Monday, April 27, 2009

what?*

*I think Cathy and Laura might be the only ones who know the correct tone to use when saying the title of this post.

You know those kind of days that start out just fine but by the end you want to scream and pull your hair (and other people's hair) and throw things?

Mom, I know you know those days... I remember in the summers of my younger years when Emily and I would fight over which chores we had to do, who got to choose the tv show, who got to practice the piano first (to get it over with), and on and on. Josh might have been in his colicky (perma-cry) baby stage in some instances. We knew you'd had enough when in the midst of our screams and hair-pulling and scratching we saw you go into your room, grab a pillow off of your bed, and have a good long scream to yourself. Then, being the awesome mom you were and are, we'd go to the gas station, get you a big mug of diet coke, and then you'd take us kids to the park or the pool to run out our energy and buy yourself some sanity. I'm sorry, Mom. When I have little screaming banshees of my own one day, I will be happy to let you relish in the payback. I'm getting off topic.

Back to those days (the one's that make your mom scream into a pillow). I just want to say that today has been one of those days. It may or may not have involved me throwing Jonathan's flash drive and screaming down my shirt (no pillows around). Plus it's 7 pm and I'm still working. I don't want to go into every detail of every joy but here are a few I've been lucky to have:
  • my Excel document that details all of the office expenditures in great detail for the month of April is gone. Nowhere to be found on my computer.
  • tomorrow we have to walk around the city trying to sell ad space in the magazine we're making to local businesses . There's nothing I hate more than selling. People don't take the tall, blondish girl seriously around here anyway.
  • Adriana told me I have to wear high heels tomorrow (walking around the city) so that I look professional.
  • High heels are called "tacos" here which reminds me that I can't make tacos here because there is no chili powder anywhere. Sometimes you just want a taco.
  • I dropped the whole roll of toilet paper into the toilet I had just peed in.
  • The staff left the office (which is also our apartment) two hours later than they normally do. Be glad you don't live at your office. If you do, tips?
  • On her way out the door, Adriana asked me to print a file using one of the office printers for tomorrow morning. I just opened the file. 96 pages. Our printer is the kind you can only put a few blank pages in at a time or it jams. Any guesses on how many hours I'm going to be sitting here in front of the printer feeding it blank pages?
  • I was so busy filling out the paperwork to be able to pay our water guy that I forgot to actually pay him and wondered why he wouldn't leave when I gave him the receipt.
  • I peed my pants during a staff meeting.... Just kidding. That would have sucked too though, right?
  • I walked into the bathroom after everyone finally left the office and my bangs looked HORRIBLE. grease ball. There was also a big new zit on my chin. Big. Then I went to the bathroom and guess what? No toilet paper. Well there was, but it was sitting in the garbage can saturated with toilet water and pee.

So after a great day at work, and with such promising potential for another great day tomorrow, I will now attempt to work on my research paper while feeding paper into the printer.

Thanks for teaching me the pillow trick, Mom

Thursday, April 23, 2009

cheese rhymes with cheese

If I wanted to describe Ecuador in 3 words, I would say beautiful, energetic, and… inefficient.

After a weeklong outage, we finally got our internet up and running in the office/apartment. It’s still about as slow as the old dial-up we had when I was 13, but I’m just happy to have some sort of contact with home. I’ve had a lot of practice speaking Spanish over the phone with different internet companies this past week. Today I stayed in the office to be here for the tech guy to come FINALLY fix it. He called me niña (little girl) a bunch of times, which was weird, but at least he fixed the problem.

It seems to me that those of us raised in the U.S. consider efficiency an important goal in daily life. Maybe efficiency isn’t as strong of a paradigm for us United Statesians* as it is in Asian countries, where people are known to schedule themselves down to the minute, but it’s definitely a part of the culture I was raised in. Not here though. I’ve never been to a meeting that didn’t start at least an hour late. No one seems to mind. They just sit and chat until their bums get sore from sitting so they stand up and go somewhere to give their bums a rest and then when the late people finally arrive to the meeting, the people that were there earlier aren’t there anymore so then the late people wait awhile for the early people to come back and then it’s time for lunch and everyone leaves. To an Ecuadorian, perfectly fine. To me, a born and raised United Statesian, uuurrrgghhleeeeanfneiouw;b.

So thank you, Sallee at Ascend Alliance headquarters, for the two days of training we had before leaving. She made sure we understood that sometimes we’re going to have to remember that
“it’s not wrong, it’s just different.”

It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

Two young boys peeing on the sidewalk alongside their father during the local parade. It’s not wrong, it’s just different. Coming late to a meeting and putting it on hold so you can go around and personally say hello to and kiss each of the 20 people in the room. It’s not wrong, it’s just different. The prevalence of bologna. It’s not wrong, it’s just different. Closing your business whenever you feel like it. It’s not wrong, it’s just different. Driving around the city with your party’s election jingle blasting out of the megaphone on the top of your car. It’s not wrong, it’s just different. Nowhere to go to the bathroom. It’s not wrong, it’s just different. The old indigenous woman carrying twice her weight in firewood on her back while her husband walks alongside her empty-handed. It’s not wrong, it’s just different. Letting your 2-year-old finish off the last of your beer. It’s not wrong, it’s just different. Wait…..

Now I should say something happy and flowery about how awesome it is to get to know other cultures by living in them. Instead I will say that sometimes it is hard. However, I’m grateful for the differences in culture throughout the world. They make for good memories and funny stories.

In other news, I dreamed about Smith’s Marketplace last night. There were boneless skinless chicken breasts, string cheese, diet coke, taco seasoning, and tampons. Paradise.

Jonathan is currently eating a hot dog and cheese sandwich because I’m writing a blog post instead of making dinner. He has also been working on writing a song for the past week. He just came in to show me his most recent inspired lyrics:

I need some freakin’ cheese
I need some freakin’ cheese
Not just any kind of cheese
I want some fresh cheese
Oh fresh cheeeeese.

Who needs Flight of the Conchords when I have Jonathan? That’s right. Cheese rhymes with cheese.

Also, one of my good friends got married this past Saturday. Congratulations Donaven and Sarah! I was so sad to miss the festivities but I heard from my Mom that everything was beautiful and the reception was great.

In addition to that wedding, and the wedding of the future Mrs. Bliss in July, we will also miss another big wedding this summer. Jonathan’s friend from way back, Matt, and the beautiful Heather, will be tying the knot in June.

We will, however, make it to the fourth wedding of the summer – Sam’s wedding! He’ll be getting married to a darling girl named Kayla the weekend we get home from Ecuador. Woooo! I’m so excited for all of my friends’ marriages.

There’s a lot more I could say, but it’s time for Jonathan to teach me some more Capoeira exercises so I’ll just say that we’re pretty healthy and very happy and I’ll leave you with some of my favorite pictures from the past couple of weeks.


Here's a surprise I found on my camera I thought someone might enjoy.


I love this picture. These kids loved Jonathan.

Here's Jonathan teaching some 5th grade kids from a small community about dental care.

I am so used to the kids in the communities loving to get their pictures taken. Then this happened.

Some boys waiting to be seen by the dentist.




Playing in the back of the work truck. They made the alarm go off about 5 times, but look how cute.



Darling faces.



*United Statesians. Anyone got anything better?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It was fun (I asked Jonathan what the title should be and this is what he came up with) and stuff

Let's keep this one short and sweet.

Jonathan and I had a wonderful weekend trip to Guayaquil, the biggest city in Ecuador. We were planning on going to the beach, but after listening to conference last weekend, we thought this might be more fulfilling.


The temple was beautiful...


The weather was HOT and HUMID. It was a wonderful change from the cool mountain air we live in. One of the ladies that worked in the temple literally held my hand the whole time in the dressing room. Jonathan got some dirty looks at the temple because of his shoes but we had to pack light and they wouldn't fit. I don't think God minded.


After the temple Friday night, we got some touristy sightseeing in. We walked the promenade that winds along Guayaquil's huge River Guayas. There were all kinds of cool little sculptures, architecture, and parks, and it was packed with happy people and ice cream stands.
Jonathan

Amanda

After the walk along the promenade, we climbed 465 steps through a neighborhood on a hill to see the view from the top of a lighthouse. This is what we saw...


Foot picture. We like foot pictures.

We stayed in a really nice hostel I found on the internet for $12 bucks each. It was a group dorm with 8 beds but no one else came so it was just us..


This AWESOME dog lived at our hostel. I want him. I want a dog so bad lately. I even have dreams about getting a dog and wake up very disappointed.

We went to the temple again on Saturday, spoke some English with the couple missionaries (One of the ladies told me how to make taco seasoning!), ate lunch in the cafeteria, bought a Spanish Book of Mormon for Jonathan, enjoyed sweating in the hot and humid sea air. It was great.
Other highlights include...
-finding a rare ice-cold Coca-Cola LIGHT right when I was extremely thirsty from climbing all the stairs. It was heaven.
-riding in the oldest taxi ever. I don't know how it still runs. Datsuns are cool.
-GIGANTIC bugs around the hostel.
-Eating McDonald's
-the 5 hour bus ride through paradise.
-getting laughed at by an indigenous girl on the bus ride home every time I sat forward in my seat. I don't know why.
-walking around Guayaquil in nylons on flip flops
Well, it was a great weekend, but today doesn't really feel like Easter without Cadbury eggs, Easter dinner with the family, and Easter hymns at church. Oh well, I'm not very good at playing the Easter hymns anyway.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

the things i do because of love

My mom is a wonderful cook.

isn't she pretty... (you too, dad)

As long as I lived under her roof, I never felt the need to learn to cook. Well, sometimes I felt the need, but then I would realize that if I cooked, my family and I would be eating my mediocre food when we could be eating her delicious food. For the two years I lived away from home before getting married… cereal, canned soup, spaghetti… mmmmmm.

I decided that since I’m a little married wife now, a hemisphere away from home, I should learn to cook. I love Jonathan and he loves food. It’s been a little more difficult to learn to cook here in Ecuador than it would have been in the States, but I’ve been doing a good job according to Jonathan. Locro (traditional Ecuadorian potato-cheese soup), frittata, yummy vegetable stew, rice and beans and corn (we live in South America, remember?), spaghetti (his favorite meal so I’m justified), etc.


Well yesterday my mom gave me a recipe for some vegetable and chicken, stir-fry that sounded pretty good. One of the ingredients was 2 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts. I laughed when she told me that because I knew I would not find a boneless, skinless chicken breast anywhere in Ecuador. I’m lucky I don’t have to kill and gut it.

Off I went to my neighborhood grocer, wishing it was Harmons. Along with the yummy packaged cow tongues, livers, stomachs, various pork parts, etc., were some nicely packaged whole chickens with no heads or anything. It’s nice when your meat doesn’t have a head. So I thought to myself, “there are chicken breasts somewhere in this chicken,” and I bought it.


My mom can attest to the fact that I can’t touch raw meat. It’s gross and gooey and germy. Maybe this is part of the reason I haven’t ever really learned to cook well. BUT, since I love Jonathan and I miss my mom’s cooking, I was going to be brave. I took the gooey chicken out of the plastic and put it on the cutting board. A little plastic bag fell out of its body…cavity that had some red stuff in it. Probably guts. I just set that aside and planned on never touching it again. Since I have eaten a rotisserie chicken before, I found the breast. I thought to myself, “How can I make this look like a chicken breast I would pick up at Harmon’s?” First of all, the chicken had nasty white slimy bumpy skin on it. So I ripped that off. Hey! The breast! Now how to get it off the bones… Well, I’ll just say that I used a knife and did the best I could.

Jonathan called in from the next room that he would like to eat the heart, please. Gross, but whatever. The heart was probably going to be in the gut bag. I must really love Jonathan because I found myself slowly dumping the contents of the gut bag out onto the slimy cutting board to look for the heart. Ew. Feet, with fingernails. Why do chickens have fingernails?


Then the worst part. Out came a big chunk from the gut bag, almost unrecognizable. I looked closer to see what it was and screamed. I know, it seems kind of dramatic, but it truly did scare me. I was already in a bad state with raw chicken slime all over my hands when the horrible shrunken chicken head fell out, beak and all, staring up at me from the salmonella counter top. Jonathan came quickly in to see what had happened and I showed him the head. He just laughed, showed me which blob was the heart, took a picture of me, and went back to his guitar.
Somehow I turned the chicken into little pink cubes, got rid of the bones, bleached the counter top, washed my hands three times, and admired my work. How did I turn this…


Into this…


Maybe we’ll never know, but Jonathan ate it up, heart and all. Me? I had to take a shower after dinner. Half of me is proud of me, and the other half just kind of wishes we were vegetarians.
So, anyone have any good chicken recipes?



In other news, Jonathan and I went to Guamote today for a meeting with some people in another humanitarian organization. (Side note: Guamote, Guano, Guaranda, Guabama, Guayaquil, Guayas, and Gualaquiza are all cities, towns, or villages in Ecuador that get talked about regularly around here. It’s keeping my mind young.) Anyway, one of the employees of this organization needed a few drawings to show to the parents in an indigenous community we work with. She knew Jonathan can draw so she asked him to draw:
· a child with a doctor to represent the medical care that they organize in the communities,
· a mother cooking to show the nutritional training they give,
· a person using a tap with running water to show how they help organize water projects in the communities,
and last, but not least,
· a boy putting on a condom to represent the training they give to adolescents about sexual and reproductive health.

We laughed when we heard that one but they just smiled and asked if that would be okay. What? They were serious? They really are expecting Jonathan to draw a boy putting on a condom? So I asked her again just to make sure. She was sure. She grabbed a book off her desk and was like, “here, let me show you a picture so you know!” Okay, lady, we know how to use a condom… we’re just surprised that that’s what you want us to draw to represent sexual and reproductive health. Yes, condoms can be very effective in preventing AIDS and STDs, but this is a very Catholic country, and the indigenous people are very modest and conservative. Let’s be a little less direct. Plus, Jonathan doesn’t want to draw a boy putting on a condom. Am I immature to think that’s slightly awkward?

In the end, the women decided it would be better to show a teacher holding up a condom and telling a class of teenagers about it. That’s better. As Jonathan was in the middle of drawing, an indigenous boy about 15-years-old walked into the office with his mom. He noticed Jonathan drawing and was immediately extremely interested. So interested, in fact, that he bent down to watch with his head an inch away from Jonathan’s for about 15 minutes.


Hilarious. Maybe if Jonathan would have been drawing a boy putting on a condom, the kid wouldn’t have acted so interested. Or maybe more so.

Well, Mom (in answer to your question), Easter is coming and we haven’t found any jelly beans or Cadbury Eggs. If anyone loves me, they will go buy a bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs, freeze them, and shower me with them when we get home.



Easter won’t be quite the same without the delicious candy, BUT you gotta love Catholic countries and no work on Good Friday. Jonathan and I are off to Guayaquil early tomorrow morning for some spiritual reinforcement. I’m excited to see the temple there. I’ve heard it’s beautiful.



Saturday, April 4, 2009

sore knees, wild llamas, karaoke

Today has been… a day. I can’t remember ever being this tired and worn out. Every bone, joint, and muscle hurts. I convinced Jonathan that it would be fun to hike to the first refuge/base camp on Chimborazo Volcano (inactive, the tallest peak in Ecuador, 20,702 feet). We walked to the bus terminal in Riobamba and found the bus that would go past the base of Chimborazo was about to leave with all the seats filled, so we got on anyway and stood up in the aisle.

There are three things you can do on a bus here in Ecuador, from what I’ve seen. One, you can sleep (if you’re not one of the unlucky ones standing in the aisle). Two, you can make out passionately and shamelessly (okay, I only saw one couple doing this, but it left quite an impression). Or three, you can stare at the tall, awkward Americans standing in the aisle… free entertainment.

After about 45 minutes, the bus slowed down to let us off. We jumped off and were surprised by the landscape. It was very different from the green, lush countryside we’re used to here in the Andes. Since we were at the volcano, and so high in elevation, trees and grass couldn’t grow anymore. It was really barren. A park ranger was waiting in a truck and charged us $5 each to get into the park. He told us it was 8km to the refuge, so off and up we went. We realized really quickly that air up there was very thin. We had a hard time getting enough oxygen, which made it really difficult to exert ourselves hiking. We’ve become acclimated to Riobamba’s elevation of 9,000 ft (Salt Lake is 4,300), but the volcano, even at the base, is higher than that. The higher we climbed, the steeper it got, and the harder it was to breathe.

A couple tour groups passed us in vans, and I was jealous. I guess we were doing it the hard core way… I’ll just keep telling myself that. The barren landscape was pretty in its own way but we started to get kind of ornery as we continued with the same old rocks, brush and vicuña poop. As we got higher, though, the view was amazing: huge mountains in the distance in all directions. We ended up going back down before we reached the refuge, though. We were hungry, very cold, very out of breath (even after taking a break), and I had to peeeeee!


This is the only pretty plant that was growing on the volcano.


Me taking a break at around 12,000 feet.

Jonathan trying to catch his breath.

Me dumping dirt and rocks out of my shoes (I wore the WRONG shoes) after sinking into some dry quick sand... I know, not really, but it felt like it.

Me getting way ahead of Jonathan on the way down because I had to pee so badly. I forgot that there wasn't a bathroom at the bottom of the road anyway, so it was useless.
Vicuñas. I looked the word "vicuña" up in a Spanish-English dictionary and it gave me "vicuna." No idea. They look like wild llamas and seemed to be the only living thing on the volcano (besides little plants).
We walked back out onto the highway after hiking down and waited 15 minutes for a bus to come. We flagged the bus down (yeah you do that here) and stood in the aisle again. This time it was harder because we were exhausted and I had to peeeeee. I started feeling sick and looked around to see who would be the least mad if I puked on them. BUT, we finally made it back to Riobamba, walked 25 agonizing minutes back home from the bus terminal (we’re stubborn about taking cabs even though it’s only a buck) and collapsed into bed.

Somehow Jonathan dragged himself out of bed to go to church to watch the priesthood session so I dragged myself out of bed and walked to the grocery store so we’ll have food tomorrow. I can’t believe how sore and tired I am. I think I like Chimborazo better from the distance. This is what it looks like from our apartment roof.
UPDATE: NEXT DAY... OOOOWWWWWWW! WE CAN HARDLY WALK!
Other happenings this week…
Last night we went to Carlos’ sister’s apartment to help their other sister’s English students practice the language. We ordered a big pizza, and guess what? She had karaoke at her house so Jonathan FINALLY got his karaoke fix that he’s been dying for for quite awhile. It was a fun night even though I’m not a huge karaoke fan. Jonathan was hilarious. He got so into it and everyone kept saying how amazing his voice is. Carlos kept singing 80’s and 90’s lovey-dovey songs (think Mariah Carey). We made fun of him so he sang “Born to Be Wild” to make up for it. It was great. Here are some photos from the night.

Carlos' niece, Jonathan, Carlos' sister's English student, and Carlos' sister.

This is Jonathan singing his heart out.
Carlos' niece singing. She loves it. We had to fight her to give other people a turn.

Carlos and his niece singing a love song together since his wife wouldn't sing with him.

Thursday and Friday I got trained on how to keep track of the daily expenditures and office budget. There is a lot of paperwork involved and it’s a little more complicated than I thought since Ecuador has some interesting rules for NGO’s. It will be good knowledge to have though, so I’m happy to do it.

Monday we went out to a community to check out how their water system that gives them running water is working. They’re having some problems with the design of the system and we wanted to see if there’s anything we can do to make it better. Look at this view they have… This is from the school’s playground. Everyone in Ecuador seems to have such a nice view.


Well I’m glad church doesn’t start until 11 tomorrow because of conference. I’m going to miss staying home and watching it in my pajamas (we Utahn’s are so spoiled), but maybe I’ll get more out of it this way. It’s amazing to me that we can watch conference live here in Ecuador (since we are one hour ahead). I can’t imagine how hard it would be to translate live, but I’m interested to see how it works.


I miss all of my family and friends. We love you guys. I can’t believe we’ve already been here over a month. Time is flying. I’d love to hear from all of you.

P.S. – I know there are a lot of parentheses in this post. Sometimes it’s just easier that way. I’m not sorry.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ms. Bliss


I am so excited! Not only do I have a great reason to write a new post (so I don't have to look at a close-up of my own mug every time I check my blog), BUT one of my best friends in the whole world is ENGAGED! I am so excited for Tiffany. She is going to marry a great guy (I know he's great because he spent 3 hours stuffing wedding invitations for me. Thanks, Matt!).

I love Tiffany so much. Since she's getting married in July, I won't be able to be there, which I am close to being heartbroken about... but she's done a good job of keeping me informed of the details so far. Tiff's always been a wonderful friend and she's very fun, generous, and smart. At the ripe old age of 21 she already had a Masters degree. She teaches high school now and you know what my favorite part of this new marital match is?
Hundreds of students will now be calling her Ms. Bliss.
Beautiful. I love you Tiff.