My journey to a foreign land Rotating Header Image

Featured

In Quito Airport

I have been trying to catch my breath all morning.  I woke up at 4 AM and was unable to fall back asleep.  I laid in my bed with my eyes closed as long as could.  I watched my alarm go off on my cell phone and started dancing to the simple tone, throwing my hands in the air in joy.  I took a cold shower; I am convinced my host mom (who does not compare to the warmth and love of Belinda) turned off the hot water during my showers.  I did not let it bother me this morning.  I shaved, moisturized, and brushed my teeth.  Put my already outfit I had set out the night before and stuffed my toiletries in my what I would later find out overweight bag.  Though I only had to pay for one bag because, I was told, I spoke in Spanish.  Then I waited for my taxi to arrive.  When I left Cusco I started crying in the taxi, but not Quito, I only noticed that I had not ridden in a car but once or twice during my stay, I had only taken the twenty-five cents buses.

I realized yesterday that though I loved my experience in Quito working with the children, Cusco has my vote as my favorite.  I think a large part of that feeling is my family in Cusco and the friends I met while I was there.

Estoy listo para mi hogar y no puedo esperar para ver mi familia y mis amigos.  Mi vaije fue fantastico y muy importante para mi.  Adios Sudamerica…solo para ahora.

Ah…here come the tears.

Thoughts on leaving South America

Today is my last day in South America as a part of my study abroad experience.  Since I sat down on my bed in Cusco, Peru, I have been looking forward to going back home.

I guess I am supposed to be able to say that I had the time of my life studying abroad, which I cannot say.  That is not to say however that my time was a failure or ill spent, because it definitely was not.

I am not fluent, but am confident in my Spanish speaking, reading and writing skills.  I was afraid that I had lost some of my Spanish when I came Quito because I no longer had Spanish lessons for 4 hours everyday.  Friday, my last day volunteering, removed my fears.  A group from Alma College, a small school in Michigan, came to the project, Ñeque y mas Ñeque to make a donation.  They gave the school a printer, four digital cameras and school supplies.  None of them, including their professor spoke Spanish so Diego, the director elected me as translator.  My first reaction was, “Uh-oh.”  Much to my pleasant surprise, I was able to translate everything, even what the children were saying into English.  A funny note: I was doing literal translations.  Example: I was putting the adjectives after the noun like in Spanish, I said things like: This printer important or these cameras digital.  I was proud and reaffirmed in my Spanish.

The whole point of that paragraph was to serve as an example on one feeling about leaving South America which is: I did what I came to do, to learn Spanish.  CHECK!  This accomplishment makes my time a success.

Maybe the most impressive accomplishment was the one I was least prepared for.  As I have explained before I came to S. America on my own.  This was the struggle of my trip.  Now, however, after living in a Peru and Ecuador having to make new friends constantly or when it came to Ecuador just hanging out with myself.  I have the ability to be alone.  Which is a big deal for me and very proud of myself for.

I have been writing…just not posting

To catch up…

First Day of Volunteering in Quito…

I arrived at the school with the other student who lives with me after a ride from our host brother.  I first looked at the building thinking, “Random mansion in the city,” only to notice us walking towards the gate.  The school here is brand new with marble floors, full computer lab, three stories, open courtyard, and is fit for the Upper East Side of NYC.

I introduced myself to the volunteer coordinator and was told to wait for the chica that would be joining me to the project.

Just like every Monday in Cusco the director told each student which teacher they were to have classes with that week, but before that they introduced the new students followed by applause.  I enjoyed the applause in my honor.

Evelyn, who speaks English, is from Quito and a student at the university next to the school, the volunteer coordinator (who invited us to her birthday party this Friday, but I thought she asked us to plan), and I left the school for the project.  After a thirty-minute bus ride into the most dangerous part of Quito, I am told; we arrived at a small two-story schoolhouse.

We met the older group first.  Eleven boys and girls ranging from 9 to 14 years of age gathered around to hear our introductions.  They told us about themselves.  Most of their mothers are domestic employees and their fathers in construction.  They want to be rappers, cooks, futbol players, and teachers.  Very welcoming – I was a bit concerned they would not warm up to me so quickly, but they all listened, had questions, and were generally interested in me.

The younger group, thirteen in total, each gave us a hug – one by one.  They handed me their toys and to see if I could get the ball in the cup, which I could not.  When asked if they wanted me or Evelyn to be with them the resounding YES was because I was a boy and therefore was a professional futbol player.  Hope they are not too upset when they find out they will actually be my futbol teachers – though who better to teach me?

We only visited the project today to meet the kids and know the bus route, so we returned early and I had time to burn so I decided to explore the “MegaMaxi” a grocery store the size of Ikea.

With the local BMW dealership displaying new models on the first floor with the parking garage, Cinabon, and a massage place I went up the moving sidewalk to the second floor.  I stopped at the Telefonica store for a new SIM card for my tiny cell phone.  Then made my way into what I am now calling Wal-Mart on pills from the GNC Health Store.  With 30 plus register lanes, this store has absolutely everything one could need.  Food, books, bicycles, play sets, televisions, cosmetics, electronics, a music store, a sushi bar, clothes, and shoes are among the few items available for purchase.  I do not know why but this Wal-Mart super cousin whose been to boot camp was easier to swallow, maybe I am just happy to see this form of mass consumerism as a little reminder of my long lost USA home.

Bumps along the lined roads of Quito…

On Monday night (12 de abril) I had convinced myself I was going to take the next plane possible home.  There were many factors: First, the one I least expected.  I missed Cusco.  It had in some weird way without me knowing become my new home.  I missed all the familiarity of it – the house, the family, the food, and my normal walk to and from school.  I am really missing my family there, Belinda especially.

My new (now old) host family was not helping either.  The house was massive, dark, and cold; the people the same, just smaller.  There voices never going below a yell, my ears hurt at the breakfast, lunch, and dinner table.

They also lived very far from the school and my volunteer work.  I had an hour commute every morning from home to the volunteer project.

Smoking was one of their favorite activities too.  The house was filled with smoke, making it difficult to breathe.

I told the school about these and that I would like to move host families.  The man in charge of placement was very diplomatic when he called Silvia to tell her that I was moving because, “His group of friends all live at the school and he wants to live closer,” partially true, but the least of my worries.  I packed my things quickly and got out of Dodge as fast as I could.  My new father picked me up and took me to my new Quito home.  An apartment building, where they own the floor and I have my own bathroom.  It is bright and welcoming.  The front door is an elevator (there are stairs in case of fire, but just saying there is an elevator sounds more glamorous) that I have a special key for to go to our floor.  The views are incredible – once I have photos, I will post them.

I am trying something new in Quito.  I am only going to keep my camera on me the last week of my stay.  I am only experiencing Quito now, not snapping pictures at every interesting thing I see.  I am enjoying my little tourist experience.

I am not sure if this is cultural, even if it is I could not live with it, my first host family has a employee that helps cook, clean, and other jobs around the house.  She is a black woman who they only address by, “Negra,” meaning black woman.  I can definitely feel the racial divide between the black population and the population descending from the Andes.  The children in school will play together but when tensions raise racial slurs come out and feelings are really hurt.  Tonight at dinner, I was explaining that this afternoon I was walking around one the parks just admiring the scenery and enjoying alone time.  When I mentioned I was alone I was told that it was unsafe because a group of black men could come up and that would be dangerous.

-Picked up two weeks later-

My host father refers to my host mom, his wife, only as “mi mujer” which means my woman.  The machismo culture is much more prevalent here than it was in Cusco.  I am still searching for the reason behind this.  I grow tire of it though and it makes me only anticipate my return home even more.

Wednesday…

and it will be impossible for me to sleep in missing my 7:30 desayuno call here.  Not because my new host mother uses a cow bell, bull horn, or a frying pan upside my head but because my window is open and the sun shines directly onto my face.  I will never be late and have an incredible face tan.

I was with another host family but yesterday afternoon I moved.  I will write out a detailed explanation, but here is the short of it – they were awful.  Just the fact that you are willing to open up your home to foreigners does don’t make you Mother Teresa.  If you could get them to stop yelling at each-other for a moment you might be able to tell the cold hearted people.

I am off again today to the school where I will be exhausted only after 4 hours of watching the insane children.  My new host father picked me up at the ayer and was asking about my volunteering.  He was very entertained at my, “Los ninos son locos!”  The only down time we had yesterday was when they all started pretending to be drunk and after a few minutes of stumbling around slamming into each-other they all passed out.

Ahora es el tiempo para desayuno…hasta luego!

First Monday in Quito…

I arrived at the school with the other student who lives with me after a ride from our host brother.  I first looked at the building thinking, “Random mansion in the city,” only to notice us walking towards the gate.  The school here is brand new with marble floors, full computer lab, three stories, open courtyard, and is fit for the Upper East Side of NYC.

I introduced myself to the volunteer coordinator and was told to wait for the chica that would be joining me to the project.

Just like every Monday in Cusco the director told each student which teacher they were to have classes with that week, but before that they introduced the new students followed by applause.  I enjoyed the applause in my honor.

Evelyn, who speaks English, is from Quito and a student at the university next to the school, the volunteer coordinator (who invited us to her birthday party this Friday, but I thought she asked us to plan), and I left the school for the project.  After a thirty-minute bus ride into the most dangerous part of Quito, I am told; we arrived at a small two-story schoolhouse.

We met the older group first.  Eleven boys and girls ranging from 9 to 14 years of age gathered around to hear our introductions.  They told us about themselves.  Most of their mothers are domestic employees and their fathers in construction.  They want to be rappers, cooks, futbol players, and teachers.  Very welcoming – I was a bit concerned they would not warm up to me so quickly, but they all listened, had questions, and were generally interested in me.

The younger group, thirteen in total, each gave us a hug – one by one.  They handed me their toys and to see if I could get the ball in the cup, which I could not.  When asked if they wanted me or Evelyn to be with them the resounding YES was because I was a boy and therefore was a professional futbol player.  Hope they are not too upset when they find out they will actually be my futbol teachers – though who better to learn from?

We only visited the project today to meet the kids and know the bus route, so we returned early and I had time to burn so I decided to explore the “MegaMaxi” a grocery store the size of Ikea.

With the local BMW dealership displaying new models on the first floor with the parking garage, Cinabon, and a massage place I went up the moving sidewalk to the second floor.  I stopped at the Telefonica store for a new SIM card for my tiny cell phone.  Then made my way into what I am now calling Wal-Mart on tablets from the GNC Health Store.  With 30 plus register lanes, this store has absolutely everything one could need.  Food, books, bicycles, play sets, televisions, cosmetics, electronics, a music store, a sushi bar, clothes, and shoes are among the few items available for purchase.  I do not know why but this Wal-Mart super cousin whose been to boot camp was easier to swallow, maybe I am just happy to see this form of mass consumerism as a little reminder of my long lost USA home.

Falling in love…

with Quito, Ecuador has begun.  I arrived this morning around one.  I did not see any of the city on the 1995 Ford Explorer car ride to the house (the first vechile I have ridden in that was not a bus or a glorified go-kart – the taxis in Cusco).

I was met by the two brothers (I think one is in the family by marriage) they took my bags and we began the race home.  Similar to driving in Washington, DC and Charlottesvill, Va – green means -“Keep hauling ass,” yellow means – “Peddle to the medal,” and red means – “I wasn’t going fast enough.”  The same laws apply in this city.

We pull up to the biggest house that I have seen in South America that has not been an embassy and the garage door opens up automatically.  Open the door and vodka is being poured and dominos played.  I walked up the three flights of stairs to my vaulted cieling room with two double beds.  “You can use whichever bed you want,” my new brother told me.

After a shower with hot water and steady pressure I met the other student living with them, a girl from Germany who does not speak English or Spanish really well, we will see how that works out.  Maybe I can start German lessons.

I laid in bed thinking.  The feelings were similar when I first arrived in Cusco (minus the hour or so of crying this time).  I know no one here, this is uncomfortable because it is new and unknown, and I hope the family does not turn out to be crazy.  I began to miss Cusco – a feeling I did not expect.  I knew I would miss the family and friends, but I was also missing the familiarity of the city.  Quito is HUGE.  Lines on the roads – which are clearly marked with their names, traffic lights and signs, and massive red public transport buses (the kind that are two connected by a giant rubber slinky) that have their own special lanes outfitted with stations made just for them and their 3 automatic door.  Waiting to get on reminded me of waiting for a rollercoaster.  Their are lanes for each door – the bus pulls up to you  and the ramp is released down then the double doors opened, all of this with the hiss of hydraulics.

I rode for free into the city (that is standard, I did not receive special attention) and just decided to hop off at the “Casa de Cultura” station.  Greeted by a park – similar to Central Park, not as big but impressive – where a sort of craft fair was happening.  Here though no merchandise was being forcibly pushed on me, I was free and content to browse without being afraid to look for to long and attract the nagging attention of the shop keep.  Kids were in the little cars that they propelled like a bicycle and herds of bike riders.  Maybe it is the national pass time or today was a special holiday for it but I have never seen so many riding bikes.  I was tempted to go see if I could rent one and join.

I strolled on to another park.  A park full of modern art – it is next to the National Museum, Theatre, and cinema.  There were horses, well large ponies, grazing on the green grass.  I walked closer and began to pet one when a man came up and asked if I wanted to rent the gray for an hour to ride.  I was very very tempted, but decided against it.  I will go back with a friend next Sunday to ride.

I do not know what this says about me but I feel much more comfortable here than Cusco already.  The tall buildings, more human diversity, museums, shopping malls, and Kentucky Fried Chickens make me feel at ease.  Not really the KFCs, but I did recognize that smiling face.

Leaving Cusco

I knew I would have to pay my dues when it came to flight travel.  My flight to Lima from Cusco was delayed two hours due to weather.  I had to go back to the counter to rebook my flights since I was going to miss my original connection to Quito.  I am now leaving Cusco at 10:30 arriving in Lima after an hour and a half flight then do not arive in Quito until 12:20 tomorrow morning.  I called the school so that they could tell my host family in Quito that I will be arriving late.

I do not mind this whole process.  I think since I did not fly much as a kid.  My family always opted for our 1995 green Volvo station wagon for long trips (much to siblings dismay – I had a period where I really liked to hit them with my elbows from the built car seat), everything is still very new and fresh and I really enjoy the entire experience of flying.

I cried this morning in the taxi when I left my host family and I guess it finally hit me that I was leaving Cusco.  My time here is a block of my life now.  It was only 3 months but it was a period of time that definitely shaped new aspects of my person.  I am very proud of myself for what I have accomplished thus far with my study abroad and can not wait to start volunteering.

Last Day in Cusco…

I never thought this day would come.  Just as every twelve Fridays before this one, I was sitting outside in the patio of the school as the teachers said a little something about the student finishing and handing them their certificates.  This Friday though, my certificate was given to me.  I knew it was happening but, it was surreal.  I have seen so many people go before me and was always waiting for my turn.  It was finally my turn.

I am not sure what I am feeling.  Cusco is such a strange city.  I am definitely excited for a new place, a new lifestyle, a new country, and new people.  I am going to miss my family here though, a part of me wishes I could take them with me, well at least Belinda.  I am going to miss all my friends here in Cusco, though we all planned our departures really well, two of my good friends are leaving tonight, me tomorrow, and then everyone else a few days after.

I am anxious to go to a new city.  My excitement is overwhelming.  Fear is peaking its ugly head out.  I am not sad, though I will be sad to say goodbye to everyone here.  A new energy has reinvigorated me.

I thought I was ready for Cusco and I was wrong, but now after this experience I feel confident I am ready for Quito.

In an attempt…

to update my extinct dinosaur blog I am going to write some short stories of what has been happening in the past 5 or so weeks.

1) I was buying an ice cream sandwhich one day at a local store when a little girl, still in her private school getup walks up beside me to peer into the frozen treasure chest.  I guess she was in a trance when she walked up because she did not seem to notice me but when I slide the glass door open to grab my chosen treat she looked up at me and screamed.  I do not know if I had a scary look on my face or not but it startled me which then scared her more and she ran away.  I quickly payed for the ice cream, I did not want an angry mother or father coming after the big mean gringo.  I get mixed reactions from children here.  It is either a) I am very scary and they run away b) They laugh to each other as I walk past calling me gringo or c) the children learning English say, “Hello” to me.

2) One day my culture teacher took me on a field trip to a small town outside Cusco to see campesinos, communities living off the land through agriculture and raising animals.  We were walking along this dirt road when we saw two little boys playing on the rock wall next to the road.  I, until then, had not taken many pictures of actual people in/around Cusco as they usually demand money for photos, but I had an extra Nuevo Sol in my pocket so I decided this was a good opportunity to get started.  I asked the older boy if I could take their picture in exchange for the coin.  He was hesitant and began to walk away, the younger boy in tow.  Erwin, my teacher, began speaking to them.  The older one still wanted nothing to do with the camera and the younger one was just hanging out playing with his rocks.  Erwin asked the younger one where his parents were and he pointed off into the field where two people were working.  Erwin yelled to them asking if we could take photos and they yelled back in Spanish, but it translated to, “Yeah we don’t care!”  A small photo shoot began.  The little boy did not understand when we asked him to smile for the photograph and he was very timid with the whole process.  I showed him his picture where he was not smiling and told him that I wanted to see his teeth, hoping maybe a smile would come of that, but instead he could not stop looking at the photo.  I do not think he had ever seen himself before.

3) I can not remember if it was the same field trip or another one but Erwin and I were walking through the country side trying to get to a small town when he picked a bud off a tall piece of grass and began explaining why he had picked it.  He told me that if you put it at the bottom of your pants and walk it will eventually be up by your crouch.  I did not believe him so I put it inside the cuff of my pant leg.  We went on walking, talking what I was learning about, the United States, and other random conversation that I can hold in Spanish.  Thirty minutes later I felt something uncomfortable near my crouch and Erwin was right, the bud had found its way up my pants.

These are my last days in Cusco, Peru.  I leave this Saturday morning to fly to Quito, Ecuador where I will be volunteering for the next four week.  I do not know what work I will be doing but I am very excited at my academic semester being over soon.  I have the presentation of my final paper tomorrow, a 5 and a quarter page paper entirely in Spanish and I only used my head and a dictionary.  Then Friday I have my last exam.  I am currently trying to figure out my emotions as I prepare for all of this.

css.php