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...