Happy National Vegetarian Day!

In light of National Vegetarian Day, at least in the USA, I’m going to talk a little bit about what it’s like to be vegetarian, and former vegan, in Ecuador.

I’ll start by saying that, if left to my own devices, I could probably pull off being a vegan in Ecuador. Fruit is abundant and cheap. Vegetables are a bit more expensive, but not even as much as back home. In Quito, soy meat even exists, although it’s not cheap. But it’s not cheap in the States either. However, I am not left up to my own devices. Even if I had the time to cook all my meals, which I don’t and is what I’d need to do, it might come off as rude to my host families. Plus, half of culture is food. If you don’t experience the food, you’re not getting it all. Even as a vegetarian, there are some cultural things I’m not getting. As much as I’m into the immersion, meat is one thing I can’t do, emotionally. In the market, (I apologize to the veggies for this image) they have whole pigs laid out in the stands. It’s so horrifying to me, seeing their faces, with the teeth and eyes still in it. It looks human to me. My older host brother in Pimampiro is always laughing at me for my meat skittishness.

On a happier note, I’m going to give you some examples of how cheap fruit is here.

I just about died when I went to the market the first time:

Avocado: 25 cents

8 kiwis: $1

Coconut: $2 (which now seems expensive to me)

A huge bunch of bananas: $1

5 granadilla: $1

The prices vary depending on the vendor, of course, but whoa.

And now all the vegans are like buying tickets to come visit, I’m sure. But beware: if you’re a foreign traveler, you know that you can’t always just eat the food. Peel fruits are fine, but you should always wash any fruit you just bite well before doing so. There are different germs and bugs here we’re not accustomed to so they can do some damage on your system. Another problem with being vegan here would be the vegetables. You have to soak them, especially lettuce and spinach, before eating them to get all the other substances out. It’s kind of a pain, but you do what you gotta do to not be sick here. I don’t eat enough vegetables anymore. But I sure do eat lots of fruit.

There’s an interesting fruit here; I forget the actual name because we just call it the poop fruit. One of our team leaders warned us that while it tastes like candy, which it so does, it really “clears our your system” and we should be wary of how much we eat. There are fruits here that do all sorts of things.

In the more rural places, being a vegetarian is way weirder. I know one of my friends is now commonly known not as the gringita but as the “vegetariana.” There are quite a few of us vegetarians in the group. 15 out of 47 maybe? But if you get a group of world-minded, compassionate, intelligent young adults together, chances are many of them will be vegetarians. Just saying.

Happy Vegetarian Day, my brothers and sisters!

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Never Have I Ever – Blog Post Poetry Style

I wander the town like a stranger and mostly I am but I feel like spitting fire, like I always have, I feel like making myself open, like I always have, like saying anything that people could understand, anything would do, really, but my tongue is made of cement, just like every single house here. Every single one, I wish I could paint them all, like I always have but never have I ever eaten fruit straight from the tree, never have I ever enjoyed dancing until now, and never have I ever kissed an Ecuadorean boy. And unfortunately, language is not contagious but typhoid fever is, which is why they shot me up with vaccines before shooting me off here. If only there were Spanish idioms in those syringes because I am ill with culture shock; I am dying to understand conversations between children, if only I could be as empty as they are.

Never have I ever been an optimist but my glass is half full and filling by the second not just with words but kisses on the cheek and loud, sharp whistles that cloud the air at night when I’m trying to see the stars. The moon sometimes hides behind the mountains, which I am thankful for because they keep all the people so warm like a wooden bowl carved by a god they believe so fervently in. I am skeptical of him, as I always have been but now also of myself, if she’s even the same person who skipped out on her life one month ago and counting. Never have I ever been so unsure of myself but never have I ever been so sure of what I’m doing, which is everything I can, all at once if I have to. Or one at a time, which is probably what Ecuadoreans would prefer anyway. They say I should slow down but there is so much flying by me, so many things that go over my head and until yesterday, I didn’t know how to say ‘slow down’ in Spanish. Now I use it all the time, before people even open their mouths because I’d rather say that first than ever say “repita por favor” again.

Never have I ever been so lost for words. Not because I don’t know which ones to use but because I hardly know any at all. As a poet, I thought I owned words but they own me. I compromise meaning for understanding and understand nothing. The other day, I thought we were going on a walk. We ended up driving to a farm in the mountains, where Pimampiro was a pod nestled in a valley, and two dogs rolled in the grass. They greeted me with wagging tails, wagging tongues and love. There was love there. We picked tangerines right from the trees. Never have I ever been so totally okay with knowing nothing.

Never have I ever felt the world so fully.

And never have I ever once regretted this beginning.

More Info!

I got a letter and more information from my Pimampiro host family today. They’re super excited to meet me and the feeling is mutual. My team leader says they’re so sweet and I believe it from their letter that started with “Dear Adorable Kip.”

So here’s the scoop:

My host father’s name is Giovanny, my mother is Irma. I have pictures of both of them now, but sadly no scanner.

I have a 19 year old brother named Alexis who just graduated high school,

a 14 year old brother, Jordy, who was sadly not included in the photos sent,

and a 4 year old brother named Mateo who is just about the cutest toddler you’ve ever seen. In the letter, they said he asks every day when his new “hermanita” is coming.

Image

Drum Roll, and Placement

NEWS NEWS NEWS NEWS!
           I know my placement! I’m way up in the mountains of Imbabura! Google that beautiful mountain! I’m going to be in the highest area for my region. I lost my sheet with all the location information on it but I remember my supervisor said Fellows last year called it “Pim City” because it’s called “Pimampiro.” It’s about an hour’s drive out of Quito. I’m super excited. I love the mountains and thank god I’m not in the Amazon. Equally as beautiful and yes, so many cool things, but North Carolina has the hot and humid down pat. I’m ready for the altitude chill. Plus, there is a unique diversity of highly poisonous snakes down there. I’m working in an artisan community. My apprenticeship has a vague description but I’m working with an agency there that runs many many different programs, so there’s a variety/combination of work I could do. I think they mostly placed me there because the community asked for someone artsy and there aren’t many others in our group. But I got that artsy feel and if they want me to be artsy, that means I don’t have to care so much about how I dress because, hey, they asked for it. Most places in Ecuador, especially the mountains, are conservative, even more than the South of USA. Shorts are a no-go in Quito. I’ve literally been wearing the same 2 pairs of jeans over and over again. Dresses are also a no-go without tights and I didn’t bring that many tights. Or any. But the community makes lots of crafty things, like quilts. My supervisor said they placed me there because in that area, many girls get pregnant or married at early ages because they don’t know anything else. GCY’s hoping that I can serve as an example to other paths in life and encourage girls to pursue education. I was talking to the Fellow who was placed in this community last year and she said she started a sex ed class in the school if I wanted to continue that work, which I definitely do once my Spanish has improved. Right now I can explain what I want to eat for breakfast but not much more. I think this placement’s a good fit for me.
                    There’s also a community-melding aspect to it as well. There’s an afro-Ecuadorean community about 20 minutes away where my friend Sammy, a Kenyan, is placed and the two don’t mix because of racial reasons. They’re hoping we’ll hang out a bunch and hold soccer games between the two community as to ease the tensions. Sammy’s a cool dude. He has 3 host brothers so his mom really wanted a girl in the house. I told him I’d come over a lot and fill the daughter role. I think there’s also more art work that I don’t know about yet. I’ll probably learn how to do all sorts of artsy fartsy craft fantasticos.
                My host family sounds amazing. Their name is the Rosales. They have three kids; 19, 14?, and 4. They also have 2 TORTUGAS AND A BUNNY. TURTLES. YES. TURTLES. I can’t wait to hangout with the kids. I didn’t realize how much I loved kids until they could teach me Spanish. And they’re usually so patient about it. Many adults get frustrated after trying to explain something to you 5x over but kids don’t mind and try and find different ways to communicate. I’m so happy there are kids in my family. Plus, there’s a 19 year old who can help me find Ecuadorean friends my own age. I don’t want to be stuck only hanging out with GCY Fellows. Not that I don’t love them but I’ll never learn Spanish that way. Oh yeah, and turtles.
             On a side note, the way they told us our placements was they opened the door to a room filled with balloons. Inside the balloons was a tiny slip of paper with your name, location, and apprenticeship on it. To get to the paper, you had to pop your balloon. Mine was bright pink. It was a chaotic, joyful 10 minutes of popping balloons and excited screaming/hugging. I’ll try to find a video/pictures later.

Comida del Ecuador

I arrived safely in Quito yesterday after a 6 hour plane ride from San Francisco to Miami, then a 4 hour ride from Miami to Quito. We got in just as the sun was setting and it cast an orange glow over the clouds we were flying above. Beautiful way to enter a country. Everyone got off the plane in good time, and no luggage was lost in the process! A successful trip! Right now the other Fellows and I are staying in a spiritual retreat center for 3 days. When we got here, Squash Soupwe dropped off our stuff and gathered in the dining room, where individual tables and places were set out and we were served traditional Ecuadorean food including a squash soup with popcorn, Popcorn and Salsathat went along with some sort of salsa, a dish that resembled vegetable lasagna, and some sort of fruit for dessertFruit.

There was some dispute over whether they were peaches or apricots. I got a picture of everything except the lasagna dish because I was just so absorbed in eating it!

 

Today is our first official day in country. For breakfast we had bread with cheese and marmalade and some sort of fruit drink which I forgot the name ofBreakfast.

Before we started the day, we had an energizer of rock paper scissors tag in high altitude under the shadow of a mountain called Pichincha,

Pichincha

resulting in much wheezing as we made our way up the stairs afterwards. During the introduction today we talked about holidays and they served a warm, red fruit drink called colada morada, which is served on the day of lost souls, a holiday devoted to the memory of dead loved ones. It was absolutely delicious. It was thick with chunks of the various fruits including blackberries, strawberries, and pineapple .

I just got finished with lunch, were we started with soupa de quinoa, which is stocked in protein, followed by a colorful salad .

To drink, we had another exotic fruit juice by the name of maracuya (passion fruit) Passion Fruit Juice.

I am told there are 300 kinds of exotic fruit here so we only have 288 more to try. The main course was rice and lentils 

but by the time that was served, I was mostly full so I ate just a little. For desert there was one of my favorite fruits ever! Watermelon! I was so excited I didn’t even snap a picture, so you all will just have to settle for what I snapped of the aftermath.

Training and Epiphany

My training at Stanford University so far has been wonderful. Maybe it’s just the weather, but it seems like everything here is beautiful. Stanford lives up to its reputation as one of the most gorgeous campuses in the world. The architecture of the dorm we’re staying in reminds me of a small Italian villa. And while I knew California was renowned for its perfect climate, the weather still came as a great relief from the North Carolinian humidity.

However, I barely have time to enjoy the frequently visiting breeze that winds through campus with all the seminars and schedule cramming. I don’t mind it so much, though. Being busy keeps my mind off home and makes me focus on the year ahead. Maybe that’s the point. But thanks to some of the seminars we’ve had on the different sectors, I’m pretty sure of the specific field I want to be in this year. I now know I definitely want to work in women’s reproductive rights. I was influenced by two instances. First of all, I recently read a nonfiction book titled The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of the Acumen Foundation, about bridging the wealth gap by working in the developing world. In the book, ­­­­Novogratz describes her experiences working with women in developing countries to give them the opportunity of recieving small loans in a system called micro financing. Through working with these women and seeing the impact they had on their communities, she observed something call the Girl Effect. By empowering women through education opportunities, entrepreneurship, and family planning, the entire community is helped because women are proven to reinvest 90% of their income back into the community while men are shown to only reinvest 30-40%.

The second thing that influenced my decision was a seminar we had on this Girl Effect. A representative from the Girl Effect organization came and talked to us about how the Girl Effect benefits all parts of society and how men often also benefit from a women’s liberation. I’m convinced one of the biggest ways to affect a community is through empowering its young women. Of course, it also appeals to me because, hey, I’m a young woman. And through Global Citizen Year, I’m being empowered myself. I feel that empowering other young women is the right thing to do with this opportunity I’ve been given.

I don’t know for sure that I’ll be placed in an apprenticeship for reproductive rights but I’ve talked to one of my Team Leaders, Lila and we bonded over our passion for the subject and veganism, funny enough. She told me that being a vegetarian in Ecuador is actually a possibility! But that’s a topic for another post later. If I work hard enough to learn Spanish, I have a good possibility of being placed in the apprenticeship of my dreams! I am excited to go forward!

For more information on the Girl Effect visit http://www.girleffect.org/

News & Observer Guest Column

As of today, the first guest column for the News & Observer has been released! I hope you all enjoy it! Find the paper or read it online at: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/08/21/2277295/gap-year-will-fill-pocket-with.html#storylink=misearch

(Not sure why the online article has “Clayton-Star” title, it was printed in the Raleigh News & Observer).

On to California Training

Saying goodbyes at the airport. Sunday morning about 6:00AM.

Today, I left Raleigh, North Carolina at 6:50am EST with rain making the black streets shine in the light of the airport. I was nervous, yes. Excited, yes. But more than that, my mind was busy. For the last two weeks I’d been going over list after list: what to pack; what to clean; what to pick up from the store; what did I really need to live for a year? I’d been going over these lists in my head, giving each item a mental check or star. Of course, in the Ecuador packing list from Global Citizen Year it said I’d pack some things I didn’t need and I wouldn’t pack some things I would need but here I was trying to avoid the curve. Did I put the iPod in my bag? Or did it get left on the table? Who could tell with all the things in various backpack pockets. Of course, the iPod was in the little baggie tucked under a book at the bottom of my bag, right where I had put it. Of course, it got put in with everything else. I hadn’t left anything behind, right? Besides the only place I’ve ever lived, I mean.

It didn’t matter that anything I’d forgotten was well gone by then. I’d already boarded the plane, awaiting take off. Anything left on the dining room table was staying in Raleigh. But I felt like I needed to know that one thing that was missing, and I could feel it, a dim light calling attention to the one list with the one item I’d forgotten among the hustle and bustle.

I turned my mind to the window to distract myself with the slow pull of an airplane dragging itself to its runway. I do love watching airplanes take off from the inside. I intend to never take an advanced physics class so the flight of a jet is always like magic to me. Reaching the runway, the vibrations of an engine somewhere beneath us warned of our departure. The little white lines on the asphalt outside the miniscule window began to zip by faster and faster. The engines roared in a united effort and buzzing in my feet stopped as the front wheels lifted off the runway. The back wheels followed. And just like that, we suddenly weren’t on the ground anymore. It’s funny how most people are nervous of traveling by airplane when flying is the favored would-be superpower.

As the plane leveled out, people began to relax in their seats, assured that the worst part was over. The pressure of a rising altitude built up in my ears and I yawned in an attempt to relieve them. When my ears finally popped, something else in my head popped as well and I remembered the one thing I’d forgotten: Q-tips. The only thing I’d forgotten was Q-tips. I smiled with ease knowing both that I probably wouldn’t need them too badly and that I probably was going to be alright.

Dinner & Movie Night

Ecuadorian “dinner and a movie” night was a huge success, thank you to the 30+ people that came to Raleigh Charter, sampled our cooking and watched the movie “End of the Spear”. This was a joint event with Lauren Holt, another Global Citizen Year Fellow that will be traveling to Ecuador.

We experimented with some Ecuador cuisine such as fried Plantains, Menestra de Porotos, and festive bean salad. The movie was very good, a true story of missionaries in Ecuador – my brother Wilson loved it!

Many thanks to Raleigh Charter High School for supporting this event!

Photoshoot

Glamorous, I am not. So when 919 Magazine wanted to do a student profile of me and talk about my year in Ecuador I thought it would be great if they would do little blurb or something. Then they mentioned the price: a photoshoot.

To me, the concept of a photoshoot always seemed like sort of a vanity event, like “look how gorgeous I am”. But it’s what the magazine needed to make the article so regardless of my photoshoot inhibitions we made an appointment with the magazine’s photographer. Then the preparation as in, what do I wear? Should I put on makeup? Does it matter if the shoes match? And no matter how witty the photographer, it is almost impossible to produce a photogenic grin on cue.

Funny enough, the photographer turned out to be from Guatemala and excitedly asked me if I knew Spanish. Upon hearing my answer of “No, not at all,” he laughed and told me I’d learn quickly. Despite my sore smiling muscles, the shoot was not as hard as I expected. Even my dog enjoyed himself; he ended up in some of the photos as well.

Look for the article in the September issue but in the meantime, check out these pictures my dad snapped of the photoshoot while in progress! Behind the scenes!

I’ll never be glamorous per se, but it was fun and there are some great pictures of me and our new puppy, Nikon.

[Updated 9/8/2012: Here is a link to the September issue, see page 16: http://issuu.com/dreamlakemedia/docs/919magazine_zone2_issue003?mode=window&backgroundColor=#222222]

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