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Journals from Semester abroad in Quito, Ecuador

2008-01-26 Bowties, yoga, catcalls, and the president

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My host sister at her brother's graduation party (notice the waiter in the background wearing a bowtie!)

Hola everyone, sorry I haven't written in so long! My classes are now in full swing and I'm still not quite as efficient at reading/note-taking in Spanish as in English, so homework takes a little longer. It's not too bad, though, and I'm really enjoying my classes. My major (intercultural communication) doesn't exist here, so I'm taking five different classes in five different departments, just because I want to. And for you ladies who will be here next semester (you are all girls, right?), I definitely recommend taking at least one or two regular classes to fulfill LC requirements so that you are with some Ecuadorians. For example, most exchange students don't take Nutrition 101, so I'm the only American in a class full of Ecuadorians. In my Bilingualism and Bilingual Education class Im one of only two Americans in the class. Of course, I'm also taking Yoga, Gender and Society, and Translation, all of which are at least half full of exchange students, so it's a mix. It's nice to have some of each. Let's see, when was the last time I wrotea week ago Thursday? Hmm. The highlight of last weekend was the very elegant luncheon at my host aunt's house. We were celebrating my oldest host brother's long-awaited graduation from medical school, and it was quite an event. According to some of the family members it wasn't particularly elegant, but I was certainly impressed. The aunt's house is beautiful, with paintings by the very talented grandfather all over the walls, beautiful furniture, and a large patio covered by a rented white tent. There were white tables and white chairs, with bouquets of lilies on every table. And, the most exciting part for me was the fact that there were two waiters carrying around trays of appetizers and champagne. In a house! Not only that, the waiters were wearing bowties! Carla thought it was hilarious that I was so impressed by the bowties. I'm not sure why I thought that was the most impressive part, but for me it was. The food was wonderful, too, a variety of salads and breads, along with turkey and a choice of three dressings for the meat (plum, orange, and peach, all of which were delicious). And there was pastel de tres leches (Im not sure if there's a word for it in English, but it's a rich, moist sort of cake made with milk) for dessert, which I loved, but by that point I was so full that I only managed half of a piece. Apparently at the party a bunch of the cousins were razzing my only single host brother about me, since I'm the new American girl in the house and he's the single guy. They all know that I'm dating Oscar, so they were just kidding, but I walked in on the middle of the conversation and didn't know what they were talking about. Carla and I were leaving the party early to go to a barbeque, and when Carla explained that to them they all said, "Ooh, Ricky, aren't you going to go with them?" Not knowing why it mattered, I turned to him and said, "Oh, did you want to come?" which of course elicited plenty of "ooooh"s. He laughed awkwardly and declined the invitation. Silly cousins Really, anyone who talks to me for more than five minutes hears all about Oscar (probably more than they would like to, sorry I talk about him so much!), so they should leave poor Ricky in peace. Speaking of Oscar, he called yesterday. He says he's tired out, skinny, and a little beat up, but that the fishing season is going pretty well. He should be back in Seattle by about February 23. He always sounds so sad from Alaska! But I think I cheered him up a little, and at least got him to laugh a couple times. The captain is being nicer this time around, so Oscar should be able to call back in about a week. I also managed to call Oscar's dad in Honduras yesterday, and we talked for a while, comparing notes on food, vocab, and culture in the two countries. Anyway, back to Ecuador. As I said, this week was pretty full of homework. I don't have class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I went to register my visa on Tuesday morning with my wonderful host mom. We then spent the rest of the morning running errands to doctors' offices, pharmacies, and grocery stores, and she bought me some milhoja (baklava with dulce de leche on top; my favorite food here so far). I spent the rest of the day plugging away at my pile of homework and preparing for a presentation in my Bilingualism class, worth 10% of my final grade. I love that class; for the first time ever, I gave a presentation in Spanglish and it was perfectly okay. I had to basically give the class an overview (more or less in Spanish) of a scholarly article about the connection between emotion and language in bilingual individuals (written in English). I could have done the presentation all in English, but I didn't want to be boring, so I mixed the two. I tried to include discussion questions in the presentation to get the class involved, such as asking about what emotions the other students associated with English and Spanish. All of them associated love with Spanish, and English with a generally efficiency, coldness, and lack of emotion. We brainstormed lists of terms of endearment in English and Spanish, and the Spanish list came out about twice as long. They got so into that part of the presentation that it was hard to get their attention back so that I could transition into the next part. I said in Spanish, "Ok, I know it is fun to talk about love, but we have to move on to the next part" The professor laughed and said, "There you go, being the cold American. These poor girls want to talk about love, and there you are abruptly changing the subject." Whoops. I guess I demonstrated my own point. Another class Im really enjoying is yoga. It's still a bit uncomfortable, of course, because I really don't think our bodies are naturally made to bend in those directions, but it's a lot of fun and you can't beat the ambience. The class is in a beautiful wooden pagoda, surrounded by trees, bamboo, and a man-made lake with a waterfall. There are always birds chirping away, and the professor plays a tape of relaxing meditation sort of music from somewhere in India. Mmm, so relaxing. Except for that whole trying to balance while bending the body in difficult directions part The other day we had to pair up to work on our flexibility. One person sat down with the soles of their feet together and their knees to the sides. The other person put one foot on each of the sitting person's knees, and while standing there pushed on the sitting person's back to help them stretch forward and bring their forehead (almost) to their feet. Whew. I was really hoping to get paired up with one of the many skinny little Ecuadorian girls (apparently USFQ students are so fashion conscious that there is sadly a growing problem with anorexia around here), but I ended up working with one of the sturdier guys. He was very nice, though, and had taken yoga before, so he knew how to avoid breaking me. And it's amazing how far you can stretch with someone who weighs a good 175 pounds standing on you On my way home from class on Wednesday, I got stopped in the street by a pair of Ecuadorian girls in school uniforms who looked like they were about 15. They saw me coming out of the bus station and did a double take. All excited, they asked in heavily accented English, "Are joo American?" I smiled, a little confused, and said, "S. Por qu?" In Spanish they said, "Oh, you speak Spanish! Good! Um, for our class we are supposed to find an American who can come to our class and tell us about what life is like in their country." I was a little confused. "Um, okayright now?" They laughed and said, "No, no, on Monday at 9. Can you come?" Sadly, I have class on Mondays from 7am to 4pm so I couldn't go, but I did think it was funny that they wanted to use me for show and tell. Walking back and forth from the bus station is always entertaining. Of course, I hear catcalls every half block or so, and most of them get boring after a while, but one group is particularly creative. There is a crew of poor black men who always play cards on the sidewalk about a block from my house, just outside the security gate that shuts off our street from the rest of Quito. I pass by them at least six or seven times a week, and they make me want to laugh almost every time. The first week they were pretty boring, just saying the usual, "Hola mi amorrrr," "Hoooooola boniiiiita," etc. The second week, having realized that I was completely ignoring them and not even making eye contact, much less responding to their commentary, one of them looked up from his card game and said, "Hoooola." When I didn't respond, he said in a sad, timid little voice, "Hhello? I wan be jour fren?" I kept walking and hid my smile, but once I turned the corner I burst out laughing. This week when I walked by, still determinedly ignoring them, one of the guys wistfully started singing, "Por qu me tratas as?" (Why do you treat me like thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis?) Dearie me, I wonder what they'll come up with next week. Thursday night was the USFQ talent show, which overall was pretty good. I went with a girl from my bilingualism class (possibly my first Ecuadorian friend outside of my host family, we'll see), and we met up with Araceli and Lisa (the other two Linfield students) there. We saw magicians, singers, musicians, comedians, and a (not quite expert) mime who turned out to be the president of the college. The last band was pretty good, though I think the part that really sold us on it was more the dancing guy in a gorilla suit than the music. He reminded me of Napoleon Dynamite, but with more bounce. Afterwards we all went out for Mexican food. Yes, here in Ecuador, just like in Seattle, when I go out to eat I only go to Mexican restaurants! Well, actually, the food is so good at my house (and free) that this was the first time I had gone out to eat. The "Mexican" food was all right, but it wasn't quite the same. There weren't any tortillas, for one thingBut it was fun to hang out with Lisa, Araceli, and the girl from my bilingualism class (Jamela), who also brought a friend. Jamela has an interesting background; she's the youngest of several siblings, and the only one born here. The rest were born in Colorado, so at home they speak English, but since she was born here she's equally fluent in Spanish. She looks American, though, so everyone always thinks she's an exchange student. Between her looks and my strange Honduran/Mexican/we-don't-know-what-country accent, we can really confuse some people! Oh, and I almost forgot; I saw the president! I think so, anyway. Yesterday when I was walking from my house to the bus station on my way to school, I saw several police cars and motorcycles go by with sirens blaring. I looked around to see what was going on, and a fancy black car came down the street, surrounded by more police cars. And peeking out of the window, I'm pretty sure, was the president! It was hard to tell because I could only see the top half of his face, but it did look like him. That would explain all that security, anyway. I'm writing way too much, since I haven't written in so longAnd there's more to go. Maybe I'll save the rest for another day. Just a quick vocab update, then: camarn (usually camarona): a bad driver. It literally means "shrimp" (as in the food), but apparently it also means someone who drives really slowly in the left lane and generally causes a headache for everyone else. And just like in the U.S. (Emmett), people tend to think women are worse drivers, in spite of all the statistics and insurance rates to the contrary. I learned this in Gender and Society, during a very animated discussion in which one guy conceded that yes, guys crash more but they're still better drivers. Apparently we just have different objectives, because I think I consider the better driver the one who crashes less que maleta: literally "what a suitcase," but really meaning "what a wimpy driver." Kind of like camarn. Esa/ese man: Sort of like "that guy" but applies to girls too. For example, "Esa man es loca, ya choc el carro tres veces." Un cacho: a joke, un chiste ponerle cachos a alguien: to cheat on someone (ponerle los cuernos) cholo: In the U.S., as far as I can tell, cholo basically means a guy who wears baggy clothes, has tattoos, listens to a lot of rap/reggaeton and probably has a tricked out car (as in the song Lean Like a Cholo). Here, it's completely the opposite. El Cholito is a character on TV who apparently is a dim sort of journalist, and cholo basically means that: someone who is funny because they're dumb/backward. Sadly, in the minds of many mestizo Ecuadorians, cholo is a synonym of indio. Oh, and another note: a lot of the slang here is more widely used than slang in the United States. For example, my mom in the U.S. wouldn't say something was "tight" as in cool except as a joke, but my host mom here says chevere, buenazo, que bestia, etc. all the time. She may not go quite as far as some of the college students (I've heard a few say cheverazo, which I guess means it's extra cool), but she definitely uses a lot of slang. She also uses full a LOT; whenever she wants to say that someone is really busy, she says "Est a full!" Okay okay okay, I'll stop writing. I had to make up for lost time, sorry guys. I even left out some stuffI'll put it in the next novel. Lily

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