EMU Cross-Cultural

Las Alpujarras

Spain-Morocco 2013 group photo: Kara Lofton
Spain-Morocco 2013 group
photo: Kara Lofton

Last Sunday (Sept. 8) we visited a region between the Sierra Nevadas and the Mediterranean called Las Alpujarras.  Although quite small, these villages are famous for the terraced farmlands that surround them, a unique mini-ecology due to melting snow from higher up the mountains, great for producing bottled water that is sold throughout the rest of Spain.

Specifically we visited a famous trio of villages in the Poqueria Valley, which retain traditional Berber architecture from the time the Muslims ruled Spain.  The villages are clustered quite close together and were easy to visit during a single trip.

The mountain roads were narrow and if one happened to be sitting by the window nearest the cliff, it was quite easy to look out the window and straight down into the steep drop to the valley below. I couldn’t help but think how unlikely it was that the guard rails (which came up to maybe wheel height on the bus) would stop us from tumbling over the side of the cliff if we were to get in an accident.

We only stopped briefly at Pampaniera, but it is an interesting place because the iron content in the water is so high that a “hotel hospital” has sprung up. The hotel hospital advertises itself as a place of natural healing for women who are anemic–all they have to do is come for a few days and drink the water. Of course massages and other spa treatments are available should the women get bored drinking water.

Both Bubion and Capileira are well known for their Berber-style architecture and good quality hiking and biking trails. For a while the villages were struggling because young people were leaving to go to the cities or other countries for better work and travel opportunities, but now foreigners have discovered the beauty of Las Alpujarras and as more expats settle in the villages and bring money and business, tourism has boomed.

In Capileira we sat down all together in a little restaurant for a wonderful meal of bread, homemade gazpacho, eggs, potatoes in lots (lots) of olive oil and some of the best cheese I have ever tasted. The meat eaters also had ham, which I heard was very tasty as well. It’s probably fortunate that we went on a short hike afterwards because I think everyone over ate and needed to either move or take a nap in order to recover.

In the middle of the week, we spent a day at Alhambra, a World UNESCO Heritage site. It started as a fortress in the 1st Century, but it grew into a massive palace complex used first by Spain’s Muslim rulers and then by its Christian ones. It’s a must-visit for anyone in this part of Spain.

This Sunday afternoon (Sept. 15) nine of us went to a soccer game–Granada vs. Espanyol, which was really fun, but very, very hot. In the evening, we all gathered at the Snell-Feikema’s for worship.

-Kara Lofton

Photo Gallery-China 2013-1

Photo Gallery-China 2013-2

Traditional pagoda eaves in Beijing  -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
Traditional pagoda eaves in Beijing -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
Typical birthday celebration in Nanchong Photo: Emma King
Typical birthday celebration in Nanchong Photo: Emma King
The egg
The egg
Street calligraphy Photo: Emma King
Street calligraphy Photo: Emma King


Pavillion of tranquility
Pavillion of tranquility
Ornate facade
Ornate facade
Good soup photo: Dylan Bomgardner
Good soup
photo: Dylan Bomgardner
Emma and Malika found a new friend
Emma and Malika found a new friend
At the Temple of Heaven Photo: Dylan Bomgardner
At the Temple of Heaven Photo: Dylan Bomgardner
Street food photo: Dylan Bomgardner
Street food
photo: Dylan Bomgardner


Dragons at Temple of Heaven Photo: Dylan Bomgardner
Dragons at Temple of Heaven Photo: Dylan Bomgardner

group at temple

Group at a Chinese mansion
Group at a Chinese mansion
Girls bonding with Deirdre photo: Dylan Bomgardner
Girls bonding with Deirdre
photo: Dylan Bomgardner
Green tea ice cream photo: Dylan Bomgardner
Green tea ice cream
photo: Dylan Bomgardner
Chinese class
Chinese class
Dylan, Jonathan, Myrrl and Brad ready for a bike ride around Nanchong with Chinese friends
Dylan, Jonathan, Myrrl and Brad ready for a bike ride around Nanchong with Chinese friends
Olympic Park  Photo: Dylan Bomgardner
Olympic Park
Photo: Dylan Bomgardner
Masks in a Beijing market alley  -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
Masks in a Beijing market alley -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
Beijing market alley  -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
Beijing market alley -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
Graffiti in the artistic Project 798 area  -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
Graffiti in the artistic Project 798 area -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
The Great Wall  -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
The Great Wall -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
A street grocery in a traditional Beijing neighborhood  -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
A street grocery in a traditional Beijing neighborhood -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
The Great Wall  -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
The Great Wall -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
In the Water Cube  -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
In the Water Cube -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
The Forbidden City  -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
The Forbidden City -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
In the Bird's Nest  -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
In the Bird’s Nest -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
Houhai in Beijing  -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
Houhai in Beijing -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
At the Bird's Nest  -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
At the Bird’s Nest -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman

Dájiā hăo from Nanchong!

Dájiā hăo (Hello, everyone!)
The sky is bright and I may even see a spec of blue shinning through. Here in Nanchong, when asked what color the sky is, the answer is white. When asked what color the sun is, the answer is red.  The cause of both of these is pollution. Thus seeing a tiny spec of blue in the sky is a great surprise.

Beihu Park, downtown Nanchong  -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
Beihu Park, downtown Nanchong -Jonathan Drescher-Lehman

We started school this week at China West Normal University and this is how a normal School day goes:
-wake up at 8:00 to shower and eat breakfast (which my host mom leaves out for me because everyone else is already gone for the day)
-catch bus 35 to the university (its about a 15 minute bus ride)
-2 hours of Chinese language class from 9-11 with a 15 minute break in between
-2 1/2 hour lunch break
-Chinese history and religion class for 1 1/2 hours
-Tai Chi for 1 hour (I love it! So relaxing)
-calligraphy class for 1 hour
-get home around 6:30
-dinner with my host family every night at exactly 7:00… it’s so funny!
-shower, homework, and bed (It is a pretty long day of nonstop stuff, so by the time I get home I’m exhausted and ready for bed.)

For lunch we have been enjoying street food from this really popular street called yi xué jíe. The food is AMAZING. At first I was kind of sketched out eating food made on the street, but man it’s good and cheap! You can get this huge bowl of noodles made for 5 kuài (yuan), which is not even $1. And when I say a huge bowl, I mean huge. I never can finish. We also found this awesome bakery on the same street. It’s not like our bakeries at home; it honestly might be better. Oh, and let me add in that it’s so cheap! I got this egg and cheese bread thing (you never know what you’re ordering; normally you can’t even take a guess so you just kind of pick something and hope for the best) that was the size of my face for 2.50 kuài. I seriously could go on for days about how cheap stuff is here.

This past Wednesday, I went to a high school in town and taught 4 different classes English for 1 hour each. I walked away really considering a change in my major at EMU. I fell in love. The kids were wonderful, and so eager and excited to learn. I didn’t want to leave. I was in tears. You could just see on those kids’ beautiful faces how much it meant to them to have me there, and the same for me. I would be so content to stay there and teach those kids for the rest of this trip. I could go on forever. I really loved it. Even though I didn’t totally love the part where they made me sing Taylor Swift BY MYSELF and dance around the classroom. But I got some smiles and some laughs, so that’s what matters! Luckily, I go back every Wednesday for the next 3 weeks!!! YAY! Also, today I went to my host sister’s middle school and taught English to her class. And I signed up to volunteer with this children’s English program they have here in Nanchong as a teacher.  So, once a week, I will go there and teach younger children English. I am trying to take every opportunity I can while I have the chance.

So I have been with my host family one week, and man do they catch on fast. Their English has improved so much in one week, it is crazy and kind of sad considering I am taking a Chinese class right now and haven’t gotten any better. Chinese is hard! Like, no joke! You have to learn tones, words, characters, and pīnyìn. It’s insane. I think I will come home with no Chinese learned and my English worse than when I left. I am getting a lot more comfortable with my host family but not so comfortable with the bathroom. When I was teaching in the high school the other day I walked in the bathroom to find myself facing probably 6 or so girls just squatting and peeing. No doors or stalls, just holes in a big open room. They probably thought I was insane because I screamed and ran out so fast I almost tripped on the disgusting pee floor. It’s so—ah I don’t even know what word to use. It’s just different. The showers are too. They are literally just a shower head on the wall with the squat pot underneath you. So while trying to shower you have to try not to fall into the squat hole. Its pretty difficult, I might add. Malika and I have our own room, although we do have to share a bed, but we don’t mind. We live in a 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment. It overlooks the beautiful park but not so beautiful singing (wait, that was mean. It’s not bad, its just not really what you would consider singing. More like screeching into the microphone but with a pretty band playing behind it). Every day, and I mean every day, from 3-6;00, this lady comes all dressed up and sings and dances out in the park. A ton of older people come out and it’s totally fun, but extremely loud. We’re on the 7th floor right beside the park, and from 3-6:00 we have to scream to one another just to hear. It’s pretty hilarious.

I help my host sister with her English homework every night, and she helps me with my Chinese. It’s pretty great. She is 13 and will be 14 on October 9th. She is in the 9th grade, but in China that is still middle school. She speaks English very well, although she says she is no good. She has grown up learning English because they start them at a very young age. My host mom is the sweetest but speaks no English. Well she didn’t, but she has learned some this week. She is a kindergarten teacher. And my host dad, well, I don’t really know… he isn’t around a lot. He randomly brings kids by that I don’t know. So, I kind of think he has a second wife, but that’s probably just my too much TV brain playing with me. Our apartment is nice. Nothing fancy. But getting to the apartment and the building is kind of sketchy. I saw a rat in the stairway and about died. And like I said, we’re on the 7th floor, so that’s a workout. Especially when trying to carry my suitcase up 7 flights. I have to wear slippers all the time. Walking around barefoot inside someone’s home or anywhere is considered rude. China is very different than home, but I am really loving this experience. But maybe a tiny bit missing America, American food, and of course all of you.

chopsticksMy chopstick skills are improving so that’s an extra bonus. And if I wanted to, I could learn how to cough loogies like a man. Because everyone and their brother does it here, and I mean everyone. I saw a man spit one right onto the floor in the middle of a nice restaurant. Let’s just say my appetite was gone fast. And for any of you who know my love of clothes, you need to feel my pain right now as I say I am so sick of my 5 outfits and it’s only been 2 weeks. Ah! Especially when everyone here is dressed super nice and wears heels and I’m over here chilling in my Chacos, sport shorts, and a wrinkled t-shirt. They probably think I’m a bum. Well I am sure you’re probably tired of reading this ridiculously long post. There is just so much to learn and share about my experiences.

Zài jiàn (goodbye)

Hattie Berg
Guó fú (My Chinese name. It means beautiful Lily)

Beijing and The Great Wall

China has been wonderful so far! We’ve seen and experienced so many things already that it feels like we’ve been here much longer than we have. We visited an art district in Beijing. This is basically a small town inhabited only by artists and their studios. There is something to be said about an intentional community dedicated to artists. I, and several other people, said we would love to live in place like that. The language barrier between us and the artists made it a bit more difficult to understand what they were trying to say though their art. I know that art is supposed to speak to everyone and you shouldn’t need words to understand it, but it is hard to take meaning from something created by someone who lives such a different life than mine. I wish I knew more about the artists, and I had a chance to learn more about them, but was too scared to ask questions.

Great Wall panorama Photo by Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
Great Wall panorama Photo by Jonathan Drescher-Lehman

We climbed the Great Wall! I’m still a little amazed that we climbed such a feat of mankind. It was odd, though, because we had some local farmers with us (they followed us, we didn’t invite them) and they were very nice and helpful until we said we wanted to buy t-shirts. Once the words left our lips, the farmers descended on us like vultures and we were the road kill. They wanted 120 Yuan ($20) for the t-shirts, which was a huge rip off. Myrrl talked them down to 40 Yuan and we all bought shirts that said “I Climbed The Great Wall.” I said the farmers’ following us was odd because one minute they were our friends (pengyou) and the next minute they were ripping us off. I wanted to buy something from them because that’s how they make their living, but they used such false pretenses, and were so rude about it that I didn’t want to anymore. That is actually how I feel about most vendors I’ve come across in China (unless their goods have fixed prices). They’re so aggressive that I don’t want to buy from them. The vendors that let me be are the ones that I want to buy from.

Back to the Great Wall: It was kind of surreal climbing something that I’ve seen so many pictures of and heard so many stories about. It was beautiful and huge and amazing! It was sobering to think of all the people that died making the Great Wall, though. How many other “feats of mankind” have required such sacrifices to be made? The question that I found myself asking was “Is it worth it?”

My legs are insanely sore from climbing the Wall. Most of the steps were as high as my knees. Did I mention that I wasn’t expecting the Wall to be so up and down? Pictures always make it look like a smooth, rolling walk. Reality, how you have fooled me! The rest of that day was filled with small comforts: pizza, cats, and good conversation.

So ends our first week in China. I haven’t really felt culture shock yet, although that’s not to say that I haven’t been shocked by some of the cultural norms. Some of the habits in China really surprised me at first; for example, people spit everywhere! They even spit inside, where they work. Many children walking around the streets can be seen wearing pants missing the crotch and butt area. This was a bit shocking, but I suppose it makes sense: the children can easily relieve themselves anywhere, but it still freaks me out when I see a little boy peeing onto a tree on the side of the street.

Traffic is another thing that is very different from America. It’s actually a little terrifying. Unlike in America, vehicles have the right-of-way in China. This does not make sense to me because it causes so many more pedestrian casualties and is just so dangerous. Myrrl says not to run across the street because it confuses the drivers, but I don’t know what else to do if you need to get out of the street.

-Emma King

Exploring Barcelona

Our travels could not have gone more smoothly. Although we were exhausted when we arrived to Barcelona, we had all of our luggage, had made our connecting flight, and were greeted by our guide–Jim of the tour company “Good Barcelona”–who happens to be Australian, not Spanish. Jim was easy to find due to his bright yellow “Good Barcelona” guide shirt, and a mustache that probably rivals Salvador Dali.

The bus dropped us off a few blocks from our hostel in downtown Barcelona, which meant that we had to pull all of our luggage behind us as we clattered noisily down the street. People stare at us everywhere we go because we are such a big group, but we felt especially conspicuous in the caravan to the hostel.

Our arrival at the hostel itself was disconcerting in its lack of structure but was improved somewhat by the exciting swirl of Spanish and Catalan (the language specific to Barcelona) that was peppering us from the walls, signs, and people. Inside we struggled with a snafu in the reservations for our rooms, which didn’t take away from the anxiety of the environment. After just an hour to get settled, we met Ben, who took us on our walking tour of Barcelona.

Ben is a tall, sarcastic San Franciscan with an extremely dry sense of humor. He was a very interesting and fun tour guide, but by the time we got around to leaving most of us hadn’t eaten anything significant in a solid eight hours. I think we were all pretty overwhelmed by the foreign sights and sounds of the city, and we felt very foreign and unwanted in our 24 person tourist group. Invasive vendors buzzed at us with kazoo-like mouth instruments, and the multiple warnings about pickpockets hovered in the back of our minds as the tide of the city swept past.

The tour went by in a haze of historical facts and beautiful, sun-drenched alleyways. Afterwards we finally got to eat in a Spanish cooking class, where we crammed into a tiny room and learned how to make one of Spain’s national foods, called “tapas”. The lady in the class showed us how to make Barcelona’s spin on this food, as well as paella, a fried rice dish. Spirits picked up noticeably as we got food in our systems. Once we got back to the hostel though, most people went to bed by 9:00 or 9:30, and proceeded to sleep for a good 12 hours.

The hostel provided the typical small Spanish breakfast of toast, coffee, cereal and a muffin, which although good, was not particularly filling, and certainly did not last until our 3:00 lunch. The space, timing and quantity of meals have definitely been something we are all struggling with, although I think we will adjust in a week or two.

After breakfast, our tour guide, Ben, met us in the hostel lobby to take us on a biking tour of Barcelona. The highlight of the day was probably a tour of the Sagrada Familia, a huge beautiful basilica that has been under construction since the turn of the century.

We spent the afternoon at one the beaches on the Mediterranean, and then made our way to a dinner of tapas. After dinner we went to a Flamenco show–a kind of dancing that is typical for southern Spain. There were two dancers, one male and one female. Both exhibited grace, speed and sensuality as they turned and stomped their feet to the music of two voices and an extremely talented guitar player. After dinner we split off into smaller groups and explored the city’s nightlife–although most Barcelonans don’t really go out until 1:00 or 2:00, by which time we were in bed.

Kara and Philip playing music in Montserrat
Kara and Philip playing music in Montserrat

On Saturday we loaded into a bus and drove out of the city center to Montserrat, a mountain that has been holy to the Catalane people for almost 1,000 years. Montserrat is an incredibly beautiful place that is home to a monastery that was shut down during the reign of the dictator Franco. The monastery is now preserved as a museum, and serves as a hub for those who come to Montserrat to pray, see the awe-inspiring views of the valley, bike, hike and rock climb. There are many hiking paths leading from the museum farther up the mountain, and Ben led us up one to better see the views. Although the temperature at Montserrat was much cooler than in the city, by the time we climbed up (mostly by stairs), we were all sweating profusely and were ready for lunch. We ate sandwiches overlooking the valley and then hiked back down to our bus waiting below.

Carol arranged for us to meet for an hour or so Saturday evening with one of the only Mennonite churches in Spain. Despite a congregation of just 43, the members who came to meet us were very welcoming and provided snacks and drinks for us after we toured their church. A quintet of us sang a couple hymns for everyone present, and then we all sang “We are Marching in the Light of God” in English, Spanish and finally Catalan before saying our goodbyes and taking the metro back to our hostel.

Now we are on the way to Granada. Our host families will meet us at the airport and take us to our homes for the next six weeks. Tomorrow morning we will go to the University of Granada and take a Spanish placement test before beginning our studies.

Until next time,

-Kara Lofton and Lucas Driediger

Quote of the week: “Is everyone alive? …because I almost got hit by a bus three times yesterday. -Philip Yoder



Lights, sirens, and city sounds,

Black, yellow, and brown all around.

Everyone rushing with no attention paid

The many heads that have no place to be laid.

What is justice without oppression?

Sadness and pain with hungry aggression.

Lives destroyed all for a dollar sign.

Build it all new, an expensive design.

Mike it pretty so everything’s alright.

Don’t discriminate, but that house is white.

Built on colored backs by their hand.

Without reward only more demand.

The city created beggars and riches.

Starvin’ people in line for soup kitchens.

Sleeping in doorways and eyes without hope

Doing what they can to survive and cope.

Like ants in a line, every day is the same

A wonderful city making its people lame.

One nation under God is what we say

But how is that when we see the devil’s work every day?

-Sarah Baker, 5-19-2013

OYE work at San Jose Elementary

After two weeks in Copan Ruinas, a beautiful and important historical and cultural site in Western Honduras, at a La Guacamaya Spanish School, the group dedicated a week of their program to volunteer with OYE and learn about youth development efforts and national reality with OYE (Organization for Youth Empowerment).
The EMU students spent the week designing a recycling and environmental campaign at San Jose Elementary. The school, located only one block away from OYE’s office, welcomed OYE’s scholars and the international volunteers to supplement a program they had already started with the sixth graders around recycling. The established program involved the recycling of cans, bottles, plastic, paper, cardboard, and electronics. According to teachers the students were very involved in the endeavor and loved the hands on action of gathering and sorting the recyclable products.  There was definitely enthusiasm, and the economic incentive of receiving cash for the recycled products ensured the youth’s participation; however, the teachers highlighted a lack of understanding about why recycling was important and how waste can effect the natural world. That’s where OYE came into play…
We put the challenge in the hands of the EMU students, many of whom are education majors, to design a campaign that would engage the young students and building their knowledge and interest in recycling and the environment.
The campaign involved:
1. The creation of an environmental mural.
2. The creation and distribution of recycling receptacles that  feature smaller murals and themes about recycling
3. Development of games and exercises to teach about sustainability and environmental degradation.
4. Writing and illustrating a unique and relatable children’s story focused on recycling.
5. Hosting an environmental assembly and workshop with the sixth graders.
Over 60 sixth graders turned out for the event, many coming to school early that day just to see what was going on. We divided the youth into six stations. Station one read the children’s story, station two played a recycling trivia game with facts about recycling and the environment in Honduras, station three played environmental memory cards, station four played a timeline game about the life of a plastic bottle, station five was FACE PAINTING, and station six played a “Who am I” game with prompts like “greenhouse gas.” Every 15 minutes the students changed stations until everyone had cycled through each activity.
We were lucky to have the local television station, Teleprogreso, join us at the event. It was a great chance for the community to see and meet that big group of gringos walking around all week and learn a little bit more about OYE. Thanks to the report on the nightly news EMU and OYE’s message about the importance of recycling and the environment will arrive to a much larger audience.

Diverse Narratives in the Shenandoah Valley

How could we have lived in this valley for 20 years and not know about places like Zenda, Long’s Chapel, Newtown, or the stories of Lucy Simms, Bethel A.M.E. church, Ralph Sampson or the Islamic Center of the Shenandoah Valley?  Here they all were, right under our noses and yet we were not familiar with these people, these places and their stories.  Could it be that this history is not considered “mainstream” or as significant to the valley as other narratives?

We want to make sure everyone in the valley knows what we now know.   Here are some excerpts from students’ journals as they have reflected on their month long study of the Shenandoah Valley and a quick three day trip to Washington, D.C.

“The most shocking thing I heard about Newtown (historic African American community north of current northeast neighborhood) was about the revitalization project called Project R4.  The fact that the city (Harrisonburg) took parts of the neighborhood under public domain and turned it into retail space is tragic.  If the city would have taken the parts it did and helped turn the neighborhood into a better area to live it would have been a great thing.”

-David Gauldin

Long's Chapel, Zenda “Rockingham County was unlike the large slaveholding counties in other parts of Virginia.  There were many religious groups (including the Mennonites, Dunkers, Methodists, Brethren and others that opposed the institution of slavery.”   (Freedom’s Child, pg. 18)  Because of this free blacks were able to purchase small plots of land and establish a settlement called “Zenda.”

In the heart of the Shenandoah Valley lies a single remnant of Zenda, a settlement formed after the Civil War by newly freed slaves.  When Rockingham Country reclaimed the property from a former plantation owner in a postwar legal action, they decided to sell it to the freedmen.  Thus Zenda, known as ‘Little Africa’ was born.  The church, Long’s Chapel, served not only as the spiritual center of the community, but as the educational center as well.   Since the county did not provide for the education of black students, this facility became the first school for the community residents.  In 2005, Alfred and Robin Jenkins purchased the property in order to preserve and restore it, in hopes of establishing a black history heritage site.  Long’s Chapel at Zenda is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Zenda is an historical landmark that symbolizes freedom and the end of slavery for African Americans here in the valley.

Lucy Simms’s career in public education spanned 56 years, with only one half-day lost due to illness.  This level of courage, commitment and care is so admirable!

My journey on this cross cultural has changed my way of thinking of both the life that I have and the lives of immigrants that this great nation is built upon.  I will no longer take for granted the life that I have been given, nor the influence I may have in helping someone make their life better.  I also have a greater appreciation for undocumented immigrants that have come to the U.S. seeking a better life for themselves.

-Michael Wade

In D.C. we saw a guy carrying a WHOLE gutted, scalded pig through the streets of D.C. on his shoulder, right into the front doors of a restaurant.  (Guess what we’re having for lunch?)

-Belinda Hinkle

The Brethren Mennonite Heritage Center was my favorite place.  Just learning about how this lady was such a feminist back in the day was really empowering.  The house and the rest of the land were awesome to tour and learn about.  I wish I could have been around to go to one of the tent revivals with George Brunk.  They looked like they would have been a lot of fun.

-Jess Biggs

Journal entry after watching TedTalks, The Danger of the Single Story

I was struck by how important it is for each of us to not only be aware ofIMAG0072[1] the dangers of pigeon-holing people and groups into a single “story” that defines them, but also most importantly I was struck by our personal responsibility to seek out more than the “single story” of the people we meet and the communities we encounter.

-Katie Gray

The Galápagos

Milton and Norma Aguas – our wonderful hosts for the two weeks we spent on San Cristobal Island Today Milton (the man who owns the farm we are staying/working at) told us some stories about himself, and the interactions with politics and the island. It was quite interesting to see the parallels between the history of activism on the islands with the history of activism in Bolivia. At one point, the island residents took over the airport and shut it down. These actions reminded me a lot of the blockades in Bolivia. The people do not have the ability to take on the outside world directly, but they do have the ability to take away valuable things like tourism. It’s funny how a little island can quickly become relevant when they make that kind of noise. It was also crazy to see how the gentle and kind man was quoted internationally as a leader of all of it. I really wish that I could communicate with this man. I’m sure he is a wealth of information.

-Travis Riesen


Today we went back to the area in the woods we were at on our first We hiked a lot (in our rubber boots and often through black raspberries) during our two week stay on the island day here at la Finca (the farm we are at). We’re working on preserving scalatia trees and the areas where they grow. Once again today we cleared away blackberry bushes. Today was more fun than before when we cleared the bushes, because instead of working by myself, I worked with Marla. Not only were we more productive as a team, but we had some pretty great and funny conversations along the way. The highlight of my day though was watching Marla attempt to get on the donkey. At first she didn’t use enough force to jump on, then the second try was too much and she slid off the other side. When she and Alex finally got on though, it kept stopping, and at one point she fell off the back.

After lunch we began the sugar cane processing. To begin, we needed to carry over the sugar cane stalks that Milton had cut down. Instead of us individually carrying the stalks over to the processer, we made an assembly line and “passed them.” This was a lot easier, and more amusing for me because I got the throw them at Marla. At first we processed the green stalks, which Milton added lemons/limes to, and we were able to drink it and it was very delicious. We then processed a whole pile of browner canes. The process happens by Milton putting the cut canes in between the gears, and then people get on either side of the wooden bars and push it around in a circle. Once we were done and had a whole bucketful we came back for dinner. Afterwards they put the pot of sugarcane juice over the fire and cooked it into syrup. This cooking takes 3 hours. While we waited, Milton brought out a guitar, maraca and an instrument none of us had ever seen/played before…a horse jaw!

-Kaitlin Stauffer


I love the rain! Watching the low lying grey rain clouds role across the beach and lowlands was magnificent. I could see the rains sweep across the hills inching closer to our house. I was awestruck! I found the more I work here on the Galapagos, the more I connect with home. Today we continued to remove black raspberries from the fields that contain coffee and bananas. We also processed sugarcane for sugar in the raw. Both of which were labor and time intensive! I loved both projects! I could not imagine a better way to spend my time! When I’m at home I love working outside and being in the environment. Today we also discovered that our host, Milton, was the mayor of San Cristobal. I had no idea! He is so humble and down to earth, definitely not boastful or arrogant. I find that he is the epitome of a leader. I have discovered that I am adapting to not having continual access to my global community. At first I was struggling, like a drug addict going through a withdrawal. However it is nice to be disconnected and fully soak in the culture. I cannot wait to see what tomorrow holds.

-Blake Rogers