21 September 2007

World Tours Should Last Forever

I’m in the bus right now riding back to Mexico City from Oaxaca unable to believe this trip is actually ending. I’ll fly back to Washington, DC tomorrow and from there, who knows…I am sure, however, that the next four months will not include thousands of young people changing the world in 11 countries on 5 continents. I am so very changed as well, to the point that I think, at some level, I once again have no idea who I am. Is life like this forever, a constant struggle trying to define “what it’s all about?” Still, one thing is certain: I am committed to every person I have met and will do all I can to tell their stories and make the world understand that young people have it all under control. We’re smart, driven and passionate. That combination is a force to be reckoned with. Watch out world, here we come.

17 September 2007

Rockin’ Out In Oaxaca

In the midst of all the buses, meetings and half-sleeping, the whole gang managed to have a little fun and get to know each other a bit better. There were tortillas bigger than my head (which is pretty darn huge)…

Drives in an AWESOME red Beetle that I am now borderline obsessed with…

Scorpions that threatened (like the Dengue) to end my life…

Lime and salt combos which were licked to maintain life while waiting for food (we did a lot of waiting for food)…

One really HUGE tree (150-foot circumfrence)…

A “parade of Virgins…”

The most adorable old lady EVER (look at the face. She is totally making fun of me)…

One incredible chicken fight…

A tango in front of the church (weird lighting made for some interesting shadows)…

And one incredible sunset (you must know how I feel about sunsets at this point – favorite thing EVER)…

Is this really about to end?

14 September 2007

Oaxaca? Why Not-A

Oaxaca (Pronounced Wha-Hawk-Uh), an adorable little town just a 300-hour bus ride away, proved to be prime real estate for social change. We arrived on an over-night bus and immediately crashed at our charming enclosed patio hotel. Rooms were gender-coded, which left Juan Carlos and I in the only double, complete with a “bum” shower and lights that had a mind of their own, turning on and off whenever they darn-well pleased. It proved for a spectacular mid-morning roof-top extravaganza!

This being the second time we did the “ride all night, sleep half-the-day” routine, I realized just how LONG everything feels. We woke up around noon and I felt like I had been in that hotel for a week, much less 6 hours! The entourage and I immediately hit the road to meet teams! The first was a good two hours from the city, which meant some prime thinking time riding in the back seat of a red 1978 Volkswagen Beetle listening to music while zooming through the Mexican Countryside. In short, it was perfect.

The first team we met was a collective of young girls aged 14 to 19 who had started a dress-making and bread-making company aimed at developing an income generation model that would benefit the entire community. While the idea and passion was there, support from the local government was not. Apparently, the ovens they need to bake the break and the sewing machines they need to stitch the clothes are locked in government-owned buildings and the local leaders refuse to allow them to use the equipment. Mind you, no one else is using the machines and there is no bigger agenda for them, it’s just that the idea of a group of young women making their own money is not acceptable to the leaders. Such a shame! Nonetheless, the girls are pressing on and working by hand at the moment. I did some schmoosing with them while I was there, pointing to the awesome need in the community and “how impressed I was with the progressive, forward-thinking stance of the local leadership.” The whole lot of them were wearing cowboy boots and hats. We’ll see what comes of that…

From there it was a one-two-three punch of Ventures. All located within the same town, they’re working to not only grow their own projects, but support each other’s efforts as well. The first was a hair salon, where the girls had trained themselves to once again build their own income generator while benefiting the community. They charge extremely reasonable rates ($1 for cut, $5 for color) that would have blown my sister’s mind (she just completed Cosmotology school). Still, there is a great need for materials and additional skills. I’m hoping m sister can offer some ideas and support. She’s a stud.

Second was a recycling project that has literally galvanized the entire town. In just six months, the Venture has collected FOUR TONS of recyclable plastic, cardboard and paper. This in a town of just 6,000 people! Imagine how much recyclable material we could collect in Washington, DC! While started by youth, people young and old have gotten involved, gathering at the recycling site every evening at 5pm to crush the material of the day. We joined it. It was very therapeutic!

We finished our Oaxaca tour with a young woman who started a program to preserve the indigenous culture by teaching the language (which was being lost for fear of reprisal by mainsteam Spanish speakers) on a more regular basis. She is also working to document the oral traditions and history in paper form, which has been hugely successful. What I found so interesting is how four generations have come together to encourage and support her work. Great Grandma, Grandma, Mother and Daughter are working hand-in-hand to preserve an entire culture. Just amazing!

Tomorrow looks to be fairly free, so pics from that adventure to follow. WHAT-A-DAY!

Kyle Taylor

10 September 2007

The Entourage

Seeing as how I’m traveling with a whole lot of people (in most countries there were just 2 or 3 of us) I thought it might be a good idea to introduce everyone. Speaking of introductions, I taught everyone the art of the “ugly portrait,” where you snap a quick picture when someone is least expecting it. The results are absolutely wonderful!

First up, staff and “grown-ups” (am I going to be one of those someday?)

Below is Tatiana, the chief of the operation, including the incredibly packed schedule. Well done Tatiana!

This is Isabelle. She has been with Youth Venture Mexico (Avancemos) 3 days. What a way to start your new job!

This is Jauny. She is working on her doctorate, which involves completing an impact survey of Youth Venture in Latin America. Her real name is Jaunita, but her Dad and her uncles named each of their first daughters Jaunita, which made for some very complicated family events. The first one kept Jaunita, the second became Juana and she became Jauny. Jauny is from Peru working in YV DC.

This is Natalia. Her English is exceptional, and she’s one half of an awesome venture working on literacy awareness through a T-shirt company that prints famous quotes in “cool” ways. I got one as a gift! Her nicknames is “El Jeffe” (The Chief).

This is Karla, Natalia’s other half. Natalia is the rebel in the group. She has her back pierced and weighs a WHOPPING 90 pounds. I nicknamed her “Rock Star” (Rock Star, haha. Borrowed from English).

This is Juan Carlos. He is one half of Ixchel, the team working on rooftop Organic Farms in Mexico City. Juan Carlos cracks me up. He is my roommate extraordinaire and is now famous for sleeping very little, turning the fan on constantly, and taking phone calls at very odd hours. His nickname is “El Matador” (The Matador).

Finally, this is Lilliana, the other half of Ixchel. Lilliana speaks very little English, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t know what she was talking about at all times. She carries herself in such a way that you can’t help but take her seriously. Really impressive. I nicknamed her “El Presidente” (The President) because she is going to be the first female President of Mexico. Just wait.

Just to be fair, here is a hideous picture of me. They nicknamed me “Gringo,” for obvious reasons…

And the adventure continues!

05 September 2007

Bus, Bus, Bus. Social Change, Bus, Bus, Bus.

Just a quick update from an internet cafe in Oaxaca, Mexico. We arrived early this morning - 5am - after our third long-haul bis ride of the day. It was Mexico City to Cauncha to Puebla to Oaxaca, and we´re just about to get on another bus that will take us 2 hours outside the city to visit another team! WHOA.

I had forgotten just how central bus journeys are to Latin American travel (remember that 46-hour jaunt in Argentina?). The whole sleeping 2 hours here then 5 hours here then 3 hours here bit has been taxing on my not-quite-100% Dengue body, but I´m hanging in. The 5 meals a day help (I just might explode).

Regardless of all that nonsense, the young people we´ve met are incredible and they make it all worthwhile. We (the entourage I spoke of earlier) spent the entire day at a cultural center in Cauncha that supports fringe youth by giving them a place to be themselves. The eclectic mix of gothic, hipster, gay and preppy youth was fascinating, as is the impact they´ve had on local politics - actually influencing governmental policy!

There were, of course, some amazing Ventures to be found as well, including a fully functioning restaurant that three youth -ages 18 to 21 - managed to start and run all on their own. They took out a 10,000 US dollar loan 9 months ago to buy the equipment and purchase the space and next week, they´ll be paying back their last payment. INCREDIBLE! They serve all organic foods and educate customers on healthy eating and growing while at the same time offer a place for local youth the gather and share in music, art and other festivities. Did I mention the food was delicious? They also allowed me to give them a hand in the kitchen. Good idea? You´d have to as them!

We then crammed back into public transport and headed to Puebla, the most adorable little colonial latin town on earth, for dinner at what has been called Mexico´s GREATEST TACO STAND.

I cannot disagree. With a name like Taqueria Los Angeles, how can you go wrong? Then it was back on a bus en route to Oaxaca, where we crashed this morning and are just about to head out on another team visit. In fact, the entourage just walked into the internet cafe and they´re tapping their feet, so I better run...More soon!

Final funny - Me in the chidlren´s center sitting in a tiny chair. This had them rolling in laughter for a good 20 minutes. I mean, it´s just a tiny chair...

03 September 2007

Organic, Artistic, Gigantic Oh My!

Just a quick note before I crash into my bed literally seconds after completing this entry. I’m still running on empty for a plethora (my current favorite word) of reasons, but just had to share the incredibly stories from today.

I started at 6:30am with pancakes from “Wings,” the local tourist restaurant (obviously). That was followed by three days on the subway (literally) and thirty minutes in a taxi, where both Juanie and I CRASHED. The driver could have taken us to Guatemala and back for all we knew. I mean, we were OUT COLD.

First stop was with Juan Carlos and Liliana at their rooftop organic garden, where they’ve turned an impoverished community into powerful organic growers. We planted lettuce, relocated tomatoes and even potted a few seeds. My Mom would have been proud!

What’s even more astounding is that they’re not stopping with just one rooftop. They run classes on organic farming, have built multiple partnerships with other venturer’s to build more rooftop gardens and have committed their own organic crop to local, low-income food stores over posh downtown supermarkets because they feel that “everyone should have access to healthy produce.” Did I mention that they commute two hours each way three and four times a week to maintain the operation? Blows my mind.

I also learned that apparently, I AM GIGANTIC. Look at this photo. I’m hunching over and it still looks like I’m going to eat the both of them for linner!

From there is was back on public transportation – minibus to subway to minibus to walking – en route to an Art Collective that is home to hundreds of low-income youth who have made the center their creative outlet. From sculpting to painting to drawing to pressing their own shirts, they’ve built an environment where young people can feel “completely free” to express themselves. They recently hosted their first art exhibition, educating a reluctant community about the type of positive impact a place like theirs can have on a struggling neighborhood.

It was on to our linner and evening event, where a dozen teams showed up to dine and share their countless projects that – true to form – were incredible. I even got to meet RAPEM face to face. That’s the Venture that works to bring rival gangs together through rap. I had spoken about them way back when, and it felt good to let them know that had motivated me all that time ago. What’s even more inspiring is how hard they’re working to support each other. From weekly get-togethers to large-scale collaborations, this community of extraordinary leaders is showing just what this movement is all about – changing the world together.

That excitement can definitely help to curb even the most overwhelming of days. It’s off to Oaxaca tomorrow, which means I may be MIA until Saturday the 8th when I sadly say goodbye to the traveling lifestyle and return to DC, future unknown. More soon. Sleep now!

02 September 2007

No Sleep For You!

I sojourned back to LAX and checked in with the dreaded United Airlines for my 3-hour midnight flight that – with the time change – put me in Mexico City at 5am local time. Fortunately, there were all of 14 people on my flight (seriously, I counted), which meant plenty of room to stretch out and sleep.

As expected, I arrived in Mexico City groggy beyond belief. I don’t even really remember getting off the plane, though I do remember the flight attendant asking for the blanket back (another Kyle recommended I carry additional coverage with me at all times). Customs was quick, luggage was on time and the taxi people were incredibly friendly, as was the hotel staff.

By the time I got to my roomI had a solid 97 minutes to sleep before a full day of activities. I took all of them in my non-air-conditioned Hotel Stanza retreat before showering, attempting to pack a bag (my brain wasn’t really functioning) and heading out the door…

Only to find that the first activity was a 2-hour chit-chat in the hotel restaurant. My stomach was doing the “I need more sleep so anything is going to taste weird” thing. Tatiana’s English combined with my [pathetic] Spanish and inability to form complete thoughts made for some interesting conversation. Mid-meal the four Mexican Ambassadors arrived and we became a legitimate entourage, complete with clicking cameras and (tomorrow) a big SUV driving us around.

Someone decided it would be a good idea to walk back to the US border, so we spent most of the afternoon on foot. The goal was to get all of my “setting the scene” shots finished as the next 6 days are PACKED with team visits (which I love). I think the return to traveling, saying goodbye to my family, leftover exhaustion from the Dengue and lack of sleep combined to make me really awful company, though I was doing my best to keep it upbeat. We did stumble upon an enormous political protest in Mexico City’s Central Square, which was definitely exciting! It appears that Red Bull was cosponsoring the revolution, as their tents were scattered all over the place.

Then we headed to “linner” (it’s a legitimate thing here. Mexicans eat 4 times a day – 8am breakfast, 11am snack, 4pm linner and 9pm supper) at the place where Zapata and his men planned the future of Mexico following the Mexican Revolution. I had tacos, which were divine. Sadly, my eyelids weren’t cooperating and apparently I fell asleep at the table (someone snapped this photo, which I found later).

All is all, not a bad day. I’m drifting off again while typing, so lets just say, “more soon!”