Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Grace like a waterfall

Two weeks ago, 10 wonderful students, a campus minister, and a religious studies professor from Cabrini College had the courage to come live in Durán for a week, and i was blessed enough to be their retreat leader. We spent time with several neighbors in AJS and in Arbolito, and visited some of RdC´s partner foundations. As it turns out, my Spanish is good enough to translate day in and day out for a group of gringos like myself. I learned so much about my neighbors, because the group asked them questions i hadn´t thought to ask yet, and maybe never would have. I watched the group struggle with disconnects between their expectations and what they saw and heard, with the joyful challenge of living simply and in community, and with what this all means for them and their lives. My eyes were opened to seeing Durán, its people, and my year here in a new light. And, (allow me to stereotype for a minute), campus ministers and religious studies professors are generally my favorite people ever, and it was thrilling to be able to think and talk about faith, religion, and life here with brilliant people (who had the humility to want to learn from me, believe it or about empowering others!). I loved the role of Cabrini´s volunteer retreat leader so much that i´m sort of thinking maybe God is telling me something here? (One thing being that i´m definitly going to grad school someday). To Kristie, Laura G, Laura H, Leah, Chelsie, Andrew, Rizito, Katrina, Shannon, Julie, Christa, and Nick/Ruddy, thank you for opening your hearts and minds to Durán and Rostro de Cristo. Love you all.

I also had a really great birthday while they were here. The kids at Manos Abiertas made me signs and birthday cards covered in painted handprints of their manos abiertas [thank you Kasia for starting this]. I actually cried after the charla in front of all the kids and my retreatants. It was so sweet. And the Fairfield U Eucharistic Ministers´ tradition of writing Christmas cards to alums doing service brought me extra birthday joy. Thanks everyone!

Christmas in Ecuador was really beautiful. As a community, we went caroling on the 21st to our neighbors, complete with homemade Christmas cookies, wearing Christmas socks (thanks Mrs. Amy´s mom!). That Monday night we had a Christmas party with all of us and all Rostro staff and their families. We cooked and ate and danced and played games and testified to the faces of Christ that filled that room. It was a true sign that we really do have family here in Durán.

Since Christmas Eve is the big deal here, not Christmas Day, the 24th was a busy night. For Nochebuena we (the AJS girls) had dinner #1 with Elizabeth, the wife of our guard Omar, who cooked us an amazing meal and filled us with stories about her life as a 23 year old Ecuadorian wife and mother. It was such a blessing to be able to be with her, otherwise she would have been alone Christmas Eve (Omar was working). From there we went to 9pm mass, which shockingly started on time and was packed. After that, we went to dinner #2 around 11:30pm at Wellington and Soraya´s house, another guard-and-wife household, and somehow fit more food in our stomachs than we ever should have. Despite the discomfort that comes with overeating for 5 hours, we had a really wonderful Christmas Eve. On the 25th we went caroling at Damien House and sung to patients living with Hansen´s Disease. We (the whole Rostro gang) had a delicious italian dinner that night at the home of Sr. Annie, a Brooklyn B.V.M, who founded Damien House. There was just more love and hospitality than i ever thought possible this holiday.
Gracias a Dios, we´ve had time off from work since Christmas day. To get out of town, relax, and conocer other parts of Ecuador, Tracy, Melissa, and I packed up our backpacks and headed to Puyo, a small city on the edge of the Amazon. We spent a day in the city meeting honest-to-goodness the nicest and funniest people in this country who are endlessly willing to help a gringa missionara out. On the morning of the 27th we piled into a pickup truck of a jungle tour agency and headed into the Amazonian rainforest. We slept in grass huts, hiked through the forest, got muddy and bitten by bugs, swam in waterfalls, swung from vines, got jungle-facials from ceramic-like mud from riverbeds, snorted juice made out of tree bark that is an effective jungle remedy for nasal congestion, wove headbands out of palm leaves, rode down a river in a canoe, and had a hilariously fun time befriending our tour guide Angel, the only 24 year old Ecuadorian man i´ve met that is not scummy, sleazy, sketchy, or any other word you could use to describe the machismo men in Ecuador. After 3 days in the rainforest, we headed up to Baños, a small, newly touristy city nestled in the spectacular Andean mountains. There, we watched lava spit out of an active volcano, rented mountain bikes and rode 22 kilometers along a highway through the mountains, crawled through tunnels to stand behind an incredibly powerful waterfall, went to mass, had a goodcup of coffee and a delicious pizza-and-pasta dinner, and met up with Angel again to check out the local nightlife. I took maybe around 450 pictures and i´m pretty obsessed with them. I´m posting a few now. Beauty beyond words. Ecuador is a stunningly gorgeous country that God just poured his grace on like a waterfall. I had a really, really great time traveling and being adventurous and whatnot. It was so refreshing to see green again, to be in a beautiful landscape and to not have to be on guard 24/7 around an Ecua male. Though now I´m stuck in an emotion of not being excited to be back in Durán; after seeing what else Ecuador holds, and that Ecuadorians, even the men, are even nicer and more welcoming elsewhere, I´m starting to see that Durán really is the armpit of Ecuador, if you will. I am happy to be back with the neighbors, to converse with them and ring in the new year tonight, but man this town is uuuugly.

Ringing in the New Year with Elizabeth, Walter and Jesús, and the AJS girls.
Don´t drink and drive.

(c) 2008 EJR.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sure not dreaming of a white Christmas...

Felíz Navidad everyone. Especially to Cabrini College--praying for you all, that you might share the joy of loving hospitality and simplicity with your families. Enjoy the snow!

Christmas plans: Dinner with Omar and Elizabeth (one of our guards and his wife) this evening. 9pm mass. Dinner #2 with Wellington and Soraya (another guard and his wife) after mass, probably till 2 or 3am. Christmas morning brunch with the community. Caroling at Damien House (hospital/home for patients living with Hansens Disease). Christmas dinner at Sr. Annie´s (founder of Damien House), with Pat and Sonya joining us (more phenomenal people, founders of Nuevo Mundo). From there, heading to Puyo with Melissa and Tracy to explore the Amazon rainforest for a few days, then to Baños where we´ll bike around waterfalls and enjoy the Andean scenery. Back on the 31st to join in Ecua New Years traditions such as blowing up añoviejo dolls and dancing all night long.

Wishing all of you a beautiful, joyful Christmas. May we follow Mary´s example and open our hearts to God´s amazing grace so that we too might give birth to an incarnate Christ through our lives.

When will i ever get a chance to actually share with you blog-readers what this year is like?

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I´m not sure where I´ve left off in terms of my roles at my worksites. lo and behold, i´m now and English teacher to the módulo 3 girls at Santiago. It´s been quite an adventure trying to gain some sort of authority and command their attention, nevermind planning lessons and trying actually teach things. I gave my first quiz on Wednesday morning (parts of the body, parts of the face, and clothing) and I believe they all failed. One girl was very clearly copying off her neighbor´s quiz so I told her I was taking off one point (out of 20) for cheating and she looked at me with a face that said ¨how dare you even threaten such a thing!¨ and she in turn ripped up her quiz and tossed it in the garbage. Oops, too bad, now you have a zero. It turns out I´m not a softie when it comes to giving grades. Still can´t believe I´m a teacher. I´m learning that teaching calls for such intentionality and love and thought and man, its just a tricky role. I´m also seeing my own educational past in a new light and appreciating in a new way the teachers and professors in my life that are living a vocation that is so powerful. Thanks folks.

*While I´m talking about education, I have to add that ¨Pedagogy of the Oppressed¨ is an absolutely essential read for anyone even remotely involved in the field of education, and also for all of those that give a damn about the shape of the world we live in and the one human family of which we are a part. Lately people have been asking me what they can do to support me, or help the kids I work with. Answer: read this book and think about all the ways in which you are both an oppressor and are oppressed by others. And then strive to bring about justice, that is, right relationships, in your life. You´re not giving things to financially poor kids in some far off place, but rather engaging in the liberation of humanity, which is what Rostro de Cristo is really about anyway.*

Thursday at Santiago was lovely though. The girls greeted me with hugs (funny, because 24 hrs earlier they hated me for giving a quiz that they knew about well in advance) and I was in their Ciencias Naturales class while their teacher Elizabeth taught about water, why it´s vital to living beings, a global water crisis, etc. When the girls heard that there may be wars fought over water they were appalled, in a 12-yr-old sort of way, that anyone would take from someone that which is necessary for life. I found this interesting given that their own water situation is less than ideal. drinkable water is bought in large blue jugs for around $1.25 whenever the truck passes by your house. Water for other use is bought from large tanks that fill the metal barrel outside your house for 70 cents. Running water? Nah.

Manos is a joy as always. Except for this Wednesday (overall a rough day). Right after the program ended, after giving out bread and banana and water to all the kids, a fight broke out right outside the school. The conflict started on the soccer field during recess when one girl blamed another for their team´s loss, and she responded with an insult of some kind. They decided to settle it outside and there was a lot of insulting and kicking of the girl´s bike and almost all the kids at Manos that day were antagonizing and encouraging the fight. Ohh, children. Aide (our ecuadorian manos/rostro employee, 19 yrs old) gave them a good talking to on Thursday about what we strive to teach them at Manos, how their behavior after Manos completely burns that, and that we are there to help them resolve conflicts in nonviolent ways. As a consequence, we cancelled Manos on friday (after much thought about the pros and cons of this) and told them to take the afternoon to think about their behavior. That was neither easy nor fun to do, but we think it was the best choice.

This year is about way more than worksites. I don´t like that that is what i tend to write about. Boo to me. Community life has had its ups and downs. Kasia, the community mate that I live and worked with at both sites, went back home to the States last friday due to a variety of health problems that had escalated above what we as a community could minister to and beyond attempts to get her healthy here. So now I´m the only volunteer at Santiago, which is certainly an opportunity for new growth and flourishing, we are down a volunteer at Manos which is challenging but still very do-able, and our community is transforming. Such is the rhythm of international service.

My first retreat group arrives tonight!! Recall that I came to Ecuador in January with Fairfield U as a winter break service-immersion trip (a very inappropriate title for it, if you ask me). A big chunk of Rostro de Cristo´s mission here is providing educational opportunities to U.S. youth by hosting groups of students from high schools and universities as they engage in the reality of life in Duran for around 10 days. They visit our afterschool programs, worksites, and partner programs in hopes of continuing a process of personal and spiritual transformation that will lead to a greater commitment to service and justice. Anyway, Cabrini College lands at 10:30pm tonight and I will be their volunteer leader for the next 10 days. I´m giddily excited and really hoping that this week flips their world upside down and moves them spiritually.

Because of this upcoming week, I should get back home to squeeze in a nap before the late-night airport run.

Ohh but before I post this, final news: I´m now raising chickens with my community as well! I´ve been spearheading this adventure for about 5 weeks now. The original plan was to raise 3 chickens to slaughter and turn into a delicious meal (with the help of some neighbors) when my parents are here visiting in february, but apparently it takes 3 months for chickens to grow, and due to the community situations that have been going on, the process was delayed and now they may just be a delicious meal in march. (dear mom and dad: sorry i hadn´t mentioned that delay yet. thanks for supporting me in all my stupid ideas, but i dont think you´ll get to kill and eat the chickens with us.) I bought the little chicks today and we build a coop for them mounted against the wall in the most ridiculous fashion, coordinated by Abrahan, our head of security, and Maximo, one of our guards. I think it will be a memorable and smelly experience.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Proof that I´m in Ecuador and loving it :)

At Manos Abiertas
left: conflict resolution between christopher (l) and oliver (r)

below: chatting our way through a picture book with jordy (my favorite), moises, and briggitte (also favorites)

At Santiago Apóstol
below, left: briggitte, one of my students at Santiago
below, right: with kasia and 5 other módulo 3 students and our teacher Elizabeth (who totally rocks)