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 :)