Letters from Ecuador: 9.11.2006

Ten years ago this week, 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 11, 2006:

For a while, I think these will be frequent, until I stop behaving like a tourist, anyway. Yesterday I was forced to get out of bed, eat food at an ungodly hour (9am) and dragged to the middle of the earth. (I know the metaphor runs “the ends of the earth,” but you’d have to ask my cousin in Iceland for an anecdote about that one).    When I say “middle of the earth,” I mean one of them. From what I read before I came, and what Michael told us, there are a few self-proclaimed “equator lines” in the same general area, but we weren’t sure which one is the actual “equator.” Works for me… I couldn’t feel any special vibes from the red plastic line anyway. Actually, I envisioned myself as “Achoo” in Robin Hood: Men in Tights: “I’m on one side, I’m on the other… it’s not that difficult.”

As I’ve discovered since, there IS a “real” Mitad del Mundo, not as well known because of its lack of colorful dancers and ice cream shops, but you CAN balance an egg perfectly there. Maybe there are special vibes, too.           

The reason we came to this particular line, on this particular day, at this particular time was because there are traditional Ecuadorian dancers who dance in the Mitad del Mundo square on Sundays. After the dances, we ate at a tiny blue cement-and-tin restaurant that definitely wouldn’t survive an Oregon hurricane (hint: Oregon doesn’t have hurricanes). I’m so glad my OCD doesn’t extend to the hyper-cleanness that some people’s does. I probably would’ve died at the sight of the sight of the restaurant, much less made it past the “free sample” of greasy dish rag–I mean, pork– at the door (I passed mine to Jonathan behind my back), much less sat down on a (thankfully) shadowy bench, much less survived the actual food. Which they gave me too much of, as I am finding to be a trend in this country. Either they’re starving in poverty, or living in white mansions and shoving food down your throat. Jonathan the vacuum, as I’ve secretly dubbed him, finished the rest of my food, as well as most of Johana’s.               

And finally, what I came down here for in the first place: teaching at the Remar orphanage. Wake-up call, 6:30. Which still, by the way, translates to 3:30 Pacific Time Zone. Not exactly my favorite time of day to be up and at ‘em. Then, breakfast. No. More. Food. Gracias. REMAR is within easy walking distance of Mariana’s house (uphill both ways, depending on where exactly you get lost), so I decided to take my chances, and actually made it relatively on time, and even early by Ecuadorian standards.

None of the adults at REMAR speak English. Or at least they pretend not to. I know some of them are English teachers, however incompetent they are. So I just kind of picked up what I was supposed to do by words I know, (like “no”) and found myself in (“in” being a relative term) a little red plastic chair surrounded by sticky five-year-olds doing puzzles featuring Spiderman, Snow White, and butterflies. This went on for a while, then the teacher had them sing songs, tear up some newspaper into shreds to keep them occupied, and then it was playtime. Outside in the playground, I was surrounded by Spanish at a higher pitch and faster rate than anyone can possibly imagine. Luckily, most three-to-six-year-olds don’t actually speak a language understood by humans, so I figure I was ok.

After the break, I, uh, taught English. To slightly less sticky, yet no less enthusiastic ten and eleven-year-olds. Man, those smart kids. They picked up on stuff so fast, such as the fact that the English language is only preceded by German in how many letters are in a word (the number twueenthy eihgtht, for example). Then school was over. I went home, tried to eat a larger percentage of lunch than I did yesterday, and then took the most blissful nap I’ve had in a long time.

After lunch I went back to teach violin class. Much harder than I thought. You know, I thought that the “international language” thing would bridge the gap between Spanish and English and stuff, but no. Here in Ecuador, they have an entirely different way of playing music. It would be better if the three girls I’m teaching had never studied music before. Instead of notes and keys (like A, Bb, B, C, etc) they have “Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Si and Do. Way confusing. And, I must go to bed now, so, buenas noches!


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