Thank You, Little Library!

Thank you for giving me a volunteer project to occupy my 2 years on the Galapagos Islands. I needed it. We went from this:

to this:

to this:

In less than 2 years, we built an open air library at the Tomas de Berlanga school and increased the collection from 400 semi-acceptable books to over 3,600 books specific to the needs of the school. The books all came via donations.We created a Bring a Book program with the Lindblad National Geographic ships. This program provided over 1,300 books to the school! We raised almost $2,000 in donations, which allowed the library to be self sustaining. We purchased a dedicated library computer and supplies and mailed books collected in the US. We held a book sale, a Dr. Seuss contest and instilled a love of reading in at least some of the students. We began an expansion, financed in part from the library fund, but unfortunately only the the concrete got poured before I left.

Thank you for facilitating my interaction with great, fun kids. I’ll miss these readers!

Thank you for introducing me to some great people who have become fantastic friends.

Thank you for the reminder that sometimes you just have to do things and not overthink them. Personal reinvention is the norm in a place like the Galapagos so going from retired attorney to “librarian” didn’t seem out of place.

Final Farewell

A final THANK YOU to Matt and my family and friends who supported the project through donations, advice, assistance and enthusiasm! You are too numerous to name (and I would forget someone) but you know who you are.

Know anyone who wants the library director gig? Here is the information; pass it along!

VOLUNTEER SCHOOL LIBRARY DIRECTOR NEEDED FOR THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS!

Have you ever wanted to live on the famous Galapagos Islands? Here is your chance! Tomás de Berlanga School (TdB), a K-12 bilingual (Spanish/English) school in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, Ecuador, is looking for a part-time volunteer to manage its open-air school library. Adult candidates must have a passion for children’s literature, great organizational skills, basic proficiency in MS Office, including Excel, and a desire to live in a unique, yet challenging, island environment. MLIS or teaching degree is not required. English fluency required. Spanish fluency desired; a working knowledge of Spanish is required. The school year begins in May and ends in February. We require a minimum commitment of 4 months. The schedule is 3 days per week, which provides ample opportunity to enjoy your time on the islands. TdB will provide a volunteer visa.

The Library Director is responsible for all aspects of the library. Duties include indexing, leveling, labeling and maintaining the library collection; holding regular library hours for book check out and story times; maintaining the school’s book wish list (all books come via donations); communicating with potential donors; directing the work of teachers assigned to library duty; and light cleaning.

If you are interested in this opportunity, please contact the incoming school director, Justin Scoggin, at justinkscoggin@gmail.com

For more information about the school, you can view our Facebook page or website.
https://www.facebook.com/tdberlanga
http://tomasdeberlanga.edu.ec/

2,000 Books and Growing – Library Project Update

As I previously blogged about (here https://kerryedwyer.com/2015/07/10/one-book-at-a-time/, here https://kerryedwyer.com/2015/08/20/power-of-social-media-kindness-of-strangers-500-books/, here https://kerryedwyer.com/2015/09/25/open-for-business/ and here https://kerryedwyer.com/2015/11/01/the-kindness-of-strangers-part-ii/), my volunteer project in the Galapagos is to create and maintain a bilingual library for the Tomas de Berlanga school. In 8 months, we have made a lot of progress.

This is what the library looked like when I started the project in June:

Dumping Ground

Dumping Ground

We built and unveiled a new library with 900 books on September 24, 2015:

The New Stacks

The New Stacks – Room to Grow!

And closed the library for the school year last Friday:

Fabulous Volunteer About two weeks after the library opened, the school welcomed a volunteer from Germany, the amazing Helena. In addition to being hard working, fluent in English, friendly and kind, Helena is mature beyond her years. Helena’s help was crucial as we embarked on changing the school culture from one with limited reading and no accountability for the books to one with a fully functional library. Between the two of us, we were able to keep up with the indexing and labeling of donated books, have the library open 3 days a week and provide set library times for all of the classes.

Library Accomplishments In the 4 months the library has been open, we:

  1. More than doubled the number of books in the library to 2,075 books.  1,790 books are in English, 267 books are in Spanish and 18 books are bilingual.
  2. Manually checked out 972 books to students and 115 books to teachers.
  3. Held story hours with pre-school, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classes.
  4. Increased the number of teachers using the library from 2 to 12, including all of the English teachers.
  5. Trained the students on proper library conduct: checking out and returning books, shelving books, appropriate book handling.

Fundraising In addition to the on-site work, we continued working to obtain books and other resources for the library. In November, through the efforts of Hector Viela and Amy Torres, we started a GoFundMe campaign that raised $725. https://www.gofundme.com/wa6skk5z. We have spent about 1/2 of the funds to buy library materials and to mail books that Amy continues to collect for us in the US. The remaining funds will be used to build seating for the library once we have enough raised to commission some tables and benches.

Book Donations We continue to receive book donations from friends in the US. Thank you Tanya Oemig and Candy Underwood for mailing books to the Galapagos! Matt and I also brought back 100 pounds of books from a weekend trip to visit our family in NYC. Thanks to Mick, Andy, Tom and Sue for collecting these books (and Mary Ziino and Bridget Paul for their donations) and bringing them to us in NYC. Galapagos visitor Alex Doubek kindly brought some books from his collection when Mick put us in touch before his trip. Amy Torres also was able to deliver another 84 books to us via Pablo Weaver and his students from the University of La Verne who came on a study trip to the Galapagos. Amy is visiting us again this summer, this time bringing her daughter, more books and her never-ending support!

We also received donations from the school community. A school parent and labeling volunteer, Jessi Pfeltz Mahauad, donated 50 books when her family returned to the US. A 6th grade student, Lymin, took it upon herself to donate books she had read or outgrown, and additional parents have donated some books from their collections as well.

Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Bring a Book Program Visitors from the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic ships are invited to visit the school as one of their on-shore expeditions. Every time Matt led a tour, the tourists bemoaned the fact that they hadn’t brought books to donate to the school. Some were kind enough to mail books after their trip. The Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic fund is also a generous donor to the school via student scholarships and an invaluable school supporter. Through conversations spearheaded by school parent and Lindblad employee Emma Ridley, we launched a “Bring a Book” program for Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic travelers. Those who wish to support our library can bring a book or two of their choice or select books from an Amazon wish list (https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/2OPJUUA6G2N4D). I constantly update the list to reflect the gaps in our collection as well as specific requests by students and teachers (although I nixed one student’s request for a World of Minecraft manual).

While our other book collection efforts have yielded great books, mailing books is cost prohibitive and takes several months, while transporting large quantities of books from the US is inconvenient and burdensome for the traveler. Through the Bring a Book program, folks can bring one or two books, nothing onerous, and we get a steady stream of needed resources. In the first 2 months of the program we received 370 books! When the library opened, our limited book supply meant that students could only take out one book at a time per language and teachers were limited in the books they could check out for classroom use. Due to the new books, we will be able to increase the checkout limit and provide more books to the teachers.

Community Value While the library patrons are limited to the school community, the impact goes beyond our students. One 6th grade student consistently took out a picture book in Spanish to take home to read to his younger sister. A teacher also checked out books to read to her young child. It is exciting that the resources are being used to instill a love of reading in children who are too young to attend school.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the library project. It has been exactly what I need. I find island living extremely challenging: isolating, limited and lonely at times. Reading is my passion and to turn that into an on-going volunteer project that engages me is a win-win for me and the school.

Ringing in the New Year

Happy 2016 to All! I am all set for it to be a fantastic year because I participated in all of the Ecuadorian superstitions/traditions in order to ensure luck, prosperity and love (hot sex too, according to some). I collected everyone’s advice and on December 31, I was ready. My lovely German volunteer, Helena, was on board with me to make 2016 a year to remember.

First up, yellow underwear.

Yellow Underwear

Shopping for Luck. Or Hot Sex.

I first heard that one wears yellow underwear for luck. I don’t own yellow underwear (TMI?) but while out shopping on New Year’s Eve came across this display and thought, “why not?” I was all set when we headed out for dinner with some friends on December 31 until one friend told me that you couldn’t wear the underwear early but had to change into it at midnight. Umm, we planned to be in the main square watching fireworks (and eating grapes, but that comes later) at midnight, so I opted to ignore this additional caveat. Another friend who heard of our tradition quest asked about the yellow underwear, but she told me it was to ensure a year of hot sex and that the underwear had to be new and a gift. However, she said wearing it all night was just fine. As my underwear was new and Matt had pulled the money out of his wallet to pay for it and our other purchases, I am all set for a year of luck and/or hot sex.

Wearing red and green. Red is for love and green is for health. Which one to pick? If I don’t wear red, will Matt run off with an 18 year old Galapagueña? But health is top of my list as I get older. I opted for a shirt with red in it and green earrings, thus covering both bases. Matt stuck with plaid shorts that had a thin line of green, so apparently he is not concerned about me running off with a hottie surfer. Helena covered all of the bases with patterned underwear with red, yellow and green.

Money in one’s shoe to bring a year of prosperity. This was a problem as I wear sandals here. A little tape and I was set. A cabbie had told me $10, so I went with that figuring I didn’t mind losing $10 if the tape loosened.

Money in Shoe

Ready for Prosperity

Once again, caveats were added by a friend – LEFT shoe and it was better on the sole. Also, the bigger the bill the more prosperous, according to some. We were already out so I did a quick adjustment with my 10 spot.

LEFT shoe!

LEFT sole!

Change jingling in one’s pocket is also said to bring prosperity. I put change in BOTH pockets and fully expect to win a big lottery jackpot this year. (Note I did not say “win the lottery” as I do not intend all this effort to result in me winning a measly $2 in the Powerball!). Helena was equally committed and changed out of her cute, pocketless skirt into shorts with pockets.

Jingle Jangle

Jingle Jangle

My final tradition was to eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight, while making a wish for each month. I gave it a shot but could only find large, seeded grapes on the island and it took me about 3 minutes to eat 12 of them. Maybe my January wish will come true? Matt and Helena did a much better job.

12 Grapes at Midnight

12 Grapes at Midnight

I contemplated another tradition to ensure a year of travel: pack a suitcase, carry your passport and run around your block or neighborhood at midnight. The farther you run; the farther you will travel. I decided to skip this one because my passport is with our attorney in Quito for visa paperwork, we live on an island and won’t have much opportunity to travel this year, and we planned to be in the square at midnight. Helena really wants to travel this year and was stuck with a dilemma until another friend said it was adequate to pack your suitcase and leave it by the door of your house and that your passport was not needed. Others questioned this modification, but he said that he did it twice and one year spent considerable time in Colombia and the other year spent 3 months in the US. We stopped at Helena’s house so she could pack her suitcase, and I hope she has a fantastic year of travel.

Another tradition is for men to dress up as the widow of the old year and beg for alms. During the day, Matt and I saw about a dozen such widows. He and our friends decided that they will participate in this tradition next year, so size 13 heels and a wig are now on our to-buy list for the US!

The night was a lot of fun with people out and about, effigies (Año Viejo or Old Year) that were burned at midnight, music and fireworks.

The effigies were a bit confusing. Why were people burning cartoon characters or the Pope? Especially the Pope tableau with the army figures where the Pope was labeled the “Pope of Peace” in obvious contract to the tank and soldiers.

Others were easier to understand although we needed the political one explained to us. We got the significance of the President (fair game on New Year’s Eve to poke fun at him), but the animal was a sheep representing his unquestioning followers and the sandwiches because he apparently gets supporters to events by giving out food.

All in all, a fun celebration and a good start to 2016. I can look forward to luck, love, health, prosperity, a wish or two and hot sex!

The Kindness of Strangers Part II

The New Stacks

The New Stacks

Amy Torres learned about my library project for the Tomás de Berlanga school on the Galapagos Islands when I placed my blog post on the ALA Think Tank Facebook page. Amy and her husband were spurred into collecting and delivering 500 books to us in the Galapagos, something I wrote about here.

https://kerryedwyer.com/2015/08/20/power-of-social-media-kindness-of-strangers-500-books/

Welcome and Thank You!

Welcome and Thank You!

During their stay in Quito, Amy and Harry met Hector Viela. Although Hector has never visited the Galapagos and has no connection to the school, he was inspired by Amy and Harry’s mission and offered to help us by setting up a GoFundMe page to obtain donations. True to his word, our GoFundMe campaign went live today. If you have read about the library project and want to donate funds to help us, now you can! Any amount – $5, $10, $25 – will help greatly. My previous requests for assistance have resulted in many books being collected for us. Now we need to get the funds to ship them here.

https://www.gofundme.com/wa6skk5z

Thanks for any support you can provide. The students love the new books and will greatly appreciate any additional books we can get for them.

Open For Business!

Yesterday was the grand opening of the Tomás de Berlanga Open Air Library! In a few short months, we managed to build a new dedicated space for the student library, secure amazing donations of new and gently used books, cull hundreds of unsuitable books and label and index the remaining 900 books for the student library.

We went from this:

Conceptualized this:

To this:

The students were patiently awaiting the new library and getting their hands on the newly donated books. Finally, we were ready to open the English section of the library. (I need to finish sorting and labeling the Spanish books, but they are few in number and in even worse shape than the English ones were.)

I started checking out books right after we opened and had a steady stream of patrons the rest of the day. It was amazing! Students were coming during their recess and, I later realized, slipping out of class to come for a book. There was a lot of borrower’s remorse and requests to change books – I think the kids were so overwhelmed with the great new options that they didn’t know where to start. The cool, donated book marks were a big hit and the kids were amazed to find out they could keep them. We also have a lot of education to do about library procedures: starting with checking out books and not just taking them. As we have no computer for the library, the check out system is old school. It took me several nights to fill out a form for each student – they each have 4 names here and it is not always consistent which ones they use.

The best part of the day was when a few 5th graders came to the library during recess. One boy, Matias, picked The Giving Tree to check out and I told him it was one of my favorite books. Other kids chimed in and Matias started reading it at the checkout table. I asked if he wanted to read it aloud and he happily agreed. The other students gathered around and listened (shushing one boy who started reading his book aloud) and we all enjoyed the first story hour at the open air library.

Impromptu Story Hour

Impromptu Story Hour

A big THANK YOU to everyone who helped on this project, including

  • Matt for securing the funding to build the library
  • Corina Gallardo Nelson for designing the library and securing the contractors
  • Donna Daugherty and John Garate for securing the municipal donation of the lava rocks and machinery and man power to spread them
  • Paola Leguísamo and Martin Hoss for encouragement and assistance in getting the construction completed
  • Jo Browne for help with book labeling
  • Jessi Pfeltz for countless hours spent labeling books, making signs, and weeding books
  • Lisa Dell for giving up her prep time (and spare time) to index, label and weed books
  • Amy and Harry Torres for getting the donation ball rolling with a 500 book donation and Amy’s tireless library advice
  • Patty Wanniger, Sarah Wakefield and Maria Schmidt for wonderful library advice and suggestions

WANT TO HELP? WE NEED BOOKS!

  • Bring a book (or books!) on your trip to the Galapagos or send some books with someone you know who is traveling here. This is the least expensive way to get books here. Book guidelines are listed below.
  • Send books for the school from your home country. For US guests, the United States Postal Service is the most economical way to send books. Contact me for more information and the mailing address. If you are able to collect books for us but do not have the funding to ship them, my brother (in Wisconsin) has generously agreed to accept and coordinate book donations as we seek funding sources for shipping. Please contact me for his information.
  • Donate funds to ship books. US donors have collected books for the school, but the school does not have the funds to pay for shipping costs. For example, previous shipments from the United States were sent via USPS and cost $122 for a box of 40 books that weighed about 27 pounds and $80 for a box of 50 books that weighed about 18 pounds. If you want to donate, contact me and I will connect you with someone who has already collected books for us.

Book Guidelines:

  • Please collect new or gently used books that are interesting to children. Remember that English is a second language for our students. The school has an Amazon wish list with some suggested titles, but donors can ask a child what his or her favorite books are or talk to teachers, librarians or booksellers for ideas. While some books are great classics, many books that libraries are discarding are being discarded for a reason: they are dated and no one wants to read them. Library book sales, your own shelves and second hand stores are great places to look, but not every book needs a home in the Galapagos. The wish list can be found at: https://amzn.com/w/2OPJUUA6G2N4D
  • The school is pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and books at all levels would be appreciated. We currently have a special need for picture books (no board books please as their small size makes them difficult in the library) early readers and books at a 1-5 grade reading level. Multiple copies of books are welcome, as they would allow for a class to use them for a reading circle.
  • Books in Spanish are also appreciated. While we want to improve the students’ English proficiency, we also want to encourage a love of reading the their native language.
  • Gently used, please! Dust covers are not necessary, but scribbled in, ripped or grimy books are best discarded.
  • Coloring books, workbooks and sticker books are best for your local charity for a single recipient to enjoy, not for a school library.

For more information about the school, visit its Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/tdberlanga or its website at http://www.scalesia.org/tomas-de-berlanga-school

Power of Social Media + Kindness of Strangers = 500 Books!

Welcome and Thank You!

Welcome New Friends!

When I wrote my initial blog post about my quest to create a better library at Matt’s school https://kerryedwyer.com/2015/07/10/one-book-at-a-time/, I thought that in addition to proving to family and friends that I don’t just go to the beach, it might spur some folks to collect and donate books to the school. Shameless, I know, but many of you have started doing just that. Previously, as I was researching the library project, my librarian cousin Patty suggested that I join the ALA Think Tank Facebook page so I could pose questions or might see other questions similar to mine. I joined the page and subsequently on July 13 posted my blog post on the ALA page with the introductory message:

Hello. I am trying to improve a primitive library at a school on the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador). My husband is the school director and I am the volunteer librarian (no MLIS degree, just a passion for libraries and reading). There are many issues to address, but I am starting with trying to build the collection. Does anyone have any ideas as to how to get books here? I think I can obtain some decent book donations via friends and families, school drives etc., but the cost of shipping and (potentially) taxes makes getting the books here challenging. Are there any organizations that assist with this type of project? If you want to see more, I’m including the link to my blog post about the project. Thanks much!

It was simply a request for information and as librarians are an informing bunch, I soon had 28 comments, all encouraging and many with helpful information. One of the responders, Amy Dahl, also reached out with a FB friend request and message: she wanted to collect books for us and deliver them in person! Amy works in a school library in California and to call her a woman of action is an understatement. Within days she had persuaded her husband Harry that this was an opportunity of a lifetime, obtained permission from her district to miss the opening days of school, and obtained substantial book donations in addition to her own. Amy also provided me with practical advice and encouragement as I continued to struggle with organizing the library’s current collection and advancing the project.

As this excitement was unfolding, Matt was making strides with the library box, or natural library. A school parent who is an architect, Corina Gallardo Nelson, drew up the plans and obtained bids from local tradesmen for the work.

 

Library Plans

Library Plans

Matt obtained board approval for the project and building commenced about 2 weeks ago. The structure will be attached to an existing classroom building. A concrete base and side walls will hold the wood library “cupboards”. There will be a leveled area in front of the cupboard with a roof overhead – no walls. Once there is funding, there will also be some tables and benches in the area. On-site the project has progressed to the concrete, clearing of the area, and a pile of lava rocks that will be spread to create the floor of the open air library. The carpenter is working on the cupboards and roof in his workshop.

One month to the day after reading my blog post, Amy and Harry landed on the Galapagos with 3 duffle bags – 150 pounds – of books for the Tomás de Berlanga School! Matt and I met them at their hotel and had our first glimpse of the books. Wow! Amy agreed that instead of taking all 500 books to school, we could bring a sampling of about 50 to showcase to the classes we were visiting. She and I could have spent hours selecting those books, but eventually we headed out so we could show them around town and then have dinner. The best part, besides the books, was that they are wonderful, fun people so we had a great time with them.

The next morning after a quick visit to the fish market so they could enjoy watching pelicans and sea lions trying to steal the fresh catch, we headed off to school. What a welcome they received! Matt was giving them a tour of the grounds when a student came up and said “I know who you are: you are Harry and you are Amy. Where are the books?” We assured the student that we would be visiting his classroom later in the day and he could see some of the books.

We began our classroom visits and the students (and teachers) were thrilled. The children oohed and aahed over the books. One of the best overheard remarks was one boy telling another to smell a book and they both inhaled that new book aroma. In the upper level classes, we talked about how a library works, the overall project and proper book care. In the lower classes, Amy showcased some books and read a few stories. The worst part was when we told the children that they couldn’t keep the books because they needed to be labeled and organized. How disappointed the students were!

At the end of the day, Amy and Harry got to enjoy the bus ride home: due to the school’s location slightly outside of town, teachers and students take buses home every night. We visited again Friday night and then took them to the local market on Saturday morning. We all enjoyed a breakfast of delicious empanadas and some live music before they set sail for a week-long cruise.

Buen Viaje!

Buen Viaje!

Matt and I were sad to see them leave – Amy and Harry quickly became friends  – but I had 500 books to keep me busy. Matt helped me sort the books by reading level. By Monday night they were all set for my new volunteer, Jessi Pfeltz Mahauad, a friend and parent at the school, to help with labeling. Another session or two and these books will be ready for the new library.

I also continue to sort and label the books at the school. When Amy reviewed the collection, she agreed with me that many of the current books should not be on the shelves. A basic library premise, which seems counterintuitive to some, is that more is not better. A lot of books that no one ever reads on your shelves is not healthy for a library. It only makes it harder for children to find the “good” books and makes the space less inviting. This, in turn, makes children lose interest. As it currently stands, we probably have books to fill no more than 25% of the new library with recently donated books and the decent books currently on the shelves. I have also been researching and planning the library training for teachers and students and a check out system that will ensure the books are returned. Because it is so hard to get books here, it is imperative that students return them because we cannot simply charge a fine and replace the books. So there is still a lot of work to be done to obtain new books, get the library up and running, and promote a culture of reading in the school. But 500 books is a fantastic start!

THANK YOU AMY & HARRY TORRES

and

CAPSTONE PUBLISHERS, BEARPORT PUBLISHING, MRS. NELSON’S BOOK FAIRS, BARNES & NOBLE, EVAN LYONS, MIA & NICHOLAS RODRIGUEZ, RYDER, REID & ROYCE VITALE, GRACE MILLER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, and JOHN BARNYAK

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WANT TO HELP? SPREAD THE WORD OR DONATE TO THE LIBRARY PROJECT!

If you are inspired by Amy and Harry’s generosity and action, please help us! This would be a great project for children who have a benevolent spirit or service requirements for school, church confirmation, Scouts etc. because they could also connect with school children on the Galapagos Islands. Books, funds or both would be greatly appreciated. If you are interesting in helping, please contact me directly, but these initial guidelines may assist you:

  • If you know someone traveling to the Galapagos Islands, ask whether they are willing to bring a box of books or even just a few. If you know someone traveling to Ecuador, they can mail the books from the mainland to the islands. We already have many donated books in the US waiting to be sent here.
  • Please collect books that are interesting to children. I am happy to provide a wish list and reading levels, but you  also can ask a child what his or her favorite books are. Non-fiction books about animals (especially sea animals), nature and dinosaurs are always a hit. Series are a good bet too. While some books are great classics, many books that libraries are discarding are being discarded for a reason: they are dated and no one wants to read them. Library book sales, your own shelves and second hand stores are great places to look, but not every book needs a home in the Galapagos. https://amzn.com/w/2OPJUUA6G2N4D
  • The school is kindergarten through 12th grade and books at all levels would be appreciated. We have a special need for early readers and books at a 1-5 grade level. Multiple copies of books are welcome as they would allow for a class to use them for a reading circle. 
  • Books in Spanish are also appreciated. While we want to improve the students’ English proficiency, we also want to encourage a love of reading in their native language.
  • Gently used, please! Dust covers are not necessary, but scribbled in, ripped or grimy books are best discarded.
  • Coloring books, work books, and sticker books are best for your local charity for a single recipient to enjoy.
  • Funds will need to be raised to get the books here. Unfortunately, this is not within the school’s budget. For example, previous shipments were sent via USPS and cost $122 for a box of 40 books that weighed about 27 pounds and $80 for a box of 50 books that weight about 18 pounds. The value of each box was listed at $10, or resale value for used books, which negated paying an import tax. 
  • Patience, please! The shipped books took 3 months to arrive but were well appreciated when they did.

For more information about the school, visit its Facebook page (courtesy of Matt) https://www.facebook.com/tdberlanga or its website at http://www.scalesia.org/tomas-de-berlanga-school

Under the Sea: Snorkeling Trip to Pinzón

A month ago, before our friend Jo returned to England, we went on a snorkeling day trip to Pinzón. While I enjoyed our bird watching trip to North Seymour island, Matt prefers snorkeling to bird watching and this trip was right up his alley because you cannot touch foot on Pinzón without a special permit. Instead this trip entailed 3 snorkeling stops around Pinzón and a visit to a beach on Santa Cruz. First step was taking a water taxi from the Puerto Ayora dock to the boat, the Contagious, which was no-frills compared to the boat from our prior trip. I was glad that I had popped dramamine before we set off as the seas were bumpy.

After about an hour and a half crashing through the waves, we arrived at our first snorkeling destination, a calm bay. Three penguins flopped into the water as we were disembarking but we never saw them afterwards. We jumped off the boat and started swimming. It was like we were in a fish tank. The water was crystal clear and everywhere we looked there were fish and more fish. While many fish were the same types we see at the beach near our house, they were much bigger in the deeper water.

Our guide (whose name escapes me) was a great guy who made sure we saw a lot. He swam with us and pointed out tons of things I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. He also stirred things up at times…

Next stop was in a deeper area with a stronger current. The fun continued.

I hate snakes. Eels are simply snakes of the water.

The show-off sea lion was more entertaining.

Then Jo called me over. I thought it was to see a sea turtle, which I had yet to see. I was wrong.

Eeks!

Eeks! White Tipped Reef Shark

Despite my fear, I followed this guy for awhile. Then I decided not to press my luck and went back to viewing tamer animals.

At this stop, Matt and I also had a baby sea lion playfully swim back and forth between us. Happily, we did not see it get eaten by a shark.

Frolicking Sea Lion

Frolicking Sea Lion

Our third snorkeling stop was equally spectacular. As I still hadn’t seen any sea turtles, our guide came and got me when he spotted some. He linked his arm through mine and we swam off after them. Fantastic.

Sea Turtle

Sea Turtle

Then it was shark time once again. Our guide woke up the sharks for our viewing enjoyment. Who the heck wakes up sharks?!

Strangely, being in a group and with a guide made me feel safer. Maybe someone else would look tastier than I? Still, I could only watch them for so long. As we continued swimming there was suddenly this big shadow below me in the water. I instinctively glanced over my shoulder to see what large thing was above me just as a realized that I was seeing a HUGE manta ray beneath me. Matt said he reacted the same way.  We agreed that its wings were 12-15 feet wide. It appeared to float away. Unbelievable.

On the way back to Santa Cruz, we swung by Daphne to check out the animals on shore. Highlights were the masked booby and fur sea lion.

A fantastic trip and one I recommend to any snorkeler. Thank you Jo Browne for the awesome photos! An underwater camera is on the shopping list for our trip to the US next year…

One Book At A Time

I love libraries. It started before I could read: my mom would take us to the library and it seemed like the biggest treat to sit and “read” the picture books while she selected her own books. When we moved to Watertown, my dad’s office was a block from the public library where I spent many after school hours waiting for a ride home. My sister worked there and our mom and her friend started a PALS program for the library that raised funds and awareness that ultimately led to a new building. As an English major in college, I spent plenty of time in the stacks and as a new lawyer, research was still done by books so I was a frequent visitor to the law library. Once, on a business trip to Pittsburg, the attorney entertaining me took me to see the public library that had been recently renovated and the amazing Seattle library was on the sightseeing list when Matt and I vacationed there. In Washington D.C. we visited the Library of Congress and left with reading cards.

I was appalled when I saw the library at Matt’s new school. Three bookcases crammed into the back of the small music room.

How can a child gain a love of reading if there are inadequate books and no inviting space? How can a child learn if they are not reading? There is a town library in Puerto Ayora, but I have never seen it open. Culturally, there doesn’t appear to be a tradition of reading for pleasure. I read to 6th and 7th graders and they love the picture books I bring to class. When I asked them whether their parents read bedtime stories to them, their faces were blank. I had found my project.

First step was to determine what was there. I quickly realized that the majority of the books were out of use textbooks, teachers manuals, used workbooks, and pretty much any English book that someone – tourist or resident – left behind. Some gems included:

That is not to say that these are bad books or that the donor’s intent was not good. But these are not books that would catch a child’s interest, particularly one learning a second language. The Spanish collection is even more limited.

My next few visits were spent moving all of the teacher resources and textbooks to one stack and the less accessible shelves of the other stacks and sorting the Spanish from the English books. Every week, I felt like Sisyphus – the shelves were back in disarray, more crap from teachers’ classrooms cluttered the shelves and random bins and used 20 liter water bottles (which I later learned are the school’s percussion instruments) blocked access to the stacks.

At the same time, I was researching how to categorize the books. While someone had labeled many of the books using the Dewey Decimal system, that system is fairly meaningless without a cataloging system (which is also lacking) and not intended for fiction. I called on Sarah, our friend who was the librarian in Peru, my cousin Patty, a veteran librarian, and Maria, my childhood friend who is currently obtaining her MLIS. With their input and that of the teachers, I determined that a simple categorization process for fiction was appropriate: 1-4 reading levels, color coded and divided into Spanish and English. I would have liked to have more reading level differentiation, but it look me several trips to the local stores and my visit to Quito to find 8 colors of stickers to label the books. There is so little non-fiction that it will likely end up on one shelf.

Supplies

Supplies

After segregating most of the undesired content and realizing that my weekly efforts to reorganize the shelves would be easier once the books were marked, I started the labeling phase. About this time, the school received 2 boxes of donated books from the US from a tourist who visited the school and saw the need to improve the resources. She collected gently used books and her church raised funds to mail the books here. Oh Happy Day! The quality of the donations was excellent and I was thrilled to add these books to the collection. This week I completed labeling the first three levels of English books. We only have about 2 1/2 shelves of picture books and less than a shelf each of books at beginning and low reading levels. Next week I will start on the 5th grade and higher levels and have seen some decent books there though no contemporary kid favorites like Harry Potter, Divergent, Twilight, Percy Jackson or the like.

Fantastic Update! This evening Matt and I met the lovely Madabushi family from Houston, Texas, who came to the Galapagos with a suitcase full of books, friendship bracelets, sign language messages and fantastic science games and projects to donate to the school. The low level books they brought just about doubled the volume on that shelf and the upper level books greatly improve the quality of that collection as well. Thank you!

Matt and I promote the library project to anyone who will listen. Matt’s ultimate goal is a dedicated space for the library and he has designed a library “box” that would essentially be bookshelves with doors and a internal ventilation system located under a pavilion. The classrooms here are basically open air, so this would be keeping with the environment and, while not ideal for books, better than the current conditions. 

As we have talked about the need, other people have expressed interest in building an actual library, which would be amazing. But to me, the books are more important – a library without books is an empty space.

The challenge is getting books here. The great news is that the school is on the sightseeing list for tourists, so we have been asked to put together a list of books and other school items that tourists visiting the school can donate if they are so inclined. We may also be lucky to meet another family like the Madabushis. Once we have a collection, other issues like a catalog and check out system are on my list to address.

Book by book, the library project is progressing. I think my mom would be proud.


WANT TO HELP? DONATE TO THE LIBRARY PROJECT!

Many friends and family have asked how they can help with the library project. This would be a great project for children who have a benevolent spirit or service requirements for school, church confirmation, Scouts etc. because they could also connect with school children on the Galapagos Islands. Books, funds or both would be greatly appreciated. If you are interesting in helping, please contact me directly, but these initial guidelines may assist you:

  • Please collect books that are interesting to children. Ask a child what his or her favorite books are. Non-fiction books about animals (especially sea animals), nature and dinosaurs are always a hit. While some books are great classics, many books that libraries are discarding are being discarded for a reason: they are dated and no one wants to read them. Library book sales, your own shelves and second hand stores are great places to look, but not every book needs a home in the Galapagos.
  • The school is kindergarten through 12th grade and books at all levels would be appreciated. We have a special need for early readers and books at a 1-5 grade level. Multiple copies of books are welcome as they would allow for a class to use them for a reading circle. While we are seeking to improve the students’ English skills, if you have appropriate level Spanish books, those are also welcome.
  • Gently used, please! Dust covers are not necessary, but scribbled in, ripped or grimy books are best discarded.
  • Coloring books, work books, and sticker books are best for your local charity for a single recipient to enjoy.
  • Funds will need to be raised to get the books here. Unfortunately, this is not within the school’s budget. For example the recent shipments were sent via USPS and cost $122 for a box of 40 books that weighed about 27 pounds and $80 for a box of 50 books that weight about 18 pounds. The value of each box was listed at $10, or resale value for used books, which negated paying an import tax. 
  • If you know someone traveling to the Galapagos Islands, ask whether they are willing to bring a box of books or even just a few. If you know someone traveling to Ecuador, they can mail the books from the mainland to the islands.
  • Patience, please! The books took 3 months to arrive but were well appreciated when they did.

For more information about the school, visit its Facebook page (courtesy of Matt) https://www.facebook.com/tdberlanga or its website at http://www.scalesia.org/tomas-de-berlanga-school

Latest Adventure: Buying Furniture

Furniture shopping in Milwaukee was a pain due to the endless choices. When we were in the market for something, we could spend multiple days running around to furniture stores and department stores as we looked for the right piece and the best price. Matt and I are extremely decisive and hate shopping, so two weekends was about our limit. Furniture shopping on the Galapagos is the opposite: I ran around for the past month trying to find ANY furniture to buy. On Saturday, we committed to making it happen and finally were (mainly) successful.

Our apartment is a spacious one bedroom with an amazing patio that lends to the airy feel of the place.

It is above the doctor’s office/hyperbaric chamber (the doc who lives on site is our landlord), which is handy for telling people as street names aren’t often used here.

We rented it partially furnished; the main furnishings are included but few household items are. “Furnished” means some  patio furniture, a double bed (we thought it was going to be a king because that is what was in the apartment when we saw it, so I tri-fold the the king sheets we bought; one makes due on an island!), stove, refrigerator and microwave, kitchen table and chairs, and a sofa, wicker chaise and wicker chair. For a month we used action packers as our doorway table. In casual conversations with our landlord, I managed to finagle additional patio furniture and a computer desk (still working on a chair). But the living room furniture was abysmal. Matt referred to the sofa as an airport sofa, but it was actually less comfortable, disconcertingly grimy and unused.

As we have learned, it is best to bite the bullet and buy what we want to make life more comfortable sooner rather than later. We started asking around about furniture shops. “There’s one on Baltra past the bank,” Matt said one night. We headed over. “This?” It was a crowded shop with random items but there was a sofa and table and some dressers. “No, it can’t be this; she said it had a lot of good stuff. It must be closed.” After stalking the street for a few more days, I concluded that dingy shop was the place. I went in and asked if they had additional furniture or whether furniture could be ordered. The woman looked at me like I was crazy. Okay, I guess a furniture shop is anywhere that sells any random piece of furniture.

I continued to run down leads all over town, but never found what we wanted: a sofa, a cabinet for the doorway, some end tables. Or, I might see an okay sofa, but everything is sold as a set, so we couldn’t buy it unless we wanted the settee, two chairs and coffee table too. The coffee tables here are all small and out of proportion to the furniture. And they have glass tops. Matt still has the scar and PTSD from the exploding glass table in our Lima rental, so we were not interested those.

Exploding Table

Exploding Table

We did find one shop that had nice, handmade furniture, but it didn’t have the pieces we needed. We asked the woman whether we could have something specific made (at that time we thought we would have a cabinet made that would double as a doorway table and a bar for our glassware and limited booze supply). She seemed confused and kept pointing us to the items they had – a bookshelf or bedside table. Eventually she said we could bring in a drawing and dimensions, but we got the feeling that at the end of the day we would end up with either a bookshelf or bedside table. Ultimately we found this table at a different store and bought it on the spot.

Action Packer Replacement

Action Packer Replacement

The other option was to go to the “artisanal zone” and have furniture made. We asked questions: where is it, is there a person you recommend, do they have furniture ready to buy? The answers were vague and contradictory: someone would have a name, but we would never get it; someone else said they cater to the tourists but they have some furniture; another person would say the prices are expensive and it takes forever to get something made. We learned that we would need to have something made and then find an upholsterer to make the cushions for it.

Armed with this limited knowledge and the assurance that “any cabbie could take us there” we flagged down a cab late Saturday morning and asked to go to the artisanal area – where the carpenters are. The cabbie seemed to know what we meant and sure enough we headed out of town and turned down the road someone had pointed out to Matt. A few turns later, we stopped. “This guy does good work” our cabbie told us. We were parked on a dirt road in front of a gated lumberyard, complete with a chained, barking dog. What? Where are the shops, the wares, the storefronts? Our cabbie got out with us and called to the woman in the yard who sent out an older man. We chatted, explained that we wanted some furniture and then we all hopped back in the cab to head back to town where we understood the carpenter had a showroom. On the way back we drove through the rest of the “artisan area” – a cluster of probably 15-20 lumberyards and workshops scattered over a several block area, with no finished goods anywhere in sight.

Our cabbie (Angelo) and the carpenter (Rafael) chatted the entire way back to town. Matt and I sat in the back seat, ignored. Wondering what we had gotten ourselves into and sure that Rafael was Angelo’s uncle or other relation, we went with the flow. We ended up a few blocks from our house in front of a nondescript building. Rafael unlocked the gated and let us into the first level of a house where there were some lovely pieces of furniture. A few sofas, bedroom sets, tables etc. Matt and I had already decided on two chairs in addition to a sofa and we liked what Rafael had to offer. Next thing we knew, Angelo was helping us pick out our furniture, asking Rafael about finishes, explaining what we wanted etc. We  crossed a courtyard to the first floor of another house where there were some additional pieces. In the end we chose a sofa, two chairs, a coffee table (still small, but with a made-to-order wood top) and a small end table, which is a concept that does not appear to exist here.

More conversation ensued and we all hopped back into the cab to the upholsterer. We stopped here:

Upholsterer

Upholsterer

Rafael talked to a young guy, a kid really, and then we headed up an unfinished stairway to the work room, mindful of the edge the entire time. Rafael described the cushions we needed and asked what fabrics were available. There were some really hideous ones and a few that could work. To save time we wanted to choose something in stock and not wait for a cargo ship to bring some fabric. Once again, Angelo helped us choose our fabric. Where else does your cabbie pick out fabric with you? We selected one but I told them I didn’t think there was enough for all of the cushions (I’m no seamstress but it was pretty obvious even to me) and eventually the young guy conceded that was the case. More discussion and Angelo inquired whether they had a fabric that would coordinate. Go cabbie Angelo! We found one one from the limited options, placed our order and were assured it will be ready on Wednesday.

On the way to our house, we made arrangements with Angelo to pick us up at 5pm to go pick up the furniture (with the exception of the tables that Rafael needs to make for us). 5 came and went and no Angelo. I called him. ” I’m sorry, I’m busy now.” Okay, on to Plan B.  We walked over to Rafael’s store (thankfully Matt remembered where it is) where he and his wife were waiting. We apologized and explained that Angelo didn’t show up and Rafael says they can call someone for us to move the furniture. We talked more, established what we were taking and what he will make and then awkwardly kept waiting for the financial part of the transaction. Eventually we realized that they were politely waiting for us to do that part, because we had talked with Rafael about prices earlier, so we finally just said “okay, we want to pay do you want to pay here or in the other house” and got the deal done.

Rafael flagged down a cab for us and told the kid that he will be making two trips with our stuff. The kid looked reluctant, but helped load the furniture. Here is Matt taking the first load home.

Matt

Matt

All in all a successful day, even if the furniture looks somewhat like park benches until we get the cushions. Here is hoping they are ready on Wednesday. As an added bonus, our shipment from Peru is supposed to arrive this week, so we can finally get organized and settled.

A World Apart and Yet So Similar

My family spent all of our summer vacations, and many Sundays in-between, at a cottage on Lower Nemahbin Lake. Only about 40 minutes away from our home in Milwaukee, or, when we moved, Watertown, it seemed like the middle of nowhere. Probably because it was the middle of nowhere to my mom, who was a city girl through and through and hated to drive on the freeway. Now it is considered “Lake Country” where professionals live and commute to Milwaukee, but back then it was the boondocks – farm fields, one grocery store in town and the lakes. The cottage added to the boondocks feel: no indoor plumbing save a cold-water kitchen sink added in the 70s, mismatched furniture, tired kitchenware, one “parents” bedroom downstairs and a cobwebby upstairs where we kids fought over the ancient 5 beds. But to me, it was paradise. (Saying Goodbye to My Childhood )

Fast forward 30 years to Puerto Ayora, my and Matt’s new home on Isla Santa Cruz on the Galapagos Islands. This truly is the middle of nowhere – 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador – but as the largest town on the islands, it is a curious combination of isolation and tourism. We have lived here slightly over 2 weeks and it is apparent that nothing prepared me better for life on the Galapagos than those summers at The Lake.

Glorious View from Our Balcony

Glorious View from Our Balcony

I’m sticky. All the time. The temperature hasn’t dropped below 80º or the humidity below 70%. At the moment it is 7:23 am and the temperature is 81.1º with 79% humidity. I sit, as usual, with a fine sheen of sweat and frizzed out hair. We do have a shower but it is an island, so you are supposed to try to conserve water. (Yes, I realize that seems backwards, but while there is plenty of salt water around, there isn’t a lot of fresh water). So I try to shower once a day although sometimes I break down and have to take another one. At The Lake there was no shower. My mom would heat up some water and give herself a sponge bath, but the rest of us would just go jump in the lake. Literally.

The plumbing is a bit…primitive. It looks nice – huge shower, double sink, jacuzzi tub, but the apartment has cold water. To be fair, our landlord asked if we wanted him to hook up the hot water (sun heated, I think, without the aid of solar panels) so we do have some hot water in the shower, but it has a mind of its own and with the heat, I prefer a cold shower anyhow. We were told to turn the water off as we soap up to conserve water and not flood the bathroom. We wash dishes, and everything else, with cold water. You can’t flush toilet paper; it goes in the bin in the bathroom. So the bathroom smells like an outhouse. A bonus of our apartment is that the toilet is in its own little compartment, so at least that is the only room that smells like an outhouse. I realize that years of mouth breathing in the outhouse at The Lake come in handy here as well, especially when I take out the trash.

Indoor Outhouse

Indoor Outhouse

I live in shorts, sandals and swimsuits. For the first time since I was 12, I walked down the road (to the beach) in a swimsuit. A modest one, mind you, shorts and a tummy-covering top, but even so, it felt like being a kid again. At night it doesn’t cool off, so there is no need for jeans or sweatshirts like in Wisconsin, but we are told that will change. I’m not convinced and love wearing casual summer attire all the time.

There are plenty of bugs, inside and out. We don’t have air conditioning in our apartment, so the windows and doors are always open – day and night. We do have screens, but that doesn’t stop the critters (or dirt) from getting inside. The day we arrived, I noticed that our kitchen counters had tons of microscopic ants and spiders everywhere. I was appalled. I obsessively killed them and bought Raid to assist in the genocide. Now I just smoosh them and keep eating. I store food in plastic bags and sometimes in the microwave because I haven’t seen an ant in there yet. Like The Lake, every night at dusk we are driven inside by the mosquitos. Instead of daddy longlegs, our mosquito eaters here are the geckos. I’ve learned to co-exist with them and they have become a part of our nightly entertainment as we cheer them on while they catch the bugs.

Everything is a bit grimy. The water is non-potable and has a sticky feel. We don’t have a washer or dryer so laundry either goes to the full service laundry (no self serve here) or I hand wash and hang dry. When you pay by the pound, your definitions of clean and hand-washable change. But something about the combination of the detergent I bought and the water leaves the hand wash smelling less than fresh, so I am considering in investing in a washing machine though I worry that the dryer at the laundry may be what is killing whatever is stinking up my wash. I sweep, clean the floors and wipe up the counters constantly, but it is a losing battle against the dirt. I remember at The Lake wiping down the plastic tablecloth covered table after dinner and noticing that it was still sticky. That’s what it feels like wiping down the counters here. And the geckos poop everywhere! It looks like bird poop. I am currently trying to figure out how to clean it off my ceiling without it falling all over me.

Poopy Gecko

Poopy Gecko

We have plenty, but not exactly everything we want. Much to my dad’s annoyance, my mom used to pack two cars to the gills (and I swear at times things were tied to the top) to go to The Lake for 2 weeks even though it was less than an hour from our house. Now I understand. Like my mom, I packed my own things. We have 29 boxes, about half of it kitchen/household wares, in transit from Peru. It has been two months since it left my old home and is currently on a cargo ship. I don’t really expect it to arrive to the island for at least another month, but it will feel like Christmas when it does. Our apartment is partially furnished, so we have the basics but the dishes are mismatched and chipped, the sheets don’t fit the bed and we have one small frying pan and two pots. Unlike my mom, who would never buy anything, I broke down and bought two utensils and some dish towels to tide us over.

Kitchenware

Kitchenware

It is the same with food. We can get plenty to eat, but not the variety we are accustomed to (even less than in Cajamarca). My mom used to bring food from Milwaukee – the brands of pasta and sauce she liked among other things- and turned up her nose at the limited selection at the local grocery store. On the other hand, I embrace going to the Saturday morning market (the earlier you arrive, the lower the prices!) and buying from the farmers, but also look forward to next April when we will be back in the US and can eat lamb or Mexican food or countless other ethnic foods that aren’t available here.

Entertainment is both limited and limitless. There are no movie theaters, concerts, plays, or golf courses. Our internet is sporadic. The town has a minuscule library that I have yet to find open. At The Lake, the black and white TV was only turned on for the late news and Johnny Carson (except when Nixon resigned). Days were spent outside: swimming, canoeing, going for walks, goofing off. At night or on rainy days, we played cards and board games or read a book. So it is here. We have a TV, even cable and a DVD player, but we don’t turn it on often. We can go swimming and snorkeling every single day, there are great walks to take to beaches and in the highlands, and we can stroll though town at night and watch the sharks feed alongside the pier or the sea lions sleep. We play cards and games and just relax. Life is slower here and it is fantastic. Some might find it boring or frustrating, but I find it a return to the best part of my childhood: waking up to the sound of the water on the shore.

Paradise

Paradise