Greetings from Calle Dario Figueroa!  Also known as MPIEHQ, also known as La Casa de Las Mandarinas, which is to say the house of the women who wear the pants.  Last night Joey and Pete, the last remaining former PDs said their goodbyes to us and boarded a plane for greater civilization.  It was a pivotal moment in our experience in Ecuador thus far.  Suddenly the lingering feeling of an extended vacation evaporated and the sobering weight of our immense responsibilities here sunk in.  Fret not though, predicting (wisely) that the conclusion of this moment might be too tremendous for us to bear, we booked a weekend trip to the beach in Atacames, just to be sure we’d be plenty relaxed before assuming our posts as the new Program Directors.  For future reference, we, the blog people are myself (Virginia), Heather and Abby.  I hail from the Deep South and I love all things Latino.  Heather is a corn fed Idaho babe, crunchy on the outside, sweet the inside.  Abby, the future Mrs. Daddy Yankee would like me to introduce her as “ya know, smart, beautiful, and ghetto, like I am”, her words, not mine.  In order for you to get to know all of us better we have asked everyone the same five questions and I will post them in a series of two blog posts so as not overwhelm.  Some people really disregarded the brevity request.
1) What are your personal goals for this year?
2) Which programs are you most excited about?
3) Should we get a cat or a dog?
4) What has surprised you most about Ecuador so far?
5) Describe the weirdest cultural and or/language faux pas you’ve had so far.

1) Conquer my lack of the Spanish language.  Not trying to be fluent, but want to be able to read Don Quixote with no problems! To give a lot of my knowledge in small business development to the community and help them flourish their ambition and set higher goals.  But also learn about agriculture and their way of life, study music, fashion and the indigenous culture and bring this back with me to the U.S, build a music program with Manna, learn patience, and gain humbleness!
2) I am most excited about Small Business Development…so much for me to give and so much for me to learn.
3) Definitely a dog!  Cats are evil. :)
4) How generous and patient the people are.  They are so patient with my lack of Spanish and try so hard to understand what I am saying and make the effort to teach me and correct me.  At the same time want to learn so much from me and rather than being frustrated by my lack of Spanish turn around ask me how to say it in English. All the dogs on roofs…. how do they get up there? Their love for their street animals.
5) The saying "Having cajones" does not exist in Latin America.  You will get weird looks.

1) I kind of see this year as a two way street. I decided to work with Manna out of a desire to help enact positive and sustainable improvements in the quality of life for those living in the Valle de Los Chillos in any way that I can. But on the other hand, I think I'll gain a lot myself. Apart from becoming fluent in Spanish, I want to narrow my interests in international development and public health and to gain the first hand experience I think is crucial for pursuing a successful career in one of these fields.
2) That's a tough question. One thing that drew me to Manna was the opportunity to work with a little bit of everything I've studied and am interested in-- agriculture, nutrition, preventative health, microfinance. I see a lot of room for growth in the agriculture and microfinance programs, so I'm especially excited to get started on those.
3) Well, the first contact I made with the group before we all met was to wage a campaign for a dog instead of a cat. In retrospect, that was a socially questionable move. But I stand by it. 
4) From my experience, Ecuadorians are much more open than Americans. Family dinners can last 3 hours with 3 generations. People I have only just met have treated me like family. I hope to take a bit of that back with me to the United States. And also the food is delicious. I hope to take a bit of that back as well. 
5) I have had a lot of close calls getting on and off the bus. If I leave this country without sustaining a serious bus related injury, I will be shocked.

1. I hope to become fluent in Spanish, build great relationships with the adults and children in the community, and become a phenomenal salsa dancer. 
2. The program I'm most excited about is teaching English, it's something I've also wanted to do. 
3. I want both! We should get a cat for mice, but a dog because they're cuddly. 
4. What surprises me is that it's extremely easy to get wherever you need to go - I'm loving the bus system here. And cabs are very conveniently cheap.
5. I don't really understand jeans without pockets and its popularity here.

1. Step outside my comfort zone and be challenged both professionally and personally
-make some serious connections and friendships with locals here
-cook some bomb-ass meals
-travel every opportunity I have
2) I am extremely excited to teach Adult Cooking and Nutrition. It will be great to meet the adults in the community and to spend time on Saturday afternoons cooking and learning. 
3. Dog, duh. But a cat would be nice to eat all da mice. 
4. Perhaps how comfortable I feel already living and working here. The Ecuadorean culture is so welcoming and warm, and I've already had so many deep and personal conversations with community members here. 
5. How Ecuadoreans don't really believe in personal space. On the bus, I could be sitting in an aisle chair and literally have a man's nether-regions in my face as he stands in the aisle. There's lots of space on the bus, sir. 

1) My personal goals for this year are to perfect my Spanish, travel as much as possible, make the biggest possible difference in the Chillos valley and finally learn how to cook (or at least ignite a stove).
2) I'm probably most excited for PHC (preventative health) because it has a lot of different programs and room to grow. I'm also excited for children's nutrition since I get to work with cute kids and get to know the Ecuadorian educational system 
3) The fact that this is even a question....... You've all seen me stop to pet every street dog here (which is approximately 18 per corner). Can cats save your life?!?! (Shout out to Izzy and Gracie, miss you)
4) The abundance of good sauce! (ají is amazing), the man-made barbed wire made of glass bottles that surround almost every house & building, the abundance of angry bird t shirts and the fact that they actually say cheveré here (every other word).
5) Well, the most "cultural" thing I can think of that has happened so far was when some Ecuadorian friends from Rumiloma took me & heather "sport fishing" in the back of a pick up truck and served us pig's tail, right after I had contracted a travel bug and was... Less than healthy. Apparently it's a delicacy, but pigs are my favorite animals…

Five more interviews to come, so put your excitement pants on.  For now it's off to the beach!