So, I’m here in Quito. Today was my frirst day of volunteering and spanish classes. I arrived Wednesday night after a more-eventful-than-usual-for-me travel day. My flight out of Denver was delayed by two hours because the crew arrived very late the night before. So, they had to bump me onto a later flight out of Miami to Quito. It all worked out fine though, it just made my day longer than expected. And as usual, I hardly slept the night before.
I am staying with a host family in the south central area of the city. There are five members in the family: parents and three children. There are two older children; the daughter is 18 and I don’t know how old the son is, and there is a 9-year-old daughter. She and I have connected the most. However, I think I will be responsible for supplying her lifetime quota of awkward silences, since my spanish isn’t very good and she, at 9 years old, isn’t especially good at making conversation. She seems to like me, even though I’m occupying her room; I have Barbie sheets and the walls are lined with dolls. We played with their new puppy on my first day. She taught me the work for ‘bite’: morder. The puppy’s name is Aisha. Host mom seemed surprised and confused when I asked why they had chosen the name Aisha, and then tried to explain in Spanish that it is the name of the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad. They found the name on a website listing dog names. I’m sure Muhammad would appreciate how widely known his wife’s name is….
Both host mom and host dad speak about as much English as I speak Spanish, so they can help when I don’t understand, but I still have to work hard to communicate. host mom’s parents live a few blocks away and have two volunteers from Missouri staying with them. Neither of them speak any Spanish, but host mom´s mother can manage with her English. Apparently, there is another volunteer coming to my house next week, but unless one of the older kids is leaving, I have no idea where they are going to put him/her. I like not having anyone to speak English with at home. Most of the volunteers speak less Spanish than I do, so we all communicate in English, which makes it harder to practice and work toward thinking in Spanish. It’s also difficult to be switching back and forth all the time. I have a private Spanish tutor for three hours each morning. We learned common phrases today, most of which I did not know, but she still seemed surprised at how fast we got through them.
My first night here host mom asked where else I had traveled. They’ve asked me a lot about China, which I have a very hard time describing in Spanish. She asked what they eat in China and I told her I ate dog. So naturally now the whole family knows and won’t stop cracking jokes about it: you don’t like fish but you´ll eat dog? I have a pet rabbit, do you want to eat that tomorrow? Hey look! a dog on the TV, is that like the one you ate? Oye! They also wanted to know what other bizarre things I’ve eaten, the list isn’t very long though. To me, dog is just another kind of meat, which distinguishes it from all the other weird things out there, like insects. I don’t do insects.
Everyone, even the volunteers are all amazed that I’ve been to China. I guess I some how forgot that to lots of people China is still an exotic place. However, having been there twice, I can say that it’s not. Yes, they speak another language, and they have different customs, but Beijing is a heck of a lot more like the US than Quito. China, at least the eastern half of China is not a “developing county” like most others. Anyway, I’m here to talk about Ecuador, but you’re going to hear more comparisons because they are essential to the way I am experiencing Ecuador. Quito is much more like Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, but dirtier and more densely populated.
The food is alright so far. Everyday we have fresh sqeezed juice. For lunch on my first day, we went to grandma’s house. There we had beat soup to start and then some kind of meat, potatoes, rice and cucumbers for the main course. The soup was plain, but it was accompanied by dishes of dried corn kernels (think giant Corn Nuts) and green onions that we mixed into the soup. And there was also a mixture of red chili sauce, aji, with red onions that was quite spicey to put in the soup. It was over lunch that I was interrogated about eating insects: mariposas (butterflies)? saltamontes (grasshoppers)?
This weekend I will spend Saturday morning at a school teaching English. In the afternoon I think I will try to go to the Botanic Gardens, which are supposed to be famous for their orchids; in general, Ecuador is famous for its orchids. I think that is all for now, and probably all you want to read in one sitting. I hope you are all doing well. Please feel free to write back with questions, comments, or totally unrelated news. I would love to hear from all of you.