Maps and Cobblers

For my birthday yesterday, Taylor Brown (a summer volunteer, family friend and fellow Coloradan) and I decided to do a birthday project.

This birthday project involved 50+ maps from our massive supply of National Geographics...

3 canisters of Ecuador's version of rubber cement...

2 different types of accents (British and Indian, if you must know)...

some pretty clutch dance moves...

and a lot of pasting, stepping back, realizing it was horribly crooked, peeling, and re-placing countless maps.

And then laughing at ourselves.

Coming home to a peach cobbler baked by my housemates was the perfect end to a really wonderful birthday.

I love my housemates. And summer volunteers, too :)

Snail Mail Surprise

Making the trek out to our Postal Box in Sangolqui (a 45 minute bus ride-trek each way) is always slightly depressing. Since it's such an ordeal to head out there, we usually only check it once or twice every month. Therein lies the depressing part: even after a whole MONTH of not checking it, we usually have one measly little letter from one of our Universities asking for money (how'd they FIND US?!). Every time I head out there, I find myself talking down my expectations.

"Holly, Ecuador is notoriously bad with mail. 50 percent of things sent down here probably never even made it past customs. You just told your mom not to send anything because it would probably never make it. Emails are quicker and guaranteed to arrive. Don't get upset if there's nothing there. Don't take it out on the Postal Worker if there's nothing there."

Ok, so perhaps I'm giving over to my more dramatic tendencies. There was that amazing letter I got back in November from Ashley, and the homemade Valentine complete with a sparkling Wizard of Oz shoe-decal from Kaili. And don't get me started on the packages Dunc's mom has sent him; they're incredible. Actually, alright, now that I think about it we've gotten some great things from almost all our families during the past 10 months. Thanks Moms!

On Thursday, however, I got something incredible. I didn't even go to the Post Office so it was even more of a surprise when Dunc handed me a letter. Inside I found one of the paintings Marjorie had done on one of the many afternoons in Children's Art, beautifully rendered onto a stationary card. Minette Hand (younger sister of Country Director Mark Hand) had emailed me a few months back to see if I might be able to take pictures of some of my students' artwork and email them over to her so she could make cards as a fundraising tool. I did it and then quickly forgot about it, moving on to planning for Thanksgiving and trying in vain to learn Ecuadorian long division.

Melanie Hand (Mark's mom), it turns out, hadn't forgotten. She was kind enough to send a card down to me in Ecuador. I almost teared up in the kitchen (effectively freaking Dunc and Mark out) as I opened it. Marjorie will be so excited when I show it to her on Monday. What pride she will feel when she sees her artwork on a beautiful piece of stationary!

Thank you, Minette and Melanie, so so much.

Scratching Our Heads and Stretching Our Brains

(Today's guest blog (two in a row, amazing I know) comes from Country Director Mark Hand. I think everyone's trying to de-stress me so I'll get the Seth Harlan interview up, and it's worked; it will be up tomorrow! In the meantime, enjoy Mark's insightful contemplations on educational games.)

"When we opened our library here at MPI-Ecuador, we had a handful of books, a couple of chess sets, and a second-hand Connect-Four. I've wanted to expand our educational games section for some time now, driven by the feeling that my own intellectual development had a lot to do with Mastermind and Memory.
Thanks to the McCallas, we've significantly expanded the number of games that make our heads hurt, with Blokus, Rush Hour and my personal favorite, SET. In my mind - given Ecuadorians' own acknowledgment that the educational system here discourages creative thinking - these games are one of the funnest ways for us to contribute to the development of the children at the MPI library.
If you'd like to contribute to our collection of educational games, please let us know! I've picked out a handful of games below that a) develop fine motor skills or critical thinking abilities; b) are durable and c) are either language-free or Spanish-based.

Apples to Apples para Niños
Memory (Dora the Explorer edition)
Memory (original)

Thanks, and really, you should all pick up Blockus next time you're at Target. It's awesome.


Seth and I have been throwing around the idea of a teenage art class ever since, well, probably the first conversation we ever had back in July when I was still living in Quito and going to language school. Back then it was totally just a concept, a dream. One of those good ideas that gets thrown around at family dinner, along with 20 other good ideas and a couple of inappropriate stories. And then life in Ecuador officially kicked into gear, and the idea was pushed to the back of the closet and (almost) forgotten.

Once the teen center was up and running, however, we found ourselves returning to the idea of such a class. While we weren't quite sure how to organize it, once three teen-center teens expressed interest to Seth in an art class, we knew there was serious potential for something.

Now, every Wednesday morning from 10 to 11:30 the five of us meet at the big work table in the library. I come up with a rough idea to structure the class and provide some sort of technical instruction, Seth provides the comfortable atmosphere, and the students provide us with commentary on the never-ending supply of high school drama. We all have an hour and a half to sketch out what creativity is to us. I'm coming to love Wednesday mornings.


Self Portraits

So here's the thing with my children's art class. While I try to incorporate some kind of artistic technique or artist study into each class, when 75% of your students are under 5 years old, it gets a little tricky. Take Jori, for example. He would rather sit under the table scraping off crayon shavings with his scissors than learn about Georgia O'Keefe's desert inspirations. Or Carlitos. He'd rather be kicking Jori, who's under the table, than trying to understand Kandinsky color palettes.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when, after discussing the composition and symmetry of the face and explaining the 'self-portrait' project for the day, each and every one of our tiny students were hunched over their papers, painstakingly drawing their "football-americano" shaped eyes half way down their oval-faces, making little heart lips, and trying to remember where their ears go (Kerley was absolutely positive that her ears are in fact above her eyebrows). Yes, Serena and I had to walk them through every step of the way, coaxing them to erase all pencil marks after going over their faces with pen (ALL of them, Jonathan), and help them cut out the difficult parts involving their drawn hair, but overall, I was incredibly proud of the finished products. They even kind of look like them :)

We're excited for Eliah's brother, Aravon, to arrive tomorrow night! We LOVE visitors!
Happy Friday,