3 Months in Ecuador

Trina Olsen - Ecuador


November 29, 2015

Hi friends and family and anyone else reading this blog! I have now been in Ecuador for exactly three months. Sorry I’ve been a little slow at posting an actual blog about being in Ecuador. There’s no way I can catch you up on everything that’s happened, but I’ll let you know where I’m a little bit about where I was before and where I am now.

On Saturday, September 19th we moved in with our (supposed to be) permanent host families. On Sunday, September 20th I spent roughly 12 hours simultaneously sobbing in my new room and having diarrhea. It was a wonderful day. My new host family was less friendly and welcoming than my Quito host family, who I had just stayed with for three weeks and who were all so incredibly kind and loving.  I was placed in a small town about 45 minutes South of Cuenca, Ecuador’s 3rd largest city. I loved the 4 kids in my family, ages 7, 9, 11 and 13. The town was very picturesque, with the main plaza complete with a historic church and fountain, 2 blocks from my house. Totally surrounded by mountains, and three gushing waterfalls that draws tourists, the town immediately felt sweet and homey. My apprenticeship was working in a school for kids and adults with disabilities of all kinds, and I absolutely loved working there.  

Unfortunately, within the week that I was there, some dysfunctionality between the adults of the family became evident, and my team leaders and I concluded that I would not be able to stay with the family any longer. I was very sad to leave all the things I had shortly fallen in love with in that town–the sweet kids in my family, the mountains, my apprenticeship, and the few friends that I had made while being there for only a week. However, I knew it was for the best that I leave. It was stressful and I shed many tears over the incidents that forced me to leave, but at the same time it was a huge relief knowing I would now be placed with a family that would be a better fit.

After immersion week, I stayed with a temporary host family about 10 minutes away from the center of Cuenca, while GCY staff searched for a new permanent host family. In this family, I had a mom and dad, and two sisters, one 14 and one 24. They were very sweet.  Last week, I got to see this temporary family for the first time since leaving them and moving in with my permanent family, which was really great. After about a week and a half with that family GCY found a new host family for me.

On Sunday, October 11th, I moved in with my new permanent host family, the Picons. They have previously hosted two other students with GCY, so they are pretty much are experts at hosting foreigners. I have a mom, (Cenia) dad (Patricio), 10 year old sister (Domenica), 21 year old sister (Andrea) who lives with her husband (Guido) and three month old baby girl (Anahi) in a large room added onto our house, and a 25 year old brother (Ismael). We all eat dinner together almost every night. They are all completely wonderful and I feel almost lucky that my first family didn’t work out, and that now I get to be with this family. My apprenticeship here is working in a daycare in the mornings for kids who are 2,3 and 4 years old. In the afternoons I return to the same place to help out the older kids who come after school with their homework, often English homework. In the afternoons the center has retired ex-pats from the U.S. come and help the kids with their English homework, so I’ve been making friends with a lot of old white people.

During the mornings when I work at my apprenticeship and the afternoons, I come home for two hours and have lunch usually with my mom, brother, 21 year old sister and sometimes my dad if he comes home from work for lunch. Lunch is always some variation of soup and rice and salad.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I go to Bailoterapia (Zumba) in the basketball court across from my house. Sometimes the dance moves are really complicated and I unfortunately end up being the tallest, whitest and worst dancer there, but it’s wonderful to be able to exercise nonetheless. Running here isn’t really an option, since there’s so many dogs in the street, and unfortunately sometimes people running triggers something in them to chase after you and potentially bite you.

In the evenings at home, sometimes some of us talk for a little bit after dinner. Occasionally, my family asks me to teach them English. My brother and older sister know a fair amount of English. They all start trying to say things in English to practice and get annoyed at each other and jokingly all start telling each other to “shut up” in their thick Spanish accents and it’s all I can do to not choke on my food from laughter.

Sometimes my mom braids my blond hair and says “I have a barbie in my house!”

On one of the first nights here, I showed my mom that I was attempting to knit a wash cloth…she sits with me on my bed, watching me, and then asks if she can see it, and she proceeds to rip it all out and tells me “I’m going to make you a scarf with this”. Then she brings me some of her knitting needles and spare yarn and casts on for me and teaches me to pearl, and says when I get better we can go to the store to buy good yarn to actually make something. I was a little devastated that she ripped out my wash cloth but also thought it was very sweet that she’s going to make me a scarf.

Sometimes in the afternoons I sit with my sister on her bed and we play with playdough and make hearts and flowers, or we color with crayons and draw flowers sometimes too.

On Saturdays, we go to “La Feria Libre” or “The Free Market” where you can buy anything and everything. My mom goes to buy produce and meat, and I go to buy bucket loads of cheap, fresh fruit and occasionally an eggplant or two… Papaya, mango, grapes, cherimoya, pineapple,  granadilla, and strawberries.

Last night, I had a dream that I woke up at 4:45 am and heard music blasting from the church next to our house, calling people to mass, which happens every Sunday at 7:30am. In my dream, this confused me, because it was Saturday morning, not Sunday, and it was also at 4:45am…When I woke up, my dream felt oddly real. I told my family about my dream at dinner and they were like “No, it wasn’t a dream! It was real!” They explained that on the first Saturday of each month, for some reason that was lost in the Great Spanish Language Barrier, people form a procession from the other church in my village, to the church next to my house, and walk, while praying to the virgin. Not sure why this has to be done at 4:45 in the morning and why the church must blast music that woke me up at this hour, but this is what they do.

Out of the 19 fellows who all have Cuenca as their hub city, I’m living closest to Cuenca. It’s about a 15 minute bus ride from the bus stop to downtown Cuenca, which is really nice. Cuenca is a beautiful, very walkable, historic city with way too much enticing good food, including Nutella ice cream. Every Friday after Spanish class my friend Maisie and I walk around Cuenca collecting fantastic food in our bellies and always regretting it later.

At my apprenticeship, a 20 year old guy from New York volunteers there many afternoons as well. He introduced me to his two Ecuadorian friends, ages 18 and 20, who both spent 4-5 months living with a host family in the U.S. and attending high school– one lived in Michigan and one lived in New York. We all hung out and it was really fun to meet some Ecuadorian guys my age who also had experience living in the U.S.

My mom here has lots of beautiful flowers growing in front of our house, and also has a very expansive garden where she grows plants for the “cuy” (guinea pigs) and chickens to eat. We have maybe 20 cuyes, which are a popular kind of meat to eat here. Every so often, my mom kills a guinea pig or two by crushing its head with her fist (I have yet to see her do this, she only told me that this is how you kill it). Then she puts its body through a stick, (much like how you put a marshmallow on a stick) roasts it over the fire, and we have it for dinner. I’m not a huge fan of the taste but I don’t really like meat to begin with so I’m probably not the person to ask about whether it actually tastes good or not.

One thing I’ve noticed here is that when we go to any kind of social gathering or event in the evening, it often will go very late into the night. With my temporary host family, one birthday celebration at our house with the extended family went until 3am. I went to sleep at around 11:30 and at 12:30am I woke up to find the two little cousins, maybe 3 and 5 years old, in my room, eating my oranges that had been on the table. Apparently I need sleep more than the little kids in Ecuador do, haha.

A couple weeks ago at Bingo with the family I’m with now, I again left at 11:30 to walk home and sleep, feeling pretty proud that I’d stuck it out playing bingo from 8-11:30. When I woke up at 10:30 the next morning, the rest of my family told me they’d come home at 2am, and had all gone to church from 7:30-8:30 in the morning, while I slept through all of this.

Last night, we went to a small amusement park in Cuenca with all of the cousins. I think there were 13 of us. We all stuck together, waiting for the little ones while they went on the kiddie rides, and the little ones waiting for us while we went on the adult rides. All the cousins spend a lot of time together, which I really appreciate. I come from a family with a lot of cousins, but we don’t see each other very often or know each other very well since we’re so spread out across the United States. In comparison, all the cousins here live in the same neighborhood so it’s super easy to get together and have a close knit extended family. And this is not just my family, this seems to be a pretty common theme across Ecuador.

Last night I got back from being on the coast with all the students from my program. I was exhausted today and spent almost the whole day napping. After dinner, I felt like I needed to get out a little bit after having such a tranquilo (chill) day and so my 10 year old sister and brother and I walked further up the hill that our house is situated on, so we could see all the shimmering yellow lights of Cuenca below us. It was beautiful. We talked and did cartwheels and cracked each other’s backs and tried in pain to touch our fingers to our toes. We also made plans for tomorrow to take the bus to hang out in the nearest park in Cuenca and buy ice cream. Unless its raining….it rains almost every day in the afternoon here.

Right now, I’m sitting in the living room with my 10 year old sister and brother, finishing up this blog while they paint little coaster sized squares with scenes of mountains. They’re for something at their dad’s work…not quite sure what.

I think that’s enough little stories for this first blog about actually living in Ecuador. I’m very content here and so happy that I made the decision to defer college. I’m actually starting to look into attending college here in Cuenca. Who knows if that will happen, but I can definitely see myself living here again someday. I’m realizing how fast the time is going–it has already been 3 months–I don’t want it to end!



Trina Olsen