Correoucu, Ca̱ar, Ecuador

Elisa Portz - Ecuador


January 31, 2015

Greetings from Correoucu, Ecuador! I have been living in my placement community for about three months now. My indigenous host family is more than I could ever ask for. I live with my host mother, Narcisa, host father, JosÌ© MarÌ_a, and my three host sisters: MarÌ_a JosÌ© (13), Sara (16), and Lourdes (18). We started out complete strangers, but I appreciate their willingness to let a dramatic, tall, gringa into their home!

My host mom is very quiet, shy, and reserved, but she has the biggest heart and compassion for her family. She is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen. I often see her washing clothes on the washboard until 10 pm or tending to our animals until the same wee hour and then waking up at 5 the next morning ready to take on the day. Making her laugh in Spanish is a great feeling; it’s out-of-character for her and makes me think my language skills are truly connecting.

My host dad, Jos̩, is a very gentle and kind-hearted person. He helped me start the community class that I teach twice a week and is a very knowledgeable man. I admire his work ethic as well. Every day he works from 3 am to 11:30 am as a trash picker in the neighboring town of Ca̱ar and then returns to the farmland to work with my host mom in the fields until late that night.

My host sisters each have unique personalities. I’ve grown closest to my youngest host sister, MarÌ_a. She’s always willing to help me improve my Spanish and help me remember words. She loves to watch movies and laughs when I call the popcorn cangrejo which means crab. Popcorn is canguil in Spanish – I was close! I also had the pleasure of introducing MarÌ_a to pancakes, which are a Sunday tradition in my family in the U.S. She had never heard of them before, so we made them together. Now, she loves pancakes and talks about them all the time.

My middle host sister, Sara, is really funny. She’s also very studious, as are all my host sisters. She is the president of her class this year. Recently, I asked her about the positions that students run for and accidentally used trasero, which means rear end, instead of tesorero, which means treasurer. She burst out laughing and then I realized my mistake. She told her mom, and pretty soon everyone was laughing at the dinner table. Sometimes the little things really do make all the difference. It makes me happy to hear my host family laugh. My oldest host sister, Lourdes, who recently turned 18, is shy and reserved like her mother. She is very smart and compassionate.

This tight-knit family welcomed me into their home and I’m grateful. I’m also grateful to be exposed to so much culture. My host mom speaks fluent Kichwa, but I only hear her speak it with other women in our community. I am fascinated with their beautiful indigenous dress. The colorful velvet or pleated pollera skirts and white long-sleeved shirts with multi-colored embroidered detail are often adorned with multiple necklaces and large earrings. Each community and province has a different type of hat as well. It’s very common for both men and women to wear the hats as part of their indigenous dress.

My internship assignment is teaching English at a local school. Three months ago, I was teaching in a classroom of four students at a small community school in Chaglaban. It didn’t seem that I was really needed, and things were very slow-paced. After only working at this school a couple of times, I decided to explore other options for an apprenticeship. I brought it up with my host dad and inquired about the possibility of working at my sisters’ school. A few days later he left work to take me to the school MarÌ_a and Sara attend.

We spoke with the director of the elementary school, TrÌÁnsito, who was very pleased and excited about the possibility of my helping at the school. In the next hour and a half, she took me to seven different classrooms to present myself (in English) to each class. Although the kids had no idea what I was saying, they oohed and ahhed when listening to my English. And they clapped and cheered at the fact of knowing I was staying until April. It was at that moment when I knew that working at this elementary (and it includes a high school) was the right fit for my apprenticeship.

My schedule is evolving, but for the past few months I’ve been teaching classes in first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh grades, seeing each once or twice a week! It’s a handful and definitely a struggle on some days. Let’s just say teaching (in general) is a lot harder than I ever imagined. The work it takes to plan lessons and especially to discipline kids, is more difficult and challenging than I ever thought it was. Some teachers work more closely with me on teaching than others, and I’m very thankful for those that do!

In my next blog, I plan to write about the recent holiday celebrations – with a special visit from my U.S. family!

Elisa Portz