It’s been almost 5 months since I updated this blog. Whoops! Many apologies. I’d like to say that living my life got in the way of writing about it, but with the amount of “Almost Sunny” reruns I’ve been through in the past few months it’s clear I really have no excuse. It’s a little overwhelming to think about writing a blog post that covers everything I’ve done since December, so I’m going to provide some cliffs notes, lots of pictures, and a promise that I’ll TRY to do better in the future. So, here we go:
The last time I updated, I was waiting for the transition from the dry season to the rainy season. I was so looking forward to the rain wiping out the thick layer of dust that coated my lungs and somehow found its way into everything in my life – food, clothes, computer, etc… Now, I’m counting down the days until the dry season is back. The grass is always greener, right? “Puro lodo” is basically San Vicente’s unofficial motto during the rainy season – “pure mud”. Because San Vicente has so few paved roads and very little infrastructure to handle rainfall, the streets turn into an impassable mud pit of doom every time it rains. This makes it difficult to carry out simple tasks like walking outdoors, but it does create a sense of camaraderie among San Vicenteans who yell out helpful advice to passersby from their second story windows – “Take a left here, you won’t be able to get down the next street!” or “BE CAREFULLLL that puddle is deeper than it looks!” In May, the rain will stop and the skies will cloud over, which will bring back the dust and provide some relief from the blazing sun. I’m not sure which season I like better, but a change will be nice.
This is a picture of Luna and me traipsing through the San Vicente mud. The woman who took this picture posted it on facebook with the caption “Rachel and Luna, happy in the mud.” Fun fact: I was NOT happy when this picture was taken. I had just slugged calf-deep through the mud for the better part of 15 minutes trying to trap Luna, who was gleefully sprinting away from me every time I got within 2 meters of her. Happy in the mud, indeed. Which brings me to my next update –>
Luna Lobita Iler Good
I got a puppy! I actually got her in January, so this is kind of old news, but I needed an excuse to post adorable puppy pictures.
In January I went to Cuenca, a beautiful city in the mountains in the southern part of the country, with some friends. Cuenca is very well developed and feels more European than Ecuadorian, and also houses what I think may be the only dog shelter in the country. We went just to see the dogs and maybe play with some puppies, but of course once one of the kids there put baby Luna into my arms there was no going back.
She and her sisters had been found on the streets just a few days before and needed to be adopted. The vets predicted she was about 2 months old and, because they didn’t know who her parents were, had no idea what mix of breeds she was or how big she would grow. Her name is Luna Lobita, which technically means Moon Little Wolf. It sounds better in Spanish. She looked a lot like a wolf when she was a baby, hence “Lobita”. My wonderful PCV friend Jamie adopted her sister, and we spent the weekend in Cuenca rolling around in various parks with our tiny babies.
…this one was in Bahia, one of the first few days she was home.
…and this one is her in my kitchen, snuggled up next to her water.
Since then little Luna has brought me unimaginable amounts of happiness (my roommate, running partner, and cuddle companion), frustration (countless shoes, clothing, and MY COMPUTER CHARGER have become snacks), and vet bills (parasites, fleas, ticks, bronchitis)…but despite the setbacks, she’s my baby and I love her so much. I predicted her birthday is in November, which makes her about 6 months old now. And YES, definitely planning on bringing her back to the states with me!
Here are some more recent pictures…she has grown quite a bit since January.
…she eats sand.
This is the most recent one. She now has one ear that sticks up and one that doesn’t, which I love and I hope it always stays that way.
January brought a lot of changes – in addition to the puppy, after 9 months of living with host families, I finally moved into my own apartment! It was a transition going from living with families and constantly being surrounded by people to living alone, but I love being able to determine my own schedule, come and go as I please, and cook my own food!!! The food part is the best. I love vegetables.
My apartment would probably be considered relatively primitive by US standards, but I’ve learned to adapt. The best part is that it has running (cold, but RUNNING) water, which means I haven’t had to take a bucket bath since January. It’s an incredible feeling being able to shower, brush my teeth, and flush the toilet whenever I want without having to check the water barrels to see if we have any water to spare that day. The apartment also has large open portions where the ceiling doesn’t quite meet the wall, so in addition to Luna I have regular apartment-mates that vary from bats (they like to sleep hanging from my kitchen ceiling…), birds (they usually just fly around frantically and poop on my bed until they find an opening to escape from), geckos (I love these guys, they are cute and drive Luna crazy), and an impressive variety of insects ranging from spiders to mosquitoes to cockroaches to grasshoppers that take refuge on the ceiling above my bed and then fall on my face when I sleep. Asi es la vida!! I do love my apartment, but I have to admit I sometimes have fantasies about carpeted floors and air conditioning and not living in an insect sanctuary.
I try to live by this motto. Some days are easier than others.
I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have had 5 friends visit me in the last few months. I have wonderful, incredible, beautiful, adventure-loving and world-traveling friends who used their vacation days and hard-earned money to visit my little corner on the equator, and I could not be more grateful. Melissa came during the holidays in December and made my first Christmas away from family not only NOT depressing, but SO MUCH FUN. Then, in mid-march, Victoria, Katie, Catherine, and Neema, all of whom I’ve known since my first year of college, came for an amazing and unforgettable 10 days. Life here can be rough sometimes, but having memories like these to fall back on during bad days makes such a difference. Here are some of my favorite pictures –>
Melissa and I in Mindo, a cloud forest reserve a few hours away from Quito.
Neema, my first year college roommate, and I on the beach.
Bonfire in Bahia!
More beach-themed pictures 🙂
UVA @ Mitad del Mundo
More Mitad del Mundo
Quilotoa, a beautiful crater lake near Latacunga and about 5 hours south of Quito. It was freezing cold but the views were incredible!
We hiked down to the bottom of the lake and then took mules up because it was SO STEEP and also we were on a time crunch.
MORE BEACH! sorry these pictures are all over the place. Organization was never my strong suit.
On top of a mountain overlooking Quito.
Have I mentioned how lucky I am to have the greatest friends in the world? Because I am.
MORE FUN STUFF –> Carnaval
The beginning of March was Carnaval, which coincides with Mardi Gras in the states but lasts for about a week and is a really, really big deal in South America. The capital of Carnaval in Ecuador is Guaranda, which is a small town in the mountains a few hours south of Quito. Since this was my first carnaval in Ecuador, I figured I might as well celebrate it in its birthplace!
Carnaval in Ecuador is basically a 4-5 day celebration in which the streets are filled with massive parades and everyone wields giant cans of espuma (foam), silly string, dyed flour, eggs, and buckets of water to throw on anyone and everyone that crosses their path. We donned rain jackets and ponchos and armed ourselves with espuma and waterguns, but we were no match for the pros.
It was a mess. It also didn’t help that it was freezing cold and pouring down rain the entire time. It was a lot of fun and I’m glad I went, but I think I’ll be spending next year’s carnaval on the coast where having buckets of water thrown on you does not cause immediate concern over hypothermia.
I need to write a separate entry on what I’m doing work-wise, because I want to provide details but this blog post is getting way too long. The schools have been on summer vacation from March-May, so I’ve been doing summer programs for kids and planning projects for when the schools are back in session. Over the past few months I’ve been offering 4 classes – recycled art, english for kids, english for adults, and recreation for kids.
Beads made out of magazines and plastic bottles from my recycled art class.
The recreation classes were by far my favorite, as it was an opportunity for the kids to play sports, learn a little bit about the importance of physical activity and nutrition, and release some energy after being cooped up all day while their parents work. When my friends came to visit they brought frisbees and we taught Ultimate Frisbee, which no one here has ever heard of but it was SO MUCH FUN.
We also did a variety of other sports and activities to get the kids up and active.
Now that school is starting next week, it’s time to switch gears and get started on some more long term projects. This is what I’ve been working on:
Peer Health Educators Program
I’ve been coordinating with the local health center and the high school to get a group of kids between the ages of 12 and 18 who want to be peer health educators. I will spend 2-3 months training them at the health center on topics ranging from nutrition, hygiene, first aid, reproductive health and HIV/AIDS, and then they will learn to give their own charlas on these topics. Once they finish the training program, they’ll give charlas to their classmates at the high school, in the waiting room of the subcentro, and at health brigades in the rural communities. Their hours spent volunteering will count towards a community service hours they are required to complete before graduation.
This project has been in the works for MONTHS, but things move slowly here. We finally have all the forms in and have requested permission from all the right people (I think), so this should officially start next week. I am working with counterparts to begin an organic garden in a community center for older adults, and we will teach them how to maintain the garden and give cooking classes on healthy ways to use the vegetables and herbs from the garden. Once we complete this, we will begin working in a few of the elementary schools in San Vicente and (hopefully, eventually) move into the rural communities.
I’ve started plans with the Red Cross in San Vicente to work with other volunteers to give talks about reproductive health and HIV/AIDS in the high schools and in some of the rural communities surrounding San Vicente.
Grassroot Soccer (http://www.grassrootsoccer.org) is an international NGO that uses soccer and other sports to educate and mobilize communities to stop the spread of HIV. They mostly work in Africa but have started pilot programs in the Caribbean and Central/South America. They have never worked in Ecuador, but the organization wants to begin a pilot program here in partnership with the Peace Corps. I applied to participate in the pilot program, and was selected as one of the volunteers that will begin the program in their community. In the next few weeks I’ll attend a training program to learn more about Grassroot Soccer, how they operate, and the ways in which I can implement their programs in my community. I’m excited for this new step and only slightly overwhelmed by all the additional work it will entail 😉
To end, here are a few more pictures that I think sum up the last few months in San Vicente.
“Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”
Every day continues to be an adventure. Two weeks from today marks marks one year in Ecuador. I’m happy to say I’m still enjoying the ride, unexpected twists and wild surprises included.