The ants will bite you

Hannah Cho - Ecuador


October 8, 2015

For those who have very little idea what I’m doing and need an explanation, I’ve written a brief one on my Quora blog that details what has happened up to Immersion Week [ https://ieatpants.quora.com/what-i%C2%B4m-doing ]. If you’re already familiar and need not be bothered with an explanation, proceed.

 

I have now been in my permanent homestay in the provincia de Napo for nearly 3 weeks. The schedule is as such:

  1. First week: named Immersion Week, Fellows live in community and begin apprenticeships
  2. Second week for 4 days: Regional Training Seminar 1 with other Fellows in region
  3. Third week: in community, weekly Spanish classes commence

The real Global Citizen Year has begun. No more training, no more seeing other English-speaking Fellows daily, no more direct guidance. Here, I will post some aspects of daily life:

 

MY COMMUNITY

I am placed in a Kichwa barrio called Las Yerbitas on the outskirts of Tena, Napo’s capital. (It can be spelled Las Hierbitas as well, which means “the herbs”.) Napo is one of the provinces that includes Ecuador’s portion of the Amazon Rainforest. Kichwa is one of Ecuador’s indigenous cultures and a native language (you may have heard of Quechua, which is Peru’s dialect of the language). My host family is culturally Kichwa, and they speak it as well, but mostly just with older members of the family, abuelas and abuelos who live nearby. They speak Spanish about 80% of the time. The whole barrio is like one big family, everyone knows everyone. There is a really strong sense of community here, which is something I deeply respect but was also intimidated by at first. However, though I can still feel my gringa showing whenever I walk home, I can also feel the warmth and friendliness with which they greet me. Every weekend and a few days during the week, the women of my barrio have these intense futbol games that many of the neighborhood watch. I think that they’re pretty well-known, because I’ve mentioned “los partidos de las mujeres” to other folks in Tena and they recognize what I’m talking about. Also, MYTH: Roosters crow at dawn. FACT: ROOSTERS CROW WHENEVER THEY F—ING WANT TO. Whether it’s 3 the morning or 2 in the afternoon, I can hear a rooster caw somewhere in my vicinity. Every day.

 

The area is quite jungly, as in, strange plants and bugs and birds buzz and chirp and crawl right outside my window. Yes, I have seen a few of the crazy creatures that you see only on Nat Geo; giant red ants that carry bits of leaves, a baby crocodile, two tarantulas, a poisonous stick bug that would have shot acid at me had I decided to poke it, huge butterflies and moths, and a gigante grasshopper. I have a beautiful view of the Rio Tena surrounded by forest and a small bridge over it from my room’s window. I don’t have an Internet connection in my home, something only available when I go into the town’s Internet Cafes. The weather varies from extremely strong sun and humidity, to wet, cool and cloudy. It can get a tiny bit chilly at night (nothing that a Michigander can’t handle though). The road leading into my barrio is all dirt and stone, making for a very bumpy car ride the whole way here.

 

I’d be remiss to not mention the difficult culture shock I experienced my first night here. Because I knew I’d be placed in Tena, the capital, I figured that I’d be placed in a more urban setting, which was actually a bit disappointing me, since I wanted that full, “jungle” experience, whatever that meant. As my host family drove me to their home that first day, I was excited that that former expectation was not true. Then they brought me into the house and showed me my room and let me descansa. Some notes I wrote from that first afternoon:

 

“Where am I. What am I doing here. Maybe this really isn’t for me. This is for someone else.”

 

Observations of my new home: “The house is currently under construction, which becomes apparent upon arrival. The floor is wood planks on one half and chipped concrete on the other. The ceiling is constructed from two metal sheets laid at an angle on top of each other. The door closes with difficulty. There is a single cabinet for clothes and a small nightstand to the left of the bed. Everything seems to be hand-made, its construction visible.”

 

“As I was unpacking, I was going over all the clothes that would no longer be feasible to wear in this heat and humidity. I put my folded clothes in the cabinet, miserable and feeling woefully ill-prepared for the humidity of the Amazonia. As I was doing this, I also tried to clean out the dust and other uncertain little thingies that I vaguely witnessed at the bottom of the drawer. I tried wiping at the corners feebly with the toilet paper I brought from EIL before we left, trying to make this experience at least as close to North Americanly-clean as my middle-class self preferred it. Suddenly the absurdity of this tiny, wholly unnecessary action in the context of this place, of this house, of this new culture I was entering into dawned on me. What the f— am I doing. The stress and anticipation of how I knew I’d eventually adjust and become naturally accustomed to this house and its germs and imperfections made me so exhausted and overwhelmed that I fell asleep.”

 

That first week consisted of feeling useless and alone and on the verge of crying but somehow not able to push the tears out. My host family and other volunteers at my apprenticeship in Bonuchelli were so friendly and welcoming, but the adjustment was a tough one for me.

 

THE BUGS

 

This is a topic that I didn’t think would play a major role in my time here. But alas, the bugs. They love me.

 

The first week I got quite a few bites on both legs. I counted around 50 bites in total. Those were fine, in retrospect. I now fear rivers and all beds, because during our first Regional Training Seminar, during which we stayed at a lodge in Misahualli, a nearby river, I got more. So much more. I gave up counting a while ago, but I estimate that I have around 200 bites. And they’re muy feos. Ugly, warty looking things that look like you could pop pus out of. The process is as such: first, a small, harmless looking red dot from a bite (this is blood), then it starts itching. A lot. I inadvertently scratch it or clothes or something rub against it and it gets itchier. It quickly turns into an ugly reddish blotch on my skin and then commence the swelling, redness, and heat. It’ll swell to the diameter of a small puffy pancake, making it painful to move that part of my body (usually the legs). I will appear misshapen. I will stupidly scratch it a lot and apply cream that will kinda eh work okay. I will put on long pants. After a few days the swelling will subside, and what remains is a bruised-looking area of skin and a tiny scab at the bite’s origin.

 

There are other types of bites, I’m sure, but the one I just described is the most painful and irritating.

 

I wake up at least once every night, usually scratching. Each time I’ve checked my clock, it’s read sometime between 3 and 4 am. I’m learning how to deal with it though. The first time I experienced the crazy biting, I felt like I was going insane. Putting on long pants does help to prevent me from scratching it as much. I’m trying to view it as a mental exercise in restraint and patience. It’s hard. The locals have recommended putting lime juice on the bites, which works quite well, as well as zimbio (not sure if that’s how it’s spelled), but that’s harder to find. I have to buy mentol, detang, and menticol, following their advice, which are effective repellents.

 

LESSONS FROM THE AMAZON: new rules to follow in daily life

  • Don’t f— around with the insects. They might shoot acid at you.
  • Bring three types of shirts: T-shirt, tank top, long sleeve
  • Bring two types of pants: shorts and long pants.
  • Watch your step, or you might walk into an ant trail and get bitten.
  • Crocs are one of mankind’s best inventions.
  • You don’t need mirrors.
  • Close up/zip up backpacks, pockets, drawers, etc. or creatures will find their way inside.
  • Clean/move/shuffle around all items in your room at least once every 3 days or bugs will think it’s ok to chill there.

GRATITUDES

 

During our first Regional Training Seminar (RTS1), a period of 4 days in which Fellows from the same region meet up to discuss wins, progress, tools, and support, one of the things we went over was listing 3 things you’re grateful for each day, because that forces you to look for the positive things in your life. So here goes. I am grateful for:

 

1. Whenever I hear the kids of my barrio walk into our house and say “Hola, Hannah” with a smile and ask to play my ukulele/mini guitarra.

 

2. Meeting the two ex-Peace Corps volunteers and talking with them at Bonuchelli.

 

3. Reminding myself where I am right now despite the difficulties. I’m in Ecuador, in Napo, in a homestay with the jungle right outside my window. People bathe in the river! I sleep under a mosquitero! I speak Spanish to people and they understand me! (most of the time) I’m getting bitten left and right. Like, that’s crazy! I am here for the next 6 and a half months. This is my life now.

 

I am here to use this time in ways I could not have before. 

 

Hannah Cho