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USA | Wednesday, 19 May 2010 | Views [473] | Comments [1]


16 de mayo del 2010

Entry 1:

Well I woke up for the first time this morning in Ecuador! My travels thus far have spanned all of about 15 hours, but there is already much to tell. I'd have to say the language immersion started in Miami, which turned out to be a great transition from no Spanish to ALL Spanish. It was a great decision on my mom's part to drive down to Miami and then take a direct flight. Since most of the people traveling on my plane to Quito were Ecuadorian, all the announcements were in Spanish, so I was pretty clueless over the static microphone when to get on the plane, but it all worked out. I sat next to a Peruvian man who had been vacationing in Miami. The flight was four hours, and we were silent for the first 2. But I re-learned something very valuable: food brings people together. As soon as the meal for the flight (chicken and rice, of course) was dispersed, my fellow passenger I and I began to muse about the difficulty in eating over such a small tray as we dropped half our rice. He didn't speak English, but we had a lovely conversation in his native tongue, which made me much more comfortable once we landed and I'd have to speak to everyone in Spanish all the time. I think at one point the flight attendant thought we were traveling together, because she, spotting my pale skin from a mile away, offered him some coffee or tea. He sharply retorted with, "No! Gracias!" (emphasis on the "gracias").

                Monica Salvatierrra, the wife of the overall program coordinator pricked me up from the airport. She was front and center with her sign that read "UBECI." I did what everyone requested and asked to take a picture of her and the sign, as if my tourism weren't obvious enough already. Apparently I was the first to do that. She and Raul drove me to my host family's home. Boy does anything go while driving on the streets here! Everything was so beautiful- all you see is lights all over mountains EVERYWHERE! I learned a lot about hospitality from this ride, Monica kept repeating, "Que chevere que estas aqui, Rebeca, que chevere! Es bueno que estes aqui!" over and over again. She said it sincerely, as if she doesn't do this every single day of the week.

 My host family has also shown fantastic hospitality. They live on a sharp hill to the south of the city of Quito and comprise a grandmother (Rosa), her daughter (Erica), and her granddaughter (Aisha). Aisha is 8 years old and cute as a button- she had on Hello Kitty pajamas when I arrived. I have my own room with a large bed. There are two other volunteers here for two more weeks, each with their own rooms. The house is connected to two others, but they don't use the term apartment, everyone uses "casa" for everything. It is very narrow but has 4 levels. You can tell the family takes a lot of pride in their home because it's clean and beautiful. Back to hospitality... When I told them I'd be there for over 2 months, Rosa said (in Spanish), "Good, you'll be another daughter by then." Rosa and Aisha walked me to a near-by calling station to notify my parents I had arrived safely.

 Rosa is so spunky! I'm pretty sure she left at 4 AM to go to church. I wanted to go too, but wasn't sure if she said she leaves at 4 AM or implied there are four services. Either way, I think I'll let us bond over the next week before I ask to go again. Oh! Cool facts: the evening passage I read last night, was headed "The Mountain of the Lord" (how appropriate). And the morning passage I read today was about Peter denying Jesus, you know... before the rooster crows twice. This was especially appropriate since I was woken by the cries of a rooster at the crack of dawn, 6 AM.

Other fun fact: I can indeed take a shower without getting water in my mouth AND brush my teeth with the same success.

Entry 2:

It's the middle of the day and I have a little extra time, so I'd thought I'd use it to write again. (I know, I know, writing three times a day is excessive, BUT I just got here AND I start work tomorrow, so this is unusual free time). Humorously, I am waiting to go to church with everyone. The service is at 4 PM, not AM. So there very well might be 4 services, but they were referring to the time last night. in my defense, when I first asked about church, they said "Ay, It's so early!" (in Spanish, but I'm sure that's what they said). Anyhow, I am very excited about the Latin-American Catholic service this afternoon.

This morning was pleasant. Erica washed the laundry in a sink outside while Rosa prepared breakfast. We had grilled bananas and warm apples. Rosa could not understand why I don't drink coffee, so she made some hot milk instead.  We had a wonderful conversation over breakfast and I gave them their host family gift and showed them pictures of school and my family and friends.

After breakfast, Erica asked me to help her daughter with her English class. Learning English in Ecuador is extremely important these days, so they now start the process early. She was concerned that even if she did know a word, she could not teach Aisha the correct pronunciation. Aisha and I had lots of fun. Later, she made up a game to teach me some Spanish words. Apparently, "peepee" is the same in Spanish as it is in English. "pe pe" really amused Aisha and she tried to trick me into saying it several times. Little did she know we use this term too!

 Rosa and I snuck out to go to the "town." Even she was extremely concerned about the sun, so she brought an umbrella to cover us both. Even with the ton of sunscreen, the long sleeves, and the umbrella, I still got sun. All the children we saw along our walk had rosy cheeks. Nobody is safe from the sun here at the middle of the earth. The market was like nothing I'd ever seen. There aren't that many people along the way until you turn this one corner and then all of a sudden, the streets are crowded and the market is bustling with people shouting at you to buy their goods. Rosa maneuvered the market like a pro. We must have walked 2 miles just for a little chicken, but that was for lunch so was what you had to do. She had her wrapped her arm around my waist for most of the trip in a very grandmotherly protective manner.

After the market, we kept walking just a couple streets down and BAM! A mall. El Centro Comerical de Alegre (or something that sounds like alegre : ) This thing was massive, unlike anything I'd seen in the States. It doesn't look like it from the outside, but we walked and walked and walked. It just kept going. Rosa was very proud of the Megamax- similar to a Super Wal-Mart. Except here, you put your belongings in a little locker upon entering the store as part of security. I told Rosa I couldn't believe the market and the mall were so close. She understood that I was referring to the juxtaposition of the extreme poverty of the markets and the extreme wealth of the mall.

To return home, we took a bus for half of the trip. This was the only time I really felt like I was being stared at. Somehow there were enough seats for everyone but me, so I ended up standing with about 20 guys sitting right behind me (good thing I am not fluent enough to understand most of what they were saying). Finally, we slowly hiked up the mountain back home.

Aisha and I played some more and then we all sat down for lunch: a mixture of chicken, rice, carrots, tomatoes, and peas- delcicioso. Earlier in the day I had the casual yet awkward conversation about water with Rosa. The first thing they offered me when I arrived last night was water, and I'm going to be here 10 weeks so that could become a problem. I just told her I was told people sometimes are unable to drink water when they travel simply because their stomach s might not be accustomed to the natural differences. She insisted that she had had some volunteers drink her water and not have any problems. But she still said some, so I gladly accepted the pineapple juice and the joke she made to everyone about my stomach over lunch. 

Something I've learned today about a second language is that it is OK, and even important to take risks... when you're with your host family. I know this sounds like I have some hilarious story coming about how I accidentally said something inappropriate to a stranger, but no. I can certainly imagine this happening though with some of the little mistakes I've made with my host family. They are extremely patient, and we are all learning from one another. Okay, time for church!


Entry 3:

Ok, so I learned some travel blogging etiquette today: do not  declare what will happen. This is a good general rule for life. I'm having to backtrack every time I write because things always go differently than what you expect- not necessarily worse, just differently.  I learned that in Ecuador, there is a HUGE difference between Catolico and Cristiano. I had felt the tension before when Rosa and Erica asked me my religion, but did not know it was because Rosa (the grandmother) is Catholic and Erica (Rosa's daughter) is Christian. This was very sad for me to hear, as it always is in the States, because I feel like either one group doesn't know who it is worshipping, or like nobody thinks they are worshipping the same God.

 Anyhow, Erica took me to a Christian service. We took quite the journey by bus and foot to get there. After the first bus ride, Erica pointed out how much attention we were receiving because I'm so obviously American. Correction: not obviously American, just obviously very pale, which I guess is "exotic" here.  I apologized, but I think she might have liked the attention too (she got all pretty for church : ) I had read in a guide book that women travelers need to be aware "el machismo is alive and well." It is indeed. I do not enjoy close proximity bus rides. But I LOVE trekking around with Rosa and Erica. I feel much safer with them, not comfortable, but safer. Walking around the "town" (sorry, not really sure what to call it yet) in itself is a great treat. There are so many colors and you are very nearly IN the clouds. The mountains are so green and there is nearly no humidity.

The service started at 4PM and we were extremely late, but the service still had not began. South Americans don't worry about the time something starts. It's better to focus on relationships than to agonize on a schedule. It was a small service, maybe 30 people. I brought my Nuevo Testamento, so I could follow along the passages being read in Spanish.  Mateo, Capitulo 6, versiculos 8 a 15 (Matthew 6: 8-15, for example). There were two pastors, a man and a woman.

Alright, here's the funny story I previously lacked:     After the woman had finished her sermon, she asked (in Spanish, of course) anyone visiting for the first time to raise their hand.  Honestly, when I visit a church, I usually remain silent for this portion, because I am already committed to a church family (Shout-out to Wesley!). Unfortunately, in this case, it was kind of obvious. So I raised my hand along with one other woman (whew!). THEN, she asked that we come in front of everyone. This is a good point to remind you of my NON-fluency. She could have been saying anything with these two commands, but I just had to go with my gut feeling. Fortunately I was right this time. So I'm standing in front of the congregation and the pastor asks that the other woman and I repeat everything she says (OH MY GOSH). For a moment, I didn't know if I had just volunteered to officially join the church or if I was announcing to everyone that this was the first time I was accepting Christ into my heart as they do at camps and such. I wanted to say. I love the Lord...already. But then I thought even if this were the case, re-dedication never hurts. After we repeated everything the pastor said (which was very moving, by the way). She put her hand on each of us one at a time to pray over us. That was cool. She asked for a blessing over not only my heart, but also my family. It felt good to be at home with fellow members of the Body. I returned to my seat, and confirmed with Erica that I hadn't totally misunderstood everything. Whew! Close call. A woman approached us during the last few minutes of the service and to fill out an information card. She soon discovered my lack of fluency. Since I was so nervous at the time, I heard edad as ciudad (gave her my city when all she wanted to know was my age). Oh yeah, and the part when she asked me what I would like the church to pray about for me took about an hour (yes, hyperbole) to explain. I felt bad Erica and the kind woman had to have such patience with me, but was very grateful for their prayers nonetheless.

Erica and I slipped out rather quickly to get home before 6 PM. It gets dark here every night at 6 PM. Again , we are at the equator, so the times of daylight hardly alter all year long. I was so thankful to have this great bonding experience with Erica. On our long rides/walks, we talked about a lot: boys (yes, this is a shout-out to Hansol: ), family (an obvious shout-out), the Ecuadorian government, the school system, the health system, the differences between the USA and Ecuador. She even shared the tensions among bordering countries, especially Colombia.  She was surprised when I explained the same tensions often exist in Florida between those from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.  Pride is universal. Erica is very interested in learning English, and more specifically the pronunciation.  She would often say a word in English, then describe it in Spanish until I could tell what she was trying to say. Then I gave her the write pronunciation. By far the funniest one was when she said "fooxia." I thought she was trying to say "foxy." Nope. It was the color fuchsia Erica was getting at. We got there eventually. She is so patient. At one point, we walked along a big wall and over looked many, many houses along a giant mountain side as the sun was going down. Talk about breath-taking!


We got home right around 6 PM. Dinner was a while later: soup with potatoes, lima beans, cilantro, onion, and a few other vegetable ingredients. If you know me at all, you know I'm a sucker for soup, YUM! Then, I helped Rosa with a project for Aisha. We bonded over threading strips of paper to make a placemat. I also got to help Erica help Aisha with her language class (Spanish). Erica would bring a Spanish-English dictionary to me and point at a big Spanish word she didn't know and I would look at the English definition to translate the meaning in Spanish. Then, she's run downstairs to tell Aisha.

 Michelle and Keith, the other volunteers staying here, returned from their weekend travels. Guess what guys... Keith is a Seminole! What a small world. He's from the Ft. Lauderdale area.  Gators will be happy to hear I got to translate between Rosa and Keith. Anyhow, their hospitality was great too. I am suppose to have orientation tomorrow, but Michelle and Keith are going to Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the Earth, quite literally) tomorrow, so they made sure I was able to join them.


I must say it was very strange speaking in English to the other volunteers. Every now and then Spanish would slip in. The same is occurring as I write each entry.


I arrival of Keith and Michelle and the bonding experiences of the evening came at the perfect time. After the afternoon, I was feeling lonely. Not completely alone, because I know God's got my back. But I hadn't seen another American (correction: pale person like me) all day and nobody speaks English so I feel like a loser when there is a strain in communication. But, I also have to remember to be patient with myself, which will create a spirit of greater understanding and hospitality while working with others. I can't wait to work with the children of Quito. I need them more than they need me, but hope to at least show them they are loved.


The electricity went out a while ago and I've been using my net book for light, so I'm calling it a night to conserve battery.

Hasta luego!


18 de mayo del2010


I HIKED IN THE AND ABOVE THE CLOUDS TODAY! I’m going to start with that, because yesterday was pretty difficult. It’s about 3:30 AM now, and my body is recovering from much activity.

I drank the water. On purpose. The process of how this came about went as follows: I had a great day (most parts) traveling to the Middle of the World, where the Equator was first measured and one of the few places it is defined on land. (I’ll explain the fun of the trip after I get this over with. ) I purchases three bottles of water and wiped through all of them, but buying more water here is not easily accomplished when you’re traveling with four other people who want to go, go, go. I wanted to do the same, because by the end of the day, I just wanted to go home. It felt more like a journey to the CENTER of the earth. To get there, we took at least 5 buses, a trolley, and I think some other form of transportation (it’s hard to count). You can’t have personal space issues or claustrophobia on the buses, trolleys, or taxis for that matter. Everyone is pushing hard to get in and not fall off the side when the bus starts moving. You wear your backpack on the front to avoid theft and get cozy with about ten people around you. You push even harder to get off. It’s hot and your whole body vibrates even when you get off because of griping the shaking handles or rails. On long journeys (about an hour or more, you get to sit down comfortably on the bus, but hope that you don’t have a window seat because, remember you’re closer to the sun here than anywhere, and you feel it too.

 We enjoyed a nice day at the complex where the 0’0’0’ latitude is marked. I joined two of the people I was traveling with on a guided hike to see where the equator actually is (they made a mistake, but built a huge monument before they discovered the real equator about 15 years ago). This was stupid of me-no other way of putting it. It’s my second full day here and I got all cocky on my first that the altitude didn’t seem to affect me since my acetylzolamide medication was working. Climbing upward even a few meters is very strenuous, even for the guide who grew up here. My heart was beating extremely quickly, as were my lungs pumping, to make up for the deficient oxygen at an elevation of 2 miles. But I survived and enjoyed most of this experience. (Come on, a hike in the Andes? How do you say “no” to that?)

The trip back was even more difficult: FUNNY STORY NOTICE- Two girls in the group saw a bus marked with “Quito” in large letters on the front, so they hopped on and we followed. What they didn’t see were the small letters Pt. Right in front of Quito. We’re on the bus maybe ten minutes, knowing we’re not headed toward Quito, but thinking we’d just make a giant circle or something. The guy in the group asked how long the ride was, but the bus attendant didn’t understand him, so I translated. The response: “3 and a half hours.” My response: “To Quito?!” Bus attendant: “No, no. To Puerto Quito.” Uh oh. We told him the situation, which was already obvious by my tone of voice and got off on the next stop. I was majorly scanned into paying over $4 for a ride that originally cost $3.25 to go over three hours. I knew it too, but didn’t have time to argue, being a foreigner and having to get off right then. So there we are, sitting on the side of the road, hoping some bus headed for Quito would come by in this obscure place. It did! But then we had another 3 or so buses, two taxi rides and a couple of trolleys to return.

My headache, which is already quit common back home, was ridiculous. I lied down for three hours without any water left until bailing in. The window in my room was open to cool it down. Somebody outside was cooking or something that made smoke come into my room, so I closed my window. Again, stupid. The only result of that was my room being filled with smoke with no place to go. Then, Rosa started cooking with onion downstairs, the smell of which filled the entire house. Finally, that song that the string quartet in Titanic played as the ship was going down started playing over and over from somewhere.  These combined factors tipped my pain and emotions over the edge completely. Michelle and Keith had drunken the water and Rosa said they had no problems (I knew they had both been very “digestively ill” and assumed this to be the cause). But I was desperate. Rosa, Michelle, and Aisha were having dinner and I explained that I had a severe headache and was wondering if I could try her water. She stood up with a look of victory on her face. I had some and the explained I would probably vomit, but then feel better later. I went back upstairs, did just that and lied down and cried. No more water once again, because Rosa has to boil it. A while later, she came into my room and said she had gone to the doctor and gotten altitude sickness medicine. I took three pills over the span of a half-hour (with precious water). My temperature went down and my headache slowly disperses, as did my urge to vomit again. Miracle pills, given by my angel, Rosa. So, now I’m awake very early, feeling MUCH better. I think my body keeps wanting me to get more water so wakes me up, but I already checked and there isn’t any. I’ll wait until the morning tea in 4 hours.

Now onto the GOOD parts of the day:

I got to know Keith and Michelle much better as well as meet two other volunteers. Over breakfast (papaya and a cookie) Keith and Michelle were both extremely honest about their digestive problems. You can’t have any shame here, because you need to get help. Keith skipped a day of work last week and Michelle was up all night the night before. I won’t share the graphic details, but it was funny and really good how blatantly honest they were. He said “So, basically , it’s bound to happen.” We’ll see. Oh! The first thing he said was “Did you figure it out yet?” Me: “Figure what out?” Keith: “The hot water.” Now, I wasn’t going to complain about the cold showers because most people in the world do not get this luxury. But apparently we can. He said they were going to make me suffer for a full week like they did, but caved. Later he bluntly gave me the talk about what I could and couldn’t flush down the toilet. Poor guy has to share the bathroom with a girl so actually has to worry about that know. Michelle has her own bathroom.

The two of them gave me lots of tips and mused about how they’re out-of-breath everywhere. I said, “Yeah! I kind of wanted to get a red blood cell count before and after the trip to see if this whole acclimization thing is real” -----awkward silence ------ “I’m a health major, so it’s my thing.”

The other volunteers I met were Liona and Marie. Dad will be happy to hear that Liona is from Ireland! (He had joked that I should practice my Spanish with an Irish accent to avoid disdain toward Americans). Liona is from Waterford, so I got to tell her about how we were there for the annual festival last summer. It’s funny, because I has just been thinking a day before that the cab rides here are like the crazy one we had in Waterford. Her dad worked in the crystal factory since he was 14 years old, before it shut down.


Marie is from Ottawa, Canada. Nope, I had nothing to say in response to that. Marie has a cool accent to, and says “eh” a lot which makes me happy. I like when those stereotypes come true.  

We all traveled well together. Keith, despite my gatorness, made sure the new girl was never left behind, especially on the buses. I got to be the translator most of the time, which was a lot of fun.

The complex of Mitad del Mundo, middle of the world, is where all the tourists finally see one another. There’s a large tower with North and South clearly marked and a bright yellow line with the elevation marked for pictures. Fortunately, Liona had been here before, so she knew this was not the real equator (shhhhh!) This is when the hike came into play. IT WAS SO COOL! The guide stopped every so often to show us natural remedies in the flora. Lavender, mint, the makings of licorice, medicinal plants for headaches and stomach aches (we were tempted to steal this one), and sashi were on the list. Sashi is a hallucinogen that tastes like blackberry and looks like blood when you break it open. They had calculated the fatal limit at 21 small berries. Don’t ask me how. I respectfully declined to taste.


When we got to the top of where we were going, we stood on a gravel path of just a few feet’s width and looked down onto a giant crated that had been the remains of a huge volcano years before. 100 people live in the equator to tend the now lush land, because they are confident that the volcano right next to them will not erupt for another thousand years. It takes an hour and fifteen minutes to hike out of the crater for these residents. Then, Fernando, our guide, played a song with a small instrument to pay his respects to his Mother Earth. We sat in silence for a while with him to respect his tradition. We had gone up at the absolute perfect time, because the clouds began moving in so we were literally in the clouds, and sometimes above them too. That doesn’t happen often.


Well that was yesterday. Not really sure what today brings, perhaps finally getting to work with the street children? We’ll see.



Wow, Becca, I had a blast reading your entries and it seems like you are already having a great adventure! Some good things, some bad things, but it sounds like you are immersing yourself and really soaking in the local culture. I could picture you talking in Spanish with everyone and translating for the other volunteers. I pray the altitude and water situation get easier for you to deal with. We all know about you and your water! : ) More seriously, I'm praying that God continues to open your eyes to everything around you and take care of yourself! : )

  Christina May 21, 2010 11:31 AM

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