Sunday, September 30, 2012

Back to School!

This past week I had my first day of school – not as a student, but as a teacher. I am going to be teaching English 1-2 days a week to 4th through 7th graders at an elementary school called La Sembrador (the sower). These students have had very little English before, but it’s important that they know enough basics before they go to el colegio (high school). English is a required course in high school. When I arrived at the school, I was surprised to find that the group of 7th graders I would be teaching was much younger than 7th graders would be in the U.S. These kids were only 10 or 11, as here in Ecuador, kids start school at a younger age, around 3 years old. Suffice it to say, I was glad they were younger (13-year olds are quite a handful!).

I had one hour to teach the seven graders that day. We started by introducing ourselves and reviewing the few things they already knew in English: Good morning, teacher; cat, dog, horse; numbers 1-10, and a couple more words. Then I had them say the ABC’s, making sure they pronounced each letter correctly in English, and not the Spanish pronunciation. We went over the “hard” and “soft” sounds the five vowels make, which was pretty confusing for the students (in Spanish each vowel only makes one sound). For the rest of class, we practiced simple phrases like “What is your name?” “How are you?” and “How old are you?” The kids seemed to enjoy it, although some of them were really shy about saying the words correctly. We’ll have to work on that. It was a good class, and I’m excited to work with these kids again. My mind is overflowing with fun ideas for next time!

La Escuela Sembrador

During my time at this school, I noticed a couple of interesting things. One was the idea of time. I had known previously that in Latin America the concept of time is very different – it’s more laid back. However, I found myself becoming frustrated when at the time I had been told class would start, the teachers made no move to start class. But, instead of being pushy or offending someone by asking, I decided to just go with it. It turned out that one of the teachers was having a small birthday party, so we got to be a part of that! I guess I will just have to get used to being more relaxed about time…it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

The other point that fascinated me was the idea of discipline. Several times I noticed that kids were in a classroom with no teacher, and most teachers I saw had no system in place to correct or teach the kids how to behave properly. I automatically assumed that this was inappropriate and neglectful. Later I realized that my ethnocentric thoughts had caused me to judge the way this school operated, thinking that since it wasn’t how we do it in the U.S., it was wrong. I’m still learning how their education system works, but with time I’m sure I will see how it is effective for this culture. For the time being, I might have to come up with a reward system for kids to pay attention. Thank God I have experience working as a substitute teacher.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Radical Generosity

            Since the moment I arrived in Ecuador, I have been pleasantly surprised by the generosity of Ecuadorians. From giving gifts, to providing a home, to sharing food, this culture has given me new perspective on kindness and generosity.
People here share whatever food they have. It may seem like a small thing, but to me it was a big deal because it is so different than the culture I come from. For example, in the U.S. if you went on a trip with several other people, it would be normal to bring a few snacks for the ride (something small like an apple or a bag of chips). You might offer someone a few chips but then eat the rest yourself. And that person would not be offended if you ate in front of them, because they understand that you bought the food for yourself. However, here in Ecuador the generous spirit of people is so strong that everyone offers you some of whatever they are eating.
On our bus ride to Peru, I came prepared with some bread from the bakery, a small chocolate bar, and a bag of chips. I had planned it carefully so that I would have enough food to sustain me throughout the whole 13-hour overnight trip. About an hour after leaving Quito, people started to get snacks out. Everyone offered me some of their food – even if it was just a small bag of crackers. It is just normal here that when you eat, everyone around you should get to partake as well. People didn’t seem to care if they only ate 1 piece of the entire baguette that they brought. The rest was passed around to share, without the expectation of it being returned. This act of generosity really touched me, and I realized how selfish we Americans can be, eating in front of others when they don’t have anything. I then offered my neighbors the rest of my small loaf of bread, and my seat buddy the other half of my chocolate bar. Now when I buy something, I will always think of with whom I can share it.
I have been so accustomed to just providing for my own needs, but there is something truly beautiful in sharing with a gracious heart. I needn’t have worried that I would have enough food for my journey, because the rest of my group was so willing to provide for me as well. Seeing this generosity has inspired me to think more about others, not just myself. How often do I walk down the street and see a homeless or hungry person but walk on by? How many times have I not tipped a taxi driver or hotel maid in an attempt to be frugal? Maybe I need to trust the Lord more with providing, and be more generous with what I have. At times I think I need to buy this pair of shoes or that ice cream cone, when that money could be better spent helping someone in need.
Sharing what we have can be a powerful way to show love to someone. And even when the thing we share is something small, God can use it to bless them in big ways. Just like the boy with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, an act of generosity can overflow with abundance when we put the needs of others above our own.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hills and Valleys

Over the past two weeks in Quito, I have had good days and bad days, tough experiences and superb ones. I hope that this post will give you an idea of some of the things I'm struggling with as well as things I'm enjoying.


+ Public buses and taxis here are super cheap! For example, this weekend I paid $1.50 for an hour and a half bus ride to another city. For a 1/2 hour taxi ride to the bus station it cost $2.50 per person.
- Buses here in Ecuador have no capacity limit. If you think that after all the seats were full, no one else would get on, think again! Even on bus rides longer than an hour, people pack in like sardines and shove their way to the front to get off at their stop. I was feeling seriously claustrophobic this afternoon after being tossed about in the aisle every time we stopped, mashed up against about 10 other people!! Gah.


I've said this before, and I will say it again: there are good and bad days with Spanish. Sometimes I feel like I can express myself well, other times I am often misunderstood.

+ Many people have told me I have great Spanish (one man even said it was perfect!). This boosts my confidence ever so slightly. :)
- These offhand comments are far from the truth...if only he could have heard me trying to purchase a cellphone. At times people telling me I can speak well only makes me more frustrated, knowing how limited my communication can be at times.

Ministry schedule:

- I don't have a set schedule yet, which is a hard thing for a planner like me. What I do know is that I'm supposed to support the church in its activities and events, while taking Spanish classes in Quito. This basically means going along to different meetings and learning a lot of new names.
+ I do have Spanish class 4 days a week, in the mornings. I'm also helping to reorganize the small library here at the church one day a week. Random other opportunities have come up, like this weekend going to El Prado to do a kids' program (super fun!). Also, hopefully next week I will start teaching English one day a week at a small school affiliated with a Methodist Church.

Social Life:

- As of now I haven't met many people my own age. This is a hard adjustment for me since for the past 5 years I've been around lots of young adult peers, in college and YWAM schools. Being a people person, I've had to learn how to have fun doing things by myself or with other adults.
+ On the plus side, I have met lots of very nice people in the Methodist church here. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming, and I have high hopes that once I move to Romerillos, I will make some good friends there.

¿Que más?

+ I am very thankful to have a safe, comfortable abode here in Quito. My apartment is simple but cozy, and I enjoy cooking my own meals and having some time to relax there.
- Sometimes I get stares from people on the street, seeing as there aren't too many gringos here. But I don't mind too much. For the most part, people here are very friendly and helpful.

So, as you can see, I'm bumping along the road, up and down, up and down. Highs and lows. Hills and valleys*. But through it all, I know that God is with me. He's guiding me through the hard times and rejoicing with me in the beautiful moments. This verse has given me comfort:

"But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end." Deuteronomy 11:11-12

Though maybe not literally what the author was talking about here, I can relate. Being in a new land, I am assured that God knows we will have ups and downs in life, but still cares for us and watches over us always. 

*The title of this post was inspired by the song Hills and Valleys by The Rocket Summer. You should check it out!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Life in Quito 101

As I slowly but surely adjust to living 1) in another country/continent and 2) in a huge city, here are some interesting tidbits I discovered about Quito, Ecuador.

1. "Pare" is written on stop signs here, which in my mind makes a lot more sense than the "alto" used commonly in Mexico and Costa Rica.
2. Exchanging money here is easy because Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar (i.e. you don't have to exchange it!). I have never once seen a $1 bill, but the $1 Sacagawea coin is widely used. Some old Ecuadorian coins are still in circulation, and are equivalent to the U.S. coins (and there is a 50 cent piece!).
3. Flower shops can be found on practically every street corner. The huge rose industry here ships flowers mainly to the U.S. and Europe.
4. Quito's roads have a separate lane specifically for buses/trolleys, in order to move faster (without having to stop in traffic).
5. Gas heap is super cheap! Regular gasoline costs about $1.50 per gallon (yes, they use gallons). This is because, due to the petroleum industry, gas is subsidized by the government.
6. Every Sunday morning one of the main roads here (Avenida de las Amazonas) is closed off to all vehicles, in order to allow for the hundreds of bicyclists that ride down the street. This event, called Ciclopaseo, is similar (although smaller scale) to Critical Mass bike events around the world.
7. Many artisan shops sell small figurines carved out of tagua, a small nut that grows on a type of palm tree. The result is often referred to as vegetable ivory - it's a cheaper and more ethical way to produce the same look.

Having lived in the city for over a week now, I am getting used to taking taxis (very cheap!), wandering around the HUGE park nearby, and exploring little shops on my way to class. Many times I wish I had more to do during this time of study. Hopefully opportunities will arise to take part in community activities or make new connections. For now, I'm still figuring out my role...and trying hard not to look too much like a tourist!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


I have now been in Ecuador for five complete days. So much has happened already, and I'm feeling the information overload. The first few days were amazing, seeing the city and learning more about the culture. Saturday, my first full day here, I joined a group of people from South Carolina, who had been here on a week-long mission trip, for some touristy activities. We first toured a famous basilica here in Quito, La Basílica del Voto Nacional.

After viewing the inside, we happened upon a folkloric festival outside, where people dressed in traditional costumes danced in a pattern, holding some kind of ribbon, to the music of trumpets and trombones.

Later that afternoon we went to a place called El Panecillo, which is a large hill in the middle of Quito, separating and providing a magnificent view of the North (more affluent) and South (poorer) parts of the city. A statue of a virgin, made entirely of aluminum pieces, rises up on this hill, interestingly facing the North, with her back to the South. From here I caught an initial peek of Cotopaxi, mostly hidden behind clouds.

On Sunday after church, my wonderful hosts Sara and Dakin took me to La Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world) i.e. the Equator! The drive from Quito is only about an hour north. Strange as it seems, the tourist spot where everyone goes to take pictures of the "equatorial line" is not really the correct line. It was measured in the 1700's (before satellite), so we know now that it was about 200 meters off. Nevertheless, people come from all over the world to see and to plant one foot in the south and the other in the north hemisphere. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera this day. :(

Monday I had the opportunity to go with a local pastor to Pastocalles, a community near the one where I will be working, Romerillos. We went to attend the first day of school presentation at the escuela in Pastocalles, which is affiliated with the Methodist Church but run by the government. The kids looked adorable in their uniforms, reciting a phrase in quechua, one of the local indigenous languages, and singing the national anthem. Afterwards, the pastor talked to me about helping teach an English class there once a week; I told him I would love to!

The rest of this week has been filled with various preparations for my next two months here in Quito. I signed up for Spanish classes 3-4 days a week, set up some things in my future apartment, and started studying a map to figure out where things are in the city. Today I went to immigration to make my visa "official", since what I got in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the U.S. is only good for 30 days. Even though these errands don't necessarily take all day long, at the end of every day I feel completely exhausted and overwhelmed. Maybe it's being new to the city, maybe it's trying to express myself in a second language, maybe it's the stress of not yet knowing the ropes of how to live in this culture. Or maybe, most likely, it's all of these combined. I am learning to take things paso a paso, step by step.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ready, set, go!

Fly home. Drive to Miami and back. Get visa in Chicago. Drive to Michigan and back. Create budget. Doctor. Vet. Oh yeah, and packing.

The past few weeks have been busy....and, yes, stressful.

This is a unique time in my life. The past three weeks I have had to figure out how to leave well or "uproot" from a place I have called home for most of my life. Saying good-byes, talking to my church, and deciding what to take with me for a year and a half of my life. I had no idea what to expect. Now that I'm here, I'll have to figure out how to start new or "plant" new roots in a country I have never been to before. As you can guess, this intense of a move has caused quite a bit of stress during this time of transition. 

But, I made it! After an hour delay on my flight due to having to remove the baggage of a passenger who was M.I.A., and four hours of air travel (including a beautiful view of Cuba on the way down), I arrived in Quito. The next step was to get through immigration (i.e. wait for 5 minutes while the official examined my visa), identify my bags (i.e. maneuver a cart through a pushy crowd and load those suitcases up), and find my way to the person who was here to meet me (I was expecting one person, but in reality there were 12). When I spotted the man holding a sign with my name and waved at him, I was immediately surrounded by people greeting me and handing me flowers. Who were all these people? I thought. It turned out that a group from the church where I will be working drove the 2 hours to the airport to meet me! What a sweet and welcoming group.

This weekend (and for the next few days) I am staying with a missionary couple who are based in Ecuador. They have graciously provided room for me and I feel at home already. This weekend I have spent time getting to know some of the people I'll be working with and seeing some of the sights of the city. More to come on this later!