Peace Corps · Training · Uncategorized

Peace Corps Swear In!

On Tuesday, I graduated for the third time in as many months!

All 46 of the Peace Corps Trainees who came in with me in June swore in as official Peace Corps Volunteers at the United States official ambassador’s residence in a beautiful ceremony (that started on Ecuador Time, i.e., 50 minutes late. Luckily Berkeley Time, where everything starts 10 minutes later than you think it will, helped prepare me for this) with the Peace Corps staff, our current host families for training, and our new host families at site.


Celebrating with the Peace Corps flag

Although we’re required to wear business casual to training daily, the emphasis tends to be on casual. Many of us don’t have hot water at our host families’ homes, so we don’t spend a lot of time with our appearance on a daily basis. It was so cute to see everyone dressed in their best outfits, chit-chatting with their host families – all of whom were fussing over their volunteers as if they were their true mothers, taking pictures, reapplying sunscreen and checking to make sure they’d eaten.

My current host mom had a stern talking to with my new host dad, reminiscent of when your dad meets your high school boyfriend for the first time. She explained all the important facets of my personality: I’m muy tranquila, don’t like to eat rice or meat, and require a cup of coffee with breakfast every day. Over dinner that evening, she reassured me that she approved, and felt comfortable letting me move to site. I loved my new host family in the Oriente, just as much as I love my doting current host family, so I was glad to hear she enjoyed meeting him as well.

But I won’t be moving to site quite yet – I still have two more weeks of Spanish tutoring to help get me up to speed. Since I was one of the few volunteers who hadn’t studied Spanish in college, I frequently found myself lost in long conversations with new Ecuadorians, and am glad to have the opportunity to sharpen my language skills (and much needed pronunciation coaching) in a 1-on-1 setting now. But the end of the month will be here before I know it, and I’ll be off to the Amazon!


My host mom from training on the left, with my new host father on the left


Saying goodbye to one of my closest friends from training, Charli, and enjoying a rare cup of non-instant coffee

Peace Corps · Training · Uncategorized


This post is a week overdue, but in typical Ecuador fashion, I’ve been suffering from a bout of food poisoning since I got back – my sixth or seventh illness since I arrived in the beginning of June, I’ve lost count – and thus unable to motivate myself to do much more than marathon Gilmore Girls. I tell myself that it counts as studying when I put it in Spanish with English subtitles, but I find myself tuning out the voiceover the majority of the time.  For the big reveal, the Peace Corps Ecuador staff put together traditional musical and dance arrangements for each of the three main geographic regions of Ecuador: Oriente (Amazon), Sierra (Andes) y Costa (Self-Explanatory). Afterwards, we were called up one by one to receive an Ecuador woven bracelet and to announce our permanent site.


Happy volunteers after we found out our sites

For me? I’ll be moving to a beautiful riverside town of about 8,000 in the intercambio region between the Amazon rainforest and Andes mountain range. I was thrilled, because I couldn’t imagine a better location for me. It has sweeping mountain views with every turn: bright green ranges thanks to the intermittent rain 3-4x per day. The population is just slightly larger than my hometown of Quincy, California, which means I have access to a weekly market, hourly buses to the capital city of Quito (about three hours away), daily free baileterapia classes, amazing dirt roads that double as running trails, but no Americanized distractions from my goal of integrating into the community such as movie theatres, supermarkets or McDonald’s (Which I’ve visited in Quito more frequently than I ever did in Berkeley).

Even more exciting, I was paired with a strong counterpart organization and leader. I will be working with the municipal government, which will provide me a larger latitude in the types of projects that I’ll be working on – the majority of the other volunteers are working with the local public clinics – and more resources to accomplish my goals. For the first three months, I’ll be primarily assisting their pre-existing projects to get an idea of how they are run before tackling my creating my own. The three weekly classes I assist with focus on parenting, domestic violence and alcohol/drug problems in the high school.  My counterpart leads the city’s tourism department, and on his free time leads kayaking and rafting classes at the river alongside our town.

Soccer field less than a block from my new house

Rainy walk to work 

My host family took me to visit Cascadia Mágica 

I visited the town last week, and unexpectedly found out I had the house to myself due to a family emergency. At first it was a bit of a shock – I didn’t know where the cat’s and dogs’ food was stored or how to care for the baby chickens, or collect eggs – but then the situation quickly turned around. Because the town didn’t want their newest member to be solita, they collectively took me in. On my first night, I had the opportunity to join my counterpart for dinner, where his mom taught me how to make cheese empanadas for dinner, and I met a doctor-in-training from Chile who finishing up his residency at the Centro de Salud while renting a room in my counterpart’s home. The second night, I watched movies with my host family’s sister’s teenage children while learning more about issues with drugs, alcohol and teenage pregnancy in the local high school from them. Afterwards, their family treated me to a cafecito – a typical dinner in my community is a carb, such as a humita with queso fresco or an empanada, possibly served with a fried egg, and always a cup of hot coffee. All ages are free to drink coffee before bed – from the just-over-one-year-old I met in Aconcito to elderly grandparents. It flies in the face of American traditions that say it’ll stunt your growth to drink coffee before you’re an adult, and that coffee after 3PM means you won’t be able to sleep that night. But in Ecuador, most families drink instant coffee mixed into hot water (even though Ecuador is a major exporter of high-quality coffee beans), which may have a lower caffeine content than the fresh stuff. On the final night, I joined my neighbor for a dinnertime cafecito and also ran a few errands around town with him as he met with a carpenter to order a new bed and headed to the other side of town to order more wire fencing.

The baileterapia teacher also took me in – she just moved to town less than a year ago, and remembers how hard it is to be new – giving me a walking tour of the town, buying me an Ecuadorian version of an otter pop on a warm afternoon, and having me attend children’s craft lessons and baileterapia classes with her. With all of this hospitality combined, I felt incredibly welcomed in my new community. The town is facing some important community health issues, and I can’t wait to work with them to tackle those while making friends, exploring the Amazon, and celebrating unique Ecuadorian festivals along the way. 

Eating traditional fried beatle larvae for lunch

The butterflies crawled onto our fingers 

Hiking out to Cascadia Mágica 

We have cacao, coffee and dozens of different fruits growing in our garden 

Peace Corps · Training · Travel · Uncategorized

Criss-Crossing the Country

Since my last blog entry, I’ve seen so much more of Ecuador: Puembo, Santo Domingo, Santa Elena, Guayaquil and better explored the capital I have been living in for the past two months, Quito. For a visual representations of my experiences, check out my most recent video from our Peace Corps Volunteer visit to the small coastal fishing village of Anconcito. From experimental learning at the Ministerio de Salud Publica’s sala de esperar to the furthest Western point in South America, I’ll share a brief anecdote from each of my major destinations.

Monteserrin, Ecuador

A fully-stocked private park – soccer fields, tennis courts, pull up bars and playground – has been a recent fixture in my after-training adventures. Living on the Ecuador, the sun rises and sets at a reliable 6:30PM. But couple that with an hour commute on either side at a 8-5 work schedule, I rarely see the light of day at home. This park has allowed me to keep up a regular workout schedule – have you ever tried to run laps at an altitude 10,000 feet? Let me tell you, my lungs are stronger than they’ve ever been. For my final day of lower intermediate Spanish class, our teacher, Pauly, took us girls to the park for a potluck picnic. It was so rewarding to see how much our Spanish had improved since our first day of class: we had initially struggled to give a thirty second elevator pitch about ourselves in Spanish, and now we could comfortably chit-chat and giggle over teaching our 40-year-old Spanish teacher how to use Tinder to get back into the dating scene.

Our Spanish class potluck picnic in the park 


Puembo, Ecuador

I head to Puembo twice a week to practice teaching charlas in their Ministerio de Salud Publica sala de esperar for whoever is there to listen. Our days range from heading up an stretching class and nutrition lesson for 60 elderly Ecuadorians, teaching 20 pregnant teens and young women about HIV/AIDS before joining in to practice their birthing exercises, leading 140 high schoolers in an impromptu lesson by the soccer field, giving a lesson for 25 middle school teachers on the importance self-esteem. Although we prepare our topics in advance, we never know our audience or setting until we walk into the clinic and chat with our partner doctor. For this day, we walked into a public childcare center to teach 60 1-4 year-old children how to wash their hands. It seemed easy enough: we introduced a song they could sing as they washed their hands so they did it for long enough, and reminded them to always wash their hands. But things erupted in disaster when we led them out in groups of 5-6 to wash their hands: “AY CHI CHI”‘s rang through the air, as the faucet water was frigid (most Ecuadorians, like my host family, do not have hot water), some children attempted to wash their hair in the water, and others cupped their hands to drink (the water throughout Ecuador contains high levels of dangerous microbes, and shouldn’t be consumed without treatment). It was definitely a learning experience, but the kids seemed satisfied and entertained by the time they were all led back to their seats.

With some of the children after my hand-washing charla in the daycare


Santo Domingo, Ecuador

That weekend, our host family headed three hours east to Santo Domingo, where the in-laws extended family lives. Our host family has 18 people living in the house (spread across 4 generations), and not everyone came with us, but we still had to pile into a school bus (One of my host family members is employed as a school bus driver, and appears to have free range to drive it wherever she likes outside of school hours) to get to Santo Domingo together. It was my little sister Sarahi’s fourth birthday, and in Ecuador that is a big deal. A girl’s fourth birthday is considered the Presentacion de la Hija, which is celebrated at Quinceanera -level heights. My modest Ecuadorian family took around 40 people to a Chuckee Cheese-style play place for the entire afternoon. Sarahi herself was dressed like a princess, and her parents and brother had matching outfits emblazoned with her favorite television characters. For our meals that weekend, we enjoyed feasts of fresh crab, shrimp and cuy (roasted guinea pig). After the “children’s” portion of the birthday party, the young adults – parents and grandparents, with the great-grandparents taking care of the children at home – closed down the local bar with the local favorite cerveza, Pilsner, and mojitos. I made it back to Quito just in time to hop in a taxi to Plaza Foch to meet up with one of my closest friends from college, Aubin, for the only 4 hour period her 4 day long trip to Quito would overlap with me being in town. After spending the past two months only talking to my friends and family over the internet, it was so refreshing to see her in person. The trip was far too short, but I loved hearing about the past five months she’d spent living in Santiago, Chile.

The birthday girl, Sarahi, at the children’s portion of her party


Laughing with Aubin in her downtown Quito hostel

IMG_3014 2.jpg

Anconcito, Ecuador

The following week was the much-anticipated Peace Corps trainee visit to the coast. Over half of PCV in Ecuador are placed in the coastal region of Ecuador for their service, but nearly the entirety of our training takes place 10,000 feet above sea level, in Quito. Our excitement about the coast; however, was diminished when we discovered that only 2-3 of those sites were actually along the beach itself. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to discover that I had been randomly placed in the group of trainees that would be visiting a sleepy fisherman’s village of Anconcito along the ocean for our week-long visit. Check out the video above for more details from the trip. One anecdote I didn’t include in the video; however, is how up close and personal I have experienced the circle of life during my time in Ecuador. On Monday, when we arrived in Anconcito, our host family explained that they had two cats, one of whom was pregnant. They had a different relationship with their pet cats than I did with Georgie, my kittie back home, as they were more around for de-mousing and eating bugs. Other cats who wandered into their open front and back doors would be shooed away, but these two would be fed, although not pet. On the second evening, we came home to discover that the cat had given birth to four little kittens in the front yard. The mother wouldn’t let us go near her, and the little family was left outside overnight. My roommate, Hannah, and I heard a dog fight in the night, but didn’t think much of it. The incessant barking is normal in our host family’s neighborhood in Quito, as well. But in the morning, there were no kittens to be found, just a moping mother hanging around the house. My experience with my host family’s puppies has been similar: she gave birth to eight wiggling little things four weeks ago, but when I come home from my favorite coffee shop (Cafe Arte, where I’m currently writing this blog post) this evening, I will only have five great me from their doghouse. It’s heartbreaking to see, but a natural part of the world.

Fishermen returning from sea in Anconcito


Playing with four of our puppies in the front “yard”


Salinas, Ecuador

In Salinas, Hannah and I had the chance to shadow Charles, a TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language – volunteer, for two days. Unfortunately, I spent most of those days glued to my bed with food poisoning. However, I was able to make it out for an afternoon on Friday, where Charles took us on a walk behind the high school he was placed at. It was a former military school, and the base it resided on was also home to La Chocolatera, the furthest Western point of Ecuador. It’s known for it’s geographic location, ferocious waves and whale-spotting potential. We didn’t see any whales this time around, but we did enjoy staring out into the sea. It reminded me of my time driving along the Great Ocean Road with a kind Rotary member and his family in Australia.

Views from La Chocolatera

IMG_5713 2.jpg

Centro Historico & Downtown Quito, Ecuador

Finally, I had the opportunity this week to better explore the tourist attractions in my own backyard. I toured La Asamblea Nacional, Ecuador’s equivalent of Congress. In their main meeting room they have beautiful yet haunting murals done by Oswaldo Guayasamin, depicting great suffering and hope for a better future, underscoring the importance of the work these assemblymen do. On Sunday, I headed into Centro Historico with two friends and had my first real security scare. A block or two after we headed out of the Mercado Central, a man and his young son suddenly appeared from around the corner, yanking on my shoulder and attempting to snap the straps of my purse. My friends screamed, and I held tightly onto the purse straps I could reach. Spooked, the man ran away empty handed. He wouldn’t have gotten much – my purse only contained my headphones, keys, and a few replaceable cards, as I follow my host mom’s instructions to scatter my valuables in different pockets of my body – but the experience was still jarring. Despite the scare, we focused on enjoying the beautiful sights of impeccably-maintained colonial Quito. We enjoyed ice cream from a heladeria that’s specialized in it since 1858, looped the hiked all the narrow stairs to the top of Basílica del Voto Nacional’s belltower and spires for an incredible view of the city and wandered Plaza de la Independencia o Plaza Grande, where the President’s palace is situated.

View from the top of the spire, with a centered view of the El Panecillo y La Virgen de Quito

IMG_5828 2.jpg

Lounging in the belltower and looking to befriend Quasimoto 

WhatsApp Image 2017-07-23 at 9.08.01 PM 2.jpg


Peace Corps · Travel · Uncategorized

Experimental Learning and Escaping to Banos, Ecuador

I created a video of my experiences (featuring Despacito, a song you can’t go an hour without hearing in Ecuador) thus far! Check it out here.

This week, everyone in my Omnibus (cohort of incoming Ecuadorian Peace Corps trainees) began our experimental learning, a hands-on aspect of training that brings us into local health clinics to give thirty minute charlas, or presentations, in Spanish. Picture this: 10-15 people sitting on plastic patio chairs – they’re ubiquitous in Ecuador, used everywhere and available for purchase at a tienda for $1.99 – in a central waiting room at the Ministerio de Salud Publica (MSP). They’re primarily mothers with children, breastfeeding their babies or with hands nervously holding onto their bump. People are constantly streaming in and out of the three doctor’s offices, as well as the dentist’s, and the occasional stray dog wanders in as well. The only five Americans in el campo stream into the room, and share lessons on water sanitation, tooth brushing and hand washing for whoever is willing to listen. I was skeptical at first, but again impressed with Ecuadorian’s continuous kindness and generosity of spirit: they rose their hands to answer our questions and sang along to our silly songs – “Aserrin, aserran, mid manitos a lavar, con aguita y con jabon, muy bonitas quedaran”. In addition, the MSP in our host community, Puembo, offered to let us give presentations to their biweekly exercise club for local elderly individuals. About 40 members of the community, mostly women, gathered in a gymnasium for light exercise, stretching, and now our health promotion presentations, each week. The MSP had requested a Peace Corps volunteer of their own for the upcoming four years, so we’ll see if one of us is assigned to live here!

Thursday was my first charla. I nervously prepared my thirty minute presentation – I don’t think I’ve ever spoken in Spanish straight for such a long time before! I would start the session with some stretching to wake up the audience (and myself!), a “true or false” warm-up activity about the benefits of drinking water, a presentation on three easy ways to treat your water before consumption: boiling, chlorination and filtration, and a closing activity to assess what they’d learned. As I headed to Puembo to give my charla; however, the now-familiar rumblings of food poisoning began to rumble in my stomach. Most likely, someone else had prepared my food without following the water sanitation and hand-washing lessons we were about to present, because I was clearly coming down with – another! – viral gastrointestinal infection. About two-thirds of the way through my presentation, the symptoms began to escalate. I rushed through the charla, cutting out examples on the benefits and drawbacks of each water treatment strategy, and clamped my mouth shut tight when I finished the presentation. I answered their questions as quickly as I could, kissed a few goodbye, and rushed out of the gymnasium. Spotting a patch of grass outside the door, I vomited and tried to avoid eye contact with cars passing by. To the woman sitting next to me on the bus home: I’m so sorry you had to watch/listen to my retching for the entire forty-five minute ride home.

One thing is for sure: my presentations can only get better from here.


My fellow volunteers and I visiting the Ministerio of Salud Publica at our host site


The audience for my first charla

To celebrate finishing our first charla for experimental learning, one of my fellow Peace Corps Trainees, Amy, and I went with her host brother and his girlfriend to Baños, Ecuador – a city in the Sierra and on the edge of the Amazon, known for its hot springs, waterfalls and mountains – for a day over the weekend. I’m only allowed one night away from my host family during training, so I used it on Friday. We headed out of Quito right after training, and took the easy three hour direct bus to Banos from Quitumbe, Quito’s southern terminal. We’ll be right back there in a week, when we head south for our visit to the coast. I’ll be hosted by a Peace Corps volunteer in Santa Elena-Salinas, a beautiful beach town where one lucky Community Health volunteer gets to live for two years!

In Banos, Amy and I woke up early at our hostel to explore a bit of “downtown” – it’s a pretty small town – Banos while her host brother and his girlfriend slept in to enjoy their vacation. We found a market that hosted restaurant-style food stands, fruit, bread, and other snacks. We put together a breakfast of coffee, bananas, granadillas and a roll of bread for under $1.50! Ecuador uses the US dollar just like back home, which makes it easy to understand relative prices here. Produce and other locally grown goods, like rice, are cheap and widely available at fruterias or mercados, but imported goods can be wildly expensive. For example, I just visited the toy store to buy a deck of Uno cards for my little sister’s birthday present (she’s obsessed with the game, and we play with my cards all the time, so I want her to have it when I leave), and they were selling a Pictionary game for $80 USD!

Afterwards, we headed to Casa de Arbol for the famous “Swing at the End of the World”. Due to the drizzly weather, it felt like we were at the end of the world for a different reason: it dropped off into white nothingness. I hope to come back and visit on a clear day to see the stunning mountain vistas I know are on the other side of the fog! Next, we caught a ride back into town and headed back to the mercado for a traditional Ecuadorian lunch: chicken soup, rice, plantains, fried egg, ham, potatoes and a pinch-sized salad. We found a bus tour that would take us to Pailón del Diablo to walk across the canyon on a rickety bridge and stop at various other sites along the way. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let my photos do the rest of the talking…


Rio Verde in Banos, Ecuador


Swing at the End of the World at la Casa de Arbol


Pailon de Diablo and the Steps Amy’s Host Family was Afraid to Visit


This Bridge was Almost as Scary, Though


Me, Walter, Kathy and my Fellow Peace Corps Trainee, Amy


Rio Verde, Banos, Ecuador

Peace Corps · Training · Travel · Uncategorized


I opened up my laptop to write this blog post this evening, and was startled to look at the battery indicator. 34%. With how busy the Peace Corps training schedule keeps me, I rarely use my laptop – I realized I haven’t charged it once since I left Seattle, a month ago. For contrast, I charged it twice a day when I was a student at UC Berkeley. So what’s been filling my time?

I haven’t written a blog post in about two weeks. During the beginning of that time, I developed my first bout of foreign illness. My fever crested at about 102.5F, and I was throwing up off and on throughout the week. My host mom and I suspect it was the ceviche I tried from an unknown restaurant the previous weekend in downtown Quito, near Casa de la Cultura, an Ecuadorian cultural museum with an extensive art market on Sundays. The art was stunning – a mix of traditional styles, local panoramic views and eccentric perspectives. It’s too early in my service to purchase anything now (I still don’t even know where my host community will be) but it definitely inspired me to create some art of my own. I brought a small “adult” coloring book of floral patterns, and my eight-year-old host brother adores it; we’ve been doing a lot of coloring lately. I also brought a set of watercolor papers designed to be used as postcards, so close family and friends, look for those in your mailboxes after a 6-8 week waiting period with the unreliable Ecuadorian post.

After wandering through the market, I headed to El TelefériQo with a friend. Despite commuting an hour into Quito every weekday to visit the training center, I hadn’t had much opportunity to see the city. The gondola ride starts at the edge of Quito’s city center and runs all the way up the east side of Pichincha Volcano – one of two major volcanos accessible from Quito, the other being Cotopaxi – to a lookout named Cruz Loma. With proof of my Ecuadorian work visa, I was able to snag the local’s price. But even with the discount, entry alone was about half my daily Peace Corps wage. Clearly, the place was a tourist trap – but it was exciting to hear English spoken around me by someone other than a Peace Corps volunteer for the first time in Ecuador. For fifty cents, one man had two alpacas tied to a post, and you could dress up as an “authentic” Ecuadorian with ponchos and cowboy hats alongside them. In typical Quito fashion, we were completely surrounded by clouds once we got to the top, and couldn’t see the view in any direction. It was a chilly “thinking of you” from San Francisco’s Karl the Fog. Still, I had an excellent time traipsing through a few of the trails near the top. According to my iPhone data, I walked around six miles that day throughout the city. A few days later, when I was at the peak of my fever, my phone recorded 18 steps total for the day.

View of Quito from the Gondola

Hiking at the Top 

The following weekend, I was feeling significantly better. That Sunday, my family took me to their farm. I live in a subdivided house, fairly typical of the tight-knit extended Ecuadorian families. In my apartment is the great-grandmother and her husband. She has two daughters, both of whom live in different apartments within the house with their husbands and a few of their children. One of their children lives in yet another apartment in the house, with her husband and her two children, an eight-year-old and a three-year-old who’ve become my closest Ecuadorian friends. Another branch of the family lives on this farm, where they have chickens, rabbits, a cow, 4 dogs, a cat (and three of her adorable kittens! I carried one around for the entirety of my visit), lemons, yuca, sugarcane, alfalfa, walnuts, avocados, and, the reason for our Dia de Los Padres visit, guinea pigs. We picked out a few of them for our Dia de Los Padres dinner feast.

The ambassador from the Untied States to Ecuador came to visit us at training that week. Ambassador Chapman is a lifetime diplomat – besides a seven year stint in commercial banking – and the embodies the epitome of Southern hospital. He eagerly invited us all to his weekend early Fourth of July celebration for fellow American ambassadors from nearby countries, embassy employees, dispatched military personnel and expats. I attended yesterday along with a dozen or so other Peace Corps trainees and volunteers, and wolfed down the American burgers they served.

Maddy and I at the Ambassador’s Official Residence for the Fourth of July Picnic

Meeting the US Ambassador to Ecuador

Week three of pre-service training also marked our first field trip as a cohort! We visited Otovalo, a predominantly indigenous community, and El Chota, a predominantly Afroecuadorian region of Ecuador. In Otovalo, we visited a local school, where we spoke with members of the indigenous community about their culture and history, learned a few words in Kichwa, and danced with them in honor of the summer solstice, or Initi Raymi. The Inti Raymi – translated to sun festival – is a religious ceremony traced back to the Inca Empire in honor of the sun god Inti. Following the school presentation, we traveled to los Cascadas de Peguche, a beautiful waterfall site near Otovalo. The sacred waterfall is part of Bosque Protector Cascada de Peguche, and is an indigenous cermonial site prominently utilized for purification ceremonies during Inti Raymi. Although we visited the day after the sun festival ended, a local spiritual leader recreated the purification baths and ritual for us, allowing anyone who was interested to participate, and explaining the meaning in Spanish as we went along. Afterwards, we visited the Otovalo market, one of the most significant markets in South America. We practiced our Spanish through haggling with the market vendors, and I was satisfied walking away with a new necklace and alpaca-wool scarf.

Participating in the Purification Bath

Offerings of Earth, Wind, Fire and Water for the Inti Raymi

We spent the evening with different host families in El Chota. That night, the women of El Chota invited us over to a rambunctious baile, where we listened and danced along to the disticnt Chota Valley bomba music, as well as obiquitous songs like Despacito (without Justin Bieber, of course). The women of El Chota have mastered an awe-inspiring form of dance, where they move more gracefully than I ever have, all the while with intricately decorated, full winebottles nestled atop their head. One woman, who looked to be in her early sixties, walked effortlessly through the fiesta with a full fruit basket balanced atop her head. At the end of the performance, she presented it as a gift to our boss. I came home from the trip with my ankles dotted with sandfly bites, another nasty bout of traveler’s sickness, a full-body coat of sweat from the Oriente-adjacent weather patterns, and more thoroughly in love with all of Ecuador than I was prior. With each new aspect or city I learn about, the more I admire Ecuador’s biodiversity and breadth of culture. I am eagerly looking forward to immersing myself in the sub-culture of my host community over the next two years, but I’ll need to visit my different omnibus friends from training over the weekends to have a chance to explore all the corners of this beautiful country.

My best friend Charli and I at her host family’s home

A mural reminiscent of the Let Girls Learn initiative started by Michelle Obama

Views from our Walking Tour of El Chota

Peace Corps · Training · Uncategorized

Honeymoon Phase

Mission first full week of Peace Corps training: accomplished! Looking back on the just 10 full days that I’ve spent in Ecuador, I can’t believe how much I’ve already achieved. Each work day, among other programs, I have two full hours of Spanish Language and Ecuadorian Culture class. In an intimate setting with my professor and just five classmates, I laugh and learn so much. When I return home to my loving, patient host family, it’s a bit like an additional 3-4 hour Spanish class. I struggle through small talk over dinner, and my host mom kindly fills in the blanks to teach me new Spanish words for different Ecuadorian dishes or activities. I’ve become fast friends with my three year old host sister and her eight year old brother – two of just under 20 different people who live in my sub-divided house – by introducing Uno and Bananagrams to them. At my intermediate-low level of Spanish, and the children’s attention span, it is next to impossible to play Bananagrams properly. Instead, we love writing out each others’ names, popular Ecuadorian destinations, and little phrases. With my host family, I’ve tried local cuisine, including: roasted cuy, or guinea pig (my host mom gave me seconds!), yuca, homemade juice of a variety of fruits with every meal, a minimum of a full (twenty cent!) avocado with every meal, and my new favorite fruit, granadilla.

A local frutería, similar to those found on nearly every block

A typical lunch at work, with locally baked bread, avocado, granadilla and bell peppers

A street in my town 

In the Peace Corps medical handbook under “Stress & Homesickness”, there’s a timeline laid out as such: Weeks 1-2, honeymoon phase – excited about exploring the new community, loving learning more about the culture and other volunteers; Weeks 2-6, homesickness and adjustment, changes from your home culture become more difficult to manage; Week 6+, integration and initial adjustment. Today, just under two weeks since I left home, I felt the initial honeymoon phase begin to wear off. Sitting in my host family’s relative’s house, I became frustrated with myself for not being able to contribute more to the group conversation. I worried that my Spanish would never be up to par for me to be able to fully engage in the way I wanted to express myself. When I came home from Quito, I took a quick nap, promising myself that I’d see things differently after recovering from my poor night’s sleep (my host town has a large population of aggressive stray dogs, that bark throughout the night – they killed a cat on our street on Wednesday, a heartbreaking sight on our walk to the bus – as well as a population of roosters that don’t crow in accordance to my iPhone alarm). Luckily, that was exactly the case. My three year old sister came knocking on my bedroom door an hour into my nap, and we played our daily game of Uno, as well as playing with her cute puppy.

My house sister and I in the main room 
Our front courtyard, my sister with her puppy 

Afterwards, I worked my way through a few more chapters of Americanah. I was inspired to read the book, which has been on my list for a while, after I watched an impactful Ted Talk by the author with the other Peace Corps volunteers. I highly recommend spending twenty minutes listening to it here. At 7, my newly minted best friend and next door neighbor all rolled into one and I headed to a local cafe that’s fast becoming a volunteer favorite hangout, due to its comfy seats and free wifi. We laughed our way through a new card game, Dutch Blitz, and listened to a live Columbian band together. Looking around at my fellow volunteers, and the town we would call home for the next three months, I began to see Ecuador as a place I could call home.

Quito street art

The Casa de la Cultura ceiling 

Ecuadorian views at dusk 

Peace Corps · Training · Travel · Uncategorized

Peace Corps Staging: Miami

For the second night this week, I’m running on three hours of sleep. Despite my bleary eyes, I am so excited to have reached my first Peace Crops milestone: completing the three days of Staging. Staging is the quick-and-dirty rundown of what it means to be a Peace Corps volunteer: trying to learn the names of your 47 diverse colleagues and fellow volunteers, testing your fear thresholds in the safety and security modules and repacking your bag to narrowly meet the 50 lb weight limit.  In Miami, 60% of the population speaks Spanish. This has made Miami the perfect transitional city – beginning to be exposed to Spanish by ordering meals or coordinating with Uber drivers in the language provides a glimpse into the full immersion I’ll experience in Quito. I took four years of Spanish in high school, but I’m confident that I’ve forgotten it all. Regardless, I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my last days in the United States than with watching the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean for the first time and alongside the talented, kind people who will become some of my closest friends over the upcoming months.

The Peace Corps Ecuador Omnibus 118 Trainees

I’ve just boarded our flight bound for Quito, lucky enough to have found my five foot ten inch frame in an extra legroom window seat. The flight was delayed about two hours – an inconceivable wait after the eight months it’s been since we first committed to the Peace Corps application – but we’ve been cleared for departure. When we arrive in Quito, the entire Peace Corps Ecuador staff will be awaiting our arrival on the other side of customs (Hi Mr. Donald! Long time no see!). We’re anxious and excited to meet our host families in a few days, two words that describe much of our feelings towards our impending arrival in Ecuador.

Sunrise on South Beach in Miami

With my stomach full of the best Cuban food I’ve ever tasted – thanks for the recommendation of Versailles, Matt! Since I just visited Paris, the French decor made me want to slip into my very limited French instead of my relatively limited Spanish, but in any language the food was delicious – and my heart full with words of encouragement from friends and family back home, as well as my new Peace Corps family surrounding me, I’ll turn my phone into airplane mode. Adiós!