Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ending 2009 with upgrades...

(This image is the view from the highest point on the 15 acres of Corasoma, looking down at the "city" of Barichara on the right, and the northern end of the Andes mountains known as the Santa Fe range, swinging around to the left.)

Our past couple of weeks have been primitive, to say the least. With limited water delivery from the city of Barichara - there is a serious lack of water here - and with the only toilet unable to function, we have been truly “camping out.”

But the new bathrooms have been completed, with the potential to deliver a slightly more upscale experience than we’ve had so far. But the reality here is that for many of the other residents of this area upscale is not an option. One of the workers saw me heading off to "fill a post hole" and he just smiled and waved. Daily bodily functions are not considered anything to be ashamed of and young children, especially boys, are taught early on that when one has to “do your duty,” one simply finds a place on the side of the road, or behind a bush, and relief is that close.

As a matter of fact, most Colombian “public” bathrooms in the rural areas are places where in the U.S. or in other more developed countries one would be resistant to even entering. No toilet paper or hand towels are offered. In some cases, there are not even any toilet “seats,” just cold porcelain and a dubious level of cleanliness, but at least one is not visible to the public’s eye. I’m a quick learned when it comes to remembering to have tissue in my pocket...

Hot water for a shower is rare. That’s less of a problem in our area because the average daily temperature hovers around 75 degrees, dropping slightly when the sun sets and getting slightly warmer during mid-day. But trying to wash and then condition one’s hair with only a trickle of water is more problematic. Jey-hu says I’m making too much of that issue, but he’s not faced with that challenge!

I haven’t talked much about the limitations of this lifestyle, in part because I haven’t had time to think of how to deliver the information with a somewhat delicate slant. And there is so much here that is truly lovely, exquisite and charming that it seemed almost ungrateful, or complaining, to mention them.

But we are about a month away from returning to the U.S. and there are lots of comments from our hosts about “you won’t miss.....(fill in the blank)” and in fact, I think I will miss many things - not the least of which is our growing participation in the community activities - we went to our first art show this week where the local doctor was displaying her excellent pen and ink drawings.

Because of my gardening expertise, I will probably return before Jey-hu does to stay on top of some of the projects I have committed to completing before we open to the guests. So it is likely I won’t have time to re-acclimate myself to the U.S. lifestyle and will be focused on getting as many of the seeds and other materials we have identified as being useful for our permaculture life here. I haven't had a whole lot to do with the garden shown here except to keep up with the weeding. It was started in October before we arrived, but doesn't it look luscious?

I can’t think of a time in my life when I have been so pre-occupied with what I use and what the end result of my using it is... everything here is either composted, reused or recycled. And it’s a lot of work. I can see why the more developed countries do not put more emphasis on recycling... the return on investment is hardly worth it when you are talking about the cost of ‘man’ hours, but in the rural locations like Santander has, the cost is likely less than 5000 pesos... or $2.50 in U.S. dollars - PER HOUR!

Last night some of us went to a “tobacco ceremony,” to celebrate the Full Moon and to gather for a group intention to bring more water to Barichara this new year and since Jey-hu has a distributorship for “Living Water,” a copper tube that regenerates oxygen into water, we are hopeful this intention is realized - more water, more tubes to run it through.

More on this water business in 2010, and of course more of our adventures as they unfold. May this year bring you good health, because nothing else matters if you don’t have that - the rest will unfold.

Feliz Año!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Feliz Navidad!

After nights and nights of fireworks and loud music coming from 2 kilometers away in Barichara, last night it was surprisingly quiet. Perhaps everyone else was doing what we were doing - having a feast and then putting the presents under our Poinsettia tree, festooned with white lights, only to open them by flashlight... such fun!
Geared toward the two smallest children in our community, O and S, the adults only exchanged a few small token items and we watched in delight as the girls yelped with joy at their surprises. It was an orderly distribution and not, as you can see from the picture, a mass accumulation of toys and a demonstration of wealth. It was a pleasure to see such appreciation for what might be considered "minimal" expenditure in the U.S. And it was a reminder that the giving of gifts is not about how much was spent, but how one spent what one had.
(Due to the limitations of the modem we use to post these messages, we are not able to put up more pictures just now. Look for more after the holidays when fewer people are on line and using up the bandwidth we need to get the pictures loaded.)
Jey-hu and I agreed it was one of the more delightful holiday events either of us had been to... our gifts to each other were just being here - a place where we are growing ourselves as well as things around us. We wish all our readers a rebirthing of love and light for this next year!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

4.6 in Malaga is two hours from the campo

An earthquake was registered on the USGS website as being in Malaga (Bucaramanga) Colombia, but it was east of San Gil, and thus is more than two hours from us, and we are more than two hours from Bucaramanga. Although it was 4.6 on the Richter Scale, we did not feel it. And, the director says this is rather jiggly country, so no one pays much attention unless there is considerable shaking going on.

We are much more concerned about the lack of water, since we were told by the city water folks in Barichara on Friday that we would have 24 hours of water on Saturday at noon, but when we went to turn it on, there was only an ominous "drip, drip, drip," from the few drops left in the line and nothing more. Of course no one is around on the weekends, so we were out of luck. Our little pond, where the Tilapia are trying to grow, is down two inches since last week - we may have to see if the neighbor will let us take some water from his well. In this part of the world, there is an unspoken law that water that comes from the earth is available to anyone who needs it and if it is on your land, you cannot deny someone who is asking to have some.

The goat, featured above, is Alicia, and I was using the excuse that I was "mowing the grass" around the pond as to why I couldn't wash the dishes tonight. We have it on fairly good authority that Alicia's date with the macho goat from the next town over was successful and she is likely to have a kid in April, or even two, as he has a history of throwing doubles. We shall see.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Progress is slow in the campo

(Christmas lights in Bogota - hope you can see this.)
But not because of the energy and efforts of all the team: the directors, the support staff and all the workers. Partly it is due to a water shortage, some of it is due to materials not being available, and some of it can be laid at the feet of a certain holiday season. A lot of stores are closed by 5 p.m. where they were open longer in November. This is because many people go to church every night now, preparing for Christmas.

It is quite delightful to hear the excitement in the workers' voices after a night in Barichara attending the 'Novena' party at the Cathedral and every night we have been able to either hear or see fireworks from the town center as everyone gets very excited about the birthday of Baby Jesus because in Colombia there is more focus on the religious aspect of this time and considerably less attention to the more material items - not to say that isn't going on, but it is not as intense as in the U.S. And frankly, out here in the 'campo' (countryside) most of the peasants don't have the resources to buy all that much. But stores run out of some of the essentials more readily now, too, so we have to wait for other deliveries.

Today we gave one of our neighbors a ride when we found him walking back from the 'pueblo' (town). He was grateful to have a ride after working hard all day. Guess what he does? He works in the slaughterhouse, killing animals - cattle, sheep, goats, chickens - to be transported to market. He stank to high heaven and his clothes were full of holes, his straw hat was battered and misshapen and he sat in the car as if he was taking up too much space, pressing himself against the door. But this same fellow brought us two huge bunches of bananas, three enormous papayas and several mangos from his 'finca' (farm) a couple of days ago, to make up for his young son's behavior. (The boy was riding his bicycle through our property on Sunday several times after he had been asked to please ride on the road so we could have some quiet time. We surmised that he must have said something to his father or mother about it and they were disturbed that he wouldn't respect the boundary.)

What impresses me over and over again is how highly valued being respectful of others is taken here - no matter the type of work one does. And it is enjoyable to be living in a place where being honorable isn't based on how much one is earning.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The rain finally came - after almost a month

We experienced our first rainfall since we've arrived here. (Couldn't believe it's been almost a month!) I could smell it coming and we sat in the hammocks and watched the clouds build to head towards us from over the mountains - quite a lovely sight! At first it was just a little light drizzle and then it came pouring down for about three hours. What is interesting about this area is that once the ground gets really wet, it also gets very slippery.

So, due to the remote and steep hills on the road to the finca, generally no one attempts to travel the drive until after the rain. Unfortunately, our campo director and his partner had to return from Barichari just as the rain started and had a challenging time getting back. "G" said she was never going to drive to town if it looked like rain again. We all laughed because when she left it wasn't that cloudy, so who knew?

The next morning the skies were clear and the air felt especially fresh, although it seems quite fresh all the time anyhow, so that wasn't really so different. But the plants were happy to have three weeks of dust washed away and all the birds were very vocal. I saw this little yellow and green 'sparrow-like' bird hopping around the garden and I have a personal objective to try and identify the many birds we have here. When we were in Bogota, I found a great book, "Birds of Colombia," which will be a big help.
The little casita for Senor C., father of our director's wife, is nearly done. It has been an interesting study of how a rammed earth house is constructed. I've been taking pictures and will share that progress in my next blog. If we can get some of the paperwork processed to stay here, we would like to build one, too. After the first of the year we will go to Bucaramanga to the visa office to get some questions answered and get our first extension.

On our return from Bogota, we saw several very large fires with lots of smoke. It looked a little disturbing until we realized it is time to burn the cane to harvest it for making into sugar. And alongside the road we saw loads of coffee plants - my future latte! I couldn't take pictures of everything I saw, but imagine seeing a horse and cart on the freeway! It's very common here. Driving through the little towns between Barichari and Bogota we often saw goats, cows, and horses grazing right next to the road, and even saw horses tied up to a hitching post while the riders went inside for a cerveza, a meal or to pick up groceries. There is still a lot of remote and harsh back country which is best accessed by a mule or horse and although the roads here are improving, according to our host, there are still lots more dirt roads than paved. This final shot is looking back toward the central part of the state of Santander, up the Rio Suarez valley. Pretty, huh?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Trying to communicate

Challenges in communication extend beyond the obvious - having a modem or a way to Wi-Fi or a phone - and we have none of these options at our demand. We also have a language to learn and while I am making progress on a daily basis (Today I was able to go a little cafe, order a meal and beverage and pay for it, all without having to resort to an interpreter!), the more commercial activities of sending a FAX, receiving one, or getting a message by FED-EX to the U.S. is quite a big effort.
Now that we are in the big city of Bogota, we discovered that we still don't have the same kinds of commercial services and access as is found in the U.S., even in the smaller burgs. But they may makeup for those limitations with some of the most fantastic light displays for the holidays that I have ever seen. Above is the Parque International at night where we walked on the Night of the Virgin, which precedes a national holiday (yesterday) and which is also an occasion for excessive partying - until at least 4 a.m. all across the city and beyond, I feel certain. I was able to hear party sounds all around the apartment where we are staying until at least that time.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Cathedral at Barichara

Today we attended our first "city" social event, a graduation of the niece of our host's partner from elementary school to high school. This "Promotion de 2009" took place in the cathedral because all the schools are under the aegis of the Catholic Church in this country and because this is also the largest building in the 'pueblo' where all the families can gather. The first part of the event was a mass with communion, which was not the organized process found in the U.S. People simply got up as they felt like it and walked to the front of the church, received communion and ambled back, talking to family and friends as they worked their way back to their seats in the rugged benches called "pews" in English, but I don't know the word in Spanish.
The roof of the church is built exactly the same way the roof on a rammed earth house is built, with cane and horse manure. Very insulating factor... see if you can see the cane on the photo looking up the aisle to the entrance which includes a large portion of the roof from the inside.

Then, after the mass, four flags were brought and placed below the alter. Finally, after we listened to four recorded songs (one was the national anthem for Colombia, one was the song for the State of Santander, one for the town of Barichara and one for the school) only after that could the actual graduation ceremony begin. (I admit I looked at my watch and we were already over an hour sitting on those hard benches.)

But we still had to listen to the welcoming address by the school's principal, the valedictorian address, the awards to teachers who had been ten years or more in the school, and then awards to outstanding students. One young lady was recognized for being the highest scorer on the Colombian version of SAT's in the entire country - and she is from this small town. Great amount of applause for that. Due to my limited Spanish, I was needing translation to understand what all the excitement was about.
What surprises me is that as simply as these folks live - many do NOT have running water OR electricity, they do have cell phones and their clothes are crisp, clean and sparkling white. If you saw some of the living conditions, you might be as amazed as I am at this observation. Our dinner conversation last night focused on the fact that in the U.S. being in poverty (without these essentials of water and electricity) is considered shameful and there is a sense that because, for whatever the reason, those individuals are 'less than' those who have more. This is definitely not the case here. There is no shame for poverty - perhaps because for many, living on the land, that is all they have known. Also, there is no expectation that the State or the Government will be bailing them out. They live by their wits and creativity and are proud. It is an important lesson that is lost on those who live on welfare in the U.S. and elsewhere.

We often have a young fellow from another 'finca' coming to charge up his cell phone because we have electricity. Usually we have running water, but the pressure is often debatable. Sometimes, because it has been terribly dry here, they ration the water and we have to go without it for a day or two. Challenging!