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