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.