ISP, Week Two

NOTE: I wrote this on Sunday night, but then the internet stopped working, so that´s why the dates might seem a little weird!

Wow, it is very hard to believe that I am two weeks into my ISP, that I have one week left to complete my research, and that I have one little week to whip out this paper! But, I’ve got to have a little faith—I’m made it here so far!

 

I just spent a lovely, lovely weekend with my Mami; I’m so happy I had the opportunity to share a little bit of this experience with her, and so lucky to have such an awesome mother who is game for anything! This afternoon we spent with my family here in Chota, eating lunch, talking about everything, walking through the entire town… So wonderful to have someone else know this reality, which feels out of touch with my own reality, where I am a different person in a lot of ways. Now, she’s back in Ibarra (enjoy your next few days, Ma!), I’m back in my room getting all organized for this week to come, trying to figure things out!!

 

I have five short days ahead of me, but hopefully long days that will be full of many successes!

 

In general, the last two weeks I have spent in el Valle del Chota and its surrounding area have been enlightening, amazing, challenging, and exhausting. I have learned so much, an incredible amount.

 

It’s been enlightening in all the people I have talked with, the new culture I am engaging and navigating, and the comprehension of a history and current reality I never before had thought about. 

 

It’s been an amazing thing to conduct an interview with someone in Spanish, and realize that I understand everything, didn’t have to think about speaking or listening or translating the entire time. Things are finally coming together language wise, and it’s awesome! Also, I’m happy because that was one of my vague goals starting out here, and I feel that I can finally recognize that things are getting good! Woo hoo!!

 

It’s been challenging to never stop speaking Spanish, to not have a compañero/a to reflect with (until this weekend), to live in small town (pop. 1000), to be the only blue eyed person around, to deal with machismo in its various forms, to realize that my time here in Ecuador is quickly coming to an end.

 

It’s been exhausting for those same reasons, also for the dogs who like to bark late into the night, my relative inactivity, and the gripe (cold) I’ve had for the last week, that is finally going away! On the plus side, I got to learn about a lot of home remedies, including the application of tomate de árbol peel to the neck to relieve sore throats. And I got to drink a lot of aguitas (teas).

 

I’ve had many moments where I had to pinch myself (figuratively), realize how lucky I was to be in that moment—such as when I was witness to the ethnoeducation team presenting all of their work to the director of the Ministry of Education for their province, and how excited she was to help them move this forward into the future. Or be dancing cumbia with all the teachers of the high school at their día de maestro (Teacher’s Day) celebration last week. Too good. At least now they all know who I am… that gringa who was trying to dance.

 

It still is hard to synthesize this experience so far, to “translate” it for those back home—one of the reasons I’m so glad my mom could see it, participate in this. I think also because I still have so many ideas floating around in my head, as I still don’t exactly know how this paper is going to turn out, what it’s going to look like. As Leonore told us, we write everything down (everything!!), and at some point we stop writing it down, and then we write it into a paper that hopefully has ideas and makes sense.  So, hopefully by Friday my head will be a little more linear, not so nebulous… We’ll see.

 

Otherwise, I’m happy, healthy (finally), and finding small accomplishments every day—such as surviving very treacherous bus rides with crazy bus drivers and lots of large rocks that fall off the cliffs onto the side of the highway. Now I understand why so many women cross themselves repeatedly while riding the bus.   

 

Finally, I am comfortable here, I have a routine, some interviews lined up (or soon to be), a survey to give out, a workshop on intercultural-ness (la interculturalidad) to attend tomorrow, and some more English classes to teach, or at least attempt to teach.

 

It’s strange to look at the date and realize I’m coming home exactly one month from today. All of a sudden, time is playing more tricks on me. But, I’m going to try as hard as I can to engage the present moment, continue learning and exploring, and make the most of this last month away from home, this incredibly unique opportunity. And continue to thank all the people in this country that have made this possible, have been nothing but open, kind, and generous—as well as all the people from home without whose support I would not be here today. Gracias, gracias, gracias.

 

Con mucho amor,

Hash Brown

(or la Javi, o Javer, as I am often called here)  

La llegada en Chota

CHOTA

Saturday morning, 9 AM, I left my Quito homestay family, once again incredibly grateful for all they had done for me, especially my host mom Sandra, taking care of me when I was sick a few days before. I hopped into a taxi with my big red backpack, a little nervous about being that solo traveler with a big backpack, looking lost and confused at the multiple bus stations I would be traversing… Which of course happened, but it wasn’t nearly as scary as I imagined it. A life lesson that I never seem to learn.

On the bus to Ibarra, I sat by a very nice man, going to visit his family for Easter, who kept a conversation going for practically three hours of bus ride. It was great, a chance to practice my Spanish (as I feel that in Quito I spoke WAY too much English), and equally impressive that he never seemed to run out of things to say, or questions to ask me. We parted ways, wishing each other the best, and a happy Easter. The wonderful thing is that this one time conversation on the bus has not happened only one time, but happens often! People are very apt to start talking to me—once I’ve properly greeted them—and are very curious about who I am and what I’ve doing. I’ve gotten pretty good at explaining myself, and this somewhat confusing program, in Spanish. Especially here in Chota, where my blue eyes are the topic of many conversations, and if I wore sunglasses, I would stand out even more.

My arrival here was facilitated by my ISP advisor, Gualberto, who picked me up from the bus station in Ibarra and dropped me off at my next homestay family in the town of Chota, located in the Valle del Chota, made up of ~10 communities on the banks of the river Chota. Hilda, my host mom, greeted me at the door of their house, which sits up above the main street of the town, with a view of everything: the river, the Pan American highway, the church, the houses. I was promptly introduced to countless family members who were there for Semana Santa, Holy Week, many of whom live in Ibarra, children and grandchildren on my host parents.

As of now, and into the future I am sure, I have only the best to stay of the family Chalá Lara, their kindness, hospitality, wealth of knowledge, and excellent food. I may have eaten more vegetables in these last five days than in my entire time in Ecuador… OK, that’s probably an exaggeration, but you get the sentiment! I am a happy lady! Today’s lunch: Potatoes, squash in a peanut sauce, rice (of course), some type of legume (guadulos), and tomato. Plus, a banana smoothie. I certainly am not lacking in the food department. Or the drinks—so much delicious fruit juice! Also, on Sunday I had “cerveza con huevo,” beer with egg, which was exactly what you might think it was. Beer blended with egg! It was also strangely sweet, so I’m thinking it had some sugar in it, too. As with most things here. At that point, I was pretty thirsty, but I can’t say I would bring the tradition home with me. And it was at 11 AM.

One of the first things I noticed upon arriving in Chota was the music… it never stopped! From one rooftop or another, and often multiple, there is music being blasted for the whole community, often into the night. Sometimes it is bomba, the music from the Valle del Chota, a mix of African rhythm and traditional Andean sounds. Or it’s reggaeton, bachatta, salsa, you name it! There truly is a soundtrack to living here, everything is done with music in the background, a little hip movement, a dance or two in all that one does.

Multiple people, in multiple contexts, have told me that “los negros llevan alegría en la sangre” —  black people carry happiness in their blood. That is a poor translation, as alegría seems to be more than happiness, but a way of living, living “full”, as they also say here. And that’s why they are always dancing, as Hilda said.

As my directors told me before I came here, it certainly does feel like another country, except for the language, religion, and certain traditions with food that, to me, now seem intrinsically related to Ecuador, such a copious amounts of rice, drinking super sweet coffee at night, and soup a precursor to lunch.

But there are, of course, things that are distinctly different, such as women carrying basket on their heads, a custom from Africa that has not been forgotten.

The reality is that I still have so much to learn. This first week, I am attempting to prioritize forming good relationships, establishing myself here, so that in the next few weeks I really can learn from people. So far, it’s been easy, as people are open, friendly, willing to talk! As I’ve already said a million times!

This past week, I’ve been going to the high school in the morning, talking with the teacher of ethnoeducation and attending his classes, and hopefully figuring out a way to help in english classes, which I think will start on Friday. Everything moves pretty slowly, in terms of making things happen, and I’m having a take more initiative than I thought I would– which is OK, but when they asked me what exactly I wanted to study on Monday, I was left a little speechless! Before we left, we were told that we should keep our topics very open ended, and write about what people wanted to talk about. But, I guess I have to have my goals too!

Here’s to three more weeks of hard work, and a visit from mi mami also! I’m so excited to share this country with someone from home.

More updates soon, I hope. With some successful interviews under my belt, I’m also hoping!

The wonderful thing is that I’m speaking so much Spanish, that writing this in English is a little difficult… my brain is confused! I’ve noticed lately that when I have a minute to rest, my brain doesn’t really thing, it just rests. No thoughts in English, nor in Spanish, I’m stuck in between! But, making lots of progress. I suppose not thinking is a good thing in this case!

Much love to all, from this land so willing to love and share.

**Unfortunately, my internet connection is such that I cannot upload photos, but I swear I have an excellent view from my room!

The coast, the end of Quito, the start of a new adventure

Well, it certainly has been a while since I’ve given the blog a good update, and it’s feeling like time for it! These last three and a half weeks in Quito and on the coast have been non-stop amazing, full to the brim, and certainly overwhelming to begin writing about… Where do I start?!

Quickly, about our classes in Quito, which take place in the building called El Experimento, or The Experiment in International Living. The lucky thing about that is that, other than having an amazing view of the city from our fourth floor classroom, the other SIT group also has classes there, so I’ve been able to reunite with wonderful friend Hannah! In some ways, it’s surreal to see someone from home so far away, but in other ways it feels completely normal. Either way, reunions are wonderful. But, back to the actual class part, which has been altogether amazing, too.

Here is part of the view from our classroom– but we’re a little farther away! That’s the virgin up on top of “el panecillo,” the little bread loaf.

Each day, we had two lectures/talks about different aspects of Ecuadorian society and culture. Some were more academic, with statistics and a power point presentation, and some were more simple, sharing a personal story, or a more tangential discussion of a subject that ended with few notes but a wonderful sentiment. Some sample topics: women in Ecuador, the different meanings of poverty, Afroecuadorian history, the plurinational state, GLBTQ movements, Indigenous peoples, etc. etc… In the end, whether I had gleaned much information from the lecture or not, I was so grateful for the opportunity to learn from these accomplished, intelligent, and wise Ecuadorians, that were so willing to share with us. It gave me a great appreciation for my years of Spanish class, and how much I have learned since coming here– otherwise, I would never have been able to learn from these men and women, never been able to access their worldview, their unique lens. Today, we had our last lecture, by an anthropologist working for the state department who represents los pueblos no contactos, the indigenous group in voluntary isolation. In Ecuador, there are two such groups, and his job is to fight for their rights, without ever actually coming into contact with them. But, he keeps track of oil companies, tourists, and other sorts that try to access their territory, and records signals or signs of these groups, the main ones being footprints and deaths of foreign people on their land… Tricky job, it seems. But, he was an amazing, dedicated man.

**Side note: my host abuela just walked into my room and gave me “quesito con choclo” which is corn on the cob and cheese– so good! Corn here is like nothing I’ve ever had before and it is fantaaaaastic. Especially with a little quesito…

Back to the story: two weeks ago, we had our last group excursion, this time to the coast of Ecuador. We were in the province of Manabí, close to Machalilla National Park, and arrived in the city of Manta via a ~45 minute airplane flight from Quito. Then, we ate lunch. Yum!!! The first of a few fishy meals– in the best way possible!

Then, we all climbed back onto the air conditioned bus, a little escape from the equatorial humidity and heat, and took off on the real adventure: our village homestays. Myself, Abbey, Lindsay were placed in the town of Puerto Cayo, and we were the second group to be dropped off… Luckily, our host mom was there to greet us, as her house was right off the center of town so she could see the bus coming, so we didn’t have to wander around looking like lost gringas… Which we did the next day, no worries.

Anyways, our host mom, María Eugenia, took us to her house, introduced us to her family (her mother, grandfather, husband, and two little girls… such a wonderful family!), and showed us our room, complete with some beautiful mosquito nets. I should have got the message and put on Detan (ecuadorian DEET) right away, but instead I ended up getting 30 bug bites on one foot my first day. I then learned my lesson, and applied the DEET with devotion. The house reminded me a lot of the house I stayed in Nicaragua, in that it was all open to the air, bucket showers, metal roofs that amplify the rain, large storage spaces of water, andddd a LOT of fried food! Thus is life in a hot, humid environment, it seems, and I have to say, I am pretty proud that I ate (almost) everything that was put in front of me those 5 days, including…

Pata de vaca!! Cow’s hoof!!!! That was perhaps the most interesting thing I ate that week, but definitely not the hardest to eat. Nope, I could sort of pretend that the cow’s hoof was a weird kind of chewy mushroom-eggplant thing, but I had a much harder time with the fried pieces of pig fat. I could recognize that it was a cultural difference, that I had been raised believing that the fatty parts of the animal were not for eating, that their texture was not meat per se, that one eats meat for protein, etc. Well, I ended up eating a lot of fat, straight fat, fried fat– for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can’t say that my stomach especially likes thinking about all of the meals that week, but I am, in the end, happy that I was able to experience the culture of the coast through a very important expression, food.

However, it did bring up some ethical dilemmas in my head… Not so much about eating animals, that I know I will not do when I return to “my” culture, my life at home as I know it, when I have control over my food. The dilemmas centered more around the sharing of food, the generous giving of food that María Eugenia performed every day. I felt guilty about the fact that I wasn’t enjoying the food she was giving me, that was obviously a norm and something delicious for them. I wanted to like what I was eating, I wanted to bond and share with the family over this essential part of life– but instead I had to chew and swallow as fast as I could, and smile and lie when we said que estuvo muy bueno”… that it was very good. It was hard for me to rationalize this barrier to sharing and enjoying culture with the disgust my stomach and tongue and mind felt at eating parts of animal I never would have touched otherwise, when I think I would have been very happy with fried plantains, eggs, or any other vegetarian fare she would have made me, that is also typical to that area. All in all, I am happy I ate everything I did, but it certainly was an experience that made me think and reflect on cultural differences, and my own personal ethics in terms of opening myself to these distinctions.

You might ask, what exactly did we do in those 5 days we spent in Puerto Cayo? That’s exactly what we were asked by our host family as we stepped off the bus, and Abbey, Lindsay and I glanced at each other with some doubt in our eyebrows, as we had no idea what we were going to be doing either! All we had been told was that we were there to conduct a “village study,” to observe, participate, and talk with the people of the town, through both informal conversations, and perhaps more formal interview. It was, essentially, a practice for our independent study project (ISP) that begins next week! It was comical in some ways, going to bed on our first night with no idea what we were doing the next day, but with some vague ideas to walk around the town, identify the school, health center, and stores, and maybe talk to a few people!

The days unfolded like a flip book for us, filled with images that still seem a bit unreal, but in all, make up this wonderful experience with their inevitability, facilitated by the openness and friendliness of everyone we encountered.

First, we made friends with the police, and they took us on a little trip in their police truck…

Here are the police and our host dad, Armando, having some fun on the bouncy bamboo bridge! This river was not the one we had been hoping to reach, but because of all the rain, we couldn’t pass through to the other side to continue on the road. Thankfully, there was a cool bridge to play on!

Abbey, Lindsay and I also took the girls to the beach one morning:

Puerto Cayo seemed to be on the brink of tourism, with some restaurants spotting the beach, and some bus loads of Ecuadorians coming in on the weekend. Still, the main economy is fishing, and it’s interesting to think how the development of tourism would change the character of this town, in which few of the men were working while we were there, as you cannot fish during the new moon. We saw groups of men sitting in hammocks, relaxing in the shade during the noon sun, while making fishing nets from hand. An uncle of our host mom owned a cevichería, where one makes ceviche — fish marinated/cooked in lime juice– which we ate for breakfast one morning, as you are meant to do.

One night, the police organized a game of soccer for us, including them and some other local teenagers. We played at 8 PM, probably for an hour or so, and it was one of my sweatiest times in my life, closely rivaled by the few times I went running in Nica. But, it was so much fun, I didn’t even notice that I was so sweaty!! Everyone was so open, so willing to accept the gringas in town for a few days, and couldn’t believe that we were leaving so soon! I also noticed that the boys/men were much more willing to pass the ball to the girls than in some coed games I have played back in the US… There was competition, but not so much that they wouldn’t give us the ball!!

We played on a small cement “cancha,” and later learned that we were playing “indor,” a version of soccer that is played with a small, heavier ball, and with a few different rules. You can see the cancha from this photo of Puerto Cayo:

Too beautiful!! I do love the coast: the fast talking, friendly people, the wonderful ocean, the plantains. Yes, for a few days, the heat, bugs, and meat were all worth it.

We all reunited between 3:00 and sunset at an hostería about one hour to the South, full of stories from our week, but also struggling to convey all that we had experienced and learned. It seemed that everyone had a unique, but amazing, experience. For me, it was a moment when I understood why I chose to study abroad, to leave my life behind for a little while. I was exposed to a whole new set of beliefs, of food choices, of recreation, and it was a beautiful way to learn, simply through people. I found my thoughts reeling back into my head, with no conjecture into the future or past, simply being in that moment because there was no where else to be. Perhaps it was the heat, that easily shuts down my brain– but it was a moment that I remember distinctly feeling so happy, so engaged, open for whatever was to come.

Now, I have to harness that feeling again, as I am about to start a new adventure, and by far the most challenging aspect of this study abroad experience… My ISP, independent study project! This involves three weeks of “research,” through interviews and observation, and then one week of writing a 30 page paper… in Spanish!! Ah!! But, I’m so excited, even though there’s a lot of unknown still, and I’m leaving in three days…

Here is what I do know, however: I am going to el Valle de Chota, in the North of Ecuador, a region populated by Afro-Ecuadorian communities whose history is different from the other Afro-Ecuadorian community on the coast, as those in Chota were enslaved by Jesuits in the 18th century, to work on sugarcane plantations. Now, there is a vibrant community, from which many of the Ecuadorian national soccer players come from, and an education systems that I will be lucky enough to work within… According to the 2008 constitution, “el pueblo afroecuatoriano” has the right to their own system of education, called ethnoeducation, incorporating their culture and history into a traditional form of education, one that was historically excluded minority voices and histories. So, I will be working in a high school, perhaps teaching english, and doing whatever else is needed, and brushing the surface of the ethnoeducation, and trying to study the impact it has had on these communities. Wow, it truly seems like a world away– but hopefully today I will find our where I’m living, what I’ll be doing, and when I’m going exactly. I’m so excited for this challenge, this entry into a whole different side of Ecuador!

It is going to be a big change from Quito, where I’ve been having so much fun exploring the city, eating delicious food, cooking food for myself, and been given a lot of independence. Not to mention our amazing classes. Here, I am comfortable, and it’s a little strange to know that in a couple days, I will be on that opposite spectrum, having few connections, immersed in a different culture, and trying to navigate what exactly I’ll be doing for the next month… Here’s to adventure, to the discovery of more, what I came to Ecuador to find!

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

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!