Departure! The countdown is on...

August 12, 2009

Chao Amigos!

I am now home from Ecuador, and happy to be back with my family in Canada although I do miss all the wonderful people I met while I was away.

On my last night with my host family they held a huge surprise party for me with an enormous meal, a cake and they even presented me with a plaque thanking me for coming and sharing my friendship with their family. I had a few thank you gifts for them as well. It was a wonderful night spent with the people that mean the most to me in Ecuador, my second family. They have assured me over and over again that if I ever come back to visit, I will always have a home in Ecuador.

And now it is time to thank everyone in Canada who supported me on this trip. A final thanks to all of my donors, my family and my friends who have kept in touch, read my blogs and followed me on this journey. I cannot tell you all how much it meant to read comments on here or to hear from my family that others had been reading my blog and loved seeing the pictures and hearing the stories I told.

Both Ecuador and its people are beautiful, I absolutely feel in love with this country during my three month stay and even though Canada is my home, a piece of my heart will always be attached to the mountains at the center of the world.

God Bless you all <3


July 30, 2009

More pictures

I am finally at the internet with my camera cable. I take my camera almost everywhere but for some reason at 6 am when I am getting ready to go to Cayambe for work and sometimes to stay afterwards to use the internet I can never remember to bring my cable so I can post pictures. As a result, these are long overdue but I hope you all enjoy them :)

My host brother, Jhon, and I riding Amadeo on the way to visit the cows and help with the milking.
This is me in traditional dress dancing in the festival of San Pedro, with a man in a traditional diabluma costume.

There is lots of dancing in the streets, when we were going home in the bus there was a group of dancers blocking the road so no traffic could pass.

Jhon and Leti sitting on a planter on the side the road, they were tired after walking all afternoon watching the dancing for San Pedro.

Another parade where I rode my host father's horse Amadeo.

One afternoon we made humitas, a traditional food, they are kind of the texture of banana bread and we wrapped the dough in clean corn leaves and steamed them in a huge pot over the open fire. They are delicious!

Leti fabric painting the canvas bag that I brought as a gift.

Me dancing with a cousin, Bianca, in the house.

One afternoon we planted potatoes in the field next to our house. THey are just starting to come up now and will be ready to harvest in December.

Climbing Nevado Cayambe, a snow capped mountain. All of us were wearing tons of layers of clothing because it is so cold and we didn't have our winter jackets and things.
I will write again soon, enjoy :)

July 29, 2009

A Reponse to Handwashing laundry

A fellow traveler of mine just recently posted a blog about hand-washing laundry and the thoughts she thinks while doing so.

I happen to really enjoy hand-washing my laundry. Firstly, I don´t really have anything overly pressing to occupy my afternoons so doing laundry every few days is fine with me. Also, my 11 year old host sister thinks no one should have to do their laundry alone because that´s boring so she does hers at the same time as me. We take this time to talk about everything and anything and often have mini Spanish-English lessons. I teach her things like the ''I scream you scream we all scream for ice cream rhyme'' and she tries to teach me to roll my Rs like in proper Spanish (which by the way, I still can't do). In the end, we have fun together and laundry isn´t so much a chore as a time to talk.

I love washing laundry with my host sister because I also learn more about the country. We talk about different things that happened during our days at school or at home or plans that we have for later on. Also, she loves to ask me about Canada and how things are done there so I do my best to explain, even though sometimes it is a very round about explanation because I don't know all the words in Spanish.

Doing laundry has become a wonderful time for discussion with my 11 year-old host sister. I remember reading Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed and how much he stressed that we must live and dialogue with 'the other' and I can't believe how true this has been for me in the past months. At home in Canada, laundry is a chore to be done only as often as need be so that I don't run out of clean socks and underwear, but here I wash every two or three days and it becomes a time of dialogue. When I first came washing the people I lived with and the act of washing laundry by hand, along with many many others things were completely unfamiliar to me. The first time I did my laundry, my host mom took over partway through because I think it pained her to watch me go so slow, not to mentioned all the water that I splashed on myself instead of the laundry. But now, as is true for most things in this country, I now enjoy it, it is a familiar part of my routine. Something so simple has become a time for conversation with others and leads to learning more about the culture I am living in.

July 14, 2009

A Vocabulary of Memorized Sentences

While I am teaching my courses I have realized that many of the older students always use the same sentences and switch one or two words to make it a little different. At first I thought they were all just copying from each other but later realized that it was a case of each student having memorized a few sentences in English and they were re-using them for all situations, sometimes switching a few words in hopes that I wouldn't notice. As a result I have started to focus on sentences more and more and how to write different sentences. Sometimes at the end of class I write a list of vocabulary on the board so that the students will have more words and things that they can use.

I don't really know how to fix this problem. The students need to understand how to put the words together on their own, to be able tot think of a sentence and put it on paper instead of just using the same sentences over and over again. It is also difficult sometimes to teach because there are some things that are said in Spanish that just don't make sense in English. For example, in Spanish when a car is driving it is said to be 'walking', as a result I see a lot of sentences like 'The red car is walking in the park' and to explain why this doesn't make sense in English is very difficult becuase in Spanish it makes perfect sense.

I struggle a lot with helping the students here to learn English. Many of them are eager to learn but otehrs only come to class because their parents want them to take advantage of this incredible opportunity: free English courses offered an hour a day by a native English speaker, in this country such an opportunity doesn't happen often. I want to teach them everything and to have them be really good at it, but I only have so much time, only one week of classes left, and I can only do so much before they have to help themselves. I once asked the secretary of my school why they have ther students learn English and she said because it is so important in the world. The problem though is rooted in the school system as far as I can tell. Students only have one 45 minute class a week in English and they don't review what they learn from week to week so they forget what they learned each week and move on to a new lesson, therefore never really learning anything at all. A supply English teacher at my school once told me that even in University their professor gave them all the instructions and everything in Spanish so they didn't really learn English and then their exams were written in English and they all did very poorly becuase they couldn't understand what was being asked of them. I know that I am not going to be able to change the school system in my time here, and that is not my purpose here. Instead I have made a personal goal to help these few students as much as I can in hopes that in the next school year they may be able to benefit from what I can offer them.


Yo Soy Gringa

The word here for a foreigner from the Americas is ''gringo'' or ''gringa'' if you´re a girl. My host father explained this to me in the first few weeks one night at dinner. So for the duration of my time here I am a gringa, and this is made very noticeable because of the colour of my hair, skin and eyes. On any given day walking down the street I am treated differently by all people. Some are very happy to see me, they say hi and sometimes even stop to shake my hand and ask where I am from, others look at me and look away, and still others whistle, etc. in an effort to attract my attention. At first I was very aware of the fact that I didn´t fit in, I didn´t know the customs of the country and trusted my little host sister to show me where to go because I had no idea where anything was. Now however, after being here for nearly three months I am confident in where I am going and I have learned the language well enough to get what I need and understand when someone is telling me something. It is easy for me to walk down the street and sort of forget for a few moments that I actually don´t blend in with everyone else, but I am quickly pulled back to reality by some man saying ''hello, my name is...'' in very broken English or whistling, or even sometimes walking by of group of men whose conversation stops as they all stare. But don't get me wrong, not all men are like this, some are in fact very kind gentlemen.

I asked my host sister one day if ''gringo'' was a bad word, a derogatory term, she responded no that its just a way of stating where someone is from. Coming from Canada which is such a multicultural society that you can´t guess someone's home country based on the colour of their skin, this is one thing that still bothers me a little. It isn't meant to be a derogatory term but at the same time it obviously segregates you. Also, people here assume that I know every other white person in the country. A prime example is one day I was eating lunch in a restaurant with my host family and a girl with a fair complexion and blonde hair walked in with her boyfriend speaking flawless Spanish when my host sister asked me very loudly ''is she your friend?'' I just said no and looked up at the girl to smile appologetically and even laughed a bit. I don't know why they think this, but it has happened more than once. Also, people seem to think we know everyone in the country, there was a student here a few years ago that everyone talks about named Christopher. No one knows his last name or even what province he lives in but almost everyone says ''You´re from Canada, do you know Christopher?'' so I am left to say ''no, Canada is a very big country and there are lots of people named Christopher'' which is really the best explanation I can give.

So, while I am here I will always stand out, because I will always be a 'gringa' but after living here for these three months I have come to love this country, its people and most of its customs. Even though I will never quite fully belong because of my appearance, I feel that a small part of me will always be Ecuadorian.

Summer School

So I mentioned before that now I teach summer English classes for all the students who want to come.

I teach three hours of class from Monday to Friday. I start at eight and have an hour with the 2nd and 3rd graders, a half hour break then from 9:30 to 10:30 I work with the 4th and 5th graders, again a half hour break and then from 11 to 12 I work with the 6th and 7th graders. 7th grade is the final year of elementary school here and then they have 6 years of high school before having the option of goign to university.

Most days are wonderful, the kids are fun and eager to learn. I have been finding though that the students in the oldest class are mostly there because their parents want them to be or their teachers said they should come to practice. Sometimes they are difficult to teach because they just sit and talk to each other and don´t do any work. The younger kids are on the whole pretty good, although sometimes I do have to separate them from their friends in order to make them work. I teach things like numbers, colours and shapes to the younger classes and for the older kids I teach them verbs and lots of sentence structure.

Each day I have lots of kids at every hour, I average probably about 90 students a day spread across the three hours. It is encouraging that so many students keep coming and even today, two weeks into class I still have parents coming in asking how they can register their children because they just heard about the classes. My response is always the same '' you just have to come with a notebook and a pencil.'' I am not actually sure if I am supposed to allow students from other students to come or not, I asked the secretary once and she told me the director had said only students from the Himmelman were allowed to come, but then a parent came and said he had talked to the director who had approved one of his children coming who attended a different school, so my response is always yes. To me it shouldn´t matter what school the child goes to regularly if they want to learn English, I am not going to kick them out.

Hasta luego,

July 9, 2009

Teaching at the Himmelman

My placement started in Escula Himmelman, a school in Cayambe. I was placed there as an assistant to the English teacher, but his grasp of the language is so minimal that I understand him better when he speaks to me in Spanish than when he tries to speak English to me. He has decent sentence stucture but he would always say half the words in Spanish and conjugate the verbs wrong and mispronounce almost everything. Each school day would start at 7:30and run until 12:30. This is divided into 6, 45 minute periods and a half hour recess. Each grade has 45 minutes of English class once a week, except for the grade 7s (the last grade in elementary school here) who had a double period once a week. The students all had workbooks with lessons prepared in them and activities to do after the lesson was taught. So I would go into class, the English teacher would show me which page to teach and I would basically teach the lesson. He would interject to translate everything to Spanish for the students, anad as a result they know almost no English because everything was always translated for them and they became dependent on it. As a result I worked with seventh grade students who could barely write a proper sentence and most students didn´t know the numbers from 1 to 20 in English even thought it is taught in second grade.

The school system is very different here, teachers talk on their cell phones in class and if another teacher comes to the door to ask a question, even if they are in the middle of a giving the students a dictation, the teacher will go to the door and talk to their co-worker for a while leaving the children sitting in the class. The English teacher would often be on his cell phone or texting while I was teaching lessons, he would put his phone under the teachers desk or stand at the back of the class with his back turned, I guess he thought I wouldn´t notice. He would also leave the class for long periods of time and I would have no idea where he was. Sometimes though when he left the class it was good because I could teach the lesson without him interrupting to translate everything in Spanish. Sometimes though this didn´t work out because he would still come back and translate, and everything that they had understood was immediately undone. Sometimes in the last period of the day he would let me get started then pick up his briefcase and leave, giving me instructions that if they didn´t finish their work they couldn´t go home, and then he wouldn´t come back at all, so I think he just went home early.

The students here are really aggresive, even the girls, and when a teacher leaves the classroom they go crazy. They fight with each other, full out fist fights between the boys and hair pulling and kicking from the girls. They run around the classroom stealing other students´ books. backpacks, hats anything and run around to avoid getting caught. Sometimes when the English teacher left they would be good for a while and then go crazy on me. This was the worst because I was really powerless to control them, I didn´t speak Spanish well so usually I would help those who wanted to work and let the others go as long as they weren´t killing each other. Whenever I did tell them to stop hitting each other, they would always say they were only playing.

Most days I enjoyed, if only for the odd student who worked really hard at English and I would help them because they were interested and trying hard. I had one girl come up to me in class and say ''May I please go to the baƱo please?'' I explained to her what bathroom was in English and that she didn´t need to say please twice. She didn´t understand right away but I let her go to the bathroom anyway, about ten miuntes later she said I understand now and asked me again, this time with everything correct. I asked her who taught her how to say this and she said that she studies at home by herself so she taught herself. This happened on a day when I was particularly frustrated, but after that day whenever I was frustrated I would always think of that one little girl who tried so hard. I tried to keep in mind too that there are probably more students who want to learn too so I would just keep trying.

The school year is ended now though so I am still teaching at the same school offering free summer courses for anyone who wants to come. More about that in another post :)