A Letter to my Loved Ones

Hello to those who I care about and who care about me,

I started this blog with hopes of sharing stories and thoughts on a more frequent basis, out of an obligation and interest I felt in doing so. Additionally, I’ve been keeping up with communication on media outlets and in frequent messages to family members.

While all of this is good, I’m writing this to tell you that I intend to heavily cut back on all of this at least for the next month. There are many reasons for this decision, as I will note.

One: It takes away from my developing fluency of Spanish. Every time I communicate in English, I’m not thinking in Spanish. On days after I have a lengthy conversation with someone (for example, my mother, about pertinent medical situations that thankfully are now over) I find that in speaking with my host family afterwards my fluency is delayed. As one of the main goals of my time here is to achieve a fluency past “cualquier gringa” (“the usual gringa,” as my H. family puts it), I want to maximize my learning and development by limiting the interrupting factors.

Two: It takes me away from connecting with and appreciating the people, place, and limited time I have here. At the beginning of this journey I was struggling with the thought of spending 6 WHOLE MONTHS here, but already, one month has passed. As I keep growing within my family and community, my eyes are opened to just how many opportunities there are for me to grow here: a women’s fútbol league that practices on Sundays, a town to explore, crops to grow, patients to whack with bay leaves with my shaman grandmother, and infinite other opportunities.

Three: It puts me in the mentality of having an adventure so that I may share a story, not so that I may have an intimate learning experience just for myself. I want nothing more than to keep sharing stories with those I love, but I feel it taking away from my personal development and the reasons I decided to be on this journey in the first place. To experience situations in raw clarity, realize some of my intrinsic characteristic reactions in given experiences, reflect on those, and direct my growth into a self-sufficient, competent, loving, and empathetic individual ready to embark on a lifetime of adventures with a clearer understanding of myself.

Here’s what I think it boils down to, quoting the book If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! (thank you, Mum, for asking me to read it; yet another good idea of yours):

“Each generation of adolescents makes its own sort of search for meaning. The pilgrimage of the young is individual, though it is committed in concert. In each generation, a few make the pilgrimage in depth, devoting themselves to it, having the adventure of their lives.” To paraphrase the remainder, “some lead a halfhearted or misguided search, and some not at all.” I proudly identify myself as the first category, and so it is my wish to follow through, pushing past the difficulty and fear it presents.

And so I ask that you all, my loved ones, permit me my selfishness for the time being, with greatest understanding. I will reach out when I feel it’s right, and of course you can reach out to me at any point as well. But here I terminate my “feed of stories” for the time being, so that I may develop myself here, struggles and all, and come out of it a stronger and more sound individual ready to share stories, opinions, and new beliefs -as they naturally arise from my experiences – at a later time. I ask for your deepest understanding, love, and support as I continue this journey.

Much, much love,



Seeking Beauty and Being Stared At

Over the long weekend my family decided to take a last minute road-trip to Quito (8+ hours); having just moved my things into a different (non-slug-invaded) room in the house (and feeling like I’d just made the trek down from Quito not too long ago), I decided to stick behind, move myself in, and care for the house.
After a Friday of scrubbing, sweeping, mopping, and washing the space, Saturday morning I decided to take the bus into Cuenca to shop in the markets for a few things that would make my room feel a little more “Me.”
Bumping into the same vendor I had purchased a cozy sweater from the week before, I got a great deal on a big blanket to use as a new bedspread.
I stumbled into a fabric store and purchased a few meters of some cool prints (American Cotton) to replace the existing dull gold curtains, and spent too long deciding on just the perfect assortment of woven baskets to arrange various things.
After picking up a few packets of incense to bring a final touch of peacefulness and luxury to my little white-walled haven, I resolved the only things left to find were two buckets to wash my laundry in, one tapestry for the remaining blank wall, and an empty Coke or Sprite bottle to use as a vase for fresh flowers to adorn my desk.
So, today I walked into the center of Cañar (~1.4 miles, 25 minutes along a hilly dirt/paved road at a good pace) to seek out the buckets and bottle of soda.
Walking around town since I’ve begun living here, traveling to and from work and such, has been a somewhat frustrating reminder that I do not immediately fit in. Greeting people along the road, or even just when meeting eyes, I’ll often receive blank stares (mostly from children), shouts in English and giggles from students about my age, and occasional whistles.
This afternoon, particularly, I became more frustrated than usual at the staring and honking from cars rolling by and the fact that I just generally stick out. Reflecting during the last minutes of my walk in, I realized that my unavoidable distinction from others was a test of my self-consciousness, which in my naïvety I thought I had mastered, that I could overcome.
After learning that store-keepers would not let me purchase a soda in a glass bottle and leave the store with it; I think for the compensation they can receive from returning the glass bottle. So, admiring my Sprite on the way out of the store – a nice green glass that would look beautiful sitting on my windowsill – I got stopped on the way out, and the store owner transferred the soda to a plastic bag with a straw… so much for that plan. I didn’t attempt to tell her that I didn’t want the soda, but the bottle to hold my flowers.
Though a little dismayed about the bottle situation, I did manage to find some nice buckets.
And so I began my walk home with the clunky buckets, which reminded me of walking with the women in Malawi and Senegal – carrying water, gravel, and sand to and fro. And so I swung the buckets atop my head, freeing my body to walk at a steadier pace, and marched on home with a little more comfort and humor in my step.
For, with or without buckets stacked on my head, I embraced that I stand out here without even trying to, which is something I can’t say I’ve experienced before. I know I’ll remember this experience at future times when I might be the one inclined to stare at someone who “doesn’t belong,” and instead reach out with a smile, a greeting, or a conversation. Because right now I know all I want is for someone on the street to simply have the courage to do the same.

“¿Dónde está Chontamarca?” – My First Site Visit with CENAGRAP

Today ROCKED. I was invited to participate in my first site visit (check-up on a community water system, that is), and so I accompanied my co-workers Victor and Gilo to the community of Chontamarca – “a couple hours drive towards the coast” is all I was told. It sounded like a great way to get out of the office.

After a classic Ecuatime departure, 45 minutes after scheduled, followed a good 45-60 minute journey North on the Panamérica – at which point our truck-full of 4 (the hired driver, Victor, Galo, and I) turned off onto a dirt – well, more like really chunky gravel – road. Rolling into a sleepy town square, Victor announced (to me), “¡Aquí es Chontamarca!” and so I zipped up my backpack to hop out.

But then we proceeded to keep our pace, barreling down the dirt road, the faraway mountain crests getting closer. One by one, we entered and exited the thickly forested mountain crevaces and slopes, weaving our way along the one-lane road carved into the steep grade.
30 minutes after exiting “Chontamarca”, the road began to follow the ridgeline of a mountain descending into the Western cloud cover.

To the left and right of the road were equally stunning views of the faraway canyons sloping towards sea-level terrain, as well as little houses and horses clinging to the steep angles just below us.

After much doubling back, we pulled up to a small crowd of people and a water tank; after introductions, I learned that Galo was staying to chlorinate the tank and Victor was leaving with the driver and car for a long drive further into the valley to get signatures from members in 5 other communities; I decided to stay with Galo and learn about chlorination.

Promptly, Galo and I learned that “el presidente”, who had the keys to the locks for the opening to the tank, was not present. After 50 minutes of different people strolling down the road from the direction by which he was supposedly to arrive, all reporting that “ya viene el presidente” (“he’s already on his way”), he arrived to unlock the tanks. We soon realized the chlorine was nowhere to be found, and so we listened to the elders pass around “la culpa” (“the blame”) until a young boy walked up, the dehydrated chlorine slung over his shoulder.
So we chlorinated the tank. Long story short, 3.5 hours, a few arguments, and a broken lock later, Galo turned to me and announced, “vamos a caminar” (“now we walk”). So we returned by foot the way in which we came.

After 20 minutes on the main road, we ran into one of the elders I recognized from the group at the water tank, who motioned for us to follow him up a dirt foot path leading off the main road. A brightly bristled broom on one shoulder and a couple of buckets in his other hand, he kept an impressive pace. After following his footsteps through dried-up ravines for what must have been 20 minutes, Galo trailing me, I realized I had no idea who this guy was or where on Earth he was leading Galo and I, but we were traipsing the edge of the Andes Mountain range, and I was loving every second on it.
So I kept walking.

Finally, in the greenery of a concave fold between two jutting hillsides, the man opened a fence of barbed wire to a lush oasis of wet hillside and towering banana plants – the site of another community water system.
Accepting my gringaiety as the men set up the chlorine buckets, I traipsed about the area, taking in the HUGE banana leaves (10-12 feet long x 3-4 wide), lodged within knoby plant bases that hardly seemed suited to root themselves to the steep hillsides, and yet somehow they managed to stick it out.

Though I may be only a proficient communicator when attempting to understand the unfamiliar dialect and slang of the local people in Cañar (though I must say they get and appreciate my humor) and I might be struggling to adapt to a new home, family, lifestyle, and diet, like the banana trees on that slippery slope, I’m going to spread my roots and stick it out. And gosh, I hope I have some sweet fruits of all my labor by the end of this crazy experience. I’m betting I will.

Getting Grounded

This Monday, the 6th of October, marks the beginning of my 6th full week here in Ecuador.

The first 3 weeks in Quito (the capital city) I lived with a host family, attending language school and training seminars, squeezing in bits of exploration as I could. I summitted Volcán Pichincha, at 15,796ft above sea level, pushing the personal limits I thought previously existed a little bit further. I found a little, unassuming coffee shop where the owner, Gladys, imports green beans and roasts them herself in-house; accompanied by her homemade tamales and chocolate cake, it was easy to pass a few hours journaling and people watching in the little window seat, cozily cornered between the bright yellow walls and blue checkered curtains. After picking up some herbs at a natural remedies shop (and chatting with the ladies there for awhile), I passed by a cobbler with beautiful multi-colored hand-made shoes lining the storefront. I popped in to admire them, and walked out 30 minutes later with a great bargain on a beautiful pair of shoes. The other Fellows liked them so much, soon half of the cohort was donning the sweet suede!

On September 21st, the Fellows destined for site placements in the Southern Andes’ regions of Cañar and Azuay (including me) hopped on a bus for a 10ish hour ride South on the Panamérica highway. I was dropped off in Cañar to live with my family for one week (called Immersion Week), to be followed by a Regional Training Seminar (RTS: a reconnect of Fellows within certain regional placement areas to debrief experiences and provide support) in Vilcabamba. Following an un-fun bout of food poisoning and infection during the first week of living in my new family’s home, it was a welcoming time to regain my strength going into a 2-month block living at my site placement until another RTS at Thanksgiving.

I’m living in the community of San Rafael, which I refer to as a farm suburb, nestled in the hills surrounding the large town/small city of Cañar. I am working with a locally-run organization CENAGRAP, an acronym of Centro del Apoyo de la Gestión Rural del Agua Potable (roughly translated: Center for the Support of Rural Management of Potable Water). It was started by farmers in communities local to Cañar who wanted to manage their own sources of potable water, due to the failure of supply by the greater municipal system. It evolved into an official organization that works to help develop and manage community-run water systems, offering the development technology and strategies to local areas. My host father is the director of CENAGRAP; he also serves as my apprenticeship host.

I’ve been invited to become involved in many different sectors within the organization, beginning with participating in community water system site visits and laboratory testing of water quality in the coming week. I am excited to begin to establish my new life and responsibilities here in Cañar, both at home and at my apprenticeship. For now, it is my job to listen, to learn, and to focus on being happy right where I am.