Happy fall from the land of eternal summer! I hope you are all enjoying your pumpkin-spiced lattes, beautiful fall colors, and brisk weather. Autumn on the equator is a little bit different from what I am used to in Virginia, as we are moving into rainy season…which means every day it gets increasingly hotter, sunnier, and buggier. I know it sounds counterintuitive that rainy season and sunny season coincide, but they do. Between December and April/May it’s hot, sunny, and cloudless during the day, and then it rains in the evenings and nights. During the dry season, which is what it’s been since I arrived in Ecuador, it’s cloudy, humid, and “cold” (I can’t even count the number of people who have complained to me about how cold the nights are when they drop to 80 degrees), and it never, ever rains. So, as you all in the US get closer to winter with your frosty mornings and cinnamon-themed drinks and cute scarves, I’m quickly approaching the season of scorching heat, mudslides, and man-eating mosquitoes. At least I live on the beach!
I’m only about a week away from my 6-month mark in Ecuador, and I cannot believe how quickly time is flying. I had a mini-freakout the other day when I realized I am almost 25% done with my service here and I haven’t even remotely figured out what I’m going to do afterwards. Ahhh!
This last month (sorryyyy I promise I’ll try to get better about writing) has been the busiest yet. I’ve been working in schools, continuing my English and theater classes, working with the municipio, and have just started planning some projects in the rural areas of San Vicente with the subcentro de salud (health center). I don’t have a ton of super interesting things to say about work, so I’ll just give some non-work-related life highlights –>
A few weeks ago I went with some friends to an event at a biological reserve in Bahia. I’m not sure what it was called exactly, but it was kind of a ceremony held by a shaman to help us get in touch with nature and become one with mother earth. We sat around a bonfire and he performed a series of rituals that he had learned from indigenous tribes in both Mexico and the amazon region of Ecuador. We stood as he spit herb water in our faces and brushed us from head to toe with eucalyptus leaves, shook maracas at us and walked around us individually playing a didgeridoo, and had us snort tobacco up our noses (I actually didn’t participate in that part after seeing the reactions of the people who did it before me…). Then we crawled, one by one, into a tiny little hut that had space to sit in a circle and a pit in the middle. There were about 13 people crammed into this tiny, dark space, and the shaman brought in rocks that had been sitting in the fire all day and were glowing bright orange. He put 7 rocks in the pit, one by one, and then closed the door of the hut. This is how I came to have my very first experience in a sweat lodge! The heat was unlike anything I have ever felt before. Within minutes I was drenched in sweat, from head to toe, and could barely breath because the heat was so oppressive. We spent about 45 minutes with the shaman shaking the maraca, singing and chanting, and going around the circle talking about our feelings and thanking the mother earth for various things. After that period they opened up the lodge to add 7 more rocks to the pit, making it even hotter and closing the door for another 45-minute session. There were to be 4 45-minute sessions, each time adding 7 more rocks. After the 2nd session ended and they opened the door to add more rocks, my three friends and I immediately crawled out without saying a word to one another or making any kind of group decision. We knew we had to get out of there. We sat outside in the breeze, still pouring sweat and literally wringing out the water from our clothes. It was an interesting experience but definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime sort of things that makes for a good story but you never, never want to repeat it. The shaman told us the experience in the sweat lodge was supposed to be sort of a meditative time, an opportunity to clear our minds and expel the toxins in our bodies. For me, I was too busy panicking about my impending death by heatstroke to really appreciate the experience or “clear my mind.” I was so relieved when it was over. Nonetheless, I’m glad I tried something new…sort of.
I got to try something else completely new last week when I was asked to be a judge in the “Miss Culture World” pageant at a high school in Bahia…SUCH a strange and fun new experience. A volunteer friend of mine works at this high school, and they needed English-speakers to serve as judges for this pageant. There were 15 girls competing, and each was assigned a different country to represent. She had to come up with a speech about her country in English, and present her speech while wearing a home-made costume that represented her country. The girls put so much work into their speeches and costumes and it was so much fun to see what they had come up with. We judged based on their speeches and costumes and had a very official scoresheet to keep track of the numbers. There was a lot of choreographed dancing, singing, and parading around in the highest high heels I have EVER seen.
“Miss Culture World” judges. So official!
Such a fun experience!
Speaking of things that are fun, I had some of my very favorite volunteers from all over the country come into town last weekend for my birthday. We had so much fun catching up, spending time on the beach, and cooking a giant spaghetti dinner. They were here Thursday-Sunday morning, and then I spent my birthday on Sunday with my host family in Salinas. They made a big lunch and a birthday cake and spent the day yelling “viva la cumpleañera!” to which everyone has to reply “viva!!!” (basically ‘long live the birthday girl!’).
I really can’t put into words how lucky I am to have such an incredible support system here, so far from home. My first 25 years have been filled with an endless amount of happiness, love, and unforgettable experiences – the next 25 have a lot to live up to 🙂
paz y amor.