After months of planning, I finally woke up in Ecuador. I spent my first night in a little hostal in the middle of a touristy section of Quito called La Mariscal, (or as the locals call it “gringolandia”) and didn’t sleep as well as I would have liked. Upon heading downstairs for breakfast I had a headache from the altitude and my Spanish was off to a weird start when I said “Buenos tardes” (goodnight) to the hostal owner instead of Buenos dias (good morning). After eating breakfast I went upstairs to my room, sat down in my bean bag chair and wrote a little in my new journal, a gift from my friend Nic a few days prior. This was the moment a wave of realization washed over me, that I wouldn’t be headed home for a few months.
A little later that morning I met my roommate at my first homestay, Tiffany, and two other students who were studying at the University but were traveling through CIS Abroad as well. Our director, Diana, gave us a little run down on our situations and what we would be in for the next few days. To my surprise she had already booked the next day for us to travel to a collapsed volcano high in the mountains that had since filled with water ala Crater Lake in OR. It was amazing to drive way up into the Andes and along the way we visited a local indigenous families house to see how they lived and went to a traditional market that was filled with every color imaginable. The lake volcano was called Quilotoa and it was beautiful. The water was a deep blue and when the sun shone through the clouds it lit up different parts of the lake with a lighter color blue. The walk down was a little tough with the altitude but I drank lots of water and felt good enough when I got to the bottom to take a swim. It was recommended that people who just got to Ecuador didn’t try to walk back out of the crater but instead rode horses… I wasn’t for that as I felt bad for those horses getting run up and down all day long. Most everyone rode up except for myself and a friend I made from Brazil called Gustavo. He spoke perfect English and we would go between English and Spanish and talked about all kinds of things on the way up. Honestly the walk up was easier for me as it was more sure footed and we made it up faster than most people who took horses.
Later that night, Tiffany and I traveled to our homestay and met our family who are awesome. Orlando is the father and he loves to tell jokes and cheat at UNO, we get along real well. Marlena is the mother and she reminds me a lot of my sister, she is one of the kindest people I have ever met. They have two children, Anita who is 17 and speaks English really well and then there is 10 month old baby Nico who is a sweet little boy. Wonderful people who I hit it off with right away. My bed is a single pink princess bed that used to be Anita’s when she was little. I called it the second I saw it as Tiffany and I share a room and there was a choice of two beds. Food is amazing here and the family runs a restaurant on the bottom floor. Perfect family.
I also got the chance to start working with my first organization, UBECI. We travel to a different local market Tuesday through Friday and give the children of market families a chance to learn, play and simply be kids. The kids usual routine involves waking up at 4 am each morning to help their parents in the market or harvesting produce if its not a market day, and finish late in the afternoon. UBECI works with children ages 1-15 and serve at least 60 kids a day with a morning and afternoon session of lessons, activities, games, songs, and dances. Its amazing to see what this organization has accomplished and does on a weekly basis with a staff of only 4 and the handful of volunteers that travel from the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. They know all the families in the market and almost all the children on a first name basis, though everyday new little faces join the program. Sometimes parents are reluctant to let their children go with us and want their kids to work in the market all day, especially if they are older. But most of the time they happily send them off to learn and play when they see us come around to gather the children and walk them safely to the UBECI area by the side of the market. The kids faces light up as well when you walk through the crowds of noise and color and find them. You are usually greeted with a big hug and an exclamation of “PROFE!!”
I love working with the kids and helping the little ones refine their motor skills with painting, tearing and gluing exercises. Identifying colors, reading books and helping the older ones with their homework (UBECI helps get most of these children into school and provides school supplies for them as their family usually can not afford the expense). Wiping a little ones runny nose or when they plunk down in your lap when you read a story is such an amazing feeling. At the end of the day I am soooo tired, yet you am so filled up with all their sweetness, I literally can not wait for the next days work. If this first week has reaffirmed anything its that the rest of my life, whatever job I choose, I want to work with children.