spring break

Spring break in the garden

After Duke's spring break group returned from Baños, we got our hands dirty with our partner organization, Fundación Añamisi.  Here to share is Mateen!

Slashing at the gnarled weeds, dodging the hundreds of bugs, and digging into the tough ground, we were fighting a battle in Fundación Añamisi's organic garden. In only three days, the garden would be completely planted, and we would have helped move Christian Añamisi's dream forward.  With his partner, Laura Araujo, Christian has been able to create an organic farming business (De la Mata a la Olla, roughly translated as “from the ground to the table”) through which local organic gardens are able to distribute their products to the people of Quito and its surrounding areas over the internet. They both also utilize the knowledge they have gained from this venture to teach other people in the area about organic farming through their organization.

When we arrived at the garden Wednesday morning we were greeted by Christian, Laura, and their two crazy dogs Lupita and Tommy. Christian gave us a quick overview of his projects and proudly showed us some of the many products he sells.   We were all amazed by how Christian and Laura were able to create such a sustainable organic farming business while also giving so much back to the community. It was surprising that organic products would be so popular, especially over the internet in a country where only small percentage of the population own computers. Our work over the week was to clear several plots of land, plant new crops, and harvest corn. When we first arrived, the garden was overrun with tangled weeds, grass, and hundreds (only a slight exaggeration) of spiders. With the guidance of Christian and Laura, we dug our tools into the ground.  Two days and several tarantula encounters later, we had finally conquered the garden. During the last week of work, we planted lettuce, beets, chard, Japanese lettuce and ahí (chili peppers), and it felt good to be able to see the product of all our hard work.

With the garden work finished, we had the opportunity to help Christian with the English class he teaches at the local university.  He had his students record videos with questions in English for us and we recorded answers.  We had so much fun with the videos we decided to send back our own questions for the students to answer.  My time at the garden was definitely one of the highlights of the trip and I hope I have the opportunity to help them more in the future.

The Duke crew in Añamisi's garden
Mateen and Kia working together!
Angela and Miranda listening to one of Christian's student's English questions
Aging chard in the beds we completed weeding!
Beds freshly planted with lettuce and chard

Duke Spring Break in Baños

After a weekend on the beach in Montañita, Ashley, Jack, Sam, and I returned to the sierras Sunday night to meet our first two spring break groups.  While Ashley and Jack took the group from Vanderbilt University out to our partner organization, FEVI, in the valley north of us, Sam and I met up with our group of six from Duke University and brought them back to the valley with us.  Seeing as Monday and Tuesday were holidays in Ecuador celebrating Carnaval (what we know as Mardi Gras in the States), we took off for our overnight trip bright and early Monday morning, to Baños.  Here to give a snapshot of our time together is one of our spring breakers from Duke: Jake!

After a long and bumpy ride to Baños, we were welcomed with espuma (foam) and buckets of water by the locals.  It was Carnaval, and the festivities were wild; a major part of the celebrating involved spraying foam on everyone and everything.  Once I dried off, the town was amazing.  We checked into a hostel (which only cost $7.50 a night), and then decided to go repelling down 5 of the local waterfalls.  We had a blast – the experience was well worth the blisters and rope burns on our hands.  After we dried off (again), we caught a chivas (essentially a party bus) and went to party on top of a volcano.  The party consisted of fire-jugglers and comedy shows, but the real highlight of the night was the view.  We could see over all of Baños, and the mountain scenery was incredible.  When we returned to the town, we quickly learned that the celebrating during the day was nothing compared to the celebrating at night.  We all were so tired after the adventurous day that we turned in a little early so we would be ready for the next day’s events.  

We started the next day with a rooftop breakfast before renting bikes and embarking on a 27 kilometer ride to a huge waterfall (I know, there are a lot of waterfalls on this trip).  The ride was exciting for two reasons: the incredible views that we saw on our path and the water balloons that we had to dodge (the Carnival activities also included water balloon pelting).  About half way through the ride, we stopped to go on a one kilometer zip line (it was the longest zip line I have ever seen).  I can honestly say it was one of the coolest experiences of my life.  We finished the bike ride and snapped a few Kodak pictures of the waterfall before returning to our hostel and leaving Baños.  A few pointers for those of you planning on being in Baños for Carnaval: get the Mega Grill burger (it’s delicious) at the burger stand off the plaza, go zip lining (it’s exhilarating), and bring a bathing suit (it’s wet)!  

A performer with fire on top of the volcano
Jake concentrating in preparation for a 1km zipline.

Time flies when you're with Tulane

We rang in the first week of April with an enthustiastic group of spring breakers from New Orleans (hence the neglecting of the blog). I could go on and on about how delightful and hardworking they were, but I'll leave the explaining to their co-group leader, Sonia...

"As I sit down pondering my time spent with Tulane, a few adjectives come to mind: eventful, gleeful, and priceless. Here’s why - we spent mornings sightseeing Quito and afternoons rotating through programs. We learned of Karington’s slight narcolepsy and how to eat the peels of kiwis. We saw that money can magically disappear and reappear in underwear and we admired the result of Tulane’s artistic abilities, a spectacular mural on a wall in the library. Let’s start at the beginning...

The week started off Saturday night at the airport. I was worried that we might not find them until a group walked through customs door clothed in Tulane attire with pillows and suitcases much too large for a week. After we accounted for the 10 of them maybe 100 times (don’t worry, my paranoia eased off as the week continued), we all cozied up in a snug busetta, so snug that I was sitting on Shawn’s lap. The other program directors were waiting for us at the house. What started off as a brief introduction ended in words of wisdom about toilet paper disposal etiquette.

Co-leaders Shawn and Sonia pose at the waterfalls in Mindo

The next morning we embarked for an afternoon soccer game in Quito (LDU, the house’s chosen club team versus El Nacional). On their first day, Tulaners had to face some of Ecuador’s fullest buses. They quickly learned how to maintain their balance with elbows sticking into them and little to hold onto. They ate hot dogs, bought jerseys, and sung LDU to its victory.

That Sunday night after a brief orientation, team Tulane and team Program Directors battled it out over Catch Phrase. Although Tulane lost 1-2, they put up a close fight considering that the program directors had 3.5 hours of practice time the night before.

At day 1.5 I was already in love with Tulane. Their relaxed attitudes and humorous comments made time fly. Here is my attempt to mimic how quickly it felt: we climbed the Basilica, toured colonial Old Town, visited the Guayasamin Museum, and shopped at the Artisan Market. Although it sounds like a lot of sightseeing for one week, Tulane worked as hard as they played. They leveled all of the teen books for a summer reading club; painted two rooms and two bookshelves; cleaned the Centro; and painted an unbelievable mural of Ecuador on one the library’s walls. They did this while cooking and rotating through programs: women’s exercise, children and adult English, the library, and teen center.

Eventful, right? To take a breather, we left for the cloud forest town of Mindo. There we indulged in the country’s best brownies, tasted Fanesca, the grainy soup of Semana Santa (holy week), and went zip-lining, tubing, hiking, and sliding.

The highlight of the trip was without a doubt the night the 13 of us trotted into an empty karaoke bar. Completely American (and completely un-Ecuadorian), they sang pop songs in English (usually Spanish ballads), stood in front of the room (typically seated), and danced. Twenty minutes later the bar was filled but because our teetotalism wasn't profitable enough, the owner kicked us out.

Come Sunday morning, we found ourselves once again in a snug busetta. This time not leaving but going to the airport. Seven days later much had changed. Not only did alpaca attire and Ecuadorian purses/duffle bags fill the busette but so did the exciting yet sad feeling that occurs when new friends part.

Jordan, Jess, Katherine, Lauren, and Rose out in Conocoto

Our new library mural! Isn't it amazing??

Karrington and Katherine play dominos with some children's English kids

The whole group in a camioneta in Mindo

I couldn’t have asked for a better group of individuals and I hope they take away as memories from our week together as I did.

- Sonia"

Condor Truths

Although we may be miles away from a typical St. Patrick's Day celebration, I assure you we celebrated in style with green eggs and clothing, an Irish meal of Shepard's pie and soda bread, and of course a viewing of Boondock Saints. Mister Irish himself (Chet) spent last week in Lumbisi with one of our spring break volunteer groups teaching classes, painting murals and planting a vegetable garden. Since we only got to spend a night with the feisty North Carolinians, which mostly consisted of embarrassingly revealing questions deemed 'condor truths,' I'll let Chet explain a day in the life with the Duke spring breakers...

"The Duke spring break group accomplished some great manual and artistic labors in the week we were in Lumbisi. Like all things Erik and I do, we accomplished it with brutal honesty, a fun-loving attitude, and a little bit of insanity. It is important to remember that Lumbisi has a biting fly problem; and I mean like a Jean Paul Satre-style "The Flies" biting fly problem. While Erik and I spent the week living in the FEVI office, we ate all our meals at home stay. This was the same home stay where Sarita, one of FEVI's long term volunteers from the US also ate. Wednesday night, Bibi was in the area and had dinner with us and everyone at the table was involved in a very engaging debate between James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges. Remember, James Joyce wrote Ulysses, arguably the best novel of the 20th century and in my opinion the gold standard in the modernist literature. Borges was a writer from Argentina. Given the distinct advantage Joyce has in this comparison. I'm a bit abashed to admit that it was more or less a tie.

Thursday was our last day to complete our work projects. In the morning we all went up the to ecological forest reserve to collect straw for the garden we had been working in. To settle the dinner debate, in the afternoon we split up into two groups to see who could finish first: one with me to finish the murals we had been painting on the outside of the pre-school, and the other down in the gardens with Erik to finish up the work on the new beds. The beds were all dug and just needed to be layered with straw, fertilizer, and filled with dirt; however, there was one large rock in the corner of bed 2 we had been unable to remove.

About an hour and a half into our work projects for the afternoon, I look to my left and see Erik, with a stride of pride, enter the fence to the preschool with a huge rock in his hands. He draws near me and asks, 'Hey Chet, if you were going to name a rock after an author, what would it be?' I of course look at him like he is crazy. He then informs me that after an hour and a half, they had finally removed the gigantic rock in the corner of bed two and I was staring at a small piece of it. He then informed me “this is Borges” spiked the rock, and walked out of the yard in triumph. My comment was for him to bring the bug spray the next time he came back. This is why we work so well together and why, while the Duke spring break volunteers probably think we are crazy, we got a lot of work done in three and a half days and had a great time doing it.

Alberto, Erik and JJ dominating said rock

The whole group sight seeing in the centro historico

Maria puts some finishing touches on the wall mural

KP plays with some kids in Lumbisi

The group leaders, and their respective cuy heads, share a moment

Erik would like to set (sic) that 'we still beat ya’ll.'


Our In-House Shakespeare...

(Today's Guest Blog comes from the delightful, eccentric, and apparently poetic Haley Booe. Her many talents include: making the other female PDs exceptionally sore during Women's Exercise, whipping up a mad dish of pad thai with limited cooking resources, knowing every choreographed dance scene in every movie ever made, and putting up with me as a roommate. She also happens to be our fearless Spring Break Coordinator... which is now in its stressful planning phase, and thus, is - clearly - consuming most of her thoughts. Enjoy our very own Shakespeare, Miss Haley Booe.)

"Since Spring Break planning is in full swing, that's most of what I have been thinking about these days. So here's a little poem for my guest blog - a tribute to Spring Break, if you will. Please excuse the limited vocabulary... my diction is quite poor, since half of my day I spend speaking Spanish.

'Twas a month before Spring Break, and through the Manna House
Everything was hectic; planning was my spouse.

The schedules were posted, created with care
Every group's leaders made a great pair.

We counted to make sure there were enough beds,
We have to find towels, so they can shampoo their heads!

Through budgets and food and Quito maps,
We planned out our trips to buy Panama caps.

This week in the library there arose such a clatter,
When we have extra volunteers, a lack of bookshelves will not matter.

By February 19th, we must have all their cash,
For the groups will be here to build in a flash.

Building, painting, cleaning they'll do,
And community members won't know what to do.

We'll travel to Quito, and Mindo they'll see,
To show them the country we love; on this, we agree.

Culture, awareness, projects and Manna life,
Our volunteers will experience all without much strife.

And when it's all over, he hope we still will be,
Friends and coworkers with (most of) our sanity.

So stay tuned to see how it all turns out,
Spring Break season is here, there is no doubt!"

Haley poses for her official MPI website picture...