Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Long leave of absence....

Sorry I haven't written on this in a really long time. My life in Cebadas just got to be normal to me, and I didn't feel like anything really special happened to me, or special enough to write a blog post about. Really though, every day I spent in Cebadas was a new adventure, I just felt I didn't want to bore you with my every day life.

However, I am in the middle of a site change and will finish out the last 8 months or so of my service living in Quito. I don't exactly know what I'll be doing yet, and I will be sad to leave Cebadas early, but I'm also excited to experience the more urban side of Ecuadorian life and I'm sure Peace Corps will find a great organization for me to work with.

I'll write another update once I know more about what is happening, but in the mean time I'll just post this link to my friend's blog (hope this is ok Leah!). She came and helped out at my water project, and wrote a great description of it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Peace Corps Partnership Project

After being a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador for a little over a year now, I have finally determined what my main long-term project will be. I have seen first-hand that clean water is a big priority, how easy it can be to provide, and yet how difficult it can be to negotiate with the bureaucratic government of Ecuador, who has bigger issues to deal with.

I have been working with community members of Yakuñay, a small village located at about 9,800 feet above sea level, just up the hill from Cebadas, where I live. It takes about 25-minutes to travel there by car, or an hour and a half walking as there are no busses. The population of this village is about 80 (28 families), all without access to clean water. They are currently drinking the water directly as it comes out of the spring, and their potable water system needs many repairs. The municipality constructed a water capture system about 15 years ago, and it has gone without repairs or maintenance since its installation due to lack of funds and knowledge. Yakuñay is too small to be recognized as a “community” in the Ecuadorian governmental organization system, so they are not eligible for government assistance.

For the immediate future, I’m looking forward to being the project coordinator to replace certain sections of PVC tubing leading to residences; install buoys and shut-off valves for repairing the pressure breakers; install a plastic tank for chlorination and improved water quality; and see that water meters are installed at homes so the village can begin to collect fees to pay for future maintenance and repair. I am really excited about being able to help the people of Yakuñay through this project, because it will be one thing that will remain after I leave.
I have been in contact with a group of students from Kansas State University who are involved with Engineers Without Borders (EWB). They will be travelling to Ecuador in January, 2012 to assist with my project. I am hoping KSU’s EWB team will commit to making improvements to Yakuñay’s water system for at least five consecutive years. I am also eager to show the EWB team how people in Ecuador live, and to have the locals here interact with some other Americans. The people I have met during the past year have been so welcoming and accepting of me, and I am glad I will be able to reciprocate their generosity with this worthwhile project. The community leaders in Yakuñay are currently enlisting other residents to work alongside the EWB team.

I wrote and received approval for a Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) grant that is posted on the Peace Corps website at By entering project number 518-371, you can read more about my project and have the opportunity to electronically donate as little or as much as you would like. The amount needed to make this project a reality is $5500.00 US. In order to have time to purchase the materials before the EWB team arrives in early January, my self-imposed deadline to raise the funds is November 30, 2011

I hope you will seriously consider donating to this worthwhile endeavor to provide clean water to the residents of Yakuñay. It would also be greatly appreciated if you could forward this letter to others who would be interested in helping to create a healthier quality of life for those less fortunate.

Thank you for your time and consideration. If you have questions, please email me at I do not have regular internet access, but will respond to your questions as quickly as possible.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

the random life of a celebrity

I think this is the first time I have written a blog entry so soon after the previous one! My day today was just so random that I had to tell you all about it, although it wasn’t the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me. In this entry you will get to see what a typical day in my life is like.

So today was my first day back at “work” from my vacation to the Galapagos with my Uncle Shaun and Aunt Tammy and my cousins McKinley and Patrick. We spent 5 days there, and although it was different from what we expected, it was still really cool. We saw all of the endemic plants and animals, and learned a lot about the formation of the volcanic islands. I am proud to report that I didn’t get sea sick once while we were there! We used some scopalamine patches that had some kinda weird side effects, but worked very well. So today I came into the office of the Junta where I’ve been working the last 2 months or so, and pretty much no one was there. I brought my laptop to do some work revising the budget for my water project, but I finished it in about 30 minutes, and then just sat there writing emails to send later and playing games. I was by myself in the office for a while, which I don’t really like because I have no idea what to say to people when they come in needing help with something, I just tell them to wait for the secretary. So later the secretary and the guy in charge of agriculture came back and said “let’s go to a wedding” so of course I said OK; why not? We went to the store next door and bought 6 2-liter bottles of Coke to bring with us as a gift I guess. We walked over to a vacant lot next to the church that had some chairs set up in it, but they were full so we dropped off our Coke and sat on the ground. Then they started handing out the food. A few ladies were coming around with buckets of corn and beans that we just grabbed with our hands, also one lady was handing out rolls and a whole assembly line of people were passing out bowls of soup – chicken soup with carrots, peas, potatoes and rice; pretty much the same food they eat every day. Each person was sitting there in the blazing sun eating this boiling hot soup with a plastic spoon, then picked up the chicken with their hands and ate it before the bones to one of the dogs wandering around. I of course did the same, and after this one bowl of soup I was pretty full. They passed around some pop too for the drinks, and I thought it was pretty much over, until I saw the assembly line form again to pass out the main course. I was not really surprised when I got my plate half full of white rice, a scoop of yellow rice and a scoop of noodles with a little bit of tomato sauce. I don’t know how they do it, but most people were able to eat the entire plate. They even were talking about it while we were eating, saying “Ecuadorians have their stomach’s from their head to their feet” but I couldn’t finish as hard as I tried. It’s really rude here to give back your plate still with food on it, but luckily my friend couldn’t finish his either and so we put one plastic plate on top of the other to bring it back with us. We ran into some other friends right around the corner who hadn’t eaten lunch yet so we gave it to them. This was nothing like a normal US wedding, and they were asking me about our weddings. I told them that my cousin just got married on the beach and he had a video so we could watch it on the internet, and they thought that was the coolest thing ever. The friend who I went with is the guy who everyone thinks I should marry just because he is 26 and single, so then they started talking about our wedding and how it could be on the beach here in Cebadas down by the river. Then I don’t know what they were saying because they were talking in Kichwa, but I know they kept talking about the two of us getting married. It’s annoying but I just have to put up with it, and I know it annoys him too, but we don’t really talk about it with each other. So that was my first experience of a “wedding” in Ecuador, which was pretty much just a lunch with friends, and was actually really similar to the funeral I went to once. I heard that in November my host dad’s brother is having a real wedding in the church, so then I’ll see what it’s like. Most people just get married like in the courthouse first without a real wedding, and then later when they have enough money they have a real ceremony.

Later after doing a little more of nothing in the office, I left and went to visit the nurse who is my BFF in the Subcentro. She kinda just complains all the time about the other people who work there, which is annoying but also I understand how they could make her angry – for the same reasons they made me want to not work there anymore, but she’s not a volunteer and can’t just quit working there. Later I went to a store to have some documents scanned and saved on my flash drive, then tried to use the internet to send them, but it was too slow that the attachments never loaded. I left and went to sit on the sidewalk with my host mom and my neighbor for a while, but they were pretty much only speaking Kichwa and I got bored so I left. I went to change my clothes to go for a jog, which I haven’t been doing since our attempt at Cotopaxi. As I was walking up the hill to the road where I usually run, I passed a little boy who was just staring at me. He was also walking up the hill, and I started talking to him asking where he was going. He was on his way home, which was just a few meters up the hill. We said goodbye, and I kept walking up the hill, putting my headphones back in and listening to my music. I turned around a few minutes later and he was running behind me to catch up. He asked if he could come with me, so I said sure. I just turned off my iPod and kept walking up the hill. We ran a little bit, but then he got tired so we just walked and talked, getting to know each other. I learned that my new friend is named Luis, he is 8 years old, he has 3 dogs and 3 sisters and 3 brothers, but they are older and some live and work in Quito. He has been to Quito once to see them. He asked me how old I am, what is my name, where does my dad live, what are my parent’s names, are there cows in the United States, was I afraid of that bird cawing? Have I ever seen a “fuco”? Apparently its like a big cat but it has really big wings and lives in the forests up in the mountains. What kind of animals eat humans? He has 3 bears in his house – but they are teddy bears. One of them attacked him yesterday. How many friends do I have? Do I have friends who live in Cebadas? He told me there is a boy who lives here who is my friend, and I asked who is that, and he said me! So now I have another new friend in Cebadas.

On August 20 I will have been in Cebadas for exactly one year – my official half way point of my service since the two months of training don’t count for the two years. Still have some good days and some bad days – sometimes I wish I could stay here forever, and sometimes this next year can’t seem to pass fast enough. Overall I’m still enjoying it here, trying as hard as I can to actually get some work done which is harder than I thought, but I know I’m growing and learning something new every day which is a personal benefit even if I don’t help the people here as much as I had wanted to. I like to think that through my daily interactions the people here are benefiting from it as much as I am. My favorite thing about being here is just walking down the street and almost every single person says hi to me. Some are young men my age who bother me just because I am a gringa, but really aren’t confident enough to say anything more than buenos dias. Most are children who yell my name as I walk by, but a lot are mothers and older men too; I’m kinda a celebrity in Cebadas.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wow – I have been in Ecuador for over a year now; pretty much exactly half-way done with my service. I have “enseñada” or gotten used to it as everyone still asks me almost every day, and I really feel at home now in Cebadas. Another volunteer told me that the second year is way better than the first, and I can already see that that is going to be true in my case too. Since January I´ve just kind of been organizing activities all on my own, going to do sex-ed at the high school or doing a lesson about nutrition and the food groups at random events, but just recently I changed my counterpart and am now working with the Junta Parroquial, kind of like the town hall. I am the “técnica de salud” working with 6 other people here in the office. I am pretty much the only person in the health area, but now since I´ve been here for a year I feel prepared to take on this position. I already have lots of other community contacts and I´m still doing some activities on my own but now I have the Junta to back me up too. I am excited about my new job here and I know the second year will be better than the first. I could reflect on this even more, but I think that would just be boring so instead I´m going to write about a recent trip I made with another volunteer to attempt to summit Cotopaxi.

We met our guide Diego and his brother in the town of Machachi, just near the base or Cotopaxi volcano. They totally looked like mountain climbers, with their indigenous facial features and long black ponytails. They were close to our age, and have pretty much grown up on the enormous mountains in Ecuador, having climbed Cotopaxi more times than they can remember at only 25 years old. They did some shopping for food and stuff while Krista and I got lunch in anticipation of our climb later that day, then we headed off to the park entrance all stuffed inside the truck because it was starting to rain. Arriving to the parking lot, we got into the back of the truck and put on almost all of our layers, including our rented boots that were almost like ski boots. We only had a shirt hike up to the refuge where we would stop to fully prepare, but with the wind and blowing snow it was so cold. About an hour later we arrived to the refuge to drop off our sleeping bags and rest a little bit. Even though we were inside we didn´t take off any layers because it was still freezing. We grabbed our cramp-ons and ice picks and headed up the hill a little bit with Diego while his brother stated cooking dinner. We walked up to where there was snow, trudging through sandy soil and gravel that looked like the surface of Mars to get there. He taught us how to put on the cramp-ons and how to use the ice pick in case we were going to fall. We sat there just talking for a while about the plan for the next morning and how everything was going to work. Watching the sunset, it started to get a lot colder, so we went back down to the refuge and put on even more layers of clothes.

Dinner was ready when we got back: soup with rice and noodles, and then spaghetti noodles with ground beef and veggies. Lots of carbs to last us through all the next day. There were lots of other people in the refuge that night, mostly other foreigners except for the guides. We only counted 3 or 4 other women, who were in groups that had men too – we were the only group of just women, and some of the guides were giving Diego a hard time about it, which just motivated us even more to make it up to the top. About 8 or 8:30 we went to lay down in our sleeping bags to sleep for a little bit, wearing almost all of our clothes for the next day – 2 pairs of long underwear, one pair of sweat pants, 3 pairs of socks, a t-shirt, long underwear shirt, and fleece jacket. Even with all these clothes and inside the sleeping bag inside the refuge, it was still the coldest I have ever been in my life. The cold temperatures plus the anticipation of our adventure in the morning made it really hard to fall asleep, and I kept waking up all night but finally I think I slept a total of 3 hours or less. Around midnight we woke up from hearing people walk around, and made our selves get out of the sleeping bag to get ready. Got our hats, scarves, gloves head lamps, and boots and grabbed our backpacks with our equipment, a lunch they had packed for us and lots of water. Headed down to have breakfast – bread with jelly, yogurt and granola, and hot chocolate. Put on our outer layers, waterproof pants and a jacket, our harnesses, and about 1:30 AM headed out.

It was completely dark, and we had no idea how they even knew where they were going. We just trusted them and followed along behind. At first it was just the sandy gravel, and every step I took I just slid down a little bit. It was really windy and cold, but we were walking so steep uphill that it kinda warmed me up. We caught up with another group of about 5 or 6 climbers with only one guide, zigzagging up the mountain who we followed for a little bit. They were going a lot slower than we had been, so it was a nice break to follow them, and made us feel good about ourselves that we could go faster than them, but it also made me feel colder again. Finally, we passed the others, and got to the snow line where we sat down to put on our cramp-ons, and they connected all 4 of us together with a rope. We sat for a minute resting and we could see the lights of Machachi below us, and all the stars above us. Also you could see lines of lights on the mountains, the head lamps of the other teams who were climbing that day. Starting off after that first break was when the real climb started for me. I was right behind Diego, with about 8 feet of rope separating us. He obviously is in better shape than I am and more used to the extreme altitude, so most of the time the tension was pretty tight on the rope because he was pulling me up the mountain. It was actually good though, because if I was not connected to him I probably would have gone slower, but by him pulling me at his pace it made me realize that I could do it and I was stronger than I thought. We kept on hiking at a decent pace, taking short breaks every once and a while. It started to get really windy and snowy as we made our way crisscrossing up the mountain. I looked forward to a break from the wind every time we turned away facing so the wind was more at our backs. Everything began to be covered in ice; the hood of my jacket was more like a hood of ice, and sometimes I couldn´t open my backpack to get out water because the zippers had frozen shut. The ends of my hair sticking out from my hat looked like noodles made of ice crystals, but we just kept walking. There was a really steep part that we pretty much climbed straight up and I almost thought I couldn´t make it. I was using my ice pick as a walking stick to support myself, and every time I stuck it in the ground I thought it was going to be the last step I would take. But that rope kept getting tighter from Diego trying to pull me behind him, and I felt like I couldn´t let him down, or myself or Krista, so I kept going.

At the top of the steep part, we stopped and rested and talked with the guides, although we could hardly hear them because of the wind. It was just starting to get light, probably about 6 in the morning. Diego said that now that the weather had been like this for a few hours, it would not improve, so we probably should not keep going. It wouldn´t have been impossible to summit, but with the wind and snow it would have not been very enjoyable, and once we got to the top we wouldn´t be able to see anything anyways. We were at about 5400 meters above sea level and decided that we wouldn´t go any further. However, we still had about 2 hours before we had to start heading down, and we were at a really cool place where there were lots of crevices and icicles, so we hung out there for a while exploring. They set up a little rope system so we could jump over the crevices, and we walked around this place that looked like nothing else I had ever seen. We climbed up a little wall that we had to use our ice picks, and then at the top sat and rested behind a snowdrift out of the wind. We drank some water, but I wasn´t really hungry. It got cold pretty fast just sitting still so we started heading down after not too long.

Going down was definitely faster than going up, but it was still pretty difficult. After a while your thighs start to burn and you have to sit just to rest your legs. The hillside didn´t seem as steep going down than climbing up. We were still all connected with the rope, but now I felt like I was being pulled both directions – we had just turned around so now Krista was in front of my and Diego was behind me. My cramp-ons kept falling off and Krista´s harness as well, so every once in a while we had to stop to fix them. Luckily the guides usually did it for us because it was so cold once you took off your gloves.

We finally arrived back to the refuge, where we just took off our backpacks and jackets and set them by the door to thaw out for a little bit while we ate some Oreos and Doritos. We packed up our sleeping bags and got everything ready and hiked down back to the parking lot. It was so cold that Diego´s dad´s old truck that we had borrowed didn´t start. He was looking under the hood while his brother was trying to give it some gas and turn the key. A few minutes Diego was pretty much sitting under the hood trying to heat up some tubes or something, and finally the car started, scaring him and ripping the sleeve of his jacket that got stuck in something. He hopped in the car with us, all four of us squished in there. Slowly made our way down the mountain, stopping a few times to check something out in the car, and to take off layers of clothes. We finally made it to the highway where they dropped me off to catch a bus home, and at this point it was only about 10:30 AM, but it felt like it should have been almost sunset since we had already done such a long hike that day. I finally got home at about 4 with a backpack full of wet clothes and empty water bottles, took a shower, and went to sleep. I was not as sore the next day as I expected, but just tired. Makes me feel like I could have exerted myself harder, and next time we attempt we are going to make it!

Since that Cotopaxi trip I´ve just been hanging out in Cebadas, sometimes just sitting in the office reading my book, washing my clothes by hand on sunny afternoons, but also doing some really cool work too. One workshop that was particularly successful was in the community of Puka Totoras on the topic of gender equality. This community is the farthest away, way up high in the mountains, and with very traditional, indigenous habitants. I had Dr. Silva and his secretary go with me to help me out. At first I just was thinking of asking the secretary because she is an indigenous woman with a successful job, so she´s a great example of the things we would be talking about, and she speaks Kichwa so she could help me translate sometimes because especially some of the older women don´t understand Spanish too well. We asked Dr. Silva too so that he could ask for transportation to be provided by the Ministry of Public Health, so the three of us headed out early in the morning to get there. I was especially tired because I had told them I would bring snacks and was up till 11:30 the night before making multiple batches of banana bread muffins in my one muffin tray, and then I had to leave at 5 AM just because it’s so far away. We had almost arrived, just one more big curve of the road when we found that there had been a landslide. Since we knew we were close we just left the driver there with the car, and started walking towards the center of the community, arriving about 30 minutes later and warmed up from walking in the cold and windy weather. The past president saw us walking and came and joined us for the last part of the walk, then he opened up one of the classrooms of the school because there is not a meeting house or anything else in the community. Luckily the kids are on “summer” break now, so it wasn´t an interruption. We waited for a while before people started showing up, and then finally started the workshop with almost the whole population of the community – about 9 male participants and 20 or so women. After the obligatory words of “bienvenido” and short introduction, I explained the first activity that was called Differences and Similarities of the Genders. We separated the group into men and women, Dr. Silva with the men and Anita the secretary with the women, leaving me to just roam around observing and take pictures. Each group had a poster where they had to answer 3 questions: What do I like about being a woman (or man)? What would I like about being a man (or woman)? and What should men (or women) know about being a woman (or man)? Anita and Dr. Silva wrote down what they were saying as the participants discussed the questions, and then after about 20 or 30 minutes one person from each group had to present what they had discussed. The women said they liked spinning yarn and knitting, being leaders in the community and helping with the education of their children. They would like having more freedom, more education, and the opportunity to work in the city if they were men, and they wish that the men understood all the responsibilities that the women had in the home. The men said they liked being men because they had more freedom, education and opportunities to work. If they were women they would like cooking and cleaning and washing clothes. They wish that the women understood that they are working for the benefit of the whole family. After each group presented, Dr. Silva and I each talked for a few minutes, pointing out a few key points that each group had said. He talked about the fact that the men all leave to work in the cities or even in other countries, and asked why the women don´t go as well. They responded that they have to stay there taking care of the animals and the plots of land they have for grazing (because at this high elevation nothing else really grows except for grasses). He asked the women if they got married to spend time with their husband, or to spend time with their animals. Obviously not to just stay with the animals, so he offered the idea that both the man and women could go work in a different city when they first get married to make twice the money and then come back to the land their parents have left them to buy animals and raise the children they have in the future in their own community. They seemed receptive of the idea, but the fact is that men leave and women stay, proven by the participants in attendance (9 men and 25 women). That is something that will just take time to change their perspective, if they want to of course, but the fact is that the more developed countries and areas are those where women have more power in the society. I talked after him and pointed out some similarities I saw in the two presentations, for example that men like their freedom and education, and women wish they had more freedom and education. We talked about the fact that starting with their kids, girls and boys both should be sent to study in high school and to university too if possible. I explained to the men that if there is something that I like, I´m not just going to keep it to myself, but I´m going to want to share it with others. One suggestion I made was maybe they could send the woman to do the shopping in the city for the day while they stay at home with the kids. This all started some great conversations because in this reserved culture they never really talk about things like that; they just get married when they´re pretty young, have kids, and live their lives like all the other families in the community. It was cool too because it wasn´t me saying that women should have the same rights as men to study, or these other things we talked about, but the women of the community were the ones who said those things and it was a great way for me to strengthen and explain a little more the ideas that they themselves came up with. For the second activity I had taped papers on the wall on each side of the room saying “I agree” and “I don´t agree”, and “???” in the middle. I read statements, and if they agreed or disagreed, they were supposed to move to stand on that side of the room. I got this idea from a manual Peace Corps had sent me, and it had statements on the list like “sometimes women should pay for movie tickets of dinner on a date”, but no one in this community even knows that movie theatres exist, so I changed it to things like “women cannot cut their hair” and “only men can drink alcohol”. This one didn´t go as well as the first activity; I think the men were a little offended and kind of just stood at the back of the room not really participating, and the women all just moved together, saying they all agreed or all disagreed, no one wanted to be by themselves. Overall though it went really well, giving the community an opportunity to talk about these things that affect their everyday lives but they never really talks about. A week later I went with another volunteer to talk to the newest group of trainees and we repeated these exact same activities with them, so they can see how they work and possibly repeat them in their communities after they’re been there for a while. I think if I had done this activity right away it wouldn’t have been successful, but now that they know me and feel more comfortable with me, they were able to be more honest knowing that I was someone they could trust.

Well, that’s a little update of my life here lately. I’m still loving it here, although sometimes I do miss things like washing machines, Target, milk and cereal, and of course my friends and family!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Police and Parties

About two weeks ago Cebadas got its first police officers. There are three of them, but they usually just work alone or sometimes two on the same shift. I don’t really know how long the shifts are, but they have a little house that they are renting or something and then a little office in the same building as the market on the main plaza. They don’t have a car however, so I don’t know what they would ever do if there actually was an emergency or something that they had to respond to. Also there is not a very good dispatch system here; apparently there is just one for the whole country so its takes forever. One of the police officers gave me his cell phone number in case I ever needed to reach him, but also because he was just being kinda creepy. Luckily a few days after that I had to change my cell phone number anyways and so now he doesn’t have my number anymore. JAJA This guys is just weird too, the first time I ever saw him he came up and said he had been looking for me, and talks to me every time he sees me and always tells me he wants me to teach him English. Once I was just sitting in the plaza waiting for something to start and reading my book, when he came over and was asking me how to say all these words in English. He took my book from me and was trying to read the words that he knew, not really even seeming to realize that when people are reading it usually means they don’t want to be disturbed. He isn’t always a creeper though – sometimes he walks around town and tells people to pick up the trash in front of their stores which is something that actually needs to be done (everyone just throws trash out the bus window and just wherever they want). However, you can see that there is not much for a police officer to do here. Recently, maybe in the last 2 months or so this lawyer office also appeared on a corner in Cebadas. I have only seen it actually open twice I think, but I guess its good that its there.

This last weekend Cebadas celebrated its 150th anniversary with 3 days of fiestas. Saturday there was a fair where they judged animals and stuff and the school kids had little cultural and science displays set up. Then in the evening was the election of the Sumak Warmi – the queen of the fiestas. There were 5 contestants from the ages 18 to 24 and they had to wear casual clothes, typical traditional clothes and fancy clothes (but pretty much they were all just the same – at least the long skirts they wear called anako’s) and answer a question. That ended at 12 and after that a concert started, there were supposed to be two musical groups but I went to bed and I assume the party lasted till like 5 or so. Sunday was the finals of a soccer tournament followed by bulls in the afternoon. Again just the kind of bulls where drunk men run around out there with their red ponchos, although some of the high schoolers and young adults are pretty good at it I guess. In the evening there was a concert of Christian music and kind of like a church service on the stage, but they were just talking all in Kichwa and it was really boring for me. The religious spirit didn’t stop people from drinking though and there were a few guys laying on the ground out there Monday morning. Monday there was a parade with the bands from the school and the high school and lots of other groups of people – the teachers, the people who work at the bank, the people who work at the Subcentro (including me!) and after that was a session where all the authorities spoke, some kids recited speeches about the history of Cebadas, and then the president gave kind of a “state of the union address” kind of speech, just talking about all the big things that are going to be happening this next year – opening a center for senior citizens, working on getting a sewer treatment system, possibly a paved road out to the farthest communities, and that people don’t throw trash on the ground.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I wrote this blog entry a while ago, but it was saved on my flash drive and I lost it. It’s still an interesting topic, so I’m just gonna post it anyways.

Holy week is a bigger deal here than in the US, but in Riobamba this year it coincided with the annual independence celebration of the city, so there was stuff going on every day. I don’t actually live in Riobamba, but it is my closest city, so I made sure to attend some of the events. One of the most interesting was the bullfight. There were actually 2 nights of bullfighting, each with 3 matadors from various countries and 6 bulls which each weighed 500 kilos minimum. The matadors all had really interesting clothes – very intricate detailed jackets and capris with pink socks and a Princess Lea-esque hat. They didn’t come out till later though. When they first let the bull out, there were about 5 or 6 of the matadors helpers waving pink capes at the bull, and then running behind this protective wood thing. I think that was mostly to tire the bull out, and maybe to let these guys practice because they kind of seemed like matador apprentices. After a few minutes of this, 2 guys on horses came out with long spears. They make the bull ram the horse while the guy riding it stabs the bull in between the shoulder blades. Apparently in the past, the horse usually died too, but now they wear protective armour. This would make the bull start bleeding from his back, and you could tell he was getting weaker. Next two more helper guys came out with these long sticks covered in colorful crate paper with one pointed end. They did a little scorpion jump move and stabbed them into the bull’s back. Finally the matador came out and waved around his little cape, trying to make the bull charge him and stuff. After a while, he got out a sword which he used to stab the bull in the upper back to get right to the heart. Sometimes the bull just layed down and died, and sometimes this other guy with a smaller knife came out and stabbed the bull right in the brain and it died right away. The matador then walked around the ring with some helpers as people threw him flowers. Some people threw their hats or scarves and he threw it back to them, and some people threw flasks for him to take a drink of. During this, they brought out 2 horses hooked up to a little metal bar to pull the dead bull out of the ring. These particular horses did not want to pull the bull and some men ended up having to pull it off. One guy always grabbed the tail which was entertaining. Sometimes before they took the bull away though, a guy in a hat with a huge white feather would come out and cut the ears off. There were some judges and if they said the matador did a good job, he got to keep the ear as a trophy. One guy got to keep 2 ears he did such a good job. One of the other guys didn’t kill his bull – he stabbed it but not in the heart, I think just in the muscle because as the bull was running around the sword kind of came back out. They eventually sent the bull back where he came out of, and I don’t know what happened to him back there. Overall the whole culture surrounding the bullfighting was really interesting, and we had so many questions the whole time. For example – what do they do with the dead bull carcasses? What is the scoring system to decide if they get the ear or not? How does one train to be a matador? I guess we’ll never know. There is an upcoming election, and outlawing bullfighting is one of the ballot issues, so this might have been the last bull fight ever in Riobamba.

Another weekend that I spent out of my site was in the southern province of Loja in a town called Vilcabamba. I met some other volunteers there for a GAD meeting (Gender and Development). It is a little town that is known for its residents living over 100 years old, but now its kindof been taken over by hippies. There are also a number of retired gringos, and some Ecuadorians, but tons of Dreadlocked hippies from all over the world. It was pretty much the best place for people watching I have been ever. We had a productive meeting, but also just sat there for a few hours one afternoon talking to a random American guy we met and watching the people in the park.

Things in Cebadas are going well – pretty much done with the toothbrush project, and now I’ve been working a lot with my youth group project. We did an activity in our last meeting where they had to say if they could go to any country in the world where would they go? Some said either Peru, the US, or Spain, but mostly they said other places in Ecuador that they had never been to. It makes me want to take them on a trip so they can see Quito or somewhere else that is only actually a few hours away in car. They’re still not very talkative overall, but some really do participate. I picked who I think were the 6 most participative, and I want to send them to get more training on sex-ed and then they are going to teach the other kids, and I can help them. They seemed really excited when I explained this to them, so hopefully everything will work out. In a week or so some kids from Alausí who do that same thing are coming to Cebadas to talk to my kids about it. They are also sponsored by World Vision, where another volunteer works.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

everyday life

We get this e-magazine written by other PC volunteers here in Ecuador, and one of the articles in this last issue was about blogging. My compañera was commenting on the fact that we just post about big events, like how recently I have written about when I had visitors in my site, new projects I’m trying to work on, or the festivities of Carnaval. What really makes Peace Corps though is just the experience of living in a different country. So many times every day I find myself thinking “how did I get here?” because every day is so different from the day before and just so random. This blog post will be dedicated to those moments from my everyday life.

There was another concert last weekend in Cebadas for the end of Carnaval. I wanted to just see what it was like, and also it was so loud I probably wouldn’t have been able to sleep anyways, so I found Elvia, my little 10 year old buddy, and made her go with me. Her dad is a bus driver, and he had parked the bus in the plaza and we went and were sitting on top of the bus. Down in the plaza everyone wanted to dance with me, mostly the old drunk men, so I enjoyed it a lot more sitting on the bus. Elvia left me to go do something, and didn’t come back for a long time so I was just sitting up there by myself. I think some people noticed me and probably thought I was crazy for sitting on top of a bus by myself watching a concert. It got kind of cold so I went and walked around for a little and stood with my host mom before going to bed. I wish I had more friends here that could have gone to the concert with me; with Cebadas being so small pretty much everyone knows who I am, but we’re not really “friends.” Most people my age already have multiple children, or else they don’t live in Cebadas anymore, so I haven’t met people I could just call over to hang out, or go watch a concert with.

Bus rides. Something I had to get used to here. Since I was 16 I’ve had my own car and I remember going to get my license with my mom on my 16th birthday. Here that is completely different. In my little town of Cebadas, I would guess that maybe 15 families have personal cars, and most are trucks that the neighbors borrow all the time. They don’t really need cars though because there are busses that go almost anywhere at almost every hour of the day. Between Cebadas and Riobamba there are busses from 5:30 AM to 8:30 PM and it only costs $1 for the one hour trip. I have kind of lost my tendency for motion sickness taking that bus trip maybe once or twice a week, and every once in a while the 4 hour trip to the terminal in the south end of Quito. Bus rides are always an interesting experience…once I got on the bus and all the seats were full, or people had their backpacks saving seats for friends or family. This little old lady asked me if I was going to Cebadas, and when I said yes she scooted over and let me share her seat with her while we chatted on the way home. She still had her shopping bag on the seat too and so I just had a half a seat squished right up to my new friend. It was so hot with so many people on the bus and no one likes to open windows, so I took off my sweatshirt and was still really hot. As we got closer to Cebadas, people had gotten off so there were more empty seats, so I went and sat in a different seat and opened the window all the way to stick my head out for a minute. As I was sitting there enjoying the wind in my face, someone from behind me reached over my seat and shut my window. Not cool. Another time on the 6:30 PM bus going to Cebadas (which is always really busy) I got there right as it was leaving so of course I didn’t get a seat. I was standing up towards the front behind some bare footed old ladies who were sitting on the floor, leaning over them because there were so many people I couldn’t even move my feet from where they were wedged between other people’s feet and I couldn’t stand up straight.

The other day I was walking back to my house with these two high school sisters I have befriended and their mom and aunt. They were going to a funeral and I was just going home for the afternoon, but when we got to the funeral which was actually at my next door neighbor’s house I told them bye, but they made me come with them. It wasn’t actually the funeral service, but the part where the family of the person who died has to give everyone food. We were sitting on the roof of my neighbor’s house with probably about 100 other people (not kidding) and they came and served us potato soup, rice with veggies, and finally came around later giving out juice to everyone in the same 5 cups so you had to drink fast and then give the cup back. This was about 2:30 in the afternoon, and I had just recently eaten lunch, but it is rude to refuse food here, and especially at a funeral, so I ate as much as I could. I sat there with Rosa and Celia, the high schoolers, and their mom and two other women from Cebadas that I have seen around and I say hi to all the time, but haven’t actually had a conversation with. When I first arrived one of them said “the gringa came?” in Kichwa, but I understood that so then it was kinda awkward. We started talking and they asked me all the usual questions like how did you come here, how long are you staying, how old are you, are you married, what if you marry an Ecuadorian will you still go back in two years, what are your parents names, what are their jobs, how old are they, how many siblings do you have…the same conversation I have with every new person I meet pretty much. Then they were speaking to each other in Kichwa about my hair and asked me if it was natural and said how pretty it is. I said that if they would go to the US people would say the same thing about them, it’s just because I’m so different looking. They asked if I put some cream or something on my skin to make it white, and I explained that I was born like this, but I do have to put on sunscreen multiple times a day so the sun doesn’t burn me. They had never seen sunscreen in their lives, even though you can buy it at any pharmacy in Riobamba.

The last few weeks the little group of kids who come to cook with me has expanded to include some new members. The other day there were 9 kids there from 8 to 18 years old and we made pretzels. It was fun because each person could make their own in the shape of letters or stars or hearts or whatever. We have one big cookie sheet in the kitchen, but it was missing, so we baked the pretzels on the lids of some big pots we have. They kind of stuck, but after scraping them off I thought they were pretty good, just missing rock salt and cheese sauce. I have become more resourceful here, probably rubbing off from the Ecuadorians. They just don’t have lots of things, but they can do pretty much anything with the stuff they do have.
I was sitting on the corner waiting for the bus, because even though I have been here 7 months now I still haven’t figured out the schedule. It was later in the afternoon and the gate to the school was locked but I noticed some sheep inside. It’s not so uncommon for people to take their animals to public places to graze so I wasn’t even surprised to see them; not until I sat there for a minute did I realize that was kinda weird. Across the street there was a turkey shut inside the gate of the kindergarten. I had never seen that before, only a few people have turkeys.

Now to write about some more big events… on March 21, we celebrated the Andean New Year and Pawkar Raymi. The Department of Intercultural Health organized it all, inviting lots of people, school kids, and the general public. It was in a place called Tulabug, a hill that is considered a sacred place for the Andean culture, that is about 45 minutes away from Cebadas. They hired a bus to bring people from Cebadas, and I was in charge of finding people to fill it. They wanted to invite all the high school kids, so I gave invitations to the directors of the 6 high schools in the area and told them they could each send 4 students and 1 teacher. That way there would still be space to bring 8 midwives. Well as things happen in Ecuador, the director of only 3 schools got back to me, and I was only able to find 4 midwives. Monday morning we were waiting for the bus at 7:45 AM because it was supposed to leave at 8 for the event that was supposed to start at 8:30. Only students from 2 schools were there, and one midwife. Rachel and Ambrocio, the high schooler doing an internship at the Subcentro also were there hanging out. The bus wasn’t there anyways, so we just sat there doing absolutely nothing. Called the driver a few times and he said he would be there soon. Finally about 9:30 the bus shows up and we are on our way. My host dad also came in the bus with us because he is part of the band that was going to play. He directed the bus driver there because he didn’t even know where we were going, and we ended up out on some country roads, otherwise we would have gone to Riobamba and back up. The last few days it has been raining in the afternoons, and we had a little bad luck on one of the dirt roads and got stuck in the mud. Some random women who had gotten on the bus went to the neighbor’s house and asked to borrow a hoe. Everyone had gotten out of the bus and some people were helping throw dirt in the mud to dry it up, along with branches and rocks. Somebody threw a big rock in a puddle and splashed everyone with mud. One of the high school girls took charge along with my host dad telling the poor driver what to do, and eventually we got out. We slipped and slided our way the rest of the way there, with another small detour to push another car out of the ditch. I think next year the organizers should make sure the roads are in better conditions before sending thousands of people up a big hill in large busses and old trucks. We finally got there around 11, and just our luck – the event was just starting! Perfect timing! There were a few music groups playing, but of course the doctor booked his group to play for the majority of the time. The officials spoke a little, welcoming everyone to the event. Later my buddy Espiritu, the shaman, started the ritual thanking the sun and the moon, making everyone repeat after him some Kichwa words that I didn’t really understand, then he makes everyone face each of the 4 directions with their hands raised while he talks in Kichwa and sometimes Spanish. After the ritual, there was more music and a few dance groups doing traditional dancing. There was typical food for everyone to eat, and afterwards there was a lunch as well. We didn’t end up going to the lunch because it started to rain and with the road conditions we wanted to get out before they got worse. We arrived back to Cebadas around 3 after an interesting and exciting day.

Right after getting back I got on the 4 o’clock bus back to Riobamba to pick up the first shipment of toothbrushes. Some students from Cornell got here on Sunday and brought about half of the donations. I decided I am giving 700 to the health promoter who works at World Vision Cebadas. She recently bought 1000 toothbrushes and toothpastes, but there are about 1700 school kids so I told her I could give her the rest. I haven’t decided what to do with the others; I will probably donate some to MedLife and also to the dentist who works in the Subcentro. Thanks again everyone for your help with this, and finally it’s getting started, so look for pictures soon!