First Few Days

Hola!

Welcome to my first blog post from Ecuador! It has been a crazy few days. Wednesday I arrived in the Philly airport around 11:15am, and headed to the hotel where myself and 61 other volunteers from all around the country had a brief orientation from noon until about 7:30pm. After that, I grabbed dinner, showered, and took a 2 hour
nap. Then it was time to check out of the hotel and board our buses to the JFK international airport. I should mention that I ended up becoming one of five group leaders for our trip to Ecuador. Since no staff travel with us, there were five volunteers including myself in charge of passports, plane tickets, buses, headcounts, communication, etc. The bus dropped us off at JFK around 4am, and we flew from JFK to Miami, Miami to Quito. Luckily for us, everything went smoothly and we arrived in Quito at 5:45pm local time (6:45pm EST). The PC staff was there to guide us through customs, imigracíon, etc and then we were
placed on yet another bus that took us from the Quito airport to our training center in Tumbaco (about an hour drive). We had dinner and quick introductions from the PC Ecuador staff, and then everyone pretty much passed out from a night and of travel.

Although we were not traveling anywhere on Friday, it was
still just as crazy. We spent the entire day in our training center. Our agenda went something like this: medical overview, individual medical questionnaires, immunizations (of which there were plenty), collection of our first PCT (Peace Corps Trainee) allowance, introduction and welcome from our country director, overview of personal safety from the U.S. Embassy, lunch, program meetings (in my case, community health), host family questionnaires, a skills inventory test, personal data forms, taking our photo for our PC ID card, written and oral language proficiency tests, and opening an Ecuadorian bank account. YIKES. But,
in between all of those things, it has been great getting to know the other
PCTs and PC staff. I find that everyone is incredibly interesting to talk to, and all of us come with completely different backgrounds: some have Spanish, some don’t, some have traveled their whole lives, and others have never left the country until now. It’s fascinating. There were also funny little things throughout the day. For instance, to open an Ecuadorian bank account, the signature on the form has to EXACTLY match the signature from our PC passports. Now, it should be noted that we were told to sign these passports back during the very busy registration process in the hotel in Philly. To say that none of our
signature were neat would be an understatement. The officers were very strict about this rule, and the whole thing was so absurd that it became a great source of humor. I was on the low end- it only took me 3 tries to sign my own name..but I am not exaggerating when I say that some volunteers climbed into the double digits trying to sign it “correctly”!

Saturday (today) was busy in the morning, and then a little
more relaxed in the afternoon. In the morning, we received our official (and well stocked) PC medical kit, and had an overview on the contents, including how to read a mercury thermometer. We also had an “Ecuadorian culture/host family preparation” session which reviewed strategies on how to communicate with your host families and what kind of situations to expect. This session actually consisted of the PC staff putting on little skits for us, with scenarios like how to tell your host family you don’t want any more food without offending them. It was funny, but also extremely accurate and useful. We then had an overview of our training schedule for the next 10 weeks, which
is well…. intense, but expected.

FINALLY, we met our host families at noon, and they took us home. My family is incredibly warm, kind, and patient. They don’t speak or understand any English whatsoever, but communicating with them is not as hard as I thought it would be. I understand much, much more Spanish than I expected to, and although it takes me about 5 minutes to form a simple sentence, my host family is patient and I have also
been using words a lot more than full sentences.  After my arrival, I helped my host mom cook lunch/dinner (vegetables in garlic and cilantro, rice, avocado, and chicken) and unpacked. Later in the afternoon, one of my “sisters” stopped by with her 3 kids. The oldest is 9 and loves Justin Bieber (yup) and there is also a 6 year old boy and 4 year old girl. My host mom told me that she is going to teach me
how to cook, wash my clothes by hand, and of course, speak Spanish. As she put it: “Mucho trabajo por tu y mi” or “A lot of work for you and me”.  Very true, Mamá, very true.

Monday we will start our official PST (pre-service training), which is a full schedule of Spanish classes, technical classes for our programs, safety sessions, and medical sessions. I already know a few things about my possible placement.  Our “class” of trainees, officially called OMN 106, will not have any assignments in the Amazon Basin, which means I will either be in the highlands or the coast. Further, the country director has decided that the areas of focus for our class will be three things: HIV/AIDS and sexual education, hygiene and water sanitation, and nutrition and food security. That means that these will be our
focus areas for training. Our program director said that we will learn how to teach safe sex lessons (in Spanish), things like how to emphasize to people how important it is to wash your hands, and my favorite: we will be learning how to plant/grow fruit and vegetable gardens, and also healthy cooking lessons! It should be fun, and I also know that it will be very challenging. Three weeks from now, we have a tech trip to a community, where we will be presenting lessons in Spanish to schools and community groups!

Tumbaco, our training city, is very beautiful. It is so green, and is surrounded by mountains. Our training center is also lovely. It
used to be a school, and it is extremely open, with lots of colorful landscaping. I haven’t really been homesick too much… sometimes at night I think about everyone and what I’ll be missing out on during the next two years, but it’s not overwhelming, and my excitement far outweighs anything else right now.

That’s it for now… sorry if this is a jumbled mess, but that
about how my brain is functioning right now!

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Sounds like an amazing experience!

    Glad you arrived safely and can’t wait to read more about your travels.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Julie on June 5, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Wow!! This sounds so busy but so exciting! Enjoy everything and have a wonderful training! 🙂

    Miss you over here already!

    Julie

    Reply

  3. you WOULD volunteer to be the group leader.

    Glad you made it safe and sound, update us whenever you can!!!

    Reply

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