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    Two teens!

    November 1st, 2023

    Storm is now 13, so we officially have nothing but teens in our house.

    Me: How old are you about to be?
    Storm: 13

    Me: What is your favorite color
    Storm: Gray

    Me: Who is your best friend?
    Storm: I don’t have one
    Me: Do you have many best friends then?
    Storm: I don’t know who
    Me: Alright! Which people do you like hanging out with?
    Storm: I don’t know. Depends on the day.
    Me: Ok. Most days, name some people that you enjoy being around
    Storm: Uuuuuugh. I don’t feel like saying. Maybe next year

    Me: What do you like to do with your friends?
    Storm: Play games
    Me: Which games
    Storm: Any
    Me: Tic-tac-toe!
    Storm: No
    Me: Ha! So… not any?
    Storm: Video games, ok? Not blacksmith games like you grew up with.
    Me: Alright, so video games you like Ms. Pacman
    Storm: Ok, as I just stated, games that weren’t alive/weren’t created in the dark ages

    Me: Alright. What are you doing right now? [because he was]
    Storm: Making a texture of something
    Me: A texture for what
    Storm: A thing
    Me: What is the thing?
    Storm: A lot of things
    Me: Elaborate please
    Storm: Tools
    Me: What kind of tools? that looks like a shovel
    Storm: It’s golden
    Me: Is it a golden shovel?
    Storm: Yes
    Me: For Minecraft?
    Storm: Yep
    Me: Are you going to sell it?
    Storm: When I can
    Me: Is anyone commissioning this one for you?
    Storm: Nope
    Me: Ok. When you sell it, how much are you going to sell it for?
    Storm: I don’t know
    Me: What was the last thing you sold worth?
    Storm: I haven’t sold anything yet because I haven’t entered the partner program
    Me: I see. Do you have to be a certain age to enter the partner program
    Storm: No. They just haven’t sent me the link because they ghosted me fo the past… (check this) 10 days. So I have no clue if they just forgot
    Me: You can try again
    Storm: Ya, I guess

    Me: What is your favorite book?
    Storm: I don’t read

    Me: What is your favorite movie or TV show?
    Storm: Breaking Bad
    Me: That is not true!
    Storm: Yes it is! Stop me!
    Me: Ok; tell me what happens in the first episode
    Storm: Ok, so this man finds out he has cancer. Then he says “We must cook Jessie!” and then he cooks meth
    Me: We must cook Jessie?
    Storm: Yea. Ya, that’s the name fo the kid that he cooks with.
    Me: I’m a little disturbed that you know this. How long ago did you start watching Breaking Bad
    Storm: Oh, I haven’t
    Me: Liar!
    Storm: What do you mean liar?
    Me: The fact that you just told me you watched Breaking Bad makes you a liar pants.
    Storm: But I haven’t watched it, though!
    Me: I thought that Gravity Falls would have been one of your favorite TV shows
    Storm: Why?
    Me: You telling me it’s not?
    Storm: No. I’m just confused. A boy can’t be confused of his mother’s oppinion?
    Me: 100%, totally, right. So can I ask the question again?
    Storm: Si!
    Me: What is your favorite TV show or movie?
    Storm: I still don’t know

    Me: What’s your favorite animal?
    Storm: The crow!
    Me: Why do you like the crow?
    Storm: It’s an interesting animal
    Me: What’s your favorite thing about them?
    Storm: They’re smart
    Me: They are very smart!

    Me: What’s your favorite food to eat?
    Storm: Chips! They are easy to get an eat. But the only way I get them is if I specifically ask you to buy them.
    Me: Ya, they’re just not part of my vernacular to make sure we always stock up in the house
    Storm: Then put them in there
    Me: That’s just not how my brain works

    Me: Do you like ice cream?
    Storm: Yes
    Me: What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
    Storm: Cookies & cream

    Me: What’s your favorite outfit to wear?
    Storm: Long or short sleeved shirt; hoodie; pants.. long sleeved pants and socks … and you know … the other things
    Me: Long sleeved pants?
    Storm: Long pants!!!
    Me: But more specifically, your pants have to be cozy pants. They can’t be jeans or anything else.
    Storm: Yes

    Me: Who is your biggest hero?
    Storm: I don’t know

    Me: What are you really good at?
    Storm: Art. Especially pixel art

    Me: Where do you wish you could go on vacation?
    Storm: The UK

    Me: If you had a $1000 what would you buy with it?
    Storm: Stocks? I dunno
    Me: Really? What kind of stocks?
    Storm: Depends… on how risky I feel that day
    Me: How risky are you feeling right now?
    Storm: I say we shove it all in Bitcoin and wait
    Me: And hope it goes back up?
    Storm: Yep!

    Me: What do you want to do when you grow up?
    Storm: I have no clue!

    Me: What do you hope to do before you turn 14?
    Storm: I don’t know!

    Me: Give me a piece of advice
    Storm: No
    Me: You don’t have any advice for me?
    Storm: You’re older and wiser. I think it would be a bit worrying if I did have advice for you
    Me: Hey , everyone can teach someone something

    Me: What is your favorite subject at school these days?
    Storm: Math

    Me: Who is your favorite educator?
    Storm: Inga

    Me: Who is your least favorite educator?
    Storm: No comment
    Me: I think I know. Starts with an E maybe?
    Storm: Yerp
    Me: Subject starts with an L?
    Storm: No!
    Me: Really? S?
    Storm: Ya
    Me: Really? That surprises me

    Me: Share something from the last year that you remember. Like a memory of some sort. Could something as little as “Hey that one time I went out for lunch with my friends on a Wednesday.”
    Storm: Ya, that! That. Wednesday
    Me: Wednesdays are something you want to remember.
    Storm: Ya; it’s an easy. It’s an entire lunch that I don’t have to deal with you or school. It’s really interesting and actually fun.
    Me: But you do deal w/ me on a Wed
    Storm: Ya! When we’re actually done
    Me: What do you and your friends like to do on a Wednesday when you do go out?
    Storm: Eat. And hang out at the library. Talking and playing games

    Me: What has been your favorite trip this year?
    Storm: Spain
    Me: What about Spain left an impression on you
    Storm: It was a new place
    Me: So was Arizona. Eh. Kinda
    Storm: it was on a … that was this year?
    Me: Yes
    Storm: Eh. Ok

    Me: What was your least favorite trip this year?
    Storm: Hawaii
    Me: Why?
    Storm: Power went out like the second day
    Me: Ya, that kind of sucked. Have you liked Hawaii in the past
    Storm: Yes
    Me: Do you want to go again?
    Storm: Probably not the same island. Because it probably won’t be intact
    Me: They’re making improvements. But if you had the opportunity to go again, would you?
    Storm: Yes. And I know most likely when we’re going to go
    Me: Maybe not this year?
    Storm: Wow. Really? Of course not this year, because it already happened
    Me: Well. I meant in the next calendar year
    Storm: Ya; ok
    Me: Mainly because of Norway and all that
    Storm: Yes, that makes a big dent or a big whole in the wallet
    Me: Are you looking forward to Norway?
    Storm: I dunno. I’m questioning learning Norwegian just to make fun of Griffin
    Me: Really? How are you going to learn Norwegian? Duolingo has Norwegian?
    Storm: I have no clue -because, of course they put it in that native language

    Me: Ya; that’s kind of rough. I think those are my questions
    Storm: That’s it
    Me: Ya. Is there anything else you want to share though?
    Storm: No. Just know that as soon as I wake up you’re getting a tap on your shoulder asking for the gift you got me. Ok?
    Me: Oh. That reminds me. I should put it into a bag, huh?
    Storm: Ya. Because if it’s headphones I’m going to want that first.
    Me: Oh! If it’s not?
    Storm: I’m still going to want your gift
    Me: Ok. Huugs and kisses. I can’t package that.

    This is 15

    August 29th, 2023

    We have a 15 year old in the house! I appreciate how “on brand” his responses are to who he is right now. Of special note: pajama and relax time.

    Me: How old are you now? … for the record
    G: 15

    Me: What is your favorite color?
    G: I dunno

    Me: Who are your best friends right now?
    G: Ryan, Julian, Carston
    Me: No Avi?
    G: No, what?
    Me: No Avi?
    G: No, he’s busy
    Me: [laughs] He’s too busy to be your best friend?

    Me: What do you like to do with your friends?
    G: Play video games
    Me: Which video games?
    G: Counter Strike
    Me: That’s it?
    G: Ya

    Me: What’s your favorite book?
    G: Books suck!

    Me: What’s your favorite movie? Or TV show?
    G: Like… ever?
    Me: Sure. Ever… or more recent one
    G: Fantastic Beast series

    Me: What’s your favorite animal?
    G: Uuugh. I dunno

    Me: What’s your favorite food to eat?
    G: Pasta
    Me: Any particular kind of pasta?
    G: Edible

    Me: What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
    G: Vanilla
    Me: Really? That surprises me. Usually because you order cookies and creme

    Me: What’s your favorite toy?
    G: My computer

    Me: What’s your favorite outfit?
    G: My pajamas
    Me: Truth

    Me: What songs do you love?
    G: My playlist
    Me: Is there any song on your playlist that you just love listening to? Or maybe there’s more than one? Give me your top few.
    G: Music
    Me: What is your favorite style of music these days
    G: Country and pop

    Me: Who is your biggest hero?
    G: Myself

    Me: What are you really good at?
    G: Being me
    Me: What does that mean?
    G: I’m good at being me
    Me: What does “being me” look like?
    G: Relaxing

    Me: What do you wish you could do on your next vacation
    G: Sleep… more. Have internet. Not have a fire
    Me: Ya, that last one was a bit of a damper. Usually those don’t happen on vacation.

    Me: If you had a thousand dollars what would you do with it?
    G: Inflation. That doesn’t mean anything
    Me: If you had ten thousand dollars what would you do with it?
    G: Invest it
    Me: In what?
    G: In myself
    Me: What does that mean?
    G: Buy myself stuff
    Me: What would you buy?
    G: I’d figure that out later. So when’s my $10,000?

    Me: If you could have any wish what would you ask for?
    G: More wishes
    Me: Ok. What happens with your first wish from the more wishes?
    G: I’d want 3 wishes
    Me: So with your first wish you would ask for more wishes. Then you would limit your wishes to 3?
    G: Yes. Now watch. Now I wish for what I want for, then I wish for more wishes therefore the infinite cycle of wishes
    Me: But then you’re not actually getting what you’re wishing for
    G: No, no. I am. Just once every 3 wishes
    Me: Ok, so beyond the every 3 wishes and unlimited wishes, what’s the one in the middle?
    G: I dunno
    Me: I can see a geni turning you into a frog

    Me: What kind of job do you see having when you grow up?
    G: I dunno
    Me: what are you interested in?
    G: Coding. And politics

    Me: What do you hope to accomplish before you turn 16?
    G: I dunno
    Me: Setup any goals for yourself for this upcoming year?
    G: Nope

    Me: Do you plan to get your driver’s license when you turn 16?
    G: Uhmn.. maybe

    Me: Give me a piece of advice
    G: Don’t do stupid stuff
    Me: Like what?
    G: Like drugs: they’re too expensive
    Me: Huh. So don’t do drugs because they’re too expensive… not because they’re bad for you?
    G: Yep

    Me: Give me another piece of advice
    G: Listen to your dad more
    Me: Ok. Why just my dad?
    G: Because he knows how to relax

    Must be “this tall” to enter

    August 17th, 2023

    G is now 5’5″. I’m still 5’3″.

    As of this week-end, the height min to enter his bedroom is 5’4″.

    How… convenient.

    On to High School

    June 18th, 2023

    It’s time. High School. G is an incoming freshman, and I’m sitting here dumb-founded, because that feels surreal to say. I fully recognize he’s 14, but these last 9 years feel, really, maybe like 5… tops.

    Charter’s graduation was so much more than I could have expected. I legit thought 2-3 speaches from the graduating class, something from the principal and a bunch of names read out loud. I guess benefit of a very, very small graduating class (24 kids) means a much more personalized experience. Each learner was up on stage during the whole ceremony. Some were beated up by palm trees, since the wind was whipping their branches into the kids sitting right in front. It was honestly, quite a production — I could see why they needed rehersals for this thing. At the end, as each received their certificate, there was a quick reading for every kid. They contributed a paragraph, and then one of their teachers also contributed something. It was special! It felt like more than a “hope these past X years worked out; best to y’all”.

    G’s write-up was actually an inside joke for his class. At their last milestone (the SF trip) they went to Club Fugazi, where attendees were given the opportunity to write a post-card… which might then be read out-loud by the cast. G didn’t write one. But one of his friends did in his name… so they all decided to write one and attribute it to G, making Griffin quite the prolific post-card writer. So, while at this graduation ceremony it looks innocent and sweet, I’m actually enjoying the inside-joke part of it (that his teacher called-up).

    A very small part of me is excited to hear Storm’s write-up when it’s his turn. But again a very small part, because I’m not ready for grown-ups yet!

    When I was graduating high school, I felt like the incoming freshmen class looked like babies. So young-looking (yes, yes, irony — leave it alone). Yet, as I look at Griffin’s classmates (and him!) they look so grown. They look like young adults. We were asked to contribute a picture of our graduating kid from their younger years. I sent one of him when he was 7… and startled by how much he really has changed. Shane and I are def. seeing why people that haven’t seen him over the past 3 years don’t recognize him. What will the next 4 bring?

    At school the next day (why yes, they did indeed have a graduation ceremony on Monday and proceeded to have 2 extra days of class following!) they did a walk through campus with the opportunity to be greated by the younger classes. I think it’s awesome — lots of cheering from the younger grades… and just as tear jerky for this mom

    See more photos from the day here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/avalikelava/3kmy5Tq0cY

    Contact List

    June 17th, 2023

    Wanna know how to find me in Storm’s contact list? I’m filed under “Spawn point”

    Griffin was “spare parts”. Now he’s “prequal”

    Shane? “Founding father”… though Storm has been threatening to update him to “Boomer”

    S is now 12

    November 1st, 2022

    How to make a pre-teen cringe

    October 15th, 2022

    Storm: Mom, I’d really like to watch Top Gun

    Me: The new one or the original?

    Storm: The new one

    Me: I’m not sure if watching the original first is necessary to make sense of it

    Storm: That’s fine.

    Me: I think the original has a sex scene in it though

    Storm: Mom, you know, you can fast forward through that

    Me: Huh… so you can watch people do it faster?

    Storm: [looks at me with discomfort and disbelief]

    G is 14!

    August 29th, 2022

    It’s official — I’ve been surpassed

    July 4th, 2022

    Let it be known, that as of this week G is officially taller than me.

    I knew this day would come.

    …also, the “You’re short!” jokes have commenced.

    Colombia Trek

    December 30th, 2021

    Several years ago, I worked at SolarCity. On the first day of onboarding, we were presented a video of a sister-company to SolarCity: GivePower. GivePower was founded by one of the Sr. executives at SolarCity, with a mission to deliver sustainably-generated power to parts of the world without access. Today, in addition to power, GivePower also brings clean water to regions around the world as well, by setting-up solar-operated de-salination systems. Employees of SolarCity were occasionally invited to join treks. I remember seeing the video thinking what an amazing experience that would be, and how much I wish I could do it some day. Frankly, though, as much as I wanted it, I knew the reality of being invited to go would be so super, super slim.

    Fast forward to now. I happen to work for another company started by the same founders, so GivePower is still part of the family. In October, I got an email in my inbox, which I almost didn’t open. Looked like some HR marketing, so I had half a mind to just trash it. However, something told me to just read it. And the email went something like this:

    I get the pleasure of informing you that you have been chosen by your management team to be part of the next GivePower Trek.

    My manager nominated me! With Covid back on the rise, etc. I was worried the trek actually wouldn’t happen, so I didn’t talk about it much — I didn’t want to jinx it. Even the day before we left, it was still feeling out of reach. I just rolled with it, not believing it would happen until the flight took off.

    Now that I’m back, and it really happened, I can share more about it. Read below and pair with these photos and a few video clips. While 90% of these are mine, I shamelessly stole some videos and pics from friends to tell the complete story. A professionally shot video of our trip will come later (probably around February?).

    Where we went

    This trek was to the La Guajira region in Colombia. La Guajira is located in the north-eastern part of the country, bordering Venezuela. Colombia is one of the most bio-diverse countries on Earth, having everything from rainforests to deserts. La Guajira was desert, so hot (93 daily while we were there), but also very windy (which, thankfully, made the heat much less noticeable).

    The region is habited by the Indigenous Wayuu, who have lived in this area for centuries. Fun Fact: when Columbus arrived to the Americas, the Wayuu was actually the peoples he encountered.

    Much of the Wayuu-populated areas are still lacking in power and running water. As a result, the Wayuu sustain themselves through goat-farming and arts and crafts. Though these are the primary, practical economic means of survival, the Wayuu are very proud of their heritage and make a big point of passing their skills through their generations. More on the Wayuu later…

    I won’t lie: when I heard that this community lived without power and running water, my brain stereotypically assumed that their knowledge of the world would be restricted and limited. However as we drove up to the school (that housed us for our stay), there was a big-arse tower not even a mile away. I asked about it, only to hear “Oh ya, that’s the local cellular provider”. Many of the kids at the school had phones… and spent their free time on TikTok. Several of the desert homes we passed had satellite dishes. While there was no regular power, several homes had purchased generators, that they operated for important soccer (ah-hmn football) games. Priorities ;p

    Our trek’s mission was to install a 6-panel solar array at Cabo De La Vela’s main school. The school has 500 students, 100 of which live on-campus through the school year. The system we set up was actually the second on this site. The first was setup in Feb 2020 and powered the Information room. The Colombian government had issued laptops to the school, but without power, they weren’t very useful. The second system: the one WE setup helped power the dorms, and the kitchen, giving the kids light at night and helped power a fridge and a freezer (which GivePower also donated). Access to refrigeration is huge! Now kids could have greater access to fruits and vegetables: something difficult in the desert, where 1) getting these products is difficult with nearest market being 1.5 hours away, and 2) it spoils quickly. I’m excited to say that with the work we did, we not only expanded the education time for these kids (in giving them ability to study after dark), but also made their lives a tiny little bit healthier.

    11 people across our company were selected for this trek. It was really, really great to get to meet and know some of my co-workers better, and actually even learn what some of the roles these people represented did better. We worked, traveled, slept, ate together for the whole time we were there.

    Our days were divided between work & community engagement. We’d work for half the day, and then participate in either a field trip, or some other community interaction.

    About the work

    Each day we would split into 2-3 teams. I mostly spent time on the electrical team. It was indoors, so my whitey skin was happy with this plan. Also, it seemed really interesting, plus I figured I’d get to learn a later-usable skill. We ran piping through the dorms, kitchen and dining area. Ran wires through the pipes. Stripped said wires, and then connected them to junction boxes where we setup light switches and bulbs. I also helped stencil the logos of the contributing companies on the walls.

    Outside, over the course of the 4 days, the teams dug ditches, setup the ground-mounted system, and mounted the panels. They also setup the batteries and main control system.

    On the last day, we had a Lighting Ceremony, where we turned the power on for the first time. Until then, no one had seen any of the lights working (except, of course the lead coordinator, who was checking through everything to make sure it all worked). I won’t lie — I was super nervous about the switch and part of the system *I* put together. What if it was the part of the system that didn’t turn on? What if I messed it up and it shorted the entire system? It was indeed a proud moment to see it work, and work well. I took a picture with my switch ;p

    The 11 of us were guided through our daily tasks by 3 trek leaders, and 2 professional electricians. Neither electrician spoke any English. I was grateful for the few members of my electrical team that knew some Spanish, or in case of Ali, was their first language and could relay the instructions. Highly entertaining to watch 2 professionals squirm as we struggled to do basic tasks — you could tell on occasion they just wanted us out of the way because they could do the work SO much faster. For the half of the days were were doing tours, or playing with the kids, we’d come back the next day and see the two of them accomplish twice the work that 11 of us took in the first part. Where we probably legit helped them most was in the ditch digging and heavy lifting.

    A bit of a frustrating point was the limited number of tools. Two ladders for the entire team. Two drills. It absolutely would have made us more effective if we had more of these tools. The outside team also had a total of two picks. Turned out this was all purposeful: swinging too many of these around is a dangerous hazard, and I guess the scarcity did force rest for each of us as we took turns.

    Days outside of working

    For the portions of the day we weren’t working, we either engaged with the kids and staff on site, or had a field-trip to the regions.

    The on-campus activities included a bon-fire night, during which the students and teachers told us folk-tales of their culture; playing traditional games, or seeing a presentation from a local artisan about their hand-made crafts.

    The games were a riot. There was a “car” race, where we pushed hand-made cars to the fence and back. The cars were made by cutting the indigenous cactus down, and in the middle carving out the cactus meat, revealing just the reed center. Not to brag, but in my cohort group I came in second.

    After the group performance at the bean-bag race (see video) the staff decided NOT to have us directly participate in the traditional wrestling games. I think that was for the best!

    One of the afternoons we just got to hang out with the girls still on campus. It was neat to hear them talk about what they wanted to do after graduation, though paired with their cognizant reality that going to college was an activity few of them would likely be able to achieve. Many Wayuu don’t travel much farther than Riohatcha and getting to go to the University there is no easy achievement. Still the girls had important basics down: study hard and don’t get pregnant — words of wisdom anywhere.

    I also met an infant howler monkey. His name is Tata. Sadly, Tata was present because his mom (the family pet) recently passed away, and he wasn’t eating. His family was keeping a close eye on him, trying to get him to eat. Watch the video for some adorable Tata sounds. I can definitely see why they’re called howler monkeys.

    Our adventures off campus included a trip to Cabo de la Vela beach, a visit to the first school in the region GivePower installed solar to, a hike up El Pilon de Azucar, and another hike to Piedra Tortuga. At the beach we did go in the water, which was lovely, warm and shallow. We later learned that most locals consider that crazy because of all the jellyfish. Happily we didn’t see any until after we left the water. Something did get me in there though because coming out I had some bright red patches on my feet. Luckily nothing itched, pained or swelled. The lead trek guide gave me a lot of cautious side eye all evening. I did confirm with my squad that someone was going to have to take one for the team and help me out, Friends-style, if things took a turn for the worse. Spoiler: They didn’t! However, the experience did make me reflect on the Travel Clinic consultation where the doctor pretty much listed the 20+ ways I could die on this trip, from small, invisible virus and bacteria, to the venomous deep-water jellyfish. I swear she has the best job! We spent some time enjoying watching the wind-surfers, the beautiful sunsets and the local beer (or in my case a delicious soda called Columbiana).

    Night-time on site was beautiful. No power = little light pollution, so the skies were something amazing. You can see the Milky Way with the naked eye and shooting stars every so often. It was incredible, and something I tried (but failed) to capture!

    Getting to Cabo De La Vela & Living on-site

    Travelling to Santa Marta took 3 flights and 15 hours of travel. From there, we had a 3-hour bus ride to Riohacha. We spent the night at Riohacha. It was our last night sleeping horizontal (until we got home), and access to a shower with water coming out of a faucet. We had an afternoon of sightseeing on the main beach-front area and having a dinner together, getting to know each other.

    I guess for no better reason than “It was Sunday” there was a street party right outside of our hotel. People came out, listened to music, enjoyed each other’s company and danced. They asked us to join, which was super sweet and welcoming.

    The next day, we had a 3 hour trip to Cabo de la Vela, about half of which was off-roading through the desert. Traveling with large groups tip: I thought it was brilliant that we were assigned a vehicle. The entire time we were there we had the same drivers/cars. Anytime we had to go anywhere, that was your car. It made getting places so much faster: no one had to wonder which buddy they wanted to ride with. Also, though we’re all adults, we didn’t lose anyone either.

    Driving through the desert was a trip. No roads. No signs. I have no idea how anyone could get here without a guide. Probably explains how people get themselves lost enough and drive themselves into the ocean.

    Most Wayuu don’t have cars. They got around walking, biking, or using a motorcycle. We saw some…. interesting…. motorcycle arrangements. 4 family members on a single bike. Or a couple of riders with some ingeniously balanced products. Best thing which, sadly, I don’t have a photo of were goats on the motorcycles, as families were taking their goats to sell at market.

    We all slept together in the boys’ dorm. We slept in Chinchorros (big, beautiful, hand-made hammocks) during our stay. They were surprisingly comfy, and the tip we were given was to sleep at a diagonal, so that your body would be as horizontal as possible. Worked well, but I’m a side sleeper, and it wasn’t super easy to get to my side. Also, lemme tell you, with 19 people in that space (11 of us + 3 trek guides + 1 prof photographer + 2 cooks + 2 electricians) the snoring symphony was quite amazing. I can sleep through a lot, so it didn’t bother me as much, but it was def. difficult for some. Kindness note: for our stay, the local community lent each of us a Chinchorro to sleep in.

    Bugs were definitely a thing. Right after we arrived on-site, we had a little pow-ow that went like this:

    Ok guys, there are two bugs we want to talk to you about. 1) Before you get into your Chinchorro please check it for scorpions. Also before you put your shoes on, always shake them out to make sure no scorpions got in. You might also want to make sure your bags are zipped up; 2) These are really rare, and you’ll likely won’t see these, but watch out for escalopenas. What is an escalopena? Well, think part centipede, part scorpion, park demon. Their bite is bad enough that we’ll need to take you to a hospital.

    If you see photos of headlights looking at a Chinchorro, that’s illustration of the daily check. Good news: no scorpion encounters during our stay, and no one reported bringing home any unwanted bugs. Crazy news: those “rare” escalopena? We saw 5 during our stay. 2 of them found crawling on colleagues while they showered. The first one within hours of hearing about these creatures. I refused to shower in the dark after that event.
    The reality, however, is that these are the facts of living for the people that live here. I never realized how much brain-space caring about what could bite me/put me in the hospital at any given moment took up. Little elements like this type of basic safety I took for granted, because I didn’t know were a thing. Yet, this community has to take in consideration every day.

    Evenings were accompanied by mosquito serenades. Come 4am in the morning, when the desert heat would kick in I had to decide which was worse: the sticky heat or the mosquito bites. It was a continuous battle between blanket on or off. I’m sure the mosquitos were in heaven. They saw 19 people show up, put on their bibs and rubbed their little forelegs with a “Fresh blood!” battle-cry. Let’s just say I wore bug repellant day and night and was really, really happy that the Yellow Fever vaccine was mandatory.

    Speaking of showering (and using the toilets), as I mentioned there was no running water. We had access to delivered water that we could bucket-wash through, and use the same type of water to flush the toilets. Totally non-drinkable water. It was to be used externally only. I learned that you can have a surprisingly effective shower with very, very little water. I’m finding myself turning off the water mid-shower now that I’m back, so that it’s not running the entire time I’m in the shower.

    It was amazing to watch the group of girls fill-up and carry buckets of water from the school well (where non-potable water was delivered to) back to their dorm. Every kid had 2 hours of chores every day. This, being one of them. And here, at home, I can hardly convince the boys to put in their 5 daily minutes!

    Any of the water we drank was provided to us by the program, which in turn was generated by the solar-powered water system GivePower had setup the prior year. Anything we put into our mouth, really, had to be approved by the trek guides. Since our biomes were not acclimated to that region, all the food we ate had to be handled in a way that our poor, Gringo stomachs would not riot against. We made it with 0 incidents!

    Lighting Ceremony

    On the last day of work/on-site we had a Lighting Ceremony. The school gathered members of the community (teachers, staff, parents, students), their community leader to watch us turn on the lights in the dining area and dorms. The ladies were all given traditional Wayuu dresses to wear (which by the way are the bomb! light, breezy and comfortable) and our faces were painted with traditional Wayuu designs. Sadly (or maybe not?) the guys did not get to wear the traditional clothing, though I was really, really hoping I could sell our trek guides to get them to believe they had to.

    As a Thank You, the community made us a traditional dish of goat and arepas.

    More about the Wayuu…

    Our driver, Mario, married into the Wayuu community, so he was able to share a lot about Wayuu culture as we would ride to various activities. Here are some interesting things we’ve learned. Note, I’m totally taking the word of a single dude, and not researching separately to validate everything he said was true. So, take all this with as many grains of salt as you wish.

    The Wayuu live in tribes. Each tribe is led by a community leader and an “elder”. Each position can be held by either a man or a woman (Go Wayuu!). Gender doesn’t matter. However an attribute of selection seems to be age, as age suggests wisdom.

    When Wayuu would marry across tribes, the man would move to the woman’s tribe. Their community leader would show them were they could build their home. If for any reason their marriage didn’t work out, the dude would leave, but his ex/kids/home stay with her community.

    Historically, when a girl got her first period, she would isolate along with some of her female relatives, during which time they would teach her all the craft work the Wayuu are known for. Today, a year of isolation is no longer a thing (as they start teaching young girls traditional crafts much earlier), but for tradition, they would isolate for a month… just that first time.

    When a Wayuu dies, their bodies are buried. Historically, wrapped in the skin of a cow. These days, interred in a coffin. However, two years later, their remains are uncovered, so that their soul could be set free. The souls of the Wayuu ancestors go to El Pilon de Azucar before they pass on to the afterlife. It’s why that site has such spiritual meaning to these peoples.
    At El Pilon de Azucar there is a spot where you can leave an offering along with a bad thought. It was a beautiful and cleansing experience!