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!!