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 espaƱol (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.