Peace Corps · Training · Uncategorized

Giving Thanks

Today, I’m spending my first Thanksgiving away from my family, ever. It’s a strange feeling to be abroad during an exclusively American holiday: I’m sitting at a cafe in central Quito, overlooking the busy streets. The people walking by are just having a normal day, grabbing a quick lunch during their break from work, selling loose cigarettes on the street corner, and running errands for their families. But Americanization is everywhere. The Snapchat filter displays a festive Thanksgiving scene of pumpkins and falling leaves alongside messages like “Jueves”, “Downtown Quito” and even “Sun’s Out, Buns Out”. But I’m with a good friend, my “site mate” – even though he lives three hours from me – and we’re able to spend the time sharing favorite logic puzzles from childhood and discussing our role as volunteers here in Ecuador, how we hope to make a difference in our communities and the lasting impacts we may unintentionally make on the people we work with.

I was nervous that I would be really sad today, that it would be hard to spend the holidays so far away from home. I still miss my family and friends back home – I felt a sad tug in my heart when my mom sent a cute picture of my father and grandfather getting up bright and early to prepare turkey – but I have been pleasantly surprised by how at home I feel here. I groggily woke up this morning at the apartment of a new friend, an English teacher for Fulbright, and we slowly spent the morning preparing coffee, relaxing in her apartment and playing with her two friendly cats. Eventually, they headed off to their respective Thanksgiving dinners: Mikayla to a feast at the house of the deputy United States Ambassador to Ecuador, Lara to a luncheon with all the Fulbright scholars, teachers, and employees at a local hotel. Not having a Thanksgiving dinner invite of my own, I headed here to Juan Valdez cafe with Daniel.

IMG_7949.JPG
My fellow Community Health volunteers with our Ecuadorian counterparts

I’ve been in Quito for the past week and a half with the rest of my Omnibus for our Reconnect training. We learned how to conduct self-esteem, sexual health, and HIV/AIDS activities in our community and presented the diagnostics we created of health and social issues in our community. For mine, I created a video showcasing the beauty my site offers with community members sharing their personal opinions on the biggest problem they would like addressed in their hometown. You can watch it here! You can also read through the presentation if you’d like, it delves into the different social and health issues I discovered while learning about my community. Warning: it’s all completely in Spanish. When I first got here, I could barely ask someone how their weekend went in Spanish, so I’m really proud of myself and how I’ve learned enough to create and share entire presentations like this now.

The last day of our conference was yesterday, the day before Thanksgiving. The volunteers worked together to create a potluck Thanksgiving feast, complete with four roasted turkeys, sweet potato casserole, and a huge salad made from vegetables we picked from the garden the Community Health volunteers planted during training in August. Many of the dishes were brand-new for our Ecuadorian counterparts, and they all loved the food.

IMG_7960.jpg
Devouring our Thanksgiving feast with lots of dessert – but unfortunately no pumpkin pie

I’m looking forward to heading back to my site next week because I miss my kitten and my friends back in El Chaco a lot. That Friday, we’ll be holding a repeat Thanksgiving (it’ll be my third – I’ll be attending a second one that a English teacher volunteer is hosting in Imbabura on Saturday) with friends and colleagues, and once all of them are done I’m sure I’ll be sick to death of American food, and ready to go back to Ecuadorian plantains, exotic fruits and Chimborazos de arroz (i.e. huge mountains of rice).

Next week marks exactly six months that I’ve been away from home, and I’m shocked at how quickly the time has passed. Two years suddenly doesn’t feel like a very long time. But this Thanksgiving, I want to reflect on how thankful I am to have this experience here. I know that I’m learning and receiving far more than I can hope to share with my community, Here, I have learned Spanish, how to properly eat guinea pig, and how to flip over a kayak while sitting upside down in the water in a local pool in order to – hopefully – learn how to kayak on the white waters of our local branch of the Amazon River, el Rio Quijos. And I have made friends with my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and other volunteers from all over the world – everyone from a English teacher that took swim lessons as a child at the community pool half a block away from my house to the South Korean physical therapist I work with each day. So thank you, everyone who has been a part of my journey here in Ecuador so far.

IMG_3464
Omnibus 118 rocking our new Peace Corps shirts 

 

IMG_7918
Planting a keyhole-style garden
Peace Corps · site · Travel · Uncategorized

Feriados

This past week was filled with adventures that stretched all across Ecuador while also deepening a few of my friendships and understanding of the community right here in my site. To start off my week, I hitched a ride in el camioneta del Municipio with a few local kidney dialysis patients (they have to travel 4-6 hours roundtrip three days a week to get the medical attention they need, and the local government only provides transport for them one of those days) to Tena, shaving off my trip from three hours in the bus to just an hour and a half in a private pickup truck. I quickly switched to a second bus, headed towards Riobamba, for my cluster meeting. Peace Corps arranges these biannual meetings for groups of volunteers living in relatively the same area – my group includes all of the volunteers from the Amazonia, which is only seven in total, as well as a dozen volunteers living in the Central Sierra zone. I was especially excited for this trip because my closest friend from training, Charlie, would be in the same cluster as I am, even though we’re normally a 10 hour bus ride away from one another!

IMG_7717
Charli and I visiting a church in Riobamba
IMG_7727
Charli and I exploring the colonial district of Riobamba

The cluster meeting itself wasn’t much – just receiving our annual flu shot, safety reminders, and meeting the other volunteers in our area – but having the opportunity to be reunited with the volunteers from my training group and meet new TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) volunteers who live nearby made all those hours in the bus worth it. We stayed in the historical district of Riobamba and explored all the colonial architecture, then celebrated Halloween together on the first day, then spent the second day feasting on a rare meal of Mexican food before heading back to our sites.

The second day, there was no way I could make the bus route all the way back to my community in one afternoon, so I stayed at the halfway point with a fellow volunteer near Tena the next night.

When we woke up the following day it was one of what feels like Ecuador’s weekly feriados or holidays/festivals. This one was called Dia de los Oscuros (Day of the Darkness) in my community, but is officially named Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased). To celebrate, we woke up early and headed to the iglesia for mass with Daniel’s host family. Their dog followed us there and it was hard for me to stifle my laughter watching this huge dog take a nap under the pews, go up to sniff the priest, and look for someone to pet him when everyone kneeled down to pray. But none of the locals seemed concerned, so it must be normal behavior in their pueblo of about 50-60 people.

Once the service ended, we were all given traditional colada morada – a traditional hot drink on this day made with black corn flour, panela, naranjilla, babaco, pineapple, blackberries and strawberries – with a side of wawas – Kichwa for baby, a bread roll formed and decorated in the shape of a baby, and stuffed with cheese.

IMG_7743.jpg
You can spot Brando, Daniel’s family’s dog, hanging out in the back looking for treats

I headed back to my site pretty quickly after that because we had our own festival to celebrate!

Friday and Saturday encompassed the annual River Festival, which I was especially excited for because it would be my first time out on the water here for white water rafting. Once I got there, I counted my lucky stars that I’d been doing Kayla Itsine’s BBG workout for the past few weeks, because the courses were hard! I’d signed up for the obstacle course, or gyncana, as well, but it used every reserve of strength I had just to finish it. After climbing up tire ladders, jumping off rocks into the water, swimming, running, army-crawling, we had to traverse a loose tightrope about 50 feet across the water. The entire time, I was 75% sure I was going to pass out. But with the sound of my entire town cheering me on ringing in my ears, I just barely made it across, collapsing in the sand on the other side.

Luckily, my rafting team faired much better. Even though we were the only team of 4 women and 2 men – the rest had the inverse – we finished the two day competition in a close second second place. As compensation, we won $100 to split among the team members (which worked out to a perfect $15 and one Pilsner each) and a handmade bamboo medal as a keepsake.

If I thought that after all of this, Sunday was going to be a day of rest, I was very much mistaken. I woke up early to head to the market and pick out the ingredients for a fresh apple pie I’d made plans with two of my friends to bake earlier this week. The pumpkin pie had been such a hit the week before, I wanted to give them a comprehensive understanding of my favorite fall desserts. Her family had lived in Spain during Ecuador’s economic downturn, so I also had the opportunity to try a delicious traditional Spanish meal for lunch before sharing our apple pie for dessert. In the middle of our afternoon, my counterpart texted Natalia and I – “Want to go kayaking?” Of course we did.

One quick change later, we found ourselves laughingly suited up in helmets, life jackets and thick kayaking “skirts” at the local pool. White water kayaking lesson number one: what to do when your kayak flips. For two full hours, we had three personal kayaking guides train us on how to turn a completely submerged kayak upside down with just our hips, arms, and the tip of a fellow kayak, a life jacket or our paddles. It was exhausting work, but I felt such a thrill of accomplishment when I managed to pop back up and breathe again.

All in all, I ended the week feeling so lucky to be placed with this community as my site and excited for the months to come.

IMG_7775
This obstacle course was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done
IMG_7809
Handmade medals by a local artist
IMG_7754
After three days of rafting, obstacle courses and kayaking, I was as tired as my little kitten
Peace Corps · site · Uncategorized

Work/Life Balance

On the phone with Matt the other day, we were talking about the wild differences between the inconveniences I face at work (to turn on the light in the room where I hold my youth group meetings, I zap together two exposed wires) compared to his (after enjoying the chef-prepared breakfast at work, he went to the wrong meeting twice before finding the right room). His work/life balance might be catching up on work emails while watching the Warriors game with his roommates, whereas mine is an expectation that I cheer on my coworkers at inter-municipal soccer matches after work several days a week. I haven’t talked that much about my actual work here in Ecuador yet on this blog, so I wanted to give y’all a better insight into what I do:

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 6.44.48 PM.png
Dia de los Adultos Mayores celebration

The coworkers I work with most closely include my counterpart, who heads up tourism for my town, two social workers, and the head of the culture department in the local government. I’m working to develop a stronger relationship with the local Ministerio de Salud Publica (MSP) as well. I’m wary of being roped in to taking over projects that Ecuadorians are currently doing – and can probably do better than I can, considering my still-struggling Spanish pronunciation –  whenever possible. In order to maximize the sustainability of my service, I aim to focus my work on introducing new projects based on expressed needs by community members. Then I’ll train locals in what I’m doing so they can slowly take over my projects. By the time I finish my two year service, ideally I’ve worked myself out of a job. If I take over pre-existing projects (like charlas in the waiting room of the MSP or during reuniones de los adultos mayores (sort of like the Ecuadorian equivalent of a senior center with a set weekly agenda and free lunch) I worry that the opposite will happen, and the community will lose capacity. 

The primary project I’ve been working on during the last month is launching two youth groups. One is for middle-school aged students (11-14) and the other for high schoolers (14-17). Each group meets once a week and we focus on building their confidence with speaking English (a strong expressed interest for a lot of students and one that makes my life a little easier if I can conduct the group half in my native language) and learning about health, with a particular focus on life skills. From the results of my surveys and conversations with students, their biggest concerns are alcoholism, drug use (marijuana and cocaine are widely abused with both high schoolers and adults), teen pregnancy and malnutrition (a diet high in carbohydrates, sugar and salt led to widespread problems of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes in my community). One of the social workers and I will be attending a training at the end of November to learn more about how to teach teenagers topics such as gender equality, planning for the future and self-esteem. Our goal is to host a summer camp next year for about 50 students encompassing all of these topics through Michelle Obama’s LGL (Let Girls Learn) GLOW/BRO (Girls Leading out World/Boys Respecting Others) program. Right now, I’m also working on putting together a budget and project proposal to submit to the local government leadership and hopefully secure full funding for an overnight camp.

IMG_7673.jpg
I introduced my friends Natalia and Jenni to pumpkin pie in honor of Halloweekend

Two other projects I’m excited about with the Ministerio de Ambiente. Ever since I found out my placement was in the Amazon, I’ve been thinking about how I can encourage sustainability and environmental education under my community health umbrella. One of the main industries here is oil drilling, and despite the courses I took on the environment in both high school and college, I had no idea there was oil drilling going on in the Amazon! It’s incredibly destructive to the surrounded environment and rivers, and it’s important to me that the population here understands the environmental and health implications of the industry here in their home, the most biodiverse region on the planet. The high school is putting together an Environment Club, and I’m going to help lead charlas and activities to promote environmental education across the community.

The second project I’ll be tackling with them will help improve food security for the most impoverished members of our community. The ministerio has identified families living in remote areas of the canton where they do not have regular access to fresh produce or the funds to purchase them. We will be visiting these families and working with them to grow a garden in their yard filled with healthy veggies and other food. Mr. Moe’s class on gardening in seventh grade is the extent of my experience growing my own food, but luckily the locals I’ll be working with are experts on what grows best in the rainy conditions here. My addition to the project will be small cooking demonstrations and food sampling in the community members’ own kitchens. After they learn about the different foods we’re growing in their garden, I am going to prepare a cheap, culturally-relevant healthy recipe with them as an example of what they can prepare with the bounty from their huerto.

Besides those listed above, I’m also going to be working with the local business association, teaching HIV/AIDS through soccer, and doing lessons and activities for community members with disabilities.

If you have an idea about any of the projects I listed above, I would love to hear it! Share an activity or game idea in the comments, or reach out to me over Facebook/text so that we can plan together!

IMG_7598
Cows crossing the road on my walk to work
IMG_7662
Celebrating my little sister’s 8th birthday
IMG_7700
Making one of my frequent appearances on ChacoTV during the March Against Domestic Violence
Peace Corps · site · Uncategorized

Welcome to the Jungle

Here in Ecuador, the volunteers run El Climaa quarterly newsletter where volunteers can share stories with the broader Peace Corps community and those back home. Each quarter has a theme, and for this round is “HomeWhat’s a stroll in your neighborhood at site like? Tell us about your backyard.” My take on the theme is transcribed below: 

San Rafael Waterfall with fellow PCV Mikayla and my KOICA coworker, Natalia

We’re in the intercambio zone where the formidable Andes mountain range meets the impenetrable Amazonian rainforest. The best way I can describe my site is: everything you want to experience in the Amazon without anything you’re afraid of. A beautiful jungle canopy, clouds clinging to lush mountain ranges, a rare glimpse of a dangling monkey, or exotic fruits? We’ve got it all. My host family grows and roasts fresh coffee in our backyard alongside guava, passion fruit, naranjilla, cacao, and avocados. The majority of Ecuadorians drink instant coffee with breakfast (and dinner too) so access to fresh coffee is a luxury. Unpleasant things like melting heat, humidity, giant bugs that crawl into your bedroom at night, or malaria? You won’t find that here. Admittedly, the active Volcán Reventador just 20 miles away spouts up ash plumes on an hourly basis. I can watch it from my roof if I like. But the locals reassure me it won’t do any harm.

Working for the Gestión Social en Gobierno Autónomo Descentralizado del Municipio (Or GADM, for short) I can experience different adventures the jungle offers and call it “work”. Two weeks ago my town helped host a 150 kilometer, three day bike ride. Alongside my coworkers, I spent the day handing out mandarin oranges and tuna fish sandwiches to the passing bikers. The area surrounding us was breathtaking; we stood near the base of the steaming Reventador and a nearby side road led to the Cascada de San Rafael – the tallest waterfall in the country at 430 feet. In college, I worked as a tour guide for UC Berkeley and I could recite “the Campanile stands at 307 feet tall, making it the third largest freestanding bell and clock tower in the world (and more importantly, 22 feet taller than Stanford’s tower)” in my sleep. Now I have a new landmark in my backyard to share with visitors: the San Rafael waterfall, approximately 1.5 Campaniles tall. A different day, my coworkers asked me to head out to the nearby Petroglifos de Linares to capture photos for an upcoming project. The exact significance is still unknown, but we know the unique carvings on the rocks belong to the indigenous Kichwa people but predate current Shuar communities in the area. My coworkers insist it was a former sacrificial site. The ancient stone carvings starkly contrasted against the buzzing drone overhead, capturing our trip for future marketing material.

Another perk is my counterpart’s side job. He leads whitewater rafting and kayaking trips on the weekends. If enough of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers agree to come visit, he’ll hook us up with a good deal. Each November the town hosts a weekend-long rafting festival in which everyone participates. Of course, participation ranges from rafting down the raging Rio Quijos or enjoying a cold Pilsner on the banks.

If none of that has convinced you that sites in the Oriente are the best, the food will. We have the requisite exotic fruits and rice dishes, of course, but the local specialty maito is my favorite. Maito is made with freshly-caught tilapia, slightly seasoned with salt, and usually served with yuca, guayusa tea and a small mixed-veggie salad. To prepare the fish, you wrap it in two layers of a large native, fire-resistant leaf and secure the wrappings with the stem to tie it like a Christmas present. Then you carefully lay the packages across a low burning fire to steam the fish. My host family has an outdoor fire pit at their finca for this purpose. Around 20 minutes later, the fish is ready. Just repurpose the leaves as a plate and eat it whole (eyes, skin and all). If tilapia isn’t adventurous enough for you, traditional restaurants also serve chontacuro, a type of beetle grub indigenous to the area. You can eat them wriggling and raw, but I prefer mine roasted over the fire alongside my maito.

Let me know next time you find yourself in the northern Amazon, and I’ll take you on all my favorite adventures in mi cantón.

The view from my roof, where I spent mornings doing yoga or afternoons doing BBG workouts
Hiking out to the petroglyphs – the carvings are located on the far rock on the right

 

Maito prepared at my host family’s farm 

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.

IMG_5051
What I thought I would wear…
IMG_6965
…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.

IMG_5556
Hot afternoon birthday party in Santo Domingo
IMG_5893
Chilly hike in Quilotoa
FullSizeRender.jpg-3
Temperate day at the San Rafael waterfall in El Chaco
Peace Corps · site · Uncategorized

Volcanoes, Snakes, oh my!

Let me clarify –

There are also things in Ecuador that are very, very different than my old life in the United States. For example, over the weekend I was walking with my host brothers to the soccer field to practice for my Ecuadorian football debut on Thursday. On the way, we spotted a small dead garden snake on the side of the road. I pointed it out to ask if there were any larger snakes in the area. “Oh yeah! I spotted one at the finca once that was six feet long.” My host brother eagerly shared.

“The same finca where we camped last weekend? Where you left me alone in my own tent?”

“Don’t worry, they’re more scared of people than you are of them. Besides, back in Tena I found a ten foot long one.” My 19-year-old host brother, Angel, is a college student studying ecosystems in the Amazonian city of Tena about 2.5 hours away. Because we’re on the transition zone, the weather here is fairly temperate. Tena is more tropical with greater biodiversity of fruits, monkeys, and apparently, snakes. Regardless, I was not comforted by the promise that even bigger snakes means I shouldn’t worry at all. Future camping trips might not be in my future.

IMG_7368
Views of volcán Revantador on my walk home from work 

Another interesting aspect of my site is the Reventador Volcano, pictured from my walk home from work above. It’s an active volcano just 20 miles away from my house. On a clear day (which isn’t often, due to our rainforest climate) I can keep an eye on it in hopes of spotting an ash plume. The volcano has been actively erupting since July 2008, and spews ash on an hourly basis. If your daily commute doesn’t include a not-so-distant exploding volcano, let me assure you that it’s a beautiful sight to behold. I’d pick it over smokestacks from a neighboring factory any day.

Finally, preparing food is a much more involved process than I’m used to. Goodbye Tony’s Delta Sigma cooking (my mouth is salivating at just the memory of his tofu steaks, or tacos, or garlic bread…I’d even settle for his pork chop night, honestly), or even Crossroads. There’s no microwave or oven for me here.

IMG_7306
Last week’s market haul

Instead, I’m blessed with a cornucopia of fresh produce. At the market on Sunday, I picked up 8 green peppers, 5 papayas, 6 cloves of garlic, a box of cherry tomatoes, 24 bananas and a little mint plant (personal goal: learn to make Philz mint mojito lattes from scratch) for just $7. Even better, my host family grows and roasts their own coffee in our farm. I can see the coffee beans laid out on the roof to dry out of the corner of my eye now. If I want free-range chicken or eggs with lunch, I don’t need to look further than my own backyard.

My favorite Amazonian meal is their specialty, maito. I prepared it for the first time fully farm-to-table a few weeks ago. At my counterpart’s family farm, I helped his brother and mother pull a net through their tilapia pond to gather out a bucketful of perfectly-sized fish. They taught me how to kill and clean the fish next, methodically slicing them in half to replace the insides with salt. We picked out large, green leaves to fold the fish inside like a Christmas present. Instead of shining ribbon, we tied it all together with stalks. In the time all of that took the fire had died down to shimmering red embers. We carefully laid each package across the fire and left to collect cinnamon leaves for the tea.

IMG_7097
Typical maito plate

When it was cooked just right, we feasted.

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.

IMG_7226
Petroglyphs in my community from hundreds of years ago
IMG_7249
My new co-volunteer, Natalia, from South Korea’s 2-year international volunteer program
IMG_7277
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.
    IMG_7368
    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

    IMG_7385
    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.

    IMG_7306.jpg
    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.

IMG_5218
The parade kicking off an annual Olympics style basketball, soccer and Ecua-volley tournament between four local government employees’ teams
IMG_7242
A grasshopper spotted in the local bamboo-arium, where they cultivate dozens of different types of bamboo
DSC00878
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.

IMG_7218
Canoeing down the river with Karina
IMG_7213
Treehouse on the river in Misahualli
IMG_7201
Daniel’s host family brought us to the perfect hiking spot
IMG_7137
Morning view from my host family’s roof