Saturday, March 28, 2009

Joys

It finally hit me yesterday that I’m living one of my biggest dreams. Right now. I’m living in an average-sized city in the middle of Ecuador. I really am living here. When I go to the grocery store with Jonathan we buy things like onions, milk, bread, and laundry detergent. I’ve named the neighbor’s dog. I know a corner store on Calle Uruguay that carries liter bottles of refrigerated Coke and KinderBuenos. I know that the garbage truck with its loud garbage man jingle blasting from its megaphone comes by our building every morning between 7:25 and 7:30. I know that when I cross Calle Junín I only need to look for cars coming from the south and when I cross Calle Argentinos I only need to look for cars coming from the north. No looking both ways on one-way streets; that’ll give you away in a second. The employees of the bakery on the corner know us and they know what we want. We’re regulars. We’re regulars! In Ecuador. As much as I’ve dreamt about it, I still can’t believe that it’s happening.

Today is our one month wedding anniversary. It’s been the happiest month of my life even though I’ve had some struggles. I’m still dealing with a parasite (see my poll). I don’t know how I got it but it’s causing sharp stomach/intestinal pains on and off throughout the day* and headaches. I’m still trying to decide what to do about it since the main drug offered here for parasites isn’t FDA approved. However, I remember that most of the indigenous people we work with don’t know what it’s like not to have parasites. I’m just getting a little bit of what they suffer through every day. Sometimes our work days seem long. We drive for hours on bumpy roads and we sit through meetings in endless Spanish. The good thing is we’re doing it all with the hope and goal of making people’s lives better. I’ve seen many successful projects in progress: medical campaigns in schools, several classrooms and cafeterias being built in different communities, a class training some indigenous young adults how to start and run small businesses, running water in people’s homes for the first time in their lives, the list goes on. It makes the hard work so worth it.

Jonathan has done an amazing job on designing a pamphlet and poster to publicize our micro-business training class around the city. Carlos, our boss, likes the pamphlet so much that he wants Jonathan to design similar pamphlets for our other Ecuador office 5.5 hours away in Cuenca. We took a trip to Cuenca this past Thursday to Friday with Carlos to have a meeting with the three staff members there. While we were there we also had a meeting with some rich and important people in Cuenca that might be able to help us with a fundraising gala we’re planning in Cuenca this summer.

Ascend’s accountant works in the Cuenca office and is feeling very overloaded with work. She was mentioning this problem to Carlos in our meeting and he asked me if I would learn QuickBooks and get trained on how I can help our accountant get caught up. Wow. Sure. Haha… Learning QuickBooks in Spanish will be a challenge but I’m up for it. The only thing I’m worried about is getting trained by the accountant. I’ve never heard more jumbled and mumbled Spanish than what comes out of her mouth. I understand 90 to 95% of the Spanish I hear here. But from her? 20% if I’m lucky. It will be a great listening comprehension exercise at least. I hope I’ll be able to help.

On the drive home from Cuenca (the three of us went in Carlos’ truck) I was amazed by the beauty of Ecuador. We are literally living in the Andes and it’s incredible. On the way there we were basically driving in a cloud the whole time. It was extremely foggy so we didn’t see much of the landscape. The fog had cleared up for the drive back to Riobamba, though and… wow. It had rained a lot the night before, causing two huge mudslides to make the main road back to Riobamba impassable. We got out of the truck and watched the workers try and clear the mud. It wasn’t working too well because the mud was still sliding down the mountain. It had wiped out a couple of houses. I really hope there wasn’t anyone inside. Carlos said mudslides are one of the most deadly natural disasters that Ecuador deals with.

This is the smaller of the two mudslides. The other one is about 20 yards down the road. It goes right across the road and continues down the mountian.

A local boy told us the mudslide had happened at 7 that morning and it still looked like this when we got there at noon.


Here's the view of the mudslides from far away. You can see the line of trucks and busses that were too big to turn around and take a detour. They'd been waiting for hours.

After waiting for about a half hour we decided to take a detour. I’m so glad we did. It was beautiful. I can’t describe it and I know my pictures won’t do it justice but I’ll show you some that I took from the car anyway.




In other news, we are enjoying our branch. The people are so kind and fun. I play the piano in Sacrament Meeting every Sunday which has proved to be fun but a little difficult. As you all probably know, my piano skills aren’t pro. I do the best I can and pray for the blessing of not messing up too much. So far it hasn’t gone too badly and I love playing the piano so it really is a blessing. However, for some reason, the congregation thinks they want to hold some notes longer than they are written in the hymn and other notes they just skip right over. I’m debating over whether to stay true to the way the hymn is written or to just go along with how they sing it so everyone doesn’t get confused and think I’m a horrible pianist. The chorister is another matter. I play the introduction and look up at her and she just stares out at the congregation with her arms at her side waiting them to start singing. So I just go ahead and start playing and they eventually get semi-on with the piano and she waves her arm around and smiles. It’s kind of funny.

On Wednesday night this week Jonathan and I went to “Noche de Hogar” at the church. It’s basically family home evening with the branch. It was supposed to start at 7 pm and Jonathan and I walked in at 7:50 thinking we’d probably missed most of it (we’d had a meeting that night). We were wrong. They were all sitting in the Relief Society room just getting ready to sing the opening hymn. I was asked to lead the hymn since there wasn’t a piano in there. On the second verse of "Praise to the Man" I noticed that two teenage boys in the second row were leading along with me. I had to try to keep singing and not laugh. It was pretty funny. They did the same thing during the closing song. I can only hope that now maybe someone in the branch understands the purpose of having a chorister.

After the Noche de Hogar lesson we played hang-man and ate hot dogs. One man tried to sell us internet service. Another man asked us if the foundation we work for could help pay for his colostomy bags which cost him $40 to $60 dollars a day (a lot of money here!). He even pulled us aside and showed us his hugely swollen and misshapen belly with a colostomy bag hooked to it. It was sad but it’s not really something we can help with. I wish we could help him. Another lady started talking to us about how much her daughter’s school (which is nice compared to indigenous schools in the communities outside the city) needs more classrooms. I hope nobody feels bad that we can’t help them with everything they might need just because we work for a humanitarian organization. If I’m ever rich, I don’t think I’d be rich very long. It’s hard to see how many needs there are out here.

This past Saturday Carlos invited us to come to a family get-together at his aunt’s house. His uncle lives in Maryland and was here for a visit. Carlos has a big family like me and it was fun to get together with all of them. It made me miss all the get-togethers** with both the Graceys and my family. All of Carlos’ cousins and aunts and uncles were so friendly and fun. Jonathan talked for a long time with Carlos’ cousin’s boyfriend who’s also studying graphic design. We learned that there’s a graphic design studio near our apartment. Jonathan wants to stop by one day and talk to the designers about their work. I love how motivated he is.
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The highlight of the get-together was the food. Shortly after we arrived, it took 3 women to carry this out of the kitchen.

(Yes, it's dead)
Everyone immediately crowded around it and started picking off pieces of the skin to snack on. I love the look on Jonathan’s face here.


Then the women tore it apart so it could be served. They seemed fierce as they ripped off the legs and tore apart the flesh. The scene was a little gruesome and I tried not to think of Babe.
Other food highlights of the party included pig intestines filled with rice and beans, blood sausage, and potatoes with peanut sauce. The intestines were… okay…until Carlos told me what they were. The pig meat was good except for the skin. They think the skin is the best part but I thought it tasted like a too-thick , kinda-burnt, fatty chip. And Jonathan’s piece of skin had whiskers. Maybe he got the eyebrow or something. We hid the skin under our napkins and sneakily threw it away.
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Now for a few more pictures from the past week…

For those of you who know how much I love ducks and want one as a pet, you’ll understand how hard it was for me not to take one of these little guys home from the market. Somehow I don’t think Ascend would appreciate a pet duck in the office though.

For those of you who’d like to see, here are the awesome people we work with every day. Adriana is on the left. She’s in charge of the health and education projects. Carlos is in the middle. He’s the area coordinator. Lenin is on the right. He’s in charge of the simple technology and micro-business projects. They’re all so nice and a joy to work with.


For those of you who like climbing, this is supposed to be one of the hardest mountains in the world to climb. Right outside our own Riobamba. I forgot what it’s called but I think it looks like a witch’s lair.
For those of you that like doors, here’s a cool one that Jonathan took a picture of… random.


For those of you who like breakfast, this is what happened when I went to make scrambled eggs this morning. I’m guessing it’s going to be a happy day.


For those of you that have seen Peter Pan, this is Nana. She’s our friendly across-the-street neighbor dog who lives on the roof of an apartment building. I love her.

Jonathan thinks we should call her Beethoven but I’m sticking to Nana. This is her favorite past-time:
This is my favorite person in the world. He went with me up to the roof of our building so I could take a picture of Nana. He actually barked to get her to look at us. Folks, this is the man I get to be with forever and nothing could make me happier. Happy Anniversary, love.

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*No, I’m not pregnant. To all the numerous people that have suspected it, I can assure you that the only thing living inside me is a parasite. Anyone have any ideas for names?
** My cousin Arianne is getting baptized today. Congratulations, Arianne! I’m sorry I’m missing it but I hope you have a great day. I’m proud of you.

Friday, March 20, 2009

No offense, Ecuador, but...

  • The flag that's used to promote one of your political parties up for election next month is a gay pride flag where I come from and I laugh when I see it hanging on everyone’s houses here.

  • Your roosters are idiots. I know the sun rises early here, but I’m positive it’s not up at 2 am. Just because the dogs bark all night wake them up, it doesn’t mean they need to cock-a-doodle-doo the rest of the night for all they’re worth.
  • Why do you need to turn off the water for our apartment building at the most inopportune time? Like when I wake up sick in the night and then the toilet won’t flush. Lovely, thanks.
  • The gap in our bed is annoying. I’m tired of falling into it at night.
  • Was there really no other way for you to keep track of our clothes when we dropped them off to get washed other than to write our initials in permanent marker on every single sock and towel?
  • Did you really have to kick us out of your grocery store at 1 pm and tell us to come back at 3?
  • Why don’t you have Diet Coke?
  • Bologne is a very gross lunch meat.
  • Why do you have sneaky people that stole Jonathan’s camera right out of his pocket? That’s mean.
  • Your handshakes pretty much suck.
  • Why does no one have a Mac so we can get our dang hard drive to work?
  • It’s very difficult to get myself to take a shower when the water is hot then cold then kinda not that hot then freezing then warmish then freezing.
  • Yogurt, cheese, and lunch meats should be kept cold to keep them from making you sick. I would say milk and eggs too but I guess I’ll let you have those as exceptions.
  • Your ceviche was almost delicious. I only say almost because the fatty thick slimy pig skin you added in at the end was pretty nasty. But I ate around it.
  • Your policemen don’t do the best job at enforcing traffic laws. I didn’t really think you had traffic laws at first but then I thought the double yellow lines on the roads and the speed limit signs must mean something. Oh well… It does make for exhilarating and entertaining drives.
  • Your bus drivers are crazy.
  • Where are you hiding the tampons?! They have to be sold somewhere around here…. right?
  • I’m getting a little jealous that Jonathan might love the bread here almost as much as he loves me. That doesn’t seem right.
  • Why are 90% of the people here so small? It makes me feel like a big oaf.

Thanks. That was nice to get off my chest. On the other hand, Ecuador, you are awesome for…


  • Your CHEAP transportation,
  • Your delicious pineapples,
  • The indigenous people that walk their sheep, cows, pigs, donkeys, and kids on the sides of the roads we drive on. And for the awesome clothes they wear.



  • Giving Jonathan and me the opportunity to hang out together all day every day for 5 whole months,
  • Helping me become a better Spanish-speaker,
  • Having really friendly people everywhere,
  • Your beautiful countryside. Seriously, it’s right up there with Maui, the Swiss Alps, Ronda, Cinque Terre, Costa Rica, and Utah mountains.
  • Having KinderBuenos! Even if they are $1, which seems kind of expensive here,


                • Showing me how NGO’s are run here in South America,
                • Letting me learn how to cook with limited provisions,
                • Having cities where we can walk everywhere instead of drive,
                • Giving me the opportunity to help make people’s lives better, healthier, easier, and hopefully less poor,
                • Having the most delicious Hawaiian Pizza I’ve ever tasted in my life (fresh pineapple AND peaches!),
                • Your very cute children. Everywhere. My children will never look like them, but they’ll look like Jonathan who is ridiculously cute as well.
                • ...............................Above: Very cute...............................

                  ...........................Above: Ridiculously cute.........................

                • Your markets in Guamote on Thursdays and in Riobamba on Saturdays. Delicious, interesting, weird, funny, uncomfortable… a nice cultural experience all around.

                • Making me feel refreshed when I wake up at 6:30 am for the first time in my whole life. I don’t know how you pulled it off but I’m pleased.


                I had a slightly long week. I got some kind of little friend in my intestines that caused me to stay in my bed and the bathroom all day Wednesday. I blame him for causing me to vent about Ecuador. But I hope you all don't get the wrong idea. I do love it here and I'm havin' a blast (no pun intended).

                I know there are family and friends that read this blog that I don't hear from. I would love to hear from all of you. Leave me a comment or email me and let me know what you're all up to (you can leave comments even if you don't have a blog. Just click on the comments link and then choose the "Name/URL" option and give your name).

                ***UPDATE***

                Upon receiving a comment from a native Ecuadorian and re-reading the first part of this post, in which I vent a bit, I realized this post might be offensive to some people... Especially if they're from Ecuador. That wasn't what I meant to do. I love Ecuador so far and my positive experiences here are far outweighing the negative. My intent with this post was to let my family and friends know the differences in lifestyle Jonathan and I are experiencing here. Not bad things, just different things that we're not used to. If it makes you feel better, Ecuadorians, you guys are way better than most of the people I met in Spain... Oh crap, now I've offended the Spaniards.

                Saturday, March 14, 2009

                Week 1: An abundance of cute kids and dead pigs.

                This has been a big week for us. I'll just go through it day by day with a lot of pictures. Read as much or as little as you want. If you're bored, just look at the pictures.

                Sunday’s Events:

                - Taking a taxi to a church across town, only to find out when we got there that there’s another church we could have walked to. There are 2 chapels and 3 branches here in Riobamba.

                -Almost pulling the bench in front of me over when I used it to help me stand up for the rest hymn.

                -Going to Chambo (countryside farmland outside of Riobamba) with Carlos and his family. His wife’s parents own a house and some land there. We ate cuy (guinea pig) for lunch and then went to see the live cuy that Carlos’ father-in-law raises to sell to restaurants. They were so cute. I felt kinda bad for eating something that probably looked a lot like my brothers’ old pet guinea pig, Gilligan. It tasted kind of like chicken but with kind of a weird oily taste to it as well.


                Squeakin' away in their cages.



                The pregnant ones.




                Carlos' father-in-law proud of his little guinea pig business.

                We went on a 2 hour walk through the countryside after lunch. We got to know a lot of dogs, pigs, ducks, chickens, sheep, llamas, and cows. It was so nice to get away from the traffic and close-together buildings in Riobamba. The people we crossed paths with were so friendly. It’s such a nice change from living in Spain.

                A couple of cute kids we passed working on their parents' farm.

                The most bananas I've ever seen in one place.

                This little sheep had a thing for Jonathan's old-man white velcro shoes.


                The countryside here is beautiful.

                After our walk Jonathan played an epic game of Jenga with Carlos and his family.

                Look at the concentration in his face. This was the longest Jenga game I've ever seen.

                Monday:
                We had our first experience with the Campaña Médica (Medical Campaign) in a school of a little community called San Vicente de Tipín. We drove 2 hours to get there and went with some doctors and a dentist. Kids from the surrounding farms were brought into a classroom and lined up to be checked out by a doctor and a dentist and given medicines if needed. It was the first time most of the kids had seen the dentist. I helped get the height and weight of all the kids and Jonathan wrote down notes for the dentist.


                Some girls waiting for us to call their names so I could weigh them and get their height.

                These boys were a little nervous about seeing the doctor.

                Here the doctor was handing out prescriptions (mainly antibiotics) to the kids.



                She wanted me to take her picture and then got shy.



                Eating (or drinking) lunch.



                Getting checked out by the dentist. These kids were brave for never having seen a dentist before.


                Most of the kids had cavities and the dentist brought a portable drill and anesthetic, but all the kids were terrified of the shot to numb their mouths. He drilled out a lot of cavities anyway (without numbness) and the kids just stood there and clenched their fists until it was over. I was so impressed. They have a high pain threshold.


                The line to see the doctor.


                The cutest baby ever. He couldn't stop giggling.

                Tuesday:

                We drove to a different little farming community about an hour away where one of our coworkers is teaching a business development class to people around our age. Jonathan and I had to give a little presentation about what makes businesses successful in the United States. We used examples from our dads, who both run businesses, and from our experience working in a restaurant. We’re really using our Spanish and it’s getting better every day. I’m surprised at how well Jonathan’s doing. He speaks Portuguese from his mission and he’s picking up Spanish really quickly. It helps that he’s not shy and doesn’t ask me to talk for him. He just goes for it and people usually understand him.
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                Wednesday:

                Wednesday is office day where we plan and work on things for the coming week. In about a month we will start small business development classes for people here in Riobamba that have businesses but need help improving them. Jonathan is designing brochures and posters with his awesome graphic design skills to publicize the classes around the city. We both have to learn the manual inside and out so we can help teach the classes.

                The most exciting part of Wednesday was my first successful attempt at being domestic in my marriage and in Ecuador! I looked up a recipe online for Locro, a traditional Ecuadorian potato cheese soup, and I made it. And it was good! It was pretty exciting for Jonathan and me.
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                Thursday:

                We drove to Guamote about an hour away to go to a meeting with the leaders of all the surrounding communities. Our coworker Adriana wanted to make plans with them for the medical campaign she’s in charge of. The meeting ended up being in Quichua, the native tongue, which neither us nor our coworkers speak. So… lots of waiting around. BUT, Thursday is market day for Guamote which was pretty awesome. Picture small streets crowded with native people pulling around sheep and pigs on leashes, stands in the streets selling everything you could think of, sheep riding on top of cars and busses, ladies carrying a live chicken under one arm and selling ice cream from the other. Crazy…

                A stand on market day in Guamote selling all kinds of bowls and buckets.


                One of the millions of stands selling these fedora hats. I'm pretty sure everyone already has one here so who knows who they're getting sold to.


                Some ladies looking to buy belts while they hold their sheep on leashes.

                I wonder if these leashed pigs at the market know what's in store for them. (see below picture)

                I just hope none of the live pigs at the market recognized any of their friends. Total carnage, but apparently delicious.



                Stand selling medicinal herbs, powders, flower petals, etc.
                We took all our dirty clothes from the past week to a place to have them cleaned. It only cost $5 for a week’s worth of clothing. I still washed all of our underwear by hand though. It took me a little over two hours of scrubbing to clean 30 pieces of clothing. The skin on my right hand is peeling pretty badly now and I have a bunch of scrapes on my fingers from the cement basin. Next time I better use gloves. I feel like such a pioneer housewife. :)

                We had spaghetti for dinner this time but the sauce we found was pretty much ketchup labeled spaghetti sauce. Not so great. We did fry some bananas too, which was easy and delicious.

                Mmmm.... So healthy......


                Friday:

                Yesterday we went to another community a couple hours away with some doctors and dentists. This time we went to the nursery school/daycare for kids ages 0 to 4 years old. Jonathan went in the room before me to carry in some medical supplies. He came out as I was about to walk in and said, “Amanda, you better not go in there…” He sounded grave and I was thinking it was something bad but he went on, “you’ll probably be overwhelmed by the cuteness of it all.” He was right.

                I walked into the building and almost 40 little kids were sitting in tiny tables and chairs eating watermelon and making a mess. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

                We got down to work with the doctors and it turned out to be a little more difficult than with school-aged kids. I helped get heights and weights again but a lot of the kids were scared and would cry. I was also trained by the dentists' assistant on how to fill out a dental health status chart for each child. Jonathan wrote out the records of all the prescriptions that one of the doctors was giving out. It seemed like all the kids in the daycare had runny noses. Poor things. It’s pretty cold up in the high mountains where these communities are.

                This is a little bit of the cuteness I was overwhelmed with.

                Dentist Manuel checking out her teeth.


                Jonathan stretching out his cramped hands after writing out so many prescriptions for the doctor.



                Another little cutie pie getting checked out by the doctor.


                The dentist was so awesome. Some of the kids were a little scared so he let them play with his tools and get familiar with them first. They loved it.


                The dentist even let one little guy give him a flouride treatment first.


                We’re loving it here in Ecuador. The people are so nice. The kids we’ve been helping are darling. It’s almost always sunny but hardly ever hot. It’s beautiful. We’re learning a lot even after one week. We couldn’t ask for a better start to our marriage. Even though we do usually feel like giants here. Especially Jonathan.