So about six weeks ago, we went to visit our future sites. Peace Corps calls this a Future Site Visit (FSV). My future site is now my current site, but I think I’ve got some fun insight in here anyway. Who knows, I wrote it six weeks ago.
I’m back from site! I’m back, and I’m back on the same old patio, typing on the same old machine, and I’m happy as can be. Except for Maggie. She lives around here, and I don’t want you to get the wrong idea—Maggie’s a great chick, but she stinks. I mean, she’s rank. So, Margarita, if you’re reading this, there was a reason I was ignoring you. It’s because you smell like butts, man.
I was going to try to be clandestine about my site, because the Peace Corps recommends it, in case of any very specific-minded rape-murderers, but if I’m going to say anything about the place, any really determined murderaper from the region would know right away what I’m talking about, so I’m going to go ahead full steam. I’m living in Jalpan, a little town of 8-10,000 souls nestled up in the Sierra Gorda de Queretaro, and I’m frigging excited.
We drove up, myself and two other volunteers, with our shared counterpart, who works for the National Commission for Natural Protected Areas, the equivalent to the National Parks Service at home. His name is Chava, short for Salvador. It’s a four hour drive if you’re booking it, and believe me, we were, taking hairpins with thousand-foot drops at a healthy and consistent 60mph. I’m not going to say that I was nervous, but I will admit that I was occasionally scared shitless. Chava, in what I would learn was his typically cavalier way, kept telling us to “count the curves!”
Chava is a man on a mission. He worked with a nonprofit in the Sierra for ten years, starting Ecoclubs of kids from first to twelfth grade, teaching them about the environment, taking them camping, all that jazz. But a couple of years ago, the relationship between the Reserve and the nonprofit broke down, and Chava was left clubless. He doesn’t begrudge them to his former colleagues, but they’re falling into disrepair and he’s got bigger ideas.
Those ideas are Ecochavos, some mix of ecoclubs, the Boy Scouts, and a kind of political (ecological) youth movement. He wants uniformed chavos patrolling the Sierra teaching the people, singing environmental anthems, painting murals, cleaning the hills, united by his radio program in Piedras Anchas and setting the stage for a national blossoming of Ecochavos that will bring on a new environmentally conscious dawn in Mexico. Chava thinks big, and he’s got me convinced. I’m an Eagle Scout, so keep that in mind when I say: What if, imagine if, the Boy Scouts didn’t suck? And instead of the legitimately pretty lame projects they tend to take on in the US, they were a motivated little army of Eco-reformers, educators, and crusaders? I’m sold.
And Chava’s clear, with me and with the teachers, community leaders, and municipal politicos that we’ve been talking to, that the Chavos aren’t just going to be picking up trash by the roadside or working themselves to tears over global warming. They’re going to be learning and planning and teaching, planting the seeds of a national youth ecomovement. My role in all this is to start and lead to groups of Ecochavos in Jalpan—as yet there are none, and since Jalpan’s the biggest city in the Sierra, Chava wants them to be flagships—and to manage and improve the technology side of things. That means working with him to improve the radio show, make it interactive and cooperative with the kids. They’re living in communities hours away by car and thousands of feet above Jalpan, with populations hovering in the low hundreds and often with as many horses as cars. Chava and I want to record them and put them on the radio, to link up their cells with an Ecochavo Twitter; I want to plug these kids in. Every little community we walk into, half the kids and more than a few of the younger adults take time to fist bump the profe.
And now let’s talk about the digs. I’m living on this street:
in a rented room to a very nice woman who feeds me way too much, with nine daughters and more than a few sons. I work in an office that used to be a ‘party salon.’ I can well believe. There’s about nine regular employees in the office, along with myself and two other (natural resources management) volunteers. It’s a pretty relaxed place, but all the same, everybody seems to love the Reserve, and they work longer hours than in any office I’ve ever been in before. CONANP is not a well funded agency, and we at the park seem pretty well free to pursue whatever work we want as long as we can secure our own funding. Chava’s whole scheme, for example, was born from the fact that he’s in charge of environmental education in all the communities of the Reserve (600 or so). So he thought, he tells me, I’ll create an army of teachers—hence the Ecochavos—and I’m along for the ride.