Tuesday, September 30, 2008

So much time on their hands...

Tonight marked the last night of the two week small business course that Dunc and Eliah organized with the local Cooperativa, and we all tagged along to lend support and applause as the class presented their business plans.

As we sat down to await the first presentation, I found myself looking around the class at all the participants. Ranging from two stylish 20-something girls to a silver-haired man dressed in a dapper suit to a young couple who couldn't find a babysitter for the evening and thus brought along their 2 month old daughter, the class was an eclectic mix. And of course our two gringos were the cherry on top. (Eliah even borrowed a pair of Dunc's pants for a change from his hole-infested jeans!).

Each group presented their plans (a construction company and two papelerias (paper shops)) with a combination of pride and nerves to members of the Cooperativa, the local organization which stands as a potential lender in starting up the businesses. It was exciting to watch Dunc and Eliah and their respective teams put into action all that they'd learned in the past two weeks. After it was all over and the champagne toasting had finished, the boys had looks of semi-disbelief on their faces. Having spent four hours every day for the past two weeks in class, Dunc summed it up when he said "Well, now what are we going to do at night? Hang out?!". We're glad to have them back for dinners :)

(outside the local Cooperativa (The Hope and Progress of the Valley), co-sponsors of the class)

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Weekend Wonders

This morning, sometime circa 4:45am, Jocelyn and I started making a list of everything I have to daily life blog about after this weekend. No, we’re not insomniacs; the overnight bus we all hopped on Sunday night at 10pm had broken down somewhere in the Ecuadorian countryside, and we were all cuddled around, cranking at each other in garbled Spanglish and trying to focus on all the good that came from Cuenca. Which was a really easy task for Jos and I once we started. Thus follows the list I have to build from this week in the daily life blog.

1. 10 hour bus ride out to Cuenca, the first 2 hours of which were spent listening/watching/avoiding Big Mama’s House, dubbed in horrifically hysterical Spanish.
2. The incredible architecture of downtown Cuenca, especially the central church.

(church arch-ways)

3. The random break-dance off we came across taking place in a gazebo in the middle of Cuenca
4. The feisty (read: MEAN) little old Ecuadorian woman who became incredibly territorial while washing her clothes in the local river, ending in her running at us with a stick.

(right before she started using the stick as a weapon, photo taken from inside my purse...)

5. The Ecuadorian election which happened this weekend, deciding whether or not to pass the new constitution put forth by Corea. Voting in Ecuador is mandatory, thus everyone was traveling, voting, and conversing about it all weekend.
6. Cajas National Park. Incredible.
(one of over 230 lakes found in the park)

7. Our encounter with a self-declared ‘revolutionary’ dressed up as Che, who owned a restaurant called Che, and served us a very strange almuerzo (coupled with a few anti-Bush tirades)
8. The visit to the Panama Hat Museum, and subsequent purchasing of said hats.

(Holly, Jocelyn, Dana (NEWBIE!!), and Serena modeling our new wears)

Thanks for tuning in to yet another wild week down on the Equator!

Friday, September 26, 2008


Greetings from Cuenca!

Don´t have enough time to write an actual update, but I realized this afternoon that in my haste to last minute pack on Thursday for our 10 hour over-night bus, I completely forgot about the daily life blog!

As much as I wanted to just blame it on S.W. (remember, Shifty Wireless?!), I really have no excuse. And seeing as how I´m sitting in an internet cafe next to Serena right now, there really is no way to post a daily picture either!

That said, expect a grand update come Monday. Extending the olive branch NOW :)


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

And They Started Rolling In...

(Today's guest blog comes from Seth Harlan, a second year Manna Ecuador PD and the authority on all things Spanish slang. In my opinion the best cook in the house (who else could pull off Mediterranean chicken in South America?), Seth is up for anything from mountain climbing to discotec dancing, knows more people in the community than anyone else, and has sweet talked his way into the heart of our local venta lady.)

"We woke up to another beautiful morning in Conocoto, the sun rising over the mountains and not as cloud in the sky. It was the first time in weeks that we could see the snowy peak of Cotopaxi from our rooftop. Today was going to be a good day with no need for raincoats or fleece jacket, or so I thought. It's funny that after a year in Ecuador, I still haven't learned that the only rule here is that anything goes and nothing is certain.

As we sat reading with kids in our homemade tent nicked named "la cueva" that Holly built for our apoyo escolar program, the light started to fade. At first I thought it was just the blankets blocking the sun, but like clockwork, 15 minutes before the program ended, the clouds rolled in, thunder cracked, and the rain started. After three straight days of pelting rain in the afternoons it can only mean one thing –no more flip flops, no more short sleeves… the dreaded rainy season has come!"

(la cueva packed with readers)

(Felix, Holly, and Mafe share reading duty)

Welcome Dana!

I’m posting this late night because we all just got back to Conocoto from meeting up with our newest member, Dana, in Quito. Her plane arrived tonight at 10:30pm, and we all taxied out there to meet her at her host family’s house. Meeting 8 new housemates, 3 of which were particularly hyper for some unknown reason (3 guesses who it was; hint, we’re also the ones who eat ice cream after midnight), speaking in a foreign language after flying 6 hours was undoubtedly stressful, but Dana was true to her Colorado form and rolled with it all. When she moves in with me next week, the Colorado contingency will continue its legacy in the big room with the view, previously occupied by Annie and Abbie, both Colorado girls.

It’s late and so I’m going to sign off; tune in tomorrow for the first guest blog of one Seth Harlan!

Until Thursday,
(Serena and Jos cracking coconuts for batidos (milkshakes)!)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Our First Minga

As I mentioned last week, on Saturday we participated in a minga to clean up the local river which has, for the past 3 years, served as a dumping ground for thousands of plastic bottles. A longstanding Andean tradition, mingas began as a way to clear a farmer’s fields; since the job could not be undertaken by a single family, the entire community would come together and help clear and harvest different fields each week. The practice of mingas continues today, albeit with less frequency. Luke, who has been working within the community to identify areas where mingas could respond to a need, collaborated with a number of women living in San Francisco and Tena to organize this weekend’s project.

5:45am on Saturday found team Ecuador stumbling around our kitchen trying to find coffee and scramble eggs with our eyes half closed, laughing at how out of it everyone is before 8am, our usual kitchen meeting time. After dangerously passing 2 ladders from the roof down the front of our house by hanging out the second story windows and hoping they didn’t drop on the faces of those waiting to receive them on the front patio, we all piled into what was quite possibly the most beat up Mazda truck I have ever seen and headed over to the river.

(the Mazda, held together by scrap metal and reggaton beats)

Upon splitting into two teams, the ‘river people’ and the ‘cleaning people’, we got down to work. Serena, Luke, and I started out in the river with 5 Ecuadorians, all decked out in rainboots and rubber gloves, looking hesitantly at the enormous pile of bottles, while Seth, Jocelyn, Eliah and Dunc headed down to the ‘cleaning station’ at Aliñambi, which consisted of wash tubs and a cement patio to crush the bottles. Craig was our 'go between' guy, hauling the bags from the river down to the recycling center, and Mark set about constructing “NO Bota Basura!” signs to put at different points along the river's path.

(Serena and I with our first trash bag of the day)

Starting at 7:30am, we worked straight to 1:30pm, at which time we were all a little woozy from the amount of trash and fumes from the discarded paint cans, gasoline bottles, and fermenting plastic. Serena, Paulo (a community member who spent much of the time in the river balanced on one of the ladders pushing the bottles away from the deep middle) and I all ended up falling into the river at some point, filling our boots with sludge and soaking our jeans in awful ways. Despite having filled up 49 industrial sized trash bags, we were barely half way through the bottles, and the executive decision to split the minga into two days was made by Christina after we realized we had already overflowed the recycling center’s capacity for bottles 3 times over.

(Jocelyn, Eliah, Dunc and Seth handwashing each of the plastic bottles)

Overall, it was a day filled with sweat, trash, bilingual conversations, horrible smells, frustration, and laughter. It was hard to spend the entire morning waist deep in trash, thinking not only about the work of cleaning it up, but also the feasibility of changing the mentality that turned the river into a trash pit. But none of us came down to Ecuador with the intention of avoiding encounters with the difficult, rather we came to dive into the thick of it. This weekend was a study in that dive; and while we may have bellyflopped a few times, it’s good to be in the deep water together, even if that water is a contaminated river...


Friday, September 19, 2008

Late Night Arrivals

Eliah and Dunc just walked in the front door a few minutes ago (it’s currently 10:47pm) from their fifth day of small business class, and they are both spent. Instead of simply putting the class on, the boys are also participants in the program, which is proving to be quite the undertaking.

Considering we all are getting up at 5:45am tomorrow morning to head in to San Francisco to take part in a community minga to clean the plastic bottles from the river (see the daily photo), I can only assume that the late night friday class was particularly difficult to get through. Or so it seems by the amount of heavy sighing currently coming from the living room where they’ve both collapsed onto the couches. It’s also a little late to be up in the kitchen making churros, but sometimes when I start something I can’t make myself stop until the task is complete. Plus they’ll be great for breakfast tomorrow morning, right...?

Happy weekend!
(the local San Franciscan river and site of our 7am community minga clean-up!)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Dog

In Ecuador, there are a lot of dogs.

A lot of street dogs.

A lot of dirty, mangy street dogs.

The girls in the house can’t help but fall in love with all of them. We see the potential for cuddling; after a few (read, 8) flea baths, a hair cut, and a miraculous memory wipe/personality swap to backtrack from years of abuse, any street dog could be redeemed in the eyes of Jocelyn, Serena and I. The boys feel a little differently, instead dwelling on the fact that most of the street dogs look like they’ve been hit by a truck. A truck filled with Ugly.

So despite the girl’s longing for a dog to call our own, our house is still animal free.

Except there is this one that I KNOW we could get Mark in on. He’s not a street dog per say (aka he belongs to someone, minor detail), but he is pretty awesome. (Side note: most Ecuadorians who own dogs (and want to keep them looking somewhat healthy) keep them on their unfinished rooftops, since fenced in yard space is essentially unheard of. Or reserved for chicken coops and cow grazing.) Anyway, on our way to programs everyday, we pass under one of these roof-dwelling dogs (who actually lives on the abandoned second floor of a building). He is huge. Enormous. And Mark’s tall enough that they can almost get each other. And they have a bond, as in the dog wants to destroy Mark, and Mark wants to push the dog to it’s absolute limits, taunting him ceaselessly and essentially begging him to jump. Which, if he ever did, would be the end of Marco as we know him.

This is when the daily picture really comes in handy, huh :)


(Mark and his bff)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Saturday Morning

(Today's guest blog comes from Jocelyn Lancaster, a new MPIE PD affectionately called "Legs" around these parts. Jocelyn loves dancing to discoteca music in the kitchen, makes some mean enchilladas, and is our go-to girl for all things celebrity. I'm pretty sure she knew about Palin's pregnant daughter before McCain.)

"I wake up to the purring of the coffee grinder in the kitchen below my room. Mark must be making fresh Columbian coffee for our new French press, producing sounds and smells that signal the start of a new day. Coming out of the haziness that separates dreams from reality, I realize it's Saturday and take a deep breath. I lie still enjoying the lack of immediate responsibility that comes with the weekend before venturing out from the warmth of my comforter.

As I go downstairs, the house is still. Most are still asleep, taking advantage of the easiness that is Saturday to unwind from the stress of the week. I make my usual breakfast of cinnamon sugar oatmeal with sliced banana, grab a book, and head up to the roof to eat and read in the morning mountain air. The stillness of the house is enhanced by the stillness of the city. At first glance, all of Conocoto is quiet, tranquil, serene. As the minutes pass, I notice that the quiet is punctuated by sounds- some nearby, some mere echoes in the distance- that remind me of the life here in our valley. A dog barks. Birds chirp. A rooster crows. A child laughs. A bus drives by on the way to Quito. A man´s spade scrapes cement as he plasters his rooftop railing. The pages of my book flap in the gentle breeze. The sun is bright and warm, no clouds in sight that might inhibit its rays. Even in the coolness of the mountains, I am delightfully toasty in my fleece jacket.

Looking out over the rooftops, I take in the reality of my surroundings. All of Conocoto stretches out before me, and beyond that, all of the valley. The mountains large and looming in the distance separate us from the rest of the world. We are a pocket of life nestled in the grandeur of the Andes. Right here, right now, all that exists is the sun, the sky, and Conocoto. At this moment, I feel a oneness with every aspect of our little world, an interconnection to all of the sights and sounds penetrating my senses. I reflect on the work we are doing here, each person´s programs, goals, dedication and commitment. I think about the people we have met and those we will meet, how we are affecting the community and how the community is affecting us. We are now intricately involved in each others lives in a very real and complicated way. We belong to the valley, and the valley belongs to us. Today is perfect."

(view of the surrounding mountains as seen from our rooftop)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

So THAT'S what's wrong...

Every time Eliah and I head over to the University of San Francisco, Quito (USFQ) for a meeting regarding the community garden/recycling/agricultural learning center we’re in the midst of planning, I end up getting sick. Eliah has been spreading around the rumor that school itself makes me physically ill, which is absolutely NOT the truth, seeing as how I love the collegiate feel of that place almost as much as I love the English Department building at Vanderbilt. (I mean how could you not? Vaulted ceilings, stained oak panels, stained glass windows, spiral staircases, literature and poetry professors in every room...yes please). But yet again, yesterday we had a meeting at USFQ with a few different Ecology professors, and boom, this morning I had to attend our weekly meeting from the “comfort” of the downstairs bathroom.

Mark finally said enough is enough, it’s time to figure out what is actually going on (apparently he wasn’t as willing as Eliah to assume a jinxed college campus was behind all the sickness), and so we hopped into a cab and headed out to Quito. 5 hours later I’m back in my bed with my two new friends, Parasite and Amoeba, chillin’ in my intestines, glaring at the three big bottles of Pedialite BUBBLE GUM FLAVOR that are currently sitting on my bedside table and stand as the only liquids I’m allowed to drink for the next week.

And of course today’s the day Jocelyn decides to make Ropa Vieja for dinner. Woe is me.

In other news, I’ve decided to include a daily photo with each update. So at least you have something pretty to look at while thinking about parasites and amoebas.

Tune in tomorrow for the weekly guest blog, I promise it won’t be about being sick :)

Until Thursday, 


(the entryway to the Galileo Building at USFQ)

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Start of Small-Business Classes

When we first started through around the idea of a Daily Life Blog, everyone was a little worried that, come day 4, I would run out of things to write about and the blog would fade into the forgotten past, along with all-Spanish Wednesdays and certain feathered pets. Everyone clearly underestimated my ability to embellish tiny, insignificant moments into blog “worthy” entries.

As I sit down to write today’s entry, my mind is swimming with an overwhelming amount of moments to share with you all. From our morning chats with Susanna (the venta lady from whom we buy our weekly fruits and vegetables) to our encounters (and in Dunc’s case, fights with) certain street dogs, every day down here teams with stories worthy of sharing. Luckily, we have 11 more months to go...I think I’ll have the time to go there.

Tonight marks the beginning of the two week small-business start-up course which Dunc has been organizing tirelessly for the past three weeks; as I write this, those involved are entering into their fourth hour. Dunc has thrown his whole self into the project, walking around the neighborhoods every day for hours recruiting people, coordinating between the local Cooperative and the organization running the class, setting up meetings with everyone involved, arranging transportation to Sangolqui (the big town close to Conocoto in which the classes are being held), and making an exorbitant amount of phone calls following up with those he’d already talked to.

It is so exciting to see things come together as they have tonight; to be enacting our site’s mission of empowering those individuals taking part in the course, strengthening the local Cooperative institution, and building networks amongst the participants. The only downside to the program is that Dunc and Eliah will be missing from family dinners for the next two weeks, as the course runs from 5 to 9 every night. We will all have to exhibit a lot of self control to make sure there are enough leftovers waiting for them when they get home...I’m looking at you, girls.

Just as an aside, I’ve loved the comments you all have been leaving; they remind me how many people out there are invested in our house and work, which is uplifting and encouraging. Keep them coming!


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Slow Returns

So it’s Saturday, and I feel like I owe you all something for my unexplained absence the past few days. The lack of Thursday and Friday’s contemplations would suggest another internet outage, but that’s not the case. Nor was I intimidated by Dunc’s homage to a certain carbonated orange nectar, although it was quite powerful. The actual reason was a horrible tussle with what we’ve assumed to be food poisoning. Without getting into any details (you’re welcome), let’s just say it was a small victory this morning taking my pillow out of the bathroom and throwing away my toothbrush (you taught me well, Mama).

Anyway, having missed out on the past two days in a haze of delirium, I’m slowly catching up with everyone on what’s been happening. From soccer games in the community to stressful visa complications; countless calls regarding the start of the small business classes this coming Monday (yeah Dunc!) to making three new Canadian friends, it’s been a full two days.

Friday afternoons always finds me in the kitchen cooking dinner for the group, sou-chef Mark tailing close behind and dreading the inevitable question “will you cut the chicken breasts from the rib cages?”. Usually cooking for 8 calls for about 2-3 hours in the kitchen, boiling huge pots of water, cutting and dicing a lot of veggies, detaching chicken breasts, mincing garlic cloves, juicing limes, etc. Seeing as how yesterday I was just returning from the land of the dead, Mark was still in Quito, AND we were having three extra guests (hello Canada!) for dinner, I headed to the kitchen at 2. I was moving slowly, ok?! After washing my hands about 40 times and dousing myself in anti-bacterial soap, I felt ready. From what I’ve been told, 5 hours later dinner was good (I was still on the strict ‘toast and gatorade’ diet), and the house was full of loud voices, hilarious stories, purple wine-stained lips, and an abundance of laughter. The perfect Friday week’s-end.

Below you’ll find my recipe for Cinnamon-Sugar Banana Bread, which was effectively devoured last night. Enjoy!

Cinnamon Banana Bread
* 1/2 cup butter
* 1 cup sugar
* 2 eggs
* 4 large bananas
* 2 cups flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
* 1 tablespoon butter, melted
* cinnamon-sugar mixture

*Cream butter and sugar.
*Beat in eggs, one at a time.
*Mix in mashed banana.
*Sift dry ingredients together; stir into banana mixture, add nuts.
*Pour into greased 9x5x3 loaf pan.
*Bake at 350 for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into loaf comes out clean.
*While cake is warm, pour melted butter over top and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wanna Fanta, Don´t cha Wanna...

(Today´s blog post comes from Dunc Fulton, a new MPIE PD whose mission this year is to put a bed in the kitchen...yes, THAT Dunc. He is a die-hard Tex Mex snob, has talked to just about every single person in all three towns about the small business classes he´s been organizing, and loves to listen to Holly tallk about Michael Phelps)

Following up on Holly’s promise several days ago, I will in fact devote my first guest blog entry to what is clearly one the greatest simple pleasures of living abroad: the glory that is Fanta. As I quickly learned 2 years ago during my first stint living abroad (when I spent a semester in Spain), the States just can not match the quality of Fanta that exists outside its boundaries. While strangely enough I am not a huge fan of soda in general, nothing beats an ice-cold Fanta out of a glass bottle. Fortunately, as I was able to discover one of our first weeks living in the Manna house, such a delicacy exists only a block away from our casa. One little street over, in fact, sits what is TV-commercial quality Fanta for only 20 cents a bottle! If there is to be a caveat, it lies in the fact that one must drink the Fanta inside the little tienda due to the high value of glass bottles in this country.

If, by chance, at this point in the entry you’re suddenly thinking, “Dunc must not understand that you can buy Fanta in the U.S,” I do actually realize this truth. However, there is an acute difference between your typical 7-11 plastic 20-oz. bottled Fanta stateside and the treasured glass-encompassed bottles that abound in Spanish-speaking countries. In case you were curious, a comprehensive Fanta hierarchy exists. As all wine connoisseurs out there surely agree, not every “year” for a particular brand is as good as the others. It is much the same with Fanta. Without further ado, here is the Fanta ranking in its entirety (ice-cold temperature is presumed):

  1. Glass bottle (200 mL)
  2. Glass bottle (500 mL)
  3. Fountain soda with ice filled 1/3 way (although this can be a risky choice based on the syrup concentration
  4. 2 (or 3) liter plastic bottle
  5. 500 mL plastic bottle
  6. Any size aluminum can
  7. Warm = the worst. Not even worth it (any size / type of container).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fractions and Strawberry Cake

Today’s correspondence comes after an enormously satisfying dinner cooked by Jocelyn and Eliah; two types of enchiladas, tomato-rich guacamole, and strawberry cake. Yes please.

I started to write before dinner, but was in a somewhat foul mood and everything I tried to say came out sounding a tiny bit cranky. And by a tiny bit cranky, I mean very cranky. I blame the fact that Serena and I had just done a Billy Something-or-other Boot Camp workout; in preparation for our women’s exercise classes we’re trying to create different workouts, translate the directions into Spanish, and get into shape ourselves, which is proving more difficult than perhaps it should. An hour of squats, pushups and punch-kick-lunges was enough to make me want to jump out my open window. But now I’m well fed and the burning in my thighs has somewhat dissipated, thus I am in a better position to begin the daily blog.

As I write this, Seth and Dunc are singing (seriously jamming) to Ray LaMontagne in the kitchen while doing the dishes, Jocelyn is playing with our little baby birds, Serena is attempting to learn how to dictate workout moves in Spanish, Eliah is at a Cabina talking to his parents, Luke and Mark are in Quito sending off Carla (our fantastic Ecuadorian friend who just got a job in Denver, my home town!), and I am soaking it all in. Speaking of baby birds, we all talked this morning about the feasibility of keeping them, and Serena and I were defeated in an “anonymous ballot vote” 6 to 2 in favor of returning them. It is probably for the best, considering everyone has taken to calling the duckling "Bird Flu", but it will be hard to say goodbye to the little guys come Sunday. Even if they do crap more often than they chirp (which is quite often).

Anyway, today at Apoyo Escolar, I was working with Jonathan, one of our students, on fractions. Oh fractions. Not only have I had to essentially relearn how to do fractions (least common denominator, flipping the fraction with division, simplification... welcome back to Campus Middle School, Holly), Ecuadorian math in general is NOT the same as math in the States. The process is just different, and when you have someone who likes to guess what the lowest common multiple could be instead of actually working through the problem (ahem, Jonathan), this process becomes all the more important. Don't misunderstand me, Jonathan is a really smart kid. He knows how to do fractions. Not only can he do them, he can do them well. Even gets the right answers. (Like I said, smart). But he gets so frustrated that half the time he erases his work before he’s finished the problem even if he’s on the completely right track. If it doesn’t feel right to him, he whips out the eraser.

The first problem he attempted (complex factional addition) he did exactly right, ending up with the right answer. And then he erased it. All of it. To try again, in the same way. With the same result. And erased it again. I guess 14/15 just didn’t look right to him. 4 erasures later, I found myself sitting on my own hands so as to not steal his eraser and swallow it. But patience and reassurance won out in the end, and we eventually reached the conclusion that 14/15 was, in fact, correct.

Here’s hoping tomorrow we do long division.


Monday, September 8, 2008

Bird Flu

This past weekend was a full one. We hosted Jens, a state-side visitor from the organization HealtheChildren who came down to Ecuador to meet with Julia at Aliñambi about expanding the clinic there. Mark and Abbie (a recently departed, sorely missed 2007-08 MPIE founding member) have been working since April initiating, coordinating and nurturing a budding partnership between HealtheChildren and Aliñambi, and it was awesome to see months of emails, phone calls, and planning come together this weekend. After tomorrow mornings’ team meeting I will have a better idea of where the collaboration stands now, but we are, as Mark put it, “cautiously optimistic” about how things progress from here.

This weekend was also the close of the Sangolqui Corn Festival, and Saturday found Dunc, Jos, Serena and I watching an enormous parade of horses, searching for the much anticipated bulls, dancing on the sidewalks with questionably drunken Ecuadorians, and jostling our way through the throngs of people in an attempt to get to the “largest cake in Ecuador”. With Jos taking the initiative on that one, we got there pretty darn fast :)

We also added to our Manna family, but these little guys are a current point of house tension, so until tomorrow’s meeting I will refrain from posting anything more than just their pictures...


Saturday, September 6, 2008

When in Doubt, Use Photography

Today I spent the majority of my time drafting, re-drafting, deleting, starting over, getting side-tracked, avoiding, thinking about, writing, editing, and obsessing over the monthly email update we at Manna send to all of our donors, friends, family, professors, neighbors...ie. you if you’ve found your way to this site. Thus it is midnight here in Ecuador and all I have to show for today’s Daily Life blog is a long run on sentence and what follows close after (read: THIS).

When you check your email and see something from Manna Project International, just know that I’ve poured more thoughts atop that sucker than I do syrup over Mark’s homemade griddle cakes. And that means a LOT.

So today instead of a story via words, you’ll get a story via photographs. Enjoy :)

(Marjorie, one of our Apoyo Escolar students, soaking up free time between homework)

(the much anticipated stop for cold Fantas in the glass bottle...by far the best, according to Dunc's grading scale. He'll probably post about it when it's his turn to guest blog)

(top of a church in downtown Sangolqui, site of last weekend's "Corn" Festival and our favorite outdoor food market)


Thursday, September 4, 2008

While Waiting for Sugar Cookies

I’m writing today’s blog post (albeit late into the evening, I know) from the unnamed (but unanimously accepted) headquarters of the Manna Ecuador house, The Kitchen. Not much to look at, this room is without a doubt the most frequented room in the whole place. Dunc would clearly like to spend all of his time here, as evidenced by his constant insistence that we put a bed next to the oven. At any given time during the day, someone will be in here cooking an egg, pealing a banana, slicing some mozzarella, or spreading some peanut butter on, well, anything that's edible. Most days, come 4 o'clock when dinner cooking commences, an assortment of chairs will mysteriously make their way into the kitchen, computers will be perched on laps, and we'll all catch up on each other's days and programs as the poor cook chops an exorbitant amount of vegetables. It's a wonderfully telling form of MPI Ecuador community.

I will not tell you how dirty this place can get (ahem, the floor), mainly because I don’t want to instigate a flurry of emails from concerned moms back in the states. The sugar cookies I’m baking for dessert are still in the oven, (plate number two, that is, seeing as how plate one was just confiscated by one Luke Lockwood, who has retreated to the hammock room with 5 cookies in tow) and I have 10 glorious minutes of downtime in a day that hasn’t seemed to slow down yet.

Last night we said goodbye to yet another MPI 2007-08 Program Director, Zak, and each of us has expressed how empty our hearts feel now that he’s gone. Yes, maybe I’m being just a little bit emo, but we all have noticed how much emptier the Manna House feels with all of the old PDs gone. I know what you’re thinking, Holly, you still have seven roommates for Pete's sake, what in the world are you going to do when you get your first apartment by yourself? I will become a crazy bird lady, that’s what.

Anyway, this is probably just my overly dramatic way of telling all the old PDs “we miss you!” and attempting to distract my overly eager self from opening the oven door every 4 minutes. Gotta keep these hands busy :)


A Different Kind of List

(Wednesday's guest blog comes from Serena Zhou, a new MPI Ecuador Program Director and resident whiteboard drawer. Serena can eat Eliah under the table at any given meal, has picked up Spanish faster than anyone I've ever met, and nearly cried when Zak's girlfriend mailed her the Olympic opening ceremonies from her dearly loved China.)

Things I Wish I Had Known...

-When possible, choose the window seat on crowded buses (esp. if you are a female). You never know what to expect in this "machismo" society.

-Never flush ANYTHING down the toilet.

-Always bring your camera with you (in case a cow decides to give birth in front of the classroom like Jocelyn and Dunc)

-Avoid carrying anything over a 5 dollar bill; otherwise, you may not get change.

-Don't rely on the internet to find information on...anything around here.

-Do not look at an Ecuadorian man on the street in the eye for over 3 seconds. They will think you're interested.

-Don't trust a stray dog like Diego who will use Gringos for food and then leave you and break your heart.

-Do not tell an Ecuadorian you don't like Pilsener (the Ecuadorian beer) even though it really is gross. It will shatter their national pride and they will get defensive.

-Don't attempt to play soccer with locals until you have had plenty of time to acclimate.

- Always bring a rain coat with you...everywhere.

-The Godfather is the most confusing movie ever made in the history of mankind. Even the Wikipedia site is confusing.

-"Chinese" restaurants are owned by Ecuadorians.

-Bed bugs actually DO bite.

-Try to put national pride aside if you want to conquer the world in "Risk." I learned this the hard way.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Omelets and Meetings

Every Monday night we at the Manna house (Mu Pi Iota, as we like to refer to it. And by "we" I mean Jos, Serena and I) sit down for a fantastic Zak/Luke dinner and a team meeting. During the week we all add meeting topics to the big white board next to the stairs, and come Monday we tuck in to dissect everything on the agenda. These meeting topics can range from the mundane (house-cleaning) to the complex (defining this year’s approach). This week, given the intensity of our list, we decided to meet early Tuesday morning to ensure fresh minds. Seeing as how Mark offered to supply us with omelets to fuel conversation, it was a wise choice.

This week’s list is as follows:
1. White plastic chairs (if left on the porch, they will crack under the intense Ecuadorian sun)
2. Program Attendance (addressing the issues we’ve had with interest/investment by the San Franciscan community in our various programs)
2. a-p) in depth discussion about how to remedy/address #2.
3. Late night ice cream binges (the girls begged the boys to yell “muffin tops!” at us whenever we lock ourselves in the kitchen to eat cartons of ice cream. Eliah volunteered to head up the effort)
4. PD recruiting (when we need to start!)
5. Projector (how to take care of it, especially since a new blub costs 400 dollars!)
6. Small business classes (Dunc has an upcoming meeting to find a teacher for our class)
7. Mingas (Luke is working to put together Mingas in the neighborhood, potentially collaborating with Engineers without Borders)
8. Couch in kitchen (Dunc wants to put a bed in the kitchen to lounge in, but is willing to compromise with a couch. Eliah threatened to filibuster the already long meeting until we all consented.)
9. Thanksgiving break group from Vandy.
10. Finances (being aware of our food spending habits)
11. Zak off the reservation celebration (Zak heads out on Thursday :( so a dinner send-off is in order)

It was a packed meeting, but we all came off with a better understanding of where our focus needs to be. We were reminded of the importance of being in the community, of being fully there; of showing up to soccer games and church services and community meetings, of knowing the families who trust their kids to us every day after school, of being present and intentional and focused on what work we want to accomplish hand in hand with the San Franciscan community.

I have no doubt that we are all ready to be fully in it.


Monday, September 1, 2008

First Day of School

As I write this the rains are starting to roll in; what started as 8 am clouds over the distant mountains has turned in to a full-fledged thunderstorm dumping buckets of South American rains down on our little Conocoto. Considering we’re all about to hop on a bus over to our first day of Apoyo Escolar, the rains came at just the right time...? So it goes, I’m told.

This morning Zak, Seth, Johanna and I packed all the supplies we’ll be needing for the next year of Apoyo Escolar into a truck bed and bumped our way over to the Casa Barrial. After schlepping three huge cabinets, countless dry erase boards, markers, crayons, paper, rulers, pencils, pens, notebooks, erasers, speakers, construction paper, and boxes full of books for our seedling of a library into the Casa Barrial, we got to work sweeping and wiping down tables and chairs for what we’re hoping will be a full class of students.

September 1st marks the first day of school for Ecuadorian students, and we’re ready for programs to get underway, even if it does mean the onset of the rainy season. Pull on the rain boots and let’s learn some Ecuadorian math :)