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Journals from Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador

2014-02-16 Little Things in Life

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Our program director, Franco, led us on one of his favorite mini-hikes around and above a stunning waterfall outside of Otavalo, where we had all just finished shopping in the market. The angle is less than stellar because I was standing on a thin wall which directed the rushing stream that most people only see as the falls...I'm just happy I didn't fall in!

Yesterday, I intentionally asked for a soda with lunch. And enjoyed it, too.

Here in Ecuador, Coca-Cola produces a delicious strawberry gaseosa called Fiora Vanti—I’m trying to figure out a way to bring some home—but, in all honesty, I think plain-old-straight-up Coke is pretty good, too. What I’m not so sure about is whether “here” or “now” is the right word to put at the end of that sentence.

Those of you who know me well probably just made a really great face at the computer screen; I don’t think anyone can remember a time when I have liked any kind of carbonated beverage. Until now. Here? (And...ready for this? Turns out that ketchup and even raw tomatoes are pretty bearable, too. I can almost hear it: “Who are you and why are you blogging under Lexy Chapman's name?!?!”)

I’ve been here for six weeks, and Quito’s rubbing off on me—and not just in the way I’m losing my few picky food preferences.* I see it in the details, so here are just a few:

1.       Since we started off talking about food…it surprises me anymore to be offered a choice between white or wheat bread (blanco or integral).** The overwhelming majority of bread here is very fluffy and highly refined and absolutely delicious. No jam or even butter required…and neither of those is actually very commonly offered. Not a lot of peanut butter, either, but cheese is a part of almost every meal…and I could talk about differences in cuisine for hours. More on that later, maybe. Next!

2.       I don’t expect sidewalks to be smooth or flat or even obstacle-free anymore. The terrain is…varied, to say the least. Being a pedestrian in many parts of this city could be considered something more like hiking in the States. I don’t know how some women still choose to wear and walk distances in heels. But I’ve never understood that anyway, because…

3.       I’m tall. I knew that would be a factor—one of many—working against my ability to blend in as Quiteña, but I was surprised to discover that the counters in my host family’s kitchen are a full two inches shorter than the ones I’m used to (assuming that the stove*** sits at what I would call the usual height). I wash dishes super-fast now, because my back gets achy if I stand over the sink for too long—and because my host dad likes to do them himself when he can, so I have to act fast.

4.       But not too fast. I noticed that the Ecuadorians I have spent time with are not as rushed as I usually am; they do things more deliberately, with a balance of purpose and care and forethought. There’s not a lot of racing around because they have a bajillion things to do, or because they forgot something…in fact, it’s even kind of rare to see people correct themselves. Being someone who makes mistakes all the time was extra-hard because I felt strangely pressured to NOT; I hadn’t been able to observe the most culturally appropriate way to handle it. Yesterday--six weeks after arriving!--was my first chance to see if food dropped on the floor is still considered edible here. (Apparently it’s okay if it can be rinsed off…even though no one seems to think the tap water is safe to drink. I felt a little pang at having to explain the Five-Second Rule when that took place, since that's just a given where I come from.) Also, napkins never go on laps; even though we eat soup almost every day, drips don't seem to be a common problem. They were for me, at first. And in my first week here, I broke a bowl, but only just learned a more sincere way to apologize than the lo siento I remember from high school. I was definitely not equipped to take care of that situation at the time.

5.       Another thing I didn’t know how to handle was the fact that my shower is freezing. There's no hot water whatsoever…because it turns out that there’s actually no hot water in the house, period. Only the ‘cold’ knob works****on all of the taps. But I’m finding I don’t really have a problem with that, frankly.

So, yes, Ecuador is becoming a part of me. A batida made from tomate del arbol might be my new favorite breakfast drink. I’m learning salsa dancing instead of first lessons this last week were a blast. Supermaxi—the big, Western-style grocery store—feels strange to me and out of place here (not to mention Megamaxi, which seems to have almost everything under one enormous roof). But I’m also coming to understand how much I still have to learn. Like how to haggle in the markets well enough to get a good deal, without insulting the vendor. Or exactly how some--who are we kidding? A LOT of--verbs are conjugated; even though the word comes to me in Spanish first sometimes, the tenses always, always, always trip me up, and there are a lot more verb forms in Spanish than in the English we all know and love. And, while we’re on the note of tripping up, I’m still figuring out how to keep my balance on the buses (please stay tuned for further installments). There’s so much more to share...

Every day holds a new adventure. Hope you’re enjoying yours as much as we are! I’ll be in touch the meantime, don't forget my rambling footnotes!

Lexy :)


*Not to say food is not important…because I think Ecuadorian food is something I am going to miss a lot. Thankfully, my favorite things are pretty simple to make, so there will probably be jugo and chifles and patacones in my future kitchen’s future. At the least. Yes, you’re invited.

**Actually, it’s pretty common to not really have a choice at all in regards to food…there are a lot of restaurants close to the university where you sit down, ask for an almuerzo, and very happily eat whatever home-cooked goodness is put in front of you. And very happily pay $3 or less for a satisfying meal in the middle of the day. It's super-practical for cooks and customers alike, but it never would have occurred to me in the States because we prize freedom of choice so highly, even on simple things like menus and what is worn to school. Every single school here--below the university level--has its own uniform, and my host sister told me she really didn't mind because she didn't have to think about what she was going to wear. But I digress. Using my footnotes to their full potential. 

***My host family has a beautiful 6-burner gas range, with an excellent oven (the dial threw me off because it’s labeled in Celsius)…but I cooked with a friend over the weekend who used basically a souped-up version of my Colorado family’s camp stove, on a plywood platform in a gap between countertops. It worked great, but I was struck by it as one more example of the way people tend to just make do here.

****But that threw me for a loop, too, because here they’re marked with an F, for frio, while C stands for caliente, not "cold"…and, as I mentioned, doesn’t work. But honestly, I’ve gotten used to cold water…I’m still not really sure how to talk with my host family about it, but it’s also not a big deal. And I wake up faster in the mornings...which is good because the days start early for me. I recently learned some Spanish idioms for a class, including A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda...literally, God helps those who get up early. (And He sure has, I’ve been showered in blessings.) You can probably guess the English equivalent...but it’s getting close to bedtime for this early bird! Hope this finds you well!

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