Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Feliz Navidad

A young-looking and uninterested Santa Claus.
My girls found him quite amusing.

A few things to be excited about:
  • Tomorrow I get to see my second graders receive their first communion at the Christmas mass. They're incredibly jazzed about it because they get to be in the spotlight.
  • In two days I'll be leaving for the coast: Canoa, Puerto Lopez, Isla de Plata, and Montañita for New Years.

In other news, we went ice-skating! A few other volunteers and I took our kids to the "Ice Palace" and we had a blast. Thanks so much for the donations that helped me make this trip. I took my girls ice-skating and gave my other classes Christmas parties--I'm planning on taking some boys skating in January because I couldn't quite do it all this month. Some photos below...

Ivis mid-fall with fellow volunteer Laurita

Andres and Colin were a big help...

The Andres-Tatiana series

Tatiana had quite a bit of trouble...

The Centro Infantil (pre-kindergarten age kids) put on a Christmas show and it was outrageous. Between the costumes, singing, dancing and messed up lines it was like something out of a movie. Por ejemplo, the kid who played the angel who visits Mary to tell her the big news kept saying, "Maria, llena eres de grasa" (which means Mary, full of fat) instead of "Maria, llena eres de gracia" (full of grace). It was the perfect kind of cute, everyone was cracking up and the kid just kept going with it.

And then the one-year-old kids came out in these Christmas tree outfits to can't see it but the second from the right started crying after about a minute of waving her chubby little arms. Poor thing but so very cute.

I would love to be able to see everyone now but I feel like I'm in the right place. Love and miss you all--take care during the holidays and let me know how your lives are going!

love, Marian

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

English Teatro

My boys

Hi all! Today we had the English Teatro (a series of skits and presentations put on by the English program) and I must say my boys were hilarious. We did the "thumbs up....wrists together...elbows in...aroosh-tah-shah" song. Their favorite parts of the song are of course "bum out" and "tongue out." They giggled the whole time and were a real crowd pleaser.

Lined up and ready to go.

"thumbs up"

"knees together"

"head over"

Mine again, all mine and I couldn't be happier with them.

Action shot. In the back is Marco Polo, the crazy colegio director.

Tomorrow we'll have the English Teatro at the downtown center. My boys there can't wait to get to the last line of their skit: My grandfather is in the bathroom and it smells...pi-yu! (wish us luck).

Until next time...


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some updates and things

I don't really know how to put these updates into coherent paragraphs so here they are in simpler form:

  • Tomorrow is the Liga/Barcelona game and I'm excited about it. I have a jersey and everything.
  • I've been trying to download Skype but it just won't work. Will let you know when I figure something out.
  • The high school girls didn't show to go to the park last weekend because one of their dads believed they couldn't go out on paseos with volunteers without a permission slip. Funny, because they invited us, but we'll probably try again some other time.
  • I had Saag Paneer at an Ecua-Indian food place and it was delicious. So much better than I was expecting.
  • Tonight we're meeting up with some former volunteers who still live in Quito. Some of them have been here for over ten years. Who knows, maybe that will be me some day.
  • Just kidding, mom.
  • The Unit I'm teaching my second-graders is called "Head to Toes" (it's about the body and how to describe people). We've started singing that repeat-after-me song that goes "Thumbs up, wrists together, elbows in, aroosh-ta-sha aroosh-ta-sha, etc." and they die laughing. They fall to the ground cracking up about it and I melt with love every single time.
  • If you want to melt with love, go to the link on the right that says "My beautiful nephew" and watch some videos of my beautiful nephew. If you need to laugh, try the one called "The Best Medicine."

These are two of my La Marin English class girls. Sometimes they have a lot of attitude and I think they must hate being in class with me. But the other day I was playing a card game with Tatiana (on the left--she is especially moody) and when I told her I'd be here all year she lit up and started clapping. I've written about the challenges I've had with Tatiana before and every day I don't know what to expect from her. Lately things have been going much better than they were at the beginning of the year so I'm thankful for that.

Gissella is on the right. She was also one of my La Marin girls until her family left the center recently. I know that families leave from time to time but she's my first loss. She was a sweet, absolutely lovely girl and I miss her terribly. It's not exactly easy to be a center family if you're not completely committed to it. It takes a lot of time and effort to keep up with the classes and work hours and such. There could be a number of complicated factors that resulted in her family leaving, so I'm just trying to let it go. All the same, it sucks (for lack of a better word).

Well, that's it for now. I'd love some letters if anyone gets the chance to write (my address is on the right). Have a good weekend!


Thursday, November 13, 2008


Hello everyone! Last time I mentioned that Marcia (I work with her in the resources room at La Got de Leche school downtown) had invited me to her home in Cayambe. Well, she did and I went and had a lovely time. She said I could bring someone along if I wanted to so I brought fellow volunteer Audrey--as soon she saw us Marcia said to me "I thought you'd bring her," which I think means it's obvious that we're good friends.

Anywho, when someone invites you over to their home, they want you to be with them the whole day. We got there in the morning and weren't getting on the bus to go home until it had long been dark out. Cayambe is a small town a little over an hour away from Quito where the flower industry operates heavily. Marcia's husband works for a flower grower and he spent about an hour showing us photos of flower arrangements. It was cute.

If you ask me what we did all day, I'd have to say we talked, drank coffee, made lunch, went to a cemetery and talked more. We went to the market for lunch supplies and Marcia told me to get anything I wanted (everyone else would be having chicken, so I decided to make a nice big salad, which is something I don't get to do very often).

This is aji. It's delicious but if you're going to eat it
you better know what you're getting into.

This was the day after Dia de los Muertos so the cemetery was full of flowers and other offerings. The holiday isn't celebrated in Ecuador as it is elsewhere--it's much more somber here, though not at all sorrowful. I took a few photos as discreetly as I could get away with...

It says "don't throw trash."

The outside of Marcia's house.

That's all for now. My high school girls have invited me to the park on Sunday (we're all really excited about it) so I'll let you know how that goes. Until then, take care!

Love, Mare

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Park, Halloween, and High School

Hello again! In this episode you'll find some outings to the park, a Halloween party and a not-so-fun story about my high school girls. My thirteen hour days are starting to catch up to me--somehow I find the energy to do each class but during the time between classes I totally crash. We have another three day weekend this time around and we're not going anywhere so I'm looking forward to relaxing. I've been invited to the house of Marcia (I work with her in the resources room at La Gota de Leche school downtown). She's this great little thing who always wants to take coffee breaks with me and just shoot the caca if you catch my drift. She lives about an hour away in Cayambe and I'm going to have lunch with her on Monday. I love her, I think I'll bring her flowers.

At the end of every month we go to the park during the Girls’ Program at the downtown center. Below I have some pictures from last month and this Friday. We walk from La Marín up a million stairs to Parque Itchimbía and spend the morning exploring the various attractions. Plenty of mini zip-lines, merry-go rounds, ponds and even what the girls call the “Casa del gringo loco,” a wooden structure in which sits a crazy white guy (who is invisible, of course) waiting for unsuspecting children to become his next meal.

This is the Brujita de Itchimbía, who used to
know all about the natural healing properties
of all the herbs in the area. She's about 20ft tall.

When we went to the park yesterday I started making dandelion crowns for the girls and they loved it. Here are some photos that Laura (fellow volunteer) took of the whole affair.

Last week we had a Halloween party and it was such a fun morning—the kids were especially thrilled at these piñatas we had hung up and their joy was fiercely contagious. I was so pleased at the whole affair and thankful that I got to enjoy the kids outside of the classroom. It was a treat to experience them as the squealing, curious, hilarious little people that they are.

On the left is Anderson. He's everyone's favorite--
he has this huge head and wears those suspenders
almost every day, often with checkered pants
and a plaid shirt. Next to him is Alejandro,
an adorable second-grader whose dimples
are unfortunately obscured here by the clown makeup.

I had an upsetting experience this week with my high school girls. I work with thirteen of them every night in a study hour in the library and I love them very much. I think they love me too because they’re always running up to hug me and kiss me whenever they see me. On Thursday night I walked into the library to find the librarian, the “Inspector” of the high school (a man named Hannibal—most of the kids are afraid of him, probably for good reason) and one of the directors of the center. Apparently some things had gone missing from the library in the past couple of weeks and my girls were the suspects. We had previously shared the library with some younger high school girls, but they had such behavior problems that they were moved out of the library to another room. Various groups throughout the day use the library too, so I was under the impression that it could have been any number of people who had taken the items.

Anyway, on Thursday night I was surprised to see these three authorities preparing to talk to my girls. They had narrowed the culprits down to my group because we were the last ones to use the library before the bulk of the items were discovered missing the next morning. The deal was that any items that weren’t returned would have to be paid for by the whole group, which really pissed the girls off. The librarian stressed that she hoped it had only been an accident and that the girls had absent-mindedly taken them home. I wished that was true and actually believed that to be the case. My girls wouldn’t steal from the library, especially when all they have to do is ask to use the item and it’s theirs. I also thought that since I hadn’t seen anything suspicious among my girls that it must have been someone else.

Well, you can probably see where this is going. That same night one of the girls (she’s absolutely lovely and has such a warm spirit) confided in me that she had accidentally taken one book home and was afraid to bring it back. She asked if she could give it to me so I would return it for her. I of course said no, but told her not to worry because bringing it back was the right thing to do. I suggested she apologize and tell the librarian it was a careless mistake.

The next night I checked in with the librarian and she showed me that this girl had brought back a bag full of stuff from the library. About five or six books, a handful of CDs, markers, pencils and little things she probably has no use for. Apparently she gave the names of two other girls who had each taken a book or two also. They all did it knowingly and weren’t planning on bringing the items back until they learned that all the girls would have to pay to replace them.

I was absolutely crushed and I still feel awful about it. At first I couldn’t believe that I was wrong about my girls who I love so much. I was wrong about something I was so sure of. I usually reserve judgment about things until I have enough information to make a good guess. If you’re reading this, you probably know me, and you probably know that I’m pretty cautious and meticulous about coming to conclusions in general. That’s why I was shocked to find out that my girls had deliberately stolen things right under my nose and then turned around to hug and kiss me and tell me they love me.

Last night I gave them a talk about how I was disappointed in all of them—they’re all friends with each other and it was suggested to me by Madre Miguel (who has been here for forty years and whom I trust completely) that some if not all of them knew what had happened. I told them I looked stupid and lazy in front of the center authorities and that they had lost my trust and maybe even my friendship. The first girl who brought the bag of items back wasn’t at the study hall; she had been removed from her classes that day I don’t know what happened to her. Some of them looked absolutely crushed and some, particularly the two remaining lifters, looked defiantly unaffected.

You can see that I’m taking it personally. I know it’s not about me, and I’m not trying to make it about me. But the truth is I feel duped and pretty foolish. I look naïve and I feel totally offended that the girls would sneak something like this behind my back. Does this mean that I was wrong about my relationship with them? I want to be someone they can trust and who will be honest with them about anything they want to know. But now I feel like they’ve been tricking me this whole time.

They’re teenagers and teenagers mess up, so I shouldn’t turn this into a personal attack on me. But I’m grieving for them because they chose such an empty way to be human. When they have all these resources from the center at their fingertips they still have the urge to take advantage of people and things. I know I shouldn’t expect them to be grateful to the center because I don’t know anything about growing up a working street child. Or should I assume that they’re grateful? I can’t expect them to analyze their own situation from a removed perspective when everything around them says “don’t even imagine a different life for yourself because you’ll never get out of this.”

People are so strongly influenced by the way others treat them and by the manner in which they perceive others’ treatment of them. I know my girls deserve a second chance but will they take it seriously? The two girls who haven’t returned the items yet didn’t seem remorseful, so I’m not sure if they realize the magnitude of the situation.

Ahhhh, that was a long story but I needed to share it because it shows that this is not paradise. I love it here but things are complicated and I feel somewhat frustrated at the fact that I don’t have access to a lot of information about growing up here, or about how personal to get with people or how to love and trust them and be on guard all the time.

The other volunteers are wonderful and I’m so thankful to have them—they help me look at the experience in different ways and remind me that as wrapped up in my work as I am, and should be, my life is big and full of gifts that help me navigate these situations without disappearing within them. So in case you were wondering, I’m still here!

love, M

just because he makes me happy, here's Anderson one more time...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

My students

This morning we had a friendly soccer game with the colegio (high school) girls. I have some of them in a study hour every night and they're a blast. They're so sassy and fun and I love being with them, although sometimes it's hard to get them to do their homework...

These are some of my second grade boys. Also a blast. You may remember Pablo, who was stealing and eating dental floss during class. Sadly, he missed too many classes and now can't be in the English program anymore. Attendance for the boys was such a problem in the past that they made the English classes optional to them. At first I worried how he would take it (this is the kid who stays behind to help me clean up and holds my hand while he walks me to my next class). But I think he doesn't really even know what happened. He still walks into the classroom after class has ended and helps me clean up before he takes me to where I'm supposed to be. I heard that he wandered into another classroom and stayed for that class one day, appearing to be a little confused about where he was supposed to be. Since he's not supposed to come to my class anymore, he's not in any of these pictures (below are Billy, Pastor, Elvis and Erik, followed by the whole class--minus a few). They're holding up drawings of family members--you'll notice Billy's rectangular uncle and Elvis's stick figures. And yes, Elvis is his name. We also have a number of Lenins, Stalins, Jeffersons, and I even heard about a kid named Hitler.

Until next time,


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A trip to Baños and the first choir performance

Look closely and you can see the town of Baños (more on that below)

Hello everyone! Today the choir had its first performance and the kids did very well. The center is hosting a conference on working children and wanted the choir to open the day’s activities. We started with “Mi Chacra,” a little song about the animals on a farm. During our rehearsals the kids were having a hard time smiling while they were singing, so the other day I danced around in front them to boost the energy a little. I made up some gestures and they enjoyed it so much we decided to include the choreography in the performance. They did a great job—luckily we had prepared a second song, “La Cucaracha,” because the audience wanted to hear another one. I was so proud of the kids because the songs are in two voices (soprano, alto) and they had been struggling with maintaining their own parts. But they performed beautifully today and I’m so happy for them. I have some photos here and a video as well—don’t watch it if you have vertigo because for some reason I kept turning around in circles. I took the video after the performance and some of them were a little too excited/distracted to pay attention to my camera. The clip ends on Joel, one of my favorites (I know you’re not supposed to have favorites but I think it’s inevitable). He’s a great kid and has a very sweet smile…

This weekend we had Friday off for Guayaquil Day (to celebrate the founding of the city of Guayaquil). It sounds like we have three day weekends all the time, doesn’t it? All fourteen of us new volunteers went to Baños, a tourist hot spot named for its natural springs. We took a 40km bike ride (about 25 miles—whew!) through these beautiful green mountains. Sometimes we were on the highway and sometimes the trail led us around cliffs and through small towns—we saw a few waterfalls and ended the trip at a secluded watering hole (photo below).

Our oasis

The sun had been out all day and it was such a relief to jump into the cool water and stand under the waterfall. The bike ride was not easy and I was definitely ready to relax. It was a small paradise and I’m so grateful that we got to spend the day together like that. We kept telling each other how glad we were that all of us had decided to go to Baños together and ride through those mountains.

We flagged down a pickup truck to take us 40km back to Baños. Six people and six mountain bikes in the bed of an old Toyota. The man who took us back (older, approaching elderly) sped over speed bumps and passed anyone who was going under 60mph, but he was kind and refused payment once we arrived.

Still in love with my students, still taking things one hour at a time. I have to remind myself that even though I want them all to like me, I’m not here because I need people to like me. I’m here because they need to know that I love them and I care to listen to them and take them seriously. Sometimes taking them seriously means holding them up to standards no one has ever put them up to. For example, I expect my students not to hit each other. A slap in the face is met with a slap right back, and usually things are so overwhelming that a slap here and there goes unnoticed or seems small in comparison to everything else that needs to be attended to in that moment. Discipline is difficult and it’s my least favorite part about teaching. Yet it takes up the majority of my time—I want to figure out a way to get around it, but I don’t know if I can. Any suggestions?

Let me know how your lives are going. I haven’t forgotten about the whale video, I just haven’t gotten it from my friend yet! Wish this California girl luck as the rainy season starts to kick in…much love, Marian