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Journals from Semester abroad in Quito, Ecuador

2008-04-26 Meditating on a mountain

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Snow on Mt. Cotopaxi, just a few hours from the Equator.

Hi folks, Whew, life gets busy toward the end of the school year! Everybody is trying to simultaneously squeeze in final projects and last-minute trips around the country, because we're leaving so soon. I've only got three and a half weeks left; it's hard to believe. This weekend I'm sticking around Quito because a friend of mine is having a birthday lunch tomorrow, but on Wednesday I'm leaving for the coast with Araceli and a few Ecuadorian friends and we'll be there until Sunday. I'm not sure how I'm going to finish studying for finals, but I haven't been to the coast yet and I want to go before I leave! Let me see... what was the last thing I wrote about? Guaranda? Okay, so, since Guaranda... Hm, mostly just homework, along with a quick trip to Cotopaxi to meditate on the mountain. My friend Jamela invited me to join her "Self-Knowledge" class on their end-of-semester trip, and it was surprisingly entertaining. The professor, in addition to being a philosopher, is an accomplished magician, and he kept us confused during the three-hour bus ride. In between watching magic tricks, I taught Jamela to play thirteen and she determinedly kept at it for about an hour and a half until she finally beat me. When we reached the gates of the national park, Jamela threw a jacket over my head and I pretended to be asleep so that they would think I was Ecuadorian and charge me the local fee ($1) instead of the $10 foreigner fee. She successfully smuggled me into the park! We got a little worried a few minutes later when we came to a washed out bridge, but the bus driver wasn't fazed. He drove right through the river, and we made it to our first stop just fine. The professor stopped the bus apparently for no reason, and we all got out and followed him on foot past wild horses and across the grassy rolling hills. When we reached a large rock about my height, he stopped, and we all sat down in a circle next to it. He had us take off our shoes, and we meditated for a bit. Then we left our shoes there and kept walking until he stopped again. I really wonder how he picked the spots, because I didn't see anything particularly special about them, but he seemed to know where he was going. In spot number two, barefoot, we learned some tai chi, then sat down in a circle again. Luckily it was sunny, because at that altitude the weather is usually very chilly. To help us warm up a bit, the professor had us play duck-duck-goose and similar Ecuadorian games that little kids usually play. Everyone laughed a lot, watching a bunch of twenty-something year olds play duck-duck-goose, especially when someone chose the professor as the goose. Eventually we walked back to the bus and rode to another spot in the middle of nowhere. We got out, walked for a bit, and sat down on a flat grey plain next to a small lake, between the snow-capped mountains. He had us all close our eyes and just sit quietly for fifteen minutes, listening to the sounds of nature. The wind, the birds, the bugs... and the snores of one kid who had partied hard the night before and was just a little too relaxed by all this meditation. Afterwards the professor told us each to walk off in a different direction and just observe, for half an hour. It was very therapeutic, I really enjoyed it. Afterwards we met up at the bus and pulled out our lunches. By this point we were all hungry, because we had left the school at 8am and it was now 2pm. The professor had us all pull out our food and put it in the middle, then he started collecting it in a big bag. We watched longingly as chips, cookies, soda, and sandwiches disappeared (hardly anyone brought healthy food), and he said he was off to donate it to poor children. We felt guilty about groaning at this news, but we did anyway, involuntarily. He laughed and said that no, he wasn't going to take our lunches from us, though he encouraged us to donate food to poor kids on other occasions. Instead, the rule was that you could eat whatever you wanted, other than the food you brought for yourself. It worked out well for me; there wasn't anything in the house when I left, so I had only brought two rolls with a smudge of jelly on them, but I ended up eating two delicious sandwiches, an apple, and some cookies, along with a bit of Gatorade to wash it all down. Some people were really enthusiastic lunch-packers, so there was plenty to go around, though one guy suffered watching everyone else eat his three Snickers bars. While we ate, the professor and the one guy in the class who was from the coast switched off telling jokes. I think the professor is from Quito, but he does a great coastal accent (for those of you familiar with different accents in Spanish, they sound sort of Puerto Rican), and he kept us laughing. Even the kid from Guayaquil thought he was pretty funny. After lunch, we headed back to la San Francisco. I slept almost the whole way back, sadly, so I missed out on the rest of the magic. Oooh, one unrelated story that brightened my day. As I'm sure you all know, men in Latin America are very vocal about their opinions of the women who walk by. Sometimes it's annoying, and occasionally it's creepy, but most of the time it's just flattering. And sometimes, when they're really creative, it's very entertaining. I've mentioned the crowd of black/indigenous guys who play cards on the corner about a block from my house. They're the ones who said hopefully in English, "Hhhello? I wan be jur fren?" and who, when I ignored their compliments, sang to me soulfully in Spanish, "Why do you treat me like thiiiiiiiiis?" The other day after class I went with my friend Araceli to buy some flowers for her host mom. She bought some roses and some carnations, and gave me one flower to brighten up my room. We parted ways at the second bus station, and I walked from there to my house. When I walked by the guys on the corner, one of them said enthusiastically, "How could they give you just one flower... it should be an entire garden, my love!" I laughed the rest of the day at that one. In Ecuador, on every bus, people sell trinkets, snacks, and pirated music. Since I take the same route back and forth from class five days a week, and I've been here for almost four months, a lot of the vendors recognize me. The two guys who sell CD's always chat away with me, asking what music I'm looking for this time, since I'm a regular customer. One young guy who sells bags of peanuts works on the corner just outside of the bus station, and since the light there is almost always red, he manages to hop on almost every bus that passes, scoot through, and get off before it leaves. So I see him every morning, and every morning all semester he's given me a big smile. Not a creepy one, just a sincerely friendly one, which an unusual, refreshing change. For the first two months, he just smiled and kept on with his spiel ("Habas, habitas, mani dulce, habas, habitas"). He sounds like the guys who sell peanuts in baseball stadiums, but he talks a lot faster. About a month ago, he started saying a quick hello in the middle of his spiel. "Habas, habitas, mani dulce - Hola, nena [cheerful smile] - habas habitas", then he'd scoot right off the bus. This morning I was hungry, and I finally decided to buy some peanuts. But when I asked how much they cost, he just handed them to me, smiled and said, "Don't worry about it." Then he kept on with his spiel, and scooted off the bus. Hm, I guess that compensates a little bit for the fact that usually us gringos get overcharged; occasionally, apparently, we get discounts. Time for some new vocab; it's been a while! 1) "Poner la iglesia en manos de Lutero" = According to my translation professor, this is the equivalent of "to let the fox guard the chickens." It literally means "To put the Church in Luther's hands." Yes, this is an overwhelmingly Catholic country! 2) pepa = A slang word from Guayaquil meaning "cool." They use it a lot to talk about songs, as in "Esta cancin es pepa!" Except if someone from Guayaquil says that, they don't really include the s's. Well, they do, but they're sort of airy... it's hard to explain. I need to take linguistics. 3) bacn/bacanssimo = These mean cool, too, and they're used both in Quito and Guayaquil, though I think they're a little more frequently used by people from the coast. 4) oso = Okay, so this is actually a Mexican thing, but I've been spending a lot of time with Araceli lately so I picked it up. Normally oso means "bear", but Mexicans use it as a short verion of "baboso" (fool), as in Qu oso! I was definitely confused the first time I heard it, because calling the person hairy/large/ferocious really didn't fit in the given context. 5) foforocho = stinky. Apparently it's a Colombian word, though I learned it from an Ecuadorian guy from the coast. He said it, and I asked everyone else what it meant and no one knew except him. He's from Esmeraldas, which is on the far north end of the coast, so maybe he knows some Colombians. 6) gallinazo = a buzzard. In Mexico, they're sopilotes, and in Honduras they're called cutes (KOO-tays). 7) papo = In Honduras this means someone who is stupid or annoying, but apparently in Guayaquil it is a common and inoffensive nickname, partly because of a famous salsa singer named Sandy Papo. Okay, time for me to do something productive... or go buy one of those tasty fruit salads with whip cream--that sounds good too! Lily

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