"Every planet has its own weird customs. About a year before we met, I spent six weeks on a moon where the principal form of recreation was juggling geese. My hand to God. Baby geese - goslings! They were juggled."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

After Reconnect

I felt really good during our first in-service training, called Reconnect. My counterpart and I developed some good ideas to start our first project and it seemed we could start on that immediately when we returned home. I enjoyed seeing all my old friends from training, and spent a week living in my old training house with my Tumbaco family that I missed a lot. It was warm, comfortable, and I was surrounded by people I knew and who knew me. At the end of the week, another volunteer and I attempted to climb Cotopaxi and although we didn't summit, and though it was cold and I felt not so great, after the climb I felt fine and wished I was back on it.

On each of the rides back to my site I met someone really friendly and fascinating. On a Quito trolley I met a woman named Flor who asked me a bunch of questions about my ice ax lashed to my bag. On the bus to Riobamba I sat next to a man who loved to laugh and joke - it started when I sat down and took out a ball of yarn to begin knitting some socks. I saw him quizzically watching me and I said in Spanish with a sort of smirk, "Why not?" We talked off and on the entire 3.5 hours and pretty soon he invited me to visit some of the remote Quichua communities he lives by on the slopes of Chimborazo. We'll see if I end up going or not but their festivals sound like a lot of fun... having not lost as many traditions as my own community has.

At the Dolorosa bus station I was buying Cheetos (yes!! Real Cheetos, puffy and delicious and everything!) when my host Maria snuck up on me from behind and poked me with both hands on each side of my stomach. I'd never seen her do anything so impish and to me it was hilarious, especially because she'd just found out how incredibly ticklish I am.

Our bus left in an hour and I'd brought out the beginnings of my knitted sock again to work on. A girl sat in front of us on the pseudo-seat and stared at my work, entranced. Halfway to Pungala she spoke up and asked what I was making, and our conversation continued. A woman I'd met on another bus ride also from Pungala sat next to her with her baby tied on her back and told the first girl all about me - it was incredible what she remembered. I realized again at that moment that I'm no longer usually gawked at, and if I am, there's usually someone around to jump in and explain that I'm not exactly a foreigner anymore... that I live out there in the campo with them too. It's comforting to know that little by little, I'm blending in. Word is spreading.

But now back in site, I felt a little drained. I had all these hopes and ideas but I still wasn't exactly sure how to accomplish them... it's a catch 22 in Peace Corps: you want to do stuff (especially to feel useful and not be bored all the time), but you can only do what your community wants to do. And showing them what you can do and what you want to do is sometimes tricky, especially when you're trying to do something they really don't want to do and are too polite to tell you.

Back here on my first day, I did the usual: made alfredo, knit, read a bit, washed clothes, went for a nice hike up and over the mountain. When I got back, I put a pot of water on to boil and heard a clang on the door. It was Ivan, the son of the (former?) school director who served as his dad's substitute last school year. He launched into a very enthusiastic speech about how he wanted to work on the eco-club with me during the summer but he was too busy building houses, how now he wants to really create this club, the ideas he has for it (backpacking to El Placer and bringing in other Volunteers to help [hint hint, he actually said this, come visit!!!], planting gardens, learning eco-tourism English, drawing, etc.), what more we can do for the community such as technological instruction (he went to school for journalism like me), arts, music (reviving traditional Ecuadorian folk music), etc. I'm pretty sure my jaw was dropped the whole time. Maybe not. But just hearing him talk so excitedly made me really excited too. And the funniest part was when he said, "I've been thinking, and my dad told me I should talk with you, that here you are in the community and we're not even using you." YES. Yes! Use me! That is exactly why I'm here. I told him I would write out my ideas and give them to him soon.

So things keep getting better. "Development work is slow," is the mantra. And it's true. Especially in an indigenous community like mine. You have to get trust, prove you're there to stay a while, get out walking even if you're not walking anywhere in particular (answering the obligatory "?Adonde va?" is tricky), talk to people, go to meetings, visit the school, help with farmwork, learn some Quichua, and then maybe you're in.


  1. based on your experience with knitting, I think you could add it to the list of things you can try to build community. :)
    Seriously though, it is an easy way to start a conversation with someone without seeming rude. That or having children or an animal with you. They are guaranteed conversation starters too.
    And in your case, the added perk is that you make new friends and warm socks!

  2. haha, I hate the ¿Adonde va? question... No where. The answer is, no where. I just like walking. Which is just as strange :)

  3. Gail! Yes, I´d like to try. I know a lot of people want to learn but I don´t know where to start.

    Heather: Yea, I just respond with ´Paseando´ now. It almost always works :)