Monday, May 31, 2010

back in the USA!

Hello family and friends!

I have been back in Texas now for a little over a week! And a few days after my arrival, I jumped right into another volunteering situation: the Kerrville Folk Festival, which is a 3 week event. Fabulous and fun!

Just wanted to let you all know that while I haven't had time to write a new blog entry yet, finishing my stories from Mexico, I have added some pictures to old posts. So, please look back through the old posts, as the pictures help tell the story of my adventures in Mexico. There are still more pictures to add, and more to tell. Till then...may your days be rich and bright, may your hearts be warm and open, and may your minds know peace and clarity.

love to you all!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Close Encounters With Scorpians, and Other Stories From Tashirat

This is likely my last posting while still in Mexico. It is full of random stories, and more details of my day to day life here. There is so much more to tell, though, that you will surely get more postings (with pictures added to all my Mexico postings!) about Mexico and Tashirat upon my return to the states. Enjoy, and once again, thank you all for reading! I will be phone accessible by next weekend!

Many of you may know that in the past year and a half I have had the knack of getting more than one dog, by teething babies, by a 5 year old child, by a swarm of bees. When I learned that the area of Mexico I am staying in is known for it´s black-widow spiders, scorpians, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, and copperheads, I was slightly nervous that my tendency to be bitten would naturally draw these creatures to me. But, when I started to actually see scorpians frequently, as well as other poisonous bugs, I became a little freaked out. I have been at Tshirat for nearly 5 weeks, and still I shake out every article of clothing before I put it on, in case a scorpian or big spider is inside. And still, when I put my clothes on, I hold my breath in case one of these bugs remains lurking in a sleeve or pantleg. Luckily, the species of scorpian in this area are not deadly, their stings are just super painful, like a large wasp´s. And luckily, a few days away from leaving Mexico, I have not yet been stung (knock on wood, knock on wood!)

But, I have seen numerous scorpians! There is one that lives in the shower. There was one on a wheelbarrow I used. There was one on the outside of my mosquito netting just above my pillow. There were a few in the bags of clothing donations I was sorting through with a friend. Luckily, the one I came the closest to was dead.

And then the other day I saw one of the staff members, obviously used to seeing scorpians after living here for 10 years, pick one up by it´s tail and let it cling to his finger! Apparently, holding a scorpian by it´s tail (which is where it´s stinger is) immobilizes it enough so that it will not sting. But still, I was so freaked out, I had to leave the building. Passing through the door, I came within inches of another poisonous insect, apparently deadly. It looks similar to a grasshopper, but has a thick razor sharp pointy stinger on it´s back. Phew!

There are soooo many huge crazy looking bugs here! So many bugs in general. I am learning to make peace with the mosquitos that have been decorating my ankles and legs at night with their bites, with the ants that swarm the floor of my bungalow, with the flies and biting ants that challenge my relaxation and focus in Sivasana during outdoor yoga, and the large spiders lurking everywhere in my bungalow. There are huge grasshoppers that fly into and get stuck in my hair, flailing around.

The largest bug I came into the closest contact with though, apparently crawled up my pantleg one night while I was sitting outside. I discovered it by placing my hand on it instead of on my was a huge 2 inch long beetle that quickly got flung several yards away. And the most beautiful bugs I have seen are these stink bugs, who sprayed me in the face when I took this picture:

And then there are the cicadas. The cicadas here are piercingly loud with their song, but I love their sound. It is a comfort to me, as it brings me back to the feeling of home in Central Pennsylvania at the peak of the hot humid summer. The drone of the cicada I also find helpful in maintaining focus during meditation. And the plentiful amounts of brightly colored large butterflies are so delightful! Lizards are everywhere:

There are donkies who eat from the compost bucket in the volunteer complex and from the greenhouse:

And there is a bull often found grazing in our fields:

And these are the conejos I search for with the children:

But enough about Mexican creatures. It is my last Sunday in Mexico. On Thursday I will be flying back to the States, with mixed emotions about leaving this place. I will miss so many things, one being my weekly bus rides into town on Sundays! The first busride I took to town by myself was actually on the day that I arrived at Tashirat. I hadn´t brought any food with me, as I thought there was a store here with food for sale. There is a store, but it only sells a few random dried goods, and no produce. So I had to go back into town before the market closed and before nightfall.

It is quite an stand by the side of the road waiting for the elusive bus to pass by Tashirat, not an official bus stop. I flag down the bus, pay my 6 pesos, and find a seat among the Mexican country folk who stare at the only gringo on board. The bus driver is blaring upbeat Mexican music full of accordian, the bus bumps over the cobblestones and weaves quickly around pedestrians, wild horses and cattle that stroll through the roads, and the fringe around the catholic altar on the ceiling sways gently with all the rythems of the busride. I look out the window at the rocky beautiful mountains, the flowering trees, the street vendors, the rock walls, the remains of colorful fiestas decorating the streets. And I send huge smiles to the little Mexican children who stare at me curiously. Ah, I love the feeling of being a foreigner in a foreign land. On the way home, I have to get up and walk to the front of the bus to tell the bus driver, "Aqui, para mi, por favor." Apparently, this way of saying that you would like to get off the bus here is a dead give-away that you aren´t from these parts. But I can never remember the more traditional way to say it!

One day, the bus was so packed full of people with their baskets of produce and tortillas returning from the market that I decided to not get off the bus at Tashirat (which would have required a lot of "Con permiso"s and manuvering), but to ride the bus up to the next town, Ocotitlan, and get off at Tashirat on the bus´ way back down the hill towards Tepoztlan. The bus took us way up into the gorgeous mountains, past several country homesteads, and into a dusty town. Apparently, Ocotitlan is beautiful and fun to visit, but I believe the bus stop must have been at the edge of town, for it didn´t seem like I saw the town center. The beautiful ride was worth it though. When everyone got off the bus but me, I had to explain to the bus driver in my broken Spanish why I was still aboard. I didn´t know enough Spanish to tell him the whole truth, all I could manage was, "Necesito ir a Tashirat, por favor." He had me sit up front so he could show me where to get off, since he must have thought I had no idea where I was!

This reminds me of a funny miscommunication I had with a woman that works at Tashirat. When one who doesn´t speak much Spanish tries to communicate with one who speaks absolutely no English, funny things can happen. So, there are two big kitchens at Tashirat, the Community Kitchen which cooks for the orphans, and the Ixaya kitchen which cooks for the school children. One day I was given the task of making 5 kilos of granola for the orphans, but the community kitchen was out of oats. I went to the Ixaya kitchen to ask the head cook there, Luis, for some oats. He wasn´t in the kitchen, but I spoke to Rosa, the woman who comes in with the sole task of making fresh corn tortillas (and they sure are delicious!). So, I asked her, "Tiene aveno (this is where I messed up, avena with an A is oats in Spanish) por la otra cocina, por favor?" I thought that when she responded she was wondering if I needed the bathroom, el baño. I said no, aveno. She pointed to the other room where I knew the bathrooms were, and babbled some fast Spanish to me, so I thought maybe there was a storage room in there where she was directing me to find the oats. I walked into the other room to find that the bathroom door was wide open and Luis was inside using it! Luckily, he had his back to me, and didn´t hear me as I snuck outside. Then it dawned on me that Rosa must have been telling me the whole time that Luis was in el baño in the other room, and to wait for him! Ah well, I eventually got the avena and made the hugest batch of granola ever.

When I was looking for somewhere to volunteer in Mexico, I specifically was looking for an orphanage. In my search, I decided to look on the website to see if I could find a volunteer opportunity that linked cultivation with children. That is where I ran across Tashirat, and not only does it have both cultivation and children, it also is an ashram, providing volunteers with free yoga and meditation instruction. I was sold! I knew before coming here that the greenhouse and gardens weren´t fully functioning, but I was actually quite disappointed to discover upon arrival that they were not functioning at all! Sure there were a few plants in the greenhouse that had self-seeded, and miraculously grown without being watered in months. Nasturtium (which have all since been eaten by those invading donkies and rabbits), tomatos, amaranth, lettuce, epazote, berries, asparagus.

There had been several volunteers here in the couple months before I arrived who had also come here to do cultivation work through and who were equally disappointed to not be doing such work here. They had been told that Tashirat was waiting for really good compost and worm castings and a permaculture expert to arrive who would help them get the gardens up and running in a more sustainable way. I didn´t have hopes for being able to be a part of this. But, luckily the compost and the worm castings came, and lots more volunteers excited about gardening. Aron, the staff member in charge of the gardens, started to consult with someone somewhere outside of Tashirat about the gardens in lieu of the expert´s arrival, and thus we are starting to get this huge empty greenhouse kickin!

One of the volunteers, Shiloh, got a greywater system hooked up from the kitchens to use to water the greenhouse. I now have started 400 starts each of pepinos, lechuga, y jitomates.

We have done lots of weeding, mixed the compost, worm castings, and phosphorous into the beds, nurtured existing plants, critter proofed the edges of the greenhouse, and are now just waiting for my baby starts to be ready for planting! It looks like that won´t be happening before I leave Tashirat, but I am promised pictures of the beds full of my starts. It has been sooooo nice to have my hands in the earth, and to be a part of making this a functioning greenhouse that will feed the children and staff of Tashirat.

Unfortunately, organic produce is almost impossible to aquire in this part of Mexico! It is ironic, that much of the organic produce sold in large groceries in the states is grown in Mexico, yet when in Mexico, it is so incredibly difficult to find. It must be that the companies that do grow organic here are large companies owned by the US (so they can have the cheap Mexican labor) and then shipped back to the states (so they can have the extreme profit of selling to the US peoples). It is sad to see the lack of access to organic produce here, and honestly not eating organic has been one of the most difficult things for me during my time in Mexico (thank goodness it was this and not something more serious!) Even though I am otherwise eating super healthy, I feel like I will need to do a cleanse when I go back to the states! Get these chemmies out of my system! Did you know that many of the agricultural chemicals (often derived from war chemicals) that have been banned for use in the US are still made in the US and then sold to Mexico for ag use? These chemicals are not only horrible for the environment, but the farmers who use them often develop cancer, disease, infertility, birth defects etc. Then this produce is sold back to the US!! And the people of Tashirat, who are sooooo into good nutrition and healthy food, aren´t eating organic, because of this lack of access. It makes me so sad! But, now it feels good to be a part of filling up their greenhouses again with some organic produce that will feed them for months to come! YAY!

My diet has changed quite a bit since being here, actually. I have been thinking of my time here as a time to do a cleanse. As soon as I got here, I stopped eating meat, sugar, eggs, caffiene, and chocolate. (Though on Sundays I get this amazing homemade bread from a lady at the is whole grain vegan bread with lots of nuts and seeds and fruit such as piña and coco and platano, and probably a little bit of sugar...). A week and a half into my time here, I stopped eating dairy products. I have been sprouting my lentils and beans, soaking my nuts and seeds overnight, making fermented veggies (YUM!) and some dehydrated morsels, making and drinking daily 1 liter of jugo verde(pepinos, zanahoria, apio, limon, y delicious and jam packed with minerals and vitamins, so much so that I have found I don´t crave meat like I normally would, even around my menstrual time!). I am eating mostly veggies and fruit, a little rice, and lately light protien. I feel really healthy, and feel like I would like to continue eating vegetarian when I return to the states, especially if I am juicing. I don´t think I can be vegan for much longer, though!

My "cleanse" was taken to the next level during the past few days. I actually got a little stomach bug! I have been pretty careful with the water here, only drinking bottled water, taking probiotics for the first half of my trip and GSE every day, etc. and usually I have a really strong stomach. But a few days ago, I started gettin lots of stomach and intestinal cramping and bloating and finally after more than a day of that, I got sick. At first, I thought it must have been from my first successful attempt at siphoning water (from a large holding tank into a bucket to water some garden plants, and I definitly got more than a mouthful!), but since I got sick, several other volunteers have gotten sick too, and some of them way way worse than I. I wonder if the bacterial content of the tap water that we rinse our produce and wash our dishes with goes through concentration fluctuations? I had to take 2 days (2 of my last days at Tashirat!) off of work to rest and stay close to the bathroom. And all I have eaten in the past couple of days is rice, bananas, tahini, nuts and seeds, water, and guava leaf/ginger tea. Guava leaf tea is the local remedy, and it sure seems to have helped me and the others out quite a bit! And thinking of this as a cleanse is helpful too...eating super simple and flushing out my system!

And I figure that now I have had the full Mexican experience, with being sick like this. I have been told about the legend behind Montezuma´s Revenge...Montezuma was the last Aztec leader, and was conquered and killed by the invading Spaniards. As his revenge, as legend tells us, Montezuma cursed all foreigners with intestinal difficulties so strong that they would want to go home. (James Taylor´s song Mexico is acutally about this whole subject.) And so it seems that Montezuma was nice to me during my first 6 weeks in Mexico, but that now he is telling me that it is time to go home. I will listen to him, and board that flight out of here on the 20th. But, rest assured, I will be back. And the next time with enough pro-biotics to last my whole trip.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Tashirat, a 10 minute drive from Tepoztlan, is a non-profit organization that was first started 10-12 years ago. It began as a yoga ashram that did outreach service work in schools in the community. The original members were saddened to see that the work they did was not as effective as it could be, as many of the children they worked with went home at the end of the day to alcoholism and abuse. So, they decided to optimize their efforts, and created an orphanage. On their 40 acre property, a large dorm was built to house the children. Quickly it became apparent that this living situation was not in line with the values of the staff.

As it is set up now and has been for several years, Tashirat officially adopts the children that live here and do not adopt them out. These children are found from and adopted through a state run agency. These children are ones who have either been in the system for a long time and haven´t been otherwise adopted, or are children new to the system who have special needs. They live in small groups with staff in family houses. Right now there are 8 or 9 staff members, 5 of which have children. There are 32 children, providing each family with 6 or 7 kids. This is part of what makes this orphanage unique compared to others. The children are given family, given love from parents, given siblings, given a home that is safe and nurturing and stable.

These children come from horrific backgrounds. Here there are children who have been severely physically abused, children who have been severely sexually abused, children who have been abandoned by their parents and have thus lived on the streets, children who have been sold to be sex slaves, children with physical and mental handicaps, children who have been left at home alone for days at a time by prostitute mothers, children who have obvious stunted growth from serious malnutrition at early ages, and children who have been on anti-seizure medication for seizures triggered by intense abuse. These children, adopted by Tashirat, are now thriving, healthy, vibrant, and wonderful children. They have been transformed by this place, by the love they receive here, the healthy food, the simple environment, the structure, the consistency, the family.

The children are educated by the staff as well, from 8-3 Monday through Saturday. Most of the staff, many younger than myself, have lived here for 8-10 years. There are a few who are older and newer to the project. They have all sacrificed so much to give so much to these children. It is their spiritual practice to give to those in need. And in so giving, they feel they receive an incredible amount of fulfillment and growth in return.

It brings me to tears nearly every day to know the histories of these children, to see the dedication of the staff to nurture and heal these children. Here, it is quite obvious that healing is one of the powers of love. LOVE HEALS. It is beautiful and moving to see it in action, to see people giving like this. It is remarkable to not see the horrible pasts in the present behavior of the children, but to see them loving their life and this place. They are happy, laughing, playing, treating each other as siblings, looking out for one another. Even the teenagers love it here. A couple of children who have come of age and left this place, have returned because they believe in it and want to be a part of it.

Also on Tashirat grounds is a community school, educating 60 students from the nearby outside community. A handfull of the Tashirat children are in this school, which goes from 1st-9th grades, but others are not focused enough for that traditional style of education or are needing more individual tutoring than the school can provide. So they are taught, as I said, by the Tashirat staff. Tashirat is greatly respected in the larger community for the service it provides to the children living in the community, and the children who live at Tashirat.

Tashirat is an amazing place, different from other orphanages. Other volunteers here who have been to other orphanages around the world describe places where 60-80 kids live in dorm style buildings and very few staff. The staff are not interactive with the children, and so the children are left to mostly fend for themselves and each other. When I envisioned working in an orphanage, I pictured myself going with the purpose of giving love and nurturing to children who are desparately hungry for it. I was so surprised and happy to discover that these children don´t need me like that. They receive what they need from the staff. Instead, I come to them to play, make art, go on walks, laugh, and learn. Yes, and I still give them as much love as I can, because I need to.

My experience has been amazing here. Yes, finally I am feeling clarity and inspiration and fulfillment growing in me. I love living in community like this, helping in whatever ways I can to support the ever-working staff, serving the children. I know that I have to make service an integral part of my life. There is so much need in the world, so many people and environments that are suffering and need healing. I know many of my family and friends already do service work, which I love, and I want to encourage those of you who don´t to give it a try. You can start by donating money to Tashirat at (unfortunately, they have very little money right now. And being a non-profit, they are completely dependent on donations and those who sponsor the children. I believe in this place so much, and would not otherwise ask you for your support.) or you can find somewhere in your local community to donate your time and talents...with people, animals, the earth...there is so much healing needed in this world and it is up to us!

My daily life here is quite simple...I awake early with the sun. Usually, I am awake by 6:30, and out of bed by 7:30. 8a.m. is when yoga begins, outside and in Spanish, Monday through Friday. On weekends, I still get up and start my own solo yoga practice by 8. After breakfast, I have a variety of work that I do. Every day seems different, as there are so many things that are needed to be done, and not enough people to do them. I make fresh juice for the staff (my way of supporting them as they work hard all day), help out in the community kitchen that prepares food for the children, hang out with the children of one particular family,

water the tropical fruit orchards, work in the greenhouse (yesterday I started 200 starts each of tomatos, cucumbers, and lettuce),

organize the clothing donations, help watch the kids during mealtimes, and facilitate a card making project from the children to their sponsors. I work 6 hours a day, Monday through Saturday. Evenings are spent in the Casa de Voluntarios, where volunteers from all over the world cook together, laugh together, reflect on our days, and learn from each other´s life experiences.

I read and write and meditate before bed, and turn the lights out usually between 10 and 11.

My private bungalow is mostly made of windows, with a rock wall base. My bed is surrounded on 3 sides by windows, and hung with a mosquito net to attempt to keep out the many bugs.

From my bed I can see the beautiful mountains in the distance, the amazing sunrises, and the moon as it makes its travel across the sky during the night.

We use a composting toilet, and the sink I brush my teeth in sends it´s greywater to a nearby papaya tree. We just harvested a papaya this week that we had been watching ripen since I arrived. I have never liked papaya, but always try it when someone is eating one, just to make sure. For the first time in my life, I have loved a papaya! It was mild compared to others, but soooo delicious, fresh from the tree.

Our kitchen is outside. Our shower is cold, and I love it.
Pathways crisscross the hilly 40 acres, connecting all of the houses, school buildings, kitchens, gardens, and others areas. I spend most of my time outside, and feel so close to nature. I love the feeling of not having electronics in my daily life. No computer, no radio, no telephone, no news of the outside world, no cars. Not having a computer and car especially help me to see how much of my time I waste during my normal day. Here at Tashirat, I do not feel that one minute of my day is wasted. And I am only mildly busy. I feel that every minute is lived, rich, and alive.

Sundays, I hop on the local little bus and head to Tepoztlan, full of stimulation with the market and the vendors and the people. I spend a few hours on the computer to connect with the world, and then head back to the home in the forest.

My time here is halfway through, it is speeding by at an incredible rate. In 2.5 weeks I will return to the states. It will be hard to leave, and already I want to return.

Next week I will try to tell you more about individual people, and specific moments. There is so much to tell....the cob oven I helped to put the finishing touches on,

the other volunteers I have met, the children I spend time with, the sustainable developments happening at Tashirat right now, the things I have been thinking about, the Mexican cook Luis who finds it hilarious to call me "Beautiful Pepsi" or "Sweet Taxi" (the Mexicans pronounce my name Bepsi, for some reason they have a hard time with the TS sound.....) For right now, I have a market to go to for produce and a bus to catch back to Tashirat.

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to share this link with others you think would be interested. Spread your heals!