money and we want to use it wisely. I absolutely loved their methodology of using various learning styles to teach women and their families in the field via home visits; pictures, books, audio tapes (yes, tapes), and videos. Last year we held several group health education classes that were successful but difficult in terms of bringing women together at a common time. G&C focuses within each household so that health actionables proliferate throughout the entire family. Teachers work house-to-house and visit four times a month to discuss subjects such as respiratory illness, nutrition, sanitation, and more.

One of my favorite parts of their health promotion model is that they work with each family to create their future vision…aka, HOPE. Each family has a plastic chart in their house based on the diagnostic work done on the household and the plan they develop with the teacher on how they will be a participant in the process of obtaining a higher level of health in their lives. As they surpass goals, they put up drawings representing successes on their family charts. They see their own progress right in front of them. Families celebrate their changes with a diploma and other small reminders of their personal power throughout the process. I couldn’t help but think of the internal lift we could help make possible for entire families by beginning with Hope and ending with Change based on their actions. It was indeed a powerful morning.

G&C invited Nora and me to travel with them to the field next week to witness some of their classes. We will visit some of the most conflicted village areas here that sit directly below the world’s largest gold mine, Yanacocha, which is 20km outside of Cajamarca. These village areas have protested with a lot of anger and preoccupation toward the mine that they say has raped their animistic land, poisoned their water from the runoff of chemicals like cyanide used to process gold, and not given back sufficiently based on reaping the largest amount of gold anywhere in the world. I am not writing this as a matter of my opinion, just sharing the local sentiments that are voiced by these very poor communities. Nora and I will have to make sure we immediately separate ourselves from any mine affiliation on our field visit, since the mine is owned by “gringos” from Denver (so people sometimes think a white women is a wife of a miner by default). At any rate, I am excited to see this methodology at work.

In other exciting news…this afternoon I once again forayed into the Peruvian abyss and we searched further for Women’s Development Center spaces. I think we found one or two amazing options! Now…you think finding the space sounded difficult? The real work begins in the next step which is not really in Peruvian vocabulary…WHAT WE WILL DO TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN? Luckily, this is a Maggie Miller specialty! I already asked for an all day Monday meeting (I know, all day? but this is needed to make 2 hours of stuff happen) to motivate the vision and calculate the costs, so I can come home with the most formed idea of this Center and we can birth it together!

A little creative Mags for you as I bid you good night, reflections from sitting next to a very old woman in the field who seemed to have given her soul to mere survival.

thoughts of who i am
intertwined in the wrinkled lines
and hardened weathered working hands
that pained out of necessity
of hungry bellies and hard hot sun

the smell of wood smoking against the rusty pot
the sound of rain against corrugated tin roof
granddaughter running barefoot in the mud
sweet sweat of the day rising off the soil
you squint by the rising fire
sad eyes glazed with acceptance
of the being here.
of the now.
of the work to do.
of the work you’ll do.
your heart is so strong
you will not falter, sacred mother.
in the wrinkled lines
i see you seeing me
i see your living life force so utterly and completely
and i am humbled in the falling of incessant rain.







Moving Target

Nice welcome to Cajamarca - Bamb! A water balloon smack in the back.

Alas, the first week of work has begun and is in full swing. The work train has started and is picking up speed. The past couple of days while Maggie has been out hunting for community centers I have been surrounded by 4 cement walls in the Afider office. It has been nice because I
have been able to connect again with the women I came to respect and love this past year. Furthermore, it has also been nice because in Cajamarca it is already Carnival time. That means gangs of kids armed with water balloons on summer vacation hit you or me if they are lucky. If you are lucky, they miss. This can be fun, depending on which side of the water balloon throw you are on. As a gringa I must say I feel like a moving target walking around town. The water balloon soldiers would just love to get me good and wet. Although I have been in the country almost a week now, I can say that I am still not fully ready to participate in the water balloon fight.
The success of this week is that our first event of the year is done! We had a Buy Day with Maggie and 13 women yesterday afternoon where we, DiscoverHope Fund, purchased 52 pairs of earrings, 16 necklaces, 21 artesian bags and 7 macrame belts. We spent a total of $465. We had some very happy women yesterday. This Buy Day was unique compared to similar events we held last year. This time we decided to both personally and as a group give the women feedback about the market in the U.S. What sells, what doesn't. Our classes in the future will help direct and advise the women about the difference in U.S. and local markets and give them ideas about how to use their capital wisely, so they don't invest in a bunch of kinda cheesy stuff for the U.S. So those of you in Austin, you will be seeing the fruit of our womens labor soon enough!

Until next time, I remain the moving target.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sense in Nonsense

A beautiful eve to all of you keeping the Adventures alive, and I wanted to say thank you for staying connected to me. This line of connection is more important than you know and it’s been an amazing pleasure for me to re-birth a creative side of myself through this writing and be with it WITH you.

The eve is once again cold, and I am again reporting from my naked peach-colored blank bedroom walls, save the crayon scribbled designs of a young artist and a nail in the wall that conveniently holds my towel. I hope that wherever you are in your spaces, that you are feeling genuinely happy, or on a path that will help you unearth how you will get there. We deserve it…and I hope that you know that this is a surely obtainable goal for all of us…happiness.

Quite relative, I’d say, happiness. I recall when I was sitting with the women in a village bank out in the countryside and they asked me to tell them about the amazing “American Dream” that they longed for every day…It hurt me that they didn’t see their own wonderful dream and the righteousness of their connectedness right within their group. They had a true desire to know what the other members of the bank were doing and took the time to share that; they cultivated a lack of preoccupation with moving forward an let things move perfectly at will. I wrote a reflection about that called Barbie Dreams that I will share here. By the way, Barbie is a nickname here for a blond haired woman with fair skin. This name has a very positive affectionate connotation, more or less meaning “doll.” I had an interesting conversation about the image of Barbie and its meaning with the women of the U.S., well...or…maybe just me (unobtainable figure, dumb blond, etc). The women here thought it was so interesting since it is an ultimately caring term for them.

barbie dreams

the barbie brings dreams to the dusty roads
with coins in her eyes
can she fill their outstretched hands?

they wonder about her World
a world where they work
for things
things they have no time to use
because they work
for more things
for this Dream.

the perfume of burning wood envelops us
they sit on the sun burnt earth
a woman with a bent back of plants
lays her shawl down for me
this barbie can’t get soot in her nails
can’t scald her milky skin with equator sun
can’t work all day for a bag of rice and potatoes
they protect this barbie dream
so it remains whole and possible.

they watch me
with beautiful brown hues swimming in their eyes
their children touch my hair
and marvel to understand blue eyes
we sit in a circle of simplicity
a respite of friendship and appreciation
drinking the remnants of water soaked coffee beans

they ask if I can bring the Dream
and I ache
knowing that in them I see the Dream.

Hmmm, for me just a reminder that perspective is abound and oh so different. Concepts of time and happiness are different for every person. For example, today several AFIDER staff and I looked at “rental spaces” for the upcoming Women’s Development Center we want to create for the women in our village banks. Here is a little tale of how something like that goes, or should I say “went” today. We hop in the car that may be from 1974, the year I was born. I actually don’t know how it continues to drive. Nora gives us a list of 4 places to look at with addresses and phone numbers and our assignment is to seek. We drive to the Plaza de Armas, which by all definition is the “center of the Universe” here in Cajamarca and where all the action is bubbling. This is where groups of men whistle at women walking by or you get your shoes shined by an 8-year old boy who is so dirty you can hardly see his face. By all intensive purposes, this is the “mall” of the late 80’s here in Cajamarca..


OK, so we are back to looking for spaces to rent. I know from my two years here that this task is going to require me to call on the very rarely seen Maggie personality type B. Yes, I did say type B! There is a random information board in front of a shop that has some rental notices with addresses and phone numbers included. One of them is a block away, I know from the address, but for some reason they want to drive me there. I convince them by treating them to ice cream a block away that we can just walk there. We arrive, and of course, no one is there. A woman passes by and says hello to Jorge Cubas Torres, AFIDER Director. Now she suddenly knows another place we should look at so we immediately abandon ship on the place we originally wanted to look at. To see this “next place” we have to talk to the “dueno” (landlord) on the next corner. At the next corner, we find out he went to eat at the nearby restaurant and so this person pleads with us in the convincing puppy begging voice I’ve told you about that we should now go to the restaurant. I’m still wondering about the original place we looked at with no answer but a telephone number that wasn’t noted or called in our quick departure, but again, I am trying to go with the flow. We get to the restaurant and the dueno isn’t there so we can’t find out any information, But alas, thankfully…there is another woman there who “probably knows” some spaces for us to look at. She tells us about one and we go looking for it. We can’t find the street and so we ask the lady selling fruit on the corner where the “house for rent” might be. She tells us, “de frente” (go straight). We go straight, and there is a house that some man on the corner said he saw was for rent, but is no longer for rent because he heard it wasn’t. I finally drop the type B act and say, “Let’s call the number for the place we saw first?” They tell me no, we should just go drive by. No one here wants to use their cell phones because they are “pre-pagado” (pre-paid), which means you buy cards with timed credit on them and you are charged credit for the calls you make (not receive). I tell Vanessa to make the calls we need and I will buy her a 10sl. ($3) card to fill up her phone again. The call is made, but someone on the other end hangs up, at least I am told. No further action is needed because after this blasphemous hang up, Jorge and Vanessa suggest we move on to another place. I mention the very distant crazy option that maybe we should try and call again in case we didn’t dial right or lost the connection. After some convincing, Vanessa phones again. We get the address. We drive there. However, I soon find out this is only the address to ask a person who knows where the rental house really is. They tell us and we drive there. There is no stopping on the street where the house is and a police woman is randomly blowing her whistle (maybe not randomly, but I’ve deduced randomness from watching her blow her whistle at events that don’t fit together or even merit a whistle blow (like when no cars are around). We beg her in the begging voice to stop on the street; it’s for a nonprofit after all! She says no, and we end up stopping anyway. She blows her whistle and I leave the car with Vanessa, we’ve arrived! We knock on the door with anticipation and it is answered. The place is for rent. And this, my friends, is the search for one place, repeated by seven for me today.

Somehow, Peruvians get their things accomplished in some "ether layer" that is totally nonsensical to me and for many…but for them, perfectly in order. Today was a blast for the fact that I was reminded once again that the world operates so differently outside of our borders. None of this is wrong, or right, it just is. It finds itself. I think somehow, we can all learn something from that. Life is kind of like one of these big unfolding operations. It only makes sense when you get to the place you want to rent…and then again, there’s more to look at.

To the perfect order of the journey, MM

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A day of Progress

I sit here in the late eve of Jan 20, a day when the U.S. began the era of a new Presidency, in the moist air of Peru on my foam bed. I have on a wool hat, a scarf, 2 sweatshirts, sweatpants, and I am toasting my lower body with 2 thick blankets. It is surprisingly quiet…but I know that soon the barking of a pack of street dogs will cut through the silence. (5 second gap)àYep, just like I told you…here they come!

Today was a day of Progress, on many levels. The day began with my visit to the AFIDER office. In case you haven’t forayed the land of the DHF website lately (or ever, but I suggest you do), AFIDER is our Peruvian partner that manages the microcredit goal of our organization with our village banks of women. When DiscoverHope began discussing our work at this site in early 2007, we felt strongly about having a cultural Presence with locals involved. AFIDER was a local NGO that caught our attention due to their grassroots style, knowledge of microcredit, and commitment to quality over quantity. Actually, those are some of the greatest lessons I have ever learned about doing development work—1) collaborate by soliciting the knowledge of the people who know what it is to life here and 2) don’t try to force work to go more quickly because your funders want it to. Both of these are values that are integral to our organization.

It was great to see the staff at AFIDER again whom I’ve now known for almost two years. They treat me like a friend and know my humorous style, so there is a lot of laughing when we are together. As a quick aside, with no working bathroom at the office (or anywhere in site), I was quickly reminded about one of the fondest “gratitudes” I have for life in the U.S., plumbing that works. Of course, the day as it was “scheduled” didn’t go according to plan, but went perfectly as things seem to do on the “let it all fall together” Peruvian timeline.

At 9am, women began coming into the office since today was “Dia de Compras” (Product Purchasing Day). Nora left this announcement with all the women before she left for her break in the U.S. in late November. Interestingly enough, we got several calls at the office this morning from women making sure Nora actually came back AT ALL so they could bring their products. Other women didn’t make anything because they didn’t want to invest in materials not trusting that Nora would return. Despite the fact that Nora told everyone she indeed was coming back In January, this lack of trust in her return is a byproduct of NGO’s all over the world, especially organizations run by developed world countries, i.e. U.S. and Europe. People in poverty all over the world have witnessed organizations with their quick-fix mentality come and go and leave them with nothing better than before or nothing sustainable to help them change their lives. This is precisely why the microcredit model is so popular…it embraces the “teach a person to fish so they can fish for themselves” mentality. Without consideration of long-term change, organizations proliferate fear from the dependencies they create with the locals, not to mention the heartache and hardship they leave in their wake.

All through the morning and afternoon, the women arrived at the office and the overwhelming feeling was one of joy. The women were so happy Nora came back, and she has developed such real relationships with them that she was equally as joyful. Nora had organized purchasing day so that each woman could bring 20 items that she made based on lessons taught in a DiscoverHope artisan class. We currently hold these buying days quarterly and pay fair price for these items. For example, in Cajamarca a pair of earring may sell on the streets for 50 cents. We pay almost $2. A table runner weaving made by a woman who raised her own sheep, shaved the fur, spun the wool into thread, dyed the thread naturally with plants, and weaved the tapestry could receive $15 here in Peru for art, while DHF pays between $40-80 for this piece based on all the work put into this organic handmade art. Nora and I spent the afternoon greeting women, helping them display their items, and once all were departed, we chose the pieces for purchase so I could bring them back to the U.S. Tomorrow the women will return and receive their money for the purchases we made (we buy something from everyone), and each women has a sit-down advice session about how she can improve the quality/augment the style of her pieces for U.S. export. (Side note: we also have classes for similar subjects focused on products that are more specifically for the local market here as the styles differ significantly). For those of you who have purchased our women’s items or may some day, these funds are so important as they go into a restricted pot to support further development classes in artisan work for the women. In essence, the circle is completed. (To the right is a pict of me and Aida who brought purses in).


The second part of the day of Progress was Nora and I streaming the inauguration through CNN.com live so we could be part of history. It just so happened that no women came during this time, which was awesome for us. While the video picture was frozen, we could hear the sound and that sufficed for today. AFIDER staff asked us questions about our new President. In general, without getting political on this blog since it’s not the place, we explained a change in the movement of our country…at a time when we are down there is a lot of enthusiasm for this leader as a whole. We all hope, as the rest of the world hopes, this will affect the entire world. When you are away from the U.S., you see literally that the President of the United States is in fact, the President of the World. The power dynamic affects everything. This is pretty intense if you think about it. To the left is a pict of me giving the thumbs up to the fact that the cable was working and we got the inauguration live.

The third piece of Progress today was meeting with the entire AFIDER staff and Board for evening coffee and humitas (like tamales but without meat). Dinner is not a popular meal here and for local folks, is not prepared for the most part. Evening time usually is for cafecito (coffee) and pan (bread). Lunch, or siesta, lasts about 2-3 hours in the afternoon depending on the person and is the biggest meal of the day. This full meeting with AFIDER is always very symbolic as we convene and sign our collaborative contract and everyone witnesses this act. There is something very important about this witnessing that legalizes and legitimizes the entire partnership. After signing the contact, there are the required “formal speeches” that the leaders give expressing their appreciation, their hopes, and anything else they feel like saying. Each speech is completed with a group “Salud” (Cheers) (See group pict to the right, Nora and Maggie—the Gringas, with AFIDER staff and Board).

After signing our contract we began the discussion about our Women’s Development Center: a space where we can bring together women to have classes, study in the small library, learn culinary dishes in the kitchen, utilize technology if they desire, take sewing classes on machines if they want to learn, display their artwork to the local community, and more (and a working bathroom would be incredible!) This project is very exciting to both AFIDER and DiscoverHope, but most importantly for the women for a long-term sustainable method to teach them and eventually hand ownership of all of it to them in the future. We will be launching the plans for the Development Center in February; please write to us if you have any interest in connecting your energy to this space, especially if you are not in Austin and can’t make our Feb event to explore it with us. Tomorrow I will go space-hunting with Jorge, the Director of AFIDER. He said we would do it “rapido” (quickly), but I know better, this is my day long event.

It’s past midnight and being a woman of my word, I missed my deadline for today’s blog…it will post past Jan 20! Good thing I don’t work for a newspaper, I’d be canned. Oh, just realized I am on East Coast time, so for most of you I am still good to go...now that takes a weight of my ol' soul.
To progress, and hopeful creation for our entire world. MM



Monday, January 19, 2009

A day on the streets of Cajamarca

I’m feeling the grip of the bad-food induced fever-flu letting go of my bones today. I had one of those nights where you wish it would end but seems like forever, tossing turning rolling aching. I feel so much better today and was able to get out on the streets of this Peruvian mountain town that is so familiar to me.
Many evenings, like last, your dreams are serenaded by drunken men talking or singing. This type of into-the-night party is common; there is no such thing as noise pollution or rules here about making noise, so really nothing you can do but bring some earplugs or enjoy the concerto. The morning brought the familiar sound of the street clogged with taxis who honk their horns for several reasons: to tell you to get out the way since there is no such thing as passenger right-of-way; to go through an intersection without heeding and hoping the other party “hears the beep;” to “whistle” at women; to get you to take their taxi for a ride. At any rate, the honking is a non-stop symphony of chaos you must integrate quickly.

Walking on the streets of Caja brought many memories; the campesino people are simply beautiful to the eye. These are the people who are the remaining heirs of the Incan blood and Incan traditions. They diff from the more Spanish-blooded citizens through dress, Language ( speak Quechua and Spanish), and appear almost Native American…they are the remaining lines of Incan blood. The women wear wide wool skirts that have several layers to keep them warm in this cool climate. They also wear the traditional hat that resembles closely a cowboy hat. (see picture of campesinas spinning wool.) Of course, throughout Peru you would see campesinos (literally means farmer) in different shapes of hats; these hat shapes and colors define the regions of Peru. There is something very beautiful and mystical about these people, their skin weathered from years of work outside to survive. Each line containing worlds of wisdom. Many of our DiscoverHope village banks are groups of campesina women who traditionally take their loans for agricultural and weaving.

The streets of any developing nation can bring humor to the “develop-minded”. For example, today I walked by a rickety old wooden stand and a woman with a stethoscope around her neck. She was taking blood pressure of people in the middle of the sidewalk and writing it down on little strips of paper. There is also a “type-writing” stand where you go to have a document typed up for you if need be. This stand is always hopping with customers. In the years I lived here before, I once filed a police report about some of my stuff being stolen and the police told me that I had to go buy a certain sheet of paper and have it typed by the type-writing stand. I learned then that it was better off just evading the police all-together, especially as a foreigner, as you want no reason to have them ask you to “pay” for something they don’t like. In many stores, there are no set prices and you can negotiate your price. Of course that means as a “gringo” you better know what the local price is, or you will definitely get an over the top price. For example, in Lima one of the cab drivers told me the price from the airport was $60, when I know the real price is about $15. Here in Caja, I went to the marketplace to buy a piece of foam to sleep on, and negotiated my way through 4 stores to find out the real price.

There is a key-maker that grinds up keys copies on his hand-spun grinding wheel in a small wooden booth. The market is an open space with hundreds of people eating, buying, and selling…like people selling baggies of hand-pumped milk from their cistern. One of the specialties here is “cuy” or guinea pig, which is considered an absolute delicacy. If you get invited to a house for cuy, you will usually end of picking the cuy you want to eat from a cage of about 50-100. While guinea pigs may look like cute pets to some of us in the U.S., I assure you seeing 100 of them run around in close quarters shows their family resemblance to rats. Preparation of cuy includes slitting their throats, letting them empty their blood out in a bucket, and de-hairing them. You are finally served your delicious platter with the cuy head fully untouched— open mouth teeth and hand claws still in integrity; its face holds a frozen snarl at you for picking it out from the pack!

Today was actually a sunny day although it’s been super rainy and cold here. Since Carnival is approaching, the custom is to throw water balloons and buckets of water at people. I was driving home in a cab with my foam bed in a sea of car exhaust and some young girl toss her bucket of water right on my face from the side of the road through my window. It always shocks,(slightly embarrasses), and makes you want to find some water retribution! Until Marti Graz (or Carnival) passes, you have to be on constant watch for water invasion. I evaded some young boys on rooftops today that throw at you from 20+ feet up. Not to mention all the kids are on their summer break, this makes for an interesting walk around town.

This afternoon I met up with Nora, our Program Manager who is amazingly patient! We set a schedule for my time here (that will likely fall apart since things don’t work that way here). Tomorrow is “buying day” which we hold about 4x a year where we purchase artisan goods from the women and bring them back to the U.S. for sale. We put this money from purchases right back into the pot for their development classes and we pay them fair price up front so they don’t have to worry about their well-being. We will be in the AFIDER office, our microcredit partner here, collecting women’s goods and streaming the inauguration live on the laptop while we are at it. Talk about bridging worlds!

This blog entry feels random to me, but a day in the life here is absolutely a patchwork of moments that just sometimes leave you without words or logical reasoning. I am off to sleep for some rest and rejuvenation. Keeping you all in my heart and thankful to share this journey together.

To life bringing wonderful journeys, MM


Sunday, January 18, 2009

El Gripe.

There is another byproduct that comes with working abroad in a developing country…the food and water can make you very sick. Last night I experienced the beginning bouts of my angry intestines, unhappy about food that I ate (ironically and kind of twist of fate, falafel #2). The bottom line is, there are bacteria our bodies are not used to, and as such, our bodies reject them like hell in various ways. Today I came down with a full case of not being able to hold any food in, and a fever/flu that is beating on my bones like a chisel. This necessarily makes everything I come to do layered in the difficulty of sickness; and this my friends, is an absolute reality of working in these conditions.

The Spanish word for flu is “el gripe.” I’ve always thought that word was perfect, as this force seems to grip your body and just wring it out. Today I have been gripped by some seriously horrible physical feelings and spent most of the day adjusting to the altitude in Cajamarca and working through my stomach and body pains.

Yes, we did make it today to Cajamarca. We all boarded the plane and then waited on the plane another hour until they knew there would be a “break” in the clouds in Cajamarca. As we approached, the white misty sky looked about 10x worse than yesterday and I thought there was no way we would approach for landing. The pilot went for it and when I saw the flaps drop into full downward position, I knew he was seriously committing. We wound in circles through layers of clouds as we descended and I kept looking over to the right where white clouds seemed to clutch to the mountain peaks like parasites. To the left and to the right I noticed us weaving
into the green valley through these peaks. It was seriously intense!

I am in the safe haven of Brian, DiscoverHope Board Member, his Cajamarquina wife, Cecy and their 7 month year old sweetheart girl, Amara. Brian was one of the original friends who helped me down to Cajamarca and has been doing international investment projects in Peru since 2004.

Covered in three alpaca blankets, lying in the cold guest room, the rain is beating incessantly here. There is no heat in most places here and this place is like any other. I am just plain old cold, especially since I am spoiled by the TX weather. There are children’s stickers dotting the bedroom door and glowing stars on the ceiling. I will fumble along with El Gripe this evening and hope tomorrow brings a new beginning. I am somewhere, 18 hours from Lima in the mountains, my bones aching, and this is yet another layer of vulnerability that comes with the territory.

To healing, MM

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The long journey "home"

I am finally safe at "home" in Cajamarca. I had my last tex-mex meal in Austin with Maggie and Will and zipped and locked my luggage for the night flight that transported me into my work world again. It has been a long trip here. My body is tired and weak, but my spirit is happy to be alive in the wet mountain town I call home this year. I arrived a day earlier than Maggie, and unlike Maggie, I got the red light. The customs officials must have thought I looked a little suspicious and sent me off to the right where some annoying guy was going to go through all my personal belongings. But, there was no one off to the right. No one waiting for me to check my bags and hassle me. So I got the red light, but gave myself the green light. I was in. I made my appearance amongst the screaming crowd and I spotted my sweetheart that had traveled down from Cajamarca to meet me and be my Lima bodyguard.

Two nights later I embarked on an overnight travel, this time by bus to Cajamarca. We took the SUPER VIP bus, where the seats go all 180 degrees down for your full sleeping pleasure. Hugo, my sweetheart, and the rest of the bus was snuggled into their posh reclining seats while I was shuffling back and forth. I can never sleep on the overnight, bumpy, 18 hrs. bus rides from Lima. In fact, I hate them. I never feel more grateful (and tired) then when I arrive in Cajamarca after that "laundry machine" like bus ride.

It is rainy, cloudy and cool here in Cajamarca. My apartment looks abandoned with dust covering the floor. Cajamarca feels so familiar - the openness, the dirty streets, the noise, but it feels like I haven't been here forever and it has only been a month. I feel a little adjustment coming in these days to come. A re-cultural shock. A little cleaning and re-connecting with friends should help the adjustment. Work doesn't start until Monday when Maggie and I visit the office and make the announcement that the gringas are in town. Until then, I need some time to breathe this cool air, sleep in MY bed and ground myself.

Observing the Observer

4:30am—I awakened after a short hour of sleep-induced fog serenaded all night by the drunken party next door. Peruvians like to party and dance, and that’s that. The sound of horn-beeping taxis outside escorting those in their hazy mist lifted my desire to sleep. Ramón, the hotel manager who said he would wake me up at 4:15am to prepare for my trip, was passed out kneeling on the floor with his body draped face-down into the couch. Thankfully I know the Friday night routine of Peruvian parties and bought my own $3 plastic alarm clock out of distrust for my “man alarm.” A man off the streets sees me waiting for my ride and enters the open gate I thought was locked to protect the hotel guests. He stumbles inside and I am a bit troubled when he walks into my room and closes the door as I am leaving for my cab. There are just some things that you can’t explain.

The ride to the airport was accompanied by the ocean mist of the dark morning and getting through the various hoops to arrive at the waiting lounge for our domestic flight to Cajamarca was uneventful. Too easy. If there is one thing I should have learned by now about getting things done in a developing country, it is this: expect the unexpected.

After a short and pleasant 45-minute flight over the Andes Mountains and majestic views of the Cordillera Blanca (photo shown here), the pilot seems to be circling the green hilly farmlands of Caja below. I recall the first time we entered this bowl of green, couched in the middle of the mountains, and thinking, “this is my new home.” And freaking out, “this is my new home!” After five minutes of circling, the pilot announces that we cannot land due to limited visibility with the wet season clouds clinging low in the air. FYI: they don’t use radar when landing in Caja because it is such a small airport there is no tower, so the pilots land by site. No site, no landing.

Ten minutes pass and we try again. I keep envisioning myself on the ground with Brian, one of the DiscoverHope Fund Board Members who lives in Cajamarca. We are so close! The pilot mumbles a quick message in rapid Spanish, and I know from the noise activity on the plane that we are going back to Lima. I also know that there will be no flight this afternoon since approaching in the afternoon is impossible as the skies fill with rain and more clouds during wet season. I notice how annoyed and angry I am, sitting next to Mahlon, an old gringo friend who happened to be traveling up at the same time. In fact, we carry on together about how we are both annoyed. I look around and everyone seems calm. I start thinking about the concept of time in our culture and how in general, when our plans don’t go the way “plans are meant to”, we feel we are off course. I always admire the way that Peruvians just accept that time works itself out. It just is. I’ve been in a bank line before that theoretically should have taken 15 minutes and waited 2 hours with no known reason, with everyone around me calm and relaxed while I was fuming.

The wheels hit the ground in Lima and I dread what’s ahead. I know the nonexistence of organization of small matters in Peru, and so I know that working out a plane filled with passengers to get to Cajamarca is going to be tough, really tough. I walk briskly to the baggage area and follow the crowd as we’ve been told nothing yet, and I know that there will be no official announcement, that we’ll just need to catch the crowd mumble to understand what is going on. I see a group surrounding an airline rep in a circle and all I hear him say is “50 seats, tomorrow” and the rest is a blur. These words turn on the “serve thy self” switch in my mind, so I keep walking onward briskly to the counter where we will be processed. This quick move finds Mahlon and I at the front of a line that soon becomes a swell of anger, sadness, and yelling as the airline rep tells the passengers they are not responsible and only 50 people (of the 150 or so) will get on tomorrow’s plane. For the non-first 50, no answer, just a general mumbling about getting them on another flight next week sometime. There is desperation and the scene becomes aggressive as people demand to have an additional flight booked so all the passengers can get to Cajamarca. The airline isn’t bending and I see myself getting edged out of line by nervous and unhappy people. (Cutting is common in Peru, and since women are generally not in power, even more cutting.) In this moment, in the midst of the chaos, I realize that I am operating on the survival of the fittest mode. I am not happy about this, especially because I like to live with all the heart I can. But I see this not-so-pretty part of myself emerge as I seek a boarding pass.
My existential self kicks in…knowledge always seems to be about something or someone else, a “collection” of information about observation. Einstein, amongst others, brought up that the observer was the one variable not being looked at. As such, when we look at the one who is looking, he noted that a whole new world is revealed. From this musing, the Western world welcomed what Eastern thought had known for time: “what you see depends on how you see it.” Paul Ferrini, an author I love, wrote, “If we want to continue to understand the workings of the world, we will study the object and how it behaves. If we want to understand the workings of consciousness, we will study the observer and how it sees.” Observing myself as the observer, I see in this moment that I am very human, wrought with ego. I want to get my pass, amidst the tears and concern around me. I don’t feel proud.

At the counter, we are told that the first 50 people who checked in for the flight that a.m. will be the ones given the boarding passes; everyone else must wait for another time. At least I know that as my boarding pass is handed to me, I am rewarded for my day ahead e-check in, which many locals wouldn’t be able to do in Peru (i.e. access to computer and printer.) So I am rewarded for my access to early check-in. Mahlon and I walk away with our boarding passes, knowing we will follow the same pattern tomorrow and head for Cajamarca. We are “successful” but I am left with the sour memory of my powerful ego obsessing on my boarding pass. As I walk out into the dusty loop of taxis, I can only find solace in the fact that I am awake to what I don’t like about this part of me. There is no reconciliation.

This journey is filled with the ever present challenges that are inseparable parts of doing international development work in a developing nation. There are so many layers to unpeel for you. This work, the work of DiscoverHope and our quest to create opportunity for women in poverty, inevitably gives so many opportunities to us by holding up that mirror for growth.
It reminds me of a piece I wrote about this divide I felt one day on the streets of Cajamarca:

across the concrete divide
the sell desperately.
i am freshly showered.
i am watched while i watch

the rhythm of the day passes with a 20-person street band
and the bells of bread carts
everyone is waiting
waiting for something
maybe something better.
or maybe i'm the only unsettled one
while they can sit on concrete slabs for hours
watching

yet aren't we always seeking?
i want simplicity
they want opportunity
we all want some opening for joy
the woman with half her face covered in mold wants it
the wrinkled hunchback man pushing a cart with 200 oranges wants it
and me, fresh and clean, i want it.

from our unsettled spaces in the human story
we each do what we know
waiting to open new magical golden doors

across the concrete divide
the door opens
and i walk thru.

From Lima, blessings to you as you observe. MM