Family visiting means plenty of travel

In absencia, since she´s in the Galápagos with her family right now, Becky writes about having family from the States visit her and Manna in Ecuador.  

Two Thursdays ago, my brother arrived in Quito.  I was excited for him to visit and see all the cool stuff I have been doing since July.  The day after he arrived, I brought him to Zoë`s and my cooking class for the Aliñambi nutrition program.  The program has started out very successfully and we’ve made some delicious and nutritious food.  In class that Friday we made a cream of spinach and lentil stew along with fruit salad, for which the kids brought all the fruit to class from home.  We also made some great jugo de mora (blackberry juice).  The kids really enjoyed this week`s recipes and even asked for them so that they could make it again at home.  Alex enjoyed helping with the class and trying to talk to the kids.

Two weekends ago, I took my brother to Tena, a town right inside the jungle.  There, we went on a daylong whitewater rafting trip, which was really cool.  It was a great way to get inside and experience the jungle.  Unfortunately, we both got food poisoning during the weekend (which is expected every now and then in Ecuador, especially for newcomers).  We missed hiking the caves outside of Tena in the morning, but the sickness passed pretty quickly and we were on our way back to Sangolquí the next afternoon.

My parents also arrived last week to visit.  They, along with my brother, visited the Manna Centro to see me at work.  They really enjoyed taking a tour of the Centro and looking in on the children’s art class.
I`ve been super excited to show my family around Ecuador.  Last weekend, we spent a lot of time in Old Town seeing the old churches and visiting museums.  We also went to the artisan market and Mitad del Mundo (where the equatorial line is located).  As you read this we are heading back from the Galápagos for a five-day cruise around the islands!

It’s really awesome having my family around to visit.  They get to see where I live and work and be a part of the great experience I am having here in Ecuador.  A feel that a lot of the time, while the people you love back home definitely support you, they do not exactly know or understand the work you are doing.  It’s nice sharing with my family a glimpse into my life here.

Feels Like Home

Despite scurrying in and out of Quito, Mindo, the library, and everywhere in between with our first group of spring break volunteers, Sarah found some time to give us the run down on her homestay experience. Community homestay is a new program for us PDs; we spent three weeks in mid-July living with families in Quito, but now we're taking turns spending time with families in and around our community. This gives us a chance to brush up on our Spanish and, more importantly, expose ourselves to different cultures and extend relationships beyond the four walls of the centro.

"Sometimes I forget that I live in Ecuador. Mike once said that we live in a “little America,” (see interview below) and you know what? He has a point. We speak English in the house. We watch American movies and DVDs (albeit Ecuadorian bootleg versions). We cook what we know – mostly American (and occasionally Indian) meals. And we seem to maintain our fast-paced lifestyles in the midst of a country where la hora ecuatoriana (i.e. everything is late) dominates.

Last week I got a taste of Ecuadorian culture 24/7 while I was on my home stay – living, eating, and playing with an Ecuadorian family whose kids attend our children’s English classes. I was the guinea pig PD, as I was the first one to leave the shelter of our little America to live with community members. And I am happy to report that it was a phenomenal success!

Each evening, instead of piling into the camioneta bound for home, I jumped on a bus to Sangolquí and arrived at my new home just in time for dinner. I lived in one home with two parents and one daughter, but we were surrounded by the entire extended family. Within this small block of Sangolquí lives roughly 35 members of the same family. This means lots of cousins, lots of little kids, and lots of playing.

After dinner each night, I played made-up games with the kids (so funny how kids make up games… I miss that!) that ranged from playing “basketball,” where an arco was made by hitting a circle on the wall made with chalk, to “nombre” which involved a lot of running and throwing a ball at each other, to good old jump rope, which was probably a bad idea after eating such a huge dinner.

The weekend brought more cultural immersion, since last Saturday was Flag Day at school. From what I gathered, Flag Day is something that all students do on a selected day every year. They march with the flag, sing their National Anthem, and honor the students who are at the top of their class. One of the cousins with whom I was living happened to be at the top of his class, so he got to lead the march and stand in the front. The whole day turned into one big celebration – a big family lunch, lots of talking post-lunch, an afternoon in the park, and cake in the evening.

I left my new family on Sunday to travel back to the Manna House where a meeting and cooking responsibilities promptly greeted me at the door. It was good to be home and with my housemates whose screams and general absurdity I have come to love, but it is infinitely better to know that I have a family in Sangolquí that asks me every day in the library when I’m going to come back to visit and play games in the courtyard.


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

This week's guest blog comes from Mike of the teen center... and the library. Lucky for us, he's taken a break from facilitating Halo, manning the front desk, and inputting books into our online database to detail how happy we are that it's December. Enjoy!

"To quote Andy Williams, December is 'the most wonderful time of the the year.' Starting backwards, you have New Years Eve, proceeded by Christmas, Christmas Eve, my birthday*, the last day of Hanukkah*, and the first day of Hanukkah, all days that lead to general good cheer (*generally in that order). Well this year, we must tack on to the end of that list Feria de Quito, the 9-day festival celebrating the (re)founding of Quito on December 6, 1534.

The Feria de Quito, among other things, celebrates Quito's Spanish heritage, complete with a compliment of parades, chivas parties on large trucks with live music, and bull fights. It's also a time to celebrate Ecuadorian culture, with local artisans touting panama hats and leather goods, available for sale in the markets and near the Plaza de Toros.

Another highlight of December is our Secret Snowflake. Similar to Secret Santa but with more irony (snowflakes in this equatorial sun?), we have all drawn names and sworn secrecy until the exchange this Sunday. While a limit of $5 would stifle any gift attempts in the States, it has only spurred creativity, due to a penchant we all share for baked goods and the still-coolness of Ecuadorian markets. Shawn, Chet, and I all picked up our gifts Friday, leading to the most difficult part for me as I have to wait 6 more days to give my gift to a certian MPI hermano.

Erik and Mike enthused about our homemade Christmas decorations

While I am not joining the seven other PDs going home for the holidays (the joys of a one-way ticket), I will have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas with my family here in Ecuador. This will be only the second time I'm not in Michigan to celebrate with extended family, and while I'll miss the snow and cold, I'm looking forward to showing off my new city to my mom, dad, and sister.

I wish you and your family a wonderful December filled with family, friends, and, perhaps, a little reflection; afterall, New Years resolutions are only a few weeks away (followed shortly there after by my second favorite month- February, when we break our New Years resolutions).


Otavalo goodbyes

Yesterday we hugged goodbye two of our numbers, Dunc and Eliah. It should come as no surprise that the two cuarenta partners planned their Ecuadorian evacuation together; yes, they both claimed Graduate School as their individual reasons for leaving on the same day, but I'm not buying it. They just couldn't stand to be down here if the other was not :)

In anticipation of their departure, last weekend all eight of us oldies piled into a bus headed for Otavalo. I have to admit I was a little hesitant to go there; in our trusty Lonely Planet guide book Otavalo is written up as a "must see place for tourists of all kind, due to its enormous weekend market,". The last place I wanted to stay with my seven people was a touristy market town, surrounded by leather key chains and alpaca floor rugs and painted shot thank you. So imagine my surprise when our camioneta drove out of the town, up the cobblestone street right into the mountains and just kept going. Up, up, up we drove, jostling around in the back of an old white truck, backpacks and knees and laughs jumbling around with us, until we came to La Luna, our hostel picked by Dunc.

It was perfect. Nestled into the side of a big old hill covered in golden grasses and swaying trees, the place had crisp white walls, fire places, colorful hammocks, homemade guacamole, and a ton of board games. But most importantly it had connecting rooms and one big dinner table for all of us to sit around and reminisce, eat, play and read.

Here's to our last hurrah together! It's been a great year, huh.

Serena and Jos goof around while running back down to the hostel.

Serena and Eliah get ready for a serious game of Guess Who?

While Dana and Mark battle it out in Cuarenta.

View on the way to the waterfall.

Love that self timer.

Spot Serena.

Recreating a Quito statue we pass every time we bus into the city.

Trying to squeeze everyone onto a small rock. Why not.

Eliah and I share some rock space.

Rousing game of Clue next to the fireplace.

Mark tries to roast a marshmallow with a piece of burning paper...?

Dunc takes in the view on a Sunday hike.

The steep trek up to the summit begins.

View of Cayambe from the top of Fuya Fuya (my first Ecuadorian summit!)

Danabean and I channel our Colorado mountains.

The climbing crew.

A condor sighting from the summit. Rare and wonderful, as it's estimated there are only 65 in the whole country.

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.