A Week in the Life

Libby Goldman - Ecuador


November 18, 2013

My week starts early Monday morning. I wake up at 6:15, drag my groggy self out of bed, eat a hurried bowl of cereal, and head down the unpaved path to the bus stop. There, I meet up with my aunt Emilia, my cousin Angelita, my mom’s friend Ana, and Evelin, who I know I’m related to, but couldn’t tell you how (I’m fairly sure my host mom is related to half the town).  We take the Pimampiro bus 5 minutes down to the massive, out of place sports complex in the neighboring town of Carpuela. We spend an hour to an hour and a half working out with a professional trainer and a group of kick boxers in training from all over the area (my aunt insisted I accompany her to exercise there), and I feel awkward being a small white girl running alongside a group of athletically gifted black men.  After my “shower” at home in the cold trickle of water, I walk leisurely through the town I’ve now memorized to the school. Either there’s no class since the teacher didn’t show up, or I’m left alone in a room full of 27 screaming fifth graders. I attempt engaging the hyperactive children, while keeping them from kicking each other and shooting bullet-like spit balls, while somehow teaching a few words of English. I get out of school around 12:15, and head home for lunch. There I help my mom cook and debrief my morning with the kids. We eat just the two of us, as my host dad is working and my sister is still at school in Ibarra. I wash the dishes, and cherish my hour of relaxation. I read, journal, or listen to music. At three, I walk about five minutes over to the cultural center for my homework program with the local kids. Anywhere from two to twenty kids show up each day, so I never really know what to expect. I struggle to aid Tifani in multiplication problems, while pulling Kenny off Darley, and telling Mariel she has to think of her own list of verbs instead of copying Alina’s. I’m there until five (if all goes to plan), and reward each child who finishes with colorful string to make a friendship bracelet, which they undoubtedly proudly show off.  After the refuerzo academico, the rest of the day is up for grabs. I could help my supervisor, Javier, with his college work, take inventory on everything in the cultural center, watch a game of Ecuadorean volleyball in the street, or end up sitting with a group of thirty year old women comparing curse words in English and Spanish.  I finish the long day by eating a small dinner with my family around 9:00, and hit the hay at 10:00.

Tuesdays, I’m privileged enough to wake up at 7:00 or 7:30.  If I’m feeling motivated, I’ll go for a run down by the river (and get stared at by passersby).  At nine, I walk over to the cultural center for my computer class. The group that comes each week is variable, except for my star student Jenny. Around 50 years old, she’s determined to master both Gmail and Facebook, and learn to type using more than just her pointer fingers. There I stay in the small computer room at the center, giving one on one lessons on how to successfully move the mouse, search for recipes on Google, or tag pictures on Facebook to everyone that dawdles in until about 11:30. Then I walk back home to cook and eat lunch, stopping in at my grandma’s (aged 49) fruit and vegetable store on the way to say hello. After a deliciously filling lunch, I get to chill out until the refuerzo academico at three.

Wednesdays are yet still different.  I usually go to the sports complex to work out again, often joined by other women from my community, and get my butt kicked by Manuel, our trainer.  At 10:00 I walk 15 minutes over to the community over, Chalguayacu, to lead a senior citizen’s group. Trust me- it’s not as boring or lame as it sounds.  I dance, play games, and share stories with my thirty pseudo-grandparents for about two hours.  My local supervisor used to be the one to lead the group, but ended up delegating that job entirely to me when he got too busy.  The seniors (or adults mayores) are just like kids, except they’re always happy and never have behavior issues – something I can definitely appreciate.  I eat lunch there, and walk back home at one, greeting everyone I pass on the street. There’s no homework program on Wednesdays, since my host mom leads a dance class for girls in the center. I go with her to watch in awe as eight year old dance and move their hips far better than I ever could. They do a mixture of traditional Afroecuadorean Bomba, and more modern salsa and reggaetón. My mom joked that she’d have to give me private lessons at home, then I’d be able to join in the class…I might just have to take her up on that offer.

By the time Thursday comes around, my week is in full swing. I go back to the sports complex in the morning (determined not to get fat from eating mounds of rice every day), and often times end up riding in the back of someone’s pickup truck to get home. At 10:30 I teach English to the sixth graders at the school. They’re definitely better behaved than my fifth graders, but that’s not saying much. Then it’s lunch with Olga.  Our topics of conversation could be anything ranging from politics, to how Americans spend their money differently than the average Ecuadorean (my host family has two small cabinets for all the dishes they own), to the latest gossip around Juncal. I have to head out pretty fast after lunch to catch the Pimampiro to take me into Ibarra for Spanish class at 2:00. I meet up with my two other friends from Global Citizen Year in the bus terminal, happy to see other gringos. We walk through the bustling city, dodging reckless cars and mangy stray dogs, to our teacher Aida’s house. There we have four hours of class, much of which is spent simply talking about life, or walking over to the local Super Aki to buy my favorite cereal. I get on the bus again around 6:30, and am home before eight.

Fridays I face my seventh graders. Most are actually enthused about learning English, but naturally there are  few too-cool-for-school boys who think taking notes is WAY too mainstream for them.  When I walk in the door, I’m greeted with a broken, mispronounced “Good morning, Libby!” and I respond with an over exaggerated “Good morning, students!” I’m attacked by a gaggle of girls, asking me when they can paint my nails and if I have a boyfriend. After an hour with them, it’s home for lunch once again. Since my mom goes to class in Ibarra all day Saturdays, I generally help her with her homework on Fridays. It’s a lot of trying to explain the concept of the word “it” in English, and working through logic problems that leave us both baffled. My supervisor wants me to take Fridays to myself and not do the homework program, but of course me being me I’d rather be out with the kids rather than alone in the house. Since it’s the beginning of the weekend, not many come and I can actually give much needed one on one time. At 7:30, I go to the local youth group meeting. My mom is the coordinator, so I feel a little less awkward with her comforting presence there. Every time I go I am reminded that I have yet to make actual friends my own age – it’s a process.

Saturdays are never the same. The other weekend I went to a hot spring in Chachimbiro with some friends, last Saturday I helped my mom’s women’s association sell colada morada all day on Dia de los Difuntos, and sometimes I teach English to adults, but it’s hard to keep that consistent when my schedule on weekends is always changing. Often enough I end up having a lot of time to myself. Then Sundays are laundry day. I’m responsible for washing all my own clothes, towels, and sheets by hand… I have finally realized that it would be better to wash weekly, instead of waiting until I run out of underwear after three weeks and end up spending hours on end at the lavanderia at my host grandma’s house. I’ve decided that the scrapes on my knuckles and inability to move my fingers fully for a day are just one of those things that build character.

That is the basic outline of a week here in Juncal. All that is mixed in with trips to Pimampiro (the quiet city nearby) to buy something for my Mom, cooking lunch all by myself when no one is home, going to visit friends in Otavalo, getting hit on by both 15 year olds and 45 year olds, doing all my own lesson planning, meeting Chilean hippies in the cultural center, forgetting how to say words in English, witnessing a woman get robbed in the city, only being allowed to have rice and remedy water for a whole week when I said I didn’t feel well, single-handedly feeding the mosquito population in Juncal, going to an Afro-Ecuadorean beauty pageant, trying to stay in contact with friends and family at home, getting woken up by a cockroach crawling across my back in the middle of the night, going to a funeral for someone I had never met, and playing hand games with kids on the street. The moments I value the most aren’t quieting kids down at school, but coloring and singing with my 7-year-old friend Ariel for two hours when he was the only one to come to my refuerzo academico.  It’s not leading an old people’s group, but hearing 88-year-old Marcelo’s story about being a slave in his youth, and eventually obtaining his own land that he still works and lives on today.  It’s not having to take an hour-long bus ride to get to the nearest city, but being able to look out the window and see every mountain peak, vast pasture, and deep valley for miles on end. My days here are sometimes crazy, difficult, and even mundane, but I’m excited for every twist and turn that’s still to come.

Libby Goldman