South American dream

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ecuador-graffiti

Arrival

The bags are ready – two backpacks, a small and a big one. I’m sure I forgot nothing; they are quite big and heavy with no space left for my … underclothes. I realized at the last minute that I couldn’t go there empty-handed so I bought some traditional painted Easter eggs and one liter of țuică (Romanian plum brandy). OK, I have presents, but I still need my socks and underpants …. I’m an ingenious traveler so I rolled the camping mat over them ☺. I’m ready for a new adventure, for a new chapter and some new flags sewed on my backpack:  South America, here I come! … one year volunteer teacher in Ecuador! It’s not even 5:00, the sun didn’t dare to announce his presence yet and I’m already in the airport, not really the place for a hitch-hiker like me, but there is still an ocean to cross and I’m not paying for the tickets! I easily recognize Raluca, the other Romanian volunteer … we are the only backpackers here. The guy from the check-in doesn’t look so happy with my tent, cup and other things hanged on the bag, but everything ends just fine.

I'm ready ...

I’m ready …

... for some food and wine ...

… for some food and wine …

 

... on a long journey ...

… on a long journey …

... with KLM

… with KLM

Heavy sleep till Amsterdam, rush obstacle race in a huge airport and my first contact with the Ecuadorians at the boarding queue for Quito: chubby and agreeable little fellows, some long-haired (looking like Trujillo), some long-nailed with golden thick necklaces and rings. The Boeing is big, but full. One short delay before taking-off, but we’re soon over the ocean. A pity I don’t have a window seat. Seventeen hours of flight in total, but they also flew quick with some films (more cartoons actually), two pretty good meals, some wine and an amazing scenery with mountains and volcanoes. Before landing I feel a strong scent of nail polish from my neighbor to the right and I watch some make-up sessions around. I receive two immigration papers to fill in and I’m laughing ‘cause Raluca has just one. One of them should be written per family so the flight attendant taught we are a couple, even if we didn’t have seats one next to each other (it was the corridor between us). I declared that I don’t possess more than 10.000 bucks and here I am in Ecuador with the stamp in my passport. As in most Latin countries, I have a three months free visa as a Romanian citizen, which is pretty good; the coordinating organization (EDIFICAR) will help me to get a kind of working visa for the rest of my staying here. After that I want to take advantage of my presence in South America and visit other countries as well. Talking about money, do you know that the official currency in Ecuador is the US dollar? Because of a big inflation some years ago, but they still kept the centavos. The inconvenience is that I have just 100 $ bills with me and here they don’t accept bigger than 20 but for the banks. At the baggage claim, I’m happy to see my backpack … but wait … without the cup and the mat … oh well, I can manage one day without socks and underpants  … but guess what, here they come some minutes later … Hallelujah! Other volunteers from Nigeria, Eritrea, Iran were not so lucky with the arrival of their baggage and … themselves as well. They had some issues with a transit visa for Europe.

Ecuador seen from above

Ecuador seen from above

Clouds

Clouds

Mountains

Mountains

Hello, Quito!

Hello, Quito!

Quito is huge, crowded and a long city (from south to north), on a very high altitude, with houses built on hills. Unfortunately I don’t have time for sightseeing ‘cause after a short visit at the EDIFICAR’s office and at the mall (where I had my first Ecuadorian meal: chebice – cold seafood soup and fried bananas), we go directly to the hotel. We spend the next whole day at the office for a training and at evening at the mall again, where at the restrooms don’t have toilet paper inside the cabins and neither toilet brushes, as in my hotel room (which has a funny ‘Google translate’ message on the bathroom’s door: Please do not throw role in the health ☺.  And they have a good reason for writing this: as I read in a Lonely Planet guide, the plumbing system in Ecuador has a low pressure and you might clog the system if you put paper into the bowl. And the level of water inside is quite high, which gives you an enormous pleasure to hear and feel a few splashes. I’m closing the parenthesis and the subject as well). The other volunteers I’ve met are from the US, Canada, Jordan or Ecuador, not all of them young. The Jordanian guy is a nice fellow retreated in Cuenca, the gringo’s paradise, especially for the American pensioners. I would like to visit this world heritage site as soon as I can. Do you know what gringo means? Is the equivalent of the African azungu/muzungu – the white man. It all started back in the Mexican-American war, where the first ones used to tell Americans dressed in green: Green, go (away)! … gringo. I’m one of the fewest here who had quickly adapted; others had problems caused by altitude, water, food. Maybe just the change for a new time zone was a little tricky. I woke up a couple of times during the night thinking is already morning;  the eight hours difference made me feel fresh at 4:00 AM., but that’s all. The EDIFICAR team is very nice, as most of the Ecuadorians and the food as well – a lot of rice, lentils, fish, corn, beans, plantains and different fruits. I’m curious to try cuy, fried guinea pigs.

Hello, EDIFICAR!

Hello, EDIFICAR!

EDIFICAR - time to teach

EDIFICAR – time to teach

Chebice - my first meal

Chebice – my first meal

Some volunteers, some coordinators

Some volunteers, some coordinators

Hotel room

Hotel room

Quito on the wall

Quito on the wall

Google translate

Google translate

110 V

110 V

Morning mist

Morning mist

EDIFICAR offices

EDIFICAR offices

Training

Training

Sleeping

Sleeping

House hill in Quito

House hill in Quito

Traditional

Traditional

Hills around Quito

Hills around Quito

The weather is quite capricious now; it seems that the rainy season has already started and it’s sad I could not see the volcano landscape and the surroundings due to the fog, but I can still feel the green so very close and I have the chance to see more the next day, on the way to Macas (eight hours by bus even if the distance is no so big, the road is through the mountains): what a landscape, canyons, volcanos, rivers and waterfalls! For breakfast I had my first empanada and humita (soft corn paste inside a leaf) and some sweet things from a black guy on the way. I recall the vendors from Malawi coming at the windows to sell you different products and the bus preachers. Here there are “orators” as well, but just merchants … pretty convincing even if they sell candies or colon pills. The will make any public speaker, HR or PR man envious. And it’s so funny to hear them using two diminutives out of three words: everything sounds very small – Colita, dolarito, fundita (small Cola, small dollars, small plastic bag). The prices are OK, especially for fruits and street food. Of course the capital is more expensive and everything which is imported: cars and appliances. And telephony too if you want Internet (around 20$ a month is quite much for a Romanian who is used to pay 5 € for thousands of minutes, SMSs and MBs). I spent another 5$ for an adapter, cause here they use the American plug system with 110 V. My face radiates everytime I see women wearing traditional hats and dresses carrying a child on the back and especially when I observe the first llama!!!!

Ecuador - the banana exporter

Ecuador – the banana exporter

Green, green grass of Ecuador

Green, green grass of Ecuador

Cattle

Cattle

Dragon's tail

Dragon’s tail

Guardian mountain

Guardian mountain

Rio Pastaza

Rio Pastaza

50 shades of green

50 shades of green

Ecuadorian nature

Ecuadorian nature

Along the river

Along the river

Rio Pastaza closer to Rio Verde

Rio Pastaza closer to Rio Verde

Hydroelectric power statioin

Hydroelectric power statioin

Green landscape

Green landscape

Bosky

Bosky

Pastaza Valley

Pastaza Valley

Low waters

Low waters

Coming from the mountains

Coming from the mountains

Fuerte Militar Amazonas, Shell

Fuerte Militar Amazonas, Puyo

Vegetation

Vegetation

Church

Church

Sangay Volcano

Sangay Volcano

Navigation

Navigation

Across the river

Across the river

Sunset

Sunset

And I’ve changed the mountains with Amazonia! It’s 6 PM, the daily hour of sunset no matter the month (we’re close to the Equator), the time when I arrive to Macas. Samuel is waiting for me, the head of the school and the hosting family. I recognize him from the Whatsapp profile picture which Pamela from the organization has shown it to me before, even if he doesn’t wear the traditional costume (with not so many pieces of cloths). Him and all the other members of the family and entire community of Sevilla don Bosco don’t speak any English. Even more, they have their own language, so I’ll probably learn not just Spanish, but also Shuar. These indigenous people used to be warriors of Amazonia, famous for beheading and shrinking the enemy’s skull. He is already a little groggy, as a sign of the fiesta which is to take place lather this night: booze and local music (Amazonian and latino, of course). The moves didn’t seem so complicated and people not really some virtuoso dancers so I tried as well some “shake you bum” with Cecilia, his wife, and of course some local trago, a worm and strong drink made of sugar cane. Specific is also inhaled tobacco (liquid, not solid). As for traditional dishes, no meal without fish so far, even at breakfast. The South American staple food is yuca (cassava) and plátanos as well (plantains); instead of bread. Sunday is an important day for my unusual culinary record: the African bush mice cold be overtaken by the giant juicy larvae full in proteins … yes, exactly as you’ve seen at Bear Grylls.

Our house is a modest one, with a wooden story, like most of them, traditionally decorated with lances, blowguns, a feline skin, stuffed nutria, armadillo shield and other traditional domestic appliances. I didn’t see mosquitos yet; just some big spider and a monkey!!!! The village is surrounded by wilderness – rainforest, like a jungle. Serenity is the word which describes best the ambiance: you hear the rain, a dog barking, tropical birds and insects. The living conditions are not far from what I’ve experienced in Malawi: no hot water, washing machine or internet; at least I have electricity, my own room and today I’ve seen toilet paper!

The roads (those which are paved) are in a very good condition and the fuel is not expensive, which makes the transportation pretty cheap as well.

Life in Ecuador, in Sevilla Don Bosco

Three weeks passed since I am in Sevilla don Bosco, a community very close to Macas, part of Morona Santiago district, with a predominant indigenous population called Shuar. As you already know, my host is the family of Samuel Anguash, head master of the Millenio School “Bosco Wisuma”. Let me present them: Cecilia, his wife, the boys Edgar (about my age) and Omar (he has recently finished the high-school), the daughters Nicaela and Betsaida (14 and 16 years old), and the nephew Jesus. They permanently live in the house, but for some days or weeks other members join us: granny has just moved in, Luis and his pregnant wife (parents of Jesus) and another daughter, Ketty. And also Jamil and Jenny, other children who study in different cities visit us from time to time. Quite a big family, but friendly and hospitable! Not to forget the ducks, chickens and dogs (Sem, Lulu, Pepa, Shirley, Doky and Toby). And as in the village, the manners are not a virtue: spitting (inside the house) or loudly blowing the nose (like the football players or sometimes in the towel which is to be used for bathing) are common behaviors; and of course the nails in the village are not very cut and clean, specially the little one; it has its worldwide practical use – I remember in Malawi, besides itching, men’s long nails (but clean) are a sign of superiority: it means that you’re not a simple farmer who works the land and has dirty hands, nails respectively. Almost everybody lives upstairs, on the tin-roofed wooden storey (it’s a hell of a noise when it rains!). I live in Jenny’s room (without Jenny), with some shelves, a bed with soiled sheets and a window not on the exterior wall, but toward the terrace, so it’s not very light. On the ground floor there is a study with some bookshelves (with school books) and a computer, Edgar’s room, some other storage or empty rooms and a very big multifunctional one – living room, dining room and kitchen in the same time, where we eat, cook and socialize. Bathing, laundering and other necessities … outside.

With Samuel

With Samuel

My new Ecuadorian family

My new Ecuadorian family

Anguash family

Anguash family

First amazonian meal

First amazonian meal

Dance night

Dance night

Our house

Our house

My room

My room

Ground floor rooms

Ground floor rooms

Ground floor

Ground floor

Kitchen & dining room

Kitchen & dining room

Study

Study

First floor

First floor

Decorated wall

Decorated wall

Decorated wall

Decorated wall

Decorated wall

Decorated wall

Decorated wall

Decorated wall

Shower guest

Shower guest

House extension

House extension

View from the terrace

View from the terrace

The comfort differences are not so big if I have to compare with the house from Malawi. And the community as well, even if it’s not very isolated (being not so far from Macas), it is surrounded by nature, everything is green, the houses are made of wood, the few shops are small … the road, on the other side is pretty good. The river (Upano) is close, the trees are exotic, you can hear weird bird sounds and when it’s clear outside you can see Sangay Volcano … I have everything I’ve wished for, a rural community where people still care about traditions, even more than in Chididi.

Street in front of our house

Street in front of our house

Neighbours

Neighbours

Sevilla Don Bosco

Sevilla Don Bosco

Park in Sevilla Don Bosco

Park in Sevilla Don Bosco

Wooden house

Wooden house

Straw-roofed gazebo

Straw-roofed gazebo

Side road in Sevilla

Side road in Sevilla

Way to river

Way to river

Green vegetation

Green vegetation

Centro de acopia intercultural

Centro de acopia intercultural

Outback hut

Outback hut

Environment

Environment

Local transportation

Local transportation

Main road in Sevilla

Main road in Sevilla

Local habitation

Local habitation

One example is clothing – every Monday morning, at the school assembly, all the students and teachers are dressed (undressed actually) in the Shuar vesture: the girls are in blue (women in red), they wear jingly seed ornaments (called shakap), colored necklaces and feather earrings (akink); the men have a striped ‘skirt’ (itip), jingle foot bracelets (makich),  santim, an ‘X’ shape double ornament on the naked torso (Rambo style, with seeds, not bullets) plus one around the shoulders for the teachers (awankem) and a feather head bandana for the principals (tawasap); sometimes they paint their faces too. I told them I also want to look like this. Another example is the language – even the national anthem is sung in Shuar. And there are traditional dances and music too; I’ve seen some at the intercultural day.

The food is so different than what we have, but it’s not bad. At every meal we have boiled yuca (cassava), platanós (plantains) and oritos (baby bananas) instead of bread. In the Shuar culture, it is said you should eat everyday meat and we try to keep this tradition as much as we can – if it’s not fish, it’s chicken in leaves (ayampaco) or sometimes pork or beef. They have just spoons (for the soup), for everything else you use your hands (the food is actually tastier like this).  And the most common raw fruits in our family are avocado and papaya. As for drinks, chucula, banana natural juice or chicha, fermented drink made of cassava most of the time. I’ve tasted their trago as well, in two forms: a transparent one made from sugar cane or pineapple (pretty strong) and a grey one, also from sugar cane, but very sweet and veeeery good. And we have just finished the țuica yesterday (the Romanian drink which earned a high reputation in the neighborhood thanks to Samuel who was wondering how could it be possible to go straight to the head in such a short time).

Milenio School

Milenio School

Shuar calendar

Shuar calendar

I also walked around a little. I went to the river where the boys caught some fish with bare hands (wow!) – the environment there is so green and wild, with high trees and lianas. I’ve also been twice to Macas, a small, crowded and colored town, and the last weekend to Macuma, at the countryside; it’s the village of Samuel, where his mother and other relatives live. What an awesome experience I had – a closer contact with the Shuars. From the main road, we slalomed about two hours through holes on a dusty secondary one along the mountains and rivers. From the place where the crowded bus dropped us off, we walked on muddy trails about one hour in the Amazonian jungle, jumped on logs in the marshlands and crossed an anaconda river by tarabita, an iron kind of cage, manually operated. It was a good thing to buy the rubber boots! The way back was more difficult with a  bunch of bananas on the shoulder and a bucket of cassava and papaya in one hand; running marathons, hiking mountains? … piece of cake comparing to this muddy-bushy-sweaty experience. In the village I’ve tasted some more juicy larvae, alive and cooked, fried flying ants (añango), some strange fruit seeds (kumpía), chicken ayampaco and chicha. Coming back home was awful for my buttocks in the back of a pickup with the bananas and the cassava sacks. I have to put some extra meat on them. Samuel was so amused when I told him. Aaaah … another driver coming from the opposite direction told us he saw a jaguar, but we missed it.

Macas

Macas

Market in Macas

Market in Macas

Market in Macas

Market in Macas

Mayones. Mukint (edible larvae)

Mayones. Mukint (edible larvae)

Eaten alive

Eaten alive

Banana market

Banana market

Macas under clouds

Macas under clouds

Dinner

Dinner

Pepa & Toby

Pepa & Toby

Sangay Volcano

Sangay Volcano

Teddy bear

Teddy bear

At school everything is fine, but pretty tough with the little ones. I’m teaching the 2nd grade up to the 7th. With the very young shrimps, who still don’t know to write well, having also the language barrier, it’s terrible – they are like little devils and all they want is to run, jump, scream and play. On the other hand, outside the classes they are adorable and so cute, the girls like little Pocahontases; they run to me, hug me, call me ‘teacher! teacher!’ when they see me and curiously examine my tricolor braid. With all of them I’ve started from the really beginning. They didn’t have any English classes before and it is just me teaching foreign languages to the basic and medium grades; the older kids are taught by two of my colleagues (Ecuadorians), the only ones I can speak English with. School is also the place where I shave myself ‘cause I don’t have a mirror home :p. I’ve seen they don’t really have facial or body hair … the weather is pretty hot, so they don’t need it. The climate in the country, like the vegetation and fauna, differ from one region to another (coast, mountain, Amazonia and the islands – Galapagos). This variety makes Ecuador an excellent and famous destination! We are in the Oriente (east), close to the Amazonian rainforest/jungle, where it rains much of course (more during the night) and it’s quite warm all the year.            

  My school timetable is not so busy, six hours a day, one day in the morning, one in the afternoon and between classes I have a student daddy.  In my free time at school I’m taking advantage of the Internet and at home I read, edit photos, make lesson plans … I don’t have time to get bored.

Last Friday I had the first boozing at a two years old girl’s birthday celebration. After the kids’ party with food and piñata, we continued with dance and drinks. Samuel and Claudio, the deputy headmaster, hit the bottle so much that the second one didn’t recognize his house anymore; and I had to help Samuel to keep the road home.

See you soon!

Anniversary

Anniversary

Dance, piñata ...

Dance, piñata …

... and food

… and food

Moon

Moon

Dawn

Double rainbow

Time flies so fast even if my daily activities are not so diverse. Willy-nilly I’m making a comparison with Malawi – I somehow ache for the active social life from Chididi, where I was living with other volunteers, working with youth, had pals and friends I was walking around with, visiting them; here everything is related to school and family so far. And nor the language helps me too much, even if I made some progress. On the other hand, I have more time to read and make myself busy with the pictures, so I’m planning to bring my blog up to date … and it’s quite a work with all those thousands pics.

Beginning of November comes with news and changes. I got rid of the flu (I’m getting used again with cold showers), my bed sheets are clean (I got used again with hand washing) and the weather is more and more capricious lately with frequent rains, but we are all happy with a mini-vacation: Day of the deaths + Day of Cuenca’s Independence + weekend + free Friday from the government (which ‘should’ be made up later on) = 5 days holiday. Yupiii! And I really spent it wonderful. Raluca visited me (the other Romanian volunteer), my turn to go to Cotacachi would be instead on Christmas. First day we went not so far to visit some waterfalls and a thermal water pool. We hitch-hiked, walked a lot on dusty outback roads, through the nature, water, quick streams, forests with butterflies … amazing! And of course, my style, independent, adventurous and penniless. As a matter of fact we were lucky with the cars and all the nice places found without any guide … with just some inspiration and accrued experience. There are just a few signs on the main road, but after … nada! The instinct worked perfect at the falls, guided afterwards by the noise, but for the thermal pool we had to try some more trails. A local guy offered to lead us the way, but when he saw there is no moneytalk at all, he wished us farewell. At the waterfalls it was the same – when we asked the people in the village, they all showed us the guide’s house … at least the drivers didn’t refuse us with no dineros J. And as nothing happens by the chance, while Raluca stops for a pee I make some more steps along the river … and guess what – I find the small half-grot with thermal water … damn hidden, isolated and … small, about 3 meters length, ankle-deep and stinking of sulfur. But it was worth the natural and authentic ambient, submerging in the black sand, surrounded just by roots, lianas and by the murmur of the river which we bathed in to get rid of the sand from the underpants; a so-called cleaning ‘cause the water was browny from the rains. And talking about them, it’s just starting to rain when we take our leave back home … it’s not really unpredictable in the rainforest! So here we are, two wet vagabonds in Macas breaking our fast on a bench of the central park with papaya, empanadas, coconut milk and pan de Pascua (panetone) … Christmas, Easter, does it really matter which comes first? We just lack the canned food, but even without it, it’s impossible not to draw attention upon us. To end the day in a memorable manner, we welcome three policemen asking for documents. Our passports are in the capital for the visa and we don’t carry any copy with us, but the luck doesn’t forsake us. The officers are kind and let us go … and why shouldn’t be with two honorable volunteer teachers :p!

Second day we wake early (05:00) and with almost all the family (two older siblings from the ‘city’ included) we go to the ‘countryside’, Arutam village, Macuma district, named by the river. For me it is the third time here, but everytime I feel so good and have new experiences. Last time we arrived here with two cows bought from a fair – one is for the brother in law, the other one is the Christmas’ turkey. Cute but naughty! Whether it was so difficult to put them in the truck, they easily crossed the churning river (swimming). That time my buttocks were suffering because of the bumpy roads; now I’m still travelling in the back of the truck, but on a spare tire. The inconvenient is that we are covered with a cellophane ‘cause it’s’ raining. Adventures! … which are not ending here. In the night, on dark, just with the sound of the nature and a Shuar flute, we enjoy some ayahuasca, a famous Amazonian plant used by the shamans and locals for its curative properties … and much more. We just took the easy way – of traditional medicine; for the trance and visions you also need to take some concentrated strong essence. But even so, it was WOW! A kind of tea was prepared, very sour, and we drank it hot from traditional carved bowls. After about four ‘portions’ you start feeling the effects and throw everything up – it’s supposed to be a physical and mental cleanse. From time to time another one runs to the bushes to put some ‘fertilizer’ for the bananas. It’s funnier when you vomit in duet or even in choir J I ‘purified’ myself three times, more and louder the last one (as a grand finale). Because of the short sips, the effect came later for Raluca, with some dizziness, a strange white light (like an aura) and some dreams with bears. The bad part in my case was the cleanup on the other side too for the next days. In the morning I had to try different types of leaves; remembering a childhood story, I didn’t choose the corn ones this time. The banana leaves are too slippery, but I found some smooth and delicate ones … fascinating topic, right? 🙂 I also took some dragon’s blood (sangre de drago), a tree’s resin, and Raluca tried some tobacco … through the nose. They do it daily, very few smoking it.

Our plan to visit Cuenca fails because of the weather. It will still be time for it. In that case, I spend the weekend very idle, watching the community championship of indor (indoor – football with a smaller ball) or tasting some flying ants.

Meanwhile I received my volunteer allowance, so I went to Macas to buy some more toilet paper and other useful things 🙂

Braiding locks

Braiding locks

Dining

Dining

Fish teeth

Fish teeth

Tattoo

Tattoo

'Barza'

‘Barza’

What did Saint Nicholas bring to you? Did I tell you I bought new boots? For the countryside. It seems they were to dirty for Nick.  But the weather here is the most beautiful present for December. Even if it’s raining from time to time, it’s not so cold as in my country. Actually I have just received the monthly stipend, so it counts as a present. This weekend I’ve been again to Macuma, for the fourth time. And of course, I have interesting stories. I have to confess I have eaten something colored … hunted parrot. Yes, I know, “Vese, how could you do it?” Meanwhile I have tasted some soups of armadillo and capybara. I live as a local! I’m chewing all the bones and gristles and I know for a long time the lesson with finishing everything from the plate, but since my African and Latin experiences, it became more than a rule, and not just as a sign of respect for the ones who offer you or for the people who simply don’t have something to eat, but as a survival lesson too, or call it as you want … you eat what it is, there is nothing else. There is no place for picky ones here. I have just a small and decent refusal list: liver, beer, coffee and tobacco.

Rainy season

Rainy season

From the last rural visit I got myself not just with purified guts. I didn’t pee in the river knowing the famous little Amazonian fish which enters in your penis, but do you know that show on Discovery with all kinds of worms and parasites which make your body a cozy home, letting you know just after a while when they show up with their babies? Cute, isn’t it? Well, I had the tiniest flea in the world – Tunga penetrans (nigua in Spanish). Small, but he knows well its job. I didn’t care about the so called bite or blister on my sole, but after a while, seeing that it doesn’t go away, I decided to take a closer look and I didn’t feel sorry to disturb the unhatched tenants. After mamita Cecilia examines it as well, she finds another “nest”. She did a wonderful job with a thorn from the garden and some alcohol. I didn’t say anything but muchas gracias at the end and yuminsajme (thank you in Shuar). If I was a monkey mother in Malawi, why shouldn’t I be one for fleas? They stick together. Small, big, those which enter in skin or just bite and cause itching, I tried them all! As for the last ones, I think the dogs are responsible (there are six of them, small, but full or fleas). But why do they only choose me? Fresh new blood, white skin, why not? They have to change the menu sometimes. For the moment I got rid of them after we sprayed some solution in my room. It was excellent in Malawi, all the mosquitos biting the Italian girl, but now I’m the main target for the fleas, mosquitos or spiders. And talking about eight-legged crawlers (no, not yet octopuses), I remember the cobwebs from Macuma. They didn’t inspire in vain the bulletproof vests: one was stuck so firm on my neck that it didn’t break. Wow! I didn’t see the owner, but I think it could worth … from the distance. Now was the first time to come back from Macuma with a ‘happy’ butt, not because I didn’t meet the French trucker, but because I sat in the car on a normal soft cushioned seat, not shaken outside, in the open back of the truck, with the bananas. And I know (at least for me) the words banana and back don’t match together in the same sentence.

Tungiasis caused by nigua, smallest flea in the world (jigger flea. Tunga penetrans)

Tungiasis caused by nigua, smallest flea in the world (jigger flea. Tunga penetrans)

November was full of festivities: days of Morona Santiago (the district), days of Sevilla with all the villages, neighborhoods and parishes – it was fun. I proudly marched with the school on the streets of Macas, admired by the locals and officials, me and all the students and representatives of Milenium School ‘Bosco Wisuma’. And they had a good reason to look up to us and I had a good reason to be proud – proud to wear a Romanian traditional shirt and proud to be member of a school which preserves the customs and traditions, the students and teachers parading in the Shuar traditional costume. There was a parade in Sagrado Corazón too, a “Miss” festivity, and an agro-touristic Shuar fair of typical gastronomy, handcrafts, animals, fruits and vegetables.

Mother & child

Mother & child

It was also Cecilia’s birthday. I went to town with Samuel to buy her a cake and we arrived late home because we stopped for some drinks with another teacher. I didn’t think she got upset too much, or she didn’t show it, ‘cause as you probably guess, woman’s role here is pretty much to raise children, cook and obey. But I think they love each other. Regarding the family aspect, I found many similarities with Malawi: as in many African tribes, the polygamy is accepted among the Shuars too, everybody’s getting married and have (many) children very early, so even if I want to search for a local girl, the chances are just to find a minor or a widow. Even if we talk about boobs, the situation is not very different nor pleasing; if the waiting area of Chididi Health Centre was a breastfeeding exposition, here mama Cecilia is pretty libertine after taking a shower.

Booze night

Booze night

Cecilia's birthday

Cecilia’s birthday

Amusement

Amusement

Happy birthday

Happy birthday

Fish for lunch

Fish for lunch

With the kids it seems to be a little better, especially with the little ones. We’re learning the English alphabet and numbers. And at least they‘ve learned to say Teacher, may I go out?, otherwise I don’t give them any permission and believe me at every 5-10 minutes another one wants to go the toilet. Even if I’m checking the homework in a fart stench, I don’t change the rule. The pupils really need discipline. Most of them don’t listen, study, do their homework or show any respect and their comprehension and working process is sooooo slow. A colleague teacher was so amused when I told him I met kids from four different continents, but here is the worst and probably the penguins from Antarctica would pay more attention. With the seventh grade is better. I realized our Romanian educational system, with all its minuses, has a lot of good parts. The concepts of ‘official’ marks (written in a registry) and continuous assessment don’t exist in many countries I’ve been to. There are just final or sometimes midterm exams as in the university. In my opinion, this doesn’t stimulate the young ones to open the notebook and they don’t find any reason to study home. How many of them realize on an early age the benefits of education? Off course the family has an essential role, but when its support lacks, the child doesn’t care if he doesn’t have a notebook, didn’t write the homework or is making noise; because you can’t tell him to stand up, ask him/her what lesson (s)he had to learn, grading him after with a low mark. Why? ‘Cause there’s no thing as daily student’s record book with marks and attendances (later on I found out there is actually an Excel used by teachers). In my country, the final grade of each subject per semester is not just a mark from a test/exam, but an average of all oral and written assessments.  And beside all the subjects there is a special rubric for behavior. And, for example, if you don’t have the maximum score you are not allowed to enroll the police or military academies. In most of the cases the student caught unprepared who receives a low mark should feel a kind of remorse if he has any self-conscience, so the next time will study and know what the heck teacher was talking about, if not for pleasure, at least for the sake of a good score, which is essential if you want to access superior levels of education. Learning just because you have to do it is somehow good until someone induces you the ‘taste’ for it or until you realize by yourself its importance and why to learn and how to learn. Unfortunately this happens pretty late, if it happens at all. An open discussion or a moral judgment would be also in vain taking into consideration my vocabulary not so ample. Imagine how would you react hearing your teacher telling you “Why is you not boy good? You mates does homeworks!” I would definitely burst out laughing. So I put in practice the method of black balls and white balls (extra or less points for exams and talk with the principal). It’s working more or less so far. The word “Silence!” is so well known by the students, so often they hear it. I couldn’t believe the story with white hairs until I’ve seen my first two, thanks to the little loco devils. I hope to be the last ones. I’ve seen how’s in Romania, Russia, Malawi, but I’m still searching for an explanation for the behavior of Ecuadorian children. Neither the Malawians didn’t care too much for studying or taking notes, but at least they had some more respect, sat quietly in their desks and knew the only way of get out from the village, have a good job and money, respectively, is to learn. Unlike Romania, the saying “knowledge is power” applies here, but unfortunately there is a vicious circle. You need money for education and education/knowledge for money/power, because starting with high school, you have to pay for it.  And look how I’m talking about Malawi and I’m in Ecuador. I really miss it, that’s the fact.

I have finished reading all the Game of thrones collection, I have to continue watching the series now. Let’s see if I could download them. I hope to put some more pictures on the blog too, ‘cause I’m working hard to copy, sort, edit them and soon I’ll take some more in the Christmas holiday. I’m waiting for it. I really miss travelling and after I saw a nice hippie-rasta Colombian couple on bike, it’s all I think about now. I bought a bracelet from them.

Teachers' dance

Teachers’ dance

Waiting for the beer

Waiting for the beer

Curative smoke

Curative smoke

Guaba day

Guaba day

Happy New Year, chicos and amigos! New year, new stories.

End of December was full of songs, goodwill and of course Christmas preparations and celebrations, even there’s no any snow here. During the school breaks you could hear the so called carols, which don’t give you at all the impression of Christmas (the weather being another factor). There are so different than ours or the American ones. Beside Feliz Navidad, all the others sound like common choir songs for children. But of course you can hear them everywhere, in the shops, on the streets. And I didn’t tell you, even the garbage truck sings, and not just in December. At first I taught there is an ice cream van, but in towns (in all Ecuador) this is the method of letting you know when they come to pick up your garbage in front of your house/shop. I’ve seen the bottled gas van has music as well, as from circus or a music box.

You have to know we had also a Christmas tree (artificial though) and a first present in family was a new born baby, the brother of Jesús. I won’t play the crucifixion game with him, probably one with vampires ‘cause I’ve heard they want to choose Bogdan as his middle name … poor child! It seems the future child of Samuel’s sister from Macuma will have my name as well. Here they barely pronounce it correctly; most people say Bohdan, Bokdan, Bodkan or even B/Vodka. With “Vese” I wouldn’t have any chance because “V” it’s pronounced in Spanish as “B”. It would be interesting to try with “Vlad”, my middle name; “Blood” would sound pretty vampirish … muhaha! However, I found an equivalent in Shuar language: Tunguruá. It means volcano, ‘cause Bogdan rhymes with volcán. But in the same time has the meaning of inferno, a volcano being the place for human sacrifices in the past. So yeah, I’m the Bloody Hell!

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

Sweets!

Sweets!

I miss the school Christmas celebrations and teacher’s party because I have to go to Quito for the visa and for the big meeting with the “Time to teach” volunteers. Both take place on Monday, so I have a whole weekend to visit the city. (click here for Quito)

(click here for Christmas holiday)

Samuel's birthday

Samuel’s birthday

Happy birthday!

Happy birthday!

Birthday celebrant

Birthday celebrant

Party!

Party!

Usually not a lot of things happen at the beginning of a year, but now it’s different and not so quiet with all the daily whines of grumbler Jesús and the cries of his little baby brother. The baby hasn’t got yet any name and so much hair, that’s why we call him El Presidente because of his resemblance with the former Romanian president Basescu. And also because there is a political campaign right now in Ecuador. We have elections next week and one of the favorites is called Lenin. I would definitely not vote for him. It is a name quite common around here. I have a few students named as him and some others called Stalin. And they even don’t know who their namesakes were. A lot of other names are American, in most cases misspelled: Nixon, Washington, Elvys, Brayan, Aliver, James, Jhon/Jhan, Deivis, Cristofer, Michele … I even have a student called Maikel Jakson. Inspired parents, but neglectful of their own children at the same time! The make a lot of babies not offering them a proper education. One day a mom and dad come to school asking me about their third grade son. After about ten minutes of searching through different lists I told them the kid is in the fourth grade! They put their feet on the bus seats, throw the rubbish on the window, get dirty with mud and mango on their clothes … and you already know the story with studying and having respect or discipline. But they’re still cute and the people pretty nice, like a group of three who approached me after school with some drinks 😉

Christmas present

Christmas present

Lenin President

Lenin President

The year also started with some chickenpox. Luis had such big vesicles like peas; it was contagious for his son, Jesús too. I nicknamed him “Lentejas” (Lentils). It’s good I had them all in my childhood. I just hope not to get something from the mice which are trotting lately in my room. We don’t have a cat, but you do have poisoned fish! Muhaha! I should tell you what happened one day when I went to the tailor in Macas, to sew some clothes and some new flags on my backpack. With such a beauty on my back it was almost inevitable not to drop attention. “Documents, please!” “Don’t have any” “Let’s go to the station!” Shit! And I still don’t have the visa yet. “Name? Passport number?” I know just my personal identification number which is not enough. I remember having a passport copy on my e-mail. They let me use the computer but something is wrong. It seems I don’t figure in their system and accordingly didn’t even get in Ecuador. Yeeeey … Clandestino! I wonder if they offer food for prisoners but I don’t wait for an answer cause I immediately call Pamela. After about thirty minutes of clarifications, they finally let me out. Pfiu! The good news comes after two weeks when I’m informed that my visa is ready. And here I am again in Quito.  We are five of us receiving the visa, the veterans, the rest to 300 and something volunteers should wait. There is a girl from Philippines, others from Venezuela and Colombia and Raluca, who tells me she couldn’t face the challenges anymore and  she’ll drop out the project. Whilst I’m writing to you, she is still probably in Galapagos. Nice place to get rid of stress! I spend just one day in the capital; I come and leave by the night bus ‘cause I don’t want to miss the classes. I still have time to hang around a little bit, to climb the Panecillo hill and admire the city view and even to go to an art exhibition and watch a free Colombian film with a Spanish volunteer. I also didn’t want to leave the city without visiting Romania before … Rumania actually, a small street neighboring Italia.

Chicken pox

Chicken pox

Orange exterminator

Orange exterminator

Sewing my backpack

Sewing my backpack

At school, besides classes, we have sometimes “social” days. I took part in two barbeque evenings so far. Nice and tasty! On one Saturday I was also invited to a teachers’ dinner with sangria. Her I saw for the first time someone washing the fruits with detergent … weird! Recently I have joined a touristic program of municipality’s cultural department. They want to promote the district’s attractions and we, the foreigners of Morona are involved. Free trips and food! I met a girl from Japan, also a volunteer, and a nice Swiss granny moved here for some years. We have been so far to Sinaí, where we had a lot of fun in the river and paid a visit to a local distillery of aguardiente (sugar cane alcohol) and another day to a Shuar community with a filming crew: food, traditional music, mud, rubber boots, canoe and stories. Wonderful!

Home barbecue

Home barbecue

Barbecue weekend in Macas

Barbecue weekend in Macas

I have also traveled on my own. After being a good teacher and marking all the exam (of the end of the first semester), I relented Samuel to give me some days off (normally, just the kids have a one week holiday, not the teachers). And as before any trip you should be clean, I had another cleanse ayahuasca night with all the family, children included. It was a little different this time: I got kind of dizzy and saw white lights; but even if I took a small shot of strong essence, I had no visions or strange dreams, just a wild cat chasing me and a friend. After a short visit in the morning to school, I pack my stuff, buy some provisions (crackers and fish cans) and head to Riobamba. (Click for pictures)

Ayahuasca night

Ayahuasca night

Magic steams

Magic steams

Indingenous flag, LGBT friendly

Carnaval

Painted faces

Avatar

Water balloons

CARNIVAL HOLIDAY (CLICK FOR PICTURES)

Women’s day

Electoral campaign

Hapy Birthday Jenny, Ketty & Edgar

Birthday cakes

Party!

Full moon

Preparing for Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos)

Green friend

Bee sting

Happy birthday, Luis!

Dance

Moon … balloon

Happy Mother’s Day!

Michelada night

Day of the environment in Macas

Cyclo-tour

Traditional dance

My birthday

Rock pub

Farewell, teacher!

Cheers!

The last supper

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