Market Madness: The Granadilla

Another Thursday in Saquisilí, another market day. This week I bring you the granadilla. According to Wikipedia, it is native to the Andes Mountains of South America and grows as far south as Argentina and north to Mexico. I first saw it in Tumbaco during training but didn’t buy one and try it until a few months ago. I remember thinking it looked like an alien fruit at first sight.

Appearance: Granadillas range in size from that of a lemon to a large orange, they’re usually light orange in color and with a round shape and a long stem. They have a hard outer shell, similar to an egg, with a soft spongy layer to protect the fruit inside. Once you crack one open, there are what appear to be hundreds of black seeds (they look similar to small sunflower seeds) covered with a clear slimy fruit.

Taste: The clear slimy fruit as well as the seeds are what is eaten. It has a soft, sweet, juicy taste and the seeds give it a bit of a crunch.

Cost: 3-4 granadillas/$1

Highly recommended for an easy, non-messy, cheap snack if you ever find yourself in a market town in the Andes.

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Out With The Año Viejo, In With The Año Nuevo

One of the first things that struck me as odd upon my arrival to my new Ecuadorian home back in April was the papier mâché masks hanging on the back of the kitchen door. “Those are for New Year’s” I was told when I inquired. So through sheer determination and a curiosity about how the ritual burning of the dolls would go down on New Year’s Eve, I made it to the night of December 31st, 2012.

During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, masks similar to those hanging in our kitchen could be seen in all the stores on the town square. December 31st finally rolled around and people started hauling out the boxes of old papers and cardboard they’d no doubt been saving for the New Year’s festivities.

Monigotes or años viejos (there’s probably about a million different terms depending on where you are) are made and then burned at midnight to symbolize leaving the old year behind and making way for the new year to come. Most people use old clothes, sew the ends up, and stuff them with newspapers, etc. People make signs and write up clever wills for the monigotes. In the plaza across the street, the neighbors had set up a beauty pageant of monigotes, complete with judges and an audience. The masks are put on and everything is set outside the houses on display until the midnight hour. Some are more creative than others, masks of the current President of Ecuador, the Smurfs, famous soccer players, etc. This is the one part of the tradition I didn’t fully understand…details, schmetails.

About 10pm, my host mom called up to me to ask if I wanted to pasear to see all the craziness. First, we drove out to the farm to pick up my host uncle and on the way back down main street, I caught my first sight of the viudas. Basically, it was all the boys from the high school scattered throughout the streets, dressed in fishnets, heels, wigs, and short dresses. They strung ropes across the streets and made all the passing cars stop, watch them do a little dance in their get-up, and then hold their over-sized purses open at the driver’s window for any spare change. I think we drove 5 blocks and probably stopped about 10 times for the viudas. Again…details, schmetails.

We took tío back to the house and continued around town on foot since the viudas had cleaned us out of all pocket change. I knew the dolls were a big deal but I didn’t expect the atmosphere in town. The streets in the center were full of cars and people on the sidewalks. In true Ecua-fashion, reggaeton and chicha music were blaring from homemade stages. People were sitting huddled in groups, at times making it hard to distinguish between the dolls and the real-life, breathing viejos. The Pilsener was flowing, pinchos grilling, dancing was happening, neighbors were greeting each other with the standard “buenas noches” and “feliz año.” I was reminded once again why I’m lucky to live in a small town.

Back at the house, we pulled out the champagne I’d bought (had to have a bit of America in the whole thing) and some fancy glasses my host mom never uses. A few cousins came over and we hauled the boxes of old paper out to the curb. We took the masks off to save for the next year. At midnight the fireworks went off, we lit the matches, and popped the champagne. Then one by one, up and down the street, the fires started burning. I kept thinking of how cool it would be to have an aerial shot of Ecuador at midnight with millions of little bonfires down below. It was without a doubt, one of the coolest traditions I’ve ever seen…definitely a NYE to remember.

And now the masks are back to the resting places, hanging on the back of the kitchen door, waiting for next year’s monigotes.418063_3955442294778_1250776553_n

with the beauty contestants427682_3955440094723_64994366_nthe judges 394860_3955444614836_1923910279_nmonigote fiesta 537901_3955448054922_1888114915_nready for midnight…they’re so scary looking 541689_3960027889415_169971236_nchampagne 23745_3960028609433_1555845440_nstreets ablaze 421068_3960030929491_260771611_n 386740_3960032369527_2001463689_n  423291_3960034169572_1774827220_nsuccessful jump 481229_3960035929616_1363546068_n206101_3960032889540_1019774506_n

with my host mom

Les deseo un feliz y exitoso año nuevo a mis queridos en todo el mundo desde mi pueblito en Ecuador!

I wish my loved ones throughout the world a happy and successful new year from my little town in Ecuador!

Culture Shock…It’s Real

Anyone who’s ever been abroad or studied culture has probably been told about “the culture shock roller coaster.” Someone explains it during an orientation or training and you sort of pay attention. You are way too excited about your upcoming adventure to take it seriously and you think that even if you experience “culture shock” it won’t be that bad. After all, you’ve jumped through the bureaucratic hoops, your bags are basically packed, maybe you’ve even made it to your destination, you can absolutely handle anything that country X decides to throw your way…farm animals and town fiestas? How charming! Then it starts to creep up on you. You’ve been in country X for a few months and the novelty of buying fruit on the bus and people showing up 30 minutes late for a meeting/class wears off. (Hint: country X=Ecuador:) You start to get angry at the little things you once thought were hilarious. You blame the local people for all the faults you see based on the filter of your own culture. Its a vicious cycle, a downward spiral, that’s hard to come out of. Culture shock is a real thing folks.

For all you visual people or anyone who has no idea what I’m talking about, here’s an illustration I found online.

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I was there the last few weeks. The bottom of the bottom, the lowest dip in the roller coaster to date. (According to the handy graphic above, my feelings were right on. If you count 7-8 months in, I would be at Aug-Sept in the picture.) Throughout the past few weeks, I’ve kept trying to get back up the hill but then something would happen to knock me back down again. Every day is a mini roller coaster, I go from feeling excited and inspired to questioning my existence here…all in the same day. It is exhausting.

Sure people understand me, although sometimes I wonder when I open my mouth in Spanish, but no one gets me. No one gets my point of view. No one gets the purpose of me being here, or they think my purpose is different than what I think it is. No one gets why I like to walk by myself. No one gets why I take my work so seriously. All these irrational thoughts and about a million others were running through my head. One of the hardest things for me here is the mental isolation. I’m only 30 minutes from the nearest volunteers and we share excitement, frustration, and just about everything else but I still have lots of time inside my own head. Its been really hard for me to keep perspective and think about the bigger picture; its like a mental vacuum. I knew I was down but I couldn’t figure out how to get back up…something had to give.

So I thought back to all the times we talked about culture during our 3 months of training. We talked about it A LOT and rightfully so. Three months is not enough time to understand any place but I feel like they gave us the tools to deal with the culture at the very least. One of the things I remembered the most were going over culture continuums. I’m the first volunteer in my site and I would venture to say the first non-Ecuadorian my counterparts have worked with. Through no fault of their own, I feel like maybe they weren’t even aware that I might think about something differently. So in the hopes of helping them understand my point of view, I made the continuums into an English lesson. I explained that my job here is to understand their point of view as much as possible and to help them understand mine; my goal is not to change their views but to facilitate mutual understanding. I had them write a “Cultural Guide for Americans in Ecuador,” I definitely learned a lot and hopefully they did as well. By far, one of the best things I’ve done for my mental state here.

Stay tuned for more.

Market Madness: The Chirimoya

One of the best things about where I live is the fabulous weekly market. Every Wednesday and Thursday, the market spills out from the 8 plazas onto the streets and sidewalks. You can find anything from llamas to fresh fruit juice to used clothes to shampoo to meat to pots and pans. Everything necessary in life can be found in Saquisilí on market day.

A new goal of mine is to stop shopping at the supermarket in the next town over. Doing this requires getting over the overwhelming-ness of the market. So in an effort to force myself to get over it, I’m bring you a weekly dose of the sites, smells, and sounds of the craziness that is Saquisilí’s market.

First up…the chirimoya

I first tried this in Tumbaco with my host family during training. I had never seen or heard of a chirimoya before and they thought it was hilarious when I asked them how to eat it. According to wikipedia (don’t judge), chirimoya comes from a Quechua word that means “cold seeds.” Some of you might know it as a custard apple. It grows in the Andes regions of Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia among other high-altitude tropical climates in the world.

Appearance: green on the outside with white fruit and black seeds inside, the texture is similar to an avocado

Taste: vanilla, melon-y

Cost: $2 which means I either got majorly gringa-priced or its much more expensive than I thought…forgot to ask my host mom how much it should cost

Sidenote: when I asked the lady how much it was, she said $2 but there are no worms in it…maybe I paid extra to ensure my chirimoya was worm-free?

Its not my favorite fruit but one of the more interesting things I’ve found at the market.

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Aside

A Passport…Worth Being Thankful For

I have a lot of time to think and I do. a. lot. I think about the mundane things, the intricacies of culture, development, what it means to really help/give to someone and the fact that as Americans we grossly overestimate our qualifications in this area. I think about things taken for granted and how the decisions of one government affect people in places in all corners of the world. These are things I never would have had the capacity to think about had I not chosen to do what I’m doing. The opportunity to think about these things are what I’m most appreciative of and I will be happy if they’re all I take away from this experience (along with some fabulous hand-made indigenous crafts).

The ability to travel to and live in just about any country in the world is a privilege I, and I’m certain many Americans, never really think about. We take it for granted, its almost considered a universal. Then one day something happens and it hits you like a ton of bricks, you have not only one but two (thanks to the Peace Corps) American passports. With those passports comes a whole world of privilege and resources, how did those passports get into my hands?

Even after hearing the embassy tell us during training about the process for an Ecuadorian to get a visa to the States (even for short travel), I didn’t really understand. Maybe there is such a demand that they have to be incredibly strict and selective. Maybe people do cheat the system and to compensate, people trying to get through the system legally and fairly are denied. This week, that something happened to someone close to me and for the first time ever, I really understood the privileges I’m granted just for holding an American passport. This person has tried multiple times, unsuccessfully, to get a non-immigrant travel visa to the States to visit family living there. I sat at the kitchen table and read the rejection letter, written in Spanish and English, and it made my heart hurt. The words are so abrupt and definite, absolutely no room for discussion. Those who apply are at the complete mercy of the person behind the window.

I won’t pretend I understand anything about immigration policies and why they are the way they are and I’m not implying that the embassy should abandon their processes. However, I think its something most Americans never think about. We grow up in a place with cultural influences from throughout the world, we’re used to diversity on varying degrees, and yet the paths people have taken to get to the United States are often forgotten. We don’t think about what’s on the other side of the border, what people have left behind in terms of cultural values and all that comes with that. A major difference I’ve noticed between my version of American culture and Ecuadorian culture, in general, are the views toward family. From my point of view as an outsider, most Ecuadorians place family bonds above most other things in life. What does it mean for an Ecuadorian when they are denied multiple times the right to visit family members? Sure the family abroad could come back to visit, and they do, but why should someone be denied visiting family just because of the country they have chosen to live in? How is it fair that my family can visit me with nothing more than a passport?

Reading the letter and seeing this person visibly upset about being denied once again, I felt completely helpless, helpless in a way I haven’t felt in a very long time. Really, there’s nothing I can do other than share the story and maybe raise the consciousness of someone who wouldn’t have thought about it otherwise.

And so my friends, that is what I’m most thankful for this Thanksgiving, my passports, the opportunities that come with them, and the ability to share the stories of the people and places they have taken me.

10 Months In: The Packing Must-Haves

Somehow I’ve made it to 10 months in this country. About a year ago I was fretting and planning for the ‘big adventure’ which mostly included scouring blogs and deciding what to bring. Since the 109ers will be making their debut in Ecuador in about 2 months, I’ve come up with my very own short list of must-haves.

External HD

Sure you can find just about every movie ever made in a pirated DVD store but there’s nothing like having 5 seasons of Sex & The City or The West Wing readily available when you want to curl up in your concrete room. I also use random clips from movies/TV shows for English lessons with the teachers. Win win situation for everybody.

Ear Plugs

Self-explanatory.

Supply of makeup/deoderant/face wash

Besides the fact that you can only find quality stuff at large supermarkets (read: at least a bus ride from most PC sites), all of this is ridiculously expensive in Ecuador. Bring enough to last a while or have a loving friend/family member send you the goods.

Ziploc Storage Containers

These have turned into my medicine cabinet, drawer organizers, and food containers. Plastic wrap/regular ziplocs are hard to come by (not to mention rough on the environment) so these have come in very handy. They were also great for packing all the little stuff you don’t want running loose in your suitcase/backpack.

Flip Flops

Although I live in eternal fall, I use these almost everyday to go from my room to the kitchen (outside and down the stairs). Also great for hostels and visits to the jungle and coast.

Travel Shampoo Bottles

In 10 months, I have mastered the art of packing for weekend/week-long trips in a small backpack. Travel bottles are absolutely necessary.

Travel Space Bags

Equally important for weekend/week-long packing adventures. Trust me, you want to have the smallest bag/least amount of stuff to worry about when traveling by public bus in Ecuador.

Quick-Dry Towels

Ditto.

Sunscreen

Peace Corps gives you one bottle when you get your med kit but after that, you’re on your own. This stuff is also expensive here, like $14 a bottle! Bring at least an extra bottle and if you’re lucky enough to be placed in the jungle/on the coast, have a supply sent to you. Yes, the sun is brighter on the equator.

Small Zip Wallet

Great for short trips out to the bakery or local tienda. Ecuador is definitely cash-based so don’t expect to use a credit card anywhere. Also large bills are hard to deal with so be prepared to carry lots of coins around.

Over the Shoulder Purse

Unfortunately petty crime, i.e. purse snatching, is pretty common. Its good to have something that goes across your body and can be kept in site at all times, especially on crowded busses, trolley rides through Quito, or nights in sketchy discotecas.

Accordian File Folder

Super handy for the ridiculous amount of paper you will be given during training.

2->3 Prong Plug Adapters

These can be found here but its nice to have them already, especially when you first arrive and haven’t figured out where to find all the little gadgets yet.

And last but certainly not least…

A Spork

You really just never know when you’ll need it. I took it along with my homemade lunch everyday to training for the first few months in country, I used it to eat a quick almuerzo while waiting for a bus at a terminal in Quito, and I’ve used it as a knife to cut random fruit at the market.

Happy packing!

Bailoterapia: A Gringa’s Perspective

Integrate. Integrate. Integrate. It’s all I heard during those glorious first three months known as training before shit got real and I wondered if I could handle this for two years. They say to never EVER say no to an invitation. If its for something you don’t want to do, suck it up sister, you have people to meet and connections to make. For me, this has meant attending funerals, a 95 year-old’s birthday party, a cock fight, countless masses, cafecitos at teacher’s houses, dance parties at school, and biweekly bailoterapia sessions with my host mom.

Dancing is such an integral part of the culture here. No surprise there. I’ve been to parties where instead of sitting out a dance with the babies, a couple will carry them and dance like its no big deal. On Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, random non-holiday days, classes are cancelled and the teacher’s lounge turns into a dance floor. Town fiesta? Let’s dance and drink whiskey at 10 am. Any group of people with access to chicha music? Dancing. A night out with friends? You better be able to at least fake it with some salsa or bachata moves.

So integration and dancing, that’s where bailoterapia comes it. Bailoterapia is literally ‘dance therapy’ but it is so much more than just ‘dance therapy.’ Picture a mirror-filled room with 25-30 Ecuadorian housewives in all their spandex glory breaking it down to every type of music. By every type of music, I obviously mean salsa, bachata, merengue, and rumba. Then picture an awkward blonde white girl, who is at least a head taller than any of the housewives, standing in the backbehind her 60-year-old host mom.

The music starts and its immediately obvious that I didn’t grow up in a culture where my parents danced with me as a baby or that my. hips. cannot. do that. The steps aren’t even that hard. I don’t look at the instructor though, instead I look down at my host mom’s feet since she’s figured out a way to simplify the steps. Just as I get one move down, we’re on to the next one. The cursing under my breath in English begins. After about 20 minutes, I start looking down at my watch wondering how many more moves I have to attempt before the hour is up. The instructor comes and stands next to me and I’m convinced this is how my students feel in English class when I get too close to them. I can’t do this! Somehow the hour passes and I hope I’ve improved just a little bit.

I definitely wouldn’t go on my own but I do it all in the name of integration. I’ve actually had ladies, who I never remember meeting, come up to me on the street and ask me where I’ve been if I miss a week. Plus, there’s always random people that my host mom thinks I should meet. Hopefully after two years, I’ll be able to do more than fake it with the salsa and bachata.

The Last Native Speaker

Last native speaker of Scots dialect dies

By Jamie Hamilton, for CNN
Fri October 5, 2012

The dialect, spoken in the Scottish village Cromarty, appears to be the only Germanic descendant without

The dialect, spoken in the Scottish village Cromarty, appears to be the only Germanic descendant without “wh” pronunciation.
(CNN) — Bobby Hogg, the last native speaker of a dialect originating from a remote fishing village in northern Scotland, has died — and so has the dialect he spoke.

The death of the 92-year-old retired engineer means that the Scots dialect known as Cromarty fisherfolk is now consigned to a collection of brief, distorted audio clips.

It is the first unique dialect to be lost in Scotland, according to Robert Millar, a reader in linguistics at the School of Language and Literature at Aberdeen University.

“Usually minority dialects end up blending in with standard English to form a hybrid. However, this is a completely distinct dialect which has become extinct,” he said.

Cromarty fisherfolk appears to be the only descendant from the Germanic linguistic world in which no “wh” pronunciation existed, Millar said.

“‘What’ would become ‘at’ and ‘where’ would just be ‘ere’,” he said.

It was also the Scots language’s only dialect that dropped the “H” aspiration.

“The loss of Cromarty is symptomatic of a greater, general decline in the use of the Scots language,” according to Director of Scottish Language Dictionaries Chris Robinson. “This should be a wake-up call to save other struggling dialects.”

Ten miles down the coast from Cromarty is Avoch, another sleepy fishing village with the closest surviving dialect to Cromarty fisherfolk, one that may also be endangered, according to Robinson. “It looks more than likely that this will go the same way as the Cromarty dialect,” he said.

The dialect of the peoples who originally resided on the shores of Cromarty — which lies on the tip of Black Isle peninsula, a four-hour drive north of Edinburgh — was directly linked to their traditional fishing methods.

However, during the industrialization of fishing in the 1950s, established working methods were lost and the connection between the way of life and the dialect eroded. In fewer than 30 years, much of the dialect became obsolete.

Millar argues that the decline in Scots language represents a wider global trend.

“Generally, in the literate world, local dialects are suffering. The highly mobile and technologically advanced areas of the world are worst affected,” he said.

There are some 6,000 to 7,000 languages in the world and it is estimated that they are disappearing at a rate of one every two weeks, according to Millar.

Some 96% of the world’s population speak just 4% of the world’s languages, he said. “Most languages are only spoken by a few hundred people,” he added.

Why mourn the loss of a language? “At a banal level, it’s a little bit of color in our lives is gone,” he said. “Any time something dies, it’s lost. Whether it be languages or species, we lose something. Everyone in the world loses something. Diversity surely is a good thing, and we’ve just lost a bit of it.”

Greater communication and interdependence among communities is resulting in “dialect homogenization,” Millar said.

And people tend to abandon their own languages for one of the larger languages for good reasons, according to Anthony Aristar, professor of linguistics at Eastern Michigan University and director of the school’s Institute for Language Information and Technology.

“They want modern conveniences; they want their children to have decent jobs,” he told CNN in a telephone interview. “All this requires being able to speak in the dominant language. So they see little use in preserving their languages.”

But the loss of a language often results in the loss of the stories that were told in that language, and in the cultural knowledge they contained. “Even medical know-how,” he said.

Robinson, of the Scottish Language Dictionaries, maintains that Scots minority dialects like Cromarty have faced other pressures.

“Educationally, English has been the language used in Scotland since the 18th century. Consequently, Scots speakers are not literate in their own language. Also, until recently, Scots has had a social stigma attached to it as a working-class or second-rate language.”

Yet there are signs of improvement for the state of Scots minority dialects. More Scots books, especially children’s books, are being published than ever before. In addition, since 2009, the Scottish government has provided funding for the Scottish Language Dictionaries, which has also given the language a status boost.

The support has been seen as a natural progression from the move by Westminster in 2002 to sign the European Union Charter of Minority and Regional Languages recognizing Scots, Gaelic and Welsh as languages separate from English.

Still, the rate of the worldwide loss of dialects and languages remains consistent.

Robinson said he would like to see more efforts taken to safeguard minority Scots dialects.

“Scots has an amazing literary history, yet it is completely ignored in our schools,” he said. “The books must be made more widely available and read more in schools for the language to survive in the future.”

{http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/05/world/europe/scotland-dead-dialect/index.html}

Ecuaventures: Tales of Cross-Country Travel

Summer vacation has come and gone. Now that my first official week of school is behind me. I thought it time to share what’s been happening the last few months…traveling the entire length of Ecuador during the month of July. Hopefully I got the travel bug out of my system for the time being. Here’s the rundown…

Súa: Located on the northern coast in the province of Esmeraldas, it was the site of July birthday celebrations for myself and several others from my omnibus. I took my first dip in the ocean, ate some glorious seafood (ceviche & shrimp galore!), drank fruity drinks, danced in some beachside tiki huts (basically open-air reggaeton clubs), rode in a trici-moto for the first time, saw some whales (including one that completely breached about 20 feet from our boat!), and watched the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. It was a pretty fantastic birthday with some pretty fantastic people. It reminded me of how incredibly lucky I am to live in this country and have the opportunities to do such amazing things.

STAY HERE if you’re ever thinking of a beach trip to Atacames. Its called the Chagra Ramos and is located in the quaint town of Súa. Best part? It overlooks the ocean, meaning you can enjoy those patacones and pineapple juice while listening to the waves crash below you. Seriously…DO IT! (Also, thanks for the pic Meg :))

sunset with Margarita

Omni 107 July Birthdays…I clearly don’t live on the coast

Cuenca: The next site of my cross-country Ecuaventure was this beautiful colonial city located in the southern province of Azuay. A friend of mine from all my crazy Spanish/International Studies at Mizzou is a volunteer in Ecuador as well and came to see me at site for a couple days after dropping her parents at the airport in Quito. We made the 7-hour bus ride south through the center of the country and the Andes Mountains on probably the most gorgeous stretch of highway in Ecuador. We spent a few days eating fancy food, drinking good beer, and gringo-watching. Cuenca is known throughout the country, and probably beyond, as a haven for old retired Europeans/Americans. Its a beautiful city, but it honestly felt a little strange for me to see all the gringos walking around. Probably has something to do with me living in a small farming town and never seeing white people I don’t know. We spent a day in Baños at the thermal springs and visited a Panama hat musuem. Definitely looking forward to more travels to Cuenca in the next two years.

Cuenc-town

Cuenca Centro…oh so very Spanish 🙂

Baños from the relaxation of our thermal spring

Catamayo: Nicky’s site, located in the far southern province of Loja, is the farthest south I’ve been in the world…to date. Just a few hours south of Cuenca and an hour from the city of Loja, it was an easy bus ride. I got the lay of the land, the colegio, park, etc. Catamayo’s pretty deserty and a bit bigger than my site but not by much. Nicky made me delicious vegetarian food, I got to lounge in a hammock, and play with the adorable Izo. We spent a day walking around Loja, often claimed to be the cleanest city in Ecuador (and that’s saying something). We also spent some time in Vilcabamba, a relaxing little hippie town where you can see babies in dreadlocks walking around. The story is that all the hippie gringos came because the people in Vilcabamba lived to be over a 100 years old and basically found the fountain of youth. But, as so often is the case, the gringos came in, built their large retirement homes, and the fountain of youth seemed to disappear (if there ever was one?).

hammock + rooftop + view…sooo Peace Corps

Izo!

Ecuaventures Stats:

Time Spent on a Bus: 40 hours (mas o menos)

Longest Continuous Bus Ride: 12 hours

Distance Traveled: 520 miles

Provinces Traveled Through/To: 7

Thoughts On Language

Some days I feel completely fluent in Spanish, I’ll walk away from a conversation and think “Wow, I just said everything that came to mind and the other person got my drift.” Other days I sit at the kitchen table with my host family and can’t form a coherent sentence. It recently dawned on me that my Spanish skills can be compared to my high school tennis skills. How’s that for a comparison? If I were matched up against someone really good and I had to be quick, I played so much better. When I would play someone at my level or lower, I was terrible. For my Spanish, when I’m talking about something I really know about, I just say what comes to mind and the words just seem to flow (almost). But, small talk or explaining things in passing? I feel completely hopeless.

I spend a lot of time with English in my head. I communicate with friends and family back home, I watch episodes of Sex & The City when I’ve had a bad day, I write posts on here, I see the other volunteers near my site probably too much, and my job is to speak English. How can I expect to learn a foreign language when I have so much interference from my first language? It is a constant balance for me. Living and functioning in a foreign country is no easy task. In fact, I can safely say at this point that it is the hardest thing I’ve ever voluntarily put myself through. So on days when, despite my best efforts, I still get gringa-priced for a cab or hear whistles and inappropriate comments thrown my way as I walk down the street, ALL I want to do is lose myself in a good English conversation or an old episode of SATC.

I recently thought about a friend I had during college who didn’t know a word of English before arriving and after 2 years was completely fluent. How did she do it I wondered? One, she didn’t have anybody to speak her native language with in the States. Two, the only TV shows she could watch were in English. And three, she didn’t have random people asking her to tutor their child, granddaughter, niece, nephew, friend, neighbor, pet dog, etc. in her native language. I’m definitely not putting the blame for my language frustration on the fact that my native language is English (I chose to be an English teacher in a foreign country and I could easily watch SATC dubbed and see less of the volunteers near me). However, I do think it creates some interesting challenges for a native English speaker when they travel to a foreign country and try to learn the local language. Its no secret that English is a language spoken throughout the world. People in many countries associate the ability to speak English with opportunities for advancement in some way and because of this, a whole industry has arisen for native English speakers to teach abroad. (That would be me.)

The thing that sums it up I think is that I’m not forced to be completely immersed in a foreign language so therefore I don’t push myself to be surrounded by Spanish all the time. I live in a pretty small town where I’m fairly sure I’m the only foreigner walking around, in a country where English is by no means spoken by even a minority. However, in my small town, I live with a woman who’s daughter lives in the States, I work in a school with 6 English teachers who can communicate at a basic level at the very least, I hear music in English on my 30-minute bus ride to visit my two native English-speaking friends who are here for the same reasons I am…to teach English in a foreign country.

What would it be like if I moved to a foreign country and no one spoke my language or had a desire to learn it? If I had no access to my external hard drive full of movies/TV shows in English and I didn’t have internet to chat it up via facebook or skype? Would I pick up the local language at rocket speed? I might never know.

Note: As a native English-speaker I never learned proper comma placement, sorry if this fact is annoying. : /