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

Mindo Cloud Forest

Last weekend a few friends and I took a trip to the Cloud Forest in Mindo. Let me start by saying that Mindo has a population of less than 3000 people. It was the best get away, the people in Mindo are so friendly, the air is cleaner and fresher, everywhere you look is lush green…a well needed break from the busy city of Quito. A lot about Mindo reminded me of Rancho Arriba, DR, one of my absolute favourite places, and I felt so at home, I was actually really sad that I had to return to Quito for classes. IMG_0879 IMG_0657 (1)

I loved everything about Mindo, including the fact that we never connected to wifi, and we truly took in our surroundings.


Saturday we went zip lining, which was a great test of fears for me. We all know I’m terrified of heights…but surprisingly my fear diminished the further along we got 🙂


After zip lining we decided we would walk back to town for lunch, however we stumbled upon this hidden, hand-made suspension bridge…which we probably shouldn’t have crossed, but thank God we did because we stumbled upon the most amazing little sanctuary.

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It was an empty hostel, and we ended up asking the owner if we could eat lunch there because it had the most unbelievable view. So I guess “trespassing” was beneficial in the end. I already know that this is the hostel I want to take my family to when they come and visit. It’s right in the clouds, and there is so much wild life evident there.

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After this adventure, we went on a hike to the cascadas, or waterfalls. It started raining on us, unfortunately for me because I am extremely clumsy…I ended up falling and sliding a good few meters in the mud, only to be stopped by a tree. This picture is an accurate depiction of how hard we laughed about this (note Claire on the ground behind me laughing…)

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Other than these clumsy Emily moment’s, it was a great hike, and it took us to a beautiful waterfall where we were able to jump into the rapids below, it was pretty awesome. There was also a big slide we could go down into the water…the problem is that this slide was so fast, you couldn’t brake enough to slow yourself down enough before the plummet at the bottom. The second thing is that it’s dry season right now so the water is not as high as it would be in the winter, which made this drop a lot more extreme than it’s meant to be. Combine the speed and the drop and you’ll understand the pain I felt while landing on my back, like a reverse belly-flop. However, i would still do it again!!

Later that night, we went out dancing with some of the friends we made that day. This is pretty much the only discoteca in Mindo, and it consisted of a few Germans, us Canadians and pretty much the entire Mindo zip line team LOL…

Sunday we went “canyoning” or repelling down waterfalls. This was a pretty cool experience.

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First we had to cross a river on a rope bridge (as seen in the first pic below), the bridge shook so much as I was crossing, probably because I was terrified… Once we crossed the river we had to hike up to the top of three waterfalls before repelling down them. And yes, I did cut myself multiple times on the way down. Once again, I conquered my fear of heights and it was totally worth the fear.

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So far, Mindo has been one of the best experiences here in Ecuador thus far, I am already looking forward to going back.

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This is the hostel we stayed at, only $10 a night.

Que lindo es Mindo!!!!

-E

a Country on fire

I apologize in advance for being a horrible blogger, this post will consist of many random things, but I figured I’d write whatever I could while I have a decent internet connection!

Right now Ecuador is experiencing dry season, I’ve been here for about three weeks now, and have still not seen rain. This means that the country is not in any shortage of forest fires. This past tuesday, while walking back from the bank machine with Charlotte, we found ourselves walking into the biggest cloud of smoke, which was quick to spread across the entire city. The power went out, everyone around us had stopped what they were doing to stare at this incendio (forest fire) that was completely out of control. Breathing was difficult, and the closer we got to the university, the more we found ourselves in a cloud of smoke. Charlotte and I were convinced that Cotopaxi had erupted.

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Speaking of Volcan Cotopaxi, which is currently in “eruptive process”, and is expected to erupt any time before December (at its greatest force)…we find ourselves in preparation for the worst. Cotopaxi is one of the world’s highest, and most dangerous active volcanoes right now. Over the past month, those in Latacunga have been in a state of emergency, as Cotopaxi continues to spew ash, causing dangerous living conditions. People have been evacuating their homes and trying to find safety before this expected eruption. As much as the ash will affect us, we are most concerned about the resulting “Lahars” or mud flows caused by melted ice caps, which are extremely destructive, and have the potential to take out everything in its path. Lahars will have the worst affect on those living in the valleys nearest to Cotopaxi, as well as those living closest to the paths of rivers. I am currently living in Quito, which is NOT considered a great risk in terms of the Lahar zones, my biggest concern is based on the ash that will contaminate the city, and most likely compromise our water supply. Right now we are preparing by stocking up on water and non-perishable foods, as the Canadian embassy told us to expect to have to stay inside for approximately two weeks…and not to expect any grocery stores to have their shelves stocked when we need it. Right now I am slowly stocking up on litres of water and different snacks that I am storing in my closest. None of the Ecuadorians that I talk to about this seem too concerned, so I am trying to stay calm. My Ecuadorian mother always has the same response, “God is good, I trust in him”. And I believe in this.

On a slightly less terrifying note, here I am, just about 3 weeks into my 8-9 month journey and I am finally starting to feel like a local! Taking the city buses to and from school, getting groceries at the ever-so-wonderful “Supermaxi”, and actually knowing the streets I am walking through. Aside from the creepy guys who cat-call, I feel like I’m fitting in okay in such a foreign setting.

Pretty much all buses, taxis and cars are manual, which makes for a pretty aggressive ride, especially when packed into a bus with dozens of people surrounding you. Something that I still find very different is that buses and other vehicles don’t care about pedestrians…and i’m not exaggerating. The girls that I bus to school with always say that crossing the EXTREMELY busy street to get to the university is like risking your life on the daily.

On top of this…other cars and buses don’t move even when there are police or ambulances with their sirens and lights on, clearly in an emergency. Life is definitely more relaxed here, but you’d hope that there’d be some sort of urgency in terms of emergencies…but when in Ecuador, do as the Ecuadorians do, am I right? I am already used to living on “Ecuadorian time”, for example, when my Ecuadorian mother says 30 minutes, it usually means 2-3 hours. It’s actually kinda refreshing to live at your own pace, asi es la vida 🙂

Hope this post wasn’t too depressing or scary.

xoxo
-E

Ecuadorian Blessings

I’ve only been living with my Ecuadorian Family for about 4 days now, but i feel like I’ve know this Family forever. I cannot express how lucky I feel to have been placed in such a welcoming and accepting family. My mother keeps saying how happy she feels having a daughter in her house. And my brother, Juan always goes out of his way to make me laugh, and to make sure I feel comfortable and happy. It’s cool because I always juanted a brother! They are truly amazing people. I keep questioning how it’s possible that they are real people because they’re hearts are made of pure gold.

My mother prays before each meal for my Canadian family and friends as well as for the people she knows who are suffering. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve gotten to take part in. 

The way that my host brother treats his mother is so refreshing. He is always thanking her, hugging her, and he holds her hand and helps her whenever we are walking anywhere. It’s not often that you see a 25 year old man show such love, affection and gratitude toward his mother in this way. It’s definitely much different from what is normal at home, and I love being a part of it. They always welcome me with hugs and kisses and I already feel like I belong here. 

My mother is super small and my brother and I tower over her. She told us that she is grateful to have been born in Ecuador because it’s tiny yet beautiful…just like her (lol). But I can’t argue with her on that because she does have the most beautiful soul hidden within her tiny frame. And just like her, Ecuador is very small, but it has so much to offer and so much beauty hidden within its borders.

For those of you who know me well, you’re probably making bets on how long it will take before I get sick…let me just assure you that it’s already happened. I ended up pretty ill on Friday night, and moved in with my family on Saturday morning…definitely not ideal, but I survived and am thankful for all the meds I brought as precaution because I’m feeling much better now. BUT, if I wasn’t sick already my name wouldn’t be Emily Neil (aka Queen of getting weird illnesses). 

My host mother told me she would take me to a hospital for sick children, where she has done a lot of social work cases. She said I can go to play with the kids, read to them etc. She has a lot of awesome connections to different people here in Ecuador thanks to her career as a social worker. I’m so lucky to be living with someone who has so much knowledge on the social, economic and political problems within Ecuador. She has taught me a lot already, including certain words in the indigenous language “kitchwa”…it’s definitely not an easy language to learn, especially learning it in Spanish. She learned most of this while working with marginalized indigenous groups (qué chévere!). You could say she’s my idol.

On another note, the food is delicious (even when I have no idea what I’m eating). I have also had a different kind of fresh juice every day since I’ve been here. 

The first night that I was here (while sick) they took me to a family function where I met so many cousins and grandmas, it was a little overwhelming but nice. Once again I was welcomed with open arms. They also fed me so much and made fun of me for not being able to eat like an Ecuadorian. I wish I had felt better because they served the most amazing Humitas de choclo, which is a rather typical ecuadorian dish, made with steamed maize. 

Here we eat larger meals for breakfast and lunch, and only something small for dinner like coffee and bread, or soup.  So, dinner tends to revolve around eating and watching “Betty la fea”, colombia’s version of ugly Betty. I can’t get over how absorbed they get into the show, I personally find that funnier than watching the actual show. Along with this we’ve also watched “full house” in Spanish, which is one of my all time favourites.

So much has happened, but I’ll save the rest for another day.

Gracias por leer!

 

Full chévere

I have officially moved in with my Ecuadorian family. I have a brother who is 25, kinda cool because I always wanted a brother. Another cool thing is that he is kinda like the male version of my actual sister back home. He just graduated university to become a lawyer, just as my sister aims to do. He is very polite and so caring. I just talked with him for about an hour about how we feel about injustice and human rights, it was very “full chévere” (some slang he taught me…and yes ‘full’ is used the same way as in English, they just use it to describe everything…full of cool). I would say my family is very full chévere. And my ecuadorian mother is such a beautiful lady, so full of love and kindness. She is a retired social worker who spent her time working with different indigenous peoples, abused women and spent most of time dealing with poverty. She gave me some great books (although they’re in Spanish) about the struggles that indigenous groups have faced here in Ecuador. She already refers to me as her “hijita” or little daughter. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to get to know them better. They have such knowledge on all the topics I’m interested in focusing on in terms of my placement later on in the year. 

Their hospitality and the love they’ve shown me makes me miss my real family, but I’m also so very grateful to be accepted as part of an Ecuadorian family. 

Love you all, I’ll keep you posted as my experiences continue. 

Xoxo

full chévere E

Beginning my Life in Quito

I have now officially been living in Quito for 3 days, but it already feels like 3 weeks. After waiting at the Ecuadorian Immigration office for quite some time, I am now considered a “temporary immigrant” and NOT a tourist (how exciting!). It’s going to take some getting used to in the sense that things don’t go as smoothly or quickly as we are used to in Canada…actually I learned that the hard way in Toronto while applying for my Ecuadorian visa, but that’s a whole other story.

Today I got a little Ecuadorian phone, which i can only make calls and send texts with, this means no internet, and no data, which is super refreshing and I am actually thrilled about this. I want to be completely absorbed in the people and culture that surrounds me, not super absorbed in my cellphone, like at home. After getting the phones, we headed to the Canadian embassy, where we were given info on how to stay safe, what to do and not to do etc….as well as information about Cotopaxi Volcano which recently erupted (I actually have the most beautiful view of this volcano from my room this week). They freaked us out a little, giving us info on emergency evacuation plans/preparation for another eruption which is expected to be of greater force. If you’re freaking out reading this, imagine how I felt while sitting there listening to this lady so calmly talk about it. BUT, don’t worry, this is just to give us the worst case scenario, and to have us prepared for the absolute worst…and the area I am staying in Quito is not significantly close to Cotopaxi, the worst that would affect us here would be the ash, and we all have “emergency kits” which include a breathing mask etc.

This week I have some decent internet while staying in la Universidad, but I don’t know what my internet situation will be like come this Saturday when I move in with my Ecuadorian family, so I promised myself I would try to complete at least one post to update my friends and family on my time here so far. In terms of my host family, I have been told that my mother is a recently retired social worker, which sounds like the type of person I would love to get to know, and I already have a million questions in my mind ready to ask her. This news excited me most because I plan on doing my placement during the last 4 months of my time here working on a Human Rights assignment based around the injustices faced by many Ecuadorians on the daily, and I feel that an Ecuadorian social worker would be able to give me some great insights into what problems Ecuadorians, and especially women, seem to face on the daily etc. I was also told that she has one son, whose age I’m not sure of just yet, and she is a single mother who is very active in her community. This definitely settled my nerves a whole lot. But this is all still up in the air and I wont know for sure until this Saturday when I meet and move in with them. ALSO…for those of you who know me personally, you might find comfort in the fact that this family lives extremely close to one of the best hospitals in Quito (that means you mom!!!)

It’s still so unbelievable to me that this beautiful country will be my home for the next 8 months. I can’t wait to make more Ecuadorian friends, expand my knowledge on development/underdevelopment, improve my spanish skills, and most importantly, after my first 4 months, find myself working in a placement that I feel passionately about. As of now I am extremely interested in the injustice faced by many Ecuadorians due to the corruption caused by North American mining projects…however, this might be a hard position to be in, as a Canadian, I am afraid that I will be viewed as just another north american trying to exploit them…it may be difficult to build rapport with a community who has faced such hardships do to “our” selfish desire to extract their resources. (Note, I am using the term “our” very loosely, as I definitely realize we are not all to blame, however, we tend to be viewed as one, please don’t take offence to this, its only my point of view). Along with this topic, I would love to work with an indigenous group, abused women, or Afro-Ecuadorian refugees. There are too many things that I am intrigued by to be deciding now, so these are just some of my ideas.

I think the hardest thing will be when people ask me how my “trip” is/ was, and I say this because I don’t view this as a “trip”, this will be my life for most of the next year. I am not here for vacation, or to do all the touristy things (which is obviously nice too), but I am here to create a relationship with my Ecuadorian family, to hopefully find myself fluent in spanish, and to have an opportunity to find myself working first hand in a development placement where I can hopefully find what I am most passionate about, and what I would like to focus on in international development after this experience. Right now I have so many things that I care about so deeply and I hope to find that specific thing that I can focus on in my future within international development.

I could not be more thrilled with the group I am here with, it is so refreshing to get to know people who have the same goals and dreams as I do. They see the world in a similar way, and this has always been something I found difficult in the past. I can already tell that these girls are going to be lifetime friends, people I will never forget.

Tomorrow we are meeting our professors and talking about the curriculum aspect of this program, which surprisingly enough, I am actually very excited for. Many of these professors have such great experience in this field, and hold such knowledge about international development, and Ecuador’s situation in all of this, and because of this I am happy to start learning.

That’s all for now folks, I can’t guarantee the next time I’ll be able to post, however, I will be trying my best to keep a journal so when I get a chance I can update all of you at home.

XOXO
-E