Monday, November 24, 2008


Funny things happen here a lot. Some of those things are really only funny in the context of life in Ecuador. For example...

For most of my life whenever I say that my last name is Raby, I occasionally hear some kind of joke along the lines of ¨oooh, do you have rabies?!¨ ha, funny. Not. Anyway. One of the teachers at Santiago, Junior, asked me my last name last week, and i said Raby, with a Spanish accent (rolling the R, short ´a´ as in apple). And he said, ¨ah, como conejo!¨, which means ¨oh, like rabbit!¨ To him, Raby sounds just like rabbit. So intead of ¨ooh, do you have rabies?¨ now the joke is ¨ah, como conejo!¨ No, not like a rabbit. He was the second Ecuadorian to have that response. The first was a woman at the medical dispensario, when i dropped off a poop sample to test for parasites. Which leads to the next funny thing...

Most of us volunteers are almost always afflicted with parasites of some kind. Most of them aren´t too serious, and if they aren´t causing side affects, why bother treating them? We´ll inevitably get reinfected, and being on antibiotics every other week ain´t too good either. We´re used to mild diarrhea by now. We can drop off fecal samples at the dispensario for $1 and later that afternoon can pick up the results, which are usually some combination of worms, Ghiardia, amoebas, fungus, and e. coli. Yes, e. coli. It really isn´t a big deal, definitely not what American parents make it out to be. It´s one of those things that we´ll live with for a while and wipe out with some hefty antibiotics later on when we have more serious illnesses to worry about. Here´s the funny part. Every morning, Karen and I work on the daily crossword puzzle, left by former volunteers. One of the clues recently was ¨Serious bacteria.¨ Answer? E. coli. Haha. We´ve had that! *

Last funny thing. Our kitchen sink is broken. Yesterday morning Abrahan, our head security guard slash handy dandy superhero, and our guard Wellington, spent an hour or so taking apart the pipes under the sink and unclogging the septic tank outside. (Note: to take apart the pipes, they used the gas stove to light a newspaper on fire, which they used to melt the tar / glue off the pipes to take them apart....all while still watching the oh-so-important soccer game on tv....and then put the burning newspaper in the sink, which we couldn´t turn on to douse the flames because duh, there are no more pipes connected to it and the water will just go all over the floor...) Our sink is still out of commission while the new layers of tar dry, so we´re stuck doing dishes in the shower now. Spent about half an hour last night in a bathing suit in the shower washing pasta sauce off lots of plates. Alas, it is still a huge blessing to have running water here at all.

¡Viva Ecuador!

* Don´t worry, we´re actually taking significant measures to take good care of our health. We boil bottled water, clean our food well, soak it in bacteria-killing stuff, etc. Parasites are pretty much just part of the daily grind.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Heart Will Go On

So, reviewing and reflecting on the last few weeks...

At Santiago
Who knew that my mild obsession with Celine Dion would come in handy in Ecuador, of all places? My class of 9 girls has music class usually once a week, and they´ve been working on the beginning do-re-mi steps (ah yes, The Sound of Music obsession comes in handy as well...) of playing the piano (keyboard, really). Not that exciting, right? Of course not, thats why most of them would spend the class listening to the pre-set song ¨My Heart Will Go On¨ (Titanic is popular here). So in a sudden burst of inspiration, I realized I could easily learn how to play the song and teach them.* All of a sudden I´m the coolest teacher everrrrr and in high demand during music class. The girls love it and its really great to get them excited to learn something. I´m even taking this to the next level and will be showing the Las Vegas concert performance of the song on dvd in the next class, and doing a little English lesson with it too.** ¡Qué chévere!

A few weeks ago I had a nice meeting with our boss Alexandra about the girls in my class--I asked what their home lives are like, where they come from. Turns out most live with domestic abuse from either their mother, father, or sisters; theres a aunt-neice pair in my class (2yrs apart i think) that live with an alcoholic mother-grandmother; one of the 16yr olds spent a few years living with a boyfriend and ¨has seen more life than anyone at her age should¨. Some only live with one parent, some with stepparents, its all over the place. Anything but stable home lives, really. Living in cane houses in the swampy barrios of Guayaquil, 47 out of the 50-something students in the school live in extreme poverty, and a good chunk are malnourished. Lately I like to talk to them about what they want to be when the grow up--a doctor, an engineer (followed by the question ´whats an engineer?´´), a teacher, a model, a singer. Today while waiting for their teacher to come Wendy was drawing me whatever I asked her to draw. She drew herself as a plain stick figure. She drew Jesus with really big ears (´for listening´, she said), and with a stick in his hand (´for teaching´).

Starting next week, Kasia and I will be full-blown English teachers. We´ll be taking the Module 2 and Module 3 girls English classes to reduce the workload of the current teacher, teaching 4 times a week. Hmm. Good thing we´re flexible and quick learners. I´m excited and intimidated. Vamos a ver.

At Manos Abiertas
Just absolutely beautiful every day, and sometimes heartbreaking. Jordy has won my heart. He just turned 5--he told us his birthday was yesterday, but his older brother Bryan just shrugged and said he didn´t know if its his birthday or not because their mom didn´t say anything to him. Too cute. He loves paper airplanes and his favorite color is yellow, but still has a hard time distinguishing colors. In the last month he´s definitly made progress in counting to 10, but doesn´t always recognize the numbers. I´ve basically never worked with kids before coming here, so can someone tell me at what age in the States kids normally can count to 10 and know colors? He has the tiniest hands, small enough to reach into the prison of the human heart and unlock it.***

We had our first paseo (field trip) three weeks ago. We took 22 of our kids to a park in the center of Durán. This day held one of my favorite ecua-moments so far. Taking the bus out to 28 de Agosto to pick the kids up, we saw the kids waiting for us on the side of the road where we usually get off. When they saw the bus they started jumping up and down and waving, and they ran up to us once we got off, shouting ¨paseo! paseo¨ They were dressed up in their nicest clothes and freshly bathed; the boys had their hair wet and slicked to the side and the girls were just adorable in color-coordinated outfits. Seeing the excitement on their faces as the bus pulled up was just incredible, and I felt so so so blessed to be a part of something so much greater than myself that allows these kids the opportunity to learn, live, and love in new ways. It was an amazing afternoon, hot as hell, but great. We brought a disposable camera with us, and I took pictures of the prints, so I´ll post them on my flickr account ya mismo.

I´m starting to figure out what loving discipline is. I witnessed domestic abuse last night while visiting a neighbor. Yep, a mom whipped her son for not eating dinner. Today at Manos, I was with the homework kids, and Joice (12 maybe) shut down and began to cry because she didn´t want to do her homework. Her cousin Julisa (7) told me that she was crying because if she didn´t do her homework, her dad would beat her. So if nothing else, if I do nothing this year other than be someone that does not beat these kids when they misbehave, I´ll be alright with that. Of course, the goal is to bring a little bit of justice to their lives by loving them in the fullest sense of the word. There´s no more that I could do than that.

In faith
God speaks Spanish. Duh, right? Well i don´t. Actually, i´m getting there... Anyway. I´m starting to find a lot of spiritual nourishment in certain prayers, songs, conversations with priests and nuns....all in Spanish, this funny language that i started learning only 6 months ago. But come on, eeeeveryone here speaks Spanish aaaaaaall the time and sometimes it just exhausts me, and now God is speaking to me in Spanish too? Can´t I get a break? But really, the language is capable of expressing certain sentiments and provoking certain thoughts or imagery that i´ve just never encountered in English before. It´s awesome.

Regarding the nuns...
Kasia and i met some seriously awesome nuns through Santiago. Their order, Servants of the Plan of God, is part of the Christian Life Movement (also seriously awesome). 4 of them showed up at Santiago one day to give a small concert. Yea, they´re musically talented and in their 20s and 30s and really, I´ve never met more gracious, generous, loving people in my life. Hermana Claudia is now something of my Spiritual Director, and what an adventure it is to try to express the depths of your soul to a Colombian lady you´ve known for 2 weeks in a foreign language. Yet she really, really gets it.

I´m late for dinner. Coming soon...

-more on faith
-a few words on community
-a reflection on motherhood in Ecuador
-the joy of being unnecessary
-why you should read Pedagogy of the Oppressed (don´t wait for the blog, start reading it now.)


*Thanks mom for forcing me to take piano lessons as a kid.
**Thanks Carolyn!
***All credit to Jean Vanier, author of Community and Growth for this imagery. Speaking of the book, READ IT, especially if you are currently living in community. Soooooo good. Hey, since when did I start using contextual footnotes in a blog?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ya mismo...

´ya mismo´ is a spanish phrase that, in a dictionary, means ´right now´. here in Ecuador, when people say ´ya mismo´, they generally use it to mean ¨sometime in the future....maybe in 5 minutes, maybe in a few days...who really knows? it´ll happen sometime...¨

So in the true spirit of Ecuador, i´ll be blogging again (with substance) ya mismo...

All is well, i´m still alive and still in Ecuador, just with limited time on my hands.