Semana siete: el final y un cambio

This was my last week with my family and the children in San Alberto. Everyone was wonderful and I cried at least three times while saying goodbye. I know I’m going to come back. I loved it and will miss everything about that wonderful mountainous paradise.

The last week the teacher let us spend a lot of time drawing and playing together. I gave the children the gifts I had brought for them: candy(which I’m sure the teacher was not super thrilled over), books, puzzles, and two laptop computers loaded with educational(and some not so educational) software and games. The kids were intimidated and unbelievably excited. The older kids were the first ones to really start going through the fifty or so games. The immediate favorites were burgertime, the old style arcade game, and the painting software which made animal noises when they used stamps. While the older kids browsed through games, the younger kids and I built each jigsaw puzzle at least five times. They had never seen them and were just like children who had never used puzzles before, they tried to jam any possible pieces together. A few of them caught on to what I was trying to explain about finding matching elements and they began to teach the others. It was nice to see everyone getting along and working together to figure it out. I showed the older kids some of the more educational games. They were pretty impressed by a math game that gives you short arithmetic problems that they then must provide the answer for. If they get the question right a laser shoots the problem off the screen. The teacher started to use the game to test their math, and simultaneously keep them occupied while she instructed another group.

I think one of the most rewarding moments was when Vanessa and Samira found the geography software and got to zoom in and out of different parts of the world. They zoomed in one the states and asked where I was from. When I told them they proceeded to search for at least ten minutes to find Florida. Just the other day I had been trying to explain different continents to them using the well-loved classroom globe, now I could highlight different areas, zoom in on continents and get them to appreciate the vastness of the world. When they finally found Florida Vanessa commented that it was so far away and told me I had to come back to visit. Of course I promised her I would come back. I can’t wait to see how everyone is doing in however many years. I think I’m most excited to see how the children grow and what kind of people they become.

Leaving was incredibly sad, the girls all took turns giving me a hug and the boys all refused. Except for Ariel the quietest and youngest boy of the class who walked up and hugged me with the most serious face. They asked twenty or so times why I had to go and if I was going to return next week. When I explained that I had my own classes I had to take they looked shocked and asked how a teacher would have to take classes. I left them and they all stood by the window watching and waving to me as I walked away. Saying goodbye to my family was even harder. I will miss Hilda’s cooking and laughs, Vicente’s infinite knowledge and Nachi’s patience with my spanish. Of course I cried again, I know I am definitely going back.

The last week will be a complete change of life. Ned, the program director, recommended I stay with an indigenous family. I met with Rafael, a yachak or natural medicine healer Saturday and started to share my interests for my last week with Intagtour. I definitely miss my family and the kids a lot but it should be a fun last chapter to the adventure.

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Semana seis: empuja chenchita empuja!

A week of ups and downs here in the mountains. The students are all absolutely lovely, and everyday I have a little squirming body in my lap while I am drawing for three others. What surprises me most nowdays is who is going to reach out to me. Last week Cyntia was costantly hovering around, getting yelled at because she had not finished her work. Vanessa constantly follows me around during recess. However, Samira has lately been by my side at every opportunity she has. She excitedly talks to me nonstop, which means there is very little clarity in prounciation. However, she doesn’t seem to mind that I only understand half of what she is saying. I think she is just glad someone will pay attention to her. On Wednesday all of the children had left with the teacher for physical education, I was monitoring the classroom when Samira came in late to school. When I told her where all the others were she told me she didn’t want to go running and sat at my table and took out her coloring supplies. She talked about everything, her family, the party last night, the homework, how she wants to go to Quito to visit her brother, anything she thought of. I listened and asked her questions when I didn’t understand, and those questions only caused her to speak faster, which in turn led to more questions. She mentioned that her family had made chicha for the party, a traditional drink which is made from a variety of leaves and sugar. She took out a bottle and immediately insisted it was mine. I took it and the next day returned it with some lemonade. She was extremely surprised but then went around sharing it with anyone who wanted some. Afterwards she gave me half of her gum and ran. This week we played a lot of Bingo, except instead of five in a row being the winner, they like to play until the entire board is filled. Which, I think is better because it gets them exposed to a larger English vocabulary. Romel is improving daily and will answer questions I am giving to the older kids. They have taken to asking for his help with English homework, which I’m sure makes him feel very smart.

When I came back from the village last Sunday I immediately went to check on the pig who has been pregnant for the entire time I have been here, and was due any day. I climbed up to where she is kept and found she already had two piglets! I ran to find my sister as my prents had not yet returned. Together we helped the chenchita give birth to eight adorable babies. Mom was exhausted and would not push hard enough so we had to forcibly push on her abdomen to supplement her effort. Nachi said that if we had not arrived they would have died. We worked for an hour and when she started to deliver the placenta we eased up and focused on cutting umbilical cords. About ten minutes later she delivered one other, he was already dead. A shame since he was the biggest and would have sold for a greater price. All the others are doing just fine now and explore everything and anything. Mami is a great mother and will defend her babies from anyone and anything, except when you distract her with food. On a down for the week, the dogs have disappeared. First, Pelito did not return after chasing an animal, and then the next day Loba and Bobi also did not return. The family thinks they chased an animal into its den and got stuck. I tried to find them but their property is vast and its been days. I am heartbroken by this but the family has accepted this as part of their life here. Apparently other dogs have disappeared like this also.

Another up, this week I learned how to make quimbolitos, essentially cake cooked in banana leaves. They were absolutely delicious and I am pretty sure I ate six.

One of the best parts about coming into the town on Sundays, besides emailing my family, is seeing my students. When they recognize me they smile and immediately point me out to any family they are with. They are incredibly shy and when I ask how they are, they will say bueno and then run away so I don’t ask the any more questions. It’s cute.

Well I am getting kicked out of the internet cafe so hasta luego, que le vaya muy bien!

Semana cinco:

So I swear people here are part mountain goat. They just run up and down hills like they are flat surfaces. And they are most definitely not. Usually the owner of whatever property will use a machete to carve out stairs of a sorts, which are uneven and extremely slippery when wet. This past week I tried to mountain goat my way down the path as I was late for school. I ended up slipping and sliding my way down. The children thought it was pretty funny that I was covered in mud. My mom did too, she laughed so hard she had tears in her eyes.
So this week the señorita Monica was unable to teach classes Monday which meant I had the key for the day. I was in charge of instructing thirty children in Spanish. I definitely had my work cut out for me and spent the day as Monica normally does, bouncing from group to group trying to keep them focused and busy. We learned fractions and planets, addition and English phrases, a little scientific method, and there was a lot of soccer. By the end of the day I was exhausted, but I only had to teach one by myself so they couldn’t have suffered too much. I locked up and left. Tuesday when I showed up, the door was still locked and Monica had not returned. Well here we go again. They were completely unable to focus. They refused to sit still and I had to physically separate Daymili from Darwin who were trying to stab each other with pencils. I now think that children are like computers, they can sense anxiety and show no mercy. I went over Ecuadorian culture and did some language. I found out that most kids do not start to read until they are ten or so, which I find absolutely horrible as all of their workbooks are designed for them to read much earlier. Instead I have to do their work for them, walking them through every problem and writing the answers on the board so they can copy meaningless letters into their books. I called it a day half an hour early, which seemed to please them just fine.
Wednesday I was on my own again, which I decided was fine. I focused on what I could teach best, Math, Science, and English. It went much better and I think they began to respect what little authority I have. Thursday, thank goodness, Monica returned and was able to efficently teach the older groups while I got the two younger ones. I am currently trying to explain the very abstract concept of addition and a change in numerical places. For example, that 26 and 14 equals 40 not 310. By Friday we were getting much better and all the children were rewarded with art classes. I was walking down the mountain when I heard shouts of ‘seño!’ I turned and saw Carla, Lucho, and Anahi running towards me. They were headed to the village, and wanted to walk with me as far as possible. I was surprised to feel the small hand of Anahi slip into mine as soon as we started walking. They happily chattered at each other and me the whole way down the mountain. To which I normally responded ‘que bueno’. They are impossibly difficult to understand and I get about ten percent of what they are saying. But they did not seem bothered. I’m pretty sure I smiled the whole way home. These beautiful shy children have started to accept me as one of their own. I played soccer and Lobito this week, and was completely overwhelmed by good mornings and good byes. They have started to wait for me to leave to walk with me as far as our paths overlap and will wait for me at that spot in the morning.
Hilda has started to teach me how to cook. She thinks I’m helpless because I don’t know how to cook properly. I now can make sancocho, a traditional soup made with green bananas. Initiative is what counts here. I will continuosly ask how I can help and get the response no relax! So now I just start doing things. Dishes, sweeping, feeding the chickens, essentially things that if I mess up it isn’t a big deal to fix. I started the fire to cook the other night and Vicente, my dad, told me I was very good at the country life. I love the country life. Things are simple and quiet here. Smiles mean everything and people are genuinely caring.
Hasta la semana proxima.

Semana cuatra: Una programa

So I get to have a little help in the internet cafe, which means that for three weeks now, someone has deleted my post when I am almost finished. I think this week she understood she had deleted my work when an older boy asked if it was erased and I said yes I have to do it again. She looked at me concerned and I told her it was okay, but now she has to wait for me to write it all again to play games. That suck in and she quickly left the mouse alone. So here we go again.

I can’t believe I am halfway through, I imagined it a little differently. Somehow I thought I would have some profound revelation, or be fundamentally altered by now. I think I might be, at least I know I am growing and learning, but being submerged in this culture it is difficult to see. I love it here, I love the simple rhythm of my days, the alone time and the profoundly quiet and dark nights. Which, I learned this week are not always so dark. Every night we eat soup for dinner, which is a habit I plan to continue. However, we eat at eight or so at night, when everyone has returned from the fields, and since I wake up at five thirty, I go to bed immediately afterwards. Since I ingest copious liquids before bed, I wake up at three or so every morning to use the bathroom. This week, I left my room to find the most beautiful sky full of stars, I don’t think I have seen anything so inspiring in my life. I understand why these people choose to live in isolation, which I am learning is relative, as is cleanliness but I’m still alive so no complaints. People may not have internet, but they do have telephones, and they definitely use them. Every night there are regular phone calls to friends and family, and I can’t help but think of how often I talk to my own family in the States. It’s so easy there, email, phone calls at any time of the day anywhere without any thought to how long I talk. Here people learn to do a lot with only a little. A lesson I am learning as calls to the US are fifty cents a minute, but at least I can call. Every Sunday people walk, drive, or ride into the village to socialize. Here people dance, play, and buy from their neighbors, and in this amount of time, they spread the local news and doings around the area. I am getting used to the cold showers and have found a routine that works pretty well. I think I spend twice as much time out of the water as in it but I have stopped dreading it and instead can even think about thigs other than hypothermia while washing my hair. I have a difficult time explaining the beauty and simpliticty of this life to my family, part of that is I only have a few words, and a short amount of time. I love everything about this place, even the isolation affords me privileges that I don’t get in the US. The people here are incredibly caring and show me nothing but love and appreciation in a subtle and constant way. I am given more food than I should be given, more than anyone else. Hilda has quickly learned my soft spot for fruit and will introduce me to all of the exotic and delicious varieties growing around their land. I am left to myself in the afternoons when the work is too hard or dangerous. At first I didn’t understand their constant insistence that I rest, but there is a certain pride to it. The fact that they can complete their work without making their guest uncomfortable is something they, for lack of a better term, pride themselves in. I think the best part of all of this is the children. They make the walk up the mountain worth it. Romel has collected every scrap of English I have given him in a carefully guarded notebook. Cyntia will proudly recite the English names of fruits when I draw them for other students. Doris checks on me every fifteen minutes or so and will reexplain what I am trying to have the younger girls do. She has teacher in her blood. Patricia and Samira are my companions during recreo(recess) and invent increasingly complex drawings for me to give them. All of them are beautiful individuals with desires and dreams that although are simple, are still wonderful and I hope with all my heart are possibilities for them.

This week, the twelfth of June, we celebrated the Day for the Erradication of Child Labor. We made posters and pictoral depictions with slogans like ‘working is for adults, studying is for children’. The teacher even brought in a few videos on her laptop, which was very popular. Children have the same open mouthed expression watching videos here as American children do when watching TV. Hypnosis I swear. Afterwards we played games, and ate food. I don’t know if the message was received, but to me it was rather poignant. Just a few years ago my endlessly curious and fun loving students would be following in their parent’s footsteps doing work in the fields that I am not allowed to do. I got to learn local games and play so it was a fun, but thought provoking day.

On the home front, I came home on Friday to three dogs full of porcupine quills. I helped Vicente and Nachi remove them in a very traumatic experience for me and the dogs. Vicente and Nachi were completely non-plussed and calmly pinned the dogs to ground, wrenched their mouths open and removed all of the life threatening quills with a steady hand. Doing without many conveniences means adopting multiple roles. Hild early this week had to give a young bull medicine, and that meant jamming a very large needle into its hip and quickly attaching and administering the syringe full of liquid. Vicente castrates all of his animals himself. Not only is it cheaper to do these treatments themselves, it’s more practical since the nearest vet is four to five hours away driving. They perform all of these tasks with a resignation that astounds me.
Time to start the next half of my journey!
Hasta luego!

La tercera semana: Dibujos, dibujos!

My third week here has been wonderful. The children were very excited to see me Monday morning and my regularity really has gotten them to open up to me. Now, Ruby is constantly telling on Nancy to me. To which I laugh and tell Ruby she should pay more attention to the work she hasn’t finished. I am known now as senorita, a title that is normally reserved for the teacher. It also gives me this uncanny ability to tell them what pages to work on, and for them to actually listen. A little authority is certainly very powerful. The (actual) senorita doesn’t even stop by the first year table anymore. I am solely responsible for the little balls of energy. We paint and color, learn up and down, left and right. We also know almost all the colors in our box of colored pencils, except for red, which instead of rojo they call tomate. Apparently it is a local slang of sorts because the older children do it to. I drew quite a few fruits and animals for the pequenas so they could color them in with specific colors. During recess one of the older girls approached me with her notebook and asked for pictures too. I gave her three pages worth, she had many ideas about what she wanted. I drew a corn field, a scarecrow, a sun, moon and stars, trees, a mountain, and much more.

Tuesday she came back with all beautifully colored and proudly displayed them. I had put the english names next to the items and she even tried to sound them out with me. This of course captured the attention of the rest of the class and this time during recess I had eight young ladies vying for drawings. I find it very amusing that they like my drawins so much since I’m sure my artistic ability has not progressed past middle school. It makes sense though since they don’t have coloring books and the only time they get to color is when the teacher draws for them; which is never since she barely has time to teach them all. The senorita noticed how excited the kids were to draw and learn the correspnding english words, so she designated me the drawer for the second years that afternoon. We did fruits, shapes, and a few animals.

Wednesday I again spent the morning with the small ones, and the afternoon with the slightly bigger ones. I was mobbed. Absolutely and completely by yelling children with notebooks and requests. We drew sharks, and giraffes, clothing, flags, cars, houses, and anything else they could think of. They even started looking through books for things I could copy. Everytime I finished drawing in one notebook, two more children were back yelling mira, mira senorita! and proudly showing me their colorings. It was absolutely exhausting, and completely endearing. To end the day I gave them three cameras, and taught them the basic use. They were enthralled and some of the oldest three got to take them home for a scavenger hunt to practice english and to take pictures for my capstone theme. I will see how it goes tomorrow!

The children didn’t have school Thursday and Friday, apparently a common problem in these rural communities. Hilda, my host mother, told me the children are lucky to have school three days a week let alone five. This coupled with the overstretched teacher makes it seem really difficult to receive a good education. Oh well, that’s why I’m here to help keep them busy with English and pictures!

On my days off from the school I helped with the cows, picked coffee, harvested strawberries, planted naranjilla trees, and got bitten by the most annoying flies I have ever encountered. All in all, a wonderful week in paradise.

Hasta luego!

La segunda semana: La escuela San Alberto Patria

After some coordination, I was able to successfully arrange my volunteer placement at the local school in the San Alberto Parish. There are 50 children, all of which are between the ages of five and 12 and have abundant energy. They are rather timid and most have never seen a ‘gringa’ before. The teacher took everything in stride, introduced me and sat me with the four youngest girls. The class of 30 is divided into four smaller sections based on age. So I sit with the youngest group. Ruby, Anahi, Sareli, and Nancy started of very shy but with some questions and coloring assistance I was quickly accepted into the group. All throughout the first day I received many stares when the children thought I wouldn’t notice. Responding with a smile normally made them a little more friendly and slowly the bravest of the groups started to stop by the table to visit. The first day ended early since the teacher needed to go to Otavalo for personal business; which means that the next day the students didn’t have class. When I returned I received just as many strange looks as before, but they lasted for less time, a period of adjustment. I again worked with the younger kids. The one teacher is extremely over-worked. She flits from group to group instructing for a few minutes and doling out assignments. However, the assignments do not occupy the children for long and by the time she is assigning something to the next group the first has finished and are very chaotic. For the rest of the week I was unofficially left to tend the four niñitas by myself. We did the colors amarillo, rojo, and verde, as well as six pages in the workbook. They are rather inattentive but adorable, they are constantly bouncing from group to group to see what the others are learning. All of the children seem amused by my spanish and if I can understand them I know it has improved. They all speak incredibly fast and very quietly, especially to a stranger like me.

For the last hour I teach, the oldest two groups English. As of right now they know a few animals, colors, and numbers. I spent this weekend making worksheets to reinforce vocabulary and I hope that this preparation will help them stay interested. We were working on names and ages and no one really wanted to volunteer to answer, and most refused to answer even when I called them out and helped them. But that’s okay, I am patient and they are slowly becoming more comfortable with me. They’re beautiful children, constantly playing and laughing with each other and very excited to learn. I hope I can build more on that excitement with the weeks to come!

La primera semana: Con la familia Torres

I have been living with the Torres family for a little less than a week now. Vicente and Hilda are very well known and respected members of the San Alberto paroque, or parish. They have a very traditional household, with many animals including cows, a pig, a horse, and chickens. On their land they grow a variety of delicious fruits and vegetables. The land here is beautiful, everything is green and the air is fresh and lovely. Thus far, everything I do to help with the farm is a workout, in order to help Hilda milk the cows we have to climb to the top of the mountain on a very muddy and slippery path, which she has absolutely no issue maneuvering with a full basket on her back. On the other hand, I am very much out of breath at the top. Hilda got a good laugh at my first attempts at milking but by the end of the week she commented on how much I had improved. I guess there’s hope for una niña de la ciudad yet.

There is a very simple and pleasant rhythm to days in the countryside. Everything starts around five when the sun begins to come up. Breakfast is simple but filling, and then it’s off to work. Vicente is off working almost the entire day on his large expanse of land. I normally help Hilda with the ‘smaller’ tasks, feeding the various animals, cleaning, laundry, food preparation, etc. The food is delicious and very fresh with almost everything coming from their own land. I have thus far been introduced to at least five different ways to prepare maize, which along with potatoes, is a dietary staple. Vicente and Hilda are incredibly nice and feed me immense amounts of food. My Spanish is slowly improving, but communication is still limited.
I start tomorrow at the school. The children are very excited that I am coming. I hope that sentiment persists! Well, it’s time to go find the teacher to find out when she wants me there in the morning. Hasta luego!