I can confidently say that in the last 2 months Ecuador has thrown me the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Cross-country travels and days on end sitting in my cold room in the Andes. Here’s one account of the highest of highs.
We finished up our TOEFL workshops in mid-July for the teachers in our province. Through the hours of preparation, frustration, and hard work, I realized its the happiest and most productive I’ve felt since arriving in January. We accomplished real things on a large scale, a nice sense of accomplishment after the few months of school where my plan was to lay low and try to understand the sometimes frustrating process of getting things done. After meeting in Latacunga, the provincial capital, for 3 weeks and having the teachers drive in to meet us from around the province, we went to La Maná to give a 2-day crash course to the teachers there. It was that stereotypical image a lot of people seem to have, 4 Peace Corps Volunteers crammed into the back seat of a Ministry of Education truck with a driver and our fearless Ministry English Coordinator in the front seat. It was 5am and we huddled to stay warm as we headed 3 hours down the windy Andes mountain roads to the semi-isolated coastal town. Although still technically 3-4 hours from the water, La Maná enjoys the coastal heat and humidity without the luxury of a beach. Needless to say, I felt like I had just gotten off an airplane because of the change in elevation and that I might literally melt into a pile because of the humidity. We made our way to the local high school and set up shop with about 30 teachers.
It was interesting to feel the change between La Maná and what we’re used to up in the Sierra. Stifling humidity, crowded classrooms, and palm trees come to mind. Tricimotos, basically a tri-cycle moto taxi, abound and people ride to work on their own personal motos. Its not hard to understand the difficulties in getting what’s necessary where they are, 3 hours down the mountains from the provincial capital where decisions are made and resources are distributed. Not surprisingly, the English teachers in the area suffer from a lack of resources, not only materials but much more importantly, the human resources. It did require more effort for us to get organized and go there but it was nice to feel like we were bringing something needed, capacity building and interaction with English speakers to a place that seems to be overlooked in some ways.
The people there were typical of what you’d expect on the coast, open, generous, and much more relaxed than what we’re used to up in the mountains. Despite their lacking English confidence, they couldn’t have been more welcoming and excited to have us there. Something I’ve learned working in TEFL is that although people can’t always express their appreciation in words, you can feel it in other ways. Often the quietest people are those who are impacted the most.
I tried my best to express my appreciation to them for hosting us in Spanish, after all learning a foreign language is hard no matter where you are or what you have.