Thursday, December 10, 2009

Constant adjustment

For us, living in Ecuador is all about learning how to do everything all over again. And it’s not just the language or the culture, although that certainly presents its own daily obstacles. I’m talking about the minutiae of everyday life, the stuff you do that you don’t even realize you’re actually doing. I’d thought some things to be universal, that humans held a set of commonalities built into our DNA. As it turns out, you can’t take anything we do, not the smallest detail, for granted. Let me explain.

Waiting in line. I don’t remember the first time I tried to buy something here, but I learned soon enough that something was a little off, at least according to my perspective. I do remember stopping to get a bottle of water one day at a little bread store. The person running the counter was helping somebody else, so I waited behind, as I thought would have been standard practice. A minute later, some guy shows up, walks right up to the front, and just speaks his order like I was invisible or something. Even worse, this guy was served as soon as the counterperson was done helping the previous customer. What the hell? I was pretty annoyed, but I was new in the country, and I figured maybe there might be better ways to represent the US than by getting into a fistfight with the first person that looked at me cockeyed.

When entering a busy place, at home anyway, I’m used to lining up behind the people who are already waiting, letting them have their turn, and then doing what I came to do. After a few weeks in country, I was beginning to think that maybe my experience with the line cutter wasn’t an isolated incident. It would happen everywhere. People just don’t wait in line here. You walk in and go right to the front. Getting customer service anywhere in Ecuador is like trying to get a drink from a really busy bartender; it’s all about jockeying for position, boxing-out the competition, and using your outside voice while shoving your money in whosever face is running the place.

Luckily for me, I’m tall, and I tend to stick out down here, so now that I know how the game’s played, I don’t have much trouble getting what I need. But learning the system meant enduring some pretty frustrating experiences. I’ve already written about the post offices here, but the lines at the branch in Quito were out of control. There were benches for waiting and everything. They even told us they would call our names when it was our turn. What it basically came down to was everybody crowding around this little window screaming his or her name every ten to fifteen seconds until somebody responded. Needless to say, we wound up waiting for a while.

Another nightmare scenario was our first trip to the bank. I forget why didn’t just use the ATM, but for whatever reason we needed to speak to somebody. Upon entering the bank, you actually see a bunch of lines, people lined up waiting for service, which is encouraging, but ultimately misleading. There were maybe seven or eight lines all leading to various tellers and desks. Once we figured out which line we were supposed to “wait” in, we noticed how after about twenty minutes or so we hadn’t moved much closer to where we needed to be. Could we have been farther away? It’s very possible. People just kept cutting. A person would walk in and right away cut four people in line. Then those people that just got cut would cut another five people. There were no confrontations or anything; it was all very passive-aggressive. It had all the characteristics of a line – people, waiting, standing single file – but with the constant shuffling it was anything but.

It all came to a head one day while I was waiting to buy something at some random store somewhere. I was waiting and blah blah blah this lady comes in and just orders ahead of me. That’s it, I can’t take it anymore! I turn to her and go, “excuse me, I was waiting here first, you just cut me,” trying to sound just pissed off enough to let her know I was serious without going overboard and sounding like some maniac. Hopefully I could handle this myself, without the police having to get involved. She just looks at me, confused, and says, “Well, you were just standing there.”

And that’s when I realized that I just hadn’t understood the system. Here, you’re expected to just walk in and order. Suddenly a fog lifted; things got immediately better. There were some minor details to iron out, like, I wasn’t sure if you were supposed to let little old ladies order ahead of you. I mean, with my size I didn’t want to be a bully. Unfortunately, any hesitation is a sign of weakness, an invitation for everybody else to cut you right then and there.

Now when I enter a place, I feel like I’m finally getting the respect and attention that I deserve, that I wouldn’t even get in the States. It’s great; I just walk in, walk through everyone right to the front, and demand my order in a loud voice from whoever happens to be serving. And it’s totally acceptable! Out of my way grandma, I’m here, and I need to be taken care of, right now.

Hand signals. Here’s something else that I thought was universal: trying to give someone a very basic message from far away using your hands. For example: hey, come here for a second, or no. Again, nothing should be taken for granted. It started when I’d see people down the street, and they would hold up an arm and wave only their hand, palm facing away and down. Then they would wave just that hand, all the way down and up again. I hope I’m describing it well enough for you to picture it correctly. I guess it would be similar to a person on stage receiving a standing ovation and trying to signal for everybody to please sit down, expect only with one hand, not two … and more wrist action.

Anyway, I just didn’t get it. Was I being made fun of or something? How should I respond? Should I even respond? Being at a complete loss, I figured it was kind of similar to someone waving hi, someone like a two-year-old, but still. So I just started waving back. I didn’t take to long to at least figure out what this hand signal didn’t mean, which was to say hi. For some reason, some reason that I still don’t understand, it’s a signal for you to come over. I’m used to palm facing up, with fingers motioning towards the signaler as the standard means to call someone over, but who said that was universal, right? So picture me for the first few weeks here, and every time somebody tried to get me to come over, I’d just be standing there waving back, smiling like an idiot before I eventually just walked away.

Another hand signal they do is sticking out the pinky down and thumb up, and then shaking this side to side. This is supposed to mean no, but only if you’re asking for something … I think. Like if I’m trying to flag down a ride, and the driver gives me one of those, I know I have to keep looking. If I’m looking for a drink, this sign will mean they’re all out.

There are still more signs that I have yet to figure out. Sometimes I’ll say hi to someone and they’ll just kind of point in the opposite direction. So I’ll just kind of stand there and smile. Once in a while somebody will point up a finger and move it around in a circle. Again, I have no idea. As frustrating as not knowing the very basics of everyday life, thankfully I haven’t lost it enough to test out the universality of one of our most infamous hand signals.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Moving out

Joannah and I have finally moved into our own apartment. We painted, bought appliances, and just about finished unpacking. What a difference it makes to have some personal space. Our host family was really great, but Jo and I were sharing a room where, laying down on the bed, I could easily touch all four walls. Plus, on any given day, our adoptive parents would lock up the house at 7:30 and go to bed, leaving us trapped in our walk-in closet. It’s great not to have to whisper to each other all night long.

The other huge bonus of having our own place is having our own kitchen. I’ve mentioned earlier that our host mom is great cook, but we were both getting a little sick of having rice and potatoes on every plate. Also, pretty much every dish is preceded by a bowl of scalding hot soup. Don’t get me wrong, soup’s great, but I’m used to eating the occasional bowl usually sometime during the winter. The 80-degree temperature just makes the soup seem somehow unappealing.

Back in the US, Jo and I were used to eating light breakfasts, a bigger lunch, and a decent sized dinner. Here, breakfast is huge. Not like a five-egg omelet huge, but like a mountain of rice with a whole fish huge. I would be struggling to digest my food when I’d look at my watch and realize that it’s lunchtime already. If breakfast here is huge, lunch is huge squared. After the giant soup, you’d get another few pounds of rice, maybe three or four whole potatoes or some other starch, possibly some chicken, meat, or another whole fish, and beans. Really good stuff here, but with little variation, the almuerzos (lunch) sometimes felt like a chore.

The reason that lunches are so big here, I think, is because it’s basically supposed to hold you over until breakfast the next day. Dinner here isn’t really a meal at all. Usually we’d have some coffee and bread, and maybe a little rice. I’m sorry, but by 6 or 7pm I’m out-of-my-mind hungry. A piece of bread and some instant coffee are just not going to cut it. Jo and I would feel really bad sneaking out of our host family’s house afterwards to forage for food, but it was between that and listening to empty stomach while sitting in our tiny room for the rest of the night. I swear, some nights I would look at Joannah and I thought I was seeing a nice roasted chicken asking me why my mouth was watering.

Things weren’t that bad, I mean, we always had the soft-serve guy to hopefully look around for, but right now we are just so much happier. We’ve cooked meals that we hadn’t had in so long: tacos, hamburgers, salads. I think this is probably the first we’ve eaten vegetables since we came to Ecuador.

Which is kind of surprising seeing as how fresh produce is so readily available. Every Thursday in our community, all of the communities from the whole county set up shop to sell their fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. Not only do they have everything, but they have everything for really cheap. Mangos are around eight to ten for a dollar, avocados the same. We’ll spend at the most, five bucks, and we’ll have more than enough for an entire week’s worth of meals. It’s so much more than just an open market; people come from very far away to sell anything you can imagine. There are really great snacks that aren’t available for the rest of the week. Someone usually roasts a whole pig. There’s this guy who sells hard-boiled quail eggs (which Joannah hates, but I think are great.)

Trucks pull up and unload totally random crap, from baby shampoo to sneakers. These guys will stand on top of their cars with megaphones, trying to convince you to buy their stuff with the same intensity of someone leading a mass protest. They are relentless; I rarely hear them stopping for a breath. Moving from one item to the next, they have such an intimate knowledge of every product. “Buy this baby shampoo! It’s extra soft and extra delicate for your baby’s soft skin!” He’ll open it up, pour some on his hand, smell it. “Ahh! How lovely! Such a wonderful aroma! And everything is 100% natural, absolutely no chemicals!” It’s like watching the late Billy Mays trying to empty out a CVS after a cocaine binge, in Spanish.

What we gained in personal freedom we lost somewhat in privacy. People from all over our community feel inclined to constantly check up on us … making sure we are still eating now that we’re on our own, listening, but not believing us when we tell them that a sandwich (no soup) is enough for lunch, telling us that we missed a spot after sweeping the floor. Plus, a lot of people assume that, because we are health volunteers, we must be doctors. We had this old guy at our door showing us a bunch of medical records and x-rays asking us for a second opinion. Despite the constant visits, we are glad to be getting to know more people from the community.

Everything is great now that we’re on our own. I’d love to stay and chat some more, but there’s someone at the door with a nail protruding from his foot. Joannah, scalpel.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Going postal

The postal service in Ecuador is a lot different than what we’ve been used to in the US. Pretty much any Ecuadorian that I’ve asked has never even received mail, or even known where the nearest post office is. Joannah and I have had stuff sent to us. Our experiences might be indicative as to why the people here don’t even bother.

When we were still trainees back in Cayambe (about one hour outside of Quito, the capital), some packages came for us. The Peace Corps staff gave us a slip of paper instructing us to pick up our mail at some post office in Quito. Easy enough, right?

All throughout training, we were given numerous lectures about how dangerous Quito can be. Don’t walk around with tons of cash, only travel in taxis at night … basic stuff. And they explicitly warned us not to travel to certain areas. If we got robbed in these certain areas, Peace Corps would not reimburse us for any stolen money because, well, they told us not to be there in the first place. It turned out that our post office was right in the middle of one of these restricted areas. (Nothing bad wound up happening in said restricted area; I just thought it added a nice touch of suspense.)

Normally during training, the staff would have most of our mail forwarded to the post office in Cayambe, making hazardous trips like this unnecessary. Who knows why ours didn’t get sent. Maybe our package seemed suspicious. Anyway, we got to Quito and hopped in a cab.

The instructions on our slip of paper were very explicit. The post office is only open to receive packages on weekdays between 12 and 2pm. You must bring your passport as well as two additional copies. Two samples of blood will be collected upon entering the post office. Ok, ok a lot of rules, we get it.

We got there a few minutes early, and didn’t have to wait long in line. The guy behind the counter took our forms, made us pay some money for them holding on to the package, and gave us a receipt. So we took our receipt, and waited for the guy to go and fetch us our package, but he wasn’t even getting up out of his swivel chair. What the hell? The people in the rapidly growing line behind us were getting antsy.

Handing in your papers and paying for your package wound up being only step one in a multi-stepped mail retrieval processing system. After the line we sat in this room with a bunch of hard wooden benches while we waited for our names to be called. Our name was called and some guy took us to a room with tons of packages. He found our package, ripped it open, (it was candy!) took some notes, and taped it back up. I grabbed the package, thanked the guy, and started walking out.

But he stopped us. That was only step two. A two-step process would have been way too easy. I mean, maybe in some other city’s post office that would fly, but this is Quito, the capital, a major city with a major post office with a major pain-in-the-ass multi-stepped process. You can’t just take your package and go after step two. Back to the benches we were sent.

We were called in to some customs office. Some customs guy told us that because our package contained goods that were foreign in nature, we would have to pay a tax. We looked at each other and cringed. After coming all this way, after waiting for so long, would we have to abandon our precious candy at some customs office in Quito? The customs guy calculated our tax: 37 cents.

Whew! That’s it? Great! Here you go, I’ll just reach into my pocket here … oh look, I’ve got tons of change! All right, 37 cents it is. Now if you’ll just open your hand and take the 37 cents that I’m trying to give to you, we can just take our package and be on our way. So just take the money. Why are you looking at me like that? Wait, what are you telling me? You’re not the one who takes the money? Step four, there’s a step four? Shit!

Step three wound up being having that customs guy add up the bill. The paying would take place during step four. Customs guy printed us out about twelve pieces of paper. All we had to do was take these papers to the bank down the block and pay the 37 cents. The lines at the bank were very, very long. You would think that the ridiculously-small-customs-tax would correspond with an equally ridiculously-small-customs-tax-paying-line, but that wasn’t the case. Pretty much everybody that came in the bank after us tried to cut us in line. I told them they could back-cut, but frontsies were out of the question.

I handed the bank lady our 37 cents. But there was a bank fee. It was seventy-something cents. We were later told that the whole point of step four being off-site at a bank was to prevent customs people at the post office from overcharging and pocketing a profit. So now, instead of having random corrupt postal employees ripping people off and making a few extra dollars, they centralized the corruption, and now a huge bank is raking in significantly more money in the form of many collectivized micropayments. I had steam fuming from my ears as I handed her two bucks.

She smiled, handed me my change, and printed me off another dozen or so pages to bring back to the post office. We waited some more on the benches, handed a giant stack of papers to another postal employee, waited while this employee typed a bunch of stuff in a computer, signed our names, and finally … finally we were given our package. Just short of 2pm, where you know they would’ve locked up for the day had we not gotten back from the bank in time.

On the positive side, the candy was delicious.

When we got our site assignment, Peace Corps told us that there was a post office in a small town about an hour away from us. This is where we would be sent our malaria medicine and whatever else. About a month after we moved, my mom told us that we had two more packages on the way.

Nobody at our site had even heard of a post office nearby. When we got into town, we started asking random people if they knew where it was. Some people told me in Quito, about eight hours away. Finally someone had the information we needed, and directed us to a side street not that far away.

We eventually found the post office; only, it wasn’t really an office as much as it was a table set up in front of an apartment. The lady who ran the table turns out to pretty much be the post office for our site. She’s really nice. She gave us her home phone number and told us to call her whenever we need mail and she’s not outside. She even took our phone numbers too.

And one day she called and told us that we had a big package waiting. I could have sworn that my mom told me that there were two coming, but maybe I couldn’t understand her Spanish. We took the bus into town, gave her a call, and she handed us a package (more candy!) along with another slip of paper informing us that our other package was .1 kg overweight and was therefore detained at a larger postal facility in nearby Latacunga. We were to bring this notice as well as two copies of our passports to blah blah blah godammit!

Due to a nationwide strike, the busses were out of commission for a while, and it was another month before we had an opportunity to catch the six-hour bus to Latacunga. Needless to say, it was a pretty good excuse to get away for the weekend.

This post office also had very explicit hours of operation, and I arrived 9am on a Monday morning by myself (Joannah was off on another errand) ready for anything. Luckily, Latacunga happens to be a much more user-friendly city in terms of mail. Two steps, tops. I paid my fee and was told I just had to have my package examined and I’d be on my way.

Out comes a member of the Ecuadorian military to personally inspect the package. He put down his giant semi-automatic gun and ripped open the top. Why couldn’t this one have just been candy? Out pours the contents of the girliest package anyone has ever been sent. Pumice stones … nail files … makeup … lotions. Staring at all the stuff, he turned and gave me a look of what had to have been a mix of bewilderment and disgust, and then back at the stuff. He picked up a five-pack of Tide To-Go pens and asked me what they were. I tried to tell him as casually as I could – in my very best Spanish – that they were special markers used to rub stains out of your clothes if you made a mess while you were out of the house. I managed to get out of the post office without the nice soldier having to reach for his machine gun.

Seeing as how the mail here can be problematic, I’ve come up with a new system if anyone wants to send us anything else while we’re down here. Just label the package with our names in bold, clear letters. Then, wait for a really strong southern wind. Now, build some sort of hot-air balloon, small enough to reassure anybody that, no, there aren’t any runaway kids aboard, but big enough to keep our package afloat. Thanks in advance, and I’m sure we’ll get it in no time.

Also, the post office in Quito didn’t actually make us give blood samples. I was just kidding.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The soft-serve guy

One of the highlights of any day here is when the soft-serve guy comes around. Think Mr. Softy, but instead of an ice cream truck, it’s a really old pickup truck. And instead of the Mr. Softy music that let’s you know he’s getting closer (or farther away,) you can tell when this guy is near by the sound of the diesel powered soft-serve machine. When I say diesel powered, think of a chainsaw. It’s ridiculously loud. When the soft serve comes out, the whole truck starts shaking violently. Whereas Mr. Softy has pretty decent brand-name recognition, the soft-serve guy’s pickup has a giant picture of those two babies from the Flintstones and the name “Bam-Bam” – not “Bam-Bam Soft-Serve,” just “Bam-Bam” – written on top. It all seems very arbitrary; I don’t really get it. We just call him soft-serve guy.

The soft-serve guy has the power to make or break any given day, regardless of how well that day has been going so far. This has to do with the fact that: a), his soft-serve is just delicious, and, b), you never know when he’s going to show up, if he’ll show up at all, or how long he’s going to stay there, if he’s even there in the first place.

Just imagine me, here in Ecuador, having a terrible day. I’m just about ready to beat somebody up, when I turn the corner and there he is. Yes! “What flavor do you have today?” I’ll ask. Like it even matters, it’s not as if I’ll turn anything down. Plus, he usually only has either strawberry, or rum. Twenty-five cents later, I’m euphoric. Running into the soft-serve guy is seriously one of the best things that I can hope will happen to me any day of the week.

But hoping I’ll run into him is the best I can do, seeing as how he runs a mobile operation without steady office hours. Which is really unfortunate if I’m ever just sitting around thinking about how great some soft-serve would be right about now. It’s never going to happen. He can pop up anywhere. Sometimes he’s driving through our community, but I’ve seen him as far as an hour bus ride away. Trying to look for the soft-serve guy is like trying to find a specific song on the radio. What are the chances?

Just as he has the power to lift me out of any crappy mood, the soft-serve guy can ruin even the happiest of days. Sometimes it’s worse than others. For example, this one time I was looking out the window on the bus and I saw him pass us going the other direction. It didn’t ruin my day exactly, but it definitely stung. What’s really bad is when you see him driving away from you down the road.

Shit! I just missed him! I’ll start to run after him. If he stops to sell some soft-serve, maybe I can catch up. And for a while it’ll be this weird sort of dance, where I gain on him, then he drives further away. I’ll get closer, but he doesn’t notice me so he keeps on driving. Eventually I just have to accept the fact that he’s gone, and he’s not coming back for me. This sucks because now I’m really far away from where I started and I have to walk all the way back. Plus, everyone’s staring at me for sprinting down the street, waving my hands like a lunatic. To top it all of, I don’t have any soft-serve. None. I could see it, almost taste it, but all I have is an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach that I know won’t be gone until tomorrow. Now that can ruin a day.

But even that wasn’t as bad as the worst soft-serve guy experience I’ve had so far. This one day I was sitting outside the house when I saw the soft-serve guy right down the block, totally stopped. I could have so easily just bought the soft-serve right then, and had a fantastic day, but Joannah was upstairs, and I felt guilty eating it without her.

I had to act fast. If I tried to get her to come down, the soft-serve guy would probably be gone by the time I came down. That’s just how it works. You’re lucky if you run into him in the first place. If you found a twenty-dollar bill on the ground, you wouldn’t run upstairs for backup.

You’re probably thinking, why couldn’t I have just bought her the soft-serve and gave it to her when she came out? Impossible. For one thing, I would have had to hold both cones in the same hand while I used my other hand to give him the fifty cents. Since the soft-serve is so fresh, the two would have gotten stuck together, making it really difficult to pull them apart. One of the best parts about a soft-serve cone is the way it comes out so perfect, every time. It’s how ice cream is supposed to look. Even if I could somehow get the two unstuck, the whole aesthetic would have been ruined. Also, it would have just been a huge mess. Better for us both to each be handed our own cone.

Ultimately, I decided to run up and get her. It was a toss-up, really, but I didn’t have any more time to deliberate. When she heard my shouting from the stairs, “Hurry! Soft-serve guy!” she ran down really fast. We were out the door maybe forty-five seconds later. Unfortunately, as you probably guessed, the soft-serve guy was nowhere in sight. Everywhere we looked, people were enjoying soft-serve.

This was about three weeks ago. Joannah and I haven’t spoken since.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

So this one time at the morgue ...

One time our host mom was gone all day. When she finally did show up that night, she wasn’t looking too happy. Apparently, her friend’s son had died in a motorcycle accident the night before. Our host mom had spent the whole day with her grieving friend. A few days later, she starts telling us all about how when there is a funeral in the community, everybody pulls together and helps out. Some people give animals, some make food, and everybody pitches in to pay for the funeral.

So after she tells this, I naturally assume this has to do with the guy who died just a few days ago. When I asked her, though, she got this really confused look on her face. “Remember,” I said, “the guy who crashed his motorcycle? The day you spent consoling your friend?” (Although, I should note, in my attempted Spanish it probably translated more literally to, “Remember, sad friend’s motorcycle kills son?”)

“Oh yea,” she remembered, “he’s fine now.” Apparently – and she told us this so casually – they thought that the guy was dead, but he woke up in the morgue after a day or two. Joannah and I just stared at each other, definitely thinking the same exact thing: holy shit, if we get into some sort of accident, and we’re not exactly responsive in the hospitals, they’re going to drop us off in the morgue! How long would they wait for us to revive before they start asking our neighbors to chip in for a coffin?

The guy actually wound up dying a little more than a week later in Guayaquil, (Ecuador’s largest city, about five hours from us.) There was another day of grieving. Then our host mom started the collection to pay for the funeral. True to her word, they raised enough to haul the body back to the community and to cover all the expenses. After the funeral she spent the whole day in the graveyard with her friend.

That night at dinner I asked if the mom was very upset. Yes, it was a ridiculous question to ask. It’s like asking the parents of a newborn baby if they are happy now that the baby’s born. But my Spanish is not all that great, so sometimes it’s either say completely ridiculous things or just sit there and stare. Anyway, the answer was no. The mother wasn’t upset at all. In fact, things are much better this way. Everybody’s happy. Apparently the son was a drunk (that’s how he got into both of his motorcycle accidents) who would steal from his mom and beat her up too. I’m not sure if this is a happy or sad ending, but the moral of the story remains unchanged: if you get into some sort of an accident here, and you can’t wake up, they’re sending you to the f´n morgue!

Monday, September 21, 2009


We have way too many rats in our host family’s house. As I am typing this sentence, a rat is staring at me right outside our bedroom window. At first, we would hardly ever see them; now they have become a nightly nuisance. It’s not like the place didn’t have rats and all of the sudden now there are rats. I’m pretty sure they’ve been here long before our arrival. There are plenty of open places in this house where they can run in and out as they please. Also, there are a lot of fruits and vegetables lying around for them to snack on, making this a pretty, well, I don’t want to say a welcoming place exactly, but a generally hospitable environment. I get why they are here. What I don’t understand is the change in their behavior around us over the past month. They used to be so discreet – like ninjas, really – that at first I didn’t have any reason or concrete evidence to think they’d be a significant part of our lives here. But things are different now. I have a theory about why they gradually decided to make their presence felt.

What it boils down to, I think, is that the rats eventually figured out that Joannah and I pose absolutely no threat whatsoever to their existence and/or continued well being. I’ll start from the very beginning. Like I already explained, for the first week or so – other than the little specks of dirt in the kitchen that I thought maybe might be mouse droppings – I had no reason to suspect rats. Then, one night when I was reading in bed, I spotted something outside the bedroom window. It was a mouse, possibly, I thought, unclear because as soon as I looked up, it ran away. Due to lack of any screening in the window, we decided to start sleeping with the windows closed.

After that, we started hearing things at night, noises coming from the floor above us. These sounded a little bigger than mice. And we have plenty of experience with mice. In our apartment in the Bronx, there were tons. They are gross, sure, but they are only about three inches long. Once in a while there would be roaches maybe just as big. Plus, mice are totally afraid of you. They do everything mousely possible to make sure that they are rarely, if ever, seen. I don’t like mice, but I can kind of deal with them.

I couldn’t always kind of deal with them. In fact, some people reading this might have a hard time believing that I just wrote that I can kind of deal with mice. Joannah, for example, would probably give you a slightly different point of view. She might tell you the story of the first time we saw a mouse together. It was our junior year at college, and we were staying up late in my apartment. This was my first apartment and I had never seen a mouse before. Anyway, we saw a mouse in the apartment, and I freaked the shit out. I would have been perfectly content to spend the rest night cowering in Joannah’s dorm room, but Fordham University has some ridiculous “you can’t sign in guests to your dorm room past 3am” rule. Forced to make a decision under pressure, I did what any rational person would have done had they been in my position: I made Joannah get in my car and we drove to her parents’ place in Long Island where I cowered in the fetal position all night waking up every ten minutes with the sinking suspicion that the mouse had, however unlikely, somehow stowed away in my car and made its way to my current location. (Microsoft Word’s suggestion about that last line: unusually long sentence, consider revising.)

Praise Jesus that I happened to have a roommate who was able to take care of the situation after that. Jim borrowed a mousetrap from our landlord Neil, killed the mouse, and even cleaned up the splattered mess. What’s funny is that this mousetrap was one of those plastic ones that you just had to pop in place. In theory, I guess these contraptions could be considered “reusable,” although, I honestly can’t think of anyone who would want to manually clean up pieces of dead mouse and mouse blood just to save three bucks on something you can buy at any hardware store. Which is even funnier because Neil got mad at Jim for throwing away the mousetrap.

It would be another year until I had my next run in with mice. I had just moved into a new apartment right before my senior year had started. My two new roommates and I had dumped all of our stuff in the living room and had decided that we would wait a day or two before we started unpacking. The next day I saw a mouse run out from under the pile. This time I would be ready, brave, strong. I bought some mousetraps – single use – and went to sleep in my own bed, in my own apartment, albeit still cowering in the fetal position. The next day I woke up early, eager for some results. Sure enough, there were two mousetraps, and two dead mice. Finally, the tables had been turned. I felt like I had conquered my fears, like I had completely redeemed myself from last year’s humiliation. I got a really long broom to sweep up the first one, but as soon as I touched the mouse, it started going crazy. As it turns out, this guy got caught in the trap by the tail, wounded and immobilized, but very much alive.

Again, I freaked out. At this point, driving home wouldn’t solve many problems. For one thing, the mouse would definitely be there whenever I got back. It was just running around in circles stuck to the trap. Since my old roommate Jim was a year older than I was, he had graduated the year before and moved back to Baltimore over the summer. He couldn’t help me out of this mess. This year, I had one roommate Mike who I kind of knew, and the other one Ben, who I had just met the day before. It was 8am and nobody else was awake. I could have either woken up Mike, who would have probably thought I was a total nut job, and then told Ben I was a total nut job, or, I could wake up Ben to take care of things, thereby leaving my reputation with Mike hopefully, partially unscathed. Either way, I figured, I had no chance of explaining things in a non-crazy way to Ben, a guy I had just met.

To my surprise, Ben was already awake in his room watching “Modern Marvels” on the History Channel in his underwear. As it turns out, Ben is somewhat of a morning person, and was willing to help me out, although he was pretty pissed about missing his show (I think this episode of “Modern Marvels” was explaining the history of the doorknob or something.) I stayed in the corner explaining what had happened and pointing at the mouse. Hopefully, I thought, the two of us can think of a solution. Ben heard me out for about half a minute, then picked up an empty 16 oz. Poland Spring bottle and started beating the mouse to death. This was not a quick death. To this day, I’m still kind of surprised that he hadn’t chosen a blunter object. After it stopped twitching, Ben simply picked up the mouse, threw it in the trash, and went back to his room. I felt not as brave as I had ten minutes ago, and Ben never got the full history of the doorknob.

However humiliating this may have seemed, I try only to see the improvement shown since my first mouse encounter. Strengthened by experience, I felt like I had fortified my resolve in the war on mice. Over the next few years, I would go on not only to successfully kill mice by myself (with trap), but also to successfully have someone clean up the dead bodies after I successfully checked if said bodies were in fact, dead.

All of my experience is completely irrelevant now that I know we are dealing with rats here. Like I said before, the rats have started to show up more often, and with each visit, have shown decidedly more courage. The first rat that I had spotted briefly outside my bedroom window started showing up again, on a semi-regular, and then on a nightly basis. At first it would run away if I looked up, after a while only if I made any sudden movements, not much later only if I clapped my hands or made a sound, and finally, only if and when it felt like running away, which couldn’t even be considered running away anymore, really, more like just leaving.

This all supports my earlier hypothesis. The rats were testing me from the beginning. With each encounter, they realized that I am completely powerless of doing anything to harm them. Sure, the rat’s nature is to run away when threatened by something bigger, but the truth of the matter is that I am incapable of posing any threat, and that if these rats wanted to, they could be taking the offense, aggressively running me right out of this house.

Our host mom told us that one time she took some rat poison, put it on some fish, left it out overnight, and killed fifteen rats in one night. I really, really hope she doesn’t do this because, as much as I hate the rats, I really can’t imagine the nervous breakdown that would result from me waking up and finding upwards of a dozen rats lying belly up, scattered throughout the house.

We are (hopefully) moving into our own place in a few weeks, and not a minute too soon. Please don’t get me wrong; I love our host family. The mom is an amazing cook. We are having such a great experience here and learning so much. But the rats act like they own the place, and pretty soon they’ll be charging us rent. They’ve run in and out of our bedroom three times since I started writing this entry. Also, a giant moth just flew in the room. On the plus side, the fetal position is unquestionably more comfortable than I remembered.

ONE MONTH MARK IN SITE!!!! Woooooooohooooooo

September 20, 2009

I cannot believe how quickly it passed. The days here are very long but the weeks go by so quickly. We are still in the stage where we are trying to figure out how we fit in this new place we will be calling home for the next two years. So far it has been a series of ups and downs. Some days everything seems so natural and comfortable. While other days, I feel completely off the mark – like an outsider constantly looking in. Some days I love the casual pace at which everything is done. While other days, I get frustrated with the lack of urgency and rapidness that is so common in the States. Some days I love waking up to the sound of the roaring river and the views of the palm trees and mountains. While other days, I miss waking up to the sounds of car horns and traffic and the view of the brownstones from our old apartment in Astoria.

During the intergration process into a new culture, there are some things that you change about yourself voluntarily, some things you are forced to change, and other things you refuse to change. I guess everyone draws their own line when it comes to integration into a new culture – what norms they are willing to accept and what norms they are not. I think I am still trying to figure this out. Sure I am willing to laugh at the fact that there are days with no running water, but I most definitely will still be bathing everyday – even if it means just jumping in the river. I could happily deal with weeks where the electricity can be unreliable, but I have found myself freaking out when I couldn’t find my moisturizer.

All sorts of random opportunities for sharing of ideas, habits, and norms arise. For example, today I decided to give myself a manicure (weekly manicures are definitely something I don’t plan on giving up while in the Peace Corps) and had started the process of removing my old nail polish while sitting outside. (We have fun little critters that have taken charge of our room and sometimes I feel our lives (Rob’s post covers most of this), so we spend a lot of time just sitting outside of our house during our free time.) Within minutes my host sister and mom were intrigued with what I was doing and asked if I could give them one too. I happily agreed. One by one women from our community pulled up a chair and began chatting away. The conversation was light and happy. We talked about all sorts of random things. We talked about silly things like the importance of putting on a base coat and top coat when getting a manicure, and there was, of course, a bit of gossip shared about other neighbors. We talked about life in Ecuador and life in the States and the differences between them. We talked about ways to improve my Spanish and ways for me to teach them English. It was a fun and lazy Sunday afternoon. I got to speak about my life back home and at the same time was able to connect to the women in my community.

Ok, well before I start rambling on any further, it is getting late which means that the rats will be coming in full force soon. Rob has a crazy theory that the sound of typing on the laptop attracts the rats because it makes them think that their rat buddies are in here tapping away on the floor… I personally think it’s crazy and that the rats will come regardless of whether we are typing on the computer or not… but who knows…

Will write again soon… and I promise on our next post we will get some pictures up!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

In the past week I´ve only taken one shower

They are doing construction in our town. The road is being dug up and a new water pipe is being installed. The whole thing should take about a month or so. In the meantime, we have no running water. It´s not terrible, though. We have a river that runs right behind our house, so it´s not too much of problem to get water for stuff like flushing the toilet or brushing our teeth. Bathing, however, has become something of an inconvenience. I can take a bar of soap and jump in the river, but the water is really cold. So I´ve done that a few times. I´m pretty lucky that I happen to smell naturally fantastic.

My bike fell apart. Disintegrated, actually. It was a slow death. The brakes had gradually stopped working to the point where i had to pull on the cable under the bike if I needed to come to an emergency stop. Then the handlebars started flipping around, making grabbing the non-functioning brakes impossible. My gears then decided they would no longer shift into any other position. Finally, I was riding home from work last week, when my left pedal fell off. These two guys on a motorcycle stopped and actually helped me put it back together. It was incredible ... they hardly said anything at all. They just stopped, looked at the bike, pulled out some tools, and went to work. I stood on, giving some silent moral support. In about 15 minutes, they had the brakes working, the pedal back on, and the handlebars in their normal, upright position. I thanked them and they were on their way.

Ten minutes later, the brakes didn´t work anymore, the handlebars had flipped back down, and then both pedals fell off. I wound up walking my bike back. The place where I bought it from refused me a refund, telling me that such a tall guy shouldn´t have been on this bike in the first place. Such information probably would have been better suited at the point of sale, but whatever, lesson learned. Hopefully I can find a better bike somewhere else.

Not too much else, short post today.

I think my host mom is trying to make me fat...

Every day I fight a losing battle with my host mom. She is a great cook and she makes good food, but she just makes sooooo much of it. I tried to tell her that I can´t eat so much, but I don´t think she believes me. It just isn´t humanely possible for me to eat a whole fried fish, salad, five potates, bread, coffee, and juice as a regular breakfast. At first, I felt bad about wasting it so I would just scarf it down, but then I would feel awful the rest of the day. Then I asked her for a smaller portion, thinking she would give me a smaller plate. She did start giving me a smaller plate, but then she would pile the food on twice as high. I tried passing off the food to Rob, but he also gets huge portions so it only works sometimes... currently, trying to come up with a new plan though... otherwise, I think I am going to gain 50 pounds...

Work has been busy this week, but fortunatelly no crazy hikes... wooohoooooo... Started the week planting family and community gardens with my counterpart agency. Also, made community maps of the 11 campos I will be working in. At the end of the week Rob and I took part in a minga (which means "work party") to build a bridge over the river in our community.

Also, sad to find out this week that we won´t be having regular running water for the next month or so... and apparently, when we do have running water the electricity goes out. Fortunately, we live next to a giant river. We have been bathing in the river which is pretty cool, and luckily the electricity has only been going out during the day.

Today´s Liezl´s (my older sister) baby shower in NY. I am sooooo sad to be missing it. It is days like today that are generally the hardest. Knowing something really important is going on at home, and not being able to be there. I am super excited about having a niece though, and def will be there for the next one :)


Monday, August 31, 2009

Nosotros necesitamos caminar para una hora… (We need to walk for one hour…)

So since we do not have Internet access or cell phone service at our site, and Internet access is about an hour and a half a way… I started to do prepare blog posts ahead of time on my computer…. Enjoy… most of it is just rambling ;)

August 27, 2009

So we hit the one week mark at our site tomorrow…. Woooooohooooooooooo… It has been a crazy week.

At first I was a bit homesick. We got to our site and the realization that we were here for two years in a new community with new customs and an equivalent of first grade Spanish quickly set in. That coupled with the fact that I was missing home, our families, and our friends made the first day here really hard. Fortunately, Rob has been there to cheer me up.

Work has been really rewarding and busy. I have been working with a great organization that works with the campos in our Parochial. This week I worked with a doctor from Quito to test mothers and children for anemia, train health promoters, and assess malnutrition in communities. Malnutrition and anemia are really pressing issues in our community and these preliminary diagnostics are really helpful to figure out what sorts of projects the Campos need/want.

One visit to a Campo was particularly interesting. Rob did not have work that day since his organization was out of town and he had spent the day with our host family who had took him to buy a bike and to a restaurant for lunch; he followed that with an afternoon siesta and a game of Ecua-volley with the men of the community.

I on the other hand, did have work and was told that it was going to be an hour walk so I, left to prepare by myself (Rob usually has more sense of what’s up), had prepared by throwing on my hiking boots and buying a small bottle of water to drag along with me. Other than that though, I did little else. I figured it was just a walk and had honestly only thrown on the hiking boots at the last minute because my flip-flops were dirty and my sneakers were still packed away. I wore my favorite pair of leggings, a shirt-dress, and threw on my purse and aviators and thought I was set to go….. Well… saying that I was underprepared is an under statement… I quickly found out that by walk, they meant uphill hike and by one hour, they meant two. I should’ve known what was up when they said cars couldn’t get up to the community… but it wasn’t till later while I muddling through grass fearing that I was going to be bitten by a poisonous snake that I realized that I was soooooo beyond not prepared for this… We crossed two of those scary wooden bridges that you only see in movies, crossed a big river by jumping onto stones, walked through a forest of trees and grass, and maneuvered our way on cliffs. I definitely learned my lesson though…. I came home more exhausted, tired and hungry than I think I have ever been…

Well it is late now… and I am starting to get distracted by the lizard that is chilling on our bedroom wall… so…. I’ll leave the rest for tomorrow…



p.s. I don’t know if I am being paranoid but I swear the lizard is giving me the evil eye…

August 30, 2009

If only I went to the gym more before I joined the Peace Corps….

I have spent the past few days working with my organization to map out and chart community populations of the campos. This has included making actual maps of the houses and key spots, as well as listing the members of each community. It is really really really exhausting. Both mentally, since it means talking, thinking, and understanding Spanish all day, and physically, since we are walking to/through the campos. For example, yesterday we spent the day mapping out one of the “closer” campos. There is not any regular car service to get to many of the campos, and most of the times to get to a campo you just hitch a ride when you see a car pass by. However, on this particular Saturday there was not one to be found, so we walked. This walk was five hours long there and back up and down a “fun” series of mountains. And while the scenery was gorgeous and we did get to see llamas chilling on the side of the road, I struggled with the heat and sun since we were walking mid-morning. And by struggled, I mean thought I was going to pass out… and by thought I was going to pass out… I mean sweated like no other. All the while, my Ecuadorian counterparts made it look like no big deal and kept asking me why I wasn’t used to walking this much. At least on the plus side, because this apparently will be a regular, if not daily, occurrence I won’t need to worry about lack of exercise while in Ecuador. Also, I am definitely getting better at skipping on top of rocks… yesterday I only fell into two giant puddles which breaks my previous record of three.


What´s New?

Well it’s been an exciting week since I last had Internet service. My 40-minute bike ride to work is no joke. It’s really long, goes up and down this winding road. I was sweating very profusely. About riding the bike: Peace Corps has this rule where you’ll get kicked out of the program if they find out that you’ve been riding a bike without a helmet. Which is hilarious, because in Ecuador, people don’t even wear helmets while riding a motorcycle. There’ll be a family of four – I kid you not – on one motorcycle, and nobody has a helmet.

So you can just imagine everybody’s response when I started wandering around the nearest city asking bike shops if they carried any bicycle helmets. Most storeowners showed me motorcycle helmets, which I thought would be just a little too ridiculous. I finally settled on something that doesn’t really look like a motorcycle helmet; it looks more like those helmets that the British police officers wear. Oh and apparently my head is pretty big, and the biggest size helmet I could find was a medium, which, and this is pretty funny too, makes my head look even bigger when I wear it. Whatever, it was only six bucks.

Nobody wears a helmet for a motorcycle, and here I am looking like the geek of the week riding my bicycle with what looks like a child’s helmet. I might as well have gotten some elbow pads and taped a giant “kick me” sign to my back.

We went to a wedding last night. It was a lot of fun … great food, a really cool guitar band, and lots of whiskey. I was having trouble keeping up with our seventy-year-old host dad, and after a while I really couldn’t take the taste of whiskey any more. When I declined a shot, I thought that would be it and they would stop offering me liquor. Instead, they brought over this clear liquid in a water bottle, which, I incorrectly guessed would be water. It was this homemade booze made out of sugar cane. I swear I had to muster all of my strength to stop myself from making a face and gagging as I tried to put this stuff down. Joannah asked me how it was so I just blew a little in her direction. She made a face and told me it smelled like rubbing alcohol. I asked my host dad how strong that stuff was, and he just replied, “el ultimo.”

Last Friday Jo and I were sitting outside our house when we noticed a commotion down the street. A crowd had gathered and soon enough our host family had to join in on the action. This really old lady was sitting down with blood pouring down her face. What happened next seemed really strange, but maybe it’s just a different version of crisis management. After it was determined that her life wasn’t in any immediate danger, people started rushing to get their cameras. Everybody wanted a picture of themselves with the old lady. This was a huge event for a Friday night! We were there for maybe a minute, but the crowd lingered for hours. Walking by much later, we found everyone still huddled around the lady, but just hanging out, joking around.

The next day the rumor mill was in full force. Some say that she fell. Others say that she was hit. Apparently there’s even word that her daughter beat her up. Everybody had an opinion. On our way to the wedding the next day, our host family ran into the daughter, and sure enough asked her, “Why would you do something like that to your own mother?” I’m pretty sure I have no idea what’s going on.

Not to harp on this accident, but later on our six-year-old host sister was playing with the family’s digital camera. She turns on the camera and the first picture was a picture of that lady with the blood gushing down her face.

I wrote something about the Internet in a separate post, I hope you like it.

New Internet

I think that it’s time for a new Internet. The one we have now has been around for, what, about 20 years now right? That’s simply way too long for a product – especially a technology product – to go without an upgrade – especially something as important as the Internet. So many people use the Internet. I can’t believe no one has thought of this already.

Think about all of the other at-one-time state-of-the-art technologies that have gone through serious reinventions. Of course, we have think about the clock. I bet whoever invented the clock thought to themselves, “Hah! Nobody can ever top this … there’s simply no way to improve how I read time!” Then a digital watch was invented, making that first guy seem like a total idiot. I also saw this clock one time where a bunch of air-bubbles in a liquid container was supposed to tell you what time it was. Honestly, I don’t think that’s going anywhere. Nintendo is a great example of technology introducing constant upgrades. They started out making playing cards, worked their way up to Virtual Boy, and now we have the Wii. Can you imagine how boring video games would be now if Nintendo was as lazy as the Internet? Wii bowling just wouldn’t be the same with a deck of cards. I wonder if Nintendo plans on making a Wii 52-pick up? It would definitely bring a certain sense of closure.

This is all beside the point. I almost never play with my Virtual Boy anymore. I shouldn’t have to use this regular old Internet when something new should have come out around 15 years ago. Who the hell is in charge of the Internet anyway?

My new Internet would either be called Internet 2 (like PS2, get it?) or, even better, New Internet. I think that, whatever you wind up calling it, everybody would just call it New Internet anyway. Kind of like when Batman, the Dark Knight came out. Nobody was saying, “Hey did you get to see Batman, the Dark Knight yet?” Everyone was just going, “Hey, let’s go see the new Batman.” So I think New Internet is just more practical. Unless you had a really great marketing team that really could push something clever like Internet 2. But I would want to save the marketers for my “rebranding of the ‘old Internet’ campaign” changing Internet (or Old Internet) into Internot. This is smart on so many levels. First of all, you’re only changing one letter, so it’s easy to just throw into conversation in a condescending tone, without having to really think about what’s going on. You could go up to someone surfing the Old Internet, stand behind them for maybe a minute or so, start snickering, and then say, “more like Internot,” and then walk away laughing. That’s how I was convinced into switching to the Gillette Fusion razor.

There are two leading schools of thought on how the New Internet should be introduced. Should it be backward compatible with the Old Internet or should it be so radically different that it makes you pick a side, old or new? I say to hell with the Old Internet … we’ve been stuck with it for too long already. The last thing we need is the Old Internet influencing the development of its replacement. Who says that an Internet has to be on a computer anyway? The New Internet should be on anything but a computer. It’s no secret that computers have been completely biased to the Old Internet for far too long. We already know which Internet a computer would pick when forced to make a choice. I, for one, am sick of my computer keeping me stuck in the past. Maybe the New Internet could come in a pair of really cool sunglasses?

Some people really like the Old Internet. This is going to present a problem as the New Internet starts to take over. The best way to make the transition as smooth as possible is to make the debate really personal. A demonization campaign should win over a little more than half of those unwilling to switch. Everybody who uses the New Internet could be encouraged to wear a New Internet t-shirt or hat … something to make everyone else feel really out of the loop. A mass silent treatment would be equally effective. Anybody that still refuses to switch? Forget them. Some people don’t even have the Old Internet yet.

Also, we could strip the Old Internet down to the worst services available on the web … like Hotmail, or Netbuster (you know, that Blockbuster rip-off of Netflix?)

Look, I’m just really disappointed that I’m the only one talking about a New Internet, especially when we’re in such a dire need of one. I have a friend that actually beat the Old Internet. One day he was surfing along and then, bam, credits. Game over. For how much longer will it be able to hold itself together? I’d start it myself but I don’t know anything about computer engineering. If any of those smart Google engineers want to leave their jobs to join my start-up, then let’s do it! I can’t promise much – definitely no health insurance – besides getting on the ground floor of something that’s going to be even bigger than the Internet. I’m talking New Internet.

Also, why do you think Nintendo never came out with a Newtendo?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Settling In

Well, we swore in last Wednesday and we are officially Peace Corps Volunteers!

I´ll try to recap everything that has happened since my last post.

So we came back from the tech trip in Manabí and had our final two weeks of language and technical classes in Cayambe. The last weekend there was topped off by a huge party, complete with two roasted pigs ... delish. Then the whole group of volunteers headed to a karaoke bar to make fools of ourselves. Unfortunately, the karaoke didn´t work, but we still had a great time nonetheless.

After Cayambe, we all headed to Quito for our final days as trainees. Quito is a huge city. They have everything. Taco Bell, McDonald´s, Mountain Dew ... it was like I was back in the US for a few days. Except everyone spoke Spanish. And Taco Bell didn´t have fire sauce. Ironically, Taco Bell was the only place in the city where everything was in English.

The week in Quito was, for me, highlighted by a series of challenges. Food challenges, to be specific. On our first day, the co-trainers (current volunteers who train the newbies) challenged another volunteer and me to a McDonald´s eat-off. A Big Mac, Cheeseburger, McFiesta (which is like an all-mayonaise version of a Whopper,) large fries, soda, and a McFlurry. I think this was one of those Pyrric victories. I won, but for the rest of the day I sure didn´t feel like a winner. I should have learned my lesson, but the next day was the Taco Bell challenge. A Crunch Wrap Supreme, Gordita, Burrito Ciclon, Nachos Bell Grande, and a Taco Supreme. Taco Bell never tasted so good.

Anyway, we finished our time in Quito at a swearing-in ceremony at the Ambassador´s residendce. And when I say residence, I really mean mansion. And when I say mansion, I really mean feifdom. Haha, but seriously this place is huge. Since I have the voice of a choir of angels, I was chosen to sing the US and Ecuadorian national anthems in front of everyone. There was a huge competetion to get to sing the hymns. It was like Peace Corps American Idol. I gave my competition a huge glass of room temperature milk right before the finals, and ... ok there was no competition, I was drafted obviously because I´m the the most handsome volunteer. The Ecuadorian anthem actually went well ... it was the US one that I screwed up. There was no intro to the instrumentals, so I wound up singing the whole thing off. I´m lucky the Ambassador didn´t revoke my American citizenship.

After the swearing-in, we headed off to our sites. Considering the amount of luggage we had with us, I was surprised how smoothly we pulled the move off. On the 8 hour bus ride down, we got to watch a Columbian army movie, and a straight to DVD Anaconda sequel. I had no idea what was going on. At one point, they chopped the snake´s head off. You would think that would be enough. I was waiting for the credits to roll, when the snake grew another head, started laughing, and bit the head of the human off. I still can´t figure that one out, but it was kind of poetic.

We are at our site now. This town is a really cool place. The weather is awesome and there is a river right behind our house. There is no cell service, and the nearest internet is about an hour away, but we are making due with the lack of connection to the outside world. There is a huge basketball court where everyone plays at night. The hoops are about 12 feet high and the court is the size of a soccer field. Anyone ever play 2 on 2 full court before? We are staying with a host family for about a month or so, and then we can start looking for our own place. The family we are staying with is so cool. The mom is an amazing cook. The dad used to be president of the community. He´s like 70 something years old, but the other night he comes out and starts playing basketball with us. It was unbelievable.

I think I´ve been on the internet for about 3 hours now. I can´t really think in paragraphs anymore, and my sentence structure is starting to buckle. I bought a bicycle yesterday and I´m going to have a 40 minute ride to work everyday. I put a bunch of photos on facebook. I had a bowl of fish soup for lunch.

Thats it, I´m done. Adios

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Adventures in Manabí

Hey everybody

Jo and I just got back from a weeklong tech trip to the province of Manabí. The group was ten volunteers and three staff members. We left last Saturday afternoon for Quito, about an hour and a half away from where we´re at right now. We had about two hours to kill before our overnight bus, which was great, because we got to eat at a sushi restaurant and McDonald´s. I´ve never had sushi that tasted so good, probably because I haven´t had it in so long ... and I´ve also never eaten a Big Mac immediately after either.

Riding a bus, especially a long trip, in Ecuador is definitely an experience. The long trips are cool because they play movies the whole time. Violent, gory, bloody movies ... sometimes on repeat. The overnight bus played this movie I´ve never heard of called ¨Death Sentence¨starring Kevin Bacon and John Goodman. I´m pretty sure it was a straight to DVD release. Kevin Bacon is a typical suburban family man, until one day his son is stabbed in the stomach with a machete by a group of neo-nazis in a convenience store hold up. Bacon then starts a gang war. Basically every character in the movie is horribly killed ... legs shot of with shotguns, man trapped in car pushed off a building, etc. This movie was on at around midnight, and I was trying to get some sleep, but the tv screen was right in my face, so I could only doze off for about ten minutes at a time.

Anyway, we got to Portoviejo, the capital of Manabí, on Sunday morning. The food in this city was awesome. Not only did they have the best street burgers I´ve ever had (fried egg, bacon, ham, and cheese for about $1.50,) but the seafood was amazing. The 25 cent ceviche on the street was unbelievable. We had this huge plate of grilled fish, shrimp, calamari, clams and plaintains for about $4. No joke, this would have cost over $20 in the US.

The next few days we travelled to communities around Portoviejo to give talks to various groups. One day we had to give an HIV presentation to four groups of fifty high school kids. While I was trying to talk in front these 16, 17, and 18 year olds, all I could think about was, if some guy from another country came to my high school and tried to tell us about the importance safe sex, in horrible English, he would have gotten laughed out of the place. So in the sense that I didn´t break down crying in the middle of my talks, it was a great success.

If the high school presentations weren´t awkard enough, the next day we went to a women´s group meeting to teach how to give self breast examinations. Did I mention that I was the only guy in my ten volunteer group? Anyway, they were a lot more forgiving with my terrible Spanish than the high school kids were.

That night we stayed at this place called The Finca, which was an eco-resort. They had hammocks, more grilled seafood, some home made booze called chuchicha (I think) and a karaoke machine. Good times.

The next day we took a six hour bus ride to a city called Choni (pretty sure that´s misspelled). From there we had to take an hour and a half ride on another bus to a neighboring community. Unfortunately, the bus was packed, so we all had to sit on the roof. I kid you not. I got off the bus looking like Wolverine, covered in dust, and we had to give another presentation to a bunch of high school kids about family planning.

Talk about a total disaster. I´ll get into specifics maybe some other time, but at the end of the talk, the teacher basically told all the kids to ignore everything that we had just said. And I was profusely sweating the entire time. Awkward.

The bus ride back was a day bus this time, and we got to watch this action movie starring Dolph Lungdren ... twice. This movie was slightly harder to follow that the Kevin Bacon one, although I doubt the language barrier had anything to do with my lack of understanding. It was set in Russia, or some former Soviet republic, and in one scene, Lungdren attaches a remote controlled grenade to a guy, throws him out of a building, and detonates the bomb in mid descent. Gross. I didn´t catch the name of the movie, but in an interesting side note, the antagonist´s name was Drago. I guess he really can´t escape the fame of Rocky IV.

Anyway, training is done in about a week and then we are off to our site. We are having a great time, the food is great, and the people are awesome.

Send us some e-mail.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

First blog post

Hey everybody.

Sorry it took so long to get this thing off the ground. Joannah and I have been living in Ecuador for about a month and a half now. We are about two weeks away from being done with training, and then we are headed off to our site for two years. Training is pretty intense ... lots of language and technical classes.

Today we are headed off to a technical trip for a week. We have a nice overnight 12 hour bus ride to looks forward to, and I think we have to start working tomorrow around 8 am.

Yesterday two other volunteers and I challenged three locals to a game of Ecuavolley (Ecuadorian volleyball.) I guess it´s the same as volleyball, but for starters, it´s played in Ecuador. Also, you use a soccer ball instead of a volleyball (ouch.) Also, the net is about ten feet high. It´s a three on three game, and we definitely underestimated the talent of our opposition. We each lost $5, and the whole town was laughing it up as I spazzed out on the court, accidentally spiking the ball onto my own side of the net. Soccer balls are really hard, and today my wrists are bright red. Other than that it was a lot of fun.

The people are great here, the food is delicious (Jo and I have both eaten cuy, or guinea pig) and the country is beautiful. Check out our pics on facebook. Hopefully there will be more to come soon. Anyway, this blog took forever to set up, so the next post will be longer.


Patas.... yum!!!

Hey All,

So we have been in Ecuador for a little over a month now and just finally decided to make a blog. Hope you enjoy it!!! We are 75% done with training and will be heading to our sites in two weeks after we swear in as Volunteers. We are so excited about our site. The host family we live with is amazing and we cannot believe how beautiful it is. We will be living in a hostel that our host family runs. Our host mom is awesome and reminds me of a combination of my grandma, Aunt Nita and Martha Stewert all in one. She is an awesome cook!!!!! Plus we have running water, electricity and a WASHING MACHINE!!!! woooooooooooooooooohoooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!! We have had to wash our clothes on a rock during training.... and it has not been pretty... basically all our clothes are now rocking the stone washed look... To top it off the weather is sub-tropical and there is a giant river in the backyard...

So here are a few fun facts about Ecuador....
1) there are four main regions: 1)the Sierra (mountainous and freezing) 2)the Coast 3)the Orient (aka the jungle) and 4) the Galapagos......
2) it is totally normally to have a plate of spaghetti with a side of rice and potatoes
3)pigs are good pets and guinea pigs are a delicious meal

kk hope to post soon!!!