Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year and photos


I hope everyone reading this has had a good holiday season so far. I'm putting a bunch of pictures up as I finally have access to the connector cord for my camera. I'm back in Deerfield right now, after having a nice time visiting family in Florida and Indiana. One more week of freezing my butt off before heading back to the equator =) The picture above is from hiking in Cajas National Park near Cuenca over thanksgiving.















Making shampoo out of nettles and going on a horseback ride (or mule ride as the case may be) to a market across the canyon.

Packing candy bags for all the kids . . . very monotonous as you went round and round putting crackers and chocolates in all the bags.

The christmas spectacular at the school . . . I really have no idea what is going on here as I got there late. At first I thought he was one of the wise men, but the other guy in the back is dressed up more like Napolean. Plus there were kids dressed up as clowns as well as others with black face paint. No one could explain to me what was happening either.











My little host brother and a buddy at the christmas party. The first grade dressed up in formal wear for what amounted to be choosing a homecoming king and queen. Mateo had a lot to live up to as both his older brothers had been chosen, but unfortunately the title went to someone else.





















Handing out the candy bags to some very happy kids!

At Busch gardens with my mom in Tampa. The weather in Florida was beautiful which made heading to Chicago not so much fun. No real culture shock for me to speak of, the only thing I have to be careful of is to throw the toilet paper in the toilet and not the trash. Plus getting used to the below freezing temps again. Well that's all from here, and I hope everyone has a happy new year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

thanks!

I just wanted to say thanks to those of you who donated money for the schoolkids here. Today we handed out the goody bags and the kids were pretty happy. So there's no more need for donations but I'll let you know if anything else comes along (probably another request for next xmas). I'll put some pics up of the party and candy distribution in a week or two once I'm back in the states.
I had a nice time this past week hanging out with a peace corps friend and her family who were staying at one of the hostels here. It was nice going on hikes with them and just hanging out and speaking english. Plus I enjoy comparing notes with other peace corps volunteers and getting ideas. We did the laguna quilotoa hike which I hadn't done since may. It was a lot easier for me so I guess I'm finally getting used to these hills. Somedays it doesn't feel like it as I get out of breath walking up the hill 5 minutes into town. This usually happens when I take off at my flatland walking pace as opposed to the slower pace most people here walk at.
One thing I've noticed doing gardening here is that always seems to rain right after I water the garden. It generally rains pretty regularly here but sometimes it can go a few days without rain. So I start getting nervous and finally give in and water after which it promptly rains. Plus the clouds here can fake you out into thinking it will rain. You'll see all these really dark gray clouds and figure that it's definitely going to rain and then they blow off somewhere else. Has anyone else ever noticed this phenomenon? The only other place I've really gardened in was California where it never rained so I didn't get the chance to notice it.
Well this will be my last posting for the year in Ecuador. I head to Quito on Wednesday and then fly to Florida xmas day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sore rear

Monday I went horseback riding to visit this market that's on the other side of the canyon from where I live. There are two ladies from the states here right now teaching english and they were going to go so I asked if I could tag along. Originally we were going to hike, but then one of the guides suggested going on horseback which sounded good (at the time). You have to go down into the canyon and then back up to get to the market, and we assumed that we would be taking the road into the canyon. Instead we ended up taking the crazy steep trail that I don't even like walking down. When the guide told us we were going that way we all looked at each other like "oh crap!". It's one of those moments that you remember you're not in kansas anymore =). In the states everyone is so anal-retentive about safety and here it's like, "whatever, you can hike that 8 inch trail hugging the side of the cliff, what's the big deal?" So we headed down, skidding and slidding the whole way. It didn't really seem to bother the horses at all, which makes me think they have some goat blood or something. Then we crossed the river which was also interesting as the horses aren't very big so I was ackwardly sitting with my legs up by the horse's neck as not to get my legs wet. Coming up the other side of the canyon was a bit hair-raising too since it was very rocky and steep. But we made it to the market alright, which was a lot bigger than the one in my town. I think I've gotten to the point where I don't need to see anymore markets (or at least go out of my way to visit). They all have the same sort of stuff, the bigger markets just have more of a variety. There are the fruit and veggie stalls, the stalls selling a variety of toiletries, the rubber boots and clothes stall, and then all the food vendors. The food is usually either fried fish, chunks of pork or beef, or french fries with a fried egg. Coming back from the market was even more humerous because our guide had bought a sheep and proceeded to drag and carry it back. I have some good pictures of him crossing the river on horseback with the 60 lbs sheep across his saddle in front of him. He also went up the steep trail with this arrangement. Luckily the rest of us went up the road on the way back which was much preferable. The sheep did make it although I think it's going to be recovering from shell shock for the next several weeks. We were riding for a good part of the day, so my rear is still recovering a bit, but it was worth it to do it once (I have no plans on ever riding down the trail ever again).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

fun in the canyon

I think my favorite group that I've been working with is the family down in the canyon. They're the ones that I've been making shampoo with. First off it's a nice hike down and back (I'm in better shape now so it's actually fun to walk down) and secondly we're just very productive. I think I'm a bit disheartened because nothing is really happening with my official counterpart. We have seeds for family gardens and I keep telling them anytime they want help I'm ready but so far we're not really doing much. But with the family I hike down and we make shampoo or compost and there are no endless planning meetings before things happen. They were very understanding when the first bach of shampoo ended up a little funny. It's just nice knowing that every week or two I'll have a good productive day.
Other than that I gotta admit I've kind of checked out since thanksgiving. I've been doing a lot of hiking and also still teaching english but not much more than that. I think I'm just impatient for going back to the states for xmas.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A most excellent thanksgiving

First off, I hope everyone reading this had a good turkey day. I have to say, mine definitely ranks up there as one of the best. A group of us got together near Cuenca, in Cajas national park. Originally I wasn't planning on going, but after talking to my friends the other weekend I decided to go. The trip down was a bit of a pain, 15 hours in various buses, including a 2 hour delay near Riobamba (which I found out later was due to a bike race on the panamerican highway). I got into Cuenca pretty late and found a cheap hostal to crash at since we weren't getting together until the next day. The next morning I was up early (having gone to bed at 8) so I wandered around Cuenca a bit. It really is a beautiful city with a church every few blocks. I went into a couple and watched the morning mass. I have lots of pictures of the weekend, but unfortunately I seem to have lost the connector thingy so photos will have to wait till xmas. Anyway after wandering around a bit I took a bus to my friends house outside of Cuenca where we were all meeting. Then we headed into the park, which I have to say is absolutely gorgeous. The cabin we were in was really nice too and everyone brought good food. So after munching a bit we headed out on the various trails. The hiking was great if a bit muddy. We were pretty much the only ones in the park so no dealing with stupid tourists and loud drunk campers like in the states. Plus the water for the city comes from the park so the park gets a lot of funding to keep things clean and taken care of. We had a very nice thanksgiving meal out on the porch overlooking the lake and the mountains. Then it was game night with a variety of card and board games. The next morning we did some more hiking and ate the leftovers for lunch, then crammed into the van to head back to Cuenca. I spent the night at my friends' house before heading back Saturday. All and all a great weekend!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Crocheting frustrations

We had another knitting workshop this past week, this time crocheting macrame handbags. I discovered that I don't particularly like crocheting. I was the only one there who had never done it before and it was frusturating trying to follow the teacher as she talked and demonstrated really quickly. We were supposed to make two bags, but I only made one and gave the rest of my material away to other people who were more adept at it. At least it was fun hanging out with all the ladies even if the actual work was a pain for me.
So Christmas is coming up and if any of you out there is in a particularly alturistic mood and want to donate some money I have just the opportunity for you. The local primary school here along with one of the local hostels puts together little goody bags of candy and other things for all the kids, but they're a bit short on funds. So if anyone would like to donate a little bit of money for this that would be great. You can email me and I'll send info on how to go about it. My email is lugess720@yahoo.com. Any help would be appreciated since a lot of these kids don't get much in the way of xmas presents (if they get anything at all) and it's a bit rough when they see all the ads on tv which there are just as many of as in the US.
I know I promised to post pictures but I realized I forgot to pack my connecter cable for my camera. I'm visiting some friends near riobamba for the weekend and had hoped to upload pics but didn't pay attention while I was packing, oops!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

day of the saints and bus adventures

This past weekend was the day of the dead/day of the saints. This year was different than usual because there were a lot less people. Usually the cemetary is packed for the mass, but it was pretty sparse this time around. The cemetary is right across from my house so I just hung out and watched the goings on. I took some pictures, but didn't bring them this time around (I'll post them next time). My host family had a bunch of relatives visit from the coast so the house was pretty packed. I ended up cleaning out my storage closet so some of them could stay in there. And of course we ate guinea pig (apparently that's one of the main reasons people come from the coast, to enjoy the guinea pig). The other traditional foods are colada morada (a drink made from blueberries) and this bread made in the shape of a kid. There was also a dance in the evening which I attended briefly (the dances here generally start way past my bedtime and I'm not much of a night person either).
My bus adventure happened yesterday. I needed to go into town to pick up some supplies for making shampoo, so I got up early to catch the 4 o'clock bus. I got to the main square at 5 till, but must have just missed it. So I go back home planning on taking the student bus that takes kids from my town to Sigchos where there is the high school. From there I can catch another bus into Latacunga. I get on this bus no problem but about halfway there we run into a bad patch of road (it's been raining a lot lately) that takes about 20 minutes to navigate around. By the time I get into Sigchos the other bus has already left and there isn't another one until the afternoon. I can't really wait for that one because I have to meet up with my host mom in Latacunga to give her a list of things she needs to buy in town. So I wander around for while trying to see if I can hitch a ride on a truck. I eventually find one which is good, but have to pay a lot more than the bus fare (not so good). But I do make it into town finally, hook up with my host mom and get my shopping done. Luckily this all went uneventfully!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sex ed

There´s not much to report for the last week, except that I helped out with a sex ed class in the high school. Another peace corps volunteer in the health program came to give a talk on that and also another talk on first aid with some of the guides in town. The sex ed program was interesting as none of the kids had had anything like that before. There were some basic anatomy and sexuality things thta they didn't know anything about. At first they were all a bit uncomfortable but then they warmed up and actually participated. I think I'm going to try to get my hands on some of the materials the health volunteers use so that I can give some of those sorts of talks.
The family garden project is still a little slow getting off the ground. We have the seeds and now it's raining enough that they won't have to water extra, but no one has been at the meetings we've had. This past monday there was a big pta meeting at the school so no one came to our usual meeting (plus it was raining pretty hard which gives everyone an excuse not to come). Hopefully we can get some gardens planted in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

having a heat wave . . .







I just got back from a couple days in the jungle near Tena. It was a lot of fun, especially since I got to go swimming. I stayed at the house of the family of a friend who was working at one of the hostels in my town. The bus ride from Quito to Tena was absolutely beautiful since we were going from snow capped mountains to steamy jungle in 5 hours. There were all these incredible waterfalls along the way too. Then when I finally got off the bus it was like stepping out into a sauna. It actually felt good for the first few minutes until a started sweating buckets. The first day there we wandered around town a bit and went swimming at the river. The swimming wasn´t great at there because the current was pretty fast, but it was the closest spot to the house to cool off in. The next day we went to a better swimming spot which are what the pictures are from. I thought it would just be a couple of us going for part of the day, but it ended up being the whole family. It was a lot of fun goofing around with the kids and just paddling around. We also had a big picnic lunch complete with salad, pork, and yucca. The only downside was that I scraped up my nose when I was doing a handstand and slipped. Oh well! The next day we visited this little island where there is a little zoo and botanical garden. I can't tell you the animals I saw because I only heard the names in Spanish or Kichwa but I think one was a cotamundi and another was a spider monkey. Yesterday I left and spent a little bit of time wandering around Quito and then caught a bus back. I'm already thinking about where I went to go for another little vacation. As long as we travel in Ecuador and aren´t gone for more than 4 or 5 days every month or two we don't have to use vacation days. Maybe I'll go visit the coast and take surfing lessons =)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

false alarm

Well nothing really came of all the worrying peace corps was doing about the elections. In my town nobody seemed very concerned one way or the other. In fact the elections coincided with the parties for the town’s patron saint so people were more interested in that than the elections. This also meant that the dry laws might not have been followed exactly to the letter. These past two weeks since I’ve been back I’ve been mostly teaching english (which is going better) puttering around with the tree nursery and playing in the garden.
This Friday I’m looking forward to going to the jungle to visit two friends there. They were managers at one of the hostels here and one of them is from the oriente so it will be fun to get a more insider’s perspective on life there. Plus I feel like I need a little bit of defrosting since it’s been pretty cold and rainy here the past week or so. This whole year the weather has been really strange with a lot more rain than usual and no real summer (which would generally be still happening now). Everyone is worried about their potatoes with all this rain.
Well that’s all from here. Hopefully for my next post I’ll have some fun pics from the jungle =)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Quito and Referendums

This week was my first time in Quito since our swearing in ceremony 5 months ago. We had a re-connect conference with my training group and our community counterparts. It was a lot of fun catching up with everyone again. People generally seemed to be doing well, save for some health issues in the coastal areas (thank goodness I'm in the mountains). The meetings themselves were very boring and mostly common sense. They were mostly about how to plan and implement projects in your community which most of us are already doing. Plus we had a talk on culture shock which was a few months late in my opinion. I just brought a book to all the meetings so I was occupied. I'm known as the bookworm of the group and people were laughing that I was sitting in the back reading (some habits don't change).
I was bummed that we didn't have a lot of free time in Quito to do shopping and other errands. The reason for this is that this sunday there is a referendum on the new constitution and peace corps wanted us all out of Quito friday. That is because in order to vote, there is a mass exodus of biblical proportions with everyone going to the city of their birth (more or less). You have to vote where your cedula (gov't issued idea) says your home is and most people in Ecuador don't change their cedula when they move. Voting is required so that means everyone is traveling this weekend so they can vote.
The referendum also means I can't leave my site until peace corps decides it's safe just in case there is a bit of a ruckus over the results. Apparently the new constitution is in a more communist bent a la Chavez or Morales so the campesinos all like it but the business people in the cities don't. Nobody knows what will happen as this is the first time since Ecuador became democratic in the 80s that the people have gotten a say in the constitution. All I know about it is that they've had lots of ads on TV about how there are articles against gay marriage, gays adopting, and abortions. I've also heard that there's something about land ownership that is controversial and people in the coast are killing to guarantee their land but that's all I know. Things have been pretty calm in my town so I'm not real worried. Plus they have a dry law starting today until Monday so no one gets too out of hand. I hope nothing happens like in Bolivia where the peace corps volunteers had to leave for their safety. Some of the displaced volunteers are coming to Ecuador so maybe I'll get a new neighbor.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More visits




Yesterday one of the peace corps nurses as well as the safety & security officer came to visit. They're making their rounds visiting all of us volunteers. I think they plan these trips just to get out of the office. It was a short meeting as I said everything was fine and my house was up to peace corps security standards. The only thing they were worried about was how to contact me in case of an emergency (as in all the land lines and cell towers were down). I didn't really have an answer to that as I'm kinda out in the boonies so I'm not sure how they would contact me save actually driving to my site. Maybe the radio or something?

I've added some new pics, one is of my friend Lucy and me in Ambato the other week and the other is of some of the blackberries that the community is working with.

Monday, September 15, 2008

over half a year . . .

The other day I was thinking about the fact that I've been in Ecuador over half a year (a little over 7 months in fact). I guess I should have something profound to say after living this long in another culture but I really don't =) So here are some not so deep observations and things I was surprised about:
It's a small world - I do live in a touristy area, but it's amazing how many people you meet from your home area. I've met a couple of people from the chicago area (including one who swam for the rival high school swim team to mine). Also a person who went to the state school across town from my college.
More world knowledge, albeit a few weeks late - I actually read newsmagazines cover to cover these days since I'm always desperate for reading material. This includes the financial articles that I would never have looked at before. So I'm a bit more informed on world affairs, if a little behind the times.
Baking fun - I would never have thought I would be known for my cooking, but it appears that's the case. Although I don't really have much to compete with as most people here don't have the time or money to bake cookies. So I feel good being the sugar supplier.
So those were a few random observations. This week I finished two more sweaters, although one is more of a tank top since I ran out of yarn for sleeves. I also started teaching english in the school today. There were about 50 kids that I was trying to impart some knowledge on, but as you can imagine with 50 12 year olds it didn't go real well. I guess I'll have to work harder on my teaching technique.

Monday, September 8, 2008

vacation time

I just had a nice weekend in Ambato, a bigger city south of my site. I was visiting two of my training buddies who have friends in Ambato (they had hosted an exchange student back in the states and the family of that student lives in Ambato). I also got a chance to get some shopping in, namely buying more stuff to make shampoo and visiting a nice ag supply store. I finally got some pruning shears which will be nice to have for working with the blackberries. There is a mall in Ambato too which I had a chance to wander around in while waiting for my friends to arrive. The malls here are pretty much the same as they are everywhere so it was oddly comforting to be in one even though I don't really go to them that much in the states (at least since my teenage mall rat days). A little taste of home I guess. The only real tourist attraction in Ambato are these old haciendas that have pretty gardens attatched to them. We spent part of the afternoon wandering around in one which was fun. Well I'd better get going, I have a bus to catch!

Friday, September 5, 2008

More pics






















Sorry I've been so lazy with pictures. I really need to get a thumb drive so I don't have to drag my camera with me, but haven't gotten around to doing that yet. So here are some long overdue pictures. One is of my host brother after helping to clean out the bowl we were making brownies in (the only reason he helps bake things is so that he can clean the bowl afterwards). There are a couple of pics of pretty views I took around the area while I was out walking. And of course I have two of my very exciting house which is a tad messy but indicative of how it usually looks. The last one is of my host family at my host sister's conformation this week. I really need to get some pictures of the various projects I've been doing so far, so hopefully I'll have some of those for next time.

This week I made my first foray into shampoo making. I'm working with the same family down in the canyon that I visited before. I felt like I was back in chemistry class mixing up all the various ingridients. We thought it had gone well, but after letting it sit for a day the mixture was all foamy which is not what's supposed to happen. I'm heading to Ambato (a larger town) this weekend to visit some friends and while I'm there will swing by the chemistry store to get more stuff so we can try again. I'm also planning on checking out a seed store that my boss recommended which supposdly has good organic seeds and a wider variety than where I've been going in Latacunga.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sweaters!

I just finished knitting my first sweater which I'm quite excited about. The women's group here has been having monthly knitting workshops and I've been attending. The lady in charge is a good teacher and I've learned a lot, both from her and watching everyone else knit. Yesterday we had an official graduation from the course and I got a fancy certificate and everything. It's also good that more of the women know how to make sweaters, because before not that many did so there weren't that many sweaters in the store (mainly just scarves and hats).
I've also started working on a tree nursery because one of the local hostels won money to start a nursery to go along with the compost and recycling center that are already here. It's been a crash course in making cuttings and preparing the soil. Hopefully some of the plants will survive despite my clumsy efforts =)
I don't think I mentioned yet on my blog, but I will be coming back to the states for xmas. I bought my tickets not that long ago and am looking forward to a little vacation time.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Enjoying the canyon

This past week I walked down into the canyon that my town sits on the rim of. A lady who lives down there wanted me to come look at her gardens and try to figure out what was wrong with her carrots. She is one of the few people around here that has a pretty extensive vegetable garden, with everything from strawberries to cabbage. The neat thing about the canyon is that it is a lot warmer that on the rim, so you can grow avocados and various other fruits that you can't grow up higher. I'm probably going to go down there every two weeks to help out with her gardens and see if we can get the carrots going better (after I'm done with this post I plan on researching various carrot problems). The problem is that the hike out of the canyon totally kicked my butt. Here I thought I was getting in better shape since I'm walking everywhere, but climbing back up left me totally winded and sore the next day. Oh well, I guess I still have a ways to go until I can keep up with the people around here. Plus the hike down isn't easy since I'm paranoid about falling since it's so steep. More so now that one of my training buddies is back in the states having knee surgery because of all the hiking down hills. A couple of other people in my training group have left which is a bummer. We were excited to have all made it through training but now we're slowly loosing people. It seems mostly due to the fact that the larger organizations that people are working for seem to view peace corps volunteers as free office help. I'm very glad I don't have to work in an office!
In other news I just watched the entire 20K racewalking competition in the olympics. They haven't really shown much of the olympics here, but an ecuadorian had a good chance of winning so they showed the entire race. My host brothers were totally getting into the race and freaking out at the end. I was just trying not to giggle since I find the racewalkers funny doing their weird little stride. In the end the ecuadorian won silver which was very exciting and now my little host brother is pretending to be a racewalker.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fun in the Gardens

Today we did a little workshop with family gardens. I had bought some carrot, beet, and cabbage seeds while in town the other week and we planted them at one of the group members house. We made some seed beds, used some worm compost, planted and voila! all done. Now hopefully something will grow. It is the dry season now, but we’re going to try and water some with the gray water collected from the laundry.
On another note, I have a growing respect for translators. That’s not to say I didn’t before but I hadn’t really ever thought about it. I was helping out in the hostel the other day trying to translate for a tourist there and getting highly confused in the process. It’s hard to keep languages straight when you’re using them simutaneously. I do fine as long as I’m just surrounded by one or the other, but when both are happening it’s very confusing. I was sitting outside with my host mom one day and a tourist came by to ask for directions. So I gave the directions and then turned to say something to my host mom, but instead of spanish I started speaking in english. Oops!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Don't miss driving

so the internet is being finicky and i had a longer post but it got deleted. so this one is going to be short now cause i´m feeling lazy. anyway i was thinking the other day that i´ve only been in a vehicle 7-8 times over the past 3 months and i don´t really miss it. Today however i do as i had to get up at 3 am to catch the bus into town. but most of the time i´m pretty happy to just walk places and not be creating more pollution with driving.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

little bit of success

I think I mentioned a while back about a composting workshop we did. Well, we finally got around to applying the compost and it has made a little bit of a difference on some of the blackberries and potatoes. So I'm excited to have actually done something, although peace corps warns us not to have the american attitude of wanting to see results right away. But it's kind of hard not to, especially when everyone here has been so nice and welcoming and I feel that I need to do something to deserve it. Next up is planting some vegetable gardens and working on getting some of the blackberry bushes pruned.
For my b-day last week I ended up going with a group of tourists on horseback to the cloud forest. It was a fun trip and the cloud forest was beautiful. My rear was a bit sore afterwards as I hadn't been on a horse for a long time, but it was a small price to pay for the experiance. My three month quarantine is finally up so I can travel in Ecuador now without getting special permission. It's a peace corps policy that you have to stay in your site for the first three months to make sure you get intergrated into the community. Right now I'm just thinking of spending a night in the nearby town to have some alone time. I love the community here but I think I'm starting to get a bit of cabin fever. So a night away would be nice.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Computer Expert?

This is a title I thought I would never have, especially given the fact that everyone in my family knows more than I do. But I've had requests in town to help out with computers, and I don't think I've permanetly screwed anything up. My excel and powerpoint skills are a bit rusty but are coming back. It doesn't help that the menu is in spanish, although now I know the spanish words for print and save =) The problem is that all the computers here are very old PCs which are very slow and clunky. Oh well, I've successfully taught how to make tables and graphs so I figure that's a good start.
In other news I have a boyfriend here in town. He has just graduated, likes to go on walks, and enjoys making cookies. The fact that he is four is only a minor impedement. It has become the town joke these days that my little host brother is my "novio" because I walked him to preschool a few times. Everyone asks me how my boyfriend is doing or when the wedding is. The preschool had a little graduation ceremony the other day which was very cute. It isn't just an american thing that little kids insist on yelling instead of singing the songs.
Well that's all from here. Tommorrow is my birthday but I'm not planning on anything exciting. Tonight I'm baking a cake with my host family and we're going to watch Harry Potter which will be fun.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

4th of July festivities

Yesterday I went to a fourth of july party at one of the hostels here. We had some delicous sausages and then had the crap scared out of us by locally made ecuadorian fireworks. It was the first time I've been at a fireworks show and was prepared to duck or run should the situation require it. The fireworks had a tendancy not to go straight up into the air (even if that was the direction they were pointed), but off at crazy angles instead. Another exciting thing (although not in a good way) happened this week. Apparently the local municipality has decided to widen the road going into town. My house sits right on a little cliff next to the road. So the bulldozer driver says that my house might fall when they dig into the cliff. My host mom was quite angry and was arguing with the driver, asking him why he couldn't widen the road on the other side since there aren't any houses there. He said that people owned that property so he couldn't, to which she replied that she owned the property on this side. Nothing has happened since this confrontation, but I keep expecting to wake up in the street one of these days. Never a dull moment around here!
My little host brother was very cute the other day. We were all watching lion king and he started crying at the end of it. awww! School just finished up here with a big fiesta on Thursday. Everyone gets a party for moving on to the next grade. My supervisor also visited this week to see how things are going and it seemed like he was pleased with the visit. I was one of the first he visited so I didn't find out about how everyone else is doing. The sad news is that 2 people headed back to the states from my training group. I think the sites were a bit rough for them, but I don't really know much else.
Some random observations on my life here in Ecuador that I haven't mentioned before:
1. the radio stations around here are very random. they will play a bunch of ecuadorian songs and then suddenly throw in "eye of the tiger", "hot stuff", "footloose", or my personal favorite "my heart will go on" They'll throw in other american songs too, but these seem to be the favorites.
2. i've decided i'm not really a fan of guinea pig. they're hard to eat, there's not much meat, and i don't really like the taste too much. the problem is that as the guest in people's houses i often get served whole guinea pig (you eat the brain too) when i'd rather just have chicken. luckily it isn't rude to ask for a to-go bag so i take the guinea pig back to my host family.
3. it's cool to live in a place that people come visit. i've never lived in a scenic place before, and it's quite awesome to have trails leaving from your backyard.
4. the temperature here never really changes, but that doesn't stop people from always complaining about it. when i first got here i thought it was unseasonably cold since people were always talking about it, but then i realized they are always talking about it.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Party animal

I’m still somewhat adjusting to latin time. For example yesterday there was supposed to be an all day party/festival in town. So I wandered up around lunchtime to see if anything was happening, but nothing was going on yet. So I waited and helped my host mom sell fried pig (we had butchered it the day before). More and more people were gathering in the square but still no party. The party ended up getting started around 6:00 pm, only 7 hrs after it was supposed to. One of the attractions was a giant telephone pole slathered in grease with prizes at the top that all the boys were trying to climb (they eventually managed to get the prizes). Then there was the traditional dancing and drinking that tipifies most fiestas here. People make fun of me cause I usually don’t stay that long. I try, but most of the time it’s too late for me.
I’m also getting used to the lack of change in the days. This being the equator the days are always the same length. The sun comes up around 6:30 and goes down around 6:30. It’s nice that I don’t have to worry about those short winter days that are always so depressing =)

Monday, June 23, 2008

good teas

It’s been a little while since I last posted due to unfortunate stomach issues I was having. But everything is back to normal now, which is good. I’ve become quite the tea drinker due to all the herbal remedies people use here. I don’t know if it helps, but it certainly can’t hurt. Plus tea is very nice in the evenings for warming oneself up. The only danger is that they sometimes use the word café instead of tea, but sometimes they use it to mean coffee. So I'm always worried that I'll get coffee instead. Speaking of teas, I did my first little talk/workshop on compost teas (nice segue huh) and it went pretty well. We made one mixture with stinging nettle and another using ash, onions and various other herbs to help combat the blight that has been attacking the blackberries. Time will tell if it actually helped.

I missed a good chunk of the knitting workshop this past week due to my stomach but the lady is coming back this week so maybe I’ll actually try making a sweater. I’ve made a few different types of scarves and hats and now I’m ready to branch out. It’s fun sitting in on these sessions and listening to the ladies talk as they cover all sorts of interesting topics. They are very blunt in their opinions about things and not afraid to say what they think. This becomes slightly ackward when they say to me “how come you’re pudgy?”, which I’ve been asked on several occasions along with “how come you’re single and don’t have any kids?” They certainly don’t beat aroud the bush, but at least I’m used to it now =)

Friday, June 13, 2008

summer days

I think summer has finally arrived here in the mountains. A few weeks ago I thought the same thing and then the rains came back, but the warmth seems like it’s for real this time. Which is a relief because some of my stuff was starting to grow mold from all the rain. The trade-off is that now it’s really windy and blowing dust everywhere. Oh well, I’ll take the sun over the rain (at least for the moment).

So I feel my work here is done as I’ve introduced my host family to the joys of harry potter. It’s a good think I brought all the books in spanish. I’ve also promised them that the next time I go into town I’ll see if I can find the movies as well. There is a good dvd store stuff in english and spanish and high quality too. I picked up a few disney movies last week and my host siblings and I all enjoyed watching aladdin.

Yesterday was the celebration for the day of the child in the school. The parents put on quite an entertaining program, complete with reenacments of little red riding hood and snow white. The best part was this race involving the mothers pushing the dads (who were pretending to be babies) in wheelbarrows and then having to undress them (thankfully not all the way) then put on diapers and talc. For the final leg of the race the babies had to crawl to the finish line. There was also a party earlier this week for the people graduating from the learn to read program. I had a fun time dancing and watching a very serious game of musical chairs (who knew that was popular over here?).

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Enjoying the view








I've finally made it back into the larger town so I can add some more pictures. There are a couple from the potato picking minga (including everyone fleeing the stuck truck), and a couple of my host siblings staging their own mini olympics. The others are from the gorgeous hike from the crater lake back to my town. In a side note if anyone is wondering about why I never include the names of places in my blog, it's a result of peace corps policy. Apparently they are worried that nefarious people will find the blog and use the information to kidnapp us or something like that. I find this rather humerous, as it isn't that hard to find gringos in Ecuador in the first place. Besides we volunteers have only slightly more money than the locals, so if I were a kidnapper I'd definitely go for the rich tourists first. So now you know why I'm so vague and if I'm totally digressing it's because I had to get up at 2:30 this morning to catch the bus here.
Anyway back to the absolutely lovely (and tiring hike). I hooked up with another peace corps volunteer who was visiting with a friend to do the hike. We were also joined by another couple from one of the hostels. The truck ride up to the crater was tiring in and of itself because it was very bumpy and all of us had sore rear ends. The hike starts by walking part way around the crater and then leaving it to head towards the town. One thing that's true of hikes here is that there are no safety standards. There were a few times when we were climbing down the mountain or traversing a mudslide on the side of a cliff that I was a little concerned for my safety. But it was well worth the risk and the sore muscles afterwards. So if anyone reading this ends up visiting, this is definitely one thing we'll be doing =)
I have come to hate meetings here (not that I really liked them anywhere). They are soooo long and it seems like the point could have been gotten to a lot faster. Last night I ended up leaving before the end of the women's group meeting because I wasn't feeling good and we had already been there for several hours without really accomplishing anything (as near as I could tell). Plus the whole latin time thing is not a myth. I'm surprised when things start within an hour of when they're supposed to. So I bring a book or my knitting and settle in for the long haul.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

oddles of zuccini

The other week I decided that I wanted to make some zuccini bread. The problem being that there were no zuccinis at the Sunday market. I figured that was the end of it (and decided to substitute carrots instead) but my host mom went and talked to one of the veggie vendors and she said that she could bring some next time. So the next week came around and the vendor brought a whole box full for me which was cheaper than trying to bring just one or two. Now I have 10 zuccinis, so if anyone has good zuccini recipes (other than bread) please let me know! I also still haven’t perfected baking at high altitude yet. The cookies have turned out fine but cakes and breads have not. They usually end up burned on the edges and slightly raw in the middle, or weirdly deflated. The cookbook peace corps gave us has a conversion chart which obviously hasn’t worked quite right. Tips on this front would be helpful as well!

This weekend there has been a festival for Mary in the church. I don’t quite understand what it’s all about, but the festival involves carrying a picture or doll of Mary from house to house and saying the rosary (I think) a lot. I now know the Lord’s prayer and various other incantations in spanish very well. People here get excited about the festivals in the church but normal church attendance isn’t very high. I think it’s a similar trend in a lot of places. Well that’s all from Ecuador, I better get to baking bread =)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Klutz strikes again

So for those of you who don’t know, I can be rather klutzy sometimes. I have been expecting since I got here to fall while running (I’ve tripped numerous times, but always managed to stay on my feet), and yesterday that thought came to fruition =(. I totally nosedived and scraped up my hands and knee pretty good. Then in the same day I skidded scrambling down a steep, muddy trail and landed on my rear. Luckily the only thing that was hurt there was my pride. I was going to help some community members plant potatoes and in the process of helping bonked my other knee with the azadon (a large hoe-esque tool). I was very happy when the day was over and no other accidents had occurred.

The other exciting event this week was that one of the local buses tipped over not far from my house. Fortunately there weren’t any passengers aboard and the driver wasn’t hurt. This provided all the locals with entertainment (better than the soaps) as we tried to right the bus using only ropes and a tightening tool with cables which I don’t know the name of in english. Suprisingly (for me) the job was accomplished in a morning. First we had to drag the bus a bit because there wasn’t enough space to flip it up and afterwards we pulled it up. It’s cool here how everyone congregates for these sorts of projects. Earlier this week everyone was helping paint the town center and there have also been work projects to fix the roads. Plus people always help each other plant their crops. There’s a nice sense of community that one doesn’t always find in the states. It makes sense though, because here you never know when you’re going to need help, so you help others so that they’ll help you.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Papas, papas, papas

Yesterday I headed up to the paramo (above the timberline) to plant potatoes with a large group of people from the community. It was quite an adventure as the road up was very bad. It was like an amusement park ride all over again complete with shrieking girls and hysterical laughter. It’s funny that people aren’t concerned about walking up and down the side of a mountain (which is one of my concerns), but every little bump and skid in the road while driving gets them quite agitated. Maybe it was more dangerous then I realized, but it seemed like the driver had control of the car the whole time. It was amazing how many papas we got planted in just one day. Granted there were a lot of people, but the system was very efficient. There were guys making the holes, then people with the papas putting them in, and then people with the fertilizer adding that and covering up the holes. It’s a good thing we got done quickly as it started to pour afterwards (which made the trip back exciting).

One tradition I find interesting is that it isn’t rude here to ask for a doggy bag when you’re at someone’s house. For the first couple of weeks I was stuffing myself trying to finish everything, but now I can just take the stuff back with me. This is also good when they are feeding me pig skin and chicken or cuy entrails as I can take it with me and then feed it to the dog.

Monday, May 19, 2008

party time

I´m partied out at the moment. This past weekend there were parties every night until all hours. Friday night was the good-bye party for the volunteer who has been here for the past three years. There was lots of food and ackward standing around until the drinks starting flowing a bit more. Then everyone got up to do the “campo shuffle” which is the only kind of dance around here. Luckily it doesn’t require much movement or coordination, so I don’t make a fool of myself when I do it. The music gets a bit old as there really isn’t much variety. Apparently the party went all night although I was a party pooper and went home around 10. Saturday there was a party commemorating the one year anniversary of the death of the neighbor’s husband (I think it was the husband although I’m not sure). I did not attend this party but given the fact that it was next door and that the band played all night accompanied by fireworks, I was certainly kept awake by it. Sunday there were 2 weddings and 6 baptisms in the local church and then a party to celebrate that night. I’m glad things have calmed down a bit now.

So I’ve decided in my down time to take up baking. I made a bunch of cookies for the party and also a chocolate cake a talk two health peace corps volunteers were giving here. I have found that a lot of things are more interesting when one is slightly bored. I enjoy reading, but I have a lot of down time and sometimes it gets old. Also after concentrating on spanish all day I don’t always went to do any sort of intellectual pursuit. Although now I just bought the portable dvd player from the old volunteer so I can enjoy the boob tub occasionally (I just have to go and pick up some bootlegged movies from town).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

mmm, cookies!

This past week has been pretty busy, and I’ve been a tad sick which is why I haven’t written. It’s now officially summer as it hasn’t rained hardly at all in the last week and a half. I think the change in weather brought on my cold/cough, but I’m feeling better now. I finally got around to making cookies which turned out better than I expected. M&Ms had to be used instead of chocolate chips as it is impossible to find choco chips in Ecuador. But on the whole they turned out well and my host family was quite excited about them. Good baked goods aren’t real common around here and I have never seen cookies anywhere except in packages like oreos. Tommorrow is the big good bye fiesta for the guy here before me. It should be rather interesting with people rather chuchaki (a new word I picked up meaning hungover) the next day. Mother’s day was also interesting as a good chunk of the mothers (and quite a few of the fathers) celebrated by getting drunk and dancing in the main square. They really know how to party here!

Another random observation is how bus drivers try to sell their trips at the terminal. You’re walking down the line of buses and all the drivers are trying to get you to pick their bus. I feel like I’m in a department store. The thing is all the buses are going to different places, so why would I suddenly choose to go someplace different? How may people wander into the terminal saying “I wonder where I should go, maybe I’ll see which driver is the most convincing”? It just seems an odd place for a sales pitch but maybe there’s something about it I don’t know.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The longest day . . .








So I've finally made it into the big city and can finally upload some of my photos. I realized after the fact that I haven't really taken that many photos yet of my current digs, so that will have to wait till next time. Most of the photos are of the swearing in ceremony and the parties following it. There's a picture of me with one of my language facilitators as well as one with one of our technical trainers. The lady behind the podium is the current US ambassador in Ecuador, who gave a very nice (and short speech). Then there are some pics of our nightime tour of Quito in the rockin' party bus. I couldn't figure out how to get a good night picture of the main plaza so please excuse the blurriness. For the picnic after swearing in we learned a fun bollywood dance and performed for everyone (yes, I actually danced in public). The only pic of my current life is the group of us knitting, which is not the greatest picture but it'll have to do for now =)
The title of the post refers to my experiences this past Sunday which were quite interesting. The former volunteer at my site had visited this other community to do a talk on small businesses and they invited me to come and see if I wanted to continue what the other volunteer had started. The other volunteer implied that it was not too long of a trip, so I didn't bring my cell phone as there really isn't any reception in the near vicinity. I hop in the truck and we were off early Sunday morning. After about two hours I'm starting to wonder where exactly we are going. So I ask the guy sponsoring this excursion and he says that it's three hours. I take this to mean three hours total, but actually he meant three more hours (which actually turned into four hours). Finally we arrive at the town which is in the transitional zone heading towards the coast and quite a bit warmer that I was prepared for. There's a very long town meeting where I am asked to present my ideas which I was not prepared for. Trying to speak on the fly in Spanish on a topic you're not ready for is an interesting experience and one I would not care to repeat. So the meeting finally wraps up and we climb back in the truck to head back. This trip is even longer as the roads are worse since there's been a downpour all afternoon, it's dark, and it's very cloudy. We get stuck in the mud on several occasions and in one instance the tire was off the edge of the road. I'm not sure if there was just a little drop under the tire, or if the tire was dangling over the cliff and frankly I was perfectly happy not to know. So we finally get back at around 4 in the morning and I don't think I was ever so happy to see my bed. Meanwhile people in town were quite concerned because they didn't realize I was going so far (since I didn't know either) and I got a bit of a talking to the next day about making sure to tell them where I was going. Plus now my knees are black and blue after constantly bonking against the dash for 14 hours. I am convinced that vehicles here are not built for anyone over 5'3".
As a result of this experience I have decided not to work with this group at the moment since I still need to get started in my community. Maybe after the summer and after the roads get patched up a bit I'll head back. Well that's all for now, I need to get to the supermarket to get stuff for chocolate chip cookies. yum! =)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

rain, rain go away

It´s another grey day here in Ecuador. I spent part of the morning watching the minga (a community project) clear away yet another mudslide from the road. This has been the worst winter that anyone can remember in Ecuador with all the rains. It´s also unseasonably cold, so everyone is both wet and freezing. Relatively it´s not that cold, but you can´t ever get out of it like you can in the states. I sleep in my sleeping bag (rated for 25 degrees) as well as several blankets on top of that. So those are my happy thoughts for the day =)

Aside from the weather things are good. I have a 6 am running date during the week with one of the owners of the local hostal. She´s a bit shorter than me, so it´s more like she jogs and I walk fast. Since there isn´t a flat stretch of land to be found anywhere, the workout is a good one. I´m still visiting families in the morning, and getting fed whaaaaay too much food. I started out trying to be polite and finishing it all, but I´ve given that up due to the thanksgiving type feeling after every meal.

So one of my ponderings from studying spanish is why are all the verbs that one uses a lot (to be, to go, to do, to have, to put, to want, to know, to say) irregular and verbs like borrar (to erase) regular? It must be some sort of plot. Although to be fair I don’t really know if the more common verbs in english are irregular too (as I haven’t the foggiest idea how one actually conjugates verbs in english).

So another random question is can one take communion in a catholic church if they aren’t catholic? I can never remember what the rules are for that.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

can't think of a good title . . .

Well it´s been a week and I´m definitely settling into things. I´ve been visiting the various families that I´ll be working with and checking out their gardens. It´s been a bad year for crops as there´s been so much rain and all the plants have blight. I´ve been having fun getting to know people, although with my spanish skills the going is sometimes a bit interesting. I´ve found that making an idiot out of myself generally paves the way since everyone enjoys a good laugh. Plus I figure they´re going to find me humorous anyway and I´m always going to be making language mistakes so I might as well go with it.

I never really know where my days are going to end up, which makes things interesting. I only have a minimal schedule at the moment so most things happen on the spur of the moment. I´ll wander up into town to buy a few things, and end up spending half the afternoon walking around with one family, or eating with another. I´ve also been knitting with the women´s co-op ladies who are a fun bunch. They tell more dirty jokes then the men (only some of which I understand)!

So that´s all for this week! I´m going to be heading into town soon, so then I can post some pics of life here =)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hello from the Campo!

So I´m at my site now, which is quite exciting (and slightly scary). I arrived here on Friday after a hectic few days in Quito. The swearing in ceremony at the embassy was very nice and just the right length of time (I didn´t start fidgeting or anything) then we had a picnic at the peace corps headquarters with real hot dogs and hamburgers. In the evening we rode around Quito on this crazy party bus that had a band on the roof. There´s nothing like a bunch of gringos making fools out of themselves. The bus went through colonial Quito, which was absolutely beautiful at night. Then it was off to a club for a little bit of partying before calling it a night. The next day everyone was off to their sites. It was a bit sad saying bye to everyone, since we´re probably not going to see each other for 4 months.
The bus ride to my site was gorgous, and I got to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes, gazing out the window and daydreaming. The family that I´m staying with was waiting for the bus and helped me get my stuff unloaded. My living arrangement is really nice, because I have my own house basically with a stove and everything, but the family lives next door. The family is really nice and have been very welcoming and tolerant of my spanish. The guy I´m going to be working with is also really nice as well as other people I´ve meet in town. The volunteer that has been here for the past 3 years is much loved in the community so they´re excited to have another one. This is also kind of nerve-wracking as I have a lot to live up to.
The bad news here is that the internet is really slow and expensive so I probably won´t be updating that often, or sending many emails. The nearest big town is a 3-4 hour bus ride away and I´ll probably be going there once a month or so. I also can´t really upload pictures here either so that will have to wait until I go into town. The cell phone that they gave us only works if I climb the hill behind my house, so I can´t get incoming calls which is too bad since I can´t call out to the states. Oh well, the price I pay for being in a beautiful, tranquilo site!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fun in the big city

So I've been having fun eating some american food in quito (including mint chip ice cream!) and suffering through long bueracratic sessions at the peace corps hq. The sessions are neccessary, but highly boring. Today we got our cell phones, which seem rather complicated (although maybe that's just my technological illiteracy). They also have to be on all the time, which I'm not a fan of, since it drives me nuts when people's phones ring during meetings. I understand the safety issues, but I still find it annoying.
Things should get a bit more exciting this afternoon, as we have a self defense lesson where I can get my inner-ninja on. Then tommorrow is the formal swearing in ceremony, followed by the not so formal party bus tour around Quito. We've also gotten our new addresses. Mine is now:
Linea Richards
Cuerpo de Paz
Casilla 05-01-236
Latacunga, Cotopaxi
Ecuador

My next post will probably be from my site!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

¡Hasta luego!











Today was the party for all of our host families. It was fun, but a little sad to be saying good bye. Early Tuesday morning we head to Quito for a few days of paperwork and our official swearing-in ceremony. There´s a picture of my host parents at the party, as well as a picture of two of the host dads in the traditional chaps they use for celebrations. There was also an opportunity for all of us to join in the dancing, which I actually did (surprise, surprise). The other picture is a view of the volcano from the roof of my house. My host mom actually woke me up one morning to get the picture because usually it´s too cloudy or too sunny (the sun rises behind the volcano so the picture doesn´t turn out) to get a picture and by the afternoon the mountain is hidden again. I think my host family will miss me as I provide free entertainment for them. Not only do I read and bring strange books into the house, but I also walk a lot which they find odd. Generally in the mornings I take two buses to get to the training center, but one day I decided to walk the first leg as it didn´t seem that far. One of my host sister´s friends saw me and by the time I got home the whole town knew that I was the crazy gringo who walked to town. Plus there´s always the various daily misunderstandings which are cause for laughter. I´m really going to miss them, and I hope my next host family is as fun.
So one thing I´ve discovered is that english is really hard. I´ve been attempting to help my host sisters with their english homework and I´m totally horrible at explaining why things are the way they are. Usually I just say "that´s how it is, but I don´t know why". The grammer rules are a lot less clear too. I´ve been relearning (or maybe just learning) english grammer in order to understand all the different spanish verb forms. I pretty much understand them all at this point, but please don´t ask me to use them in a sentance!
FYI: I will have internet at my site (at least according to the information I´ve been given) so I should be able to continue keeping you all informed of my various adventures.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

More pics and adventures in frio-bamba





































So I´m back at home base after two weeks of traveling. It was a lot of fun visiting other parts of Ecuador. The first two pictures are from our first week in the cloud forest. It was amazing how green it was in the subtropics after being more in the mountain highlands for 6 weeks. The second picture is a group of us learning this weird french game that was kind of a combination of risk and monopoly. We got quite addicted to it for a few days, then the attraction wore off (mainly because it was hot and being in the pool was way more fun). After a week of sweating it out in the tropics, it was back up to the mountains, which meant spending a day on various buses. The entertainment on the bus was the high quality movie Death Train. I´m sure it was just an oversight that it wasn´t nominated for an oscar (haha). We were lucky to have made it through the main bus terminal in Quito as a few days later a huge chunk of earth fell away and created this huge sinkhole right in the main interchange leaving the station. The reward for surviving a day on the buses was a really nice hostel in Riobamba (the locals call it frio-bamba due to the cold) and the best shower I´ve had in two months. The water pressure was good and the water was warm, a combination you don´t often get in this area. We spent four days there and in the surrounding area learning about planting crops on slopes and praying that we didn´t fall on those said slopes. There´s a picture of us working on digging holes to plant trees on one of the farms we visited. The other nice thing about Riobamba was the abundance of good (cheap) restaurants and even hand-dipped ice-cream, so I was able to fully satisfy my sweet tooth. After that we headed off to a different town nearby, but met a few bumps in the road on the way (literally). This was due to all the rain Ecuador´s been getting lately which has created lots of mudslides. So instead of taking the bus, we ended up crammed in the back of a truck and upon arriving at the mudslide, we had to climb over and catch a different truck. It made for an exciting day and really dirty shoes. It was all worth it as the town we went to was really interesting. It´s this tiny town that has all kinds of different little factories and micro-enterprises. The picture with the leader of the ag program putting a stick in a pool is where the town gets its salt. There´s a spring that salty water bubbles up from and they´re able to extract the salt from the water. There was also a chocolate factory (with really good dark chocolate), a cheese factory (also delicous), a soccer ball factory, a textile mill, a women´s co-op that made knitted wares, an essential oil factory, a soy products factory and several others. All this in an area with less that 6,000 people! It´s definitely an example for all of us to try to follow at our sites. Plus the town is in a gorgous area near the volcano chimborazo (photo) which is the highest volcano in the world as well as the highest mountain in Ecuador.
So those were the adventures of the last two weeks. We just have two weeks left of training before we´re let loose on Ecuador! =)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

swimming, swimming in the swimming pool =)

Wow, what a difference 3 hours makes! We left the Andes last saturday for the cloud forest. After a three hour bus ride we were in a very humid and beautiful rainforest. Not only that, but we are staying at a really nice camp/resort center with a pool (yay!). Needless to say, the first thing most of us did after arriving, was to take advantage of the swimming pool. The food as well as been really good (actual spagetti as opposed to noodles and ketchup), but the humidity and bugs have not been quite so fun. Everyone looks like they have some horrible disease with all their bug bites. Plus I spent the first two days rather sore as I was stupid and got sunburn on my shoulders the first day. I was thinking I would only go into the pool for a little while and get back out but instead we all ended up playing a rather intense water polo match so my shoulders and face were a bit red. But the water polo was awesome!
As far as the productive stuff we´ve been doing, we´ve studied cacao and banana production, as well as doing some interpersonal/active listening seminars (boring, plus I dislike that stuff anyway). The people in charge love to play those silly ice-breaker/team building games which I can´t stand. I´ve also learned a lot about terracing and planting things on a slope. Of course we did all that sort of digging stuff on the hottest, humidest day so we were all sweating buckets. Luckily we always have the pool to look forward too. I´m about ready to head back up the mountains, which some of us are doing tommorrow (we´re splitting into groups based on what region your site is in). I´ll let you all know how that trip goes next weekend, as well as get some pictures up since I didn´t bring my connector thingy with me. ¡Adios!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Reading, reading, reading . . .

I´ve had a lot of time to read since I´ve arrived in Ecuador. I try to hang out with my host family as much as possible, but it gets exhuasting speaking spanish (and I think they sometimes get tired of trying to understand me) so generally part of the evening is spent reading. Luckily we´ve set up an informal library at peace corps, so there´s never a shortage of books. Plus mom and dad have sent me some too (thanks!). Here´s some of my favorites so far:
Colors - an interesting history of dyes, I know it sounds weird but it was really quite fascinating even if one isn´t an artist
Killing Pablo - the story of Pablo Escobar and the hunt to find him. He was a notorious Colombian drug kingpin in the 80s. this is not a really a fun read but sometimes it´s good to learn about these sorts of things
Feast of the Goat - historical nonfiction about Trujillo, the infamous dictator in the Dominican Republic during the first part of last century. if anyone has read In the Time of the Butterflies, it´s the same era.
Three Cups of Tea - story of a mountain climber who promises to build schools in rural Pakistan. very inspirational!
Don´t Stuff Your Dog - Alan Alda´s (Hawkeye in MASH) autobiography. Very funny!
Nature Girl - Carl Hiassen´s latest book. funny, but not my favorite of his
Plus I finally managed to finish reading Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe en español (which I´m very excited about) and have now moved on to harry potter. My host family thinks I´m very strange for reading all the time. People don´t seem to read a lot down here, and there are no bookstores anywhere (or even newspapers/magazines). One of our cultural speakers touched on the topic, and she said this was due to the Catholic church´s influence when this area was colonized. At the time the church wasn´t into letting people read, as then they could read the bible and have their own ideas about God, whereas the US was colonized by protestants who believed it to be very important to read the bible. So apparently this apathy towards reading has carried over into today. I´m not sure how accurate this theory is, but it sounds plausible to me.
This Saturday I´m looking forward to being warmer and going swimming when we get into the more temperate zone. I´m not sure if I´ll have internet access, so this might be my last post for the next week or two. Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tastes like chicken

So I had my first taste of cuy today. It didn´t actually taste like chicken, but it was pretty good. It was kind of difficult to eat as there wasn´t a whole lot of meat (hey that rhymes). My host family was all watching me take my first bite to see how the gringa would react. I think they were disapointed that my reaction wasn´t stronger. In other news, I only recently discovered that we actually do have hot water in the house. All my showers have been freezing cold, and I just assumed that´s how it was as most of the other volunteers only get cold showers. I don´t know how my host mom figured out that my showers weren´t warm (maybe the duration of them), but the other day she asked me if my shower was cold. When I said yes, she told me the secret is to turn the hot water knob back and forth several times until it got warm. Definitely not something I ever would have figured out! Now I am enjoying warm showers, yay! Another cultural misunderstanding occurded the other week when my host sister and I were watching tv. There was a commercial involving chocolate and I jokingly said than I wanted some (I think the commercial said "give me chocolate" and I agreed) so later my host sister went out and got some! I felt so bad and tried to explain that I was just joking.
In other food news, thanks to all of you who offered to send cheerios but it definitely wouldn´t make it through customs. My breakfast usually includes yogurt, bread, tea, and hot chocolate. The yogurt, tea and hot chocolate are things I never liked in the states but are growing on me now. Especially the yogurt since it´s supper fresh as it´s made in my town. But if anyone comes to visit and has room in their bag, they can always bring cheerios =)
So today was the big palm sunday service which was interesting. It started with everyone meeting at the volleyball courts to walk to the church with their branches. A lot of people brought roses which added some color to the procession. In case you were wondering roses are dirt cheap around here because all the roses you buy in the states come from here (people were shocked at how expensive they are int the states). Anyway, I digress. So we walked to the church, with everyone singing and then there was the regular service. My host dad asked me if the service was long for me (it was about 2 hours), but I told him after the vigilia in Costa Rica nothing seemed long.
So that´s been all the excitement this weekend. I´m happy as I did laundry and the rain held of long enough for all my stuff to dry =)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Death of the Cuy

So today we had a workshop at the farm of a host family of one of the other trainees. In the process of this workshop we saw a cuy (guinea pig) castrated and another one killed. They were rather interesting procedures, however I won´t go into the details here as I don´t want to offend any of the more squeamish. I know cuys are a good source of protein but there doesn´t seem to be a lot of meat on them to eat.
One unforseen devolopment to the training is that now we are not going to visit our sites next week. The original plan was that everyone was going to split up and visit their sites for a week, then we were all going to meet up at this other spot for more training, and then during the third week we´d have area specific training (coast, mountains, amazon). However due to all the flooding the powers that be don´t want to risk sending us all of in different directions, so we´re going to be staying where we are (at least for next week). I was looking forward to seeing my site, which makes this kind of a bummer, but I´ll have 2 yrs to see it so it´s all good.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Site Assignment!!

So we got our sites today, which was totally exciting. I got one of my top choices, so I´m really happy. I´m going to this beautiful spot in the mountains near this famous lake (that´s a big tourist attraction) and working with organic agriculture and animals. Now I don´t have to worry about taking malaria meds =) On Sunday everyone is going to visit their sites for a week, so we get a trial run before having to drag all our stuff there.
This weekend some of us went to this really neat bee workshop about an hour from here. They actually use killer bees for honey here because that´s the only kind they have. The bees are actually relatively docile as long as you mantain the hive. They´re also a lot more hardy and there aren´t problems in Ecuador like there are in the US with the colony collapse. We got to put on masks and watch them up close working with the bees. It took a fair amount of self control just to stand there while the bees were all buzzing around, when all you really wanted to do was swat and run away. Another interesting note is that by getting people excited about bees in Ecuador you can also get them excited about reforestation. Saving habitat for bees to get nectar is more of an incentive to stop deforestation than all the traditional reasons. I guess people really like their honey down here.
Another lesson learned this week was to never, ever have a large package sent. I went with my language group to Quito because we had to do some stuff at the bank and also one person had a large package. First we went to one post office, only to find that her package was at another one cross town. We got to that one and found out there are about 100 steps to retriving the package. First you have to give them copies of your identification, then you have to pay for them to process that, after which they take you in the back to look in your package and decide how much the tax on it is. After that they send you to two different places to pay the tax (which can be anywhere from 3 to 30 dollars), then you can come back and get your package. Ahh, the joys of bureaucracies.

Monday, March 3, 2008

New Pics
















So I´ve finally taken a few pics of my daily activities. The church is the main one in the very tiny town I live in. During church services the stray dogs wander up and down the main aisle. You can also see my very snazzy room. I´m especially a fan of the giant panda blanket. Then there´s the volcano Cayambe which is quite stunning (I just hope it doesn´t decide to act up). The last two pics are my host mom, sister, and me having fun with onions. We spent about half the day transplanting onion plants and getting very dirty (me more than them). It was nice to get outside after sitting in classes all week. Although this week in class for a cultural activity we learned some of the popular dances. I now know how to salsa, meringue, and dance some other local dances that I forget the names of. It must have been quite humorous for our language teachers watching all of us gringos try to move our hips.



One bummer is that I´m really missing my cheerios. The food here is good, but cereal is super expensive and I haven´t seen cheerios anywhere. You can probably only get them in Quito. I don´t really miss anything else, as they have plenty of dulces here to satisfy my sweet tooth should the need arrive. I´ve really enjoyed the juices my host mom makes. This week she mixed beets, carrots, and berries together and it was delicous. For lunch I have this sandwich/pastery thingy with ham, pineapple and cheese that is also very yummy. So I´m definitely not lacking except for the cheerios.