Literacy – plus a few random thoughts thrown in

Good morning to Everyone ! The sun is rising and the birds are chirping like mad, making the crowing of the roosters just background noise. It is a solid, continuous chorus of bird-chirps, totally non-stop.

And yesterday morning, there were more observations of my resident bats. I am starting to feel like the Jane Goodall of bats, except that I just observe and do not interact with them. It seems that the majority of the time, there are one or two of them that roost above the chandelier, and their timing varies  Yesterday morning, I watched the one drop down and flutter out of the stairwell. I thought that he was flying away to wherever he would sleep. A short time later, I saw him hanging from the ceiling again eating a piece of fruit, so he was just going out to get breakfast. Then after breakfast, he was gone again.

It will be really nice when I can develop enlarged pictures of them, and post them for all to see. They really are cute, tiny fox-like faces with two light-colored stripes from their little foreheads to their nose.

With regards to communicating back home – still haven’t solved the Whatsapp problem. However, I am grateful that the office here has a printer, copier and scanner. If documents need to be signed and returned, I can print them out, sign them and then scan them back to myself or fax them wherever they need to go (such as my income tax forms). Working in the office is probably more secure than going to the “Cyber” as I recall reading years ago that you can access whatever was copied on a machine, and that that had happened from discarded machines from businesses.

Also a note on personal hygiene – though I don’t know if it would apply in general to long-term travelers. My skin is dry and itchy here, and suddenly I noticed that my Skechers really smell when I take them off. The hiking shoes that I wear with socks don’t smell, but the flats that I use as slippers and my Skechers that I wear with bare feet  – because it’s way too hot here for me to wear socks – are starting to smell really bad.

I had heard years ago of people putting liquid after-shave in their shoes to get rid of the smell. So, when I went to Soriana yesterday to do some shopping, I bought some Jean Nate body splash, Maja brand talcum powder and “O-Dolex Talco Desodorante” which I figured would help, since it had a picture of the sole of a foot on it.

Got back, splashed some Jean Nate on the soles of my feet and inside my smelly shoes, then put some of the Maja on the soles of my feet and sprinkled it in my shoes when they dried. This morning, everything smells much better. It’s also funny how memories come back to you. When I was in the nursing student residence from 1967-1970, Jean Nate was a big thing, and I remember seeing the Maja bars of soap on store shelves, with a picture of a flamenco dancer on the package, if I remember correctly. Seeing the bottle and smelling the Jean Nate , and seeing the bottle of Maja powder brought back memories of my days as a nursing student living in the dormitory……And taking a closer look at the Maja container, there is a tiny stylized picture of that flamenco dancer holding a tiny fan.

Now on to the literacy part of this. Project Amigo is all about promoting literacy and encouraging students to stay in school. This is a very poor area, and many of the people, especially the parents of our students (becarios, or scholars) have a very limited education because they needed to go to work to help support their families.

There are now more than 50 of our becarios who have graduated from the University and become professionals. They then help their siblings go through school and elevate the standard of living of their families and communities on so many levels. But to become enthusiastic about learning, and to develop that eagerness to learn about the world and the possibilities that life can hold, you need to start young.

A few days ago, we visited the local kinder here in Cofradía. First, there was a short English lesson, focusing on colors. Our director Stephanie, who is a teacher, held up a book, showing pictures, then a solid color, then the word in English. Then we sang the Rainbow Song (you can find it on You Tube) and then had them paste little squares on colored paper on blank paper rainbows.

After that, we handed out the books. The children were all so happy and excited at the books, trying to read them, look at the pictures in them and showing them to each other and to us. No matter what your circumstance, if you can read, you gain access to all of history, to an entire world of adventures and ideas, and it is a wonderful thing to see this world opened up to these children, who then go home and share these wonderful things with their families.

We also keep them enthusiastic about staying in school with field trips – to the beach (the Pacific Ocean, which many of them have never seen), to the turtle sanctuary (so they can learn about nature and conservation), to ruins (where they can learn about their history and heritage) and the Christmas Fiesta (where they have new clothing and shoes, a party with food, fun and games, and of course a piñata).  They cannot have and participate in these things unless they are in school, and our scholarships provide this for them, as school fees are financially out of reach for many of these families.

When we meet the parents and families of some of these becarios, they are so proud to have someone in the family who is educated and going to make a real difference in the world. Two of our current becarios are sisters from the migrant camp. Their father cuts cane in the sugar cane fields, but they have studied hard and one is going to become a doctor and the other a pharmacist.  We are so proud of all our becarios and their families, and are truly touched by their stories and we are blessed to have the means to help them achieve their goals.



Wildlife in Mexico

Well, it is 4:40 am here and I have been awake since about 2:45am, awakened by the roosters and unable to go back to sleep.On the other hand, perhaps it is unfair to blame it on the roosters. My family situation has been resolved and I have been trying to put together my next blog post, but was just not in the mood, and not able to focus adequately.

I am not a professional writer and rightly so. I can churn out writing once I am “on a roll” and could put out one research paper after another and contribute to discussions when I was going for my degree (2008-2011 – Empire State College), but for this, it is more of a pastime to share my passions, so it is best to write when the mood strikes and I can organize my thoughts properly.

Anyway, back to the “wildlife.” Except for the bandicoot that one of the volunteers saw from a distance a few weeks ago, the non-human, non-insect life around here are chickens, roosters, dogs, cats and cattle (cows and bulls). Oh, yes, and horses, geckos and iguanas.

I had always thought that roosters crowed in the morning and that was the end of it. At 2:45am this morning, I heard a few crows from the rooster, and then silence. About a half hour later, a few more crows and some barking. Now they are starting up again. It is like long-distance conversations with one rooster crowing and then others following suit, and it continues throughout the entire day.

There are chickens all over the place here – in the road, on people’s property, and even at one of the schools we visited yesterday. They had two pens of chickens – one pen for the egg-laying chickens and one for the chickens to be slaughtered and sold to help raise money for the school. While we were there, one of the teachers was demonstrating to the students how to butcher the chicken, which had already been killed and plucked.

I think in the U.S. only people on farms would understand this. Our lives have been so sanitized, with meat already slaughtered, butchered and placed in plastic-wrapped packages and not in any way resembling where they originated. If I had to kill my own food, I might become a vegetarian – except for chickens. They are very mean to each other, and the term “pecking order” is an extremely accurate term regarding these birds. So I am sure I would continue to eat them.

Street dogs are everywhere, and except for an occasional skirmish to re-establish who is the dominant Alpha dog, they seem to get along. There is every kind of mix among these dogs that you can imagine. Tiny chihuahuas running with larger dogs and every size in between. They are very good around humans – I am not afraid of them at all. Not even from the little chihuahuas that were on their owner’s property that bared their teeth and barked at me when I dared to walk past their house.

Horses – you can see them on the streets occasionally and on the local ranches. Every so often I can hear the clip-clop of their hooves on the cobblestone street outside my gate.

Occasionally there are also the cats. This is my 4th trip to Cofradía, but the first year I’ve actually seen a cat. I know there is one that comes into our courtyard here during the night. I’ve seen it when I’ve been up late, but mostly I see the dogs.

One other creature is the bat. When I first came here on January 10th, there were 4 of them that would huddle outside my door above the chandelier. They would show up every two days or so, sleep during the day and fly off at night.

Now there seems to be just two of them, and I am trying to figure out what they’re up to. They do not keep regular hours, so I do not know if their internal clocks are askew or if something else is going on. The past few days, they are either huddling with frequent stretching of their wings,vigorously grooming each other or trying to make a little bat baby.

They are tiny and so high up, it is hard to see them clearly. With my Fuji digital camera, I was able to take a few pictures, setting it for a close-up and then enlarging it again when I looked at the viewing screen. Since the picture is on a chip, and I have been unable to find one of those machines here that they have in just about every CVS and Rite-Aid store at home to print out pictures, I will either have to wait until I get home to publish those pictures or find someone who can do it on their computer or printer/scanner. However, I am posting a picture of the four that were here in the beginning of January.

These are fruit-eating bats, as evidenced by the poop they leave behind on the stairs – seeds and half-eaten black walnut fruit and leaves. One of the pictures I took is of one of them eating a leaf, which I later found dropped onto the stairs.

At least their droppings don’t smell and are easily swept away

One other non-animal related thing. For a few mornings, I have looked out my window and it appeared that the volcano has disappeared. It was very strange. I could see the rest of the landscape, but not the volcano and those will be two pictures that I will post, along with one of the jardín (town square).

The sky has been overcast, yet different from anything I had ever seen before back home, and it has felt as if it was going to rain but hasn’t yet. Not sure about this type of weather, but it is a new experience for me and feels quite weird. Well, such is life, and such is life here in Cofradía !

Nos vemos!



A Serious Discussion about Living Away from your Family and Country

Today I will be publishing several posts. and discussing some things to consider if you are planning on living in another country, or even just making a long-term visit. Back home in the Hudson River Valley of New York, I have two friends who are from other countries and I have seen their struggles when family members become sick overseas and the heartbreak that can result when they cannot just pick up and go – one due to age and health problems and the other due to having a young child and also having a job.

Unfortunately, right now I am also experiencing this, due to a situation which I will not go into now as it is still evolving, but will mention when the time is appropriate. This post will deal with those issues, and then I will publish two other posts on other topics.

Just as the Terry Schiavo tragedy spurred people to address certain issues before the need arose, there are certain things to address before you make a move – it doesn’t even have to be overseas; it could be just across the country in which you live.

The very first thing is to make sure you and your loved ones have a health care proxy. This is a legal document that states who is allowed to make healthcare decisions for you if you should become unable to make your own decisions – this would not only be if you are unconscious, but also confused and not competent to make any kind of judgement in your own behalf. This is different from a financial power of attorney – but that is also a good thing to have and designate someone you trust.

In the United States (U.S.A.) the details can vary state by state, and also institution by institution. For example, in the hospital in which I worked, if a patient came in with an out-of-hospital DNR (do not resuscitate), we would then have the patient or responsible party sign an in-hospital DNR. If they were brought to the hospital, it is expected that they wanted some kind of treatment, so we would need to have a signed statement regarding when they would allow such treatment to be stopped.

It is also VERY important that the person signing the proxy have a serious and lengthy discussion with the person that they are designating to make their decisions for them – do they want artificial feedings, antibiotics, IV fluids, etc. Would they prefer to be a little bit conscious even if it means they are in pain, or would they prefer to be totally unconscious and pain-free, or somewhere in between?

IF you are unsure of everything involved, discuss it with a lawyer or healthcare worker. End of life care is much more involved than people realize – it is not just a ventilator and chest compressions as shown on TV and the movies. Instead, it is also about making the person comfortable in the way that honors their beliefs and wishes.

Also keep in mind that the person you delegate might not be a relative or person in a position of power over you. Many years ago, I attended a lecture about this by a priest. He said that his bishop believed in doing everything – which sometimes only extends the dying process, not promote life. This was not the priest’s wishes, so he designated someone else to be his proxy. In the event of no proxy, the decision will go to the legal next-of-kin, who might not share your values, so you need to give this a lot of thought. And – consider this: you might be young and healthy, but situations can change in an instant, such as a car accident, so the discussion needs to be done sooner rather than later.

So – you have written your health care proxy after serious discussion with the person or people you have chosen, you have a copy to carry with you and your proxy/proxies also have a copy. You arrive at your destination and give a copy to a responsible person at that destination (for me, it is the people in charge of the office here).

Now you have the communication issue. Here, I have access to the internet, and to save on massive charges by Verizon, I have a sim card from the Mexican company Telcel, so that for 200 pesos a month (maybe $15 US, give or take) I can make all the calls I want here. The problem is when someone back home needs to call me in an emergency and so, on the suggestion of my nephew, I installed Whatsapp. Problem is, between the U.S. and Mexico, we can only text, not talk on that app, and then it does not consistently work.  My problem was partly solved by having a third person, someone in the office who checks her email frequently both in the office and at home, who will see an email notifying her of an emergency, who will then call me on my cell at my Mexican number. Therefore, this had to be coordinated among the three of us.

The final component of this very serious post is to have a responsible person back home who can take charge if you have a relative who might need assistance while you are away and in the best case, is also a proxy for that person. Making judgements from thousands of miles away or in a foreign country is very difficult, and having someone “on the scene” to evaluate the situation with whom you can discuss the particulars is very practical and very comforting.

I know many of you don’t like to think unpleasant thoughts, or think you are young and healthy so you don’t need to think about things like this, but it is a necessary part of living for things to happen, as in “Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.” And, while I haven’t read every travel site in existence, I also have not seen any discussion such as this on any of the sites I have visited. So please take a moment to consider what I have written, as it entirely comes from my experience as a human being, as a traveler and as a nurse with 45 years experience. I have seen more situations than I care to count where, unfortunately, lack of discussion and preparation have caused grief and distress to both patients and families.




More Interviews and an American Lunch – but We are All Americans

Jessi and I have been interviewing students for a while now and have our routine pretty well set. A student comes in and Jessi puts the name tag on. We sit together with the student and I conduct the interview, with Jessi helping out when the student tells me something I don’t understand or to get more details from them.  Sometimes I just don’t understand a career or sport, even with a description, so there’s always the dictionary, Google translate, or a You Tube video which gives me a visual so I finally “get it.” (such as “tocho bandera” being touch football).  When the interviews are done, Jessi then takes each student’s picture.

Back at the office, I write up the interviews. If the student already has a sponsor, I make it a personal letter to them, and then Jessi attaches the picture after I email the finished letter to her. If the child has no sponsor, I type up a different letter, telling the reader about the student and asking if he/she would care to sponsor them.  A donation of $100 USD will keep each student in school for a year, providing uniforms, shoes, books, field trips, etc. for those in grades kindergarten through 6th grade.

Reading the biographies gives the reader a personal connection to a real child. For me, I was touched by many of their stories, and picked 3 of them to sponsor myself. One of the children is a boy who loves studying about ancient Egypt and wants to be an Egyptologist in the future. I was interested in ancient Egypt when I was young, and my niece Catherine Butzen has been and still is, so that made me want to help him continue in school.

When I returned, I cooked a nice American lunch for the staff. I had gotten up early to cook the rice before the interviews and the day before had bought fresh okra, wax beans and cauliflower from my friends Richard and Magda’s organic farm. I hadn’t seen any bread crumbs in the tiendas, but they do sell pre-made toast – pan tostada – so I had bought some of that and stuck it in a blender to make bread crumbs. So I had that, plus the fresh eggs and fresh chicken, plus garlic and an onion.

For the final spice, I had bought some cumin powder from the local tienda. They do not generally sell jars of spices here because that would be too expensive, so you can buy it by the teaspoon in little plastic bags. Same with baking soda – couldn’t find a box of it anywhere. When you ask for it, the shopkeeper scoops it out of a large jar – however much you want – and puts it in a little plastic bag for you.

So I breaded and baked the chicken, breaded and fried the okra and boiled the cauliflower and beans. I told them that I wouldn’t be insulted if they felt the need to put hot sauce on it, but they ate it plain and said it was very good. They were really amazed at the okra and wax beans; apparently they had never seen these vegetables before. One staff member continued to try to eat her chicken leg with a knife and fork. I told her we eat it with our fingers – but she wouldn’t do it until I finally picked up my chicken wing with MY fingers and began eating it.  It reminded me of having a meal at my friend Eva’s house back home. I would look at some of the Mexican dishes she would serve and wonder how to eat it – what do I put in a tortilla, or do I eat it with a fork, etc.

One other thing – I mentioned the hot sauce. There are bottles of Valentina hot sauce everywhere and they seem to put it on just about everything. On beach day, I watched little children open a bag of chips and just pour the hot sauce into the bag. It made me wonder at what point they became used to it. I can’t imagine they were born with a tolerance to it…

Oh, I almost forgot about the “American” in the title. North, South and Central America are all American. I was reminded of this one day when I was giving a talk about Project Amigo back home. I said that it is a non-profit organization with Canadian, American and Mexican Rotary clubs heavily involved. One of the Rotarians pointed out that Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are all part of North America. It was also pointed out to me here that United States isn’t an exclusive name either; the official name of this country is the United States of Mexico, and it is comprised of 31 states and the Federal District, just as my United States is composed of 50 states and the District of Columbia.

I guess this is all just splitting hairs, but figured I would add a little political and geographic education in there. Time for bed now, then two more days of interviews. Have a good night everyone, and stay safe and warm.

Nos vemos !

The Ballet and the Bull Ring

Well, had the day off yesterday and while all the volunteers were headed home, I decided to take in the sights before the next round of interviews with the students. After a nice breakfast with my friends Richard and Magda, we were deciding what to do for the day. I wanted to go to the Petatera in Villa de Alvarez, but Magda’s mother had never seen the Ballet Folklorico in Colima City.

S0 – we decided to bring her mother and sister to the Ballet, and have lunch and attend the fair afterwards. The ballet was wonderful – many different ballets telling the history of Mexico, starting with people in pre-Columbian costumes and many other stories, including one about “Rosita” who loved to dance and was shot by a jealous suitor.  It was held in a beautiful auditorium owned by the University of Colima. During intermission, the dancers handed out papers that advertised auditions for children to learn to dance and perform with them.  I turned that over to one of the staff members in the office this afternoon, thinking she might know of someone who might want their children to audition.

After the Ballet, we went out for a very nice lunch in a nearby restaurant. One day is pretty much like another for me, so I totally forgot it was Valentine’s Day. There was an arch of red and white balloons at the entrance, so Magda had Richard take our picture…

After lunch, we went to the fair at Villa de Alvarez. I had heard the name “Petatera” and so I thought that was the name of the fair. I had been thinking giant puppets, which I had seen recently in advertisements for various fairs. Well, we arrived and there were many, many horses of all different shapes and colors, and some with extremely long manes. Long enough that one horse had it braided right between its eyes, otherwise I don’t see how it could have seen anything.

In the meantime, I found out what the Petatera was REALLY about. There is a famous bull ring there, which was built without any nails whatsoever. I don’t remember how many people it can hold or how old it is, but it has held up for a long time.  A man was dressed up and riding by on one of the horses, and Magda told me he was a “picador.” Turns out bullfighting is a legal and cherished tradition in Mexico, as it is in Spain.  The picador rides his horse in the ring and keeps stabbing the bull, and the bull is eventually killed.

When I heard that, I could not attend that event. Even if it had been free, I wouldn’t have gone. After the event, we saw a small crane lift the carcass onto the back of a truck – I assume it was going to be butchered.  There is a bull ring right here in Cofradía, but it is more like a rodeo – no one and no animal is hurt. THAT is MY type of event.

So, we ended up walking around the fair, which was about the same as the county fairs in New York State – with animals on display and vendors selling food, clothing, trinkets and enticing people to play games for prizes.  However, you know that you are not in New York by the types of food they were selling – gorditas, guayaba, and other things that I cannot remember now.  Also, there were horses for sale, including one from Oklahoma! I was curious as to why someone would bring a horse from Oklahoma to halfway down the country of Mexico to sell it…..

Well, four more days of interviews ahead of me, and many more days of writing up the interviews, so I will close now and post my pictures. I know there will be many more festivals to attend and report on, so more later.

I need to cook dinner now that all the volunteers have left. Bought a fresh chicken and fresh vegetables today, and so I will make a nice, non-spicy dinner of chicken, veggies and rice. Well – not hot and spicy. If it is just hot, it is caliente. Hot and spicy is picante or enchiloso.  “Brabo” is also technically hot and spicy, but is more commonly used to mean an angry animal, such as “perro brabo” to mean an angry dog.

Buying the fresh chicken made me think of my father’s memoirs of growing up in the Bronx (he was born in 1919). He would talk about the fresh-killed chicken with the eggs still inside and the butcher would offer the chicken’s feet to housewives, who would make chicken-foot soup. The woman I bought the chicken from had the parts in a bowl, including the feet, but I bypassed the chance to buy them and settled for the wings, legs and breasts. I also bought eggs – a half-kilo, which equaled 9 eggs this time (it was 8 eggs the last time I bought them – remember, you buy eggs by weight).

That’s about it for now – more later !


Beach Day and a Special Ceremony

Hola once again – Today was a day off from doing interviews with our students, but it was still a busy day, for today staff, volunteers and older Project Amigo scholars took the youngest students from the Quesería migrant camp to the beach.

Manzanillo is the deep water Pacific Ocean port of Colima State, about a 2 hour drive from here. Most of the children at the camp have never seen the ocean, so this is quite an experience for them. It is also quite an experience for us to see them shouting with glee and to see the joy on their faces as they see the vastness of the ocean, the huge crashing waves and jump and play in the water.

We kept track of them by organizing them into groups. Each of us had a colored ribbon one our wrists, and whichever children were in our group also had a ribbon on their wrist of the same color. At our table on the beach, we hung a piece of construction paper of the same color. My group was the rose-colored team.

It is also an experience for us to keep an eye on them and keep them safe in the water. There was one Project Amigo volunteer and two older scholars for every 10 children. I did not bring a bathing suit – first because I don’t own one and second, I figured that maybe I would be up to my ankles in the water and that would be enough. Well – I ended up hiking my skirt up to my knees to be far enough from the shore in case one of the children needed me, thinking this was enough protection from the water.  A few good-sized waves took care of that idea by thoroughly drenching me. When the children left the water to eat lunch, I went to one of the tiendas on the beach and bought a bathing suit and a caftan…. Next beach day, I will definitely not forget a bathing suit!

Changing clothes and going to the toilet were definitely a challenge. When Hurricane Patricia happened last year, it was a Category 5 when it made landfall at Manzanillo. You can see in one of the pictures some white posts – that is what is left of the building where the changing rooms and toilets were. Most of the walls are now gone and the floors collapsed, but some of the toilets survived, so within what is left of the structure are a few plywood walls either with toilets or empty to use as changing rooms.

Many buildings did survive or were repaired. Fortunately, Hurricane Patricia changed course and also became a Category 1, so there was damage but no loss of life. It could have been so much worse.

We brought our own food in the bus, so everyone had hamburgers and chips for lunch, along with water and jamaica (pronounced ha-MY-ka), a drink made from hibiscus, which tastes somewhat like fruit punch. There were also snacks of cucumber and jicama strips with Tajin seasoning.

At the end of the day, the children of Quesería did not want to leave, and it took a while to round them up, chase them back up the beach when one or more of them would try to escape back into the water, get them changed and give them one last snack.  And once again I was reminded that I will never be mistaken for a Mexican when one of the girls in the water was playing around, reached out her hand to me and yelled, “Gringa, ayuda me!” (which means – female gringo, help me!).  sigh……………….

I think most of us ended up taking quite a bit of sand home with us. After a thorough shower, we met for dinner at the Hacienda, and were in for a surprise. At our meeting area were three Project Amigo university graduates and their families. These three girls had all just graduated and passed their bar exams! They have all become lawyers! Andrea now works at the prosecutor’s office in Colima. Maria works at the public defender’s office and Ceci works in a general law office. Project Amigo university students are strongly encouraged to do internships during their studies in the area in which they will graduate, and so these girls were already familiar to the staff where they are now working, and it was easier for them to get jobs right out of school.  These girls, as with most of our Project Amigo scholars, work very hard, many times under difficult life circumstances, in order to become educated and create a better life for themselves, their families and their community.  We are so proud of Andrea, Maria and Ceci!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well, time to post this latest blog and get some sleep… Tomorrow is a true day of leisure. First an early breakfast with some local friends at their house, and then visit the fair in Villa de Alvarez


Volunteer’s Life continued – Suegras residence

I just concluded another two days of interviewing students, with no more interviews until Thursday. So – for my day off tomorrow, I will be taking the bus to Colima City to do some shopping and exploring.

In the meantime, I will tell you a little about another of the volunteers’ residences called Suegras.  The name means mother-in-law in Spanish and is named after the respective mothers-in-law of Ted Rose (founder of Project Amigo) and his wife Susan Hill.

It is beautiful and elegant – two stories of apartments outside with a central area containing an open-air kitchen, sitting area, bar area and fountain. It is tiled and has a profusion of plants and trees. Outside the gate are more orange trees.

Next to the gate is a stairway leading up the a flat roof, where you have an excellent view of the volcano.  Words don’t do it justice, and it is getting late, so for now, I will just post some pictures and let them give you a sense of what it is like to live in this residence.

‘Night, All !!

A Volunteer’s Life – the Hacienda

There are several residences in which short-term volunteers live during their work week. Tonight I will be posting about the Hacienda. A volunteer’s living quarters here with Project Amigo is definitely not basic living – the only drawback is that you cannot drink the water, but plenty of purified water is supplied, so you will never be dehydrated. You must, however, remember to brush your teeth with the purified water. Even with this being my fourth trip to P.A., I still had to remember to keep my hand from automatically turning on the tap to run water over my toothbrush, and to run purified water over my retainers to clean them.

My first year here, I wasn’t so careful and ended up with a stomach bug, but that was cured by a trip to the doctor. Doctor and medicine combined was about $40 USD.  So – be careful, but if you forget, we DO have doctors and medicine here in Mexico.

All the residences are absolutely beautiful, from the fountains, tiled floors, open-air kitchens and profusion of trees, plants and flowers. There are also the hummingbirds which zip around in the morning, finding flowers or the hummingbird feeders for their breakfasts.

Right now I will talk about the Hacienda, which is where I will be for this month (you don’t get moved around during the work week, but as a long-term volunteer, I occasionally do, depending on the size of the group of incoming volunteers and the need for more rooms).  There is a courtyard as you walk through the gate. To the left are the offices and three rooms. To the right is the open air kitchen, dining area, sitting area, and these are surrounding a fountain which is, itself, surrounded by foliage.  Further to the right are the stairs leading up to a meeting room and two larger bedrooms, complete with toilets and showers for each.

Upstairs on the far end of the meeting room is a balcony, from which you can see the courtyard and within the meeting room is an open area from which you can look down at the fountain.

To the immediate right after walking through the gate is a smaller sitting area, also beautifully surrounded by foliage.

The rooms are spacious enough for a one-week stay, and from the window of my upstairs room, I have a great view of the Colima Volcano, the Volcan de Fuego (volcano of fire).  The volcano can put on quite a show of smoke and ash, and occasionally you can see the red glow at night.  The Volcan de Fuego is on the border of Jalisco State and Colima State, with both states claiming ownership, but we here in Cofradía are quite a distance away and enjoy watching the occasional ash cloud emerge in perfect safety.

Every morning, the volunteers gather to have a nice breakfast before they start the day’s work. Before the breakfast, for those so inclined, there is an hour’s walk throughout the area, but there is hot coffee or tea available so that you do not start your walk on an empty stomach.

Lunch will either be at the Hacienda, or brought with you if you are away for the day for your project. A social hour is held before dinner, and then a nice dinner is served, again in the Hacienda.  At the end of the week, volunteers go to the beach, and then have a social gathering and dinner at the home of Ted Rose and Susan Hill, founders of Project Amigo.

The work weeks center around the children of the area – literacy weeks, where we distribute books and listen to the children read to us, or we read to them, ESL tutoring weeks, where we teach the students English, Christmas Fiesta, where we distribute new clothing and then hold a huge fiesta for the children, where they can wear their new clothes and receive gifts, and many other types of weeks. There are also other types of weeks and you can even plan your own week – contact P.A. on the website at and let them know your special expertise or what it is you want to do to help, and a week can be planned.

While Project Amigo is not an official Rotary project, Rotarians from all over the world are heavily involved, especially from the U.S., Canada and Mexico. So come on down, meet new and interesting people, see the real Mexico and help make a difference for children in need – all the while living in absolutely beautiful residences. 12657219_1121931801171379_742047479034722969_o12657984_1121935084504384_1417569167756962683_o12697111_1121936097837616_9052567166829471489_o12697146_1121931634504729_8206105984557503258_o12622062_1121943781170181_8193925263404419170_o12525146_1121935107837715_6275606776504082298_o12646749_1121939961170563_4007099539298737508_o





















This and That

Well, it’s been a few days since I have posted because things have been a little busy for me. For the past two days, I have been interviewing Project Amigo’s students in grades 4, 5 and 6, and we have taken a picture of each of them. I will be interviewing a total of 43 students right through Saturday afternoon. After the interviews, I write up a letter to each of their sponsors, telling them about the child for whom they are providing a scholarship.

Most of the children are a little shy, so I have written down my script – a list of questions to ask them. A staff member sits with me to correct my Spanish if the child doesn’t understand, to help prompt them if they are shy about answering, and to explain their answers if they come up with words that are unfamiliar to me, such as avicultor (poultry farmer) and avejas (bee keeper) when asked what work their parents do, to tacos tuxpeños when asked what foods they like.

I think there are about 132 children that I will be interviewing over several weeks. There were supposed to be 8 children interviewed yesterday, but only 7 showed up. I was told the missing boy was no longer in Cofradía because his family moved to Colima. I only hope that he is continuing to go to school.

These kids are just like kids all over the world. Their family units vary greatly in composition, but they enjoy being with friends, playing sports, eating their favorite foods, and all appreciate the opportunities for education that their sponsors have given them. The majority so far have said they like mathematics and natural science, some want to be doctors, nurses, architects and teachers. A few haven’t narrowed it down yet, but still want to attend University and one boy today had dreams of becoming a professional soccer player.

Before the interviews yesterday, I paid Doña Meche a visit. It is chilly here in the mornings and evenings, but very hot and sunny during the day and wearing my jeans in the heat just isn’t comfortable. So – I ended up buying 3 skirts and 3 blouses (pure cotton and hand-embroidered) and two hats – one cowboy-style to go with my jeans and when hiking and one a little more feminine when wearing dresses or skirts. So now I am all set in the clothing department.

This morning around 11am we had a brunch of tamales for a very special occasion. January 6th is Three Kings Day. On that day people eat a ring-shaped pastry called a rosca. Baked within the rosca is a tiny plastic baby Jesus and the tradition is whoever gets that piece has to throw a party. Two of the staff members who ended up in that position gave us a “party” this morning by having a tamale brunch. They were delicious, made with cheese and chicken cooked in corn husks, and not very spicy.

I’ve also been taking walks around the village and taken quite a few pictures, so I will post them now.  It will be obvious that one of the pictures is the tamale brunch. You will also see cobblestone streets, flowers, landscapes, a sign for blackberries and marmalade, and a little chihuahua that decided to defend his property against me. You will also see chickens under the silo outside the cafetería – I wonder if they ever eat the coffee beans and what, if anything, that does to them.

Well, time to go to bed, I think and blog again in another day or two. Got to get up early and type up the letters to the sponsors for the 8 students I interviewed today before the next group arrives at 3pm.  So – adios and ‘night all !!!






Doña Meche and the people of Cofradía

Well, it’s nice and quiet here today. It is Constitution Day, a national holiday in Mexico, so I have the Hacienda all to myself. Yesterday I went to lunch with friends, walked around town and had a good time in general hanging out with friends. Today, I did my internet banking, laundry and am now working on this blog.

Cofradía de Suchitlan is a small village and most of the people are not well off. They work very hard and though they do not have much materially, they are wealthy in spirit. I have walked this village at all hours of the day and night, and have always felt safe. Everyone says hello (in Spanish, of course) and has a smile on their face when they greet you.

Families are very cohesive and care very much for each other. The children are very proud of their families, regardless of the physical condition of their homes, including the ones with dirt floors (mainly in the migrant camps of Quesería) or cement floors.  In the early morning as I walk down the streets I see the shop owners sweeping the sidewalks and street in front of their shops.

The children for whom we provide scholarships are very anxious to do well in school, graduate from high school and then university. As of 2014, we have graduated 45 students from university as doctors, nurses, engineers, lawyers and many other professions. These students have then gone on to help others obtain an education. The graduation rate from our scholarships is about 90% from high  school and about 90% from university – much better than the U.S.

On Saturday, as I was returning from my weekly treat at the cafetería just outside the village, I saw Doña Meche with her family in their residence, just a few yards away. She invited me to sit with them. It appeared to be a birthday celebration for a Grandma and everyone was very friendly and welcoming.

They offered me a snack of ham, cheese and crackers and laughed when I politely refused the hot sauce. I spoke for a while with the family and was gently corrected when I made a grammatical mistake, but was able to make myself understood.  I definitely could understand most of what was being said, but the speaking for me is coming along little by little.

That evening in the jardín (village square), there are some people who cook tacos and tortas (toasted sandwiches) on a big open grill. They cook the meat in a big pan right there, and one of the men is continually cutting up more of the meat. He does it so quickly that I fear he may one day cut himself, and then I will need to go back into nurse mode.

So – I had a delicious torta de res made of fried beef with lettuce, onions and mayonnaise on a toasted roll. Very delicious, and for a price of 23 pesos (the exchange rate has varied between 14-18 pesos per USD, so it was a little over $1).

I sat there eating while watching the children and dogs playing, but one little dog decided to sit attentively at my feet, waiting for me to drop some food. One woman beside me started a conversation, and we had a very pleasant chat. Before she went home, she told me where she lives and said I could practice my Spanish with her any time…

When people would hear that I was going to spend 6 months in Mexico, they would warn me that it is a dangerous country and they were concerned for my safety. My reply was that there are many unsafe places in the United States.  For those people who only know about this country from newspapers or politicians, or who have only visited the tourist areas, they are not getting a picture of the REAL Mexico.  The world is full of cities, towns and small villages just like Cofradía, inhabited by regular people just like you and just like me.  I would like to see more people volunteer with organizations like Project Amigo, step out of your comfort zone and learn to see people from other  countries and cultures as fellow human beings with families, hopes and dreams just like ours.