Sunday, December 21, 2008

¡Feliz Navidad!

Christmas is in full swing down here on the equator...and with this heat I hardly even noticed the holiday season was in effect. There are some Christmas lights and trees scattered throughout Yantzaza but I never realized how much I associate the holidays with the weather...until now, where I live in eternal summer.

This past week I have been ridiculously busy. I have been preparing for the VAN FAM to land in Ecuador (Tuesday they get down to my neck of the woods!!) and also preparing for this charla my Dad and I are going to give. Funny, I know. But we´re going to make a ¨gringo day¨ for the doctors on the 29th; he´ll talk about healthcare in the US and I am going to give a schpeal on PR in health. Should be interesting!! They are even making invitations and diplomas for those who attend!

So I was busy with that earlier in the week and then the past three days I´ve been busy with FODI going to all of the communities and handing out toys and caramelos to the kids. We managed to stuff almost 500 bags of candy, which is tradition to give to children down here. They stuff bags with animal crackers, chocolate bars, candies, toffees, wafer cookies...the works. I was thinking that I wished we got these instead back in the US...it´s kind of like a Christmas version of Halloween. But it was great seeing the kids all excited, the Alcalde (mayor) handed out the toys---dolls for girls and a truck for the boys (how stereotypical...)

Friday we were in one of my favorite communities, San Pablo, and they were all excited because the Christmas Princess elections were that night, followed by a big dance. I was stoked too, I was in the mood for some dancin´....So I get all dolled up, even wear a dress and attempt to straighten my hair, even though it got ridiculous as soon as I stepped outside. So I get on the bus and it starts POURING...like jungle downpour. When I arrived at the baile, there wasn´t any electricity! There wasn´t any in the whole canton, nor in Yantzaza...so I waited it out and left after 45 minutes (after it flashed on and then off for like 10 minutes). So sad, the princesses were so cute :-(

Yesterday we went to three communities and therefore had to eat THREE almuerzos...three chicken soups and three plates FULL of rice with chicken. I had to take a walk when I came back, I was so full. Even thinking about rice makes me wanna barf...they are so generous with their food here and with our presentation of gifts came MAD presentation of food...so we had to eat everything. Towards the end, the FODI girls were putting the food in fundas or doggie bags and taking it home with them.

Oh and the last community, San Francisco, a largely Saraguro Kichwa community, busted out the leche de tigre...which I don´t know if I´ve metioned this already, but it´s gross. It´s basically warm milk with liquor. Echh. And I had to serve it, which means I went around the room, poured everyone a shot and with each shot they took, I had to take one too. Yummy! And on a completely full stomach too...but I did get a little happy as they like to say down here. So it wasn´t half bad.

It´s been great celebrating Christmas with everyone down here and witnessing their ways of celebration. Nativity scenes, by the way, are a staple in every home/school/FODI center...they out a lot of emphasis on the Nativity...as well they should since that is what Christmas is about. (And I think our consumerism tends to make us forget that...)

Thank you all for those who have sent Christmas/Holiday gifts and wishes. I really appreciate all of your thoughts and I wish you all very merry holidays. The fam´s gonna be here in 2 days!!! Can´t wait!! I probably won´t write until after they leave, since we´ll be busy exploring. That will be an interesting blog posting...

Feliz Navidad and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 15, 2008

I´m becoming so handy!

Well I finally fixed my camera! Just put a little scotch tape here, a little there...and wham! I´ve realized that I need to stop thinking everything is final...like OMG! MY CAMERA IS BROKEN! Well, Corrie, why don´t you try to fix it? Like my toilet, when I first moved in. It wasn´t working and I was like freaking out and I didn´t want to bug my landlady. But I got the cajones to go out and buy a plunger and actually fix the toilet myself. And what do ya know...the dang thing works! Anyway, I´m taking this third world opportunity to become more handy. Everyone else here is a Juan of All Trades, so why can´t I be a Juanita?

As promised, here are pics of the new pad!


Here is the bedroom...with my AWESOME GRINGA BED! Note the pillows, I sewed them, thank you very much. Gotta have props to my Terps (hence the blanket) and my wall of fame.


My cocina. A little unorganized, but it´s getting there. Have to light my stove everytime I use it, and yes, I am cooking. Note the nice curtain, which I sewed as well, leads to the bathroom.

Last but not least, my sala. This is basically my living room/party room/kitchen/reading room in one. I am faltar-ing a table, but I have 6 of these stump chairs which are awesome. I want to have every visitor sign them, too. SO COME VISIT! That ¨window¨ looks into my bedroom, but the door and other window is to the right. On the first floor, so it´s quite convenient.

Met my little neighbor boys, they´re really cool. Elvis and Carlos...and then there is they baby who they refer to as papito so not sure of his real name. Everyone is really nice though and my landlady has my espalda.

This weekend I had the great opportunity of judging a Christmas Princess contest in a Shuar community. The whole day we were up in Tuntiak, one of the FODI communities, celebrating Christmas with them. In the morning, there was a soccer competition...the FODI women versus the moms. I was by far the biggest person playing, of course, and I am not good at soccer. But I thought I would have at least some sort of advantage with these women. So wrong. They were so strong and tough, oh man I was afraid I was going to hurt them but towards the end I was more afraid they were going to hurt me! So many times I wanted to yank those long, black Shuar ponytails but I had to keep my cool. We lost horribly...I had more attempts than any FODI girl, but we lost 2-0. It was kinda embarassing.

Someone asked what the gringa was doing here and someone responded ¨Oh, ella es de otra planeta.¨ ( She is from another planet...) Gee thanks, guys.

We rushed back to Zumbi to shower and eat some merienda. Man, I was sweaty! We played at like 12:30 in a completely open cancha....ridiculous heat.

After beautifying, we hurried back up to Tuntiak so that we could have to princess competition. I was so excited, but nervous. The girls were adorable...4 and 5 years old. We had to judge them on traditional Shuar dance, bathing suit, evening gown and Christmas message. Hahah....so adorable! Half of them chickened out too!

After I crowned the princess, yes, I crowned her because I had to buy the crown, there was a big baile. It was probably the best baile that I´ve been too. Danced until 2 am and then trekked home. GREAT FIESTA!!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Thank Jesús.... del Gran Poder!

DIOS MIO! I am in my apartment! Woo hoo! It´s been a long wait, but well worth it.

The barrio I live in, Jesús del Gran Poder (lit. Jesus of the Greatest Power) is up the hill from the center of town, super close, and really chill. There are many amazing things about this apartment. Of them:
-I don´t have to use a flashlight when I have to pee at night; my bathroom is IN my apartment
-I can cook without Polivio bugging me about ¨gringo food¨
-I don´t wake up to Aventura or the next-door neighbor karoaking at 5 am
-I can decorate what I want and where I want
And the best part goes to....
NO MORE CROSSING THE BRIDGE! I am sad to say, Mr. Puente, I will not be crossing you anymore and no more will I have to say the Hail Mary 30 times while crossing it.

It´s super cute, got all my pictures up, got my cocina running and my gas all hooked up. I even sewed! Super proud of myself, I sewed a curtain for my bathroom and two pillows! It took me all afternoon yesterday, but I had nothin better to do. Considering I had to re-teach myself what I learned from Mrs. Cindy Light in 7th grade in Home Economics, I did a pretty good job.

Last week we had an intercambio with the FODI in the province of Bolívar in Salinas de Guaranda. My best friend from training, Miriam, is there so we got to hang out a little bit. Her site is cold! It really made me appreciate the amazon! I had to go to Quito beforehand because I lost my cell phone and then take 3 more buses to Guaranda...I spent more time in the bus than I did walking around (At least 20 hours in a bus that day...) But I got my phone and made it just in time for karoake with the FODI girls. It was ridiculous! Miriam and I blasted out Stevie Wonder´s I Just Called to Say I Love You and got a standing ovation. It was horrible.

But they love their karoke here....

So I missed all of the intercambio-ness due to my side trip to Quito. But I made it for karoke, bonding, and cheese and chocolate tasting. It was an expensive trip, but well worth the bonding experience and the memories.

PS: Pictures of the apt. to come....my camera is on the fritz...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

THANKSGIVING!

I was bummed out that I was going to have to miss my favorite holiday in the US this year. However, I was stoked about the fact that I was going to be able to celebrate it in a new country with a ¨new family¨ and in a manner I never would have imagined...

First of all, there. was. so. much. food. Once everyone had arrived, I looked at the counter and it was absolutely FULL of food...which was so cool because that´s what Thanksgiving is basically all about! There were about 30 of us, a couple of visitors came, but the majority were volunteers. We all crammed into Jason´s apartment in Loja, which looks like a spaceship, and has a personal disco and a beautiful terrace on the roof. We all did the buffet style, serving ourselves stuffing, corn concoctions, thai salads, pasta salads (mine!), turkey!! (hard to find, but well worth the search), cornbread, veggies, an incredible cobbler, and let´s not forget Chris´s contribution---a Barney cake (he has no way of making anything and transporting it, so buying a Barney cake was the best he got...)

So we ate. And ate. And ate. And drank. And danced. It was awesome. Everyone was in such a great mood and we all had a blast. A group of the Bolivian volunteers came, as well. Not sure if you all know, but PC Bolivia was evacuated from country about two months ago because the US Embassy was kicked. Therefore, about 30 volunteers got placed in other countries, Ecuador receiving the largest group of 11 volunteers. So about 6 Bolivians came to Thanksgiving and it was cool getting to know them and hear about their crazy evacuation stories.

Then Friday we all trekked down to Vilcabamba, which is an hour south of Loja. It is absolutely gorgeous, in the valley of the mountains, with great weather. There are a lot of extranjeros there, mostly consisting of old, white hippies. They say the fountain of youth is there, it´s in the water. Didn´t get to try it, but I am definitely going back. We stayed at this incredible hostal, up in the hills. The food was amazing and they even had a pool; it was a great little getaway.

The volunteer in Vilcabamba, Andy, told us of a baile in his barrio last night. So we made chili and had some Pilseners and went over to the baile. Since I am the ¨newbie¨ still, aka FRESHMAN, they like to play little tricks on me or goof around with me. At the baile, I kept getting stuck dancing with these 17-year-old drunks and they just thought that was the funniest thing ever, making no effort whatsoever to save me....Just have to pay my dues I guess.

Oh and the band that was playing, was this music group of women, basically dressed up like pumpkins. They looked like the Ecuadorian Fanta girls; they had this tight orange leotards with an over exaggerated v-neck that oh-so-conveinently displayed their black sexy bras. The butts, don´t even get me started, were baring all...like they were a hair away from being a thong. It was just ridiculous because they were singing in a cement futbol field and they looked like they were coming from the Playboy Mansion or something. Only in Ecuador....

Monday, November 24, 2008

Are you guys hermanos...or are you married?

If there´s one thing Ecuadorians can´t get enough of, besides rain, it´s fiestas. This weekend was the start of fiestas for Chris´s site in Guaysimi (It is actually fiestas for the whole canton or county, of Nangaritza but they are held in the capital of Guyasimi). To get there, I have to take a 2 hour bus ride, which is absolutely gorgeous. It´s a wild jungle ride as you swerve through curvy mountain roads, vines hanging down and a whole gammet of people get on the bus (indigenous Saraguros and Shuar, the majority being Mestizos, however). In addition to a gammet of people, I musn´t forget to mention the gammet of smells…it´s definitely a funky smellin´bus ride.

So I got to Chris´s site and luckily enough, as I got off the bus the parade was just starting! The parade consisted of a whopping eight or nine carros alegóricos (floats). Each was themed for a school or neighborhood or Indigenous population in Nangaritza. Chris told me he helped with the school´s float, the giant tilapia—he painted the eyes since he was the only one who could reach that high. The other floats were cool though, they had Shuar re-enacting their hunting and even had a group of Saraguros (a tribe of Kichwa) demonstrate how they farm and kill cuys (which they did right there, by the way). It was really cool to see how proud these people are of their culture and the diversity that this canton and province has.

We went back to Chris´s AMAZING apartment …he is living with a family but they basically built Chris his own `wing` attached to their house. His shower is super tall too, they even built an extension for him so he doesn´t have to squat (wish I could say the same for my shower…)
His host mom taught us how to make humitas which are like tamales but sweeter. They shucked and de-kerneled (is that even a word??) the corn and then put it through a hand mill to make it into corn meal. She then mixed in eggs, salt, oil, and onions which we spooned into the corn leaves and folded up. The humas were baked over an open fire and served hot an hour later. Something new to check off the list…

That night was the Reina de Nangaritza competition. Chris basically knows everyone in his site; it´s a small town and he´s pretty hard to not notice…but he´s made a bunch of friends through soccer and the school he teaches at. Luckily, we bumped into the mayor´s wife, who loves us, and invited us to sit FRONT ROW for the competition. Sometimes, it´s great being a gringa…
The competition was quite interesting because they choose a Saraguro, Shuar and Mestiza Reina. (The Mestiza Reina is the one who really wins it all). There was a bathing suit competition for the Mestizas, but the Shuar and Saraguros wore their traditional outfits and danced. They were all asked questions too, and the indigenous girls had to speak in both Spanish and Shuar or Kichwa. We figured out the questions were planned when one girl stepped up to the mic and rattled off her answer in Kichwa without receiving a question. Chris and I both agreed that it made us feel good about our Spanish when we heard the indigenous languages because we couldn´t understand a word, but knew what they were talking about when they responded in Spanish.

The hottest girl won, in case you were wondering.

It took us over an hour to get home, however. Not because of traffic (ha ha ha...traffic…man, I don´t miss that at all) but because everyone wanted to talk to us! All the drunks wanted to share a drink with us; drinking down here is very social. Beer is sold in giant bottles and they take a small plastic cup, pour some in and pass it around. You are supposed to drink it in one gulp more or less and then flick the foam out…I have gotten this down with practice. So with the drinking, constant questions (are you two married? or are you brother and sister?) and the meandering, we finally got home at 2:30 in the morning.

Then they will party the rest of the week. Can´t WAIT for Yantzaza´s fiestas in February…

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO EVERYONE! I wish I was at home to celebrate it with all of you, yet I feel that I am very thankful for everything that has happened to me so far this year. With finishing up and graduating college, to surviving getting hit by a car, to being sent to Ecuador a mere 6 weeks later…I am very grateful for my life. I am also really grateful for all of my friends and family back home who have been rooting for me. You all have been amazing and I really appreciate the support. You have no idea how much it helps me through the hard days. I miss you all very much and hope that you have a great Thanksgiving. ¡GRACIAS!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I FOUND AIR CONDITIONING!

OMG! I just experienced air conditioning for the first time in 6 months, and good thing I wasn´t wearing socks, cuz it would have definitely knocked them off! I went to the Banco de Loja to get change for a 20 (since that´s all the ATMs dispense, yet no one has sueltos...so annoying). Anyway, I walked in and just stood there, I think I might have drooled a little. Syke, but the armed security guard was pushing me through the line (huge line of 3 people, and I had to walk through that stupid maze of ¨bank elastic rope¨...you know what I´m talking about). But there was one guy in front of me and he kept telling the other people to go in front of him, I think he was just chillin in the air conditioning, too. Smart man...

Anyway, as if you couldn´t tell, it´s hot as....well...it´s really, really hot. Whoever said global warming doesn´t exist is stupid because it´s alive and well down here. And everyone down here, who actually LIVE and ENJOY this heat, says its abnormal for this much heat at one time. And it hasn´t rained either...

Not much new to report on. I did more nutrition charlas this morning, man those girls are funny. I wasn´t in the mood to talk either, I got locked out of my house last night (long story...) and had to sleep in the hammock with the dog, so I was not a happy camper. And it was really hot. But I did the three charlas nonetheless, and was able to control the masses when esticker time came. Today was the 24 anniversary of the school, so they had dances and food. Each grade did a performance, the kindergartners dressed in their hoochie outfits and black boots, one girl sang Selena songs and there were even traditional Kichwa dances. I am definitely becoming more and more known here; girls were literally chasing me to walk home with me....

But goes to show how the little things are making me happy, from popsicles at 9 am to air conditioning in the bank...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Weighing ´em like potatahs...

What do you get when you mix 60 Ecuadorian girls, stickers and a white girl? MADNESS!

Yesterday I gave my first charlas on nutrition to the all-girls school up the street. Paulina Solis, the school, has grades kindergarten through our equivalent of seventh grade. I got my hair cut about a month ago and the woman cutting my hair, Christina, told me she is a teacher at Paulina Solis and I should give charlas there. I said sure, not thinking much of it, but last week she called down to me from her window, telling me that the director wanted to see me about giving charlas. So I marched up to the school and turns out I´ll be giving charlas about twice a month to the girls. Yesterday, it was on nutrition and it went really well! I was super nervous at first, but Chris was around to help me with the first one. We played games and talked about the food pyramid, it was great.

My mom has been AMAZING with her care packages and includes tons of stickers in each one, so I used them as prizes for my games. I feel that estickers are a better prize than lollipops or candy during a NUTRITION charla. Anyway, these girls were going NUTS over these stickers! The last class I taught, they were literally fighting over these little koala bear and alphabet stickers. The teacher had to pull them apart! I felt bad, but hey...I was just doing my job, man. The girls loved me though, made little cards for me and cut out foam hearts. Looks like my calling is Paulina Solis...

The education system is very different here and that was an interesting thing to observe. The girls basically wander and talk and do whatever they want while the teacher was ¨teaching.¨ There is very little discipline and the learning style is incredibly different. All they are taught to do is memorize, so very little absorption of the material is taken place. I had a conversation with the English teacher, and I was honestly having trouble understanding her during our conversation in English. I was like...and you´re the English teacher?! (No wonder people don´t really know English here).

Needless to say, I was absolutely exhausted after teaching the girls. The screaming and fighting over the stickers like they were Willy Wonka´s Golden Tickets was more than enough for me. Thank god classes end at 1 pm so I had a free afternoon.

Then today I went with the FODI girls to the campo to evaluate the centers in each barrio. The first one we went to, San Isidro, was really far away. I had to get up at 6 am to be there on time, because many times there isn´t a way for us to get through due to the road. So we get to this community and I had to interview the teachers about the children, evaluating each one to see if they have any disabilities. Then came time for us to weigh and measure the kids. The president of the barrio, Manuel, was there in his campo boots and ripped pants, answering questions. He came back with a scale for us to use. I was looking and didn´t see a normal scale, instead I saw a market basket and a potato bag....

So Manuel calls the first kid over and puts her in the basket; she starts screaming and he has this small scale that you use to hang vegetables or dead meat from to weigh. Instead, he clips it to the handles of the basket and hangs the child in the air in order to measure her. I thought he was joking....and then he started laughing. Nope, this was for real. The next kid was too big for the basket so they ordered him to stand in the potato bag and they literally lifted the kid up in the potato bag, like he was a sack of potatoes! It was so funny...I wish I had brought my camera.

I´m absolutely exhausted, though. It´s been a whirlwind of a week. But it´s sure making the time fly...I can´t believe Thanksgiving is in two weeks!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It literally feels like Christmas in July...

I never thought the weather would mess with my head down here, but it is kinda starting to...not like it´s a bad thing. It´s sort of like when I eat pancakes for dinner...the time of day is not right to eat pancakes at night and I feel off kilter. Anyway, all this heat is not making me feel like it´s Christmas time.

Sunday I went to my friend Betty´s house to help her arreglar la casa para Navidad. She is in her early 30s and pregnant with her first child, we get along really well. Her husband Felipe is this tall dentist from Cuenca, super funny and probably the biggest Ecuadorian I´ve seen to date. Anyway, I took the bus to Zamora in Sunday and they picked me up and took me to their house out in the campo. They have this little house but it´s so nice! Felipe is almost too tall for it, he hits his head on the beam in the kitchen all the time. Felipe watched Speed Racer while Betty and I took out the fake Christmas tree and decorated it. It was a lot of fun! I forgot how fun it is to decorate the tree....but only when it´s cold. I was sweating bullets the whole time....
But it´s tradition to put stuffed animals in the trees here, I was able to talk Betty out of it. But she puts up a nice tree...she´s practically an Ecuadorian Martha Stewart. Here is the final product:




Yesterday was the end of fiestas for Zamora. It was their Provincinalization day, aka they´ve been a province for 55 years now. There was a parade and the whole city marched, even the Health Ministry. I didn´t march, just watched. Which was actually more interesting...their parades here are very ceremonial, very somber. Nothing like the US where they peg candy at little kids and dance around. The school kids were all dressed up their hideous uniforms, and the bands all played...THE SAME SONG! There were about 5 colegios that participated and they all had drummers that played the same beat. A little too military...felt like I was watching some Korean army march...

Afterwards, everyone gathered at the Malecón or river side to drink beer. Awesome...it was only 10:30 in the morning. After some popcicles and beer Betty, Felipe and I grabbed some lunch and then went back to their house to make chocolate chip cookies. They were muy flaco as I didn´t put in enough baking powder but whatev...it was a good attempt considering I didn´t have a recipe and was eyeballing everything.

Then to top off the festivities, we went to this awesome live concert of Colombian Cumbia music. They hate the Colombians but LOVE their music....I was really not sure if I wanted to go but poco a poco I am learning that I need to not doubt myself and do stuff. You never know what will happen, who you will meet or how much fun you´ll have. The air was warm and smelled sweet of Ecua-perfume...so I knew it was going to be a good night. After dancing for a while, they lit this ¨tower¨ of fireworks....the remnants of the fireworks were dropping on our heads...all in all it was a good night.

PS: Check out Alea´s Blog (Alea in Ecuador) to the right, she has photos of Halloween and one with yours truly...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hallo-what???

Holy moly it´s been a while since I´ve updated. Sorry, kids...been busy...TRAVELING!! HALA!

So yea, last weekend was Halloween as you all know and Peace Corps has this big party for it every year. It was in El Chaco this year, which is about 4 hours east of Quito in the province of Napo. Which is considered Amazon territory. This was really cool to see because it is definitely different from my type of Amazon: it is about 3 times higher in elevation and it is a lot cooler. I was actually cold at some points...something I haven´t experienced in about three months.

Last Thursday I took the night bus to Quito (god that sucks...15 hours...) and was lucky enough to catch a bus with all my Omnibus 100ers...woo woo. Quite the coincidence. But it was AWESOME seeing everyone...a little overwhelming by all the gringo-ness going on, but it was great swapping stories and crazy experiences. The hostel we stayed in was really cool, had a green pool with a water slide (I opted out of that...) but we all stayed and there were at least 40 PC people there. Definitely felt like ¨the freshmen¨though, getting advice from Omnibus 97, or ¨the seniors¨ as they finish up in March and April.

Friday night was the big costume event and there were some great costumes: old-school WWF wrestlers (Hulk Hogan facial hair and all..), Crayola Crayons, Pilsener fairy (Ecuador´s beer), Jefferson Perez (Ecuador´s speed walker and only Olympic medalist), the Spice Girls. It was great. Yours truly was Sarah Palin...there was another Sarah Palin but she wasn´t quite as good...she didn´t have the accent!

But the beer was definitely aflowin´; we paid 5 bucks for it and it lasted us literally all weekend. I have never seen so many jabbas (cases of beer) in my life.

Saturday we woke up, pretty blurry-eyed, and trekked down to the river where we had a rafting competition. It was 6 bucks to enter and we had teams of 6. There were both Ecuadorian and PC teams...the majority being us. So we each did 2 runs down the river and the rapids were pretty intense. Our team, Sin Wagon (didn´t come up with that name but it was even funnier hearing them pronounce it), rocked the competition though. We were all girls and one boy (an Ecuadorian dance instructor...) and we won our two heats! So we qualified for Sunday, 15 out of 18 teams got to compete, and that day was just one run of about 10 minutes.

Was not in the mood to compete on Sunday, but hey...gotta support the team. They drove us all the way up the river, through the jungle and right as we were getting off the truck, a massive jungle downpour started. SO CRAZY! It was really cool though, got completely soaked, yet I hid under a banana leaf and it really worked. The movies are right sometimes...

So Team Sin Wagon jumped into the boat, got pumped and paddled our little arms off. At first, we were about 2nd in a group of four or five boats. Then we pulled ahead and managed to get through the big rapids (they were practically over our heads). The final rapid was big; we had to paddle through this rocky waterfall and we got stuck! But then the boat behind us pushed us off, but then they got stuck and 4 people fell out! Guide and everything! That rock had saved us because after that we just paddled like there´s no tomorrow to the finish line.

And....WE GOT THIRD PLACE! Our time was just over 9 minutes. It was awesome! We were so excited because we won cool t-shirts and $100! And we were the highest scoring Peace Corps team. All the buff guys and outdoorsy types didn´t come close to the new girls...it was great. Two Ecuadorian teams got first and second. But it was a huge victory for Omnibus 100...and the dance instructor.

Sunday night all the 100ers went back to Quito together and spent a night in the hostel. Got some Mongolian BBQ...DELISH! It was nice to eat something other than chancho.

But being away really made me miss Yantzaza! I actually couldn´t wait to get back and see mi gente, get out of the cold...people actually missed me too! Man, I have no idea what it´s going to be like this time next year...I can only imagine the stories I will have and the people I will have met. But that is what makes this so exciting!

Oh and SUPER STOKED ABOUT OBAMA WINNING! I was able to sweet talk my little crush, Jorge, into letting me come over to his house to watch CNN...he has some American channels. Very exciting...way to go Ohio and the rest of the US and A!

Friday, October 24, 2008

New refrigerator? Let´s have a party!

This whole week I´ve been in Zumbi working with FODI. It´s been a blast because I´ve been able to go to all of their communities and visit with the families. While doing this, I´ve interviewed the families as part of my first three month assignment...we have to get to know the communities and do ¨diagnostic researc.¨The results are pretty fascinating, like I´m surprised at how many moms use various methods of family planning (as we like to say down here...) and the majority are modern methods, not natural.

Anway, yesterday was a blast. We had a minga or ¨physical labor day¨. Usually this entitles massive cleaning of a building, organization, etc. We all crammed into a pick up truck and they took us to Nanguipa, a 20 minute drive into the campo. It´s the site of one of the FODI centers and was in serious need of a paint job. I´ve never painted a room before, and had actually put this on my list of things to do while in Ecuador. It´s hard work! But it was so much fun. We painted this bedroom a deep Pepto-Bismal color...they asked what color I thought it was and told them Pepto-Bismal but in a Spanish accent...because sometimes if you say a word in English, normally, they won´t understand you. But if you say it with a Spanish accent 9 times out of 10 they understand. But this time it didn´t translate...

We painted over the walls in the bathroom, which were, and I am not kidding, poop brown. I was like why would you a paint a bathroom to look like poop? Even though the pepto-bismal didn´t quite cover it...it was good enough. Ate some lunch, in the tiny kid chairs...I feel like such a giant. One kid kept asking me, seriously, why are you so big? The FODI girls got a kick out of this; they said it was because I ate all of my food. I told him I was really 6-years-old but because I eat all my food I´m this big...he didn´t get it.

After the minga, and covered in paint, we proceeded to San Pablo where they have another FODI center. I was there the day before doing interviews and had played with the kids, so they all remembered me. But the city of Zumbi was giving the center a refrigerator, so the parents and kids threw a little shindig. It was adorable, the 3 to 5-year-old girls all performed a dance, wearing little hoochie skirts and belly shirts and knee high boots. It was so cute! We got food and they served leche de tigre which is basically milk with liquor. GROSS...but I had to drink it.

With a few rounds of leche de tigre down, the parents took it upon themselves to dance. Traditional Ecuadorian beats were played and then the techno came on. They were all like Corrie! This is your people´s music...how do you dance? I was like, um well I´m not Cher but let´s have a go at it. It was hilarious, they were all mimicking me and seriously studying my feet. Total role reversal...little do they know how well I move my pompis to REAL American music.

Monday, October 20, 2008

What to do when you have over 100 bug bites...

Thank Dios I haven´t had very many, if any, health problems while I have been here. I´ve heeded the majority of the directions the nurses gave us, and I´ve been lucky with the whole food situation (guess I have a strong stomach, as some might say). However, the one thing that has been bugging me....hahaha.....are the bug bites. I generally wear pants or capris (shut up, Scott) and the occasional skirt. This weekend, though, the mosquitoes decided to have a Thanksgiving feast on my Gringa legs.

Chris came into Yantzaza to visit me and as we were crossing the bridge, the town drunk/president, Washington, invited us over for a beer. It was a beautiful day, the river looked great...one beer lead to a few more...and Chris jumped off the bridge! He wanted to try out these new pants his mom sent him, so what better way than to jump into an Amazonian river, right? Well, he did go with a local, if that counts for anything....anyway, he was fine and totally pumped after the jump.

I, however, in that span of three to four hours at the river bar, got over 100 mosquito bites on my legs! I woke up yesterday morning and they were beet red and super swollen. Last night, I seriously wanted to chop my legs off they were itching me so bad. I had Monica look at them, to make sure they weren´t an allergic reaction, and she told me they were just bug bites but to ask Polivio to ¨cure me.¨ Being the feisty, resourceful little Ecuadorian that he is, I figured it couldn´t hurt.

So he comes into my room, assesses the situation and excitedly says, Nunca he curada una gringa! (I´ve never cured a Gringa before). He comes back with a water bottle filled with some type of liquor, I think, that smells strongly of herbs...it smelled really medicinal. Thinking he was going to instruct me to just slather the stuff on, Polivio tells me to stand up and face him. He then takes a swig of this bottle and SPITS the drink all over my legs. Like no joke, he literally spewed this concotion all over me. At first I was like WHOA BUDDY! I don´t think you´re supposed to drink that, but he said that you are supposed to sopla (literally=blow) the trago on the infected area. It was kinda like when someone tells you something really funny or really ridiculous and you spit your drink out mid-sip. So he did this about 4 times to my legs, and then an otra vez.

And oddly enough, it worked! I slept for most of the night...it was awesome. Who knew that spitting could be a good thing....

Today I gave my first charla on nutrition. It was really fun and I think it went really well. I was happy I had had some practice while I was in training, it made some of the bumps a little less of a surprise. For example, I was doing an ice breaker and asked someone to name two food groups from the food pyramid and I have never seen a blanker face in my entire life. Some other women couldn´t grasp the fact that yuca AND rice shouldn´t be served in the same meal, as that´s two carbs at once. But I think I´ve become a lot more patient and understanding that people just don´t have this type of education about nutrition. Betty, the nurse I spoke with, was really impressed at my knowledge of the food pyramid. Honestly, I had read through things that morning and the rest was from what I remembered from 6th grade.

However, today totally validated my being here and made me feel like I will be able to teach people something.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

¡MI DANTA!

Thursday we had a big health fair in Zamora for World Food Day and we served fruit kabobs, lemonades, yogurt, and other nutritious food to the school kids. It was really fun and the fruit was AMAZING! But anyway, when I got back to the wild animal refuge that I am living in when I am in Zamora, the DANTA was out! It´s like a bear slash ant-eater...so crazy. But I was able to snag some pictures of it for you guys.



La Danta....

Corrie y la danta...


Two Kichwa doctors and me. Dr. Rumi, in the middle, gives me rides to work in the morning. He´s super chevere...and we´re wearing the t-shirts I designed! (With some minor adjustments...)




Preparing massive fruit cups for the lil´ kiddies...
This week I got a lot of stuff done, though. I was able to interview 14 women on Tuesday in Zumbi! It was a lot of talking, schmoozing and walking but I learned a lot about Zumbi and the needs of the families in the community. Got me thinkin´on a lot of ideas...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Random Bridge Story PART DOS

Wow...really freaky thing just happened this weekend (and this whole weekend has been a little bizarre...) But Saturday morning I went for a great run through town and had to cross the infamous bridge on my way back. As I was crossing, I noticed a lot of people looking down into the river and a raft with BOMBEROS (firemen) written on the side was just chillin´on the beach. Three ¨bomberos¨ (using that term ever so lightly...again) were lounging against the raft, just looking at the river. I asked a woman what happened and apparently Friday night a drunk man fell off the bridge and into the river! They were in the process of ¨looking for him¨ when I got there. But they didn´t seem to be trying too hard. Then at about 1 PM, we went to go swimming and they were just starting to look for the guy. However, the bomberos thought it was best to start at the spot where he fell in...not taking into account that he most likely FLOATED DOWN THE RIVER. It was very bizarre, no one really seemed too concerned either.

Polivio told me that this guy was always intoxicated and that because of that, and the fact he was most likely dead, there was not rush to find him. I told him how there probably would have been a search squad, a underwater diver and a plethora of other things searching for this person in the US. He couldn´t believe it.

So that was weird. And they still haven´t found the guy...

Friday we didn´t have work because it was the day of the foundation of Guayquil, thought only guayaquileños received this...but hey, I was fine with a day off.

But back to Saturday, all morning I was helping Monica´s brother, Richard, with English. About two hours into it she comes downstairs with a box and is like ¨You wanna see the bones of my father-in-law?¨ I was really confused, thought I hadn´t heard her right...but she was right. She literally had her cuñados bones in box. I guess they dug them up a few years ago (he´s been dead 15 years) and she had his skull, his femurs, even his vertebrae stored in umbrella cases! She uses them to teach her classes to med students...very creepy. Saturday was a creepy day to say the least.

Then last night we went to this party, a fiesta for San Francisco. It was in this ¨compound¨ more or less, with a huge volleyball court and enourmous house. People were milling around, ate a lot of soup. They did these very bizarre skits where everyone dressed up as the opposite sex...they thought it was hilarious. Oh and the best part was when they started the dance, they had the vaca loca run around. It was basically a guy carrying a ¨cow¨made out of cardboard on his head. Then midway through the song, fireworks were being lit off the cow...incredibly safe. It was really scary though, as the fireworks were whizzing past our heads as we sat literally 10 feet from this crazy vaca!

Today I made Sloppy Joe´s for the family...man, that was a hard one to translate...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Random Bridge Encounters

Everyday I cross this ridiculous puente to and from my barrio. It is probably one of the scariest bridges out there. However, I have gotten to know how to master walking across it; it takes finesse and it´s trickier than you might think. Mostly because I am double the size of the the people that normally cross this, so my feet have to avoid the various gaping holes and loose boards.

Besides the scare factor, I have also come to realize this bridge is the site of many interesting stories for me.

First off, the bridge to Gran Colombia (where all the ¨colombians¨live, and as people say this they do the sign of the cross like it´s a dangerous thing), is big enough for two people, or one and a half gringoes. This morning I realized the only time I´ve actually been in a ¨traffic jam¨ is on this bridge. For example, I was stuck behind an old man wearing a piece of plastic (it was raining pretty hard) and couldn´t quite pass him and his bale of plants on his back. I chuckled to myself as I realized how minor this ¨traffic jam¨is compared to those in DC!

Second of all, I get all sorts of looks when I cross the puente. Just the other day, two guys were sitting and talking and as I approached I literally heard them go ¨Shhh!¨and stopped mid-sentence as I walked by. Seriously....you guys didn´t have to stop talking just for lil´ ol´me!

This last ejemplo is probably my favorite. The bridge is where I, you probably guessed it, get all of my chicos. On Sunday, I came back from a long trip and was schleping a lot of stuff. I noticed the dutiful police (using those words in the lightest sense possible) were ¨checking me out¨slash following me. I continued to walk and then they creepily pulled up next to me and asked me where I was going. Well, seeing it´s 10 o´clock on a Sunday night and I have about 2 weeks worth of laundry, a med kit, and a sleeping bag in my hands-I was thinking the disco! SYKE! Home, I said, to the bridge. They offered a ride, so I figured why not...they´re policemen and behave themselves, right? Oy vey.

We´re driving to the bridge, which should have taken 5 minutes but took 15 because he was so slow. All the while, the one who is driving is telling me how beautiful I am, that I am the prettiest girl ever---riiiighhhttt. Finally, the bridge appears. But no, Mr. Policia wants my number. I was like, aren´t you supposed to be protecting the city or something...he just laughed. Very reassuring. I start to leave and he whines ¨Regalame un beso¨(Lit: Gift me a kiss). I was like whoops, sorry gotta go, the bridge is calling...

Oh and this is the spot where I am always greeted by the town drunk and president, (any correlation?) Washington. He´s a swell guy with a lot of gusto. He knows everyone and so I think it´s a good thing I´m on his side, however I need to watch out when he gets really drunk and wants to talk my ear off. He owns Playa Rica, this awesome ¨beach bar¨that is on the river. Real tranquil spot with a great view of Rio Zamora.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Yes, I do work....

Um, when did it suddenly become October? I can´t believe it, I´ve been in site a month now! So crazy...time has definitely flown since I boarded that airplane at CVG in June.

Anyway, this week was busy. I have been traveling a lot between Zamora, Yantzaza and Zumbi for work (I´ll talk a little bit about work since apparently some people think I am just galavanting through the country no doing anything...) In Zamora, I am working for the Ministerio de Salud Publica, or Health Ministry, and have basically become their in-house graphic designer. I´ve been designing a lot of t-shirts for them, for health fairs...not exactly what I expected but hey, I get to play around on Photoshop for a good portion of the day. I am also helping with designing manuals and health guides.

Then in Zumbi I met up with the FODI girls and we traveled to three communities to assess their FODI centers, or preschools. It was pretty interesting to meet these people, as they all live really far out in the campo. One community we visited, Santa Cruz, had a lot of drama. We got there to see how things were going and it turns out they don´t even want FODI to stay there anymore. All of the neighbors basically hate each other and were fighting the whole time; at one point I thought I was in an Ecuadorian episode of Jerry Springer...

So we quickly left.

But things move a lot slower here, so it seems like I am not doing much. They say the first three months are an adjustment and you are supposed to build rapport with the communities and people you are working with. So now I´m just trying to get my face known and people become used to seeing me.

On Thursday night was the election of the Reina of Zamora, or their beauty queen. Very different from the competition of Reinas that I competed in. The girls were gorgeous and they even had a swimsuit category! One 16-year-old strutted out in a bikini, but the bottom was see through and she was wearing a thong! I was shocked. Didn´t get to stay to see who won, it started pouring halfway through.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I´m just sowing seeds, hombre

Well it´s a scorcher here in Yantzaza, ladies and gentlemen. Forty-five degrees celcius, that´s like 130 in Farenheight? Syke...it´s just hot. This is the Ecuador I was imagining! Not the sleeping in a sleeping bag with 5 blankets sort of thing...goes to show how variant the country is.

Anyway, yesterday I was in Guaysimi working in the fields! I know, I know...Corrie? Manual labor? But it happened. I am learning how to adapt, people. (It is Chris´s site, however I didn´t get to see him.) Friday night, Polivio and Monica told me we were going to do a family minga which is like an activity (usually involved cleaning or labor...). We arrived late at Monica´s grandmother´s house...very campo. They had turkeys running around, chickens laying eggs in make shift coops, the works. Very hard to sleep due to the massive amount of animal noise, but it´s something I guess you get used to.

It was pretty incredible to meet her grandparents, though. Her grandmother is 79-years-old and has uterine cancer. She´s had it for the past eight years, and you would never have thought this woman had cancer. She has more pep and spirit than any old person I´ve ever met...it was incredible! Monica said the doctors didn´t give her any medicine because it was in its terminal stages, but clearly that hasn´t affected her at all. Her grandfather is in great shape, too. Slow, but he gets the job done.

At 6 am, we all got up. Literally, 15 minutes after waking up I helped Monica kill a chicken for breakfast. Good morning, gringa! She took the chicken and stood on its wings and feet and held the neck back. I held the ¨blood bowl¨ while she sliced the throat and pretty much let it bleed out while snapping its neck. Really disgusting...and you all know how I am with blood. The best part was as she sliced it, the blood splattered all over my arm. Gross. Needless to say, breakfast was not nearly as appetizing as I had wanted it to be, as I had seen it killed, plucked and disembowled a mere 2 hours prior (we had soup, by the way).

Then we went with various cousins and uncles to their piece of land to plant corn. They follow a lunar calendar for crops, so yesterday was the day to do it. There were about nine of us and we all stood in a row and took palos or long sticks and drove it into the ground. Then, we took two to three seeds of hybrid corn and planted them. It was actually pretty hard because the field they were planting on was basically chopped down forest. So there was a ton of bamboo and branches and weeds you had to step over. Really difficult. The hardest part for me was staying in a straight line. They kept yelling at me to move over; either I was too close on the sides or not making the distances between seeds large enough. I´m just sowing seeds, hombre.

Went back for lunch...bull soup...and then I took a delicious nap. For dinner we had cuy, straight from the kitchen. The grandma has about 30 cuy just running around her kitchen and I had a ball watching Valeria, the devil child, try and catch them.

Great day though. Met a lot of family and they asked me a lot of questions...very curious about my motives for coming down here. But it´s good I am making friends. Just today I went running and someone came up and shook my hand because I am the gringa he sees running around all the time... At times like these I am really glad I am white and blonde...

The grandma in the kitchen with the cuys. They think it´s so funny that we have cuys as pets in the US...and the grandma couldn´t understand why we don´t eat them...Oh, and that´s bull meat hanging above the stove.

Me with the boys...there are 3 generations of Guayas standing here. Pretty amazing to see. We´re taking a break from sowing seeds for 2 hours. It was hot...but really rewarding.

Monday, September 22, 2008

And why isn´t riding in the back of a pick-up truck legal?

Seriously...riding in the back of a pick-up truck/camioneta is one of the greatest things ever. I have never enjoyed riding around in a car as much until I got to this country. Not only do you have spectacular scenery to enjoy, but riding in the open air is like being in a real life Jurassic Park video game...sans dinosaurs. SO. COOL.

Yesterday was Polivio´s birthday so we all crammed into the pick-up truck to go to a river to ¨bañarse¨(aka swim then bathe...I chose not to bathe). It was the five of us plus Richard, Monica´s brother, and two other doctors and their families. We managed to fit 15 people into one truck...truly amazing (once again, it´s a good thing Ecuadorians are small people...)

We took a beautiful one hour drive to this river where we swam, kayaked and ate. They stopped and bought chancho (pig) to grill. Polivio lit this fire and then they found or borrowed some sketchy looking racks to grill on, but swear to god, it was the best meal I´ve had in this country. It was cooked perfectly, and we had yuca and tomato salad...mmm so good. And I didn´t get sick!

It rained off and on all day, but the weather was fine. The water was incredibly warm, as well. I wore shorts and a t-shirt...that´s what the locals wear and being as pasty as I am, I didn´t want to stand out anymore than I needed to. At one point, there were about 30 women that came in the afternoon to bathe in the river. They were all screaming and giggling and they had the longest hair I´ve seen. It was like 30 black rapunzel heads in the water...

Overall, awesome day. Reminded me a lot of canoeing on the Little Miami River...except this time it was Ecuacanoeing.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Here...have some bananas

So apparently my last post was popular with the ones who read it. Did not realize that:
A) My comments would be taken so much out of context. Totally didn´t notice that...but thank you to those who called me out on it...I miss you guys.
B) Aunt Sheshie knows/took jello shots?!?! Wow that one almost made me fall off my plastic lawn chair in the internet cafe. Well done.

Moving on. Sunday I was rudely awakened by Polivio, my host dad (who is dying to see a drunk gringa), at 6 am to go to the market. I was like umm can we wait a little...it´s not completely light yet. But no, the crack o´dawn is the way to go. So we rushed over there and spent all of 10 minutes in the market...all of that for nothing? But I guess you need to get there early to get the best pickin´s. We had fried frog legs for breakfast...yumm (and that´s not sarcastic...they are really good!)

Then Monica told me that my job was going to be in Zamora and no longer Yantzaza. Zamora is the capital of the province, about an hour bus ride away or 40 minutes by car. I was pretty surprised because she said I was going to be staying there, overnight. So I packed a bag and jumped in the car. We arrived at where I was going to be staying, with the family of the director of the Health Ministry for the province. First of all, his house has a name..Tzanca. That should have been one indicator of what was to come.

We get there and it´s like a mini nature preserve in a house! He has over 100 animals in this house and it´s absolutely gorgeous. His wife maintains them during the day while he´s away busy managing the health care of the province. Just fascinating the types of moonlighting that goes on here!

Anyway, I was in the kitchen with one of their daughters and in walks this danta which is this bear-like anteater type of animal only native to the Amazon. It was so big! I freaked out! She just calmly walked over with a potato and led it out! It was crazy...apparently it escapes every now and then. Luckily it hasn´t gotten into my room...

So I´ve been staying there and working with the Ministerio de Salud, helping out with some magazines/guides they want to publish as well as various health fairs. This week I just chilled and read a book, but I think it will deal more with what I´m trained to do (more PR activities) in the future.

Yesterday I went back to Yantzaza and stayed there for a meeting in the hospital. In the afternoon I went for a run. My usual route was changed as the road was no longer there, so I had to go a different way. As I tried to cross a ¨babbling brook,¨ if you will, a woman walking yelled at me to go another way. Well, long story short we started talking and I ended up walking with her all the way back to her house. She works in a finca or farm and walks 2 hours each way. I suggested she get a bike. She said that her husband wouldn´t let her because women who ride bikes suggests they want sex....

I´ll let you ponder that one.

We get to her house and she´s like, here...I want to give you some bananas. She takes a plastic bag and puts, swear to god, like 5 pounds of bananas in for me. She was so cool...we had a great conversation and afterwards I was so glad the road had been changed. Moments like that reminded me why I´m here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

This ain´t your typical company picnic...

Yesterday was a reunion of the Colegio de Medicos de Zamora-Chinchipe, which is basically the doctor´s association for the province. Turns out I´m actually going to be working with the Colegio rather than the hospital. They want to me to do work on a medical magazine they are trying to produce.

Anyway, they had a doctor from Cuenca come and talk ALL DAY LONG about how to write medical journals. Monica was laughing at me because I kept falling asleep, but it was hard not too! I felt like I was back in school, listening to a boring lecture, lights turned off, it was hot...you know what I´m talking about..

So after the reunion, I´m thinking it´s time to giddyup but hold on...it isn´t a company meeting until we bust out some whiskey and guitars! Seriously, within 5 minutes of the lecture ending, one of the doctors opens up a bottle of whiskey, unwraps his Marboloros and grabs a guitar. So we sat, drank and sang for about an hour or two. Very bizzarre...but very enlightening! We dined on ancas de rana or frogs legs. They were really good! I thought it was fried chicken until someone told me.

Then, after the mini-fiesta I went to Zumbi for a birthday party. One of my co-workers in FODI, Yadira, invited me to her mom´s birthday party. It was really fun...again, the only gringa there but I had a blast. Ate some food, danced all night...drank some ridiculous liquor that tasted like gasoline. But hey...I´m just living the Ecuadorian dream.

Doctor Mauro y Doctor Ivan jamming out. They had to put their cigarrettes down in order to do so. However, Doc. Mauro did know some Nirvana...pretty hip hombre.

The US Ambassador´s house (from swearing-in). Absolutely gorgeous, really foggy though so we couldn´t see the apparently amazing view.

Um...two gorgeous doctors I work with. Yes...I´m in heaven as you all probably know. Doctor Daniel is on the left and Doctor Yezid, or Doctor Gato, is on the right. (Gato means person with light eyes). Yummmm.

One of my host sisters, Valeria. She is the devil...don´t be deceived by this picture. She´s not that bad...I have made it my personal mission to work on manners with her.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Family Planning?! HAH!

Made my first (somewhat) major gringa mistake. I worked in Zumbi today and after not really doing anything, decided to take the bus back to Yantzaza. Well, not decided but had to. I waited forever and then this bus came, which I assumed was going to Yantzaza. Ususally they yell the destination as people are boarding and usually I ask to verify they are going to that destination, but I was feeling cocky and just boarded without asking or hearing. Whoops. The bus definitely headed towards Loja---a three hour bus ride. I was like AHHH! LET ME OFF! And they did...luckily. I just felt really stupid as I did a walk of shame back to Zumbi.

But I double checked when I got on the Yantzaza bus...the little ecuadorian in the Metallica hat was nice enough to help me out.

This week has been exciting so far. On Monday I worked at the hospital and within 15 minutes of getting there, we got news there was an accident so Monica swooped me up (figuratively, I´m like 3 times her size) and we rode in the ambulance. It was a really bad bus accident; the bus driver tried to pass another bus, hitting a Pilsner (beer) truck and flipped on its side. There was beer and broken bottles all over the street and it was really scary seeing the bus on the side. Luckily no one died, but there were a lot of injuries. I believe they said 11-15 people. The driver of the bus ran away to the river to wash off his blood so as to escape conviction; that´s what Monica told me.

By the time we had gotten there, all of the victims had been transported to the hospital. The whole time we were driving there I was thinking what the hell do they expect me to do? Gracias a Dios I didn´t have to do anything.

Yesterday, on a lighter note, was cool. I went with the Zumbi ladies to two communities they do work with and help set up their new FODI centers. FODI is like a government preschool program that does outreach with families, as well. In the communities they serve, they have to have at least nine children, ages 0 to 5, attend and have a woman in the community serve as a ¨teacher.¨But she has to be attending high school, as well. So the first community, Triunfo, was cool...very rural. I got to do some interviews we are required to do the first three months in site. They are just diagnostic, but a good way of getting an idea of what the community needs. For both communities, it looks like water sanitation, trash removal and maternal health are the greatest needs.

The second community, Tuntiak, is a Shuar community. Shuar is one of the indigenous communities in Ecuador, mostly populated in the Amazon. So we get up there and I couldn´t understand half of what they were saying..later to find out it was in Shuar. This made me feel better. But we met in one of their traditional meeting huts, which was really neat and built with palm-like leaves and wood.

We are like 10 minutes into the meeting and a woman comes in, one of the community members has died and could we postpone the meeting for tomorrow. The coordinator from Zumbi looks at me like, what should we do, and I was like I have no idea! I have never been to an indigenous community before....it was crazy. All of the people in this community, though, looked at me like I was some blonde giant...I felt very much like what Christopher Columbus probably felt like when he stepped into the New World. Many of these people have not had much gringo contact. We resumed the meeting, however.

As I was interviewing these women though, it was hilarious. They were all joking and laughing around, half of them didn´t have their front teeth and all were wearing their guaguas on their backs. One question I asked was if anyone practiced family planning, and you would have thought I said the funniest thing in the world. It was crazy! They all either didn´t know or it wasn´t an option for them. Needless to say, this may be one of my first charlas with them.

Lastly, the FODI girls had to find a new teacher in this community. It was so hard, because all of the women wanted to work yet no one wanted to study and continue in high school. After a lot of stalling and awkward silence, one woman said she would but would have to talk to her husband to see if he would allow her to go to school. I had heard about this happening, but to actaully see it--women asking their husbands for permission--was another thing.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Burro=Breakfast of Champions

This week I accumulated another ¨weird breakfast food¨entry: burro (aka DONKEY). It was actually pretty good. I asked what it was, and Monica, my host mom/counterpart, was like well it´s similar to cow...but it´s donkey. I was like ummm I didn´t think donkey was similar to cow, but whatev. It´s apparently healthier and not as fatty.

This weekend was the end of fiestas for Loja and their Virgen del Cisne. This is their Virgin Mary and the story I´ve heard is that this doll of the Virgin ended a drought Loja was having in the 1500s and now she´s the Virgin Mary of Loja. All the buses and cars say ¨Virgin del Cisne¨ (El Cisne is where she appeared) as a form of ¨protection¨.

So Friday I traveled to Loja with a doctor that I work with. He showed me around a little and then I went and met up with the other volunteers who live in Loja. They are really cool and super laid back...I am really happy they are my new support system.

Then, Friday night seven of us took a chiva, which is a bus without doors or windows, and we sat up top. For about 2 hours the bus drove us around Loja, with us on top blowing whistles and bopping to music. It was a fun way to see the city at night, especially while it was in fiestas. Afterwards, we went to the Parque and watched fireworks. It was hilarious because the fireworks are shot off literally 50 feet away from you and they all look like they are going to drop on top of you. It´s pretty scary, actually, as some flames dropped into the audience. It also makes you appreciate how anal the US is with their fireworks regulations...

We drank some big ass beers for a dollar and then went to a bar with live music. That was one of my favorite parts...the band was awesome. I didn´t realize how much I missed concerts and live music until we went to that bar.

On Saturday, we hung out, bought some bootleg DVDs, and watched the Ecuador-Bolivia soccer game (we won!). Saturday night, another volunteer, Akul, and I went to this club. There is an ex-volunteer, Zach, who lives in Loja. He married an Ecuadorian woman and her family owns the best night club in Loja and it was pretty cool. Very mafia like...

But now I´m back in site. We cleaned the hospital last week, actually shut down the hospital so we could clean it...didn´t think that was possible to close a hospital. But the president is now coming this week so we had to prepare...I kinda felt like the Wizard of Oz...buff buff here buff buff there...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

¡YANTZAZA!

Whoop whoop...I´m here finally! What a crazy past few days. Chris and I decided to leave on Sunday, that way we could rest a little. We were a little chuchaki from the crazy partying the night before. Let´s just say...things got weird.

So we managed to catch a 3 pm bus from Quito, hoping to arrive around 6 am in Loja Monday morning. I am now learning you need to have a 1-2 hour window for every bus ride...long or short. All night the bus was having problems; having to stop every few hours so they could make repairs. I also learned that the buses board not only the driver, but two extra guys just to help with repairs. Simply because they happen so often.

So at 6 am, the bus stopped and people started getting pissed. Like shaking the doors open to try and get out, I learned some new swear words...the works. So they let some people off and we started rolling again. Chris and I tried to stay on the bus as long as possible because we had so much stuff with us it was going to be a pain to try and transfer everything. Then at about 8 am, we were driving, a mere 10 minutes away from the bus station in Loja, and the driver lost control and the only way to stop was to run up into the side of a hill. It was a little scary at first but then I just started laughing. What a welcome...

The only way for us to deboard the bus was for them to rip the door off and our luggage had to be handed to us by the smallest Ecuadorian...luckily they are small and can fit into tight spaces, because the doors to the luggage area were blocked.

Then we hopped into a camioneta with 2 other families to get to Loja. So our first leg of the trip was 18 hours in total. My 3 hour bus ride to Yantzaza was fine...luckily. Then my host dad, Polivio, picked me up and I just chilled the rest of the day.

Felt a little more in touch when I talked to my parents last night. Big news about Sarah Palin´s daughter and her bun in the oven...nice twist to the elections. Should be an interesting race...

Things are getting heated down here as at the end of the month the whole country is voting Si o No on the new constitution. Monica, my counterpart/host mom, told me that President Rafael Correa will be visiting Yantzaza on Friday and Saturday, so I´m going to try and see that.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sworn-In

WOO HOO! I am now an official United States Peace Corps Volunteer!

So exciting...we woke up this morning and got all dolled up to arrive at the Ambassador´s residence. Heather Hodges, the new Ambassador, just arrived 3 weeks ago and we are her first Omnibus to be sworn in. She is also from Cleveland...which is crazy. What a small world.

But it was super foggy so we couldn´t really see anything, but it´s on some beautiful property...huge lawn. It even has clay tennis courts and a trampoline! (Didn´t get to see the trampoline....) But after some speeches and formal presentations of people, we took an official oath and became official PCVs. Each person was called up for a certificate and a hearty handshake from the ambassador.

Tonight there will be some crazy par-tays in the Mariscol (party section of Quito). A bunch of volunteers from past Omnibuses came up for the party too, which is cool to meet new people.

Now I have to figure out how I´m going to carry my 50+ lb. duffle, backpack, small duffle, and yet another duffle onto the bus. Luckily Peace Corps pays for us to buy two tickets and we can take our bags on the bus.

I got my cell phone! Here is my new number and how you can call from the US:
593-9-794-8642
I also received my new address. I am not sure how it will work out, so if you just want to send a letter as a test run, that might be better before sending larger items (there are no numbers in my address....)
Corrie van Amerongen
Cuerpo de Paz
Correo Central
Yantzaza, Zamora
Ecuador
Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers and support during these 10 weeks! I definitely believed it helped. Now starts the next part of my journey...

Monday, August 25, 2008

I seriously didn´t think the sun was going to rise...

Well--yesterday was by far the most exciting day I have had here.

We started off with a despidida party for everyone and their host families. We ordered a big chancho (pig) and had the typical Ecuadorian side dishes of corn and potatoes. In the morning, Sonia helped me make some coffee cake-things, which was super nice. So we rushed off, did the whole par-tay thang and then quickly returned home(with an entire plate of food they wanted to bring home for the family...it´s traditional to do so). It was a nice way to honor the families and show them our appreciation...a little awkward when three girls from my omnibus got up and did the Soldier Boy dance. The looks on everyone´s faces was priceless...they didn´t understand it all, but hey, we were just sharing culture, man.

Once we got home, all of us piled into the camioneta (my last vuelta with them!) and the two girl cousins, Domini and the guagua, came too. We drove to Tabacundo, the next town over, to see this incredible lake that has amazing scenery and it is spectacular. It started to rain as we were driving, but that didn´t seem to be an issue---at the time.

Juan decided that we needed to get a closer look, however, I noticed the roads were pretty bad and advised that what I had seen was bastante and we didn´t need to go further. But no, the machismo kicked in and he decided to drive through. And guess what....we got stuck.

For the entire night...and most of this morning.

We got stuck while it was raining, the tires were spinning but nothing was catching. Sonia was not a happy camper, but got out and tried to help him. Several meandering travelers attempted to help push the truck out of the mud, but with no avail. I got out, in my dress and sandals, to help too but it was a lost cause.

Then the sun set. And we finally were able to push it out with the help of a group of Jehovah´s Witnesses (I kid you not) and their Toyota 4X4. We were free! At this point, Domini and the guagua had left with another car, as we were afraid we were going to be stuck all night and there was no way a 1-year-old was going to sit in a car all night.

We drove to a clearing and then Juan decided we should try and drive to the end of the point and turn around. Bad idea, Juan. We got stuck...again. And this time for good. So after a lot of laughs, watching me fall in the mud and flail around like a cucaracha, we ate some potato chips and white bread donated by the Jehovah´s Witnesses. It was a real experience trying to sleep in a car with 4 other people. We made some trips throughout the night the light a fire and dry our clothes and stay warm...it was cold!

When the sun rose at 6 am, I never thought I would be so happy to see daylight. I seriously didn´t think the sun was going to rise. Finally we received cell phone service and Tio Luis came and dug us out, literally. The abuelito and cousin came too, and let me tell you, that abuelito is one of the fittest old men I´ve ever seen (including you, Dad). So from 7 am to 11 am, we were digging and driving our way back to Ayora because the roads were so bad.

Despite the mud, hunger and exhaustion, this was an incredible adventure. I´ve never had so much fun roughing it before. My family was awesome too because even all this crazy stuff happened, they were laughing and having a blast the whole time! The thing they kept saying was, at least we´re alive and at least we´re together. And that just makes so much sense.

Ginger, who is definitely my favorite, said to me at one point, smiling and with mud all over her face, ¨Asi es la vida en el campo, Corrie¨(This is what life is like in the campo). She said it in such a serious tone, it was so funny. But she, at 10-years-old, even had a good perspective on things.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Only a few days left

Well, it is my last few days here in Cayambe. It´s coming to a bittersweet end, as I have enjoyed my time here during training, but it is definitely time to start a new chapter.

Quito is going to be CrAzY! but super fun for we´ll all get to unwind a little before we split our ways. In the mean time, here are some things I´m going to miss (or not miss) while I´m here.

1) Breastfeeding: Wow. Never had I thought breastfeeding would be an issue, but women here have NO shame when it comes to feeding your child. Anywhere, anytime women will just pull down their shirt and BAM! milk the baby. I was literally talking to this woman, her child WALKED UP to her and she just whipped out her breast and started feeding ¨the baby.¨Call me crazy, but when a child can WALK UP to you and demand la teta it´s time they get some solid food (This will be true throughout Ecuador...).

2) Stars: This probably won´t change either, but the stars here are absolutely incredible. Due to the lack of pollution, lack of light pollution, and the fact we are on the equator, the night skies are phenomenal. One of my things on my ¨To-Do List¨here will be to learn more about the constellations and identify the stars.

3) Showers: Showers. Are. Cold. Simple as that. However, it has been nice not feeling like I have to take a shower everyday, simply because it´s just too damn cold to take one. The same goes for my clothes, I have gotten crafty and creative with my outfits and layering. This will not be true in Yantzaza where it´s gonna be pretty hot and I´ll be sweating in my sleep.

4) Family Times: I have really gotten attached to my family here. They have even told me that I have made an impact on them, with the mere 2 months that I have been here. This was an incredible compliment, especially because I don´t feel like I have even done anything. And this is kind of what I think my next 2 years will be like. They said they fight less, eat dinner as a family regularly and have learned a lot from me. I feel like I´ve learned 100 times more from them than they from me, but all the same, I will miss them dearly. Despite the warnings of death from showers, papas fritas for breakfast and not understanding why I don´t like liquid cheese on everything---they are amazing.

5)BIZCOCHOS: These little cookie/biscotti/cracker sticks of heaven I will miss dearly. Wasn´t a fan when I initially got here, but they have definitely grown on me. They are Cayambe´s version of biscotti and are only from this region. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

If you take a shower, you´ll die

Sorry all, I haven´t had many new updates. I´ve been off and on sick the last few days...finally feeling better. And considering what other people have had here, my gripe (flu) was nothin. It was funny, I wanted to take a shower since I had been feverish and sweating all night and my host mom, Sonia, was like no--you´ll die. And I was like umm last time I checked no one died from a shower. Then Jazmin and a cousin, Domini, came in and they were like what are you doing? I said taking a shower...and they both gasped and shook their heads at the same time! It was so funny...like they saw or heard something really scary. So if something happens to me within the next 24 hours, you´ll know it was because I took a shower...

So we are entering our last full week of training! I can´t believe how fast it has gone, yet at the same time I feel like I´ve been in Ecuador a while. Which is also nothing compared to the next 2 years I´m up against...oy vey what did I get myself into! But I´m excited...I feel prepared and ready for the next step in my crazy adventure.

I did get news this week that the volunteer, Katie, that we stayed with on our site visit, is leaving. She wrote Chris and I an email saying that her work and counterpart situation aren´t working out and she has decided to go home. Which is too bad, as I felt I could have learned a lot from her. So it looks like it´s just gonna be me and Chris in the ENTIRE province of Zamora Chinchipe.

Now that the Olympics are in full swing, I´ve been able to see bits and pieces. All I´ve really heard is that Michael Phelps is tearing things UP and winning everything. Ecuador´s claim to fame and only medal winner is Jefferson Perez, a speed walker. (Which is quite ironic as everyone walks slower than spit down here...) Friday night was his big race and he was favored to win but came in second after a Russian with legs twice the size of Jefferson Perez himself (aka normal size). But it was exciting to see the country get excited for their Olympic medal winner ever. Makes you realize how much the US wins and how much we take that for granted.

Oh and while being sick, I´ve watched a ton of telenovelas...and I´ve decided I really like them.

A lot.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Olympic Teams and Beauty Queens

With the Olympics having started, competition is in the air. Unfortunately, the TVs in my house don´t get the Olympics so I haven´t been able to watch them, but us Peace Corps kids decided to commence it our own way. On Friday, we all gathered in Tabacundo (neighboring town) and had a Olympics Fiesta. Everyone dressed up as a country; I was Holland, I found a cheap soccer jersey and just rocked that out.

It was great, we all met at a Karoake Bar and that was an experience in and of itself. Karoake is big here, like people take it seriously. We were the first ones in the bar and we were singing really horrible renditions of Celine Dion´s my Heart Will Go On and Roxanne by The Police. After the locals had enough of our screeching, the woman running the bar took over and was like belting out songs! And every other Ecuadorian to follow sang well and did a serious job. Completely opposite of us-- as the night went on and the Pilsener was flowing even more, we were screaming to Bohemian Rhapsody, all doing the Wayne´s World head bop, and everyone was probably thinking what retarded gringoes. Karoake seems to be big everywhere else in the world, but the US....however I think that is a good thing.

But the real icing on the cake for this weekend was my ¨attempt¨ at being a beauty queen. Thursday night, Freddy, one of my cousins, asked me if I wanted to be a madrina, which is beauty pageant contestant. I thought differently because madrina also means godmother, so I was a little confused. So I said yes, totally shocked and honored that they wanted a gringa to represent. So this morning there was a parade of all the futbol (soccer) teams and they each had a madrina. Still not quite sure why they had to have a contest, but looks are everything here.

So I dressed up, and they were surprised I didn´t bring high heels with me. (Sorry, I didn´t realize I was going to be entering pageants when I got down here, and that wasn´t part of the PC job description.) So Jazmin ¨polished¨my sandals instead. Sonia did my hair and I carried a bouquet, waving and smiling. It was great. There were about 30 madrinas standing in this soccer field, being judged. Unfortunately I didn´t win...or even get to the finals. But whatev...it was fun. That´s the closest I´ll ever get to being in a beauty pageant! So I soaked up every minute of it.

The most important part was that my whole family said I was bonita and that I looked good. Oh and the good news is, I get to keep the sash!
Me and my equipo Los Novios de Tus Ñañas (The boyfriends of your sisters). It was rainy and my hair got messed up...the guy to my left, Carlitos, is a cousin of the family. And yes, I was the tallest person there.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

¡FOTOS!

Hey everyone! Again, thank you all for your comments, it´s good to know people are reading and enjoying this crazy adventure of mine. Hey everyone! Again, thank you all for your comments, it´s good to know people are reading and enjoying this crazy adventure of mine.

Everyone came back in great spirits, all loving their sites and anxious to finish up these last few weeks before swearing-in. As promised, here are some pictures of Cayambe and Yantzaza. Enjoy!



My house in Cayambe. Behind the gate is our house, the Moinas own the Porta in front. (Porta is a major cell phone provider here, they have cabinas which are like phone booths). I make many phone calls here. The second level is unfinished; the Moinas were building it, then the dollarization occurred in Ecuador and it was too expensive to finish.

The inside of the house. It´s pretty fancy schmancy for Ecuadorian standards. My back is to the kitchen and the two bedrooms are to the left. The furthest door leads to the driveway/gate.


My room. Love the Panda bedspread....At night I generally sleep under four blankets and my sleeping bag...it gets cold! The window looks out onto the clothes washing area (we live on the first floor).

On my site visit in Zamora. Me and the other volunteer, Katie, who has been living in Zamora (the capital of the province) for about 3 months so far. We are standing in front of the Rio Zamora, which passes through Yantzaza, as well. They just built this beautiful riverfront wall and park, as you can see in the background.

Me being gangsta in THE RAINFOREST. Yea...that´s right, the Amazon. We just finished an incredible hike through Podocarpus National Park and it had rained the whole time. Still freakin´amazing.


My host family in Yantzaza. I am living with my counterpart, Dra. Monica Guaya. Her husband, Polivio, is a miner. They have a 4-year-old, Valeria, and then 11-year-old, Micaela. This is their house, I was living on the second floor, but will probably live in the ¨examining room¨the first three months in site.



Probably one of the scariest bridges I´ve ever had to cross. Taken from the Yantzaza side, I need to cross the Rio Zamora to get to my barrio (neighborhood) Gran Colombia. It will be interesting trying to get all of my stuff across this bridge...

The view of my barrio from my bedroom. It rained almost everyday, but it would clear out at night. Hot and humid, but great weather, nonetheless. It´s a great change of pace from the frigid temperatures in Cayambe. Everything is so green!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

It´s like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

What a crazy week! I am in the bus station in Loja right now, waiting before my 14 hour ride back to Quito. The ride here was fine...just really long and way too reminiscent of those long band bus rides in high school. When we got to Quito last Saturday, a bunch of us got together to see the new Batman movie. Which was incredible! Definitely recommend it; so nice to have an ¨American¨afternoon.

Chris and I got to Zamora on Monday and met up with a volunteer who has been here since May. Katie, who is from Pittsburgh, is a natural resources volunteer for the city of Zamora. She is a self-proclaimed bird nerd and wrote her master´s thesis on a species of birds. So Katie took us on various walks throughout the city, spotting birds along the way. Zamora is known as the city of aves y cascadas (birds and waterfalls) and it definitely doesn´t lack either. We went on a huge hike through the Podocarpus National Park, which was incredible. There is so much vegetation everywhere, we really felt like were in the jungle.

Tuesday we departed for our sites---I went to Yantzaza and Chris went to Guaysimi. I was so freakin nervous, but really excited at the same time. I met my counterpart, Dra. Monica Guaya, at the Hospital de Yantzaza. It´s the second biggest hopsital in the province with a decent amount of resources. My job will be working with hospital employees and educating local high schools on sexual and reproductive rights. Teen pregnancy is a problem in this area, so it will be a lot charlas and devising creative campaigns.

I am also living with Monica and her family. Her husband, Polivio, is a miner and they have a 4 year-old-daughter, Valeria, who is a real pistol. Monica also has an 11-year-old daughter, Micaela, who is really quiet but is slowly warming up to me. We have to cross a crazy bridge to get to our house, over the Zamora River. Extremely scary, but I´m learning to like it with time.

I also went to Zumbi the town over to see what my job will be. It is with FODI, the Fondo de Desarallo Infantil, which is like a social work organization for children 0-5 years and their families. It´s a crazy group of women, one man in the office, but they are all really excited to have me as a volunteer. We spent the day yesterday cruising around the canton (county) in a camioneta, picking up furniture from closed FODI centers. It was an incredible ride...kinda felt like I was in Jurassic Park at times.

My legs got eaten by the mosquitoes, but remembered to take my Malaria meds...so I should be good. Oh and the delicacy here is frog legs...no more cuy!
As for the title...we were riding in the camioneta and the women said I looked like Snow White (BlancaNieves) and her seven dwarves with the other workers.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Everyday is a winding road

Sheryl Crow knows what she´s talking about. I was taking an extremely therapeutic walk this afternoon and heard this on my ipod (GRACIAS A DIOS I BROUGHT IT!) and figured it was a good way to start my posting. It is very true that everyday here is a winding road, literally and figuratively. There are so many unknowns and unexpected bumps in the road, you have to take everything with a grain of salt.

We did yoga in session this afternoon as well as talked about mental health, so I´ve been doing some minor soul searching. I am very anxious to see how these next two years will change my perspective on things, not only on the world, but with myself, as well.

Anyway, tomorrow we embark on our 20-hour journey to the jungle. Chris and I keep singing ¨Welcome to the Jungle!¨...I have a feeling this may be our theme song for a few months.

My family is making me a good-bye dinner tonight...I got to pick whatever I wanted! Since my choices were pretty much potatoes, rice, chicken....oh and bread...I chose chicken with ¨ensalada¨(green peppers and tomatoes). Woo hoo.

Oh and a sidenote, my dog was wearing a shirt today. Why? He was cold, my sisters said....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

And the site goes to....

SITE PRESENTATION DAY!

Today was a very emotional day for everyone, as we all received our sites for the next two years! Everyone was on pins and needles this morning, awaiting the news of our futures. CRAZY! Anyway, we had some sessions and then they split up the Youth and Families group and Health group to present our sites. They had a slideshow prepared for us and on each slide was the name of the site and an indication on the map. Then, magically next to the map appeared the volunteers picture. My name was called second to last...and they did it by region. The agony! Ok so now I have put you all through enough....drum roll please.

I AM GOING TO THE AMAZON! AKA: The rainforest!

I, for some reason, thought I was going to end up in the Sierra region, where it is cold and there are a ton of mountains, but this site totally caught me off guard. I am really, really excited. Super surprised, but in a good way. There are only three of us health volunteers in The Oriente: Me, Chris and Casey. Casey has her Masters in Public Health, so we pretty much knew her site. But she is located in Puyo, quite far from Chris and I. We are both located in the southern most province of Zamora, right on the border of Peru. My town, Yantzaza,* is actually a dual site and will be living there, as well as working in Zumbi. I will be working with the main hospital in Yantzaza, which is the biggest in the province, and doing a lot of sex education, work with community leaders, youth groups and there is even a youth radio program.

I am still quite shocked about it all. I talked to one of the program managers who said that they felt my personality was good for this site, as I seem to like adventure and this is definitely an adventure. Chris is located about 2 hours by bus from me, yet to get to his site you need to canoe.

After the site presentations, they drew out a giant map of Ecuador and everyone stood where they were located. Chris and I were on the only ones at the south and everyone is pretty much clustered towards the Coast and Sierra. I am so stoked though...this will be a great adventure. The weather is supposed to be hot and humid, a nice change of pace from here. We leave Saturday night for our site visits for a week. We need to leave Saturday night because it is a 17-hour trip from Quito! ¡AY YI YI! The one thing they said that could be an issue is loneliness, but I am going to make it my goal to meet as many locals and integrate into my community as much as possible. The site visit consists of us meeting with a current volunteer and then we stay with our new host families in our sites for the rest of the week. These new host families we will stay with our first three months in site, a new PC policy. My host family is actually my counterpart, a Doctora (female doctor) I will be working with in Yantzaza.

Some were not so happy with their sites, but everyone says no site is a bad site---it is what you make of it. AHH! I still cannot believe I am going to the rainforest!!!

*Sorry, I cannot find a map with the town on it, but I am a 2-hour bus ride from the city of Zamora. Oh and it is pronounced YANT SA SA.