Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mom and Dad come to Ecuador!!!!!!!!

Right before Christmas my parents made it down to visit me in Ecuador! My last day of classes was December 15th and I hopped right on a bus after class to go meet them in Guayaquil. They got in late so we stayed at a hotel and then got right back on a bus first thing in the morning to bring them to Portoviejo. Yes, my dad rode in Ecuadorian buses. I am pretty sure that they would have failed his safety inspection miserably but they got us to where we needed to be. My family fixed us a huge Ecuadorian lunch with shrimp as a treat. They were somehow shocked when my parents got here and they really didn't speak any Spanish... they looked at me and said "you weren't lying...not one word." My host mom was really cute and tried to use her limited English to communicate. My favorite was when she said "you English, me Spanish, big problem." Even though there was a lot of translating involved I thought the conversation moved along pretty well. That afternoon I took my parents to my University so they could see my classroom and office and also because there is nothing else to show them in Portoviejo... we got back to the house and had dinner with my host family and then my friend Krista came over to meet my parents. We all sat around and talked and then my little brother insisted that we play both playstation soccer and soccer on the patio to "show my parents how we play." My host family took off work and school for my parents visit so they decided to take us on one of their epic beach trips... this always beens hours in the car and limited time at the beach. On this particular day they decided to invite our housekeeper to come along for the first time which meant we were packing 8 people in a 5 person truck. It also happened to rain for the first time in 4 months so we couldn't ride in the back. There is nothing like sitting on top of each other for 4 hours to bond some families... We made it back to Portoviejo in time to catch our bus to Guayaquil but on our way there with about 15 minutes to spare I remembered that I had left my passport in my room. AHHHH We somehow made it back to the house and to the bus before it left-- it was the first time I was happy that everything runs behind schedule.

In the morning we left from Guayaquil to the GALAPAGOS!!!!! We stayed on Santa Cruz island where we got to see a bunch of giant turtles up close at the Charles Darwin Station. They were surprisingly active but every time I tried to get close for a picture they had this creepy deep throat sound... it freaked me out. Santa Cruz is also home to Tortuga Bay... a beautiful white sand beach. We had to walk 30 minutes from the entrance of the park to even reach the beach but it was beautiful. We planned two day trips and the first trip was to Bartolome Island. We took a two hour boat ride to get there and then hiked up the volcanic comb to an amazing view where we could see the Penacle Rock- it is the most photographed view in Galapagos. We went snorkling around the Penacle rock and got to see some Sea Lions swimming and active on the beach. We even saw a penguin but it looked surprisingly like a duck when it was swimming. The next day we went to Isabela island where we saw Flamingos, a white tipped shark, penguins fishing :), and TONS of iguanas. We even saw a giant turtle on the beach that our tour guides helped back to sea. We went snorkling again and then headed back to Santa Cruz for dinner and drinks.

We flew back to Guayaquil the next morning and had all day to explore the city. We walked along the river and people watched for awhile and then walked up 444 stairs to a nice view of the city. Guayaquil is one hectic city! That night we took advantage of the hotel and mom and I spent some time in the hot tub and pool. We had a nice breakfast the next day and then mom and dad headed off to the airport. I took advantage of that hot shower one more time and then went to the terminal to catch a bus to Portoviejo.

We had a great time and it was definitely the best Christmas gift I could have asked for!

New Years is coming up and I am looking forward to the fun Ecuadorian traditions... then my best friend is visiting for a week! I am feeling lucky these days... anyone else want to book a plane flight?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Many small steps, one giant leap towards REAL LIFE!

So I have been here 3 months... what?!?! Time has really flown by... I can’t believe it is already December. These past few weeks have been key to me feeling like my life here is real. I was lucky to have a lot of breaks in the beginning and get to travel, but staying in Portoviejo makes me realize that I am not just a tourist passing through, I live here and I have finally made some steps to being Portovejense.

Step 1:
I am now a discount card owner at the local grocery store. (Yes, I know you are proud of my money saving ways Megan Holt). I often get asked by Ecuadorians to let them use my card... those are very proud moments.

Step 2:
I now am getting paid regularly and know how the system works at the bank. I can officially deposit and withdraw money without a big scene. yay

Step 3:
This is probably the biggest step... Krista and I found a group of girls to play soccer with twice a week! It was such a nerve racking experience getting it started... we went to this soccer complex where we were told girls play every Wednesday at 7. We got there super early of course (I have not converted to Ecua time yet...aka being at least 30 minutes late to everything) and at 6:50 there was still not a single girl in sight. Finally, right at 7 a few girls come up. We were nervously discussing different ways to approach them and ask if we could play when one of the girls came over and asked if we were here to play with them. YESSSSS we were so excited. Now they know our names (that took a bit) and we play with them twice a week. They aren’t particularly good, but it is a lot of fun. They are actually scared of Krista and I... they duck or get out of the way when we shoot. Off the field though we are really hopeful that this can be a route to some girlfriends (which are almost impossible to find here). They actually asked us to stay after the game and have a beer with them! Progress!!!!

Step 4:
Friends... I have some. I only have one girl-friend who I met through my host family, but she came over the other day and we watched Mean Girls. As you girls know, that pretty much solidifies a friendship. My guy friends are really great and a lot of fun. We had a fun movie night last night where we all got together and watched Get Him to the Greek. They are really sweet and always looking out for me. It is really convenient to have them around when we go out because if a creepy guy is hitting on me... this happens way to often...I just make one of them pretend to be my boyfriend. This is the only thing that seems to work with the guys here because no one gets a hint when I am trying to ignore them and they don’t seem to believe me when I outright say “I don’t want to talk to you.” Thank goodness for friends.

Step 5:
Teaching... I feel like a REAL teacher now. I have really gotten the hang of teaching and lesson planning appropriately for their different levels (well, almost... I am still struggling with my Beginner 2 class, but I can see the light). I can’t express how exciting it is to here them speak. My Beginner 1 class is the most exciting because I know that I taught them EVERYTHING that they know. The first week they could say the alphabet and count, now they say sentences like “My cousin is tall and has brown eyes and long, brown hair” or “English class is at 4:30 in the afternoon on Monday.” We are spending a lot of time working on questions, but that will always be a struggle.

My students and I have a lot of fun in class and while I still have problems with cellphones, talking, cheating, and coming late, they know the rules and don’t fight with me when I enforce them. Most of them willingly hand over their cellphones... I actually had mine taken in class the other day when it rang :) Rules are rules. We have final exams in 2 weeks so I am trying to plan a helpful review week. Now I really understand what teachers meant when they said “I don’t want to trick you, I really want you to do well.” I know that all of my students can pass if they study and participate in review this week... I think I might be more nervous than they are. My Beginner 1 students are really excited about moving up to the next level and keep asking me if I am going to be their teacher still. August is so far off but they always approach me really worried and ask about what will happen after I leave in August... I explained that new volunteers would come, but it does feel good that they seem to enjoy my class.

Step 6:
Volunteering... okay unfortunately there is not much progress on this step, but efforts are being made so it is bound to happen eventually. We went to this meeting for an organization called JCI that is an international non-profit. It was probably the most uncomfortable experience of my life... we got there at 9:30 (even though the meeting was scheduled for 8) and then it actually started at 10. This meeting lasted until midnight... why, you might ask. Well because we had to each stand up one at a time and introduce ourselves. This of course does not mean simply “Hi, my name is ___ and I work ___.” No, we had to spend at least 5 minutes on each person while they described in depth the impact that JCI has had on their lives or why they are interested in working with JCI. My introduction was about 15 seconds long and I don’t even remember what I said... afterwards, of course the other volunteers had to answer a few questions about ourselves in front of the group. Then, why not, we were in the group photo that will be used on websites etc. They are very into posing and taking photos so that was a long process. There was time to stay and talk at the end and we actually met some really nice young people then, but the organization overall doesn’t seem to do much. It seems like it is a leadership development program for the members and they go to a lot of seminars and on trips, but they don’t seem to do much hands on service.

Since that didn’t work out I talked to my host family about different opportunities. My host brother has autism so I asked about any programs that he has been involved with here and there is a foundation for kids with special needs. She promised to take me and introduce me to the organization after Christmas! I am really excited about his possibility so we will see where that goes...

Time to go do some lesson planning...