Once in a Lifetime

(This week's guest blog comes from Mr. Seth Harlan. Seth left late last night for a Galapagos getaway before he heads back to the States after volunteering with MPIE for 2 years. The presence of the one and only Mr. Ecuador will be sorely missed in the Manna House... good thing he's coming back for a visit in October!)

"Wednesday, August 26, 2009 - Day 712, and I can´t believe how quickly the past two years have flown by. It seems like only yesterday I was dropped off with a host family, repeating the only phrase I could remember from high school spanish- "My name is Seth. Where is the bathroom?" It´s true that things started slowly, and there was a lot to learn between Spanish, the Ecuadorian transportation system, and how to initiate community development in Latin America. Looking back, they all seem like daunting tasks, impossible for any group of recent college graduates to achieve, and although it took nearly two years to feel like we had made progress, I can honestly say that we have accomplished much more than we ever could have imagined. In two years we have hosted over 150 international volunteers, launched more than a dozen successful programs, forged life changing relationships with local community member, and shared invaluable experiences. And although I could continue to reminisce and reflect back on my time here, I would much rather leave a message for the future.

To our past volunteers I encourage to keep an eye on this year's programs directors. I have a feeling that they are going to accomplish things here that we never dreamed of.

To the family members of this year's volunteers, I thank you for entrusting Manna with your loved ones, and I promise you that their time here will have a genuine impact on the people we work with as well as the volunteers themselves.

To our donors, I thank you for your commitment to MPI that supports us and the communities we work with.

Finally to this year's group of volunteers, you have eased all of my concerns, re-energized me, and revitalized my commitment to MPI. Part of me wishes that I could start all over again with you, and part of me is comforted by the knowledge that the groundwork has been laid and you are more than ready to continue what we have started. Enjoy every moment of your experience. It truly only comes once in a lifetime.


Interview a PD: Seth Harlan

The Seth Harlan interview is up! This time around we received a wide variety of questions, from the hilarious to the serious, the wacky to the contemplative. Seth did an incredible job with his responses, so much so that I couldn't help but include more footage than usual.

In response to a question from Johanna, one of our dearest Ecuadorian friends (and Seth's girlfriend), Seth answers in both English and Spanish, so be sure to stick it through to the end if you want to brush up on your Spanish comprehension :)

And now, the Seth interview!

Oye! Watch out for that Puma!!

(Seth Harlan is today's guest blog author; apologies that it's been a while since someone else has weighed in on the blog! Enjoy!)

"Three weeks after opening our Teen Center, it was time to finally make good on our promises and offer something more constructive than video games and movie nights. (Pardon the interjection here, but for those who don’t yet know, the perks of my job now include playing soccer, video games, watching movies on the big screen, and taking kids on hiking trips. It’s a rough life we lead in Ecuador sometimes).

The teens were enjoying a week long vacation from school for Semana Santa (Easter) and we decided to go on our first excursion. Seven kids showed up at the teen center at 7:30 in the morning, ready to start our journey towards the 50 meter waterfall that lay at the end of the Río Pita. I was soon regretting my decision and missing my bed as I was badgered with questions and comments, “Profe why are we leaving so early? Profe why are we taking this bus? Profe why are we leaving so late? Profe, I’m cold. Profe why do we have to go to the waterfall?" (this from the girl who suggested the waterfall as our first excursion)...great.

It was with great patience (or the fact that I was still half asleep), that I endured the comments and decided to appoint the 15 year old vice-president Darling -nickname Chucky- as the official guide for the day. “All questions will be answered by Chucky, today’s group leader.”

Things settled down as we hopped on the bus and conversation changed to music, movies, costal Ecuadorian food versus food in the Sierra- the usual. Two hours later we made it to the trailhead. The trail started in the middle of a beautiful park, following the Río Pita and full of different spots for swimming, drinking the natural water, and mini waterfalls.

As we started Jimmy, one of the 13 year old boys, turned to me and said, “Profe be careful of the Pumas. Last time I was here we saw three.” From there we started the joke of the day “Oye! Hey, Watch out for that Puma!!” At ever twist and turn someone would yell out, “Duck, there’s a Puma!” With one silly joke, all the tension and self-awareness and awkwardness of teenage years had gone, allowing us to spend the rest of the day laughing and enjoying the hike. We finally made it to the waterfall, taking our time and plenty of pictures, and those who brought their lunch shared with everyone.

On a normal day, I would estimate this hike to take 5-6 hours round-trip, but we didn’t arrive back to the Teen Center until 4:30, 9 hours after we started. It wasn’t because we were slow hikers, but because we all fully enjoyed the day and were in no rush to get back home. It was the perfect mix of team building, group bonding, and fun. All and all I couldn’t have asked for anything more from our first excursion.


The Menu

(Today's guest blog comes from Seth Harlan, who selfishly abandoned us all in our time of greatest need (ie. cooking at 25 lb. turkey) to enjoy Thanksgiving with his family. His actual family. As if that's what Thanksgiving's about...)

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu in Ecuador
25 lbs turkey (stuffed or unstuffed)
3 casseroles
2 pies
1 veggie plate
5+ side items
2 Sauces
4 beverage choices
Bread: optional

You may find a similar menu feeding 25 people at Obama’s table this Thanksgiving, but in Ecuador a meal like this only feeds 8. Do we really need mashed potatoes and a sweet potato casserole? If you name is Eliah, the answer is a definitive YES!!! The fact is, no matter how excessive the menu appears, it’s impossible to have a Thanksgiving dinner without at least one recipe from at least one grandmother of every PD in Ecuador. It’s usually the one time of year that PDs feel homesick. No expense can be spared on this occasion, and all things must be included, no matter how hard are to find or cook. Canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce are shipped from home (thanks Mrs. Fulton!), 25 pound turkeys are bought (not because we need 25lbs, but because there aren’t many other options), and PDs spend an hour selecting the menu and delegating tasks.

This year, I will spend Thanksgiving with my own family at my parents house Florida, and while I won’t miss the excitement how figuring out how to fit a 25 pound turkey into a 2x2.5ft oven, or standing in line to cook a side dish over one of the four burners on the Manna stove, I will miss sitting down at the table with the people I have come to consider family. It’s a truly special moment when the entire house sits down to a Thanksgiving feast after slaving for hours, fighting to keep Serena from sampling all of your dishes, and reminding Mark that the only thing he is allowed to do is wash dishes. The moment you cut into the turkey and pour the apple cider, you realize that you’re really not that far away from home. Instead of pro football you have the neighborhood soccer teams; instead of the rush the stores on black Friday, you have to rush to the corner venta to buy boxed wine before it closes; and instead of crazy Uncle TJ’s antics, you have “Uncle” Mark Hand, which counts for something. In other words, you make due with what you have, and in the end Thanksgiving in Ecuador isn’t so bad after all. To everyone down there, I want you to know that I’ll miss you guys and I hope you all have an amazing thanksgiving. Save me some leftovers, and I’ll see you Sunday.


And They Started Rolling In...

(Today's guest blog comes from Seth Harlan, a second year Manna Ecuador PD and the authority on all things Spanish slang. In my opinion the best cook in the house (who else could pull off Mediterranean chicken in South America?), Seth is up for anything from mountain climbing to discotec dancing, knows more people in the community than anyone else, and has sweet talked his way into the heart of our local venta lady.)

"We woke up to another beautiful morning in Conocoto, the sun rising over the mountains and not as cloud in the sky. It was the first time in weeks that we could see the snowy peak of Cotopaxi from our rooftop. Today was going to be a good day with no need for raincoats or fleece jacket, or so I thought. It's funny that after a year in Ecuador, I still haven't learned that the only rule here is that anything goes and nothing is certain.

As we sat reading with kids in our homemade tent nicked named "la cueva" that Holly built for our apoyo escolar program, the light started to fade. At first I thought it was just the blankets blocking the sun, but like clockwork, 15 minutes before the program ended, the clouds rolled in, thunder cracked, and the rain started. After three straight days of pelting rain in the afternoons it can only mean one thing –no more flip flops, no more short sleeves… the dreaded rainy season has come!"

(la cueva packed with readers)

(Felix, Holly, and Mafe share reading duty)