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May 31, 2006

Preparing to Part Ways

Matthew Lee

This being the first time I have been out of the country, I have been completely blown away by the differences between the U.S and Ecuador. The first five minutes I was actually in the country, I realized I was going to have fun with the traffic system because it is insane. I have never seen so many people driving however they want while on the road. I have also had a blast getting to know mi familia de Torres Novoa. They have been nothing but wonderful to me this entire trip. My mother doesn´t know any English, so we sometimes have trouble communicating. My siblings Juan Pablo and María José know some English, but let´s just say my spanish is better.

I think my favorite thing about Ecuador is the food because it is always fresh: the juices, the bread, the fish, everything! It has also been great hanging out and getting to know the other guys on the trip. I only knew a few of them before leaving, and now I know all the other 21 students here. We have had a blast doing all sorts of stuff together: going to the discotecas, climbing the Pichincha, going to the markets, the movies, and especially the bus rides around the city.

This trip has opened my eyes to something I have never witnessed before. Everyone seems to know about the poverty, and not just in Ecuador, but never really understand what it really is until it is staring you in the face. When 70% of the country lives in poverty, it is hard to miss it when walking the streets. It is difficult to watch young children sleeping in the medians of streets because they have nowhere else to go, or walking around by themselves late at night trying to find some money. It is something that I will never forget.

This week has been filled with fun, as well as some depressing moments. We are all trying to do as much together as possible because we will be parting into our three modules this Friday, while trying to complete all our papers and projects for class. Six of us went to do Karaoke this Monday, and made fools of ourselves in front of the locals and even ran some out with our voices. Last night, we were able to go see X-Men 3, but with Spanish subtitles. There has been so much stuff to do around the city, that you almost never have a dull moment. I am looking forward to visiting the coast, the Amazon, and the rest of the country. If you ever get the oppurtunity to do something like this, DO IT! You will never forget it…

May 30, 2006

Si, se puede

Zafer Ahmed

Ecuador is a wonderful place. Everyday there is something to do. Despite my attempts to “blend” in, I always have the feeling that someone is staring at me. My host family is amazing. Our dinner conversations last far longer than our dinner. Politics to religion ­ no topic goes uncovered. It intrigues me that my family ­ and most Ecuadorians especially the taxi drivers ­ knows so much about US politics, yet I know so little about Ecuadorian politics.

All eyes are on us, yet we pay little attention to others and how our actions affect others. Privilege is often blind to those who are privileged. The difference between the rich and the poor astonishes me. The rich are extremely rich and the poor are extremely poor. Walking the streets of Quito reminds of when I visited Hyderabad, India. The beggars everywhere really hit me hard. The desperation in their eyes is a look I will never forget. I have seen children just lying in the street ­ too hungry to even beg. I have tried to help out, but as soon as I give money to one beggar, five more come up to me. A feeling of hopelessness falls over you. This visit has definitely opened my eyes.

On Saturday, we traversed the terrains of Pichincha. It was one of the most challenging walks I have ever taken. For a Hoosier used to nothing but plains and small hills, climbing to almost 15,700 feet was no easy task. I have always heard of a timberline on mountains ­ the point where trees no longer grow- but actually seeing it was breathtaking. After a certain point, we needed to stop every two minutes in order to breathe the thinning air. We kept going by repeating “Si, se puede” (Yes, I can). There I was in the clouds! When we were near the top, the fog had gotten so thick that it was hard to see the path.

Brandon Christy and I took a turn and ended up on a path that had us clinging for our lives. We reached a wall that only Spiderman could have climbed on a good day. We started to climb the wall and every time we tried to grab a rock, it would come loose and go tumbling down the mountain. We stared death in the eye and said “Not Today!” When I reached the top, I saw nothing but fog. I began to yell, “¿Dónde está el pico?” (Where is the peak?) and then I saw it. We took a wrong turn. It was a definitely an unforgettable experience.

Albeit common in the USA, many Ecuadorians cannot pronounce my name. Every time I say my name, people give me the funniest look and just nod their head. My host grandmother just gave up trying and now calls me, “Michael, Mike, or Miguel.” I laugh every time ­ who thought a five letter name would be so hard to pronounce. Bartering with the street vendors is like a game of cat and mouse. As soon as they find out that you are American, they raise the price. The higher they go, the lower I go. Often times, they walk away frustrated and I walk away with a smirk. Well, I am off to go on another adventure ­ bartering with vendors

¡Ciao!

Adios

Being a Shrewd Buyer in Ecuador

Boyce Evans

Everything is good here, this past weekend my host family and I went to Santo Domingo de los Colorados. It is about 2 hours west of Quito in the costal region. It is not on the beach though. It was fun except all the mosquitoes. I went with my host mother to a huge outdoor marketplace with everything you could imagine for sale. It was amazing to see so many people. I was new at the whole bartering system so my host mother had to help me. Eventually I got it and became a very shrewd buyer. I was able to buy three shirts of the Ecuador selection or the world cup for less than $10. It was great and I also got to learn about the indigenous people, the Colorados. All in all, my trip has been a blast.

Reserving Judgment

Brandon Christy

My experience in Ecuador has been nothing short of amazing. There is such a cultural variety here that I have never experienced before. This is my first time out of the States, and I am grateful to have been provided with a very honest and caring family, the Dominguez Ojedas. The first night that I came here, I was completely blown away by how fast things moved around me. At first, understanding the Spanish was a little difficult, but at this point I can understand what people are saying and also am able to communicate back to them. The family I am with has 2 sons, David and Andres, and a French Poodle named Lucas. Both sons know how to speak English, so there is hope if I can’t explain something in Spanish. Also, they have another foreign guest from England who speaks better Spanish than I do, so I have my options.

So far, I have been seeing a lot of sites, most recently climbing the 2nd tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, Mount Pichincha. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life, especially being 15,000 ft. from the ground if I were to fall. At one point, Zafer Ahmed and I went the wrong way and had to climb loose rocks, which was scary but exciting at the same time. All in all, it took us about 8 hours to climb the whole mountain and back, and by the time we finished we were exhausted.

The most important mind set to have here is to be patient and to reserve your judgment. The Ecuadorian people are some of the kindest you will ever meet in your life, and I am still amazed to have someone take time out of there schedule to show me a good time. This experience teaches you to be grateful for what you have in life and to not take things for granted. If you want to take advantage of this experience, I can’t emphasize more that you need to have an open mind and the ability to try new things. Already, I have learned so much about a different culture, that now I have more of an identity with myself. We have a great group of guys down here, which is a testament to the selectors at Wabash College. At school, you don’t have many opportunities to hang out with guys outside of your living unit, besides in class. I’ve made a lot of friends already, and I think that everyone else here would feel the same, too. If you ever have the opportunity to do something like this, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT AND DO IT!

Hasta Luego,

Climbing Mountains

Eric Carroll

It was a decent weekend, but I’m sorry to see it go. It started early, with a vacation day on Friday because of a national holiday. On Thursday evening, the field observation group ate with Prof. Rogers and after that, a couple more joined us and we all decided to go out for a late night. Juan Carlos´ brother, who reminds me a bit of a hood, with long hair and wearing a big down coat, tried to get us into a huge club which had about 500 mestizos around it, of which the hood brother knew about a fourth, but we were unsuccessful so we decided to go to another club. With about 25 people waiting to get in, the security told us to come right ahead when he saw us, and we had a good time. I danced with one girl, and my conversation consisted of "I can’t hear you" and "I don’t understand."

After the late night, the next day my host sister and her fiancée took me around the center of Quito, looking at the churches and other monuments. How rich and amazing the city is! After that all day adventure, 11 of us ´Bashians went out to the La Mariscal, a part of town similar to Broadripple. It was a interesting night, and we all have our own stories to tell. I’ll leave that to the individual, and make sure this stays g-rated.

Saturday we all decided to go up a mountain. After about an hour, and much rest, climbing, and walking, and we realized we still had a three hour journey and this was the easy part! About 5 hours later, we returned from the most unreal and amazing place I’ve ever been in my life, with a very satisfied feeling. Now, whenever I look to the east and see the massive foothills, I tell myself, "Yea, I beat that beast... you’re nothing, foothill!" However, I was so tired, I came home and went to sleep for 14 hours.... it ain´t easy crossing mountains.

And Sunday, my family went to the Center of the World, after signing my host sister’s marriage paper as a witness. There was a lot of traditional dances and singing, and a nice monument there. This trip just getting crazier every day, and I’ve seen and done so much... it’s such an experience. And to think, that it’s only 1/4th done! Most all of the people are nice, the food is good, and I haven’t even had to walk across a lake to get brats because I’ve been fed so well! What a trip.

Quito from a different perspective

Philip Graves

This morning I had the pleasure of helping my father, Estuardo, make breakfast. It seemed insignificant to me, but to him it meant the world. After we had finished cooking, he called the rest of the family to the dining room. During the entire meal, he bragged to everyone that I had helped him in the kitchen. He then told me that I had finally integrated into the family. (My mom is probably going to cry right about now.) I never knew that sausage, eggs, and potatoes could mean so much. I hope my classmates fare as well with their respective families.

After that, we took a trip to the southern side of Quito. We went to the Panecillo, a hill that is home to the Virgin that overlooks the City. From the window of our classroom at the University, the Virgin seems as tiny as a child’s doll. However, once you arrive at the base, it’s a totally different story. Standing in the presence of the immense, 41 meter high statue, I felt incredibly small. But after I climbed the stairs to the top, I felt like I was on top of the world! I could see all of Quito, from the North all the way to the South. It’s amazing how enormous the city really is, once you can see it in its entirety.

To top off this marvelous day, we had a typical Ecuadorian meal, KFC. I went inside expecting the Colonel’s famous mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. What I received was quite different: fried chicken, rice, and minestrone soup. Thank goodness I finally had a glass of Pepsi to wash it all down. Every day, I get to experience something new that is totally outside my box and I love it. I get sad when I think how little time we have to spend here and with each hour that passes, it gets harder to leave on June 18th.

Connecting with the Host Families

Jared Evan Conaway

In my seven days in Ecuador, I feel as though I have learned an incredible amount about the people and their culture. And although seven days seems like a short time to make such a claim, it is through the incredible hospitality of my host family that I have been able to pick up so much in such a short period of time. In order to improve one´s Spanish, it helps to have people around who you feel comfortable speaking with. Both my host brother and mother are always willing to speak slowly with me and repeat themselves if needed. In addition, I am taken back by the incredible closeness one finds within the family. My family’s efforts to make me feel like a part of the family are unbelievable, and there never seems to be a limit to their kindness. Some of my best memories of the trip thus far have been made with my family, especially through our family’s love for futbol (soccer). During this week’s Ecuador vs. Columbia game, it will be hard to soon forget watching my grandmother of all family members screaming at the television after the ref failed to make a call in favor of Ecuador.

Although my family has been instrumental in helping me to adjust to my surroundings, my experiences at the University have also been quite fruitful. In a country where hope seems to be a limited commodity, our visit to a local family crisis shelter opened my eyes to a new side of South America. It can be tough to over look such problems as corruption, crime, and poverty but the family crisis shelter showed me that Ecuador recognizes the importance of offering children and families in crisis a safe environment.

Ecuador is a unique place with a rich culture. It’s hard to believe our first week is already coming to an end, and in one more week we will be beginning our individual modules.

May 26, 2006

New Experiences

Zachary C. Foughty

This morning I had an experience on the bus that I do not experience all that often back in Indiana: I was the tallest person on the bus! At 5´9, this does not happen too often, but amazingly as I looked around the bus during my 20 minute ride (which also is vastly different from my 5 minute walk to class back in C'ville) to the university, I was shocked when I realized that this was the case. 

After the bus ride, we again had classes for grammar and about Ecuadorian culture. While my Spanish is lacking in many areas, I am finally beginning to understand most of what the professors are saying. I still find myself lost at times, and unfortunately trying to learn when the professor is talking in Spanish requires significantly more attention than when the lecture is in English. Any slight wondering of the mind causes terrible results. 

Perhaps the most interesting part of the day was our first "field trip" of the trip. We hopped on a tour bus and headed downtown, and arrived at a Musuem at "la casa de María Agosto Urrutia." This woman was from a prominent Ecuadorian family, and at one time during her life she owned 3 fairly large houses in downtown Quito, as well as numerous haciendas in the mountains. As a Catholic woman, she felt the need to help the poor, and her houses and haciendas served as an orphanage for poor children, as well as a shelter for other poor Ecuadorians. Muy interesante. 

At the end of the night, the Globalization group had dinner with Professor Rogers and Professor Aguilar at el Hostel Santa Bárbara. We had a superb meal, with food ranging from italian pasta, french soup, and traditional ecuadorian entrees. 

The food here is amazing, although it does come with a few surprises. For dinner last night, I began eating rice, chicken, and what appeared to be mashed potatoes. To my surprise, the first bite of mashed potatoes tasted nothing like potatoes, but actually turned out to be white carrots. While the mashed carrots were good nonetheless, I´m sure you can imagine the look on my face when my "mashed potatoes" tasted nothing like mashed potatoes back home.  

I had a similar experience at dinner tonight. I ordered a caesar salad, and while it looked fairly different from what I am used to, it tasted fairly the same. Unfortunately, the "bacon" on top of the salad, like the mashed potatoes, tasted nothing like what I expected. Instead, the "bacon" tasted rather fishy. As I'm sure you have guessed, my bacon turned out to be anchovies, quite a pleasant surprise. 

Well, time for class again and then off to Manta (in the coast) for the weekend, ciao.

In photos: A view of the mountains beyond the city of Quito.

Luggage Arrives and Students Are Happy

Ben R. Esbaum 

Today was certainly an eventful day. We finally saw the end of our luggage fiasco and had an official tour of campus. The campus is pretty amazing and although it has been near the building for our classes all along, I finally saw the University's soccer field. It was interesting during the tour to see how much our tour guide cared about making sure all of us knew about their university and their culture. There were numerous times Zach, Danielle (as they pronounce it), and myself were separated from the group, but each time we managed to catch up, the tour guide fully explained the current building or place of interest without once acting upset that we had managed to fall back once again. 

As a group, we ate at La Choza for lunch. It must have been pretty intimidating for any passerbys of our group, as the majority of our 22-person group, well 23 including Dr. Rogers, stood over the average Ecuadorian height. Lunch was great because it was the first time all of us had a chance to hang out as a group outside of class and the food was obviously amazing. After lunch, most of us went our separate ways or with small groups to go to the airport to retrieve our much-needed luggage.  

I think as a group we are all starting to become more comfortable speaking with our families and the students at the University, at least that is the case for myself. It's nice to actually initiate some of the conversation with my family now, as opposed to waiting anxiously for the next question. 

In a final note about my family, my family is great. I have a five-year-old host brother who is a complete trip. My host mother told me last night that during the afternoon, he only drinks tea. So by the time we all arrive home, he is very hyper and wants all of our attention. Living with a family is really the best way to become more accustomed to speaking Spanish, even though it is a bit frustrating not being able to say everything you want. But all in all I think I will really enjoy being around my host family. Plus, they even introduced me to the greatest excuse for tardiness, "La Hora Ecuatoriana."

May 23, 2006

Weary Students Arrive in Ecuador sans Luggage

Brian J. Crum

Earlier this morning, around 12:15am, our plane arrived at the air port in Quito.  After the 5 hour flight from Houston, I was a bit nervous to meet my house family.  After getting through customs, the group found out that our luggage was still in Houston and would not arrive until tomorrow or Tuesday.  Not having studied Spanish since first semester my freshmen year at Wabash, I knew the first few days would be rocky in the communication department.  Sure enough, it was.  

My host mother began speaking Spanish as I did my best to comprehend what she was saying.  She had to repeat a lot and find other ways to explain herself, but we managed.  Rosa has a husband, Fernando, and two children, Carlos and Carmen.  Carlos is 16 and Carmen is 27 and married.    

Today was my first full day in Ecuador and my luggage has still not arrived.  The airline insists it will be here by tomorrow, my fingers are crossed.  Quito is a very busy city seated in the middle of beautiful scenery.  The mountains surround the city and by gazing at them, it provides a minor escape from the hustle and bustle of all the people rushing around, not to mention the traffic.  Traffic here is insane.  I have yet to determine if traffic laws actually exist.   

Classes started this morning at 9am at the Pontifical University.  My Spanish is slowly coming back to me, but it is not coming quick enough. I must begin working on some homework for tomorrow. Adios!

Editor's note: Read more on Ecuador program here.