Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Just a couple pictures from the last week or so!

Our little mini-vacation to Sol y Agua - a hostal about an hour away. Pool in the mountains!

Some of my friends at our goodbye dinner

Celebrating my sister and her husband's birthdays

Host mom, grandma, sister, her boyfriend and my other sister & husband

Sandy, Paul and me

I had to watch the kids during the parent teacher meetings at the school in Turi, so of course we played soccer - boys vs. girls!

girls team!

we played in the trees...

we played hide and seek. aren't they adorable?!

La despedida agridulce

Well... I am wrapping up my adventure in Cuenca and I can’t believe it! Last week the other students at my university finished up their program, and it was a very sad goodbye seeing as I’ve become so close with them. I’ve been pretty busy with schoolwork, teaching family stuff, shopping, etc so I haven’t had a lot of time to reflect yet, but these last few days feel pretty surreal. I can’t believe all I’ve done, how much I’ve learned, and how many new things I’ve experienced in these short few months. I visited the jungle, made tons of new friends, swam in a waterfall, learned how to really speak Spanish, ate guniea pig three times, taught real classes for the first time, read a whole novel in Spanish, lived with complete strangers who turned into family, visited indigenous villages, took part in traditional rituals, climbed mountains, gained more independence, solved some problems, went surfing, cooked Ecuadorian food, planned a trip to Peru by myself, learned how to salsa (sort of), celebrated Holy Week, came to call Cuenca a second home, and so much more.

It is very bittersweet thinking about leaving – I’m leaving Cuenca this Sunday and my flight home is on Monday. There are so many things I love about the city - $2 taxi rides, sitting in the central park, mountains all around us, my 2 person classes and awesome professors who are more like second moms than teachers, Calle Larga, walking along the river to school every day, the little artesian stores and markets, being the confused gringa and finally being okay with it, the random parades that seem to happen every other week, the reggaeton music, the women in their traditional indigenous dress, my friends here, the panaderías, the discotecas, the adorable little niños at the school where I teach, how it’s okay to cram 8 people into a 5-person car and “dar vueltas” aka drive around the city all night, the cuencano accent, CEDEI, the hippies in the street corners selling their random jewelry and telling you their travel stories, greeting and kissing everyone on the cheek when you see them, the beautiful cathedral in the center, taking “field trips” to the market, and so much more.

Sorry, I’m probably getting a little TOO sentimental here, and you probably don't want to read my lists of memories! I am sad to leave because there are so many things that I miss, but I know my time is ending here and that’s how life moves! The goodbye is also sweet because I’m excited to see my friends and family, sleep in my own bed, pick out my own foods again, and all that stuff. So I guess I’ll be seeing a lot of you soon!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

La Semana Santa

Well... this week is Holy Week! That means a small break from classes and a lot more. What people have told me is that Cuenca used to be SUPER traditional holy week... some families would observe a week of silence, the radio would only play sad music etc. Nowadays it’s less intense, but there are still many traditions. On Holy Thursday, lots of people go to visit la siete iglesias (seven churches) at night to pray. My professor told me that she loves going and that the atmosphere is very “mystical.” It is supposed to represent when Christ was imprisoned and it’s like you’re going to visit Him in the church. (Fun fact: there are way more than 7 churches in Cuenca.. I think there are 50 something cathedrals.)

On Friday, families make fanesca, a soup that has 12 different grains/ingredients to represent the 12 disciples. Generally families make a HUGE batch and have everyone over to eat it. I got a little preview of fanesca on Wednesday because one of the teachers at the escuela in Turi made it for us! Que rica. There is a service of adoration in the afternoon and everything in the city is closed at night. Also, during the whole week all of the images of Jesus/crosses in the Catholic churches are covered by a purple cloth to represent the time that he was dead.

During the weekend there are parades of people carrying crosses, walking barefoot etc in Guayaquil & Quito, but not so much in Cuenca. On Sunday, the purple clothes are taken down and everyone goes to mass to celebrate the Resurrection, much like in the states (only no Easter bunnies or baskets. I told my host family about this tradition and they think it’s super weird!)

Other than that... I have just been working hard at the school, doing lots of homework, and having fun with my friends! This week I celebrated a couple birthdays, went to a play in Spanish, went to my first bailoterpia class (latin dance aerobics), went to my small group, went to an open mic night last night, got rained on a lot (April is the rainiest/coldest month here), and I think that’s about all I have to say! I hope this entry finds all of you well. Happy early Earth Day, Easter, and happy early birthday, Rachel!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My last month in Cuenca...

Sorry I have been neglecting this blog lately! Like I said before, this half of the semester is a lot busier with classes and my internship. On Thursday, we celebrated Día del Maestro (Teacher Appreciation Day) at the school in Turi. The kids put on a program, gave us flowers, and the teachers all went out for lunch together to eat cuy! (That’s guniea pig if you forgot.) I have to say... it was actually the best cuy I’ve had so far. The outside was nice and crispy and the meat was very tasty. The teachers were all so excited I was digging into my cuy and it was fun hanging out with them outside of school.

I have my final exam for my pre-colonial/colonial literature class today, then I start my modern literature class (I think?). I really like my professor and the class is really interesting. I have basically decided to live it up and really enjoy Cuenca my last month. I have tried a lot of new restaurants, gone to some couple of concerts, gone out a lot with my friends, met new friends too, and celebrated Días de Cuenca this week. (A holiday celebrating the founding of Cuenca.) The other foreign exchange students at my school are leaving in 2 weeks, so they’re all starting to wrap up their time here which is kind of starting to make me mentally prepare myself to finish up my time in Cuenca (even though I still have a little less than a month left.)

In news from home, I decided at the last minute to apply for camp again and found out last week that I was hired! Praise God, I’m excited to see what the summer has in store. I also found out I will be living in an on-campus house at North Park next year with 5 other girls, which I absolutely can not wait for.

In my “service learning” class, we usually just talk about issues in society for the whole 2 hours and I have learned so much that I never knew about Ecuador. I won’t go into all the politics and social stuff because I don’t know if anyone reading this is really interested, but we can certainly talk about it when I get home if you are! I just feel so blessed and exhilirated to have this opportunity to live in and learn about another culture. I know that I only have a surface-level understanding of Cuenca and Ecuador and South America in general, but I have to say this trip will NOT be the end of my travels... it has only increased my desire to travel more!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

So after three days of being a teacher at the school in Turi, I'm not really settled in yet but I am already learning a lot. I am starting to see the less romantic side of working cross-culturally/the non-profit & volunteer world (the one I hope to work in once I graduate.) It's rewarding and I love it, but it's not as easy as I thought it would be. It's not just playing with niños all morning and teaching them how to say "dog" and "cat" in English.

It's figuring out the bus system all by myself. It's learning that I need to be prepared to teach any level, any day, because the school doesn't appear to have a set class schedule. It's adjusting to dealing with a culture that does not function on the same time table as my own. It's having to deal with children who won't stop asking for the bathroom key, won't stop pulling each others' hair, won't stop cheating at the games, won't bring their notebooks to class, and having to discipline them in Spanish. It's putting in lots of extra time designing my own curriculum without access to a good printer or any school supplies for that matter. It's learning to be flexible and helpful in other ways when I show up to class and the teacher has forgotten to tell me the students have a science exam at the same time they asked me to teach.

On the other hand, it's adorable niñas who yell out the window "I want english with you today, teacher!!" It's getting to know the kids, getting to ask them about their lives, watching them start to slowly open up. It's an invigorating challenge. It's feeling really special when one of the students spends her last 15 cents to buy me a galleta. It's putting in all my effort and hoping that by the beginning of May, the kids are a little more excited about learning English. It's their extreme excitement when they win the game that involves practicing the alphabet. It's not what I expected but it's so worth it! And I can't wait to see what my last six weeks have in store...

Friday, March 25, 2011

I started my new classes and my new internship this week - finally! I have a pretty odd schedule this half. Sometimes I have class 8-10am or 5-7pm or 4-6pm, but it's all good. I am taking two classes - Pre-colonial & Colonial Latin American Lit and a Service Learning class to accompany my internship at the school in Turi. My literature class has been interesting so far and we do fun things like go on little field trips and watch videos occasionally. 

This week was my first week teaching classes at the school in Turi - an area on the outskirts of Cuenca. It's basically right up the mountain from my house. As I've said a few times before, Latin America generally operates a little differently than the U.S. Some might call it inefficient, some might call it slower-paced, I just call it Latin American style. My first day, a teacher put me in a classroom of 30 7th graders, told me to teach them English for 2 hours, and left. By the way, they don't have books and I didn't have a lesson plan. However, I was able to wing it by practicing basic vocab and teaching them songs in English. The second graders were much more challenging because they were very poorly behaved. I ended up taking them outside and just playing for half the class. 

The second day, I found out that another English teacher/volunteer from the U.S. had been assigned to the same class as me, and the woman who is supposed to be coordinating all of this hasn't been to school at all this week. Latin American style. However, it looks like between us we have 6 classes to teach, so we can just split it up and make it work. It's going to be tiring work for me because I have to make up all my own lesson plans, find my own materials, and I'm there for 4 hours each day Tues/Wed/Thurs, but I am excited!

In other news, I went to my first Capoeira class last night. Capoeira is Brazilian fight dancing... we did some fighting/dancing with sticks in rhythm to the music, then a bunch of floor movement, which I don't really know how to describe so if you want, you can watch this video I found on youtube. (Obviously our class was NOT this advanced haha)

And while I'm putting up youtube videos... here's one of a song called Danza Kuduro - it's SUPER popular here and I hear it playing all the time, and I love it =]

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring break!

So we went to Peru for spring break and had a lot of fun adventures. I also learned a heck of a lot about planning trips because it was the first time we were 100% on our own.

We started the week in Guayaquil - the biggest city in Ecuador. It's on the coast so it's much hotter than and it's just so much different than Cuenca! It was so weird seeing McDonald's and people wearing shorts. They have a very cool malecón (boardwalk) over the water and we spent quite a bit of time hanging out there. To be honest I was totally exhausted and feeling a little under the weather so I wasn't really listening to our city tour (we've had a lot of tours this semester...) but it was still fun going there.

El malecón

Iguana park! (they get fed in the park so they apparently never leave)

Pirate ship on the malecón

When we left Ecuador, the real adventure began! We flew to Lima and spent the day in Miraflores - a cute barrio of Lima. Then my group split into two: three of us girls were going to Machu Picchu and the other three were going to remain in Lima for the week. This is where the ridiculous amount of travel difficulties began. We planned to take a bus from Lima to Cuzco, but when we went to the station we found out it was cancelled for fear of tsunami waves. Long story short, it took several hours and visits to different travel agencies to change all of our tickets for the week. (No, you can't just do it online, you have to do it in person...) We were so thankful we spoke good enough Spanish to figure this all out without misunderstandings. When we finally found a hostal for the night I basically passed out from being so tired. Every single Peruvian we met along the way was SO kind a helpful to us though!

We headed to Cuzco on our luxurious bus and traveled for 21 hours. Yep. 21 hours on a bus. When we arrived in Cuzco on Sunday, we found out they were still celebrating Carnaval there! That was a surprise to us and we still don't really understand why. We attempted to explore the city, but ended up getting completely covered in espuma (foam) and water.

I found Cuzco to be a very charming city! We mostly stuck to the area around our hostal and the main plaza. It was more rustic and I could feel the elevation when we went up the stairs. There was a lot of really beautiful colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, cool restaurants, and an awesome market in which I bought an alpaca sweater. At night, even on the week nights, there were tons of people out and about and there were hundreds of people in the main plaza practicing traditional dance! So fun to watch. We also met a lot of interesting travelers from around the world in our hostal. 

Monday was the big day... Machu Picchu!! We woke up around 5:30 am to catch a taxi to the station where we boarded a bus that drove us through the mountains for a couple hours. I think I exhausted my playlist of Spanish music on my ipod. Then we waited awhile at the train station and boarded a train for two hours. The train station was kind of magical. It was cool being so high up in the mountains, and the Andes continue to amaze me.

If we thought we were done traveling, nope, we had to take another bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu. It's so hidden... you literally can't even see it until you're there. No wonder the Spanish never found it! We decided to hire a guide for 2 hours which was a very good choice. It was so incredible!!! 

They used rocks to chip/shape these boulders... must have taken awhile... 

The terraces the Incas used for agriculture - engineered to withstand heavy rains and not fall down the mountain.

Temple of Three Windows - it's aligned with the stars so that light shines into the windows on celebratory days

The Sacred Rock - I felt it appropriate to take a picture with it given my last name

It was really incredible seeing MP, but I'm not going to ramble on and on about it so as not to bore you =] Unfortunately, our bus BACK to Cuzco was also cancelled because some rocks fell onto the highway. Luckily, we were experts at rearranging and were able to secure a cheap flight for the next day and rearrange all of our hostals as well. We spent a day/night in Lima with our friends just hanging out and went to a fancy restaurant for dinner on the pier. Then the rest of my group headed back to Chicago (their program is only a "quad" or 1/2 semester) and I finally headed back home to Cuenca!