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,

A Tale of Horror and Suspense

(Today's guest blog comes from the infamous Chris Taylor, Manna Project International's state-side, go-to, answer-anything man. Currently residing in our Ecuadorian home for the next week, Chris was coerced into contributing to the blog to make up for the fact that I have missed three of the past 5 days. You're welcome.)

"Today’s blog is exciting for two reasons. The first reason is because I, Chris Taylor, legendary suspense writer, will be penning this week’s chilling edition of “The Guest Blog”. The second reason is even more exciting but you will have to read on to discover what it is.

When I arrived in Conocoto I quickly remembered how easy it is to get into the good graces of Americans living abroad in Latin America... and also how quickly they can turn against you. A quick, pre-flight stop at CVS for a bag of candy or a jar of peanut butter is really all it takes to ensure a warm welcome and pleasant stay. How foolish I felt upon arriving empty handed, having forgotten that the only real currencies down here in the Manna house bear the names Hershey’s or Skippy. I realized my fatal mistake only just before entering the doors of the Manna house where the PDs were hungrily awaiting my gift bearing arrival.

In a meager attempt at friendly relations I greeted the kitchen full of PDs with a sheepish smile, arms outstretched, hoping that my visitor’s faux pax would go unnoticed. My hopes were frighteningly dashed as the entire household shoved me out of the way and began rifling through my suitcase. I watched with terror as their initial disappointment quickly turned to a quiet rage. “Where’s the durned peanut butter?” growled Dana, the house’s newest and apparently hungriest arrival. “He didn’t even bring Pop Tarts,” a gaunter-looking Eliah mumbled and then their eyes... their eyes… eerily calm, turned to me in unison. The next words I heard will remain burned into my memory for years. A sinister curl of Dunc’s lips and then, “Let’s give him the treatment.”

At this point I must warn you dear reader that the following is not for the faint of heart or mind. The description of the aforementioned “treatment” is not an exaggeration but the actual events, which I have barely managed to survive through this past week.

First of all, they began making me throw my toilet paper in the wastebasket. Yuk! Also, I got a painful sunburn on my shoulders from rafting, which they all secretly knew would happen. I have tried unsuccessfully for days to email my mum while Jocelyn, Holly, and Serena continue to delight in sucking up the bandwidth with YouTube videos and Skype conferences amongst themselves. Mark, their de facto leader, remains secluded in his temple of an apartment whispering, “The horror, the horror” over and over again. He has bravely assisted my plight at his own risk by sneaking me portions of his delicious Nutella stash. But take hope reader! Their barbarism has slowly waned as the days pass and one named Seth has began regular communications with me. Still, as late as last night I was subjected to a two hour long meeting about programs and house topics. Bleh!

I have recently begun to see a glimmer of hope that I might survive my visit. But please dear reader, take note of the important moral to my horrifying tale. Any time you’re coming to visit Program Directors living abroad, know that a simple treat will make the difference between being warmly accepted and being subjected to their worst tortures. I bid you safe travels.

Yours in unnecessarily suspenseful writing,
Chris Taylor"

(the gifts Chris should have brought)

The Manna Hotel

For those of you wondering what happened to the Wednesday guest blog, don't worry, it's still around...even though it's been mia for the past two weeks. Serena's thinking up her entry as I write this, which is set to appear sometime later today instead of Wednesday. Obviously. Since Wednesday has a blank hole where someone (ok fine, it was me) forgot to put anything.

Anyway! The MPIEcuador house is going to play host to three wonderful Manna Executives (for want of a better term) over the next three weeks, the first of whom arrived late Wednesday night. Lori, the director of Manna Project and one of its original founders flew from Nicaragua to Ecuador via Miami yesterday, which makes about as much sense as the man I saw watering his grass today WHILE IT WAS RAINING, but so it goes down here. She's already gone on a run to the bank in Conocoto, spent some time on the couch in the kitchen (we moved Dunc's bed back up to his room), read a bunch of Dr. Suess books with Maylen at Apoyo, played Go Fish! with Jocelyn's english students, laughed through women's exercise, and watched a movie on the projector. The girl's got a lot ahead of her, considering that was just day one, and we couldn't be more excited to show her around the Ecuadorian life we've built here thus far.

As for our other two guests, Chris and Amira, can't wait for you guys to get here!


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.