Working With the Guarani

Guyarani housing project, before photos

A few photos of the housing project we are beginning with the Guarani people of Bolivia. They are one more than 30 indigenous groups in this South American country. Their story is much like that of indigenous people internationally; they have been marginalized, forced to work in mines, had their children taken from them and ultimately placed on a reservation so they can preserve their way of life.

Guyarani housing project, before photos
Guyarani housing project, before photos
Guyarani housing project, before photos
Guyarani housing project, before photos
Guyarani housing project, before photos
Guyarani housing project, before photos
Guyarani housing project, before photos

I’m not sure they remember their way of life. The folks I visited with are struggling to meet their basic needs, including housing, education and health care. We hope to help with the housing portion. These families will participate in our improved housing project, bringing safe homes to the remote community of Timboy, in the Department of Tarija.

Andean Altitude and Attitudes

Yesterday there were nation-wide strikes in Bolivia. The people took to the streets to protest the president´s plan to remove the current supreme court and replace the justices with those he finds more agreeable.
In six major cities across Bolivia, including Cochabamba where I am staying, no cars were allowed on the street. Businesses closed up tight and people filled the small plazas with their placards and voices. For the most part, it was a peaceful day. My coworkers and I didn´t know what to do with ourselves for the day. We could´t work comfortably, nor did we want to join the march. (We are decidedly politically neutral until we set foot in Miami tomorrow morning. They we can chat about our opinions all we want; in the meantime, it makes sense to keep our mouths shut.)
Seeing a giant Jesus statue on a hill in the distance, I asked our Bolivian counterpart if perhaps we could go for a hike during this nonsense. She thought it was a great idea. Two hours later, I was pouring sweat, looking at my chest thinking I may actually see my heart jumping, and praying to reach the top. We climbed to 10,000 feet, more than 1,000 of it this ´´hill´´ with stairs perilously winding up one face. It felt incredible to reach the top and feel my heart calm. The view was eerie. The city below appeared vacant; many Bolivians decided to stay inside and let youth run the protests. It wasn´t until the dynamite started going off in one part of the city that we decided we´d better high tail it back to the hotel.
(A funny side note: when I asked if the pounding noise was gun shots, my Bolivian friend looked at me and laughed. ´´Of course not! It is only dynamite. We have lots of dynamite in Bolivia.´´ Much better than gun shots silly American, her laughter said. What do you think we are?)
We´d made it almost back to the hotel when the anti-protest marchers walked past us. I will never forget the line of indigenous women, with flowing pleated skirts, swollen, worn feet stuffed in leather sandals, felt bolero hats perched just so on their heads, long black braids winding down their backs and babies tied in brightly woven aguayos resting mid-spine. The walked to show their discontent at not being able to work for the day. They are the nation´s poorest population and a day without pay means hunger. These Andeans are pro-Evo. He is a ´´native´´ after all.
When I got back to the hotel, I opened my window to listen to the commotion in the square below. The indigenous people played flutes. The police wailed their sirens. The pro-democracy folk screamed into bull horns.
Flute vs. dynamite. I looked up at the Jesus statue on the hill in the distance, who perched from this position could see this craziness better than anyone and whispered to myself, ´´Peace, please.´´


What Can You Buy for $72?

I have been meeting with our Bolivian counterparts in meetings for the last two days, and for the first time in my professional life, I feel like I´m actually bringing something to the table. I can´t put my finger on what has changed, other than I´ve been working in this field for four years and I think I am starting to get the hang of it.
We have been meeting about a variety of things, but mainly to discuss this massive housing project we are starting in rural Bolivia. We (the nonprofit I work for) are one of half a dozen entities helping fund a project that will ultimately build 5300 houses during the next three years. The houses are simple — most just four rooms. A basic bathroom, with running water and a sink to minimize fecal-oral illness, a basic kitchen with a raised stove and chimney to reduce childhood burns (kids can¬¥t fall into these fires) and respiratory illness, a basic bedroom for the parents, and a silo. Silo isn¬¥t the right word, but I don¬¥t know what else to call it in English. Deposito en espa√±ol. It is an area within the house where the family keeps their grain and food for the next planting season. When these rooms were outside, the farm animals and mice were always in them, causing problems. Also, they could get wet and become moldy resulting in an entire infertile planting season that ultimately results in an entire season of hunger and infertility.
The community questionaires we completed before beginning the housing project found that families actually wanted a silo more than a bedroom. They would happily sleep outside if they could just ensure their children could eat and they´d have something to plant. Truly, Bolivians are amazing people.
Imagine their delight when we explained they would receive both. They were also tickled pink to receive the training and education on how to build these homes; the sustainability of such a project is dependent on the participants working for the result. We don¬¥t do hand-outs. These families become masons, electricians, plumbers and roofers over the three-year development process. Afterward, many will find employment in these very areas. Each family must also contribute a bit of their own money toward their house –roughly $72 paid over a 6-month period. Between their sweat equity and this payment, the families must be truly dedicated to having a healthier home. Both their time and this money is a significant investment.
Even though we are at the beginning of this project, I can write these details with certainty. We have been working here for more than 20 years and have built thousands of homes using this public health model. Each family is incredibly grateful and we know we´ve truly made a difference when they are able to keep their children in school as a result. In a nutshell: healthy house = fewer illnesses = more productivity = less stress financially and emotionally = happier homes and more children who are in school, rather than in the fields to help their folks. It takes decades to see these sorts of results, but thankfully we are getting there.
Tomorrow, a day off. I am going to visit the Virgen de Chaguaya. Nope. I have no idea what that means either, but apparently everyone in Tarija is pretty excited about it.


P.S. You know this town is small considering I am in the newspaper today. We were out for dinner last night and a reporter came by to take our photo and ask what we were doing here. I need to go find a copy. Or two.

Llama: It´s What´s for Dinner

One of the more interesting aspects of my job when I travel is the food. It is customary in many cultures that as a sign of thanks, people feed you. When I arrive in teeny tiny communities high in the Andes Mountains, for example, and the village has gathered for a community meeting to thank “la gringa¬¥¬¥ for her funding and work, they bring food. This is when you must put your American culinary attitudes aside and welcome pretty much whatever they hand you with grace and humility — recognizing that your plate means someone else isn¬¥t eating.
And then you must sit, eat, smile and make a rather large production about how good it is, even if it is, say, llama. Not just any llama, but llama jerky. And this meat is so incredibly precious that you are the only one at the table with it included on your plate. The 25 pair of eyes on you, while you realize this, make you blush instantly.
And so, you smile, chew and chew and chew, and try hard not to think about the fact that your vegetarian ass is all of a sudden eating really sweet, furry, cute mountain animals that have been killed ages ago and dried in someone´s home with a ridiculous amount of salt. Instead, you simply pray that you are not going to die of foodborne illness and count your blessings. Namely Pepto, Immodium and an actual toilet to sit on when you return to your hotel, versus the pit latrine currently available behind the community meeting.
This was my day. When the meeting was over, we went for a drive (because nothing says calm stomach like a 4-hour SUV tour of the Andes on a rocky, bumpy, painful dirt road) so I could see some mountain lakes situated at a teetering 12,000 feet. To my surprise, they were full of bright pink flamingos. We were high enough in this arid area that nothing will grow. The land is scattered with flocks of sheep and the occasional group of llama that have apparently escaped the grasp of the local jerky man. These animals I expect. The flamingos were a surprising treat.
In its own way, the llama jerky was too.

Hola desde Bolivia!

Hi there! I´ve arrived after much traveling; another one of those 36-hour trips, not including the five-hour road trip to our first site once we got off the plane.
Regardless — Bolivia is as fabulous as I remember. She is refreshingly cold, full of warm, sweet people, and welcoming to foreigners like no other country on earth. I truly love it here.
We are working the far eastern portion of the country these first few days, observing a housing project we are helping construct within indigenous communities. We are 50 miles from Paraguay and 50 miles from Argentina, which I am pretty sure means we are smack dab in the middle of nowhere.
Today the surgical team arrives and I´ll once again be putting on scrubs and serving as a medical gopher in the operating room. I love my job.
I hope to post photos and more details when we get to a larger city. This is the first computer I¬¥ve seen in three days. The little news I¬¥ve seen hasnt¬¥been good. If you are the praying sort, lease keep Peruvians in your thoughts. I can¬¥t imagine how they are dealing with this earthquake. It is freakishly close to where we are working, and yet far enough away that it doesn¬¥t influence our daily comings and goings. Having just traveled through Peru last year, my heart breaks for their country — one of complete beauty and grace. Thankfully, Peruvians (and Bolivians) continue to amaze me with their sheer perseverance and strength. Let¬¥s hope these shine through now more than ever.

Off to find some coffee, a bench in the park across the street and a few minutes to read before my driver comes back to swoop me up!

Hasta Luego

Back to Bolivia I go

I’m off to Bolivia for a couple weeks. I hope to check in when possible. I promise to return with a memory card full of photos, a journal full of stories and a suitcase full of alpaca yarn. (And maybe a bag of coffee and a few cigars too.)

Be well,

The Heat Ate My Happiness For Breakfast

stamps drying

~I bought a new pair of bike shorts Friday. Come to find out I’ve been using men’s bike shorts. I’m not sure where I got the pair I had been using, but needless to say, the girl ones? Wow. They fit so much better. And not to get too specific, but I wasn’t walking like a cowboy after my ride Saturday morning.

~Taking naps is great until you get to the day when you can’t have one. Resorting to crankiness isn’t cute once you are past, oh age 5. And apparently the “I’m sorry. I didn’t get my nap.” excuse make adults look at you like maybe you’ve escaped the short bus group home.

this week's stamped cards

~This heat? It is killing me. I promise this will be my one and only heat-related rant for the summer but it was 93 degrees out when I went to run this morning at 5 am. The sun wasn’t up. It was dark and 93 degrees out. I think it is safe to say I live in hell. The YMCA pool was 86 degrees yesterday. I think I saw a rubber ducky floating by faster than my exhausted arms could muster.


Strawberry Shortcake, Huckleberry Finn!

in stitches august, shortbread theme

Dear Finny,
Hey doll! Step away from that amazing garden of yours for a moment and those pies, gnocchi and all other fabulous things you’ve been creating and guess what? I finished up my In Stitches August project. I know! Can you believe it? Early bird gets the worm/assignment off her back. And the reason that seems a bit snippy is because mother of all things holy — I don’t like making bias binding. Or those corners. I can’t tell you how difficult these things were for me to figure out on my own. And I’ve made a couple quilts and done binding before! But I have a feeling I cut the fabric the wrong direction — in fact making it not bias binding — and the corners just weren’t having it yesterday.

obviously not the quilter in the family

So, my project is far from perfect but it is completed and I love the summery fabrics. To complete the assigned theme of using the potholder to showcase some fun summer activity, I fell back to one of my favorite activities any time of the year: baking! With potholders! Who knew?

crumbles of shortbread

Did you have Strawberry Shortcake dolls when you were growing up? I think part of the reason I loved them was that they smelled so good. And they were the perfect size to fit on My Little Ponies, versus those long legged freak Barbies that would topple over after the first “giddyup.” Anyway, Strawberry Shortcake and her sweet-smelling friends were some of my favorite dolls. She inspired my fabric selection and my choice of baking shortbread.

cinnamon vanilla shortbread, sv

For the first batch, I used this recipe. For the second batch, I spiced things up by adding a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. Those two flavors work well with shortbread and wowza, did these come out nicely. I wrapped them up with a few Martha Stewart baking goodies and delivered them yesterday to a handful of happy recipients — wearing my potholder the whole time, naturally.

packaged and ready to go

There you have it! Now, off to pack. And swim. Hope you are having a wonderful week!


P.S. If you are interested in the Sweet Sedona Bundt Cake recipe from earlier this week it is super simple!

One standard yellow cake mix
Two boxes of butterscotch pudding mix (I like the sugar free)
Two eggs
1 stick of softened unsalted butter (feel free to cut that in half and substitute apple sauce for an even better/healthier dessert)
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of cardamom
1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350
Grease your bundt pan (I like to use the wrapper from the butter and a dash of Pam.
In a large bowl combine all your ingredients, minus the chocolate chips. Stir until it is creamy and you’ve added a fair amount of air to the batter. Transfer to bundt pan and shake the pan so the cake distributes evenly.
Cook for 20-30 minutes, checking every 10 minutes or so to see if it is cooking evenly. (You can tell I need a new oven.)
Let it cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Transfer to a pretty plate. Dust with additional cinnamon and cardamom to taste and add your chocolate chips. Best served warm with a steaming cup of coffee. If you can eat this on a patio in Sedona, where the colors of the cake will match the incredible beauty of the red rocks, even better!

Falling for Fashion

Ann Taylor 3

I love to shop. Browsing is a sport, and finding exactly what I want on sale? Silver medal. On clearance? Gold. Coupon/gift certificate to use toward purchase? Record setting performance.

Ann Taylor 2

There is something particularly lovely about Fall fashion in Arizona because by the time it cools off for tweed and boots, we are ready to dance in the streets to celebrate Mother Nature and her 80 degree weather. A rather amusing site is the number of black leather jackets there are sported by “mortgage brokers” and the sort at Scottsdale bars come mid-September; 80 degree weather never requires leather. And if that is your fashion judgment, I’ll find my own 30-year investment, thankyouverymuch.

Ann Taylor 1

When Fall does roll around, I’m planning on drooling at the mall and making a few select purchases at that fine French establishment you may have heard of. I am seriously focused on consuming less and using what I have. That said, I will happily be rocking a new bag, courtesy of Erin. And a new Speedo for the race. Oh, and a new helmet. Those are purchases that I can’t exactly avoid. {The new bike shorts and cute little matching top? Not buying. Wanting, but not buying.}

My one caveat to purchasing is my 10 year high school reunion, which is quickly approaching. I’m thinking new jeans and a fabulous top. Maybe even a new clutch — handmade, of course. What did you wear to your reunion? Do any of the Fall fashion trends have you looking forward to cooler temps?


Baking Away

Sedona bundt cake

The heat, the kitchen, by the pool: I’ve been baking a bit this week. I’m busily preparing yet another trip away for work; I leave for Bolivia in a week and wouldn’t you guess just this weekend I looked at my planner and realized how quickly the date was approaching. I am definitely looking forward to a couple weeks away in cold weather and a couple weeks of rest after a month of considerable tri-training. In the meantime, back to the kitchen. My sewing machine, cupcake tins and a big cup of coffee are waiting for me.

worthy of the calories; sedona bundt cake

Sweet Sedona bundt cake.