Monday, March 30, 2009
Later today I will be putting up more pictures of the library in action, as many of you have requested.
Less than 12 hours after Iowa set foot upon Ecuadorian soil, we learned how to massacre live chickens. And as bloody and unappetizing the process might have been (eg, squeezing out the contents of large chicken intestines), the end result was vale la pena (worth the pain). Pepita, Mayra, Francisco, and Julio (one of our favorite Ecuadorian families) were experts in this field. Needless to say, this was a perfect skill to learn with med students! I wish I did this before anatomy class... Details aside, I think these pictures will be sufficient.
Iowa, Holly and I then got "opendhandsdirtyfeet" by cleaning up the cancha from the previous night's library/teen center inauguration, before enjoying a local soccer game from the patio of our new space.
We ended the day with a conspicuous visit to Sangolqui markets, haggling with success to some extent (it's harder to fool the Ecuadorians with 11 Gringos flashing hi-fi photos in their faces). So far so good. Everyone is alive and kicking.
-Alinambi (to measure kids for our Positive Deviance-based nutrition pilot- more to come on this!)
-Waldos clinic/Sangolqui hospital
-Ministry of Public Health of Conocoto
-Julie and Brett watching a woman get her tubes tied.
-Spontaneously turning the MoH emergency room into a full-out salsa/reggaeton dance club with patients and doctors alike.
-Dan screwing up his feces sample. Rosanna the nurse at Waldos laughing at his liquid-soaked sample.
-Amanda, Taj, Ryan, and Brett basically running the ER at Sangolqui hospital (via body language and me translating) due to shortage of doctors... including suturing a very drunk old man's head (yes, during the middle of the day), building a "nose bridge" for a man with a broken nose (who doesn't remember breaking it bc, surprisingly, he got drunk during lunch last Sunday), stabilizing two teenagers who just got into a near-fatal motorcycle accident, etc.
(From left to right): Matt, Serena (MPI co-leader), Alex, Brett, Julie, Collin, Dan, Amanda, Taj, Anna, Ryan, Seth (MPI co-leader))
Spent the day doing touristy stuff, including climbing the breathtaking Basilica, walking through Quito's Old Town, and visiting la Capilla del Hombre- the museum of Guayasamin. I think we Program Directors need to keep reminding ourselves just how amazing this country is, as we have lived here long enough to feel relatively desensitized. Watching the reactions of Iowa and the other spring break groups- served as a constant reality check, telling us not to take this place for granted.
Summited Pichincha- the 3rd highest mountain in Ecuador (4600m). Our lungs definitely got their workout today. Lesson of the day: EAT FOOD before attempting to ascend a 300m. Waterproof gloves are also nice.
Iowa went on the infamous bike ride to the waterfalls, which is always an exhilarating experience, despite some mishaps on the way (Amanda's flat tire, dogs chasing after us). By the end of the trip, despite the exhaustion, we were all regretful the trip was coming to an end.
Miss you Iowa. Vengan a Ecuador prontisimo!!!!!!!
Thursday, March 26, 2009
I think a lot of the delay has to do with the millions of details I had at my feet, each peering up at me with big doe eyes just begging to be written about here. Do I write about how Seth Harlan's radio interviews advertising the concert have made him a b-level Ecuadorian celebrity? Or what about the 20 minute interview Dunc gave about the whole process to a hand-held video camera who's operator struggled a little with knowing proper boundaries of personal space? Of course I couldn't leave out the part where 26 children under the age of 7, stuffed in the kid's corner and spilling out into the main space, set to work dismantling every puzzle we own. And then there was the dancing, have I even mentioned the dancing? With musical acts ranging from traditional Ecuadorian Folk to hard-core rap, to say the dancing styles shifted dramatically multiple times throughout the day might be understating it.
All that said, during the past week I've been ruminating on beginnings. Because of the library space we've met new neighbors, seen an encouraging increase in interest in all of our programs, and begun to have a real presence in the community we've worked so hard to connect with.
I can remember back in October, when Mark asked me to proofread a program proposal he'd just written up. It was for a lending library, a first in the Valley, and a dream we all witnessed come to fruition on March 14. Combine Mark's bold vision, Seth's passion for a teen center and uncanny ability to make friends with every Ecuadorian he comes into contact with, Dunc's persistence in tracking down every last library and book store in Ecuador (and getting them to give us huge discounts), and Manna's organizational dedication to connecting communities, and you end up with one unbelievable grand opening.
And I even get an art studio thrown in the mix. I mean, come on. How'd they pull that one off?
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Life, until this morning, was pretty great. Our library and teen center are up and running, we have great applicants for next year's Program Directors, the search for a new Country Director is coming along swimmingly. I'm rock climbing more, my inbox is short, and I made a new friend at the library. José Suntaxi Suntaxi, age five, barreled into the library with his family yesterday like he was born to read, and of course ask copious amounts of questions. A sampling:
How do I open this?
Take off the plastic, José.
It's a microscope.
What's a microscope?
It lets you see little things, look.
Oooh...! Little Gringo, do you have a bathroom?
We do - it's right over there. Make sure you wash your hands, ok? And you can call me Profesor Marco, instead of Little Gringo.
Ok! Little Gringo, are you going to be my friend?
Of course I am, José.
Why is this called a 'biblioteca?'
It's a place where you can borrow books. It's from the Greek... nevermind. You borrow books here. A libreria is where you buy them.
I've never, ever been in a biblioteca before. I can take a book home and bring it back the next day?
Sure thing, brother.
Given how great all this sounds, what could possibly go wrong? I was sitting in the upstairs office this morning, minding my own business and reading applications, when Dana poked her head around the staircase. "Mark, you and I are cooking tonight. Can you think of something to go with black bean salad?" Now my palms are sweaty, my pulse is up, and former volunteer Zak Schwarzman is reminding me to breathe, via g-chat.
I hate cooking. Last time I cooked, I ended up with some kind of spicy water that made everybody's nose run, apparently a no-no outside of Cajun Country. That was October. Now we've had to redraw the cooking and cleaning rotation, and I'm back in. Zak's response when I told him was, "Did everyone else tragically lose their arms?"
I think I'm going rock climbing. Here's to you, Zak the food therapist.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
These photos were taken by the Photo Booth application on my MacBook, and even though they're kind of grainy, they still captured last night's cloud-filled sunset pretty wonderfully. Gotta make do with what you've got, right? When you live in a place like Ecuador, amidst the Andes, "making do" is pretty easy.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Anyway, the group had a packed week, helping us get the library/teen center ready for the grand opening music festival, about which a blog post is coming, I promise. Instead of telling their stories, we managed to score some sweet journal entry ruminations on various aspects of their week from one of their gifted writers, Connie, who has agreed to letting me post them here.
I call this entry: Ecuador As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Spring Breaker. (I expect to be recognized for my originality any day now). Enjoy!
You know you’ve been spoiled when you demand a three course meal for $2.00. I’m broke like most college students. In Ecuador, the poorest college student could live like a king. With hefty government subsidies, everything might as well be free when compared to the outrageous prices found on your typical American campus. I was like a wide eyed child in a candy store. What do you mean bus fare is $0.25? So dinner costs LESS than $10.00? You mean I could have been cramming for exams with $1.00 red bulls this whole time? When I walked into the school dining hall after spring break, I winced at the unsightly label on a sandwich reading “$6.50” and suppressed the urge to haggle with the cafeteria worker. I miss Ecuador already.
You have NO idea how lucky you are to be able to toss TP down the drain. No one even thinks about it twice. When that pile of soggy toilet paper sitting ominously in the corner starts spilling over the edge of the trashcan, you suddenly remember how wonderful it is to be able to flush the mess away. First there’s denial: “No, that is not trashcan overflowing with used TP.” Then there’s blame: “If their sewage system could handle TP, this wouldn’t be happening.” Then there’s anger: “WHY DON’T THEY MAKE BIGGER TRASH CANS!?” Finally, there’s acceptance: “Being able to flush TP is a luxury that some just don’t have and I should deal with it.” They say that you shouldn’t take what you have for granted. The ability to flush toilet paper is no exception.
One flight of stairs and I was winded. I wouldn’t say I’m in great shape but I’d like to think that I’m not in terrible shape. Am I? I didn’t think altitude would have such a big impact on how much oxygen you can move though your body. Then again, when an athlete who can do a two mile swim, 30 mile run, 160 mile bike back to back to back has trouble running up a hill, you know nature has gotten the better of you. Ecuador’s mountains give the country some of the most stunning views one can hope to see but it also makes trekking around without huffing and puffing nearly impossible. This made a three hour hike especially rewarding. When a member of our group proposed hiking to the cloud line hovering around the mountain tops, I thought it was a great idea. I soon found myself clawing my way up the mountain side, heart and lungs in overdrive, in the wake of five strapping young men who raced ahead. When I finally reached flat ground on the peak, I gasped. I was compensating for thinner air of course but the view was spectacular. With refreshing breezes blowing past me, my breathing slowing down, and a beautiful panoramic view below me, I felt great. I got to see an amazing sight and I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about downing a ridiculous amount of delicious but sinfully sugary Ecuadorian juice as soon as I got down. Good thing Ecuador is in the middle of the Andes. It’s a place where you can feel proud of yourself for walking up some stairs.
For the adventurous vacationer there’s puenting: the Ecuadorian euphemism for “throwing yourself off a bridge with a rope around your waist”. When I say rope I mean rope. Not bungee cords, those are elastic. Rope. We stood at the edge of a gorge eyes fixed on the nervous tourist standing motionless on the guard rail of a nearby bridge. She was no doubt in some sort of zen state ignoring the 40 meter drop below her. Ideally, she could have taken as much time as she wanted to mentally prepare herself but unfortunately, time is money. Other people wanted to jump off a bridge too. “UNO!” boomed the voice of the puenting staff as she snapped out of her trance. “DOS!” Our eyes widened in anticipation, typical of any college student about to witness a peer execute some crazy stunt. “TRES!” We held our breaths as she fell much like one would after jumping off a diving board. Then the line went taught. Our smiles turned into grimaces as all downward momentum was instantaneously stopped (exactly the way physics professors tell you mass is NOT supposed to move) and she was whipped into a parabolic arc. Her fear turned into excitement as the rest of the experience is like sitting on a giant swing. Were it not for the fact that the rope doesn’t stretch and a sudden change in direction could mess up your back, it would be an awesome thing to try. $20 bucks, 3 minutes, 1 heck of an adrenaline rush.
The Library Inauguration
People are bombarded with advertisements. We see an ad of some sort roughly every 30 seconds. As someone who has put up fliers and snubbed fliers, I knew how difficult it is to get people to come to an event. Though out the week, I had seen tons of colorful posters for the opening of the library/teen center. Yet I was skeptical of how many people would make an effort to come out for the event. The concert started at 2:00. No one showed up until 2:30. It started drizzling at 3:00. The prospects were not good. I felt terrible seeing project directors standing alone, speaking passionately about a great cause to a sparse audience.
Just before I was about to lose hope, a few people started trickling in. One became ten, ten became fifty and as the sun set on Amaguana, the street in front of the co-op was filled with people. When I walked into the library around 6:00, I was stunned. The place was packed. Throughout the week, I had not been able to grasp what impact my work on the library would make. To me it was simply wax on/wax off the floor, sand the board, paint the wall. But amidst exclamations of “que bonita!”, toddlers staring quizzically at puzzles, children burring their noses in books, teens engrossed in video games, and parents smiling, the magnitude of the project finally hit me. It was a Karate Kid moment where I discovered that all the waxing, painting, and sanding was really martial arts. The grand opening of the library/teen center was a big success. Let’s hope the people keep coming back.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
1. You take taxis into the community every day because you have so much stuff to bring with you that wouldn't survive on the bus (computer monitors! easels! desks!).
2. You find turquoise paint in all sorts of places when you finally get to shower at 10:30pm.
3. In the past 2 days, you've spent more money on floor wax than you have on food.
4. You have a medley of classic rock running on repeat in your brain, because "It's the only kind of music you can listen to while painting". I think I now know every lyric and guitar solo to the collected works of The Greatful Dead; my dad would be so proud.
5. If you never see or breath in sawdust ever again, it will be too soon.
6. Mopping has become a way to relax after a long day of work.
7. You wake up at 3am making lists of things to do, and decide you might as well get up and get started (that was for you, Seth).
8. The daily life blog has suffered tremendously, because the wireless internet has yet to be installed in the space.
9. Your packed lunch is both good and bad: good because it saves you from yet another almuerzo, but bad because that means you really didn't leave the space for 13 hours.
10. Thursday's art class will be dipping their hands in paint and helping decorate the children's corner, and probably each other as well.
Hopefully I'll have pictures soon; gotta grab one of the Duke spring breaker's memory cards before they head out. And I just have to say, without them, the library-teen center-art gallary-kids corner-office space would be in shambles. Literally. As if I needed another reason to like Duke.
Monday, March 9, 2009
(Today's guest blog comes from Eliah McCallah, who has his very own guest-blog fan base. The wait for the next Eliah installment is over!)
"Life as an American in Ecuador inevitably requires you to become accustomed to practices and circumstances that would be never occur in the US. For instance, we are no longer bothered to drink milk that has sat on the shelf unrefrigerated for weeks. If we receive an electric shock from our shower head, it’s probably our own fault for raising our hand too high, while witnessing public urination is just a reminder to walk on the other side of the street until the next rain. Catching the Libertadores bus home from Quito earlier on Saturday, though, I realized that the city had offered me an unusual amount of unusualness.
Actually, part of the absurdity of the trip was my own fault. Saturday evening, ten spring breakers from Duke/UNC landed at Mariscal-Sucre International Airport and placed their lives in my hands for a week (though for purpose of legal liability, I should probably mention my co-leader Jocelyn here). Anyway, after weeks of building beds and planning schedules, it occurred to me Saturday morning that I don’t actually know how to get to the places I’m supposed to guide them to. I went to Quito to remedy this.
Walking toward the Basilica, Quito’s most famous cathedral, I passed a political rally with probably twenty people waving flags emblazoned with the number 3 (political parties here have numbers as well as names) and standing below an enormous sign promoting Lucio in the upcoming presidential election. Curious if Lucio might be a serious contender, I asked one of his flag-bearing followers what the name of the party was. “Er, 3.” He told me. Is he a conservative or liberal candidate? I asked. “Um, ask someone else, I’m just paid to be here,” he told me. Paying non-affiliated citizens to fill rallies is actually a common practice in Ecuadorian politics, but it’s nonetheless hard to get used to.
Having reached the Basilica, I began walking toward Plaza Grande in Old Town and stopped to ask directions from a trio of taxi drivers standing outside their cars. Holding their open beer cans unashamedly as they pointed me in the right direction, I found myself glad it was close enough to walk to.
Finally, after leaving the touristy street La Ronda incensed that I couldn’t find lunch for less than $3.50, I stopped to ask a police woman where to find the stolen goods market I’d been told exists in that part of town. She had a hard time answering me, but only because she wasn’t sure which of three in the area I wanted.
All of this left me sitting on the bus home, marveling at the straight forward strangeness of aspects of this country, and how quickly the ridiculous has become commonplace in my own mind. Maybe it’s in part a reflection of “magical realism,” the literary style adopted by many Latin American authors in which the everyday is mixed with the fantastical, which, in many ways, paints a more accurate picture of what life in Ecuador is all about. Whatever it is, it’s life for the next five months, and as long as I’m here, I’m just as happy to lose myself in the sureality.~Eliah"
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Dunc and I just got back from the Quito airport after dropping off our 9 wonderful spring breakers. Before I crawl back into bed to catch up on some of the sleep that's been sorely missed this week, here's a recap of the past 3 days for those who are interested. Pictures to follow later today, as I snagged a camera card and uploaded Alaina's before she left. Thanks girl!
In the morning we headed out to parque Moya, the big park at the edge of Conocoto, to lay in the grass and plan out the children's English class they would be running that afternoon. Another almuerzo in Conocoto and a quick stop at the local dvd shop later, we were back on the bus (oh the constant busses) headed out to the community. Our afternoon was filled with Apoyo Escolar, Children's English (they talked about their favorite hobbies; gotta love creative college students), working in the library space (major props to Michelle for constructing the computer table!), and hitting up every tienda in search of a good Magnum ice cream bar.
Wednesday evening we were invited (thanks to Seth's awesome networking skills) for tea and a light supper at a local hacienda, a place we Program Directors have walked by every day since July but never been inside the grounds. And what an experience it was. Needless to say, after getting a tour of the grounds, meeting all 24 polo horses, seeing the two polo fields, walking through their private chapel, and sitting in awe under their chandeliers from Prague as their cooks made fresh empanadas, choclo pasta, and homemade cheesecake, we felt like we were in a completely different world. As if, by walking through the gates, we had passed through the wardrobe and were now in Narnia. The place was ridiculous, the family's hospitality was wonderful, and it definitely sparked some great conversations later that evening.
We rounded out the evening at a local restaurant in downtown Quito which featured a live Ecuadorian blues band; Manna is nothing if not cultural!
Another bright and early wake-up call. All 11 of us headed out the door, weekend bags packed, at 8 am to make our way to the base of Pichincha, the large volcano which stands sentinel over downtown Quito and is accessible via the teleferico, a gondola. After riding up, hiking around, taking a horseback ride to a little-seen waterfall, and standing in awe of the immensity that is the city of Quito, we sped over to the terminal and climbed on board for our 4 hour bus ride out to Banos, Ecuador.
We checked in to our rockin' hostel (free internet! a roof-top patio!), changed our clothes, and walked over to my favorite restaurant in Ecuador, Casa Hood. 3 hours, 5 smoothies, 11 amazing dinners and countless laughs later, we reluctantly left Casa Hood and walked back to our hostel, only to remember the top floor terrace. Places like that stimulate wonderful conversation (and a fair share of hilarity), and our Thursday ended with both.
After convincing a few of the girls that it really was easy to remember how to ride a bike, we aimed our wheels towards the river route and spent the morning biking through the forested Andes Mountains: over bridges, through tunnels, along the river and past waterfalls in some of the most beautiful mountains South of the Equator. A long hike down led us to Pablon del Diablo, an enormous waterfall we were able to climb up and behind thanks to a new tunnel completed this past October. We rejuvenated ourselves with french fries, ice cream and cokes (maybe not the best combination) before treking back up the mountain, grabbing a couple of trucks, and riding back up to Banos for lunch. Massages, shopping, exploring and soaking up the Andean sun made our afternoon fly by, and before long we were back on the bus headed home.
Our spring break cook, Elida, had a wonderful costal meal waiting for us when we got back, and after pushing together three dining room tables, all 20 of us sat down together for our last dinner with Vanderbilt. Over at the apartment the girls packed, showered, and loaded me up with all the extra food and magazines they couldn't fit in their suitcases: Melissa, those yogurt covered pretzels are AMAZING!!! Yet another of the countless reasons I adore them.
So there you have it. One spring break week down, 2 to go. Dunc and I are pleased to report that no one got sick, hurt, or lost, and right now their plane is taking off from the airport with full numbers in perfect condition. We probably have a few ulcers, but so it goes :)
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
We started the day with a late morning, homemade french toast, and english class lesson-planning while piled on the couches. After Dunc headed in to Quito to pick up our banos tickets for this Thursday, Alaina, Kira and I stopped by the local venta to pick up supplies for the evening's fruit salad (for some reason our cook came to the house at 8:30am to start dinner preparations and clean the bathrooms...apparently she thinks she needs to invest a lot of time to make us clean/well fed) and walk around Conocoto a little bit.
Everyone was out the door by 1, posters and glue and paintbrushes in hand in order to advertise for the upcoming teen center/library grand opening concert on our way to the Casa Barrial. After a few rough starts (not a good idea to try and paste a poster to a wall with severely chipping paint flakes), we got the hang of it, which will come in handy tomorrow during round two.
At 2 we met with the 14 students from my art class for a really special field trip to the Guayasamin art museum in downtown Quito. After piling all 25 of us (and Mafe's dog, for reasons we're still not quite sure of) into a far-too-small van, we were on our way... first to Conocoto to trade up the van size, then through the maze that is downtown Quito, and finally to the top of a far hill and the base of the museum's grounds.
The museum itself was a force of emotion. As it was my third time visiting, I expected the waves of emotions to hit me with a little less force, and yet each visit is an island unto itself, an experience encapsulated in the present and incredible unto itself. Walking through the museum with my students, who just last Thursday studied Guayasamin in class and created their own interpretations of his works, and listening to their responses to our guide's questions and their enthusiasm for what they were seeing was indescribably wonderful. And it was even sweeter to experience it with the Vanderbilt girls.
After a long bus ride back (made worse by the expulsion of all the pent-up energy the kids had kept a cap on during the museum), most of the girls headed home with Dunc, while Alaina, Kira and I (my two new fabulous cohorts!) headed up to the church for women's exercise, an hour that left us aching in the legs and wondering how Serena does it 3 times a week.
I just left the group up on the roof around a bon fire, roasting marshmallows, making smores, and dissecting their time down here thus far. Such rich conversation, challenging questions, and positive discussions we've had so far, I can't wait to see where the rest of the week goes. And (big news!) Dunc and I still love each other! We haven't fought yet! Best co-leaders ever :)
Monday, March 2, 2009
While Sunday was the Vanderbilt spring break group's first official day, I spent Sunday en route from the states (as you know from my whining yesterday) and so joined the crew officially today. 7am found me on our "new" Manna bike riding down to the local bakery for some fresh bread for breakfast, soaking up the most beautiful Ecuadorian morning I've seen in a long time.
After breakfast, we all headed out the door, hopped on a few busses, and ended up at the base of the basillica, one of the most famous and beautiful churches in downtown Quito. We climbed (for what seemed like ages) up into the very top spires and soaked in the views, then made our way over to Plaza del Gobierno (which I'm referring to as Plaza of the Government because I can't pull the actual name, which I'm sure Craig will supply for me in the comments), timing it just right to catch the changing of the guard. After getting our fill of the plazas, and witnessing a strange parade/protest with rottweilers and pit bulls, we spent a good hour wandering through the artesan market in the mariscal, where the girls got to practice their bargining skills.
After grabbing a typical almurezo across the street, we headed out to the Valle for our afternoon of programs (Apoyo & Children's English) and a walking tour of the community, then swung by the house for a few minutes of downtime before heading back out for dinner at Jenny and Alfredo's house, a local couple who Dunc and Eliah know well from the small business class.
Overall it was one of those Ecuadorian days where as you walk back to the house at night and think about what you did that morning, it feels like 3 days has passed between. Welcome to the chaos that is spring break! We couldn't be more excited.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Well, the travel is done until this Thursday when Dunc and I take our Vanderbilt spring break group to Banos, and the blog is back in the sense that most posts this week will be written in sleep-deprived stupors late at night...but at least progress is being made. No camera yet, so I might resort to posting pictures I find on the internet, otherwise you'll just be left with my words and we all know those can get old quick :)
Dana and I are currently both on our computers in my room (she's moved in for the spring break weeks so that the college kids can have the apartment to themselves), and everyone else is sound asleep. Apparently today's Minga at Alinambi went exhausting-ly well, and also apparently buying enough food from markets for spring break requires a truck bed. Oh the joys.
Welcome, March. Time for another monthly update...the first of the new year. Coming soon, I really do promise.