Peace Corps · site · Uncategorized

High School, Part 2?

After hearing Matt and other friends talk about it for the past year, I finally binge-watched Stranger Things. If you haven’t seen it, the basic premise is this: a group of high school boys’ lives are turned upside down by the upside down, an alternate universe version of their small town where superpowers exist and the monsters have an appetite for local children. In this world, there are an infinite number of universes running alongside one another, and a small rip in the space-time continuum can bring two of them together.

The show parallels nicely with my initial impression of living here in Napo Province for a month. I joined the Peace Corps with visions of building a niche in my host community, sharing my knowledge of public health, and discovering a foreign corner of the world. I still hope to do all of those things in my town, but I’m finding that more things than not are making me feel right at home in this corner of the Amazon.

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Petroglyphs in my community from hundreds of years ago
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My new co-volunteer, Natalia, from South Korea’s 2-year international volunteer program
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After milking the cows, we delivered them to the local cheese factory for about 50 cents per liter

Proof that my site may be an alternate universe of my high school experience:

  1. Like every other moody high schooler, I occasionally found myself griping into my diary “I just feel like no one understands me!”. Back then, the boy drama or my parents’ curfew could be solved by simply ignoring my problems, and turning my nose into a gripping book to spend the rest of the evening reading in my cozy window seat. Once again, I feel like no one understands me. This time, I am fully confident than I’m right. Despite all my efforts, my Ecuadorian accent is still terrible and my coworkers occasionally revert to ignoring me when they decide I’m too hard to understand today. At the end of the long day, rather than practicing my Spanish, I find myself cozied up with one or four of my kittens and my Kindle to read.
  2. Surrounded by the beautiful mountains, in a little nook of a valley.
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    The Revantador volcano, 20 miles away from my house and visible on a clear day, is active and spouts ash like this nearly once a day

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    The view from my roof during morning yoga/kitten cuddling sessions
  3. While my town has the basics at little tiendas and the weekly market, if I want anything more exotic – like cheddar cheese, chocolate or salsa – I have to make the three hour trek to Cumbaya, a suburb of Quito. There, SuperMaxi (the Costco of Ecua-world) will fulfill every American craving for me (for a price). In Quincy, the only thing that prevented our monthly trips to Costco were the winter snowstorms. They built up obstacle courses of black ice and fallen branches, leaving us afraid to tackle the one road out of town, heading to Reno. Here the mountain road is almost exactly the same distance (67 v 72 miles) but takes at least twice as long, due to the poor road conditions.

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    I bought 2 bags of spinach, 2 pounds of black beans, 24 bananas, 4 peaches, 3 papayas, 8 mini loaves of whole-wheat bread, and a bag of cherry tomatoes for less than $10 at the market
  4. On a camping trip last weekend, I had to pinch myself to remind me that yes, I’m really in Ecuador. First, we attempted to hike up one of El Chaco’s surrounding mountains for views of the valley. We walked two miles uphill, the “trail” just mud knee deep, surrounded by jungle on all other sides, until we couldn’t go any further. It was dark, and we were most definitely lost. It had been pouring rain since we’d started, likely soaking any electronics in my heavy backpack, my hands were covered in various cuts from the thorny bushes I’d held onto in order not to sled down in the mud, and there were more bugs than I’d like to think about. I was happy to turn back. Plan B: campout at the family farm. They have a cabin-style basic 2 room wooden house with a covered patio for when you need to cook over the fire in the rain. We brought marshmallows, hot dogs and a bottle of wine (an upgrade from high school, where all we had was Arizona iced teas). I brought a portable speaker, which meant I was in charge of the music. So I picked a favorite Spotify pre-made playlist, “Country Gold”, a perfect mirror to my go-to high school radio station, 92.1 FM JDX – the Sierra’s Best Country. Living in the transition zone between the Sierra and the Oriente (Amazon), this was probably the only American country music playing in the province. Doing my best to retell Quincy campfire stories (the Keddie murders, Oakland Camp legends) to the boys in Spanish, I could have been with Adam and Nico with Adam translating the meaning behind our various adventures to Nico when he first arrived from Argentina.
  5. Much to my surprise when I was offered this position, my boss – the country director – is Adam’s dad.

In the Stranger Things world, it’s possible for more than one universe to collide, bringing in an aspect or two of their world into yours.

Here in Ecuador, my alternative upside down would be the one in which I attended high school in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington, just like my little brother is right now. The endless rain is just like that of the city where I was born. Seattle has a saying that they celebrate their rain festival 365 days a year. I thought I had the rain thing down. But the “rain” in Amazon rainforest is no joke. It can go from a sunny afternoon to an absolute downpour in 5 minutes flat., and it usually lines up perfectly for whenever I have to leave the office.

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The parade kicking off an annual Olympics style basketball, soccer and Ecua-volley tournament between four local government employees’ teams
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A grasshopper spotted in the local bamboo-arium, where they cultivate dozens of different types of bamboo
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Monkeying around in Misahualli

PS.

What could make a place feel more like home than a visit from a best friend from home? Thanks Karina for braving 2-3 day bus rides on either side to make a pit stop in my little corner of the world on your way from Bogota, Colombia to Peru with me. I loved listening to you play Delta Sigma’s song (that you wrote yourself!) on the guitar for my entire host family, drinking moonshine shots my host mom insisted we have, visiting indigenous communities in Tena and avoiding getting our phones stolen by mischievous monkeys in Misahualli.

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Canoeing down the river with Karina
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Treehouse on the river in Misahualli
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Daniel’s host family brought us to the perfect hiking spot
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Morning view from my host family’s roof
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