It’s weird to think that this is the last time I’ll post an introductory blog about a new country, but I keep telling myself that we have plenty of time left. If we’re being honest, I’m not really sure how I’ll be able to go back to real life, but that’s an existential crisis for another blog. For now, allow me to introduce you to a new friend of mine: ECUADOR!!!
As much as I loved (and I truly did love all of our past countries, even India) the countries we’ve visited thus far, I fell even harder and faster for Ecuador. I arrived at 3 am, tired, hungry, and slightly delusional from the medications I was taking since my body decided to rebel against almost 48 straight hours of travel, but my only semi-conscious brain was still able to register the vast sprawl of lights that were visible from the roof of our hostel. To borrow an old phrase from my group mate Lily, it looked, for all the world, like the stars had fallen from the sky and settled themselves on the ground of Quito, Ecuador. We spent the next two days exploring the city, adjusting to the 12 hour time shift, brushing up on Spanish skills, and stuffing ourselves with food that wasn’t, for the first time in months, from Eastern Asia. It was, in a word, bliss.
Of course, even in Ecuador the sun doesn’t always shine, and we spent an unfortunate nine hours on a public bus to get to the sight of our work project and homestays, a small indigenous village called Caguanapamba. The indigenous language here is called Kichwa (although most people also speak Spanish), and the traditional style of dress includes little white bowler hats. Our first lesson in the culture came immediately after arriving, as our first full day here was spent celebrating Carnival, a holiday that welcomes the arrival of spring. Our host families dressed us in traditional skirts, blouses, hats and pullovers, then sent us out to join the hundreds of individuals from different villages who were gathering for an annual four hour walk through the countryside. The walk not only featured gorgeous landscapes and breathtaking views, but constant attack vis a vi foam sprayers and buckets of water. We finally bought some sprayers for ourselves and were able to retaliate, not only on the attackers but amongst ourselves. We were also offered a lot of potatoes and chicha, a traditional drink that is made by fermenting maize. The walk ended at a stage, where several hours were spent dancing, eating, and celebrating. At the end of the day, we were all very dirty, very full, very tired, and (for some of us) very sunburned.
Even though we’ve only been here a few days, Julia (also known as J. Mom, aka my work partner for India) and I have been welcomed warmly into our homestay. Our parents both speak Spanish, and since Julia spent her high school years learning Chinese (SO COOL), I have the role of playing translator and doing most of the communicating with our family. It’s kind of weird being able to speak the same language as our family for the first time since South Africa, and although I definitely wish my Spanish skills were a little better, I think it’s made it easier to feel at home here. Another big factor in that is our two little sisters, who are the only girls in a family of six children. Lordes (9) and Sonya (12) have been a sort of gateway into the family for Julia and I, and we spend most of our nights watching videos, playing card games, or simply just talking with them. They are, as all little girls are required to be, absolutely adorable, and make coming home more of a joy than a chore.
Finally, our work project. It’s been decided that we will only go to our work project on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and spend Fridays working with our families. Which is good, because the work is definitely physically demanding, but it’s surprisingly a lot of fun. We have to cram into the back of a work truck for a bumpy, shaky, half hour drive up the mountain, where the temperature drops a noticeable amount and it seems to be constantly overcast or drizzling. Even so, I would argue that it’s worth it to see the beautiful landscape at the top of the mountains, which is so unlike anything I’ve seen before. I can only describe it as being a grassland, with hills of green as far as the eye can see, occasionally dotted by cows or trees. The soil is so rich that it’s black, and retains so much moisture that it literally seeps out of the ground when we dig holes to plant trees. Which is what our job is in this otherworldly place; to plant lines of trees. The trees are not only nitrogen fixing, but help to hold water in the soil and mark the boundary between the land of different villages. It’s hard work, but unexpectedly gratifying, as we continually try to beat our record for trees planted in a day (our current best is 203).
So that’s Ecuador! Oh, one more thing. There’s no Internet in the village, so all of my posts are dependent upon when we can get into town. Our core focus for this country is environment, so I’ll probably touch on that sometime in the coming posts. I love you all a lot, and will try to post again soon.
In order to save the world, we must first discover it.