Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Silver Lining....

Well, I guess waking up in my own bed has come sooner than expected. Life has a funny way of catching us off guard and really messing with our heads sometimes. For me, the past month has been the most emotionally unstable, up and down, and heart-wrenching of my life-- certainly no exception to this mantra. Fortunately, or unfortunately, however you chose to interpret difficult moments, I know this is just a piece of my story and that there will be plenty of other heartbreaking, earth-shattering moments where it feels like the end. I'm still hoping for a better beginning with a happy, happy ending.

So here I am, back home, a week til surgery, still trying to digest it all--haha, funny, considering the circumstances. To sum it up for those outside of the know, after 3 different medical specialists, umteen tests, and many hours of missed class, it was finally decided that I needed to go home. Each doctor told me this separately  but I was so determined to find a way out of it and couldn't believe it was time to go, just as I start getting into a routine. In the end, fate ruled. I've never cried harder in front of anyone before (or even in my own privacy) than when Dr. Guliana (the doctor at the CMT) told me that the gastro decided that for what I needed done, it would be better to be in the States where they have the specialists to deal with the problem. My chest collapsed, my heart racing overtime trying to keep myself from falling over. Every person in the waiting room at the doctor's office was staring at the erratic gringa who couldn't keep herself together. I didn't care. At that moment, I lost the one thing that gave me life, that made me smile, that brought me such unconditional and inexplicable joy: Armando, my girls, my adults, my family of families, my 5 year old best friends, the smiles, the hugs, the laughter, the hope, the lessons, the volunteers. I had to think about myself and I couldn't have hated that feeling more. I had to go home. 

After saying "hasta pronto" to my colegio girls and a few people at the Center who knew what was going on, friends in Quito, and of course the volunteers, (and a last minute send off lunch from the Holguins, loves of my life), I got on a plane pretty quickly, broken, angry, hopeless. I couldn't understand (and still struggle to) WHY, if there was a god, he would do this to me: not just take something away from me, but take something so seemingly selfless. I thought I had learned the fragility and great gift of life after I did this three years ago. What could I possibly gain personally from this awful situation?  I thought I had my life back after my drama three years ago. They took the disease out, it no longer controlled me. Turns out in the end, our bodies still rule everything else we want and need emotionally, spiritually, academically, personally. I am only human. I hate that.

Well, it turns out that even when you think you've hit rock bottom, it can get worse. I spent a few days after getting in at home by myself as my parents were working. I thought obsessively, filtering my feelings and situation, struggling to find reason, which I always look for first. I couldn't find it. I didn't want to leave the house. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I didn't want anyone beyond my immediate family and friends to know I was home. I wasn't home. My head and my heart weren't with my body. They were in my classrooms in Quito with the students I had left, just left. Never have I felt so empty and alone before.

After 2 days of sulking in my own melancholy, I snapped. I wasn't myself and I couldn't take it anymore. Where was the strong, fiercely stubborn girl who never let anything but herself rule? I realized that I had something to live for. I had to get better, physically and emotionally, not only for myself, but to get back to my work: my Jean Pierre, Armando, my adults who I love so much, my colegio students who are probably driving Jose crazy. But once again, the universe ruled. I went to the doctor: 6 months en casa. 6 months. I died emotionally again. He told me he felt worse than when he tells people they have cancer. He might as well have told me I have cancer. I didn't see a difference.

My silver lining....I've been looking for it relentlessly since they told me I was going home, but even moreso after learning of how complicated the surgery actually is. It's in the silver lining that I think I will eventually come to terms with reason. It first began its revelation to me when I called some of the volunteers back in Quito who were with me last year the same night I learned of my fate. They've been my rock the past few weeks, covering my butt with other volunteers, covering classes, letting me cry to them at 3am because I'm so frustrated and can't accept what was going on, all along giving me courage, for myself, for a quick return to the Center. Almost immediately, after about 6 hours of tears, I stopped crying.  They made me laugh, cracked my anguish, and for a moment, I stopped thinking about me. I don't remember what they told me exactly that made me smile (it doesn't take much usually), but I felt a little less sad and eternally grateful for the gift of their presence in my life.

Later that night, I got a surprise skype call from a friend from Quito. Some people just have the gift of perspective not only in their own lives, but in giving perspective to others. He gave me that, reminding me that this isn't the hardest thing I will face in my life. As scary as it is, I know this is just a test. Something good will come of this which will bring me back to the equilibrium I always look for in the universe. I was so grateful for his call, his honesty. Some people never seize to surprise me. I love friends like that.

So as I continue my search for my silver lining, for my equilibrium, for some sense of peace in all this (which I will probably find on my return flight to Quito!), I've been doing my best to distract myself: I'm working at the office, reading a lot, thinking hard about grad school, studying some spanish vocabulary. I've been doing a pretty good job with this, but then there are the moments I'm by myself: driving in the car, running an errand to the grocery store for work, seeing little kids shopping with their parents or dressed up for Halloween,  where I'm reminded that I'm here, not there. I fight with these moments all the time. These moments want to break me again. I fight to take a deep breath, keep calm, and know this is only a test.

Just as soon as I found myself back in Hamburg will I find myself in Quito, my arms wrapped around my family in the place I call home. Si se puede.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

End of September

It's hard to believe, but it's already the end of September. Four weeks of classes have flown by and I'm still trying to figure out how it happened. Didn't I just get here?

While this strange structure of time is somewhat alarming, it's telling of the love I have for my work, the kids, the families, Ecua-Life in general. If I hated it here or was in any way miserable I'd be complaining about how its ONLY the end of September. Instead, I'm trying to figure out how to stop time, soak in every hug, every smile, every class a little more. Right now I feel like I am going to wake up and be back in my bed in Hamburg (which isn't a bad thing since Jeeves will probably be snuggled up next to me), but I am in no way ready to think about that!

September has been a month of change to say the least. Last Friday (9/21) I picked up an 8th grade boys class in Cotocollao. It was kind of against my own plans, but since I was the only one who stepped up, I was given these 14 thirteen year old boys who were well, much like the other 8th grade boys class I had for 3 days--INSANE. THEN, in the past few days, one of the new vols asked me if she could take the class since she knew how busy/overwhelmed I was with all my classes and she also really wanted it. I thought about it for a few days, and while I feel a bit guilty about it, I really missed going to mass/lunch with the kids, felt like my other classes were suffering, and really could use the time I was putting into these boys (a lot for a 5 hr a week class), for my other classes which I was originally given. So, now I will just see them once a week when I take them down to mass. Tomorrow will be her first day with them...I wish her the best!

On a completely different note, part of my Friday schedule is to visit the different neighborhoods, visit families, make sure the boys are out working instead of playing video games, and talk to people about joining the Center. Two weeks ago I went with two of the ladies at the Center who are in charge of this (Elsa and Teresa) to visit my student Armando's house because earlier that morning, Armando's mom came into special ed to explain to Dr. Elizabeth a.) why Armando hadn't be in class all week and b.) that they had a fire at the house. Obviously, I was extremely concerned, not only because Armando is my student, but because I know the family well and wanted to make sure they were okay. They way his mom described the fire sounded like they lost everything. Luckily for me, I have barrios (house visits), so in the afternoon, I asked Elsa if we could go visit the family to survey the damage.

After scaling the side of the mountain (almost to Pichincha), we found the house, and Armando, his siblings Ruby and Oscar, and his mom washing clothes. After preparing for the absolute worst, we found out that they only lost one section of the house (where his oldest brother Vladamir sleeps) and the storage area. This was a big hit for the family, especially for Vladamir since he had bought a lot of his own clothes, bed, etc as he works a lot, but no one was hurt. The crazy thing is that the nite of the fire, for whatever reason, Vladamir decided to sleep down where the rest of the family sleeps in a different part. If he had not made that random decision, he might not have been so lucky. Where his room and the storage area was were bags and bags of ash, just sitting until someone moved it. It looked like a grave yard, but again, I was relieved to see that the family was physically okay.

While at the house, Armando, Ruby, and Oscar showed me where they sleep, where they keep their clothes, etc. Armando also proudly showed me some of his school work that he had done with Dr. Elizabeth and Julie (former vol). He reminded me of how hard I need to work everyday for him.

This past week in barrios was also interesting in that after almost being attacked by stray dogs several times, climbing the side of gated pastures for cows, almost being attacked by said cows, and talking with people about the Center (I feel like a Jehovah's Witness a little!), we visited the house of a girl who was in my religion class last year (Jadira), and her grandmother (Maria) who worked with Jana and I in Adult Ed last year. This lady is a character. She's probably about 75 years old, teeny tiny, and very very indigenous. She brought Jana (who worked with her directly) liters of fresh milk from her cows last year. It was interesting and eye opening to see this tiny, frail lady lead 4 cows (2 angry males!) in from pasture to give them some dry corn husks (as there isnt anything else for them to eat since it has been so dry). It was cool to see where she lived (awesome view) as she would always tell Jana and I how hard it was to come down to the Center for class some days because of her bad knees and how high she lived. She was NOT kidding! I give her props for doing what she does at her age!

So, this week, we FINALLY begin adult classes and reflection, so there goes the remainder of my free time....should be interesting.

So that's me for now, all over the place, thinking and doing 5 million things at once and somehow remaining sane through it all.....with a smile on my face :)

until next time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Week 1.5 and Still Smiling

It's Wednesday of the second week of class. I tried writing something over this past weekend, but it proved impossible as, well, the following happened:

After my first two days of classes went by on a breeze, Madre Cindy threw David and I (both second year vols) a curve ball by taking away his favorite boy's English class, me giving up time with Armando (my special ed student who will fill this blog most of all so far as I can see), and asking me to travel downtown everyday with no such break for lunch or the bathroom from 8-4. Had this been last year, I would have done it, but I have already grown attached to Armando and David's boys were HIS boys, not mine. It's hard to explain how we love these kids and how easily they sneak in, but sneak in they do! Plus, no lunch is a little inhumane, right?

The boys (12-14) were a handful for the 3 days I had them, but as apparently everyone was having scheduling problems, the new system was overthrown and we went back to what we knew, which seems better for everyone. Thus, I lost some of my gym classes that I had last week (thank you lord) and gained some art classes downtown and in Cotocollao. I have everything I originally asked for at the end of last year (baths, barrios, girls high school english, armando) but more art than I would like as well as a health class. Who qualified me to teach health in English let alone Spanish! We'll see how it goes with 2,3,5, and 7th graders coloring all over themselves I'm SURE...patience is a virtue.....

So, this past weekend, in addition to a trip to the other side of the city for a nice view of the valley and some canalazo in Guapolo, I trapped myself in my room and did a lot of planning and reorganizing. It's interesting the difference I feel for my students this year as opposed to last. Of course, I wanted the best for them last year and did what I could, but since I really didn't know how to do that until this year, I'm grateful for the opportunity to give them everything and more this year. Maybe this is because I know them so well, I know how hard everyone worked last year to get them where they wanted to be, but already I feel myself more pulled toward the work I am doing for their benefit as opposed to the community of volunteers (who are pretty cool, btw so far :)) It's incredible, just different. I want to be surrounded by children at all points...which is why I'm glad I got baths this year!

Being here for the 2 weeks I have now has been a complete roller coaster of emotions, personally. When I first got here for the first two days, I was really scared that I had made a mistake by coming back the second year. I was terrified I would have to be one of those volunteers who left early, and left more work for everyone. This all changed in an instant last Monday morning when I walked into the welcome assembly swarmed by my favorite kids from the year before, greeted with hugs and kisses from my adult students, and some of the adults I had gotten to know the year before. I was HOME, and a smile and an indescribable feeling of joy and hope has not once left me since that morning....okay, except when Madre Cindy changed my schedule...fair enough :))

Though the year has just begun, I'm already being pressured for an answer to the question, "What's next?" This has come from several of the adults and some of my students. After I explain to them that I can only be a volunteer at the Center for two years as is the Madres' and Padre's rule, I can't help but think about what the last year has meant to me, what this year has already and will mean to me, and how I can put it together and hopefully be able to give money back to the center and come visit in the future. I really haven't given myself, or been allowed to due to time restraints, the time to think about this and reflect on what I want next until the past few days...passing moments, yes, but I think I'll be thinking about my time here at the Center until I take my last breath. BUT, in the meantime, I am researching graduate schools as I am thinking something along the human rights-social work stream, just need to find a place that fits me. I've found a lot of really amazing programs in the states and abroad, so as time goes on, I hope the universe points me in the right direction.

In the meantime, I'm busy with  work for my classes. Armando, my special ed. student, is already proving to be quite entertaining and really rather smart. I can't take credit for the later just yet as I know how far he came last year working with Julie, a special ed trained volunteer we were gifted with. I hope I can help him this year learn his lowercase letters, numbers 16-30, and maybe some life skills along the way. He's all love. To give you an idea of the chaos that insues with him, we (the psychologist who runs the program, Dr. Elizabeth, and Lourdes, who helps out in the room) were playing badmitten the other morning when the birdie escaped in the wind and landed on top of the roof of the bathroom. After discovering that there were no other kids to climb the wall to the roof, Dr. Elizabeth decided that Armando was going to do it, so the three of us hoisted him up the wall and he got on the roof. I've never seen him laugh so hard in my life. I on the other hand was so nervous that he'd lose his footing that he'd fall! Well, he made it, and I couldn't stop laughing.

That's it for now....until next time.... :)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

back in action!

Well, let's give this a go-again, shall we?

I've been back in Quito for about 24 hours. My flight was surprisingly pleasant and the only hiccup so far has been that the light is out in the bathroom of the room I am now in. For the traveling between Buffalo-DC-Atlanta-Quito with no delays and no lost luggage, I see this all as a pretty good start to the year. I also got bumped up for free to business class, so that was a nice last taste of the material world before I begin year two here.

Anyway, so I thought I might give this a try again and maybe be better the second time around (isn't that what we all hope for?). Admittedly, I couldn't even remember the blog site I used and had to google search myself for a bit til it came back to me. I thought to give the blog a try again for several reasons:

1.) I really like writing and miss formal papers from college. I figure if I decide to go into a grad program, any sort of writing habit will help me ease back into school.

2.) A lot happened last year and I never have found time to sort it all out. Even when I was home for about 7 weeks over the summer, it was go-go-go mode, and I had a lot of crazy, scary, sad, thoughts about the difference between my life there and what I have always known to be good and true, and the thousands of realizations and epiphanies I've had since being in Quito since last year. I really need to make sense of it if I ever really want to be happy with what I do next and also satisfied that what I've done here is a good and necessary thing. 

3.) Since seeing face to face a lot of my friends and family, it's been really hard to explain myself, so much so that sometimes I get so overwhelmed by conversation that I can't even say anything more than, "ah, that's nice," kinda thing. Some people are really interested in cracking why I'm doing what I'm doing (which I love), while others either tell me that I should be helping people in my own society (not completely unfair), or seem to think my efforts are in vain or are for my own vanity. Being here last year, I know myself that that is pretty unfair and can be hurtful (I'm a sensitive soul now!), or just based on a different set of life experiences. Perhaps this blog will help others and remind myself to think about the importance of thinking from the outside for inward self reflection. In this way, I suppose you can call my work here vain. :)

Not too much has happened in the past 24 hours other than every sort of human emotion and arriving for a second year of volunteer service in a foreign country :) I was sad to leave my family and friends in Buffalo, my sister and friends in DC, and the creature comforts of home--my beagle puppy included! Already I'm being hit with more responsibility than last year, and the new volunteers are asking me a million and one questions about scheduling, who's who, and where to find materials. A lot of that has been confusing because everything about all of those things have changed, but my experience has taught me enough that its better to go with the flow here, not stress, and listen and pick up as much as possible. It's a new year and a new game for all of us!

So there's a solid start to another attempt to keep whoever reads this and myself, as I am just as curious if not more to see what will come out of this year, inwardly and outwardly. It's just about my bedtime and another day begins tomorrow....

it's so good to be back :)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Catch Me up!

I can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve last sat down and typed something up. I think I’ve been too busy with this thing called life, or work, or a version of it to take time out from it…sounds all too familiar. Things have been nothing short of crazy. My many apologies for going through the motions without taking 10 minutes to understand and share something concrete, something real, with myself and the world. Here we go again…

Since I have no internet and can’t actually remember when or about what I wrote last, I’ll go off of what I want to. So November is over and it is now December…holy moly, did that actually happen? November was good to me—I was healthy, busy, and I think I might have gone ziplining in Mindo at some point. It was cool, check out my facebook for some pictures, particularly the one of me upside down ziplining. It looks wildly inappropriate, but it was a bit of a rush being that high up over nothing but trees on a rope. On one of my zips, I was being a wise allac and decided to flip upside down on my own. It was all good fun until my jeans got caught in the pulley and I slowed down. Luckily I made it to the other side. It was a long zip!

Oh yeah, I also turned 24 in November, which was a lot of fun. My birthday was on a Wednesday so since I didn’t want to go out, we got a bunch of wine, crackers, cheese, and chocolate (all of my favorite vices) and got dressed up, had a fire, and relaxed. It was really enjoyable and I think was the first time I started to feel really comfortable with the people I am volunteering with. Not that I didn’t before, but it takes me a bit to really warm up to people. I still haven’t been able to pin down why this is, but I think I just like to listen people talk about themselves and their lives before I share too much about mine. That sounds ridiculous, and it is, but that’s the way it is I guess. I will say that I was up til 3am with one of the volunteers finishing the wine and whatever we could find in the house. It felt good to just talk to someone about whatever we felt like. Needless to say, the next day I was exhausted, but was pleasantly surprised when my special ed class surprised me with a party—cake, chips, soda, it was cute. They all individually gave me a hug and wished me many more years, and Alex, my challenge, also expressed his gratitude for my patience and for working with him. That never gets old.

24. It’s crazy to swallow. It’s funny, you know. When I was little, or even a few years ago, I had so many dreams and plans for 24. I think I was supposed to be engaged or working in some high powered job in some big city. I was supposed to have it all. The funny thing is that I do, it’s just none of that. I think I came out with the better end of the deal. I think at some point I realized it wasn’t what I wanted for my life so I needed to change that. And here we are.

In that same understanding, I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like if I had never left. I’m so happy here, I just wonder if I will find this same happiness outside of the center. That has really been scaring me a lot lately—finding happiness outside of the unconditional love of these kids, the cookie things that happen on a daily basis, a constant and deeper appreciation and understanding of self and circumstance based on my surroundings. In the same vain, it makes me terrified to come back to the states, to buffalo, to dc, to anywhere where I am not constantly challenged as I am here. I suppose challenge comes for a variety of places, people, circumstance, happenstance, job, family, friends, etc., I’ve just never know the same type of challenge anywhere else and I’d hate to lose touch of such a deeper part of me by being a robot in some dead end job stuck in the same place. It seems like the trick is finding the challenge and holding onto it until a new one comes along…I’m just waiting for some revelation that points me in the right direction.

So back to concrete and real things…that’s the point of this, isn’t it?

December has been an absolute bang so far: Fiestas of Quito, the Center’s birthday, bull fight, soccer game, summiting a 15000ft volcano in the rain…it was all very Latin American. I’m trying to put it all together in my head, so here I’ll give it a go.

 Friday of the Fiestas, Dec 2, I think I went out for a bit, decided around 1230 once I was out that I didn’t want to do the same thing in the same place for the millionth time in a row (watching people smoke hookah for a while, drinking $2 mojitoes, going to the same club to dance, avoiding others because they’ve been soured by others, lord), and went home early with David. Unfortunately, since everyone and their mother was out, it was hard getting a cab home cheap. I think we ended up paying 7 which by Quito standards is pricy. Same cab home in dc? About 35 bones I would say.

Saturday we went to the bullfight around noon which was fun—they don’t kill the bull in Ecuador, so it was interesting, but my second bullfight of the year nonetheless. Never thought I would say that! One in Madrid and one in Quito—that’s absurd! Anyway, the sangria was cheap and the weather was good, so I couldn’t ask for much more. It was interesting to note the wealth discrepancy from our kids to the people with their Panama hats, sweaters tied over their shoulders…it was the Ecuadorian Kentucky Derby, but since these things happen so infrequently anymore, its hard get on anyone’s case…it was a special occasion!! In the afternoon me and a handful of the other volunteers went to La Marin to decorate for the Center’s birthday that following Monday. It was fun, a bit tiring after the sangria, but nothing a 1.50 sandwich didn’t cure. I stayed in that night because I had plans to hike Pichincha the following day with Kristin, Meredith, Julie, and Andy.

So Sunday the five of us took the teleferico up the side of Pichincha (sleeping volcano in Quito) and we hiked the rest of the way up to the summit. It was challenging, particularly at first, just adjusting to the altitude. Quito is at about 9000 ft, but even with that advantage, I felt a little nauseous from the altitude. Once we got more adjusted to the lack of oxygen up there and the clouds passed a bit, it was much more enjoyable. The views were spectacular on our way up despite the not so fantastic weather and we all had a good time together. About 2 hours in, it started to get really cloudy and the path up was becoming more blurred. We stopped to rest to reevaluate our situation and we just so happen to come across 2 Americans who work for the state dept down here who were summiting it. They told us we could tag along, and so we did just that. They were really cool and later gave us their email because they do various hikes all the time. When we got to the top, we really couldn’t see a thing it was so cloudy, but we were so happy after rock climbing the last 100meters or so to be at the top we didn’t care too much, I enjoyed possibly the best pb&j sandwich I have ever made in my life at the top. We didn’t stay long because it started to rain a bit. On our way down, after the rocks, 
we pretty much skied down the sand, which made things go much quicker.

Alright, so I keep coming and back to this entry. I keep going and then try to stop to write, but this month has really been a ride that’s impossible to get off. So since I summited Pinchincha, things have been less exciting. I’ve been sick for the most part and therefore spent the past 2 weekend in my pajamas and exchanged the alcohol in a glass for the trace amounts in whatever cold medicine I’ve been taking. The “gripe” I’ve been so plagued with has been relentless until just about yesterday when I gave in and went to the doctor. She wrote me a script for a 2.45 drug (by this point I was willing to drink acid if it meant I would be better), and within hours I started feeling better. My body temperature was all sorts of crazy for about 4 days before this. I would go from cold sweats to dripping in sweat from being warm in the matter of minutes. Luckily, this has subsided and I finally feel some sort of strength in my legs. My throat is still pretty dry, but again, I have finally found the road to recovery.

Well, I guess it hasn’t been all bed and teaching…the burdensome life of a volunteer does come with its kicks. Last weekend Friday we had a half day because we had a staff party in the afternoon at La Marin. Of course, since we work for food, we were ousted from the center’s transportation downtown and made our way by bus after a short morning , for me in special ed. Anyway, they had a nice lunch for us, cake, ice cream, and a box of wine on the tables for us. Unfortunately, it takes more than one box to satisfy thirsty volunteers, so the sneakier ones found their way back to the bodega for a little more merrymaking while we played bingo. There was also a short scavenger hunt which I of course partook in. It was a nice party, but the ride home in traffic (normally 45 min) took an hour and a half on a small van-bus built for Ecuadorian sized people. Needless to say, my neck was sore from scrouching a bit since I gave my seat up to an elderly employee.

Saturday was not much of a Saturday in that there was little time for rest. We had to be downtown once again for 10am mass where the 1st graders “gave their hearts to Jesus” and thereafter we handed out the bultos. This all supposedly began because the second graders make their first confession and get a small gift, and the gift part supposedly upset the first graders, thus, they get dressed up, put their face on a heart, and give their heart to Jesus for a gift. It was pretty adorable nonetheless. Afterward, we gave out the large bags filled with the donated goods following. Since I don’t know any of the families at La Marin, I was much more excited to give out the bags at Cotocoallo. One of my bath boys, Richard, knew I had packed his family’s and gave me a big hug the next day when he saw all the stuff I packed for him (pants, nice shoes(he always wears dress shoes and a button down). He said he was going to wear the stuff the next week to show me, which he did. I’m glad he found them useful! Anywho, Jean Pierre was there with his family who I absolutely adore. He insisted that I hold him while this huge production was going on, and therefore got in trouble by Rudulfo when I had to go on stage to get the bags down. He has no sense of fear, this kid, so it didn’t phase him too much.  

Sunday was another good day. We were invited by Maria (one of our cooks) to her house for lunch. This was fun because it was not only us, but also her whole family, including her daughter, Ana, and granddaughter, Michele, who are both in my classes, so that was fun. They had chicken, salchipapas, salad (maria knows us ahha, this is not ecua by any standard!), and in true fashion, chocolate cake. This was an extravagant lunch, for sure, for them, and for us too! It was a nice day and they were cooking the food outside on a grill and her house is high enough for a nice view of the city.

In the afternoon I took my bath kids on a paseo (minus one who didn’t show up). Where we went you ask? Well, after my slew of awesome suggestions, most of which included a bit of a trek, the 3 kids decided what they really wanted was Domino’s and KFC. The last time I had domino’s was through bullet proof glass in Brookland at CUA when boli’s was closed, and I have never, EVER had or even been inside a KFC before that. I told that to Richard who wanted to go there since he doesn’t like pizza and he didn’t believe me. It was an experience. The kids were really funny about ordering and eating food, but I made sure that we ordered enough so that they all had a bit to bring home for their family’s, as this is a bit of a treat. Anyway, it was fun.

This past Tuesday was the daycare’s Christmas program. It was the most adorable thing I have ever seen in my life. A lot of my adults and the family’s I know from baths had little ones (4 and under) in the program and wanted me to take pictures of their children, which I was happy to do. There was a nativity reenactment, traditional dancing, dancing, and just adorableness, really. Jean Pierre was deceivingly dressed as an angel. Afterward, all the kids received a gift from these 5 woman who buy them gifts every year. It was a really big deal for them. After when I saw my little man (jean pierre), he had me take off his angel wings, then gave me a big hug and insisted I pick him up as we walked out. His dad started to call for him to leave, but he wouldn’t. I eventually convinced him he had to get down. Before he trotted off when I put him down, he jumped back into my arms and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Really, who needs a boyfriend when you get love like that? I wish I could explain how awesome this kid is in words, or how cute he is, or the sound of his voice when he says your name, but all I can say is that there’s nothing greater than that sound.

In all, this week has been very very long, probably because my mind hasn’t been too busy since we’ve only been minimally working in classes (tests, review, parties, movies, programs, etc), so I have time to let me brain wander off. But we did play soccer in my English class today, so that is always a good time.

Wow, okay, that was exhausting and I’m glad I’m back in real time. So real time tells me it’s December 23nd, 2011. But how can that be? Didn’t 2011 just start? It seems like it. This year has been riddled with events: graduated from college, quit a job for the first time, said goodbye to my friends in DC (with a wicked month long send off!), went to Spain and visited London/Clarissa with Barbara, and moved to Ecuador to volunteer for a year, blind as a bat as to what I was actually getting myself into. Not a bad way to pass the time, I’d say! With everything that has went on this past year, I wish I could say I came out of it at the end with a little more clarity, a little more direction, but this would be completely false. I spend most of my mental free time preoccupied by what’s next. What’s next, what’s next. Damn. Can’t someone just tell me?
One of my closest friends recently asked me how it do it: just up and leave for a program in Ecuador without knowing a soul, with no present, previously known support system, no boyfriend, no family, no friends. To this I gave her my, “well I still have friends, they are just far away, and I’ve never found reason to invest substantial time in a boyfriend” reply. But truthfully, what I do  know for sure is how good it feels to be here every day: to hear the sound of 40 different kids shouting hello to you from across the courtyard even when you don’t see them; to feel the unconditional love of a child when they hug you (whether they do it every day or when something special happens); to know that it’s not necessarily what you are teaching your kids in the classroom that matters, but your presence in their lives so they know that someone cares and someone believes that they can succeed; when you’re invited to lunch in the comedor after mass and kids fight over who you are going to sit with; when every kid comes up to you during the sign of peace to shake your hand;  when your kids know when you are sad or upset because you miss the normalcy of being at home in the states, and whatever they say to you makes you feel alright; when you buy a cookie for your students just because and they light up like it’s Christmas morning; when your worst student sticks up for you when the rest are acting up; when you able to equalize in your mind the humanity of every person; when language doesn’t matter. These kids….these kids just get to you. Every morning, no matter how hard it is to get myself out of bed, I know I will be smiling, be happy, find some silver lining in whatever happens…and you know what…most of whatever I get upset about doesn’t matter. Everything is so insignificant compared to this list of reasons why I love it here. It’s these kids: they’ve crept their way in. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Where do we go from here?

So it's the Sunday following my returning from my 4ish days in Cuenca. While I expected this past week to be a small piece of hell as I was exhausted after the adventure of the nite bus last Saturday night, it has turned out to be much better than expected. I got a decent amount of sleep before starting class on Monday and woke up excited to get back to class and my students. BELIEVE ME, they were the furthest thing from my mind when I woke up from my nap from 730am-230pm on Sunday afternoon, realizing I had no materials prepared for class that week minus a rough outline of my lesson plans.

On Monday, all the professors (actual teachers and staff) were curious to know my reaction to Cuenca. Really, if you visit it, it's a hard place to hate...beautiful architecture, a smaller city so easily navigable, less climbing up hills than in Quito, delicious food, friendly people (may have been due to the fiesta-ing!!), a bit of history, and plenty to do. In all, I was more impressed than I thought I was going to be. Not that I had low expectations, but really, it was my first trip outside of the relatively rough streets of Quito. I've been too much exposed to European cities so I'm happy to see how other parts of the world preserve their past, function in the present, and plan for the future. My favorite professor in colegio, Luis, who is this crazy old man and always greets me with a hug and a friendly kiss on the cheek, along with the inspector who I still can't remember his name even though I talk to him everyday..oops! were teasing me about my fiesta-ing and asked me how many hearts I brought back from Cuenca. I told them every single one, and of course they got a kick outa it. They also told me it was an Ecuadorian tradition to take off your clothes (mardi gras??) during the Fiestas of any city for their independence. They were teasing each other in good humor (making me a bit uncomfortable!) and of course teasing me as well. One of the other volunteers walked in mid conversation and I think was a bit confused. In general, these boundries are a bit blured here...maybe because it's a private institution, but probably because it's Latin America and I'm a pretty conservative American (at least when it comes to fiesta-ing!). I’m reminded of my Americanness every day in the way I react to people here--coworkers, other teachers, my Ecua-friends, etc. In Europe, I didn't feel quite the same separate way of living and looking at the world than I do here. Sure, its drastically different in Europe (they can't fathom gun control or the death penalty or not having universal social programs), but there’s something much more simple here that people understand about life. Maybe it’s just people at the Center, but there’s not so much clutter of stuff getting in the way. Again, might just be the amazing people I have the privilege to work with and serve as, quite honestly they don’t have the means to have the clutter, but I’ve met several people outside the center who’ve challenged my narrow way of looking at my life and the things I want to accomplish in life, which brings me to much deeper more complex questions that have been boggling my mind, particularly this past weekend.

I seem to come in and out of these little bouts of really trying to find what I want to do after this year. It may have something to do with the constant chatter around me of plans for jobs, grad schools, a second year, etc., but really I think it is because I feel better when I know things are planned so I know exactly what I need to do to get there. Perhaps I am this way because I lived day to day for a time in my life, never really knowing what a day would bring and only having the energy to take one task off my list at a time. Perhaps I am afraid I will disappoint my parents if I don’t find this passion I so actively seek. They have put so much faith in my grand dreams and given me so much love I can’t even explain it. Perhaps I am afraid I will disappoint myself, come shattering to pieces, and my fierce exterior will be revealed. Perhaps I am afraid I will never feel fulfilled after this year, want to stay forever, and miss out on everything in my family and friend’s lives back at home. Perhaps I am too afraid to commit to something selfish after this, realize ten years from now that it was the wrong decision, and live in regret. Am I overthinking this? Absolutely. Do I know how NOT to overthink anything? Absolutely not. All I know is that this year is changing me faster than I can even try to keep up with. My head, my heart, everything I believed about myself and about the world has shifted…for now, this change is slight, but it’s only November. I still have 8 months or so left. I’m terrified and excited to see what the next 8 months will bring out in me and the world.

I’ve also started having these crazy ideas in my head about God. I said it, GOD. I think I started ignoring organized religion and things I understood with perfect clarity in during my years in youth group my senior year of high school. Why this did not distract me from 4 years at the Catholic University of America is beyond me, but by that point, I needed to fulfill a yearning for a cosmopolitan and sophisticated way of living in Washington (plus a greater need to run as far as I could from Buffalo), so the terrifying angry Jesus or the chapels, crosses, nuns, priests, and God-Squad campus ministry didn’t deter me too much in this regard. Anyway, I guess I’m starting to reconsider, but hear me out. I’m starting to realize that living for myself the way I have been since that time is illogical, selfish, and unfulfilling. Perhaps this has a tie into this impossible dig I find myself pursuing, but I think that not living for myself as I am doing here (at least til the end of July 2012) is the first step in finding whatever answer I need that is haunting my waking moments.

I hope that clarity comes in the form of my dreams as this is the last thing I will think about before I close my eyes for the night. I always try to find a positive thought or feeling to dwell on before I fall asleep as I don’t like to go to bed angry or frustrated. To this, I will try to take to heart this terribly cheesy song I found on iTunes by Randy Houser…It’s called “In God’s Time.”

In God’s time a million years might only be a single day, and everything he does gets done in his own way, in God’s time;

In God’s time you’ll find that certain someone you’ve been praying for, and they’ll be everything you prayed for and a little more, In God’s time

Oh but no one knows not you or me, it might be tomorrow it might never be, oh but don’t lose faith, put it in his hands, cause it might be that he has a bigger plan that you had in mind, miracles happen In God’s time

In God’s time, you go to sleep and wake up with wings and learn to fly, and you’ll finally meet your loved ones on the other side, in God’s time.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Guess who's back, back again.....

First of all, I must apologize for really being awful at this. I was much better in Germany when I had my personal journal and my online blog. I think I will go back to that. My favorite thing I brought home from my time in Europe (besides my case of wine from various counties which miraculously made it) was my journal, which I still periodically read. Why I thought an online journal would satisfy my need to record my thoughts is beyond me. I’m too old fashioned for all this technology. I’ll backtrack and then bring you (and me!) up to date.
Week Ending 28 October 2011:
This week was riddled with funny/strange/sad/disgusting stories. Let me see what I can remember:
1.)    Christopher (age 7) lost his front tooth this week. Alexis, the volunteer who works directly with him in special ed, told him to keep the tooth so the Tooth Fairy (aka Ligia, the useless head of this classroom) would give him a gift. He proudly paraded it around the comedor showing everyone. So apparently as the story goes, he put this tooth under his bed that night as carefully instructed by Alexis. The next day, Alexis asked him where his tooth was. He said that he didn’t have it because “Raton Perez” took it. Alexis assumed that “Raton Perez” was like the Ecuadorian Tooth Fairy and she asked him if it was similar to what Americans tell their children when they loose their teeth, specifically if Raton Perez visits all children. Cristofer replied no, that Raton Perez only visits him. Confused as most would be, she pressed on to find an answer as to who this Raton Perez is. Cristofer replied that he had a lot of Raton Perez’ at his house, that they were all black, and that he stole his tooth……the kid named the rats that live in his house….hysterical, sad, and disgusting.
2.)    My “special ed” student Alex was being an absolute pain in the butt the other morning. As he always does, he was testing my patience, but that day I couldn’t take it, so I left him corner of the room, told him I wouldn’t teach him, and went to go work with other students. I sat down with Maggie, one of the assistants to Ligia (ecua) as she was explaining how some movies are for adults, some are for young people, and some are for children to about 6 kids all under the age of 11. I’m not sure how all of this started as I came in mid-conversation, but all of a sudden, Maggie was asking the students (mostly boys) if their dads had porn in the house and if they had seen it before. She seemed to get through to some of them, that the things they do in porns are for adults (I think she used the word fun…sweet god!), and that they shouldn’t treat women like objects…. I hope this is never an issue for my future children when they are under the age of 10….sad/strage.
3.)    Alex was wearing this NYC shirt today that I know I had when I was little…you know the kind, the 5 shirts for 20 bones on the street. The shirt had an icon of the Trade Centers on it, so I asked Alex if they still existed (this is of course in process, I know as they are rebuilding) but he knew absolutely nothing about 9/11. I guess why would he? He’s 13 and lives in Ecuador, isn’t constantly connected to the internet like people in the states, and has little regard for anyone beside himself in general. Still, it’s strange to me.
4.)    Thursday I was feeling particularly tired and apathetic. Thus I played basketball with Alex as I made him answer math facts (valid lol), and then later in my colegio English girls class, we played soccer against another class. Both were pretty funny….and I still have my side shot skills for basketball….my soccer skills are improving, but as we played with 30 girls on the field, there was little action for any one person haha. I had to eventually stop the game of soccer with 30 teenage girls running and screaming around as they had class and the ball was mine, so I grabbed it in the middle of a play since they wouldn’t give it to me. I was then MAULED to the ground by ten of them as all the colegio boys watched from above. So much for respect!
5.)    Rosario, one of my adult ed students, also mother to Roberto (my special special ed student who is no longer under my eye, thank GOD!) came up to me when I was at baths. We started chatting about normal things. She and I had both been sick that week, so I asked her how she was feeling. She seemed better, and before I could ask another question, she pulled out this small box covered with a piece of cloth that had 4 teeny tiny gray kittens in it. She offered to sell me a cat for $1.00. Well, not only do I not like cats and can’t have one in the house, the poor things looked like they were on the Sarah Mcglauchline (sp) commercial for the ASPCA. It was so sad. I was immediately reminded of my good friend, Christina Lyons, who is the biggest animal lover I know. She would have pulled out 4 bucks, nursed them back to full health, and immediately found a vet to get the proper vaccines. She would also be quite sad to see all the stray dogs here literally running up and down the streets. I saw one that had been hit by a car. A man was cleaning it off the street. So sad.
6.)    Sunday we went to another barrio (neighborhood) to see one of the volunteers here perform for a Dia de los Muertos celebration, along with a few other people who work at the Center. It was a decent barrio and a ton of people who stayed for the festival after morning mass. There were literally people standing outside church for mass because it was so packed. You don’t even get that for the Xmas-Easter crowd in the states. The festival included a number of different bands, dance groups, some traditional with ethnic dress and dance, others dancing to Don Omar (reggaton/club music) which was also really funny as it was right outside church. Anyway, they had colada morada (delicious drink that includes a lot of different fruits and is quite thick), and pan de guaguas (baby bread) as these are 2 typical Ecuadorian treats for Dia de los Muertos). I got really burnt as I thought we were going to be inside, but it was really interesting to see a real Ecuadorian celebration. The church was started by a father who will be living with us for a few months. He goes back and forth between here and his parish in boston. Seems like a good guy, let’s just hope he’s not a sox fan. Funny part about this day is that as we were going there, all of the volunteers who went up to see Julia perform (about 8) got off the bus, but Kristen, who is known  for sleeping all the time (sometimes in special ed when working one on one with a student, sometimes in cabs or during meetings haha). We didn’t know what to do as she didn’t have a phone. She apparently woke up about 10 minutes after and spent a half hour walking down a hill back to the church.

Alright, let’s move on a bit. (week ending 4 Nov. 2011)
This week was a good one, particularly because I only had class Monday and Tuesday, didn’t have English or adult ed, so really only had to prepare for Religion, tho the short week had a rough spot as well.

Monday I was feeling pretty good in the morning before class. I was excited for my trip to Cuenca Tuesday night, and knew that I had very little to get thru before I got there. As usual when I walked into special education, Ligia was MIA. I came up with a few activities for Alex to keep him entertained and going until I could find Ligia. She waltzed in a half hour later, and so as I usually had been doing, I asked her for activities for Alex for the day. Now, before I go on, let me say that when Corry and John (2 special ed teachers in the states who spent the first 6 weeks with us) were here, they had NUMEROUS meetings with Ligia to outline OUR responsibilities in the class and hers. Things were alright when they were here as we didn’t have to fight with this very lazy woman, along with Madre Cindy who has little idea what goes down in the class. This was a good and bad thing as the volunteers were in the class all the time and Corry and John were only there sometimes. Anywho, so at the end of all their meetings, it was decided that it was Ligia’s job to evaluate the students, create objectives for them once a month, and give the volunteers activities, worksheets, etc for the students along with teaching new material. So basically we were to act as aids as none of us have any sort of education background. Let’s continue. So when I asked her for things to do with Alex that day, she went off on me about how it wasn’t her job to come up with activities and that the other volunteers were doing their own activities for their students. This is a complete lie as Alexis gets activities from Corry who is in charge of Cristofer from Canindaigua, NY, and Joe gets materials from Maggie, who also works with the kid that Joe works with. This leaves Kristen and I to do busy work that we come up with because Ligia isn’t there which is not fair at all. So Ligia started yelling at me about this and of course, I got upset. I told her I would talk to her in the hall. She continued about how it wasn’t her job and that I was there to make activities for Alex. This was all bold face lies and really really upset me. After I cut her off from whatever she was mumbling to me in Spanish which I wasn’t paying attention to anyway, I walked into the office to use the bathroom to get a tissue and splash my face with some cold water to get over it and move on. Of course, I see Cristina, who is one of my favorite students in English and also helps me with baths.  I felt so stupid. I’ve cried here more than I have in the past 5 years, I’m pretty certain of this. But this job is incredibly emotional and not something you can really leave once you are out of class. It’s a 24/7 gig. Anyway, I got thru the rest of the morning with this nightmare of a lazy woman and tried to focus on Cuenca. Later that night at baths, Cristina and Estefanie (another English student) asked me why I had been crying. They pressed me and pressed me to tell me what was wrong (I didn’t want to tell them I was having a problem with a teacher), but Estefanie knew I was in special ed with Ligia, and figured it out. She gave me a mini pep talk about how awful Ligia is once I admitted it was her, and told me that Ligia was “el diablo” or the devil and that a lot of people have problems with her. She asked me if I liked to be at the center in general, and reminded me that one bad apple does not spoil the bushel. I told her that some days were really really hard, but that there was also a lot to “sonreir” or smile, about at the Center and that every day I am happier than I had ever been. She gave me a hug, and of course I had to smile after that.

Tuesday was better. Our special ed class did a little presentation for the escuela (grammar school) kids about Dia de los Muertos, which was really cute. I was still annoyed at Ligia, but we had a little party with colada morada and pan de guaguas with the kids after the presentation which was cute.

After getting through the day, I finished packing for Cuenca, and we ran out the door to catch a cab for the bus terminal downtown. Our bus was at about 1030 at night and was PACKED with people leaving the city for various places as the entire country was on vaccacion from Wed-Sunday for Dia de los Muertos and the Fiestas of Cuenca which honor 191 years of Cuencan independence. How cool is that? Just randomly giving everyone in the country (thanks correa!) off for ONE city’s independence.—the US govt is too concerned with other things to recognize religious and civic holidays together. This would never happen! Anyway, despite the fact that numerous professors and admin had told me that week that night buses were dangerous, we already had our tickets, so I was hoping that my faith in humanity not to hijack, rob, or kidnap me (all these things were things that I was told that happens to people sometimes), would not fail me. It turned out fine and I was much less nervous than I should have been. Sleeping was impossible and I was incredibly restless, thus I was exhausted for the next 2 days, but that’s fine.  Apparently the 2 guys in front of us on the bus were smoking weed, but with my cold and complete ignorance to these things, I didn’t notice. I just thought they were obnoxious haha. One snafoo was that our bus clipped the side of a cement wall when we pulled into a bus station to get gas. That certainly jolted me from my sleep!!!

We got into Cuenca Wednesday and to our hostel which was right near the river, around 715 or so, and for whatever reason, thought we’d get right to doing things. With the Fiestas going on, there were people in the streets and up and moving. We stopped at a coffee place where I got a much needed cappuccino (the coffee at the center is instant, and I miss good coffee and thus jump at any chance to get it lol) and then walked down by the river, which is more like a babbling brook, where there were already vendors setting up. There was a market where you could find a lot of typical Ecuadorian things (hats, scarves, shawls, some instruments, llama products, etc) much of which was a repeat from Otovalo (a city about an hr from Quito which is a HUGE market for these things at a good price), but it was fun to see that lining the river. There was also a “art in the park” exhibit across the street. I started chatting with one of the artists and he asked my name. I told him Juliana as this is my name here and started singing the song “Juliana” by DLG. To give you an idea, the chorus goes, “Juliana que mala eres, que mala eres Juliana..” So OBVIOUSLY, I am not a mala, or bad Juliana, so had to tell him I was not like the song. Some of the special ed kids I don’t work with will sing this song to me as I walk past them on the playground. Little brats! We walked all over the city and to a few of the indoor markets where they had huge fruit, veggie, meat, fish selections. Later in the morning, we stumbled upon an agriculture show. We walked thru it and I saw the largest heads of lettuce ever, along with whole pigs, roasted, smoked black that people were just hacking into and eating on the spot. It made me nauseous. There was also cui (guinea pig) galore. I haven’t brought myself to eating this Ecuadorian delicacy, but I have til July-Aug 2012 to eat what I once kept in a cage as a pet. So fowl. What else? We saw 2 parades, went to the Cathedral Nuevo (really beautiful, but outside was more impressive than inside), walked more by the river, went to another artisans show which was more my speed and more locally done (also more expensive) but really beautiful things. I had to walk away from a beautiful leather bag…it was hard! But I don’t have 70 bones for a bag. Boo-hiss. We took a nap in the afternoon, and then went out for some food, a few drinks, and to find some live music, etc. We turned in pretty early as we had plans to go to Ingapirca the next day.

We got on a bus to Ingapirca, Incan ruins about 2 hours outside the city, at 9am. It was really beautiful as it was on the side of a mountain and was sunny and pleasant outside. There were even brown llamas walking around the ruins! There were remains of aquaducts and a large rock surrounded by smaller rocks with holes in them which they used as a calendar. So crazy! When we got back to the city around 3 or so, we took a nap as we were still recovering from the silly nite bus, got dinner at this Mexican joint which was kinda gross, and then went out again to hear some music, and do some dancing. Alexis, one of the girls who came, had this dance off at one of the clubs we went to. It was really funny and pretty awesome. I had this milky-vodkay drink which was a bad mistake as it made me feel aweful the next morning. I have also lost all tolerance for alcohol. My friends who survived my crazy summer 2010 would not believe me. One margarita and I’m down for the count! One thing I like about Ecuador is that their house wine is almost always Malbac because its so much cheaper. Luckily for me, its one of my favorite wines! Tho it is still more expensive than beer. Another complete side note, the 30th, I went with a few others to this irish pub which shows American football. Cost of a Guinness IN A CAN: 15.99!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was outraged and appauled that they didn’t have it on tap at an irish pub, or that it was so expensive. I could buy a case for that!! The Irish would demand they change the name of the pub. ANYWHO, back to Cuenca! We went to this one Cuban owned place for a little dancing. I was given a salsa dancing lesson from a friendly guy who I think just wanted to practice his English ahah, but it was fun. There was also a girl there from Catholic. She looked so familiar and started talking to some of the other volunteers. She told them she was from DC, so they told me. I asked her if she want to Catholic and well, what do you know? She graduated in 2011 from the Social Work school. THE WORLD IS FAR TOO SMALL!!!

Another relatively early morning for us. We tried taking a bus to Cajas Nacional Park, not too far outside the city to the south. Well, the buses were filled, so we tried going to another station in the south to get tickets. We waited about 25 minutes for a bus to come by, and asked some other people waiting at the terminal for advice on how to get there. They suggested we take a cab, which we did. We found the nicest cab driver who took all five of us. It was also hard to find cabs to take 5 as most cap it at 4, but he drove us up to the higher part of the park, gave us advice and commentary on things to do in the park and in Cuenca. The park didn’t have a great info center, just this little resort thing. He walked us into the hotel/resort and got us information for activities they offered and whatnot. He also gave us his house and cell # incase we needed to get back and couldn’t get a bus. Just SO NICE. Reminded me of when Ann and I were in Ireland and the man we named Liam drove us back from the park to Dublin and disappeared before we could even give him a few euros. People in Cuenca were very nice…it was like the south in the states. Maybe it was the festivities and all the fiesta-ing, but everyone was nice when we asked for directions, advice, or for food. Anyway, we had a great day. We went horseback riding a bit, and then went hiking, attempting to find one of the 236 lagoons in the park. Well, not everyone was as energenic about the hike, but we made it a few hours, got some awesome views, found 2 random horse roaming the mountains (they weren’t wild and had shoes), and found a pretty large skull. It was a lot of fun. Some people also decided to go swimming in the river. I refrained as I didn’t want to be colder than I was, but stuck my feet in. It was a refreshing day to be up in the mountains and breathe the fresh air instead of the smog from Quito’s buses. We got back, took a nap (see a pattern??), and later went out. I cut my nap short to go back to the artisans tent to see if I could get a few gifts. I ended up buying a mobile (sounds weird but is really pretty!) and a table runner which may or may not be gifted..haha. I’m selfish and have a shopping issue! This is my downfall in life. Anyway, we were told of a good Mexican restaurant to try, so we walked further into the city center for this. There were tons of people and bands in the streets. The restaurant was quite good, a little pricy, but good. There was live music and the guy played Blackbird, my favorite Beatles song! He did it justice in his Spanish accent. Also made me think of Christina Lyons…I have to tell her about this! We went out dancing a bit again (ive danced more here in the past 3 months than in the entirety of college!), and went to bed around 1am or so.
Saturday was a bit more free. We slept in a bit, and Joe, Alexis and I went to Chordeleg, a town about an hr from the city that is famous for its inexpensive silver. I started talking to this guy on the bus who lived in NYC for 2.5 years and just came back. He was lamenting his loss of life in Queens. At one point, I looked out at the breathtaking mountains and exclaimed how beautiful it was in Ecuador. He told me that he thought the concrete buildings of NYC were more beautiful—literally, his words! I found it hard to believe, but I guess it’s true…it’s easier to find the beauty in something unfamiliar to you. I walked past concrete everyday in DC and got sick of most of what is actually beautiful architecture and government buildings (minus the FBI building, that is a disaster) but could stare at the Andes all day and be more than happy. We always want what we can’t have…how true it is. Chordeleg is a cool little place. It’s higher up and offered amazing vistas. There’s a little church in the town center which is this awkward shade of green, and has a regular face clock on it in the center that you would find in a highschool cafeteria, but also had a beautiful stained glass rose above the doors. The town square is entirely lined with jewelry shops. Literally, every single one. It was more than overwhelming. Some of them were really really cheap, some moderate, and of course, I would find the expensive ones, as is my other not so hidden talent (spending money!) I ended up finding a beautiful pair of 18kt gold studs shaped like flowers that have a coral center (im a sucker for coral and studs!) that were a little pricy. I had this flashback as I was trying to decide whether or not I should buy it to Italy with Ms. Luhr in highschool. I was deciding if I should buy these pretty little gold hoops. She told me that I would have them forever and I should get them. She was right…they are still some of my favorite earrings! So despite the fact I was in a town famous for cheap silver, I went with the expensive gold. Story of my life. I did find something pretty for one of my dear friend in London…now I just have to see her in the next year to give them to her!!
We got back into Cuenca about 5pm, relaxed at the hostel (tho we had checked out), and went to get some dinner with CeCe and Andy who had stayed behind to explore Cuenca some more. We found a sandwich place called Chiplote, not to be confused with Chipotle, which was excellent. I wasn’t too hungry as we had a late lunch, so saved half of my chicken sandwich for the ride home at 1040. The place was owned by an American and was absolutely delicious…when in Cuenca, eat American food haha. Eh, whatcha gona do. CeCe and I decided that we were going to split one of the deals they had (2 for 1 margaritas), however, the man misunderstood all of us, and brought us out 8 margaritas (Alexis and Andy were going to split the deal too). Needless to say, it was a whole lota marg! We had time to kill, so went  back to the hostle and watched a movie. My stomach was starting to bother me (probably from the greasy sandwich) so I was trying to drink some water and relax before the bus. The pains went away, so I decided to eat the rest of my sandwich before we left for the bus. It seemed fine, but then about 2 hours into the bus ride (1230am) my stomach had the worst cramps. I was having flashbacks to my colitis days. I tried to relax, stretch out, and drink some water, but nothing was working. On top of that, I was so cold because the window next to me had a draft. At about 230am, I decided I could take it no more. I climbed over the man next to me who was sleeping, and asked the bus driver for a key to the bathroom in the back. He informed me that it was broken and that they don’t usually stop during the nite route. I must have had a pretty pained look on my face because when I told him it was an emergency, he told me to wait in the front and that he’d stop ahead. He pulled into a closed gas station that had bathrooms that were still open on the side. They were the most rancid bathrooms I’d ever seen, but luckily there was one relatively clean and I travel with toilet paper (rule #2 of ecua-travel  right after #1, don’t drink the water).  I wasn’t the only one who needed to go, as the geriatric ward came in right behind me to use the bathroom. I relate to the pains of old people haha. So after that for the rest of the 4 hours back to quito, I slept relatively well.

Before I knew it, I was waking up to a cold Quito morning. The city seemed a little grimier than I remembered…maybe because I was in Cuenca, a city still very much influenced and preserved with Spanish architecture, so much so it reminded me of Granada, Spain, but maybe because I was outside it and could see the city a little better, even despite my exhaustion.  Okay, wow, this is a lot of information and I need some sleep (still getting over the cold). I’ll have to pull this all apart another day.