Wednesday, March 31, 2010

We Own A Farm!

Wow. I just looked at my blog for the first time in what looks like two months. Sorry about that. Life has been really crazy since the New Year; you know that really good kind of crazy. The kind where you are busy and have an incredible ¨to do¨ list but it is full of things you want to do and are excited to do. AJ and I even prioritized the latest list because it had to do with moving into a new home.

This new home is spectacular and open and beautiful and sits on property of which I am a 1/3 owner. Yes, you did read that right. I now own land in Tabuga. Jason, Ry and I are currently land owners and partners. After looking around the coast, mostly south of Tabuga towards Canoa, we realized that everything we wanted for our future developments was right in front of our faces and literally under our feet.

After a disappointing attempt to buy a piece of land in Tabuga, Jason and I took a little break to talk about our dream idea. We decided we needed a break before we tackled another land buying adventure. I always like to believe that things happen for a reason, and just as we had decided to take a break a local neighbor approached me. He told me he had 10+ hectares for sale for $20,000. I was shocked at the price and told him that it was just too much for me. He lowered the price to $15,000 and I agreed to take a walk on his land to check it out.

On a calm Saturday in Tabuga we headed up to the land. Elle was visiting so she got to see the property. The land has incredibly personality, a few hills, and our own ridge line with an ocean view, a lime orchard, plantain filed and various other fruit tree species. The location is just a 7 minute walk from the main highway and the entrance is boarded by my Ecuadorian family members, my aunt on one side and my uncle on the other. We loved it. Jason loved it, I loved it, AJ loved it, Elle loved it. It was perfect. It was everything we had been looking for without even realizing it. The land has two wells and a simple wooden traditional house. Still, 15K was a little too much.

Coincidently, this particular neighbor had quite the old man crush on me. During my last year of teaching, Don Pancho would meet me at the top of my little road and walk with me to class. He wasn´t from Tabuga and would tell me stories of his more glorious days. He used to export bananas to the US and believed that together we could do it again. His company never bothered me and his stories humored me and so I grew accustomed to his company. People in town joked that he was my boyfriend and that he loved me but, he is a completely harmless old man.
So, the day after seeing the land, Jason and I returned to do some negotiating. We had it all planned out. I would butter up Don Pancho and his wife. Do the culturally acceptable small talk, ask about his health, family and cows and then we would move slowly into price and Jason would authoritatively move in.

Don Pancho said he wanted this deal to be done honestly and like true gentlemen. This was perfect for us. We had a very straightforward conversation and after Don Pancho pointed at me and said ¨Andreita, I respect and admire you and what you do and for that I am lowering the price¨ we got him down to half his original offer. The next day we paid Don Pancho and literally the following day the house was empty. Him and his wife had moved out quickly and taken all of their stuff with them.

AJ and I moved in the week after New Year’s.

Jason, Ryan and I are starting Finca Mono Verde (or Green Monkey Farm) a Sustainable Living Volunteer Tourism Project that focuses on green building, organic agriculture and community development. We are planning on combining permaculture principles with sustainable building strategies and our own experience and love for Tabuga. The primary goal of this project is to create an operating organic farm that will help the people of Tabuga reduce their agricultural chemical use and produce a more valuable product. In the future we are hoping to work with the recently formed Agriculture Cooperative of Tabuga and also with families doing family gardens. In addition, we want to build with sustainable materials and minimize our total impact on the environment. We are hoping to work with students internationally and nationally on green building projects for the farm. Finally, we hope to have volunteers come to the farm to learn about the things we are implementing on the farm and to work in the local community. Volunteers will be expected to help with the operation of the farm and in addition, will select activities in the community to be a part of. This includes working with the pre-school, elementary school and highschool, the library, the tree nursery and the high school green house. We strongly believe that this project can greatly help the development of Tabuga and guide the local farmers away from intense monoculture and chemical use.

For me, the greatest beauty of this project is that I will always have a permanent and positive connection to Tabuga. This connection represents all that I have given to Tabuga and all that Tabuga has given me. I absolutely love the farm and I really believe in the ideas and projects that Jason, Ry and I are going to try to implement. We are currently working on our business plan. Things are moving along and life is good.I look forward to the day when I post the farm link on this very blog.... very very soon.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas in Tabuga

“Nieve si existe? Snow really exists?”
Well yes, I explain to the 5 year old. Her eyes go wide.
“Pero, solo en el Polo Norte, donde vive Papa Noel. But, only in the North Pole where Santa lives, right?”
There is snow there, I tell her with a smile, and also where my parents live there is snow. I go on to explain hats and mittens and snowmen and really warm jackets. The girl stares at me in disbelief. She looks to her mother and her mother nods. It’s the truth. The girl happily runs off to grab a piece of candy. I get AJs attention and tell the story.
“Well, imagine if you had always lived on the equator, it would be impossible to fathom snow actually existing. The coldest it gets here is 60 degrees.” I let AJs words set in.
Yeah, it’s hard for me to even remember snow and that much coldness. I think for a second that I miss it and then I remember putting on a sweatshirt and long pants last night and AJ pointing out it was probably 75 degrees and I was cold.
Throughout the holiday festivities I tell probably more than 10 people about snow. AJ gets very charades on us and demonstrates the making of and the height of a snowman he once built in his yard. This particular snowman sported a case of beer and a shotgun. Our 37 year old friend stared at AJ in disbelief; I took a New England post card off my wall as proof of our claims.
“Es como las películas de Navidad. It’s just like Christmas movies.”
AJ and I danced until about 5 am on Christmas Eve bouncing between 3 different Christmas parties. Unlike last year’s big community dance, this year people celebrated in smaller groups because no one had enough time or money to build the nativity scene near the soccer field. But, like every year in Tabuga, families ate dinner at midnight on Christmas Eve, drank a lot of aguadiente (like moonshine) and danced until morning. We spent the majority of our time with my best friend Geomaira and her family. It was hilarious to see Geomaira get tipsy and giddy over the moonshine mixed with coconut. Usually she, like most women in Tabuga, doesn’t drink and remains pretty reserved in public. But, during special holidays this always changes. Geomaira’s aunts were walking around serving small cups of beer and aguadiente and asking the men to dance.
The next morning, after just 2 hours of sleep we woke up and had a mini Christmas at our house. Kara came over and opened the stocking her mom had sent her and AJ and I exchanged gifts. I was ecstatic over the plastic drawers AJ got me. An unremarkable gift in the states, but, a treasure here because of the price of plastics and the desire to protect my underwear and clothes from rats, cockroaches and other such pests. AJ and I posed by the shiny new plastic for a picture. Kara burst out laughing. You guys are going to look back on this picture and be amazed at how pumped you both are about plastic drawers.
The rest of the morning we handed out gifts to the little neighborhood gifts, 50 in total. The boys got cars and action figures, the girl’s bracelets and hair ties. We decided to go with traditional boy girl gifts and the communist idea that all people receive the same benefits.
AJ and I spent some time at the Reserve and went into Camarones in our Christmas gift from our buddy Greg… an old windowless, topless, rough old land rover. It’s been a blast to have a car around here, even a semi-toy car that requires a manual hand pumping every third time we want to drive it. We have helped people move stuff around, helped out a bunch at the reserve and at my farm. Oh yeah, the farm. That will be the next blog.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all of you that live where there is snow… make a snowman in our honor.

I made the sash for the little christmas princess. They start them so young here!
Me posing with Kimberly. Her mom is amazing and a good friend. We are two christmas princesses for sure.

The Christmas Fairy and Papa Noel. Wow did AJ overheat in that suit!

AJ with little Karina... she was also a Christmas Princess. I even let her play with my Fairy wand.

Kara and I with Don Chinto, Angel and Javier. Everyone in town thinks it's hilarious that Don Chinto has two Gringa Daughters.
Posing with the best Christmas gift ever! Even the neighborhood kids were excited!
Alex and Sivana. We didn't get any sleep and these kids were bundles of energy!

Angel with his Pinocho book. He didn't even know how to count past ten when I got here. Now he reads and does long division!

Pushing the land rover out of the river. It got us to Pedernales today... let's just hope it makes it to Canoa to be with it's rightful owner on Thursday!
Me and the neighborhood kids sitting in the living room.. I was explaining to them how Papa Noel had visited the night before and left a bunch of gifts for all of our little friends!

Picture Update

I haven't been very good at keeping my blog updated the last few months. I guess life has just been to busy and fun and a lot has happened. Here are some pictures to show some of the highlights!


Fresh veggies from our garden... it is so nice cooking with fresh organic veggies that our own hands and sweat and smarts have brought to life... delicious!

Here I am about to boil a bunch of fresh crabs, just caught the day before by a neighbor and kept alive in a bamboo cage. I made a mean crab deep.. it really only missed Old Bay but it was delicous. The crabs totally have a Dr. Seus coloringto them.

Here is my Tabuga family napping during a hot day!!! Hammocks are a life safer here when the heat gets steamy and the sun to strong.

Here Elle and I are looking out in the ocean from Isla de la Plata... or, the poor man's Galapagos. It was incredible!

Elle, Jason, Me and Santiago hoovering over some Blue Footed Boobies. We had the pleasure of being there during the mating season and it was awesome to the see the smaller male birds dance to show off to the females.

Elle and I demonstrating how the Blue Footed Boobies care for their eggs until they are hatched. Aren't we clever... because I am wearing blue shoes and the boobies don't sit on their eggs but rather tuck them under their webbed feet.
We interupted this guy during his mating dance.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Saddness Strikes Tabuga

Tabuga has a weird energy right now. A 16 year old girl died three nights ago. She was a student of mine, a cousin of my Ecuadorian family and a close neighbor. She lived on the main road that I had to walk every afternoon to go to class. During my first year she was still in school so every afternoon her big smiling face would be in the window, greeting me with her cousin and a roar of giggles always followed. I remember a bad month where my favorite part of the day was walking by that house. I used to wonder if they’d ever get over seeing me walk by, if eventually they wouldn’t hover out the window waiting to say hello and burst into giggles after. About two weeks ago, Alex and I were commenting on just this. The two girl cousins, eagerly waiting for us to get within normal greeting distance. They said Buenos dias and they giggled. Now, over two and a half years later that won’t ever happen again and not because the joke is no longer funny.

On Friday night they had her wake. I have never been to a funeral in the countryside, only in Jama where the tradition is different. My host mom had explained that the girl was in her house and that the family, friends and neighbors would light candles and sit by her until the last family member arrived. I waited to go with my Ecuadorian family and Kara. The girl was my host-brother’s goddaughter. Tabuga was quiet all day and the electricity was out. At about 7pm we walked with flashlights up to the dark house. I cautiously followed my Ecua-mom inside holding Angel’s hand as we entered the candlelit room. The casket was to the right open. I kept my eyes down as we filtered into the room and sat in plastic chairs looking forward at the casket.

People whispered among themselves. The girl’s cousin and window partner was two chairs away from me. Her eyes were solemn but her mouth smiled as she talked to other cousins. Kara and I sat close absorbing in the scene. The candlelit bounced around as more people came into the room, each one breaking the silence with a buenos noches and placing a pack of candles in front of the casket. My pack of candles was still in my hands. I hadn’t had the courage to look at the girl and held the candles as a type of safety net from the death that was so blantantly displayed. The house shook slightly from the people on the other side of the walls. They were preparing food and comforting the immediate family. The mother was kept out of sight because she was having attacks, according to my host dad.

A few men brought over a generator and set up two light bulbs on either side of the room, illuminating the casket and leaving the sitters in the dark. The father of the girl came out and handed my host dad a bad of urea. He asked him to place it around the girl. My host brother and other men helped open the casket and move the body gently as my dad place handfuls of urea throughout the casket. My cousin to my left told me it was so the body wouldn’t smell. I watched in horror as the girls dead body got lifted and turned in front of an audience. Little kids looked on and the adults stood up to get closer to the scene. From my American mindset I saw a bizarre act of disrespect for the deceased and from my open-mind I saw a pragmatic act of care and attention to the reality of the situation. A dead body will smell if not treated properly and no one was sure when her brother would arrive. He was the last family member that remained to sit with his dead sister and light candles.

The scene returned to the solemn silence and more plastic chairs were crowded into the small room. I couldn’t help but take note of the gender differences in this tradition. The women would come in and sit with teary eyes as if they were waiting for something but knowing that sitting was what was expected. The men would poke their heads in, cross themselves, place a packet of candles near the casket and disappear again into the darkness. I wondered why women were left to mourn and bear the burden of death. The crowd of men outside seemed to be in normal conversation as their voices inaudibly floated into the house from outside.

Without warning the spooky silence was broken by the girl’s brother. I was directly across from the brother and his faced expressed the rawest emotion I had ever seen. He flew his bag to the ground and flung himself onto the casket. From the other side of the walls emerged more family and they screamed and cried with the brother. He had traveled for 7 hours by bus to make it to the wake from his military base. In the moment that he saw his sister there was nothing else in his face expect for genuine deep pain. I felt like an intruder in his life and wished to disappear into the darkness. In the States, raw emotion and true pain are saved for private spaces with close family and friends. The reality was heart-breaking.

Most everyone in the room was crying. I looked to the ground and tried not to sniffle too loudly. The window cousin’s smile turned into a fearful frown as she buried her face into a handkerchief. The brother disappeared again, but his sobs were clear. The mom greeted her now only child and then came the attack. The woman screamed, she called out to god, to her family and the house shook. The inaudible cries filled the night air and the audience continued to cry. I looked to Kara. She said she wanted to leave, we both felt like it was inappropriate for us to be just sitting there listening to this woman’s pain. When the woman calmed down I asked my cousin to the left if it was okay to leave. She said no, very simply, we hadn’t sat long enough.

The girl had been sick only a week. She had a fever and her bones hurt. She lived with her grand-father and by the time he took her to the nearest health clinic it was really late. They rushed her to Bahia and that’s where she died. The girl had had dengue. Dengue doesn’t have a cure but also has a really low death rate. There are two types, and the worse type leads to anemia. Still, anemia doesn’t kill in and of itself. The fever from dengue is most likely what ultimately killed the girl. This, and the fact that the girl was only 16 and in perfectly good health a week ago, was wearing on my mind. Tylenol for the fever and iron for the blood could have been simple solutions that literally would have saved this girl's life. This smiling, happy, good student’s life. In an exercise Kara did in class she asked the students to write out a dream they have for the future along with other questions. In the 9th grade class, none of the girls wrote they had a dream, except this girl. Often, after a death, the comforting thing to say is that there was nothing that could have been done. My mind knows the opposite is true.

A younger brother of one of my god sons, Diandri, came and sat on my lap. They are the girl’s first cousins and their mom was running around preparing food and trying to help where possible. Diandri fell asleep. I woke him and told him to tell his mom that he could stay at my house with his three brothers. He came back and Kara and I used the little 5 year old as our excuse to leave. After two hours of sitting, I finally placed my pack of candles in front of the casket and looked down at Alexandra, her mouth was stuffed with cotton and her eyes closed. I knew I had to look in the casket it to believe it and know that I won’t ever see her contagious smile giggling out the window again.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Take III

It has been 3 weeks since I got back from my visit to the states. It was an incredible visit. I got to spend a lot of time with Molly´s kids, my family and friends. In addition, I went to 4 different NH lakes, partied with some of AJ´s friends and went to a wedding. I got to see all my paths of life cross in DC and again in NH. Peace Corps friends, Duke friends, Concord friends, family and AJ. For AJ and I it was a great break from our weird Tabuga life and a great test to see if we function in the technology ruled fast-paced life of AMERICA. I´d say we passed with flying colors, and, for the first time I didn´t really want to come back to Ecuador. I know, it´s hard to believe, but I was reluctant.

Life is weird without PC rules, restrictions and babysitting. I am living in Tabuga, working with Ceiba and going through the normal ups and downs of living abroad in a 3rd world country, and this time it´s by choice. I face the same frustrations and the same positives of the simple life but, I embrace that I had the choice to stay or go, three weeks in, I know I made the right decision. Plus, I have my first ever business cards to prove I am here for a reason.

Yesterday I was almost red in the face due to the lack of communication and transportation in and around Tabuga. Simple things like phone calls and visiting a neighbor became physical and mental feats. Then, after getting Ceiba work done in Pedernales, I got to Tabuga. I saw my bamboo house and was greeted by AJ babysitting our 5 year old neighbor, watching a bad copy of the little mermaid in Spanish and working in the house. I made a traditional Ecuadorian lunch and ate homemade (by me) pumpkin soup and relaxed. Then, AJ, Jason and I decided that the house would be more open and feel bigger if we took out one of the walls. There is no better way to get rid of stress than taking down a wall. As we hammered out the cross bars and threw the pieces of bamboo out the front door, I could feel the frustrations melt off me.

Now, the house really does feel more bright, open and friendly. There is more space for Gito, the puppy and with the recent addition of Waldo, the space is welcome. Waldo, who was just named this morning when we couldn´t find hime yet again, is a new kitten. Get it... Where´s Waldo? Two days ago, a little bug eyed kid showed up with Waldo at our doorstep saying that his mom had picked out the cat just for me (it´s eyes are blue like AJs) and that the other neighbor was going to throw it in the ocean. I couldn´t say no and AJ, being the good sport he is, agreed to keep the kitten. We are hoping that it helps with the ´birds´ that are living in our palm leaf roof. AJ is trying to convince himself, and me, that the pitter patter on the roof is really just the sounds of birds flying back and forth into the roof when, we all really know, the rats have found me again. For now, we just have to deal with Gito being the jealous older brother. He is constantly trying to fit all of Waldo in his mouth and eating all of Waldo´s food. As a 25 year old, dealing with the older brother and baby sibing relationship between the dog and cat is a bit overwhelming. It leaves me confused and amazed by the 15 and 16 year old mothers in Tabuga.

The fiestas of Tabuga were amazing, as usual. This year Carmen was replaced by AJ, Jason, Kara (the new PC volunteer), her friends and friends of mine from Canoa. The chicken getting it´s head cut off by a blind-folded teenager was replaced by cock-fighting and I got to represent Ceiba as their project coordinator. Not to mention the crazy tall blue-eyed white guy running around with a camera. Make sure to check out AJ´s blog for awesome pics from the fiestas.

All in all, Tabuga Take III hasn´t been very eventful. It´s been peaceful and happy and everything I would imagine it to be. The only curve ball has been little Waldo. Oh, and AJ and I became godparents together. I even tried to say no, but the son´s dad is the president of Tabuga and has been a solid factor in my success and happiness in Tabuga. Check out Alejandro, our little sailor below. After 2.5 years of life in Tabuga, I am proud to say I have it down. The choice to live and work here longer has proven a good one and life continues as normal, normal in this situation clearly being a relative term.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thoughts from a Truck Bed

There is something magical about riding in the back of a pick up truck. Wherever you are in the world. It's the combination of risky behavior with an odd sense of freedom. The wind that wrestles with your eyelids and tangles your hair also blocks out all other sound. The winds triumph over all other noises forces one to be inside ones head, while the views from the back of the truck are incredible, even through blinking dust threatened eyes. Here I am inside my own head. Happily relaxed with places to be but no schedule. My boarder-line crazy Italian friend drives like a mad man along the Ruta del Sol, his pregnant questionably too young for him wife sits next to him in the cab. They seem happy each fighting with a smile for a word in their hand waving conversation (he is Italian you see). I sit alone in the back with some papayas bigger than 2 year olds, groceries and the wind. As huge dump trucks fly by heading north, my heart skips, it's all part of the unique freedom in the back of a pick up on a windy road in an underdeveloped land.

We pass so much beauty and destruction. The shrimp ponds that destroyed the mangroves, boosted the economy, gave poor people jobs and hope and then swiftly threw everyone rock bottom. We pass dried hills and valleys giving one the sense that a lion, elephant or giraffe should appear in the Ecuadorian desert. Our province, Manabi has the highest deforestation rate in Ecuador due to cattle. Ecuador has the highest deforestation rate in the world. Granted, statistics can be twisted but, the truth keeps rushing by me. The only sign of beauty in these deserted hills are the ceibo trees that curl high above the pasture. The Mayans believed the ceibos were our connection to the spiritual world, still today they are left standing in open pastures. As a science lover I am amazed by their green bark that is capable of doing photosynthesis in the dry season when the ceibo loses its leaves. As a New Englander I am happy to live in a deciduous forest, even if the temperature hardly varies between the wet and dry season. We pass amazing equatorial jungle, huge palms, vines and mystery. We pass poor villages and men selling huge prawns on the side of the road. I embrace this opportunity, to be forced by the wind to observe and ponder.

Because I am still in my head, and not someone else's, my gratefulness of opportunity immediately makes me feel a little guilty. I live in a place of beauty and poverty and the hardest thing for me are the lack of opportunities for women and even the men. But, because I can't help myself and believe that women are the key to development, I focus on the women. Sure a woman here can ride in the back of a truck and feel the wind in her hair, but, she'll never drive one. She can wonder and ponder things in the world, but, the chances are she can't write it down or read another's words. She can walk in the deep jungle gathering wild coffee, vegetable ivory seeds and palm seeds, but, chances are, she'll never own the land. Then, this gets me thinking of how lucky I am to have meet so many different strong women in my lives. If I could just show the young girls in Tabuga that there are women out there like these women... maybe they'd have a little bit of hope. Learn to say no, finish school and not be pregnant at age 14.

I think back to my elementary school teachers and how they tell us in America that we can be whatever we want to be – and we believe them. I think about all my childhood girlfriends and how they are living their dreams... even if those dreams are different that what they'd planned. I think about going to NARAL meetings as a 9 year old, enthralled by the conversations, words like contraception and all of the women there. I think of hearing Hilary Clinton talk in NH when I was about 12. I think of my lacrosse coach at Duke who taught me about commitment and determination while she also raised a family, and all my teammates who showed up everyday and balanced the Duke workload with good good times. I think of my advisor at Duke who was a tiny lady but incredibly intimidating and bright and I can only imagine the things that she has thought of by now. Or the head of the Environmental Science department who smoked cigarettes during our outdoors labs and encouraged me to go to medical school. I think back to my summer at Godard and how I was blessed to work with Ann and Susan, my two female mentors who taught me about science and showed me that you can be a successful scientist, intelligent and still be athletic and raise a family. I think of my female cousins who are both mom's and have been through times that could break someone but they continue to fight for what they want with the love and support of my Aunt. My sister who has taught me that being true to yourself is the most important thing in the world even if it means you might be sad for a bit. The two female US Ambassadors to Ecuador who I have had the pleasure of meeting during my time here who have big hearts even has big serious diplomats. My Peace Corps country director who just arrived here but has worked all over the world in huge leadership positions. The vice-country director who has climbed most ever mountain in Ecuador, continues to move up the ladder and still dresses great. Julieta, the highest ranking female officer EVER in the Ecuadorian national police who protects all of us little Peace Corps kids. All the Ecuadorian women in that office who I have had the pleasure of working with these two years who are working mom's. Sometimes, I can't believe that they grew up in the same country as Tabuga. I think of Geomaira, my best friend in Tabuga who is a young mom, studying in the university, learning English and dreams of opportunities. And, most importantly, my mom. Who is a rock, a constant support to me, my siblings and all the kids who she works with. Her story could bring most to tears while at the same time making them laugh and giving them hope. And finally, all of the men who have supported these kinds of women. Men who believe that women can be smart and men can be idiots. Men that believe in opportunities and respect these women as coworkers, friends and family.

I get to Tabuga and sit down in my little house. If I had more time I am sure this list would go on forever. But, the ride from Pedernales, crossing the equator to Tabuga is only 25 minutes. My 'cousin' comes over as soon as I get home and stands over me as I type. Amazed at the quickness of my fingers and asks me what I am writing. I tell her I am writing about women and how they are the key to a better world (this isn't just me talking either... read about international development and you'll see). My cousin is 18, has two kids, can't read or write and doesn't know the alphabet. She comes over everyday as if I am a soap opera. Her kid has peed on my floor a few times and once the 2 year old cried so hard she threw up on the floor (AJ's presence scared her that bad). When I hang out with Prima, I know that staying here for another year isn't just about me and living in my happy little bamboo hut. It's about the people. The women and children that think I am crazy but look to me for advice, knowledge and support. I hope to be for these women and children what all of the women in my life have been to me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hats Off to Life as a PCV!

The following is what I wrote Sunday night, lying in bed listening to the music and the bullfrogs. Pondering my time as a Peace Corps volunteer and feeling grateful for my new job (starting September) as the Project Coordinator for the Ceiba Foundation!

Does it feel like just another Sunday night or does it feel like more? Should it feel like more? Cumbia, the typical music of the area continously played way too loud with a rumbling base flies through the air from my neighbors to my house. I spent the day getting work done at the reserve and teaching English to the youth group. I enjoyed huge prawns that were caught this morning by anonymous in a fisherman town 15 minuted down the road, that I sauted and mixed with veggies in an creamy sauce over pasta. Today was like any good Sunday. Friends of mine, a couple who own the Surf Shack in Canoa, stayed over last night to enjoy a night in the campo away from the crazier life of owning a bar in a touristy beach town. I love playing mom so, homemade carrot cake, spicy Mexican beans, fresh salsa and Jason's tortillas were cooked up in my bamboo hut. This morning we enjoyed coffee and the power being out – no cumbia for miles. I want to say it is just another Sunday, yet, something was nagging at my brain. Then, someone commented that tomorrow is August 10th, a big Ecuadorian holiday (I think it might be the day the new president officially takes office... should look into that). I quickly realize that this Sunday is different because it is my last Sunday in Tabuga as a volunteer. At this time next Sunday I will be heading to Quito. In Quito I will close my Peace Corps chapter, meet with my new Co-worker at the Ceiba office in Quito and finally head to the US of A.

I feel a sense of relief that the end of my Peace Corps service doesn't mean the end of my time in Tabuga. One would think that over two years is enough but, that one hasn't yet lived in Tabuga. There really is something magical about this place. The warmth of the people, the determination of a few that keeps everything going on, the seemingly lazy yet well deserved hammock time, the jungle, the beach, the store that I have credit at, free range chicken, abundance of fruits, the language and even the cumbia. Plus, mixed with all the positives are the difficult things, the poverty, the lack of opportunity, shoeless children, ribs of the dogs, 14 year old mothers and the lack of education. Then are the things that sometimes are a blessing and sometimes annoyances, lack of communication, not a single newspaper to buy in town and one TV in town that receives fuzzy channels. Tabuga has the perfect balance of magic and blunt reality. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you busy.

So, this Sunday is very different than any other Sunday. I feel a content sense of accomplishment yet a nagging to continue working. Serving as a Peace Corps volunteer has surely been the most incredible experience of my life and I wouldn't trade it for the world. I think the timing is right though for it to be over. For me to get on with life without a manual of rules, strict safety regulations and the comforts of being taken care of by the Peace Corps. To have AJ here by my side and to be here because I love it and I want to be and I have a job I love. The Peace Corps threw me in Tabuga like they do with any volunteer. The best mentality is that it’s not supposed to be easy. Somehow I lucked out and ended up in a small random town that I happily call home. Not everyone has amazing Peace Corps services, some people leave early, a lot stick it through without ever really loving it but everyone I have talked to has honestly said that it was worth the experience and the challenges. I think it's true what they say 'it's the toughest job you'll ever love'.

So hats off to the countdown... one week and I turn in my fancy Peace Corps badge. Here are some pictures of the good times I have been having in the last few months.

Juan Manuel of Fundacion Arena making us delicious pizza!

Two humpback whales swimming less than 2m from our tiny boat!AJ and I on the hills behind Tabuga where you can find coffee, cacao, bananas, monkeys, birds and an awesome view of the ocean!
Teaching Gito how to swim in the Canoa waves
Lizard earring - literally this guy held on hard!
Katie and I at Tabuga beach!
Little brother Alex body surfing in Tabuga
My good friend Maija at the Ecuador v Argentina soccer game!
Jason and I picking coffee in the hills behind Tabuga... who knew that coffee comes hidden in little red berries?
Jason, AJ and I with the newly elected Queen of Tabuga