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Journals from Semester abroad in Quito, Ecuador

2008-05-19 Soccer and advice for next semester

Hello and goodbye, everyone Well folks, this is my last update. I have to be at the airport tomorrow morning at 4 am; my time in Ecuador has come to a close. Before I go, I just have a few stories and pieces of advice for next semester's traveling Linfield ladies (and gentleman--I heard one guy was coming). First, the stories: on Friday, I went with my friend Jamela to watch Espoli play against Nacional. We were intimidated at first; normally the crowd at sub-19 games is mostly composed of moms, sisters, and girlfriends of the players, but for some reason only men decided to go to the game on Friday and they were pretty excited to see a pair of young gringa-looking girls in the audience. Everyone stared and winked and pssst-ed, and we were a little nervous until one of the guys rooting for the other team came over and said, "Lily! How've you been?" I laughed; we had talked for a while on the bus almost two months ago and he had given me his card: "Luis 'el Tigre' Castillo" is apparently a boxer who gives massages and dance lessons. Right Anyway, we chatted with him for a little while and tried to defend Espoli (he said we were going to lose 5-0). Finally, five or six of my Espoli friends got there (the injured ones and the ones who play sub-17) and the guys from the other team saw that we were accompanied and stopped staring. The game itself was a bit depressing (we lost 4-0, though at least it wasn't 5-0 like el Tigre predicted), but Jamela and I kept ourselves entertained, laughing about our limited soccer knowledge. We thought it was funny that people kept yelling things like "Corre, corre!" (Run, run!), and that the coach occasionally yelled "Juega!" (Play!), even though everyone on the field seemed to be running and playing anyway. I think they knew that was what they were supposed to be up to. Plus, whenever there was a corner kick or the goalie kicked it down the field, everybody yelled "Arriba!" (Up!). Where else is the ball going to be in those situations? Abajo? Then at one point there was an argument (including my friend Alexis) and someone yelled "A jugar, payaso!" (Play, you clown!). I was chatting away with Jamela and misheard the guy, thinking he said "Ahogar, payaso!" (Drown, you clown!). I gave him a strange look and jokingly said back, "The problem is there's no water, clown!" Yeah, we got some funny looks for that one Jamela explained it to me later. Jamela was born in Quito, so she is completely fluent in Spanish. At least, in Quito Spanish I've spent all semester hanging out with these soccer players from the coast, so I can mostly keep up with the conversation, but the crazy accent was too much for Jamela. It's amazing how much accents can vary in such a small country! Jamela could understand the ones from Guayaquil just fine, but caught maybe half of what the ones from Esmeraldas were saying. They talk fast and loud, and they aren't big on consonants, those esmeraldeos; they drop a lot of d's and s's, switch n's for l's and f's for j's I've loved the challenge this semester of decoding their Spanish, and I was relieved to see that even a native-born Ecuadorian didn't understand them at first! No wonder I had so much trouble For those of you coming next semester who think you understand fluent Spanish, challenge yourself and try understanding these guys. They're almost as difficult as Puerto Ricans. Jamela did catch certain things, though; just when she was explaining to me that she was being a little quiet because it was hard to keep up with their accent, the other team fouled one of our guys, and even though it should have been a penalty kick they called it on us and the other team got the ball. My friend Eduardo, another esmeraldeo, let out a stream of curse words, and we cracked up. "That I understood," said Jamela with a grin. A couple more good Spanglish signs that Jamela and I saw yesterday: 1) Slo las frutas ms cool estn en Tampico (Only the coolest fruits are in Tampico; it's a kind of juice) 2) Inteligent's Hobbies (A store in the mall; we're not sure if it's supposed to say "Intelligence Hobbies" or if there's a guy named Inteligent walking around, lacking an L.) Okay, now I guess I'll throw in a few pieces of advice for those of you coming next semester. 1) If flashcards help you study, bring notecards with you. They don't exist here! 2) Don't automatically trust taxi meters; one tried to charge me $7 the other day when it should have cost $4, maximum. Nothing within Quito should cost more than $5, and most trips will cost between $1.50 and $3. If you know where you're going and you know from experience how much it should cost, it's better to negotiate the price you know you should get than risk an altered taxi meter. 3) Nobody leaves tips here, so don't bother. They'll think you're strange or that you're being a flirt. 4) When you're in a nice restaurant or other area that might have a nice bathroom with free toilet paper, use it even if you don't have to go (do what my mom would call a "preventative pee"). That way you won't have to go later, for example, at the bus terminal where you pay $0.15 for very little toilet paper in a moldy sort of bathroom. 5) This is going to sound strange, but before you leave home, maybe practice showering using little bucketfuls of water instead of a normal shower. It's harder than it sounds, especially when you want to get the shampoo out of your long hair, and the plumbing here isn't very dependable so you might have to try it sometimes. Right now, my host family's shower has been broken for almost a week, Jamela's shower is being terribly uncooperative, and the shower at David's house has never worked, so I don't have many options in the showering department. 6) It's going to take you forever to remember this, but in most places used toilet paper goes in the garbage, not in the toilet. I've clogged quite a few toilets this semester It depends on the bathroom, so just peek in the garbage can next to the toilet and see what other people have done. 7) Buy those mp3 cd's on the bus; 160 to 200 songs for a dollar, and most of them work just fine though the song titles are sometimes a little disorganized. 8) Be a regular customer somewhere. It's good practice for your Spanish, connects you to actual Ecuadorians, and might eventually get you discounts or bigger portions. 9) Carry a pen and a little notebook around in your purse (or for the guy coming, in your pocket). Write down new vocab, funny signs, epiphanies, names, quotes, or whatever you think you might like to remember later. Once or twice a week, read over what you've written, and maybe send me (and your parents, friends, etc.) an e-mail with the stories! : ) 10) If you're going to travel, try to do it early in the semester. If unfortunate circumstances make it so that you can't travel early, projects and essays build up at the end, and everyone else runs out of money and doesn't want to go anywhere with you. Some recommended travel sites: Baos (hot springs; I'm sad I didn't get to go), Tonsupa (a beach town that doesn't have that many foreigners), Guayaquil (but be careful; better to bring some native guayaquileos with you if possible), Cotopaxi (it's way up there, so it's cold; try for a sunny day!), Otavalo (the indigenous market is amazing; walk around it once before you buy anything or you'll soon see a better, cheaper version of whatever you just bought), and a bunch of other places that just aren't occurring to me right now 11) Most USFQ students who are actually from Quito or Cumbay live with their families, and only travel during Carnaval and Spring Break, so it's hard to convince them to go anywhere with you. Try to make an Ecuadorian friend at school who doesn't live in Quito. That way they might take you home to their town, which is a chance for you to travel with an Ecuadorian rather than the usual group of gringos. One good way to do this is getting a conversation partner in the Oficina de diversidad tnica at la USFQ; most of the Ecuadorian students who sign up are part of the scholarship program for students from indigenous backgrounds, and they live in small towns outside of Quito. Many speak Kichwa at home, and can tell you a lot of interesting stories about their family's beliefs and traditions and how their family has dealt with the discrimination that indigenous people here constantly face. 12) If after a month or so you still don't get along with your host family, get a new one. Feeling truly at home changes the whole experience, and I know several people who have changed families. None of them regret it, but many people regret not changing. It hurts to feel foreign and self-conscious in a house you've lived in for four and a half months. 13) Even when you're with gringo friends, speak Spanish in public. The prices are better, you'll learn more, you'll get more respect, and you're less likely to get robbed. Please, please, please don't come to Ecuador and spend a semester speaking English with your friends from home as if you had never left Oregon. Pop that gringo bubble and speak some Spanish with native speakers. 14) Talk to everyone. Chat with people on the bus, chat with people who work in stores where you shop, chat with taxi drivers, chat with the landscapers, maids, and security guards Since you're a foreigner and you have a lot to learn, the easiest way to start conversations is by asking questions. Ask for directions, vocabulary, explanations of graffiti, whatever occurs to you. Afterwards, if you have time, write down what you heard in your little notebook. Hear as many different perspectives on life as you can, and listen to what they have to say even if it is very different from what you believe. Respectfully hearing what they think doesn't threaten what you believe; it helps you develop and clarify what you believe. But, while you do all this chatting, keep your eyes and hands on your belongings; some crafty Ecuadorians like to use a good conversation as a cover for some slick pick-pocketing. 15) Speaking of talking to taxi drivers, if you find a dependable one who doesn't flirt and has reasonable prices and they offer you their phone number, take it. It can come in handy to be able to call a trustworthy taxi driver who can come pick you up when you can't find a way home or are far from main streets where taxis are readily available. It's best to do this number exchange when you're with a guy, however, so that the taxi driver doesn't get any bright ideas and think you're looking for something more than a ride home. David and I have a taxi driver friend named Don Osvaldo who has been very helpful all semester, and since most taxi drivers work for ten to twelve hours, the one you find will probably be available all night. Don Osvaldo, for example, is going to bring me to the airport on Tuesday at 4am. 16) Jelly beans don't exist here. If you are fond of them, bring a sizable supply and ration yourself. Also, don't bother bringing your baseball mitt; no one else will have one, so it's hard to play catch. 17) Most other things, however, do exist here. Quito is a big city, and it pretty much has all the conveniences and products available in, say, Portland. For example, when I went to Nicaragua I couldn't find any tampons, but don't worry ladies, in Quito they're available. In general, prepared food (as in restaurants) and transportation are cheaper than in the U.S., while toiletries, technology, and name-brand clothes are more expensive. Also, you do not pay less at Payless here; they sell some of the most expensive shoes around. In the U.S. I bought a pair of Payless heels for $12; here I bought a pair for $25, and that's because they were half off. 18) Tropiburger has tasty waffle bowls of ice cream (two flavors, sprinkles, and strawberry topping) for $0.85, but I wouldn't recommend eating anything else there. Their burgers have a nasty reputation. Also, don't bother trying the "Mexican" food here; it's not really Mexican and mostly not very good. 19) Foods you should try while you're here: milhoja (like baklava with icing on top and dulce de leche in the middle), the churros at the bus station (they have dulce de leche or chocolate inside), locro de papas (a tasty potato soup with cheese and avocado), any kind of juice (there are so many fresh fruits here, the homemade juice is amazing), the fruit salad dessert at Frutera Monserrat, the little mushy red bars of guava jelly stuff that you see in markets (I don't know what they're called, but they cost $0.50 and they're delicious), and llapingachos just because they're so traditionally Ecuadorian (potato patties with cheese and I'm not sure what else). Oh, and don't forget that "tortilla" doesn't mean "tortilla", it probably means omelette. If you want real tortillas, there is one Mexican lady who makes them over on the west side of the city. Ask around--someone will know about her. 20) Put on sunscreen every day, even when it's cold and drizzly. We're on the equator, so the sun is a lot stronger here; it'll burn your sensitive gringo skin right through the clouds. 21) Take classes you're interested in, but since those will probably be classes other exchange students are also interested in, take one general 100-level class to fulfill one of your LC requirements. You'll probably be the only exchange student in the class, and Ecuadorians are more likely to talk to you when you're not in a pack of other exchange students. Also, don't take more than 12 to 14 credits; you're going to want to travel, volunteer, dance, and generally see Ecuador, rather than be stuck doing homework all the time. 22) If you're going to date an Ecuadorian (which, in all likelihood, you probably are), remember that they aren't punctual. When they're late, you can be a little annoyed, but don't (as David has told me) "armar un tsunami en un vaso de agua" (whip up a tsunami in a glass of water). Being late is normal Ecuadorian behavior, so don't make a big deal about it. Also, keep in mind that they're taking a risk by becoming emotionally attached to you. If, as in many of my friends' cases, they suddenly stop answering the phone, it's probably because they are afraid that they're starting to like you too much and that it's going to hurt when you leave. Try to be understanding about that. It hurts more for them than for you, because when you leave you are going back to your family, friends and life, but for them nothing new and exciting happens. They just no longer have you. All right, folks, that's everything I can think of. Thanks for all of your patience this semester with my wordiness, and I hope my stories have been entertaining, informative, and for those of you who are future exchange students, helpful. Let me know if you have any questions, and keep an eye out on Facebook over the next week or so for new pictures. Signing off (finally), Lily

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