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!!!