Journals from Semester abroad in Quito, Ecuador
2008-01-16 A few random facts for you
Hola ladies and gents, how is everyone? Things are going well here, so I have a lot to say again! For one thing, I haven't felt sick for a day or two, though I've mostly been sticking to juice for breakfast just in case. This morning I had a crazy fruit that looked completely science fiction, with a hardish orange shell and inside this white spongy stuff with little fronds like sea anemones (how do you spell that? no idea), and inside the white stuff it looked like mushy greenish gray fish eggs but was really sweet fruit balls with little seeds inside like watermelon seeds. Strange. I'm going to have to take pictures of this fruit. I don't think my description does it justice. Fruit has been the most interesting part of eating here, because I've never heard of most of the kinds they eat here, and every morning my host mom makes fresh fruit juice with sugar, which is delicious. Oh, and I also found a bakery that sells something like baklava with a thin layer of chocolate on top...Mmm. It's called "milhoja" (a thousand sheets), and for those of you who will be here next semester I seriously recommend it!
Oh, and speaking of people who might study here, here's some vocab that I've been hearing a lot this week. I may not have all of the definitions quite right, because it's all slang and picked up from context, but this is more or less what they mean:
chevere: cool (they say this SO much)
de ley: always, of course (not actually regulated by law, because if it were people wouldn't follow it anyway)
no ms: this one is a little hard to explain. It's sort of like "go ahead and..." rather than "no more." For example, "sigue no ms" means "go right ahead," not "stop moving forward."
Also, high school is el colegio, not la preparatoria, and people in Quito use a lot of "ito"/"ita" at the end of words, just like I do! My host mom, for example, introduces me as her "nueva hijita," (her new daughter) which I think is very sweet.
One of the biggest challenges so far has been crossing the street, which sounds silly, but Mom, these Ecuadorians make New Yorkers look seriously tame. They drive fast, change lanes all the time without signaling, cut each other off, and aren't particularly bothered by stoplights. Plus, there aren't any walk/don't walk signs, you just do the best you can and try to make sure an Ecuadorian who knows what they're doing is between you and wherever cars might possibly come toward you. And everyone honks! It's funny, they wouldn't have so much to honk about if they would just drive a little more calmly... My host sister is pretty good, and generally drives a lot slower than her mother does (kind of like in my family at home, haha), but she's funny on sidestreets because she does a timid little honk every time we cross an intersection, just so they know we're coming. Drive three seconds...beep...drive...beep...drive...beep. It cracks me up, but I guess it's a good idea just in case someone else isn't paying attention.
On a different note, orientation was interesting the second day, because they told us a lot of important information such as, "This university is not Ecuador. It is a very nice episode of Laguna Beach, but it is not Ecuador." That was one of the professors of politics, who also told us all about the eight presidents in the last twelve years, and how if you're voting for president in Ecuador it's always good to look at the Vice President just in case, because Ecuadorians have a tendancy to kick out their presidents after a couple years. So, every president has a fully loaded jet hidden at the airport, and an escape helicopter in their version of the White House to get them to it, just in case they suddently have to flee with potato sacks full of money to go live like a king in Panama (apparently that's what one of the more recent ones did). It sounds like it's been pretty peaceful (mass marches, not military coups), but it certainly keeps you on your toes.
Now, on to the academic stuff. My classes started yesterday, and my schedule got switched around a bit, so now I have four classes Mon/Wed, two on Friday, but only one on Tue/Thu from 7-8:30 in the morning, so today I got back from school before 10 am, and that was after buying books and things. I've had four of my five classes so far, and two of them (Gender and Society and Yoga) are full of gringos like me, but two of them are almost all Ecuadorians. In fact, I'm the only exchange student in Nutrition, which sounds like it's actually a cooking class and is going to be really hard and research intensive (congratulations family and Oscar, I'm finally going to learn to cook, though I thought I'd be doing it with my host family and not in class!). I guess the first half of the semester for nutrition is theory, then the second half we go once a week for three hours to a local hospital where we have our "lab." Three hospital chefs will give us patient cases, diet restrictions, likes/dislikes etc., and we have to cook something that works for it. Oh my goodness I'm going to kill Ecuadorians with my complete lack of cooking skills... Yeah, I'm a little worried. This was definitely not in the course description. Oh well, I guess I'll learn something.
I haven't had Translation yet, so the class I'm most excited about is Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. The professor is hilarious, and switches back and forth between English and Spanish in the middle of his sentences. He doesn't care what language we speak (English/Spanish), or even if we pick one, and so we do it all in Spanglish. Finally, a class taught in the language I live! The class is all girls, and only two of us are American. All of the Ecuadorian girls seem to be pretty fluent in English.
The professor started about by asking for names and nicknames, and coined me "Lily la flor" (Lily the flower), which he called me almost every time he called on me, except for once when he accidentally called me by the name of the other white girl. I smiled and said, "Nope, the other gringa!" and everyone laughed. Then he asked what we study, and everyone except me and the Ecuadorian girl next to me are education majors! So he interrogated us (but in a friendly sort of way) about why we had taken the class. I started talking in Spanish about how I don't really study education but I did some teaching last semester, and since I speak both English and Spanish I thought a bilingual education class would be interesting...and he interrupted me and asked, "And Spanish is...your second language?" He had to ask!! I was so excited. I explained about Oscar (my boyfriend, who is Honduran) and all that jazz, and he said, "Yeah, I can hear a little bit of acento centroamericano in there."
When he asked one of the Ecuadorian girls why she had taken the class, she mentioned that she speaks English and someday would like to have kids but not anytime soon (here she knocked on wood, on the top of her desk), so she'd like to know how to raise them bilingually. The professor laughed at the knocking on wood, and from then on whenever anyone mentioned having kids everyone knocked on their desks.
We spent the rest of class negotiating: the professor wrote a bunch of categories on the board (oral presentation, two essays, reflections, final project, final exam, participation, etc) and we got to argue about which ones we wanted to keep and which we didn't, and how much each was worth. Immediately we said we didn't want a final exam, and just like that he erased it! Of course he had a few minimum requirements, so there's still some hard stuff in there, but it was a lot of fun to negotiate.
Oh my goodness, I wrote you a book. Maybe I should go do some homework or something...
Adios for now,