Wednesday, April 20, 2011

chao Ecuador

I guess I am getting senioritis with my blog entries, I was pumping out one a month but now with my time winding down in San Lorenzo I have gotten too lazy or just forgot to blog. That´s a shame for the 10 people who may have had an interest in reading about the goings on in a town of 300 people in the middle of the Ecuadorian Andes. Anyways, for my faithful reader(s) (i.e. HI MOM!) I think I should do a despedida (goodbye) just for shits and giggles.

The standard clichés of the Peace Corps Volunteer right when he or she is leaving their site is usually always the same. ¨The two years just flew by¨ or ¨It was rough at first but I really grew to love my community, host family or my projects¨ or my personal favorite ¨I wouldn´t trade this experience for anything¨. For me personally, all of those clichés have some truth in them…that´s why there are clichés in the first place. From day one in San Lorenzo, I felt comfortable with my host family and the people in general. I never felt alone (well as much as a tall gringo in the middle of a tiny Ecuadorian town in the highlands can feel) and always had a support system if I needed it. However, the truth is that I never really needed that said support system because I mentally prepared myself of life in Ecuador before I came down here. If I had 3 meals a day, running water and wasn´t cold at night, I considered it a success. Anyways, from a social standpoint, I never felt I needed to escape my site every weekend like some other PCVS tend to do.
From a work standpoint, I could either take a glass half empty or a glass half full approach. I will just say that the glass was filled 50% full. Maybe I could of done more if I came in more aggressive and forced some work, but then I wouldn´t of integrated with the community like how one should when being a gringo in a small town of 300. I always felt you needed to earn people´s trust and find out how they work and go about things instead of saying ¨okay, so here is what I need to do and you should just do what I say¨. So it´s a nice way of of saying that I slacked off the first year and didn´t do anything until the second year haha. All smart ass comments aside, I always went to bed saying that I didn´t do anything of substance that day or week, but looking back, you realize that you did more than originally thought.
Also one needs to realize that coming in as a young gringo still learning the language in a community that is not really receptive to change, that doing (or trying at least) what I did is an accomplish in and of itself. You realize that helping out building an irrigation canal or an organic family garden or teaching someone who to prepare organic fertilizers…yeah those were fine, but most people are going to remember the conversations with the gringo and learning about Los Estados Unidos and its culture. It was fun playing ambassador because I may be the only foreigner that they truly will get to know in their lives and with that comes a sense of responsibility to educate them about the good ol´ US of A.

With that, I bid you all chao…I hope all of you have enjoyed reading about my 27 month journey in Ecuador. I will be travelling for a few weeks after I leave Ecuador but this blog is called my life in Ecuador, not my life in Peru, Chile and Argentina. Plus, I will probably not feel like blogging as I am not a big writer in the first place. So with that being said, this has truly been an experience of a lifetime living and working in this beautiful and tiny South American country. The people that I have met are truly some of the most generous and happy people that I have ever met. I will remember them for the rest of my life and I wish that you all have a chance to come down and visit my home away from home sometime, mi lindo Ecuador.

Hasta luego

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

goodbye agriculture

We just had our COS (Close of Service) conference which tells me two things. One, I am almost done down here in Ecuador. Two, I NEED TO FIND A JOB NOW. Sorry for all caps on that one but its not something I´m chomping at the bit to do now. During our COS conference, while being flooded with all sorts of paperwork (do you realize we have to sign a form that requires us to fly an american carrier back to the states? take that TACA airlines! you´re not getting my money!) before we leave at peace corps volunteers, we were informed that the sustainable agriculture program is going to be terminated in the next two years. The group of volunteers that are in training right now are the last AG volunteers to enter the country. This means in a few years there won´t be any more volunteers that do what I (and many other talented gringos) do in Ecuador.
Agriculture has been in Ecuador since the inception of Peace Corps Ecuador, 50 years ago. There have been TWO program managers in Agriculture in this time, while other programs have had that many program managers in the last two years. It certainly is a sad day as the AG staff (especially our program managers Nelson and Eduardo) are two of the best that PC Ecuador has. The reason behind the move is that there are so many sites in Ecuador and not enough qualified applicants to fill the positions from the US. From that perspective it does make sense because not many people focus their careers on agriculture. A lot of the volunteers that came down here for training don´t know how to prune a tree. Second, Peace Corps Ecuador is adding a program, Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). Now, it could be said that I have already been apart of that program for the last two years, even though I am an agriculture volunteer. The Peace Corps wants to focus its resources on Health, Small Businesses, Natural Resources and English in the near future. I have always wondered why Peace Corps is even in Ecuador in the first place. There is a reason why it is called posh corps. Lots of volunteers live in the city in nice apartments with wireless that really a peace corps experience? Meanwhile, in the areas where volunteers are needed, volunteers can´t go there because of safety concerns. So it has become a double edged sword here in Ecuador.
Oh, and we´re a few weeks away from Carnaval here in Guaranda, I can´t wait for the debuachery.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Back in Ecuador

I ended up going home to southern California for Christmas and new years and you always hear about the term ¨culture shock¨, in which a person who has been living abroad comes home after awhile and is in shock at everything. Being home for two and a half weeks, there were some moments where it felt weird, but then again, growing up and living in southern California, you can´t be too shocked after living in a Latin American country and coming home. Seeing as how half of the kids that I spoke to at my mom´s middle school speak Spanish, there really isn´t too much culture shock in there.
It definitely felt good to be home (or close to it) for two and a half weeks and not eat white rice twice a day and see all of my family and friends for Christmas and new years. Though it did not feel like I was back in the United States, more like on a vacation and I was at LAX again back on a plane back to Ecuador. On my first leg of my trip back to Ecuador, I got bumped up to first class (first time ever!) because a family wanted to sit together and I was taking one of the spots. However, my flight left at 1:30AM so I couldn´t really enjoy all the immenities of a first class passenger because I wanted to sleep the whole time. Though I must say the leg room was a nice plus and the breakfast Belgian waffles were superb! Plus all the evil stares from the economy class passengers as they walked by made me feel like a pompous trust fund kid, so that’s always fun!
So now its back my little pueblo of San Lorenzo as I am going to try to make one final push here in these last few months to make a positive impact on the community. There will not be another gringo or gringa coming in to fill my spot in May so I would really like to put my ¨stamp¨ on the community while ALSO trying to find a job in this wonderful whimisical world we call the US economy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Thanksgiving and A Census

I may have mentioned this before, but it always feels weird to spend US holidays in a foreign country, especially with a holiday like Thanksgiving, which is truly an american holiday. Last year I happen to be travelling around because my brother came down to visit, this year I decided to impart some American culture on the lovely people of San Lorenzo. The thing that surprised me the most is that when talking to some of the people in my community, they knew what Thanksgiving was or should we say…el dia de accion de gracias. They didn´t know the history behind the holiday but realized that it was an American holiday where we eat turkey. I guess some American stereotypes shown on TV down here trickle down the countryside as well!
Anyways, I decided to cook a typical Thanksgiving dinner for my host family because their concepts of American Food are hamburgers and hot dogs (which is kind of sad that they are true about that part). To find a turkey, I decided to chop down a tree, whittle a bow and arrow out of it, then just go Rambo style and hunt a wild turkey out in the country…but then I woke up haha (it would be awesome to do that though). The truth is that finding a turkey in the local market or grocery store was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. Most Ecuadorians do eat turkey during the holiday season, but usually it is for Christmas, not thanksgiving. They start offering turkeys on December 1st…nearly a week after Thanksgiving. Luckily, I did find one place that was selling parts of turkey, not the whole bird, so I was happy to at least find turkey, but then I had to explain to my host family that usually we have the whole bird, not just parts. Starting to cook at 10am, I cooked about 12 pieces of turkey, made a pumpkin pie from scratch (even the crust although the pumpkin I found was a little different than the dark orange ones found in the states), mashed potatoes, and a mushroom casserole (though I couldn´t find those crispy things that you put on the casserole). I finally finished at 5pm and we ate shortly thereafter. The cool thing was the my host mom and brother asked a lot of questions about Thanksgiving and what we were supposed to do (can we drink this? Why do we eat this type of food? Ect) and it turned out to be a great cultural experience. Plus, I got a big thumbs up about the pumpkin pie…I was a little worried because I had never made pumpkin pie from scratch before!
The other thing that happened recently was the national census happened here in Ecuador. The Peace Corps informed us to be ready to answer questions orally plus do a survey on a scantron type form. I was ready to inform them that I am a government spy being sent to a small country town to infiltrate any and all citizens and then extract oil for our big oil companies in Ecuador´s rainforest…but I think drawing attention to myself when I am already a tall pale skinned gringo probably wouldn´t be the best idea. It was actually pretty boring, I never talked to the census people because maria Elena told them that I live with her and that I am leaving in April anyways, so what is the point exactly?
I bet it was a treat for some of the census people though. I talked with a director of a school in which I do a school garden (in a small community outside of san Lorenzo) and she told me she had to ride a horse for 5 hours one way just to get to some of the houses that they had to census. That’s a devoted citizen! I am pretty sure she wasn´t paid for that. Anyways, I am not sure if I am going to do another blog entry before I head back to the states in two weeks (can’t wait!) for Christmas and News Years. Should be interesting seeing how things have changed since I have been gone…

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A wedding

Seeing as how peace corps volunteers live in their respective countries for 2 or sometimes 3 years, they meet people from the country that they live in. Most become acquaintances, some become friends, some become a boyfriend or girlfriend…and then there are those special times when you find your soul mate and decide to marry them. That just happened to a volunteer here in Ecuador…and unfortunately it is not me (still searching ha ha). It happened to be my friend Laura (who lived in the same community as me-Pesillo-during our training days) and I honestly could not be happier for her. I had never been to a wedding in Ecuador…especially one with a gringa marrying an Ecuadorian, so going in I was thinking it was going to be an experience. Boy was it ever.

The wedding was located in Puyo, the largest city in the Ecuadorian oriente (Amazon region), just on the cusp on the Amazon rain forest. There is nothing like the beauty of the rainforest and the ride from the highlands dropping into the rainforest is really breathtaking. The energy within the volunteers who made it was palapable, you could feel it in the air. Plus to top it off…I was asked to be an usher…you know I didn´t turn down THAT opportunity. It was a catholic ceremony and was surprisingly short and to the point although it was done all in Spanish and I am not sure some of Laura´s family and friends could understand it. That is beside the point however because actions have more meaning than words. Fast forward to the reception…my work is done and its time to get to the speeches. Only in a wedding like this do you get the bride, groom, maid of honor, and best man´s speeches translated by one of the volunteers (good job Lydia!). I don´t why…but I found this unforgettable, the groom´s speech was especially good. Then came the first dance ( a slow dance with a mix of bachata…because its Ecuador) and the booze starts flowing. You know it is an Ecuadorian wedding when the caterers are giving out shots of whiskey and water and we are gathered around in a circle dancing or talking and that the standard wedding gift was 20 dollars in a envelope (hey, we make 300 dollars a month, what do you expect?). Back to the shot giving, that is how we drink in Ecuador, no one has their individual drink, there is one selected person who serves you a shot of beer, wine, or hard stuff in a cup and then it gets passed to the next person in the circle. It gets a little getting used to…but now I don´t know of another way to drink! Anyways, meeting the groom´s family and friends was fun, his family is from the coast (esmereldas, where the population is predominately afro-ecuadorian) and Columbia, though he is Ecuadorian and they relocated to Puyo. There is a unjustified stereotype of Columbians in Ecuador and I was happy to let them know that no, I don´t think you are a criminal and I just want to be your friend.

Overall, the wedding was a blast and I hope for the best Laura and Rodrigo… que el matrimonio dure para siempre.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

crazy times

I guess you´re really not a peace corps volunteer until the country you´re working in has an attempted presidential assassination attempt, right? I mean, that should be one of the requisites besides learning a new language, awkward conversations with drunk people, planned projects that don´t go according to plans and being asked to translate ¨Billy Jean¨ or other Michael Jackson songs to Spanish. I don´t want to brag…but I´m pretty good on the latter subject. Anyways, here is the story about this presidential assassination attempt. Apparently, President Correa and the fellow assemblymen want to lower the wages of the national police force and lets just say that the lovely men and woman of the national police force are not too pleased with these turn of events. For the last couple of days, in every major city there have been marches and protests by the police force and their allies. The other day I happened to be Guaranda when one of these lovely marches passed and I have to give it to the people of Ecuador, they know how to protest and march with the best of them. }
Well yesterday (sept 30th) they was a giant protest and rally in Quito, the nation´s capital and home of President Correa. He gave an impassioned speech (on a side note, latin American presidents really know how to make emotional speeches, nearly screaming at the crowd of people below them) about peace and tranquility but I don´t think it mattered. As he was trying to get through the mob to make another speech, somebody decided to drop tear gas around the group of people that happened to include the president. The president, obviously not wearing a gas mask, sustained some respiratory injuries and was immediately rushed to the nearby hospital. Not deterred, he continued to talk to the media while recuperating in the hospital, take that national police force! The ironic thing about the whole situation is that the people who protect Correa on a daily basis where the people who were trying to take him out, unbelievable. I don´t understand it, you´re unhappy with your wages and decide to make a pre-emptive strike on your country´s leader? Lets face it, judging by what I have seen from the National Police Force, I´m not sure that they should be asking for MORE wages, just sayin´.
It does not stop there, in Guayaquil, with the police protesting and making their opinions known, many people decided to start vandalizing buildings and stealing items from local supermarkets, mom and pop stores, even mcdonalds! I guess stealing stuff makes you want to have a big mac or quarter pounder with cheese. Businesses, public transportation, schools and airports were shut down on that Thursday (30th) for fear of more unsavory activity. Suffice to say, I am not allowed to go anywhere (especially the major cities like Quito or Guayaquil) until everything calms down. Luckily…the news is saying things are getting back to normal (at least in Guayaquil) slowly and surely, we´ll see. In other news, things in San Lorenzo couldn´t be more calmer, all the kids are excited because they have the day off (writing this on a Friday) and don´t have to go to school…you know, the whole ¨get the day off because the president was almost assassinated!¨ day, we never got those days in the states. Good times…but not really.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

bus riding

One of the things that I love about Ecuador and one of the things I prefer in Ecuador over the US is the public transportation system. You literally can find a bus that goes to every single hole in the whole town of 200 people in the middle of nowhere everyday because of the fact that only people with money have cars (and that means a large percentage of the population rides in a bus) and two…Ecuador is a very small country (the size of Nevada or Colorado). For this reason, you can get from one part of the country (say the coast) to the other side of the country (the amazon jungle) in one day by riding the bus…and that is with going over the andes mountains. So being a peace corps volunteer and not being allowed to drive a car, I frequently take the bus if I need to go somewhere…and I really enjoy it, here is why:
1. Bus drivers and their crew: Ecuadorian bus drivers can be a dicey proposition sometimes but I can safely say that I haven´t been in an accident while riding in a bus. Most of the highways here are two laners and the bus drivers love to play chicken with oncoming traffic, I am thinking they get bored with the endless driving they have to do and can´t afford speed pills so playing games with oncoming traffic helps keep the edge. A bus driver always has an ayudante (a helper) that comes around and collects the passenger´s fares. These guys need to know all the prices from every imaginable stop because the bus makes a lot of stops…I mean a lot of them. They all yell out the major destinations while hanging out of the bus. For example, if I am going to Guayaquil from Quito…he´d probably be yelling ¨Ambato! Riobamba! Guayaquil!¨ or something like that. Usually the ayudante is a younger guy…I always thought this would be a pretty cool summer job if I was in high school. Plus, when the ayudante has nothing to do, he usually hits on the hottest looking female in the bus, which isn´t bad either.
2. Venders: This is one of the first things you´ll notice while travelling on the bus, people will try to sell you anything. Bus rides here don´t have layovers in large cities where you can stop and have a bit to eat. So usually, the food comes to you. Any type of food is sold, from candy to potato chips to secos de pollo (chicken and rice) to banana bread to drinks. But it´s not just food they try to sell you…movies, music, herbal remedies, Colombian cocaine(kidding)…you name it, you can buy it on a bus here. Sometimes people will randomly get on the bus, make a 5 or 10 minute speech about their product (and how their relative is terminally ill or they are) and try to get the sympathy buy. Usually it works on me…but the ginseng tea is tremendous!
3. The People in General: This is the favorite part of riding the bus for me personally. People seem to be a little more open and friendly in this country and it´s not uncommon to have a long conversation with a stranger on the bus. It probably helps that I´m a gringo and people are interested in what the hell I´m doing in their country. People don´t pop in their ipods and tune out the world (although some people do this). Sometimes I´ll sit next to a drunk who wants to try out their English skills on me. Usually the standard conversation is:


Me: Sir, please calm down, yes I can teach you a few words


Me: very good

Drunk: How do you say ¨I want to have sex with you¨ in English?

Other times I will sit next to an indigenous person who speaks kichwa and likes to look at me, then say something to their friends, look at me, and then laugh. I feel out of the loop in this conversation. Now I know how the people in my community feel when I speak English around them.

Riding the bus isn´t always fun, especially for a gringo. When i find a seat, I usually can´t stretch out my gigantic legs unless there is no one sitting next to me. And if I don´t find a seat, a lot of times i can´t stand up straight because the bus is not big enough for my height (this is usually a problem taking the bus back to san lorenzo). But then again...I am really going to miss this interactions when I go back to the states and am stuck in traffic for two or three hours a day…