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!!)