The three months I have been in Ecuador have been full of adventures . In Quito I stayed with a sweet old lady and spent my days squishing myself onto the buses and developing my leg muscles tackling the hill between Spanish classes and Global Citizen Year lectures. I went to an Ecuadorian soccer game, climbed the tallest tower in the Basilica, and bought 30 cent breads in panaderías. There was no internet in my fourth story apartment, so I went to bed around 8:30 or 9:00 most nights to the sounds of car alarms and barking dogs.
Now I am in my permanent homestay. I live in Cotacachi, a small mountain town about 30 minutes from the market city of Otavalo and a favorite retirement destination of American ex-pats. The cobblestone streets wind through colorful buildings and storefronts with deals on pocket-less jeans or carne colorada.
I live with a fantastic Kichwa family in a beautiful house a little ways outside of town down a bumpy dirt road. I get woken up at 7:00 by bright sunshine and Martin, our bull, mooing loudly as he’s taken out to the fields. The other animals we keep include about forty guinea pigs, chickens, pigs, three piglets, and a dog.
My family is great at involving me, even if sometimes they can’t understand what I’m trying to say (although they always try). They take me to waterfalls, to the tops of gorgeous mountains and to events like a food convention in Quito. I am always invited into their traditions, celebrations, and outings. I was even included in a minga, a large project where the community comes together to help out, where we hoed a neighbor’s field for seven hours. That was probably the first time I have ever done truly hard work in my life. It was grueling, but I loved it. My family knows how to work hard but also how to have fun. They joke with me when I mix up vowels and accidentally swear in Spanish, or when I ask if I can “feel there” instead of “sit there” because I switched sentir and sentar.
I work for an organization for disabled people in Cotacachi. In the old convent right next to a towering church in the main square, a cute little courtyard is surrounded by a tourism office, a shop of locally made artisanal crafts, a restaurant, a café, and a bakery. The proceeds from the businesses are used to host events for the members of the organization and help make homes handicap accessible. I spend my days cutting vegetables, making silverware rolls, and one day even cooked crepes by myself for dessert! However, my main work at El Convento is in publicity. They have lots of services but few clients. I hope to change that by using my English skills to go into the gringo neighborhoods with flyers and talk about how delicious the lunches are. I have also been tasked with making some promotional videos for the website, but we’ll see how that goes with my zero experience in film-making.
On Fridays I pay 25 cents to take the half hour bus ride to Otavalo for Spanish class. I get ice cream and wander the market with the other fellows in the afternoon. Last week I bought pants in the Plaza de Ponchos and did an awful job bartering, paying $6.00 for what my sister got for $3.50. I need practice. Despite overpaying, I adore my super-soft panda pajamas.
My time here so far has been incredibly fun as well as eye-opening (who knew I could like zucchini?). Although I miss certain things like Kit Kats or putting up Christmas lights with my family, I love it here and can’t wait to see what the rest of the year will bring.