La Amazonía — Adventures into another dreamworld

For those who I have been keeping relatively updated on my whereabouts in Ecuador, or for those who have been scrolling through my facebook photos, it’s pretty evident that I’ve skipped a very important blogging event in my study abroad experience with SIT– our second group excursion, to the Amazon Rainforest. Yes, Ecuador is that amazing, that regionally (and bio-) diverse, that it includes FOURTY SIX ecosystem (thank you, hipecuador.com, although I probably should have that in my notes from a lecture…) and one of them is a tropical rainforest, that happens to be part of the infamous Amazon.

And I have to say, it did live up to its dream-like expectations. For one, here’s a view of a sunset over el río Pastaza, which is a tributary of the Amazon River. In the background, you can see Volcan Sangay, an active volcano happily puffing away for us humble viewers…

Yes, this was one of our amazing views, one of those moments when I had to stop and think– I am actually in the rainforest– pinch myself from all this beauty. And, while it does all seem like a dream, it is of course a reality. One morning, we visited a Kichwa indigenous community close by to where we were staying, and got to observe and partake in some of their traditional practices, such as drinking chicha made from yuca, harvesting yuca, fishing with tubes, and beautiful ceramics. Then, we played a gringo vs. the kids-and-Fabian game of fútbol, in which one of the famous rainforest downpours began, and it turned into a mud battle. Luckily, just about everyone in la selva (the jungle) wears rubber boots (botas de caucho), so it’s not too much of an issue. Being wet, on the other hand, also turned into a non-issue when we realized that was going to be our permanent state of existence until we came back to the sierra. Yes, wet socks are not fun to put back on, but once back in the rubber boots, you barely even notice! (Thank you, Smartwool) Plus, the nature of the rain (coming in every direction, with pretty impressive force) was such that it somehow managed to fill the inside of the rubber boots with water, too…  Luckily, the sun usually came out in the afternoon, so we had a few chances to dry off.

Back to dreams vs. reality… It was amazing to see how people lived (elevated houses, rubber boots, harvesting yuca) in a jungle that has long been romanticized in such a way that, for me, it was hard to realize a reality of life in that jungle. Yet, in some ways, I’m realizing that I don’t have to reconcile it with my reality, because it certainly is not. Nor is it a dream.

I am starting think in the shamanic philosophy of parellel worlds– although not along the lines of how these indigenous groups see their world(s), as coexisting with other parellel ones, such as that of the spirits. To them, these other worlds are accessible if the practice is correct, and that simply seems to be a fact of their lives, as we were told in a talk by another Kichwa man, who comes from a family with a long line of shamans (his mother decided she did not want him to become a shaman, as it can be a dangerous life of death threats and bad blood). However, my understanding and interpretation of parellel worlds is that they exist here on earth. Perhaps, culture is simply a parellel world, put in a simple way, that can be shared with effort and empathy. For now, though, parts of Ecuador exist for me on a completely different level than the life I have always known– not quite dreams, but not quite realities, yet. It’s a dualism I’m still working with, that we have long discussions about in class, that seems to be an inevitable part of cultural exchange. Whichever, it does keep my brain working.

Dream/Reality land:

I’m not sure why elevated structures have such an appeal to me, but there is something quite heady about being above ground. Especially when hammocks are strung up under the cabin, just waiting for you to come relax…

Another interesting aspect of Amazonian cultures is the importance of dreams. A Kichwa practice is to rise early in the morning, drink a tea made out of a plant that is supposed to give you energy all day, and share dreams of the previous night’s sleep. Those who are rich in dreams are rich in life. Another complication, another thread and knot, in my attempt to understand this dreamworld, in which dreams play an undeniable factor.

One morning, I woke up early, and decided to take advantage of the lucidity of the dream/reality state. I took my journal and went down to swing in a hammock and write. It turned out that I didn’t get up that early, but here are a few things I came up with, playing with everything I had learned so far:

Tell me I’ve been gone for a while
I’ll respond in my dreams:
The anaconda, my blood, an ant sticking
its way into my feet.  

Tell me the river has no depth
and I say no, its mud is quiet
in its strength, its pull. And I
am thus quiet in my surrender.

(The brown stain I will wear
as my freckles deepen.)

It’s my own heady feeling
my own great push and pull:
can I accept my sheer closeness to the sun?

That I could let a river take me,
bathe me in its red mud, posit me
on a rock and let me crawl
into the utter normalcy of the jungle… 

Alright, there’s my attempt at some Amazon jungle poetry, hopefully getting to the meat and emotion of the situation, of my own moment occupying a mind caught in the whims of dream and early morning air.

With love, Hash Brown

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QUITO

…ME ENCANTA

I love it. I didn’t know I was such a city girl until I came back to one.

Here are a few things I have done so far:

  • successfully taken the bus, “El Trole” (an electric bus?), without any issues, just being intently stared at by a 5ish year old girl
  • walked to various places by myself
  • visited beautiful old churches en el centro historico (colonial old town)
  • explored a beautiful old university, finding a rooftop view
  • went “trotando” in the park this morning, a beautiful clear day (felt like a summer day at home– but one of the good ones where you wake up and it’s already sunny!), with tons of other quiteños doing their various exercises (my favorite was the aerobics class on the basketball court) ** trotar is to jog/run.
  • drank freshly made jugo de maracuya (passion fruit juice) in a wonderful juice place en el centro historico– then proceeded to eat humitas: imagine really dense cornbread in a tamale shape, baked in a corn husk. SO GOOD.
  • attempted to understand the art of Oswaldo Guayasamin, one of the most famous Ecuadorian painters
  • eaten both Indian food and sushi
  • listened to some amazing lectures from Ecuadorian experts on development, migration, women in ecuador, and the current political situation… As in, I am loving class time. Also, today we had a view of Cotopaxi from our classroom. That is the tallest mountain in Ecuador, the perfect volcano, takes my breath away every time I see it.

Well, this list could go on, and surely it will as we have class from 9 – 2:00 every day, and then time to take advantage of all Quito has to offer. Which is far too much to cram into three weeks, but I sure am going to try… Unfortunately, I’ve been purposely leaving my camera behind, but then usually regretting it, so maybe I’ll learn my lesson soon and bring it along. Hopefully, pictures to come.

With my new host family, I am loving my increased independence, the presence of toast AND peanut butter for breakfast (which I get to make myself), my decision to go back to vegetarianism, and my increased participation in household chores (I actually get to do the dishes, yay!). All in all, I’m still adjusting to a new life here in Ecuador, but am very happy with where it’s taking me. Now, I just have to figure out how to actually do all of my homework when the quiteño life is continually calling me… And I’m pretty sure it’s just not going to happen. Really, who goes to study abroad to study abroad? Time to slack off a little more. 🙂

Semana 4: Fútbol, la escuela, y el fin de Los Chillos

Wow! Ya se fue febrero… February is already gone, and how quickly it went! This also means that I am now finished with my Spanish classes, and soon with my homestay in the Valle de los Chillos.

This last week has been filled with a number of things, including the more mundane final exam and a paper, but also, the opportunity to go a soccer game, a day spent teaching at a local public school, and a big goodbye party/lunch for all of us, and the families. Also, I finally got around the cooking for my host family, and whipped up an Andean version of our mac ‘n cheese recipe– as in, substituting local cheese, and realizing how long water takes to boil here…

-Fútbol: Last Sunday, my host brother, his girlfriend, and I went to La Liga vs. Quito Deportivo– the rival teams. According to my brother, a Liga fan for life, these games are never pretty, and although Liga is the best team, they always play poorly against Quito. Indeed, the only two goals in the game were PKs, so the tied game wasn’t the most exciting. But, that certainly excludes the crowd. As I mentioned to a few people already, it was pretty amazing to be a sporting event where half of the fans were for one team, and the other half for the other. Imagine one half of the stadium blue/red, and the other all white, with a line of yellow in between, representing the fluorescent vests of the police officers separating the two crowds. Then, competing songs, chants, middle fingers, groans, and you’ve basically got the gist of the stadium. The singing never stopped. When it started to pour rain, vendors magically appeared bearing ponchos and other forms of plastic bags so the diehard fans could cover themselves (my brother), while his girlfriend and I took shelter in one the entrances.

A soccer game was an experience I had been looking forward to the whole time I’ve been here, and it certainly lived up to my expectations. I didn’t bring my camera with me as I didn’t bring anything with me except for the money to buy my ticket, as recommended by my family. Next time, however, I think I’ll bring my raincoat just in case, and the camera as well. It’s worth a few photos!

La Escuelita: The big event of the week, for Spanish class, was our “salida” to a public school about 20 minutes away. Each of us chose a grade to teach for the day along with a partner or two, and had to plan out the whole day (well, the morning, as that’s when kids are at school), mostly according to some themes they were learning, but also whatever we felt like incorporating. My friend Abbey and I chose to take on seventh grade, the oldest kids at this primary school. In the end, it turned out there were only nine kids in seventh grade, so it was quite the small classroom– although we ended up teaching in the “comedor,” cafeteria, because 6th and 7th grade share a classroom.

I was a little nervous while planning for this day, as we really had no idea what to expect, whether we could teach these kids anything, whether they would be excited about learning, if they knew any English already, if the teacher would be there, etc. However, when we arrived at 7:30 AM, my nerves immediately went away, as kids ran up to us, asking our names, holding our hands, wanting to play already. It brought me right back to teaching in Nicaragua, and suddenly I found how much I missed this interactive part of being in another country, going into communities with some intention to do good. Luckily, that’s what I’ll be doing all of April, and this trip to the school made me realize how wonderful it would be to do my ISP (Independent Study Project) in some form or another in a school as well!

It was a very gratifying experience, although some of our plans fell flat, or the kids tried to take advantage of us naive gringos– but I loved it. Abbey and I had a few successes in our lesson plans. One, this song, our new obsession, we definitely were more into it than the students, although one girl told me after school that it was her favorite part:

Perhaps the most successful part was our poetry section, although there was some groaning about the concept of poetry at first… Until there was the announcement of some competition/games. I had written each line of Jose Martí’s “Cultivo una rosa blanca” on strips of paper, and had them work in three groups to try to order the lines. Then, we used the structure of the poem, and some key words, for them to write their own poem, which some (the girls) really enjoyed, and others (most of the boys) took the chance to goof off. Whichever, there ended up being some really excellent poems, which Abbey and I were very proud to read, as they proudly came to show us their work.

“Cultivo una rosa blanca
en junio como enero
para el amigo sincero
que me da su mano franca.

Y para el cruel que me arranca
el corazón con que vivo,
cardo ni ortiga cultivo;
cultivo la rosa blanca.”

–Jose Martí

La Despedida: Yesterday, we had our despedida party. Actually, it was a lunch, but it definitely had a party sort of atmosphere. All the families and students got together at Grant’s awesome house, with a huge backyard, an Ecua-volley court, and soccer goals. Promptly, my host dad convinced me I should organize a ecua volley tournament (3 a side volleyball, played with a soccer ball), and then he took over on the mic to get everyone moving. My team had some struggles, but it was so much fun to watch the games, everyone playing, with some surprisingly skilled players in the group! As in, I was very proud of my host dad.

Then, we ate lunch, some traditional fare of chicken, corn, potatoes, and a cucumber- radish-green pepper salad. Then, for dessert, higas, which are (I think) figs soaked in a molasses like substance and then served with cheese. So good!  Afterwards, there were a few speeches, some music, singing, and then the DJ came back on, and the dance party started! Really, it was more like battling for the flat space, as mostly women danced on one side of the volleyball court, and the guys tried to keep playing on the other side… But, it was a great time all around.

Pictures to come!