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.
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
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
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”
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
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
Lounging in the belltower and looking to befriend Quasimoto