Bibi and Buses

This guest blog comes from our very own Country Director/boss/mother/snack food enthusiast/friend, Bibi Al-Ebrahim. "Beebs," as she is often referred to, is best known for screaming "BUENAS TARDES" outside of tiendas/homes when the owners/residents are not in eye-shot ("eye-shot"... is that a phrase?), eating copious amounts of snacks and leftovers from our fridge, and owning a dog which recently went through a hysterical pregnancy (no, really). Oh, she's also a pretty great boss... and she has a not-so-secret adoration for the Ecuadorian bus system, which she explains below. Enjoy!

"Contrary to US popular belief or understanding, bus systems, good ones, can in fact make your life better; and I don't speak solely about mobilization and getting from point A to point B. Instead, I am talking about all the wonderful opportunities it provides in 1) lowering fuel emissions 2) gaining further insight into who you are and 3) greater understanding of Ecuadorian culture.

Pertaining to numero uno, developing countries' fuel emissions are not to be blamed for the world's global warming threat. We all know that the blame falls on industry, and most heavily on developed country industry. With that said, I have nothing more to add.

Numero dos can be easily answered with a single personal trivia question and an imagine thyself scenary.

Personal Trivia question:

A) When on a bus, would you be the person that runs and elbows an elderly man, or a pregnant woman, for the one and only seat? or

B) Would you be that person that renders the competition moral-less, and willingly gives up your seat to anyone that looks a little worse off than you feel?

Either way, once panting in your seat or squished and standing unpleasantly between an excess of people, you'll have plenty of time to comtemplate just what type of person you are, and maybe even the person you'd like to become.

Now, imagine sitting in traffic, but not having to drive. Why be behind the wheel, when you can be day dreaming into the distance at the Andes mountains? Or, while more consciously pondering your life. Just think of how much more dreaming and scheming you could do in your lifetime in window seat, row 16.

Lastly, the bus is a petri dish for cultural insight. For many, the bus can be the most intimate cultural experience they'll have. Here are some cutlural norms that the buses teach us and some of the questions that arise:

1. Machismo: 9 out of 10 (this is my personal observation) young men use gel in such that put their female counterparts hairdos to shame. What are some of the differences between how manhood is defined in Ecuador versus back home?

2. Heavy making out: It's not a private affair, and is totally acceptable on a public and inescapable place like the bus. Is this due to the fact that there's very limited personal space and alone time, anywhere, including in people's homes?

3. Breastfeeding: It's beautiful to be in a country where breastfeeding is actually viewed as a natural and needed process that a woman can do it anywhere she wants, including on a speedy and bumpy bus, all the while chitchatting with her brother. How does this speak to women's roles and their place in Ecuadorian society?

4. Informal employment: On your way into Quito, you will most likely experience the vendedor ambulante, or person that will get on the bus to sell you pens, candies, hangers, natural healing teas, etc. This may be a shock at first as you question whether it's possible for the vender, often a child, to make a living selling candies for $.25. Venders get on the bus hoping to make money, and get off without paying the fare. Despite the fact that the vendors represent one of the lowest economic classes in the country, there is a level of respect paid to them by both the bus driver (by permitting them on the bus) and riders (by window shopping their product). More often than not while on the bus you find yourself witnessing the interactions between Ecuadorian social-economic classes, and experiencing how social justice is played out in small, daily ways.

The bus is like a sacred place (possibly the only one on wheels), of self and cultural reflection. It's the daydreaming, the people watching, and the changing of scenery that teach us so much about ourselves and Ecuador."

Exciting Hellos and Reluctant Goodbyes

Right now transition is the name of the game in the Manna House. For the past 10 days roughly 15 PDs, both old and new, have been living under the same roof in order to facilitate the turnover process between the two teams. The nine of us newbies have divided up every household, organizational and programmatic task known to mankind - from who is responsible for taking out the garbage (thanks Chet!) to who will be running the Women's Exercise program. We have been closely following (think mama duck/baby duck style) the 2008-2009 PDs in order to learn bus routes, shopping lists, the ways of the house, as well as the ins and outs of running our programs.

But the time has come to say (reluctant) goodbyes to our old PD friends, as they begin to trickle back to their families and friends in the United States. The general sentiment has not been one of "out with the old and in with the new," but rather of somber thankfulness. Without the hard work of our 2008-2009 PDs, we would have been handed a very different Manna Project. And for that, we say thank you, and we hope that our mentors will pop in from time to time through guest blogs and (cross our fingers) maybe even a visit or two!

Now allow us to introduce ourselves. We are Jackie Weidman and Sarah Scott, the newest additions to the highly coveted administrator status on the MPIE Daily Life Blog. Our interests and programmatic involvement are extremely varied. With that in mind, we hope to offer you two different voices and perspectives on living and working in Ecuador by alternating blogs each day. Other than the addition of two voices to the blog, not a lot will be changed. We will still be including ample photos from the MannaCam, weekly guest blogs, and the occasional video.

Sarah and Jackie, the newest Daily Life bloggers

In the spirit of new beginnings, here is the first interview of the 2009-2010 MPI season with none other than our very own Country Director, Bibi Al-Ebrahim. We couldn't be happier to be working under Bibi and we're confident that her passion and leadership will shape our programs and us, as individuals, in incredible ways throughout the next year.

Here's to the next thirteen months of adventure, community service, and of course, daily blogging!

Sarah and Jackie

Questions for Bibi

It's that time again... time for you all to send me any and all questions you might have for our very new, very fabulous country director, Bibi Al-Ebrahim for her interview later this week.

There hasn't been much about Bibi on here, so the opportunities to ask any number of questions really are endless! Curious about how she gets her hair to be that awesome? Or what her favorite place she's traveled to is? Or what the best part about getting her MPH from Tulane was? Now's your chance!

Please do not hesitate to send them in, the more the merrier.

Questions are due to me by Friday night at midnight. Submit them, per usual, either as a comment to the blog or directly to my email. Holland.c.ward at gmail dot com.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

The Year Ahead

(Kicking off Monday right, a new voice in the 'guest blog' world, MPIE's new Country Director, Bibi Al-Ebrahim)

"Last week I was not here in Ecuador. I was across the globe at my brother’s wedding and fully enjoying a family trip. But, it was impossible not to think of Ecuador, not to think of the new Program Directors with whom I will spend the next year, not to be concerned with what I may have been missing. I suppose angst stemmed from my fear of missing out on some group adventure or inside joke.

As the new Country Director for Manna Ecuador I too am starting a new adventure. And it may be just that that this group of new PDs, the first group of PDs under my supervision, will prove to be the most influential and sentimental in my experience. Although Ecuador and Spanish are no longer new to me, the position of Country Director and the responsibility that comes with such a position are. With such responsibility comes my wish to do the job well, not just for the organization, not just for me, but for us- a group comprised of individuals with different histories, and clearly different futures, but with the same desire of spending the next year together. Right now, in the present, we have chosen to do this together, encouraging me to do my best.

And in wanting to do my best I often have to tell myself to take one step at a time, to not expect to know everything only six weeks into the game. Under Mark Hand and the 2008/2009 PDs my transition period has been wonderful; I’ve been pushed to learn Manna ways and all its various components in a positive, patient, and gentle manner. It’s in this same way that I hope to guide the new PDs into Spanish, into Ecuador, and into Manna. The more I think about it, the intimacy of my six weeks with the old PDs acts as a reminder that the beauty of the new PD transition period and the year to come does not only lie in inside jokes and adventures, but in the learning together. And that I should not worry about missing out on, because I too have a lot to learn.