My favorite part about Ecuador so far is the way culture shock has affected me. I have a lot of friends around me who have lost their appetite and can’t bring themselves to eat hardly anything. I, on the other hand, don’t remember being nearly as hungry as when I left. So far, my appetite has been insatiable. My mom, Esmeralda, cooks me breakfast in the morning which normally consists of a couple eggs, some bread with Guanabana marmalade (a delicious Ecuadorian fruit which tastes something similar to a pineapple and strawberry with an underlying creamy flavor reminiscent of coconut), a banana, mandarin or both, finished off with a glass of different fresh squeezed juice everyday (jugo de guanábana, naranja, tomates de arbol, maracuyá, mora, naranjilla, limonada, etc.). I bring a sack lunch to school, which always consists of a mountain of rice and either carne or pollo (sometimes with some red or green peppers if I’m an especially sweet niño). Spanish class starts at 8:30 and at 10:30, at our first half hour break, I always finish my lunch. Inevitably, by the time class is over at 12:30, I’m hungry again. So I use this hour and a half break to grab a $2.50 almuerzo (lunch) down the street that commonly consists of the fresh squeezed juice of the day and a bowl of soup followed by another mountain of rice, some sort of meat, platanos fritas (fried bananas) y un postre (dessert) to finish it off. Then at two we have our Global Citizen Year led activity of the day until five in which we might discuss an article we had to read the previous night, or go on an outing to the presidential palace or the U.S. Embassy, or some leadership challenge such as getting dropped off in an unknown part of Quito with a destination, a map of the city, and twenty five cents for the bus. Then, as long as our activity doesn’t go past five I head down to el Parque Carolina con mis amigos to find a game of fútbol to hop into. Parque Carolina has a few good-sized dirt fields with goals to play six on six, and in the last week we’ve put together a solid squad to give our Ecuadorian opposition a run for their money. Literally. All Ecuadorians go down to the park to bet on games and although we’ve lost many fifty-cent pieces, we’ve won a few as well. If we get a game on one of the four fields with lights, we play until the park closes at 7:30 and if not, we have to end our game at 6:30 when the sun goes down. After a long game of soccer I head home for dinner. But first, I have to hop in the shower to scrub myself down. Especially my feet. After playing on the dirt fields, they always end up black. A traditional Ecuadorian dinner is similar to the British teatime but once I told my mom that coffee and toast wouldn’t cut it for me, she’s kindly been fixing me my third mountain of rice of the day, some meat and sometimes some platanos fritas. Of course, also with another glass of fresh squeezed juice. Once I finish, I kiss my mom goodnight with a ‘ciao’ and an ‘hasta mañana’ and I hop into my bed, more than ready for sleep.
Quito tries its best to keep me up at night but I’ve been too tired to succumb to its efforts. Everyone disposes of their trash into the street and there can’t be such a thing as a smog check with all of the smoke coming out of the tailpipes. It’s mind boggling how many stray dogs roam the streets but Quito is beautiful. We’re surrounded on all sides by los montañas de Pichincha and on a clear day you can see three massive snowcapped volcanoes on the horizon. All of the buildings seem to be a different color and the city is far from flat, so from a vantage point you can see so much of la bonita ciudad. Despite all of the unpleasant things about Quito, it’s grown on me. I’ve enjoyed life here. But I can say with ease that I’m ready to go. And tomorrow, I head out for the province of Napo, in the Amazon!! The jungle. The family I will be calling mine lives in an indigenous Kichwa town of 200, called Santa Rita. I will be working on the non-profit side of a company called Runa which exports Guayusa, a native tea to the Amazon which contains the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee with twice the antioxidants of green tea. I will also be helping to GPS map and create a buffer zone around Bosque Colonso (the jungle around my pueblito (little town)), teaching English and Environmental Education in la escuela, and working with youth groups on after school tutoring, eco-clubs, health education, and sports.
I can’t even put into words how ecstatic I am with my placement. The spectacular flora and fauna I will be living amongst is going to be so incredible. I’m going to be a ten minute bus ride from internet in the next town over and a twenty five minute bus ride from the capital of Napo, Tena, a city of 20,000. I have twelve other incredible fellows in Napo with me ranging from ten minutes, to two hours away. It all seems so surreal and I think it will until I step off of that bus tomorrow and begin my new life, amongst new people, with a new family, in the jungle.