May 4th, 2011
This is it…finals week…exams, projects, presentations, reports, due dates, finales. Sink or swim there’s no alternatives but to just do it and get through. In the meantime, graduation is upcoming and goodbyes are pending-but do they really need to be so ultimately depressing? I don’t know-right now it’s overwhelming, but quite frankly, if I’m alive I will be returning to Maine. Too many friends and practically family both in Nutting Hall and surrounding towns. Maine is home and “home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to” -John Ed Pearce
Thank you professors, friends, and mentors for the many experiences, and the many more to come…
Woodsmen Team Spring Meet!
April 15th, 2011
Congratulations to the UMaine Woodsmen Team!
They won their home meet in March on a gorgeous Saturday morning after facing the responsibilities of coordinating this all-day event, hosting Unity College, the University of New Hampshire and the University of New Brunswick, and partaking in daily practices on painfully chilly 6am mornings in “The Shed.”
Check out the MaineCampus’ student newspaper article and here are some pictures of the action with custom captions, courtesy of Graduate student Joseph Pekol:
La Gripe (aka the flu)
January 20th, 2011
First time with 48 hours of flu fever in Ecuador was an interesting combination of feeling useless and being useless. Lying in bed all day and fortunately having Alegria, Mirian, Tia Maria, and Paolina as a series of “moms” reminded me of middle school (although in this case they insisted that I must not drink too much water and that I must take pills for each of the individual symptoms). Although no prescriptions are needed to acquire whichever variety of drugs you could ever imagine, fever in this country can still be deadly. Although not as common on the coast at this point, malaria, cholera, AIDs, dysentery, stomach infections, and parasites are a variety of complications that can exist. Especialy during the winter season of heightened mosquito populations, one can never be too safe.
For those diseases that seem to have no explanation, there are other beliefs which exist:
-Ojeado or the evil eye is the result of someone staring at you a certain way and essentially cursing you. It can result in incessant stomach pain, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, even causing death. Can be prevented by wearing red pendants and taking care to hide whatever may catch peoples’ attention (beautiful hair, a unique look, etc).
-Mal aire or bad air is the result of a dead person who has crossed your path and left you cursed overnight. You will awake feeling lethargic and as though all your life energy has been sucked out.
-Espanto is when you have been spooked. Again it can cause other inexplicable symptoms of disease and overall body stress and pain.
To diagnose, one must let their naked body by äsobado por un huevo” or rubbed down by a raw egg which is then cracked into a glass of water. The shapes formed by the yolks will reveal the true ailments present.
So consider these possibilities the next time you feel unsatisfied with modern medicine…
PS- Good News!!! Not even La Gripe epidemic can prevent Los Cucuruchos from making an appearance January 4-6 during the traditional celebration of Epiphany or Three King’s Day:
The Winter Cheer in a Snowless Country
January 5th, 2011
Christmas in Ecuador was a unique combination of towns with Christmas trees made from plastic bags and string, lights flashing at various houses, and an overwhelming amount of animal crackers and candy erupting from stores and children’s’ hands.
Schools hold finals week intermingled with caroling competitions (villancicos are the traditional Christmas songs sung in remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ and now include Spanish translations of Rudolph) and celebrations of Las Novenas. For nine days before Christmas, churchgoers sing and dance to the baby Jesus before attending mass. These dynamic presentations by clowns, shepherds, and other characters vary daily and take place on the streets of Quito or in the churches on the coast.
Christmas day itself is nothing particularly holy, unless one attends mass. Rather from Christmas Eve onward is comprised of dancing every night and eating plenty of sweets and animal crackers. Other gifts are not as common, yet most children seem to find sufficient entertainment from each other. Adults then truly prepare for their fiesta of drinking and dancing as New Years looms around the corner.
September 22nd, 2010
(n) a condition of disorientation affecting someone who is suddenly exposed to an unfamiliar culture or way of life or set of attitudes
-The feeling which accompanies one when they go to the Common Ground Fair in Unity, ME for the very first time (which is this weekend by the way! Check it out!).
-A freshman or transfer walking through their new dorm/house, stepping into the first class of the semester, and living through the first set of semesters.
-A senior stepping out of their last class of the year.
…Aka, anyone returning from anyplace that was in any way different…
Whether a day hiking, a weekend escape from laptops and write-ups, or the last eight months of being a bizarre living breathing Ecuadorian, culture shock just doesn’t seem to want to shake its grip off my life. And I don’t think I’m alone…Ecuador vs. Maine, from the airport to the classroom shocks have included:
-The climate (yes this winter is going to be painful).
-The people of all different shapes, white shades, and sizes.
-The laptop craze (no need to mention the plugged in culture and texting obsession)
-Why is everything here electronic, battery-operated, or controlled by a computer?
-The lack of pharmacies with no prescription requirements
-The numerous cars and little reliance on public tranport
-Nonexistent machete use (for clearing trails, building houses, peeling fruit)
-The lack of organic fruit besides apples
-The high costs of food, especially organics, versus low costs of chemicals in the states:
fresh shrimp, fresh cheese, shampoo container
Ecuador: $1.50/lb, $1.60/lb, $3-4
USA: $5/lb of old stuff from far far away, $3.73/lb, $1.50
Intangible vibes of contrast:
-The space: so much of it yet so closed off.
-The lack of human interaction, touching, emotion, though thank goodness Maine is filled with down-to-earth pleasant people.
-The timeliness. The nervousness. The hustle bustle anxiety levels constantly filling the air.
Note: Ironically enough, the communication barriers of human avoidance and bureaucratics remain comically similar (though corruption and lawlessness is more obvious in the wild wild west environment of Ecuador’s rural areas).
So what culture shock has left a “wow” in your life recently?
Send thoughts to Maria Fernandez on FC
Hot Cold Culture
September 20th, 2010
One Ecuadorian middle school text I read from a rural Esmeraldas school very matter-of -factly stated that the various people of Ecuador had different cultural characteristics due to the differences in temperatures and weather patterns from their environment. Specifically, the coastal people were described as hot, active, joyful, bright, and fiery whereas the Quiteños of the Sierra were cold, smaller, constrained, and calmer. The indians were in a whole different racial category of mysterious, quiet, and stoic peoples.
Consider this quick and in no way scientific answer:
“I am no expert, but I have observed that climate affects tangible aspects of culture, which in turn may affect the intangible aspects of culture. In both of the following examples, based on my personal experience living in both warm and cold climates, the “tangible” aspect of culture is the architecture of homes:
Example 1: A warm year-round climate (with a lot of “hot” thrown in) breeds the problem of ways for people to stay cool in their homes. As sun heats the sides of houses and warms them up, people begin to build their homes wall-to-wall with no space between as a way to eliminate surface area for the sun to heat. People then end up with neighbors who are very close in proximity, and they become accustomed (acculturated?) to having limited personal space, and to sharing many items so as to maximize the space alotted them. This could lead to close-knit communities and families.
Example 2: A cold climate breeds the problem of trying to heat houses and structures during the cold months. Because the ground can freeze and transfer the cold, people begin to build basements to eliminate the direct contact with frozen ground. People also build structures with large windows and sides to the sun, to absorb as much heat as possible. They also use materials that absorb the heat, such as wood, and fill hollow walls with insulation. These types of structures benefit from exposure to the sun, so space surrounding the house is important for it to function. People then become accustomed to having space, to drawing lines on the ground to designate “mine” vs “yours” and being personally responsible for obtaining the things you need. This could lead to individualism and possibly to capitalism.”
Sound familiar? Where does this leave Mainers?
Better yet, where do you fall in?
Dear Seniors in Highschool, Interested Students, and Potential Transfers,
September 16th, 2010
I used to attend the Rhode Island School of Design and then Duquesne University as a Graphic Design major. At school #1 I was sure this was it. At school #2 I was sort of sure it could be. But of course it had to be-it was my future ever since college applications were turned in. Right? Right? Wait, what happened? After working a summer in the Adirondacks of NY I realized that a studio job in a city for a slightly claustrophobic antsy person was just not the right fit.
Why UMaine? Well, I had the chance to speak with several Forest Rangers and Assistant Forest Rangers as well as seasonal employees of the Adirondack Mountain Club during the summer between sophomore and junior year. And I did it- I asked for advice based on the education and job search they had undergone/were undergoing. That was the first step in many as I promptly applied to UMaine and Paul Smiths, the public versus private school matchup with significant contrasts in diversity and size. Going to the Rhode Island School of Design made me realize that I don’t want to attend a school where the entire student body is limited to a single field of study…with this foresight I appreciated the numerous departments available at UMaine as well as the variety of student organizations. Therefore, as much as academics are a priority, I highly recommend that from the schools you’re considering that you first analyze yourself and your hobbies and interests at heart.
What do you do on your free time to relax and get away from studying? Do these schools offer these options? For me the Maine Outing Club and Lifelines are huge outlets with like-minded outdoorsy people who get out and backpack, do trail work, hike, and canoe on the weekends. Don’t worry if you’re not a backpacker though, there is plenty to choose from: http://www.umaine.edu/sold/studentorgs/all.asp
Also, lets consier location-I was done with being in cities and preferred the country middle-of-nowhere setting (I was raised in Central NY boonies). SUNY ESF for example has an excellent Forestry program, however it’s in Syracuse near my hometown and I knew applying there would be useless since I would never want to be studying the woods in an area that has none in its immediate vicinity. UMaine is in Orono, 15 minutes from Bangor, the “city” in that area which many would consider extremely small and part of a state mainly branching off the interstate 95 (super simple and comfortably rural). Better yet, Acadia is 1.5-2hours away, Baxter Park (with Katahdin) is 1.5 hours, Sugarloaf for the crazy skiers and the Appalachian Trail with plenty of 4000 footers is 1-1.5 hours and that’s just the beginning. Right on campus are also the biking and xc skiing trails, as well as plenty of roaming to do in the University Forests.
The biggest clincher, unique to the Forestry Program at UMaine, is the one-on-one connection with the Professors. Almost all the Forestry classes are 20 people or less with a few general education requirements turning into the assembly hall setting (as a transfer, UMaine accepted my previous University and AP credits). My advisor, William Livingston (Associate Director for Undergraduate Education and Associate Professor of Forest Resources), has been extremely helpful ever since I applied, knowledgeable, available, and happily willing to meet. It was also a relief to complete the entire transfer process from July thru August, commencing in the fall without losing a semester.
What about the Forestry taking place? Maine is a state leaning on the success of its forest operations in addition to marine and tourist industries. It will give you a realistic look into the environmental job situation with the current economy and how that is affecting people whose lives depend on forest management and production. Depending on the kind of future you want to have, a Forestry major was the recommended step when I asked, “how can I end up working outside?” From there, when it comes time to really focus in on one aspect of forestry and employment, Maine has helped me by providing resources and professors who are willing to sit down, offer recommendations and contacts, and let me loose. I highly doubt I would have been able to take advantage of a semester and summer in Ecuador at any other school, without the support and guidance of the School of Forest Resources and faculty.
Alright I think that’s probably enough to be overwhelming. This was the third school I transferred to, and I definitely don’t regret the hassle. I didn’t visit Maine, but made a decision and took the risks based others’ recommendations, my own research, and the academic scholarships available due to my previous efforts. The down-to-earthness of the students and residents is very special to this state and the caring, familial-feeling even more unique to the School of Forest Resources.
Hope this is helpful and feel free to contact me if you have any more questions.
Much luck with the search and the decisions to come and do yourself and (and your parents) a favor- don’t be afraid to take the jump and be courageous enough to say “I’m not satisfied” in your college searches.
Lessons to live by
April 15th, 2010
Last March 2009, two weeks went by in Ecuador. In two weeks one can become hooked: growing accustomed to the 100 percent humidity with regular rainfalls, the mosquitoes, the chaos of relying on public transportation, and rigorous daily work in the rain forest. In my two weeks, I didn’t lose my naivety, become Ecuadorian, or learn the slang. Rather I barely touched the tip of the iceberg, left my hand frozen to it, and decided I needed to come back and recuperate it. In the meantime, it has slowly become apparent that, just because one speaks Spanish doesn’t mean you know anything about the Hispanic, let alone Ecuadorian way.
Now four months have gone by and what can one discover through such immersion?
- mothers are always right (even if they’re not your own)
- if you think you have parasites, then you have parasites (I think)
- the rainforest is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world (aka, there’s a 90% chance that whatever you touch is poisonous so be wary of the leaves you choose)
- if someone suggests “you should probably___,” then you should ___. Period.
- people are trained from birth into the people they are (changing that is not easy)
- if you’re cranky, tired, mumbling incoherently, or just being stubborn then DRINK WATER
- invisible communication barriers are like a magnifying glass, if you’re vague in English, don’t fathom being coherent in Spanish or worse yet in Ecuadorian
- the grass is always greener and less tick-infested on the other side (hence the obsession with the “forest cattle” to go crashing through barbed wire just to enter an adjacent “potrero”)
- internet and email are an unjust technology which insists you’re born with immense patience, enjoy ignoring people that are physically present, and have an ability to withstand sitting still while being massacred by various blood-sucking insects
- in Hispanic cultures, blending in means looking feminine (ahhhh!!!)
- don’t mix cell phones and horseback rides to waterfalls
- age doesn’t necessarily bring maturity, wisdom, or anything for that matter
- listen to those around you, but don’t automatically do what they say (ask and question, always…and be prepared to question yourself)
- the concept of beauty is dependent on your origins (la Costa vs. la Sierra vs. el Oriente)
- timeliness is directly correlated with how much someone cares
- be patient, be understanding, but don’t be a naive push over
- be kind
- be wary of how and what you give, for gifts, for promises, and for love, since the best intentions in the wrong hands…make a dirty mess
- live (dance), learn (listen), and move on (walk it off)
Mucho Mas Mundo, Mas o Menos Mingas?
February 12th, 2010
Much More of the World, More or Less Volunteering?
Why bother working for free? Dedicating time and energy to a task without a viable return is a rare occurrence, yet people choose to participate. Who feels the initial urge, who follows through, and who refuses to even try? As I’m visiting communities in Ecuador like Palma Real, Agua Clara, and my hometown Bunche I’m asking for project ideas for the two upcoming volunteer groups from the Rhode Island School of Design and Mt. Desert Island High school. Considering I myself first came to Ecuador as a volunteer for a Biological Reserve, the concept of foreigners travelling for the sake of a beneficial experience and cultural exchange is understandable. However the lack of involvement on behalf of the upcoming generations worries me. In some cases, why are foreigners and only a few individuals doing all the volunteering, whereas most community members themselves sit back and watch? In the United States, programs are being put into place even at the high school level that require certain hours of volunteer work for graduation and at the college level few internships are paid. Such examples indicate that to devote free time to a good cause one either has to be put in such a situation by force or must see a benefit to themselves from the whole endeavor. To give with the intent to receive is perhaps, unfortunately the first step to attaining a truly selfless motivation:
Volunteers building a bridge in Bunche, Ecuador January 2009
In Ecuador, mingas are social occurrences in which all residents are notified by word of mouth, house by house, of an upcoming volunteer opportunity. With lunch included, people unite to build a bridge, clean up the beach prior to Carnival festivities, and to do other community projects. Personally, this tradition caught my eye after my first visit and was a pleasant surprise: people were contributing to a common goal!
In the USA, many options exist from the local to the national level, with a club or organization lobbying for volunteers in practically every subject of interest. The Boy Scouts for example are well known for their dedication to education, activism, and civil duty. The desire to do more, receive badges, and eventually possibly achieve Eagle status pushes many from a young age to foster and improve their communities.
Left: On Sunday October 4, Professor Doug Gardner led a field trip to Bangor City Forest and the Orono Bog Walk for Brewer Pack 11 Webelos Scouts working on their Forestry Activity Badges.
In Maine many volunteer opportunities exist particularly in wilderness recreation. Linsdsey Dougherty is a Public Recreation and Tourism major at UMaine and was a member of the Baxter trails crew summer 2009 (http://www.baxterstateparkauthority.com/jobs/internship_program.html). Creating a new trail, rebuilding a six foot wide 50 foot bridge, and spending the last two weeks working with international students from Germany, Austria, France, and Korea through Volunteers for Peace were all pieces of this worthwhile experience. With only a $200 weekly stipend and room/board covered in Baxter State Park, she appreciated the experience because, “as part of trail crew, although volunteering, you’re still part of a team.”
Another day for Lindsey Dougherty on the Baxter State Park Volunteer Trails Crew
The journey begins (but really just continues)
January 21st, 2010
El "Centro de Acopio" of FONMSOEAM in Tonchique, Ecuador where organic cacao, bought directly from the certified farmers, is processed.
Saludos from Ecuador! The New Year has begun and it’s been an exciting couple of weeks between New Years and Three Kings Day (los Cucuruchos) celebrations. From now onward I will be writing weekly in regards to the work I’m doing with the nonprofit Great Wilderness (http://www.greatwilderness.org/) and the FONMSOEAM organic cacao farmer’s association in the Esmeraldas region of Ecuador. I’m not a fan of travelling, but highly recommend that every person push themselves out of their comfort zone and in the process contribute their talents to other communities in the world. Especially as a student, the resources and opportunities available to intern, volunteer, and study abroad are overwhelming. Take advantage of this time in your life to DO…to give as well as receive, especially where it’s most needed because yes, you do have TIME right now.
Boys and men in the town of Bunche dress up from top to bottom for three nights to celebrate the tradition of the Cucuruchos or Three King's Day on Jan 6, 2010. Traditionally the costumes are of women but I was allowed to participate with a twist.
So, why Ecuador? Ever since returning from volunteering with REACH (UMaine student organization) at the biological reserve in the rural coastal area of northwestern Ecuador last spring break of March 2009, the desire to return to this tropical community remained unexpectedly strong. My parents are from Spain and Puerto Rico, so language-wise I was unimpeded and quickly formed close ties with the locals of the nearby town Bunche where most of the community projects were based. I was not ready to abandon the lifestyle, environment, and rigorous work taking place daily in this area so when it came time to depart and reimbrace the frigid Maine winter, I began the process of hunting down a way to further my work in the campo of Esmeraldas. Fortunately, with a very supportive advisor and motivating professors, I was able to mold an independent 3-credit field experience with the Great Wilderness internship position for the spring 2010. Since last April plans have been underway and I’ve begun working on the basis for two projects: a “citizen’s science-like” phenology and data collection system for farmers’ cacao plants and a volunteer home-stay program in communities from each of the five FONMSOEAM zones. Now here, time is flying and the journey towards sorting out the possibility for a future career in a tropical ecosystem is underway. Bienvenido sea (“welcomed you shall be”) all who work hard, care, and try to make a difference in the world.