Saturday, August 7, 2010

Family photos

Sorry I haven't updated in so long! Here are some pictures to hold you over...

Melany sneaking some frosting at Monica's birthday party
(I decorated the cake!)


with Mirely and Melany, this is when the kids took over my camera

the following series is my favorite-


pretty girls

typical brother-sister shot

a neighbor

me and Kevin

Monica blowing out her candle

Melany, Siomara and Angelo at my house

Monica with Jaime and his family on his mom's birthday

Angelo's self portrait

and his picture of his sister

Monica singing at her school's fiesta

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The tortoise and the hare

Saturday June 5 was the day of the environment. Humberto, who works with Costas y Bosques for EcoBiotec, planned a minga and charla in the town near me where he’s working. He asked me to come and give a talk. So we went in the morning and picked up trash in the streets and on the beach. We started out with about 6 people but more joined as we went. Then Humberto showed a video about sea turtles and I gave my talk about endangered species, sea turtles and trash, and how we can reduce the trash in the streets. I wrote a little poem about turtles and trash since I’ve found that people are more inclined to learn something if it makes them laugh and it rhymes.

Other than working I’ve been running on the beach lately, which is combined with tide pool gazing and beachcombing. There are a series of rocky points along the beach with sandy stretches or flattened rocks in between. At a few of the points the sea has carved arches out of the rocks with caves into the cliffs underneath. I’ve found crabs, snails and some small fish in the tide pools but not the abundance of animals I remember from the beaches in Manabi. Today when I was looking more closely at a new area I found one big chiton and thought that was more like I remember, so I searched a little more and found one sea hare grazing around in a pool. Sea hares basically look like big snails without their shells, only cuter. I was so excited to find it that I crouched down and said hi. Which is silly, of course, since the sea hare would clearly only speak Spanish.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


So what have I actually been doing lately? Mainly working at the colegio and escuela, going to various types of meetings, hanging around the house with my family, eating seafood and fruit, going into town to run errands, reading, and (occasionally) running on the beach. When I go to the escuela the director sends me to one or two of the classrooms (one classroom per grade, kindergarten, or grade 1, to grade 7) and I teach them some combination of the next lesson in their science books, a charla on an environmental topic, and some English. I’ve gone into grades 7, 5, 4, 3, and kindergarten so far. The 7th graders have been the most fun to teach and the 3rd graders have been the hardest since I can’t get them to stop talking or stay in their seats. But they are cute. At the colegio (grades 8-10) I sit in on the science and English classes or hang out with the teachers and help with their lesson plans. This past week was the colegio fiesta. Monday I went for a flag ceremony where they presented sashes and diplomas to the 10th graders. They had me sit at the head table with the school director, some of the teachers, my counterpart the Junta president, and my sister who’s now the president of the parents’ group. I helped hand out diplomas. On Thursday I went to the fiesta celebrating when the colegio was founded. They had me sit at the head table again and whenever someone goes up to talk they address the people at the head table first, so they say like “Good afternoon Gonzalo Alava, President of the Junta Parroquial, Ramon Ruano, Director of the Colegio, Monica Luna, President of the Padres de Familia, Kiki…” This always makes me laugh, partly because they don’t know my last name and Kiki just sounds so informal after all those intros, partly because they are unclear of my title, and partly just the way they say it, like they are as amused as I am that I’m sitting at the head table. But I don’t think I’m supposed to be laughing at these times.

Last week I went to a meeting with Nazca and some people from Conservation International. I got put on the team of people from my Junta to work on informational signs in my town and two others for the reserve. We started in my site yesterday by repainting the bus stop and adding the name of the reserve on the wall with a board to post information and announcements. Later in the week I went to a 2 day meeting with my USAID counterpart Cristobal and other people from the Costas y Bosques program, people from Ecolex which works with USAID here, from SocioBosque the payment for conserving forest program, and from the Ministry of the Environment. They were giving presentations to people from the town councils of each town around here. Reyes, the other volunteer working with Cristobal, was there too on Friday. The meetings were good and I learned some stuff although a lot of the Spanish went over my head. But I think just being there to meet everyone was important for me and at the end on Friday Reyes and I sat down with Cristobal, the two Ecolex guys, and two guys who work with Costas y Bosques to plan what they have going on in June. So I’m getting to work! The meetings were at a hotel on the beach that’s about a 15-20 min drive from my town, one of the closest places to me. It’s a gorgeous location and the owner, Judith, is from Vancouver and has been there for 18 years. I met her when I got there on Thursday and she said she’s always happy to have foreigner neighbors and I told her I would come back to visit, which I’m definitely going to try to do. She seems very nice and like she would be interesting to talk to, she said she traveled a lot before settling in Ecuador and she’s known other PCVs.

Mother´s Day

I should mention Mother’s Day, since it’s a huge holiday here, and since I have pictures. They had Mother’s Day parties on two different days at the colegio and escuela where the kids gave their moms presents they made and sang songs and ate sandwiches and cake and played games. My host mom’s mother, who they call Abuelita, lives with us, so my mom’s brothers and sisters and some other extended family all came to our house that weekend to visit. Actually there are 4 generations of women living at my house- Abuelita, Esperanza, Monica, and Melany. We spent all day Sunday eating and toasting and singing and drinking and dancing. Everyone said they were happy I could be there for the holiday and made me feel like part of the family. Monica and her brothers Alfredo and Rafael spent hours trying to teach me to dance to different Latin music. It was a lot of fun.

Kevin and Melany with their Abuelita

Melany and Monica

the children


great grandchildren


women of the house

party at the school- jardin

Melany giving her mom a gift

and her son Sebastian

Monica singing with the park guard

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Me entiendes?

Some people are easier for me to understand than others, which depends on accent, talking speed, word choice, and conscientiousness of talking to a nonnative speaker. Aka, in my case, someone who doesn’t actually know Spanish. I was talking to a man the other day who was careful to make sure I was following the conversation, which I was for the most part, and frequently ended sentences with “me entiendes?” “Do you understand me?” This man may have been a little bit drunk, or maybe it’s just the way he talks, but throughout our conversation he kept repeating the same ideas to me over and over. This was probably a little annoying to the other people at the table but for me it was great- each time he said the same thing I understood a little more clearly the words he was using. When he started into the same thought for the third or fourth time I didn’t think, “Oh come on you already said that. Move on!” I thought, “Ooh I know this part! This is where he talks about the difference between relationships in Ecuador and the US.” I felt a little like a kid watching Teletubbies, when they show a clip and then say again! again! and show the same clip a second time. And yes I would compare my language skills to those of a toddler, thanks for asking.


My mom asked me if we have any animals at the house, like cats or dogs. I said we have chickens. Not that we have chickens in a coop or out in the yard, but that we have chickens frequently wandering through the house and getting up on the tables and counters. At first this seemed strange to me, but the cats at my parents’ house are always up on the table, so really what’s so different about chickens? Mom asked where the chickens actually live and I didn’t know but have since realized that there’s a hole in the wall that goes to a covered space off the kitchen where the chickens spend the night. They come in the back door when it’s getting dark and into their room and my host mom shuts them in with a board. Earlier this week I noticed one of the chickens nesting in a box in the kitchen and she hatched 8 brown and yellow chicks, which are super cute. In a related story, we’ve lately had a couple of bats that fly around the kitchen and bathroom at night, which doesn’t seem to faze anyone. It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of bats. And they aren’t very big- not much bigger than the butterflies and moths that also fly around the house.

I went to visit Katie the other day, another NRC volunteer who just finished her service in a town near mine. It was her last day at her site and I went to meet the family she’s been living with and a girl in high school who Katie helped to get a scholarship that I’ll be taking over for her next school year. We were sitting outside her house watching a donkey get loose from its post and a man chase it down the road. Katie observed that there are a lot of donkeys in her town and asked if there are so many in my site. I said no, I’ve only seen one or two, and she said yeah I guess your town is more urban. “Yeah we only have one donkey, it’s quite the metropolis.” We both burst out laughing, and then Katie sighed and said that’s the kind of thing people aren’t going to understand back home. She’s probably right.

There are many fruits and other crops that grow in this region, and they also produce cacao. There is a lot of agriculture in Katie’s town, my town concentrates more on fishing. When I went to visit, the girl’s family gave Katie and I a bunch of fruit and avocados. And then Katie’s mom gave me some bananas and a ball of chocolate from the cacao stand by the house. I brought it home and my mom made hot chocolate with fresh milk and sugar. Some of you (mainly Mollie) know that I’m on a continuous quest for great hot chocolate, and this was definitely up there among the best.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

First days

Today was my first day back at my site. Well I got here yesterday but slept all day to recover from the trip… and the past 3 weeks with the group. I’m living with my new host family now- my host mom Esperanza, her mother, her son Alfredo, her daughter Monica (34), and Monica’s kids Kevin (12) and Melany (5). We live in a 2 story house, on the first floor there’s a living space, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom and on the second floor there are 3 bedrooms including mine. The house is about a block from the beach. We have electricity but no running water.

Esperanza took me to meet a couple neighbors and store owners and introduced me as her new daughter. Then I helped her cook lunch. In the evening I went for a run down the beach and discovered that in one direction there are mostly flat rocks with tide pools. I ran back towards town into a beautiful pink sunset and then Kevin met with me and we ran passed town the other way. After dinner my mom and sister decided that since there wasn’t much water in the tanks we should go bathe in the river. I knew from my site visit that it’s common to bathe in the river here but this was my first time. So I walked down with them in the dark and we stripped down to our underwear and waded in. It occurred to me that it’s a good thing I’m not an overly modest person, but then what kind of PCV would I be if I was?
Today Monica took me around town to meet people- the doctor, the people at the health center, the woman who works at the Tenencia Politica, and the directors and teachers at the colegio and escuela. My counterpart, the president of the Junta Parroquial, came with us to the schools too. Everyone was interested in what I’m doing here and had suggestions, which is great. At the schools they want me to teach English, which I have no experience in so for now I’m going to try to sit in on the classes taught by the current English teacher and see what he does. But today the director came over and said the English teacher isn’t here today, can you go talk to the class? So I went in there and Kevin was in the class and I knew from him that they’d learned animals and fruits, so I had them tell me what they know and went over how to pronounce the words. I think it went okay for a surprise teaching session. In the afternoon, following my policy of doing whatever comes along, I went with Monica to a funeral in another town. It was very different from funerals I’ve been to in the US since it mostly took place outside and everyone walked behind the pallbearers from town up to the cemetery. They stopped along the way at a bench on the beach and the futbol field and other places that the man had liked to visit.
Tuesday I went back to the escuela and talked to the director some more and sat in on the English teacher’s class where she had me help with pronunciation. Wednesday I went to the escuela and sat in on English class and then went to the colegio for the teachers’ meeting. First I talked to them about what I could do at the colegio- help with environmental education and English, but just observe classes at first, and start a school garden. Then I stayed for the rest of the meeting, most the which I didn’t know exactly what they were talking about except that an analyst had come that day and said they needed to fire one of the 3 contract teachers, which they did by drawing names. I’m not sure what would have happened if the English teacher got fired but it wasn’t him. In the afternoon I went with my mom to wash clothes in the river, another first. On Thursday I went back to the colegio and went with the science teacher to her classes since it was the day she teaches environmental ed. She is very nice and I think I will enjoy working with her. So those are the main points of what I’ve done this week, I’m still finding my way with almost everything but it’s nice to know that I have a starting point with the schools.