By: Emily Churchill, Community Development Fellow
It’s been almost a month since I returned to Ecuador after a year away. Last summer, I interned in the southern city of Cuenca for two months over which time Ecuador earned a big place in my heart. As I reflect on my first month with Manna Projects Ecuador, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Ecuadorian things, both new and familiar, that make this place so special.
There’s a farmer’s market just a block away from Manna’s centro in downtown Sangolquí where you can pretty much buy any fruit or vegetable imaginable, plus some varieties that you’ve never heard of. Ecuador is home to some unique fruits including ‘tomate de arbol’ (which literally translates to ‘tree tomato’) and ‘taxo’ (which is a blend between bananas and passion fruit). I can leave the market with two full bags of produce for around $3. I also always buy from the same women and this week she recognized me and gave me a free orange! (side note - it was a little moldy, but hey, maybe next week it will be a not-moldy orange!)
Manna’s Ecuador site just happens to be at the foothills of one of the world’s highest and most active volcanoes. At just over 19,000ft, the summit of Cotopaxi towers over the town of Sangolquí. On a clear day, the rooftop patio of the Manna house offers a nearly perfect view of its snow-capped peaks. I am in constant awe of this mountain and stop several times a day to admire it. And although the prospect of its eruption is quite daunting (it has erupted 50 times since 1738!), I feel humbled by its magnificent presence. It’s our goal to summit Cotopaxi by the end of the year. We’re just hoping that the daily hike up the small hill outside our center is enough training!
3. My roommates
I just happen to live with some awesome women who inspire me to be a better version of myself everyday. They are some of the most capable, hardworking, and passionate people I’ve ever met and I could not be more excited to work with them this year to accomplish all of our ambitious goals. We just enjoyed a weekend at Cotopaxi National Park that was full of great hikes, yummy food, and lots of laughs. I have so much to learn from them and feel so grateful that our paths have crossed through Manna.
4. Public transportation
Some Ecuadorians might call me crazy for praising the country’s public transit system, but in comparison to the U.S., Ecuador is an incredibly well connected country. In just thirty short minutes, I can hop on any virtually any bus that passes through our neighborhood and arrive in the center of Quito, the nation’s capital. Beyond that, buses that connect the towns in the valley of Los Chillos are frequent and plentiful, and fare costs just around $.30 a trip. Of course, there are always improvements that can be made to improve access and sustainability, but new investments are being made all the time to further connect Ecuador’s more remote towns to its larger cities.
5. Random acts of kindness
Ecuadorians are some of the warmest and most generous people around. Whether it’s an offer from one of our Adult Conversation Club participants to take us on a hike, or a free ice cream cone from the mom of one of my guitar students, people are always willing to go out of their way to make your day just a little brighter. Just like many other cultures, what you get out relies a lot on what you put in. But I guarantee that if you show kindness and gratitude to Ecuadorians, they will pay it back tenfold.
That’s just a short list of some things that make me happy to be back in Ecuador. Here’s to eleven more months in this amazing country!