"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."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A (very long) essay on progress and life

As I write here in bed at night, it's pouring outside. It's also icy cold and I'm sick...again. I'm getting sick about every month. People here say it's because of the cold, but I think it's a combination of things - the cold, the ease that germs are passed around (coughing into the air, picking constantly runny noses, etc), not very good nutrition (soup, potatoes, rice, soup, potatoes, rice...), and large amounts of stress.

I really didn't think this would be a stressful job, but it actually is the most stressful I've had. Well...maybe in a different way from grad school 'cause that was pretty stressful too. But that includes taking complex coffee orders from pushy mathematics professors during coffee rush hour, lining up hundreds of children and getting them to stay in a precise order for picture day, being the only baker on duty for a major holiday food event in sub-freezing weather, holding a pole still and upright in a thigh-deep rushing glacial river, scanning hundreds of theses page by page day after day, etc. etc. (I also have a fair share of some of the easiest/most fun jobs out there...and holding a pole still in subfreezing glacial rivers is fun too).

This one is hard because I'm constantly trying to get people motivated and enthusiastic about something, anything. It's hard because I'm ridiculously bored and so I feel pretty worthless. My host has no problem telling me that too, which makes me feel even worse.

Last Tuesday was, to me, the most exciting community meeting yet because it had an entirely environmental theme. My counterparts from the national park were there with a very passionate community member. This guy gave the first speech, meant to rally the community together and use me as a resource because...hey... that's why I'm here and my schedule is wide open. I was thrilled hearing this until I looked out to the members present. No one seemed to be paying him any attention except the leadership up front. Maybe no one actually cares about why I'm here. Maybe I shouldn't be here, I thought.

He went on to discuss his ideas for eco-tourism in the community. Some ideas are fantastic, like building cabanas for the Centro Interpretivo in the sierran style (called a "chosa" it's a mud wall building with a straw roof that many people here use for cooking or smoking food). Others were really bizarre. He again told his story comparing New York's twin towers (that were destroyed by Saddam Hussein...) with the two mountains sandwiching the community that are also called "The Towers". Only, he said, these towers won't fall down or fail the community. One of his ideas was to try either hanggliding or zip-lining across the valley from mountain to mountain. Hanggliding, cost aside, is doable. Ziplining is certainly not. Neither will happen. Then he began describing something I didn't understand...a word he kept repeating was unfamiliar to me...when he excused himself to go get 'it', whatever he'd been talking about. Five minutes later, he came back in walking very slowly, carrying with the most intense care a model carriage holding a doll, drawn by a white horse with pink glittery hair. He approached the front desk and set it down slowly. He went on to say they could make these carriages to hold six tourists at a time to ride up and down the road.

At least he's enthusiastic. I think we can count on him to at least try to get others to care and to help finally open the community's Centro Interpretivo.

My counterpart from the park made his speech next describing more potential future projects, and proposed a meeting on Monday to discuss Sociobosque, a program they're trying to introduce here. I have no idea if anyone at that meeting will go, but I know myself, the two park guards, and probably the community president and my host will go. His main project focus with me is creating a solstice garden by the Centro Interpretivo. The idea is each member of the women's workers association here in the community will be the guardian of one species of native plant (and will even get their own t-shirt apparently), and there will be 52 plants - one for each week of the year. The plants will be arranged in an ellipse relative to the sun in some way. I did a bit of reading online and found we could build a analemmatic sundial...maybe inside the elipse of plants. Whatever works out, they want it to be spritual and to honor their heritage. Quichua people have a holiday - Inti Raymi - on the summer solstice so they have a special interest in the movement of the Earth around the Sun.

So that meeting gave me a bit to think about at least. I'm also working on a program proposal for the school director to teach kids about Leave No Trace in Parque Nacional Sangay. The director brings kids to some apparently excellent hot springs in the park called El Placer about once or twice a year. I'd like those trips to become something even more than a hike and I think LNT ("Sin Dejar Huellas") is a great theme for them. The only problem (and it's not really a problem because I agree) is my counterpark in the park is requiring the kids to be at least 15 years old...but then he relented and said 12 at least. 15 years would have been a problem because his school kids are younger than that - not quite high school age. So hopefully the group he wants to take is old enough, and they want to try out my Sin Dejar Huellas idea (just posted about it here on the Green Sheets blog).

Finally... I've decided for sure I want to move out. I've been living in this house for over half a year with this woman who makes me absolutely insane. She's almost always in a terrible mood, she criticizes me on everything, she has me do thankless chores, she doesn't give a crap about my life and has no interest in talking with me (just to me), and possibly the worst is she prevents me from cooking for myself by preparing all the food for the day and guilting me into eating it despite my expressed wishes to cook my own food. The intensity of it all goes up and down...some days it's not so bad, other days I've almost got my phone in my hand to call my program manager to say I'm quitting. It all seems tied to how she feels. So I've started the search but I've given myself little time...ideally I'd like to be out by 20 November to avoid paying her up to 20 December. Somehow I don't think she's interested in prorating rent. Before now I thought I could just deal with her because I like the house, but now I need to leave in a hurry.

I've been reluctant to move because it actually is a great situation minus the occupant. I like my house, I have a cozy clean bed, it's relatively warm, I have electricty and a hot shower, a cooking range, fresh grass for Moo and a place to throw out her waste, and I feel pretty safe. Also, my host put in railings, windows, and a new steel door for me before I arrived (seems like a really nice gesture huh?). Honestly, I don't really want to leave. If my host would just listen to me and let me cook for myself, things would be peachy. Just finding somewhere is the tricky part. And probably actually moving because I've already accummulated a lot of crap. And probably definitely telling my host I'm moving which will be instantly depriving her of my monthly rent. In reality, though, she'll probably be thrilled to see me go.

It sounds like I have about three options which I get to check out this evening. One, I've heard, is living in the upstairs unit of the community president's house. I don't know anything about him or his family but I think I just totally want out of living with someone so I don't know if this will work. Another is the (very large) house of someone I know, who is apparently gone for a long time and I could serve as a caretaker. I had no idea he and his family left and I don't think I feel comfortable moving into a big empty house that they all could come back to anytime. And it's located at the top of the mud alley...by top, I mean, partway up the mountain. Not ideal. There's another house way down the road towards the national park that sounds intriguing, but the downside is that yes, it's remote, and it would take a 20 minute or so walk to get to the buses that are far from ever being on time. So I imagine that involves a lot of waiting on the very stoop I live by right now, walks in freezing rain through mud and pig poo with heavy loads from Riobamba, and being socially disconnected (like I'm really connected in the 'center' of town anyway). Meetings are from 8-12 a.m. often, so after a meeting I'd have a long, dark walk back home.

So from everything I know right now, I live in the most ideal house for me. Damn.


  1. I have had living situation issues also, and my APCD came and had meetings separately with me and my host family, and then my closest neighbor, who is very integrated and speaks the local language really well, also came and helped smooth things out. I think it has helped a lot. My situation is different in that I really don't like my housing at all and wished I could move, but my APCD was flat out against it. But things have improved. Could that sort of thing happen with your situation? Working out the food issue sounds like it could really improve things! Good luck...!!

  2. Thanks Emily! I´m glad it worked out for you. I´ve tried talking with my host and saying flat out that I need to cook for myself, but it doesn´t work. She still cooks and expects me to eat everything she makes. I´ve put up with it for 6 months but it´s time for me to change... if I couldn´t move out, I would ET for sure. No one should have to put up with what I do.