Monday, October 17, 2011

Jeff's Latest Adventure

I was going to go on and on about Jeff's latest adventure. Rather than me doing so I will simply provide the details on what my oldest grandson has to say:


On October 16, 2011 by admin
Latacunga Ecuador
October 15, 2011


I am not afraid of flying. That does not mean that I don’t take precautions.
I buckled my belt and performed my once-over of the plane using my limited aviation knowledge:
While leaning over my neighbor trying to see into the cockpit I knocked his beer (where did he get that?) all over his lap. He calmly looked into my eyes, and inquired as to my current state of mind. Confused by his question, I assured him that I had been nervous lots of times, and that I was sorry for his pants.

“Do you know how many backup systems there are on this plane?” He continued. He gave me a technical overview of how crash-proof planes are, and by the time he finished his pants were dry and I was convinced a lapdog could keep a 747 aloft.

And so it began.

My friends and family have suggested many reasons for me leaving again. Most are along the lines of ‘personal edification’ and they are partly right. Other theories put forth are “attachment dysfunction,” me being a “hopeless romantic,” involvement with American intelligence agencies, and my personal favorite, that I have been a step ahead of bounty hunters for the last six years, and have to leave the country every so often to keep them off my trail.

The reality is much less mysterious and much more pragmatic. After graduation I went right to work in Europe leading bike trips in France and Italy. As great as it was, something was missing. I wanted to do something more related to my Biology degree and I missed academia and graduate school seems to be beckoning; completing a Fulbright grant had the potential to help hone in on a program. The U.S. Department of State placed me in Latacunga Ecuador where I will be teaching at a local university as a TA while conducting my own side project which will involve environmental sustainability, ecology, public health or something else not yet known to me.

Why Ecuador? My love for this country started with National Geographic and its stories on the Galapagos Islands. I was also inspired by the book The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner, and from watching the movie The Motorcycle Diaries. This inspiration led me to take a semester off during college to volunteer and travel in South America (Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina) with Tyler Depke which gave me first hand experience working with environmental projects in Ecuador – especially Quito, Jipijapa, and Chiriboga. I had to come back.

The country with the most biodiversity per area, it is a naturalist’s dream. The ocean coasts, Galapagos Islands, high sierra, and Amazon rainforest transition zones and microclimates are enough to send shivers up my spine.

It is a country made of as many diverse people, languages and customs as geological formations. Regional foods, words and traditions keep mountains, rivers and caves company. There are always new places to explore, people to meet and things to do.

It is also a country in need of help. Some forests are protected, but this protection is threatened by the need for oil. Clear cutting for farmland is common even in areas where it is prohibited. Glaciers are disappearing and with them steady sources of water. Waste disposal is often limited to flushing sewage to the ocean or dumping garbage in non-safe conditions. Education systems are being restructured while budgets are becoming tighter. Larger cities are becoming more dangerous and tourist traps abound.

Senator Fulbright established the Fulbright Program after seeing all of the debt that European countries had accrued toward the US. He proposed a payback of cultural exchanges instead of hard currency, hoping that a cultural exchange between Americans and their host countries would grow stronger political bonds as well as increase mutual understanding.
It is refreshing then to reflect on the other ‘ambassadors’ that I have met through this program. Indeed the Fulbright program is still sending a strong message. I hope to add to this voice.

My photos, videos and writings contained in this blog will try to give my experiences in this magnificent and dynamic country a modicum of justice. I doubt they will.

I have found that the most important things that I bring with me when I travel are not in my suitcase. They are works in progress, but with these, any situation can be overcome:

A sense of humor.
The love of people.
Reserved judgment.
A sense of adventure.
The curiosity of a child.

I’ll keep you updated with how it’s going. My early forecast? It’s going to be a great 10 months.

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