Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mi Barrio (My Neighborhood)

I just came back from a walk in the neighborhood where my host family lives. I wanted to go exploring partly to get out of the house because my host family seems to stay inside playing video games or doing homework or watching TV, and partly because I want to see where I live and get a sense of what it's like here.

I live in a small section of Quito called Kennedy and there's two or three main streets, a few parks and markets and a ton of peluquerias (beauty salons). My host mom, Ximena, works all day as a secretary at a law firm and my host dad, Xavier, is a retired dentist. My oldest host sister, Carolina (25 years old) is studying to be a dentist and just got engaged to her boyfriend on Valentine's Day, the day after I arrived at their house! Nathaly, 20 years old, is a student at a university here studying civil engineering and my host brother, Xavier Antonio (14 years old) is a sophomore in high school and loves to play video games and go on facebook. They're all really nice but they also have their own lives and friends so they usually do things on their own. This means I am left at home a lot to fend for myself. I live next to Claire, one of the other girls in the program so we hang out sometimes.

Today, after I went to church (which was an experience in itself... my ride, a cousin of my host siblings, came about an hour and a half late and we ended up going to a different church than I thought. It was in Spanish and I actually understood all of it!), my host family was busy and so was Claire so I decided to go out on my own. It's very safe here. There's a policeman on about every corner. So I started walking toward the main street and just walked and looked into stores and observed the people. There were crowds of people at the ice cream shop for obvious reasons. I went into a little tienda (store) to buy chocolate and talked with the two old ladies who were sitting gossiping.

I then walked by the fruit market, full of little blue covered stands where people sell all their produce. There is so much delicious fruit here! I eat fresh papaya almost every morning! And fresh fruit juice! Also, I walked by a lot of restaurants, most of which are only open for breakfast and lunch (the two biggest meals of the day here) and saw people eating a typical lunch of soup, rice, beans, plantains and meat. That's pretty much what I have every day for lunch and it is delicious. Then dinner consists of coffee or tea and bread and cheese.

As I walked I came across a park full of kids playing with their parents and siblings and couples napping on the grass together. I sat and ate my chocolates and just watched the people and enjoyed the scenery too. From the park you can see the mountains and the city of Quito sweeping down the slopes. It was a sunny, warm day today and luckily I didn't get caught in any rain, which is very likely to happen here. I sat for a bit and just watched the people play and laugh and enjoy each other. I didn't feel like a gringa for once and I felt like part of the community here. As I continue to live in this neighborhood I hope to build friendships and become part of the community.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Scientific Learnings

This past week we went to a cloud forest in an area called Intag. On the way, we passed rose plantations, which we've been learning about in classes. The rose industry here is huge, but it also uses large amounts of pesticides, which not only affect the rivers and surrounding plants but also the health of the people who work there. We also stopped at the páramo, which is the high grassland ecosystem and learned about how it was formed by human use of fire. Quite interesting after learning about the history of fire in Professor Strick's class.

In the cloud forest we lived on a self-sustaining, organic farm where there were no flushing toilets (only outhouses), no hot showers (the heater was solar powered but it was always cloudy), and no electricity in the cabins. It was amazing hiking through the forest every day, learning names of plant families and getting to see and touch them (taste some of them even). The one morning we went out to find the cock-of-the-rock lek and we found it and got to hear the loud, boisterous squawks of the males and see their bright red feathers. It was kind of hard to see but still absolutely amazing. We also got to do some mist-netting and caught a strong-billed woodcreeper, a green violtear, a russet-crowned warbler and the golden-headed quetzal! It was the first time anyone had caught a quetzal in the nets at this place! It was so gorgeous (attached is the picture). I got to handle to russet-crowned warbler after it was measured.

Also, in Intag, there is a long interesting history of mining companies trying to construct open pit mines in the cloud forest because it is rich in copper. Rather than letting the companies in, the people living here have been putting up a fight and have so far successfully stopped the mining. I have also attached a copy of an article that one of the director's wrote about the mining problems there.

Now I am in Quito, living with a host family and taking classes at el Experimento de Convivencia Internacional. My Spanish is improving and I am hoping to write most of my papers, even the scientific ones, in Spanish.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Orientation Week

I’m in Quito safely and super busy with all the orientation things that my program has for me. It’s been a bit overwhelming with so much information and meeting new friends and already starting two long-term projects. It’s also really different living with “gringos” than living with a family of natives in Guayaquil. It has its ups and downs. At first I was so happy to meet people who speak English as their first language and with whom I could communicate effectively without anything being lost in translation. But now I think I’ve already lost some of my Spanish. Although I did buy “The Alchemist” in Spanish and I’ve been reading that every night and according to my roommates I’ve spoken in Spanish in my sleep the past two nights! So I guess my subconscious still knows it.

I am learning so much already and we’re already getting started on our ecology projects. This first week we’re based at a hostel called Hostal de Maple and it’s a really cool place in the Mariscal area of the city of Quito. Mariscal is the touristy area of the city so it’s kind of hard to find cheap places to eat here. The first day though I went out with my friend and asked an older woman where is a good cheap place to eat and she walked us there! We got a full lunch of soup (with some sort of meat in it), rice, fried plantains and chicken for one dollar and fifty cents.

I’ve enjoyed these past few days of orientation, but right now I just want to get started with the real deal. I’m sick of being with other gringos and I’m sick of being stared at on the street and I want to make friends with natives and get out of my comfort zone. I also am so excited for our trip to the Intag cloud forest this coming week. We’ll be there for the whole week so don’t be surprised if I’m out of touch for a bit.

The city of Quito is absolutely amazing, though we haven’t gotten to spend a lot of time out in the city. You can see the mountains wherever you go and it has been surprisingly dry even though it is the wet season. We’ve gotten lucky and have had amazing views. Especially on our drive up to Yanacocha cloud forest! I forgot my camera… oops! But the views were breathtaking. I’m going to LOVE living here.