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!!)