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.

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