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!