Mi Lindo Ecuador

As my time wraps up here in Ecuador, I figured it would only be fitting to go out with a final blog post to sum up my unforgettable 5 months.  I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have lived and served in this beautiful country for the time that I did, and I plan to take my friendships and memories with me throughout my life. Unfortunately, there are some parts that I won’t be able to take with me throughout my journeys.  For your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled a list of the things I’ll miss most about Ecuador as I move forward.

1.Getting called “Nenita”

In Spanish, nena is both the word for little girl and for a term of affection equatable to “baby.”  I usually introduce myself as Nena instead of Nayna because it’s much easier for all parties involved, and I love the look of surprise I always get when I do this.  What follows is typically a conversation involving the other person saying, “okay, but what is your real name??” When I tell them that that is, in fact, my real name they laugh and tell me that it will be very easy to remember.  Most of the time this is excellent because everyone knows my name, (and I mean everyone): families in the centro, my taxi drivers, the guy who owns the gym I go to, the students at ESPE university, the lady who threads my eyebrows, you name it!  I also feel somewhat famous because my name is in almost every song (think about how many songs in English have the word “baby”). Because everything in Spanish is a diminutive (see number 12), my name often gets converted to Nenita, which is just too cute to be true.  I’m not necessarily looking forward to returning back to the states and getting called plain ol’ Nayna.

2. Measuring the passage of time by growing crops

Rumiloma is a predominantly farming-based community, and our walks to the centro from the bus stop typically involve passing a few different fields with corn stalks.  Every month, we are able to gauge just how long we’ve been here by how tall the stalks grow.  The most recent time we walked together, the stalks were taller than Ayzsa!

3. Making the world your bus stop

This is an extremely convenient and courteous service that all bus drivers humor for their passengers.  Gone are the days of running for buses.  For more clarification on this topic, see my previous blog post about riding the buses of Ecuador.

4. Having the taxi company know exactly where you live

A few years ago, there was a PD named Emily, who must have been the first person to call the particular taxi company we use.  Since that fateful day years ago, our home in Sangolqui has been known as “La Casa de Emily.”  Now whenever we call for a taxi from our house, we only have to say “Buenos dias” and the operator immediately asks us the Spanish equivalent of “would you like a taxi to the House of Emily?” What’s even better, is that some of the taxi drivers tell us that they remember driving Emily around and ask how she’s doing now.  This might be the most fun part for me. Based on the day and how I’m feeling, Emily has completely different lives: sometimes she is married and lives in Ecuador with her children, sometimes she’s a high school teacher in the United States, sometimes she’s a famous actress in Hollywood, California,

5.  Seeing cute sleeping dogs everywhere

This is enough to make you smile no matter how bad your day is.  On that note, it’s also incredible that the dogs here are aware of traffic rules and know how and when to cross the street.  We almost never have to worry about dogs getting hit by cars because they follow jay-walking laws better than we do!

6. Knowing everyone when you walk down the street

It seems that at times here, everyone is related.  Everyone is someone’s cousin or brother-in-law. Nothing makes me happier than walking to and from the centro or around Sangolqui and being able to wave to and talk to so many families along the way.

7.  Always being greeted in a room

The culture of Ecuador is such that when you walk into a room, it’s polite to say hello to every single person in the room. Whether it’s a nod, a kiss, a handshake or a “buenos dias”, and whether or not you know everyone in the room, this is what you’re supposed to do (and it’s rude if you don’t!).  Large meetings are often interrupted by latecomers who have to greet everyone in attendance, but no one seems to mind.  I’ll have to remind myself upon returning to the US to 1) not say hello to everyone in every room that I enter and to 2) not get offended when strangers enter a room and don’t greet me.

8. The ability to book a Mariachi Band for any and all social gatherings

This needs almost no explanation. For me, it’s not really a party unless you have Mariachis.  I’ve been to at least 6 events with Mariachis in my time here (and have passed by dozens more) and have attended events where people are disappointed if there is no band. There’s something about trumpets, guitars, matching uniforms, dancing and giant sombreros that now makes parties with just DJs seem super boring!

9.  The availability of Manicho

If you didn’t know, Manicho is a usually $0.50 chocolate and peanut bar and is available on practically every street corner.  Ecuador has never failed to satisfy my chocolate cravings, and for that, I am forever grateful.  If you need more explanation about the magic of Manicho, refer to my previous blog post about the junk food of Ecuador.

10.  Nicknames

The five of us have gotten accustomed to the nicknames that the community uses to refer to us (either to our faces or when talking about us).  Instead of Nayna, Hunter, Ayzsa, Jimmy and Vincent, we are La Morenita (the brown one), La Blanquita (the white one), La Negrita (the black one), El Flaquito (the skinny one) and El Serio (the serious one), respectively.  After a few months, we found ourselves referring to each other by those names when talking to community members as well:

“Jimmy is teaching class today.”

“Jimmy? Who’s Jimmy?”

“El flaquito.”

“Ahhh, right, right.”

11.   The unimaginable variety of students’ track suit combinations

Almost all students from grade school to high school wear school uniforms. These students also have mandatory gym days in their schedules and on those days, they all wear matching track pants and jackets with their school colors. On these exercise days, the streets and buses look like giant adds for Sports Authority.

12.  Exaggerations when speaking Spanish

Everything in Spanish is a diminutive. Sopa (soup) is sopita, casa (house) is casita, dollar is dollarito, centavos (cents) are centavitos, agua (water) is aguita, hija (daughter) is hijita…the list is endless.  Everything is cute and little, even if logically it makes no sense (for example, ahora, the word for “now” is hardly ever spoken. Ahorita is said instead).  Conversely, when exaggerations in the opposite direction are desired, “issimo” can be added to basically any word: lindissimo, grandissimo, bastantissimo (really beautiful, really big, way more than enough, respectively).

13.  Everything about juice

It’s almost a crime to not take advantage of all the fruits/fruit juice of Ecuador, because they’re fresh, affordable and nonexistent in the states! I almost always order fruit juice when I’m out to eat, because fresh fruit juices in the US are so expensive.  Perhaps my favorite part about ordering a fruit juice is getting it para llevar (to go) because most of the time you are given your juice in a plastic bag tied at the top with a straw stuck inside. I always feel super cool struttin’ down the street with my plastic bag of pineapple juice.

14.  Food glorious food

Depending on the way you see it, $0.15 bread, $2.50 lunch plates and 5 for $1 apples can be a gift or a curse.  I, of course, see it as the former.  It’s certainly going to be a rude awakening when I return to the states and eat out for the first time.  On the wave of affordability, the most beautiful bouquets of flowers can also be bought here for just $1! This could be why all the couples here seem so happy… it’s so affordable for guys to apologize when they mess up!

15. Beautiful views, beautiful relationships

I’ve said this repeatedly, but as the nature fanatic that I am, Ecaudor never once disappointed me in providing magnificent sunsets, sunrises, night skies, rainbows, mountains, volcanoes, lakes and forests for me to see and climb and hike and swim. There is something so special and unbeatable about this natural beauty that no pictures can do it justice.

Undoubtedly the most difficult part of leaving a place you’ve called home for half a year is saying good-bye to the family and friends you’ve made.  I never imagined I’d be so warmly welcomed into our community and would form such strong bonds while here.  If nothing else, it’s all the more reason to come back and visit in the future.  I will never forget my time here and look forward to making new memories when I return.  Until next time, Ecuador!

See yourself living in Ecuador? Apply now to be a Program Director! 

What’s an Hornado Anyways?

This past weekend, MPI Ecuador hosted its annual Hornado Solidario in Rumiloma.  What’s that, you ask? No need to be ashamed.  Just a few weeks ago I, too was an hornado newbie. The quick answer to your question is: a lunch fundraiser with traditional Ecuadorian food.  But don’t get it twisted; this ain’t your typical Firehouse Pancake Breakfast fundraiser.  A LOT more goes into an hornado than you’d think.  What follows below is an explanation of everything that required for a successful Hornado.

1.    The Hornado

Hornado, a signature of Ecuadorian cuisine, refers to a full, roast pig.  And I mean full: head and all. It is to be cooked by a skilled Ecuadorian person (usually a grandmother) and to be served by a skilled Ecuadorian person (usually a grandmother), who has no qualms about ripping off pieces of meat with her hands to serve on plates during the event (see Clemencia below). If you’re lucky, your hornado will come decorated, like ours.

2.    Las Tortillas de Papa (the potatoes)

We bought 200 pounds of potatoes for our Hornado.  For sizing help, 200 pounds of potatoes is enough to fill 3 large garbage cans.  We enlisted the help of our adult English students to help us peel all of them… and were able to finish in less than 2 hours!  We outsourced the boiling and mashing of the potatoes to another skilled Ecuadorian señora, so all that was left to do was to take the 3 garbage cans of mashed potatoes and make them into patties by hand to be fried on the day of the Hornado.  Luckily patty-making is grunt work and doesn’t require Ecuadorian skill (so most PDs and local volunteers were put on patty duty).  The frying of the potatoes, however, was spearheaded by Clemencia’s sister, Blanca.

3.    Mote

It’s a rule that a balanced Ecuadorian plate must contain at least two types of starches.  Simply putting a serving of white rice, corn, verdes (bananas) or potatoes is not sufficient.  You’ve gotta have a combination of them.  Mote is type of corn kernel (much bigger than those that we’re used to in the US) that fits the bill for the second starch of the plate.  It is boiled and cooked before serving.  

4.    Salad

We must have chopped at least 8 heads of lettuce, 50 tomatoes and 30 onions for the salad.  Agrio, or salad dressing, is made from tomatoes, onions, limes, cilantro and brown sugar loaf.  As another sizing estimate, we had enough agrio to fill a medium-sized garbage can!

5.    Great Company!

We served about 300 plates at the Hornado Solidario, before we began running out of food.  We raffled off some prizes that were donated to us, sang karaoke, painted kids’ faces and had a mini bake sale.  None of it would have been possible without the beautiful weather and all the help from community volunteers.  Below are just a few pictures of the great day we shared.

You can also contribute to the fundraising efforts of our Ecuador community by donating here! Type "Hornado" in the comments section. 

Fiesta in Rumiloma!

This past Saturday bore witness to the second annual Manna Community Celebration in Rumiloma!  Jack spearheaded the planning and execution of a festival on the Plaza Rumiloma, where the central church of Rumiloma is located just a few blocks down from our Centro.  For the week prior, we talked up the celebration to everyone we met who it seemed likely might come: in our library, our classes, even on our beloved Capelo bus route between Sangolquí and Rumiloma.  Following Ecuadorian cues of advertising, Jack and I both on multiple occasions stood up and made announcements and handed out fliers for the festival.  Nerve racking at first, it ended up being a huge rush. 

And must have been successful!  Between 150 and 200 people turned up for the celebration that Saturday, children and adults alike.  With Jack emceeing on the DJ’s microphone, we led activities all afternoon, from a water balloon toss to tug of war to an organized game of fútbol.  Folks also bought raffle tickets throughout the afternoon, the prizes for which were a brand new chess set just donated over Christmas, coloring books and new crayons, Manna t-shirts, and Manna water bottles. 
Brock leads a game of Tug-of-War, or Juego de Cabo.
Hannah and Damian, who requested his face be painted like KISS.
Luke is the goose in Duck Duck Goose!
Becky and Ashley lead a Tae Bo class with kids on the lawn.
Aiming to catch the water balloon before it breaks on the concrete!
In addition to the activities we’d planned, several of our partner organizations actively participated in the afternoon’s events.  Christian and Laura from our agriculture partner, Fundación Añamisi, ran a very successful booth giving out information and selling items from their recently opened small business selling quinoa products.  The Red Cross of Sangolquí sent more than a dozen volunteers to man an information booth and carry out first aid demonstrations in their ambulance, as well as to run face painting.  (As it turned out, the ambulance was put to practical use as well when a girl fell and got a nose bleed and Ashley rolled her ankle when she skipped into a divot.)  Juan Carlos, the sixth grade teacher with whom we work in the nutrition program at Fundación Aliñambi, even brought and managed a bounce house shaped like a whale.  
Face painting with the Cruz Roja.

Jack with two of his fellow face paintees.

A whale of a moon bounce
The afternoon was overall a huge success.  Not only did we have regular library attendees present but also a great many new faces interested in learning about Manna and participating as a community in this celebration.  ¡Viva Rumiloma!

One Step Closer to Airing on the Food Network

It's official - the 3rd floor kitchen has finally been installed! After months of fundraising, budgeting, purchasing, and installing, the far side of the third floor finally looks like a kitchen (instead of a haphazard storage space - see below). Big shout outs to Sonia, who took the reins on this project from the first budget draft, and to Krysta who spent the better part of last week cleaning out the space and getting everything put in its place. Our task now is to spend the next month promoting and planning classes to be ready to begin in early April.

A gigantic thank you to all of our unbelievable donors:
  • The Peterson Family
  • The Booe Family
  • Dana Conway
  • The Zhou Family
Literally none of this picturesque spread below would be possible without you. We'll think of you every time we flip an egg or sauté fresh vegetables!

the sink/painted window/slight storage area before...

... and after! hey look, there are mountains back there!

beautiful spankin' new cookware

expertly matched cutlery (I bet you can guess who picked those out)

a spread of utensils, stove, knives, pots and pans, and so much more

Culinary-ly yours,

Feliz Año Nuevo!

Happy new year from everyone here at MPI Ecuador!

Our first morning in the house and subsequent afternoon in the library was a conglomeration of familiar faces, fresh ideas, and new technology. We started our day with a 3-hour long
Monday morning meeting (formally referred to as the MMM), enjoying each other's company after almost a month apart while discussing topics from class schedules (which start up on the 18th) our next retreat, and most importantly, our celebracion event to ring in the new year this coming Saturday! MPIE, in collaboration with local organizations, Coopertiva Esperanza y Progresso del Valle, Añamisi (an environmental education org.), and the Ministry of Health of Conocoto, will be hosting a celebration in the cancha across from our library. The afternoon will be filled with live music, carnival games (including face paint and bingo), mini soccer tournaments, food from local restaurants, and a wealth of information about sustainable agriculture, nutrition and health.

In order to spread the word more efficiently, fellow PD Mike Gabrys went on a scavenger hunt to find us a portable perefoneo (translation: loud speaker). After traveling to many stores in Quito and the valley, we finally got our hands on it. To no one's surprise, Bibi was the most excited person to use our new toy (Erik being a close second).. as soon as she arrived at the library she ran to the roof to test it out, resulting in a booming "LA BIBLIOTECA ESTA ABIERTOOOO" shaking the bookshelves and amusing the kids in the reading ring.

Needless to say, it's very good to be back.

Chet reads leisurely in his new UT snuggie (thanks, Santa!) before the MMM

Bibi having a little too much fun on the roof

We came home to a bloomed tomate de arbol in our garden...

...and more living things in the compost bin! hello potatoes!