Thursday, October 4, 2012

Guinea Pigs, Europeans, Kindergarten and More

A lot has happened since my last post. Even though it’s only been three weeks today since I arrived here I feel like it’s been forever. When I think about all that I’ve seen and experienced in these past three weeks it makes me excited about what’s going to happen in the many more to come.

Right now I’m living in Salasaka, a tiny little town between Ambato and Baños with almost nothing in it. I got here on Friday after a wonderful road trip with my mismatched little family, composed of Teresa, Fabion (who works with the Susong’s ministry), and Lisa and her daughter Amanda, Americans who arrived in Ecuador a week after I did and will be living in Alausi for a year. It was a fun drive, Ecuadorians are crazy on the road. We almost died at least seven times; the adrenaline was intense. We arrived safe and sound but we did run over a dog apparently. I was asleep for that part thank the lord Jesus.

First we went to La Merced, an indian community where Teresa and Fabion were going to hand out shoes for the children in their project there. It was a gorgeous day, and the people were all very friendly and patient as they handed out the shoes to the mothers one by one. Later they showed us their guinea pig farming project, where they are raising them with the goal of giving a breeding pair to every family in the community. After spending some more time talking with the kids and taking pictures, we almost got away without them trying to feed us, but just as we were pulling out to leave (after politely refusing dinner) they came running up to the truck with plates of food. They passed the plates inside to us, and we saw a lovely display of boiled potatoes on a bed of lettuce, topped with an entire roasted, shriveled up guinea pig complete with hands, teeth, and face. Thankfully we were not expected to eat our meals in their presence, so as soon as we got the chance we bagged them up and gave them to someone in the next town who would be a little more appreciative.

We spent that night in Alausi, and after a little apartment-hunting the next day, left Lisa and Amanda there to start their new life. We arrived in Salasaka later that evening and Teresa and Fabion left me to start my new life as a volunteer at Katitawa School.

As soon as I got here I met Florian, a guy from Germany who has been here for four months (partly because he was robbed by pirates, but that’s another story). He took me to the volunteer hostel and introduced me to the other volunteers. There was Rebecca and Tim, a couple from the UK; Barbora and Matt, a couple from the Czech Republic; Yitka, also from the Czech Republic; and Pamela and Mark who are from the United States. Shortly after I arrived Vera came, and she is from Sweden, and then on Monday Meaghan from New Zealand arrived. (If I get home and am saying things in English with a foreign accent, it’s not my fault!)

The first night and the next morning felt so bizarre. Here I finally was in this tiny little town whose existence I had genuinely been questioning, meeting all these foreign people and the eighty year old man who almost single handedly runs the school, having long conversations about God with my first German friend, and making “mustahd mash” for dinner, all within about 1.5 hours of being here.  

After a couple days I got more used to things though, and now it couldn’t be more normal that there are conversations going on in at least three different languages at dinner.

On Monday I had my first day at the school. It’s about a forty minute hike from the hostel, a good bit of it straight uphill, so that combined with the altitude factor make a nice morning workout. I was assigned to help with the kindergarten class, but the paid teacher didn’t show up that day and it turned out to be just me and ten little wild children. We all made it out alive though and at that point that was my main goal.

I do enjoy life here, but it’s quite a bit more rustic than it was with Teresa. The hostel is creaky and cold, there is no hot water for showers (unless it’s heated on the stove) and we wash our clothes by hand. Right now the internet isn’t working here so the nearest access is here at the internet café in “downtown” Salasaka. It’s about a thirty minute walk, unless you hitch a ride in the back of one of the pick-up trucks that serve as the local taxis. You can even get a ride with an unofficial taxi, which is basically just anyone with a truck.

Every morning at 6:30, Robert (the eighty year old director) makes a big pot of oatmeal for everyone’s breakfast. We eat our lunch at the school, which usually consists of rice and beets, soup and popcorn, or rice and lentils, depending on the day. For dinner the volunteers take turns going shopping and cooking for everyone on a budget of $1.25 per person. So far the dinners have been really good and it’s always nice to sit down with everyone after a long day.

It is so gorgeous here that most days when I wake up and walk outside I think "Seriously?? This is where I live?!" The hostel has a back deck that sits on the edge of a hill looking over a valley and the mountains in the distance. The view is amazing day and night, and on a clear day you can see up to four snow-capped volcanoes. On most nights after getting back from working at the school we all sit and watch the sunset from the deck and read or chat about the day.

As far as the work goes though, at this point I liked what I was doing in Quito better. I miss the kids at the ministry and my little family at the Susong’s. I don’t feel like I’m making much of a difference here, and unless I find out a way to do that I’ll probably be heading back to Quito pretty soon. This is a beautiful and unique place and I have enjoyed the past few days, but there’s something missing for me.

Thank you for reading and for the encouraging comments about my last post, you all mean the world to me!