Friday, September 11, 2015

Nos vemos

Today is my last day in the Asofenix office, and I am spending the day bringing closure to what has been one of the most fulfilling three months of my life. Last week was very emotional as I said goodbye to my family and friends within the community. I will always remember that week and the little acts of kindness that filled my stomach and heart. I will remember the care with which my host father wrapped up my boots to take with me, and sitting on a rice bag chatting with my host mother late into the night as she baked me cosas de horno to bring back with me. I will remember brushing my teeth the last night under the sparkling night sky to a chorus of barking from the neighborhood dogs. I will remember getting drenched in a thunderstorm while we hiked up the mountain to collect bright yellow berries called nalcites. I will remember the bright smiles of the children who came to play with me, and also their long faces as they begged me not to go. I will remember the kind notes that my friends sent me and our parting hugs. Even if it is challenging, I will try to stay in touch and I sincerely hope I can visit again.

This week I have been spending most of my time in Managua working on final reports and projects but Tuesday and Thursday I left the office. Tuesday was a fresh breath of mountain air as I got to visit Green Empowerment's other Nicaraguan partner ATDER-BL in the city of Matagalpa. I had a bit of an adventure in the morning sprinting to the bus station just as the bus was leaving, but I made it just in time. I spent the day wandering down the busy streets, reflecting in the beautiful churches, and appreciating the flowers and steep mountainous roads. I ate a breakfast of only vegetables (what a luxury!), and the director of ATDER-BL made my day by giving me a fruit cup complete with a slice of apple. I bought a handful of fresh jocotes and bananas from a street vendor, but as I walked down the street, I ended up giving them all away to the homeless people I passed with a smile. I treated myself to a smoothie and a fresh guava for lunch and tasted some pitaya sorbet at a charming ice cream shop. I chatted with an artisan and bought some of her work to bring back as gifts. I sat and reflected in a local park smiling at babies as they waddled by and helping an elderly lady read phone numbers in her phone. I enjoyed chatting with Caitlyn on the bus rides and learning more about the challenges and rewards of work in the non-profit world.

Thursday, I spent the day running errands around Managua with Dona Norma running across the highways and swaying in the crowded city buses. After a couple unsuccessful visits to the bank, I found an ATM that worked, and I was really excited to be able to buy her some new shoes which I hope will help with her foot pains. I also mustered the motivation to get my report done after everyone had left for the day. It is rewarding to see that I actually have done a significant amount of work this summer, and that I could write up a report of about 50 pages. I hope that it is helpful to Asofenix and future interns as well.

Ultimately, this fellowship affected me deeply at a personal level. This experienced pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I learned more about my own values, goals, and talents. I embraced the opportunity to work more independently, develop proficiency in communicating in a different language and culture, and present in front of a variety of audiences and age groups. Having the opportunity to teach reinforced my passion for education and my resolve to continue to take every opportunity to learn from and share experiences and skills with every person I meet. I gained insight into the many dimensions that contribute to a sustainable energy project. Working on both the educational and technical aspects of the work allowed me to see how all of the projects fit together into an integrated and transformational program. I also made a number of deeply meaningful friendships with the families in El Bálsamo, and I feel that I have another family here in Nicaragua. I was deeply moved by the opportunity to learn from and share the stories of the resilient and loving people I worked with. I have enjoyed learning the nuances of Nicaraguan language and culture, and I have become so immersed that I have even started dreaming in Spanish. This fellowship reinforced my desire to couple my technical skills and interest in science with my passion for teaching and community building to create a more just and sustainable world.
 
I am so grateful to Stanford, MAP, Green Empowerment, and Asofenix for making this experience
possible. I am thankful for my friends and family who encouraged me to take this opportunity and
have supported me throughout the experience. While I have to say "nos vemos" to Nicaragua, I take
comfort in the dual meaning of the phrase. While it means goodbye, it also means we'll see you again.

 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Faldas and Friends

The past three weeks in Nicaragua have been both challenging and rewarding in ways that I could not anticipated. I am grateful for a healthy body and mind. I spent a week recovering from a mysterious stomach bug, and I am so thankful for people who supported me Managua while I was getting better. I got a first hand experience of health care in Nicaragua, and the experience was certainly very different than my visits to Stanford hospital. I have a greater respect for the difficulties of operating a clinic with limited resources, and I have confirmed yet again that I would not be very happy being a doctor.

After a few days of day long naps and numerous shots of intravenous antibiotics of different varieties, I felt well enough to accompany some of the Asofenix staff on a trip to a couple of other communities. In the morning I went to Candelarias, a community with dry and rocky terrain to help repair a solar powered water system. I started off doing a little work with the wires and screwdrivers, but I ended up succumbing to the shy smiles of the children and playing instead. We practiced writing letters and making stories in the dirt and tracing our hands in the mud as the wasps buzzed around our faces. One of the families thought that I was the daughter of Gustavo, the hardworking, intelligent, and always smiling Asofenix engineer. We all laughed because we are too close in age, but it also reminded me of how early children grow up in the communities that we are working with.  In the afternoon we went to El Bejuco, a lush and mountainous region. After spending most of my time in the dryer parts of the department, it was refreshing to see the forests and even feel a little bit cold. We were greeted with delicious corn patties, cheese, and coffee. I got to help out Dona Agueda, the education and agriculture expert in Asofenix with a workshop on the relationship between gender and energy. It turned out to be a bit of a touchy topic, but hopefully the workshop got a discussion started to empower women to have an equal say in energy decisions in the community. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend time through thoughtful conversations with Gustavo and Agueda and get to know different communities. 

After a restful weekend, I was eager to get back to Balsamo. Getting to the community felt more like going home than a long journey. During my long layover in the Teustepe bus stop, I decided to make an uncharacteristic impulse buy. I bought a knee length pink falda. When I was waiting for the bus, I saw several familiar faces who asked me where I had been and if I was feeling better.

The week that I was sick, the kids apparently waited and waited for me to come, and they were very happy to see me get off of the bus. When the bus driver dropped me off, they were hiding in their usual places giving themselves away by giggling. I pretended to be scared before my face melted into a smile, and they enveloped me in a hug.

The next day I wore my skirt and a light sweater. With my weathered black flats and braid I looked like the other women in the village. While all that had changed was my dress, suddenly I was perceived less as the gringita and more as a member of the family. When I was not working, I made tortillas, went to church with my friend, stopped and chatted with different families, and played with the children.

The educational work as well has been coming along well, and I am enjoying the role of bringing people and ideas together and starting discussions. Times continue to be difficult without rain, and despite the challenges, people are finding ways to stay positive. I have been making so many friends, and I am growing by learning of their strength and resilience.

Last week, I brought my computer to show some pictures, and it was delightful to see their faces light up. We went on a hike in our flip-flops looking for internet signal, and although we didn't find it, I enjoyed the cool mountain air and panoramic view. It was beautiful chatting and joking in the steep descent as they all took care to make sure that I didn't fall by putting their arms around my waist and holding my hands.

There are so many special moments and people that make each day so rewarding, exciting, and peaceful. I am still sifting through the numerous beautiful memories I am making and struggling to find closure with the rapidly ending experience here. I have really fallen in love with the people and work in El Balsamo. While I am excited to return back on Monday, I am very also sad because it will be my last week and I am not ready to say goodbye. I am grateful for everything I am learning and feeling.

Friday, August 7, 2015

One large family

In the past two weeks, El Balsamo has become more like home and family to me. Now that everyone knows me, I can sit down in plastic chairs outside people's houses and chat for hours about anything and everything. I am attuned to the subtle nuances of life, and now I can participate more fully. I can sense the eager eyes of the pig when she wants to sneak into the house and shoo her away. I know the back ways to get through the village, and I can walk through the steep rocky trails in flip-flops.

The community has also warmed up to me, as the realize that I am here to stay for a bit longer. I was invited to make a surprise birthday cake for a quincenera using one of the improved cookstoves in the community that Asofenix installed. It was good fun mixing batter and chatting with my friend and her parrot in her kitchen. The next day I went to the birthday party for dinner, and it was fun chatting and celebrating. They know me well and are very considerate, so they even gave me juice instead soda and fished the vegetables out a soup so I didn't have to eat the meat. I felt like part of the family chatting with the ladies and playing with the kids.

I have really enjoyed getting to learn new things including how to ride a horse in flip-flops and make perfectly round corn tortillas. Whenever people want a laugh, they ask to listen to my pathetic attempts to whistle. I am determined to learn before I leave, and they assure me it is really easy although I still haven't had much success so far. I am also learning a bit how to dance, and they even threw me a dance party where I self-consciously danced in the dim light of flashlights with a surprisingly large number of people who came to watch. Some people have even taken to calling me "Chenita," an affectionate manipulation of my nickname.

Getting to know people better has also given me insight into the struggles and difficulties that the people are facing. It is a particularly dry winter here, and because the bean crops did not come out, most people are out of work and are struggling to make ends meet.  I heard about one lady's struggles with an oppressive mother. I listened to a mother grieving for her son who died suddenly, and talked to his wife who is now working several jobs to support her children. I listened to people who were planning to go back to Costa Rica early to work the back-breaking night shift coffee plantations to make enough money to support their families. A friend told me how before the dirt road was constructed, she would have to wake up at 3 am and hike 2 hours by foot to take a 3 hour bus to go to secondary school, and how everyone dropped out of school to avoid the walk except for her and on other person from El Balsamo.

I am humbled by the strength and resilience of the people, and I am honored to be able to listen to their stories. One of the gems came from a discussion I was having about learning and development with one of the leaders in the community. Roughly translated, he told me that "development is when people grow their conscience." He told me how it doesn't matter how much people have or don't have if they do not care for and care about what they have. The way he put it in Spanish was so eloquent and struck a chord with what I have been experiencing and learning about the practice of care.

I have loved spending so much time with children. My workshops in the school continue to be a learning process, but the kids are more comfortable with me now and I was invited to start working with another community as well. It was a beautiful hike up the mountain with the other school, and my experiences have reinforced how much I enjoy rewards of the beautiful challenge of education. I also visited 36 households with cookstoves to start working on a digital registry of the cookstove projects in El Balsamo and enjoyed chatting with the women. I have been working on planting trees and am helping plan a workshop about biofertilizers and pesticides to help combat the tomato plagues that have been affecting the patio gardens.

When I am not working, I am usually playing, and the three kids that I play with every day have become little siblings to me. They come to me to settle their fights about whether there "owl" (out) or "saaf" (safe) in our games of baseball. They have commandeered my camera taking hundreds of pictures of themselves and me when I am not watching. They are trying to set me up and find a boyfriend and it is amusing to see how excited they get when I talk to teenaged boys. They taught me how to make origami using bean shells, and love to sneak up to me. Yesterday, they took 30 minutes to say goodnight to me because they kept tickling me and then hugging me and telling me not to leave them. They told me "hasta Lunes," but they ended up waking up early anyway to see me off in the cattle truck this morning. I don't want to think about when I have to say goodbye for real.






 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Machetes and Mamones

I am back to the office in Managua after another rewarding week in the beautiful village of El Balsamo. There is love in people's hearts, food in their bellies, and smiles on their faces. People are growing accustomed to my face and it is gratifying to hike up the hilly dirt road and hear my nickname called from little boys riding horses in flip flops. I am no longer completely new, but it will still take a good amount of time (probably my  whole lifetime!) before I truly become a member of the community. Hovering between my life at Stanford and life here is liberating because it gives me a chance to observe and learn in a completely different context. However, it is a little alienating at times being so far away from my friends and family, and being an outsider in a very close-knit community.

I arrived to the community in a truck with the material to build cookstoves. I was sandwiched between the rotund and jovial driver and Xobeyda, a student that was returning back home after finishing her last exam for the semester. We lumbered along at 30 kph, the stick shift digging into my leg as the driver changed the gears of the groaning pickup. I was grateful for a small body that can fit in a surprising amount of places, and for the nice company for the ride.

This week, I helped construct 4 Joco Justa cookstoves. Each stove takes about 5 hours to complete, and I had fun learning, working hard, and getting dirty. It was satisfying hacking at cement bricks with a machete while imagining that each blow was breaking off a little bit more of the poor health and poor education in the world. It was hard work laying bricks, filtering rock, mixing and laying cement with a local artisan, Darvin. I was followed by an entourage of children. I gave them my camera to take pictures of what they wanted to, and I got some pretty interesting pictures of the community. It was interesting seeing their narratives through the pictures they decided to take, and they took some candid shots of me working in unflattering angles which made me laugh. While I was helping with one of the cookstoves, I was followed by a 3 year-old-boy who was completely enamored by me. He kept insisting that I play in the piles of rock and cement with him, using a bent piece of metal to etch designs into the dirt floor. Whenever I would stand to lift a brick or help with the stove, he would yell my name until I sat down with him again and drew another line in the dirt. At another home, I was watched by two very tiny kittens who burrowed in the dirt.

I taught another lesson in the school this time about how solar panels function. I think they liked it ok, but I felt that it went over their heads a little bit. They were interested in learning more English words. I am learning, but it is a little bit of a struggle engaging all of the students, especially some of the rowdy boys. I am trying to balance the constraints of limited materials, teaching in a language that I am not completely fluent in, and a different style of learning. This summer has definitely got me out of my comfort zone speaking to all sorts of audiences from young children to professors. I am learning not to take everything personally if every student doesn't understand 100% of what I say or is not riveted by what I am saying. I am adapting to the reality of a culture in which education consists of copying what the teacher says for a couple of hours without any application or real expectation that the students really understand or enjoy what they are learning. These challenges make me all the more grateful for my wonderful education and the love of learning that I inherited from my family.

This week, I took my iPhone to the community. It was an interesting experience showing them pictures of my trips to Europe and Canada sitting in the dim light of their stone homes. They loved looking at the pictures, but it made me a little uncomfortable seeing how different the opportunities I have are than the kids that I was talking to. They discovered a video that I took a long time back of Mrs. Woods playing piano, and it brought back so many memories for me, amplifying the feeling of floating between the life I am learning about the life I have lived so far.

I am starting to feel the physical wear and tear of 3 weeks of physically active and rigorous days. My muscles are very sore, and my head hurts from chronic dehydration. However, the small pleasures of life in the village far over weigh my tiredness. Eating mamones, a green lychee like fruit straight from the tree, and planning lessons with a baby puppy napping on my foot fill my heart with joy. It rained on Thursday, and it was beautiful getting wet in the rain that would nourish the crops.

Jaime, the founder of Asofenix, came to give a talk about environmental issues in El Balsamo yesterday. I attended and observed how people responded to the lecture, and I feel grateful to be working with an organization that has so much trust and support from the people. Alba was telling me how people love to attend any events put on by Asofenix whereas they are vary of other organizations that come take pictures, promise grand projects, and deliver nothing. It makes me sad that this type of exploitation happens, and I am learning how projects based on trust and confidence are made at Asofenix.

Yesterday, I returned with Don Jaime which was very comfortable. At 80 kph (more than twice as fast as the buses), the cool breeze after the rain whipped across my face from the open windows. The ride was breathtakingly beautiful with a double rainbow, and sunset colors over the verdant rolling hills. It was such a luxury having my own seat and just taking in the ride without any of the stress of traveling in a bus.  I feel grateful to have a clean, safe, and friendly place to return to in the Asofenix office. The other interns came back as well today, and I am looking forward to hearing about their experiences over the past few weeks as well. I am looking forward to a relaxing weekend to let my muscles and mind relax a little bit and catch up with friends and family.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Bastante

Bastante has become my favorite word in the Spanish language. It has two definitions that are often used interchangeably: enough and plenty. This nuance in language describes my first month in Nicaragua well.

I am working for Asofenix, a grassroots organization that works to develop and improve the lives of rural Nicaraguans in the villages in the hilly Boaco state. They focus on saving and utilizing natural resources with projects in renewable energy to bring electricity, potable water, irrigation systems, clean cookstoves, education, and sustainable agriculture to communities. They work directly with leadership within the communities, and individuals within the community provide the labor, materials, and part of the cost of each project. After reading about, experimenting with, and discussing the idea of working with communities as a student and TA in ME 177, I have enjoyed getting to see the rewards and challenges of working with communities in practice.

Casa 374 is my home and office in Managua where I share a small apartment upstairs and a large table downstairs. Its rose colored walls and slightly overgrown lawn greet me as I come back from the community on the weekends. Its many non-human denizens including Charlie the Cricket, the many geckos, stray cats, ants of varying size, and mosquitoes are my companions here. I fall asleep to the cooing of the mourning doves, whispering of the bats that I have been told live in the roof, and the chatter of the neighbors jamming to upbeat dance music. In the office, I work with Dona Norma, Dona Agueda, Don Jaime, Dona Lilia, and Dona Joasca, the other interns Nick and Kirsten if they are around, and the many people from the communities that come here to work occasionally. As the youngest member of the Asofenix team, the staff takes good care of me. Everyone works very competently, but they take some time to chat, gossip, and drink coffee in the mornings while I prepare my oatmeal. While I am at Managua, I am usually planning my work and lessons for the week, reading reports, or taking on odd jobs and tasks for the staff. In the evenings, I take a refreshing cold shower, cook dinner, and relax.

For the past two weeks I have been commuting to El Balsamo, a small mountain village in the state of Boaco. I am slowly mastering the crowded and slow buses in my long commute. I am getting used to the cramped seating (or standing) on the bus. I am peaceful now with my head pressed against someone's chest and someone's arm sticking into my side in the bus. It has been an interesting way to observe that space and cleanliness are truly commodities that I had taken for granted. As a part of living independently in a foreign country, I am learning about and pushing my own boundaries. The sweaty closeness to others has forced me to become more assertive and less self-conscious. Even the long bus rides can be tiring, I have been using them as opportunities to learn and relax. Small moments stand out. A woman next to me was dozing with her young son in her arms, and he rested his head on my arm and started snoring. When the woman woke up and realized that he was sleeping on me, she smiled before going back to sleep. Another time, I saw someone with the same water bottle that I had gotten from the Clinton Global Institute University conference I had attended in Miami, and I wondered about her story. It is interesting to read the safety instructions in the bus that are written in English, a language that most people in Nicaragua do not speak or read.

I am loving my time in El Balsamo. I am living with a family of 5 who have welcomed with loving arms into their home. I am eating abundantly from their farm starting my day off with black coffee, a warm corn tortilla, and a hunk of cuajada, locally made cheese. I am enjoying waking up chuckling at the pompousness of the roosters who are asserting their self-perceived profound importance early in the morning. I have been more active than I have ever been in my life playing many hours of soccer and baseball with sticks and stones with the neighborhood children and working with the men in the community. I am enjoying taking hundreds of pictures with children, letting them pack and unpack my bag several times, and the curious smiles of people as I walk down the rocky dirt road. Diana, the 5-year-old daughter of my host mother, leads me everywhere with her insistent call of "Shena, venga!" since we bonded after hopping on one leg around the corners of her stone and mud home.

I am working directly with the leaders of the community on Asofenix's projects. With Eustebia, the entrepreneurial cookstove promoter, I visited all of the kitchens in the community two weeks ago and learned about the various new types of stoves that will have huge health, environmental, and economic benefits to the women. I experienced the thick waves of smoke first hand, and after only a few hours of visits, I got a cold from the smoke. I have so much respect for the women who constantly wipe smoke out of their eyes as they lovingly prepare rice and beans for their families. Last week, I pounded gravel and shoveled concrete for the foundation of 4 cookstoves with Darvin, the master constructor of the cookstoves. Knowing that every heap of dirt was helping improving the lives of the women and children in the house was rewarding. It was also refreshing to do manual labor, the work traditionally done by men. I have never considered myself a physically strong person, but doing this kind of work has given me confidence to challenge gender stereotypes and appreciate my body for all of the weight it can carry given the opportunity and motivation.

I have also been learning quite a bit about sustainable agriculture and reforestation through my work in the patio gardens with Vidal and Socorro. I enjoy the feeling of the dirt under my nails as I plant seeds of tomato, pepper, onions, and cabbage that will provide families with nutritious fruits and vegetables to enjoy. Working on farms has been a dream come true for me, and I enjoy the sweaty and meaningful work. Fingering the dirt has filled me with gratitude for the soil, the source of all of my food, energy, and prosperity. As I eat a tomato or cucumber in the community, I savor it knowing the hard work and energy that went into producing it.

One of the most challenging and exciting parts of my work has been planning and implementing an environmental education program in the school and for adults. I taught my first lesson last week about different types of waste and how to dispose of it, and it was generally well received, and I am learning and adapting. It is a huge challenge teaching in such a resource constrained area, and I am even more grateful for the wonderful educational opportunities that I have had. Teaching in Spanish has also been an interesting challenge, and I am learning to improvise and make the most of the situation in the moment. I am enjoying connecting with the children as I play soccer and baseball in the dirt path outside the school. I follow the lead of the school's girls, ducking out of the way as a cowboy pushes his herd across the road and scraping cow feces off of the ball with a green leaf when the ball goes over the barbed wire fence. It is fun go back to elementary school with all of its innocent idiosyncrasies where the biggest arguments are about whether the goal should count or not.

In the past month, little things have changed. My fingernails are adorned with a layer of dirt. My hands are dotted with blisters, hardened by the metal of the shovel and hammer. My toenails resemble a Disney princess themed Jackson Pollock painting, the handiwork of some of the girls who have befriended me. My legs are spotted pink and red from mosquito and insect bites and healing scabs. My ears are attuned to the lilting cadence of the rural dialect. My nose smiles with the smell of Earth after the torrential monsoon rain and tolerates the stench of the pit latrine. My heart is full with a sense of abundance and gratitude in a world of bastante. My mind is patient and peaceful.

This experience is allowing me to explore and overcome my desires and ambitions. After the pace of life at Stanford, the unstructured climate of the organization and culture came as a bit of a shock. Accustomed to the structure of weekly p-sets and countless meetings, the open ended and largely independent nature of the work challenged my desire to always be doing something helpful. Redefining success and progress has helped me be satisfied with whatever comes my way. Abandoning the need to feel in control all of the time has been liberating in other ways as well.

Living and working on my own in a different language and culture has taught me how to become an adult. Whether it is knowing how to navigate public transport or cook for myself, relying on myself has given me skills that in the safe confines of the Stanford bubble or at home I don't need to do. Being on my own has also forced me to solve problems as they come with a level head and ready head. Episodes such as mopping up ankle deep filth from my regurgitating toilet, rehanging my sopping wet clothes after it rains on my clothesline, and scooping out bucketfuls of water from a moody washing machine have taught me patience and humility. I am so grateful that thanks to the the hard work and good fortune of my family, these types of problems are not my daily realities back home.

Through my growth and increasing independence, I have been incredibly blessed by all of the love and support of my family and friends back home and my new friends in Nicaragua. With their love, no matter what I have, it is bastante. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The 26th Floor

I love conversations with strangers. In a short time we realize just how much we have in common and I realize just how many friends I have in this world that I have not met yet. When I am traveling by myself I feel even more connected with the world around me and how similar we all are.

I woke up bright and early after a beautiful day in the Botanical Gardens to board the Amtrak from Vancouver to Seattle. I met a lady who had recently moved to Canada from Japan and while the lush green pastures and estuary glided by us, we talked about culture, food, and journeys.

From the quiet and reflective vibe at University of British Columbia, I found myself slightly disoriented in the bustling traffic and massive skyscrapers. I felt small in the jungle of buildings and maze of people. I checked into our room on the 26th floor of the Sheraton. The room was so clean and luxurious that I quickly tucked away my suitcase not wanting to mar the pristine decadence of the room. I could see the world like a bird from the window. It was peaceful seeing those overwhelming city streets from so high up, and watching the cars and people move with chaotic precision.

I had a great time talking to Bhavna, Jonathan, and Sarah and stopping for several hour lunches and dinners. While preparing for our presentations and going to different sessions at the Washington State Convention Center, I learned about engineering, social justice, and life in general. On our last day we visited Pike Market and I picked up some dried figs and enjoyed looking at the quirky bookstore, music store, and magic store. I am grateful that there is so much to learn, and that there are so many kind people in the world.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Beautiful Vancouver

After a long hiatus, I have decided to start up my blog again to reflect on my adventures this summer. This is my second full day of summer, and already I have learned so much and have had several adventures.

I had the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone yesterday and present to a number of professors and professionals that I look up to at the Engineering Education for Sustainable Development Conference in Vancouver. Their support and feedback made the experience so fulfilling. I am so grateful to my mentor, Dr. Bhavna Hariharan, for being such a caring teacher, mentor, and friend to me this year. I can definitely say that taking ME 177 last year changed my life, and encouraged me to explore what I was passionate about with rigor. She has welcomed me with open arms into her research and teaching, and she opened my eyes to how engineering and social justice are linked in ways that lead to shareable prosperity. I enjoyed every stage of our work on developing globally prepared engineers from writing the abstract to presenting the research. I am looking forward to presenting next week at the American Society for Engineering Education conference as well.

Now on to the adventures! I got to meet some inspiring people at the conference, and I enjoyed going to the technical sessions. Today I decided to give myself some time off and explore the University of British Columbia. I spent a few hours at the Museum of Anthropology. This was the largest collection of non-European art that I had seen before, and I enjoyed learning about art from the Native American tribes, from many African countries, and from Asia.

 I was mesmerized by the large collection of everyday objects - cups, knives, blankets, and masks. It was beautiful looking through history's closet. In every line of paint and sinew of fabric, I could see the hands and hearts of people throughout time and space. I tried to imagine what these hands looked like. Were they wrinkled with age? If their fingers weathered by work, were their palms smooth or roughened? While the stories and forms of expression were so different, looking at them made me feel how connected we were. While our mediums are different, our stories have so much in common. Despite their many challenges, humans are strong and resilient. I felt humbled to be a small ripple in  this continuous ebb and flow of the human experience.

I strolled through the faculty neighborhood taking time to touch the petals and leaves that I saw. One aspect of biodiversity that I find so exciting is how many different types of textures there are. I met this charming French-Canadian professor. I asked him for directions to the beach, and he pointed me toward the "new beach."

The trail was in a densely wooded forest. The only sound that I heard other than my feet thudding on the wooden path was the sound of the wind rustling. The only fellow moving creature I saw was a prosperous (aka chubby) banana slug happily wallowing in a sheen of slime.

I approached the sound of rushing waves when I saw the sign. Remember that grandfatherly professor? This was no "new" beach. This was a nude beach. Thankfully, I didn't run into any awkward situations because the only creature there was an elegant heron lifting his slender neck with effortless poise. It was both intensely peaceful and unsettling to be so completely isolated. The looming snow mountains, the wide ocean, and the city buildings  in the distance were so idyllic, and I felt that I had entered a postcard.

After trekking back up through the forest, I let my feet soak in a couple of the fountains at UBC. I got my fountain-hopping fix from afar, although the experience made me already nostalgic for Stanford. It was refreshing to explore a place where I knew nobody and had nothing I had to do. I learned, wandered, wondered, strolled, appreciated, and wrote.  My idea of a perfect day.