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!