Las Crónicas de Un Gringo, Part I

Mis amigos,

I write to you from the living room of my host family. I arrived in Quito, capitol of Ecuador, at the start of this week, and am happy to report that I am more or less thrilled to be here, despite the fact that the Quiteños do not speak English, and I do not speak Spanish…yet. I will be spending the rest of the next three months here, and then flying to Cuzco, Peru, where I will continue my adventures. The past few days have been a headfirst dive into South American living, and while this dive can better be characterized as a mortal struggle to keep my head above water, things are going well.

My host family consists of a couple in their 40’s, and their two children, 12/15. None of them speak English. My host dad (mi papá) is a journalist of some sort. My host mom (mi mamá) is the program director for this site, so there are currently five other volunteers living here. Three of them will be leaving this weekend. They range from 18-25 and hail from Germany to Canada to Long Island. It is nice to have some friendly faces here to greet me in English, but I cannot say what our socializing will look like as the two volunteers who will remain here with me are both 18. By any standards, the house I will be staying in is nice. There is wifi here, which is pretty much the greatest thing in the world next to the abundance of hot water (which is routed entirely to the shower and not the sink…sanitation is a word here, not a practice).

I began work this week at a “health clinic” I will be working at for the foreseeable future, which is really more of a “daycare center.” My job will be to provide basic care and therapy to physically and cognitively impaired children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In other words, I play with/ fed little kids and today I changed my first diaper. In what I believe was arts & crafts hour, one of the staff members left me in a room with six children and told me to rip newspapers with them. Things got a little rowdy when I broke out the glue, and I quickly realized that (these children + anything) = large mess. I am unsure of what I make of the staff. Several of the volunteers still here transferred from this project and gave me unfavorable reviews, though a secretary-type-lady described me as “guapisimo,” so I suppose I will have to decide for myself. The children seem wonderful.

So, here’s my first adventure: when I arrived on Monday, my host-mom greeted me at the airport and brought me via taxi to the city. I learned that I would be sleeping at a different house for the night because a volunteer that left today was occupying my room. We dropped my bags off at the other house, I got a pair of keys from my faux-host, and then my actual-host and I went to her casa for dinner, introductions, etc. After a day of traveling, I tired out pretty early and asked mi mamá to call me a cab. She came outside with me to let the driver know where we were going. After bidding me farewell, the taxi took off and I realized that I was without a functional cell phone, did not know where I was going, and did not know where I had been. I will again emphasize that my Spanish is, at best, hardly functional. My panic grew steadily as we drove through vacant streets, until the driver pulled over and told me we were nearby but he was not sure where the house was exactly. The street looked like every other street we had passed, and there were a trio of locals huddled under a nearby streetlight.  He asked for a fare that I knew was too high, and after some protest, I gave it to him provided he would wait while I tried my keys on some of the houses nearby. After the second lock failed me, I turned around to see the driver speeding off. I chased him halfway down the street before it occurred to me that the trio huddled patiently nearby would take notice. Out of fear and desperation, I doubled back to the street we had just passed and tried a door at random. To my greatest delight, the gods of hospitality were watching over me, and determined that I would not be spending my first night in Ecuador hiding out in a gutter. Phew. If there is a lesson here, I’m pretty sure it’s don’t be a fucking idiot.

I have yet to take any pictures with my new camera, as culture seems to dictate I ask for permission before photographing and I just couldn’t bring myself to start snapping things as soon as I got off the plane. Next update should contain a little more eye candy in case all these words are hurting your brain, or all you cared about what seeing pictures in the first place.

In the meantime, I hope things remain well with you.

Learn Spanish: “Abra la boca” is a phrase wielded at small children in an ultimately futile attempt to get them to eat.

With love,