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The FIPAH youth write on!

August 13, 2010

Don’t forget to visit Jovenes Investigadores, http://fipahjovenes.blogspot.com,  for continued updates on the activities and projects of FIPAH from the youth themselves! The Nourish team, author of this blog, has left Honduras, but the youth of FIPAH continue to be very busy.

One group, the youth CIAL of Santa Cruz, has begun participating in a plant-breeding project, the first youth in Honduras to participate in this kind of pioneering research! They are working with FIPAH to develop resilient, locally appropriate corn varieties in accordance with farmers’s interests. The youth will play a critical role in solidifying food security in their community.

A Final Thought

August 13, 2010

Well, loyal readers, I thought I’d round out the Nourish en Honduras blog with a final post (for now). It’s hard to believe that our two months with FIPAH are already over, but all seven team members (Marianne, Maya, Leslie, Monica, Caitlin, Sarah, and I) have returned to our natal states/provinces. Yes, we’re all back (as of last Monday)…with mud caked into our sneakers from our adventures in the field with the CIALs, thousands of photos on our cameras, and many memories and new ideas from the youth of FIPAH.

It was with a tear in my eye that I scrubbed the last bit of Honduran soil off my shoes today in the kitchen sink. The tear was probably induced by my nostalgia for the past two exciting months with FIPAH mixing with the fertilizers that my shoes absorbed on our last day in La Ceiba visiting a bean experiment in the mountains. In our last week, the entire team (Yorito and Otoro girls) finally got to spend some quality time together, debriefing on the project, reflecting on our experiences, and trying to absorb the last sights and smells of Honduras.

We met with Fredy again, the FIPAH general administrator, and he was very eager, as was everyone at FIPAH, for our thoughts on and suggestions for their youth programs. FIPAH’s dedication to the youth is inspiring and incredibly important in the development of the communities where FIPAH works. One of the few concerns we could think of regarding FIPAH’s youth initiatives was follow-up and the continued support for the youth as they grow older and graduate from the education centers. We, as is FIPAH, are eager to find ways that FIPAH can maintain a connection to these youth after they leave the CIALs. FIPAH is always looking for new venues to provide these youth opportunities to engage in their community.

Looking into the future, if you thought your live updates on FIPAH’s work were going to end with this blog post, you are quite pleasantly mistaken! In our last computer workshops in Yorito, we established Jóvenes Investigadores, a blog for the youth of FIPAH. Under our guidance each group wrote a post to practice publishing and composing. Just as I hope our blog shed a bit of light for you, readers, on the communities of Yorito and Otoro and FIPAH’s work here… our hope for the youth CIALs is that they’ll be able to use the Jóvenes Investigadores blog to share their plans, projects, and research with other youth and other organizations outside of their communities and Honduras. Check it out! http://fipahjovenes.blogspot.com

A blog, we explained in our last class with each of the youth CIALs, is like a public journal; it’s your own site where you can publish your thoughts, opinions, news, photos, and stories. Maybe you already knew that, but before the final class, I wasn’t too clear on the potential and true value of blogs myself. As we explained the possibilities of a blog to the students, I came to realize just how revolutionary of a tool they can be for youth, connecting the young writers with a global audience that would otherwise be cut off from the thoughts and news from these rural innovators. The trick is maintaining the blog.

In the theme of maintenance, perhaps you’re wondering what will become of our Yorito computer lab now that we’ve left. Well, in our last week in Yorito we met with eight students from the local high school who’ll be interning with FIPAH in the month of August. They’ll be teaching another series of computer workshops to the youth CIALs. I think they appreciated the guide to our workshops that we created and left with them. They seemed to be in the very early stages of their own planning. I’m sure all eight of them will learn a lot in the course of their internship, and whatever they teach will help reinforce what we began in our workshops. I’m really excited to hear about the continued use of the computer center now that we’ve left!

The youth computer center will remain open to all youth working with FIPAH, whether they are in a CIAL or a student in one of the Educatodos education centers. Now with their own computer lab, FIPAH plans to continue to provide free computer and communication workshops to youth, building on the training begun in Nourish workshops this summer. Hopefully, the youth will continue to update the blog with news of their activities and plans! If not, I’ll just gladly call them up and remind them how.

Con cariño,
Anna

Oh yes, and on behalf of all the writers of the Nourish team, thanks for your interest in our blog!

Visiting Santa Cruz

July 19, 2010

Last Tuesday, we Yorito girls had a day off, and were able to visit Santa Cruz, a community 1400 meters up in the mountains. We went with Marvin, the regional coordinator of FIPAH, and Melvin, the director of the youth CIALs. The Santa Cruz CIAL has been together for 10 years and has pioneered fitomejoramiento, or plant breeding, in the region. Fitomejoramiento, the development of new seed varieties that best suit the needs of small farmers, is one of FIPAH’s central goals. Most seed development is targeted at producing varieties that grow quickly and best resist disease in the most ideal conditions. These varieties are not well suited for the rocky, mountain-side land on which most small farmers live and work. FIPAH’s aim is to take the variedades criollas, traditional seed varieties, which possess certain desirable characteristics, and cross them to produce new varieties better suited to those difficult conditions. With FIPAH’s model of participatory research, the people doing the crosses are not scientists in some laboratory, but the very farmers who are planting the seeds and eating the products. Since the farmers choose which characteristics to look for in a cross, factors such as tradition and taste (in addition to yield and disease resistance) also come into play.

After sitting in on a CIAL meeting, in which both adult and youth CIAL members were present, it was time to hike. Marvin needed to check on the progress of some of the CIAL’s crop fields, located about 20 minutes up the mountain. The views were absolutely breathtaking. We could see the entire valley of Yoro, and the scenery surrounding us felt like a story book setting, with rows of beans and corn and clusters of white rock.

Marvin and Juan Pedro, a member of the Santa Cruz CIAL, showed us the differences between bean and corn varieties, some criollos and some hybrids. Several of the parcelas, or plots, contained beans, corn, coffee, plantains, yucca, avocado, sweet potato, and peaches, all of which were planted in the same tract to increase variety and yield. A big problem in the mountains is erosion—a rainstorm can cause a landslide and wipe out half a field. One solution is to build grass barriers to keep the soil from falling, but the diversified tracts, which include fruit trees in addition to basic grains, also help keep the soil in place.

Many of the houses in Santa Cruz were beautiful and picturesque, with clean whitewashed walls, picket fences and flowers in the gardens. I commented on this to Marvin, who said that it didn’t look at all like this when he’d first visited. Most of the homes have only recently been renovated. FIPAH collects yearly economic data on each community and the data have shown that over time, the people in Santa Cruz have had more security in their food source and have been able spend more money on things like home improvement. We saw for ourselves that day that FIPAH’s model, which has been implemented in Santa Cruz now for a decade, has improved the quality of life in the communities in which they work.

This experience and so many others that I’ve had over the past several weeks have made me so admire the work FIPAH does. It’s been really inspiring to work with a development organization with a model that involves the participation of the community and whose effects are truly visible. We’re down to our final week here working with FIPAH, and I know I’m going to have a hard time leaving.

Sarah

Final Weeks

July 8, 2010

The clock is ticking for us here in Yorito. With a little over two weeks left on site, we’re moving into the Internet in our computer workshops, practicing dialogues in our English classes, and working on guides and manuals to leave behind once we leave. There’s still so much to be done and so much still to see we can’t believe the time has flown by so fast!

Since we last updated, our team reunited last week for the first time since May during the Feria here in Yorito. It was a beautiful day full of music, food, and dancing. FIPAH had a Seed Fair where adult CIALs from all over the region displayed and sold their home-grown produce. Each CIAL brought a slice of biodiversity from their community. Starting at 7 a.m., people began laying out their trays of seeds, fruits, vegetables, leaves, and roots. It was really interesting to see so many varieties of vegetables and the things the CIALs made with them. Most interestingly – soy cookies and soy sausage. Both surprisingly delicious! We spent the afternoon watching some soccer and then went on a quick hike up a mountain that looks over all of Yorito. With so much activity going on that day, it was really cool to see the town from above. That night we watched the annual coronation of the town queen and headed to the Salon de Baile for some dancing. We can’t lie; it was rather awkward at first. But after getting over our initial embarrassment, we all got up, headed to the middle of the floor and helped start the party! This was almost two weeks ago and people still like to bring it up in conversation. Maybe we made fools of ourselves or maybe we were exceptionally good dancers…we have no idea.

Next week will be our last week with our English classes as they will all graduate on Saturday the 17th. They’re all done with all of their classes and exams so we really appreciate their efforts in continuing coming to class. We’ve mostly gone over basic questions and answers like “How are you?” and “What do you like to do?” and made vocabulary lists with emotions, activities, foods, and other subjects. Some classes are rather advanced and can create and manipulate conversations using pronouns and difficult vocabulary. In others, we’re still reviewing the alphabet. It’s been a bit of a challenge having to adjust to different paces and different ways of learning. But overall, our students remain motivated to learn English. Next week we’ll be doing some singing and teaching each class a popular English song.

We’ve experienced a similar situation in our computer classes. Some have a good bit of computer experience and are able to navigate easily. With others, using the mouse and finding letters on the keyboard is still a challenge. Nonetheless, we adjust and take each class one at a time. This past week we’ve been doing photography: how to use a digital camera, the uses and aesthetics of a photo, and going on picture-taking scavenger hunts that have produced some pretty awesome results. We would upload some, but the Internet connection simply won’t have it. The students have had fun with the cameras. Even the most timid students cracked a smile when asked to jump for an action photo required in the scavenger hunt. It’s really great to see them more comfortable and willing to be more open. It can be a struggle to get some students to even speak in class but many have found excitement and ease with taking pictures.

As graduation approaches, we’ve been asking our students about their future plans. Many say they want to keep studying and hope they can continue school a distancia or by correspondence. Unfortunately most will be unable to do so because of difficulties with transportation and money. Others have expressed interest in heading north to the States and finding work. We’ve had some interesting conversations with people about the US and the difficulties in getting there. “Why is it so hard to get into your country?” they’ve asked and almost everyone mentions their many relatives currently working there. Some of the younger boys that sell food at the bus stop like to joke about sneaking back with us and laugh at the idea of hiding in our suitcases. But the reality is that many people they know have made the painful journey through Mexico under unspeakable conditions. We’ve been reminded of this scary reality this week right here in Yorito. Three boys from Yorito between the ages of seventeen and twenty were kidnapped in Mexico while travelling north by a gang and are being held ransom for $2,000 per person. For their families, this means selling absolutely everything, homes and belongings, to try and meet the price and be reunited with their sons. Hearing these stories reminds us that despite these risks, hundreds still make the journey everyday. The other day one of the FIPAH staffers was encouraging some students to find opportunities here in their home country, to keep studying, and to stay. Hearing frequent stories about emigration reminds us of how important FIPAHs work is here. FIPAH offers many vocational workshops to youth, trying to create local opportunities for these students, in addition to the agricultural education offered to youth through the CIALs. FIPAH tries to instill an appreciation for the land, the produce, and most importantly the people they work with. For many this won’t be enough, but hopefully some will be encouraged to stay and find opportunities here in Honduras.

On the agenda for the next two weeks: a visit to Otoro to meet up with Maya, Leslie, and Marianne, making pupusas, a dance party in La Sabana with one of our groups of students, WORLD CUP FINAL, making lots of guides, the Yorito premiere of Saving the Seed, and graduation! We’ll be here until the 24th before heading back to La Ceiba for a few days and returning to the US the 28th. Time has flown by and we unfortunately know the next few weeks will only fly faster.

Con mucho cariño,

Monica, Anna, Caitlin, and Sarah

So much to say and only halfway!

July 6, 2010

Hola a todos!

I am writing today from a rather dark room in a very, very rainy Jesús de Otoro. While some might enjoy this sort of ambiance, I must say that writing in the dark today wasn’t by choice. After two days of (menacing!) heat we finally got a break with a storm – unfortunately the rain came hard and fast and we lost our power about ten minutes after starting work in the office this afternoon. Though if we’ve learned anything in our first month here it’s how to adapt and make the most of we’ve got. Leslie and Maya are typing up some of the Baseline Data we gathered from the Youth CIALs a few weeks back on another laptop, and I’m just across the room on another.

It’s hard for us to imagine that we have already passed the half-way point of our time in Honduras. While we have already done so much since we’ve been here, we still have a lot more that we hope to accomplish before we leave. We will tell you about that when it happens though, as there’s already so much to say about the last few weeks! Days have been falling off the calendar as we have been teaching English classes more regularly and learning first-hand about FIPAH and farmer livelihoods in and around Otoro. It hasn’t all been work though; we have also been part of a documentary screening at the Mayor’s office, attended a Biodiversity Fair in Yorito, and cheered on Honduras in the World Cup!

After a few weeks of coordinating schedules, our weekdays and weekends are now mostly dominated by English classes. In many cases we were informed that students were at 6th and 7th grade English levels, however, nearly across-the-board we have had to start from square one with our students. We have been patiently repeating the English alphabet, vowels, numbers to 20, and colours so far, and are looking forward to introducing exciting new vocabulary in the coming weeks – such as “family,” “emotions,” and “time.” There are still some communities that we have not been able to visit that we are trying to reach in the next week or so. Our constantly changing schedule has made consistency and planning-ahead a luxury, but at the least we’re hoping to visit each community twice. Computer classes have been more challenging to organize, simply due to the fact that there is almost no computer access in the schools where we are teaching. However, we found out last week that a nearby community, Crucita, has about five computers available for us to organize a workshop. We’re hoping to get something organized with that and will certainly keep you posted! Today was also an exciting day as we handed out disposable cameras to our first group of students for Postcards for Progress. I’m not sure who will be more anxious to see the photos – the students or us!!

In between teaching we have continued to accompany FIPAH staff in their daily work with adult, youth, and women’s CIALs (FYI, a CIAL is a Local Agricultural Research Committee that works together to improve planting techniques and research the best plants for their growing conditions). In addition to learning the importance of hats, long sleeve shirts and long pants while out in the field, we have been assisting staff in planting vegetables and fruit trees, mixing organic fertilizers, and keeping growing plots of land clean and healthy for the harvest. Unfortunately, June was a trying time for a lot of small corn farmers in the Otoro area as a new plant pest destroyed a large portion of corn crops during one of the most important planting times of year. What was happening was that shortly after planting their crops of corn – which any of us will tell you is a lot of work – a caterpillar would come and eat the stalk of the newly planted corn (the locals call it the “heart”), effectively destroying it and forcing the farmer to find new seeds and replant their entire plots (particularly tragic given that these had been the best seeds saved from previous harvests).  If this weren’t bad enough, many of these farmers were planting new seeds that had been sent from a partner organization in Mexico that could have greatly improved their harvest (and diets) in the coming months. FIPAH staff were racing from community to community helping their farmers control the spread of this caterpillar and attempting to save some of these seeds. While it took some strong chemicals, we haven’t heard FIPAH staff nor farmers talk about the caterpillar for a couple of weeks now. We are all hoping this doesn’t becoming a reoccurring concern.

The issues that farmers face on a small scale and on a large scale are all discussed during FIPAH’s radio hour each Saturday afternoon, hosted by the wonderful Luisa. We accompany Luisa to the radio station every week when we have the opportunity, and while she encourages us to speak every week only Leslie has been brave enough to say a few words every time she has been there. Last week the show was dedicated to Climate Change, a topic that has come up consistently among FIPAH staff and farmers since we arrived. The effects of climate change are being felt hard and fast by farmers here in Otoro. Rains are changing, storms hit at new times – and it is the poorest and most vulnerable farmers that are in the worst position to recover from and prepare for these changes. As I was beginning to hear about rather disturbing accounts of the G8 conferences in Toronto – where climate action was not even on the agenda – I was processing Luisa’s comments about how climate change affects farmers here in Honduras. For many in Canada and the United States – particularly those outside of the agricultural sector, climate change is still something very intangible. Here in Honduras, however, climate change is affecting the crop cycles and traditions that farmers have been relying on for decades. I expect that we will be discussing climate change again soon with Luisa, as another FIPAH staff member, Katia, just returned from a compelling conference in Managua, Nicaragua where Climate Action among Latin American countries was the primary topic. We all look forward to hearing more about it.

In spite of the challenges facing FIPAH and their farmers, there is still a lot of time to have fun here in Otoro! Last Thursday we joined FIPAH staff, farmers and community members at the Mayor’s office to watch “Saving the Seed,” the beautiful documentary made by two Nourish volunteers from last year (bien hecho, Clara and Scott!). While we had all had the opportunity to see the film even before coming to Honduras, many of the people who were featured in the film hadn’t even seen it themselves! It was wonderful watching everyone exchange glances in the room as the person sitting next to them was featured on the screen. The whole afternoon was a great success. Further, this Tuesday we all piled into Omar’s car at 5:00am to make the drive to Yorito for their annual Biodiversity Fair. We arrived at about 9:00 to join out Nourish compañeras in admiring the varieties of corn, beans, fruits, medicinal plants, and vegetables all grown by community groups and CIALs in the region. Suffice it to say that everyone had a great time wandering Yorito, visiting the Fair, and getting to know each other. It was hard to leave!

In the next couple weeks we look forward to more teaching, more farming, and of course, the World Cup final next Sunday! While we weren’t able to cheer Honduras all the way to the finals, we’re all keen to see who makes it to the finals now that Brazil has been eliminated. Go, Latin American, go!

Hasta la proxima,

Marianne and Team Otoro

Updates from Yorito

June 26, 2010

¡Buenas!

The four of us here in Yorito are about to enter into our fourth week of English classes and computer workshops. In pairs, we teach approximately fifteen classes in six different villages as well as teach other English classes at the primary school here in Yorito. We’ve been pretty busy! With our English classes, our students are all in the 9th grade and they will be graduating on July 17th. Therefore we have the freedom to teach our own lessons in those classes because most have finished their required exams with the Hi, Honduras textbooks. Working with that textbook would have been extremely difficult and discouraging. We’ve been trying to plan a supplement guide to help make the books more understandable for the teachers as none of them speak English. But because the books are littered with spelling and grammatical errors and make absolutely no sense in terms of structure, order, or basically anything, it’s a difficult task. However we hope that with some explanations and inserted grammar lessons the books completely ignore, we can help make the books intelligible. Otherwise in our classes, we go over basic verb conjugations, vocabulary, and lots of practice with pronunciation. The students are all very eager to learn and we hope to give them some tools to make learning a new language a little easier.

Apart from that, we have set up a computer lab with four brand new computers at the FIPAH office. Those that are involved in the youth CIALs are invited to come to weekly workshops where so far we have gone over parts of the computer, how to navigate, typing, and the ins-and-outs of Microsoft Word. Our students have been surprisingly diligent with the typing exercises. They are sure to keep their hands in the proper position and to use all of their fingers as we explained. Also, because we only have four computers and approximately twelve in each class, students not using a computer have been helping their classmates with their work. Many have expressed that one of their goals is to teach others about how to use computers so we’re hoping that some of our more advanced students will continue giving workshops after we leave. Next week we plan to move into Internet and learning how to perform searches and creating email accounts.

The overarching goal of the computer workshops is to increase communication between the youth CIALs because they live in many different areas, as well as to be able to share their research and information about their lives with others beyond the FIPAH family. “Para que sean buenos comunicadores,” as FIPAH director José Jiménez expressed at our first meeting. “So that they can be great communicators.” Therefore, in addition to computers, we are also incorporating some journalism and photography elements by having the students perform interviews, write reports, and sending them on photography assignments. The computer lab includes a digital camera available for the students to use as they wish. Our ultimate goal is that the students in the workshops will have enough knowledge to confidently use a computer and will want to continue using the lab and the camera. Hopefully we can work with some students to prepare them to continue giving workshops so that more can learn and the computer lab can really be put to good use. There is so much good work being done here with the youth CIALs and we hope that they can share that information and the amazing work they do with others.

Otherwise, the four of us entertain ourselves by watching tons of World Cup games. We watched Honduras bow out yesterday in a great match between Switzerland. The people here never really expected Honduras to move on past the group stages but they are proud of their team’s performance. For the remaining games, each of us has made a bracket with our predictions as to who will win and advance. Also, we are regular customers at Doña Francisca’s baleada stand. Every night we make our way to the town center for delicious flour tortillas with beans, cheese, and chismol, sort of like pico de gallo. The other day we went over to her house to try and make her famous flour tortillas. We did our best, but they didn’t compare to Doña Francisca’s. Needless to say, she can still expect to see us every night.

Next week is the local feria where there will be dancing, performances, and lots of food. Marianne, Maya, and Leslie will be coming to visit from Otoro so our team will be reunited for two short days. After that, it’s back to teaching classes. With less than a month left here, there’s still a lot to be done.

Con corazón catracha,
(the TV announcer’s favorite saying meaning “with Honduran love”)
Monica

Expecting the Unexpected

June 19, 2010

We have done a lot since we last wrote! But three things immediately come to mind:

1) Approximately 80% of the land in the Santa Elena region is dedicated to growing corn– most of that harvest is for consumption, not for sale.

2) A family of 10 with eight children (which is typical here) would eat about 120 corn tortillas per day.

3) In order to make a more livable income, farmers to need to better utilize the land they already have by getting better yields from their sellable crops; land is scarce and corn crops cannot be sacrificed.

We are seeing how much corn is a pillar of life in Honduras. And although we have only taught two English classes so far, we are constantly learning.

Last week we explored La Marcala and the surrounding regions (in the department of La Paz) with Domingo and Oseas. We visited 10 youth CIALs, planted vegetables and made tortillas. The idea with the CIALs was intercultural exchange, that we would explain a little bit of our lives in North America and that the young people would share their stories with u. With certain groups, this worked really well; we all talked about favorite foods, what we do in our free time, going to school and how life in North America differs from life in Honduras.

The first group we met with took us on a hike to the top of a gourgeous waterfall and then shared some heavy-hitting insight into life in Honduras at our meeting that. The CIAL coordinator, Carlos, pointed out that for most young people, working in agriculture is the only option. Youths in more rural, isolated communities have very little access to school; they may or may not have a nearby primary school to go to, and secondary schools are even fewer and farther between. That said, many have to prioritize working in the fields over going to school in order to make money for their families and for themselves. Furthermore, Carlos added, even those who do continue going to school and do well can´t continue to university because there aren´t scholarships available to them. Omar had told me in our first few days here that only about 2% of the population is college-educated, but beyond that, it seems that many Hondurans aren´t getting through primary school. This is a phenomen that is essentially nonexistent in the U.S. and Canada.

Some of the groups, however, were too timid to talk to us. Marianne and I dicussed this with Doña Isadora yesterday, that shyness seems to be a part of the culture here. Even adults are hesitant to talk to new people, she said, and tend to look down at the ground instead of making eye contact. She is seeing this change, however, in the adults and youths in the CIALs; some are becoming more outgoing and confident from working in a group setting.

We also did our first digging! We all really enjoyed working the land and working alongside the CIALs to dig, make plant beds and sow seeds gave us a better idea of just how strenuous agricultural work is. Sometimes they laughed at the way we manuevered the hoes, but after a few hours the plots had been transformed from bare land to cultivated land that would produce radishes, zucchini and scallions. In most cases, the CIALs sell two-thirds of their harvests and reserve the last third to eat at home. FIPAH is working to introduce more vegetables to the typical Honduran diet; instead of just growing corn and beans (and sometimes squash), FIPAH wants CIALs to incorporate more vegetables to eat and to sell.

Towards the end of the week we headed up to the zona alta (the high region) where we stayed with Oseas´ family. They were extremely welcoming, and we got to watch the first few World Cup games there (a new satellite dish had been installed just in time!) His mom and sisters were even patient enough to each us each of the steps of tortilla-making, from breaking the dried kernels off of the cob,  grinding the kernels,  adding water to the masa and rolling out the dough, to forming and cooking the tortillas. The job was unbelievably time-consuming  and instensive; his mom and sisters spend at least four hours a day making tortillas. The women here have to put in an incredible amount of work into feeding their families, even if they aren´t working in the fields.

And finally, for our last night in Santa Elena, a local CIAL (who we had planted with earlier that day) put on a dance performance! They demonstrated the traditional dances of the indigenous Lenca culture; the girls wore wonderfully bright and colorful dresses, and the boys wore white pants and shirts with a sash to match their partners. After they had danced for us, the asked us to put on the dresses and try a few steps ourselves (sorry we can´t upload the photos). Everyone seemed to have fun, and it was a great way to bring the trip to a close.

Not to mention…we got back just in time for Hugo´s birthday! Sunday morning we prepared tamales with Hugo´s wife, Margarita. The cooking started around 9 am, the tamales were steaming by 12:30 pm, and by 4:00 pm we were stuffed with the best I´ve ever tasted. That´s a recipe I´m definitely going to try to recreate at home  (although I won´t attempt to make 105 like we did that day).

And now we´ve been back in Jesús de Otoro for a week so more will be soon…

Vaya pues…cheque!

Leslie (and the crew)