Ñuca Yachashcacuna: Part I

Sam Garcia

October 31, 2012

Over the past two months, I can say without a shadow of doubt that I have learned and grown more than I can fully appreciate right now. That is in no way saying that my experience has been easy, in fact, this is certainly a testament to how challenging it has been.

It has taken longer than I expected to submit my second blog post, mainly because I didn’t know where to start. There have been so many new people, places, customs, and experiences that have been passing through my life that I will certainly be unable to fit all of them into this block of text, but I will try to give you an idea of what I have been doing over the past couple of months.

I will start by letting you know where I am living right now, which is a place called Pulungui. This Andean community is about 30 minutes away from the base of a volcano called Chimborazo. The summit of Chimborazo is the point on the Earth’s surface that is the farthest from the center of the planet (because Earth isn’t a perfect circle and it’s really close to the equator), about 20,500 feet above sea level. This means I am living at about 12,000 feet, and I have certainly felt it. The people of Pulungui are very indigenous; their first language is Kichwa, and the only time they use Spanish is when they are speaking to me. The entire community seems to be related to my host mother in some way, and this has made me feel safe and welcome. It is also very underdeveloped, as underdeveloped as almost anywhere I have traveled. My house does not have running water, as most of the community gets their water from a stream that runs though the main (and only) “road.” The electricity is  unreliable, but I am happy that I can at least charge my appliances with the outlet that is attached to a loose wire that hangs from my tarp ceiling. However, it has been surprising that I have perfect cell phone reception and even 3G connection on my phone. I thought that I appreciated my home before I came to Ecuador, but I had no idea how good I have it.

Taking a step back, this whole journey began on August 19th, when I got on a plane to San Francisco. I arrived at Stanford University with my blue Patagonia luggage for two weeks of what was my version of college orientation, except with more ice breaking and community building activities than I expect there to be in New York next year. There were 92 other Fellows in the same boat that I was in, a very diverse group. I listened to plenty of valuable lectures that were geared toward preparing us for our impending culture shock and teaching us what being a “global citizen” was all about. Highlights included a lecture from David Abernathy and a trip to the Google headquarters. There were lots of activities that kept me very busy and tired, which I appreciate now more than I did then, however one of the most important parts of this experience was simply preparing mentally for the experience I was about to have. It was even harder than I expected to say “see you later” to my mom and to the US than I thought it would be.

I had been to Quito once before, en route to the Galapagos Islands, but the experience that I had in September could not have been more different. I was living in an apartment with two soccer playing host brothers and a working host mother. I took public transportation anywhere I needed to go. My commute to Spanish class every morning involved a packed bus ride across town; I got lucky enough to find a seat on the bus twice. I had about three hours of Spanish class every morning followed by various activities in the afternoon to educate us on the Republic of Ecuador. Trips to the US Embassy and local universities taught us about state of the Ecuadorian health and education systems, economy, and environment, along with the dangers that came with being a gringo in Quito. My Spanish class also volunteered at a local elementary school three times, which was a remarkably rewarding experience. I can check living in a major South American city off my bucket list (if it was ever on there).

Placed in the middle of my time living in Quito, I traveled to my new host community of Pulungui and spent a week here. This has to have been one of the hardest weeks that I have had. The first night I got incredibly sick from the altitude. I was feeling a little better the next day, but then I ate “cuy” for the first time. “Cuy” translates into “guinea pig” in English– I ate one of those little fur balls of joy, and I certainly paid the price for it. I will spare you the details and just say that the next few days were miserable. I was in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do, with no one around that I knew or who could even speak the same language as me, and to make matters worse I was just as sick as I ever have been in my life. Luckily, I survived and returned to Quito.

Returning to Pulungui a couple of weeks later meant coming back to almost certain continued sickness and boredom. Luckily the sickness did not greet me when I returned. My first week in Pulungui consisted mainly of planning, as it takes a very long time to get things rolling here. Before coming here, I was notified that I would be working with a community tourism company as my apprenticeship, which I was ecstatic about. After a few days where I was free to “descansar”, I met with my supervisor for my apprenticeship about what I would actually be doing with the tourism company and my schedule. Before introductions had even begun between my supervisor and I, we were in the principle’s office of the local school and my supervisor was telling the principle that I could teach every day of the week, except for Thursdays when I have Spanish classes. Apparently there are no tourists around here.

So, my new schedule told me that I was to be teaching English four days a week in the “escuela” and the “colegio.” This is completely different than what I thought I was going to do or what I asked to do, but I know that it is good for the community, and at least I am doing something instead of sitting around and twiddling my thumbs.

There is an NGO that works in the communities around me and I have been in contact with them. I am still learning about that organization and what I could potentially do with them, but hopefully I will end up working with them for a couple days a week.

It is safe to say that my schedule is still in flux. This is not due to a lack of trying on my part, as I have pursued every opportunity to do something that I have seen possible. I am doing things right now that were not my first choice of how I would be spending my time, but I am making the most out of it and want to get as much out of this experience as possible.

This is a super long blog post, so have split it up into two parts. Part I has been about the experience that I have had with Global Citizen Year so far. The next section is about what my thought process has been during my time in Ecuador. 

Sam Garcia