The last month… aka the holiday season in Ecuador

So it’s been about a month since I last wrote… oops. First of all, I just re-read my last post to see where I left off, and WOW. So many grammar/spelling errors. It really is true… the more my Spanish improves the more my English deteriorates. Anyway, let’s get to the updates.

A few weekends ago, I had a few volunteers over, as well as a friend from Stonehill who is currently here on a Fulbright, researching in Cuenca. It was definitely one of the most fun weekends I have here so far. Lauren, my friend from Stonehill, got here Friday night. It was SO nice to see a familiar face, someone that I knew before I came to Ecuador. We had a good time catching up. Saturday a few volunteers who live in the area arrived. Among them was a 3rd year volunteer who came to teach the community group how to crochet with plastic bags. The meeting for that was in the afternoon, and there was a pretty good turnout. The women seemed super enthusiastic about it too, was great to see. I also took the opportunity to present my “Plan de Trabajo” aka my work plan. After the meeting was over, we all walked back to my house to make baked ziti, no bake cheesecake, and pudding, as well as eat copious amounts of junk food. Since I don’t have an oven (just a stovetop) I have to borrow my host mom’s. We made a gigantic batch of ziti so we could share with my host family. We brought the ziti over to bake and once it was done we all enjoyed it. After that it was time for smores… my host family has been asking me to make them again and I figured this would be a good opportunity. It was so much fun. I honestly don’t think I can do it justice here. Everyone, gringas and Ecuadorians, were laughing, talking, eating, and having a great time. Once smores were finished, my host dad took everyone for a ride in his pickup trucks so Lauren and the other volunteers could see “The Centro” aka Sucre. After we got back, the gringas all went back to my house. We just sat around, talked, had some wine/beer and listened to music. It is nice to just talk to people who are also living this absurd lifestyle, to have someone to relate to. Sunday everyone headed back to their respective sites, and I have to admit, it was a bit lonely that evening… it was such a blast having everyone here.

I spent the majority of the next week planning for when my groups start up in January and baking an obscene amount of Christmas cookies. I have been kind of missing the “Christmas feeling”, since it’s not quite as big of a deal here and it’s not cold at ALL, so I have been obsessing a bit over whatever Christmas things I could do. My wonderful wonderful friend Shannon sent me Christmas music and “It’s a Wonderful Life” on DVD, plus I had copied “Elf” from another volunteer’s computer, so I was basically watching/listening to that stuff on repeat all week. One cool Christmas tradition that I really like here: Novenas. Novenas are like little prayer meetings, but more than that. Every night for the 9 days before Christmas, the neighbors all meet in someone’s house… a different house every night. At this meeting, they pray, then do a little skit with a specific theme (for example, how Christmas is not meant to be a material holiday), and then they sing to the baby Jesus doll, which gets passed from house to house. Afterwards everyone enjoys some kind of snack or food together.

Friday was probably my favorite day of Christmas weekend. Friday I went to my nieces and nephews’ school to watch their Christmas pageant. But of course, being the token gringa, I couldn’t just watch the show… the principal asked me to be one of the judges. I personally thought I shouldn’t do it, since my niece was in the running for the Christmas Fairy, but no one listened to me. This is how it works: Each grade selects a Papa Noel (Santa Claus), Godmother for the Christmas Tree, and Christmas Fairy. Then the day of the Christmas Pageant, the three judges are supposed to pick the best of each category to be the Papa Noel, Godmother, and Fairy for the whole school. Each group does a little parade for the judges to decide the winners. We picked the Papa Noel from 5th grade, because he had everything: gloves, glasses, beard, belt, hat… the whole gig. We picked the Godmother of the Tree because she was just plain adorable. And then, of course, seeing as how life is absurd, the other judges, not knowing she was my niece, both voted for Sheyla. It really was completely fair; she was one of only 2 fairies that had the hat, wings, AND wand, plus a very pretty dress. To top it off, she did an adorable little pose once she stopped in front of the judges. So basically, she would have won whether I was a judge or not. It was pretty funny afterwards though… everyone was asking me how much her parents bribed me and stuff… basically my whole host family was giving me shit for it (all in good fun of course!). Friday night after the novena, they had a little welcoming/thank you party for Kris, the first volunteer in my site who was here about 4 years ago, because she was in town visiting for two weeks. They included me in it to, and my favorite part of the little “programa” was the “besos”. Beso literally means “a kiss”, but in this instance it meant little 2-3 line poems. Kris and I were seated in the front of the room, and a bunch of kids and teens from the neighborhood lined up in front of us. Then each person took their turn reciting their little “beso” or poem. It was absolutely precious!
The week between Christmas and New Years was a lot of fun too. I got to hang out with Kris quite a bit, and it was really nice meeting her and getting to know her after hearing so much about her. She also was super helpful with tips on how to deal with Nelly. Even though she is not my counterpart anymore, because it is such a small community and she is still the president of the community, I do have to maintain a decent working relationship with her. Kris even went so far as offering to facilitate a meeting to help me figure out a work plan. I took her up on it, so last Thursday Kris planned to facilitate a meeting with me, Marcela (my neighbor/guardian angel), Nelly, Cecilia, the woman from the municipio, and Doctora Velez (my new counterpart). Unfortunately, Wednesday afternoon the Dra. Velez heard from her bosses, who told her she had to come in for a meeting the next morning because they were probably going to change her assignment. I was severely disappointed; this meant that I would need to find a new counterpart. So, Thursday morning, Dra. Velez arrived just as the meeting was wrapping up, and told me she would be changing clinics. She was going to move from the Centro de Salud in Sucre, about 20-25 minutes away, to…… the Subcentro de Salud in Miraflores, which is about 10 MINUTES AWAY! It actually worked out pretty perfectly. Now it looks like I finally have my schedule set:
In the community where I live, I will be facilitating 2 youth groups and 2 women’s groups (one for each side of the community, because they refuse to cross the river!) plus a kids group in Tillales Afuera and teaching a class at the school in Tillales Adentro. I will also (hopefully!) be teaching a life skills class in the high school in Sucre. With the Doctora, I will be working on a project to reduce anemia and also an organic gardening project. Those two projects will be replicated in several communities in the county and will be in conjunction with her medical brigades, which are twice a week. I will also be accompanying Nelly and Cecilia on their medical brigades once a week. So Mondays I will have class in the colegio, a women’s group, and kids group. Tuesdays I will have class in the school, a women’s group, and a youth group. Wednesdays and Fridays I will be with the Doctora and Thursdays I will be with Nelly. Thursday nights I will have the other youth group. I am excited to get going! Thursday the Doctora and I had our first community meeting for our anemia project. The project is targeting senior citizens, kids under 5, and pregnant women, so our first step was to have a meeting to explain the project and look for clinical symptoms of anemia. Over 50 people showed up, which is HUGE for my community; normally you get around 15-20 people at meetings. It was really exciting and made me feel really confident about this project.

New Years was CRAZY. In Ecuador, the biggest tradition is the burning of the “Años Viejos” or “old years”. Not everyone does it, but it is really common. The week before New Years, you make or buy an “año viejo”. If you make one, it basically consists of making a scarecrow, and then buying the head to put on it, which is made out of some kind of paper machete. But you can also buy “años viejos” in all kinds of shapes and sizes; smirfs, Simpsons, action figures, or other television characters. They are basically like big, creepy, paper machete dolls. You put your “año viejo” on display in front of your house in the days before New Years. Then, at midnight, everyone drags their dolls out into the road, gives them a few good kicks, pours gasoline over them, and lights them on fire. See, the idea is that these dolls represent all of the problems and negativity of the previous year, and by burning them you are getting rid of that and starting fresh with the New Year. A good majority of people also buy industrial size fireworks and set them off at midnight. Basically, with the huge fires in the street and the fireworks going off, it kind of sounds like a warzone…. But a really cool and fun warzone! I kind of wish we did this in the States…

New Years day, Kris left to go to Quito before heading back to the U.S. I was sad to see her go, but very glad I got the chance to meet her. Since Monday was a holiday and everyone had off from work and school, the whole family went to the beach for the day. And by the whole family, I mean EVERYONE. Three trucks full; about 40-50 people I think. It was really fun to hang out with everyone; we were there for pretty much the whole day and everyone brought picnic lunches. I also enjoyed going to the beach to celebrate New Year’s, since you can’t really do that in good old Scranton, PA. While the day was incredible, the horrible sunburn I left with was not so fun… its five days later and it still hurts! And trust me; this was not a case of negligence; I applied sunscreen multiple times and ran to the shade as soon as I got out of the water… I guess that’s just what happens when you bring a gringa to the beach that’s basically on the Equator.

This past week I have spent most of my time helping the Doctora set up the SubCentro de Salud. It’s been a few years since they have had any staff there, so we are basically re-opening it. The community helped clean up the space, and I have been helping her inventory all the medicine and organizing patient files. Next week I will be organizing of the logistics to start up my groups, getting everything in order. It funny, I have been in my site for about 5 months, and I feel like I am just getting things started. Oh how time escapes us. That’s all for now I guess… I swear I am trying to get back to writing every week… or at the very least every other!

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