29 December 2010

Kuki, is good.

 This post is dedicated to Nabil, and his Kuki Sheip Khead.

This is what we do for fun. Forgive the Persian accent. Its my best attempt.

Mystery Fruits!

Maryam tries "Passion Fruit"

28 December 2010

Christmas, and other WARM stuff

Vacations are amazing. I just got back from 5 restful days in the coastal region of Ecuador, in Milagro, Guayaquil, and Chongón, to be exact.

We left from Otavalo Wednesday night. The way people travel here is mainly by bus, and they try to take long bus rides in the evenings and arrive in the morning, where they usually continue with only a bit of a nap (or no nap) to catch up on sleep. I'm still getting used to this type of travel, but I can sleep generally pretty well on a bus, so it was no big deal for me. We arrived in Milagro early Thursday morning, and took a cab to Bahieh's lovely third-floor apartment. The cab was a bit of a shock into the accent of the Coastal Ecuadorians--it was like learning Spanish all over again!

It was so fun to see Bahieh again! She was so welcoming to us and introduced us to all her neighbors, including those that lived on the bottom floor and invited us to their traditional 12:00 Christmas Turkey feast! She has a wonderful apartment, with thick, glorious mattresses and a fully-equipped kitchen. I slept beautifully, without the need of sweatshirts and thick blankets, and wore shorts every day, absorbing the sun!

We spent two days in Milagro, traveling a bit but mostly walking around the neighborhood and meeting Bahieh's extremely welcoming and kind neighbors. It reminded me strangely of my Freeport family: when we go to the Lakes for our family reunions, everyone spends their time chatting with their doors open. It was the same here, everyone knows all their neighbors, and invites them in for a soda or fresh papaya. A really excellent way to spend time during the season when everyone is with their families: with a neighborhood that embraces you as their family right away!

Next we traveled to Guayaquil on Christmas day. Christmas here is usually a day where everyone sleeps in: they stay up until three or four in the morning on Christmas Eve, dancing and playing music and lighting fireworks (We didn't partake in this part of Christmas; after the dinner I was OUT until morning) and so they sleep in and have a very restful Christmas. Or in our case, a slow morning to clean up the house, a devotional with the neighbors, and a bus ride to the huge city of Guayaquil. We met up with some dear friends Jim and Susanna, and spent the night at their huge, beautiful home, with air conditioning and hot water and friendly faces that arrived the next morning for a Book 7 refresher, which I didn't attend. Instead, I spent the morning gloriously reading the ample supply of English Literature in that house before meeting up with yet another beautiful friend, Tahereh, who lives in Chongón, a tiny little town about 30 minutes outside of Guayaquil.

Chongón is very quaint, and staying with Tahereh, even for a night, was amazing. We got a few new taste treats such as Choclo (corn) on the cob rolled in mayonnaise and grated cheese (sounds disgusting, but tastes deliciousssss) and passion fruit (We made a new Mystery Fruits video, to be posted soon) and got to visit with Jordan and his sister, who are working with the media project there.

All too soon it was time to go home. The bus ride back was less than enjoyable: we had no air conditioning or heating, so the first half of the bus ride was unbearably hot and sticky, the second half freezing cold. But taking time away really makes coming home feel more like an hogar rather than a casa. Sure, maybe we have thin cochones instead of actual mattresses. But after 10 hours on a bus, they felt swell, and they were all my very own. Well, for this year at least!

So I had a great trip, a little more of Ecuador seen, and most of all, I'm happy to be home!

21 December 2010

Sometimes, I miss stuff

The title basically says it all. I'm super happy here, and I'm not super sad to be staying a year without going home. I was prepared to have vacations traveling in South America, not skiing at Hatcher's. But now, everyone's facebook post is "Its so great to be home!".

And so maybe I want to be in Alaska too.

Which sucks, but I'm sure it will pass. I have stuff to look forward too, like spending Christmas in Milagro with Bahieh and Maryam, who are amazing. (And, did I mention Milagro is warmer than Otavalo, which means it is tropical compared to Alaska?) I spent yesterday on a field trip with some of my favorite students, which deserves a whole post to itself. And I got a message from Lewis and Clark, which means they didn't forget me! (and consequently means, hello scholarship applications).

But anyways: Family, I miss you and our christmas tree and the ease of making hot cocoa or chai tea in the microwave. I also miss our coffee maker; this instant powder stuff is just not the same.

Friends: I miss you and going skiing with you and kayak sledding and christmas carols and sitting in front of fireplaces, and candy canes. And I miss the feeling of coming together after  a long time apart, which I haven't actually experienced yet, but it sounds amazing. Keep updating your facebooks, I want to live vicariously through you. And group skype, please!

I miss you!

19 December 2010

Cheating Hurts

You know how people say "Cheating just hurts yourself"? Well, I think thats true on some level.

And on another level, completely, completely false.

Cheating does not just hurt the person who is cheating. It hurts their classmates who now have to re-take a different test. It hurts the other students in different classes who also have to take a new test based on 5 people who were dishonest. And it really, really hurts the teacher who not only feels like she failed the class but was also betrayed by her students.

This past one was a hard week.

The final I wrote was not hard. I took questions directly from the book. I had multiple choice and fill in the blank, using words that we had all talked about in class. I made sure all the instructions were easily understood and translated them into Spanish if it was beyond their capacity to understand. And so I was incredibly disappointed to find that 7 of my 14 kids recieved below a 50% on their test, one as low as a 15%. If they had even read their book, they would have been able to get at least a 60%. If they had done their homework and studied slightly? 80%. And so the fact that only 4 of my students got an 80% or higher really bugged me. It meant that they didn't have the inspiration or motivation from me as a teacher to do their homework or care enough about learning English to pass a final.

To make matters worse, I found out on Friday that someone from another class had stolen my test, thinking it was his, and then gave it, half filled out, to one of my students, who claims she didn't use it for the test, and yet went to the bathroom for 15 minutes during the test. Not that it did any good; still a failing grade, but really? It was just terrible on so many levels.

I had some talks with some of the teachers in the school, and my dad, and Maryam, which allowed me to put some perspective to the World Suck I was feeling. So I understand that it is not solely my fault, that the same students that fail my class fail pretty much all their other classes as well, and that if they are not willing to put the effort in, I can't make them do anything. But you know, I still feel the world suck.

And, I have to write another exam. Part of me wants to make it crazy hard. But that would be unfair to the large percentage of my class that didn't cheat. And I don't want to give up on my students. Because I'm responsible for their education, right?

So next trimester, after break, there will be some changes in my class. There will be a new test, which they will hopefully do better on. There will be written expectations that need to be signed by their parents. And hopefully, a few more of my students will "Get their Learn on" (Thanks Mr. Ripley for that quote!)

15 December 2010

Got Your Nose

I now ride a different bus home from school, sometimes. All in all, this is a pretty good solution to the whole Bus-Driver-Who-Hates-Us thing. Because we end up actually closer to our house, in town (where we can buy food if we so desire) and have the added bonus of getting to sit with segundo de basica students.

These 6 year olds are my favorite. Jharyf and Joel are very energetic, and they sit with me and offer me licks of their lollypops and ask me to do magic (Dad, the taking off of the finger trick works wonders, let me tell you). They get extremely excited about EVERYTHING, for instance when I do the whole "Got your nose" trick. And sometimes, they say very random things like "I'm hungry, I think I'll eat your ear". But all in all, I really like that these students like me, and sit with me on the bus, and wave frenetically when I get off and say "No te vayas...Bye profe bye profe!"*.

I think I actually like kids now.

*Don't go...bye teacher bye teacher!

14 December 2010

Reading makes me think, which makes me miss government.

This morning I missed the bus. Sadly, this means that I don't get to spend 40 minutes with 10 just-waking-up jardín students (possibly the time where they are the cutest, and easiest to handle) and I walk 20 minutes to the bus stop just to pay a taxi so I could get to school. But there are sometimes perks, such as having a chat with the woman who owns a shop near my bus stop. And getting to eat breakfast at a small cafe, which had PIE. Pie de mora (blackberries) which was $1.00 (less than half then at the name brand "Pie Shop" around the corner) made it almost worth missing the bus. And reading the Universal House of Justice's Statement on Individual Rights and Freedoms made me an incredibly happy camper this morning.

This post is mostly dedicated to the Universal House of Justice, and how amazing this Supreme Body is. For those of you who don't want to click on the link above, the UHJ is a body of 9 members elected by the Bahai's every 5 years. They guide the Bahai's on a global level, both spiritually and administratively. The statement I read this morning was written in 1988, and addresses the role of individual rights and freedoms in the New World Order. And I understand that this may be gibberish to a lot of the people that are reading this, but if you have some time on your hand, I encourage you to read it. It has an eloquence that I aspire to write with, it is about a topic that is truly relevant to everyone, and makes you think: about our state of the world, and the potential we have been endowed with to create a better one.

Anyways. I am becoming more interested in the Administrative Order of the Faith since I've been here. It brings what I love about government (I'm still not actually able to define what I love about government, though...) with the harmony and...(can't find the word, but its the feeling you get when you see a plant under the microscope and understand how all the cells work on a microscopic--no, molecular--level, and just have this overwhelming awe at the dual complexity and simplicity of the world) of the Bahai Faith. And I just wanted to share that with you.

Also, in this statement (Paragraph 21, to be exact) it mentions Hobbes, Locke, Jefferson, and Mill. And I was thinking, I kind of miss We The People, and government class. But don't tell anyone I said that.

Oh, and in other news: Yesterday I had my ear eaten by two segundo students. More about that later...

11 December 2010

I know 4 people named Jose Luis

People have very interesting names here. I have the lucky opportunity of being at a school, and so I conozco lots of very different names. Like Fran, my prebasica student who climbs the walls. And Jharyf, who us 6 and likes to play air guitar. And Rafael, who we call Rafa, who sometimes hides under his desk when he doesn't want to do work, but when we are actually doing work under our desk*, insists on writing above his desk like a normal person. And Mauiuxi, whose name I still think I'm pronouncing wrong (when I ask her, "Did I say that right?" she just kind of rolls her eyes and nods halfheartedly.)

There's Svami, and Lady (actually a few Ladys--Ladies?--) and Yarina and Giro and Nandy and Nyeli and, of course, the 4 people I know named José Luís. There's Edgar and Edwin and even (this is my favorite) someone named Darwin.

They have more conventional names too. Pablo is popular. Leslie, Lidia, Juan, Shirley, Carlos, Sara...And so I wonder. Am I just not aware of the more inventive names in the US? Its a melting pot, right? and yet in almost every class I had at school, there were two of one names, "Tyler C and Tyler H" or "Katie F. and Katie L." Is it only celebrities that can name their children something different? Or is this something special in Ecuador...something that adds to the individuality of each student.

Everyone has 4 names here. Two "First names" (and some people call you by one, some people call you by the other) and two last names, one from your mother's side and one apellido from your fathers'. And so there are very few coincidences that two people are named "John Smith". (Although I have two students in Colegio named Karen Something Yacelga Terán and Karen Something Something Yacelga...talk about confusing when you're giving them grades)

This is something I love about Ecuador. That, and that they add "ito" to your name when you're familiar. So Pablo is Pablito and Sara is Sarita and Maryam is Maryamcita. Sadly, Valerie doesn't transfer to an "ita" ending as well, but they try, and its cute.

In other news: I LOVE PERSIAN FOOD. And watching Toy Story 3 in Spanish with my neighbors, and having them fall asleep on my shoulders. And I don't love taking away lollypops from my prebasica students after they have green apple slobber with mixed saliva from every student in the class covering the desk, my hands, and their school clothes, throwing it away, and then having them pick it up out of the trash and continue to eat it. But its a good experience to tell me to put all future food items on a high shelf before sneaking it off to throw it away. And, I love the happiness I feel when my youngest prebasica student says "May I go to the bathroom please?" (although it comes out like "MaI Got Bafroo Peas?") and then the next class, I get asked "Can we play the Baño game?" (they ask me, "May I Go to the Bathroom Please" and then they go tag a sign with a toilet on it or hi-5 Maryam who's holding the "Bathroom" and race back)

So I'm happy. Happy to know people with all these names, happy to have worn a tank top today, happy that my neighbor Kevin is playing Christmas Carols on his recorder...over...and over....and over...Happy that I finally bought a jump drive and a pair of much-needed scissors, and happy to have long distance family and friends who I love!

Happy December 11th!

*We were learning about how Michelangelo painted the roof of the Sistine Chapel on his back, and so were practicing by coloring papers taped to the underside of the desk. 

07 December 2010

My little sister is growing up

So, a very exciting thing happened in the life of the Schleich family today: 


28 November 2010

A Very Exciting Moment in Time

Today was the Censo. This is quite different from the US. All over Ecuador, every citizen (and traveler) was confined to their own homes from 7am until 5:30. Police were in the streets to direct any unknowing citizens back to their houses. And Census-takers went to each house and asked each family a 6-8 page questionnaire that took about 20 minutes per family.

These were pretty detailed questions, for what I was expecting of the Census. In the US, we get living situation, marital status, age and ethnicity. This questionnaire featured the material the house was made of, the quality of the roof material, and number of light bulbs. It asked education level of each member, whether they were able to use the telephone, internet, and computer. It specified the number of rooms in each house and the language each individual speaks. It asked about health insurance, work, utility payments, and number of children.

This was all very exciting. We took our Censo with our neighbors for ease of answering questions (the first page on building materials, etc was the exact same as their house, anyways). The most exciting part of the day, however, was when the Census-taker (a young-looking university or high school student with a Ronaldo-haircut and earring) asked what languages I speak. And I was all "Inglés" and then my neighbor was like "Español tambien."


According to the Ecuadorian Government, I AM BILINGUAL!!!!!!!!!!

25 November 2010

The Mandatory Thanksgiving Post

So, I think its blogging etiquette to post on Thanksgiving. Because thanksgiving is a time for sitting around a heavily loaded down table and making eloquent speeches about the blessings in your life.

This wasn't how I spent my Thanksgiving. Living in Ecuador means people don't celebrate my favorite holiday here. But I didn't go to school due to a flu bug. After waking up for the third time (the first to decide that I was too sick to go to school, the second after being poked in the cheek by my 4-year-old neighbor before he went to school, and finally the third of my own accord) I spent the day in looking up writings for the Day of the Covenant (which I think might be my favorite Holy Day, which just makes it so cool, because its like favorite Old-World Holiday meets favorite New-World Holiday, ShaZAM!) celebration that evening, calling my family and friends, and moving very slowly to evade nausea and seeing stars.

At 12:30, my neighbor got home from school, which led to a few hours of trying to keep up with his constant do-this-do-that-WOW! energy. We made cards, drawings, pancakes, pirate costumes, and a box for his plastic animal-toys, and watched National Geographic videos of sharks and eagles, which are some of his favorite animals. At which time Maryam got home with surprise pie, chocolate, and nutella (along with normal food) as a Thanksgiving treat! (Thank you Maryam, this saved my life). And so I rested, took a nap, and ate some pie before going to the Day of the Covenant celebration.

The Covenant is one of those things that the greater your understanding, the more it blows your mind. I remember when I was little and I thought of 'Abdu'l-Bahá as simply "the Perfect Exemplar". And that was awesome (and I say that word to mean "filled with awe", not 'cool'). But more recently, I've profundizado (deepened) on 'Abdu'l-Bahá more: as the Center of the Covenant, as the Interpreter of the Writings, as the Teacher of the Western world. And the enormity of this gift that we've been given in the form of 'Abdu'l-Bahá just stuns me again. Especially as the Center of the Covenant. Because it ensures the unity of the Bahai Faith. It gives it legitimacy. It provides an order, which in turn provides a means of progression by the Bahai's on a worldwide level. Everything about it fits together so well...I just sigh to myself when I think about it; a happy sigh that means I know that things are going to work out, because there's a divine order to this.

The Day of the Covenant was very nice. And afterwards, we had a dinner of lentils, rice, and (you guessed it) chicken. Not exactly what you'd expect for Thanksgiving, but it was served, and I was eating dinner with the Bahai community, all sitting together. It was like in How the Grinch Stole Christmas* where all the Whos have the spirit of Christmas without the toys; we had the spirit of community and family without the turkey and mashed potatoes. And sitting next to Maryam, I brainstormed some things I'm thankful for:

Family: Because I felt their absence today, but also felt their love. (And I got to talk to some who I haven't talked to in a very long time. I love you Carly, Jenny, Robbie, Sue, Nancy, and of course Granny and Gramps!)

The Community Here: Because they've embraced me and helped me grow so much here. Because they're patient when I say "It's crying" instead of "It's raining" and have to hear everything twice before I understand.

Maryam: Because when I'm frustrated from school or headaches or the hot water heater, she understands and sympathizes without dragging me down into a spiral of self-pity. And she brings pie home. And she sings like a pro, and likes Wicked, and laughs at her own jokes.

My education, and ability to learn: Because I really feel blessed to have the understanding of the world that I do. (If that makes sense)

Our house: Because even though I just washed a honkin' daddy slug down the sink, its home.

The opportunities and worldview I've received from living in the United States: Because I was able to make copies and print things in high school, and because I had breaks between classes, and because I learned Spanish in an easier manner than the kids learn English here. And also, I'm thankful that although I grew up in the US, I am able to understand that because we  have a very bountiful culture does not mean it is innately better, and I have an appreciation of other cultures too.

My Faith: Because taking this year was one of the best decisions I've made in my life, and because being a Bahai is a very integrated part of me, and because through my faith I can better the world.

My Parents: Because I am only now becoming aware of some of the things you've done for me, and feeling the effects of your nurturing. Because I see parents here, with their strengths and weaknesses, and I think "Wow, I was lucky. I got the most amazing parents ever". Because when I think of ways to better my teaching, I think of ways my parents taught me.

 Happy Thanksgiving, World.

*Or Thanksgiving, rather

22 November 2010

Top 10: The Best's and Worst's of my time here (so far)

Its been awhile since I've done top 10 lists. So I'm going to have two in this post. This will also show a comparison: The good undoubtedly outweighs the bad. I had this mini-epiphany today walking home from school, and we were complaining about being confused and frustrated with our bus driver (see #1 of the 'Bad' list) and I just thought "Geez, if this is the worst thing in my life, I really have it good." And to communicate that goodness:

10. People here are so friendly. Some examples of this: Total strangers will say "Buenos dias" to you on the street, and look in your eyes and smile. The Bahai truck will pick up people in the communities that need a ride and carry them in the back of the truck into town, and refuse to accept payment. Our Market Man will sometimes throw in an extra piece of free bread, and his wife gives us hints on how to cure a sore throat. Its just...friendly.

9. I am learning the language. (key word: learnING. It's a process...) This whole Spanish thing is legit, although confusing when you start forgetting the word for "fosforo" in English (matches). Also, the spanish language has some things that make a lot more sense than English. For instance, they have a different word for "you" when they're talking to a group of people, and  a different verb ending too, so you always know if someone is asking you plural or you singular to do something. When I speak English, I feel like I need to express that plurality and so have started saying "you plural" to make up for the lack of clarification in the English language.

8.I am re-learning English. This is because I am teaching English, and so I have to know what Superlative Adjectives and Adverbs of Frequency and Gerunds are. Which is boring and I'm not exactly sure why I put it on the good list at all. I guess because I'm learning stuff, and I see that as an accomplishment...

7. No homework. Okay, there's the Hidden Word memorization and the studies of Dawn Breakers and Tablets of the Divine Plan. But that's actually work that I like. Because 1) It gives me some structure for studying Bahai Writings 2) It forces me to learn more Spanish and actual grammatical structure and 3) I feel so accomplished when I have everything done! Also, no squirrels.

6. Independence! I can cook my own meals, sleep when I want, and I'm entirely responsible for myself. And I like that a lot.

5. Our neighbors, because they're awesome and adorable and spiritually uplifting and familial and just great.

4. Stuff is really cheap here.

3. The culture is very cool, and very present. People still dress in indigenous clothing, and the men wear their hair long and braided/in a ponytail. They have all sorts of processions and parades and school events and memorial days that have strong links both to the indigenous culture and the more recent culture of occupation and independence. In the music (the charango and pipe flutes, which I am learning to play--the charango is a lot like the ukulele!), the food, the hospitality, its wonderful to see how strongly rooted the populace is.

2. The amazing youth that are doing service here alongside me. This is something I didn't really expect when I contemplated coming here; the lovely people I've met are extraordinary! They're such brilliant examples for hardworking, dedicated, and joyous people, and so helpful in teaching me so much!

1. I feel...purposeful. Like I'm doing something good for the world. My thoughts can be better described by this quote: 

Praise be to God!  The medieval ages of darkness have passed away and this century of radiance has dawned, this century wherein the reality of things is becoming evident, wherein science is penetrating the mysteries of the universe, the oneness of the world of humanity is being established, and service to mankind is the paramount motive of all existence.*
I feel like I can truly see the "oneness of the world of humanity being established", and I am participating in "the paramount motive of all existence". What better feeling can there be?


And this needs a disclaimer. Shogi Effendi says: 

Such hindrances (i.e., illness and other difficulties) no matter how severe and insuperable they may at first seem, can and should be effectively overcome through the combined and sustained power of prayer and of determined and continued effort.**
But as you will see by the following list, these difficulties aren't really that "severe and insuperable" (although I'm still keeping a determined and continued effort, and praying too). This is more to share, with a bit of humor, some of the small challenges I am having.

10. Our bus driver hates us (I think). Sometimes, he will come 5 or 10 minutes early, and then not wait for us. One eventful morning, I was chasing after him in a bright yellow sweater and heels, waving and yelling and making a fool of myself in general. And does he stop? Oh, yes, to let his son off at his stop, at which time he promptly drove away, leaving me fuming, with sore feet and sore sense of dignity. And we've progressively been dropped off farther and farther away from our home...a 5 minute walk turned to a 10  minute walk which is now a 15 minute walk. And then there was the time that he said he would pick us up right outside our house from then on, and then after a week of not picking us up he was like "Oh, that was just for that one day because my son was on vacation." What?!?!?!

9. Sometimes, I get cold. This is due to the lack of indoor heating. Or just, heating. Usually this is not a big problem. Put on a sweatshirt and you're fine. But if its been raining for the past week, sometimes you get very, VERY cold and wear every single long sleeved shirt you own and your hands are still cold. BUT THE SUN IS OUT TODAY. So I remain optimistic.

8. Our shower, which is named "The Beast". It is named The Beast because our hot water heater sometimes makes this I'm-going-to-blow-up noise, and the pipe connecting the shower head to the wall starts shaking and vibrating, and the water turns scalding hot. And then there will be this huge flood of scalding water, and you have to jump into a corner to avoid second-degree burns. And then, its hot water exhausted, the water will become frigid, leaving you soapy and shivering, waiting for the process to begin again. Luckily, through the process of trial-and-error, Maryam and I have somewhat managed to "tame the Beast" through a process of turning the single "water" knob up and down when we predict the oncome of cold or hot water.

7. No carpets. So I have to wear slippers or shoes all the time, and sweep very often. And barefoot=really dirty feet/possible stepping on a slug that has entered our house on the sly. Gross!

6. I miss things. Like (most importantly) my family and friends. And also, my trampoline and blanket with fish on it. And our kitchen, with, you know, cookie sheets and more than two utensils so you don't have to wash dishes 5 times a day.

5. No libraries/bookstores. Luckily, I have my nook, so I can read lots and lots of books, especially free samples of books. But I'm a girl that loves going to a bookstore to browse. Or a library. And I can't here. Also, I can't get Harry Potter on my nook, which brings us to...

4. Harry Potter only shows in Quito, where tickets were sold out. Hopefully next weekend. Because I hear from Some People that its amazing. And I miss out on talking Harry Potter Books with people here...most of them just watch the movies and haven't read the books. Which is understandable, because you know, they're REALLY EXPENSIVE TO BUY IN SPANISH. But, still.

3. Grading. And writing my own exams. And URGH! The teaching part I don't mind as much. But handing out grades, and keeping grades, and bargaining (or, in my case, resisting bargaining) with students about their grades is a headache that I will be so happy to leave at the end of this year. Because really, if you don't pay attention, haven't turned in homework at all this year, and don't even have your book, do you really expect me to give you a good grade?

2. No overlapping internet and electricity areas in our house. Our one always-functioning electrical outlet is in the kitchen. The place where we get internet is in the bedroom. Which means a lot of abruptly cut off phone calls.

1. Only one type of cheese. And sadly, this cheese is not orange. It is mozzerella, which also doesn't melt very well. Hence the impossibility to make Mac and cheese. Luckily, I have amazing Friends that send me Mac and Cheese so I don't die from that deprivation.***

 *‘Abdu’l-Bahá:  Promulgation of Universal Peace*, Page: 369
**Shoghi Effendi:  Directives of the Guardian, Page: 38
 ***Thank you, Elika!

16 November 2010

What started out as a scholarship essay...

Its still raining. 

Which means that I am in the mood to curl up on a corner of my bed with a cup of tea and write. And because I'm planning on going to college next year, the obvious choice of writing is scholarships. Sadly, my scholarship essay turned into some sort of journal summary-type thing. So I don't really know what this is. Maybe I can use it for another scholarship sometime (I do love to recycle). Maybe it can just chill here in the depths of cyberspace until I'm 83 and want to remember "life as a young'un". But it is what it is, so here goes:

My name is Valerie, and I am writing this application sitting on a squeaky bed (for lack of a desk) in the rainy city of Otavalo, Ecuador.

“How did you get to be here?” is the obvious question, and indeed I sometimes ask it of myself. Last year at this time, a senior at the top of my graduating class, going anywhere outside of college, let alone another country, was out of the question. I wanted to get out of Alaska. I wanted to have new experiences, meet new people, and learn how I could contribute to the world. To me, this ideal future had one label: Get into a University.

And so I applied, I stressed, I scholarshipped, I waited, I angsted, and was finally accepted. Then, I made what I thought was the hardest decision of my life, and enrolled at Lewis and Clark college.

It was about this time that I started thinking about the reality of what I was doing. I love learning, but my senior year was certainly exhausting; did I really want to jump into more studies? I worked diligently over the summer, aware that Lewis and Clark is not economically the easiest choice. Was I ready to give up every break to working to pay for school? I read quotes from my religion, the Baha'i Faith, on the importance of spending a year of my life devoted to service to humanity.

I think it was the quotes that finally did it. And I thought, college will always be there, but right now I am between stages in my life, and can take this opportunity to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth! And I sent in my deferral form, and emailed several countries in South America about giving service there. And a Baha'i school in Ecuador replied, saying they accept volunteer English teachers.

A visa, two suitcases, and lots of hugs later, I was on my way. I was no stranger to travel, having gone to Europe the summer before with a friend, and having lived in Athens, Greece for two years with my family.  This, however, was a big step for independence and took a lot of courage.  I remember groggily walking out of the airport after 24 hours of travel, listening to a then-incomprehensible babble of Spanish and saying a prayer that I would be able to cope with whatever I’d gotten myself into.

That was three months ago, and I love it here. In the short space of three months, I have gained a myriad of aprendizajes. How to cook French fries, disciplining children without being “mean”, and a fluency in Spanish I’d never get in a classroom are certainly things that will help me in life.

Apart from what I’ve learned is the feeling of fulfilment I get from serving. Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, said, ““Blessed is he and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth.” * Sure, I get home from classes, and I’m frustrated with my students and especially my own abilities as a teacher, but when I take a step back from my day-to-day challenges, I truly feel blessed and happy. Service fulfils a spiritual need that I believe we all have, to give and make a positive difference in the world.

Taking a “year off” and coming here was the best decision I’ve made in my life.

Now, I’m thinking about other decisions. One certain effect this year will have for my future is my dedication to service, not only this year, but integrated throughout my life. This realization has led me to meditate on other decisions. I’m thinking about college, and how I want to be able to remain active in the Baha'i community during school. I’m thinking about the dedication of the students here, and I’m thinking about what career I want to pursue, and I’m thinking about how I want to spend my summers in the upcoming 4 years, and…I’m thinking.  I’m praying, too. Because if there’s one thing I know, its that God knows his plan for me, and by praying, maybe I can figure out my plan for me too.

*Gleanings of the Writings of Baha’u’llah


So that’s that. And there’s another quote I wanted to share with  you. I came across it when skyping with Emily,  and I really like it:

Service to humanity is service to God. Let the love and light of the Kingdom radiate through you until all who look upon you shall be illumined by its reflection. Be as stars, brilliant and sparkling in the loftiness of their heavenly station.
-`Abdu'l-Baha: Promulgation of Universal Peace

15 November 2010

ENFERMEDAD. And some other things.

I should be writing scholarship applications right now. Its that time of year, I just feel like its not because its warm outside.

Wait, did I say warm outside? I guess I meant that relatively. Because I am wearing every jacket I own (except the purple one thats made of cloth and not warm), plus some sweatshirts/shirts. Its rained for the past three days. Luckily, the sun came out today, but I still feel chilled to the bone.

The other reason I'm chilled to the bone is that I've been sick. Don't be alarmed, people, as Mrs. Bennet would say, "People don't die of little trifling colds."* They're just pretty uncomfortable. Although being sick and surrounded by people that wash the dishes every morning (Maryam!) and sing songs in the kitchen (Marlon!) and bake cookies with you (Andy!), and skyping people that you LOVE (Elika! Emily! Parents! Granny and Gramps! Jaron!) is just about as comfortable as you can get (Although I wouldn't say no to Mr. Darcy walking in to inquire after me). Also, I'm sick with about 78% of the population here, no joke. I was plenty well to go to school today (although I sound like a sapo**) and was disgusted, but not surprised, to see 10 runny noses out of my 12 prebasica students (the 2 others were home sick). So my goal is to get better, fast. And take tissues and hand sanitizer to my next prebasica class.

Maryam woke up sick today. And so I took her art class with 2o de basica. We made get well soon cards, which are so cute I'm going to post a photo of them!
Dear Maryam, those are actually hearts.

In other news: I just finished reading el Narración de Nabil IN SPANISH! For those of you that don't know, Nabil's Narrative is a book written by Shogi Effendi on the early history of the Bahai Faith. Its difficult to understand, even in English, because there are lots of Persian names and unfamiliar places, and sometimes the chronology of the story doesn't exactly make sense*** and so in Spanish, its mega-hard. But I feel so accomplished now that I've read all of it! And it has some very inspiring stories, which before I'd only heard parts of. Next week, I believe we're starting Tablets of the Divine Plan, which I am uber excited to study! If only school had been more like Bahai school...I would've actually done my homework more often.

I was talking with my neighbor, José Luis, about where he studied. He's actually still studying, in Quito. But he went to a university in Colombia, which he described as a Bahai university. Apart from getting a degree in literature (He teaches at the school) he took really amazing, intense-sounding Bahai studies classes. And I was like, WOW. That is amazing. I want to do that.

I have the most wonderful neighbors in the world! I actually met another, who lives behind us. Her name is Nancy, and she is also in fact Lovebird #1. She just came and knocked on my door to ask about helping her with her English homework. She's studying in University in Ibarra, a town 20 minutes away.

My other neighbors are brilliant too. I got to share Kendy's 4th birthday with the other youth who are doing service here. This sharing started at 8:00 (on a Sunday!) when he walked into our house and said "Todavia nadie me dijo feliz cumpleaños."**** He spent the morning with us, as we were making his cards and eating breakfast.

Then we went to Ibarra to go shopping. This was fun! I bought new jeans (desperately needed) and then we went to Jugetón, which was a really really cool toy store. It made me forget that I'm legally an adult, and I pretended I was just turning 4 and picked out presents for Kendy (frisbee, beach ball, and those little rubber band animals that go on your wrist). Then we got lunch at KFC (pronounced Ka Effe Se) and returned home for cake.
And then we went to Feast together. I love this family!

In other news: Maryam and I decorated the "Choza" for our Holy Day celebration of the Birth of Baha'u'llah. We used lots and lots of roses, which are very cheap here! Here's some photos of our work: 

We made the sign with Kendy

The floor of the choza, decorated with rose petals

Maryam's beautiful work on the door
And two last photos to share:

Every Sunday, Maryam and I go to a community (we have yet to remember its name) and teach a children's class. These are very uplifting! I brought my camera this time and they were all very excited to take photos. We were in a tiny room outside of the school, you can tell by the surroundings that it was very simple, but definitely better than the pouring rain outside! It just goes to show that children's classes can be taught literally anywhere, with very limited supplies (they shared one set of pencils between them) but with a loving heart and glad spirit.
 And, afterwards, we drive the "Bahai truck" that belongs to the Bahai center up and down the road through the community to drop the kids off. And so here's that photo:

*Pride and Prejudice Reference!
***Chapter 16 is about the Martyrdom of the Báb, and chapter 17 starts out by telling how what happened in Zanján greatly saddened the Báb.
****Nobody has told me happy birthday yet!

A Food Fail; or, Feeding the Dog

I don't consider myself a really good cook. Certainly not as proficient as our in-house chef Rosita, who amazingly creates meals for 5 on a gas-powered mini-stove, with various pots and pans and a total of two cooking utensils. But, I do think I should be able to make a few things...which is why two days ago, my food escapades were embarassing.

The first embarrassment was more due to impatience than anything else. I got home from school walking 15 minutes in pouring rain, so I was wet and cold, and there wasn't a bunch of rice from when the others had eaten. So I decided to make soup from a packet. Not so hard, right? Well, maybe not if I had read the directions, which said dissolve the powder in COLD WATER. But I didn't, because the water we'd made for tea had already been heated. So the outcome was these gross, fetus-looking lumps. Oh joy.

Then we went to the institute, and to a community. And then we were starving, and had no food. Just flour, sugar, and cocoa. So we bought some eggs and decided to make chocolate pancakes.

The first batch was delicious. Perfecto! And we were so hungry it would have been good no matter what. But we were hungry afterwards. And in making the next batch, my hand slipped while putting in the salt. Which made the batter the most disgusting salty grossness I ever tasted. Even after adding more sugar, flour, etc? Still gross. We tried cooking it, trying to bake the salt out of it. Simple chemistry will tell you that that didn't work. The other thing was that with the added ingredients, we couldn't keep up the proportions with the eggs (we ran out) so the pancakes wouldn't flip properly.

Long story short, have you ever made incredibly salty scrambled pancakes? Not the most aesthetically pleasing, nor tasty. So we gave it to the dog that lives on our roof.

The dog's name is Aldoficio (or something similar). I haven't actually ever seen anyone besides me feed him (but he lives on the roof, so its kind of like, out of sight out of mind dog, except when he barks at intruders. And me.) and so maybe I shouldn't have been surprised when he gobbled up that salt grossness. Since then, I've taken pity on the poor dear, and will toss bread scraps/food that falls on the floor/leftovers up to him (consequently, he's stopped barking at me).

Hopefully, I will cook better in the future.*

* This is the future, and I am cooking better. Plus, some epiphanies like "Yoghurt and granola makes awesome breakfast" and "You can make french fries by just using oil and potatoes" has made our meals delicious!

28 October 2010

I like colegio, really. Really.

Because some people (who will remain nameless) have talked about the fact that I have been slacking on my blogging duty. They've had to read other's blogs just to catch up on my life! So I've tried to remedy that.

And so I will talk about Colegio and the perils thereof.

Oh, Colegio
This, in a photo, is how I feel after every colegio class.

Colegio is duro. And for those of you who don't speak Spanish, that means HARD.  I am teaching 14 students from ages 12 to 17 basic level English. Basic level English means that most of the instruction needs to be in Spanish. So every Wednesday through Friday, I spend a few hours feeling like an idiot, trying to describe superlative adjectives, in Spanish, to my students.

And the students themselves are...okay. Some are very amazing. Some are really interesting people individually, and then they get into their little groups, and talk and talk and talk. And some still have problems staying in their own seats during class! Really, you'd think that by 8th grade you'd have mastered the idea of sitting down during class. Ergh.

I also had to learn an entirely new grading system. They use a scale of 1-20 here, and so I've had a self-taught crash course in Microsoft Excel, trying to average class scores and participation points and whatnot. It makes me miss Wasilla High's iParent, and I never, ever, ever thought I'd say that.

I also have some problems with materials. Its such a different atmosphere from the resource room at our public schools in America. There is no copier here. The students buy their own books (I'm still waiting, and begging, and ordering a few students in my class to GET THEIR FRIKIN BOOKS) and when I give tests (like this friday) they have to bring the 3 cents a copy it costs, individually. Which makes it hard to hand out lots of papers and teaching resources, like crossword puzzles and the like.

I think the hardest part is that I have to be mean. I have to take away their participation points when they talk. I have to say "Silencio, por favor" multiple times, sometimes multiple times to the same person. I have to give them a 10.33 (on a 20 point scale) when they never do their homework, show up to class late, and never even do their classwork. Grr...

Anyways, I'm looking into this as a challenge, a test that I'll have to overcome on my YOS. And, because I've been memorizing Hidden Words recently, here's some (in Spanish and English) that have helped me detach when I'm feeling frustrated and ineffective and annoyed...

O Son of Spirit! Ask not of Me that which We desire not for thee, then be content with what We have ordained for thy sake, for this is that which profiteth thee, if therewith thou dost content thyself.*

No Me pides lo que no deseamos para ti; conténtate, pues, con lo que hemos ordenado para ti, porque esto es lo que te beneficia si con ella te contententas.*

O Son of Man! For everything there is a sign. The sign of love is fortitude under My decree and patience under My trials.**

¡OH HIJO DEL HOMBRE!  Hay un signo para cada cosa. El signo del amor es la fortaleza en Mi decreto y la paciencia ante Mis pruebas.**

*Los Palabras Ocultas, número 18 del Árabe
**The Hidden Words,  #48 from the Arabic

25 October 2010

The thing about sisters

Recently, some people, like Maryam and Elika, have talked about their siblings on their blogs (I recommend you read them.) And I was also talking about siblings with some other people recently. And it made me think about my sister, and how she's amazing.

If random people read my blog (and according to my stats, people from Japan, Brazil, and China read my blog, so I can assume they do) they may not know that I have a sister. I do. Her name is Cori, and she lives in Alaska, and she's the bestest sister in the world.

When people here ask me about my siblings, I tell them "Sí, tengo una hermanita que tiene 17 años." Their response is always "Chévere" which means "awesome", and its true. Having a sister is awesome. Especially when your sister is a speedy bandido on the Varsity State Champion XC running team, wears her sweatpants so low they're below her butt (luckily with shorts underneath), and made up her own dance to Mulan's "I'll Make A Man Out Of You" song.

I think Cori and I get along better on different continents. Because sometimes we fight, like most siblings do. We're not Lizzy and Jane (I mean, come on, Jane Austen, I love you, but that sisterly relationship is just not very realistic.) but we get on alright. Although she does eat all the cookie dough, and has some weird music tastes.

But the nice thing about being away from home, is that you get all nostalgic. Which means you remember the good times, like ukulele/random instrument jam seshes and watching Glee and sunbathing on the porch. And you forget just how annoying the annoying parts were. Recently, I've been maybe possibly feeling a bit of home queasiness (props to Elika for the word home-queasiness, which perfectly describes the state of feeling nostalgic and missing your family and home without actually having it negatively affect your life) and so this blog is a shout out to Cori. You're an awesome sister, even if you don't read my blog on a regular basis, or text other people whilst you're skyping me, or whatever. A llama will be coming in the mail for you, take it as a token of my appreciation for your sisterliness. Love you!

Most pictures are worth 1000 words; this one's worth a million.

23 October 2010

Stories in the rain

Well, its been a bit since I blogged last, and since I have some time on my hands, kind of (WEIRD FEELING) I'll share some stories of Ecuador...

First, the atmosphere: I am wrapped up in an undershirt, shirt, sweater, coat, other coat, and scarf. And I'm inside. The buildings here aren't heated, which makes it very hard to get up on mornings like these, where the rain is constantly pattering on the metal roofs and you walk 15 minutes to the bus stop in this rain (thank goodness for my danskos, which are waterproof and raise my pants out of the puddles). The bell just rang for recreo (lunch/recess time) and now everyone, with assorted sweatshirts and coats diversifying the usual gray sweater uniform, is huddling under the eaves of the classrooms. The most common word I've heard today was "Ay chai chai" which is Quechua for "¡que frio!, this coming from every single student de jardín that rode the bus with me this morning. I plan on typing until I can't feel my fingers.

I have to say, though, I really like the weather here. Its really weird because it doesn't change seasonally...I keep expecting the leaves to turn or the rain to turn to snow, as I hear it is in Alaska. I like waking up in the morning and snuggling under a warm blanket with the air outside chilly. I like how it (usually) warms up during the day enough to be in a tshirt when I'm eating lunch with prebasica. I like how it gets dark at night, and the lights in downtown Otavalo come on. I even like the rain, because unlike Alaska, it only rains a day, or part of a day, and then stops.

Look! Mira! My prebasica kids are learning to color in the lines! They're also learning to count to ten in English. Today, we're writing our names and then learning to order numbers.

Other stuff: I am in love with where I live. There's this whole communal thing: Rosita, Maryam, and I share a room (Just washed the sheets today, YAY) and Mauro is next door (today we spent half an hour knocking back and forth on the wall to the delight of Kendy, the 3-almost-4 year old son of the family next door.) There are other people that share our same courtyard, including a 7 or 8 ish boy who talks to plants and encourages them to grow (only when people aren't watching. I was maybe spying out the window.) and Lovebird 1, who spends long long periods of time giggling and staring at Lovebird 2 on the stairs in front of our apartment (in perfect view from our bedroom. Spying is just so easy)

Its so wonderful to get home from a hard day at school to a huge lunch which has been prepared by Rosita, with Mauro, Belen, Wladimir, and Maryam all happy and relaxed. Its rejuvenating. Then, when in the afternoon, we walk to the Institute to do children's classes or to a community to talk with junior youth or whatever, I have energy. Its not as draining as school is for me.

Another mini-story: Yesterday was CRAZY. It was a Friday, so the kids were crazy. It was a full moon, so the kids were CRAZY. I had a class every single hour, so I was going CRAZY. And Maryam had a flu bug, so she wasn't there for me to rant at, which added to the CRAZY. (Maryam, I'm so glad you're here with me. So glad.) Anyways, the prebasica students started calling me Sophie. "Sophie! Sophie!"  they'd yell. And I'd stand there, hands on my hips, and say sternly "Mi nombre es VALERIE. Que es mi nombre?" and they'd say "Baleri" sheepishly, only to yell "Sophie! Sophie!" once again. I was really confused at first, thinking, how the heck to you get Sophie from Valerie? and then I realized Sophie was their teacher last year. So Sophie, wherever you are, those kids remember you!

I love the family that lives next door. José Luís and Jaconda live there with their two kids Doghma and Kendy. They are such a good example for a loving, functional family. From the joint meals (which they invite us to every once and a while) to the family jump rope sessions to making meals while listening to music and dancing in the kitchen, its just amazing to see the nurturing environment. And the results are so apparant: Kendy is definitely the most advanced English speaker in my prebasica class, and I can tell that he has creativity, social skills, and all around intelligence that's higher than his peers'. Doghma, too is the highest in her class (says Maryam) and has more patience than me, at 3rd grade level!

I love cooking. Our tiny kitchen somehow accommodates cooking for 5 or even 7...a feat I'm surprised at. Our oven is a storage area for flour, leftovers, and bananas (because we don't want the flies to get at them.) We have no measuring cups, so everything is kind of made up as mystery foods. I made pancakes, but didn't know how to describe baking powder (or baking soda) so they were very flat pancakes. I've learned to make some new foods, for instance mystery foods with Mauro:

Me: "¿Que haces? "
Mauro: "No sé"
Me: "¿Como haces?"
Mauro: "No sé"
Me: "Okay. Yum!"

Some days, we go out to eat at the Plaza de Ponchos. In the daytime, its a market: tons of brightly colored fabrics, llama fur stuff, hats, etc. In the evening, everything gets packed away and about 7 yellow tents spring up on one side of the square. In these tents, a family will cook meals, which are ridiculously cheap and ridiculously delicious. There is also a pie shop nearby, which is AMAZING. On most evenings that we eat at the Plaza de los Ponchos, we end the day walking around downtown at night. Its really fun...like mobile people-watching. At first I was surprised, I was like "Adonde vamos?" and Mauro replied "caminamos para caminar" along with a sound effect thats not really possible to put into words...its like psh, but different.

Jeez, I love walking, and having conversations that I only partly understand with Mauro, and talking about everything and anything (literally, from dog breeds to tv shows) with Wladimir. I love hanging out in the room with Rosita and Maryam. I love cooking and washing dishes, albeit with cold water. I love showing Kendy how to water Maryam's cactus, and having conversations through my open bedroom window about The Lion King with him. I love seeing Miguel, a difficult student in 2o de basica, respond to our "secret sign" (I pull my ear when he's doing something good, like sitting in his seat or engaged in class. recently, he's started pulling his ear at me too, like "hey, you're doing good as a teacher too!"). I really love it here. Really.

So thats some of my life. Super long post, but the nice thing about anecdotes? You don't even have to read them all.

11 October 2010

The whole deal with toilet paper.

I just went to the bathroom.

Sorry if this grosses you out, but I thought I'd write about the experience, because the whole process is a bit different here.

First difference: here, you have to plan when you go to the bathroom. This is because every Starbucks, Walmart, and Sears (or the smaller, less commercialized equivalents here) don't have bathrooms. So if you're going on a walk, or shopping, there is a very good chance that you're just going to have to hold it for awhile.

Second difference: Toilet paper is not included. In some restaurants, where there is a bathroom, they provide you with "papel higiénico" in the form of a small dispensor in the hallway leading to the bathroom. At school, the office lady controls the "papel": you have to go and ask her to use some before heading off to the office bathroom (See: Awkward). In the classes, each teacher has a roll and when someone needs to go to the bathroom, they ask her/him for some papel. (my high school kids don't ask me for papel though, which kind of freaks me out...)

Third difference: Toilet seats, as it seems, are optional. For instance, for the first 3 weeks, my house didn't have a toilet seat. We solved that (see my other blog for photos) but a lot of public restrooms are without a toilet seat. Which is really really weird. Because I have become accustomed to bringing toilet paper around with me, but its very unrealistic to bring a toilet seat around with you (I tried fitting it in my backpack. No funciona.) So you just have to hover sometimes.

Fourth difference: The toilet paper cannot go down the toilet. So it goes into a little garbage can (hopefully with a lid) next to you. And smells after a few days. But the city picks up the trash every day except Sunday, so if you stay on top of it it doesn't smell too bad...

Fifth difference: The water pressure here is less...strong then in the states. So sometimes, you flush and nothing happens. I will never take a clean flush for granted again. However, there is some excitement with the whole flushing business because if you go to the southern hemisphere (for instance Quito, an hour and a half bus ride away) the water spins the other way. No joke. Here's proof:

So that's toilets. Something I would really love to change, but its all part of the experience, right?

06 October 2010

Life in a 26 minute post:

So, I have to be on the bus in 26 minutes (25 now that the page loaded...slow internet) and so I thought I'd speed type (excuse any typos) and talk about my life.

I just came from prekinder. Today we finished making paper bag puppets that look like each student. these puppets are "their english friends". Mine "English friend" is named Elika, and she DOESN'T UNDERSTAND SPANISH. So all the kids need to speak to her in english, or else she ignores them. But they really like their friends. Here's a photo with two of my favorite (except not because I don't have favorites) students:

The one on your right is named Kendy. He's also my neighbor. Sweetest kid alive. And cutest hair. I'll take real-life photos soon, and you'll see. His parents have been very active in the intensive, and every night during our consultation on how the day went, he falls asleep in his dad's arms, which just makes me want to sigh like a great grandmother at a wedding.

The one on the left is Andre. He has eyebrows because in real life, he has very expressive eyebrows. He enjoys speaking in a Batman voice, which really makes it difficult to understand what he's saying. In the mornings, though, when the bus picks him up, he says "Hola chimilinga/o" to every single person on the bus, including me! (I learned yesterday that chimilinga means like, tiny child. But whatever.)

I had colegio yesterday. I had to "be mean"...Like I gave them a seating chart and everything. I felt a little bad but I feel like they learned a lot more than the other time. And, I still let them pick their own groups. Oh! The best news? The textbooks are due to come tomorrow. So cross your fingers...

My colegio has 15 kids. Taking Maryam's advice, I created a participation points system, so they lose points when they're being rude or talking or not following directions. And the improvement was great. I am getting a lot more observation into the whole disciplinary process...I mean, I hated step, and time out, and all that, but I think its worse not having it. Maybe its just that I'm not aware of it, but there's not a real set system of what to do if a kid is acting up in class. You can learn more about this on Maryam's blog, and her experiences.

After school, and on weekends, I've been intensiving. I love intensives. I love Ruhi books. I was in a group that worked on part of book 7, and even in Spanish, the format, font and discussion was so familiar! Its so cool to think about study circles that are going on all over the world, and how similar they all are!

The people are amazing too. Too amazing to describe in the 8 minutes I have remaining. But some anecdotes:
--Yesterday we watched Flight of the Conchords and laughed and laughed. Even Belen, who doesn't speak a ton of English, laughed and laughed. I thought of how a lot of times our intensives with Jamie and Elika and Carol Shoe ended up with us watching FoTC. Parallel! haha.
--We play frisbee! And its amazingly fun, although I didn't describe the rules super well with my limited spanish. But we have a blast anyways.
--We play ukulele! Maryam and I wrote a song, which will be posted as soon as can be. And Marlon plays the guitar! And everyone sings! Its just so musical :)
--Mauro eats powdered milk. I was strongly reminded of my dear sister Cori (WHO WON STATE LAST WEEKEND!!!! SHOUT OUT!!!!) and her affinity to half and half.

Which brings me to: I think I may be subconciously homesick. Because I'm never depressed or sad during the day or at night before going to bed or even in the morning when I wake up at 5:45 (although even if I was homesick I wouldn't be at that time, I'm too tired then to feel anything) but I had some dreams which included my family/Alaska. But really, I'm enjoying it here. Loving it. The independence, the friends, even the teaching. And today is a FREE DAY at the intensive (although I had school...sigh) so we're going to go chill and possibly bake cookies and definitely buy a warm sweater! And play frisbee and eat lunch and--
gotta go!

30 September 2010

Some cool things (and some random things*)

So, an update:

I am intensiving! (Except not today, because I was sick today...and then I went to a pharmacy and got a week's worth of cold medicine: 45 cents) But anyway. The intensive is PRO. I am learning so much, not only language wise (try reading the Ridvan 2010 letter and consulting on the main themes, in Spanish!) and just the material. The first day we had this crash course in the administrative order from Baha'u'llah to the regional councilors and LSAs. And its so wonderful, I love working with the other youth from Ecuador, the United States, and Guatemala! My Spanish has definitely grown grown grown in this past week, more than the weeks at school which I spend instructing English! A funny effect of this is that I know lots and lots of words that have to do with the institute process: programas intensivas de crecemiento (intensive programmes of growth), desintegracion del mundo viejo (disintegration of the old world), el desarollo de comunidad (the building-up of the community) but still have problems with some simple words!

I get my share of slang terms during lunch and breaks. And we have some really fun loves, such as:

Which we are all learning to sing (although the only words Maryam and I know are "cuando me enamoro!!" so we sound like "cuando me enamoro doo doo doo doo doo doo do doodo")


This cracks me up so so so much (and if you speak, have ever taken, or live within 500 miles of a Spanish Speaking country, you will crack up too).

IN OTHER NEWS: Today the police attacked the Ecuadorian President. Because I was sick today, I didn't find out until this evening when Maryam came home and broke the news to me. How weird, huh? The president's okay, apparently the police were annoyed with their pay and promotions or something, so they attacked him for the third time. As a result, we don't have school for the next week (which works out pretty good from a selfish point of view, as I can now spend all my time at the intensive!) and yeah...definitely shows the desintegration of the world, huh?

Oh, and one more thing: check out Maryam's latest blog: she has some really cool quotes by 'Abdul-Baha about cows and birds that are inspiring!

*I'm referring to the fact that the POLICE JUST ATTACKED THE PRESIDENT. That just made me think of the West Wing episode where the President asks his docter "how do I know you're not poisoning me as part of a military coup? Get the Secret Service in here!" to which the doctor replies "in the case of a coup, how do you know the secret service would be on your side?"

24 September 2010

Life, or some of it.

So, I had promised my readers (all 22 of you!) that I would post photos and describe my life, now that I've moved into my VERY OWN APARTMENT (uh-huh. I pay rent and everything) and am into the swing of things at school. I've been super busy, and I'm not going to apologize for slacking in the blogging department because its my blog, and if I choose to sleep instead of describe my thoughts, so be it! (I am having this little independence epiphany right now...have you noticed?) Truly, though, one of the things I am learning to do (and reveling in) is making sure I'm able to relax. Its so easy to overextend--so much to see and do--that if I don't take a nap or spend a Saturday doing nothing except sitting at home reading, praying, cooking...I just would crash. So I'm pressing my limits while also making sure I don't crash. Because crashing sounds bad to me right now.

So: life. I am at home! It is a small (3 rooms: kitchen, bathroom, bedroom) apartment that shares a wall with a Baha'i family who also teach at the school. They've been very good neighbors so far, helping us light our stove and hot water heater (with a match!) and dropping off mail and just being friendly in general. Their names are Jose Luis, Jaconda, and they have two children, Kendy and Dogma. Also, some relatives live there too...I'm not exactly sure who...but they're all very nice! Behind our kitchen, we have a little backyard which is full of chickens and children, who belong to the 3 or so houses which share our backyard.

The house has a few quirks, but we live with them. Some of the quirks we couldn't live with, so we fixed them:

Some unfixed quirks include slugs in the bathroom (we've only found a few, but we have no idea where they're coming from), a door without a unlockable latch (we have a padlock but can't actually latch the door without having to break in...don't worry, we're in a very safe neighborhood), and the interesting dilemma of having one working electrical outlet in the kitchen, and no internet in the kitchen, and only semi reliable in the bedroom (better near the ceiling, so we spend an absurd amount of time standing on top of the beds waving our computers around like we're looking for cell reception...yeah, we're cool). We also have no refrigerator (or cabinets, for that matter...but no problems with pests yet...) and so we've been very good about eating leftovers. The weather here is fairly chilly in the mornings and evenings (especially when your shower is randomly semi-lukewarm, another quirk) and because its shady inside, nothing gets warm and spoiled from sitting in the house. And because the weather here is pretty much the same, all year, we probably won't have to get a fridge. The odd food we throw out will be much cheaper than the 300$ expense of a mini fridge here. And we haven't bought meat yet (it looks decidedly unappealing to buy a chicken with feet and neck and head still attached) but we'll get protein from veggies and the once a week eating out (tonight is Chinese! They have a surprising number of Chinese restaurants here...its odd to hear someone speaking Spanish with a Chinese accent!).

So that's our apartment. My favorite thing about it is the bold colors: our bedroom is bright blue, our bathroom this skype-blue, porta-potty color, our kitchen three shades of yellow. We have a miniature kitchen table, bright red, and primary-yellow chairs. My second favorite thing is the thick blankets that keep me warm at night!

Now, school life:

I have a lot lot lot of classes. I am teaching English to las clases de prebasica, segundo de basica, tercero de basica, sexto de basica, octavo de basica, y colegio (preschool, 1st, 2nd, 5th, 7th, and high school) I also teach the preschoolers computers, and I learned today that instead of co-teaching the most advanced english high school class with Maryam, I'm teaching a beginning class (that means giving 50% instruction in Spanish!) of 15, by myself. And I write lesson plans for preschool and high school. So yeah, they keep me busy here.

I think that I am the most surprised of anyone at this, but I am starting to like kids. Yes, it is disgusting when after teaching preschool I discover a booger on my jeans (actually happened. Grossssss!) and yes, it is frustrating when the 6o de basica won't focus on writing and whine whenever we make them write out the date but on the other hand, its so so rewarding when the little 1st graders finally finally stay in their seat and complete the assignment! And its so touching when I miss two days because I went to Quito (ehgf. That's a story in itself. but one for a later day, we video diaried that one) and I come back and three come up and ask where I was, and if I'll still come to class. And for those amigas of mine that love looking at cute children: we have a ton. Here's a few photos:

Danae, a 2o de basica student
Mattias and Charis, two of my prebasica students at lunch
Cute, huh?
So there's what I have for school...when I'm in more of a writing mood, I'll add some more description...but now its time for me to get some dinner!

20 September 2010

The Pink Cacti!


We weren't even sure if this WAS a fruit. But apparently my dad knew that it was a fruit (thanks, dad, even 5000+ miles away you can help me!) and today, we learned from Paolo that the fruit is called a Tuna (not to be confused with the fish) and it is the fruit of a (get this) cactus!

19 September 2010

Laundry Day

Today I was able to finally clean my clothes.

I have not done laundry since I arrived. And before you get all grossed out, I'll have you know that its been 19 days, although it seems like way longer than that to me. So I was definitely in need of some clean socks.

Luckily, José Luis, our somewhat-landlord and friend who lives next door, was very welcoming. He let us use his washing machine. This was a relief to me, because I had seen the other people who live in this same area washing clothes in large tanks outside, by hand. This seemed like a lot a lot of work, especially because the water did not look completely clean. I was so happy to see the little Whirlpool sitting in their kitchen (the house has only a few rooms, and the kitchen apparently doubles as a laundry room). After we finished a load of whites, we hung up our socks in our room (conveniently there is a clothesline hanging diagonally so its always in your way!) and shirts along with the multitude of other clothes in the courtyard. Weekends are laundry days here, and everyone was hanging clothes, taking dry clothes down, washing, etc:

The courtyard behind our apartment

Our room with clean laundry
And so I just thought I'd tell the world: I have clean clothes! (although most are still wet, and its night, so hope it doesn't rain tonight.) I have cold hands! I have to read directions on dissolving laundry detergent better! I have school tomorrow!

Thats it for tonight!

16 September 2010

The Mystery Fruit: Tomatalope

So, I am in my own (well, shared) apartment! Its very nice, very basic. And I LOVE having my own space. I can shower when I want (as long as I light the hot-water heater with a match 15 minutes in advance), I can go to bed when I want (which is early, because I get up literally before the dawn each morning), and, possibly the best part, I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want.

This was somewhat of a challenge for me when I was staying with Jorge David and his family. They were very hospitable, and a perfect way to acclimatize to Ecuador. But a cultural aspect of Ecuador is that here, the people eat three large meals a day. Being someone who is used to snacking, this was kind of awkward to get used to...I would have to force myself to finish what was served to me (or even half of it) but then be starved a hour before the next "mealtime"...So Maryam and I are now able to buy our food together, which includes crackers, fruit, and fresh veggies for snacks!

Oh, and another thing: We don't have a fridge. So far, we've just bought food that we could eat that night, and non-refrigeratable stuff. We're getting progressively better at cooking on our tiny little lite-with-a-match stove! We've eaten pasta and soup for the past three nights...we've had plenty chicken-and-rice meals for awhile.

Anyway, the whole buying-food-every-day is actually something I like. Its about a 5 or 10 minute walk to the market, where tons and tons of fresh food is being sold. (and very very cheap...Especially being used to Alaska prices, buying fresh bell peppers at 10 cents each is delish!)

Tonight, we decided to experiment with one of the many "unknown fruits" here. The Mystery Fruits, which will soon be a regular submission on my blog. I am documenting our experience with different fruits. Here is the first installment:

So. Eggbert the Watermelon Fruit, after a second tasting, tasted less like a watermelon and more like a combination of a tomato and a cantaloupe, so we changed its name to a Tomataloupe. And the delish consensus? Well, definitely not something I'd choose over strawberries, but I'd eat it if I was, you know, starving. Or if I had to be polite...but probably not otherwise.