Week One: La Empeza de nuestra Aventura

21 06 2011

Day One (5.30.11)
Arrived, safe and sound! After a very long day of travel we have arrived in Ecuador. I have met almost all 20 of the college interns from William and Mary, Franklin and Marshall, Duke, Dayton, Miami of Ohio, Indiana, and University of North Carolina. They are all very nice and likable and I am not at all worried about having good friends to explore with this summer.
We rode a 4 hour bus ride through the mountains, up 5,000 km and then back down part of it. The views were spectacular. Once in Cuenca we arrived at our hostel which is phenomenal. It is run by two native Canadian people and attracts a young multi-ethnic crowd to stay overnight or just enjoy the restaurant and bar area. After a yummy meal and fresh mango juice we went to the Spanish school where we will spend our days for the next two weeks. We had coffee in mugs (a daily treat and surprise—Ecuadorians love coffee and it’s everywhere) and discussed issues of safety and went over basic Spanish. The time here will be intensive Spanish training from 8-12 M-F for the next two weeks. I should improve greatly. Next we explored the city, hung at the hostel, then ate at a great local spot. Tomorrow we will meet our host families and begin our stay with them.

Day Two (5.31.11)
What a day. A long, crazy, wonderful day. After our Spanish placement exam we met our host families. Mi mama is incredible. She is a joyful, loving, woman full of energy and kisses. She is 78 years old with dark skin, gray hair, and a warm personality. She found a way to communicate with me, calling me her hija (daughter) all day despite my VERY limited conversational skills. Mariana is her name but mi mama is much easier and more appropriate for me. Her friend, Yolanda is hosting mi amiga from Franklin and Marshall, Emilia. They drove us home where I was greeted by a household filled with random people whom I struggled to figure out their relationship. My room in on the second floor of the house and I share a bathroom with the majority of the inhabitants, true family style. While the material comforts are simple, my house is filled with activity, family, and love—just the way I like it. Mi mama is the mother of six and grandmother of 10 ninos. I have met half and cannot even begin to keep straight their names. They have all been unbelievably hospitable and patient considering my meager attempts to communicate.

Day 3 (6.1.11)
At school we studied Spanish, 4 students and a teacher in a classroom from 8-12. It was intensive but so informative. More than a weeks worth of college Spanish in a morning. At lunch I was much more talkative and sustained conversation entirely in Spanish for over 45 minutes learning about my host mom’s daughter (Melina), her husband (Renaldo), and their 14 year old son (Martin)’s life. I talked about my sister, brother, mom, dad, describing them in as much detail as my limited vocabulary would allow. Renaldo plays the guitar and writes songs while Martin’s favorite class is recess (typical). I was in the BEST mood walking back to school in the afternoon with my new Spanish conversation skills. I am thinking in Spanish all the time and am struggling to switch back and forth between English and Spanish. Tonight I studied Spanish vocab for a while—I am so eager to learn. What a refreshing perspective and mindset on education. I just cannot get enough.
In the afternoon we had development discussions about SEC’s Logistical Model and ultimately were put into our groups of 9 students where we function as a virtual NGO (VNGO). My group, team impacto, was given the problem of AIDS in Africa and asked to address the problem in an innovative way establishing desired outcome, beneficiaries, indicators of success, inputs, outputs, and activities. It was a thought-provoking exercise without a doubt. Co-founder of SEC then shared wisdom with us emphasizing the importance of looking at the real needs of people before trying to address them. He said key components of success for a socially minded organizations is moving past sympathy to empathy, finding a balance between community interest and self interest and ownership vs. leadership. He stresses how people are central to any organization and it is crucial to take the extra five minutes whenever they are called for regardless of whether you feel like you have five more minutes to give. He talked about not taking short-cuts, having big visions but being detail oriented. Leadership with humility and the ability to take risks with wise preparation and consideration is needed. Persistency, patience, and perseverance are key characteristics of an effective leader. Man, there is so much more. It is a lot to chew on in one day and I am slowly processing.

Days 4, 5 and 6 (6.2.11-6.4.11)
Yesterday was another day that fell in line with others thus far this week. Spanish class was filled with more conversation than usual. Lunch at home was absolutely wonderful, filled with tons of people, lentil soup, broken conversation, and joy. In the afternoon we discussed an article about talent by Geoff Colvin from Fortune Magazine which was very thought-provoking. Essentially Colvin argues that America’s emphasis on innate talent is unwarranted and holds people back from reaching their potential. He calls for deliberate practice of individuals to master any skill and for personal development. He probes readers to question what do you really believe and what do you really want? Challenging yourself, pushing the limits, stepping into discomfort, constantly self-evaluating, and engaging your mind are key components of growth and success. He also points to the significance of mentors and constructive criticism from others to provide outside perspective and a more realistic view of self. I found the article encouraging and motivating. It is the hard things, the uncomfortable, the unfamiliar that grows us. Persistency is worth it and through putting your mind to something you are capable of far more than you could ever imagine. These principles applied will be crucial for the next seven weeks of my life.

Night 6 and Day 7 (6.4.11-6.5.11)
Sunday morning I arose at 6am to throw on my hiking gear and quickly enjoy a delicious breakfast mi mama insisted on preparing. I walked to town, climbed on a bus, and was driven an hour away with the majority of interns and an eclectic crew of Ecuadorians ranging in all ages and athletic ability. All 54 “trekkers” participated in some interesting but effective warm up stretches combining yoga with squats and air circles. We then began our what would end up being seven hour climb from one small rural town to another through the muddy mountains. We had to stop at least every 30 minutes to let the people in the back catch up which was frustrating but allowed for great conversations. We were passed by indigenous peoples on horseback, by passed sheep, cows, and walked through pastures, on the ridge, and through trees. It was absolutely gorgeous. For at least an hour and a half we were strategically making our way through muddy paths where one wrong step resulted in sinking a foot deep. Despite the circumstances we only had two interns fall and ended the hike with some mud soaked pants and boots. After the hike I rushed home to catch a movie with my Ecuadorian brothers but no one was home. I guess my communication is not quite as good as I had originally thought. However, I was able to enjoy dinner with some friends. What a day. Ecuador is so wonderful.

(Cate Tidwell)

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