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.