My First Week in Site!

Thursday-Arrival Day

Kris, Erin, and I had decided a day earlier to take the “Executive Bus” instead of the regular one. It is only a dollar or two more and there are several advantages to this: it has a bathroom on board, we wouldn’t have to drag all of our bags through a giant terminal, our luggage would be more secure once under the bus, it is air-conditioned, it is quieter because there are not venders getting on and off the bus to sell things, and it is faster because there are fewer stops. It was well worth the price jump. My host dad had purchased the tickets for us ahead of time, and we also arranged a taxi the night before. The taxi picked me up at 6:30am. I had a feeling that fitting 3 girls plus all of their luggage for the next two years into a taxi would be a tight squeeze, but it turned out to be more ridiculous than I imagined. I had my small backpack, my red hiking backpack, and my medium/large duffel bag. Erin and Kris both had a large square rolling suitcase, a hiking backpack, a small backpack, and another small purse/bag. All of us also had our giant maps of Ecuador rolled up. We ended up like this for the 40 minute ride: most of our luggage crammed into the trunk, the two big square suitcases in the backseat (taking up two seats), Erin squeezed into the backseat next to the suitcases, Kris sitting on top of Erin, and me in the front passenger seat with Erin’s big hiking backpack in my lap. Like I said, ridiculous. We got to the bus office in plenty of time. The bus ride was fine-nothing exciting. I slept a lot on the ride, and got antsy once we were an hour or so outside of Portoviejo. Because we got in about 45 minutes before we expected to, no one was there to pick me up yet, but I didn’t mind. I said goodbye to Erin and Kris when they left, and we agreed to meet up in Portoviejo soon. Marcela (my neighbor), and one of my host brothers picked me up. I finally got to the house at 6pm. Everyone was there to greet me of course. I showered, ate dinner, and unpacked. Jen (the previous volunteer) left me like 4 or 5 boxes of stuff: library books for the community library she ran out of her house, paperwork, manuals, and books for leisure reading. She also left me her fridge, which is awesome because if I had to buy one when I move into my own place, that would be about half of my settling in allowance right there. My counterpart, Nelly, called. I have a hard time understanding her on the phone because she speaks very quickly and her phone is kind of beat up so it crackles a lot. I did gather, however, that there was a meeting at 8:30 the next morning which she wanted me to attend.


Nelly thought I was meeting her at the Centro De Salud (health clinic) and I thought she was picking me up at my house. Oops. Marcela ended up going with me because I did not remember exactly where it was. The meeting was with some of the other volunteers of the committee I am working with. From what I could understand, they were reviewing who had received the full training for the “Growing Healthy and Strong” program they will begin soon and who had missed some sessions. They also chose dates for the two health promoters, Nelly and Cecilia, to visit their communities. After the meeting, we walked around Sucre (the “town” of my county), went to the Municipio (local government) and other errands. I was home in time for lunch. After lunch, I spent the afternoon going through all of the stuff Jen left. I also organized the library books on the shelf my host family gave me.


I woke up around 8am. It is literally impossible to sleep in here, even with ear plugs. Around 11:30-12, some people (relatives?) from out of town dropped by. They were going to a popular waterfall and invited us to go so me and my host mom hopped in the back of the pick-up truck, which was already packed with people. It took us about an hour to get there. The waterfall was very pretty, and there were only a few other families there. The family who had invited us had brought a bunch of food for lunch, so we had a nice little picnic by the water. After lunch, everyone went swimming in the river/waterfall. Pretty much everyone here swims in their clothes, so it didn’t matter that I was in jeans and a soccer jersey; I jumped on in and it was really fun. It is pretty hot here, so it was nice and refreshing. I saw a gigantic frog. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was as big a grapefruit, or bigger. This goes along great with the enormous spider I saw two days later, which was about as big as my hand. It looks like they have all the same critters that we do, just supersized. All in all we were probably at the waterfall for four or five hours. When we got back around dinner time, I showered and then completely passed out. My host mom woke me up for dinner. I feel like I am always tired here. Jen said she felt the same way the first few months. She said she thinks it is due to the mental exhaustion from everything; new language, different culture, just the newness and adjustment of everything. I think it is probably a combination of that and also adjusting to the heat. Being tired all the time is quite annoying; it makes it hard to focus and if I nap I worry that my host family will think I am lazy.


I Woke up early again and went through some more of Jen’s papers. I spent some time looking through the flashdrive she left for me, as well as the Peace Corps flashdrive we were all given. In the late afternoon, the cousins asked if I wanted to go for a ride, and a funny thing happened. The conversation went like this:

Cousin: Vamos abajo… quiere ir? (We are going down there, want to come?)
Me: A donde? (Where?)
Cousin: Abajo!
Me: Si, pero… a donde? (Yeah, but where?)
Cousin: No entiende? VA-MOS- A-BA-JO! (You don’t undertand? We are going down there!)
Me: Ok… (I surrender)

Here’s the thing: I understood perfectly what they were saying, but I was looking for a more specific destination, which I suppose was very “American” of me. In the U.S. if someone said “hey we are going down there, wanna come?” you would probably ask “where?” and you’d likely be met with a response like “Kate’s house” or “the park”. But here, that is just not an issue. People just go along for the ride, it doesn’t matter where you are going. It turns out we were just going to drop someone off at their house in the neighboring community. The lesson here: just go along for the ride. Probably not a bad philosophy for the next two years.


On Sunday, Nelly had said she would pick me up on our way to an 8:30 meeting, so I should be ready for 8am, and wait for her on my porch. At 8:29 she called me to tell me to walk to her house (in the opposite direction of where the meeting was). When I arrived to her home, she turned the T.V. on for me and told me she had to finish her laundry. I watched T.V. for 45 minutes, and about an hour after the meeting was supposed to start, we left her house. Welcome to rural Ecuador friends! Now, you all know me pretty well, so I imagine you are suspecting I was quite annoyed. To my surprise, and probably yours, the-girl-who-always-has-everything-exactly–scheduled-in-her-planner-and-is-always-at least-five-minutes-early was not frustrated or annoyed by this unstructured tardiness. After further reflection, I decided this was for a couple of reasons:

1) I having been expecting this, and have thus been mentally preparing for it for the last, oh, 4 or 5 months. 2) In order to be a happier person, I have been training myself not to react to little things like this that are out of my control. 3) I’ve got nothin’ but time here. 4) It’s a norm here, so it is not like I would be the only one showing up late. I am also showing up with my counterpart. Therefore, it does not negatively affect the impression people have of me.

Shocking I know! I imagine that some of you have your jaws drooping right now. Anyways, we got to the meeting and the director of the health clinic was saying something about the volunteers on the committee and the health promoters (Nelly and Cecilia) working more with the clinic, or some kind of restructuring of the system. I couldn’t understand everything, but whatever it was, it had Nelly in quite a tizzy. After the meeting, we did a lot of running around from office to office in Sucre. We ate lunch with the doctors from the clinic, and after lunch met up with Omar from PLAN International to go out into one of the rural communities. I got back to the house around 5pm, so it was a full day.


Senora Nelly was about 35 minutes late this morning, so I studied some Spanish vocabulary while I was waiting for her. I carry around a pocket notebook with me, and when I hear a word I don’t know, I try to figure out how to spell it so I can look it up. If I can find it, I write it down in my notebook with the English translation so I can memorize it later. Nelly and I met up with Cecilia, two of the doctors, and a group of high school students from Jen’s health education class. We all got into the pickup truck and headed out to one of the more rural communities. We went house to house with 3 different goals: one doctor was doing a simple census, the other doctor was looking for people with physical challenges so that she could document it, and us and the high school students were giving mini-charlas from the first session in the “Growing Healthy and Strong” program. We did that all day; I did not get home until close to 4pm. When I did come home though, I brought with me about a dozen oranges and a bunch of bananas. Everyone in the campo (i.e. rural areas) has food growing around them. Sometimes it is by accident and sometimes in purpose, but whatever the case, they have a ton of it. So everywhere we went, people would pick fruit off of the trees for us to take with us.


On Tuesday evening, my host mom told me she walks for 45 minutes every morning for exercise and she asked if I wanted to go with her. I said yes… why not right? That is when she told me that she walks at 5am. Joke’s on me! I got up at 4:53am and went walking with her, and I actually enjoyed it. Since I can’t sleep in anyway because the roosters start crowing around that time, I might as well keep doing it. So, guess who gets up at 5am every day now? Yup, that’s me. We had another meeting at the health clinic to discuss the change in the role of the volunteers and health promoters. The meeting ended with the doctors telling everyone they needed to submit their portfolios/resumes for evaluation. I was tired and not feeling well, and I could also tell that Nelly and Cecilia were going to be distracted by this all day, so we parted ways. I went home, napped, and hung out with my host mom a bit.


My stomach was really not feeling well, so I called Nelly and told her I was staying home. I lounged around, read, hung out with my host mom. . This leads me to an observation I would like to share. In addition to just going for rides to wherever, people also just sit. They sit outside and watch the traffic go by. This is often over an extended period of time, say 45 minutes to an hour. Sometimes they talk, but often they don’t. They say hello to everyone who walks by, and sometimes they exchange gossip. I’ve done this a bit with my host mom, and also my host cousins, and I don’t mind it, but it is a challenge for me. When was last time you just sat, with no intention of doing anything, with no music or tv in the background, with no other distractions? It is pretty rare for us to do this in the U.S. I think, because we (or maybe more accurately, I) have the notion that we should be doing something all of the time. Even our methods of “relaxing” involve doing something: reading, watching tv, sports, etc. Now, imagine, me of all people sitting quietly and doing nothing for an extended period of time. Between this news, me not stressing over being late, and telling you about my new habit of waking up at 5am, I hope I haven’t given any of you a heart attack or something.


Even though I called Nelly and asked what she was doing today, she told me to just stay home to make sure I was fully recuperated, so I had another day off. In addition to talking my host mom out of a near panic attack after I told her I was meeting another volunteer in Portoviejo (the big city) on Saturday and writing this incredibly long blog post, I also wrote out a list of reasons I like not knowing or speaking Spanish well. This essentially was to make myself feel better about my Spanish, because I was a little frustrated about it. Funny enough, the two people I have the most trouble understanding are Nelly and my host mom… probably the two people I interact with the most. My host mom just has a really strong accent, and my counterpart speaks quickly and softly. This leaves me feeling not so great. So, I leave you now with my list; it’s short and sweet.

Things I Like About Not Knowing or Speaking Spanish Well:

1) When a conversation I am hearing gets awkward, or someone asks a question that I don’t want to deal with (like “Are you going to get an Ecuadorian boyfriend?”), I can just say I don’t understand what they are saying, even if I understand them perfectly.
2) If I can’t completely understand what someone is asking, I tend to just agree to do something or go somewhere (as long as I know the person! Duh.). This has worked out in my favor so far. I have gone to the waterfall, seen an iguana, walked across a bamboo bridge, and some other very cool things because of this.
3) I don’t have to worry about cursing at inappropriate times because I don’t know any bad words in Spanish!


2 responses to this post.

  1. What a week!! The waterfall sounds amazing…but not so much the spiders :\
    I love that you’re relaxing a little and doing nothing some of the time! What a change that must be for you…I guess it is a very “american” thing to always be busy…
    I also enjoyed your list at the end there, hahaha.


  2. Posted by Janet Pencek on August 27, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Sounds like a very busy week. I’m sure your understanding of your host mom and counterpart will come in time. Learn to relax, it will make your life so much easier.


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