Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Duke Vignettes

Today's post is a little different, but trust me, it's awesome. (Can I still use that word, being a college graduate? Here's hoping). As you may know, last week we were lucky enough to host a joint Spring Break group from Duke-UNC: bitter basketball rivals, close Manna volunteers. See the good that Manna does in the community! I digress.

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.

Toilet Paper

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.

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