Internship: La Pasantia

Last Monday and Tuesday the six students on my track and our coordinator Jacky went on a trip to see potential internship sites in Latacunga and Cotopaxi. These regions of Ecuador are a little further South and fairly chilly.  It was overcast and rainy during our time, but what we saw was interesting. The goal was to find places for each of us to participate in six-week internships from mid-March to the end of April. None of the sites we visited resounded with me and I actually found an internship in Quito that I will be doing, but I want to post some photos and short descriptions of what we saw.  The first cooperative we visited, in a town called Pukara, had a huge water reservoir they use to save water for times of drought, like right now.  When there is plenty of rain each family in the community gets water daily, but right now it is parceled out once a week.  The community has used micro-credit to start businesses in which each family cares for a shed full of cuis (guinea pigs: a common- and tasty- meal).  They also grow various edible plants with the goal of “sobrealimentacion”- providing nutritious food for all.

Don Jose in a cui shed. The guinea pigs are separated by age.

The next two sites we visited were more or less offices that provide savings and credit services for the popular sector (poor people who can’t afford traditional banking services).  The offices were in very small, empty towns and it happened to be cold and rainy.  I must admit I felt a similar distaste for working at these places as I did when visiting prospective colleges a few years ago.  The last site, however, really fascinated me.  It was a carpentry trade school for young boys from very poor families.  They boys live at the facility Monday-Friday, taking classes in the morning and having “talleres”- workshops- in the afternoon.  They also receive religious formation and recreational time as well as rotating between domestic chores and outdoor farming duty.  They produce gorgeous craftmanship- intricately carved frames, plaques, furniture and articles for the church. The second-year boys, no more than 11 to 13-years-old, each worked at his own table covered in wood curls, creating wooden boxes with floral inlays.  The more advanced students included tables and altars fitted together cleverly without nails, all high quality.  The institution enables boys whose families can’t afford to send them to school to get an education that will provide them with job opportunities when they are done.

Although I would love to learn carpentry, this was an all-boys school so I decided to wait and hope for another internship to come along… and it did!

I will be working at GSFEPP- Grupo Social del Fondo Ecuatoriano Popularum Progressae.  It is an NGO, non-profit, ecumenical organization in Ecuador that runs many different businesses all oriented towards helping the lower-income sector.  They have a division that shows campesinos how to register their land legally, for example.  Another sub-group within FEPP help construct clean water sources and still another is working on developing technological infrastructure.  All of these businesses operate under the same vision: that of “la economía solidaria,” an economy that centers on human beings and their needs instead of profit, keeping in mind the need for sustainability.  I will be helping develop a marketing campaign for some new service or initiative that FEPP is starting.  I don’t know a lot of the details but I should be visiting next week, so I’ll have more information soon.  I’m looking forward to having a purposeful, full-time “job” here. The pasantilla will be Monday-Friday, roughly 8 a.m- 5p.m. for six weeks.  I will be staying with my host family here in Quito because it’s only a half-hour bus ride to FEPP.  I plan to continue on the soccer team as well.  I’ll post more when I know more!

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La vida diaria: Daily Life

At this point my life has more or less settled into a routine.  I will attempt to inject the mundane facts with as much fascinating detail as I can.  Now that I’m more familiar with the city I can supply context that will help.  I live in the North of Quito, first of all.  All of the major streets in the city run North/South and there are several major streets and trolley lines that go from one side to the other.  Since most tourist sites are towards the center of the city, when I want to go places I generally just “travel South” by bus, trolley or taxi.  If you picture a city block like the one below, the street on the bottom is called Shyrris (Shee-dees) and is a busy street with restaurants, stores, banks etc. The street on the left is Rio Coca and the one at the top is Isla Seymour (Say-mor), which is my street. I live about the fourth entrance from the left on the top row.

I say entrance because almost all houses/apartments in Quito are behind locked gates that lead to driveways or patios.  Behind my entrance is a long driveway with staircases that lead to roughly six apartments, three stories on each side.  Our apartment is the bottom floor on the left.

My favorite room in the house!

Monday through Friday I have been leaving for school around 8:30 a.m. after a breakfast of yogurt, fruit salad, ham and cheese melt (on a roll) and fresh squeezed fruit juice.  I leave the house, walk around the corner and across the street to the bus stop, and take the 25 cent ten-minute ride to school.  In the morning, the six students in the Microfinance track have class together for two hours with our track coordinator, Jacqueline Campoverde, or guest speakers.  We then have a two hour lunch break.  Students either go to lunch in one of the tiny cafés nearby or purchase bread, cheese, fruit, avocado or American junk food at the stands on the road.  I usually use the rest of the time to do homework. In the afternoon, we have two hours of Spanish class.  We spend a lot of time discussing new words or phrases we’ve heard or don’t understand but also do lots of interactive exercises and games.  Recently we each read a short story in Spanish and presented it to the class.  Our teacher, Beto, is a master at making grammar fun. To reinforce the preterite perfect (I have…), we played “Never have I ever…” After Spanish, I walk or take the bus home and get ready for soccer. I am training with the women’s club team at Universidad Católica, which is a 30-45 minute bus ride in traffic. We train from 5:30 to 8:30 Monday-Thursday.  The team has been a great way to practice Spanish, get to know people and participate in my favorite sport! I get home from soccer at 9 p.m., drink coffee and eat rolls with my Mom and/or my Abuelos (who live above us), work on homework and go to bed!

The weekends are often much more relaxed. Last weekend I toured several churches in Historic Quito one day and attended a professional soccer game another day.  The soccer game (Barcelona vs. Independiente) was very lively; when the fans got upset they threw empty and full water bottles at the referee.  Soccer is taken extremely seriously here.  There is a whole section of the newspaper dedicated to disseminating the results of the weekend’s soccer games.  This weekend, I attended an Ecuadorian reggae concert featuring many of Bob Marley’s old and new hits.  The three bands that played had wonderful grooves and singers fluent in both Spanish and Caribbean sounding English.  Smoke, lights, a free poster and a hundred dredlocked fans = una fiesta.

A fraction of a huge stain-glass window in the Basilica

I’m going to post this and try to quickly create a new post to update on the internship search.

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Riobamba y Carnaval

Sorry for the delay, folks!

For many Latin American countries, including Ecuador, Saturday through Tuesday of this past weekend was a rowdy celebration known as Carnaval. Different countries and some individual cities have traditional ways of partying before Ash Wednesday, the day when Catholics begin forty days of fasting and penance leading up to Easter.  Customary festivities in Ecuador include parades, games, music, water fights and of course, a holiday from school! Typically, natives and tourists flock to the West- towards the beaches- to make merry day and night during Carnaval. On Saturday morning, however, I found myself  packed into a four-door sedan at full capacity rumbling South to a city called Riobamba. I was traveling with Muma, a friend from the Catholic University soccer team with which I have been training, her brother Carlos, two friends on their way to respective hometowns, and her adorable Schnauzer, Lila. Traffic notwithstanding, the adventure really began ten miles outside of Ambato, when the car started shaking then haltingly collapsed with a fully deflated front right tire.  After unloading the fifteen suitcases we had miraculously packed into the trunk, we discerned that we had a spare tire, a jack, and a socket wrench…but no keys with which to take off the hubcap. In the end, Muma and I hitched a ride to Ambato, borrowed a mechanics assistant, took a taxi back to our car with him, photographed him changing the tire, and deposited him back at the ferreteria (hardware store), rattling on our way.  We arrived in the afternoon to Muma’s house- a series of stacked apartments belonging to her mother, her brother Juan, and two other aunts, deceptively hidden behind the family mattress store.  We pulled up on the crowded cobblestone street and were greeted by aunts, uncles, cousins and four more dogs.  What a beginning!

That evening, Juan, Carlos, Muma, myself and two Frenchmen who were in the area drove the hour back to Ambato to watch a friend of the family who is a torrero- a bullfighter.  It was my first experience watching the elaborate art, and I admit I almost laughed the first time one of the torreros danced too close and fled behind the protective barrier, closely followed by an angry bull.  It was thrilling though to hold my breath as a more skilled torrero beckoned the beast with a flick of bright fabric and arched his back as the bull charged within inches of it. With each pass, a murmur passed through the crowd…Ooole! Ole! Then came the part I had somehow forgotten about- the ceremonious unsheathing of the sword and skewering of the bull, complete with spurts of red blood. We left after the fifth of six bulls was dragged out of the arena by a team of horses.

On Sunday morning, Muma’s mother presented me with a rose in honor of el Dia de Amor y Amistad- which I had completely forgotten about! We then prepared to go to the family’s finca/casa del campo/country estate.  I was warned by the family to bring a full change of clothes with me to nearby Penipe, in the Chimborazo province. “Vamos a mojarnos!” “We’re going to get wet,” I was told. The house was in the middle of an acre of corn just up the hill from town and it had a long zipline, a swingset and an outdoor cooking area. We unpacked the cars and most of the young people grabbed beers and rode in the back of the truck back to Penipe’s centro.  We were dropped off in the crowded main plaza, where almost every face in sight wore the marks of paint, foam, and water.  There was music playing and the streets too were littered with empty cans, popped balloons and water bottles.  Almost immediately,  our dry clothes became a tempting target and we began looking for the “safest” walking route, to no avail. Several water balloons soon landed on me anonymously and to top it off, a man casually walked past me and deposited a handful of chalk dust in my hair, giving it a hearty rub.  We walked back up the half-mile to our house and divided into teams, arming ourselves with small basins and plastic water jugs with the top halves cut off, and a two-hour water-fight ensued.  The women cooked steaks, sausages, potatoes and choclo (corn on the cob), filling the yard with steam. While waiting for dinner, we dried off in the sun with a game of soccer.  Everyone from 6-year-old Emilio to 24-year-old Carlos participated. After dinner, we loaded the cars back up and returned to Rio Bamba. We got back just in time for some of the family friends who had come with us and me to catch the last Mass of the day.

Monday, most of us headed to Ambato for more Carnaval festivities. Ambato is known for its Festival of Fruits and Flowers, but we mostly walked around exploring the indoor mall, the outdoor shops, the displays of art, the various ice cream shops and the inundated parks.  Outside the Cathedral of Ambato we listened to a band of musicians singing and strumming for some time before heading back. Although we had planned to return yet again that evening for a fiesta involving a Dragon y Caballero (Colombian reggaeton) concert, we had to think of an alternative when the parking garage attendant disappeared from his post.  In the end, our group had a night on the town in Riobamba. Fortunately, my friends knew waiters and bouncers at seemingly every venue such that the cost was low for extended enjoyment.  The surprise of the night for me was the bar that boasted a bubble machine that had the first floor up to their knees in suds.  The party ended early Tuesday morning with a big group singing and passing around a guitar in Muma’s brother’s apartment.

We drove back to Quito midday Tuesday, fighting torrential downpours and mudslides that caused massive delays in the bus system, unfortunately for a number of my classmates. I made it home early, around 6 p.m., got ready for class, and went to bed. Happy Carnaval!

Next post, my goal is to share a little bit about daily life here. Stay tuned!

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Los Baños

Quitumbe, the bus terminal in the south of Quito, sends buses all over Ecuador.  For $3.50, five girls and I took a three-hour bus ride on Friday afternoon to a town called los Baños.  Named after its famous thermal baths, heated to 118 degrees by the active volcano Tungarahua, Baños subsists on tourism. The six of us contributed our share this past weekend. We stayed at Hotel Chimenea for $6.50 a night a piece. We ate stacks of fruit, yogurt and honey-covered pancakes with jugo de mora (blackberry juice) for roughly $3.00 each.  On Saturday, we contracted guides from one of dozens of adventuring agencies to give us wetsuits and take us canyoning: rappelling down 30 foot waterfalls amidst lush green foliage, $25.

With unlimited finances, we could have zip-lined through the jungle, gone bungee/bridge-jumping, rented ATVs or bikes, or tackled Class 4 rapids. Descending a fifty-foot waterfall, however, was sufficient for me.  Saturday afternoon we walked around the town a bit, sampling malcocha- Baños’ signature taffy that is pulled and twisted on pegs in a shop’s doorway- and sugar cane, which is pressed through machines to yield sugar cane juice.  Here is a video of the taffy-making process on YouTube (30 secs). We also signed up for a chiva bus tour promising a view of the volcano, complete with visible lava on a clear night. Although we saw no lava, we did hear the rumbling and had the added pleasure of riding in the chiva- a rickety open-air bus with bench seats and painted sides, lit up with lights and music, as it hurtles around mountainous curves.  On Sunday morning, I attended mass at The Basilica of the Virgin of the Holy Water.  Although the spires of the church are fluorescent blue in the night (highly reminiscent of the Disney castle), in the day, it holds almost hourly masses, typically packed with devout Baños residents.  The interior of the basilica holds several large paintings depicting miracles that have been attributed to the holy waters of los Baños.  All in all, a beautiful get-away. Now back to classes!

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San Miguel de los Bancos

Friday morning, the 34 students on my program left at 6:30 a.m. for a weekend of relaxation. After three hours of busing through mountains, jungles and deserts, we arrived. San Miguel de los Bancos is in the northwest of a province of Ecuador called Pichincha. We were staying at a resort in a cloud forest- picture a lush, tropical jungle in the clouds. We went on a caminata- a hike- through the forest down to a waterfall and river where people could swim. Our guides showed us trees that hold reserves of water and trees with spikes that can be made into poisonous darts. Some of their leaves were easily two feet long. The jungle engages many senses; it feels moist, smells rich and sounds like a symphony of birds and insects. It is VERY loud. Perhaps sound correlates to size; I have already seen three-inch flying bugs, six-inch stick bugs and “baby” worms that were as long as my hand, wrist to fingertip.

On Saturday, we took a tour of the grounds of the resort and learned some interesting facts. Our guide was standing in the center of a small circular plaza holding two metal skewers at one point. He held them between the thumb and forefinger of each hand, parallel to the ground and each other, slowly walking in a straight line until they were drawn together magnetically.  After, he invited volunteers to come up while he did the same thing, demonstrating where each person’s magnetic field was. For most people, it was two or three feet around their body, but one girl’s energy field was less than a foot from her body. The guide said that the metal from her piercings (which she had removed) saps her energy in the same way a baby uses the energy of a pregnant mother.  The guide also balanced an egg on a nail, telling us that it rested on one tiny point on the edge- apparently one of the wonders of the Equator.

On the way home, our bus got a flat tire.  I’m not sure if it happened before or as we parked at a 45 degree angle (side to side, not front to back) outside an ice cream shop. In the hour it took to repair, we got an ice cream making demonstration from a very jolly proprietor. He showed us how they put a large metal bowl in an even larger basin of ice and pour pureed fruit into it, moving the liquid with a small paddle, by hand.  There are many fruity flavors of ice cream in Ecuador because the fruit is so juicy and luscious! With breakfast and lunch it is common to serve juice made by simply blending the fruit with a little water.  It is thick and pulpy, almost like fruity syrup, but not as sweet as juice in the States.

On Saturday night, my friends and I explored part of Gringolandia called La Plaza de la Foch.  Quito has several tourist districts with bars and discotecas and the top two are Plaza Foch and La Mariscol.  Sunday my family and I went out to lunch at a restaurant named after a famous Mexican television show called El Chavo del Ocho, created by a comedian named Roberto Gomez Bolaños.  We then drove through Parque Metropolitano, one of the many beautiful, large parks in Quito.  This one has thick woods throughout much of it but they are filled with well-used trails where people walk, run and bike.  Sunday night my mama and I went to a nearby church. My brother Sebastion dropped us off because twice while the car was parked outside the church robbers stole my family’s car radio.  When we got home, we immediately went upstairs where my abuelos live. My mama’s siblings and their spouses were there and everyone sat around a tiny table talking, eating bread and cheese, and drinking coffee.  One subject of conversation was the current discussion about traffic reduction in Quito.  Several options have been considered, including the prohibition of driving during key hours of a given day if your license plate ends in a given number.

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Time is money/Tiempo es dinero

I have arrived! My flights were smooth, I haven’t gotten sick, I like my host family…as we say in Ecuador: todo esta bien. This week we had orientation and some classes. We had to choose a track of studies that will help prepare us for related internships, and I chose “microfinanzas.”  In one general lecture today (called “choque de cultura” – culture shock), the speaker was explaining the way that Ecuadorians see time as a cycle, and not linear, as people do in the United States. We have schedules and deadlines and beginnings and endings.  Here in Ecuador, the buses come when they come. Instead of “time is money,” my professor says “tiempo es la vida.” Life is meant to be enjoyed, spent with loved ones, and lived. When we take “descansitos”- little breaks- between classes, we go outside for ten minutes…twenty…thirty. Just as we enjoy extending the breaks, we enjoy drawing out the conversations in class. We have played several games in which each student has to present something for the class. In the U.S., if student presentations are longer than the scheduled class time, everybody leaves and picks it up the next day.  The students revolve around the schedule, in other words. Aqui en Ecuador, the schedule revolves around the students.  Class ends when everyone has participated. This would not be possible in the United States. It is a completely different system.

Other examples of “different systems” are in public transportation and sanitation. Not only do the buses come at different times each hour and day, they also continue moving unless you forcefully flag them down. The drivers prefer passengers to dive onto the bus while it’s moving. When I get on the bus, it starts moving as soon as the last person getting on has one foot on the step. Then, each bus has a teenage boy or man who either walks down the bus aisle collecting the amount (typically a quarter), or takes it as you leave. He also serves as an incentive to move faster, heckling people who lag. As a side note, pedestrians do not have the right of way in Ecuador. I don’t know who does, though, because cars seem to join traffic when they please, suddenly careening in front of your car or bus.  Enough about that. The next biggest instigator of culture shock in Ecuador is the sanitation system, which must consist of very small pipes. Thus, toilet paper is placed in a small trash can next to the toilet, so that it doesn’t overflow. Always!

UNA NOTA PERSONAL

Although I want to keep this blog general, about Ecuador, I will include personal notes about my experiences and specific situation. To begin, I live with a wonderful 48-year-old woman named Marina (I call her Mami) and her two children Sebastion, 24, and Paula, 22. I will rarely see the kids because Sebas is an army pilot who only comes home on the weekends and Paula is a busy student writing her college thesis and we have different schedules. My Mom has a room with a door and four walls but no ceiling that houses several bird cages and plants. There are more than twenty parakeets en total and a parrot- “el loro”- that says “hola” and other less respectful things. There is also another roofless room with beautiful hanging and potted plants.  Our building has about three levels and we only live on one floor, but my house is considered one of the nicest. Each of us has our own room and we also have a big living room, small kitchen and two bathrooms. I will try to put up pictures soon. Early tomorrow morning, the students on my program are being treated to a mini-vacation. We will go hiking and swimming and stay at a hotel in a place called San Miguel de los Bancos. Ciao!

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New information

I have learned that my host mother is 48. She has a son, 24, who is a pilot, and a daughter, 22, who is a student. I have read about Ecuador here and there, and gleaned the following geography trivia from its page in the CIA World Factbook:

  • The area of the country is about the size of Nevada
  • Columbia and Peru border Ecuador
  • Coastal plain, inter-Andean central highland and eastern jungle make up the country’s terrain
  • The Galápagos Islands (where Darwin studied finches) belong to Ecuador
  • The highest active volcano in the world, Cotopaxi, is 28 miles south of Quito in the Andes

Soon I will give a firsthand account of Ecuadorian geography.  My next post should be in-country. Ciao!

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