Belice y la isla de los pies descalzos

Encontré la belleza de Belice al caminar descalza en sus playas. En Cayo Caulker, una preciosa y pequeña isla en el Caribe, es común ver a los viajeros caminando sin zapatos, disfrutando cada granito de arena rozando la planta de sus pies. Los que han estado más tiempo en la isla, caminan con zapatos para ir a trabajar, pero una vez que su día laboral termina, dicen que uno de sus mayores placeres es caminar despojados de calzado.

Estuve pocos días, y decidí perderme por unas horas explorando las calles de Cayo Caulker. Platiqué con gente de la isla que encontré en mi camino. Pescadores, amas de casa y estudiantes. Diálogos quebrados entre el inglés y el español. La tierra del “spanglish”. Todos ellos con historias de vida relacionadas con migración. Algunos a la capital del país, la ciudad de Belice, o a otros destinos como México o Guatemala. Sin embargo, todos ellos con añoranza de regresar a aquella, su isla descalza.

Experimenté la frescura de Belice por medio de su gente. Rostros sonrientes, curiosos para platicar con el viajero. Miradas suaves. Quizás no hay pueblo tan amable como el de dicha isla. El pueblo que hace que uno se sienta en casa. El mismo pueblo que porta con orgullo la cultura criolla mestiza, garífuna y maya.

(Andrea Arzaba, 2015).

Arzaba Belice 1

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Urban Gardening in Washington DC

My first approach to urban gardens happened a couple of weeks ago, at the Neighborhood Farm Initiative in Washington DC. We were planning an activity outside of the university for my Environmental Peacemaking class, and we decided to volunteer in the organization near Fort Totten.

At the city garden, we met Caroline Selle, who is the garden manager. She shared with us her experiences on how she started gardening in the city. It was interesting to hear how much it helped her find peace. It was also fun to listen how she took care of her favorite vegetables while they grew. She helped us get a better experience by showing us how innovative agriculture projects can help create community in urban areas.

Personally, I enjoyed that activity very much since it was my first experience helping clean, plan and understand urban gardens. I felt so inspired and connected to the food I consume that I am sure it won’t be the last time I visit the farm initiative.

Here are some pictures of that day:

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(Andrea Arzaba, April 2015)

My journey as a 25-year-old traveler

I published this post last week for the Travel Go Girl Network. You can read the original piece here.

I started traveling before I was “officially born”. When my mom was pregnant, she went with my dad to Cuba. They were enjoying a young couple’s life, saving as much as they could so they could backpack around the country. During their time at La Habana, in the central market, an old woman told her she was pregnant. It was there that she knew she was going to be a mother.

Women in Travel Summit PosterThe best thing is that this did not stop her from continuing to explore Mexico before I was born. I was fated to become a traveler.

Twenty-five years later, I am honored to represent female travelers as the “Poster Girl” of Go Girl Travel Network’s Women in Travel Summit 2015. After visiting more than 25 countries, due to study, grant research programs, journalistic opportunities and backpacking adventures, I realized that every single country I have visited has changed my life for good.

I am thankful for every moment I felt out of my comfort zone, every new dish I have tried, every hostel and house I have stayed in, every stranger I have talked to – and I am extremely lucky to say that I have met those dearest to my heart across the globe, in unexpected moments and places.

So how has traveling made me a better person?

It taught me empathy.

I experienced Ramadan with Indonesian friends. I learned the demands of Turkish youth during Gezi park protests in Istanbul. I understood a Chilean’s educational discomfort and a Brazilian’s love for samba. I learned about Saharawi’s situation through friends in Spain and I witnessed Mexico’s inequality and beauty through its indigenous peoples. Today, I try to put myself into the shoes of other people and try to understand life from their perspective.

I learned to travel light.

When I was younger, I used to bring everything I thought I could need, plus extra shoes and clothes, for a weekend out of town. Half the things I brought for a five day trip never left the giant suitcase. Learning how to travel with the essentials has been a blessing: no more long distances with rolling suitcases and no more money spent from extra baggage fees.

It increased my curiosity.

“Are you going to Turkey on your own? You’re a woman and you don’t even speak the language!” or “Travelling to Jordan? But you’re only 19 years old!” were comments I got. Even in my country, Mexico, some people felt insecure about me going to southern states. Fear for the unknown. People cared and I appreciated their efforts to keep me safe but I am glad I did not listen. Luckily, my curiosity and excitement about seeing new places always pushed my insecurities away.

It made me conscious of my own prejudices.

Muslim, catholic or atheist. Black, white, yellow, purple, green, red…whatever color you consider/think/feel/want to be. Traveling helped me to realize that just because something is different, that doesn’t mean it is wrong. Or right. Today, I try to understand the other person’s point of view and I often question my own cultural understanding.

It made me not want to buy the unnecessary.

Carrying those giant beautiful lamps, delicate plates or heavy statues for more than a month? Are you kidding me?

It helped me define who I am.

Being able to get out of my comfort zone often, made me feel empowered and confident. I am not afraid of moving to new places anymore. I know that no matter where I go, I will always find good people (and I am sure that you, fellow traveler, can relate to this statement!)

Traveling makes me feel alive. It allows me to savour the present to the utmost, and to embrace new places and experiences. It also gave me a life goal: to go to (at least) one new country every year.

How has traveling changed your life? Please share your experiences in the comments section of this post.

Transformaciones Project

ENGLISH Since I arrived to the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown, I realized there was no digital space for students to write about their personal experiences and views on the region. A publication where their texts where encouraged to be for a broader audience, and not only academic. 

After talking with my colleagues in the MA, and finding people interested in the project, today we have the blog Transformaciones. I feel very fortunate to have such a creative and active team – special thanks to Ana Sofia Alcaraz, Mary Maloney, Ana Paz Rangel – and to all of the other students who have blogged for us and who have shown interest in the project.

Here is the link to the blog, and link to a post which appeared in Vox Populi Georgetown, where they describe our project.

I am very excited to share this achievement with you my friends. I will be sharing updates soon!


ESPAÑOL Desde que llegué al Departamento de Estudios Latinoamericanos en la Universidad de Georgetown el año pasado, no había un espacio o medio digital para que los estudiantes escribieran sus experiencias personales y opiniones sobre la región. Un diario en donde no todos los textos tuvieran que ser académicos, o que estuvieran regulados por la institución.

Después de hablar con mis compañeros y encontrar personas interesadas en el proyecto, ahora tenemos el blog Transformaciones. Me siento muy afortunada de contar con un equipo tan creativo y activo – gracias Ana Sofía Alcaraz, Mary Maloney, Ana Paz, y a todos los demás estudiantes que han escrito para nosotros y que han mostrado interés en el proyecto.

Aquí esta el link del blog, y el link de una nota que apareció en Vox Populi Georgetown, sobre nuestro proyecto.

 Muy contenta comparto un logro más y me despido de ustedes queridos lectores. Hasta la próxima.

Mexico City Completes Its Streets

ESPAÑOL Durante mi estancia en el Instituto de Políticas para el Transporte y el Desarrollo (ITDP por sus siglas en inglés), escribí un artículo que fue recientemente publicado en la revista Sustainable Transport. El texto fue sobre la primera calle completa construida en la Ciudad de México. Las calles completas son aquellas que están diseñadas para permitir el acceso de todos. Peatones, ciclistas, conductores de automóviles y usuarios de transporte público. En ellas, es fácil cruzar la calle y llegar a estaciones de tránsito. Si quieres leer el texto, puedes bajarlo de este link (página 36, está en inglés).

INGLÉS Last year, when I was working in the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in Mexico City, I wrote an article on the first “Complete Street” built in Mexico City. The story was published in the magazine “Sustainable Transport”. Complete streets are those that incorporate sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, pedestrian medians, bus lanes, transit stations, cars and features that encourage all means of transportation. If you’d like to read the text, you will find it here (page 36).

To be successful, let failure be your muse

At the Humanitarian Innovation Jam 2015 at Georgetown University, entrepreneurs shared their personal failures. It was inspiring to hear them speak about their mistakes with a positive approach.

I never thought of failure as a tool for development. It was fascinating to me that leaders could recognize their mistakes, without a constant fear of being judged. During this panel, breakdowns were seen as a part of the natural cycle of any project, and participants felt comfortable about it.


The lessons I learned from the conference were so inspiring that I decided to write a blog post about it. In this text, I will share the three most important lessons I took out of the event.

We fail. It happens. Let’s accept it

Since we were born, people have encouraged us to not make mistakes. Failure is never a celebrated option. Get the best grades. Be outgoing. Win. Excel. Think hard. Those successes excite us, and failure seems frightening.

Russel Greiff from New Markets Venture Partners says it would be different if we recognized failure as an essential part of success. “Failure has become a hot topic in the entrepreneurial sector. It is constantly evolving,” he mentions. By taking the negative side of the concept, the frustration we feel when making mistakes will disappear – and we will be able to learn from our past individual and collective actions.

Turning failure into knowledge

People spoke about one mistake they had made in the event. It was the first time I thought of my failures and shared them with a positive lens. It made such a difference that my partner said: “Congratulations for your failure! You learned so much!”

Feeling comfortable by recognizing mistakes is the key to a successful project. Katherine Arnold from the Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves says that sharing the complete picture, failures and successes, helps stakeholders. The example she mentioned at the conference was when she only used to share the most successful cook stoves stories to donors. She used to think of failure as a weakness. But once she decided to mention examples were the cook stoves did not have the impact her organization expected, stakeholders valued her sincerity and were able to come with ideas on how to make the project more effective. They also felt like they were involved in the learning process.

Learn how to fail intelligently

Today’s speakers shared the challenges they went through in order to take the negative stigma out of our personal conceptions of failure. The scary part of failure is not knowing how people will react when you do not do things right. How do you feel when things do not happen as planned? Most people do not like uncertainty. For Michelle Risinger from PACT Innovations, to overcome the tension, we need to change our personal approach. Failure should be seen as an intellectual success and we should learn how to deconstruct each mistake we make.

Russel Greiff’s company used to give awards to the biggest failure. He wanted to encourage his employees to talk about their mistakes. “The point was that people did not feel embarrassed. We wanted them to show their mistakes and to take personal risks. It was very productive in the long term”.
My final take is that today’s biggest challenge is creating a global culture where we feel good about failure. Understanding it is an elemental part of success. For us students, it is not about feeling miserable if we do not get straight A’s, it is about accepting we got a C and learning how we can improve our strategies to achieve our ultimate goals.


I wrote this post for the Georgetown’s Social Innovation Hub: The Beeck Center on January 15, 2015. To read the original post, click here.

Día de los muertos desde Washington DC

En medio de tantas lecturas y ensayos que tenemos que entregar durante el primer semestre en la maestría, mis compañeros y yo decidimos darnos un tiempo para celebrar el Día de los Muertos el pasado 2 de noviembre.

Desde conseguir el pan de muerto en una panadería Mexicana en las afueras de DC, hasta improvisar con galletas por no encontrar calaveritas de azúcar, nos juntamos para platicar como se celebra el día en varias regiones en México. También aprovechamos el día para comer pan dulce con un rico chocolate caliente – mismo que supo a gloria por el frío que trae la entrada del invierno.

Dia de muertos en Washington DC Dia de muertos en Washington DC 2 IMG_7516 IMG_7521 IMG_7525 IMG_7528 IMG_7529  IMG_7539 IMG_7548IMG_7552 IMG_7551 (Andrea Arzaba, noviembre 2014)