Friday, July 31, 2009

It's like summer camp all over again!

Right now our living room looks like a summer camp cabin; sweatshirts strewn everywhere, pillows piled on the chairs, Nalgene water bottles thrown in random corners, and 18 pieces of near-to-busting luggage covering every inch of the floor. No, spring break isn't happening all over again, something even better.

The new PDs are here!

Dana and I spent a solid two hours today emptying out our room of all clothes, shoes, brushes, random socks, backpacks, and the other things that clutter a life in 13 months. I wish I had found something exciting that I'd whined about loosing earlier in the year, but sadly all I found behind the dresser was a broken hanger and 3 horribly dusty bobby pins. How boring is that?

Anyway. They're here, we're excited, and the house is moaning, full to the brim.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Otavalo goodbyes

Yesterday we hugged goodbye two of our numbers, Dunc and Eliah. It should come as no surprise that the two cuarenta partners planned their Ecuadorian evacuation together; yes, they both claimed Graduate School as their individual reasons for leaving on the same day, but I'm not buying it. They just couldn't stand to be down here if the other was not :)

In anticipation of their departure, last weekend all eight of us oldies piled into a bus headed for Otavalo. I have to admit I was a little hesitant to go there; in our trusty Lonely Planet guide book Otavalo is written up as a "must see place for tourists of all kind, due to its enormous weekend market,". The last place I wanted to stay with my seven people was a touristy market town, surrounded by leather key chains and alpaca floor rugs and painted shot thank you. So imagine my surprise when our camioneta drove out of the town, up the cobblestone street right into the mountains and just kept going. Up, up, up we drove, jostling around in the back of an old white truck, backpacks and knees and laughs jumbling around with us, until we came to La Luna, our hostel picked by Dunc.

It was perfect. Nestled into the side of a big old hill covered in golden grasses and swaying trees, the place had crisp white walls, fire places, colorful hammocks, homemade guacamole, and a ton of board games. But most importantly it had connecting rooms and one big dinner table for all of us to sit around and reminisce, eat, play and read.

Here's to our last hurrah together! It's been a great year, huh.

Serena and Jos goof around while running back down to the hostel.

Serena and Eliah get ready for a serious game of Guess Who?

While Dana and Mark battle it out in Cuarenta.

View on the way to the waterfall.

Love that self timer.

Spot Serena.

Recreating a Quito statue we pass every time we bus into the city.

Trying to squeeze everyone onto a small rock. Why not.

Eliah and I share some rock space.

Rousing game of Clue next to the fireplace.

Mark tries to roast a marshmallow with a piece of burning paper...?

Dunc takes in the view on a Sunday hike.

The steep trek up to the summit begins.

View of Cayambe from the top of Fuya Fuya (my first Ecuadorian summit!)

Danabean and I channel our Colorado mountains.

The climbing crew.

A condor sighting from the summit. Rare and wonderful, as it's estimated there are only 65 in the whole country.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Year Ahead

(Kicking off Monday right, a new voice in the 'guest blog' world, MPIE's new Country Director, Bibi Al-Ebrahim)

"Last week I was not here in Ecuador. I was across the globe at my brother’s wedding and fully enjoying a family trip. But, it was impossible not to think of Ecuador, not to think of the new Program Directors with whom I will spend the next year, not to be concerned with what I may have been missing. I suppose angst stemmed from my fear of missing out on some group adventure or inside joke.

As the new Country Director for Manna Ecuador I too am starting a new adventure. And it may be just that that this group of new PDs, the first group of PDs under my supervision, will prove to be the most influential and sentimental in my experience. Although Ecuador and Spanish are no longer new to me, the position of Country Director and the responsibility that comes with such a position are. With such responsibility comes my wish to do the job well, not just for the organization, not just for me, but for us- a group comprised of individuals with different histories, and clearly different futures, but with the same desire of spending the next year together. Right now, in the present, we have chosen to do this together, encouraging me to do my best.

And in wanting to do my best I often have to tell myself to take one step at a time, to not expect to know everything only six weeks into the game. Under Mark Hand and the 2008/2009 PDs my transition period has been wonderful; I’ve been pushed to learn Manna ways and all its various components in a positive, patient, and gentle manner. It’s in this same way that I hope to guide the new PDs into Spanish, into Ecuador, and into Manna. The more I think about it, the intimacy of my six weeks with the old PDs acts as a reminder that the beauty of the new PD transition period and the year to come does not only lie in inside jokes and adventures, but in the learning together. And that I should not worry about missing out on, because I too have a lot to learn.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Brass Kunckles and Birthday Cakes

Hey all.

It's been a week since there's been anything new on here, hasn't it? Seeing as how this is in fact called the "Daily Life Blog", that is a little more than shameful. Sincere apologies all around.

Right now it feels like my sinus cavity has been punched a few times by someone wearing brass knuckles while his friend poured molasses into my lungs and is now sitting on my chest. And I'm not the only one who is feeling like this, so things are pretty good down here, as you might have guessed.

Aside from that delightful update on the health status of the Manna house dwellers, I'm at a loss for where to start with recapping the past few weeks. And so I turn to the trusty Manna camera to do the job for me. Thanks Manna Cam!

(And ps. Happy Birthday today to Sarah Scott!)

Tuesday sports day at the library; nothing like an obstacle course competition to release pent-up library energy.

The picture doesn't actually do it justice, but when Dana and I saw the hills alight with glowing red sunset shadows on Tuesday evening, we very nearly wept from the grandeur of it all. Very nearly.

Wednesday at the library is Theater Day, taught by two friends from a local Theater company. The kids are in absolute LOVE with Wednesdays.

Just look at those engaged faces! Like I said, LOVE.

Chet Polson celebrates his 22nd birthday with a cake that braved 2 forms of Ecuador's public transportation with me.

View from Pichincha.

Mike Gabrys, Dana, Sarah Scott, Serena and Chet Polson strike a one-legged (?) pose up on Pichincha.

Sarah and Chet bond on Pichincha.

Serena and Dana love each other and Pichincha.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Old and New

(And now, a special weekend update from Dana Conway)

"So as you've heard, it is in fact true. The new Program Directors arrived late last week and have been through a whirlwind of events beginning with orientation in Miami, meeting the Nicaragua team along with MPI's staff, juggling their way through customs with the swine flew scare, waking up in home stays with Ecuadorian families, being shoveled into one-on-one language classes for four hours a day while also taking salsa lessons, visiting city parks and worrying about what Spanish homework they have due the following day . I'm afraid we've barely given them enough time breath, let alone to decide if this is at all what they had in mind as the beginning of a year long adventure.

I was lucky enough to get to spend the last few days with our new PD's in Quito, exploring the city and introducing them to all of our favorite hang outs we have discovered in the past year. Hearing all of their questions and inquiries, I was quickly reminded of my first days in Quito and my first impressions of what would be come my new home. While I had an experience different than most, spending my first three weeks in the city alone, seeing their wide eyes and exuberant stairs brought me right back to where I was nine months ago. The city felt unimaginably large, the buses were just as confusing as they were intimidating, and the way the metropolis tangled into every corner of these heaping mountains was more stunning than any city I had ever seen. While some of that has changed, (I now know my way around Quito and exactly how to get to the places I need to go), I still loose breath at the site of this massive capital tucked away into the Andes Mountains. Despite that I have been here for months, I blended right in with the all the new kids as we gazed in awe looking down into chaos from the western hills above.

Now it is beginning to sink in that these are the people I will get to spend my next four months with, living and working and learning with each of them. From the start of my time with Manna I have been the newbie, arriving late and consequently leaving late too. And here I am once again, the awkward newbie. Their four days in Miami and synchronized schedules for the next three weeks left me wondering if I would be set apart from the nine of them once we began our work in the valley. Fortunately, I'm confident we did one hell of a job selecting applicants and no longer fear forever being the newbie, but now instead dread the thought of only having four months with these guys, while they get to have thirteen with each other.

These next few weeks will prove to be quite the challenge sorting out how to let go of the people who first welcomed me. Together we formed a bond with each other that is not only stronger than anything I have ever experienced amongst so many unique people, but beyond irreplaceable; Its hard to imagine my daily life here without them. However change is often refreshing and usually for the better. Therefore I cant wait to see what kind of exciting things this change will bring.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Limbo Day at the Library

(Guest Blogger of the week: Jocelyn Lancaster!)

"Programming at the library during July is a bit different than the rest of the year. We have dismantled Children’s Art and English classes to give Holly and Dana time to focus on other projects that have been put on the back burner throughout the year, and implemented new activities for each day of the week. Tuesdays are sports day, and the first Tuesday of July, Dana and I were in charge of planning the day’s activity.

During our weekly meeting, I had been struck with a genius (if I do say so myself) idea of organizing a “Limbo Day” sometime in July. Nothing gets kids of all ages (even 23 year old kids) excited like the prospect of cha-cha dancing to fun beach music in a line while putting your balance, and your spinal cord, to the ultimate test- over and over again. While Limbo isn’t what you would traditionally consider a “sport”, Dana and I were rushed to come up with something for sports day since the meeting where the weekly responsibilities are assigned took place at 9pm the night before (here, our work literally never ends- in case any of you parents were concerned about our daily routine)!

That Tuesday at 3, Dana and I took over the teen center with our speakers, iPod, stickers (for incentive), and broom, and waited for our students to arrive. They piled in with their jack-o-lantern smiles and listened as we explained the rules of the game. Now, Limbo is a fantastic game, but even the most amazing, fun, and inspired game in the world can get boring after a while. Anticipating this inevitable reality, Dana and I, being the clever and responsible people that we are, had planned a second activity to follow Limbo- another fantastic game called Musical Chairs. Unfortunately, the inevitable reality of boredom does not only apply to games such as the former, but to the latter as well. Do not be mistaken into thinking that Dana and I retreated into a state of frustration or chaos when our carefully planned activities took up only half the time they were supposed to. If living in Ecuador has taught us one thing, it is to never accept defeat, especially in the presence of 6-11 year olds. Thinking quickly on our feet, we led them in a surprisingly successful “human knot” activity (where you stand together and grab random people’s hands before attempting to untangle yourselves) followed by an exhilarating leap-frog competition spanning the length of the teen center.

Looking at our watches at 4:05 with a sigh of relief, we accompanied the kids back out to the library where they quickly dispersed to take part in their activity of choice- puzzles, reading, blokus, mancala, drawing, etc.- happy and fulfilled. After being consumed with leading the summer English program in San Juan for the past two months, I sure have missed the excitement and unpredictability of the library. Limbo day with Dana and the munchkins was a perfect way to be welcomed back.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Guess who's here...

(hint: they're tan from a Miami orientation, are currently in Spanish class in Quito, and are gifted pyramid stackers, apparently)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cooking Delights

This past Friday, the girls held our first (of hopefully many, hint hint next year's PDs) women's cooking class. Advertised as a class focused on natural ingredients, healthy recipes and new cooking techniques, we found willing participants through Serena's women's exercise group.

When Priya and Mari (summer volunteers) were down here, they worked hard with Serena to pull together a cohesive menu of appetizing, inexpensive, and nutritious foods whose ingredients we could actually access down here. All the women agreed that they more than accomplished their goal. Below you'll find the menu of foods we made, along with one of the recipes. If you're interested in any of the other recipes, please feel free to email me! holland.c.ward at gmail dot com.

The Menu
Homemade Soy Milk (from the beans!)
Iced Chi Tea

Tomato-Corn-Avocado Salad
Grilled Vegetables and Pasta Salad
Drunken Beans

Rosemary Honey Roasted Chicken

Banana Nut bread
Zuchinni Muffins

(Preparing the corn-tomato-avocado salad in the dining room for lack of space in the kitchen!)

(Our taste testers, just making sure we got the flavors right.)

(The whole cooking crew with satisfied bellies and zuchinni muffins in hand)

(Of course, I can't currently find the cookbook we used, but here's a delicious variation of one of the salads we made, a house favorite whenever we can find mangos!)

Avocado, Tomato, Mango Salad

* 1 mango - peeled, seeded and diced
* 1 avocado - peeled, pitted, and diced
* 4 medium tomatoes, diced
* 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
* 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
* 3 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
* 1/4 cup chopped red onion
* 3 tablespoons olive oil

1. In a medium bowl, combine the mango, avocado, tomatoes, jalapeno, cilantro, and garlic. Stir in the salt, lime juice, red onion, and olive oil. To blend the flavors, refrigerate for about 30 minutes before serving.

Easy and delicious and summery. Which works basically year round down in these parts.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Green with Envy

Summer left Monday morning. New PDs arrive Friday afternoon. Please forgive me if posting is a little slow this week, we're all trying to catch up on everything we've been too busy to get around to in the past 2 months. Which if you're a procrastinator like myself includes writing transition reports, putting together the house binder, writing the monthly update (oops...), editing Manna's foundational principles, drafting quarterly reports, planning my segment of the new PDs cultural week in Quito, and working with everyone else in coordinating all the new programs at the library during July (tango lessons! theater! electricity class! guitar!).

That said, all I can really concentrate on is our neighbor's garden. I mean, just LOOK at it! It's beautiful! It's filled with life! And color!

Ours is filled with dust and dead things. Please, PLEASE let one of the new PDs have a decent green thumb. Or else I'm going to have to call my parents and beg them to come back to fix our sad little garden.

(sad dead flowers)

(sad barren dirt)

I blame the state of our garden for why I can't get motivated to work. That's a valid excuse, right Dad?


Monday, July 6, 2009

Swallowing fears and llapingachos

(And now, a weekend recap by Dunc, who while typing remembered the day old llapingachos in his backpack...good thing he decided to write a blog today, or who knows how long those cheese potatoes would have spent molding in the dark!)

"Giving a speech in front of 7,000 people?! IN SPANISH!?!

Yes, those were my immediate thoughts when Seth announced that we had all been invited to speak at the Inti-Raymi (Quichua for “Festival of the Sun”) in one of the biggest towns in the valley. Magnifying my fears was the fact that Bibi, Holly, and I would be the only ones in town over the festival weekend due to the Amazonian rainforest excursions and glacier-capped mountain climbing adventures of all our other fellow PDs.

Luckily, we were able to round up of a few of our community friends to go with us, including 4-year old Iori, his mother Paola, and 16-year old Christian. While Holly and I occupied the bouncing Iori on the trip up to the festival, Bibi spent a good half-hour convincing Paola and Christian to talk on stage about their experiences as committed library patrons and teen center members, respectively. As we neared the festival, located in a large field nestled amongst the nearby mountains, however, Paola and Christian’s minds began to change. Along with the dancers in traditional indigenous attire, musicians, and food vendors (mmMMM Ecuadorian llapingachos!) came people. And more people. And even more.

(One side of the pentagon of people)

All in all a couple thousand people were in attendance, enough that when we were quickly ushered towards the stage as the dancers ended their performance, Christian and Paola suddenly declared they not only didn’t want speaking roles, but didn’t even want to go on stage! We luckily managed a compromise, and they joined us on stage while agreeing that Bibi would do all the talking. Fortunately, Bibi did a great job calming her own nerves and gave an excellent outline of our programs and services at the library to the suddenly rapt audience.

After exiting the stage and before I could make a beeline for the llapingachos, we were all swarmed by people interested about our programs. In just a few minutes, we gave out more than 200 fliers and offered even more details about MPI. Before heading home for the day, I was finally able to make my way to my long-awaited (like 30 minutes!) snack. The food in my belly just amplified the satisfaction I felt about the afternoon. We strengthened our bond with several of our best community friends, advertised our programs to a large number of people in a new neighborhood, and Holly and I successfully avoided testing our Spanish in front of several thousand Ecuadorians. I guess in situations like these it really pays off to be a Program Director rather than a Country Director…


Friday, July 3, 2009

On the Cusp

First things first, thank you to everyone who emailed me suggestions. Your encouragement meant so much, and all your ideas were things I needed to be reminded of. So thank you! If I haven't heard from you yet, please don't hesitate to send me an email.

That said, we in the Manna house are on the cusp of big change. Children's Art ended yesterday after a 6 month run, Summer Two heads home on Monday, next year's Program Directors arrive a week from today, new July programing starts next week, and in a few days we'll celebrate one year in South America. Don't worry, I'm stockpiling most of my nostalgic reminiscing for the monthly update and won't go into soggy details here (that's for you, Dunc. Don't want to freak you out with tears or anything). We've got plenty of time for THAT.

To mark the end of Children's Art, I attached a tiny note, art quote and drawing to a brand new box of crayons for each of my bubbly little students; little snapshots of some of the drawings color this post (These are for you, Alecia!). Gotta love the wonders of colored pencils and an Andean afternoon with an open schedule. Apologies for the color distortion, not sure what's up with the brightness of it all.

Children's English also breathed it's last July breath yesterday, celebrated by an afternoon showing of Kung Fu Panda in the teen center (a BIG treat for the little ones who are too young to enter normally), balloons, popcorn, oatmeal raisin cookies, and Fanta. I may have laughed more at the movie than the students, but really, who's surprised by that.

Hope you have fun plans for the weekend! Between trips to the rainforest, climbing Cotapaxi part 2, attending the Gay Pride parade in downtown Quito, and a few things in between, our weekend is set to be eclectically wonderful.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


(With less than two months to go in our wild South American adventure, harassment of the roommates for more guest blogs has officially commenced. Serena is up first, and she has some exciting things to share! Enjoy.)

"A visit to a public hospital ran by the Ecuador Ministry of Health:
-Cost of receiving vitamins and micronutrients for all children ages 3 and under: Free
-Cost of an x-ray: Free
-Cost of a C-section: Free
-Cost of a TB vaccination: Free
-Cost of getting your eyes checked: Free
-Cost of anti-diabetic meds: Free
-Cost of an emergency service: Free

In the US?
-Contact your insurance company. aka, get out your pocketbook.

Of course, I'm not saying the health care system in Ecuador is superior in any way. All health care systems are internally flawed. But here I am, living in a relatively impoverished country that is considered "developing" by Western standards, and getting a free physical check-up without having to fill out any forms about who my provider is. In the same situation in the US, without insurance, I'd be paying close to triple digits. I don't get it.

But unfortunately, free services do come with a price. There are not enough medical personnel working for the MoH to service all patients who are in need of care. Many clinical physicians find themselves multitasking at both the micro- and macro- levels and end up running entire clinics completely on their own. Although Rafael Correa (the Ecuadorian president) is increasing spending on health care, the patient to physician ratio is over-saturated, so patients will only be seen if they are showing physical symptoms, thus diverting the attention away from the important aspect of prevention.

This is where we come in.

Along with summer volunteers Mari and Priya as well as our new Country Director Bibi, we have been working tirelessly on finalizing a promising health proposal in hopes of turning the 4th floor of the building that hosts the MPI library/teen center into a full-fledged, no BS, locally-owned Preventative Health Center (PHC). So far, we have held the first of many successful focus groups with 20+ women from the Exercise and Nutrition Program and attended various meetings with the Ministry of Health to obtain insight on local/national health issues as well as how to get this moving. We're currently in the process of contacting local health promoters and prospective community health workers (our aim is 10), connecting them with the Municipio (town) to provide professional and certified health promotion training, and then finally, in the long-run, hiring them to work at the PHC to create local ownership and sustainability.

We hope our surrounding communities will frequently utilize the health resources provided by the center, learn to properly care for their health before getting (and while being) sick, and in the long-term lower the national cost burdens spent on preventable illnesses.

Empowering individuals: Check
Strengthening institutions: Check
Building networks: Check

With the help of Healthechildren, we have high hopes of turning our idea into reality that is nothing short of extraordinary. Oye, that's how the library started, right?


(If you're interested in learning more about this program or how to donate directly to it, please email either or