Packing List · Peace Corps · site · Training · Uncategorized

Packing List for Peace Corps Ecuador

I spent a lot of time pre-departure agonizing over what to bring. How do you pack for two years abroad? What do I really need, what are my parents willing to store in their garage for me for an indefinite amount of time, and what am I willing to just throw away? Peace Corps provides a packing list, but I edited it quite a bit when fitting everything into my single 50 lb. suitcase, medium-sized duffle bag and 75 liter backpacking backpack. I’ve attached the Peace Corps’ provided list with my own recommendations added in below.

Caveat: Ecuador has three primary climate zones – coastal, where it is very hot and humid, mountainous, where it is temperate but can get very cold and varies widely throughout the day, and jungle, where it is usually hot, humid, and rainy – with two different seasons: rainy and dry. Coming to Ecuador, I had no idea where I would be placed, and had to pack for any of the three possibilities. I wound up in small-town temperate, rainy Amazonia, so my opinion on my things is skewed towards my use for the items in this climate. But even so, I’ll be visiting all the climates at one point or another during my service here.

Looking down at this list, it seems long, but I managed to fit it all in just one suitcase, backpack and duffle bag! There were other volunteers who brought two suitcases, but they definitely struggled with transportation every time they had to get to the airport, host families, or their site. You’ll likely be heading to site alone, and navigating several user-unfriendly buses to get there.

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What I thought I would wear…
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…What I actually wear

MEDICINE

The Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMOs) will provide each trainee with an extensive First Aid kit and any other over-the-counter medication they need.

CLOTHING

  • One or two pairs of nice pants (black/gray/navy pants are more common than khakis)
    • I brought navy and black slacks and wore them regularly during training, where business-casual attire was strictly enforced, but haven’t touched them since my first week at site. In small towns, the dress code is fairly casual.
  • One to four pairs of jeans (long women’s jeans are impossible to find, also larger sizes for women are very difficult to find; skinny jeans are popular for young women)
    • True! Ecuadorian women tend to be very petite, and at 5’10” it’s nearly impossible for me to find clothes that fit here. Definitely glad I brought three pairs of dark wash (more professional) jeans with me, and I rotate through them regularly.
  • One or two 3-4 dress outfits for occasional formal meetings.
    • Ecuadorians love to celebrate, so I brought 3 different formal dresses with me, which I have worn for weddings, madrina competitions, meetings in hot-weather climate, and I wouldn’t mind having a few more dresses with me.
  • Three or more (I brought 6-7) short-sleeved shirts.
    • I almost exclusively wear sleeveless or short sleeved shirts layered with light sweaters and jackets as the weather changes throughout the day.
  • Two to four pairs of shorts (not too short, think mid-thigh or lower) and/or capris.
    • It’s not culturally appropriate for women to wear shorts, except on the coast or in the Amazon outside of work, so I rarely wear mine. In the Andes during training, I couldn’t work out in shorts, only leggings.
  • Three or more long-sleeved shirts.
    • Instead, pack lots of cardigans! It’ll provide more variety to your outfits and you can take them off if it’s hot in your office or during the middle of the day. I brought 2 turtlenecks and 1 sweater and haven’t worn any of them. I also brought 4 long sleeve shirts that I wore on rainy days in Quito.
  • One or two pairs of long underwear or other clothes to layer. Only one volunteer from my group is in a site sufficiently cold enough to merit long underwear, and she’s doing fine without a pair. Women can wear leggings under jeans if they’re cold as well.
  • 12 pairs of good-quality socks and underwear, including two or more pairs of heavy wool socks
    • Undergarments are very low quality here, so I’d recommend bringing more. My socks seem to be disappearing since I have had to hang them outside to dry.
  • Two or more sweatshirts, sweaters, or fleeces. Quito, where training and many Peace Corps meetings are, is chilly. I brought 3 cardigans, 1 fleece pullover (worn once), 1 crewneck sweatshirt, 1 jean jacket, 1 down vest (worn only a handful of times), and was much more likely to wear a tank top paired with a jacket for chilly mornings and warm lunchtimes than a long sleeved shirt for the day.
    • Quito can be chilly and is filled with pickpockets and petty theft, so while I was living there for training and when I go back for various meetings, I almost exclusively wear my jackets with inside pockets. I highly recommend this type of jacket to avoid getting your phone stolen on public transportation – an unfortunate experience many in my cohort had.
  • One warm jacket.
    • I brought a soft shell jacket, which I wore all the time in Quito and down jacket, which I’ve only worn once. I would have been fine with just the soft shell and a long sleeve or cardigan underneath. 
  • One waterproof jacket/windbreaker.
    • I brought two, since my family lives in Seattle and I had them both. It’s a nice luxury in the rainy season so I can switch off and have to not put on a damp jacket.
  • Athletic clothing for working out/playing sports.
    • Leggings are very popular here, and it’s culturally appropriate to wear them as pants. I brought three pairs and wear them all regularly as pants, workout clothes and pajamas. I also brought 3 pairs of workout shorts, which I can only wear as pajamas as it isn’t appropriate to wear them outside, and 4 workout tank tops, and two long sleeve workout shirts, all of which I wear regularly.
    • If you have ever played soccer, bring your cleats and shinguards! It’s a great way to integrate. I joined my office’s team and needed to buy these to play – it cost me $60 for both, which is more than my monthly $50 rent and dinner.
  • One or two bathing suits
  • One or two sun hats, visors, or caps with a bill
  • A modest watch
    • I forgot mine, and bought a cheap $10 gold watch during a trip to Salinas. I wish I had a leather band or other less conspicuous watch, though, because people keep asking me if it’s real.
  • Jewelry 
    • I only remembered to bring one statement necklace, a bracelet and large hoop earrings. I wish I had remembered my everyday earrings and other favorite jewelry that I used to wear in the US. On the bright side, it is cheap and easy to buy them here, so I’ve been collecting.
  • Pajamas! 
    • I forgot to bring any real pajamas, and wind up wearing my athletic clothing as pjs each night. I recently splurged on a pair of sweatpants to wear in the house, but wish I had just brought a favorite pair from home.

GENERAL CLOTHING WOMEN

  • Four or more bras
    • I brought two regular bras, two strapless, three sports bras,
  • One or two nice dresses or modest sundresses
    • I only brought one sundress, and have only worn it once. I might have more if I was placed on the coast. But I did bring 4 formal dresses with me and have worn all of them regularly. There’s a lot of fiestas here in Ecuador.
  • Six or more tank tops
    • I brought 4 workout tank tops and primarily sleeveless shirts (probably 6-8 compared to only 1-2 short sleeved shirts) because they don’t show your sweat as much. It’s important to only bring the type with thick straps (2-3 finger lengths, just like high school) because it isn’t culturally appropriate to wear the “spaghetti” strap style.
  • Skirts can be a great alternative to shorts, keep in mind that longer skirts are more acceptable.
    • I brought a maxi skirt and 2 knee length skirts and have only worn each one once. Again, maybe I would wear them on the coast, but I don’t like wearing skirts and have no need for them now.
  • Blazer or 3-4 cardigans
    • Again, cardigans and a short sleeve shirt are a much better option than long sleeved shirts. The weather is variable in all parts of Ecuador. I also brought one light-weight blazer that I’ve worn several times.

 

ELECTRONICS

Most electronics can be found in country, but the prices are usually about double what they cost in the United States.

  • Laptop (Highly recommended!) Internet cafés are usually available, but most resources are available digitally within PC Ecuador and official paperwork is usually filled out electronically. TEFL volunteers often give PowerPoint presentations and should definitely have a personal laptop.
    • Definitely bring a laptop if you have the means to. It will be difficult to get by without one, and you’ll likely be expected to do work on a personal computer if your office doesn’t have an extra one for you to use. Much of your work will be done on the computer, as well as the quarterly reports you need to turn into Peace Corps. Peace Corps will expect you to access their Sharepoint and emails regularly. I sold my MacBook Pro for a cheaper, used MacBook Air and am very happy with it here, although I wish I had brought a converter so I could use things like the projector at work.
  • Cheap unlocked non-smartphone (that takes SIM card) these can be found online in the States for $7 as opposed to in country for minimum $30. 
    • Peace Corps will give you the opportunity to buy a Nokia brick phone for $25 on your first day in Ecuador, but if you have an unlocked phone sitting around (old smartphone or simple phone), I would recommend bringing that instead.
  • Smart phone is useful to connect to Wi-Fi while traveling and to avoid taking laptops. If it is unlocked and uses a sim card, then it can also be uses as a personal phone (these are more likely to get stolen).
    • T-Mobil offers unlimited texting and 3G connection internet abroad with it’s T-Mobile 1 plan, and I have continued my plan here in Ecuador. It’s cheaper (albeit slower) than buying data here, and allows me to text my friends and family from home on both my MacBook and iPhone daily with my old number. It’s even fast enough to call people over my data on Facebook Messenger or Facetime, which is perfect for the weeks when my host family forgets to pay the wifi bill or I’m out of the house.
  • External Hard drive highly recommended for sharing movies, music and resources with other volunteers
    • They’re expensive, so I didn’t buy one. Instead we just use Google Drive and download things onto our computers. Every one of the volunteers in my group has access to internet either at work or at home.
  • Digital Camera
    • I brought an iPhone 6, and have exclusively used that for photos since I’ve been here, not touching my small silver camera once. Some other volunteers brought DSLRs, but almost never use them for fear of them getting stolen and not wanting to be perceived as wealthy.
  • MP3/4 player and good quality headphones
    • Personal preference – right now, I just use my phone for music when I’m running as I can stream Spotify premium (thanks to a family plan with the other volunteers, I pay just $2.50/month). But I’m going to ask for a used, basic clip-on iPod shuffle for Christmas because it rains 75% of the days here in the rainforest, and I don’t want to run with my phone in the rain.
  • Extra chargers for electronics (this mostly applies to any chargers that are not common/expensive and would be difficult to replace.)
    • I would say this only applies to MacBook chargers. I had a minor freakout when the prongs on my MacBook charger bent due to a kitten incident, but realized that I could swap out the prongs with those of my Apple USB block charger. It would have been very expensive to replace the entire charger in-country (and I didn’t bring an extra, because they’re expensive in the US too). When my iPhone charger broke, I was able to easily buy a new one for $8, and there is very cheap Android chargers here.
  • Small portable USB drive can be found in country but is convenient to bring one or two to training
    • Peace Corps gave us one on the first day, so I’ve never used mine.
  • Portable speaker can be found here but more expensive, recommended for TEFL volunteers to do listening activities.
    • I brought one because I had it, but don’t recommend buying one special unless you’re a huge music fan. You can just play it from your laptop speakers.

SHOES

It is difficult to find men’s shoe sizes over 10 and women’s shoe sizes over 8. Large cities have stores which might carry up to size 12 women’s and larger men’s sizes but prices can range from $30+.

  • Two pairs of tennis or running shoes.
    • I made the last minute choice to bring two pairs of shoes, and wear them both frequently. One is fashionable enough for everyday wear, and the other is worn exclusively for running and sports.
  • One or two pairs of comfortable dress shoes (flats recommended along with socks made for them. Can buy high heels or dressy sandals of all styles very easily in country).
    • I brought two pairs of flats and one pair of heels, all of which I wear regularly. The flats (Nordstrom Rack) are already starting to fall apart due to lots of walking on the dirt roads and poor quality sidewalks.
  • One or Two pairs of flip-flops (easy to find in country)
    • Buy these in Ecuador
  • One pair of sturdy sandals (Chacos, Teva, etc.). Don’t buy the cheap foam-style Tevas like I did, as I’ve already had to superglue mine together.
  • Hiking boots if you enjoy hiking (very expensive here)
  • Casual boots for day wear
    • Ones that you can wear as business casual-ish (think boots, dark jeans, and a blouse. That’s my typical workday outfit)
    • Preferably ones that will be fine in the rain, as most parts of Ecuador have a rainy season
  • Rain boots
    • Again, most parts of Ecuador have a rainy season, and you’ll be sad if your socks are puddles at work all day long.

MISCELLANEOUS: 

  • Backpack or day pack (very important for daily use or short trips)
    • I didn’t bring a normal sized backpack and I wish I did! It would have been better to bring that folded up small instead of the second duffle bag I packed instead (although that is also nice to have because the strap on my large duffle bag broke during the flight here). I use the mini backpack that came with my backpacking backpack, but it’s tough for 1 night weekends away and doesn’t fit my laptop or a full sized notebook well.
  • Hiking Backpack Medium/Large for weekend travel/vacations/hiking
    • I bought this one for half off with the Peace Corps discount and was able to sneak it through security as a carry on (while also having a huge side purse and carrying a full sized pillow) and check it for free at the gate on both my trip to staging and to country by not making eye contact with anyone as I was checking into my flight. I love that it has the mini backpack attached and that the rain cover can also be used as a duffle bag, so it’s like three bags in one.
  • Pocket knife or multi-tool (highly recommended and very useful)
    • I brought one but it turns out it’s illegal to carry a pocket knife in Ecuador so I rarely use it.
  • One shower towel (note: camping towels fold up small and dry quickly)
    • Towels are very low quality and scratchy here. I brought a cheap 4 year old towel from Target and that’s still nicer than the ones you can buy here
  • Sunglasses with UV protection (cheap sunglasses can be found in country but they are cheap and also very low quality)
    •  You can buy them in country, but I’ve had a hard time finding a pair I like because they’re all too small for my head or with weird patterns.
  • School supplies, i.e. white board markers, regular markers, cardstock, index cards, pens (especially for TEFL volunteers)
    • You can buy this all cheaply in-country, although the quality might be low. I haven’t been able to buy index cards here, though.
  • Purse(s)
    • Any purse you bring should be easy to secure well (zipper) to prevent theft. I brought a large shopper-bag style purse that was perfect for squeezing in last minute items at the airport and I use frequently for carrying my things to work. I also brought a tiny cross-body purse that just fits my phone, money and keys that I used to use for going out in the United States, and use it for day trips and going out when I’m not wearing a jacket with inside pockets. I wish I had a normal-sized purse (my go-to in the US would fit my wallet, phone, keys, and a book or light jacket) for day trips, but I’ll probably buy a handmade leather one here.
  • Foldable, reusable shopping bag
    • I brought a canvas tote bag for shopping at the market and other groceries, but I wish I had brought one of those little plastic ones that folds up into a small ball. It’s appalling how many plastic bags they give you at the tiendas here without concern for sustainability.
  • Games for classroom/English club activities i.e. Koosh ball, Bananagrams, travel versions of Scattergories, Pictionary 
    • My host siblings love Bananagrams and Uno! But you can also buy these at Juegaton in Quito, close to the training center, so I’d classify all this as optional
    • Decks of cards are easy and cheap to buy here.

RECOMMENDED IF YOU HAVE EXTRA SPACE/PERSONAL PREFERENCE:

PERSONAL HYGIENE AND TOILETRY ITEMS

Quality toiletries can be found easily in country. If you have any particular brand preferences, it’s recommended to bring a 12-month supply.

  • Contact lens solutions and extra cases and travel bottles (available in larger cities, but much more expensive than in the United States)
  • Tampons (expensive for a volunteer budget and difficult to find, except in main cities). An alternate option is a menstrual cup, and menstrual pads are available.
    • The OB-brand applicator-less tampons are accessible in every pharmacy (which almost every town has) at a reasonable price. They’re better for the environment, so you should use them anyways!
    • I have a menstrual cup, but it can be difficult to use in Ecuador’s public bathrooms with spotty access to toilet paper, soap, and even running water.
  • Makeup (U.S. brands are expensive here) Specific brand of perfume (Perfume is available here but name brands are expensive.)
    • If you have a different skin tone than the typical Ecuadorian, you’re unlikely to find your color of foundation or powder. The classic Maybelline Great Lash mascara, for example, is $19.95 here compared to $2.99 in the States.
  • Compact sleeping bag (recommended if you have space. Good quality is very expensive in country, cheap/decent sleeping bags can be found at some local sports stores in country)
    • I’ve never needed a sleeping bag and don’t foresee myself needing one. I just brought blankets from my bed when I went camping, and shared a bed with female volunteers when I’ve visited them, or crashed on the couch when visiting male volunteers.

 

MISCELLANEOUS:

  • Sheets (full size is recommended) and pillowcases (Available locally, but are low quality)
    • I thought that this was overrated, but brought a bottom sheet and two pillowcases anyways. I would love to also have a duvet cover or regular sheet, because the sheets here are so scratchy and low quality – even compared to the cheapest things they sell at Target, which is the quality of sheets that I’m used to at home
  • Pillow, especially if you have a favorite one! (Most provided pillows are not very comfortable.)
    • I’m not at Princess-and-the-pea-level, but whenever I’ve had to sleep on the Ecuadorian pillows, I find myself with serious neck problems in the morning. They’re made out of flat, pillow-shaped rocks. I brought a pillow with me last minute and am definitely glad I did. It was pretty easy to just carry in my hands on the plane and buses for transportation, and they didn’t count it as an extra carry-on.
  • Good quality water bottle (can be found in large cities but more expensive)
    • I brought a 1 liter Nalgene and 750ml Hydro Flask and almost exclusively use the Nalgene, the Hydro Flask is too heavy to take anywhere.
  • Unique spices ( e.g., Indian, pumpkin spice, chili powder) and hot sauces from the States if you plan to cook a lot (you can find most of the common spices in bigger cities)
    • Generic spices here are very cheap – I bought a bag of oregano, for example, for 35 cents last week – but hot sauces and ethnic spices are difficult to find. Ecuadorian food tends to be pretty bland.
  • Hair dryer (if used frequently in the States)
  • Hair straightener (if used frequently in the States)
  • Headlamp (very useful instead of a regular flashlight especially for reading at night or when power goes out for hands-free movement)
    • I brought this and only used it once when I went camping.
  • Decorations for room or apartment (e.g., posters, maps, and postcards of your hometown)
  • Equipment for hobbies, such as sewing patterns and musical instruments, and baking supplies. I wish I brought a sharp knife and measuring cups and spoons.
    • I brought lots of art supplies (acrylic and watercolors) and am glad I did, it was fairly expensive to buy more watercolor paper here when I needed it. I’m using cardboard for acrylic canvases because fabric ones are prohibitively expensive.
    • I also love using the French press I brought, although most volunteers won’t be lucky like me and have a host family who grows, roasts and grinds their own coffee. The vast majority of Ecuadorians drink instant coffee.
  • Favorite games, Frisbee, foam footballs, word games, card games etc.
    • You can buy a Frisbee for about $3 in Quito and decks of cards are cheap as well
  • Photos of family and friends (important to show host family and to decorate with)
    • I brought these, but I wish I had more! It’s nice to have on your wall, and it costs about $1 per 4×6 print here.
  • Small pocket calendar or daily planner (easy to find and not too expensive to buy here but may be convenient to have for planning)
    • You can just use your phone or print/buy a planner here.
  • Powdered drink packets such as: coffee, lemonade etc. (a nice treat and easy to pack if)
    • I brought these and haven’t touched them.
  • Small snacks such as: protein bars, trail mix, favorite candy, etc. (a nice treat but not necessary)
    • Only if you have extra space – you’ll eat these quickly.
  • Small gifts for host families (i.e. souvenir magnets, small toys for kids, or ingredients to make a traditional dish from home)
    • I brought a bunch of gummy candies from Costco, but they were heavy and many of them are available in Ecuador, so I wish I hadn’t.
  • Travel-size multi-outlet surge protector (helpful for keeping multiple electronics charged when there are limited outlets)
    • I wish I had brought this but I didn’t. Both host families I’ve lived with I’ve only had one outlet in my room. I did bring a extension cord, which comes in handy.

That’s it! With this I’ve been able to tackle all the weather situations Ecuador threw at me.

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Hot afternoon birthday party in Santo Domingo
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Chilly hike in Quilotoa
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Temperate day at the San Rafael waterfall in El Chaco
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.

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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!

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

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

Peace Corps · Training · Uncategorized

Home

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.

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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 

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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

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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

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Laughing with Aubin in her downtown Quito hostel

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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

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

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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

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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

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Lounging in the belltower and looking to befriend Quasimoto 

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Peace Corps · Training · Travel · Uncategorized

Recharged

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!