Thursday, July 23, 2009

Adventures of My Site Visit July 23, 2009

I survived my site visit. You may have not had any doubt about my return to Cayambe, but I did, especially after maneuvering through the different bus and metro terminals just to get to another, final bus terminal in Quito, WITH TRAINERS. Had an encounter with a drug addict and watched a guy have a seizure next to me on my 8-hour bus ride from Quito to Porteviejo. But I’m home, safe and sound in my room in Cayambe, able to share my adventure in Los Tillales.

I was greeted in Noboa, a community about 2 hours outside of Porteviejo by the current volunteer, Kristen, and other volunteers of Corozon Feliz who were there for a health fair – checking blood pressure and calculating BMI. The group of women volunteers I met are awesome – very spirited. I hung out at the fair with them all morning, trying to learn as much as I could in Spanish. This job would be so much easier in English! After a few hours we headed to Los Tillales in the back of a pick-up truck, all 15 of us.

My first impression of Los Tillales was, wow, its really rural and in the middle of nowhere. I knew I was spoiled in Cayambe, but I had no idea how much until actually arriving at my site. We have all the main amenities – electricity, indoor plumbing, and a stove. However, the water is frequently turned off, so everyone keeps big containers as full of water as possible for the days when it doesn’t come through the pipes. I got to experience this for 2 days, and took my first bucket bath. There is no hot water, but because its so hot on the coast, the cold showers/bucket baths feel refreshing. Also, although my host family has a gas stove, they rarely use it. Rather, they use the orno in the backyard. I sleep with a mosquito net (tolda) to keep them and other things out of my bed…(see photos).

My host family is super sweet. I live with the grandmother, 2 of her daughters basically live with us too – their houses are almost attached – and their daughter and son. So we have three generations under one roof. Their Spanish is really fast and its hard for me to understand, but I’m making some headway with one of the daughters, Maria.

Everyone else that I met my first day was extremely friendly, but I was on sensory overload and couldn’t get past the physical conditions of the town. There is basically one main road that connects Porteviejo to Sucre (another bigger town about 20 minutes from Los Tillales), and Los Tillales appears to have sprung up along it, like many other communities. At first, I didn’t get the sense of really having a neighborhood, I felt like I was just living in a house sprung up along a road. But after talking with lots of the people, and hanging out there for a few days, I felt the presence of the community. Everyone knows everyone, lots of people are related, and they were all really welcoming, which helped warm me up to the site.

I went to a charla with Kristen and some other volunteers in Aquacate, a town about 1.5 hours from Tillales. It was really interesting – about 20 people showed up to participate. We weighed everyone, took their blood pressure, talked about the importance of exercise and physical fitness, then did aerobics for 30 minutes. Good times – I sweat like a pig!

As far as the work aspect goes, there are so many opportunities – the town, like many places in Ecuador, doesn’t have many resources. I’m going to have to keep reminding myself that I can allow myself months to get to know the people, the town, what programs/projects already exist, and what other needs the community has before trying to “save the world.”

My head is spinning with ideas of how to expand Corozon Feliz and meet the other needs already expressed by my counterpart, Nelly, of the Committee of Health Volunteers that solicited Peace Corps for a volunteer. Not to mention potential opportunities to work with Plan International, colegios, the new local government that comes into office in August, and another group being formed to address domestic violence. Sucre and the surrounding communities have more projects put together than I expected, and seem very energetic and open to trying new things.

After my one tough night, I’m super excited to get back to Los Tillales, improve my Spanish and start to integrate into the community. As I said all week while I was there, I have big shoes to fill as the previous volunteer did awesome work and is loved by everyone.

This blog posting wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the food orgy that occurred last night in Porteviejo with other volunteers – you know who you are, but shall remain nameless here. It felt sooooo good to be in a mall, with a food court that had a movie theater. We had 5 hours to kill before heading to the night bus, and what better way to kill it than by eating and watching a movie in English??!! I think I ate my weight in ice cream yesterday, along with sanchipapas, a sandwich, pieces of a burger, and popcorn. We watched The Proposal, which made me a little homesick, and then ate more ice cream. To top things off, we took an executive bus back to Quito, which was basically like staying in a Ritz Carlton with a flight attendant, seats that reclined, and a foot rest!! Oh how I love La Reina bus line! Good thing I do, because I’ll be spending another 24 hours on her again in the next month.

And my sandals spell like a litter box. Miss you Boo.

July 18 - Breakfast with D´Lenny´s

This morning was our last day with the world’s best language facilitator. What better way to send him off than with food? We made breakfast together – emborajadas, which are like banana funnel cakes, and tortilla de platana, which is like an omelet with platanas. We added cheese, tomato, onion and pepper too. Muy rico! Tonight we all leave for our sites!! Sad and exciting.

July 16 - My Site Assignment

Found out today where I’ll be spending the next 2 years of my life – in Los Tillales, which turns out, is a little town in the province on Manabi on the coast. There are 7 other trainees heading to that province, and a handful of other volunteers there already. I learned the closest volunteer is about 45 minutes away from me in Porteviejo, the capital of Manabi.

From the basic information I have, it looks like my main project will be working with Corozon Feliz (Happy Hearts). It’s a project started by another volunteer in my site who is wrapping up her 2 years. Basically, I’ll be giving charlas on obesity and its co-morbidities. OBESITY!! Its followed me all the way to Ecuador, which I cannot believe. I thought for sure I’d be working in the area of transmittable diseases; not non-transmittable diseases. Who even knew obesity was a problem in Ecuador?? I certainly didn’t think it was as serious as other diseases. Turns out, I was wrong.

I head to Los Tillales on Saturday to meet my new host family and get a better sense of the town, its leaders, and its needs. The trip is about 12 hours…all night long…should be interesting.

July 14 - How Much Spanish Do I Know?

We had our second LPI (language proficiency interview) today. I wasn’t really nervous about it like some other aspirantes because I did so horribly on my first interview I knew I’d improve to some degree during my second. But…as the hour drew closer and I found out the interview was with the idioma jefe – a completely serious and intimidating dude – I got a little nervous. Things didn’t get any better when I walked in for the interview and had to explain how to put a condom on – in Spanish. You may be thinking that’s a bit of a strange topic to discuss during an interview, however, I had just come from a session on that, so it wasn’t really Rolando’s fault for asking – he just wanted to know what I’d been doing before the interview. I struggled through that part with lots of strange facial expressions and we moved onto other topics, thank God. The LPIs are tape recorded, but I wish they were on video camera too because I’m sure if some of them were submitted to America’s Funniest Videos, PC trainees would win millions.

Bottom line, my Spanish has improved! I graduated to the level of intermedio medio – the level volunteers must achieve to be sworn in as volunteers! I came in at precipio bajo, which means you can’t even say “hola” correctly. Yippee! I can talk to people on the street, buy food, and perform other basic functions. I still cannot understand my host dad, the internet dude, or just about anyone else that tries to have a normal conversation with me using verbs other than can, should, want, and need. Ok, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but I still definitely have a long way to go.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pics Coming Soon...I hope

I´m having problems uploading hopefully I´ll get that worked out this week so you can get a glimpse of what my life in Cayambe looks like. For now, use your imagination :-)

De Empezar - July 6

I haven’t been too great about posting blogs, so rather than try and chronicle the last 2 weeks or so, I thought I’d just mention some of the highlights.

My group took our first cultural trip to Mascarilla – an Afro-Ecuatorian centric area about 2 hours north of Cayambe, in a valley, so its tropical. Mascarilla is known for its masks, the dance – la bomba - and futbolistas. I made a mini mask (see picture), but it cracked in the sun. I posted some pictures of the real masks too. There are only a few hundred people who live in Mascarilla – it is a rural town, and appeared to be pretty poor – but because of the handmade masks and other artisans its on the tourist map. In Mascarilla they also have big organic farms and grow bananas, papayas, mangoes, peppers and more. We also saw aloe plants, another plant used as insect repellant, and another plant that shampoo is made from.

I went to my first ever bull fight at the Plaza de Torros with my familia. Picture a big ring with about 70-100 men in it, all drinking, and a bull being taunted. It makes for a pretty good show. Some of the braver men ride the bulls out every once in a while rodeo style. In the 4 hours or so that I was there, I witnessed about 4 bull-to-person contacts, and the Red Cross had to rush into the ring to carry men out on stretchers. I’m still not sure if anyone died that night or not.

I got sick (puked a couple times and had a fever) for the first time last week. I felt awful for about 24 hours, only being awake for about 6 of those 24. Luckily my body is muy fuerte and I was back to myself in time for July 4th festivities. Well, actually July 3rd – we celebrated Ecuatorian style with a futbol tournament and a “Reina Competicion.” My friend JCov was La Reina! As part of the competicion, each language group came up with a cheer and the potential Reinas had to answer why they’d make a good volunteer in their site – in Spanish of course. This may sound pretty basic, however, keep in mind that my language group rides the short bus, so our victory was huge, at least to us.

A few of my favorite Cayambian things:

• Bizcochas with Nutella – Cayambe is known for its bizcochas, which are like pieces of bread that melt in your mouth. The Nutella is a North American thing…
• Fresh juice every morning. This morning I had tomate de arbol, but my favorite is mora (raspberry). And when I say fresh, I mean fresh. We bought the tomate de arbol at the mercado at 6:45 am during our every other day family run.
• Desfiles todos los fin de semanas. I’ve finally posted some pictures from a couple of the parades I’ve been to in Cayambe. They are literally every weekend, and sometimes during the week.
• Mountain Cayambe – I don’t even know if that’s really what its called, but it is such a beautiful, snow covered mountain that you can only see when its clear. On days when its cloudy, you wouldn’t be able to tell that the mountain/volcano existed. I’ve tried posting some pics of it, but my camera sucks and the photos don’t do it justice.

I still can’t believe this Wednesday will mark the 3rd week I’ve been here. I think once I hit week 4 it will feel more permanent and “home” will feel further away. Its hard to explain how it feels now…I’ve had such a tight schedule and need to learn so much that it doesn’t feel like my own life, so its hard to feel settled and like this is home. My host family is great and so are the people in my language group that live in Cayambe close to me. But its like I rush through every day, to go to bed, get up, and do it all over again. Its like I’m at camp or something. I guess this hand-holding breaks the reality in more easily and gradually. But I think in 2 weeks when I head to my site I will get a wake up call.

The “Change-Ranger” - July 12, 2009

Although I’m nothing like a change-ranger yet, it’s a nickname Andrew has given to me to help me out of my periods of doubt – doubt that I’ll ever be able to fully comprehend and speak in Spanish; doubt that what I’m doing here makes a difference; doubt about where I’ll be spending the next 2 years of my life, which I find out on Thursday; doubt that my community will accept me. So at least thinking of the “change-ranger” puts a smile on my face, even if I doubt its truth.

On Thursday, I’ll know where I’m living for the next 2 years; I’ll know which other volunteers will be in my “cluster;” I’ll know whether or not I need to learn another language – Kichwa; I’ll know what needs the community identified during their initial interview with PC; and I’ll have a better idea of what project I’ll be working on. Note the emphasis on BETTER IDEA, because I really will have no idea what I’m doing until I’m at my site and spend a few weeks or months there.

I think I’ve had an open mind about this entire process, from last May when I sent in my application to packing my bags for Ecuador, having no idea what I really needed to bring or would want once I got here. And I’m trying to keep an open mind about my site placement, but the closer it gets, the more specifics I can give about what I want. I don’t even want to write them down for fear of jinxing things and tempting fate; or worse yet, getting everything I want only to find out that its like nothing I expected. But here goes… I WANT a site on the Coast or in the Oriente, or a transitional area; I WANT to work in public policy and tropical disease prevention; I WANT to be close by to my friends so we can get together on the weekends when we need a “mental health” day/s; and I WANT an awesome apartment with hot water, a toilet, electricity; and without bugs, rodents, reptiles, and other icky things.

However, I know I’ll survive wherever I’m placed, and I believe that wherever I’m placed is for a reason…I just hope they’re reasons I like J My biggest fear about site placement is having to learn Kichwa when I barely know Spanish. Part of me thinks that because I don’t know much Spanish, the powers that be wouldn’t put me in a site where I needed to learn Kichwa. But the other part of me thinks that because I’m like a blank slate, that may be reason enough to assign me to an indigenous site. There is no use in worrying, but I can’t help but think…

Next week all, or at least the most pressing questions, will be answered, and on Sunday I’ll be headed for my site to spend 5 days with my new host family, in my new community. Wish me luck!