a brief reflection on our experience in Ecuador..

I wouldn’t say I had the smoothest transition back into the states. It was a rough awakening to be in the bustle of Miami airport with phone calls and emails galore…which made me realize how much I had grown to love and appreciate the simple yet incredibly and genuinely happy life style of the Shuar in the Ecuadorian rain forest. And by simple, I absolutely do not mean easy!! We all learned how hard of a life it actually is as we were able to experience the physical labor that goes into sustaining a life in harmony with nature. We woke up every morning sore, bruised, blistered and bitten, yet never did that subtract from the truly remarkable work we were doing in a truly remarkable place.

A brief description of our service: hauling huge wood planks over a half mile through the rain forest (3 times), clearing and leveling forested land, machete-ing trees, digging trenches, collecting and planting medicinal plants…just to mention a few. The main project that we were helping with was the construction of an ethno-botanical garden which would be the launching pad for a medicinal garden that would supply the communities newly constructed clinic.

I thought that this trip was quite possibly one of the most amazing service experiences I have had. We were living with and directly interacting and learning about the Shuar culture as they taught us how best to help them. I have never learned so much and felt so indebted to a group of people. Our service was aimed at furthering the goals of the community which we absolutely did, yet I feel that we still have an infinite amount of work to do in order to reciprocate the love, time and knowledge that the Shuar gave to us.

I am still sorting through all of the life lessons that I learned while trudging through the rain forest with our guides and how exactly these fit into my life and how I can bring them back here to Lafayette. I was amazed at the shear happiness of the people in the community and how they lived and breathed the rain forest. As i feel indebted to the Shuar community, the Shuar community feels indebted to the rain forest and they have made it their life goal to preserve and protect it, while teaching the world it’s importance. This group of people found harmony between human life and the world that we were blessed to be placed on, which I now believe is the key to happiness. This balance and equanimity between self and nature brought happiness and joy to the community. I hope to be able to find this for myself at home, and spread that message to others in hopes that together we can make it a reality for our culture as a whole.

In anticipation..

We are nearing our departure date, and everyone is excited and ready to go! On the agenda: finishing construction on the community’s Ethno-Botanical Garden, planting medicinal plants in the garden to aid the new clinic in their treatments, making improvements to volunteer housing, learning how to live off of the rainforest’s resources during a night in the jungle, Shuar language and dance lessons…SO MUCH!

FUDECOIPA, the organization who helped to organize our trip, is dedicated to encouraging sustainable development efforts in the Shuar community. We are overly excited to be able to support this important effort, and learn more about the importance of sustainable development in rural rain forest communities.

Although the snow scheduled for our departure date is making me nervous, our flexible and resilient group will be able to make it through whatever road blocks we face..goodness knows that the flight will be the least of our challenges!

We will have 0 internet access in Ecuador, so the updates and stories will have to wait for our return. Until then, wish us luck!!

Delivery Day and So Much More!

Today, our group finished up the last of our van delivery trips. Each of us got to take a trip with one of the van drivers to different boroughs of the city to deliver the meals that we have been preparing all week!
I got the honor of driving with Narry to make his deliveries up to the Bronx. He shared his story about how he came to God’s Love, and I was amazed that he had been a driver for 10 years! He told me that he had experience driving most of the routes which makes him an incredibly valuable team member when there are so many clients to get to!
Today we had a client list of 52 at 42 different locations.  What most impressed me, was that he had memorized each stop on our route, as well as the particular directions that each client had given for their delivery. Most of the time I brought bags up to an apartment in a big complex, in which case I knocked on the door and waited for an answer. In some instances however, I was instructed to let myself right into the house and drop it off straight to the client, or leave it on a counter. It was clear that Narry had taken the time to get to know each of his clients, and they greatly appreciated his services. It was an honor to be able to work with him and see the project that we have been working on all week come full circle, and the smiles on each person’s face when they received their food.
The past two days, we have also been continuing our work in the kitchen. On Wednesday we unpacked, and individually marinaded 1600 salmon steaks, and the kitchen team today packaged each up as a meal to go out on deliveries tomorrow. On top of that we have still been doing our endless veggie chopping, as well as cake making, rice scooping, and sausage de-paning. We are quite the productive group! :)

Peace Be.

Onions and Carrots and Beef, OH MY!

What an exhausting and exhilarating day!! Maybe that sounds like a contradictive description, but hopefully I can help you to understand with this entry!

Once again, ASB New York boarded the subway, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for an exciting day! Not too long after, we arrived at the door step of God’s Love We Deliver.

We were given an amazingly welcoming introduction to the facility and the daily runnings of the organization. Before we boarded the elevator down to the kitchens, we donned lovely lunch lady-esk hair nets. After a very short look around, we were instructed to pull up our sleeves, sanitize up to our elbows and put on an apron to top off the outfit. It was hard not to be immediately infected by the amazing energy pulsing through the kitchen, and we were all ready and excited!

Right away we were thrown in to the pack of the “regular” Tuesday group helping in the mass production of a warm and healthy beef stew. Some of us were instructed to spread the beef out on massive cooking sheets, while others started off peeling and chopping 150 pounds of carrots!! Needless to say, we got our hands dirty quick!

The kitchen staff did an amazing job of mobilizing the huge task force that was both our group and those that were normal attendees. As soon as one job was done, we were already being briefed and moved to our next one. At one point, almost the whole kitchen was dedicated to chopping up onions. Soon enough all the airspace was filled with the relentless juice of onions, making all of us tear up for quite some time. But of course! ASB NYC made it through to lunch!

We were provided lunch by God’s Love, so we got the chance to experience the meals that get delivered to the terminally ill every day. Each meal is specifically catered to the illness of each client, and we were all incredibly surprised at how tasty they were! It was great to know that we were huge contributors to this amazing project!

After lunch, we started shift two with a new set of volunteers and a new kitchen staff. Our first monumental task was wrapping over 1600 rolls! That is when we were able to get a real feel for exactly how many people we were impacting with our service. We also took part in a kitchen wide mushroom and potato chop, as well as mixing salads, unloading the huge cookers of beef, and draining industrial sized cans of olives! Never for a moment were we tired or bored, because there was never a moment of stillness!!
Now hopefully you understand what I mean by exhausting and exhilarating. :)

With only a few blisters and a minor cut to the finger, we left God’s Love full of joy!! We are excited to return tomorrow, when half of us will go to deliver the 3000!!!! meals, and the rest will continue with our adventures in the kitchen!

Peace Be.

Sunday Night Reflection and A Surprising MLK Day

(1-17) Last night, before we settled down, Tracy, our reflections leader, took us through an exercise to identify our expectations and goals for the week. After our discussion, this was my synopsis of the themes and goals for our service:
We tend to live our lives looking ahead to the next step, rather than enjoying the step that we are on now. Starting on this trip and carrying on, we hope to apply a different mindset in our lives. IMMERSE: soak up the sights, stories and experiences. UNDERSTAND: have the conversation and make the connections. REMEMBER: keep the memories with you, and relive them frequently. CHANGE: apply the morals that you learn to your everyday life. BE WHOLE: take your whole self with you on every journey.

(1-18) Bright and early, we donned our jackets and boots to head out for Day 1 of our service project. After a short trip to the Lower East Side, ASB New York got to practice our Gumby-esk flexibility when we arrived at our first day of service only to find our hands were not needed. Due to miscommunication and the eagerness of citizens to get out and serve on MLK Day we were met by a bustling kitchen far too full of gloved and hair netted volunteers.
Feeling a bit out of place and stranded, we retreated to a near by coffee shop for some research and quick thinking. We discussed the possibility of calling around to see if we could lend our hands elsewhere, but came to the conclusion that this was not a good practice of service considering the size of our group and the incredibly short notice.
Instead we made our way towards Union Square Park where we thought we could surely find something interesting and productive to do with our time. After scoping out a few local newsletters and books, we decided to tour a few more parks. As we came up on Washington Square Park, the weather cleared up quite nicely and we were able to soak up the sun in the fountain that usually spurts water when the season permits.
With the knowledge of a tour around Central Park, we took the subway back up town and met up with a group touring what once was Seneca Village. In light of MLK Day, we learned of the origins of the Village and the importance it had on the rights of blacks in the community.
Luckily, we were graced with yet another beautiful day to be out of work and we now regroup before moving on.

Peace Be.
ASB New York

Rainy Day in the City

Now before you get too enthralled with this entry..I must warn you that I have very little knowledge of the geography of New York City, and I will do my best with my last 1 and half days of city experience. =]

(1-16) We settled into a surprisingly comfortable and well situated hostel upon arrival in the city yesterday afternoon. We were lucky to catch some good weather for our first half day, and our navigation expert, Jess, got us here easily. All being hungry from our travels, we made it one of our first efforts to find a filling and cheap meal in the city. With the wonderful resource of Amber’s iphone, we found a fabulous little local chain called “The Hummus Place.” Although a few of us could not pronounce the names of our meals, we were all pleasantly surprised at how delicious and satisfying it was!
We topped off the night was a tour around the electrifying Times Square. People, lights, and sights galore, it was hard to feel tired or bored. We tried our hand at schmoozing ticket prices, got to fill our noses with the aroma of chocolate at the M&Ms and Hershey’s stores, and even got a few pictures with David Blaine.
Needless to say, after all of this we were exhausted and enjoyed curling up into bed with books and music for the night.

(1-17) This morning, our “cultural” day off, we tried to get off to a quick start and beat the oncoming rain. After a few of the group took a nice run through Central Park, we enjoyed a quick breakfast and boarded the subway going downtown; destination Bryant Park.
We got off the train and stared from afar at the city public library, subconsciously steering clear :). We watched the ice skaters shimmy around the crowded rink in the park and stared at the overwhelmingly tall buildings surrounding us. We were disappointed to find that the infamous Wich’craft cafe in the park that we had heard so much about, only had peanut butter hot chocolate left..but then scurried towards Rockefeller Center. We were drawn in by the copious number of flags surrounding yet another ice rink, and spent some more time people watching.
We had heard stories of the huge Anthropology store, and had to give it a try while we were there. For those of us who were not frequent visitors, the art and energy of the place was a cool break from the cold. By the time we left, the skies had opened up so we dodged in and out a few stores before we decided it was time to move on to the next adventure.
The Met sounded all too inviting while we were navigating the wet and cold streets of downtown, so we once again, boarded the subway and made our way up Central Park. With a lucky addition of a seasoned New York City veteran, we got there and were able to enjoy the exhibited before closing. We broke up to hit all of the rooms, some of us to Van Gogh, others to Modern Art, and even others to Oceanic and African Art. Our time there pasted all too quickly, and we came back to the hostel to plan out dinner and the rest of the night. We had a delicious home-cooked pasta and garlic bread meal and retired for games and relaxation.

Tomorrow we head to our first sight of service bright and early! Pray for some sunshine!

Peace Be..
-ASB New York