Wednesday, December 15, 2010

¡Feliz Navidad y Año Nuevo de Ecuador!

While the days are short and nippy for you, our Norteamericano readers, and perhaps you're even heading into a snowy winter, our December days here at the Manna site are... exactly the same as they were in July when we arrived.  Except rainier.  The sun, announced by our rooster's cries, rises between 6:00 and 6:30, followed by a usually bright and warm morning.  Mid-afternoon the temperature rapidly drops, and a torrential downpour makes getting to the library something of a difficult task for PDs heading to the teen center or children's English at 4:00 and adult English at 5:00.  The sun sets again between 6:00 and 6:30, darkening our upstairs space just in time for the meditation period at the end of women's exercise classes.  By the time we're heading home from the Centro just after 7:00, the rain has stopped and our trek on the Capelo bus is simply damp and cool.  Although it's often nice to have such predictability of daily weather patterns, it's a little disconcerting for us to be entering the holiday season here when we're used to the short, markedly colder December days characteristic of the world above 30N latitude.

However, that isn't to say we haven't been able to get into the holiday spirit, both at our Centro and at home.

Last Friday, we held our second monthly library celebration, the first being our Día de los Difuntos party.  We made cookies, hot chocolate, and decorations for a Christmas party (seeing as the vast majority of Ecuador, like the rest of Latin America, is Christian), complete with the tree we set up at home!  As with our last party on November 5, we advertised during the week prior to kids who regularly come to the library as well as out in the community, and this time had even higher attendance.  When we arrived at the library to open at 2:30, a crowd of kids was already clustered excitedly at the door shouting "Profe!  Profe!" ready to start the fiesta.  We had a schedule lined up throughout the afternoon to occupy the kids of varying ages and interests.  At 3:00 Zoë and Becky took a group upstairs to play games (musical chairs and the human knot, for instance) in our women's exercise space while I announced a Christmas storytime in the reading corner for those who were feeling more tranquilo.  In addition to reading stories from a lovely Spanish Christmas book Hannah had found at a local toy store to a small group of eager kids, I passed out a coloring book I had made of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (Sucedió Una Nochebuena in Spanish) to children to decorate and take home.  At 3:30 Sam and Brock led multiple games of chess for older kids and teens, some of which took place on our newly painted checker/chess boards on the wooden tables in the game area.  At 4:00, our normal children's art time, so many children wanted to participate in the ornament-making project led by Luke that there was a waiting list 30 names long to go into the children's art corner and use the limited number of scissors and glue available.  By 5:30 our tree was decorated (temporarily, since most children took their creations home) with multiple cotton ball Santa Clauses.  At this time, baked goods in hand, Hannah and Ashley announced the gingerbread cookie decorating hour.  They'd been upstairs churning out gingerbread men, stars, and bells in our kitchen space, and the kids were jumping up and down to decorate them with homemade icing, gum drops, and sprinkles at the end of the day.

The party was a fantastic success.  After the initial surge during which two of our sign-in sheets filled up within 5 minutes of opening, the number of children in our library grew to over 50 by the end of the day.  Throughout the day, while guided activities were going on, PDs were teaching and playing games, talking, and greeting newcomers who'd climbed our stairs for the first time upon seeing our sign outside reading "¡Fiesta de Navidad!"  We left exhausted but exhilarated to close our library for the holiday season on such a note of excitement.

After the party we immediately left for Quito to celebrate further: Brock turns 23 on December 15!  Upon his request, we headed to north Quito, the shopping center Quicentro, to go bowling.  Complete with black lights and air hockey, we celebrated Brock's birthday in classic style at the bowling alley.  Happy final birthday of 2010, Brock!

Monday night, before five of us (Zoë, Becky, Jack, Ashley and I) left for the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu and the rest headed back to the States, we held our own little holiday celebration with Secret Santa around our Christmas Tree.  The evening was a great success, complete with homemade eggnog (thanks Jack and Sam!) and spice cake (thanks to Bibi!), and a lovely way to send us off for the holidays.

¡Feliz Navidad y Año Nuevo de Ecuador!  We'll see you in January!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Finals period: Adult English

As our second quarter draws to a close, Sam brings an update on the end of his first adult English course:

‘You look weird,’ our students exclaimed when Brock and I walked into Intermediate Adult English at the start of November.  I didn’t think we looked weird.  I figured we looked distinguished.  I guess I thought wrong.  ‘Why did you grow hair on your lip?’ they asked through disapproving giggles.  This was a great opportunity to explain to our students what Movember is all about. 

In case you don’t know, November is a month dedicated to the awareness of and raising money for men’s health issues, specifically prostate and testicular cancer, as well as depression in men (see  It has become a tradition, in November, to grow a mustache to raise awareness, thus the name Movember, or mustache November. Our group of gents down here in Ecuador decided to partake in this year’s Movember and dawn mustaches for the entire month.  It was a great success, as in we made it the whole month without shaving them off (though my English class wasn’t all that excited about it), and I hope we can all do it again next year.
An artistic rendering of the Manna men during Movember.
All mustaches aside (they are all shaved off and long gone by now, as it is December), Intermediate Adult English is still one of my favorite things that I do down here.  I teach Intermediate Adult English with Brock twice a week.  It’s very fulfilling when you can see your students improve over the course of your twelve week class.  Just last week, we were working on pronunciation and I threw in a few ‘V’ words, and my students, who would have struggled in the beginning of the class, all looked at me as if I was silly, before pronouncing the words with great articulation.  One of my favorite things about our students is that they keep a sense of humor about the learning process.  We all laugh together when working on pronunciation, which is nice because the students lose the fear of making mistakes and enjoy the learning process more.

We have had a very tight knit group in our Adult English class.  As was mentioned on the blog before, our class helped us in making the traditional drink for our ‘Dia de Los Difuntos.’   Furthermore, about half our class regularly rode the bus home with us at the end of the day, joking and trading colloquialisms and cultural observations along the way with us. 

Having now completed the course we feel exceedingly proud: our students did well and the course went smoothly overall.  We were really excited to give our students ‘graduation certificates’ and are quite eager to see who returns for the next round of courses.  All in all, it’s been a great experience and I have learned immeasurably, given that this is my first time teaching English.

Hope all is well with our readers out there.  Stay classy!   

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy belated Thanksgiving!

To fill you in on our festivities, we present you Becky:

On Saturday, the Manna house celebrated the great tradition of Thanksgiving.  We decided to wait until Saturday to have our Thanksgiving feast since we all had to work on Thursday.  (Apparently, the people of Ecuador do not commemorate the joint harvest celebration between the pilgrims and Native Americans.)  I volunteered to be in charge of the dinner since Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite day of the year.  I wanted to make sure that everyone had their favorite traditional foods during this holiday that makes us all miss our families and the time we usually spend with them.  I asked everyone to send me their favorite foods and the recipes that their families make.  Throughout this past week, everyone helped go on the multiple trips to the markets, grocery stores, and mega stores to make sure that we had everything that we needed to make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  We looked everywhere for cranberry sauce or cranberries to make the sauce from scratch and were almost ready to admit defeat until Zoë’s last minute trip to a shop in the mall that sells foreign foods culminated in us buying their last two cans of cranberry sauce.

We ended up with a delicious menu of a 20 lb turkey, three types of stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole (well, purple camote dulce casserole, since the orange sweet potatoes we love are not available at all here), roasted corn, salad, and gravy.  We also had the essential surplus of desserts including two pumpkin pies, a pecan pie, two apple pies, two pumpkin loaves, a pumpkin cake, and a mango crumble, since mangos are in season.

The cooking went as smoothly as any Thanksgiving goes.  Bibi and I spent most of Friday baking pies and other desserts.  On Saturday, we began cooking at noon trying to get the Turkey in the oven by 1pm.  Throughout the afternoon, Bibi, Noel, Zoë, and I kept watch over the turkey and prepared our numerous side dishes.  We planned to eat at 7:30pm, but unsurprisingly, the turkey was not ready until 8:30pm.  When dinner was finally ready, we stood around the table and everyone talked about what they were thankful for.  It was nice to hear that everyone was grateful to have such a great group of friends here in Ecuador (and that Noel was thankful for the internet). 
We were all excited to share our holiday dinner with friends that live in and around Quito.  Three of our friends, Lucía, Roniel, and Nolo, had never celebrated Thanksgiving before, and it was fun to introduce them to our tradition.  We also had some American friends, Amy and Scott, whom we were happy to have come celebrate with us.
Bibi, Noel and me tending to the turkey during the long afternoon.
Noel, Zoë and me, proud of our afternoon's labors.
Amid a crowd in our kitchen, Luke has a moment with our friend and guest's son, Gabito.
Nolo, Hannah, and Sam congregating while Luke cuts the turkey.
Nothing like carving into a turkey to ignite those smiles!
The kitchen is absolutely the place to be on Thanksgiving. 
It was awesome to see everyone work together to make this Thanksgiving dinner happen.  I know that in my experience I have helped my family in the past with cooking for Thanksgiving, but I have never had that much responsibility for the food.  It’s amazing that everything turned out perfectly, and it was because everyone pitched in to make it happen.  It was great experiencing a little piece of home this past weekend.  It has definitely made me excited to come home in December and see my friends and family.  
The whole day was a bit overwhelming for some of us...
...and we had to head off to bed immediately after the meal...
...but overall it was a great success!

iFeliz Día de la Acción de Gracias!