The Setting: 45th Anniversary Celebration of Colegio Nacional Saquisilí; Saquisilí, Cotopaxi, Ecuador (population: 10,000 but-feels-like-1,000-because-everyone-lives-in-the-campo people)
Key Players: Dr. Edgar Espinosa, Rector (Principal); Lic. Aníbal Yánez, Vicerector (Vice-Principal); Mayor of Saquisilí; Saquisilí Chief of Police, about 50 teachers/other important people; Raul & Hector; Maria Elena, new host madre/teacher; your’s truly, the new/only gringa in town
Sequence of Events: Friday, March 9 was the culmination of a week-long celebration for the 45th Anniversary of the high school I will be working in for the next two years. The day started at 9:30am with speeches by the vicerector, mayor, student council president, 2 retiring teachers, and the rector. The rector’s speech included an introduction of the new Peace Corps Volunteer who will be working in the school for the next 2 years of her life. I got bored 2 minutes through his speech and completely zoned out (embarrassingly easy in a foreign language). All of a sudden all the old ladies/teachers/my new mom’s were tapping me as I gazed out the window. I stood up and waved at the 400-500 people in the auditorium. The speeches/awards ceremony lasted until about 12:30.
The kids were sent home and all the teachers/everyone important were invited to the teacher’s lounge. I blindly followed Maria Elena, my new host mom/fellow teacher, like I’d been doing all week without any idea of what was going on. Seated in the middle of probably 10 large tables pushed together was the Rector, Mayor, and Chief of Police. They sit me down in front of the Chief of Police despite my efforts to sit at one of the smaller tables in the back. Raul and Hector (I can’t remember Hector’s real name so we’ll just call him Hector for now), 2 retirement-aged science teachers, come sit next to me and proceed to tell me that I will most definitely fall in love with a young Ecuadorian from Saquisilí and stay in the country forever. Cue Jenni, a fellow English teacher, who tells them that anyone I decide to fall in love with must learn English (I told her I don’t speak Spanish). Thanks for having my back Jenny.
Like any good celebration in Ecuador, liquor is involved. It comes as no surprise that on the table between myself and Rector, etc. is a large bottle of unopened tequila. Raul proceeds to pour Rector and me a shot so the real party can start. ¡Salud! Thankfully Maria Elena was there to back me up when I refused to take any of the following shots. I had a cold so I had a good excuse.
Before I knew it, a large styrofoam plate of potatoes and cuy (yes, the infamous guinea pig delicacy of Ecuador) was sitting in front of me. Being a novice (read: I’ve never eaten cuy), I ask Raul how you eat it. “With your hands” is his reply. I made it about halfway through before I gave up and started working on the 3 large potatoes on my plate. Needless to say I didn’t finish. Then the lady comes around to pick up the plates and gets to my half-eaten mess of cuy/potatoes.
Lady: “Comerá no más.” (“You will eat no more. (Ecuadorian for “EAT,” (yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me either.)))
Me: “Ya no avanzo pero es muy rico, dios le pague.” (“Oh I’m so full but it’s very tasty, may God pay you (very strong way to say thank you).”)
Lady: “¡Ughhh, que pena! (“Ughhh, what a shame (waste)!”)
So I pissed that lady off. I’m sorry I can’t eat platefuls of starch and stringy meat like an Ecuadorian!
Final Thoughts: The site visit was a little dose of reality/overwhelming. I didn’t know Saquisilí even existed until our site reveals on March 1. One of the gambles PCVs take is leaving the site placement in the hands of strangers. Granted they’ve been observing us throughout the first month-ish and making their judgments on where they think we would fit best. However the thought of spending the next 2 years of my life in a little bitty market town off the Pan-American highway is definitely a little scary.
The fact that the school was “en fiesta” all week definitely made it hard to get my PC-required paperwork done. No classes to observe, no structure, and I was totally clueless as to what the schedule was going to be. So much for observing the 6 English teachers and getting an idea of who to work with. And the initial work plan we were supposed to fill out with the teachers regarding plans for projects/strategies? I had to go to the neighboring town on Saturday to get the blank paper signed by the teacher who forgot to bring it on Friday. We were told we couldn’t speak Spanish with the English teachers and they definitely didn’t understand my English explanation of what I needed to finish by the end of the week. Culture clash. I remind myself getting things done for an American is much different than for an Ecuadorian. I’m too American for Ecuador sometimes. Frustrating.
I think the hardest part is that I’m out there solo. It’s totally up to me to get all this stuff done and give them an idea of what exactly my goals as a Volunteer are in their school/community for the next 2 years. There’s never been a Peace Corps Volunteer in their town before which means I have to explain everything from scratch.
I keep reminding myself it could be much much harder. Some of the Natural Resources Volunteers are headed to villages, we’re talking less than 100 people. There’s 5 of us in the Cotopaxi cluster, so we’ll have each other to vent to when things get rough. My plan for the next 3 weeks is to learn as much about TEFL/teaching strategies/any useful information and enjoy my cushy Tumbaco surburban digs, my chatty host mother, and the fact that I get to see all the other trainees everyday.
Cotopaxi Volcano, the view from around the corner of my future house in Saquisilí. 🙂 (Note: I did not take this photo.)