If you are not in my immediate family you may not know that Drew and I have dramatically changed our plans.
We officially moved out of the suite, packed up our things, and left the foundation. Even looking back on some of my first posts, I am more and more certain that our decision to leave is for the best. Although I love every single one of the fifty kids at the school and have made lifelong friends with the teachers, I am not going to miss being overworked and stressed out like I have been for the last 3 and a half months.
Drew and I came here with the primary goal of community development and health outreach. Drew planned to have nutrition classes for the families and children and I planned to help with communication for the foundation. When we got here a lot of plans had changed, and we were expected to teach English classes to the preschoolers, and eventually we were expected to teach English classes to the community of Machachi. We took on two classes on top of helping at the preschool, and soon were working in Machachi four days a week from 9 to 6, and if you count an hour and a half to two hours of bus commute each way, then you can see that we were out of the house for thirteen hours a day. On Fridays and Saturdays were worked in the clinic, but we rarely were finished with the work we had to do by the end of the day, and spent many nights up late grading papers and planning classes.
Our days in Machachi were always rewarding. The school is greatly understaffed, with just five adults to fifty children–counting the director, chef, and the psychologist. With one teacher to 25 students, we soon found that four extra hands were useful if not necessary in the school. We spent our days running around doing everything we could to help, which usually meant cleaning, teaching classes, helping with activities, and as I have mentioned before, simply helping kids with going to the bathroom. We might have been happy had we been only working at the school but when we sat down to really talk about how the year was going, we but just had to admit that we hadn’t had the support we thought we would, and we couldn’t help but realize that between dealing with all the extra tasks that we had been given, we hadn’t been able to focus on what we wanted to.
When it became obvious that our living situation was no longer safe, with money being stolen fr0m our room and our loosing faith in the one person that was supposed to be watching out for us at night, we decided that it was time to make a very hard but important decision.
As we thought more about being away from our friends and families for the year, we decided that although we still want to see a lot of Ecuador and look at other project possibilities, if we are going to be away from our families, grandparents, and be spending money to work our butts off… We’d better be happy.
As much as we love many things about being here, neither of us have felt truly happy or satisfied with the work that we are doing. I have learned a ton about myself, especially in the context of being a wife and being a teacher, and I truly fell in love with the kids and their families, but I feel like I could be satisfied with doing community service or volunteer work if I was in many different places working for many types of companies. And there are MANY people in the world who have just as much need.
Simply put, we didn’t want to waste our first year of marriage in a situation where we were both unsatisfied. We´ve decided to travel for a bit, exploring a few possible volunteer opportunities, and go home early to be with our families. All of this said, there are many things I am going to miss about our life here.
1. I am going to miss our neighbors in Cumbayá.
We had been getting into routines that were really fun, like buying all of our fruit at Olga’s fruteria up the street.
Or checking every day of the week at the nearby panaderia to see if the woman had pan integral (wheat bread) and when she did, stocking up on it.
Dreading the rare occasion when we had to buy anything from the store next to the panadaria, which had almost everything, but the woman who owned it was always very short with us and had the worst stink face. We made it a game that every time we went into her store we would compliment her or act really really nice, but I think us killing her with kindness just made it worse.
Drew’s strange obsession with gapingachos, which are basically mashed potatoes with spices that are formed into pancakes… an obsession which lead him to ask for $2 worth of gapingachos every time we walked past Maria and Segundo’s restaurant. This strange addiction also led to Segundo’s offering us Treintaiuno, which is the spongy lining of cow stomach. I will NOT miss treintaiuno.
2. I will miss the school faculty who have all become our family here.
Mireya started off as just another one of our bosses. She is the Director of the Odd E. Hansen Child Development Center, and she was the one who we would report to at the school. She soon made us feel more that comfortable, and when it became mandatory that all the school staff would take English classes from Drew and I, we got to see that Mireya knew quite a bit more English than we could have imagined. She became the teachers’ pet, and knew almost everything we taught. When we began to feel uncomfortable living at the clinic, she immediately invited us to her home and made us feel like we were cared about. On our last day at the school, she took us to a Parilla, or BBQ restaurant in town with the other teachers to celebrate. At the end of the meal we were all crying because we are all going to miss eachother so much but they all support our decision to leave.
Our goodbye party ended in a karaoke bar where mireya sang about 30 songs and Drew and I smashed on an amazing lineup of songs that consisted of whatever English song the bartender could think of. It was hilarious. (This was our second of 2 karaoke experiences in 2 weeks… but you’ll here more about this new hobby later on.
Myra, the psycologist, intimidated me from the first day I met her. She is beautiful and interesting, and when she is with the kids she just knows exactly what they need. She is so soft and kind that she would always drop anything she was doing to come greet Drew and I, and to help us with anything we needed. She would always explain to us why certain children act the way that they do, because she understood the family dynamics of the community deeper than anyone. She was the biggest help and support for all of the kids, and for the ones that were being abused at home (which is sadly quite a few) She never hesitated to call parents in to explain to them how they were harming their children. In a society where Machismo is still strong and vibrant, it was really great to see such a powerful woman really speak to parents in ways that everyone else was afraid to.
Myra also invited Drew and I to her house for the Fiestas de Quito, which is an incredible scene in Quito in the first week or so of December. The historic district of Quito pretty much shuts down because there is so much dancing in the streets and firework displays. Myra took us out on the town with her sister Grace and brother-in-law Daniel, and we had the most amazing time exploring the panecillo de Quito (big statue of the Virgin of Quito on a hill in the middle of the city) and her favorite Karaoke bar. There, we sang an interesting mix of tunes including Drew’s debut solo, WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN, by creed, and old hit of my own, ¨summer lovin¨by the cast of Greese. The night we went out for karaoke, we ended up spending the night at Myra´s sister’s house. She lives in an apartment in Quito, and the next day, we went to their mom´s house for her famous Ceviche. By the time we had eaten lunch and returned to Grace´s house, someone had set fire to the decorations outside of her door, and her house almost burnt down. It was scary! The family was amazing though.
Patty is the chef that works harder than anyone. She cooks 4 meals a day for 50 kids, plus lunch and breakfast for the adults. The foundation never hired a janitor or cleanind crew, so she is often running around to mope and clean the bathrooms (remember: fifty children, two bathrooms, and toilets where you can´t flush paper)… Patty is a saint. She has a dog named Teddy who often escapes from her house during the day and runs close to a mile to the school to wait outside thw kitchen door for Patty to open it and see him. Teddy is so loyal, and Patty is loyal in return, saving all the scraps to feel Teddy from a Slop bucket. He is one lucky dog, because even when we went for barbecue, she gathered all the pork bones to save for Teddy. It is comical, really, but such a sweet relationship. Did I mention that Patty (and Teddy) were also members of our English class? Patty is a great student as well.
Kathy is another teacher at the school who also lived in Cumbayá. She made the long commute everyday with or before us. One day, however, when I just happened to be sick, Kathy was taking our usual bus route home when the small bus she was on was coming down the steep mountain into Cumbayá and lost it’s clutch and then it’s breaks. There was a terrible accident and she couldn´t work for two weeks. Luckily a small neck injury was all she suffered from, but she described the scene of the crash as “lots of fear and blood.”
Despite her accident, Kathy was one of the most wonderful and patient people I have ever met. She came to school everyday with a huge smile, and although she taught the class of younger kids, she did everything she could to teach the kids a ton of information in a lot of creative ways.
Teresa was the teacher I was originally paired with on the first day. She is one of those teachers who is firm but loving, and when she was disciplining the kids, even I was afraid sometimes. The result of her motherly ways was that her class was very structured and many of the kids learned in leaps and bounds. I was shocked by how much her students grew in behavior and knowledge. Teresa has a child at the school, Sandy, who is in Profe Kathy’s class. I am really sad that every child other than Sandy is allowed a donor, because the foundation thinks it would be a conflict of interest to allow Teresa´s child to be supported by a donor. I do not think that is fair, because the foundation only pays her just a touch over minimum wage, which is $260 a month, while many other families are just barely scraping by while making minimum wage. Teresa and I became very close, especially because I gained a very special bond with Sandy. Although Sandy is very shy, she and I would play tag or dance every day as her mom was getting ready to go. I miss them so much already.
3. I will miss the kids.
Anyone who has every worked with kids, or had children of their own can probably agree with the fact that they indeed say and do the darndest things.
Since we spent half an hour each day instructing English classes, and the rest of the day trying to implement the English into the kid´s other lessons, they soon became bilingual in the most basic conversations. (As much as is possible in children from 2 to 4). Drew and I soon became Cheechas…( Thier attempt at saying Teachers) and you can bet that I was called Cheechas Andres about ten times a day, as he was called Cheecha Caty or Señorita many times throughout each day. Since Drew was the only ¨Señor¨in the school, he tried tirelessly to tell the kids not to call him Señorita, but since the rest of us fell under that category, so did Drew.
I will forever remember the kid’s little voices screaming ¨How are you?¨ as a response to my asking them the same thing. Even in the last week that we were there, only 2 or so realized that you have to answer How are you? With a statement. Sometimes Drew and I would be so determined to try to explain it that we would waste five minutes practicing the response in front of the kids, but as soon as we asked one of them, ¨How are you David?¨We would undoubtedly get the same question shouted back, ¨How are you?¨
I will forever remember Drew and I’s two famous recess games. One game involves the big bouncy balls that all the kids got at the beginning of the school year to practice playing soccer with. I would offer to punt one kid´s ball in the air, and make sure they asked me in a full sentence. Usually it would go something like ¨Al cielo, porfavor¨ (To the sky please) and I would punt the ball in the air and they would run and chase it. It always started out pretty calm until everyone joined in and I had about thirty little children holding their balls up saying “porfavor, porfavor!” Drew´s game was a little more hectic, and it involved him gathering all the kids together and at the last moment telling them to try to catch him, at which he would sprint away from them and they would follow him in swarms. It got even more interesting when he started picking some of the kids and telling everyone to chase them. His game was always a bit more chaotic than mine. Somehow, stitches were never needed after the first day of school.
I could go on about the kids forever. Ask me sometime.
4. I will miss their families.
We got invited by one set of parents to share a meal at their house. For a week we panned on going to Sebastian´s house for dinner, and I had no idea what to expect. When we got to their house, which is one room that includes a slight divider for the kitchen and no bathroom, we were surprised to see the toys all lined up, the house perfectly clean, and a meal on the table that surpassed anything we had ever been offered. Here we were with a family that is really struggling to support their three kids, but the parents exude love and kindness to the point where they spent more than they could afford on a meal fit for a king. just so that they could welcome us and feed us well. As sad as I was when I saw their house, I had never experienced such love and support in a simple lifestyle. We were the first visitors they had ever had over for dinner, and they were a young couple in their twenties with three kids. Anna, the mother, was nursing the 8 month old baby while we were all eating, and I she ate just a tiny portion while our plates were overflowing. Gabriel, the dad, works as a muchroom cultivator, and was telling about the mushroom plant beds. As I watched him talk I noticed that his hands showed signs of farming, with lots of cuts and nails filled to the brim with soil.
This family is just one example of the people in Machachi, and they were all similarly humbling to be around. On the last day we were there we had the christmas pagaent, and it was amazing to see the kids with thier famiies just enjoying their time together. They all wanted to hug and kiss us to say thank you and send us on our way, and they made us feel that we will always have family in Machachi. our experiences have been great, and definitely not all bad, but after saying goodbye to the families, I just can´t wait to get back to my own.
5. I will miss spending every minute with Drew
Ok, ok, maybe I won´t exactly miss it, but it has been a very unique experience to be able to grow as a married couple as we have gone through immense challenges and difficult decisions….all the while knowing exactly when the last time we each sneezed. My mom keeps reminding me that the first year of marriage is hard anyways, and to think that we are doing it all alone is just amazing. I would say that I would have to agree. For four difficult years I have been waiting until the day that Drew and I would be together. I think we both agree that being together 24/7 is not exactly what we were dreaming about, but we have made up for a lot of lost time while learning patience. When you are with someone all the time yet they are the only one that even speaks your language, you learn to get over tifs quickly, or to look at the positive attributes in your partner. That said, say a prayer for us:)
We are currently in the middle of taking two weeks of spanish classes as a hostel in Canoa, Ecuador. More info to come;)