Sorry this first entry is so long.
I am at my site now. I love it, but at times it is a bit overwhelming. Basically on Mondays and Tuesdays I go to the Centro de Salud. On Wednesdays and Thursdays I go to the Ecuadvida which is a school for mentally handicaped kids, and on Friday I am with my counterpart at the Biblioteca.
At the Centro de Salud, I spend the day confused. No one has taken the time to explain the system or if they tried, I was too overwhelmed to understand. I don't really know who the doctors are or what services are provided, but I am learning. The first week I felt very useless. People would ask me questions and I wouldn't understand. This Monday was better. I understand the accent here better and I know the questions that people might be asking even if I can't understand a word they say. On Tuesday for some reason no medics showed up to the office so I didn't have anything to do. I don't think it was planned for no one to be there. I don't know how common it is for everyone to not show up, but it seems like a flaw in the system. I haven't figured out what I am suppose to do with Ecuavida yet. They seem pretty well run. The first few days I observed. Today I drew pictures for the kids to color in later. So far with my counterpart on Fridays I have been meeting people and traveling out to the rural areas. Last Friday I judged an elementary school reina competition and then went to a community meeting.
This weekend, I am going to visit one of my fellow omnibusers. She lives close to Salinas in the province Bolivar. Salinas is famous for its chocolate and cheese. I am enjoying my site, but I am ready for a day away from it. It is exhausting to be here in Spanish all of the time. It is exhausting to live with a family.
Rafael Correa, Evo Moralles, and Rigoberta Menchu spoke in my training town. I was very fortunate to be able to go. Peace Corps Ecuador policy states that only five trainees can be in the same public place at the same time. Only the people living in my little pueblo were allowed to go.
Correa, Moralles, and Menchu spoke at the inauguration of a museum in honor of the indigenous rights movement and Transito Amaguyana.. Transito Amaguyana was an important leader in the indiginous rights movement. She fought against the hacienda owners. She is a point of great pride for the indigenous people of Ecuador. Earlier this year she died.
I was really impressed with Correa's speech. He spoke clear and enunciated well, things nonnative speakers appreciate very much. He began his speech in Kituwa which I thought showed a lot of respect toward the indigenous culture. I was also really enjoyed Rigoberta Menchu's speech. She was also easy to understand and in general the speech was very moving. The speeches were not political. They honored Transito Amaguyana covering topics such as freedom, human rights, and equality
My site visit went pretty well. I did not get to stay in the house that I will be staying in because my host Mom was in Riobamba visiting a sick relative and her son did not have the keys so I stayed with Brooke the volunteer that I am replacing. It was so nice to hear her opinion of my site. She had many positive things to say which was reassuring. Also, it was nice to hear the prospective of another volunteer who had been in the Peace Corps for awhile.
My site is an odd combination of Sierra and Coast. You can buy traditional food for either region. People generally have the coastal accent, but they do not speak quite as fast as people further west. I think it is a good combination. I cannot say something bad about either the Sierra or the Coast because on one side of me I might have someone from the Sierra and on the other I might have someone from the Coast.
I arrived at my site during the fiestas. On Saturday I went to see the torros. In other words, I watched drunken men run away from angry bulls. Also, a couple of drunken men were clowns. A lot of the jokes I did not understand culturally, linguistically, or both, but some of it was really funny. Often I felt bad for the bull.
I was wrong. I am not going to be living in the cold Sierra. My site is in a coastal province. It is very close to the Sierra, but I don't think it is considered a transitional zone. From what I hear, I am pretty lucky. There is a river dividing my town and another volunteers. Tomorrow morning I am leaving at 5:30 for my site visit.
Today there was a riot in one of the big cities near my training town. I do not know exactly what caused the riot or who the riot was against. The catalyst was that a taxi driver was killed the night before. The police sprayed the town center with tear gas, and any nearby stores locked the door, not allowing customers in or out. Fortunately, the Peace Corps warned me of the situation and I was not in the city at the time. My language group and I had been in the city earlier that day. We had noticed that the police were dressed for a riot, but did not really put the two together until later.
Tomorrow we find out our sites. I am excited and nervous, but truthfully, I don't care where I am sent. I am in a very cold part of Ecuador now and I would like to be in a warmer part, but it is beautiful here and I am surviving. The sites in the health program are pretty evenly divided between the coast and the Sierra. Only a couple of sites are in the orient. Already I can list some ups and downs for any potential site. I figure in time I will both love and hate my site so I really don't have a preference as to where I am sent. I feel like I will be in the Sierra, but I might be surprised. The only thing I don't want is to be in a major city like Quito, but very few health sites are in large cities.
A couple of days ago my host family got two puppies. They are adorable. I think they are about 6 weeks old. When I asked my host sister how old they are, she did not know. They are the cutest little balls of tan fluff.
I am pulling out of a dip in my language learning. When I first got here I was so excited about being able to speak in Spanish. Then this week I started to get tired of searching for the correct word and trying to remember the correct conjugations especially for those irregular verbs. I found myself avoiding speaking in Spanish. I might even have a question for my host family that I knew how to say and just not ask. I know that language learning is a process and you have ups and downs. I wasn't too worried because I knew I was in a down, but I told myself that if after this weekend I was still mopping around that I would have to start forcing myself to speak whenever possible.
Fortunately, I believe that I am through the worst of this down. Yesterday I helped my friend Peyton cook tacos for her host family. We tried to make tortillas using “Whitney's Amazingly Simple Tortilla Recipe.” With a title like that only an idiot could mess it up, right? Well, apparently Peyton and I are those idiots because the first attempts weren't great, but eventually we got the hang of it. They weren't the best tortillas but they were okay. However, they created a ton of smoke. We weren't burning the tortillas, but with each one a little bit of flower was left in the frying pan. Then the flower would burn, filling the kitchen with smoke. We were almost done cooking when Peyton's family showed up. Like most of the community, Peyton's family has cows to milk every afternoon. They must have thought we burned down their kitchen given the amount of smoke. They got a good laugh at us. I thought the dinner as a whole was a great success. The tacos were delicious. The guacamole definitely was a hit. Plus we had vegetables which isn't common here. The whole experience started to pull me out of my Spanish slump.
Then today, my host mother made a big fire in the shed where they keep the guinea pigs. Guinea pigs or cuy are an Ecuadorian specialty and I thought we were going to roast some cuyes. Usually the guineas are saved for special occasions. As far as I could tell, nothing was special about the day, but I figured that a fire in the guinea pig shed must be for cooking cuy.
I was wrong. We were cooking humitas which are also an Ecuadorian specialty. Humitas are a mix of ground corn, eggs, sugar, salt, a piece of cheese and butter wrapped in a corn shuck and cooked in oil for about 30 min. You can either have salty humitas or sugary humitas depending on how much salt or sugar you use. I was in charge of the sugar and I think that I made it a little too sweet. My eight year old host brother was telling me to put in more sugar and I did not hear my host mom tell me to stop, but they were still pretty good. I think I might prefer the salty humitas though. I looking forward to finding some to try.
A couple of days ago, we returned from the Afro-Ecuadorian community. It was amazing. The temperature was so warm. When we first got there a woman demonstrated how traditional masks of the region are made. Hers took five minutes and was very impressive. Then all of us got to make masks. Mine wasn't awful,but I wouldn't buy it. Fortunately they did not waste burning space on our masks. I am pretty sure that after we left those went back into the clay for reuse.
Sometime after that we went on a adventure to a creek. It was a little haphazard. The guides got lost, but I really enjoyed the walk. It included a walk through someones garden. I did not realize that avocados grow on really large, perfect for climbing trees. Sadly, the avocados were not ripe straight from the tree so we did not get to eat any, but we did get to have rather tasty oranges. With the help of some kids we finally made it to the river. The river was not particularly beautiful, but it is very important to the community. I was really glad to be in nature and be able to dip my hands in the water.
That night we watched some women and young girls dance the bomba. It is a really amazing dance. Traditionally, the women have bottles on their heads or babies on their backs during the dance. The leading woman was amazing. She could gracefully do push-ups with and empty wine bottle on her head. Apparently, when a girl can balance the bottle on her head, she is ready for marriage.
After that we went to the stadium to watch an indoor soccer game. Those kids were really good. After the game some of the Peace Corps people played the teams. We lost badly. It was fun but at this point I was pretty drained. I didn't even play soccer, but I was exhausted.
The next day we left fairly early after watching a few presentations. A musician gave a very interesting presentation over both the bomba and discrimination. Racial discrimination is not just a problem in the United States. It is very prevalent in Ecuador. Sadly, Afro-Ecuadorians receive more discrimination than any other racial group. It is extremely difficult for an Afro-Ecuadorian to attend high school. It is even more difficult for them to go to college. It was hard for me to understand everything he said because he was speaking in Spanish. From what I captured, he spoke about the discrimination that exists. How it has affected his life, but also, the support the Afro-Ecuadorian community has built within itself. I really wish that I could have understood more, but we were closer to the cost and the accent was different than in the Sierra. Also, I was really tired, but he was really interesting.
I am starting to really like the little town that I live in. It has very little, only a few tiendas where one can buy junk food and simple necessities. There is a soccer field and a church. Today I noticed a veterinarians office. Other than that, the town is devoted to the cows. In spite of how rural the community is, I am beginning to appreciate it. It is absolutely beautiful. The people are very nice. I feel safe. Also, living here pretty much requires that I take a 40 minute walk twice a day.
Tomorrow we are going to visit an Afro-Ecuadorian community. I am really excited. Culturally I believe it will be a great experience and it is suppose to be pretty warm.
Peace Corps service begins with training. Technically, I am not a volunteer. I am a Peace Corps Trainee or PCT, as the Peace Corps abbreviates everything.
We have been divided into groups according to our language abilities. I am in a group with 4 other girls living in a small village of very high altitude. It is so cold. The houses don't have any sort of indoor heating so there isn't any relief from the cold. We each have our own host family who we will be with for all of training. I have a host mom, a host sister who is 17, and a host brother who is 8. So far, the family has been wonderfully nice to me.
Right now, the whole area is having festivals. Today's festival involved a parade, bull fighting, street food and alcohol, and groups of people and families getting together. Unfortunately for me my stomach isn't feeling quite strong enough for the alcohol or the street food, and bullfighting isn't really my style, but I loved the parade. There is a different festival almost every weekend if not every weekend. I am very hopeful that the festivals will help me integrate to the community.
After we left the festival, I went with my host mom and sister to take care of the cows. I got to milk a cow which was a first for me. As it turns out I am not very good at milking cows, but fortunately my host mom helped me otherwise I would still be trying to fill one bucket of milk. Cows seem to provide the majority of my towns livelihoods. At the center of town there is a place to drop off milk.