Ten years ago today, I – freshly graduated from high school – flew to Quito, Ecuador, to teach English at an orphanage. Ok, well, really, I was getting out of my hometown, making my mark, immersing myself in language and culture, learning something new about a corner of the world far, far away from my tiny Eastern Oregonian hometown. Teaching English at an orphanage was just my means to do this.
This year I’ll be looking back: posting emails from a decade ago, and reflecting on my experiences from a much older, wiser perspective (riiight). I made editorial remarks in italics, but otherwise, say hello to 18-year-old me.
September 9, 2006:
After flying from Portland, OR to Houston, TX to Quito, Ecuador, I’m now in Mariana Lara’s house, living with four and a half other people. Mariana is the host “mother,” Michael (who is 27, is her son, and he speaks pretty much no English), Johana, Michael’s daughter, is seven, and she speaks only what other volunteers have taught her (“my name is Johana,” “turn the lights off,” etc) Jonathan is 19, and is from Wisconsin, doing the same thing I am, only at the Laura Vicuna Orphanage instead of REMAR. He got here two days ago. The “half” is Lindsey, who is a volunteer who is leaving very soon, and Mariana’s cousin, who’s here only a few days to help with the cooking, since the maid evaporated the day before I got here.
My first day here (this being my third) I had a short interview with Tatiana, the manager of the orphanage, and she showed me around. It’s very sad. Yet happy at the same time. The kids, obviously, have no parents, which, if you think about for too long, is a really depressing thought. But I don’t think they think about that much. They all have smiling (albeit dirty) faces and they run around pushing each other down and picking each other up just like any other kids. The building itself reflects the atmosphere that surrounds the Remar orphanage. The outside, and most parts of the inside are all cement. Hard, cold (well… as cold as it is here) dusty, dirty grey cement… not very kid friendly. However, all of this grotesque material is painted (at least on the inside) in bright colors — with depictions of dolls and trees and flowers and kids playing and such.
After my tour and after lunch, we — wait. Lunch. Ok, about lunch. I wasn’t too hungry, but when she put a bowl of soup in front of me I thought, “Ok, I think I can handle this, we’re going to be walking a lot today anyway…” But no. After the soup, they set a plate full of rice, fish, vegetables, and a bread basket in front of me. “Uh, no. Gracias.” So, starve yourself before you eat anywhere in Ecuador during the 2 to 4pm hours.
However, after all the food, Michael took Jonathan and me on a tour of the churches of Quito. Yeah, I know. After all the fuss about “why do we have to see SO MANY churches, Mother? They all look the same…” in Germany last year, you’re most likely thinking, “Anna? Visiting churches? Ha!” I must say they did look rather like the ones in Germany. Their histories, however, as told by Michael and interpreted by me (who speaks only un poco español) and Jonathan (who speaks un poco menos español) are muy interesante. As we climbed to the top of one such church, which had a clock tower, Michael tried to convince us that this was where “Back to the Future” was filmed.
“Si, si! Michael J. Fox, película… ‘Back to el futuro?’ Si, aquí, ha ha ha…” Yeah, not happening.
To get to the tower, you have to climb up, up, up the stairs, to where they hang the bell. Then there’s a rickety bridge that you cross, made of wobbly two-by-fours, with a rope for support. Once you make it across the bridge, you climb up a 7-foot ladder, to the balcony, where you can either enjoy the view from the height you’re at, or inch your way up a small, spiraling metal staircase to the tip top of the church. Muy windy up there, though.
My second day here (yesterday) Michael, Jonathan and I (there’s got to be an easier way to say all that) climbed partway up Mount Teleferico, which is just up the hill –wait, it IS the hill– that Mariana’s house is on. We took a bus, a tram, and then walked up to the highest altitude I’ve ever been to. I like to say it’s the highest I’ve ever been. Quito, by the way, is debatably the second highest capital in the world (La Paz, Bolivia is currently the highest, but Bolivia has two capitals, hence the debate.) Teleferico is a lot higher than Quito… so, I win.
On the way back down, Michael convinced us to have “agua ardiente,” which he translated to “hot water,” but you can probably guess that that’s not what it is. It was actually pretty good. Agua ardiente is a little bit of liquor, spices (like cinnamon, or something) and water, heated up. You should try it if you come here.
Then we visited El Panecillo, the huge angel statue on the hill in the centre of Quito. We took a taxi, because apparently walking to it is one of the most dangerous things to do in Quito. There’s random gunfire, robbers, and many more shady things going on there — so, take a taxi! The statue itself, however, is best viewed from afar (the “Back to the Future” church, for example) because it’s so huge that you can’t really see it when you’re actually at the site. Like the Statue of Liberty, only it’s an angel standing on a serpent which she has on a chain leash.
Today we (there, that’s shorter — you know who) took a bus to Otavalo, which is the location of a huge, muy famoso market which occurs every Saturday. It’s about two hours from Quito, which meant “splurging” for a two-dollar bus ride. Also, on Mariana’s instructions, we weren’t to buy anything there unless we had to. The trick is to come one week, have Michael (or whoever happens to be your guide) haggle prices so we American gringos don’t get gypped, then come back another week, once we’ve seen the stuff, and use our previous encounter with the salesman to get the “normal” price.