Sunday, November 30, 2008
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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!