Monday, August 30, 2010

Educator Language and Culture Programs

My job has been taking up a lot of my time lately, which is great because it keeps me from counting down the minutes until our daughter is born!

We have been working on promoting our 2010 winter and 2011 summer Ecuador Language and Culture Programs. El Nomad's programs for educators are designed specifically for graduate students in education and educators seeking a professional development experience during their winter or summer vacations. Programs can be as short as one week and combine Spanish language learning with cultural competency development. With all program options participants will take 20 hours of basic Spanish language instruction and Spanish language for educators per week. All courses are one-on-one instruction and are offered through an accredited institution of higher education in Cuenca.

I think these types of programs are SO important for educators to participate in because the Latino population in the U.S. is growing so rapidly (especially where I'm from). Having cross-cultural understand and the basic knowledge of another language will help educators connect with students and parents alike.

My mom told me that once at her school a teacher came and asked her if she knew what "gordito" meant. My mom said that of course she knew and it translated to little fatty. The teacher became very upset and said that she had overheard a mom calling her son that and how she couldn't believe that a parent would call their child such a name! However, this is very common in Latino culture. My brother-in-law calls his wife "mi gordita". It is nothing more than a term of endearment. A loving nickname that is given to people of all ages, male or female. This is just one example of why it is so important that we expose ourselves to different cultures and take advantage of programs like El Nomad's Educator Language and Culture programs.

I also used to work as a translator for parent/teacher conferences at my mom's school. As much as you want to convey everything the teacher says to the parents, it is a lot like playing telephone, and bits and pieces get lost in translation. I know that someone who comes for a week to learn some Spanish won't be able to do an entire parent/teacher conference in Spanish, but they may speak more slowly in the conference, or repeat important parts of what they are saying because they too have had the experience of having a language barrier while in Ecuador.

Also, many times pepole think of kids acting up in the classroom because they are "bad" or have behavior problems. However, many children from families who have moved from non-English speaking countries do not have a good grasp on the English language and they act up, have bad grades, or don't pay attention because they simply do not understand, and their teacher does not understand where they are coming from. El Nomad's program will put educators in the same position and help them understand how difficult it can be for these kids to sit in a classroom listening to a language they don't understand for 8 or so hours every day.

We've had a great response so far, and it's nice to have such a good reaction when you've put a lot of work in to what you're doing. I hope we keep getting interest, and until little one comes I'll keep working away!

If you want more information about El Nomad's Educator programs please visit El Nomad's website at

We have another cooking class tomorrow! We're learning all about tomates de arbol. Should be fun!

Hasta luego!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ecuadorian Baby Shower

On Saturday my mother-in-law threw me a baby shower. She hand made just about everything that was at the party, from gluing small plastic baby bottles to the tops of toothpicks, to hand knitting mini baby clothing to hang from a miniature clothes line to put on the cake, to making little pins with baby name cards and pacifiers for each guest to wear.

The decorations on the front door.

The cake with the baby clothes (there are also some on the flower arrangement).

The crowd in the living room.

One of Chela's friends made small empanadas, she bought some small cookies from Fruitlados, another friend brought a nut and raisin cake and a coconut cake. My sister-in-law, Stephanie, made lasagna, and I made Mojitos (that I couldn't drink haha).

There were about 25 people that came. Most attendees were Chela's friends, but a few of my friends came as well and Stephanie and the kids came down from Quito.

Part of the crowd at the baby shower.

Ali serving drinks to the other half of the crowd.

Everyone showed up around 4:30 and as people entered they each got a small safety pin with a card with the baby's name on it and a small plastic pacifier. This was part of a game where if you crossed your legs or your ankles someone else could take your pacifier away from you. The person that ended up with the most pacifiers won a prize.

We also played the "guess how big around the pregnant lady is" game and the guess how many items are in the hospital bag game. Chela also put ribbons in part of one of the cakes and the person who pulled out the ribbon with the small plastic baby attached won a prize.

The self-esteem dropping game of "guess how big the pregnant lady is".

The pull the baby out of the cake game.

During the games we had cookies and drinks. After we went down to the formal dining room and ate lasagna and cake.

Dinner in the formal dining room.

Me with my friend Mena and my Goddaughter, Dana during dinner.

When people do showers here, rather than giving gifts they give a "quota" (a set amount of money). They put the quota in a card and everyone signs it. It was nice for us to have showers in the U.S. because people gifted us clothes, blankets, etc. The money will help us with doctor's bills and a few items we're still missing.

We got a few gifts as well. One of Chela's friends knitted the baby a sweater and a hat, Karen gave us a knitted hat/sweater/bootie set, and another of Chela's friends gave us sets of earrings for her when she's born.

It was a very fun night and I can't believe she's almost here!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Room...

Many of you know that we have been redoing our bedroom. It was a last minute decision and became WAY more involved than we thought it would be. The original idea was to tear down wallpaper that had been in the house for about 25 years, fix up the holes in the walls, and paint. Simple enough. However, as I have posted previously, cement walls are not like the walls we have in the States and required an entire layer of plaster to be put on the top to actually make them smooth and "paintable".

Our project turned in to a sort of fiasco. Here's the timeline...
  • Wednesday of last week we all started tearing down the wallpaper. We had squirt bottles in hand and three of us sitting on the floor ripping of small portions of wallpaper at a time and having a great time seeing who could get the biggest piece off. (yes, we're easily amused)
  • Thursday, we finished the wallpaper project and started puttying the holes in the walls. We tried to paint and to our dismay it looked horrible! What to do?
  • We found some maestros who said they could come on Saturday to plaster and paint the walls (which had to be done on Saturday because the floors were being redone on Monday morning and the furniture delivered on Monday afternoon!)
  • Saturday morning came and went and the maestros didn't show up... we had to find another maestro. He couldn't come until Monday morning...
  • He was scheduled to show up Monday at 8:00, they got here around 9:00. They didn't finish until the following day. In the mean time we received a furniture and mattress delivery. Both of which we dumped in the living room (luckily the furniture wasn't assembled and we scheduled for them to assemble on Tuesday)
  • The maestros came and finished up on Tuesday morning, the flood guy came in the afternoon. They finished just in time for the furniture assembly guys to come and put the furniture together. About an hour later another technician came to hang up our new curtain rod...
  • By Tuesday the room was DONE but still smelled like new paint, so we didn't move in until Wednesday night
So, over a week to complete our room project that we thought would take a couple of days. Shows you what we know about remodeling! We are very happy in our new space and Chela (my mother-in-law) even made us a new curtain for the room! (she also made the Moises bed/bassinet that is next to the bed)

I got the baby clothes folded and put away and we are getting two sitting chairs delivered in early September (they are being made for us by Luriq Muebles). We picked out a rocking chair with a foot stool and it will be delivered early next week!

When we slept in our room for the first time we had new sheets, a new mattress, a new bed, everything new! I felt like I was sleeping in a fancy hotel, it was amazing! Hooray for having our new little home all ready to go!

Here are some photos of the almost put together room (minus rocking chair, changing pad on top of the dresser, sitting chairs and small table) and the progression of the room as it was worked on.

Pay attention to the wallpaper here (not my belly)... this is what used to be in the room.

Here is the room after we removed the wallpaper and attempted to putty ourselves.

The walls after the maestros plastered them (much better, right?)

Painted with a new floor!

The new bed (2.5 plazas) with the new curtain in the background and the Moises bed/bassinet.

Moises bed and dresser that will double as a changing table.

Thoughts on Sleepless Nights at 36 Weeks

We are almost there! Almost!

On Sunday our little girl will be considered full term (37 weeks). She could come really any time within the next 4 weeks... crazy. It seems like just yesterday we found out we were pregnant, were selling our furniture, and heading on the road to move to Ecuador. Our new room is almost complete and my mom will be here in 2.5 weeks. Things are moving so quickly.

Our little girl is a mover and a shaker (or a quika, wiggly worm, as we might say here) and can't ever keep still. Her knee is always poking out one side of my abdomen, or she is hiccuping or practicing other movements. I can't help but wonder what this little baby will be like once she's on the outside... Will I miss having her little legs jab me in the ribs? What will it be like with her outside as opposed to inside? Will she stay as active as she is now? What will she look like? Who will she look like? Me? Arturo? Both of us? What will she like? What will she dislike? Will her first words be in Spanish or English? I know all of these questions will be answered with time (and time will fly by!), but on these sleepless nights at 36 weeks they are the things that come to mind.

Pregnancy has been an incredible journey for us as a little family and we can't wait to welcome our little girl in to the world. It's an amazing world and I hope, as a mother, that I will help our daughter see and experience all of the wonderful things it has to offer her.

We love you little one and can't wait to meet you!

36 weeks and counting...

36 weeks.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Death as a Reflection of Culture

We found out last night that a good friend's dad passed away and that the candle vigil, the mass, and the wake would all be held today (Sunday). This meant completely clearing our schedules to make sure that we could be there to support him and his family.

Death has always been a hard subject for me to talk about and deal with (as I'm sure it is for most people). However, the way death is handled is a very cultural thing and that is what I want to touch on here. I'm not going to dwell on death or dying, but examine the way in which it is handled by this specific mestizo family in Cuenca.

We picked up a couple of Arturo's friends around 9:30 and headed to a funeral home and cemetery that lies on the outskirts of town to attend the candle vigil. Candle vigils are common in many Christian cultures and is nothing out of the ordinary. However, I have not been to a vigil since I was young, and although I did not personally know the person who passed, it is difficult for one to sit and watch the suffer. As in most Western cultures death here was met with weeping individuals dressed in black clothing, white flowers (including roses and white lilies), organ only church hymns played through speakers in a sanitary looking room with chairs for the mourners, a photo of the deceased, and the box where his cremated remains where held.

We stayed for a while and then left to take a break from the grief, tears, and overall gloominess that generally accompanies such an event. Then we went home and got ready to go back for the actual Mass (misa). This was a very interesting event for me. I have been to regular Masses before, but never to a Mass for a funeral. There were many standard prayers said, many passages from the Bible read, and lots of standing and sitting. The one thing that caught my attention was that no one got up and said anything about the deceased. No memories were shared about this individual's life.

Then the box of ashes was picked up and carried to a hole in a marble wall that would be the final resting place for this individual. The box was placed in and the 3x3 marble tomb was sealed by the tombstone. Arturo and I didn't go down to watch them seal the tomb. It was all a bit too depressing for me (and everyone knows that being 9 months pregnant I need no help when it comes to being emotional!).

After all of this was over it really hit me that someone lives for 66 years and we commemorate this entire time as a group by sitting in a room staring at a box of ashes for as long as we deem culturally appropriate, reading from a book and listening to someone who didn't know this person talk for 60 minutes...

I'm not saying it's good or bad, that there is a right way and a wrong way to commemorate someone's life. But this yesterday's experience really made me start thinking about what if I were to die soon and had nothing in writing? What would people do for me? What would my "wake" be like? I have fully decided that when I die I do not want any of this experience that I had yesterday. It is depressing and sad. I have no desire for people to sit in a sanitary room with sad music playing while they cry. So, in a very public way I am informing everyone that this is NOT how I want to be remembered. I would rather have people celebrate my life. My life has been (and continues to be) colorful... colorful people, colorful places, colorful experiences... So why, in death, should we not remember someone as they were in life?

When I die I want everyone to enjoy good bottles of wine, fancy cocktails, great food, and lively music! People should share stories about the good times we had together. Laugh, smile, and know that I lived a wonderful life and have no regrets! Although it is sad that someone is gone should we not celebrate and remember the time we were fortunate enough to have with them, not dwell is the sadness of loss? I know, it's easier said than done, but it sounds like an excellent option to me...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday Expat Gatherings and Quiet Saturday Mornings

This week I decided it was time really get in to the expat scene here in Cuenca so Arturo and I picked up Karen and Randy at around 5:15 and headed to Zoe in downtown for the 5:30 expat gathering for happy hour.

Zoe is beautiful! It's in the heart of downtown in a preserved historic building and is beautifully decorated. Very modern, sheik. There was a decent crowd when we arrived (maybe around 20 people or so) and we did a bit of mingling. Arturo and I were by far the youngest people in the room, but I enjoy talking with people older than me, so I enjoyed the conversations I had. Many people are trying to decide if they would like to move to Cuenca to retire, but many have already taken the plunge. However, it seems that most of the people we met (or read about on their blogs) have moved here recently (within the last 6 months or so). We ended up parking ourselves in the corner with Randy and Karen and talked for 2+ hours. I really enjoy them! They are a wonderful couple!

It was the most "gringos" I have seen in one place since we left the US in May! It was sort of a surreal feeling, but I really had a nice time and would go back.

Around 8:30 I was hungry (I'm 9 months pregnant give me a break!) and decided to head out to Alex and Ricardo's for a pizza dinner and invited Karen and Randy to come with so they could meet some Cuencanos and practice their Spanish. It was such a fun night! I am SO impressed with how much they really work at learning the language and are in to trying to listen to and speak Spanish. Ricardo gave them a tour of the house and we hung out with them and their kids for several hours and then headed home since they had to get up early for a 10 hour drive to the beach (yes, I'm jealous).

We took Karen and Randy on a quick tour of a couple of cafe's with outside sitting areas where Randy might be able to drink coffee and smoke his cigars, and then took them home.

It's now 7:30 on a Saturday morning and I've been up for 2 hours... I had a wonderful cup of coffee made from a chuspa, pan de leche with butter and jam, and have been quietly writing in my blog. It's been a wonderful and rare morning of peace and quiet. I have loved it!

A coffee chuspa (makes quick and excellent coffee!)

The workers should be coming soon to work on our room so until next time que tengan un buen fin de semana!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

El Nomad's Cooking Classes

Chelita and I have decided that we need to start offering cooking classes through El Nomad for those indviduals who are going to be here long-term (or foreigners who live here) and want to learn to work with the foods that Ecuador has to offer.

I just wanted to post the class information here in case anyone who reads this blog is in Cuenca and would like to sign up!

Classes will take place every Tuesday at 3:00pm in the El Nomad center (in Las Pencas). Each class will last around 2 hours and will end with us eating what we made (yum!) and having a cup of Ecuadorian grown coffee (or tea if people aren't coffee drinkers). Classes are instructed in Spanish by Chelita, but I will be there to translate and help those who are still in the process of learning the language. We will also email each participant a pdf of the recipes in both English and Spanish after the class is over.

Our first class will be Tuesday, August 24th and we will be teaching our culinary students how to make Empanadas del Viento (the famous fried cheese empanadas that are covered in sugar). Each class costs $10 or you can pay $36 for a month of classes (4 classes).

This is a great chance to learn how to work with fruits such as tomate de arbol and naranjilla, and to learn how to make traditional dishes like empanadas, tamales, humitas, etc. It's also a great place to practice your Spanish in a casual setting!

Additional information about the cooking classes can be found on our website ( or you can message me for additional information.

We hope to see you at the classes and in the mean time, buen provecho!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

35 Weeks and Counting

Little baby Garate is growing. Day by day she is getting bigger and seems to want me to eat more and more... the problem is she can never figure out what she wants to eat, which creates problems for me when I'm grazing in the kitchen!

Everything is moving along so quickly, but yet it seems like there is so much left to do (although I can't seem to figure out where to start)!

Our to do list still contains:
  1. Actually writing down our birth plan on index cards to give to our doctor, the nurses and anyone else who may be in the labor and birthing rooms (oh yes, we have to translate the list as well because it's currently in English which won't do us any good)
  2. Pack the hospital bag... really procrastinating on that one. Besides, who has an additional pair of glasses, toothbrush, etc. to pack in a bag now anyway?!
  3. Pack the going home bag... also really procrastinating
  4. Buy our washable diapers (the all-in-one kind, not the you have to fold the squares in the diapers kind)
  5. Buy a changing pad and covers
  6. Get some sort of chair for me and baby (or Arturo and baby depending on whose turn it is to get up with her)
  7. Finish our bedroom
I would like to focus on #7 for a minute. My amazing husband decided to heed my plea of "I HATE THE WALLPAPER IN OUR BEDROOM" and redecorate our room for our new little arrival. Well, taking down wallpaper that's been in a room for 25 years on your own, then trying to putty, sand, and paint. Yeah... not the greatest idea (Sorry Arturo! You were right!). So after two full days of working on the room (Chela, Alex, Arturo, and I all worked on it!), we have decided to hire someone to finish up the walls. What us "gringos" who come from living in wooden houses with plasterboard walls don't realize is that it's really really really hard to work with cement walls. If you don't know what you're doing it comes out looking like a cheap job. So, we have hired a maestro to come in and finish what we started and repair what we made look really bad. For a full day work to completely finish, sand, and paint our bedroom walls they are charging us $30. Yes, that's it, $30. We are THRILLED! So we will have brand new walls on Saturday!

We also ordered a new Queen-sized bed (here it's called dos plazas y media) and mattress and a dresser that will double as a changing table from Colinial. They are beautiful and I can't wait to get them! They were supposed to be here today (Tuesday), however, we pushed the delivery back until Wednesday because we thought we would have the room done. Now they're not delivering until Monday since our walls won't be complete until Saturday. The good thing is, when all is said and done we will have a nice new room with new furniture and we will be ready for baby! (sort of)

Two more Lamaze classes to go and two more weeks until our little girl is considered full term. I can't believe how fast time has flown during this pregnancy. We can't wait to meet her!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Few of my Favorite Things

No, they're not raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but they're close!

Home roasted coffee
As a native Seattlite coffee is high up on my list of "can't live withouts" and yesterday my wonderful mother-in-law (Graciela, also known as Chela or Chelita) roasted coffee beans at home! Yes, she is my hero! She bought green coffee beans in Macara (you can also find green coffee beans in Loja and the surrounding areas) and brought them home to roast them herself. The entire house smelled of coffee. It was wonderful! We have yet to try the coffee, but I loved watching how simple the process was. Here is how to roast your own coffee at home, in the oven:
  1. Turn the oven on to broil (so the gas on the top part of the oven is on, not the bottom)
  2. Spread the green coffee beans on a cookie sheet or some other type of large baking pan
  3. Keep in the oven until they turn a wonderful dark color (like a roasted coffee bean), but make sure you move them frequently so they don't burn (every 5 minutes should be enough)
  4. Once beautifully toasted remove them from the oven and sprinkle sugar over the roasted beans while they are still warm (this changes the flavor slightly, but Chela insisted that this is definitely the way to go). I think you could also add things like flavors if you wanted to, but I haven't tried it, so don't take my word!
  5. Grind and enjoy!
Half way roasted!

Moving the beans so they don't burn.

Chela roasting coffee... She's so amazing and can make anything from scratch!

Roasted Habas
Chela also made roasted Habas the same way. Habas are from the legume family and look a bit like Lima Beans whey they are uncooked. You find Habas in many different forms here in Ecuador, the most popular being Habas con queso (or Habas with cheese). You find these at traditional Andean restaurants around Cuenca (and other mountain towns). The other typical way to eat Habas is fried or roasted. You can get a small bags of fried Habas for $0.25 and they come with salt on them, or you have roasted Habas like Chela made. They are very hard and you have to suck on them for a bit before you can chew them (unless you have really tough teeth). Instructions for making roasted Habas...
  1. Turn the oven on to broil (so the gas on the top part of the oven is on, not the bottom)
  2. Spread the dried Haba beans on a cookie sheet or some other type of large baking pan
  3. Keep in the oven until they turn a tan or dark brown color, but make sure you move them frequently so they don't burn (every 5 minutes should be enough)
  4. Once they are browned (it's okay if some of them are slightly black) remove them from the oven and let cool.
Habas before they are cooked

Habas with cheese (Habas con queso)

Habas fresh out of the oven.

Cebiche (or more commonly spelled ceviche)
which many of you have already heard of, is a seafood marinade that can be made with just about any type of seafood, but I only really like shrimp ceviche. It is made with lots of lime, cilantro, red onions, and shrimp (of course). Some are made with a tomato base, but my favorite has a white base. It truly is an amazing dish!

Cebiche de Camaron Peruano (Peruvian Shrimp Cebiche)

Helados de paila...
but not just any helados de paila, but those that come from a store called La Tienda in the neighborhood El Paraiso of Cuenca. Helados de paila are ice cream that are made in a mold and have a little stick stuck in them. This place has flavors like almond, peanut, maracuya, coconut, and their most popular flavor amor brujo which is a mix of a while bunch of things. If you're in Cuenca and you haven't tried this ice cream yet, you really have to go!

Me with ice cream (helados de paila) from La Tienda in El Paraiso in Cuenca.

Fresh fruit from the loud fruit truck on Saturday morning
This truck dives around on Saturday mornings playing music that is way too loud and intermittently announcing over a loud speaker that you can get "25 naranjas un dolar 25 naranjas un dolar, pina ducle pina dulce, 25 naranjas un dolar 25 naranjas un dolar" and so on. Well, you really can get 25 oranges for $1, 2 pineapples for $1, and about 20 bananas for $1. Here are some photos of our fruit and the truck...

The fruit truck!

Me and the fruit truck. (I'm sure the guy thought we were such gringos taking this picture)

The fruit we bought for $5 from the fruit truck. 40 oranges, 15 mandarins, 20 bananas, and 2 pineapples. YUM!

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Hunt for a Bagel and Cream Cheese...

I would REALLY like to eat a toasted bagel with cream cheese. It is driving me crazy. But, there are NO bagels in Cuenca. I live in a city that has NO BAGELS!

I think I will be on the hunt for a while, so if anyone has any suggestions please send them my way!

Sometimes What We Learn at Home Doesn't Apply Abroad

Yesterday morning we had an amazing earthquake at around 7:00am. It was fantastic!

I am from an earthquake prone area, but Seattle doesn't get as many tremors as they get here in Cuenca. Normally, here, the earth will shake lightly for a few seconds and no one moves or stops what they're doing. It's just how it is. They are always called 'temblores' and not 'terremotos'. However, yesterday, we reached terremoto (or earthquake) status with a quake of 7.1.

USGS report on the quake

The quake hit about 150kms outside of Quito (250kms outside of Cuenca) and was approximately 180kms deep. It shook for what seemed like 45 seconds to a minute and made lamps sway and everything rattle. As I have been so well trained to do the minute the shaking started I got in the doorway. I would have put myself under the desk I was sitting at, but I no longer fit under a desk... too much curling up in to a ball. That seems like a great idea, right? It's what they teach us in school and what we all know to do. Well, wood houses and cement houses are two very different things, which didn't cross my mind at the time. Half way through the shaking Arturo came to get me and we all went outside (instead of hovering in a doorway of a 3 story cement house).

There was no damage reported in the entire country, but I sure learned a lesson; doorways in cement houses are not an option when a terremoto hits. Sometimes what we learn at home doesn't apply when we're abroad...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Bit of Home Away From Home

Yesterday morning we got to meet with Randy and Karen, retired 'gringos' who live in Cuenca. They moved here just about a month and a half ago and are figuring out life in Ecuador. I loved hearing about their adventures as they figured out bus routes, taxis, shopping, etc. The best part, they lived in Ellensburg for 17 years and then moved to the Tri-cities for another significant amount of time! It was wonderful to get to talk to Washingtonians and to get to know more gringos in the city of Cuenca! Karen and Randy are really wonderful people and we will definitely be seeing them again. Oh, and they also have a blog, so if you'd like to follow them on their adventures in Ecuador you can do so.

The treated us to breakfast at the California Kitchen (which appears to also be owned by gringos) and we appreciated having bottomless coffee (unheard of here in Ecuador) and wonderful U.S. customer service! They have a basic website that doesn't have much detail about their menu selection, but it does have their address and contact information. Just in case though, they are located inside of a colonial era building on the corner of Gaspar Sangurima and Borrero. Their prices were good, but definitely gringo prices as opposed to local prices. You can usually eat breakfast in Cuenca at a local place for $1.50 and you get bread, eggs, cheese, and coffee (or a humita and coffee yum!). At California Kitchen I ordered granola which ran about $2.10 and then coffee which was $1.00. So, as I said, not bad, but more expensive than eating at a very local joint. The food was great and I would definitely recommend them!

Karen and Randy also introduced us to Jen Bluefields, an Australian expat who also lives in Cuenca. She and her husband Christopher (who I did not meet, but know his name from their website) own the Kookaburra Cafe in Cuenca. Karen introduced us because there is a gringo working at the Kookaburra whose wife is also pregnant... or was it the pregnant lady works at the Kookaburra... I can't remember (prego brain), but us pregnant ladies have to stick together. Jen was a delightful individual and I'm sure Arturo and I will be heading to the Kookaburra Cafe soon to have coffee and/or breakfast (perhaps we'll even take Karen and Randy since they took us out for breakfast last time).

I can't wait to meet more expats and start building up a bit of home away from home.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Of Frontier Towns, Cowboys, and Tradition

I spent the weekend celebrating fiestas with my extended family in Macara. Macara is a town of about 15,000 inhabitants that sits on the Peruvian border across from the city of Pirua.

Macara is a cowboy town, plain and simple. They love their horses, their hats, and their whiskey. Life is a bit slower and every pillar of every building has built in hammock hooks (and everyone owns a hammock). People love late night music and dancing in the public square, family time, and mid day siestas (mostly due to the fact that Macara has a desert-like climate).

The town is over 100 years old, but many of its inhabitants have been there longer. One of Arturo's grandmother's friends has lived in Macara her entire life, but is 14 years older than the town itself (yes, that makes her 114 years old). This small town is so famous it even has it's own anthems.

Fiestas take place in just about every town or city in Ecuador and are really worth making the effort to attend. Here the true culture of a town, and of Ecuador, comes out. You will not just be a passive observer in these fiestas, you will be an active participant... there is no way around it. The rapturous nature of the locals will draw you in and before you know it you'll be dancing the local dances, drinking the local drinks, and sharing in local plates.

Our weekend started off with dinner with the family (beef, steamed yuca root, and amazing preserved jalapenos of different colors... homemade of course by Tio Marcelo!) and was quickly followed by a visit to Primo Popo's bar (the most popular bar in the town).

The next morning we all slept in, or as much as we could with the heat picking up fairly quickly (I'm just whinging because I normally live in the mountains where it is nice and cool. The heat is dry and actually quite nice when you're not 8.5 months pregnant.), and had a traditional breakfast. I stuck with my motepillo (hominy mixed with eggs to make a scramble) and Arturo had an encebollado (a type of soup which is made with fish, yuca, tomatoes, and onion then sprinkled with lime juice). Encebollados are a very traditional plate, but is originally from the coast (you can read more about it here

After breakfast it was off to the horse prep area to look at all of the Peruvian Caballos de Paso and watch the riders get ready for the parade. The prep area was on the outskirts of town (not far from the center of town) and included food stalls, traditional music played live by a banda del publo (town band), and stalls for the horses.

We watched the handlers work the horses and prep them for show. It was really an amazing experience. However, I am very much so a city girl and my comfort level with large animals with hooves is quite low. Arturo convinced me to stand next to a horse and pet it. It proceeded to immediately whinny at me and make me squeal. Everyone got a kick out of it.

It is also one of the few times in my life I have ever worn (or ever will wear) a cowboy hat.

The horses then paraded up and down the main drag of the city for about an hour. I know this seems like a lot but they are what we call caballos de paso (step horses), so they all types of steps and movements. It's quite entertaining. I also enjoy the people watching because everyone gets so excited by the horses, it is really quite the to do.

After the parade everyone heads back up to the horse prep area to listen to live music, dance, drink, sing, and to hang out with the horses. I took this video of the singer they had on Saturday. I thought she was fantastic and put up quite well with the drinking cowboys and their desire to dance with her.

I didn't last very long here either due to the lack of drinking ability and the great offer to go home and rest after being in the hot sun and on my feet all day long! However, this quickly changed around 9:00 when I was invited to a combination Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, and birthday party celebration with the tios (all of the cousins were still up with the horses). I decided it was a great opportunity to dress up and spend time with my tios. So, we went, and what an event! It was, basically, just a party. The room where they held the event was decked out in gold and white satin fabric, the chairs were covered, there was a set-up for live music, and bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label on each table. They served a full meal, snacks, and desert. Had a DJ and two live bands. The tios drank, sang to classic songs (including the Macara song I included above), and danced the night away. I was the first to finally say I was tired and that I needed to go home and rest! They all came with me (at 2:00 am), but many of them returned and stayed until the earlier hours of the morning. I wish I had taken my camera, but sadly, I didn't, so I have no pictures to share from this event.

The following day was a day of rest for us (especially for me!). We went to explore the market they have on the other side of the airport, which is always fun. I love going to this market because we get to walk across the landing strip of the airport. Only two or three flights arrive in Macara per week and they announce their arrivals, so the rest of the time you can walk on the tarmac. It's fantastic (I know, it's the small things in life....)!

We headed back to Cuenca Monday morning after a wonderful weekend with our extended family in Macara! If you get the chance to get there, I highly recommend it! Good times! I'll leave you with a few more pictures from our wonderful weekend...

The view from the horse prep are in Macara.

My brother in law (Ramiro), Arturo, Anita, Carolina, Karen, and Popo (the cousins)

My cowboy husband at the horse parade.

My cowboy husband at the horse prep area.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Off to Macara

This weekend we will be going as a family (this means mother-in-law, brother-in-law, Arturo and me) to Macara to celebrate the Fiestas de Macara with Arturo's grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It should be quite the affair! It's the first time I have gone, so I look forward to the experience, but am dreading the 6+ hour car ride. It's hard to believe that I spent 6 weeks straight in the car getting here and did just fine. I suppose I'm a bit more uncomfortable and more of a whinger at 34 weeks than I was at 20... but still.

I will report on all of the fun and goings on when we return!

Que tengan un buen fin de semana!

Macara is the southernmost city on the map.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ahhhh-heeeee... and we breathe

Aji (pronounced ahhhhh-heeee) is a wonderfully spicy pepper that is commonly used in Ecuadorian dishes. It grows on a tiny shrub-like plant and the peppers are a beautiful red color (I know all spicy peppers in Ecuador can be referred to as aji, but I'm specifically talking about aji aji, not any substitute!). For some reason Wikipedia tells me that it is a "Peruvian hot pepper", but those of us in Ecuador know that this is NOT the case!

But aji is not really the point of this blog. The word is.

Last night we had our third Lamaze class. Just to impress you all (because I know you'll be impressed), yes, I take Lamaze classes in Spanish. During this class we talked about natural forms of pain relief during labor. No, they do not use aji here to relive pain, sorry. Although in the jungle they put it in the kids' eyes when they're bad... and we thought sitting in the corner or going in to time out was punishment! Sorry, I tend to ramble and get off topic...

One of the methods that Lamaze is known for is, of course, breathing and using your breath to control your body. Well here they teach you to use the word aji when you breath in order to control your breath. I LOVE this! I think it is absolutely fantastic! When you breathe in you say ahhhh and when you breath out you say heeeee. Try it! It works fantastically!

I am really liking my Lamaze classes and Rocio is fantastic. She puts up with my childish giggling when she makes Arturo and me dance in the room or practice labor positions. Plus she is basically a doctor herself and can answer most of my medical questions, which I love!

Well, since the neighborhood seems to have quieted down a bit and I think we killed all of the mosquitoes that were attacking us in our room tonight, and I am finally tired, I think I'll try to get some sleep.

Until next time.
Keep breathing! (ahhhhh heeeeeee ahhhhhh heeeee)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Friends, Friendship, and Socializing

I think anyone considering moving to, and living in another culture needs to think about their support network. Support networks are very important in our everyday lives and many times we do not realize their importance until they are no longer readily available.

My good friends (or we can call them my support network), now live thousands of miles away from me and it takes a good day of Internet connectivity for me to be able to talk with them. Plus, I'm not much of a phone person, so that makes things harder. Yes, there's email, Facebook, Skype, Messenger, etc. but nothing replaces sitting around with a glass of wine with your friends joking in your native tongue (no, don't worry I'm not drinking wine while I'm pregnant).

Here, I find myself fitting in to an existing network, that of my husband. Now please don't get me wrong. The women in this group are amazing, strong, beautiful, intelligent, and I consider them to be my friends. They are in every way wonderful, but they are not my support network that I have known since elementary or middle school that have seen me through my ups and downs for the last 14+ years of my life. It takes time to build this type of relationship and confidence in others, no matter where you are. It takes longer to build this type of relationship and confidence in a second language and in a culture that is not your own.

Just reading what I posted I also realize that maybe I am separating myself too much, forming a "me" and "them" situation. This may be true and may be something that I analyze about myself later on... for now I'll let it be.

For now I'd like to move on to the concept of socializing. I LOVE socializing here because things, at least in our circle, are very on a whim. We will stop by to see someone in the afternoon and they will be having their kid's birthday party that night and invite us to come over. We show up and it's a part of all their family members and us. There is food, drinks (once again, no I'm not drinking during my pregnancy!), balloons, everything. So random, yet so wonderful. We also do these random dinners. We will start talking with one couple then before you know it our kitchen is full of 15 adults and 5 children all cooking and eating pizza or something together. Wonderful!

So, to summarize (because I have to actually get to work now), just as with any move, developing a new support network can be difficult, especially with language and cultural differences to work with. But people in Ecuador are open, friendly, and love to socialize. I think as "gringos" we just need to break down our walls and allow people in and allow ourselves to let go a bit and trust those around us.

Hasta pronto!

The new cathedral in Cuenca, Ecuador; the city we call home.