Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lessons Learned

A lesson in...

patience...listen more.

coordination...think ahead; communicate.

creativity...are there really no original ideas out there?

resourcefulness...look at what you've got instead of what you need.'s not always about me.

graciousness...anger never solves the problem, be soft instead.

inner-strength... don't give up the fight but know that courage sometimes means giving in.

perspective... We may be privileged, but man, North America can be a pretty damn scary place.

confidence...speak up for yourself and don't let anyone rain on your parade.

learning to love the green stuff...because it's what makes the world go 'round.

human rights...We've all got them and should be fighting for them all the time. Be aware.

independence... Sometimes its best to go out and do it on your own...

prejudice... We've all got it in us. Every chance you get call yourself AND others on it.

peace of mind...Find it.'s everywhere and the worse your karma the more it follows you. Don't destroy relationships.

hypocrisy...I have little control over it, only to not take it on myself.

listening...again, it's not always about me and what I have to say.

compassion... Take another's feelings into account. Understand. to be concise!

pain...even though it feels like you're going through it alone, you're not.

work ethic...All the best things I've done in my left have meant I've had to work hard.

unstructured environments...once you can tackle them, you can tackle just about anything.

simplicity...we all need more of it; a way of living and a state of mind.

sustainability...I now know what this looks like in its purest of forms.

growth...It means positive change and I feel myself going through it every day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What I see, what I hear, and what makes me smile.

As my camera was stolen recently :(, I thought I would write out some of the experiences and images I have witnessed over the past few days to give you a hint of the kinds of things I learn on a daily basis…

How to Help a Chicken Lay Its Eggs

First I slowly and gently shoved one egg after the other underneath the chicken’s breast. Once all four eggs were under, I did a little tickle or what I like to call the finger dance under their belly. I took my hand out and observed as the chicken rocked and wiggled from side to side, (doing a chicken dance, as Manuel calls it) adjusting themselves on top of the eggs!

Monkeys Love the Nectar

Take one of the white flowers by the sink and approach the monkey cage. Put the flower in your pocket and watch as the monkey takes the flower out of the pocket with its hand and sucks the nectar from the center of the flower.

The Parrot’s Water Dance

I watched as Oscar, one of the muchachos who works the grounds, doused the parrots and other tropical birds with the hose in the late afternoon heat. They fluttered their feathers, doing a little dance. It’s truly lovely to watch and I can’t help but giggle and smile.

The Slow Growth of the Mighty Guanacaste

The Guanacaste seed has a hard shell around it which slows down the germination process. With the shell, the seed takes one year to germinate to a small sapling. Santos, our jardinero (gardener), takes the seed and rubs it up against the tree to wear down the shell. This process means the seed only needs eight days to germinate! The Guanacaste tree takes an average of 300 years to grow to its full size.

Fireflies at Night

Now that the rains have begun, the fireflies have begun to appear at night. As I lay in bed at night, I follow their luminous glow as they whir over my head. Their magical presence surrounds me every night.

The Laughter That Fills My Home And My Heart

Yamy's and Josimar's whole hearted laughter fills the home with love and whenever I'm sad or feeling lonely, it cheers me up. I will miss this.

Or Armando’s ( a Mariposa worker) high pitch, never ending giggle that sounds like he's up to something...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Last Few Months

In the last few months I’ve taken so much in. The days have been full which has meant earlier bed time. I have not, therefore, taken the time to record what I’ve been up to. One of my most memorable experiences from the last few months has been my walk through the Mombacho volcano cloud forest which is a wonderfully magical place. I felt like I took my first breath; the air was pure and clean and I had finally escaped the contaminated air in my little pueblo; air filled with smoke from burning garbage and fumes from the numerous buses and trucks that rampage their way along the main road.

I have been thrust into the occasional role of being tour guide and translator which has been fun, tiring and challenging. Fun because it is a job where you get to move around and see the sights. It is challenging because it involves an incredible amount of energy and great listening skills to translate a language!

My work environment as I’ve discovered, is quite unstructured which has been difficult for me. Every day is quite unpredictable, so I’ve been working on being organized, but it still has its challenges. I had a really constructive discussion with Paulette the other day and we came up with a plan. I’ve made a web map, as I like to call it, with my name in the center and on one side of my name are all the tasks I currently take on as an intern and on the other are all the projects I would like to take on in the next coming months. She is going to sit down with me in the next coming days and we are going to discuss what the challenges are for each task and what aspects are working. I’m hoping this ‘web map’ will really help me to keep organized!

I am comfortable living in a small town in some ways. I love its charm and how I have become a familiar face. I will miss the friendly smiles and the waves I receive walking to or from work. Furthermore, the great thing about a small town is all of the locally owned businesses and having all the basic necessities so close to where I live. When I need medication from the pharmacy I walk around the corner, when I want to buy cookies or a drink I walk a few more meters and a friendly face is there to greet me. It’s a lovely sense of mutual benefit and “tight-knitness” that I would love to see be expanded in the West.

In other ways, a small town can be tough to live in. Lots of gossip, little night life and everybody knows your business!

I’ve mostly been working on building up our community garden project. For more explanation on how the project got started and where we are at now, check out the hotel’s blog:

Each family was chosen based on need through, what I’m guessing was an interview process and through census data. We now have nine families who have a living fence to protect their plot. In total there are twenty-six families to benefit from the project. Each family has been provided with seeds from the municipality of la Concepcion and a few starter seeds from La Mariposa. They will be growing things like peppers, peas, cucumber, tomatoes and kidney beans, a main staple in Nicaragua. Some of the heirloom seeds (heirloom meaning the seeds have not been crossbred with other types of seeds), have been divided up between the first nine beneficiaries. We will be providing more seeds as is needed.

We cannot afford to provide all twenty-six families with living fencing, seeds and fertilizer right away. We want to see how the project works first and then move on to the next nine families. This system actually works out perfectly for a number of reasons.

The first nine families have been provided with a wooden box to hold their organic fertilizer (cow, goat or chicken dung + worms). Unfortunately these boxes turned out to be very expensive and if I had known before they were made, I would have turned to another more cost-efficient method (that being a hole in the ground filled with the animal dung and worms or a concrete cistern.) Not only are these cost-efficient methods but, unlike the boxes, they collect the urine from the worms which is a very useful fertilizer.

Starting with only nine beneficiaries also makes sense because, as I have come to realize, many of these families have the basics down but lack specific training on composting and sustainable agriculture. They lack knowledge of things like insecticides (and I’ve discovered some non-chemical ones!!) We are sending one of our guys, Franklin, who works with the horses and has lots of knowledge of composting and fertilizer to train the families, workshop style. We’ve already taken four of the most enthusiastic beneficiaries to a workshop at a fertilizer farm but more hands-on work must be done. Once these families have the necessary information and training and have developed their plots, they can then begin to pass on the knowledge to the next nine beneficiaries. This whole process is called “train the trainer.”

I’ve learned so much about composting and organic gardening. It is really not an easy and it requires a lot of patience and dedicating long hours of hard work. It’s been such a huge learning process, (especially learning everything in Spanish…definitely a great way to improve it!) as I’ve been working with one of our go-to guys Ishmael who, in terms of finding resources, has been a wonderful connection to the community.

I’ve really enjoyed being an outsider looking in; I’ve been able to learn how this community works, what resources they have and don’t have and I’ve loved watching them work as a team! I must say that not all have been as enthusiastic as some but those who are have really made the project.

My host sister Paola is about six months pregnant and just found out yesterday she will be having a girl! It’s been a very exciting time watching her grow and playing the guessing game as to the gender of the baby for the last few months.

I just want to write a quick blurb about Paola and her husband and Alex and their beautiful love story. The two met when Alex was cat calling Paola on the streets of La Concha, the capital of La Concepcion....wait for the romance to kick. Paola ignored it but Alex continued to pursue her and started to come to her house on a daily basis to see if she was home. At first, she really had no interest in seeing him. But over time, the two got to know each other and became good friends and lovers. Yamy has told me how Paola took a lot of interest counseling Alex over the years, helping to improve his confidence and in turn improving his self-perception. Many family members were shocked at their age difference of nine years (she is 17 and he, 26) but she persevered, and said "no, we will make this work." Many of Alex's aunts warned him that he had to be very careful with Paola as she was but a child. As I've gotten to know her, she definitely doesn't act like a 17 year old. Although she is youthful at heart, she is definitely a dominant and self-assured young lady.

At this time, Alex's dad was thrilled that Alex was dating Paola because had had known her grandmother and all the women in Paola's family who had reputations for being hard working women with a strong set of core values based on family and religion. He held a great deal of admiration for her family. Alex and Paola had only been dating a few months when Alex's dad sat Alex down and said "I want you to marry Paola. I know her family and I know what kind of girl she is and this is the girl you are to marry." Sadly, in the same year, Alex's dad died suddenly of a heart attack. The two were married in December of last year. I watched the wedding video a couple of months ago and I was blown away at Alex's emotion as he stood at the altar, shedding tear after tear as he lovingly gazed into Paola's eyes. I realize now why he was so emotional. After three years of dating, he had honored his dad's wish and married the girl of his dreams.

Alex and Paola have a great relationship that you don't see often here...or I guess you could say anywhere. Teenage pregnancy occurs quite frequently here and I hear story after story of 13, 14, or 15 year old girls left to raise a baby on their own, luckily with the help of their family, but in the end, the man takes no responsibility. It is so nice, therefore, to see this lovely couple making things work!

I’m starting to feel very at home (I’m officially being called a hija –daughter) and consider myself very lucky to be living with this family. Yamy (pronounced Jami), my host-mom has her opinions that diverge greatly from mine, especially in terms of politics. Despite this, she has been my mother away from home; she takes care of me when I’m sick and always tries to make food that I like.

I’ve definitely gotten used to all of the noise. I usually crash at 8:30pm and wake up around 6:30am…my alarm being the combination of roosters and the booming voice of Yamy’s son-in-law, Alex, who is up and at em’ getting ready for work at 6:15. The occasional morning I’ll awake to a bit of a breezy chill or a rooster crowing but then I fall right back to sleep.

Two days ago a giant tree fell on the property next to Paulette’s and the law in Nicaragua requires anyone who cuts down trees to own a permit. Despite this law, many people go about cutting them down in their own back yard all the time, permit free. Most of the staff was upstairs, including me, starting our day, working away on the computer or on some task or another, when apparently the tree fell, making a massive booming sound. I among two of the other staff members did not hear the tree fall. Paulette was enraged. She screamed something along the lines of, “what is the bloody point of protecting the environment when none of you even notice when a tree falls to the ground?!” She was right. Here I am working away on all kinds of environmental projects, I’ve stopped eating red meat and I’ve been considering coming home and working for an environmental NGO, but yet I don’t even notice the environmental degradation that goes on around me.

I think this goes for a lot of us. We get so caught up in the small stuff, including the oh-so uselessness of consumption (and usually consumption of things we don’t really need), that we forget what really matters. Please read The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard or go to her website to understand why I think this is so important.

I’ve come to notice for instance that family is a beautiful structure and pretty damn useful. I look at the family I’ve been living with now for a little over three months. When a woman in the family can’t take care of her daughter because she is working all night at the hospital in Managua, her mother, brother or cousin is there immediately to give the little one dinner and watch over her until mom comes home. A) Because most families here live under one roof together so getting to the child is no difficult task. B) Because this just makes sense. Family members should be taking care of each other.

As a side comment; the reason many families live under one roof is for economic reasons, it is the only economically feasible option in a poorer community. In Canada we may not need to do this because we are blessed with jobs that pay us so we can seek out our own independent lives. But the idea of a strong family unit is still something to consider.

It’s just kind of an expectation that this is what families are for. Back home I rarely see my extended family. We see each other at Christmas and Thanksgiving and the occasional Easter celebration. Obviously no family is perfect and I’m not saying that all families in Nicaragua function like this; there is definitely lots of dysfunction just as there is in any other country. But the overall sense of unity among extended family is much stronger compared to our expressive need for individualism in the West.

What has come to matter to me most is family, community, the environment (not just because it’s pretty and green but because it is so interconnected with EVERYTHING. If we destroy our environment, we are destroying our and everyone else’s community, livelihood and prosperity), good friends and good company. Having pretty clothes or jewellery, going to Starbucks, doing something that will bring more pollution into the air and land are just a few things that just don’t seem to matter to me anymore. Not to say that before I gained this awareness that I my intention was to try and pollute the environment.

I must admit however, that I am nervous to come back to North America. I am proud to be from that part of the world due to certain freedoms I have been granted, to the wonderful people and because it is a beautiful part of the world to live in. It is, however, a pretty damn scary place to live considering some of the damage we are doing to not only ourselves but to the rest of the world. And it is very easy for most of us to go on with our lives not really realizing what impact we have or what kinds of information is being fed to us…and THAT is the scariest part.

It’s easy for me to say all these things now, but what happens when I come home? Will I be sucked back in to having unnecessarily long hot showers in July, of all months? Will I use a car or take the subway when I could walk or bike? Will I take on the causes that I want to take on or will I become apathetic and consumed by my job that might make me money but does not bring me happiness? How can Westerners break free from the plague of individualism? This has also become a point of interest for me as well; global awareness and collective consciousness.

Finally, I will never stop loving the Spanish language and its song-like rhythm.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Love, Life and Happiness.

The constant whir, buzz, honks, and chirps are starting to grow on me. The din is starting to sound like music to my ears. Even the TV which is always on in the background adds a lovely rhythm to the never-ending sonnet.

To quote one of my angels, Cristina Taborda, who said this with so much passion, “I love my life!”

I feel the same way, Shteen. I love my life and I feel so blessed to be on an adventure such as this one. All the seemingly awful things that may come my way will all be looked back on with a good laugh and a nostalgic sigh. One can only move forward. This is the mentality I started out with the minute I stepped into the car to drive to Buffalo and I’ve maintained it up until now. Every time I’ve had a rough day or felt homesick, I come home, have a little pity party and then I go to sleep, telling myself that tomorrow will be a better day. And it always has been!

One of our former guests, Shannon, a farmer working in the United States, told a few of us a beautiful story the other day about positive and negative energy. She decided she would test out a theory on her plants. She bought two of the exact same plants and placed them in the exact same amount of light, gave them each the exact same amount of water at the exact same time of day and gave them each the exact same kind of air conditions. She gave one plant more love, attention and encouragement in the way she spoke with it. The other, she yelled at and took all of her frustrations out on. The ‘love plant’ grew beautifully and quickly. The ‘hate’ plant suffered, did not grow anywhere near as much as the ‘love plant’ and even grew mold! This story really re-instilled my beliefs in the power of energy and positive thinking, and how it can change one’s life!

The other day Paulette and I had an interesting talk about culture and how it has become defined in Western civilization. After this chat, I’ve taken some time to seriously re-analyse what culture means to me. Basically, I’ve come to the conclusion that culture has often been defined in terms of a country’s behavioural patterns. No one country can be considered to be full of like-minded people who all act and behave the same way. Behind our typical definition of culture are power dynamics and inherent racist beliefs and attitudes. We’ve lost our understanding of what culture used to mean; one’ country’s music, art, dance, literature, language, history etc. That to me, is the heart of nation, it’s what they truly hold in common. Another thing I’ve overheard is that culture can be considered ubiquitous. I think this idea has been constructed in the West as a way for Westerners to hold power over information and over people in the South. As my time rolls on here, I have become more and more uncomfortable with generalisations. It wasn’t until that chat with Paulette, however, when I realized my worldview is shifting.

Yesterday I was a tour guide in training on our trip to Granada, Nicaragua’s wealthiest city. Granada is a beautiful old colonial city that was bustling at every turn. The Granada Poetry festival was going on, so that added to the excitement in the main square of the city. We even had two celebrity sightings; Gioconda Belli, one of Nicaragua’s most prolific female writers who participated in the revolution (she was signing books only a few feet away from us!) We also saw one of Nicaragua’s most famous singers, Carlos Mejia Godoy, on stage, minutes away from performing.

My favourite part of the day was visiting el Museo San Francisco which holds some of the most beautiful pre-Colombian statues. I don’t know what it was about these statues, but something about them rang close to home. Perhaps it was the way they represented the union between animal and human. Or perhaps it was the absence of any representation of war in the statues, thus the 2000 years of peace the Mayans experienced, that inspired me. I think it was also the way they were arranged; two long rows of 15-20 statues facing each other, so stoically, as if protecting their Queen or Goddess. The front of the statue was a man or woman, and behind, arching the person’s back was an animal, each different animal representing a different characteristic, i.e. strength, wisdom etc. I loved the idea of the relationship represented between human and animal; that of peace, acceptance and understanding. This experience will definitely stick with me.

I’ve been really struggling with how people, in general, treat their ‘pet’ dogs here. Many families treat them as guards, their sole purpose is to protect and attack. This is so warped to me. Animals are living creatures that have spirits like humans and to watch them be tied up day in and out on a small rope to a tree, is damaging whatever spirit they may have left. The dogs at my home are treated with a little more respect, but not much. My family keeps them outside at all times. One of them is definitely starving, as you can see his ribcage and every other bone poking out of his skin. They never touch them, and the only time they speak to them is to shoo them out of the house. Today as I was leaving the house, the Dalmatian, Escrapy, came limping over to me, clearly having injured his paw or leg, obviously looking for me to help him. I’ve never felt so helpless. The family has done nothing to help the dog, even though he is whimpering in pain. Thank heavens; the head of our Spanish school also happens to be vet. I’m headed to his house later on this afternoon to see what he can do for this poor suffering dog. As it so happened, as I walked out of my house, feeling so guilty for not being able to help this dog, I almost fell on my face as I looked down and saw what I’m almost 100% sure was a dead dog on the corner of the sidewalk!! I was almost sick to my stomach. I’m so thankful to be working for someone who rescues animals for a living!!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thoughts on Development

This is sort of set up in 'blurb' kind of format. All I've really done is spewed my thoughts onto the page, so I apologize in advance. It includes some of the things I've learned so far regarding La Mariposa's purpose and the challenges in development I've observed thus far in Nicaragua.

Here's a little story to start things off. Damas diplomaticas, the wives of wealthy diplomats in Managua, the country's capital decided they wanted to put some money into creating latrines for a small school in a very poor neighborhood called Panama, in the same region where I currently live. Unfortunately damas diplomaticas had toilets built but did not think to have the water system checked first to ensure the toilets would be able to function. So now, there are four or five stalls sitting on top of dusty hill, beside the school, rendered completely useless. Fortunately two latrines were built afterwards. I've quickly discovered why the building of latrines is such a successful development project. They don't use any water; they are perfectly sanitary and built out of cement, a very durable and sustainable material. Finally, the soil under which the latrines are built here consists of volcanic soil which helps to decompose waste much quicker than regular soil. First, finding money does not seem to be the problem. Money will always be in abundance, but it is not always directed towards the appropriate needs of the community.

When people become desperate they do crazy things. After the latrines were built and the stalls given wooden doors, all of a sudden the community discovered they had no firewood. Guess where the bottom half of the stall door went? Paulette later suggested that they cut the top half of the door and not the bottom, so at least the children would be given a relative amount of privacy.

The age old issue of who 'deserves' aid more-- how does one go about it? I think the problem lies in the word 'deserve.' I think it's about using an appropriate strategy. Rather than analyzing a community's needs, Paulette looks at what they already have and builds on it. For instance, one day when she was at the school in Panama she looked down a steep ravine and in the field she saw two oxen. She knew that the community was struggling to access water. The closest well is located at least 40 minutes away and as we drove into the community I saw women walking, barefoot, with a giant bucket of water on their heads. And guess what? They were still smiling after a trek in 29 degree weather. So as a simple solution, Paulette suggested they create a system where the oxen could be rigged to a cart and carry the water into the village. Paulette's view: aid is given randomly. World Vision "child sponsorship" program, for example, is exclusive. They take out the sponsored children from the classroom, feed them a meal and leave the rest to starve.

Is it better for the Mariposa to remain a sustainable employment project, than to depend on a registered NGO that depends on a donor? NGOs are intrinsically political; they must follow strict donor policies and requirements and cannot simply take out of their own pocket to give to those in need. Yet they provide a simpler and more organized system. Technically as the hotel has two functions, to provide to guests and to serve a community, when one area becomes overloaded, the other suffers. That's where an NGO would come in to pick up the slack.

One of the questions discussed in all development courses is the question of 'who holds the power' and the notion of participatory development, an inclusionary practice that encourages the community you work with to participate in their own projects. We are trained to understand the view of the 'other' and how we, as development students need to be aware of the power dynamic between us and the local people we interact with every day. Paulette says that the power will always be in her hands, as she is white, the boss, has money, and apparently, according to Nicaraguans, is perceived to know everything…which of course she does not. This is the structure we must work in; it is the reality of the day. Not to say, however, that it cannot change or be challenged. With this in mind, fairness, justice and equality are all aspects one must keep in mind. You may not realize it, but you live an extremely privileged life and you hold a lot of power just because of the color of your skin and where you live. This power is something I've learned to accept as a reality; as is so famously said by Peter Parker's grandfather, "With great power, comes great responsibility." So my request to you today is to take some time to reflect on the power you have and how you can use it to promote justice and equality for those who deserve it the most.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Welcome to Nicaragua

All in all it was a long day getting to this country. One hour and a half drive from Oakville to Buffalo Int. Airport, one quick flight to Chicago, one 30 or so minute wait in O'hare Int. Airport, one 3 hour flight to Miami and then almost missing my flight from Miami to Managua (I was the third last person to board the plane, the air attendant informed me as I rushed through the tunnel to board.) Oh, and all I ate all day was a Timmy's bagel, a hot chocolate, peanut brittle and mouthfuls of granola here and there. But man oh man was it ever nice to arrive in 30 degree balmy weather. I was greeted and driven to my homestay by a nice man by the name of Gonzalo, who works for La Mariposa as a driver and as a tour guide. The streets of Managua were loud, filled with salsa and meringue music, clad with topless teenage boys wondering the streets, vencinos (neighbours) chatting on their dimly lit porches and a couple riding a motorcycle whilst holding a baby at their side by its waist. WELCOME TO CENTRAL AMERICA.

Right now I am sitting in my little room with concrete walls and red and white speckled tiled floor, in what I will now call my home for six months. This home, I will have you know, was built from the ground up and paid for by Jamy and her grandmother. I live here with 4 to 5 other people; Jamy my host mom, the sweetest lady who loves to laugh and is open to talking about anything; Marco her hijo (son), 24 years old who studies Chemical Engineering in Managua (45 minutes North of San Juan); Paola her hija (daughter) , 17 who is in her second year university…children start earlier here; at times with Paola's esposa (husband) Alex, 26 who studies in university and works occasionally driving moto taxis, shifts which start anywhere between 2am and 4am. Alex is in and out and takes permanent residence at his mother's house which is also in San Juan. The fourth permanent resident of the house is la abuela, the grandmother. Yep, haven't actually found out her name yet. Cute as a button, this lady is, and eager to inform me about regional delicacies and anything Nicaraguan. I have already learned so much living with this family, and it's only been a week.

When I first saw my room, I have to say it didn't look the way it looks now. I had a small single bed, the mattress on which was deeply indented and when I went to sleep on it, the springs dug directly into my back. I had no closet, simply a stainless steel rolly cart for all of my toiletries and desk with a plastic chair. I can definitely say I barely slept that night what with the roosters a crowin', the birds a chirpin', the perros (dogs) a barkin' and the sounds of endless Latino celebrations i.e. men on loudspeakers and music that goes on forever. But I am here, whew. I spoke with Alex, a fellow intern and explained the bed situation. I was afraid to bring it up with Jamy as I didn't want to offend my family on the first day. She advised me to speak to her and explain the situation, and that it was no big deal. All I said was "the bed I am sleeping on is a bit uncomfortable" and within the hour, Jamy and Marco were heaving my mattress out of my room and exchanging it with a brand new double mattress, complete with a beautiful wooden frame. At that moment, I realized that it's true what they say about Nicaraguans, they are happy and willing to help you out and will go out of their way to do it. The desk was replaced with a ropero hecho de madera (wooden closet) which fits all of my clothing perfectly.

The first week of work has been tiring and it has taken me a full week just to sleep for a whole 8 to 9 hours as I slowly adapt to outside din. I have a window in my room with no real sound barrier, so it's permanently open. I've already started to think in Spanish a little bit and I'm slowly adjusting to the pace of life here. Living in Ecuador and already having a good grasp of Latin culture and the language combined with all of my past experience traveling, and being away from home has really helped me to ease into adjustment mode. I am less shocked by cultural differences than I would've been if I hadn't lived in another Latin country before.

The girls I work with have been helpful in bringing me up to speed. Alex is from Ottawa and went to school at Mcgill. She is 24 and has been working for La Mariposa since June. Her Spanish is excellent and she definitely knows her way around the community. Alison arrived at the beginning of December. She hails from Calgary, where she went to uni, and now lives and works in Whistler. She spent five months in Mexico six years ago and so it has taken her some time to get her Spanish in gear. Both girls have taken me into La Concha, about 10 minutes from the hotel, the capital of the region of La Concepcion to see where to make photocopies, post office , the farmacia, and Pali, the grocery store (which funny enough, is owned by Wal-Mart!)

Work days are relatively slow so far as I'm in training and will be for the next month or so. Alison is still getting the lay of the land and she has been here for almost two months. The first few days were all about information overload as the girls and Paulette, my boss, explained the many different systems, as I call them.

System one is volunteer management. Guests come to stay at the Mariposa to do three things: 1 to learn Spanish, 2 to volunteer at one of the hotels many supported projects and 3 to participate in weekly activities, i.e. visiting projects and sightseeing. Daily activities must be posted on the information billboard, guests must be checked on as they arrive and if any kind of emergency comes up, i.e. stomach bug (which I am just getting over myself) Once in a while I might be asked to be a tour guide for the volunteers, but this is a rarity and only occurs if the local guides are unavailable. I might be asked to do some translating for group tours and development charlas (talks/discussions), which take place in the hotel, if one of the teachers is unavailable.

System two is comprise of the homestays. Interns will always know who is living in a homestay or in the hotel and for how long. We keep track of when every guest leaves and arrives. Basic hotel management, really. If there is an issue or problem with the homestay, we must go talk to a member of the family to discuss and resolve the issue in the most delicate manner possible. We are also responsible for explaining the basic expectations to the homestay and guest. I think I still need some time to improve my Spanish to do this.

System three entails managing community projects. The projects have been put on the backburner as it is high season and the hotel has been booked solid and will be at least until June/July. Now that there are three interns, the hope is that one of us will be able to pick up the slack in terms of managing the projects. This means we will be visiting them to make sure everything is running smoothly, resolving any issues that are communicated to either Paulette or to the three of us. Examples of these issues could include the lack of funding for the afterschool program to a teacher at a local school who is not managing the library correctly.

What have I learned so far? Managing is all about problem solving and seeking out the appropriate strategy. As I get to know the community and understand the culture, I'm hoping strategies will come to me a lot more easily. My role as an intern, as I'm discovering will vary. One day I might be visiting projects, homestays and monitoring guest arrivals and exits, the next I might be editing the website and blog, and the next I might be organizing the gift shop in the hotel to make it more presentable.

The birds are still chirping, the dogs will never stop barking and the breeze flows endlessly. Oh and every other night I hear what sounds like gunfire, which I've been told by Jamy is just people celebrating… every other night. This is the lovely part about living in this part of the world. The not so lovely part? The constant smell of burning garbage, the endless traffic din, the children screaming outside my window and the adjustment period, in general. Oh the adjustment. It is the coming –to-terms with the fact that this is what my life will be like for the next six months. Another adventure has only just begun…

To learn more about La Mariposa Eco-Hotel/Spanish School/Non-Profit Organization, and current volunteer and intern opportunities see the website at