Monday, December 8, 2014

Peace Corps student making compost and tortillas in Oaxaca, Mexico

By Tricia Kent
Natural Resources Management Master's International Student serving in the Peace Corps in Oaxaca, Mexico

I have been in my site for six months and there have been a lot of changes big and small as we head into the end of the year. I am serving in the town of San Juan Bautista Cuicatlan in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. I am working with the Biosphere Reserve Tehuacan-Cuicatlan as an environmental education volunteer, though as a volunteer you really do a little bit of everything.

Tricia Kent, second from right, on a trip to Parque Nacional Lagunas de Zempoala with ecotourism guides from the biosphere reserve.
My assigned project here has evolved into what will be a municipal composting operation that will use the organic wastes from the mercado (market) to make fertilizer. This project will be a huge collaboration between the municipality as well as the biosphere reserve who are kicking in money and engineering insight. I have also taken on some smaller school composting projects with the two middle schools in town as a way to teach local kids about waste management and organic farming. Fortunately, the students love these classes because they get to chop organic matter into small pieces with machetes before tossing it into the compost.

Tricia Kent (center) works on a composting project with Barrio Zaragoza in her community.
Working in Cuicatlan has been an interesting lesson in the polarizing power of politics in small town Mexico. I have never really been interested in politics before coming here, but knowing who is part of which political party has proved to be essential for getting a foot in the door or a compost in a school.

My graduate research project is still up in the air, though I am honing in on a topic. Climate change is a really important theme for the Mexican government, and there has already been some modeling on temperature and precipitation changes with time. I am interested in collecting more qualitative-type data from the people who live here in the CaƱada region of Oaxaca, to complement the quantitative climate data. This region is extremely complex and biodiverse due to its geology and geographical location. Additionally, everyone here agrees that about 10 years ago the climate started changing dramatically from how it was before. I am interested in documenting these changes and their effects on farmers and harvests.

In my free time I have been hanging out with my host family learning how to cook every single delicious thing I possibly can. Oaxaca is the most gastronomically rich and diverse state in all of Mexico and is also the land of mole (savory sauce made with chocolate). My host parents are a sweet indigenous couple who have a seemingly infinite knowledge of salsas, tamales, mole and native greens, and I have been eagerly helping to pat out tortillas, grind coffee and prepare salsa.
Tortillas Tricia Kent made on the family comal (cooking stone).

Wishing everyone in Fairbanks a happy end of the semester and a safe holiday season! I will be taking some vacation time to explore other regions of Oaxaca along the coast and the Istmo.

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