1. The School Bell
The school bell here is like a bomb siren from a WWII movie. Every 40 minutes, the deafening alarm wails across campus from numerous megaphones. The siren is not for the students. The teachers leave and rotate to their next classroom. All students stay in the same room. The class erupts into chaos like any class can, but here, the students are waiting for the next teacher to arrive. The outdoor campus remains relatively empty.
2. Juice at Every Meal
At every delicious meal, I drink two tall glasses of warm or cold fresh fruit juice. Since the water out of the tap is not drinkable without purifying it, the fruit is boiled and pureed to make scrumptious juice. They either serve it warm or put it in the refrigerator to chill. As strange as warm juice sounds, it is still delicious like a soup. I drink pineapple, mora, cantaloupe, orange, kiwi, naranjilla, and guanabana. My favorites are mora and pineapple.
Morning Glass of Jugo de Mora
3. Only Eat with Spoons
It is normal in Ecuador to eat all of your food with only a spoon. When I arrived to my host family, they only had one fork and knife. As I observed their customs, one goes from eating their soup to their meat with this one spoon. My family saw the difficulty I was having cutting the meat with a spoon. Last week when I returned home from work one day, I walked into the kitchen and there was a set of knives and forks set on the table for dinner. I appreciated their thoughtfulness.
4. Popcorn on Top of Soup
Any restaurant or home you go to, you will be served some kind of soup first, potato, ceviche, broth, tomato to name a few. If the soup is a cream-base or ceviche there will be a bowl of freshly popped popcorn on the table. It can be eaten as a snack as you wait for the soup, and the restaurant will refill it. But it is supposed to be a garnish for your soup like oyster crackers on clam chowder. It gives the soup a great texture.
Perfect Way to End the Day
5. How to Stop the Bus
If you want to get off the parochial buses that rush between 3 small towns, then you better know what you are doing. All you have to do is say “Gracias”. Sounds easy, right? Easier said than done. If you do not say it loud enough when you are at the back of the bus, the driver will keep on driving. If the driver thinks they heard you, but aren’t sure… they will keep on driving. It is a fine line between a shout and an over-zealous yell. You also must pay close attention to your surroundings and track landmarks as they speed by, so you can time your shout just right. If you wait too long, the bus will stop several blocks past where you wanted to hop off. Timing is everything. I do not recommend trying this without a local on your first try.
6. Change, Change, and more Change…
While planning for my adventure in the Southern Hemisphere, I learned other countries use U.S. currency as their own. When Ecuador’s currency “the sucre” inflated in the late 1990s, the government switched to the U.S. Dollar by buying American dollars. They rarely use paper bills here, unless you just took out money from an ATM. It is rare for an ATM to issue $20 bills, the norm is $10 bills. The country as a whole relies on U.S. coins especially the Sacagawea dollar coin, WIlliam Henry Harrison dollar coin, the Kennedy fifty cent piece, quarters, dimes, and nickels. They have pennies, but everything is priced in 5 cent multiples so pennies are rarely used. But they have also integrated Ecuadorian coins into the system that are identical in shape and color to the U.S. coins with different embossing. Their value is interchangeable with one another. My pockets can get heavy fast so I try to plan ahead how much money I will need for the day.
Fifty Cent Piece
7. Students Stand Up and Greet You
Every time I or one my co-teachers enter a classroom, all of the students stand and say, “Good Morning, Teacher!” I love this custom.
When you are walking down the street, to a class, or enter a restaurant, you will always greet everyone with “Buenas (fill in the time of day)”. Acknowledging your passing neighbor is customary. You also wish everyone “Buen Provecho”, when you enter the cafeteria or sit down at table where people are eating. Overall, everyone is very friendly.
9. Student Council Elections
This week is student council elections where I am teaching. The students campaign in groups, instead of individually. The two teams (Lista 1 & Lista 3) have put on quite a show the past two days. We have had DJs, singers, stilt-walkers, fire breathers, dancers, and radio-hosts. Both groups had an entire day to present their positions, hand out candy, and put on their “break and after-school show”. Today is full of debates. Thursday is a day of silence, where everyone thinks about who they want to vote for. I think they also vote on Thursday. On Friday, the winning group is announced and there are no classes for the rest of the day. Teachers and clubs put on games, serve food, and play movies. I will sadly miss Friday, since I have Spanish class in Cuenca.
Rice is eaten with every meal, at home or in restaurants. Normally only prepared one way, it is the main staple of my diet. Thankfully, I love rice.