Where I am: in bed under six blankets, a 0 degree sleeping bag wrapped around my shoulders. My fingers are icy to the touch and so is my nose which is constantly dripping. It's a steady 50 degrees in my room in the Andean mountains, colder than outside, and I'm spending my first two weeks here staying warm, knitting socks, and studying Spanish and Quichua. My host downstairs is angry about something or other and yells something out the door in Quichua. A rooster or two constantly crows outside - it's almost becoming background noise to me. I gave my host's bravo rooster a name: George. We're buddies.
Donkies wake me up with their braying at about 5:30 a.m., the same time my host wakes up to do whatever downstairs, but sometimes she gets up at 4:30 a.m. to shower and make soup. So essentially that's when I wake up, though I struggle for another hour or so trying to fight the noise and fall back asleep.
I live in a cement house with the kitchen/rustic store downstairs and my room upstairs, which is actually two rooms with a wall in between. The walls are gray-blue which give the illusion that they're not even there, but they also make it feel extra dark and a bit colder. The floors are bare cement because my host said there's no money to put in tile - which is fine by me. Before I came, however, she did apparently spend $1000 on three new windows, a heavy metal door, and metal railings. I have a small table on which I've put my Hawaiian sarong, and a wooden chest for my clothes inside and my books on top. I have no shortage of plastic lawn chairs, and I truly mean that. There are something like 20 or so of them stacked in the corner. My bed is cozy, piled on by the previously mentioned six wool and fleece blankets, each one of them necessary. The other day, my host's son came over by motorbike from Riobamba to get the electrical outlets in my room working again. And he had success, so another wave of 'this is going to be just fine' rushed over me.
Flies love to sneak their way indoors, but they're so cold they can hardly move. You flick them off the ceiling and they just fall to the floor, unable to get the blood moving enough to fly away. Right now, there are about 12 of them on my walls, not moving, not doing anything. So it's not too annoying to be surrounded by bugs after all.
My community sits on the north side of their river at the bottom of an east-west oriented valley with mountains soaring above on either side. Farmland creeps up their flanks almost two-thirds of the way up, and burn scars higher up show farmers' intentions of going beyond. There are less burns than the week I visited in March, however, and I wonder what that means. I know to them it means food and income, but I hope there's a better solution than farming the paramo. Both mountains on either side of the river have trails marching diagonally up and around their flanks, all paths I want to explore someday. On a clear day (do they actually exist?) Sangay, Ecuador's most active volcano, is visible from our mountain, Torre. I imagine El Altar (or Los Altares) is visible as well; it must be astounding up there. My host's brother is a wilderness guide and promises to show me all the beautiful secrets of Alao valley: lagunas, hot springs, waterfalls... they're here, somewhere, you just have to be shown.
The last two days I've been writing a speech to give at the next community meeting. It turned out longer than I guess it should be, but it straightens out once and for all 1) what Peace Corps is, 2) who I am and what my job in the Peace Corps is, 3) what that job entails, and 4) I have these surveys to do over the next few months to learn about what your community wants and needs, could you guys please help me out?? I hope it goes over well, but considering my first speech to them a month ago was impromptu riddled with horrific Spanish grammar and they still gave me a roaring round of applause, I think this one carefully written out and quite informative will be well-received.
Yesterday afternoon, as I translated the speech into Spanish, my host came upstairs and out of the blue, asked me to knit a scarf of homegrown sheep wool yarn for the President. The President... of Ecuador. Raphael Correa. By tomorrow. With lace weight yarn. Confused, and ever the naive optimist, never tiring of any knitting project yet, I agreed and set to it at once. With a sore, stiff neck and tired eyes, I gave up at 11 p.m. with only 7 inches of work to speak of. And it's really truly a shame she didn't asked me further in advance, because today she actually DID meet the President at a massive meeting outside of Riobamba. She said he kissed her on the cheek, but she was disappointed not to be able to give him my scarf. Yep, me too. It would have been really chevere if I had actually finished the scarf and went with them today to give it to him myself. Instead, I spent a lot of the day talking to George.
I'm guessing that's only the beginning of random stories I'll have on this adventure.