Saturday, June 26, 2010

Life is a Classroom

Teaching is going swell, it's now been a full month and there have been no revolutions against the teacher (as so many Ecuadorians prefer to take to the street when they disagree with something). I see this as a success that I am something of a decent teacher. I recently gave them all tests and no one failed, I also chalk this up as my own accomplishment. :)

I have also been tutoring privately Marco, one of Jose's uncles (a hilarious man who only calls Jose "Frank" and keeps trying to take me out for ceviche, now that he knows I love it), as well as Franco (a sweet 8-year old who works very hard about learning to correctly pronounce "I like to eat octopus"). I meet with these students fours hours each week, on top of my regular four hours of classes daily.

This week I also started teaching a small group of children (Paulita 6, Santiago 5, Rueben 6, these are all Jose's family, and Santi is his son), some basic English. This has been interesting so far, as they are all different levels and some of them are a little familiar with the alphabet. Some letters have opposite sounds in the Spanish alphabet, such as a=e, e=i, b=v and so on, but they are all eager to learn and I think it will be fun.

My risk-taking behavior in the sport of eating has also caught up with me, as I evidently have parasites. I had diarrhea off and on for about a week, this was my first clue. The second hint came when no matter what I ate, my stomach literally "came to life" with gurgling and other amoeba-like movements. I have since had another grand experience with the hospital on the island (students making stabs at medical advice, and another "nurse" who failed three times at giving me a shot before I refused it and insisted that I no longer had pain and I only needed a prescription to pass the little devils, thank you very much). I've completed the meds and seem to be doing much better, but I am still weary (I blame this on the movie Space Balls, the scene where the alien emerges from the guys belly. Don't eat the chicken. Order the soup.)

On a brighter note, I have found and moved into a small apartment. I am a ten-minute walk from the university, which is nice. I needed some sort of separation between work and home and this helps tremendously. It's the third floor of another uncle to Jose, whom my student Marco affectionately calls "Pato Luckas," which somehow translates to Daffy Duck. I'm avoiding finding out what my nickname is.

The family is very nice and generous. I helped the 16-year old son study for an English test and they cooked me a whole lobster (This was, of course, while I was still trying to starve the little animals inside of me and it was something of an awkward dinner as I tried to speak broken Spanish to cover the queasy howls coming from my midsection). ¡QuĂ© rico!

The apartmento is great: it's totally furnished, I have wi-fi, there is a place to do laundry (a stone and faucet for handwashing), a little kitchen and fridge, a small tv to watch all the World Cup action, etc). I have excellent views of sunrise and sunset, and the neighborhood is relatively quiet. I say “relatively” in order to give credit to the illegal choir of roosters that sing me awake each morning (illegal since there is a law that no poultry is allowed in town, only in the highland farms, however it is not enforced. But they know they are guilty, you can see it in their wide eyes and jumpy reactions, they have something on their conscience).

I’ve been spending a lot of time (especially while at home sick), just watching the action of the neighborhood, as it is usually more interesting than the three channels I receive with my rabbit ears. For instance, this morning, I observed a truck deliver a full pig to the lady up the street. The bare-chested man parked along the curb and began to sharpen a large knife as the customer came out and they appeared to be making small talk and negotiating a fair price. Once this was settled and the blade prepared, the man lobbed off the pig’s head and feet, tossing them back in the truck bed. He then, being a gentlemen, hoisted the carcass on his bare shoulders and carried it to the laundry stone and sink area for the woman to clean and then cut up as she saw fit, to finally be transferred to her own freezer. This all took place in about ten minutes. He then sauntered back to his truck, the driver’s side door patched with primer, stopped briefly to kick his rear tire, and then climbed in the cab and turned the corner, the head and feet spilling across the truck bed as he made the turn. Such a lovely day in the neighborhood.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Casa Preciosa Casa

Saturday I went to eat a ceviche with Marco, Jose's uncle and one of my private English students. He is such a sweet man, so eager to learn and so generous to everyone. He has no children, so he has seemingly adopted me as a daughter-like figure. He owns an outfitter store, called Patagonia, with mountain bikes, scuba and snorkel gear, he offers day tours on his speed boats, and even fishing for tuna and other big fishes. While we were eating, I mentioned that I was interested in looking for my own apartment here.

I enjoy living in a dorm at the university, but I prefer my own space (such a westernized concept, i know) and am growing tired of sharing a small kitchette with around 8 or 9 other people. Plus, since my home is the university, it's often very noisy with students. Already international student groups are arriving, and just like when I was a student here, the university was the hub. It's close to the beach, there's free internet here, potable water, everything. And while I am pampered here (my room gets cleaned and my bed made daily, there is free linen and towel service, and free breakfast every morning), I want my own space. I want to have a balcony and plants and pictures on the walls. I want a place that is more quiet and more personal.

So, after our ceviche lunches, complete with Cokes in glass bottles, popcorn and platano chips, he took me to his brother's house, which has an apartment for rent. It's a beautiful space on the third floor of an orangey plaster house with rust-colored molding. There is a kitchen complete with blender and microwave and minifridge, a small table and chairs, a nice window peeking over other rooftops of Baquerizo Moreno. A large bedroom with bed and closet, three windows and bathroom with tiled shower. The best part is the doorway from the kitchen to the outside patio, a large open space with plaster railings, two sides of the house, supplying vistas of the town and the port and beach. There are clotheslines. There is space for plants and chairs, for sunrise yoga sessions and sunset wine tastings.

Friday, June 18, 2010


I'm still adjusting to my new home, the change in scenery, change of pace, being in school as a teacher instead of a student...I'm still struggling with some things. Like my unwillingness to trust in things or people I have no control over. I have always lived in beautiful places (yes, I even find Kansas to be beautiful - Anyone can love the mountains, it takes soul to love the prairie), and if you can't find happiness in good times, you won't have happiness in hard times.

I guess I am really trying to learn to let go of what I want so badly, things that I can't force to happen. I know that each day is a test of character, and how you react to crappy situations say so much about how you face life and love. I have always been cynical and logical and level-headed, enough to be at a disadvantage, since sometimes I am simply negative and depressed. But I am beginning to become a much more light-hearted person. Someone who is willing to take a huge risk, because an outcome which is out of my control, could possibly be worth it...even as I type, my head and heart are at a standoff.

Everyday we have choices about the struggles we face. I am living in a country whose language I am still desperately trying to learn. I am very far away from my family and relatives and best friends. I am learning to teach during every class that passes by. I am learning to love and to be loved. I am adapting to what's available in order to take as best care of myself as is possible. Luckily for me I have access to fresh-grown fruits and veggies. The main hiking trails are now paved, so I'm jogging every morning without being followed by stray dogs. I'm starting to do yoga on the beach regularly. I am reading and writing and taking beautiful pictures. I am very aware of how lucky I am. About EVERYTHING.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Development on the islands is a touchy subject. Since 97% of San Cristobal is protected by the National Park and Marine Reserve, ungodly amounts of permits, paperwork, and compliance must be adhered to. Or at least that's how it's set up... Currently there is a new building being built behind the university. Meaning, instead of the nice view of natural vegetation by my dorm door, there will soon be a brick wall. GAIAS (Galapagos Academic Institute for Arts and Sciences) has formed a partnership for graduate researchers from UNC Chapel Hill (BEAK 'EM HAWKS!!). Currently there is a team of graduate and undergraduate students, staying at a local hostal, conducting research about various topics of marine life. Word on the street is that the correct permits have yet to be obtained for the proposed new lab, the start of which is right outside my door. Men wear hats and t-shirts wrapped over their faces and heads to keep the dust and sun and sweat out. They use hand tools to chip away at and then remove large boulders in the red earth. A ladder consists of two wooden beams with some fishing ropes tied between, creating a "net" to climb. Sifters are used between two men or else one man and the other end tied to a tree, in order to mix cement on the spot, but larger operations, such as this new lab, Holcim cement mix is imported from the mainland. Holcim, of course, being one of the largest sponsors for the Barcelona soccer team from Quito. Everywhere you look on the island, small developments are occurring. Offices are getting new signs and doors to lure in the tourists. A new hotel is being built not far from my previous host family's home. They have set colored wine and beer bottles in the wet cement walls, adding some creativity to the current grey skeleton of the building. Lumber yards offer boards stacked up four stories and higher, looking like a Jenga game for giants. There is a local quarry, a sudden interruption from the beaches and opuntia cacti and homes built in stages, with additions like afterthoughts. It seems as if San Cristobal, like everywhere else in the world, is changing and evolving. And so is the life that is found here.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Having a Big Time

So ends my second week back on San Cristobal, first time teaching English as a Second Language, as a teacher, not an assistant. Classes are great so far: I teach level 5 in the mornings and level 1 in the evenings. Both classes are interesting, although very different in their own way. I try to make it fun by playing games, bringing in music (Beatles "Hello, Goodbye," for instance), and funny activities.

Last Friday there was a minga (community work day) and we took our classes outside and cleaned Playa Mann (across the street from the University) and the road. Some of the strangest items picked up: a fancy Barbie dress, silly string cans, one sandal, one sock, and a tarp. It's great to see the locals taking charge and cleaning up their home. The teenagers really get into it, maybe they don't mind getting dirty, maybe they have more energy to do such work. But I hope that it is because they are making change as members of the community, and that change will occur towards a more sustainable future for all life on the islands.

Last Saturday I joined the groups of Scouts (girls and boys involved in environmental education programs and activities all over San Cristobal) and other school children involved in the National Park's environmental education program and went to the highlands. There, we rode to El Junco, a large, freshwater lake from the rain being trapped between three very tall hills. We hiked around the lake, saw the mist dissapate to reveal the entire lake (first time I ever saw it), watched the frigate birds swoop down to rinse the salt from their feathers (they travel from all the different islands to rinse in this lake), planted miconia plants (endemic to the highlands of San Cristobal) after mora (blackberries) were removed from the hillside.

Next we went to Porta Chino, my favorite beach on the island, which is exactly like a postcard: fine white sand, clear blue waters, and nothing around but black lava rocks, crashing waves, and circling birds overhead. Surfed the powerful waves and soaked up the sweet sun rays on the beach.

We then returned to town and sat in our soggy swimsuits at a cevicheria. I ordered a mixto (cold "soup" with tomatoes, peppers, white fish, shrimp, lobster, and octopus).

Sunday rode with Jose's passengers to Isla Lobos and Leon Dormido, where we snorkeled and saw so much life underwater! Sea lions swim around you, begging to play and showing off their agile moves, fish dart around rocks and mantas are chased by sea lions. At Leon Dormido, MANY Galapagos sharks, fish, and several spotted manta rays. I also watched a sea turtle, which are my favorite. They are so silent and graceful and prehistoric.