The End

Friday, December 10, 2010

The last week in Quito and in Ecuador was a success. Everyone seems to be content in our accomplishments. We celebrated the foundation of Quito, contracted a chiva, finally saw el Panecillo...

Something something apocalypse

Nuestra Virgen de las Pesadillas

...ascended the basilica...

You can almost see Quasimodo from here

From above the city

...and said goodbye to our favorite spots in La Zona. Today we gave our final presentations, handed in our bound works, and said goodbye to the CIMAS staff, the city, the country, and most importantly each other. In only a matter of hours I will be on a plane over the Gulf, hopefully sleeping, en route to the homeland.

It will be difficult leaving all of this behind since I've grown and changed so much over the course of the semester, but I'm also ready for the comforts and familiarity of home. I'll miss the beans, but not the rice. I'll miss the sierra, but not the city. I'll miss the scenery, but not the transportation. Mainly I'll miss everyone and everything that has made this such a meaningful and complete experience. If I had to go back and do it all over again, I'd do it exactly the same.

Beginning of the End

Friday, December 3, 2010

Today is the last day of the internship with CEMOPLAF and the last day in Otavalo and Peguche. The evaluations are in, the forms are signed, and the monografía is written. Tomorrow it's back to Quito for the Foundation until Tuesday, when CIMAS will give us our final debriefing and presentations and goodbyes begin.

Other than that, nothing to report. The semester is pretty much done and in eight short days I'll be back in 'merica to pick up where I left off.

Learning to Trust

Monday, November 29, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving! What.

Was the majority of this past weekend a good idea by embassy and CIMAS standards? Probably not, but we won't tell them. CIMAS students had Thanksgiving vacation from internships and writing to travel or return to Quito. Four of us chose the former. Taylor, Kayla, Lanie and I went to the beach on a whim. Here comes the explanation of the title of this post:

We knew we wanted to go to the beach but we weren't sure where. Canoa is 12 hours away, Atacames is eight and also not the safest place in the world, and the others were either farther or not worth it. Tania suggested to me that there was a remote, beautiful beach relatively untouched by humans near San Lorenzo, a city pretty much on the Colombian border. She called her friend who had the information and helped us out by setting up the arrangements with the exception of travel. So how did we learn to trust? Thursday was our travel day and in order to stay where we were headed we had to pay up front for the cabin. First shady point, paying up front. Second shady point, we had to deposit the payment into a checking account of some guy who wasn't the owner of the cabin and wasn't one of Tania's friends.

Once we finally got payment figured out we headed to the terminal. We were under the impression it was a 2.5 hour bus ride to San Lorenzo then a 15 minute truck ride to the cabin. Perhaps this is partially true if traveling by car, but the bus (including an almost hour-long lunch break) took about four hours to San Lorenzo alone. San Lorenzo, for those who have never been there, looks a lot like Haiti. We called our hosts, Mary and Ramón, to let them know we had arrived and were ready to be picked up in the truck. We did not know it was another bus that took another hour and forty minutes. So we asked on the street and received a different answer for how to arrive every time we asked until eventually a man approached us and invited us onto his bus. Luckily, this was the correct bus and we arrived at our stop just as sunset began.

When we disembarked from the bus we were immediately greeted by a man with a hat that said "Chile" but had a picture of the state of Texas on it. I suppose they do have similar flags. He introduced himself as Ramón and took us in his pickup back to La Molinita. The ride back provoked songs from the Lion King as long-necked white birds flew in flocks over strange-looking cows just as the sun went down. La Molinita is literally breathtaking; we could not muster the human words to describe the immense relief and awe we experienced upon our arrival. We had our own cabin (and I had my own loft within) that looked out onto the untouched beach. I have rarely seen stars so bright or sand so fine.

The confusion of standing in the back of a moving pickup truck

La Molinita at 7 a.m.

The touristic problem with the northern Esmeraldas coast is that it is on the Colombian border and is predominantly Afro-Ecuadorean, meaning that although it is safe, beautiful, and has the friendliest most humble people in the country it does not receive much tourism since the US embassy suggests that its citizens not travel so close to the border and Ecuadoreans suggest that most don't travel there because, let's face it, the country is pretty much racist towards everyone. This means that there is rampant poverty in this region but since it is an untouched area there isn't a real crime problem. Most of the people are fishermen or fruit farmers but have no outlet for their products. For this very reason, when we arrived shrimp was thirty cents a pound and papayas were pretty much being given away.

To continue with food, Mary was the best cook I've met since arriving in the country. At night we would have coffee and bolones de verde or empanadas de verde, both cheese-filled fried plantain fritters. For breakfast on Friday we had fillet of fish with rice and patacones. For lunch we had six-inch long prawns and fish soup with melon milkshakes. Breakfast on Saturday was the real winner, with the same prawns as well as lobster tail, plantain medallions, and a volcano of rice and tomatoes, served with coconut milk. For four dollars. Mary refuses to use store-bought seasonings since it harms the stomach or something, but I don't think any of us could complain.

When we got back it was census day, the first full census in about two decades from my understanding. Nothing was open so we stocked up on food and had a cooking festival so as to not go onto the street and get arrested. For Sunday dinner I had fire-roasted cuy and, for a nighttime snack, Mario brought a protein-rich snack: fried beetles, which were a thousand times better than the churros from earlier this month. Now it's the last week of internships, our papers and presentations are due next week, and the program ends next Saturday.


At first the buzzing came softly; but a shadow of a sound. Then it grew, resounding in the children's ears, the hum of a billion tiny wings beating against polished carapace, until nought was heard but the deafening drone. The End had arrived.

November Has Come

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It has become pretty obvious that it is late November in the Ecuadorian Sierra. It rains every single day, some more than others. Saturday was a downpour all afternoon and into the evening, so much that my room flooded. Sunday was about the same, however that apparently meant it was a good day for fish. The family took me and Abuelita to Yahuarcocha ("Blood Lake") for fried tilapia. Luckily, the one hour drive through rain and mud was well worth it.

Abuelita prepares to devour an entire tilapia, leaving Anayani with nothing but a lime

"My style is impetuous, my defense is impregnable, and I'm just ferocious. I want his heart! I want to eat his children!" -Mike Tyson

On Monday I finally completed some surveys after weeks of weak organization and poor planning. I awaited my boss, Mariana, to go to Colegio Técnico Intercultural Bilingüe "San Juan de Ilumán" (again with the quotations on everything) to survey some of the youngsters there, however she told me to "ande no más" and hop on a bus alone, hoping the school would let me in. Ilumán, like Peguche, is a mainly indigenous artisan village. It has more hat and poncho stores than it has places to eat. Furthermore, I have noticed that the word "intercultural" really just means indigenous. It's a bit like how people will go out for "ethnic food" in the US, even though that encompasses most food ever conceived.

Thursday begins our Thanksgiving break and it's looking like a trip to Atacames, Esmeraldas, which is supposed to be one of the best-looking beaches in the country. I'm hoping the November climate is a bit more pleasant at the coast than in the Sierra.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Overall I haven't felt too much of a culture shock in Ecuador. I feel comfortable with the language (except when my coworker breaks into Kichwañol), I can confidently navigate the cities, I know how to be safe and, slowly but surely, businesses are noticing that we CIMAS students do indeed live in Otavalo and have started serving us and stopped ripping us off.

The issue I have had being an American abroad is the concept of time. People show up 30 to 60 minutes after the designated time for meeting (on average). I expected this for trying to organize activities; I did not expect this for work. I suppose being a half hour late is fine in stores and restaurants, but heaven forbid I need emergency surgery I can't say I'd be content to just hang out for an hour until my surgeon decided to show up. I have included a list of my observations regarding what people say and what they mean:

"Ahora" ("Now") = "Today(ish)"
"Ahorita" ("Right now") = "Within an hour (possibly)"
"Viene ya mismo" ("He/She is on his/her way") = "He/she will get around to you when he/she feels like it"
"Apúrate" ("Hurry up") = "Move at the speed most convenient to you"
"Un ratito" ("A little while") = "Four hours to a week"

Furthermore, organizational skills are not mandatory, which has been a huge issue for my punctual American conscience. Today we drove to a high school so I could administer a survey. I assumed that all was arranged, mainly because I was assured that it was when I asked. Unsurprisingly, there were no students at all because it is the job of high school students to collect census data all this week. Thankfully, I did get an appointment for Monday, so it remains to be seen if that will come to fruition.

Fortunately, all is not hopeless. My Honors project is approved, the sun came out for a bit today for the first time in a week, and I'm pretty sure I received a job offer for an indigenous agricultural organization if I return within the next two years. I think that's just the way things are here.

Don't Drink The Water

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

This past weekend was the festival of Mamá Negra in Latacunga, the capital of Cotopaxi province in the central sierra. Mamá Negra is a bit like Mardi Gras in the United States, which earned the festival the nickname "Mamagras." The main event of the festival is a parade which lasts well beyond six hours and features a cast of characters that mix indigenous, African, and Spanish histories. Each character has his or her own personality and features and the more important ones have minions like angels which accompany them. Memorizing all Pokémon is easier than learning what these characters are and what they do.

All ready for the parade

Sea hags?


Lord of the Flies?


Nightmare fuel?

And five dollars for whoever can tell me what's going on here

After the parade and lunch we went back to the hostal for a nap. Since the water in Peguche, Otavalo, and Quito has always been fine, I figured it would be alright in another small city and so I drank a liter directly from the tap. Whoops. Nine hours later I enjoyed an even four hours sitting on the bathroom floor until it was presumably out of my system.

Getting beaten, scratched and sprayed...for fun!

Boyz nite!

This week is when things get interesting and the work increases. We are expected to have completed 30% of our ethnographies by Monday, which is difficult when there hasn't even been enough time to collect all relevant data. Hopefully the weekend brings something interesting, but it looks like there won't be another festival until December, when the glorious foundation of Quito rolls around.

I'm Still Alive

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It has been exactly two eventful weeks since my last update, so rest assured that I have not been kidnapped and know that this could take a while to read.

Monday, October 25th, was my moving day. All of the students with internships in the northern sector climbed aboard the bus with suitcases and backpacks to begin a long morning of placement. After all of the Otavalo students were placed, we met up with our families to be taken to our new homes. My host mother, Tania, first took me to the food market before heading back to the house. The highlight of the market is definitely the meat: refrigeration isn't necessary and kidneys and chicken feet are often on display front and center. The fruit is always fresh and good here so that definitely made up for the hanging half-bull. When I arrived at the house I met my dogs, Pancho and Laika, and my siblings: Anayani (12), Ankalli (9), and Amauri (8).

My room-house

Amauri and Ankalli playing with Laika

Tuesday, October 26th, was the first day of my internship at CEMOPLAF. My boss, Mariana, showed me around the facility and introduced me to the staff. The first few days were filled with observation and preparing the Adolescent Room for Thursday, when the high school students from the region would join us for the new adolescent program. On Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons I went to Iglesia Evangélica Jesús el Buen Pastor in Calpaquí to see CEMOPLAF's dentistry services in action for the sponsored children who receive lunch and services at the church.

Anita revels in the pain that Henry inflicts upon this poor child

Thursday I observed the adolescent program and began writing my own surveys and programs for the kids. Friday was the beginning of festivities as the kindergartens and primary schools marched in the first parade for the Foundation of Otavalo. I mistakenly volunteered to observe in pediatrics that day; almost nobody came in because they were either in the parade or watching their other children in the parade.

The herd arrives

Luis is a representation of Otavalo and clearly helps dispel regional stereotypes

On Saturday I woke up early to head to the Otavalo market. Seven hours later with a bag of loot I returned to the house to rest and prepare for the rest of the festivities with the family. On Monday I watched the secondary schools march to celebrate the actual day of the Foundation of Otavalo. After that I headed to Cotacachi with some other students to search for fine leather goods. The few places that do make men's boots do not carry my size or close to it. After shopping and compulsive snacking I met up with my extended family to make bread in outdoor ovens for the Day of the Dead celebrations.

Tuesday, November 2nd, was Día de los Difuntos: the Day of the Dead. For breakfast I had my first taste of cuy, or fried guinea pig. Gamey. I went with the family and their friends Angeles and Luis from Cataluña to the indigenous part of the Otavalo cemetery where we met up with the extended family from the night before to eat lunch and fruit.

Reading is fundamental...when your mom leaves you in the car to go buy oranges

The cemetery

Mario, Tania and Abuelita eating inside of a tomb. Seriously.

After that we drove to Cotacachi to purchase champus, which is a sweet corn drink not unlike some kind of dessert chicha. We returned to Otavalo to Mario's mother's house to eat lunch number two, which included a creamy corn soup, champus, and churros. These churros are not the fried tubes of dough as they are in the rest of the world...

They taste pretty much the same as they look.

Even Cachetes (Cheeks), Abuelita's bear-dog, won't eat churros

Surprisingly enough I survived the cuy and churros to make it to Wednesday for chores and lunch with a family friend, Yaro, and his son, Yaro. Later that night, we met his first daughter, Yarita, and his youngest daughter, Victoria, who somehow made it into this world with a name that doesn't begin with "Yar."

This week is only Thursday, Friday and Saturday to make up for the vacation days, so I will be spending it working instead of going to Latacunga for Mamá Negra unless something happens where I both don't have to work and can find room at a hostel. Instead, maybe I'll just go to Cayambe to continue my search for leather man boots.