Friday, May 14, 2010

Final Beach Trip and Breaking Hearts

Well, my last essay is turned in, my last final taken. My bags are nearly packed, and I just have a few small things left to buy. It’s hard to believe it’s nearly over. This has been such an up and down semester: moments of extreme homesickness followed by moments in which I feel like I never want to leave Ecuador. I guess it’s a good thing time decided for me!

My last final was on Monday, and on Monday night, I hopped on a night bus at 11 pm and headed for a beach in a town called Canoa, about 7 hours away. The night bus wasn’t too bad. We paid a little extra for direct tickets, so our bus didn’t stop along the way except to let of passengers. It’s a lot safer that way; a friend of mine was on a not-direct bus, and she ended up being robbed at knifepoint! An extra two dollars is definitely worth it! The bus was nearly empty, and by the time we arrived, the only people on the bus were in our group or in another group of gringos from USFQ! (I don’t think I’ve said this yet, so just so you know, the word ‘gringo’ here is not an insult. It’s a term of endearment for anyone not from South America, basically. I know one girl who calls me her little gringita friend. So I’m not being discriminatory when I say that everyone on the bus was a gringo!)

The only problem with the bus was that it was freezing! I was wearing my cool new USFQ sweatshirt and jeans and my hood and my gloves and I was still cold! It was such a shock to get off the bus and step into the humidity of a coastal morning. The heat hit us like a brick wall, even though it was only 5:30 am. But we could see the sunrise and hear the waves and the heat wasn’t that important.

We found a hostel for $5/night and crashed for about 5 hours. Night buses aren’t exactly restful. By the time we woke up, though, we were definitely ready to hit the beach!

Beaches in Ecuador always surprise me. I grew up with the fresh water lakes of Nevada, so any salt water always takes me by surprise. And then I started getting used to cold salt water in Oregon, so the warmth of the water here is always a shock. It’s wonderful though! I love swimming in the ocean here and jumping over/diving under the waves.

The first morning in Canoa, four of the six girls in my group had gone for a walk, and just Katie and I were left sunbathing on our towels. An Ecuadorian guy came up to us and started asking questions- where are we from? How long are we in Canoa? What are our names? We were both sleepy and not really talkative, and he finally got the hint and left after several minutes of awkward conversation. That afternoon, we were sitting on the beach in a circle, talking, and he came back with his friend/brother, I’m not sure which. Again, they awkwardly tried to start a conversation, but they kept asking about where our hostel was and what we were doing that night, and we didn’t want to give them too much personal information so we didn’t say much. The first guy, Alberto, remembered my name because it was his sister’s name, so when the other girls were avoiding eye contact, he addressed me by name and I kind of had to answer.

Then, on Wednesday morning, a bunch of the girls went for a walk again while I was in the water, and when I got out, Katherine was asleep on the beach and I was mostly alone. I was just drifting off when I felt a hand touch my ankle. Guess who it was? Yup, good ol’ Alberto. He sat down beside me without an invitation and started to chat with me again. I didn’t really mind. I like having the chance to speak Spanish with people and hear their stories. But he wasn’t really interested in that. He started asking me about myself, beginning with the typical Ecuadorian ice breaker, “So, do you have a boyfriend in Quito? No? How about in the US? No? Why not?” As we talked, the conversation got more and more awkward. He asked if I liked surfing, and if I wanted a surfing lesson. I said I like surfing, but I have no money to take a lesson. He offered to teach me for free. I told him that I was there to spend time with my friends, but thanks for the offer. He asked if I had gone to see the Rio Muchacho Organic Farm, a cool tourist attraction nearby. I said that it sounded really interesting, but again, I didn’t have the money. He said that he knew the owners and would take me for the afternoon for just $5. Then he asked if I liked horses. When I said yes, he invited me to his farm outside Canoa to go horseback-riding.
There’s nothing wrong with inviting a girl to do fun things, but I didn’t even know this guy. I turned down his offers, saying that this was my last chance to spend time with my friends and I only had two days in Canoa to spend with them. He started sighing and saying that I should stay longer. In fact, he told me, he was in love with me, so I should stay and marry him and we could live on his farm together and raise horses and children. And when our oldest child, be it boy or girl (he wasn’t prejudiced), turned four, he would teach him/her to surf and we could be a surfing family.
Needless to say, I wasn’t even tempted.
I didn’t really know what to say, so I made some excuse about my life waiting in the States, saying that I wanted to finish college. He nodded and said, “That’s ok. I’ll wait for you, my Raquel. I’ll wait five years if you want me to. I’ll wait ten years for you to come back to me!”
I’m never going back to Canoa again!
I wanted to get rid of him, but I didn’t really know how to say it in Spanish. I wasn’t entirely sure if he was just joking or if he was seriously declaring undying love for me 24 hours after we met, but I was getting very uncomfortable. I made it clear to him, I think, that I take relationships very seriously and I don’t want a relationship with someone I just met. But he just insisted that I should stay longer so we could have a relationship. Boy, what a tempting offer! And then when he said he was sleepy and wanted to sleep on my shoulder and got upset when I wouldn’t let him, I knew he was the guy for me. Or when he wanted to put sunscreen on my back for me so I wouldn’t get burned, but I said that I was going to lay on my back anyway, so it wasn’t necessary. Luckily, my friends came back then and we decided we were ready for lunch. He saw a friend of his and left to say hello, promising to come back to me soon.
We went to lunch, and I spent the afternoon looking for him so I could hide from him. He saw me just as the sun was setting and we were heading back to the hostel. He invited me to eat dinner with him and then go party afterward, but I told him I was eating my last dinner with my friends and leaving for Quito on a 9:30 bus. He looked so disappointed. I think I broke the poor guy’s heart. But I don’t feel too guilty; I have no desire to live on a farm in Canoa for the rest of my life, no matter how many free surfing lessons I get!

A Day in the Life

I wrote this entry about a month ago, but I keep forgetting to publish it. So here it is, at long last!

As I read over my former entries, I realize that most of them are about trips and fun things and the exciting parts of life. They are all true and they were all fun, but life in Ecuador hasn’t been one big party. I truly have had a lot more homework here than I expected, and conflicts with my host family have made the semester interesting. In this entry, I want to give you a picture of daily life, minus the thrills of beach trips and backpacking and zip lining. This is a normal day in Ecuador:

My alarm goes off between 6:30 and 7 am. Sometimes, if my early classes are cancelled, I can sleep later, but my host sister Lisette usually comes over around 7:30 with her two daughters, Greta (4) and Ariel (7 months), because my host mom babysits Ariel during the day while Lisette is a work and Greta at school. If any of you have experience with 4-year-olds, you know that they make sleeping in very difficult! So, with one thing and another, I’m usually up by 7ish. It was worse though; I used to have a class at 7 am on Thursdays, so I had to be up by 5:15 at the latest to get there on time! Luckily, that class ended after spring break.

My host mom usually has breakfast waiting for me. I’ve offered many times to get my own breakfast, particularly on the days when I have class at 8:30 and am leaving the house by 7. She resisted at first, but now she generally sleeps in and lets me find my own food. Breakfast for most of the family consists of coffee/hot chocolate and a piece of delicious Ecuadorian bread. I don’t drink coffee or hot chocolate, so I usually have bread, sometimes with melted cheese on top or a small omelet, and some fruit. Pack a lunch (usually just an apple and a pear or something, but sometimes with some chifles (banana chips) or bread or something), brush my teeth, and I’m off by 7:30 at the latest.

I used to take three buses to get to and from school, but that was adding up quickly, so about a month ago, I started walking part way to save money. Now, I walk to the Rio Coca Bus Station and catch a big green bus. This bus goes to Cumbaya, the town where my university is. I spend an hour a day on the green bus, but it’s not too bad. Most of the international students ride the bus, so I spend time chatting with friends while we travel. Or I do homework or look out the window at the amazing views. After I discovered Harry Potter in Spanish in the library, my hour bus ride became my reading time and I looked forward to it every day!

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, my classes start at 9 am with Italian. I added this class later than my others, so I’ve been a little behind all semester. But, I’m not taking it for credit, just for fun, so it’s not a big deal. Plus, Italian is super similar to Spanish, which makes it a lot easier to learn. The pronunciation is the hardest part for me. Some sounds are like English and others like Spanish and other like neither, which just confuses my tongue. But it’s a cool language and I like the teacher a lot.

My next class is Temas de América Latina, a political science class about Latin America. It’s very interesting and I’ve learned a lot, but it’s probably my most difficult class and the one I think I’ll probably end up with a B in. The information isn’t too difficult, but the professor, Jose Julio Cisneros, goes off on tangents a lot, which makes it hard to take notes or follow the main thread of the class. But I’ve learned a lot about relations among countries in Latin America and relations with the US.

On Fridays, I’m done after Temas, but on Mondays and Wednesdays, I have three more classes. Conversation is first, with Claudia Gutierrez. Claudia is an interesting professor- you either love her or hate her. She’s very good about correcting our grammar when we speak in class, which is good, but she sometimes makes you feel rather stupid for making a mistake. It doesn’t bother me too much, mostly because I’m in an intermediate class instead of advanced, so I’m one of the best speakers in the class and don’t get a lot of corrections from her. My favorite part about this class is that half of our tests are creative writing, using our vocabulary words in stories. For a creative writing major, that’s perfect! My next class is Español Avanzada, a grammar class. This class is really good for me, because my grammar was lagging behind my speaking and understanding abilities, but it’s really boring and I often have a hard time sitting through it. The professor, Lidice, is nice and she’s really good about having open office hours and being willing to read over an essay or something if we want her to.

My last class of the day, Capoeira, ends at 4 pm. I liked this class a lot at the beginning- learning kicks and blocks and tricks and music. It’s a blast! But I hurt my shoulder over spring break, and it still doesn’t feel completely healed. In Capoeira, we are working on back handsprings, but it hurts too much for me to do them. So I spend a lot of time sitting out in this class now, which sucks because I’d really like to learn and get better at this sport. We had a really fun class the other day, though, in which I got to participate: the professor taught us to play the cool Capoeira instruments. There’s a tambourine and another instrument with a funny name that keeps the beat and an instrument that looks kind of like a bow with a gourd on the bottom that plays the melody. We learned them all. Super fun, but SO hard!

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I start class at 8:30 am with my Bilingual Education class. I absolutely love this class! It’s super interesting, and the professor, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, really knows her stuff. She speaks four languages and has raised her children to speak all four of them. If any of you come to Ecuador, I totally recommend taking this class! My next class is soccer, which is fun but disappointing sometimes because nobody shows up. As the semester has worn on, our class has basically trickled down to nothing. Luckily, I’m also playing on a club team, so I still have some soccer. My last class on Tuesdays and Thursdays used to be Volcanology, but that class ended after spring break as well. It was an interesting class, as long as you got along with the professor. Theo Toulkeridis is very smart, but a lot of people had trouble relating with him. I didn’t, so I enjoyed the class a lot. If you want to travel, this class is a good one because you have four weekend trips in which you see some really cool stuff.

My afternoons are all different. On some days, I hurry back to Quito to work in a soup kitchen called Pan de Vida (I do this on Sundays as well, and I love it!) Other days, I go to a friend’s house to use the Internet or to bake cookies. Others, I have a soccer game in the afternoon, so I stick around at school to play in that. There is a school league that runs from February to April in which teams of 6 play on little fields. My team (me, international students Jill, Laura, and Shawna, and Ecuadorians Caro, Isa, Valeria, and two others) is doing really well. We just won our semi-final game against a team that has beat my teammates for the last two years, and we’re going to the finals next week. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s been a really good chance to meet Ecuadorians and get to know them.

Most days, I stay at school for a few hours to use the Internet. I don’t have Internet in my house, so I download a lot of information onto my flash drive and take it with me to do at home. I do my work at home, as much as I can, and just carry the completed work back to school to check sources or do last minute translations on the Internet. This entry, for example, I’m writing at home, but I’ll send it from school. It’s a pain to not have Internet, but it has made me more productive because I don’t have Facebook or email to distract me at home. So of course, I use Solitaire, Hearts, and Chess to distract me instead…

When I get home, between 5 and 7 pm, dinner is waiting for me. My host parents eat around 1 or 2 in the afternoon, but they save a plate for me to heat up when I get home. Almuerzo (lunch, or in my case, dinner) usually consists of a bowl of soup, juice, some sort of vegetable, and a plato fuerte that has meat (usually chicken, but sometimes fish or beef. Never pork), rice or potatoes or both, and some sort of sauce. We don’t have dessert every day, but when we do it is usually cake, some sort of bread, or a fruit salad with cream. Most of my conflicts with my host family have centered on food. They got upset with me for eating too much fruit, which they claim is really expensive here. (I think it’s super cheap. $1 for 10 apples? Two pounds of strawberries for $2? But I’m looking at it from a U.S. perspective, and I shouldn’t do that.) Plus, my family, unlike most of the host families, is not rich and they really have to watch what they spend. I feel like I’m paying them more than they are giving me, but I guess my payments also include my host mom making all my meals and the cost of my room and such.

At first, I had trouble because they always gave me vegetables that were smothered in mayonnaise or butter or something, which doesn’t seem particularly healthy to me. It took me a long time to work up the courage to say something because I’m not the most confrontational person with people I don’t know well, but I’m glad we finally talked. Now, my host mom sets my vegetables aside before putting sauce on everyone else’s and I get to eat healthy veggies.

In the evenings, I usually do homework, watch a movie, read, or go out. I’m not a huge partier, so I don’t tend to go out every night like some people I know. But I do spend nights at friends’ houses or in the Mariscal, the section of Quito with all of the bars and restaurants and everything geared toward gringo tourists. We do a lot of movie nights, either at someone’s house or at the theater, because it is cheap, and I generally go to the theater once a month or so. I have a Bible study every Tuesday night at the English Fellowship Church, and I really enjoy that. I wanted to find a Catholic youth group, but I haven’t had any luck so far and it’s getting kind of late in the semester to be worth it. But the EFC group, Twenty Somethings, is really fun and has helped me make lots of friends. We generally go out for ice cream or to study together afterward.

But I don’t have a lot of time on weekdays to go out, because I have a lot of homework. I have 6 academic classes in all, and although most of them don’t give a lot of homework, it adds up. I’ve had at least one test and one essay every week for the last three months, and it’s only getting worse. A lot of international students treat their semester abroad as a party, but their grades don’t transfer back to their schools, so as long as they get a C or better, they don’t have to worry. My grades transfer, and I’m enough of a nerd to want straight A’s. So I work a lot harder than most people, but that’s okay. I enjoy all of my classes, and I don’t enjoy getting drunk in the Mariscal. So I don’t mind.

I don’t spend a lot of time with my host family on a day-to-day basis, and I’m not entirely sure why. We eat dinner together if I’m home- I eat my big lunch meal and they eat coffee/hot chocolate, bread, and cheese again. But after we eat and I help clean the kitchen, my host dad goes off to his room to watch TV, my host sister goes to her room to watch TV, and my host mom either watches with my sister or goes in the study to watch TV in there. I’ve never like the television much, especially when the only shows available are the late night soap operas. Sometimes I’ll watch movies with my host family, and I spend a good amount of time playing with Greta, my niece, or talking with the adults. But we don’t go traveling together and they don’t usually invite me to do things. It’s kind of a shame; our relationship is more that of landlord and guest than parent and child. But they aren’t mean to me and they give me lots of space to be independent, which I’d prefer to having an overprotective or needy family.

All in all, daily life here is not too exciting but it’s fine with me. I find little things to enjoy every day- a movie with a friend, playing with bubbles with Greta, playing in a soccer game. There are lots of wonderful little moments, little cultural or linguistic surprises that I delight in, and they make daily life great.