Happy belated Thanksgiving and beginning of the holiday season! The giant mannequin Santas and festive baby Jesus figurines have started to pop up here in the markets and internet cafes, but it’s still hard to wrap my mind around the fact that Christmas is upon us when I live at the beach in a perpetual state of mid-July weather. Luckily I have a pretty good itunes collection of 90s-era boy band Christmas covers, so I’m pretty set when it comes to Christmas spirit.
The last few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. I had Reconnect conference the 18th-22nd of November, where my omnibus spent a week in Tumbaco reliving our training glory days. The conference marked 4 months in site, and served to “reconnect” the volunteers with each other and with Peace Corps staff to discuss what we’ve been doing in site, project ideas, accomplishments and setbacks, etc. etc. It was great to see my fellow volunteers, most of whom I haven’t seen since August, but the conference itself was long and tedious and reminded me how much I don’t miss sitting in a classroom in plastic chairs watching powerpoint presentations from 8-5 every day. I was in a strange state of déjà vu the entire time; I felt like I was back in training and my time in San Vicente had been a long, bizarre dream.
Of course, being back in Tumbaco meant walking to and from the center every day and enjoying the beautiful mountains yet again, so that in and of itself was (almost) worth it.
I actually left for reconnect a few days early to spend the weekend in Quito with a friend. My friend lived in Quito for 15 years, so we spent the weekend site seeing and eating sushi and doing cool things that I never knew existed when I was bumbling around during training with my volunteer friends.
After Reconnect I went to a friend’s site, Salinas de Guaranda, to visit for the weekend. Her site could not possibly be more different from mine. It’s a tiny, tiny little town way up on top of a mountain, about 1000 meters higher than Quito. It has cobblestone streets and little cottages and specializes in producing cheese and chocolate (!!!) and looks like something straight out of a Disney movie. I actually couldn’t stop singing the “Little Town…” song from Beauty and the Beast the entire time I was there. The only setback is that because of the elevation, it is FREEZING, and heat in houses is not a thing here. We slept with a space heater, 8 blankets including an electric blanket, and many layers of clothing. The town is amazing and beautiful and belongs in a fairy tale, but I don’t think I could take the cold for longer than a weekend. I bought amazing handmade oregano cheese and chocolates to take back to my host family in San Vicente, but they did not survive the bus ride to the coast. When I got back to San Vicente and opened them up, they were a liquidy, smelly, disgusting mess that had all melted together into a hideous lumpy mass. I threw them away immediately, but my room and clothing still sort of smell like old cheese. I think there’s a reason the coast doesn’t have an abundance of cheese or chocolate.
The week after reconnect was Thanksgiving week!! We planned a huge feast with a few volunteers from the area and Ecuadorian friends and coworkers, and held it at a huge house in Bahia that overlooks the ocean. An American friend who is living here for a few months used to be a chef in the states, so he took control of the menu and delegated tasks to the rest of us. We spent all day Wednesday and Thursday between the market and the kitchen, cooking and chopping and climbing up the massive hill to get to the house. The highlight was definitely the turkey – another volunteer bought it, alive, at a nearby farm, and on Wednesday we took it to the home of some Ecuadorian friends to be killed and prepared. I wasn’t looking forward to witnessing the turkey murder, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. We’ve always gotten our thanksgiving turkeys wrapped in plastic at the supermarket – how cool is it to see the entire process that goes into preparing a turkey, from start to finish!?
I’ll provide a few pictures of the process, but I’ll leave out the more gory ones. They are available upon request if there’s not enough blood in these ones for you. By far the worst part was seeing the cat going to town on the decapitated turkey head…then having it hit my foot as the cat discarded it down a hill.
…and the finished product! It was amazing. There were leftovers of everything but turkey.
After two long days of preparations, we sat down together to share our thanksgiving feast. It was about 18 people in total, mostly Ecuadorians. We all went around the table and listed things we are thankful for, which I’ve been doing with my family since before I can remember, but this was my first time doing it in Spanish. Our Ecuadorian guests thanked us for sharing this part of our culture with them, and it was incredible to share my first thanksgiving away from my family in such a special place with amazing people who have become my extended Ecua-family. It’s hard spending holidays away from family, but this was a perfect way to do it.
I have to admit, trying to get back into the swing of things in San Vicente after reconnect, traveling, and thanksgiving has been rough. The day I got back I found out my counterpart, the person who was supposed to be my supervisor and work partner for the next 2 years, has either quit or been fired, and has completely disappeared. The work plans and project schedules I wrote out with him are now completely useless, and I feel a bit like a lost soul as I try to locate someone else who is willing to help me plan my projects. That coupled with holiday-induced homesickness and a general inability to get anything accomplished (“It’s almost Christmas, why are you trying to do work?”) have left me feeling stir-crazy and in a bit of a funk. But I signed up for this job knowing it wouldn’t be easy, and even though I’ve let a few setbacks get me down, they definitely won’t keep me down. My best friend Melissa is coming to visit over Christmas (17 days and 8 hours, but who’s counting…), and I could not be more excited.
Until next time, happy Christmas caroling, peppermint-themed drink drinking, gingerbread cookie baking, and tacky sweater wearing 🙂