Journals from Semester abroad in Quito, Ecuador
Beans, cheese, sausage, and home-made tortillas. Yumm... Pass the chile!
This e-mail has been a work in progress, so it may switch back and forth between past and present tense, and since I have no way of sending it until I get back to Ecuador, it will probably be the longest one I've sent yet. I've added a bit every couple days Brace yourself! For those of you on this list to learn about Ecuador, it may not be all that relevant, but I loved the time I spent in Honduras and have a lot to say, so read on if you have time.
Honduras is everything I hoped Quito would be; I love it, and I can't wait to come back. Sure, I like the convenience of having Internet at my host family's house in Ecuador, but here I feel so at home. Is it possible that a place I have never been before can feel like home the minute I walk in the door? Or really, the minute I left the airport?
There is no Internet at the house here. In fact, for most of the day there's no running water. The house is built for running water (there is a bathroom with a shower, a toilet, and a sink, and there is a sink in the kitchen), but I guess it hasn't rained much lately and there is only water available for a couple hours in the morning when we fill up all of the jugs and tanks for the rest of the day. The biggest lake in Honduras, Yojoa, is drying up We drove by it the other day, and they showed me the growing grass plain between the street (where the water used to reach) and the shore.
So I've practiced showering by heating water on the stove, and mixing it with a tub of cold water. Then I take the "shower", using a little pail to dump water over myself before and after soaping up. For some reason in Quito I complained about the lack of water pressure and the unpredictability of the water temperature in a perfectly normal shower, but here I cheerfully do it this way It took me a while to figure out how the bathroom works. We can't use the one in the house because there's no running water, but out back there is a sort of outhouse. The odd part is that it's a normal toilet, you just do your business and then afterwards you pour a bucket of water in so that it flushes. And I never remember that the toilet paper is supposed to go in the garbage can, not in the actual toilet I've clogged it like three times already. I'll probably get the hang of it just before I leave on Thursday. I also keep tripping, just like in Nicaragua, because the dirt streets are full of holes and rocks. The main streets "downtown" are paved, but the residential streets aren't. And you should hear the symphony of roosters that wake us all up in the morning!
I'm writing everything out of order, sorry. I guess I should start with the Quito airport on Thursday. Or rather, with the phone call from Oscar's fishing company at 10:30 in the morning, telling me that my plane was going to leave at 2:15 in the afternoon! I packed as fast as I could, took a taxi, and by 11:15 I was at the airport. But when I tried to check my baggage, they told me that I couldn't go. Apparently to get into Costa Rica (where my layover was) and Honduras, I needed a yellow fever vaccination, and I needed to have gotten it ten days previously. I started crying, and explained to the woman why I was traveling and why I couldn't wait ten days. She gave me the address of a nearby clinic where they could do the vaccination, and told me to tell them that the airport needed a certificate that said they had vaccinated me before March 10th. At this point it was ten minutes to noon; the plane was due to board at 1:30. I checked my suitcase and left the airport with my backpack, purse, and laptop (not a good idea in Quito, generally, but I had no other choice) to take a taxi to the clinic. The traffic was terrible, and we got there at 12:20. Then it turned out that this particular clinic didn't do vaccinations, and that I had to walk a couple blocks downhill to another one. When I got there, they had the vaccination but not the certificates, so they vaccinated me and sent me off to another (somewhat distant) clinic. This time I started crying in the taxi and explained to the driver why I needed to go to the clinic, so he drove a little faster than he otherwise would and we got there by 12:45. There was a long line, but I was all teary so one of the nurses asked me what was going on. I explained to her, choking through the tears and without taking a breath, "The love of my life died and they're going to bury him in Honduras the day after tomorrow and I already have a ticket and my plane leaves at 2:15 but I went to the airport and they wouldn't let me go because I didn't have a vaccination for yellow fever so they sent me to get one and I got it but they didn't have the certificates so they sent me here and I need the official certificate but I need it to say that you gave it to me ten days ago or they won't let me go" She took pity on me and ran to find the guy who did the certificates, who of course was on his lunch break. But she got him to come back, and he helped me out. We did the paperwork, then I jumped into a taxi, explained everything to the driver, and we made it back to the airport at 1:15. I got to my gate just as they were about to board the plane. Whew
Other than all that, the trip went smoothly, and I made it to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, by 9pm. Oscar's dad and his brother-in-law came to pick me up and we drove to the town where Oscar grew up: Siguatepeque. The main "highway" from San Pedro Sula to Siguatepeque, which is the same road that connects San Pedro Sula (one of the biggest cities in Honduras) with Tegucigalpa (the capital) was nicely paved, but it was barely two lanes wide. I say barely because it only sometimes had a yellow line down the middle; other times we just had to hug our side of the road when we passed cars going the other way. We made it to Oscar's grandma's house by 11:30pm, and of course they immediately offered us food, so I ate (finally) good old beans and tortillas, with ground sausage, and rice Mmmm, how I missed that food, like what we always used to eat in Oscar's apartment. Tortillas, real tortillas! And these ones are made by hand, so they're thicker and tastier than in the U.S.
Speaking of tortillas, I learned to make them by hand myself! The family had already made the dough (from corn), so I just had to take a small handful, roll it up in a ball, shape it into a disc, then put it on the counter and hit it with my palm while I rotated it until it became more or less flat and round. Then I put it on a little wood stove, flipped it, and that tortilla was done. The whole family found that pretty entertaining, the gringa in the kitchen making tortillas. It took me forever, and they came out a little lumpy and only semi-round, but everyone ate them anyway. They weren't very pretty, but they tasted good!
Oscar's family is wonderful. And there are so many of them! I can't really tell who lives here in the grandma's house and who doesn't, since with the funeral and everything things are a little out of the ordinary, but I love being with all of them. I share a room with two girl cousins my age, the grandma, and one of the uncles. The cousins and I sleep in one bed, and the uncle sleeps in the other one with the grandma. The other two bedrooms are just as full, and three people sleep in the living room. It reminds me of the apartment in the U.S The names have been difficult, not just because there are so many of them but because everyone has a nickname. Oscar's aunt Idalia is married to a man named Ramn, but they cal him Moncho. One of the uncles is named Benjamn but the call him Mincho. And the grandma's name is Mercedes, but some of them call her Meche. Moncho, Mincho, and Meche. Whew.
Just like during the two weeks I spent in Seattle right after Oscar's accident, I've spent a lot of my time with the kids. David, an energetic and talkative eight-year-old cousin of Oscar's, has been my guide in everything. He's so adorable, he wrote me a little card in my notebook that says in painstaking misspelled cursive, "David Alejandro para Lily. Lili te amo. Anque no nosconosemos bien pero siempre te querre como eres. Lili te amo y te quiero" ("David Alejandro for Lily. Lili I love you. Although we don't know each other well but I will always love you the way you are. I love you Lili"). He drew little hearts and a house.
The other day I was talking to David's mom (Oscar's aunt Idalia) about how a lot of the men who go to the U.S. to work have current relationships in both countries. She shook her head and said, "No se puede querer a dos personas a la vez" ("You can't love two people at once"). David, without taking his eyes off the cartoon he was watching, disagreed. "Yo s puedo," he said, "Yo quiero a mis dos abuelas" ("I can. I love both of my grandmas"). Awww.
Another David anecdote: when I first arrived, I mentioned that I had a car in the U.S. and David gave me a funny sideways look. "Women can't drive!" he said, rather in the way my cousin Emma once said that women don't do floors After he said that I started to notice that in Honduras, it appeared he was right. I only saw two women driving cars the whole week I was there; other than that, it was the uncles and the guy cousins who did the driving. Hmm.
David's best friend is a pudgy little four year old named Josue who was afraid of me at first but now follows me around with a shy smile on his face. One of Oscar's nieces, Kenia, wrote me a little card, too. They all cheer me up
Sorry, out of order again: on Saturday morning we took the two and a half hour drive to the airport again to pick up Oscar in the funeral home's van. For some reason we left at 6 in the morning, even though the flight wasn't due to come in until 12:30. When the plane finally arrived, it took another hour and a half for them to do the paperwork. Finally, at 2pm, they opened the gate and loaded the coffin into the van. Merci (Oscar's seventeen year old sister) and I cried and cried, hugging Oscar's dad (Efran), who was crying too.
We made it back the Oscar's grandma's house by about 4:30. People were already arriving for the all-night velorio (I think in English it's a "wake," right? I don't know, I've never done one in English). I met so many people that night, I lost count. Cousins, godparents, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, former teammates, coworkers, friends Oscar knew everyone in town, it seems, and got along well with all of them. The house was packed, and the yard, too, until far after midnight. The many girl cousins in their late teens and early twenties weaved in and out with trays of plastic cups with coffee, soda, and water, and occasionally plates of chicken, rice, and tortillas. Many people stayed all night, awake and talking or dozing in the 190 plastic chairs that filled the yard. I fell asleep around 3 am, curled up on a bed with one of Oscar's aunts and a tiny nephew.
We finally buried him on Sunday, March 23, 52 days after the accident. I wish you all could have seen it it seemed like the whole town came, piling out of the grandma's house into the beds of all of the pick-up trucks in the neighborhood to follow the funeral home's van in a slow procession from the house to the cemetery. The cemetery is at the opposite end of the town, so the line of cars behind us grew as we went and people realized what was going on. I rode with Oscar's dad in the van with the coffin, and we couldn't see the last of the cars, packed to the brim, that followed us.
The place they chose to bury him is pretty, a little grass field on a hill above the town, surrounded by a surprising mix of pine and palm trees. Everyone packed in around the coffin and we said a few words. I cried so hard when I tried to talk, I hope they understood me. I told a story, about how Oscar's uncle Modesto had introduced me to Oscar, and how when I went back to Seattle Modesto asked me to forgive him. I said, "Why?" and he said, "Because I introduced you to him, and now you're suffering." I cried and shook my head. "No," I said, "Don't ask me to forgive you. I don't regret it. I don't regret falling in love with him. I learned what it means to really love someone, and there are many people in this world who never have such an opportunity. It hurts now, but Oscar gave me 20 of the happiest months of my life, and I will never forget that." I said this to everyone at the burial, and said that I knew we were all hurting, but that Oscar had made all of our lives a little happier in some small way, and that we had to remember and appreciate the times we had rather than cry for the times we can't have. But I cried anyway, of course
After the burial, everyone piled back into their pick-up trucks (and the few regular cars available). I really like riding in the back of the trucks, since in the U.S. it's so very illegal and I don't normally get the chance to, so although people kept being polite and offering me seats in cars I decided to go in the back of a truck with a bunch of the kids and neighbors. Unfortunately, I picked the wrong truck All of the other cars left first, and when Oscar's aunt's husband Moncho tried to start the truck we discovered that the battery had died, so we stuck around for half an hour or so waiting for one of the other trucks to come back and give us a jump. I distracted the kids, teaching them to do handstands and cartwheels, while Efran (who hadn't slept for more than two or three hours a night since Thursday) accidentally fell asleep in the grass and started snoring.
We made it back to the house by five pm or so, just in time for the second half of a soccer game between Honduras and the U.S. Everyone needed something to cheer them up a bit, so eight or ten of us piled into one of the bedrooms to watch the game. They all laughed when Honduras scored a goal and I cheered before I remember that wait, actually, I'm from the other team's country. Honduras won, 1-0, and took first place in the tournament against all odds. Good, we needed it. I mean, they needed it. I'm American. Right.
We've spent most of the day Monday cleaning the house and bringing back everything we borrowed to accommodate the crowds for the velorio (wake?). We packed up the tents and the 190 plastic chairs, and after a few trips in the two pick-up trucks everything was returned.
On Tuesday we went to Cerro Blanco, a little village on a hill where Oscar's mom's side of the family lives. The road to get there from Siguatepeque is all dirt, and since it was raining we barely made it there. It was about a half hour drive, up and down (but mostly up) hills, and crossing streams that went over the road rather than under it. On the way, as is usual in rural Honduras, we gave a ride to a mother and her three little kids who jumped into the back of the pickup truck. When we got there, we visited a few different families (distant relatives from Oscar's dad's side), and each family tried to feed us. Mmm, I think I ate three lunches. I love Honduran tamales. And since I don't drink coffee, they gave me milk, which in Cerro Blanco they drink hot, with sugar in it. It was tasty, I'd never had it that way before.
Siguatepeque is small I read online a while ago that the population is 60,000, but it seems smaller. Maybe it's because so many people live in each house, and because everything seems so old-fashioned. Plus, everyone seems to know each other. Today when we were driving around returning things and I was riding in the back of the truck, I could hear people in the streets telling each other, "See the white girl? She's the girlfriend of the guy who died" They've told me that there are a lot of white people here, but they live in big houses on hills above the city and they don't come downtown much. I haven't seen anyone who looks American; it's not like Quito, full of pale Ecuadorians with green eyes. Unlike Quito, Siguatepeque is pretty thoroughly mestizo; I haven't seen many very pale Hondurans and there are very few black ones here inland (I hear most of the non-tourist population on the coast is black, though). There is no evidence of an indigenous population, or at least not one that keeps their traditional clothing and language. In fact, people often call each other "indians" (indito/a) as a joking sort of insult, meaning the person is being silly or backwards. Apparently in other parts of Honduras there are a few small communities that still speak one of two or three indigenous languages, but not around here.
Other than the tendency to use "Indian" as an insult, I love the Spanish they speak here. Here are a few key phrases that I missed hearing while I was in Ecuador:
1) Vieras! You should have seen it! (They say this ALL THE TIME, pretty much whenever they're talking about something you didn't see)
2) homb Ok, so the word is actually "hombre" (man), but the way they pronounce it comes out like homb, as in s, homb, or sentte homb (the Honduran pronunciation of sintate, hombre, meaning "sit down, man"). And, just like we might in English, they use it with both women and men.
3) vos Ecuadorians use vos too (another version of t, which is the informal "you"), but Central Americans change the verb conjugations. For example, Tens hambre? instead of Tienes hambre? for "Are you hungry?" Or Qu quers? instead of Qu quieres? for "What do you want?"
4) mandatos Orders, or mandatos, are different in Central America, both positive and negative ones. For example, instead of saying ven, they say ven ("come"), and they don't always conjugate the stem-changers (sentte instead of sintate for "sit"). The accent is on the second-to-last syllable (esperte, not esprate for "wait") for positive commands, and is a little inconsistent negative ones (I've heard no lo hagas, but I've also hear no te preocups, homb).
5) cheque Perfect, exactly, just what we needed. For example, Oscar's sister brought out cups for the soda at lunch, and grabbed just the right number without counting. She said, "Ve, sali cheque y ni cont" ("look, it worked out perfectly and I didn't even count").
6) fresa In Mexico, fresa (in addition to meaning strawberry) refers to someone who is stuck-up. Here, fresa refers to something you think is cool. I guess it's more or less what Ecuadorians would call chevere, but it's not as widely used (it's more of a young people thing).
7) cipote What Ecuadorians would call a guagua (a kid). Other words for this in Honduras include girro, and chign.
10) pucha They say this when Ecuadorians would say chuta (it's sort of like saying "jeez!" but a little stronger)
11) cute (KOO-tay, not cute) I think Mexicans would call them sopilotes (buzzards). There are a lot of them in Honduras.
12) pisto Ecuadorians might call it lana (it's slang meaning "money").
13) show As in Qu show la pasamos ayer ("We had a lot of fun yesterday").
16) ticuco A kind of food: a ball of mashed corn with red beans mixed in. The corn part reminds me of tamales, which by the way are definitely better in Honduras than anywhere else I've been!
17) va os Ok, so that actually says "verdad vos meaning "Isn't that right?" but they skip so many of the letters I'm really not sure how you would spell it phonetically! They use this just as much as vieras!
18) chicharra A bug at least two inches long that looks like a fly on steroids. Oscar's uncle Obdulio thinks they're funny and tends to surprise you by pulling one out of his pocket. They don't bite, apparently.
19) chifles In Ecuador, I learned that these were chips, especially the kind made from banana slices. Apparently in Honduras, they are fireworks. Hondurans call chips churros, not to be confused with the Mexican dessert, which from what I can tell doesn't exist in Honduras.
20) chumpa A sweatshirt or light coat, which Ecuadorians would call a chompa.
21) papo A stupid/annoying person
I don't think I've ever written this much! I love it here I came for a very sad reason, but really I haven't felt this content since the accident. And everyone has been so nice to me, I feel like I've known them forever even though I only really know the three or four who have lived in the Seattle and come back to live here. Everyone keeps asking when I'll be back Hopefully, if I get a good job (or two) this summer and manage to make enough I can come back for three weeks or so during January, after spending Christmas with my parents and siblings, to visit my Honduran family again.
One closing question: why, in Latin America, do they paint the trees? I keep asking people, and no one knows. Is it an anti-bug measure, or what?
I wrote way too much! Goodness gracious. I'm back in Ecuador now, I should probably go unpack and take a shower. I hope everyone is doing well; thanks for your patience with my rambling.