Return!

After a year of college at Appalachian State University, I’m ready to set off on another adventure to Ecuador!

It’ll only be about three months this time, not quite the length of my previous stay. I leave RDU airport on May 14th and don’t get back until August 6th! That only gives me a few days to pack and two weeks to readjust once I return before school but it’ll be well worth it. This time, I will not be going with Global Citizen Year. I’m going partially to study Spanish, partially to work, and partially to enjoy visiting the town and people who took care of me for my year abroad. Appalachian is giving me credit for 3 Spanish courses while I’m there. I’ll be doing academic work for ASU as well as volunteering wherever I can find work near my town.

I’m applying to any scholarships or grants I can find to cover the costs so if you know of any, let me know please!

I’ll keep you updated!

Reverse Culture Shock

I officially left Ecuador 1 month ago to the day. Thus began the process of re-acclimating to the culture of which I once was. I can’t say I’m quite there yet.

Here are some things that have struck me as odd about my own culture since I’ve been back. These definitely aren’t all of them but I need to keep you all interested now that I’m no longer in a foreign country, right? I’ll give you the first three that come to mind for now.

  1. English. I walked off the plane into the Miami airport and my first reaction was, “What are all these gringos doing here?” There was this buzz of English conversation and I was like,  After  training in California, I was walking around San Fran with another fellow and I could have sworn he said something but when I turned to look, it had  een a stranger speaking with someone else.  I had just associated English with people I knew, as the only other people who spoke it were other fellows. It was very stranger hearing it everywhere. Oh and hearing children. Every time I heard a child speaking English, I did a double take. My work in Ecuador was primarily with kids and the most English they spoke was, “Good morning, Teacher!” My neighbors came over the first week I was back. They have a little girl and several times I caught myself saying something to her in Spanish.
  2. Dogs. The minute I came in the door, my dog was all over me, jumping and licking. He knows how to sit. Knows how to lie down. Almost knows how to play fetch. He’d never bite you, unless on accident. In Ecuador, the dogs are not treated well and as a result, are not trusting or kind to humans. And if there are house dogs, they’re mostly for security. No one is hesitant to give them a good kick. In my experience, people didn’t really know how to train them either. If the dog didn’t do what they wanted, they kicked it. The concept of positive reinforcement was not understood. You just act like you’re going for a stone and they run. But dogs could be mean, especially in a group. There was this one path through Paragachi, the town I worked in, that I did not go on. Because one time I went through there and was confronted by a pack of dogs. I immediately turned around and started slowly walking away but was followed and one of them had the nuts to bite me. It didn’t draw blood but I didn’t use the path after that.
  3. Conversations are so 2012. People do not like to interact. Eye contact is shied away from. Good mornings are ignored between strangers. You’re pulling someone’s teeth just asking how they’re doing. I tried to start a conversation in a grocery store the other day and got this look, In my town, if someone said buenas dias, tardes, or noches to you and you don’t respond, you’re being rude. People like being acknowledged, so why don’t we do it? I feel sad when I say hi to someone and they just strut on by without even looking at me. And who wouldn’t feel that way? At the same time, our culture admires people who break those boundaries. People like talking to each other! And if someone has the nerve to chat up a stranger or start a conversation in an elevator, they’re admired. It’s just that the average Joe won’t go there.

Returning

Tuesday I leave my community, Pimampiro, not knowing when I can return.

Saying goodbye is proving to be extremely difficult. I have seven classes that I teach all together at the high school, and only once a week. 1 on Monday, 3 on Tuesday, 1 on Wednesday and 2 on Thursday. So this entire past week I’ve been starting every day with, know what? This is my last class with you guys. Not to mention my classes in Paragachi Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which have been a light in my week all year. So far I’ve had two goodbye parties at my school, with another one scheduled for Monday, and one in Paragachi. Not to mention all the goodbye-saying I’ll be doing with my family and my boyfriend.

As hard as it is, it’s touching how close I’ve become with people here. These days, I’ve become even closer with my mom, something I’d been struggling with since arriving. My quiet assistant from Paragachi gave me a photo frame to take home and a handmade wallet from her mom my last day teaching. Several of my students have given me friendship bracelets by which to remember them. The first question every asks is, so when are you coming back? I don’t have an answer yet so I say, algun dia. One day. No one is satisfied with that answer but it’s better than never.

 

Just some logistical info because I know it’ll be asked,

After I leave Pimampiro Tuesday, April 9th, I’ll be staying in Quito until Sunday April 14th for re-entry training. Then I’ll be returning to the States, but in California for another week of re-entry training until April 20th, when the program officially ends. However, I’m staying in California an additional week a conocer (to get to know). My ticket is purchased to return to NC on April 27th, I believe in the wee hours of the morning or la madrugada.

Hijacked!

I am hijacking Kip’s blog for a few moments… as many of you know her mom and I went to Ecuador at the end of January to visit Sarah for a week. It was a fantastic experience; we met her host families (in Pimampiro and in Quito), experienced the hospitality of both families, learned and experienced many new things. The best part of course, we spending some time with Sarah. We have documented our experience in Ecuador in the form of a storyline consisting of photos, videos, and commentary. We thought readers of this blog might enjoy another perspective on Sarah’s journey. You can find it at:

http://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/97646/Ecuador

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Mark & Emily (padre & madre)

[2/20/2013 – fixed link]

Conversations About Race

This is the community where I live and work.

This is the community where I live and work.

I was sitting in the waiting room of the one doctor’s office in Pimampiro the other day. A friend was sick and it was taking very close to forever to get her in to the doctor. A man who knew my mom was there and started asking her questions about me until I started answering them myself and he realized that I do understand Spanish. He asked me lots of questions about the States, how the seasons change, how the weather is different in North Carolina than in California, how there are people from all over the world in the States and yes, we do have black people too. After I told him the last one, he sat thinking for a moment and then asked me, “Are the black people in the States bad like the ones here?”

I asked him to explain the question. Why did he think black Ecuadorians are bad? He told me they’re mean and they steal, kill people. I pointed out that so do Mestizos (the ethnic majority of Ecuador) and we had a conversation about how poverty is more a factor in crime than color. The afro-Ecuadorians have different communities here. They’re not segregated by law but definitely by culture. I’ve seen maybe 3 Afro-Ecuadorians living in Pimampiro and I only know for sure that one of them lives here. The other two might just work and live in other communities. The afro-Ecuadorian communities usually aren’t as well off, either. The people are poorer, not all the roads are paved, things are more run-down and yes, there is more crime. I told him their bad situation is more a factor in their actions than skin color and if a mestizo were in the same bad situation, they’d act the same.

And the thing is, this man was really listening. He wasn’t what we think of in the States as racist. He wasn’t closed-minded; he was trying to understand and I think he did. Several times during our conversation, you could see what I was saying started to click and he’d be like, huh! Well, that does make sense. His previous beliefs were more a result of cultural influence than any personal fault. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. From other experiences I’ve had, I feel like he represents the sentiments of the majority of Ecuadorians.

Of course, as in the States, there are also those who are racist as a result of personal fault. There’s a family who visits from Quito who are good friends with my family and every time they’re here, they come by to eat at the restaurant my dad owns. We were sitting around talking in the restaurant when a couple came in who appeared to be friends with this family. In Ecuador and in most Latin American countries, there’s a celebration this time of year called Carnival. In other countries it’s different but here, we celebrate by ‘playing.’ We throw water on each other. It’s actually really fun; it’s like a big water gun fight except it lasts 4 days. And we don’t have water guns, just buckets. The larger black communities are famous for the festivals around this time, in which absolutely everyone plays with everyone. Mestizos in general are more conservative, and in their festivals, usually only play with friends. They wouldn’t just go up to someone they didn’t know and douse them with a bucket of water. In the black communities, that’s normal. I went to a festival in both a black community called El Juncal, and one in Pimampiro and personally, I thought El Juncal was more fun.

But anyway, this couple comes in and starts talking about how they went to a festival near the black communities and how it was so ugly, how horribly they play, etc. And they use the word that in Spanish is most associable to “nigger.” Negro is not a bad word in Spanish, by the way. It’s just saying someone’s black. Negrito is an endearing term for a black friend or other. But the word they use is moreno. I’m pretty sure that’s what it is. I don’t hear it that often so I could be wrong but I recognize it when I hear it and they were definitely using the racist term. They were saying how they were driving back up from the festival, which is always by the river. That day, it had started to rain near the end of the festivals and everyone hurried home, freezing because they were already soaking wet from Carnival. I know because I was at the Pimampiro festival that day and it was cooooooold.

Here, giving rides to people is kind of a courtesy. Especially going back to town from a festival, people pile into cars together. And they were talking snidely about how all the afro-Ecuadorians were trying to get a ride, freezing their butts off at the side of the road. The couple was driving a truck, which could have easily fit a bunch of people and they were calling them stupid, as if they would ever give people like them a ride. It made me angry listening to it but I felt like these weren’t people who were going to change so I just left the room.

New Year’s Celebrations

I’ve had some request to talk about Christmas traditions here in Ecuador. However, I’ve found that although it is a very Catholic culture, they don’t do much for Christmas. In the States, we get something like a week off of work/school for it but here, we had Christmas day off and that was it. We do set up this thing in every household called beling. I remembered this word right away because it sounds almost like “bling” and it’s shiny enough to remind me of that. It’s a nativity scene, and more. I say and more because they have no reserves gluing whatever plastic animals they happen to have around baby Jesus. I’m pretty sure there were no lions where Jesus was born but my little brother, Mateo, sure did have a fun time gluing them down. There’s not much more for traditions. They celebrate more on Christmas Eve than Christmas day. On the Eve, we went to a misa, or church service and had a big diner. There weren’t any different foods, though. On Christmas day, I was actually travelling the 6 hour trip back to Pimampiro from Quito, where my family went for the holidays.

I thought everyone might want to hear more about the New Year’s traditions, as those are more interesting in my opinion.

One tradition is to wear yellow underwear for the new year’s. It’s supposedly good luck. I’m not sure if it’s luck of a certain kind. I didn’t find out about this one until too late that night. I was wearing orange, which I figured was close enough.

You’re supposed to eat 12 grapes for the new year’s. Another luck thing.

A really interesting one is the ano Viejo. It’s probably the most different from the States. What they do is they make a man-doll type thing using old clothes stuff with whatever and masks that are sold everywhere. Sometimes people make them into politicians, celebrities, someone they know, what have you. And when the clock strikes 12, they burn them all in the streets. There are two ways it’s looked at, depending where you go to experience the tradition. The overall idea is to rid the evil of the last year. Whatever bad mojo happened last year, you’re burning it. Some people make ano viejos of people they don’t like, like politicians and burning them is like burning the evil. However, some people make one of someone who’s had trouble in the last year or might need help and to burn them is like riding them of everything bad that happened, and hopefully giving them a fresh start.

Dead Bodies!

This is something that happened the day after Obama got re-elected! Fun fact!

One day my Ecuadorean family told me we were going to move the bones of my mom’s dead father and first husband. I was like, okay, it’s some kind of ceremony where we rest their coffins somewhere else. I was right about the ceremony part. After work, I go home and much of my extended family is getting ready to go. I didn’t have a chance to eat because they were leaving right that second and I didn’t know where the cemetery was. We get to the cemetery and the male members of the family have these long metal poles they’re using to break down the cement around the crypt. The cemetery is really beautiful. It was right after the Day of the Dead too, so all the crypts were covered in flowers. We stood around for about an hour as they chipped open the siding on my mom’s first’s husband’s resting place. Then another hour as they chipped open the one above it, where lay my mom’s dad. When the cement was finally all broken away, they pulled out the top coffin. My mom’s dad passed away 14 years ago, so the coffin was fairly decayed. It was layered in glass, much of which fell away as they placed it on the ground.

At this point, I’m thinking, okay, we’re going to go bury this coffin somewhere else or put it in a different crypt. Then they bring out this box. A fairly small box. At first, I can’t think of what it might be for. Until I realized that my mom never said we were moving the coffin. Just the bones.

Two of my uncles put on sanitary gloves and open that baby up. And start moving the bones into the smaller box, starting with the head. I was so stunned, I had no idea what to do. I just sat and watched in amazement. I wasn’t disgusted or anything. I mean, yeah, it wasn’t pretty but I was more intrigued than anything. In the States, we never ever see real dead bodies. I’ve never been to an open casket funeral but I feel like they don’t happen that often anymore. People are just too terrified of dead things. Maybe this is morbid but I’ve always wondered what a dead body looks like. We only see in movies and you should never take what you see in movies as truth. Although, on this particular sight, they were dead on, I might say.

After they moved all the bones of the father, they did the same thing with my mom’s first husband’s remains. I watched equally as stunned. Later that night, I talked to my mom and cousin about how in my culture, people don’t ever look at dead bodies or open up coffins. They seemed genuinely surprised at this. They were like, really? You’ve never seen a dead body before? How strange. My cousin told me how in her high school right now, they’re learning anatomy. And they’re doing it by watching a real life video dissection of a cadaver. I asked several times, a real cadaver? You’re certain it’s an actual body? Si, si, claro. Sure, they do the same sort of thing in medical school but a high school curriculum in the States would never have video of a real cadaver. We’re too scared of traumatizing the adolescents. They accept that death isn’t the prettiest thing but it happens, it’s there, and it’s just something you face. That’s something I can respect in a culture.

This was a cool experience I thought you guys might want to hear about. It was definitely one of those ‘wow I’m in a completely different culture’ moments.

Language

Learning Spanish through immersion is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Not that I’m done, but it’s pretty amazing to be doing. You notice more about your own language, too. For example, English is pretty rigid, sentence structure-wise. In Spanish, you can put words all over the place and it still makes a decent sentence. It’s great for me, as I’m learning it and would rather not think about what order to put my words in. In English, you just can’t mix stuff up. I also feel so much quicker to understand the world in general. This may be completely unrelated, but since learning Spanish my chess playing has significantly improved. Correlation? No sé.

Here are some interesting Spanish quirks I’ve noticed. I feel like they reflect parts of the society.

The word to hope and the word to wait are the same, which makes sense to me. You can hope but if you don’t do anything else, it’s just waiting. Esperar.

The word for flirt and to annoy is the same. And is ironically similar to molest. At first, I was like, this doesn’t make any sense. Why, in any language would the word for flirt be interchangeable with annoy? After a month of cat calls, way-too-old-for-me men on the bus calling me princess and ridiculous I-love-you-marry-me-baby confessions from guys I just met, I understood. It’s because the way they flirt is really annoying. Molestar.

There’s no word for “to stare” in Spanish. There’s to look at and to watch but no equivalent of to stare. Maybe because there’s no cultural understanding of staring here. They just think of it as looking or watching. People aren’t going to act like they’re not watching you. Mirar.

I love you in Spanish is te amo. But there’s a less strong version of I love you that’s sometimes used to refer to a family or friend love. It literally translates to I want you, which really confused me for a while but I like that there’s kind of an in-between option of to like and to love. Te quiero.

Climbing Aboard the Apprenticeship

I’m working with a non-profit organization here called Mountains of Hope or Montañas de Esperanza. I’m doing a variety of work so far. In the mornings every day here I’m helping teach Creative Art in my school, usually from 8am to 1pm. The art class is special because classes like it pretty much don’t exist in any other school in Ecuador. The government doesn’t prioritize creative arts and most kids go their whole lives without being exposed to it. The classes focus on more practical creative arts, as the school is artisan based. It trains girls to work in textiles after they graduate, giving them the tools they need to have a job and thus support themselves and their families. In our art classes, they learn color and design theory, while making projects that my supervisor sells back in the States. The money from those projects is used in the school somehow, in any way that the girls collectively decide.

Right now, for example, some of the girls are making little cloth wallets, one for themselves, and one to be sold in the States. They’re coming out quite nicely. Honestly, some of these girls are so good at sewing and design, I wonder why they’re not teaching me. When my supervisor isn’t here, I help teach English classes. I don’t really enjoy that much because the classes are extremely boring due to outdated teaching techniques and the kids don’t learn anything, which is disheartening to me. Two days a week in the afternoon I go down to a different community named Paragotchi and teach basic English at the daycare there. Paragotchi is a much poorer community than Pimampiro and is definitely in more need, which is why my organization has been focusing on it since its beginning. The daycare literally has no supplies for the kids. They only get so much money from the government per child and all of that goes to pay for feeding them. I’ve been teaching them colors by bringing in crayons and picture sheets. Then they have to ask me for what color they want in order to use it, but in English. The first day, before I started bringing supplies, I was teaching them by pointing to things in the room and saying what color it was. They learn much more enthusiastically with crayons. Every Monday, for a change in schedule we go and hold little simple art projects at the homeless old folks center here in Pimampiro. We hold them before lunch and afterwards help serve lunch and clean up. Most of these people are very elderly without family, without homes and this is probably the most nutritious meal they eat all week. The culture here doesn’t have much a sense of nutrition. What few vegetables they eat regularly, they boil to death. Most of their foods are high in starch and low in vitamins. The other day I went out for lunch and had a salad. When I told my mom what I’d eaten, she was like,

“Oh, and what else?”

“Nothing else, just a big salad with cheese, apples, vegetables, you know.”

“And soup?”

“No.”

“With rice?”

“No.”

“Just salad?”

“Yes.”

I’m hoping to start a cooking class at my school, with 15 kids or so, once a week. They might not be interested in salads, but I could maybe hook them on some black bean burgers or vegetable stir-fry.

Starting next week, I’ll also be facilitating art workshops with kids in Paragotchi as an afterschool program. My supervisor and I will be going to other communities and doing the same thing, but Paragotchi will be on a regular, weekly schedule. In addition, I have more options as to what I could do from here on out. I know there’s an afterschool music workshop that’s starting next week I could help with, I’m sure.

Mountains of Hope does a lot of work with the families of the girls as well, who are mainly farmers. They teach them organic farming and bio intensive agriculture techniques, as to sometimes double and triple their production, while helping the environment as well.

That’s a general summary of what I’ve been doing/what I’m going to be doing. My work is pretty flexible, though, which I like.

Mountains and Men

Pretty much every morning these days, I wake up, go to the roof, and think, “Wow, I’m really here.” I like to go up to the roof because you can spin in circle and see only mountains. My town is gorgeous. And don’t even get me started on my extended family’s farms, which I swear are national geographic landscapes waiting to happen. I really should extend my vocabulary to include more words that mean beautiful because I think everyone will get tired of my constant, “Que lindo!”

I started working at my school last week, for real. The organization I’m working for is called Mountains of Hope, in English. I definitely respect everything they’re doing. For one, they run the whole high school, which consists mostly of young girls and women. The purpose of the school is to train them in practical skills they can later use to obtain jobs, which many women don’t have the opportunity for here. In addition, they train the families of the girls, who are farmers, sustainable agriculture techniques. They also hold workshops on things like nutrition, cooking, etc. I have the opportunity to do a variety of things with this organization. I’m going to be teaching English and Art for sure. (Art, by the way, is an exception here. They just don’t have art classes in schools, except for mine.) But I can also help with the community garden they have here, and the elderly cafeteria they run. The kids are super sweet and extremely curious. They’re amazed by my amarillo pelo, my yellow hair, which isn’t actually yellow but it’s probably the closest they’ve seen. They’re impressed by the length, too. Sometimes when I walk between their rows in class, the girls will mess with it.

I still get little of moments of culture shock occasionally. I appreciate so much of the culture here, like how everyone greets everyone when they go to a new place, and how food is just automatically communal, but there are some things that sit wrong with me cultural, mostly about being female. The clothes for one. Sometimes I forget myself and wear something that shows a bit too much skin and suddenly everywhere I go, there are whistles, heads turning, and men who think being able to say hello in English is really what I’m looking for in a mate. Of course, they’re all very nice otherwise but it just bothers me. A girl also can’t really hangout with a group of guys cultural unless she’s dating one of them, which is a problem for me because I have no sisters but a brother my age, who has only male friends. I realized that today when I was walking with my brother and his all-male friends and I looked across the street to make eye contact with two girls roughly my age, who proceeded to wiggle their eyebrows at me like they knew some little secret. And when the younger generation is wiggling their eyebrows at you, it means the older generation is shaking their heads at you. I need to work on making some female friends here.

By the way, my internet access is a little sporadic here. My family has one computer with internet, but it’s pretty old and slower than our two turtles. However, luckily for me, my organization’s office, which is about a 3 and a half minute walk away, has wifi! And I can even catch it from a park bench outside, so the office doesn’t have to be open for me to use it. It’s just a matter of me remembering to go there to intentionally use it. It’s funny how little internet you use when it’s not sitting right there in front of you.

If there’s something specific you’re wondering about my journey and my experiences thus far, comment or send me an email or something. I’m happy to answer questions or write a blog post on the subject. And any ideas might remind me to update more regularly.

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