how interesting is it that i was challenged immediately
I had the roughest time with Profe ——-’s kids this morning. After each lesson on dental health, I have been visiting the same class to observe, learn and help out whenever, however I can. Usually, this involves simple tasks… like handing out materials, helping individual students write, draw, color, glue, tie shoelaces, open bottles, bags of chips, etc., herding the children from classes to classes and playing with them during recess. My favorite. I fell in love with the kids. They seemed to like me back.
I was unknowingly put in charge of these ~30 four-year olds because the main profe sort of just left the class without telling me:
- that she was going to be gone in the first place
- that she wasn’t going to be back any time soon
- where/why she was going
- what to do with the kids
Oh and the assistant profe didn’t make it to school today. It was terrible. Almost at all times, there were boys running around the class, hitting and getting on top of each other. I gave the students puzzles to do and things to color, but oh my gosh, keeping them sitting in their seats was the greatest challenge I have encountered in this kindergarten. At one point, 3 kids were crying from getting hurt from their violent plays… I had to take two boys to “time-out” (outside of the class) to have a personal talk with them so that they’d maybe… behave. To attempt to have this chaos under control, I ended up having to yell (aka use my teacher voice) and things sort of seemed to calm down until several boys thought it was funny to not listen to me.
By the snack time, I wasn’t sure whether it’d be okay for me to tell the kids to start eating because the profe still wasn’t there. I kept asking them to wait for the profe, but after hearing the kids complain non-stop about being hungry, I let them have their snacks. Whatever. Thankfully, recess followed snack time so I let the kids loose in the playground. However, once the end-of-recess bell rang I realized the teacher still hadn’t come back. After gathering the kids from the playground, I saw some hula hoops lying in the class. I thought rather than trying to contain them in the class without a plan, I would take them to the field to play with hula hoops. This was a great idea! The kids absolutely loved playing with hula hoops. Except for the fact that there weren’t nearly enough hula hoops for everyone and those who failed to score a hula hoop started fighting. Some hula hoops were thrown up in the air and some landed on a few unlucky children. Some cried… some got angry.
Oh. My. God. This is the point when I finally decided that I should look for this profe… and this is when I see her sipping coffee with other profes in “la sala de profesores.”
I was in a terrible mood, but seeing her just… being in that room, made me so upset, but I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t understand what she’s been doing all this time and why she never thought to come back to the class. It is beyond me. She still didn’t come with me to get children. She told me to gather them together and go to a computation class. This process took me about 10 minutes. And la profe didn’t help. She went back to the room… and her coffee.
It’s no easy job handling 30 Spanish speaking 4-year olds in a class. As a foreign helper “profe” who came in at the very end of the school year, I found it extremely hard to even attempt to guide the class. Ironically, I “did/helped” more than usual, but I am not sure what to think of this. I have never felt so unwelcomed at this kindergarten I’ve grown to love so much. But that’s how I felt. Unwelcomed. Of all the feelings… I felt unwelcomed as I was leaving the kindergarten. The greatest feeling to experience as a foreign volunteer, no?
On a brighter note, I ran into the assistant profe on a street in the afternoon, who has been nothing but nice, encouraging and welcoming to me. What coincidence, no? Having seen her at this time and knowing that she’ll be in class tomorrow gave me some encouragement and renewed excitement for my time left in the kindergarten. Seriously… I am not sure how she knew, but she gave me the most uplifting power hug as we parted.
It was a crazy Monday morning. Worth remembering… And worth… I honestly don’t know what else.
And it already feels like I have been in Ecuador forever. As la mitad of my time here is slowly approaching, I can’t help but feel a sense of guilt from the fact that I haven’t done much here. By “much,” I don’t mean the hours that I’ve “worked” in the kindergarten and the clinic but in… actually being “helpful.”
The program director had, from the start, emphasized the unique service-learning perspective on which the CFHI programs were built.
That service-learning should be not of a one-time experience, but rather a life-changing transformation of our paradigms to the greater awareness of the needs of the communities around us.
Or something close to that. DukeEngage and I were completely sold out on this idea, but I have been feeling a bit disappointed by my experience here thus far. I have complained to myself that “this isn’t what I had expected…” I had expected a more culture shock, a more need for cultural adjustment, more immersion into the Ecuadorian culture, moments of awakening, epiphany, more deep bonding time with the locals here… But my stay at Quito has been more than comfortable. I am surrounded by other American students. Everyday seems to be a routine and I’ve felt like a nuisance in the clinic and even in the school at times. Many times.
You know, as I am writing this, I realize that all my high hopes and expectations of this trip are not going to be realized on their own. First of all, I have to deal with expectations and reality. Not just complain about it. Just because I am here, just because I am going through the motions of my DukeEngage proposal, I can’t expect to go through this change of paradigm that the program speaks of. Maybe that’s why I have been feeling disappointed all along. You know, I am realizing this just now. Thank you, the power of reflective writing.
Maybe I should have kept a more open mind. Maybe I should have strayed away from the mindset of “do” and stuck with the mindset of “become.” Maybe I should give myself some more room and time to figure things out. Maybe I should go to bed.
So… today in clinic, I had the opportunity to change rubber bands for braces for about 6 patients. When la doctora asked me to do it, I was so wide-eyed that doctora and the assistants started laughing. Even though it is just a simple procedure, I was extremely excited/nervous/scared/eager. I was excited about the prospect of doing something hands-on with an actual patient, nervous about messing something up, scared of hurting the patient, and eager to please la doctora.
My first patient was a young mother with crazy eyebrows. I have to admit she did intimidate me a little, but I successfully took out her rubber bands without poking her gums out. The second patient was a young man who spoke a little English (according to him, he won some English speaking competitions) who made me feel less nervous by laughing and telling me that it’s okay. The third patient was a younger boy whose family was awesome and gave me lots encouragement despite having seen my terribly unstable hands (I got better later on)… The father wanted me to take his son to Korea. To just send him away. I told you Ecuadorians love to joke. The next one was a young mother as well, with a baby sitting on her belly. I definitely could feel the baby staring me down, but I pressed on anyway. At times I caught the patients taking in deep breaths… Hahaha I would have been nervous myself if someone like me was attempting to do something with my teeth. Anyway, The following two patients were the hardest because they were teen girls. They can be so sassy! They didn’t really say much, but I could tell they weren’t happy with my pace of work. The last one had terrible food buildups in between the braces, but nevertheless, I was happy to change the rubber bands.
All in all, it was really fun! All that clicking and stretching. One of my favorite parts of the procedure is asking the patients what color rubber bands they want. I especially love it when they all choose different colors.
These are a few of my favorite things in Ecuador:
- Greetings. I’m not talking about cat-calling or whistling. Not that I get a lot of those anyway (I just get a lot of stares…). I’m talking about the good ol’ hellos and goodbyes between two human beings. Eye-to-eye, face-to-face. Whenever I enter the school or the clinic, everyone greets literally everyone even though they may not know each other. Buenas días, buenas tarde, buenas noche. Doesn’t matter. I am in love with this culture. It’s such a small thing, but it can have such a big impact. Especially on a lonely (?) foreigner like myself.
- Hola/Ciao-Kisses. I definitely thought it was super awkward when my Spanish prof at Duke tried to ciao-kiss me unexpectedly, but I have become accustomed to it here (and I like it). It’s so much of a warmer way to express appreciation for each other, no? I think so. Def beats handshakes. Sadly I have not yet seen a man-to-man-ciao-kiss happening. They just do the boring handshake.
- A la órden. I heard this phrase a lot when I was shopping in the mercado. I assumed it means something similar to “hello” because the merchants never failed to greet me with a “a la órden.” We asked our host mom what it exactly means because I heard people saying this to me as a response to my “gracias.” It basically means “I’m at your service”/”How can I serve you?” Doesn’t this phrase just warm up your heart? A little bit? No?
- Ladies First. I thought this rule was pretty much ubiquitous, but it’s especially regarded important here. I first noticed this in the kindergarten when the girls were called first to stand and line up to go to the music class. It’s always “primero, las niñas.” I love that they are educated to treat the ladies with respect from the very beginning. I also heard from a friend that her Ecuadorian girlfriend expects to be treated like a princess by her man. I think every woman should be treated like a princess by her man. Good job, Ecuadorian men.
- Food. Cheap food. Tasty food. Today, I had a huge huge tasty and soft raisin bread for $1.25. It was so huge that I was going to save half of it for tomorrow, but I couldn’t control myself and ended up eating the whole thing. My host mom laughed at me and said something like… I will look like a balloon by the time I leave for the States. Which reminds me… Another good thing (even though I am disappointed) is that McD is perhaps one of the pricier places to eat here. That’s good for my health, yeah?
- Buen Humor. I don’t know if it’s because I am funny (unlikely) or what, but my Ecuadorians laugh so often while conversing with one another. They also joke about everything. It’s almost as if they don’t take some things seriously. Like, to be called gordita (gordo means fat) is not taken as an offense (I can’t really understand the reasoning). When the kids learned how to write the number 3, the teacher explained the curves as the “fat belly 1, fat belly 2” aka “bariguita, bariguita.” I was shocked at first, but they’re cool with it so whatever.
- People. Some of the Ecuadorians I have met so far have been the warmest people ever. To name a few, the teachers/staff and students at the school, dentists and assistants in the clinic, and my host mom. They have been so patient and generous with me. I feel like I am making things more difficult by being here, but they try to convince me otherwise.
- Weather. Simple. Not too hot. Not too cold. Sometimes drizzles, but totally forgivable. I forgive you, Ecuadorian weather.
- Things to do. in and out of Quito. Seems like… it’s been mostly out of Quito though.
I am sure there are more, but it’s midnight. Time to sleep.
Buenos día/tarde/noche (pretty proper, no?).
I’ve just finished washing up after spending the whole of my first day in Quito out and about in the city. There is so much to mention from today’s ventures that I am going to have to sacrifice what little eloquence and coherence I try to have in formal/semi-formal writings. Where to start? First off, my…
My host mom is the local coordinator of the CFHI programs in Ecuador so it is a great blessing to stay at her home and get to know her and her daughter better. She runs the Amazing Andes Language School, where the CFHI students take Spanish classes, and her daughter is one of the school’s profesores. I have never been very expressive at communicating my gratitude, but I better work on that soon so that my host mom knows how grateful I am for her hospitality. It is NO easy task to open one’s home to a stranger, let alone seven strangers, for not just for a while, but for durations as long as two whole months. Granted, only some of us are staying that long, but her generosity and hospitality should be duly noted and be somehow someway reciprocated. I guess all of the home-stay students try to do so by showing respect. By finishing everything on our plates at meal times, trying everything the host mom has prepared and speaking Spanish at meal times. Though, unfortunately, the last attempt has… failed many times as we tend use English to have side conversations. I was a bit uncomfortable at the sight because it’s not that we don’t know how to speak in Spanish. Some of the students are actually quite impressively fluent. Anyway, hopefully we’ll try harder. The meals have been so far very wonderful. We had parfait and bread for breakfast and a three-course meal, soup with yucca and beans, rice and beans + hotdog sausage, and fruit bread cake, for dinner. As I have access to the internet, a clean bathroom and a more-than-comfortable bedroom I really can’t ask for more.
There are about 30 students in various CHFI programs in Ecuador. I only recently realized that the dental program I’m enrolled in has just one other student. She is a sweet recent graduate from Alabama. In fact, everyone I have met today so far have been super nice. There are a lot of medical students that have just finished their first year. I guess it makes better sense for them to participate in these programs since they can actually have some hands-on clinical experience. Anyway, the gist of today’s orientation involved discussing how to respect the host family, having everyone introduce themselves in Spanish, talking about tentative plans regarding Spanish classes and working in clinics, and going over fun things to do in and out of Quito.
Lunch and a Little Boy
Despite having eaten a pretty solid breakfast, I was intensely hungry by 10~11 AM. Maybe it was the hunger, or perhaps it was altitude sickness!, but I was feeling a wee bit dizzy after trying to meet and get to know some of the people in the room (or maybe it was the people! just kidding). We had divided into groups according to programs, but poor me and my fellow student in the dental program—we didn’t have set plans ready for us so kind of bummed around until we had another group to join. While we were waiting for the other group, we got to sit and chat with the two Ecuadorian profesores at the school. At first, I didn’t realize they were profesores because they looked kind of young, but indeed, they were… our profesores. With my self-proclaimed intermediate Spanish skills, somehow we communicated just fine and exchanged some of our favorite musicians and tv shows. These Ecuadorians had a good sense of humor (only because they laughed at my jokes) and are so easy to get along with. So finally, these profesores took us to a local supermercado for lunch, which was amazing and amazingly cheap at the same time. I had a delicious plate of fried fish with rice and salsa which was accompanied by a some sort of a chili cream sauce. It was lovely and it was only 2 dollars. While I was enjoying my meal, a small Ecuadorian boy, covered in dirt from his face to his toe, stood next to our table with an empty cup in his hand. He was asking us for money. One of the profesores at the table cut the kid’s sentence with a stern “no” and as easy as that, the kid went off. However, when I was trying to buy some bottled water, the kid reappeared next to me and kept begging me for money. I was to ignore the kid so I did… and it was hard. Once I got back to the table, I asked the profesor why we should ignore the kid. Apparently, this is a common scam where a hidden figure illegally uses such kids to elicit money from foreigners and the naive… It wasn’t a total surprise, but having ignored the kid nevertheless left me upset and unsettled.
As my fellow friend from Alabama and I were now part of this other group for the day, we got to see the hospitals that they were going to be working in… Even though I don’t really need to know where these hospitals were located, it was good to practice using the trole and bus system around the city. I think most of my exhaustion at the end of the day came from walking around the city. We walked a great deal and I was in my sort-of-comfy wedges. Note to self: just wear the flats next time. Buses are incredibly cheap: only 25 cents! But they do add up if you are out and about for a whole day. We visited a marvelous local market at the end where there were wonderful Ecuadorian hats, bags, scarves, shirts, dresses, jewelry, pants, etc! Note to self: located near the intersection of Jorge Washington and Juan León Meras. Must go back!
Dinner and Sports Bar
Some of the students wanted to visit a sports bar to grab some beer and watch the NBA finals, which I did not know was going on, so I joined, thinking that it’s worth it for the sake of getting to know them better. Some of them were really really excited at the prospect of getting some beer and it was great shock (?) to find out that no alcohol is served on Sundays in Ecuador. Not even in restaurants. I was personally impressed by such law and found some dignity in keeping the sabbath holy. I had no plans to drink beer so I wasn’t devastated, but it seemed to be a more of a bummer for others. Rather than leaving, all of us ordered other drinks in the menu, limonada natural being the most popular. It was cute that we drank lemonades at a sports bar at 9 PM. Great learning experience, no?
I probably won’t write this much every single day, but hopefully more thought-provoking and insightful entries to come later.
Tengo que dormir ahora. Hasta luego,
Jean/Juana/Joana/I don’t really want a Spanish version of my name
in my host family’s house in Quito, Ecuador. It’s an awesome, big, beautiful house with more than 8 rooms that I am aware of currently. Host mom is the sweetest. She just finished stitching up my pillow for me. There are 7 other students living in the house at the moment. I wish I could write more, but I am running out of battery and need to unpack and sleep for tomorrow is going to be a big day!
Until I have to leave for the airport. Got everything but my laptop packed. I should get my toothbrush back out so that I can brush my teeth after I finish my lunch. Bye bye Kimchi… for two whole months. Feeling a bit nervous and anxious just at the prospect of getting on the flight. Got nothing really important to say right now. I am just blogging for the sake of having something written in this blog. Okay, I am going to finish eating my fish, rice, kimchi lunch. Be back soon.