Friday, March 27, 2009

A Time Removed but not forgotton

Because I am so far removed from my last days in Ecuador(May of 2008), I'll just give some anecdotes as I remember them from the pictures I have selected...

The above picture is of me and my amazing travel partner Chisara and our equally amazing Andean Anthropology professor, Angelica Ordoñez of USFQ. I remember her walking past us our last day and me thinking why not get a picture, she was very challenging and a great educator with TONS of reading but it was a great class.

I actually snagged that pic moments before our program director and housing coordinator, Tania Ledergerber y Victoria, took us out to eat lunch as a farwell kind of event. It was very relaxing because throughout the semeter the students and IPSL butted heads and most people had issues with their service placement, but not at this lunch. We all realized it was over and we had fun over the five months we shared. The picture to the left is one last pic with all of us together.

After the lunch we decided to hit up the Guayasamin museum in Quito that we forgot to go to over the five months we were there. It was called "La Capilla del Hombre" (The Chapel of Man) and the museum was a costumized viewing hall for the Ecuadorian artists work. For more info on him go here===> . One part of the building that stuck out to all of us were these HUGE letters on the wall that formed this short four line poem that sort of sums up the tragic death-like humanity that the artist expresses in his paintings. The words read, "Yo Llore porque, no tenia zapatos, hasta que vi un niño, que no tenia pies", which translated reads "I cried because, I did not have shoes, until I saw a boy, who didn't have legs". It sort of speaks to ignorance and realizing that as terrible a situation we may ever be in, there's always someone who's going through something worse. He leaves it at that for shock value, I think to urge the audience to act, maybe, not? There's another pic at the top right that's very dramatic called "Lagrimas de Sangre"(Tears of Blood).

These last pics are of my host family minus one brother and sister. I never really took pictures of them throughout my time there. We honestly didn't spend that much time together, because I was always running around doing a million things. I did however have a good relationship with Andres and still keep up on the Facebook. The mother Lorena and the father Ernesto. They were some of the most generous and caring people I've met in my life. I couldn't have asked for any better treatment and love from a complete stranger. They've had several other host students as well so I'm sure they were pros at it by the time I came to Quito. -Thanks-

Some Quick Last thoughts on these pics. I had cuy(guinea pig) the night before I left. And yea, um not the best fried food I've eaten, I mean beignets or fried rodent...but it's unique to the indigenous Kichwa speaking descendents of Incan empire. But the large majority of ecuadorians do NOT eat guinea pig, although there are large indigenous groups throughout the larger urban areas and rural.

I also bought some flowers for my mom in the airport. It was like $12 I think for two dozen flowers that were the most beautiful roses I've ever bought(but i'm inexperienced), but no smell at all. I got searched like crazy at the airport leaving Ecuador and coming to the U.S. They even made me turn my ipod on and off to ensure that it wasn't a bomb I guess? It was ridiculous, but again, I think I just got the "Aladdin" treatment. Sometimes my racial ambiguity skews some to think I'm of "Middle-Eastern" descent. While that may have not been the case...they didn't search anybody else like they did me...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Before It's too late...

So I've been out of the loop the past, oh say, month and a half, catching up with old friends, giving out ecuadorian and otavalenan gifts, and getting reaquainted with life in the U.S. which is markedly different from life in Quito, Ecuador.

I'll include some pictures from my last days in Ecuador in the post and discuss them and then, hopefully post about my current job at the University of Michigan where I am writing from at the moment.

So as you may recall I was busy trying to decide what to do for my final paper in my class for the IPSL(International Partnerships in Service-Learning and Leadership) program called Social Organizations, Development and Service. Like my class on colonialism I wanted to take an Afro-Latin American perspective in my approach to this paper. I ended up writing on the role of NGOs(Non-Governmental Organizations) or ONGs(Organizacion no Gubernamental)----pronounced oh-eneh-hey(fun to say, haha). So again, I wrote about the effect of blanqueamiento on afro-ecuatorianos(as in my Andean Archeology class) and for the latter half of the paper discussed a couple ONGs that impact their lives such as the one that Chisara was working for (CARE). We also had to give a 20min. presentation IN SPANISH, on our organization, with analysis of our experience with the organization. Chisara took a picture of me during the presentation.

It was rough, the semester AND the papers that were both supposed to be 8-10pgs...mine were six and a half, not quite what they wanted but apparently it didn't hurt me too much. I ended the semester with a 3.75 overall GPA with my only B coming in the aforementioned program class. While the classes were challenging, as far as speaking in spanish 24/7, readings and papers were concerned, grading was not as critical as I would've expected.

The ABOVE is a post that I started the BEGINNING of TASS on 6/29/08 as the kids were arriving. I remember working on it while Abdul's sister and friends roamed the Telluride house and have been in a severe procrastination drought over the past months. I think part of re-acclimating myself to life in the states was ignore this part of my Ecuadorian experience...posting weekly, bi weekly or whenever I could. Well, a combination of that and the whirlwind of a experience being a tutor for Telluride, and genuine procrastination/laziness. Anywho, I'm going to try and make one or two long posts about telluride and maybe one wrapping up Ecuador, but man, by now, that was a YEAR ago! Time flies, time to recap on the blog...

In Retrospect,after posting these pictures:

I was going to make a post talking about this random demonstration me and Kristina bypassed the last day of our service job, obviously they weren't fans of president Correa with signs like Hambreador, which is like guy who makes you hungry(translated by me).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Monografías y algo mas educativo

So that last post was a week old and needed to get out quickly to make room for more posts. So right now I am slaving away at the university. Granted I did not have to be here today but here I have free, fast uninterrupted internet use...something I will not miss in 4 days when I am back in Birmingham!!!

I mentioned I was slaving away but not on what. So two weeks ago I finished with my class entitled Procesos de Colonialismo: Norte y Sur. All in all, I think it was my favorite class manily because of the teacher,Sabrina Guerra. There was a lot of reading but because USFQ has a large extranjero population half was in english and the other half in spanish. Everyday however, she managed to call on me for some thing or another. It got to the point where it was a joke between me and a couple of the guys in class about who she calls on first. It was really annoying because the class was taught in spanish so to try and offer up something useful in spanish on the reading in english was a little tricky. But honestly I think I got more out of the course that way because I made damn sure that I read and understood and had something insightful to present in class.

So throughout the course we had to work on a portfolio which was essentially composed of four two page reflexions due during the course. My tema(theme) for the portafolio was syncretized religions in the New World, such as Santería in Cuba and Candomblé in Brazil. I took a class on Tradional African Religions this past semester at UAB and learned primarily about Voodoo, Santería and their origins. Voodoo, Santeria and Candomble though practiced in different parts of the world all came from the same Yoruba root in present day Nigeria.

Anywho I had to connect Norte y Sur in the porfolio and Cuba and Brazil are both considered Sur. So I took the AME(African Methodist Episcopal) Church for my northern focus. For the presentation, I had no clue what to do, so I went to mommy who always has good ideas. We had to present for 10 min on our theme and include a creative component. We decided to make cookie masks. I bought some cookies and icing and m&ms and made little masks for them to eat to represent the mask that Santeria is for Catholocism. Both Santeria and Candomblé mask their african roots with Catholic saints so as to retain their culture and religion throughout slavery. The cookies were a hit and the presentation...a little shady but it worked.

Right now I´m reflecting in this blog as opposed to stressing/working on my other 2 papers that are due on Friday. One is for Andean Anthropology on Blanqueamiento(or mestizaje, which is the mixing of white spaniards and indigenous peoples here in Ecuador to create a caste system for people who are indigenous mestizo and blanco), but with a focus on how it´s effected afro ecuadorians. The other one is for my program´s clue what I´m going to write it on though...something about NGO´s that work to combat racism in Ecuador...any suggestions???

Time to get back to work, but I´ll leave you with some pictures I took the last day of my job at ALDEC where I helped Ecuadorian students with homework in English and other subjects and helped out in the kitchen, a lot more than that...but I´ll post later on it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cuenca and wrapping up

So my time here in Ecuador is slowing down and coming to an end, I can´t say that I´m sad but I am beyond beleif grateful for the opportunity that I have been able to take advantage of...

So last weekend I did nothing but watch X-files season 9 and work on monografías(final papers). I´m sort of traveled out after the weekend before last when we went to Cuenca...about 10 hours normally away. We took a night bus the same time I wrote my last post. Traveling at night is by far the best idea ever. We paid for a $10 bus ride at 10pm to get there and just slept on the bus and got there around 7:30am, found a hostal and went out for breakfast. There was something about the city that was very warm and inviting.
Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador behind Guayaquil and Quito. It was an important colonial center in the 16th century. Much of that colonial past is ever present in Cuenca. Unlike Quito there were very few parts that did not display some remnant of it´s colonial past, the architecture, the churches, even the streets with there narrow cobble stone structure. We heard there was an orquidearea(an orchid garden). So we looked in our Lonely Planet book and asked people and took a a suburbian town about 20min away called Orquids! So we played in a playground there before going to the acutal orquiedearea on the other side of town...which was closed because it was a holiday. We got to Cuenca for the weekend of there Founder´s Day.

It was a neat celebration filled with parades throughout the main plaza and all around our hostal. It was funny and sad at the same time because for the most part they had elementary schools marching in cute little uniforms representing their schools. About half of them had bugles, trumpets without the valves. But the kids were just taught to blow as hard as they can into the mouthpiece and probably received little to know musical instructions because ooooweeee did they sound rough. But I guess I can cut them a little slack since they were 6-15...but it was still brutal. All in all it was a very good trip and Cuenca was a very warm city that reminded me of Birmingham.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Machu Picchu, Llamas and Padre Victor

Oh I also forgot about the llamas and alpacas that are abundant in this region. We went to an alpaca farm on the way to visiting all the amazing sites. Here are some funny pics...

Ok so back to the fun stuff right? So we went to Machu Picchu via the ferrocarril(railroad). It took us four hours to get there but we finally made it to the lost city of the Incas. The mountains in general in Peru were super impresionante,but these were on a whole nother level. We had about 4 hours in Machu Picchu, and actually Machu Picchu is more like the altitude of Quito but Cuzco, the city, is higher than both...go figure.

Our guide was great in Machu Picchu as well and my oh my was it amazing. It´s called the lost city because it was abandoned shortly after the Spanish arrived in 1532, and because it´s in the ¨cloud forest¨ bordering the Sierra with the Oriente, jungle, there´s a lot of plant growth that has to be maintained today. Because after 5 years the entire site was covered in growth and not rediscovered until the early 2oth century by yale archeologist, Hiram Bingham. But it was discovered on accident, adding to the mystery and allure of the ancient site.

About 70% of Machu Picchu represents what it looked like hundreds of years ago. Only about 30% of has been recreated and is present in the thatched roofs of some of the areas. Ok now for more pictures, and not much writing.... There were a lot of explanations of the different areas which have gone blank in my memory however, the terraces that you see and are seen all over the Incan sites are for agriculture, and are naturally irrigated. Oh and also the Incan structures are not built straight up they are built like a trapezoid so as to prevent them from being effected heavily by earthquakes. The world was made aware of this in the 1950´s when there was a catostrophic earthquake in Cuzco that destroyed 90% of the city and guess who built that 10%???? It was the architecture of the Incas that survived the earthquake and the colonial spanish churches and buildings were all razed by the quake. In the small pic above the guide is displaying how the trapezoid structure works. He had me stand straight and then pushed me over with little force and then had me stand with my feet to my shoulders and did the same, and guess what, i didn´t fall...go incas, so intelligent.

Also, an eeried tidbit of information is that all of the churches you see in Cuzco were all built in the colonial era over the most important Incan temples to display Spanish dominance.

So after Machu Picchu, the next day, the day of the Eduardian blow up, we visited some sites in and around Cuzco again before our bus at 5:30 left for Lima. Delgado told us to get tickets for the 20-31 so we did. And 4 of us ended up having to stay an extra day in Lima because of him. The others left on Sunday, we left on Monday, but we got to see so much of the actual city of Lima that we missed out on previously because of Punto Hermosa and the Kique experience.

So one of the members of our group had a brother who spent a summer in Lima at a seminary with Padre Victor who in turn spent a summer in the home town of Carlos(the friend in our group) in Wilmington, NC. He called from Cuzco, explained our situation and we got to stay at a seminary in Lima for free. Padre Victor couldn´t have been more excited to house 9 gringos and one ecuadorian at his seminary. We arrived at around 2 on Saturday and got to the seminary around 4 and went site seeing after that with him. We went to Plaza Mayor...reminiscent of the one in Madrid, Spain. It was impressive, and different from Quito.

We went back slept, the others left at 7 in the morning, and the 4 remaining had a day alone with Padre Victor. We went back to Plaza Mayor during the day but not before stopping at la iglesia de San Francisco. We payed 2 bucks and went in and the unique thing about this church is that it gave tours of it´s catacombs where thousands and thousands of bodies were layed to rest. As in we saw thousands of bones that are still there over centuries, creepy and interesting at the same time. I wish I had taken pictures...but that was illegal as you might assume.
We made sure that we got back to Plaza Mayor at 12:30 so we could see the changing of the guards that was supposed to be really really royal but wasn´t soo much. But they had a national band that marched around the plaza and played the national anthem and other music. And they had guards march around too and the did drill much like UAB´s colorguard does...which I must say is much more pleasing to watch than what I saw.

Around 6 we headed back to the church because Padre Victor had to do the padre thing for misa at 7:30. This misa was sooo much better than the previous one in Punto Hermosa, if I might say. It had nuns which had their convent across the street...literally, and padres to be singing to guitars and what not. After that, it was like he was another man and came and took us out to eat. We left in the morning around 7 like the other group...he even went and got our taxis because as we have seen with Eduardo and Kique, peruvians are pushers and want that money and if speak a lick of english it´s rip off city.

It was an interesting taxi ride back to say the least. The driver was Venezuelan and made a couple of comments about Chavez before saying,¨Espero un ratito¨(wait just one second)...stopped on the side of the street, went behind the taxi to urinate on the back. My friend Chisara said, ¨I know he´s not urinating¨, but of course he was. Soon though we were to the airport and on our way back to beautiful Quito.

I don´t think I ever wanted to be in Quito more than two weeks ago. At this point I´m sick of Quito and ready to go, it´s been great and my experiences here have been invaluable, however, I have 30 more days to go and am counting them down hard. Wow that took forever, hope you all enjoy it, feel free to email me with any questions at

PS. Click on the pictures to see a blown up high def view of them and also I´m taking a 9hr bus in 2hrs to Cuenca, the place that i mentioned and drew in a green line on the previous post with the map!!!!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Iheyna Jona Tochi(Phonetically prounounced Nigerian saying) means ¨Sad Things Make You Laugh¨:My Experience in Cuzco

So that phrase is from Chisara and there are several reasons for posting that, all of which I hope to include in this post...

So I´ve been taking entirely too long to post on the rest of the Peru experience so I´m going to try and be as brief as possible, but previous attempts have failed as evidenced by previous posts.

Taking a 20hr bus ride from Lima to Cuzco was an experience to say the least. It really wasn´t that bad because, theoretically, you sleep for at least 5-10 of it right?(not in my case) My body decided it would pic up some bug in Lima and then start destroying my body on the bus ride there. As soon as I stepped on the double decker bus, I knew it would be an especially long one. The only redeeming factor was that they showed a total of 6 movies on the ride there, but not after 1 and not before 7 inwhich we were turning and swerving up and around mountains, which looked ridiculously scary at night, not to mention we were at the front of the bus as to be able to see right out the impending doom.

We knew that before we got there that we probably didn´t want to go with the package that Kique´s friend Eduardo was going to offer us, but at the same time not sure how he was going to react to that granted, one of our members had already wired him $480 as per the professor´s request. Of course when we got there he was waiting with his buddy doing everything he could to rush us to his hostal...Rupa Rumi(****DISCLAIMER****AVOID THIS HOSTAL AT ALL COSTS). He said that everything was fine, and we were all trying to explain our professor-less situation and the Kique experience to him(not too necessary b/c Kique called Eduardo to give him the heads up on the greedy gringos).

So his original offer was going to be 800 for an 8 day package, however it was cut down to 500 after negotiating some activities out. The hostal was nice and so were the workers, the owner was just plain disgusting. He was very rude to his workers and nothing better than a pusher(drug dealer) of his package. All the while he claimed to be professional. So professional that his good bye words were ¨Leave my country, you mother fuckers¨, that´s after he called me liar of course. I guess I have some splainin to do as Ricky would say...

So it all started after returning back the second day we were there from visiting this amazing Incan area called Pisac(more on the fun stuff later). I return to no ipod or ipod charger in my room which was stupidly laying on my belongings beside my bed. The room I was staying in was right next to the entrance of the rustic hostal, near some couches, sorta of like a waiting area. I very calmly approached Eduardo of my at that point missing but at this point stolen ipod, cleverly not accusing anyone, simply stating the facts. There was an ipod there last night, and now there is none. He kept on asking if I was 100% seguro, and I repeatedly said yes. He responded with ¨I´m going to kill the mother fucker who took your ipod¨. He then proceed to belligerently ask his workers if they had taken it. After that he said he could get one on the black market for 100 on saturday and mail me one. I told him if he gave me $100 I´d be satisfied, after we all paid him $500.

500 x 10 = roughly...$5,000!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

He didn´t mention it the following days until the last day when we were there. And decided to throw in some extra charges that he was charged because of changing dates and this that AND the other, and figured out that as a group we owed him $100 and that we could just pay Teo(ME) that 100. Of course I told the group no. And said we´d like to talk to him before we leave about it. Of course, he comes within 20min of our departure back to Lima and says to me, ¨Did you talk to your friends¨ and I respond ¨Yes¨ but we´d like to talk to you and that´s when all hell broke lose and i called him unprofessional and then he went on a diatribe of expletives that don´t need to be repeated...BACK TO THE FUN STUFF!!!

Oh and my sunburn kicked in full force at this point, just my chest and shoulders(red hot...a first for my fresh mulatto skin,haha). So as I said the first day we went to Pisac. We hiked with our wonderful tour guide Cristobal all over this one mountain area where the inca ruins were ever present, and stunning. Every tour guide talked about the uniqueness of the Incan architecture because they used NO mortar or cement, but instead used fine carving to place the many ton rocks on top of each other through concave and convex carving techniques not evidenced on the outside but on the inside.

We traveled all day to several Incan sites, the names of which have vanished from my memory but the pictures are priceless.

The next day was Machu Picchu and as we can see I´ve already written a book, I´ll try and make another quick post for Machu Picchu to do it justice till then stay fresh....

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Primero destinación...Punto Hermosa, Perú

So my Semana Santa in Perú was inolvidable, sin embargo, it was very long and very crazy, I´ll try and recount what took place from the beginning...

We started off the trip flying from Quito in the mountains to the coast in Guayaquil and waited there for a couple of hours before we met up with four other kids that had just gotten done visiting the Galapagos Islands to leave as a 10 person group to Lima,Perú. And this is where the trip started to go sour...

If you recall, we were supposed to travel with Professor Florencio Delgado, professor of Andean Archeology. He arrives at the airport with $2000 in hand to return to us. We each gave him a $500 deposit the week before, which should have been an indication of how unorganized this trip would be. He went to the bathroom and counted and it and returned it to us. Then he informed us that he would not be traveling with us to Lima(Friday) but would meet us on Sunday because his mother was ill in Cuenca(2hrs away by car from Guayaquil). He then introudced a prof. from another school named Gilda who would be accompanying us on the trip,nobody had ever met her before. So here we were, 9 students and one random adult headed on a plane to Lima where we would meet....someone we didnt know.

The plane, although it only cost $165 roundtrip was really nice with free movies on the back of the head rests and in flight games. Also for Ecuador and Peru there are airport taxes for international flights that you have to pay in cash at the airport,a little new. It took two hours before we arrived to Lima. In the airport, because we weren´t told otherwise we converted all of our money ($480) into peruvian soles(pronounced soul-lays). We were then met in the airport by the hostal owner Enrique who was there to pick us up in a bus for 20 but there were only 9 of us...the beginning of the miscommunication.

Enrique is an archeologist phD candidate at the University of Pittsburg and has a Heines(the ketchup company) fellowship to carry out his work near Punto Hermosa,Perú about 40km outside of Lima where he works with his team from Belgium, Spain and several other countries at an archeological site that I can´t remember but have pictures of(haha). So even though Delgado did not accompany us we were getting the real deal with this an extent.

So we take the 45min bus ride,tired, to his hostal in Punto Hermosa. There we explain our situation and how nothing is really organized. He starts by saying that he is soo glad that we ended up with him and not on the streets and Lima with all this cash strapped on us, and so were we, we thought. He agrees at that point to give us a free night on Sunday if we can´t get a bus to go to Cuzco from Lima that day. That was $30 off basically, so we all paid upfront. Needless to say he reneged and the last night said that the numbers weren´t adding up and he´d need $15 from all of us, well that didn´t go over too well with the indignant of the group,which resulted in a hr and a half back and forth between the group and him. Some highlights were him saying, that what he felt was us being ungrateful, we were TOLD to leave by 9am the next morning on monday, and since we were talking business he expected to be reembursed for the gas he wasted driving 45min into Lima to get our bus tickets for us($2 a piece)...very awkward situation thanks to Delgado!!

Back to the fun stuff...

So he took us to Pachacamac which is a HUGE archeological site right outside of Lima. He helped with the excavating of it about 6yrs ago and had VIP access to some parts which was neat. The site is super old and on the coast originally used by pre-Incan societies, then by the Incans, and then conquered by Pizzarro and company in the 16th century. When Pizzarro ransomed Atahualpa, he sent Pizzarro to Pachacamac to steal the gold he demanded. The size of the site is muy impresionante, and there are still huge huge parts that are underground and one can tell from a far because of the different shades across the many acres of land. By the way, I´m sure you can notice how dessert-ie it is here.

Kique(as he liked to be called), then took us to eat at this really nice buffet lunch restaurant, and then to his site where he works. It´s smaller than Pachacamac and open to the public which can complicate things but they still work 8hrs a day in the arid heat. He´s looking mainly for pyraimd remains and the implications of social structure in the area, very interesting stuff, but I´m glad I´m an African American Studies major.

That night he threw a party at a club within walking distance from the hostal on the beach and the dinner was salmon! The next day was Sunday, the day we wanted to leave but could not so based on his suggestions we went to go be lazy on the beach. We laid out and got burned under the sun at Punto Hermosa. The place is well known within the surfer world because of Pico Alto, which is the second largest surfable wave on the planet. In fact, the hostal we stayed at housed supposedly one of the greatest surfers of all time back in the 80s, and of course Kique surfs and is all about good energy...but we had the exact opposite that night. I even went to misa(mass) with the catholics in the was boring(sorry God, please forgive me)...I say this because the misa I went to the following Sunday in Lima was really nice and interactive.

that´s all for now, that´s the very first leg of my trip from there we took a 20hr bus ride from Lima to Cuzco(because we didn´t know when we would be going where we were unable to buy plane tickets for 150 ida y vuelta(roundtrip) from Lima to Cuzco. I´ll post as many pics as I can right now and more later but I have to go meet a friend for a birthday a la Mariscal(see previous posts) and it takes forever to do this at an internet café!!!!

i´ll try and post about Cuzco tomorrow, stay fresh...till tomorrow

( me Willa)