Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Short Story

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Preface

flowerHola mis amigos!  I know I have been absent for a little while.  Please forgive me!  My absence simply means things have been busy and without time to do much writing.  During these past two weeks I have been overwhelmed with my time – or lack thereof.  My days generally consist of teaching, planning for classes, and taking Spanish.  In the midst of that, I have tried to get to know my new host family.  And finally, I have worked on making time to relax and enjoy not being busy.  As you read the next few chapters, I hope that you are able to gain an understanding of what life is like while living in a foreign country.   Feel free to read each chapter or just those that interest you.  As my friends and family, I hope that you will also sense my connection to each of you and the appreciation I have of your support.  In particular, I need to thank the following who have consistently supported me during my time in Ecuador up to this point: Lesley, Lisa, Shari, Cesar, Beatriz, Soraida, Kristen, Liz, Laurie, Nicci, and of course, my parents.  I also need to share my gratefulness for having God with me each step of the way during this journey.  If it weren’t for God, I would be completely lost and broken at this time.  With His presence, I can settle into peace, contentment, and hope.  Read on!

CHAPTER 1: First Day of Classes – Take 2

On the first day of classes, I was ready to teach the same classes I taught last cycle.  Whew!  What a relief . . . I knew what to expect!  I soon found out that God wasn’t going to make my life that easy.  During the first class, all of the teachers and students met in the auditorium for about 40 minutes.  During those 30 minutes, I spoke with my director’s wife about possibly teaching another class in the future.  This particular class, lasts four months, instead of two months like my current classes.  Since I won’t be here long enough to complete the four month class next cycle, I was literally assigned to teach the other class 15 minutes later.  Eek.  I was excited, nervous . . . and overwhelmed.  This meant that I would be teaching a one hour class at 3:00pm and 2 two hour classes at 5:00pm and 7:00pm.  And without much fanfare, I began teaching the 3:00pm class the next day.  Now, two weeks into classes, I enjoy my students greatly.  There is something special about students who really want to learn.  Their heart is invested in their learning in a particularly refreshing and enthusiastic way.  And as their teacher, I love it.

CHAPTER 2: Spanish

cafeThe battle of “Spanish vs. Rachael” is alive and kicking everyday in Ecuador.  Yeesh.  My host family only speaks Spanish, which makes it a good – yet challenging – “learning” experience to communicate with them.  I continue to take Spanish classes with mi maestro, Cesar.  He has been particularly patient with me in the midst of my frustration and short-term memory with the Spanish languge.  While I know I have made progress, I still struggle with understanding Spanish during most conversations.  However, the time I spend in the cafe where I take Spanish lessons is one of the best parts of my day.   Of course it is entertaining when I confuse the word for glasses with lentils (lentes vs. lentejas), but one day last week was hilarious.  As you can see in this picture, the front of the cafe has glass doors.  The door on the left is the one you are supposed to use to enter and leave the cafe.  While I was having my Spanish class, Cesar and I heard a loud BOOM.  I soon found out that the noise was a man who was trying to leave the cafe, but walked into the window, instead of the door.  Ouch!  Poor guy.  But . . .  we couldn’t stop laughing either.  Then, when I saw the man’s nose print on the door, another bout of laughter began.  So, even if I cannot fully understand Spanish, laughter truly is a universal language.

CHAPTER 3: Traveling Sundays

potatopotato babyMost Sundays, my host family and I travel to cities around Riobamba.  Many families in Riobamba do this so they can spend time together and see the country.  In addition, most places in Riobamba are closed on Sunday, so that provides an opportunity to get out and explore.  I am thankful for these Sundays because this is one of the few times I see my host family.  A couple of weeks ago was a particularly interesting day for me.  We harvested potatoes!  I have never done such a thing and definitely enjoyed the experience.  It is amazing how many potatoes one might discover beneath the surface.  Here is a picture of some of the potatoes we harvested.  As you can see, potatoes come in many different sizes!  Needless to say, we have recently enjoyed many soups that include potatoes in the recipe.

CHAPTER 4: Free Time

mallI have been working hard at trying to make time for myself to have free time.  The thing is, this isn’t so easy for me.  Many of you that know me are aware that I like to feel productive and accomplish – anything.  But, I am also aware that it is not necessary to always be productive with work or task-related activities.  Relaxing and enjoying free time is productive too.  It’s just a matter of shifting my thinking to truly believing that in my heart.  Some things I have begun doing during my free time to relax is to watch movies, walk to a store, visit the mall (check it out in the picture), read, write in my journal, sit in the park, and get together with friends to talk.  I plan to continue to make free time for myself and look forward to relieving the stress that so easily builds up with a busy schedule.

Epilogue

riobI have officially been in Ecuador for almost five months now (minus my time in the U.S.) and have some reflections I’d like to share with you.  As I think back to my first few days in Quito, I remember feeling both excited and nervous for this new adventure.  When I think back to my first few days in Riobamba, I remember feeling uncertain about what my life was going to look like in my new city.   Now, with my time in Ecuador nearing five months, I have recently had an interesting realization.  Ecuador doesn’t feel quite so foreign to me anymore.  I feel comfortable here and, Riobamba feels like a home to me.  I believe this is because I have some friends, a job, and a house; so life is enjoyable for me.  And, I say this with a sense of awe because I remember not too long ago when I was trying to figure out what it would take for Riobamba to feel like home.  I am still not clear on all of the contributing factors, but I don’t think I need a succinct list for you – or for me.  I believe the most important thing is that I am clear that I feel peaceful and enjoy my life in Ecuador.  And, oddly enough, I oftentimes forget that I am living in Ecuador because it just feels so normal.  Kind of strange, huh?  Recently, while I was teaching, I looked out the window and could see a perfectly clear view of Chimborazo (look at the picture).  I try to savor moments like this, knowing that they will only last forever in my mind.  And then, during a first visit to an indigenous community to teach English to a small classroom of children, I found myself on the verge of tears because being in that place and that time felt so perfect and peaceful to me.  I don’t know what the coming months will hold for me, but I can admit that I am excited to discover them.  I am sure there will be difficult moments too, but I continue to enjoy learning about me, you, and the world we live in.

Afterward

I am not sure where the “afterward” goes or what is supposed to be included, but I do have something else I need to share. I wrote most of this post before I went out of town for a meeting last week.  While I was out of town, there was an incident that has currently changed my feelings toward safety in Ecuador.  Please know that I am not trying to be cryptic and that no one was hurt during the incident.  I include this information because I pray to return to the feelings of peace and safety I had just a mere week ago.  I hate to end this post on a low note, but I have to be honest with you because each of you are important to me and I believe it is of utmost importance to be truthful with you.  Until next time . . .

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How to Enjoy Visiting the U.S. after Living in Ecuador for Four Months

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STEP 1: As you make your flight reservation consider your commute to the airport, as well as the time you are to arrive at the airport for an international flight.  For me, I booked my flight from Quito to Houston and Houston to Denver.  Since I am living in Riobamba, I needed to get a ride to Quito the day before because it is a 4 hour ride.  On the day of my trip, my flight left Quito at 7:00am, which meant I needed to be at the airport at 5:00am . . . I am not a pleasant morning person these days. 

STEP 2: Pack lightly For some reason, I often feel the need to fill-up a suitcase – regardless of the size.  With this being said, my suitcase in Quito was 61 pounds . . . airlines allow 50 pounds. It took me four attempts of taking things out until my bag was at a more appropriate weight.  Argh.

STEP 3: Once you arrive in your first airport in the United States, soak in the things that you have missed most – even small things.  As I walked to customs in the Houston airport, I got a drink of water from the first water fountain I saw and immediately filled up my water bottle.  The water tasted amazingly delicious and cold – I loved it!  Remember, in Ecuador, I only drink bottled water because it is not healthy to drink out of the faucet – and come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a drinking fountain in Ecuador.  

STEP 4: When you see family you haven’t seen in four months, be sure to give them a BIG hug and enjoy their presence.  I was fortunate enough to see four family members at the airport in Denver.  Then, I had the opportunity to see more family at my brother’s house in Denver and even more family during my time in St. Louis!  To the left, is a picture of my parents whom I got to see – and hug – at the airport in Denver.

STEP 5: Plan your time wisely – while simultaneously being cautious of not planning too much to overwhelm yourself.  Be sure to spend time with family and friends who show you love, rather than those who you feel like you “should” see.  This was particularly hard for me because there were several people I wanted to see and talk with, but did not have the opportunity to do so during this visit.   However, it was important for me to make sure I had a stress-free schedule, so I could enjoy the days . . . and I even planned a little bit of free time for myself. 

STEP 6: Visit places you have missed during your time away. For me, this included restaurants with food I had been craving, as well as places that make me feel good!  Some of the restaurants I visited were Crazy Bowls and Wraps, First Watch, and Pei Wei – yum!  The place I enjoyed visiting most was Forest Park . . . I love that place!

STEP 7: Sleep well. Of course good sleep makes us all feel better.  In my case, I particularly enjoyed the absence of crowing roosters nearby, which I have gotten accustomed to during my time in Riobamba.   carrito

STEP 8: Love driving – and remember that U.S. driving laws are different that those in Ecuador.  It was so easy for me to enjoy driving because my car is very fun to drive.  Here is a picture of my car one day when there was a downpour of snow.  In addition, one evening as I drove on a main road, I decided that I wanted to go the other way on the road instead.  So, I made a u-turn right in the middle of the road and then thought to myself, “Un –oh . . . I am not allowed to do this in the U.S.  That was totally illegal!”  I’m glad no one was around.  Yeesh.

STEP 9: Continue to practice your Spanish – in any way possible!  Since I was not speaking in Spanish at all during my time in Denver or St. Louis, my Spanish teacher asked me to write a daily journal entry in Spanish.  I felt like it was beneficial to do so after days of only speaking in English.  Also, at church I decided to take notes in Spanish instead of English.  Ha, ha . . . why not try to challenge my brain as much as possible, right?

lizSTEP 10: Enjoy the weather . . . whether it is cold or f-r-e-e-z-i-n-g.  It was really, really, really cold in both Denver and St. Louis.  I did not always enjoy the cold weather, but I tried.  Although, I did absolutely love watching the snow fall and taking a walk with a friend in the cold weather one afternoon.  robinson

STEP 11: Take a lot of pictures!  I took my camera to most of places I visited, which is pretty unusual for me.  Here are a few pictures of some of the people I was fortunate enough to visit during my short time in the U.S.

lesleySTEP 12: Watch TV or movies in English and revel in the fact that you can understand all of the words!  Most people comment that I do not usually pick “high-quality” television shows or movies to watch.  However, I enjoy them and that is all that matters, right?  I had the opportunity to watch part of one of my favorite shows, Hawaii Five-O, viewed the movie, You’ve Got Mail, with a friend, and even went to a movie in the theater!lisa

STEP 13: As the date gets closer for you to return to South America, shop for things you want to take back that you cannot easily purchase in Ecuador.  For me, this included note cards for letter writing, a delicious smelling air freshener, a Spanish workbook, and blank note cards.  I know I didn’t buy anything terribly exciting, but rather a few “wants” for the next six months.

STEP 14: Repack carefully . . . and lightly, if possible.  Believe it or not, even though I left several clothes in St. Louis that I did not need in Ecuador; my suitcase was still too heavy in the airport.  Once again, I had to take things out of the suitcase to arrive at an appropriate weight for my airline.  Blech.

STEP 15: Arrive at the airport in St. Louis on time and be sure that your suitcase is in good, working condition.  As I was unzipping my suitcase to take some of the extra weight out, the zipper popped off.  Fortunately, the man taking my suitcase was very sweet and fixed it with some pliers. 🙂

Now, tell me what you are thinking – please!  Just choose one or two questions – I love hearing from you.

  • What is your favorite “step” and why?
  • What is your “must-do” for a short visit to the United States?
  • What did I forget to put on my “how to” list?