Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Awareness. I have no access to a textual definition of the word…. My kindle actually broke this weekend (which means I have nothing to do but type out a blog post in a word document and save it for tomorrow when I finally get a bit of internet), there isn’t a dictionary in this indigenous community (make that any book), and there sure as hell isn’t internet. But back to the word. Awareness. I’d say being aware…. Is pretty much essential to staying alive here. First of all, that was probably a little severe to say awareness was a life or death matter, but with some of the creatures hiding in the jungle it really isn’t… and I probably should clarify where exactly “here” is.

Currently, I’m living in a community called los naranjos. Don’t try googling it, the number one hit on the community is a student’s blog from last year. Essentially, I’m living in the province of Santo Domingo specifically Puerto Limon in a traditional T’sachilla community. The T’sachilla (is it embarrassing I don’t know if I’m spelling it right… it is pronounced Saah-chill-yuh if you were wondering) are pretty much the greatest people I’ve ever met. If they went to North Shore High (mean girls… duh) they’d sit with Damien and Janis. Just saying. But really, the community is incredible. The men traditionally paint their hair red with these berries that stain. In general, it is considered fashionable, as well as a precautionary to ward away “enferma” to paint ones body with blue lines and designs on the body, also painted with berries. The diet includes a lot of rice, plantanes, fish, and occasionally chicken… but only if you or one of your neighbors has decided to kill a chicken that day. Its funny, the other day we had some delish chicken and upon commenting “ooooooh este is rico!”, my host mother simply said, oh yeah, its from the house from down the road (in spanish of course). A helluva lot different from being like… oh yeah! It’s from whole foods. But I love it. Despite the fact its extraodinarily different than anything I’ve EVER experienced. Like.. most people don’t even speak Spanish, they just speak the traditional language of Tsaviki. Its wild… oh, and also the majority of adults don’t actually know how to read…But if the entire economy of Ecuador crashed, they’d survive. They know how to use the earth, the plants, and the animals. Food literally falls off the trees here. They know how to harvest fish. You want sweets? Just cut a stalk of sugar cane off a nearby tree, or a coca fruit from the tree next over. I could go on and on. But I really need to get back to awareness.

My awareness has grown to be incredibly important. When I forget to be aware, I get lost… just for starters. You would be surprised at how many of the roads, and by roads I mean dirt paths… LOOK EXACTLY THE SAME. But getting lost always has a real good story with it. Like the time I met a 600 pound pig… or when I end up getting a ride from someone who happens to know my “parents” in the community… who then I realize I’ve also incindentally met before. Also, I’ve realized that the best learning I’ve actually done has only come with meticulous awareness. Awareness for how people act when you actually aren’t looking is actually amazing. Its like the phenomenon of how electrons act differently when they are “being watched”… okay I don’t fully understand that concept yet, but go to youtube and watch doctor quantum. He will blow your freaking mind. But basically, as an outsider, you are part of an “altered” environment…. Because you, yourself are altering it. Observation from afar or in secrecy can definetly be a great activity. I really hope I didn’t just make myself sound like a creepy peeping tom or something….

Awareness isn’t only visual though. For example, awareness for opportunity is extremely important. Like when the head hancho in charge of our work project (god, I hate myself for using these many parentheses, but our work project is planting trees along the river to protect it, as the river is the main water supply for the people) asks at random for four volunteers to do something besides digging holes and planting trees…. Sometimes you can end up stuck with the job of trekking through dense parts of the jungle and sweating more than you ever thought possible, but other times… the job is actually easy peasy lemon squeezay and ends with you salsa dancing with your pudgy and loveable driver who takes you to work everyday.

Oh, another form of awareness (or possibly loss their of) is definitely an awareness of how you smell. Smell like anything remotely sweet, and lets just say you end up with around 800 bug bites covering your body… But really, I have about 260 on my left leg alone. I’m not kidding. And I have never tried to smell sweet, I even use unscented deodorant. Some of my peers, admittedly with considerably less bites than I, have instructed me to wear no deodorant… But, I share a bed, and my roommate and I have decided to keep wearing some de-od for each others sanity and ability to sleep. Its already quite sometimes a little… ehrm… ripe under the mosquito net at night seeing as we don’t bathe everyday.

It is pretty ironic, although the best learning and most amazing moments (such as seeing the best sunset you have ever witnessed or catching a wild story from a local) the only way to get through an experience like this is to lose a lot of awareness at the same time. Like the whole bathing thing, is done in a river about a ten minutes walk from where I reside… and the river is in no way shape or form private, so awareness of how my nudey body looks with 800 bug bites and unshaven legs doesn’t exist. Or the essential unawareness of animals, plants, insects, and the other multitude of living things that surround you in the jungle when your pants are down around your ankles not giving a shit, and hoping to god that your body allows you to take one. Yes, I did just bring up pooping on my blog. I could talk about bathroom situations here for hours, and let me just make sure its known, we talk about our bowels as a group more than people would ever admit…. But I mean, we are in third world countries… Travelers Dirreah comes with the passport stamp. Okay… I’ll stop because I realize everyone is still in the continental US and like pooping in the middle of the night anytime they have to share a bathroom with people or can’t go anywhere but their own home. I understand. I used to be one of you. Okay. Now I’m really stopping.

The last thing I’m going to say I’ve become unaware of is a little something I call time. YES, I did lose my watch on the beach this weekend… although I don’t even care because weekend was so amazing…I absolutely adore the costal region of Ecuador. However, I had really lost my awareness of time long before becoming watchless to maintain sanity. Time here is said to be “polychronic” meaning people have a general understanding that many things are happening at one time…. Meaning that a majority of the time… people are late. Or early. Or just show up when they like, because something else occurs at the same time as the time they were actually supposed to meet you/come get you/feed you/unlock doors/assist you… etc. As a group of busy bee Americans, its been quite a change for us all to make. You could say ,in the least, that America operates on a “monochromic” view of time.

So… a really well written blog would a) be a lot shorter b) a bunch of other really great things in a well written blog that I can’t think of right now and c) better organized. But I’m going to just throw in another thing about awareness even though I just discussed the “unaware”.

YOU GOTTA HAVE AWARENESS WITH REGARD TO GROUP/GROUP DYNAMIC. Negativity is an evil that can pervade a bunch… as is positivity, except I mean, positivity isn’t an evil. You get the point. One awareness adjustment I’ve definetly made is with regard to attitude/language (not swearing or anything, I still admittedly swear like a drunk sailor with anger issues nor do I mean any kind of language barrier, I just mean I’ve gotten a lot more meticulous with word choice and phrasing)…. And have become acutely aware of how people deal when there is stress in the group… for example (ps get ready for a bomb dropping right now) one of the three program leaders left the group permanently this morning. I will miss Dave very much, and although no one in the group is really privy to know exactly why he left, I have utter faith in him that it was the right choice! But.. it definetly has caused the foundations of our group to be rocked. Losing one in a family of fourteen feels like a lot… especially when only your “family” actually speaks the same language as you do. IDK. Awareness in a group=important.

Ah…. Its about time I wrap up my blog… I did have a few possible blog titles I thought would be funny… but none of them really relate that well to the entirety of the posting… but I’ll share them with ya’ll anyway… and by ya’ll I mean, my mom, my sister, and the random two other people who have decided to read my posting today…. Oh and Stephen Barnes? Are you there Stephen, Its me Lizzie…

Possible titles that aren’t actually the title:

I Should Have Played Club Soccer, not Softball
I didn’t deserve a B in Spanish, My Spanish Actually Sucks
Wearing Deordarant is something only idiots and myself do in Ecuador
The toilet doesn’t work
Cipro is God
The only thing I hate more than rodents is my own sweating disorder
I’ve never seen more greenery in my life, I should be planting trees in los angeles
I’ve been to school for 12 years and still can’t eat without a supermarket

That’s a wrap. I probably won’t be able to write for a while… I’m going to the amazon this weekend for a white water rafting excursion….. yeah, I did say that to make you all jealous. But just remember, I shit in the woods and go to sleep with plants in my hair.


  1. Yes, Stephen Barnes is here and reading your every word! Great blog Lizzie!

  2. Hello,

    I am a friend of your Auntie Jenny. She shared this blog with me and some other friends. I am sooo glad she did.

    You are a very talented writer!! You have a great ability to put great meaning and provoke thought from just one sentence. This blog was packed with yummy chunks of humanity!

    Thank you so much for sharing this experience. I am going to suggest my 16 year old reads this ASAP.

    Looking forward to more goodies.


  3. great post, lizzie! i always appreciate a good pooh story, but that's probably because i've spent plenty of time on the road.

    keep on sharing. i particularly like the title "I’ve been to school for 12 years and still can’t eat without a supermarket"


  4. Lizzie, Great post! FYI, more then likely a lot of your groups parents are reading your blog, like me. It is great to hear what you are all doing and the experiences you are having. Let all the others know that they should keep posting to their blog sites since us parents are always anxious to hear news of what is going on.

    Richard, Michele's Dad