22 Apr

Wednesday, April 20th Quito, Ecuador

6:15 Eileen takes a bus to work, and as it passes through Patria, the lingering smell of tear gas is evident.
6:35 Eileen arrives at work. As usual, the TV is turned on right away. Footage from last night’s protests is on the morning news.
7:00 – 9:00 Tim and Eileen both teach pretty full classes. Tim is teaching sicknesses and advice (using should). Once, when his students get sidetracked, talking in Spanish about the previous day’s demonstrations, he gets them back on track by saying, “Ok, so Steve was at the demonstrations yesterday and he was throwing rocks at the police. Now he has a sore arm. What should he do?” It worked.
10:00 After 45 minutes of helping a student translate his resume, Tim leaves for the Plaza to go to the gym and do internet. The bus takes a minor detour around the demonstrations in front of the Radio La Luna (the rabble-rousing leftist radio station in Quito) office. At gym, he text messages Eileen with a warning that the bus will take a detour but don’t worry.
11:20 After having taught her second class, Eileen walks toward Patria, hoping to catch a bus to the gym. She is hoarse from having to speak loudly in class over the incessant sound of cars honking in the streets. As she nears Patria, it becomes clear that traffic is at a standstill. She walks toward Amazonas to see if she can catch a bus there, but there are only protestors stoking tire fires. She makes her way toward America Ave., avoiding chanting protestors.
11:30 Tim finishes his workout. At the gym, the TVs are all broadcasting news. The American Embassador, known as Kristi here, is reported to have gone to the presidential palace. Bus loads of indigenas arrived in Quito yesterday to “show support” for the president. The news reports that, when asked why they’re here, they all respond, I don’t know.
11:40 Tim meets Will outside the gym. His ride has been relatively uneventful. Like Tim, he was on a bus that took a slight detour.
12:00 Eileen finds a bus to the gym. It passes by police roadblock signs, several burning tires, and piles of dirt and construction vehicles parked in the middle of the street, necessitating several detours.
12:30 Eileen arrives at the Plaza. She convinces the guard to let her inside, where she finds all of the businesses closed except for the gym. She meets Tim and Will outside of the gym, which has begun closing early.
12:40 The Storms leave the plaza and get on a bus heading south on America. The trip takes about twice as long as normal; the bus goes down several one-way streets the wrong way. By some lucky turn of fate, it ends up getting detoured to La Gasca and lets the Storms off right in front of Supermaxi, which happens to be as far up La Gasca as it can drive.
1:17 A roll of thunder erupts while our heroes are stocking up on what could be a 24 hour lock-in at home. “What was that?” Will asks. “I don’t know. Could be thunder, could be a car exploding,” Tim replies. Eileen observes a young woman say to her husband, “Dios mío, que pasó?”
1:25 We leave Supermaxi with lots of food and begin walking up La Gasca. Tim walks in the middle of the street because “I can.” We pass by several wood fires. They smell much better than burning tires.
1:40 We arrive home. Will puts away groceries. Tim cranks the emergency radio – not because the power’s out but because the batteries don’t work – and they listen to the reports on Radio La Luna.
1:50 The official report comes that the military has withdrawn its backing of Gutierrez and that he has officially fallen from power.
1:51 Our WorldTeach director Jess calls to make sure we’re staying home. Eileen shouts, “acaba de salir!” but Jess doesn’t hear.
1:52 Tim and Eileen go to the roof. There is no noticeable difference from the rooftop. Someone rings a bell in the distance.
1:57 We turn on the TV and begin watching off and on for the next six hours.
2:00 Tim goes to see the landlords. They’re watching the news. They talk with Tim about the protests, the fall, and their dog Bella, who is now two days past due. Tim promises to help deliver the pups when the time comes.
2:11 The vice president, Alfredo Palacio (sometimes called Alfredo Palacios) is sworn in as the new president.
2:20 We begin making lunch. Calzones.
2:26 Tim starts cutting his hair. Will finishes the job 15 minutes later.
3:00 A helicopter leaves the presidential palace, reportedly with Lucio. It arrives at the airport and is met by protesters blocking the runway. The airplane can’t take off. Lucio gets into the helicopter again and it leaves.
3:30 The news reports that Lucio had asked Panama for political asylum.
4:00 The news shows footage of the police searching the Guayaquil airport for Abdalá Bucarám, the ex-president who had been chased out of the country in a very similar fashion eight years ago and who had just recently re-entered the country thanks to Lucio’s political maneuvering.
4:30 Reports claim that Lucio’s helicopter was heading toward the oriente, and that he had asked for political asylum from Brazil.
4:45 Tim gets restless, wants to go down toward his school to take pictures and see if his school is closed. The TV is showing footage of the Ministerio de Bien-Estar, the most violent site of the protests. The mob, apparently provoked by shots fired by a politico on an upper floor, breaks into the building and starts generally destroying things. They bring out pictures of Gutierrez and impale them on fences. The mob sets fire to the building and loots it. The police arrest several politicians. People start climbing out of windows to escape the fire. A man slips and falls two stories to his death. In the meantime, across town at the Ciespal, demonstrators are not allowing the congress or the President Palacios to leave the building.
4:55 Tim starts fiddling with computer stuff and distracts himself until 6:05. Upstairs, Eileen and Will have both fallen asleep despite the TV blaring speculations about where Lucio might be.
6:30 The rain that has been falling off and on since 2:00 has driven away the protesters at the presidential palace. The protesters at the Ciespal, however, are still at it. They are holding a public forum to decide what to do about congress. Many want to throw them all out and start from scratch.
7:00 At some point, reports circulate that Lucio could possibly be in Quito at the Brazilian Embassy. Tim starts petitioning for Eileen to make cookies.
8:00 We put on Hitch and watch it.
9:17 Eileen goes to bed. No cookies. No puppies.

21 Apr

The President Has Fallen

Yesterday at about 1:50, Lucio Gutierrez officially fell. The Ecuadorian armed forces withdrew their support of the president. About 20 or 30 minutes later, the police stopped battling the demonstrators and let them walk on to the presidential palace. The vice president, Alfredo Palacio was sworn in at 2:10 or so. Lucio fled the palace in a helicopter and arrived at the Quito airport sometime around 2:30, but he was met by crowds of people who had basically taken over the airport and who wouldn’t allow a plane to leave. The helicopter than left, and it is rumored Lucio went to Brazil, but no one’s sure yet where he is.

We are safe. There were about 100 injuries here in Quito, and three deaths. The first death was a Chilean journalist who had a heart attack, possibly brought on by the tear gas. The second was a teenaged boy who fell out of a pick up truck. The third was someone at the Ministry of Well-Being, who fell from a second-floor window and died. The most violence was at the Ministry of Well-Being (Ministerio de Bien-Estar), where some politician fired a few gunshots at the angry mob surrounding his building. Three people were shot, but none died. The polician, however, succeeded in pissing off a mob, which is never a good idea. They proceeded to set the building on fire and loot the place.

Apparently, Ecuador has actually made the news in the States. Way to go Ecuador! I’ve been told that Canada is recommending people don’t travel to Ecuador. Let me just say publicly, as a North American LIVING in Quito, the city most affected by the recent revolution, that it is not that bad.

Tomorrow, we will be posting a play-by-play of our day yesterday. Stay tuned.

20 Apr

Bad Drivers

When I went to class last night, the atmosphere on the street was pretty exciting. There were a lot of cars honking the “fuera Lucio” rhythm, which is what it would sound like if you honked, “this is Quito!” They continued the honking for the entire two hours of my class, and when I left at 8:00, I saw even more Ecuadorian flags waving out of car windows than I usually do. While walking up Colon toward America, I encountered a couple students of mine looking into a small restaurant at the TV, which was showing footage of the march that had advanced toward the city center. On TV, there were thousands of people in the streets, dressed in yellow, waving flags, chanting and singing. It once again reminded me of a sporting event. The whole atmosphere, in fact, was what Madison would be like if the Badgers had just won a game that secured their participation in the Rose Bowl. You would see a lot of traffic, cars honking, Wisconsin flags waving, groups chanting and jumping up and down.

It’s exciting, revolution. On the radio, when I got home, I heard a woman who called in and spoke passionately about how the people direct Lucio, he works for them! If only such passionate popular protest could come to pass in the States, with people in the streets, banging pots and shouting, “fuera Bush.”

When we first came here, our WorldTeach director informed us that we might experience a president ousting while we were here, and she expressed her opinion that the country just needed to stick with a president for a while, good or bad, to avoid the instability a regime change causes. This morning, however, one of my students, Hector, used an interesting analogy. He said, if you get into a taxi and the driver is crazy and dangerous, you say, “ok, that’s enough, let me out here,” and you get another one. If the next guy is the same, you do the same. If you’re smart, you will continue getting out of the dangerous cabs until you find a qualified driver. Whether or not there is a good candidate lined up to replace Lucio doesn’t matter; if someone is incompetent and criminal, you get rid of them. They did this in Argentina seven times until they found a good leader. The current guy is excellent, and Argentina has stabilized a lot.

I’m with Hector. Why stop trying to improve the situation of your country of birth?

19 Apr

Proof of the extent to which TV has infiltrated my psyche.

In class, I’ve been covering “sickness” vocabulary, like headache, sore throat, aspirin. The unit is called “What’s the Matter?” As I was explaining the difference between “disease” and “sickness,” I thought up a few examples of diseases: cancer, Parkinson’s disease. Then a student blurted out “diabetes” in Spanish, which is spelled the same way as it is in English, but pronounced differently.

Now, I need to interject here with an aside. As soon as my student said “diabetes,” I got an image in my head of a specific Simpson’s episode in which Cletus, the slack-jawed yokel, opens a door and introduces his cousin or sister, I forget. She is really overweight and is working out on one of those abdominal wheels. You know the kind? Where you kneel on the floor and push out on a wheel with a handle on either side, and then you have to pull yourself back up using your stomach muscles. Well, she was using one of these things and every time she lowered herself, she ate a bite of cake that was sitting on the ground, placed just at the end of her wheel-roll trajectory. “This is my ree- ward,” she explained. Cletus introduced her as “Dia-Betty.”

Back in the classroom, I began telling the students how the word “diabetes” was written the same but pronounced differently. “It’s pronounced die-a-bed-ees,” I said, the image of Dia-Betty in my mind. And it wasn’t until the next day that I realized I had just told them how to pronounce Dia-Betty, but not diabetes.

17 Apr

Paro Nacional

*Warning: long post.

Last Wednesday was the “Paro Nacional,” the nation-wide strike, organized by various politicians who opposed Lucio Gutierrez. Mayors of Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, as well as the “prefectos” of each province did most of the organizing. Wednesday itself was mostly a failure – there weren’t as many strikes or people striking as they hoped. However, Wednesday did succeed in kick-starting something.

When you’re done reading, read this disclaimer written by Eileen for worried parents.