Wow! This month one full year spent living in Ecuador.
Reflecting back on the 365+ days I’ve spent in Ecuador, it’s hard for me to come up with a coherent message. The year has been one of personal exploration and growth.
Unfortunately for me, I celebrated it with my first-ever emergency room visit. On my way to work two weeks ago, I tripped on the uneven cobblestone and fell directly on my left (writing!) arm. I tried to brush it off, heading to work and settling in with a bag of frozen peas at my desk, but the sharp pain drove me to calling Peace Corps’ 24 hour on-call doctor. He called the local private hospital (Ecuador’s socialist government provides free public hospital care, but it’s known for long waits and hit-or-miss care) and briefed them on my arrival. They gave me an x-ray and, due to the severe sprain, set me in the cast with instructions to return two weeks later for removal and a session of physical therapy. At the end of last week, I had it removed! With two hands at my disposal again, it’ll be easier for me to type, write, do basic work and household chores, so expect more frequent updates here.
This trip was special because it gave me the opportunity to visit one of my closest Peace Corps Volunteer friends, Charli, in her rural site of La Asuncion. She has been living in this little community of less than a thousand people for the past nine months, and I swear every single person who lives there knows her name and has nothing but good things to say about her! It was cool to see how integrated she was in the small community. On the weekends, the hub of the Asuncion social scene is a french fries and hamburgers food truck that parks itself in the center of the town square. The kids are usually playing in the concrete soccer field, with parents chatting and socializing with one another on the edges, and the young people all converge on the stools of the food truck to watch TV, eat fries and drink pajaro azul, the locally brewed cane liquor.
We also had the chance to go visit one of the other nearby volunteers, Roxie, at her site in Salinas de Guaranda. Salinas is a unique little city in the paramo near Chimborazo, because of the Italian missionaries that came in the 1980’s and made quite the difference in the community. Today, the town has over 20 different artisanal factories, making everything from essential oils to chocolate truffles. But what they’re most famous for is their varieties of cheese – one of the only places you can find something besides queso fresco in the country! I’ll need to come back for their annual cheese festival in October, where the main event is a group cheese roll, and the winner takers home a 50 lb wheel of cheese.
Evelin, one of my Cuenca sitemates, lives in one of the rural parroquias on the outskirts of the city of Cuenca (we’re the third largest city in Ecuador, but once you leave the city center, it quickly turns into smaller Andean communities rooted in agriculture. She has been helping her community develop an indigenous tourism circuit, where locals can share their heritage with urban school children and foreign tourists in an effort to preserve it despite the rapid modernization of Ecuador.
We were the cuy, or guinea pigs, of their new program, and went through it for the first time to help them work out the kinks and take photos and video footage to use for promotion when they launch the project in a few weeks.