Letters from Ecuador: 9.18.2006

Ten years ago this month, 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 18, 2006:

It is now Monday, September 18th, and I have been here for twelve days. I am now sorely pining for Chris Thile’s new CD, which came out a week ago, but does not exist here in Ecuador, unfortunately. I don’t know how that’s possible, since every CD or film produced is available here, for only $1! Even the ones that haven’t even been made yet! Only $1!

The weekend was much needed and somewhat appreciated. On Friday night I decided to “go out,” since that’s what normal people do on Friday nights, I guess. So Jonathan, Kevin (an intern-volunteer in animal rescue in the Amazon who was flying back to the states the following morning) and I went to Papaya-Net (an extremely popular internet café downtown in La Mariscal) to meet with the Australian volunteers from our orphanage. It is SO crowded on Friday night in La Mariscal (“Gringolandia,” as the natives call it) that the streets are nearly impassible.

Ok so, driving in Ecuador: don’t do it. If you have to, there are a few set rules you must follow while driving here:

Rule #1: Disregard all other moving objects (I won’t tell you how many dogs I’ve seen meet their untimely demise on the street, and I’ve been here what, two weeks?)

Rule #2: Honk as frequently and as unnecessarily as is humanly possible. Bus drivers and taxi drivers especially just do whatever the hell they want, cutting corners, running VERY red lights and passing in crazy places, satisfying themselves with the thought that they at least honked to warn the person they ran over of their presence beforehand. So, disregard anything I’ve said about robbers and random shooting and iffy food, just watch where you stand downtown and you’ll survive Quito just fine.

So, once at Papaya-Net, I had a water, courtesy of Jonathan, even though it was 2 for 1 cocktail night, 3 bucks, 3 bucks! (the waiters wouldn’t let me forget). After about an hour of sitting in Papaya-Net, the lot of us (Kevin, Jonathan, Kate, Nicola, Fauve, Katrina, the other Australian girl Jess, and me) went down the street to a club which, much like Papaya-Net, is mostly made up of Brits, Americans, Germans, Australians, and Texans. We stayed long enough for the Australians to have too many shots of Tequila, then went home at the sacrilegiously early hour of 11:30, since Kevin had to catch a taxi to the airport at 4:30 the next morning.

The next day I was given much flak by Michael:

“11:30?! Solo agua?! Eres loco…” (“Only water?! You’re crazy!”)

And then two minutes later:

“… solo agua?”

To which I answered loudly, satisfied when he clutched his aching head:

“Si, solo agua. Y tu?” (“Yes, only water. You?”)

On Saturday afternoon, my violin practice was interrupted by Michael and Jonathan, who wanted to go to the park to play football. They told me to bring my violin with me and play in the park. When ended up happening was that I had to drag it all around the mall looking for shoes. Ever since I got here, Michael has had this freak obsession with finding futbol (soccer) cleats for Jonathan, who wears a size 45 (that’s 12 in American). That doesn’t exist in Ecuador, folks. We spent at least an hour being greeted by the same old expression on the little old shoe ladies’ faces:

“40-que?!” (“40-WHAT??”)

Upon reaching the park, it was raining and blowing dust (football fields here are made of dirt) so I didn’t chance a tune. That’s the “not-so-appreciated” part of the weekend.

On Sunday, however, I slept in. One thought for lack of Sunday news: I don’t know if I will be able to answer to my own name when I get home, I have so many different ones here. Here at “home” I am known by “Anita,” (little Anna) and at the orphanage, like all the other teachers and volunteers I am known as “Tia,” (that’s “aunt,” in Spanish) and everyone else just manages ”Anne.”

Today, Monday, was the first day of school. I know I said that last week, but apparently last week doesn’t count. Last week all the kids were taking placement exams to see exactly which mal-educated grade they belong in. The lack of creativity here is astounding. For example, every day the first grade spends their first hour or two of “class” doing puzzles.

There are only about 10 puzzles in all, so the kids just do the same ones over and over and over, trading with each other as if each one was completely new. And for “art class,” the kids tear newspaper into long strips and then either crumple the strips into balls and glue them into patterns onto other pieces of paper, or they glue the strips in lines upon lines upon lines… this can take up to an hour as well.

On the other hand, the kids themselves are very creative. During recess (gotta take a break from the taxation of puzzles and newspaper, right?) they play futbol with big balls of newspaper and tape until they’re big pulpy masses that even Beckham couldn’t score with, or try to be the first one out, to obtain the solitary roller blade. The rest just run around or play on the monkey bars (aka the volunteers).

This concrete place is really beginning to bug me, though. Every day some kid crashes and burns on it. On Friday one adorable little first grader skidded about a foot on her face right in the middle of the courtyard. Ah, the screams… but of course by today it was a scab she was extremely proud of. So far, the most common phrases heard at the orphanage have been “Mira! Mira!” and ”Yo yo yo yo yo!” (I’ll let you guess; answers at the bottom of the page…)

Today was chaotic, however. I had not one, but two pieces of newspaper glued to my unsuspecting face by the pre-kinder class, had my arms stretched by four second graders hanging on them, and was in charge of the third grade class for an entire half hour. That class, sigh…imagine you’re in a foreign jungle, leading an expedition of tiny jabbering creatures that can not only scream louder than you, but also have in their possession numerous permanent marking devices, scissors, and mass quantities of thick paste. That’s all for now!

Anwers: “Look, look!” and ” Me me me me me!




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