Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Leaving Cayambe

Have you ever felt like a whole bunch of things in your life have lined up for one specific event? I don't feel like that very often. But my trip to Ecuador is one exception. Which is funny because when I first heard I was placed in Ecuador I was less than thrilled. But now that I have spent three months here, I feel that I was meant to come here all along. I believe this aligning of stars, so to speak, began when I first touched down in the Dominican Republic back in 2003, continued with learning and falling in love with both Spanish and salsa dancing, and then going back to the DR last year. Even something as strange as finding out I am severely allergic to horses helped to ensure I was placed in the Barrera-Velasquez family instead of up in the mountains (where some of my friend's families do in fact have horses). I ended up exactly where I was supposed to. I met someone who told me I have an Ecuadorian soul, and I think he wasn't too far off the mark.

Becoming part of another family and culture for three months is a strange experience. You are never truly part of the family, but you start to feel pretty close to being one. I am excited to see my family back in Canada, but it will also be very hard to leave my new Ecuadorian family. I never though it would be this hard. Most of all I will miss having siblings, especially my younger sisters. As much as they annoy me at times, I adore them, and we have become very attached. I will no longer have little sisters to greet me with a hug, kiss, and a "buenos dias" in the morning, and an "hasta mañana Amy, duerma bien" before bed. Last night, as I was organizing my things and beginning to pack up, both of my sisters wrote me notes telling me they love me and will miss me (in Spanish, of course), and I almost started crying right then. In June or July, my host mom informed me I was staying until December, so I think she will be sad to see me go. My host dad and I had a long conversation on Sunday (well, I mostly listened), and he told me I am another daughter in the family, and that I am very intelligent (there were some more adjectives too, I think, but I didn't understand them, though I know they were positive ones). I will miss hitting dive discoteks with my older sister Liseth, and my brother Santiago talking to me in English (adorably broken, btw . . . he does really well but he tells me "very beer last night", and when something is expensive, "very cost"). I will even miss my other host brother Werner, even though we never had much of a connection and he's usually silent when I'm around.

I will also miss this city (I have a week to enjoy some more of the country). I will miss the horribly uneven sidewalks (though not the dog poop I am not always lucky enough to avoid, due to the fact that there are tons of stray dogs and no one cleans up after them . . . in fact, I don't think any one cleans up after Berto, the family dog). I will miss the brightly coloured buildings, the parque central, and the reggaeton blaring from the stores. I will miss the chocolate bread and bizcochos (though not the chicken, rice, and potatoes).

In fact, I should head out now so that I can spend my last remaining evening with my family.

So . . . I will miss you dearly, Cayambe. It's only hasta luego, though . . . I'll be back.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On Learning and Speaking Spanish

I fell in love with Spanish when I took my first trip to the Dominican Republic in 2003. I loved it so much, in fact, that in my year between Bible college and university I took a basic Spanish course. When I started university, I knew my two required language classes would be in Spanish. I stopped taking Spanish #1 because I didn't need any more language credits, and #2 because it was hard on my average (this is the more likely culprit . . . no matter how much I loved it, I couldn't learn it fast enough or well enough in 3 month blocks). When I signed up for Beyond Borders/Intercordia, my only really strong desire was to be placed in a Spanish speaking country. I am currently reading Eat Pray Love, and if any of you have read that, I can relate to the author's love for Italian because I feel pretty much the same way about Spanish. It's just so cool-sounding and fun. However, that does not make it easy. For example, pronounce this word: once. Good. However, en español, it is pronounced own-say (more or less anyway). Those university level courses I took were back in 2005-2006. I remember some, but not a lot. Verbs are especially tricky, because there is a different conjugation for every personal pronoun, and they all sound at least a little bit different. Here is an example of that

tener - to have
yo tengo - I have
tú tienes - you have
él/ella/usted tiene - he/she/formal you has
nosotros/as tenemos - we masculine/feminine have
ellos/ellas/ustedes tienen - they masculine/feminine/formal you plural have

When we first arrived in Quito, we were given a 3 hour Spanish lesson. That's it. If I hadn't learned a little bit of Spanish before, I would have been totally euchred. I think I have learned a fair bit of Spanish in my time here, but I would say I am nowhere near fluent (though I would one day like to be). In any case, I still love Spanish and hope to keep learning it when I get back to Canada. My favourite number is ocho (eight). I have a ton of favourite words, but three of them are bailarina (don't know the exact definition but I love that it kind of sounds like ballerina, and I know it has to do with dancing), contigo (with you), and conmigo (with me).

Gotta run!!
Hasta luego!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On Handwashing my Laundry . . . and the Thoughts it Provokes

I spoke to my father on the phone last night, and he mentioned my lack of blogging recently. If even he mentioned it, I must be slacking off. So here I go.

I knew right from the getgo of this Intercordia/Beyond Borders program that, wherever I ended up for the summer, I'd be handwashing my laundry. In preparation I went to the Stone Store in Guelph, and bought some biodegradable powdered laundry soap. I didn't want my clean clothes to cause any bad effects for the world. I don't think the soap works that well, and it doesn't really have a scent, so my clothes don't even smell clean once I'm done washing them . . . but at least it's biodegradeable.

My friend Brittany and I decided near the beginning of our time here in Ecuador that handwashing takes pretty much the same amount of time as throwing a load in a washing machine. The only difference is . . . you can't walk away. Brittany says her pants are cleaner after being washed here than they are in Canada. I don't think the same is true for me. She and another friend of mine say they like handwashing their laundry. I personally wouldn't go that far. I don't mind handwashing my laundry. I don't like that it takes so long, especially since I can't walk away and do other things. I also prefer my laundry to smell clean, even if in actuality it maybe isn't. I like the effects (and scent) of fabric softener (of course I don't have that here either) and I do not enjoy the things the sun does to my laundry while it dries, such as bleaching it in lines and patches and other crazy shapes (yes, I like the colour of my clothes to be consistent throughout the whole item if that's the way it was made). The funny part is, my family has a washing machine, but I choose not to use it because it wouldn't be fair to my fellow Intercordians. (Okay, I used it once, but only for the blankets on my bed, because my host dad told me it would be too difficult to wash them by hand).

So now I have been handwashing my clothes for nearly 3 months. I think it is fair to say by now that I know my intimates intimately. All this time spent handwashing, if nothing else, gives your mind time to wander and think (and come up with witty phrases such as the one at the end of that last sentence). One day as I was washing my Fruit of the Looms, I started thinking . . . where were these made? Who made them? Were they paid fairly for their work? Do their employers treat them well?

One of the goals of the Intercordia/Beyond Borders program, I believe, is to help its participants become good global citizens. I don't know if that is the correct phrase, or even what it means exactly, but spending time in Ecuador is helping me begin to figure it out.

To be honest, I bought those Fruit of the Loom underwear without giving them too much thought. I made sure they were my size, I looked at the bright colours and designs in the package to see if I liked all or at least most of them, I checked the price to make sure I was getting a reasonable deal, and headed to the checkouts. But here, as I wash them all by hand, I wonder if my purchase helped the person who made them earn a decent living, or, oppositely, aided in keeping that same person in poverty.

To be honest, I don't know which of these two possibilities is the case. There is a good chance that whoever made them was not paid fairly for their labour, and I don't want to support companies that do not treat their workers well. At the same time, though, I kind of like my Fruit of the Looms. The are comfortable, colourful, and relatively inexpensive. As a university student, I can't afford expensive things. Plus, it will be tricky, time consuming, and tedious to look up each and every company that makes the products I buy to make sure they are ethical, and there is no way to know for sure if the information I find is accurate.

What is the solution to all of this? I don't know. But I do know I want to become more aware of where the things I'm purchasing have come from, and how the people who made these products were compensated for their work. And I think this is one step in the multi-faceted, complicated and sometimes difficult, but nonetheless extremely important process of becoming a better global citizen.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Scarey Night in Cayambe

Let me start this off by saying I am fine, and no major harm was done. Mom - I didn't tell you this on the phone this morning because #1 I didn't have much time and #2 I didn't think freaking you out would be a good birthday present. Again . . . Happy Birthday! Enjoy your Rockie's hot dog, all of you headed there tonight to celebrate!! (And please don't let me forget that I want one too when I get home!)

Now, here's what happened last night. I left my house at around 4pm to use the interned, and to pick up a couple things for my host dad at the grocery store. On my way there, everything seemed normal. I got the stuff from the grocery store first, and then hopped online. At around 6:30 they were trying to close up the internet place (as I mentioned in my blog entry yesterday), so I finished up quickly and got ready to go. The internet place I was using is in a centro commercial (kind of like what we would call a mall), and as I was walking through the halls my eyes were burning. I thought it was just a strong cleaner or something that they were using on the floors or something. But as I walked outside, there were lots of people scattered around and in groups, and there were lots of small fires in the middle of streets. By then my throat was burning a little as well. I just walked quickly towards home, but I saw police had blocked off at least one of the streets, and they were in full gear with masks and shields. As I was walking up one of the main streets, I heard gunshots and a crowd of people running towards me. I am already freaking out at this point, but I have no idea what was going on, so ask a lady standing at the entrance to her restaurant what happened. She ushers me in and tries to explain to me what was happening, but I didn't really understand what she was trying to tell me. I sat with her for a little while, and then headed home. When I got home I was having a mini panic attack, and I tried to get my parents to explain to me what was going on. I still don't understand fully what went on, but here is what I did pick up. On Tuesday night, a passenger killed a camioneta (taxi truck) driver, and yesterday was some sort of riot against the police. Like I said, I don't really understand. When I do figure it out, I will blog about it. Turns out that was my first experience with tear gas. Even today my eyes were burning a little. I don't think any more of the gas has been relased, but it is still lingering around. My friend noticed it too after we finished teaching English today. I also noticed that some of the pillars in the beautiful park have been knocked over and broken. I am glad I was only around for the tail end of whatever when on. Again, I'm alright, it was just unnerving. And I kept thinking, this would never happen in Canada. But this is not Canada. I will post more about this if I figure more out. Maybe I will try to understand a local newspaper. And don't worry! I am being extra careful.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Placement!


I have two more experiences to add to my previous two in my last entry about school. However, I will go back and add them to that entry later on. I will write them in a different colour so that they stand out. For now I want to talk about my new placement.

All of the other Canadians that were placed in schools were asked to continue teaching English throughout the summer, at least a few days a week. For reasons unknown to me, my school did not want English lessons. I was working on a few other ideas I had for placements when my supervisor Juan told me that a clinic in a nearby town called Otón really needed volunteers. I was terrified at first. My Spanish, especially my Spanish medical terminology, is far less than perfect. I also have virtually no medical knowledge (I don't think things I picked up from Grey's Anatomy count). My host dad had the ladies at the dress shop/tailor shop sew a pocket on a white lab coat for me to wear while at the clinic. (Don't tell him, but I actually only wore it once . . . the doctor and dentist wear white lab coats, and I don't want to be mistaken for either of them. I get asked enough questions I can't answer without a uniform drawing more attention to me. Plus I feel silly in it, and the nurse wears regular clothes.)

I don't really do a whole lot at the clinic, though the doctor assures me she will teach me anything I want to learn, which is an interesting prospect. I often make sure patient files are in order, write up a file for patient information without one, or find the files the doctor needs. Once Allyson (another Canadian who is at the clinic with me sometimes) and I entered patient information into the computer. A few times I have weighed and measured patients, usually children.

The clinic is run but the Ministry of Public Health here in Ecuador. It is a bit different from clinics in Canada in a few ways. Almost everything is free, including medicine. There are also some kind of dietary supplement in the form of a cereal or something to be mixed with a drink for pregnant mothers and young children that is free of charge. The only thing I have seen patients being charged for is a certificate of health that kids need to go to school, and it is $0.50. There are no appointments, it is run on a roughly first come, first served basis. On a day when the doctor has a full day at the clinic, she takes 20 patients, though perhaps she adds more if she has more time at the end, and she often squeezes simple requests between patients.

My favourite thing about working in the clinic is that often the doctor will let me sit and listen in on appointments with patients. I don't understand the whole conversation, but I can usually pick up enough to figure out generally what is wrong, and what the doctor is recommending be done about it. It is sad to watch sometimes because some if the kids are obviously undernourished, and many have parasites, which are both problems one would hope would be easy to avoid, although clearly here they are not.

I am learning a lot about myself through working at this clinic, though two things stand out. Firstly, I am happy to report that I am not grossed out by the medical stuff, but instead actually intrigued by it. Now, if a kid throws up, I might change my tune, but the blood and gore doesn't bother me. Secondly, I can do tedious and repetitive tasks for quite some time without getting too bored. Both of these things are good to know.

But they are closing up this internet place and I have to run.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Going with the Flow . . . at School

It is important to realize that random things happen all the time in Ecuador. However, five occurrences at school stick out in my mind.

In Ecuador, students have plastic sheets over the front and back covers of their notebooks to protect them from dust and whatever else might befall them. One day a student was kind enough to bring in a whole bag of freshly caught and killed fish, and gave one to every student in the class, and the teacher, Whole fish. Faces, scales, the whole nine yards. Luckily, they didn't smell fishy (that would have really grossed me out). The boys of course came at the girls pretending to kiss them with the dead fish. They used their notebook covers to put the fish in, stuck them in their backpack, and I imagine took them home to be cooked. I did not take one. First of all I didn't really need one, but I wouldn't have taken one anyway because a dead fish hanging out in my backpack isn't really my cup of tea. I do see it was a very kind gesture, however. I am glad the kids and their family had fish to eat that night . . . but it was still a random occurrence.

A few weeks ago, my school went on a trip. We were told we were going to climb a mountain called Nevado Cayambe. Nevado means something along the lines of "snowy", and I am fairly certain it is actually an inactive volcanoe, after which the city I live is named. I had gone there the previous week with my friends, so I sort of new what to expect. I bundled up well, wearing two pairs of pant and sticking my splash pants in my backpack. I was worried that my students wouldn't be dressed warm enough, but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw boots, scarves, etc. I am in the middle of putting my splash pants over my other two pairs of pants when one of the teachers tells me that actually we are going swimming. SWIMMING? I figured she didn't know what she was talking about. But no, she was right. Not only that, but we were all walking down the mountain to Cayambe first. That is at least a 1.5 hour walk. Was I ever mad!! How can you tell a whole school of ppl you are climbing a mountain, and then suddenly decide to change the trip to going swimming? Luckily I had a long walk to pound out my anger. However, at this point I was wearing my boots, and I could feel the blisters forming on my feet as I walked down the mountain road paved with stones. One of the teachers laughed at me, but I still stopped partway down and put my running shoes back on. Later I found 4 huge blisters on my feet, so no wonder I was in pain. We walked down the mountain, then called camionetas (taxi trucks) to take us to the pool. Once I got over being mad, it was actually a pretty fun day. We went to these outdoor pools, one of which was lukewarm (sidenote: lukewarm is a weird word . . . what's up with that?), and one of which was hot. Not many kids had their bathingsuits, so they swam in underwear, shorts, t-shirts, or combinations of those. This is kind of sketchy but . . . they also had a place where you could rent a bathingsuit. I know, I know. But when in Rome . . . or Ecuador . . . One of the other teachers wanted to go in, but she only wanted to go in if we both did. Plus, I like swimming. So I rented a bathingsuit for $1 (huge rip off, btw), and went in. And of course I had my camera with me, so I got some pictures. The pools were next to a nice river, really pretty mountains (of course), and cliffs. It's probably better that we didn't go on the trip as originally planned anyway, because climbing a mountain with elementary school kids seems equivalent to a death trap. Ecuador is definitely challenging my flexibility.

Fairly early on in my teaching stint, we went on a school trip (yes, this should be a warning signal here in Ecuador). We had regular classes for a bit, but then all the students and teachers started heading down the mountain. We didn't go very far when we left and cut through some fields of crops. The we went up a mountain/hill, then we went down, and then we went up another. I was terrified, and thought I was going to fall numerous times, and probably tripped a few times too. The hills/mountains were steep! I was worried about the younger kids, and I helped them whenever I could, but honestly more often they were probably helping me. I guess they are used to this kind of trek, but I am not. When we finally got to the other school, it turned out the whole point of the trip was to watch a clown. He taught the kids how to mime some actions, and then a song (with actions, of course). I only understood a few words of the song since I had only been here for around a week. On the bright side, we were at a school where two of the other Canadians were teaching, and another one came with his school, so it was a reunion of sorts. The whole thing was just weird, though I think the kids had a good time.

In Ecuador, elementary school ends at 7th grade, and 8th grade is the beginning of highschool (colegio). On July 3rd, I was able to attend the graduation of the 7th grade class. I was told it began at 8am, and though I knew it would not start on time, I took the 7:30ish bus up the mountain as I had done when I was teaching. Not only did it start nowhere near 8, but a whole bunch of other things happened first. Many parents showed up, and not just of the 7th graders. Some of the women went in to start cooking the huge meal for after the graduation. Many others brought shovels and hoes and began to weed and garden. At first I was annoyed, thinking "Okay, I came for a graduation, when is it actually going to happen?". But then I just grabbed a hoe and joined in. The school has a small courtyard beetween the three classrooms, and it has 4-6 small gardens that are not well tended. I started thinking about it, and began to understand that everyone takes partial responsibility for the school and in turn helps out. The parents and teachers were chatting and joking as they worked, some students were helping and others were playing basketbal, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. I took a few pictures of what was going on, because once I realized that's just how these things go here, it was kind of fascinating. At 11:30 or 12 the actual ceremony began. It started off by the principal (directora) reading something to the parents from the ministry of education, followed by a discussion. I didn't really get all of it, but it was something to do with whether or not to teach Quichwa (a language spoken by some indiginous poeple here) in the schools. Once that was done, and welcoming remarks made, everyone sang Ecuador's national anthem accompanied by a CD. There were 1o seventh grade students graduating. The school only had one gown and two caps, though, so the parent(s) put the outfit on their child as their name was called. They were given a certificate and one other piece of paper, and then they posed with parents and/or teachers in front the Ecuadorian flag for pictures. I also got my picture taken with some of them in their outfits. It was a very nice (and relatively short) ceremony. Afterwards was a huge meal. I didn't eat much, but the little bit I did try was pretty good. We had rice, potatoes, pork, and cuy (which we would call guinea pig, but here they are not pets, only food). I had the back end, and I could still see some hairs on it. I was not brave enough to try it (partly because I played with my friend Karina's pet guinea pigs when we were younger). What I didn't eat I gave to one of the teachers to take home. I wish more of my students had come that day, as I didn't really get to say goodbye to most of them, but it was still a really great day. I'm really glad I got pictures.

One day, one of the teachers (who is also the directora) didn't show up, so I was teaching her class. All of a sudden, a whole bunch of teenagers showed up. I had no idea what they were doing at the school. One of the teachers said something to me, but I didn't really understand, so once she left the room I went back to teaching. I thought maybe these other people just wanted to watch. But soon after a teacher came back and was telling me something like "No, now! They don't have much time!". It turns out these were beauty school students, and they were at school to give the students haircuts. Seriously. Not every student wanted their haircut, so while they waited for the others to be done, some students watched Bride of Chucky. I assume one of the students had brought it in. I think this may win the award in my books for Most Random Day At School. The haircuts took hours, and I don't know if we ever did get any schoolwork done that day. But it is quite the story.

Must go. Checking out hot springs today. Woohoo!! (Sidenote: we went to check out the hot springs, but found out when we got to the road that would take us there that there had been a landslide of some sort, which had blocked the road. The worst part is that we were told it had been closed for 2 months!! Instead we went to the centre of the world (mitad del mundo), which is a big giant sundail placed exactly on the equator!! It wasn't hot springs, but it was really cool nonetheless. And yes, I took pictures!!)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Going with the Flow in Ecuador

The one thing I am learning more than anything else here in Ecuador is to expect the unexpected. Sometimes the outcome is fun, at other times it's weird, and sometimes it makes me angry and frustrated. It is always good for a laugh, though . . . maybe not at the time, but later. The only way I can think to explain just how random things can be here is to give some examples, of which I have many. Here are just a few.

Going with the Flow with the Fam

It is with my family that the most random things take place.

One Sunday in early June, my family tells me to come with them. I tried to ask what we were doing and where we were going, but they didn't tell me much, so I just hopped in the car. We end up at their field, which I didn't even really know they had, and picked corn and beans for a few hours. There were other people picking with us as well. We picked maybe 5 big sacks of veggies. Later on a there was a hen running around, and my youngest sister proceeded to pick it up, cuddling with it and say things like "Oh, daddy, can we please have this cute little hen? I really want one!" in Spanish. The way you'd expect a 6-year old to plead for a kitten or puppy. Do I ever wish I had my camera with me that day! Had I known chicken cuddling would be involved . . .

A few weeks ago, again on a Sunday, my parents didn't seem to be around in the morning. I thought that was kind of strange, because usually everyone is ready to go play basketball. I ate, and got ready anyway, and sure enough, my uncle shows up to take me to basketball. There were only 5 of us, but my uncle said the rest would join us later. They didn't. We played a few games, 2 on 2 when my sister hurt her foot, and it was pretty fun even though only half of the people who normally play were there. My uncle is a camioneta (truck) driver, which is basically a taxi but in the form of a white pickup truck (these are the only vehicles besides buses that will take my friends to their homes in the mountains). Anyway, he needed to get a new tire or something, so we stopped at two or three different shops trying to find what he needed. After that we ended up at the grocery store, where apparently he decided to pick up some customers that he knew. A women climbed up front with my uncle and I, and we drove to their house a fair way away, of course sort of up a mountain. When we got there, we were all told to climb out. Then my uncle took me into a barn to show me something. Apparently he rents the barn from these people to raise and sell pigs. After that we went back home for our traditional big family lunch at my family's place. Of course, by that time it was nearly 2 in the afternoon . . . and that adventure had started at 10.

Most Sundays, my family plays basketball, as I have already mentioned a few times. Even when my sisters had a ballet recital at noon, they decided to play beforehand. This past Saturday night, I asked my family if my friend Krista could join in on our weekly game, and they said sure. I went to Spanish Catholic mass with her, and then we walked back to my place. When we arrived, no one was home. I called my brother, who told me my parents were on their way to come get us. When they arrived, they said we were not going to play basketball because we had no ball. (I later figured out that maybe my uncle who has the ball was hunting and that's why we didn't have it . . . that is just a guess, though, but they did make shooting motions, and I decided that my first guess that someone shot the ball maybe wasn't accurate). Instead we were going to watch a fiesta in Olmedo, and that I should get my camera. So I did, and my host dad got out a large cushion from a storage room I didn't know we had. They asked me where my host sisters were, and I did not know since I had just gotten home. They put the cushion in the back of the truck, and told us to hop in, so we did. We stopped at someone's house, and my parents talked to him for about 15 minutes. I don't know who he was or what they were talking about, and he didn't seem to have anything to do with finding my sisters, which is something I thought we were trying to do. We stopped somewhere else, and that is where we found my sisters, and then they hopped in back with us. The street that I live on is Olmedo, and originally I figured we were just going further up the street to watch. But as we drove further and further away, it dawned on me that we were probably headed to the village of Olmedo. One thing you need to know about Cayambe and it's surrounding areas, and probably Ecuador as a whole, is that they LOVE parades. They have them all the time, and not always for a particular celebration. We went to see one such parade in Olmedo. It was extra strange because it was not down a straight road, and did not always go in the same direction. There are many people playing instruments and/or singing and/or dancing in traditional clothes. I also saw a bunch of people on stilts, dancing and some blowing fire. At points, the parade was standing still and we walked past. My host mother bought us empinadas (dough stuffed with cheese, deep fried and sprinkled with sugar), and though I was skeptical at first, mine was delicious. Later on we went to someone's house, who fed us choco (really big kernels of corn that look kind of like popcorn but they are wet, not dry), pig skin, pork, and salad (I of course got through not even half of my plate before handing it over to my parents). Then we went to a different house, where we sat for awhile, and then it broke out into an impromptu dance in the livingroom. There I also met a girl from Michigan who is volunteering with the Peace Corps. There was also a very drunk man there who nearly fell asleep in my sister Amy's lap (which was hilarious albeit inappropriate). By this time it was 2pm, and Krista thought she should call her parents and tell them what was going on. For some reason, my host dad's cell phone would not call her host dad's cell phone, so we had to walk in search of a cabina. We made the call and headed back, and found that my parents were in the truck and ready to leave. So we headed back to Cayambe, and my youngest sister fell asleep on my lap in the back of the truck, and the next oldest sister fell asleep on her grandmother's shoulder in the front. I do have pictures of this crazy day (though, unfortunately, I don't think of the fire-blowing).

There are more examples, but these are some of the better ones. I will add some random occurrences at school next time I blog.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Eating in Ecuador

First of all . . . HAPPY FATHER'S DAY DAD!! Though I am far way over I have not forgotten how luck I am to have a Dad like you. I love you!

Happy Father's Day to the other fathers in my life as well . . . Grandpa, uncles, cousins, friends, and so on. Have a good one!!

Again, sorry for not posting more regularly. I am hearing reports through various mediums that people want me to blog more often. I honestly will try to post more often.

I have been wanting to post about the food here in Ecuador since I arrived. My fellow Beyond Bordians will tell you that I was seriously worried about the food I would be eating. I do not have a very adventurous palate, nor do I like spicy food. Having studied Ecuador a little, I discovered they eat guinea pig (called cuy). I used to play with my friend's pet guinea pigs when I was younger, the idea of eating one was far from appealing. Well, thankfully, it turns out I had very little to worry about. I have not yet had to eat cuy, though some of the other students have and say it's like fishy chicken. And none of the food I have eaten has been spicy so far. My family does have homemade hot sauce you can add to your food, but even that isn't terribly spicy.

We eat a lot of rice, potatoes, and chicken. For some reason I am not sick of rice yet, but I have had enough of the other two. I have never been the biggest fan of potatoes to begin with, and I have been known to tell my mother 'please, not chicken again'. But when you are staying with a different family you grin and bear it. For lunch every day we have soup, followed by a main course. My family still thinks I eat so little. I try to tell them that in Canada, the soup is the meal, but they don't seem to buy it. My host father does most of the cooking, and most mornings he makes fresh juice. I like the orange juice, though I am not so fond of the tree tomato or papaya juices. The later two are very thick. But again, most mornings I just chug it down anyway. Sometimes I say "no juice, thank you". A lot of the food I found weird when I first got here, but now I'm used to it. Somethings I still don't like, like fried bananas, mostly because I don't like the texture. One thing I will not get used to is all the salt they cook with. Nearly everything is salty, sometimes almost unbearably so. Eggs, soup, salad, sauce, everything. I wonder if it is a habit left over from when there wasn't really refrigeration, and food used to go bad without tons of salt. I think maybe the native Ecuadorians are either used to it or just don't taste salt anymore. In any case, I always eat with a glass of water so I can dilute the salt at least a little. My family cooks with a canister of salt next to the stove. They also use a lot of sugar. My little sisters drink warm milk with Nesquick in the morning and at night, and they even add sugar to that. Even though it is already probably 80% sugar, and the can itself says "no necessita azucar" or something along those lines. Granted, it isn't quite as sweet as it is in Canada, but still. They put a good amount of sugar in tea and coffee (always instant, by the way, even though we are very close to Colombia) as well. The other thing I have a hard time with is when we eat certain foods. In my opinion, chicken is not a breakfast food, nor are potatoes (nope, I don't even like hashbrowns). Here I sometimes have chicken and potatoes for breakfast. I also was given radishes for breakfast once, which I found odd. I used to only get hot milk for my cereal, and I am fairly used to that now, though I still prefere the mornings when it is cold. By far the strangest thing is that sometimes there are chicken feet in the soup. It would be one thing if it was many different parts of the chicken along with the feet, but no. The only chicken in the soup is the feet. Skin, nails and all. I am told they are delicious, but I don't think I could eat one. Luckily my family does not put them in my bowl. I think they saw my horrified expression the first time I saw it and took pity on me. It is still strange to see them in the bowls of other family members.

I could probably say more about food, but I have to be getting home. Tomorrow I am cooking pancakes for a Father's Day breakfast, and then climbing Mount Nevado with the other Canadians and Krista's host family. I am more nervous than excited, but I am hoping the pictures will be worth it.

Thanks for reading!!
Once again, have a great Father's Day!

Monday, June 8, 2009

More About Teaching

Hey everyone!

Sorry it's been so long since my last post. I have lots to say so this might be long one . . . either that or I may have to split it all up between the next few days.

Before I came to Cayambe, on two (or more) separate occasions I heard that frustration is a good thing. Luke Hill at one point was talking with me and the rest of the Sunday school class at church was talking about how becoming frustrated with someone is actually a good point to reach in a relationship because it means you care about what is happening with that other person. Scott and Joanne (teachers and so much more in the Beyond Borders program) also discussed with us that reaching the point of frustration (with an institution or whatever) means that it matters enough to you to want to change it. Both types of frustration are connected in that they both involve genuine care about something and a desire to change what is going on. I have reached that point with the school system here in Ecuador.

When I first arrived, I was expecting things to be different here. So I just went (or tried to go)with the flow of what was going on here in the school. As I spend more time teaching here, I am becoming more aware of both the strengths and weaknesses of the education system. The trouble is that I don't want to judge the education system, either. I am here to be a part of what is going on, and not necessarily change it. It isn't right for me to decide that the way we do it in Canada is right and every other country needs to hop on board. Even if that was the case, it isn't realistic. Not every country can afford public education. But I do want to express my thoughts and feelings about all of this.

The difference that was most obvious to me first was how short the school day is. I think, how can they manage to cram in all the necessary information into less than four hours a day? On the other hand, though, children are able to spend more time with their families this way. Most businesses close for a few hours at lunch time, which is how I am able to spend lunch time with my host family. It's nice.

The thing that I am struggling most with is the very different education available to kids in and around the very same city. I still don't fully understand the system here, so perhaps not all of what I write will be totally accurate. It seems to me that there are both public and private schools here. However, it is not the same kind of private school in Canada. Many schools are private in a sense, but that does not mean they are really expensive or exclusive in the way we conceive of private schools in Canada. I have no idea how much they cost per year, but I am sure they are more expensive than public schools. I think my younger sisters go to a private school, and sometimes I look at their homework. They have these colourful workbooks in which they fill in the blanks, draw pictures, practice letters. My students copy everything into a plain lined notebook (for English class, at least). They often use tiny stubs of pencils to write their notes, and sometimes they don't have one at all. Pencil sharpeners are hard to come by. The youngest class has very few functioning pencil crayons. One day I was trying to teach a lesson, but had no markers for the white board. I had to use the peeling chalkboard instead, which is also smaller. There are no school buses to my school, so every student has to pay to take the city bus to school or walk (though maybe you have to pay for school buses too, I'm not sure). Though $0.30 doesn't sound like much for a one-way bus trip to school, it is a fair amount of money here. For one day of busing I could buy three of the chocolate buns I love so much. I just keep thinking: why should my students have to learn like this? Why should I and the other teachers have to teach like this? Why shouldn't every child receive equally stimulating educational experiences?

I am also beginning to become conscious of the poverty present in families here. Perhaps I didn't want to see it at first. But I notice the little things, like the little girl in dress-type shoes and no socks. Or the backpack that is falling apart. Or the rainboot with a big hole in it. The thing that really hit me was that one of my students is a is sponsored through Compassion Child. She was very excited to have received a letter from her sponsor family and showed it to me.

My school is (supposedly) funded by the government, so the students recieve a warm drink called colada and a packet of two biscuits for breakfast every morning. The colada mix and biscuits are made by a government agency or the education system. I have tried both kinds of biscuits and they taste alright, but more importantly, I looked at the nutrition label and they are fairly healthy as well. For lunch they get rice. Sometimes they have beans, vegetables or fish with the rice, but one day I saw one of the students collecting money from others to purchase these extras. In order to drink the colada and eat lunch, students need to have their own dishes. Fairly often the children do not have dishes, and usually they are not bothered by this, but nothing breaks my heart more than a four-year old girl crying because she forgot her plate and can't eat. I asked a former FRI supervisor (FRI is the organization I am partnered with here) about this, and she says that they try to do things that are sustainable, and they know plates will just get lost. It makes sense on some level, but it is still upsetting. Kids forget things all the time. Seems a silly reason to miss out on nutrition.

My internet time here is coming to a close, but I just wanted to express all these things. I have much more to say, but it will have to wait.

On a happier note, here are some random things that I thought you might find amusing and/or interesting I have come to notice while living here

The silverware of choice here is the spoon. Ecuadorians use them all the time. My family has a few knives and forks, and they normally give me one set, but typically they just use spoons. And fingers.

It gets dark here around 6:30. I thought it would stay late longer on the equator. I will have to talk to Uncle Jim and he can explain using his marvelous geographical knowledge.

More later!!
Comment please!!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bienvenidos a Cayambe!

Well, I've been in Cayambe for a few weeks now, so I think I have a fairly good idea of what it's like by now. To be honest, I didn't fall in love with it instantly, like I did with the Dominican Republic. I actually expected it to be a fair bit like the DR, but it really isn't. But the more time I spend here, the more I love it. I especially love the view of the mountains! We are really missing out by not having them in Southwestern Ontario (no, the Hammer doesn't count). Cayambe has mountains on every side. The view is even better from my school (don't worry, I promise to take lots of pictures). One thing that I noticed right from the beginning was how busy it is! Though it's smaller than Guelph (I'm told 70 000 people), you'd never be able to tell from the crowds that are always filling the streets, especially around the park and downtown area. They are really friendly too, always honking or saying 'hola!' or 'buenas tardes' (good afternoon) as they go past. I really love how colourful the buildings are, as well. They are often painted orange, yellow, blue, pink, or any other colour you can think of. Even my house is sunflower yellow and forrest green. There are also a lot of paintings and murals on walls, either advertising products, like milk and dog food, or just showing the name of a school or business with illustrations. There is also a lot of grafitti (one of my new favourite things, if you didn't already know), which I like. I will take lots of pictures. I set out in search of a digital photo printer, but I haven't found one yet, and failing that I wanted to send some postcards, but I can't find those either. There are lots of shops all over the place, including MANY convenience stores, fruit stands, restaurants, panderias (bakeries - the Spanish word for bread is pan), and even some superstore type places like Wal-mart or Zellers (though not quite as big and with not quite the same variety). My family buys bread (which are actually buns) to eat every afternoon, which I really like. I might try to do that more often when I get back to Canada. Often I am told to "vamos a comprar pan" (go to buy bread) with my little sisters. Though there are tons of bakeries, they always go to this one specific place about 15 minutes away, though I don't really know why. My friend Brittany and I have taken to coming to the park and buying chocolate bread to eat. It sounds kind of gross, but it is actually really good. It's a sweet bread that kind of looks like a cinnamon bun, but it's actually chocolate. One place even puts icing on top. Yum. It's hard to resist for $0.20. One other thing I am not used to about Cayambe is that there are lots of wild dogs, which is weird. I don't mean wolves or coyotes, just domestic dogs that don't seem to have homes or owners. They aren't vicious or dangerous, but they are everywhere. I will pass 10 or more on my way to school alone. Big, small, long-haired, short-haired, any kind you can think of, I've seen. It actually kind of makes me want a dog, strangely (so I home mom and dad still plan on getting one soon). They are even at my school way outside town in the mountain! Some of them try to get into the classrooms, and occasionally they are successful. There was a cute little one hiding under the desks behind the legs of a few students. One day there were 5 in the school yard at one time. It was strange. But then again, it isn't unusual to have animals there. One day there was a horse in front of the door, another time there was a donkey grazing near the playground. I am getting very used to livestock. I pass lambs, goats, chickens, cows, donkeys, pigs and horses regularly. As for vegetation, there isn't as much as I thought there would be. Many people have gardens around their houses (mine has cactuses and cala lillies!), but there isn't much on public property, except for a few parks, one of which I visit often and is in the center of the down town area. It is pretty impressive. I has a bunch of palm trees which I love, and also tiger lilies that are taller than me, and benches so that you can relax and enjoy it all. One thing I don't enjoy is the milk man. I know, it sounds like a pretty benign thing to dislike, but starting early in the morning, men with huge speakers on their big pickup trucks drive around calling "Leche, leche, le-leche" with their mega horns. You can't hear clearly and it kind of sounds like when kids used to say "girl" into their fists to make a weird sound. It's unnbelievably obnoxious and loud. I will not miss buying milk quietly from a store when I get home. Although I do appreciate the milk, now that my family lets me have it cold in my cereal instead of hot. I'd love to tell you more but my fingers hurt and I want to go get a chocolate bun and sit in the park with Brittany (I wasn't kidding lol).

Much love to all of you! Keep the comments coming!
Hasta luego (until later)!!
-Amita (my host dad calls me that)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sorry only have a minute . . .

Hey all

I know I said I would blog soon but once again I am out of time. One of my fellow Intercordians wasn´t feeling well on Tuesday, and there was a big panic that perhaps she had swine flu and we were all quarantined for 2-3 days, so we were unable to leave our houses at all. Of course she just had a regular cold and it was just blown out of proportion, but that's why you haven´t heard much from me lately. Everyone is okay and we all head back to our placements in the morning. I will do my best to write more this week.

Much love!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My First Week (or so) In Cayambe

Hello again!

Sorry it´s been awhile since my last post. There has been quite a lot to get used to as I moved in with my host family. I don´t want to forget anything so I am going to break things down into sections.
Host Family: My host family is great. I moved in a week ago Thursday. My host mom´s name is Teresa and and my host dad is Jaime (here pronounced kind of like hi-may). Teresa is a tailor and has her own business with at least two other employees. It is attached to the house . . . actually the back door to the business is about 5 feet from my room. Jaime works for a Nestle factory that makes dairy products and runs a small restaurant (also next door to the house) in the evenings. He is a good cook and does most of the cooking. I have an older brother named Santiago, and older sister named Lisette, and two younger sisters named Amy (I think she is 10) and Jocelyn (she is 6 or 7). It is so fun having siblings, even if it is only for awhile. Santiago is married to a wonderful lady named Maria, and they have a daughter named Domenica. They live close by so I see them fairly often. He speaks English quite well, which is nice. When I got a sun burn, he took me to the Farmacacia and told me what to buy. He also showed me around town and bought me a yogurt freezie thing. It´s awesome having a big brother. I think Lisette works out of town, so I don´t see her all the time, but she speaks a little English too and she is great. She is taking university classes to be a book keeper if I understood that right, and she teaches dance classes as well. My little sisters are really cute and always want to be around me. One time Amy even hung out in my room when I was taking a nap! They play Barbies, soccer, like to watch TV, regular little girl stuff. On my first night we watched Enchanted in Spanish! It wasn´t quite the same without Patrick Dempsey´s voice, but it was fun. They are a very family oriented bunch, which I really like. On Sundays they get together with Teresa´s brother´s family and play basketball. I was dreading it at first (you all know how sporty I am), but it was actually a lot of fun. I even managed to score a few points (after a bunch of misses). Then there was a party to celebrate an aunt´s birthday. As you can guess, the house is pretty modern. They have at least 3 Tvs, a microwave, the works. Not heating, though. They have a washing machine which I probably could have used, but they mostly wash their clothes by hand I think, so I did the same. It took me 2.5 hours! It made me miss fabric softener as clothes washed by hand and dried in the sun do not end up very soft. I think from now on I will wash things as they are dirty so it isn´t such a huge chore at the end of the week.
Teaching: This has been a bit of a challenge for a number of reasons. First of all, since September I had been hoping to be volunteering at an orphanage, so I wasn´t expecting to teach. I didn´t even know I was at a school until maybe a week before I left, and even then I wasn´t sure the age groups or what I´d be responsible for. I brought no supplies with me and feel pretty unprepared for it. All I am using is my university Spanish text book. For some reason, though I live in downtown Cayambe, I teach at a school in the mountains a fair distance away in a little village called Convalasencia (or something like that). It costs $0.30 to get there on the bus. I catch it about 10 blocks from my house. It is a pretty poor school, and there are about 80 - 100 students from age 4 to 14. They are only divided up into 3 classes though, which is tricky all on it´s own. In the youngest class some students can read and write, others can´t. I teach anywhere from 1 to 2+ hours at a time in each class. Some days I teach all three, sometimes only one. I don´t really understand the system here. On certain days, random teachers just don´t show up, and one day all but one teacher left at 9am (school here starts at 8). Despite all that, teaching is actually going fairly well. The students are eager to learn and pay attention pretty well. I am teaching them numbers, letters, colours, months, seasons, days of the week, animals, basic conversations (how are you, what is your name, how old are you etc.), and even a few camp song to mix it up a little (Alice the Camel for one). I don´t know how much they are actually retaining but I will keep reviewing it all. Quite a few students hang around me before class and during recess or whenever they get the chance and ask ¨¿Como se dice ______ en ingles?¨ (how do you say ____ in English). Usually it´s a name they ask about, sometimes an object. Sometimes I ask ¨¿que es eso?¨ (what is that?), but usually I can answer them. I get a bit stumped with some of the names (anyone know how to translate Gonsalves?). Some of the young ones have taken a liking to me, which is nice. I rarely walk anywhere without at least one girl on each hand. On Friday one of them gave me a hug on the bus and ended up falling asleep in my arms. It was very sweet. School ends at 12:30 here, which is nice. The worst part about school is the trek home. It takes me 1.5 hours to get from school to my house, and most of that is on foot. I don´t really understand why there isn´t a bus, but I am getting used to the walk. Friday I wiped out and scraped my knee pretty good. The first day I had to walk I took a 4 hour nap, though I think that is partly due to altitude as well. Anyway, I am getting the hang of teaching and it´s actually pretty rewarding. I think it will get better as time goes on as well.
Oh . . . one other funny thing that happened on Friday! Another girl with the program, Brittany, ended up helping me teach because her placement wasn´t running. Towards the end of the day, we were standing at the front of the class while another teacher explained something to the students, and something moving in a on the ground caught our eye. Brittany was like ¨whoa something is going on with that bag!¨. The teacher turns to her and simply goes ¨chicken.¨ We both busted a gut laughing as the poor thing moved around the floor in his bag. A regular occurence here I guess, but we aren´t used to it. The teacher later told Brittany to open it, which she did, but a student had to close it after we saw it´s little rooster head and freaked out. Turns out Brittany´s host mom, the teacher who told us what was in the bag, took it home. Maybe it was dinner last night?

I have tons more to write, but this post is already super long, so I will leave it at that for now. Internet is cheap here ($1/hour or less), so I will be back soon to tell you more. And please comment! It´s nice to know if people are actually reading the nonsense I write about.

Tonight my host parent´s other son is holding a coffee house at his cafe, so I am excited about that. There will be live music and maybe even dancing! I´m hoping to get ahold of some of my Canadian friends here to join me as well.

That´s it for now. Stay in touch! Let me know if you want my mailing address.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hola from Quito!

Hola los todos!

I arrived in Ecuador last night and I love it! Last night and tonight we are staying at this beautiful hostel in Quito. A wonderful little lady cooks for us, and birds and plants are painted on the bright walls. The 8 of us are getting along well and having a great time. Some of us had a little bit of altitude sickness but we are getting better now. It´s weird, but you get winded after just one flight of stairs because there is so much less oxygen in the air. I would love to write more but some fellow Beyond Bordians are waiting for me outside, and I think they are about to shut this internet cafe down. Anyway . . . know that I am well and having a blast! Tomorrow we head to Cayambe to move in with our host families.

Love you all very much!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

PANIC!! (not just at the disco)

First of all . . . surprise!!!! You might be a little shocked to see me posting again before my trip has begun . . . especially since it doesn't count for marks anymore (just kidding!). Honestly I was never a super reliable blogger . . . but now I keep coming up with ideas for posts. So here I go.

A week from this very moment, I will be in Ecuador. And it's official: panic has set in. Not in a huge way, but to some degree. My placement still isn't 100% figured out. I know that there will absolutely be something there for me to do and it will all be worked out somehow, so I'm trying to stay chill about it. There is still SO MUCH to do before I head out. I still need to do laundry, buy a mosquito net, send some forms to school, etc etc . . .

You know what set off a wave of panic? It was the most insignificant thing. I went out to buy some milk for my parents and, out of habit I checked the expiration date. It said May 14th. MAY 14th!! That is more than a week after I will have arrived in Ecuador. Expiration dates, especially on milk, are never that far into the future. It goes bad pretty quickly. That's just how things go. And I will be in Ecuador even faster than our dairy products can expire. Whoa.

Not that it's all doom and gloom around here. Just the opposite! I am very excited for my trip and can't wait to see what is in store for me there. Things are starting to come together piece by piece. My lovely aunt has offered to drive me to the airport, preventing a lonely ride in an airport shuttle I was prepared to take. A friend of mine and her mom were thoughtful enough to prepare a travel care kit for me, complete with bug spray, a first aid kit, sunscreen, and many other useful items. I went to Value Village with a friend and bought some lightweight cargo pants (we do take your advice Joanne!!). Another friend was kind enough to give me some memory cards as a gift to increase my picture-taking capacity. Though I haven't officially started packing, I have been making a list in my head of the things I want to take, including a list of books I am going to take with me to read. (I am an English student . . . it's what we do. I think I have it down to four, not counting the Bible. And that was tough!! One may even be The Plague or Pedagogy of the Oppressed . . . no promises though lol). But I still can't believe I leave in 6 days!!!

The hardest part for me, as I always knew it would be, is saying goodbye. Earlier today I got back from a fabulous trip to visit friends in Ottawa. One had her baby while I was visiting, so I got to spend time with her and her husband, and meet her beautiful new son. I got to spend an evening catching up with a friend from high school, and went for bubble tea with her and her husband. She is having her second child, a little girl, in July. I also got to play trains with her son and read him a bed time story, which was great. I spent a night with a family I nannied for a few summers ago, and got to see how much the kids have grown up. I also spent a lot of time just relaxing with other friends . . . laughing, watching movies, eating junk food, playing cards and board games, getting pastries from the local bakery, and going out for lunch. It was exactly what I needed. At the same time, it also reminded me of what I would be missing while I was gone. I helped a friend pick out a gift for a wedding I can't attend. My mother and grandfather will celebrate birthdays, as will aunts, cousins, and a handful of other relatives. My poor parents will be short their only daughter on Mother and Father's Day. Babies not yet born will already be months old when I get back. It's so crazy!!

It almost feels as if I'll be somewhere else forever. Like this evening I was thinking "this will be the last chance I get to grab food from the Pita Pit and watch a movie with a friend". Or "this will be one of the last times I will be able to drive for awhile", or "this is the last time I will be in a Canadian grocery store".

Logically, I know that it's only 3 months. 1/4 of a year. A small fraction of a lifetime. But still, a lot can happen in three months, and I won't be here to see most of it, and it's kind of sad. I know I'm being melodramatic. It's silly. I have spent a year away at school, a summer as a nanny, and countless trips, though relatively short ones, to different places in Canada, the USA and twice to the Dominican Republic. But this is different.

Anyway . . . I guess it's normal to be feeling this way so close to departure. I'm not really surprised that I have mixed emotions. When the time comes I will be ready to say farewell to friends and family, hop on that plane, and jump into my summer in Ecuador . . . even though I know it won't always be easy.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Things I Learned from Great Big Sea

Not sure how I'm going to tie a Canadian folk-rock band to a blog about my summer in Ecuador? Just you wait.

I have been a fan of Great Big Sea since a friend introduced me to them in high school. Since then I have been to four concerts, bought a few cds, and downloaded a bunch of their songs onto my ipod. They play a few different styles of music, some original and some traditional folk songs. The band members are all very talented singers and musicians, and super charismatic (especially Alan . . . he's my favourite). Even if you aren't really into their style of music, I really recommend checking out a concert. They play very interactive shows and have so much energy. Their love of the music just pours out of them into the audience. But enough gushing. I'll get to the point.

Great Big Sea have some excellent songs with poignant things to say, and some of them reminded me of the whole Beyond Borders experience. So here goes.

All together, you and me, a single note don't make a melody
(Love Me Tonight)
This one is pretty obvious. For me, it's been really great to have so many different perspectives and personalities represented in BB. If we all felt exactly the same way about things, or thought alike, or had similar ideas, we wouldn't have had the same experiences. All the different views thrown together is what really made the program great.

Anything worth having is worth some sacrifice
(Shines Right Through Me)
I think we can all relate to this. We've had to give up a lot to be in this program: time, money, energy, classes that may have been better used as required courses, and three months of our summer. It hasn't always been easy, but we wouldn't have done it if we didn't think it would have all been worth it in the end.

Move along, I believe there's something beautiful to see, move along I believe there's something beautiful just waiting for you and me
(Something Beautiful)
For me at least, this process hasn't been easy. There has been the odd time where it has taken all of my strength just to put one foot in front of the other. But, similarly to the last example, at the end it will be so worth it because all this effort will be reflected in an unforgettable summer. We are almost there! The beauty is just around the corner.

This is my one small step, this is my walk on the moon (Walk on the Moon)
I think this one is my favourite. It's a really pretty song, but I also really like the message. The song talks about how the astronauts must have been scared s***less when they stepped out of that spaceship when they first stepped onto the moon, but then they got to see the world from a whole new perspective (okay, so I paraphrased a little). And that walk on the moon started with one tiny step. Same goes for us. In the scope of the world, our trips this summer is just a small little blip in the radar, but in our own lives it's a big deal 'walk on the moon', so to speak. And it wouldn't have been possible without that first step.

This is here, this is now, it's the moment that we live for and we just can't live without, it's all clear to me now, we've already started dying, and our time is running out (Here and Now)
I know this one seems depressing, but I don't mean it that way. But if you look our lives simply as periods of time on earth, most of us are 1/4 of the way through our lives, give or take. Truth be told, as soon as you're born you're already dying. And I'm not trying to be dark or macabre here, but I just mean that we only have a finite amount of time on earth, and it's our loss (and fault) if we don't do our best to truly live while we have the chance. This summer is one way for us to experience the world as we never have before, and may never again. So live it up!!

Well judging from the quasi-philosophical and semi-deep tone that piece took, you may be able to tell it is stupid late (or early . . . lol). I may have said it differently in the harsh light of day, but the sentiment remains the same. Live while you're alive, make sacrifices and take risks.

Why My Semester Kinda Sucked

It started at the very beginning of the term when I went to pick up my OSAP. I was informed that I could not pick up my loan because I had not previously arranged my fees. So I went down to student accounts to arrange my fees, but I was told that it would take a few days for the form to be processed, and that they could not guarantee that the information would go through in time, but that it should be done by the next afternoon. I returned the next day to once again attempt to pick up my loan, but my the computer still said my fees were not arranged. To make matters worse, I was at risk of not receiving any OSAP at all because I was taking one of my three classes at the University of Guelph, and it did not show up on my Waterloo record. I quickly added the third BB class to correct this. I once again went to pick up my loan, but my fees were still not arranged. Since the due date had already passes, that meant I would have to petition to be allowed to register late. Luckily, there was a lovely lady working in student accounts who took pity on me and decided to override the petition requirement. Since I live in Guelph and only needed to be on campus once a week, resolving all these issues took some time. Both UW and U of G were beginning to put late charges on my account because I hadn't made payment. When courses and fee arrangements were all taken care of, I finally was able to get my loan. But when I went to get the paperwork, I was informed that, if I picked up my OSAP, I would be put on academic probation. This was very upsetting and confusing as I could not think of anything I had done wrong. They told me that I had not passed all my courses for the previous term, which is what had triggered the probation. I tried to explain that I had gotten an extension on a paper, and I hadn't handed it in yet, and asked if it would all be straightened out once the paper and the mark were submitted. They said that regardless of that, it would remain on my transcript. If that wasn't enough, U of G was trying to charge me $900 for the one class I was taking there, as there medical and dental coverage are mandatory. As icing on the cake, my grades were not great either. I got a 57% on a mid-term, and a 66% on a take home test. This was especially bad news because at that point I was a few percentage points away from being allowed back into honours English Lit. Eventually, I got the paper in and I got an 84% in the class. I was able to get out of the medical and dental coverage at Guelph, bringing the cost of the class down to almost reasonable. I paid my fees, and I even began to do get better grades. I still have not resolved the academic probation issue, but its in the works. This has been one of the toughest term I've come up against in my 4 years at university, but luckily most of that is behind me. Here's hoping it doesn't happen again.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Great Expectations

One thing we have talked about a few times as a Beyond Borders group is expectations. It's hard not to have them when embarking on a journey such as this. You picture it in your head like it will be this mind-blowing, earth-shattering, epiphany-causing experience. But what if it isn't? What if it's just another summer on a long list of summers? You have to find a way to balance these two extremes. It's hard if not impossible to hold no expectations at all, but you don't want to get so carried away with expectations that you miss experiences while in your host country or, worse, end up disappointed when things don't turn out the way you hoped they would. I don't feel that I have been having too much difficulty keeping my expectations in check. This might have something to with the fact that, even though my flight is less than four weeks away, it still doesn't seem real. I have no delusions that my summer will be perfect, filled with nothing but rainbows and butterflies. I also don't think it will be a pit of darkness and despair. I expect to be disappointed and frustrated at times, and to get fed up with a world full of unfamiliar things. I also expect to love working with the children, learning Spanish, and experiencing a new culture. In many ways, I really don't know what to expect, and maybe that's safer. Hopefully that will ensure I am not caught off guard by mismanaged expectations.

Why I'm Not A Blogging Rockstar

As you can likely tell by the fact that I am rushing to finish my blog at the end of the term, blogging is totally not my forte. I was talking with Joanne a few weeks ago, and she made me wonder why that is. I came up with two reasons, and here they are:
#1. Some weeks, I just don't have anything to say about Beyond Borders.
While I'm sure if I racked my brain I could come up with something about BB to blog about each week, it isn't every week that something jumps out at me. Though I mean this in a positive way, the BB experience is a long one. There are 8 months between starting out and actually flying to your host country. Some weeks, nothing happens on the BB front. Some weeks I am up until ungodly hours of the night writing papers three nights in a row, and I don't even think about my blog. Some weeks, quite frankly, I'd rather watch Friends, Gilmore Girls, and Veronica Mars on DVD and forget school exists. Blogging rarely takes priority in my life, and I don't know if that is something I need to apologize for or just accept.
#2. Often, life is a struggle, and I don't want you people to see me fall.
I have had an exceptionally difficult term this winter (more on that later). From day one in January, things just didn't come together for me at all . . . in fact, they fell apart. Numerous times. Whether it was academic administrivia, problems at work, OSAP issues, fundraising struggles, or something else entirely, things just never seemed to go my way. I have come to love and respect each and every one of my fellow Beyond Bordians, and I didn't feel particularily inclined to share these details with them. It isn't that I worry they'd think less of me (at least not typically), in fact I did tell a few of them about what was going on in conversations. I guess I just want to seem like I have it all together. Most people don't like to show their weaknesses, and I am no exception.
Though those are paltry excuses at best, they are honest. I am now coming to realize that I was wrong about blogging in many ways. It isn't that I really have a problem with blogging. I think it is a worthwhile assignment even though my actions don't reflect that. If I had kept up with everyone else's blog, I would have seen that others were struggling as well, and we could have done a better job of helping each other through that. It is important that I make clear that it was never an issue as to whether or not I wanted to read what all of you had to say, or that I didn't care. It was more a matter of finding time, strength and energy to do so. I can't really make up for lost time, but I am reading your blogs now and I really appreciate what all of you have to say. Thanks for updating even those of us who don't keep up.

Support of the Church?

First, let me say that I love my church family and cannot thank them enough for all the help, support and love they have given me throughout my life. I have learned so much and made many good friends through church and its connections, for which I am eternally grateful. Many of my beliefs and values are a direct result of my associations with the church. I would not be who I am today without it, and probably would not be headed to Ecuador to volunteer for the summer.
When I was accepted into Beyond Borders and learned I would need to fundraise as a part of the program, I was not concerned in the least. I have gone on 3 mission trips, two of which were in the Dominican Republic, and had no difficulty coming up with the money. I held spaghetti dinners, breakfasts, baked for a jazz night, sent support letters, and helped with a bizarre. There was never any worry or panic; the money just came in without any trouble.
I assumed the same would be true this time around. I spoke with my pastor to ask him if I could make an announcement to the congregation and hold some fundraising event, and although he agreed, he was vague and would not give me definite dates. I continued to ask him for a month or two without success. Eventually I learned that I had to speak to a different pastor about the matter, and the other pastor told me I needed to go before the church board in order to have fundraising approved. I made a request to a certain committee to be given funds from a specific missions fund, and I was informed that, since Beyond Borders is not officially connected to a church organization, they were not able to give me anything.
I do understand that there are many organizations that request for funds from the church and missions committee, and that it isn't realistic to give money to all of them. But I was upset by this response because I have been attending my church since I was born. I have taught Sunday school, helped with the youth group, been on worship teams and committees, and volunteered at organizations connected to the church, such as leading for week-long sessions at my summer camp. But yet, after all this, they can't support me in something like this. Though it is not officially a 'mission trip', its purpose does line up with God's mandate to love your neighbour, and to care for the widows and orphans. It is almost hurtful that they would not wish to stand behind me and support me in a program like this.
I went before the board a few nights ago, and my request to fundraise was granted. However, it was a bit late in coming as I already completed my fundraising. I do plan to hold an event when I get back to share my experience for whoever wants to listen, during which I will take up a freewill offering that I will donate to next year's program.

Fundraising Goal Complete!!

Thanks to the help of family, friends, my fellow Beyond Bordians, and good old fashioned blood, sweat, and tears, I have managed to raise my portion of funds to support the program. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I truly appreciate your love and support for this once in a lifetime experience. I could not have done it without your help.
Fundraising was possibly the part of the program I was most worried about. I have had to raise money for at least 3 other trips, and I never had much trouble in the past. However, with the economy the way it is, I had a lot of difficulty. In fact, when the first deadline for half of the money came around, I did not have a single dollar to hand over. I was starting to freak out (just ask Kate!). Another hindrance to raising money was some difficulties I had fundraising in my church (which I will go into detail about in another entry). In any case, I did not know what I was going to do. It seemed as though my only option was to put in the money myself. Realistically, there was no way I could have afforded it. Working as a waitress for the past two semesters, I only managed to save $1000, which isn't even enough to cover my expenses when I'm gone, much less my time in Ecuador. It was going to be rough.
Luckily, that isn't going to be necessary. I can't thank all of you enough!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Anotated Bibliography

Ades, Harry and Melissa Graham. The Rough Guide to Ecuador Including the Galapagos
Islands. Rough Guides, New York: 2007.

This guide has many interesting features including a 20 Things Not To Miss, complete with short descriptions and a colour photograph of each attraction. It has a chart outlining the months of the year and areas of Ecuador with minimum and maximum temperatures and rainfall for each region. The majority of the book is divided into 8 different regions, and covers accomodations, transportation, attractions, and tours in each region. The back section covers Galapagos and mainlandwildlife, history, geography, Spanish words and phrases, art, literature, music and film, and suggestions for other books to read.

Insight Guides: Ecuador and Galapagos Islands. APA Publications, London: 2007.

A travel guide that is divided into sections such as History, The Ecuadorians, Life and Lore in the Sierra, Food, and Features. It also gives information about the various areas to visit, such as Quito, the Pacific coast, the western lowlands, the Oriente, and the islands. It also has a section of travel tips, including a section that lists accommodations, their features, and approximate cost, as well as a a list of recommended restaurants, cafes, and bars. There are many illustrations, and it speaks of the local culture as well as tourist attractions.

Smith, Julian. Moon Handbooks Ecuador Including the Galapagos Islands. Avalon Publishing
Group, Inc., Emeryville: 2005.

This guide gives some information on the various regions and major cities of Ecuador, and gives suggestions for a 30-day and 2 week best of Ecuador tour, as well as culture and history, nature and wildlife, and outdoor adventure tours. The middle section of the book is divided into regional sections and gives travel information about each. The end of the book is a section called Know Ecuador, and it covers the land, the natural world, environmental issues, history, government and economy, the people, culture, sports and recreation, tips for travelers, health and safety, and getting around.

Monday, March 16, 2009

In The Kitchen at TWC

Before this semester, I didn't have a huge amount of cooking experience. Don't get me wrong, I could find my way around a kitchen and follow a recipe - the basics. In fact, one summer I worked as a nanny and managed to cook for a family of four plus myself, and I managed to make it through a whole three-month summer without any of the kids suffering from malnourishment or getting food poisoned (even though I lived in a constant and irrational fear that that would happen). But this term, as I have been helping out in The Working Centre's kitchen, I am learning quite a lot. The cafe we cook for is vegetarian and sometimes vegan, which right away changes things up a bit. If I was to plan and cook a meal of my own devising, the main dish would most likely involve some sort of meat or meat product. So, instead, I have been learning how to make many dishes that centre around vegetables and meat alternatives. I usually make some sort of salad, though occasionally I've made soup, hummus, or wraps. The recipes usually involve two or more steps, which is quite different than what I am used to. Most often I bake, and at most that requires two separate bowls. Often, these recipies involve frying tofu, sauces and spices in a frying pan, roasting vegetables in the oven, and boiling pasta on the stove, mixing a sauce in a bowl, and then tossing it all together. The other difference is the sheer volume/quantity of food being made. Coming from a family of three, it seems crazy to me to make a soup using 1 kg of green beans, 8 potatoes, 4 giant carrotts, and three cans of tomato juice for one pot of soup. I have learned a lot about the vegetarian/vegan diet in this way.
However, my favourite part about working in the kitchen is the atmosphere. Although Tracie has only been working there a few months, she has really managed to find her rhythm and is doing a fantastic job. On my first day, I missed my bus and had to take a later one. When I called to let her know I'd be late, she told me not to worry about it. When I showed up for work, she gave me a recipe to follow. But the following weeks she let me choose between a few different recipes, and sometimes she first asks me "What do you feel like making?". She is always very friendly and helpful, no matter how many questions I ask her. She is always happy and smiling, asking me about school and my Ecuador trip. I feel blessed to have had the chance to work with her for such a worthy organization.

Pancake Breakfast Fundraiser

I wanted to take an opportunity to blog about the fundraising breakfast we ran as a Beyond Borders team. Since the beginning of this term, or possibly even last term, we had been trying to come up with an event we could host not only to raise some funds for our trip, but also to introduce ourselves to the community and let them know what Beyond Borders experience is all about. We were all really busy, and we weren't really sure if we could commit to yet another activity. At one point, we had all but decided not to have any event at all, when someone came up with the idea of holding a pancake breakfast. We all thought it was a great idea and decided to go ahead with it.
Things came together relatively quickly, though there were a few minor (and some not so minor) setbacks we came across. There were quite a few people to talk to about venues, food, and supplies, so getting all of that together took a fair bit of orchestration. There were a few last minute changes on where we were going to hold the breakfast. First we were in the main SJU cafeteria, then the girl's dorm, then back again, and finally ended up being in the girl's dorm. It ended up being a great location, not too small that we ran out of tables and chairs, but small enough that it felt homey. There were also some difficulties with the pancake batter we wanted to use because it contained raw egg, and none of us were properly trained to cook with it. It turned out that a local grocery store either gave us a great discount or donated pancake mix which only required us to add water. The cafeteria was also very generous in donating disposable dishes and cutlery, juice, coffee, syrup, margarine and sausage to our cause.
When the morning of the event arrived we all (well, all but one . . . ;o)!!!) showed up bright eyed, bushy tailed, and ready to work . . . well, at least reasonably so. Everyone found something to do, or at least something to look like they were doing, and got to work. By the time the first mass let out, we were ready to go. There was a slight delay when the line outnumbered the number of pancakes we could make at once, and we blew a few fuses with the grills, but all of these problems were fixed quickly and effectively. We had a good sized crowd, and I think made over $700! Though that isn't much money when it needs to be split between all of us, the event was quite successful, and I think we did quite well in pulling it off . . . and it was a lot of fun!! Thanks again to my fellow Beyond Bordians. You rock!

Monday, March 9, 2009

More on Ecuador

I realized that the information I gave during my last Ecuador presentation never made it to my blog, so I thought I'd remedy that. One thing that is of interest to me is the people of Ecuador. The approximate population is 14 000 000. Though the official language is Spanish, there are approximately 20 other native tongues due to the indigenous population. In fact, the indigenous people make up 1/3 to 1/4 of the population, which is largely mixed, or 'mestizo'. There are many social and economic divisions between people groups, much like many other places in the world. Somewhere between 4o% and 66% of the population live below the poverty line. The country specializes largely in agriculture, and its main exports are petroleum products, coffee, cacao, bananas, cut flowers and shrimp. This means their economy varies depending on the market, and is severely affected by fluctuations in world commodity prices, and can be quite unstable. Voting is compulsory for literate people between the ages of 18 and 65, and Ecuador was the first country in South America to grant women the right to vote. Despite this, the country overall has been slow to accept equality of the sexes, which is illustrated by the fact that only 40% of women are economically active. Though women have entered most fields of work, they still do not work as welders or bus drivers. In 1990, women even made up 10% of the police force. I am very excited about the chance to interact with these people, to see and experience firsthand what their lives are like. It is not every day a chance like this comes along.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Good . . . And The Bad

I need to preface this entry by saying that I am very much looking forward to my summer in Ecuador. I cannot wait to see what life is like in another country, to spend time in a culture totally unfamiliar to me, to make connections with new people, and begin to learn the language. I have loved getting to know the others in the program, and know this is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Things are starting to come together for me, and in two and a half months I will be on my way.
However, I am starting to learn about things I will be missing while I'm away. Two of my coworkers, two of my friends, and two of my cousins will be having babies between April and September. I know I will be able to meet their newborns when I get back, but somehow it's just not the same. Another friend is getting married, and I will be missing out on the road trip to New York to see it. I am missing mother's day, father's day, my mother's 56th birthday, my grandfather's 89th birthday, and probably a few more birthdays and other special occasions. Though I may be able to spend one week at camp when I get back, it isn't the same as other summers where I spent many weeks there and was able to visit a few times throughout the season. And I will also be missing out on the three best months of weather that we will have all year here in Canada.
Like I said, I know it will be worth the trade-off. But it's hard not to think about the things I will miss while I'm gone.

Monday, February 2, 2009

How I Ended Up In The Beyond Borders Program

I am so sorry I've gotten behind in posting on my blog. I've been dealing with OSAP nightmares and other various administrivial nonsense. As of now nothing at all is worked out. It has not been a good semester in that respect. Hopefully most of it will be ironed out soon.
Anyway, I was talking with Kate and she mentioned that she thought she'd post the story of how she came to be in the Beyond Borders program, and I thought that was a good idea. So I am going to borrow her idea and tell my own story of how I got to where I am.
At some basic level it began in 2001. When I was in 10th grade, I spent my March Break on a mission trip in Toronto. I know that sounds kind of silly, but there is actually a surprising amount of poverty and other problems there. Anyway, the point is, that was my first experience volunteering for an extended period of time to try to help out and do some good for others. I had volunteered in a classroom, retirement home, hospital and camp before, but not quite like this. In 2003 I joined approximately 70 other people for another March Break mission trip, only this time we headed to the Dominican Republic. The minute I landed, I fell in love . . . with the place, the people, the palm trees, the language - - everything. I know this sounds a bit over the top, but I truly felt like my soul was at home there. Our main projects were construction. We made a few sidewalks, helped construct a chemistry wing, and cleared a sidewalk of dirt and debris. It wasn't much, but it felt like progress. Then, last spring I was invited back to the DR for another March Break trip, but this time as a leader. This time we had a smaller team, maybe about 20 or so total, about 8 from my church, and some from other cities in Ontario. Again the focus was construction, making cement curbs, painting, and constructing sidewalks. As much as I enjoyed these short trips, I never felt as though I had enough time to truly connect with and understand the people there, learn the language, or make much of a difference. The truth is, a week-long trip is more about what you learn by going. The little bit of work you get done while there is pretty much inconsequential.
In my first year at UW, I took an SMF class at SJU, and Scott Kline was my professor. I really enjoyed the class, both because I loved the subject, and because Scott did an excellent job of teaching. It actually led me to add an SMF minor/honours option to my degree. I heard about Intercordia and saw posters a few times, and I always thought it sounded like a great opportunity. When I had the chance to take another course with Scott over this past summer, I jumped at the chance. Again he mentioned the now revamped Intercordia/Beyond Borders program, and I knew I had to give it shot. I missed the deadline, but Scott told me to apply anyway. But when I didn't hear anything all summer, I figured I didn't make it in. To my surprise, though, I heard from him near the end of the summer, and my interview was set up. In my opinion, the interview went absolutely wretchedly. It was one of those times where you are asked a question, and you literally have no answer whatsoever to give. You can't even make something up, your mind is that blank. So you start thinking "Oh my gosh, I don't have an answer. I really don't have anything to say. Nope, nothing. Wow, this is bad." And then your mind starts to wander and everything seems to fall apart. But I guess Elyse and Scott felt differently, and I got an e-mail welcoming me to the program on the Wednesday before our first Thursday class. The biggest hindrance for me was (and still is) that of finances. Though the program in and of itself is offered at a very reasonable cost, there are other expenses to consider, such as tuition for the fall term following the summer away. But I am trying to stay positive and reassure myself that somehow it will work out.
So that is pretty much how I got to this place. The most exciting part for me is that I actually get to spend a considerable amount of time in Ecuador. With this gift of time I plan to work hard at learning the language, and making meaningful connections with poeople that will not be severed at the summer's end. I know I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime, and I will do my best not to let it pass me by.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Volunteering at The Working Centre and My Placement in Ecuador

This week was spent trying to organize placements both for volunteering at The Working Center and my summer in Ecuador. I met with Rebecca on Tuesday night to discuss where in The Working Center I'd like to help out. She was very helpful and tried to make sure I was matched up with a placement that would suit both my interests and the needs of the center. I have always loved baking and would like some experience cooking, and I also think it's a great that that all their products are made using whole foods. I also work as a waitress, and I thought it would be good experience to work in the kitchen. She thought that sounded like a good match for me, but also suggested helping out with St John's Kitchen or Worth A Second Look. I hadn't thought of either of those, but both sound like good opportunities. I'm sure I will enjoy whatever placement I end up in, and that I will learn a lot.
There is an organization in Ecuador called Fundacion Reto Internacional that runs various work placements and community organizations throughout the country. I was instructed to go to their website to look at the different opportunities. There were a few to choose from, including teaching English to elementary or high school kids, helping out with an NGO, or volunteering with a daycare. Though all of those sounded like fantastic opportunities, none of them sounded like the one for me. I already do quite a lot of baby-sitting, and I'd really like to try something new. The category called Social Work was the one that caught my attention, and more specifically the possibility of spending my summer helping out in an orphanage. I know it will be a very challenging job, and it will be extremely hard to see children living in such sad conditions, but I also think it will be rewarding and that I will learn a lot from it. The hardest part will be not bringing all of the children back home with me. This will probably be the hardest thing I ever do, but I know it will be worth it. I hope I can bring back with me a new and greater understanding of how other people in the world live, and that my life is transformed, if only a little bit, by this experience. I hope I can pass along some of the knowledge I gain to those around me, so that little by little we can make the world a better and more just place.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I was under the impression we were going to be giving a presentation on the country where we will be spending the summer. So, with that in mind, I did a bit or research. Here is what I learned:

-as it name suggests, it is derived from the word equator, and it is in fact on the equator
-there are three main land regions: mountain, forest, and coastal
-it is a country of much geographic variety - you can see rainforest as well as volcanoes there
-it is famous for the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin made his first discoveries that led to the writing of The Origin of Species
-there are thousands of species of plants and animals, more than many other countries
-it is easy and inexpensive to get from place to place, and buses will stop anywhere along the route to pick up passengers
-one tourist attraction is the city of Banos, which is a city with many natural hot springs that contain sulfurous compounds that are good for your skin.
-a local specialty in Banos is taffy that is pulled in the doorways of shops
-the local language is Spanish, though there are many Indigenous people living there as well
-it is considered one of the safest countries in South America
-another specialty dish is guinea pig (which, after becoming acquainted with my friend's two pet guinea pigs Squeaky and Chica, I hope to avoid during my stay there)
-like many other countries in South America, there has been a fair amount of political unrest there

I'm sure there are things that I have forgotten, but those are the ones that I could recall. I look forward to learning more about this country as the time I will spend there gets closer.