Sunday, June 22, 2008

Photos include kinds of tequila at a tequila factory in Arandas. They gave each of us a bottle to take home!! Posing with sculptures near a studio and on the street. Chapoy wearing our NY Yankees gift cap. A Rotary club donating a wheelchair to a drug rehab clinic. And some fun stuff.
Our GSE tour in Mexico ended on May 25th with the four-day District Conference in San Miguel de Allende. We arrived at Bradley via Atlanta in the wee hours of May 26th with all of our luggage and our loved ones waiting to greet us.
During our tour, three of us suffered Montezuma's revenge and my bout decided to take a significant hold on my life upon our return! I'm still undergoing treatment for the e.coli bacterial infection that has wracked my system, but I am on the mend. We were in Mexico during its hottest time of the year, and I also came back dehydrated! So, my advice to anyone traveling to areas where you can't drink the water and it's very hot, take along a prescription of Cipro and a supply of packaged electrolytes that should be taken with bottled water.
Most of us are still overwhelmed and amazed by how much we did in the 5 weeks we were away. It's really unbelievable. And readjusting and getting organized have been difficult. The experience blew us away.
This is my last posting ... the only things we have left is to present some programs for Rotary clubs and others about our GSE adventure and fill out our final paperwork for Rotary International. ...
When we left Tequila Country in Arandas, we headed to Guadalajara for four days where we met the Inbound GSE Chair Jaime Chapoy, one of the most punctual people I've ever met. What a great guy, and his wife was such a dear. He had led a team to Australia a few years back and practiced his English with us. Guadalajara offered us some great opportunities for shopping, visiting the U. of Guadalajara, and seeing some great sculptures. We visited the Rodo Padillo studio and came upon one of our host families from Tepic. What a fun surprise. We toured the Mathias Goertitz museum and a hospital whose services are available to people with no social security, and we slurped down a typical Mexican treat made with shaved ice and flavorings such as coconut or mango. Delish!
Maroli, one of our Rotarian friends from Zapopan, hosts a radio show once a week that sings the praises of Rotary. We five were the guests on the hour-long show. Pretty neat. Maroli also helped me perfect the speech I would be giving at the District Conference -- in Spanish.
We did even more shopping in Tlaquepaque, an arts and crafts city. Great stuff. Good people.
The weight of our big GSE adventure started lifting from our shoulders as we approached the day of our presentation at the District Conference. It has been SO busy for us with vocational visits, cultural visits, planning for conference presentation, continuing our presentations at Rotary Club meetings, and trying to maintain ourselves.
We were offered so many opportunities to consider matching grants with several clubs in District 4150. I'm organizing that information to share with District 7980.
On Wednesday, May 21, we arrived in San Miguel de Allende. Great touristy town. Neat shops.
In addition to the plenary sessions where no awards are givne, there was lots of entertainment. At the formal dinner dance on Friday night, it was all about fiesta and dancing. Daughters of Rotarians were also part of the evening as one of them was chosen "princess" of the event. Interesting. In addition to being energized by the Youth Exchange presentation -- 50 young vibrant people from all over the globe -- we presented our Conference program. The girls did a fantastic job. They rocked to an absolutely full house! A slid show of the sites of Mexico and our time there in addition to the faces of our new friends all put to music prompted hand-clapping and cheers throughout. I am so proud of what our team did!
We headed for the airport early Sunday morning, redistributed our luggage to avoid hefty fees for excess weight, and two of us had to pay a fee for our "lost" visas -- which we didn't know we had to keep. Oh, well. We're back. We survived. In some instances we thrived. And we represented our District well in Mexico while learning so much about our neighbors. I'm proud to have served.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Going, going, still going. ...

We're still the energizer bunnies, but I'm learning to conserve my energy and catch little naps when I can. The girls come alive at night and their giggles and gabfests bring me joy. Here's what's happened lately: May 10-12 Poncitlan; May 12-14 LaBarca; May 14-16 Tepatitlan; May 16-17 Arandas. The stop in Arandas was not on our itinerary, but we're happy it was added. It's tequila country and after a tour of one of the big tequila plants, La Charra, we were each given a bottle of the best of the aged tequilas. These people are way too thoughtful and generous.

While in Poncitlan, one of the highlights was to visit Foco Tonal in Cuitzeo, an energy center where if you stood in a special area, you could hear your echo resound within your body. The Rotarians of Poncitlan are hoping that our district can assist them with a matching grant to use plants to upgrade the cleanliness of the water. They gave me a CD to share with our Rotary clubs, explaining the need in the area. They also said that if we had supplies to deliver, it is safer and more likely to arrive if we send things through the Red Cross ... from our Red Cross to theirs.The photo of Foco Tonal and a couple from our trip to the island that was once a prison are included here.

We traveled to LaBarca where we were met by very energetic and happy-to-see-us Rotarians who brought along a friend to serve as translator. They directed us to a hotel in the downtown area so that we could shop and hang out. Photos of my room and the exterior of the hotel are included here. But one of the rooms had a smelly bathroom. In the end, we asked to be moved to another hotel mainly because the girls said they didn't feel safe there. The Rotarians accommodated our needs and in their serious and generous effort to please us gave us more gifts than we deserved, in my opinion ... from jewelry to cookies to caps and T-shirts. All the Rotarians that we have met are proud of their cities and I believe they have taken really good care of us. They also seem to enjoy our presentations. The effort to get us to vocational sites has been genuine and we've seen clinics for drug rehab, orphanages, places that serve the needs of the disabled and victims of violence, hospitals, museums (photo under a horse sculptor which is supposed to bring luck), lots of churches and many results of matching grants with other Rotary clubs, including vans with lifts (photo), wheelchairs, clean water filters. ...

A Rotarian businessman, Victor, showed us his chicken enterprise. We saw some 30,000 chickens housed 4-6 in a crate eating and pooping and laying one egg a day as they were being prepared for sale. Not a pretty sight, in my opinion.

Chuey and Juan drove us to Tepatitlan; they're really nice guys and I'll miss them. In Tepa, we interacted with PDG Manolo and his wife Susana. Manolo is the organizer for their District Conference. He arranged a meeting with the mayor (photo) and a tour of the city. It's good for me to be involved with him and what he has done. Our itinerary has been sketchy, so Manolo helped put some order to my confusion.

There's an American couple from Ridgecrest, CA, living here that we really like. They've been helpful and went shoe-shopping with the girls as well as give them the heads-up on the area. It's Cultural Week, so of course there are more fiestas, and we watched singers and dancers in the center of town at the Cultural Center (photo).

We washed three loads of clothes and unfortunately, our T-shirts turned a "brighter shade of pale." We've still got a few that are white and with the trip being close to over, we will survive it.

We gave a presentation to a small group at Manolo's ranch (photo) and he in turn showed videos of his daughter's wedding and of tango dancers. The tequila kept flowing. Oh, yes.

We went off our sketchy itinerary to go to Arandas mainly because there's a tequila factory here and Manolo has to get ready for the District Conference. Not a problem! In the late afternoon and evening, Annie, Amy and I sat at the swimming pool club, swam and steamed, sang with the Rotarians, and had a relaxed evening with them. Anna, whose back has been hurting, and Gabriela stayed at the hotel. Today we leave for Guadaljara. Time is starting to fly.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day weekend is REALLY a big deal

Friday, May 9: I've never before celebrated Mother's Day for an entire weekend. What fun. Beautiful flowers, cakes, wishes of "felicitades". ... The area is hopping with families eating at restaurants in celebration of the big day. At Don Comalon in Comala we listened to a maharachi (is that how it's spelled?) band and ate ceviche on tacos, guacamole on tacos, and way more than I can remember. Good fun with Rotarians and their wives. Beto, who works at Project Amigo, made the travel switch with Cocoyo of Pihuamo Rotary after the lunch so that we could go to the state of the art public prep school in Adirondack Mountain-like terrain. and partake of the Pihuamo village Mother's Day celebration. The school, Cobaej, has a great track record and high ranking and was something different to see as far as the education system goes.

The village of Pihuamo hosted the HUGE Mother's Day fiesta in a giant pavilion. There were more than 2,000 women and children sitting at tables listening to a comedian, a singer, a maharachi band and eating snacks. The interaction and entertainment were joyful. The kids were so well behaved. The mothers sat at long tables, talking and laughing. It was really something to see. Before the festivities, I went across the street from the pavilion to the school and Pihuamo Rotarians proudly showed me the water filter obtained with matching grants. Because our return trip to Project Amigo was going to be about 1 1/2 hours and our drivers had to return to Pihuamo, we opted to leave before dinner was served -- at 9:30 p.m. Three Pihuamo Rotary wives really wanted us to eat with them, but we offered our no thanks. They gave us a gift for gracing them with our presence. What very kind people. After Cocoyo and a fellow Rotarian who went along for the ride to keep him company on the round trip dropped us off at Project Amigo, we gave them each NY Yankee caps as thanks and gave some nutmegs (The Nutmeg State symbol) to take to the three wives. These Rotarians and others all along the way have gone above and beyond the call to entertain and engage us. Amazing.

Saturday, May 10: Families stick together for the Mother's Day weekend, yet Beto committed to driving some 5 hours to Poncitlan. His wife joined us and the two were going to return to Cofradia de Suchitlan and Project Amigo in leisurely fashion after visiting friends. We stopped in LaBarca on our way to Poncitlan for a fantastic lunch at Hacienda San Javier, owned by a LaBarca Rotarian. The club president joined us for a fondue-type dish with shrimp, oranges, and beef curved over the side of the stone pot called a molcejete (sp). We're due to stay in LaBarca after Poncitlan as well. When we arrived in Poncitlan, we were greeted by our hosts, who said there were only four members of their club who spoke no English.

After our big day, we headed for a welcome dinner at a pavilion in town. Rotarians, spouses, and the children greeted us. Each member brought a pot-luck dish, the likes of which I have never seen. A woman made fresh gorditas and tacos right there at the pavilion. Very tasty night. The Poncitlan Rotary Club is young and funny. They presented a DVD to us including our photo and in it they told a serious story of need ... for an x-ray machine, water purification ... while joking about everything they were telling us. We made our presentation as well, and did a fine job. It was another late night, and it's taking its toll on my ability to think!

Sunday, May 11: Fortunately, my host family has wireless connection, so I'm able to do some catching up. It's Mother's Day, and we will be entertained once more by our gracious hosts in Poncitlan. We drove out to Mescala and Mexico's largest fresh water lake. It's an area of abject poverty replete with polluted water. The natural beauty of the place contrasted with the poverty made my head and heart ache. We rode boats out to an island in the lake and wandered around it. I needed the long walk and took lots of photos of the ruins on the island. It had been where the insurgents fought off the Spaniards 200 years ago in the fight for independence, and it had also served as a prison.

After the island, we drove to a farm for a picnic with fantastic homemade salsas and foods ... beef, tongue, brains, rice, cilantro, onion, beer, tequila ... a real Mexican picnic. I took 2 naps! And Anna and Gabriela snoozed as well. I think Annie and Amy hung in there all the way. We spent the day into the evening at the farm feeling peaceful, warm, and happy. More later.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A feast for your eyes ...

Add Image

I think I figured out how to get photos from our photo file to the blog. But I can't rotate photos so tilt your head! Enjoy.
The photos, in no particular order and some self-explanatory, include:
DG Patino enjoys the day with us.
Gabriela at the open market with drinks juice. juice.
Rotarians wait for us to arrive for the ceremonial ground breaking of the Paul Harris children's clinic in Culican where women will learn tasks to allow them to work out of their homes and children can play on the courts and playground.
Sculptor Sergio Flores who won a prize for the Mexico Olympics torch sculpture.
Amy with a little friend.
The team at our bon voyage party with District leaders.
Anna plays in the "wind" of a giant fan in the municipal building.
Amy meets some social workers at a hospital.
Annie plays the grand piano at a museum.
One of the many clinics for the disabled.
An English class at a Rotarian's school in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico.

So little time, so much to do

Well, readers, our last entry was on April 30 and today is Friday, May 9. The Mexicans are gearing up for Mother's Day weekend with wishes of "felicitar", candy, and bouquets of calla lillies and other flowers. Their celebrations of Children's Day, Worker's Day, and Mother's Day are done con mucho gusto. Their joy is contagious. Sons and daughters drive hundreds of miles to spend Mother's Day weekend with their moms. It's truly amazing. On Children's Day, games, pinatas, lots of food, and excursions to the parks are the rule of the day. We celebrated Worker's Day weekend in Puerta Vallarta and it was party, party, party. No Rotary meetings and most Rotarians celebrated their labor day with family and friends. Food is the tie that binds!! And boy, are we enjoying the food!

The 4150 District Governor "Patino" spent a day with us on May 4 at a beachfront park (Boca de Tomate) that residents here (and all of us) enjoy. We had a picnic of fresh-from-the-sea fish, guacamole, frijoles, fresh mozzarella-like cheese ... all in the company of the DG, whose day really should have been spent celebrating Worker's Day weekend with his family. Yet, he spent it with us and called it an honor. We gave him a District banner, GSE pin, NY Yankees cap, and other gifts as thanks for his attention.

I can't tell you how special our fellow Rotarians have made us feel. Our presentations are eagerly received; our hosts embrace us in their homes. We are totally immersed. We've also stayed at hotels in two different places, and that worked well for us allowing us to communicate and share our down-time together.

We'll be seeing many of our Rotary friends toward month's end at the District Conference in San Miguel de Allende. The conference is an all-inclusive fiesta. Oh, my! It may be just TOO MUCH fun. One of our Mexican friends has been on a diet, and we told him that we may not recognize him in a few weeks. There's been lots of laughter and sharing of stories.

We get really tired by day's end, but somehow these energetic young women on the team rally for another round each day. It hasn't been easy, to be perfectly honest. But it has been fulfilling. We have our Zen moments (If you feel discouraged, encourage others. ...) and we're doing really well. The 9:30 p.m. Rotary meetings complete with tasty dinners have been a challenge on our digestion and sleep patterns. Despite that, we're the energizer bunnies raring to go. It would be more comforting to have an itinerary each day that we followed religiously, but we are in good hands and we're trying to go with the flow.

Among the things we saw in Mazatlan (a port city and great vacation spot, by the way, with lots of focus on retaining the historical district) were the plans for a state-of-the art boundless playground, which ought to be trademarked because of its ingenuity and input from the community and the people involved with the special needs youth. We visited a HUGE tuna factory called Pinsa, the largest in Mexico, and had to remove all jewelry, wear caps and closed-toed shoes to guarantee no contamination of the product. And later, at the aquarium, Anna and Gabriela were kissed by a seal! At the Marino coffee factory, another hermetically sealed environment, we saw coffee that is exported to the US ... they've just negotiated a deal to market Kirkland Signature Coffee, and they produce Hills Bros. and Haneford among others.

Our bus trip to Tepic was uneventful. Each time, I've asked that the receiving club primary host and telephone number be given us in case of emergency, and that has worked out very well. The hosts in Tepic were unaware that Bill O'Shaughnessy was an alternate team leader, and so they had a present for him as well as us. I've packed it in my suitcase and will deliver the gift upon our return. Victor was one of the drivers and a Rotarian is a PDG who had studied for a couple of months at Yale. We were whisked from the bus station directly to a Rotary meeting at 9:30 at night. HOLY MOLEY. But we interacted, made our presentation, gave out pins and banners, and represented 7980 with high honors, in my opinion. We received LOTS of gifts from the clubs in Tepic. We have really enjoyed the generosity of all the Rotarians, but the Tepic group went above and beyond the call.

The vocational exchanges have been worthwhile. But because HIV/AIDS is either not recognized or treated very privately, Annie has had just one encounter with a man who serves that population, but hospital visits have been eye-opening, and facilities for the disabled have been abundant. For sure, Anna has gotten some outstanding photos at those facilities. Also, museums, art shows, and a photography show have been among the highlights for all of us and especially Gabriela. We've met with social workers, but today, Amy and the team meet with a representative of the judicial system, which should be very informative.

There are some men/women clubs in this area, and many men only/women only clubs. Interesting. I reserve comment!

We've shopped at open-air markets along the way ... one had all kinds of fruits, vegetables, meat, and nuts. The pig heads intrigued me. Native-made jewelry and clothing have intrigued all of us and it's likely our suitcases will be as jam packed on our return as they were on our arrival. We've given out Pez to an orphanage at at Project Amigo in Colima, and our beanie babies have been given to families with small children. All of it seems to be appreciated.

The gifts that we have brought include "Only in Milford" donated by Frosty Smith, prints from Essex and New London, copies of original art, photographs, and the Kennedy Center calendar, among other things. ... A nice representation of our District.

At Puerto Vallarta we saw the world-renowned Los Voladores de Papantla swinging around the 100-foot pole and celebrating the circle of life. Awesome. We spent the day on the beach at the site of an exclusive hotel and were comped services. Excuse me. It doesn't get any better than that. Dinner at a restaurant called No Name was fantastic. Walking along the boardwalk with all the sculptures enhanced our time in Puerto Vallarta. We had no internet service at the hotel, but we found internet cafes and also a Starbucks.

I'm so thankful that we had requested contacted information for the next city because when Pompayeo was called to say we were arriving, he said in Spanish "huh?" They had no idea that we were arriving. So, Steve Stout, a native of Iowa, and Pompayeo "tap danced" and made a great welcome for us, putting us up in their homes. Despite their lack of information, they did an excellent job sharing their day and providing us with good stuff to see. Steve runs an orphanage called Casa Hogar of the Angels with 50 disposed-of kids. It's such a great place for them. One of the most dynamic visits was to a very poor school where the principal and teacher of the entire student body -- 11 kids -- showed the garden they have planted to help the residents and students sustain themselves and the trees they have planted in the neighborhood. He was such a sweet and attentive man that we know his students are receiving the best from the best.

On Wednesday, May 7, we visited the Helen Keller School, which attends to the needs of the disabled ... including legally blind, one blind and one deaf student. Annie discovered that except for a few signs, the alphabet is similar. Anna explained services offered to our special needs people once they graduate from school, including the concept of group homes. They're intrigued, and who knows but maybe one of them may come to Connecticut for a vocational exchange!

We've got so many ideas for matching grants, our heads are brimming with suggestions.

Steve drove us to Cofradia de Suchitlan and Project Amigo. It's great to see Ted Rose and Susan Hill again. They're getting ready for the drive to Connecticut, visits to our clubs, West Point District Conference, and visits to other spots across our nation in an attempt to generate interest in volunteers for Project Amigo work weeks and donations. Our visit around town to see devastation from the earthquake in 2003 to the teen center (which would put Connecticut -- especially Milford -- to shame) history museum, Queseria camp and school, sugar cane fields, coffee factory, and the Magic Zone where a car in neutral moves uphill!!, have been enriching.

I am so proud of our 7980 team. And I am not capable of recounting everything we have done, but I hope this rambling compilation gives you a hint of the richness of our journey. I'll try to get the photos onto a page so that you can enjoy a sampling of our time spent in Mexico with our warm, generous, hospitable, and accommodating friends in the United States of Mexico.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

We're here!

It's Wednesday, April 30, and it's the first chance I've had to sit down and write about our adventure.

We arrived to a banner waving gang of Rotarians in Culican on April 24 and headed for our hosts' homes. The flights were uneventful except for trying to find the tiny turtle that had fled its little owner's hands on the flight from Mexico City to Culiacan. Fortunately, Annie found the thing under her purse. So, anyway, we're here and each day has been filled almost beyond capacity.

We made our first PowerPoint presentation with Amy at the helm the evening we arrived. The Rotary Club of Culican Oriente Adalberto Espinoza and his fellow (literally fellow) Rotarians introduced themselves to us. Their pledge of allegiance is quite impressive, ending with a resounding Viva Mexico. The girls did a nice job telling about themselves and our efforts seemed to be greatly appreciated.

The next morning we met for breakfast at El Gallitto ... coffee made with sugar, cinnamon, a sugar beet juice was a real treat for me ... and we were off ... and we haven't stopped.

A van of us observed vocational day as a unit. Our first stop led us to a multi-sponsored facility that rehabilitates disabled children. The mother of a teen son who has muscular dystrophy gave me a folder of information to take back to the U.S. so that I can help her contact a facility in NJ that is supposed to be the state of the art. She has tried to reach them, but they will not return her calls. The director is interested in a multi-Rotary grant for a van for their clients. The Rotary Club of Culican Tres Rios is very involved in helping this facility.

After a chat-up with the mayor's wife, who heads a non-profit program for the disabled, we visited a state/regional special ed rehab center. Lines of people needing help, from babies to the aged, were waiting for a turn for service.

One of the 3 Rivers Rotarians, Maria del Rosario Gonzales Perez is the prinicpal of an award-winning high school, and she allowed us to meet with an English class. We introduced ourselves, took a photo and gave them Pez as a thank you. One of the murals at the school says "many hands build the future" and the leaves on the trees are handprints.

Then on to the local TV station located at the highest point of Culican. The principal, Israel, and Tono and his wife have spent all or most of the day with us. We signed off on TV with the sportscasters, talked with the producer, and made contact with Jose Chepe Zazveta who is interested in being a GSE team member.

Lunch at a jam-packed Chinese restaurant, Tai Pak, and then a stroll through City Hall where murals depicting Culican history engaged us. There's a big league baseball player from Culican and his image is part of the photo history. We toured an antique building that is now a museum, ate gelato (plum, coconut ... yum) and we're taking the long way back over the black bridge that is symbolic of Culican.

For dinner we met with all the three clubs of Culican. They were proud to show us the centennial projects of Rotary and the dedication to RI's first Mexican President Conseco.

April 26: Street artists and then a hospital where a Rotarian who is a pediatric cardiologist took us on tour to see the preemie babies, heart patients and traumatic injured patients. We talked about a matching grant and accepting outdated medical equipment. Then off to a pediatric hospital of Sinaloa. More later.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

District Welcomes & Bids Bon Voyage to GSE Teams

On Sunday, April 20th, Rotarians from around District 7980 gathered at Racebrook CC to welcome the Group Study Exchange teams from Mexico and the Philippines. Meeting the Mexican team (bottom), headed by Jorge Aguilar Pimentel, a dentist who is in the Rotary Club of Colima, was a big hit for the District 7980 team headed to Mexico District 4150 (which includes Colima). The team members chatted about the weather, the District Conference, and the sites they'd be seeing. The Philippines team (top), headed by Lina Hilario of the Paranaque Metro Rotary Club, was tired after the recent 26-hour flight but managed to be a lively group. Both teams are shown here with DG Ernie Luise, and District GSE leaders Bob Runde and Alan Hurst.

Host families and friends and relatives of the 7980 team enjoyed the lunch and seeing all of the teams receive pins and exchange District Governor gifts. It was fun meeting our team's loved ones. It's great having their support.

Our team is leaving on Thursday and each of us really appreciates the good wishes and fellowship shared at the bon voyage lunch. We'll try to keep this blog updated and share our trip with you. Hasta luego.