Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cupcake in Quito

The new me is a work in progress who is stretching fearlessly into the unknown with the belief that no matter what experiences and adventures I have, whether they be good or bad, I will learn, grow, and continue. I will never settle. I will always improvise and smile because I believe 'the heart of life is good.

Since the new year is circling in, I thought I would take a moment to contemplate how my life has changed this year. Aside from the very obvious change of location, many little alterations have snuck up on me. Now, I wear dangly earrings and drink coca-cola zero. I don’t like soda but I am scared of water and vegetables currently. I prefer processed and packaged food to anything from Ecuadorian soil, which is a total 180 from my somewhat health nut former self. Although I don’t like cake anymore, I eat kilos (literally) of popcorn. I swear my current diet consists of popcorn, chocolate, coca cola zero, and beer. I drink $3 box wine and 50 cent beers. I have an unnatural fear of food due to amoebas. I know it might seem silly, but you won’t understand until you house them yourself, which I hope never happens. A little paranoia about my health is good right? Oh and my dentist would kill me if he saw the candy I eat. (Uhem, did someone say gordita?).

I no longer can tell the difference between English or Spanish. However, I can tell the difference between regional Ecuadorian Spanish (coast vs. sierra), Spain Spanish, and the Spanish of Latin America. Instead of spending hours in excel, I spend hours studying the two languages and only open excel to add to my book list or gift list. I am fashion conscious despite the four pairs of pants I rotate weekly. I will amass an enormous collection of bufandas, flats, and earrings before I leave here. And I plan to update my wardrobe the second I get home. How could you let me walk around like this for so long?!?!?

I only sit on the computer for maybe two hours a week. I walk nearly two hours a day. I fear the raccoon eyes I currently have from my sunglasses will never leave my face. I am tan, relatively speaking, in spite of the TONS of sunscreen I wear daily. I cannot remember the last time I felt clean. I dream about baths and Whole Foods. I am always cold, and I only shower when necessary because it just contributes to my constant state of freezing. And the weather determines whether or not I can do laundry. The sun at 10,000 feet at the equator is destroying the few items of clothing I do have. I also dream of dryers and bounce.

I happily discriminate against the disgusting men I encounter in the bars and on the streets, yet I will gladly accept their discrimination against me when they get up to give me their seats on the bus, usher me into a club ahead of the line, or hold the door open. A little macho is good. I currently hold the titles of “princesa, preciosa, reina, linda, guapa, amor, and nina.” For the first time in my life, I have no boy problems. (Well, except the Spanish Stalker, thanks Joel.)

I have not used my debit card in four months. Cash is king. I currently live on $150 a month. Yes a month. I count pennies and measure things in bus rides. Donuts are 25 cents. The “donut lady” and I are best friends. I don’t even like donuts. I swear she puts drugs in them. Popcorn is $1.25 for a kilo (two pounds), bus rides are a quarter, $1 is A LOT of money, 25 roses are $1, bagels are 40 cents, an entire lunch including dessert and juice is $2, DVDs are $1.50, cds are the same, and pedicures are $3 (and two hours). Warm beer doesn’t bother me anymore because it is only $1.50 for liter. And much to my utter dismay, I do not recycle anymore (my heart just started racing as I typed this.)

Tall people shock me, which is ironic considering the last boy I kissed was six foot seven. Here, I am considered tall. Quick transactions, warm water, and people arriving on time surprise me as well.

Friendships have reached entirely new levels. Ashley, “I’m so hot for you” (in a thick British accent). We all play cards as if we were 80 year old ladies in a nursing home. Canasta, skipbo, and casino rule our afternoons. While our Friday nights are muy importante, for our weekly dinners are a must. Happy hour starts at 5 and no one is allowed to disturb me in the kitchen. We LIVE for Friday nights.

I have no sense of urgency for anything. I enjoy that the stores don't open until 10 a.m. and I often can be found drinking at the cubano restaurante at right about that time. Really nice things shock me. I also go to concerts at the theater, write every single day, and frequently fight with taxi drivers. It is not uncommon to feel as if I am always getting ripped off ALL THE TIME because my skin is white. I am use to people staring at me.

I am the “old one” for the first time ever. I let my favorite student paint snowmen on my nails, attend religious events with her, curse dirty old men, fruit, and seafood. I am obsessed with the el gourmet Argentinean cooking channel. Navidad con Dolli was the highlight of last week. I am suspicious of everyone and grateful for everything, especially the emails and packages I receive. Finding ginger ale at the market was the best day of my life here. I always feel gross no matter how much soap I use. My feet are filthy and will be until May. I have seen dead dogs in trash cans on the streets, small children blow gasoline out their mouths for a quarter, and houses without roofs. I have traded my word wall for a Spanish wall. I write with markers and perfumed pens instead of shiny pencils. The only magazine I have read in four months is National Geographic in Spanish (which is HARD). I write poems all the time and send text messages like there is no tomorrow because it is only 2 cents instead of the 40 cents it costs to call (By the way, I can send them to you in the U.S. but you cannot send them to me, I don’t get them). Work is not longer “work”. I get up at 5 a.m. and eat dinner at 10 p.m. I marvel at street vendors.
“Do you think they assess the market demand?”
“You just said you needed socks…”

I am obsessed with organizing social events because I don’t want to miss out on one thing while I am here. I have the most vivid memories and flashbacks. I can’t remember what a comfortable bed feels like. I have only read two books in four months because I do not believe there are more than 100 English books in this entire country and libraries don’t exist. However, I do read children's books in Spanish for hours a day. I am determined. I have become “thrifty” in a way the author of “Nickeled and Dimed” would be so proud. I have taken advantage of the ability to purchase drugs without a prescription (worry not, only dermatological drugs. I had a prescription for the amoeba pill). I heart Pfizer.

I refuse to dance with strange people when we are out and about. I love dancing in the clubs. I also love writing on social network walls and enjoy flirting with those who “poke” me (p.s. I kind of have a crush on you). I accept chocolate from the man at the internet cafĂ© I frequent. I LOVE to read the emails you all send me. I don’t care if you are telling me about the new toothpaste you just bought, I want to know. I won't take a cab home by myself. The majority of my best friends are now males. I enjoy every hip hop song I hear however infrequent. And I cannot stop singing The Killers new song, “Leave the Bourbon on the shelf…”

I guess what I have learned this year is that like a chameleon, I fit in anywhere and as much as I have always thought it was a curse, I realize for the first time, it is a blessing because it allows me to enjoy the here and now, which happens to be 10,000 feet in the Andes, latitude zero.

Don't worry, I still love cupcakes and you :)

Friday, December 28, 2007

An Ecua Christmas

This country is nearly 100% Catholic, which means they celebrate Jesus and you can actually tell your class you are having a Christmas party. There is no “season’s greetings” or “happy holidays”. Anything other than “Jesus” or “Christmas” is considered weird here. As a result (plus they are Latin), Ecuadorians celebrate the holiday on the night of the 24th. This year, I had the privilege of celebrating with my host family. Let me tell you, these people surely know how to celebrate.

We started the party at around 7 p.m. at my host mom’s family’s house. The children put on a show for baby Jesus and we all went around and said prayers (no I am not Catholic, but when in Rome…). After we praised the Lord, we had an enormous turkey dinner. Despite my initial response of “WRONG HOLIDAY FOR A BIRD PEOPLE,” it was good (where is the seafood?). Of course, the meal included rice and potatoes as well. I made the family a brownie cake covered in mints and white chocolate. We ate it with ice cream. I also made peanut butter cookies that were divine. (I spent the afternoon baking, listening to Christmas music, and drinking beer because I couldn’t find the half and half to make eggnog. Next year. It was a glorious afternoon.)

Once we were finished eating, all the children went around distributing presents to family members. I received my first bufanda, which opened the door for my future purchases (watch out Ash, I am going to catch up!). We visited for awhile until my hm’s brothers started leaving. ON the way out, one dropped off some rum and coke at the table. The grandfather caught me looking at it longingly and made my host dad (who had a shot) pour me a drink. The abuelo NEVER speaks, so you can imagine my surprise when he insisted I get a beverage. It was priceless. I love the abuelos. On a side note, I taught them the meaning of “whipped”, as two of Hmom’s brothers are totally whipped. Now they all walk around snapping their fingers and making whipping sounds. It is FANTASTIC, especially when the abuela looks at me and winks as she is doing it! Christmas Eve was no exception.

At 9:30 p.m., we headed to my host dad’s family’s house. I love this place when I am up for the visit. The entire house was decked out in old Ecuadorian lady Christmas decorations. It was fabulous. The tree was beautiful and she had Christmas music blaring in the background. The family visited until the rest of the guests arrived. Once everyone settled in, we celebrated Jesus again, sang some songs courtesy of my host dad and his sister’s guitar playing, and then everyone exchanged gifts. This is when I got a little sad. All the children were delivering presents and wishing their aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and parents merry Christmas. It was so cute and endearing. But at the same time, it made me miss my friends and family. At around midnight, the champagne was sparkling in the glasses, which were circling the room along with sugar cookies (no not the pretty frosted ones). We toasted Navidad and began our second dinner of guess what…. turkey, rice, and potatoes as well as salad and aji (I love this stuff). I brought them a brownie pie too, which we ate with peaches.

My host dad’s older sister started the music around 1 a.m. No, not Christmas music but Salsa and reggeatone. EVERYONE danced, even the grandparents. We did shots of pina coladas, and rum and coke while we danced until 5 A.M!! It was hilarious. These people seriously know how to party. The music was blaring and the shots were never ending. I couldn’t think of a crazier way to celebrate Christmas. I can’t remember the last time I spent this holiday like I did this year. I was very glad I had the opportunity to experience it. I hope you all had a lovely holiday as well.

Happy Holidays from Me to You :)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Table for 52?

Don't mind me, I'm just hanging out with my amoebas and bronchial bacteria trying not to get robbed. Needless to say, this week has been interesting.

Part 1: "How not to get robbed."
Last Saturday around 7:15 p.m., my friend Liz and I were heading to a new restaurant a couple of blocks from her house when two very short and nervous Ecua men approached us asking "only for money" (in Spanish of course). One of the guys reached for Liz's bag and she pushed him out of the way. It all seemed to happen very slowly. I was quite proud of how we reacted to the situation though. I have to say my dojo skills did not fail me, as I did not say anything and watched both of the mens' hands for weapons. The men were my height (i.e. short) so I was not afraid of them because I noticed neither used their hands properly nor did they have anything potentially dangerous in their hands, which meant they were just punks trying to get money from gringas. As I tried to decide which male's ass to kick first and started to reach for one of their arms, Liz pushed the other out of the way. I then responded by saying we had nothing and they ended up just walking past us. Both of us stayed calm and acted in very appropriate ways. I think it helped that Liz responded differently than I did. They got scared and left. So we survived our first attempted thievery unscathed. Go us. Don't freak out. We are fine and unafraid.

Part II: "Table for 52?"
Yesterday was the first awful health day I have had here. I will spare you the details but let's just say it was not pretty. I called my Field Directors to see if they could get me into the doctor. Within an hour, I was off to his office where he impressively diagnosed me with amoebas and a bacterial respiratory infection (Thank you host family. Do you think next time you could take your violently coughing daughters to the doctor before they spread their germs to me and maybe sometime before one month of hacking persists.) Gross. Just gross. As if I want to share my small intestine with a colony of organisms, especially while bacteria inhibit my lungs. At least I now know why my stomach was growing exponentially. I have always had a well rounded bottom but never a gut before. Lovely. Luckily, a four dollar Pzifer pill is suppose to do the trick. I hope it kicks in soon because I would like to have my middle section back to myself thankyouverymuch. I bet that makes you want to kiss me now, huh????

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cool New Service

Check out this really cool new site where you can create your own cookbook. How fun!!