I know it has been a while since I have posted, so here are four random photo updates about what I have been up to this month!
I am off to Latacunga tomorrow to celebrate Carnaval. Then I have just two days of class for this semester before I take off to Quito for a week-long orientation, and then my parents are coming! (!!!!!!) And then my favorite big sissie is visiting too! So many exclamation points! I will update when I can. In the meantime, Happy February! Punxsutawney predicted spring should be coming soon, so winter shouldn’t be so bad up there in the Northern Hemisphere, right?
I write this post to the pitter patter of afternoon rain on my tin roof. It has rained every day for the past two weeks, so “winter” has officially arrived here in La Maná. I know I am fairly cliché with my constant talk about the weather, but it is something that continues to baffle me. As I write this, I am also scratching the bug bites covering my ankles and reapplying aloe vera on my very pink and burnt skin—things I can’t say I have ever done in January before.
The past few weeks have been full of experiences I haven’t had before in fact! Most days here are new and different, but the holidays were even more so. When I left off in my last post, I was in my apartment waiting for Christmas to begin and not knowing exactly what I would be doing/when/how/etc. In short, Christmas was a total disaster. Just a complete failure. I won’t get into details, but the day ended with me crying uncontrollably in a chapel at a pool alone. It turns out they don’t really celebrate Christmas here on the coast. So that sucked. I had also been struggling for the weeks prior to the holidays with a bit of “slump,” so that didn’t help. Luckily, Christmas was the bottoming out point, so it was all uphill from there!
The day after Christmas, we traveled to Latacunga. If you remember from previous posts, our mentor Sebastian’s family is from Latacunga. We stayed with them when we first arrived in Ecuador, spent Day of the Dead with them, and see them every so often. Sebastian’s father, Luis, is one of 11 children, so when their family gets together it is a lot of aunts, uncles, and cousins. And it’s awesome. We celebrated Christmas/New Year’s with them on the 27th. It was hands-down one of the best days I have had yet in Ecuador. Festivities began at 7:30 am with a mass dedicated to the Ramon family and continued all day with games such as a blindfolded guinea pig catch, feeding each other beaten egg whites (also while blindfolded), playing a game called “Snort”, eating plenty of good food, and so much more.
Proudly caught my cuy in 46 seconds, but couldn’t top the winner who caught hers in 13.
We ended the day by burning the “Año Viejo.” This directly translates to “Old Year,” and it is essentially a paper dummy dressed up to look like someone (in this case the family president and our mentor, Sebastian). Before burning the dummy, you beat it with a stick to release any of your own bad juju from the year. A rhyming testament is read in the voice of the Año Viejo to bid farewell to his friends and family. Vuidas locas or “crazy widows” make a dramatic show of crying throughout the testament to express their sadness at his burning death. Liana and I had the great pleasure of being two of the vuidas, which was great fun. We then burned the Año Viejo and jumped over the fire (once the flames had subsided some) three times for luck in the New Year. All this was done with a beautiful backdrop of Cotopaxi Volcano in the background. All in all, a perfect day.
The next day, Liana and I hopped on a bus and headed east to a small town called Tena, where we met up with a few other Fulbrighters. Tena is often called the “gateway to the Amazon,” and it was beautiful. We only had about 36 hours there, but we made the most out of it by rafting 28 km down a breathtaking river, exploring caves, and eating some delicious chicken and fish cooked inside leaves. We also saw some big ol bugs right out of Timon and Pumba’s meal in the Lion King, but we didn’t try those this time.
As we headed back to Latacunga with the plan to make the final journey back to La Maná the next day for New Year’s, I realized that I wasn’t quite ready to go back yet. Maybe I still had a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth about Christmas, or maybe I wasn’t ready for vacations to be over, but I decided to stay in Latacunga with Sebastian’s family—even though neither Sebastian, his parents, nor Liana were there. Luckily, awkwardness isn’t much of a thing here, so I was welcomed with loving arms for 3 more fantastic days with the Ramon family. The slump I was in wasn’t the first one I have had in my adventures abroad, so I knew that I had to take control of my own happiness and listen to my gut. I am so glad I did, too, as I ended up having the absolute best few days ever.
We celebrated New Year’s by burning another Año Viejo as well as completing lots of other cabalas (things for luck) such as walking around the block with a suitcase to hope for travel in the New Year, or holding a bag of lentils and coins in our right hands to hope for money. I have a list of at least 10 different traditions like that those that I plan to bring home with me for next year and all years. I loved spending overall peaceful and relaxing time with the family until midnight and then doing all the fun superstitious activities. It just felt so much more meaningful than simply partying, cheering at midnight, and then spending New Year’s Day hungover and exhausted. (We all know I have never actually done that since I am usually in bed by 10, but you know what I mean). It was also so nice to be able to spend entire days (and nights) speaking exclusively Spanish and not get worn out. Even though it is harder to see my progress since the language learning curve is different for me now, it is times like that where I am reminded that I am indeed learning and improving every day here.
Testing out the zoom on my camera
Glaciers melting on Cotopaxi
I spent one last night in Latacunga with Sebastian’s parents before waking up dark and early at 3:50 am to travel 2 hours to the small school in the mountains where Sebastian’s mom, Letty, works. This school is high in the mountains about halfway between Latacunga and La Maná. The early-morning wake-up was worth it for the breathtaking views as dawn gently touched the mountains. I could see three volcanoes at once, which I would say was also a fairly new experience. After getting dropped off at a seemingly non-descript dirt road at 6:45, we made the 15 minute trek up a hill in the quiet fog of the morning as sheep and llamas scurried about and the sun began to kiss the frosty grass. I will dedicate an entire post to this school someday, but let’s just say it was love at first sight. As you might know, we are required to do some sort of community project as part of our Fulbright grant in addition to working 20 hours teaching in the university. I had been struggling to find a perfect project between not knowing many people or places yet and being crippled, but I have finally found one at this mountain school and I couldn’t be more excited about it. For the time being, I will be helping Letty teach English once a week with the hopes of eventually working with the artisanal painting program and other aspects of the school/community as time goes on.
By the time I finally made it back to La Maná on Monday afternoon, I was feeling incredibly refreshed and re-energized. My 10-day vacation with amazing people in amazing places and taking agency of my own happiness was all I needed to climb out of my slump. With three months now behind me, I am ecstatic for the 7 months that lay ahead. The new year is already off to a great start, and I know there are so many things to look forward to from here. I hope the same and more to you all!
As I write this at 10 am on Christmas morning, I am perched on my couch, still in my PJ’s, listening to the music that constantly blares outside my window, and sweating quite profusely. In short, it is a fairly standard day for me. My association with Christmas will forever be my beloved Cora Valley Angus Ranch blanketed in white fluffy snow, eating steaks cooked over a popping fireplace, and ice skating down the winding New Fork River with my wonderful family. So it is admittedly a bit strange to be here in the tropics where, despite the occasional fake Christmas tree and baskets filled with candies, it just doesn’t quite “feel” like Christmas. While I am of course missing my family and snow today, I am grateful to have this amazing opportunity to experience a culture and place so different from my own.
In addition to scattered Christmas activities, I have been staying fairly busy per usual! The ankle is FINALLY almost back to 100%. I have been doing regular physical therapy that– despite kicking my butt most days– has been incredibly helpful. I’ve also made friends with my lovely physical therapist and her family, so that’s always a plus!
In other news, I went to Quito (again) a few weeks ago for another Bowdoin reunion, this time with two of my friends who just finished their study abroad semester in the Galapagos and were in Quito before heading home. Highlights of the weekend included:
Another beautiful drive through the Andes:
Seeing this beautiful cathedral with a few other Fulbrighers:
Climbing said cathedral with said Fulbrighers: (Quite the thrill I must say!)
And reuniting with these hooligans on a mountain 10,000 ft above Quito:
Another week of class sped by (I promise I do teach here) and it was the weekend yet again. Feeling adventurous, Liana and several members of her host family and I decided to romp through the selva (jungle) for a day. Highlights included Senora Rosita expertly scramble a tree to shake oranges out of it, eating copious amounts of fruit we found along the way, Sra. Rosita offering to slaughter and cook a chicken for us if we got hungry, and not being able to go to some nearby waterfalls because we didn’t bring a machete to defend ourselves against any snakes we might encounter.
We also found some friends at the top of a hill and proceeded to share lemonade, stories, and guitar songs with them for a bit before descending back to La Mana:
And also this hideous dog starkly contrasting this beautiful landscape:
Romped around some more:
And finished the day with another breathtaking sunset painted across the sky:
This entire semester, we have been preparing our students for the Language Center’s Christmas Program. That has mostly included learning and singing Christmas songs in English. I left the choreography and costumes up to them. Needless to say, it was a total hit! I felt like a proud mama watching them all expertly perform.
The biggest shout out goes to my Level 6, though. They are 8 weeks away from finishing their required English and they couldn’t be more excited to bolt out that door. I was admittedly very worried as we were still practicing the morning of the performance. My parting words that morning were “don’t embarrass me.” Much to my delight, they completely surprised me (and everyone else) when they performed like champs and dressed like this:
And now for Christmas! Our mentor’s parents came to La Mana yesterday, and we hiked to Las Siete Cascadas (The Seven Waterfalls) that I have been DYING to do ever since arriving here. It was the perfect way to spend the day.
Today, we will be lounging at a hosteria. I don’t even know what the translation for that is, but someday I should probably just dedicate an entire blog post to hosterias. It is essentially a pool/ park/ place for strange character statues/ fish pond/ etc. We will then be eating somewhere (featuring apple pie that I will somehow bake at some point today), and then who knows what else! In classic Ecuadorian fashion, I have absolutely no idea and neither does anyone else.
I am wishing everyone at home a very Merry Christmas from down here in Ecuador!
As I write this, it is 10 am and already 78 degrees. I am truly sorry for all you Yankees up in the Northern Hemisphere who are currently experiencing the same temperatures but with a minus sign in front of the number.
Anyway, the last few weeks have been fairly busy and adventurous for me. The weekend before last, I traveled to the mountain city of Riobamba, where another ETA, Megan, is working. Megan had invited us to watch a bullfight that was held as part of the Independence celebrations of Riobamba. Due to my shameless and extremely skilled Instagram/blog stalking skills, I happened to figure out that a fellow Bowdoin alum, Duncan, happened to be traveling through Ecuador. Duncan graduated a year before me and just finished his own Fulbright ETA in Panama. He was traveling with a fellow ETA and a friend from home. Between my friends and his friends and his friend’s friends, the six of us had a jolly weekend together in Riobamba.
I was admittedly a little apprehensive going into the bullfight. As you know, bullfighting is a centuries-old Spanish tradition which involves an artistic display of machismo as man is pitted against beast in a fight to the death. Especially coming from a cattle ranch where we spend all our energy ensuring that animals stay alive, I was unsure how I would react to watching a bull get killed in such a manner.
In short, the bullfight was one of the most interesting experiences of my entire life. There were three matadors, including two famous ones from Spain and one hometown boy from Riobamba. They each fought two bulls. The actually fight is a highly organized event, in which particular steps are taken until the ultimate death of the bull. Once the bull is released into the arena (running and angry of course), the matador and his “interns” (for lack of a better word) will wave the iconic flags/capes in order to anger the bull more. Then, the matador will stab the bull with a total of six pricks into the shoulders of the animal. These pricks are colorful and generally stick in the bull, thereby further agitating him.
Mounted horsemen then come into the arena on giant draft horses that look like they stepped right out of a medieval battlefield with their protective armor and blindfolds so that they cannot see the bull charging them. The horseman will then stab the bull’s shoulders with a single, direct movement as the bull presses his horns against the horse in obvious anger. This part seemed kind of useless to me, until I learned that the purpose of this stab is to release some of the built-up adrenaline in the bull. Otherwise, it could give itself a heart attack and die. One of the bulls hooked its horns under the horse (but luckily not under the horse’s armor) and flipped it completely upside down, sending the rider scrambling. Yes, FLIPPED IT. Keep in mind these horses are the size of small elephants, so that was quite the feat—in addition to being incredibly scary to witness. Luckily, both the horse and the rider got up unharmed.
The matador spends time both agitating and exhausting the bull with his cape/flag until his final move, in which he will stab the bull with a long sword between the shoulders in one swift movement, thereby cutting the spinal cord and leading to a quick and relatively painless death. Once this blow is given, the “interns” or assistants will surround the bull and wave their own flags until the bull falls down in exhaustion. Another man will then come out with a short knife and give the final blow to the bull’s neck, thereby killing it immediately. (Sorry, I probably should have made a disclaimer about what this was going to entail.)
If the matador performed well, the crowd will wave white handkerchiefs to show their approval. The final approval, however, must come from the president, who sits in a special balcony seat in the stadium and is essentially the judge. There was only one instance in which the matador did not receive the white wave of approval. He tried and missed five times to give the final sword blow to the bull, and in the end it died slower and in more pain than it should have. In another instance, the president waved a yellow handkerchief. This signified that the bull would live, as he had proven himself as a strong and “good” fighter, so will be kept to breed future bulls. All in all, the fight was a performance and an art. Despite the blood and the fact I knew the bull would die in the end, I found myself caught up in the act just like everyone else, rooting for the man to win in this man vs. beast face off. Bullfighting is also full of various superstitions. For instance, it is bad luck to wear yellow or talk about the rain. The matador will throw his hat behind him at the beginning of the fight, and the way the hat lands will determine if he will have good luck or not in the fight.
Overall, it was a successful weekend in Riobamba. (The word “Riobamba” by the way is a mix of the Spanish word rio meaning “river” and the Kichwa word bamba meaning “valley”.) I returned to La Maná for just a day and a half to teach one class and take my first class in Kichwa (a native Ecuadorian language) before I took off again, this time for Quito. Fulbright hosted a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner for us. I spent the long weekend there, hanging out with the other Fulbrighters, meeting up with Duncan and company again, hitting up a few tourist sites that I had yet to see despite it being my fourth time in Quito, hosting another Thanksgiving dinner for some Ecuadorian friends, and—of course—going to the doctor. This wouldn’t be a blog post without more ankle news, right?
I am pleased to announce that my plasma treatment seems to have worked and I have now been cleared to start physical therapy. Hooray! Although I still have weeks of recovery ahead of me and physical therapy is honestly painful, I am happy to be moving in the right direction. I am almost walking like a normal person and less like a “gimpy face” as my dear friend and fellow ETA, Jordyn, calls me. While I am sometimes sad to think about missing the holiday season at home this year, I am so grateful for the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, participate in different traditions, and continue to experience new things every single day. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I also want to extend my thanks and gratitude to all the wonderful people in my life back at home and around the world for helping me both get to Ecuador in the first place as well as your continued support of me here. I couldn’t do it without you!
Since my last two posts had to deal with vocabulary words, I thought I would throw in some numbers to mix things up:
6: the number of weeks I have been in Ecuador (as of today)
6: the number of days I have been in Ecuador with two fully functioning ankles
As you may have guessed, this post will ALSO have something to do with this darn ankle of mine. Maybe I kept jinxing it by saying it is getting better, oops. Anyway, here’s another number for you:
11 days: the number of vacation days I purposefully/inadvertently took after my first week of work at the University….
Let me explain. On Saturday the 31st (Halloween for you Yankees up there in North America), Liana (my fellow English teacher), Sebastian (our mentor), and Gaby (Sebastian’s girlfriend), and I made the approximately 3.5-hour bus trek over the mountains to the city of Latacunga. If you recall, Sebastian is from Latacunga and that is where we spent our first night en route to La Maná from Quito three weeks prior. We arrived at the home of Sebastian’s parents to loving hugs and “welcome backs.” There was a lovely feeling in the air of returning to a familiar place but as a slightly different person. Liana and I both commented on how much more comfortable and settled we felt in Ecuador in even those three weeks. Another Fulbrighter, Megan, also joined us for the weekend.
We spent the weekend in Latacunga and just outside Latacunga in Aláquez with the Ramón family. That is Sebastian’s father’s side of the family. Luis is one of 11 brothers and sisters, so needless to say it was quite the affair with all the uncles, aunts, and cousins. That weekend marked Día de los difuntos, or All Soul’s Day. It is very similar to Day of the Dead in Mexico. We celebrated the lives of the family departed at their family plot in the small town cemetery. Many places in Ecuador will often celebrate by bringing food to the cemetery which to share with their departed loved ones as they transition to the next world from this one. We also ate guagua de pan, which is bread shaped like a guagua, which is the Kichwa (native Ecuadorian language) for “child.” The guagua de pan is paired with colada morada, which translates to “purple drink” and is a delicious and sweet mix of juices and fruits that is served warm. No one is quite sure where this tradition comes from, but it is believed that the drink derives from Kichwa tradition and is meant to represent the blood of those who have died, and the bread comes from European descent. Either way, it was a fantastic way to spend the long weekend with a fun, loving, and warm family. And it also felt AMAZING to be back in the cool mountain air after sweating in the tropics of La Maná.
We also had that Tuesday off in celebration of the Independence of Cuenca (one of the major cities in Ecuador), but most people traveled home that day. I had a follow-up appointment on my ankle in Quito the next day, so I traveled there with one of Sebastian’s aunts. I ended up staying the night with them, too, after spending the evening at their grandparent’s house. They live up on a hill overlooking the valley which holds Quito. I was completely enamored by the view and feeling so energized by the people I was with and the place I was in that I decided right then and there (on the rooftop of their home) to extend my visit until the next week. I was going to make it back to La Maná in time for only one class before another three-day weekend anyway, so it seemed worth it.
It was a good thing I did, too, because I ended up having to stay anyway. A series of doctor’s visits that Wednesday showed that I have a torn ligament in my ankle. DANG IT. Despite no longer needing crutches or my clunky boot, I am by no means in the clear. That was honestly incredibly disheartening news to receive, and put me into a bummed mood for the rest of the rainy, dreary afternoon.
I was met with cheer that night, though, as I reunited with another Fulbrighter, Natalie, who is placed in Quito. We had dinner at a hilariously Western-themed pizza bar. I ended up getting sick on the pizza though. Of all the strange food I have eaten in Ecuador…the one to attack my stomach happened to be pizza. The next day, though, I joined Natalie at her university, Universidad de San Francisco. It was like entering a whole new world. USF is the best and most expensive university in Ecuador, which clearly set it apart from mine in La Maná. Either way, it was really interesting to see and to witness Natalie in action. She is an amazing teacher and I shamelessly took notes on ways to improve my own teaching.
Friday morning was spent doing laundry and grocery shopping before yet another doctor’s appointment for me. It was at this appointment that I learned I had two options to heal my ligament: 1. Surgery followed by more crutches and a hard cast or 2. An alternative therapy known as plasma-rich platelets. I chose the latter, as this one involved only a small injection and no cast or surgery. The procedure was set for the following Monday. Feeling down in the dumps again, I returned home to Natalie and proceeded to devour approximately half of the carton of ice cream we had bought earlier that day. Luckily Natalie was kind enough not to judge my pursuit of emotion healing and of “No Shame November.”
A friend of Natalie’s had kindly invited us to a wedding that weekend, so on Saturday morning we hopped on a bus and made the two-hour trek to Otavalo. The town of Otavalo is well-known for having a huge local market, where vendors sell everything from rugs and purses to jewelry and pottery. It is especially big and busy on Saturdays. My ankle was hurting me some and my impromptu added vacation meant that I was low on money (oops), so I only passed through the market with the promise to myself that I would be back. Besides, I wanted to make sure I was ready to rally for the wedding that night.
Unfortunately, the friend who had invited us to the wedding was delayed getting to Otavalo because her bus broke down. I had told her I would help her take photos, though, so Natalie and I hopped in a taxi to go to the church despite feeling like major wedding crashers. (But No Shame November, right?) We luckily ran into one of Natalie’s students as soon as we walked into the church, so we at least had someone to sit next to who was actually supposed to be there. The service was a beautiful, traditional Catholic wedding ceremony. Afterward, we headed to a community center of sorts for dancing, music, tons of food, and even more alcohol. The custom in Ecuador is for someone to walk around with a large bottle of alcohol (or soda) and a plastic cup. That person will fill the cup, hand it to you to drink, then fill it again for the next person once you finish. And on it goes all night. I think of my father every time I watch those germs inevitably pass from person to person. I was able to get out of it by (truthfully) claiming that I was on medicine and couldn’t drink. This reception was also fairly similar to a wedding reception in the U.S. It even featured a bouquet toss—which I caught!!! But then I got scared and dropped it so someone else snagged it, oops. There goes my chance at not being an old spinster forever.
I tapped out early—around 1 am—even though the party was still raging well into the night. I should also note that these traditional weddings last for several days around there. The next day, Sunday, was the traditional ceremony. And by traditional, I mean traditional indigenous, as much of the population in and around Otavalo are Kichwa. The ceremony and reception were held at a beautiful country club-esque setting framed by the mountains and the bright blue sky. The bride and groom washed each other’s faces, hands, and feet with cold water that had flower petals and a sticky, poisonous plant that is activated by cold water. You could see them cringe and laugh as they were poked with the sticky plant, hortiga. The parents and then godparents also partook in the washing, and then any other couple that wanted to was also invited to join. As the couples wash each other, they also say things such as “may I wash your head of bad thoughts,” etc. The rose petals signify the good and the beautiful parts of a marriage and life whereas the hortiga represents the bad that should be cleansed. This ceremony was filled with laughter, cheers, and overall a contagious fanfare. The day overall was set in a beautiful, fun, relaxing, and loving atmosphere that is hard to describe. Perfect weather, delicious food, great company, lovely music, and an exciting new experience made for an ideal Sunday.
Back on a bus again, Natalie, Mali (the friend who had invited us to the wedding), and I made the trip back to Quito. Then, bright and early on Monday morning, I found myself back at the hospital again for the plasma injection. I got my blood drawn, stuffed my face with an amazing breakfast (since I had to fast before the blood draw) while my blood was shaken up to extract a high concentration of healing plasma, and then it was injected into my ankle an hour later. After ten minutes of icing it and instructions to be careful walking for the next three weeks, my ankle was wrapped with an ace bandage and I was on my way. Overall a mostly painless and simple procedure—especially compared with the alternative of surgery. I proceeded to spend the rest of the day doing nothing but laying in Natalie’s bed while she was at work. My only breaks were to eat ice cream, go to the bathroom, or once to lay on the couch and attempt to watch a telenovela.
When Natalie finally came home to me that evening, she brought Mali as well, who graciously brought me a cheesecake to make me feel better. I am forever humbled by the kindness I receive here. We then ordered some big ol’ burgers for dinner before crashing in bed once again. The next day, I made the 6-hour bus ride back to La Maná, getting back 11 days after I left and just in time for my evening conversation hour. Oof.
As I write this a week later, I am still mostly limping around and trying to be extra careful not to mess anything up in my recovery. I am hoping that I get a positive report when I check in with the doctor again in two weeks and that I will be on my way to physical therapy and not the operating table. It has definitely been difficult being so physically hindered during the large majority of my time here. I find it hard to sit or stand or even lie down comfortably and I am constantly in a mild state of pain. As I was slowly walking up the stairs to my apartment yesterday, I thought to myself how I have only ever walked up those stairs with two good ankles once—and that was when I looked at it for the first time. I constantly feel like a burden to others and I am always fearful of making even one wrong move and messing something up again in my ankle’s weakened state. And for someone as active as me, it has been really difficult to not be able to explore and have more agency over my movement. I cringe and mentally slap my forehead every time I think about how one small, stupid and careless misstep led to this.
But alas, I am trying to stay positive, and I know that I am in great hands. I have wonderful people watching out for me here, I have received great medical care in Quito, and I am hopeful that this treatment will work. I still have a slow road to recovery, but I am comforted by the fact that I still have the majority of my time in Ecuador ahead of me. So I am an idiot and stepped off a sidewalk wrong—in the big scheme of things, it could be much worse. I may have ruined my perfect, injury-free lifetime track record, but so it goes. I have been able to do a ton of reading and writing which I have loved. I also felt well enough to finally buy cleaning and other supplies for my apartment, and today I mopped my floors, scrubbed my bathroom, and did all my laundry (which involves hand washing it in a sink and hanging it out to dry, so it is quite the task). Teaching last week went really well, and I have found a new ice cream place in town. So things are looking up. And despite my injury, I still have been able to do and see an amazing amount in such a short amount of time.This might not be how I envisioned my year in Ecuador, but I can’t be hindered by numbers. I may have been crippled for 5 weeks now, but I still have many, many weeks ahead of me to enjoy. :)
Sobador- update: something the medical world and Fulbright is apparently not that impressed with…
When we left off from the riveting Part One of my ankle saga, I had just completed my public and painful breakdown and had fallen into a deep sleep in my new apartment. If you gathered anything from today’s vocab lesson, I am sure you can see that the ankle saga is far from over! Picking up where we left off…
I woke up the next day (a Tuesday) with the promise and hope of a better day. Rather than go to the university with Liana that day, I stayed in my apartment and mostly lounged around and slept with the occasional hobble to the bathroom or to refill my water. My new Ecuadorian family called me every few hours to make sure I was still alive and doing okay. (The thought of being alone or solita as they called me is a strange concept here.) In short, it was a great and much-needed rest day.
The next day, Wednesday, I spent my first day at the university meeting professors and other staff members until the inauguration—or official opening of the university—that evening. I couldn’t understand much of that besides a lot of yelling (I told you Ecuas speak loudly, right?) in celebration of a historic and special new year. A lot of that has to do with the University recently being accredited by the government. I will devote an entire post on the higher ed system and reorganization here at some point. The evening ended with a toast and music, so it was overall a lively and nice affair.
On Thursday, the real fun began. There were no classes held on that Thursday or Friday, so Gaby kindly invited us to join her on her vacation to the beach. Liana called me in the morning to let me know they would be on their way to pick me up “soon,” which I knew would be about an hour yet. Sure enough, by the time Gaby, Liana, and Gaby’s mother, Rosita, finally arrived, it was a few minutes past 9 and we had just missed the bus. Not to be deterred, Rosita drove us at breakneck speed to the next town, but the bus had already left there too. So she floored it again and off we went to Quevedo, a town which is about 30 minutes away if you drive at a regular speed. There, we saw the bus ahead so Rosita began honking while Gaby waved her hands out the window to flag the bus down. It pulled over, we said a quick goodbye to Rosita, and away we went on our first Ecuadorian bus adventure. The bus chase sure brought me back to the days of chasing down the Cora school bus when we missed it. Thanks Mom, Dad, and Aunt Char for those crazy mornings!
I would say the 4 hour bus ride to Guayaquil was uneventful, but it was everything but. At every stop, vendors would board the bus and travel up and down the aisles selling various breads, fruits, drinks, and all else before hopping off again later. Another person boarded and did a loud rap/recitation with a microphone and speaker. All the while, the bus was playing music (highlights included listening to the Spanish version of “House of the Rising Sun” at least 8 times) and people chatted away.
I should mention my ankle at this point too. It was wrapped in gauze and still fairly fat, although definitely a fraction of the size it was before the sobador popped it back into place. Regardless, it was difficult to find a comfortable sitting position on the bus, since I was always tilted slightly to the right as to not put any pressure on my injured left. When we finally arrived at the Guayaquil bus terminal, I carefully hobbled as quickly as I could to our next bus (which we made with just minutes to spare) and away we went for another 2 hours or so to Posorja.
Posorja is the southern-most coastal part of Ecuador. The country does extend farther south, but this is the last point where you can access the Pacific Ocean. Gaby has a plethora of aunts, uncles, and cousins there (and everywhere, I am learning) who kindly took us in for a few days as we went to the beach, dolphin watching, and more. I will let the photos do most of the talking here. Note the orange bandana being used as an ankle wrap on our first day at the beach. That bandana lives on my travel backpack, and it has come in handy more times than I can count now.
We spent Friday, Saturday, and half of Sunday in Posorja. Although I am a mountain girl at heart, my four years in Maine near the Atlantic Ocean instilled a deep love of the ocean in me too. For the first time in Ecuador, it was at the beach that I was finally able to find peace, quiet, and center—something I had been craving amidst all the stimulating new experiences, painful physical struggles, and the adjustment to this new and strange life. There were only a few people on the beach both days that we went, but standing on the edge with my eyes closed and the warm waves of the equatorial Pacific gently crashing on my feet, I felt I was alone in the world and entirely content.
That Sunday afternoon, we boarded a bus once again back to Guayaquil, assisted by our host aunt (Tia Sonia) and her daughter, Ginny, who is at college in Guayaquil. A short taxi ride from the bus terminal took us to the airport where we met up with a fellow Fulbrighter, Colin, and away we flew to Quito! All the Fulbrighters in Ecuador met in Quito for an orientation program. (For those of you who don’t know, Fulbright includes Study/Research grants and other fellowships in addition to the English Teaching Assistant program that I am doing.) Already feeling refreshed from the beach, my energy only increased as I met new people and joyfully reconnected with my fellow ETAs.
Monday was spent listening to a series of very interesting talks and presentations about all things Ecuador, including the health care system, biodiversity, and more. By this time, my ankle was still a little puffy around the edges and stiff, but I had it out of a wrap and was still holding out hope that it would recover in a few more days. Our lovely program director, Karen, however, was not as impressed or hopeful as me. She pulled me aside at lunch and told me that she could visibly see my different ankle sizes as she sat behind me during the lecture series, and she recommended I go to the hospital while I had access to Fulbright and said hospital in Quito. She had a good point, so one of the office secretaries, Rita, kindly escorted me to the emergency room.
My experience at the Emergency Room was overall quiet, calm, and pleasant. Several doctors came into see me (after we would stick our heads out the door and remind them I was there), I got my first x-ray and ride in a wheelchair, and finally a diagnosis of a slight sprain and stretched ligaments. Most of the time, though, was spent staring at the white wall and chatting with Rita. They don’t move too fast here in Ecaudor, so we were there for about 4 hours overall. The doctor kindly wrapped my foot, gave me a giant boot to wear, crutches, and instructions not to walk for a week. I was initially bummed at the prospect of being so immobilized—especially since we had a hike planned for the next day of orientation—but I was grateful that I had gone to see someone and that I would hopefully be on the mend soon. One week of crutches and an additionall one to two weeks of the boot after that really isn’t so bad in the big scheme of things.
The next day, the Fulbright crew and I boarded a bus at the Fulbright Commission and away we went to Papallacta, which is about two hours east of the city. While the rest of the group went on a short hike, I found a nice chair to camp out on and another to prop my leg on while I read a great book. We then spent a few hours soaking in the thermal pools that make Papallacta famous before having a fantastic late lunch and traveling back to Quito. Overall a lovely and relaxing way to spend the day.
Once again, I found myself on a bus the next day. This time, Liana and I were headed back to La Maná. We found a 6-hour bus that took us directly there (no stops) since I didn’t feel able to be able to quickly navigate a crowded bus terminal with my backpack and on crutches. (Needless to say it took me a few days to get the hang of those pesky things.) Another bus ride filled with movies, music, vendors, and sights before we finally pulled into La Maná as the sun was setting.
Even though La Maná and I got off on the wrong foot initially, this time I came into the city feeling totally refreshed and excited to be back. Beach therapy and mountain/Fulbright therapy for a week did wonders for my health, mood, and morale. And I guess a little physical therapy too. I owe a big thanks to all my fellow Fulbrighters who were beyond helpful in carrying my bags, escorting me up stairs, and bringing me food as I struggled to hop around Quito. I found the kindness of strangers also incredibly humbling as I traveled too. I believe that people are inherently good, and this experience has only reminded me of that.
My first few days back in La Maná were fairly low key, as I took care of what I could around my apartment and waited for someone to bring me food. (There are 54 steps and 4 flights of stairs to get to my apartment, so descending and ascending them more than necessary wasn’t appealing to me.) The following Monday marked my first day at the university, observing/teaching bits of classes. Tuesday marked the end of my crutches, and I am now becoming quite pro at the uneven walk with my bulky left boot and normal right shoe. I have also finally learned how to answer the constant barrage of “what happened?” and “is it getting better?” questions. If people looked at me strange before for being a gringa (white/foreinger), you should have seen their faces when they saw me on crutches too. And on the bright side, my left ankle/lower leg is completely void of bug bites which have ravaged my right one. Benefits of the boot I guess. I also hilariously have right shoes strewn all over my apartment—they seem to land wherever I do after the exhausting climb up the stairs. Recovery is slow, but I know my ankle is on the mend.
I am off to Latacunga this afternoon to spend the holiday weekend with Sebastian’s parents (the kind people who hosted us on our way to La Maná a few weeks ago). This weekend marks Dia de los Difuntos (All Soul’s Day) as well as the Independence of the city of Cuenca. I will then head from Latacunga to Quito for a follow-up doctor appointment. By the next time I check in, I will hopefully not have much more to report on this darn ankle. Happy Halloween to you all in the States!
Hello! I am sorry that I haven’t been able to post in a while. I do not have Internet in my apartment and haven’t taken my computer to a place with internet to post since arriving in La Maná. Until today that is! I have been here in La Maná for over two weeks now, so I have plenty to catch up on. Most importantly, I need to share some new vocabulary I have learned in the past few weeks, such as:
Tobillo- ankle (this one I knew at one point but had forgotten)
Sobador- still not sure what this one means actually, but something along the lines of a makeshift doctor/masseuse/ random dude…. I’ll explain
They say the best way to learn something is to do it first hand, and that is exactly what I did to pick up this vocab. On the morning of my second full day here in La Maná, my tutor, Sebastian, and I were waiting for a taxi on the sidewalk of the main street. We were heading to the house of his girlfriend, Gaby. She and my fellow English Teacher, Liana, had already left on Gaby’s motorcycle (more like a mo-ped). The taxi arrived, and I made the mistake of not looking where I was stepping. The drop was about 18 inches (larger than I expected) and I just BOOM. Completely landed on the side of my ankle rather than my foot. Pain immediately shot through my entire foot, ankle, and leg. Sebastian asked if I was okay, and fighting back tears I said I was fine and just needed to walk it off, so we got in the taxi.
We proceeded to spend a lovely Sunday at Gaby’s house, which is about a ten-minute drive outside of the city. My ankle was still bothering me, but I put on tennis shoes for more support than my flimsy sandals and walked around with everyone, first to the river and then through a cacao farm. Gaby demonstrated her farm skills there by picking a ripe cacao fruit, smashing it open on a log, and demonstrating how to eat it. I had no idea that cacao fruit even existed more or less tasted like heaven. The outside fruit is fleshy and white and has a rich, sweet taste to it. We would suck the fruit off the cacao bean and then save that inner bean to dry and later grind into chocolate.
After walking around in the sun all day and with a throbbing ankle, Liana and I finally returned to our hotel (aka our temporary home), where my ankle suddenly hurt beyond belief. I guess my tactic of “walking it off” wasn’t working, so I asked the front desk for some ice and hobbled upstairs. When I finally took my shoe off and looked at my ankle, I saw that it was at least two sizes larger than it should be. Uh-oh. Ever the optimist and not wanting to break my gritty, cowgirl persona, I went to bed with some Advil and ice and assurance that it would be better in the morning.
Well…by morning it wasn’t better. In fact, it was the exact same size as the night before and hurt so bad I couldn’t even effectively limp around on it, so I had to resort to hopping on one leg to and from my bed to the bathroom. Gaby and her mother, Rosita, were set to arrive later that morning to help Liana and I move into our permanent homes (Liana to Gaby’s house and me to an apartment), and I was quite frankly terrified to see the reaction of these two women when they saw my ankle. You see, Ecuadorians are incredibly caring people and we had already been adopted into this family, so I knew they would be worried. Sure enough, the door opened and the first thing they saw was my ankle propped up on a pillow and covered in ice. I was promptly met with: “*GASP* Qué pasó mi hija?!” (What happened, daughter?!)
I found myself unable to explain in Spanish what had happened, but the lack of communication did not deter them from immediately ordering me to not carry anything down the stairs and that they knew someone who could help me. Liana suggested we go to a doctor, as we had already met several in town, but Gaby and Rosita both shook their heads in disgust and disagreement at such a proposal, insisting that a doctor was a waste of time and money. So, in severe pain and confusion, I followed these tiny, bustling women down the stairs and to a fruit market. Why did we go to the fruit market? I have no idea, but that seems to be a trend here. I just get in the car when they tell me too and we show up somewhere, somehow. More on that later.
As Rosita, Gaby, and Liana scurried around buying various fruits, I was ordered to wait by one stand and not move until they were finished. Fine by me, as I realized how much pain I was in and was spending most of my energy trying not to cry. At last, we left the market and piled into the car again, this time to go to the sobador. Even though they kept saying it, I still had no idea what a sobador was, but I could understand enough to know that it was someone who was going to help me with my ankle somehow. We drove down a random dirt road off the main street of the city, took a left turn, and pulled up in front of a non-descript, shoddily constructed cement house with a tin roof and a man sitting on the front step shelling beans. Gaby yelled something I couldn’t distinguish at him out the window (they do a lot of yelling here too, I’ve learned), and he responded by nodding his head. Before I knew it, we were all ordered out of the car and I limped my way into his house.
There, the man (whose name I learned is Don Luzano) ordered me to sit in a red plastic lawn chair and place my foot on his lap so he could examine it. So somehow I find myself now sitting in a red plastic chair, some random guy is rubbing baby oil on my giant ankle and gently massaging it as he examines the damage, and I am surrounded not only by Liana, Rosita, and Gaby, but also Don Luzano’s wife, children, a dog, and at least three puppies. And I really didn’t have much of an idea what was going on. I could deduct, though, that Don Luzano was going to do something to “fix” my ankle.
In addition to being in a lot of pain, I was now also terrified. It’s not that I didn’t trust this man, because clearly Gaby and Rosita knew him, but it’s that I was scared that I had seriously injured myself and that he would somehow make it worse. So I grab my nose in an attempt to plug the tears that are inevitably about to fall while Rosita comes behind me and holds my shoulders (I found out later because she was afraid I would lash out in pain…great) and Don Luzano rubs my ankle with a little more force until he finds the problem. He asks me something along the lines of “ready?”, but before I can answer he squeezes my outer ankle bone and all I hear and feel is CRAAACK, as my bone is shoved back into place.
For lack of a better description, HOLY FREAKING CRAP AHHHHHHHHALKDJFAIOWEURALDSK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The actual popping of my ankle back into place didn’t actually hurt that much, and as soon as he did it, I knew that was where it was supposed to be. (I didn’t know before that that it was out of place, though.) But holy cannoli everything up to that point was so painful and scary and confusing that I didn’t even know how to react.
As I continued to sit there in minor shock, Don Luzano wrapped my foot up, we paid him five bucks, and away we went– first to a pharmacy for a painkiller (they sell drugs by the pill here rather than the bottle), and then finally to Gaby and Rosita’s house. I was beyond exhausted and in pain at this point, but I was kindly yet firmly directed to sit in the hammock and not move. I was scolded every time I moved to go to the bathroom or get more water. Liana kindly brought me a book, and blind and deaf abuelo (grandpa) came and sat by me for a bit (unbeknownst to him; he thought I was the wall), so it wasn’t the worst way to pass the day. At one point, I was allowed to leave in order to see the adorable 4-week old puppies and they fed me every so often, so that was good.
So I was all better then, right? Nope. Most of you know that I suffer from chronic migraines, and they are made even worse by hot weather. Despite the fact that I was sitting in the shade, the air was still and hot and I had a multi-day migraine that I couldn’t kick. It got worse and worse as the day went on and I sat in pain, confusion, and building frustration at not being able to leave to go back to my apartment. I felt it would be rude to say I wanted to leave when they were so kindly caring for me, and I had no way of getting there without someone calling me a taxi or driving me themselves. So I felt stuck.
The day dragged on and eventually turned into evening, where I was transferred inside for some dinner (complete with lots of cheese—a migraine-inducing disaster) and then sent to the couch. There, someone put on the TV for me to watch a poorly-dubbed movie at a high volume. I should note that at this point there were nine people in this small house, including myself. Some were blasting music and singing, some were cooking, and all were talking—often in loud and fast voices at me. Between the pain and exhaustion, I could hardly understand Spanish anymore more or less English. But alas, Gaby and Rosita continued to nurse my foot by soaking it in hot scalding salt water before rubbing it in oil and wrapping it in achote (a giant leaf of some kind) and then gauze wrap.
Around this point, I told my tutor that I need to go home soon to sleep because I wasn’t feeling well. He answered with “sí, vamos ya mismo.” “Ya mismo” is a very important piece of Ecuadorian vocabulary that has now been integrated into my entire life here. It doesn’t have a direct translation, as it doesn’t actually mean anything specific. It basically means “soon,” but soon could be in a few minutes. Or a few hours. Or maybe never. You never know. So when Sebastian told me that we will go ya mismo, I knew it would still be a while before I could finally be alone in my apartment and care for my ankle and migraine as only I know how to do.
This realization was paired with the overstimulation of noise and lights around me and the sudden onset of stomach queasiness as it didn’t know what to do with the strange food and large quantity of pain killers I had taken over the few days. It was getting to be too much, so I held my hands to my eyes and tried to push the pressure points around my eyes to help relieve the throbbing in my skull—a trick I learned from my high school ski coach. As I sat in that position, tears of pain and frustration began to leak out of the corner of my eyes. I almost got away with it, but Rosita noticed and ran over to comfort me. Rather than helping, that just opened the floodgates and I suddenly found myself sitting in the chair and sobbing uncontrollably while Rosita, Gaby, and Estefi (another sister) rubbed my shoulders and back and tried to comfort me. Rosita kept repeating how I was crying because I missed my mom and was far away from my family. I am sorry, mom, but that was not the problem. I wanted nothing but to be alone but instead was stuck with this incredibly loving, but in that moment, incredibly overbearing family. My frustration was only furthered by the fact that I couldn’t explain to anyone what was happening or why, and I was ashamed at myself for having such a public breakdown on day three in La Maná. My hopes of maintaining my tough persona were totally shot.
Liana eventually made her way through the small crowd of my many Latina mothers and asked me what I needed. In my most profane English that I was glad no one could understand at that moment, I told her that I needed to leave and that I needed to leave now. She helped me limp outside so I could continue to sob in the dark while the troops assembled into the car and finally drove me home to my apartment—while awkwardly suggesting that maybe I should take the day to myself the next day and recuperar (recover). I could think of no better way to spend my day than alone in my own pain and misery (not sarcastic—that’s actually all I wanted), so I bid them farewell and promptly fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow of the apartment I had moved into just earlier that day—an event that felt like weeks ago by then.
Needless to say, La Maná and I both literally and figuratively got off on the wrong foot. My physical limitations—both with the ankle and ensuing migraine—made it incredibly difficult those first few days to adjust and maintain a positive attitude about my new life here. But have no fear, Andi the eternal optimist has returned after a week away and a relaxing few days back in La Maná before work officially starts at the university tomorrow. And how is my ankle, might you ask? Don’t worry, that story isn’t over yet. Stay tuned for Part Two to hear the rest of the saga and learn even more vocabulary!