Thursday, January 15, 2009

Home in Atlanga

Over three months have passed since we left Corvallis. In many ways it seems like yesterday, and in other ways it seems like it was ages ago. But no matter which way we look at it, it is "sin duda" time for our first blog entry.

There seems to be no end to the adjustments we need to make living here. As can be expected, there are "ups" and "downs" as the days pass by, but overall we are happy and realize how fortunate we are to be able to be here, following our dream.

We arrived in Atlangatepec (more affectionately known as Atlanga to the locals) on October 1st, loaded with our personal belongings and two heavy boxes full of sketchbooks and art supplies.
Our house is simple but very wisely designed, with a solar hot water heater, dry composting toilet, and a hay bale and cob bedroom located in back of the house. The surrounding countryside offers magnificent views of intense cloudscapes and smoking volcanoes. The sounds of burros braying and roosters crowing mingle with the clatter of buses bouncing along the rocky, dirt roads. Our adventure has started and we find ourselves in a very new reality. Life is good.

After getting ourselves somewhat set up, we went to visit the "escuelita" in Tlaxco where we are volunteering. As should be expected, there were some kinks to work out, we needed to get a better idea of how the school was organized and where we best fit in. We met with Lula, the director of the school, and after a tour of the school grounds, decided it would be best to start our project with the kids after Marie’s workshop in Michoacan in mid November. Lula felt it would best suit their schedule if I started first with some literacy projects centered upon the environment, and Marie would join in with the sketching workshop after Christmas vacation. Voila, a plan was in place.

The "escuelita" has a total of about sixty elementary age students, all from the pueblo of Tlaxco. The school was founded over forty years ago by our friend Alejandra’s mother, and has a strong environmental focus. It has its own recycle area, vegetable and flower garden, and dry, composting toilets. It is located on the upper limits of the pueblo in a high desert setting, very close to a river, a favorite destination of the kids. Alexandra’s father, Don Carlos Caballero, reforested the surrounding hillsides over forty years ago. The kids spend much time there exploring and enjoying nature. It is an ideal spot to slow down, observe, and sketch.

There is a plaque located in the schoolyard that tells much about the school’s philosophy. It reads:

The problem of the future of our forests is the problem of the generations that will follow us. The kids who attend this school are well in tune with their environment and are being prepared for that challenge.

Our plan is to use the theme of "Our Pueblo, Our Lives" to get the kids and parents to tell the story of their family, school, and community. We will also use children’s literature to serve as a springboard into the process. Below is an example of an activity based on a children’s book entitled " El coyotito y la viejita", which dealt with preserving the environment.

The acrostic poem vertically spells the phrase MOTHER EARTH. Here is the translation of eleven-year-old Adrian’s poem:

M Mother so beautiful and
A loved, you who are so good
D give us something that
R turns the countryside green again and that
E stays green forever
T There will be so many animals
I Iguanas, all kinds of birds
E Beetles off all types
R frogs and toads and fish
R rocks, small and large
A Enormous Trees Adrian H. R.

As we move forward with our project, we realize that we will have sketchbooks and supplies left over, as we will be working only with the older children at the school. As we make friends in the pueblo and become more established, we realize that there is "no place like home". This is where most of our time is spent and where we start to feel a sense of community. So, we have made an appointment to meet with the president of the town council to propose a workshop here in Atlanga at the local community center. In the meantime, it is off to the escuelita tomorrow to fully launch our project. We will keep you informed. Once we get this first blog posted, it will be much less of a technical challenge for us to do a second one. This first blog is proof that you can teach old dogs new tricks! Gracias Paula!
Hasta pronto, Mari & "Deek"

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