Saturday, 8 April 2017

Por fin!

Hi lovely followers,

It has been an extremely long time since I have posted so I have no idea how many of you will see this. Since my last post, I graduated with a 1st class honours degree from Brunel University London in Social Anthropology. I took a year out afterwards and ended up in Ecuador again where I volunteered as the Operations Coordinator for the Arajuno Road Project (ARP) organisation for about 7 months. In February 2016, my (now) Ecuadorian fiance, Elder, (who I met back in 2012) got his first passport and we applied for a visa for him to visit my family here in the U.K - his visa got denied. It was the most stressful time I've had in a while - I was physically ill from start to finish and suffered from my first migraine thanks to the whole thing. We applied again and over 200 pages of documents later, his visa application got accepted!

So in April last year, we took the (long) bus journey from Ecuador to Colombia where we spent a relaxing 2 weeks together on the Colombian coast before we then ventured home to England for what would be a crazy busy 6 months exploring the U.K! In July, whilst we spent a beautiful sunny long weekend at St. Ives in Cornwall, Elder got down on one knee and proposed to me (in Spanish). Of course, I said yes, and despite not having any firm plans yet, we hope to get married next year - which country we will tie the knot it is yet to be determined!

Anyway, he has been back in Ecuador since the end of last October and I have been frantically working part-time and studying a full-time Master's degree in Social Anthropology. Lectures now finished and for the next part of my degree, I am to do another bout of research - I'll be heading to Guatemala next month for the summer and collaborating with an NGO called Primeros Pasos under their Nutrition Program. Can't wait! All going well, in September I will be submitting a 15,000 word dissertation on my research. Quite honestly, that seems impossible right now! But I WILL DO IT.

Of course, I can never simply travel to one destination and back again. My plan is to stop off in Utah on the way and visit a great friend of mine who I met back in Ecuador in 2012 and who I haven't seen in almost 3 years where we met up in Tanzania when she came to volunteer with The Small Things. And how could I travel all the way to Central America and not journey a bit further south to see Elder and his family in Ecuador? So fingers crossed, I'll make a visit for a couple of weeks to Ecuador for Elder and I's 5 year anniversary and partake in the community anniversary fiesta on 10th August. Then it will be home. Write. Write. Write. Write. Until I finish my dissertation and submit it on 15th September.

My brain hurts already.

I'll try and post soon with an update from Guatemala!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Where am I now?

I'm currently home in Somerset, England and will be moving back to London next week to begin my final year of studying for my University degree in Anthropology! I'm sure the next eight months are going to fly by!

So, I'm now planning what to do and where I may end up afterwards. I have just completed my TEFL qualification so teaching English in Ecuador for some months is on the cards following my graduation next July. But as for the long term, we shall see! I'd love to put Anthropology, writing, and my skills acquired through my placements in both Ecuador and Bolivia into practice. I will continue my work with The Small Things non-profit organisation to keep my connection with the children of Nkoaranga Orphanage.

South America is definitely where I would like to be. Maybe a human rights organisation? (But I will always hold onto my dream destination - Papua New Guinea - as somewhere I will visit one day!)

Any ideas or suggestions? 


Sunday, 4 May 2014

The salt flats of Uyuni

Check out my published article on Pink Pangea to find out about my trip to the worlds largest salt flats in Bolivia, and tips for doing it yourself!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Bolivia: how exactly have I ended up here?

Well, I think it's about time I wrote a blog to introduce you to Bolivs! I've been in Bolivia for a little over three weeks now, and so far it's going great. I will try and keep this as concise, yet informative as possible. Although three weeks doesn't sound like a long time, it's plenty of time to have gathered enough information to overload you all!

So, how and why have I ended up here?
study anthropology at Brunel University and I will be starting my fourth and final year this September. It's a year extra because the course allowed for two terms worth of placement. The first, was during my second year which is why and how I needed up in Ecuador for six months in 2012, and here I am now in Bolivia for the second placement! I found and chose my placements myself. The course requires you undertake the placements, but as for where and what, that's up to you! This second placement is what I hope to write my 10,000 word dissertation on for my degree.

I first inquired to an organisation that I found online about a project working with street children. They emailed me with info and also told me about a prison children project which was also available. I immediately researched prison children in Bolivia and was hooked. It was different, shocking, intriguing and sounded like a challenge. I was up for it.

Where do I work? 
So here I am! I'm in a lovely city called Cochabamba, working in a centre called La Casa de la Amistad (The House of Friendship). La casa provides support, health care, education and religious teachings to children and adolescents who live in prisons with their incarcerated parents, or who live with other family members due to having an incarcerated parent. Sounds crazy, right? I've just seen the arrival of three new children, which has taken the total up to 90 children, aged from four to around sixteen. The majority of the younger children live in the surrounding three prisons. I believe Cochabamba has four prisons in total. The fourth is a high security prison where children are not allowed to live, however, elsewhere in Bolivia, a high security prison doesn't stop children living in them. Opposite the centre is the San Sebastián prison for women and the San Sebastián prison for men. Around the corner is the San Antonio prison, also for men. Within both men's prisons, often whole families will live there. Therefore, it is not at all segregated to only containing men. Many of the young girls and mothers live inside the prisons where there is, unfortunately, sexual abuse, violence, awful language, overcrowded rooms, and of course, insufficient living, sleeping and studying environments for the children to thrive. The centre for them can often be an escape; somewhere to learn, receive help with homework, eat decent meals and be surrounded by good people who want to teach them a way of life that is very different to that of their parents, in order to encourage them not to go down the same route. 

At the weekend, I went on a hike to a lovely laguna, way up high above the city! This was a photo I took of the view over Cochabamba. The steep hike and exhaustion was worth it!

What are the prisons here like?
Get ready.....
They are pretty much like small cities. I haven't been inside one.....yet.....but from what I have read and from what I have been told by local people, they are unimaginable. Once convicted, you enter the prison where you have to then buy a room. If you don't have money, you sleep outside in the courtyard. Depending on how much money you have, you have the option of buying a room with a system equivalent more or less to one star rooms through to five star rooms. The prisoners have everything they need inside the prison to sustain themselves. There are restaurants and small shops, and most will work inside the prisons to earn money to buy the things they need. The prisons are run by the prisoners. There aren't really guards inside. The government is supposed to pay a small sum of money to each prisoner every day, but the day before I arrived here, I heard there had been a hunger strike as the government hadn't paid them for a few months. I walked past the men's prison the other day and saw a television in all the top rooms, with a few men just stood watching the world go round outside of their barred windows. Clothes hang outside the windows and in the courtyards. It's a whole new reality. 

View of San Sebastian mens prison from La Casa de la Amistad. The beds that you can see are made by the prisoners and sold.

What do I do?
I am mainly a support for assisting with their homework. The children who attend school and college in the morning, will come to the centre in the afternoon, and the children who go to school and college in the afternoon, will come to the centre during the morning. I work with the middle group and the oldest group, so with children aged from about seven to sixteen. I've also had to take a few of the children to the dentist for their check ups, and have accompanied a group back to San Antonio prison at the end of the day. 

It's tough seeing the reality here and how living in a prison is just a normal part of every day life. Many children are born in prison, and it's a very open thing to talk about. Too often, the children who are misbehaving will have to be threatened with the prospect of being suspended for a week, where they would have to stay in prison the whole time. Not only is that bad enough, but their parents would most probably hit them for this. Occassionally, a child will come in with a cut or a bruise on their face, or complain that they were hit by someone. The centre also tries to work with the parents to try and teach them alternative forms of discipline and anger management. Standard taunts from one child to another, will often consist of calling another a glue sniffer, which is a huge insult to the children. Two weeks ago, a father of three of the children at the centre was released from prison to the joy and happiness of his son and daughters. But the tone was lowered when I heard the son taunt another child, saying that the other child's father would never come out of prison. 

On the whole, they are lovely children who are in a sense, suffering for the mistakes and crimes of their parent. Yes, they are quite violent towards each other at times, and yes they do say some awful things that they shouldn't even think of at that age, but growing up with criminals is exactly what is putting them at a disadvantage. They do listen and generally respect the staff at the centre, showing affection and willingness to take in new things.

I have been working quite closely with a boy of ten years who I only ever saw misbehaving during my first week, and was often having to tell him off. On one occasion I decided to take a different approach. After repeatedly telling him to stop messing around and do his work, I sat down next to him and his friend, and casually spoke to them about football. Him and his friend both live in San Sebastián men's prison. This Saturday, (12th April), it is the national day of the children. The boy told me how the boys from San Antonio prison are going to go to the San Sebastián prison to play a football match. The playing space at SS is a better shape and size for a match than in SA. I asked him what else he liked to do, and he said "to kill". My first thoughts were, what on earth is he learning in prison, or what on earth has his father done? He told me it was a joke, but still, it's not something that an average ten year old would say. I would hope not anyway! 

Anyway, his tooth was about to fall out that night, so the next day when I saw him, I made a point of remembering and asking him if it had fallen out. (Yes, it had!) Since around this time, one of the other members of staff and myself, have begun to see big changes in him. I don't know what triggered it, but it is so great to see. He always says hello to me when he arrives at lunch time, he will ask me politely if I can help with his homework, he gets on with it by himself, and wishes me well before he leaves at the end of the day. I was playing with bottle tops and a little piece of paper with him the other day, where we took it in turns to guess which bottle top the paper was under; something silly perhaps, but he really seemed to appreciate the time I was taking to play, and when it was time to stop and listen, he did so immediately. 

I'm beginning to build a rapport with many of the students, and over the next few weeks, I will begin trying to talk with them in a little bit more depth. They are great kids, trapped in a very disfunctional society where, despite the law stating certain things, not all of the laws are being carried out, and no one seems to be doing or saying anything about it. One example of this is the law that was put in place a couple of years ago which states that children are only allowed to live in prison up to the age of six. Well, I just told you a little bit about the boy who is ten and still resides in prison....

As well as prison children, I have also become very interested in the large amount of glue sniffers in the society, and the sad reality of street children and orphanages. But they are worth another blog! So watch this space!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Coming soon......

Tomorrow marks a week since I arrived in Bolivia. I have started placement in La Casa de la Amistad (The House of Friendship), in Cochabamba, where I am working with children who live in the surrounding prisons with their incarcerated parent/s. In fact, I can see two of the prisons from La Casita's window! Already, I have started learning so much about the reality here, and I shall write a blog very soon for those of you who are interested in finding out the ins and outs of everyday life here. Also I will be going inside the prisons too within the next few weeks, in order to work with the parents. So keep a look out for Jungle Beef!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Vagina watching, you say?

Foreign language errors. We all make 'em. I still am making them! It's all a part of learning the lingo. Recently, I just cannot get it into my head to ask correctly for a pound of chicken (in weight). Instead, I ask for a book of chicken. (WHAT?!) 

Pound - libra 
Book - libro

As I very rapidly walk away from the chicken seller upon buying my book of chicken, I mean, pound of chicken, one memory keeps coming back; a particular ocassion that continues to be at the top of my list of language errors. Pretty embarassing, but here it is.

(This conversation was in Spanish, but I will type it in English).

I was talking to the guy who part runs the organisation in Ecuador who I first volunteered here with. A friendly, casual chat, about what I was planning to do with the rest of my time in Ecuador, whilst here in 2012.

Me: "I'm going to go to Puerto Lopez to go vagina watching."

Him: "To do what?"

Me: "Vagina watching."

Him: *Very blank expression.*

Me: "I have read and heard about the great vagina watching in Puerto Lopez and its almost the end of the season so I really want to get there in time to see the last of the vaginas. *Hand action of a vagina*

Him: Still nothing. "I dont know."

I was just as confused as he was. Why could he not understand that I was going to Puerto Lopez to watch the vaginas? That's just the thing to do in Puerto Lopez during vagina season. It's in all the guide books, the internet, YouTube. Why did a native Ecuadorian not understand? Had he never gone vagina watching himself, in Puerto Lopez?


That would be why..

"Vagina" and "whale" are pronounced very similarly, but, of course, they are two very different words.

Vagina in Spanish is pronounced bahina. Whale, in Spanish, is pronounced bajena.

They say that you often need to make the mistake in order to learn from it. Boy, did I learn from this one! It wasnt until I was in Puerto Lopez the following week that it clicked what I had actually been saying to the poor man. Elder still continues to laugh and tease me about this incident. Its just one more memory of my first Ecuadorian adventure. Ive come a long way from speaking absolutely no Spanish upon arrival in June 2012, to now being able to speak pretty fluently. A rookie error, a blip, a learning curve? An embarassing moment!

My first glimpse of a vagina. I mean, WHALE!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

An angry lookin' Volcán Tungurahua

So, this weekend was a bit of a scare, but, so far all is okay. Not a scratch, nor a speckle of molten lava in eyesight and, so far, no earthquakes too close to where I am currently staying. But that doesnt mean that I didnt have a thousand overly-dramatic thoughts of what might happen. Roads splitting open, rivers of lava spewing all over the place, gigantic rocks crashing down on the bus that I was traveling in.......Yes, very dramatic. I blame the films.

It all started on Saturday. Well, not really, as Tungurahua has been bubbling away for years and even more so since October 2013. Saturday is when something really pushed its buttons and it decided to explode. Literally.

Elder and I were about to get on the bus from Riobamba to go to Puyo for Elders birthday, where we would stay with one of his sisters, two of his brothers, an auntie, a few of his cousins, a nephew and his parents. (Elder is one of ten siblings so, yeah, a pretty big family.......)

Anyway, so there I was, buying salchipapas (sausage and chips) to keep my stomach content for the journey, when all of a sudden, Elder came over and asked if I had seen Tungurahua. I looked over to see that a crowd had formed in the road and were looking up at something. I wondered over, munching away, and saw this beast......

I had never seen anything like that before, so I wasnt really sure what what going to happen, if anything. Elder was ridiculously calm, which is a good thing, but my stress levels were rising due to the cloud expanding so damn quickly! We got on the bus and left the terminal. 15 minutes later, this is the photo I took of the same cloud, from the back of the bus......

Elder was laughing at my worriedness but I had a bad feeling and really wanted to turn back. About 10 minutes after taking this photo, the bus stopped and said we couldnt go any further. I was so happy. But then all the passengers started complaining that they had stuff to do so "vamos!" Uhhhh.....excuse me, have you seen that angry volcanic cloud of ash, acid and who knows what else, that is following us?! I think your washing can wait love!.....(is what I wanted to say).....but before I knew it, the bus was back in motion. Great.

So we carried on going for about an hour, until the police stopped us and told us we had to go back, for real this time. Now it was serious. Yet again, the passengers continued to request that we at least continue on to the next town. NO NO NO NO NO NO NOOOOOOOOOO. My chest was hurting by this point which Elder said  was due to worrying, and I am sure he was right. But I was convinced my body was slowly filling with volcanic acid.

Finally, we turned back. The passengers wanted $10 compensation. It cost $1 to get to where we were. I was so happy to get off the bus and what I thought was away from the volcano and back to safety. Elder and I got back to the house, listened to the radio to hear that the cloud was actually headed in our direction and that earthquakes were a possiblity. Bloody brilliant. I planned my route of action. Under the bed. I awoke in the night struggling to breath. I knew it was just a cold but no, at that moment in time, it was the volcano coming to get me. I awoke the next morning. I had made it.

Sunday. We set off again to catch the bus. Everywhere was covered in thick grey ash. Brand new cars in the garages were filthy, the crops in the fields were no longer green. You could see every foot step clearly on the pavements from where people were walking through the ash.

The base of Tungurahua

Ash covering the slopes of Tungurahua

Moral of the story: we finally made it to Puyo, despite having to drive around Tungurahua. I shall complete this blog with a few photos I took yesterday on our way back to Riobamba. Heres to hoping my remaining weeks here will be lava free!

BBC News: Ecuadors Tungurahua volcano spews ash and lava

In other news, my next destination, Cochabamba in Bolivia is not looking too great at the moment. Thoughts go out to all the families who are currently suffering and hoping that the remaining people will be found safe and well. Fingers crossed the situation improves very soon!

Bolivia: 29 killed in torrential rains so far this year