Three New Things

Emily Soule - Ecuador

November 27, 2012

“Learn three new things before you come back to us,” the kindly man had commanded Cat, when he sent her forth into the city. She always did. Sometimes it was no more than three new words of the Braavosi tongue. Sometimes she brought back sailor’s tales, of strange and wondrous happenings from the wide, wet world beyond the isles of Braavos, wars and rains of toads and dragons hatching. Sometimes she learned three new japes or three new riddles, or tricks of this trade or the other. And every so often, she would learn some secret.” – A Feast of Crows, G.R. Martin.

While in high school, my mind would digest pages of information each day. A five course banquet piled with steam-boiled equations, marinated names, and spiced theories. Grumbling and protesting, my eyes would open to take just that one, last bite of Cyrano de Bergerac and at night I would lie back down bloated; the different tastes of each fact swirling together, becoming indistinguishable.

How do you learn like that? You do learn, but I feel when you are swamped by information, it is harder to appreciate each fact. Living in a city or a place of transit your eyes can see four thousand new sights every day. Your brain might only take in fifty of them. And on top of that, you might not even know which fifty your mind has processed.

It is for this reason that I am glad I am spending my Ecuador year in the countryside. When talking to my friends living in the towns and cities, it strikes me how different my experience is developing into. Living in the cities, you can go out and supplement your diet. There are community events to attend and other volunteers and youth to meet. Per human nature, I am envious at times. In Santa Fe de Galan, there are houses and there are onion fields*  There is very little that I see that is new each day. While this might seem boring and tame at times, it is allowing me to understand deeper and appreciate more each new fact or sight presented to me.

Instead of being swamped by fifty new sights every day. I fall asleep most nights savoring just three; three new things which I am slowly placing into the puzzle that is Galan and Ecuador as a whole.

Here are some examples:

1. The agriculture of my town is largely composed of monocultures of onions because they are the only crop which can withstand
the ash fall from the volcano (…oh, yeah…I live next to an active volcano by the way…)

2. Despite appearing as if onions are the only crops here, there are at least two fields of carrots and one field of beans.

3. There has been a lot of migration to Riobamba from the general location of my community NOT because of job opportunities; rather because the agriculture is better farther away from the volcano and the quality of education is better in the city.


1. My host mother and her mother before her both raised their children on their own.

2. The idea for the government run InfoCentros (an attempt to provide communities in the countryside access to computers and internet) originated and was first implemented in Venezuela.

3. The principle of my school has a son studying in Italy for two years and loves fútbol.


1. South Korea has its own version of the Peace Corps.

2. Two people have become partially paralyzed in my town most likely, according to the local health center doctors, because they do not wear masks when fumigating crops.

3. The word merendar is used more than cena and zappallo is more common than calabaza.


1. My uncle has a smart phone.

2. Part of the reason that there are a lot of immigrants from Peru and Colombia in Ecuador has something to do with the fact that Ecuador uses the US dollar as opposed to the pesos of Peru and Colombia.

3. It is obligatory for a woman to go to the hospital when going into labor.


I have a lot left to discover. I’m gaining the patience to be fed only a little bit of at a time.


The food references in this blog are in honor of the possible Trader Joe’s care package from a certain Hulk-like panda friend of mine. Dear Chinny, dame comida. That is all.

*The “A Song of Fire and Ice” reference is in honor of me finally finishing all 5,000 pages of the heart-wrenching, obnoxious, slugfest that is George R. Martin’s work…it never ends..…

*In all fairness to my community, in addition to the houses and onion fields there is a cemetery, a soccer field, the school I work at, the administrative building of the parroquial, and two church sanctuaries (which are sadly enough, perpetually closed since there is no priest to accompany the churches…go figure).

Emily Soule