When traveling and living in a different country,even the smallest of activities can seem like an out-of-this-world experience. Eric Haase, a WorldTeach volunteer in Ecuador, shares some of his new and exciting adventures with us. From the first interactions with his host family and students, as well as his exploration of the city of Cuenca, Eric displays the amazing opportunities that volunteering with WorldTeach can provide.
What is most interesting is the difference in levels between my students’ writing and speaking abilities. They do not, most do not, have a well rounded education it seems. For example, there was one student who scored the lowest of any student that had taken the exam. 19 out of 53. However, before he took the test I spoke to him for a few minutes and we were laughing, thinking the test was going to be a joke for him. He had lived in Minneapolis for almost 6 years and his English was nearly perfect. 19? How did that happen. Many other students scored much higher on the test but were unable to speak as well.
I’m teaching Conversation I which is an advanced conversation class. I really love my students so far. They are warm and friendly. They do their work most of the time and are not behavior problems. Additionally, they invite me to hang out with them too. I am an asset to them and they are an asset to me, I guess we’re all assets. My first weekend I went to Paraiso park with two students. We walked around the park, laid in the grass, tried to talk about religion which was difficult, and then on our way back we stopped at a small traditional cafe and had coffee and Quimbolita, which I still don’t have a picture of.
I spent the first 2-3 days of the week shopping for a jacket, scarf, food, school supplies and other cosas. Funny thing, Latinos must have shorter arms. All the jackets that I tried on fit well in the body, but the sleeves were halfway down my forearms. I had to shop for 4-5 hours until I found a jacket that I liked and had long enough sleeves. I also bought a nice alpaca scarf for 5 dollars that keeps me warm during my chilly morning ride to school. Oh yeah, I also bought 3 pairs of brown socks so I could go a whole extra week without doing wash!
This city. It’s beautiful. Especially at night. The architecture is gorgeous. The streets are old and rugged. The plazas are clean and lively. The markets are filled with delicious and unique foods. The churches dominate.
There are a few cafes that cater to gringo crowds which are nice because those are the ones that have internet, but there are many other cafes that make coffee just as good and are a little cheaper. I think pictures will describe the city better than I can.
My family. I’m still a little shy to ask them for a photo. I think taking photos of people is a little strange and a little off putting for them. Anyway, my mother, Maria Cecilia is a nice, small and quiet woman. She works a little tienda that is attached to the house selling snacks, chocolates, paper supplies, makes copies and other odds and end tasks that papelarias do around these parts. She sits with me at dinner when I come home and talks to me which is very nice of her. I can’t say much of what I would like to say so oftentimes we sit quietly. For dinner there is always the main plate and then some crackers or small cookies along with a warm cup of tea to finish. For breakfast it is some bread, piece of fruit and a delicious batido. Think Banana milk shake minus the ice cream. It’s really good. It’s a small breakfast but it’s good.
Anyway, mother is helpful. She has three kids. Rocio, who is the oldest, is 29 and speaks so fast that I don’t understand her. She is really interesting though. She is a mountain bike guide, city guide, volunteers with the red cross, teaches high school aged kids and maybe teaches at the university here too? She also kind of has her own business doing something with computers as well. I’m not all sure. She talks too fast. She was the one who finally gave me a complete tour of the house, making me feel more comfortable about walking around and being downstairs. The next oldest is Maria Cecelia. She is quiet and I don’t see much of her. I actually don’t see much of any of the children. They are out and about at their own jobs and schooling. Hernan Santiago, the youngest of the three is 23. He is extremely quiet. At lunch he hardly says a word and it makes me shy. He doesn’t talk, so neither do I. At lunch it is just him, mother and me. He might say a sentence or two. At first I thought it might be just me, but then I went out with him and his friends on Friday night and he said hardly a word then too. He just doesn’t talk much. That’s cool. I get it.
On the other hand, I also went out with Rocios friends on Thursday night. We met at Inca bar and were there for an hour, though I couldn’t understand much of what was said, so we decided it would be better if we just go dance some. We headed over to a club and were some of the only people inside, but it was fun nonetheless. That night I made a deal with one of Rocio’s friends Joan to trade dance lessons for English lessons. The two of us have gotten together 3 times so far, would have been this Thursday too but she was sick, and it was been fun. I have felt foolish trying to shake my hips in front of a Latina who really knows how to dance, but it has been great to ask a Cuencana about life, using English. I can ask a lot better questions that way.
Speaking of intercambios, another story. I was in my office, which I share with other professors at SECAP, when, at 10am, Carlos asked me to join him for his birthday party in his classroom. I walk in and am immediately taken aback by the smell of smoke and the sight of a bottle of whiskey sitting next to the mostly eaten cake. I drank their whiskey out of politeness but didn’t feel so great after having a shot or two so early in the morning on an empty stomach. Ah well. It was fun. To get to the point, I started talking with Lorena, and we decided to do some Spanish and English speaking as well. She is in Basic II, which is an early English class and she wants to work on her pronunciation. We met yesterday and plan to meet everyday in the afternoon speaking some in Spanish and some in English. Hopefully I can actually converse in Spanish for a half hour, that would be somewhat of a feat for me.
Now, to finish up, I want to tell you about my favorite place so far in Cuenca, and it is all about food. It isn’t nearly as gorgeous as the churches, or quaint like the streets, kind like the people, but it is Cuenca and it’s delicious. My bus on the way home from school takes me to the Nueve de Octubre mercado. How absolutely convenient. I remember walking in for the first time and being overwhelmed at the amount of produce and foods and people and smells that I encountered. It was amazing!
The first floor is filled with fruits and vegetables and it makes me wish I had a place here that I could use to cook my own food and mess around with. My favorite part about this floor is the tortillas de harina de choclo. They are like pancakes, but much thicker, much hardier, a little cheesy and deliciosa. And they cost 30 cents a piece. My standard is to get 2 tortillas and morocho. Morocho is this warm chocolo drink that is made from choclo, which is like a larger version of corn, mixed with milk and with a couple of cinnamon sticks thrown in for good measure. It’s good and filling. I eat a lot of choclo here….Anyway, I’ve made friends with some of the ladies who cook up the food there and hopefully I will have a better picture of this delicious food next blog, or maybe take a picture soon and update this one.
Next, on the basement floor there is nothing but raw meat. It smells a little funny and it really took me back the first time I traveled down those steps, but it is interesting nonetheless, how all their meat is just out in the open, not refridgerated, chopped and sold in front of your eyes.
On the 2nd story there are many delights too. Much better than the basement. My first discovery was the batidos. Like my mother makes me for breakfast but many different flavors. Blackberry, coconut, strawberry, pineapple, apple, tamarind (which I need to try yet) and a few others…a green one too, which I’m not sure what it is, cause I haven’t seen any kiwi around…avocado perhaps. Anyway, they make these batidos with milk, ice and a raw egg! Can’t wait to have other people try this stuff.
Next on this level I ate hornado. Which is cooked pork, and laid over with spices, sauces and put on top of choclo, of course. Then I had corvina and llapingachos, which are chessy potato balls, half fried. So good.
I’m doing well and loving Cuenca so far.