26 Jan

The Coast Part 3

We’re undergoing a slight rebound of homesickness now. It’s certainly not as pronounced and almost all-consuming as that bit we had back in Novemberish, but we are a little homesick nonetheless.

I think it’s because of two things. One: mid-service. Having seen the entire group again brought back all these memories of September, when we were so newly immersed in all this newness. Back then, all the talk was about expectations and about how this whole experience will alter your perceptions and – yes, it’s really cliché, but – change you. And back then, we were the people we were. That is, we came into this adventure from our corporate jobs, our college days, our familiar routines back in the known universe of the USA. And it’s not that at mid-service, people were all that different; nor is it that we talked about what going home will be like. Still, somewhere in our three-day crossing of paths there were the people we will be, the people who will return home, the year having come to a close at last, and be inarticulably alienated from our familiar old US. Mid-service somehow conjured up two selves – each a year apart in age – for everyone.

I’m sure I’m not making sense. Here it is more plainly: mid-service is, well, the middle of this volunteer experience. There are three times all 40 of us (give or take a few) are together: 1) orientation, 2) mid-service, and 3) end-service. Having been together for the second of three times brought to mind both the first and third times we’ll all be gathered in one place. And we have lives that lie beyond those first and third encounters. So mid-service made me, at least, think about home before and after this year in Ecuador. And that got me a little homesick.

It’s a different variety of homesickness, though.

The second cause is the fact that we went home for Christmas. Coming back here wasn’t as difficult as we anticipated because we saw that there are things about home that we miss, and there are also things we don’t miss. My brief visit to Madison West High School, for instance, happened to fall on a particularly cumbersome day just before winter break; as a result, it was kind of a downer. I got to hear about the workload, about intra-departmental bickering, about nightmarish parents. It didn’t make me miss my job. And to tell the truth, there’s a lot about how people interact with each other back home –especially in times of confrontation – that is thoroughly unpleasant. We miss the seasons, the landscape, the house, the familiarity and ease, the proximity to family and to resources, the pets. But back in November, our homesickness was wholesale. We missed “everything.” Now, we’re wiser. We won’t ever go back to the over-glorified “home” that we missed during the skewed perceptions of November. It doesn’t exist. It never has. Instead, come August, we will go home to a familiar place that we now understand differently. It won’t even be the home that we knew last August.

25 Jan

The Coast Part 2

When mid-service ended on Saturday, Eileen and I decided to travel south a little with Jessie, who was placed in Montanita. Seeing her site was a true education in how different our experiences have been. Montanita is a very small vacation town, but when we entered it, we walked one block down its main perpendicular street (a street which heads straight to the ocean) and we turned left onto Jessie’s road. It was a dirt road lined with a mixture of cane huts and half-built cement block structures. It was not at all a quaint little Oceanside town. There were chickens strutting through the streets, dogs galore, and a donkey lying down and tied to a post. Jessie’s place was a one-room habitation, smaller than a dorm room. It had an attached bathroom, but the water would work only if she went down stairs and turned on a generator at the other end of a large, dirt-floor courtyard-slash-meeting room. Even then, the water was a little hit or miss. That afternoon, it was miss. Her room was really the only half-finished structure on the second floor of an otherwise just erected building. The rest of it was a mess of cement pylons with steel bars jutting out of them. We dropped our bags off in her room and then headed down the precarious steps to her “entryway,” which, she explained to us, had had bats; so she had to leave the light on at night so they wouldn’t come back there and leave their guano all over the floor.

We went down the street toward a hostel where Jessie had originally lived for the first few weeks back in October. As we walked through the mostly-dirt streets, every third or fourth kid shouted “Jessie!” more like a command than a greeting. Jessie waved back to them all. Since the town is so small, pretty much everyone knows her, a nice fact for a single gringa on her own in Ecuador. She says she feels pretty safe. Of course, you can never really take your safety for granted here, but from what we saw, she was probably in a safer place than we are just by virtue of her fame.

The hostel we ended up staying at wasn’t luxurious, but it was right on the ocean and they provided a mosquito net and a bed for $5 per person. We got the key for our room and then walked toward the tourist side of town. It was a completely different place, filled with pizza joints, seafood restaurants, bars, bikini-clad women, muscle-bound men, reggae music, people selling hand-made arts and crafts, and finished buildings. We were happy to be walking with Jessie, a quasi-native, though she got fewer “Jessies” on this side of town.

The beach was much more crowded than the beach at Alandaluz, but it was still not bad – nothing like your typical American hotspot beach. Jessie told us about how she ran pretty frequently on the beach and how she had been learning to surf. She’s considering getting her own board and doing it more often. She’s currently on a summer vacation for the next couple of months. Her classes ended last week; just recently, the town transformed into this ultra-touristy place to cater to the vacationers who come from other coastal cities like Guayaquil, which are also on summer vacation.

It was an odd mix of envy and gratefulness that we felt in Montanita; we were at times envious of the more rustic experience she was having, of the ocean, of the local fame, of the ability to escape easily from the cement world of Quito. But we were also grateful that when we need groceries, we don’t have to undertake a three-hour round trip excursion; that we have a real stove, running water, and a refrigerator; that we have easy access to copy machines, internet, movies, and travel hubs.

More to come . . . In the meantime, we´ve posted pictures in Coppermine.

24 Jan

The Coast Part 1

Our travels this past weekend took us first to an ecolodge named Alandaluz, right outside of Puerto Lopez, and then to Montanita, a small surfing town and a very popular tourist location. We flew to a city called Manta, where we were greeted with taxi drivers offering to take us to the bus terminal. Once I mentioned that we were going to Puerto Lopez, a chorus of replies echoed with the slightly cooler “a Lopi” and/or “a Lope.” The coast was noticeably more laid back. On our bus ride, we passed through towns full of people reclining on hammocks. The landscape leaving Manta was dry and dirty. We drove through miles of hilly land covered with leafless bushes. The bus was cramped and uncomfortable, and the heat and humidity were difficult to tolerate, but they were playing a movie starring The Rock and Christopher Walken, which they followed up with Triple X, starring Vin Diesel, so the three-hour trip wasn’t too bad. Once in Puerto Lopez, however, we changed to an even less comfortable, more crowded bus for the 15 minute ride out to Alandaluz.

Alandaluz was essentially paradise. It’s an ecolodge which boasts cabanas complete with funky, pastel-colored trim, palm leaf roofs, and four-poster beds with classy mosquito nets suspended above. On your way down to the very quiet beach, you’ll see a plethora of beautiful flowers, and if you’re watchful, you’ll see the occasional iguana or exotic bird. The food is safe and yummy, and while we were there, at least, we saw way fewer bugs than you see during the normal Wisconsin summer. This is where we had our mid-service meeting, at which we shared some teaching tips, discussed the status of our expectations, and assessed where exactly we thought we were on this whole journey/adventure.

The mid-service itself was sometimes tough to handle, what with iguanas running through the woods and the constant wash of ocean waves beckoning from the beach, but it was great to see everyone, many of whom we hadn’t seen since our month-long orientation in Quito last September. We will have an “end-service” meeting sometime at the end of May, where some of us will see each other for the last time in our lives. And then Eileen and I, at least, will be here for another two months, finishing up our teaching at our schools. It looks like a handful of us will extend the stay in Ecuador for another six months or a year. Chances are good, they tell us, that one of us will marry an Ecuadorian. One of us may stay off and on in Ecuador for the remainder of his or her life. Some of us may, as a career, stay involved with WorldTeach or get involved with some other volunteer organization that has ties to Ecuador. A few of us will go back home and start up grad school of some sort, an endeavor which ultimately will affect what we end up doing with our lives more so than Ecuador will. Some of us will return to the US with a sense of superiority from having experienced firsthand that life without “America” is possible. All of us, I imagine, will return frustrated with our own culture. And of course, none of us will ever be the same.

To be continued . . .

19 Jan


We are going to be at WorldTeach midservice this weekend and it´s likely that we won´t have internet access. Midservice is at Andaluz which is near Puerto Lopez on the coast on Ecuador. This is our first trip to the beach and we are excited to see another region of Ecuador. We will try to take and then post pics of the trip sometime next week. We hope to post more frequently next week. Tim says vows to ¨kick it up a notch¨ when we return.

14 Jan

answers to Nov 21st Thirteen truths and Six lies

TRUE: Tim and Eileen ate $20 worth of sushi for Eileen’s birthday meal.
FALSE (at the time of the posting…): Tim has illegally downloaded over 200 songs since we’ve been here.
TRUE: The Snickers slogan in Ecuador is “Hambre?”
TRUE (at the time of the posting…): We clean the house once a week.
TRUE (they’re three bucks) We’ve bought ten DVDs since we’ve been here.
TRUE (there was LOTS of celebration over this one): Ecuador’s soccer team beat Brazil this past week.
TRUE (Tim’s police gassed a concert and it floated over to Steph’s classroom): Tim’s students tear gassed Steph’s students (Steph is another WorldTeach volunteer).
FALSE: We found a tree frog in our shower this weekend.
TRUE: There’s a Mac store opening near our gym.
FALSE: The people at the Swissotel know our names.
FALSE (it actually says “welcome”): Our “welcome” mat says “bienvenidos.”
FALSE: We keep a calendar on which we X off the days until our winter break.
FALSE: Tim has gone into the “Smocking Center.”
TRUE (and they were all delicious): Eileen had three cakes and a brownie in honor of her birthday.
TRUE: Tim and Eileen’s cell phone is held together with tape.
TRUE (festivities usually start a few weeks early, they like to spread things out): The festivities for Quito’s December 6th Independence day have started.
TRUE: Two weeks ago, we purchased our first Christmas gift.
TRUE: Tim has refrained from purchasing any cinnamon rolls from the Cinnabon right next to our gym.
TRUE: There is a church next door that has hours-long music worship sessions every Sunday

PS we posted Cuenca pics in the coppermine.