The reality of my life is finally starting to sink in. Although, I still have moments like today, driving up a bumpy mountain road in the backseat of my host parents’ car with views of terraced crops on mountainsides miles and miles from anything when I still just can’t believe that I’m here and this is my life.
This past week, our group of 37 trainees were split into 4 groups for tech trips. I went with about 9 other TEFLeros to the province of Imbabura about 2 1/2 hours north of Quito. The purpose of the tech trip was to visit colegios, work with the teachers, co-plan and teach a lesson, and generally get a sense of what we’ll actually be doing once we’re left to sink or swim. Along with all the excitement and overwhelming-ness of this, we had some unforgettable experiences discovering the diversity of cultures in Ecuador.
We stayed in Ibarra, a decent sized city settled in the Andes. We spent about 3 of the 5 days in a colegio there. I worked with 2 different English teachers in a 10th grade class and 11th grade class. Our role as TEFL volunteers is to collaborate with the English teachers to enrich their lessons with activities and outside materials. The entire country of Ecuador uses the same Ministry of Education issued English textbook and the teachers are known for following it EXACTLY. This means you could go to any number of random colegios in any part of Ecuador on a given day and they would be doing pretty much the same thing in their English classes. One of the teachers Meg & I worked with, Manuel, was fantastic. He was very open to working with us and excited for his students to have us in his class. The other teacher I worked with, Flor Maria, was a bit more challenging. She’s probably more like the teachers I’ll be working with once I’m in my school.
Besides being thrown into classrooms and teaching, we did a lot of “cultural” stuff. We went to an Otavalo women’s coop where we each received blessings from the old Otavaleña as she threw flower petals and water on our heads. We watched a little old lady clean wool and spin yarn, she was about 4 ft tall and only spoke Kichwa. The Otavaleños are an indigenous group who have a rich culture and language that they’ve managed to keep alive despite the Spanish influence.
We also went to Valle de Chota, famous for the soccer stars who came from its humble beginnings and have found international fame. The community is mostly Afro-Ecuadorian and they have vibrant traditions they were excited to share with the visiting gringos. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place where the poverty was so evident but the people so welcoming. Valle de Chota is nestled high in the arid mountains, its dry and dusty. Kids run through the streets barefoot and it felt and looked like it could be Africa. Our visit to the local colegio was the event of the day for the community of just a few hundred people. The kids put on a dance exhibition for us at the cultural center in town. Those kids GOT DOWN! I’m pretty sure the whole town was there.
- On one of our many bus rides during the week, we witnessed 2 illegal Colombian immigrants get arrested. I was sitting with my friend in the very back of the bus (FYI: these are the most dangerous seats) when a policeman came towards us and asked the 2 guys sitting next to my friend for their documents. I had a minor freakout because I didn’t understand why they were asking for documents and I definitely didn’t have my little Peace Corps ID. Needless to say, the 2 guys got dragged off the bus and into the back of the Police pickup truck.
- On Friday, Manuel’s English class presented their business plans…complete with sample products, a budget, and marketing plan. One group presented “Crazy Cocktails…With or Without Alcohol.” Needless to say, their sample product was whiskey and orange pop with a lime garnish. That’s right, Manuel, Meg, & I sipped on whiskey while these girls presented their projects to us. Only in Ecuador.
- Manuel, our lovable English teacher, is also an author. At our little goodbye cake party, he presented Meg and I with copies of his book “El Amor no Tiene Color” translation: Love Doesn’t Have a Color. Its a love story between an Afro-Ecuadorian and a Finnish girl. I think the Spanish is above my level but it looks pretty racy.
- We went to the famous market in Otavalo. All the souvenirs you could ever want from Ecuador were there and then some. Most of the goods are hand-crafted and range from scarves to jewelry to ponchos to tapestries. You all have some pretty fab souvenirs to look forward to.
- Outside Valle de Chota, we went to a local artisan cooperative where they make traditional Afro-Ecuadorian ceramics and dresses. The lady who talked to us was AMAZING. Very humble in every way but you can tell she has accomplished so much in her community. She has organized the local women and given them a creative outlet in a community stricken with hardships. They sell their crafts all over Ecuador and make the costumes for Afro-Ecuadorian cultural events in Ecuador. I would love love love to work with someone like her for my secondary project.