Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Safe Haven

So, our apartment is definitely my happy place here in Ecuador. It’s so beautiful and so safe, and I just feel comfortable here! After looking at several other apartments first that were old and dirty and had bugs everywhere, this place is really a little slice of heaven. It’s hard to explain if you can’t see how the people here live, but we feel very blessed to have found this place. Each day our landlord lady, Elizabeth, adds something else to the place. Just yesterday, she brought us two more chairs for the “living room” and is still bringing us 4 new chairs for our kitchen table. She even gave Wilson a power strip when he asked. And she’s such a nice lady. Her husband is an admiral in the navy here or something and is fairly important. But he spends most of his time in Quito. He has these bodyguard/personal assistant type guys who stay here with Elizabeth, her mother, and their 3 boys. The main guy is Kleber, and he’s my buddy now! And, her youngest son, Alexander, who is about 8, will just talk to me forever! We bonded because he saw my teddybear in the apartment and brought his over to show me he still sleeps with one, too. Ha! And when I mentioned to Elizabeth’s mother that I liked her house shoes and was trying to find a similar pair, she wrote down my size and said she’d find them for me. So, it feels so nice to know that there’s someone next door looking out for us! And, of course, it helps me practice my Spanish, too! :o)

Classics Never Get Old

So, I mentioned before that adjusting to the food here has been difficult. I have branched out a little and now eat shawarmas (It’s basically just a chicken wrap, but it sounds like I’m eating something exotic, right?). And this morning, I tried the box milk with my cereal. (It really creeped me out that the milk was sold in a box on the shelf, warm!) Wilson also buys a lot of fresh fruit because it’s so cheap. We got 10 peaches for $1!!! So, I’ve been eating grapes, strawberries, and peaches as well. And, now that our stove is fixed in our new place, I can start cooking for myself. The first thing I bought to cook was Kraft Macaroni and Cheese!!! I can’t wait! :o) But, I just can’t part from my favorite classic—peanut butter and jelly. I eat a pb&j sandwich every day! And actually, it’s better here! The jelly I use is a blend of strawberry and blackberry, and it’s delicious! And the best part? I can buy bread with the crust already taken off!! As those of you who know me know, I still take the crust off my bread when I eat a sandwich, so it’s been so wonderful to buy crustless bread!!! Yay! And, thanks to my mother insisting that she throw several packs of Kool-aid into my suitcase, I can drink grape Kool-aid with my sandwich! (Of course, I have to buy the water to make the Kool-aid with, but it’s totally worth it!) :o)

The Wedding Singer

The wedding was nice, and I certainly enjoyed getting dressed up. But it was also quite interesting (Kristin, you should take notes!) First of all, it wasn’t an actual wedding ceremony. They just did a civil service and had a reception/party later which is what we actually attended. (That’s not really the norm here, but it’s fairly common.) In the beginning, it seemed pretty typical—we mingled, we danced, we ate wedding cookies. Then, I realized there were a lot of differences from what I was used to. A mariachi band showed up and sang, inviting the groom to come up and sing with them, and they were actually quite good. Dinner was served around midnight (which is normal here). Anyone other than me would have loved the food. :o) Wilson’s brother Hans gave a speech and recited 2 poems (I seriously thought this was hilarious! He was so over-the-top dramatic, but everyone else seemed to take it seriously. I felt like I was in the middle of a Saturday Night Live skit! Everyone would have died laughing if one of my brothers had recited a poem at my wedding!!). Wilson’s brother Xavier (pronounced Javier) started singing karaoke after the bride herself had already done 2 songs. (Note: no one was drunk either. Maybe a glass or two of wine, but this was just their normal selves!) And, the worst part of the night was that there was no cake! What kind of a wedding doesn’t serve cake? But it gets worse. Actually, there was a cake there (which helped me to endure the poetry reading and bad karaoke), but it turned out that it was just there for decoration!!!! It was a fake cake!!! Ha! But, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it. And, the bride’s sister has a huge house on the beach and they’ve invited us to go this weekend for another party they’re all having. So, I’m practicing my karaoke so I’ll be ready! :o)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I Am Who I Am

So, when I first came here, I worried so much about not ever being able to fit in. I completely related to Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Eat Pray Love when she is talking about not having the right qualities to be a great traveler. She says, “First off, I don’t blend. Tall and blond and pink-complexioned, I am less a chameleon than a flamingo. Everywhere I go but Dusseldorf, I stand out garishly….I also have a shortage of personal coolness, which can be a liability in travel. I have never learned how to arrange my face into that blank expression of competent invisibility that is so useful when traveling in dangerous, foreign places. You know—that super-relaxed, totally-in-charge expression which makes you look like you belong there, anywhere, everywhere, even in the middle of a riot in Jakarta. Oh, no. When I don’t know what I’m doing, I look like I don’t know what I’m doing. When I’m excited or nervous, I look excited or nervous. And when I am lost, which is frequently, I look lost. My face is a transparent transmitter of my every thought.” That is soo me!!!! But, ironically, after so many years of my own insecurity and self consciousness, I have finally realized that I like who I am. I don’t want to change to fit in here. Even though people in my new neighborhood think I’m a complete weirdo because I smile and wave when I walk by, I’m going to keep smiling and waving. It’s just who I am. No matter what I do here, I won’t ever completely fit in—I mean, I’m tall, pale, and redheaded!!—but I’ve now realized that I’m okay with that. I’m just going to keep doing what I do, even with my world’s worst poker face, because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me! :o)

Pretty Pretty Princess

For those of you who know me, you know that I like to dress up. I like to wear skirts and heels. I like to wear long necklaces and dangly earrings. I like to feel pretty, I guess. Well, at my new school, I don’t get to do any of that and it’s killing me!!! Everyday I have to wear a school polo shirt. I was told to wear jeans most days, but I just hate to wear jeans to work! I’ve tried black pants, Bermuda shorts, and different skirts, but I just feel sloppy no matter what. Most teachers at least get multiple color shirts, but they only had white shirts in my size, so I was given 5 white polos. And, the shirts are too short to stay tucked in but not fitted enough to look good left out. Arrggghhhh!!!!! And long necklaces just don’t go with polos!!! I was also informed 2 days ago that women are not supposed to wear any shoes that show their toes. Oh my! I don’t even own anything but sandals and flipflops (other than my running shoes, of course)!! But, no one actually enforces the shoe issue, so I’ll keep wearing my flipflops, I suppose. Wilson and I have a family wedding to attend this weekend, and he couldn’t understand why I was so excited to go to a wedding where I won’t know hardly anyone. I told him it’s because I get to DRESS UP!!!! I’m so excited to put on a dress, a pair of heels, and lots of jewelry!! :o) I can’t wait!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Happy Thoughts

I promised Wilson this weekend that I would try to be more positive. I have a tendency to become overwhelmed by all the negative, so here is my effort to counteract that issue. Positive things here in Ecuador include:
1. Kentucky Fried Chicken: It's no Zaxby's or Chick-fil-a, but I certainly enjoyed my chicken fingers and fries on Saturday!
2. Salsa Dancing: We got to go out dancing on Saturday night. We went to a place Wilson's brother told us about, and it was really cool. Good music, classy atmosphere, nice dance floor. Of course, we were the only "school" dancers there, so we stuck out quite a bit. But, I think we stick out anyway simply because we're both about 2 feet taller than everyone else! :o)
3. Our boxes: After Wilson spent everyday for 5 days and a little bit of money, we finally got our boxes released to us. We had shipped 4 boxes of our stuff here, and it was really fun to open them up and go through them. I forgot about some of the random things I brought, but I'm glad I have a few pieces of home. My UGA bottle opener that plays the fight song. Our laminated engagement announcement magnet for the fridge. My disco ball ornament to hang in my classroom. And of course all the practical stuff like towels, sheets, kitchen utensils, printer, etc.
4. Cheerleading: I'm really enjoying cheerleading so far. The other 2 coaches are really nice, and I'm enjoying not being in charge! Of course, I can't seem to concentrate during practices because of all the iguanas running around. It's sooo bizarre!!!
5. The river: At the back of our gated community, there's a park that sits on the river. It's so peaceful!!!! Wilson and I went yesterday morning and just sat there for a little while. So, now I have a place to go unwind when everything here in the city gets to me.

So, each day gets a little better. Wilson and I have discussed that we'll never actually be able to get used to it as much as deal with it, but progress is always good!!!

Ecuadorian Politics

So, I've decided to try and keep up with the politics of Ecuador and South America while I'm here. Ecuador is in an interesting place right now as far as being a leader in South America which is unusual for this country. The president, Raphael Correa, seems to me to be much like Obama. He's making a lot of changes in this country and people either love him or hate him. He's done some good stuff like offering free college tuition to people, and he also became the President of Unisur yesterday, the South American organization made up of all the presidents here to try and work together for the good of all of South America. He's also trying to change the money back to sucres and stop using the US dollar. But, he also makes me nervous. He's buddies with Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president. If you don't know much about him, look him up--it'll be interesting for sure! At yesterday's Unisur meeting, as he was voicing his discontent with US military bases in Colombia, he announced to everyone that if even one Colombian soldier crosses his border, he will go to war with Colombia, no questions asked. He told everyone that he knows the US is in Colombia because they're all trying to kill him. And he compared himself to Castro and Saddam. Oh my! So, pray that Correa stays out of all of Chavez's drama and keeps his focus on helping Ecuador to grow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Knight in Shining Armor

Wilson has been wonderful with helping me adjust here. It’s actually been pretty tough for both of us, but he has to stay strong since I tend to fall apart easily. He’s so patient with me, and he listens to me cry and vent when I get upset. He takes me for TGIFridays or cheese pizza when I just can’t take plain rice anymore. He talks to the people at my school to make sure they’ll get a bus for me like they originally said they would (because of course when I got here they said they couldn’t). He laughs with me about how crazy some things are here in this country (especially the whole driving situation!!!! Wilson had to pay off a policeman who wanted to give him a ticket for talking on his cell phone while driving, but no one in this country puts their child in a carseat or a seatbelt!!!! Wilson’s niece and nephew laughed at me for wearing mine!) And overall, Wilson has just bent over backwards to make me happy. Everything is much different than he’d expected as well, and we’ve really just had to stick together and work as a team. I think this whole experience will be quite trying for our relationship, but I think we’ve both seen how much love we have for one another as well. We’re both working equally hard to make each other’s life happier/better, and I think we’ll be a much stronger couple for it.

Hogar Dulce Hogar

So, our new home is beautiful! Of course, I don’t know that you can appreciate it unless you saw how most people here live. Some of the first apartments we were shown were so sketchy!!!! (And I won’t go into the details, but one other home fell through at the last minute when Wilson was actually on the way to give our deposit money. I didn’t take that too well, but I guess things work out as they should.) But, although this one is a bit more expensive, it’s totally worth it! It’s in a gated community, so it’s perfectly safe for me to walk around by myself. And there’s even a little park at the back that overlooks the river. So beautiful! It’s 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a living room, and kitchen. And there’s a nice patio outside as well. It was completely unfurnished (which here means no fridge, no stove, no nothing), but for a little more, the landlady added a lot. She gave us all the kitchen stuff, a sofa, a new tv and stand, a coffee table, a kitchen table with chairs, a bed, 2 nightstands, curtains, pictures for the wall, and several kitchen supplies. She even brought us some of her own sheets to borrow until we could get our own. She took me on a tour of her home so I could see her style of decorating to make sure I would like what she did. Of course, I’m just so happy to have a clean, safe home, that I could care less about the style. Wilson and I both prayed a lot over finding a home, and we have just trusted that He has a purpose for us being here. And now for a car…

Picky Eaters Finish Last

Okay, so we all knew food would be a problem for me here. Luckily (knock on wood), I haven’t gotten sick like last time. However, I have lost a little weight already simply because I eat less. It all kind of grosses me out to be honest. Even the chicken here is just kind of gross. But, I bought my peanut butter and jelly and my Snack Pack butterscotch pudding, and I at least have something to eat for lunch each day. Wilson tried to take me for Mexican the other night, but the Mexican food here is HORRIBLE!!! And there’s no cheese dip anywhere! So, for all the Americans who assume all Latinos are Mexicans, I have proof that they’re wrong! Ecuadorians make the worst Mexican food ever! So, whenever I’m feeling a bit frustrated with the food, Wilson takes me to TGIFridays! It costs the same as in the States, and that’s pretty expensive here. A normal Ecuadorian meal only costs about $2—drink included. But it’s totally worth it on those days when I’ve just had enough! My landlady and her mother joked with me that maybe I’d get hungry enough that I’d start trying new things. They think I’d love ceviche and seafood and patacones con queso. Clearly, they do not know me well!

Friends are Friends Forever

Wilson’s childhood friend Jose Franco Camba has been a lifesaver!!! They’ve barely been in touch all these years Wilson has been in the States, but he has helped us so much as we’ve tried to get started here. He has a car, so he’s given Wilson rides everywhere while I’ve been at school. Actually, his daughter goes to my school, so it’s worked out great! He also helped sign for Wilson to get a bank account and said he’d cosign for a car as well. I won’t even go into how difficult everything is here! His wife is also very nice, and I look forward to learning more Spanish so I can talk with her more! Jose and his wife own a candy distribution company. He’s already given me several big bags of candy, so of course he’s won me over!!! How blessed to have good friends when you need them!


We went to the beach my first weekend here with Wilson’s brother David and his family. We actually went to several different beaches along the coast, and they were all absolutely gorgeous! While in Manta, Wilson kept telling me that we were going to a beach called Puerta Lopa because of the cool “walls” there. I was so confused because he kept telling me how everyone liked to go watch the “walls.” Finally after much explanation, I realized he meant “whales”! Ha! So I had a great laugh at his English mistake. However, it came back to haunt me. The word for whales in Spanish is ballenas. Most Spanish speakers pronounce the double l as a j sound. So, when I was on the phone with Wilson’s brother Edward, I told him that we were on our way to see the “bajinas” which sounds just like vaginas!!!! Everyone got a big kick out of that one! So, Wilson went to see the “walls” and I went to see the “vaginas.” Oh my!
They were really cool though! We took a boat ride, and we saw about 10 of them. They travel in pairs, so we saw about 5 different sets. And of course, I got sick on the boat and started puking. But, all the same, it was a great time. We also went down to Montanitas which is a cool surf town. Wilson has decided he can spend one month there and become a professional surfer. Ha!

My New School

So, it’s not exactly paradise, but it’ll certainly be an adventure! The high school classrooms do not have air conditioning. They just have ceiling fans. It’s not too bad right now because it’s winter, so it only gets to about 80 and there’s always a nice breeze. We’ll see what happens during the summer months! Also, there are iguanas everywhere! I’ve been told they often just walk right into classrooms. They fall out of the trees a lot, too, so you have to be careful! Ha! And everything is very unorganized. It’s tough going from the wonderful Collins Hill to something so different, but hopefully I’ll adjust soon. The upside is that I came about the time of their final exams for the first bimester. So, I substituted one week, and then I’m getting paid for 2 weeks to just sit around (which is why I was finally able to work on my blog!). Then I have a week vacation, and then finally I’ll start teaching. It’s nice to kind of ease into all of this though, so I’ll be in a better place when I start teaching. And they’ve already signed me up for an IB conference in Quito in September. Getting those professional development hours might be easier than I thought!

The Best Laid Plans of Allison and Wilson

So, nothing here in Ecuador is as expected. I guess the Lord is teaching me patience and flexibility. The director of the school told me that they only hired American teachers—not true. My first faculty meeting was completely in Spanish! Yikes! So far I’ve met only about 6 American teachers and they’re all guys! The director of the school told me that there was a place where all the American teachers live and that he’d take me there himself when I arrived—not true again. He handed me and Wilson the classifieds of the newspaper and told us we should spend at least a month or two looking for a good apartment. I had to work hard not to cry on the spot! But, the athletic director (a much more helpful man) gave us the name and number of a realtor. So, after 2 weeks of being “homeless” we finally moved in this past weekend to our new apartment. The director of the school also told me that the students were pretty good—you guessed it, not true! I substituted for the first week in a 7th grade class and thought I was in hell. Absolutely no respect! I’m going to have to be more of a disciplinarian than ever before, although I’ve heard that the 10th graders won’t be so bad. Wish me luck!

We Arrived!!

Well, we arrived safely and with all of our luggage. Yay! When getting off the airplane, they made everyone wear masks due to the swine flu. But, as soon as you got to baggage claim, you could take them off, so I don’t know that this method is really effective per se. Oh well—it makes for a great photo!