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."

Exploring Quito with Vanderbilt

Spring Break: Monday

While Sunday was the Vanderbilt spring break group's first official day, I spent Sunday en route from the states (as you know from my whining yesterday) and so joined the crew officially today. 7am found me on our "new" Manna bike riding down to the local bakery for some fresh bread for breakfast, soaking up the most beautiful Ecuadorian morning I've seen in a long time.

After breakfast, we all headed out the door, hopped on a few busses, and ended up at the base of the basillica, one of the most famous and beautiful churches in downtown Quito. We climbed (for what seemed like ages) up into the very top spires and soaked in the views, then made our way over to Plaza del Gobierno (which I'm referring to as Plaza of the Government because I can't pull the actual name, which I'm sure Craig will supply for me in the comments), timing it just right to catch the changing of the guard. After getting our fill of the plazas, and witnessing a strange parade/protest with rottweilers and pit bulls, we spent a good hour wandering through the artesan market in the mariscal, where the girls got to practice their bargining skills.

After grabbing a typical almurezo across the street, we headed out to the Valle for our afternoon of programs (Apoyo & Children's English) and a walking tour of the community, then swung by the house for a few minutes of downtime before heading back out for dinner at Jenny and Alfredo's house, a local couple who Dunc and Eliah know well from the small business class.

Overall it was one of those Ecuadorian days where as you walk back to the house at night and think about what you did that morning, it feels like 3 days has passed between. Welcome to the chaos that is spring break! We couldn't be more excited.


Week's Recap

(the Wards come to Ecuador!)

And I’m back! Apologies for the extended absence. The week was a whirlwind filled with all of my favorite things about Ecuador and family, made all the better by the mixing of the two. A breakdown of our week’s highlights follows, hopefully it will encourage some of you to plan a visit down south some time soon!

Sunday: Met the Manna girls at the terminal and hopped on a 3 hour bus out to Otavalo for a day of artisan market shopping and haggling. How my mother is more successful at haggling in English than I am in Spanish I still don’t know... Highlight of the trip: getting to watch a Korean soap opera on the way out, and Black Dog 1 & 2 on the way back. Never seen them? Boy do I feel sorry for you... Dinner at Boca del Lobo, a place I’ve been drooling over since we first walked by in on break from language school back in July.

(inside of Boca del Lobo, as seen from the street)

Monday: Out to the markets at Sangolqui to do the week’s fruits and veggies shopping. Loaded everyone up (including Dana who’s now a market expert!) with bags and subsequently braved the bus back. Out to programs for the day; Apoyo, English, Women’s Exercise and then back home. Highlight: Seth and Dunc were making dinner!

Tuesday: Exploring Quito by foot; hit the dvd shop for my brother, the alpaca wool shop for blankets and the most incredible slippers (which I will never be taking off), and the English bookshop where you can get US magazines for 1.50 (Economist and Time if you’re lucky, Decor and Electronic Digest if you’re not, Vogue if you’ve hit the jackpot). Stopped for lunch at the theater cafe before tackling the Basillica! I managed to convince the boys to climb into the top spire with me while my mom enjoyed a coffee and her book at the restaurant halfway up :) Dinner at Latitude, a wine and tapas bar; intense political discussion followed.

(my new best friends, house slippers from heaven)

Wednesday: Toured the incredible Guayasamin museum in the morning (opens at 10am most days) before grabbing the coveted bagel with cream cheese at Magic Bean and hopping on a 4 hour bus to Baños, an amazing town tucked into the side of the Andes. Dinner at Casa Hood, my favorite restaurant in Ecuador.

(Guayasamin museum)

Thursday: Our adventure day! Rented bikes at a little shop off Calle Martinez at 10am; 5 bucks a pop for the whole day, and hit the road. After a “little” accident in the HORRIFYING tunnel (ie. my brother hit the wall, went in a ditch, and busted his arm horribly...don’t think my family has forgiven me yet for that), we continued on the ride through the Andes. Took a ‘gondola’ over the river gulch to get closer to El Manto de la Novia waterfall, hiked down through the forest for lunch overlooking the famous Pailón del Diablo waterfall, climbed up and behind Pailón for an incredibly wet and wonderful experience, and biked on/climbed down to swim in the final waterfall. Hitching a ride back to Baños at 7pm found us all wet and sore and beyond ready for dinner.

Friday: Caught an early 8am bus back to Quito where we were greeted by torrential rains and a gypsy cab driver who took advantage of my exhausted Spanish and over-charged us for our ride out to the Marriott Hotel. Taxied out to Conocoto (where we just missed the rest of the Manna crew who headed out to the mountains for the weekend) to carve our ‘pumpkin’ ie. green squash with REALLY thick edges. Piled back to Quito, indulged in a Marriott burger, the best bit of red meat I’ve found down here, swam in the pool, and had cocktails in the lobby after long showers.

(our dubious little 'pumpkin'...gotta keep with halloween traditions, even in South America!)

I’m now sitting back in Conocoto catching up on work that I missed last week and relaxing in my pjs (and slippers!); gotta love slow Sundays.



As I write this, everyone is plodding around the house, trying to work off the food coma we just got ourselves into and attempting to pack for our weekend trip to Guayaquil, Ecuador. I can already hear my dad’s reaction as he reads this, “You are traveling...AGAIN?! Isn’t every day down in Ecuador like a vacation?” Well dad, this weekend is Festivals de Guayaquil, ie. all of Ecuador has a national holiday, so what we’re really doing is experiencing Ecuadorian culture in its truest form.


I can tell you that none of us are excited to get on another overnight bus, even if it is 2 hours shorter than last time.

For a study in how small the world really is, while in Guayaquil I am going to visit a friend from Belleview Elementary School, Carrie, who studied abroad in Ecuador, fell in love, and subsequently married her handsome Ecuadorian med student. They live in Guayaquil, and we are going to meet up this weekend. Carrie and I haven’t been home in Colorado at the same time since high school, and here we are, thousands of miles from home, about to have a reunion. I love you, Ecuador.


(orange mountains as seen from San Francisco)

And so it goes...

(Today's guest blog comes from Dana Conway, the newest PD to join the Manna Ecuador family. Dana hates 10 hour bus rides, has awesome taste in music, gets an amazing fresh fruit platter for breakfast every morning at her home-stay, and is the only one of us girls to have been facebook friended by Eliah. Lucky, lucky girl.)

"I've been spending my days in Quito doing language school for three weeks while everyone else is in the valley. While at times it gets a little lonesome without the crew, whom I bonded with literally upon arrival, I have been enjoying getting to know this massive city. Coming from Boulder, I´m not use to tall buildings, busy streets, hurried people. However I am easing my way into the chaos.
Yesterday was my first day exploring on my own taking public transportation, hailing cabs, asking locals for directions, etc. After a day of thrilling success I woke up this morning anticipating the same luck. To my dismay, I was kidding myself, to say the least. On the agenda was simply to venture into Old Town, check out the basilica, and make it back for class by 1:30. I hopped on a bus, and before I knew it was no where to be found on the hand held map I grasped in my palm. I quickly departed and began staring off into the midst of surrounding skyscrapers when a local Ecuadorian, at least 60 years old, asked what it was I was looking for. Upon telling him I was trying to find the basilica he insisted on escorting me the whole 25 minute walk through all kinds of hills and winding streets, enthralled by my Spanish ¨skills¨ or lack there of, (its hard to say,) literally to the front steps of the church, thank god, I never would have found it. And thank god, it was a maravillosa.
With the calculated perfect amount of time to return for class I headed in what I was now certain was the right direction to catch a bus back to my neighborhood. As I approached the doors to enter the parada, I was informed that the bus was not functioning and I would have to catch another line that may or may not be headed in the direction I needed to go, a blue one would be "best". I dogged the traffic of the maniac drivers that travel these streets and was lucky enough to find a blue bus that slowed down long enough for me to ask if it was heading in the right direction. With a rather ambiguous response I jumped on, bus still in motion, and crossed my fingers that I hadn't just purchased a non stop fair to the coast.
With broken Spanish, lots of patience, and a trying smile, the driver told me when to hop off and that I was now closer to home than I had been before. Perfect, right? Well 10 minutes till class and I had no idea where I was. Street names all ringing a bell, but not a single building I had seen before. Again I threw my head back wondering which direction next. A few more blocks, another corner, and finally, I saw the sign of an all too familiar travel agency I pass by everyday ´Happy Gringo¨. And that was when I realized I was home again. But not just home to the neighborhood I have been living in for the last two weeks, or home to the still foreign city I have been exploring, but home to what it is that I am doing for the next year, home to the experiences that will fill each of my days, and home to an adventure that has already been so fulfilling and satisfying, that I literally can not wait to get lost again."

(Dana and Serena trying to force their way into the Medical History Museum in Cuenca)