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Nourish International

reflections from Rice Nourish

July 11, 2012 | Posted in Rice | By

After nearly nine months of preparation, fundraising, planning, and implementation, our project with Partners In Education Roatán has come to an end. Through the money we raised and the six weeks we spent in Honduras we were able to design a total of thirteen learning boxes covering lessons in English, math, and science. These thirteen boxes are replete with manipulatives, visuals, and activities to ensure that they will make learning fun, easy, and effective for students. We are proud of the final result and we look forward to hearing the impact that the boxes will have on local schools once they are duplicated.

Our time spent on the island was absolutely unforgettable. When we weren’t working on the boxes we spent our time working with the different programs within PIER. Sneha and I are working on becoming fluent in Spanish so we were able to help out in our own ways. We worked in the e-learning center which was a classroom for Spanish speaking children working on learning English. We also worked with a group of young kids in the morning reading stories, playing games, and practicing their English. KC and Haritha spent most afternoons working with a handful of kids starting up a robotics club with the robotics kit that we funded. We also took turns working in the BrainSpaces center every afternoon engaging the kids in educational games and activities.

Working with the Bay Island Girls club was another highlight of our trip. The girls officially met every Saturday morning but we saw most of the girls quite often throughout the week. By the end of our trip some of them would come and hangout with us while we were working in the mornings which made our work seem much more fun. One of the most memorable activities we did with the girls club was teaching them how to dance. Despite their insistent complaints that they cannot dance, we quickly found out that they are all fabulous dancers. The first week of dancing we taught them Merengue and Salsa dancing. Our last meeting together we threw them a party complete with cake, snacks, and drinks. The party stretched our typical hour-and-a-half meetings to a four hour fiesta complete with spontaneous karaoke, hip hop lessons, a very frenzied play, and multiple photoshoots. Saying goodbye to the girls was very difficult for all of us.

Although living in Honduras was significantly different than the living styles we’re used to in the States, being a volunteer in Roatán had some serious perks. Thanks to connections between PIER and the popular not-for-profit Clinica Esperanza we were able to see parts of the island we weren’t expecting. Our volunteer bracelets got us into one of the resorts for free every Sunday where we got to snorkel, walk along white sandy beaches, and indulge in the finest five-dollar hamburgers money can buy. To ensure that we saw as much of the island as possible Patti was kind enough to take us on an island tour complete with the histories of each town and a stop in the Iguana Farm that completely blew our minds. Our favorite excursion was a very discounted trip to Gumbalimba park where we got to zipline through the jungle, play with monkeys, and get photos with parrots. When it came to Sunday Funday, we blew through our tourist bucket list.

As a first year chapter we couldn’t me more proud of the work that we have accomplished in such a short amount of time. We have established ourselves both within the Nourish community and the Rice community as an organization with strength, determination, and incredible work-ethic powered by wonderful students who simply want to see the world become a better place for everyone. We send many many thank yous to PIER for giving us the opportunity to work with them on this project, as well as every single person who threw in some loose change to our donation jar, purchased a burrito on Saturday night, or personally gave the project team money to help us fly out of the country. Our project was everything we could have ever wanted it to be and plenty more and we see this year as the first of many milestones in the journey of the Rice chapter of Nourish International.


with love,

Rice Nourish

Education Boxes

June 9, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Honduras, Rice | By

We are ending our last full week of our trip.  We are shamelessly proud of the outcome of WEEKS of tireless work, and we feel that we have created a product that can be easily duplicated and shared in schools across the island to help students learn better and teachers teach better. I’d like to take this time to say a few words about the boxes and our project as a whole. As awesome as these cool plastic shoe boxes are, the purpose of our project was to create something that would affect the community on a larger level. What we have created are the first of what will be many similar lesson boxes. The purpose of the learning boxes is to create a very self-directed learning experience. All the lesson plans are designed so a student can come in and teach himself in a fun and very hands-on way. There are numerous activities to practice and reinforce the skills learned in each box so a student can check his answers and continue improving. The boxes were designed to be very low cost so they can be easily and cheaply duplicated. While we only made the first set of these boxes, PIER’s goal is to remake as many as 35 or more copies and distribute them in local schools. These learning kits will not only be a useful tool for students but also a way to help teachers to be more effective in the classroom. We created a total of 13 learning kits. 4 lessons in English, 4 in Mathematics, and 5 in Science. With that said, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience of creating something that will serve a positive purpose in the community.


Victoria (Sneha, Haritha, KC)

Mid-Week Vacation

June 9, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Honduras, Rice | By

Wednesday turned out to be an incredible mid-week vacation day!

In the morning, Victoria and I got to visit a couple of schools. All of our grammar revision came in handy when the first teacher had us work with the kids on practicing their pronouns. We then played a fun story game, in which the kids got to come up with their own sentences and ideas individually, to put together a whole story. It was new for them but it got them talking and excited about us being there! The second school we visited was smaller, and for first graders and we had a great time there, reading a book to the children. We also really enjoyed all the flowers that a few kids kept running outside to pick and give to us while waiting for class to begin. The adventures of visiting schools was eye-opening and I hope we get a chance to go again before we leave.

After working at the center for a while, Patti, the person in charge of us volunteers, planned to give us a tour of the island of Roatan! This was when the real adventure began. We started our tour by first going to an Iguana Farm. It was incredible to be walking around so many iguanas! We got to feed them as well, which was scary at first because they would all start crawling on top of each other and yanking at the leaves to eat, but really cool. However, the scariest thing at the farm was definitely the turkey! A big turkey was just chilling with the iguanas, and as it started puffing up its feathers and walking towards me, I was definitely scared it would attack me.

We were all sad to leave the iguana farm, but excited to see the rest of the island, and Patti continued driving us along a very scenic route. Learning a lot about the different types of people who’ve settled here over the years, and stopping to admire the picturesque view every once in a while, we had an amazing tour of Roatan. We only got to scrape the surface of Roatan’s history and beauty, but we all loved every moment of it, and we came home exhausted but overjoyed at all of our experiences of the day! 😀


Barriers to Education

June 6, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Honduras, Rice | By

Today KC and I accompanied Brenda to one of the local schools to get a feel for the educational barriers we were facing. The first classroom – a Kindergarten one – had about thirty kids, all decked out in traditional white-collared and navy-skirted uniforms, huddled around two tables. Slightly peeling but colorful posters of the alphabet, basic numbers and the English words for different plants and animals hung from the bright yellow walls and sunlight filtered through the windows, giving the room a bright, positive glow – a precursor for what turned out to be a fantastic morning.

After the teacher introduced us to the class, we split into two smaller groups. KC read from the abnormally large copy of “Bear’s Walk” we had brought over from the Sand Castle Library-

–  while I got the opportunity to relive my childhood and work on an art project with the other half of the class. The kids were a little shy at first and preferred to quietly stick their fingers in the small tubs of red, yellow and blue paint to create their own Starry Nights and Girls With Pearl Earrings than listen to my pathetic attempts at broken Spanglish. So instead I painted a flower, which was later admired then subtly taken by a charming little girl named Jemima, who proceeded to add her own sun and blossoms to the menagerie.

The rest of the students painted houses, ships, fishes and of course, more flowers, all of which we ended up hanging on the walls alongside a hand-drawn diagram of the human body, adding an extra burst of color to the already vibrant room.

After a thorough hand-washing which still left traces of blue permanently etched into my fingernails , we proceeded to the first-grade classroom next door, were I was able to get my camera out for their very nice welcome message:

Same drill, though the level of artistic talent was heightened as the kids worked diligently on their paintings and eagerly shouted out answers to KC’s intermittent questions about what the bear saw while walking through the forest.

This time however, the kids were definitely not camera shy as I went around taking pictures. A picture that started off as a portrait of one quickly multiplied as more and more earnestly tried squeezing into the frame, displaying their brightest smiles, salutes and somewhat-suspicious-looking gang signs.

Then it was recess time! The kids ran out for a haphazard, utterly chaotic game of soccer, during which thirty little boys and girls all chased after the ball, boundaries and teams completely ignored, without keeping score or really caring about winning at all. They just wanted to have fun. I couldn’t stop smiling :)

Unfortunately then it was time to leave and KC and I said our goodbyes and were promptly smothered with hugs, kisses and shy Adios’s from the students. Definitely up there in the Top 5 moments where I’ve felt the most loved. The rest of the day proceeded as usual back at the center with Sneha and Victoria, but I sincerely hope that that wasn’t our last time seeing those kids.

Until next time,



May 29, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Honduras, Rice | By

Week 3 complete!!
This week Sneha and I officially completed our English Boxes down to the last detail; binded lesson plans, materials lists, progress reports, labeled boxes…EVERYTHING!! And considering that we’ve been putting 4 or more hours a day into this for the last three weeks, this is HUGE. First things first though, they need to get critiqued. As much work as we’ve put into them they have to go through several rounds of reviewing before they will be 100% ready. We took them down to get looked over by the two teachers here at PIER who will likely be using them the most. Since they already work so frequently with the students they are the most aware of the needs and skill levels of the children. We got tons of positive feedback as well as a list of improvements to make. We’re taking our work into the weekend so the boxes will be ready to take to the kids on Monday. Having the kids try out the boxes will be our ultimate test, but we’re very confident in our hard work and we’re sure that they will love them :)
Now that it’s getting later into the summer a lot of the fruit trees are starting to bloom. We’ve got our eyes on some mangoes in the trees around the library. There are also these extremely delicious little island fruits that have started to bloom everywhere. The kids say the island name for them is kanup. This kid was wonderful enough to bring us a bunch while we were working yesterday morning.

We’ve taken on a really fun project this week. A cultural outreach club from Cornell University made a video and sent it here to the kids at PIER. The video is mainly just a way to introduce themselves and reach out. We showed the kids the video and they are all confident they can make a better one :) We’ll be filming all next week and I’ll post the video when it is complete.

Like every Saturday we met with the Teen Girls club this morning. Today we had a special project in store for them! Dancing!! The girls are all interested in learning any and all types of dancing. Today we taught them Salsa and Merengue. Thank goodness for dancing classes because between me and Sneha’s minimal backgrounds in salsa we were able to put together a really awesome collection of moves to teach them and they LOVED it!! Next week we’ll be doing hip hop :)


That’s all for now!!
Victoria (KC, Haritha, Sneha)

Week Three of Rice’s Project in Honduras

May 22, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Honduras, Rice | By


We are beginning week 3 of our trip!! We are very proud of how far the boxes have come. KC has been working very hard on the science boxes. She made an awesome lung model out of balloons a plastic bottle and straws. KC and Haritha have started working with some kids to build a robotics club where they can build their own robot and program commands for it. Sneha and I have started reading to some Spanish speaking students in the mornings helping them practice their English comprehension. This is also giving us a great opportunity to practice our Spanish comprehension.


In other news, it’s been raining every day for almost a week. That has made for amazingly cool weather and beautifully haunting sunsets. It’s the perfect working environment. We were able to make it over to the eating/ shopping area on Saturday  to enjoy an awesome meal at a restaurant on the beach. Good weather, good food, good work. Looking forward to another week!!


KC, Haritha, Sneha, and Victoria

week one!!

May 11, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Honduras, Rice | By

Today was day seven and the learning boxes are well under way. We’ve gotten used to wearing Roatan perfume (mosquito spray) but the daily walk along the beach still amazes us. We spend the mornings in the shade putting together the lesson plans for the learning boxes. In the afternoon we work in what is called the BrainSpace center where children come in for educational games, homework help, and just a place to hangout. The children have gotten used to seeing us around and say hi to us all the time. Last weekend we met the group of girls that make up the Teen Girls club. We played several team bonding games and spent some time getting to know them. We are planning to help them create their own blog where they can display their writing and anything else they do. Our main focus is getting the boxes completely put together so we can start using them with the kids. We are hoping to have everything done by Saturday and spend a well deserved day relaxing on the beach.


Sneha, Haritha, KC, and Victoria

T-Minus 8 Hours, 32 Minutes and Counting…

May 3, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Honduras, Rice | By

The numerous Saturday afternoons spent selling Chipotle burritos, the biweekly meetings  spent discussing everything from new plans for ventures to membership to project goals, the planning, the phone calls, the advertising – all culminating in this: our morning flight from Houston International Airport to Roatan, Honduras.

Four students from the newly established Rice University Nourish Chapter will be living in the heart of the city, embarking on an education collaboration with PIER (Partners in Education Roatan), working to assemble and distribute “education boxes” to the organization. These boxes include curricula and materials to study English, Math and Science for elementary and middle school-age children.

Need to finish up that last-minute packing but check out this blog, as we will be frequently updating it with our Honduran experiences and how the project is progressing over the next six weeks.


Haritha, Victoria, Sneha & KC


Michocan and commence the teaching!

August 7, 2009 | Posted in 2009, Duke, Mexico, Rice, UNC | By

composed by Teresa and Crystan

We returned from Guanjuato rather determined to get the ball rolling for our planned English and computer workshops before yet another trip to Michoacán. However, it turned out that there wasn’t an existing curriculum, and it was up to us to create our own lessons. Fortunately, when I was walking back from town, I ran into the local party-planner, Alberto. He offered to give me a ride home. I relayed our Guanjuato trip to him and explained to him our dilemma—teaching classes would be difficult without a curriculum or contact information of interested students. It was important to Crystan and I that we know how many students there would be, their existing knowledge of English and computer skills, and their ages so that we could cater our lessons to be level and age-appropriate. Alberto exclaimed that he was actually teaching English in Pozos a couple of months ago, with students traveling in from Irapuato. Unfortunately, he had to cancel his classes due regulations enacted in response to the swine flu outbreak. The good news was, he had been making photocopies from a book that he himself used to teach himself English before starting public relations work in San Francisco, California. He asserted that his goal for these English classes was to teach his students relevant phrases and vocabulary that his students could immediately apply, rather than waste their time on unimportant words. He gave us his contact information and promised to drop off some photocopies for us to refer to.

Unfortunately, this weekend turned out to be rather rough on Alberto, which I was not able to read through his ebullient personality. He never ended up dropping off the curriculum since he was preoccupied with helping a friend make bail in a neighboring city. Evidently, a Mexican immigrant in California had been keeping in touch with his friend, who is a single mother, for a year or so. The man had grown to really care for Alberto’s friend, and was talking to her about marriage. He began sending her money for her to save (about 10,000 American dollars) so that they could buy a house and start a new family when he returned. When he returned to Mexico, he discovered that she never had any real intention of marrying him, and had spent his money. He rightfully demanded the money back, which she didn’t have. Alberto acknowledged that it was very wrong of his friend to lead the man on and spend his money, but still resolved to help her due to a strong friendship, going to extreme lengths, including selling his Mustang convertible for a mere four thousand pesos, and tapping into his own savings to try and pay off her debt. However, Alberto has his own family to take care of, in addition to his friend’s 8 year old son, so had to pay a visit to her father to ask for additional help. Alberto’s dedication to his friendship embodies selflessness and loyalty. His story also reinforces the importance of addressing immigration problems in Mexico—families are torn apart and future generations are unfairly dragged into the turmoil.

Regardless, we were still able to secure some photocopies of the curriculum from Rodrigo, Bertha’s nephew, who fortuitously turned out to be one of Alberto’s past students. We practice English with Rodrigo, and Spanish with Heidi (a girl from Notre Dame doing research) and brought his photocopies along with us to Michoacán on Wednesday. The ever-so- trustworthy Juan picked us up on Wednesday afternoon to Irapuato, where we spent the night before departing to Patzcuaro the next morning with Adriana, Emilie (Notre Dame), and Anna Rosa, the first person from Tamaula to attend a university. The ride was long, but the landscape was beautiful to look at for the drive. We drove over a lake in which we saw men wading with huge nets to fish with. We later learned that the fish is the symbol for Michoacán, which was omnipresent in the multitude of different crafts, as well as on the streets, where locals sold fish snacks, which they caught and fried every morning, head and all. When we reached Patzcuaro, we stopped to walk by a lake, and a lady let us all try one of the fish snacks for free, which some of us balked at since the head was still attached, but almost all of us tried them. To our surprise, they turned out to be rather tasty after we got over our initial squeamishness. It wasn’t the last of the exotic foods we tried though, since Adriana was nice enough to buy us a piece of pineapple which they use to brew tequila, as well as a different assortment of cheeses that can not be purchased in the United States.

Our first day in Patzcuaro was very leisurely. We strolled along the streets and artisan shops, admiring the details of the crafts and skills of the artisans. In many shops, including some featuring intricate wood carving on furniture and decorations, the owners would be working in the center. We were able to observe their incredible skill and careful attention to detail that allowed them to create masterpieces. They hand-carved and painted sets of colorful furniture, and artisans also painted works of copper with tiny intricate flowers and gold vines. We also talked to artisans working on a Jesus that was larger than life-sized. Since it was so large, they had to work on the sculpture in pieces. The arm by itself was about my height (albeit, I’m short). Everyone found the work to be absolutely stunning, and the afternoon went by quickly as we simply walked from store to store, admiring work which they sold for very cheap prices. Pairs of copper earrings were only 30 pesos, and if painted, a mere 80 pesos. We also saw 4 men dancing a traditional sequence in a nearby town square. They had pink masks on, hats, poles, and took turns stomping around the fountain in perfect rhythm with their fellow musicians. We also visited a very ancient church nearby, which still held services. The floorwork in the church was all original, with weak spots creaking under our weight. Adriana stated that churches with original floorwork are now very rare in Mexico due to necessary renovations to preserve these buildings.

At night, we met up with Gary and Ilana from North Carolina, and talked about their travels in Mexico, including a trip to a volcano that appeared in Mexico in the 1950’s or so. Evidently, it’s the only volcano above sea level whose growth humans have been able to consciously observe. At the end of the evening, we caught the end of a traveling belly-dancing show that was being shown for free in the town square. We unfortunately didn’t get to see the full show, but what we saw was beautiful. The dancers had very ornate costumes and the music complemented the dance movements very impressively.

The next day we left our hostel, located in the heart of Patzcuaro, and traveled to Santa Clara del Cobre, a town apparently quite renowned for its copper mines and artistry. As Adriana noted was characteristic of indigenous town in Michocoan, many of the buildings in the towns were painted half white, half maroon/brick red. Strolling down one of the town’s roads, we were excitedly invited inside one of the stores by a local. Uniquely, this store allowed us to do much more than browse the beautiful copperworks-we actually got to get our hands dirty a bit! Behind the store about 5 artisans were at work, beating large pieces of copper into various different shapes, backgrounded by a huge fire to heat the copper and make it more malleable. As the eldest artisan shared details of his craft with us, we learned that training can begin at 11 years old (there was, in fact, a fellow of such age hand-etching details into one of the pieces), that a basic urn takes about 35 hours to complete, with more time needed for painting and glazing. We watched as a huge piece of copper was pulled out of the fire, orange-flaming hot, dipped into a tub of liquid for a quick cool, placed atop a tree stump, and beaten with huge sledge hammers by five different men working in perfect, rapid synchrony. The head artisan then invited us five ladies to give the same task a try, (though more slowly and carefully, of course) which most of us rather enjoyed. Once the initial shape is obtained, the piece looks a bit rough and coarse on the outside. To make it more attractive, the artisans use a smaller hammer to bring out the smoother, glossier coppery essence. We were invited to try this task as well, learning that too much force in a strike only causes uwanted (yet quickly fixable) dents. It takes a great deal of patience and dedication to be a copper artisan, (or an artisan of any sort, really), for a single thrust of the hammer does not appear to accomplish much. For the first stage, the artisans must physically exert themselves, in an extremely hot environment, on that piece of copper to obtain the initial shape of the urn, vase, sink, bathtub, or other item. The second stage is more delicate, involving glazing and painting intricate designs by hand. In fact, we learned that it takes about 35 hours to complete the basic shape an urn by hammer, then 5+ more hours for painting and glazing. At a price of 5000-6000 pesos for a large painted urn that took approximately 40 hours of work, a rough estimate of a wage for a copper artisan would be 125 pesos ($9.62 in dollars)-150 pesos ($11.54 in dollars) an hour.

On the way to Tzintzuntzan, we stopped by to see an emporium of hand-carved stone sculptures. These artisans were slightly less welcoming than our friends in Santa Clara de Cobre, but they did let us observe them working on a large, life-size sculpture of a horse and a small, hand-held turtle, which takes only 30 minutes to complete. Later we stopped by another place in hopes of checking out pyramid ruins gratis, but admission would not accept American student ideas. Low on cash, we looked around a little at some of the replicas of the pyramids instead, as well as ancient tools used in the areas and an interesting diagram depicting ancient social structure and professions. Our next stop was to Exconvento de San Francisco de Asis. A young boy took us on a short impromptu tour around the former convent’s vast courtyard, pointing out the resting places of individuals who walked the same grounds centuries ago and relaying other impressive historical knowledge. We explored the courtyard more, Adriana careful not to miss photo opportunities of the five of us against massive trees, one of which was completely hollowed out in the middle, but lived on to sprout fresh green leaves. From the tour inside the convent, we learned that, typical of the colonial treatment, the Spanish built their churches over the P’urhepecho structures, but some ruins of old indigenous churches remained, characterized by a bell structure adjacent to doorways. Some of the walls inside the convent bore a striking sight: super-European portraits of Fransciscan divinity, with various strips raggedly torn to reveal the bricks from the P’urhepecho pyramids underneath. Adjacent to the former convent was a church where Ana Rosa, Teresa, Emilie, and Megna received a special blessing unique to the church before checking out what remained of a rare, P’urhepecho church in the back. According to Adriana, these churches are characterized by a small bell structure directly adjacent to a main doorway.

Our next visit was to Santa Fe to meet two families who have benefited from FCB’s work. First we shared a lunch (which included tortillas with blue corn maize, a first for most of us) with a P’urhepecho couple. Both husband and wife work on hand-made pottery pieces (the fish reappeared!), and a little bit was explained about the craft. Their home doubles as their workspace, with one room containing a huge clay furnace to set the pieces. We also learned that the couple primarily speaks their indigenous language, P’urhepecho, amongst themselves and their children. To the untrained ear, the language actually sounds like something akin to Japanese. The wife actually published a book in P’urhepecho about the people and their language. Just a few houses down the street was another family that FCB lent their support to-and the impression was quite firm! Immediately after initial greetings, the family patriarch excitedly showed up photos of he and Adriana, a sort of before and after scenario, to show the progress FCB allowed in the restoration of their home. Adriana told us that before the restoration, the man, quite elderly indeed, feared he would pass on, leaving behind only a house in shambles for the rest of his family. The visit was profound, but short, because torrential downpours arrived shortly after our arrival. The six of us dashed back to the FCB van, a dash that was oddly invigorating, for me at least.

A short and beautiful ride later, (I don’t think I’ve seen a place a Mexico yet where rolling hills on the horizon were missing!), we were back at our hostel in Patzcuaro. Excited inquiries into a good place for dancing quickly turned sour as we learned that Emilie’s backpack and laptop had been stolen while we were out! At first we thought they were simply misplaced by the hostel staff during cleaning, but everyone searched every nook and cranny, all around the hostel, and burglary was concluded. Naturally, Emilie was upset but she very quickly engaged in a “battle plan”, to use Tere’s term, to take care of things. The loss was reported to the police, who sent a detective (wearing orange cargo pants, I found it disconcerting) to ask a few questions. Apparently, this is the first time anything like that had every happened at the hostel. The owner, Enrique, a friend of Adriana’s, was genuinely apologetic and concerned.

Saturday morning we left Michocan for the long ride to Pozos. After a mid-afternoon meal and rest, Teresa, Megna, and I made our way into town to check out the Toltekidad Festival, a huge celebration of pre-Hispanic culture that must do wonders for the Pozos economy. Almost immediately we spotted our friend Marvin, who had returned from Mexico City for the weekend to film the festival for Luis, a local pre-Hispanic expert. The entire town square was filled with various vendors selling indigenous crafts, including Mayan jewelry, which features seven different types of obsidian, pre-Hispanic instruments, and some pretty awesome weaponry. There were also free lessons in Chichimeca, another indigenous language, formerly called Uza. As it appears to be common with languages of native peoples, Chichimeca is primarily oral in nature and does not really have its own writing system. However, in an effort to preserve the language, and also for teaching purposes, the Spanish alphabet has been applied to Chichimeca.

After nightfall, it was time for another big concert at the stadium. There was an interesting succession of three hour long performances-first a solo traditional singer, then a screamo rock band (lots of slam-dancing) and a ska-reggae group. Teresa and Megna gave Marvin a hand with a secondary stationary camera in the crowd for his film. It was Heidi and Megna’s last night in Pozos, so it was great to spend time with them, along with Ana Rosa, Emilie, Dani, Gary, Ilana, Adriana, and Rodrigo.

Around 11:00am the next morning, we enjoyed more performances by native dance groups. The male dancers wore humungous feather headdresses; it must have taken some balance and skill to keep it from falling during the performance. I tried a much smaller headdress on the next day and could barely walk! Some performers were also dressed as Frenchmen to demonstrate the French influence on Mexican culture, as some patron saints in Mexico are French in origin.

Luis’ Chichimeca group was up next. During the performance, Alberto shared with Teresa that dancing, the Chichimeca were the only indigenous group that never surrendered to the Spaniards, and constantly resisted their rule by throwing random attacks on Spanish settlements. Perhaps this staunch colonial resistance is a source of pride for the current descendants of the Chichimeca people.

The next demonstration taught the audience a little bit about Chichimeca health and religious practices. Following tradition, women burned an ancient herb in small pots, as people lined up to breathe in the smoke from the herb to release their inner turmoil and relieve stress. A short dance followed (in which Emilie happily joined in) to prepare everyone for prayers to the north, south, east, west, sky, and earth.

Teresa said goodbye to Adriana, Dani, Emilie, Ilana, Gary, Anna Rosa, and Megna (our whole crew is gone!) before coming home to check on me. A little while later, we make our way back into town together to find the festival winding down to an end and Marvin nowhere to be found! As we wander around town and take in the last few days, we run into Alberto’s brother Hector and his friend at least four times, each time with an invitation to come to a quinceneara later that evening. Teresa and I didn’t know the birthday girl, so I guess we were “party crashers’. We’ve seen and read about this tradition of celebrating a young lady’s 15th birthday as a sort of transition into womanhood in books and articles and on TV before, so it was interesting to experience the real thing here in Pozos. She definitely had to the gorgeous big dress and quince court of her closest friends and family, as well as a heart-warming dance with her father. Different types of traditional Mexican music was played, so it was really cool to see young people truly enjoying themselves to something other than American top 40 or reggaeton. There was even a group dance very, very similar to the electric slide (though it definitely had a little more ‘slide’ to it!).

On Monday morning, we contacted Martha Trejo and Mauricio Robledo, whose numbers Adriana had given us to help finalize the details of our English and computer classes. Mauricio was at work and would not return until around 6, but Martha was home and told us she knew of four children who would be interested in ‘clases de computacion’ but that it would be better to start tomorrow. Next we went to see Janice to ask about details for the Pozos Art Walk this weekend. And lo and behold! There was Marvin! He was surrounded by cameras and wires and cords and things, uploading his material from the festival onto his laptop for editing. Janice was already busy re-organizing artworks around her house for the Art Walk. She showed us one of Geoff’s photogravure pieces, a very labor-intensive process that uses a photographic gel laid over a metal plate to delicately etch in the image through exposure to the captured photograph. Teresa and I are pretty pumped to help out with this amazing event-there seems to be something going on every weekend in Pozos! After Janice’s, we spent some time with Marvin while he was waiting for his material to load, which was great because we love this kid, said goodbye, and headed home.

At home we tried to contact Mauricio again but had to settle with leaving a message. He called back later in the evening, assured us that teachers from Viba would be at the school at 4 to open the building, that he also knew of four more children who would be interested in computer classes and would make sure they came the next day, and that he himself would be at the school at 4:30 for English classes. Teresa and I spent the rest of Monday evening and Tuesday morning finalizing our lessons for our respective classes (me teaching English, her teaching computer skills). Tuesday was also my 21st birthday, so it was great to talk to my family members at home wishing me a happy birthday! Bertha also brought me a gorgeous bouquet of orange hibiscus flowers for the big day, definitely putting out some great vibes for our first day of classes!

We arrive at Viba and there is a little confusion about us having a teaching space or not. First I thought Thomas, one of the teachers, was telling me that we would have to wait until next week to start our classes because there was no room this week. He was actually telling me the opposite, that next week regular school is back in session for the whole town, and that there would be space problems then but we are okay for this week. Whew! We also met Juan, the English grammar, physics, and mathematics teacher, who was very kind and enthusiastic about helping us out. Juan told us that Viba’s classes next week don’t start until 2pm and that Teresa and I could use a classroom (the entire school consists of three classrooms) in the morning, but we need to make sure that works for our students.

So Teresa taught an introductory lesson to the uses and functions of Microsoft Excel to two teenagers, Martha and Erica, while I went over the English alphabet and pronunciation, throwing in some English vocabulary to help illustrate the different sounds, a few greetings (hello, how are you), some adjectives, (angry, happy) and the conjugation of “to be” in the present tense to Paty (13), Luis (12), Sandra (11) and Eric (8). Luis, Sandra, and Eric are siblings and Paty is their cousin. They were eager and attentive students, excited to share the English words they already knew and careful listeners as I enunciated the differences between English and Spanish sounds. Rodrigo hung around for their lesson, although he already knew pretty much all their material. Around 6, Mauricio arrived and the younger kids went to Teresa for their first computer lesson. Mauricio, Juan, and Rodrigo joined me for a more ‘advanced’ English lesson. We quickly went over simple sentences in the first tense (He is my brother, She drinks milk), adjectives, some verbs (to cook, to go), days of the week, and practiced a little conversation.

We walked Rodrigo home and played with his adorable niece Andrea for a little while before heading home ourselves to relax and work more on our future lessons.

Wednesday went pretty much the same way, except that we started at 2:30 and three more students (Anna Karin, Juliana, Esperanza) joining Teresa for computer classes. For her second lesson, Teresa made sure to review basic data input how to program in basic equations before moving on to applications of yesterday’s material. She taught them how to design basic invoices, the concept of unit price, and how to utilize the function tools to determine total prices. It was quite a challenging lesson and she had them apply the mathematical and Excel concepts to create an invoice given only the unit prices and quantities. They did a great job, however, and worked together to generate the proper tables! In my lesson with Paty and Co., we conjugated “to have” in the present tense, went over numbers 0-100, (though after 30, I just gave them 40, 50, 60 and so on and said they could fill in the rest according to the pattern at home if they wanted) and words for family members. Rodrigo and Mauricio didn’t show for their lesson, so I was a bit disappointed, a sentiment I shared with him when we stopped by to say hi and hang out with Andrea again. He’s a big fan of American rock music, so he and a friend played “Otherside” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their guitar as I sang along in English, trying to teach them the lyrics. Not exactly a legitimate lesson, but it was fun. Then we went home, relaxed, and prepared for the next day.

Thursday we finally resolved all the confusion about gaining access to the computers Adriana brought from Irapuato, which were locked up at Luis’ store. We had been playing phone tag for a couple days and had tried stopping by a couple times but no one was there to open the door. It’s totally doable, but quite difficult for Teresa to teach her Excel lessons to four people with only one laptop, so we were a bit anxious to get this taken care of. But at breakfast Bertha told us that she stopped by the store again earlier in the morning, and yay!, someone was there and the computers were in her car, ready for set up at Viba.

So we went to the school and set up the computers, (there was functioning electricity, which was awesome) which excited Paty and Co. quite a bit, especially little Eric. The kids jammed out to Jonas Brothers on my iPod (don’t judge me) while Teresa loaded their lessons on each computer (the school also had two we could use). That day Teresa didn’t get to teach as much as she planned, since a lot of time went into setting up the computers. However, she helped the kids work through a difficult, cumulative practice problem that required them to look back to day 1 material. It was a tricky problem but they were able to generate the proper invoice using functions to determine the answers, rather than calculate by hand and plug in the numbers. With me, the kids learned how to say “I have X brothers and sisters” in English, the sentence structure for “how many” questions, to conjugate “to like” in the present tense, and lots of food vocabulary. Rodrigo and Mauricio were no shows again, but the students in Teresa’s second computer class asked to join me for English lessons the next day, so I am excited for that! We stopped by the house again, this time bringing Rodrigo along so he could finally have a formal English lesson (there was a small family emergency that prevented him from coming; everything’s alright). First, I made sure he knew all the materials from the kids lessons with relative confidence, then we went over time, and about 40 common verbs, and he told me a little bit about what he likes to do in English. For both Rodrigo and the children, pronounciation with soft ‘i’ sounds (hit), the switch between the ‘j’ sound and the ‘y’ sound, the ‘v’ sound, and soft ‘u’ sounds (put) seem to cause the most trouble. Likewise, the ‘rr’ sound, that the ‘v’ sound is pronounced more like a ‘b’, and hard ‘u’ is pronounced more like ‘oo’ that ‘you’ in Spanish throws me off a bit, so it’s great to teach and learn at the same time. Also, our Spanish is of course not perfect, but it has improved greatly since we got here. When preparing for classes, we make sure we know the appropriate words in Spanish to say what we need to say and the kids are very sweet if we make a mistake. It is really quite wonderful to have a bi-directional relationship of help and kindness with the Pozos community.

Friday morning we met Janice at about 10:15am to help her out with the first day of the Art Walk. She went over prices with us at her home and in the dierzmo and sent us to watch out for people coming from out of town and make sure they made it to the dierzmo and her home, which are not listed on the map for the walk. There are, however, about 20 locations of various artisans around town, all with physical signs outside their doors that say “Pozos Art Walk X”. I imagine this event has something to with the reputations for artisanship tourism Pozos has garnered. It’s about 1:30p and we have had maybe 8-10 people coming through, with hopes for more coming later and the rest of the weekend. We’re going to head out for our classes about 2p and have another round of teaching!

7/27/09–Exploring Mexico!

July 27, 2009 | Posted in 2009, Duke, Mexico, Rice, UNC | By

Composed by Megna and Teresa

Bertha’s daughter, Carmen, is currently working in a gallery located in San Miguel Allende. She had been encouraging Bertha to visit for a few weeks, offering to pay for traveling costs, but Bertha kept postponing her trip because she wanted us to accompany her. It is a funky, artsy city resplendent with independent art galleries and family-owned shops selling sculptures, art, and jewelry. Bertha’s friend Dan, who resides in Pozos, has his work featured in a gallery, which she was eager to show us, so we set off with her on the 17th when Geoff and Janice were taking a day off. San Miguel is about forty minutes away from Pozos, and we reached there by noon. We had lunch at a Starbucks, complete with an indoor garden, and explored the shops. It became evident that livings costs in San Miguel far exceed the living costs in Mineral de Pozos, and we balked at purchasing the beautiful crafts, but still had a good time talking to some of the shop girls. We met a girl who spoke perfect English, and lived in America with a while with her fiancé before things fell through. She was very friendly (helping Megna pick out the perfect white summer hat!) and recommended some fun places to visit if we came back, including a karaoke place called Mamma Mia.

We returned to Pozos in time to catch yet another party organized by Alberto, the Mariachi festival. Alberto invited Mariachi bands from nearby cities, including Guanajuato and Mexico City to perform in Pozos. It felt like the entire city came out for the show, which Crystan and I (Teresa) attended with Marvin, Prisma, and Rodrigo. Prisma is a girl from Notre Dame, and it was her last day in Pozos, so our outing to the Mariachi festival was like a goodbye party. The outdoor stadium was packed—the entire city must have come out for the festival. We got seats near the front of the stage and had an excellent view of their elaborate costumes, violin and guitar skills, but were temporarily shocked when fireworks were fired directly into the crowd of a few hundred people. The bands were singing famous songs, that were lost on Crystan and myself, but the crowd was bursting with life and singing along with the artists. After the festival was over, we ran into three Mariachi band members that were exploring the town. Marvin invited them over to his house, and Rodrigo brought over his guitar. We had a great time talking to them and enjoyed our private live performance at Marvin’s house. They sang along with Rodrigo’s guitar playing, and everyone jumped out of their seats and started dancing at one point. The night did not end until around 4:30 am, which was when the Mariachi band sadly bid us farewell.

We (Teresa and I, Megna) met with Geoff at 9am Saturday morning for an exciting new assignment with our Holgas: self portraits! We had a great time exploring Pozos for interesting locations to shoot and came up with some great shots that incorporated us and our beautiful surroundings. Later that evening, Crystan, Marvin, and I headed back to San Miguel de Allende to get a taste of the nightlife we heard so much about. Marvin had already been before and so we had an idea of where in town we wanted to be. The club entrance fees were a bit pricey (and so we were nervous about being able to afford the bus back home!) but Marvin and I had a great time dancing the night away. At one club, a cover band sang songs by the Beatles, Santana, and the Rolling Stones, while the other club switched between techno and Spanish music. We made it back to Pozos at 8am, just in time to get to Geoff’s at 9am on Sunday morning with the intent of finishing our photography work. The power, however, was out from 9:30am to late in the afternoon and we were unable to use the computers we needed. The electricity is a problem in Pozos from time to time, but water is a much more pressing issue in daily life. Alexandra, a local girl our age explained to me that the water problems are connected with Pozos’ history as a mining town. The water is full of minerals and is therefore unsuitable for drinking, bathing or even washing dishes. There is a town pump that must bring fresh water to the whole town, but there are often problems with the pump (perhaps because of the altitude of the town). Not only is it an inconvenience (one never knows when she will be able to take a hot shower!), it is quite expensive as well. I believe that this problem needs to be sorted out before Pozos can become a larger tourist destination, because hotels require a reliable source of hot water. Perhaps we can suggest this as a project to a group of engineering students at Duke, and work with Adriana and FCB to improve the water supply in Pozos.

We had a meeting with Adriana on Monday and attended a presentation about a new and upcoming weaving project. She had invited a weaver from Guanajuato City to share with the people of Pozos her weaving experiences and the potential products that can be created and sold. She projected a presentation depicting vivid tapestries and purses that she created with naturally dyed yarn that she manufactures herself. There was a turnout of around 10-12 people that ranged from teenagers, to middle aged women, to Bertha herself, who already crochets baby blankets and clothes to sell. Ideally, these women will be able to create these goods at low cost to generate a long-lasting sustainable living for themselves. The project is currently slated to include ten families, but we hope that the project will increase in size next year and remain sustainable without additional aid from FCB.
After the meeting, we met with Adriana to discuss our plans for the remaining few weeks. The goal is to start on English classes and computer classes for some local students to help locals manage their businesses, cater to English-speaking tourists, and hopefully aid youth in their aspirations to pursue college educations, since English abilities are an important criteria for admission. Juan dropped off computers on Thursday for us to use at Bertha’s house before we went to Guanajuato to simultaneously explore a new city and meet with other university students doing work with Adriana through FCB. Hopefully, knowledge of programs like Excel, and tools like e-mail will help with marketing and business management.

On Wednesday, Crystan, Teresa, and I (Megna) returned to Geoff’s to finish up the work we were unable to during the power outage on Sunday. We were armed with huge portfolios of our prints when we were invited to visit San Luis Potosi with our Ibero friends. After running home (ok, in a taxi…) to drop off the portfolio and prints we met Mario, Marvin, Ferchas, and their friend Guillermo in town to take the two hour bus trip to San Luis Potosi. We got there in the evening and went to the several churches and plazas near the center of town, and then spent some time at a rooftop restaurant with a great view of town. We finally made it back to Bertha’s house at 7am to pack, get two hours of sleep and shower before Juan came to pick us up in the FCB van.

We found ourselves in Guanajato city Thursday afternoon, and dropped off our bags at the hostel, which, coincidentally was named Casa Bertha! The place was clean and we had kitchens, bathrooms and hot water (which now feels like a luxury). Our group of eight from Pozos set off into the city to meet Adriana for lunch, and unknowingly ended up on a strenuous hike uphill for forty minutes. The city, so unique and beautiful, is in a valley surrounded by green mountains that are delightful to look at and killer to walk up. But all was forgiven when we found ourselves at the terrace of the house, built by two people from North Carolina, with about thirty Ibero students and a breathtaking view of the city. We spent the rest of the day there, and had a large meeting after lunch to discuss the end of the Ibero students’ summer service projects. We went around the room speaking about our experiences and lessons learned. Although much of the Spanish was lost on Crystan and Teresa, it was plain to see how each student was touched by their work and interactions in towns such as Tamaula and Pozos. Many spoke about having such a tangible influence on the lives of others, the strong relationships they made with host families and a few tears were shed about their work with the children of the town. It was wonderful to see how students our age are reaching out to less privileged people of their own country, and I have such a strong respect for the Mexican government mandate that students spend a summer or semester on a service project.
After the meeting and group picture, we all returned to the terrace for hours of music and dancing. Adriana joined us in singing traditional Mexican songs that the Ibero boys belted out with arms around each other. We moved the party to the hostel and then another club for our last night as a whole group. The next morning, we said tearful goodbyes to Mario before exploring some more of the city. We saw many little craft shops (and I bought a beautiful handmade leather bag!), cafes, and outdoor vendors. We also went to a huge indoor market with hundreds of shops for Guanajuato souvenirs and a few food stands as well.

We also decided to partake on a tour in the evening. A band decked out in Spaniard costumes sang Mariachi songs and strummed a variety of instruments, including a white cello. Because the tour used to be a wine tour before drinking in the streets was declared illegal, the members of the band served everyone a sweet drink, which we all assumed to be juice, in a white, ceramic “drinking vessel.” We weren’t really sure what they were called, but they had one long white neck through which the drink was poured, with an opening on the side from which we drank from. The band took us through the streets of Guanajuato to some of the major buildings, including Guanajuato University and the famous Callejon del Beso, while serenading us with traditional Mexican songs the entire time. The tour came to an end on the steps of Guanajuato University, where an actor impressively performed three different roles in a skit about forbidden love. The audience thoroughly enjoyed his alacrity and humor, which ended the tour on a high note.

We left the next afternoon after another night of dancing, and bid Marvin and Ferchas goodbye. Hopefully we will have the opportunity to see them again in either Mexico City or North Carolina, assuming that Adriana’s plans to send them to Duke for a panel about migration issues works out. Serendipitously, we saw Bertha walking in the streets of Guanajuato when we were on the local bus to the central bus station. We all promptly jumped off the bus to greet her…it was such a wonderful surprise! Bertha was evidently traveling in Guanajuato for a niece’s birthday party and had just gotten off the bus when we arrived at the central bus station. She directed us to the proper bus, and we had a cramped ride to Dolores Hidalgo. The bus was extremely packed and I (Teresa) ended up standing for most of the two hour ride. It wasn’t very painful though, since there were about twelve other people standing, including a young girl who looked about seven or eight years old. The bus system is clearly very popular, which isn’t a surprise considering the excellent price (Guanajuato to Pozos cost less than $7.00), and how frequently the buses run. Although we had a great time in Guanajuato and learned so much about all the other work FCB is doing, we were relieved to finally be back home after over three days of traveling!