Thursday, July 31, 2008

Happy Second Blog Birthday

I have no idea how I missed this. I think it was because I was too busy drinking beers, reading books, and trying to figure out what the hell I was doing.

My blog turns two today, and I know I've neglected it tremendously this year due to my time in Ecuador, but hopefully I can continue sharing my insight with the rest of you while finding solace in my corner of virtual infinity.

The year in review:

July 2007 ~ Harry Potter, Harry Potter, and more Harry Potter. I read 4,200 pages in 22 days. I also earned my sixth belt in karate edging me nearly half way to black.

August 2007 ~ Dave gave me the "hug". I realized Mr. Brownie Sundae had a girlfriend, and I was his best kept secret. It broke my heart. I said goodbye to my unsatisfying job. Relief at last. I barely escaped an arranged marriage. My friends threw me the best going away party EVER and Mr. Houdini even managed to make an appearance-woolly sweater and all. I helped my parents move into their new house, then said goodbye to my life as I knew it and headed to my friend Nick's wedding in NC.

September 2007 ~ I spent the night before my year abroad dancing away at Nick and Lindsey's wedding. The next morning, I ignored all my anxieties and flew to Miami where I met my soon-to-be best friends. Quito, Ecuador became my new home. I spent 12-14 hours a day for 26 days in orientation, met my host family, survived a house robbery, and attended a national election in another country.

October 2007 ~ I taught my first TEFL classes. This was an adjustment that required me to study English grammar for two to three hours an afternoon. It rained every single day of the entire month. Ashley, Jefe, and Brooke became my new best friends.

November 2007 ~ My host family and I moved into the family's apartment building on the next street up and I got to choose the color of my room. Myself and the other Quito volunteers vacationed in Cuenca to celebrate the city's Independence Day. The vacation changed my perspective and made me feel better about being in Ecuador. For the first time ever, I forgot Thanksgiving, yet the group took time to celebrate on the Saturday following the real holiday.

December 2007 ~ Classes finally ended. They were quite the learning experience. I never want to teach a room full of Latin men again. Amoebas made their first attack. Mr. Brownie Sundae made a come back. My holidays were spent with my host family. I spent the remainder of my vacation time playing cards, listening to hip hop on Ashley's computer, and indulging in El Gourmet Argentina-Navidad con Dolli was the highlight.

January 2008 ~ Second round of classes began. One of my classes was canceled without my knowing, which resulted in me spending what would be night class hours playing on the computer at work with nothing to do while the others taught diligently. I felt incredibly guilty the entire four weeks. The Ecuadorian government announced they were not going to pay us, which started our financial troubles. Mid-Service was at the beach and I survived a 14 hour ride on a night bus. I also caught some lovely intestinal bugs. Tungurahua started burping.

February 2008 ~ Half way point of my service and the low point. I started my night class so I no longer had to feel useless. I was violently ill for the majority of this month. Joel tried to play match-maker with me and one of my students. I vehemently fought this and in the end Joel and I shared Polo as a companero. My conversation class became the highlight of my teaching. I greeted the March Volunteers at the airport and realized I needed to enjoy my final stretch because the time was flying by at the speed of sound. Anna was born. I celebrated Carnival with the host family where we made a disaster in the house.

March 2008 ~ Sly made her appearance in Ecuador and changed my entire life there. The government finally delivered our back pay. We danced away many nights in the club - hot and sweaty- and saw all the sights in the vicinity. I celebrated Easter in Centro Historico and spent my vacation hanging out with Sly in Santo Domingo de los Colorados. I was in the local newspaper, La Hora, for attending an indigenous festival; kind of like the society page. Go me! A war nearly erupted between Colombia and Ecuador and the protests frightened me. My sister's friend died.

April 2008 ~ Our third and final term began. Sly and I vacationed in Otavalo where we ate delicious empanadas. Then in Banos, we relaxed and indulged in massages, bike rides, and vegetarian food. I headed back to the U.S. for the first time to attend a wedding.

May 2008 ~ I met baby Anna. Bethy and Justin got married. More dancing in clubs occurred, especially with Hurricane's drag show bday party. Our first vino and tapas night kicked me and Ashleycita's asses. Scrambling to get things done before the end of service began.

June 2008 ~ The end of service conference marked the last of my duties as a volunteer. I wrote kick ass poems about fellow volunteers to read at the final dinner. I spent two weeks helping Ashley say good bye to our beloved city. We ate our way through nearly everything everywhere in Quito until she left to go home. The despedidas began, as everyone wound up their teaching obligations. Sly, Brittney and I stayed at Hotel Quito. Sadly, classes ended and I had to say goodbye to my students. Vino y Tapas took over our lives until it was closed by the government for tax evasion (Thank god!). La Liga won game after game to earn a spot in the finals of Los Libertadores Cup. I had my last parties and final lunches. I spent my two week vacation hanging around Quito saying goodbye before heading home.

July 2008 ~ La Liga won the championship game against Brazil. I said goodbye to Quito and farewell to my friends. I endured a 41 hour return home were my first stop was in PA with Danny, Krista, Allison, David, and the ninos. It was the best 4th of July I've had in a very long time. I discovered the ease of Amtrak travel. I visited KB and Beth in Philadelpia then I hopped a night train to Boston where Whit picked me up on her way home from the Cape. Lo made some delicious Thai Chicken pizza and delivered my mail. Dad picked me up from Lo's and took me home for six days so I could get clothes and play dutiful bridesmaid at Lo's lovely bridal shower. Whit stole me away and we met up with Allie to enjoy an evening at the bar with the light up dance floor. Of course Mr. Houdini was there, but I managed to avoid having to engage in conversation with him. I ended the month in Michigan with Mr. Brownie Sundae. For two weeks, I was the laziest person alive and it was nice. Now it's time to start a new life here in the good old U.S. of A. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

happy birthday lee :)

The Best Question I've Been Asked So Far...

Right before I left Quito, I ran into my friend Pete in La Mariscal. He was in town on a promotion from Volunteer to Assistant Director of the Program (Go PETE!) and having dinner with his family who came to visit him. He invited me to join them. Since they were eating at my favorite restaurant in Quito and he happened to be one of the coolest volunteers in our program (of course right behind his darling, Ella, who I adore as well), I accepted. We all talked for awhile about their travels through Ecuador and our experiences living there. Then, Mr. D. asked me a question I cannot seem to get out of my head, "So, who will you be when you go back?" He smiled a very large smile and patiently waited for my answer. I didn't have one because I was shocked and intrigued by all the possibilities he just brought to my attention. Honestly, I had not even thought about it, yet now that my month of traveling throughout the U.S. is coming to a close, his words are super-glued to my mind.

Who will I be???

While I am still working on her, she is slowly crawling out of her shell and so far, I like what I see...
P.S. Thanks Mr. D :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Quito at night

This was borrowed from somewhere, I have no idea whose it is but it is not mine. However, I have to admit every time I think about it and close my eyes, I can see this picture, only it is not a picture, it is a memory.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Julie & Julia" and how food makes amazing therapy

The other day I read this lovely book, "Julie and Julia," which is about a slightly neurotic woman who desperately needed a purpose to her life. She found some reprieve from her general dissatisfaction in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Mrs. Julie spends one year making every single recipe from Mrs. Child's daunting cookbook. The way she described her mission was hilarious and delightful. I found her sheer bluntness and sometimes graphic explanation of her life while cooking somewhat endearing and charming. While I did not always like her as a person, I definitely cheered for her to accomplish her nearly impossible goal. I think I was a fan because I could relate to her needing it, as three years ago I found solace in my kitchen with a bunch of Cooking Light magazines and a roommate brave enough to indulge my madness.

That being said, most could find something of merit from this book so I recommend you check it out. A weekend is probably all it will take to dive in, which makes the story great for summer.

You can check out her blog Here where there is also a link to her project blog.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The strangeness that has become my life

I woke up this morning with a ginormous hand gingerly settled on the curls on top of my head and a large and rather crazy cat perched on my behind eagerly watching the window shades waiting to pounce. Slight deja vu crept in until the jukebox in my mind suddenly began to play a Cowboy Junkies track and I realized I was a long way from 22 and even further from Quito.

In the last three weeks, I have traveled through two hemispheres, two continents, two countries, and either via train, bus, plane, or automobile, through more than 11 states. I have also seen more than 30 friends and family members, stayed in at least six different homes, and helped with one bridal shower. The one thing that has astounded me the most is how nice everyone has been since I've returned. I graciously thank you for trying to make this easier.

BigStar put it best when she said, "You must miss your people." I do, but it is nice to have the rest of you back.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Out With a Bash, In With A Crash...

I will never forget my last night in Quito because it was the night La Liga won Los Libertadores cup and became the champions of South America. The celebrations following the game put the Red Sox 2004 World Series win to shame. And I was part of it.

Decked out in my Liga t-shirt and Ecua earrings, I retrieved Joel to save seats for the group at Este Cafe an hour and a half before the game. La Mariscal was rapidly filling with fans, as they set up the large flat screen projectors in Plaza Foch for all to watch. You could tell they were preparing for the impending insanity sure to begin shortly. We had drinks and convinced the server to save 15 seats for us in the back room. Katie and Polo joined us shortly after so we were able to keep most of the seats as the Ecuas rapidly joined us and savagely eyed our little plastic chairs. Joel convinced me not to fight with the girls over the seats they had stolen from us because in all honesty, I didn't even want to sit with the people for whom we were saving those two. He had a point. The game was unbelievable and probably one of the most exciting sporting events I've ever seen. The 15 or so of us cheered and gawked with the locals (even the one who secretly wanted La Liga to lose, but I won't give my favorite Ecuadorian away:) ). Even new soccer fans could not help getting caught up in the rush of the penalty kicks Panchito saved effortlessly to secure victory against the Brazilian team. As far as memories go, it was top five best nights in Quito with the exception of my departure scheduled four hours later. We danced, cheered, and celebrated until I had to go home to get ready for my 4 a.m. airport check-in. This is when it hit me like a ton of bricks... I was no longer going to be a Quitena. My life as I knew it was about to vanish before my eyes and I would have to make another one somewhere else. The tears came rushing in and I could not help but feel incredibly sad. It could not be over-I just got here...I couldn't even imagine not playing cards with the girls, eating 2x1 Papa John's pizza, dancing the night away with Polo and the crew at La Huiana, hanging out at the Abuela's with the host fam, or not walking the streets of Quito for hours a day.

I didn't sleep that night. A difficult buh-bye was said to my fellow volunteers. Brooke and Joel were the hardest but I knew I would see them again soon. No idea when, but I would because I promised. After the trauma of leaving my friends, Polo drove me home around 2 a.m. That was another hard one because I felt an unexpected pang of regret and realized he had been a good friend even when I was an outrageous brat. I waved as I opened the gate for the last time. Up over the stairs for the last time, shower in the crazy bathroom for the last time, cleaned out my cell phone for the last time, packed the last items and became encumbered with incredible sorrow and resistance. I opened my curtains for the last time to take in every glimmer of light I could. I watched for a long time until I heard my host family's alarm go off signalling it was time to go. My last night in what I had known as "home" for a year was enlightening and amazingly hard. I finally understood what Matt meant when he told me this adventure would be mine and mine alone. All of it from the sights to the smells to the feelings and the experiences. Sure I shared them with people, people I love dearly, but upon departure, I realized it was mine. The vacation of Solitaire and 50 cent. The endless days of walking with Ashley. Hours of El Gourmet learning food Spanish. Drinking bad beer with Joel. Lovely and hysterical text messages day in and day out.....

I crawled out of bed and took one last look out my window before opening the door to face my family. They were watching the news regarding La Liga's win. My host mom and I tried not to cry as she gave me some beautiful Ecuadorian jewelry. My host dad called the taxi and carried my bags downstairs. We sat silently for a few minutes until we heard the horn, which kind of sounded like the gun shot before the battle, only this battle would be invisible and locked safely in my heart and mind.

My flight was supposed to leave at 6:30 a.m. but there was "weather" in Miami so it was delayed 4 hours. I was so exhausted I thought I might pass out but I had a chance meeting with two other people returning to their native countries after a year of living abroad volunteering. They gave excellent veteran advice about returning and chatted for hours until the flight finally took off. I spent the entire day in airports until I finally landed in Washington, D.C. around 8:30 p.m. David picked me up and had a glorious tin of Chai iced tea I cannot stop talking about. He graciously let me yammer away and "wow" everything until we reached his girlfriend's house in Baltimore. It wasn't long before the three of us settled into the Arby's parking lot where I dined on curly fries and root beer courtesy of David. I even got a phone call from my Mr. Brownie Sundae. I pretended to be surprised but I wasn't. It was nice to hear his voice and fall into familiar conversation.

We finally arrived in Lancaster, PA after midnight. I had been up for 41 hours before putting my pjs on, longingly reviewing my pictures from the previous night, and finally settling into bed with a crash... I realized I wouldn't have wanted to leave Quito any other way.

More pictures here: Liga Album

lost in translation or the haze that once was

When I don't know what to do with myself, I run and read. My head has been buried in a year's worth of Bon Appetit magazines or my feet have been hitting the pavement (with the new sneakers my dad bought me). I've done this my whole life and aside from my friends and family, it seems to be one of the few things I have from my previous life here that I have kept (or can relate to). Everything else is different. I feel like I am visiting the life of a distant relative-only it's me-yet these memories can't be mine; they're too far away. She can't be me and they can't be mine but they are, which is causing a haze of dissonance that surrounds me and makes my entire life surreal at the moment.

I have so much more to write but cannot seem to make myself write it. A huge invisible yet palpable wall is forbidding me to put these words into digital print...should you care, bear with me. I'm certain they will eventually crawl their way out.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Final "To Do" List Recap

Final Review....

1. Eat ceviche - King Jaja and Brookie took me July 1. Delicious
2. Finish my picture project - I've taken more pictures on my return than I took in the first three months in Ecuador but I did buy a card before I left and did the best I could.
3. Salsa Dance until I cannot walk - DONE Completed on three separate instances last week. -Went with Brookie the last Friday in Quito. Awesome. I cannot wait to go back.
4. Finish all the book and Spanish magazines in my room - Books are done & might bring magazines home. Magazines are currently in a box ready for me to mail to myself tomorrow from the Lancaster, PA post office. Can't win them all.
5. Shop for my "to buy" items I would like to bring home - Bought some earrings, La Liga jersey, and an Ecuador jersey...waiting for my paycheck for the rest. Finished the Wed before I left. Still didn't get some items but that is for the return vacation.
6. Learn the secret of Cyrano bakery - Considering French pastry school... I will get to this eventually.
7. Visit the only museum I haven't seen in Quito yet, Of course I have forgotten the name Saved for vacation.
8. Visit El Jardin Botanico en Parque Carolina Saved for vacation.
9. Lose the 10 lbs I gained - I can take care of this when I get home. This makes me laugh.
10. Get my last $10 manicure at the Swissotel - HooDoo VooDoo is calling my name - Spent the money on Liga y Ecuador jerseys instead. I think a fine trade.
11. Eat sushi at Tonoshi - apparently it is the best - I can eat sushi at home.
12. Conquer my 6,000 Spanish word book - Jefe refuses to return the book so I might not do this Gave this book to Polito as my going away present. Oh how I will miss him. He was a good student.
13. Play Canasta with Ash, Brook, and Jefe until I get my fill - played with Jefe today. Teaching the Steele clan tonight so VIVA CANASTA!
14. Visit the donut lady in Old City one last time -See number 9. Skipped this one.
15. Return to Cuenca for Ella time and arepas - Ella and I made a date for a Minneapolis visit.
16. Hit the only two beaches I think I will like here - I am sick so no can do. I always get sick at the beach here. Gross. Spending August at the beach in Maine. Wicked better.
17. See blue footed boobies in Isla de la Plata - see above -Saved for vacation.
18. Go to the dentist - going on Monday. - Went on June 30th. I paid $100 for a cleaning, "consultation", and a cavity filling.
19. Learn to make my Ecuadorian favorites - buying a cookbook- any idea where I can buy a cookbook?
20. Plan my return vacation to Ecuador but not as a volunteer and with spending money. - Done. Let me know if you want in.

7 out of 20 isn't bad. Such is life.

Volcanoes from my bedroom window

I woke up one glorious morning and could see all the volcanoes from my bed. It was the first time I was able to get them all in one sitting. Aren't they amazing? The most spectacular ones are of Cotopaxi. I hope to climb it on my vacation next year.


Brookie and King Jaja took me for ceviche before I slipped out of Ecuador. It was delicious. Not exactly sure why I was so scared of it and avoided devouring delicious lunches of this traditional Andean comida. I highly recommend ceviche from safe sites when you travel to Ecuador. QUE RICO!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Last Weekend in Quito

My last weekend in Quito was not exactly as I expected it would be but such is life, as my favorite Ecuadorian likes to say. I spent Friday just hanging around the neighborhood so I could finish up the last of my required volunteer business. That evening, I had the privilege of eating some delicious sushi with my favorite Cuenca vols, Peter and Ella. I highly recommend iWok in La Mariscal for those looking for some Japanese comida, but more about that in another post.

After sushi, I stopped by my friends' departmento to gather a group for dancing and singing the night away. Eventually, I convinced Marco, Katita, Pete, and Ella to join me for a delicious drink before the night started. We settled into a little bar to chat and enjoy two for one margaritas that were unfortunately awful. Needless to say, we only stayed for one drink, said good night to Pete and Ella and then the three of us stopped by Chipitos to enjoy a few shots. I decided I am going to start one of these shot bars in the U.S. Somewhere and sometime this week, I will write my business plan and get started on the project. Anyhoo, Marco and Katita were spectacular shot partners in crime. We enjoyed two or three and then headed back to the departmento.

I finally convinced Brookie to join me for a night of dancing. Jaja so kindly got us into Diablos for free. We occupied an entire corner upstairs for the majority of the evening where we boogied away. It was a wonderful Friday evening drinking and dancing. I will certainly miss carefree nights like this where all we do is dance and have a good time.

The rest of the evening wasn't so pleasant but at least I discovered who my true friends were and was able to make amends with my latin buddy.

I spent the entire day Saturday waiting for my despedida, otherwise known as going away party. My host mom said it was in the afternoon so I figured anywhere between 3 and 5. Of course I forgot to take into account that they were all Ecuadorian so the party didn't start until 7:30. It is a good thing I did not feel like doing anything all day anyway.

When I walked into the grandmother's house where the party was, a lovely relative pointed at me, held out her hands to indicate what looked like two feet and said, "ENGORDA." A woman twice my size and half my height just told me I was fat. Thank you very much. I just smiled and said I had actually lost six pounds and it was just my red pants. She smiled and laughed. I don't think she believed me but I let it slide because I never had to see her again after tonight.

The party was very low key and sweet. Everyone said bye in their own way and many kind words were exchanged. I enjoyed having the opportunity to thank them and to say farewell.

After the party, Sly, her sister, and their new Ecuadorian "uncle" picked me up via the Ecuadorian secret service driver to go to Hotel Quito for the night. This is a very long and kind of shady story I might be able to tell you at some point in the future, however, I am too lazy right now, plus I am still trying to figure it out. "Diego" took us to the roof top restaurant for ice cream and a glorious view before dropping us off at our room with bottles of water and wishes for sweet dreams and buenas noches. I had never seen Quito from the East before, which made the evening a lovely treat. Quito is gorgeous at night with all the twinkling lights against the volcanic background. We slept with the shades open to admire the view. In the morning, la vista was even more spectacular. I had never woken up on that side of town before. How beautiful the mountains were with the brilliant sun shining down on them. The night at the hotel was a very nice surprise, but I could not help but feel the evening was exceptionally extravagant; something I will soon have to get used to after this year. Extravagance and opulence have not been very prominent in Quito for me.

I walked home from the hotel because the girls were heading to an Aventura concert out of town. On my way, a costeno man told me I had a "delicious ass" only in Spanish. I had all I could do not to punch him in the face but I didn't for fear of being kidnapped during my last days. Instead, I ignored him and kept walking, as to keep out of trouble. At some point, I am going to write about machista men and sexism in Ecuador, but I will spare you for now.

Liz, Brookie and I met at Mango Tree for brunch. I cannot remember the last time I saw such an extensive spread of food. Talk about gratuitous eating. Others trickled in to join us throughout the two or more hours we were there. Eventually we left them for the comfort of Liz's departmento to play Canasta for a couple of hours. Afternoons and evenings playing Canasta with the group are some of my favorite times. I told the girls I might have to make friends with the people at the local nursing home to get my fill of this ancient card game when I get home. Brooke left us after awhile. Marco and Katita drank white Russians and watched "The Big Lebowski," while Liz and I read the Miami Herald on the bean bag couch. I doubt my life will ever be as simple as it is here. Very little is required of me and I seem to have all the time in the world to spend leisurely with my friends.

I joined Brookie and Jaja at Coffee Tree for some live music and beers. We spent the rest of the evening enjoying each other's company, completing the Miami Herald's crossword, and choking down more bad Pilsener while swaying to the rhythm of the band until Jaja put us in a cab home.

Overall, my final weekend was good. I was reminded of the simple pleasures and the remarkable friendships I have encountered along my journey here. Sadness unexpectedly swept over me when I realized it was nearly over.

Friday, July 04, 2008