Pura Felicidad

 

 

Last year I lived in a city called Ibarra, which is where I did my internship with a human rights organization that works with migrants, specifically Colombian refugees, as Ibarra is very close to the Colombian border. It’s been exactly one year since I returned to Canada to finish my last year of undergrad. I spent this last year thinking of all the beautiful souls I met here and waiting on the day that I got to see them again….Well that day has come. I arrived in Ibarra just over a week ago, at my old host family’s house. I won’t lie, I was actually super nervous about returning since a full year had passed and I know that a lot had changed. Thankfully I arrived and felt as if no time had passed. My host family was thrilled to see me and after 5 minutes I felt back at home and extremely happy. It’s a weird feeling to describe, happy doesn’t do it justice. I really do feel like I never left, which is exactly what I was hoping it would be like. The only reason I am reminded of the passing of time is by my host nephew Daniel, who is 13 years old and grew so much over the past year….I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw him, “ya eres hombre” I said (“you’re a man now”). We all had a good laugh, and him and his mom (my host sister, Elizabeth) brought me a cute heart balloon that says “I love you” in english of course, and a cupcake.

Daniel is an only child and is by far the youngest within the family that I stay with and him and I have become very close over the past year. I try my best to hang out with him whenever I can because I know he appreciates the company. Since I’ve been here we’ve spent almost every night outside playing soccer until way past dark (in typical Ecuadorian fashion). I’m already sad thinking about leaving again because the last time I left he cried and so did I, it was a really difficult goodbye….but I’m hoping that once again it’ll only be a “see you soon”.

Daniel had a dance presentation for “el dia de la familia” (family day) where the entire school danced to the traditional dances of every country in America. Canada was the first dance and I had a good laugh since they danced to ‘Cotton-eyed Joe’ as a version of “classic Canadian country”. Either way, it was absolutely amazing, these kids can really dance, they probably danced better than any Canadian ever would have. Daniel represented both Colombia and Ecuador and I was left without words, it was amazing. The finale was actually very emotional, as all those who will be graduating this year danced their final dance, and it was over 17 minutes long. They danced all the typical dances of Ecuador, and were left completely winded. One of the family’s friends is in his final year, and danced his heart out, it was so inspiring. Everyone was crying at the end, including the dancers. It was their last hurrah, and they left it all on the dance floor. Even I felt the need to cry because it was such an emotional experience. And Daniel had a small part in their final dance and I was so proud of him. Once again, I got to experience the amazing Ecuadorian culture through dance.

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I also made my return to Mision Scalabriniana where I worked last year. It was so nice to be reunited with my old coworkers and the friends I made while working with the youth group.
Last Saturday the youth group put together a mother’s day celebration where they sang, danced and had a lot of activities planned to enjoy with their mothers. It was great to be back doing what I love and being surrounded by people that I adore. It was also very nostalgic. The youth group planned a surprise goodbye for me last year on the day that they celebrated mother’s day, and so it was pretty cool to return exactly one year later. In the afternoon a few of us went to Laguna Yahuarcocha which is a beautiful little lake in Ibarra, where we went out in boats, ate ice cream and enjoyed each other’s company. I was so happy to be back with these amazing people.

As I mentioned, a lot has changed in the year since I left. A lot of the people that I met in the youth group have either moved or are no longer participating in the group due to other commitments. So I also spent a day with those who are no longer in the mission. We went for ice cream, to a museum and spend some time in the park. It was a day full of smiles, laughter and making fun of one another (in a good way, of course).

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It’s moments like these when I’m reminded why it’s difficult to write a blog. It feels impossible to put these moments and feelings into a few simple words. All I can really say is that I am beyond happy to have had the chance to return to the people I love, and experience the same feelings that I did over a year ago. I’m forever grateful for my Ecuadorian family. They truly treat me like another daughter, sister, etc.

My sisters here took me out dancing on Saturday. They are both amazing dancers but I have to say I kept up with them. We danced everything from Salsa to Merengue and I think I held my own. The next day they all said they were impressed that I could actually dance to this kind of music. I even danced to Salsa Choke, which I actually learned here last year by being around some amazing Colombian dancers. Salsa Choke is probably my favourite of all, 1. because I can actually dance it, 2. because it’s super upbeat and fun, 3. because of the reactions I get when people see a white girl dancing salsa choke. For those of you who don’t know what it is, I’ll leave you with this video…and for those of you who know me, I’m sure you’ll laugh at the thought of me dancing to this (keep in mind I am definitely not saying that I’m as good as those in the video haha).

I have so much more to tell, but am truly struggling to find the words to express it all. I’m going to leave it at this.

Paz y Amor xoxo
-E

Only in Ecuador…

Bueno….this post has been in the works for a while now since weird things never stop happening to me while living/travelling in Ecuador.

To begin, let’s talk about cat calling, and how most men have no shame in telling you exactly what they think of you, or calling you “queen”, “princess” or my personal favourite, “precious”…obviously when you know the person or if you are having a casual conversation this is fine and completely normal and a sign of friendliness or sometimes even respect in a weird kinda way. But whenever I translate what people say to me I get weirded out because nobody would ever approach me and say “Hello, my Queen, are you married?”, but weirdly enough this has happened more times that I could tell you. I’m also at the point now where I can laugh about these experiences (thank God).

It’s definitely a rude awakening at first, remembering that machismo is real, and women, especially foreigners are seen in a whole different light than what I was ever used to. It’s kinda weird for me to say that I’ve grown used to this…but that doesn’t mean that I don’t get overwhelmed at times and say something in response. Most of the people who make these comments see me as a foreigner and assume that I don’t understand because I must not speak spanish…which is actually part of the fun because there have been numerous times that I’ve responded and had people stop and think to themselves like, “oh shit, she understood that??”. I think that almost all of my Trent-in-Ecuador girlfriends have had a similar experience where we just got super frustrated after being asked to marry someone or told we are soooooo pretty (mind you the same thing would happen if I wore a garbage bag I’m sure). I know that a few of us have called people out, with the classic line of, “do you have a sister? a mother?” etc….”would you want someone speaking to her like that??” I even got to a point once where I straight up yelled, “I’M NOT EVEN PRETTY LEAVE ME ALONE”. (Don’t let this freak you out, I’ve learned how to handle myself better since then…that means you mom).

Honestly, sometimes it can even be humorous. For instance, in public transit there are always people who get on and sell candy, books, sing and even rap in order to make some money. These rappers tend to pick someone on the bus and rap about them or make it a little more personable, however, when there’s a beautiful blonde girl like my sister on that bus, these raps often turn into love songs…HA. I sat there with my family and Juan on this bus, as this guy rapped about my sister in spanish (thank God only Juan and I understood), once he realized she didn’t understand he finished his rap with whatever english he could pull out of his ass and said something along the lines of, “let me ask you one question baby, do you like black?” This was all fun and games and he truly meant no harm but honestly things like this happen on the daily, and I find that most locals are not even phased by cat calling or even harassment at some times. I’ve even been told that I should feel flattered since it’s a compliment…I mean, I understand where they’re coming from, but at the same time, it’s not always easy to feel flattered by vulgar comments or having a stranger refer to you as a “precious queen”.

However, from all of this I have truly grown as a person. I was always a very timid person who avoided confrontation at all costs. Yet now I find myself sticking up for myself and other people. If I feel like something said to me wasn’t appropriate, I will call them out, whereas a few years ago I would’ve just pretended that I didn’t hear or notice what they did or said. Maybe I’ve taken feminism to a new extreme?? I don’t know, but I find it annoying that people think I’m more desirable just because of where I was born or because of my skin colour…especially while being surrounded by some absolutely gorgeous Latina women. But that’s just my opinion.

Maybe I’m being over the top, but then again, when a guy who is holding his girlfriend’s hand starts to whistle and wink at you, I’d hope you agree that there’s something wrong with that. But at the same time LOL, I will never understand Ecuadorian men and their reasoning.

Aside from cat calling, and the difference between what might be considered normal here vs. where I’m from, there have been so many moments that I look back on and truly think, how the heck did I end up in that situation?? I don’t mean that I ended up in dangerous or bad situations, I just mean that I’ve ended up doing things here that I would probably never do in my country. I feel like I really live in the moment, test myself and get out of my comfort zone on the daily. First, something as simple as having woken up one day completely fluent in spanish and carrying out my everyday life speaking only spanish…like WHAT? When did this happen? This is a simple example….let me give you a few more examples from one amazing weekend I had that I still look back on and genuinely laugh because I don’t understand how I got to experience what I did:

Last May, I decided to join my coworker in a small little town right on the border of Colombia (very much in the countryside, very isolated from the busy city) called Chical where I was going to be with the youth group which consisted of teens from Chical, Maldonado and San Juan (Colombia), all within walking distance of one another. I was super excited because after having worked with these teens for about 5 months, I had gotten to know them very well and some of my favourite people I got to meet were from this area. So it started out normal, we packed about 35 people into a pick up truck (yes, “normal”) and drove from Chical to Maldonado to San Juan, picking up more people on the way. We eventually got to San Juan, which was my first time crossing the border to Colombia. You’re probably assuming that we had to literally cross the border, show passports or ID etc., but of course not….we drove over, nobody asked us anything, we simply crossed the border to San Juan, it felt as if we were still in Ecuador to be honest. Once we got there we had a casual hike up a mountain until we reached this little community center where we continued with our normal youth group shenanigans. We also celebrated the birthday’s of 3 people in the group, and ended up dancing and eating cake. I was forced to dance Bachata, Salsa you name it.

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Still normal, right??

Yes. Normal.

After a few hours of enjoying ourselves as was the norm with all the youth groups I’d worked with, we returned to Chical. After an uphill climb to the truck, all 40 of us piled in once again, dropping people off on the way. Once we arrived in Chical some of my closest friends had started planning what we were going to do that night. They had been talking about it all day and I didn’t pay too much attention to it, all I knew was that they wanted to take me out that night because there was some concert going on in Tallambi (5 minute walk to Colombia from Chical), and everyone knew the performer because he was somewhat famous in Narino, Colombia. I just went with it, as I normally do.

Since we returned to Chical around 5pm, 3 of my good friends decided that they were going to take me fishing in the river that separates Ecuador from Colombia. First, let me tell you, earlier in the day I was talking to Roberth about how many people fall into this river and die because of the rapids (usually drunk of course)…I’m not talking about a slow little river, I’m talking about rushing rapids, A HUGE RIVER….anyways, so we went fishing. But first, we went to my pal Jhon’s house where we put together the fishing rods with bamboo and fishing lines. Next, I see Jhon pull out his machete and go to the side of his house and start digging up worms…so naturally, I joined him…digging up worms with a machete and a flashlight since it was already dark. Every worm we found went in Jhon’s pockets (Jhon’s pockets become very important throughout this story).

From Jhon’s house, the 4 of us walked down to the river, in the pitch black, having to climb up and down rocks (NO, I did NOT fall, for those of you who know me and are probably expecting me to have fallen by now). After what felt like a very intense trek, we finally arrived at the “perfect spot”. We began to fish. All of them assumed I was just there because they made me come, thinking since I’m a girl I must not know how to fish. BUT, since my father taught me well as a child, I was obviously the first one to catch a fish. Mind you, this was nothing like the fishing I did with my dad as a kid. It was very dark, and when Jhon, who had the flashlight, walked away I honestly couldn’t see a thing, making it very hard to know if you caught a fish or not. Either way, I caught the first fish…and yelled to the guys in excitement, and they all ran over because they had to see it to believe it of course. Jhon took the little guy off my makeshift fishing rod, and we continued. Some time passed, and eventually we had all caught a few fish. Then it occurred to me, where were the fish? I assumed that Jhon just threw them back in the water…

Side note, Xavy was making fun of me because I slipped on a rock (but didn’t fall), and while doing so he completely fell, went under and everything. The worst part was that he was using his phone as a flashlight, and that went under too. Once we all knew he was fine, we had a good laugh. Also, miraculously, his phone survived.

…Once we had all decided that we had enough, we made our way back up to land. I was honestly waiting for myself to wipe out on all of these slippery rocks, but for once in my life I didn’t!!! When we got back to land, we stopped under the lone street light to talk and laugh a little more. It was then that I realized that Jhon’s pockets were completely weighed down, and moving…I quickly realized that in the country we obviously don’t throw the fish back into the river…we eat them!! So this entire time Jhon was walking around with a bunch of fish in pockets. Normal, right?

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We walked back to Jhon’s house, showed his mom all the lil fish we caught, and then we all headed our separate ways to change/shower before heading to this concert that they were all talking about. About an hour later they came and picked me up and we started to walk across the bridge to Tallambi, Colombia. It started to pour which made climbing the muddy mountain a bit of a challenge, but once again I didn’t fall. When we got there I realized that the concert was for Mother’s Day, because right away all my friends started saying that I was a mother…at first I was a bit confused but then realized it was because all mom’s got into the concert for free, so I was completely okay with being a “mother” for the night…also funny because they were all very quick to say that they were the father.

It was a pretty cool atmosphere, even though I had no idea who the singer was while everyone else knew all of the words to his songs and everything. We met up with a few more friends and started to dance. A few hours passed, and I realized all the guys were laughing and acting suspicious. I looked around hoping to understand why they were laughing. I saw my friend Roberth talking to the performer, who I now know was Javier Acosta. Roberth was saying something in his ear and then gave him a beer and walked back to our group. I assumed they were all laughing at Roberth’s attempt to befriend Javier Acosta, so I also laughed. When he returned to us they were still laughing and giving him high-fives, I realized then that I was definitely lost. A few seconds later, Javier returns to stage and starts talking to the crowd…I wasn’t paying too much attention to what he was saying until I realized he was talking about me…”I was just told that we have a Canadian fan in the crowd who came all the way from Canada just to see me”…quickly all eyes were on me, and I pretended like it wasn’t me, there must’ve been another Canadian in the crowd..but then he called me up on stage by name, and my friends burst out laughing. In this moment, I wasn’t sure if I was mad at them for doing this, if I should laugh, or if I should run away…so I made my way up on stage and he began asking me questions like, “what’s your favorite song of mine?” “how did you hear about me from Canada?” This was when I stared at my friends with a “what the hell did you do” look, and they were all yelling at me to just speak in French and confuse everyone. So, I innocently said the last song was my favourite….and later discovered that the last song he sang was a cover and wasn’t even his song…and I honestly think I blacked out for a second because I don’t remember the other bullshit answer I gave. But the crowd started cheering and I took this as a sign that I could finally escape…..THIS was a moment that I look back on often and think how the heck did I end up here? How random, yet amazing. The best part was that he gave me and my friends free CDs, so they were thrilled. I guess in hindsight this was a pretty big deal, if what Roberth told him were actually true, because this was such a small farm town where I can guarantee that no foreigners go just to “visit”.

The rest of the night they just got me really drunk because “mothers” drank free, so they just kept giving me shots. My friends thought it was hilarious, even my coworker. We left the fiesta at 3:30am because my coworker and I had to go back to Ibarra the next day, and since there’s only one bus that leaves this small town everyday (at 4:30am), we had about an hour to pack our stuff and head back to Ibarra without any sleep. We got back to Ibarra around 8:30am and then I had to go work with the youth group in Ibarra at 9am. An action-packed few days, but I look back on it as one of the best memories I have…It was actually crazy, and so out of the norm, and I loved every second of it.

I miss them so much, and I’m currently trying to plan a few days to get back to this beautiful town which holds some of the most beautiful people, and friends that I’ll never be able to forget.

Since I kinda went on a rant, I am going to leave it at this for now…but don’t worry, there’s plenty more where that came from. Weird things never stop happening and at this point I embrace the odd/uncomfortable experiences because they always end up being the most memorable.

Until next time,

Paz y Amor xoxo
-E

Mi Regreso a Casa–Return to Quito, Ecuador

So I’m going to backtrack a little in order to describe my return to Ecuador.

On may 10th, I woke up at 4am in Bogota, Colombia, to head to the airport with Marcela to catch my early flight to Quito, Ecuador. It was an emotional goodbye with Marcela, but I know I will see her again soon…very soon to be exact since I have an 8 hour layover in Bogota on my way back to Toronto. But either way, it’s always difficult to say bye, especially to someone so close to you. The saddest part was receiving a message from her a few hours later saying that her 2 year old son, Santiago, woke up asking for me, “mama…Emy????”.

As sad as it was to say goodbye, I was also very anxious to return to ‘mi segunda tierra’, Ecuador. I knew that in just a few short hours I would be arriving to my dear Sonia’s house (my host mother for my first 6 months in Ecuador last year). I got to her house and we both screamed and jumped around and probably hugged each other at least 30 times. It was absolutely surreal, and we both agreed that it felt like no time had even passed.

Sonia is by far one of the sweetest people I have ever had the chance to meet. She is a retired social worker, and she has a heart of gold (no exaggeration). She made my first few months living in Ecuador so comfortable and she made the transition to living in South America so easy. I don’t think that I even have the words to properly describe her in a way that would do justice.

I arrived around noon and she was making lunch, so I sat there in the kitchen with her and we chatted about everything. Her son (my host brother), Juanito, arrived around 12:30pm and once again I had another emotional reunion, with the best hugs ever. The three of us sat down and chatted about all the things that have changed since we last saw one another. He congratulated me on my graduation and asked about my family, who they met last May. Both Sonia and Juan absolutely adored my family (this was a completely mutual feeling), even with the language barrier they succeeded in creating a great relationship, and they both continued to ask me about my family the entire time I was in Canada.

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my family with Juan at the equator (Mitad del Mundo)

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my family with Sonia and Juan in el Centro Historico

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Carly and Juan successfully completing the egg challenge on the equator

After this beautiful reunion, I headed to visit Laurence who was also staying with her old host family just a few blocks down the road. We had planned to go to La Ronda, which is a cute little avenue in the middle of Quito’s historic center, to meet up with our other Canadian friend Ally and her Ecuadorian boyfriend David.

My walk to Laurence’s house was full of nostalgia since I walked there every morning for 6 months straight to take the bus to the university with her. I felt all kinds of emotions, but above all I really just couldn’t believe that I was back in the country that I fell in love with. Laurence met me at the end of her street and once again we both had a mini freak out, we hugged and both couldn’t believe this was real. Laurence’s host family is amazing, there are probably 20 people living in that house and I absolutely adore them all. When I first got there I saw Carol (Laurence’s host cousin) who became such a dear friend to us all throughout our time living in Quito. From there I entered the house and met Carol’s boyfriend, Andres, for the first time as well as her brother Luis who I never got a chance to meet since he was living in Mexico last year. We decided that the whole crew was going to come to La Ronda with us. While everyone else got ready, Laurence, Luis and I drank coffee and chatted, and I was reminded of why I love the Ecuador lifestyle so much.

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this picture captures the joy I felt this day

Domenica (Laurence’s host cousin) also came. She actually lived in Canada with Laurence this past year as she did an English language program at Trent University. So it was pretty awesome to see her again, but this time in her own country!!

We got to La Ronda and ended up going to a Kareoke bar, which was another “classic Ecuador experience”. They forced Laurence and I to sing in spanish, and I’d like to say that we both nailed it. We also chose to sing some cheesy english songs like “It’s the climb” by Miley Cyrus, and Laurence absolutely killed some High School Musical “Getcha Head in the Game”. So many laughs, and more memories made. I can truly say I felt completely satisfied and happy to be back.

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The whole gang 🙂

The rest of the week I spent the majority of my time with Laurence, we explored Centro Historico again, bought lots of exotic fruit and walked through the city like old times.

We also made our way back to the ever-famous Plaza Foch where we went for a nice lunch at a cute little place called “The Magic Bean” and of course we took the obligatory photo with the “Foch Yeah!” sign.

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Laurence left last Thursday, and so I did some exploring on my own, and then met up with Ally and David at our favourite cake place. David had to head to class so Ally and I went to visit our old university, La Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar. It once again made me feel very nostalgic, especially being there without the rest of my Trent-in-Ecuador pals. We obviously took our photos with Simon Bolivar himself.

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Side note, on Laurence’s last day her host family threw a little goodbye party. It was such a nice time. A bunch of them gave speeches about how much they love her and how much they are going to miss her, it was heartwarming. She truly is an amazing person all around and I still look back on my experience last year and feel so lucky to have met people like her who share the same passions in life as I do. People who I don’t have to explain my thought processes to, people who love me for who I am and don’t think I’m crazy for wanting to be a humanitarian and live my life for others. Laurence is just as passionate about making the world a better place as I am, we may have different areas that interest us, but at the end of the day, she is one of few people who really understands me and respects my weird life decisions. For instance, while on the coast, she found some plastic bags and started collecting all the garbage she came across on the beach…truly one of a kind. So, of course, I too was sad that she was leaving, but I also knew that this was the start of the next part of my journey…SOLA!!

Ps. Laurence made a spanish goodbye rap for her host family and it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. Everyone laughed, awww’d and there may have been a few tears.

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Soooo…..this was just a quick update on what I’ve done while in Quito. Mainly for my family who I know is at home worrying about me as they always do. LOVE YOU GUYS….you’re probably also the only ones reading this so thanks 😉

Tomorrow I am heading to Ibarra where I did my internship last year…I’m feeling a mix of emotions, but I know that once I’m there it will be like I never left.

Paz y Amor xoxo
-E

Ecuadorian Coast–1 Year After the Earthquake

Considering I lived here for a year, you’d think that I’d have been to the coast at least once…well that was the plan, however, on April 16th, 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Ecuador (with the epicenter in the coast, however felt throughout the entire country). This unfortunately changed my plan of taking my family to the coast when they came to visit me in May.

It was an event I will never be able to forget. I still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing minutes, hours and seconds before it hit. I was still in Ibarra at my placement, meaning I was closer to the epicenter than if I had’ve been in Quito, where most of my friends were at the time. It was a Saturday, and I found myself out with my host family at their grandson/newphew’s birthday party…it was all fun and games, with clowns and piñatas. We left the party around 6:30pm and started walking towards the center, when my host sister began to beg that we go into the mall to look for dresses for her graduation which was coming up. We all agreed we’d go and have a quick look. I remember looking at dresses and pointing out ones I thought would look nice on her, when all of a sudden Nathaly and I both started wondering why the mannequins were shaking…a few seconds later the shaking got stronger, and everyone in the mall began to scream and crowds of panicked people ran towards the stairs. As soon as we reached the stairs and began to go down, there was what felt like a huge drop in the earth, and people began falling. It felt like I was on those stairs for hours, and by the time we got outside, things were still shaking, I remember looking at a light post and realizing that the trembling hadn’t stopped yet. Although an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude is extremely strong, what was worse was how long it lasted. The duration of this earthquake is what people say caused the most damage.

I was very lucky that I wasn’t any closer to the epicenter, however, it felt as if I were right there, that’s how strong it was. The power remained out for quite some time, and I remember getting internet and panicking to message my family to let them know I was alive before they heard about it back in Canada, just in case I didn’t have power or internet access for a while after.

Things like these really make you take a step back and give thanks to God. There were so many reasons I felt this way. One of them was the fact that two of my close friends had traveled to the coast a few days before and were extremely close to the epicenter, they had planned to stay until Sunday (earthquake happened Saturday), as far as I knew….however, someone was looking out for them because they decided to head back early in order to get some work done in Quito. This small decision changed their lives.

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Sooooo….sad stuff aside, I am back in Ecuador one year later, and it sounds like they have done a lot of construction in the coast in order to rebuild the lives of those who lost everything. There have been numerous aftershocks, there was one in Guayaquil just a few days ago (4.6 magnitude). But from what I have seen and heard, Ecuador is strong and united.

I decided that since one of my best friends, Laurence, was here in Ecuador until May 18th, that we would make our way to the coast together, to Puerto Lopez to be exact. Puerto Lopez was obviously hit hard by the earthquake, but it was one of the few small coastal towns that had little damage done, no deaths, and only a few collapsed buildings. However, our bus didn’t go directly to Puerto Lopez, rather we had to catch a second bus from Manta, one of the areas that was severely affected by the earthquake. Although I didn’t see much of Manta, just what I saw in passing, it was obvious that things were not the same. When I first got off the bus in Manta I was hit by reality and felt sad thinking about the fact that I would never get to know Manta pre-earthquake. Similarly, after talking with a friend we met at our hostel who was coming from Canoa, another beach town that was severely affected, I realized that although things are getting better in these areas, these people are still lacking enthusiasm and happiness after having lost so much. Our friend said that she enjoyed Canoa, but felt that the people there were still suffering from last years trauma. This is the complete opposite of what all my friends had said who visited before the earthquake. Canoa was one of their favourite places, with very friendly and happy people. It’s quite sad to think about, but very important that we don’t forget about our Ecuadorian friends in the coast. With this said, I do feel that there was one good thing that came out of such a terrible tragedy, that being great solidarity, not only on a global level in terms of rescue teams and volunteers, but more importantly within the country. One of the slogans that was used and still is to this day is, “Ecuador, Listo y Solidario” (“Ecuador, ready and united”).

On a much better note, Puerto Lopez was amazing. It is such a tranquil place, nobody is in a rush and life is good. The people truly follow my good pal Laurence’s favourite sayings, “don’t worry, be happy”. It was exactly what I needed.

On our first day, Laurence, Carol (Laurence’s host cousin/BFF) and I strolled along the beach with our feet in the ocean. On our walk we came across a turtle rehabilitation center with about 20 injured turtles. They were beautiful, but it was actually really sad to see this. We continued walking until we were overheating, and we decided to run into the ocean. It was this moment that changed my trip. I got out of the water with what seemed like a weird burn, which is definitely possible since my sunscreen would’ve washed off in the ocean. However later that night we met some locals on the beach who told me it was something called “mala agua” which are tiny jellyfish who stung me. The same thing happened to Carol. It was a very strange feeling. So I continued to walk around town looking like a freak and having everyone stare at my legs.

On our second day we went to La Isla de la Plata, which is an island just about an hour away from Puerto Lopez by boat. People refer to it as the Galapagos for the poor people, since it has a lot of the same wild life, but at a fraction of the cost. We hiked up the mountain, sweating our butts off in the scorching heat (reminding myself I’m clearly from Canada where there’s snow). This was an absolutely beautiful day, a great experience. We met people from all over the world, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, England and Italy.

As you can see in the pictures below, we saw Frigate birds, Blue footed boobies, turtles, and a ton of jellyfish while snorkeling (which unfortunately aren’t seen in any pictures).

Overall, the Ecuadorian coast is a stunning place to be, not only because of the beaches, but also because of the people, and the relaxed way of life. I had a great time with 2 great friends.

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Ecuador, listo y solidario

Paz y amor xoxo

-E

Colombia Tierra Querida

I haven’t written in a while due to school and the hectic lifestyle that brought, but now that I am officially done university, and am travelling again I figured it was about time to pick up where I left off.

I left for Bogota, Colombia about 15 days ago where I was meeting one of my best friends, Marcela to stay with her and her 2-year old son Santiago. I met Marcela about a year and a half ago while working in Ecuador. I really have no words to describe the friendship I have with her. Although I’ve known her for a short time, I think of her as a sister, and we both agree that it was some sort of destiny that we were supposed to meet at some point (as cheesy as that may sound). We have such a great connection, and she truly understands the way I think and see the world, which most people do not.

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I arrived to Bogota to Marcela, Jenifer and Santiago with this sign and flowers at the airport.

I spent 10 days in Colombia with them, which seemed to fly by since we packed so much into such few days. On my first full day in Bogota, we went to ‘El Santuario de Manserrate’ which is at the top of the main mountain in Bogota approximately 3152 meters above sea level. As you can probably imagine, it was an amazing view…one that makes you realize just how tiny you really are in the grand scheme of it all. I personally don’t think that the pictures do it justice, so if you’re reading this, add Monserrate to your list of places to travel to

Although Bogota is beautiful, I have to admit that Medellin was my favourite part. We took an overnight bus (9 hours) from Bogota to Medellin, which actually turned out to be a terrible experience since the bus ride was very curvy and the lady beside me got motion sick. She threw up the entire ride there, and I was probably the only one who couldn’t sleep through this since I have such a weak stomach, I thought I was going to be sick too…but it turned out to be worth it as Medellin was absolutely stunning.

On our second day in Medellin, we traveled to the most beautiful place ever called Guatape which was just about an hour outside of the city. I already decided that I’m going to buy a farm there because it is the most relaxing place with such great views.

In Guatape there is this huge rock, called la Piedra del Peñol, which is just under 1000 steps to climb, but once you get to the top you have the most unbelievable view. Within the town of Guatape, all of the houses and buildings are so colourful and inviting, another reason why I fell in love with this town.

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Although this country has suffered greatly from violence and internal conflict, I have to say it is definitely recovering and becoming one of the most modern countries in South America. It’s a wonderful country, and I truly believe that Colombian people are some of the most amazing and kind people I will ever have the chance to meet.

Que viva Colombia!!

Paz y amor
xoxo E

The Indescribable Journey

I started writing this post over a month ago, just as I was getting ready to leave Ecuador, the place I began to call home for the past year. I got sidetracked with all of the goodbyes and tears that were shed during this final week…so I am finally finishing the post knowing I will finally be able to do so without crying (hopefully)…Here it is:

Unfortunately I haven’t written much throughout the second half of my journey for a few reasons, mainly because I’ve been extremely busy with my placement, and taking advantage of every second I have here with these incredible people. So I plan on writing a post attempting to sum up my past few months.

BUT this isn’t an easy task…how does one write about something so indescribable?? I can share my stories with those who care to listen, but I will never be able to share the feelings I felt, or all the love, happiness, sadness, and heartbreak that came from this job, but i’ll do my best.

I’ve spent the past 5 months working in the area of humanitarian assistance with migrants, mainly Colombian refugees who have been through some horrific and heartbreaking stories. I don’t feel that it’s appropriate to share these stories on something so public, so I will just say that I have met some of the most inspiring people who have been to Hell and back. I have once again been reminded to be thankful that I was born in Canada, however, it also reminded me of exactly why I don’t belong in Canada.

Sadly, most of the world is unaware of what has been going on in Colombia, they all know it as a country full of drugs and crime, they assume everyone is ‘dangerous’…but that is far from true. Colombians are some of the happiest, joyful, sweet and giving people that I have ever come across.The people I worked with were innocent victims of a corrupt situation, people who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. There has been a violent conflict ongoing in Colombia for over 50 years, leading to guerrilla warfare, a lot of violence and death of innocent civilians. Because of this conflict, there are thousands of Colombians each year who become either displaced within their own country or become refugees. Ecuador, a neighbouring country tends to become the new home to thousands of Colombian refugees each year.

The things we see as “suffering” back home seems so insignificant to me now. Don’t get me wrong, breaking up with your boyfriend/girlfriend is quite heartbreaking, and not being able to buy that new iPhone you want because your parents wont give you the money definitely sucks, but these are things we can and should get over, things we should learn from and move on. In my mind these things are like paper cuts, something that hurts in the moment, but will heal and the pain will stop eventually.  I’m not trying to sound like a snob or a know-it-all, but after spending these past few months with people who have had to flee their country due to death threats or the death of loved ones, these things just no longer seem so difficult. We all have the right to be upset, to complain and to cry, but I now know that my complaints will no longer last more than a few hours. I have not been forced to leave my country due to violence and internal conflict, and I have not been forced to re-start my life with nothing in a place where I am discriminated against because of my nationality…I think the only complaints I will have for the next year will surround the fact that I will miss my friends here and that I wish I could still be here working for what I think is a very important and incredible cause…but yes mom and dad, I agree that my education is important and that’s exactly why I’m returning.

I have been tested in every way possible, but emotionally more than anything. The stories I’ve heard have broken my heart, and not crying in front of them was not easy…I spent a few nights alone in my room crying for the pain and injustice these people have faced. From these experiences working with the social worker and hearing these stories, I learned something extremely important. That “something” being that everybody is struggling with something, we all have our difficulties and barriers that sometimes seem too high to get over, and every problem should be recognized, whether it be depression, anxiety, bullying etc. However, I’ve noticed that it tends to be the people who are suffering the most that never complain, never say anything. For example, when asking people how their situation was they would say something along the lines of, “oh it’s okay, we are surviving”, or ” the most important thing is that we are alive”…and when we’d later go for a house visit to see what they need, they’d have absolutely nothing. Some families didn’t have electricity or water and were sleeping on the floor and living in slums, however they didn’t feel that they should tell us how much they were truly struggling.  And on the other hand there were some people who were doing just fine, with all the necessities, yet all they did was talk about how we need to buy them this, that and the other. I couldn’t help but continually remind myself of many people back home who don’t understand and will probably never recognize how blessed they are, people who will never realize that their complaints could actually be considered as blessings in the eyes of others. Of course, I too am guilty of this.

One of my favourite things about the organization I work with is that they are so welcoming and supportive of the people that come in looking for help. The goal is to make them feel safe and at home, and numerous people have told me that this organization is unlike any other because we go out of our way to give love to those who need it, we don’t treat them like they are below us, instead we treat them exactly how we would want to be treated if we were in the same vulnerable situation.

I will never be able to forget these people, especially the youth that I worked so closely with. People who have changed my life, touched my heart and taught me the most important lessons I have ever learned. I’ve learned more here in Ecuador than I ever could have learned during my past 16 years spent in classrooms. As cliche as this all sounds…they are the only words I have that come close enough to expressing my feelings.

I know I will struggle upon my return to Canada, and I have no idea how I will answer all the questions I will receive about my “trip”, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t think it’s possible to put my experience into words…it truly was something I did for myself and I have accepted that nobody will ever understand. I lived through this journey on my own, and am grateful to have grown as a person, learned from so many diverse people, and to have had the reassurance that I am in the correct field. As heartbroken as I am to be leaving, I am leaving completely inspired to go on and finish my studies in hopes of one day returning to continue with the work that made me fall even more in love with the idea of becoming a social worker. I know I will be going home to feelings of sadness, nostalgia and worry due to the fact that I will have little contact with these people. But all I can do is pray for their safety and protection, pray that they keep finding the strength to continue, even during the days that seem so very hopeless.

The sadness I feel is also indescribable. I have never in my life felt as loved as I do here. My time here has revolved around one thing: LOVE. The giving and receiving of love. It makes me feel uneasy knowing that I will be leaving this community of people who may not have everything they desire, but who have more than enough love to give.
Sadness, because I have made some of the truest and most genuine friendships here, so very different than the ones I have at home, and now I have to leave, not knowing when I’ll see them again. Although I know that I am loved at home, and there are many people that I love too, there is something different about it, which once again I cannot explain because I can’t even pinpoint it myself.

“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11

Colombia por la paz

Paz y amor

xoxo -E

What am I doing here?

  
Many people continue to ask me what it is that I’m doing here, and I’ve struggled to give an answer that would do it justice. Here’s my attempt…I may be here working in the area of humanitarian aid but the truth is, no amount of money or psychological help can compare to the ways in which these people have changed me. Victims of violence, kids without families…I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most inspiring people, young and old. People always thank me or tell me that what I’m doing is admirable…I disagree, what I’m doing is not admirable…the people I work with here are the definition of admirable. Fleeing from violence and threats, the death of loved ones, and coming to a new country to completely start over with no jobs, no friends and the constant fear of being found. 

Things I’ve Learned…

I know to some, it may seem like I am living the dream, living with no worries, no problems, especially when I’m living amongst many people who struggle to put food on the table everyday…people who see me as the privileged gringa from Canada whose never had to work for anything (which is completely opposite of the truth incase you’re wondering). My journey has been far from easy, but I’ve learned this year that I do not have the right to complain like I used to…everyone faces hardships, heartbreaks, deaths etc., but its easy to forget to be thankful for the people that are there for you during those rough times. These past 6 months have included some of the biggest learning lessons I have ever experienced. To say the least, I’ve learned to be appreciative, to be sympathetic and compassionate, and more than anything, I have learned to be a better listener, to show that I care about people’s stories and lives, I’ve learned to show people that they are important, respected and cared for.

Something I have had a hard time with is the way am viewed due to my nationality and my skin colour. I’ve never thought much about my skin tone, I’ve never thought that it makes me different from anyone else, and I still believe that our race has nothing to do with the type of people we might be. People have treated me as if I am an authoritative figure, someone who has power and is above others because of my skin colour and because of where I’m from. It’s also difficult to be seen as someone who has everything handed to them, because I am far from rich, I work very hard to be where I am…but at the same time I understand why people here might think this way, especially the refugees I am working with on the daily. For instance, I have a house, I have food to eat everyday, I have the opportunity to go to school, and I have an amazing family, and they are alive and safe from violence and threats… when I think of it this way, I agree with them, I am very well off. However, I don’t agree that I should be treated with more respect than others. The past few months, I found myself upset when I was referred to as a “gringa”, or when I was asked where I’m from and if I can bring them to Canada one day. But it has dawned on me that just because I don’t see myself this way, doesn’t mean its wrong for these people to…I do live a very happy, protected life, I have an amazing family that supports me etc., however I do work very hard to accomplish these things. I guess what I am trying to say here is that when I put my life into perspective, I am reminded once again how blessed and lucky I am to have the opportunity to live this life the way I am living it; but at the same time I struggle to separate the people who truly want to be my friend, and the people who see me as someone with money.

I’ve learned that those who don’t have much to offer tend to be the first ones to offer you whatever it is that they do have, no matter how small. I’ve gone on house visits with our social worker, to see how a family is living and what they are in desperate need of, in order to see if we are able to provide them this type of aid. I had one experience that has stuck with me, and will probably stay with me forever. This family’s “house” was a single room, they slept on the cold cement floor, they are struggling to feed themselves (2 parents and 4 kids), and yet they were offering to make us juice, they kept apologizing that they didn’t have anywhere for us to sit etc. In this moment, I was so taken aback by their living conditions that the last thing I was thinking about was sitting down or being offered juice.

I’ve learned that kids are the most accepting. They have yet to be corrupt by the world. They appreciate everyone for who they truly are. I’ve met so many amazing young people here who truly understand the meaning of respect. Unlike, the majority of adults who tend to judge and discriminate. Speaking of discrimination, it’s unfortunately a huge problem here. Since I am working with Colombian refugees, I hear about the discrimination on the daily, it’s cruel, hateful and unlike anything I’ve heard before. The stories I hear are so very heartbreaking. But one thing is for sure, discrimination is also something we “learn”, it’s taught. We aren’t born disliking a certain race, we grow up being told why we shouldn’t like “x” type of person. I’ve seen 3 year old  kids excluded from games because parents have told their children that they shouldn’t play with the Colombian child. It’s sickening. However, if it were up to the children, they’d be playing with whoever was around, whether they’re Ecuadorian or Colombian. I have hope for our future generations, it’s the young people who are the most understanding and accepting.


 More than anything, I have learned to be strong. If there is anything that I will be taking away from the amazing people that I have met here, it’s how to be strong and fight for your dreams. The people I work with everyday give me the strength to be a better person, and to work hard to get to where I want to be. I’ve learned that nobody has an easy life, we are all suffering or fighting something in one way or another, however, it’s our decision on how we deal with these things. We can give up and feel bad for ourselves…or we can choose to fight everyday for ourselves and our loved ones, just like the people I have the opportunity to work with everyday.


On a less serious note…I’ve learned that 1 hour actually means 5, it’s “Ecuadorian time”, and they all admit to it. I’ve learned that Ecuadorians, and Colombians, are so open and generous to people they don’t even know. No matter where I’ve gone, I’ve been treated like family, and welcomed into the houses of people I just met. I’ve also learned that as soon as people find out I speak english they immediately ask me to sing a certain song in english, and then they later ask me to translate the entire song (Hello by Adele was a common one for a while). This happens way more than you’d think.

Along with all of this, I’ve learned that this is what I want to do with my life. When I have a day off, I can’t wait to go to work the next day…this is true love.

Overall, I’ve learned that time truly does fly when you are doing something you love. I am already halfway through my 6th month here in Ecuador, and I get emotional thinking about the fact that I eventually have to leave. I owe so much to the people I’ve met along my journey here, and I know that I will be going home a completely different person.

Paz y amor xoxo
-E

English is hard….

I realize I haven’t written for quite awhile…I’m sorry to all my loyal followers (all 2 of you) AKA my mom and my cousin who encouraged me to write this blog….However, I am finally finished the hell that was exams and final essays, so I hope to write a little bit about the past 2 months or so.

I thought I’d start with some of the humorous things I’ve seen on my travels…all being very poor spanish-english translations.

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This first picture is from a restaurant that Juan and I ate at… even he found this hilarious with the little english he knows. Empanadas are by far one of my favourite foods here, however when translated as a “windy pasty”, “green plantain pasty” or “corn pasty”, I can’t say it sounds super appealing, but at least they tried right??

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This one’s great… found on a bus to Mindo by one of my friends. The proper translation should be something along the lines of “To all users (passengers) please take care of all your valuable belongings”…don’t worry all my ‘valve things’ have been fine!!

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Another good one, warning you to take care of your belongings at a bus terminal. I can’t help but laugh…but how kind of them for the warning! Some of my friends have  actually had their “somethings” stolen, so there’s at least some value in the sign.

 

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This is another menu I came across while eating out with my Ecuadorian family. It kinda makes sense, I’ll give them that:
-Pan= bread
-Agua= Water
…not sure where “down” came from or why water is plural
-Vino= wine….BUT it is also the past tense for he/she/it came
…It just boggles my mind that they don’t try to make sure that it makes sense before printing the menu?????

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This is actually an older picture but I had to add it in because it’s just so humorous. Good advertising strategy, no?? ‘COME BUY OUR STUFF WE WILL ONLY RIP YOU OFF A LITTLE…NOT A LOT’.

Thanks for reading!!! Hope to make a few updates in the next week or so 🙂

Paz y amor,

xoxo -E

El Mejor Regalo

Warning, this post is going to start off super sappy but I have so much to be thankful for right now. Each day I miss my beautiful, caring, incredible Canadian family back home more and more, but the distance doesn’t make me love them any less. What helps is that I have added an absolutely amazing mother and brother to the family I already have. My Ecuadorian family is one of the most blessed additions to my list of loved ones. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I do know that my experience would not be as wonderful as it has been thus far if it weren’t for Sonia and Juan.

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Having tea in Centro Histórico with my Ecuadorian mother

This past week I was extremely ill with some sort of stomach virus that I picked up while visiting the cloud forest in Mindo, and my mother did everything in her power to make me feel better. Usually the only thing I want when I’m sick is my (real) mom. But Sonia did so much for me, and took the absolute best care of me, which made me feel a little less homesick while spending my days vomiting… I starting throwing up Sunday night, and had an essay due Wednesday and a written and oral spanish exam on Thursday. So you could say I was a little stressed out while having no energy to study or form proper sentences. Everyday Sonia made sure to remind me that she believed in me and that I would do just fine even if I didn’t study (good joke). I’ve learned one really important thing by being included in this wonderful family, and that is that being genetically related to someone doesn’t make you family. It’s the love, support, encouragement, sacrifice, respect, and acceptance of one another that makes you “family”. And for this, I truly feel as though I am Sonia’s “hijita” and Juan’s “hermanita”. They have gone out of their way to show me love and I truly love them just the same as I love my genetic family. This is such a gift and I will forever be grateful for them.

Not only does my family take such good care of me and love me, but they have also shown such love to my friends within the program. For example, there was 3 of us who ended up with the same illness after coming back from Mindo, and both my mother and brother have asked me how each of them were every single day. Every lunch, when we pray, my mother always has the most beautiful words, asking God to bless me, each of my friends in the program, and my family back at home. Their love is so sincere and it’s very refreshing.

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Sonia and I in Centro Histórico, or Old Quito.

Yesterday Juan took a few of my friends and I to Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World), aka the Ecuadorian Equator. It’s funny because there are actually two Mitad del Mundo’s however most people only know about the one with the huge monument…the reason there are two is because, in classic South American style, they created the first one where they thought the equator was, and then years later (20 years ago), they discovered that that wasn’t the exact spot. It turns out that the real “GPS Equator” was located just a little bit further than where they created the huge tourist attraction monument. So, Juan took us to both, “el falso” as Claire referred to it, and “el real”. We took the classic “I’m a tourist” pictures and then had lunch and watched some Ecuadorian Folklore dancers do their thing, it was unreal. There is such a great sense of culture in this country which I love. It is such a diverse and beautiful country, and that’s in terms of landscapes AND people.

Juan y yo en la Mitad del Mundo



After Mitad del Mundo, my brother and some of his friends took me to la plaza foch, which i’ve been meaning to go to for so long now. I experienced my first “pizza cone” which was awesome. By the end of the night we ended up at a kareoke bar, where they forced me to sing spanish kareoke, which was probably the worst thing ever, and I’m sure that half of the bar’s ears were bleeding. But it makes for a great story, and i appreciated their encouragement. For my family who may or may not be reading this, I’ll ensure you that I was in great hands, my brother is super protective of me, it’s kinda funny. He holds my arm everywhere that we go, and kept going out of his way to make sure I was having fun and feeling comfortable. We get along so well, and he has the same strange sense of humor as I do 🙂 I am planning on teaching him how to skate this weekend!

 

attempting to walk in a straight line along the equator is kinda impossible

 
Side note, I have come to more of a conclusion in terms of what I want to do for my volunteer placement next semester. I am about 98% sure that I will be working with Colombian refugees affected by the armed conflict. This is actually a really cool placement because I would have the opportunity to live with a refugee family and experience the day-to-day life of a Colombian refugee. I am supposed to go visit the organization this coming Monday! More to come on this topic.

Gracias por leer,

xoxo E