Thursday, October 28, 2010

Farewell, Sweat, and SNOW!

It’s now been two days since we departed from Los Naranjos, and I already miss it very much. If you had told me I would feel that way on the day that I arrived, I would have said you were crazy. How ignorant was I?

Now five weeks later, I miss my family and miss my friends. All they had to offer me was care, concern, and community, but are there any greater gifts than these? Surrounded by this love, I had came to appreciate so much my existence in the jungle - so relaxed, so loved, so appreciated for just being me.

On our final evening in Los Naranjos a party, or a despedia, was given for the TBB group. The festivities began with our media presentations. There were 3 presentations made by three groups of TBB students, each focused on a different aspect of the Los Naranjos' community. One of the presentations was on monoculture, or “Plantain Life;” another focused on traditional medicines of the indigenous culture; and finally, my group’s presentation was on traditional clothing - “the tunĂ¡.” I hope at some point to share these presentations with you, the Los Naranjos community seemed to really enjoy them.

Following the educational aspect of the evening,  the REAL festivities began. The agenda consisted of:

  • Hair dying for the men (with a local a plant that produces a redish dye)
  • Body tattoos with the dye from another plant
  • Chica - a drink of fermented corn and sugar cane. Proving that all humanity shares a common bond, this ritual, of course, involved a drinking competition. 
  • A cleansing ritual
  • Tug-a-war. My team always won, not hurt by the fact that we lost the drinking competition! ;)
  • Spear throwing

After the festivities, we ate dinner which consisted of beef and a toasted plantain served on a leaf! The night culminated with a fireworks show and a goodbye from all of our families. My family gave Luisa and me a hand woven purse made by our host mother. They are beautiful. I was speechless.

The following morning we had to say our final goodbye. It was extremely difficult and the morning was filled with lots of tears. It was very hard leaving the close knit community, my shower (the river), and the infamous plantains. I WILL visit my family again. I WILL stay in touch. They did so much for me, I wonder if I did anything for them? 

I feel so immature for all the nervous feelings that filled my head before I went into my homestay. How could I eat nothing but plaintains for five weeks? How could I live so close to people I didn't know? Surely, the floor was more comfortable than the bed I was shown. How would I communicate? Really, honestly, how could I exist? 

If only you could see the place.   

Now I am typing on the computer in a real bed wishing nothing more than to be back in Los Naranjos laughing with my host sisters. 

If only you could feel the place.


Life moves on, but my experiences change me. 

These past few days have been spent readjusting Quito, Ecuador. The last time we were here we witnessed the beginning of a military coup. Thankfully, that has been quelled, so our preparations for Peru have been relatively peaceful. Yesterday, however, was certainly one of the most challenging and frightening days of my life.  

The program leaders decided that it was necessary for us to prepare for the Inca Trail with a little hike. Unbeknownst to us all our "little trek" soon became more akin to a death march! Our adventure began at 11 AM under the watchful eye of two expert hikers from the Quito area. Only two hours into the hike, however, we slowly began to lose people from our group (including our program leaders!).

Exhausted, physically and mentally, they headed back to the safe environs of Quito.  Of course, my mother's pride and competitive pushed me ahead. I was going to make it to the top! The hike was getting harder and harder, the number of students fewer and fewer, the path narrow and narrower, and the air thinner and thinner. The hiking experts keep encouraging us stating that it was only 15 minutes to the top. Little did I know that minutes to expert Ecuadorian hikers, translates to 4 hours for a redheaded Mankatoan.   

As the amount of oxygen was becoming scarce, the guides pulled just the perfect remedy . . . a rope! It seems the last of the trail demanded some serious rock climbing. If I hadn't climbed a smooth 15 foot wall in a local high school eight years ago, I might have really been scared to make the 100 foot over jagged rocks and a drop down to oblivion. With a dose of courage, buckets of sweat, more than a few tears, and yes, some blood, six of us made it to the TOP!  

We were welcomed by a group of hikers from Argentina - they congratulated us and were very impressed when we informed them that it was our 1st experience hiking. 15,000 feet they told us we had just reached! Ahh, the strength of those grilled plaintains was greater than our friends in Los Naranjos had advertised. Having reached the summit, now it was time to relax, enjoy the view and have some lunch, right? Wrong!

Just as I took my first bite of some well deserved nourishment, Havier, our expert guide, yelled “5 minutes until the storm moves in!” Huh? What storm? Sure, it was a little cold, but the sun was shining. I guess I wasn't the only one affected by the thin air. I laughed and took my second bite. Havier so no humor in this. He looked at me and said, "Move. Now!" I thought I was going to die of a stress-induced heart attack.  

Three slides, twenty bruises, and at least 10 lbs of sweat later we made it back to the base camp . . .  through a blinding BLIZZARD. Here I was so excited to escape the MN winter- and yet somehow I managed to see snow before MinneSNOWta has even seen a flake.   

At the end of the day, I felt proud, relived, and well thankful to be in one piece! We were informed later that our preparation hike was actually much more diffucult than the Inca Trail. Thank goodness!

Now after a full day of resting my sore muscles and icing my bruised knees I’m ready to take on PERU!  We leave bright and early for Cusco (4am), and before I know it I will be on the Inca Trail. Four days of following in the footsteps of the legendary tribe. It should be amazing sans the snow, ropes, and jagged peaks, I hope!  

I miss you all and have a Happy Halloween! Anna, hands off the bird suit.  ;-)

maddie p

Quick Itinerary Update:

Peru for a week
Then east, far east to CHINA for 5 weeks

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Few Photos And A Little Sadness

Hello again,

As I wrote a couple days ago I am now on my independent study and travel. The adventure has taken me to Banos, Ecuador. Look it up, Mom! 

The trip is providing me and a few friends with some rest and rejuvenation from life in the jungle.  

With that said, I'm excited to return to Los Naranjos and spend one last week with my host family. I have really enjoyed my time, learned more than I could have imagined, and collected enough bug bites to embarrass any the biggest mosquito-complaining Minnesotan you have ever met. The biggest memory, however, will be of the time with my family. They are wonderful and I will miss them terribly.

Below I have posted a few pictures - so you can get a feel for what my life in Los Naranjos is like. I will update you further before I depart for Peru at the end of the month. 

Adios  :)

My dream of living in a purple house has now been accomplished! Above is my host family's home - one of the few concrete homes in the village.

The best host family ever - Rosa (38), Sakari (38), Lise (6), and Gloria (11)

Luisa`s and my bedroom. What appears to be a plastic sheet around the bed is actually bug netting. I wonder if it would keep my brother John out in Mankato?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Day In The Life Of Maddie

Hi friends,

As I write this blog I am sitting on the concrete floor of my host family's ... well let's just call it their living room. I pause because the beauty of the design is that it is multifunctional - the room also serves as Lise's and Gloria's bedroom.  

The girls have come to watch me type - they are staring at the computer screen as though it is an alien. I told them they haven't seen a real alien, until the see my Dad! I wish I had a way to explain the concept of a computer, but instead I will just play music as I type and hope they enjoy observing this convenience of the modern world, which certainly Los Naranjos is not.

Is it weird to write, but indeed not much has happened here. So much occurs here in the span of day, yet it has become almost routine for me. The roosters and our host family's radio wakes me at 5:00am each morning. I do my best to ignore the cacophony until 7:00am when my host sisters scream, "Hora de comer!"  

On the breakfast table the food is neatly prepared. The meal ranges from carrots and a plantain to a piece of bread with jam, lettuce, and tomato. After eating I leave for work to plant a billion plants (you think I exaggerate?) as we trek through the rain forest for the next five hours. Around 1:00pm I walk home exhausted, make a trip to the river for a shower. After cleaning up I eat lunch and relax before attending the afternoon seminar.
After class I return home and enjoy time with my sisters before dinner. When dinner is complete it is craft time with our host mom, writing in my journal, and finally, thankfully bed! 

Certainly there is some variation day to day - whether that be a futbol game (I have skills(!) or a nature walk. Regardless of the slight variation each day concludes with complete exhaustion no later than 8:30pm

I'm finally making up all my lost sleep time from high school.

I've posted a few photos so you get a better feel for my life in Los Naranjos! I've really enjoyed my time in the Tsa'Chila community. It is definitely a different, simpler way of life, but one I appreciate. The people, the beautiful people are the highlight. Their kindness and generosity is overwhelming. 

That's all I have for now. Next time I talk to you all I will be making my way to Peru and up the Inca Trail!

maddie p 

A Look At My Day!
A shower to begin the day.

Preparing food.
A Typical Meal

My friends in the village. No Mom, I can't get you one of the skirts.

Heading off to work.

Alejandro (the cultural chief) in the jungle - my office!

Monday, October 4, 2010

"One Thing I Can Guarantee . . .

you is that you will be sick at least a couple times on the TBB trip." Those words, spoken by Mr. Stakich in June, during my TBB application interview, now reverberate in my head like a rubber ball bouncing on the sidewalk.

Wow! The last 24 hours have been an adventure - and to think I actually thought I had an ironclad stomach.

Yesterday morning I woke up feeling pretty sick, but I decided to press on. The pains would surely subside and we had activities planned. Cleaning the beach and helping children paint a town mural were at the top of the list. My inconveniences could certainly wait. Wrong. Bad idea!   

After a short walk to the beach soon I quickly became violently ill. Let's just say the beach was much cleaner before I arrived. I was taken back to the hostel where I spent the day with three of my friends, who also weren't quite in game shape. Unfortunately, my condition only got worse throughout the day. Nothing would stay down in me. I was leaking oil out both ends, as my dad would say. By early evening, things had progressed to the point where the TBB counselors thought a tour of the local hospital was in order. I begged relentlessly to fight it out at the hostel, but my actions were speaking louder than my words.

Having never been to an Emergency room as a patient, let alone an Emergency Room in Ecuador, I was more than a little nervous to go on this particular field trip. At the hospital Lorena explained my symptoms to the admissions staff and I was immediately taken to a large room with a few hospital beds and more swarming bugs than I care to remember. The kind nurses, however, made me feel as comfortable as I could, gave me an IV and took blood samples. After an hour of making friends with the bugs, who thought my blood tasted just fine, thank you, I was told that I had a bacteria in my blood and was prescribed with antibiotics (Ciprofloxacino, Buscapina Compositum and Enterogermina).

I must say that although the experience was frightening, the efficiency of what looked to be a very rudimentary hospital was impresseive and the people very kind. Needless to say, I am most thankful to all that helped me.

The good news is that I am feeling much better today. The TBB group heads back to Los Narajos to continue our work and our stay with host families. I hope to join them.  

I will have internet again in a few weeks and look forward to giving you updates on my continuing adventures.

So long for now!

maddie p 

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Life In The Jungle

Wow! I don’t even know where to begin. So much has happened in Ecuador since I arrived last Monday.

Our first few days in the country were spent in the city of Quito, where we did some exploring and had a brief introduction at Yanapuma. Yanapuma is the non-governmental organization that is coordinating our work efforts in Ecuador. Their mission focuses on aiding indigenous tribes emphasizing health and sustainable agriculture. During our orientation we learned about life in Ecuador (the culture and politics), and took Spanish classes. These were first Spanish lessons I have ever taken and it was quite entertaining. Our teacher spoke less English than I did Spanish! No better way to learn, though, right? Jump right in up to your neck!

Then on Friday the day I and been nervously awaiting since I was accepted in TBB had arrived! It was time to head off to our homestays and begin our work. We took a bus to the outside of Quito and then squeezed all 21 of us into two trucks to get to rural village of Los Naranjos, the village where we are staying and working. Los Naranhas belongs to the Tsa’ Chila - an indigenous tribe.

After a long drive of traveling we finally arrived and were greeted by the entire community. What a sight! Alejandro (the cultural leader) introduced us all to our host families and we made our way to their homes. The family I am assigned to, along with Luisa, consists of Rosa (38), Sakari (38), Gloria (11), and Lise (6). The family also has 4 dogs and about 100 chickens running around. They live very close to the community’s center, which is very convenient. Their house is one of the few concrete houses in the community- and its PURPLE! There is no running water in the home, but there is electricity. The outhouse is directly behind their house and there are buckets of water and the river for bathing.

The homestay has been an incredible experience. It is the best learning experience of my life. I’m very lucky to be partnered with Luisa she is fluent in Spanish, so that’s helps tremendously with the language barrier. She speaks while I smile and throw the kids up and down in the air! Sorry, mom, but they like it! :-)

The food has been good, but very scarce. Most meals consist of boiled plantains, a little rice, and a bite size piece of chicken, if we are lucky. Maybe the size of one chicken McNugget. Our host mother never fails to let us know that she kills every chicken we eat! Oh and how could I forget, the other day the ICE CREAM MAN came to our house. We were served a sorbet/ice cream treat of some sort. I don't ask too many questions, I just eat! As you can imagine, the other TBB kids were very jealous. They think our host family spoils us, because we were also given a piece of orange bread one day.

Away from the home we work each day for 4.5 hours. Our project in the community is reforestation. The goal that has been set for us over the next 4 and 1/2 weeks is to plant 8,000 trees along the riverbank. It is an understatement to say that it is tough work. And to think that I used to complain about taking out the garbage once a week! The process begins by hauling the native plants in baskets. We then dig holes in which to plant them. The cruel twist to the story is we are not planting them on a level, clear piece of ground. We are working in the middle of a jungle, replete with poisonous snakes, funny looking bugs, and sorry Faith, death inducing spiders. Fortunately, a few Tsa’chila villagers are always with us to lead us on the correct path away, we hope, away from stuff of my nightmares.

It seems funny to be planting trees in a jungle, but if you saw this jungle you would understand. It is FILLED with weeds and vines, very few trees are left. At the end of each day of work I’m covered head-to-toe in dirt, have numerous cuts from falling off small cliffs, and have more bug bites than freckles! The work is rewarding, though, and the village is so thankful. When I arrive home our host mother makes Louisa and me bug juice (don't ask) and scrubs our clothes like I’ve never seen done before. Mom, care for a lesson? ;-)

The work day ends with lunch at home, a quick shower (no not that kind of shower - the kind of shower where I lay in the shallow river and Louisa poors a bucket of water over me) before heading to the cultural center to have group seminar/ project study time.

Well that’s a quick update of my life here in Ecuador. We are currently in Bahia for the weekend - a beach town. And, yes, we are all alive during Ecuador’s State of Emergency and The U.S State Department's warning to all Americans, but that's another story for another day!

Miss you all!

maddie p