Week 3: I meet Spider-man

The beginning of week 3 found me and 5 friends from UBECI headed to the beach for the weekend! After a long day of work Friday, I arrived home with a couple hours to pack and shower before catching an overnight bus to Guayaquil. However when I arrived home I was ushered to a surprise party for my families 4 year old nephew who lives in the apartment above us. What a blast, chocolate fruit, cake, juice, and lots of games and me dancing for the whole family, I had them laughing pretty good. Time flew by and before I knew it I had to leave for the bus station. As time was of the essence, I skipped the shower, didn’t change my clothes and threw some swim trunks and a towel in my backpack. Our bus left at 10 and after a cold, sleepless night on the bus. We arrived in Guayaquil at 6 am and through confusion and our tiredness purchased the wrong tickets to Montanita and missed the 9 am bus. We returned back to the ticket window to buy different tickets and found a line of 60 plus people and security guards around our window… Apparently everyone wanted to get to the coast. I used my Spanish and explained the mistake and a guard was nice enough to let me in the back way and I got us tickets for the 1 pm bus which we did not miss.


King of the hammock

We pulled into Montanita three hours later and were greeted by humid beach air, tan bodies, music, and dreadlocks. The little town was basically party central year round and was home to a lot of young, hip tourists from almost every country. Since we arrived so late in the day almost all the hostals were booked, however we lucked out and grabbed a random little apartment just outside of town by a minute or so. It came complete with two hammocks outside, a patio, a leaky toilet, and mosquito nets. Also the door locked behind you so if you left upon returning you had to climb through the window. My kind of place. The water was warm and the waves were big, perfect for a lot of body surfing and of course some sun burning. Night life there was pretty wild and I am thankful I outgrew my fiesta phase before coming to Ecuador. Instead I settled for some peaceful night swims, wandering through the town and getting into bed before 12. I did unfortunately lose my flip flops one morning as I went for a swim and found them

gone when I returned. Hopefully whoever has them now is putting them to good use. It was finally time to go and after a full day of riding back to Quito on the bus, I was so happy to get back to work and being with the kids.

Walking kids from the market to the UBECI area.

Walking kids from the market to the UBECI area.

My 3rd week at Ubeci included more volunteers coming and saying goodbye to Debra at the end of the week. Debra is this amazing lady from Canada who was volunteering with UBECI. She basically took on the role of everyones mom and was so caring and sweet with all the kids in the market, especially the crying babies who she was able to calm like no other. She took the above picture of me and a few of the little ones on her last day. Very cool to watch and learn from someone who has experience working in orphanages around the world and is simply a kind soul. Being the 3rd week, I recognized a majority of the kids though we still met new ones daily. One of the new ones who stands out most in my mind was “spider-man”. A little boy who loved to pretend to be spider-man and would climb on my back after lunch and pretend I was a car. While it was fun giving him a piggy back ride everywhere, the old me would have simply left it at that. But thanks to experience and practice I have learned to turn something as simple as a piggy back ride into a teaching lesson. We practiced directions, left, right, back, and forward. Every time I came to a barrier in front of me I taught him the directions and made him pick which way we went. At first we made a lot of wrong turns but after 10 minutes and a longer than normal walk back to the UBECI site, he had his directions down. Teachable moments come in almost every situation and game with the kids. From naming colors of blocks they are playing with to having them pick out shapes and animals in books.

There are sad moments in the markets as well however. One little boy, Sergio, showed up this week with huge scabs on his face. He wouldn’t say what happened but it definitely had to hurt quite a bit. I hope it did not come at the hands of an adult, but most likely as the children have a lot of time to run around unsupervised, he probably had a crash and burn moment. He is a sweet little boy but he can be quite the mischief maker, which doubles as an attempt to gain attention. His mom is 21 and works all day as a construction worker. His father is addicted to drugs and largely out of the picture. Therefore he goes to the markets each day with his mothers friend and spends a good deal of his time by himself. I learned this about him after a difficult day where he repeatedly climbed on the windows of parked cars and wouldn’t come down. A good reminder for me to maintain patience when working with these little ones as many have similar stories.


WOW!! I love your picture!

Week 2 in Ecuador started off with a bang as I decided to go to the mall and buy a basketball so I could play with my roommate, host sister and her cousin David who lives next door, is my age, and speaks English fluently. Just walking around in the mall is an experience on its own as the place is gigantic and I stand out like a sore thumb. But I love the feeling. Its refreshing to be out of the comfort zone I have known my whole life and be immersed in a different world and culture. Though I am by no means fluent in Spanish, I know enough to have a decent conversation with people. Pretty fun getting a reaction out of someone when you start speaking to them in Spanish and they are taken a back. I hope that by the time I leave Ecuador I will be almost fluent. But back to Basketball.

It was a beautiful Sunday and we went to the park and must have played at least 2 hours, which was made harder due to the high altitude here. Great feeling to relax and just play a game with new friends and laugh. My team of Anita (my host sister) and I won, mainly because I learned Anita was really aggressive and at times resorted to pushing and shoving David and Tiffany. The following day I returned to the park by myself as I don’t have work on Mondays and everyone else was busy. I shot around for at least an hour and was starting to contemplate heading home as I was getting a little tired and it was pretty hot outside, yet something told me instead to sit for a minute, drink some water and play a few minutes longer. A few seconds after I got up again I noticed a boy watching me. He was sitting by the road and kept looking over at me as a dribbled around. I asked him if he wanted to play, he nodded his head and came my way. He must have been under the age of 14, was built a little differently and I wasn’t able to understand him but the next 2 and a half hours of playing with him were something else. He wasn’t strong enough to get the ball up to the hoop so I would hold it with him and help him make baskets by guiding the ball up to the rim after he released it. He loved trying to steal the ball from me and running from one side to the other. Sometimes he would sit me down and talk to me for minutes at a time. I would ask him questions and he would answer, and I tried my best to understand but I usually ended up going along with what he would say. I think humans need to feel understood and its an awesome feeling to sit and just listen to what they have to say, its validating. I finally got so tired and had to leave, first I found out from a lady nearby where he lived and made sure he was capable of getting back home. It was hard because he didn’t want to stop playing and honestly I didn’t either except I was just so wiped out. Loved his laugh, and he really cared about me and made sure I didn’t forget my water bottle. One of those goodbyes where when you finally head different directions you keep looking back to catch one last glimpse of them.

The work week was filled with so much laughter and hugs from the kids in the market, such a rewarding feeling. As well I finished my Spanish lessons in the afternoons on Wednesday and therefore was able to stay in the afternoon session Thursday and Friday instead of leaving at lunch time. My favorite memory of the week came in the Tuesday market as a little girl saw us from the other end of the market and booked it over to us. She had such a sweet little face and puffy little cheeks, but also a lot of wit and humor for a 3 year old. Often I feel the children in the markets are older than their actual age as many have had to work and care for their siblings. As well they navigate the busy marketplace with an ease and confidence that’s a little frightening as most stand no taller than 3 feet, and cant see over anything. They weave in and out of the bustling feet and stray dogs at lightning speed and I have a hard time keeping up. I thought I was tired just working a half day with the kids but finally working the full 9 hour day left me exhausted. Working with children requires high energy and expression to capture their attention. Sometimes after corralling 30 kids, convincing a group of 4 year old boys not to climb on the parked cars for the third time, and settling countless disputes over whose turn it is to play with a toy you are more than ready for a minute of down time. Yet no matter how tired you are, when a little kid shows you the picture they drew you always find the energy to exclaim, “WOW!! I love your picture!”

Putting puntitos of paint on Senor Sastre

Putting puntitos of paint on Senor Sastre


Buenos Tardes- Week 1 in Ecuador


Bird bound journal next to a view of Quito

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.


Quilotoa aka Ecuador’s version of Crater Lake

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Anchorman jump

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.

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Helping two of the older guys with some math problems


Arrival in Ecuador; Ruth Blandine

And so it begins, 22 hours and 3 flights later I have landed in Quito Ecuador! I have never possessed the ability to sleep on planes but for some reason my body decided to change its chemistry and I slept the 6 hour duration of my last flight and I feel pretty good coming off the plane except for the fact that I cant breath. Elevation in Quito is around 12,000 ft… so just a little higher than home. Met some nice people on the plane who walked me through elevation sickness and that I should take it pretty easy the first few days (That didn’t happen). Customs in Ecuador was the best experience I have ever had and the guy barely blinked at my partially filled form and swept me through to freedom. Upon exiting security I was met by a mass of people holding signs for arriving visitors, however none of the signs held my name. Upon seeing that I sat on the ground by a pillar amidst the sea of happy family reunions, tired tourists and peacefully ate half a quiznos sandwich I had packed in my bag.

For the next hour I sat and took it all in while I waited for someone to arrive with my name on a sign. In that time I learned something about Ecuadorian culture, people here are amazingly nice. Now that cant be said for all of course as is any place, yet I saw an unreal amount of positive, happy interactions. I also perplexed about 10 Ecuadorian greeters who saw me sitting against my pillar and thought for sure I must be the name on their sign. I got used to explaining that as much as I wished it was my name on their sign, I simply wasn’t Ruth Blandine. Then I saw it, “Eli Cox” written in all caps. I got up and quickly introduced myself to Franklin, (the man holding the sign) as much as I enjoyed my airport time, I was ready to make way for life outside the automatic doors.

Baby plane to LA to start it all off

Baby plane to LA to start it all off


Sunset at Lincoln City

I have always loved Oregon. It has everything, little towns, cities, mountains to hike, forests to explore, beaches to wander and most importantly friends and family. I have often wondered these past weeks why I would ever want to leave a place like this? At the moment I don’t have a good answer to that question other than I have a feeling I need to step away for a little while in order to grow. What once seemed an unreachable distance away has finally arrived; I’m leaving for Ecuador to intern abroad.

While in Ecuador I will be interning with a different organization each month, the first involves working with children in local markets to provide them the opportunity to learn, practice social skills and play. The second has me working in an orphanage in Northern Quito where I hope to develop a self concept curriculum for the kids as learn from them in turn. Finally I will be living and working in a special needs orphanage in Latacunga full time with no English assistance and full Spanish immersion. I am so excited for this adventure because I will get to work with kids for a full three months and cross paths with people thousands of miles away! These past two years at WOU, I have had the chance to work with kids in Central America, Africa, India and now South America. Each of my previous experiences has taught me valuable lessons about life and who I am, and in time I will find out how this upcoming trip will impact me.

My sister Michelle got me a sign for Christmas that reads, “Expect nothing, Appreciate everything”. That’s how I am looking at this experience and am trying to let those words guide my life a little more. I appreciate everything I have experienced, the good and the bad yet sometimes I cant help but spend hours contemplating situations and how I want the future to play out. While I believe a little day dreaming is good for a person I have come to realize no matter how much I want something to happen a certain way, there is no use planning your future. Life will happen, I will enjoy it, and act when the moment arrives. I have truly loved these last 2 weeks at home with family and friends. I got to talk with my brother, hike with my friends, and spend a day at the beach with a lovely lady. Yet if things had gone “according to plan”, I would have had none of these experiences, as I had planned on working in Honduras for the weeks leading up to Ecuador. Life happened, and I got sick upon returning from India and had to stay home. What a blessing that turned out to be. With that in mind, I step away from what I know and love, and enter the unknown prepared to expect nothing and appreciate everything.