Monday, August 24, 2009

Colombian Billards

Ahh the Colombians...the black (literally) sheep of Ecuador. They are loved yet feared and loathed at the same time (sound like a minority population in the US?)

Yantzaza´s Colombian population, however, is probably the biggest in the area. With the allure of mining in Zamora Chinchipe, and a large number of foreign companies setting up shop in this little nook of Ecuador, a bunch of Colombians have come to live here. They mostly stay for a week or so, leave for the mines for a month, and then come back to rest up for a week before leaving again.

There are a lot of Colombians in my neighborhood, so I´ve gotten to know some of them. Two dashing young lads happen to live in the apartment above me. Duber and Diner, no joke....they are cousins, are really cool little Colombians that have been here about 3 years. After hanging out on the front bench the last few days, they invited me for Duber´s birthday celebration. I was a little nervous because they said they were going to the Billars, which is the Colombian Billard hall hangout.

Now, I have no beef with the Colombians...they have all been really nice to me. Here, people are just really skeptical of their actions, whether or not they are dangerous, etc. Colombia is a lot more dangerous than the comparative comatose Ecuador, but that doesn´t always mean the country breeds bad people. Ecuadorians tend to give a second look when the two minority groups of the town are hanging out together, especially because we are both so noticable.

So I get a little dolled up and we walk, the three of us, down to the pool hall. I was nervous because I didn´t want a lot of people saying stuff about oh the gringa is with the colombians, etc. We reached the swinging doors, and I coyly stepped in, wondering what these dark faces were going to think about the whitest face in Yantzaza stepping onto their turf. No one said anything, it was like those movies where you hear background music, one sole pool ball hitting the table, and everyone just looking up at the one foreign object that entered the door. I was like AY DIOS, and my stomach did 10 flips. Duber and Diner were leading me in with big smiles, telling me it´s ok...I guess they could tell I was nervous. And then this girl Lydia came over and started talking to me, the owner of the bar. She was really cool and I was able to whip out my ¨Cori¨ Spanish personality (as most say I act differently in Spanish...). She was super cool and chatted me up.

Felt a little looser as some came over and shook my hand, wanting to get to know me. Duber and Diner taught me how to play their pool (shooting the number 7-15 in order). But it was funny because as we were playing Diner turns to me and is like, wow look at this, this is the ¨extranjero bar¨ or bar for foreigners. Once he said that I chuckled to myself and thought, wow he´s really right. In a sense, I felt a lot more comfortable because we were all away from our homelands, here in Ecuador on a mission.

As the night went on, more Colombianos trickled in and out. It was the first time in a while I have felt really out of my element. I feel more and more local everyday, yet this time I had to stretch myself again, just like I would have a year ago. But I was glad for this experience, another wake up call for me, and another way for me to appreciate how integrated I have become.

I am now accepted into the Colombian way; just add that one to the list...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

You want my quimbolito instead of bus fare?

Yesterday I had such a good day. It was my first real day back at work since being on vacation, and I have been getting antsy lately, so I was really excited to do something constructive. I´ve also been a little down about work, since the whole entire staff of FODI is pretty much getting fired in a month due to the new mayoral administration, so I have been in limbo as to what I want to do when September 1 rolls around. I took the toro by the horns and just decided to do more work with the school and my girls at Paulina Solis, as well as go to Zamora twice a week. However, when and if FODI needs me, they will let me know but I won´t be doing things for them on a daily basis (at least this is the tentative plan...).

Anyway, Grigs asked me to help out at one of the FODI centers yesterday so I hopped on a ranchera to get over there in the morning. The rancheras are the buses without doors or windows, just a truck with seats in it. I hopped in front with the driver since it looked like it was going to downpour (I´m good at calculating rain clouds now...) and we started chatting. Once I got to the center at San Pablo, I told him I got off here and handed him my 40 cent fare. He shook his head and said ¨Que te vaya bien¨ (May things go well with you). I was like HALA! Then I knew it was going to be a good day.

San Pablo, however, is one of my favorite centers. The moms are great, the educators are awesome, and the kids are a blast to play with. After picking up some Avon that I bought from the center´s cook (she´s an Avon Reina in these parts), I went out back and helped Grigs and the moms plant some seeds for this garden they´ve tried to revive. We both kinda didn´t know what we were doing, as far as what seeds should grow near each other, etc. But I think we estimated well enough. No one seemed to contest our guessing, so we figured it was good enough. We only planted seeds in two beds, if it doesn´t work out...meh. Hopefully it will, because I need to get in some green thumb practice.

Afterwards, Grigs and I played a little with the kids. Being bigger and considered Big Foot here, they tend to think I´m a jungle gym so they climbed on me for a little bit and then played Hide-N-Go favorite. It mostly involves us just running around and yelling the whole time. And then, as my mom always used to (and still does) tell us, ¨laughter soon turns to tears¨ and wouldn´t ya know, two kids slam right into each other while turning a corner and the game stops. :-(

One of the best games though, involved a kid being ¨San Antonio¨ and the others sit on a bench, waiting for San Antonio to save them from ¨a demon¨ (yours truly). But the way San Antonio gets rid of this demon is by whacking them with a took me a bunch of tries to understand what they were doing, and I still don´t seem to get it. More than anything it was funny watching kids beat me with a least the educators got a real kick out of it.

Grigs and I gave a little charla to the moms later on on Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, which was good. And of course, afterwards, the infamous ¨refrigerio¨ or snack. They labored all afternoon to make these Quimbolitos, or floury cupcakes with raisins and they are baked in banana leaves. They were pretty good. But of course had to send me home with a bunch. After catching the bus with my quimbolitos, I got off to pay the driver and he rushed over to me asking for one. I handed him my 40 cents, but he was like no I want a Quimbolito. Ok Señor! So I didn´t have to pay for any transportation yesterday!

Once again, the little things are making me appreciate my days here. Who would have thought free bus rides and tag with a towel could brighten up one´s day?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Honk if you like Ecuador PARTE DOS

Now that Dan Weitz has experienced ¨The Ecua¨life that I live, he was nice enough to record his experiences and give his ¨dos centavos.¨ So let´s hear it for my first guest blogger!

Transportation: Local busses never come to a complete stop, people literally jump on and off the bus while it is still moving, and bathrooms on busses are for women only. Every car is at least 15 years old and honks about 3 to 5 times per minute. It’s also popular to ride in the back of pick-up trucks (the “Click It Or Ticket” rule clearly isn’t enforced here). There are no trains, no metro, no BMWs, no limos.

Vendors: You can buy everything from machetes to electric chords from people on the streets. One guy was walking around with a 3 liter bottle (yes, 3 liter) of Coke and selling little plastic cups of soda straight from the bottle. Also, there are legitimate stores with security guards that sell bootleg video games and DVDs for $1.50 (the quality is surprisingly good, too). There are little bodegas everywhere you turn, and if you need some bananas, no matter where you live, it will be at most a 15 second walk.

Cost of living: A three course meal with a chicken soup appetizer, grilled meat with rice, beans, and plantains, a small dessert, and delicious fruit drink costs $2 (includes tax, and you don’t tip here). For 6 tomatoes, 3 green peppers, a sack of potatoes, 3 limes, 1 pineapple, 2 avocados, 2 large carrots, 1 large head of broccoli, and cilantro is cost us $4.50. Monthly rent is $70. A 10 minute taxi ride or 1 hour bus ride each cost $1. Ice cream bars are 25 cents. A jumbo sized beer at a restaurant is $1. Nuff said.

Lifestyle: If you want someone’s attention, such as a waitress at a restaurant or a girl at a bar, you hiss at them. Every day is laundry day, there are always clothes hanging end to end on clotheslines. There’s no such thing as eggs and bacon for breakfast, instead it’s chicken and beans. At bars there are no gin and tonics or rum and cokes, but just beer that comes in half liter sized bottles with small plastic cups to pour in and share with everyone around you. Bugs like to bite you in the most random places such as your index finger knuckle or pinky toe. No matter how many times you take cold showers, it’s just as cold today as it was yesterday.

Walking the streets: Roads don’t have dotted white or double yellow lines (after all it’s pretty difficult to paint rocks and dirt). There are stray cats and dogs everywhere, and it’s common to be woken up by roosters in the morning (though something just doesn’t sound right with the way they cockle doodle do down here). There are beautiful mountains in the distance everywhere you look and the view just never gets old. People are very friendly and talkative and it is common to say Good Afternoon to just about every person you pass on the streets. Many buildings are only half finished and appear to be abandoned projects.

As poor as this country is, the people here seem very happy with their lives. While they may never watch the Super Bowl on a 50” plasma TV or talk to friends on their brand new iPhone, they are perfectly happy sitting outside their small cement apartments on plastic chairs watching cars drive by on a Saturday afternoon. Corrie loves it here and her Spanish is incredible. She was a great host and this was definitely a worthwhile experience that made me appreciate a new culture and admire even more Corrie’s devotion to this country.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Honk if you like Ecuador!

I have been fortunate enough this week to receive my THIRD American visitor....Señor Daniel Brian Weitz. After our adventures together at Maryland, Dan decided he wanted to continue the good times and come on down South of the Border.

Last Sunday night he arrived late in to Guayaquil, which was nice as I had the day to rest up after the exhausting night bus. Guayaquil was in fiestas that weekend, surprise surprise, and I went out with my friend Kristin the night before to experience the sights. Tons of fireworks, open flames on the streets, and probably the most amount of people I have ever seen. Being the largest city in Ecuador, with almost 3 million people, Guayaquil grows even larger during fiestas.

Anyway, I managed to find this really cute, artsy hostel on the Malécon, or riverwalk, in Guayaquil. We stayed in the ¨Green Room¨ and now Dan remembers what verde means (he is slowly but surely picking up Spanish phrases....his favorite is chuchaki which is hungover, but never seems to get it right....)

We explored Guayaquil on Monday, the riverwalk, climbed 500 steps to a lighthouse that overlooks the whole city, and had a great grilled steak dinner. Guayaquil turned out to be quite delightful despite its somewhat notorious reputation.

Then we took a three hour bus ride to a sleepy beach town on the coast. It was cute, but unfortunately the weather really sucked so it was cold and cloudy the whole time. They did have a ton of restaurants and bars so we got to experience some nightlife.

Wednesday night we took a night bus to Loja and then took a bus to Vilcabamba. Vilca turned out to have really nice weather, with its rolling mountainsides and hippy mountain feel, Dan surely got a taste for the different lifestyles on the Coast and the Sierra. We decided to go for a hike up this mountain, Mondango. In order to get up, we had to pay a buck fifty to get into the property, yet no one was answering the bell. A neighbor was like just go on in, so we hopped the barbwire fence and hiked up this mountain. It was an incredible view, 1950 meters!

Staying at Izchalyuma, this sweet hostel, we got amazing massages and had a wunderbar dinner (it vas very german...) After Vilcabamba, we met up my friend Jason in Loja for lunch and then took a bus back to Yantzaza. When we got here, we met up with Chris and his girlfriend Emily, had some street meat with them and Grigs joined us later. It was a great little gringo get together, and we were definitely attracting attention. The highlight for Dan that night was hoping in the back of a pick-up and taking a spin around the block to this disco we went to. The disco was afull of screaming girls, waiting for Jhonatan Luna, some cover singer. The girls were screaming like when I saw Ricky Martin for the first time, but this chico was merely singing cover songs. Dan is now deaf in his right ear. But I got to show off some of my merengue moves :-)

Now we are just hanging out; took him to some local bars, we ate frog yesterday, and went to the pool and waterslide in Zumbi today. He is here until Wednesday and then we are heading back to Guayaquil so he can fly back to BORING USA. Hahahaha. So far, I think he likes it, says it is nothing like what he expected, but I said you really cannot expect anything when coming down here.

So far the things he has noticed:
1. Massive amounts of honking...everyone honks for no reason, but I say, why not?
2. Cold showers....I say, whats the big deal?
3. Tsss tsss tsss....the totally effective and PC way of calling to a hot girl...

Now I am hoping Dan will provide some insightful observations of his own that we can all reflect on. Slash...I hope more of you will decide to come visit now.