Departure! The countdown is on...

June 30, 2009

Fast Forward

So its almost the end of June, holy time has flown.

Today was the official last day of school and I attend the graduation ceremony of all the grade 7 students, including my host sister. The ceremony was pretty similar to in Canada. They sang the national anthem, gave out only one award to the student with the highest marks and he was also valedictorian. The poor boy though got so nervous that he forgot his speech, which was only memorized and not on paper, but everyone was sympathetic towards him and clapped. Then the principal made some remarks, which I understood very little of, One of the grade 7 teachers made some more remarks and they handed out the diplomas. To hand out the diplomas they called up 4 students at a time, had one parent tie a dark blue cape around their shoulders, then a teacher put the grad cap on their heads and gave them their diploma, they turned to face everyone, had pictures taken and headed back to their seats. The entire ceremony was outside, and it started to rain, so the students' diploma´s were getting wet so one parent went and collected them all back up so they wouldn't be ruined. Thankfully, it stopped raining later on and the sun came out so they were able to celebrate without getting soaked. After the ceremony, each of the 4 grade 7 classes had a feast in their classroom with all the students and their parents. I went to the teacher's feast and later to my sister´s classroom. As soon as I got there they tried to give me another heaping plate of food (they like to feed people excessive amounts of food here) and then when everyone was finished eating they turned on music brought out a bunch of beer and started dancing. No kidding, beer at the school for the parents and they like to try to force it on people, but thankfully my host parents said I couldn´t so they stopped trying to get me to drink. However, because of my skin, hair and eye colour, I am considered very pretty and they all wanted to see me dance so I ended up dancing a whole bunch with the parents of the kids in the class. My feet were so tired, I was very happy when my host parents said it was time for us to go.

I am going to fast forward throught the month of June and just write some of the major events and then keep posting to keep caught up with current events, instead of always being behind:

June 1st - This is international children´s day so at the school this morning their were several speeches and one of the classes did a presentation. Also, a lot of the classes had fiesta´s put on by their teachers with food, I was invited to one of the grade 7 classes and given chicken, potatoes, molte (a food made from corn that is like wet popcorn, it tastes pretty good), and cooked banana, of course served in a small plastic bag like most street food is here. It is very common to put food into plastic bags, and whenever their is a fiesta people take their leftovers home in plastic bags.

weekend of June 6th - all of us Candians went to Otavalo for the weekend. We saw the huge open market place and all of teh booths, it is beautiful. I finally bought postcards to send home to people. We stayed in a hostal and tried to take advantage of sleeping in but only actually slept until about 7 o'clock. On Sunday morning, I went to church with one of the other students. The churches here are very large and very beautifully decorated. I have pictures so I will have to post them soon.

Wednesday, June 10 - we were on the bus to go home after school, they had people packed in as much as possible, when a police officer came along, inspected the bus and said it wasn´t allowed to leave. So everyone had to get off and wait for another bus to come. Finally, another bus came and once everyone was on, it was also inspected and they told everyone to get off. As people were unloading though I guess they changed their minds because they told us to get back on again. By the time we finally got home it was past 2:30 (normally we are home by 1:30), my host mom was very worried about us, and I was starving!

June 12 - my host family planted potatoes today and I helped! It was fun. They said they can plant and harvest all year round. Potatoes take 7 months to grow so my family will harvest them in December and then they can plant more. It seems so starnge to me to be able to plant and harvest all year round. I explained to my host fmaily that in Canada you have to plant in the spring so things are ready to harvest in the fall and then you can eat or feed your animals all winter from the food you have stored up. Of course this concept was also very strange for them.

June 13 - Today after lunch I was feeling really sick. I had a really sore stomach and threw up once. By the time it was about 10 o´clock at night I was in a lot of pain and couldn't sleep, so I told my host mom I was sick. She got really worried and told my host dad. There were some aunts, uncles cousisn and grandparents at my house because my host mom's brother had come to visit from Quito and he only visits once every three years. Of course, hearing I was sick sort of broke up the party. They told me to go back to my bed and my grandmother came in with an egg to rub all over me (it was sitll in its shell), then my host mom came in with a bunch of leaves from outside, which my grandmother also rubbed all over me. My host dad was drunk from drinking beer all afternoon with the guests, and was sitting on the edge of my bed saying things that were suppsoded to be comforting but often made me laugh. He lept saying you´re strong, you´re strong and you´re my daughter, I´m your father over and over again, and 'que linda, que bonita' which translates to how beautiful, how pretty. Then they gave me alka seltzer to drink, I don´t know why, but it tasted horrible and was triggering my gag reflex, I managed to drink about half of it. During all of this on e of my aunts, and two cousins were all in my room along with my host dad, mom and grandmother, so on top of being sick, I had a huge audience. I woke up feeling quite a bit better and haven´t been sick since, so thank goodness :)

Sunday, June 21 - Today all of the students and I went to see one of the mountains that is snow capped. My host dad was acting as a guide and my host brother and sister, and my grandma and a couple of cousins came along at the last minute. We rode in the back up a pick-up truck, a very common way to travel here and took tons of pictures. We had lunch in a house at the base of the mountain and then started climbing towards the peek. It was hard because the altitude made breathign difficutl and we weren´t really prepared for mountain climbing. We were wearing running shoes for the most part and most of us didn´t have mittens. The children who came were also very underdressed for how cold it was so we ended up giving them all of the extra clothing we brought along and also a couple students took off their coats to give to the kids. The view though was breath taking, we were in the clouds and could watch them drifting past below us. We took lots of pictures so I will post them as well.

June 26 - We all travelled to Quito, the capital city, for the weekend to celebrate Canada Day. The chamber of commerce put on a pancake breakfast and some events for the day. The pancakes were awesome but the syrup was aunt Jemima lite, ew. I was definitely wishing I had been smart enought ot bring some of the maple syrup that I brought from home. oh well.

June 29 - today was the festival of San Pedro, a huge festival in Cayambe. There is a huge parade and groups of people from all of the surrounding communities dance. I danced as a part of a community that is higher up than Convalescencia (where I live) because they didn´t have a group. Four of the other students danced with Santa Isabel because that is the community that they live in. I will write mroe about this in a separate post.

Well, that is June in a nutshell. More to come about my placement, host family and everything that happens in July!



June 16, 2009


This is incredibly long overdue, I am so sorry that I really haven´t been blogging at all.

As a result of being so far behind I am going to put in excerpts from journal entries that highlight some of the main things I have experienced so far and I will include separate entries to tell you all about my host family, my work placement and my sort of daily life here.

I´ll start at the beginning:

There are 8 students here in Ecuador representing three universities in Ontario and one in Saskatchewan. We all flew together from Toronto to Quito, Ecuador on May 5th. Upon arrival in Quito we were picked up at the airport by the supervisor of FRI (Fundacion Reto International - the organization here) and we stayed in a hostal in Quito for two days for a brief orientation. Our language training consisted of a three hour Spanish class in Quito on our second afternoon, and on May 7th just after lunch we all loaded into a large van to drive to Cayambe to meet our host families. The next morning was to be our first day in our work placements.

Wed May 6th, 2009: I am up in the mountains, so the altitude is taking some adjusting to. Today, walking up 2 flights of stairs is extremely hard work and leaves me panting and tired. I am a toss up of emotions for meeting my host family tomorrow but am ultimately looking forward to it. Quito is a beautiful city and all of the landscape I´ve seen so far is breathtaking. It´s hard to believe though that I´m in a whole different country for three months, not just visiting somewhere for a few days.

Thurs May 7th, 2009: Today we met our host families. I was the 2nd last to be dropped off so I was able to see where almost everyone else will eb living, and I am not too far away, though it is a steep hill to walk up. All of the families that I met were beautiful people.
My own host family is also incredible. Leticia is 11 and Jhon 7 (not 17 as I was told prior to my srrival, oh well). My family likes to joke alot, Leti loves to learn English and they are kind to me with my incredibly broken Spanish.
My work placement starts tomorrow. I will be working at a school in downtown Cayambe helping the Englsih teacher to teach classes. Leticia and Jhon go to the school where I will be working and they are very happy to be taking me with them. All tonight they kept chanting my name. Both children are precious.
I am told that tomorrow I have to wake up at 5:30am to catch the bus at 6:30 to go to school. I am more nervous for this than I was to meet my family today.

* * *
Fri May 8th: A wishy-washy sort of day. Exciting but frustrating. I had my first day in placement at ''escuela himmelman''. The children were mesmerized by me, in the schoolyard they would always gather around me and ask my name, where I was from and my age. By halfway through the day I could hear my name being repeated over and over again by all of the children. I was invited to play hopscotch by a group of girls, the rules are different than when I used to play, but one girl would demonstrate and then I would copy. I accompany the English teacher to all of the classes, each grade has a workbook with lessons and activities in it, so I teach the lesson and then walk around the class and help the children to complete the activity. The teachers had a Mother´s day celebration which was interesting for me, because they had some speakers in and the only word I could understand was 'mother'.
Sun May 10th: Today is Mother´s day and I am missing my family. I went to church this morning with my host sister Leticia, it was nice but not the same because the traditions are different and I don´t understand a lot of it. I didn´t understand any of the homily but I tried to follow as best as I could and I say the responses in my head in English.
This afternoon we went across the field to visit my host mother´s family. I met a bunch of cousins and a couple of aunts and uncles and my host mother´s mom. I playe doutside for a while with the cousins and that was a lot of fun. With children the best part is that you don´t really need a lot of words to communicate, you just watch what they´re doing and copy.
Yesterday I went to Catechism with my little sister and actually really liked it. They were talking about the sacrament of reconciliation, the mortal sins, and how our bodies are God´s temple. Also they talked about the Bible passage where it says that if there is even one good person in a city, that city will be saved.
Tomorrow I will learn how to wash my laundry after school! I am actually very excited for this.
Tues May 12th: On the weekend we had no water from Saturday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. There was a break in the line, so we had to walk up to a neighbour who lived above the break to get water. Again on Monday morning the was no water, so needless to say I didn´t learn how to wash my clothes.
Today I moved all of my things out of my bags and into the dresser that my host family has for me. It felt like moving in since I am no longer living out of a backpack.
I don´t always understand what my family asks me so usually I just say yes. AS a result I sometimes agree to things without having any idea what I am agreeing to or thinking I agreed to something and finding it was not at all what I thougth it was. THis is how I found myself walking up the mountain to the neighbours with water buckets with my host brother and sister. This is also how I ended up walking across the road to do what I thought was say hi to the neighbours and take the some rice, and I ended up carrying wooden fence posts back to our house to use as fire wood later on. I also accidently told my family that I don´t like pop when they offered me coca-cola because all pop here is called 'cola'. This however, is not really a bad thing because they drink pop fairly often and I would rather just drink water.
Yesterday I went to milk the cows. It is a VERY long walk. The cows are all in an open pasture. They have a wooden trough where they put grain for one cow to eat at a time and then tie the cows back legs together and milk it while it eats. I helped to milk one of the cows, but my hands cramped up because I have not milked by hand in a very long time and I was extremely slow in comparison to them. My host dad goes every morning and night on his motorcycle and my host mom goes at night. My host dad kept wanting me to ride on the motorcycle so I wouldn´t have to walk all the way but I am very afraid to do this. They ride most often without helmets and they drive pretty fast.
Thurs May 14th: I am at the coast, on a class trip with Leticia´s class. It is like their graduation trip, they left on WEdnesday night and will get back on Friday night. Our hotel is about 2 blocks from the beach so we went to the beach before breakfast and spent pretty much all day there except for when we went for our meals. After dinner we went fora walk and saw an exhibit with sea horses, star fish, sea turtles, crabs and all kinds of other sea creatures. They let me hold a giant living shell wihch was pretty cool.
There are several classes here together and one of the teacher´s brought his wife and two kids. HIs wife is very kind to me and explains everythign to me very slowly so that I understand what is going on. Her daughter is 17 so we spent a lot of time together on the beach.
This is my frst time at the ocean, and it is beautiful. The water is so warm and the waves are huge, and so much fun. We have to be careful thought becuase they are also very strong and many of the kids aren´t very good swimmers.
Fri May 15th: We spent the morning at the beach and left after lunch. On the way home we stopped for dinner and all the kids were excited for hamburgers but we had full chicken dinner, with rice and soup. The soup had an entire chicken foot in it: claws and all. I almost gagged but ate out the rice and carrots and said I couldn´t eat any more. We got back to Cayambe around 10:30 and I was so tired.
Sat 16: I did my laundry this morning, for the second time. I actually really enjoy doing it by hand, but I am very slow. I am finally reading Race Against Time, and am really enjoying it.
This afternoon we went to a fiesta in Santa Isabel - one of the host communities where 4 students live - we danced, had some traditional corn juice called Chicha, and then went home again. Almost all of the Canadian students were there so it was a lot of fun.
* * *
Wed May 20: This morning at school all of the kids brought in their parents´macheties, brooms, garden hoes and grain bags and the morning was spent with teachers taking their classes out into the road, where the students ´cleaned up´the school by chopping down all the long grass growing along the school walls and on the median in the road. For the first half of the day there were no classes while the children worked. I really wanted to ask if I could take pictures, but thought it might be inappropriate, so I refrained and stood watching, absolutely incredulous.
Also today, two doctors came to the school looking for me. One of the Canadian students was sick and went to the hospital. She had flu like symptoms, so they thought she had the swine flu and sent her to Quito (the capital) for testing and then quarantined the rest of us for three days. I was told to go home, put on the face mask they had given to my host parents and not to leave my house, they would come in the morning to ask some questions.
Fri 22: The doctors came around today and told us that the other student´s tests had come back negative, so we were free from quarantine. I did a lot of reading in the day and a half that I had to stay home and enjoyed not having to wake up at 5:30 to go to school. It´s kind of funny how I now consider sleeping until 7:00 sleeping in, while at school I din´t wake up before at least 7:30 unless I had to.
Sat 23: Leticia had her first communion today. The service is very similar to in Canada. All the girls wear everything white, and most of them wear veils and gloves. There were two girls though who wore the traditional dress, one wore a green skirt and the other a red skirt with white blouses and gold necklaces. Most of them wear rosaries around their necks too. Leticia forgot hers so I let her borrow the one that I always carry with me, it was one that Uncle Peter brought back from Rome. They were very exctied.
At night I rode the horse for the first time and went to see the cows again. John rode on the horse behind me and my host parents took the motorcycle.
Tues 26: The English teacher was sick today and another teacher didn´t come in to school. There was a substitute for the English teacher and the director of the school took me to the other teacher´s cless and asked me to speak English to the children. So I taught an English class thinking it would just be one class and then I would go to the next class, but instead I was expected to be the substitute teacher in that class for the day. The morning went fairly well but after recess was relatively disastrous. Try controlling a class full of energectic children in a language you don´t speak well. And then try to teach them a natural sciences lesson on the different states of water - that didn´t go too badly because I know about the states of water in English so could explain with the help of their textbook for the Spanish words - but giving a Social Sciences lesson on the 24 provinces of Ecuador and their capitals and telling a little bit about each one was absolutely out of the question. Thankfully another teacher stopped in to see how things were going and he gave the lesson and got the children settled down again. I was so so thankful. As we were leaving he said to me 'you just have to keep them busy, thats all', I was a little frustrated and just said to him 'but thats difficult when I don´t speak Spanish very well.' He seemed to understand.
Wed 27: Today it rained a lot, and was very cold. When it rains a lot the bus can´t make it up the steep path to the community where I live so this morning we had to walk down to the next community to catch the bus. Tahnkfully this afternoon it had dried enought for the bus to make it back up though so we didn´t have to walk back up.
Fri 29: Today was a field trip day for the entire school. There were no classes because every class went somewhere. Jhon´s class went to a town called Oyacatchi where there are hot springs and Leti´s class went to a pool. I went with another class on a walk up a mountain and into the tropical rainforest. It was really neat but I had planned on goign to hte pool with Leti´s class and changed plans last minute becuase walking in the forest sounded like more fun, as a result I was completely unprepared, but thankfully the teacher who invited me gave me water to drink and food for snack. The elevation gave me a bit of a headache and the student´s too. We had a guide who took us into the forest and to a waterfall, it was beautiful though very tiring. We walked for about 4 hours.
Sat 30 - Today I went to Otavalo with one of the otehr students, Daniel, and his host mom and sister. It is a town known for its huge open market, and was absolutely beautiful. WHere the marketplace is there are vendor stalls set up all in the streets and in a sort of town square area. They have all kinds of beautiful things, fabrics, bracelets and lots of souvenir-type items. It is a huge tourist attraction andwe saw lots of otehr ´gringos´ - white people - which was actually kind of odd. Also, we could overhear conversations in English, which again, after being in a community where we are pretty much the only light skinned, English speaking people, it was actually kind of a weird experience.
Sun 31 - I went to church this morning again with Leti. We get a ride into church in the truck that comes around to pick up their milk and then we take the bus back home after. I usually call home after church too, which I enjoy.
Juan, the program supervisor here in Ecuador, came for his first house visit to make sure everything is going well for us today. When he came, I was making sand castles on a pile of gravel with my brother and sister out of plastic cups. They were trying to build a pyramid but it kept toppling over by about the third level. It was a lot of fun though.