On Wednesday, staging day, I slept in to the glorious hour of 9:30 a.m. in a heavenly, cozy hotel bed. Got one final meal of avocado/carrot/cucumber sushi for breakfast from the Whole Foods right down the way. Registration started at 12 and then, with the turning in of a pile of paperwork, we became official Peace Corps trainees.
Staging lasted from 1 to 7 and started off with one of those icebreakers where you have a list of skills, experiences, random facts, and you have to find someone in the room to match one. I may have scoffed a little at it, but I'll admit - it helped me learn names. Most of the day was spent discussing commitment (Are we really ready for this?), a broad safety overview, a reminder of Peace Corps' Core Expectations, all reinforced by small group skits and by drawing pictoral interpretations of our anxieties and aspirations.
Almost all 42 of us made it. Well... it seemed like a lot of us were there. Maybe in the 30s? Our last meal was waaaaay way far from the hotel at J Paul's where I had a pretty miserable veggie burger. I'll try and forget it and just remember the fries and salad for my last American meal.
I didn't bother going to sleep. I got some more Denali work done (submitting a pile of brand-new EarthCaches tonight!!), got the video above finished, got re-packed to see if I could get things a little more organized for arrival, and tried so hard to catch one final episode of It's Always Sunny. I don't even like TV, but I do enjoy seeing that once a week. But I totally ran out of time. Suddenly it was 3 a.m., and time to congregate downstairs in the hotel lobby.
And then sleepiness REALLY hit me. I was zombified. We piled into a coach bus to head for the airport and I don't even really remember the ride. Our mass of PC people and luggage blocked the entrance and caused some kind of security problem, so we continued on to checking and inudated them. But luckily our flight was hours away...
Yet the weather continued to plague us. Apparently the turbulence was so bad on the same earlier flight to Miami that a couple flight attendants were injured enough to be hospitalized - so instead of flying over the ocean, our flight went overland. Fun!
In the Miami airport, we all sought out our very last meal in the United States but it seemed a lot of us were disappointed. After walking for ages with Lindsay, another trainee, we gave up finding food and returned near our gate for a cheese pizza from Pizza Hut. Got my very last soy latte, and I'm happy to say it was pretty good!
On the flight to Quito, I came in and out of drowsy conciousness. I tried reviewing some Spanish but I literally couldn't focus my eyes. Those 3 hours and something minutes seemed like days. And then came our descent! Our very rapid descent. The very first thing I spotted was Guagua Pichincha, an active volcano located right on the edge of Quito. And the airport is right next to it.
Entering the country was a piece of cake and a lot faster than other entries I've had. There was no whooping or cheering when we arrived like I've seen in some other PC videos, but a group of support staff was there to help us check in and gather back our Peace Corps passports. Pink ribbon tied to all our bags to help us grab each others' luggage (a Peace Corps tradition, I guess). And onto a coach bus for a long ride through the city to our temporary home at San Patricio.
I didn't feel shock being here. The streets look familiar, the language barrier doesn't put me off because it's not that huge for me. I have this huge sense of familiarity already, and I feel like this is right, like being here is what I was supposed to do and it just took so long to do it.
San Patricio is a spacious building like a community center where our two-bed and one bath dorms are located upstairs. Up many flights of stairs. We remembered our altitude (like 9000 feet I guess?) immediately climbing them for the first time. I now have to throw toliet paper in the garbage instead of flushing it because of the plumbing and treatment system, and when I turned the shower on, a great fountain of water gushed from the top of the head and showered the entire bathroom.
During dinner, a lot of the Ecuadorean staff stopped by to introduce themselves. We ate a tomato soup, popcorn (apparently quite popular?) and rice (there was meat and veggies too but I skipped this). One massive game of bananagrams followed, probably 14 or more people joined in. At least three of us brought a set.
The NEXT day, today, we had a breakfast of rolls, eggs (I passed), and Nescafe (Firefly Cafe, if you're reading this, please rescue me after I graduate from training!!!). We loaded up the same coach bus and headed our bumpy way to Peace Corps' new training center in Tumbaco. It's a really nice property with an open area in the center and bunches of classrooms inside. We had a seminar on safety and met the Country Director. It was a day filled with paperwork - they set us free to complete six tasks.
1. Forms! A form to tell them our host family preferences (please be receptive to me being a vegetarian, please!), a skills inventory to see if we have any other skills not in our application, a short bio with yet another aspiration statement (I think it's my third and each time it's getting more and more robotic), a form for personal data, and the third time I saw the authorization of use of material (our bios and photos can be released to anyone).
2. Allowances! An envelope of cash to pay our host families for the first two weeks to reimburse them for lodging and food.
3. Photos! I didn't know about this and I definitely don't want to see my photo.
4. Immunizations! I'm almost getting used to being poked by needles. I got a typhoid, yellow fever, and heptatits A shot in two arms. Ouch. The typhoid began to ache in a lot of our right arms.
5. Language Test! An 80+ question Spanish exam to gauge our abilities. I think I did decently well on it. The oral exam is on Tuesday...
6. Open a bank account! I had to sign five times for my bank account. They had to be totally identical to my passport signature.
A federal officer from the U.S. Embassy came by to give us a presentation on safety. While it was helpful, he had a lot of stories about crimes committed in Ecuador (not necessarily against PCVs though). It's not meant for us to be paranoid, but just totally aware of what's going on and to avoid putting ourselves in the same position as those victims.
We had these amazing humitas for an after-lunch snack. They're basically sweet cornbread baked in banana leaves with a few giant raisins inside. I'm looking forward to more of those!!
For our last activity, we split into our two program groups - Natural Resource Conservation and Agriculture. I'm in NRC doing Environmental Education. We introduced each other, and I'm happy to say I took a small leap and did mine in Spanish. The worst part of the day: when the program leader said we're not allowed to go to Banos, which is the major town at the base of Tungurahua volcano that is currently erupting. Because I'm in communication with the Geophysical Institute and it would be with them that I go anywhere near the location, and I have experience around erupting volcanoes, I'm hoping to work out a dialogue between the two organizations. It would be a huge shame to not be able to volunteer my free time at the observatory.
Anyway, tomorrow at 11 a.m. we leave with our host families. I'm nervous! Excited, but so nervous. I hope they like me...