Week 1 of Otavalian Life

After months of preparation and orientation, we were heading to our communities for real. I was the first to be dropped off, and my family arrived with balloons and flowers for me and pineapple cake for our entire group. My host mom, Tania, was crying and I gave “besos” to my host dad Jamie, 14 year old sister Pamelita, and my 7 year old brother Dylan. We live in a small house in Otavalo, and I am sharing a room with my sister Pamelita. My family is amazingly considerate, constantly asking me how I am adjusting, whether or not I like a certain food, or if I want some more food. My host dad is a bus driver, and my mom does not work. My brother goes to military school and my sister goes to a local Catholic school. Dylan, my host brother, reminds me a lot of my actual brother Riley. He is always moving around and making noises or faces. He loves sports, and he is very charming. My sister Pamelita always has a smile on her face. She loves pink and facebook and her cell phone, and I am about a foot taller than her.

It has been a big adjustment coming here from Quito, especially for my immune system. I have been sick for every single day this week expect two, but thankfully my family has been very kind and understanding and I am trying to restrain myself from eating the delicious street foods. It was initially very difficult for me to grasp the permanence of my life here. I would be living with the same family, in the same town, with the same food for seven whole months. A week into my permanent homestay, I am learning to make peace with the anxiety I have about the next seven months. I am learning that I can make my own routine, and make create a life for myself here in Otavalo.

Otavalo is a city of artisans. There is a crafts market every day of the week in one of the main squares known as the “Plaza de Ponchos”. Most of the population here is indigenous, but my family is not. I have become familiar with seeing indigenous women wearing long white skirts, gold necklaces, hair wrapped in a beautiful ribbon, and a zipped up Hollister hoodie. The streets in the center of town are always bustling with people doing their errands, and my parents seem to know just about every single one of them. “You are so popular” I told my host mom after about a dozen people had greeted her in a period of five minutes. “Well I’m sure it is the same with you when you are in San Francisco” she responded. Though I cannot say that is true, I appreciate her confidence in me.

I am working with a fair trade jewelry company based in New York called Faire Collections (http://www.shopfaire.com/). The designs are inspired by the indigenous Andean women’s jewelry, but with a modern edge. In my first week, I have worked a lot on developing “mock-ups” of products for the upcoming collection. I work in an office with four female artisans, their supervisor, and my boss Adele who moved to Otavalo from Madrid one month ago. She speaks both English and Spanish, and communicates with the New York office about operations in Otavalo. It has been really interesting to see how a fair trade organization works in reality, and to understand where products that one might purchase at Anthropologie are coming from. A lot of the work that Adele does is manage quality control, because the concept of strict contracts where each necklace must look the same is completely foreign to local artisans, who are used to making each piece unique.

I am excited to see where my life in Otavalo will take me, and though the adjustment has been somewhat difficult, I am so happy to have a loving and caring host family, a fascinating job, living in a vibrant town with a lot of history and culture, and last but not least to have my support system back home.