Ecuador is absolutely amazing. Since the minute my plane landed, it has been an adventure. Lumbisi, the town I volunteer in, is quite unusual. It´s a very small, very poor community in the foothills of the Andes. Although the town itself is rundown and clearly impoverished, waking up to the sight of towering mountains and on clear days, even volcanoes, is absolutely amazing. It´s so beautiful here. And everyone seems to know everyone. My host mother has 7 siblings, and my host father has 9- all of whom live within walking distance of our house. But just get on a bus and in 30 minutes you´ll be in the capitol of Ecuador. So far, living here has been a wild experience.
Everyday, I wake up at around 7 and eat breakfast (which is oftentimes something like chicken and vegetables), then I go help out at the daycare, which is about a 5 minute walk from my house. I´ve befriended one boy in particular, I think he´s about 4 years old. He has scars on his face, and one day he came in with a big cut on his chin. When I asked him what happened he told me that his mom had pushed him. It´s horrible because you can´t even do anything about that sort of thing. It breaks my heart because he´s such a sweet kid. He´s even started calling me “mom.”
At 11:30, a few volunteers and I go and pick up a 94 year old Ecuadorian woman who can´t hear or walk, and push her wheelchair over to the center for elders. Then, about 70 town elders come to the center to eat lunch, and I work as sort of a waitress for them. After that, I go and deliver leftovers to those in the town who can´t physically walk to the community center. This is fun because I get to explore Lumbisi a little and savor the view of the Andes. Plus, I´ve met some interesting characters. Then, I go back to my house and quickly eat lunch with my host mom, and from there I head over to the local school until around 5:30. The University of Illinois students have set up a camp that teaches English to kids, so I help out there. All of the kids- both from Illinois and Lumbisi- are really nice.
This past weekend, the students from Illinois and I went and explored Ecuador a little. On Friday night, we went into Quito and danced at the discotecs, which was really fun. Then, on Saturday, we went back into Quito and spent the day there. Most notably, Quito has beautiful churches. We went to one called La Basilica where you can climb to the roof and see all of Quito.Then, Saturday night, my host family and I went to a graduation party for their cousin. This was one of the most unusual experiences I´ve had so far.
The party was held in what looked like a large garage (although here, it very well could have been their living room, one never knows) and practically the whole community was there. They had a bunch of chairs set up in a circle around a huge dance floor. With music blasting so loud no one could hear themselves think, everyone danced salsa, ate dinner, and took shots of tequila. This was definitely a bonding experience for my family and I (probably because for the first time we could be with one another without having to talk). Also, there´s some weird tradition here that a baby cow has to be at every major social event- I don´t quite understand why. So while all of this is going on, there was a calf walking around the room. No one seemed to even think twice about it.
On Sunday, the Illinois students and I went with the president of the volunteer program to this indigenous village about 2 hours away. It was a really beautiful drive. There, we had an amazing lunch. Because the village is completely self-dependent, everything- from their clothes to their vegetables to their meat- is grown and made there. It was perhaps the freshest meal I´ve ever had. We also did some hiking and learned about the Indigenous peoples’ everyday lives. It was a very interesting experience, that is, until it started raining.
Despite the weather, it was an amazing weekend. I´m very lucky that this group of students is here. Every weekend, they have planned a different excursion that I´ve been invited to go along on. Next weekend we go to the Ortevallo market, which according to my guidebook is known for their amazing artisan crafts. The weekend after that we are spending a couple days exploring the coastal towns of Ecuador. And then the weekend after that, my host family is going for two days to the Amazon rain forest! And then I´m off to the Galapagos! So, needless to say, I have quite an exciting month ahead of me. It’s only been a week and this has already been a life changing experience.