Hola Amigos y Familia,
Some of you have asked for an update, so I thought I'd send out a little Christmas/New Year's greeting. Also, you all supported me so kindly and generously as I left and have kept me in mind, which I really appreciate, so you deserve to know what is going on here.
I have added photos to show the alegría and the belleza that exists here in Ecuador, and within this family.
Christmas is a busy season here. You know, it's funny, I'm tired, and I feel like we've been running around everywhere, but really it has just been a continual party since like, the 20th. Crazy.
This is the makeshift parilla that little Andrés manned for over an hour, grilling up all the meats for a feast...
So, the family owns a restaurant, and it is on the same property as their house, so when they have events, we get to help out in the kitchen and enjoy the happiness of the people in their party, the sobras (extra food), and of course, the music that is bumpin’ into the early morning. This night, I got to help in the kitchen, preparing plates a little but mostly just washing dishes for hours... and it was so great to feel a part of the team. I miss work like this. A little victory. [Also, as I went from having fun washing dishes to being tired and wanting the dirty glasses to stop coming, I thought of Gage, and how he literally washed (washes?) dishes all day. That’s strength, bud]
On Christmas Eve we started the day by making little candy gift bags for all the employees of the family’s construction shop. Candy art. And snacking. It was great. Then we prepared the place for the employee appreciation lunch, and this time got to be served by the cocineros and enjoy the program. These are the plates they gave. A full plate of meat, and then you add yucca, salad, and salsas. I still don’t understand how people can eat literally 5 portions of meat in one sitting...
And then followed hours of karaoke with dancing throughout; I’m learning new dances here, and people are really gracious with me, which is great. There was a mariachi band, a gift exchange, and a bunch of happy but tipsy employees heading home with bags of candy.
From there we went to aunt and uncle’s house where we put on more cumbia music in the car and danced in the street while we waited for dinner... so great. I thought of Kelly and Nick... parking lot dancing. Then another Christmas feast, singing villancicos (religious Christmas songs), and more dancing. It was really beautiful to see how a family celebrates.
|from left to right: Fausto y Euvenia, Fausto Jr. y Gisella, tío Cesar y Michelle.|
Then on Christmas morning, we have bolones, jugo, y café for breakfast (a bolon is green plantain and meat, cheese, or peanut butter mixed together and formed into a big ball. With peanut butter… so good. And jugo is juice… de guanabana).
From there, we packed our bags and headed to Quito, which is a beautiful drive. Every time we go from one city to the next there are gorgeous paisajes (views). When we finally arrived, we ate lunch and then the parents dropped us kids off at the central park, and we walked around and played for a few hours, which was so refreshing. It was really interesting to see the difference between Quito and Santo Domingo. Quito, being the capital city, is much more developed. It felt almost like California. And the people here love it because it is cleaner and prettier and has nicer stores and all this. Everyone here seems to be looking toward progress, toward development, toward higher technology and nicer clothes, toward conveniences. This is hard to see/accept. I’m not sure how to feel about it. As for me, I try to point out the beauty in the simple, in the natural, in the traditional and slower processes. I recently read this in The Voice of the Master:
“God has bestowed upon you intelligence and knowledge. Do not extinguish the lamp of Divine Grace and do not let the candle of wisdom die out in the darkness of lust and error. For a wise man approaches with his torch to light up the path of mankind”(62).
There is, though, still tradition preserved and appreciated in the food—people here still mostly cook at home and use what is locally abundant—plantains, yucca, limes, bananas, etc.—which is awesome. Also, one last note from Quito—while we were out on Christmas, we ran into some tourists from Texas. Well, we walked by them, but I slowed down to listen to them speak American English. It was beautiful. I talked with them for a bit and all the while my heart was melting. I was thrown by how sweet it felt to be in the presence of people easily speaking my native tongue. I realized that for over a month I haven’t been able to speak with someone easily in my native tongue (besides a few Skype dates), and how that is such a comfort. A taste of home.
What else? From Quito, the two sisters and I traveled by bus to Riobamba, which is a city in la Sierra where Fausto’s relatives live. We were received warmly by his family. He is one of 11 children, so there were always a lot of greetings whenever we arrived or left. So many besos. That night they had a mass in their home, led by two sisters that are about my age. The Catholic tradition is really beautiful.
So it was basically a family reunion for like 4 days, and we were hosted in various houses and they drove us around to see things—like Chimborazo, the mountain that everyone gets excited about because it has snow. It was awesome to get to meet different members of his family and connect with them on various themes. Also, the night of the big party, there was food, soccer, volleyball, singing of traditional banda nacional, and much dancing. So much dancing. So much fun. It was great. Here they mostly dance cumbia, but they really get down. Funnily, the older people seem to enjoy it the most.
|The family Christmas celebration--train dancing.|
We continued the trip, meeting more family members and being generously hosted, and one day hiked/climbed up this mountain, which was actually pretty intense because of the altitude. This mountain is called Chimborazo, and Ecuatorianos love it because it usually has snow... which they hardly ever see.
*Recommendation: if you’re going to a foreign country where they speak a different language, or if you speak a second language, learn the vocabulary for topics you really care about, that you feel really define you, so that you can share intelligently and comprehensively when the time comes.
|A typical breakfast. Yumm:)|
|Gisella on Chimborazo|
The next day we returned home to Santo Domingo by bus. This is Michelle, Fausto Jr. and Andrés sleeping on the bus.
Lastly, I will share with you about New Year’s celebrations. On New Year’s Eve, we worked a ½ day at the almacén, and then headed over to Euvenia’s parent’s house, where the women and Andrés spent the afternoon in the kitchen preparing food, and the men sat outside drinking and waiting. You know what they made? It makes me shudder thinking about it. It was like, all the innards of a lamb—the stomach, the liver, the intestine—in a soup with potatoes. Euvenia was kind and understanding enough to pretend that I had eaten my bowl of soup when I only swallowed one spoonful. But we also made yucca, aji, una ensalada, y maduros (ripe plantains), which I gladly ate.
Anyway, some of Euvenia’s brothers, and their wives and children came over and ate, and then we had an amp that we blasted music from in the street in front of the house, and this was on a truck bed, along with el Año Viejo. El Año Viejo (the old year) is a life-size figure of a person made of paper and tape and paint. The tradition is that every family makes or buys one of these and dresses them up like a member of the family, typically the father I think, and then at midnight they pour lighter fluid on it and burn it. The idea is that they are burning all the bad away, and this means a prosperous year of blessings for the elected Año Viejo. What you get are bonfires through all the streets in the dark night, along with fireworks and people abrazando (hugging) and wishing each other Feliz Año Nuevo! Paz y bendiciones! (Happy New Year! Peace and blessings!). It was pretty awesome.
|Los Años Viejos|
Oh, and the best part, we danced for hours. It started raining, and we kept dancing. Also, I got up on the truck bed and started dancing, barefoot, as is my preference, because the sidewalk was slippery (and who doesn’t want to dance on a stage?), and soon everyone followed, even to the point of taking off their shoes (not everyone, but the sisters did). Little victory. And to add to the victory, this guy put on music that was like North American pop, and I got to dance like we do in the US, and they all laughed and made fun but soon they joined in and they loved it.
|Andrés' boat and plane in the diluvio.|
Right now is the rainy season, and it has been pouring tropical-flood-type rain here in the afternoons. So, of course, Andresito and I play with his lego boat and plane out on the patio where the water collects. Another day Fausto took us kids to a waterfall resort place, which was beautiful—the waterfall pours into a swimming hole, and there was a turco (like a sauna) warmed by burning eucalyptus leaves. But one of the coolest things about this place was the construction of all the buildings. I’m pretty sure it is all cob, or something similar. So of course, I got way too excited about the cob houses and tried to explain to the kids why these houses are so cool and how I want to build one with my friends in Oregon... it is our dream... environmentally friendly... etc.
|My friends (los cocineros) on the roof cleaning.|
Alright, that brings us mostly to this week. As of now, the kids are back in school, the parents back to work, I am back to preparing and teaching English classes, with more vigor than before, with more patience and diligence. We’re having fun, and I feel like they’re learning more, which is really encouraging.
Here, I have friends; not the solid friends with whom you share everything and know each other deeply, but friends nonetheless. Kind people to greet and laugh with. Interesting people. Mm. And I am grateful for this time. Although sometimes I wish things were different, I wouldn’t trade any of it. Even when a day is tainted by conflicts or time poorly spent, I see it as a day of growth, of experience. So, I am well. The family is mostly in good health, but they are going through a stressful and difficult season. If you pray, you can pray that GOD would use me as a light and warming peace here. That He would bring peace in this family. Every family has their struggles, and every family their moments of sweet comprehension.
I love and miss you all, and I hope you this letter finds you well. Thank you for your support, your interest in my little adventures. May the Good Lord bless you and keep you in this time of renewal.