Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I arrived home in Colorado later than expected Sunday night (it just wouldn't be the holiday season in the states without a few airport delays), and since then have been involved in a whirlwind of Christmas dinner parties, cookies exchanges with my mom, painful mall maneuverings, hospital gift deliveries, and trips to the library to stock up on new and old books. While I won't be keeping up with the blog as consistently as I have while in Ecuador, I will be checking in every now and then, and also eliciting the words of everyone else to give an update on their state-side travels as well.

One thing that is just too good to keep from you, internet, is the package that was waiting for me on my bed when I stumbled in on Sunday. Postmarked from Texas, Mrs. Fulton (Dunc's mom, clearly) sent me my very own jar of her fantastic, amazing, home-made jalapeño jelly! My family is a little skeptical, which suits me just fine. I think I might tell them it's actually awful so that I can hoard it for myself. Mwahahaaa...

(I think I know what's in there...!)

Monday, December 22, 2008

First Sighting!

Just a quick check in, more to come later :)

The Florida Keys, seen in flight.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturdays in December

Tomorrow morning most of us head home to the states, and before we buckle down and accept the fact that it is, actually, winter (and thus cold) in most of our home states we decided to spend some quality time on the roof drenching ourselves in Ecuadorian sunshine. Grabbing our books, ice waters, sunglasses, towels and sunscreen, we set up camp for the morning, leaving only to grab a quick lunch and let the sweat salt instead of run.

Amazing how I've spent the majority of my day barefoot and sweating, and tomorrow I will be greeted by an actual Arctic storm cell set to hit Colorado late tonight. Great.


(Serena gets studious in my glasses)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Our Street

The road we live on, Calle Luis Cordero, is a quite little one. Built from cement blocks emulating a South American version of the cobblestone street, it houses mostly just that; houses. Just off the end of Luis Cordero, however, is busier street, one which we walk up and down at least 4 times on any given day.

This road holds so many treasures; stores filled with people whose faces always mirror our own as we walk by, big grins and a warm wave; Susannah the 'venta lady', the hilarious wacky-aunt-like duo at the new dvd shop, the married couple who run the tienda where we always buy chicken (and would buy dog food, if we HAD a dog...)...

Now that we have a brand new bike, the daily trek to get extra veggies for dinner goes by that much quicker, and yet there's always reason to linger out front of Susannah's shop for the gifts of fruit she inevitably sneaks into your bag if you stay and chat for a few minutes, or incentive to stop by the bakery next to the tienda for a freshly baked croissant.

I can't help it, I love our streets.

Love, Holly

(carpentry shop, complete with a coat hanger display of the goods)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Countdowns and Lists

If there's one thing I really dislike, it's countdowns.

That said, the countdown until most of us head home for break is officially and unavoidably in full swing. With 4 days to go, there really is no way around it. And along with the countdown, we've all begun our own lists of things we MUST do while home (most revolving around food, as if that's a surprise to anyone) and things we MUST bring back with us when we return to South America.

What follows is an example from everyone's list :) Or at least everyone who responded to my email (ahem Jocelyn and Eliah).

Things we will re-work our schedules to do:
1. Waffle House and sinfully greasy bad fast-food that will clog my arteries and initiate a myocardial infarction at 25 (Serena)
2. TEX-MEX. (If Jocelyn puts the same thing (a likely possibility) then feel free to put some variety down, i.e. chips and salsa, sour-cream chicken enchiladas, or fajitas.) (Dunc)
3. Eating at Sunset Grille (Seth)
4. Chipotle Burrito after a library run (Holly)

Things we will be forcing into our suitcases:
2. Peanut butter or Reece's (Dunc)
3. Bringing back a pan we could actually cook in (Seth)
4. Packable brown sugar and Tootsie Roll Pops (Holly)

And so there you have it. Granted, we would all dearly love a new wireless internet provider, but seeing as how that is just not possible, I suppose we'll settle for sour candy and chocolate.


Friday, December 12, 2008


Mark "I have an important skype call with Chris so I'm taking the internet connection" Hand.

We all knew that you guys were just meeting online to talk about the latest update on Perez Hilton.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Raw Eggs

Today marks the end of our Apoyo Escolar and adult English programs, until January when we return to revamp and expand them, of course. In celebration of the close of our first few months, we decided baked goods were an effective way to demonstrate our gratitude, joy, etc. etc. at having worked with the people in our programs. If you've been keeping up with us over the past five months, it really should come as no surprise that we use sugar and chocolate as indicators of affection down here.

So, once again, I found myself quarantined in the kitchen starting at 9am, my companions flour, sugar, and chocolate bars crushed by Eliah's fury. no wonder i feel more than a little queasy right now, seeing as how all i've eaten ALL DAY is cookie dough.



Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to measure time's passage...

(Today's Guest Blog comes from Dana, our apartment-window-climber, early-morning-runner, new-music-gifter, and my fellow hippy-kitchen-dancer. How we made it 3 months without her I don't know.)

"Having grown up in Colorado it only seams natural that I became accustomed to the coming and going of seasons to be the indication of a years progression and therefore the passing of time. Now, with the experience of living in another part of the world comes the necessity to adjust to a new climate. Here in Ecuador we may have seasons, the rainy season and the dry season, however the ideas of winter, spring, summer, and fall exist only in stories of far off places.

Since I arrived in September there has been a noticeable change in the afternoon clouds behavior from about the hours of three till five. Aside from this, our days and nights, weeks, and already hard to believe months have a very peaceful ebb and flow, occasionally interrupted by a frustratingly lengthy downpour of rain or a 45 minute hail storm. Due to this drastic lack of diversity in the beautiful Ecuadorian sky, I've had to concentrate on other forms of growth and progression to remind me that the earth truly is still rotating around the sun.

While chilly air accompanied by an instant sheet of hail cannot suffice for naked tree branches, fresh blankets of snow, or seasonal allergies, we do have the most adorable puppy who lives at the end of our street who at first we could cup in just one hand and examine every line in his new to the world face. Now he has a precious pot belly and so much energy that at times not even two hands are enough to contain him.

There are the calves we see roaming around outside the Casa Barrial and each time insist that one of them must be the one that Jocelyn and Dunc saw birthed back in August and comment, my how much he has grown. There are the women in our exercise class who have lost over a kilo of weight and now recognize the importance of wearing t-shirts and sweat pants to class rather than their alpaca sweaters and flip flops. There are the houses in the distance that use to disappear with the sun every evening at the exact same time, however now they remain visible, illuminated by the flickers and glows of their elegant Christmas lights. And of course, there are our family dinners, which at the Manna house are progressively more and more delicious, but more importantly an increasingly significant part of each of our days. This is the time for us to regroup and remind each other of the new and amazing things we're accomplishing, one day at a time.

While this holiday season greets you with frigid evenings, cozy fireplaces, shorter days and longer nights, remember that there are things in all of our lives beyond just the seasons to help remind us of the passing of time and the progression of each year.

Happy Holidays and looking forward to seeing many of you very, very soon.
Dana Conway"

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Another Friday Evening

Sorry for the seriously lacking first week of December in Daily Life world. Been battling another stomach bug which caused me to lose the past 2 days in a haze of restless sleeping and toilet cuddling.

Tonight was the first time I'd been outside since Wednesday (which is slightly disgusting, I realize), but what a welcome back I got. The sky was literally on fire for half an hour, and I was feeling bold enough to climb the rickety old ladder up to the second roof to try and capture the colors. It's a testament to South American sunsets that the pictures don't even come close.

Happy winter weekend,

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Day in the Daily Life, Pt. 2

(Today's guest blog comes from Eliah, who purposefully switched with Dana so he could make us all feel like crap about attending the annual bull fights. Thanks, E.)

"To lead off today´s blog entry, I´d like to talk about about Ecuador´s culture of animal cruelty. It starts with the dogs. Come to most any town in Ecuador and you´ll invariably cross paths with dozens of street dogs, some strays, some permitted to roam by their owners. You´ll also notice that they´re annoying. They carry disease, they bark, they make you watch where you step on the sidewalk. And they´re mean—Dunc was bitten twice in one week and I won´t walk home from English at night without a handful of rocks. It´s enough to make dog catchers sympathetic figures. But it´s not their fault. The way this society approaches its canine companions is practically designed to produce unfortunate conditions.
A partly understandable component of this approach is that Ecuadorians don´t own dogs as pets but to guard their homes. And while this may come at the expense of a few pounds of gringo flesh, at least the bureaucracy here is cumbersome enough to dissuade us from suing. Because they have utility, however, doesn´t mean dogs are well treated. Quite the opposite, many cower at almost any motion in their direction while the best way to halt a menacing Ecuadorian dog is bend to the ground. They´re so used to this action being followed by a hail of lithic pain that most instantly turn and run. In a not uncommon instance, I recently saw one of the neighborhood kids throw a wrench as hard as he could at the head of a dog on the other side of the street. The dog, which was not causing any kind of trouble, could have easily been killed and the act seemed to be more out of boredom than malice. Meanwhile, the government does almost nothing to help the situation. Without any system of animal shelters, dogs are left to roam and reproduce, with, I´m told, the exception in Quito of the annual random distribution of poisoned meat, a practice that in the US is most commonly used by creepy antisocial neighbors but has yet to be adopted by the Humane Society.

Of course this disregard for the well being of the country´s non-human inhabitants is not exclusive to dogs; as is often the case, what sparked today´s focus on animal cruelty was my fellow PDs. The past couple weeks almost all other members of Manna have attended the popular bull fights here, which I view as paying for and taking pleasure from watching the torture and execution of a bewildered animal, and which they tell me is justified because it´s "artistic." Unable to keeping them from attending the event, I can only hope, as any good environmentalist does, that I at least take some of the joy out of it. That and use this space to rant about it. Which is why no one likes to live with an environmentalist.

But on to my day. Today´s daily life actually began yesterday, in a conversation with Marilyn, the mother of Ximena, one of the Apoyo Escolar students. Like all our programs, Apoyo is an outlet for us to help the people in the communities where we work, but which at times, reminds us of the complexity of the problems they face and our own limited ability to impact them. Marilyn came to pay the monthly $2.50 fee we use as an incentive for parents to make their kids come, but also to ask about Ximena´s behavior. Ximena is one of the more troubled kids at Apoyo—she routinely refuses to talk to us or do her homework and once told us her parents would beat her if she had unfinished work at the end of Apoyo—and Marilyn said she is aware that she should probably see some kind of expert. Like most Ecuadorian children in need of special help, however, Ximena has never been evaluated by any kind of professional, and Marilyn told me she doesn´t have time to take her. Since we live near a branch of the National Institute of Childhood and the Family (INNFA), an organization that employs such experts, I suggested we could take Ximena for her, and she agreed.
So today, I headed over to the INNFA building and sat down with Dr. Ibarra, a child psychologist, to discuss Ximena. Dr. Ibarra was skeptical of talking to a child without her parents present due to the frequency with which behavioral issues in Ecuador stem from parental abuse. Under the circumstances, however, she agreed to schedule an appointment for the next week, though the price of $4 per session worried me that Ximena´s parents wouldn´t want to pay for her to go more than once. That might not matter, however, Dr. Ibarra told me, as she only had time for three visits—in January, the government is taking INNFA over and along with most of the other workers there, she will be fired.
INNFA, she went on to explain, is the largest NGO in Ecuador, with over 1400 employees across the country doing work with street children, battered women, troubled children, health issues, and agricultural education, and making access to high level specialists affordable in under-served communities. However, part of its funding comes from the federal government, something which recently resulted in an executive order, allowed for by the new Ecuadorian constitution, nationalizing it along with all other NGOs receiving public funding. Most of INNFA´s employees will be fired and it will be run, she told me, like an Ecuadorian public hospital. In other words, poorly.
Which brings us back to Ximena. When you consider her problems through the prism of INNFA and what we know about her from Apoyo, things look bleak. Her schools are inadequate for a special needs student, her parents are likely abusive, her culture doesn´t expect her parents to take her to a specialist, her economy likely precludes them from doing so anyway, and her government is removing what little civil society exists to help her. Perhaps worst of all, her own circumstances are not exceptional enough to draw attention or outside help.
Meanwhile, in the Manna house, we live in a Third World country, we speak Spanish, and we are confined to the same two types of tasteless cheese as everyone else here, but thanks to our advanced schooling, caring parents, protective culture, First World economy, and benevolent government, we are immune from the long term side effects of normally accompany living in this place. So in very many ways, it´s like we never left the US at all. And that´s the way it should be, for us, Ximena, and everyone.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Well Hello, Nicaragua

Tonight we had our very first conference call with the Manna Nicaragua team, and it was awesome. The conference call started out with an exchange of hand written signs, which read as follows:

Nica: We have a pool!

Ecuador: *Blank paper, not prepared (not surprised)*

Nica: We have 2 cars!

Ecuador: (scrambling) We have 4 boys!

Off to a great start. After a quick tour around their house (and introduction to the dogs) via skype video chat, we proceeded to talk about the rioting in Managua, their recent Vanderbilt Thanksgiving break service group, monthly food expenditures, our after school homework help program, their lending library system, and Christmas trees (we want one, they have one). We showed our menorah, too.

Over all it was great to finally meet-see-talk to our counterparts in Nicaragua; I can't really believe it's taken us 5 months to do so. There's so much we can learn from one another, and as corny/trite as it sounds, I'm pretty excited to do so.

Here's hoping they just ignored the book Eliah was blatently reading in the background, titled "Phony Communism is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!"

Love you, Nica!

(team Ecuador huddles around the computer to talk to team Nica)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Can't Move...

(our newest dinner guest)

Current locations of all MPIE PDs:

Jocelyn: Horizontal in bed, Perez Hilton up on her computer screen and dreaming about pumpkin pie.
Eliah: Horizontal, watching James Bond and avoiding the compost pile.
Serena: Horizontal, still eating turkey, watching James Bond.
Dunc: Horizontal, talking to himself about the Jalepenos his mom sent and chocolate pecan pie.
Dana: Sound asleep sitting up in a chair, "watching" James Bond.
Mark: Doing more dishes, wishing he was horizontal.
Holly: Horizontal on the floor, watching James Bond and attempting to write the daily life blog.
Seth: Who even knows, he went home and celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday. We miss him.
Chris: Horizontal, silently memorizing the lyrics to "oh holy night" as sung by Cartman from South Park. And watching James Bond.

Since we have 4 programs in the community every Thursday (Apoyo, English conversation, English for adults, and Women's Exercise), we decided to 'postpone' our Thanksgiving celebration until today. This was decided after we realized that the smallest turkey we could purchase was 25 lbs. and would take essentially all day to cook...ie. we would all need to be in and out of the kitchen making our respective side dishes starting at 8am (guess who got that lucky shift) until 5;30 dinner time.

I love the eclectic nature of life down here; my Thanksgiving day started with an 8am bike ride to the local market to buy fresh green beans, continued with my first attempt at chocolate-pecan pie and handmade pie crust (thanks for the rescue, Jos!), transitioned to a cab ride into Quito to join the hundreds of Ecuadorians watching day one of the Festivals of Quito bull fights, which subsequently led me to slight dehydration and nausea at watching 6 bulls die in 86 degree Ecuadorian sun...after which Jos, Serena and I piled into a cab, swung by the Mariscal to pick up Paul, a friend from Colorado living in Quito for the next year as well, and headed home to put our dishes in the oven and get ready for our feast.

And, judging by everyone's current positioning, it was an absolute success. Chances are pretty low that our leftovers will last past tomorrow...sorry Seth.

Pictures to follow, when I can muster the strength to climb the stairs and get my camera cord. But I don't think that will happen until next week, based on how full my stomach is :)

(Thanksgiving delights)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Menu

(Today's guest blog comes from Seth Harlan, who selfishly abandoned us all in our time of greatest need (ie. cooking at 25 lb. turkey) to enjoy Thanksgiving with his family. His actual family. As if that's what Thanksgiving's about...)

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu in Ecuador
25 lbs turkey (stuffed or unstuffed)
3 casseroles
2 pies
1 veggie plate
5+ side items
2 Sauces
4 beverage choices
Bread: optional

You may find a similar menu feeding 25 people at Obama’s table this Thanksgiving, but in Ecuador a meal like this only feeds 8. Do we really need mashed potatoes and a sweet potato casserole? If you name is Eliah, the answer is a definitive YES!!! The fact is, no matter how excessive the menu appears, it’s impossible to have a Thanksgiving dinner without at least one recipe from at least one grandmother of every PD in Ecuador. It’s usually the one time of year that PDs feel homesick. No expense can be spared on this occasion, and all things must be included, no matter how hard are to find or cook. Canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce are shipped from home (thanks Mrs. Fulton!), 25 pound turkeys are bought (not because we need 25lbs, but because there aren’t many other options), and PDs spend an hour selecting the menu and delegating tasks.

This year, I will spend Thanksgiving with my own family at my parents house Florida, and while I won’t miss the excitement how figuring out how to fit a 25 pound turkey into a 2x2.5ft oven, or standing in line to cook a side dish over one of the four burners on the Manna stove, I will miss sitting down at the table with the people I have come to consider family. It’s a truly special moment when the entire house sits down to a Thanksgiving feast after slaving for hours, fighting to keep Serena from sampling all of your dishes, and reminding Mark that the only thing he is allowed to do is wash dishes. The moment you cut into the turkey and pour the apple cider, you realize that you’re really not that far away from home. Instead of pro football you have the neighborhood soccer teams; instead of the rush the stores on black Friday, you have to rush to the corner venta to buy boxed wine before it closes; and instead of crazy Uncle TJ’s antics, you have “Uncle” Mark Hand, which counts for something. In other words, you make due with what you have, and in the end Thanksgiving in Ecuador isn’t so bad after all. To everyone down there, I want you to know that I’ll miss you guys and I hope you all have an amazing thanksgiving. Save me some leftovers, and I’ll see you Sunday.


Monday, November 24, 2008

A Good Read

Match the PD with the book they brought to read in Papallacta this weekend:

a) Rising Tide -------------------------------------------------1) Eliah
b) Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince ----------------2) Jocelyn
c) World War Z -----------------------------------------------3) Seth
d) The Rise of American Democracy ---------------------- 4) Holly
e) Light in August-------------------------------------------- 5) Chris
f) The Audacity of Hope------------------------------------- 6) Dana
g) How to Change the World--------------------------------7) Dunc
h) The Fountainhead---------------------------------------- 8) Serena
i) Barrel Fever ------------------------------------------------9) Mark

(answers below)

a=7 b=8 c=9 d=1 e=5 f=2 g=3 h=6 i=4

Friday, November 21, 2008

Little Packages

Today's blog is perhaps more of a personal anecdote than a program update, but I couldn't help but share it with you all.

I've made it no secret these past few weeks that I love autumn. Bemoaning its Ecuadorian absence on my personal blog, making references to it in the monthly update, carving a gourd that only slightly resembled a pumpkin, and fixing far too many mugs of apple tea in an attempt to channel the wonder that is Coloradan mountain apple cider, my other roommates, friends from home, extended family, etc. know too well how much i miss American fall.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I received a lumpy letter from one of my best friends (and past college roommates) Ashley, containing no fewer than 14 slightly crunched but fabulously colored autumn leaves. Picked up on one of her afternoon walks through St. Louis, Ash found Oak, Beech, Red and Sugar Maple, Hickory, and Buckeye leaves, stuck them in a manila envelope with my favorite picture of the two of us, and postmarked it to South America.

It's sweet to be so taken care of; Thank you, Thank you, Ash!


(check those beauties out! gold! red! orange!)

(The beautiful, leaf-gifting Ash and I back in Nashville)

Thursday, November 20, 2008


At any given time, on any given day, shepherds can be seen from our upstairs windows directing their herds up and down our main “cobblestone” (ie. cement block path) street. Apparently the grassy stretch off which our front door lies provides choice sweet grass perfect for long gestation periods and multiple stomachs. The little guy from the picture was so caught up in the vegetation that he didn’t notice when his entire family LEFT. He hung out in front of our house for a good hour before realizing, ‘oh wait a second, i’m alone. oh...NO.’ Thus began an imaginably scary 45 minutes of moo’ing his heart out while staying rooted in the same exact position. After half an hour of this, I couldn’t take his sad lonesome moo’s and so decided to take a picture with him. Because we all know that when you’re lost, what you really want is someone you don’t know to take a picture with you. Help you memorialize the moment. Or something.

Happy to oblige, little guy.

His shepherd did return 20 minutes later and smacked his rear all the way back to the herd. It was a rough day for all involved.

Thanks for checking in!

(me and the forgotten calf)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Tale of Horror and Suspense

(Today's guest blog comes from the infamous Chris Taylor, Manna Project International's state-side, go-to, answer-anything man. Currently residing in our Ecuadorian home for the next week, Chris was coerced into contributing to the blog to make up for the fact that I have missed three of the past 5 days. You're welcome.)

"Today’s blog is exciting for two reasons. The first reason is because I, Chris Taylor, legendary suspense writer, will be penning this week’s chilling edition of “The Guest Blog”. The second reason is even more exciting but you will have to read on to discover what it is.

When I arrived in Conocoto I quickly remembered how easy it is to get into the good graces of Americans living abroad in Latin America... and also how quickly they can turn against you. A quick, pre-flight stop at CVS for a bag of candy or a jar of peanut butter is really all it takes to ensure a warm welcome and pleasant stay. How foolish I felt upon arriving empty handed, having forgotten that the only real currencies down here in the Manna house bear the names Hershey’s or Skippy. I realized my fatal mistake only just before entering the doors of the Manna house where the PDs were hungrily awaiting my gift bearing arrival.

In a meager attempt at friendly relations I greeted the kitchen full of PDs with a sheepish smile, arms outstretched, hoping that my visitor’s faux pax would go unnoticed. My hopes were frighteningly dashed as the entire household shoved me out of the way and began rifling through my suitcase. I watched with terror as their initial disappointment quickly turned to a quiet rage. “Where’s the durned peanut butter?” growled Dana, the house’s newest and apparently hungriest arrival. “He didn’t even bring Pop Tarts,” a gaunter-looking Eliah mumbled and then their eyes... their eyes… eerily calm, turned to me in unison. The next words I heard will remain burned into my memory for years. A sinister curl of Dunc’s lips and then, “Let’s give him the treatment.”

At this point I must warn you dear reader that the following is not for the faint of heart or mind. The description of the aforementioned “treatment” is not an exaggeration but the actual events, which I have barely managed to survive through this past week.

First of all, they began making me throw my toilet paper in the wastebasket. Yuk! Also, I got a painful sunburn on my shoulders from rafting, which they all secretly knew would happen. I have tried unsuccessfully for days to email my mum while Jocelyn, Holly, and Serena continue to delight in sucking up the bandwidth with YouTube videos and Skype conferences amongst themselves. Mark, their de facto leader, remains secluded in his temple of an apartment whispering, “The horror, the horror” over and over again. He has bravely assisted my plight at his own risk by sneaking me portions of his delicious Nutella stash. But take hope reader! Their barbarism has slowly waned as the days pass and one named Seth has began regular communications with me. Still, as late as last night I was subjected to a two hour long meeting about programs and house topics. Bleh!

I have recently begun to see a glimmer of hope that I might survive my visit. But please dear reader, take note of the important moral to my horrifying tale. Any time you’re coming to visit Program Directors living abroad, know that a simple treat will make the difference between being warmly accepted and being subjected to their worst tortures. I bid you safe travels.

Yours in unnecessarily suspenseful writing,
Chris Taylor"

(the gifts Chris should have brought)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Community Meals

Each month, we at Manna Ecuador attempt to eat a 'community meal', which essentially entails us "getting ourselves invited" (ie. in most cases flat out asking for an invitation) to someone's house for dinner. Awkward is now spelled C-O-M-M-U-N-I-T-Y M-E-A-L.

October found us over at Pepita's for an impromptu meal after working with her family for 2 weekends at the river minga; score one for an actual invitation! Serena organized our November meal at Paola and Marjorie's house, a family involved in both our Apoyo Escolar and Women's Exercise classes. We brought the choclo (corn on the cob, Ecuador style), chicken breasts, and potatoes and, while Paola and her sisters cooked (and kicked us out of the kitchen) we hung out with their two huge dogs (one is actually named Hannibal Lector...great), watched X-Men 2 in Spanish, and played a mysterious 'ping-pong' game against sassy 6 year old Marjorie which was impossible to win unless you were named, well, Marjorie.

After our Apoyo families celebration dinner party last week with 14 different families, I figured we had exhausted our community meal resources for a while. Imagine my surprise when, after the last kid was shooed out of the Casa Barrial at 4:15 this afternoon, Mafe and her family surprised us all with an impromptu meal they had prepared for us. As they piled our plates high with grilled chicken, choclo, papas, and cucumber-tomatoe-onion salad, we maneuvered the tables which had moments ago hosted math homework and chess boards into a big clump in the center of the room and sat down to enjoy a meal with a kind family.

Looking around at everyone, from Mafe's mom still wearing her apron, to Lori and Amira (our Nicaraguan better-halves), to Serena and Jos fighting over who got Mark's extra chicken, I couldn't help but smile as I poured myself more Sprite. This, an unexpectedly generous meal in the middle of the afternoon, hosted in the Casa Barrial, with gringos and Ecuadorians laughing and eating, is what I've come to understand as community. And it was wonderful.


(South Quito and the Statue watching over the city)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bienvenidos, Familias!

(Today's Guest Blog comes from Dunc Fulton, who recently had his wish for a bed in the kitchen granted. He also recently recieved the biggest package any of us has ever seen, inspiring just a little bit of jealousy as he unpacked it amidst various "ohhh"s and "no way!!"s and of course "i want that!!"s. Oh the small joys of canned pumpkin and Butterfingers)

"Although all the PDs here in Ecuador love the hour and a half spent daily working with the local kids in our Apoyo Escolar class (except when they have math homework...yeah, I might need to review fractions…), 4 PM still brings a small sense of relief. All the kids in the class are great, but seem to have a wee bit more energy than all of us…put together. Today, however, the chicos didn’t all magically disappear when class ended at 4. Instead, we had an hour to set up before the families arrived for our 'fiesta familiar', while also dealing with the craziness that is 7 – 12 year olds. “Jonathan, stop bouncing the ball against the windows”, “Jorge, don’t put your finger in the projector”, "Dilon, get your hands out of the fruit salad,” are just a few sample phrases from that hour of “set-up.”

When the families finally arrived however, everything did become a little more tranquilo. The children were suddenly better behaved (surprise, surprise) as soon as their parents walked in the door. The food (thanks Holly) was served, families were seated, and a quick game of chess between the combo teams of Dana-Carmen and Santiago-me was played (I blame Santiago for our loss).

Once everyone finally settled in, team Ecuador took the stage as we all introduced ourselves to the parents. Seth then gave a very rousing speech discussing our goals and methods of Apoyo Escolar, after which Marco expounded more on our organization in general. Finally, our friend Fabián Gualotuña, director of the local financial cooperative, talked briefly to the parents, expressing his desire to put a portion of their monthly class dues into an account at the co-op to encourage savings.

After spending the past 3 months with all their kids, it was great to finally meet the parents and see their nodding approval as we explained what it was we actually did with their kids everyday. The evening was capped off by the laughter that rang through the Casa Barrial as we ran a slide show of mostly ridiculous pictures of the kids taken by Holly, our (semi)-official MPI Ecuador photographer. Thus, we said good-bye to families, packed up everything, and began the trek home. As I write this entry, we are all finally home in the Manna abode, tired from a long day. Jocelyn’s baking a cake, the guys are contemplating playing Risk, and it is rainy. Sounds like a pretty typical evening in Conocoto.


(Mafe and Cesibel help paint the "Welcome, Families!" sign for the front door)

Day in the Kitchen

Yesterday, I spent the large majority of my time in the kitchen. As in the entire day. I felt very much like a B-list PD, as Dunc would say.

After making an early morning venta run at 8am to get the necessary ingredients for the day's endeavor, I grabbed my computer, speakers, cell phone and ipod and set up shop. Today (Wednesday) is the day of our Apoyo Escolar parent's party, a meet-and-greet-and-hang-and-eat with all the families of our Apoyo Escolar students. Seeing as how we now have 25 students enrolled in our course, chances are the Casa Barrial is going to be packed. Thus, I barricaded myself in the kitchen to get to work cooking for the 60-80 people we could potentially be entertaining tomorrow. Luckily, my mom is an amazing cook and has a rockin' recipe for cold linguini pasta salad (recipe can be found at the end of the post). Couple that with an enormous fruit salad and countless loaves of bread, and I'm hoping we'll have enough food.

Making kitchen matters a little more complicated (ie. dirty), the faucet under our sink now has a serious leak. For the past few months the drip has been small, manageable with a big tub under the sink to collect the occasional drip. But for some unknown reason, in the past two weeks our small drip has turned into a serious flow of water. Every time anyone turns the water on to, say, fill up a huge pot to boil water for 4 pounds of pasta, the faucet leaks, the pipes leak, and within 2 minutes the entire floor is dripping wet. Yesterday was a bit of a mess, especially since after I finally finished cooking for today's party around 4, Serena and I had to start cooking family dinner for the 8 of us plus our three boss guests AND Christian (the Ecuadorian we partner with to host English conversations with his students) and his girlfriend. We quickly found out that vegetarian shephards pie is a beast to make, especially for 13 people. This morning, circa 7:30am the plumber finally came; here's hoping that our kitchen is now a dryer and safer place.

Keep your fingers crossed for us this afternoon; sometimes the electricity in the Casa Barrial randomly disappears. If that happens, we're going to be eating dinner by candlelight, listening to Mark provide music via his guitar and pretending like we can see the slideshow I've put together on the projector. You never know down here.

1 lb fresh linguine, cooked drained and cooled.
1/4 c. best quality olive oil

1 c. sliced radishes
1 small green pepper, chopped finely

1 med. cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut in halves lengthwise and then into 1/4 inch slices

4 scallions, minced
1/3 lb. prosciutto or Missouri cured ham, cut in julienne strips (I use ham -proscutto is ver $$ and not everyone likes it)

2 T. wine vinegar or tarragon vinegar
1/3 c. imported grated Parmesan cheese or more

1/2 cup heavy cream or more

salt and pepper to taste

black olives for garnishes

Toss pasta with olive oil, making sure pasta is evenly coated. Add radishes, gr. pepper, cucumber, scallions and ham. Toss. Add vinegar and cheese and toss again. Add cream and seasonings. Toss. Chill until serving time. Add more cream if necessary. Sprinkle with olives.

Tune in again later today for a guest blog!

(our newly painted shelves and fruit/veggie corner)

(the sink and leak bucket, door to the atrium/laundry room, and halloween-sticker decorated oven)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Where are the keys?

Monday: the abrupt start to every working person's week. Granted, I live in the Ecuadorian Andes and get to call playing with kids, painting stars, teaching English and working out for an hour 'work', but I digress. Today's Monday began abruptly at 7:50am with Mark banging on my bedroom door as a reminder that our weekly meeting starts at 8, and would I please actually wake up this time instead of sleep-sitting through the meeting? Right. Check. Cold water on the face.

After our morning meeting I sat down to the task of finishing the monthly update for November. And yes, I know that it's being sent out later and later every month, I'm WORKING ON IT, OK. After wrestling with the google group for about an hour (it still won't let me add everyone onto the list, something about "spamming 700 people" and "am I sure they're all my contacts" and "requests pending"...if one of my best friends in the whole world didn't work for Google I would be using a few choice words about now), I finally got the update sent out and posted on our blogger site (found here). At this point it was closing in on 1 o'clock; time for a quick bite of leftovers before bussing out to Apoyo Escolar to get down to some homework...only to find out that half of our kids have Monday through Thursday off from school. As Santiago said "No tengo debers, profe!! QUIERO JUGAR!!" (I don't have homework, professor! I WANT TO PLAY!!")...great.

After Apoyo it was time for a few minutes chillin' in 'la cueva' and then off to English and Exercise class. Upon arriving at the church where we host these programs, however, we found out that the doors were locked and no one knew where the keys were. No one seemed too worried about finding them either. As everyone milled around the gravel and dirt street in front of the church gates (did i mention it's gated with spiked fencing?) and did their best to convince everyone else they were trying to think of where the keys might be, Eliah disappeared, only to suddenly be seen walking out of the church into the gated courtyard. Apparently he had spotted an open window (think second story window) in the church, maneuvered his way up and over an enormous wall, wiggled through the window, used the speaker stand as a step, jumped down from the window ledge, walked out the front door and opened the church from the inside. Everyone was in awe (and a little freaked out that he had just successfully broken in to the community church), and classes were able to continue as planned, albeit a little late.

Pictures of tonight's break-in to come tomorrow, as soon as I get them off of Serena's camera.

Happy Monday!

Friday, November 7, 2008


(Today's guest blog comes from Serena Zhou, who has recently begun teaching us all words in Chinese while lounging on the couch in the kitchen.)

"Doctora: "blah blah blah, blah blah, blah papanicolau blah blah, blah?"

Me (pretending to know what's going on...my ultimate downfall): "ya ya ya, bueno!"

La Doctora (Dra.) dons a pair of surgical gloves, motions me over to the patient bed, and hands me an ancient-looking metal clamp device. The patient, a woman in her 50s (although most women here tend to look a lot older than they are), starts unbuttoning her pants. Meanwhile, I'm holding this monster clamp in my right hand watching this woman willingly reveal her world, feeling my gracious smile beginning to twitch. What have I gotten myself into? 

In Ecuador, like in most other countries in the world, high school graduates apply to universities as a medical student. In other words, there is no such thing as "pre-med." To save the confusion in trying to explain this minor discrepancy, I tell the doctors that I'm a 5th year med student (my logic being that I've had 4 years undergrad training as a pre-med, planning to start my 5th year as a medical student-here's hoping!). I'm about to find out just how much "5th year med students" in the US are perceived to know by Ecuadorian doctors...

The clinic where I've been shadowing for the past month functions under the Ministry of Public Heath in Conocoto, and provides free services to its patients who cannot otherwise afford basic health care. I would've walked right past the unlabeled building if it weren't for the locals directing me to it. To be honest, it made the clinics in ghetto downtown Baltimore seem like penthouse suites. But I love it. 

Lines as long as those formed in Ohio on Nov. 4, 2008, appear every morning before it opens at 8am. The clinic has 2 nurses and 7 doctors (2 obstetricians, 1 gynecologist, 2 pediatricians, 2 general practitioners), who's showings are as predictable as Ecuadorian weather (that is, very UNpredictable). Over the course of the past few months, I have had the lucky opportunity to do clinical rotations and shadow a different doctor each week.

On my first day (that is, after a few no-shows), I shadowed Dra. Espinoza, an obstetrician. She taught me the word papanicolau, which means "pap smear" and subsequently set me to work. If it weren't for the lack of liability, I think I would have been in some legal trouble. The staff just don't seem to fully grasp the meaning of "no, no todavia he aprendido eso" (no, I have not yet learned that). I've been asked to prescribe medicine despite my broken Spanish (don't worry, I didn't. Not about to build a malpractice track record that will haunt me for years). But I do get to take patients' histories and fill out various medical forms in Spanish, fill out prescription forms (with proper assistance), and perform/record basic clinical procedures (blood pressure, weight, height, temperature). How accurate they are might be another story, seeing how I taught myself how to take blood pressure from a CVS pamphlet. But hey, the nurses seem to trust my measurements over their own. (It must be the white jacket? Or being Asian?


Nonetheless, these experiences have confidently prepared me for medical school in the future, for which I am immensely grateful. I can definitely see myself, and hope to be, working long-term in a clinic that serves underprivileged citizens such as this (apart from the flakiness). However, it did, I have to admit, confirm my interests to not specialize and instead go for primary care...at least over ob-gyn.

:) Serena."

(Jocelyn gets her blood pressure taken by Serena. And tries not to laugh.)

The Manna Hotel

For those of you wondering what happened to the Wednesday guest blog, don't worry, it's still around...even though it's been mia for the past two weeks. Serena's thinking up her entry as I write this, which is set to appear sometime later today instead of Wednesday. Obviously. Since Wednesday has a blank hole where someone (ok fine, it was me) forgot to put anything.

Anyway! The MPIEcuador house is going to play host to three wonderful Manna Executives (for want of a better term) over the next three weeks, the first of whom arrived late Wednesday night. Lori, the director of Manna Project and one of its original founders flew from Nicaragua to Ecuador via Miami yesterday, which makes about as much sense as the man I saw watering his grass today WHILE IT WAS RAINING, but so it goes down here. She's already gone on a run to the bank in Conocoto, spent some time on the couch in the kitchen (we moved Dunc's bed back up to his room), read a bunch of Dr. Suess books with Maylen at Apoyo, played Go Fish! with Jocelyn's english students, laughed through women's exercise, and watched a movie on the projector. The girl's got a lot ahead of her, considering that was just day one, and we couldn't be more excited to show her around the Ecuadorian life we've built here thus far.

As for our other two guests, Chris and Amira, can't wait for you guys to get here!


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Si se puede...

Tonight, as we watched history unfold in a little bar named Mulligan's, in the middle of Quito, thousands of miles away from the places we sent our absentee ballots, none of us could hide our smiles or our tears as we joined with Ecuadorians in adding our voices to Obama's refrain, "Yes we can"... "Si, se puede."

"...we've been warned against offering people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope."

Monday, November 3, 2008

It finally happened

After making it on to every meeting agenda we've had since July, there is now a bed in the kitchen. Dunc's bed, to be exact.

After spending all day yesterday doing a deep DEEP clean of the kitchen (scrubbing the walls, sweeping 3 times, mopping twice, taking everything out, painting the cabinets, purging the fridge, de-mildewing the fruit baskets...I think my mom's horrified expression when she walked in last week inspired me), I thought what better way to welcome everyone back from their weekend adventures then with a little surprise.

Clearly it went over well :)

Back to work tomorrow, promise some program updates will be coming soon!


(Serena, Dana, Jocelyn and Dunc relax on the bed while Eliah checks the fridge)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Week's Recap

(the Wards come to Ecuador!)

And I’m back! Apologies for the extended absence. The week was a whirlwind filled with all of my favorite things about Ecuador and family, made all the better by the mixing of the two. A breakdown of our week’s highlights follows, hopefully it will encourage some of you to plan a visit down south some time soon!

Sunday: Met the Manna girls at the terminal and hopped on a 3 hour bus out to Otavalo for a day of artisan market shopping and haggling. How my mother is more successful at haggling in English than I am in Spanish I still don’t know... Highlight of the trip: getting to watch a Korean soap opera on the way out, and Black Dog 1 & 2 on the way back. Never seen them? Boy do I feel sorry for you... Dinner at Boca del Lobo, a place I’ve been drooling over since we first walked by in on break from language school back in July.

(inside of Boca del Lobo, as seen from the street)

Monday: Out to the markets at Sangolqui to do the week’s fruits and veggies shopping. Loaded everyone up (including Dana who’s now a market expert!) with bags and subsequently braved the bus back. Out to programs for the day; Apoyo, English, Women’s Exercise and then back home. Highlight: Seth and Dunc were making dinner!

Tuesday: Exploring Quito by foot; hit the dvd shop for my brother, the alpaca wool shop for blankets and the most incredible slippers (which I will never be taking off), and the English bookshop where you can get US magazines for 1.50 (Economist and Time if you’re lucky, Decor and Electronic Digest if you’re not, Vogue if you’ve hit the jackpot). Stopped for lunch at the theater cafe before tackling the Basillica! I managed to convince the boys to climb into the top spire with me while my mom enjoyed a coffee and her book at the restaurant halfway up :) Dinner at Latitude, a wine and tapas bar; intense political discussion followed.

(my new best friends, house slippers from heaven)

Wednesday: Toured the incredible Guayasamin museum in the morning (opens at 10am most days) before grabbing the coveted bagel with cream cheese at Magic Bean and hopping on a 4 hour bus to Baños, an amazing town tucked into the side of the Andes. Dinner at Casa Hood, my favorite restaurant in Ecuador.

(Guayasamin museum)

Thursday: Our adventure day! Rented bikes at a little shop off Calle Martinez at 10am; 5 bucks a pop for the whole day, and hit the road. After a “little” accident in the HORRIFYING tunnel (ie. my brother hit the wall, went in a ditch, and busted his arm horribly...don’t think my family has forgiven me yet for that), we continued on the ride through the Andes. Took a ‘gondola’ over the river gulch to get closer to El Manto de la Novia waterfall, hiked down through the forest for lunch overlooking the famous Pailón del Diablo waterfall, climbed up and behind Pailón for an incredibly wet and wonderful experience, and biked on/climbed down to swim in the final waterfall. Hitching a ride back to Baños at 7pm found us all wet and sore and beyond ready for dinner.

Friday: Caught an early 8am bus back to Quito where we were greeted by torrential rains and a gypsy cab driver who took advantage of my exhausted Spanish and over-charged us for our ride out to the Marriott Hotel. Taxied out to Conocoto (where we just missed the rest of the Manna crew who headed out to the mountains for the weekend) to carve our ‘pumpkin’ ie. green squash with REALLY thick edges. Piled back to Quito, indulged in a Marriott burger, the best bit of red meat I’ve found down here, swam in the pool, and had cocktails in the lobby after long showers.

(our dubious little 'pumpkin'...gotta keep with halloween traditions, even in South America!)

I’m now sitting back in Conocoto catching up on work that I missed last week and relaxing in my pjs (and slippers!); gotta love slow Sundays.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Colorado comes to Conocoto

I know two people who will not be reading the daily life blog this week; my parents. No, it's not because they've become frustrated by my constant blogging about food or by my sometimes backwards sentence structuring (I blame Spanish), it's because my whole family is here visiting Ecuador for the whole week!

Mom, Dad and "little" (ie. 16 years old but already 6'2'') brother got in on Saturday, and we've had a packed two days thus far; traveling out to Otavalo with the rest of the Manna girls for a day of market haggle-ing, exploring Quito, buying the week's fruit and veggies at the Sangolqui markets, joining in on Apoyo, English class and women's exercise, AND getting to experience the wonder that is Seth and Dunc's dinner night.

I want to apologize in advance if this week's blogging is late or lacking; I want to spend as much time away from my computer and with my family as possible.

Love from Ecuador,

My dogs from home, the only one's missing in Ecuador :) I couldn't resist, sorry...

Friday, October 24, 2008

El Pobre Angelito

Thursday evenings are long ones for the girls of the Manna House; from Apoyo Escolar we head to two different English classes, and then reconvene at 7 for our rousing hour and a half of women’s exercise (which was pretty hysterical tonight; think 23 women, most STILL wearing sweaters, ages ranging from 5 year old Marjorie who tagged along with her mom to a 68 year old grandma who wore her shawl the entire workout). We staggered into the house tonight at 9:15, only to be greeted by the boys deep in a game of, you guessed it, RISK and sprawled all over the dining room table. After maneuvering some of their little soldier pieces over to the side, we proceeded to scarf down Mark and Eliah’s dinner, all the while being completely ignored by the guys who were so enchanted with their world domination strategies that they just couldn’t be bothered. And there you have a very telling example of life in the Manna house, the boys are playing RISK and the girls are eating.

After dinner we decided to put in Home Alone, which Jos got for her birthday (along with an exorbitant amount of chocolate). Translated horribly into Spanish as “El Pobre Angelito” (The Poor Little Angel), we’ve been talking about watching this movie ever since week two when Jocelyn realized she’d forgotten to bring it down with her. As the movie screened from the projector, popcorn popped in the microwave, and water boiled on the stove for hot chocolate, we all were transported back to our respective childhoods and the anticipation of Christmas fell around us all like a blanket. Yet, as Jos so correctly reminded us, we have to get through Halloween first :)


(the new sketch on my bedroom wall)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rosa (or: Home)

(Today's Guest Blog comes from Mark Hand, who just completed his first meal as Head Chef this past weekend! Nice work on the mushroom etouffee (and thanks to Jocelyn for being sous chef...)

"When I traveled to New Orleans a few months after Katrina, my friend Lindsey and I spent an afternoon driving around gawking at the damage. At the end of the day, I was spent; I needed home. Not Shreveport, necessarily, but some place of refuge – a bookstore, a coffee shop, a Scottish pub.

Home doesn’t have to be a physical place, I've learned. Today I went home to a person – Rosa – who for me personifies that concept in a way that I hadn’t realized.

Rosa, mother of one of UBECI's co-founders, is about about sixty-five and served as my first mother in Ecuador. When I arrived in August 2007 I knew limited Spanish, immediately landed a level three sinus infection, and was fitfully processing the previous six months as a social worker in Shreveport as I prepared for my team coming in September. Rosa listened, carefully. She also did enough talking to make me realize that this tiny old woman who guts her own guinea pigs, uses every drop of water at least four times before giving it to the pigs and is just now learning how to read, might be one of the sharpest, wisest, most determined human being I have ever met.

And for me, she is home. Not having visited in about six months, I had developed that Catholic knot of guilt in my stomach that starts to form when you haven’t visited your grandmother in too long. So when Fabián failed to show up for our meeting this morning, I swallowed hard and pointed my nose to Rosa’s.

Thankfully, Rosa did not berate me for not showing my face more often, and seemed genuinely grateful to see me and take a break from feeding the pigs. We talked about Obama (“Have you heard about his family? He used to be poor, like us!), the Rafael Correa flag outside her door and what I thought about the new president, the dwarf beans from her son in Italy that she is going to try and plant soon, and the old grandfather who se fue a otro mundo (“went to the other side,” loosely) three months ago. We laughed at the social work stories I told her over a year ago, and she asked if I could find her the telephone number for Ecuador’s Vice President. He’s handicapped, and Rose thinks if she could get him on the phone, that maybe he’d know how to help her handicapped son, too. If he knows what’s good for him – or if he takes the time to get to know Rosa - he probably will."


(Rosa and a guinea pig)

Happy Bird Day!

That’s how the kids at Apoyo Escolar pronounce Happy Birthday, which they couldn’t say enough times to Jocelyn, who turned 23 (gasp!) today. From Melissa’s handmade birthday card, oddly depicting Dana in a house with “feliz cumpleanos” smashed in the bottom corner, to Dennis’ gift of an old giraffe stuffed animal, to Carmen’s thousand hugs and extremely wet finger painted present, I’d say Jos had a pretty sweet day. Just wait until she opens house presents tomorrow :)


(The birthday girl waiting for the Ecovia in Quito. With some mushrooms.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Soaked and Loving It

When it rains, it pours. That overused little phrase takes on a special meaning when you live in Ecuador amidst the rainy season. Because let me tell you something: it POURS. Everyday. Torrentially. Enough to knock out all our power on a weekly basis, which wouldn’t be such a problem if my bathroom wasn’t in the dead center of the house, making it absolutely pitch black at the most inopportune moments.

Anyway, I digress. Which, for those of you who have been reading since this blog’s first post, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Thinking about everything that we’ve got going on in the next few weeks, however, brings me right back to that little expression about rain. Not only are have the English and Women’s exercise classes absolutely taken off (five new people in each class this evening!), but our Apoyo Escolar course is also intensifying and growing every day. We’re getting ready to celebrate all the October birthday’s this week at a special Friday fiesta, planning our celebration dinner with all the kids and their families for the first week of November, and figuring out what the reward excursion will be for our students with perfect October attendance.

Add to that Seth’s fantastic new ideas about marketing (water-bottles, stickers, tee-shirts, an MPIE cookbook, and two different calendars) and we’ve all been running from room to room, printer to computer, house to programs, literally all day. Dana also moved in to the house (or apartment I should say) this weekend (FINALLY!!!), Mark’s getting ready to head out to the Galapagos next week, and my family gets in to Quito this Saturday for what will be a fantastic week long fall break. Now, if only we could find the time to clean the house...


(the boy's obsession with Risk continues. 3 games, 2 days. they can't stop)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Humitas with Pepita

Today’s entry requires a bit of backstory, so bare with me, I promise it’s worth it. And if not, I invite you to come on over to Ecuador and demand your 10 minutes back. We’re all dying for visitors down here :)

So the backstory: at the Minga we participated in a couple of weekends ago, we worked side by side with a woman named Pepita. While she didn’t get down and dirty (aka wet) with us in the river, she was with our group the whole time both weekends, stomping bottles and sorting plastic and glass. Pepita lives close to the river with her husband and 2 kids, on the same property as her husbands brother and his family, and we walk past their houses every day on our way to Apoyo. The families invited us over for lunch after our last exhaustive Minga, and at this lunch it came out that Pepita knows how to make humitas.

For those of you who have never eaten a humita, let me just extend my sincerest sympathies to you. Humitas are, um, AMAZING. I don’t even have the right words to describe them; cornmeal-pancake batter-tamale-pieces of warmed heaven-cake wrapped up in a corn shuck...They’re really great. There’s a little place in Sangolqui that sells them right on the street, steaming over a huge pot of water and jumping out at us every time we head to MegaMaxi (yes, that is the unfortunate name of the ‘buy-everything-here’ super store) for more spicy mustard. When Jocelyn and I asked the woman selling said humitas how she makes them, we were royally snubbed when she responded, “Oh, usteades no pueden” (Oh, you girls wouldn’t be able to do it). Great, thanks for nothing humita lady. If we weren’t so addicted to your delicious treats we would totally stop talking to you. Now, would you please bag up 10 humitas, we’re going to be hungry later.

ANYWAY, the second Pepita told us she knew how to make humitas, we (Jocelyn, Serena and I) begged her to teach us. And so today, armed with two huge wheels of Queso Fresco (Fresh Cheese...don’t ask), we arrived at Pepitas house ready to learn. And oh let me tell you, did we learn. From 3 to 7 we shucked choclo (Ecuador’s version of corn on the cob), ground kernels, mixed batter, spooned meal into shucks, added cheese, and steamed the flavor into 120 humitas. It was awesome.

(Jocelyn takes a turn at the choclo grinding)

Also awesome was getting to talk to Pepita all afternoon, giving us a chance to practice our Spanish and try out different verb tenses (she’s very understanding). We’ve been invited back any time we’d like, and as we left, our arms filled with bags of humitas for the lucky boys, and Pepita waved us off with “Ciao, mi hijitas” (Bye, my dear little ones) it really felt like we were a part of the community. Just goes to show that true relationships take time, but those that come do are undoubtedly sweet.

Have a good weekend!

(batter and eggs, getting ready to be slurped together by Serena's stirring skills)

(Rolling out each Humita by hand)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Big Steps

Just having cuddled in my bed and pulled my computer up onto my lap to write today’s Daily Life Blog, I am too tired to attempt to suppress the yawns that just keep coming out of deep in my belly. Today has been a whirlwind of a day; we successfully kicked off two new programs (adult English and women’s exercise) this evening, and everyone is exhausted yet immensely proud of MPIE’s progress in the communities in which we work.

I am going to save the more colorful details from today for an entry when I can keep my eyes open for more than 30 seconds at a time, midnight just doesn’t treat me right when trying to write cohesive sentences and/or use applicable vocab.

Until tomorrow,

(flyers advertising our two new classes adorn a light post in the San Franciscan community)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Day in the Daily Life

(Today's guest blog comes from Eliah McCalla, also known around these parts as Snatch. The house vegetarian, Eliah once spent a solid 2 hours attempting to make hummus in our highly inefficient blender. A fierce Risk player and constant environmentalist, Eliah studied abroad in Ecuador and Chile during his time at Indiana University, which made the most recent World Cup game between the two that much more intense. Eliah also laughs everytime I walk into any room he's in; still not sure how to feel about that...)

"Before I start into my day, I have to give a shout out to the mangrove forests. As Holly's already told you, we spent this weekend tagging along with Seth as he visited his girlfriend in Guayaquil. Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador, situated about two hours from the beach, and everyone was excited to try the coastal food. I was not.

Ecuador's coast is home to over 100,000 hectares of mangrove forest, a type of coastal wetland. Mangroves are both one of the highest ecologically valued and most endangered ecosystems in the world. The same factors decimating mangroves around the globe has left Ecuador with only a fraction of its original mangrove coverage and the possibility of extinction for what remains. One of the primary factors in the destruction of mangrove forests is shrimp farms. Mangroves provide great habitat for shrimp, leading farmers to clear the forests to build their shrimp ponds. Sadly, these ponds only last a few years before they become too polluted to turn a profit, at which point the farmer moves to the next forest down the coast; this is the slash and burn method of getting shrimp to your plate (much of the shrimp consumed in the US is produced in this fashion). Not that these facts kept any of the other members of Manna from getting that oh-so-appetizing shrimp ceviche, but at least it came with a heaping side order of guilt. Which is why no one wants to go on vacation with an environmentalist.

And now on to my day. I'm the trash man here at Manna House, a job with the downside of making me sometimes smell like trash, but which also gives me an excuse to only shower on trash days. Three times a week I place the trash in an elevated cage outside our house, where it is collected the next morning. The real problem is the cage, whose bars and spacing appear to be ergonomically designed for dog snouts. This leads to the periodic nocturnal redecoration of our sidewalk, requiring that the trash be returned to its bag and resulting in me smelling like trash in an off day, which really throws off my shower schedule. Clearly, something had to be done. So today I took the step of buying some finely-spaced metal grates to insert in the cage. Bending the grates to size and taking pliers to wires holding them in place, I must have appeared to be doing something unspeakable to the neighborhood cage, because many of the passerbys looked at me as if there were a serial flasher on the loose and I was wearing a trench coat. Unperturbed, I carried on with my work, and the cage is now safe from the canine menace. Ah yes, it's been a slow news day here at Manna House.

Things should heat up tonight though, as we head into Quito for the last presidential debate. Former PDs Zak Schwarzman, Luke Lockwood, and I, along with fellow ex-pat Dan O'Maley have been organizing viewings of the debates for gringos in Quito, ostensibly as a way to get them their absentee ballots, but actually with ulterior motives. Because tonight, surrounded by 142 Americans, sitting in an Irish pub, watching CNN and talking American politics, it'll feel like we never left home at all. And that's the way it should be.

G’night everyone.

(Eliah and Dana bond in Guayaquil)