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)