Thursday, October 29, 2009

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

This week's guest blog comes from our boss, leader, and most importantly, friend and compañera, Bibi Al-Ebrahim. Bibi more or less started her time with Manna at the same time as us and has been doing an unbelievable job guiding our projects, running her own, and moderating anything and everything that happens in the house. We look up to her for most everything including motivational talks, coffee-making skills, and (especially) fierce leadership on the soccer field. Thanks for putting up with all of our antics; we love you B-squared!

"I haven’t told anyone, but I think I may be falling in love. I don’t want to admit it, or lose any street cred, but it’s true, I am falling in love…with a group of people - all younger than me. I never anticipated the extent of such a sentiment and had you told me a few months ago, I would have called you crazy for thinking it possible. But here I am, months into our adventure together, and I find myself always thinking about, and even missing them. It’s not healthy, and although I have yet to draw ‘Bibi hearts Ecuador10’ in my notebook, I never-the-less always find myself wondering about what they’re doing, whether they’re safe, what they’re learning, and even what cool idea they’re going to come up with next.

Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. I just read the first guest blog I wrote months ago when I was considered to be in the ‘transition stage’ of the Country Director position. I did anticipate some of this happening, but like I said, not to this extent. As predicted, this group of PDs, my first, has been an incredibly influential group - impressing upon me positive and lifelong experiences and lessons learned. How could that not carry or llevar some sentiment of love?

Now, you may be asking why I’ve chosen to write about this in my second guest blog and not about something more Country Director-like, such as programs, or community affairs, or organizational future plans. I’ve chosen to write something cursi (cheesey), because 1) the PDs have been doing a great job updating you with programs and community affairs; 2) sometimes I think it’s necessary step back, see the bigger picture, and focus on the positive; and 3) I’ve just finished one-on-ones. For the last four weeks, I have spent a few hours with each PD, alone. Most have been lunch dates, and typically meant trying something new and adding some variety to my not-so-diverse diet. We spend the few hours together talking about social contentedness, professional fulfillment, personal tidbits that often only come up in more intimate settings, and how their overall experience could be improved.

A few pounds heavier, I proudly confess to the blogging world upon completing all the one-on-ones, that my love for this group of PDs is deep and true. Incredibly different, at first, the group didn’t have the chemistry many wished for or even expected, but they have worked non-stop to build, from great differences, friendships. It is clear that despite the constant loss for words and confusion of living in a different country, the glue that binds this group together is Ecuador and our work. With a few last words, Ecuador10, I would like to say something positive, as both motivation and straight up recognition; I tip my hat to you, for sticking with each other despite the occasional (or not so occasional) aggravation of it, for sticking with Ecuador even when you’ve been so uncomfortable you’ve wanted to hide, and in light of all of that, finding a way to make this year happen.

Ecuador10, admiring our fearless leader

- Bibi"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"App-lays" and "Grap-ays" - Welcome to Children's English class

This week marked the beginning of a new vocabulary unit in my section of Children's English. My little students (ages 5-9) are currently learning the names of different foods (fruits, vegetables, etc.) in class. Today, in order to add a little spice to the potentially monotonous review of vocabulary words, I decided to take my kids down to the nearest tienda to purchase the ingredients for a fruit salad. Each student had his or her own note card with a picture of a piece of fruit and a number on it, and they were required to retrieve that fruit for the salad. The kicker: they had to ask me for the fruit in English, before I would translate and ask the woman who works the tienda in Spanish.

Picking out fruit at the tienda

Trying not to go crazy with kids pushing each other to be first in line, yelling, etc...

The kids were super excited when they found out we'd be taking a trip during class... even if it was only a few blocks down the street. :) Thankfully, I had the help of Krysta to keep their rambunctiousness down while we took turns asking the tienda woman for our ingredients. After we finished buying everything, we walked (ok, so the boys raced... typical) back to the library and began making our fruit salad.

Krysta getting the kids to line up and stop shouting (thank goodness she helps out on Wednesdays...)

We let them peel and cut the bananas, oranges and strawberries (with butter knives, of course!)... while Krysta and I worked on the pineapple, apples, kiwis and mangoes. By the time we finished cutting and eating, we had 9 extremely sticky, but happy kids... and a huge mess. But it was well worth it.

My sticky, but happy, English class

Here's a short video of the kids during the eating process... we asked them what they thought of the fruit salad, to which they replied (in unison), "RICAAAAA!" or "DELICIOUSSSS!" We also asked what fruits were in the salad... they answered in their super cute accented English (i.e. "app-lay," "grap-ay," etc.). This is just a small taste of what we get to experience every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. :)

Hasta la proxima vez,

PS. Here's the view from the roof of the library at sunset... pretty sweet, yeah?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Educational Expo

Two of the classes we run out of the library had exciting classes last week and since a picture is worth mil palabras I figure I'll let them do most of the talking...

Last week Chet and Sonia's Art class stared and finished their first multiple-class projects: collages!

Santiago cuts colorful images out of one of the magazines

Profes Dana and Chet lead the first day of collage-making

Kerly and Dario working hard

Krysta and Jackie's Natural Science class learned about the importance of trees and "adopted" their own trees in the cancha across from the library by completing bark imprints and tracing leaves, labeling the parts of each tree in both Spanish and English.

The kids help Jackie and Krysta label their diagrams

Taking bark imprints in the cancha

Krysta helps the kids complete their projects

Evelyn's finished product: bark imprint, tree sketch, leaf tracing and labels!

Cheers to creativity,

Monday, October 26, 2009

¿Qué Pasa?

Today seems to have been a relatively "normal" day in the Manna world. Perhaps our definition of "normal" has changed in the last (almost!) four months... but nothing too out-of-the-ordinary happened today. There were no big rain storms or power outages (bonus points during the rainy season), our Monday Morning Meeting (MMM) lasted a mere 1.5 hours (as opposed to the usual 3...), the kids at the library greeted us with big smiles and "Hola Profe's", and we ate dinner together and talked about things that would generally be considered non-dinnertime topics in most households. Like I said, pretty ordinary. Unfortunately, this has left me with little (ok, try slim to no) creative inspiration on my blog-writing Monday. Bummer.

So in an attempt to get some photo documentation for tonight's blog, I scurried around the house and paparazzi-ed my housemates going about their typical evening lives... (They were really happy about that decision.)

Haley, my lovely roommate, in her typical post-dinner food coma reclined state

Shawn in her freshly painted green room, Skyping with her parentals

Chet doing some work and looking happy to be awake after getting up at 6am for a microfinance course

Sonia on the computer in her new blue room... (are we beginning to see a trend?)

Mike and (you guessed it) his computer in the living room

Jackie and Erik finishing up the dishes on their weekly dishes night

AHH! KRYSTA'S DOING WORK (in her wildcat den)! (ON THE COMPUTER!)

And my favorite part about typical nights in the Manna House... the view of Conocoto from our rooftop

I think the typical days tend to be my favorites. :)

Hasta miercoles,

PS. Dana was in the shower. I decided paparazzi-ing her would be a poor choice...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Climate Action in Quito

Last Monday I received an e-mail from Bill McKibben, an idol of mine, reminding me to attend a local event near me for the International Day of Climate Action. Thinking back to Powershift, a conference my environmental organization at the University of Delaware attended, I remembered the excitement and enthusiasm from students all over the US demonstrated towards holding their own campus events. Much to my surprise and delight after researching events abroad, I found one in Quito and convinced some of my Manna colleagues to join me.

The idea behind this event was to raise awareness and send a direct message to political leaders to put solid environmental policy into place for the upcoming UN conference in Copenhagen. Over 4,000 cities worldwide created human formations of the number 350, which represents 350 parts per million, the projected safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (right now we're at about 390 ppm). Ecuador participated in representing the zero since we're located at the equator, along with London and New Delhi, representing 5 and 3 respectively.

Overall, I thought the day was really successful with an impressive line-up of local bands playing in Plaza de San Francisco, dozens of environmental vendors, and activism to combat climate change.

An aerial shot of Quito's human-formed zero

Krysta gets her groove on in Plaza de Santo Domingo

The rest of our weekend consisted of showing Dave, Haley's boyfriend and our guest for the week a good time in Quito (after all, he did bring each one of us guilty pleasure American foods, a surefire way into our hearts: click here to find out what happens when people show up empty handed). We also performed better in our soccer games, with the boys winning 3-2 and the girls tying 3-3. This was a step up from last week for us girls, with the exception of Haley Booe, expert stopper who won herself a yellow card for accidently picking up the ball in the middle of the game.
Awesome defender Haley who sometimes forgets she's playing soccer, not basketball

What's in store for this week: Art & natural science class expos, insight into the small business certification classes that Chet and Erik are attending all week, and a guest blog from Bibi!

- Jackie

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"It's a blog, yo."

Today's guest blog comes from a one Miss Shawn Fagan - our resident Brooklynite, indescribably dedicated Yankees fan, dog-lover, and creator of epic 90s music playlists. Shawn graduated from Columbia University with a degree in neuroscience... a fabulous major, if I do say so myself. Recently, during her free time, she has been spotted huddled around her computer listening to every Yankee game, indulging me in nerdy neuroscience conversation, religiously rocking her daily New York Times crossword, and dominating us common folk in Catch Phrase. I admire her for all of the aforementioned tidbits... but, perhaps most of all, I admire her relentless pursuit in tracking down the internet lady... a feat that I'm pretty sure only Shawn could accomplish. (No, really. She's probably called the woman 50+ times. It's loco.)

Pretty standard Shawn:)

"It’s late October, and I think we all know what that means… time for my guest blog and time for the baseball postseason to start heating up. As a life-long New Yorker, there is nothing that feels more like fall than sitting in my living room, watching the Yankees and listening to my dog bark every time my dad or myself scream at the television. Clearly, this postseason has been a different experience than what I am accustomed to. Rather than sitting around the television on the edge of my seat, throwing toy after toy to my insatiable dog, Foster, I now find myself crowded around portable speakers in the kitchen, desperately fawning over every word spoken by John Sterling via a crappy internet-radio connection. Coincidentally, my parents are also having a different postseason experience. At this point, they’ve attended at least three games. I’m sure that them miraculously acquiring an endless supply of game tickets has nothing to do with me being away for the year.

In an effort to avoid the topic of programs and Manna, I’ll quickly summarize my role here in Ecuador: I’m tight with the Ministry of Health, I idolize Billy Blanks, and I love to hang out with hormonal Ecuadorian teens.

Shawn showing off her guns and trash picking-up skillz during the community cleanup Minga

Each volunteer has his or her own set of bizarre quirks that has helped distinguish us from one another. But it is these same quirks that keep us grounded and connected to our lives in the U.S. I love travel, and I think that every person, at least once, should force themselves out of their comfort-zone in order to experience a new environment, cultural or ecological. I could argue that living in a house of 10, with only one other companion from the Northeast, has been more “culturally shocking” than actually moving my life to Ecuador. While I sometimes find myself explaining the mechanism behind Fresh Direct to my housemates, and desperately missing the fast-paced, fashion-obsessed New York City lifestyle, these distinct ties to my upbringing help me feel more at home in this foreign country. Everything that I brought with me to Ecuador -- be it personal experience, an epic DVD collection, or Yankees pajama pants -- has given me strength and made me more comfortable and capable in my new environment.

- Shawn"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Profe Appreciation

Today was a pretty monumental day in the library: it was Dana's last day teaching children's English, a class she started for MPI-Ecuador last January. Dana wanted to make her last class focused on learning about American culture, history, and personal insights about us as volunteers. The kids were allowed to write anything and everything they wanted to know on small sheets of paper and then we would read (anonymously) and answer them as best we could. Dana, Bibi, Shawn, Sonia, and I sat around the table with the kids and had a wonderful exchange of customs and culture.

Dana and I watch as the kids brainstorm their questions

Dana leads the lively discussion

Shawn, Dana, and I pose with our class

I also decided to interview Miss Conway after dinner (while she sipped one of her nightly dozen cups of tea) to inquire about the origins of English, what she's taken away from it, and more...

Me: When and how did you start teaching children's English?
Dana: Starting a children's English class came about last January because of demand from the community. Even though I had never taught before and wasn't very comfortable around children in such an intimate setting, I felt like I had the time to take it on while others didn't and I really wanted to do it for Manna. I tried to persuade another PD to do it with me but no one was really available, so I took it on myself. The first month was extremely nerve-wracking as I had never done anything like it before, but with every class I felt more comfortable and it got easier. The most comforting thing for me was realizing how non-judgmental the kids are. I have easily learned as much from them and they have learned from me.

Me: How do you think children's English has changed since last year?
Dana: When we first started we didn't have our own space. Now that we have classes out of a Manna-specific space we're able to draw more people and have built a consistent group of attendees. This consistence in attendance has transformed the class into an actually course rather than scattered lessons, which results in better retention from students. Within the last few weeks we have also split the class into two because of the wide variety of ages and levels. This allows us to cater to children's specific needs and move at a faster pace.

Me: What's your favorite part about teaching?
Dana: I love the feeling of accomplishment at the end of courses when students show how much more than know than when they came in. I also love when the kids become curious and are eager to question things outside of just what I'm teaching them and I'm able to draw upon their interests to explore other topics.

Me: Do you have any advice for future children's English teachers that will be taking over your position (ie: me)?
Dana: When you get frustrated by the difficulty in lesson planning or the chaos that is inevitable by the way we teach since we cater to such a large range of ages and levels, just remember that getting them excited about learning English is just as important as what they actually learn. Whenever you find yourself struggling realize that these kids love this class and you're the reason why.

A special thanks to Dana for being such a great children's English/agriculture/daily life mentor and apartment-mate! I definitely have huge shoes to fill as I take over her class next week.

- Jackie

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Playing Futbol at an Altitude of 2500m...

Krysta, Jackie, Haley, Chet, Mike and I were pumped about the idea of joining an Ecuadorian soccer league when Bibi mentioned it about a month ago. The six of us joined the respective men's and women's Ruminahui teams... and have gotten ourselves into quite the adventure. In the last few weeks we've paid our dues, received our uniforms, and participated in our first games.

I can't speak for the men, but I will say that being on the women's team has been pretty funny thus far. We had our first practice two weeks ago, which entailed scooping the entire field clear of dog poop before starting drills. Our coach placed the order for our uniforms, and subsequently got us jerseys an average of 2 sizes too big per person (Chet, Haley and Krysta wear the same size, if that gives you any idea...). And our starting lineup includes Bibi (who is surprisingly good), Krysta (who is known for her volleyball skillz), Jackie (who is chastised by the coach about 98% of the time), Haley (who has never played soccer) and me (who last played soccer in the non-scored YMCA league in 3rd grade). We're clearly a force to be reckoned with...

Here's a brief list of the good and the bad:
Good -
1. Jackiepants scored our first goal of the season. Perhaps the coach won't be able to yell at her as much...
2. The 6 of us have super sweet matching uniforms (even if they're HUGE). I, for one, will be sporting mine with pride. We're so legit. (Too legit to quit. En serio.)
3. The other teams don't know what we're saying when we yell to each other on the field. (Or if insults are tossed around after being knocked to the ground... several times...)

Bad -
1. Both teams lost last Sunday. But since we've added hill workouts and soccer drills to our daily routines, I expect big turnarounds. :) Ha.
2. Sprinting up and down a very uneven soccer field is just not the same at 2500m altitude.
3. Soreness. Lots of it. Who knew those muscles existed?

Our team meets for a huddle before the game
(Bibi is #8, Jackie is next to Bibi, and Sarah is #7)

Bibi dominates the mid-field

Taking a breather... the ball was probably booted into the highway or something similar.

Both teams are playing this weekend... we'll keep you posted.

Thanks for checking in!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Nutrition, Art, and Everything in Between

This week's guest blog comes from Sonia Patel (or Soña as the library kids like to write), our token vegetarian. For a petite person, Sonia's laugh and/or screams can be heard all the way from the apartment. Sonia leads weekly inspirational nutrition charlas, helps run Art class, goes out of her way on a daily basis to make sure she does not step in animal feces, AND is in the process of applying for Med school. Not to mention, wrote us a guest blog during quarterly report week. For all of these reasons as more, I adore her and after reading this I know you will too!

Krysta, Sonia, Dunc and Shawn way back when in Mindo

"When I first came to Ecuador, I reveled in the beauty that surrounded me, from the geographical setting of the Andes Mountains to the colorful clothing of another culture. There was so much to observe and reflect upon that during my first couple of weeks, I found myself exhausted and ready for bed at 7:30p.m. much like a newborn baby. As time passed, I metaphorically grew up; my senses were no longer faced with a slew of new sounds, sights, and smells left time and energy for a more productive organ: my brain.

Deciding which major to pursue at the University of Virginia, was one of the most conflicting and confusing tasks I had to accomplish, precisely because there were too many options. In my biology classes, I felt as if a philosophical background would soften scientific thinking. While in the economics classes, I know that a sociological study would strengthen economic theories centered on human behavior.

I was finally absolved of the restrictive feelings and college mandate of specialization when I began working for Manna. Anything was possible and like a greedy child on Thanksgiving I piled a varied assortment on my plate: I'm working with Sarah on opening a preventative health clinic, co-teach Children's Art classes with Chet, giving nutrition presentations before Haley's yoga classes, occasionally acting as Jackie's gardening partner, shadowing the emergency room at the public Sangloqui hospital and supporting Krysta on the beginnings of a nutrition program at Aliñambi.

Such an agenda provides for constant knowledge and entertainment. For instance, I learned that doctors are required to work for a year in rural communities, most Ecuadorian meals are not balanced with enough vegetables, Jackie accidently killed (and mourned) the one worm we found for composting, and that in every art class one particular girl will cut out her drawings and hang them by a string of yarn.

However, using that productive brain doesn't completely suppress the inner child within. Whether it is indulging myself in the pleasures of a Magnum ice cream bar (America you are really missing out... a comparison to say Haagen-Dazs would only be 10% accurate) or hitting everyone's butt in the Manna house, sometimes my senses, missing that initial onrush, beg for more.

Sonia with some of her fellow health programmers

[ Side note: apologies for the list of activites. It's specifically meant for my family. It's funny how during our Skype conversations, they congratulate me more for learning how to cook (shh.. don't tell them about than for working on programs. ]

- Sonia"

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fossilized Fun

Have you ever tried to make a homemade fossil? Because that's just what we did this afternoon in natural science class (insert inquisitive stare about when we started this class). I apologize for not mentioning this educational addition earlier, so let me back up a little. Krysta and I really wanted to start a natural science class for kids in our community to combine our respective loves of science and the environment. We were conflicted when trying to decide when to hold it with two other very successful twice a week classes and eventually decided to make it an extension of Children's English for two major reasons: it's easier to retain foreign language vocabulary when it revolves around a theme and the most direct application of English here in Ecuador is eco-tourism, one of the fastest growing industries in the country.

Every Friday we combine the younger and older children's English classes into one large experimental hour of fun, and English vocabulary. Previous class topics have been mixing oil and water, focussing on how this affects our environment in terms of oil spills and other pollution, and a lesson on food chains and evolutionary adaptations. Today, our third lesson, was learning about how fossils are formed and making our own!

We spent the better part of last night (during bouts of procrastination towards writing quarterly reports) boiling partially rotting chicken carcasses to retrieve bones and making "clay" which consisted of flour, salt, cold coffee, and used coffee grinds. During this process we had to convince a few housemates, who will remain nameless, to refrain from eating our mixture and that it was not in fact crushed up Oreos.

We started the lesson by asking the kids to tell us what they know about fossils and helping us label fossil pictures with what kind of animal/plant/insect they thought it was. Afterwards we hid chicken bones, leaves and twigs in two tupperware containers of dirt for the kids to come up, find and dust off with paint brushes to provide an archeological feel. We then showed the kids how to make our artificial soil/clay and rolled out pieces for the kids for them to imprint their findings. Though some of the kids were a little grossed out by our artificial soil (one kid legitimately said "tengo ganas de vomitar") overall it was a big hit.

Future archeologists Kevin and Evelyn dig for fossils

Alejandra imprints her leaf carefully

Me and the kids showing off our masterpieces on the roof

Los fósiles left on the roof to transform into "rocks" in the sun

Krysta and I are really excited to continue developing this class as the year goes on. Though we like having our class attached to English, we hope to begin attracting other kids as well. We hope to build upon this foundation of interest in natural science to branch out into other environmental awareness projects. We also love the idea of introducing these children to ideas and experiments that they most likely aren't exposed to in school.

If you have any experiments or science lessons from your childhood that you remember being particularly fond of (ie: making tornadoes out of soda bottles...we're working on that, don't worry!) please feel free to comment or send me your suggestions!

Mil gracias,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Just a Typical Tuesday

Quarterly reports are due Thursday! Get your metrics to Chet! Doctor shadowing starts tomorrow! Wait, are we already talking about Spring Break groups? Shoot, I still have to write a blog post! And oh wait... and tomorrow's English/art lesson has to be planned... So much to do. So little time. Excuses, excuses - right? Things are kind of crazy around here this week... so here's a visual tour of our day. Just a typical Tuesday in the Manna world.

Rain three days in a row and a power outage at the house... looks like the rainy season has begun. The view from the balcony of the library. And yes, those are cows in the middle of the road.

La Wendi takes art class and her winter hat accessory very seriously

Selena gets creative during art class. Today was "Free Art Day" in class, which means the kids could make whatever they wanted.

Profes Chet and Dana get into the "Free Art Day" fun, too.

Profe Chet's final masterpiece...
I was expecting a unicorn, but was pleasantly surprised by the dragon motif.
Medium: old dried coffee beans. I think Picasso would be jealous.

The kids' final art projects... complete with colored cheesy poofs?

Haley (center) leads Women's Exercise class, with the help of Sarah and Jackie.
(Our job is to count to 8 in Spanish over and over... and over again.)

Twelve women (and one dog...) came to class tonight!

Haley, Jackie, Krysta and Sarah wrap up the day by being PHENOMENALLY (ha.) productive in the office... we love Quarterly Reports! :)

And that, my friends, is a small glimpse into a typical Tuesday in Manna Ecuador life. Thanks for checking in!

Hasta Jueves,

Monday, October 12, 2009

Three-Day Weekend Voyages

Even though Guayquil is over 160 miles from here, we were fortunate enough to celebrate its independence day with a day off from work. We spent the weekend rather scattered throughout the country; Sonia was off in Tena with Ricky (we miss you Ricky!). Haley and Sarah ventured north to the infamous Rose Cottage for a quiet weekend in the mountains of Otovalo. And the rest of us braved the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa for the Ecuador vs. Uruguay game.

The hammocks they barely left for 24 hours

Future save-the-date announcement?

We had been looking forward to this game for about two months, ever since Serena sent an e-mail informing us that the first five people to write her back would claim tickets owned by last year's PDs. Chet, Erik, Krysta, Mike and I were lucky to have read our e-mails first and after a couple of weeks trying to find the receipt, plus two days trying to pick up the actual tickets in Quito, we we're geared up and ready to go Saturday morning. You would probably think that a 5p.m. game wouldn't require us to get there much more than an hour or so ahead of time. However, as we made our way into the stadium around noon, we barely found enough open seats and the crowd was already extremely rowdy.

Me and Krysta (hour one of waiting for the game to start)

The flag that covered our whole section (hours 1 - 5, multiple times)

Erik rocks out, fully-dressed in Ecuador gear

Mike and Chet just before the opening kick off!

Unfortunately, as you probably already know, Ecuador lost 2 - 1 to Uruguay. Before we had enough time to marvel in the glory of scoring the first goal towards the end of the second half, Uruguay retaliated and somehow got themselves a penalty shot within mere seconds of the game ending. Though we were all disappointed, it was an amazing experience and tons of fun, even the five hours of basking in the sun playing cards.

Thanks to some advice from Seth, we'll be attempting to watch Wednesday's game against Chile in the teen center. Although our chances are slim since being pushed down into 6th place with 23 points (we need to be in at least 4th place to qualify for South Africa 2010), we're still hopeful!

Si Se Puede!
- Jackie